Culture News

Charity fund involved in Dead Sea Scrolls conflict

by Charles Gadda | December 16, 2007 at 03:43 am | 3209 views | 9 comments
ASOR's "Albright Institute" branch in Jerusalem, funded by Dorot Foundation
Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem, funded by Dorot Foundation
Upload Photos, Videos and Audio

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Influential foundation gives millions to museum presenting Dead Sea Scrolls as Essene writings and to key academic group ASOR
  • ASOR and partner SBL exclude major researchers who reject Essene theory from annual meeting
  • Question: Did a key foundation use financial incentives to impose a policy of bias and exclusion on ASOR and SBL, two nominally independent academic organizations?

    "The atmosphere of our day, in both religious and secular settings, demands that scholarship be public and accountable." Ernest Frerichs, ed., Introduction to Judaic Perspectives on Ancient Israel, Fortress Press (Philadelphia, 1987).

    The author of the above-quoted words was, at the time he wrote them, a professor of religious studies at Brown University; today he is the president of the Dorot Foundation, an institution whose apparent influence on scholars and museums alike is examined below. 

                                          *

    In a series of previous pieces, I have examined the history and content of an exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls taking place at the San Diego Natural History Museum, showing how it was created by Christian scholars and how the exhibitors downplayed, distorted and excluded the ideas of a major group of secular-minded, Jewish historians and archaeologists who have rejected the "Qumran-Essene" or "Qumran-sectarian" theory of scroll origins championed in the exhibit.

    In those earlier items, I illustrated the religious significance of the Qumran-Essene theory by quoting statements to the effect that the "beliefs, literature and men of the Essene community" were a "vital part of the fabric of Jesus' world." To this I should no doubt have added that the material significance of the theory lies in the fact that thousands of Christian tourists are drawn to Israel and, specifically, to the Qumran site near the Dead Sea, every year to retrace the steps of Jesus and his imagined "Essene" predecessors who, according to the San Diego exhibitors, authored the Dead Sea Scrolls.

    My analysis of the San Diego exhibit will have to stand or fall on its own merits. One issue, however, demands hightened attention, particularly in light of recent efforts to convince the public not only that religion and science can be reconciled with one another, but that religion itself is the "source" of science. I am referring to the issue of the apparent involvement of at least one charitable foundation in generating a decidedly unscientific form of support for the San Diego exhibit from academic organizations with declared scholarly missions.  This can be illustrated by what happened at the annual meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) and the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR), both of which meetings also took place in San Diego, in the third week of November of this year, thus coinciding with the Natural History Museum exhibit.

    I begin, then, with some facts about these organizations and their ties with a major charitable foundation. 

                                                               *

    The Society of Biblical Literature and ASOR have a collegial "partnership." The annual meetings of these two organizations (billed as major international conferences) always take place in the same cities, with the one overlapping the other, and the hundreds of "bible scholars" and Near Eastern specialists who participate in these meetings go back and forth between the two venues, often sharing insights and visiting various places (e.g., museum exhibits) in one another's company.

    Founded in 1880, SBL operates out of an office at Emory University, a Methodist institution in Atlanta, GA. SBL's 2007 annual report states that its net assets for that year were worth over $3,000,000. Among SBL's "core values" are "accountability," "inclusiveness," "collegiality," "responsiveness to change," "tolerance," and "scholarly integrity." Its declared mission includes the facilitation of "broad and open discussion from a variety of perspectives." Why this is important, will become clear below.

    ASOR was founded in 1900 in Jerusalem. Following the Israeli conquest of the West Bank in 1967, the organization basically split into several branches, with a central body (ASOR properly speaking) operating out of an office located at Boston University. ASOR's website states that its mission is to "initiate, encourage and support research into, and public understanding of, the peoples and cultures of the Near East from the earliest times."

    One of ASOR's four overseas branches, located in Jerusalem, is called the Albright Institute. A key funder of the Albright Institute (to the tune of $950,000 last year) is the Dorot Foundation. This entity ("Dorot" is the Hebrew word for "Generations") was created by philanthropist Joy Gottesman Ungerleider-Mayerson, the daughter of Samuel Gottesman, the wealthy New York businessman who, working together with charismatic Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin, famously financed the purchase of four important Dead Sea Scrolls from a Greek priest in East Jerusalem during the 1950's. Joy Gottesman was born in 1920.  She graduated with a B.A. from New York University in 1942.  Then she went back to school when she was nearly fifty years old and in 1971 received an M.A. in Hebrew studies, again from New York University.  Less than a year later, she was appointed director (1972-1980) of the Jewish Museum in New York.  She gave extensively to the New York Public Library; to this day the head of the library's Jewish division is called the "Dorot Librarian."  In addition, she was chairman of the Albright Institute (one wonders whether big money or an M.A. from NYU qualified her for this position).  Joy's first husband, Samuel Ungerleider, was a Wall Street mogul; his credits include contributing the funds for the Samuel Ungerleider chair in Judaic studies at Brown University.

