Dead Sea Scrolls in Raleigh

July 9, 2008

Criticism follows scrolls exhibit to Raleigh


Amidst the outpouring of enthusiasm for the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit showing at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences (a division of the North Carolina Department of the Environment, or DOE), it occurred to me that many visitors to the museum might not be aware of criticism that has been directed towards this exhibit.  So I’ve gathered a variety of comments that I’ve been reading on-line, together with some links that will enable anyone who is interested in this controversy to put together the elements.  In light of all these negative comments, it is perhaps not surprising to read in recent news reports that the exhibit has been a “bust,” attracting a mere 50,000 of the 250,000 visitors the museum was hoping would come to see the scrolls.



“The museum agreed to … conceal evidence brought to light by Jewish researchers who have rejected the Essene theory, and to physically exclude them from lecturing at the exhibit”:


A comment posted on multiple sites:

This is … a biased and misleading exhibit, in which the current state of research has been carefully distorted to cater to the interests of influential members of the old Dead Sea Scrolls monopoly group.

The group’s control over access to the scrolls collapsed in the midst of scandal following John Strugnell’s antisemitic outbursts some fifteen years ago, but they have retained control over the way the scrolls are presented in museum exhibits, even though their views have now been rejected by an entire series of major historians and archaeologists.

In a word, the Raleigh museum agreed to downplay and conceal the evidence brought to light by Jewish researchers who, over the past decade, have rejected the old “Qumran-Essene” theory of scroll origins, and to physically exclude them from participating in the lecture series accompanying the exhibit.

See, e.g., University of Chicago historian Norman Golb’s editorial, as well as his more detailed article on “Fact and Fiction in Current Exhibitions of the Dead Sea Scrolls” (links are to Jewish Forward editorial and Oriental Institute website article).

Since the museum is a state-run institution, the role of government officials in displaying religiously controversial artifacts must also be addressed. Is it appropriate for a North Carolina government agency to take sides in an acrimonious scholarly dispute while entertaining people with a religiously oriented exhibit in, of all places, a natural sciences museum?

Is there any public accounting of how this exhibit was funded, and of where the profits ($22 per ticket) will be going?

This is, of course, a serious issue that should be carefully examined by the media. Instead, we have silence, viciously implied innuendo about Jewish culture coming from North Carolina authorities (including an anti-semitic insinuation on the museum’s website), mendacious claims about a fabricated “consensus” that no longer exists, and a continuing pattern of catering to vested interests.

For further information on this propaganda masquerading as an exhibit, previously dished out to the public in various private “science” museums around the country, see, e.g.,


On the New Raleigh site, various commentators have complained of the high cost of tickets and of the government’s involvement:

What do man-made scrolls have to do with natural science?

It seems that this day and time it is all about the Dollar.  A religious exhibit at a museum for charge is ridiculous.  Most museums ask for donations.

$22 per adult, $12 per kid. So I’d have to drop $100 to take my family to see some old documents?  No thanks. I, too, am a little peeved at the state’s role in this and that they are only making this exhibit available for the wealthy to explore.

I’ve read that the curators are describing the exhibit as a “spiritual adventure” involving “sacred books.” Is it entirely legal for a government agency to use taxpayers’ money to create a spiritual adventure involving sacred books, and ask people to cough up $22 to experience it?

Religion reporter Nancy McClaughlin’s blog:

“So what I would like to know is, does this exhibit tell the truth?” See the comments on Nancy’s blog, where readers debate the accuracy of the exhibit and the issue of an anti-Semitic nuance that has apparently emerged on the museum’s website.


Alleged anti-Semitic expression on museum’s website:


Here’s another comment I’ve seen posted on several sites:

The museum’s press release states that the “group” who, according to the exhibitors, wrote the scrolls “saw themselves as the ‘true Israel’ and viewed those living in Jerusalem, including the priesthood at the Temple, as corrupt.”

What most readers of the press release will not know, is that the expression “true Israel” was a term first used by a number of early Church fathers, who believed that Christians were the “true Israel” and that the Jews were evil sinners.  (Here is one of many websites that summarize the history of the “true Israel” expression.) The expression is found nowhere in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and its use here, by employees of the North Carolina Department of the Environment, cannot fail to raise disturbing questions as to the intent of the exhibitors.

