I spent Easter Evening listening to fascinating tales of archaeologists chasing Bedouins who were shadowed by underworld antiquities dealers from Qumran to Jerusalem to Lebanon to the Catholic Museum in Paris to the Isle of Man to New Jersey and back again. No, it wasn't a preview of the next Dan Brown thriller, but the true story of the discovery, dispersal and gradual reassemblage of the Dead Sea Scrolls. A story that is not yet complete.
This is about the sixth time El Jefe and I have had the privilege of hearing Dr. Weston Fields, director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation, talk about his work. And each time there is a new story and a new discovery! Dr. Fields is in Houston to discuss a second Scroll-related exhibit for Houston's Museum of Natural Science which is being planned for 2008. ( There was an exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls at that museum in 2004). He is related to one of El Jefe's law partners, who introduced him to us a number of years ago. We always try to see him when he is in town.
Weston is one of the most fascinating people I ever met. He spends 6 months a year in Jerusalem working on Foundation business and 6 months in Alaska, running his family's salmon business. An ordained minister, he is an expert in ancient and modern Hebrew and travels around the world raising money to pay for the translation and publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls by the Oxford University Press. As Director of the Foundation, he also coordinates the work of the archaeologists, translators, and scholars. He has been gracious enough to come out to my church on two different occasions to speak about the Dead Sea Scrolls.
For several years Weston has been working on a book that would record the history of the discovery and translation of the scrolls. He began by interviewing the first scholars and archaeologists involved who were aged 70 through 90, but the project grew as he was given access to their private papers which were more extensive and more reliable than 50 year old memories. Now two different publications have emerged from his research and work: one is a two volume exhaustive history meant for academics (to be published by Doubleday) and the second is a much shorter work for the popular market ( to be published by Brill).
Last week Weston visited the offices of Doubleday in New York City to deliver the last chapters of the the first volume of the academic work off with his editor. That is a mansion of merry men indeed, because it is Dan Brown's publisher. While there, he was told that Dan Brown has made 275 MILLION dollar$ on his The Da Vinci Code royalties. Imagine what Doubleday's profit must be!
If Weston writes as well as he tells a story, then his book for the popular market will be a true-to-life Biblically-related thriller crammed with double-dealing, shady characters, academic infighting and technological twists. When I asked Weston what the title of his popular book would be, he said that he was still looking for one. In jest, I suggested "The Dead Sea Scrolls Code", and others in the group chimed in with their suggestions.
So, gentle readers, do you have a suggestion that could make his book the next runaway best-seller? I'll pass them on.