People of many faiths venerate religious relics. But for those who believe that God speaks through words written down by prophets and apostles in past ages, ancient texts are foundational to their faith. From artfully adorned medieval manuscripts to humble fragments of papyrus, revered texts represent tangible links to God’s appointed messengers, whether Muhammad, Moses, or Jesus Christ.
Reverence for holy writ is integral to the faith of evangelical Christians, who have become a driving force behind the search for long-lost biblical texts in desert caves, remote monasteries, and Middle Eastern antiquities markets. Critics say that the evangelical appetite for artifacts is fueling demand for looted objects—a charge borne out to some degree by recent investigations and by reports from legitimate dealers.
“Evangelicals have had a tremendous impact on the market,” says Jerusalem antiquities seller Lenny Wolfe. “The price of anything connected to the lifetime of Christ goes way up.”
Whatever their religious commitments, wealthy collectors and deep-pocketed benefactors have long played a supporting role in the search for ancient exotica. Among those helping to underwrite [Randall] Price and Gutfeld’s Qumran expedition is a foundation established by Mark Lanier, a well-heeled Houston lawyer and avid collector of theological texts. Another archaeological dig, this one at Tel Shimron in Israel, is being supported by the new Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. The museum’s chairman, Steve Green, is president of the craft store giant Hobby Lobby and one of the biggest supporters of Christian causes in the United States. His enthusiasm for Bible hunting is unabashed.
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