4 - Opposing the Consensus

Edmund Wilson, John Allegro and Geza Vermes all condemned the international team for secrecy, for procrastination and delay in releasing Qumran material and for establishing a scholarly monopoly over the Dead Sea Scrolls. Wilson and Allegro both challenged the team's laboured attempts to distance the Qumran community from so-called 'early Christianity'.


In other respects, however, all three scholars concurred with the consensus of interpretation established by the international team. They accepted, for example, the team's dating of the Dead Sea Scrolls as being pre-Christian. They also accepted the team's contention that the members of the Qumran community were Essenes. And they accepted that the supposed Essenes at Qumran were of the traditional kind described by Pliny, Philo and Josephus - ascetic, reclusive, pacifist, divorced from the mainstream of social, political and religious thought.


If Christianity were indeed somehow connected with the Qumran community, it therefore emerged as less original than had hitherto been believed. It could be seen to have drawn on Qumran, just as it was acknowledged to have drawn on 'conventional' Old Testament Judaism. Apart from that, there was no particular reason to modify one's image or conception of it.

By the 1960s, however, scholarly opposition to the international team's consensus had begun to arise from another quarter. Its questioning of that consensus was to be much more radical than anything submitted by Wilson, Allegro or Vermes. It was to challenge not only the dating of the Qumran scrolls as established by the international team, but also the allegedly Essene character of the Qumran community. The men responsible for this criticism were Cecil Roth and Godfrey Driver.

Cecil Roth was perhaps the most prominent Jewish historian of his era. After serving with the British Army during the First World War, he had obtained his doctorate from Merton College, Oxford, as an historian. For some years, he was Reader in Jewish Studies at Oxford - the post now occupied by Geza Vermes. He was a prolific writer, with more than six hundred publications to his credit. He was also editor-in-chief of the Encyclopaedia judaica. He commanded enormous respect in the academic world, and was recognized especially for his expertise in Judaic history.

Godfrey Driver was a figure of comparable academic stature. He, too, had served with the British Army during the First World War, seeing action particularly in the Middle East. He, too, taught at Oxford, at Magdalen College, becoming, in 1938, Professor of Semitic Philology. Until 1960, he also did three stints as Professor of Hebrew. He was joint director of the team which translated the Old Testament for the New English Bible. As we have noted, he was John Allegro's mentor, and recommended Allegro for the international team.

From the very first discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Professor Driver had advocated caution about the early, pre-Christian dates ascribed to them. In a letter to The Times on 23 August 1949, he warned that the pre-Christian date ascribed to the Qumran scrolls 'seems likely to win general acceptance before being subjected to critical examination'.1


In the same letter, he stated:

'The external evidence... for a pre-Christian date is extremely precarious, while all the internal evidence seems against it. '2

Driver stressed the risks of attributing too much accuracy to what he called 'external evidence' -to archaeology and paleography. He advocated, rather, a scrutiny of the 'internal evidence' - the content of the scrolls themselves. On the basis of such evidence, he was eventually to conclude that the scrolls dated from the 1st century of the Christian era.

In the meantime, Cecil Roth had been conducting his own research and, in 1958, published the results in a work entitled The Historical Background of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The historical background, he argued, was not pre-Christian, but, on the contrary, dated from the time of the revolt in Judaea, between AD 66 and 74. Like Driver, Roth insisted that the texts of the scrolls themselves were a more accurate guide than archaeology or paleography.


Availing himself of this guide, he developed a number of points that not only ran counter to the international team's consensus, but must also have outraged the Catholics among them. Citing textual references in one of the scrolls, for instance, he demonstrated that the 'invaders' regarded as adversaries by the Qumran community could only be Romans - and, further, could only be Romans of the Empire, of imperial rather than republican times.


He also demonstrated that the militant nationalism and messianic fervor in many of the scrolls had less in common with traditional images of the Essenes than with the Zealots described by Josephus. He acknowledged that the original community at Qumran might indeed have been established by Essenes of the traditional kind, but if so, he contended, they would have vacated the site when it was destroyed in 37 BC. Those who occupied it subsequently, after 4 BC, and who deposited the scrolls, would not have been Essenes at all, but Zealots.


