THE HIDDEN SCROLLS
Christianity, Judaism, and the
War for the Dead Sea Scrolls
By Neil Asher Silberman
320 pages, Grosset/Putnam, $24.95
RECLAIMING THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS
The History of Judaism, the
Background of Christianity, the
Lost Library of Qumran
By Lawrence H. Schiffman
529 pages, The Jewish Publication
WHO WROTE THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS
The Search for the Secret of
By Norman Golb
446 pages, Scribner's, $25
IN THE SPRING of 1947, on the fringe of the hot, arid wasteland
of the Judean wilderness, in what is now Israel, a Bedouin
shepherd boy searching for a lost goat threw a stone into a cave
and, instead of hearing the clink of rock against rock, heard a
In the cave, the Bedouin discovered seven decaying rolls of
leather encased in elongated pottery jars. Realizing they might be
valuable, the boy took the leather scrolls to a Bethlehem shoemaker
who doubled as a antiquities dealer.
Although the scrolls found in the Qumran precinct of the Dead
Sea region would later be declared one of the most important
archaeological finds of the 20th century, nary a buyer could be
found for these treasures.
After being rebuffed by several speculators in the open-air
market, the shoemaker sold four of the scrolls to the Syrian
archbishop in Jerusalem for today's equivalent of about $700. The
archbishop's attempts to find a buyer were no more successful, and
in 1954 he resorted to selling them through a classified ad in the
Wall Street Journal.
Sound unbelievable? Maybe. But it's just one of the many twists
of fate that have created the Dead Sea scrolls saga, a provocative
epic that is interesting as much for what it says about the
scrolls' discovery and handling as for what it reveals about the
Thanks to a break-up in the academic monopoly that controlled
the scrolls for nearly 50 years, three authors have recently
tackled the Dead Sea scrolls, hoping to illuminate both their
handling and their contents.
The break-up of the scholarly cabal was accomplished in the
early 1990s by the collective but unorganized efforts of frustrated
scholars who had been denied access to the scrolls and wanted to
work with them before they died.
Their efforts included programming a computer to take the
jumbled contents of an official 1957 Dead Sea scroll concordance
and assemble it in correct order.
Norman Golb covers the details of the academic battle in "Who
Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?" This heavy, dense polemic excoriates
various scroll theories and chastises their proponents.
The Indiana Jones version of the scrolls' handling can be found
in Neil Asher Silberman's "The Hidden Scrolls," which is heavy on
adventure and intrigue and light on scroll interpretation.
A thorough look at the scrolls' contents is covered in
"Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls" by Lawrence Schiffman. He
challenges conventional wisdom and claims the scrolls are
significant for what they say about Judaism - not Christianity, as
has been traditionally thought. …