a one man ventriloquist: glenn beck’s misrepresentation of the dead sea scrolls

Glenn Beckyou have got to be absolutely kidding me.

joel mentioned it. jim brought it to my attention. and now i must vomit.

just when you thought glenn beck couldn’t get any stupider, this one-man intellectual gulf oil spill has spewed forth yet another gusher of sheer misinformation madness. my first inclination was to blow off mr. beck with a response in the form of a quote from the adam sandler cult classic, billy madison:

Mr. Madison Beck, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

however, because glenn beck chose to tread on the treacherous triumvirate of biblical studies, archaeology, and religion that is the dead sea scrolls, i feel compelled, nay, obligated in my role as a member of an apparent scholarly squad of biblical ‘discovery’ debunkers to respond.

first, let me assure you that i have no political or anti-conservative bent. i am a political moderate, with an appreciation of pundits on both sides. there are smart liberals and there are smart conservatives; glenn beck is neither. mr. beck is not as cunning as bill o’reilly, not as witty as keith olbermann, not as smart as rush limbaugh, and not as hot (intellectually) as rachel maddow. glenn beck lacks the political acumen of george will, the savvy of paul begala, the objective demeanor of juan williams, the strategic humor of james carville, the ingenuity of thomas friedman, the inquisitive journalistic tenacity of steve inskeep, the experience of david gergen, the brains of jeff greenfield, and the influence of matt drudge. rather, our friend mr. beck, apparently suffering from diarrhea of the mouth, is little more than an annoying sideshow – an overly dramatic, undereducated, sub-populist, train wreck, that makes the otherwise media-wise rupert murdoch look like a fool for signing him.

so what has mr. beck said that has so roused my intellectual ire? beck recently touched a nerve – a nerve i’ve sworn to defend – by pontificating upon the dead sea scrolls. beck, who apparently feels that his single theology class at yale before dropping out qualifies him to expound on the scrolls, recently made comments so utterly and fantastically false, that i dropped what i was doing and began to write this response.

in his amateurish attempt to imitate and channel the dilettantish ways of jim barfield, simcha jacobovichi, ron wyatt, noah’s ark ministries international, and vendyl jones, beck invoked the dead sea scrolls in a nonsensical rant that began with comparing children to empty clay pots and ended with the recitation of portions of the declaration of independence.

A Fragment of the Dead Sea Scrollslisten as beck speaks concerning things about which he knows nothing (beginning at the 0:36 second mark) and read along:

Beck: You know the… Dead Sea Scrolls. You know what they are? Stu, do you know what the Dead Sea Scrolls are? …

Stu: Well, of course I do.

Beck: No, come on. Most people don’t. I’m not…

Stu: I heard of them. I don’t really know.

Beck: You don’t really know, do you. You have no why they were there.

Stu: Nu uh.

Beck: Sarah, average person doesn’t know. Any idea? Take a guess on what, why the Dead Sea Scrolls are there, anything else.

Sarah: Something religious.

Beck: OK good. Even though I’ve explained this on this program a couple of times, I’m glad to see that, I’m glad to see that even the people that work with me everyday don’t even listen.

Stu: Well, there’s, we were actually talking about American Idol last night. The guy won! It was unbelievable.

Beck: All right. So here’s what happened. When Constantine decided he was going to uh… cobble together an army, um, he did the uh… Council of uh… Nicaea, right, Pat?

Pat: Yea.

Beck: Council of Nicaea. Um… and what they did is brought all of the religious figures, uhh, together, all the Christians and then they said, “Ok, let’s uh, put together the Apostles’ Creed, let’s, you know, you guys do it.” So they brought all their religious scripture together, and that’s when the Bible was first bound and everything else. And then they said, “Anybody that disagrees with this is a heretic and… off with their head!” Well, that’s what the Dead Sea Scrolls are. The Dead Sea Scrolls are those scriptures that people had at the time that they said, “They are destroying all of this truth.” Whether it’s truth or not is, is up to the individual, but that… at that time those people thought that this was something that needed to be preserved and so they rolled up the scrolls and they put ‘em in clay pots and they, they put ‘em in the back of caves where no one could find them. They were hidden scripture because everything was being destroyed that disagreed with the Council of Nicaea and Constantine. That’s what those things are.

this is absolutely, fundamentally, unequivocally false! allow me to make two key points:

  • the dead sea scrolls were written between approximately 200 bce and 70 ce. the council of nicaea met in 325 ce. not even close.
  • there is nothing whatsoever christian about the dead sea scrolls. no portion of the new testament is represented in the scrolls.

