1. The Creation of the Official Editorial Team (1953–4)
Following the publication between 1950 and 1954 of the first six Scrolls from Cave 1 (the great Isaiah Scroll, the Habakkuk Commentary and the Community Rule, the incomplete Isaiah Scroll, the Scroll of Hymns and the War Scroll), and concurrently with the discoveries of the other ten caves and the archaeological excavations at Qumran, the period between 1950 and 1962 witnessed the start of Dead Sea Scrolls scholarship. This was a schizophrenic era, displaying signs of high promise and admirable enthusiasm on the one hand, but also foreshadowing the many troubles which were to follow. The large majority of those involved first perceived only the rosy side of the future; it took some years to realize the enormity of the task and to foresee the upheavals that lay ahead.
Since the first scroll discovery was unique and completely unparalleled, procedural rules had to be devised for the publication of the thousands of fragments. No institution stood formally behind the venture and in the absence of a supervisory body (neither the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, nor the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem, or the French School of Bible and Archaeology could act as such), influential individuals used their authority to lay down the law. On the Israeli side, Eleazar Sukenik, the Hebrew University’s professor of archaeology, had been director of the Museum of Jewish Antiquities since 1938, and locally he had unchallenged authority. His son Yigael, who had adopted his underground codename Yadin, inherited his father’s chair and influence. The two of them, with the archaeologist and epigraphist Nahman Avigad, completed (or as far as the Genesis Apocryphon was concerned, initiated) in record time the basic edition of the second Isaiah Scroll, the Hodayot or Thanksgiving Hymns and the War Scroll. In the circumstances, their contribution was truly outstanding.
On the Jordanian side, the situation was less satisfactory. Gerald Lankester Harding, the English director of the Department of Antiquities, appointed during the Mandate in 1936 and holding his post for twenty years, was a Near-Eastern archaeologist, but not a Hebrew expert. When called upon to act after the Arab Legion had identified the first scroll cave in 1949, he invited the Frenchman Father Roland de Vaux, who was both a biblical scholar and an archaeologist, to collaborate with him. Owing to the difference in qualifications, it was quite natural that de Vaux soon outshone Harding and took on himself the supreme leadership in Scrolls matters in Arab Jerusalem. He enjoyed great authority, which derived from his directorship of the prestigious École Biblique, an internationally famous establishment, arguably the world’s leading institution in Palestinian archaeology and biblical studies. It was a kind of academic sanctuary in the eyes of Catholic Scripture interpreters, but viewed in the past, during the tyrannical days of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, with a degree of suspicion by the retrograde Church authorities in Rome.
The School, which was to become the main centre of research on the scroll fragments in Arab Jerusalem, was founded in 1890 by the brilliant French Dominican scholar, Father Marie-Joseph Lagrange (1855–1938), who also launched the quarterly Revue Biblique in 1892. Originally known as the École Pratique d’Étude Biblique, indicating that the scriptural realia (archaeology, geography and history) were in the forefront of its teaching programme, it was renamed the École Biblique et Archéologique Française after its elevation in 1920 to the status of a national institute of higher education by the French Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres. In the absence of an appropriate school run by the Jordanian state and of comparable learned establishments financed by western countries in Jerusalem, the École was the obvious choice for the planning and organization of Qumran research. The Jerusalem branch of the American Schools of Oriental Research (since 1970, the W. F. Albright Institute of Oriental Research) had no permanent academic personnel at the time and was staffed by a small number of professors, who held their positions for a year only.
