On Friday, independent researchers announced that the Museum of the Bible’s prized Dead Sea Scroll fragments are all big, fat phonies. The 16 fragments purported to be among the oldest surviving copies of the Hebrew Bible are apparently forgeries, and outside collectors, the museum’s founder and some of the world’s leading biblical scholars were all suckered by them.
“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.”
Art fraud investigator Colette Loll led the investigation and discovered that while the fragments were all printed on ancient leather, they’d been recently inked and then modified to look like the genuine article. “These fragments were manipulated with the intent to deceive,” Loll told National Geographic.
You can read about the whole detective story here.
The real Dead Sea Scrolls are mostly housed in the Shrine of the Book, which is part of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. But in the early 2000s, about 70 so-called “snippets” purported to be from the Dead Sea Scrolls entered the antiquities market and became a hot item among collectors like the Greens, the wealthy family who owns Hobby Lobby and have become major players in the biblical artifacts market.
The Greens founded the Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C., and have been duped by multiple frauds and forgery scams. In 2017, Hobby Lobby was ordered to return thousands of illegally imported clay tablets and pay a 3 million dollar fine. Last year, nearly a dozen papyrus fragments in the Museum of the Bible’s collection were found to have been purchased by Dirk Obbink, a renowned Oxford professor who is accused of stealing from a collection.
In her interview with NatGeo, Loll was complimentary of the Museum of the Bible’s transparency throughout the investigative process, saying they readily agreed to her terms. “Honestly, I’ve never worked with a museum that was so up-front,” she said.
NetGeo also quotes Christopher Rollston, a Semitic texts specialist at George Washington University, who expressed optimism that the museum is trying to set a new course. “The Museum of the Bible did some really bad things eight to 10 years ago, and they were rightly criticized severely,” he said. “I believe that they’ve made a number of attempts in recent years to right the ship.