After testing revealed that five of its artifacts weren’t part of the Dead Sea Scrolls, as previously thought, the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., has removed them from display. Scholars in Germany discovered “characteristics inconsistent with ancient origin,” according to a museum statement.
Jeffrey Kloha, chief curatorial officer, says even though the museum hoped for different test 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.” He added that the institution “upholds and adheres to all museum and ethical guidelines on collection care, research and display.”
At the Museum of the Bible, labels indicate when questions have been raised about an exhibit’s authenticity—and note that further research is underway. The museum, which opened in 2017, was founded and primarily funded by Hobby Lobby president Steve Green. He and his wife, Jackie, say the museum’s mission is to “invite all people to engage with the Bible.”
Founders of Museum of the Bible Discover Forgeries Abound in the Antiquities Market
Since 2002, an estimated 70 Dead Sea Scroll fragments have appeared on the antiquities market, and scholars say 90 percent are fake. The Greens purchased their fragments between 2009 and 2014, a period when they acquired 40,000 artifacts. Some people accused the family of buying too much too quickly—and of not knowing the sources.
Experts say shady dealers are taking advantage of well-meaning Christians. “These good intentions that draw from a place of faith are subject to some really gross manipulations,” says Dead Sea Scroll expert Kipp Davis. “And that is a big part of what has happened [with the Greens].”
Forgers reportedly write atop ancient pieces of leather or papyrus, so the scrolls appear genuine until the ink is analyzed using processes such as 3D digital microscopy. The Dead Sea Scrolls, found by Bedouin shepherds in 1947, consist of more than 900 manuscripts and about 50,000 fragments. Leading expert Emanuel Tov, a professor in Jerusalem, says more research is needed about the artifacts’ origin and writers. “We should not be so fast in thinking that we know everything about the scribe of these little fragments,” he says.
Finding Authentic Items Remains the Goal
This August, after investigating the provenance, or origins, of more than 3,000 items in its collection, the Bible museum discovered that a medieval manuscript of the New Testament had been stolen from the University of Athens 27 years ago. Deciding to return the item was easy, curator Kloha says, considering what the Bible teaches.
Last summer, Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million for purchasing stolen ancient artifacts and having them shipped to the United States. The company admitted it made “some regrettable mistakes” because it “was new to the world of acquiring these items and did not fully appreciate the complexities of the acquisitions process.”
Hobby Lobby says it’s committed to adhering to standards set by the Association of Art Museum Directors. After being fined in 2017, Green said he wouldn’t be deterred from pursuing biblical artifacts, despite the challenges of determining authenticity. “Our passion for the Bible continues,” he said, “and we will do all that we can to support the efforts to conserve items that will help illuminate and enhance our understanding of this Great Book.”