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The Dead Sea Scrolls and Information Paranoia 585

Posted by Soulskill
from the can't-wait-to-scroll-through-them dept.
jfruhlinger writes "Today Google and the Israel Museum have made the famed Dead Sea Scrolls available for online viewing. This is a great step forward for scholars and those curious about the oldest known copies of many biblical texts. But why has it taken nearly 50 years for the contents of this material to be made fully public? Blogger Kevin Fogarty thinks the saga of the scrolls since their discovery — along with the history of religious texts in general — is a good example of how people seek to gain power by hoarding information. In that regard, it holds some important lessons for the many modern debates about information security and control."
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The Dead Sea Scrolls and Information Paranoia

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  • by symbolset (646467) * on Monday September 26, 2011 @08:19PM (#37521858) Homepage Journal
    Obviously to track and identify those with an interest in this material so they can sell that information, complete with maps and street view, to ancient aliens intent on probing and implanting their mind control chips. Don't be evil! What a joke.
  • to make the articles fit, please save yourself the effort

  • Where's Jesus? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TrumpetPower! (190615) <ben@trumpetpower.com> on Monday September 26, 2011 @08:34PM (#37521962) Homepage

    It's worth noting that the Scrolls are the original pieces of paper, penned by Jews living in Jerusalem before, during, and after the time that Jesus is said to have done all those amazing things.

    Yet you won't find even a hint of an oblique reference to anything that could possibly be mistraken for Jesus or the events of the Gospels.

    Nor will you find anything in the collected works of Philo. Philo was the brother-in-law of King Herod Agrippa, who was king during Jesus's alleged ministry. Philo was the Jewish philosopher who first integrated the Hellenistic Logos into Judaism -- that would be the "Word" of John 1:1. He was a prolific author who mentioned a great many of his contemporaries. His last work was his first-hand account of his participation in an embassy to Rome to petition Caligula about the mistreatment of Jews at the hands of the Romans; this was in the mid 40s, well after the latest possible date for the Crucifixion.

    Also silent are all other contemporaries, including Pliny the Elder (who was fascinated with all things supernatural) and the Roman Satirists (whose stock in trade was the humiliation Jesus was said to have heaped upon the Roman and Jewish authorities in Jerusalem).

    Indeed, the oldest record of Jesus comes from the author of the Pauline epistles, writing decades after the "fact," and who made a point to record that all his experiences of Jesus were spiritual and that he never saw Jesus in the flesh. Those responsible for the Crucifixion were "the Princes of that age." And that's the closest record we have of Jesus.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Re:Where's Jesus? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Ecuador (740021) on Monday September 26, 2011 @08:57PM (#37522086) Homepage

      It's worth noting that the Scrolls are the original pieces of paper, penned by Jews living in Jerusalem before, during, and after the time that Jesus is said to have done all those amazing things.

      Yet you won't find even a hint of an oblique reference to anything that could possibly be mistraken for Jesus or the events of the Gospels.

      It is kind of obvious, isn't it? I mean, these scrolls were written by Jews who were not converted to Christianity. For the majority of the Jews who were not converted, if Jesus existed he was nothing but a false prophet, certainly not worth mentioning.

      Now, about Philo of Alexandria or Pliny the Elder, you certainly have a point. If Jesus was such a big event, he should have gotten at least some mentions. While I don't believe that any deity has been messing with puny humans during any part of history, Jesus might as well have existed as a historical person, but from the lack of contemporary information it would seem to me his appearance was at best a minor event and everything was accomplished by the hype of his followers decades later.

      • by defaria (741527)

        Ah excuse me. But regardless if he was a false prophet or not, come back from the dead and turning water into wine you'd think'd get at least and honorable mention.

        All that's obvious is that this stupid story is a load of crap!

        • He kept both fairly secret himself though: The former he only showed to a select few, and the latter was only witnessed by a couple of people. Some of his other miracles had wider direct impact, but none of them were much of anything that couldn't be discounted as wildly exaggerated retellings. To a non-believer, there was no reason to place him above any other of the many prophets claiming miracles at the time.

