Qumran Cave 1 Questions, Part 2: The Thanksgiving Scrolls

I continue to pose a set of questions about the materials said to have been found in Qumran Cave 1. In the first post, I discussed the ambiguous status of the Genesis Apocryphon roll. This post will turn to 1QHa, the Thanksgiving Scroll.

Image source: E. L. Sukenik, The Dead Sea Scrolls of the Hebrew University (Jerusalem: Magness Press, 1955), fig. 15

The question here is more straightforward. I mentioned in the last post, that it was my understanding that the War Scroll (1QM) was the only one of the first seven scrolls on the market in 1947 that was also represented among the fragments that excavators actually found in situ in Cave 1 (in the form of 1Q33). Yet, in his thorough account of the early years of Scrolls research (The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Full History, 2009), Weston Fields on a couple of occasions states that portions of the Thanksgiving Scroll (1QHa) were also found by excavators during the 1949 campaign:

p. 103: “It is true that fragments found by Harding and de Vaux in Cave 1 connected the War Scroll and the Thanksgiving Scroll to that cave.”

p. 111: “The official excavation found fragments from Sukenik’s scrolls only. These were fragments of the War Scroll (1QM) and the Thanksgiving Scroll I (1QH). This means that the official Cave 1 was connected archaeologically to Sukenik’s scrolls, but not to Metropolitan Samuel’s.”

p. 113: “…there is no official archaeological evidence connecting Isaiaha, the Habakkuk Commentary, the Manual of Discipline, the Genesis Apocryphon, and Isaiahb with the “Cave 1″ excavated by Harding and de Vaux.65

Endnote 65 offers some clarification:

“65. Even the two fragments of the Thanksgiving Scroll do not contain sufficient text to make a conclusive paleographic analysis of the connection between them and larger parts of the scroll. One must also allow for the possibility that the same scribe could have written parts of two scrolls which ended up in two different caves. On the other hand, as Sukenik points out, two scribes wrote the scroll. The second scribe began on line 22 of column 11. (See Sukenik, The Dead Sea Scrolls of the Hebrew University, pp. 18, 38-40 and figures 29 and 30)”

The reference to Sukenik is informative. At the time Sukenik’s edition of the Thanksgiving Scroll (1QHa) was published in 1954-1955, it was commonly believed that 1Q35 was a part of 1QHa, as the plates in Sukenik’s edition indicate:

Image source: E. L. Sukenik, The Dead Sea Scrolls of the Hebrew University (Jerusalem: Magness Press, 1955), fig. 30

But to the best of my understanding, this identification was rejected already in the early 1960s, which gave rise to the typical distinction between Sukenik’s large scroll (1QHa) and the excavated pieces designated 1Q35 (1QHb). And I don’t think there is any question here of scribal identity between either of the copyists of 1QHa and the copyist of 1QHb.

So my questions for today are: Has anyone since the early 1960s seriously believed that 1Q35 was a part of Sukenik’s Hodayot scroll? And if not, why was Fields, in 2009, presenting this view as if it was the scholarly consensus?

Posted in Antiquities Market, Dead Sea Scrolls | 3 Comments

An Update on the Case of the Stolen Oxyrhynchus Papyri

H/T Roberta Mazza: According to this article in The Oxford Blue, “Christ Church professor Dirk Obbink was arrested on 2nd March 2020 for alleged theft of ancient papyrus from the Sackler Classics Library in Oxford.” Further on, the article quotes Thames Valley Police: “A 63-year-old man from Oxford was arrested on 2 March on suspicion of theft and fraud. He has been released under investigation.”

[[Update 18 April 2020: The original story has been removed and replaced.]]

Posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Dirk Obbink, Oxyrhynchus Papyri | 10 Comments

Qumran Cave 1 Questions, Part 1: The Genesis Apocryphon Roll

One of the many events called off in the general shut down of activities last month was a meeting at the University of Agder associated with The Lying Pen of Scribes project, On the Origin of the Pieces: The Provenance of the Dead Sea Scrolls. I was scheduled to present a paper called “From the Outside, Looking In: Some Questions from a Novice Regarding the Contents of Qumran Cave 1.” I had been looking forward to having the experts answer some of my (potentially silly) questions about the earliest Dead Sea Scrolls to appear on the market. But since I couldn’t do it in that forum, I’ll pose my questions here over a couple posts.

My questions concern some of the most famous of all the Dead Sea Scrolls, the seven scrolls that were the first to appear on the antiquities market in 1947:

Rule of the Community (1QS)
The Habakkuk Pesher (1QpHab)
The Great Isaiah Scroll (1QIsaa)
The Thanksgiving Hymns (1QHa)
The War Scroll (1QM)
A second copy of Isaiah (1QIsab)
The Genesis Apocryphon (1QapGen)

These pieces are regularly described as coming from “Cave 1,” a cave first identified and excavated in early 1949 by Father Roland de Vaux, director of the École Biblique in Jerusalem, at the request of Gerald Lankester Harding, director of the Antiquities Department of Jordan.

My overarching question is: How many of the manuscripts can actually be archaeologically connected to the the space now known as Qumran Cave 1? As best I can tell from the literature, the excavators of Cave 1 found portions of only one of these manuscripts, the War Scroll, in the cave (1Q33).

If I understand the scholarship correctly, none of the other six manuscripts have a physical link to the materials actually excavated by archaeologists. This raises the question of which of these manuscripts travelled together on the antiquities market? (Potentially, though not necessarily, manuscripts that circulated with the War Scroll could also have a connection to the same find spot.)

The War Scroll, the Thanksgiving Hymns, and 1QIsab were bought by Eleazar Sukenik in November and December of 1947. The Community Rule, the Habakkuk Pesher, the Great Isaiah Scroll, and the Genesis Apocryphon were sold in July of 1947 to Mar Samuel of St. Mark’s Syrian Orthodox Monastery. So, there appear to be two groups of scrolls. But there seems to be some question regarding to which of these two groups the Genesis Apocryphon belongs. Mar Samuel acquired it, but it is sometimes said to have been associated with the other group of scrolls on the market.

Genesis Apocryphon before unrolling; image source: Athanasius Yeshue Samuel, Treasure of Qumran: My Story of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Hodder and Stoughton, 1968), p. 165

The most thorough treatment of the assemblage from Cave 1 is a really rich and informative article by Joan E. Taylor, Dennis Mizzi, and Marcello Fidanzio. Regarding these two groups of manuscripts, the authors write (p. 301):

“At the same time, the Bedouin famously removed and sold on two lots of manuscripts, well preserved in jars they opened: the first one being the great Isaiah Scroll, the Pesher Habakkuk, and the Community Rule/Serekh ha-Yaḥad (1QIsaa, 1QpHab, and 1QS), and the second lot being the Genesis Apocryphon, the Rule of the Congregation, the second Isaiah Scroll, and the Hodayot Scroll (1QapGen ar, 1QSa, 1QIsab, and 1QHa) (see Fields 2009, 23-113).”

[[Sidenote: I’m a little confused by the absence of the War Scroll (1QM) from their list and the presence of the Rule of the Congregation (1QSa). I think this must be an error?]] So, the Genesis Apocryphon (1QapGen) is grouped with the Sukenik rolls rather than the other scrolls with which it was sold to Mar Samuel. The sources cited for this information are the first two chapters of Weston Fields, The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Full History: Volume One, 1947-1960 (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2009).

