Where Are the Other Fake Fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls?

Sixteen forgeries have been discovered so far in the collections of unsuspecting evangelicals. Experts have suspicions about many more.

Mark Lanier thinks if you were going to fake a fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls to sell to an unsuspecting evangelical collector, you wouldn’t pick Amos 7:17.

Psalm 23, maybe.

Or Jeremiah 29:11.

Even Proverbs 3:13.

But not Amos 7:17, which says, “Your wife will become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and daughters will fall by the sword.”

Except maybe that’s exactly what a forger—trying to pass off a scrap of distressed leather as an ancient bit of the Bible preserved in desert caves for two millennia—would want you to think. So in 2013, Lanier made sure an antiquities dealer had legal documentation of the authenticity of three pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls before he bought them to donate to the Lanier Theological Library in Houston.

“We passed up purchasing a number of other fragments on this issue,” said Lanier, a Texas trial lawyer and philanthropist. “We did due diligence and were assured of the provenance.”

A shadow of suspicion has spread across antiquities collections at US evangelical institutions in recent years as a small team of Dead Sea Scrolls detectives has raised concerns about modern forgeries. The Museum of the Bible reported that all 16 of its prized fragments were fakes, and experts wonder: How many more are out there?

More than 70 pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls have been offered for sale on the antiquities market in the past two decades. It seems unlikely a criminal would produce and sell 16 forgeries and then just stop.

“Whoever was manufacturing these was responding to the market,” said Kipp Davis, an expert in biblical archaeology and Dead Sea Scrolls forgery. “That market was, for the most part, wealthy evangelicals.” ...

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A Thanksgiving Like None Other

The world may look different, but there is still plenty to be grateful for.

Thanksgiving looks a bit different this year. Whether you’re celebrating alone, with a few close family members, over Zoom, or maybe a combination of all three, I’m sure things don’t feel quite the same. I grieve this loss alongside you, and with millions of others. You are not alone.

In my family, and I assume in many of yours, at some point during usual Thanksgiving celebrations, every family member or friend present is invited to share what they are most grateful for on this special holiday. As LifeWay Research recently reported, Americans are most thankful to and for their family, even in this unique year. Of course, I want to assure readers that I too am thankful to and for my family. In this year, I am adding a new item to that standard list. And, this new addition begins with a descent.

What do I mean by descent? Well, if you’re like me, your version of descent might be a lost job, a lost relationship, or a lost graduation. It may be a lost loved one, or the death of a dream, like a small business. This year, we all had plenty to lose. Descent might not just mean the loss itself—it may be sleepless nights, or anxiety-ridden days. It might be a nose-dive straight into self-pity. Descent might be your mental state as a result of these losses.

I am not mature enough in my faith to say plainly and honestly that I am thankful for these losses, or the many sleepless nights that followed. I would love to report that I was a perfect imitation of Job this year, and that I faithfully turned to God after each loss, as Job does, saying:

Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised (Job 1:20-21).

To be ...

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SCOTUS Gets It Right on Religious Liberty: Church IS Essential

But the right outcome here doesn’t mean all restrictions are invalid or that churches should reopen.

Last night, the Supreme Court issued injunctive relief to houses of worship challenging New York City’s COVID-19 restrictions on in-person gatherings, the first time it has granted such relief during the pandemic. I have mixed views about the decision and early reactions to it.

First, I don’t think this decision is as momentous as commentators are suggesting. It is fairly fact-specific injunctive relief, and the nature and scope of pandemic orders vary greatly around the country. It’s hard to generalize much from this decision, and I’m concerned that public messaging about it will fuel a broader culture wars narrative from religious leaders like John MacArthur who insist “there is no pandemic” and continue to hold services for 7,000 unmasked people. An injunction against a 25-person cap is not a green light to return to regular worship. Given the current state of the pandemic, it’s not even a yellow light.

The dire rates of transmission we’re seeing all around the country, the Thanksgiving holiday travel, and our growing awareness that indoor, in-person gatherings are a major cause of transmission all increase the likelihood that even more restrictions may be coming. That’s another reason it’s best to view this order as limited and fact-specific.

That said, I think the Court’s decision is correct and offers some important observations. One of the most important is that these shutdown orders cause irreparable harm because they restrict First Amendment freedoms—and that virtual worship is not a constitutionally sufficient alternative. In other words, worship is absolutely an “essential activity” and to say otherwise is constitutionally incorrect ...

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Supreme Court Blocks New York’s Worship Service Restrictions

It’s the first time during the pandemic the high court has sided with churches and synagogues challenging the new rules on religious liberty grounds.

As coronavirus cases surge again nationwide the Supreme Court late Wednesday barred New York from enforcing certain limits on attendance at churches and synagogues in areas designated as hard hit by the virus.

The justices split 5-4 with new Justice Amy Coney Barrett in the majority. It was the conservative’s first publicly discernible vote as a justice. The court’s three liberal justices and Chief Justice John Roberts dissented.

The move was a shift for the court. Earlier this year, when Barrett’s liberal predecessor, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was still on the court, the justices divided 5-4 to leave in place pandemic-related capacity restrictions affecting churches in California and Nevada.

