Steven Green, the president of Hobby Lobby, has a lot invested in the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC. Literally: He has invested millions of dollars in procuring artifacts for the museum’s collection.
Well, now he’s been hit with a pretty big blow: 16 fragments of what he believed to be the Dead Sea Scrolls have been found to be total fakes.
A team of five art fraud investigators revealed the results to the museum, which posted them on the official website.
Colette Loll, who founded Art Fraud Insights, says, “After an exhaustive review of all the imaging and scientific analysis results, it is evident that none of the textual fragments in Museum of the Bible’s Dead Sea Scroll collection are authentic. Moreover, each exhibits characteristics that suggest they are deliberate forgeries created in the twentieth century with the intent to mimic authentic Dead Sea Scroll fragments.”
That has to be a pretty big blow to the museum, and it turns out it gets even worse.
The experts behind the study spent six months examining each of the fragments. The study followed a 2017 report that revealed that the documents were already suspected to be fakes, and the understanding that at least five of the items that Steven Green had purchased were likely forgeries.
Jeffrey Kloha, the chief curatorial officer of the Museum of the Bible, says that the organization has gone above and beyond to get answers: “Notwithstanding the less than favorable results, we have done what no other institution with post-2002 DSS fragments has done. The sophisticated and costly methods employed to discover the truth about our collection could be used to shed light on other suspicious fragments and perhaps even be effective in uncovering who is responsible for these forgeries.”
The report also states that the investigators believe a “succession of Biblical scholars” are behind the forgeries, which were created on what is likely Roman-era shoe leather that is meant to simulate parchment. The scholars also likely made their best attempts at re-creating the ancient Hebrew writing that the original documents would have had.
The investigators used a combination of microscopes and chemical analysis to determine that the documents contain “inconsistencies such as the presence of a shiny coating suspected to be animal glue, which wouldn’t have existed at the time, and clues in the spread, position and pooling of ink.” They also believe the writing was added after the original forgers tried to age the leather.
However, this revelation does not in any way impact the validity of the original Dead Sea Scrolls. These scrolls are “the oldest known pieces of the original Hebrew bible, dating from about 400BC to 300AD, [and] were discovered rolled in clay pots in caves in Palestine’s West Bank in the 1940s,” according to The Guardian.
But it does mean that every biblical “artifact” that has been “recovered” since 2002 is possibly fake. This group of about 70 artifacts is known as the “post-2002 fragments” after “William Kando, son of an antiquities dealer who bought the original scrolls from Bedouin shepherds seven decades ago, claimed to have opened a family vault in Switzerland.”
Naturally, a lot of people are reacting to the news that the newest scrolls are forgeries. Simon Tanner, a professor of digital cultural heritage, writes that “Having had the privilege to handle & work closely with the #DeadSeaScrolls collection at the Israeli Antiquities Authority I can appreciate the aura & magic of these most rare artefacts.”
Others are taking a more lighthearted approach to the findings. It’s funny, because how many of us can say the same thing? I’m not even religious, and I’ve watched documentaries on the scrolls more than once.
This tweet also brings up a great point: The fraud in this situation is on a pretty epic scale.
So far, no one at the museum or on the team of investigators has indicated what, if anything, will be done about the fraud. It was widely publicized that Steven Green spent the years between 2009 and 2014 finding and purchasing each of the items, and he did so at significant personal expense, both financially and mentally.
Up until this week, the scroll fragments were on display at the museum. However, they have been removed as part of the coronavirus-related cleanup the museum is undergoing, and they will likely not be put back on display after the museum reopens later this year.
The museum has been praised for taking these steps to determine the quality of the scrolls. Colette Loll said, “What Museum of the Bible is doing is extremely important in the museum world.”
“Usually, items that are determined to be fake are quietly removed from display and transferred to the euphemistic ‘study collection.’ Museum of the Bible has opted to be as transparent as possible with its collection of Dead Sea Scrolls – from the interim gallery labels, to the public announcement of the results of the research and the subsequent release of all of the associated research materials. This data can now be used for comparison to other questioned fragments. What a tremendous contribution to the field.”