Pursuing his argument a step further, he then endeavored to establish links between the Qumran community and the fierce defenders of Masada thirty miles to the south.

Such assertions, needless to say, provoked indignant criticism from Father de Vaux's team. One of de Vaux's associates, Jean Carmignac, in reviewing Roth's book, complained that Roth 'does not miss any occasion to closely link Masada and Qumran, but this is another weakness of his thesis'.3 Even when, eight years later, Yigael Yadin, in his excavations at Masada, found scrolls identical to some of those discovered at Qumran, the international team refused to consider Roth's thesis.


Quite clearly, some sort of connection had to exist between Qumran and Masada, yet the team, their logic now creaking painfully at the seams, insisted only one explanation was possible - 'some' of the Essenes from Qumran must have deserted their own community and gone to the defense of Masada, bringing their sacred texts with them!

So far as Masada was concerned, Roth was, then, to be vindicated by Yadin's excavations. But he was also quite capable of fighting his own battles. In an article published in 1959, he focused particularly on de Vaux's assertion, based on supposed 'archaeological evidence', that the scrolls could not have been deposited any later than the summer of AD 68, when Qumran was 'taken by the 10th Legion'.4 Roth demonstrated conclusively that the 10th Legion, in the summer of AD 68, was nowhere near Qumran.5

Roth's arguments may have infuriated de Vaux's international team, but they were shared by his colleague Godfrey Driver. The two worked closely together, and in 1965 Driver published his massive and detailed opus on the Qumran material, The Judaean Scrolls. According to Driver, 'arguments to establish a pre-Christian date of the Scrolls are fundamentally unsound'. The sole reasons for establishing such a date were, he pointed out, paleographical, 'and these cannot stand alone'.6


Driver agreed with Roth that the scrolls referred to the period of the revolt in Judaea, between AD 66 and 74, and were thus 'more or less' contemporary with the New Testament. He also concurred with Roth that the Qumran community must have consisted of Zealots, not traditional Essenes. He calculated that the scrolls could have been deposited at Qumran any time between then and the end of the second revolt in Judaea, the rebellion of Simeon bar Kochba between AD 132 and 135.


He was scathing about the scholarship of the international team, as exemplified especially by de Vaux.

Roth and Driver were both famous, acknowledged, 'heavyweights' in their respective historical fields, who could not be ignored or cavalierly dismissed. Their prestige and their learning could not be impugned or discredited. Neither could they be isolated. And they were too skilled in academic controversy to put their own necks into a noose, as Allegro had done. They were, however, vulnerable to the kind of patronizing condescension that de Vaux and the international team, closing ranks in their consensus, proceeded to adopt.


Roth and Driver, august though they might be, were portrayed as out of their element in the field of Qumran scholarship. Thus, de Vaux, reviewing Driver's book in 1967, wrote,

'It is a sad thing to find here once more this conflict of method and mentality between the textual critic and the archaeologist, the man at his desk and the man in the field. '7

Not, of course, that de Vaux spent so very much time 'in the field' himself. As we have seen, he and most others on the international team were content to remain ensconced in their 'Scrollery', leaving the bulk of the fieldwork to the Bedouin. But the 'Scrollery', it might be argued, was at least closer to Qumran than was Oxford.


Moreover, de Vaux and his team could claim first-hand familiarity with the entire corpus of Qumran texts, which Roth and Driver, denied access to those texts, could not. And while Roth and Driver had questioned the international team's historical method, they had not actually confronted its excessive reliance on archaeology and paleography.

Archaeology and paleography appeared to be the team's strengths, allowing de Vaux to conclude his review of The Judaean Scrolls by stating, confidently and definitively, that 'Driver's theory ... is impossible'.8 He could also, by invoking archaeology and paleography, dazzle other figures in the field and effectively hijack their support. Thus Professor Albright was persuaded to weigh in against Driver, whose thesis, Albright declared, 'has failed completely'.


Its failure, Albright went on, derived from,

'an obvious skepticism with regard to the methodology of archaeologists, numismatists, and paleographers. Of course, he [Driver] had the bad luck to run into head-on collision with one of the most brilliant scholars of our day - Roland de Vaux... '9

Moving on to the offensive, the international team and their colleagues continued to bombard Roth and Driver with increasingly contemptuous criticism. Both, as Eisenman has observed, 'were ridiculed in a manner unbecoming their situation and with such ferocity as to make one wonder'.10 No one dared support them.


