II
THE VATICAN'S REPRESENTATIVES

 

 

6 - The Onslaught of Science

Until now, this book has referred to the 'villains of the piece' as 'the international team'. In our conversations with them, however, Robert Eisenman and others would often allude to the Ecole Biblique, the French-Dominican archaeological school in Jerusalem. Indeed, the 'international team' and the Ecole Biblique were frequently used interchangeably; and Allegro, too, in his letters, would refer to the international team as the 'Ecole Biblique gang'.

 

We wondered why this association should constantly be made. Why were the international team and the Ecole Biblique treated as though they were the same thing? What was the relationship between them? Was it formally defined and delineated? Was the international team 'officially' an adjunct of the Ecole Biblique? Or was the overlap between them so great as to render any distinction superfluous? With some advice and pointers from Eisenman, we endeavored to clarify the matter.

As we have noted, the international team, from its very beginnings, was dominated by Father de Vaux, then director of the Ecole Biblique, and by his close friend and disciple, the then Father Milik. As Allegro complained, both men would constantly arrogate first claim to all incoming texts:

'All fragments are brought first to De V. or Milik, and... complete secrecy is kept over what they are till long after they have been studied by this group.'1

Even Strugnell stated that when fresh material came in, Milik would invariably pounce on it, claiming it fell within the parameters of his own particular assignment.2

Not surprisingly, then, Milik ended up with the lion's share of the most important material - and particularly of the controversial 'sectarian' material. The creation of his monopoly was facilitated by the fact that he was permanently resident in Jerusalem at the time, along with two of his staunchest supporters, de Vaux and Father Jean Starcky.

 

Father Skehan, though not permanently resident in Jerusalem, threw his weight behind this triumvirate. So did Professor Cross - who had been assigned 'biblical' rather than 'sectarian' material anyway. Allegro, of course, cast himself in the role of rebel, but his opposition was hampered by the fact that he was in Jerusalem only intermittently. Of those residing in Jerusalem during the crucial period of excavation, purchase of material, allocation of texts and collation of fragments, only the young John Strugnell (who would hardly have challenged de Vaux anyway) was not Catholic - and he subsequently converted.

 

All the others were, in fact, Roman Catholic priests, attached to, and residing at, the Ecole Biblique. Among the other current members of the team or writers in the area of Qumran studies working at the Ecole are Father Emile Puech and Father Jerome Murphy-O'Connor.

It was not just by virtue of being on the spot that this Catholic conclave came to dominate Qumran scholarship. Neither, certainly, was it by virtue of any outstanding pre-eminence in the field. Indeed, there was no shortage of no less competent or qualified scholars who, as we have noted, were excluded. A major determining factor was the Ecole Biblique itself, which systematically undertook to establish for itself, as an institution, a position of unrivalled pre-eminence.

 

The Ecole had its own journal, for example, Revue biblique, edited by de Vaux, who published in its pages some of the most consequential and influential early articles on Qumran - articles bearing the stamp of first-hand authority. And in 1958, the Ecole launched a second journal, Revue de Qumran, devoted exclusively to the Dead Sea Scrolls and related matters. Thus the Ecole officially controlled the two most prominent and prestigious forums for discussion of Qumran material.

 

The Ecole's editors could accept or reject articles as they saw fit, and were thereby enabled to exert a decisive influence on the entire course of Qumran scholarship. This situation was inaugurated at the very inception of Qumran studies.

In addition to its publications, the Ecole created a special research library oriented specifically towards Qumran studies. A card index was compiled, which documented every book, every scholarly article, every newspaper or magazine report published on the Dead Sea Scrolls anywhere in the world. All publications on the subject were collected and filed in the library - which was not open to the general public. Although some of the secret, unclassified and still unassigned scroll material was kept at the Ecole, most of it was housed at the Rockefeller Museum. Nevertheless, the Rockefeller was reduced to the status of a mere 'workshop'.

 

The Ecole became the 'headquarters', the 'offices', the 'school' and the 'nerve centre'. Thus the Ecole contrived to establish itself as the de facto and generally recognized centre of all Qumran scholarship, the focus of all legitimate and academically respectable research in the field. The Ecole's 'stamp of approval' could, in effect, underwrite, certify and guarantee a scholar's reputation. Withholding such endorsement was tantamount to destroying a man's credibility.

