Author responds to Dead Sea Scrolls criticism

On September 24, 2007, an individual presenting herself as Pam Fox Kuhlken submitted, on the Nowpublic site, a comment responding to Charles Gadda‘s recent remarks critical of David Noel Freedman’s role in the planning of the current Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit taking place at the San Diego Natural History Museum (we have summarized Gadda’a remarks in a separate  posting; see the “Presbyterian minister” link above).   As explained in a San Diego Reader article by her husband Ken Kuhlken (the well-known mystery writer), Dr. Kuhlken received B.A. and Masters degrees from Pepperdine University and Bethel Seminary (Christian educational institutions), and a Ph.D. from the University of California.  Together with David Noel Freedman, she is the author of a 128-page book on the Dead Sea Scrolls entitled What Are the Dead Sea Scrolls and Why Do They Matter? The work appeared a few months before the opening of the current exhibit.  Together with her husband Ken, Dr. Kuhlken attended a 2004 “Christian Writers Conference,” where Ken led a workshop on “Sheep in Wolves Clothing: Writing for the Secular Market.”

On September 25, 2007, Mr. Gadda replied to Dr. Kuhlken’s comment.   We recall that Gadda has published a series of articles on the Nowpublic site, all of them criticizing the current Scrolls exhibit on various grounds; his allegations include (in part) ethical misconduct on the part of the museum, exclusion of a series of important Jewish scholars who have concluded that the Dead Sea Scrolls are the remains of Jerusalem libraries and that no sect ever lived at Qumran, intentional misrepresentation of the evidence with the intent to mislead the public concerning the current state of research in this field of studies, and misuse of grant money received from Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust fund.

Since the public exchange between these two authors appears to be highly relevant to the current controversy over the exhibit, we here reproduce what appear to us to be its most pertinent portions, eliminating some remarks that appear to be unessential verbiage on either side.  The exchange can be viewed in its entirety in the comments that follow Gadda’s article on Christian Fundamentalism and the Dead Sea Scrolls in San Diego.  A few additional comments of our own are added in bold.

[Please note: we believe the public nature of the debate allows us to reproduce these letters.  However, if either Mr. Gadda or Dr. Kuhlken have any objection to their work being reprinted here in this manner (or if they prefer that the letters be reprinted in whole rather than in excerpted fashion) we will be happy to shorten or lengthen as the case may be.]

Comment submitted by Dr. Kuhlken

A friend just directed me to your post on a website intending to “liberate news, debate it and examine it from a 360 degree viewpoint,” so I know you will appreciate rounding out your views with a word from one of the primary sources (Dr. Kuhlken). At the risk of ascribing any sort of authority to the original blog, and fueling another Gadder report, I welcome respectful dialogue, and wish you would have contacted me directly for the facts, instead of mindreading or channeling our spirits …. Information is easily found online, but wisdom and expertise are needed to find the truth (and having studied with Derrida at the University of CA, and after living in Berkeley for three years while studying for a Master’s in Poetics in San Francisco, I understand and appreciate the volatile debates surrounding “truth”).

Unfortunately, hasty conclusions in your post attribute entire ideologies to scholars based on (past) affiliations, some of which are incorrect. … I am unaware of being ideologically fed by the “Christian fundamentalists” you speak of. I have not met these caricatures (although I understand you write NEWS editorials).  Keep me posted on where these “Christian fundamentalists ala Gadder” are lurking so I can avoid them, too, although the reason for this phobia is not exactly apparent….

Schools grant scholars the freedom to think for themselves and not according to some unwritten dogma or platform as you suggest. Academic institutions are names on parchment, not branded on our intellects. Guilt by association is a weak allegation. … I hope you can appreciate that a person is far more complex and unknowable than an affiliation. Oh, and Dr. Freedman is closer to being an anarchist who believes in everyone’s rights and freedoms (especially of thought!) and values privacy (of belief!) than “a Presbyterian” (another fiction). His last name means “Man of Peace” (Frieden+Mann). … Please have the courtesy not to disparage an accomplished, proven, respected man of peace. Question and dialogue, fine, but accuse? Why? [We note that it is not entirely clear what Dr. Kuhlken is referring to with the words “disparage” and “accuse.”  Gadda’s article quite clearly distinguishes Dr. Freedman and the (apparent) evangelicals it deals with, such as Weston Fields.  Nonetheless, he documents Dr. Freedman’s association with Fields.  To the extent Gadda raises the issue of Freedman’s involvement in the museum’s decision to exclude scholars, Gadda seems to be posing a question rather than “accusing.”]

