They were the crown jewel of the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C.: 16 fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, ancient manuscripts that are the earliest known Hebrew versions of biblical texts, which the institution’s founders are rumored to have acquired for more than $1 million. But on Friday, independent researchers hired by the museum to investigate the authenticity of the fragments announced that months of testing has determined that all 16 pieces are forgeries.
“The Museum of the Bible is trying to be as transparent as possible,” museum CEO Harry Hargrave told National Geographic. “We’re victims—we’re victims of misrepresentation, we’re victims of fraud.”
A report published by investigator Colette Loll and her firm, Art Fraud Insights, concluded that the fragments were created in modern times, using ancient leather most likely found in the Judean desert to mimic the look of authentic Dead Sea Scrolls, which were written on parchment. “These fragments were manipulated with the intent to deceive,” Loll said.
The forgeries held in the museum’s collection were among a group of 70 fragments of dubious provenance that entered the private market in the 2000s, dubbed the “post-2002” Dead Sea Scroll fragments. They are not associated with the seven authenticated Dead Sea Scrolls and thousands of scroll fragments discovered in 1947 in eleven caves situated in cliffs on the northwestern shores of the Dead Sea, the majority of which are in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
The findings will almost surely have ramifications for the entire “post-2002” group, many of which are held in academic institutions worldwide, including Azusa Pacific University in California and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.