John  Marco Allegro   [1923-1988]

Controversial British member of the international team of 9 scholars assembled to study the Dead Sea scrolls in 1953. A bright linguist with several publications, he was nominated by the eminent Oxford Semitic scholar, Godfrey R. Driver, to aid in reconstruction & publication of the mss. found at Qumran. A fast worker with a flair for publicity, he became one of the first scholars to bring the scrolls to public attention & was the first member of the team to complete the editing & publication of the materials that had been assigned to him. 

But Allegro's speculative public announcements, criticism of the slow pace of publication by others & rejection of the thesis of  the scrolls' origins championed by team leader Roland de Vaux led to ostracism & public criticism of his theses by his more conservative colleagues. His unauthorized 1960 publication of the Copper Scroll was criticized as dishonest shoddy scholarship by Fr. de Vaux, despite the fact that Allegro had played a pivotal role in enlisting experts to open the rigid scroll & in personally transcribing its difficult text.  

Allegro, a Protestant-turned-agnostic, responded by claiming that the other team members, who were all Roman Catholics, were deliberately delaying publication of the scrolls because they contained material that contradicted Christian tradition. This drew a sharp rebuke from leading British scholars, including his own mentor G. R. Driver. With his growing public reputation as a maverick & his academic career in shambles, Allegro turned to using his linguistic skills to write sensational speculative books for commercial publishers that 

  • traced the origins of Christianity to an esoteric mystery cult that consumed hallucinogenic fungi & 

  • reconstructed the development of Jewish history of the post-exilic era. 

Although today Allegro is best known for his scandalous challenges to traditional beliefs, his ultimate legacy may yet rest on his contribution to research on the Dead Sea Scrolls. For his protest against the secrecy of the scrolls team was gradually picked up by other scholars & eventually led to the release of films of the scrolls for all scholars to study. And the recent posthumous publication of the 1500 photographs of scroll fragments that Allegro took from 1955-1962 will probably make his work, if not his theories, one of the most important resources for scholarly study of the scrolls for generations to come.

For more details of the rift between Allegro & other scroll scholars see:

 Dead Sea Scrolls: Timetable of Discovery & Debate (1955-1979)

Major Publications:

For a recent biography see:

Other resources on line:

Perspective on the World of Jesus

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