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Dead Sea Scrolls at the Museum of the Bible are forgeries, investigators say

By CHELSEY COX | USA Today | Published: March 14, 2020

(Tribune News Service) — The Museum of the Bible admitted Friday that 16 fragments displayed as pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest known surviving copies of the original Hebrew Bible, were fakes.

The fragments have been on exhibit at the Washington, D.C. museum since its opening in 2017.

"After an exhaustive review of all the imaging and scientific analysis results, it is evident that none of the textual fragments in Museum of the Bible's Dead Sea Scroll collection are authentic," Colette Loll, founder and director of Art Fraud Insights, said in a statement released by the museum on Friday. "Moreover, each exhibits characteristics that suggest they are deliberate forgeries created in the twentieth century with the intent to mimic authentic Dead Sea Scroll fragments."

The recent findings have no bearing on the nearly 100,000 Dead Sea Scroll fragments that comprise the Shrine of the Book, on display in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, National Geographic reports.

The discovery is one in a series of missteps by the museum's founders and owners of the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores, Steve and Jackie Green. In 2017, Hobby Lobby Stores agreed to pay $3 million in fines and return 5,500 antiquities it purchased in a transaction "fraught with red flags," according to a civil complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

The 16 scroll fragments were purchased after 2002 when counterfeits of artifacts believed to be part of the 1947 Dead Sea Discovery entered the antiquities market. Experts began questioning their authenticity in 2016.  Art Fraud Insights determined five of the fragments were forgeries after an examination was conducted two years later.

In February 2019, the museum hired the investigators to inspect the remaining 11 scrolls. Comprehensive imaging, analysis, and physical examinations of the artifacts were performed between May and October.

The analysis found that each fragment, "exhibits characteristics that suggest they are deliberate forgeries created in the twentieth century with the intent to mimic authentic Dead Sea Scroll fragments," according to the report.

Plans to remove the forgeries from display and transform the exhibit into a history of the Dead Sea Scrolls will be released during the conference, Museum of the Bible Chief Curatorial Officer Dr. Jeffrey Kloha said.

Despite the controversy, Art Fraud Insights Director Loll praised the museum, saying its actions are "extremely important in the museum world," according to the press release.

"Usually, items that are determined to be fake are quietly removed from display ... Museum of the Bible has opted to be as transparent as possible with its collection of Dead Sea Scrolls," Loll added.    

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