Friday, April 01, 2005

From the Mafia to the Dead Sea Scrolls

Quite a story:
Ex-mobster's life changed by prison


By Bob Burchette Staff Writer
[Greensboro] News & Record

HIGH POINT -- Thom Miller, his dark hair slicked back in a ponytail and his body showing the scars of serious fisticuffs and at least three bullet wounds, could easily be a Sopranos character.

Indeed, he says he was a strong-armed enforcer for the Mafia in Cleveland for several years. "There was never a time when I thought of any of it as being glamorous. It was never like you see in the movies,'' Miller said.


Miller was once housed with death-row inmates while serving a sentence for stabbing a man in the heart. Today, he is a part of the 10-person team that is putting on the "Dead Sea Scrolls to The Bible in America" exhibit at Providence Place. The exhibit ends April 10. Until then, Miller will be assisting with the exhibit and also ministering at places outside the exhibit hall.


Thursday, March 31, 2005

A Remarkable Number of Errors

The Outer Banks Sentinel has an article by someone names Lee Adams on "The Dead Sea Scrolls to the Bible in America" exhibition -- an article that has a remarkable number of errors and dubious statements. I seem to find more with each reading, but the ones I've found up to now are noted below, along with one or two other comments.
Leading the crowd was Judas, one of His own friends, followed by officials of the chief priests of the Pharisees and a detachment of Roman soldiers.

That's "officials of the chief priests and of the Pharisees" (John 18:2). The Pharisees did not have chief priests.
The display starts with a clay tablet from around 3000 B.C. On the tablet, Mesopotamian pictography records the sale of nine pigs and references the name of Erech, son of Nimrod, persons mentioned in the Book of Genesis.

The clay tablet doesn't mention an Erech son of Nimrod, who is a strictly biblical legend. I suspect this is a tablet that comes from ancient Uruk -- a city whose name is the origin of biblical Erech.
Curator Joel Lampe tells a group of visitors that piecing together the fragments of the scrolls is like taking a large bowl of different flavors of potato chips, crunching them into tiny bits, throwing them into the air and trying to put them back together and into their proper bags.

This isn't bad and is rather like my analogy involving a thousand jigsaw puzzles. But to make Lampe's version work, you have to add that while your back was turned the dog got into the bowl and ate most of the potato chips.
From about 250 B.C. until 68 A.D., a group of the Jewish community lived at Qumran, devoting their lives to the study and preservation of the ancient scriptures. These Old Testament Scriptures were carefully written in Hebrew, preserved on large scrolls and set up on boards that spanned the cave walls like shelves.

I think someone must have told the author that the group was at Qumran from the middle of the second century B.C. and this became transmogrified into 250 B.C. until A.D. 68 (not 68 A.D.). The standard master narrative places the founding of the group around this time (c. 150 B.C.E.), even though the archaeological evidence at Qumran doesn't point clearly to occupation of the site before about 100 B.C.E.

I think there is some evidence for shelves in Cave 4 but I'm not sure of the details.
The Roman Empire looked upon this group with disdain, for this community was part of a two-fold problem for the Romans. In what is known as the Jewish Rebellion, the Jews refused to conform and adapt to Roman principles. Also, during this time, the Christian Church was growing exponentially due to the works of the Apostles Peter and Paul who carried out the work of Christ after His death on the cross.

We don't know how the Romans regarded this group, although given the attitude of the sectarians toward the Romans (the "Kittim"), I doubt there was any love lost between them. I think what the author is trying to say is that in the first century C.E. Jews were causing the Romans quite a bit of trouble, both through the Jewish Revolt and with the Jesus sect, and so the Romans probably didn't like the sectarians much either. But it's not phrased very clearly and it sounds as though the Maccabean revolt is getting mixed in there too. (The Maccabean revolt of 167-165 B.C.E. was about Jews refusing to conform to Hellenistic customs whereas the Jewish Revolt of 68-70 C.E. was a uprising against Roman occupation which was set off by a particular incident in Caesarea.)
Because of the rebellious beliefs of these two groups, the Romans set out on a mission to kill all believers and destroy all Scriptural evidence.

