67 of 72 people found the following review helpful
This book, written in the early 1990s, had much more punch when it was first written. The Dead Sea Scrolls were still essentially under lock-and-key, accessible as a whole only to a few selected scholars who were selected by unclear and seemingly biased methods - that bias often being misconstrued as the dictates of the Roman Catholic Church. History has proven something rather different going on, but reading this book is still a good study of what can happen in even the most banal and esoteric of endeavours when secrecy and restricted access to information is the norm.
The Dead Sea Scrolls is a name given to a general collection of scrolls found in the area of Qumran, in the desert near the Dead Sea in the West Bank of the Jordan River. The first scrolls from this region were found in 1947/48. Many more scrolls have been found since then (and there may be some still missing, or hidden, by various regional authorities and antiquities dealers and collectors), including some in areas as far away as the British Museum (manuscripts collected from a Cairo genizah 50 years earlier were later found to match the scrolls).
Part of the politics of around the scrolls, which always featured into their saga, was that, while they were primary early Jewish texts (the Hebrew Bible, additional psalms, community writings of early sects of Judaism, etc.), the scrolls were found in what was then Arab territory by Arab traders and bedouins. The fragile state of Israeli/Palestinian/Jordanian politics always factored into the scrolls' fate; the scrolls came under control first of the Orthodox (Christian) leaders in East Jerusalem (then in Arab control), then later as scholars were sought under general Western academic supervision. It just so happened that many of the noted scholars in ancient Hebrew manuscripts (apart from Jewish scholars, who were prevented from participating) came from the ranks of the churches and seminaries, particularly the Roman Catholic Church.
This is where the seeds of mistrust and division were sown. For decades, the scrolls had to be reconstructed, as many of them were in fragmentary condition. Like a giant jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing, the pieces had to be reassembled as best they could be. This takes much longer than one might think - in the pre-computer days, without electronic assistance for cataloguing and matching, things had to be done manually, with cards, files, and photographs. It is true that many of the larger, in-tact scrolls were published early. But as time dragged on, it seemed somewhat as if there was a deliberate with-holding of information.
Baigent and Leigh trace the history of the scrolls and the history of the ideas of deception and restriction around the scrolls. Unfortunately, the issues are a bit overblown at times, to make the book more sensational. The feeling of 'they're hiding something' was certainly very real, and scholars, church leaders and the general public were clamouring for more access to the scrolls, if only to prove that there was not something vastly damaging to the church being hidden. Ideas were floated wildly speculating that there were writings that showed Jesus was never crucified, or somehow didn't die, that he had children and they continued a 'royal' line (it doesn't hurt to remember here that Baigent and Leigh co-authored the book, 'Holy Blood, Holy Grail', that attempted to trace the origins of the legends of the Holy Grail to the descendents of Jesus and his family). The idea was also given that the Roman Catholic scholars, at the instruction of the Vatican, were suppressing these damaging writings. This of course leaves aside the fact that there were non-catholics as part of the International Team, but that became problematic in and of itself, as the one avowed atheist, John Allegro, published scroll findings for which his published later had to issue retractions and apologies.
After the 1967 war, Jewish scholars gained access on a more equal footing with the European (mostly Christian) academics, but the general access was still restricted. Conspiracy theories grew.
Alas, history is sometimes far more mundane than one might hope - it wasn't vast conspiracies of keeping damaging texts hidden that was driving the restricted access, but largely academic politics and careerism of a rather common stamp (despite the fact that they were working with world-famous materials). When it became apparent that particular scholars (who were, along the way, assigned and given 'authority' over particular sub-sets of the scrolls) were keeping access so as to have first publication rights, and were treating these assignments as personal goods to be passed along to successors of their own choosing, this is when things really came to a head.
Complete copies of the scrolls had been made and deposited in other places around the world (given the general insecurity of the Middle East, which meant that a war could destroy them quite easily), but stringent security measures guarding access to these copies were put in place, and rigourous controls over who could use them meant that the scrolls were still hidden. However, the computer age made assembling large compendia of data fairly easy - such cataloguing of scrolls and scroll-bits was available, along with word and letter studies, and computers made it a task of weeks rather than decades to reconstruct the entire set of the scrolls. Once this was done, and then distributed (without permission), while the scroll team kicked up a fuss, the genie was out of the bottle, and the Huntington Library in California, one of the depositories of the copies, made them generally available. It is now more than 10 years after the scrolls have been freed, so some material is a little out of date.
