The Museum of the Bible announced Friday that an extensive independent investigation into the 16 fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls housed in the Washington, D.C.-based museum concluded that the fragments, believed by experts and museum leadership to be authentic, were in fact, forgeries.
According to National Geographic, the modern forgeries initially duped outside collectors, leading biblical scholars and the museum’s CEO, Harry Hargrave.
After five of the museum’s fragments were found to be forgeries in 2018, however, museum leadership decided to enlist the help of art fraud investigator Colette Loll and her company, Art Fraud Insights.
Loll assembled a team of five experts in February 2019, and with complete autonomy, they conducted thorough physical and chemical investigations on all 16 fragments.
Loll told Nat Geo that she insisted on independence during the investigation and the museum was more than willing to oblige.
“Honestly, I’ve never worked with a museum that was so up-front,” Loll shared.
The museum’s willingness and eagerness to find the truth led to several key discoveries that debunked the fragments' authenticity.
According to Nat Geo, the first red flag was raised, when on further inspection, it was found that 15 of the MOTB fragments were made of leather instead of tanned or lightly tanned parchment like the authentic fragments are.
Whoever faked the fragments went as far as to use ancient leather believed to have been recovered from the Judean desert or elsewhere for the forgeries. The team postulates that the fragments could have come from ancient roman shoes, as several of the pieces are adorned with small holes that appear man-made.
The team also found that the fabric was coated in an amber-colored mixture likely in an effort to both smooth and stabilize the leather and to mimic the presence of a glue-like substance that formed as the parchment of the legitimate fragments began to break down.
Additionally, ink patterns showed that the scripture was written on already ancient material.
Pools of ink in cracks and “waterfalls off of torn edges that wouldn’t have been present when the leather was new” were a dead giveaway.
This, team member Abigail Quandt, the head of book and paper conservation at Baltimore’s Walters Art Museum, said, is likely why many scholars initially thought these fragments were written by untrained scribes.
She said, “The material is degraded, it’s so brittle, so inflexible. It’s no wonder that the scholars were thinking these were untrained scribes, because they were really struggling to form these characters and keep their pens under control.”
Additionally, it appears the forger dusted the fragments with clay minerals consistent with sediments from Qumran, the region where the authentic Dead Sea Scrolls were found.
A chemical analysis on the fragments also revealed that calcium had soaked deeply into the leather material suggesting that it had been treated with lime to remove hair. This process is believed to have been used on at least a few of the original Dead Seas Scrolls, but many scholars believe that this process only became popular after the scrolls were made.
The investigative team was able to debunk the fragments’ authenticity, casting a shadow of doubt on all “post-2002” Dead Sea Scroll fragments. The pieces’ origins, however, remain unknown.
In an interview with Nat Geo, the Museum of the Bible shared that it would be reevaluating the provenance of all pieces in its collection. As it did in 2018 when the museum discovered that one of its manuscripts was stolen from the University of Athens in 1991, the museum is prepared to return any and all stolen artifacts.
Additionally, the MOTB is considering changing the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit to show how researchers uncovered the forgeries.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/ByczeStudio, this is a stock image.
Kayla Koslosky has been the Editor of ChristianHeadlines.com since 2018. She has B.A. degrees in English and History and previously wrote for and was the managing editor of the Yellow Jacket newspaper. She has written on her blog since 2012 and has also contributed to IBelieve.com and Crosswalk.com.