Dead Sea Scrolls

The late W.A. Moffett is indeed worthy of enormous praise for providing public access to the Huntington Library's photographs of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Feb. 22). His action was one of several in 1991 that led to the collapse of a stultifying 40-year monopoly over the texts by a small clique of scholars. Since then, this critical area of ancient Jewish studies has blossomed.

In your article about Moffett's illustrious career, you make a serious mistake in claiming that the monopoly was run "by a small number of Israeli scholars." Nothing could be further from the truth. The full story of editorial control over the texts has often been told (see, for example, R. Eisenman and M. Wise, "The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered" (London 1992) 2-6; G. Vermes, "The War Over the Scrolls," New York Review of Books, Aug. 11, 1994, pp. 10-11). The monopoly was organized by the Dominican priests, Father Roland de Vaux, the director of the French Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem. It was continued after De Vaux's death in 1971 by another Dominican, Father Pierre Benoit, and, upon his death in 1987, by Harvard Divinity School Prof. John Strugnell. None of these scholars was Israeli. Indeed, when De Vaux first assembled in 1953 what came to be known as the International Team for editing the scrolls, no Israeli scholars were invited to participate.

Due credit for breaking up the International Team's monopoly should also be given to several other individuals, notably to Herschel Shanks, editor of the Biblical Archeology Review, and to Robert Eisenman, professor of Middle East Religions at Cal State Long Beach.


Professor of Classics, UCLA

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World