        • I find it funny how both extream atheists and religious fundamentals are so fixated on the mericals but not the bulk of the text.
          For the most part the observers of the mericals wanted to see a merical when something happened that was improbable was taken as a mericle then exaggerated until it got to text.

          But that is the sales pitch, the catch is the bulk of the bibal is its story and it's parables that actually teach a lesson. Many we still need to relearn today.

          For a more modern example let's use Abe Linco

          • by Jeremi (14640)

            That was just 150 years ago. What will happen in 2000 years?

            I think it is obvious... Abe Lincoln will be long forgotten, and bands of turtle-necked friars will roam the streets, persecuting all who do not genuflect to the One True Steve.

      • by Mr 44 (180750)

        It is kind of obvious, isn't it? I mean, these scrolls were written by Jews who were not converted to Christianity. For the majority of the Jews who were not converted, if Jesus existed he was nothing but a false prophet, certainly not worth mentioning.

        Judaism has had many "false prophets", and doesn't shy away from calling them out. Wikipedia even has a whole list of them [wikipedia.org]. And more specifically, many of the Dead Sea Scrolls talk extensively about bar Kochba [wikipedia.org]....

        • by Mr 44 (180750)

          Errr, mixed up my scrolls, the Dead Sea Scrolls pre-date bar Kochba and don't talk about him at all. My point still stands, though: being a false profit doesn't result in being written out of history...

    • You seem to be ignoring the "Original Gospel of the Hebrews" which was never given to the gentiles; it was the original Gospel of Matthew before some unknown heathen called "Mark" hijacked the name with his version.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_the_Hebrews [wikipedia.org]

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        I love how the one category of ideas most "skeptical" people aren't skeptical of is fringe theories about the bible and Christianity. The criterion for acceptance swerves away from whatever seems most well-evidenced and reasonable to whatever seems most outlandish and damaging to the Christian religion.

        Jesus didn't exist? I mean, sure, practically every working (i.e. publishing in peer reviewed journals, giving papers at reputable conferences, and the like) historian in this area, Christian or otherwis
        • by Nursie (632944)

          "I mean, sure, practically every working (i.e. publishing in peer reviewed journals, giving papers at reputable conferences, and the like) historian in this area, Christian or otherwise, believes that he did"

          Do they?

          I mean, I don't really have a clear view on this, but I had the impression that secular historians tended to keep away from that question.

    • by sdguero (1112795)
      Obviously you don't have the right app... http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/wheres-jesus/id422565786?mt=8 [apple.com]
    • Re:Where's Jesus? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Mr.Bananas (851193) on Monday September 26, 2011 @09:04PM (#37522138)
      The reason for this is quite simple... Jesus was just another of the many prophets who existed in this era of Israel, an era of great political uncertainty in which the Judean countryside with filled with all sorts of roving bandits and revolutionaries (read Josephus for all the background). People who fit the general profile of Jesus were literally dime-a-dozen at that time, and public executions of these sorts of people was a pretty regular occurrence. The historians from that period and region were focused on the greater discourse of the time, namely the tenuous nature of the Roman vichy government that existed at the time, and the growing discontent and militancy of the Jews against oppressive Roman rule.

      That being said, the Dead Sea Scrolls consist of material that is either older (the Torah) or more obscure than the mainstream events of the time, such as the documents related to the hermetical Essene sect of Jews (or some group similar to the Essenes).

      In short, you're looking for historical evidence of Jesus' existence in a totally unrelated place. There isn't much direct evidence, really, except for his most immediate followers and the tradition that followed them. However, given what we do know about Jesus, one wouldn't expect historians from his time to mention him. Christianity, his teachings, and his death only became historically important much later on.
      • However, given what we do know about Jesus, one wouldn't expect historians from his time to mention him.