After the exploration of Cave 1 and the collection of the hundreds of manuscript fragments left there by Muhammed edh-Dhib and his companions, de Vaux took it upon himself to find and commission editors. No one among the experienced teachers of the École Biblique was thought to be suitable for the job or was willing to undertake it. Fortunately de Vaux recruited two young Hebraists who, without previous experience, were prepared to make their apprenticeship on the Scrolls, and he charged them with the study and edition of the fragments retrieved in Cave 1. One of these was the young French Dominican Dominique Barthélemy (born in 1921), a student of the École between 1949 and 1951. The other was a philological and epigraphic genius, the even younger Polish priest, Józef Tadeusz Milik (born in 1922), a student of biblical and oriental languages and cultures in Rome, who had come to de Vaux’s notice as the author of several impressive articles on the Scrolls in Latin, Italian and English, published in 1950 and 1951. The two formed an ideal pair and having devoted an almost excessive amount of zeal and loving care even to the most insignificant bits of manuscript, they completed their almost Herculean task in practically no time. When I visited the École in October 1952 with the permission of de Vaux – who was charm and kindness personified while I was his guest–I was invited by Barthélemy and Milik to acquaint myself with their unpublished material, which was to form volume I of the series Discoveries in the Judaean Desert. To all intents and purposes their text was ready for Oxford University Press by the end of 1952 and OUP seems to have needed more time to typeset, print and bind the volume (published in 1955) than Barthélemy and Milik had required for researching and writing it. This was a brilliant beginning and the two novice scholars earned full marks. Their lucky boss, chief editor de Vaux, could enjoy the reflected glory.
While Barthélemy and Milik were labouring on the Cave 1 fragments, the Bedouin, as we know from the previous chapter, were not inactive either and by 1952 they had sniffed out further manuscript deposits in several caves in the Qumran region and a little further afield. These fresh finds, culminating in the giant cache in Cave 4, created a situation never faced before in the field of Hebrew manuscript research. De Vaux was confronted with a double problem: how to recruit manpower and how to raise money to finance the project. The limited funds the Jordanian Department of Antiquities was able to grant de Vaux to conduct his oriental bargaining with the Bedouin had run out long before all the fragments on offer could be acquired. The going rate for fragments was apparently $2.80 per square centimetre. To refill de Vaux’s coffers, a dual stratagem was devised. Institutions in Europe and North America were approached for financial support, coupled with a tentative promise that some time in the future they would receive a certain quantity of textual pieces after they had been published. Contributions were obtained from McGill University of Montreal, the Vatican Library, the universities of Heidelberg, Oxford and Manchester, McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago, and All Souls Church, New York. As a further incentive, some of the academic institutions were invited straightaway to suggest the names of gifted young scholars for appointment to the editorial team. This was the idea behind the creation of the notorious ‘international and interconfessional’ body of editors. The centre of research being in Arab Jerusalem, Israeli scholars were excluded and non-Israeli Jewish Hebraists unwelcome. (My visit in 1952 preceded the creation of the team and in any case I still counted as a Christian until 1957.) The plan to distribute some of the fragments to foreign libraries or universities was soon countermanded by the Jordanian government, which declared the Dead Sea Scrolls national patrimony, and volumes III–V of DJD (1962–8) appeared under the title, Discoveries in the Judaean Desert of Jordan.
The new editors were appointed by de Vaux in 1953–4. The two tried and tested scholars, Dominique Barthélemy and Joseph Milik, had already earned their stripes. Milik became the pillar of the project, but for reasons known only to himself, Barthélemy declined the invitation. He thereafter devoted himself to the study of a Greek translation of the Twelve Minor Prophets discovered in a different area of the Judaean desert (Nahal Hever), and published an outstanding study of the Greek versions of the Bible under the title of Les devanciers d’Aquila in 1963. Subsequently he turned his back on Qumran studies as such and spent the next forty years of his life in research on biblical textual criticism in the framework of the United Bible Societies’ Hebrew and Old Testament Bible Project, until his death in 2002.
