He therefore sent other
staff members from Hebrew University, accompanied by three officers,
to Kando's house in Bethlehem. Kando was taken under escort to Tel
Aviv. When he emerged after five days of interrogation, he took the
officers back to his home and produced a scroll which had been
hidden there for six years. This proved to be an extremely important
discovery - the 'Temple Scroll', first published in 1977.!
He also feared for both his own position and his access to the Qumran texts, because, as Pryce-Jones discovered,
De Vaux's fears, in fact, proved groundless. In the political and
military aftermath of the Six Day War, the Israelis had other
matters on their plate. Yadin and Professor Biran, who from 1961 to
1974 was director of the Israeli Department of Antiquities, were
therefore prepared to maintain the status quo, and de Vaux was left
in charge of the scrolls, with the stipulation that their
publication be speeded up.
Owing nominal allegiance to
the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, the committee in reality
functioned under the virtually supreme authority of Father de Vaux.
He subsequently became editor-in-chief of the definitive series on
the Dead Sea Scrolls, the multi-volume Discoveries in the Judaean
Desert, published by Oxford University Press. He was to retain his
prominence in the field until his death in 1971.
a more personal level, he was also anti-Semitic. One of his former
colleagues testifies to his resentment at Israelis attending his
lectures. After interviewing de Vaux, David Pryce-Jones stated that
'I found him an irascible brute, slightly potty too.'4 According to
Magen Broshi, currently director of the Israeli Shrine of the Book,
'de Vaux was a rabid anti-Semite and a rabid anti-Israeli - but was
the best partner one could ask for'.5
Professor Cross, when asked this question on the telephone, replied that the matter was resolved with 'discussion and easy consensus and with the blessing of de Vaux':
Professor Cross makes it clear that each member of the team knew what all the others were doing. All the material had been laid out and arranged in a single room, the 'Scrollery', and anyone was free to wander about and see how his colleagues were progressing.* They would also, of course, help one another on problems requiring one or another individual's special expertise.
* 'Scrollery' was a large room containing some twenty trestle tables where scroll fragments were pressed under sheets of glass. Photographs dating from the 1950s show a complete and appalling lack of any environmental control for the material, much of which was already deteriorating. Windows are open, for example, curtains blowing in the breeze. No attempt has been made to exclude heat, humidity, wind, dust or direct sunlight. It is all a far cry from the conditions in which the scrolls are housed today. They are now in a basement room, under a special amber light. Temperature and humidity are rigorously controlled. Each fragment is held between sheets of thin silk stretched in perspex frames.
But this also meant that if any one of the team were dealing with controversial or explosive material, all the others would know. On this basis, Allegro, to the end of his life, was to insist that important and controversial material was being withheld, or at least delayed in its release, by his colleagues. Another independent-minded scholar who later became involved reports that he was in the 1960s instructed 'to go slow', to proceed in a deliberately desultory fashion 'so that the crazies will get tired and go away'.7
De Vaux wanted, so far as it was
possible, to avoid embarrassing the Christian establishment. Some of
the Qumran material was clearly deemed capable of doing precisely
The offer was refused. Biran then suggested that
individual scrolls or fragments be brought over, to be examined by
Israeli experts. This suggestion was similarly rejected. 'Of course
they could have come,' Professor Biran concluded, 'but they felt
that they had possession [of the scrolls] and would not let anyone
else take them.'8 In the existing political climate, the scrolls
were a fairly low priority, and no official pressure was brought to
bear on this academic intransigence.
But the team at the Rockefeller emerge in a rather less favorable light. Funded by substantial donations, enjoying time, leisure and freedom, they convey the impression of an exclusive club, a self-proclaimed elite, almost medieval in their attitude to, and their monopolization of, the material. The 'Scrollery' in which they conducted their research has a quasi-monastic atmosphere about it. One is reminded again of the sequestration of learning in The Name of the Rose. And the 'experts' granted access to the 'Scrollery' arrogated such power and prestige to themselves that outsiders were easily convinced of the justness of their attitude.
As Professor James B. Robinson (director of another, more responsible, team which translated the texts found in the Egyptian desert at Nag Hammadi) said to us:
If the international team were high-handed in monopolizing their material, they were no less so in interpreting it.
In 1954, just when the team were beginning their work, the dangers had already been anticipated, by a Jesuit scholar, Robert North:
North's warnings were to be ignored. During the course of the
subsequent decade, a 'consensus' view - to use his term and Robert
Eisenman's - was indeed to emerge, or be imposed, by the
international team working under de Vaux at the Rockefeller. A rigid
orthodoxy of interpretation evolved, from which any deviation was
tantamount to heresy.
