3 - The Scandal of the Scrolls

Ironically enough, it was not a biblical scholar, not an expert in the field, but an outsider who first detected something suspect in the international team's position. The outsider was the distinguished American literary and cultural critic, Edmund Wilson, whom most university students in Britain and the States will have encountered through his work in fields far removed from Qumran and 1st-century Palestine.


He is known for his own fiction - for I Thought of Daisy and, particularly, Memoirs of Hecate County. He is known as the author of Axel's Castle, an original and pioneering study of the influence of French symbolism on 20th-century literature. He is known for To the Finland Station, an account of Lenin's machinations and the Bolshevik hijacking of the Russian Revolution.


And he is known for the grotesque, highly publicized literary feud he precipitated with his former friend, Vladimir Nabokov, by presuming to challenge Nabokov's translation of Pushkin's Evgeny Onegin.

As his controversy with Nabokov demonstrated, Wilson had no compunction about venturing into waters beyond his officially acknowledged expertise. But perhaps it was just such recklessness that Qumran research required - the perspective of an outsider, a man capable of establishing some kind of overview. In any case, Wilson, in 1955, wrote a lengthy article for the New Yorker on the Dead Sea Scrolls - an article which, for the first time, made the scrolls a 'household phrase' and generated interest in them from the general public. In the same year, Wilson expanded his article and published it as a book, The Scrolls from the Dead Sea.


Fourteen years later, in 1969, this text was expanded again, to encompass new material, and was reissued at virtually twice its former length. To this day, it remains one of the basic and most popular investigative works on the Qumran scrolls by an outsider. But even if Wilson was an outsider in the realm of biblical scholarship, he was certainly no mere amateur or dabbler; not even de Vaux's international team could impugn his integrity or 'high seriousness'. Wilson was thus able, on behalf of the literate public, to call them in some sense to account.

As early as 1955, Wilson detected a desire on the part of the 'experts' to distance the Qumran scrolls from both Judaism and Christianity.


The 'experts', it seemed to him, were protesting rather too vehemently, and this aroused his suspicions:

As soon as one sets out to study the controversies provoked by the Dead Sea Scrolls, one
becomes aware of a certain 'tension'... But the tension does not all arise from the at first much
disputed problems of dating, and the contention about the dating itself had, perhaps, behind it other
anxieties than the purely scholarly ones.1

Wilson stressed how much the scrolls had in common with both rabbinical Judaism, as it was emerging during the 1st century ad, and with the earliest forms of Christianity; and he noted a marked 'inhibition', on the part of both Judaic and Christian-oriented scholars, to make the often obvious connections:

One would like to see these problems discussed; and in the meantime, one cannot but ask oneself
whether the scholars who have been working on the scrolls - so many of whom have taken
Christian orders or have been trained in the rabbinical tradition - may not have been somewhat
inhibited in dealing with such questions as these by their various religious commitments... one
feels a certain nervousness, a reluctance, to take hold of the subject and to place it in historical

In accordance with scholarly decorum, Wilson is, of course, being tactful, couching a fairly serious charge in the most diplomatic of language.


He himself had no compunction about taking hold of the subject and placing it in historical perspective:

If, in any case, we look now at Jesus in the perspective supplied by the scrolls, we can trace a
new continuity and, at last, get some sense of the drama that culminated in Christianity... The
monastery [of Qumran]... is perhaps, more than Bethlehem or Nazareth, the cradle of

It is, alas, characteristic and typical of biblical scholarship, and particularly of scholarship associated with the scrolls, that such a connection should be made not by the 'experts' in the field, but by an astute and informed observer. For it was Wilson who gave precise and succinct expression to the very issues the international team endeavored so diligently to avoid.

These imputations about the bias of most biblical scholars were echoed to us personally by Philip Davies, Professor of Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield and author of two books on the Qumran material. As Professor Davies pointed out, most scholars working with the scrolls were - and, for that matter, still are - Christian-oriented, with a background primarily in the New Testament.


He knew a number, he said, whose research sometimes conflicted painfully with their most passionately held personal beliefs, and questioned whether objectivity, in such cases, was really possible. Professor Davies stressed the perennial confusion of theology with history. All too often, he said, the New Testament is taught not just as the former, but also as the latter - as a literal and accurate account of 1st-century events.


And if one takes the New Testament - the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles - as incontrovertible historical fact, it is impossible to do scholarly justice to the scrolls. Christian doctrine, in effect, 'dictates the agenda'.4

Because Edmund Wilson was an outsider, the international team could get away with adopting towards him an attitude of patroning condescension. He was too distinguished to be insulted or abused; but he could be ignored, or dismissed superciliously as an intelligent and well-intentioned amateur who simply did not understand the complexities and subtleties of the issues involved, and who, in his alleged naiveté, might make 'rash statements'.5


It was thus that many scholars were intimidated against saying what they actually believed. Academic reputations are fragile things, and only the most audacious or secure individuals could afford to incur the risk involved - the risk of being discredited, of being isolated by a concerted critical barrage from adherents of the consensus.

'The scrolls are a fief,' Shemaryahu Talmon, himself a prominent Israeli professor in the field, observed; and the scholars who monopolized them were, in effect, 'a cabal'.6

Not even such cabals, however, can be omnipotent in suppressing dissent. Edmund Wilson may have been an outsider, but deviation from the international team's consensus was beginning to surface within the cocooned sphere of biblical scholarship itself. As early as 1950, five years before Wilson's book, Andre Dupont-Sommer, Professor of Semitic Language and Civilization at the Sorbonne, had presented a public paper which caused a sensation.7


He addressed himself to one of the Qumran texts recently translated. It described, he explained to his audience, a self-styled 'Sect of the New Covenant', whose leader, known as the 'Teacher of Righteousness', was held to be a Messiah, was persecuted, tortured and martyred. The ‘Teacher's' followers believed the end of the world to be imminent, and only those with faith in him would be saved. And albeit cautiously, Dupont-Sommer did not shrink from drawing the obvious conclusion - that the 'Teacher of Righteousness' was in many ways ‘the exact prototype of Jesus'.8

These assertions provoked a squall of controversy and protest, Jesus' uniqueness and originality were held to be under attack, and the Catholic establishment, especially in France and the States, began to unleash its critical artillery. Dupont-Sommer himself was somewhat shaken by the reaction and, in subsequent statements, sought shelter behind more circumspect phraseology. Anyone who might have been inclined to support him was also, for a time, obliged to duck for cover. Yet the seed of doubt had been planted, and was eventually to bear fruit.


