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A fragment from the Dead Sea Scrolls under a magnifying glass
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/EPA/J. Hollander

Researchers spot fake Dead Sea Scrolls

October 23, 2018

The Museum of the Bible has announced that five pieces of its centerpiece Dead Sea Scrolls collection are fakes. German researchers found that the fragments had showed "characteristics inconsistent with ancient origin."


The Washington-based Museum of the Bible on Monday announced that five fragments of its centerpiece collection of Dead Sea Scrolls are fakes.

The museum said it had sent the five fragments in question to Germany's Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM) after independent researchers had questioned their authenticity.

BAM researchers found that the fragments "show characteristics inconsistent with ancient origin." As such, the museum said it has decided to remove them from display.

"Though we had hoped the testing would render different results, 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," said Jeffrey Kloha, the museum's chief curator, in a statement.

"As an educational institution entrusted with cultural heritage, the museum upholds and adheres to all museum and ethical guidelines on collection care, research and display."

Read more: 2,000-year-old burial complex discovered near Sea of Galilee

Excavation of the Dead Sea Scrolls
Ancient fragments known as the Dead Sea Scrolls found in cavers near the body of waterImage: picture-alliance/United Archives/WHA

Ancient texts

Last year, the fragments were sent to forgery experts in Berlin to determine their authenticity. At the time, the museum's director of collections, David Trobisch, noted that forging ancient texts is an extremely complex affair.

"If this is a forgery, it's probably one of my colleagues," Trobisch told New York-based Live Science magazine at the time, referring to the high level of knowledge required for the task.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, considered the oldest known manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible, were discovered between 1947 and 1956 in the Qumran caves, which are recognized by Israel as a natural heritage site.

The Museum of the Bible now has 11 fragments it claims are authentic, although some of those are undergoing further research. Most of the Dead Sea Scrolls are held under tight control by the Israeli Antiquities Authority.

Month before its grand opening in November 2017, the museum was forced to pay $3 million (€2.6 million) in a settlement for its part in acquiring some 5,500 smuggled artifacts, including ancient clay cuneiform tablets, from Iraq.

Read more: Germany returns 3,000-year-old relics to Mexico

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