Sometimes it feels really good to be right. In November 2017, the Museum of the Bible opened in Washington, DC. Shortly after the museum opened, I wrote about the museum's prized artifacts, several fragments of Dead Sea Scrolls.
In my blog post last year I pointed out the highly suspect authenticity of the Dead Sea Scrolls that the Museum of the Bible had on display. And now we know that at least some of them are forgeries. The museum announced yesterday that five of their scroll fragments had been removed from display after concluding they were likely not authentic.
Jeffrey Kloha, the museum's head curator, told The Washington Post, “If questions arise, then we want to answer those questions in an objective and honest way.”
Kloha, in an earlier statement, said that the process provided an opportunity for the museum to show its “commitment to transparency.”
Between 1947 and 1956, hundreds of ancient scroll fragments were found in Qumran, an area in the Judean desert. They were dated to be about 2,000 years old. The Israeli Antiquities Authority keeps most of these scrolls and fragments. They display them in the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem. For decades after the scrolls were discovered it was practically impossible for collectors to obtain them.
Suddenly, in 2002, at least 70 new fragments appeared on the market. Scholars have been questioning the authenticity of many of these scrolls since they first appeared. The scrolls in the possession of the Museum of the Bible are included in those with questionable authenticity.
Even before the museum opened last year, it faced criticism for several reasons. The museum is primarily supported by the Green family, the family famous for owning the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores. Their notorious fight against Obama-era policies regarding birth control coverage led to a battle for "religious freedom" that was taken to the Supreme Court. Hobby Lobby won that battle.
Many critics of the museum have taken issue with the glitzy, sleek way the museum is designed, the very questionable motives of the Green family, and their suspect methods of acquiring artifacts.
They were actually fined $3 million for smuggling Iraqi artifacts. The Justice Department said the deals Hobby Lobby made for the artifacts were "fraught with red flags."
Artein Justnes, a professor of biblical studies at the University of Agder in Norway, has a website where he details surveys that conclude that at least 90% of the scrolls that have appeared since 2002 are forgeries. The Green family reportedly purchased their 13 pieces between 2009 and 2014. This was a time when the Greens were busy amassing some 40,000 artifacts through antiquities trading.
Robert Cargill, an assistant professor of classics at the University of Iowa, told LiveScience that Steve Green, the current president of Hobby Lobby, has "made it very clear that he wants to use the museum as a proselytizing device to make more Christians. When you’ve got a mission like that, it’s not good science, it’s not critical method, it’s an evangelical tool."
Justnes actually believes that all the scrolls the Green family has are forgeries. He cites the “brutal and hesitant” style of the writing, where authentic scrolls tend to have a much more smooth and refined writing. “They don’t look like authentic Dead Sea Scrolls,” he said.
I would be very surprised if the Green family had all of the scrolls taken off display. If anything, I suspect the removal of the five scrolls may have been a tactical move to lend an air of legitimacy to their controversial museum. Kloha's remarks about being "objective" and "honest" are not exactly striking me with a great deal of sincerity.
But perhaps I am wrong and more studies will be done on the remaining scrolls. If Justnes is right, the Greens better start planning for what will take the place of the remaining eight scrolls.