From the standpoint of Christian theological tradition, that fruit was to be particularly poisonous when it burgeoned amidst the international team themselves, in the very precincts of the Rockefeller Museum's 'Scrollery'.

1 Solomon Schecter surrounded by boxes of the manuscripts
he obtained from the Cairo geniza in 1896 and brought to Cambridge.

2 Muhammad adh-Dhib, (right)
who discovered the first cave of Dead Sea Scrolls.

3 Kando and George Isaiah, who first brought the scrolls
to the attention of the Metropolitan of the Syrian Church.

4 Professor Eleazar Sukenik, who in 1947
was the first Israeli scholar to obtain and translate some of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

5 A portion of one of the scrolls, the 'Habakkuk Commentary',
which tells of a battle between the leader of the Dead Sea community
and two opponents, the 'Liar' and the 'Wicked Priest'.

6                                                                                      7                     

6-7 Examples of scroll fragments purchased from the Bedouin after their identification and arrangement.
Few of these thousands of fragments can be pieced together precisely.

8 Father Josef Milik

9 Dr Frank Cross.

10 Excavations among the Qumran ruins:
Father de Vaux and Father Milik with Gerald Lankester Harding
of the Department of Antiquities.

11 One of the pots containing animal bones found during the excavations
and never satisfactorily explained. They appear to be the remains of sacred meals.

12                                                                                                                            13
12-13 The Qumran ruins during one of the excavations
led by Father de Vaux and Gerald Lankester Harding.

14 Professor H. Wright Baker of Manchester University cutting the 'Copper Scroll' into segments
in order for it to be translated. It proved to contain a list of treasures from the Temple of Jerusalem.

15 The unopened 'Copper Scroll', found broken into two sections in Cave 3 in 1952.

Among the scholars of Father de Vaux's original international team, perhaps the most dynamic, original and audacious was John Marco Allegro. Certainly he was the most spontaneous, the most independent-minded, the most resistant to suppression of material.


Born in 1923, he saw service in the Royal Navy during the war and in 1947 - the year the first Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered - entered Manchester University as an undergraduate studying Logic, Greek and Hebrew. A year later, he transferred to the honors course in Semitic Studies. He also developed an interest in philology, the study of the origins of language, its underlying structure and development.


Bringing his philological expertise to bear on biblical texts, he quickly became convinced that scripture could not be taken at face value and proclaimed himself an agnostic. In June 1951, he graduated with a BA, first-class honors, in Oriental Studies, and the following year received his MA for his thesis, 'A Linguistic Study of the Balaam Oracles in the Book of Numbers'.


In October of that year, he enrolled in the doctoral program at Oxford under the supervision of the distinguished Semitic scholar, Professor Godfrey R. Driver. A year later, Driver recommended him for the international team then being assembled by de Vaux, and Allegro was assigned the crucial material found in Cave 4 at Qumran. He departed for Jerusalem in September 1953. By that time, he had already published four acclaimed articles in academic journals - a track record more impressive than anyone else on the team could claim.

In 1956, Allegro published a popular book, The Dead Sea Scrolls, following this in 1968 with his own research on the texts and fragments from Cave 4 in the fifth volume of the definitive Oxford University Press series, Discoveries in the Judaean Desert. At this point, Allegro was one of the most esteemed and prestigious figures in the field of biblical scholarship. Yet within two years, he was to abandon his colleagues on the international team, turn his back upon the academic world and resign his university post at Manchester. He was also to be vilified and discredited. What had happened?

It quickly became clear, to the academic community in general as well as to the international team, that Allegro was the only one among them who was not only an agnostic, but also uninhibited about 'rocking the boat'.


Unconstrained by any personal religious bias, he explained things, often impetuously, as he saw them; and he rapidly lost patience with his colleagues' refusal to countenance any theories, or even evidence, that might contradict the accepted 'party line' on Christian origins. In particular, he grew exasperated with the strained attempts to distance Christianity from the scrolls and the Qumran community. He insisted on the obvious connection between the two, and suggested that connection might be closer than anyone had hitherto believed - or, at any rate, dared to suppose.

The first major storm occurred in 1956, when Allegro agreed to give a series of three short talks on the Dead Sea Scrolls, to be transmitted on radio in the north of England on 16, 23 and 30 January.


It was clear that he intended to accelerate the tempo of scroll research by injecting an element of excitement and controversy. 'I think we can look for fireworks', he wrote imprudently to John Strugnell, who was then in Jerusalem.9 That statement, as Allegro failed to appreciate, was bound to set alarm bells ringing in the Catholic-dominated 'Scrollery'. Oblivious of this, he went on to say that 'recent study of my fragments has convinced me that Dupont-Sommer is more right than he knew'.10


At the time, apparently, Strugnell was considering a career in the Church. Allegro quipped,

'I shouldn't worry about that theological job, if I were you: by the time I've finished there won't be any Church left for you to join.'11

Allegro's first and second broadcasts attracted little attention in Britain, but the second was written up by the New York Times, which misunderstood and misquoted him, yet generated a flurry of debate. The third talk, broadcast on 30 January, was followed on 5 February by an article in the New York Times which could not but cause a sensation.


