In a laboratory in Berlin, Germany, a team of researchers has been pouring over fragments of an ancient text. Once on display in Washington D.C.’s Museum of the Bible, it is believed that these partial pieces of text come together to form a piece of the world-renowned Dead Sea Scrolls. Thousands of visitors traveled to the museum to see them on display. However, after further investigation, the experts made a discovery that turned everything upside down.
It Began Seventy Years Ago
The story goes back more than seven decades ago when in 1946, a group of Bedouin shepherds came across a lost bundle of scrolls in a cave in Qumran, which is now part of the Palestinian West Bank.
Besides the initial awe over the scrolls, many believed they had little to no historical value, although not everyone was willing to agree. This resulted in the documents being sold to a local antique dealer named Khalil Eskander Shahin, otherwise known as Kando.
Sending The Texts To An Expert
From Kando, the scrolls were transferred into the hands of the Biblical scholar Dr. John C. Trever the following year. Dr. John C. Trever examined the scrolls and made note of the similarities between them and the Nash Papyrus, which is considered to be an ancient biblical text.
It wasn’t long before others caught on to the discovery and began to understand their importance. This led them to go out on a mission to find these mysterious caves.
There Were Hundreds Of Manuscript
In total, more than 980 manuscripts were eventually collected from the Qumran area, found in eleven separate caves. Incredibly, the oldest of the artifacts discovered are believed to date back to the 3rd century BC.
More impressively, they include experts from the Hebrew Bible, which predate any other copies that have ever been discovered by more than 1,000 years! This newfound information was incredibly exciting and beyond groundbreaking for all of the experts involved.
The Scrolls Had A Major Impact
Although the discovery was mind-blowing for many people, for Biblical scholars, it was particularly revolutionary. Even now, more than 70 later after the initial discovery of the scrolls, archaeologists continue to comb the caves around Qumran in hopes of finding something new that other experts may have missed over the years.
During all this time, the scrolls have achieved legendary status within the Christian world, as it may have unveiled answers about the faith.
Spreading Out The Documents
The Kando family then began to sell the numerous fragments of the scrolls to museums and private collectors around the world during the 1950s and 60s. However, UNESCO eventually put a ban on the selling of these artifacts.
Then, around 2002, a new group of similar artifacts began to pop up around antiquities markets. At the time, it was revealed that Kando’s son, William, had opened up a vault containing additional pieces of the prized manuscript.
The Connection To Hobby Lobby
What was even more surprising at the time, was that the pieces of the manuscript caught the attention of Steve Green, the president of the arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby.
Back in the 1970s, Green’s father, David, had founded the business based on principles that closely aligned with the faith of Christianity. By the time that the Kandos had reopened the vault, the Green family had made billions of dollars off of their enterprise.
The Greens Had Plans Of Their Own
Since at least 2010, the Green family had been planning on establishing what they would call the Museum of the Bible. The goal was to have a collection of biblical artifacts that would be used to educate people on the Bible.
In 2012, the family purchased a location for their so-called museum which was ironically just a few blocks from the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Over the next five years, the Green’s would fill their museum with a series of Christian-themed exhibitions.
There Was a Controversy
Yet, before the museum could even open, the Green family became wrapped up in a controversy regarding the morality behind their venture. Then, in July 2017, Hobby Lobby was required to return more than 5,000 ancient artifacts to Iraq.
Supposedly, the company was being investigated over smuggling these ancient and historically important relics out of the country without permission.
Relations With The Kandos
On top of the accusation that the Green’s had smuggled artifacts out of Iraq, it is also believed that the Green family had visited Zurich, where the Kando’s vault is located.
Furthermore, by the time that the Museum of the Bible made its catalog of artifacts available to the public, the list contained 13 fragments of what are believed to be part of the Dead Sea Scrolls. However, some experts purport that these fragments might be something else.
There Was Testing To Be Done
So, regarding the doubt of the authenticity of the scrolls, the museum asked Berlin’s Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing to examine the scrolls. At this point, it was April 2017, just a mere seven months before the museum was supposed to open.
Regardless, even though the experts were unable to determine the authenticity of the manuscripts in time, they still went on public display for the official opening of the museum in November of that year.
People Had Their Suspicions
At the time of the museum opening, the authenticity of the manuscripts belonging to the museum was still a matter of academic debate. Yet, even though nothing had been proven, numerous scholars were also expressing their suspicions.
In 2017, Kipp Davis from Trinity Western University’s Dead Sea Scroll Institute told The Guardian, “There is a spectrum of authenticity. I put six of the Green family fragments close to the forgery side of the spectrum.”
The Fragments Didn’t Go Anywhere
For almost a year, the fragments remained on display in the front of the museum. The exhibit attracted thousands of eager visitors that came to the Green family’s museum. But then, in October of 2018, the Museum of the Bible released a shocking statement.
Rumors began spreading that the results of the authenticity test were finally in. Something countless people had been thinking about. However, to some, they weren’t the results that they were looking for.
The Testing Process Was Extensive
According to the press release, the museum sent five of the fragments to Berlin for further analysis. There, they were tested using a number of methods such as x-ray scanning, digital microscopy, and x-ray spectroscopy.
