Among the PAM negatives of the Dead Sea Scrolls, there is a short sequence of photos that puzzled me when I encountered them last year. The photos occur in a sequence taken in June 1956, PAM 42.139-141. They are described in the following way Stephen Pfann’s chronological list of PAM negatives:
PAM 42.139 and 42.140 are said to show a “scroll jar” and several artifacts in a “natural setting.” These two photographs are not, as far as I know available in the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library (as they don’t contain any images of actual scrolls). But it was really PAM 42.141 that had most confused me earlier. This photograph is in the Leon Levy online collection. It appears to have been taken outdoors, and it contains a mix of excavated and purchased scrolls from Cave 1 sitting together on the ground! Specifically, 1Q28a (the largest fragment in the image) was part of a purchase from Khalil Iskander Shahin (“Kando”) and not excavated. So, what was it doing sitting outside on the ground together scrolls excavated by archaeologists?
While doing some research this afternoon looking into Najib Anton Albina (1901-1983), the main photographer who worked on the scrolls on the 1950s, I stumbled across an online image of PAM 42.140 on the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library Facebook page that may shed some light on the question:
Here we see not just any “scroll jar,” but one that is fully reconstructed from fragments, along with other items set out for a nicely staged photo shoot, complete with a tipped over vessel containing a coin hoard. It seems reasonable to conjecture that this photograph was taken on the same occasion as the next one in the sequence, PAM 42.141–our mixed group of Cave 1 scroll fragments in a “natural setting.” But what exactly is this “natural setting”?
The Facebook post describes PAM 42.140 as “excavations of Qumran in the 1950’s,” but the reconstructed jar suggests that this material had already spent a good bit of time in the lab. So, a question arises: Where exactly were these photos taken? Surely the reconstructed jar and scrolls were not brought back out to Qumran! It would be good to learn more about the occasion for which these photographs were made, apparently in June of 1956.