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Intrigue and the Scroll, Hershel Shanks, BAR 13:06, Nov-Dec 1987.

300px-the_temple_scroll-300x188Behind the Scenes of Israel’s Acquisition of the Temple Scroll

Were it not for the efforts of the man who got Jerry Falwell started in television, the famous Dead Sea Scroll known as the “Temple Scroll” might never have come to light.

At least that is the story according to Reverend Joe Uhrig, now semiretired and living in Virginia.

Yigael Yadin, Israel’s foremost Biblical archaeologist before his death in 1984, tells a somewhat different story. In his magisterial, three-volume edition of The Temple Scroll,a Yadin describes how he first learned of the Temple Scroll, a scroll that he identified as the Torah (or Bible) of the Essene community of Jews that lived near the Dead Sea at the time of Jesus.

The existence of the scroll was first brought to Yadin’s attention by a man he identifies only as Mr. Z. Mr. Z presented himself to Yadin as a Virginia clergyman. Yadin, however, had his doubts. From Yadin’s perspective, Mr. Z did him out of $10,000; Yadin didn’t trust Mr. Z or anything he said. Nevertheless, the Israeli archaeologist steadfastly refused to disclose Mr. Z’s identity. Yadin explained-

“I am still keeping his confidence, however, by not revealing his name. I want all these people—whether they are robbers or not (and it is a cloak and-dagger business)—to know that as far as I am concerned, if they tell me not to reveal their identities, I won’t. Otherwise, we have no chance of getting more scrolls.”

Yadin died without ever revealing Mr. Z’s identity.

According to Yadin, Mr. Z first wrote him on August 1, 1960, offering to negotiate the sale of “important, authentic discoveries of Dead Sea Scrolls.” Mr. Z’s source was a well-known Jordanian antiquities dealer.

On October 7, 1960, Yadin purchased from, or through, Mr. Z a small fragment of another Dead Sea Scroll known as the Psalm Scroll. As a result, Yadin knew that he had access to authentic scroll materials.

On May 29, 1961, Mr. Z again wrote Yadin, this time saying he had for sale not a fragment, but an entire scroll. In subsequent correspondence, Mr. Z asserted the scroll was between 15 and 18 feet long, and he even supplied a small fragment that had broken off from the scroll. Yadin saw immediately that it was authentic.

Frustrating negotiations concerning the price extended over several months. Every time Yadin thought the asking price was within reach, it went wildly up again. At one point, Yadin thought a deal had been struck for $130,000. A $10,000 down payment was given to Mr. Z in New York, plus $1,500 for Mr. Z’s transportation to Bethlehem, supposedly necessary to get the Bethlehem dealer’s agreement. At that time, Mr. Z once again gave Yadin the fragment from the scroll that Yadin had previously returned.

Mr. Z went to Bethlehem and reported that difficulties had arisen- The price had gone up again. Further correspondence ensued in which Mr. Z pleaded for more money, and Yadin tried to get back his $10,000. But it was gone for good. “It was plain,” Yadin wrote, “that Mr. Z had no intention of returning the advance.” Yadin’s efforts to get the money back were entirely “futile.”

In mid-1962, Yadin heard from Mr. Z for the last time. Mr. Z again made “promises” and again pleaded for more money. Then silence. “Every trace of him has disappeared,” Yadin reported.
On June 7, 1967, the Israeli army captured the Old City of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The next day Yadin arranged for an army officer to go to the Bethlehem dealer’s home and claim the scroll he had learned about six years earlier from Mr. Z. That night, the delighted archaeologist held the Temple Scroll in his hands for the first time. It turned out to be the longest, preserved Dead Sea Scroll ever discovered, nearly 27 feet long.

The scroll contains long passages from the Pentateuch, but with variations in language from the canonical text that has come down to us. According to Yadin, the Temple Scroll also includes excerpts from some books referred to in the Bible, but now lost. The scroll contains detailed plans for the building of the Lord’s temple (see “The Gigantic Dimensions of the Visionary Temple in the Temple Scroll,” in this issue); hence, its name, the Temple Scroll. It also contains many other laws as well as descriptions of religious festivals not mentioned in the Bible or elsewhere. Many scholars consider it the most important Dead Sea Scroll ever discovered, with significant potential for illuminating early Christianity as well as contemporaneous Judaism.

