Somnolence – Politics – Scandal

Intense activity marked the opening years of the 1960s on the publications front. In 1961 volume II of the DJD series appeared, but it had nothing to do with the Dead Sea Scrolls. It was devoted to the documents discovered by the Bedouin in 1951–2 in caves situated in Wadi Murabba‘at some eleven miles south of Qumran Cave 1. They yielded some biblical fragments and religious objects – phylacteries (small boxes with a biblical text inside) and mezuzot (cases to be attached to doorposts, containing biblical texts) – but the material was chiefly non-literary: contracts and legal documents of various kinds in Hebrew and Aramaic, dating to the second half of the first and the early decades of the second century CE, and letters written during the second Jewish rebellion against Rome (132–5 CE), including missives sent by the leader, Simeon bar Kosiba (Bar Kokhba) to local commanders. The remainder of the find consisted of Greek economic and legal texts, including one in shorthand, as well as a few badly damaged Latin papyri and a small number of Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Latin ostraca or inscribed potsherds. The Semitic texts, some of them written in a previously unknown cursive script, were magisterially edited by J. T. Milik and the Greek and Latin fragments were published by the Dominican Pierre Benoit. If proof was needed, this more than 300-page-long quarto-sized volume demonstrated that, when they were so minded, members of the editorial team were capable of working not only well but also fast.

Other manuscript discoveries followed in caves lying on the Israeli side of the pre-1967 borders, partly due to the Bedouin and partly to a search performed by Israeli archaeologists under the leadership of Yigael Yadin. The documents retrieved were similar to those found in Wadi Murabba‘at, comprising legal documents and Bar Kokhba letters. They were edited in DJD, VIII (E. Tov, 1990) and XXVII (H. Cotton, 1997). Further Greek papyri have been published in The Documents from the Bar Kokhba Period in the Cave of Letters (1989) by N. Lewis. The remainder of the finds is still awaiting authoritative publication, although a good deal of them are available in preliminary editions by Yigael Yadin, Jonas C. Greenfield and others.

In 1962 appeared DJD, volume III, disposing of the largely insignificant fragments of the minor caves (Caves 2–3 and 5–10), edited by M. Baillet, and the peculiar and significant Copper Scroll, of which Milik produced a brilliant, though far from decisive, pioneering decipherment and study, overshadowing the amateurish effort, mentioned earlier, of J. M. Allegro (see chapter III, p. 51). Another speedy publication is owed to Professor James A. Sanders who, without being a member of the official editorial team, was commissioned by the American Schools of Oriental Research, owners of the publication right, to edit the Psalms Scroll found in Cave 11 (DJD, IV, 1965). But with DJD, III, the editorial activity of de Vaux & Co. ground to a halt. The thousands of fragments of Cave 4, except the relatively small lot allocated to John Allegro, who issued them in DJD, V, in 1968, were still kept close to their chests by the insiders, and remained inaccessible to the not-so-privileged outside world. After publishing preliminary studies of the most important texts in his section, Allegro, with the assistance of his Manchester colleague, Arnold Anderson, quickly knocked together a slender volume by September 1966. Originally it was meant to form part of a larger collection of texts, but since the editor of the Cave 4 biblical texts, Patrick Skehan, was in no way ready with his material, de Vaux decided to give the green light to Allegro, who proceeded on his own. Owing to the habitual dilatoriness of Oxford University Press, volume V of DJDappeared as Discoveries in the Judaean Desert of Jordan in 1968, a year after the Qumran area had come under Israeli administration as a result of the Six Day War of June 1967.

