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John Marco Allegro: The Maverick Of The Dead Sea Scrolls (STUDIES IN THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS AND RELATED LITERATURE) Hardcover – August 22, 2005
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From the Inside Flap
This book is the first to fully explore the life and ideas of John Marco Allegro (1923-1988), freethinker and rebel, whose work on the Dead Sea Scrolls led him to challenge the church, the team of scholars in charge of editing the Scrolls, and most conventional assumptions about the development of Christianity.
As the first British member of the Scrolls editing team, Allegro shared the excitement, the insights, and the eyestrain of deciphering these invaluable ancient fragments. He made it possible for the Copper Scroll, a mysterious listing of treasure, to be opened in Manchester and did much to focus worldwide attention on the Scrolls as a whole. But he made his name -- or gained his notoriety -- by questioning orthodox assumptions about the Christian church's origins and authority.
Allegro went on challenging the establishment all his life, and he relished the arguments he provoked. For over thirty years he campaigned for open access to the Scrolls and for wider debate about their significance. To him it was a campaign for free speech and free opinion. Judith Anne Brown's "John Marco Allegro" is a fascinating, probing, inside account of this irrepressibly original man. Making extensive use of Allegro's letters, lecture notes, draft manuscripts, and other previously unpublished writings, Brown brings to life afresh the extraordinary discoveries and debates that began in the caves by the Dead Sea over half a century ago. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
About the Author
Judith Anne Brown is the daughter of John Marco Allegro, a freelance writer and editor, and an associate of the Plain Language Commission. Her work on John Marco Allegro also appears in Manchester and the Dead Sea Scrolls (forthcoming), edited by George J. Brooke. She lives in Derbyshire, England, with her husband and two children. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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The work of John Allegro made the link between the existential crisis of the twentieth century and an alternative religious tradition that was already deeply embedded in the collective memory of Western culture. In recent years, some scholars have been prepared to revisit Allegro’s assumptions and his theories are beginning to gain a degree of academic traction.
John Allegro had close contact with all three of the great ancient texts of Christianity – the Bible, the Dead Sea scrolls and the Nag Hammadi cache. He was an independent philologist who was also prepared to be a man of his time. Although religious scholars scorned him and other independent scholars were sceptical of his conclusions, Allegro at least tried to find uniformity in religions and religious beliefs across time and culture. As his biographer (and daughter) put it,
There is compassion. God or no God, technology or failed technology, there is a quest for understanding, and there is love. These remain whatever politicians do to each other’s nations, or the churches do to religion, or critics do to the churches. They are the best of human qualities. The Christian myth, like other myths, can point the way, but for people like John who look behind the myths, source of inner light is inside man and woman.
Before I proceed let me apologize in that this writing is not actually a proper review of the book, but an emotional expression of relief caused by this book's mere existence.
As a free-thinking individual who is neither for nor against organized religion, I was always and will always be interested in the origins of humanity's spiritual belief systems and ideologies, its temporal authorities and institutions, and the way in which these forces come together to form 'civilization.' It surprises me how ignorant some people are about the context within which their chosen or inherited faith originated, and I've always thought it important to question established doctrines and particularly rituals, lest they become mindless and mechanical. It still boggles my mind how in the 21st century we are still struggling to reconcile faith with daily living, and how so many conflicts can result from a perceived clash of ideologies that in reality share so much in common.
Allegro thought this way over half a century ago when knowledge of ancient history was still not easily accessed by the laity. Allegro was therefore a pioneer thinker whose dedicated work and scholarship helped to propel us forward in our understanding of the nature and origins of Semitic or monotheistic religious traditions, and their relationship to other belief systems that had existed worldwide over thousands of years. The notion that Islam, Judaism and Christianity are not as unique or exclusive as some choose to believe should not threaten or undermine these great faiths; in fact, their claims to 'universality' should be bolstered.
At first glance, Allegro seems to have been born in the wrong time, as he encountered so much opposition regarding his open-minded views towards religion from individuals with vested interests and entrenched understandings. Nevertheless Allegro played a brilliant role in history, serving as a catalyst that continues to this day for public debate about Christianity's origins; this debate has far-reaching implications for all Semitic religions, especially insofar as they have shaped the world over two thousand years and culminated in the current stand-off between the so-called West and the Islamic world; 'Us' and 'Them' in the Jungian sense. Perhaps people who are affected by these great religions will come to understand that in this context there really is no Us or Them; that, in fact, Islam, Judaism and Christianity are all branches of the same tree, and not so far removed from other great world religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, and even - dare I say it - various 'pagan' traditions.
Allegro has authored many books conveying this kind of thought but he, of course, does it far better than anyone in my mind. A master of language, Allegro can articulate with the written word what we so often wish we could express ourselves. A master of philology, Allegro had the tools to fathom what most would overlook: the core significance of language and the written word; namely etymology, which contains the keys to understanding religious thought and development. Speech and later writing were early on perceived as divinely manifested abilities. The very fact that humans ever learned to speak and write was considered inherently sublime in itself, and when one comes to understand this, one is ready to read volumes like "The Scared Mushroom and the Cross" (1970) without becoming perplexed by it, as was the case with Allegro's peers.
Brown's book simply sheds light on Allegro's character and scholarship, putting the 'mystery' surrounding the Dead Sea Scrolls into context and giving us another chance to bring his work to light after it was so tragically misunderstood, suppressed and wrongfully slandered. The Dead Sea Scrolls' discovery did indeed have mass implications for Christianity, but the Scrolls did not contain anything that directly threatened to shake the very foundation of the Church; like anything that unrightfully attempts to contravene the natural order of things, the Church, in overreacting to proponents of religious debate, shook its own foundation and unwittingly vindicated Allegro's just cause.
Sooner or later the truth will out; and, in my opinion, those who attempt to prevent this are simply lacking in faith. Now that a credible and balanced account of John M. Allegro and his legacy has been published, I sincerely hope readers will demand that his books be re-issued, so that Allegro's wonderful thoughts and insights can be more readily available to those who share with him a desire to better understand their religions' origins.
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explaination for the origins of myth and religion, specifically the Christian...Read more