John Marco Allegro
John Marco Allegro (born
17 February 1923 London- 17 February 1988, (his 65th birthday) was a scholar who challenged orthodox views of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Bibleand the history of religion, with books that attracted popular attention and scholarly derision.
After service in the Royal Navy during
World War II, Allegro started to train for the Methodistministry but transferred to a degree in Oriental Studiesat the University of Manchester.In 1953 he was invited to become the first British representative on the international team working on the recently discovered Dead Sea Scrolls in Jordan. The following year he was appointed assistant lecturer in Comparative Semitic Philology at Manchester, and held a succession of lectureships there until he resigned in 1970 to become a full-time writer. In 1961 he was made Honorary Adviser on the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Jordaniangovernment.
Allegro's thirteen books include "The Dead Sea Scrolls" (1956), The "Treasure of the Copper Scroll" (1960), "The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross" (1970) and "The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian Myth" (1979) as well as "Discoveries in the Judaean Desert of Jordan vol. V" (1968) and articles in academic journals such as the" Journal of Biblical Literature", "Palestine Exploration Quarterly" and "Journal of Semitic Studies" ['A Newly Discovered Fragment of Commentary on Psalm 37 from Qumran,' Palestine Exploration Quarterly 86 (1954): 69-75
'Further Light on the History of the Qumran Sect', Journal of Biblical Literature75 (1956): 93
'Further Messianic References in Qumran Literature', Journal of Biblical Literature 75 (1956), pp. 174-76
'More Isaiah Commentaries from Qumran's Fourth Cave', Journal of Biblical Literature 77 (September 1958) 215-221
'Fragments of a Qumran Scroll of Eschatological Midrashim', Journal of Biblical Literature 75 (December 1956): 182-187; and 77 (December 1958): 350-354
'A Recently Discovered Fragment of a Commentary on Hosea from Qumran's Fourth Cave', Journal of Biblical Literature 78 (June 1959): 142-147
'An Unpublished Fragment of Essene Halakhah (4Q Ordinances)', Journal of Semitic Studies 6 (1961): 71-73
'More Unpublished Pieces of a Qumran Commentary on Nahum (4QpNah)', Journal of Semitic Studies 7 (1962): 304-308
'"The Wiles of the Wicked Woman", a Sapiential Work from Qumran's Fourth Cave', Palestine Exploration Quarterly 96 (1964) 53-55
'An Astrological Cryptic Document from Qumran', Journal of Semitic Studies 9 (1964): 291-294
'Some Unpublished Fragments of Pseudepigraphical Literature from Qumran's Fourth Cave', Annual of Leeds University Oriental Society IV (1962-3), Leiden, 1964: 3-4 ] , and in the popular press.
Access to the Dead Sea Scrolls
The Dead Sea Scrolls were written between 200 B.C.E. and 68 C.E., and give insight into the religious life and thought of a
Jewishsect based at Qumranby the Dead Seaand usually identified as Essenes. Allegro believed the scrolls could help us understand the common origin of three religions: Judaism, Christianityand Islam. He hoped they might be able to bring together scholars of each tradition in studying their common heritage without the barriers of religious prejudice.
This would mean making the texts accessible to all. Allegro published the sections of text allotted to him in academic journals as soon as he had prepared them, and his volume (number five) in the official series "
Discoveries in the Judaean Desert of Jordan" was ready for the press by the early 1960s. He continually campaigned for the publication of all scroll texts. However, his colleagues took a different approach, and little else appeared until 1991.
Allegro saw himself as a publicist for the scrolls. His books, talks and broadcasts promoted public interest in the scrolls and their significance. At first, the rest of the team encouraged his efforts, which after all were intended to help fund their research. But they thought he went too far in making assertions about the parallels between
Essenismand Christianity which they thought were unsupported by evidence and designed to raise his personal profile. He was accused of stirring up controversy at the expense of scholarship.
The Copper Scroll
The controversy over the
Copper Scrolldeepened the rift between Allegro and the team. At the request of the authorities, Allegro had arranged for the scroll to be cut open in Manchesterover the winter of 1955/56. He supervised the opening and made a preliminary transcription and translation of the contents. He found it to be a list of Temple treasure hidden at various locations around Qumran and Jerusalem, most probably after the sack of Jerusalemin AD 70. Initial excitement turned to poison when the team accused Allegro of leaking information to the Press (which was denied) and later objected to his pre-empting the official translation (in 1962) by publishing his own version first (in 1960). In Allegro's defense, it is suggested the team had already issued a preliminary translation, and Allegro held his book back to try and let the official version take precedence. But he could not in honesty support the official interpretation of the Copper Scroll as a work of fiction, and some later scholars have endorsed his view that the treasure was real. [Lefkovits, Judah K. (2000) The Copper Scroll 3Q15: A Reevaluation, Leiden: Brill. ISBN 0169 9962Knohl, I; Wise, M; et al., in Brooke, G. J. and Davies, P. R. (ed.) (2002) Copper Scroll Studies, Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press. ISBN 0 82646 055 0.]