Of course, they also tested the composition of the ink and the sediment compared to other pieces that have proven to be real. Through this testing, the experts were able to gain a more in-depth understanding of the controversial artifacts.
In the end, the team of researchers ultimately concluded that the fragments showed “characteristics inconsistent with ancient origin.” Interestingly, this isn’t completely uncommon.
In the past, forgers have been known to add handwritten text to authentically-dated pieces of leather and papyrus. By doing this, these people are able to create fakes that look completely legitimate. To prove they’re fake, the fragments would need to be sent to a lab and have the ink tested.
The Museum Gave a Response
After learning about the results from the test, the museum released a statement and offered to answer any questions from the public. According to Jeffery Kloha, the museum’s chief curatorial officer, “We had hoped that the testing would render results.”
He continued, “[But] this is an opportunity to educate the public on the importance of verifying the authenticity of rare biblical artifacts, the elaborate testing process undertaken, and our commitment to transparency.”
The Museum’s Next Move
After the announcement of the findings, the museum thought that it would only be right to withdraw the five fragments from the display that had proven to be forged.
However, eight other pieces still remained on display in the museum’s collection even though some scholars such as Kipp Davis believed that numerous (if not all) of the other ones, could be fake as well. Other supposed pieces of the scroll were still being examined.
Pieces Of The Scroll Do Not Come Cheap
While it is still unknown how much money that the Green family spent on the supposed fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, it’s assumed it did not come at a low price. In some instances, pieces have been known to sell from more than $1 million on the open market.
Although Green may have been duped out of an extreme amount of money, he can rest easy knowing that he’s not the only person to have been fooled for the same reason.
Forgeries Are Not Hard To Come By
Forgeries are not uncommon in the world of historical artifacts. For example, according to Arstein Justnes, a researcher from the University of Agder in Norway, up to 90 percent of the fragments that have emerged since the opening of the vault in 2002 is more than likely forgeries.
Nevertheless, William Kando has been firm in his defense about the authenticity of the artifacts that his family owns. He responded to The Guardian, stating, “It is not possible we were misled. The fragments are 100 percent [genuine].”
The Green Family Didn’t Have The Reaction Most People Expected
Surprisingly, the Green family seemed to take the news of the forgeries in stride, especially regarding the controversy surrounding some of their museum’s most prized exhibits.
Kloha continued to explain, “The museum continues to support and encourage research on the objects and others in its collection both to inform the public about leading-edge research methods and ensure our exhibits are presenting the most accurate and updated information.” In light of the findings, things remained uneasy at the museum.
There Were Two Sides To The Argument
For around two years, the controversial artifacts remained in the museum, although there was still a discrepancy. At the time, some people were convinced that the fragments of the manuscript were authentic, while others proclaimed they were clearly forgeries.
Regardless of the truth, a number of the supposed fragments of the Dead Sea Scroll remained on display at the Green’s Museum of the Bible. By 2020, they boasted that they owned a total of 16 pieces, which means they somehow acquired more.
The Fragments Were Still A Major Attraction
Up until March 2020, the pieces that were deemed part of the Dead Sea Scrolls were the centerpiece of an exhibit that was located on the fourth floor of the museum.
In order to display the pieces of papyrus in the best way possible, they were displayed in cases that were lit by a soft light. While thousands of people continued to visit the museum just to see the fragments, some new evidence came to light that changed everything.
Contacting Fraud Insight
According to National Geographic, in February 2019, the museum contacted a company known as Art Fraud Insights, to learn more about its services. The company’s founder, Colette Loll, was an academic with a deep understanding of art history as well as international crime.
The company was founded with the goal of educating the public about fraud. It didn’t take long before Loll had assembled a team to take on the case.
Loll Has More Than Enough Experience
Throughout the years, Loll has worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Department of Homeland security, and a series of NGOs. On top of raising awareness of issues regarding forgery, she also aids in the prevention of cultural racketeering across the country.
Because of her extensive background, she seemed like the perfect person to take on the job of investigating the museum’s potentially fake scrolls.
Loll Had Her Own Requirments For The Project
Although the museum offered to fund the project, Loll had some of her own stipulations about heading up the investigation. For starters, according to National Geographic, she insisted that the process would need to be done completely independently.
She also wanted to ensure that the findings would be released to the public, regardless of the results. In a turn of events, the Green family agreed, and the investigation of the scrolls was back underway in no time.
The Investigation Begins And Ends
Over the course of the next five months, a team of five experts made several trips to the museum in order to analyze the artifacts. By November 2019, the team had come to a final conclusion about the potential Dead Sea Scroll fragments.
Amazingly, they had determined that not only a few but all of the Green’s fragments were indeed forgeries and that none of them ever belonged to the Dead Sea Scrolls.
How They Came To Their Conclusion
In order to reach their conclusion, the team made a number of observations about the museum’s scrolls. One of the biggest discrepancies was that the majority of the known Dead Sea Scroll pieces are believed to have been written on some type of parchment.
In the case of the pieces that were possessed by the Green family, they seemed to be made up of a completely different kind of fabric.