'Christian bases seen in scrolls', the headline proclaimed:

The origins of some Christian ritual and doctrines can be seen in the documents of an extremist
Jewish sect that existed for more than 100 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. This is the
interpretation placed on the 'fabulous' collection of Dead Sea Scrolls by one of an international
team of seven scholars... John Allegro... said last night in a broadcast that the historical basis
of the Lord's Supper and part at least of the Lord's prayer and the New Testament teaching
of Jesus were attributable to the Qumranians.12

The same article hinted at trouble to come, quoting a Catholic scholar as saying that 'any stick now seems big enough to use against Christianity' provided it could be used 'to dislodge belief in the uniqueness of Jesus'.13


Allegro, in fact, was beginning to trespass on very sensitive territory indeed. On 6 February, Time Magazine ran an article entitled 'Crucifixion Before Christ'.


Two days later, The Times reported that three American religious leaders, one Jewish, one Catholic and one Protestant, had joined forces to refute Allegro and warn against any attempt to depict 'the Essenes' as precursors of Christianity.14


All this controversy was, of course, finding its way back to de Vaux, together with requests that something be done. Allegro, however, appears to have been almost naively insouciant. On 9 February, he wrote to de Vaux claiming he was 'being accused of saying the most astonishing things, some of which are true, and are indeed astounding, others come from the bosoms of eager reporters'.15

It is clear in retrospect that Allegro never fully realized how sacrosanct the idea of Jesus' 'uniqueness' was, and that, as a result, he underestimated the lengths to which de Vaux and other members of the international team would go in order to distance themselves from his blunt approach. This was his only real mistake, so far - that of expecting his colleagues to accept his assertions without letting their own religious allegiances influence their judgment. In his own view, he was addressing his material as a disinterested scholar, and hoped they might eventually do likewise. His innocent gibe that, by the time he'd finished, there'd be no Church left for Strugnell to join, testifies to his conviction of how important and conclusive he felt his material to be - and to his excitement at the discovery.

On 11 February, de Vaux wrote back to Allegro, distinctly unamused. All the texts available to Allegro, de Vaux said, were also available to the other members of the team in Jerusalem. They had failed to find anything that supported Allegro's interpretation.

In his reply, on 20 February, Allegro attempted to stand his ground and at the same time repair the rift with his colleagues and defuse the public controversy:

'You will excuse me if I think that everyone in the world is going stark, raving mad. I am enclosing my broadcast talks, as you request, and if, after reading them, you are left wondering what all the fuss is about, you will be in precisely my position.'16

Noting that Strugnell and Milik were alleged to be preparing rebuttals of his statements, he commented,

'I am not waging any war against the Church, and if I were, you may rest assured I would not let any loopholes in... I stand by everything I said in my three talks but I am quite prepared to believe that there may be other interpretations of my readings.'17

On 4 March, de Vaux replied, warning Allegro that a rebuttal was indeed being prepared. It would not be just from Strugnell and Milik, however. Neither would it be confined to a scholarly journal. On the contrary, it would take the form of a letter to The Times in London and would be signed by all the members of the international team.

Instead of being intimidated, Allegro was defiant.


Not mincing words, he responded that a letter to The Times 'should be most interesting to the London public, who have never heard my broadcasts':

I have already pointed out to you that these broadcasts were made on the local Northern station...

You and your friends are now apparently going to draw the attention of the gutter press of this
country to these passages, of which neither they nor the majority of their readers have heard, and
start a witch hunt... I congratulate you. What will certainly happen is that the press, scenting
trouble, will descend like hawks on me and want to know what it is all about... they will have
added fuel in what appears on the face of it to be a controversy developing between the
ecclesiastics of the Scroll team and the one unattached member.18

He went on to invoke Edmund Wilson, indicating just how worried de Vaux's team should be by the suspicions Wilson had voiced. In effect, he was attempting to use Wilson as a deterrent:

Having regard to what Wilson has already said about the unwillingness of the Church to tackle
these texts objectively, you can imagine what will be made out of this rumpus.

With all respect I must point out to you that this nonsense of Wilson's has been taken seriously
here. At every lecture on the Scrolls I give, the same old question pops up: is it true that the
Church is scared
... and can we be sure that everything will be published. That may sound silly
to you and me, but it is a serious doubt in the minds of ordinary folk... I need hardly add what
effect the signatures of three Roman priests on the bottom of this proposed letter will have.19

It seems clear that, by this time, Allegro was becoming nervous. On 6 March, he wrote to another member of the international team, Frank Cross, who had just been offered an appointment at Harvard University:

'I am awfully pleased about Harvard. Not only because this Christianity business is played out. '20

But in the same letter, he admitted that the barrage of criticism was wearing him down and that he was feeling, both physically and mentally, 'at the end of my tether'. Certainly he had no desire to see the publication of a letter which alienated him publicly from the other members of the team and, by so doing, impugned his credibility.

By now, of course, it was too late.


On 16 March 1956, the letter duly appeared in The Times, signed by Strugnell as well as by Fathers de Vaux, Milik, Skehan and Starcky, most of the team's 'big guns':

There are no unpublished texts at the disposal of Mr Allegro other than those of which the
originals are at present in the Palestine Archaeological Museum where we are working. Upon the
appearance in the press of citations from Mr Allegro's broadcasts we are unable to see in the
texts the 'findings' of Mr Allegro.

We find no crucifixion of the 'teacher', no deposition from the cross, and no 'broken body of
their Master' to be stood guard over until Judgment Day. Therefore there is no 'well-defined
Essenic pattern into which Jesus of Nazareth fits', as Mr Allegro is alleged in one report to have
said. It is our conviction that either he has misread the texts or he has built up a chain of
conjectures which the materials do not support.21

To publish this sort of accusation - especially in a letter to The Times - is remarkable behavior. It patently reflects a conclave of academics 'ganging up' on one of their own members.


