5 - Academic Politics and Bureaucratic Inertia

Early in 1989, Eisenman had been invited to present a paper at a conference on the scrolls to be held at the University of Groningen that summer. The organiser and chairman of the conference was the secretary of the journal Revue de Qumran, the official organ of the Ecole Biblique, the French-Dominican archaeological school in Jerusalem of which most of the international team were members or associates.

 

According to the arrangement, all papers presented at the conference would subsequently be published in the journal. By the time of the conference, however, Eisenman's conflict with the international team, and the ensuing controversy, had become public. It was not, of course, feasible to retract Eisenman's invitation. He was therefore allowed to present his paper, but its publication in Revue de Qumran was blocked.*

 

* The paper has since been published. See Eisenman, 'Interpreting "Abeit-Galuto in the Habakkuk Pesher', Folia orientalia, vol. xxvii (1990).

The chairman of the conference was deeply embarrassed, apologizing to Eisenman and explaining there was nothing he could do - his superiors, the editors of the journal, had insisted on excluding Eisenman's paper.1 Revue de Qumran had thus effectively revealed itself, not as a non-partisan forum for the spectrum of scholarly opinion, but as a species of mouthpiece for the international team.

The balance was, however, slowly beginning to tilt in Eisenman's favour. The New York Times, for example, had monitored the dispute throughout, and had assessed the arguments of the opposing factions.

 

On 9 July 1989, it pronounced its judgment in an editorial entitled 'The Vanity of Scholars':

Some works of scholarship, like the compilation of dictionaries, legitimately take a lifetime. But
with others, the reasons for delay can be less lofty: greed for glory, pride, or just plain old sloth.

Consider the sorry saga of the Dead Sea Scrolls, documents that might cast spectacular new
light on the early history of Christianity and the doctrinal evolution of Judaism.

The scrolls were discovered in 1947, but many that are in fragments remain unpublished.

More than 40 years later, a coterie of dawdling scholars is still spinning out the work while the
world waits and the precious pieces lapse into dust.

Naturally, they refuse to let others see the material until it is safely published under their
names. The publication schedule of J.T. Milik, a Frenchman responsible for more than 50
documents, is a source of particular frustration to other scholars...

Archaeology is particularly vulnerable to scholars who gain control of materials and then
refuse to publish them.2

Despite the unseemly squabbling, the clack and crack of ruptured amour proper, the fustian and umbrage and general high dudgeon, Eisenman's arguments were now beginning to carry weight, to convince people. And there was also another development, of comparable importance. The 'outsiders' - the adversaries of the international team - were beginning to organize, to consolidate their efforts and conduct conferences of their own. In the months following the editorial in the New York Times, there were to be two such conferences.

The first of these was arranged by Professor Kapera of Krakow, with the aid of Philip Davies, and took place at Mogilany, Poland. It produced what became known as the 'Mogilany Resolution', with two main demands: that 'the relevant authorities' in Israel should obtain photographic plates of all unpublished scrolls, and that these should be supplied to Oxford University Press for immediate publication; and that the data obtained from de Vaux's excavations at Qumran between 1951 and 1956, much of which had not yet appeared, should now be issued in definitive published form.

Seven and a half months later, a second conference was convened, on Eisenman's home territory, California State University at Long Beach. Papers were presented by a number of academics, including Eisenman himself, Professor Ludwig Koenen and Professor David Noel Freedman from the University of Michigan, Professor Norman Golb from the University of Chicago and Professor James M. Robinson from Claremont University, who had headed the team responsible for publishing the Nag Hammadi Scrolls.

 

Two resolutions were produced:

  • first, that a facsimile edition of all hitherto unpublished Qumran fragments should be issued immediately a necessary 'first step in throwing the field open to scholars irrespective of point of view or approach'

  • second, that a data bank of AMS Carbon-14 results on known manuscripts should be established, to facilitate the future dating of all previously undated texts and manuscripts, whether on papyrus, parchment, codex or any other material

None of these resolutions, of course, either from Mogilany or from Long Beach, was in any sense legally binding. In the academic community, however, and in the media, they carried considerable weight. Increasingly, the international team were finding themselves on the defensive; furthermore, they were beginning, albeit slowly, to give way.

