John Strugnell, chief editor of the Dead Sea Scrolls, agreed to an interview provided I report it not only in the Hebrew paper for which I write, Ha-Aretz, but also in an English-language publication. The Hebrew article appeared in Ha-Aretz on November 9, 1990. The following article, for BAR, fulfills my obligation to report the interview in an English-language publication as well.
The interview took place on October 28, 1990 in Professor Strugnell’s small room at the “French School,” the École Biblique et Archéologique Française in east Jerusalem. Although Strugnell drank beer throughout the interview—this did not surprise me as his drinking habits are well known in Jerusalem—he did not appear to be inebriated. He was lucid and spoke in a firm voice.
It was he who first brought up the subject of his anti-Semitism. When I asked him whether he was anti-Israel, he replied, “That’s a sneaky way of coming at the anti-Semitic question, isn’t it?”
Later in the interview, I asked him directly whether he was an anti-Semite. He rejected this term: “I can’t allow the word anti-Semitism to be used. I think it’s a sort of mixed-up, messed up term that was introduced in Germany, a country of muddle-headed philosophers. It’s a cover word for: Are you against Jews? Are you against Israelis? Are you against the State of Israel? Are you against Zionism? [It has] nothing to do with being against Semites. I’m not an anti-Semite. I’ve spent my life studying various Semites from Ethiopia to Baghdad. I don’t know anyone in the world who’s an anti-Semite.”
He was, he said, an “anti-Judaist.” “Judaism,” he said, “is originally racist…it’s a folk religion; it’s not a higher religion. An anti-Judaist, that’s what I am. There, I plead guilty. I plead guilty in the way the Church has pleaded guilty all along, because we’re not guilty; we’re right. Christianity presents itself as a religion which replaces the Jewish religion. The correct answer of Jews to Christianity is to become Christian. I agree that there have been monstrosities in the past—the Inquisition, things like that. We should certainly behave ourselves like Christian gentlemen. But the basic judgment on the Jewish religion is, for me, a negative one.”
Strugnell denied that his attitude toward Judaism affected his work. “Unless someone talks to me about the subject [of Judaism], I don’t, when I’m working on a Qumran text, think how stupid and wrong the Jews were. I’m concerned with trying to find out what a document is saying in its context.”
I asked him what annoyed him about Judaism. He replied, “The fact that it has survived when it should have disappeared. Christianity now uses much more irenic language for all this. These are brutal terms; I’m putting it in harsh terms. For me the answer [to the Jewish problem] is mass conversion.”
“But what annoys you about it?” I asked.
“It’s the subsistence of the group, of Jews, of the Jewish religion. It’s a horrible religion. It’s a Christian heresy, and 065we deal with our heretics in different ways. You are a phenomenon that we haven’t managed to convert—and we should have managed.
“I believe that the answer for Islam, and Buddhism, and all other religions is to become Christian. Judaism disturbs me in a different sense, because, whereas the others became Christians when we worked hard on them, the Jews stuck to an anti-Christian position.”
Strugnell also expressed himself regarding the state of Israel. His “first love,” he said, “was Jordan”:
“That’s where the scrolls were found; the Jordanian government collected the scrolls. I worked with the Jordanians and I got to know and like them. I dislike Israel as an occupier of part of Jordan. And it’s quite obvious that this was part of Jordan.”
Despite his views about Israel and Judaism, Strugnell says some of his friends are Israelis:
“You know what the anti-Semites say: ‘some of my best friends are Jews.’ Well, some of my friends are Israelis. But the occupation of Jerusalem—and maybe of the whole State—is founded on a lie, or at least on a premise that cannot be sustained. That’s putting it as crudely as I can. The occupation of Jerusalem cannot be sustained.”
“Just look at the Crusades,” he continued. “We couldn’t maintain it. We—the English and the French—couldn’t maintain the Crusades even though we had immense military superiority at the start and we did great things in the country. One of the great building periods was the Crusades; but, basically, they were unsustainable. That’s me on Israel.”
Although he found Israel’s position untenable, he was not ready to recommend dismantling the Jewish state:
“The question whether I’m against the State of Israel is a political question, just like whether I’m against Kuwait or Iraq. I think I answered that. At the moment I find your position untenable, but I don’t think that the maintenance of an Israeli state or a Zionist State is impossible. In the future. It will require certain negotiation, but I see no reason why it…”
“But you’re not in favor of it?”
