Dead Sea Scroll Mystery

Hershel Shanks’s First Person in the May/June 2014 issue of BAR

This is about what may be the last remaining mystery of the saga of the Dead Sea Scrolls: One of the critical breakthroughs that freed the Dead Sea Scrolls from the small publication team that had been assigned to publish them and failed to do so in 40 years was BAR’s 1991 two-volume publication of thousands of photographs of still-secret scroll fragments from Qumran Cave 4.



Where did these photographs come from? We got them from Professor Robert H. Eisenman of California State University, Long Beach. But where did he get them? He and Professor James M. Robinson, as they stated in their “Introduction,” were only “enlisted” to “implement the right of the academic community to obtain access to this important material without further delay.”1 They did not disclose the source of the thousands of Dead Sea Scroll pictures we published.

I think I now know where they got them. But my answer only adds to the mystery. I have often asked Eisenman (who brought Robinson into the project) where the pictures came from, but he has steadfastly declined to tell me. I had always thought they came from a source in the Israeli government.

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Some recent correspondence with a California lawyer, William Cox, proved me wrong. Eisenman did not get them from a source in the Israeli government.



Cox had appeared at the trial in which BAR (or rather its parent, the Biblical Archaeology Society) was charged with copyright infringement by Israeli scholar Elisha Qimron for including in my foreword to our two-volume publication of scroll fragments a Hebrew copy of a text that Qimron claimed to have reconstructed. (We lost the case, but subsequent evidence showed that Qimron in fact had very little to do with the reconstruction.a)

I always assumed that Cox somehow represented Eisenman; that is, that he was Eisenman’s lawyer. But in recent correspondence, Cox told me that Eisenman was never his client.

Cox’s letter goes on: “The more interesting question is, where did I get the pictures?”



So we now know that Eisenman got the pictures from Cox, not from some Israeli source.

But where did Cox get them? That was—“and remains,” he wrote me—a matter of lawyer’s privilege. That is, communications between lawyer and client are privileged, so clients can talk freely to their attorneys without fear of their disclosing what the client said. No one can force a lawyer to divulge what his client has told him.

So, at least for now, William Cox, an old man who has written an as-yet-unpublished book of philosophical peregrinations titled The Book of Mankind, intends to take his privileged secret to the grave.


Visit the BAS Dead Sea Scrolls page for dozens of additional posts on this priceless collection of ancient manuscripts.



a. See “Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due—New Study Shows That John Strugnell Substantially Reconstructed and Deciphered MMT,” BAR 27:02; “Qimron Threatens to Sue Garcia Martinez for Character Defamation,” BAR 29:01.

1. A Facsimile Edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls, vol. 1, Prepared with an Introduction and Index by Robert H. Eisenman and James M. Robinson (Washington, DC: Biblical Archaeology Society, 1991), p. xi.

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23 Responses

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  1. Chris says

    Sad to see that politics (“the devil) controls everything in the industrial world, even “sacred texts”.
    Where there’s corruption, there’s lawyers and bureaucrats.
    Where there’s lawyers and bureaucrats, there’s lies and deceit, cover-ups and sordid gain.
    The real question people should be asking is:
    What’s the money trail involved in this scheme?
    “There is nothing new under the sun.”

  2. Ernst says

    What on earth would be the reason for keeping “secrets” about the Dead Sea Scrolls? Did anybody discover something that does not gel with their personal beliefs? (I wonder). Your views and articles are both fascinating and of such significance because the more we are informed, the closer we get to His Real Character and the Truth about his Coming. Thanks

  3. zed says

    Love of money… The root of all evil.

  4. donald says

    The real disgrace about the handling of the Scrolls and their rescue by Dr. Eisenman is Hershel Shanks’ unprincipled reaction to what was accomplished by a very courageous man.