 

Thus, for example, Milik, while the public battle raged, quietly passed over one text - the very text Eisenman and Davies had requested to see in their letter to Strugnell - to Professor Joseph Baumgarten of Hebrew College in Baltimore. Baumgarten, of course, who was now a member of the international team, characteristically refused to let anyone else see the text in question. Neither did Strugnell - who as head of the team was supposed to authorize and supervise such transactions - bother to inform Eisenman or Davies what had occurred.

 

But the mere fact that Milik was handing over material at all reflected some progress, some sense that he felt sufficiently pressured to relinquish at least part of his private fiefdom - and with it, some of the onus of responsibility.

More promising still, Milik, in 1990, surrendered a second text, this time to Professor James VanderKamm of North Carolina State University. VanderKamm, in a break with the international team's tradition, promptly offered access to other scholars.

'I will show the photographs to anyone who is interested in seeing them', he announced.3

Milik, not surprisingly, described VanderKamm's behaviour as 'irresponsible'.4 VanderKamm then withdrew his offer.

An important role in the campaign to obtain open access to the Dead Sea Scrolls was, as we have already indicated, played by Hershel Shank's journal, Biblical Archaeology Review. It was BAR that fired the opening salvo of the current media campaign, when in 1985 it published a long and hard-hitting article on the delays in releasing Qumran material. And when Eisenman obtained a copy of the computer print-out listing all the fragments in the international team's possession, he leaked this document to BAR. He thus furnished BAR with invaluable ammunition. In return, BAR was only too eager to provide publicity and an open forum.

As we have also noted, however, BAR's attack, at least in part, was directed at the Israeli government, whom it held as responsible for the delays as the international team themselves.5 Eisenman was careful to distance himself from BAR's position in this respect. To attack the Israeli government, he felt, was simply to divert attention from the real problem - the withholding of information.

Despite this initial difference of approach, however, BAR's contribution has been immense. Since the spring of 1989, in particular, the magazine has sustained a relentless, non-stop barrage of articles directed at the delays and deficiencies of Qumran scholarship and research. BAR's basic position is that, 'in the end the Dead Sea Scrolls are public treasures'.6

 

As for the international team:

'The team of editors has now become more an obstacle to publication than a source of information. '7

BAR has in general pulled very few punches and, indeed, often comes very close to the legal limits of what can be printed. And while Eisenman may not have shared BAR's eagerness to attack the Israeli government, there is no question that those attacks have helped to produce at least some results.

Thus, for example, the Israeli authorities were persuaded to assume some measure of authority over the unpublished Qumran material. In April 1989 the Israeli Archaeological Council appointed a 'Scroll Oversight Committee' to supervise the publication of all Qumran texts and ensure that the members of the international team were indeed fulfilling their assigned tasks. In the beginning, the creation of this committee may have been something of a cosmetic exercise, intended merely to convey the impression that something constructive was being done. In practice, however, as the international team have continued to drag their feet, the committee has assumed more and more power.

As we have noted, Father Benoit's timetable, according to which the whole of the Qumran material would be published by 1993, was superseded by Strugnell's new and (theoretically at least) more realistic timetable, with a deadline of 1996. Eisenman had remained profoundly skeptical of the team's intentions. BAR was more vociferous.

 

The 'suggested Timetable', the magazine proclaimed, was 'a hoax and a fraud'.8 It was not signed, BAR pointed out; it technically bound no one to anything; it made no provision whatever for progress reports or proof that the international team were actually doing their jobs. What would happen, BAR asked the Israeli Department of Antiquities, if the stipulated deadlines were not met?