Forced on to the defensive, Allegro replied with a letter to The Times of his own, which explained and justified his position:

In the phraseology of the New Testament in this connection we find many points of resemblance
to Qumran literature, since the sect also were looking for the coming of a Davidic Messiah who
would arise with the priest in the last days. It is in this sense that Jesus 'fits into a well-defined
messianic (not "Essenic" as I was wrongly quoted...) pattern'. There is nothing particularly new
or striking in the idea.22

It is a reasonable enough statement, a legitimate correction of an important misquotation. It also indicates how eager Allegro's colleagues were to 'jump on him', to find an excuse for discrediting him. In any case, Allegro added,

'It is true that unpublished material in my care made me more willing to accept certain suggestions made previously by other scholars on what have appeared ... to be insufficient grounds.'23

The bickering and ill-feeling continued until finally, on 8 March 1957, Allegro wrote angrily to Strugnell:

You still do not seem to understand what you did in writing a letter to a newspaper in an attempt
to smear the words of your own colleague. It was quite unheard of before, an unprecedented case
of scholarly stabbing in the back. And, laddie, don't accuse me of over-dramatizing the business. I
was here in England... Reuters' man that morning on the 'phone to me was classic: 'But I
thought you scholars stuck together!...'


And when it was realized that in fact you were quoting
things I never even said, the inference was plain. This letter was not in the interests of scholarly
science at all, but to calm the fears of the Roman Catholics of America... And what it all boiled
down to was that you guys did not agree with the interpretation I put on certain texts - where I
have quite as much chance of being right as you.


Rather than argue it out in the journals and
scholarly works, you thought it easier to influence public opinion by a scurrilous letter to a
newspaper. And you have the neck to call it scholarship. Dear boy, you are very young yet, and
have much to learn.24

As we have already noted, Allegro was the first of the international team to publish all the material entrusted to his charge. He remains the only one to have done so. John Strugnell, on the other hand, in accordance with the 'go-slow' policy of the team, has published virtually nothing of the substantial materials at his disposal. The only major work to which he did address himself, entitled 'Notes in the Margin', comprises 113 pages of criticism of Allegro, which Eisenman labels a 'hatchet-job'.

In the meantime, the damage had been done. The letter to The Times signed by de Vaux and three other ecclesiastics effectively gave free rein to the Catholic propaganda machine. Opprobrium and vilification intensified. In June 1956, for example, a Jesuit commentator published in the Irish Digest an article entitled 'The Truth about the Dead Sea Scrolls'.


He attacked Wilson, Dupont-Sommer and, especially, Allegro. He then went on to make the extraordinary statement that the,

'Scrolls add surprisingly little to our knowledge of the doctrines current among the Jews from, say, 200 BC to the Christian era'.25

He concluded in positively inflammatory fashion:

'It was not from such a sect that "Jesus learned how to be Messiah"... Rather, it was from soil such as this that sprang the thorns which tried to choke the seed of the Gospel.'26

Allegro was now being portrayed not merely as an erring scholar, but as a veritable Antichrist.


While this controversy was still raging around him, Allegro was already becoming involved in another. The new bone of contention was to be the so-called 'Copper Scroll', found in Cave 3 at Qumran in 1952. As we have noted, the two fragments that made up the 'Copper Scroll' remained unopened for three and a half years. Speculation was rife about their contents. One researcher attempted to read the indentations showing through the copper and visible on the outside of the roll. It seemed to say, he suggested, something about treasure. This suggestion elicited a salvo of derision from the international team. It proved, however, to be quite correct.

In 1955, a year before his public dispute with his colleagues on the international team, Allegro had discussed the problem of the 'Copper Scroll' with Professor H. Wright-Baker of Manchester College of Technology. Wright-Baker devised a machine that could slice the thin copper into strips, thus rendering the text legible. The first of the two fragments was accordingly sent to Manchester, in Allegro's care, in the summer of 1955.


Wright-Baker's machine performed its task, and Allegro quickly embarked on a translation of what had been revealed. The contents of the fragment proved so extraordinary that he kept them initially wholly to himself, not even divulging them to Cross or Strugnell, both of whom wrote to beg for details. His reticence cannot have improved his relations with them, but Allegro was in fact waiting for the second fragment of the scroll to arrive in Manchester.


Any partial or premature disclosure, he felt, might jeopardize everything. For what the 'Copper Scroll' contained was a list of secret sites where the treasure of the Temple of Jerusalem was alleged to have been buried.

The second fragment was received in Manchester in January 1956. It was quickly sliced open and translated. Both fragments, along with accompanying translations, were then returned to Jerusalem. Only then did the real delays begin. De Vaux and the international team were worried about three things.

Their first concern was valid enough. If the contents of the scroll were made public and stories of buried treasure began to circulate, the Bedouin would be digging up the entire Judaean desert, and much of what they found might disappear for ever or elude scholarly hands and slip into the black market. Something of this sort was, in fact, already occurring. On discovering or learning of a potentially productive site, the Bedouin would set up a large black tent over it, loot it, pick it clean and sell their plunder privately to antique dealers.

De Vaux and the international team were also worried that the treasure inventoried in the 'Copper Scroll' might actually exist - might be a real treasure rather than an imaginary one. If it were indeed real, it would inevitably attract the attention of the Israeli government, who would almost certainly lay claim to it. Not only might this remove it from the authority of the international team. It might also trigger a major political crisis; for while Israel's claim might be legitimate enough, much of the treasure, and the scroll specifying its location, would have been found in Jordanian territory.

If the treasure were real, moreover, there were theological grounds for concern. De Vaux and the international team had been intent on depicting the Qumran community as an isolated enclave, having no connection with public events, political developments or the 'mainstream' of 1st-century history.


If the 'Copper Scroll' did indeed indicate where the actual contents of the Temple lay hidden, Qumran could no longer be so depicted. On the contrary, connections would become apparent between Qumran and the Temple, the centre and focus of all Judaic affairs. Qumran would no longer be a self-contained and insulated phenomenon, but an adjunct of something much broader - something that might encroach dangerously on the origins of Christianity. More disturbing still, if the 'Copper Scroll' referred to a real treasure, it could only be a treasure removed from the Temple in the wake of the AD 66 revolt. This would upset the 'safe' dating and chronology which the international team had established for the entire corpus of scrolls.

