Opposing the Consensus
Edmund Wilson, John Allegro and Geza Vermes all condemned the
international team for secrecy, for procrastination and delay in
releasing Qumran material and for establishing a scholarly monopoly
over the Dead Sea Scrolls. Wilson and Allegro both challenged the
team's laboured attempts to distance the Qumran community from
so-called 'early Christianity'.
In other respects, however, all
three scholars concurred with the consensus of interpretation
established by the international team. They accepted, for example,
the team's dating of the Dead Sea Scrolls as being pre-Christian.
They also accepted the team's contention that the members of the
Qumran community were Essenes. And they accepted that the supposed
Essenes at Qumran were of the traditional kind described by Pliny,
Philo and Josephus - ascetic, reclusive, pacifist, divorced from the
mainstream of social, political and religious thought.
Christianity were indeed somehow connected with the Qumran
community, it therefore emerged as less original than had hitherto
been believed. It could be seen to have drawn on Qumran, just as it
was acknowledged to have drawn on 'conventional' Old Testament
Judaism. Apart from that, there was no particular reason to modify
one's image or conception of it.
By the 1960s, however, scholarly opposition to the international
team's consensus had begun to arise from another quarter. Its
questioning of that consensus was to be much more radical than
anything submitted by Wilson, Allegro or Vermes. It was to challenge
not only the dating of the Qumran scrolls as established by the
international team, but also the allegedly Essene character of the
Qumran community. The men responsible for this criticism were Cecil
Roth and Godfrey Driver.
Cecil Roth was perhaps the most prominent Jewish historian of his
era. After serving with the British Army during the First World War,
he had obtained his doctorate from Merton College, Oxford, as an
historian. For some years, he was Reader in Jewish Studies at Oxford
- the post now occupied by Geza Vermes. He was a prolific writer,
with more than six hundred publications to his credit. He was also
editor-in-chief of the Encyclopaedia judaica. He commanded enormous
respect in the academic world, and was recognized especially for his
expertise in Judaic history.
Godfrey Driver was a figure of comparable academic stature. He, too,
had served with the British Army during the First World War, seeing
action particularly in the Middle East. He, too, taught at Oxford,
at Magdalen College, becoming, in 1938, Professor of Semitic
Philology. Until 1960, he also did three stints as Professor of
Hebrew. He was joint director of the team which translated the Old
Testament for the New English Bible. As we have noted, he was John
Allegro's mentor, and recommended Allegro for the international
From the very first discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Professor
Driver had advocated caution about the early, pre-Christian dates
ascribed to them. In a letter to The Times on 23 August 1949, he
warned that the pre-Christian date ascribed to the Qumran scrolls
'seems likely to win general acceptance before being subjected to
In the same letter, he stated:
evidence... for a pre-Christian date is extremely precarious,
while all the internal evidence seems against it. '2
the risks of attributing too much accuracy to what he called
'external evidence' -to archaeology and paleography. He advocated,
rather, a scrutiny of the 'internal evidence' - the content of the
scrolls themselves. On the basis of such evidence, he was eventually
to conclude that the scrolls dated from the 1st century of the
In the meantime, Cecil Roth had been conducting his own research
and, in 1958, published the results in a work entitled The
Historical Background of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The historical
background, he argued, was not pre-Christian, but, on the contrary,
dated from the time of the revolt in Judaea, between AD 66 and 74.
Like Driver, Roth insisted that the texts of the scrolls themselves
were a more accurate guide than archaeology or paleography.
Availing himself of this guide, he developed a number of points that
not only ran counter to the international team's consensus, but must
also have outraged the Catholics among them. Citing textual
references in one of the scrolls, for instance, he demonstrated that
the 'invaders' regarded as adversaries by the Qumran community could
only be Romans - and, further, could only be Romans of the Empire,
of imperial rather than republican times.
He also demonstrated that
the militant nationalism and messianic fervor in many of the
scrolls had less in common with traditional images of the Essenes
than with the Zealots described by Josephus. He acknowledged that
the original community at Qumran might indeed have been established
by Essenes of the traditional kind, but if so, he contended, they
would have vacated the site when it was destroyed in 37 BC. Those
who occupied it subsequently, after 4 BC, and who deposited the
scrolls, would not have been Essenes at all, but Zealots.
his argument a step further, he then endeavored to establish links
between the Qumran community and the fierce defenders of Masada
thirty miles to the south.
