More Access to Dead Sea Scrolls
Publication of photographs is latest opening in wall of secrecy surrounding the find. BIBLICAL SCHOLARSHIP
SLOWLY but surely the Dead Sea Scrolls, one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the 20th century, are edging into the public domain.In the latest of a series of moves aimed at widening access to the 2,000-year-old documents, the Biblical Archaeology Society (BAS) announced here Nov. 19 the publication of 1,787 photographs of scroll fragments never before published. "Scholars all over the world now for the first time will have the raw material to work with," says BAS president Hershel Shanks. The ancient religious documents - written between 200 B.C. and 50 A.D. - are regarded as crucial to a broader understanding of modern Judaism and early Christianity. Yet since their discovery in caves near Jerusalem in 1947, the scrolls have remained almost exclusively in the hands of a small group of scholars. So far only about half of the 800 scrolls found have been published. Many scholars outside this elite inner circle say progress has been too slow and access too limited. They welcome what they see as several cracks recently developing in this wall of secrecy. Particularly significant in their view was the announcement in September by the Huntington Library in California that it will make 3,000 scroll photographs available on microfilm to interested scholars. Some have not been published before. Huntington's decision followed the announcement by two scholars earlier that month that they were publishing a bootleg version of a previously unpublished text of 24 scrolls which they pieced together by using a computer. Several days ago Robert Eisenman, chairman of California State University's Religious Studies Department, said he had found evidence, while reviewing the Huntington photos, that Jews and early Christians had similar versions of the Messiah. Ancient Jews who wrote the scrolls spoke of the execution of a Messiah-like leader who was "pierced for our sins."
Similarities found Most biblical scholars have long stressed the differences between religious beliefs of early Christians and Jews. Yet in the view of some scholars the scrolls, which include many of the earliest known texts of the Old Testament, show that Christianity may have deeper Judaic roots than once thought. The Biblical Archaeology Society expects to publish several more volumes of scroll photographs in the future. Mr. Shanks has announced the establishment of a new Institute for Dead Sea Scroll Studies in Washington to coordinate scholarly research and exchange of information on the scrolls. The elite band of scholars charged with editing and publishing the scrolls has long criticized independent efforts to broaden scroll access but is clearly feeling the pressure itself. In late October the Israeli Antiquities Society, which controls the original documents, said it would allow biblical scholars to view scroll fragments not yet published. The original scroll scholars, now expanded from a group of 8 to about 25 and including Jews as well as Christians, will meet in December to decide what fur ther steps may be needed. Virtually all religious scholars say they eagerly await the official assembling, translation, and interpretation of the scrolls. In the meantime, they see little harm - and great possible benefit - in making what they admit are often incomplete scroll fragments more widely available. "The corpus has to be considered as a whole," stresses Shanks. However, he says he expects to see a burgeoning of interest in scroll scholarship as access grows. "I think the public senses that in these tatters, they will eventually learn more about their roots," he says.
Access applauded Even some who most vigorously defend the work of the original scroll scholars say they applaud recent efforts by others to broaden access to the scrolls. "It's been a stimulus for those working to work harder and to include others," says Dr. James Charlesworth, director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Project at the Princeton Theological Seminary. "Scholarship is not pontificating - it's about sharing and exchanging and improving our work. It's about growing together and moving ahead. That's why we have first, second, and third editions - the best is the final one." His Princeton Project, for instance, which will publish all non-biblical scroll material from the scrolls, is currently putting out a concordance of more than 200 scroll texts. "They've been published before but not accurately and not in English," explains Dr. Charlesworth. Originally publication of the scrolls was expected to take five or 10 years at most. Some of the most important scrolls were found intact and published almost immediately. But about 500 of the 800 texts were found in one cave and all in scraps. "The bottleneck has been the team that was assigned to those 500 fragmentary texts from cave four," says Shanks. "In 40 years they've managed to publish only 20 percent of their assignment." Many of the fragments the BAS is publishing are from that cave. "We know that the piecing together of the great majority of material was done by 1960 - so that's not much of an excuse for the last 30 years," says Michael Wise, a professor of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. In the scholars' defense, Dr. Charlesworth says: "We're talking about literally hundreds of thousands of fragments from documents that are unknown - we have no idea what they really look like ... so putting them together is a Herculean task."