All restrictions on access to the remaining unpublished Dead Sea Scroll fragments have been removed, biblical scholars were told as they gathered in late November in Kansas City for the annual meetings of the American Academy of Religion, the Society of Biblical Literature, and related organizations. Emanuel Tov, the Hebrew University scholar who now heads the team overseeing publication of the scrolls, told a news conference that “the rules of the game have changed.”

That was welcome news to those experts who have been waiting for more than 30 years for a complete look at the Dead Sea Scrolls. A handful of scholars has held exclusive access to about 20 percent of the scroll materials. But a new chapter in the Dead Sea Scrolls saga has begun.

“I think in some senses it will be like when the scrolls first came out back in the late forties and early fifties,” says Wheaton College archaeologist John McRay. “I think, however, we’re going to see more speculation on the basis of less coherent material.”

McRay, author of Archaeology and the New Testament (Baker), says there is no indication that the scroll material will have an impact on basic Christianity. “They are of importance for the information they give us about the fragmentation of Judaism in the first century, and the backgrounds of the religious and cultural worlds of the New Testament.”

Much of the unpublished materials is in very small fragments, and James Charlesworth of the Princeton Theological Seminary Dead Sea Scrolls Project cautions, “If you hear a claim or something that sounds sensational, wait until it has been digested by careful scholars and put to careful scrutiny.”

Charlesworth is confident that the new material, properly interpreted, will support the conventional ...

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