JERUSALEM - Parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls are up for sale - in tiny pieces.
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 now quietly marketing the leftovers - fragments the family says it has kept in a Swiss safe deposit box all these years.
Most of these scraps are barely postage-stamp-sized, and some are blank. But in the last few years, evangelical Christian collectors and institutions in the U.S. have forked out millions of dollars for a chunk of this archaeological treasure. 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.
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.
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.