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Google Brings the Dead Sea Scrolls To the Digital Age 202

skade88 writes "Google has been working to bring many old manuscripts to the internet at high resolution for all to see. From their announcement: 'A little over a year ago, we helped put online five manuscripts of the Dead Sea Scrolls—ancient documents that include the oldest known biblical manuscripts in existence. Written more than 2,000 years ago on pieces of parchment and papyrus, they were preserved by the hot, dry desert climate and the darkness of the caves in which they were hidden. The Scrolls are possibly the most important archaeological discovery of the 20th century. Today, we're helping put more of these ancient treasures online. The Israel Antiquities Authority is launching the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library, an online collection of some 5,000 images of scroll fragments, at a quality never seen before.'"
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Google Brings the Dead Sea Scrolls To the Digital Age

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  • by lucm ( 889690 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2012 @08:17PM (#42332129)

    Hard to believe, but many, many people still believe the stories told in these documents are the literal word of God

    I don't know a lot of religions where the sacred book is advertised as containing the literal word of God. Most are (allegedly) God-inspired. The closer you get from the "source" is with the Q'ran because it was never translated - however it was written from memory by followers of Muhammad so if this was a CSI episode one would have to admit that the chain of evidence is somehow broken.

    In any event by suggesting that those books are *not* inspired by God (which according to current scientific knowledge may or may not exist) you are taking a position that is not supported by established facts, therefore promoting yourself a "fable". If you want to drape yourself in the cloth of Science make sure you follow its basic tenets. Hypothesis are only the 2nd step in the scientific method.

  • Pooh. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2012 @08:29PM (#42332211)

    The Scrolls are possibly the most important archaeological discovery of the 20th century.

    Atlantis was discovered hundreds of times during the 20th Century. Surely that adds up to more than a single discovery of some scrolls.

    On a serious note, I'm skeptical of the claim anyway. We discovered entire civilizations we never previously knew existed, and a great number of unknown texts, entire unknown languages and writing systems, etc.

  • by Darinbob ( 1142669 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2012 @09:27PM (#42332617)

    An ethical code is probably more important in some ways than a lot of scientific knowledge. Granted the ethical code may be messed up. However the emphasis of what is important or not is a tough subject in itself.

    While we don't need religion to tell us that murder is wrong, perhaps we do need something to tell us other things. For instance, what tells us that charity is good? I have coworkers who have told me that I'm stupid for giving money to charities, which says to me that it's basic ethical ideas are not clear to even modern people in modern societies. Even something simple like "treat others how you'd like to be treated yourself" is a new concept to far too many people today.

    Look at new testament for other examples, where instead of just saying that murder is wrong it says that even thinking about murder is also wrong, one's internal actions can be just as important as external actions. Other religions and ethical structures also have the same idea. Modern psychology could also tell us this but I don't think it would have as big an impact.

  • by cold fjord ( 826450 ) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @02:50AM (#42334285)

    Jewish scriptures changed tremendously during the Babylonian captivity, which indeed occurred around 600BC (it basically blended in ideas from Zoroastrianism, chiefly the ideas of angels, demons, hell, and basically morality and good vs evil; and its final written form got written around then), but the general ideas of judaism had been around for far older than the end of the mideast bronze age.

    When you write, "Jewish scriptures changed tremendously," that is a bit misleading. There were new books added to the Jewish scriptures, including prophetic works during that period. But did the nature of the Jewish faith and scripture change in the manner you indicate? It doesn't look like it. Although the snippets I quote below are instructive, the whole paper is relatively short and informative.


    . . . as Eichrodt insists, "the idea that the eschatological resurrection hope, in the form attested in the Old Testament, was influenced by Persian conceptions, can be shown by any reasonably detailed comparison to be inadmissable."

