2 - The International Team

Yigael Yadin recounted the events of 1967 to David Pryce-Jones in an interview conducted early in 1968. He was aware, he said, that other scrolls were around, and that Kando, the dealer involved in the original discovery, knew where they were.


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.!

Pryce-Jones also interviewed Father de Vaux, who was highly indignant at what had occurred. According to Pryce-Jones, de Vaux called the Israelis 'Nazis':

'His face flushed as he claimed the Israelis would use the conquest of Jerusalem as a pretext to move all the Dead Sea Scrolls from the Rockefeller and house them in their Shrine of the Book. '2

He also feared for both his own position and his access to the Qumran texts, because, as Pryce-Jones discovered,

'Father de Vaux had refused to allow any Jews to work on the scrolls in the Rockefeller’.3

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.

A cache of some eight hundred scrolls had been discovered in Cave 4 in 1952. To deal with the sheer quantity of this material, an international committee of scholars had been formed, each member of which was assigned certain specific texts for study, interpretation, translation and eventual publication.


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.

Roland de Vaux was born in Paris in 1903 and studied for the priesthood between 1925 and 1928 at the seminary of Saint Sulpice, learning Arabic and Aramaic in the process. In 1929, he joined the Dominican Order, under whose auspices he was sent to the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem. He began teaching regularly at the Ecole in 1934 and served as its director from 1945 until 1965. Between 1938 and 1953, he edited the Ecole's magazine, Revue biblique.

To those who met or knew him, de Vaux was a striking and memorable personality, something of a 'character'. A heavy smoker, he wore a bushy beard, glasses and a dark beret. He also, invariably, wore his white monk's robes, even on excavations. A charismatic man, known for his vigor and enthusiasm, he was an eloquent lecturer and an engaging raconteur, with a flair for public relations. This made him an ideal spokesman for the enterprise on which he was engaged. One of his former colleagues described him to us as a good scholar, if not a particularly good archaeologist.

But behind his personable façade, de Vaux was ruthless, narrow-minded, bigoted and fiercely vindictive. Politically, he was decidedly right-wing. In his youth, he had been a member of Action Franchise, the militant Catholic and nationalist movement which burgeoned in France between the two world wars, which extolled the cult of 'blood and soil' and expressed more than a little sympathy for the dictatorships in Germany, Italy and, on Franco's triumph, Spain.

Certainly he was ill-suited to preside over research on the Dead Sea Scrolls. In the first place, he was not just a practicing Catholic, but also a monk, and this could hardly conduce to balance or impartiality in his handling of extremely sensitive, even explosive, religious material. Moreover, he was hostile to Israel as a political entity, always referring to the country as 'Palestine'.


On 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

This was the man, then, to whom responsibility for the Dead Sea Scrolls was entrusted. In 1953, the board of trustees of the Rockefeller Museum, whose president at the time was de Vaux himself, had requested nominations from the various foreign archaeological schools - British, French, German and American - then active in Jerusalem. No Israelis were invited, despite the proximity of the well-trained staff of Hebrew University. Each school was asked for funds to help sustain the cost of the work.

The first scholar to be appointed under de Vaux's authority was Professor Frank Cross, then associated with McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago and with the Albright Institute in Jerusalem. Cross was the Albright's nominee, and began to work in Jerusalem in the summer of 1953. The material assigned to him consisted of specifically biblical texts - scroll commentaries, that is, found in Cave 4 at Qumran, on the various books of the Old Testament.

Material of a similar nature was assigned to Monsignor Patrick Skehan, also from the United States. At the time of his appointment, he was director of the Albright Institute.

Father Jean Starcky, from France, was nominated by the Ecole Biblique. At the time, he was attached to the Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique. Starcky, an expert in Aramaic, was assigned the corpus of material in that language.

Dr Claus-Hunno Hunzinger was nominated by the Germans. He was assigned one particular text, known as the 'War Scroll', as well as a body of material transcribed on papyrus rather than on parchment. He subsequently left the team and was eventually replaced by another French priest, Father Maurice Baillet.

Father Josef Milik, a Polish priest resettled in France, was another nominee of the Ecole Biblique, with which he was also affiliated. A disciple and close confidant of de Vaux, Milik received an especially important corpus of material. It included a quantity of Old Testament apocrypha. It also included 'pseudepigraphical' writings - texts in which a later commentator would try to impart authority to his words by ascribing them to earlier prophets and patriarchs. Most important of all, it included what was called 'sectarian material' - material pertaining specifically to the community at Qumran, their teachings, rituals and disciplines.

