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Digitizing Literary Treasures Leads To New Finds 132

Posted by Soulskill
from the bits-and-scraps dept.
storagedude writes "The WSJ has a cool article on how the race to digitize literary treasures has led to a trove of new discoveries. Quoting: 'Improved technology is allowing researchers to scan ancient texts that were once unreadable — blackened in fires or by chemical erosion, painted over or simply too fragile to unroll. Now, scholars are studying these works with X-ray fluorescence, multispectral imaging used by NASA to photograph Mars and CAT scans used by medical technicians ... By taking high-resolution digital images in 14 different light wavelengths, ranging from infrared to ultraviolet, Oxford scholars are reading bits of papyrus that were discovered in 1898 in an ancient garbage dump in central Egypt. So far, researchers have digitized about 80% of the collection of 500,000 fragments, dating from the 2nd century B.C. to the 8th century A.D. The texts include fragments of unknown works by famous authors of antiquity, lost gospels and early Islamic manuscripts.'"
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Digitizing Literary Treasures Leads To New Finds

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  • FP (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Good, now put them online.

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Oxford scholars are reading bits of papyrus that were discovered in 1898 in an ancient garbage dump in central Egypt.

      Meh, how good can they be if this is the stuff that was thrown out?

      Lets look for the ones that people thought were worth saving;-)

      • Re:FP (Score:5, Interesting)

        by rtb61 (674572) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @06:07AM (#27887061) Homepage

        Well doesn't that bring to mind the original principle of censorship, not to protect the people but to protect the leaders from wrath of the people. One might wonder whether more truth might be found in an ancient garbage dump than in a ancient royal library.

        • Re:FP (Score:5, Informative)

          by MemoryDragon (544441) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @07:20AM (#27887299)

          Well doesn't that bring to mind the original principle of censorship, not to protect the people but to protect the leaders from wrath of the people. One might wonder whether more truth might be found in an ancient garbage dump than in a ancient royal library.

          Actually if you want to know what you might find in an ancient garbage dump just look at Pompeii most of the stuff to be found at the walls or ruins are pornography, ancient advertisements (especially for hookers) and political graffity.
          So nothing really changes!

        • Dumpers (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Steve Franklin (142698) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @07:24AM (#27887307) Homepage Journal

          Indeed.

          And keep in mind what was going on at the time: The religion of Mithra was growing in the West; the Gnostics were a force to be reckoned with in Egypt; and the followers of the 1st Century BC Yeshu(a) the Nazar were slowly morphing into the so-called Christians. We may finally get a glimpse of the true historical origins of Christianity unvarnished by the official Church authorities, before and just after Constantine took the major religions of the Roman Empire and merged them into a single syncretistic faith.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by MemoryDragon (544441)

            Actually the glimpse always has been there, all we get is probably some texts known but lost in history.
            Everybody interested into history might have gotten access to the most important texts of that era way before 1800 they never were lost and all the christian roots were known in the old historians books from the roman era!
            But what is lost definitely are important works by ancient authors!
            But I guess most you can get is profanity in documents freshly scanned! The ancient world was way more open to sex than

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              A good point. And the digitization work of Google has refreshed awareness of the meaning of surviving texts studied by the antiquarians of the 19th Century, especially the more heretical characters like Rev. Robert Taylor.

          • Re:Dumpers (Score:5, Funny)

            by Smivs (1197859) <smivs@smivsonline.co.uk> on Saturday May 09, 2009 @09:20AM (#27887757) Homepage Journal

            Keep in mind what was going on at the time: The religion of Mithra was growing in the West; the Gnostics were a force to be reckoned with in Egypt; and the followers of the 1st Century BC Yeshu(a) the Nazar were slowly morphing into the so-called Christians.

            Ah, I remember it well. It seems like only yesterday.

