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Dead Sea Scrolls at the Museum of the Bible Revealed as Forgeries

A fragment of a Dead Sea Scroll housed at the Museum of the Bible, Numbers 8: 3-5( courtesy Museum of the Bible)

This week, the Museum of the Bible( MOTB) was indicated that five of its purported Dead Sea Scroll fragments are, in fact, modern forgeries.

The museum is directed by Hobby Lobby’s president Steve Green and features the ship store’s collection of relics and manuscripts. Between 2009 and 2014, Hobby Lobby purchased a total of 16 scraps claimed to be from 2,000 -year-old scrolls hidden in the Qumran caves by the Dead Sea. 13 of these scraps were published by a organize of respected Dead Sea Scrolls scholars in 2016, in the first volume of a series from prestigious academic publisher, Brill. That same year, MOTB opened and threw a selection of these fragments on display.

The news media’s demonstration of the imitation notice furthers a dubious narration: that scientific testing has definitively proven what text scholars is simply guess at — the authenticity or imitation of ancient artifacts. While material analysis of scrolls can help show that substance is modern, the results are often not as assured as they are presented to be, and material analysis certainly cannot prove authenticity. Experimenting that recommends parchment or ink is ancient is not wholly decisive.

As some epigraphers have warned, counterfeiters are quite skilled and are supposed to apply rules that can pass scientific experiments — for instance, by using blank scraps of ancient scrolls as writing surfaces for their imitations. Radiocarbon dating and additional testing of the widely-heralded “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” fragment — now universally known to be a imitation — suggested that the fragment was ancient. In that case, the imitation was proven by a study of the text, and especially by provenance research.

In fact, for the MOTB scroll fragments, the evidence of imitation was somewhat clear all along.

The material is unprovenanced; it consists of tiny scraps that can be easily forged; and almost all of the texts( 92%) comes in here biblical journals, while only 23% of the authentic Qumran material is biblical. The text in the fragments also presents a number of anomalies, such as what appears to be a superscript alpha after one Hebrew word, facsimile from a 20 th-century critical edition.

The authentic scrolls were discovered by the Bedouin and by subsequent archaeological excavation in the 1940 s and 1950 s. After the initial finding , no farther scrolls appeared until 2002. Since that time, more than 75 purported Dead Sea Scrolls( including the MOTB acquires) have appeared on the antiques market. The sudden appearance of so many scraps, all with the same problematic properties, is highly suspicious. So it is not surprising that scholars have publicly forewarned that at least some of the post-2 002 scroll scraps are fake.

Jonah 4:2 -5( politenes Museum of the Bible)

To be fair, these concerns have only become a consensus since the scholarly community gained access to substance following the MOTB’s 2016 publication, and through the deliberations of the Lying Pen programme over the last two years. And MOTB now points to the role that Kipp Davis, a Dead Sea Scrolls expert on their book team, has played in uncovering forgeries.

It is a good thing when a museum transmits with the public about the specific characteristics of its collect. However, Hobby Lobby was negligent in failing to conduct due diligence on scroll acquires it established over such courses of five years.

Only after the fragments were published and put on display did Museum of the Bible begin to study their authenticity in depth. By this time, Hobby Lobby had donated them to the museum, and the Green family had likely received their tax break for their donation. In their 2017 book Bible Nation, biblical scholars Candida Moss and Joel Baden report that, for their philanthropic activities, the Green family follows a set rate of appraised value-to-purchase price of 3:1 — that is, an appraised importance( and therefore a tax write-off) at least three times the acquisition rate. This rate is reportedly followed for all of their various donations, including antiquities. Due diligence after the donation is convenient, in that the profit has already been made.

Tax breaks for donation to museums are a common machine to foster philanthropy. What makes MOTB unique is that the Greens are donating the artifacts to their own museum — which is legally a separate entity from Hobby Lobby. To set it another way, the government is effectively paying the Green to amass a collection of questionable antiquities.

Despite questionable contexts, news of the forgery was not the subject of an expose, but first announced today MOTB itself in a press statement. It is specially remarkable that, despite its history of questionable relics accumulating, the museum now says it can use this incident “to educate the public.” This is not the first time that MOTB has taken its lack of due diligence and turned it into a promotional opportunity.

The Museum of the Bible( image via Wikimedia Commons)

In August, the museum announced that it was returning a medieval manuscript that it had decided was stolen from the University of Athens. Theodora Antonopoulou, Professor of Byzantine Literature at the University of Athens, had discovered that the stolen manuscript was in MOTB’s collection. But MOTB put out a press release announce: “Museum of the Bible solves whodunit of missing Greek manuscript.” The museum likewise put together a brand-new exhibit( Lost and Found: The Return of Manuscript 18) to display the text and kudo its own conduct in the case, posting a promo video of the exhibitions on its Facebook page.

Perhaps it is not coincidental that MOTB appears to be skilled at turning its own dubious purchasing history into PR success. Somewhat remarkably for a museum, MOTB does not have its own media or publicity department, but has hired an outside PR organization, DeMoss.

DeMoss specializes in handling publicity for conservative Christian organizations, such as the Billy Graham Evangelical Association, Chick-fil-A, and Wheaton College( as well as Israel’s Ministry of Tourism ). DeMoss’s founder, Mark DeMoss, sits on MOTB’s board.

Some may celebrate the most recent news as a vindication of their criticisms of MOTB or Hobby Lobby. But, as with the prior series of scandals with which they’ve been involved — the forfeiture of thousands of cuneiform tablets and other artifacts smuggled into the country; the issuing of fake acknowledgments for buys along with tax evasion and money laundering; or the funding of an archaeological ditch in the West Bank in violation of subjects of international law — this is not really a loss for MOTB.

Considering how the story has been told to date, it is a PR coup. More than that: based on the Greens’ 3:1 model for acquisition and donation, and exorbitant buy prices for the post-2 002 Dead Sea Scroll scraps( tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars each ), they have likely established millions of dollars in gain simply from their “altruistic” donation of these 16 fragments. Devoted that this earning consists of public monies( in accordance with the arrangements of tax breaks ), the real losers, in this case, are us.

The post Dead Sea Scrolls at the Museum of the Bible Disclosed as Forgeries appeared first on Hyperallergic.

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