Did Presbyterian minister assist in creating biased Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit?

Does a well-known biblical scholar and Presbyterian minister bear some of the responsibility for the exclusion of a group of major Jewish and Israeli scholars from a museum exhibit funded with $6,000,000 in grants donated by Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust fund, Joan and Irwin Jacobs, and other wealthy donors? This is one of the questions raised, but not answered, in a current news item.

An updated version of Charles Gadda’s article on Christian fundamentalism and the Dead Sea Scrolls in San Diego recently appeared on the Nowpublic site.  In its present form, the article includes a lengthy comment by Mr. Gadda on UCSD biblical scholar David Noel Freedman.

In short, Mr. Gadda informs us that Freedman is a Presbyterian minister who played a significant role in the famous Dead Sea Scrolls monopoly.  He also informs us that Freedman was one of the three principle agents responsible for bringing the Dead Sea Scrolls to the San Diego Natural History Museum (the other two being Weston Fields and Risa Levitt Kohn). 

Since the museum is alleged to have downplayed, distorted and excluded the findings of an important group of Jewish and Israeli historians and archaeologists, the question may arise (1) whether the exhibit was shaped by intellectually antisemitic views; (2) whether the exclusionary tactics adapted were the result of bias and prejudice; and (3) whether those tactics were in any way motivated by Freedman’s religious background and opinions.  In the interest of bringing all relevant information to the public’s attention, we here partially reproduce and summarize the details of Gadda’s comment.

Freedman’s current book, co-authored with Pam Fox Kuhlken (also a San Diego area resident), is a popularized account of the “Qumran-Essene” theory of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  The book, 128 pages in length, appeared just a few months before the opening of the San Diego exhibit, and thus, from a marketing angle, appears to have been designed to coincide with the exhibit.  Pam Fox Kuhlken’s husband is Ken Kuhlken, the well-known author of mystery novels.  Pam and Ken participated in a 2004 Christian Writers Conference, where Ken headed a workshop on “Sheep in Wolves Clothing: Writing for the Secular Market.”

Freedman grew up in New York.  In 1944 (at the age of 22) he became a Presbyterian minister, and has remained one until today.  His father, however, was a Jewish immigrant from Romania, who worked as superintendent of a Jewish orphanage and then made a name for himself as “king of the gag writers” for his comedic collaboration with Eddie Cantor.  Thus, it would appear that Dr. Freedman converted to Christianity, unless one (i.e., his mother) or both of his parents converted.  The wikipedia article on Freedman discreetly refers to him as “the son of Romanian and Russian immigrants” and as an “initiator of inter-faith cooperation.”

After becoming a minister, Freedman went on to write his “joint Ph.D. dissertation” with Frank Cross, who had a Bachelor’s in Divinity from a Christian theological seminary and would later become a professor at the Harvard Divinity School.  Freedman and Cross wrote the dissertation together, on a topic not specifically related to the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Johns Hopkins awarded a degree to each of them individually (which does not appear to be normal practice in doctoral programs).  After receiving their degree(s) and obtaining teaching positions, Cross and Freedman both became (1) promoters of the theory that the Dead Sea Scrolls were written at Qumran by a radical, proto-Christian sect known as the Essenes, and (2) members of the team of “editors” who monopolized access to the scrolls until the early 1990’s, when the monopoly collapsed in the midst of scandal.

Freedman’s role as a member of the monopoly was to publish the “Leviticus” scroll.  It is unknown exactly in what year this manuscript was assigned to Freedman, but in 1974 he published a brief “preliminary report” on it.  Six years later (during which time hundreds of scholars all over the world were unable to see the scroll or even a photograph of it), the text still remained unpublished, and Freedman passed it along to one of his graduate students to do his dissertation work on.  This student thus had the right to study a text that hundreds of important scholars wanted, but were unable, even to have a look at.  Five more years went by, and when the edition finally came out, it turned out to be a composite work written by several different people (compare Freedman’s doctoral dissertation, “co-authored” with Frank Cross, and his current book, “co-authored” with Pam Fox Kuhlken).  It is impossible to figure out exactly which portions were written by Freedman, but on the surface it appears that he wrote only the first chapter (12 pages in length).  Yet he is named as one of the book’s two principal “authors.”

(We note in passing that Frank Cross is also known to have passed off scrolls he was supposed to edit to his students.  The monopoly ultimately collapsed precisely because of such unethical practices.  Dr. Risa Levitt Kohn, the curator of the San Diego exhibit, is a former student of Freedman’s.)

Gadda further informs us that several of Freedman’s books have been published by Eisenbraun, Inc., located in Winona Lake, Indiana.  The owner of that company received his M.Div. and Th.M. in Winona Lake, at Grace Theological Seminary, whose program expresses the intent “to make Christ preeminent in all things” and affirms “the inerrancy of scripture” and other such fundamentalist doctrines.

The current book co-authored by Freedman and Pam Fox Kuhlken is published by Eerdmans, a Christian publishing company that specializes in a “variety of books suitable for all aspects of ministry.”  The book is advertised alternatively under the titles So What’s Up With the Dead Sea Scrolls? and What Are the Dead Sea Scrolls and Why Do They Matter? The book follows the “Essene” theory of Scroll origins in a dogmatic manner, making no mention, either in the body of the text or in the bibliography, of the rejection of that theory by various historians and archaeologists during the past decade.  The book suggests that the “secrecy” of the monopolists was not the best way of going about things, but nowhere does it inform the reader that Freedman was one of the monopolists.

As for Pam Fox Kuhlken, she received her masters in Theology at Pepperdine University, an institution affiliated with the Churches of Christ, and another in Divinity at the evangelical Bethel Seminary.  She is “a professor and co-founder with her husband, Ken, of Perelandra College, an online program whose mission is “to provide a community founded on Christian principles where creative people can grow in spirit and mind,” etc.  She is also the co-author of Wipe Out: a true story of winning, her collaborator on that project being David Walden, who is the CEO of a “non-profit Christian organization” whose “ministries” include a “Christian sober living facility for men,” etc.  (See Mr. Gadda’s article for further links on Dr. Kuhlken and her associates.)

We take no position on the question whether Freedman entertains antisemitic opinions, or on whether his religious views were in any way responsible for the San Diego museum’s decision to exclude a series of major Jewish and Israeli researchers from its exhibit.  We observe, however, that one of the excluded scholars, University of Chicago historian Norman Golb, has specifically argued (in a Forward editorial) that, on account of the Qumran-Essene theory popularized by Dominican priest Father Roland de Vaux, Frank Cross, David Noel Freedman and other members of the original monopoly, the “complex history of the Palestinian Jews on the eve of the First Revolt is being pushed aside in favor of a bizarre, Christologically colored thesis.”

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