The Department of Antiquities did not reply directly to this query, but on 1 July 1989, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Amir Drori, the department's director, issued what might be construed as a nebulous threat:

'For the first time, we have a plan, and if someone does not complete his work on time we have the right to deliver the scrolls to someone else. '9

Strugnell himself, however, in an interview with the International Herald Tribune, made clear how lightly he took such threats. 'We are not running a railroad',10 he said. And in an interview with ABC Television, he was even more explicit:

'If I don't meet [the deadline] by one or two years, I won't worry at all.'11

Milik, in the meantime, remained, as Time Magazine put it, 'elusive', although the magazine did manage to extract one characteristically arrogant statement from him:

'The world will see the manuscripts when I have done the necessary work.'12

Justifiably unappeased, BAR continued its campaign. In the ABC Television interview, Strugnell, with somewhat lumbering humor, and manifest contempt, had complained of the recent attacks to which he and his colleagues had been subjected.

'It seems we've acquired a bunch of fleas', he said, 'who are in the business of annoying us.'13

BAR promptly ran a signally unflattering photograph of Professor Strugnell surrounded by 'named fleas'. In addition to Eisenman and Davies, the 'named fleas' included:

  • Professors Joseph Fitzmyer of Catholic University

  • David Noel Freedman of the University of Michigan

  • Dieter Georgi of the University of Frankfurt

  • Norman Golb of the University of Chicago

  • Z.J. Kapera of Krakow

  • Philip King of Boston College

  • T.H. Gaster and Morton Smith of Columbia

  • Geza Vermes of Oxford University

BAR invited all other biblical scholars who wished to be named publicly as 'fleas' to write in. This invitation elicited a stream of letters, including one from Professor Jacob Neusner of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, author of a number of important works on the origins of Judaism and the formative years of Christianity.

 

Speaking of the international team's work, Professor Neusner described the history of the Dead Sea Scrolls scholarship as 'a monumental failure', which he attributed to 'arrogance and self-importance'.14

By the autumn of 1989, we had already begun to research this book and, in the process, to become embroiled, albeit quietly, in the controversy. On a trip to Israel to gather material and interview a number of scholars, Michael Baigent decided to check on the so-called 'Oversight Committee', recently formed to supervise the work of the international team. In theory, the committee might be anything.

 

On the one hand, it might be a 'paper tiger', a means of formally institutionalizing official inaction. On the other, it might offer a real possibility of power being taken from the international team and placed in more assiduous hands. Would the committee merely serve to cosmeticise further delays? Or did it possess both the authority and the will to do something constructive about the existing situation?

Among the individuals making up the committee were two members of the Israeli Department of Antiquities - Amir Drori, the department's head, and Mrs Ayala Sussman. Baigent had arranged initially to speak with Drori. On his arrival at the Department of Antiquities, however, he was urged to speak instead with Mrs Sussman, who presided over the sub-department in charge of the Qumran texts themselves. Drori, in other words, had a number of matters on his plate. Mrs Sussman's activities were focused more specifically on the scrolls.

The meeting with Mrs Sussman took place on 7 November 1989. She clearly, and perhaps understandably, regarded it as an unwelcome intrusion on her already busy schedule. While being scrupulously polite, she was also therefore impatient, dismissive and vague, vouchsafing few details, endeavoring to get the conversation over with as soon as possible. Baigent was also, of course, polite; but it proved necessary for him to become tiresomely insistent, conveying the impression that he was prepared to wait in the office all day unless some answers to his queries were forthcoming. Eventually, Mrs Sussman capitulated.

Baigent's first questions concerned the formation and purposes of the 'Oversight Committee'. Mrs Sussman, at that point, apparently regarding her interviewer not as a researcher with some background in the subject, but as a casual journalist skating on the surface of a story, imprudently confided that the committee had been formed to deflect criticism from the Department of Antiquities.

