Dead Sea Scrolls: Their Discovery, History, Research and Fakes

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Temple scroll
The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of Jewish texts found in desert caves in the West Bank near Qumran in the 1940s and 1950s. They include the world’s oldest surviving biblical texts, oldest copies of the Hebrew Bible and documents outlining the beliefs of the Essenes — a little understood Jewish sect. Dated to between 250 B.C. and A.D. 70 they have been described by scholars as — the greatest manuscript discovery of modern times — and consist of rolled manuscripts found in jars in 11 caves overlooking the northwest corner of the Dead Sea, near the archaeological site of Qumran between 1947 and 1956.

Scholars have identified as many as 100,000 Dead Sea Scrolls fragments, which come from more than 1,000 original manuscripts. Some experts believe the oldest fragments may date back to the fifth century B.C. Some of them are relatively large: One copy of the Book of Isaiah is 7.3 meters (24 feet) long and contains a near-complete version of the text of that book. Most, however, are much smaller — inscribed with a few words, a few lines or even a even couple letters. Many fragments contain no writing at all. Assembling these fragments into cohesive texts is no easy and has been compared to putting together hundreds of jigsaw puzzles whose thousands of pieces have are scattered in many different locations around the world. [Source: Chanan Tigay, Smithsonian magazine, January-February 2023]

Caves at the north end of the Dead Sea have also yielded Jewish religious writings, personal letters, and administrative documents. In 2008, the Israel Museum and Israel Antiquities Authority, the custodian of the scrolls, began taking digital photographs of the Dead Sea Scrolls using special camera that produce no damaging heat or ultraviolet radiation with the aim of making all the Dead Sea scrolls available to the public and researchers on the Internet

Location of the Dead Sea Scrolls

The Qumran community was situated on a terrace above the ravine known as the Wadi Qumran overlooking the Dead Sea in what is now the West Bank. Cave Four, where a large collection of manuscript fragments was found, lies below the southern edge of the terrace on which the Qumran community lived and overlooks the Wadi Qumran.

L. Michael White of the University of Texas wrote: “As you leave Jerusalem and go to the south and to the east, toward the Dead Sea, the terrain changes rapidly and starkly. You move off gradually from [the] ... rolling hillside, through the ravines, and it becomes stark and desolate. It's dry. It's arid. It's rocky, and it's rough. And all of a sudden, within a span of only about thirteen miles, the entire terrain drops out in front of you as you go from roughly 3400 feet above sea level at Jerusalem, to nearly 1400 feet below sea level at the surface of the Dead Sea. It is in that rugged cliff face, on the banks of the Dead Sea, in this arid, desolate climate, that the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered at the site known as Khirbet Qumran. The Scrolls were discovered, according to the story that, now, many people know, of a shepherd boy wandering along with his flocks and, as boys tend to do, throwing rocks in a cave. So the story goes that he heard a crack in one, went in to investigate and found a ceramic pot with what appeared to be pages inside. Those were then taken out and eventually found their way onto the market, and were only later rediscovered and deciphered as the Dead Sea Scrolls. [Source: L. Michael Whit, Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]

“Subsequent to that first discovery, eleven different caves have been found at Qumran. And new discoveries are expected even now. Among the caves were found, then, thousand of fragments of manuscripts and quite a number of whole, or mostly complete, manuscripts in scrolls stored in these jars.

Discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Map f Dead Sea archaeological sites
Kumr'an is Quram
The first Dead Sea scrolls were discovered in 1947 near Qumran. Accounts vary on exactly how the discovery was made. According to one story, a Bedouin boy named Muhammad Adh-Dhib, searching for a lost goat, threw a stone into a cave above the Dead Sea. When he heard something shatter he ran away to get a friend. After hoisting themselves inside the cave they discovered several jars with seven scrolls stuffed inside them. There are some inconsistencies with the boy’s stories. Some think they were more likely on a looting expedition than herding goats. The caves where the scrolls were found were on steep cliffs facing a barren area, not the kind of place people tend goats.

In any case, the seven scrolls were sold by the boys themselves or members of their tribe to two antiquities dealers in Bethlehem. Three were bought by Dr. Eleazar Sukenik, a professor of archaeology at Hebrew University following a clandestine meeting through a barbed wire fence. A dealer named Khalil Iskander Shahin, also known as Kando, sold the four remaining scrolls to a Syrian archbishop named Athanasius Veshue Samuelin Jerusalem, who reportedly paid the equivalent of $250.