Two established scholars then joined de Vaux’s team: Monsignor Patrick Skehan, professor of Scripture at the Catholic University of America, and the Abbé Jean Starcky, a well-known French Orientalist from the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) of Paris, an expert in Aramaic dialects. The other five were at the start of their careers: the French Abbé Maurice Baillet, also of the CNRS, the American Frank Moore Cross, of McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago (later professor at Harvard University), the German Claus-Hunno Hunzinger from the University of Göttingen, and two from Britain, John Allegro of Manchester University and the Benjamin of the group, John Strugnell, in his early twenties, freshly graduated from Oxford in 1954 (and later employed at Chicago University, Duke University, and finally at Harvard). Most of the editors were gifted or highly gifted, but they formed an odd bunch. Without counting de Vaux, there were four Catholic priests – Starcky, Skehan, Baillet and Milik (the latter subsequently left the priesthood); one Presbyterian (Cross) and one Lutheran (Hunzinger, who later resigned and his lot was inherited by Baillet); one Methodist (Allegro, who turned agnostic); and one Anglican (Strugnell, who became a convert to Roman Catholicism). Two of them were, or soon turned into, alcoholics. Even without the wisdom of hindsight it would have been easy to foresee troubles looming on the horizon.
But at the beginning all was joy, sweetness and enthusiasm. Learned periodicals were filled with studies and preliminary editions of fascinating Dead Sea texts. Scholars watching the events from the sidelines did not yet feel excluded as fresh revelations were promptly put at their disposal piecemeal. The editors, or at least some of them, were still very conscious of their duty towards their fellow researchers and the interested public. I heard Milik deliver a report at an international Old Testament congress in Strasbourg in 1956, whose concluding paragraph is worth quoting as it revealed the spirit that animated the team, or at least Milik himself, in the early years.
The point that will particularly interest you is that of the delays in publishing. The interval separating volume II [of DJD] from volume I [published the year before in 1955] may seem long. It is due to the large amount of work, partly material, that the discoveries of 1952 (Caves 2–10) have imposed on us. In any case, once volume II is published, the remainder will follow at the speed of one or several volumes per annum. (my italics)
(Volume du Congrès, 1956, Vetus Testamentum,
Supplément IV, 1957, p. 26)
In the 1950s the world still trusted the editorial team. The large amount of work alluded to by Milik concerned the thousands of fragments amassed in the ‘scrollery’ of the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem which were eagerly studied. Bits belonging to the same piece of skin, showing the same colour and bearing the same handwriting, were set apart and painstakingly pieced together. The world’s greatest jigsaw puzzle was progressively assembled. Texts were identified, catalogued and given a preliminary translation. Words in their contexts were copied on to index cards and index cards arranged alphabetically in boxes. Under the moral and academic leadership of Milik, the future was envisaged with rosy optimism. But everything was not as smooth and promising as the insiders imagined.
From the very beginning de Vaux, hovering above and watching his underlings with a hawk’s eyes, adopted a proprietorial attitude towards the Scrolls. Matters relating to them were to be kept under a bushel until the editor-in-chief and his team had agreed to release them. I had personal experience of this change in attitude. The charm and friendliness Father de Vaux had shown me while I was at the École vanished. The copy of my book, Les manuscrits du désert de Juda, published in December 1953, in which I thanked him for his kind hospitality and help, was coolly received. In his reply of 31 January 1954, de Vaux reproached me – after glancing at, but before reading the volume – with making public ‘without authority’, some of the ‘friendly information’ (renseignements amicaux) I had received during my one-month stay at the École.
In de Vaux’s mind, all the Qumran manuscripts were to be kept secret until their definitive publication in Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, however long the editorial work might take. The unpublished scrolls were in his and his collaborators’ safekeeping, and were not to be made available for study to outsiders. Already by 1954, when I was reprimanded by de Vaux, a ‘closed shop’ had been set up for Scrolls editors. However, my ‘indiscretion’ was insignificant compared with the first serious trespass. It occurred within the team itself, engineered by John Allegro when he acted as intermediary in arranging the opening of the Copper Scroll at the Manchester College of Science and Technology. After divulging bits of this Scroll, which did not belong to his lot, in a BBC broadcast in 1956, he succeeded, without de Vaux’s agreement or even knowledge, to obtain permission to publish the whole document from the Jordanian Director of Antiquities, Dr Awni Dajani. His edition of The Treasure of the Copper Scroll appeared in 1960, two years before de Vaux’s appointee, J. T. Milik, brought out the official (and much better) edition in volume III of Discoveries in the Judaean Desert. As for Allegro’s treasure hunt to retrieve the hidden gold and silver, predictably he returned from it empty-handed (see chapter II, p. 28).
