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The Dead Sea Scrolls and Information Paranoia 585

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 jdpars ( 1480913 ) on Monday September 26, 2011 @08:37PM (#37521980)
    How, exactly, would you "ultimately prove" anything about life? I'm a very religious person, and I love science, but I also know that humility is the biggest key to seeking understanding about the world. Not every religious person is anti-science. Many of us fully embrace both.
  • 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 Bradmont ( 513167 ) on Monday September 26, 2011 @09:07PM (#37522154)
    Could you illumine us as to just what that damaging information is? Probably the most surprising thing in the dead sea scrolls is how closely they agree with the much later manuscripts we had when they were found -- the Isaiah scroll for example. Yes, there are transcription errors resulting from repeated copying, but they pretty much boil down to spelling mistakes/changes...
  • Re:Where's Jesus? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 26, 2011 @09:11PM (#37522172)

    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?" conspiracies died long ago among modern historians.

    The problem is Christian pride wants to believe that the whole world stopped to watch Pilate judge Jesus on Fox News instead of the truth; which is that until his followers started causing commotion decades later no one gave a rat's butt about Jesus (and why anyone still does is beyond me).

  • by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Monday September 26, 2011 @09:15PM (#37522188)
    From your statement it's clear that you don't have a clue what the dead sea scrolls are, or how/why the bible was canonized (or even what that term means.)
  • by ZankerH ( 1401751 ) on Monday September 26, 2011 @09:16PM (#37522200)

    Not every religious person is anti-science. Many of us fully embrace both.

    So how do you reconcile the contradiction between looking for the truth about things your holy book doesn't say anything about scientifically, and abandoning the scientific method when dealing with matters it does discuss?

    This is what really worries me about "religious scientists" - it's like they don't even fully grasp the reason why we have the scientific method. It is, simply put, the best way ever devised to reach understanding about how the world works. Why would you abandon it selectively to believe stuff with zero observational, experimental or inferential evidence? Is the experimental method just another ritual to you, to be applied when you see fit and disregarded likewise? I seriously don't understand how a scientist can be religious.

  • by fj3k ( 993224 ) on Monday September 26, 2011 @09:25PM (#37522246)

    ... And it must be demonstrably true to be scientific. ...

    It must be demonstrably true to be considered true; but it also must be demonstrably false to be considered false. Perhaps there are people who have found what they consider demonstration of its veracity? Even if you doubt that, you cannot call it false until you have demonstrated it to be false.

    Ah, my only gripe really is that atheism is neither the obvious solution, nor a scientific one. It's just another (minimised) system of faith.

  • by Obfuscant ( 592200 ) on Monday September 26, 2011 @09:29PM (#37522270)

    One of the final nails in the coffin is when you realize (or are told) that you can apply scientific methods to religious questions, and hence that nothing is sacred.

    This statement is a direct result of the loss of true scientific method today. When science becomes essentially nothing but religion, people start trying to apply it to religion itself. No, you cannot apply true science to religions questions. There are no experiments you can perform in that venue.

    (Not all science, but several of the major public scientific "debates" are nothing more than religion -- faith in things unseen. "Nobody saw the universe created, but we know that it happened via...". )

    I think religious people can be scientific, but scientific people cannot be religious. Doubting Thomas was right to doubt.

    People who understand the difference between the concepts of science and religion can easily do both. Gregor Mendel was, IIRC, a monk. Religious man doing good science. It's harder finding opposite examples because some scientists have the same belief that you do -- that they can apply science to religious questions. When they fail they deny religion altogether (because it isn't SCIENCE!) and ridicule those of their fellows who can differentiate science from faith.

  • by bzipitidoo ( 647217 ) <> on Monday September 26, 2011 @09:46PM (#37522374) Journal

    scientific people cannot be religious

    Why not?

    Science has debunked many of the screwier claims and dogmas of many religions, such as the idea that the Earth is only 10000 years old. That's the kind of testable, falsifiable assertion that science rests on. Scientists have even explored such questions as why humans are religious. But as to the supernatural, that is unprovable. How do we know that an omnipotent being didn't just magically create the Earth any old time, complete with all sorts of evidence that suggests a different age? We don't. It's not a testable hypothesis.

    Then there's the old "what's the meaning of life?" and "why are we here?" sorts of questions. Does life have a meaning, and if it does, what is it? What's the point of the universe? One popular idea suggests it's all a contest between good and evil, with God and Satan competing for our souls, and the contest to be ultimately decided when Armageddon happens. It could be true. The trouble with any explanation of an issue like that is it merely begs the question. Why is there a contest at all? What's the point? Another popular one is the notion that we just don't know, and can't know. Whichever idea appeals, we are free to speculate, free to create a religion and have faith in whatever we want. Science does not answer such questions.

