John Strugnell

John Strugnell

John Strugnell, (May 25, 1930 – November 30, 2007) was born in Barnet, North London, England. At 23 he was the youngest member of the team of scholars led by Roland de Vaux, formed in 1954 to edit the Dead Sea Scrolls in Jerusalem. He was studying Oriental languages at Jesus College, Oxford when Sir Godfrey Rolles Driver, a lecturer in Semitic philology, nominated him to join the Scrolls editorial team. Although Strugnell had no previous experience in palaeography he learned very quickly to read the Scrolls. He would be involved in the Dead Sea Scrolls project for more than forty years. [] John Strugnell died in Boston, MA on November 30, 2007.

Early career

Strugnell was educated at St. Paul's School in London. He took a double first in Classics and Semitics at Oxford. In 1956-1957 Strugnell held a position at the Oriental Institute of Chicago, where he met his future wife, Cecile Pierlot, whose father had been Prime Minister of Belgium during the Second World War. He was away from his Scrolls again from 1960 to 1967, this time at Duke University, though he returned in summers to continue his efforts in Jerusalem. From 1966 to 1991 he was a Professor of Christian Origins at Harvard. [ 'The Times' obituary December 29 2007] He succeeded Pierre Benoit as editor-in-chief of the Scrolls in 1984, a position which he held until 1990. During this period he was responsible for bringing Israeli scholars Elisha Qimron and Emanuel Tov to work on the scrolls, breaking the long standing exclusion. []

Editor in Chief

His production of editions of texts was not large, but the texts which he did publish were all exceptionally important, including "The Angelic Liturgy", later published as "Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifices" (Shirot 'olat ha-Shabbat), and "An Unpublished halakhic Letter from Qumran", later known as MMT [or 4QMMT ] from the Hebrew (Miqtsat Ma'asei ha-Torah), this latter text being edited with Elisha Qimron, who did much of the work. These texts helped to enrich scholarly knowledge of the cultus of the writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Nevertheless, he was a slow worker and the times had changed since it was acceptable to keep the scrolls protected from what was once considered misuse and hasty publication.

For many years scholars had accepted the lack of access to unpublished texts and the slow publication of the texts. This changed during Strugnell's editorship, for there came a growing movement of scholars calling for access to the Scrolls. By this time his health had deteriorated. Only one volume was produced under his general editorship, "The Greek Minor Prophets Scroll from Nahal Hever", by Emanuel Tov.


Finally Strugnell was removed from his editorial post on the Scrolls project in 1990 after critics charged that he was moving too slowly in publishing them and he gave an interview to "Ha'aretz" saying that Judaism was a "horrible religion" which "should not exist". [] .

In the interview, Strugnell insisted Judaism was "a Christian heresy, and we deal with our heretics in different ways. You are a phenomenon that we haven't managed to convert -- and we should have managed." [] There was immediate condemnation of his comments, including an editorial in the New York Times. He was removed from his position as editor-in-chief, and he was forced to take early retirement on medical grounds at Harvard. ['The Times' obit.]

Strugnell later said that he was suffering from stress-induced alcoholism and manic depression when he gave the interview. Shortly after he was dismissed from his post, he was institutionalized in McLean Hospital for a period. He insisted that his remarks were taken out of context and he only meant "horrible" in the Miltonian sense of "deplored in antiquity". In a 2007 intervew in Biblical Archaeology Review, Frank Moore Cross said that despite Strugnell's comments, which were based on a theological argument of the early Church Fathers that Christianity superseded Judaism, Strugnell had very friendly relationships with a number of Jewish scholars, some of whom signed a letter of support for him which was published in the Chicago Tribune. In addition, Strugnell insists that he tried to publish the scrolls as quickly as he could but that his team was the limiting factor.

At the time of his death he was Professor Emeritus at the Harvard Divinity School.

The Strugnell Library

In 2003 the City Seminary of Sacramento acquired Strugnell's library of over 4,000 volumes, including texts on Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, Ethiopic — as well as works on Greek and Latin, and large sections on classical studies, Patristics ( Early Church writings), apocryphal and pseudepigraphal (falsely attributed) literature, and books on Judaism, Christianity, Hebrew Bible and New Testament studies. A highlight of the collection is Strugnell’s personal copy of the Dead Sea Scrolls ' "concordance" '. The early Scrolls team made a concordance of the words in the unpublished texts to assist their own work. [] []


* Article by John J. Collins on John Strugnell, in The Encyclopaedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls, ed. Lawrence Schiffman and James VanderKam, Oxford, 2000.
* The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls, James VanderKam and Peter Flint, HarperSanFransisco, 2002.
* " [ Headliners: Fallen Scholar] ", "New York Times", Week in Review, December 16, 1990
* Ron Rosenbaum, "The Riddle of the Scrolls", "Vanity Fair", reprinted in "The Secret Parts of Fortune"

External links

* [ Harvard Divinity School bio]
* [ Strugnell on the Biblical Archaeology Society website]
* [,%20JOHN&field=per&match=exact John Strugnell in the New York Times]
* [ City Seminary of Sacramento acquires the Strugnell Library]
* [ Detroit Jewish News, 12/1/2002, on sale of his library through Dove Books]

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