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Digital Dead Sea Scrolls
September 26, 2011 7:24 AM   Subscribe

For much of the time since their discovery in 1947, the Dead Sea Scrolls were the jealously guarded treasure of a select group of scholars. Now, thanks to a partnership between Google and the Israel Museum, five scrolls have been digitized and made available online.
posted by Horace Rumpole (25 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is neat. Too bad that we still don't have much info about the purported Book of Enoch.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 7:39 AM on September 26, 2011


For much of the time since their discovery in 1947, the Dead Sea Scrolls were the jealously guarded treasure of a select group of scholars.

That's neat, too. It's straight out of the Book of Job Security.
posted by pracowity at 7:46 AM on September 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


IT BELONGS IN A MUSEUM!
posted by Threeway Handshake at 8:01 AM on September 26, 2011 [8 favorites]


Blocked by my employer's web proxy as Entertainment. Heh.
posted by emelenjr at 8:06 AM on September 26, 2011


the jealously guarded treasure of a select group of scholars.

What is really funny about this is that if you see some of the early pictures and video footage of the scrolls, they have scholars smoking cigarettes over them with the ashes sometimes getting dangerously long. Also, they sometimes rolled the scrolls up by hand, left them out in direct sunlight for too long, or used chemicals to better read the text that ended up staining them over time.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:07 AM on September 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


More primary sources freely available on the Internet? Yes, please. Wish there were more of this sort of thing going on.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:10 AM on September 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


For much of the time since their discovery in 1947, the Dead Sea Scrolls were the jealously guarded treasure of a select group of scholars.

This is sometimes exaggerated. Some of the caves were uncovered in the Fifties, and the majority of the material was published by the mid-Sixties. The scrolls were assigned to different scholars, some of whom were faster than others to publish, and a few of the slow ones were very slow. Also some of the fragile and fragmentary material takes a long time to decipher.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 8:17 AM on September 26, 2011


50 years to put a complete text into the corpus of knowledge? No. Something stinks on ice about the whole deal. "Very slow" in this case should have involved academic disgrace and removal from the project.

We've had a document transcribed that was sitting at the bottom of a pond for 7000 years and dissolves in air. It didn't take 50 years of secret academic toil to do it.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:34 AM on September 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


The scrolls were assigned to different scholars, some of whom were faster than others to publish, and a few of the slow ones were very slow. Also some of the fragile and fragmentary material takes a long time to decipher.

Which is why the stuff should have been very carefully photographed and released for anyone and everyone to work on in parallel. Deciphering could have been done by the world at the world's pace, rather than by "a select group of scholars" in no rush to work themselves out of a job.
posted by pracowity at 8:49 AM on September 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


> Deciphering could have been done by the world at the world's pace, rather than by "a select group of scholars" in no rush to work themselves out of a job.

While I agree and think that information should be free, I can (from my lay perspective, at least) understand why these people would want to maintain some kind of secrecy. In addition to jealously guarding their own work, they also might not want to upset the status quo too quickly.

The implications of the unreleased Book of Enoch I mentioned (if actually existent) could be that material found in the New Testament and credited to Jesus was already written prior to his birth. That would mean that the Gospels were written by committee, and shoehorned into a narrative of a Savior's life. This, if true, would cause all kinds of uproar up to and including violence. That may be an unfortunate necessity eventually, but I can appreciate the motivations of people who would rather the masses be docile than upset.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 8:58 AM on September 26, 2011


My favourite Dead Sea Scrolls story is Ben-Zion Wacholder's reconstruction of some of the texts that were being kept secret. He got ahold of a concordance for those texts, basically a word index ("manna appears on page 34 line 22"). Then he reverse-engineered that to get the original text.

There is absolutely no excuse for keeping religious documents like this secret for so long. It's as nuts as the Scientologists keeping their teachings locked away, although in the Dead Sea Scrolls case the motivation is presumably more thought control than making money.
posted by Nelson at 9:07 AM on September 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


The implications of the unreleased Book of Enoch I mentioned (if actually existent) could be that material found in the New Testament and credited to Jesus was already written prior to his birth. That would mean that the Gospels were written by committee, and shoehorned into a narrative of a Savior's life. This, if true, would cause all kinds of uproar up to and including violence. That may be an unfortunate necessity eventually, but I can appreciate the motivations of people who would rather the masses be docile than upset.

Are you talking about the Book of Enoch that's already quoted in the New Testament in Jude?
posted by michaelh at 9:18 AM on September 26, 2011


I like the useful hint in scroll number four about having a much fuller understanding of God by deleting the System32 file.
posted by waraw at 9:22 AM on September 26, 2011


No, this one. Who knows if it actually contains anything controversial, though.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 9:22 AM on September 26, 2011


No, this one. Who knows if it actually contains anything controversial, though.

It's the same Book of Enoch but the part you're interested in, the Parables, is not quoted in Jude. The whole book was likely known during Jesus' time if it was written before Jesus' birth so it makes sense to see people in the New Testament quoting it in speech, similarly to how some of Jesus' parables were quotes of familiar stories or stories with a twist.

