Scrolls Exhibit Features BAS Publications

With commendable candor, the Library of Congress’ Dead Sea Scroll exhibit openly documents the controversies that have surrounded the scrolls, especially the long publication delay and the refusal to allow outside scholars to see photographs of the unpublished texts.

The Biblical Archaeology Society and its publications are frequently mentioned in the wall plaques and display cases. Three display cases are devoted solely to our publications.

One display case features the very page of MMT over which we were sued. The caption in the display case reads as follows:

“In December 1991, a two-volume edition of scroll photographs was published. This facsimile edition was issued by the Biblical Archaeology Society, an American group headed by Hershel Shanks. It is opened here to a transcription and reconstruction of Some Torah Precepts (Miqsat Ma‘ase ha-Torah). The publication of this reconstruction and transcription is currently the subject of lawsuits in Israel and in the United States between the reconstructor of the text, Dr. Elisha Qimron, and the publisher, Mr. Shanks.”

The wall plaque discloses 11 lines of Qimron’s still-unpublished transcription and reconstruction. The library of Congress’s lawyer approved the display.

A wall plaque later in the exhibit states:

“Since the late 1980s, no controversy has been more heated than that surrounding access to the scrolls and the movement to accelerate their publication. The push by scholars to gain what the Biblical Archaeology Review characterized as ‘intellectual freedom and the right to scholarly access’ has had significant results. In 1988, the administration for scroll research, the Israel Antiquities Authority, expanded the number of scroll assignments from eight to more than fifty. In 1991, the Huntington Library of California made available to all scholars the photographic security copies of the scrolls on deposit in its vault. Late in the same year, a computer-generated version as well as a two volume edition of the scroll photographs were published by the Biblical Archaeology Society. Closing the circle, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced that it too would soon be issuing an authorized microfiche edition, complete with detailed indices.”

In a second case is displayed Fascicle One of A Preliminary Edition of the Unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls, which consists of computer-generated transcripts made by Ben Zion Wacholder and Martin Abegg, published by the society. Unfortunately, the caption in the case is in error. It states that soon after the Huntington Library made its photographs available, the Wacholder-Abegg fascicle was published. In fact, the Wacholder Abegg fascicle was published before the Huntington made its announcement.

A third case features the BAR 18:06 open to the debate over the so-called Pierced Messiah text between Professor James Tabor and Professor Geza Vermes (“A Pierced or Piercing Messiah?—The Verdict Is Still Out,” BAR 18:06).

An editorial in the Washington Post entitled “Post-Liberation Scrolls” noted that the exhibit, “besides offering laymen a glimpse at the awesome fragments is also a showcase for some of the problems.” Even “the wording of some of the exhibit’s labels,” said the editorial, “became a bone of contention.” We’re glad the library’s courageous staff prevailed.

Among the “post-liberation business to be cleared up,” according to the Post editorial, was “who can publish ‘reconstructions’ of the battered texts.” The editorial continued: “A scholar who had substantially ‘reconstructed’ a short text sued Mr. Shanks in Israeli court for publishing it, and won. Many scholars say they hope Mr. Shanks will appeal, since the now-bright future of scrolls scholarship depends on just such intellectual publishing and republishing. In any event, it sure beats the old closed shop.”