Dead See Scrolls

Despite her ability to overlook my obvious deficiencies, my wife has good eyesight. Last week she spotted an article carried by the Associated Press entitled “Dispute over ancient scrolls changes modern law.” Although many ancient documents (notably those from Ugarit) outweigh the importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls for understanding the religion of ancient Israel, the Scrolls have continued to be headliners. There never seems to be some sort of scandal very far from the Scrolls, and this article by Jennifer Pletz reaffirms that assessment. The name of Norman Golb is familiar to just about any Hebrew Bible scholar. His work on the Scrolls is highly regarded. The story, however, brings the scandal down a generation to Golb’s son Raphael, a lawyer and literature scholar. In a case whose details rival the minutiae of the Scrolls themselves, the younger Golb is accused of sending emails putatively said to have been sent from his father’s rivals confessing plagiarism. To what point, beyond alleged family honor, one hesitates to speculate.


“Sculduggery,” J. C. L. Gibson once said, “is always just around the corner in archaeological circles.” The same might be said to apply to the Scrolls. Episode after episode of scholars behaving badly have attended the controversial documents since their accidental discovery on the eve of Israel becoming a state. Ironically, the Scrolls in some symbolic ways represent the struggles of the Israelis. No one doubts their importance, but access has always been an issue. Careers were made and secured by the Scrolls, reaching to the highest academic offices in the land. And yet, we can learn more by turning back the pages of history just a little further.

The Scrolls date from that troubled time period when Christianity was just beginning to emerge from Judaism. Tempers flare at implications masked or insinuated. As if the Scrolls were really the much sought philosopher’s stone. The original generation of Scroll readers is going the way of all nature. Those associated with the more solid tablets of Ugarit have long passed that way already. And yet we still have Bible museums being built and implications left dangling. Law suits are filed and ownership of the Scrolls is disputed. In the twenty-first century scholars are still willing to risk it all on some parchment fragments that have the appeal of the esoteric. Hidden truths, almost apocalyptic, squirreled away in desert caves. Knowledge is indeed money, unless, of course, you actually know how to read the Scrolls for yourself.

5 thoughts on “Dead See Scrolls

  1. I read that the Zoroastrian tradition has significantly influenced Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. “The Scroll of the War of the Sons of Light with the Sons of Darkness” suggests such influence.

    Can you recommend where I can look for more information on the influence the Zoroastrian Magi have had on Occidental high priests.


    • That’s a good question. The Zoroastrians have indeed influenced all monotheistic traditions. Ironically, not much has been written on them. The best source of which I’m aware is still Mary Boyce’s The Zoroastrians. As an editor, I have tried to find specialists who can write on such topics, but have never had much success. Boyce is a good starting place, in any case.


  2. By the way, I am not a “specialist” but I have considered writing a non-fiction book on the magical power images and words that can be used (like music from the Pied Piper’s flute) to cast a spell of belief over entire populations. Since very few people can claim to be as well-read as an editor, I would value your opinion on the feasibility and marketability of this endeavor. I may begin with the Zoroastrian Magi or go as far back as the prehistoric Shaman.


    • This sounds like a good idea for a general interest book. From what I’ve been seeing there is still considerable interest in magic. In fact, the interest seems to be growing, even with the dominance of the scientific paradigm. Such a book could find a ready readership, I think.


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