            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              Methuselah! Is that you? Fancy meeting you here on slashdot! Only this morning I was thinking I wonder what old Methu is up to these days? Remember that time we threw that Roman in the tepidarium? Good times, so what's new?
            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by Eli Gottlieb (917758)

              Leto II, you old bastard! How's that whole "pearls of awareness" thing working out for you?

            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              Your UID is way too high for you to be making such grand claims.
            • ...1st Century BC...

              Ah, I remember it well. It seems like only yesterday.

              Yesterday? It was only an hour or two ago for me. Your must play at Epic speed.
              Oh, that reminds me: I need to start upgrading my Warriors and other melee units. Except the Spearmen, of course.

      • Re:FP (Score:4, Funny)

        by jamesh (87723) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @06:31AM (#27887129)

        Meh, how good can they be if this is the stuff that was thrown out?

        You're kidding right? (of course you are :) Just imagine the sort of stuff that's going to be in the rubbish!

        . Report cards that kids didn't want their parents to find
        . Shopping lists
        . Angry letters that were written and then thrown out as a form of symbolism
        . Overdue bills
        . Drafts of existing legendary documents (It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times, etc)

        • I love that Simpsons reference. Thanks for making me laugh.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Papyrus was valuable at the time. Shopping lists would have been written on pieces of broken ceramics, not on papyrus. And even overdue bills can be instructive. Remember, most of the Minoan Linear B documents are just warehouse records.

        • by initialE (758110)

          Shopping lists and bills are definitely items of interest in archaeology, imo. There is no better way to understand a way of life than in what people spent their money on.

      • by meyekul (1204876)
        Well obviously the egyptians didn't have the X-ray fluorescence and multispectral imaging to read them, so of course they got thrown away.
    • Re:FP (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Petrushka (815171) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @08:36AM (#27887599)

      Good, now put them online.

      Do ten seconds' googling and you'll find it was done long ago [163.1.169.40] (notice the turn-of-the-century character of the website; believe me, it used to be worse).

      Well, it's been partly done. That link only gives digitised images of the papyri that have been published in hardcopy so far -- i.e. the first hundred-odd years of publications. It'll take another few hundred years to finish publishing the Oxyrhynchos papyri.

      On the other hand, actually reading the material -- here's [163.1.169.40] a sample of someone practising their handwriting, see how you get on with reading it -- will still be considerably more trouble than it would be if you simply went to a library and looked at a printed text.

      Either way, of course, you'll have to learn ancient Greek first. Alas, if you want a translation, you're out of luck. I'm sure Oxford University would be glad if you want to donate the millions of pounds it would require to translate the entire corpus, ... translation isn't cheap. It's simply more economical to impose an entry requirement for studying the material, viz. a knowledge of ancient Greek (and of Hellenistic palaeography), than it would be to find non-existent funding for a translation.

      • MOD PARENT UP (Score:3, Insightful)

        As to a translation, IANAC(lassicist), but I expect that OCR coupled with machine translation algorithms would be just the ticket to give the interested masses a glimpse(*) at the contents. This could be a nice PhD topic for a number of CS and classics graduates.

        (*) unlikely to be good enough for scholars, but at the very least a worthy PR exercise.

        • OCR isn't there yet. (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 09, 2009 @10:04AM (#27888013)
          IANAC, but IAA Palaeographer, Codicologist and Medievalist, and I work on many projects involving the transcription, edition and sometimes translation of ancient texts. The technology you speak of isn't there, and I wonder if it'll ever be there.

          OCR's great, and handwriting recognition can be made to work with sufficient training. But handwriting styles before printing often involved abbreviation (in highly inflected languages too, which means that their expansion is dependent not only on grammar, but on the sense). Moreover, in pre-printing handwriting, often the shape of the word matters less than the motion of the pen that it describes, so OCR as such wouldn't work -- you'd need Optical Word recognition. The only problem there is that before the 17th Century, the notion of orthography (aka proper spelling) was very fluid. Finally, all these parameters: abbreviation style, character and word formation, spelling, all have a range and style that is heavily dependent on the scribe and time involved. Since we have (for computing purposes) very little data, the piece being scanned helps define those parameters.

