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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 guruevi ( 827432 ) <evi AT evcircuits DOT com> on Monday September 26, 2011 @08:23PM (#37521886) Homepage

    Because releasing damaging information about current religious denominations is dangerous not only to the releasers but also to the psyche of their followers. Many preconceptions and interpretations about the original biblical text will have to be changed.

    Same problem with proof of aliens and disproving gods. If you can prove we weren't the "chosen ones" or you can ultimately prove what actually created the universe and create life from nothing in a scientific way, a LOT of religious people will be disappointed.

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

    by TrumpetPower! ( 190615 ) <> 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.



  • by Kittenman ( 971447 ) on Monday September 26, 2011 @09:09PM (#37522164)

    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.

    After recent (last three years) conversion to atheism, I don't think that you can. 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. Once you've done that, then *poof* - it's very quickly gone. Religion relies on some things being believed to be true rather than demonstrably true. I know - I've been there. And it must be demonstrably true to be scientific. If you have demonstrable truth of religious proofs, then please tell the rest of us.

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

    Totally agree with your comment on humility though. Very true.

  • Re:Where's Jesus? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Monday September 26, 2011 @09:21PM (#37522222)
    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 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?

  • 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.


    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.

  • Re:Where's Jesus? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 26, 2011 @09:47PM (#37522392)
    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 otherwise, believes that he did, but I saw a pretty convincing youtube video about it, so I guess not. It's a conspiracy, man! You say there's a Gospel of Hebrews that "scholarship generally holds [to be] probably composed in Egypt in the 2nd century" (from the wikipedia article you linked).. well.. that's probably the original Gospel of Matthew because we have it second hand from someone who lived a few hundred years after the fact that a few of his contemporaries thought so. That's good enough for me!
  • 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 QuantumLeaper ( 607189 ) on Monday September 26, 2011 @10:16PM (#37522550) Journal
    Epicurus put it this way:

    "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
    . Then he is not omnipotent.
    Is he able, but not willing?
    . Then he is malevolent.
    Is he both able and willing?
    . Then whence cometh evil?
    Is he neither able nor willing?
    . Then why call him God?"

    --Epicurus (341 - 270 BCE)

    I think I like how Epicurus asked his question.
  • 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...

  • by Morty ( 32057 ) on Monday September 26, 2011 @10:22PM (#37522576) Journal

    Because releasing damaging information about current religious denominations is dangerous not only to the releasers but also to the psyche of their followers.

    Israeli Jewish culture is mostly secular -- about 80% of Israeli Jews. There is a lot of conflict between the secularists and the 20% or so of the religious minority. The academics are usually from the secular side. If the concern were about upsetting religious folks, the secularist majority would not have had a problem with releasing the material.

    A lot of folks think that the delay for currently unpublished scrolls is academics wanting to be the first to be able to publish papers based on the material. I'm in this camp. Greed makes a lot more sense to me than a vast conspiracy.

  • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Monday September 26, 2011 @11:47PM (#37523086) Journal
    You absolutely CAN apply the scientific method to religious questions, at least for any serious religion that makes concrete claims. You CAN experiment, and in fact if you are religious and you don't, then you are an idiot. Some religions even encourage you to apply the scientific method in some form or another. Here is a post [] I made earlier examining how to apply the scientific method to various religions.

    Religions are falsifiable (science is an un-falsifiable thing: it is a tool, not a proposition. How do you falsify a hammer? How do you falsify science?). Any decent religious system has ideas of the type, if you do X, then Y will happen. Let's investigate a bit, and see what some religions say: Buddhism: if you follow the eight-fold path, your suffering will end. Extremely testable. If you follow the eight-fold path, and you are still suffering, then man, they led you astray.

    Tantric yoga: do these exercises and meditations and eventually you will have a kundalini rising (enlightenment). So if you do them, and you don't have a kundalini rising, then you know tantra is worthless (either that or your teacher sucks).

    The Bible: Those who believe shall be able to do miracles, such as drink poison and not get hurt, or heal the sick (Mark 16:17). So if you follow Christ and you can't do those things, then......yeah, you've just falsified it.

    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.