The combination of these factors dictated a cover-up. Allegro at first colluded in it, assuming that delays in releasing information about the 'Copper Scroll' would only be temporary. In consequence, he agreed not to mention anything of the scroll in the book he was preparing - his general introduction to the Qumran material, scheduled to be published by Penguin Books later in 1956. In the meantime, it was arranged, Father Milik would prepare a definitive translation of the 'Copper Scroll', which Allegro would follow with another 'popular' book pitched to the general public.

Allegro had consented to a temporary delay in releasing information about the 'Copper Scroll'. He certainly didn't expect the delay to prolong itself indefinitely. Still less did he expect the international team to defuse the scroll's significance by dismissing the treasure it inventoried as purely fictitious. When Milik proceeded to do so, Allegro did not at first suspect any sort of conspiracy.


In a letter to another of his colleagues, dated 23 April 1956, he gave vent to his impatience, but remained excited and optimistic, and referred to Milik with cavalier disdain:

Heaven alone knows when, if ever, our friends in Jerusalem are going to release the news of the
copper scroll. It's quite fabulous (Milik thinks literally so, but he's a clot). Just imagine the agony of
having to let my [book] go to the press without being able to breathe a word of it.27

A month later, Allegro wrote to Gerald Lankester Harding, in charge of the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, and de Vaux's colleague. Perhaps he already sensed something was in the wind and was trying to circumvent de Vaux personally, to appeal to an alternative and non-Catholic authority.


In any case, he pointed out that as soon as the press release pertaining to the 'Copper Scroll' was issued, reporters would descend en masse. To deal with this contingency, he suggested that Harding, the international team and everyone else involved close ranks and adopt a 'party line' towards the media. On 28 May, Harding, who had been warned and briefed by de Vaux, wrote back.


The treasure listed in the 'Copper Scroll', he said, didn't appear to be connected with the Qumran community at all. Nor could it possibly be a real cache - the value of the items cited was too great. The 'Copper Scroll' was merely a collation of 'buried treasure' legends.28 Four days later, on 1 June, the official press release pertaining to the 'Copper Scroll' was issued. It echoed Harding's assertions. The scroll was said to contain 'a collection of traditions about buried treasure'.29

Allegro appears to have been stunned by this duplicity.


On 5 June, he wrote to Harding,

'I don't quite follow whether this incredible "traditions" gag you and your chums are putting out is for newspaper, government, Bedu or my consumption. Or you may even believe it, bless you.'30

At the same time, however, he was still appealing to Harding as a possible ally against the phalanx of Catholic interests. Did not Harding think, he asked, that,

'a bit more ready information on these scroll matters might not be a good idea? It's well known now that the copper scroll was completely open in January, and despite your attempts to squash it, it is also known that my translation went to you immediately... A little general information... saves a good deal of rumor-mongering, which has now taken on a somewhat sinister note.'31

He adds that,

'the feeling would get around that the Roman Catholic brethren of the team, by far in the majority, were trying to hide things'.32

The same point is stressed in a letter to Frank Cross in August:

'In lay quarters it is firmly believed that the Roman Church in de Vaux and Co. are intent on suppressing this material.'33

To de Vaux personally, he observed dryly,

'I notice that you have been careful to keep it dark that the treasure is Temple possessions.'34

Allegro had originally believed a full translation of the text of the 'Copper Scroll' would be released fairly promptly. It must now have been clear to him that this wasn't going to occur. In fact, four years were to pass before a translation of the text appeared, and then it was published by Allegro himself, who by that time had lost all patience with the international team.


He still would have preferred to publish his popular book after the 'official' translation, scheduled to be done by Father Milik, and was led to believe this would be possible. Milik's translation, however, was suddenly and unexpectedly subject to further delays, which may well have been deliberate. Allegro was asked to postpone his own publication accordingly. At one point, indeed, this request, transmitted through an intermediary, appears to have been attended by threats - from a member of the team whose name cannot be divulged for legal reasons.


Allegro replied that,

'As conveyed to me, the request was accompanied by the expression of some rather strange sentiments originating, it was said, from yourself and those for whom you were acting. There appeared even to be some forecast of consequences were I not to accede to this request.'35

The recipient of this letter wrote back sweetly that Allegro must not imagine himself the victim of persecution.36 Thus, when Allegro went ahead with his own publication, he found himself in the embarrassing position of seeming to have pre-empted the work of a colleague. In effect, he had been maneuvered into providing the international team with further ammunition to use against him - and, of course, to alienate him further from them. Milik's translation, in fact, did not appear until 1962 - two years after Allegro's, six years after the 'Copper Scroll' had been sliced open in Manchester and ten years after it had been discovered.

In the meantime, The Dead Sea Scrolls - Allegro's popular book on the Qumran material, from which all mention of the 'Copper Scroll' had been withheld - had appeared in the late summer of 1956, some five months after the controversy surrounding his radio broadcasts. The controversy, and especially the letter to The Times, had, as Allegro predicted, ensured the book's success.


The first edition of forty thousand copies sold out in seventeen days, and Edmund Wilson reviewed it enthusiastically on the BBC. The Dead Sea Scrolls, now in its second edition and nineteenth printing, continues to be one of the best introductions to the Qumran material. De Vaux did not see it that way, and sent Allegro a lengthy critique. In his reply, dated 16 September 1956, Allegro stated that 'you are unable to treat Christianity any more in an objective light; a pity, but understandable in the circumstances'.37


In the same letter, he draws attention to a text among the scrolls which refers to the 'son of God':

You go on to talk blithely about what the first Jewish-Christians thought in Jerusalem, and no one
would guess that your only real evidence - if you can call it such - is the New Testament, that
body of much worked-over traditions whose 'evidence' would not stand for two minutes in a court
of law... As for... Jesus as a 'son of God' and 'Messiah' - I don't dispute it for a moment; we
now know from Qumran that their own Davidic Messiah was reckoned a 'son of God', 'begotten'
of God - but that doesn't prove the Church's fantastic claim for Jesus that he was God himself.