Robert Draper wrote in National Geographic: In 1949, spooked by the Arab-Israeli War, the bishop smuggled the scrolls to the United States in hopes of selling them to a museum or university. After getting no takers, he placed a classified ad in the Wall Street Journal on June 1, 1954. An Israeli archaeologist, working through an American intermediary, arranged to purchase the scrolls for the Israeli government for $250,000. All seven of the original scrolls now reside in their own wing of Israel’s national museum in Jerusalem. [Source: Robert Draper, National Geographic, December, 2018 ++]

In the meantime caves in the Qumran area were searched by Bedouins who found some more scrolls and sold them to dealers. In 1949, a team led by archaeologist and Dominican priest Roland de Vaux descended on Qumran and carried out an organized search of the caves. By 1956 de Vaux and local Bedouin had found 10 more “scroll caves” containing hundreds of manuscripts, many of them disintegrated into thousands of fragments. Cave 4 was the “mother lode” of Dead Sea Scrolls. Bedouin working at the Qumran excavations discovered the cave in 1952. It held more than 10,000 fragments, making up around 600 manuscripts. ++

While this was going on other Bedouins did their own digging and sold what they found to Kando. His greatest purchase was the nearly nine-meter-long Temple Scroll, the longest of the Dead Sea Scrolls. In 1967, during the Arab-Israeli Six Day War, Israeli intelligence officers raided Kando’s home and seized the Temple Scroll, claiming it as government property.

Hershel Shanks wrote for PBS: “ The details of that initial discovery will probably never be known with certainty. Who found the scrolls, how, under precisely what conditions - such questions are by this time shrouded in mystery. Even the date is uncertain; the 1930s, 1942, and 1945 have all been suggested as alternatives to the generally accepted date of 1947, probably February of that year. “Between the early I950's and 1956, archaeologists and bedouin vied with one another to find more scrolls, and eventually a library of over eight hundred different manuscripts was recovered. The bedouin were the clear victors in this quest. In one case, the bedouin explored the richest cave, now known as Cave 4, right under the noses of archaeologists who were excavating the nearby ruins of a site called Qumran, hoping to learn more about the scrolls from this ancient settlement as it emerged from the sand. [Source: Hershel Shanks, Frontline, PBS, April 1998. Book: “The Meaning and Mystery of the Dead Sea Scrolls” by Hershel Shanks (Random House, 1998) ]

In 1961, Israeli archaeologist Yohanan Aharoni excavated the “Cave of Horror” and his team found nine parchment fragments belonging to a scroll with texts from the Twelve Minor Prophets in Greek, and a scrap of Greek papyrus. After that no new texts were found during archaeological excavations, but many have turned up on the black market, apparently looted from caves. [Source: Ilan Ben Zion, Associated Press, March 16, 2021]

Composition of the Dead Sea Scrolls

The Dead Sea Scrolls consist of religious texts, legal codes, oracles, secular works, and literary works, about 90 percent of which were written in Hebrew, with the remainder mostly written in Greek or Aramaic. They are not original texts but copies of sacred texts made by scribes. Several scrolls revealed ancient Hebrew script, dating from the 7th century B.C., thus making them the oldest Biblical texts ever found.

The Dead Sea scrolls were made of leather, wrapped in linen and placed in earthen pottery containers. When they were found they were badly decomposed. They survived as long as they did because they were made of relatively strong materials, stored in containers, and kept in caves in a very dry place. They were dated using carbon dating techniques and by coins and pottery fragments found near the scrolls and archaeological sites in the area. DNA testing of the leather in the scrolls showed the leather came from the same animal herd.

There are about 1,000 scrolls in all which in turn are broken into an average of about 9,000 fragments each. A few large pieces are on permanent display at the Israel Museum. Some of the scrolls had been reduced to brittle fragments the size of a dime. Assembling them so their texts could be read has been painstakingly slow and likened to putting together a jigsaw puzzle made from peanut skins. Some scrolls are so fragile they took seven years simply to unroll.

In 1952, a copper scroll was found. Even after is was broken into pieces it was too brittle to unroll. Archaeologists and engineers developed a way to mount the scrolls on a spindle so they could be unrolled and cut into paper-thin pieces.