          Even top experts in the field read texts wrong from time to time. Even for a machine to produce a quick-n-dirty transcription (to say nothing of translation) would be an expensive proposition that would have to be extensively checked and corrected by an expert. At that point, I could just transcribe it myself much faster and more accurately.

          So I'm saying that my job is safe for the time-being, since it's still several orders of magnitude cheaper to have trained experts transcribe and translate than to figure out how to teach a computer to do it (and the applications are wider).
          • I don't doubt the difficulties you point out, but I think it depends strongly on how you look at the problem. If you imagine a fully completed black box which translates the scanned images accurately, then that's certainly a long way away, and may well be impossible. But there's a lot of good science to be done if that's merely the long term goal, and along the way the partial results may be useful themselves.

            On the OCR side, it makes little difference if an algorithm is trying to recognize individual cha

      • It all seems pretty clear. A lot of the glyphs are recognisable to me, I've holidayed in Greece, studied physics and so can read the modern greek alphabet enough to use look up greek translations. As I'm a noob I'd have thought a greek scholar could just read that off.

        I'd have thought that the letters could be used in a Greek version of recaptcha? Then it's just down to machine translation, or am I wrong?

  • Oxyrhynchus (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Saturday May 09, 2009 @05:22AM (#27886873) Homepage

    As someone who majored in Classics as an undergraduate, I've long been captivated by the massive papyrus finds finds at the Oxyrhynchus site in Egypt. The site has been well-explored for over a century, and many of the papyri have already been deciphered and published. The Biblical texts there have gotten the most attention, but one shouldn't neglect the important literary finds as well. See Bowman's Oxyrhynchus: A City and its Texts [amazon.com] for a nice introduction. Over the last few years, there's been more work with using new technologies to examine manuscripts that otherwise can't be deciphered. Classics may seem an unsexy and superseded field, but in fact with digital technology the field is living in exciting times.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by wisty (1335733)

      Classics sounds a lot like biology then. Information theory, statistics and fast cheap computers have opened up a lot of fields for math geeks. It seems that physics is not longer the only academic application of mathematics.

    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by siloko (1133863)

      the field is living in exciting times.

      The field may be living in exciting times, unfortunately that doesn't make the field exciting!

      • by dnix (831940)
        technology improve your life, cultural heritage improve your quality of life...
        • by siloko (1133863)

          cultural heritage improve your quality of life...

          . . . as does a sense of humour . . .

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        Troll? The guy was just joking. I mean, look at this recent exciting find (in Ancient Greek):

        Things I Need
        -------------
        bread
        fish (fresh not the day-old stuff)
        snail
        brain of goat
        flour (weevils removed)
        sheepskin condom
        cow dung

    • Re:Oxyrhynchus (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TFer_Atvar (857303) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @05:43AM (#27886943) Homepage
      In addition to Oxyrhynchus, significant finds have been made at Herculaneum and Pompeii. There's a decent story here [byu.edu] about those. The problem (and I suspect it's a common one) is that texts carbonized enough to require advanced recovery techniques aren't recognized as texts by non-professionals. I recall reading a story about 19th-century archaeologists finding a bunch of carbonized lumps in their excavations of Pompeei and Herculaneum. Believing them to be ancient foodstuffs, they examined and discarded them. In the late 20th century, similar but smaller finds were made and identified to be scrolls. Just imagine how much was lost to history due to the disposal of those innocent-looking lumps! And I have to wonder what we're missing out on now because of some future archaeological advancement.
      • Re:Oxyrhynchus (Score:4, Insightful)

        by MemoryDragon (544441) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @07:38AM (#27887361)

        Chances are 99.99% that ancient porn was lost

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Petrushka (815171)

        In addition to Oxyrhynchus, significant finds have been made at Herculaneum and Pompeii.