The consensus view was summarized and given its final polishing touches by Father De Vaux himself in a series of lectures given to the British Academy in 1959 and published in 1961 as L'archéologie et les manuscrits de la Mer Morte. By then, its tenets were soundly entrenched. Anyone who presumed to challenge them did so at severe risk to his credibility.
In 1971, on Father De Vaux's death, an extraordinary situation
developed. Although he did not in any legal sense own the scrolls,
he nevertheless bequeathed his rights to them to one of his
colleagues, Father Pierre Benoit, another Dominican and subsequently
de Vaux's successor as head of the international team and of the
Ecole Biblique. For Father Benoit actually to inherit de Vaux's
rights, privileges and prerogatives of access and control was, as a
scholastic procedure, unprecedented. From a legal point of view, it
was, to say the least, extremely irregular. More extraordinary
still, however, the scholarly world did not contest this
'transaction'. When we asked Professor Norman Golb of the University
of Chicago why so dubious a procedure was allowed to occur, he
replied that opposing it would have been 'a lost cause'.11
In 1957, after a brief stint at the
Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, he returned to
Jerusalem, becoming affiliated with the Rockefeller Museum where he
worked as epigraphist until 1960. In that year, he was appointed
Assistant Professor of Old Testament Studies at Duke University's
Divinity School. In 1968, he moved to Harvard Divinity School as
Professor of Christian Origins.
According to Professor Shemaryahu Talmon, a member of the committee that vetted Strugnell, his appointment was not ratified until certain conditions were met.12 Among other things, the Israelis were troubled by the way in which certain members of the international team tended to play the role of 'absentee landlord'. Since the 1967 war, for example, Father Starcky had refused to set foot in Israel. Father Milik, de Vaux's closest confidant and protege, had for many years lived in Paris, with photographs of some of the most vital scroll material, to which he alone has access.
No one else is allowed to make photographs. Without Milik's consent, no one, not even on the international team, is allowed to publish on the material of which he has custody. To our knowledge, he has never, since the 1967 war, returned to Jerusalem to work on this material. Time Magazine describes him as 'elusive'.13 Another publication, Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR), has twice reported that he refuses even to answer letters from the Israeli Department of Antiquities.14
He has treated both other
scholars and the general public with what can only be described as
But there were other
obligations which he failed to discharge. He did not publish the
texts entrusted to him. His commentary on one of these texts - a
fragment of 121 lines - has been expected for more than five years
and has still not appeared. He wrote only one 27-page article on the
material in his possession. Apart from this, he published an article
on Samaritan inscriptions, a translation of Milik's study of Qumran
and, as we shall see, a long and hostile critique of the one member
of the international team to challenge the interpretation of the
consensus. It is not a very impressive record for a man who spent a
lifetime working in a field which depends on publication. On the
other hand, he allowed selected graduate students to work on certain
original texts for their doctoral degrees - thus earning prestige
for them, for their mentor and for Harvard University.
After this delay, however, the scrolls were in
1966 turned over to an international team of scholars for
translation and publication. The head of this team was Professor
James M. Robinson of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity at
Claremont Graduate School, California. When we spoke to Professor
Robinson about the team in charge of the Qumran texts, he was
scathing. The Qumran scholars, Professor Robinson said, 'no longer
have to make reputations - all they can do is break them'.15
Apart from the 'Copper Scroll', the lengthiest text amounted to
just over sixty lines, and most came to something between four and
twelve lines. But the fragments also yielded two copies of a text
known as 'The Book of Jubilees'. A copy of the same text would later
be found at Masada, revealing that the defenders of the fortress
used the same calendar as the Qumran community, and establishing
closer connections between the two sites than de Vaux felt
No purchaser being forthcoming, the material was locked in one of the museum's safes, to which no one was allowed access. Here it remained until 1961, when the Albright Institute was at last enabled to buy it, finance being provided by Kenneth and Elizabeth Bechtel of the Bechtel Corporation, a giant American construction company with many interests in the Middle East (though none in Israel), many connections with the American government and at least some associations with the CIA.
Professor Sanders's volume
thus appeared independently of the framework and timetable
established by de Vaux's international team.
And it was suggested that the team were simply
lazy and idle, basking in comfortable sinecures which they would
obviously be in no hurry to relinquish. It was further pointed out
that no such delays had occurred with the pieces of Qumran material
in American and Israeli hands. In contrast to de Vaux's team,
American and Israeli scholars had wasted no time in bringing their
material into print.
The entire Nag Hammadi corpus was in print within eleven years. It is now approaching thirty-eight years since de Vaux's team began their work, and they have so far produced only eight volumes - less than twenty-five per cent of the material in their hands.17
As we shall see, moreover, of the material which has appeared in print, very little of it is the material that really matters.