        In general your argument is correct. However, if some populist prophet really had been leading several thousand followers around the countryside in First Century Judea, the Romans would have come down on them like a ton of bricks, and we'd probably be hearing about how 5000 people were crucified for sedition in 30 AD.

        The Romans had no sense of humor about sedition in the first place. And Judea was one of the last places they would have tolerated it, since it was between Egypt (breadbasket of Rome, where e

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Marble1972 (1518251)
          Re Josepheus mentioning Christ: scholars generally agree that the text has been embellished by Christian copiests - however there's an 10th Centruy Arabic copy of Josespheus' text without the embellishments that scholars agree that would be consistent with what Josepheus would have written given that he hadn't converted to Christiantiy. And as there are no copies of Josephus that don't mentioned Christ (that I'm aware of) - the evidence is strong that Josepheus does mention Christ.

          The Romans had no sense of humor about sedition in the first place

          To go along with that -

        • However, if some populist prophet really had been leading several thousand followers around the countryside in First Century Judea, the Romans would have come down on them like a ton of bricks, and we'd probably be hearing about how 5000 people were crucified for sedition in 30 AD.

          Although the bible does not really give an extremely clear timeline of the last two, three years of Jesus' life, it can be inferred with some certainty that he did not actually roam about the countryside with a couple of thousand followers at any point. If he did, it is certainly not mentioned at all, which would be odd in and by itself. There were several isolated events where a large number of people congregated to listen to him (e.g. the sermon on the mount), but mostly he was wandering around with a sma

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It wasn't mentioned by contemporaries because it was a minor religious/political issue of no significance in a region of no consequence at a time when crucifixion punishments were a dime a dozen. Historians didn't start mentioning it until decades later after the small group of original followers had managed to convince enough others to draw the attention of Rome. However, the Roman historians who wrote of Jesus did so in large enough numbers and from enough credible sources that the "Did Jesus Exist?" co

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Charliemopps (1157495)
      It's also worth noting that, as you said, they were penned by JEWS who deny to this day that Jesus was/is the Messiah. Why would extremely devout Jews mention the most recent fake messiah while writing their most holy of texts? I know everyone wants to bash Christians because it's fashionable, but at least have a well thought out argument before you start.
    • by asher09 (1684758)
      Sorry to say, but sincerely, you've shown your ignorance regarding the significance of the Dead Sea scrolls in the context of Christianity. Very briefly (somewhat watered-down version), the DSS are important to Christianity primarily because of the manuscripts of books like Isaiah, which contain detailed prophecies about Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. The criticism against the Bible used to be that books like Isaiah contained way too much details about Jesus' death especially that the critics used to
    • Re:Where's Jesus? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 26, 2011 @09:24PM (#37522232)

      Jesus wasn't born until 70+ years AFTER these scrolls were written, so of course you wont find any references to Jesus in these texts.

    • Is this significant? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Okian Warrior (537106) on Monday September 26, 2011 @10:18PM (#37522558) Homepage Journal

      There was no physical evidence for Pontius Pilate for almost 2000 years, leading many biblical scholars to argue that he was a mythical character.

      This changed in 1961, when the pilate stone was discovered.

      (And Pontius Pilate was way more famous than Jesus in his time.)

      Physical evidence for Buddha was not found until 1895.

      I'm not sure what your point is. Are you saying that there is a probability of Jesus being a fictional character? That's fine, it's a fair point. There's a non-zero probability that Jesus was a fictional character.

      But it's not the important part...

    • To use a car analogy: the manual for my car was written when GW Bush rose to power - yet it makes no mention of him at all. Logically, that must mean that he does not exist, right? Or maybe not, because it could be that GW Bush wasn't the subject of my maintenance manual. Not everything written in 1999 is a history text.

      As with these Jewish texts which were copied or otherwise authored by a Jewish sect. They are either copies of older Jewish writings (e.g. canonical and non-canonical) as well as texts spec

    • by jafac (1449)

      FoxNews has not provided a whole heck of a lot of coverage of Green Party candidates for 2012. Or, for that matter, ever.