    Since approximately 1997 (i.e., three years after Joy's death), the president of the Dorot Foundation has been Dr. Ernest Frerichs, a professor (now retired) of religious studies at... Brown University. The Dorot Foundation has donated millions of dollars to fund facilities -- such as the 80-seat Dorot auditorium, or the Dorot Foundation Information and Study Center -- associated with the Israel Museum and the Shrine of the Book, the annex of that museum originally constructed to display precisely those four scrolls purchased by Joy's father Samuel Gottesman, and where the "Qumran-sectarian" or "Qumran-Essene" theory of scroll origins first developed during the 1950's and fiercely defended by Yigael Yadin until his death in 1984, is still presented to the public as an established fact. (Yadin received the Israel Prize for his doctoral dissertation on the scrolls in 1956; his father, Eliezer Sukenik, was the first scholar to propose, in 1947, that seven scrolls found buried in caves near the Dead Sea belonged to the small Essene sect.  Ultimately, over 900 scrolls copied by some 500 scribes were unearthed. The original construction of the Shrine of the Book was, needless to say, funded by Samuel Gottesman.)

    Let us now return to ASOR's Albright Institute, of which wealthy philanthropist Joy Gottesman, without ever having engaged in scholarly research of any type, was the chairman until her death in 1994. The Dorot Director (note the title -- not simply "Director," but "Dorot Director") of the Institute is Dr. Seymour Gitin. The Institute's website has a page listing the members of its board of trustees. Here we find, among other names, "Ernest S. Frerichs, Dorot Foundation." I will have a bit more to say about Dr. Frerichs directly below. The Albright Institute's secretary is Dr. William Schniedewind, a UCLA bible scholar who has in the past been affiliated with the Evangelical Christian "University of the Holy Land" network, and whose attempt to defend the Qumran-Essene theory is, as I explained in several of my previous pieces, being presented at the San Diego museum in the form of a hypothetical, computer-generated model of the Qumran site prepared together with his graduate student Robert Cargill.

    And now we come to a crucial piece of the puzzle. Another member of the Albright Institute's board of trustees is Jodi Magness, a professor of archaeology in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Magness is a doctrinaire defender of the Qumran-sectarian theory; her views have been rejected by various Israeli archaeologists, all of whom were excluded from the San Diego exhibit. Her personal biographical profile indicates that she was formerly vice-president of the Albright Institute's board of trustees, that she has also served as a member of the board of trustees of ASOR properly speaking, and that her book defending the Qumran-sectarian theory won an award as the "best popular book in archaeology" in 2003.  The following year, she was honored with another award in "recognition of exceptional service contributions on behalf of the ASOR membership." As of January 2006, she was listed as being a member of ASOR's Committee on Annual Meeting and Program, the "primary responsibility" of which is the "organization and coordination" of ASOR's annual meeting held each November. (Magness, along with many other individuals, is also on SBL's 2007 annual list of donors; no information is available on how much money she gave.)

    Here I must backtrack for a moment to the Dorot Foundation. Its website includes a page featuring a list of books purportedly written by the foundation's president, Dr. Ernest Frerichs. In fact, as I was able to verify by cross-checking all of the titles with a library catalogue, none of the works, despite the misleading presentation of several of them on the list, are authored by Frerichs; they are all merely compilations of articles by other scholars that were "co-edited" by Frerichs (see the quotation from his introduction to one of these volumes above, at the top of this page). In fact, it does not appear that Dr. Frerichs has ever authored a single book. The first of the books on the foundation's list was not even edited by him; rather, it is entitled "Studies in Honor of Ernest S. Frerichs" and was edited in 1998 by none other than Jodi Magness and Seymour Gitin, respectively member of the board of trustees and Dorot Director of the Albright Institute.

    (My concern here is not with personal polemics, but readers may wish to note that Jacob Neusner's book The Price of Excellence contains several references to Dr. Frerichs. Two of them report statements describing Frerichs as a "mediocrity" [p. 155] and "never to be trusted" [p. 180]; a third describes an incident in which Frerichs appears to have "threatened" a particular scholar with a "loss of respectability" and with having his capacity to publish scholarly works removed [p. 235]. I have no idea if there is any truth to these accusations, nor are they my topic here; my concern is with Dr. Frerichs' accountability as president of a foundation that has donated millions of dollars both to popular museums where the Dead Sea Scrolls are presented as sectarian writings, and to research institutions some of whose most prominent members are regularly quoted as defending that particular theory.)

    A google search for "Dorot Foundation, ASOR, Society of Biblical Literature" brings up ample evidence of the complex pattern of financial ties (both direct and indirect) between the Foundation and these organizations, involving, for example, various travel and research grants. At a minimum, it is not clear if ASOR would be able to function properly without the Foundation's support. 

                                                               *

    With this background in mind, let us now turn to the ASOR and SBL meetings that recently took place in San Diego (November 13-20, 2007).

    On November 14, 2007, the aforementioned Dr. Magness, as "plenary" speaker at ASOR, gave a talk entitled "The Current State of Qumran Archaeology."  This talk, according to one observer, contained the "harshest criticism delivered in a lecture" during the entire conference -- criticism that was directed against the published views of two prominent Israeli archaeologists who have concluded that no sect ever lived at Qumran or wrote scrolls there (see below for further details).