Officially, of course, the studies over which the Ecole presided were supposed to be non-denominational, non-partisan, impartial, unbiased. The Ecole presented to the world a fašade of 'scientific objectivity'. But could such 'objectivity' in fact be expected on the part of a Dominican institution, with vested Catholic interests to protect? 'My faith has nothing to fear from my scholarship', de Vaux once stated to Edmund Wilson.3 No doubt it didn't, but that was never in fact the real question.

 

The real question was whether his scholarship, and its reliability, had anything to fear from his faith.

As we ourselves became au fait with the situation, we began to wonder if the correct questions were indeed being asked, if blame was indeed being correctly apportioned. Biblical Archaeology Review, for example, had focused on the Israeli government as a primary culprit. But if the Israeli government was guilty of anything, it was guilty only of an understandable sin of omission.

 

By virtue of John Allegro's success in persuading the Jordanian government to nationalize the Rockefeller Museum,4 and political and military circumstance - the Six Day War and its aftermath - Israel suddenly found itself, as a fait accompli, in possession of Arab East Jerusalem, where the Rockefeller Museum and the Ecole Biblique were situated. As 'spoils of war', the Dead Sea Scrolls thus became de facto Israeli. But Israel was fighting for its own survival at the time. In the turmoil of the moment, there were more urgent matters to deal with than the sorting out of scholarly disputes or the rectifying of academic inequities.

 

Neither could Israel afford to isolate itself further on the international scene by antagonizing a body of prestigious researchers and thereby provoking a reaction from the intellectual community - as well, quite possibly, as from the Vatican. In consequence, the Israeli government had taken the expedient course of doing nothing, of implicitly sanctioning the status quo. The international team had simply been asked to get on with their business.

It was, of course, more accurate to assign responsibility to the international team themselves - as, indeed, a number of commentators had not hesitated to do. But were the motives ascribed to the team wholly accurate? Was it simply a matter of what the New York Times called 'the vanity of scholars', and Professor Neusner in BAR 'arrogance and self-importance'?5

 

These factors undoubtedly played a part. But the real question was one of accountability. To whom, ultimately, were the international team accountable? In theory, they should have been accountable to their peers, to other scholars. But was that indeed the case? In reality, the international team seemed to recognise no accountability whatever, except to the Ecole Biblique. And to whom was the Ecole Biblique accountable?

 

Although he'd not investigated the matter himself, Eisenman prompted us, when we probed him, to explore the connection between the Ecole and the Vatican.

We approached other scholars in the field, some of whom had gone publicly on record to condemn the 'scandal'. Not one of them, it transpired, had thought to look into the Ecole Biblique's background and official allegiances. They had, of course, recognized that the Ecole was Catholic, but they did not know whether it had any direct or formal connection with the Vatican. Professor Davies at Sheffield, for example, confessed that he found the question intriguing. Now that he thought about it, he said, he found it striking how criticism was so often and so assiduously deflected away from the Ecole.6

 

According to Professor Golb at the University of Chicago,

'people hint... that there are connections' between the Ecole and the Vatican. 'A lot of events,' he said, 'fit the theory [of connection].'7

Like his colleagues, however, he had not explored the matter any further. Given the Ecole's undisputed dominance of Qumran scholarship, it seemed to us particularly important to ascertain the institution's official orientation, attitudes, allegiances and accountability. Here, we decided, was something we ourselves could undertake to investigate in detail. The results were to prove a major revelation, not just to us, but to other independent researchers in the field as well.

Today, in the late 20th century, one takes the procedures and methodology of historical and archaeological research more or less for granted. Until the mid-19th century, however, historical and archaeological research, as we understand such things today, simply didn't exist at all. There were no accepted methods or procedures; there was no coherent discipline or training; there was no real awareness that such research in any sense constituted a form of 'science', requiring the rigor, the 'objectivity', the systematic approach that any science does.

 

The 'field', such as it was, existed not as a sphere of formal academic study but as a happy hunting-ground for learned - and often not so learned - amateurs. The territory was as yet too uncharted to accommodate anything that might be called 'professionalism'.

Thus, for example, in the early 19th century, wealthy Europeans, on their 'grand tour', might rummage about at random for Greek or Roman artifacts to ship back to the chateau, schloss or country house at home. In their search for antiquities, a few ventured further afield, digging holes all over the fertile terrain of the vast and moribund Ottoman Empire. Such enterprises amounted, in effect, not to anything that might pass for archaeology, but to treasure-hunting.

 

Knowledge of the past was deemed less important than whatever booty it might provide; and funds for the plundering of such booty were supplied by, or for, various museums in quest of large and dramatic statues to place on display. Public demand for relics of this sort was considerable. Crowds would flock to museums to see the latest trophies, and the popular press would have a field day. But the trophies themselves were more an inspiration to the imagination, and to imaginative speculation, than to any form of scientific method.

