The Completion of the Publication of the Scrolls

Amir Drori

The Dead Sea Scrolls Publication Project, whose conclusion we are marking at this time, deals with c.15,000 scrolls and scroll fragments in the Rockefeller Museum, in Jerusalem, that were turned over to the State of Israel following the Six Day War (1967). Close to the time of its establishment, more than a decade ago, the Antiquities Authority decided to take upon itself the matter of attending to the scrolls, to which it ascribed the utmost priority. After measures were taken to improve the security of the scrolls and the conditions in which they were stored, it was decided that three issues relating to them required radical and fundamental treatment. These included bringing about the complete publication of all the scrolls in the possession of the Antiquities Authority; the conservation of the scrolls in order to prevent their destruction; and an attempt to locate additional scrolls in the region of the Judean Desert and Dead Sea through archaeological surveys and excavations.

As a preliminary step the ‘Scrolls Committee’ was formed with the agreement of the State of Israel Archaeological Council. The members of the committee were Professor Shemaryahu Talmon and the late Professor Jonah Greenfield, both of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Mr. Magen Broshi, the director of the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum. Joining them were Professor Emmanuel Tov, who was appointed editor-in-chief and Mrs. Ayala Sussman who acted as the committee’s secretary. The Scrolls Committee convened on more than seventy occasions during which various matters were discussed and decided pertaining to the scrolls and particularly to their publication. The committee’s work was carried out in a cordial atmosphere and decisions were arrived at by agreement. It was refreshing to behold the group of experts dedicating their time and skills to solving this intricate problem. Without the devoted and efficient work of the Scrolls Committee, it would have been impossible to finish the publication project. As mentioned, the Antiquities Authority attended to three matters: 

1. The conservation of the scrolls. With the assistance of experts from around the world and from Israel, an advanced method of treatment was developed and agreed upon and the Antiquities Authority established a unique laboratory for this that provided a suitable answer to the problem.

2. An attempt to locate additional scrolls. The project was predicated on the assumption that other scrolls exist that have yet to be located and they merited searching for. This operation was primarily carried out by the Antiquities Authority and the Archaeological Staff Officer of Judea and Samaria, under the direction of Dr. Yitzhak Magen. Eight years ago “Operation Scroll” was conducted in which hundreds of caves were surveyed and dozens were excavated, and the archaeological excavations at Qumran were renewed.

3. The scrolls publication. This was the most complex and complicated aspect of the project. With the appointment of the Scrolls Committee the status of the documents publication and the scientific publication rights held by the different scholars became clear. Following this a publication plan was conceived that was based on increasing the number of researchers and establishing a timetable for their work. In fact, some one hundred scholars chosen for their abilities, participated. The Scrolls Committee maintained the right to transfer material, whose publication was behind schedule, to other researchers. It was agreed to continue publishing the entire series, and the question of perusing material being studied by other scholars prior to its final publication was solved. The selection of Professor Emmanuel Tov as editor-in-chief proved to be most successful. Thanks to his erudition, his ability and his diligent and methodical work, we can celebrate the accomplishment of the completed task.

At the time, criticism was cast on the delay of the scrolls’ publication and there were even various factions that broke the law by committing such acts as publishing photographs of the scrolls. Despite this the Antiquities Authority preferred the concentrate its efforts on publication and not pursue legal measures against these factions. The completion of the publication did not occur as a result of the criticism but rather in spite of it. The publication of the scrolls, which was completed in its entirety, is exceptional when also compared with other similar materials (e.g., the archives from Cairo, Mari and elsewhere) that have yet to be published even though they too were discovered many years ago. Let me reiterate furthermore, the conservation of the scrolls, the search for additional scrolls and the publication all demanded considerable economic resources. Unfortunately we were unable to convince the government, especially the Ministry of Education and Culture and the Ministry of Science, as well as other entities such as the National Inheritance Foundation, to provide us with assistance and in any case we were compelled to solve all questions concerning funding with our own meager resources and philanthropic contributions. We were also aided in this matter by organizing exhibitions of the Dead Sea Scrolls abroad.