how not to talk about the importance of the dead sea scrolls

i came across this video today from randall niles, a finance and securities lawyer in colorado who now heads up multiple christian companies, including a llc called thinkworks™, whose mission is ‘to get real and encourage others in their life journeys.’ (see for yourself.)

in the video, mr. niles was attempting to explain why the dead sea scrolls are important.

here’s the video:

i’m not going to comment on the video because it’s just not fair and i don’t want to dump on anyone who is not trying to pass himself off as a scholar. mr. niles is not a scholar and not claiming to be one. i shall just dispute his claim that the only difference between the two isaiah scrolls (there are actually 2 from cave 1 and portions of at least 20 other copies of isaiah from qumran) and our modern masoretic texts of isaiah is a single word and some punctuation (3:30). in fact, the fact that the two isaiah scrolls from cave 1 at qumran differ, often significantly, tends to undermine his argument. the point is that there are far more interesting features about the isaiah scroll than the fact that it was written before the time of christ (3:00). but as i said, i’ll refrain from a critique.

and while i’m not a big fan of dilettantes and archaeological and scholarly pretenders, i can’t fault mr. niles, or anyone else for that matter, for attempting to reach out to kids to get them involved in both history and in issues of faith.

however, it is important to get your facts straight. and i shall fault those who sell christianity and judaism for a price. were this a preacher, i’d let it go. but because this is a business with lawyers and marketers and websites and money being made by preying on the ignorance of young kids, whose parents and pastors want to try and reach out to them with hip new media (that happens to be dilettantish and false), then i have a problem. of course, those who sell religion and peddle faith have every right to do so; indeed, it’s a billion dollar business in this country and one of the most profitable (and often tax exempt) business models in the country. but that doesn’t mean that what they’re selling is any good, and certainly doesn’t make the country any smarter or better, whether you are a person of faith or not. because whether you are an atheist, agnostic, or person of faith, bad information and poor apologetic arguments don’t help either side; they make people of faith look dumb and atheists cringe.

this does demonstrate, however, the immediate importance and need for trained scholars to reach out directly to the public, not just to criticize and combat pseudoscience, fake archaeology, and misinformation, but to offer a vetted alternative – real and regular solutions in the form of direct-to-the-public lectures and discourse. we scholars must seek to raise the level of public discussion about matters of faith in an academic manner. doing so will raise the level of critical thinking for both athiests and people of faith.

the problem is we’re missing the boat! the rise of technology and social media now allows scholars to compete with traditional, for-profit media companies that prey on the beliefs of the uneducated public and who peddle sensationalistic ideas to make a buck. we have the same abilities to reach the public directly and educate them, but the academy is by and large not using them. scholars have an opportunity to educate the public directly via the internet, youtube, blogs, podcasts, itunes u, and other free media outlets where the public spends much of their day, and whence they now obtain much of their information. additionally, by communicating to the public from their positions at accredited and reputable universities, scholars can trump these amateur ministries and professional faith peddlers because scholars are still held with somewhat high esteem across the nation. (although, this is changing. look what passes for an ‘expert’ on some documentaries these days. scholars, while still considered esoteric and therefore smart, are losing ground in both terms of credibility and indispensability. don’t believe me? how’s your department’s budget doing?)

thus, as easy as it is to rebuke those who peddle faith online and on tv, the true rebuke is to scholars, who aren’t doing enough to offer better alternatives. the title of this blog, ‘how not to talk about the importance of the dead sea scrolls,’ is a play on the fact that scholars are doing the same thing these amateurs are doing: not talking about scholarly issues to the public effectively. the academy is just as guilty as bible and archaeology pimps in that neither is talking about issues of faith and science effectively to the public.

and we wonder why universities have no money. people are looking elsewhere for information. and unless we want people getting bad information from uninformed or misleading sources, scholars must get involved with social and public media outlets to get their ideas out to the public.

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One Response

  1. Ummm… selective appeals to critical scholarship anyone? (and by anyone I mean Mr. Niles!)

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