 

Flaubert's Salammb˘, for example, published in 1862, represents an extraordinary feat of 'literary archaeology', a grandiose imaginative attempt to reconstruct, with meticulous scientific precision, the splendor of ancient Carthage. But science itself had not yet caught up with Flaubert's aesthetic objectives. Certainly no historian had ever attempted to use scientific or archaeological data to bring ancient Carthage so vividly back to life.

Until the mid-19th century, what passed for archaeology was, more often than not, a sorry business indeed. Wall paintings, carvings and other artifacts would visibly disintegrate before the bemused eyes of their discoverers - who, of course, had no real concept of conservation. Priceless statues would be demolished in the search for some supposed treasure concealed within them. Or they might be hacked into fragments to make transportation easier - and then lost, when the barges transporting them sank. To the extent that any systematic form of excavation was practiced at all, it had not yet been yoked to history - to the principle of illuminating the past. The excavators themselves lacked the knowledge, the skill and the technology to turn their discoveries to account.

The acknowledged 'father of modern archaeology' was the German-born Heinrich Schliemann (1822-90), naturalized as an American citizen in 1850. From his boyhood, Schliemann had been a passionate admirer of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. He was firmly convinced that these epics were not 'mere fables', but mythologized history, chronicles inflated to legendary status, perhaps, but still referring to events, people and places which had once actually existed.

 

The Trojan War, Schliemann insisted, to the mockery and skepticism of his contemporaries, was an event in historical fact. Troy was not just a figment of a poet's imagination. On the contrary, it had once been a 'real' city. One could use Homer's work as a species of map. One could identify certain recognizable geographical and topographical features.

 

One could compute approximate speeds of travel at the time, and thereby estimate the distance between one point and another cited by Homer. By such means, Schliemann concluded, one could retrace the itinerary of the Greek fleet in the Iliad and locate the actual historical site of Troy. After performing the requisite calculations, Schliemann was firmly convinced he had found 'the X that marked the spot'.

Having amassed a fortune in commerce, Schliemann embarked on what his contemporaries regarded as a quixotic enterprise - to undertake a full-scale excavation of the 'X' he had located. In 1868, he went to Greece and proceeded, using a poem that was two and a half millennia old as his guide, to retrace the alleged route of the Greek fleet.

 

At what he believed to be the relevant site in Turkey, he began to dig. And to the world's consternation, astonishment and admiration, Schliemann there found Troy - or, at any rate, a city that conformed to Homer's account of Troy. As a matter of fact, Schliemann found a number of cities. In four campaigns of excavation, he uncovered no fewer than nine, each superimposed on the ruins of what had been its predecessor. Nor, after this initial spectacular success, did he confine himself to Troy.

 

A few years later, between 1874 and 1876, he excavated at Mycenae in Greece, where his discoveries were deemed to be perhaps even more important than those made in Turkey.

Schliemann demonstrated triumphantly that archaeology could do more than just prove or disprove the historical validity underlying archaic legends. He also demonstrated that it could add flesh and substance to the often bald, stark chronicles of the past - could provide a recognizably human and social context for them, could provide a matrix of daily life and practices that enabled one to understand the mentality and milieu from which they had issued. What was more, he demonstrated the applicability of strict scientific method and procedures, the careful observation and recording of data.

 

In addressing himself to the nine superimposed cities at Troy, Schliemann employed the same techniques that had only recently come into favor in geological studies. These enabled him to conclude what to the modern mind appears self-evident - that one stratum of deposits can be distinguished from others on the basic premise that the lowest is the earliest in time. Schliemann thus became the pioneer of the archaeological discipline known as 'stratigraphy'. Almost single-handed, he revolutionized archaeological thought and methodology.

It was quickly recognized, of course, that Schliemann's scientific approach could readily be brought to bear on the field of biblical archaeology. In 1864, four years before the discovery of Troy, Sir Charles Wilson, then a captain in the Royal Engineers, had been sent to Jerusalem, to survey the city and produce a definitive map. In the course of his work, Wilson became the first modern researcher to excavate and explore beneath the Temple, where he discovered what were believed to have been Solomon's stables.

