The 16 Dead Seas Scroll fragments housed at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., are forgeries, museum officials said Friday.
“We’re victims — we’re victims of misrepresentation, we’re victims of fraud,” CEO Harry Hargrove said at an academic conference hosted by the museum, National Geographic reported.
A team of researchers led by an art fraud investigator issued a 200-page report saying that while the fragments may be made of ancient leather, the ink was from modern times and altered to look like the real Dead Sea Scrolls.
Most of the 100,000 real Dead Sea Scroll fragments lie in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, and the report does not question their authenticity. Bedouins found clay jars in the West Bank’s Qumran caves in 1947 holding thousands of the parchment scrolls dating back more than 1,800 years, including some of the oldest surviving copies of the Hebrew Bible.
The National Geographic revealed in a story on Friday that what the Museum of the Bible has claimed are fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls are a complete fraud.
The museum, founded by Hobby Lobby CEO Steve Green, already faced problems when they were “forced to forfeit thousands of cuneiform texts from Iraq, and pay a $3 million fine for illicit importation,” reported Politico.
Now the museum is back in the news as independent researchers funded by the museum announced that all of the 16 fragments are forgeries. The museum says that they were duped by the collector and Green, as well as biblical scholars.
“The Museum of the Bible is trying to be as transparent as possible,” says CEO Harry Hargrave. “We’re victims—we’re victims of misrepresentation, we’re victims of fraud.”
The museum researchers released a report of over 200 pages detailing how “these fragments were manipulated with the intent to deceive,” said fraud investigator Colette Loll.
“The new findings don’t cast doubt on the 100,000 real Dead Sea Scroll fragments, most of which lie in the Shrine of the Book, part of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem,” said National Geographic. “However, the report’s findings raise grave questions about the ‘post-2002’ Dead Sea Scroll fragments, a group of some 70 snippets of biblical text that entered the antiquities market in the 2000s. Even before the new report, some scholars believed that most to all of the post-2002 fragments were modern fakes.”
“Once one or two of the fragments were fake, you know all of them probably are, because they come from the same sources, and they look basically the same,” said Norway’s University researcher Årstein Justnes, who has tracked the post-2002 pieces.
“It really was—and still is—an interesting kind of detective story,” says Jeffrey Kloha, the Museum of the Bible’s chief curatorial officer. “We really hope this is helpful to other institutions and researchers because we think this provides a good foundation for looking at other pieces, even if it raises other questions.”