Baigent and Leigh's work here gives the most sensational of conspiratorial leanings, while eventually coming down to the mundane side of things. They add an overview of the scrolls' content and interpretations, too, making this interesting both from the standpoint of the scrolls as well as history of the scroll battle.
42 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on March 29, 2006
The Dead Sea Scrolls deception is a typical Baigent & Leigh product: a fascinating intrigue-laced narrative that does not hold up to critical examination. Like their more famous Holy Blood, Holy Grail, its ultimate intent is to challenge the origins of Christianity and the legitimacy of the Catholic Church. While a worthwhile and noble task in and of itself, this is best accomplished thorough rationalistic scholarship, such as the one conducted by the members of the Jesus Seminar and scholars like Burton Mack, Robert Price, G.A Wells and Earl Doherty. But such works do not usually make for a thrilling read unless one has some background and a kin interest in the subject; they do not form good basis for best-selling novels of all time; and they do not lead to box-office busting Hollywood pictures. But using thinly-woven questionable arguments in the way Baigent always does ultimately defeat the purpose and ill serve the rationalist cause, while providing fundamentalists with a much-needed amo.
The book can be divided in two major parts: in the first, the authors provide a gripping tale of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls at a site near Qumran and tell of the scandalous conduct of the so-called International Team ander the leadership of Father Roland De Vaux in the decades that followed. From this they conclude that the International Team operating in cahoots with the Catholic Church intentionally delayed, diluted and suppressed the research on the scrolls. This was because the information that was discovered in the "sectarian" portions of the collection was explosively embarassing to Christianity.
So far so good. The international team did in fact come under intense academic criticism more than once. They did delay the publication of the scrolls. Their conclusions on the nature of the scrolls were often biased and questionable at best. And the entire setup of the operation ensured that the Church had a tight control over what was being done and publicly released, which is never a good atmosphere in which to conduct objective research.
Now we come to the second half of the book. In it, Baigent and Leigh venture to reveal the content of the sectarian scrolls that was so embarassing to the Church. These ideas are drawn from the interpretation of the Scrolls by Professor Robert Eisenman. According to this view, what was embarassing was the fact that these documents date from 1st century CE, and not from 1st century BCE, as the international team claimed. The famous tales of the Damascus document and Habakkuk Comentary refer to events that occured immediately after the death of Jesus of Nazareth. The Teacher of Righteousness was actually James the Just. The Man of Lies was Paul of Tarsas - a Roman agent assigned to infiltrate the early Jerusalem Church and saw discord. That would also make the Wicked Priest a reference to the High Priest Ananas, who, according to a disputed passage in Josephus ordered the stoning of James the Just. Alternatively Wicked Priest could have been an alternate reference to Paul.
It is here that the authors run into a problem. They do not support their preference toward the Eisenman view by any data. They draw heavily on "historical" events described in the Acts of the Apostles, even though there is a broad agreement among scholars that Acts is a fictional document produced in the 2nd century CE by the Church eager to claim Paul for itself (in response to similar attempts by the Gnostic Marcion). Also, the authors commit the classic sin of conspiracy theorists and armchair detectives: failing to realize that not all of their arguments can be valid at the same time. This leads to broken logic that an astute reader will easily note, such as: the Qumran community were not Essenes since they do not conform to the description of Essenes by classical writers, and nowhere in the scrolls is the word Essene mentioned -- in the Scrolls, they call themselves Doers of the Law, "ossai", which can be transliterated in Greek as "Essene", therefore the Qumran people and the Essenes are the same thing, so the classical writers' description was wrong. Or, even better: Paul was present at the stoning of Stephen -- There was no such person as Stephen, it was a code name for James the Just -- Paul could not have been present at the stoning -- Paul orchestrated the stoning of James -- Paul got converted by the Qumran comunity lead by James because he was ridden with guilt for having stoned Stephen.
