Friday, February 10, 2012

Who Claimed the Dead Sea Scrolls a Hoax?

Most of the great finds in archaeology have met with skepticism on the part of some members of the learned world. The doubts may not die down for decades... Were they perhaps “planted” by a deceitful explorer to gain attention or to demonstrate his pet theory? Is the much admired artifact a fraud foisted on affluent museums or private collectors by an unscrupulous dealer? Is it a hoax engineered by some odd character of unusual skill but questionable morality to mislead his academic colleagues and to make fools of stuffed shirts?
Leo Deuel's Testaments of Time: The Search for Lost Manuscripts and Records gave me a pause halfway through. The paragraph above was not the reason, though it is interesting in its own right. But Deuel follows with a near-contemporary account of early Dead Sea Scrolls scholarship (his treatise was published in 1965), giving glimpse of a perspective that from hindsight is all but impossible. It sounds eerily similar to something else I have seen and heard, as well.
Professor Solomon Zeitlin was the most insistent. He insinuated that the scrolls were a hoax or, at best, medieval documents written by “very ignorant men,” and he has poured forth article after article since 1948 in his own journal, the Jewish Quarterly Review, which has proved hospitable to a number of other dissenting opinions on the origin, genuineness, and interpretation of the cave documents. Again and again Zeitlin attacked opponents, questioning their scholarship in no uncertain terms. Repeatedly and repetitiously he discussed “The Fiction of the Recent Discoveries near the Dead Sea,” “The Alleged Antiquity of the Scrolls,” “The Propaganda of the Hebrew Scrolls and the Falsification of History,” etc. In 1950 he wrote an article fifty-eight pages long, “The Hebrew Scrolls: Once More and Finally.” And then he went right on. After the Piltdown story broke in 1953, he wrote a twenty-nine-page exposé: “The Antiquity of the Hebrew Scrolls and the Piltdown Hoax: A Parallel.” … Professor Albright is of the opinion that the Israeli government picked up the invaluable scrolls for a mere $250,000 or $300,000 thanks to Zeitlin's influence on the market price. Zeitlin, by the way, thinks the Israelis were outrageously overcharged: some $10,000 to $15,000 would have been ample compensation.