The British nominee to the team was John M. Allegro, then working for his doctorate at Oxford under Professor Godfrey R. Driver. Allegro went to Jerusalem as an agnostic. He was the only member of the team not to have specific religious affiliations. He was also the only philologist in the group and already had five publications to his credit in academic journals. He was thus the only one to have established a reputation for himself before working on the scrolls. All the others were unknown at the time, and made their names only through their work with the texts assigned them.

Allegro was assigned biblical commentaries (which proved in fact to be 'sectarian material' of the kind assigned to Milik) and a body of so-called 'wisdom literature' - hymns, psalms, sermons and exhortations of a moral and poetic character. Allegro's material seems to have been rather more explosive than anyone at the time had anticipated, and he himself was something of a maverick. He had, certainly, no compunction about breaking the 'consensus' de Vaux was trying to establish and, as we shall see, was soon to be ousted from the team and replaced by John Strugnell, also enrolled in a doctoral program at Oxford. Strugnell became a disciple of Frank Cross.

According to what principles was the material divided, distributed and assigned? How was it determined who would deal with what?


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':

Certain things were obvious; those of us who had full-time professorships could not take unknown
and more complex problems. So we took biblical, the simplest material from the point of view of
identification of material and putting stuff into columns and what-not. The people who were
specialists in Aramaic, particularly Starcky - obviously the Aramaic stuff went to him. The
interests of the several scholars, the opportunities for research, pretty much laid out what each of
us would do. This was quickly agreed to and de Vaux gave his blessing. We didn't sit down and
vote and there was no conflict in this. Basically the team worked by consensus.6

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 that.

It was certainly convenient for de Vaux that until 1967 the Rockefeller Museum lay in the Jordanian territory of East Jerusalem. Israelis were forbidden to cross into the sector, and this provided the anti-Semitic de Vaux with a handy pretext to exclude Israeli experts, even though his team of international scholars was supposed, at least theoretically, to reflect the widest diversity of interests and approaches. If politics kept the Israelis out of East Jerusalem, they could easily have been provided with photographs, or with some other access to the material. No such access was granted.

We raised the issue with Professor Biran, governor of the Israeli sector of Jerusalem at the time and subsequently director of the Israeli Department of Antiquities. He stated that the Jordanian authorities had been adamant in refusing to let Sukenik, or any other Israeli scholar, enter their sector of Jerusalem. In his capacity of governor, Biran had replied by authorizing de Vaux's committee to meet in the Israeli sector and offering them safe conducts.


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.

The situation was rendered even more absurd by the fact that the Israelis, first at Hebrew University and then at the specially created Shrine of the Book, had seven important scrolls of their own - the three originally purchased by Sukenik, and the four Yigael Yadin managed to purchase in New York. The Israelis seem to have pursued and published their research more or less responsibly - they were, after all, accountable to Yadin and Biran, to the government, to public opinion and the academic world in general.


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:

'Manuscript discoveries bring out the worst instincts in otherwise normal scholars.'9

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:

Regarding the date of the scrolls, or rather the triple date of their composition, transcription, and
storage, there has recently attained a relative consensus which is both reassuring and disquieting.
It is reassuring insofar as it proceeds from such a variety of converging lines of evidence, and
provides a 'working hypothesis' as basis of discussion. But there is danger of a false security. It is
important to emphasize the frailty of the evidences themselves...10

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.

This orthodoxy of interpretation, which grew progressively more dogmatic over the years, was enunciated in its entirety by Father Milik and published in France in 1957 under the title Dix ans de découvertes dans le désert de Juda. Two years later, Milik's work was to be translated into English by another member of de Vaux's international team, John Strugnell. By that time, the first English formulation of the consensus view had already appeared – The Ancient Library of Qumran, by Professor Frank Cross, Strugnell's mentor, in 1958.


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

With de Vaux's behavior as a precedent, other members of his team followed suit. Thus, for example, when Father Patrick Skehan died in 1980, he bequeathed rights to the scrolls in his custody to Professor Eugene Ulrich of Notre Dame University, Indiana. The scrolls that had been the preserve of Father Jean Starcky were similarly bequeathed - or, more euphemistically, 'reassigned' - to Father Emile Puech of the Ecole Biblique. Thus the Catholic scholars at the core of the international team maintained their monopoly and control, and the consensus remained unchallenged. Not until 1987, on the death of Father Benoit, were their methods to be contested.

When Father Benoit died, Professor John Strugnell was designated his successor as head of the international team. Born in Barnet, north London, in 1930, Strugnell received his BA in 1952 and his MA in 1955, both from Jesus College, Oxford. Although admitted to the PhD program at Oxford's Faculty of Oriental Studies, he never completed his doctorate, and his candidature lapsed in 1958. In he had been admitted to de Vaux's team, had gone to Jerusalem and remained there for two years.


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.

