First Person: Ruminations on Scholarly Animosity
It’s one thing our field has no shortage of
What accounts for the intensity of the personal animosity among scholars in our field? The more deeply I become involved with these wonderful people, the more of it I find.
One friend explained it this way: They fight so viciously because so little is at stake.
Another put it like this: They will kill for a footnote.
I find the subject difficult to discuss publicly for at least two reasons: First, I am a fairly aggressive guy myself, so why should I be surprised by other people’s aggression? Second, I don’t want to talk about situations that will only be aggravated by public discussion. Nor do I want to recall old scores that have been settled and perhaps forgotten—a lawsuit among excavators at a major Galilean site, delays in the publication of a leading encyclopedia because of a threatened lawsuit, bitter split-ups of archaeological partnerships, people who don’t talk to one another, and so on.
So I will not comment on instances involving other scholars. As for matters in which I have been involved, I am accustomed to criticism, so I am ready to take it. I’ve had my share of criticism lately. The Supreme Court of Israel recently upheld a decision that found me guilty of violating a scholar’s copyright. Sophie Tucker, the last of the red-hot mamas, famously said, “I’ve been rich, and I’ve been poor. Rich is better.” As a former practicing lawyer, I can say that I have won ’em and I have lost ’em. Winning is better.
But I keep coming back to the question of how in the world I ever got into this. Nearly ten years ago, I published a copy of a reconstruction of the Dead Sea Scroll known as MMT. The reconstruction had been made by Harvard professor John Strugnell and a then young and untenured Israeli scholar named Elisha Qimron. I mistakenly thought that Strugnell was the senior man on the project, and I credited the work to “Strugnell and a colleague.” The 121-line text had been widely circulated among scholars (classes were even taught on it), and it had been published without authorization in a Polish journal (from which I photocopied it). The court has now decided that Professor Qimron had a copyright in the reconstruction (only he sued; Strugnell did not). Lawyers will argue for years about whether or not this decision is correct. That is not the subject of this piece. For the purposes of this discussion, I will assume that the court’s ruling is correct: I was wrong.
My business is giving honor to scholars. I get great satisfaction from doing this. I had no reason to deny this to Professor Qimron. I did not know him and had had no contact with him. Had he complained, I would certainly have tried to make amends.
The court found that he suffered no monetary damage from what I did. He later published the text in a handsome volume (of which he, rather than Strugnell, is the senior author) that has been highly praised. As with so many scholarly publications, he did not earn royalties on the book, but the book did sell out. It contains not only the text of MMT but an extensive, learned commentary.a It is safe to say that virtually no one uses the unauthorized Polish publication, nor do they use the photocopy that I published, if for no other reason than that the copy is so poor it is impossible to distinguish those parts of the ancient text that had survived from the parts that Strugnell and Qimron reconstructed.
What has always puzzled me is the ferocity with which Professor Qimron fought the 068case. He didn’t call or write to complain. He didn’t ask for the recognition that he rightly deserved. He simply filed a lawsuit, never offering to settle for less than $50,000. (In retrospect, I should have paid him; including lawyers’ fees, the matter cost more than $100,000.)
In its write-up on the Israel Supreme Court decision, the Jerusalem Post described Professor Qimron (now of Ben-Gurion University) as “mild-mannered.” And that is the face he normally projects—but deny him the credit he deserves, and he is transformed into a tiger.
I could cite other examples like this, but that would only exacerbate ongoing disputes. The leading bone of contention is credit. A distant second is money. How many friendships have been broken over an omitted footnote? Or, sometimes, over a critical review? As a great professor of mine at Harvard Law School once observed, a certain toughening of the emotional hide is preferable to a lawsuit.
The only other lasting fallout from BAR’s campaign to free the Dead Sea Scrolls has been that Magen Broshi, former curator of the Shrine of the Book (where eight intact scrolls are kept), still won’t talk to me. He is defending the honor of two Dead Sea Scroll scholars whom, he claims, I called leeches. I dispute this. But he remains adamant. The odd thing is that I have friendly relations with one of the scholars whose honor I allegedly besmirched (the other has since died).
Some time ago, Broshi and another scholar needed money for a small excavation at Qumran, near where the scrolls were found. The other scholar, with whom I am very friendly, came to me for help, and I arranged for a donation to their excavation. When I later saw Broshi in Jerusalem, he thanked me. When the scholarly publication of the excavation appeared, I was again thanked, in a footnote. I mistakenly assumed that the old animosity had died. Then, on my last trip to Jerusalem, I bumped into Broshi, who said to me, “Hershel, I thought you were a man of truth.” Taken aback, I asked when I had been untruthful. He replied that I was telling people that he was talking to me, although in fact he was still not talking to me. “There are six billion people in the universe,” he said, “and you are the only one I don’t speak to.”
Talk to any scholar in the field, and he or she can, if willing, confess to knowing about similar cases. But it may be wiser not even to discuss the matter, to keep it in the closet. What is gained by talking about it? Perhaps it would be better if I simply left this on my computer, instead of publishing it.—H.S.
What accounts for the intensity of the personal animosity among scholars in our field? The more deeply I become involved with these wonderful people, the more of it I find. One friend explained it this way: They fight so viciously because so little is at stake. Another put it like this: They will kill for a footnote. I find the subject difficult to discuss publicly for at least two reasons: First, I am a fairly aggressive guy myself, so why should I be surprised by other people’s aggression? Second, I don’t want to talk about situations that will only […]