There's no 'contrast' in their terminology at all - the contrast is in its interpretation.38

After everything that had passed, Allegro would have been extremely naive to assume that he could still be accepted by his erstwhile colleagues as a member of their team. Nevertheless, that was precisely what he seems to have done. In the summer of 1957, he returned to Jerusalem and spent July, August and September working on his material in the 'Scrollery'.


From his letters of the time, it is clear that he did indeed feel himself part of the team again and had no doubt that all was well. In the autumn, he traveled back to London and arranged with the BBC to make a television program on the scrolls. In October, he returned to Jerusalem with producer and film crew.


They immediately went to see Awni Dajani, Jordanian curator of the Rockefeller Museum and one of Allegro's closest friends. The next morning, Dajani took them round 'to get things moving with de Vaux'.


In a letter of 31 October to Frank Cross, whom he still assumed to be his ally, Allegro described the ensuing events:

We foregathered... and explained what we hoped to do, only to be met with a blank refusal by
De V. to collaborate in any way. We stared open-mouthed for some time, and then Dajani and the
producer started trying to find out what it was all about. The whole thing was a complete knock-
out because, as far as I was aware I had left my dear colleagues on the best of terms - or pretty
much so.


Certainly no bitterness on my side about anything. But De Vaux said that he had called a
meeting of 'his scholars' and that they had agreed to have nothing to do with anything I had
anything to do with! My pal the producer then took the old gent outside and explained in words of
one syllable that we were avoiding any controversial matter at all in the program on the religious
side, but he (de Vaux) was quite adamant. He said that whereas he could not stop us taking
pictures of the monastery at Qumran, he would not allow us in the Scrollery or the Museum

Allegro described himself as still flummoxed. Awni Dajani, however, was beginning to get annoyed. He apparently saw the program as 'a very definite boost for Jordan - antiquities and tourism', and declared a preparedness to assert his authority.


He was, after all, an official representative of the Jordanian government, whom not even de Vaux could afford to defy:

as soon as it became clear to my dear colleagues that even without them the program was
going forward... they started putting their cards on the table. It was not the program they
objected to, only Allegro... They then called in a taxi at our hotel and made the producer an
offer - if he would drop Allegro completely, and have Strugnell as his script writer, or Milik, they
would collaborate... Then one day, after we had returned from an exhausting day at Qumran,
Awni phoned to say that when he had got in it was to find a note (anonymous) waiting for him,
offering £150 to him to stop us going to Amman and photographing in the Museum there.40

In the same letter, Allegro tried to persuade Cross to appear in the program. After consulting with de Vaux, Cross refused. By now, the penny had pretty much dropped for Allegro and he knew precisely where he stood in relation to his former colleagues.


On the same day that he wrote to Cross, he had also written to another scholar, a man who was not officially a member of the international team but had been allowed to work with the scrolls. Allegro repeated the account of his contretemps and then added that he was 'starting a campaign, very quietly for the moment, to get the scrollery clique broken up and new blood injected, with the idea of getting some of the stuff Milik, Strugnell and Starcky are sitting on, published quickly in provisional form'.41


Two months later, on 24 December 1957, he wrote to the same scholar saying that he was worried:

From the way the publication of the fragments is being planned, the non-Catholic members of the
team are being removed as quickly as possible... In fact, so vast is Milik's, Starcky's and
Strugnell's lots of 4Q [Cave 4 material], I believe that they should be split up immediately and new
scholars brought in to get the stuff out quickly.... a dangerous situation is

fast developing where the original idea of an international and

interdenominational editing group is being bypassed.


All fragments are brought first to De V. or Milik, and, as with cave Eleven,

complete secrecy is kept over what they are till long after they
have been studied by this group.42

This report is extremely disquieting. Scholars outside the international team have suspected that some form of monitoring and selection was taking place. Here, Allegro confirms these suspicions. One can only wonder what might have happened to any fragment that held doctrines opposed to that of the Church.

Allegro then outlined his own plan, part of which involved 'inviting scholars who can spare six months or a year at least to come to Jerusalem and take their place in the team':

I believe that a rule should be laid down that preliminary publications must be made immediately
the document is collected as far as it seems possible, and that a steady stream of these
publications should be made in one journal... This business of holding up publication of fragments
merely to avoid the 'deflowering' of the final volume seems to me most unscholarly, as is the
business of keeping competent scholars away from the fragments... There was perhaps good
reason... when we were in the first stages of collecting the pieces. But now that most of this
work is done, anybody can work over a document and publish it in at least provisional form.43

One may not immediately sympathize with Allegro as his personality manifests itself through his letters - cavalier, impudent, cheerfully iconoclastic. But it is impossible not to sympathize with the academic integrity of his position.


He may indeed have been egocentric in his conviction that his particular interpretation of the Qumran material was valid and important. But the statements quoted above constitute an appeal on behalf of scholarship itself -an appeal for openness, honesty, accessibility, impartiality. Unlike de Vaux and the international team, Allegro displays no propensity for either secrecy or self-aggrandizement. If he is conspiring, he is conspiring only to make the Dead Sea Scrolls available to the world at large, and quickly enough not to betray the trust reposed in academic research. Such an aspiration can only be regarded as honorable and generous.

Allegro's honor and generosity, however, were not to be rewarded, or even recognized. The film, completed by the end of 1957, was not transmitted by the BBC until the summer of 1959, and then only in a late-night slot which attracted a minimal audience. By that time, understandably enough, Allegro was beginning to grow uneasy.