Anyway, I agree this is taking too long. Speed it up!
posted by michaelh at 9:38 AM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


50 years to put a complete text into the corpus of knowledge? No. Something stinks on ice about the whole deal.

They were just worried that some unauthorized scholar would try to cast directly from the Dead Sea Scrolls instead of working to transcribe them into his own spellbook first, which would likely reduce the scroll itself to ash (as well as unleashing whatever catastrophic summoning is detailed in the Book of Enoch). Making sure that the entire research team are pulled from a pool that don't have Dead Sea on their spell list, and then prepping them all with imbued Read Magic ability and decent linguistics checks in order to copy the treatises accurately is a very time-consuming process.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:48 AM on September 26, 2011 [9 favorites]


50 years to put a complete text into the corpus of knowledge? No. Something stinks on ice about the whole deal.

This has been a source of academic controversy, but I should point out that many of the scrolls had to be reconstructed, which is painstaking work. The Oxyrhynchus Papyri were discovered in 1896. It has taken more than 100 years to clean and assemble less than 10 percent of the texts, as I recall.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:42 AM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Although the obit for Wacholder doesn't mention it, he undertook his reconstruction project because he was on the verge of becoming blind, and wasn't going to be able to see the scrolls in his lifetime otherwise. (My father was acquainted with Wacholder--I think they had the same dissertation adviser.)
posted by thomas j wise at 10:52 AM on September 26, 2011


Thanks - these are a good read. I was surprised, however, by the section where the Essenes complain about a new, tri-tiered payment system for membership in their clan. It was repeated in all-caps throughout the scrolls...
posted by ericbop at 12:41 PM on September 26, 2011


The whole book was likely known during Jesus' time if it was written before Jesus' birth so it makes sense to see people in the New Testament quoting it in speech, similarly to how some of Jesus' parables were quotes of familiar stories or stories with a twist.

Let's say that I sent you an email. The email is clearly a forceful, ideological speech which rails against unjust taxes, tyrannical government in general and the Democratic party in particular. At the bottom of the speech, you see "Signed, President Ronald Reagan". It certainly seems like a speech he would give, but something seems "off" about it. Maybe the vocabulary? So you google the most pertinent parts of the speech and you discover that it had originally been given in Lyon, 1870 and is "Signed, with Love, Mikhail Bakunin". It's almost the same speech, word for word, except the word "Democratic Party" is replaced by "monarchists" in Bakunin's speech.

Now, you can look at this situation in basically two ways: you can argue that Reagan really did deliver the speech as printed (with his own flourishes and "twists" as you put it), and that Reagan was just quoting Bakunin at length (and there really isn't anything unusual about great men quoting each other, is there?) and that Reagan was just quoting at length from a speech that most Americans would have already been familiar with (note: this is doubtful).

Or, you could argue that it's more likely that I (or the person I got the original email from) just took one of Bakunin's speeches, switched some of the key words around and signed it "Ronald Reagan". This actually happens all the time on the internet, where ideas that people want to popularize are given under famous people's names, to lend them more legitimacy. (Incidentally, we are also pretty sure that this has happened at least a few times in the New Testament, where somebody or several somebodies decide that their doctrinal pronouncements would carry a lot of extra weight with "Signed, Paul" underneath them).

Both positions are logically, internally consistent. Especially if you were 2,000 years removed from the events and had no idea that Reagan was unlikely to ever quote an anarchist about anything. So, as far as you know, both interpretations of the finding could be correct.

If we ever did discover a large repository of Jesus' sayings that were written well before his birth, I think either interpretation (as I've outlined above) could be legitimate. But the fervent believer in Christ would be forced to forgive the skeptic for finding the 2nd interpretation to be valid as well.

Or I suppose you could take a third tack: That Bakunin was a prophet who "foreshadowed" the coming of The Reagan and that his vague references to America and "an old man" scattered throughout his speeches did not actually refer to his present circumstances, but were divine signposts of the Coming Conservatism...
posted by Avenger at 1:03 PM on September 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Exactly. If Jesus didn't utter those words himself per divine inspiration and was then later credited but rather was the mouthpiece for an existing teaching, then that could bring up all sorts of questions about his role in particular and the origins of the Gospels in general.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 1:17 PM on September 26, 2011


"It didn't take 50 years of secret academic toil to do it."

Job security will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no job security.
posted by Twang at 2:12 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is so cool. The first thing I did was to navigate to the Great Isaiah Scroll, and sure enough, this verse was there:
Surely our diseases he did bear, and our pains he carried; whereas we did esteem him stricken, smitten of G-d, and afflicted. But he was wounded because of our transgressions, he was crushed because of our iniquities: the chastisement of our welfare was upon him, and with his stripes we were healed.
Thank you, google.
posted by baejoseph at 5:35 PM on September 26, 2011


Baejoseph, why would you possibly think it wasn't there?
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:48 PM on September 26, 2011


Baejoseph, why would you possibly think it wasn't there?

He was probably worried that the scriptural basis for Stryper would turn out to be bogus.
posted by The Tensor at 11:52 PM on September 26, 2011


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