 

His endeavors inspired him to help co-found the Palestine Exploration Fund, the chief patron of which was no less a person than Queen Victoria herself. At first, the work of this organization proceeded in a characteristically uncoordinated fashion. At the 1886 annual meeting, however, Wilson announced that 'some of the wealthy men of England would follow Dr. Schliemann's example' and apply his scientific approach to a specific biblical site.8 The enterprise was entrusted to the charge of a prominent archaeologist then active in Egypt, William Matthew Flinders Petrie. Adopting Schliemann's methods, Flinders Petrie, after two false starts, discovered a mound containing the ruins of eleven superimposed cities.

During his work in Egypt, Flinders Petrie had evolved another technique for the dating of ancient ruins, based on a pattern of gradual development and change in the shape, design and embellishment of household pottery. This enabled him to establish a chronological sequence not just for the artifacts themselves, but for the rubble surrounding them as well.

 

Although certainly not foolproof, Petrie's approach brought another manifestation of scientific methodology and observation to bear on archaeological research. It became one of the standard procedures employed by his team in Palestine - a team which, in 1926, was joined by the young Gerald Lankester Harding. As we have noted, Harding, eventually head of Jordan's Department of Antiquities, was to play a crucial role in the early excavation and compilation of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

While British archaeologists in Egypt and Palestine followed in Schliemann's footsteps, the Germans refined and elaborated his procedures. German archaeology endeavored to do, in fact, what Flaubert, in Salammb˘, had done in fiction - to re-create, down to the most minute detail, the entire milieu and society from which specific archaeological artifacts had issued.

 

This, needless to say, was a slow, painstaking process, requiring much care and inexhaustible patience. It did not just involve the excavation of 'treasures', or of monumental structures. It also involved the excavation and reconstruction of administrative, commercial and residential buildings. Using this approach, Robert Koldeway, between 1899 and 1913, excavated the ruins of Babylon. From his work, there evolved a coherent and comprehensively detailed picture of what had previously, to all intents and purposes, been a 'lost civilization'.

The archaeological advances of the 19th century stemmed in large part from Schliemann's critical scrutiny of Homer's epics, his methodical scientific insistence on disengaging fact from fiction. It was, needless to say, only a matter of time before scripture itself was subjected to the same sort of rigorous scrutiny. The man most responsible for this process was the French theologian and historian Ernest Renan.

 

Born in 1823, Renan embarked on a career in the priesthood, enrolling in the seminary of St Sulpice. In 1845, however, he renounced his intended vocation, having been led by Germanic biblical scholarship to question the literal truth of Christian teaching. In 1860, Renan embarked on an archaeological journey to Palestine and Syria.

 

Three years later, he published his famous (or notorious) La vie de JÚsus, {The Life of Jesus), which was translated into English the following year. Renan's book sought to demystify Christianity. It portrayed Jesus as 'an incomparable man', but still a man - an eminently mortal and non-divine personage - and formulated a hierarchy of values which today would be called a form of 'secular humanism'. Renan was no obscure academic or fly-by-night sensationalist. On the contrary, he was one of the most esteemed and prestigious intellectual figures of his age.

 

As a result, The Life of Jesus created one of the greatest upsets in the history of 19th-century thought. It became one of the half-dozen or so best-selling books of the entire century, and has never subsequently been out of print. For the 'educated classes' of the time, Renan became as much a household name as Freud or Jung might be today; and, in the absence of television, he was probably much more widely read.

 

At a single stroke, The Life of Jesus transformed attitudes towards biblical scholarship almost beyond recognition. And for the next thirty years of his life, Renan was to remain a thorn in the Church's side, publishing subsequent works on the Apostles, on Paul and on early Christianity in the context of imperial Roman thought and culture. He produced two epic series of texts, Histoire des origines du christianisme (1863-83) and Histoire du peuple d'Israel (1887-93). It is no exaggeration to say that Renan released from its bottle a genie which Christianity has never since managed to recapture or tame.

At the same time, of course, Rome was being buffeted from other quarters as well. Four years before The Life of Jesus, Charles Darwin had published The Origin of Species, and followed it in 1871 with The Descent of Man, a more theologically oriented work which questioned scriptural accounts of the creation.

 

In Darwin's wake, there followed the great age of English agnosticism, exemplified by Thomas Huxley and Herbert Spencer. Influential and widely read philosophers - Schopenhauer, for example, and particularly Nietzsche - were also challenging, even blasphemously demolishing, conventional Christian ethical and theological assumptions.

 

Under the doctrine of 'l'art pour l'art', the arts were becoming established as a self-contained religion of their own, moving into sacred territory which organized religion seemed increasingly to have abdicated. Bayreuth became, in effect, the temple of a new cult, a new creed; and well-educated Europeans deemed it quite as acceptable to be 'a Wagnerian' as to be a Christian.

