Dead sea scrolls go up for sale as family sells off fragments it secretly stashed in a Swiss safety deposit box

  • Palestinian family who originally sold  them  admits if kept fragments in a Swiss safe deposit box
  • Scraps are postage-stamp-sized, and some  are blank

By  Mark Prigg

PUBLISHED: 05:19 EST, 27 May  2013 |  UPDATED: 05:20  EST, 27 May 2013

Nearly 70 years after the discovery of the  world’s oldest biblical manuscripts, the Palestinian family who originally sold  them to scholars and institutions is has begun selling fragments it kept hidden  in  a Swiss safe deposit box.

Most of these scraps are barely  postage-stamp-sized, and some are blank.

But in the last few years, evangelical  Christian collectors and institutions have spent millions buying parts of the  archaeological treasure.

A Rabbi studies one of the 'Scrolls from the Dead Sea' on display in Glasgow. now the family that discovered them is set to sell more 'fragments' to collectorsA Rabbi studies one of the ‘Scrolls from the Dead Sea’  on display in Glasgow. now the family that discovered them is set to sell more  ‘fragments’ to collectors



The Dead Sea Scrolls consist of more than  10,000 manuscript fragments  representing 900 separate texts, including the  oldest biblical texts  ever found.

They were discovered in caves in the Judean  desert alongside the Dead Sea.

Most of the scrolls are animal skin  parchment, a few are  papyrus, and one is made of copper.

At least 90 percent are written in  Hebrew,  while the rest are in Aramaic and Greek.

They include 200 manuscripts representing every book in the Hebrew Bible  except Esther, most  in small fragments.

They predate the era of Jesus by about 80  years.

They also include previously  unknown works, thought to have been composed by a community or communities that  believed the End of Days was imminent.

This angers Israel’s government antiquities  authority, which holds most of the scrolls, claims that every last scrap  should be recognized as Israeli cultural property, and threatens to seize  any more pieces that hit the market.

‘I told Kando many years ago, as far as I’m  concerned, he can die with those scrolls,’ said Amir Ganor, head of the  authority’s anti-looting squad, speaking of William Kando, who maintains his  family’s Dead Sea Scrolls collection.

‘The scrolls’ only address is the State of  Israel.’

Kando says his family offered its remaining  fragments to the antiquities authority and other Israeli institutions, but they  could not afford them.


‘If anyone is interested, we are ready to  sell,’ Kando told The Associated Press, sitting in the Jerusalem antiquities  shop he inherited from his late father.

‘These are the most important things in the  world.’

The world of Holy Land antiquities is rife  with theft, deception, and geopolitics, and the Dead Sea Scrolls are no  exception.

Their discovery in 1947, in caves by the Dead  Sea east of Jerusalem, was one of the greatest archaeological events of the 20th  century. Scholarly debate over the scrolls’ meaning continues to stir  high-profile controversy, while the Jordanian and Palestinian governments have  lodged their own claims of ownership.

But few know of the recent gold rush for  fragments – or Israel’s intelligence-gathering efforts to track their sale.

Written mostly on animal skin parchment about  2,000 years ago, the manuscripts are the earliest copies of the Hebrew Bible  ever found, and the oldest written evidence of the roots of Judaism and  Christianity in the Holy Land.

They are also significant because they  include the Hebrew originals of non-canonical writings that had only survived in  ancient translations, and because they prove that multiple versions of Old  Testament writings circulated before canonization around 100 AD.

While some of the scrolls are nearly  identical to the traditional Hebrew text of the Old Testament, many contain  significant variations.

The scrolls were well preserved in their  dark, arid caves, but over the centuries most fell apart into fragments of  various sizes.

A section of the Dead Sea Scrolls: now smaller, blank fragments are set to be sold to collectors 

A section of the Dead Sea Scrolls: now smaller, blank  fragments are set to be sold to collectors

Israel regards the  scrolls a national treasure and keeps its share of them in a secure,  climate-controlled, government-operated lab on the Israel Museum campus in  Jerusalem. Pnina Shor, who oversees the antiquities authority’s scroll  collection, said the trove of fragments is so numerous – at least 10,000 – that  staff haven’t finished counting them all.

