The History of Artifacts

Provenance Research at the Museum of the Bible

Objects in museums tell us stories about the past. An artifact's provenance is the history of its ownership and location, from its creation or place of modern discovery to the present. This history helps to verify the authenticity and importance of an artifact. It also contributes to our understanding of how an object was used over time. An object with a well-documented provenance teaches us much more about the past than one without a confirmed history.

Documenting Provenance

A common challenge in documenting provenance is that historically—in contrast to modern practices of documenting transactions and keeping archival records—many objects have changed hands over decades or even centuries without accompanying records being provided to the new owner. In addition, many owners request anonymity when selling objects through auction houses or otherwise transferring works through private transactions.

Two areas are of special concern for museums in general and for the Museum of the Bible in particular: first, items that may have been subject to Nazi-era looting in Europe from 1933–1945, and second, ancient objects that may have originated in source nations or in areas of modern conflict, such as modern-day Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. Museum of the Bible, in consultation with cultural heritage and legal experts, has developed procedures for researching and investigating objects with potentially difficult histories in areas of turmoil. In doing so, Museum of the Bible has made a firm commitment to ethical collecting and to acknowledging objects in its collection that may have entered the market as a result of war, looting, or colonial practice.

Museum of the Bible’s acquisition policy, adopted in 2016, can be viewed here. Collections staff has undertaken a comprehensive review of all purchases and donations made prior to 2016 to determine whether each object meets the standards of this policy, whether some mediation is needed (such as listing on the Association of Art Museum Directors Object Registry ( or contacting the possible country of origin), or whether the item requires further research before being displayed or published. This research includes items in the MOTB collection as well as items loaned from other museums, collections, and educational institutions. The sources of information for our research include:

  • Museum curatorial and registration records
  • Documentation provided by previous sellers, owners, and collectors
  • Publication history of significant items
  • Exhibition history
  • Contact with previous owners or sellers where possible
  • Auction catalogs
  • Research into significant private collections and their catalogs
  • Export licenses and other customs documentation from the country of origin
  • Import documentation
  • Publications by scholars, both those connected with and those outside Museum of the Bible
  • Scientific analysis, such as carbon-14 dating and ink analysis
  • Previous owners' signatures, bookplates, and other identifying information on the object itself
  • Stylistic analysis indicating the likely time period or location of an object's creation

Frequently, it is impossible to document an object’s complete provenance, especially for common or generic items like household objects and bound volumes, and there are many reasons why we may not be able to account for every episode of an object’s history. Requests for anonymity, poor record-keeping habits, and the destruction of records (whether intentional or inadvertent) are common challenges. Furthermore, some categories of objects, such as rare books and everyday ceremonial objects, have long been bought and sold by reputable dealers and collectors without any expectation of a recorded provenance. Despite these obstacles, we seek to provide the fullest information possible about the museum’s objects.

Museum of the Bible (MOTB) curators and registrars conduct detailed research into the provenance of every object in its permanent collection and on display in the museum. Research on the approximately 3,100 items that are on display in the Washington, DC, museum has been completed, in consultation with cultural heritage and legal experts. Of the 3,100 items, approximately 1159 are owned by Museum of the Bible. There are 41 lenders for all other items. This research helps to establish whether ownership of each artifact is in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations, and with ethical guidelines of the Museum and of U.S. and international museum associations. To assist the public in understanding the challenges in the Museum’s collection, items with significant gaps in their provenance have been noted in the display cases or wall panels of the museum, with further information provided on this page. As the Museum’s ongoing provenance research continues, additional information will be added on this page regularly. We welcome further information on the provenance of any object displayed in the Museum. Please contact us at

Publication of the Provenance of Artifacts in Museum of the Bible

MOTB is developing a publicly-accessible database of all objects on display, as well as those in storage. This database will make available provenance information on, and eventually images of, all items in the Museum’s collection. This page provides the provenance of a sample of the earliest and most important items in the collection. The page will be updated regularly.


Due to past practices, the history of objects from the ancient world are particularly difficult to trace from their creation or discovery to modern times. Artifacts excavated on scientific archaeological excavations are the most useful because we know the city in which they were found, the building in which they were found, and even about the other artifacts that were found in the same context. This is the best form of provenance. Many museums have artifacts that were not found on archaeological excavations, however, so it is common to see antiquities with uncertain find-spots in major collections around the world.

Nebuchadnezzar Royal Inscription Temple Dedication
Clay, Iraq, 604 BCE
(11.5 × 6.8 × 4.3 cm)

Reign of Nebuchadnezzar II, 604—562 BCE. [1] Collection of Elias S. David (1891—1969), New York; [2] Thence by descent; [3] Purchased at auction by David Sofer in June 2015; [4] Private purchase by Green Collection, 2017.