Condition of the Dead Sea Scrolls

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Linen Dead Sea scroll
Some scrolls were opened with relative ease; others demanded meticulous care and a maximum of patience. Hershel Shanks wrote for PBS: “Most of the intact scrolls were easily readable by anyone who knew Hebrew or, in one case, Aramaic. The fragmentary scrolls, however, presented a more difficult problem. These too were mostly Hebrew, though some 25 percent were in Aramaic, a closely related Semitic language that was the vernacular in Palestine at the time of Jesus. But, on average, about 90 percent of each of these documents was missing and there were few obvious fragment joins. Letters were frequently dim and uncertain. That the scroll team was able to produce transcripts of these fragments, with some reconstructions of missing parts, in so short a time is an enormous scholarly accomplishment. [Source: Hershel Shanks, Frontline, PBS, April 1998]

“Of the eight hundred manuscripts, fewer than a dozen were in any sense intact. The rest were mere fragments--about twenty-five thousand of them--many no bigger than a fingernail. Acquiring these fragments from the bedouin turned out to be more complicated than acquiring the intact scrolls from the initial [Source: Hershel Shanks, Frontline, PBS, April 1998. Book: “The Meaning and Mystery of the Dead Sea Scrolls” by Hershel Shanks (Random House, 1998) ]

In 2019, Archaeology magazine reported: Having been buried in caves for almost 2,000 years, the Dead Sea Scrolls have survived in various states of preservation. One of them, called the Temple Scroll, is particularly notable for its fine condition. New chemical analysis of the scroll has revealed that it was made differently from the others. During the parchment’s manufacture, the surface was covered with a mixture of sulfate salts, which has helped the scroll and its text survive. [Source: Archaeology magazine, November-December 2019]

History of Dead Sea Scroll Research

Dead Sea scroll resarch

The Dead Sea Scrolls are now all in the procession of the Israeli government and only a small exclusive coterie of scholars has been allowed to handle them. For decades this group held up the public release of the majority of the texts. Most of the scrolls are in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem but both Jordan and the Palestinian Authority have disputed their ownership. Qumran, the site where they were found, is part of land seized by Israel in the 1967 war and would be part of a future Palestinian state.

Beginning in 1953, an international team of young scholars was assembled in Jerusalem under Jordanian auspices to sort out these thousands of fragments. Most of the initial seven-man team, which included no Jews, were Catholic priests. It took these scholars decades,, working in seclusion and secrecy, to reassemble and translate the tattered parchments. The long delay in publication spawned conspiracy theories that the Pope — or maybe Zionists — were deliberately suppressing the scrolls’ contents because something damaging to them had been found.

In retrospect the scholars accomplishments were remarkable. While the task of identifying fragments will never be completed (even today new pieces are being fit into the puzzles), By 1960 the team of scholars had not only identified the pieces of the eight hundred documents and arranged them as well as they could, they had also deciphered and transcribed them so that they could be easily read. Meanwhile, by 1958 Israeli and American scholars had published the seven intact scrolls from the initial cache.

Hershel Shanks wrote for PBS: After and while the Dead Scrolls were being obtained from various sources “ It was critical that all these fragments end up in the same place to assure that each manuscript could be maximally reconstructed. An arrangement was worked out between the authorities and a Bethlehem antiquities dealer nicknamed Kando, who had become the middleman for the bedouin, to purchase their finds. In this way, all the fragments were eventually acquired by what was then the Palestine Archaeological Museum in Jordanian-controlled east Jerusalem. [Source: Hershel Shanks, Frontline, PBS, April 1998. Book: “The Meaning and Mystery of the Dead Sea Scrolls” by Hershel Shanks (Random House, 1998) ]

There has been politics and controversy among those controlling the scrolls in Israel. One chairman of the publications committee was fired after making anti-Semitic remarks. The stalling on publication finally ended in 1991 when a new group of 100 scholars, headed by Emmanuel Tov of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, took charge of the scrolls and a California library released photographic images of the remaining unpublished fragments.In the 1990s, the Internet, e-mail and laser printers helped speed up the process of publishing and disseminating the scrolls. By 1997 about 80 percent of the scrolls had been published by Oxford University Press under the title “Discoveries in the Judean Desert” . Finally at November 2001, it was announced that nearly all the Dead Sea Scrolls had been published. Some of the scrolls can be seen in the Israeli museum.

