The international committee appointed under Jordanian auspices to supervise publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls is, in effect, non-functional (see “BARview: Failure to Publish Dead Sea Scrolls Is Leitmotif of New York University Scroll Conference”). It ran out of money 25 years ago. It never meets as a body; its members communicate with one another by correspondence. It has no secretariat or office. It has no organizing or organizational rules. It has no explicit governing or decisional procedures. And it makes no decisions.
Historically, the committee’s principal act has been to assign publication rights and responsibilities to individual scholars. Having done that, it has, for all practical purposes, exhausted its writ. Power, control and responsibility thereafter fell on individual scholars—to publish or not, to decide where and when to publish, to reassign publication rights to students or others as they see fit, to will publication rights on death, and, within this context, to make any necessary committee decisions by consensus.
When the original chairman of the international committee, Père Roland de Vaux of the École Biblique et Archéologique Française, Jerusalem, died in 1971, the chairmanship naturally devolved on de Vaux’s successor as head of the École Biblique, Père Pierre Benoit. There was no formal election by a committee and there is no final term of office.
Because of lack of funds, committee members must even pay their own way to Jerusalem, coming when they can, to examine the original fragments in the Rockefeller Museum. Otherwise, they work from photographs.
The committee is not, however, the ultimate authority over the scrolls. In the 1950s, when the scroll fragments under the committee’s supervision were found, the Qumran Caves were under Jordanian control. The scroll fragments were taken to what was then the Palestine Archaeological Museum in East Jerusalem, also under Jordanian control. All this changed in 1967, when Israel gained control over the West Bank and thereafter, in effect, annexed what had been Jordanian Jerusalem. The Palestine Archaeological Museum, where the scroll fragments are still kept,a is now known as the Rockefeller Museum, after its original benefactor, and it is officially part of the Israel Museum system. In the Rockefeller Museum are the offices of the Israel Department of Antiquities and Museums.
In short, the government of Israel now controls the scrolls and has since 1967.
Shortly after the Six-Day War in June 1967, the government of Israel, through Yigael Yadin, notified Père de Vaux that the international committee would be permitted to continue its work, despite the absence of any Israeli or even non-Israeli Jewish members. The important point here, however, is that Israel assumed control—and therefore responsibility—for publication of the scrolls.
Further reflecting its authority and control, Israel set conditions on the committee’s future functioning. In Yadin’s own words:b
“We set two conditions. One was that they were to proceed quickly with the publication of the thousands of fragments they had had at their disposal for so many years. By then, 1967, they had published very little of the material, and this had been a great loss to the scientific world. There had been no Jordanian scroll scholars who were familiar with the nature of their work and who might therefore have been prompted to prod them. [Today in Israel, there clearly are many such scholars.—H.S.] Now that we were in control [our italics], we wanted that rectified. Our second condition called for a change in the title of the official series of publications of what little had been allowed to see the light of scientific day. They had been called ‘Discoveries in the Judean Wilderness of Jordan.’ We wanted some reference to the fact that the studies were now continuing under Israeli auspices.
“I consider this to have been a very generous offer on the part of the Israeli Government to the team of foreign scholars, and I regret that it has not always been acknowledged in their publications. Even more regrettable is the fact that their material is not reaching the scientific world as quickly as it should, as promised and expected.”
Yadin wrote these words shortly before his death on June 28, 1984.
If Israel has control, it also has responsibility. It should exercise both.c
The international committee itself is helpless. “What can I do?” Père Benoit told me, “I urge them to publish.” Its individual members are publishing as fast as they feel they can, working conscientiously and imposing on themselves a rigorous standard of scholarship. It is too much to ask individual members to turn back for reassignment their precious burden. And they will not release photographs of the scrolls.
The rules of the game must be changed. And the appropriate Israeli authorities must change them.
Broadly speaking, there are only two possibilities. The first is to reassign the scrolls to a large number of scholars for prompt publication. The second possibility is to publish photographs of all scroll materials immediately so that any scholar who wishes can work on them. (Concommitantly, all competent scholars would be given access to the originals in the Rockefeller Museum.)
