NEW YORK (Mar. 16)
The dispute over the Dead Sea Scrolls seems finally settled, with the imminent publication of two editions of the 2,000-year-old documents.
One of them will be the first replicas of the documents published with the approval of the Israeli Antiquities Authority.
The other is a second edition of a “bootleg” reproduction, reprinted with slight changes to conform to an injunction issued in January by the Jerusalem District Court.
The Israeli Antiquities Authority found itself embroiled in an uncharacteristically loud debate when it stood behind the academics charged with piecing together and publishing the parchment fragments, against other researchers who were demanding that copies of the documents be immediately released.
Most of the scrolls, discovered in the Judean Desert between 1947 and 1956, have been published over the years.
But around 1,800 fragments, some as small as a word or two, remained unpublished, waiting until definitive interpretations could be prepared by a select group of scholars, or increasingly, as the years dragged on, their chosen students.
The unpublished portions represented about one-fifth of the total parchments recovered from the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls had been preserved.
They are kept at the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem, which until 1967 was under Jordanian authority.
The scholarly monopoly was finally broken last year when the Huntington Library, in San Marino, Calif., announced that it would release a set of microfilm copies of the fragments which it had in its possession.
The Antiquities Authority protested and threatened legal action, but in the end acceded.
BATTLE FOR ACCESS HAS BEEN WON
Announcement of the resolution was made last week by E.J. Brill, a renowned scholarly printing house in Leyden, Holland.
Frans Pruyt, Brill’s managing director, said the publishing house had been authorized by the Israeli Antiquities Authority to issue a complete microfiche set of the scrolls — including the unpublished fragments.
Pruyt told reporters that the microfiche set would be edited by Professor Emanuel Tov, a Dutch-born scholar who is the head of the scholarly team working on the scrolls.
The published work will be titled “The Dead Sea Scrolls on Microfiche — A Comprehensive Edition of the Texts from the Judean Desert,” and will be priced at $285.
The news was greeted by those in the field as proof that the battle for publication of the scrolls had been decisively won.
“That’s the last word, from the point of view of everything being open to the public,” said Professor Lawrence Schiffman of New York University, an authority on the scrolls.
“I welcome the development,” said Hershel Shanks, who as publisher of the Biblical Archaeology Review led the fight for free access to the texts.
In November, Shanks published a two-volume facsimile of the unpublished fragments alone. He would not say where he had obtained the photographs of the scrolls.
In January, the Jerusalem court barred distribution of the books, after a scholar charged they improperly included a transcription of one of the fragments that he had prepared.
Because the transcription included his guesses as to what missing letters and words said, the court considered it new research and covered by copyright laws.
Shanks announced he would fight the injunction, but said last week that a new edition of his facsimile set, without that transcription and a revised introduction, would be out next month.
Meanwhile, scholars are also able to work from the Huntington microfilms, meaning they will soon have three different ways to look at the newly released texts. But the task of reconstructing and interpreting the texts has only begun.
(JTA correspondent Henriette Boas in Amsterdam contributed to this report.)