Israel has been criticized for limiting  scholarly access, but is partnering with Google to upload images of scrolls  online.

How most of the Dead Sea Scrolls ended up in  Israeli hands is a tale that begins with a Bedouin shepherd who cast a stone  inside a dark cave and heard the sound of something breaking. He found clay  jars, some with rolled-up scrolls inside.

After a return visit, he and his Bedouin  companions had found a total of seven scrolls.

They sold three of them through an  antiquities dealer to a Hebrew University professor, and four to William  Kando’s father, a Christian cobbler in Bethlehem who in turn sold them to the  archbishop of the Assyrian Orthodox church.

On the eve of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the  archbishop smuggled the scrolls to the U.S. and advertised them in a Wall Street  Journal classifieds ad.

Yigael Yadin, Israeli war hero and later one  of Israel’s pre-eminent archaeologists, bought them through a front man.

For the next decade, archaeologists dug up  thousands more scroll fragments in Dead Sea area caves and began to  assemble them, like a jigsaw puzzle, in the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum in  east Jerusalem, then ruled by Jordan.

Bedouins also found fragments and sold them  to Kando, who in turn sold most of them to the museum.

Other fragments went to Jordanian and French  state collections, and universities in Chicago, Montreal and Heidelberg,  Germany.

In the 1967 Mideast war, Israel seized the  Rockefeller collection, and sent soldiers to Bethlehem in the West Bank, 8  kilometers (5 miles) south of Jerusalem, where Kando was rumored to hold another  important scroll.

After a brief imprisonment, Kando revealed  the parchment scroll in a shoe box under a floor tile in his bedroom, and sold  it to Israeli authorities for $125,000, according to a written account by Yadin.

It is called the Temple Scroll, because it  partly describes the construction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. At 8.15  meters (26.7 feet) long, it is the longest ever found.

but now more fragments have emerged 

In 2001 scholars announced that the scrolls, dating  between 250 B.C. and A.D. 70, have nearly all been published, 54 years after  their discovery by archaeologists in caves on the western shore of the Dead Sea  – but now more fragments have emerged

But Kando held much more than he surrendered  to Israel.

William, his son, said his father had  fragments tucked away which he eventually transferred to Switzerland in the  mid-1960s.

In 1993, just as scholars finally began  publishing research of Israeli-held scrolls, and the world was abuzz with Dead  Sea Scroll fever, Kando died, bequeathing his secret collection of fragments to  his sons.

It was the perfect time to sell.

Norwegian businessman Martin Schoyen, a  73-year-old collector of biblical manuscripts, purchased his first Dead Sea  Scroll fragment a year later, said Torleif Elgvin, a scholar with the Schoyen  Collection.

He eventually purchased a total of 115  fragments, many of them from Kando and some from an American scholar and a  British scholar who kept them as souvenirs in the early days after their  discovery.

A few years ago, Schoyen suffered financial  losses in a business investment and could not afford to continue collecting  scrolls, said Elgvin.

William Kando then took his business to the  U.S., startling manuscript collectors who didn’t know there was any scroll  material still available for purchase.

‘These were the hurdles I had to pass with  collectors in America,’ said Lee Biondi, a California dealer who sold pieces on  behalf of Kando.

‘The impossibility of it; people saying, `you  can’t get a Dead Sea Scrolls fragment. That’s impossible.”

In 2009, Asuza Pacific University, an  evangelical Christian college near Los Angeles, bought five fragments, along  with biblical antiquities, for $2,478,500, according to Azusa’s 2010 tax form.

The college said it had purchased the  fragments through Biondi and a private collection. Kando told The Associated  Press he was the source of all the fragments.

Between 2009 and 2011, Southwestern Baptist  Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, negotiated with Kando for the  acquisition of eight fragments kept in the Kando family’s safe deposit box at  UBS Bank in Zurich, according to a book published last year by the seminary  president’s son, Armour Patterson.