On 10 January 1959, after the latest in a long series of postponements, he wrote to Awni Dajani:

Well, they've done it again. For the fifth time the BBC have put off showing that TV program
on the Scrolls... There can be no reasonable doubt now that De Vaux's cronies in London are
using their influence to kill the program, as he wished... De Vaux will stop at nothing to
control the Scrolls material. Somehow or other he must be removed from his present controlling
position. I am convinced that if something does turn up which affects the Roman Catholic dogma,
the world will never see it. De Vaux will scrape the money out of some or other barrel and send
the lot to the Vatican to be hidden or destroyed...44

After repeating what he'd come increasingly to see as a viable short-term solution - nationalization of the Rockefeller Museum, the 'Scrollery' and the scrolls by the Jordanian government - he reveals the sense of punctilio to which he'd previously felt subject: 'I might even let out an instance or two when information has been suppressed - but I'll only do that if De Vaux looks like winning.'45


In 1961, King Hussein appointed Allegro honorary adviser on the scrolls to the government of Jordan. The post, however, though prestigious enough, entailed no real authority.


It was not until November 1966, five years later, that the Jordanian government finally acted on Allegro's suggestion and nationalized the Rockefeller Museum. By then, as we have seen, it was too late. Within the year, the Six Day War was to erupt, and the museum, the 'Scrollery' and its contents all passed into Israeli hands; and Israel, as we have noted, was too much in need of international support to risk a head-on confrontation with the Vatican and the Catholic hierarchy. Only four years before, Pope John XXIII had officially and doctrinally exculpated the Jews of any responsibility for Jesus' death, and excised all vestiges of anti-Semitism from Roman Catholic Canon Law.


No one wished to see this sort of conciliatory work undone.

By that time, too, Allegro was understandably weary and disillusioned with the world of professional scholarship. For some time, he had been anxious to leave academia and sustain himself solely as a writer. He was also eager to return to his original chosen field, philology, and had spent some five years working on a book which derived from what he regarded as a major philological breakthrough.


The result of his efforts appeared in 1970 as The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross - the work for which Allegro today is most famous, and for which he is almost universally dismissed.

The argument in The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross rests on complicated philological premises which we, like many other commentators, find difficult to accept. That, however, is incidental. Scholars tend all the time to expound their theories based on premises of varying validity, and they are usually, at worst, ignored, not publicly disgraced.


What turned The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross into a scandal were Allegro's conclusions about Jesus. In attempting to establish the source of all religious belief and practice, Allegro asserted that Jesus had never existed in historical reality, was merely an image evoked in the psyche under the influence of an hallucinatory drug, psilocybin, the active ingredient in hallucinogenic mushrooms.


In effect, he argued, Christianity, like all other religions, stemmed from a species of psychedelic experience, a ritualistic rite de passage promulgated by an orgiastic magic mushroom cult.

Taken separately, and placed in a different context, Allegro's conclusions would probably not have provoked the storm they did. Certainly reputable scholars before Allegro had questioned, and doubted, the existence of an historical Jesus. Some of them, for that matter, still do, though they are in a minority. And there is little dispute today that drugs - psychedelic and of other kinds -were used to at least some extent among the religions, cults, sects and mystery schools of the ancient Middle East - as indeed they were, and continue to be, across the world.


It is certainly not inconceivable that such substances were known to, and perhaps employed by, lst-century Judaism and early Christianity. One must also remember the climate and atmosphere of the late 1960s. Today, in retrospect, one tends to think in terms of the so-called 'drug culture' - in terms of a facile ersatz mysticism, of Ken Kesey and his 'Merry Pranksters', of Tom Wolfe and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, of hippies thronging the streets of San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury, staging 'love-ins' and 'be-ins' in Golden Gate Park.


That, however, is only one side of the picture, and tends to eclipse the very real excitement and expectation that psychedelia generated even in more sophisticated and disciplined minds - the conviction, shared by many scientists, neurologists, biochemists, academicians, psychologists, medical practitioners, philosophers and artists, that humanity was indeed on the verge of some genuine epistemological 'breakthrough'.

Books such as Huxley's The Doors of Perception enjoyed enormous currency, and not just among the rebellious young. At Harvard, Timothy Leary, with his proclamations of a 'new religion', still possessed in those days a considerable measure of credibility. In The Teachings of Don Juan, Castañeda had produced not just a best-selling book, but also an acclaimed academic dissertation for the University of California.


Psychedelic substances were routinely used in both medicine and psychotherapy. Divinity students in Boston conducted a service under the influence of LSD, and most of them said afterwards they had indeed experienced an intensified sense of the sacred, a greater rapprochement to the divine. Even the MP Christopher Mayhew, later Minister of Defense, voluntarily appeared stoned on the nation's television screens, beaming beatifically at his interviewer, wearing the seraphically celestial smirk of a man newly promoted to sagehood.


One can see why the academic and critical establishment recoiled in alarm from Allegro's book, even though Allegro himself repudiated the mentality of Haight-Asbury and never himself smoked or drank.

All the same, and even if not for the reasons usually cited, The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross was a distinctly unorthodox book, and effectively compromised Allegro's credibility as a scholar. Its reviewer in The Times, for example, became personal, embarking on an amateur psychoanalysis of Allegro in order to debunk him.46 Allegro's own publishers publicly apologized for issuing the book, cravenly admitting it to be 'unnecessarily offensive'.47


In a letter to The Times on 26 May 1970, fourteen prominent British scholars repudiated Allegro's conclusions.48


The signatories included Geza Vermes of Oxford, who'd concurred with much of Allegro's previous work on the Qumran material, and who was soon to echo his complaints about the international team's delays. The signatories also included Professor Godfrey Driver, Allegro's former mentor, who had formulated a more radical interpretation of the Qumran texts than Allegro himself had ever attempted.

Allegro continued to bring the attention of the public to the delays in the publication of the scrolls.


