Back in 2018 I was posting the details of how the Washington based Museum Of the Bible revealed that they had been conned when purchasing some items. They admitted that five of their prized Dead Sea Scroll fragments that they had been displaying were forgeries. Do they even have one real Dead Sea Scroll Fragment?
The latest update is that all 16 of their dead sea scroll fragments, their complete collection, has now been verified as forgeries. What is even more staggering is that 11,500 of their antiquities are of dubious origin. That consists of 5,000 ancient papyrus scraps and 6,500 ancient clay pieces. Their provenance cannot be verified, prompting concerns that they are probably looted or stolen, so they are to be returned to the middle east.
This is a posting about the importance of verifying things and that leaning upon subject matter experts truly does matter. It perhaps also highlights how easy it is to be completely fooled if you let your passion and strongly held beliefs take precedence over cautious skepticism.
First a bit of background – Who are the Museum of the Bible?
Founded by the staunch evangelical Steve Green, the CEO of Hobby Lobby, the $500 million museum project was first announced in 2012, and then finally opened its doors in Nov 2017.
These are evangelicals in the Trump era, and so it is perhaps inevitable that this is a story of spin, corruption, and deceit.
You don’t need to take my word on this, simply check out the Wikipedia page that cites Biblical scholars who have very carefully reviewed them and then had this to say (emphases mine)…
Biblical scholars Joel Baden of Yale Divinity School and Candida Moss of University of Birmingham, who wrote the book Bible Nation: The United States of Hobby Lobby, expressed concerns about the museum’s mission, saying, “They have misled the public at large by promoting a curriculum and a museum that tell only the story that the Greens want to tell, without acknowledging that scholars and experts have spent decades, indeed centuries, laboring to provide very different accounts of the Bible and its history.”
After spending many hours while writing the book with museum founder Steve Green and president Cary Summers, they concluded:
It’s not really a museum of the Bible, it’s a museum of American Protestantism. Their whole purpose is to show this country as a Christian country governed by Christian morality. (Moss)
Their three-minute promo is fascinating demonstration of this problem. At least half of it is a reenactment of American history which has no bearing on the Bible—the signing of the Declaration of Independence, for example, or the Revolutionary War. The worry is that the museum portrays a story of the Bible that culminates in Protestantism and America. (Baden)
John Fea, associate professor of American history at Messiah College, and chair of the history department, said, “It’s hard to see this as anything other than an attempt to try to bring Christian values in the Bible’s teachings as understood by evangelical protestants, like the Greens, into the center of American political life and American cultural life.”
Back in July 2017 it was discovered that they had been funding ISIS.
In order to stock up the museum they entered the market and were vigorously buying everything they could get their hands on. That included the illegal purchase of ancient cuneiform tablets on the Syrian and Iraq black market and then proceeded to smuggle them into the US. That became news because they got caught and were fined …
Then came the news in 2018 that 5 of their 16 dead sea scrolls were forgeries.
An independent scientific analysis has now revealed that all 16 of those fragments are modern forgeries.
The full report from Art Fraud Insights is available here.
Within that report they now confirm …
“After an exhaustive review of all the imaging and scientific analysis results, it is evident that none of the textual fragments in Museum of the Bible’s Dead Sea Scroll collection are authentic,”
How exactly was this determined?
The museum staff, to their credit, launched the independent verification, and so this is that story, as told by Art Fraud Insights.
Art Net has some further insights
After years of pressure to return potentially smuggled artifacts, the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC, is facing yet another blow. Its board chairman, Steve Green, who is also president of the Hobby Lobby stores, is returning 11,500 antiquities from his biblical art collection to the governments of Iraq and Egypt, with the assistance of the museum he opened in late 2017.
Questions about the provenance of Green’s $30 million collection, which he began amassing in 2009, have plagued the museum for years. In 2017, Hobby Lobby returned 5,500 smuggled Iraqi artifacts and paid a $3 million fine as part of a settlement with the US government. A lawsuit had accused the company of importing the ancient cuneiform tablets by claiming they were tile samples.
This however perhaps sums it all up …
Despite efforts to reform its collecting practices, the Museum of the Bible still faces criticism. The Green family “poured millions on the legal and illegal antiquities market without having a clue about the history, the material features, cultural value, fragilities, and problems of the objects,” said Manchester University papyrologist Roberta Mazza at the Society of Biblical Literature’s annual conference in November, as reported by the Guardian. Such irresponsible collecting “is a crime against culture and knowledge of immense proportions—as the facts unfolding under our eyes do prove.”
The key phrase there is “without having a clue“.
One Last Thought
In any endeavour, passion and enthusiasm are to be applauded and encouraged. If however you discard the consensus embraced by subject matter experts, and you have also tossed basic ethics and skeptical caution to one side, then exactly what message are you sending to your target audience?
In the age of the Cult of Trump it should be no surprise to discover the Steve Green, the Museum’s founder, is an enthusiastic Trump devotee. When we think of that political cult, the thought that immediately springs to mind consists of words such as “Deception”, “Lies”, “Alternative Facts”, and “Incompetence”. While that might not exactly have been the messaging goal for the Museum of the Bible, it is the outcome. Mr Green is at least being faithful to the values of the tribe that he associates with.
- The full report from Art Fraud Insights is available here.
- Art Net (30 Mar 2020) – Amid Scrutiny, the Museum of the Bible’s Founder Will Return a Staggering 11,500 Artifacts of Dubious Origin to the Middle East
- Ars Technica (23rd Mar 2020) – All 16 Dead Sea Scroll fragments in the Museum of the Bible are fakes