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orion so-called "yahad" ostracon - earlier Norman Golb text decoded

From: Norman Golb, University of Chicago
To: Orion@pluto.mscc.huji.ac.il

On 12 September 1996 you published a statement by Philip Davies entitled "Re
Golb's Theory." It dealt not at all directly with the theory of Jerusalem
origin of the Scrolls, but rather with a claim being put forward at the time
by other parties that the (by now famously advertised) "Qumran ostracon"
contained the expression yahad in the sense of the Manual of Discipline
community. The implication was that the ostracon, found just outside the
Khirbet Qumran surrounding wall, furnished proof that the Yahad group had
actually lived at Khirbet Qumran and written or copied scrolls there. The
claim was reiterated in November 1996 at the annual SBL meeting in New
Orleans in a lecture by Dr. E. Eshel, which was followed in ensuing  weeks
by an Orion internet debate on the subject particularly featuring Prof. Fred
Cryer's criticism of the claimed reading.

Notwithstanding that criticism, the Israel Museum decided to feature the
ostracon in an exhibit entitled "A Day at Qumran - the Dead Sea Sect and its
Scrolls," planned in conjunction with the recently-held Scrolls conference
sponsored by the Museum itself. On 13 April the Museum issued a News Release
whose heading and first two paragraphs stated as follows: 

"An Archeological Discovery from Qumran - a Rare Ostracon in which appears 
the word yahad

"In the Israel Museum there will be displayed from April 15th a rare
ostracon recently discovered in excavations at Qumran, which constitutes the
first archeological proof for the traditional claim of Scroll researchers
who are of the view that a connection exists between the Qumran site and the
Scrolls found in nearby caves. 
"In consonance with the decipherment of the text contained on the surface of
the ostracon, it may be concluded that this discovery contravenes the
opinion of researchers, such as Norman Golb of Chicago, who opine that there
is no connection between  Khirbet Qumran and  the Scrolls, and that the
Scrolls are the archive of a library that was brought from Jerusalem at the
end of the Second Temple period. The ostracon is apparently a copy of a gift
deed, in which a man named Honi handed over his property to the sect of the
'Yahad.'" (My translation - N.G.).

The ostracon was thereafter put on display, with the claimed expression of
line 8 being transcribed as la-yahad and the translation "to the community"
appearing next to it. Thereafter, it became part of the aforementioned
exhibition portraying a "Day at Qumran". In the  144-page Hebrew/English
catalogue of the exhibition the statement is made  (p. 40) that the ostracon
"is the first find from Khirbet Qumran that provides proof of the link
between  this site and the scrolls. Its discovery confirms that the site
served as the community center of the sect."

There is, however, no evidence whatever of the presence of the word yahad in
the text of this ostracon. Suffice it to point out here that (as I showed
during the Scroll Conference held last month) in the relatively clear
photograph of the ostracon appearing in Haaretz of 18th  July, the first of
the three Hebrew consonants claimed to make up this word is not identical
with its transcription (p. 38 of the catalogue, English section),  which
treats it as a yod - i.e., the first consonant of the word yahad. The
consonant as it appears in the photograph itself  represents either a nun or
a gimel. In the transcription (see also Israel Exploration Journal 47, 1-2
[1997] pp. 18-19), a left vertical stroke has been inexplicably added and,
yet more surprising, the bottom horizontal stroke actually appearing in the
photograph of the nun (or gimel) has not been drawn. The photograph
appearing in the I.E.J., while not the best, retains this feature, more
clearly seen with magnification.

Dr. Ada Yardeni, the highly respected veteran palaeographer of ancient
Hebrew scripts, has produced a cogent and palaeographically well-grounded
reading of the ostracon - supported by Prof. Joseph Naveh, the Hebrew
University's eminent epigraphist - which is now in the hands of the Museum
(see Haaretz, 15 August), and has stated publicly that "it is the Museum's
responsibility to remove the erroneous decipherment and to add a correction
page to the catalogue." (ibid.). I have said as much, to no avail, in
earlier letters to the Director of the Museum. The curator of the Shrine of
the Book responds that he will do whatever is necessary "the moment there is
an official decipherment and an official publication by Dr. Yardeni"
(Haaretz, ibid.; italics mine). 

However, it is a matter of record that the earlier "reading" - if that is
the correct term - was greeted with enthusiasm and adopted by the Museum
curators at least two months in advance of its "official" publication in the
last issue of the I.E.J, which appeared only during July 1997 - i.e., long
after the exhibit was mounted on April 15th. In his interview with Avi
Katzman published in Haaretz on 18 July, Dr. Adolpho Roitman, Curator of the
Shrine of the Book, is quoted as saying "I received an advance report
[concerning the eventual publication by Dr. Eshel and Prof. Frank Cross in
the I.E.J]; one of the group of referees [of the article] told me that she
was very impressed by it." The Curator thus  acknowledges that his decision
to display the claimed decipherment was not made contingent on the actual
prior publication of the article. 

The decipherment as it continues to be championed by the Museum cannot be
described as an alternative decipherment with a palaeographically legitimate
basis, but is patently false in essence and, as shown by the wording of the
Museum's news release and exhibition catalogue alike, obviously polemical
rather than scientific in its fundamental  thrust. There is to date, despite
the wholly partisan and misleading effort of the Museum to prove otherwise
both by its exhibition and associated catalogue, not one shred of proof from
the Khirbet Qumran site itself that a sect, Essene or other, ever lived or
wrote scrolls there. In view of the specifics of the present case (which
notwithstanding its seriousness has still not been divulged by the American
or European press) the Museum now has a clear responsibility towards the
public to remove and otherwise correct the offending claim without the
months-long delay it is seeking to win through a groundless "official
publication" excuse.  This tactic, given all the facts surrounding the
events as now known and published, is bound to mar the reputation of a great

Norman Golb, Ph.D.
Rosenberger Professor of
Jewish History and Civilization,
The University of Chicago