But even according to Yadin’s account, if it had not been for Mr. Z, the Temple Scroll might still be deteriorating in a shoe box under the floor tiles of the Bethlehem dealer’s home. According to Yadin, the dealer “had kept the scroll under dreadful conditions that caused extensive damage, especially to the upper part of the scroll.” We shall never know how much of the scroll became illegible in the period between 1962, when negotiations broke off with Mr. Z, and 1961, when Israel confiscated the scroll. But even more of the scroll would have become illegible if Mr. Z had not alerted Yadin to its existence and it had continued to rot under the Bethlehem dealer’s floor.

Yadin published his three-volume Hebrew edition of The Temple Scroll in 1977. Six years later, in 1983, the English edition appeared.

In connection with the publication of the English edition, Yadin prepared a popular article for BAR. The article was published in the September/October 1984 issue, two months after Yadin’s death.
In the winter of 1984–1985, Doris Uhrig, the wife of a semiretired minister named Joe Uhrig, was browsing through the library of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. There she saw the September/October 1984 BAR, with Yadin’s story about the Temple Scroll and an announcement of Yadin’s death. She thought her husband might be interested in seeing the magazine, so she brought it home to him. Rev. Uhrig read the article and immediately recognized himself as Mr. Z!

For the first time, Joe Uhrig learned what had happened to the scroll material he had tried to acquire for Israel. For the first time, he also learned of the death of Yigael Yadin.

Yadin’s account of his dealings with Mr. Z also made Uhrig realize that the archaeologist had been less than truthful with him about the nature of the scroll material whose sale he was trying to negotiate. But for Yadin’s having misled him about the scroll, Uhrig claims he might well have been able to acquire it at a time when additional portions of the scroll were still legible. However, Uhrig holds no animosity toward Yadin.

Uhrig became involved with the Dead Sea Scrolls in a roundabout way, as a result of a trip to the Holy Land. He was one of the first TV evangelists—and one of the most successful. In the 1950s, he had a higher Neilsen rating than “Meet the Press.” He could fill Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., and was invited to the White House by President Eisenhower. Called “Hand to Heaven,” Uhrig’s television program featured such guest celebrities as Roy Rogers and Dale Evans and a choir with nationally famous soloists.

Uhrig felt he really should see the Holy Land. So in 1955, he made the grand tour, starting in Beirut, then going to Jordan and finally crossing the border to Israel. At the Beirut airport, he was met by Marcos Hazou, a guide his travel agent had arranged. It was a successful trip, partly thanks to the rapport he established with Hazou. The next year, Uhrig received a letter from Hazou asking if Uhrig would sponsor him, his wife and his two daughters to immigrate to the United States.
Not fully realizing the financial obligation of sponsorship, Uhrig said yes. Hazou and his family arrived on Thanksgiving Day, 1956. Uhrig rented a house for them, bought them food and a houseful of furniture and employed Hazou in his mail room. In the end, it worked out well all around. Hazou was a faithful employee and later became a travel agent on his own.

In 1960, the grateful Hazou told Uhrig that his brother Aboud, who lived in Bethlehem, had a friend named Kahil Iskander Shaheen. They called him Kando. Kando had some ancient manuscripts that came from the Dead Sea Scroll caves. In fact, Kando had served as the intermediary with the Bedouin and had brokered the sale of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls. By trade, Kando was a cobbler with a shop on Manger Square.

According to Uhrig, he told Hazou, “Whatever Kando has belongs in Israel. Maybe something can be worked out to get them into Israel.”

Uhrig went to Bethlehem, then under Jordanian control, and stayed with Marcos Hazou’s brother, Aboud Hazou, hoping to track down the scrolls. Aboud Hazou and Kando belonged to the same church, and on Sunday Kando came to Aboud’s house to get acquainted. Later, Kando brought a fragment of a scroll to Aboud’s house, a fragment that eventually turned out to belong to the famous Psalm Scroll.

When Uhrig returned to the United States, he telephoned William F. Albright, the prominent Biblical archaeologist at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, who had been one of the first scholars to authenticate the original Dead Sea Scrolls. Albright warned the minister against the many fakes that were floating around, but told him his source seemed authentic. Albright suggested that Uhrig should try to contact Yadin.

Uhrig wrote to Yadin and also made many more trips to Bethlehem to try to get the scrolls from Kando, telling Kando frankly that the scrolls should be in Israel with Yadin. Kando replied that he didn’t want to get into trouble, that he was afraid. Uhrig tried to reassure him. He could be trusted, he told Kando; he would keep it quiet; after all, he had sponsored Aboud’s brother to come to the United States. “You believe in Aboud and his brother,” he said. “This belongs in Israel. I’m telling you straight out where it’s going!”

“What was the use of playing games about it?” Uhrig recounts. “He had illusions that there would be some multimillionaire in the United States.”