  5. William says

    Ernst is right. Nine fragments of New Testament books were discovered in Qumran Cave 7, these being 7Q4 – 1 Tim 3:16-4:3; 7Q5 – Mark 6:52-53; 7Q6, 1 – Mark 4:28; 7Q8 – James 1:23-24; 7Q6, 2 – Acts 27:38; 7Q9 – Romans 5:11-12; 7Q7 – Mark 12:17; 7Q10 – 2 Peter 1:15; and 7Q15 -Mark 6:48. The significance of the discovery is that the caves of Qumran were sealed up in AD 68 when the area was overrun by the Roman 10th Legion. They were clearly written out before AD 68, and were copies made from even earlier exemplars. And yet no one seems to have noticed them. Most strange! I wonder why it is?

  6. joe says

    much ado about nothing, many people in the field know how these photos got into the hands of individuals in the US.

  7. George says

    Well, as you are aware; there were two triangles involved. The first was with Mrs. Elizabeth Hay Bechtel of the privately owned and powerful Bechtel Group, along with the Israeli government and the actual photographer who photographed the manuscripts while in employ of the Huntington Library. The second triangle consists of Dr. William A. Moffett, the director of the library; whom was by then, in actual possession of the photographs, Professor Robert H. Eisenman and William J. Cox, the attorney who “secretly represented an “undisclosed client”, pro bono,” for the transfer to your entity; and happens to be well qualified for this sort of thing. So, if your questions is : who authorized the transfer of a “copy” to Mr. Cox; perhaps it was then believed to be not needed; and a premature attempt to circumvent what unfortunately did actually happen between you and Professor Elisha Qimron. I then see the “trial” as a result of Israeli “rage” over a perceived betrayal.

  8. paul says

    What is your source for these New Testament fragments in Cave 7? I have never heard this before.

  9. William says

    Hi, Paul. The references are as follows: O’Callaghan, Jose. `Les Papyrus de la Grotte 7 de Qumran.’ Nouvelle Revue Theologique. Vol 95 (1973). pp. 187-195. O’Callaghan, Jose. Los papiros griegos de la cueva 7 de Qumran. 1974. Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos. Madrid. (This is O’Callaghan’s monograph on the New Testament fragments of Qumran Cave 7). O’Callaghan, Jose. `The Identifications of 7Q.’ Aegyptus. Anno 56, No, 1-4. (Gennaio-Decembre 1976). pp. 287-294. Thiede, Carsten Peter. The Earliest Gospel Manuscript? 1992. Paternoster Press. Thiede, Carsten Peter. Rekindling the Word. 1995. Gracewing. (pp. 189-204). Thiede, Carsten Peter. The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Jewish Origins of Christianity. 2000. Lion Publishing. Oxford. But see especially: Dou, Albert. `El calculo des probabilidades y las posibles identificaciones de 7Q5′, pp. 116-139 of O’Callaghan’s Los Primeros Testimonios del Nuovo Testamento, Madrid, 1995. Dou’s conclusion is that there is less than 1 chance in 900,000,000,000 of the 7Q5 fragment not being Mark 6:52-53. The fragments are never mentioned by the critics, of course, and Bible apologists are therefore not aware of them. But they do exist, and are housed today in the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem.

  10. paul says

    Thanks William, printed out your list……..Paul

  11. Robert says

    As a layman, just pondering what I am reading, What is it about these scroll bits that are so secret? Mr Cox is said to probably take his secret to the grave. What secret? What does this lawyer-client privilege have to do with the scrolls. Were they stolen from someone, so that the client needed a lawyer? If they are of historical value, they should be public, and the history of their discovery and subsequent photographs should also be public.

    I can’t believe that subterfuge, or a monetary consideration, should, or could, delay, or interrupt such a historical phenomenon.

  12. Richard says

    I myself was interested in the work by Jose O’Callaghan which linked the Qumran 7Q5 fragment to first-century A.D. documents, and I had been wondering if more such links might be uncovered. However, subsequent microscopic analysis of the fragment (described by Stefan Enste) appears to show that some document features interpreted by O’Callaghan as remnants of written characters, and important to his ID’ing the text as Mark, are caused by rough patches in the parchment’s surface.