"Wyman Fragment" (Uncial 0220), Romans 4:23—5:3; 5:8—13, in Greek
Vellum and ink, Egypt, ca. 3rd century CE
(81 mm H × 110 mm W)

Egypt, ca. 3rd century CE. [1] Discovered by locals in Fustât. [2] Privately purchased in Cairo by Dr. Leland C. Wyman (1897–1988) on July 3, 1950; [3] By descent in the Wyman family until 1988; [4] Purchased at auction in 1988 to Martin Schøyen until 2012; [5] Purchased at auction in 2012 by Green Collection until 2013; [6] Donated to MOTB in 2014.

Notes: The purchase of this item is described in [1] W. P. Hatch, “A Recently Discovered Fragment of the Epistle to the Romans,” Harvard Theological Review 45 (1952), 81-85, and [2] in David M. Brugge and Charlotte J. Frisbie, eds., Navajo Religion and Culture, Selected Views, Papers in Honour of Leland C. Wyman (Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1982), 5. [3] Sotheby’s, June 21, 1988, lot 47. [4] Sotheby’s, July 20, 2012, Lot 3.

P.Oxy. 1780 (P39), John 8:14-22, in Greek
Papyrus, Oxyrhynchus (Egypt), ca. 275–300 CE
(255 mm H × 85 mm W)

Oxyrhynchus (now al-Bahnasā), Egypt, ca. 275-300 CE. [1] Excavated at Oxyrhynchus by Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt, who published the papyrus in Volume 15 of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri (1922); [2] Belonged to the Egypt Exploration Fund until 1922; [3] Gift to Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, which eventually became the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in Rochester, NY; [4] Auctioned by Sotheby’s in 2003; [5] Connected with William Noah 2004-2008; [6] Unsuccessful auction by Sotheby’s London December 3, 2008; [6] Acquired by the Green Collection through a private sale in 2010; [7] Donated to MOTB in 2012.

Notes: [1] Scholarly attempts to date this fragment on the basis of paleography have ranged from as early as 150 to as late as 400 CE. See Pasquale Orsini and Willy Clarysse, “Early New Testament Manuscripts and Their Dates,” Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses 88/4 (2012), pp. 443-474, especially pp. 462 and 470 for P39. [2] Oxyrhynchus Papyri, v. 15, pp. 7–8. [3] The Egyptian Exploration Fund, which sponsored Grenfell and Hunt’s work, began distributing papyri as gifts to supporting institutions in 1900. By 1922, it had gifted approximately three thousand items to 103 institutions, including Crozer Theological Seminary; cf. Oxyrhynchus Papyri, v. 16, pp. 275–279. [4] Rochester, Ambrose Swasey Library, Inv. 886.4 ; [5] sold by Sotheby's June 2003 lot 97. [6] Ink and Blood: Dead Sea Scrolls to the English Bible (2005). [6] Reuters new article: . There was much academic speculation about the sale of P39 in 2003 and its later appearance in the Green Collection; cf. Roberta Mazza, "Papyri Ethics, and Economics: A Biography of P.Oxy. 15.1780 (P39)," Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 52 (2015), pp. 113–142.

P.Oxy. 1353 (Uncial 0206), I Peter 5: 6–12, in Greek
Parchment, Oxyrhynchus (Egypt), 3rd–4th century CE
(20.3 × 17.8 cm)

Oxyrhynchus (now al-Bahnasā), Egypt, 3rd–4th century CE. [1] Discovered in the early 1900s by Bernard Pyne Grenfell (1869–1926) and Arthur Surridge Hunt (1871–1934); [2] Ownership assumed between 1915–1922 by United Theological Seminary, Dayton, Ohio until 2009; [3] Privately purchased in 2010 by the Green Collection until 2013; [4] Donated to MOTB in 2014.

Notes: [1] P.Oxy XI 1353, Bernard P. Grenfell and Arthur S. Hunt, The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, part XI (London: Egypt Exploration Fund, 1915), p. 5. [2] The Egyptian Exploration Fund, which sponsored Grenfell and Hunt’s work, began distributing papyri as gifts to supporting institutions in 1900. By 1922, it had gifted approximately three thousand items to 103 institutions, including United Theological Seminary.

P.Oxy.XIV 1775, Letter of Plutarchos to His Friend Theoninos, in Greek
Papyrus, Oxyrhynchus (Egypt), 4th century CE
(10.3 cm H x 21.9 cm W)

Oxyrhynchus (now al-Bahnasā), Egypt, 4th century CE. [1] Discovered in the early 1900s by Bernard Pyne Grenfell (1869–1926) and Arthur Surridge Hunt (1871–1934); [2] Ownership assumed between 1915–1922 by United Theological Seminary, Dayton, Ohio until 2009; [3] Privately purchased in 2010 by the Green Collection until 2013; [4] Donated to MOTB in 2013.

Notes: [1] P.Oxy.XIV 1775, Bernard P. Grenfell and Arthur S. Hunt, The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, part XIV (London: Egypt Exploration Fund, 1920), p. 187. [2] The Egyptian Exploration Fund, which sponsored Grenfell and Hunt’s work, began distributing papyri as gifts to supporting institutions in 1900. By 1922, it had gifted approximately three thousand items to 103 institutions, including United Theological Seminary. See Roberta Mazza, “Papyri Ethics, and Economics: A Biography of P.Oxy. 15.1780 (P39),” Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 52 (2015), pp. 113–142.

