Scrolls monopoly the collapse and after

Time has not stood still since that day in September 1991 when the Scrolls transcripts were released to the public by the Huntington Library, though one could easily get that impression from all the noise emanating from Biblical scholarly circles spilling over into the media. It is now very much a media event. The current situation is: what until that time was a debate confined to a small circle of specialists has turned into an acrimonious public squabble; and considering the stakes involved this is only to be expected. While there have been some fascinating new developments that are worth examining, they do not, however, alter the basic picture of Christianity presented in the book. If anything they add to it by supplying more details about Christianity's borrowings from Qumranian sources. They also add greatly to the continuing drama.

It will no doubt be some years before members of the public can be expected to be in a position to grasp all the major issues involved in the controversy; it may well take a new generation to recognize and accept the reality that the Church version of its history has virtually been overthrown. (It is hoped that the present book will be of some help in understanding this.) Likewise, it will be a while before a consensus is reached on the history of Christianity - if ever - but the ultimate outcome seems inevitable: the Church will not be able to defend its version of history or its doctrine. There does not seem to be much it can do about it. The horse has bolted; keeping the barn door shut won't make it come back in. Then there is also the albatross to bear - of having concealed the Scrolls from public view for over four decades. This is not easy to explain away, especially when Eisenman and Robinson were able to publish their facsimile edition of all the Scrolls texts within two years of their coming into Eisenman's possession. (This story is related a little later)

At the present time, the drama has shifted from Qumran to academia and the media. Many reputations and careers are now at stake. At the centre of controversy are two men: Robert Eisenman whom we have already met, and a young manuscripts specialist and Aramaic scholar from Chicago - Dr Michael Wise. We shall get to the story of their remarkable collaboration shortly, but first, a little more about the drama of the discovery of the Scrolls that now bids fair to overtake the drama of the birth of Christianity itself - though without the attendant bloodshed.

As noted previously, the Scrolls manuscripts were released to the public by the Huntington Library in September 1991, on the 22nd to be exact. This, however, had been preceded by a dramatic development. On September 5, 1991, American newspapers reported that Professor Ben-Zion Wacholder of the Hebrew Union

College in Cincinnati and his graduate student Martin Abegg had used the secret concordance of Hebrew words prepared by the International Team (and leaked by someone) to recreate the texts with the help of computer analysis. It is unnecessary to go into the technical details, but it appears likely that they had used artificial intelligence (AI) techniques to supply the missing verbs and arrive at a plausible text. They claimed eighty percent accuracy for their reconstruction - a figure that appears rather optimistic to this writer (himself a computer scientist), but it does not really matter. Less than three weeks later, the Huntington Library released the full transcripts.

Even this release had been pre-empted - by Robert Eisenman no less. It transpired that he had a source in Jerusalem - within the confines of the Ecole Biblique itself. This source had been feeding him photographs of the Scrolls beginning late in the year 1989. Within a year, before the end of 1990, he had in his possession a complete set of photographs of all the Scrolls materials! This now explains how he and J.M. Robinson were able to bring out their two-volume magnum opus A Facsimile Edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls within weeks of their release by the Huntington Library: they had made use of the material supplied by Eisenman's secret source at the Ecole Biblique.97

This was soon followed by another major development - the publication of the book The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered: The First Complete Translation and Interpretation of 50 Key Documents withheld for over 35 years authored by Eisenman and Wise. It represents a major advance in the history of modern Biblical scholarship. It is now a primary source for all research on the subject (including some of the work leading to the present volume). The Introduction to the book (written in third person) describes how the materials happened to come into Eisenman's hands:

...behind the scenes events were transpiring that would make even these discussions [some controversies and rumours] moot.

Eisenman had been identified in the flurry of world-wide media attention as the scholarly point man in this struggle. As a result, photographs of the remaining unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls were made available to him. These began coming to him in September 1989. At first they came in small consignments, then more insistently, until by the autumn of 1990, a year later, photographs of virtually the whole of the unpublished corpus and then some had been made over to him. Those responsible for this obviously felt he would know what to do with them. The present editors hope that this confidence has been justified. The publication of the two volume Facsimile Edition two years later, together with the present volume, is the result.98 (Eisenman and Wise, pp. 3-4)

Eisenman, it turned out, had excellent help; his choice of Michael Wise had been

97 This secret source was probably the estate of the Jordanian photographer Najib Al-Bina who photographed the Scrolls when they were in the custody of the Rockfeller Institute then located in Jordan. But Eisenman has refused to either confirm or deny it.