Strugnell's appointment as head of the international team was not entirely unimpeded. Since 1967, the Israeli government had been legally authorised to ratify all such appointments. In Father Benoit's case, the Israelis hadn't bothered to exercise their authority. In Strugnell's, for the first time, they asserted their own rights over the material.


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 disdain.

Anxious to discourage such behavior, the Israelis insisted that the new director of the scroll project spend at least some of his time in Jerusalem. Strugnell, who was reconsidering his position at Harvard in any case, complied by taking half-retirement from his post. He began to spend half of each year in Jerusalem, at the Ecole Biblique, where he had his own quarters.


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.

In general, under Strugnell's auspices, the international team proceeded pretty much as they did before. It is interesting to compare their progress with that of scholars working on a different corpus of texts, the so-called 'Gnostic Gospels' discovered in Egypt, at Nag Hammadi.

The Nag Hammadi Scrolls were found two years before the Dead Sea Scrolls, in 1945. By 1948, they had all been purchased by the Cairo Coptic Museum. There was initially an attempt to establish a Qumran-style monopoly over the material, again by an enclave of French scholars, and as a result, work on them was retarded until 1956. No sooner did it finally get under way than it was interrupted by the Suez crisis.


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

Professor Robinson and his team, in contrast, moved with impressive rapidity. Within three years, a number of draft transcriptions and translations were being made available to scholars. By 1973, the entire Nag Hammadi library was in draft English translation and was circulating freely amongst interested researchers. In 1977, the whole body of the Nag Hammadi codices was published, in facsimile and a popular edition - a total of forty-six books plus some unidentified fragments. It thus took Robinson and his team a mere eleven years to bring the Nag Hammadi Scrolls into print.16

Granted, the Qumran texts were more numerous and posed more complex problems than those from Nag Hammadi. But even allowing for this, the record of de Vaux's international team does not exactly inspire confidence. When they were formed in 1953, their declared objective and intention was to publish all the scrolls found at Qumran in definitive editions, forming a series to be issued by Oxford University Press as Discoveries in the Judaean Desert of Jordan.

The first volume appeared quickly enough, in 1955, and dealt with the fragments found in the original cave at Qumran, now officially designated Cave 1. Not until 1961, six years later, did the next volume appear; and this did not deal with Qumran texts at all, but with material found in the nearby caves of Murabba'at. In 1963, a third volume appeared, which dealt primarily with scroll fragments from Cave 2, Cave 3 and Caves 5-10. Of these fragments, the most complete and most important was the 'Copper Scroll', found in Cave 3.


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 comfortable acknowledging.

The fourth volume of Discoveries in the Judaean Desert appeared in 1965, under the editorship of James A. Sanders. But Professor Sanders was not a member of de Vaux's team. The scroll he dealt with - a volume of psalms - had been found by the Bedouin in Cave 11 by 1956 and brought, along with a number of fragments, to the Rockefeller Museum.


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.

In the meantime, however, the bulk of the most copious and most significant material - the material found in the veritable treasure trove of Cave 4 - continued to be withheld from both the public and the academic community. Now and again, small pieces and tantalizing fragments would leak into scholarly journals. But not until 1968 did the first official publication of material from Cave 4, albeit a very small proportion, appear. It did so under the auspices of the one 'renegade' or 'heretic' on de Vaux's team, John Allegro.

As delays in releasing the Qumran material persisted, and the time between published volumes continued to lengthen, suspicions began to proliferate that something was seriously amiss. Critics voiced three suspicions in particular. It was suggested that de Vaux's team were finding their material too difficult, too complex. It was also suggested that they might deliberately be proceeding slowly, suppressing or at least retarding the release of certain material in order to buy time.


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 sixth volume of Discoveries in the Judaean Desert did not appear until 1977, nine years after Allegro's work. A seventh volume was not issued until 1982, an eighth only in 1990 - and this latter did not deal with Qumran texts. As we have noted, draft translations of Nag Hammadi codices were in circulation within three years. In the case of the Qumran material, no such draft translations were ever made available by de Vaux's team, nor are they so today.


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:

'I thought to speak on the scandals of the Dead Sea documents, but these proved too numerous, too familiar and too disgusting.'21

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's the world's most fantastic jig-saw puzzle,' he remarked on another occasion.23

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.

Even before he breached the consensus of the international team, Allegro was anxious to speed things up and skeptical of the various reasons proffered for not doing so. But was it merely as a sop that de Vaux wrote to him on 22 March 1959 that all the Qumran texts would be published, and Discoveries in the Judaean Desert complete, by the middle of 1962, the date scheduled for StrugnelFs concluding volume?


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.

The Qumran texts are generally classified under two rubrics. On the one hand, there is a corpus of early copies of biblical texts, some with slightly variant readings. These are referred to as 'biblical material'.


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.


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