i don’t know where to begin. arguing that the dead sea scrolls were hidden to hide them from the council of nicaea is like arguing that we won the war of independence over the british because of our advanced computer technology; the timing is off a couple of hundred years. perhaps glenn beck is confusing the dead sea scrolls with the nag hammadi library, a cache of early christian gnostic texts written in coptic dating to the third and fourth centuries ce and discovered in the upper egypt town of nag hammadi in 1945. but of course, facts are secondary in the mind of glenn beck. what really matters to the likes of beck is massaging and distorting these facts until they fit whatever preconceived argument he’s already formulated in his mind.

in this regard, the comments glenn beck made about the dead sea scrolls closely resemble the deteriorated state in which the dead sea scrolls were discovered: they came forth from the mouth of a dark, seemingly bottomless cave, covered in bat guano, and smelling like bullshit, which is exactly what glenn beck has offered up in his latest attempt to portray himself as a biblical historian. the difference, of course, between the dead sea scrolls and glenn beck is that the dead sea scrolls at least tried to keep their thoughts and ideas hidden away to themselves.

in attempting to discuss religion and the dead sea scrolls, glenn beck has achieved something astonishing. he is a one-man ventriloquist: his lips are moving, but he’s actually talking out of his ass.

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27 Responses

  1. But you know, the thing is, is that you know that more than a few people were repeating Beck’s ‘facts’ today to someone else who took it and repeated it, etc…. Soon, this is will be another conspiracy theory that people believe.

  2. Thank you for calling him out!

  3. Good call, Beck is a tool to begin with. His rant sort of reminds of the theme song to that show “The Big Bang,” where the history of the world is condensed into a 20 second ditty. No question he is way off on his chronologies, and connection for that matter. I certainly think there are a host of early Christians who were familiar with traditions preserved in the Dead Sea Scrolls, such as the antediluvian world and the Grigori. Matthew, Jude, Irenaeus, Athaeagoras, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen, Lactantius and several others all allude to them in their writings. Arguably some of those ideas do fall out of favor with the course of the ecumenical councils, but you’re right, Beck is conflating disparate sources and timelines. He’s way out of his league, and the sad thing is that some people are going to repeat this impertinent trash as if it were fact..

  4. That’s ATHENAGORAS–oops! (as he rolls over in his grave)

  5. He was off the mark for sure, but your post was a little rough to read, for me, because it was full of way too many emotionally charged rants and attacks on Glenn Beck. You kind of neglected the issue and instead chose to attack him personally- You prerogative- but it was a little much…I find it funny when ‘scholars’ and ‘intellectuals’ stoop to the level of those they criticize by dragging them through the mud all the while claiming to take the higher road….nonetheless, I always enjoy seeing what you have to say….

    I did not know the origin of the scrolls. This has certainly compelled me to do some research of my own! Interesting stuff…

  6. agreed. i was a little more harsh than usual on glenn. as i said, i usually ignore him. i’m guessing this was also playing in the back of my mind. never ever mock children in politics or anywhere else!

    as for scholars criticizing those that do not know, we tend to react viscerally when those who know not speak definitively about that which they do not know. one thing you’ll usually notice about true scholars is that their claims are supported by facts and couched in doubt. anytime someone claims to have something religious all figured out, he or she is the one to be trusted the least. no one knows everything for sure. for this reason, scholars avoid sweeping claims of ‘always’ or ‘never,’ and try to provide supporting evidence for the claims they make. we cite our sources.

    glenn just makes things up.

  7. You go, Bob! What an idiot. Does Beck even bother to do some fact checking before he starts blithering? Doesn’t he have a paid staff to keep him in check at all?

  8. You give him credit for even knowing about Nag Hammadi? I wouldn’t be so generous with Beck. Mark my words, he’ll figure out how to connect the Scrolls to Hitler, and from Hitler connect his world of imaginary dots to Obama.

  9. good point. i was supplying him with a rational ‘out.’ my bad.

  10. [...] is pretty convoluted. And of writes Dr Cargill: this is absolutely, fundamentally, unequivocally false! allow me to make two key [...]

  11. Wait, I thought Constantine presided over the Council of Trent?

    ;)

    Good post.

  12. Gee, something Beck said wasn’t true? What a shock.

    If Beck said the sky was blue I would go out and check, his reputation for getting things straight is so microscopic.

    It does indicate that most people simply do not know what the Dead Sea Scrolls are. It’s sad that what was probably the greatest such discovery of the 20th century is so little known, not only to the general public but to supposedly “well read” individuals.

    I’d like to be able to say that any High School student would instantly recognize Beck’s statement for what it is: an utter falsehood, but we do such a poor job of educating our kids that I suspect most HS graduates are somewhat vague on what the Scrolls actually are, when they were written or what they might mean.

    I’m not sure if problems like the fact that many people consider people like Beck to be reliable sources is the cause or the result of a failing educational system.

    Much thanks for pointing this out.

