Some Dead Sea Scroll replicas appear surprisingly authentic. But a thorough examination by scholars reveals some of their features aren't quite right.
Experts Investigate Dead Sea Scroll Forgeries
Published: November 1, 2019
Jeffrey Kloha: Ancient artifacts do not have a barcode to tell you, you know, “Bam! This is where it came from.” And so, there’s various methods to determine whether or not any given artifact is in fact authentic.
Narrator: The Museum of the Bible has hired a team of outside experts, including scroll scholar Kipp Davis, to study their fragments. They have acquired 16, but he’s focusing on a handful that seem most suspect.
When Kipp looked at this fragment, owned by a Norwegian collector, he discovered a problem.
Kipp Davis: When some fragments have been sitting in the Judean Desert region, in the neighborhood of the Dead Sea, lots of them have collected salt on the surface. And they look kind of cool and fairly random in shape. They look like these great big crystals from a distant planet or something, right?
One of the fragments that we examined in Norway was really intriguing, because it appears that somebody had attempted to mimic this on the fragment but used table salt, which has a different chemical composition and appears much different underneath the microscope.
When we examined the fragment under, under the microscope, it revealed a very even distribution of salt right across it, like someone had taken a salt shaker. This really was a smoking gun moment in the case of this particular fragment, that it could not have been produced in antiquity, when there was no table salt.
Narrator: And there was something else off about the fragment.
Davis: We saw ink, not just lying underneath the particles of salt, but at high magnification, you can see ink has been applied right over top of some of the individual salt kernels.
Ink is put on top of a table-salted fragment is an indication that this was produced after the invention of table salt.
Narrator: The evidence seems to suggest it’s a fake, but a good one, written on ancient papyrus.
Jodi Magness: The people who do these kinds of forgeries can do all sort of things. They can take ancient scroll fragments and they can write on them.
Joel Baden: You could go on eBay right now and purchase a blank piece of ancient parchment.
Lawrence H. Schiffman: These things passed carbon-14 dating, and that’s why they were able to be offered for sale. And no one dreamt that they were forged.
Peter Yost: Do you know who did this?
Lenny Wolfe: No idea. No idea. And if I did know, I wouldn’t tell you.
It’s a problematic market, a very problematic market. And anyone who who wades in deeply and doesn’t know what they’re doing, they’re in serious danger of getting burnt. And that’s it. Thank you.
Dead Sea Scroll Detectives
Produced and Directed by: Peter Yost
Digital Producer: Ana Aceves
© WGBH Educational Foundation 2019