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
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
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
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
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
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
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
'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
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
'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:
world will see the manuscripts when I have done the necessary
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
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
Norman Golb of the University of Chicago
Z.J. Kapera of
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
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 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
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'
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
'Controversy is the lifeblood of scholarship,' Professor Talmon
declared at the very beginning of Baigent's meeting with him.18
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
It was generally accepted, she said, that,
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
'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
She wasn't even sure that OUP covered its costs on
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
' 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.