Thursday, December 06, 2007

AN OBITUARY FOR JOHN STRUGNELL has been published in the Boston Globe:
John Strugnell, 77; Dead Sea Scrolls expert who was dismissed after comments

Globe Staff / December 5, 2007

John Strugnell was perched at a scholarly pinnacle in 1990 when he sat for an interview with a reporter from an Israeli newspaper and made the anti-Semitic remarks that effectively ended his career.

As chief editor of the Dead Sea Scrolls project, he had been leading a team of translators in piecing together fragments of the ancient documents that shed light on early Judaism and Christianity. A language prodigy, Mr. Strugnell had joined the effort when he was 23 and in college. Nearly four decades later, he was heading the project and teaching at Harvard Divinity School.

"He was a linguistic genius," said Krister Stendahl, a former dean of the divinity school and a retired Lutheran bishop of Stockholm. "We brought him in to get the best man we could imagine for philological and textural criticism precision in our New Testament department."

Few colleagues, however, knew that while Mr. Strugnell labored in two high-profile jobs, he also was being treated for manic depression and struggling with alcoholism. Upon publication, his anti-Semitic comments led to his firing and public denunciations, though a few friends spoke in his defense, attributing his remarks to "mental imbalance" and a "drinking problem."

Actually, many of his friends and students, myself included, signed a statement in his defense which was published in Biblical Archaeology Review in 1991. John suffered from a bipolar mood disorder and alcoholism. And the fact is that people in the throes of a manic episode say things that they don't mean and would not say when in their right mind. He was still to some degree in this state in 1994, when he tried, with limited success, to nuance his views in a BAR interview with Hershel Shanks. John's problems were a part of his life, but they should be put in the context of other parts that are much more important, and indeed his acccomplishments in spite of these problems are remarkable. He made a huge contribution to the publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls in terms of his own work, his administrative work, and supervising the research of his students. Those who knew him well will remember him for his vast erudition and his steadfast support of his students. The Boston Globe piece does try to be fair, but they could have tried harder.

(UPI has also published a summary of the Boston Globe obituary. It focuses almost entirely on his unfortunate comments in 1990. Alas, it's a good example of the journalistic taste for dirt and sensationalism. I'm not going to link to it.)