Such assertions, needless to say, provoked indignant criticism from
Father de Vaux's team. One of de Vaux's associates, Jean Carmignac,
in reviewing Roth's book, complained that Roth 'does not miss any
occasion to closely link Masada and Qumran, but this is another
weakness of his thesis'.3 Even when, eight years later, Yigael Yadin,
in his excavations at Masada, found scrolls identical to some of
those discovered at Qumran, the international team refused to
consider Roth's thesis.
Quite clearly, some sort of connection had
to exist between Qumran and Masada, yet the team, their logic now
creaking painfully at the seams, insisted only one explanation was
possible - 'some' of the Essenes from Qumran must have deserted
their own community and gone to the defense of Masada, bringing
their sacred texts with them!
So far as Masada was concerned, Roth was, then, to be vindicated by
Yadin's excavations. But he was also quite capable of fighting his
own battles. In an article published in 1959, he focused
particularly on de Vaux's assertion, based on supposed
'archaeological evidence', that the scrolls could not have been
deposited any later than the summer of AD 68, when Qumran was 'taken
by the 10th Legion'.4 Roth demonstrated conclusively that the 10th
Legion, in the summer of AD 68, was nowhere near Qumran.5
Roth's arguments may have infuriated de Vaux's international team,
but they were shared by his colleague Godfrey Driver. The two worked
closely together, and in 1965 Driver published his massive and
detailed opus on the Qumran material, The Judaean Scrolls. According
to Driver, 'arguments to establish a pre-Christian date of the
Scrolls are fundamentally unsound'. The sole reasons for
establishing such a date were, he pointed out, paleographical, 'and
these cannot stand alone'.6
Driver agreed with Roth that the scrolls
referred to the period of the revolt in Judaea, between AD 66 and
74, and were thus 'more or less' contemporary with the New
Testament. He also concurred with Roth that the Qumran community
must have consisted of Zealots, not traditional Essenes. He
calculated that the scrolls could have been deposited at Qumran any
time between then and the end of the second revolt in Judaea, the
rebellion of Simeon bar Kochba between AD 132 and 135.
scathing about the scholarship of the international team, as
exemplified especially by de Vaux.
Roth and Driver were both famous, acknowledged, 'heavyweights' in
their respective historical fields, who could not be ignored or
cavalierly dismissed. Their prestige and their learning could not be
impugned or discredited. Neither could they be isolated. And they
were too skilled in academic controversy to put their own necks into
a noose, as Allegro had done. They were, however, vulnerable to the
kind of patronizing condescension that de Vaux and the international
team, closing ranks in their consensus, proceeded to adopt.
Driver, august though they might be, were portrayed as out of their
element in the field of Qumran scholarship. Thus, de Vaux, reviewing
Driver's book in 1967, wrote,
'It is a sad thing to find here once
more this conflict of method and mentality between the textual
critic and the archaeologist, the man at his desk and the man in the
Not, of course, that de Vaux spent so very much time 'in
the field' himself. As we have seen, he and most others on the
international team were content to remain ensconced in their 'Scrollery',
leaving the bulk of the fieldwork to the Bedouin. But the 'Scrollery',
it might be argued, was at least closer to Qumran than was Oxford.
Moreover, de Vaux and his team could claim first-hand familiarity
with the entire corpus of Qumran texts, which Roth and Driver,
denied access to those texts, could not. And while Roth and Driver
had questioned the international team's historical method, they had
not actually confronted its excessive reliance on archaeology and
Archaeology and paleography appeared to be the team's strengths,
allowing de Vaux to conclude his review of The Judaean Scrolls by
stating, confidently and definitively, that 'Driver's theory ... is
impossible'.8 He could also, by invoking archaeology and paleography, dazzle other figures in the field and effectively
hijack their support. Thus Professor Albright was persuaded to weigh
in against Driver, whose thesis, Albright declared, 'has failed
Its failure, Albright went on, derived from,
skepticism with regard to the methodology of archaeologists,
numismatists, and paleographers. Of course, he [Driver] had the bad
luck to run into head-on collision with one of the most brilliant
scholars of our day - Roland de Vaux... '9
Moving on to the offensive, the international team and their
colleagues continued to bombard Roth and Driver with increasingly
contemptuous criticism. Both, as Eisenman has observed, 'were
ridiculed in a manner unbecoming their situation and with such
ferocity as to make one wonder'.10 No one dared support them.
