For example, only about a quarter of the fragments found in the caves around the Dead Sea in the 1940s and ’50s contained biblical texts. The majority were copies of texts from the expanding literature of Judaism in the Second Temple period and the community that lived at Qumran. But the fragments that have appeared for sale in recent years have all featured portions of the Bible.
They were not the passages a Christian would most likely choose for a life verse, but they were Scripture nonetheless: 1 Kings 13:22, Isaiah 28:23–29, Joel 3:9–10, and Amos 7:17.
Lanier checked the documentation of the provenance of the fragments at Lanier Library again to reassure himself.
Documentation can be fraudulent, but it creates a legal responsibility for authenticity. Azusa Pacific University has concluded the five fragments it bought for $1.3 million are probably not authentic. The school is suing the book dealer who brokered the sale.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary considered investigating its eight fragments, which it bought with the help of two major donors in 2012, but decided against spending more money on independent authentication. The school recently closed its archaeology program as part of an “institution reset” with a change in administration.
“The fragments are in a secure location and have not been available to the general public in some years,” the seminary said in an official statement. “We would welcome an independent investigation of the seminary’s fragments, although . . . it is not prudent for the seminary to spend further precious funds on them.”
Loll said Art Fraud Insights is doing a number examinations of scroll fragments for worried collectors.
“The only way to really be certain that they are genuine is to, of course, put them through the kind of rigorous testing that the Museum of the Bible did. But that’s expensive,” said Sidnie White Crawford, antiquities expert and professor emerita at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.
Scholars continue to make discoveries studying the original Dead Sea Scrolls fragments. Earlier this year, the University of Manchester in England announced that some of its seemingly blank pieces—donated to scholarship by the Jordanian government in the 1950s—actually contain words, possibly from the first verses of Ezekiel 46.
For now, though, scholars will have little interest in fragments sold after 2002. And evangelical collectors will be wary of buying any more bits of the Dead Sea Scrolls without having them thoroughly tested. This is expected to have a serious impact on the market for ancient Bible fragments.
Some experts hope the Bible museum’s discovery of fraud will kill the market altogether.
“People should not buy antiquities,” said Christopher Rollston, a forgery expert and professor of Hebrew at George Washington University. “Never buy anything on the antiquities market; it just creates incentives for pillagers and [unscrupulous] dealers.”