P.Oxy. 1678, Letter of Theon to His Mother, in Greek
Papyrus, Oxyrhynchus (Egypt), 3rd century CE
(266 mm H x 155 mm W)

Oxyrhynchus (now al-Bahnasā), Egypt, 3rd century. [1] Discovered in the early 1900s by Bernard Pyne Grenfell (1869–1926) and Arthur Surridge Hunt (1871–1934); [2] Ownership assumed between 1915–1922 by United Theological Seminary, Dayton, Ohio until 2009; [3] Privately purchased in 2010 by the Green Collection until 2013; [4] Donated to MOTB in 2013.

Notes: [1] P.Oxy.XIV 1775, Bernard P. Grenfell and Arthur S. Hunt, The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, part XIV (London: Egypt Exploration Fund, 1920), p. 187. [2] The Egyptian Exploration Fund, which sponsored Grenfell and Hunt’s work, began distributing papyri as gifts to supporting institutions in 1900. By 1922, it had gifted approximately three thousand items to 103 institutions, including United Theological Seminary. See Roberta Mazza, “Papyri Ethics, and Economics: A Biography of P.Oxy. 15.1780 (P39 ),” Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 52 (2015), pp. 113–142.

Medieval Manuscripts

Manuscripts are hand-made objects that are inherently unique. As such, their ownership records have, historically, been fairly complete. Because most of the museum’s medieval manuscripts originated in Europe, MOTB curators have been working to verify export documentation for these objects and their ownership history through the 20th century, especially between 1933 and 1945. Where such information has appeared less than satisfactory, MOTB curators have conducted searches for these manuscripts on the Art Loss Register, which maintains a database of theft losses, and continue to pursue other provenance leads.

The Rosebery Rolle: The Psalms and Canticles in Pre-Wycliffite English Translation, with the Commentary of Richard Rolle (d. 1349), in Latin and English
Illuminated manuscript on parchment, Yorkshire (England), late 14th–early 15th century
(306 mm H x 215 mm W x 76 mm D)

Yorkshire, England, ca. 1380. [1] Probably utilized by preachers for community readings, ca. 15th and 16th centuries. [2] Adam Clarke (1762–1832), Wesleyan Methodist minister, until 1832; [3] Purchased at auction in 1832 by Thomas Thorpe (1791–1851) until 1836; [4] Privately purchased in 1836 by Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792–1872) until 1872; [5] Purchased at auction in 1897 by Quaritch. [6] John Scott of Halkshill, Largs (Ayrshire); [7] Purchased at auction in 1923 by Archibald P. Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery and Prime Minister (1847–1929), until 1929; [8] By descent in the Primrose family until 2009; [9] Purchased at auction in 2009 by Green Collection until 2012; [10] Donated to MOTB in 2012.

Notes: [1] The presence of female autographs in the margins (see “Elizabeth” in fol.177r.) suggests that this manuscript was likely copied by nuns for devotional use in a convent in the area of Yorkshire around 1380. It was subsequently marked with distinctions of the type commonly used by preachers, indicating its use for public readings. [2] Sotheby’s, June 20, 1836, lot 30. [3] This was one of 1,600 manuscripts that Phillipps acquired in 1836 this year. See Seymour de Ricci, English Collectors of Books & Manuscripts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1930), p. 122 and Thomas Thorpe, Catalogue of Upwards of Fourteen Hundred Manuscripts (London: Thomas Thorpe, 1836), no. 526. [3] Sotheby’s May 17, 1897, lot 623. [4] Sotheby’s, March 27, 1905, lot 1923. [5] Sotheby’s, December 8, 2009, lot 48.

Codex Climaci Rescriptus—John Climacus’ Ladder of Divine Ascent and The Book of the Shepherd, in Syriac over various texts in Greek and Christian Palestinian Aramaic
Vellum, St. Catherine's Monastery, Sinai (Egypt)
ca. AD 500—599 (Aramaic), ca. AD 700—799 (Greek), and ca. AD 800—899 (Syriac)
(Dimensions of a typical bifolio: 230 mm H x 370 mm W)

Monastery of St. Catherine, Mt. Sinai, Egypt, 5th—9th centuries CE, depending on the individual leaf and layer of text. Monks at the monastery of St. Catherine produced this palimpsest manuscript in the late ninth century. They recycled leaves from at least ten different Greek and Aramaic manuscripts by erasing the text, and then writing a Syriac translation of John Climacus’ works on the reused vellum. The original Greek texts are a mixture of classical texts and biblical texts. All of the Aramaic texts are biblical. The biblical texts in both languages are a mixture of continuous texts along with excerpts for lectionaries or use in homilies. To date, not all of the classical texts have been identified. [1] Agnes Smith Lewis and her twin sister Margaret Dunlop Gibson acquired 137 of the 146 leaves of the manuscript in Egypt between 1895 and 1906 and brought them to Cambridge University for study. [2] After the deaths of Margaret Dunlop Gibson in 1920 and Agnes Smith Lewis in 1926, the manuscript was bequeathed to Westminster College, Cambridge. [3] Sotheby’s offered the manuscript at auction in 2009, but it failed to sell. [4] The Green Collection acquired the manuscript through a private sale in 2010. [5] Donated to MOTB in 2012.