Uhrig agreed to present Kando’s million-dollar asking price to Yadin because “I didn’t want to get him [Kando] upset and lose him. So that’s the way I left him on the million dollars.”

When Uhrig wrote Yadin about the million-dollar price, “Yadin wrote back to me and said the demand was crazy. Everyone in our circle, the Hazous and myself, we started calling Kando ‘Crazy Kando,’ a nickname because of his ridiculous demands.”

On one trip, Uhrig purchased the Psalm Scroll fragment Kando had earlier shown him for $2,500. Kando knew the fragment was from the Book of Psalms; he had been told that by the head of the Jordanian Department of Antiquities. The Virginia clergyman paid Kando his asking price for this piece, without haggling, hoping to gain his confidence and show that he was a serious buyer, so he could get the “main scroll,” which he had not yet seen. Uhrig returned home with the fragment, and after a few months, during which he kept the Psalm Scroll fragment in a drawer, he decided to send it to Yadin to demonstrate that the materials he had access to were authentic. So Uhrig simply wrapped the Psalm Scroll fragment in a paper napkin, put it in a brown paper envelope and mailed it to Yadin in Jerusalem. Uhrig admits this was “a bit unorthodox, but I didn’t know just exactly what it was altogether.” Uhrig did not ask for any specific amount from Yadin- “He trusted me and I trusted him.” A few weeks later, Uhrig got a letter from Yadin and a check for $7,000.

The rest of the extant Psalm Scroll, into which fit the fragment that Uhrig obtained from Kando, had been previously acquired by the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem. Yadin speculated as to where Mr. Z had gotten the fragment, before or after the other parts of the Psalm Scroll were obtained by the museum. “We shall never know,” Yadin wrote.

Uhrig believes that Kando simply held back this piece when he sold the other pieces of the Psalm Scroll to the Rockefeller. “I believe this to be [the] correct because I asked him [Kando] if he had more pieces of this particular scroll, and he said no. He said just this one.”
On one trip to Bethlehem—Uhrig is not sure of his dates and has no correspondence to refresh his memory—Kando brought over to Aboud’s house, in a shoe box, a tightly wrapped scroll that formed a kind of stick nine inches long. The figures Kando talked about wanting for the scroll were “wild” and gyrated wildly up and down- a million dollars, $750,000, $250,000, back to a million dollars.

In the meantime, Uhrig was having his own money problems. Already in 1958, he had decided to give up some of the outlying markets for his television program “Hand to Heaven.” One such location was the station in Lynchburg, Virginia. In those days, to broadcast in Lynchhurg, you had to rent a coaxial cable to Lynchburg from Washington, D.C., where the show originated. The cost of the Lynchburg cable became too high in face of the falling returns. Instead of closing the show down on Lynchburg Channel 13, Uhrig looked for someone locally to take it over. A 24-year-old minister had come to one of Uhrig’s meetings in the Armory in Lynchburg, and Uhrig had asked him to come forward and offer a prayer. According to Uhrig, the young fellow had only a small group of 35 people; he didn’t even have a church then, but he was impressive and energetic, and Uhrig remembered him. When Uhrig decided to give up the Lynchburg show, he called the young Lynchburg minister to see if he wanted the show. The young minister’s name was Jerry Falwell.

At first Falwell said no, because he had never done anything like that and had no experience, but Uhrig persuaded him to try it—and he did. In Uhrig’s words, “He was a local guy trying to get started. And did he ever get started!” Falwell has never forgotten Uhrig and even now acknowledges that it was Uhrig who started him in television.

But the Lynchburg program was not Uhrig’s only financial drain. He had built a new church that had a mortgage on it. He was hoping that if he could obtain the scroll for Yadin, Yadin would agree to pay him $20,000 that would save his church.

In the continued negotiations, Yadin decided he would offer $130,000 for the scroll he had not yet seen. (Uhrig was hoping that the $20,000 would be in addition to the $130,000). Yadin writes as if Mr. Z assured him that the $130,000 was an agreed price, but according to Uhrig that was simply the price Yadin decided to offer. It was an offer Uhrig hoped he could get Kando to accept—especially because he had spent so much on trips to Bethlehem and badly needed the $20,000 he thought Yadin would give him if he successfully negotiated the purchase of the scroll.

Yadin gave Uhrig $10,000 in cash and a deposit slip showing that $120,000 had been deposited in the Chase Manhattan bank, so Uhrig could assure Kando that $130,000 in cash was available. Thus armed, Uhrig traveled to Bethlehem once more, carrying the $10,000 in cash in his sock.