Robert Draper wrote in National Geographic: “Finally, by the mid-2000s, the translators finished publishing the bulk of their findings. The scrolls included legal texts, apocalyptic and ritual treatises, accounts of life in the Qumran sect, and remnants of 230 biblical manuscripts. Scholars were thrilled to learn that among them was a nearly complete copy of the Book of Isaiah from the Hebrew Bible. Its content was virtually identical to another copy of Isaiah dated almost a thousand years later. The Great Isaiah Scroll would become Exhibit A for scholars who defend the Bible against claims that its text was corrupted by scribes who, over centuries of copying by hand, introduced a multitude of mistakes and intentional changes. [Source: Robert Draper, National Geographic, December, 2018]

Disputes Over the Dead Sea Scrolls

Disputes over the Dead Sea Scrolls have raged almost since the moment the existence became known. John J. Collins wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “In June 1954, a small advertisement ran in the Wall Street Journal: "Biblical manuscripts dating back to at least 200 BC are for sale." The commercial offering was the start of a long and controversial path for the Dead Sea Scrolls... The manuscripts offered in the Wall Street Journal had been brought to the United States by a Syrian archbishop, who didn't want the scrolls to end up in Israeli hands. But it turned out that the purchaser, unbeknown to the sellers, was acting on behalf of the state of Israel, and so the first scrolls discovered ended up in Israel and can still be seen in the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem. [Source: John J. Collins, Los Angeles Times, March 10, 2013. Collins is a professor at Yale Divinity School and the author of the book "The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Biography" |=|]

“The great trove of texts found after Israeli independence, however, was under Jordanian control, and no Jewish scholars were allowed on the official team of editors who had exclusive access to the manuscripts. After the 1967 war, all the scrolls came under Israeli control, but ownership is disputed to this day. Controversy erupted anew during the 1950s when John Allegro, a maverick member of the editorial team, claimed in a British radio broadcast that a Jewish sectarian leader, known as the Teacher of Righteousness, had anticipated Jesus Christ in uncanny ways. According to Allegro, the teacher was crucified and his followers "took down the broken body of their Master to stand guard over it until Judgment Day," when he would rise again. The other editors protested that they found nothing of the sort in the scrolls. Allegro later fully discredited himself by publishing "The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross," in which he argued that Christianity was a fertility cult involving sacred mushrooms. |=|

“In the 1980s, scholars grew impatient with the long delay in publishing the scrolls, which meant that access to them was severely restricted. That controversy came to a head in 1991 when the editor in chief, John Strugnell, was forced to resign after he was quoted in an Israeli newspaper as saying that Judaism was a horrible religion that ought not to exist. Strugnell, an alcoholic who also suffered from bipolar disorder, was not of sound mind when he gave the interview. He had a good record of working with Israeli scholars and was the first to include some of them on the editorial team, but his position was obviously untenable. |=|

“The publication of the scrolls, however, remained a contentious issue, even when access to them was no longer restricted. The unauthorized publication of an important text called 4QMMT ("Some of the Works of the Law") by Hershel Shanks in Biblical Archaeology Review became the subject of a lawsuit by Elisha Qimron, one of the editors to whom the text had been assigned. An Israeli court ruled against Shanks, and the trial cost him more than $100,000. The most recent uproar about the scrolls involved Raphael Golb, son of University of Chicago professor Norman Golb. The younger Golb created more than 80 Internet aliases between 2006 and 2009 to advance his father's views about the scrolls, and to give the impression that a large number of people were concerned that the elder Golb was not being treated fairly. |=|

“More ominously, he sent out emails in the name of a leading scrolls scholar, Lawrence Schiffman, then of New York University and now of Yeshiva University, in which Schiffman supposedly confessed to plagiarizing the elder Golb. Raphael Golb was convicted in a New York court in November 2010 on charges that included identity theft and forgery, and his conviction was affirmed on appeal this year. |=|

“Why have these ancient artifacts aroused such passions? To be sure, the most bitter controversies have been fueled by outsize egos and pursuit of publicity. But other discoveries, such as the Coptic texts from Nag Hammadi, have stirred no comparable passions.What makes the scrolls different is that they are the only primary texts we have from Judea that date to about the time of the birth of Christianity and just before the rise of rabbinical Judaism.