The Romans put down the Jewish revolt, but this had nothing to do with the Jesus sect, which was another irritation entirely. They did not set out to "kill all believers" but rather to put down the revolt. They did not set out to "destroy all Scriptural evidence." After the revolt the Jewish historian Josephus set himself up in Rome and wrote works on Jewish history with the approval of the Roman authorities.
The Roman army attacked Qumran, killing most of its inhabitants, and went into the caves where they swung their swords above their heads, destroying hundreds of years of ancient works rolled onto scrolls of sheepskin and put into clay pots. The pieces were left scattered about. Like crushed potato chips.

A small group escaped, finding their way to Masada, an old palace of King Herod. There, they continued their work until the Roman army once again surrounded them.

It appears that the Romans did indeed destroy the site. But it is sheer speculation to say that some of the sectarians escaped and went to Masada. This idea is based on the discovery of a copy of the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice at Masada and the assumption that it is a sectarian text. If it is, the speculation may be right, but it's quite debatable whether the SOSS is sectarian and, even if it is, it's unlikely that all the sectarians lived at Qumran.
This time it was the 10th Roman Legion, of whom Titus and his successors were given the task of converting or killing these rebels. Not willing to relent, the men of Masada drew their swords, killed their wives and children, then turned the swords on themselves, committing mass suicide in numbers some believe approach 900.

The Romans had no interest in converting anyone to anything. They wanted to put down the revolt.

The story of the mass suicide on Masada is Josephus' version of what happened, but there's debate about how much he's touched it up to make a good story.
The discovery of these lost writings puts years of debate to rest, as no physical evidence had ever been found confirming that Old Testament prophesy was in fact written before the time of Christ. Until the scrolls' discovery, scholars argued that perhaps many of the prophesies of Christ had been written after His life on Earth.

This is bogus. Scholars argued no such thing. Generally these "prophecies" (not prophesies) refer obviously to events contemporary with the prophets in the Hebrew Bible who wrote them. The early followers of Jesus reapplied them in an esoteric or midrashic sense to Jesus (just as the Qumran sectarians reapplied biblical prophecies to their own history), but that's another matter. No scholar has argued that the Hebrew Bible passages the early Christians applied to Jesus were written after the time of Jesus.
The most important cave is considered to be Cave I.

"If it were the only cave found, it would be enough," says Dead Sea Scrolls curator Lee Biondi. He signs a copy of his book "The Dead Sea Scrolls to the Bible in America" - which shares the name of the exhibit - and writes in a reference to Isaiah 40:8 - "The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever." (New International Version)

Cave I is the most important, he says, because it is where the only complete and intact scroll was found: the book of Isaiah. This book contains many of the prophesies foretelling the coming of the Messiah, which are fulfilled by Christ in the New Testament. This brings physical proof that the prophesies were not written after the life of Christ and the writings of the New Testament (The scroll of Isaiah is no longer exhibited because of its fragility).

Well, Mr. Biondi is welcome to his opinion -- if this represents his opinion accurately -- but I disagree. (Mr. Biondi has already e-mailed me to say that the press often have trouble getting their facts straight and asking me to alert him to any problems, which I will do regarding this question). No scholar argues that the book of Isaiah postdates Jesus, so there's no point to all this stuff about the Isaiah scroll. I think most Qumran scholars would agree that Cave 4 is a more valuable hoard than Cave 1. It's true that Cave 1 had a number of pretty much complete scrolls, but some of the scrolls from Cave 4 were nearly that complete (e.g., a Samuel scroll); others are damaged but appear in multiple copies so most of their text can be reconstructed (e.g., the SOSS); extensive fragments of some of the important Cave 1 texts were found in Cave 4 (the Community Rule, the Hodayot) and greater or lesser fragments of many, many other works were found in Cave 4 as well. In any case, we're very luck to have what we do have and I wouldn't want to do without any of it. Cave 1 is not "enough."
Along the wall near the fragments of the scrolls are more sheets of papyrus, all in their own frames and under glass, just like the scrolls. These are part of the Septuagint, meaning 70. These are scripts from the mid 4th century A.D. that 70 translators worked in isolation over several generations to accurately render the Hebrew texts into Greek.