Leather Didn’t Match Up With The Scrolls
According to the report, the fragments of the scroll found in the Green’s museum were made up from an ancient leather, most likely taken from the Judean desert.
Furthermore, it’s possible that one of the pieces was actually taken from a shoe that dates back to the ancient Roman era. Yet, after the leather found its way into the hands of forgers, it was no longer recognized as a piece of a sandal but passed as a piece of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Further Research Showed More Results
Researcher Jennifer Mass from the authentication company Scientific Analysis of Fine Art conducted some additional tests of her own. She made some shocking discoveries as well. Mass found that the fragments that the Green’s had on display had been soaked in a substance that was most likely glue.
Those who forged the fragments had assumed that it would have recreated the appearance of the real Dead Sea Scrolls, and they were right, for the most part.
More Proof Came To Light
According to the reports, when the fragments were analyzed under a microscope, it provided further doubt about their authenticity.
A close inspection proved that the writing had been added to the leather at a later date, far later than the time the leather would have initially been used. In addition, those that forged the fragments may have also attempted to obscure the writing on the leather by dusting the pieces with clay.
Calcium Was Also Discovered
Furthermore, using x-ray technology, conservationist Aaron Shugar from Buffalo State College also discovered the presence of calcium buried deep within the fragments.
According to the experts, this means that the fabric was prepared using lime, a technique that was believed to have been developed long after the creation of the real Dead Sea Scrolls. This was just yet another reason why so many people were speculating about the authenticity of the Green’s artifacts in their museum.
There Was No Way Around It
At this point, Loll and her team had no other choice but to announce that the Green family had purchased fake scrolls.
In the report, Loll summarized her findings stating, “After an exhaustive review of all the imaging and scientific analysis results, it is evident that none of the textual fragments in [the] Museum of the Bible’s Dead Sea Scroll collection are authentic.” This didn’t come as a surprise to many who had their suspicions all along.
It Was A Deliberate Forgery
Loll continued, “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.”
But the question remained how such a crime could have taken place. As it turns out, the pieces in the Green’s museum are part of a collection known as the “post-2002 Dead Sea Scrolls,” and they have an incredible story of their own.
Laws In The 1970s Rocked The Boat
After the original discovery of the scrolls at Qumran, it appears that Kando had established an incredibly profitable business acquiring fragments of the scroll from the Bedouins and selling them off.
As mentioned earlier, in the 1970s, stricter laws were passed that controlled the trading of antiques in the region. Because of this, the supply of relics, both authentic and otherwise, had all but dried up.
Everything Changed In 2002
Then, in 2002, things began to change. Within certain circles, new artifacts began appearing all over, with some of them claiming to be genuine fragments of the legendary Dead Sea Scrolls.
This was around the exact time that a rumor had emerged that the Kando family had opened a secret vault that contained these fragments. Then, it was also said that they began selling the treasures they had been keeping safe inside the vault.
People Began To Catch On
By 2010, eight years after Kando’s family had opened the vault, experts believed that there were more than 70 purported fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls that were circulating around the antiquities market.
Six years later, people began to suspect that those sold out of the Kando’s vault were some of the ones that were fake. Then in 2017, a team of researchers published a paper claiming that at least nine of the 2002 pieces were fake.
Many People Became Doubtful
After this revelation, it was believed by many experts in the field that all of the pieces that came on the market after 2002 should be held into question. Furthermore, according to Arstein Justnes of the University of Agder, it didn’t look good for overall findings.
He mentioned to National Geographic that “Once one or two of the fragments were fake, you know all of them probably are, because they come from the same sources, and they basically look the same.”
The Green’s Really Struck Out
According to the report, incredibly, all 16 of the Museum of the Bible’s fragments turned out to be fake in one way or another, despite the fact that they came from four different sources.
However, even though they came from different sellers because they were all fake, it suggests that they may have come from the same forger. So, this begs the question. If they were all fakes from the same scheme, who was behind it all?
It Led Back To Kando’s Son
As it turns out, seven of the fragments in the Green’s museum were purchased directly from Kando’s son. This made a lot of people wonder if the family that had once supposedly been in possession of the real scrolls used their family’s reputation to make some extra money.
After the publication of Art Fraud Insight’s report, they declined to comment after being contacted by National Geographic about the findings. Their refusal to make a statement led to a lot of people raising their eyebrows at the newest generation of Kandos.
The Museum Had Something To Say
Meanwhile, the Museum of the Bible made a statement about the issue to the public. They commented, “Notwithstanding the less than favorable results, we have done what no other institution with post-2002 DSS fragments has done.”
He continued, “The sophisticated and costly methods employed to discover the truth about our collection could be used to shed light on other suspicious fragments and perhaps even be effective in uncovering who is responsible for these forgeries.”
So, at the end of the day, a lot of people learned the unfortunate truth about many fragments that were passed off as genuine portions of the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls. Not only did they find that all of the fragments at the Museum of the Bible were fake, but that it’s possible there are countless more out there that someone else may purchase unknowingly.
This discovery has also shed light on the issue that people will go to great lengths to forge ancient relics, and the Dead Sea Scroll fragments may not be the only artifacts people have to worry about.