Group Relinquishes Some Control over Access to Dead Sea Scrolls
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Group Relinquishes Some Control over Access to Dead Sea Scrolls

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Biblical archaeology scholars have welcomed the Israel Antiquities Authority’s decision Sunday to permit researchers to view copies of the Dead Sea Scrolls without receiving permission from the tightknit editorial team that has held exclusive control over the translation and publication of the ancient manuscripts.

But some scholars are complaining that the new policy still falls short of full disclosure.

In announcing that scholars would now be given access to photographs of the manuscripts, Professor Emanuel Tov, editor in chief of the official publication project, said the Antiquities Authority would require researchers to pledge not to publish the texts they view. This will not, however, preclude quoting “limited portions” of the documents, he said.

The copies that are being made available have been stored for safekeeping at Jerusalem’s Rockefeller Museum, Oxford University in England, the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center in Claremont, Calif., and the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati.

The release of these copies follows the decision in September of the Huntington Library in San Marino, Calif., to microfilm a copy of the scrolls in its possession for general circulation.

The Antiquities Authority has stressed that its ban on general publication is designed solely to protect the rights and reputations of the officially designated researchers.

Under the “publish or perish” pressures of the scholarly world, being the first to publish an edited and translated version of a text would be a major career victory.

The Antiquities Authority, which claims a copyright on the pictures of the scrolls, says a complete list of the unpublished documents will be published by the end of this year.


Hershel Shanks, publisher of Biblical Archaeology Review, who has led the fight to open the scrolls, played down the Israeli move as “continual foot-dragging.”

Shanks is publishing what has been described as a “bootleg” text of the scrolls, compiled by computer from a concordance to the documents.

The second volume in that series will be published before the end of the year, according to Professor Ben-Zion Wacholder of HUC-JIR, who is doing the research.

“We welcome the new guidelines,” said Wacholder, who believes the Antiquities Authority’s restrictions will be ineffective.

Professor Lawrence Schiffman of New York University agreed. He said the Israeli decision, coming as it does in the wake of the unauthorized disclosures, “has effectively brought about a completely open environment.”

Schiffman said that it is a matter of ethical debate whether scholars who have been recently given texts to edit should have a chance to publish them first. But he noted that the most authoritative journal in the field, Revue de Qumran, has in the past published bootleg texts.

In Los Angeles, Dr. William Moffett, director of the Huntington Library, condemned the remaining restrictions, but lauded Michael Bar-Zohar, chairman of the Knesset Education Committee, for endorsing free and unfettered access in a meeting with Tov and others in charge of the scrolls.

“No longer can it be claimed that the Israeli government opposes free access to historical documents,” Moffett said in a statement Monday.

“No longer will conventions originating in agreements designed to block Israeli scholars from the scrolls be invoked by an Israeli agency to deny access to American-Jewish scholars and others working in this field,” he said.

At HUC-JIR, the library has not yet decided how to handle its scholarly windfall.

“It was intended to be an archive,” librarian David Gilner said of the 1,400 pieces of negative film locked in the vault of the rare book room. “We don’t have a light table to use the negatives,” he said.

(Contributing to this report were JTA correspondents Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv and Tom Tugend in Los Angeles.)

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