"A sensational story ... this scandal has gone on for far too long"
DEAD SEA SCROLLS DECEPTION
Over the last two years a controversy has erupted in the world's press over the Dead Sea Scrolls that were found in caves 20 miles east of Jerusalem between 1947 and 1956. Professor Geza Vermes of Oxford calls it 'the academic scandal par excellence of the twentieth century', Professor Morton Smith of Columbia University protests that there is 'no justification' for the cover-up, and Professor Robert Eisenman of California says 'we're tired of being treated contemptuously'. Working closely with Eisenman - one of the foremost experts in Biblical archeology and scholarship - Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh have succeeded in uncovering the story of how up to 75 per cent of the eight hundred ancient Hebrew and Aramaic manuscripts, hidden for some nineteen centuries, still remain concealed from the world today. But their book is more than an expose of a bitter struggle between scholars who have begun passing round bootlegged photographs of scrolls yet to be released. Through interviews, historical analysis and a close study of both published and unpublished scroll material, the authors are able to reveal the true cause of all the trouble, for these documents disclose nothing less than a new account of the origins of Christianity and an alternative and highly significant version of much of the New Testament.
"When this book was written there was a scandal surrounding access to the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some important works had been kept from the public for many years. The rights to the texts were jealously maintained by a group of pro-Vatican scholars until this monopoly was broken in 1991.
While working on The Messianic Legacy my colleague, Richard Leigh and I, experienced considerable difficulty in making sense out of the various groups which seemed to be operating in 1 century Judaea, one of which had given rise to the Christians. The key to understanding this complexity was to realise that many of the apparently different groups were actually part of the same movement which was messianic, nationalistic, often violently so, and used names which were metaphors for their perspective on life: ‘the Poor’, ‘the Followers of the Way’, the Zealots for the Law’ and so on.
This key was supplied by the work of Professor Robert Eisenman, Professor of Middle Eastern Religions at California State University, Long Beach.
I knew that I needed to speak with Professor Eisenman. A few telephone calls established that he was spending a year as a Research Fellow at the Albright Institute of Archaeology in Jerusalem. I rang him; it was immediately apparent that it would be cheaper to fly to Jerusalem and see him. My wife and I caught the next plane.
I first met him at breakfast at the Albright Institute. Over coffee and croissants his voice boomed around the otherwise empty terrace at the back of the imposing building. Speaking of a well known scholar, also in residence at the Institute, he proclaimed loudly,
“He is completely wrong. He knows nothing about the period!”
“Quiet Bob!” cautioned his wife,
“He is probably just up in his apartment and he will hear you.”
“It would do him good to hear it” boomed back Eisenman, unconcerned at any scholarly ructions which might be caused by his out-spoken, but justified, comments.
I decided that I liked this man. And a long period of fruitful collaboration began.
After the publication of The Messianic Legacy, Richard Leigh and I had begun work on The Temple and the Lodge; Templars and Freemasons were taking a lot of our concentration. But at the same time I was visiting Israel and helping Professor Eisenman organise annual archaeological explorations around the Dead Sea area where the Scrolls had been found some forty years earlier. I found myself becoming more and more fascinated by the implications of the Scrolls and the academic scandal – unknown by the general public – over their non-publication. It was clear that this was a badly disguised effort at the control and suppression of the texts, an effort led by the Vatican through its usual proxies. In fact, those responsible should have been locked up as academic criminals. But scholarship was colluding in this extraordinary situation and letting these scholars get away with it. That is, until Professor Eisenman decided to force the issue, firstly with the aid of Professor Philip Davies from Sheffield University, and latterly, I am pleased to say, with the enormous world-wide publicity for his position which was created by the publication of our book, The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception.
Basically, and despite everything else that might be written or proclaimed on the subject, the Dead Sea Scrolls are early ‘Christian’ documents. That is to say: Christianity emerged out of the same group which produced the Scrolls. For, of course, Christianity did not exist at first. Jesus was not a Christian; he was a Messianic Jew. And, as such, he was part of a strong movement which had been in existence for at least a century, probably longer. Thus Christianity is revealed, not as a unique event in the history of the world, but as part, and a development of, an existing movement. Even the term ‘Son of God’ was in use in the Scrolls to describe the leader of their Messianic Community.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are historical documents; of a literary nature, it is true, but issuing from a real group operating in a real time. The Scrolls reveal the rules, the ideology, the theology and, at times, the history of this group. They are the only documents to do so. All of our other sources for 1 century Judaea – the books of Josephus and the New Testament - are ideologically contaminated. Only the Scrolls remain unmediated and unmanipulated by later editors.
The Scrolls give an alternative view of events unadulterated by later theological preconceptions. They also show the events recorded in the Gospels to be highly mythological and distorted. They raise two basic problems for Christianity: firstly they remove the uniqueness of Christ and this naturally has implications for his so-called divinity. Secondly they prise apart the supposed theological unity of the Gospels by adding information to the clash of perspectives between James, the brother of Jesus, and Paul, who never knew Jesus at all.
For those reasons, there were many reasons for the custodians of Christian orthodoxy to keep the Scrolls restricted, peripheral, and boring. Our book attacked this position head on. And we raised the ire of theologians world-wide. The Germans, especially, were involved – in two ways. On the one hand, a translation of the book was No. 1 on the best-seller list for around fifteen months, on the other hand, some German theologians, endlessly confronted by pertinent questions from their parishioners, felt the need to hit back at us. Hans Küng devoted space in one of his books to criticising our position; two German Catholic theologians even wrote an entire book complaining about The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception and trying, unsuccessfully, to justify the Vatican position. They even complained about the text on the fly-leaf of our German edition, a text written by our publisher! And they suggested, archly, that we had received vast funding from some secret group in order to sustain the ‘international advertising campaign which led to the great success of the book’. I derived considerable amusement from this evidence of theological paranoia!
But the outcome was positive: as a direct result of a number of secret initiatives undertaken by Professor Eisenman and myself, a previously unknown, but complete, set of high quality photographs of all the Scrolls - published and unpublished - became available. In 1991, with the help of a charitable foundation in the United States these were published in a facsimile edition: after some forty years the known Dead Sea Scrolls were finally accessible to all scholars. The same year, faced with growing pressure, the official repositories of sets of Scroll photographs also opened their holdings to scholars. Professor Eisenman was the first to be given access.
Physical control over the Scrolls has now been conceded; the arguments still rage over control of their interpretation.
As a postscript: in 1992 I arranged for the transport of ground radar equipment, and two experts to operate it, to Israel, where they conducted a detailed search of the Qumran ruins. One important result emerged: we disproved a key dating peg used to distort the historical context of the Qumran settlement."