An in-depth investigation commissioned by the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. has determined that all 16 Dead Sea Scroll fragments housed at the institution are forgeries.
The National Geographic website, which was the first to report the news on Friday, quoted museum CEO Harry Hargrove as saying, “We’re victims – we’re victims of misrepresentation, we’re victims of fraud.”
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Most of the 100,000 real Dead Sea Scroll fragments are displayed in Jerusalem at the Israel Museum’s Shrine of the Book. They were discovered in the Qumran caves in the West Bank in 1947 and are considered the most important historical discovery about the Hebrew Bible. “That pushed our knowledge of the biblical text back one thousand years from what was available at the time,” said Jeffrey Kloha, the Museum of the Bible’s chief curatorial officer.
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The 1,800-year-old scrolls were discovered, rolled up inside clay jars, by Bedouin, and during the 1950s many were sold to an antiquities dealer from Bethlehem named Khalil Iskander Shahin, better known as Kando. In the 1970s, a new UNESCO convention on cultural property and a new Israeli law on the antiquities trade restricted sales of the looted scrolls.
But starting in 2002, at least 70 additional fragments, ostensibly similar to those bought by Kando, appeared on the market. Museums and collectors around the world fought for a chance to purchase the treasure. Among them was Museum of the Bible founder Steve Green, the president of the American arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby. Between 2009 and 2014, Green bought the 16 fragments that are in the museum’s collection.
Doubts about the authenticity of the “new” fragments arose four years ago. In 2018, in the wake of testing carried out by Germany’s Federal Institute for Materials Research a the museum’s behest, museum officials admitted that at least five of the 16 fragments were apparent forgeries.
After that discovery, the museum hired a company named Art Fraud Insights to conduct a thorough physical and chemical investigation of all 16 pieces. In their 200-page report, the researchers say the suspect fragments were made of ancient leather rather than the finer parchment of the authentic scrolls, and the ink used was from modern times.
“These fragments were manipulated with the intent to deceive,” said Colette Lol, the founder and CEO of Art Fraud Insights. The source of the forgery remains a mystery.
The Museum of the Bible purchased the fragments in four batches from four different people, three of them Americans. The fourth was Kando’s son William Kando. The researchers determined that all of the forged fragments were apparently from the same source.
National Geographic tried to contact the three Americans who sold Dead Sea Scroll fragments to Green. Two did not respond to requests for comment. The third, Michael Sharpe, a book collector formerly based in Pasadena, California, said Thursday in an interview with National Geographic that he was shocked that the fragment he had sold to the museum was inauthentic. “I feel kind of sick,” he says. “I had zero idea, none!”