Furthermore, many researchers now believe that the scrolls are the remains of libraries from the Jerusalem region, and that they include a corpus of around 100 texts written precisely by the “corrupt” Temple priests mentioned in the museum’s press release.


Exhibit’s “Qumran-Essene” slant said to be contradicted by New York exhibit:


Articles have begun surface on an upcoming exhibit in New York which, according to a press release put out by the museum there, takes a far more liberal approach than the North Carolina exhibit:

The New York museum’s frank and neutral recognition that no consensus [on scroll origins] exists cannot but call … attention to the stance of various “science” museums around the country, where exhibitors have used their displays and lecture series to inculcate belief in the disputed sectarian theory … The Raleigh exhibit … will be running through December, and will thus overlap with the New York Jewish Museum exhibit.  There is, however, a quite astonishing contradiction between the stances taken by the North Carolina institution and the museum in New York.  Doesn’t the public deserve some kind of explanation as to how this came about and what it means?

Alleged inadequacy of the museum’s “scientific consultant”: 


Another comment:

The North Carolina museum (or DOE) hired, as their “scientific consultant,” Dr. Risa Levitt Kohn — the same person who referred to herself as a “Dead Sea Scrolls scholar” last year before admitting that she was “far from an expert” and had only a “tangential” knowledge of the field.

She acquired notoriety with her assertions that the scrolls are not “Jewish” texts and that the public must not be “confused” with an accurate account of current research…

Moreover, University of Chicago historian Norman Golb has published a detailed review of a “catalog” whose author is none other than Dr. Kohn. The catalog turns out to contain one error and falsehood after another. See Golb’s review.

Under these circumstances, was it appropriate for the DOE to hire Dr. Kohn as a “scientific consultant”?

Kohn’s performance has also been criticized on the Nowpublic site.  See these items:


Kohn and the North Carolina museum have apparently chosen to remain silent in the face of criticism.  An interesting albeit trivial detail: Kohn recently gave a film interview that was featured on a yahoo page.  In the “comments” area below the film, various individuals posted links to Golb’s review of Kohn’s “catalog” and to the Nowpublic articles critical of Kohn’s questionable statements.  Well, lo and behold, the page featuring the film has vanished from the internet.  (See Google’s cache of the page.)  Will some bloggers draw the conclusion that Kohn or the DOE, rather than responding to the criticism, decided to threaten yahoo with legal action?


Similar comments summarizing criticism of Kohn:

Why did the DOE hire, as the Raleigh exhibit’s “scientific consultant,” someone who falsely presented herself as a “Dead Sea Scrolls scholar” last year in San Diego before admitting that she was “far from an expert” and had only a “tangential” knowledge of the field? Shouldn’t they have chosen someone with specific scholarly expertise in the field?

To make matters worse, this same person acquired notoriety by asserting that the public must not be “confused” with an accurate account of current research.  Is this an appropriate statement for a “scientific consultant”?

The museum hired Risa Levitt Kohn as their “scientific consultant” despite what she did in San Diego — including her awful catalog of errors and misleading assertions; her embarrassingly false, documented reference to herself as a “Dead Sea Scrolls scholar”; her outlandish suggestion that a balanced presentation would “confuse” the public; and her astonishing assertion that the scrolls are not really “Jewish” texts. That should give an idea of the quality of judgment that’s involved here.


Articles by University of Chicago historian Norman Golb:


Numerous comments allege that the museum ignored a series of articles by scrolls scholar Norman Golb that point to the erroneous and misleading nature of various specific statements made in the exhibit:

Golb has essentially demolished any claim to scientific legitimacy that these exhibits might have had.  Given what is said in his detailed scientific evaluations, one must ask whether the existence of these articles, by an authority in the field and dealing specifically with the current series of Scroll exhibits, was known to the North Carolina Department of the Environment, and if so, why their contents were ignored.

Here are links to the articles by Golb that purportedly demolish the scientific credibility of the exhibit:


See also his Forward editorial, “Take Claims about Dead Sea Scrolls with a Grain of Salt,” at 


More comments on excluded researchers:

I was shocked to hear that top Israeli archaeologist Yitzhak Magen, along with Golb, was excluded from lecturing at an exhibit of this importance. Golb and Magen are at the forefront of the group of researchers who have destroyed 50 years of research by refuting the “Qumran-Essene” theory.