Notes: [1] Agnes Smith Lewis, Codex Climaci Rescriptus: Horae Semiticae, No. VIII, Cambridge University Press, 1909; reprinted Wipf and Stock Publishers (Eugene, Oregon: 2004), pp. xi-xii. [2] Image of Sotheby’s Catalogue posted May 29, 2009, . [3]

The Rice Psalter, Use of Sarum, in Latin
Illuminated manuscript on vellum, England
ca. mid-15th century CE
(303mm H x 222mm W x 53mm D)

Likely London, England, ca. mid-15th century. Probably used liturgically in the area of Kidderminster, England, until the 17th century. [1] Davenport family of Bramhall by the 17th century; [2] By descent within the Davenport family until 1877; [3] Privately purchased in 1877 by Henry Huth (1815–1878) until 1878; [4] By descent to Alfred Henry Huth (1850-1910), son, until 1910; [5] Purchased at auction in 1917 by Quaritch; [6] Purchased at auction in 1931 by Carrie Estelle Doheny (1875–1958), Los Angeles, California until 1958; [7] Gifted between 1940 and 1958 to St. John’s Seminary Camarillo, California until 1987; [8] Sold at auction through Christie’s to a private collector in 1987; [9] Purchased at auction in 2001 by the Green Collection until 2014; [10] Donated to MOTB in 2014.

Notes: [1] The antiphons in the book show that the item was intended for liturgical rather than private use. Likewise, the grading of feasts in the calendar indicates that it was used in a secular church or chapel. An inscription written in Latin at the end of the text references a Symon Rice and his wife “Letyce.” This is likely Simon Rice (or Rise) (d.1530), a merchant in London, and his wife Lettice, both of whom were major contributors to All Saints’ Church in Kidderminster. See Anne F. Sutton, The Mercury of London: Trade, Goods and People, 1130-1578 (Florence: Taylor and Francis, 2005), 539. [2] The book is inscribed with “Jn. Davenport His book” on the second back flyleaf and remained in the family until 1877. See The Huth Library: Catalogue of the Famous Library of Printed Books, Illuminated Manuscripts, Autograph Letters, and Engravings Collected by Henry Huth, 1911–1920, IV (London: Dryden Press, 1914), p. 1192. [3] Bernard Quaritch, A Catalogue of Illuminated and Other Manuscripts, 1931 and L. V. Miller, Catalogue of Books & Manuscripts in the Estelle Doheny Collection, I (1940), p.4. [4] Christie’s, December 12, 1987, lot 176.

Major and Minor Prophets, in Latin
Northern or Central Italy, ca. 1180–1210 CE
(25.3 × 18 × 6 cm)

Northern or Central Italy, ca. 1180–1210 CE. [1] Antonius Christoforus, canon of St. Mary Church in Carpi by 15th century; [2] Gifted in the 15th century to the Observant Franciscan House at San Nicolò at Carpi until 1868; [3] Transferred in 1868 to the Biblioteca Palatina in Modena. [4] Henry White (1822–1900) of London by the late 19th century; [5] Sold at auction by Sotheby’s in 1902. [6] Les Enluminures by 2011; [7] Privately purchased in 2012 by the Green Collection until 2014; [8] Donated to MOTB in 2014.

Notes: [1] An inscription in the lower margin of f. 189v dated from this period records the transfer of the book. Later, an inventory of the library in 1600 describes a manuscript that matches the item displayed here. See Anna Prandi, Tesori di una Biblioteca Francescana; Libri e Manoscritti del Convento di San Nicolò in Carpi, sec. XV-XIX (Modena: Mucchi, 2000), p. 21. [2] Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, Catalogue of the Valuable and Extensive Library of Printed Books and Illuminated & Other Important Manuscripts of the Late Henry White, Esq. (London: Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, 1902), p. 18.

“Ussher” Gospels, in Greek
Illuminated manuscript on parchment, Byzantium (likely Constantinople)
ca. 1125–1150
(12.5 × 9.3 × 4.2 cm)

Byzantine Empire, ca. 12th century CE. [1] Thomas Goad (1576–1638), rector of Hadleigh, England. [2] James Ussher (1581–1656), Archbishop of Armagh, Ireland, until 1656; [3] By descent to his daughter Elizabeth (1619–1693) until 1661; [4] Donated to Trinity College, Dublin in 1661 until 1702. [5] Francis Rawdon Hastings (1754–1826) in 1793? until 1826; [6] By descent in the Hastings family until 1868; [7] Purchased at auction in 1868 to John Crichton-Stuart (1847–1900), 3rd Marquess of Bute, until 1900; [8] By descent in the Crichton-Stuart family until 1983; [9] Purchased at auction in 1983 by Hans Peter Kraus (1907–1988) of New York. [10] Martin Schøyen of Spikkestad, Norway until 2011; [11] Privately purchased in 2011 by the Green Collection until 2014; [12] Donated to MOTB in 2014.