    Three days later, on November 17, 2007, Magness gave the same talk, or at any rate a talk having exactly the same title, at SBL (go to this link and enter "Magness" in the "last name" box).

    There is, of course, nothing wrong with giving a couple of talks on a particular topic of controversy; indeed, Dr. Magness has every right in the world to express her opinion on the disputed question of whether Qumran was anything other than a military fortress and commercial entrepot and whether its inhabitants had anything to do with writing the Dead Sea Scrolls.

    What is unusual and disturbing, however, is that she gave the same lecture to two different groups with overlapping audiences within a period of three days, and that none of the prominent researchers who have rejected her views, and who were harshly criticized in her lectures, were invited to respond to her on either occasion. Viewed in light of ASOR's policy of fostering "public understanding" of ancient societies, it is not clear whether such a course of conduct conflicts, or can be reconciled, with Dr. Magness' position as a current (or erstwhile) member of ASOR's annual meeting committee.

    However that may be, a closer look at the SBL and ASOR conference schedules reveals that Magness gave three lectures at these two events and was one of the participants in a fourth panel too (believe it or not, on the topic of "the media, scholars, and sensational finds").

    What is more, Albright Institute secretary William Schniedewind's graduate student Robert Cargill, who authored the virtual reality film being shown at the San Diego museum, also gave three lectures, one of them as the introduction to the ASOR "plenary session" at which Magness gave her address. (A few introductory remarks were also made by Dr. Eric Cline, ASOR's current vice-president, who is regularly featured on National Geographic, Discovery and History Channel "documentaries" dealing with sensational archaeological topics such as "Joshua and the Walls of Jericho," "Is it Real: Atlantis," or "Revelation: The End of the World?")

    To be sure, in one session -- not on the archaeology of Qumran, but on "Josephus and the Essenes" -- Dr. Steve Mason of York University is listed as "respondent" to four lectures including one by Dr. Magness. The titles of the various lectures (including "Josephus, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Qumran Essenes" and "Josephus the Essene on the Qumran Essenes") amply reveal that a main purpose of this session was to argue, against the view of many researchers, that statements of the ancient Jewish author Josephus (who briefly flirted with Essenism, but nowhere mentions Essenes living near the Dead Sea) somehow confirm the idea of a sect living at Qumran. Dr. Magness is known to favor the idea that a "community" of sectarians, rather than soldiers and pottery manufacturers, inhabited Qumran, and Dr. Mason is said to be unconvinced by that idea. But clearly the cards were stacked against Dr. Mason, who had 20 minutes to respond to four different lectures, and no assistance from any of the better-known scholars who have rejected the Qumran-sectarian theory (to see why this is significant, do a google search for Steve Mason).

    In fact, it appears that none of the historians or archaeologists who have concluded that no sect ever lived at Qumran, and that the Dead Sea Scrolls are the remains of libraries that were removed from Jerusalem for hiding during the siege of the city by the Romans in 70 A.D., were invited to report on their continuing research at either SBL or ASOR. As I have pointed out in my previous pieces, these archaeologists include Yitzhak Magen and Yuval Peleg, the leaders of the officially appointed team whose lengthy preliminary report on ten years of excavations at Qumran is available on the Israel Antiquity Authority's website. Magness' SBL and ASOR lectures were clearly designed to defend the Qumran-sectarian theory against the findings of Magen, Peleg and other archaeologists, but no one had the opportunity to hear a response from the scholars whose conclusions she opposes.

    In light of the above, it is perhaps not surprising to learn that on Nov. 19, 2007, Dr. Magness also gave a lecture at the San Diego Natural History Museum, on the topic of "The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls." The museum's description of the lecture says that the Dead Sea Scrolls "represent a library of religious literature that belonged to the inhabitants of Qumran... In Dr. Magness' slide-illustrated lecture, we will review the archaeology of Qumran, incorporating information that the scrolls provide about the beliefs and practices of the sect." Notice that here there is no longer any pretense of discussing the "current state" of research on this topic or of responding to Drs. Magen and Peleg (who, as I have explained in my previous pieces, were excluded from participating in the museum's lecture series). Rather, the Qumran-sectarian theory is presented as a fact. 

    [April 25, 2008 update: It has now also come to my attention that Dr. Magness recently gave the annual Joy Gottesman Ungerleider lecture at the New York Public Library, on the topic of "The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls," thereby once again confirming the close bonds between ASOR, the Dorot Foundation and the repetitive trotting out of Dr. Magness, to the exclusion of the important archaeologists who have challenged the Qumran-Essene theory.]

                                                               *

    To sum up: ASOR is funded by the Dorot Foundation, which also funds at least one museum that presents the Essene theory as a dogma; Dr. Magness has played a prominent role on the Board of Trustees of one of ASOR's main branches; she has also co-edited a book in honor of the Dorot foundation's president; -- and lo and behold, Dr. Magness is trotted out at ASOR and SBL without a single opposing voice at two of her talks, and with the cards stacked in her favor at the other. 

    Again, it is difficult to see how any of this can be reconciled with ASOR's own "public understanding" philosophy -- or, for that matter, with SBL's policy of "broad and open discussion from a variety of perspectives," or with its "core values" of "accountability," "inclusiveness," "collegiality," "responsiveness to change," "tolerance," and "scholarly integrity."

