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Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil
Cláudia Andréa Prata Ferreira é Professora Doutora - Categoria: Associado III - do Setor de Língua e Literatura Hebraicas do Departamento de Letras Orientais e Eslavas da Faculdade de Letras da UFRJ.

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sexta-feira, 14 de novembro de 2008

ROM's Dead Sea Scrolls: 2,000 years old, always controversial

National Post: November 12, 2008

The Royal Ontario Museum could find itself unearthing old controversies when it opens its $3-million, would-be blockbuster Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition next June. A U.S. history professor has accused an earlier, related project in San Diego of deliberate bias, scholarly incompetence and suggestions that its curator, who is also assembling the ROM exhibition, was unqualified for the job.


Last October, University of Chicago Jewish history Norman Golb attacked the San Diego show by circulating a 24-page critique of the exhibition catalogue highlighting what he called “a great many factual errors and unprovable assertions presented as truths.


Though the upcoming Toronto exhibition will showcase a different set of 16 partially decayed fragments of paper, it will be curated by the same person, Risa Levitt Kohn, who organized a Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition at the San Diego Natural History Museum from June, 2007, until last January.


The famous collection of about 800 religious and secular texts, written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, was found in caves near the northwest shore of the Dead Sea between 1947 and 1956. Strong disagreements about who hid the Scrolls during the first century AD continue to divide scholars and amateur enthusiasts. Critics accuse Kohn’s project in San Diego of presenting the traditional “Qumran-Essenes” theory of the Scrolls’ origins — a hypothesis some believe to be favoured by conservative Christians — to the exclusion of other ideas.


Academics are divided between two principal theories regarding the origin of the scrolls. The original Qumran-Essenes theory was championed for decades by the late Catholic priest Roland de Vaux, who had been appointed by Jordan to safeguard the Scrolls (and refused to share them). He believed the Scrolls were hidden by the Essenes, an ascetic sect some believe may have had links to early Christianity.


Other believe the Scrolls were taken from the Temple in Jerusalem and hidden for safekeeping around the time of the First Jewish Revolt, circa AD 66 to 73, and that they represent the literature of the wider Jewish community rather than an isolated sect. This theory was first put forth around 1980 by Golb, who is one of the world’s foremost Scrolls scholars.

Golb summarized his assessment of the exhibition in a phone interview with the Post this week. “What I [saw] was mostly ideas and claims that were beyond the pale. For an exhibit to take place today to be so outdated, to only express the ideas of scholars [working] 40 or 50 years ago, and not by those who oppose their ideas, was really quite a shock to me,” he said.


“I don’t think that exhibition was in any way fair to the intelligent public. There was no pro and con. What kind of an exhibit is that when faced with a controversial subject? It’s contrary to the spirit of American museums.” Kohn was not available for comment yesterday.


In response to a request for details of its exhibition, the ROM sent a statement which read in part: “The Museum’s curatorial staff is committed to a scientifically objective and comprehensive presentation of the evidence surrounding the scrolls — their authorship, their recovery and their interpretation. ROM curators are in direct contact with international scholars from all sides of the academic and archaeological debate surrounding the scrolls, and their input is highly valued … The Museum is keenly aware of the profound interest in the documents that stand at the core of religious thought, and will take great care to ensure that their story is told in a balanced and objective manner.”


There is already one firm indication that Kohn and the ROM intend to present multiple points of view. Steve Mason, a professor at Toronto’s York University and an expert on first-century AD Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, said Kohn approached him to give a talk during the Toronto Scrolls project despite his doubts about the Qumran-Essene theory.


“My response was one of surprise, and I cautioned that I might speak on the problems of the Dead Sea Scrolls-Essene hypothesis,” Mason wrote in an email to the Post. “She [Kohn] seemed to think that was fine, though she also welcomed a talk on other issues, such as the Judaean War.


“I didn’t notice the narrowness of vision that others have charged the [San Diego] exhibit with,” he continued, “I only know that she has invited me, and I’ve happily accepted.”


The ROM's Dead Sea Scrolls project will run from next June 27 until Jan. 9, 2010.

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