New Dead Sea Scrolls book is assailed for plagiarism, 'laughable' scholarship

December 13, 1992|By New York Times News Service

NEW YORK -- More name-calling controversy has erupte among scholars of the Dead Sea Scrolls, deepening distrust and threatening to disrupt an international conference scheduled to begin tomorrow at the New York Academy of Sciences.

A group of scrolls experts is asserting that the authors of a new book translating 50 of the ancient documents borrowed heavily and without acknowledgment from the research of others.

They condemned that as the "unethical appropriation" of previous transcriptions and translations, and said the authors' claims of having done independent and original work were "laughable and manifestly dishonest."

The two authors of the book deny the accusations, saying they worked with photographs of the original texts and did not depend on any one else's work. One of them, Dr. Robert H. Eisenman of California State University at Long Beach, accused the critics of "scholarly peevishness and jealousy."

Mr. Eisenman suggested that this was one more attempt by establishment scholars to control the analysis and publication of the scrolls, ancient documents discovered in caves near the Dead Sea, beginning in 1947, and believed to contain important insights into early Judaism and the origins of Christianity.

Until a year ago, a team of a few editors exercised tight control over access to the hundreds of texts and were accused of refusing to let anyone other than their own students and favored colleagues work with the material.

The book in question is "The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered: The First Complete Translation and Interpretation of 50 Key Documents Withheld for Over 35 Years." Mr. Eisenman's co-author is Dr. Michael Wise, an assistant professor of Near Eastern languages at the University of Chicago.

In a talk last month at a meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in San Francisco, Dr. Lawrence H. Schiffman, a professor of Hebrew and Judaic studies at New York University, said: "This volume represents the fulfillment of the worst predictions of those who opposed the opening of the scrolls to the general scholarly community. It does not, as it claims, publish 50 unpublished texts. One half of those texts published here were fully published before the volume came out."

Last week, Mr. Schiffman and 18 other scholars signed and distributed a statement elaborating those assertions. Among the signers are Dr. Emanuel Tov, editor in chief of the Dead Sea Scrolls Publication Project in Israel; Dr. Eugene Ulrich and Dr. James VanderKam, both of the University of Notre Dame; Dr. Frank Moore Cross of Harvard University, and Dr. Elisha Qimron of the University of the Negev in Beersheba, Israel.

In their statement, the critics of the book asserted that in "several easily identifiable cases," the authors depended on "handouts and work in progress" reported at previous conferences and failed to give proper credit.

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