        If those ones take your fancy more than the ones from Oxyrhynchos -- and there are some good reasons why they might -- you might find it useful to have these links at your disposal:

        • Oxyrhynchos papyri [ox.ac.uk] site (Oxford) -- here's [ox.ac.uk] some info on the imaging process, but I think it's rather out-of-date and only covers basic photography in the visible spectrum
        • more up-to-date info [cs.hut.fi] on more advanced imaging techniques, with regard to papyri from Bubastos
        • the Philodemus Project [ucla.edu], dedicated to the most important ancient a
        • Bits & pieces of the Catalog of Womenor Eoiai have been around a long time for example [wikipedia.org]. One edition of Hesiod includes the Catalog as well as Theogony and Works and Days. It would be interesting if the whole thing, which I gather to have been about 5000 lines of which we have perhaps 1000, could be reconstructed. Opening invocation (from Wikipedia):

          Sing now of the tribe of women, sweet-voiced Olympian Muses,
          daughters of aigis-bearing Zeus: those women who were the noblest,
          and had sex with gods.

          I ca

          • by Petrushka (815171)

            Bits & pieces of the Catalog of Womenor Eoiai have been around a long time for example [wikipedia.org].

            Fragments of that poem have indeed been around for a long time, but there were only a couple of dozen lines before papyri started to be published a bit over a century ago. I overstated the case when I said that about 1000 lines have been found from Oxyrhynchos; in fact probably only about 500-700 are from there (I'm too lazy to count right now).

            Unfortunately, the stream of new finds of that particular text is gradually drying up; personally I doubt we'll ever find more than another 200 lines or so. Which is

      • We always miss stuff that future archaeologists can find. The Victorians are a good example of this, They simply mapped buildings and found small finds but destroyed much evidence we can collect nowadays. This is always going to happen till we stop digging and use techniques like geophysics.
    • You Pirates!!!
      The Author's Guild will be in touch as soon as they are done with Google!

      All joking aside, I'll bet it is exciting times, and I wish you all well.
      *said with envy*

    • > The Biblical texts there have gotten the most attention, but one shouldn't neglect the
      > important literary finds as well.

      IMHO the literary material is far more important and interesting.

  • Don't want the church to try and bury anything that discredits the bible the way they did to the discoveries of Jean-Francois Champollion in Egypt in the 1820s

    • Don't want the church to try and bury

      Which church? There are thousands of denominations which reject non-canonical gospels.

      The popular media perpetuates this myth that non-canonical gospels reveal truths suppressed by mainstream Christianity. That's just not the case. Even non-Christian historians find most non-canonical gospels less reliable as history than the canonical gospels, being written still decades later and are often by their own admission non-historical.

      English translations of many non-canonical gospels have been pretty easily available for a 100 years already. Churches aren't conspiring to keep them in the dark. If they have been little read, it's because they really aren't worth much.

      • by MemoryDragon (544441) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @07:13AM (#27887281)

        Well to the media a conspiracy theory sells better than the plain truth...
        Please also tell that to Dan Brown before he spills out his next badly researched book full of historical errors!

        Those gospels have been known for ages and have been omitted in the 5th century for many reasons one of them in many cases was that they were unreliable and often written by third parties trying to promote an agenda. Have in mind early christianity was split way more than we are today and everyone could run his/her religious and monetary agenda on top of the religion.
        Often those gospels also were folk tales written down which can be attributed to the area of folk legends nothing more!

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by bogjobber (880402)

          in many cases was that they were unreliable and often written by third parties trying to promote an agenda...Often those gospels also were folk tales written down which can be attributed to the area of folk legends nothing more!