Notes: [1] Sotheby’s June 13, 1983, lot 1. [2] See Les Enluminures, 20 Now: Les Enluminures, 1991-2011, Catalogue 16 (Chicago: Les Enluminures, 2011), p. 15.

Four Gospel Book, in Latin
Illuminated manuscript on cow-vellum, France
ca. mid-11th century CE
(20.2 H x 14.2 W x 4.3 D cm)

Brittany, France, mid-11th century CE. [1] Benedictine monastery of St. Sauveur-le-Vicomte, Normandy, by the 14th century. [2] Possibly acquired by Charles de Montchal (1589–1651), Archbishop of Toulouse. [3] Theodore Williams (1785–1875), a minister in England, until 1827. [4] Purchased at auction in 1827 by Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792–1872). [5] By bequest to the Robinson Trust until 1975; [6] Sold at auction in 1975 to a private collector in Switzerland. [7] Privately purchased by Jörn Günther Rare Books until 2012; [8] Privately purchased in 2012 by the Green Collection until 2013; [9] Donated to MOTB in 2013.

Notes: [1] Several inscriptions identify the manuscript as belonging to the monastery. See, for example, fol. 1, 73v, and 133v. [2] Many of the texts at St. Sauveur passed into the hands of Montchal. It is possible that the item here is the Codex CXCIV described in Montfaucon, Bibliotheca Bibliothecarum Manuscriptorum Nova II (Paris 1739), p. 905. [3] Stewart, Wheatley, and Adlard, A Catalogue of the Splendid and Valuable Library of The Rev. Theodore Williams (London: Stewart, Wheatley, and Adlard, 1827), p. 51. [4] Sotheby’s, November 26, 1975, lot. 817.

The Hours and Psalter of Elizabeth de Bohun, Countess of Northampton
Illuminated manuscript, England, probably Cambridge
Between 1330 and 1335 (Hours) and ca. 1340 (Psalter)
(292 mm H x 205 mm W; 177 leaves)

A beautiful 14th century illuminated manuscript made for a member of an English noble family with royal connections, Elizabeth Badlesmere (1313–1356) and her husbands, Sir Edmund Mortimer (d. 1331) and William de Bohun (d.1360), first Earl of Northampton, Constable of England, and grandson of Edward I. Their descendants include Henry V, Edward IV, and Anne Boleyn. The coats of arms of the Badlesmeres and Mortimers appear at the beginning of the Hours, but the arms of all three families appear at the beginning of the Psalter. [1] The manuscript then passed into the hands of the family of Sir John Clifton (d. 1447) whose wife, Lady Joan Clifton, [2] donated the manuscript to the Dominican Priory in Norwich, England in 1450, according to an inscription in the front. [3] According to a note on one of the flyleaves, the manuscript was rebound in 1511, at a time when it was under Dominican control. (See below for more information from the same note.) The Briggs family of Salle, outside of Norwich acted as executors of John Clifton’s will, two members of the family, William Briggs and Thomas Briggs became priors of the abbey. The latter was the prior when Henry VIII suppressed the abbey in 1538, and may have taken control of the manuscript. Thomas Briggs served as a chaplain of Queen Mary, and may have made the notation in the calendar for October 29 recording the fact that “John Hopton, formerly of the Order of Preachers was consecrated bishop of Norwich on the 28th of October” (1554). Both Briggs and Hopton were active in Queen Mary’s heresy trials. [4] In the 18th century, someone pasted a note on a flyleaf that identifies the manuscript as “Psalter & figures, 1000 Yrs. old or more, in Marcus Antonius Emp.” [5] In the 19th century, the manuscript belonged to E. Wyndham Esq. who had James Martin, a London bookbinder, rebind it into its current binding in 1824. [6] John Jacob Astor III (1822–1890) acquired it, and [7] in December 1883 loaned it to an exhibition in New York to raise funds for the building of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. The number 1209, its exhibit number, is pasted near the bottom of f.52v, which indicates that the exhibit featured the Beatus initial on the facing page. [8] Astor’s son, William Waldorf Astor (1848–919) inherited the manuscript in 1890, after which he moved to London and became a British citizen. [9] The manuscript stayed in the family possession until 1966 when [10] the Trustees of the Astor estate placed it in the Bodleian Library, Oxford in 1966. [11] In June 1988, it sold at Sotheby’s to Bernard Quaritch, and then [12] quickly entered the collection of Ladislaus von Hoffmann. He put the book up for auction in 2010, but it did not sell. [13] The Green Collection purchased the manuscript through a private sale in 2013. [14] The Green Collection donated it to MOTB in 2015.