In an interview published in the New York Times, Robert Eisenman spoke of how 'a small circle of scholars has been able to dominate a field of research for several generations (even though some of these scholars have been defunct in this field for years) and to continue to do so through their control of graduate studies and placing their coterie of students and scholars in the most prestigious academic chairs'.18
Biblical Archaeological Review, an influential journal published by the Washington lawyer Hershel Shanks, described de Vaux's international team as being 'governed, so far as can be ascertained, largely by convention, tradition, collegiality and inertia'.19 According to BAR, the 'insiders' who hold the scrolls 'have the goodies - to drip out bit by bit.
This gives them status, scholarly power and a wonderful ego trip. Why squander it?'20
And at a conference on the scrolls at New York University in 1985, Professor Morton Smith, one of the most distinguished names in contemporary biblical studies, began by saying scathingly:
How have the members of the international team responded to such damning condemnation?
Of the original international team assembled in 1953, only three at present remain alive. Joseph Milik, who has since left the priesthood, maintains, as we have seen, the life of an 'elusive' recluse in Paris. Professors John Strugnell and Frank Cross were at Harvard University Divinity School. Of these, Professor Cross proved the most accessible and allowed himself to be questioned about the delays in publication. In an interview with the New York Times, he admitted that progress had 'generally been slow' and offered two explanations.
Most members of the team, he said, were engaged in full-time teaching and could get to Jerusalem to work on the material only during summer holidays. And the scrolls that have not yet been published, he added, are so fragmented that it is difficult to fit them together, much less translate them.22
It would, of course, be rash to underestimate the complexity of the work in which Cross and his colleagues were engaged. The myriad fragments of Qumran texts do indeed constitute a daunting jigsaw puzzle. Nevertheless, Cross's explanations are not altogether convincing. It is certainly true that members of the international team are active in teaching and have only limited time to spend in Jerusalem; but Cross did not mention that most of the work now being done on the scrolls is done with photographs, which do not require the researcher to travel anywhere.
In fact, the state of photography at present often makes it easier, and more reliable, to deal with photographs than with original parchments. As for the complexity of the jigsaw, Cross himself contradicted his own argument. As early as 1958, he wrote that most of the scroll fragments then in the team's hands had already been identified -had been identified, in fact, by the summer of 1956.24
According to John Allegro, writing in 1964, assembly and identification of all Cave 4 material - the most copious corpus - was 'nearly complete' by 1960/61.25 Nor was the task of identifying material always as difficult as Cross might lead one to believe.
In a letter to John Allegro, dated 13 December 1955, Strugnell wrote that £3000 worth of Cave 4 material had just been
purchased (with Vatican funds) and identified in one afternoon.26
Complete photographs of the material, he added, would require no
more than a week.
In the same letter, de Vaux stated that work on the original
texts would be finished by June 1960, after which they would be
turned over to the various institutions that had paid for them.
Today, more than thirty years after de Vaux's letter, survivors of
his team and its new members still cling to the scrolls in their
possession, insisting on the need for continued research. And, it is
worth repeating, what has been voluntarily released is, for the most
part, of least importance.
On the other, there is a corpus of non-biblical material consisting for the most part of documents never seen before, which can be labeled 'sectarian material'.
Most outsiders, needless to say, instinctively assume the 'biblical material' to be of the greater interest and consequence - the simple word 'biblical' triggers associations in the mind which lead automatically to such a supposition. To our knowledge, Eisenman was the first to detect, and certainly the first to emphasize, the sophistry involved in this. For the 'biblical material' is perfectly innocuous and uncontroversial, containing no revelations of any kind. It consists of little more than copies of books from the Old Testament, more or less the same as those already in print or with only minor alterations.
There is nothing radically new here. In reality, the most significant texts comprise not the 'biblical' but the 'sectarian' literature.
It is these texts - rules, biblical commentaries, theological, astrological and messianic treatises - that pertain to the 'sect' alleged to have resided at Qumran and to their teachings. To label this material 'sectarian' is effectively and skillfully to defuse interest in it.
Thus, it is portrayed as the idiosyncratic doctrine of a fringe and maverick 'cult', a small, highly unrepresentative congregation divorced from, and wholly peripheral to, the supposed mainstream of Judaism and early Christianity, the phenomena to which it is in fact most pertinent. Outsiders are thus manipulated into accepting the consensus — that the Qumran community were so-called Essenes and that the Essenes, while interesting as a marginal development, have no real bearing on broader issues.
The reality, as we shall see, is very different, and the perfunctorily dismissed 'sectarian' texts will prove to contain material of an explosive nature indeed.