LOS ANGELES -- Israel is warning the Huntington Library not to release the institution's photographic record of the Dead Sea Scrolls, hinting at possible legal action if the library breaks the decades-long convention that has kept the ancient Jewish documents under the control of a small group of scholars.
Huntington Library officials, however, responded defiantly, saying they have no intention of changing their plans and planned to open the collection without restriction to scholars beginning today.
Amir Drori, director of the Israeli Antiquities Authority, said yesterday the library's release of the microfilm collection would constitute "both a breach of contract and of ethics."
'We have asked them not to do this," Drori was quoted by wire services as saying. "If they do, after we said no, we will have to consider taking additional steps. But we do not expect to have to take those steps."
Library director William A. Moffett said that the library, in San Marino, Calif., is prepared to fight in court, if necessary, any attempts to block access to the photographs.
"There's either freedom of access or not," Moffett said yesterday. "Our position is that there should be unfettered access."
"We have every right, and, in fact, we have an obligation" to release the collection, he said.
The library's release of the collection breaks the 40-year research monopoly that has been held over the scrolls since they were first discovered in 1947 by Bedouin shepherds in what is now the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
For 40 years, researchers have chafed at the barriers that have kept the scrolls in the hands of the 25 to 40 scholars worldwide who have been granted exclusive rights.
The so-called Dead Sea Scrolls "cartel" has completed less than a third of the translations that they agreed 40 years ago to provide, critics say.
Drori said yesterday the Huntington Library has violated a contractual agreement that prevents the use of the scrolls without the approval of the Antiquities Authority.
But Moffett said Huntington's photographic record is unique. It was donated to the library by the late philanthropist Elizabeth Hay Bechtel, who was granted permission to photograph the scrolls in 1980.