No one dared risk the wrath of the now solidly entrenched consensus.

'And the scholarly sheep', as Eisenman says, 'fell into line.'11

So far as Roth and Driver were concerned, their interests and reputations weren't confined exclusively to Qumran research. In consequence, they simply retired from the arena, not deeming it worthwhile to pursue the matter further. That this should have been allowed to happen testifies to the timidity and docility of other researchers in the field. It remains a black mark in the record of Qumran scholarship.

If the international team had exercised a monopoly before, their position now appeared to be unassailable. They had outmaneuvered two of their most potentially formidable adversaries, and their triumph seemed to be complete. Roth and Driver had been driven to silence on the subject. Allegro had been discredited. Everyone else who might pose a threat had been intimidated into compliance. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, the hegemony of the international team was virtually absolute.


By the mid-1980s, such opposition as existed to the international team was scattered and disorganized. Most of it found expression in the United States, through a single journal, Biblical Archaeology Review. In its issue for September/October 1985, BAR reported a conference on the Dead Sea Scrolls held at New York University the previous May. It repeated the statement by Professor Morton Smith made at that conference:

'I thought to speak on the scandals of the Dead Sea documents, but these proved too numerous, too familiar, and too disgusting.12 It observed that the international team were 'governed, so far as can be ascertained, largely by convention, tradition, collegiality and inertia'.13

And it concluded:

The insiders, the scholars with the text assignments (T.H. Gaster, professor emeritus of Barnard College, Columbia University, calls these insiders 'the charmed circle'), have the goodies - to drip out bit by bit. This gives them status, scholarly power and a wonderful ego trip. Why squander it? Obviously, the existence of this factor is controversial and disputed.14

BAR called attention to the residue of frustration and resentment built up among scholars of proven ability who had not been admitted to the 'charmed circle'. It also, by implication, called attention to the benefits reaped by institutions such as Harvard University, where both Cross and Strugnell were stationed and where 'pet' graduate students were granted access to Qumran material while far more experienced and qualified researchers weren't.


BAR ended its report by calling for 'immediate publication of photographs of the unpublished texts',15 echoing Morton Smith, who asked his colleagues to

'request the Israeli government, which now has ultimate authority over those scroll materials, immediately to publish photographs of all unpublished texts so that they will then be available to all scholars'.16

That Smith's exhortation was ignored again bears witness to academic faint-heartedness. At the same time, it must be mentioned that Smith's exhortation was unfortunate in that it implicitly passed the blame from the international team, the real culprits, to the Israeli government, which had more immediate problems on its hands.


The Israelis had kept their side of the bargain, made in 1967, that the international team would be allowed to retain their monopoly, provided they published; the international team had not. Thus, while the Israeli government might have been irresponsible in letting the situation continue, it was not to blame for the situation itself. As Eisenman soon came to realize, most Israelis - scholars and journalists alike, as well as government figures - were appallingly ignorant about the true situation, and, it must be said, indifferent to it.


Through this ignorance and indifference, an outdated status quo had been allowed to continue intact.

In 1985, however, the same year as the conference reported by BAR, a well-known Israeli MP, Yuval Ne'eman, began to take an interest in the matter, and in the process showed himself to be surprisingly well briefed. Ne'eman was a world-famous physicist, Professor of Physics and head of the Physics Department at Tel Aviv University until 1971, when he became President of the university.


Prior to that he had been a military planner, one of those responsible for evolving the basic strategic thinking of the Israeli Army. Between 1961 and 1963, he had been scientific director of the Soreq Research Establishment, the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission. Ne'eman raised the issue of the scrolls in the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, declaring it a 'scandal' that the Israeli authorities had not reviewed or updated the situation - that the international team had been left with a mandate and monopoly dating from the former Jordanian regime.


It was this challenge that finally forced the Israeli Department of Antiquities to investigate how and why an enclave of Catholic-oriented scholars should exercise so complete and exclusive a control over what was, in effect, an Israeli state treasure.