The Church was under sustained political attack as well. In 1870-72, Prussia's shattering victory in her war with France, and the creation of the new German Empire, produced, for the first time in modern history, a supreme military power in Europe which owed no allegiance whatever to Rome. To the extent that the new empire was Christian at all, it was Lutheran; but the Lutheran Church, to all intents and purposes, was little more than an adjunct of the War Office.

 

Most traumatic of all, Garibaldi's partisan army, by 1870, had finally effected the unification of Italy - had captured Rome, had wrested the Papal States and all other territory from the Church, and reduced Catholicism to the status of a non-secular power.

16 Father Jean Starcky celebrating Mass at the ruins of Qumran
prior to the day's archaeological excavations.


17 Members of the international team at the Rockefeller Museum, Jerusalem, working on the scrolls from Cave 4.

Centre, bearded, is Father de Vaux, with Father Milik to his right

and Father Starcky to his left. John Allegro is seated to the right of the illustration.


18 Members of the international team working on scroll fragments in the 'Scrollery': (left to right)
Father Patrick Skehan, John Strugnell, John Allegro.


19 (left to right) John Strugnell, Frank Cross, Father Milik, John Allegro and Father Starcky.


20 John Allegro and John Strugnell working in the 'Scrollery'.


21 (left to right) John Strugnell, John Allegro, Father Skehan, Dr Claus-Hunno Hunzinger and Father Milik.


22 John Allegro working on the 'Nahum Commentary' in the 'Scrollery'


23 Father Milik, flanked by Dr Hunzinger and Father Benoit, studying some newly
purchased scroll fragments in January 1956. The fragments probably came from Cave II.


24 Dr Hunzinger in January 1956 holding the 'Psalms Scroll' from Qumran, Cave II.
This scroll was not to be published until 1965.


25 Scroll fragments as they were brought in by the Bedouin who discovered them in January 1956.


26 The 'Psalms Scroll' from Cave II before it was unrolled.


27 A seal found at the Qumran ruins with, curiously,
the owner's name, 'Josephus', written in Greek rather than Hebrew or Aramaic.
 

Beleaguered by onslaughts from science, from philosophy, from the arts and from secular political powers, Rome was more shaken than she had been at any time since the beginning of the Lutheran Reformation three and a half centuries before.

 

She responded with a number of desperate defensive measures. She sought - vainly, it inspired - political allegiances with Catholic, or nominally Catholic, powers, such as the Habsburg Empire. On 18 July 1870, after a vote by the First Vatican Council, Pope Pius IX - characterized by Metternich as 'warm of heart, weak of head and lacking utterly in common sense'9 - promulgated the dogma of Papal Infallibility.10

 

And to counter the depredations being wrought on scripture by Renan and German biblical scholarship, the Church began equipping her own cadres of meticulous scholars - elite intellectual 'shock troops' who were supposed to confront Catholicism's adversaries on their own ground. Thus arose the Catholic Modernist Movement.

The Modernists were originally intended to deploy the rigor and precision of Germanic methodology not to challenge scripture, but to support it. A generation of clerical scholars was painstakingly trained and groomed to provide the Church with a kind of academic strike force, a corps specifically formed to defend the literal truth of scripture with all the heavy ordnance of the most up-to-date critical scholarship.

 

To Rome's chagrin and mortification, however, the program backfired. The more it sought to arm younger clerics with the requisite tools for combat in the modern polemical arena, the more those same clerics began to desert the cause for which they had been recruited. Critical scrutiny of the Bible revealed a multitude of inconsistencies, discrepancies and implications that were positively inimical to Roman dogma. The Modernists themselves quickly began to question and subvert what they were supposed to be defending.

Thus, for example, Alfred Loisy, one of the most prominent and prestigious Modernists, wondered publicly how, in the light of recent biblical history and archaeology, many of the Church's doctrines could still be justified.

'Jesus proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom', Loisy declared, 'but what came was the Church.'11

Loisy argued that many points of dogma had crystallized as historically conditioned reactions to specific events, at specific places and times. In consequence, they were not to be regarded as fixed and immutable truths, but as - at best - symbols. According to Loisy, such basic tenets of Christian teaching as the Virgin Birth and Jesus' divinity were no longer tenable.