  13. Sounds like Beck is getting all his information from the Da Vinci Code.

  14. Beck is the Dr. Gene Scott of politics. Only instead of pyramids and racehorses, he fills his whiteboards with stuff about wacko conspiracies and how everyone to his left is a Nazi.

  15. Presumably Beck was confusing the DSS with the Nag Hammadi library. That confusion is not unknown even among the clergy.
    He isn’t absolutely wrong to think that the age of the great Councils of the Church was one in which a certain kind of repression became widespread and a certain kind of intimidation resulted, along with the loss of some books that we would now be quite glad to read for a proper view of religious history.
    The DSS themselves were written by people who were unhappy with the regimes existing in the Palestine of their time. Maybe the idea of heretical books had not yet arisen or taken its later fearsome form but many of the Hasmoneans, Herodians and Roman governors were violent and frightening people.
    So Beck’s reminder that some collections of ancient manuscripts yield traces of ancient persecutions may be highly inaccurate but isn’t utterly beside the point.

  16. Sounds like Beck is getting all his information from the Da Vinci Code.

    He’s not the only one.

    Remember Easter season a few years ago, when all the documentary cable channels, all the news networks, all the Internet was “All Da Vinci Code, All The Time”?

    Tour guides in Rome (or anywhere described in DVC) HATED DVC fanboys. They’d be giving the spiel about a site on the tour and somebody in the tour group would yell back “YOU’RE WRONG!”, pull out a well-thumbed copy of DVC, and start quoting chapter-and-verse.

    The most spectacular DVC-related account on the web was how somebody’s Catholic wife was invited to what was supposed to be a wedding rehearsal and discovered it was an Intervention. For her. One of her in-laws was a DVC fangirl, thought her Romish Papist in-law was Opus Dei, and organized what the victim’s husband described as “a psychological/spiritual gang rape.”

  17. i do remember dan brown’s comments on the dss in dvc, and saying to myself, ‘i’ll bet $100 that mistake gets excised from the movie version.’ sure enough, the dss-xnty section was conspicuously absent from the movie.

  18. It certainly is a relief to finally see experts and academia finally step forth and counter the huge amounts of crap coming from people like Beck. Now if we can only get a couple experts on American History to set him straight on his feeble attempts on explaining “his version” of US history to the masses that listen to him.

  19. Yes, I do believe I smell some of the “Beck Bullshit” in his words. Love the comparison to the Billy Madison clip. Of course I would compare him more to the actual character of Little Nicky. LOL! Fire breathing and all!!!!

  20. When it comes to Glenn Beck pontificating before the Unwashed, there can be only one mash-up.

    P.S. Doc — great expression on the Beck screencap!

  21. Beck is an idiot, but you’ve got to be absolutely kidding me, Cargill! I didn’t hear the broadcast, yet it’s very obvious from the transcript that Beck was comparing the attempt of the Qumran community to codify their vision of their religion to Constantine’s >>>LATER<<< well-known attempt to codify Christianity. That being said, "They were hidden scripture because everything was being destroyed that disagreed with the Council of Nicaea and Constantine" is likely a misstatement on Beck's part, an ignorant conflating of the two, but easily done in a non-editable medium like tv/radio. I think I know what he meant to say, surely you could overlook the mistake and see it too…

  22. rick, i agree with you: beck is an idiot.
    everything else he said about the dss was sheer conflation and misinformation.
    he has been gradually attempting to position himself as a religious authority for some time now. (his ‘glenn beck university’s motto is ‘faith, hope and charity,’ and he has a ‘faith and inspiration’ section on his blog.
    beck is not a religious scholar, and absurd misstatements about the dss make this quite clear.
    but you’re correct: he’s an idiot.
    bc

  23. Neither talk shows nor talk show hosts are ever good at disseminating accurate knowledge about anything, much less topics like DSS in which even top scholars widely disagree. NatGeo, History Channel, etc are only marginally better at it, if at all. At least they pretend to be objective and to have done some research. Or they pretend to pretend.

    Unfortunately, the scholarly world is not quite as accessible or friendly to the hoi polloi/am ha’aretz/lumpenproletariat as we wish it were. Therefore, we click and “learn” from the most readily available “source”: the tv.

  24. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/19/jon-stewart-glenn-beck-parody_n_505329.html

    I think we could all use some Jon Stewart

  25. [...] be theologians – i’m looking at you bill o’reilly (here) and glenn beck (here and here and here and here) – and stop trying to establish themselves as religious authorities [...]

  26. [...] trying to be theologians – i’m looking at you bill o’reilly (here) and glenn beck (here and here and here and here) – and stop trying to establish themselves as religious authorities attempting [...]

  27. [...] Robert Cargill said in his blog (Robert Cargill has provided a full transcript of the video in his blog), it seems [...]

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