The Department of Antiquities proceeded to confront the international team on the question of publication. What accounted for the procrastination and delays, and what kind of timetable for publication could reasonably be expected? The director of the team at the time was Father Benoit, who on 15 September 1985 wrote to his colleagues.17


In this letter, a copy of which is in our possession, he reminded them of Morton Smith's call for immediate publication of photographs. He also complained (as if he were the aggrieved party) about the use of the word 'scandal', not just by Morton Smith, but by Ne'eman as well, in the Knesset. He went on to state his intention of recommending John Strugnell as 'chief editor' of future publications. And he requested a timetable for publication from each member of the team.

Compliance with Father Benoit's request was dilatory and patchy. The Department of Antiquities, prodded by Ne'eman, wrote to him again on 26 December 1985, repeating its request for a report and for answers to the questions it had raised.18 One cannot be sure whether Benoit based his reply on reliable information received from his colleagues, or whether he was simply improvising in order to buy time.


But he wrote to the Department of Antiquities promising definitively that everything in the international team's possession would be published within seven years - that is, by 1993.19 This timetable was submitted, in writing, as a binding undertaking, but of course no one took it seriously, and in personal conversation with us, Ne'eman stated he had heard 'on the grapevine' that the timetable was generally regarded as a joke.20 It has certainly proved to be so. There is no prospect whatever of all the Qumran material, or even a reasonable part of it, appearing by 1993.


Not even the whole of the material from Cave 4 has been published. Following Allegro's volume for Discoveries in the Judaean Desert back in 1968, only three more have been issued, in 1977, 1982 and 1990, bringing the total number of volumes to eight.

Nonetheless, the intensifying pressure engendered panic among the international team. Predictably enough, a search began for a scapegoat. Who had brought the Israeli government into the affair? Who had briefed Ne'eman and enabled him to raise the issue in the Knesset? Perhaps because of the repetition of the word 'scandal', the team concluded Geza Vermes to have been responsible. In fact, Vermes had had nothing whatever to do with the matter. It was Robert Eisenman who had briefed Ne'eman.


Eisenman had learned from the omissions of Roth and Driver. He appreciated that the entire edifice of the international team's consensus rested on the supposedly accurate data of archaeology and paleography. Roth and Driver had correctly dismissed these data as irrelevant, but without confronting them. Eisenman resolved to challenge the international team on their own terrain - by exposing the methodology and demonstrating that the resulting data were irrelevant.

He opened his campaign with the book that first brought him to our attention, Maccabees, Zadokites, Christians and Qumran, published by EJ. Brill in Holland in 1983. In this book, he posed the first serious challenge the international team had yet encountered to their archaeology and paleography. In his introduction, he explicitly flung down the gauntlet to the 'small group of specialists, largely working together' who had 'developed a consensus'.21


Given the text's limited audience and circulation, of course, the international team could simply ignore the challenge. Indeed, the likelihood is that none of them read it at the time, in all probability dismissing it as a piece of ephemera by an upstart novice.

Eisenman, however, refused to let his efforts be consigned to oblivion. By 1985, his second book, James the Just in the Habakkuk Pesher, had appeared in Italy, ironically under the imprint of one of the Vatican presses, Tipographia Gregoriana. It carried an Italian preface, and the next year, with some additions and a revised appendix, was brought out by EJ. Brill. That same year, Eisenman was appointed Fellow-in-Residence at the prestigious Albright Institute in Jerusalem. Here he began working behind the scenes to acquaint the Israeli government with the situation and raise the scrolls on their agenda of priorities.

The international team's stranglehold, he realized, could not be broken solely through decorous or even strident protests in learned journals. It would be necessary to bring external pressure to bear, preferably from above. Accordingly, Eisenman met and briefed Professor Ne'eman, and Ne'eman then forced the issue in the Knesset.

Later that year, Eisenman himself approached Father Benoit, and verbally requested access to the scrolls. Predictably enough, Benoit politely refused, adroitly suggesting that Eisenman should ask the Israeli authorities, and implying that the decision was not his to make. At this point, Eisenman was still unaware of the stratagems employed by the international team to thwart all applicants who wanted access to the scrolls. He was not, however, prepared to be excluded so easily.

