November 20, 2018

Learning from the Museum of the Bible's Forgeries

“It is tempting to feel that some cosmic justice has been meted out to the Museum of the Bible, which recently admitted that five items in its collection that it believed were authentic Dead Sea Scrolls have been tested and are now considered to be forgeries. This came after the decision, in 2017, that the museum’s owners, the Green family of Hobby Lobby store fame (as well as religious fundamentalist fame, having successfully sued the U.S. government because it did not want taxes from its employee health plans to go to contraceptives), had purchased looted antiquities, and were forced to pay a fine and return some 5,500 illicit objects that had been bought by dealers in Israel and the United Arab Emirates in 2010.

Neither of these revelations come as a surprise to those who know how the collection of the Museum of the Bible was amassed. Most of the objects were bought en masse from other collections without knowing (or caring to look too closely) at how they were initially acquired (for a very detailed examination of this, see the impressive detective work of Roberta Mazza, which has been reported at the ARCA Conference on the Study of Art Crime and in numerous other publications, including Biblical Archaeology and my own feature in The Washington Post as well as another for Salon). The Green’s collection and how it was gathered have raised no shortage of eyebrows, and so a bit of schadenfreude can be expected. But kudos to the Museum of the Bible for not trying to cover up the latest scandal, but admitting it, with however much chagrin.

With this in mind, the reasonable question may rise as to how collections and individuals can avoid these sort of problems. We have already delved into how to avoid accidentally buying fakes and forgeries in this column, but what about not accidentally (or on purpose) buying looted antiquities? Here are five tips to take with you on your next trip to an art fair, gallery, auction or even a flea markets on some back streets.”

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