The court’s action Wednesday could push New York to reevaluate its restrictions on houses of worship in areas designated virus hot spots, though both groups who sued are no longer in zones subject to the strictest attendance restrictions.

The justices acted on an emergency basis, temporarily barring New York from enforcing the restrictions against the groups while their lawsuits continue. In an unsigned opinion the court said the restrictions “single out houses of worship for especially harsh treatment.”

“Members of this Court are not public health experts, and we should respect the judgment of those with special expertise and responsibility in this area. But even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten. The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty,” the opinion said.

Though the decision addresses the restrictions in New York in ...

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How a Pastor Got Fired Over Cranberries

Worry about present hardships and trouble distorts our faith in God’s future.

Much has been made among Christians in 2020 about systemic sin—the collective fault of institutions, societies, and their norms and laws to engender injustice and cause harm. Most evident in heated debates over race, politics, policing, education, and the economy, systemic sin implies a capacity for wrong on the part of structures that individuals could not accomplish on their own.

But racism still requires racists; unjust institutions and arrogant corporations require people who are corrupt and arrogant. Systemic sin implicates individual sinners whether we realize it or not. In a previous era, inhabited by those Pilgrims whose gratitude we emulate every Thanksgiving, sin was understood as chronic, spiritual corruption solved by salvation alone. Once saved, redemption pressed the saved sinner into obedience, a good tree bearing good fruit (Matt. 12:33).

Jesus taught his disciples how a wise man built his house on a rock before the rains fell and the flood came, the rock being obedience to Christ in every aspect of life (Matt. 7:24–25). As the Pilgrims courageously crossed the Atlantic for the sake of religious liberty, their courage derived from their conviction that not even a sparrow “will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care” (Matt. 10:29). Shaped by what they long held in their hearts, they viewed their journey’s ultimate end as a heavenly country, a city God had prepared for them (Rev. 21:2). When stalked by exposure and starvation in the New World, they recalled the words of Jesus: If “God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith!” (Luke 12:28).

They would ...

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Coronavirus Kills Orthodox Leader Appreciated by Protestants and Catholics

Patriarch Irinej of the Serbian Orthodox Church died after attending funeral of Montenegro counterpart who also had COVID-19.

Church bells tolled and mourners flocked to light candles as the Serbian government proclaimed three days of national mourning for Patriarch Irinej. The 90-year-old leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church, who passed away November 20, became the world’s highest-ranking cleric to die from COVID-19.

Evangelical leaders in Serbia described him as kind and sincere in his dialogue with them.

The Orthodox lost a towering figure, who nurtured the church through the Soviet era.

“I knew the patriarch as a simple man, modest in his needs, and of strong moral character,” said Zoran Filipovic, an Orthodox priest who served on his staff.

“His greatest concern was the welfare of the church.”

It may have contributed to his death.

The patriarch was hospitalized with the coronavirus early in November, soon after attending the funeral of the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, Bishop Amfilohije [profiled by CT], who also died from complications caused by COVID-19.

Thousands of mourners, most of them without masks, gathered at the November 1 funeral for Amfilohije in the Montenegrin capital, Podgorica, in violation of pandemic-fighting measures proclaimed by the small Adriatic state’s authorities. The burial turned out to be a superspreader event, with several high-ranking church officials and other attendees later testing positive.

After Amfilohije’s death and Irinej’s hospitalization, Serbian priests have started to appeal for their parishioners to take the deadly virus seriously. They had previously downplayed the threat from the global pandemic and largely ignored bans on large gatherings and preventive measures during prayers and other church services.

Irinej was buried in the main Saint ...

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Despite COVID-19, Evangelicals Mobilize for Mission in Europe

In challenging circumstances, European evangelicals share a message of hope.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues its relentless march across the world, Europe battles a frightening second wave. New lockdowns, overwhelmed hospitals, and social unrest are increasingly the norm across the continent.

But as a dark winter looms, European evangelicals can look back with gratitude and look ahead with expectation, thanks to a renewed rediscovery of fervent prayer, fresh creativity, and resilient hope in this trying year.

Fervent prayer

When churches were prevented from meeting in the spring, small communities scrambled to minister to people online while larger congregations grieved the loss of members who had weak links to the faith and attended church sporadically before the pandemic. “Not since the Second World War has something so profoundly affected the lives of all Europeans simultaneously,” explained Jim Memory, leader of the process team for Lausanne Europe 20/21.

The pandemic’s effects were also felt by continent-wide gatherings of evangelical leaders, such as Lausanne Europe 20/21 and the annual European Leadership Forum. “Not being able to come together was like not being with your family at Christmas,” explained Greg Pritchard, director of the European Leadership Forum.

But as the discouraging news mounted, intercession initiatives sprung up across the continent. Local churches launched virtual prayer rooms, Evangelical Alliances hosted National Days of Prayer, and student movements such as IFES hosted prayer meetings for people across the continent. “The pandemic brought the European church to our knees,” reports Sarah Breuel, director of Revive Europe. “We have never seen so many calls to prayer and fasting like this before.”