Notes: [1] Rev. C. F. R. Palmer, “The Friar-Preachers or Blackfriars, of Norwich,” The Reliquary and Illustrated Archaeologist: A Quarterly Journal, v. 3 (1889), pp. 42–49; 98–103. See p. 44 for Clifton’s legacy. [2] Ralph Houlbrooke, “The Clergy, the Church Courts and the Marian Restoration in Norwich,” in The Church of Mary Tudor, ed. Eamon Duffy and David Loades (Ashgate, 2006), pp. 124–146; also available at [3] C. Ramsden, London Bookbinders, 1780-1840 (Balsford, 1956), p. 104. [4] Apparently, he acquired it from Bernard Quaritch. It is listed retrospectively in Quaritch’s A General Catalogue of Books, II, 1887, pp. 1337-8, no. 13440. [5] Catalogue of the Pedestal Fund Art Loan Exhibit at the National Academy of Design, (New York, 1883) p. 40, no. 1209. . It was one of several manuscripts he loaned for the exhibit. Emma Lazarus composed her poem “The New Colossus” for the exhibit. The poem, with its famous words, “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free ... ” premiered on page 27 of the same catalogue. [6] A preview of the Sotheby’s sale of items from the Astor estate appeared in the Chicago Tribune on June 15, 1988. The New York Times reported on June 24 that it had “sold to Bernard Quaritch, a London dealer, for $2.7 million—a record for an English manuscript.” [7]

Incunabula and Printed Books

For centuries, the rare book trade has only infrequently tracked provenance information. Even incunables (books printed before 1501) are often bought and sold without ownership history being passed on. Museum of the Bible has researched each item in its collection, documented purchase history, and, where applicable, indicated donation history to the museum. Identifying marks, such as bookplates, previous owner’s signatures, library deaccession stamps, etc., have been documented for each item and will be made available to researchers as the collection database is digitized. Books that are particularly rare and important but that lack a clear twentieth-century provenance have been researched through the Art Loss Register and other Holocaust research resources to ensure that they were not subject to Nazi-era looting.

The Byble in Englyshe ("The Great Bible")
London (England), 1539 CE
(39.4 × 30.5 × 3.8 cm)

London, England, 1539. [1] Richard Lovett (1851–1904), England, until 1904; [2] Purchased at auction in London by Edward Peterson (1869–1943), banker from Stratford, Iowa, until 1943; [3] By descent to Harriet Lundquist, daughter, until 2007; [4] Purchased at auction in 2007 by David Lachman until 2010; [5] Privately purchased by Green Collection in 2010.

Notes: [1] A handwritten note (undated and unsigned) on the front free endpaper states that it was from a “Mr. Lovett’s Library.” This probably refers to Rev. Richard Lovett (1851–1904), whose collection, which included a 1539 Bible, was auctioned by Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge in 1907. The description in the auction catalogue matches that written in the present text. [2] A newspaper article from the Des Moines Register (John Karras, ‘The Great Bible’ [unknown date]) notes that Harriet Lundquist inherited the Bible through her father Edward Peterson, who purchased the Bible at a London auction sometime at the turn of the 20th century. It is highly likely, given the timeframe and description, that he purchased it in 1907. [3] Lundquist sold the Bible at auction through Jackson’s on December 5, 2007, lot 0855.

The Byble in Englyshe ("The Great Bible")
London (England), 1539 CE
(39.4 × 30.5 × 3.8 cm)

London, England, 1539. [1] S. Barker & Company, Leicester, England by 1902. [2] Privately purchased by David Lachman until 2011; [3] Privately purchased by Green Collection in 2011.

Note: [1] A postcard is attached to the back endpaper, dated September 17, 1902, and addressed from Canon H. S. Gedge to S. Barker of Willington St., Leicester, England. The latter is probably S. Barker & Co., a publishing company of the same address, who evidently reached out to the local rector for information regarding the item.

La Biblia, translated by Cipriano de Valera, in Spanish
Amsterdam (The Netherlands), 1602 CE
(29.2H × 20.3W × 5.7D cm)

Cipriano de Valera (1532–1606), Amsterdam (The Netherlands), 1602. [1] From the royal library of Maria Cristina (1858–1929), Queen of Spain, by the late-19th century. [2] Alejandro Ganado (unknown), Argentina. [3] Natalio Botana (1888–1941), Argentina. [4] Private collection until 2009. [5] Purchased by Andrew Stimer in 2009 until 2014. [6] Privately purchased by Green Collection in 2014.

Notes: [1] The front free endpaper of the text features the royal bookplate of Maria Cristina of Spain and a call number. A handwritten note on the next page also records that this copy once belonged to the queen. [2] In an undated, handwritten note in Spanish on the front free endpaper, two individuals named “Juana y Delia Borbón” (the name is partially illegible) give the book to an Alejandro Ganado. [3] The front free endpaper also features a personalized “ex libris” stamp identifying the text as once belonging to the Natalio Botana, a controversial political journalist in Argentina.