Note the important differences between these two possibilities. The first preserves 072the principle that individual scholars retain exclusive control over their assigned texts until the texts are published. The second deviates from this principle and gives all scholars a crack at the material.
The first possibility is difficult because it involves taking away from scholars who have spent years working on the material the opportunity to continue. If those with current assignments refuse to give up the results of their labor thus far—on the ground that it is tentative, partial, uncertain, etc.—then the subsequent scholar would have to begin anew. Of course, a new start would entail years of additional work.
The second possibility is the right one. But it is even more threatening to the scholarly community. It repudiates that principle of exclusivity. It challenges the proposition that the original publication of a text—or an artifact, for that matter—should be assigned to one scholar and that no one else should have leave to study it until that scholar publishes it, regardless of how long this takes.
On its face, it is a foolish principle, but it is quietly protective of individual scholars. It remains to be seen whether the community of scholars has the fortitude to reject it.
Publication delays have occurred not only with respect to Dead Sea Scroll materials under the supervision of the international committee; there have been equally egregious delays in the publication of Dead Sea Scroll materials that have been under the jurisdiction of other committees and under Israeli jurisdiction since their discovery—for example, the manuscripts from Masada, the Bar Kokhba letters, the Wadi Daliyeh papyri—to mention only some of the best known.
If the Israeli government opts to publish photographs of Dead Sea Scroll materials assigned by the international committee, it will also have to publish photographs of the Dead Sea Scroll materials that have been in Israeli hands since they were recovered and photographs of materials assigned other than by the international committee. This will take some scholarly guts.
It is clear what should be done: Photographs, including infrared photographs, of all unpublished Dead Sea Scroll materials should be published immediately.d
Whether this will be done will, unfortunately, depend on scholarly politics—and on bureaucratic inertia. But at least the world should know where the responsibility for delay in the publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls now lies. It lies with Israel’s Department of Antiquities and Museums.
The head of the department is Mr. Avi Eitan. We look forward to reporting the steps Mr. Eitan takes to resolve this urgent problem.e
The international committee appointed under Jordanian auspices to supervise publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls is, in effect, non-functional (see “BARview: Failure to Publish Dead Sea Scrolls Is Leitmotif of New York University Scroll Conference”). It ran out of money 25 years ago. It never meets as a body; its members communicate with one another by correspondence. It has no secretariat or office. It has no organizing or organizational rules. It has no explicit governing or decisional procedures. And it makes no decisions. Historically, the committee’s principal act has been to assign publication rights and responsibilities to individual scholars. […]
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Other fragments, as well as the original seven Dead Sea Scrolls, which previously made their way to Israel, and the Temple Scroll, which was recovered after 1967, are kept in the Israel Museum’s Shrine of the Book.
Yigael Yadin, The Temple Scroll (New York and London, 1985), pp 45–46.
This would be easy to do. A complete set of photographs of all Dead Sea Scroll materials except the Temple Scroll, is kept in a climatized vault at the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center, Claremont, California, entrusted to the Center by the Israel Department of Antiquities and Museums for safekeeping, on condition that no unauthorized person may see any of these materials. A simple direction to the Center to allow it to give all scholars access to the photographs would go a long way toward solving the problem.
Further reflecting that Israel has, and has exercised, control over these documents is the fact that the Israel Department of Antiquities has itself assigned publication rights to Dead Sea Scroll materials that were unassigned in 1967 when Israel took control of the Rockefeller Museum. One such scroll was the Leviticus scroll from Qumran Cave 11. The Israel Department of Antiquities assigned publication rights to this scroll to David Noel Freedman of the University of Michigan. See The Paleo-Hebrew Leviticus Scroll (11QpaleoLev), by D. N. Freedman and K. A. Mathews (Winona Lake, Indiana: American Schools of Oriental Research, 1985), p. 2. (See review in Books in Brief.)
At the very least, Israel, through a committee of its own, could negotiate with the scholars who have unpublished scroll materials to work out an agreeable time schedule for publication and to negotiate reassignment of materials that cannot be published within, say, the next two or three years.