    Indeed, given the apparent lack of any public explanation as to how Dr. Magness came to be chosen as the single lecturer on the Qumran controversy, I find it difficult to avoid the conclusion that her quasi monopolization of the SBL and ASOR talks on this important topic gives rise to an appearance of impropriety, and conflicts with the spirit of Dr. Frerichs' own statement, quoted above at the beginning of this piece, that "the atmosphere of our day, in both religious and secular settings, demands that scholarship be public and accountable."

    Given the total circumstances, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, in the case of the treatment of the "current state of Qumran archaeology" at the ASOR and SBL meetings, we appear to be dealing with a set-up and, whoever its authors might be, it is in fact quite astonishing that none of the hundreds of participants in the two conferences appears to have noticed or complained about it.

    Then, a couple of days later, Dr. Magness gave a lecture at the San Diego museum in which, judging from the museum's description of the lecture, she presented the Essene theory as an established fact.

    I must again emphasize that there's nothing wrong with a foundation giving money to academically-based organizations like ASOR or SBL. But if there are grounds for inferring that the foundation granting the money has, in an ongoing manner, been using the financial incentive of the grant to ensure that the organizations in question present without opposition the view favored by the foundation or its directors, then the question surely arises whether we are dealing with a misuse of influence (or meddling) in the academic community that deserves careful investigation by the press.

    This would not be the first example of such misconduct in the academic world, but in light of the religious fervor conveyed by so-called bible scholarship, the alarming possibility seems to have emerged that an effort to break down the wall separating religious and scientific discourse (on which see my recent piece on peddling religious sensationalism in America) has spread into the milieu of scholarly research. Are the actions of the parties concerned grounded in unsettling ideological tendencies, in motives stemming from personal pride, a desire for financial profit, or in some combination of all of these factors? Whatever the answer to this question, to the extent there is indeed such an effort, I submit that it must be exposed and combatted at every step.

    Postscript: In the course of researching this article, I learned that in 1986, Joy Gottesman co-authored a book entitled The Museums of Israel.  Even though it's available for 49 cents on Amazon.com, I couldn't summon up the energy to place an order for it.  But I think it's a safe bet that it prominently features the Shrine of the Book constructed with Samuel Gottesman's money. Would Mr. Gottesman have been happy to learn of the propogandistic, devoutly "Qumran-sectarian" use the Shrine is being put to with funds provided by his heirs (the next of the "Dorot") today? Honestly, I have my doubts.

     

     


    December 16, 2007 at 03:43 am by Charles Gadda, 3209 views, 9 comments

    News Tools

    Sign In or Join to Add a CommentComments (9)

    good stuff:

    Charles Gadda, again you have revealed hypocrisy and an abuse of power -- this time at the core of an academic power structure -- thus adding a useful dimension to the picture you have developed.  This is great stuff, keep up the good work.

    This is an opinion piece--and the author voices unsubstantiated allegations. I worry about potential slander, libel, and defamation for this person, unless they couch their observations in a different way. The "facts" could certainlly be held up for a different interpretation.


    Many days--corporations and other institutions sponsor events--that does, by no means, discredit the underling material., or event.

    Thanks for your comment! I appreciate your concern, so I will try and clear this up.

    The piece mostly contains verifiable factual information.  Everything I say about the Dorot Foundation, ASOR and SBL sets forth facts gathered through on-line research (one can follow the various links to confirm this).  Similarly, the information about the lectures given in San Diego is also purely factual.  Then, I do add the following statement of opinion:

    "Given the total circumstances, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that [with respect to the lectures] we appear to be dealing with a set-up.... I must again emphasize that there's nothing wrong with a foundation giving money to academically-based organizations like ASOR or SBL.  But if there are grounds for inferring that the foundation granting the money has, in an ongoing manner, been using the financial incentive of the grant to ensure that the organizations in question present without opposition the view favored by the foundation or its directors, then the question surely arises whether we are dealing with a misuse of influence (or meddling) in the academic community that deserves careful investigation by the press."

    I certainly believe I'm entitled to raise this question in an article about an important cultural and scientific issue -- one over which a cloud of silence has been hanging for many years.  Please note that I haven't stated that we are in fact dealing with a set-up; rather, I have argued that given the circumstances, there is an appearance of impropriety. This appearance could no doubt be dissolved if the parties involved (who are, for the most part, tax-exempt entities or public figures who have authored popular books and appeared in all sorts of televised popularizations of archaeological claims) would simply come out with an explanation of how it came about that none of Dr. Magness' opponents were invited to speak, and that the museum exhibits they have been funding (e.g., at the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem) consistently favor one side of a heated, and widely publicized, scholarly dispute.  Surely this is a legitimate issue, indeed one of great importance that deserves a public hearing. Imagine if the field were something like AIDS research rather than the origins of Christianity -- the outcry over such a slanted event would be enormous.