Rome, in trying to play Frankenstein, had created a monster in her own laboratory. In 1902, shortly before his death, Pope Leo XIII created the Pontifical Biblical Commission, to supervise and monitor the work of Catholic scriptural scholarship. Later that year, Leo's successor, Pius X, placed Loisy's works on the Inquisition's Index of forbidden books. In 1904, the new Pope issued two encyclicals opposing all scholarship which questioned the origins and early history of Christianity. All Catholic teachers suspected of 'Modernist tendencies' were summarily dismissed from their posts.

The Modernists, of course, comprising the best-educated, most erudite and articulate enclave in the Church, did not hesitate to fight back. They were supported by prominent thinkers, by distinguished cultural and literary figures. In Italy, one such was Antonio Fogazzaro. In 1896, Fogazzaro had become a senator. He was also regarded as 'the leading Catholic layman of his day' and, by his contemporaries at least, as the greatest novelist Italy had produced since Manzoni.

 

In The Saint, published in 1905, Fogazzaro wrote:

'The Catholic Church, calling herself the fountain of truth, today opposes the search after truth when her foundations, the sacred books, the formulae of her dogmas, her alleged infallibility, become objects of research. To us, this signifies that she no longer has faith in herself.'12

Fogazzaro's work, needless to say, was itself promptly placed on the Index. And the Church's campaign against the movement it had fostered and nurtured proceeded to intensify. In July 1907, the Holy Office published a decree officially condemning Modernist attempts to question Church doctrine, papal authority and the historical veracity of biblical texts. Less than two months later, in September, Modernism was effectively declared to be a heresy and the entire movement was formally banned.

 

The number of books on the Index suddenly and dramatically increased. A new, much more stringent censorship was instituted. Clerical commissars monitored teaching with a doctrinal rigidity unknown since the Middle Ages. At last, in 1910, a decree was issued requiring all Catholics involved in teaching or preaching to take an oath renouncing 'all the errors of Modernism'. A number of Modernist writers were excommunicated. Students at seminaries and theological colleges were even forbidden to read newspapers.

In the 1880s, however, all of this still lay in the future. Among the young Modernist clerics of the 1880s, there was a naive credulity and optimism, a fervent conviction that methodical historical and archaeological research would confirm, rather than contradict, the literal truth of scripture.

 

The Ecole Biblique et Archeologique Franchise de Jerusalem - which subsequently came to dominate Dead Sea Scroll scholarship - was rooted in the first generation of Modernism, before the Church realized how close it had come to subverting itself. It originated in 1882, when a French Dominican monk on pilgrimage in Jerusalem resolved to establish a Dominican house there, consisting of a church and a monastery.

 

He chose a site on the Nablus Road, where excavations had revealed the remains of an earlier church. According to tradition, it was precisely here that St Stephen, supposedly the first Christian martyr, had been stoned to death.

Rome not only approved the idea, but embellished and expanded it. Pope Leo XIII suggested that a biblical school also be established. This school was founded in 1890 by Father Albert Lagrange and opened in 1892, with living quarters for fifteen resident students. The installation was one of a number of institutions created at the time, to equip Catholic scholars with the academic expertise necessary to defend their faith against the threat posed by developments in historical and archaeological research.

Father Lagrange had been born in 1855. After studying law, he had gained his doctorate in 1878, then entered the seminary of St Sulpice, the centre of Modernist studies at the time. In 1879, he had become a Dominican. On 6 October 1880, however, under the Third French Republic, all religious orders were banished from France.

 

The 25-year-old Lagrange had accordingly gone to Salamanca, in Spain, where he studied Hebrew and taught Church history and philosophy. It was at Salamanca that he was ordained a priest, on St Dagobert's Day (23 December), 1883. In 1888, he was sent to the University of Vienna to study Oriental languages. Two years later, on 10 March 1890, at the age of thirty-five, he arrived at the fledgling Dominican house of St Stephen in Jerusalem, and there, on 15 November, established a biblical school.

 

The school was called initially the 'Ecole Practique d'Etudes Bibliques'. Lagrange created for it its own journal, Revue biblique, which began publication in 1892 and continues today. Through this organ, as well, of course, as through the program of studies, he sought to imbue the new institution with an attitude towards historical and archaeological research which can best be summed up in his own words.

 

According to Father Lagrange,

'the various stages in the religious history of mankind form a recite, a history that is directly and supernaturally guided by God to lead to the ultimate and definitive stage - the messianic age inaugurated by Jesus Christ'.13

The Old Testament was,

'a group of books indicating a register of the various stages of an oral tradition that God used and guided ... in the preparation for the definitive New Testament era'.14

The orientation was clear enough. To the extent that Lagrange employed modern methodology at all, he would employ it to 'prove' what he had already, a priori, decided to be true - that is, the literal veracity of scripture. And the 'definitive' nature of the New Testament and the events it chronicled rendered it effectively off limits to scholarly scrutiny.