          And how, exactly does this differ from the Catholic-approved books? I'm not trying to be insulting here, just making a point. The Pauline epistles are letters written to various peoples arguing specific aspects of early Christian theology. The gospels include many aspects that w

          • Well for one some of the gospels at least back then could be dated exactly to persons surrounding jesus followers, and others omitted clearly showed up way later then the one canoninized or clearly showed gnostic influences which crawled up way later in christianity. I dont know too much about the early history, but the entire council of Nicea is well documented and written philosophical texts way before that so a person with good historical and religious background can give you more insight why exactly the

            • >>>some of the gospels at least back then could be dated exactly to persons surrounding jesus followers

              False. The oldest gospel only dates to circa year 80, fifty years after Jesus' death. So whoever wrote that book/gospel is equivalent to someone writing a biography about Kennedy, a man I've never met, know nothing about his personal life except whispers from neighbors, and don't know what he looked like (there were no photographs in ancient Israel).

              Basically I'd be writing fiction, not history.

              • Depends on the scale of impact your subject had on the world at the time. Its no quite logical to compare Christ to Kennedy. Kennedy was not a religious figure, let alone considered to be God (a higly contoversial claim and therefore hotly debated). Your analogy doesn't quite hold up. In that light I'd tend to disagree with you.
              • The oldest gospel only dates to circa year 80, fifty years after Jesus' death.

                Paul was killed in 60-65 A.D, or 27-35 years after Jesus' death. He is the main character in Acts, and since Acts cuts off rather abruptly at the end without covering things such as his execution, it is reasonable to assume Acts was written before that. Acts is the second half of a two-parter, Luke being the first half. And Luke uses some parts from Mark...

                • Oh, and don't forget that Paul's letters pre-date all the gospels. Really hard to argue that he wrote them after his death.
                  • While all of that is true, Paul's letter don't corroborate the events in the Gospels. He barely discusses Jesus' supposed miracles. In addition, how accurate is a history created by one single man? You might as well study the writings of Brigham Young as proclaim them to be "true".

                  • P.S. One reason Paul doesn't corroborate the Gospels is because he never knew Jesus. He never met the man, so he can not corroborate anything. It's all just gossip he heard from neighbors.

          • The gospels include many aspects that were part of common Middle Eastern "folklore" (the messiah, virgin birth, resurrection, consumption of flesh, the Logos/Arche, etc.).

            Other than the whole "messiah" thing those are Greco-Roman religious aspects, not Semitic.

      • "Non-canonical gospels"? As opposed to pre-Christian Gnostic and related texts that shed light on the true origins of Christianity? Talk about using a razor blade to make subtle distinctions. And while we're on the subject, the digitization of 19th Century antiquarian works has brought back into the public debate ideas that are supported by surviving ancient texts but ignored by modern archaeologists who would rather dig up a pot than read a text in Greek or Coptic.

        • "Non-canonical gospels"? As opposed to pre-Christian Gnostic and related texts that shed light on the true origins of Christianity?

          Wrong, Gnosticism was sort of a meta religion which existed outside of Christianity when it arrived at the scene, remember first christianity started as a judaic side religion.

          Gnosticims made it into Christianity to my knowledge after 100 AC as one of the influences which influenced christianity heavily, the other was greek pholosophy like stoism. There are well documented disputes of early christian philosophers and the entire gnostic angle of early christianity is well documented!

          Have in mind such things are normal when you dont have a clear canon nor a central religious authority. Heaves, simply look at all the splits protestantic churces had the last 300 years to having no central religious authority. So assume this tenfold in early christianity, with Arianism, Trinitarism running wild, later even Gnisticism came to the mix. And everyone was working on his/her own canon or stories.

          What you can do in such a situation is try to make a canon which tries to be as accurate as possible in its historical roots and omit newer ones. The biggest issue back than AFAIK was the split between Trinitarism and Arianism, which was finally resolved in the council of Nicea, Gnostic sects always were seen as non christians by the bigger streams of early christianity and were rather late to the table!

