Biblical Archaeology Review 32:5, September/October 2006

Strata: Milestones: John C. Trever (1915–2006)

By Martin Abegg, Jr.

John C. Trever, the American scholar who photographed the Great Isaiah Scroll and other important Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts in Jerusalem in 1948, died April 29, at his home in Lake Forest, California. He was born November 26, 1915, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

As a post-graduate student in war-torn Jerusalem during the fall of 1947 and the spring of 1948, Trever was literally “found” by the Dead Sea Scrolls when Syrian Orthodox clergy brought them to be evaluated at what is now the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research. Millar Burrows was the director of the school but was on a two-week excursion in Baghdad—leaving Trever as director pro tempore—when the telephone call came on February 18, 1948, that changed John Trever’s life. Scrolls in ancient Hebrew, the caller said, had been found in the library of the Syrian Orthodox Monastery in Jerusalem’s Old City. These scrolls, as we now know, were the Manual of Discipline (1QS), the Habakkuk Commentary, the Genesis Apocryphon and the Great Isaiah Scroll.

A semi-professional photographer with rare and valuable experience with color photography, Trever persuaded the Syrians to allow him to photograph three of the manuscripts. It was in response to a letter from Trever with a description of the find and a sample of these photos that prompted W.F. Albright’s famous and oft-repeated judgment: “My heartiest congratulations on the greatest MS discovery of modern times!”

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