The one positive outcome of the Allegro adventure was the relatively prompt publication of the contents of the so-called minor caves (Caves 2–3, 5–10), including the Copper Scroll from Cave 3, by Milik and Baillet in 1962. In the absence of Allegro’s provocative intervention the volume might have been delayed considerably longer. Thus the first period of modest editorial activity came to an end, nine years after the birth of de Vaux’s brainchild, the international and interconfessional editorial team. The heart of the matter – the mass of the fragments collected from Cave 4 – was not even touched until 1968 when Allegro’s slim and far from perfect DJD V appeared. We had then to wait until long after de Vaux’s death in 1971 before genuine progress was actually made, beginning in the 1990s.
2. The Initial Phase of Scrolls Scholarship and Early Controversies
The enthusiastic announcement of ‘the most sensational Hebrew manuscript discovery of all time’ was not immediately endorsed by the whole scholarly community. Two kinds of objection were raised by academics prior to the archaeological investigation of the Qumran caves and ruins: some doubted the authenticity of the manuscripts, chief among them Professor Solomon Zeitlin of Dropsie College, Philadelphia, while others queried their antiquity in the wake of the famous Oxford Semitist, Professor G. R. Driver.
At the start, a number of established scholars remained on the fence as they recalled the ill-famed fake Deuteronomy Scroll of Shapira. It consisted of fifteen leather strips with archaic Hebrew characters, recalling the script of the inscription of Mesha, king of Moab (eighth century BCE), discovered at Diban in Transjordan in 1868. With his Deuteronomy manuscript, William Moses Shapira, a Jerusalem antiquity dealer, nearly managed to fool the authorities of the British Museum in 1883. He pretended that the strips (probably cut off from the margins of an old synagogue roll of the Bible) were 2,500 years old. The fraud was denounced by the French archaeologist Charles Clermont-Ganneau, who happened, also, to be one of the first modern visitors in 1873 to Khirbet Qumran (see chapter II, p. 32). When found out, Shapira committed suicide. Thereafter the leather strips disappeared so that they could not be checked in the light of the Dead Sea Scrolls. But the story explains the initial nervousness of established Hebraists. They did not want to become the laughing stock of academia.
In the wake of the first Qumran find, Professor Solomon Zeitlin, a well-known rabbinic expert and editor of the influential Jewish Quarterly Review, filled the pages of successive issues of his periodical with a series of articles aimed at denouncing and discrediting the discovery. He rejected the view that the texts belonged to antiquity at all and suggested instead that they were recent forgeries planted in the cave by crooks with a view to deceiving, and extracting money from, credulous collectors. The titles of the articles reveal Zeitlin’s thought: ‘Scholarship and the Hoax of the recent Discoveries’, ‘The Fiction of the recent Discoveries near the Dead Sea’, ‘The Propaganda of the Hebrew Scrolls and the Falsification of History’, etc., all published between 1949 and 1955. The renowned British Semitic scholar, Professor G. R. (later Sir Godfrey) Driver, without going as far as Zeitlin and calling the Scrolls a fraud, arrived at the conclusion in 1951 that the biblical text and some of the grammatical peculiarities contained in them pointed to a date of around AD 500. He later recanted, became one of the founding fathers of the Zealot theory, and dated the Scrolls to the first century CE. Others, apparently including the great Palestinian archaeologist of the École Biblique, the Dominican Father L. H. Vincent, when told about the complete Isaiah manuscript in 1948, thought that it was medieval.