Allegro believed that Essenism was the
matrixof Christianity. He suggested that there were so many correspondences between the scroll texts and the New Testament — words and phrases, beliefs and practices, Messianic leadership, a teacher who was persecuted and possibly crucified — that he thought the derivation obvious. This brought him into conflict with the Catholic priests on the editing team, and with most church spokesmen, who maintained the orthodox assumption that the arrival of Jesuswas the unique, historical, God-given event described in the Gospels. Allegro also started to look in more depth at the way the New Testamentappeared to weave together a mix of folklore, myth, incantation and history.
Language, myth and religion
philologist, Allegro analysed the derivations of language. He traced biblical words and phrases back to their roots in Sumerian, and showed how Sumerian phonemesrecur in varying but related contexts in many Semitic, classical and other Indo-European languages. Although meanings changed to some extent, Allegro found some basic religious ideas passing on through the genealogy of words. His book "The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross" relates the development of language on Eurasia to the development of myths, religions and cultic practices in many cultures. Allegro believed he could prove through etymology that the roots of Christianity, as of many other religions, lay in fertility cults; and that cultic practices, such as ingesting hallucinogenic drugsto perceive the mind of god, persisted into Christiantimes.
The reaction to "The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross" ruined Allegro's career. The book was published on the
Isle of Manbecause, unlike the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man's legal system did not recognize a crime of blasphemy.
His detractors considered his somewhat sensationalist approach deplorable and his arguments somewhere between unconvincing and ludicrous. The book received widespread condemnation and was only taken seriously by a handful of scholars [Even 36 years later the book was cited just 19 times in Google Scholar and mostly as a passing reference in pharmacology works [http://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&lr=&cites=9848456014578006628 google scholar hits] ] . Prof JND Anderson observed that the book "had been dismissed by ... experts...as not being based on any philological or other evidence that they can regard as scholarly" [ JND Anderson "Christianity, the Witness of History" London:Tyndale (1970) p 15. Cited by
Jurgen Habermasin "Did Christianity Arise Out of the Mystery Religions?" [http://johnankerburg.com/Articles/historical-Jesus/DaVinci/PDF/Mystery-Religions.pdf here] ] . Sumerian expert Anna Partington casts doubt on the broad brushed dismissals of Allegro's interpretations: "... SMC ["The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross"] uses a number of hypothetical Sumerian words not attested in texts. These are marked with an asterisk following philological convention. This is akin to proposing there is a word in the English language 'bellbat' because the individual words 'bell' and 'bat' are known to exist separately. Then again words of different languages are gathered together without the type of argument which would be expected in order to demonstrate possible relationship." [Astrotheology & Shamanism by Jan Irvin and Andrew Rutajit, 2006, pg. 55.]
However, Allegro's work has been adopted by some alternative authors. Jan Irvin and Andrew Rutajit published the book "Astrotheology & Shamanism" [Astrotheology & Shamanism by Jan Irvin and Andrew Rutajit, 2006 - ISBN 1-58509-107-3] in 2006, which supported some of Allegro's ideas using iconographic and symbolic evidence that Allegro had overlooked. In May 2006, Michael Hoffman of [http://www.egodeath.com egodeath.com] and Jan Irvin wrote an article for "The Journal of Higher Criticism" [Journal of Higher Criticism, 2006, ed. by Dr. Robert Price - http://atheistalliance.org/jhc/] entitled "Wasson and Allegro on the Tree of Knowledge as Amanita" [ [http://www.egodeath.com/WassonEdenTree.htm Wasson and Allegro on the Tree of Knowledge as Amanita ] ] that suggested that Allegro's work should be evaluated on its merits like that of any other scholar and not dismissed merely because its arguments fall outside the mainstream. It must be noted here however that
R. Gordon Wassonnever commented on Allegro's theories relating to Christianity, once stating that the author of the Book of Revelationcould not have been "bemushroomed" because of the mortifications that he was suffering from. [R. Gordon Wasson, Albert Hofmann, Carl A. P. Ruck, "The Road To Eleusis, Unveiling the Secret of the Mysteries" (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc; 1978).]
Allegro went on to write several other books exploring the roots of religion; notably "The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian Myth", which seek to relate Christian theology to Gnostic writings, classical mythology and Egyptian sun-worship in the common quest for divine light.
It is suggested that Allegro believed the Dead Sea Scrolls raised issues that concerned everyone. It wasn't just a matter of dusty manuscripts and disputed translations. Rather, the story of the scrolls raised questions about freedom of access to evidence,
freedom of speech, and freedom to challenge orthodox religious views. Allegro believed that through understanding the origins of religion people could be freed from its bonds to think for themselves and take responsibility for their own judgments.
Notes and references
* Original article Sourced with permission from: John Marco Allegro, the Maverick of the Dead Sea Scrolls by Judith Anne Brown; pb. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, 2005.
* [http://www.johnallegro.org The Official website of John Marco Allegro]
* [http://www.skepticfiles.org/cultinfo/allegro.htm Obituary: Skeptic Tank Text Archive File]
* [http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/information/biography/abcde/allegro_john.html Minnesota State University biography of Allegro]
* [http://virtualreligion.net/iho/allegro.html John Marco Allegro] entry in historical sourcebook by Mahlon H. Smith
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