dared risk the wrath of the now solidly entrenched consensus.
the scholarly sheep', as Eisenman says, 'fell into line.'11
as Roth and Driver were concerned, their interests and reputations
weren't confined exclusively to Qumran research. In consequence,
they simply retired from the arena, not deeming it worthwhile to
pursue the matter further. That this should have been allowed to
happen testifies to the timidity and docility of other researchers
in the field. It remains a black mark in the record of Qumran
If the international team had exercised a monopoly before, their
position now appeared to be unassailable. They had outmaneuvered two
of their most potentially formidable adversaries, and their triumph
seemed to be complete. Roth and Driver had been driven to silence on
the subject. Allegro had been discredited. Everyone else who might
pose a threat had been intimidated into compliance. By the late
1960s and early 1970s, the hegemony of the international team was
By the mid-1980s, such opposition as existed to the international
team was scattered and disorganized. Most of it found expression in
the United States, through a single journal, Biblical Archaeology
Review. In its issue for September/October 1985, BAR reported a
conference on the Dead Sea Scrolls held at New York University the
previous May. It repeated the statement by Professor Morton Smith
made at that conference:
'I thought to speak on the scandals of the
Dead Sea documents, but these proved too numerous, too familiar, and
too disgusting.12 It observed that the international team were
'governed, so far as can be ascertained, largely by convention,
tradition, collegiality and inertia'.13
And it concluded:
The insiders, the scholars with the text assignments (T.H. Gaster,
professor emeritus of Barnard College, Columbia University, calls these insiders 'the charmed
circle'), have the goodies - to drip out bit by bit. This gives them status, scholarly power and a
wonderful ego trip. Why squander it? Obviously, the existence of this factor is controversial and
BAR called attention to the residue of frustration and resentment
built up among scholars of proven ability who had not been admitted
to the 'charmed circle'. It also, by implication, called attention
to the benefits reaped by institutions such as Harvard University,
where both Cross and Strugnell were stationed and where 'pet'
graduate students were granted access to Qumran material while far
more experienced and qualified researchers weren't.
BAR ended its
report by calling for 'immediate publication of photographs of the
unpublished texts',15 echoing Morton Smith, who asked his colleagues
'request the Israeli government, which now has ultimate authority
over those scroll materials, immediately to publish photographs of
all unpublished texts so that they will then be available to all
That Smith's exhortation was ignored again bears witness to academic
faint-heartedness. At the same time, it must be mentioned that
Smith's exhortation was unfortunate in that it implicitly passed the
blame from the international team, the real culprits, to the Israeli
government, which had more immediate problems on its hands.
Israelis had kept their side of the bargain, made in 1967, that the
international team would be allowed to retain their monopoly,
provided they published; the international team had not. Thus, while
the Israeli government might have been irresponsible in letting the
situation continue, it was not to blame for the situation itself. As Eisenman soon came to
realize, most Israelis - scholars and
journalists alike, as well as government figures - were appallingly
ignorant about the true situation, and, it must be said, indifferent
Through this ignorance and indifference, an outdated status
quo had been allowed to continue intact.
In 1985, however, the same year as the conference reported by BAR, a
well-known Israeli MP, Yuval Ne'eman, began to take an interest in
the matter, and in the process showed himself to be surprisingly
well briefed. Ne'eman was a world-famous physicist, Professor of
Physics and head of the Physics Department at Tel Aviv University
until 1971, when he became President of the university.
that he had been a military planner, one of those responsible for
evolving the basic strategic thinking of the Israeli Army. Between
1961 and 1963, he had been scientific director of the Soreq Research
Establishment, the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission. Ne'eman raised
the issue of the scrolls in the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament,
declaring it a 'scandal' that the Israeli authorities had not
reviewed or updated the situation - that the international team had
been left with a mandate and monopoly dating from the former
It was this challenge that finally forced the
Israeli Department of Antiquities to investigate how and why an
enclave of Catholic-oriented scholars should exercise so complete
and exclusive a control over what was, in effect, an Israeli state
The Department of Antiquities proceeded to confront the
international team on the question of publication. What accounted
for the procrastination and delays, and what kind of timetable for
publication could reasonably be expected? The director of the team
at the time was Father Benoit, who on 15 September 1985 wrote to his
In this letter, a copy of which is in our possession,
he reminded them of Morton Smith's call for immediate publication of
photographs. He also complained (as if he were the aggrieved party)
about the use of the word 'scandal', not just by Morton Smith, but
by Ne'eman as well, in the Knesset. He went on to state his
intention of recommending John Strugnell as 'chief editor' of future
publications. And he requested a timetable for publication from each
member of the team.
