Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Fake Dead Sea Scrolls an Intelligently Designed Hoax

'Dead Sea Scroll' display, Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C.
Credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at least partly fake, museum admits | CBC News

In the search for certainty, concern for truth takes a low priority.

The dangers of being over-eager for confirmation of bias were highlighted yesterday when a fundamentalist Bible museum was forced to admit that at least five of its sixteen claimed Dead Sea Scroll fragments were forgeries.

Despite highly dubious provenance, the museum had purchased the fragments which began mysteriously appearing on the international market in about 2002, despite the actual scroll fragments being tightly controlled by the Israeli Government's Antiquities Authority. Bible scholars had warned that these fragments appeared to be intelligently designed to target American evangelical Christians. A Baptist seminary in Texas and a evangelical college in California reportedly paid out millions of dollars for some of them.

The museum which has been hoaxed is the $500 million Museum of the Bible in Washington DC which was opened by Vice President Mike Pence only last November. It is heavily backed by the Green family - the Christian evangelical Oklahoma billionaire owners of the Hobby Lobby chain. In the years before the opening of the museum, in addition to buying up the forged Dead Sea Scroll fragments, the Green family spent millions on buying up antiquities looted from Iraq and elsewhere and smuggled into the USA - offenses for which they paid $3 million in US fines and agreed to return the stolen artifacts.

These forgeries add to the very long list of forgeries and hoaxes used by fundamentalist American Christian and creationist organizations to fool credulous people, from Ron Wyatt's faked and forged 'discoveries' to the Paluxy dinosaur and human tracks hoax, to Kent Hovind's fake science qualification and Ken Ham's fake 'replica' Ark. Then of course there is the Nebraska Man hoax where evangelicals claim science made claims that were never made.

Anyone with experience of creationist antics in the social media will be familiar with the routine lies, distortions, misrepresentations and fakes that are constantly presented as evidence either by those who have been fooled by them of by people trying to fool others with them. It quickly becomes apparent that fundamentalist Christians (and to be fair, fundamentalist Muslims) have a low regard for truth and rarely, if ever, check their 'facts'.

Given the paucity of any evidence supporting Christianity or any of the claims made in the Bible, and the level of credulity needed to believe them, it isn't really surprising that evangelicals, especially those with a vested interest, would fall for these sort of hoaxes, or would at least be willing to pass them off as authentic. Just as with 'faith', in the absence of evidence, all you have is an eagerness to believe and a willingness to tell yourself that whatever agrees with you must be true.

There is a strongly self-idolatrous tendency in fundamentalism to believe that somehow you have a unique insight into the mind of God and can therefore determine the true meaning of the Bible, and this knowledge somehow gives you special insight into reality too. With your special powers and abilities you can know what is true and what isn't with scarcely more than a moment's thought. If you like it and agree with it, it's true; if not, it isn't.

No evidence required. No learning necessary. And you get that cosy glow of certainty that confirms your bias and the value of faith.

Additionally, there is an even more embarrassing aspect to this revelation.

Many Christians claim that the Bible is somehow uniquely protected by God against copying errors and forgeries being passed of as authentic, and so can be absolutely relied on as the inerrant word of God. Very clearly, if supposedly ancient documents can be forged and passed of as authentic, this is manifestly untrue. Given that in former times it would have been technically much more difficult to detect forgeries as the German team that exposed this hoax did, and given that the motive for forging chunks of the Bible would have been at least as strong in the early history of the Christian Church as it is in modern America, there can be no doubt that at least parts of the Bible could be based on forgeries.

Biblical scholars already accept that many of the letters attributed to St Paul are forgeries and that writers such as the author of 'Matthew' simply added in their own passages to documents they were copying to make it tell the tale they wanted told, so how much more of the Bible is now rendered suspect?


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