Fresh creativity

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Sometimes, Telling Us More About the Pilgrims Actually Tells Us Less

A new study touches on many factors that shaped life in Plymouth Colony. But the most important one gets lost in the laundry list.

This December marks 400 years since the Mayflower dropped anchor in Plymouth Harbor, and for the past 200 years the story of its passengers has loomed large in American memory. Generations of schoolchildren have learned its basic plot: how a tiny band of plain men and women, desperate for a better life, crossed the stormy Atlantic and endured unimaginable hardships in a strange land where, with the help of their Native American neighbors, they managed to endure and even to flourish.

But how well do we know this group that the 19th century would christen “the Pilgrims”? Not well at all, as it turns out. With her new book The World of Plymouth Plantation, UCLA historian Carla Gardina Pestana joins a long line of scholars who have tried to set the record straight over the years, seeking to challenge, complicate, and enrich our understanding of the story we think we already know. The result is a book that is generally informative and interesting but rarely edifying.

A Little Bit About a Lot of Things

Pestana rightly laments that we condense the history of the Pilgrim colony into a series of discrete, still-life vignettes: the signing of the Mayflower Compact, the landing at Plymouth Rock, the celebration of the first Thanksgiving. She is correct in noting that Americans have mythologized each of those historic moments. If later generations insisted that the Mayflower Compact was “an early expression of democratic striving,” the Pilgrims in reality gave “no indication of wanting to escape their status as subjects of a king.” Although more than a million tourists flock to Plymouth annually to file past a shrine erected over the Pilgrims’ supposed landing site, “those who designated ...

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Tigray Crisis Tests Ethiopian Christians Along Tribal Lines

As Abiy’s military closes in on TPLF forces, thousands flee to Sudan.

The jagged rock spires and steep mountains of the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia are home to some of the oldest churches in the world.

Against that historic backdrop, forces loyal to the central government in Addis Ababa have pushed toward the regional capital, Mekele, fighting soldiers loyal to the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

Fierce fighting has raged since November 4, when Ethiopians awoke to see Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announce that he had sent federal troops to Tigray in response to an attack on the Northern Command Post of the National Defense Force in the region. The once-dominant TPLF, whose relations with the central government had been souring for months, had attacked federal troops.

“The last red line has been crossed with this morning’s attacks and the federal government is therefore forced into a military confrontation,” Abiy said.

All internet and telecommunications have been shut off in Tigray since then, making information difficult to verify. The Ethiopian government says it is making advances that include the capture of the ancient city of Axum, where the church of Our Lady Mary of Zion is believed by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church to host the original Ark of the Covenant.

As they retreated, TPLF forces damaged the Axum airport and destroyed bridges leading into Mekele.

“There was a lot of confusion,” a Christian expat working in the Tigray town of Shire, near the border with Eritrea, told CT. Evacuated by the United Nations last week, he asked to remain anonymous in order to protect his work there. “That first day was the worst, because people were killed, shot, and beat. We heard soldiers trying to hide in homes, and other soldiers trying ...

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Research: Racial Minorities Were More Likely to Contract COVID-19 at Churches

Cell phone location data indicated religious gatherings appeared to be a top transmission spot when the pandemic took off.

New research suggests that, at the beginning of the pandemic, Americans from lower-income or majority-minority neighborhoods were more likely to be infected with COVID-19 through religious gatherings such as churches than those living in higher-income or predominantly white neighborhoods.

Cell phone data was an early indicator that Sunday morning church attendance slowed significantly in the spring. According to a new model published in Nature, it also reveals the disparities in which segments of the population were able to stay at home and reduce exposure.

Researchers at Stanford University found that churches were among the top five sites for coronavirus transmission, alongside restaurants, gyms, cafes and snack bars, and hotels. According to an analysis of anonymous cell phone data, these places tended to have more visitors and longer visits. In all, the model calculates that visits to these sites accounted for 70 percent of transmitted cases during the first several weeks of the pandemic.

The study used mobility data from cell phone users in 10 large US metro areas throughout March and April. They calculated the transmission rate in various neighborhoods by overlaying US Census data with the density of infected individuals in those locations. (They compared it to the New York TimesCOVID-19 case tracker and found the model to be an accurate prediction.)

Even though black churches have generally been the most cautious about reopening, residents in black and Hispanic neighborhoods who met in person during this time carried a greater likelihood of transmission largely due to their higher mobility and more frequent visits to crowded places.

Since contact-tracing efforts weren’t widely available, the cell phone data ...

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God Pops Up: India

Following the miraculous healing of his mother, Anil seeks out the man he is convinced saved his mother.

Anil’s life took a sudden turn after his mother was miraculously healed following a woman’s simple prayer to Jesus. In this episode of God Pops Up, follow Anil’s journey to learn more about the man, he is convinced, saved his mother.

After watching this episode of God Pops Up, read more about Apilang Apum’s call to Christ in a remote corner of India.

Through God Pops Up, Christianity Today brings stories to you from some of the world’s most dangerous locations. We tell of people risking their lives in hard places to share the Good News. While we have confirmed these stories’ accuracy, unlike most of our journalism, we cannot cite sources, show photos, or name names. God Pops Up tells true stories through animation to encourage the global church while protecting these heroes.

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