98 And yet, the Church and its theologians have apparently not given up. They are now claiming that they had always co-operated with Biblical scholars by promptly releasing rheir work on the Dead Sea Scrolls and point to the Eisenman-Robinson two-volume Facsimile Edition as evidence! The feminist theologian Barbara Thiering has recently written: "It is not the case that whole scrolls of any significance have been suppressed. ...A very large number of small fragments especially those from Cave Four had remained unpublished, chiefly because they were thought to be of less interest. They have now been published [by Eisenman and Robinson]." Jesus the Man, London, Corgi. 1993, pp. 566-67, I leave it to the ingenuity of the reader to reconcile this statement with the recent history of the Scrolls monopoly.

most fortunate. In contrast to the flamboyant Eisenman with his reputation for abrasiveness, Wise appears softly spoken and studious. But as often the case with such people, Wise seems absolutely sure of his grasp of his subject; his mild exterior conceals a formidable mastery of two esoteric fields - ancient manuscripts, and Semitic languages (Hebrew and Aramaic).99 The more the two examined the Scrolls, the more convinced they became that the origins of Christianity as presented by the Church was entirely unfounded.

To begin with, they found that the community of Qumran had messianic expectations. This of course is something that was already known as has been made clear in the text. But what is new and extraordinary is that the Qumranians believed that the coming Messiah would perform miracles - like healing the sick and resurrecting the dead. In the text known as the 'Messiah of Heaven and Earth' given by Eisenman and Wise we have the following remarkable passage (p. 23):

The Heavens and Earth will obey His Messiah, ...and all that is in them...

And for wonders that are not the works of the Lord ... Then He will heal the sick, resurrect the dead, to the meek announce glad tidings ...He will lead the Holy Ones; He will shepherd them.

Then there is the passage about the Davidic Messiah given by Geza Vermes in the latest revision of his book The Dead Sea Scrolls: Qumran in Perspective (S.C.M. Press, London 1994. p. 53):

I shall be the father and he shall be my son. He is the branch of David who shall arise with the Interpreter of the Law to rule in Zion at the end of time.

The Gospels of course attribute all these to Jesus the Messiah (Christ). This lends further support to the claim made by Andre Dupont-Sommer and later also by John Allegro that Jesus of the Gospels was a fictional character created by drawing upon traditions and expectations of the people living at the time, as reflected in the Qumran texts. (I have stated before my own preference: Jesus was probably an unimportant brother of James who came to be given the attributes of the expected Messiah, to be used in Paul's propaganda. Either way, he can only be seen as the embodiment of the expectations of the Qumran community.)

There are recent reports of Eisenman and Wise as having located references (if my somewhat hurried reading is correct) that show the story of the crucifixion of Christ (or Messiah) to be in the Scrolls. It is said to refer to what they call a 'Pierced Messiah' anticipating Christ on the Cross. Their reading is: 'They shall slay the Prince of Congregation by Piercing'.

This reading remains controversial but eminently plausible. Some, notably those allied on the side of the Church, fiercely oppose it, while independent scholars -Norman Golb of Chicago for instance - find this plausible. The following passage is found in one of the texts published by Eisenman and Wise which could also refer to a crucifixion (p. 145):

Investigate and seek and know how Jonah wept. Thus, you shall not destroy the weak by wasting away or by [crucif]ixion ...Let not the nail touch him. Then you shall raise up for your father a name of

99 This impression of Eisenman and Wise is based on what I have learnt through other sources and the media including television. I do not know either of the two men personally.

rejoicing and for all your brothers a [firm] Foundation. ...You shall see and you shall rejoice in the Eternal Light and you will not be one who is hated of (God). (Emphasis added.)

This beautiful passage is from the recently published Qumran text known as 'A Firm Foundation'100 As Eisenman and Wise point out, this text and its imagery of light has close connections with the Gospel of John. The reference to the 'Pierced Messiah' which came to light only recently was apparently found by them in a fragment that is not one of the fifty texts given in their book. It is a small fragment, not much larger than a postage stamp, that was found presumably after its publication. If the train of revelations from the Qumran texts continues along these lines, the case for the historicity of Jesus will become increasingly hard to sustain. The Gospels have been shown to be even more untrustworthy than previously thought; they owe everything save distortions and fabrications to the Qumranians.

The battle for the interpretation of the Qumran texts has predictably given rise to a division within the community of Biblical scholars. The 'orthodox' position, the one held by the Church that is, is under assault from several quarters - doctrinal, historical and, not the least, its own conduct in concealing the truth. The Church, however, sees the greatest threat as coming from Eisenman; not even John Allegro posed such a problem. In what can only be seen as a damage control effort, the Church has come out with its own version called Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls: The Controversy Resolved edited by John Charlesworth, published by Doubleday of New York (1992). Despite the hopeful title the controversy is definitely not resolved. For one it fails to explain why the Church and its institutions found it necessary to sit on the manuscripts for forty years and more. As a damage control exercise, it is unimpressive, especially considering the enormous financial and publicity resources at the Church's command.