All scholars during their tenure on the staff of the Albright Institute give one lecture to the general public. Eisenman's lecture was scheduled for February 1986, and he chose as his subject 'The Jerusalem Community and Qumran', with the provocative subtitle 'Problems in Archaeology, Palaeography, History, and Chronology'. As in the case of his book on James, the title itself was calculated to strike a nerve. In accordance with custom, the Albright Institute sent invitations to all important scholars in the field in Jerusalem, and it was a matter of courtesy for sister institutions, like the French Ecole Biblique, to be represented. Five or six turned up, a higher number than usual.

Since they were unfamiliar with Eisenman and his work, they may not have expected anything out of the ordinary. Gradually, however, their complacency began to crumble, and they listened to his arguments in silence.
* They declined to ask any questions at the end of the lecture, leaving without extending the usual courtesy of congratulations. For the first time, it had become apparent to them that in Eisenman they faced a serious challenge. True to form, they ignored it, in the hope, presumably, that it would go away.


* For an outline of Eisenman's remarks, see Chapter 10, Science in the Service of Faith.

The following spring, one of Eisenman's friends and colleagues, Professor Philip Davies of Sheffield University, arrived in Jerusalem for a short stay. He and Eisenman went to discuss with Magen Broshi, director of the Shrine of the Book, their desire to see the unpublished scroll fragments still sequestered by the international team.


Broshi laughed at what apparently struck him as a vain hope:

'You will not see these things in your lifetime,' he said.22

In June, towards the end of his stay in Jerusalem, Eisenman was invited to tea at the house of a colleague, a professor at the Hebrew University who would later become a member of the Israeli 'Scroll Oversight Committee'. Again he took Davies with him. A number of other academics, including Joseph Baumgarten of Baltimore Hebrew College, were present, and early in the evening John Strugnell - Allegro's old adversary and subsequently the head of the international team - made his appearance.


Boisterous and apparently intent on confrontation, he began to complain about 'unqualified people' importunately demanding access to the Qumran material. Eisenman responded on cue. How did Strugnell define 'qualified'? Was he himself 'qualified'? Aside from his supposed skills in analyzing handwriting, did he know anything about history? Ostensibly, it was all a half-joking, more or less 'civilized' debate, but it was growing ominously personal.

The next year, 1986-7, Eisenman spent at Oxford, as Senior Scholar at the Oxford Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies and visiting Member of Linacre College. Through contacts in Jerusalem, he had been given two secret documents. One was a copy of a scroll on which Strugnell was working, part of his 'private fiefdom'.


This text, written apparently by a leader of the ancient Qumran community and outlining a number of the community's governing precepts, is known by those in the field as the 'MMT' document. Strugnell had shown it around at the 1985 conference, but had not published it.23 (Nor has he yet, though the entire text comes to a mere 121 lines.)

The second document was of more contemporary significance. It comprised a computer print-out, or list, of all Qumran texts in the hands of the international team.24 What made it particularly important was that the international team had repeatedly denied that any such print-out or list existed. Here was definitive proof that vast quantities of material had not yet been published and were being suppressed.

Eisenman had no hesitation about what to do:

Since I had decided that one of the main problems between scholars, which had created this
whole situation in the first place, was over-protectiveness and jealously guarded secrecy, I decided
to circulate anything that came into my hands without conditions. This was the service I could
render; plus, it would undermine the international cartel or monopoly of such documents.25

Eisenman accordingly made available a copy of the 'MMT' document to anyone who expressed a desire to see it. These copies apparently circulated like wildfire, so much so that a year and a half later he received one back again from a third party who asked if he had seen it. He could tell by certain notations that this was one of the copies that he had originally allowed to circulate.

The print-out, like the 'MMT' document, was duly circulated, producing precisely the effect Eisenman had anticipated. He made a particular point of sending a copy of it to Hershel Shanks of BAR, thus providing the journal with ammunition to renew its campaign.

By this time, needless to say, Eisenman's relations with the international team were deteriorating. On the surface, of course, each maintained with the other a respectable academic demeanor of frosty civility. They could not, after all, publicly attack him for his actions, which had been manifestly disinterested, manifestly in the name of scholarship. But the rift was widening between them; and it wasn't long before a calculated attempt was made to freeze him out.

