When BAS recently published the computer-generated transcripts of the secret Dead Sea Scrolls produced by Professor Ben Zion Wacholder and Martin G. Abegg,a both of Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, members of the official editing team scoffed, claiming the computer-reconstructed texts were inaccurate—a “pastiche,” Professor Eugene Ulrich of Notre Dame University and one of the three chief editors of the official editing team called them.

According to Professor John Strugnell, who was the scroll team’s editor in chief before his dismissal last year following a virulently anti-Jewish and anti-Israel interview,b Wacholder and Abegg’s reconstructions are about “20 percent wrong.” And of course you can’t tell which 20 percent is wrong. Professor Ulrich agrees; his estimate is that the Wacholder/Abegg reconstructions are about “80 percent accurate.” No scholar could “base solid work” on the computer-reconstructed texts, he said. “How can you trust it?” he added.

Wacholder and Abegg had checked their computer-generated texts against texts that had been published and they were convinced their transcripts had far fewer errors than Strugnell and Ulrich claimed. But Wacholder and Abegg had no way of checking their results against unpublished texts.

Now we have an insider’s report on the accuracy of the computer-generated texts. Professor Hartmut Stegemann of Gottingen University is one of the world’s most highly respected Dead Sea Scroll scholars and probably Germany’s leading expert on the scrolls.c His specialty is working with the scroll fragments themselves to find joins and even arrangements of pieces that do not join.d For this reason, he has been given access to all the original fragments—not simply photographs. Stegemann has reviewed the computer-generated texts created by Wacholder and Abegg and reports that they are amazingly accurate. Says Stegemann:

“I checked the reliability of this preliminary edition … Congratulations to this almost perfect way of publication! … In general, everything is perfectly done. I wonder if the editors [Wadholder and Abegg], indeed, used the concordance only, or whether they also had either Milik’s transcription or some photos … [The Wacholder/Abegg volume] is a trustworthy representation of about 98% of the textual evidence … [This volume is], indeed, a good help also for scholars who know everything of the 4Q evidence … Please notice my name as a subscriber for all further fascicles.”

Considering how the concordance was made, it becomes clear why the computer-generated texts are so accurate. The concordance was created by four top scholars, Joseph Fitzmyer, now emeritus at Catholic University of America; Raymond Brown, now emeritus at Union Theological Seminary of New York; Will Oxteby of the University of Toronto and J. Teixidor, a Spanish scholar. (Teixidor worked on the non-Cave 4 fragments.) As Fitzmyer describes it, he had before him not only the careful transcript prepared by one of the team editors (mostly J. T. Milik), but also the museum plate with the fragment itself in it and a photograph of the fragment (often infra-red). Checking these three sources with one another, he would then correct any error in the transcript (in consultation with the editor) and from this corrected transcript enter the words of the text in the concordance.