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John Strugnell, Scholar Undone by His Slur, Dies at 77 By JOHN NOBLE WILFORDDEC. 9, 2007
John Strugnell, a respected biblical scholar at Harvard whose tenure as the chief editor of the Dead Sea Scrolls ended in controversy over anti-Semitic remarks he made in an interview, died on Nov. 30 in Cambridge, Mass. He was 77 and lived in nearby Arlington.
He died while hospitalized for an infection associated with treatment of cancer, said his daughter Anne-Christine Strugnell.
At 23, while still a student of languages at the University of Oxford, Mr. Strugnell joined the original team of scholars piecing together and translating the scrolls, one of the great ancient finds of the 20th century. About 900 documents in Hebrew and Aramaic, bearing on a critical period in the history of Judaism and the origins of Christianity, were uncovered from 1947 to 1956 in caves near the Dead Sea, in the West Bank.
Mr. Strugnell, who never completed his studies for a Ph.D. at Oxford, was appointed to the faculty of the Harvard Divinity School in 1966, becoming a professor of Christian origins. He was made editor in chief of the scrolls project in 1984.
Six years later, at a time when the scrolls team was coming under sharp criticism for its exclusive control over access to the documents and its sluggish pace of publication, Mr. Strugnell was in Jerusalem and gave an interview to the Tel Aviv newspaper Ha’aretz. As quoted by the newspaper, he said of Judaism: “It’s a horrible religion. It’s Christian heresy, and we deal with our heretics in different ways.”
Mr. Strugnell later denied accusations of anti-Semitism, noting that he was the first editor to have included Jewish scholars in the project, which had been dominated by Christians. Further, his family and colleagues disclosed that he had been treated for manic depression and was struggling with alcoholism.
John Strugnell Credit Biblical Archaeology Society But the damage was irreparable. He was replaced as the scrolls editor and forced to retire from Harvard. Soon, the project was opened to a broader spectrum of scholars and reorganized to speed up the publication of the texts. By 2001, nearly all the scrolls had been published.
“He was horrified when he realized what he had done,” said Ms. Strugnell, his daughter in San Rafael, Calif. “His career with the scrolls was his life.”
Scholars consider the Dead Sea Scrolls a reflection of the thinking of Jews during the turbulent period of the beginnings of Rabbinic Judaism and the emergence of Christianity. In his research, Mr. Strugnell personally translated several notable texts of Jewish religious literature, including one important document that he completed with a former student, the Rev. Daniel J. Harrington of the Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, in the years after his downfall.
Krister Stendahl, a former dean of the divinity school, described Mr. Strugnell as “a linguistic prodigy” in classical and Semitic languages and “a scholar’s scholar, one you would go to when you knew your own knowledge was not enough to solve a problem.”
Dr. Stendahl said that Mr. Strugnell had been plagued with depression for much of his life and that particularly given that struggle, it “was amazing how much research he managed to accomplish and the large number of students he prepared to be biblical scholars.”
John Strugnell was born in Barnet, England, a suburb of London, and became fluent in ancient and modern languages at an early age. He graduated from St. Paul’s School and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Jesus College at Oxford. He was raised in the Church of England, his family said, but later converted to Roman Catholicism. Before joining the Harvard faculty, he taught at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago and at Duke University.
Besides his daughter in California, he is survived by his former wife, Cecile Strugnell of Winchester, Mass.; two other daughters, Claire Strugnell of Billerica, Mass., and Monique O’Connell of Medford, Mass.; two sons, David, of Billerica, and Andrew, of Arlington; a sister, Jean McMeeking of Nottinghamshire, England; and five grandchildren.
4QInstruction, or Sapiential Work A (Hebrew: Musar leMevin,מוסר למבין, "Instruction to a student"), is a document that is preserved in at least seven fragmentary manuscripts from the Dead Sea Scrolls; these are 4Q415, 4Q416, 4Q417, 4Q418, 4Q418a, 4Q423, and 1Q26. Cave 1 materials were first published by Józef Milik in DJD 1 in 1955. Cave 4 materials were published in the Discoveries in the Judean Desert series in 1999 by John Strugnell and Daniel Harrington. The document is written in Hebrew, is likely to be categorized as "Non-Sectarian" or, perhaps, "Pre-Sectarian". There is some consensus that it dates to the third century BCE.
This document continues to receive so much attention because it is viewed, on the one hand, as a wisdom document and yet, on the other, has multiple apocalyptic motifs that arise alongside sapiential ones. Many major studies have asked questions about the relationship of wisdom to apocalypticism which has been part of a larger question about categorizing genres, schools and worldviews in Judaism in the Second Temple Period.
One of the most discussed passages (4Q417 1 i lines 15-18) from this document is a fragmentary and cryptic description of what many view as angelic involvement in the creation of humanity, which is apparently described in reference to Genesis 1:26. Humanity is divided into those who are among the "Spirit of Flesh" and the "Spiritual People". In addition to the fragmentary nature of these lines and the broader context, the identification of the "Vision of Hagu" and the "sons of s/Seth" have led to competing views about implications for the type of dualism one should find in 4QInstruction. A recent summary of interpretations is given by Florentino García Martínez.
Among the major studies published on the document are those by Armin Lange (1995), Daniel J. Harrington (1996), Torleif Elgvin (1998), John J. Collins (1999; 2003), Eibert Tigchelaar (2001), Matthew Goff (2003), Cana Werman (2004), Benjamin Wold (2005), and Jean-Sebastian Rey (2009)