Last member of original Dead Sea Scrolls research team dies from COVID-19

The Qumran explorer was 91 years old.

A restorer works on a fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls in a laboratory at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
A restorer works on a fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls in a laboratory at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
The last living member of the Dead Sea Scrolls research team, Prof. Dr. Claus-Hunno Hunzinger, died on January 6 in Hamburg.
The Qumran explorer was 91 years old. He had survived the first coronavirus wave in March, but the virus recently caused an outbreak in the senior citizens’ residence where he was living.
On December 31, it was discovered that he and 20 other residents had contracted COVID-19. He passed away late last week. His wife, whom he met in Jerusalem while he worked on the Dead Sea Scrolls, died over a year ago.
From 1959 to 1960 he was a visiting professor in Madison, Wisconsin. In 1962, he became an associate professor in Hamburg. Since 1968, he was a full professor for the New Testament and the history of religion in late antiquity at the University of Hamburg. He retired in 1991.
In an interview with National Geographic in 2018, he recalled, “I spent two eventful years in Jerusalem: October 1954 to 55 and October 1956 to 57. The Suez Crisis began three weeks after my second arrival and the writings were then brought to safety in the Jordanian capital, Amman, for several months. I was the only one from the team in Jerusalem. After the manuscripts returned, I had to spend a long time cleaning them because they had been stored in a damp safe in Amman. I was only able to save the now largely moldy fragments with a fine brush before I continued my actual work. It was madness. We had no complete manuscripts before us, only fragments.”
In the interview, he recalled that as part of his work, he reconstructed a prayer text from Cave 4 that consisted of 300 small pieces. The pieces were “made of papyrus: very fine and brittle, but still reasonably stable. This manuscript, which I love so much, with evening and morning prayers for each day of the month, did not have a single complete sentence.”
His well-known and well-regarded reconstruction of the fragments of the Morning- and Evening-prayers (4Q503) was on view in the exhibition, A Day at Qumran, for many years in the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum.
Among his contributions was the discovery that Flavius Josephus was incorrect when he wrote that the Essenes prayed to the sun. Through his research, he discovered that the text actually said they prayed at sunrise, according to an appreciation of his work written by Alexander Schick.
Hunzinger remembered his work on the Dead Sea Scrolls as a highlight of his career. “In the writings of Qumran one can feel the upheavals in the period between the Old and New Testaments,” he told National Geographic.