Biblical Archaeology Review 36:6, November/December 2010

ReViews: Sixty Years of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 2010

This lavishly illustrated volume contains a virtual mini-archive of the momentous events relating to the discovery, acquisition and early publication history of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Fields interviewed all the living major, as well as some minor, players or their family members in different parts of the world. Among them are Arab nomads, local Arab antiquities dealers, scholars, wealthy collectors and librarians. Fields studied the archives of universities and institutions in various countries and reproduces much of what he has discovered word for word.

A major part of the story involves the personalities of the players. Sometimes the situation resembles the present scholarly community: The publication team was international and worked—at least initially—collaboratively. Sadly absent, however, was any dialogue between non-Jewish and Jewish scholars. Some of the most unfortunate quotes in the book reveal openly anti-Jewish sentiments.

Four of the original batch of seven scrolls from Cave 1 reached the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) via the Syrian bishop Mar Athanasius Yeshue Samuel. An overzealous guard working for Mar Athanasius, however, mistakenly turned away the Bedouin bearing some of the scrolls. This turned out to be a stroke of luck for Hebrew University Professor E.L. Sukenik; the simple misunderstanding on the part of Mar Athanasius’s guard ultimately led to Sukenik’s acquisition of three of the seven scrolls from Cave 1. (Neither of the teams was aware of the acquisitions of the other.) Sukenik risked his life going to Bethlehem in 1947 to inspect the scrolls he then acquired on behalf of the new State of Israel.

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