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        They don't have to conspire to hide it as most hardcore Christians are good at blocking valid information from their mind without outside help.
  • Wonder (Score:5, Interesting)

    by spanky the monk (1499161) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @05:43AM (#27886941)

    I sometimes wonder of our knowledge of great people events and stories from the past; we only know about the ones that were documented or were very famous. Imagine what fantastic times may have existed that history has just forgotten.

    Digitization seems to be uncovering some of these.

    • Well the biggest problem is that hand written artefacts date back to early babylon but not older, I doubt we will rediscover something significant history wise giving us new knowledge, but we will rediscover some known lost books.

    • by rts008 (812749)

      Yeah well, history has always been written by the victors.

      Having said that, this news is 'news' indeed.
      And, you have a valid point that your imagination could be achieved:

      Imagine what fantastic times may have existed that history has just forgotten.

      Don't ever let anyone take that from you, kiddo!

      That's how many of these questions get answered...by people like you.
      "Imagine what/if..." is a very powerful 'spell' to cast, and has brought us a long way!

  • not only papyrus (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dnix (831940)
    Computation power, advanced in physics and chemistry and IT improvements not only are helping in digitize literary treasures but also helps curators, historians and normal people to better understand, study, interpret works of art in general. Multispectral applied to paintings reveal hided drawings, xray on pottery or statues give us the exact position of internal pieces and 3D is occupying a role more and more important in documentation and as communication tool.
  • by tsa (15680)

    That is very interesting. Maybe they find evidence of the existence of Jesus, or maybe text about his life that were written when he was still actually on Earth.

    • Re:Jesus (Score:4, Insightful)

      by psychodelicacy (1170611) * <psychodelicacy@gmail.com> on Saturday May 09, 2009 @07:06AM (#27887257) Homepage

      There is already evidence for the existence of Jesus - the fact that he was an historical figure is pretty much accepted. Proof that he was actually God - now, that would be the big thing! It's not going to be found, though, for one of two reasons:

      a) If it were proven, there would be no more need for faith, and that would undermine the whole raison d'etre of religion.

      or

      b) It isn't true.

      I subscribe to b); YMMV.

      • Re:Jesus (Score:5, Insightful)

        by MemoryDragon (544441) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @07:30AM (#27887325)

        Actually even in early christianity there were two strong philiosophical roots one Arianism just said Christ was not god but a messenger from god, the other one was the Trinitarism was the one chosen by the council of Nicea.
        Now take it with a grain of salt, Muslims basically reject Christianity because of trinitarism and follow more the course of early Arianism in their view of god, while many catholic mystics had visions which basically fortified trinitarity.

        But in the end, is it really important, I always saw such things as things which distract people from the core of the message which over all this mumbo jumbo seems to be forgotten, and the message is one of peace, forgiveness, trying to help others and no violence!

        (This is one of the reasons why I feel so uneasy among many christian groups they simply do not represent the message, I am christian myself, often those who shout loudest we are so holy are the worst by ignoring the core of the message!)

        • Wow!
          I mean, wow!
          I was ready to jump in this thread to deposit my 'two cents' worth as a Buddhist, but this caught my attention first.

          But in the end, is it really important, I always saw such things as things which distract people from the core of the message which over all this mumbo jumbo seems to be forgotten, and the message is one of peace, forgiveness, trying to help others and no violence!

          Very well done! If I wore a hat, it would be 'tipped' in your direction.
          Thank you for an 'intelligent' and rational comment in the favor of religion. Not easily done on /., but appreciated when pulled off.

          That was an effective 'stroke to the heart' of many religious fundamentalist's main arguments defending their agenda while abandoning the core 'cause'.
          Again, wow!
          And thanks f

          • That was an effective 'stroke to the heart' of many religious fundamentalist's main arguments defending their agenda while abandoning the core 'cause'.

            No, it was a stroke against Christian fundamentalists. Other religions have different messages.

            • That was an effective 'stroke to the heart' of many religious fundamentalist's main arguments defending their agenda while abandoning the core 'cause'.