 

In effect, Baigent was given the impression that the committee had no real interest in the scrolls themselves, but was merely a species of bureaucratic screen.

What was its nominally official role, Baigent asked, and how much actual authority did it exercise? Mrs Sussman remained vague. The committee's job, she said, was to 'advise' Amir Drori, Director of the Department of Antiquities, in his dealings with Professor Strugnell, chief editor for any publication of Qumran material. The committee intended, she added, to work closely with Strugnell, Cross and other members of the international team, towards whom the Department of Antiquities felt an obligation.

'Some,' she declared, 'have gone very far with their work, and we do not want to take it away from them.'15

What about BAR's suggestion, Baigent asked, and the resolution adopted by the convention at Mogilany two months before - of making facsimiles or photographs available to all interested scholars? Mrs Sussman's gesture was that of a woman dropping an irrelevant letter into a wastepaper basket. 'No one discussed it seriously,' she said.

 

On the other hand, and somewhat more reassuringly, she stated that the new timetable, according to which all Qumran documents would be published by 1996, was correct. 'We can reassign,' she stressed, 'if, for example, Milik doesn't meet the dates.'16 Every text in Milik's possession, she emphasized, had been allocated a publication date in the schedule. At the same time, she acknowledged her sympathy for Strugnell's position. Her husband, she revealed, a professor of Talmudic studies, was helping Strugnell on the translation - all 121 lines of it - of the long-delayed 'MMT' document.

So far as Mrs Sussman was concerned, everything on the whole seemed to be in order and proceeding acceptably. Her chief preoccupation, however, seemed to be less the Qumran material itself than the adverse publicity directed at the Department of Antiquities. This profoundly disturbed her. The scrolls, after all, were 'not our job'. 'Why is it causing trouble?' she asked, almost plaintively. 'We have other, more important things to do.'17

Baigent, needless to say, left the meeting disquieted. It is accepted wisdom in Israel that if one wishes to bury a subject, one creates a committee to study it. And as a matter of historical fact, every previous official attempt to oversee the work of the international team had been circumvented by de Vaux and Benoit. Was there any reason to suppose the situation would change?

The following day, Baigent met with Professor Shemaryahu Talmon, one of two scholars at Hebrew University who were also members of the 'Oversight Committee'. Professor Talmon proved to be congenial company indeed - wry, witty, well-traveled, sophisticated.

 

Unlike Mrs Sussman, moreover, he seemed to have not only an overview of the problem, but a familiarity with its minutiae and details - and a manifest sympathy for independent scholars seeking access to the Qumran material. Indeed, he said, he had had difficulties himself in the past, had been unable to obtain access to original texts, had been obliged to work with transcriptions and secondary sources - whose accuracy, in some instances, had subsequently proved to be questionable.

'Controversy is the lifeblood of scholarship,' Professor Talmon declared at the very beginning of Baigent's meeting with him.18

He made it clear that he regarded his membership of the 'Oversight Committee' as a welcome opportunity to help change the situation. 'If it is only a watch-dog committee,' he said, 'then I shall resign.'19 The committee, he stressed, had to be able to achieve some concrete results if it was to justify its existence.

 

He acknowledged the problems confronted by the international team:

'Scholars are always under pressure and always take on too much. A deadline is always dead. '20

But, he added, if a particular researcher had more texts in his possession than he could effectively handle, he must pass some of them on. The committee would 'encourage' researchers to do precisely this. In passing, Talmon also mentioned that, according to rumor, there were still large fragments in the archives, hitherto unknown and yet to be assigned. This rumor was subsequently to prove correct.

Baigent asked Professor Talmon about the fuss resulting from Eisenman and Davies's requesting to see certain documents. Talmon said he was wholly in favour of access being granted them. There was, he stated, a 'need to help people in utilizing unpublished information. This is a legitimate demand.'21 The scrolls, he concluded, should be made available to all interested and qualified researchers. At the same time, he acknowledged that certain technical difficulties had to be sorted out.

