April 12, 2024
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Israel’s Obtaining a Dead Sea Scroll in the Midst of the 1967 War

I previously wrote about the finding of the initial seven Dead Sea Scrolls. Briefly, seven scrolls were found in late 1946 or early 1947 by two Bedouins searching for lost sheep in a cave. This took place near the ancient settlement of Qumran, a site near the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea.

The seven scrolls were then divided into lots: three in one lot and four in the other, and were sold to Arab antiquities dealers in Bethlehem. One of the antiquities dealers was named “Faidi Salahi.” Salahi’s three scrolls ended up being purchased by Eleazar Sukenik, a professor of archaeology at Hebrew University, and father of Yigael Yadin. Sukenik was first shown the scrolls by Salahi’s representative through the barbed wire border in Jerusalem, in the last days of the British Mandate. Shortly thereafter, on Nov. 29 1947, the same day as the United Nations vote, Sukenik made the dangerous journey on an Arab bus to Bethlehem to negotiate and arrange for his possession of the scrolls. He returned home safely with two of the scrolls just hours before the vote. He got possession of the third (Isaiah B) a few days later.

With regard to the four scrolls in the hands of the other antiquities dealer, “Kando,” he had sold them to the Syrian Orthodox archbishop of Jerusalem, Mar Athanasius Yeshue Samuel.

Eventually, Samuel moved to New Jersey. On June 1, 1954, he placed a classified ad offering these scrolls for sale in the Wall Street Journal. The ad read: “The Four Dead Sea Scrolls. Biblical manuscripts dating back to at least 200 BCE are for sale. This would be an ideal gift to an educational or religious institution by an individual or group. Box F 206, The Wall Street Journal.”

By chance, Yigael Yadin was in the United States on a lecture tour at the time, and someone called his attention to the ad. He decided to buy the scrolls for Israel, and arranged for an intermediary to reply to the ad and negotiate for their purchase. Yadin kept himself and Israel out of the deal for fear that Samuel would not consent. The nominal buyer was a New York businessman named “Sydney Estridge” and the agreed upon purchase price was $250,000.

The four scrolls were flown to Israel, one at a time. This was 1954. It was too risky to fly them all together. Samuel died in 1995. He had been the head of a church in Teaneck for many years.

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I recently came across an interesting story about how another scroll was obtained by Israel during the Six Day War. I came across it in Matti Friedman’s “The Aleppo Codex” (2012), pages 161-167.

In 1960, Yadin received a letter from a Virginia clergyman offering him a chance to buy another scroll. Yadin referred to the man as “Mr. Z.” He sent Yadin a sample, and said that the remainder was held by a dealer in the West Bank. Yadin judged the sample to be authentic and they settled on a price of $130,000. Yadin gave Mr. Z $1,500 to make the trip to Jordan plus a $10,000 advance. Mr. Z then wrote to Yadin that the West Bank dealer now wanted $200,000. Mr. Z wrote one more letter in 1962 before disappearing, along with the advance.

In the 1967 War, Yadin was called away from his scholarly pursuits to serve as a special military adviser. With Israeli troops suddenly advancing east, Yadin remembered his past dealings with Mr. Z. With the permission of the government, Yadin was able to get a colonel from the military to help him locate the dealer that Mr. Z had been representing. On the third day of the war, June 7, this colonel sent officers to east Jerusalem to attempt to find the dealer. From the past dealings with Mr. Z, Yadin had remembered that the dealer had a name like “Dino.” The mission had to be accomplished immediately, before the dealer could escape.

One of the officers assigned on this mission was named “Rafi.” Rafi’s group went to the Damascus Gate where the military was supervising several hundred Arabs lined up facing a wall. They appeared to be Jordanian soldiers or policemen. Rafi picked out one of them, Yunis, and told him that they were looking for a man named “Dino” who sells antiquities. Rafi suggested to Yunis that if he helped him, Rafi would let him go home. Yunis said: “You are looking for Kando.” He took Rafi to Kando’s store, but it was closed. Yunis told Rafi that Kando lived in Bethlehem. Rafi and his lieutenant colonel then sped to Bethlehem and Yunis pointed out the house. Kando was there with his adult son.

Rafi said: “‘We know you have in your possession some of the scrolls of Qumran. As representatives of the Israeli government, we are interested in receiving them in return for full payment.’ Kando denied having any such scrolls.” Rafi then arrested him and his son, and brought them to Jerusalem.

Friedman continues: “In Jerusalem, the interrogators got nowhere; the man and his son knew nothing of any Dead Sea Scrolls. With their bag of tricks nearly exhausted, the interrogators tried an old one: Kando, they told his son, had just broken under questioning and had revealed that he did have the scrolls, and the Israelis were already on their way to Bethlehem to pick them up. The son still did not break, and the interrogators put him in a cell with his father—who was already asleep—and left them alone. The night passed.

‘How could you have told the Jews about the scrolls?’ The dealer’s son said, when they woke up. ‘Don’t be stupid,’ Kando said. ‘I revealed nothing.’ The Israelis then entered the cell, took Kando to another room and replayed the conversation on tape.”

Kando then admitted he had the scroll. The Israelis agreed on $105,000 as the price and the troops sped with him to Bethlehem to his home to obtain it. (This was less than the $130,000 that had been agreed upon years before.) Kando removed some tiles from the floor of his bedroom and pulled out a shoe box where he had hidden it, and gave it up. (Later on, it was discovered that Kando had other scrolls hidden elsewhere in his home.)

On the evening of June 8, 1967, Yadin was in the middle of a major Cabinet meeting about whether Israel should launch an assault in the Golan Heights. He was called out of the meeting because the colonel had arrived. The colonel was holding the shoe box and stated: “I hope this was the scroll you meant.”

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The scroll turned out to be “the Temple Scroll.” It is the longest of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It describes a temple that was never built, along with detailed regulations about sacrifices. It is written in the form of a revelation from God to Moses. Some scholars attribute the Temple Scroll to the Qumran community, while others believe it was hidden in a cave by others during their flight from the Romans.


Mitchell First can be reached at [email protected] He does not have such interesting things in his own shoe boxes.

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