Google and Israel Museum Publish Dead Sea Scrolls Online

Dead Sea scroll containers they were found in

In 2011, Melanie Lidman wrote in the Jerusalem Post: “When the Second Temple period scribes wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls on parchment 2,000 years ago and rolled them up in a clay jug in the Qumran caves, they probably weren’t expecting that a curious student in Guangzhou, China would be able to examine their calligraphy magnified several times on the screen of his smartphone as he waited for the subway. But thanks to a new partnership between the Israel Museum and Google, five of the most complete Dead Sea Scrolls – including the famous Isaiah Scroll – were photographed at extremely high resolutions and are now available online for viewing at a level more detailed than the human eye can provide. [Source: Melanie Lidman, Jerusalem Post, September 27, 2011 |]

“The Isaiah Scroll was also translated line by line, allowing viewers to search in regular search engines in English for specific phrases or verses in the scrolls. A verse-by-verse Chinese translation will be finished shortly, as Bible scholarship is extremely popular in China, said Israel museum officials. When I arrived 15 years ago, I thought [the Dead Sea Scrolls] were like our Mona Lisa, and what the Mona Lisa is to the world is like what the scrolls are to world’s monotheistic religions,” said Israel Museum Director James Snyder. “The question was, how to keep content of the scrolls in the minds of people; how do we make them meaningful in our contemporary lifetime and in a world on fast forward?” he asked.” | The partnership with Google and the Dead Sea Scrolls began just a few months before they were published online. “Five of the eight Dead Sea Scrolls were photographed column by column in a period of just six days, and then the photos were stitched together to make a continuous scroll in a process that took several weeks. The five Dead Sea Scrolls that have been digitized thus far include the Great Isaiah Scroll, the Community Rule Scroll, the Commentary on Habakkuk Scroll, the Temple Scroll, and the War Scroll. Only the Isaiah Scroll is searchable by verse in English. A Hebrew version is also under construction. |

“Ardon Bar Hama, a freelance photographer and one of the world’s premier experts in photographing ancient texts for online viewing, used a $50,000 camera that exposed the scrolls to the light for 1/4,000th of a second. Ben Hama’s camera shoots at a resolution of 1,200 megapixels, in comparison, a good personal camera shoots at about 12 megapixels. Google utilizes cloud computing to store to the giant images, allowing people to browse the scrolls from their cell phones. Users will also be able to highlight their favorite verses and post them to their Twitter or Facebook pages, or to comment on verses through the site in an international dialogue. “Google wants to organize information to make it accessible and useful, and it’s hard to think of content that is more important to make accessible and useful,” Yossi Matias, the managing director of Google Israel’s R&D Center, said of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

“Google is also involved with an initiative with the Israel Antiquities Authority to upload thousands of fragments from less complete Dead Sea Scrolls that belong to the IAA. The IAA project, which was announced nearly a year ago, is still gathering information and photographing the fragments. Matias cited Google’s goal of breaking down barriers between information and people for their interest in facilitating online access to historical documents. Google also has projects to upload photos and documents from Yad Vashem, the Prado Museum in Madrid, and the Art Project powered by Google, which has masterpieces from many of Europe’s top museums.

Website: Digital Dead Sea Scrolls dss.collections.imj

Searching for New Dead Sea Scroll Caves

The Qumran caves are in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. It is considered illegal to do archaeological work there under international law. Even so, beginning in 2017, Israeli archaeologists launched a major campaign to search caves in the precipitous canyons of the Judean Desert — home of some of the Dead Sea Scrolls — in search of scrolls and other rare artifacts. The aim has been to find them before plunderers disturb the remote sites, destroying archaeological strata and data in search of antiquities bound for the black market. For the first four years only a handful of parchment scraps that bore no text had been found. “Amir Ganor, head of the antiquities theft prevention unit, told Associated Press that since the commencement of the operation there had been virtually no antiquities plundering in the Judean Desert, calling the operation a success. “For the first time in 70 years, we were able to preempt the plunderers,” he said. [Source: Ilan Ben Zion, Associated Press, March 16, 2021]

There are few places more challenging for archaeologists than the Judean Desert in Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Jarrett A. Lobell wrote in Archaeology Magazine: From 2017 to 2021, Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) archaeologists have investigated 580 known caves in the cliffs of the Judean Desert, where the logistical difficulties are unique, explains archaeologist and deputy director of the IAA Theft Prevention Unit, Eitan Klein. “Most of the caves can only be accessed using ropes due to their location in the middle of very steep cliffs,” he says. “The area is very remote and there are communication problems that can cause safety issues.” Compounding these obstacles is the fact that some of the caves are in the occupied territories. According to international law, removing artifacts from these sites is illegal, which raises political and ethical concerns. Looters also pose an ever-present threat. [Source: Jarrett A. Lobell, Archaeology Magazine, July/August 2021