Fields mentions this division of manuscripts on several occasions. Unless I miss something, the only time he cites an actual source is on p. 29:

“In the meantime, probably May-June 1947, Jum’a [that is, Jum’a Muhammed Khalil, one of the initial looters of the first scrolls] returned to the cave (or perhaps another cave, a question we take up later) with George [Isha’ya Shamoun, a Syrian orthodox Christian], and removed four more scrolls. Three of these they sold to Faidi Salahi, the Bethlehem antiquities dealer who had seen the first three. Three of these latter four were later bought by Professor Sukenik: the second Isaiah Scroll (Isaiahb), the War Scroll, and the Thanksgiving Scroll.41 The fourth was kept by Kando (Genesis Apocryphon, an Aramaic work in which the major characters of Genesis retell their own stories in the first person).42 It should be noted, therefore, that the Genesis Apocryphon belonged to the second set originally; it was acquired only later by the Metropolitan Samuel from Kando, and became associated with the first set (Isaiaha, the Manual of Discipline, and the Habakkuk Commentary) from the time they were shown to [John C.] Trever onward.”

The relevant endnotes would seem to be 41 and 42:

“41. Known from the beginning as ‘Thanksgivings,” plural or Hebrew Hodayot(h). I have chosen to use ‘Thanksgiving,’ in the collective sense of a scroll characterized by songs of thanks.
42. William Brownlee, ‘Foreword,’ in A. Y. Samuel, Treasure of Qumran, 12.

The first note is not helpful. The second at least provides a lead. But, if we check p. 12 of the “Foreword” to Mar Samuel’s Treasure of Qumran, we find no mention at all of the discovery or purchase of the Genesis Apocryphon. When Mar Samuel himself writes about his major purchase later in the book, there is no indication of a different origin for the Genesis Apocryphon. So, what is the source for this grouping?

The answer seems to be found in John C. Trever’s book, The Untold Story of Qumran (1965). Trever had access to interviews with the alleged finders and the sellers of the scrolls conducted in the early 1960s. These interviews allowed him to reconstruct the events in this way (p. 106):

“In the meantime [between April and July 1947], having been urged by Metropolitan Samuel and Kando, Isha’ya persuaded the Bedouins, Jum’a and Khalil Musa, to take him to the cave. According to Jum’a (see Appendix I), the three of them went together in a taxi from Jerusalem to the point where the Dead Sea road branches from the Jericho road. From there they hiked for an hour to reach the cave. Nothing seems to have been taken from the cave on that visit, but Jum’a said that before they left Isha’ya made a cairn of rocks to mark the site. Some weeks later Jum’a met Isha’ya and Khalil Musa in the Bethlehem market place, and they were carrying two more scrolls from the same cave. Khalil Musa, when interviewed independently,27 agreed that he went a second time to the cave with Isha’ya but asserted that they secured four scrolls from under the debris on the floor of the cave at that time.28

These four scrolls were taken to Kando, who has confirmed the fact that four scrolls were brought to him by Isha’ya and Khalil before any scrolls had been sold to St. Mark’s.29 Kando kept only one of this group, however, as payment for the advance he had made to Isha’ya on expenses for the two trips to the cave.30 Khalil Musa and Jum’a wanted to keep the other scrolls since, as Kando put it, ‘they were partners’ in the deal. It seems likely that the scroll which Kando secured at that time (probably in May or June 1947) was the Syrians’ ‘Fourth Scroll,’ now called the Genesis Apocryphon’ (1QApoc).31

The story seems fairly straightforward. In the footnotes, however, we get the actual (somewhat messy) data: p. 196, note 28: “Although in the interviews of November 24-25, 1961, Jum’a indicated that this [his trip back to the cave with Isha’ya] and a subsequent visit to the cave took place after the sale of the first scrolls to St. Mark’s Monastery (i.e. after July 19, 1947),” which would mean the Genesis Apocryphon would belong to the first group of scrolls Jum’a brought to Kando (1QS, 1QpHab, and 1QIsaa). In addition (p. 197, note 31), Kando, when presented with a photograph of the Genesis Apocryphon roll, “was quite certain that it was one of the scrolls which he delivered to Metropolitan Samuel. He seemed to think, however, that it was one of the scrolls that Jum’a had brought on his first visit.” Again, a primary figure in the story associates the Genesis Apocryphon with the first set of scrolls. Trever ably explains away these statements in light of other interviews and a later, revised statement by Jum’a.