Jodi Magness, whose work on Qumran is IMO extremely weak, has been invited to give the lecture on the archaeology of the site, and she will presumably attack Magen in her lecture as she has repeatedly done elsewhere; Magen deserves the opportunity to respond in full to whatever she says.

For more on how Magness has monopolized lectures, disparaging other scholars who are not invited to answer her, see

Don’t miss, at the bottom of the page, the eye-witness account of how she attacked Magen as one warmly receptive crowd at the annual SBL conference in San Diego encouraged her with approving laughter.



That’s all in the way of negative criticism that I’ve been able to find for now, but I’ll update this blog if I find more. 

Let us pray the exhibit isn’t as “biased and misleading” as all the above would indicate. 

Interestingly, Raleigh-area newspapers don’t seem to have a word to say about any of this… Somehow I just can’t help being reminded of the old adage, “It is the public scandal that offends; to sin in secret is no sin at all.” 



  1. This is one exhibit I will definitely not be seeing any time soon.

    Comment by Becca — July 10, 2008 @ 12:46 am | Reply

  2. Thanks for stopping by my little blog, with my little blurb on the Dead Sea Post-it Notes. 🙂 I enjoyed reading your post — I had no idea there was so much criticism. I would have been more severe in my bashing had I known. haha

    Comment by Lorelei — July 19, 2008 @ 1:47 am | Reply

  3. I just saw the exhibit today- I went to see the artifacts, not the interpretation of them. I did notice that the display of coins erroneosly stated that Herod the Great was a jew appointed to govern Judea. All of the textbooks I have ever read teach that he was Iduamean, and Edomite, not a Jew. This is freshman Bible college stuff that they got wrong. Still, the real stars are the manuscripts themselves…

    Comment by John — July 30, 2008 @ 10:24 pm | Reply

  4. John,

    Thanks for your comment.

    From what I hear, there are quite a few such errors in the exhibit. Might one not have expected a better performance from the self-anointed “Dead Sea Scrolls scholar” who served as the museum’s “scientific consultant”? Golb’s “Fact and Fiction” article (p. 4) mentions a wall text in the Kansas City version of exhibit (perhaps corrected in the San Diego and Raleigh versions?) asserting

    that “Jerusalem and the Second Temple were destroyed by Titus, and the people were again sent into exile, marking the end of the Second Temple period.”

    And Golb comments:

    It is impossible to understand how the curators could allow such a misleading statement to appear in the exhibitions. While Jews taken captive during the war were indeed enslaved and sent to Rome, the great majority of the Jewish population of both Galilee and Judaea remained in Palestine and after a brief period were once again allowed their internal autonomy. The process of rebuilding both their commerce and culture has been detailed by many historians who invariably describe the role of the several generations of early rabbinic figures (Tannaim) in establishing academies of learning and stabilizing the study of Jewish law in Palestine during this period.

    However, instead of describing this remarkable sociocultural phenomenon of the first three centuries of the Common Era, the curators appear to nullify it. A graphic time-line is presented in the exhibit that makes no mention of Palestinian Judaism’s survival and reconstruction, but instead leaves blank this entire part of the history of the Palestinian Jews, including even the Bar Kokhba revolt and the establishment of the Palestinian Patriarchate, and offering only the casual statement (3rd century CE timeline box) that “Rabbi Judah the Prince edits the Mishnah.” How many viewers of these exhibitions can derive even the barest understanding of the Palestinian Jewish history of this period from such a sorry presentation — particularly when it is accompanied by an accurately presented time-line of general historical events during the same period?

    So the “Herod-was-a-Jew” error you point out certainly does seem to fit in with a general pattern of amateurism and neglect. Perhaps the North Carolina Department of the Environment can be prevailed upon to consult with its “scientific consultant” and correct such errors as they are pointed out by members of the public who happen to spot them?

    Comment by timothyfishbane — July 31, 2008 @ 12:55 am | Reply

  5. Your blog is interesting!

    Keep up the good work!