Compliance with Father Benoit's request was dilatory and patchy. The
Department of Antiquities, prodded by Ne'eman, wrote to him again on
26 December 1985, repeating its request for a report and for answers
to the questions it had raised.18 One cannot be sure whether Benoit
based his reply on reliable information received from his
colleagues, or whether he was simply improvising in order to buy
But he wrote to the Department of Antiquities promising
definitively that everything in the international team's possession
would be published within seven years - that is, by 1993.19 This
timetable was submitted, in writing, as a binding undertaking, but
of course no one took it seriously, and in personal conversation
with us, Ne'eman stated he had heard 'on the grapevine' that the
timetable was generally regarded as a joke.20 It has certainly
proved to be so. There is no prospect whatever of all the Qumran
material, or even a reasonable part of it, appearing by 1993.
even the whole of the material from Cave 4 has been published.
Following Allegro's volume for Discoveries in the Judaean Desert
back in 1968, only three more have been issued, in 1977, 1982 and
1990, bringing the total number of volumes to eight.
Nonetheless, the intensifying pressure engendered panic among the
international team. Predictably enough, a search began for a
scapegoat. Who had brought the Israeli government into the affair?
Who had briefed Ne'eman and enabled him to raise the issue in the
Knesset? Perhaps because of the repetition of the word 'scandal',
the team concluded Geza Vermes to have been responsible. In fact,
Vermes had had nothing whatever to do with the matter. It was Robert Eisenman who had briefed Ne'eman.
Eisenman had learned from the omissions of Roth and Driver. He
appreciated that the entire edifice of the international team's
consensus rested on the supposedly accurate data of archaeology and
paleography. Roth and Driver had correctly dismissed these data as
irrelevant, but without confronting them. Eisenman resolved to
challenge the international team on their own terrain - by exposing
the methodology and demonstrating that the resulting data were
He opened his campaign with the book that first brought him to our
attention, Maccabees, Zadokites, Christians and Qumran, published by
EJ. Brill in Holland in 1983. In this book, he posed the first
serious challenge the international team had yet encountered to
their archaeology and paleography. In his introduction, he
explicitly flung down the gauntlet to the 'small group of
specialists, largely working together' who had 'developed a
Given the text's limited audience and circulation, of
course, the international team could simply ignore the challenge.
Indeed, the likelihood is that none of them read it at the time, in
all probability dismissing it as a piece of ephemera by an upstart
Eisenman, however, refused to let his efforts be consigned to
oblivion. By 1985, his second book, James the Just in the Habakkuk
Pesher, had appeared in Italy, ironically under the imprint of one
of the Vatican presses, Tipographia Gregoriana. It carried an
Italian preface, and the next year, with some additions and a
revised appendix, was brought out by EJ. Brill. That same year,
Eisenman was appointed Fellow-in-Residence at the prestigious
Albright Institute in Jerusalem. Here he began working behind the
scenes to acquaint the Israeli government with the situation and
raise the scrolls on their agenda of priorities.
The international team's stranglehold, he realized, could not be
broken solely through decorous or even strident protests in learned
journals. It would be necessary to bring external pressure to bear,
preferably from above. Accordingly, Eisenman met and briefed
Professor Ne'eman, and Ne'eman then forced the issue in the Knesset.
Later that year, Eisenman himself approached Father Benoit, and
verbally requested access to the scrolls. Predictably enough, Benoit
politely refused, adroitly suggesting that Eisenman should ask the
Israeli authorities, and implying that the decision was not his to
make. At this point, Eisenman was still unaware of the stratagems
employed by the international team to thwart all applicants who
wanted access to the scrolls. He was not, however, prepared to be
excluded so easily.