  • by HornWumpus ( 783565 ) on Monday September 26, 2011 @09:47PM (#37522386)

    Exactly the right place for UFO nutters.

  • by Nursie ( 632944 ) on Monday September 26, 2011 @10:00PM (#37522454)

    Err, microfilm tech was likel around at that point, and these things were so famous that folks would have been queuing up to pay for the effort to scan and disseminate them. Other methods would have been around.

    Or in your head did nobody copy documents before about 1990?

    Either way, 2011 is pretty overdue on this.

  • by wierd_w ( 1375923 ) on Monday September 26, 2011 @10:08PM (#37522498)

    I see this argument often, but it is a nonsequitor to me:

    The assertion, without demonstration thereof, of the falsehood of claims of divinity is every bit an assertion of faith as is the assertion that such claims of divinity are true, due to the lack of empirical evidence in both positions.

    Without such evidence, the opinion becomes one of faith; faith in the assertion itself.

  • 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 [] should have a special note in this regard. Quite a few others may be found here []. 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 wierd_w ( 1375923 ) on Monday September 26, 2011 @10:43PM (#37522728)

    I realize that this is frames with regard to a specific religion, so I will answer from that context. (Said religion being the major offender in this regard. For religions outside the scope of this reply, it would naturally not hold, and should not be construed to do so.)

    It is outright stated in the foundational work of that particular religion that mankind has absolutely no power over "the divine" (meaning through direct application of the axiom, that if it can be tested, it is not divine), thus any result tendered by science is an apple to that religion's orange.

    Further, that same body asserts (rightly or wrongly is anyone's guess) that the nature of the creator is not only unknown, but also unknowable. From the perspective of a scientist, this poses an intractable situation, because it would be something that no tool or process could validate as either true or fase, and thus of no profit or value to pursue. A total non-starter of an issue, and not worthy of serious discussion, since the discussion would serve no purpose.

    From the perspective of the adherent of said religion, the pursuits of scientists should be seen as the direct observation and dedication to the "divine edict" to subdue the "earth". (Earth used metaphorically to describe mundane reality, with its testable and verifiable conditions) Mankind is presumed to have been given power and authority over said creation, and the systematic observation, analysis, and application of such phenomena should naturally follow.

    In these contexts, I see no reason for either camp to hold the other in any contempt or animosity. Such animosity appears to arise when religious humans who presume to have "divine knowledge" assert to posess "absolute truth", and claim divine authority as the basis of their assertions. When scientists find contradictory evidence to these claims, the defacto authority wielded by the leaders of these religious groups is fundementally undermined, causing contempt on both sides.

    As far as the strictures of this specific religion are concerned, the truthfulness of any proclamation of divine knowledge is indeed empirical testing. (Specifically, when asked how to tell if a prophet is a true prophet, the described answer was to verify the prophecies of said prophet. If even ONE assertion is found to be false, ALL assertions are to be viewed as such, because there is no truth in them, by virtue of such testing, QED.) Further, latter doctrine in this religious faith asserts that one should adhere only to scripture, and vetted prophets, and to otherwise shun the doctrines of men. (Eg, "every sperm is sacred", "the earth is only 6000 years old", "jesus needs you to give me your money" et al.)

    The issue would then appear not to be with the specific religion fundementally, but rather with specific methods associated with that religion. The religion itself, as written, appears perfectly adaptable to anything science can discover.

  • by WhiplashII ( 542766 ) on Monday September 26, 2011 @11:23PM (#37522960) Homepage Journal

    "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?"
    * God doesn't prevent "evil" for the same reason you allow you child to fall sometimes. Kids have to fall in order to learn how to walk.

    . Then he is not omnipotent.
    * The only thing that can stop him is himself - just like a child's view of a parent.

    Is he able, but not willing?
    . Then he is malevolent.
    * Is it malevolent to not give your child candy before dinner? To let your child play soccer and get his leg broken? To fail a math exam because he didn't study?

    Is he both able and willing?
    . Then whence cometh evil?
    * "Evil" is unfortunately a prerequisite for learning. One of the most important things to learn in this life is that many things a child sees as "evil" are in fact "good".

    Is he neither able nor willing?
    . Then why call him God?"
    * Like most parents, I doubt he really cares that much what you call him. But he does occasionally need to swat your bottom...

  • by Capsaicin ( 412918 ) on Monday September 26, 2011 @11:46PM (#37523084)

    To me, "atheist" is no different than "strong atheist".