    Mormonism: fast and pray oft, grow in humility, and you will be filled with joy and consolation. Mormonism is interesting because it is even more specific: it says all over the place things like, "if you have faith, God will give you anything that is good." It gives examples of people who became good enough that God gave them anything they asked for, and it says that you can do it too. It even directly gives an example of how to test these claims, and verify/falsify them. I like it because the more clear the promises, the more easily it is falsifiable.

    See? If all you are saying is that some being out there exists who affects life on earth in some undetectable way, then yeah, it's pretty pointless. But any preacher who preaches that doesn't know his religion.
  • Re:Where's Jesus? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by GoodNewsJimDotCom ( 2244874 ) on Tuesday September 27, 2011 @12:13AM (#37523208)
    Before Dead Sea scrolls were found, many skeptics said,"Isaiah 53 is too powerful of a prophecy, it must have been written after Jesus' death." The Dead Sea Scrolls contain Isaiah 53. It and many other things in the old testament are prophecy towards Jesus. Where is Jesus? He's prophecized in the Old Testaments.

    There are many prophecies in the Bible, all of which have come true. This is over 1000 things coming true with 100% accuracy. This is one of the credence for the Bible, not one prediction of the future ever failed.
  • by ILongForDarkness ( 1134931 ) on Tuesday September 27, 2011 @12:19AM (#37523236)
    I'd disagree on that one. We didn't have a choice to be created. God, at least the one I learn from the western religions, gives a long list of rules and says if you screw up once you are condemned. That is unless you decide to grovel at His invisible feet for mercy and are lucky enough to pick the right flavor of christianity/islam/judaism and He chooses to forgive you. We are created to find sin pleasurable and then condemned to hell for doing it once. In order to get our life back we need to become God's slave. No thanks, not happening until you give me empirical evidence you exist.
  • by catmistake ( 814204 ) on Tuesday September 27, 2011 @02:47AM (#37523964) Journal

    2000 years ago or so, "gospel" was an extremely popular form of political essay and very important genre of the time. There were probably new forged gospels popping up all the time. The first Nicene Council is attributed as having attempted to filter out the ones of the political genre, the forgeries, and keep the "real" ones, the literature that came from oral tradition, for the canon, in order to standardize the literature of the different ministries, temples and churches, though it, the creation of the standarized canon, probably didn't take place then. The canon was lists of books made by the early Church Fathers.

    Prior to lists made by Irenaeous and other Church Fathers, there was no canon... every ministry/church had their saint and a gospel attributed to that saint. There were many different versions of some of the same gospels (which is proven by the existence of some of the Dead Sea Scrolls).

    They did a great job of excising the obvious forgeries, but the Fathers made mistakes. A few of Paul's Letters could not have been written by Paul, but were surely forgeries written long after his death. Also, the author of the Gospel of Thomas (very interesting read, btw) which was indeed very early second century gospel, had a very distinct gnostic agenda that promoted the idea that we are all gods, or that in the same way that Jesus was God, every person had the divine within them: we are all God. The Gospel of John was a very specific reaction to the Gospel of Thomas, an attempt to squash this notion to maintain the divinity of Jesus. So John's Gospel was necessary to the early Church in order to help standardize what it meant to be Christian, to help lay out what the Christian beliefs actually were which was quite different from what the Gnostics believed. John very clearly elevates Jesus to the divine in a way no other gospel does.

    Point is, the creation of the canon didn't really take place over the next 2000 years... for the most part it pretty much happened within a couple centuries. And it was more about revealing the Christian identity and removing the obvious forgeries than anything else. If you read about the people involved, they were not attempting anything nefarious by creating the standardized canon. They were actually trying to find legitimate testimony, but also standardizing who they were in the same way any organized group of people do, whether Americans, or Hell's Angels or some little league team.

    The existence of these other, non-canonical gospels does not mean what you seem to insinuate. Nearly all of the non-canonical gospels are quite obvious forgeries. Most of the literature that made it in the canon is just as likely forged as not, and there are very few books that we know are legitimate (most of Paul's letters). But the Fathers earnestly attempted to chose books whose authors recorded the oral traditions of (who were believed to have been) the original legitimate witnesses.

"I have not the slightest confidence in 'spiritual manifestations.'" -- Robert G. Ingersoll