What can we say at the end of the day? If Trever’s reconstruction is right, then, in addition to the second Isaiah Scroll (1QIsab), and the Hodayot scroll (1QHa), the Genesis Apocryphon might also have been found along with the War Scroll (1QM), which is archaeologically connected to Cave 1. But it seems to me worthwhile to note just how delicate this whole reconstruction is.

So, my question is: Am I missing any crucial evidence here?


Posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Antiquities Market, Archaeological context, Dead Sea Scrolls, Find Stories | 8 Comments

Statement on the So-Called Dead Sea Scrolls of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

A couple days ago, Christianity Today reported that Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is closing what it calls “the nation’s leading evangelical archaeology program.” At the same time, the Seminary itself issued a statement explaining the shuttering of the program, but the bulk of that statement focused on the fate of the Seminary’s supposed “Dead Sea Scrolls,” which the Seminary (along with most scholars) now suspects are fakes:

“The current administration’s lack of confidence in the fragments’ authenticity has been confirmed by an October 2018 report prepared for the seminary’s Board of Trustees by faculty associated with studying the collection. That report, which was recently provided to the current administration, found that by as early as 2016, some seminary faculty had become convinced at least some of the fragments were possible forgeries. More recently, the independent investigation of the Museum of the Bible’s Dead Sea Scrolls collection concluded its fragments were not authentic, which gives us even less confidence in our collection since they share a similar provenance to the MOTB collection. We would welcome an independent investigation of the seminary’s fragments, although the institution is unable to fund such an effort.” 

The statement notes that the fragments were purchased by “the prior administration” and that “significant institutional resources were expended on the acquisition and promotion of the likely fraudulent fragments.” The prior administration was headed by former Seminary president Paige Patterson, depicted below (with his wife Dorothy) (and their dog) in a stained glass window (recently removed from the Seminary).

Stained glass depiction of Paige and Dorothy Patterson; image source: Fort Worth Weekly

Where did the Pattersons acquire these fake fragments? There is a rather detailed account of the acquisition of many of these fragments by the Pattersons and a group of wealthy donors in a short book written by Armour Patterson, the son of the former Seminary president (some of the story is summarized here). Årstein Justnes has quoted several telling passages in a recent publication (available open-access here).

According to the younger Patterson’s book, the seller of the fragments was William Kando, son of the more famous Kando, Khalil Iskander Shahin, the dealer through whom many of the real Dead Sea Scrolls were purchased. The younger Kando, however, seems to be the ultimate source of many of the fake scrolls currently in circulation. But as was frequently the case with the sales of these fragments, academic authenticators were involved at an early stage. According to Patterson:

“On the evening of July 4, 2009, the Pattersons, their small tour group, and SWBTS archaeologist Steve Ortiz met at the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem with Dead Sea Scrolls specialists, Hanan and Esti Eshel. There they compared the lists of fragments and photographs given to Dorothy by William Kando with the list in the hands of the archaeologists in Jerusalem. The list in the hands of the Eshels matched perfectly the list the Pattersons had been provided by William Kando, a crucial first step in authenticating the fragments. Weston W. Fields also verified the affirmation of the Pattersons that the Kando family could have genuine fragments and that they were trustworthy.”

Thus, the Eshels (Bar-Ilan University) and Weston Fields (executive director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation, which funded the publication of recent volumes of the DJD series) seem to have been involved in “authenticating the fragments” that other scholars would come to regard as forgeries.

As Justnes has pointed out, the Seminary’s collection contains perhaps the most brazen of the forged fragments, a piece that was seemingly tailor-made for an American evangelical Christian buyer. It is a single tiny fragment that, remarkably, is said to contain parts of two (non-continuous) chapters of Leviticus that both happen to be highly important to conservative American evangelical identity politics, Leviticus 20 and Leviticus 18, which both treat the topic of sexual relations (the fragment is number 17 in the list maintained by The Lying Pen of Scribes project).