 

These difficulties, which were now being taken in hand, fell under three headings: first, the now out-of-date and superseded catalogue needed revision and updating; second, there was still no full inventory of all the scrolls and scroll fragments, some of which were still unassigned ('the only person who knows what is where is Strugnell'); and finally, there was an urgent need for a general concordance encompassing all the known texts.

As for the timetable according to which everything would be published by 1996, Talmon was honestly doubtful. Quite apart from whether or not the international team met their deadlines, he queried whether Oxford University Press would be able to produce so many volumes in so short a time. Looking at the schedule, he observed that no fewer than nine volumes were due to appear between 1990 and 1993.

 

Could OUP cope with this? And could Strugnell handle the editing of so much while still pursuing his own research?

If they arose, however, these obstacles would at least be legitimate obstacles, not attributable to obstruction or deliberate withholding of material. They were, in effect, the only obstacles Talmon was prepared to tolerate. This was genuinely reassuring. In Talmon, the 'Oversight Committee' appeared to have a serious and responsible scholar who understood the problems, was determined to confront them and would not be deflected by obfuscation.

Baigent had learned that the 'Oversight Committee' was scheduled to meet the following day, at ten in the morning. He had therefore arranged a meeting for nine o'clock with Professor Jonas Greenfield, another member of the committee who was on the staff at Hebrew University. He put to Greenfield what had now become a routine question - would the 'Oversight Committee' 'have teeth'? 'We would like it to have teeth,' Greenfield replied, 'but they will have to grow.'22

 

Having nothing to lose, Baigent decided to put the cat among the pigeons. He repeated to Professor Greenfield what Ayala Sussman had said to him - that the committee had been formed primarily to deflect criticism from the Department of Antiquities. Perhaps this would elicit some reaction.

It most certainly did.

 

The next morning, Mrs Sussman telephoned Baigent. Sounding somewhat rattled at first, she stated she was annoyed with him for telling Professor Greenfield she had made so dismissive a remark. It wasn't true, she protested. She couldn't possibly have said anything like that.

'We are very keen,' she stressed, 'for this committee to do things.'23

Baigent asked if she wished him to read back to her his notes; when she said yes, he did so. No, Mrs Sussman insisted:

'The committee was formed to advise the Department [of Antiquities] on sensitive matters.'24

As for her dismissive remarks, she had thought she was speaking 'off the record'. Baigent replied that he had originally arranged his interview with Amir Drori, the department's director, in order to obtain, precisely for the record, a statement of official policy on the matter.

 

Drori had passed him on to Mrs Sussman, whom he had no reason to suppose was expressing anything other than the 'official line'. The interview, therefore, had been very much 'on the record'.

Baigent then became somewhat more conciliatory, explaining the grounds for his concern. The 'Oversight Committee', he said, was potentially the best thing that had happened in the whole sorry saga of Dead Sea Scroll research. It offered, for the first time, a genuine possibility of breaking the log-jam, of transcending academic squabbles and ensuring the release of texts which should have been made public forty years ago. It had thus been profoundly disconcerting to hear that this unique opportunity might be squandered, and that the committee might be no more than a bureaucratic mechanism for maintaining the status quo.

 

On the other hand, Baigent concluded, he had been reassured by his conversations with Professors Talmon and Greenfield, both of whom had expressed an inexpugnably sincere desire for the committee to be both active and effective.

 

Mrs Sussman now hastened to concur with her colleagues.

'We are very keen to get this moving,' she affirmed. 'We are searching for ways to do it. We want to get the whole project moving as fast as possible.25

Partly through the determination of Professors Talmon and Greenfield, partly through Mrs Sussman's embarrassment, the 'Oversight Committee' had been galvanised into some sort of resolve. There remained, however, the disquieting question raised by Professor Talmon - whether it was technically and mechanically possible for Oxford University Press to produce the stipulated volumes in accordance with Strugnell's timetable.