The Seminary did not disclose the sum of the  acquisition, but one family said it donated $1 million for the exhibit, and  another family said it donated $500,000 for the purchase of a Leviticus  fragment, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Qumran in the West Bank, Middle East, where parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls were found 

Qumran in the West Bank, Middle East, where parts of the  Dead Sea Scrolls were found

That scroll fragment includes passages from  chapters 18 and 20 concerning the laws of sexual morality, and carried a special  price tag because of the text’s significance, said Bruce McCoy of the Seminary.

‘The particular passage is a timeless truth  from God’s word to the global culture today,” said McCoy. In 2009 and 2010, the Green family, evangelical  Christians in Oklahoma City and owners of the Hobby Lobby arts and crafts  retailer, bought 12 fragments for its private collection, the world’s largest of  rare biblical manuscripts.

Jerry Pattengale, who oversees the scrolls in  the Green Collection, would not say who sold them and for how much, and  Kando denied they came from his collection.

Representatives of the collections in Norway  and the U.S. say they will publish their research on the writings in a few  years.

Pattengale would only provide a basic  inventory of the Green Collection’s fragments: it includes material from Genesis  through Leviticus; Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Jonah, Micah, Daniel, and Nehemiah; a  Psalm and a mysterious extra-biblical Hebrew document known as an Instruction  text.

‘They are really small pieces, but they are  important because you may have two or three lines that may have not been found  anywhere else.

‘And suddenly it adds a lot to the history of  the Dead Sea Scrolls,’ Pattengale said.

‘There is at least one rather amazing  discovery in one of them.’

Two examples of the pottery jars that held some of the Dead Sea Scrolls documents found at Qumran 

Two examples of the pottery jars that held some of the  Dead Sea Scrolls documents found at Qumran

He said a non-disclosure agreement bars him  from revealing the finding until it is published.

He estimated it would be released in about 18  months and published by Brill, the leading publishing house of Dead Sea Scroll  scholarship.

For decades, scholarly access to the scrolls  was tightly controlled by a small circle of researchers. Access is freer now,  but digital sharing of the artifacts among Israel, Schoyen, and U.S.  institutions is limited.

Governments have also jockeyed for ownership  of the scrolls, a dispute rooted in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and the redrawn  borders that changed control of the desert region where the scrolls were found.

Palestinian officials claim rights to the  material because it was found in today’s West Bank, Jordan claims rights because  the material was discovered when it ruled the territory, and both have  unsuccessfully petitioned to seize scrolls when they were displayed abroad in  Israeli government-sponsored exhibitions.

Israel considers the scrolls its national  patrimony, and says all fragments should be in its large repository for best  preservation and research.

Ganor of the antiquities authority said under  Israeli law, all scrolls located abroad were removed illegally.

‘Whoever buys these takes a risk that the  State of Israel would sue,” Ganor said.’

But Kando said his father transferred  fragments to Switzerland in the mid-1960s – before Israel passed its 1978 law  preventing the unauthorized removal of antiquities from the country.

Biondi, the California dealer, said if it  weren’t for private collections able to pay large sums, fragments would still be  languishing in the Kandos’ safe-deposit box, and important historical  discoveries would not see the light of day.

‘It was kind of like a rescue operation, to  get this stuff out of the vault,’ said Biondi. Kando  would not say how many more fragments are in his family’s collection.

But since 1995, Israeli officials have been  keeping tabs on his attempted sales – and the correspondence of dealers and  middlemen – in an effort to determine what Dead Sea Scrolls his family has left.  They estimate that the Kandos are still holding onto around 20 fragments.

The Associated Press was given partial access  to the contents of a classified Israeli dossier – a thick red binder  which includes photocopies of foreign passports, photos of tiny scroll scraps,  letters written by Kando to prospective buyers, and testimony from informants on  attempted sales.

One such testimony alleges that in 2007, a  well-known professor in Jerusalem offered to facilitate the sale of a  Deuteronomy fragment to a U.S. dealer for $250,000.