In WHAT ARE THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS AND WHY DO THEY MATTER? (Eerdmans 2007), Dr. Freedman and I present his expert views on the subject ….

You would be interested in the “Epilogue” to THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS DECEPTION because in 1991, Dr. Freedman convinced the director of the Huntington Library to “free the Scrolls, free the scholars,” at which point, the “deception” charges were dismissed and the microfilm was made available for $10/copy. They received a total of…five requests for copies.

Dr. Freedman feels his greatest accomplishment is the folio of the LENINGRAD CODEX (the original is deteriorating in St. Petersberg); until the 2,000 year old Dead Sea Scrolls, the LC (1,000 CE) was the oldest, most complete extant Hebrew Bible. He pulled together an international, ecumenical team of experts and with patience and diplomacy, finished the project over 30 years.

I am sorry that not every willing Scrolls scholar was involved in the San Diego exhibit, but you should write the next DA VINCI CODE about this conspiracy to exclude any relevant, credible, respected scholar willing and able to collaborate internationally (with Jordan, Russia, and Israel) under very challenging circumstances.  [We wish to point out that Gadda nowhere uses the term “conspiracy,” nor does he argue that an effort was made to exclude “any credible, respected scholar,” etc.  Beyond that, it is not clear how “challenging circumstances” can explain, for example, the decision to exclude a distinguished University of Chicago historian whose book Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls? has had an enormous impact on the field; the title of that book, incidentally, was used for one of the first lectures in the museum’s series, given by a member of the San Diego University department of Theology and Religious Studies who is a proponent of the Qumran-Essene theory and who is described as a “consultant for the exhibit.”]

I am also sorry that I don’t have time to devote to blogs because of my responsibilities teaching, writing books, founding a college (www.perelandra.info), and raising a daughter. However, I wish you continued enjoyment with your exposes about bias and culture. You could certainly parse and attack every line of this message–I hope you will at least read it with an unbiased mind–please know that my time is limited and my priorities remain elsewhere, and Dr. Freedman does not use a computer. But I did want to contribute to the 360 degree view at least once.

And thank you for referencing our book on the Scrolls (“Any publicity is good publicity”?!). Give me an address and I’ll send you a signed copy to burn or shelve or read. Shalom!

Charles Gadda’s response:

Dear Dr. Kuhlken,

Thank you for your cordial comment.  Forgive me for “parsing” your statements, but I have no choice but to point out some of the problems involved in what you say….

(1) At the outset you deny that you are “ideologically fed” by Christian fundamentalists. Then, towards the end, you proudly announce that you have founded a “college.” But you gloss over the Christian character of this “college” (which in fact, to me, seems to be no more than a website). I have quoted (and sourced) your college’s mission, which, as stated on your website, is “to provide a community founded on Christian principles where creative people can grow in spirit and mind.” You may not consider such an institution to be “fundamentalist,” but it is certainly far from being a secular institution whose members search for the truth without invoking any type of pre-ordained religious belief. That you attempt to obscure this basic problem while accusing me of declaring “guilt by association,” appears to indicate something about the level of your discourse.

(Parenthetically, allow me to suggest that some readers might not be particularly reassured by the fact that you “studied” with Jacques Derrida, a radical deconstructionist whose nihilistic declarations and analyses are to a large extent responsible for the arguably poor level of scholarship in literature departments around this country.)

(2) You say that “schools grant scholars the freedom to think for themselves and not according to some unwritten dogma or platform.” Well, that depends on the school, doesn’t it? Many of the “schools” I refer to in my article, including yours (which is by no means the worst of the lot) actually have written platforms, which I quote at length. Do these schools encourage scholars to think for themselves? Do scholars freely join these schools even if they disagree with their platforms? Do Jewish scholars teach at Pepperdine (where you studied), at the University of the Holy Land, and in other such places? You speak of my “suggestion” of unwritten dogmas or platforms, but I have sourced my findings at length and I don’t need to resort to “suggestions.”