Among the established authorities, who, at the risk of their reputation, favoured the authenticity and antiquity of the manuscripts discovered in 1947, we find, in addition to their publishers, E. L. Sukenik and M. Burrows, W. F. Albright, the famous American archaeologist; Paul Kahle, the editor of the critical text of the Hebrew Bible, and H. H. Rowley, an influential British Old Testament expert from Manchester; the well-known French Orientalist André Dupont-Sommer, professor at the Sorbonne; and Otto Eissfeldt, a leading Old Testament scholar from Halle in Germany and author of the standard introduction to the Hebrew Bible. The hesitancy of the large majority of the great and the good gave a chance to brave and enterprising young scholars to win their spurs: among them (in alphabetical order) were J. M. Allegro (who in 1970 compromised his academic reputation; see pp. 61–2), D. Barthélemy, F. M. Cross, J. T. Milik, G. Vermes and Y. Yadin (a relatively late starter at the age of thirty-five, on his retirement from the office of Chief of Staff of the Israel Defence Forces). We all began to make our contribution to Qumran studies in the 1950s.
From 1951, serious research into the Dead Sea Scrolls was on its way, and by 1956, the year of the preliminary publication of the last of the seven manuscripts from Cave 1 (the Genesis Apocryphon), following the edition of the fragments collected from that cave in 1955, a substantial literature became available in all the major languages, addressed both to the academic and the intelligent non-specialist readership, first in the form of articles in newspapers and periodicals, but soon also as books. The prompt development of Scrolls studies was due to a fortunate accident: with the exception of the Temple Scroll found in Cave 11 and published in 1977, all the major manuscripts came from Cave 1 and were the first to be discovered and their contents were the first to appear. If, instead of the big Scrolls, the early editors had been obliged to struggle with the thousands of jumbled fragments, no general understanding of Qumran literature would have been possible for many, many years. One must also bear in mind that, as far as history and doctrine were concerned, the Scrolls from Cave 1 were not the only documents to provide source material for the reconstitution of the Qumran community and its cultural and religious message. It was realized almost from day one that the two manuscripts of the Damascus Document preserved in the Cairo Genizah were somehow related to Qumran (see chapter I, pp. 15–16). Moreover, as soon as the fragments from Cave 4, and also from 5 and 6, were identified, it was realized that they also included remains of the Damascus Document.
In three areas there was fast and substantial progress in Qumran research, leading at a remarkably early stage to extensive agreement on various points among researchers and thus promptly developing what can be described as mainstream or consensus opinion (a dirty word for the dissenting minority). These three areas were the Scrolls’ contribution to biblical study; the identity of the Qumran sect or community; and the historical context of the sectarian writings.
(1) At the start, the two Isaiah manuscripts and the bibical text in the Habakkuk Commentary from Cave 1 constituted the basis of the evaluation of the Scrolls for scriptural research. Amusingly, though the diverse opinions voiced by scholars pointed ultimately to the same conclusion, namely that the Isaiah Scrolls were in substantial agreement with the traditional (or Masoretic) text of the Old Testament, they were expressed in seemingly opposite fashion, like one man calling a cup half full when it is half empty for another. Likewise, for one school of thought, the Qumran biblical manuscripts were substantially identical with and confirmed the Masoretic Old Testament, whereas for the other they displayed significant differences in their meaningful variant readings. It was especially after the preliminary study of the biblical fragments from Cave 4 that the true contribution of the Scrolls came to light. As a result, an entirely new phase of biblical textual criticism began, which would have been inconceivable before the Qumran discoveries. This will be discussed in chapters VI and IX.
(2) The next point on which there was soon general agreement was the identification of the community or sect described in the non-biblical Scrolls (Community Rule, Thanksgiving Hymns, War Scroll) and in the Damascus Document. There has never been unanimity on this question, but since the earliest years of Scrolls research there was substantial support for the theory that the Qumran sectaries were identical with or in some serious way linked to the ancient Jewish sect of the Essenes about whom three first-century CE writers, the Jewish Philo and Josephus and the Roman Pliny the Elder, had left fairly detailed accounts. Sukenik, in his preliminary publication, proposed this identification in 1948 and Dupont-Sommer argued it in greater detail from 1950 onwards. Further disparate voices could be heard in favour of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Zealots and even the early Christians, but these formed a minority compared with the holders of the Essene thesis whose champions comprised in the early days, in addition to Sukenik and Dupont-Sommer, Roland de Vaux and all the members of the editorial team, Y. Yadin, and others, including myself.