“Well, it’s a fact. You’ve got four million people here, even though the Zionists based themselves on a lie. But they’re here now; you’re not going to move populations of four million. Not even the Nazis managed that.
“I disapprove of the present State of Israel but I’m not opposed to a ‘Jewish national home,’ in the old language [of the Balfour Declaration], which could well be a state, or which could well be a canton or federation.
“Am I opposed to Zionism? I think we’ve had enough of it, but you can’t say it’s not there. It would’ve been nice if it hadn’t existed, but it has, so it’s covered by a sort of grandfather clause.”
Regarding the scrolls, Strugnell claims at least four other scrolls have been found that have not yet come to light: “I’ve seen, with my own eyes, two.” One of the two is a complete copy of the Book of Enoch. According to Strugnell, Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin is the reason these scrolls have still not come into scholarly hands. After the Six-Day war, Yadin confiscated the famous Temple Scrolla from a Bethlehem antiquities dealer known as Kando. Yadin paid Kando $250,000, according to Strugnell (according to Yadin, the sum was $105,000), to encourage anyone else with scroll materials to come forward. But this was not enough, says Strugnell: “Yadin gave Kando $250,000 where we’d offered Kando $1,000,000 five weeks earlier. When the owners of the manuscripts heard that, they just crossed the Jordan River.” These scrolls, like the Temple Scroll, came from Cave 11 at Qumran, according to Strugnell. The manuscripts are now “somewhere in Jordan. Various people own them. Several of them have been sold to big bankers. They’re investments for these people. There’s no point in forcing a sale. If they really need cash—as one seems to now—I have the money.”
As for the other two scrolls—the ones Strugnell has not seen—“[Lankaster] Harding [the director of Jordan’s Department of Antiquities] on his death bed, told me he’d seen three, only one of which I’ve seen—so that makes four.”
Strugnell is not concerned that the scrolls may deteriorate before scholars can look at them: “They’re all being kept very carefully; no one need worry about them. They’re a better investment than anything on the Israeli or the New York Stock Exchanges,” he added.
Strugnell blames Israel’s Antiquities Authority for the loss of a quarter million dollars in research funds by delaying the confirmation of his appointment as chief editor of the scrolls following the death of the former chief editor in 1987, Père Pierre Benoit:
“The Israeli Department of Antiquities took such a long time about it [confirming Strugnell as chief editor] that we lost quite a large amount of money. People who were wanting to give us money wanted to make sure that I was in charge, so we lost one very handsome gift of some $250,000.”
Strugnell came across quite humanly. He even told me about the humor he enjoyed:
“Racial stereotypes are one of the greatest things in our humor—where would we be without Armenian jokes, Polish jokes, Jewish jokes? This may be taken to mean that I detest a whole class of people, but that’s not true.”
Strugnell claims that many Jews were able to see the Dead Sea Scrolls even when they were in Jordanian hands:
“Although tourists had to get a certifcate of baptism [to enter Jordan], I saw the most Jewish looking people come into the museum [in Amman] with [these certificates].”
Although Strugnell reads Hebrew, he does not speak it:
“I read [it], but speaking it requires people 072to speak to. In my work, people speak much better English. One way to learn a language is to have a lover who speaks it. I never had an Israeli girlfriend, though I had an Israeli mistress once, a long time ago. But we weren’t really interested in language.”
Nor is Strugnell much interested in Jewish law. He leaves this aspect of his work to Jewish colleagues. I asked Strugnell if he had studied the Talmud:
“I studied it at university, though to me it’s not existentially interesting. St. Paul said Christ set us free from the Law. I’m glad my Jewish colleagues handle this aspect [of his work].”
“The fact that you’re not interested in Jewish law doesn’t prevent you from appreciating the importance of some of this material?” I asked.
“I know enough to know who to go to. The text I’m working on now [MMTb] is of course full of law. And the thing that really delayed me from finishing that work was knowing that I was incompetent to deal with that side of things.”
John Strugnell, chief editor of the Dead Sea Scrolls, agreed to an interview provided I report it not only in the Hebrew paper for which I write, Ha-Aretz, but also in an English-language publication. The Hebrew article appeared in Ha-Aretz on November 9, 1990. The following article, for BAR, fulfills my obligation to report the interview in an English-language publication as well. The interview took place on October 28, 1990 in Professor Strugnell’s small room at the “French School,” the École Biblique et Archéologique Française in east Jerusalem. Although Strugnell drank beer throughout the interview—this did not surprise me […]