    Thus, my aim has certainly not been to slander anyone; rather, I believe that by adopting what appears to be a policy of exclusion and bias in public exhibitions and international conferences, the groups, individuals and entities I have discussed in this as well as in my various other pieces have invited, or indeed necessitated, public scrutiny of their conduct. If some credible explanation were forthcoming, I would be the first to apologize for any misunderstanding and withdraw my commentaries.  But so far, the only explanation I've seen is that "you don't want to confuse people with so many different theories," and this I find highly misleading for reasons I've stated at length in some of my other pieces (e.g., there are in fact two salient theories, one of which has been systematically downplayed and excluded).

    I guess that's all I can think of by way of a response right now.  Thanks again for your comment, and I hope this clears up my intent in writing this piece!

    To Mr. Kaplan: thank you very much for your comment, I really appreciate it.

    I have received an email from Mr. Don Matthews, who attended the San Diego meetings.  Mr. Matthews informs me (1) that Dr. Magness' two identically titled lectures were in fact different in content, and (2) that Dr. Magness was not a member of the Annual Meeting Planning Committee this year, despite being on the list currently available on ASOR's website (see the list linked above).  I am grateful for this information, and have revised the article accordingly at the appropriate spots. 

    I should say, however, that I am not sure what difference any of this really makes.  Even if the actual content of Dr. Magness' lectures was not the same, clearly only one side of the vigorous, ongoing debate over Qumran and its disputed connection with the Dead Sea Scrolls was presented by whoever arranged these talks.  And even if Dr. Magness was not on the Planning Committee this year, it is still difficult to avoid the conclusion that her position on ASOR's board of trustees, combined with her recent membership on the committee (see again the above-linked list on ASOR's website) gives rise to an appearance of impropriety.

    In addition, Mr. Matthews has also kindly sent me a pdf file containing an article by Dr. Magness, in which she quarrels with the conclusions concerning Qumran presented by Israeli archaeologists Yitzhak Magen and Yuval Peleg at the famous Brown University conference in 2004.  It is no doubt an interesting article, even if one might have wished that it had appeared in a neutral scientific journal whose editors were not themselves known supporters of one particular position on Qumran.  Be that as it may, Dr. Magness' article certainly doesn't constitute a response to the basic points I have tried to raise.  Given that this dispute is raging in the field of Qumran studies, why did the organizers of the ASOR and SBL meetings choose to favor one side, rather than arranging for a public debate between the opposing parties?

    Charles Gadda, I thought you might want to know that I have seen two interesting comments on your above article.  One was posted in the sci.archaeology forum by Bruce Scott, a physicist at the Max Planck Institute (Munich, Germany).  Dr. Scott states that this kind of thing 

    happens all the time in academia and is mostly driven by egos and personal connections, not money.  People organise a conference and have their friends or at least allies on the committee, and then slant the distribution of presentations.  Even if they let their opponents speak, the latter have their visibility restricted.  The goal is, of course, to slant things for the next generation of academics.  The funding agents are more victim than cause of the problem.

    It happens, and is a fact of life.  The only way to deal with it is basically to organise yourselves and stage a counter offensive.  I know it is distasteful, especially when both sides are chasing resources, but you are dealing with organisations of people, and the latter are not likely to change their sociobiology anytime soon.
    Dr. Scott concludes: "I should say explicitly I am well aware physics is just as susceptible to this as any other field."

    The second comment is on the View from Number 80 site.  The author mentions your article as follows:
    A second piece by Gadda looks in more detail at the organizations involved in funding the scrolls exhibit and finds convincing evidence of a bias that is the very antithesis of proper, open scholarship. And detail is the right word as he unravels the tangled skein of connections between various organizations. The devil is in that detail, which is not easy to précis - 80 recommends reading Gadda's article to appreciate two things. First is the sheer duplicitousness of the outfits and individuals involved in pushing the Qumran scriptorium fantasy and the cavalier dismissal of work on the scrolls' authorship and the recent excavations at the site the results of which are, to say the least, inconvenient for the "Essenes = proto-Christians" believers - and believers is the right word to use as we are no longer in the world of science and real scholarship. Second is the sheer amount of dogged investigation undertaken by Gadda in bringing the light of day to what is little more than a faith-based attempt to hijack history.

    I have quoted other remarks of 80's in the comments to your piece on "Jesus, Judas, and the peddling of religious sensationalism in America."  I hope you appreciate these statements. 

    Best, Saul Kaplan

    Thanks for pointing these items out to me.

    Bruce Scott is of course right, but he may not be aware that in the case of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls, two major international conferences (at the New York Academy of Sciences around a dozen years ago and at Brown University in 2004) have set a precedent for the open exchange of views and theories.  The proceedings of those conferences have been published in widely cited books that make it abundantly clear how little "consensus" there actually is in scrolls studies.  Therefore, what happened in San Diego cannot be seen as a simple "fact of life" or business as usual (however sordid), but in fact represents a regressive, and quite shocking, attempt to undo very real progress that had been accomplished over the years, and to actively hide the results of the past decade of research from the public.