  13. Varghese says

    Ernst, regarding touching personal beliefs, I am aware of at least one thing … Eisenman’s DSS tells us the language Jesus spoke. I have seen the material myself. Actually most of it is in Aramaic and Greek. And lot more Aramaic than Greek. I did not read all the scrolls only just turned the pages of the book and glanced at all the pages. Hebrew and Aramaic has the same alphabets. I think only the Scriptures/Bible is in Hebrew. I concluded that Jesus spoke Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek. The problem is some people want him to speak only Hebrew. And some people want him to speak only Aramaic. And some people want him to speak only Greek!

  14. Varghese says

    The reason why some Jews may not like Aramaic DSS is because they where taught by their Hebrew teachers in the basis of bible verses in Nehemiah 13:23-25 that Nehemiah in those days also saw I the Jews that had married women of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab: and their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews’ language, but according to the language of each people. And he contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters for your sons, or for yourselves.
    I love Hebrew more than Aramaic but I am not an idol worshiper…like some of these Jews who are much like some young earth creationists who just won’t believe the evidence.. I mean if DSS has Aramaic and lots of it may be in spite of Nehemiah a large portions of Jewish people who returned from exile kept speaking in Aramaic and used Hebrew only for ceremonial and liturgical reasons.

  15. Scott says

    If one considers the very symbolic style that some of the scrolls contain, similar to Bible prophecy symbolism, and that a wicked priest is mentioned in regards to the murder of the teacher of righteousness, one might conclude that there was an influence from John the Baptist and Jesus. John preached the wilderness and had disciples, of unknown province. They could have been at Qumran. The Qumran community is similar in some ways to the communities of Christians that formed after the death of Jesus. The Qumran community also considered the priesthood to be corrupt. Since they rejected the establishment, they would make good disciples for John and Jesus. Just some thoughts.

  16. Rob says

    The psychology I don’t like to see here reflects of fascism. The public doesn’t have the right to see the originals? They are not worthy? The arrogance of these self–styled authority figures limiting access reminds one of the strongest adherents of European fascism and classis. How to put these proponents in their place?

  17. William says

    And the other eight fragments, Richard? Are they all ‘rough patches’ too?

  18. Robert says

    Time BAS and others recognised the unsung hero of the Dead Sea Scrolls who worked with Strugnell and was crucial in facilitating the speeding up of publications from 1987 onwards. His name is John Franks. He is the anonymous donor mentioned in several Discoveries in the Judaean Desert official publications series. I wrote about his work and included a photograph of him in ‘Black Holes in the Dead Sea Scrolls’, but like all of my other eight books BAR has never bothered to review any of them, despite the fact that some have gone to No.1 in the books of Biblical interest and Dead Seas Scrolls on many Amazon sites.
    Robert Feather

  19. Dave says

    As the Earth belongs to no one and everyone. So to do these scrolls. Any kind of with holding of them is the true crime. Let us see what they say without religious or political bias.

  20. YAACOV says

    ערבים בכלל לא היו בתמונה אז בישראל אז הבעיה היא שיש מי ששולט פה ורוצה לסבך ולהסתיר . גם שבדיה לא בתמונה . הרבה בחוץ חיים משקרים זמנית כן . הכח יעלם להם . אל דאגה . ועוד קטנה משקרים לא יהיה לכם שום פה לעולם . אתה מהמודעין היזרעלי . מה זעירה מדבר עכשיו אחרי שכולם כבר לא פה .

  21. Brandon says

    Let us see and either weep or sing but this should be for us to decide.

  22. shai says

    בשלוש השנים האחרונות אני מצלם את המגילות הגנוזות במיסגרת פרוייקט של רשות העתיקות, אפשר ליראות את הצילומים באתר:

  23. Rick says

    Such a pathetic drama through and through. Reminds me of kindergarteners.

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