The Dead Sea Scrolls -- What Happened

The article on the Dead Sea Scrolls was written a bit after the great controversy about the scrolls came to a head.

After the scrolls were discovered, they were moved to what was then called the Palestine Archaeological Museum in 1952. This museum came under Arab control after 1948 – a year after the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. Access to the scrolls were controlled by a small group of archeologists lead by Roland Guérin de Vaux a reverend of the Dominican Order who greatly limited access to the scrolls. Access to the scrolls by Jewish scholars was practically nonexistent.

There had been a controversy building up for years about the lack of information on the scrolls and the slow release of scholarly information. There were charges that the committee was purposefully keeping access away from Jewish scholars who might dispute many of the theories put forth by the committee studying the scrolls. The committee claimed they were publishing the information as quickly as possible, and the access to the scrolls was limited due to their fragile nature.

Robert Eisenman who had tried to see the Dead Sea scrolls earlier and was told by the committee that controlled them that he would not see them in his lifetime became a major critic of the Dead Sea scholarly committee and accused them and their theories as bordering on antisemitism. Eisenman lead a 15 year struggle to get all of the scrolls published.

John Strugnell, a young scholar who was selected by Roland Guérin de Vaux to be on the scholarly committee that controlled the scrolls took over in 1987. In 1990, he gave an interview in Ha’aretz said that Judaism was “founded on a lie, or at least on a premise that cannot be sustained.” and was “originally racist”, and that all Jews should convert to Christianity. He said what annoyed him most about Judaism was "“The fact that it has survived when it should have disappeared.”

Of course, by 1990, Israel controlled the West Bank and the Palestine Archaeological Museum renamed the Rockefeller Museum. Until that time, because of the universal importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Israel itself had not interfered with the committee in charge of the scrolls. With Strugnell’s remarks, things quickly changed. Strugnell retired for “Health Reasons”, and new scholars were given access. In 1991, Emanuel Tov was appointed chairman of the committee and access to the scrolls was greatly increased. New theories of who created the scrolls and their age were quickly produced.

In 1993, the Israeli Antiquity Authority and Nasa both worked on infrared photography techniques and published the photographs to all scholars. Recently, the Israel Museum (which now controls the Rockefeller Museum and the scrolls) has worked with Google to produce digitized images which will allow for the scrolls to be better studied.

Also, the storage of the scrolls has greatly improved and many of the missing fragments have been rediscovered. The scrolls had been damaged by poor storage conditions and poor restoration techniques. The controversy over the scrolls has died down, and we are seeing new information on them published each year.

Very interesting - I had no idea about any of this.

The Dead Sea Scrolls scholarship seems to be a sort of magnet for odd behavior. Another example:

His father would be Norman Golb. He’s one of the Essenes Dissenters. The original scholars attributed the work solely to the Essenes and look at the scrolls as proof of much of the Christian philosophy as coming from Jewish dissenters like the Essenes. Other scholars, especially Jewish scholars look at much of the evidence and say that the works are by a myriad of Jewish groups, and that most of the scrolls were placed there for safe keeping at the time of the Romans were actively destroying the Jewish community in that area.

The early scholarship was haphazard, extremely slow, and lacked any transparency. There had been a lot of rumors of antisemitism from the original scholarship committee, and Strugnell’s interview gave those who made the charges proof of an anti-Jewish bias in the scholarship.

Others feel that Israel is now purposefully rewriting the history to play down Christian roots and to build up the roots of Jews and Judaism in the area, and are ignoring evidence that shows possible philosophical roots of Christianity.

In one of the ruins, Roland Guérin de Vaux claimed a particular room was a common dining area much like you’d see in a monastery. Others look at that same room and say it’s a storeroom for goods being traded in the area, and that the community was on a trade route. It wasn’t a stoic community at all, but one of merchants trying to make a buck.

Mix in some scholarly conflict, power plays, charges of discrimination, and sprinkle in a touch of religious philosophical dispute. Mix well, and you have one heck of a spicy dish. Think of The Housewives of Orange County, but with more scheming and double crossing.

Looks like it would be an awesome basis for a mini-series. :cool::smiley:

If I had any talent, I would have written and directed the movie. Unfortunately, there’s really no end in sight. Like the living God, the arguments will go on for eternity.

There are other movies in the making I’d love to write. One is the Crazy Eddie saga. The entire Antar family is a soap opera in the making. Talk about bad family dynamics: greed, double crossing, fraud, and even adultery. Plus, there is a surprise witness, a flee to a foreign country and living under an assumed name. It’s more than just the prices that were insane!

I think the identification of the scrolls with the Essenes has now been pretty much debunked. What has become clear through research is that: the people who lived at Qumran were not Essenes; that the scrolls were not written by Essenes; and that the scrolls were not written by the people who lived at Qumran. The theory sounded good at the time, and is still widely believed, but it didn’t hold up.

The scrolls were part of a library that was hidden by persons unknown in the caves near Qumran. They might have been part of the Temple library, or they might have been from somewhere else. They were probably hidden to save them from the Romans, but who knows. They are certainly pre-Christian; there may be Christian documents among them but it’s unlikely and would be neither important nor surprising.

Most archeologists believe that much of the early interpretation of the scrolls and their significance was poorly done and colored by the culture and views of the few selected scholars who had access to the artifacts. Put the whole thing in a region that is fraught with agendas and vendettas, and you have problems.

For decades, most of the experts of ancient Israel for that period were excluded from the artifacts because they were Jewish and/or Israeli citizens. It’d be as if Americans were excluded from studying the artifacts of Jamestown. Part of it was political. The artifacts were stored in Moslem controlled areas which prohibited Jews and Israelis from visiting them. Even those who could visit the Palestine Archaeological Museum were still prevented from working with the artifacts. Poor storage conditions and sloppy work allowed what are some of the most important artifacts of the beginnings of Western civilization to deteriorate. Some were actually lost.

And yet because of the importance of the research and the politics involved, it was extremely difficult to implement any changes. Despite the fact that Israel took over the territory and the Palestine Archaeological Museum in 1967, no changes were implemented in the way the work was done or who was in charge despite worldwide grumblings and accusations. It took until 1990 before changes could be implemented, and only because of the outrageous antisemitic statements made by the person in charge of all the research. It also helped that samizdat photos of the artifacts were published for all scholars to see, thus removing the monopoly and excuses why access to the artifacts had to be limited.

Most archeologists consider the scholarship that has taken place after 1990 to be much better. Lost artifacts have been found. Storage conditions have improved. New technology is being used to help piece together the artifacts and to analyze them to figure out exactly who wrote them, when, and why.

However, the early four decades of tight control and limited access has colored perception. There have always been scholarly disputes in science. Individuals come up with competing theories and interpretations. Most of the time, these are kept at a civil level. Silly bets are made on whose theory is right. Sometimes, a bit of name calling happens. This is very different. The bitterness of the various factions has reached a level we haven’t seen since Philipp Lenard prevented Albert Einstein from receiving a Noble prize for relativity.