    I also want to say that I have great esteem for Number 80.  Among other things, he has done a superb job of exposing a lot of truly outrageous poppy-cock that hides itself under a veneer of respectability, and the lack of logic involved in its creation.  With respect to the treatment of Qumran and the scrolls in San Diego, he has clearly seen that we are not simply dealing here with a petty academic dispute, but with a serious problem involving massive sums of money, institutional corruption, and some of the most basic principles of scientific culture.  So I'm grateful to him for his comments, and to you for pointing them out.

    Best regards,

    Charles Gadda

    Dear Mr Gadda:

    I read your analysis with great interest, and learned much from it, especially about the history of ASOR and Dorot. As a historian, I was fascinated to see how someone standing outside the events could so plausibly put the pieces together, on the basis of intelligent research and certain assumptions (e.g., about typical patterns of money trails and personal motivations), but  in a way that didn't quite ring true for me, at least in those areas where I have some experience. This is no criticism of you, but more a caution to all of us who try to piece together the past (especially, who did what and why?) from available clues. 

    To illustrate, and complicate things a little, I can give an insider's perspective on one small element of this: the San Diego session on Josephus and the Essenes.

    1.  The session to which you refer, in which (you're right) I had the impossible task of responding to four papers, was a meeting of the Josephus Group, not something designed by whatever powers there are at SBL. Units within SBL's structure are more or less autonomous, in terms of what they choose for annual-meeting topics and which proposals they accept. SBL (a fortiori ASOR or Dorot) has no say in that. As the founder and former Chair of the Josephus Seminar within the SBL, and as a member of the Steering Committee in its 'Group' successor, I can assure you that the current co-Chairs of the unit, in consultation with us on the SC, choose both the theme and the papers for each year. For last year we settled on 'Josephus and the Dead Sea Region', and issued the standard Call for Papers. The Call is SBL's requirement, stemming from their admirable determination to keep our fields as open as possible to all ideas and all presenters. Proposals from those who responded to the Josephus-Group Call were evaluated for relevance (only -- not for their theses), and the relevant ones were chosen. 

    2.   As for the stature of the scholars in question: the unit leaders aim for diversity of rank, gender, and any other possible variations of perspective. In this case, three presentations were planned and one was accepted late, at the request of another group that could not accommodate it. One paper came from a doctoral student, one from a junior prof. presenting for the first time in this area, and one from a fairly regular contributor on these issues. Of the main presenters only Jodi Magness was widely known as an advocate of the Qumran-Essene hypothesis, and she presented on the same terms as everyone else. Because of the context, the papers had to deal with Josephus and the Essenes (not the archaeology of Qumran or the DSS primarily), and that was also Dr. Magness's topic for that session. As it happened, three of the four advocated the Qumran-Essene hypothesis (as a way of understanding Josephus, they thought); one was about Josephus' Essenes only. 

    3.   The respondent: It has been the practice of the group, in structuring these sessions, to leave a substantial period for open discussion, among all those in the room. To bridge from the panelists' presentations to this free discussion, and to help isolate and clarify issues from the panel in order to suggest some focus for the discussion, it is the Group's practice to ask a scholar with some standing to fill this function: using examples from each paper to highlight a few central issues. This year, that task of response fell to me, and the issues I attempted to highlight -- as a historian of first-century Judaea and someone who spends a bit of time with Josephus -- concerned the ways in which Josephus is 'used' for Qumran research. Realizing that it was an impossible task to deal respectfully with all four papers and offer general reflections in 20 minutes, I spent hours preparing a powerpoint presentation, so that the audience could see passages at a glance. As it happened, all five of us had PP's ready. We all tested them beforehand, and they all worked in the tests. When it came time, however, the equipment worked only for Dr. Magness. Fate? Providence? Demons? In my view -- I might be wrong -- that single factor contributed a lot to the sense among much of the audience that she had overwhelming data on her side (whereas I could only attempt to draw word pictures relating to all four papers...). But I'm quite sure it wasn't an SBL or Dorot plot :-). 

    Although I am grateful for your concern that 'better-known scholars who have rejected the Qumran-sectarian theory' were not on hand to assist me, we should remember that this was a session of the Josephus Group, and the focus was on reading Josephus in relation to Qumran. Unless I am mistaken, there are not many who work on this side of the question. The purpose of having a respondent was not to offer another paper, say on the archaeology of Qumran from another perspective (e.g., that of Magen and Peleg, or Golb or the Donceels). There are plenty of other sessions that would -- and do -- accommodate that kind of discussion. This was about Josephus. Alhough I have never suffered from delusions of adequacy in relation to his intimidating corpus, I hope that my contribution was useful enough for that purpose. 

    4.   To step back now and look at the whole picture: the ASOR-Dorot history and connections you chart were new to me, and most interesting. There is clearly an orthodoxy on this matter, which strikes many people as odd. I would put it this way: that, unusually for historical work, in the case of the Qumran-Essene hypothesis the conclusion often appears to matter more than any particular historical method. 'The hypothesis' itself is not one thing that can be succinctly stated, but many and multiform and internally unsettled (e.g., Qumran was the Essene home noted by Pliny, or only a retreat-outpost of a much larger community; there was a community at Qumran from Hasmonean times to its destruction in 68, or they only came to the place (a former fortress, or manner?) for the final few decades; the sectarian DSS were from this place, or maybe not; their latrines were on the site, for 'fecal emergencies only', or near the site, fixed or ad hoc; Josephus misrepresents the group because he (i) had seen them but did not understand them, as an outsider, (ii) used Hellenizing sources concerning them, which he did not understand, or (iii) was himself obviously an Essene, but needed to Hellenize or Romanize his account -- or something).

