Sunday, March 29, 2020


The Museum of the Bible displays 16 fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls—and all of which are fake, according to an independent analysis contracted by the museum. The forgeries will remain on display, with an updated exhibit that attempts to use the embarrassing situation as an educational opportunity.

The Museum of the Bible purchased the forged fragments in four different lots from four different antiquities dealers between 2009 and 2014. The Dead Sea Scrolls were one of most important discoveries in biblical archaeology in the 20th century. It was felt that a museum dedicated to the history of the Bible had to have examples of them, if they were available.

The ancient scrolls were discovered by Bedouins in 1947. A cobbler in Bethlehem named Khalil Eskander Shahin and known as Kando served as an intermediary between the Bedouins and the institutions that wanted to buy them. The Kando family kept some of the fragments, as an investment.

When a number of scroll fragments began to come on the market in 2002, some were directly connected to the Kando family, and few questions were raised about their authenticity. Before the Bible museum opened, however, a group of scholars examined the fragments while writing a book about the Dead Sea Scrolls. Questions began to surface about five of the 16.

Steve Green, president of Hobby Lobby and chairman of the Museum of the Bible, was also fined $3 million and forced to return 5,500 ancient cuneiform tablets and seals in 2017, after a federal investigation determined they were from war-torn Iraq and not Turkey or Israel as customs forms had claimed.

Faced with some strong criticism and increased suspicion about the museum’s exhibits, the organization decided to hire an outside firm to independently examine all 16 of the Dead Sea Scrolls fragments. The Museum of the Bible contracted with Colette Loll, of Art Fraud Insights, who specializes in detecting forged artwork. Loll assembled a team of experts and launched a nine-month investigation.

The investigation revealed that most of the fragments were leather, rather than the parchment typical of the Dead Sea Scrolls. To the naked eye the materials look very similar. Under a microscope, the difference was obvious. More evidence of forgery mounted.

“After an exhaustive review of all the imaging and scientific analysis results, it is the unanimous conclusion of the advisory team that none of the textual fragments in the Museum of the Bible’s Dead Sea Scroll collection are authentic. Moreover, each exhibits characteristics that suggest they are deliberate forgeries created in the 20th century with the intent to mimic authentic Dead Sea Scroll fragments.”

The investigative report, which was paid for by the museum and is now available on the museum’s website, includes videos and images which will help people understand the forgery.

“I believe forgers do great harm to the field,” he said. “They prey on the hopes and desires of good people. I would love to see this person exposed and prosecuted.”

Other Scroll Fragments may be Suspect
There are about 70 other Dead Sea Scrolls fragments in other collections around the world that may be forgeries as well. The Museum of the Bible is encouraging the owners of those fragments to launch their own investigations.

Rollston recommends visiting the Israel Antiquities Authority room on the sixth floor, one of the largest exhibits of material excavated in Israel on display outside of Israel. And the changes that are coming in its Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit will make the museum even better.


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