U.S. Museum's Dead Sea Scroll Fragments Turn Out to Be Elaborate Fakes

Daisy Hernandez
·3-min read
Photo credit: SAUL LOEB - Getty Images
Photo credit: SAUL LOEB - Getty Images

From Popular Mechanics

  • Dead Sea Scrolls acquired by the Museum of the Bible have been analyzed and found to be fakes.

  • Several authentication techniques were used to study the scrolls on a microscopic level.

After conducting a battery of tests on fragments of the historic Dead Sea Scrolls, officials from the Museum of the Bible have confirmed that several samples are fakes. For some, like Dead Sea Scroll expert Kipp Davis of Trinity Western University, the news wasn’t surprising.

Since 2017, Davis had expressed doubts about the authenticity of the fragments due to factors that include “scribal quality and technique in the penning of the texts as well as the physical composition and current state of the manuscript media.”

Davis specifically called out “at least seven fragments” in the museum’s archives as “modern forgeries,” sharing that analyses of additional fragments would be “forthcoming.” The museum had their remaining scroll fragments checked and it turns out those are all fakes, too.

Colette Loll, founder of Art Fraud Insights, says that her firm performed an “exhaustive review” and found that “none of the textual fragments in the Museum of the Bible’s Dead Sea Scroll collection are authentic.”

It also didn’t help that in 2002—around the time the museum acquired the scroll fragments—“suspected forgeries entered the market.”

Photo credit: Museum of the Bible / Art Fraud Insights
Photo credit: Museum of the Bible / Art Fraud Insights

Testing Techniques

In order to check the authenticity of the fragments, experts used “multispectral and reflectance transformation imaging [RTI], traditional and 3D microscopy, [and] microchemical testing.”

Multispectral imaging measures light and other data within a wavelength along the electromagnetic spectrum. This kind of imaging is often used to closely study documents and art.

RTI creates what’s called a surrogate image which is captured by a fixed camera, taking multiple shots of the same object with varied light sources. From here, software compiles all the images into one composite file that looks like a regular photo, “but is actually the documentation of the subject’s surface interaction with the light positions, at the individual pixel level.” Light direction, zooming, and image enhancing options can be manipulated to make markings more visible.

Additionally, Microchemical testing involves studying how particles react to specific chemicals. Researchers can then infer information about the object they’re analyzing based on the resulting reactions.

The results showed that the fragments “showed signs of modern writing, inscribed upon archaeological deposits of leather, coated with a protein-based type of animal skin glue, which acted to reinforce the material, while also replicating the surface sheen of authentic Dead Sea Scroll originals.”

It remains unknown who was behind the forgeries. Jeffrey Kloha, chief curator at the museum, hopes that additional analyses will help experts crack down on the production and sale of fraudulent historical artifacts.

“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,” says Kloha.

The Museum of the Bible has been transparent about the unfortunate discovery and has shared Art Fraud Insights’ official robust report.

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