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Biblical Archaeology Review 46:4, Fall 2020

First Person: Unprovenanced Antiquities: Learning the Hard Way

The Museum of the Bible and those affiliated with the Green Collection were warned—repeatedly—about the problems surrounding the purchase and exhibition of unprovenanced, black-market antiquities.

By Robert R. Cargill

The Museum of the Bible is once again playing defense. After a series of embarrassing setbacks that struck at the heart of its credibility as a museum, two recent revelations have dealt additional devastating setbacks.

Early in April 2020, the Museum of the Bible’s Dead Sea Scroll fragments were scientifically proven to be fakes. All of them. A study—commissioned by the museum itself—determined that the scroll fragments, which had served as the crown jewels of the museum’s many exhibits, were all modern forgeries.

About the same time, the museum announced that an additional 11,500 artifacts—5,000 papyri fragments and 6,500 clay objects—were found to have been stolen from Iraq and Egypt and sold to Museum Chairman of the Board and chief benefactor, Hobby Lobby billionaire President Steve Green. He paid an undisclosed sum of money to acquire the goods from the antiquities market for his private collection, with the intention of donating them to his museum. After news broke that these items were stolen, Green agreed to return the objects to Iraq and Egypt.

These two recent revelations confirmed what many scholars, both friends and critics of the museum, have been suggesting since before the museum opened its doors: The danger of buying unprovenanced antiquities from black-market dealers is that they may be stolen or forgeries. The Museum of the Bible has been forced to come to terms with the realization that they are now the latest, and perhaps most prominent, example of this truth.

All of this has cast the Museum of the Bible in a dark light.

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