    Yet it seems not to matter much, to some colleagues, which version one accepts or how one reaches the conclusion. As long as one can claim to agree with a conclusion called 'the Qumran-Essene hypothesis', we may all heave a sigh of relief and relax in each other's company. This is very odd in my experience: I can't think of any other area of ancient history, where almost everything is understood to be uncertain and contestable, and no matter what individuals may have invested by way of articles and books -- outside fundamentalist circles, of course -- in which a given conclusion seems to need such energetic defence, even by changing methods. 

    That said, I'd be very surprised to learn that money played any significant or direct role in this debate (i.e., any more than it plays in the lives of all scholars chasing grants and professional advancement, recognition, and offices) -- at the level of the individual scholar. Institutions are another story, but the recognition that the funding interests of institutions or agencies often determine directions of research only returns us to the generic tension between funders and academics (in probably all areas of the university). 

    I don't imagine for a moment that any of those with whom I shared that San Diego panel have motives formally different from my own. I suppose that those who advocate the Q-E hypothesis, among whom I count several respected colleagues, do so because they believe that it best explains the evidence. They seem to get impatient with someone like me. Although I have no idea why the Q-E hypothesis is so attractive to some DSS/Qumran scholars, who need not actually work daily on the texts that describe Essenes (mainly Philo, Josephus, Pliny), I am reasonably confident that more of the kind of exchange that occurred in San Diego will gradually undermine anything that deserves to be undermined in the regnant hypothesis. 

     It may take a while, though. Thanks for your good work in the public interest! I hope that this throws a little light from a different angle.

    Steve Mason, Toronto 

    Many belated thanks to Dr. Mason for his comment, of which I was unfortunately unaware until just a few days ago.

    For previously uninformed readers, it should be stated that Dr. Mason is a distinguished member of an important group of classicists and historians of antiquity who, having no vested interest in the debate over Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls, have been led to study that field on account of its intersection with their own areas of specialization. What is important to recognize is that some of those researchers, including Dr. Mason, have had the courage -- at the cost of taking a considerable amount of "flak" from traditional "bible" scholars -- to openly favor new approaches to scroll studies, and to criticize the severe evidentiary and methological abuses that appear to be involved in the arguments regularly put forward in defense of the old "Qumran-Essene" theory of scroll origins.

                                                                        *

    This being said, the main point of my article was not the Josephus session which Dr. Mason (appropriately, since this was the session he participated in) discusses, but rather the connection between SBL, ASOR and the Dorot Foundation; Jodi Magness' "Current State of Qumran Archaeology" lectures at ASOR and SBL; and her popular lecture on the same topic at the San Diego museum. The issue of Magness' participation in the Josephus session was, for me, secondary to that dominant theme of her apparent monopolization of those talks on Qumran -- which even now remains unexplained.

    So what are the facts? After Magness' plenary lecture at ASOR, her SBL repeat (or version) of the talk was delivered in the session on "Archaeological Excavations and Discoveries: Illuminating the Biblical World." The session was "presided" over by Milton Moreland, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, an institution that emphasizes its "Presbyterian heritage" on its website. Moreland is "an archaeologist and scholar of early Christianity"; his publications include "two edited books on the sayings of Jesus." (I note in passing that the session also included a talk on a "Busy Decade in Scrolls Research," by Dr. Charlotte Hempel, another known defender of the Qumran-Essene theory.)

    Here is a description of Magness' lecture by someone who saw it:

    If I could summarize her attitude, it was a lioness out of the cage. To say that she has not accepted these "alternative interpretations" would be quite an understatement. ...

    I only captured a few quotes, preferring to just sit there & soak in her impressive presence.... She described several instances where Magen/Peleg's ideas fall flat based on either their ignorance of evidence from other sites, or based on their deliberate avoidance of the facts. The majority of those in attendance agreed with her as you could tell by their laughter--she basically hung 'em out to dry, & emphasized that this interpretation (i.e., that Qumran was a pottery production center) "flies in the face of all common sense!"

    Those must be tough words for scientists, scholars, & archeologists like the ones she's criticizing to swallow! I just hope I'm never on the receiving end of such remarks from someone with her credentials!

    How embarrassing!

    She also received a higher volume of laughter when attacking a broader spectrum of scholars who publish headline-grabbing announcements...

    Finally, in case anyone in the neighborhood had the slightest doubt as to how she feels about "alternative interpretations" of Qumran, she bluntly accused Dr. Itzhak Magen & Dr. Yuval Peleg of "poor scholarship" & "sloppy research."  

    To which I must respond: is this the way a scholarly, scientific organization -- listed as a constituent member of the American Council of Learned Societies -- conducts its affairs? Judging by the above description, Magen and Peleg as well as others who were attacked by this speaker should obviously be invited to respond in full without any further ado at the next annual SBL meeting.

