Several contradictory quotes greet the viewer on a wall that begins the new Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit, now open at The Jewish Museum. One attributed to Father Roland de Vaux, among the first to excavate the site where the scrolls were found more than 50 years ago, argues that the scrolls belonged to a monastic Jewish sect possibly living there, the Essenes.A more recent quote by the scholar Norman Golb argues that they belonged to Jerusalem Jews escaping a Roman attack. “Taken from Jerusalem libraries and personal collections at a crucial hour and hidden away,” Golb’s quote reads, the scrolls are “the remnants, miraculously recovered,of a hoard of spiritual treasures of the Jewish people.”More daring than past Dead Sea Scrolls exhibits anywhere in the country, the new one at The Jewish Museum highlights a roiling scholarly debate that continues to hound the scrolls.
The museum has exercised extreme caution in doing so, aware that beneath the air of scholastic respectability displayed on the walls, a highly contentious battle still festers in the world of Dead Sea Scroll scholarship.
the moment to say which is the most believable or correct,” said the
exhibit’s curator, Susan L. Braunstein, with regard to the competing
scholarly theories. “We don’t have enough of the archaeological
evidence published; there’s no smoking gun.”
Braunstein was referring to
the underlying problem her exhibitotherwise does not mention. An
ongoing controversy over unpublished archaeological documents still
holds up a more definitive answer to this arcane academic debate. If it
seems like a rerun of the original controversy surrounding the
publication of the scrolls 20 years ago, that’s precisely the point
critics are trying to make.
“I’m sorry to say it’s
true,” said Hershel Shanks, editor of the Biblical Archaeological
Review. “If you dig and don’t publish, it’s destruction.”
Shanks led the campaign to
get the Dead Sea Scrolls published in their entirety over two decades
ago. Until then, the scrolls were kept in the hands of a close-knit
group of scholars affiliated with de Vaux, a French Dominican priest
and archaeologist at the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem. But de Vaux’s
field notes fromhis......
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