A document dated May 17, 2012, marked  ‘confidential,’ listed eleven scroll fragments and their sizes, only a few  centimeters large.


Dead Sea Scrolls are currently located in the  following collections:

– Israel Antiquities Authority (More than  10,000 scroll fragments) – Shrine of  the Book at the Israel Museum (Seven of the most complete Dead Sea Scrolls)  – France National Library (377  scroll fragments representing 18 scrolls) – Amman Museum (fragments of 20 scrolls, including the Copper Scroll)  – Heidelberg University in Germany  (four phylactery pieces) –  Franciscan private museum in Jerusalem’s Old City (two fragments)  – Terre Sainte Bible Museum in Paris  (two scroll fragments) – University  of Chicago (one fragment) – McGill  University in Montreal (a few fragments) – St. Mark’s Syrian Orthodox Cathedral in Teaneck, N.J. (fragments of  three scrolls) – Schoyen Collection  in Oslo, Norway (115 fragments) – Asuza Pacific University in Asuza, Ca. (5 fragments) – Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Tx. (3 fragments)  – Green Collection in Oklahoma City,  Ok. (12 fragments) – Private  collection of Spaer family, Jerusalem (2 fragments) – Private collection of Kando family in Bethlehem, West Bank (the family does  not reveal how many fragments remain in its collection, but  estimates range  between 20 and 40.)

Israel is keen to obtain one scrap in  particular from Kando: a well-preserved Genesis fragment shaped like a butterfly  and about the size of a cereal box – ‘The largest fragment in private hands,’  Kando claims.

About 5 years ago, Israeli diamond  billionaire and antiquities collector Shlomo Moussaieff offered to buy the piece  and donate it to the country. Ganor, of Israel’s antiquities authority, said  Kando’s price of around $1.2 million was too high.

The fragment includes passages that tell the  story of Joseph, and is written in Paleo-Hebrew, an ancient Israelite script  pre-dating the Hebrew block characters adopted by Jews around the 5th century  B.C. and still in use today.

The Kando family agreed to display the  Genesis fragment, for the first time, in Southwestern Baptist Theological  Seminary’s exhibit.

After the exhibit closed in January, Kando  said the fragment returned to his family’s Swiss safe deposit box, still mounted  in the glass frame in which it was displayed.

Kando is said to be asking for about $40  million for the Genesis piece, according to Pattengale of the Green Collection.  Kando would not disclose financial details of his dealings, and said his family  is currently not participating in any new negotiations for additional scroll  sales.

Scholars consider Kando’s fragments to be  authentic because his father was directly involved in the sale of scrolls when  they were first discovered.

Scholars examining the Dead Sea Scroll fragments 

Scholars examining the Dead Sea Scroll  fragments

New scroll fragments from the Dead Sea region  have surfaced in recent years from different sources. In  2005, Israeli police raided the home of Hanan Eshel, an Israeli scrolls scholar,  after he facilitated the purchase of scroll fragments from a Bedouin man who  said he discovered them in a cave a year before.

The fragments were unrelated to the Dead Sea  Scrolls trove, but were found in the same region and dated to the 2nd century  A.D.

Eshel had already given the fragments to  Israeli authorities before the raid, and had said it was never his intention to  purchase them for himself, but Israel’s antiquities authority said he had acted  illegally. Eshel died in 2010.

In mid-2010, a team of 30 Israeli undercover  agents and officers staged a stakeout at Jerusalem’s Hyatt Hotel, posing as  interested buyers, and seized a papyrus fragment dating to the 2nd century A.D.  The Palestinian dealers offering the papyrus for sale were arrested.

It is likely more ancient manuscripts, and  even Dead Sea Scrolls, remain hidden in caves next to the

Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth, waiting  to be discovered.

Many cave entrances are hidden by vegetation  and rock falls, or their approaches are eroded, said Lenny Wolfe, a Jerusalem  manuscripts dealer.

‘I would not at all be surprised if more  material were to be found,’ Wolfe said.

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