Located 260 feet below the top of a steep cliff, Cave 8 is in one of the Hever Valley’s most remote locations and has proved especially difficult for archaeologists to explore. The cave was first excavated in the 1950s and 1960s, when archaeologists discovered the skeletons of 40 adults and children, the remains of rebels who had fled to the area at the end of the Bar Kokhba Revolt, a Jewish rebellion against Roman rule from A.D. 132 to 135. During the recent campaign, the team unearthed coins bearing Jewish symbols, as well as spearheads and arrowheads, textiles, sandals, and lice combs belonging to the refugees in the cave. They also recovered 70 small pieces of parchment and a few scraps of papyrus, 30 of which of have writing on them, representing the first fragments of any biblical text to be uncovered in 60 years. “They took their most important belongings with them, including the scroll,” says Klein, “and they probably read those prophecies in the last hours of their lives to encourage their souls.”

Except for the name of God, which appears in Paleo-Hebrew, the late first-century B.C. text is written in Greek and consists of missing fragments from the Greek Minor Prophets Scroll, which was found in Cave 8 in the 1950s. Some fragments are blank, while others contain 11 lines from the Book of Zechariah as well as lines from the Book of Nahum. “The fact that the scroll is in Greek tells us that at least some of the rebels were fluent and comfortable using Greek for holy texts,” says Oren Ableman, curator-researcher in the Dead Sea Scrolls unit of the IAA. “It was a real privilege to be the first person in two thousand years to read some parts of this scroll and a joy to find surprising text in the fragments.”

And therein lies another challenge. The Dead Sea Scrolls were written in multiple different languages over hundreds of years and, in the case of the biblical texts, copied by multiple scribes many times over. Sometimes more than one scribe worked on the same scroll. And sometimes mistakes were made by scribes copying the texts, creating even more difficulties. “For example, it was baffling to find the word ‘streets’ where all other manuscripts have the word ‘gates,’” Ableman says. “At first, I thought I might have made a mistake. However, eventually I concluded that the mistake wasn’t mine, but rather was made by a scribe in antiquity.”

New Dead Sea Scrolls Found in the Cave of Horror

In March 2021, Israeli archaeologists announced the discovery of dozens of new Dead Sea Scroll fragments bearing a biblical text believed to have been hidden during a Jewish revolt against Rome nearly 1,900 years ago. They were the first Dea Sea scrolls found since Associated Press reported: “The fragments of parchment bear lines of Greek text from the books of Zechariah and Nahum and have been dated around the 1st century AD based on the writing style, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority. They are the first new scrolls found in archaeological excavations in the desert south of Jerusalem in 60 years. [Source: Ilan Ben Zion, Associated Press, March 16, 2021]

“The roughly 80 new pieces are believed to belong to a set of parchment fragments found in a site in southern Israel known as the “Cave of Horror” — named for the 40 human skeletons found there during excavations in the 1960s — that also bear a Greek rendition of the Twelve Minor Prophets, a book in the Hebrew Bible. The cave is located in a remote canyon around 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Jerusalem. The artifacts were found during an operation in Israel and the occupied West Bank conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority to find scrolls and other artifacts to prevent possible plundering. Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 war, and international law prohibits the removal of cultural property from occupied territory.

“The fragments are believed to have been part of a scroll stashed away in the cave during the Bar Kochba Revolt, an armed Jewish uprising against Rome during the reign of Emperor Hadrian, between 132 and 136 AD. Coins struck by rebels and arrowheads found in other caves in the region also hail from that period. “We found a textual difference that has no parallel with any other manuscript, either in Hebrew or in Greek,” said Oren Ableman, a Dead Sea Scroll researcher with the Israel Antiquities Authority. He referred to slight variations in the Greek rendering of the Hebrew original compared to the Septuagint — a translation of the Hebrew Bible to Greek made in Egypt in the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C.. “When we think about the biblical text, we think about something very static. It wasn’t static. There are slight differences and some of those differences are important,” said Joe Uziel, head of the antiquities authority's Dead Sea Scrolls unit. “Every little piece of information that we can add, we can understand a little bit better” how the Biblical text came into its traditional Hebrew form.