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary “Leviticus” Fragment; image source: Gary & Stephanie Loveless Present Dead Sea Scrolls & the Bible. Ancient Artefacts, Timeless Treasures: Exhibition Catalogue (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2012), p. 86

According to a 2012 report in The Houston Chronicle, this particular fragment cost at least a half-million dollars.

The topic of prices brings us back to another important feature of the Seminary’s announcement, the possibility of legal action against the dealer:

“We are contemplating legal remedies to seek restitution of payments made by the seminary, as authorized by the prior administration.”

As far as I know, this is the first public suggestion that any of the purchasers of fake Dead Sea Scrolls might seek redress in the courts. At first, I was surprised that we haven’t seen more of this, but upon reflection, I think I can see the reasons. In the case of the Green family and Hobby Lobby, a lack of legal action might be understandable. They presumably already regained all the money they spent on the fake fragments along with a hefty profit (at the expense of American taxpayers) by donating the items the the Museum of the Bible and claiming a deduction for charitable giving. In the case of the Seminary (and presumably also Azusa Pacific University), the purchases seem to have been made without the extra step of donation (although I am unsure about this). But if any of these other buyers do take legal actions that make it to trial, we may get more insights into the inner workings of the antiquities market and the trade and production of forgeries.

Posted in Antiquities Market, Dead Sea Scrolls, Fakes and Forgeries, William Kando | 4 Comments

Hobby Lobby and Penance: Some Observations and Suggestions

As I noted on Friday, Steve Green, in his capacity as Chairman of the Board of the Museum of the Bible, announced that the museum would be repatriating some 11,500 artifacts that were acquired with “insufficient provenance.” I’ve taken some time to try to gather my thoughts about this news. My initial reaction was that Mr. Green is making a good resolution to a bad situation (albeit a bad situation of his own creation). As I’ve reflected on what has gone on over the years with the Green Collection and the Museum of the Bible, I view this latest development as a step in the right direction and as a good start.

Steve Green and Pope Francis in 2014; image source: Religion News Service

A couple things about the announcement stood out to me. The first is numbers. The number of papyri being returned to Egypt is said to be “approximately 5000.” I wonder how many they are retaining? It has been hard to get a straight answer about the numbers of different classes of artifacts acquired by Hobby Lobby. Scott Carroll occasionally offered “guesstimations” (his word), but these seem to have little value. At the SBL session in November 2019, when I asked Mike Holmes specifically about the number of papyri acquired by the Green Collection, he said roughly 5000 pieces. So, it would appear that nearly all the papyri in the Green Collection and Museum of the Bible holdings are being repatriated to Egypt. I wonder what those ratios are for cuneiform pieces?

The second thing thing that stood out about the announcement was the overall narrative. Mr. Green presents himself as a naive beginner who learned that you can’t trust everyone (“I knew little about the world of collecting.  It is well known that I trusted the wrong people to guide me…”). He has vowed to be better as the museum moves forward. What’s missing here is how the change of heart came about. As some others have already pointed out, this announcement is the direct result of, in the first instance, outside pressure applied early on by Brice Jones and Roberta Mazza (see her thoughts on this latest news here), pressure that was magnified and contextualized by the work of Candida Moss and Joel Baden, and a number of others. Without this initial impetus, I think the Museum of the Bible would be in a very different place today.

But it’s also important to acknowledge the work of some people inside the organization, the “many dedicated curators,” without whom, I suspect, we don’t get this outcome. Mike Holmes hasn’t always had all the answers I’ve wanted from him, but I don’t think there is any doubt that he has been working hard these last few years to try to bring some order to the chaos and achieve an ethical resolution. I’m grateful to him for this work. It’s also worth highlighting the efforts of some of those who left the organization, like Christian Askeland and Josephine Dru, people who were, I would venture, driven out because they were ahead of the curve at MOTB in coming to the realization (again, thanks to the outside intervention or Mazza, Moss, et al.) of the importance of being up front about provenance.

