Palestinian PM Makes Claim for Dead Sea Scrolls

The Toronto Star has a nice piece on the demand by the Palestinian Authority to cancel an exhibition of Dead Sea Scrolls.  Palestinian officials claim the objects were stolen by Israel from Palestinian territories.  It is an indication of the increasingly prominent role antiquities are playing in national politics and notions of national heritage and even past wrongdoing.  The calls share similarities with other nations who have urged repatriation of objects, from Scotland to Peru and others.  Hamdan Taha, the director-general of the archaeological department of the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, “The exhibition would entail exhibiting or displaying artifacts removed from the Palestinian territories . . .  I think it is important that Canadian institutions would be responsible and act in accordance with Canada’s obligations.” 

The Royal Ontario Museum will host a six-month long exhibit of the scrolls, operated in conjunction with the Israel Antiquities Authority.  The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of about 900 manuscripts, dating to 70 AD.  The caves in which the scrolls were found were located near Qumran (see map below), in what is now the Palestinian West Bank. From the piece in the Toronto Star:

Beginning in 1947, and for nearly a decade, experts from the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem, the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, and the École biblique et archéologique française excavated the caves and salvaged the scrolls, only a few of which were found whole. The rest were scattered into thousands of fragments.

Written mainly in Hebrew, and partly in Aramaic and Greek, the scrolls include about 200 copies of portions of the Jewish Bible.

At first, the scrolls were housed in the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem, which was under Jordanian control at the time.

After the 1967 Six Day War, however, Israel unilaterally absorbed the eastern sections of the city, an act most Western nations – including Canada – regard as illegal under international law. The Israelis removed the scrolls from East Jerusalem and took them to the western city, where they remain.

According to Shor at the Israel Antiquities Authority, portions of the scrolls frequently have been put on display in other countries – including the United States, Britain, Switzerland, Germany, and Australia – over the past 10 years or so.

This raises the question, should nations use these antiquities as instruments of foreign policy?  Will the end result be more difficulty in holding international loans and travelling exhibitions?

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2 thoughts on “Palestinian PM Makes Claim for Dead Sea Scrolls”

  1. Ideally, artefacts wouldn’t be used as instruments of foreign policy. But the Scrolls were already being used that way. It’s just that now, both sides are using them.

    I guess the other question is “when are artefacts the instruments of foreign policy, and when are they the objects of international law?” If the annexation of East Jerusalem were illegal, then the appropriation of the Scrolls would have been a violation of international law, and other states would have obligations not to contribute to that violation.

    I suppose, then, if you have to say the act is either an instrument of foreign policy or an appeal to international law, you have to judge how sincere you think the appeal is; but I suspect it’s both.

  2. Do not scrolls of the Jewish Bible, written by Jews, in the Jewish country and in the Jewish lingua franca belong to the Jewish people? Do they not belong in the Jewish State?

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