Among the recovered texts, which are all in Greek, is Nahum 1:5–6, which says: "The mountains quake because of Him, And the hills melt. The earth heaves before Him, The world and all that dwell therein. Who can stand before His wrath? Who can resist His fury? His anger pours out like fire, and rocks are shattered because of Him." The Israel authority said these words differ slightly from other Bible versions, shedding light on how biblical text evolved over time from its earliest form. Also uncovered was a 6,000-year-old skeleton of a partially mummified child and an immense, complete 10,500-year-old woven basket, which Israeli authorities said could be the oldest in the world, and scores of other delicate organic materials preserved in caves’ arid climate.. A CT scan revealed the child's age was between 6 and 12 — with the skin, tendons and even hair partially preserved. [Source: Patrick Smith and Paul Goldman, NBC News, March 17, 2021]

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Great Isaiah Scroll

Dead Sea Scrolls Fragments' at Museum of the Bible Are “All Fakes”

In 2020, it was revealed that all the Dead Sea Scrolls fragments' at the Museum of the Bible, which opened in Washington D.C. in 2017, were fakes. The Guardian reported: When Steve Green paid millions of dollars from his family fortune for 16 fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, it seemed the perfect addition to their new Museum of the Bible. But now experts have confirmed what has long been suspected: the artifacts proudly displayed by the owners of the Hobby Lobby chain of stores are not part of one of the most significant archaeological finds of all time. They are worthless forgeries, probably made from old shoe leather. [Source: Richard Luscombe, The Guardian, March 16, 2020]

“Confirmation of the hoax came in a report published online by a team of five art fraud investigators.The experts spent six months analyzing each fragment, concluding a study born from 2017 revelations that the lucrative international trade in Dead Sea Scroll pieces was awash in suspected forgeries and indications that at least five pieces bought by Green, the museum’s chairman, for an undisclosed amount ahead of its opening that year, were fake. “After an exhaustive review of all the imaging and scientific analysis results, it is evident that none of the textual fragments in [the] Museum of the Bible’s Dead Sea Scroll collection are authentic,” wrote Colette Loll, founder and director of Art Fraud Insights, the Washington company contracted to examine them. “Moreover, each exhibit’s characteristics that suggest they are deliberate forgeries created in the 20th century with the intent to mimic authentic Dead Sea Scroll fragments.”

The investigators outlined how they believe the deception was perpetrated and a succession of Biblical scholars and the museum’s curators fooled. The forgers, they suggest, used Roman-era leather, possibly from boots or sandals, to imitate parchment, and attempted to recreate the handwriting of ancient Hebrew scribes. Using microscopes and a variety of other scientific techniques including chemical analysis, the team found inconsistencies such as the presence of a shiny coating suspected to be animal glue, which wouldn’t have existed at the time, and clues in the spread, position and pooling of ink. “There was also evidence that writing was added after attempts were made to artificially age the surface.

“The exposure of the fakes does not affect the authenticity of the genuine Dead Sea Scrolls. But it casts doubt on almost every piece of the so-called Post-2002 fragments, a collection of about 70 items that entered the market in the early years of this century after William Kando, son of an antiquities dealer who bought the original scrolls from Bedouin shepherds seven decades ago, claimed to have opened a family vault in Switzerland.

“According to National Geographic, Green invested heavily between 2009 and 2014 to acquire 16 of those pieces, as he built a collection for the family’s showpiece museum. After the revelation the scrolls were removed from the museum’s Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit. ““Notwithstanding the less than favorable results, we have done what no other institution with post-2002 fragments has done,” said Dr Jeffrey Kloha, chief curatorial officer of the museum. “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 for these forgeries.”

