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Biblical Archaeology Review 46:4, Fall 2020

Strata: Fake Dead Sea Scrolls at the Museum of the Bible

The Museum of the Bible holds 16 fragments of reputed Dead Sea Scrolls in their collection. On Friday, March 13, 2020, a study revealed that all 16 of these are modern forgeries. Already in 2018, a different study had tested five of the 16 fragments and concluded that they were fakes. This new study—which was conducted by Art Fraud Insights, led by the art fraud investigator Colette Loll, and funded by the Museum of the Bible—analyzed all 16 fragments.

Through a series of physical and chemical tests, Loll and her team determined that the fragments had been deliberately manipulated to look ancient. The forgers had used old pieces of leather and written on them with ink in modern times. Using a microscope, the investigators could see pools of ink in cracks of the weathered leather, cracks that would not have been there when the leather was new. Additionally, they noted places where the ink overlaid the uneven mineral crust of the ancient leather. Had the fragment been written in ancient times, this would not be the case.

Further, the material of the 16 fragments was suspicious. The majority of the authentic Dead Sea Scrolls were written on parchment, whereas these fragments were written on leather. Although the leather was ancient, it was still an unusual writing surface and raised a red flag for investigators.

These 16 fakes tricked collectors, the founder of the Museum of the Bible who purchased the fragments, and some biblical scholars. Yet there were always skeptics, who thought that the new Dead Sea Scroll fragments appearing on the antiquities market after 2002 were not authentic. This report seems to settle things.

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