John Marco Allegro (1923-1988) was one of the early translators working on the archaeological find of the Dead Sea Scrolls in Israel, and one of the first to write a popular account in 1956. The scrolls include almost all the books of the Old Testament, such as the book of Isaiah which was carbon-dated to c.100BC, one thousand years older than the previously oldest manuscript.
Although Allegro's book is now out of date it still has some value. The first three chapters are chit-chat and may be safely ignored or skimmed. The fourth chapter is a useful exposition of what the academic discipline of textual criticism is and how the Dead Sea Scrolls have improved our knowledge of the bible text. There is a side-by-side worked example of the text of I Samuel, comparing the versions of the Qumran Dead Sea Scrolls, the Septuagint, and the Massoretic text as translated in the RV. Chapters five to seven give useful historical background on the Qumran sect and the archaeology. Chapters eight onward use many words to say little. There are some poor quality photographs and two good line drawings mapping the area.
One key weakness is his confused use of the term objective, both in the preface and in the text. In the second edition preface he proposes an 'objective assessment' of the Scrolls, fondly imagining that by being neutral and simply wanting the facts he will then be Objective. The academic gown of objectivity shall set him apart from mere mortals who argue Christian orthodoxy, the liberal undermining heterodoxy, and the lunatic fringe nuisances. He says he has 'no axe to grind, religious or academic'. But - and this is a but of outsize proportions - he also wants to build 'a bridge...between the antagonistic faiths of this world'. A typical secularist 'lowest common denominator' attitude, this effectively states his lack of interest in the truth or falsity of the documents and the faiths which are alive then and now. Apart from directly contradicting himself by immediately taking a position and being deeply committed to it, he fails to see that only the truly neutral would be sufficiently unmotivated by the subject to not want to get at the truth, which is often very obscure. The neutral man's opinion, if he has one, is irrelevant. Mr Neutral would probably be better off watching the ball game, but only if he is not too neutral, after all he is bound to be cheering his team on.
This report prepared by Michael JR Jose