JERUSALEM – Nearly 70 years after their initial discovery, several fragments of the world-famous Dead Sea Scrolls are being sold to the general public.
Even though many are excited that the ancient relics are finally being made available to private collectors, the decision to auction off the scrolls has brought heavy amounts of criticism, controversy and confusion.
The fascinating story of the Dead Sea Scrolls began in 1946, when a young Palestinian shepherd boy happened to discover an ancient cave along the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea. Housed in the cave were dozens of clay jars, each of which contained carefully-preserved scrolls that were later determined to be approximately two thousand years old.
In subsequent years, as the caves were carefully explored and the scroll fragments were tediously analyzed by experts, it was discovered that nearly one-fourth of the ancient texts were Hebrew Old Testament Scriptures. Thus, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls gave Biblical scholars an unprecedented opportunity to study and document the Old Testament canon.
Due to the sheer significance of the find, rights to the Dead Sea Scrolls have long been a contentious debate, as various parties have bartered for possession of the precious relics. According to an Associated Press report released over the weekend, several of the original scrolls were sold to Iskandil Kando, a Christian cobbler in Bethlehem who died in 1993. Now his son, William Kando, owns the invaluable collection, and—much to the consternation of many Israelis—is now offering to sell some of the scroll fragments.
This isn’t the first time William Kando has attempted to make money off of his family’s scroll collection. According to reports, he was able to successfully sell several artifacts to California-based Asuza Pacific University for $2.5 million in 2009. Additional scrolls have been sold by Kando to Norwegian businessman Martin Schøyen and to the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas.
Some have even speculated that a number of the artifacts featured in the Oklahoma-based “Green Collection” may have been bought from Kando, but Kando denies this suggestion. (The Green Collection is owned by the Green family—the evangelical owners of the Hobby Lobby retail chain.)
While business transactions like these have proven to be extremely lucrative for Kando and other ancient artifact dealers who own pieces of the scrolls, the Israeli government is closely monitoring the exchange of Dead Sea Scrolls, watching for any suspicious or illegal activity. They have even conducted at least two raids in the past ten years where questionable activity was observed.
Even though the various owners of the ancient texts claim the costly relics rightfully belong to them, the Israeli government maintains that the Dead Sea Scrolls are cultural property of Israel, and should not be sold to parties outside their country. In fact, the Israeli government has threatened to seize any scrolls that are put on the market.
What do Israeli officials think of Kando’s valuable scroll collection? According to reports, an Israeli anti-looting government official once stated, “As far as I’m concerned, [Kando] can die with those scrolls. The scrolls’ only address is the State of Israel.”