(3) The reconstruction of the history of the Qumran sect was based on the Damascus Document, the Habakkuk Commentary and other works of Bible interpretation found in the caves, in particular the Nahum Commentary, the Commentary on Psalm 37, and fragments of a historical calendar.
In chronological order, the first theory (championed by H. H. Rowley) found the period of the conflict between the Syrian Greek king Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175–164 BCE) and the Jewish nationalist rebels led by the Maccabees the most appropriate setting for the clash of the founder of the community, the Teacher of Righteousness and his opponent, nicknamed the Wicked Priest.
The next hypothesis focused on the Maccabee high priests Jonathan and/or Simon as the Wicked Priest, more than on the anonymous Teacher of Righteousness (G. Vermes, J. T. Milik, F. M. Cross, R. de Vaux).
Further down the chronological ladder stands the hypothesis centred on the Hasmonean Jewish priest-king Alexander Jannaeus (103–76 BCE) in conflict with the Pharisees (M. Delcor, J. M. Allegro).
Next in order comes the thesis built on the identification of an allusion in the Habakkuk Commentary to the conquest of Jerusalem by Pompey in 63 BCE (A. Dupont-Sommer).
Following a totally different line of reasoning, the idea was advanced that the Qumran sect was the early Jewish-Christian community of the Ebonites (J. L. Teicher).
The last slot is the period of the first rebellion of the Jews against Rome (66–70 CE), with the Jewish revolutionary party of the Zealots-Sicarii being identified as the Qumran community (C. Roth, G. R. Driver).
An assessment of the serious hypotheses will follow in chapters VIII and IX.
Postscript: Qumran and the Riddle of Christian Origins
The question of the significance of the Scrolls in the interpretation of the origins of Christianity had already arisen at the very beginnings of Qumran research and has gone on haunting the scene over the years. This was to be expected. The near-eastern archaeological and literary discoveries of the past century and a half have always produced scholars who saw in the new finds the long-awaited key capable of opening up the mystery of Jesus and the birth of the Church. We observe this phenomenon in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries apropos the Assyro-Babylonian texts which mention the dying and rising nature god Tammuz, the Oriental and Graeco-Roman mystery cults, and the worship of the Persian saviour deity, Mithras. Predictably, in the mid-twentieth century it was the turn of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
André Dupont-Sommer, professor at the Sorbonne in Paris and John Marco Allegro, assistant lecturer at the University of Manchester, were the first to try to argue the case. Others such as Barbara Thiering and Robert Eisenman followed (see chapter VIII, pp. 190–91). Thus the ground was prepared for rumour-mongering that the Scrolls could reveal secrets about Jesus and the early days of Christianity that the Church, first and foremost the Vatican, would prefer at all price to keep locked away.
A clear hint at what he believed to be a major breakthrough was given in the concluding paragraph of Dupont-Sommer’s initial communication on the Habakkuk Commentary as early as the session of the Académie des Inscriptions in Paris on 26 May 1950.
Renan has characterized… Essenism as a ‘foretaste of Christianity’ and Christianity as ‘an Essenism that has largely succeeded’… Today, thanks to the new texts, connections spring up from every side between the Jewish New Covenant, sealed in the blood of the Teacher of Righteousness in 63 BC and the Christian New Covenant, sealed in the blood of the Galilean Master around AD30. Unforeseen lights are shed on the history of the Christian origins – one of the major problems of history – from where will no doubt come also the answers to many questions.
(Observations sur le Commentaire d’Habacuc découvert près de la Mer
Morte, Paris, Adrien-Maisonneuve, 1950, p. 29)
A few months later, Dupont-Sommer further developed his revolutionary ideas, presenting Jesus and Christianity as deeply influenced by, indeed modelled on, the Dead Sea sect and its Teacher of Righteousness.