Determining That Some "Dead Sea Scrolls" Were Forgeries

Michael Langlois is a professor of Old Testament studies at the University of Strasbourg and a member of the distinguished Institut de France in Paris. Chanan Tigay wrote in Smithsonian magazine: In 2012, Langlois joined a group of scholars working to decipher close to 40 Dead Sea Scrolls fragments in the private collection of Martin Schøyen, a wealthy Norwegian businessman. Each day in Kristiansand, Norway, he and specialists from Israel, Norway and the Netherlands spent hours trying to determine which known manuscripts the fragments had come from. “It was like a game for me,” Langlois said. The scholars would project an image of a Schøyen fragment on the wall beside a photograph of a known scroll and compare them. “I’d say, ‘No, it’s a different scribe. Look at that lamed,’” Langlois recalled, using the word for the Hebrew letter L. Then they would skip forward to another known manuscript. “No,” Langlois would say. “It’s a different hand.” [Source: Chanan Tigay, Smithsonian magazine, January-February 2023]

Returning to France, Langlois examined the fragments with computer-imaging techniques he had developed to isolate and reproduce each letter written on the fragments before beginning a detailed graphical analysis of the writing. And what he discovered was a series of flagrant oddities: A single sentence might contain styles of script from different centuries, or words and letters were squeezed and distorted to fit into the available space, suggesting the parchment was already fragmented when the scribe wrote on it. Langlois concluded that at least some of Schøyen’s fragments were modern forgeries. Reluctant to break the bad news, he waited a year before telling his colleagues. “We became convinced that Michael Langlois was right,” said Torleif Elgvin, the Norwegian scholar leading the effort.

After further study, the team ultimately determined that about half of Schøyen’s fragments were likely forgeries. In 2017, Langlois and the other Schøyen scholars published their initial findings in a journal called Dead Sea Discoveries. A few days later, they presented their conclusions at a meeting in Berlin of the Society of Biblical Literature. Flashing images of the Schøyen fragments on a screen, Langlois described the process by which he concluded the pieces were fakes. He quoted from his contemporaneous notes on the scribe’s “hesitant hand.” He pointed out inconsistencies in the fragments’ script.

And then he dropped the gauntlet: The Schøyen fragments were only the beginning. The previous year, he said, he’d seen photos of several Dead Sea Scrolls fragments in a book published by the Museum of the Bible, in Washington, D.C....The museum was scheduled to open its doors in three months, and a centerpiece of its collection was a set of 16 Dead Sea Scrolls fragments whose writing, Langlois now said, looked unmistakably like the writing on the Schøyen fragments. “All of the fragments published there exhibited the same scribal features,” he told the scholars in attendance. “I’m sorry to say that all of the fragments published in this volume are forgeries. This is my opinion.”

The weight of the evidence presented that day by several members of the Schøyen team led to a re-evaluation of Dead Sea Scrolls in private collections all over the world. In 2018, Azusa Pacific University, a Christian college in Southern California that had purchased five scrolls in 2009, conceded that they were likely fakes, and it sued the dealer who had sold them. In 2020, the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Fort Worth, Texas, announced that the six Dead Sea Scrolls it had purchased around the same time were also “likely fraudulent.”

Museum os the Bible Purchase of the Fake Dead Sea Scrolls

After Kando’s house was raided and the Temple Scroll was seized in 1967 (See Above, he reportedly moved his remaining scroll fragments to relatives in Lebanon and later to a bank vault in Switzerland. Robert Draper wrote in National Geographic: “In 2009 Steve Green began buying rare Bibles and artifacts at an unprecedented pace, eventually acquiring some 40,000 objects — one of the largest private collections of biblical material in the world. His multimillion-dollar shopping spree inevitably led him to the Kandos’ doorstep. (Kando’s son William took over the family business after his father’s death in 1993.) [Source: Robert Draper, National Geographic, December, 2018]

“Steve Green came to see me many times,” William Kando tells me through a cloud of cigarette smoke the morning we meet in his Jerusalem shop. “He’s an honest man, a good Christian. He offered me $40 million for my Genesis fragment. I refused. Some people say it is priceless.” “Green, through a spokesperson, says Kando set the price at $40 million, and he opted not to purchase it. Instead he bought more affordable scroll fragments. “The merchant offers me more coffee, then fumbles through a ledger. “Here, you can see,” he says, pointing to a notation that he had sold seven Dead Sea Scroll fragments to Green in May 2010.

“Kando indignantly denies that his family sold inauthentic fragments, suggesting that any forgeries must have come from less reputable dealers. Green, for his part, seems philosophical about his prize acquisitions. “You would hope it would be different in the biblical world,” he says. “But as it turns out, like in any other business, there are some shady people just trying to make a buck. All you can do is learn from your mistakes and not do business with them anymore.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons

Text Sources: Internet Jewish History Sourcebook “Old Testament Life and Literature” by Gerald A. Larue, New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; Wikipedia, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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