All these arguments now belong to history. Radiocarbon dating has firmly established the scrolls to be written or copied before 43 BCE - in accordance with the "international consensus", whether the team "fluked" it or not. What is curious is that in the first half of the book the authors tell about John Marco Allegro's heroic confrontation with the international team, setting up Roland de Vaux as the villain of the story (which he most probably was). They then go on and attack the straw man theory of the Wicked Priest being the Maccabean king Jonathan "or perhaps his brother Simon", referring to a view by some of the international team members. Never to they mention Allegro's own interpetation that the Wicked Priest was in fact Alexander Jannaeus, who persecuted dissenters (including possibly the Qumran group) that ended up in the infamous crusifixion of 800. They lambast the international team's "coin arguments" for the destructiion of Qumran in CE 68, and publish a nicely tabulated list of all coins found on the site, drawing attention to seemingly pronounced periods of activity circa CE 40 and later circa CE 130 during the bar Kochba revolt. Never do they talk about the fact that the list clearly shows the largest chunk of coins found to date in the period BCE 103 - 76, exactly coiciding with the rule of Jannaeus! In fact, external and internal evidence clearly shows that of all historical fugures that we know no one fits the role of the Wicked Priest as well as Jannaeus.
The authors also provide a striking example of "do as I say, not as I do". They blast De Vaux's team for ignoring parts of the scrolls that did not fit their theory, for making unsupported wishful statements and unjustified assumptions. But what of Baigent's and Leigh's own conduct? How does the "seekers after smooth things" incident fit the James the Just theory? Or how do the descriptions of the Wicked Priest, "walking in the ways of drunkedness", "ruled Israel", "afflicted by a stroke" fit the theory? What basis do they have for cathegorical statements like "James certainly knew Jesus personally, whether he was his blood brother or not (although he most probably was)"? Most probably??? Or, "It is not clear if this Luke (the author of the Gospel and the Acts - GO) is the same friend mentioned by Paul as the "beloved physician Luke" (many scholars think he is)". What many scholars??? Absolute majority of scholars have concluded that Luke mentioned by Paul simply could not have written the Gospel.
Surely the International Team did a lousy job with the scrolls in retrospect, intentionally or not. Surely the Church played a role. And surely, the sectarian scrolls can be interpreted in ways that are embarassing to the Church. Allegro's theory is embarassing. It shows that currents of apocalyptic messianism existed within Judaism well before the advent of Christianity. It shows possible origins of the crusufixion myths dating well before the 1st century CE, providing fertile ground for mystics such as Paul to preach a mythical cosmic Christ, and leading later generations to invent a fictional Gospel biography of this savior god. A familiar ringing story depriving Jesus of uniqueness and quite possibly of historical existence is embarassing enough.
27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on July 9, 2001
The truth in this book is this: the Catholic Church really did try to keep these documents from being published. And, as far as that goes, the authors do have some interesting and informative things to say. It's better written than many of the more "scholarly" histories of the scrolls. It definitely will hold your attention and teach you a few things you didn't know before.
The problem, however---if you want to call it that---is that most of the rest of the book is a somewhat tangential "who murdered J.F.K." kind of exposition. Not than I'm necessarily opposed to that kind of thing. I mean, I certainly don't think Oswald wasn't part of some larger scheme of events. Nor do I think all paranoia is a bad thing. But it is, after all...paranoia. And the authors here have taken it to the hilt. Still, with that understanding, this book is worth taking a look at. Why? Because it asks a number of questions about the origins of Chritianity which very much need to be asked. The answers they provide, while most likely *not* all that accurate, are nevertheless representative of a legitimate trend in contemporary New Testament scholarship. Like J.F.K., it's also representative of the kinds of ideas people will develop when large political/religious organizations withhold the truth from the public at large.
