Dead Sea Scrolls in Raleigh

Dead Sea Scrolls: “Distinguished Lecture Series” at Raleigh Museum

Here’s some basic information on the lecturers invited to speak at the current exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls taking place at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences:

1. Rachel Elior, a philosopher who chairs the department of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University, is a proponent of the Jerusalem theory of scroll origins.  Note: the historians and archaeologists who have rejected the Qumran-sectarian theory and argued at length for the Jerusalem theory on the basis of a pattern of material, textual and historical findings emerging over the past decade, have been excluded from participating in the lecture series, apparently to avoid the danger of creating public confusion in the streets of Raleigh.

Of the six or seven other lecturers,

2. Lawrence Schiffman is known for his plagiarism (exposed by an Israeli journalist in 1993), and for his convoluted attempts to demonstrate that the “Qumran sectarians” (now thought never to have existed by all kinds of researchers) were Sadducees rather than Essenes.  He has a big beard and speaks in a big booming voice as if he were absolutely certain of the truth of what he is saying.  In his book “Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls,” he disdainfully brushes aside the Jerusalem-libraries theory in a single footnote, without discussing it, let alone engaging with it on a scientific level.  The footnote misleads readers by falsely attributing the “Temple library” theory to University of Chicago historian Norman Golb.

3. Emanuel Tov is the head of the Dea Sea scrolls monopoly group.  He is deeply involved in creating the biased and misleading scrolls exhibit that has been traveling around the country (the Raleigh exhibit being the latest version of it), and he has never allowed any opponents of the Qumran-sectarian theory to participate in his so-called “editorial team.”

4. Pnina Shor of the Israel Antiquities Authority has no scholarly expertise on Qumran or the scrolls, but is involved (like Emanuel Tov) in creating the biased and misleading scrolls exhibit.

5. Eric Meyers, a past president of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR), is an archaeologist and biblical scholar, but has apparently never published anything of substance on Qumran or the Dead Sea scrolls (I say “apparently,” because he may have touched on them in passing in his writings on other topics).  The question arises why the museum would invite a non-specialist to lecture at such an exhibit, while excluding a range of major scholars who have rejected the Essene theory.  Is Dr. Meyers perhaps on good terms with the Dead Sea Scroll monopolists? If he supports the Qumran-Essene theory, will Emanuel Tov and Pnina Shor arrange for him to have privileged access to archaeological sites in Israel? Does ASOR stand to benefit as well from lending institutional support to the theory?

6. Jodi Magness is said to have monopolized the “archaeology of Qumran” talks at last year’s annual ASOR/SBL conference, and to have viciously attacked key Israeli archaeologists Yitzhak Magen and Yuval Peleg in her lectures.  Why did the museum invite her, and not Magen and Peleg, who are at the forefront of current archaeological research on Qumran? Is it because she is a member of ASOR’s Board of Trustees? Is it because Magen and Peleg conclude, in their published reports, that no sect ever lived at Qumran and that the scrolls are the remains of libraries from the Jerusalem area, taken to the desert for hiding during the siege and sacking of the city by the Romans? Was this bad? Were they not supposed to reach this conclusion?

7. Bart Ehrman is a popularizer of New Testament and “Jesus” studies but, like Meyers, he appears to have published nothing on Qumran or the scrolls.  Yet the description of his lecture states, ex cathedra, that the Essenes “probably” wrote the scrolls.  What gives this non-specialist the right to issue such a statement, given that the question of scroll origins doesn’t even fall within his field of studies? He knows Greek, but does he even have any knowledge of Hebrew, let alone a serious scholarly knowledge? Read: Ehrman’s admission that he is “not a scrolls expert” and his attempt to defend the museum’s policy of bias and exclusion.

8. Finally, Sidnie White Crawford is said to be a doctrinaire follower of the Qumran-Essene theory who was a student of Frank Cross.  Although a professor of biblical studies (she teaches in Nebraska), it is rumored that once, at one of her talks, she had difficulty pronouncing a non-vocalized Hebrew term that properly trained Hebrew scholars know how to pronounce.  When asked to give the Hebrew term for a word from one of the scrolls that she was quoting in English, she is said to have read out the consonants one by one instead of pronouncing the word they represent.  Has your Hebrew improved, Dr. Crawford?

Crawford’s lecture description claims that the Damascus Document contains “evidence” that “women participated in the Essene movement.”  There is no evidence whatsoever, however, that the Damascus Document was written by Essenes.  (Some, incidentally, have attempted to argue that the term “Damascus” in the text is a metaphor for Qumran, but this is an unsupported claim that has been rejected by numerous researchers.)  Crawford also apparently plans to engage in a misleading attempt to argue that the graves of women found at Qumran actually contain bedouin remains.  All of this fails to account for the basic problem arising from Pliny’s description of the Essenes of the Dead Sea area as celibate.  You can’t have your cake and eat it too, Dr. Crawford.  If Pliny is unreliable, why use him as a source for Essenes at all?

At this point, a basic question arises:  Who put together this lecture series? Who decided to exclude the key researchers who would have supported Dr. Elior’s view? Did the North Carolina Department of the Environment (under whose auspices the exhibit is taking place) approve the decision?

At any rate, the museum is, of course, aware that the claims the various lecturers will be making are hotly disputed, yet has agreed to rig the series by excluding opposing voices and drowning out Dr. Elior in a wave of arguably fallacious claims, some of them asserted by individuals who are not even experts in this field.  Shouldn’t the public have the opportunity to hear both sides of the story?


  1. I don’t understand, how do you say Pnina Shor has no expertise on the scrolls? I would have to disagree since I heard her speak and know that she the head conservator of the scrolls and works with them on a daily basis.

    Comment by Confused — December 16, 2008 @ 8:55 pm | Reply

    • Thank you for comment. Ms. Shor has an expertise on the conservation of the scrolls, not on their historical or religious interpretation.

      Comment by timothyfishbane — January 22, 2009 @ 11:01 pm | Reply

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