Gutenberg Bible Leaf, La Biblia, I Samuel 20-22, in Latin
Germany, ca. 1454 CE
(365 mm H x 302 mm W x 11 mm D)

Johann Gutenberg, Mainz, Germany, ca. 1454. [1] Jonathan Byrd’s Rare Books; [2] Privately purchased by Green Collection in 2010; [3] Donated to MOTB in 2012.


The Museum Collections display a large number of items that demonstrate the impact of the Bible in people’s everyday lives. Many of those objects were produced in the United States. For unique items, such as letters or manuscripts, ownership history has been reviewed and documented to the fullest extent possible. Most items, however, come from private collections or book dealers, sources which have not historically kept provenance documentation on these everyday objects. This makes further research extremely difficult.

Julia Ward Howe, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic"
United States, 1861 CE
(4 pages, 4to, in ink, on stationary of the Sanitary Commission, Washington, DC)

Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910), Willard Hotel, Washington, DC, the night of November 18–19, 1861. [1] Gifted to Charlotte Whipple, the author’s biographer. [2] William Randolph Hearst (1863–1951). [3] David Magee (1905–1977), San Francisco bookseller. [4] Kenneth W. Rendell, Inc. between 1959 and 1974. [5] Hon. J. William Middendorf II (1924–). [6] Malcom Forbes [1919–1990]. [7] Purchased at auction in 2012 by Green Collection until 2014; [8] Donated to MOTB in 2014.

Notes: [1] See Kenneth W. Rendell, Inc., Autographs and Manuscripts: The American Civil War (Somerville, MA: Kinston Galleries, Inc., 1974), item 192. [2] Sotheby’s, December 7, 2012, lot 43.

Objects with Incomplete Provenance

Dead Sea Scroll Fragments

Since their initial discoveries in the late 1940s and 1950s, the origins and authenticity of the “Dead Sea Scrolls” have been widely debated. The storied Bedouin discovery of ancient Hebrew manuscripts in the Judean desert was quickly followed by questions of authenticity. Even the earliest scholars involved—like Roland de Vaux—recall seeing forged fragments in the 1950s. This early research took many years, and only a few scholars had access to the fragments for decades. It was not until the 1990s that the research was expanded to include a wider range of scholars. Beginning in 2002, dozens of additional fragments surfaced and ended up in the collections of universities, museums, and private collectors. Initially, many assumed that these fragments came from the Kando family, one of the first dealers to work with the Bedouin to bring the scrolls to light. This would suggest that any fragment purchased from this family could be traced back to the original cave discoveries. Recently, however, scholars have found puzzling features in these “new” fragments, including some of the fragments in the Museum Collections, which calls the story of these newly-found fragments into question. The Museum of the Bible fragments were published in Emanuel Tov, Kipp Davis, and Robert Duke in Dead Sea Scrolls Fragments in the Museum Collection, (Leiden: Brill, 2016). This book outlines the scrolls’ acquisition history: “The fragments were purchased on behalf of Mr. Steven Green in four lots from four private collectors at the following times and received in Oklahoma City shortly thereafter:

  1. Four in November 2009: MOTB.SCR.000120 (Exodus), MOTB.SCR.000121 (Psalms), MOTB.SCR.000122 (Leviticus?), MOTB.SCR.000123 (Instruction)
  2. One in February 2010: MOTB.SCR.000124 (Genesis)
  3. Seven in May 2010: MOTB.SCR.003170 (Daniel), MOTB.SCR.003171 (Jonah), MOTB.SCR.003172 (Jeremiah), MOTB.SCR.003173 (Numbers), MOTB.SCR.003174 (Ezekiel), MOTB.SCR.003175 (Nehemiah), MOTB.SCR.003183 (Micah),
  4. One in October 2014 and received in Oklahoma City in June 2015: NCF.SCR.004742 (Leviticus)”

The find-spot for these fragments is unknown: “Unfortunately, little is known about the provenance of these fragments because most sellers did not provide such information at the time of the sale . . . they are not connected to either excavations of Bedouin, and several new collections of this type face the same problem.”

The four fragments acquired in 2009 were exhibited in the US between 2004 and 2009, with photos published in the exhibition catalog, in The Dead Sea Scrolls to the Bible in America: A Brief History of the Bible from Antiquity to Modern America: Told Through Ancient Manuscripts and Early European and American Printed Bible (Biblical Arts of Arizona, 2004).