When this book was published, Robert Eisenman's "James, The Brother Of Jesus" was not yet published. So, I had the darndest time tracking down anything he had written. Fortunately, I was working on a university campus at the time, so I finally was able to locate a couple of manuscripts in one of the graduate school libraries. It's hard to say what I think about Eisenman. I think his conclusions are probably wrong. And yet, his understanding of the type of thing that was going on in Jerusalem just before and after the death of Jesus is probably a close approximation of the truth. The authors of "Dead Sea Scrolls Deception" place a lot of weight on Eisenman, which leads them to some of their more unique and rather simplistic views of (for example) just what "Damascus" Paul was heading for when he had his well-known vision. Regardless, I still think this is interesting stuff...and, even if 100% wrong, a book you probably still should read.
I hope I'm not confusing you too much in trying to delineate why I think this is an interesting (even fun!) book. Like many things in life, there still is much to learn from individuals you disagree with. Maybe it will provoke you into asking certain questions of your own. If so, then you've spent your money well.
26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on September 22, 2001
I originally got interested in the Dead Sea Scrolls because of references in the anime series Neon Genesis: Evangelion. I wanted to see if they truly used information from them or just took some creative liberty. At the moment, I still don't have that answer. I also had no clue what I was going to find in the process.
This book is well written and references several different works. I'm not going to base my view on one source. I feel The Church has lied to people in the past - in some cases feeling it was best not to upset people's beliefs. The idea of material being hidden is not too far fetched. The authors attitude is understandable at the time they were writing it since they felt scholars were being cut off from a great find. The book doesn't seem to be well balanced, but I do understand their point of view.
In response to one reviewer, using the references in the index, Masada is consistantly mentioned as falling in 74 AD.
The Postscript mentions that most of the Scrolls have been published after the American edition of this book went to press. Personally I have only seen two books translating any parts of the scrolls - Eisenman and Wise's book and Allegro's book.
Anyone with strong religious beliefs may not accept everything these authors have to say. There are suggestions that chip away at the foundations of Christianity, and they do make sense. I don't know if I totally agree with them, but I see where the ideas are coming from.
As with any religious debate, you have to decide what works for you. I do like this book, but I would recommend reading other material before finalizing any personal choices.
56 of 69 people found the following review helpful
on August 5, 2005
These immensely successful authors have made fortunes by sponsoring several romantic theories about the ancient world, often in the face of scholarly evidence completely disproving them. Anyone who does not agree, of course, is part of a vast conspiracy.
Most of their work is well-written, romantic and silly. This book is probably the most serious, however, since it makes the claim that the Dead Sea Scrolls are from the time of Christ and tell his life story (including a portrait of St Paul as a Roman secret agent).
That this is simply nonsense is amply borne out by radiocarbon dating, which establishes that these documents date from well before Christ's birth. The latest and most accurate dating has recently been carried out at the National Science Foundation Arizona Accelerator Mass Spectrometer (AMS) Laboratory at the University of Arizona in Tucson. An article describing the findings is available on their website.
Interestingly, the measurements made by the lab closely support the dates assigned to the documents by scholars on paleographic evidence, treated with considerable contempt by Baigent.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are of immense importance and interest, but there are so many really excellent books on the subject. Please don't come looking for the truth here.
34 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2002
Hidden for nineteen centuries, the Dead Sea Scrolls-the earliest biblical manuscripts-were found in caves near Jerusalem more than forty years ago. Yet the content of a large part of the eight hundred ancient
Hebrew and Aramaic manuscripts remains concealed from the general public.
In this remarkable book Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, authors of the best-seller Holy Blood, Holy Grail, reveal new material that places the Scrolls in the time of Jesus and offers nothing less than a new
account of Christianity and an alternative and highly significant version of much of the New Testament.
Working closely with Professor Robert Eisenman-one of the foremost experts in biblical archaeology and scholarship-and with other scholars in both America and Britain, Baigent and Leigh set out to discover
why the content of the Scrolls was kept secret for so long. Their investigation began in Israel, led to the corridors of the Vatican, and into the offices of the Inquisition. They encountered a rigidly held
"consensus" on interpretation and dating, and discovered just how fiercely orthodox biblical scholarship was prepared to fight to retain its monopoly on the materials and their interpretation.
But The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception is much more than an expose of a bitter struggle among scholars. Extensive interviews, historical analysis, and a close study of both published and unpublished materials led
Baigent and Leigh to startling new views about the early Christians-for the Scrolls identify the group known as Christians as a band of fervent theocratic revolutionaries intent on breaking- Roman control of the
Holy Land and restoring the kingdom of Israel to its rightful Judaic dynasty, of which Jesus himself was a member.