That last bumpy sentence requires some clarification. The manuscripts on display are evidently from the 4th century A.D./C.E. (at least I'll take the author's word for it). There is a legend in the Letter to Aristeas to the effect that 70 translators translated the Pentateuch (not the whole Hebrew Bible) into Greek in the third century B.C.E. Later versions of the legend (follow the link) improve on the story by making the translators work in isolation and nevertheless come up with exactly the same translation in every case. We don't know how long it took to translate just the Pentateuch, but the translation of the whole Hebrew Bible certainly took several generations or more.
The fragments contain portions of the book of Exodus in the Greek language that are not otherwise existent on papyrus.

I'm not sure what this sentence is trying to say. There are no other papyrus fragments of the book of Exodus in Greek? I doubt that that's true, but I don't know offhand.
The Jews had become more conversant in Greek after the conquests of Alexander the Great in the 4th century, making a translation from Hebrew necessary.

During the end of the 4th century, Jerome, a leading scholar, was commissioned to translate the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament into Latin.

This is confusing. Alexander the Great lived in the fourth century B.C.E. (B.C.). Jerome lived in the fourth century C.E. (A.D.).
Some of the Septuagint Old Testament could not be found and so, wanting to translate directly from the original and not from a previous translation, Jerome dubbed the books he could not find the 'Apocrypha,' or lost translations.

This is so garbled it's hard to figure out what the writer must have heard from someone. The Apocrypha are books that were not accepted in the Jewish canon, but they were either translated into or composed in Greek, and then later they circulated in Christian circles so that eventually most Christians (not Jerome though) accepted them as part of the Old Testament canon. Much later they were rejected from the Protestant canon. Jerome translated some of these into Latin, either from Greek or from an Aramaic version. There are various explanations of why they are called "Apocrypha" or "hidden" books: they were "hidden" away (or ought to have been) rather than being accepted into the canon, or they are among the esoteric books miraculously reconstructed by Ezra and then hidden according to the legend in the pseudepigraphic work 2 Esdras/4 Ezra 14.

I can't speak for the accuracy of most of the rest of the article, but I wouldn't bet it's any better than what I've already covered. Then there's this:
The King James Bible is the most accurate translation of the English Bible to be printed.

The King James Bible was a remarkable piece of work when it was published nearly four centuries ago. But today we have many more, earlier, and better manuscripts; better methods and tools; and a better understanding of the biblical languages and the ancient biblical cultures. Modern translations are considerably more accurate than the King James version.

This is perhaps the most inaccurate popular article on the Dead Sea Scrolls that I have ever read, which is quite an achievement. The author obviously knows nothing about the subject and never made the effort to get in touch with an actual specialist on the Scrolls. It looks to me as though the author wandered around the exhibition making notes from the information cards on the various bits of the exhibit, talked a little to Mr. Biondi, then went home and threw this piece together. I realize that the Outer Banks Sentinel is a very local paper that probably doesn't have a very large circulation and would not have a religion correspondent. Still, that's not a good excuse for carelessness and certainly not for carelessness on this scale. If small newspapers want to publish online, they're publishing for an international audience and they take on the same responsibility as large ones to treat their subjects accurately.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Peter Flint Interview

Well-known Qumran scholar Peter Flint is interviewed by the Mobile Register in "Looking for Jesus". He has an interesting cumulative argument for the Jewish background of an important Jesus logion in Q. (Or, for any Q-heretic readers, in Matthew and Luke.)