Scholars continue to investigate the dozens of newly-discovered fragments in collections throughout the world. A history of the scrolls’ discovery, with special focus on the newly-available fragments, is provided in Hanan Eshel, “The Fate of the Scrolls and Fragments: A Survey from 1946 to the Present” and in Torlief Elgvin, Kipp Davis, and Michael Langlois, eds., Gleanings from the Caves. Dead Sea Scrolls and Artifacts from the Schøyen Collection (London: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2016). A 2017 issue of the journal Dead Sea Discoveries focuses specifically on the issue of potential forgeries among these fragments raising further doubts, compounded by the lack of credible provenance. See Kipp Davis, Ira Rabin, Ines Feldman, Ines Feldman, Myriam Krutzsch, Hasia Rimon, Årstein Justnes, Torleif Elgvin; Michael Langlois, “Nine Dubious ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’ Fragments from the Twenty-First Century,” pp. 189-228; Eibert Tigchelaar, “A Provisional List of Unprovenanced, Twenty-First Century Dead Sea Scrolls-like Fragments,” pp. 173–88; and Kipp Davis, “Caves of Dispute,” pp. 229-270. Based on analysis of the parchment, handwriting, ink, letter forms, layout, and correspondences to modern printed texts, Davis argues that MOTB.SCR.003170, MOTB.SCR.003170, MOTB.SCR.003171, MOTB.SCR.003172, MOTB.SCR.003173, MOTB.SCR.003175, MOTB.SCR.003183 in particular show “puzzling correspondences and alarmingly suspicious features in these fragments [that] should at least disqualify them from discussion as genuine textual artefacts from antiquity and prompt further, urgent investigation into their provenance.”

Museum of the Bible supports additional research on these fragments. The provenance continues to be investigated by curatorial staff. In addition, scientific analysis of the ink has been conducted, with results expected by early 2018. The following fragments from the Museum Collections are displayed in the History of the Bible floor: MOTB.SCR.000124, MOTB.SCR.003171, MOTB.SCR.003173, MOTB.SCR.003175, NCF.SCR.004742.

Early Jewish Prayer Book

Siddur (Prayer Book)

This item was acquired in good faith in 2013 after receiving what appeared to be acceptable provenance information dating back to the 1950s in the UK. The item was understood to have been legally exported from the UK. It has been displayed in the US and overseas as well as published in exhibition catalogs. Subsequently, internal MOTB curatorial research discovered published images of the book from 1997, in which the book appears to have been photographed in Afghanistan. Subsequent research has not yet determined the find-spot or history of the item prior to 1997 or between 1997 and 2013. This research continues.

Nevertheless, this Siddur is an exceptional item of unique historical, cultural, and religious significance, and has great educational potential. Accordingly, until ongoing provenance information sheds further light on the history of this prayer book, the item will be listed on the AAMD’s Object Registry of museum items with incomplete provenance ( ). In addition to ongoing provenance research, a book project is underway at MOTB, with contributions from specialists in handwriting, manuscript production, Jewish and Afghan history, and Jewish liturgical practices. This book project will make this Siddur available for research and enable additional contributions to the study of this one-of-a-kind manuscript. In the meantime, the Siddur will be displayed in the museum in Washington, DC, with a brief description of the provenance issues on the object label.

Torah Scrolls

Torah scrolls have been essential to Jewish communal life for centuries. Torah scrolls were carefully prepared and, after the end of their useful life, retired and stored in a “genizah.” As Jewish communities moved over the centuries throughout the Middle East, Europe, Asia, and then to North and South America, their scrolls traveled with them. From the 1950s through the 1990s, the Israeli government conducted several “rescue” missions to gather Torah scrolls from Europe and around the world. Many were later given to synagogues, while others became available to collectors. Museum of the Bible has gathered approximately 2,000 such scrolls, dating from the 16th through the 20th centuries, one of the largest collections in the world. These scrolls have been appropriately retired from use (“decommissioned”), and are preserved in abiding respect for their historical, cultural, and religious significance. Some of the scrolls among the Museum Collections tell fascinating stories. For example, one of these scrolls was commissioned by a Jewish community in Poland. Decades later, it traveled to Brooklyn, New York, where a synagogue stamped the scroll in 1910. From there, it went to Israel. These stamps and other identifying marks on the scrolls give us exciting clues about the communities that used them for centuries. Museum of the Bible curators and scholars continue to investigate the history of each scroll, unraveling and revealing their unique stories.


Jewish faith is celebrated at home as well as in the synagogue. Ritual items, or Judaica, are the beautifully crafted objects used to celebrate Jewish holidays. The objects are chosen, cared for, and passed from generation to generation, keeping alive the warm memories of Shabbat dinners, lighting Hanukkah candles, and celebrating Passover Seders. Kiddush cups, Seder plates, spice boxes, challah knives, and more were lovingly made by artisans and cherished by Jewish families for generations.

As the Green Collection began to search for artifacts that told the story of the history of the Bible, it was natural to gather these types of items from the antique markets of Jerusalem, a center for Jewish art and antiques. From the first Jewish pioneers before WWI to the families who made their way from Europe to Israel after WWII, all manner of Judaica arrived in Jerusalem over the decades and eventually entered the market. Similarly, Jewish agencies recovered and gathered unclaimed Judaica from Germany, Poland, and other countries, and sent these objects to communities and museums in Israel. From this abundance of ritual Judaica, the Green Collection has gathered examples that both illustrate Jewish history and celebrate its creative spirit. Given the nature of the processes by which these objects came to be gathered, sold and re-sold in Israel, little, if any, documentation is available for most objects. Research is proceeding where possible, such as on objects with unique markings and those that can stylistically be placed in a certain geographic location or time period.