Everything in the Jewish New Covenant [the Qumran sect] announces and prepares the Christian New Covenant. (Jesus)… appears, from many points of view, as an astonishing reincarnation of the Teacher of Righteousness… Like him, he will be the supreme Judge at the end of time… Like him, he was condemned to death and executed. Like him, he rose to heaven… Like him, he inflicted judgement on Jerusalem… All these similarities… constitute an almost hallucinating whole… Wherever the similarities demand or suggest the idea of borrowing, the borrowing was made by Christianity. On the other hand, however, the appearance of faith in Jesus… is hardly explicable without the real, historical activity of a new Prophet, a new Messiah…
(Aperçus préliminaires sur les manuscrits de la Mer Morte,
Paris, Adrien-Maisonneuve, 1950, pp. 121–2).
With French panache, Dupont-Sommer put the agnostic cat among the Catholic pigeons of de Vaux and his team. But in the Jerusalem ‘scrollery’ the professor of the Sorbonne found a pair of attentive ears – those of the former Methodist but by then fellow agnostic Scrolls editor, John Allegro, who was ready to shock the Christian world with what they both believed to be a bombshell concealed in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
In January 1956 Allegro gave three fifteen-minute radio talks on the BBC Northern Home Service. The first two were lively and informative, but the third contained dynamite, or so Allegro believed. The Assistant Lecturer of Manchester, being an insider of the editorial team, was better informed than Sorbonne professor Dupont-Sommer, and was able to disclose in his talks what he had read or imagined he had read in the Nahum Commentary and the Commentary on Psalm 37 from Cave 4 (both texts belonged to his lot) and in the Copper Scroll (which did not). He deduced from his reading that the Teacher of Righteousness, the founder of the Dead Sea sect, was captured by the ‘Wicked Priest’, the high priest Alexander Jannaeus, and was given by him into the hands of his Gentile troops to be crucified. After the executioners had departed, the disciples of the Teacher took down the broken body of their leader and guarded it, awaiting the imminent coming of the Day of Judgement. On that day they believed that the risen Teacher of Righteousness would usher his followers towards the new Jerusalem.
Although the audience of the broadcast was confined to people from northern England, its sensational content was picked up by the press, not only the British but also the world media, including the New York Times. For the ordinary newspaper reader, Allegro’s hints signified that Jesus and Christianity were second-hand imitations of the person and destiny of the Essene Teacher of Righteousness. Not surprisingly, there was an outcry and the only persons capable of checking Allegro’s claims – de Vaux and the other members of the editorial team – hastened to issue a firm denial in the correspondence columns of the London Times on 16 March 1956.
In view of the broad repercussions of his [Allegro’s] statements, and the fact that the materials on which they are based are not yet available to the public, we, his colleagues, feel obliged to make the following statement… We find no crucifixion of the ‘teacher’, no deposition from the cross, and no ‘broken body of their Master’ to be stood guard over until Judgement Day… It is our conviction that either he has misread the texts or he has built up a chain of conjectures which the materials do not support.
The letter was signed by de Vaux, Milik, Skehan, Starcky and Strugnell. The fact that the first four out of the five were Catholic priests played a significant part in the later development of the controversy. In his reply to The Times on 20 March, Allegro admitted that his surmises about the crucifixion and resurrection of the Teacher of Righteousness were not literally stated in the Scrolls, but resulted from inference. He maintained, however, that these inferences were well founded and wholly legitimate. For scholarly readers, this was a backing down, but for many of the non-specialists and for sensation-seeking journalists this was just the start of a brave young lion’s fight against the conventional and mostly clerical fuddy-duddies. In consequence, and notwithstanding Allegro’s subsequent ‘academic suicide’ with the publication in 1970 of The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross, an odd book in which he attributed the origin of religion, Judaism and Christianity included, to the influence of ammanita muscaria, a hallucinogenic fungus, the seeds of the gossip were sown regarding a Catholic conspiracy about the Scrolls that has relentlessly continued until the present day.