The negotiations in Bethlehem went badly. Uhrig remembers throwing the $10,000 in cash at Kando’s feet. Kando had no idea what the $120,000 bank deposit represented. “He wanted to see cash. And every time you’d talk to him, he changed his figures,” Uhrig remembers. Uhrig tried to persuade Kando to let him take the scroll back with him.

“Now let me take it,” he said.

“Oh, no, no, no,” Kando replied, according to Uhrig.

“Well, don’t you trust me now? We’ve made a transaction [the Psalm Scroll fragment]. Aboud here you’ve known all your life. I sponsored his brother to come to America. You’ve got to believe in me. I’ve made all these trips. I’m not kidding you.”

All to no avail. Uhrig went on- “At that point I was exhausted. The Middle East, as you know in those days, the travel was terrible. And I was exhausted. And I said [to Kando], ‘Man, please. You’ve got it here in a shoe box. You’ve got to trust me. Aboud here is your friend. You’ve got to believe it.’ But no, he just wouldn’t do it.”

Frustrated and angry, Uhrig saw that a small piece of the scroll was partially torn. Uhrig finished the job. “I’m the one who tore that piece of the scroll,” he confessed. “I saw this piece there and I said, ‘Kando, I want to show this to Yadin,’ and before he could say anything to me—he got very nervous—I pulled it off. And I said, ‘I want to take this with me. This is the only way to prove to Yadin that this is genuine. He’s got to know what it is.’”

“In hindsight,” Uhrig admitted, “I was a little naive.” Kando let Uhrig take the piece with him. No charge.

On his way back to the United States, Uhrig stopped in London, where Yadin was staying at the time, in order to show him the fragment.b Uhrig remembers that he met Yadin in the apartment of someone named Wolfson.c When Uhrig handed the fragment to Yadin, Yadin’s “eyes popped.” “He looked very calm and relaxed with me, but his eyes just popped. Then he said, ‘oh, uh’; he stuttered a little.”

Yadin handed the fragment back to Uhrig and told him—falsely—that it was only a deed to property- “He said, ‘This is a deed to some property,’ and he handed it back to me.”

Yadin said it was very good writing, but he wanted to see the rest of the scroll. “But he said, ‘Uhrig, I think you’ve wasted a lot of time.’ He seemed to be sympathetic toward me and yet it seemed to me he wanted the rest of the scroll.” Uhrig and Yadin agreed that Uhrig would continue the negotiations, in order to see what he could do with Kando.

Uhrig contacted Kando once more through Aboud, but the asking price, Aboud reported, was once again a million dollars. Uhrig responded- “I said, ‘He’s crazy. Tell him to drop dead. What’s the use of me going into the hole further for a deed to some land?’”

Uhrig lost his stomach for the whole affair and decided to discontinue the negotiations-

“Yadin threw me off completely,” Uhrig claims. “He told me that it was a deed to some land. I thought Kando had tricked me. I can understand now why Yadin did this, because he didn’t want to pay an exorbitant price. But I was heartsick. And I lost heart. I thought- What a fool I’ve been. Kando has fooled me.”

Uhrig not only failed to get the scroll, he also lost his church- The mortgage was foreclosed.
“Nobody ever knew that story,” he told BAR, “except the local people. I was heartsick. To think that I was chasing after a deed to property.”

Not until he read the story in BAR did Joe Uhrig realize that in fact he had been negotiating for the real thing—the Temple Scroll, the longest of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and, in the opinion of many scholars, the most important.

“If I had known the real truth, I believe I could have delivered the scroll,” he said. “I do not hold Yadin responsible in any way. I have no ill feeling about it. I think he was doing what diplomatically he felt he had to do because of Kando’s crazy demands. But they really weren’t my demands.”
Uhrig went on- “Yadin told me, ‘One day your name will be in the Shrine of the Book.’ I told him I didn’t want praise. I just felt the scroll should be in Israel. Through it all, I felt we would come out on top. But not only did I lose my church, there was all the expense for those trips.” Uhrig just kept the $10,000—“for a portion of all the expenses of all those trips I was making”—and mailed Yadin back the scroll fragment.

“So the years passed by, and I never contacted him anymore, because I thought ‘what’s the use? Why should I keep pressing this?’” Then one day Joe Uhrig’s wife decided to visit the library of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, near where they lived. She picked up the latest issue of BAR.

a. Jerusalem- Israel Exploration Society, 1983.

b. Yadin claims he got the fragment in London via a letter from Uhrig. Perhaps Uhrig did not leave the fragment with Yadin then, but later sent it to him.

c. Probably Leonard Wolfson, whose Wolfson Foundation supported many of Yadin’s projects.

Posted in: Maccabean Period

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