    Is that because you want to paint atheists into a corner they don't actually occupy? Remember even the particularly virulent band of atheists who surround Dawkins used the slogan "God probably does not exist" on their bus advert, because the "strong atheist" position is evidentially untenable (which is, after all, why those arguing against atheism invented the "strong atheist" concept in the first place).

    It's is like saying (without regard for what it is actual Christians believe): "To me a person who does not believe BOTH that plants existed before male and female humans (Gen 1) AND that the male human being existed before plant life (Gen 2:5), is not a Christian." Indeed I often see atheists telling Christians that they aren't really Christians because they don't accept an (ultimately untenable) inerrantist position.

    It's ever so much easier to argue against ridiculous position ascribed to an interlocutor than actually to argue against them. This is what the believer who endorses the fiction of "strong atheism" as an intellectually accepted atheist position (of course you will catch people saying "their is no God," as you fill find a "Christian" activist committing mass murder at a youth camp) does, no less than the atheist who thinks they can dictate to any particular believer what it is they must believe.

    Agnosticism --which is the position that anything pertaining to the nature of God is inherently unknowable --is not necessarily incommensurate with being an atheist. However it sits uncomfortably with atheism because, after all, claiming God, or even gods, to be inherently beyond human knowledge privileges gods above unicorns;, Santa; the tooth fairy; Skth; or any other things whose claims to existence lack evidential foundation. Most atheist thinkers would instead merely point out that the claim for the "existence" of gods suffers from lack of proof (which is not the agnostic position).

    Atheism is simply the non-acceptance of the claim that gods exist. Which is, contra the GP, not a "subtle," but a radically different position from the claim that the attribute of 'non-existence' can positively be predicated to gods.

  • by fferreres ( 525414 ) on Tuesday September 27, 2011 @12:48AM (#37523374)

    Here's my personal take.

    Agnostics think they can't prove it (now/ever), but they don't rule existance (because they already acknowledge one can't know, so they place it entirely in the real of Faith - it exists or it doesn't with equal probability) so it makes as much sense to believe that it makes to not believe. So it's not that choosing isn't valid, but that all positions must be respected but never enforced. Atheist have faith in the lack of God's existence and would love an atheist universe. Theists know (/believe they know) IT exists and many or most believe there is proof (personal, logical or even physical), and see benefit in a theist universe.

    My favorite analogy (which i just made up) is thinking about luck. Does it exist? A scientist can point out to many scientifically challenged people that luck is about either preparation (he/she wasn't lucky, he/she knew better) and randomness (there is no preference at all in ANY outcome). A non prepared person may have faith in their chances without any logical basis for it. We can never know if there's any force influencing how dice are rolled - we just know that on average they conform to some rule. The reality is that we can never prove it (it would prove that Faith is physical in some way). So you must go with your hunch, not caring about proving it: yet, the act of thinking you are lucky has a profound implication in how the world influences you, and how you influence the world, with material changes. So the Agnostic would be the one that acts as if he/she believes in luck, but tries to rely as little as possible in it. More like someone that is a bit superstitious, but knowing it doesn't make any sense.

    For me, I decided that Faith with 10 grains of salt to particular versions of religions, along with a genuine respect for non-believers is what suits my conscience best. So I am typically against radical theists and radical atheists, which behave as if they knew something even though they have no proof, trying to impose their ONE TRUTH.

  • by sydneyfong ( 410107 ) on Tuesday September 27, 2011 @04:53AM (#37524422) Homepage Journal

    To nitpick a bit:

    Daoism: 99% of the battle of daoism is figuring out what you are supposed to do. That is an ancient Chinese way of teaching.....but, if you ever do figure out what it is you're supposed to do, then you will be able to tap into the mysterious power of the Dao. If you figure out what you are supposed to do, and do it, and still can't tap into that power, then you've just falsified Daoism.

    There are many interpretations of Daoism, from purely philosophy to batshit crazy superstitions that sometimes pass as religions, and sometimes various traditional Chinese folk-mysticisms are labelled under Daoism.

  • by Attila Dimedici ( 1036002 ) on Tuesday September 27, 2011 @09:05AM (#37525408)
    Well, you see some of the Arabs who lived in the area found some of thse manuscripts in secondary areas before the archeological teams did and sold them on the open market. There have always been people who are interested in collecting antiquities and some of these ended up in their collections. The thing you have to understand is that not all of the Dead Sea Scrolls are on parchment. I know that some of them are on sheets of metal and I seem to recall that some of the fragments were on stone and/or pottery.

Loose bits sink chips.