Franco-Polish Orientalist and editor of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Born on 24 March 1922 in Seroczyn, Poland, Milik studied at the Boleslaw Prus Lyceum in Siedlce and then at the Major Seminary of Płock and Warsaw. In 1944 he began his studies of ancient and modern languages at the Catholic Institute of Lublin. From 1946 to 1951 he studied at the Pontifical Oriental Institute and Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome.
In 1950 Milik published a series of scholarly notes on the spelling, phonetic, and textual variants of the biblical manuscripts among the Dead Sea Scrolls, in particular Isaiaha and b from Cave 1 at Qumran (1QIsaa–b). In 1951, he was one of the first to publish a translation, in Latin, of the Rule of the Community from Cave 1 at Qumran (1QS), of which he later published the text in volume 1 of Discoveries in the Judaean Desert (Oxford, 1955). He identified one fragment as belonging either to the end of 1 Enoch or to the beginning of Noah; in fact it was the largest fragment of a work that, in the editio princeps, by Milik himself, is called Noah (1Q19).
These scholarly studies attracted the notice of Roland de Vaux, director of the École Biblique et Archéologique Française, president of the Trustees of the Palestine Archeological Museum and codirector of the excavations of Cave 1 and Khirbet Qumran. De Vaux invited Milik to Jerusalem to participate in the study of the hundreds of manuscript fragments from Cave 1. In 1952 Milik worked with Dominique Barthélemy in organizing, distributing, and classifying manuscript fragments found in Cave 1 during the excavations or purchased on the antiquities market.
In 1952 Cave 3 was discovered by the team of Roland de Vaux, to which Milik belonged. This increased Milik's on-site work and complemented his work as an epigraphist. He took part in excavating Cave 4 and unearthed hundreds of fragments. He also took part in the discovery of Cave 5 and excavating Caves 5 and 6, while workers from the University of Louvain excavated the nearby site at Khirbet Mird. [See Mird, Khirbet.]
Naturalized as a French citizen, Milik was admitted as a researcher to the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris, an institution of which he was a member until his retirement in 1987. At first detached to work in Jerusalem, other researchers later joined him, working on an international and interdenominational team recruited by de Vaux. But all concurred that Milik was the most active, quick, and effective member in the work of grouping, classifying, and deciphering the fragments. He was the scholar who developed the universally accepted system of sigla, by which the manuscripts are cited (Barthélemy and Milik, 1955, pp. 46–48). De Vaux made him the pillar of the team and entrusted to him the publication of the fragmentary and extremely difficult manuscripts from the caves of Wadi Murabba῾at. [See Murabba῾at, Wadi, article on Written Material.] (Benoit, Milik, and de Vaux, 1961).
Milik deciphered the hitherto unknown Aramaic cursive script. De Vaux entrusted to him the most important lot of manuscripts from Cave 4 (apocryphal works and compositions of the Community), the manuscripts from Cave 5, and the Copper Scroll from Cave 3 (3Q15; Baillet, Milik, and de Vaux, 1962).
During the nine years he spent at the École Biblique et Archéologique Française de Jérusalem and in the “scrollery” of the Palestine Archaeological Museum, doing painstaking and austere work, Milik published in French (1957) a first synthesis of the main contributions of these discoveries to our knowledge of the Bible and Oriental studies (Milik, 1957). [See École Biblique et Archéologique Française; Palestine Archaeological Museum.] This work appeared in Italian that same year; it was updated and translated into English by John Strugnell in 1959. Although this work is intended for a wide audience in addition to scholars, it is still authoritative because the author is an expert who knows better than anybody else the places and texts. Having participated in the excavations, Milik could have a personal view and approach, having in mind the fragments which he was progressively identifying and deciphering. From the outset, Milik defended the identification of the Wicked Priest with Jonathan, and he stuck to this solution as the only one that could account for all the data gathered. [See Wicked Priest.] This solution was adopted by a majority of scholars and even by de Vaux himself (1973, pp. 5, 116f.), although de Vaux still could not make up his mind between Simon and Jonathan.
Endowed with a prodigious memory, Milik remembered everything he deciphered. He also had a gift for minute observation, and noted the quality of the leather, its preparation as a support for the writing, the scribe's handwriting, the ink, the language and vocabulary, the subjects treated, the shape of the breaks, that is, anything that individualizes a fragment in order to link up fragments, even at a distance, or to determine whether a fragment belonged to another sheet or manuscript. He excelled in this art of reconstruction. The members of the international team remember the story of his decipherment of the cryptic writing—the time of their lunch!
