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Thursday, 24 January 2013

John Allegro's "The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross

 

John M. Allegro

 

John Marco Allegro (17 February 1923, London - 17 February 1988) was a scholar who challenged orthodox views of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Bible and the history of religion, with books that attracted popular attention and scholarly derision.
After service in the Royal Navy during World War II, Allegro started to train for the Methodist ministry but transferred to graduate with a first class degree in Semitic Studies from the University of Manchester. He obtained an M.A. for a study into the Balaam Oracles and later pursued further research, studying the various dialects of Biblical Hebrew at Oxford. In 1953 he was invited to become the first British representative on the international team working on the recently discovered Dead Sea Scrolls from cave 4 in Jordan. The following year he was appointed assistant lecturer in Comparative Semitic Philology at Manchester, and held a succession of lectureships there until he resigned in 1970 to become a full-time writer. In 1961 he was made Honorary Adviser on the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Jordanian government.
Allegro's thirteen books include The Dead Sea Scrolls (1956), The Treasure of the Copper Scroll (1960), The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross (1970) and The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian Myth (1979) as well as Discoveries in the Judaean Desert of Jordan vol. V (1968) and articles in academic journals such as the Journal of Biblical Literature, Palestine Exploration Quarterly and Journal of Semitic Studies, and in the popular press.

 

Access to the Dead Sea Scrolls


The Dead Sea Scrolls were written between 200 BCE and 68 CE, and give insight into the religious life and thought of a Jewish sect based at Qumran by the Dead Sea and usually identified as Essenes. Allegro believed the scrolls could help us understand the common origin of three religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. He hoped they might be able to bring together scholars of each tradition in studying their common heritage without the barriers of religious prejudice.
This would mean making the texts accessible to all. Allegro published the sections of text allotted to him in academic journals as soon as he had prepared them, and his volume (number five) in the official series Discoveries in the Judaean Desert was ready for the press by the early 1960s. He continually campaigned for the publication of all scroll texts. However, his colleagues took a different approach, and little else appeared until 1991.
Allegro saw himself as a publicist for the scrolls. His books, talks and broadcasts promoted public interest in the scrolls and their significance. At first, the rest of the team encouraged his efforts, which after all were intended to help fund their research. But they[who?] thought he went too far in making assertions about the parallels between Essenism and Christianity which they thought were unsupported by evidence and designed to raise his personal profile. He was accused[by whom?] of stirring up controversy at the expense.

 

The Copper Scroll

 The controversy over the Copper Scroll deepened the rift between Allegro and the team. At the request of the authorities, Allegro had arranged for the scroll to be cut open in Manchester over the winter of 1955/56. He supervised the opening and made a preliminary transcription and translation of the contents. He found it to be a list of Temple treasure hidden at various locations around Qumran and Jerusalem, most probably after the sack of Jerusalem in AD 70. Initial excitement turned to acrimony when the team accused Allegro of leaking information to the press (which was denied), and later objected to his pre-empting the official translation (in 1962) by publishing his own version first (in 1960). In Allegro's defense, it is suggested the team had already issued a preliminary translation, and Allegro held his book back to try and let the official version take precedence. But he could not in honesty support the official interpretation of the Copper Scroll as a work of fiction, and some later scholars have endorsed his view that the treasure was real.

 

Christian origins

 Allegro believed that Essenism was the matrix of Christianity. He suggested that there were so many correspondences between the scroll texts and the New Testament — words and phrases, beliefs and practices, Messianic leadership, a teacher who was persecuted and possibly crucified — that he thought the derivation obvious. This brought him into conflict with the Catholic priests on the editing team, and with most church spokesmen, who maintained the orthodox assumption that the arrival of Jesus was the unique, historical, God-given event described in the Gospels. Allegro also started to look in more depth at the way the New Testament appeared to weave together a mix of folklore, myth, incantation and history.

 

Language, myth and religion


As a philologist, Allegro analysed the derivations of language. He traced biblical words and phrases back to their roots in Sumerian, and showed how Sumerian phonemes recur in varying but related contexts in many Semitic, classical and other Indo-European languages. Although meanings changed to some extent, Allegro found some basic religious ideas passing on through the genealogy of words. His book The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross relates the development of language in Eurasia to the development of myths, religions and cultic practices in many cultures. Allegro believed he could prove through etymology that the roots of Christianity, as of many other religions, lay in fertility cults; and that cultic practices, such as ingesting hallucinogenic drugs to perceive the Mind of God, persisted into Christian times.
The reaction to The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross ruined Allegro's career. His detractors considered his somewhat sensationalist approach deplorable and his arguments somewhere between unconvincing and ludicrous. Prof J. N. D. Anderson observed that the book was "dismissed by ... experts...as not being based on any philological or other evidence that they can regard as scholarly." Sumerian expert Anna Partington summarized some of the problems, stating that The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross "uses a number of hypothetical Sumerian words not attested in texts. These are marked with an asterisk following philological convention. This is akin to proposing there is a word in the English language 'bellbat' because the individual words 'bell' and 'bat' are known to exist separately. Then again words of different languages are gathered together without the type of argument which would be expected in order to demonstrate possible relationship."
However, Allegro's work has been adopted by some alternative authors. In May 2006, Michael Hoffman of egodeath.com and Jan Irvin wrote an article for The Journal of Higher Criticism entitled Wasson and Allegro on the Tree of Knowledge as Amanita that suggested that Allegro's work should be evaluated on its merits like that of any other scholar and not dismissed merely because its arguments fall outside the mainstream. In 2008 Prof. John Rush of Sierra College published Failed God that also gives heavy support for Allegro's theories. In November 2009 The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross was reprinted in a 40th anniversary edition with a preface by Jan Irvin, a foreword by Judith Anne Brown, and a 30 page addendum by Prof. Carl A.P. Ruck of Boston University with new linguistic evidence that supports Allegro's theories.
"The concerted and biased attempts to destroy Allegro's discoveries have failed. The confirmatory evidence is mounting in his favor. The critics can now raise their voices again. Let us hope that they do, since the matter is not settled, but they should be advised to do so with more careful consideration. This book that many have prized in secret is now available again. It demands the serious consideration of theologians, mythologists, and students of religion. No account of the history of the Church, both West and East, can afford to leave the poor despicable fungus unconsidered, nor the role that entheogens in general have played in the evolution of European civilization." ~ Professor Carl A. P. Ruck, Boston University
Allegro went on to write several other books exploring the roots of religion; notably The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian Myth, which seek to relate Christian theology to Gnostic writings, classical mythology and Egyptian sun-worship in the common quest for divine light.
Allegro believed the Dead Sea Scrolls raised issues that concerned everyone. It wasn't just a matter of dusty manuscripts and disputed translations. Rather, the story of the scrolls raised questions about freedom of access to evidence, freedom of speech, and freedom to challenge orthodox religious views.
"... with the unhappy record of the church for destroying documents and whole libraries of which it disapproved, as well as its predeliction for controlling the reading habits and opportunities of the faithful, one can only continue to be apprehensive about the church's attitude when religiously sensitive information comes into its hands,..."
Allegro believed that through understanding the origins of religion people could be freed from its bonds to think for themselves and take responsibility for their own judgments.

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