The Dead Sea Scrolls have been news since their discovery, and with the release of the Scrolls themselves by the Huntington Library, they are on front pages and in prime time all over America. This remarkable
book tells the story of a great archaeological find and the mysteries surrounding it.
61 of 78 people found the following review helpful
Whether or not there was an actual conspiracy to cover up the content of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the fact is that there were no Jews on the Scroll committee for decades, and Jewish scholars were repeatedly denied access. That in itself is inexcusable, given that the Scrolls are, after all, ancient Jewish documents. It would be as if original manuscripts of the Gospels were discovered, but no Christian scholars were allowed to see them. Absolutely inexcusable! Baigent and Leigh cover this story very well in this book. Those who doubt that there was blatant antisemitism on the original Scroll committee can also read Strugnell's infamous interview with Ha-Aretz in the Hershel Shank's anthology, "Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls." As a Jew, I find it supremely offensive that people with such anti-Jewish attitudes were the ones to have control of the Scrolls.
Now that the texts of the Scrolls have finally been published for all to read, "The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception" may seem a bit dated and its conclusions anticlimatic. Still, it does raise a lot of good questions about some of the basic assumptions that the general public holds concerning the nature of the ancient Jewish community that lived at Qumran -- a debate which, I'm sure, will continue for generations to come.
36 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on April 19, 2000
I had never read anything about the Dead Sea Scrolls until reading this book. It was methodically written, and even though obviously intent on showing that there was a "deception" or conspiracy to hide or obscure the content and meaning of the Scrolls, it nevertheless provides an excellent primer on the essential historical questions surrounding recent New Testament scholarship. The authors have supplied and clarified many key points of an overall thesis for readers, like me, who find thinking and questioning to be stimulating. In addition, it is quite readable, unlike some other books by "biblical scholars."
84 of 110 people found the following review helpful
on February 13, 2001
I picked up "Dead Sea Scrolls Deception" in my quest to get all the contreversial works by Baigent, Leigh and the rest. I really enjoyed "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" and "The Stone and the Elixir", works that although I didn't wholly agree with, I still found intriguing and fascinating. This book, however, I found to be overbearing and overconfidant.
The "Deception" in question refers to a possible coverup of certain scrolls that were found at the site of Qumran. According to the authors, the scrolls that were publicly shown were only a small percent of the cache of artifacts found at the site. These were basically biblical texts, not too contreversial. The scrolls that were suppressed, however, apparantly held information that gave an alternative and groundshaking origin of Christianity.
Earth shattering? Hardly.
Some of the claims that the authors make here seem too far-fetched to have taken place. The early chapters dealing with the actual cover-up seemed to be taken from the script of a Hollywood suspense film. It just seemed too cut-and-dried. Of course, every agent of the Church is a stuck up evil fascist who would rather burn books than read them, while those who fight against the cover-up are faultless investigators struggling for the "truth". I find it extremely hard to believe that biblical scholars up until the point of the publication of this book have been getting it all wrong, and it takes the handful of reasearchers in the book to find "the hidden truth".
What bothers me the most is the lack of counter-arguments in the book. The authors gleefuly point out the mistakes of others when it serves their cause, but never seem to anticipate and thus tackle arguments against their findings. Just once I'd like to hear "well, we did get these wrong, but know we have this to prove us right". Instead we're given pristine research and blemishless results.
Definately an interesting read, but I beg the authors not to make another "earth-shattering" claim without hiring at least more than one researcher next time.
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on October 9, 1999
I enjoyed the book, but have little to draw upon for critique. Like any other conspiracy book, the authors could easily be manipulating the facts or leaving some out to cause me to believe their thesis. I chose this book as the first book on the subject matter and now feel the need to read more books on the scrolls to verify for myself whether the book is just good reading or an accurate account. I expected nothing more from it as I don't take anything at face value. It definitely got my attention and made me want to explore more books on the subject. For that, I would give it an A+, but back off on the fifth star until I can confirm its accuracy.