In January 1989, Eisenman visited Amir Drori, the newly appointed director of the Israeli Department of Antiquities. Drori inadvertently reported to Eisenman that he was about to sign an agreement with the team's new chief editor, John Strugnell. According to this agreement, the team's monopoly would be retained. The previous deadline for publication, accepted by Father Benoit, Strugnell's predecessor, was to be abrogated. All remaining Qumran material was to be published not by 1993, but by 1996.26

Eisenman was naturally appalled. Attempts to dissuade Drori, however, proved futile. Eisenman left the meeting determined to employ a new and more drastic stratagem. The only means of bringing pressure to bear on both the international team and on the Department of Antiquities, and perhaps stop Drori from proceeding with the contract, would be Israel's High Court of Justice, which dealt with miscarriages of justice and private appeals from individuals.

Eisenman explored the question with lawyers. Yes, they concluded, the High Court might be persuaded to intervene. In order for it to do so, however, Eisenman would have to present it with proof of a miscarriage of justice; he would have to show, preferably in writing, that access to the scrolls by a legitimate scholar had been refused. At the time, no such record existed - not, at least, in the legalistic sense the Court would require.


Other scholars had, of course, been refused access to the scrolls; but some of them were dead, others were scattered across the world, and there was none of the required documentation. Strugnell would therefore have to be approached with a series of new requests for access to specific materials - which, as a foregone conclusion, he would refuse. Now that Eisenman had the catalogue numbers, his task would be easier.

Not wishing to make this request alone, Eisenman felt it would be more impressive if he enlisted the support of others. He approached Philip Davies of Sheffield, who agreed to support him in what both recognized would be only the first shot of a prolonged engagement fought through the Israeli High Court.


On 16 March 1989, the two professors submitted a formal letter to John Strugnell.


They requested access to certain original fragments, and photographs of fragments, found at the Qumran site designated Cave 4, and listed in the computer print-out which Eisenman had leaked into circulation. In order to preclude any misunderstanding, they cited the reference numbers assigned by the print-out to the photographic negatives. They also requested access to a number of scroll commentaries, or commentary fragments, related to the primary text. They offered to pay all costs involved and promised not to publish any definitive transcription or translation of the material, which would be used only in their own research.


They promised, too, to abide by all the normal procedures of copyright law.

In their letter, Eisenman and Davies acknowledged the time and energy expended over the years by the international team - but, they said, they felt the team had 'already been adequately compensated' by enjoying such long and exclusive access to the Qumran material. They stated that thirty-five to forty years was long enough for other scholars to have waited for similar access, without which 'we can no longer make meaningful progress in our endeavors'.


The letter continued:

Surely your original commission was to publish these materials as quickly as possible for the
benefit of the scholarly community as a whole, not to control them. It would have been different,
perhaps, if you and your scholars had discovered these materials in the first place. But you did not;
they were simply assigned to you...... The situation as it now stands is abnormal in the extreme.


Therefore, as mature scholars at
the height of our powers and abilities, we feel it is an imposition upon us and a hardship to ask us
to wait any longer for the research availability of and access to these materials forty years after
their discovery.27

Eisenman and Davies expected Strugnell to refuse their requests. Strugnell, however, did not bother to reply at all. On 2 May, therefore, Eisenman wrote to Amir Drori - who earlier that year had renewed the international team's monopoly with the publication deadline of 1996.


Eisenman enclosed a copy of the letter to Strugnell, mentioning that it had been posted to both of Strugnell's addresses, at Harvard and in Jerusalem.


Of Strugnell's failure to reply, he wrote:

'Frankly, we are tired of being treated contemptuously. This kind of cavalier treatment is not really a new phenomenon, but is part and parcel of the process that has been going on for 20-30 years or more . . ,'28

Since Strugnell would not grant access to the Qumran material, Eisenman requested that Drori, exercising a higher authority, should do so. He then made two particularly important points. As long as the international team continued to control the Qumran texts, it would not be sufficient merely to speed up the publication schedule.


