Friday, September 15, 2006

Pacific Science Center exhibit misleads Seattle public

The Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle ignores all developments in scrolls research made over the past decade.

These developments have been widely reported, in various articles in The New York Times and other major newspapers.

Nonetheless, the Pacific Science Center exhibit omits all of the evidence that has come to light against the old Qumran-sectarian theory of scroll origins.

The exhibit fails to inform the public of any of the reasons that have led numerous scholars to conclude that no sect lived at Qumran and that the scrolls are the remnants of Jerusalem libraries.

In an additional insult to the public's intelligence, only defenders of the old theory are included in the lecture series accompanying the exhibit. References to works by critics of the old theory are omitted from the suggested reading list included in the Center's website material. (See below for a few representative names of scholars who are not included, and titles of their works.)


A basic chronology of events over the past decade, including links and the essential part of the text of the most recent NYTimes article, is included here (see below).

We, a group of ordinary citizens from Seattle and elsewhere, have created this blog so that visitors to the Science Center can judge for themselves whether the current exhibit is "scientific".

We believe the exhibit violates basic canons of scientific ethics. We believe it is a propaganda tool for traditional scrolls scholars whose theory has now been largely discredited.

Complaints against the nature of the Seattle exhibit should be addressed to, which stands for the Center's "visitors' services".


1991: Scandal erupts over attempts by traditional Dead Sea Scrolls scholars to monopolize access to scrolls. Discovering that it has a complete set of photographic negatives of the scrolls in its archives, Huntington Library condemns monopoly and announces that it is releasing all of its photographs to scholars at large.

1995: University of Chicago professor Norman Golb publishes Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, a sustained critique of the traditional Qumran-sectarian theory of scroll origins. Golb sets forth evidence that the scrolls are the remnants of Jerusalem libraries and were not the writings of any specific group in ancient Judaism, but rather contain a wide range of conflicting doctrines.

2002: New York Times article "Debate Erupts Over Authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls" reports on wide disagreement of scholars at Brown University conference. Several Israeli archaeologists announce that they have concluded there was no link between Qumran and the scrolls and that they accept the Jerusalem libraries theory. Here is a link to the article:

2004: Israeli Archaeologist Yizhar Hirschfeld publishes Qumran in Context: Reassessing the Archaeological Evidence, accepting Jerusalem theory of scroll origins and refuting theory that any sect lived at Qumran. Rachel Elior, the head of the department of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, publishes The Three Temples, in which she also rejects the Qumran-sectarian theory and focuses on links between the Dead Sea Scrolls and priests in Jerusalem.

2006: Two other major Israeli archaeologists, Yizhak Magen and Yuval Peleg, publish the results of their digs at Qumran. In their article, published at the beginning of the year in The Site of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Archaeological Interpretations and Debates (Studies on the Texts of the Desert of Judah 57), they reject the identification of Qumran as a sectarian site and conclude that the scrolls are the remnants of Jerusalem libraries.

August 2006:
John Noble Wilford reports on the Magen and Peleg conclusions in The New York Times and The International Herald Tribune. The article is picked up by other newspapers and quickly spreads over dozens of internet blogs. The text of the article is reprinted below.

September 2006:
Pacific Science Center announces September 23 opening of a biased exhibit, ignoring all of the above-listed developments.

Here is the main portion of the text of the August 15 NYTimes Article, along with a link to the full article as reprinted in the San Diego Union-Tribune:

Doubt cast on Dead Sea Scrolls theories
Israeli archaeologists say evidence shows site wasn't related to Essenes

By John Noble Wilford
August 24, 2006

New archaeological evidence is raising more questions about the conventional interpretation linking the desolate ruins of an ancient settlement known as Qumran with the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were found in nearby caves in one of the sensational discoveries of the last century.

After early excavations at the site, on a promontory above the western shore of the Dead Sea, scholars concluded that members of a strict Jewish sect, the Essenes, had lived there in a monastery and presumably wrote the scrolls in the first centuries B.C. and A.D.

Many of the texts describe religious practices and doctrine in ancient Israel.

But two Israeli archaeologists who have excavated the site on and off for more than 10 years now assert that Qumran had nothing to do with the Essenes or a monastery or the scrolls. It had been a pottery factory.

The archaeologists, Yizhak Magen and Yuval Peleg of the Israel Antiquities Authority, reported in a book and a related magazine article that their extensive excavations turned up pottery kilns, whole vessels, production rejects and thousands of clay fragments. Derelict water reservoirs held thick deposits of fine potters' clay.

Magen and Peleg said that, indeed, the elaborate water system at Qumran appeared to be designed to bring the clay-laced water into the site for the purposes of the pottery industry. No other site in the region has been found to have such a water system.

By the time the Romans destroyed Qumran in A.D. 68 in the Jewish revolt, the archaeologists concluded, the settlement had been a center of the pottery industry for at least a century. Before that, the site apparently was an outpost in a chain of fortresses along the Israelites' eastern frontier.

"The association between Qumran, the caves and the scrolls is, thus, a hypothesis lacking any factual archaeological basis," Magen said [....]

Secular site

This is by no means the first challenge to the Essene hypothesis originally advanced by Roland de Vaux, a French priest and archaeologist who was an early interpreter of the scrolls after their discovery almost 60 years ago. Other scholars have suggested that Qumran was a fortified manor house or a villa, possibly an agricultural community or a commercial entrepot.

Norman Golb, a professor of Near Eastern languages and civilization at the University of Chicago who is a longtime critic of the Essene link, said he was impressed by the new findings and the pottery-factory interpretation.

"Magen's a very seasoned archaeologist and scholar, and many of his views are cogent," Golb said. "A pottery factory? That could well be the case."

Golb said that, of course, Qumran could have been both a monastery and a pottery factory. Yet, he added: "There is not an iota of evidence that it was a monastery. We have come to see it as a secular site, not one of pronounced religious orientation."

For years, Golb has argued that the multiplicity of Jewish religious ideas and practices recorded in the scrolls made it unlikely that they were the work of a single sect like the Essenes. He noted that few of the texts dealt with specific Essene traditions. Not one, he said, espoused celibacy, which the sect practiced.

The scrolls in the caves were probably written by many different groups, Golb surmised, and were removed from Jerusalem libraries by refugees in the Roman war. Fleeing to the east, the refugees may well have deposited the scrolls for safekeeping in the many caves near Qumran.

The new research appears to support this view. As Magen noted, Qumran in those days was at a major crossroads of traffic to and from Jerusalem and along the Dead Sea. Similar scrolls have been found at Masada, a site south of Qumran.

Magen [...] said the jars in which most of the scrolls were stored had probably come from the pottery factory. If so, this may prove to be the only established connection between the Qumran settlement and the scrolls.

Despite the rising tide of new thinking, other scholars of the Dead Sea scrolls continue to defend the Essene hypothesis, though with some modifications and diminishing conviction.

For the full article, go to:


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