The Dead Seas Scrolls
To the Editor:
Professor Ginsberg’s reply to my communication greatly disappointed me [“Letters from Readers,” March]. I said that “I assume Professor Ginsberg has seen a photostat of these Hebrew fragments,” and I should like to know the context of the entire fragments because only the context can give us an idea of the authenticity and antiquity of the quotation from these fragments. In his reply Professor Ginsberg did not give the context but referred to a letter he had received from Father de Vaux. Also, he did not inform us of the paleography of these fragments. Are the letters archaic or medieval? Reference to Father de Vaux’s letter does not give him the right to state that these fragments are genuine, of the time of Bar Kokhba. A case in point is: in the same article that he published in Commentary, November 1955, he says, “We have even the Aramaic original of a pseudepigraphon (the Book of Lamech) whose existence was previously known only from an old book list, but of which no copy was extant in any language.” Recently it was announced by Dr. B. Mazar, president of the Hebrew University, that the scroll in question had been unrolled and found “to be a paraphrase and commentary of the Biblical Book of Genesis written in Hebrew and Aramaic.” Hence Dr. Ginsberg’s statement of a discovery of a Book of Lamech was premature and baseless owing to the fact that he did not examine the text but relied on other scholars.
Dr. Ginsberg writes:
I am touched by Dr. Zeitlin’s exclusive trust in me, but I am convinced that Father de Vaux is no less competent than I to evaluate the Ben Kosbah papyri, which he has had at his disposal for a few years; and I know that he will publish them, or have one of his collaborators publish them, in approved scholarly fashion at the earliest reasonable date.
The truth is that I too am humanly prone to error; as witness the case of the supposed Lamech scroll, which Dr. Zeitlin likewise wishes I had refrained from characterizing without, as he supposes, myself having seen a photograph of its text. The fact is that I did see, a few years ago, a photostat of as much as could be seen of the inside of that scroll prior to the Hebrew University’s recent successful attempt to unroll it; and I still possess a copy of that particular portion of the text, which I made at that time. Yet, from the circumstance that that portion is part of a first person narrative by Lamech, I inferred, like everybody else who had seen it, that the work in question was the lost Book of Lamech; whereas, as Dr. Zeitlin correctly states, it now turns out to be in fact a work which has hitherto been entirely unknown. That such mistakes are an occupational hazard of scholarship can be illustrated from Dr. Zeitlin’s own experience. In the course of his holy war upon the Dead Sea Scrolls, Dr. Zeitlin has made, inter alia, the following assertions; of which, since they are mutually exclusive, at least one must be wrong: to wit,
(1) that the true provenience of the scrolls is from the Cairo Genizah.
(2) that the true provenience of the scrolls is from the Hebron Yeshiva.