All scholars during their tenure on the staff of the Albright
Institute give one lecture to the general public. Eisenman's lecture
was scheduled for February 1986, and he chose as his subject 'The
Jerusalem Community and Qumran', with the provocative subtitle
'Problems in Archaeology, Palaeography, History, and Chronology'. As
in the case of his book on James, the title itself was calculated to
strike a nerve. In accordance with custom, the Albright Institute
sent invitations to all important scholars in the field in
Jerusalem, and it was a matter of courtesy for sister institutions,
like the French Ecole Biblique, to be represented. Five or six
turned up, a higher number than usual.
Since they were unfamiliar with Eisenman and his work, they may not
have expected anything out of the ordinary. Gradually, however,
their complacency began to crumble, and they listened to his
arguments in silence.* They declined to ask any questions at the end
of the lecture, leaving without extending the usual courtesy of
congratulations. For the first time, it had become apparent to them
that in Eisenman they faced a serious challenge. True to form, they
ignored it, in the hope, presumably, that it would go away.
* For an outline of Eisenman's remarks, see Chapter 10, Science in
the Service of Faith.
The following spring, one of Eisenman's friends and colleagues,
Professor Philip Davies of Sheffield University, arrived in
Jerusalem for a short stay. He and Eisenman went to discuss with
Magen Broshi, director of the Shrine of the Book, their desire to
see the unpublished scroll fragments still sequestered by the
Broshi laughed at what apparently struck him as
a vain hope:
'You will not see these things in your lifetime,' he
In June, towards the end of his stay in Jerusalem, Eisenman
was invited to tea at the house of a colleague, a professor at the
Hebrew University who would later become a member of the Israeli
'Scroll Oversight Committee'. Again he took Davies with him. A
number of other academics, including Joseph Baumgarten of Baltimore
Hebrew College, were present, and early in the evening John Strugnell - Allegro's old adversary and subsequently the head of the
international team - made his appearance.
Boisterous and apparently
intent on confrontation, he began to complain about 'unqualified
people' importunately demanding access to the Qumran material. Eisenman responded on cue. How did Strugnell define 'qualified'? Was
he himself 'qualified'? Aside from his supposed skills in analyzing
handwriting, did he know anything about history? Ostensibly, it was
all a half-joking, more or less 'civilized' debate, but it was
growing ominously personal.
The next year, 1986-7, Eisenman spent at Oxford, as Senior Scholar
at the Oxford Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies and visiting
Member of Linacre College. Through contacts in Jerusalem, he had
been given two secret documents. One was a copy of a scroll on which
Strugnell was working, part of his 'private fiefdom'.
written apparently by a leader of the ancient Qumran community and
outlining a number of the community's governing precepts, is known
by those in the field as the 'MMT' document. Strugnell had shown it
around at the 1985 conference, but had not published it.23 (Nor has
he yet, though the entire text comes to a mere 121 lines.)
The second document was of more contemporary significance. It
comprised a computer print-out, or list, of all Qumran texts in the
hands of the international team.24 What made it particularly
important was that the international team had repeatedly denied that
any such print-out or list existed. Here was definitive proof that
vast quantities of material had not yet been published and were
Eisenman had no hesitation about what to do:
Since I had decided that one of the main problems between scholars,
which had created this
whole situation in the first place, was over-protectiveness and
jealously guarded secrecy, I decided
to circulate anything that came into my hands without conditions.
This was the service I could
render; plus, it would undermine the international cartel or
monopoly of such documents.25
Eisenman accordingly made available a copy of the 'MMT' document to
anyone who expressed a desire to see it. These copies apparently
circulated like wildfire, so much so that a year and a half later he
received one back again from a third party who asked if he had seen
it. He could tell by certain notations that this was one of the
copies that he had originally allowed to circulate.
The print-out, like the 'MMT' document, was duly circulated,
producing precisely the effect Eisenman had anticipated. He made a
particular point of sending a copy of it to Hershel Shanks of BAR,
thus providing the journal with ammunition to renew its campaign.
