Great Isaiah Scroll

QUESTION: How Did the Great Isaiah Scroll Return to Israel?


The British government was about to leave the mandate territory of Palestine. Needless to say, Arab-Jewish hostility was huge. Everyone expected all-out war as soon as the British troops left. With this growing tension, Metropolitan Samuel quietly moved his recent purchase of four scrolls, including the Great Isaiah Scroll, out of Jerusalem to Syria. From there, the scrolls embarked on a six-year journey throughout the Middle East and ultimately ended up in a New York bank vault.

During this entire time, no scholars were able to view or preserve these ancient texts. However, Millar Burrows of Yale University used some previous photographs to produce and publish the texts of the Great Isaiah Scroll, the Habakkuk Commentary and the Manual of Discipline and distribute them in certain circles of the academic world.

After a few years of silence, a small advertisement surfaced in The Wall Street Journal under the category “Miscellaneous for Sale” (June 1, 1954):
    “The Four Dead Sea Scrolls” Biblical Manuscripts, dating back to at least 200 B.C., are for sale. This would be an ideal gift to an educational or religious institution by an individual or group. Box F 206.
Yigael Yadin, son of the great Israeli archaeologist Eleazar Sukenik, had served Israel valiantly during its early years of statehood. Yadin had retired as Chief of Operations in the Jewish underground and had followed in his father’s footsteps and become a top archaeologist in his own right. Unbelievably, when the Wall Street Journal ad popped-up in 1954, Yadin happened to be in the U.S. lecturing on the Dead Sea Scrolls. He went into stealth mode and started quiet negotiations for the scrolls through intermediaries. Yadin understood the sensitivity of his work, since the Jordanian government was claiming rights to any scrolls found in the Dead Sea area, and they would have jeopardized any legal transfer between the Syrian Church and the State of Israel. Metropolitan Samuel was back in the game, negotiating with unknown bidders. The haggling took many weeks, including secret meetings to authenticate the scrolls. The parties finally agreed on a $250,000 purchase price and the scrolls were shipped quietly to Jerusalem.

Yadin had completed his father’s work on behalf of their new state. After seven years, all seven scrolls from the original Qumran Cave 1 discovery were safely in the hands of Israel. All seven of these scrolls were later placed in the Shrine of the Book Museum, a “monument” built on the grounds of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

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