Report: Museum of the Bible’s Dead Sea Scroll Fragments Are Fake

New research suggests the artifacts are forgeries

Museum of the Bible
Washington, DC's Museum of the Bible.
Farragutful/Creative Commons
By Tobias Carroll / March 14, 2020 9:25 am

Nominally, Washington, DC’s Museum of the Bible is a place where the history-obsessed and the religious might find common ground. In theory, that hasn’t entirely worked out. The museum has come under criticism for the means by which certain artifacts were obtained, for one thing. And a 2017 article by Tara Isabella Burton at Vox argued that the museum’s stated mission had fallen short. Burton wrote that “the way in which the museum’s founders have routinely disregarded basic principles of academic inquiry should make would-be visitors very, very cautious.”

Now, the museum has encountered another awkward moment in its history — though it’s one born out of its own research. A new article by Michael Greshko at National Geographic explores how one of the museum’s most heralded exhibits — parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls — have turned out to be forgeries.

On Friday, independent researchers funded by the Museum of the Bible announced that all 16 of the museum’s Dead Sea Scroll fragments are modern forgeries that duped outside collectors, the museum’s founder, and some of the world’s leading biblical scholars. Officials unveiled the findings at an academic conference hosted by the museum.

A museum falling for a forgery is never a good thing. When the sole bright side to such a revelation is the fact that the museum paid for the research that exposed that forgery — it’s probably the best of a series of bad options.

The researchers’ findings suggest that some of the materials involved with these fragments are properly archaic — they’re just not what they were advertised as being. Specifically, this looks to be a case where the forgers took ancient leather and manipulated it to make it seem like a historically significant artifact.

The findings described in the article seem like part of a larger overhaul taking place at the Museum of the Bible, including some new management and a revised commitment to history and veracity. How these findings play out over the next few months will likely reveal plenty about where the museum is headed in the future.

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