In 2017, the Museum of the Bible – funded largely by the Green family of Hobby Lobby fame – opened its door in Washington, D.C. It hosts a vast collection of pieces, including 16 fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Since their discovery in 1946, scholars and document experts have poured over these fragments, which number close to 1000. The antiquities market brims with fakes, and after tests, it appears that the Museum of the Bible holds five of them.
For years, experts have questioned the Dead Sea Scrolls. Why? The fragments are displayed in the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem. Their caretaker, the Israeli Antiquities Authority, isn’t interested in selling. However, in 2002, fragments started popping up in the market. Looking back, it’s likely that 90% of the 70 fragments circulating around the market are fake, creating what could be the most infamous fraud in Biblical archaeology.
The Green’s bought their fragments between 2009-2014 and when the Museum of the Bible project began, scholars were immediately skeptical. Forgers love collectors like the Green’s, who are eager for artifacts, but don’t have the knowledge necessary to identify fakes. A fake Dead Sea Scroll fragment could cost the buyer millions. We don’t know how much the Green’s paid for their fraudulent five. Those fragments will no longer be displayed.
This marks another controversy for the Museum of the Bible. The same year the $500 million museum opened, the Hobby Lobby company was ordered to return illegally-smuggled artifacts to Iraq and pay a $3 million fee. In 2010, despite warnings from an expert that many artifacts from Iraq were likely looted from archaeology sites, Hobby Lobby bought over 5,500 cuneiform tablets, cylinder seals, and more. For visitors of the museum, knowing artifacts may be fake or stolen could be an uncomfortable experience.
Featured image from: Alan Karchmer/Museum of the Bible