              No, it was a stroke against Christian fundamentalists. Other religions have different messages.

              Fundamentalists are pretty much the same in every religion, just look for instance at the Taliban, they probably would even have killed Muhammad if they had encountered him, as disbeliever!
              While one of the core message of the Qran is at least tolerance to others who believe into the book (jews and christians) they Taliban even kill other Muslims because they do not believe into the same fraction of Muslims as they do!

        • by tsa (15680)

          But in the end, is it really important, I always saw such things as things which distract people from the core of the message which over all this mumbo jumbo seems to be forgotten, and the message is one of peace, forgiveness, trying to help others and no violence!

          The whole mumbo-jumbo is the reason why I quit believing in any god. If there was a god he would not have so many people suffer in his name. You could say that in a way the violence in the name of God or Allah is proof that they don't exist.

        • "the message is one of peace, forgiveness, trying to help others and no violence!"

          Have you read the New Testament?

          John 3:18: "...whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son."

          There's a big Christian movement out there which doesn't believe in this, which is nice and all, but it's not what their Scripture actually teaches.

      • by Hatta (162192)

        There is already evidence for the existence of Jesus

        Where? What credible physical evidence, or first hand accounts of Jesus are there?

        the fact that he was an historical figure is pretty much accepted.

        Mostly because Christianity is powerful, and it's polite not to piss them off. There's no evidence he didn't exist either, so it's hard for an academic to challenge the prevailing wisdom, even if that prevailing wisdom is entirely unsupported by evidence.

        • Okay, okay, I bow to your superior knowledge. I've read some persuasive historical studies that suggest otherwise, but it makes little difference to me, to be honest. I do find it hard to believe that this whole bloody thing grew up out of nowhere - that some randomers decided to invent a fictional human being and base a whole new religion around him... But I guess it happens.
      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        There is already evidence for the existence of Jesus - the fact that he was an historical figure is pretty much accepted.

        There is no good hard evidence for the existence of Jesus. Every supposed account of his existence by historians of the day was second- or third-hand. There was an ossary collected which read "James Brother of Jesus" but the brother of Jesus part was added by a different hand which could mean anything.

        That doesn't mean that he didn't exist, or contradict your statement; but every textual reference to his life which is not in the bible is worthless; and the bible is so heavily edited and redacted that it's v

        • I think calling the Bible a "work of fiction" is ingenuous. Whether or not you believe in the supernatural parts of it, there's a lot there that has to be classified as non-fiction in some way or another. The law codes, for example, are clearly not "fiction" in the recognised sense of the term - they're codifications of precepts by which people did, and still do, live their lives. So, yes, it's an utterly frustrating task to try to interpret what's there in the Bible, but we can't write the entire thing of
          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            The law codes, for example, are clearly not "fiction" in the recognised sense of the term - they're codifications of precepts by which people did, and still do, live their lives.

            You could make the same argument about the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

      • by 4D6963 (933028)

        Yeah, evidence, which falls into 3 categories :

        -Christian texts from the late 1st century onwards
        -Non-christian texts from the 2nd century onwards
        -Jewish records of a guy named vaguely like him executed by hanging for robbery about a decade after Jesus was supposed to have died.

        Add to that the fact that Jews back then kept a record of pretty much everything they did but no records for anything that happened in the New Testament, be it the mass execution of toddlers or the execution of Jesus, that cont

        • "Jews back then kept a record of pretty much everything they did"

          How do you know? Because surely, if there were things they didn't keep records of, we wouldn't have any records to tell us there were no records? Seriously, am I missing something? Perhaps you mean that there are no externally-verified events which are not also internally-verified? But then I think my objection still applies...

          Either way, I'm not particularly invested in the question of whether J was real or not, but I've read some relativel

          • by 4D6963 (933028)

            How do you know? Because surely, if there were things they didn't keep records of, we wouldn't have any records to tell us there were no records?