Incidentally, I have also sourced the San Diego museum‘s platform, which defines its mission as being to “educate the public.” And I have sourced the fact that David Noel Freedman is an ordained Presbyterian minister. He may not be fulfilling any ministerial duties today, but he remains an ordained minister, and your statement, without any supporting evidence, that this is a “fiction” is truly remarkable. Similarly, you say some of the sourced information I give regarding past affiliations is “incorrect.” If any of the information is erroneous I’d be happy to correct it, but you just come out with this statement ex cathedra without giving any details or evidence to back it up. In the meantime, anyone can verify the info by following the links I’ve provided.

As for your point that past affiliations don’t necessarily prove “guilt,” I never said they did.  My aim was obviously not to produce some kind of smoking gun, but to show a pattern, i.e., conjunctions of backgrounds, present circumstances, and actions that in their totality manifestly require some kind of explanation.

(3) You defend Freedman by referring to his work on the Leningrad Codex. Since you have raised the issue, perhaps you might address the question of how many Jews or agnostics were on the “ecumenical team of experts” that Freedman put together. One? Two? What is more, you speak as if I had denied that Freedman is a qualified biblical scholar. I did nothing of the kind. My concern is with his role in the world of Dead Sea Scrolls scholarship, which has nothing to do with the Leningrad Codex. Allow me to add that I have had a hard time finding anything “ecumenical” in the spirit of the present museum exhibit.

(4) You say you are “sorry that not every willing Scrolls scholar was involved in the San Diego exhibit.” This is a smoke screen behind which you retreat to evade addressing the fact that the museum excluded all of the scholars who have concluded that the scrolls originated in Jerusalem and that no sect lived at Qumran.  The AP, the New York Times and other news services have explained that scrolls scholarship is “polarized” between two different theories (Jerusalem and Qumran-Essene), and have described a “lack of consensus” in scrolls research on account of this fundamental disagreement. The Cambridge History of Judaism includes precisely two articles on scroll origins, written from the two different points of view. Your statement about “not every willing Scrolls scholar” being involved amounts to a cheap public relations pitch for the museum, when in fact this institution has chosen to mislead the public by inappropriately taking sides in a bitter and widening academic dispute. Not only do you not address this issue, but you also inexplicably refrain from speaking to the question of whether your co-author Dr. Freedman was himself involved in the decision to exclude the group of researchers who have created one of the two salient theories of scroll origins.  [We note that Mr. Gadda appears to have misunderstood Dr. Kuhlken’s (admittedly somewhat hazy) argument, which seems to be that due to “challenging circumstances,” proponents of the Jerusalem theory had to be excluded from the exhibit.  What those circumstances are nonetheless remains a mystery.]

(5) Your remarks also include the assertion that it was Freedman who convinced the Huntington Library to release its photographs of the scrolls, citing as your source the “epilogue” to The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception by Michael Baigent — an ardent sensationalist who believes that the claimed descendants of Mary Magdalene are still alive and well in Europe. Although I prefer to use other more reliable sources, I am happy to agree that the collapse of the monopoly was a complicated process, and Freedman could well have had a finger in the pot. This, however, does not excuse his sitting on scrolls for years while other scholars were unable to see them. Nor does it excuse his failure to speak out concerning the present scandal. Has he argued for an inclusive exhibit? Has he suggested that the museum hold a public debate between proponents of the two salient theories? Has he had even a single word to say about this matter?

(As for the fact, if it is a fact, that only five copies of the Huntington photos were ordered, this is simply because by then other, equally “disapproved,” facsimile editions, such as that of Abegg and Wacholder, were available for study…)

In conclusion, I don’t see how it would have helped for me to have contacted you “directly” regarding this affair. I don’t need any delicate “writing for a secular audience” spin on the facts, faith statements and painfully obvious circumstances, all of which speak for themselves. If you would like to respond to the points I’ve raised in a straightforward manner, please do so. Perhaps, for example, you can explain why $100,000 was given to a graduate student, rather than a team of professional archaeologists, to make a “virtual reality” film that in the end turned out to contain interpretations and identifications (such as the imagined “scriptorium” of Qumran for which archaeologists were unable to find any evidence after ten years spent reexamining the site) that do not accurately portray current research in the field. Or perhaps you have some explanation for the false statement, made in writing back in January by Dr. Freedman’s former student Risa Levitt Kohn, that she was a “Dead Sea Scrolls scholar.” I’d be happy to discuss these or any other matters with you here on this page, for all to see and judge.

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