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The Society of Biblical Literature is the oldest and largest international scholarly membership organization in the field of biblical studies. Founded in 1880, the Society has grown to over 8,500 international members including teachers, students, religious leaders and individuals from all walks of life who share a mutual interest in the critical investigation of the Bible.
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<< Return to SBL Forum Archive John Strugnell 1930-2007

John Strugnell (1930-2007) was one of the members of the original team of Dead Sea scrolls editors and later became editor-in-chief of the project. He was Professor of Christian Origins at Harvard Divinity School from 1967 to 1990. He fostered the study of the Qumran manuscripts and Second Temple Judaism and their significance for early Christianity.

Born in Barnet, UK, on May 25, 1930, Strugnell attended St. Paul’s School in London and received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Jesus College at Oxford University. In 1954 he was nominated by his teacher G. R. Driver to join the editorial team and so broke off his doctoral studies. He quickly established himself as a talented decipherer of the Qumran manuscripts. He spent 1956-57 at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago and returned to Jerusalem from 1957 to 1960.

Between 1960 and 1967 he taught at Duke University Divinity School and was then appointed to Harvard Divinity School where he carried on his research on the Qumran texts and made frequent trips to Jerusalem. In 1984 he succeeded Pierre Benoit as editor-in-chief of the scrolls project and the Discoveries in the Judaean Desert series. In 1990 he was replaced by Emanuel Tov in these positions. The change was occasioned by Strugnell’s erratic behavior due to a bipolar condition and in particular by his negative comments about Judaism as a religion during a newpaper interview in Israel. After hospitalization and a long recovery, Strugnell resumed his research on the Qumran scrolls until he suffered a severe stroke in February 2001. He died at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, MA, on November 30, 2007. He is survived by his former wife, Cecile Pierlot, and their five children.

Much of Strugnell’s most important scholarly work came in the early years of his collaboration with the Dead Sea scrolls editorial team in Jerusalem. There he showed a remarkable facility in assembling fragments, deciperhing badly damaged manuscripts, and identifying texts. His most significant publications appear in the DJD volumes devoted to 4QMMT (with Elisha Qimron) and 4QInstruction (with Daniel J. Harrington). In recent years he took a special interest in the Qumran wisdom texts and wrote several articles on their language and interpretation.

Perhaps even more important to Strugnell than his own publications was his commitment to train a new generation of scholars who might work successfully on Qumran texts and in the field of Second Temple Judaism. They include Harold Attridge, James H. Charlesworth, John Collins, Carol Newsom, Eileen Schuller, Thomas Tobin, and Sze-kar Wan. He gave to his doctoral students enormous amounts of time and attention, patterned after the Oxford tutorial system in which he was educated. I was one of the first beneficiaries of his generosity at Harvard in my work on Pseudo-Philo’s Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum. He was also remarkably generous in helping other students and professors with their projects. When I once asked why he was spending several weeks poring over a huge book manuscript written by a fellow scholar, he said, “This is going to be an important book, and I want to make it as good as I can.”

As editor-in-chief of the Dead Scrolls project Strugnell sought to maintain the integrity and continuity of the project while opening it up and restructuring the team and their assignments. He included Israeli scholars such as Emanuel Tov and Devorah Dimant and worked closely with Elisha Qimron on 4QMMT. The great European scholars Florentino García Martínez and Émile Puech regard him as one of their teachers too. These distinguished students and scholars have gone on to train their students in Qumranology and Second Temple Judaism. In his modest way Strugnell was a remarkably effective teacher.

While being relieved of his post as editor-in-chief in 1990 was a bitter pill, his successor Emanuel Tov made it somewhat easier for him to swallow. Tov had done his first formal study of the Qumran texts under Strugnell during a two-year postdoctoral stay at Harvard in the late 1960s. Tov was eager to keep Strugnell on the team and so assigned 4QInstruction to him (with me as a collaborator). Strugnell in turn shared his great knowledge of the scrolls and the project with Tov, and gave him whatever advice and help that he could during Tov’s remarkably efficient and successful completion of the publication project during the 1990s and early 2000s. Thus what had been criticized as “the academic scandal of the twentieth century” became, in my opinion, the academic miracle of the twentieth century.

Daniel J. Harrington (12/10/07)

See also:
Obituary of John Strugnell by his daughter

Citation: Daniel J. Harrington, " John Strugnell 1930-2007," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited Jan 2008]. Online:


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