While in the 1950s members of the editorial team had spent substantial periods of their time in Jerusalem, working on the fragments in the Rockefeller Museum’s ‘scrollery’, by the 1960s they all left for other havens, university posts which provided them with regular salaries. J. T. Milik moved first to Beirut, then to Rome, where he left the Catholic priesthood and married, and finally settled at the CNRS in Paris. Jean Starcky and Maurice Baillet also returned to France and to the CNRS, and Claus Hunno Hunzinger to Germany. In 1971 Hunzinger resigned and his assignment was passed on to Baillet. Patrick Skehan reverted to his old chair in the Catholic University of America, and F. M. Cross took up the prestigious chair of Semitic languages at Harvard, where John Strugnell, too, joined him after two prior spells in Chicago and at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. None of the three contributed, or were anywhere near contributing, to DJD until twenty or thirty years later and with the assistance of other scholars. However, Cross, and especially Strugnell, excelled as supervisors of Harvard graduate students to whom they ‘sublet’ Scrolls entrusted to them for publication. In fact, between 1968 and 1992, when the first Cave 4-related DJD volume published under the editorship of Emanuel Tov appeared, only a smallish collection by Milik of excerpts of biblical nature (DJD, VI, 1977) and Baillet’s weighty volume of non-biblical writings (DJD, VII, 1982) saw the light of day. The latter was put on paper, in Baillet’s own unexplained curious French wording, ‘avec des souffrances, et parfois avec des larmes’ (‘amid sufferings and sometimes amid tears’). This was indeed a period of somnolence, aggravated by the impact of the political changes in the Middle East.

Although Roland de Vaux maintained a regular exchange of offprints with the Israeli Yigael Yadin (in the absence of postal connections between the two halves of divided Jerusalem in the 1950s, I volunteered to act as their letterbox in Paris), he, like most of the old staff at the École Biblique (except Father Roger Tournay) and the majority of the editorial team (except Frank Cross), were decidedly pro-Arab and anti-Israeli. For instance, in some of his correspondence Strugnell refused to call the city by its Hebrew name ‘Jerusalem’, and dated his letters from El Quds (The Holy City), the Arab substitute for Jerusalem. For the anti-Israelis of the École, the Jewish victory in the Six Day War was a profound blow. Despite the gentlemanly reassurance given by the Israeli Department of Antiquities that they would not interfere with the running of the editorial work (a generous but foolish move as it turned out), de Vaux found it impossible to tolerate the change in the ultimate controlling authority. During the last four years of his life (from 1967 to 1971), editorial activity came to a standstill.

With de Vaux’s death at the age of sixty-eight, a new chief editor had to be found, and the members of the editorial team, already active (or mostly inactive) from a distance, made the choice of another professor of the École, who, like de Vaux, was a French Dominican, Father Pierre Benoit. The Israeli archaeological establishment sheepishly approved his appointment in 1972. Not being a Hebraist, but a New Testament scholar, Benoit was hardly the right leader from the academic point of view. Lacking the firmness and diplomatic skill required by the office, he was not the man likely to put an end to the editorial sleepiness, which was more and more beginning to resemble a coma.

A fresh shake-up was needed. Having left France, the priesthood and Catholicism in 1957, and in charge of Jewish studies in Oxford since 1965, I felt it was my turn to make a move. Since the Israelis were unwilling to intervene, was there any other institution, connected with the project and endowed with enough muscle, that might be able to exert pressure on Benoit and his underlings? Oxford University Press, the publishers of the DJD series, seemed to me just what the doctor ordered. The 400-year-old OUP was, after Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, the largest publishing establishment in Britain, and its director, C. H. Roberts, bearing the modest, old-fashioned title of ‘Secretary to the Delegates’, was a powerful man not only by virtue of his office, but also as one of the world’s most famous Greek papyrologists. He was not just a colleague, but also an ally. A few weeks earlier, in the correspondence columns of the London Times (7 April 1972), he supported with his unique authority my attack on the Spanish Jesuit José O’Callaghan’s theory that tiny Greek papyrus fragments found in Qumran Cave 7 represented the Gospel of Mark and other New Testament texts among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

At our meeting on 15 May 1972, Colin Roberts had needed only a few words before he expressed his agreement with my premise that a great responsibility towards the scholarly community lay on the Press’s shoulders, and declared himself prepared to act in the name of OUP. In the presence of his senior colleague in charge of DJD matters, we decided that the new editor-in-chief Benoit would be required to present the Press with a firm undertaking and impose a detailed and binding timetable on his procrastinating editorial team.