By this time, needless to say, Eisenman's relations with the
international team were deteriorating. On the surface, of course,
each maintained with the other a respectable academic demeanor of
frosty civility. They could not, after all, publicly attack him for
his actions, which had been manifestly disinterested, manifestly in
the name of scholarship. But the rift was widening between them; and
it wasn't long before a calculated attempt was made to freeze him
In January 1989, Eisenman visited Amir Drori, the newly appointed
director of the Israeli Department of Antiquities. Drori
inadvertently reported to Eisenman that he was about to sign an
agreement with the team's new chief editor, John Strugnell.
According to this agreement, the team's monopoly would be retained.
The previous deadline for publication, accepted by Father Benoit, Strugnell's predecessor, was to be abrogated. All remaining Qumran
material was to be published not by 1993, but by 1996.26
Eisenman was naturally appalled. Attempts to dissuade Drori,
however, proved futile. Eisenman left the meeting determined to
employ a new and more drastic stratagem. The only means of bringing
pressure to bear on both the international team and on the
Department of Antiquities, and perhaps stop Drori from proceeding
with the contract, would be Israel's High Court of Justice, which
dealt with miscarriages of justice and private appeals from
Eisenman explored the question with lawyers. Yes, they concluded,
the High Court might be persuaded to intervene. In order for it to
do so, however, Eisenman would have to present it with proof of a
miscarriage of justice; he would have to show, preferably in
writing, that access to the scrolls by a legitimate scholar had been
refused. At the time, no such record existed - not, at least, in the
legalistic sense the Court would require.
Other scholars had, of
course, been refused access to the scrolls; but some of them were
dead, others were scattered across the world, and there was none of
the required documentation. Strugnell would therefore have to be
approached with a series of new requests for access to specific
materials - which, as a foregone conclusion, he would refuse. Now
that Eisenman had the catalogue numbers, his task would be easier.
Not wishing to make this request alone, Eisenman felt it would be
more impressive if he enlisted the support of others. He approached
Philip Davies of Sheffield, who agreed to support him in what both
recognized would be only the first shot of a prolonged engagement
fought through the Israeli High Court.
On 16 March 1989, the two
professors submitted a formal letter to John Strugnell.
requested access to certain original fragments, and photographs of
fragments, found at the Qumran site designated Cave 4, and listed in
the computer print-out which Eisenman had leaked into circulation.
In order to preclude any misunderstanding, they cited the reference
numbers assigned by the print-out to the photographic negatives.
They also requested access to a number of scroll commentaries, or
commentary fragments, related to the primary text. They offered to
pay all costs involved and promised not to publish any definitive
transcription or translation of the material, which would be used
only in their own research.
They promised, too, to abide by all the
normal procedures of copyright law.
In their letter, Eisenman and Davies acknowledged the time and
energy expended over the years by the international team - but, they
said, they felt the team had 'already been adequately compensated'
by enjoying such long and exclusive access to the Qumran material.
They stated that thirty-five to forty years was long enough for
other scholars to have waited for similar access, without which 'we
can no longer make meaningful progress in our endeavors'.
Surely your original commission was to publish these materials as
quickly as possible for the
benefit of the scholarly community as a whole, not to control them.
It would have been different,
perhaps, if you and your scholars had discovered these materials in
the first place. But you did not;
they were simply assigned to you...... The situation as it now stands is abnormal in the extreme.
Therefore, as mature scholars at
the height of our powers and abilities, we feel it is an imposition
upon us and a hardship to ask us
to wait any longer for the research availability of and access to
these materials forty years after
Eisenman and Davies expected Strugnell to refuse their requests.
Strugnell, however, did not bother to reply at all. On 2 May,
therefore, Eisenman wrote to Amir Drori - who earlier that year had
renewed the international team's monopoly with the publication
deadline of 1996.
Eisenman enclosed a copy of the letter to
Strugnell, mentioning that it had been posted to both of Strugnell's
addresses, at Harvard and in Jerusalem.
Of Strugnell's failure to
reply, he wrote:
'Frankly, we are tired of being treated
contemptuously. This kind of cavalier treatment is not really a new
phenomenon, but is part and parcel of the process that has been
going on for 20-30 years or more . . ,'28
Since Strugnell would not grant access to the Qumran material,
Eisenman requested that Drori, exercising a higher authority, should
do so. He then made two particularly important points. As long as
the international team continued to control the Qumran texts, it
would not be sufficient merely to speed up the publication schedule.
