December 1, 2000

A saga that began with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the caves of Khirbet Qumran, near the Dead Sea, in 1947 has ended more than 50 years later before Israel's Supreme Court.

Elisha Qimron, a professor of linguistics at Ben-Gurion University in the Negev and a member of the international team of researchers working on the scrolls, successfully sued Hershel Shanks, the editor of the prestigious United States-based Biblical Archaeology Review , for publishing his reconstruction of scroll fragments - in a book - without his permission and without credit. Professor Qimron, an expert in Jewish law, made headlines in Israel and the US when he was awarded 100,000 shekels (£14,500) for infringement of copyright.

Professor Qimron, who had sent the scroll text reconstruction to four academics for their opinion, felt betrayed that his life's work had been prematurely published. "Hershel Shanks did not understand that if you work for ten years (and someone publishes the fruits of that work prematurely) it is like being raped. Some people believe that nothing is copyrightable. The court did not agree with that view."

But US academics are less sanguine. One of Mr Shanks's editors, Robert Eisenman, professor of Middle East religions and archaeology at California State University, Long Beach, told Associated Press: "This case allowed the [Israeli] establishment to maintain a monopoly on the scrolls."

Professor Qimron, who originally planned to write a popular book on his findings, has decided instead to write a book of grammar based on the scrolls.

Researchers had been struggling to understand the scrolls for many years before Professor Qimron entered the picture. He was enlisted to help reconstruct one of the scrolls, known as Miktzat Ma'aseh Hatorah , which is thought to have great significance for understanding Judaism, the schism between the Pharises, Zadokites and Essenes during the Second Temple Period, and possibly the beginning of Christianity.

Despite Professor Qimron's court victory, many people feel that the issue of the scrolls' copyright remains unresolved.

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