If the affairs of the editor-in-chief were in chaos, so were also – as I was to discover – those of OUP. It turned out that they did not have any list of the names, let alone of the addresses, of the members of the editorial team, so could not communicate with them. When I supplied both names and addresses, the senior OUP official contacted the defaulting editors, but only the Anglo-American contingent was prepared to answer. Milik, Starcky and Baillet simply turned a deaf ear to the request. By contrast, Strugnell, Cross and Skehan, as befitted ‘Anglo-Saxon’ gentlemen, promptly replied and forecast a rosy future, firmly assuring Benoit and OUP that their finished typescripts would be delivered at various precise dates between 1973 and 1976. Skehan, however, attached conditions to the delivery of his material. He would not allow his name to appear in the volume if it visibly entailed any association with an Israeli institution such as the Shrine of the Book or the Department of Antiquities. Should a link of this sort prove unavoidable, his contribution could be published as long as it remained anonymous. Circumstances prevented his determination from being tested. In 1980 Patrick Skehan died without his editorial task – embarked on a quarter of a century earlier – being anywhere near to completion, since DJD, IX, on which his name featured, did not appear until 1992.

To revert to 1972, the date of the signed undertakings, the years passed – 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976 – and none of the promised manuscripts materialized and reached Oxford University Press. The solemn commitments turned out to be empty words. After a delay of five years, I uttered a prophecy of doom in the opening address of my Margaret Harries Lectures at Dundee University, which was to form the first chapter of The Dead Sea Scrolls: Qumran in Perspective, published later in the same year of 1977:

On this thirtieth anniversary of their coming to light the world is entitled to ask [the editors of the Qumran Scrolls]… what they intend to do about this lamentable state of affairs. For unless drastic measures are taken at once, the greatest and most valuable of all Hebrew and Aramaic manuscript discoveries is likely to become the academic scandal par excellence of the twentieth century. (pp. 23–4)

This outcry was noted and regularly repeated in the press, but without receiving serious acknowledgement from Benoit and his troops. But their time was running out. Public protest was reactivated by John Allegro, already in disgrace among academics after the Sacred Mushroom, but still having access to the letters’ columns of The Times (17 April 1982), where he expressed ‘doubts of the scholarly integrity’ of the editorial team. Benoit endeavoured to answer publicly not only the accusation of mischievous critics (meaning Allegro), but also the concern of ‘honest scholars’ in a note appended to a book review in the Revue Biblique (1983, pp. 99–100).

Besides malicious and dishonest criticisms, I perceive in the scholarly world, among decent people who do not suspect anything sinister, astonishment and regret provoked by the slowness of the large ‘definitive’ volumes of DJD, a slowness by which I am the first to be upset. I wish to give a clear explanation and offer a ray of hope.

He blamed the disruption of the ‘good continuation’ of the DJD series on the political events that disturbed the Middle East. First, the Jordanian government nationalized the Rockefeller Museum, then, following the Six Day War, the Scrolls came under the authority of ‘another government’. Fortunately the editors were granted freedom to get on with their work and they were doing so, but slower than one would have wished. Benoit was thick-skinned enough to place part of the blame for procrastination on OUP! The apology ended on an optimistic note: ‘One cannot promise miracles, but every effort will be deployed to advance the publication as fast as possible.’

This blow of hot air was Benoit’s swansong. Next year, in 1984, he divested himself of the editorial mantle, which subsequently fell on the shoulders of John Strugnell. In 1987 the eighty-one-year-old Pierre Benoit died, having produced only a slim DJD volume by Milik and a fat one by Baillet in twelve years of stewardship.

Dissatisfaction grew and the atmosphere turned explosive. More than thirty years after its creation, the editorial team had a mere three volumes of Cave 4 material to their credit. The still unpublished Cave 4 texts were to fill twenty-three further volumes. My prophecy regarding the academic scandal of the century came to fulfilment. The time for action had arrived.

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