On Tuesday, the Israel Antiquities Authority and Google Israel launched the Dead Sea Scrolls digital library. As noted on the project page of Google’s Cultural Institute, the scrolls “offer critical insight into Jewish society in the Land of Israel during the Second Temple Period, the time of the birth of Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism;” the new Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library provides more detailed information on the historical background and relevance and rightly promises on its home page “an exceptional encounter with antiquity.”
While this fascinating project shares the Dead Sea Scrolls with the world, the news of the digital library’s launch reminded me that a few years ago, an exhibition of the scrolls in Canada illustrated once again that those who are always eager to deny the ancient Jewish connection to the land of Israel would not hesitate to come up with the most pathetic stories to claim the scrolls as their own heritage. What I wrote about this incident in early 2010 is no longer available online and therefore reposted below.
* * *
Examples of Arab disregard for historic Jewish sites and artifacts could easily fill a book, and it wouldn’t be a problem to fill an additional volume with examples of Arab denials of the historic Jewish connection to Jerusalem and the region. However, it seems that this record doesn’t mean that Jordanian authorities would feel in any way embarrassed to claim that the Dead Sea Scrolls are “our antiquities”, or that the Palestinians would have qualms to assert that the scrolls are “part of Palestinian heritage”.
In an apparent attempt to bolster these claims, the Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab recently shared his memories of “Growing Up in Bethlehem With the Dead Sea Scrolls” with readers of the Huffington Post.
Kuttab professes to be particularly upset by Israeli claims that “the scrolls have no connection to Jordan or the Jordanian people” but that they are instead “an intrinsic part of Jewish heritage and religion.” Kuttab seems to think that these Israeli claims are easily invalidated by his own childhood memories of being told the story about the discovery of the first Dead Sea Scrolls by a Bedouin goat herder who then asked an Arab cobbler to make sandals out of them. Fortunately, the cobbler realized that these scrolls could be valuable, and according to Kuttab, they eventually were passed on to a high-ranking official of the Syrian Orthodox Church who managed to sell them for a fortune.
So much for the deeply-felt Arab attachment to this unique historic treasure.
Moreover, Kuttab’s childhood story seems only partly correct, because from the initially discovered seven scrolls, three were purchased right away on behalf of the Hebrew University by Professor Eliezer Lipa Sukenik. The remaining four scrolls were advertised for sale in the Wall Street Journal in 1954, and Yigael Yadin, the son of Sukenik, managed to acquire them for the State of Israel with the help of an American mediator. [See now also the description and illustrations at the digital library.]
Kuttab claims for some reason that the scrolls were sold to the British Museum; he also states that Jordanian and Palestinian demands actually relate to scroll fragments discovered only in 1952, which were sold by the cobbler – who had turned into an antique dealer – to “the Palestine Archaeological Museum”, also known as the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem.
The museum had opened its doors to the public in January 1938; ten years later, the area was conquered by Jordanian forces, and in 1966, the museum was nationalized by King Hussein of Jordan.
It is certainly rather interesting to note in this context that Kuttab expresses outrage about the notion that “Jordan’s rule over fellow Arabs before 1967 was an ‘occupation’”. Given Kuttab’s perspective, it apparently doesn’t matter much whether Jordanians or Palestinians claim the Dead Sea Scrolls as a rightful part of their “heritage” – all that matters is that Israel’s claims to the scrolls as part of the Jewish heritage are rejected and denied. Inevitably, Kuttab’s concluding observation therefore rings rather hollow:
“The holy land is sacred to the three monotheistic religions. Claims of religious exclusivity and the use of this arrogance to justify the theft of land and the occupation of people have brought disastrous results. The sooner that we honour and recognise each other and our faith, the sooner we will be able to understand the soothing words of angels calling for Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all mankind.”
Unsurprisingly, Kuttab doesn’t get around to acknowledging that the Dead Sea Scrolls pre-date Christianity by decades, and Islam by centuries.
It seems rather depressing that this is what a widely respected journalist has to offer when he writes about “Goodwill”. Indeed, Kuttab’s idea of “Goodwill” apparently always means that Jews should be required to renounce their historic attachments: another of his recent articles describes Jerusalem as the “stumbling block” for peace, and Kuttab claims there:
“It was because of Jerusalem that then Israeli leader Ariel Sharon made a provocative visit to al-Aqsa mosque in 2000. His visit was met with angry protests but, unlike the prevailing Israeli narrative, it seems the intifada did not start because of this visit. It is arguable that the intifada broke out because of the brutality that Israeli security personnel used on angry demonstrators.”
Of course, Sharon didn’t visit the al-Aqsa mosque; he just visited the Temple Mount for about half an hour during normal hours when the area was open to tourists. But apparently, Kuttab feels that Muslim rioting and violence are justified if a Jewish Israeli politician dares to visit the Temple Mount – after all, the Temple Mount probably doesn’t exist for somebody who claims that Sharon visited the al-Aqsa mosque. Why Kuttab would feel entitled to preach against “claims of religious exclusivity” is anybody’s guess.
One can only conclude that peace is a long way off when even a widely respected Arab journalist so adamantly denies the importance of the Temple Mount for Jews and believes at the same time that his childhood story of an Arab cobbler-turned-antique-dealer is all it takes to deny Jewish claims to scrolls written almost exclusively in Hebrew well before Christianity or Islam were established.