      I wonder if there could be any parallel?

  • by oldfogie (547102) on Monday September 26, 2011 @08:50PM (#37522044)
    They had to wait for the copyrights to expire...
    • by jafac (1449)

      That's going to be a while. Life of the author + 90 years is a very long time in this case.

  • by sdguero (1112795) on Monday September 26, 2011 @08:58PM (#37522100)
    From what I could see, that article only had links to other articles that didn't have links to the actual museum website. Its a pretty weak website but still would hav ebeen nice to have a link somewhere.
    http://dss.collections.imj.org.il/ [imj.org.il]
    • by wvmarle (1070040)
      The link you give happens to be the very first link in the summary. Followed indeed by two links to articles, but the link to the actual scrolls is there already.
  • Font? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Sponge Bath (413667) on Monday September 26, 2011 @09:21PM (#37522216)
    I don't know what font they used to print those scrolls, but it's so distorted it doesn't even look like English.
  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Monday September 26, 2011 @09:22PM (#37522224) Homepage

    In the day of thy planting thou didst make it to grow, and in the morning didst make thy seed to blossom.

    Thou just can't giveth up thy esoterica, canst thou?

    Let's try again, shall we? In actual English this time, not Ye Olde Worlde Beardspeake.

    "You made the seed grow on the day it was planted, and the next morning made it blossom".

    Harder to build a cult around prose, isn't it?

    • In the day of thy planting thou didst make it to grow, and in the morning didst make thy seed to blossom.

      Thou just can't giveth up thy esoterica, canst thou?

      Let's try again, shall we? In actual English this time, not Ye Olde Worlde Beardspeake.

      "You made the seed grow on the day it was planted, and the next morning made it blossom".

      Harder to build a cult around prose, isn't it?

      Of course, when the King James Bible was being written, that WAS prose.

      Or do you really think that English as YOU speak

  • by pcolaman (1208838) on Monday September 26, 2011 @09:24PM (#37522236)

    In other news, Bethesda sues the Jews for use of the word Scrolls in the Dead Sea Scrolls, while the Jews cite prior art and challenge Bethesda to a match of Quake 3 to determine who gets to use the term.

  • 50 years (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Black Parrot (19622) on Monday September 26, 2011 @09:25PM (#37522240)

    The scrolls were first found in the 1940s, so it's 60+ years.

    The primary cause of the delay (as I understand it) is that there is a universal presumption among scholars that whoever is working on it has the right of first publication, and they generally work on it 'till it's done.

    However, these scrolls could be considered are world treasure, and the scholars who worked on them weren't the people who actually found them, so it doesn't seem to me to be the same circumstances as (say) waiting for whoever dug up some bones to announce a new hominid species.

    And 60+ years seems excessive under any circumstances. Scholars have been born, educated, had their careers, and died while waiting for this stuff to come out.

    FWIW...

    Back maybe 20 years ago the Biblical Archeology Review (big critics of the delay) published the text of some of the material, which they obtained by reverse engineering a concordance that had been published by the team working on the scrolls.

    There's an old photo (which I happened to see in a BAR article) of one of the priests who was working on the scrolls, sitting in front of a pile of small papyrus scraps, holding a lit cigarette in his hand. Makes you wonder how much of the material ended up in the ash bin before it got analyzed.

  • How about closer? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by argStyopa (232550) on Monday September 26, 2011 @10:04PM (#37522480) Journal

    You don't have to go back to the flippin' Dead Sea Scrolls to see how people try to gain power through hoarding information.

    Today I switched doctors.
    I have a new Dr. appointment Thursday (relatively soon). Both the destination clinic, and the origin clinic state that it takes 5-7 days to transfer my medical records completely.

    I've said that I'd be willing to physically go and pick up my records, and transport them. But I CANNOT.