 

Had the timetable perhaps been drawn up in full knowledge that it couldn't conceivably be met? Might it perhaps have been just another tactic for delaying things, while at the same time absolving the international team of any blame?

On his return to the United Kingdom, Baigent telephoned Strugnell's editor at Oxford University Press. Was the schedule, he asked, feasible? Could eighteen volumes of Discoveries in the Judaean Desert be produced between 1989 and 1996? If a blanch could be audible over the telephone, Baigent would have heard one.

 

The prospect, Strugnell's editor replied, 'seems highly unlikely'. She reported that she'd just had a meeting with Strugnell. She'd also just had a fax on the matter from the Israeli Department of Antiquities.

 

It was generally accepted, she said, that,

'the dates were very vague. Each date was taken with a pinch of salt. We couldn't cope with more than two or three a year at the most.'26

Baigent reported that both the Department of Antiquities and the 'Oversight Committee' were worried about whether the timetable could be met.

'They are right to be worried about the dates,' the editor at OUP replied.27

She then expressed what sounded disturbingly like a desire to fob off the entire project. OUP, she said, felt no need to demand that the series be reserved wholly for themselves. Perhaps some other press - university or otherwise - might be interested in co-publication?

 

She wasn't even sure that OUP covered its costs on each volume.

During the last four months of 1990, developments pertaining to the international team and their monopoly began to occur with accelerating momentum. Criticism by scholars denied access to the Qumran material received increasing publicity and currency, and the Israeli government, it seems, was susceptible to the mounting pressure. This pressure was intensified by an article which appeared in November in Scientific American, fiercely castigating the delays and the general situation, and according independent scholars space in which to voice their grievances.

In mid-November, news broke that the Israeli government had appointed a Dead Sea Scroll scholar, Emmanuel Tov, to act as 'joint editor-in-chief of the project to translate and publish the entire corpus of Qumran material. This appointment was apparently made without consulting the existing editor-in-chief, John Strugnell, who was reported to have opposed it.

 

By that time, however, Strugnell was ill in hospital and not available for comment - or, it would seem, for any serious opposition. By that time, too, even his former colleagues, such as Frank Cross, were beginning to distance themselves from him and to criticize him publicly.

There were also other reasons for this sequence of events. Earlier in November, Strugnell, from his quarters at the Ecole Biblique, had given an interview to a journalist for Ha aretz, a leading Tel Aviv newspaper. The precise context of his remarks is not, at the moment, altogether clear; but the remarks themselves, as reported by the world's press, were hardly calculated to endear him to the Israeli authorities - and display, for a man in his position, what can only be described as a flamboyant lack of tact.

 

According to the New York Times of 12 December 1990, Strugnell - a Protestant convert to Catholicism - said of Judaism: 'It's a horrible religion. It's a Christian heresy, and we deal with our heretics in different ways.' Two days later, the Times contained more of Strugnell's statement: 'I think Judaism is a racist religion, something very primitive.

 

What bothers me about Judaism is the very existence of Jews as a group...

' According to London's Independent, Strugnell also said that the 'solution' - an ominous word - for Judaism was 'mass conversion to Christianity'.

In themselves, of course, these comments had no direct relevance to the question of Dead Sea Scroll scholarship, to the withholding of Qumran material from other researchers and the procrastination in its release. But such comments could hardly have been expected to enhance the credibility of a man responsible for the translation and publication of ancient Judaic texts.

 

Not surprisingly, a major scandal ensued. It was covered by British newspapers. It was a front-page item for newspapers in Israel, France and the United States. Strugnell's former colleagues, as gracefully but as hastily as possible, endeavored to disown him. By the middle of December, it was announced that he had been dismissed from his post - a decision in which, apparently, his former colleagues and the Israeli authorities had concurred.

 

Delays in publication and problems of health were cited as factors contributing to his dismissal.

 

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