Nothing short of free scholarly access would be satisfactory - to
check the international team's conclusions, to allow for variations
in translation and interpretation, to discern connections the team
themselves might perhaps have overlooked:
We cannot be sure... that they have exhausted all possible
fragments in relation to a given
document or that they are putting fragments together in proper
sequence. Nor can we be sure if
the inventories are in fact complete and that fragments may not have
been lost, destroyed or
overlooked in some manner or for some reason. Only the whole of the
community working together can assure this.29
The second point would appear, at least with hindsight, to be
self-evident. The international team insisted on the importance of
archaeology and paleography. It was on the basis of their
supposedly accurate archaeological and paleographical studies, as
Eisenman had explained, that dates for the Qumran texts had been
posited - and accepted.
Yet the texts themselves had been subject
only to carbon-dating tests in use at around the time of the
scrolls' discovery - tests which were very clumsy and consumed much
manuscript material. Lest too much text be lost, therefore, only
some of the wrappings found in the jars had been tested. These
confirmed a date of around the beginning of the Christian era.
of the texts had been tested by the more recent techniques of
Carbon-14 dating, even though Carbon-14 dating had now been refined
by the newer AMS (Accelerator Mass Spectroscopy) technique. Little
material would now be lost in the process and greater accuracy could
be achieved. Eisenman therefore suggested that Drori exercise his
authority and perform new, up-to-date tests.
He also recommended
that outsiders be brought into the process to keep it fair. He
concluded his letter with a passionate appeal:
'Please act to
release these materials to interested scholars who need them to
proceed with professional research without prejudice and without
distinction immediately. '30
No doubt prompted by Drori, Strugnell, in Jerusalem at the time, at
last replied on 15 May. Despite the fact that Eisenman's letter to
him had been posted to his address at both Harvard and Jerusalem, he
blamed the delay on its having been sent to 'the wrong country'.31
According to BAR,
'Strugnell's imperious reply to Eisenman's request
for access displays extraordinary intellectual hauteur and academic
In it, he declares himself 'puzzled' as to why Eisenman and Davies showed their letter to 'half the Who's Who of
Israel'. He accuses them of not having followed 'acceptable norms'
and refers to them as 'lotus-eaters', which, in Strugnell's
Mandarin, presumably denotes Californians, though why this term
should apply to Philip Davies at Sheffield is an open question.
Strugnell contrives not just to deny Eisenman's and Davies's request
for access, but also to dodge each of the salient points they had
raised. He advises them to take as their example the way 'such
requests have been handled in the past' and go through established
channels - ignoring the fact that all such requests 'in the past'
had been denied. He also complains that the print-out Eisenman and
Davies had used to cite reference numbers of photographic negatives
was old and out of date.
He neglects to mention that this print-out,
not to mention any new one, had been unavailable to non-members of
the international team until Eisenman put it into circulation.33
Eisenman responded to Strugnell's brush-off by going as public as he
By the middle of 1989, the issue had become a cause
célèbre in American and Israeli newspapers, and, to a lesser degree,
was picked up by the British press as well. Eisenman was extensively
and repeatedly quoted by the New York Times, the Washington Post,
the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, Time Magazine and
Canada's Maclean's Magazine.
He stressed five major points:
That all research on the Dead Sea Scrolls was being unfairly
monopolized by a small enclave
of scholars with vested interests and a biased orientation.
That only a small percentage of the Qumran material was finding
its way into print and that
most of it was still being withheld.
That it was misleading to claim that the bulk of the so-called
'biblical' texts had been released,
because the most important material consisted of the so-called
'sectarian' texts - new texts,
never seen before, with a great bearing on the history and religious
life of the 1st century.
That after forty years, access to the scrolls should be made
available to all interested scholars.
That AMS Carbon-14 tests, monitored by independent laboratories
and researchers, should
immediately be conducted on the Qumran documents.
As was perhaps inevitable, once the media had begun to
sensationalize it, the affair quickly degenerated, with Eisenman
being misquoted on two separate occasions, and a barrage of
invective coming from both sides. But behind the clash of egos, the
central issue remained unresolved.
As Philip Davies had written in
Any archaeologist or scholar who digs or finds a text but does not
pass on what has been found
deserves to be locked up as an enemy of science. After forty years
we have neither a full and
definitive report on the dig nor a full publication of the