In 1947, many old scrolls were found in several caves near Qumran along the shores of the Dead Sea. They were very old, but their significance was not immediately recognized. Eventually, most of them found their way into the hands of the Ecole Biblique, a Dominican-owned-and-operated research institution in what was then part of Jordan. The scrolls appeared to date from around 200 B.C. to 70 A.D. and were originally thought to be the work of the Essenes, a monastic group of pacifistic Jews who retreated to the desert to live a communal and impoverished existence.
The Ecole Biblique was headed by an anti-Semitic monk named Father de Vaux. He and a small group of scholars (whose credentials have been disputed) jealously guarded the scrolls from any outside (particularly Jewish) examination. Meanwhile, the world waited to discover what these scrolls might contain. Only small portions leaked out. John Allegro, one of the early members of the team, suggested that the contents of the scrolls indicated that much of the Christian "myth," to use his phrase, was already recorded in the scrolls, which had been written many years before the birth of Jesus. Allegro, (The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian Myth) insisted that the Christian orthodox creed survived by ruthlessly suppressing any deviant beliefs, and by institutionalizing the beliefs of the early Essenes. Allegro was drummed out of the Ecole for such speculations and refused further access to the documents. Admittedly some of his later writings were quite fantastic and peculiar.
By the late 1980s the failure of the international team, as it was now called, to release the scrolls for examination by scholars other than those approved by the team, had become an academic scandal. The Biblical Archaeology Review and major biblical scholars around the world finally created great pressure on the Ecole to make the documents available. They consistently refused to do so, arguing that they wanted to prevent "shoddy" scholarship.
Only recently have the documents become available through other means. The Huntington Library in California, which had come into possession of a microfilm copy of the scroll photographs, decided to make the material public on interlibrary loan to any interested scholar, and a text was published of the scrolls which had been created from a published concordance.
But let's return to my original premise. Because of the Ecole's reluctance to permit outsiders to view any of the scrolls, and the Ecole's very close ties to the Catholic church (de Vaux and his successors have all sat on the Pontifical Biblical Commission, whose job it is to monitor and supervise all biblical studies of the church), naturally it was only a matter of time before someone decided that a conspiracy existed to suppress the scrolls because they contained information that threatened the very existence of the Christian Church.
Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh have done just that in a recent book entitled The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception. Baigent is previously known for his collaboration on another book, Holy Blood Holy Grail, which, according to reviews, purported to discover a plot by the Prieure de Sion, a secret French society. This group derived its raison d'etre from a legend that claims Jesus did not die on the cross, but married Mary Magdalene, and together they sired a line of Merovingian kings (which doesn't say much for their blood line). Anyway, the authors predicted that believers in this Arian heresy, which denied the divinity of Christ and emphasized his humanity, would place one of the Merovingian descendants on the throne of Europe. Baigent and Leigh admit to having no evidence for this little theory, only a hypothesis. They make it sound plausible, but that doesn't cut it. Ockham's Razor, or the third rule of history, states that in the absence of evidence, what most likely happened is probably the simplest solution; that which requires the fewest assumptions.
As in the Merovingian plot book, their "Deception" book is very short on evidence. Suggesting that the Catholic Church would want to suppress evidence that Jesus' beliefs predated his birth might be plausible, but it's irresponsible to present a thesis based simply on conjecture. An eminent theologian and scholar I consulted confirmed my suspicions that the mystery surrounding the scrolls, while indeed a scandal from the standpoint of scholars in the field, represents nothing more than a case of little men guarding a tremendous find for themselves and their friends. Still, the book is fun to read and does disclose a fascinating account of an academic embarrassment.
Another, more scholarly work, albeit early (1955), is by Millar Burrows and entitled The Dead Sea Scrolls . Fortunately, now that the Ecole and the international team have been suitably humiliated, one can hope that we will see more accurate and less speculative studies on the archaeological find of the century.