(photo credit: REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE)
The Museum of the Bible in Washington announced on Monday that it was pulling five of its 16 Dead Sea Scroll fragments from its display.
The museum, which opened in November, said it was removing the fragments after a third-party analysis showed that the artifacts are not in fact authentic Dead Sea Scrolls. The German-based Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing concluded that “the five fragments show characteristics inconsistent with ancient origin,” the museum said in a statement on Monday.
“Though we had hoped the testing would render different results, this is an opportunity to educate the public on the importance of verifying the authenticity of rare biblical artifacts, the elaborate testing process undertaken and our commitment to transparency,” said Jeffrey Kloha, chief curatorial officer for the Museum of the Bible.
“As an educational institution entrusted with cultural heritage, the museum upholds and adheres to all museum and ethical guidelines on collection care, research and display.”
The fragments have been on display since the museum opened in November 2017.
On Tuesday, the Antiquities Authority told The Jerusalem Post
that it is not surprised there are fraudulent scroll fragments available for sale.
“The Israel Antiquities Authority is aware that on the antiquities market, mostly outside of Israel, fragments of scrolls are circulating, some of which are apparently fake,” a spokeswoman said. “It’s important to note that the scrolls that the Antiquities Authority are responsible for are original and authentic... they came directly to the researchers immediately after they were excavated and found, while the origins of the scrolls that have reached the antiquities market in recent years are unknown.”
The eight-story, 430,000-squarefoot Museum of the Bible – which cost more than $500 million – was created and funded by Steve Green, the conservative Evangelical heir to the Hobby Lobby retail chain.
Green and the museum have been the focus of controversy over the acquisition of their antiquities.
Last year, Hobby Lobby agreed to forfeit thousands of artifacts illegally smuggled from the Middle East through antiquities dealers. The company agreed to pay $3 million to settle the charges. Hobby Lobby said it was “new to the world of antiquities” and did not “understand the correct way to document and ship them.”
Initial research into the museum’s scroll fragments was published in October 2017, “prompting suspicions about more of the fragments,” the museum said Monday.
Researcher Kipp Davis said he has confirmed with “high probability that at least seven fragments in the museum’s Dead Sea Scrolls collection are modern forgeries, but conclusions on the status of the remaining fragments are still forthcoming.”
The museum said it replaced the five fragments from its display with three others, “that will be on exhibit pending further scientific analysis and scholarly research.”
Joel Baden, professor of the Hebrew Bible at Yale University, said the museum clearly made a huge error in its judgment.
“This was just such a stupendous failure of due diligence at every level from start to finish, from purchase to publication to exhibition,” Baden tweeted on Monday evening.
He also slammed the museum’s decision to replace the five fragments with three others, which have not been tested and could also turn out to be forgeries.
The vast majority of the Dead Sea Scrolls – ancient manuscripts dated to the second century BCE – belongs to the government, and are housed in the Israel Museum.
Various fragments are believed to be owned by private individuals, and forgeries are known to be on available on the black market.