So, we can be grateful to these people and to Mr. Green for eventually doing the right thing, and at the same time I think we are justified in asking for more. I began by describing this announcement as a good start. Here’s what needs to happen next:

The acquisition records: All records concerning acquisitions should be made public as quickly and efficiently as possible. Such records will allow scholars to trace the paths these artifacts travelled on the antiquities market and the networks of dealers trading in unprovenanced antiquities. I understand that many of Hobby Lobby’s acquisition records are less than ideal (recall the vague inventory in the invoice allegedly showing Dirk Obbink’s sale of four stolen Oxyrhynchus papyri to Hobby Lobby). That is unfortunate, but these records should be made public so that scholars can sort through them. I would, for instance, like to know exactly how much of the Hobby Lobby collection was acquired through Professor Obbink, either as a seller or broker of materials. In addition, if Mr. Green is serious when he says he will “will continue to do the right thing” when others (presumably including national governments) can show “better claim” to items he has acquired, then a complete, online, publicly available archive of purchase documentation for the Green Collection would be a good place to begin.

The tax deductions: If Mr. Green truly wants to do penance for his past “missteps,” he will refund whatever profits he or the Hobby Lobby corporation gained from the donation of any of these items to the Museum of the Bible (as well any profits gained from the donation of the fake Dead Sea Scrolls). It is well known that the donation of artifacts to the Museum of the Bible resulted in vast tax deductions for the Greens (documented in Moss and Baden’s Bible Nation). A full reckoning for Mr. Green’s past actions would include the repayment of those ill-gotten gains. Otherwise, the artifacts being returned now could be viewed as simply being discarded after having served their purpose (a 200% profit for Mr. Green through tax benefits).

Ongoing vigilance: Mr. Green’s statement characterizes these problematic acquisitions as the result of ignorance at the start of the undertaking (“early years,” “early mistakes,” “early missteps”) and unscrupulous consultants with whom he “cut ties.” If the nod to consultants is, as it seems, an oblique reference to Scott Carroll, then the “early years” would be roughly 2009 – 2012, when Scott Carroll departed. But as others have noted, the dodgy acquisitions continued after Carroll’s departure. It’s worth recalling that, for instance, the four supposed “Dead Sea Scroll” fragments that Mr. Green bought from Andrew Stimer (now acknowledged as fakes) were purchased in October 2014, and it seems Professor Obbink was on the payroll until 2017. Cleaning house is an ongoing task, not a moment in the past.

So, as I said, this is a good start. Let’s see what comes next.

Posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Antiquities Market, Dirk Obbink, Green Collection, Scott Carroll | 3 Comments

A Statement from Steve Green on Hobby Lobby Acquisitions

Thanks to Mike Holmes for letting me know about this announcement from Steve Green:

“Today, I am announcing that we have identified approximately 5,000 papyri fragments and 6,500 clay objects with insufficient provenance that we are working to deliver to officials in Egypt and Iraq respectively.  As discussions with officials in Egypt and Iraq continued, we also engaged with officials in the U.S. government to determine the best way procedurally and logistically to make the deliveries, and are appreciative of their assistance.  We are working to finalize the deliveries in the near future.”

Full text here: https://www.museumofthebible.org/press/press-releases/statement-on-past-acquisitions

[[Update 27 March 2020: Wall Street Journal article with reaction from Roberta Mazza.]]

Posted in Antiquities Market, Green Collection | 2 Comments

Fake Dead Sea Scrolls and the People Who Sell Them: One Fragment’s Story

Two posts in recent days prompt me to wonder about the cast of characters involved in the marketing of the “post-2002 Dead Sea Scrolls like fragments” that most of the guild now regards as forgeries (though respected Dead Sea Scrolls scholar Emanuel Tov seems to be withholding judgement on that point).

