The Dead Sea Scrolls

Publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Dead Sea ScrollsSoon after the scrolls were discovered at Qumran, they were studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the American Schools of Oriental Research, also in Jerusalem. Eventually the effort was somewhat consolidated at the Ecole Biblique et Archéologique Française in East Jerusalem.

In 1952 G. Lankester Harding, head of the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, asked Roland de Vaux, a Dominican priest and renowned scholar associated with Ecole Biblique, to head an international team of seven Hebrew and Aramaic experts. These scholars began the task of transcribing, editing, and publishing the rapidly increasing number of manuscripts. Oxford University Press agreed to publish the material in a definitive multivolume series entitled Discoveries in the Judaean Desert.

At the outset the international team decided to impose strict rules of secrecy on the project and to limit access to the manuscripts only to team members. Unfortunately, this decision, which was to have enormous impact on subsequent scroll scholarship, fueled speculation in the media, among the general public, and even among some scholars that the scrolls must contain “revolutionary or explosive revelations about Jesus and the New Testament.”25 But this speculation proved to be incorrect.

After the 1967 war, when Israel occupied East Jerusalem, virtually all the scroll material housed in the Palestine Archaeological Museum (now the Rockefeller Museum) came under the control of the IAA. What remained in Jordanian hands was the famous Copper Scroll found in Cave 3 and a few other fragments (four of which are included in the Qumran exhibit). As a result of this political sea change and other factors, work on the scrolls slowed considerably. De Vaux died in 1971, and Pierre Benoit succeeded him as director of the international team and chief editor of the Judean desert texts. Unfortunately, in the fifteen years of Benoit’s leadership very little was published on the scrolls. The British biblical scholar John Strugnell, then at Harvard University, was appointed to head the team in 1987 but served for only a brief period.

Because of the slow pace of scholarship and for other reasons, during the 1980s the Biblical Archaeology Review began a public campaign advocating access to the scrolls. In 1990 the Israeli authorities disbanded the original team of scholars and appointed Emanuel Tov, professor of biblical studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, as the new editor-in-chief. Tov subsequently formed a new team that eventually grew to nearly sixty members.26 Since then, publication of volumes in the Discoveries in the Judaean Desert series has been more frequent. Among those scholars who form the team of editors are four professors from Brigham Young University: Donald W. Parry, Dana M. Pike, David Rolph Seely, and Andrew C. Skinner. They serve as editors for the official publication of some of the scrolls. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as Mormons), these four are part of a small but productive group of Latter-day Saint scholars and specialists who are making notable contributions in the field of scrolls research.

Despite these significant changes, outside scholars who were vitally interested in the scrolls and desired access to them continued to press for more openness in the process. At about the time the new international team was assembled, two scholars from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, reconstructed the text of several scroll fragments from Cave 4 with the help of a computer. The international team objected and threatened legal action. Meanwhile, a California philanthropist with a long-standing interest in the scrolls obtained two sets of scroll photographs from the Jerusalem Department of Antiquities. One set was given to the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center in Claremont, California. The other set was donated, without restrictions, to the Huntington Library in San Marino, California.

In 1991 the Huntington Library announced it would open its collection of scroll photographs to all qualified scholars. The Israel Antiquities Authority and the international team protested, but before the end of the year they changed their policy and allowed all qualified scholars and researchers access to the photographic collections of the scrolls at Oxford, Cincinnati, and Claremont.27

Since the first volume in the Discoveries in the Judean Desert series was published in 1955, thirty-four additional volumes have been published and four more are in preparation.

In an effort to increase access to these invaluable ancient documents, BYU is producing and will distribute, mainly to Dead Sea Scrolls scholars, the Dead Sea Scrolls on CD-ROM: the BYU Electronic Database. The CD-ROM is being marketed by Brill Academic Publishers. The database will consist of a comprehensive, fully indexed, and cross-linked computerized collection of nonbiblical (and eventually biblical) Dead Sea Scrolls transcriptions, a selection of digitized images (from photographs) of scrolls and scroll fragments, translations, and reference material of importance for scholarly work on the scrolls and on related literature and subjects.


25. Vermes, “War over the Scrolls,” 10.

26. Four BYU faculty members were recently appointed to this team: Donald L. Parry, professor of Hebrew language and literature; Dana M. Pike, professor of ancient scripture; David R. Seely, professor of ancient scripture; and Andrew Skinner, professor of ancient scripture and recently appointed chairman of the Department of Ancient Scripture.

27. For a brief review of the controversy over access to and study of the scrolls, see Vermes, “War over the Scrolls,” 10-1, from which this account was taken.

Courtesy of Maxwell Institute