Tuesday, November 04, 2008
Norman Golb's 'Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls': an Amazon review
"The decades long narrative about the Dead Sea Scrolls is an illustration of why beginnings are important -- and how in the end academics can act just like everyone else.
From the beginning, the scrolls were cast as the products of an Essene community living southeast of Jerusalem. It didn't matter that there was little evidence for such a community -- what mattered was that the "Qumran community" story became the prevailing paradigm for understanding this archeological find. Having established this as a paradigm, facts, discoveries, and findings there around the scrolls were bent to fit the narrative.
All knowledge begins with information, and we posit hypotheses that will explain the information. Good science will then modify the hypothesis as further information becomes available. A scientific discovery is almost never complete: we're constantly changing our understanding as findings come into play.
The problem is that scientists are men and women like the rest of us. And instead of modifying hypotheses in light of evidence, they sometimes bend evidence to attempt to make it fit the hypothesis.
Golb posits that this has happened with the scrolls initially found in a cave in 1947. Father de Veux and others proposed the hypothesis that the scrolls were the products an Essene community (the Essenes having been mentioned by ancient sources). So far, so good. It was probably a good thesis 50 years ago. But now there is evidence -- carefully, almost painfully documented by Golb -- which indicates that the thesis no longer fits the facts. However, some scholars continue to cling to the original thesis, unchanged by the vast array of information found since 1947. In this book, Golb seeks to amass the information which challenges this theory, and propose theories which more easily -- in the words of Owen Barfield -- "saves the appearances."
Those who debunk old theories sometimes go too far. Some have done that with the scrolls, positing that instead of being important, they are of little value. Golb seeks a via media, showing how the scrolls found are extremely important to understand the nuances of the first century Judaism and of the nascent Christianity of that time, and of how literature in first century Jerusalem was a multidimensional and interesting body of work."