            By the sheer volume of recorded mundanities, obviously.

            Wikipedia is a good start to read about something, puts claims into context, even when the topic is hotly debated, so I guess you can start with this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historicity_of_Jesus [wikipedia.org]

      • There are no conclusive pieces of evidence from the region or Roman records about this Yeshu of Nazar. There are, however, scattered clues outside of the narrative of the faithful (and no, not just the Apocrypha!).

        There are sources of information about the historical existence of Jesus in Persia, Kashmir and the Himalaya that are not "persuasive" because they haven't been properly investigated (except by hobbyists or unsystematic scholars following their fancy).

        (look up Roza-Bal or 'Yuz Asaf' or "Jami-ut-tu

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by MemoryDragon (544441)

      That is very interesting. Maybe they find evidence of the existence of Jesus, or maybe text about his life that were written when he was still actually on Earth.

      Well there is historical evidence, you just have to read the Bellum Judaicum by Flavius Josephus, the most important historian of this time and he has a special 10 liner about Jesus (speaking very favorable about him although he was not christian/jewish).

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        ...which is widely regarded in academic circles to be inserted by a much later author

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by 4D6963 (933028)
        Is that your evidence? That piece of "evidence" is about as controversial [wikipedia.org] as the holy shroud.
    • There is a tomb in Srinigar, Kashmir, supposedly belonging to the prophet Issa, a Jew who healed people and preached compassion, and was buried there an old man in about 80 C.E.; the tomb is oriented east-west jewish style and the typical buddhist footprints on the lid have these odd crucifixion scars. I've been to the tomb, and wondered at its anonymity.

      It's physical evidence, there's some contemporary corroborating textual evidence from the graffiti of stoneworkers at the time. It doesn't fit the standard

  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @06:00AM (#27887037)

    I seem to find many to be unreadable.

    Mostly, the ones that I write.

  • Red Dwarf (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 09, 2009 @06:49AM (#27887199)

    Good evening. Here is the news on Friday, the 27th of Geldof. Archaeologists near mount Sinai have discovered what is believed to be a missing page from the Bible. The page is currently being carbon dated in Bonn. If genuine it belongs at the beginning of the Bible and is believed to read "To my darling Candy. All characters portrayed within this book are fictitious and any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental." The page has been universally condemned by church leaders.

  • To my darling Candy.

    All characters contained within this gospel are fictional and any resemblance to any real person, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

    • All characters contained within this gospel are fictional and any resemblance to any real person, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

      All divine voices are impersonated... badly.

  • One of the great repositories of stuff that I hope can be read with this technique is the library of the "Villa of the Papyri" outside of ancient Herculaneum (Naples, buried by Vesuvius in AD79 along with Pompeii, et. al.) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Villa_of_the_Papyri [wikipedia.org]

    Somewhere I remember reading that the few scrolls that have been read were full of rather obscure philosophical texts (and this is discussed in the Wikipedia article.) (But wouldn't it be a hoot if it turns out that a substantial part of

  • by smoker2 (750216)
    If any of you are expecting sensible translations out of this, forget it.

    I am reading a pirate* copy of Thomas Covenant right now, and unless I already knew the story and the English language pretty well, I would be lost. The crap transcription causes so many misconceptions it is hard to make sense of the story. So whatever results from this, don't take it as gospel (ha fuckin ha).

    Sadly, I did some proof reading for the distributed proof reading crowd a while back, and the assholes are so anal about NOT c
    • Sadly, I did some proof reading for the distributed proof reading crowd a while back, and the assholes are so anal about NOT changing errors, that the resultant text is so bad as to be laughable. I no longer do it because I would rather write my own than promote falsehoods as they do. They prefer you to promulgate transcription errors rather than use your brain about what the sentence actually says. Sorry, no.
      Being true to the author is one thing, being true to the fucking OCR is another matter.

      I'm unsure o

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