ReligionScience

Dead Sea Scrolls Bought by Hobby Lobby are FAKE

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Transcript:

The Museum of the Bible has admitted to being the victim of a massive fraud: it turns out, there is no god and the Bible is just nonsense made up by a bunch of semi-literate goat herders.

Just kidding! They haven’t quite gotten there yet but they have done something quite unexpected for an ostensibly religious organization: they hired outside experts to examine their most prized artifacts, and then actually made the results public despite the finding that all of those artifacts are bogus.

I’m talking about the Dead Sea Scrolls, texts on parchment and papyrus that are some of the earliest known manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible. Now before I go any further, let me take a moment to pop some bubbles for the edgy atheists crowing on social media: this news is not about the 1,000 or so Dead Sea Scrolls that are currently housed in the Israel Museum’s Shrine of the Book. Those were discovered in the mid-20th century in some caves near, as you might have guessed by the name, the Dead Sea. They date from about 400 BCE to the first century AD, according to radiocarbon and paleographic dating as well as from coins found nearby.

That is actual science, and the existence of fragments of the Bible dating back to that long ago does not in any way support the existence of an angry God who gives people boils for fun, just like how the discovery of the Homeric Hymns, which predate the Dead Sea Scrolls by several centuries, in no way suggests that Dionysius exists. So even if all of the Dead Sea Scrolls were found to be forgeries, it wouldn’t put a dent in any of the evidence for or against the existence of the Christian God.

That said, all of the Dead Sea Scrolls were not found to be forgeries — only many of the Scrolls that were “discovered” after 2002, and all of that which were on display at the Museum of the Bible in Washington DC. 

This isn’t shocking news, even to the Museum of the Bible. For years, experts have questioned the authenticity of the newly discovered Dead Sea Scrolls. You see, the originals were discovered literally by a bedouin looking through caves to find his lost sheep. From there, they went to an antiquities dealer and then to researchers. Bedouins have constantly beat archaeologists to these finds, and that makes it kind of difficult to determine their provenance. So when the son of the original trusted antiquities dealer started peddling new discoveries, collectors just sort of accepted that they must be real. Unfortunately, when skeptical experts started examining them more closely in the past few years, they found some problems. For instance, one fragment had modern day ground up salt crystals on it. Was one authenticator eating potato chips while he read over it? No, because the ink on the leather was written over top of the salt. There are a lot of other more subtle problems with them but that one really sums up how completely ready these people were to be suckered.

That’s why this was such a comparatively easy grift: the collectors really, truly wanted these to be real Dead Sea Scrolls. The person fabricating them didn’t even need to try very hard, just putting some Bible verses on ancient pieces of leather in blocky Hebrew. Despite inconsistencies, each fragment was quickly and easily selling for tens of thousands of dollars to churches and individual believers who desperately wanted a piece of their religion’s history. And not to say that Christians are any more gullible than anyone else but it’s not like they have a lot of experience with real evidence and real historical artifacts. I mean, throughout history there have been many churches that claimed to have the official, confirmed foreskin of Jesus Christ. They have philosophical debates over who has it, or if anyone has it because maybe the foreskin actually ascended to heaven with Jesus even though it wasn’t attached at the time. Historians of religions gotta deal with a LOT of bullshit.

Anyway, it’s been known for years that many of the Museum of the Bible’s Dead Sea Scrolls are forgeries. So kudos to them for actually sponsoring independent investigation, and then for actually publishing the results when it came to light that exactly zero of their Scrolls were real.

Why would the Museum be so honest about all this? Well, I have a theory. The Museum is funded by none other than Hobby Lobby. You may know Hobby Lobby for their virulent opposition to women’s bodily autonomy and affordable healthcare, or for their illegal smuggling operation that looted thousands of antiquities from Iraq. But what you might not know is that Hobby Lobby is also a craft store. And what do they have on sale right now? That’s right: Dead Sea Scroll forgery supplies. Ancient leather. Reed pens with worn nibs. Hebrew letter stencils.

The entire thing was just an international multi-million dollar marketing scheme! And now that you’re all quarantined, what else are you going to do with all your time inside? There are only so many shows on Netflix! You might as well know how to forge your own Dead Sea Scroll!

That’s my theory, anyway. It could also be that they realized it was only a matter of time before everyone knew they had forgeries anyway so they may as well get ahead of the story and use it to remind everyone that there’s a Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC. No such thing as bad publicity for a religion, after all! So it could be that. But my money’s on the crafts.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor.

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One Comment

  1. Hi, Rebecca:
    First post. I wanted to mention the reason that MotB (aka Hobby Lobby) revealed that their scroll fragments were fake was because they had to. According to several news reports (including The Economist), they exibited their collection in 2017 and immediately raised suspicions; several fragments were found to be fake by Germany’s Federal Institute for Materials Research. They submitted the whole bunch to Art Fraud Insights, LLC for testing. The director, Colette Lott stipulated as part of the contract that AFI would have control over testing and would publish the testing results and make them known to the public.
    The report discusses how the fragments were doctored to appear genuine and how examination showed that some pieces may have been ancient shoe leather. The 214-page report is full of photos and geeky details and the biographies at the end should be an inspiration for anyone going into the fields of archeology or ancient manuscripts.

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