The first post is by Paul Barford, who helpfully reminds us about the Museum of the Bible’s “Objects with Incomplete Provenance” page. Here is a quick summary of the information about the acquisition of their 16 fragments that have now been determined to be fakes:

  1. Four purchased from Dr. Craig Lampe in November 2009: SCR.000120 (Exodus), SCR.000121 (Psalms), SCR.000122 (Leviticus?), SCR.000123 (Instruction).
  2. One purchased from Michael Sharpe Rare & Antiquarian Books in February 2010: SCR.000124 (Genesis).
  3. Seven purchased from William Kando in May 2010: SCR.003170 (Daniel), SCR.003171 (Jonah), SCR.003172 (Jeremiah), SCR.003173 (Numbers), SCR.003174 (Ezekiel), SCR.003175 (Nehemiah), SCR.003183 (Micah).
  4. Four purchased from Andrew Stimer in October 2014: SCR.004742 (Leviticus), SCR.004741, SCR.004768, and SCR.004769 (the latter three are unidentified and were not included in the Brill volume).

The second post was by Årstein Justnes, who gathered together some early statements about the origins of one of the fake fragments of Genesis. It seems to me that there is a lot of value in exercises like this, pulling together what we know about individual fragments and their recent histories. With some of these fragments, many of the major names of sellers and scholars mix together, with the result that the actual change of ownership is sometimes unclear (who is acting as “owner” and who is a “broker”?). A good example of this is one of the first fragments to be flagged as suspicious, a purportedly ancient fragment containing Neh. 3:14-15 (DSS F. 122, number 41 on the Lying Pen website). Jim Davila expressed skepticism almost immediately after the fragment appeared in 2008 (“one has to wonder about [its] authenticity”).

Much of what follows here is derived from various excellent (and encyclopedic) posts by Ludvik A. Kjeldsberg and Årstein Justnes of the Lying Pen project, so this will be old news to some. But I think there is some value in gathering these links together and thinking a bit about the movements of this forgery.

This fake fragment seems to have first surfaced in 2008, when it was published online in a provisional form by Professor James Charlesworth of Princeton Theological Seminary, who noted the publication was “with the permission of Lee Biondi,” the rare manuscripts dealer based in California who I have mentioned before in connection with Professor Dirk Obbink’s activities on the antiquities market.

Professor Charlesworth said little about the origins of the fragment other than noting that “the one who had the fragment since the sixties reports that it is from Qumran Cave IV.”

At roughly the same time, the fake fragment appeared for sale at Greatsite.com, the online showroom of The Bible Museum (not to be confused with the Museum of the Bible), an online seller of rare books associated with Craig and Joel Lampe:

The provenance information provided on the site was this:

“Provenance:
1. Community of the Essenes, Qumran (circa 30 BC-68 AD)
2. Qumran Cave 4 (A.D. 68-1952)
3. Bedouin discoverers to Khalil Iskander Shahin in Bethlehem
4. Khalil Iskander Shahin to a private collector in France (1953-2004)
[5]. Private collection, Switzerland (2004-2006).
[6]. Purchased and re-conserved by an American dealer in 2006.

The item is guaranteed to be authentic, legally exported from the Middle East in the 1950s and legally imported into the United States.

The item is accompanied by a full scientific and scholarly report.”

There are several interesting features of this description of provenance for this item that is “guaranteed to be authentic.” It would be good to learn the identities of the “private collector” in France,” the “private collection” in Switzerland, and the “American dealer.” And I would be quite curious to see that “scholarly report.” Specifically, I wonder to what degree it resembles the material published online by Professor Charlesworth, whose name shows up further down on the seller’s page:

“This fragment is published online and is scheduled to be published in 2008 by Prof. James Charlesworth of the Princeton Theological Seminary and Head of Princeton’s Dead Sea Scroll project in the academic journal MAARAV: A Journal for the Study of the Northwest Semitic Languages and Literatures. Prof. Charlesworth intends to follow the journal publication with a monograph.”