Nothing short of free scholarly access would be satisfactory - to check the international team's conclusions, to allow for variations in translation and interpretation, to discern connections the team themselves might perhaps have overlooked:

We cannot be sure... that they have exhausted all possible fragments in relation to a given
document or that they are putting fragments together in proper sequence. Nor can we be sure if
the inventories are in fact complete and that fragments may not have been lost, destroyed or
overlooked in some manner or for some reason. Only the whole of the interested scholarly
community working together can assure this.29

The second point would appear, at least with hindsight, to be self-evident. The international team insisted on the importance of archaeology and paleography. It was on the basis of their supposedly accurate archaeological and paleographical studies, as Eisenman had explained, that dates for the Qumran texts had been posited - and accepted.


Yet the texts themselves had been subject only to carbon-dating tests in use at around the time of the scrolls' discovery - tests which were very clumsy and consumed much manuscript material. Lest too much text be lost, therefore, only some of the wrappings found in the jars had been tested. These confirmed a date of around the beginning of the Christian era.


None of the texts had been tested by the more recent techniques of Carbon-14 dating, even though Carbon-14 dating had now been refined by the newer AMS (Accelerator Mass Spectroscopy) technique. Little material would now be lost in the process and greater accuracy could be achieved. Eisenman therefore suggested that Drori exercise his authority and perform new, up-to-date tests.


He also recommended that outsiders be brought into the process to keep it fair. He concluded his letter with a passionate appeal:

'Please act to release these materials to interested scholars who need them to proceed with professional research without prejudice and without distinction immediately. '30

No doubt prompted by Drori, Strugnell, in Jerusalem at the time, at last replied on 15 May. Despite the fact that Eisenman's letter to him had been posted to his address at both Harvard and Jerusalem, he blamed the delay on its having been sent to 'the wrong country'.31

According to BAR,

'Strugnell's imperious reply to Eisenman's request for access displays extraordinary intellectual hauteur and academic condescension.'32

In it, he declares himself 'puzzled' as to why Eisenman and Davies showed their letter to 'half the Who's Who of Israel'. He accuses them of not having followed 'acceptable norms' and refers to them as 'lotus-eaters', which, in Strugnell's Mandarin, presumably denotes Californians, though why this term should apply to Philip Davies at Sheffield is an open question.


Strugnell contrives not just to deny Eisenman's and Davies's request for access, but also to dodge each of the salient points they had raised. He advises them to take as their example the way 'such requests have been handled in the past' and go through established channels - ignoring the fact that all such requests 'in the past' had been denied. He also complains that the print-out Eisenman and Davies had used to cite reference numbers of photographic negatives was old and out of date.


He neglects to mention that this print-out, not to mention any new one, had been unavailable to non-members of the international team until Eisenman put it into circulation.33

Eisenman responded to Strugnell's brush-off by going as public as he possibly could.


By the middle of 1989, the issue had become a cause célèbre in American and Israeli newspapers, and, to a lesser degree, was picked up by the British press as well. Eisenman was extensively and repeatedly quoted by the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, Time Magazine and Canada's Maclean's Magazine.


He stressed five major points:

  1. That all research on the Dead Sea Scrolls was being unfairly monopolized by a small enclave of scholars with vested interests and a biased orientation.

  2. That only a small percentage of the Qumran material was finding its way into print and that most of it was still being withheld.

  3. That it was misleading to claim that the bulk of the so-called 'biblical' texts had been released, because the most important material consisted of the so-called 'sectarian' texts - new texts, never seen before, with a great bearing on the history and religious life of the 1st century.

  4. That after forty years, access to the scrolls should be made available to all interested scholars.

  5. That AMS Carbon-14 tests, monitored by independent laboratories and researchers, should immediately be conducted on the Qumran documents.

As was perhaps inevitable, once the media had begun to sensationalize it, the affair quickly degenerated, with Eisenman being misquoted on two separate occasions, and a barrage of invective coming from both sides. But behind the clash of egos, the central issue remained unresolved.


As Philip Davies had written in 1988:

Any archaeologist or scholar who digs or finds a text but does not pass on what has been found
deserves to be locked up as an enemy of science. After forty years we have neither a full and
definitive report on the dig nor a full publication of the scrolls.34

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