In 1987, a year before his death, he declared the international team's delays to be 'pathetic and inexcusable', and added that his former colleagues, for years, 'have been sitting on the material which is not only of outstanding importance, but also quite the most religiously sensitive':

There is no doubt... that the evidence from the scrolls undermines the uniqueness of the
Christians as a sect... In fact we know damn all about the origins of Christianity. However,
these documents do lift the curtain.49

By this time, the initiative had passed into the hands of the next generation of scholars and Allegro had left the world of scroll scholarship to pursue his research on the origins of myth and religion.


His works subsequent to The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross were moderate enough, but for most readers, as well as for the academic establishment, he was to remain an 'exile', the man who, in the sneering words of The Times, had 'traced the source of Christianity to an edible fungus'.50 He died suddenly in 1988, no longer accepted by his colleagues, but still energetic, enthusiastic about his own philological work in progress, and optimistic. It must have been some consolation for him to see, before his death, that his defiance of the international team, and his concern about their delays in releasing material, were already being echoed by others.

In 1956, Edmund Wilson had favorably reviewed Allegro's 'popular' book on the Dead Sea Scrolls. In 1969, when he brought out the new edition of his own book, it had swollen to twice its former length. The situation regarding the scrolls was no longer, for Wilson, merely a question of 'tension' and 'inhibition'; it had now begun to assume the proportions of a cover-up and a scandal:

'I have been told by a Catholic scholar that at first, in regard to the scrolls, a kind of official policy tended to bias scholarship in the direction of minimizing their importance.'51

By the mid-1970s, biblical scholars were beginning to speak openly of a scandal. Even the most docile began to have their worries, and the international team were alienating men who had no desire to engage in academic controversy. Among the most prominent names in contemporary Semitic scholarship, for example, is that of Dr Geza Vermes, who has, since 1951, been publishing books and articles on the scrolls. Initially, he had no quarrel with the international team and their work. Like many others, however, he gradually began to lose patience with the delays in publication.


In 1977, he published a book, The Dead Sea Scrolls: Qumran in Perspective, in the first chapter of which he publicly flung down the gauntlet:

On this thirtieth anniversary of their first coming to light the world is entitled to ask the authorities
responsible for the publication of the Qumran scrolls... what they intend to do about this
lamentable state of affairs. For unless drastic measures are taken at once, the greatest and the
most valuable of all Hebrew and Aramaic manuscript discoveries is likely to become the academic
scandal par excellence of the twentieth century

True to form, the international team did not deign to take any notice.


Nearly a decade later, in 1985, Dr. Vermes again called them to account, this time in the Times Literary Supplement:

Eight years ago I defined this situation as 'a lamentable state of affairs' and warned that it was
'likely to become the academic scandal par excellence of the twentieth century' unless drastic
measures were taken at once. Regrettably, this has not happened and the present chief editor of
the fragments has in the meantime gone on the record as one who rejects as unjust and
unreasonable any criticism regarding the delay.53

In the same statement, Dr Vermes praised Yigael Yadin, who had just died, for the promptitude with which he'd ushered into print the Qumran material in his possession:

'But it is also a reminder to us all, especially to those who have been tardy in responding to the challenge of their privileged task, that time is running out.'54

In his desire to avoid undignified controversy, Dr. Vermes neglected to pursue the matter further. As before, the international team took no notice whatever of his comments. For Dr. Vermes, the situation must be particularly galling. He is a recognized expert in the field. He has published translations of such scrolls as have found their way into the public domain - through Israeli auspices, for example. He is certainly as competent to work on unpublished Qumran material as any member of the international team, and is probably better qualified than most. Yet for the whole of his distinguished academic career, access to that material has been denied him. He has not even been allowed to see it.

In the meantime, valuable evidence continues to remain under wraps. We ourselves can personally testify to vital material which, if it has not exactly been suppressed, has not been made public either. In November 1989, for example, Michael Baigent visited Jerusalem and met with members of the current international team. One of them was Father Emile Puech, the young 'crown prince' of the Ecole Biblique, who 'inherited' the scroll fragments previously assigned to Father Jean Starcky.


These included material labeled 'of unknown provenance'. In personal conversation, Father Puech divulged three important discoveries:

  1. He had apparently found new overlaps between the scrolls and the Sermon on the Mount, including fresh and significant references to 'the poor in spirit'.55

  2. In the Epistle of Barnabas, an apocryphal Christian text mentioned as early as the 2nd century ad, Puech had found a quotation hitherto untraced, attributed to an 'unknown prophet'. The quotation, in fact, proved to have come directly from one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, thus establishing that the author of the Epistle of Barnabas was a member of, or had access to, the Qumran community and its teachings. Here was an incontrovertible link between Qumran and Christian tradition.

  3. In the work of the 2nd-century Christian writer Justin Martyr, Puech found yet another quotation deriving directly from the Qumran scrolls.

'We are not hiding anything,' Puech insisted adamantly. 'We will publish everything.'56

To our knowledge, however, none of the revelations confided by Puech in conversation has yet appeared in print, and there seems no immediate likelihood of their doing so.


On the other hand, there has been a recent 'leak' which offers some indication of the kind of material still being suppressed. This 'leak' surfaced in 1990, in the pages of BAR, and was confided, apparently, by an unnamed scholar whose conscience was troubling him. It consists of a Qumran fragment very similar to a passage in Luke's Gospel. Referring to Jesus' imminent birth, Luke (1:32-5) speaks of a child who will be called 'Son of the Most High' and 'Son of God'.


The Qumran fragment from Cave 4 also speaks of the coming of someone who,

'by his name shall ... be hailed [as] the son of God, and they shall call him 'Son of the Most High'.57

This, as BAR points out, is an extraordinary discovery, 'the first time that the term "Son of God" has been found in a Palestinian text outside the Bible'.58


Whatever the circumstances pertaining to the release of this fragment, it derives from the corpus of material hitherto controlled, and rigorously withheld, by the 'elusive' Father Milik.


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