CHICAGO TRIBUNE ZHC ABB — Two American scholars are breaking the 44-year embargo on the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The editor of Biblical Archaeology Review says that today his journal would issue the initial volume of what he says will be the first complete edition of the scrolls, hailed as the greatest archaeological find of the 20th century upon their discovery in Palestine beginning in 1947.
The new computer-generated version is, in effect, a bootlegged copy of the scrolls because the material was never released by the tightly knit group of scholars who have monopolized access to the ancient Hebrew manuscripts.
Hershel Shanks, the journal's Washington-based editor, has charged that this group has denied others access to important sections of the scrolls. His intention in issuing the new edition, he says, is to circumvent their controls and to make the texts available to a wide audience.
"We need a little glasnost here," Shanks says. "All scholars should be able to explore these documents, which lead back to our common cultural roots."
The texts were copied by Ben Zion Wacholder, a professor of Talmud studies and rabbinics at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, and his associate, Martin Abegg, a biblical studies graduate student.
According to Shanks, the scrolls have been so carefully guarded that even Abegg and Wacholder have never examined the originals or even seen photographs of them. Shanks' scholarly allies were able to overcome that obstacle, he says, through an inventive use of a computer to reconstruct the texts from a concordance, or dictionary, on the scrolls.
Over the decades, photocopies of a few texts have been leaked to outsiders and circulated through a kind of biblical-scholars' underground. But none of those earlier, unauthorized releases approximates in scope or significance Shanks' edition.