This impressive set of academic credentials serves as a preface to the sales pitch itself:

“With the understanding that Dead Sea Scroll Fragments have an estimated sale price that is well into six figures if you wish to explore the possibility of obtaining one, just…contact us.”

Early in the following year (2009), the Nehemiah fragment was part of an exhibit in Arizona. It appears on the cover of the exhibition catalog written by Lee Biondi:

All of this points to Biondi as the owner of the fragment, but it is interesting to note that the publisher of the catalog is Legacy Ministries International.

In 2009, Legacy Ministries International (LMI) was the name of an organization now known as Hope Partners International. LMI was itself trading in suspicious Dead Sea Scrolls fragments, several of which it sold to Azusa Pacific University in 2009.

The chairman and chief executive officer was Andrew Stimer. Mr. Stimer, it will be recalled, both sold (fake) Dead Sea Scroll fragments to the Museum of the Bible and purchased (real) early Christian papyri stolen from the Oxyrhynchus collection. So, the group of names somehow connected to this fragment now includes Lee Biondi, James Charlesworth, Craig and Joel Lampe, and Andrew Stimer.

Still in 2009, apparently, the fragment was sold to the Norwegian collector Martin Schøyen (MS 5426). Unless I miss something, the fragment next turns up in 2012 in publicity connected with the forthcoming publication of several “Dead Sea Scroll-like fragments” in the Schøyen Collection:

But when the Schøyen Collection volume appeared in 2016, the Nehemiah fragment was not in it, a point noted by reviewers (link to a pdf file). Did the editors refuse to publish the piece because they regarded it as a forgery?

The answer to that question was forthcoming in the 2017 volume of the journal Dead Sea Discoveries, which contained an article co-written by several people including the editors of the Schøyen volume.

These authors concluded the Nehemiah fragment and eight other “Dead Sea Scroll-like fragments” in the Schøyen Collection were most likely forgeries. I’m unaware of anyone who has come forward to defend the authenticity of the fragment.

It is understandable that in the aftermath of all this, some of the parties involved in the early days have distanced themselves from this fragment. In an exchange from December 2017 in the comments on the Lying Pen site, the owner of Greatsite.com, John Jeffcoat, posed some questions and offered some explanations:

But the Lampe family did have custody of other fragments now widely regarded as fakes (although I have no knowledge of these pieces ever being offered for sale on Greatsite.com). As the information at the beginning of this post indicates, Craig Lampe sold four pieces to the Green Collection. We see some of the fakes on display along with enlarged, enhanced photographs, for instance, in a promotional video, Mysteries of the Dead Sea Scrolls (2006), starring Joel Lampe standing in front of what appears to be a portable Qumran cave (I do not know if either the fragments or the portable Qumran cave were for sale at this event).

I think it worthy of note that some pieces in the video were also featured in the Biondi/Legacy Ministries International catalog, such as the item below, a fragment now owned by the Museum of the Bible and considered a fake containing a bit of the Psalm 11 (DSS F. 199, number 43 on the Lying Pen website):

So, the Psalms fragment was sold to Hobby Lobby by Craig Lampe, publicly displayed by Joel Lampe, published in a book that was written by Lee Biondi and produced by Legacy Ministries International. It definitely seems like all these parties are somehow related. What all of this tells me is that there is still a major lack of clarity about the buying and selling of these pieces. Which dealers owned what, exactly? And from whom did they buy these pieces? And, of course, who made these forgeries to begin with?

And it seems significant that some of the people involved in the circulation of the fake Dead Sea Scrolls (Lee Biondi and Andrew Stimer, to say nothing of Scott Carroll, the Green Family, and the Museum of the Bible) are also connected either to Professor Dirk Obbink or to the stolen Oxyrhynchus papyri. Even after the big report about the fakes at the Museum of the Bible, there are still lots of questions to answer here.

Posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Antiquities Market, Dead Sea Scrolls, Fakes and Forgeries, Green Collection, Lee Biondi, Schøyen Collection | 4 Comments