    Comment by Alex — August 16, 2008 @ 6:05 am | Reply

  6. Timothy-It seems like you have some personal vendetta against the Scrolls or any organization that tries to bring them to the public? Why so angry? As far as I’m concerned humans will never be able to get anything 100% correct about the history in the past because everything can be questioned. For instance, what did Socrates actually believe? The man never wrote anything down. How do we know Plato (who was his student and possible scribe) didn’t twist or change anything he said. Same with the Scrolls and the actual story behind them. No one knows all the answers. It doesn’t make sense to criticize and bring to light the mistakes and problems that everyone will make about these Scrolls. Because either way the amazing feet that the Scrolls still exist is now tainted and made negative because of your criticism. Why not be amazed and impressed with the natural preservation from the caves they were found in and the fact that the people surrounding the Scrolls are so protective of them so that maybe in 50 years from now there will still be fragments of them for other people to see. Historical documents and artifacts are rendered pointless because the arguments themselves become more important than the item(s). It would just be nice to hear some positive things said. I have seen the exhibit and I think the overall effect is impressive. The work behind building the special room they are in is special and leaves you with a very introspective and pensive mood. If a 2000 year old document can do that for me why not encourage others to have a similar experience. I think we all need something that penetrates to the core of ourselves rather than bash the exhibit on a blog. I do however commend you for getting your opinion and views out there. I applaud your research and dedication to bringing to light the criticisms so that I may also be able to share my opinion. It’s quite the cyclical process.

    Comment by Casey — September 9, 2008 @ 1:11 pm | Reply

  7. Casey,

    Thanks for your input. I do not have a “personal vendetta against the Scrolls or any organization that tries to bring them to the public.” The scrolls are precious manuscripts, and the Jewish Museum in New York has announced an exhibit from which the bias we’ve seen in Raleigh will apparently be absent. It is certainly not unreasonable, however, for critics of the Raleigh exhibit to be “angry” (as you put it) about the exclusion of voices, grotesque scientific incompetence, and slanting of evidence to serve a particular agenda — call it the hijacking of the scrolls or whatever you like. Allow me also to point out that the Raleigh exhibit is being held in a natural sciences museum, while the “introspective and pensive mood” you describe as your reaction is something one would rather associate with a visit to church or some other religious institution.

    Best, Tim Fishbane

    Comment by timothyfishbane — September 10, 2008 @ 3:31 am | Reply

  8. I think that the author of this blog may have good justifications for his concerns. I have to admit that our educational system emphasizes Christianity to a level that other religions are not taught in depth. This is a very huge concern to me as an educator. I do not posses the knowledge to be able to recognize the flaws in historical knowledge that this exhibition exposed. I am glad that I had an opportunity to read your comments. I am not sure if I am going to go to this exhibition, which I agree should have been free. I have a question for you. I read in another blog that some Jewish scholars are not giving reverence to these Scrolls. What is your position about this?

    Comment by Maria Orsini — November 13, 2008 @ 2:23 am | Reply

  9. Maria, thanks for your comment.

    I believe you go to the heart of the matter in speaking of education. That is the primary role of a museum, is it not?

    With respect to Jewish scholars and the scrolls, I believe you may wish to take a look at these articles:

    They reveal that the defenders of the San Diego and Raleigh exhibits (who happen, for the most part, to be Christian scholars) are arguing that there is only one principal theory of scroll origins, while the New York Jewish Museum has taken the opposing stance that there are two basic theories. This is because if the Christian scholars acknowledge that there are two theories and not one, they will have lost the interpretive hegemony (or monopoly) they have been exercising over the scrolls for the past 60 years.

    Remember, the Jordanian government originally possessed the scrolls (until 1967), and they appointed a team of “editors” from which Jewish scholars were entirely excluded. This was the famous Dead Sea Scrolls monopoly group, which collapsed in disgrace following the antisemitic statements of its director John Strugnell, but whose influential surviving members have continued, from behind the scenes, to control the manner in which the scrolls are being presented in most of the museum exhibits. Behind this entire story there is an academic power struggle going on, with political and financial dealings apparently keeping the status quo in place.

    It is astonishing that there has been so little coverage of this museum controversy in the mainstream media (the National Post article is the first I have seen of its kind). Instead, we have a large amount of personal invective (including paranoid accusations of “sock-puppetry” and the like) being spewed out at critics of the museum exhibits by scholars associated with the traditional theory. I urge you and anyone else who finds this topic interesting to send out information on it to your acquaintances.

    Best, Tim Fishbane

    Comment by timothyfishbane — November 16, 2008 @ 3:13 am | Reply

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