The 16 Dead Sea Scrolls in Washington Are Forgeries!

The 16 Dead Sea Scrolls in Washington Are Forgeries!

An entire collection of Dead Sea Scroll fragments on display in Washington D.C. are actually forgeries, according to new research.

National Geographic reports that a group of independent researchers has confirmed that the 16 fragments owned by the Museum of the Bible are fakes that fooled collectors, some biblical scholars, and the museum that had the scrolls on display.

In October 2018, Museum of the Bible announced five of the fragments it had on display were apparently faked and decided to retain to commissions experts to investigate its entire collection.

The more than 200-page report conducted by researchers from Art Fraud Insights, says that the fakes, though likely printed on ancient leather, actually bore a number of glaring differences compared to the more than 100,000 real fragments of the ancient text.

For one, a team lead by art fraud investigator Colette Loll says that real scrolls were made from tanned parchment as opposed to the museum’s leather versions.

Investigators hypothesize the forgeries could have been re-purposed from ancient leather sandals found during the Roman-era.

The fakes also appear to have been soaked in an amber-colored solution thought to be some kind of animal-skin glue which smoothed out the leather and made it look aesthetically similar to the real versions.

As explained by National Geographic, collagen in the parchment on which the real Dead Sea Scrolls are written broke down to form a gelatin that gives them their characteristic look.

Microscopic analysis of the fakes also revealed characteristics like ink pooling and torn edges caused by the inscription that wouldn’t have been likely if the leather was new at the time they were made.

‘The material is degraded, it’s so brittle, so inflexible,’ investigator Abigail Quandt, the head of book and paper conservation at Baltimore’s Walters Art Museum told National Geographic.

‘It’s no wonder that the scholars were thinking these were untrained scribes, because they were really struggling to form these characters and keep their pens under control.’

While the report doesn’t illuminate  much about the provenance of the fakes, it does cast doubt on an entire class of Dead Sea Scrolls that surfaced after 2002 – a class the Museum of the Bible’s fakes belong to.

According to National Geographic, about 70 snippets of biblical text suddenly poured into the antiquity market in the early 2000’s.

The origins of the scrolls have never been determined, but scholars have long cast doubt on their authenticity.

‘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 look basically the same,’ Årstein Justnes, a researcher at Norway’s University of Agder who also is invovled with Lying Pen of Scribes, a project tracks the post-2002 fragments, told National Geographic.

The museum says it plans to reorganize its exhibit to show how the scrolls were proven to faked and is revaluing the origin of other artifacts in its collection.

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