    Magness' repeated, identically titled lectures on Qumran were, it must be emphasized, pursuant to invitation, not the normal call for submissions that goes out from various panels.  And the fact remains that, to the best of my knowledge, none of the principal archaeologists or Dead Sea Scrolls scholars who have rejected the sectarian theory have ever been invited to lecture at SBL or ASOR. Yet time and again one sees that Magness or others hewing to the party line are invited.  (Those who "presided" over other, equally biased sessions on Qumran at the 2007 annual meeting included doctrinaire Qumran-sectarian scholars Martin Abegg and Lawrence Schiffman.)  What is more, Magness, as I mentioned in my article, is listed on the ASOR and SBL websites as a member (whether present or past is unclear) of the program planning and annual meeting committees of those institutions.

    Perhaps Dr. Magness herself would, like Dr. Mason, be willing to submit a comment on my article, so we can see where she herself stands on these issues?

                                                                        *

    Several additional points should also be made. With respect to ordinary SBL panel sessions (again, not my principal focus) Dr. Mason explains that a "call" generally goes out. But it should also be clearly stated that the call is sent only to members of SBL. As is well known, many important scholars have chosen not to be members of SBL, because they feel ill at ease with the "reigning ethos," or in some cases with what is perceived to be the quasi-religious atmosphere with which the society's membership and leaders seem to be imbued. One can always argue that this is just a normal fact of institutional life -- that calls always go out to members, and that membership is voluntary. Yet it is also difficult to deny that a certain ethos, accompanied by an ongoing process of socialization, has led, at ASOR and SBL, to an unfair (and unremedied) under-representation of those scholars who oppose the Qumran-Essene theory. And this, in turn, has contributed to an unfounded perception that a "consensus" exists according to which these scholars are simply a small group of mavericks who have no real importance in the field. That, at least, is the implicit argument we see museums relying on when they exclude these scholars from participating in lecture series and exhibits.

    With respect to the connection between the "reigning ethos" and the Qumran-Essene theory, readers should be aware that many SBL presidents have been prominent defenders of that theory: e.g., David Noel Freedman, John Collins, Joseph Fitzmyer, and Frank Cross among others (the line goes all the way back to Millar Burrows in the 1950's). And let's not forget that David Noel Freedman's student Risa Levitt Kohn, who curated the biased and misleading Scrolls exhibit at the San Diego museum, is (or recently was) president of SBL's West Coast chapter.  One can argue, of course, that presidents merely play an "honorary" role; but it is difficult to believe that such honor is utterly without consequence.Furthermore, James VanderKam, another well-known Qumran-Essene scholar, is the editor of SBL's Journal of Biblical Literature. Has a single article by any of the well-known scholars who have rejected VanderKam's favored view been published in that journal? Has the review published any issue in which the origin of the Dead Sea Scrolls is debated by scholars on both sides of the ongoing controversy? 

                                                                        *

    With respect to the institutional connections, I believe it may be useful to raise a further example that I didn't go into in my article, and which amply illustrates the nature of the links between Dorot, ASOR and SBL. As I explained, Dr. Frerichs, the president of Dorot Foundation is also a professor emeritus at Brown University. In 2004, a major Dead Sea Scrolls conference was held at Brown University. The proceedings of the conference appeared in 2006. But lo and behold, when the volume appeared, readers were puzzled to see that it contained a preface by Dr. John Collins, a prominent SBL figure presently at Yale University, and who was not on the program of the conference itself. Dr. Collins was inexplicably invited to write a special preface to the Brown conference volume, and he chose to state in that preface that the conference (despite all its fresh ideas) produced no new results regarding current thinking about Qumran and the scrolls, a statement which blatantly vitiates the gist of the introduction to the same volume by the two organizers of the conference, Drs. Galor and Zangenberg. To many readers it was quite clear that Dr. Collins, who is an arch-conservative Qumran-Essene theorist, was speaking for SBL in this introduction.

    Finally, Dr. Mason rightly indicates that many of the apparent improprieties that I discuss in my article (in particular the question of financial ties between Joy Gottesman's Dorot Foundation, ASOR and SBL) involve the "generic tension between funders and academics." That such tension exists cannot be denied; it is not, however, an excuse for specific abuses of the funding process when they occur. Has the Dorot Foundation ever awarded a single grant to an opponent of the Qumran-Essene theory? Is it just another ordinary reflection of "generic tension" that the same Jodi Magness recently gave the annual "Joy Gottesman Ungerleider" lecture at the New York Public Library, on the topic of "The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls," thereby once again illustrating the connection between Dorot Foundation and ongoing attempts to defend and popularize the Qumran-Essene theory?

    I hope these remarks will have clarified the nature of the specific problem I was trying to discuss in my article, and again I extend my thanks to Dr. Mason for his illuminating observations.

    Charles Gadda

    What is NowPublic?

    NowPublic lets people work together to cover news events around the world.

    Find out more

    Crowd Power

    Saul Kaplan
    First Flagged at 4:49 PM, Dec 16, 2007 by Saul Kaplan

    These members have powered this story:

    Track this Story

    XSign in to NowPublic

    Not a member?
    Join us now, it's free!

    join
    forgot password?