How the world has changed—in only 25 years. A recent public letter from Israel Antiquities Authority director Shuka Dorfman tells us he is “very proud” to announce the availability of a “free online digitized virtual library of the Dead Sea Scrolls,” including thousands of fragments.
I can still recall—I admit, with a smile—the situation in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the IAA had forbidden its employees from writing for BAR because of our insistent demands for release of the scrolls and our publication of unauthorized copies. When clandestine copies of the scrolls were made available to the public in 1991, the then IAA director called the move “not ethical,” a “mere publicity stunt.”
Then in 1992 BAR was sued by an Israeli scholar for publishing small fragments of a Dead Sea Scroll text that he had partially reconstructed—and we lost! The Israeli court awarded the Israeli scholar $40,000 in damages.
Over time, the situation has changed, and the scrolls are now available to everyone—with the blessing of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
BAR Editor Hershel Shanks is the author of Freeing the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Adventures of an Archaeology Outsider. When the Dead Sea Scrolls (1947–1956) were discovered, a complex tale of theft and conspiracy began in the world of biblical archaeology. Hershel Shanks, a chief protagonist in the story, spearheaded a campaign to release the scrolls to the wider scholarly community throughout the 1980s, using Biblical Archaeology Review as a mouthpiece for the cause. Later Shanks’ involvement greatly increased when he published reconstructed fascicles of the secret scrolls amidst much controversy. Shanks must be seen as one of the crucial factors that finally brought these vital tools of academic study, these Dead Sea Scrolls, to the wider world.
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