Friday, July 07, 2006

Vermes on the Qumran Concordance

There is not really much drama in the editing of a concordance, but Geza Vermes puts his finger on an important aspect of the recently published Dead Sea Scrolls Concordance. In the course of reviewing said volume, he rehearses the history of Scroll concordances, and mentions the important card-index concordance put forth by John Strugnell in 1988. This privately photocopied book was not meant to be used outside the circle of original Scroll editors and their students. However:

Not only did "illegal" copies circulate among scholars (I received one myself), but as those familiar with the history of Qumran studies well know, an "official" copy of the Concordance, deposited in the library of Hebrew Union College Cincinnati by Strugnell, instead of being kept under lock and key, accidentally found its way to the open shelves and was noticed there by the renowned Talmudist Ben Zion Wacholder. He and a computer-savvy graduate student of his realised that from the concordance it was possible to reconstruct the underlying texts. Their work published in September 1991 ... was the first major breach on the embargo rule imposed on the unpublished manuscripts by the original chief editor Roland de Vaux, and maintained by his successors. The Cincinnati coup was a major contributory factor in the so-called "liberation" of the Qumran scrolls in October 1991. And the name of the graduate student, without whose computer expertise the venture would not have succeeded and who at one stage was threatened with legal proceedings, is none other than Martin G. Abegg, the editor of the present work under review. No revenge could have been sweeter.

I don't know if Marty Abegg has any sense of sweet revenge, but I'm glad to see Vermes reminding people of how much Marty and his trusty computer have meant to the history of Qumran studies.

Vermes's verdict on the Concordance: "an outstanding achievement ... truly indispensable." It's always nice to hear such kind words about a project in which one has participated.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Vermes's review appears in Journal of Jewish Studies 57 (Spring 2006), 177-179.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Another note on Abegg's reconstruction of the text:

At a seminar in the fall of 2001 I asked Dr.Abegg how he did the reconstruction. To my delight he said that he did it on an early Apple computer (a Macintosh Quadra) using Hyprcard. (I worked for Apple at the time.) He also mentioned that he had just sold the computer for $12!

Surely that computer deserved a better fate.

Ed Morrow