John Marco Allegro: The Maverick of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Judith Anne Brown, the daughter of John Allegro, calls him "the maverick," acknowledging the controversial figure he became for his interpretation of the Scrolls and their bearing on Christianity. She has written a readable account of his life (1923-1988), using his papers and letters--especially those written from Jerusalem to his wife, Joan, and many others--about his work on Qumran Cave 4. These writings are an invaluable testimony to the history of the publication of the Qumran fragments. She uses them well to record her father's reactions to the many controversies he was part of. Her account is generally fair and recognizes--even if her father did not--that in some controversies his critics were right.
On some occasions, however, B.'s account does not tell the full story. The main one concerns his publication of the Cave 4 fragments in the official series, Qumran Cave 4: I (4015840186) (1968). Allegro started to work on these 29 fragments in October 1953, but he did not publish them until 1968. In various letters, he complained about the delay and attributed it to Roland de Vaux, the French Dominican who was head of the interdenominational team of scholars working on the fragments in the Palestine Archaeological Museum. Much of the delay, however, was occasioned by Allegro's own distracting controversies. When his texts finally appeared in 1968, his British colleague, John Strugnell (now Harvard professor emeritus), wrote a lengthy review of it in Revue de Qumran 7 (1969-1971) 163-276 (not 168-76, as B. gives it [155 n. 8]). Strugnell pointed out mis-translations, misidentifications, questionable readings, confusing plate-numbers, ending his comments with a Latin distich, "R' habet Italicum liber hic, habet atque Pelasgum, necnon Hebraeum, praetereaque nihil,!" (er-ro-res, [mistakes] and nothing else!). Subsequently, I published a bibliographical aid (CBQ 31  59-71), collecting the articles that restudied the texts Allegro had published earlier in preliminary form, which he failed to mention in his final publication. A German scholar (K. Willer, 1971) said of Allegro's work: "DJD V is really the worst and most unreliable Qumran publication which has been presented to the reader since the beginning of the discovery."
Later in The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross (1970), Allegro hoped to convince his readers that early Christians were members of a fertility cult that feasted on the hallucinogenic red- and white-spotted cap mushroom, Amanita muscaria. Allegro maintained that they had transcribed their esoteric knowledge into a "cryptic document" (the New Testament), the cryptography of which he cracked using Sumerian, the language of Sumer in southern Mesopotamia in the 4th-3rd millennia B.C.! There never was a historical Jesus. "The story of a rabbi called Jesus," invested "with the power and names of the magic drug," was merely a cover-up for the sacred mushroom. "The 'Jesus'-fungus" was really a hoax to dupe the Romans who were persecuting mushroom worshipers. B. acknowledges that "The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross ruined John's career" (185). She quotes Allegro's letter to Andre Dupont-Sommer that cites "the British Academic Establishment," namely, Oxford Prof. G. R. Driver and "fourteen of his cronies," who wrote to the Times of London that the book was only "an essay in fantasy rather than philology." (The 14 cronies were noted professors of Oxford, Cambridge, London, and Edinburgh.) She acknowledges that the erotic element in the book is an obsession; even if it is not central to Allegro's thesis, it forms a major part of his fanciful speculation. His book would have been better entitled, "Phallus in Fungusland."
I met Allegro in the summer of 1957 in Jerusalem. He was finishing his work on 4QpNahum, a commentary on the prophecy of Nahum. From this text above all he proposed that the Wicked Priest (Jannaeus) dragged the Teacher of Righteousness from his desert home and handed him over to Gentiles to be crucified, as he had done already to more than 800 of his enemies. After the priest left, the scattered community returned, took down the broken body of their Teacher, to stand guard over it until Judgment Day. Such an interpretation of an important text caused the rift between Allegro and his colleagues, five of whom wrote to the Times of London in protest: "We are unable to see in the texts the 'finding' of Mr. Allegro" (92). B. quotes this letter of March 16, 1956, and attributes it to what she and her father call "the Catholic Monopoly," failing to realize that at that time Strugnell, who had signed the letter, was not yet a Catholic.
In her filial loyalty, B. has given a good account of her father's side of the story, but about a third of it needs to be retold.
JOSEPH A. FITZMYER, S.J.
Catholic University of America, Washington
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|Author:||Fitzmyer, Joseph A.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2006|
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