This ministry has a museum in York, Nebraska, called The Clayton Museum of Ancient History. It features part of the extensive antiquity collection of Foster Stanback. The museum’s purpose is education, and the state of Nebraska has listed it as an important tourist attraction. In the years since the museum opened, we have received offers from people trying to sell us supposed valuable artifacts. There is always a danger in purchasing artifacts if their origin and authenticity can’t be proven. Recent Dead Sea Scroll frauds have shown that to be true.
Fakery is an ongoing problem. In the last 20 years, there have been 70 pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls offered for sale on the antiquities market. Scientific studies have proven that many recently purchased fragments were frauds. The Museum of the Bible reported that all 16 of its prized fragments were fakes. Azusa Pacific University has concluded that the five fragments it bought for 1.3 million dollars are not authentic.
Dead Sea Scroll frauds and other fake antiquities are on the market because they sell for high prices. They are collectors’ market objects. While they have cash value from that standpoint, they are not being stolen or faked for religious purposes but for profit motives.
One of the exciting clues to the Bible’s credibility is the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. They consist of thousands of scrolls and fragments found in caves near Qumran on the Dead Sea’s northwest shore. These scrolls have been useful in showing that the Old Testament books in our modern Bibles are credible. Recently scientists have conducted DNA tests on Dead Sea Scrolls.
Many people suggested that the modern Bible is a modified copy of a modified copy of a modified copy, and thus is not trustworthy because of copying errors. The Dead Sea Scrolls date back to 2000 plus years ago. The fact that they agree with the biblical texts available today is strong evidence that there have not been massive copy problems in bringing us the written word of God.
Molecular biologists at Tel Aviv University have conduced DNA tests on Dead Sea Scrolls. They are using the DNA evidence to tell us more about the origin of the Dead Sea Scroll fragments. They have isolated animal DNA in 26 fragments. Two of the fragments came from cowskin, and 24 came from sheepskin. The DNA evidence supports the idea that the sheepskin scrolls came from scribes at Qumran, although the cowskin scraps came from elsewhere. A few fragments came from Masada some 55 kilometers south of Qumran.
With more and more evidence, we see more credibility for the manuscripts from which our Bibles came. We can trust the Bible and its message. Whatever differences we find in manuscripts are easy to overcome and to understand.
One of the more trusted sources of science and history is the National Geographic Society. Their popular magazine, books, and TV programs have been used to promote particular viewpoints, and sometimes they have been deceived. Many of our older readers will remember a cover story in the magazine about a Chinese fossil that the magazine ran as proof of a particular evolutionary theory. It later turned out to have been constructed by local people as a means of selling claimed fossils. Now there is an issue with fake Dead Sea Scroll fragments.
The Museum of the Bible collection of Dead Sea Scroll fragments, which the National Geographic has used extensively, are fakes. They consist of 16 fragments claimed to be from authentic Dead Sea Scrolls. The forgers used old pieces of leather, and after writing on them, they treated the documents, so they looked ancient. The museum released a report by Colette Loll on March 13, 2020, explaining that microscopic analysis of the fragments showed cracks in the leather filled with pools of the ink. That means the leather had cracked after a long period of time, and the ink ran into the cracks in modern times. Other evidence also showed that these were fake Dead Sea Scroll fragments.
The message for all of us is to realize that any scientific claim based on historical objects needs careful study. Claims of antiquity should be read with a skeptical eye to the evidence. There is a lot of money involved in ancient artifacts, documents, and writings. Since National Geographic has such acceptance and worldwide circulation, they are particularly vulnerable to forgery attempts.
Skeptics have tried for 2,000 years to find methods of discrediting Jesus and the Bible. When Jesus was on Earth, people debated who and what He was. All kinds of mistaken concepts circulated, frequently controlled by the desires and beliefs of His enemies. Things have not changed. Sometimes skeptics have tried to explain away Jesus in terms of ancient pagan cultures or Jewish religious sects.
At one time, people claimed that the source of the stories about Jesus came from the Essenes, a sect of Jews who lived near the Dead Sea and left what are known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Essenes wrote about a man known as the “Great Teacher.” Skeptics suggested that this individual was elevated by his followers to be “the son of God,” and that led to the myth of Jesus Christ. Further research on the Dead Sea Scrolls and new archaeological discoveries laid that claim to rest.
People have tried to tie Christ to the ancient Egyptian cult of Isis. There is a story of a “resurrection” in that legend, and skeptics bent on discrediting Jesus claimed that was the origin of the story of Christ’s resurrection. Osiris was the Egyptian god of the underworld, and supposedly was the husband of Isis. In the Egyptian legend, Osiris was murdered by his brother and buried in the Nile. Isis recovered the body, but Osiris’ brother retrieved it, cut it up into 14 pieces, and scattered the pieces around the world. Isis found all 14 pieces and resurrected Osiris.
