Biblical Archaeology Review 32:5, September/October 2006

How a Scroll Scholar Went Bad

John Strugnell, a chief editor of the Dead Sea Scroll publication team, called him “the stone in the soup.” Harvard’s Frank Cross, another member of the team, said he was a charlatan.

At 23, John Marco Allegro was a probationer of the Methodist ministry. He preached sermons, led hymns and discussions and visited the sick. Academically he was the star of the Semitics department of Manchester University. But his study of the Bible and its linguistics shook his religious faith, and he decided that an academic career was a good way out of the ministry. Then, at the recommendation of Sir Godfrey Driver, his new mentor at Oxford, the young scholar was appointed to the Dead Sea Scroll publication team, arriving in Jerusalem in the fall of 1953. At first all seemed to go well. “We really are an ideally suited team,” he wrote his wife in 1954, “and this makes life very pleasant.”

Within a year Allegro began writing a book on the scrolls, gradually but increasingly convinced that there was a direct relationship between the scrolls and Christianity. In his words, Christianity was nothing more than “a kind of neo-Essenism stemming directly from the people of the scrolls.” Similar views were propagated by several other scholars, most notably the French academician André Dupont-Sommer, and more popularly by the immensely influential critic Edmund Wilson in The Scrolls from the Dead Sea, based on his articles in The New Yorker. But it was not a view shared by his fellow scholars on the publication team (nor by scholars today). Moreover, Allegro adopted a more public stance than the other members of the team, lecturing, writing and speaking to the press.

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