    Oh I can, for a FEE.
    It will cost in copying charges around $50 if I want to pick up my records myself. It's done for free if it's being transferred to another clinic.

    My records. About me. The accumulation of which were services for which I'm sure I or my insurance company already paid quite handsomely.

    And yet this medical clinic clearly has emplaced a fee to discourage people from getting their OWN medical records.

    No, it's not the Dead Sea Scrolls but it's power-through-information-hoarding.

    Another example?
    I was adopted. The agency that holds my adoptive records offers the 'de-identified' record for $50. Fine, it takes some labor to accumulate this. (Never mind that this might contain critical medical information needed by the adoptee.)
    However, to advance that, and see if my birth mother is reachable, is $250.
    Regardless of effort. If it's a matter of opening the file, finding her name, and calling the number - it's $250.

    To me, that's information hoarding. I don't object to paying $50/hour or whatever for research services. I don't object to paying for the labor and legwork involving tracking down and contacting a person in what might be a very delicate situation. I have no issues there. But to have to pony up $250 for what might be 5 minutes' work for no result, from an agency which is the SOLE source of critical information?

  • by cervesaebraciator (2352888) on Monday September 26, 2011 @10:14PM (#37522528)
    and this quote says it all:

    (This link goes to a good museum presentation of the Gutenberg, but don't bother unless you read Latin written in fancy script; the graphics in it contribute nothing.)

    No modern has tried to suppress the Dead Sea Scrolls, as the summary might have one believe. Hell, many of these and like texts have been on Ph.D. comprehensive or qualifying exams for years (my own exam had the Nag Hammadi corpus on it which, far from being subject on modern day oppression, is available in multiple translations).

    It is certainly true that for part of the past few decades, the scrolls have been in the hands of a few specialists. This is not for the purposes of power in some grand sense, however, but for the sake of publications for those who have control over them. The information wasn't being hoarded so much as disseminated slowly for the benefit of those scholars who work on them. On this note, I might be tempted to join in the rant of the article but that points to a deeper lack of open culture in higher education. Even so, the fact remains that they have been published.

    Indeed, they have been subject of more than normal publication (see postscript). The gentleman who wrote this article complains, "why has it taken nearly 50 years for the contents of this material to be made fully public?" He fails to understand the simplest reason: the public doesn't really care enough. That is to say, some members of the public might care enough to read parts of a translation. A few might even now some languages from the period. But how many of the public are going to read it in the original in scanned versions rather than critical editions when even academics like myself only undertake paleography when we are trying to produce something for publication? I cannot therefore fathom a man who is daunted by a little Latin (see quote above) in type complaining that he cannot have the opportunity to practice his Aramaic paleography skills. Yet, in spite of the fact that the general public will not make much use of it, and the fellow who wrote this article certainly won't, Google and the Israel Museum have made high quality scans of them public. I, for one, and more inspired to speak of how great a thing this is; how much the internet has changed things (it takes decades in my field for a scholar to produce a critical edition of a text); and finally how the optimism and kindness (and probably interest in good publicity) of the people involved in this project have made this possible.

    p.s.--I say "more than normal publication" because in most pre-modern fields it is extremely rare to find copies of relevant manuscripts online. The only hope typically is a) to use critical editions, b) to order microfilm, though many places will not provide this, or c) to go to the archives which, for an American, generally means thousands of dollars in travel costs. There have, however, been some efforts to make more manuscripts available online and they deserve some praise. The British Library [www.bl.uk] should have a special note in this regard. Quite a few others may be found here [home.kpn.nl]. Mr. Fogarty need not visit these sites however. The open access of many of them will spoil his fun and, besides, he shouldn't bother unless he can read Latin and Greek written in a fancy script.

    • by Morty (32057) on Monday September 26, 2011 @11:06PM (#37522862) Journal

      Aramaic paleography skills.

