Comment & Analysis: Obituray

Article excerpt

Byline: Josef Milik

THE inveterate smoker, who enjoyed a drink or two, was a multilinguist and a renowned Biblical scholar, but when he pored over the ancient fragments of parchment, sticky tape in hand and ash drooping from the end of his cigarette, doubters wondered if he was the best man to be deciphering manuscripts of such importance for the whole world.

Indeed, with a lively sense of humour and his spoken English drawn from the novels of Mickey Spillane and PG Wodehouse, he was an improbable figure to be entrusted with the translation of Dead Sea Scrolls.

But Josef Milik would become a prodigious publisher of those fragments of writing about the history of Judaism and the roots of Christianity, which had been found in jars in 11 caves on a plateau overlooking the ruins at the mouth of wadi Qumran.

Written in Hebrew and Aramaic, they were discovered from 1947 to 1955.

Milik, who had been ordained into the priesthood in Poland and moved to Rome, joined the team working on the scrolls in 1951. The idea was for the texts to be published in scholarly books.

It is thought that at least some of them were the work of an ascetic cult called the Essenes. …