In 1890, when Lagrange established the Ecole Biblique, Modernism had not yet come under a cloud. By 1902, however, it had fallen into serious official disrepute. In that year, as we have noted, Pope Leo XIII created the Pontifical Biblical Commission, to supervise and monitor the work of Catholic scriptural scholarship. In the same year, Lagrange returned to France to lecture at Toulouse - where he was accused of being a Modernist, and met with furious opposition. By that time, the mere suggestion of historical and archaeological research was sufficient to get one stigmatized.

The Pope himself, however, recognized that Lagrange's faith was still intact, and that his heart, so far as the Church was concerned, was in the right place. And indeed, much of Lagrange's work comprised a systematic rebuttal of Alfred Loisy and other Modernists. Lagrange was accordingly made a member, or 'consultant', of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, and his journal, Revue biblique, became the Commission's official organ. This arrangement obtained until 1908, when the Commission launched a journal of its own, the Ada apostolicae sedis.

From lower down in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, accusations of Modernism continued. So demoralizing were these accusations that Lagrange, in 1907, temporarily renounced his work in Old Testament studies. In 1912, he resolved to abandon biblical studies altogether and leave Jerusalem. He was duly recalled to France. But the Pope again rallied to his support, dispatched him back to his post in Jerusalem and ordered him to continue his work.

 

The Ecole Biblique, originally created as a forum for Modernism, had now become a bulwark against it.

Among the original team of international scholars assembled by Father de Vaux in 1953 was the late Monsignor Patrick Skehan. Father Skehan was head of the Department of Semitic and Egyptian Languages and Literatures at the Catholic University in Washington. He was also, later, a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. And in 1955, he was director of the Albright Institute in Jerusalem. In this capacity, he was instrumental in the political maneuverings which established the Ecole Biblique's dominance of Dead Sea Scroll research.

 

In 1956, he played a key role in organizing the letter to The Times that was intended to isolate and discredit John Allegro. 15

Father Skehan was among the few scholars to be entrusted with access to the scrolls themselves. His attitudes offer some indication of the orientation of the Catholic scholars associated with the Ecole Biblique.

 

Writing in 1966, Father Skehan declared that the Old Testament was not,

'a thumbnail sketch of the history and prehistory of the human race... In the fullness of time, Our Lord came; and a proper part of the duty of every Old Testament scholar is to trace in sacred history the development of the readiness to be aware of Christ when he would come...'16

In other words, the primary responsibility of every biblical scholar is to ferret out from the Old Testament supposed anticipations of accepted Christian doctrine. Viewed any other way, the Old Testament presumably has scant value and relevance. This is a curious definition of 'dispassionate scholarship'.

 

But Father Skehan was even more explicit:

it would seem that in our day it is incumbent upon biblical scholars... to indicate... as best they
can the general lines of the progress by which God steadily led, as he surely did, stone age,
Chalcolithic, and ancient pagan man to the capability of measuring up, in some degree, to the
social fact which is the Christian Church.17

Father Skehan, of course, made no real pretence to 'dispassionate scholarship'. In fact, he regarded it as positively dangerous - considering that 'studies carried out from a perspective that puts literary and historico-critical considerations in the foreground can, usually in the hands of popularizers, result in oversimplification, exaggeration, or neglect of more profound matters'.18

 

Ultimately, the biblical scholar's work should be guided and determined by Church doctrine and 'be subject always to the sovereign right of Holy Mother Church to witness definitively what is in fact concordant with the teaching she has received from Christ'.19

The implications of all this are staggering. All enquiry and investigation, regardless of what it might turn up or reveal, must be subordinated and accommodated to the existing corpus of official Catholic teaching. In other words, it must be edited or adjusted or distorted until it conforms to the requisite criteria. And what if something comes to light which can't be made thus to conform? From Father Skehan's statements, the answer to that question would seem clear. Anything that can't be subordinated or accommodated to existing doctrine must, of necessity, be suppressed.

Father Skehan's position, of course, was not unique. It was effectively echoed by Pope Pius XII himself, who maintained 'that the biblical exegete has a function and a responsibility to perform in matters of importance to the church'.20

 

As for the Ecole Biblique and its research on the Dead Sea Scrolls, Skehan says:

Are there not... providential elements also in the curious fact that the Holy Land is the place on
earth best suited to be a kind of laboratory for the study of human life continuously, with no major
periods missing... I believe that there are......