      I agree with most of what you wrote, but please note that most of the Dead Sea Scrolls are in Hebrew rather than Aramaic. Also please note that ancient Hebrew is surprisingly readable to people who can read "modern" Hebrew. For the last 2000 or so years, Hebrew has mostly been a dead language used only for ritual and study, so it hasn't changed all that much. I haven't personally seen any of the Aramaic parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but I wouldn't be surprised if they were relatively easy to read as well.

  • by wisebabo (638845) on Monday September 26, 2011 @10:41PM (#37522716) Journal

    Not to knock Google and the Israeli Museum because the more information the better but wasn't the content (the text) already released some time ago? The scholars who were hoarding the Dead Sea Scrolls for the better part of a CENTURY had been releasing short fragments to the public from time to time a part of their work (gotta keep those research grants flowing). I heard someone wrote a program that took all these fragments together and, using the overlapping words, pieced together a "complete" version.

    Sort of like shotgun gene sequencing where you blow apart the DNA with enzymes, sequence the short fragments and then use a computer to put it all together. Except this time the DNA is cultural (shotgun meme sequencing?).

  • I don't see how these two topics are tied together. The article is full of a few facts and plenty of uninformed opinion. Parts of the scrolls have been displayed in PUBLIC in the past. I've seen them in Milwaukee WI. http://www.mpm.edu/dead-sea-scrolls/

    I also personally know scholars who have studied the scrolls. So they finally got around to putting them on the internet. Great. But the author of this article is the paranoid one - we weren't suffering from any type of information paranoia until he s

  • About 18 years ago, I stood in the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem and read from the Dead Sea Scroll copy of Isaiah. I'm no longer a religious individual, but it's still awe inspiring to be able to piece together the familiar words from the ancient, unfamiliar lettering. Now it can be done anywhere, for free, rather than requiring a 15 hour flight.

    Thanks, google.

  • by DSS11Q13 (1853164) on Tuesday September 27, 2011 @01:40AM (#37523608)

    I'm studying ancient Christianity and Judaism at Harvard, have published on one of the Dead Sea Scrolls and work with them regularly (I'm procrastinating on translating a bunch of fragments for my homework right now actually).

    It's taken this long partly for bureaucratic reasons, but mostly because there are thousands of fragments that are basically shredded wheat that had to be put back together, reconstructed, translated, categorized, edited, and published. This was also around the time the State of Israel, and the cluster**** that was caused a lot of delays and red tape.They have not been kept secret, they have been steadily published in the DJD series (Discoveries in the Judaean Desert) for the last 50 years as this tremendous task has been accomplished. As someone said above, yes people were not very careful with them by today's standards, people smoked around them, drank coffee, and used the handiest invention that had just come out-"scotch tape"- to piece them together. All that said, with the exception of fragments in private collections, the last of the Dead Sea Scrolls were published in the early 90's.

    This is not publishing anything new, or secret. It is being scanned and put online for the public, who doesn't have a clue what to do with them, can look at them. Scholars have known how to look at them, in the DJD, and in a half a dozen other widely available publications that have been around for decades.

    Facts the dilettantes have said in these comments that have made me [face_palm]:
    The Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS hereafter) were composed in Qumran, not Jerusalem. (some of the stuff is clearly copies of other documents that circulated elsewhere however)
    The Qumran community responsible for the scrolls existed between the 2nd century BCE and ca 70CE during the Roman war.
    There is nothing in the DSS about Jesus because they probably never heard of him, they probably lived a monastic style life and kept to themselves.
    There are, however, certain strong affinities between things we find in the DSS and the New Testament, including the method of scripture interpretation, some apocalyptic ideas, as well as some apparently common expressions like that found in 4Q521 and Acts.
    There is nothing damaging or threatening to the modern religions of Judaism and Christianity. To be sure, the DSS are of tremendous importance for contextualizing their origin and telling us what life was like back then, but this is not a conspiracy to keep them hidden.

    Anyone that has any questions please feel free to ask me, and stop giving those asshats up there 5 points for 'information'

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