Recognizing this, orthodox Christian scholars have mounted a feverish campaign against Eisenman and Wise, particularly the former. One has an eerie sense of having seen all this before - in the case of John Allegro to be precise. There are now similar efforts in motion to discredit Eisenman as an irresponsible scholar and publicity hound. As in the case of Allegro, no one has tried to refute his work on scholarly grounds; only charges are being floated that he is fond of making sensational statements in the media. How any of this changes anything in the Dead Sea Scrolls (which Eisenman published) remains unexplained. Publicity hound or not - Eisenman's record of having published both the facsimile edition of all the texts, and the translations of fifty key documents is likely to stand for the foreseeable future as a monumental contribution.

Norman Golb has also pointed out that criticisms of the readings given by Eisenman and Wise are premature in view of the fact that their offering is a first pioneering edition of documents that lay buried for two thousand years and more. There are bound to be revisions and better readings in subsequent editions. Timeliness is often no less important than accuracy. In any event, Church partisans are not on very firm grouud when they denounce Eisenman for his actions while they themselves had been sitting on the same material for more than forty years. They had every opportunity while Eisenman had to struggle long and hard for access. All of us owe him a debt of gratitude for his resourcefulness and his commitment to the progress of knowledge.

100 Some of the texts given in The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered are of great literary beauty that comes through even in the translation. This is especially true of the Hymns and Mysteries that make up Chapter 7 of the book. One begins to see that the New Testament owes much of its reputation as a literary masterpiece to these Qumranian authors.

Nor is this the whole story of the Church's intransigence. Upon learning that E.J. Brill of Leiden had a contract with Eisenman to publish the Facsimile Edition, the Vatican brought its formidable influence to bear on the publisher and had the contract cancelled at the last moment. Fortunately, the Biblical Archaeological Society of Washington stepped in and published it with a minimum of delay. Eisenman and Wise tell us in their introduction:

In pursuance of the goal of absolutely free access without qualifications, Eisenman was preparing the Facsimile Edition of all the unpublished plates. This was scheduled to appear the following spring through E.J. Brill of Leiden, Holland. Ten days, however, before it was scheduled for publication in April 1991, after pressure was applied by the International Team [of the Ecole Biblique], the publisher inexplicably withdrew and Hershel Shanks and the Biblical Archaeology Society to their credit stepped in to fill the breach. (p.4)

In the light of this sordid history, the Church's charges against Eisenman - as a man more interested in publicity than true scholarship rings hollow. The onus now is on Christian scholars to produce evidence that their Jesus of the Gospels was historical; and this evidence will have to be independent of the New Testament. For too long, the Church has gotten away with its claim that the Gospels represent a historical Jesus; they will now have to produce independent evidence. If Jesus Christ is not historical but only a creation of interested parties - a personification of the messianic expectations of the Qumran cult - what happens to the teachings of Christianity as the word of God revealed to His Only Son? This is the fate of every paurusheya religion - as perishable as the purusha who created it.

Deeply perturbed by these developments, the Ecole Biblique invited a team of Belgian experts led by Dr Pauline Donceel Voute to study the archaeology of Qumran. In this their hope was that the study would substantiate the Church position - that the Qumranians were recluses who had little to do with the rest of Palestine, and therefore completely divorced from the movement that led to the birth of Christianity. The plan backfired. The result was a comical denouement worthy of an Italian opera buffa. The Belgians found that Qumran was a major producer of perfumes (balsam oil) - a highly profitable commodity in Palestine. They found also evidence of other luxury items. This does not go very well with the official Church version of Qumranians as reclusive monks uninterested in the outside world.

Not less embarrassing for the Ecole Biblique was the determination by the Belgian team that the late Father de Vaux had grossly misinterpreted his own archaeological finds. He had described a perfumery as the office used in preparing manuscripts! -the Dead Sea Scrolls no less! This was noted by Michael Wise who went on to point out that the Scrolls showed the hand of literally hundreds of different scribes over different periods - hardly possible had they all been produced by just a few scribes working in a single room. The inescapable conclusion is: the Dead Sea Scrolls were created by people living all over Palestine, and not just a few scribes belonging to a reclusive group working in a single office. These findings also shattered what was left of de Vaux's reputation as an archaeologist. But as Eisenman pointed out, de Vaux's training was in sociology, not archaeology. The orthodox position, it seems, lies in shambles.

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