The story of Christ could not have been borrowed from the cult of Isis because it has none of the characteristics of the story. Nowhere in the resurrection account is there any supernatural battle between equal gods, no sex interest, and no war based on physical skill and intelligence. When Peter used his sword to cut off the ear of one of Christ’s attackers, Jesus healed the ear and told him to put away the sword. There is no struggle for political power in the story of Christ. The contrast between the story of Isis and the story of Christ is so enormous that even the rankest skeptic should be able to see the foolishness of trying to compare them.
Other attempts to explain the virgin birth by stories from pagan myths are even more ludicrous. In one case, the sun-god Apollo became a snake and impregnated the mother of Augustus Caesar, so the baby born was without a mortal father. Not only is this account used by some skeptics of Christ ridiculous in its content, but it was written after the biblical account had been recorded in the gospels. The gospel writers could not possibly have drawn from it.
Another claim was that the founder of Rome, Romulus, inspired the story of Christ. Romulus was supposed to have been fathered by the Roman god Mars. When he and his twin brother Remus were left to die in the Tiber River, a she-wolf adopted and raised them. Later Romulus killed Remus and became the founder and first king of Rome. Once again, one just has to read the account and ask if there is any similarity between this mythical story and the account of the birth, life, and death of Jesus.
More than 2000 years ago, King Herod built a fortress in the Judean Desert that could house 10,000 soldiers. He equipped it with five palaces and water installations which included three bathhouses and a swimming pool. Masada is a butte with incredibly steep sides making it an easy place to defend. When Rome set out to defeat the Jewish zealots, the rebels sought refuge at Masada where they held out from A.D. 66 to 73. In recent years there have been new archaeological discoveries at Masada.
Archeologists have been exploring the remains of Masada for a very long time. In the past ten years, new technology has revealed a great deal of information about the history of Rome, Palestine, the Jewish community, and the Christian community. Biblical Archaeology Review for September/October 2018 carries an excellent article about what they have learned. The discoveries have strong implications for the credibility of the Bible and help us understand the conditions that existed at the time of Jesus and during the early years of the Church. Here are some of the recent finds:
Masada had an advanced water system, enough to produce extensive agriculture including a winery with 50 fermentation tanks.
Herod had huge gardens with trees and flowers as well as agricultural products.
In 2017, Hershel Shanks retired. He was the founder of the Biblical Archaeology Society and the editor of Biblical Archaeology Review for 42 years. Shanks is important to those of us interested in apologetics because he caused the contents of the Dead Sea Scrolls to become available to the general public. He also has been useful in getting material supporting belief in the Bible as the Word of God into the hands of the public. A recent example is evidence that David was, in fact, the historical figure the Bible depicts–a belief biblical minimalists have challenged.
The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the late 1940s, and thousands of fragments were housed in the Palestine Archaeological Museum which is now called the Rockefeller Museum. A scroll publication team with an editor-in-chief supervised the assembling and reproduction of the scrolls. However, virtually no reproductions had been made available so research on the contents of the scrolls not possible.
When the Dead Sea Scrolls were unavailable for study, skeptics attacked the Bible, and the media carried all kinds of claims about what the scrolls contained. One story was that the scrolls said that Jesus was “the great teacher of the Essenes.” Some people made claims that the scrolls showed that apocryphal books should be validated as part of the biblical canon. Shanks began a public campaign to make the scrolls available to researchers, students, and the general public. Hebrew University professor, Emanuel Tov, became the editor-in-chief of the publication team and during his tenure over 100 scholars contributed to the release of the scrolls’ contents.
Hershel Shanks published a preliminary edition of the unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls in 1991, and a landslide of demands for full disclosure of all of the documents followed. Today the Dead Sea Scrolls are housed in a special building in Jerusalem called “The Shrine of the Book.” They are also available to view in high definition for free on the internet. To see them click here.
In the 1970s there was a lot of attention paid to a community of ascetics known as the Essenes. This group lived in the Qumran area near the Dead Sea and were probably the producers of the Dead Sea Scrolls. In the past, skeptics of Christianity have suggested that they were the originators of Christian teachings and of Jesus himself. The Essenes expected a “Teacher of Righteousness” who would rise from the dead.
As scholars probed more deeply, it became obvious that there were huge differences that invalidated attempts to discredit Christianity by ascribing its teachings to the Essenes. The Essenes were ultraconservative Jews, many of whom rejected marriage and attempted to hide from the Romans.
On November 16, 2017, anthropologist Yossi Nagar of the Israel Antiquities Authority in Jerusalem presented a study of 33 newly discovered skeletons found at Qumran. Carbon-14 dating puts the bones at 2200 years ago, close to the dates of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The bones are mostly, if not all, from adult males and have no signs of having been in combat, so they were not soldiers.
In February of 2017, researchers found another cave that seems to have held more scrolls or pieces of leather or papyrus that were ready to be used for writing. The significance of the finds is that they may lead to more scrolls in the area. Questions about who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls do need to be answered to establish the validity of the documents.