    To this point, I have spoken of Persian or Zoroastrian matters as if they themselves were composed during and reflective of the Persian era of contact with the exiled Judahites (fifth-fourth centuries BCE). But they were not. In fact, the severe deficiencies in the written sources of Zoroastrianism make accurate analysis virtually impossible. No modern scholar dates Zoroaster earlier than ca. 1400 BCE, and while both Arabic and Avestan29 traditions date Zoroaster to the sixth-fifth centuries BCE, most scholars are more comfortable with a date between the two extremes; the date 1000 BCE is most widely presumed. But scholars of written literature are faced with a problem that has yet to be solved. No written materials are linked to the era of Zoroaster regardless of when he lived, and even scholars who argue that early Iranian texts are linked to ca. 1000 BCE, admit that these Gathas ["hymns" (of Zoroaster)] are so difficult that their meaning can be grasped, "only with the help of the later Zoroastrian scriptures."30

    Iranian priests of the early first millennium actually rejected the use of writing for their holy beliefs, and the fact is that these beliefs existed only in oral form until the sixth century CE! And yet these written texts are the ones which Persian scholars are required to use in interpreting the teachings of Zoroaster, who lived between 1000 and 2000 years earlier. Shaul Shaked has framed the matter accurately and concisely:

    All arguments about possible contacts between Israel and Iran come to the stumbling block of the problem of chronology. All detailed accounts of any aspect of Zoroastrian theology exist no earlier than in books compiled during the Sassanian period [third - seventh centuries CE] or later, after the Arab conquest of Iran.31

    In short, the texts being examined in comparison to the Bible were written more than 1000 years later than the Persia with which Judahites came into contact.

    Still, the larger problem with the written sources of Zoroastrianism is not their late date of composition, but rather the fact that even these late written sources present very few close parallels to biblical ideas.

    In light of this chronological difficulty, it would seem to make more sense to compare Zoroastrian religious texts with talmudic literature. And even here, Neusner, the scholar with the greatest knowledge of Babylonia during the era of Sassanid rule, has concluded that what the rabbis of the Talmud knew of Zoroastrianism amounted to virtually nothing at all.

    . . . Yet, it seems obvious that the claims for Zoroastrian influence on biblical doctrines have been vastly overstated. . . . it should follow that the use of late, very late, written sources of Persian theological tenets must be ruled out as evidence of any significance whatsoever regarding biblical texts. 33

  • by Cinder6 ( 894572 ) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @03:30AM (#42334455)

    Mod parent up. If these fragments were truly the word of god, then surely they would contain useful information that would increase our knowledge of the world/universe and would remain true even today.

    I disagree. Look at what the world was like during the time the Bible was written. Look at the level of technology, the politics, the treatment of human of human life in general. What's more important for those people: Learning how to harness the atom, or how to live a healthy and fulfilling life? What would the Romans have done with nukes? Were they at the right stage of social advancement that they would rightly fear their use? I would imagine universal themes--brotherhood, love, all that jazz--are more important than mathematics or physics. I also don't think God--if such a being even exists--would care too much about our technological progression.

    Besides, there definitely are things in the Bible that still hold true to this day. Don't steal, don't murder, love thy neighbor, etc.

    (Disclosure: I'm not religious, and probably never will be. I do know a lot of religious people, though, and have some devout Christians in my immediate family. No, they don't think the Bible was written by God.)

  • It is claimed that the Qur'an was written down as Muhammed recited it, but that this was done by quite a few different people, each recording some bits. The assembly of these various bits into a single text took place after Muhammed's death. In any case, we have idea whether this claim is true. There is no evidence outside of Muslim tradition for the existence of the Qur'an until more than 100 years after the death of Muhammed. Even the inscriptions on the Dome of the Rock, which are from the 690s and do not clearly exhibit Muslim theology, are over 50 years after his death. This issue is hotly debated, but there is so little evidence for either the Qur'an itself or more generally for Islam during the 7th century that respectable scholars have proposed that Islam was created as the ideology of Arab imperialism and that the biography of Muhammed and the Qur'an are essentially a back story.

The unfacts, did we have them, are too imprecisely few to warrant our certitude.