A family that holds pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls is quietly offering pieces of the ancient documents for sale — a move that's causing a dustup among archaeologists and biblical historians.
First discovered in a cave near the Dead Sea in 1947, the animal-skin parchments are some of the oldest known versions of the Hebrew Bible, and are treasured as near-priceless documents, The Associated Press reports.
Institutions like Azusa Pacific University in California and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas have spent millions on fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
More fragments — some as small as a postage stamp — are quietly being sold on the international antiquities market by William Kando, whose family has kept portions of the scrolls in a safe-deposit box in Switzerland.
The sale of pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls has surprised many researchers, some of whom didn't even know there were portions still available. It has also outraged some Israeli government officials, who maintain the scrolls are cultural property of Israel.
"I told Kando many years ago, as far as I'm concerned, he can die with those scrolls," Amir Ganor, head of the Israeli antiquities anti-looting division, told the AP. "The scrolls' only address is the State of Israel."
Some experts believe more ancient documents may come to light from the many caves in the Dead Sea area. "I would not at all be surprised if more material were to be found," Lenny Wolfe, a Jerusalem manuscripts dealer, told the AP.