Snookered: The Museum of the Bible

Apparently, the free-spending, light-on-scholarship Museum of the Bible got snookered on the purchase of Dead Sea Scrolls fragments.

On the fourth floor of the Museum of the Bible, a sweeping permanent exhibit tells the story of how the ancient scripture became the world’s most popular book. A warmly lit sanctum at the exhibit’s heart reveals some of the museum’s most prized possessions: fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, ancient texts that include the oldest known surviving copies of the Hebrew Bible.

But now, the Washington, D.C. museum has confirmed a bitter truth about the fragments’ authenticity. On Friday, independent researchers funded by the Museum of the Bible announced that all 16 of the museum’s Dead Sea Scroll fragments are modern forgeries that duped outside collectors, the museum’s founder, and some of the world’s leading biblical scholars. Officials unveiled the findings at an academic conference hosted by the museum.

I will not be snarky, I will not be snarky, I will not be snarky …

Seriously: Kudos to the museum for stepping-up and frankly acknowledging that the fragments are fake — that they got scammed. But the free-spending acquisitions program of the museum — recall that they were penalized for smuggling illegally-acquired artifacts into the U.S. — was the object of gossip for more than a year before the opening, along with the sketchy credentials of the director of the acquisitions program. Expertise matters, professionalism matters, ethics matter — and this is yet another embarrassment for the museum that could have been avoided by treating those things seriously.

The truth is that it’s not a real museum; it’s a tarted-up roadside attraction.

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