In addition to the excavations at Qumran, Milik and Frank Moore Cross led a surface exploration in the Buqeia in an attempt to understand the toponymy (place-names) of the region. [See Buqeia.] Milik's linguistic skills gave him the opportunity to publish and to study a number of inscriptions, whether in Greek or in a Semitic language, and to complete researches on Palestinian topography, largely of the Holy City, mainly because of the Copper Scroll from Cave 3. [See Copper Scroll.] Again and again, Milik showed his erudition. The first to join the team, he is also, by far, the one who has edited the greatest number of texts, drawing value from even the tiniest fragment to rediscover precisely a literary, historical, and religious context for works for which the complete text has been forever lost. Finally, he played a crucial role in completing the “manual concordance” at the Palestine Archaeological Museum, which was intended to help editors find places where texts or expressions may overlap.
While based in Jerusalem, Milik had the chance to explore many subjects. He made friends with the Samaritan priests in Nablus, who permitted him to record their recitation of biblical books. This served his editions, for example, of the phylacteries from Cave 4 (de Vaux and Milik, 1977, pp. 39–46).
After another long stay in Rome during the 1960s, Milik came back to Paris where he continued to publish (Milik, 1976, Attridge et al., 1994), sharing the results of his research with the youngest members of the team, and, thereby, the benefit of his work that was already considerably advanced on a number of fragmentary manuscripts. As a master of decipherment he is frequently consulted, since his is the only living memory of the first work done on the site and on the original texts. The editors of Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, 22, acknowledge their indebtedness for finishing an edition for which Milik contributed his decipherment and notes (Brooke, et al., 1997).
In March 1991, the Complutensian University of Madrid honored this man of genius in epigraphy and decipherment by a medal.
The Revue de Qumrân, which includes Milik on its editorial committee, dedicated an entire volume to him on the occasion of his seventy-fifth birthday, in 1997. [See Revue de Qumrân.] Milik is and shall remain the greatest master of his generation in deciphering the Dead Sea Scrolls; a researcher of integrity, uninvolved in the plots and passionate debates of the last decade, and devoted to science, philology, and history.
[See also biographies of Barthélemy; de Vaux.]
- Attridge, Harold, et al. Qumran Cave 4: Parabiblical Texts, Part 1. Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, 13. Oxford, 1994.
- Baillet, Maurice, J. T. Milik, and Roland de Vaux. Les ‘Petites Grottes’ de Qumrân. Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, 3. Oxford, 1962.
- Barthélemy, D., and J. T. Milik. Qumran Cave 1. Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, 1. Oxford, 1955.
- Baumgarten, J. M., and J. T. Milik. Qumran Cave 4. XII, The Damascus Document (4Q266–273). Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, 18. Oxford, 1996.
- Benoit, P., J. T. Milik, and Roland de Vaux. Les Grottes de Murabba῾at. Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, 2. Oxford, 1961.
- Brooke, George, et al. Qumran Cave 4: Parabiblical Texts, Part 3. Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, 22. Oxford, 1997.
- de Vaux, Roland. Archaeology and the Dead Sea Scrolls, rev. ed. Oxford, 1973.
- de Vaux, Roland, and Milik, J. T. Qumrân Grotte 4: Archéologie-Tefillin, Mezuzot et Targums 4Q128–4Q157. Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, 6. Oxford, 1977.
- García Martínez, Florentino. “Bibliographie qumrânienne de Józef Tadeusz Milik.” In Hommage a Jósef T. Milik, edited by Florentino García Martínez and Émile Puech. Revue de Qumrân 17 (1996), 11–20.
- Milik, J. T. Dix Ans de découvertes dans le désert de Juda. Paris, 1957.
- Milik, J. T. The Books of Enoch. Aramaic Fragments of Qumrân Cave 4. Oxford, 1976.
- Milik, J. T. Ten years of Discovery in the Wilderness of Judaea. SBT, 26. London, 1959.
- Puech, Émile. “Jósef Tadeusz Milik.” In Hommage a Jósef T. Milik, edited by Florentino García Martínez and Émile Puech. Revue de Qumrân 17 (1996), 5–10.
Translated from French by Robert E. Shillenn