Therefore, it seems to me that there is an ultimate religious value which we cannot yet
measure, but which has Providence behind it, in the fact that Pere Lagrange established upon
Palestinian soil an institute...21

For years, most independent scholars were quite unaware of any such divine mandate having been possessed by the Ecole Biblique, or of the Vatican's wishful thinking on the matter. On the contrary, the Ecole appeared to be an impartial scholarly institution dedicated, among other things, to collecting, collating, researching, translating and elucidating the Dead Sea Scrolls, not for suppressing them or transforming them into Christian propaganda.

 

Thus, for example, a scholar or graduate student in Britain, or the States, or anywhere else, having established some academic credibility with a thesis or publication in one or another sphere of biblical study, would apply for access to the Qumran material. He'd have no reason to expect a rebuff - would assume the scrolls were available for study by anyone who had acquired legitimate academic credentials.

 

In every case known to us, however, requests for access have been summarily refused, without apology or explanation - and with the inevitable concurrent implication that the applicant himself was somehow inadequate.

Such, to take but one example, was the case for Professor Norman Golb of the University of Chicago. Professor Golb had done his doctoral dissertation on Qumran and on Qumran-related material found in Cairo. Having amassed years of experience in the field, he embarked on a research project to check the paleographical dating of the scrolls, which had been established by Professor Cross of the international team and which Golb felt could be improved. To confirm his thesis, Golb of course needed to see certain original texts - photographic facsimiles would obviously not have sufficed.

 

In 1970, he was in Jerusalem and accordingly wrote to de Vaux, then head of the Ecole Biblique and the international team, requesting access and explaining that he needed it to validate a research project which had already occupied years of his life. Three days later, de Vaux replied, stating that no access could be granted without 'the explicit permission of the scholar who is in charge of their edition'.22

 

The scholar in question was the then Father Milik, who, as de Vaux knew only too well, wasn't prepared to let anyone see anything. After all the time and effort he had invested in it, Golb was obliged to abandon his project.

'Since then,' he told us, 'I have had good reason to doubt all Cross's datings of texts by paleography.'23

On the other hand, fragments of Qumran material will be made available to researchers affiliated with the Ecole itself, to young scholars and protÚgÚs of the international team, to graduate students under the tutelage of one or another team member, who can be assured of toeing the official 'party line'. Thus, for instance, Eugene Ulrich of Notre Dame, a student of Cross's, 'inherited' the scroll material originally assigned to Father Patrick Skehan.

 

He also appears to have inherited something of Skehan's attitude to other scholars. When asked why facsimile photographic editions couldn't be produced, he replied that,

'the vast majority of people who will use these editions - including average university professors - are barely able to judge competently difficult readings'.24

Independent scholars from Britain, the States and elsewhere have thus found it impossible to get access to unpublished scroll material. For Israeli scholars, such access has been inconceivable. As we have noted, Father de Vaux, a former member of the notorious Action Franchise, was a fairly outspoken anti-Semite. To this day, members of the Ecole Biblique seem to remain hostile to Israel, even though it is supposed in theory to be a neutral enclave for impartial scholarship, a refuge from the political and religious divisions rending modern-day Jerusalem.

 

When asked why no scholars from Tel Aviv University were involved in editing the scrolls, Strugnell replied:

'We are looking for quality in Qumran studies, and you don't get it there.'25

With his characteristic, and self-incriminating, eloquence, the late Father Skehan effectively articulated his and his colleagues' anti-Israeli bias in a letter quoted in Jerusalem Post Magazine:

I feel obliged to tell you... that I should not under any circumstances grant through any Israeli
functionary, any permission to dispense, for any purpose, or to any extent, of anything whatsoever
that is lawfully housed in the Palestine Archaeological Museum. I regard the State of Israel and all
of its personnel as having no legal standing whatsoever with respect to the Museum and its
contents.26

As we have noted, this attitude is shared by the former Father Milik. Neither he nor another of his colleagues, the late Father Starcky, ever returned to Jerusalem after the 1967 war, when the scrolls passed into Israeli hands. Then again, of course, their position only echoes that of the Vatican itself, which, even today, does not recognize the State of Israel.

 

But one is prompted to ask whether their prejudice simply coincided with official Church policy, or whether it was formally dictated by the ecclesiastical hierarchy.

 

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