are we the only earth?

According to a recent TED lecture by astronomer Dimitar Sasselov, there may be other planets capable of sustaining higher forms of life. And they’re not in some far off place, they’re right here in our own Milky Way galaxy.

Check it out.

Writing the Dead Sea Scrolls Airs on National Geographic Channel: Some Reflections

Dr. Robert Cargill appears in "Writing the Dead Sea Scrolls" on National Geographic ChannelNational Geographic Channel aired the documentary Writing the Dead Sea Scrolls this evening, Tuesday, July 27, 2010. It was accompanied by a UCLA Today story by Meg Sullivan and an article entitled, “Dead Sea Scrolls Mystery Solved?” by Ker Than on National Geographic News.

I wrote about the making of this documentary in a blog shortly after returning from filming it in January 2010. I’ll let others critique the show (you’re also welcome to praise it, but such is usually not the nature of Qumran studies ;-). I shall offer here just a quick summary of what the producers were trying to do with the show.

What This Documentary Explores

The point of the documentary was to highlight the most recent scholarship on Qumran and to get the different, often warring sides talking to one another. As a relatively young scholar in this field, I was asked to investigate the new claims to see what they have to offer.

No one theory answers all of the questions about the Dead Sea Scrolls, and no one Qumran scholar owns the whole truth. The traditional Qumran-Essene Hypothesis – where Essenes built Qumran and wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls there – has slowly been losing support over the past decades. Other theories have been offered in its place, but many of these theories take extreme positions claiming, often rancorously, that the scrolls have nothing to do with Qumran and that the scrolls are the products of anyone but the Essenes. These alternative theories have just as many problems, if not more so. This documentary hopes to show that the answer lies somewhere in between, and that only when all sides work together as professionals and actually talk to one another in a professional dialogue can we begin to reach a viable solution to the question of who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls.

There is a tremendous congruency of ideology within the sectarian manuscripts, which make up a significant portion of the Dead Sea Scrolls. There is a congruent, yet unique messianic expectation (or expectations), interpretation of scripture, halakhic interpretation, and a unique, but consistent calendar present within the sectarian manuscripts recovered from the Qumran caves. It is difficult to explain this congruence – the use of a solar calendar, references to the Teacher of Righteousness, Community Rules for life together in the desert, and especially the very low view of the Jerusalem Temple priesthood – within these sectarian documents if one argues they came from disparate libraries in Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Origin Theory (defined as: the Dead Sea Scrolls were in no way a product of anyone living at Qumran and came, rather, from various Jewish libraries throughout Jerusalem) creates more problems than it solves and has been dismissed time and time again. It fails to explain the congruency of ideology in the sectarian manuscripts. Likewise, the Jerusalem Temple Library theory (which argues that the scrolls are the product of the official library of the Jerusalem Temple) has also been discounted as it fails to explain why the Jerusalem Temple priests would preserve and copy literature that so negatively portrays their activities and emphasizes their illegitimacy.

At the same time, it is difficult to explain some of the ideological diversity present within some of the scrolls if one argues that all of the scrolls were composed by a single sectarian group at Qumran. For example, why are the scrolls written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek if they are the product of a single sectarian community? Likewise, the Copper Scroll from Cave 3 is from a later date than the rest of the scrolls, is written on a different medium, and in a different dialect (some say language) of Mishnaic Hebrew. We simply cannot consider the Copper Scroll the product of a community of Jewish sectarians living at Qumran.

Therefore, it is possible that more than one group or groups hid documents in caves surrounding Qumran. Based upon the evidence, it is possible that a group of sectarian Jews took up residence in the former fortress that was Qumran, brought scrolls with them to the site, copied and penned other scrolls, and hid them all in the nearby caves during the suppression of the Jewish Revolt by the Romans. They may or may not have been Essenes (although the Essenes are still the best candidate for the sect at Qumran). The theory examined in this documentary (a Multiple-Cave, Multiple Author theory, or whatever you choose to call it) explains both the congruence and the diversity within the scrolls, and it explains the development of ideological and theological thought contained with the scrolls from one of strict halakhic interpretation to one that incorporates and develops apocalyptic and dual-messianic expectations, as well as rules for life together as a community. This is not to say that the Multiple Cave Theory is not without problems. The statistical analysis is still in need of serious review and critique, and a theory that argues that different caves “belong to” or “represent” different sectarian groups may be overly simplistic. However, it is a new attempt to explain the congruency and the diversity of the Dead Sea Scrolls and is worthy of examination.

Simply put, some of the scrolls could be the product of a sect within a movement (if I may so summarize John Collins) that resided at Qumran, and other scrolls may be the product of other groups that hid scrolls in many of the caves nearby Qumran. This explains the congruency of sectarian ideology and the diversity of the scrolls, as well as their presence in caves both in Qumran’s backyard (Caves 7-9, 4-5) and those some distance from Qumran, as well as explaining the nature of the archaeological expansions made to the site of Qurman, which appear to be in a communal, non-military fashion.

On this last topic (the archaeology of Qumran), I shall dispense with the equally difficult discussion about the origin and nature of the Qumran settlement. While some have argued that the Essenes built the settlement from the ground up at a date ranging anywhere between 150-50 BCE, I have argued that Qumran was initially built as a fort, was abandoned, and was reoccupied by a small community of Jewish sectarians who were ultimately responsible for collecting, copying, and even composing some of the Dead Sea Scrolls. (In fact, I can recommend an excellent book on the subject. ;-) You will notice, however, that I nowhere in the documentary touted my own theory. Rather, my job was to investigate other scholars’ claims and to assess all of the evidence fairly and without prejudice. The producers chose the interviewees and setup the interviews, and I had the opportunity to talk to this diverse assemblage of archaeologists and scientists and ask them about their research.

The Point of This Exercise

The point of the documentary and of the producers’ approach was to do less of this, and have more of the professional exchange of ideas and more of the kind of scholarly and public dialogue that a documentary like this can generate. It is possible to discuss Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls without resorting to aliases and anonymity, without abusing one’s position to suppress new ideas, and without doing drive-by hit jobs on the personal lives of graduate students and scholars with whom you disagree. This documentary is an example of how one can facilitate a discussion amongst a number of scholars – many of whom disagree strongly – and present the new information, responses to these new ideas, and allow the viewer (both scholar and non-specialist alike) to make an informed decision. It is hoped that this documentary can shed light on the new research surrounding the Dead Sea Scrolls, and can serve as an example of how scholarship can be done professionally and collaboratively in this new age of modern media and the Digital Humanities.

The Importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls

The Dead Sea Scrolls are important because they are the oldest known copies biblical manuscripts we have. They are important because they demonstrate the length Jews were willing to go to protect what they considered Scripture. The scrolls are important because while they have nothing whatsoever to do with Christianity (i.e., nothing to do with John the Baptist, James the brother of Jesus, Jesus, or the early Christian community), they demonstrate that the Christians were not the only Jewish sect reinterpreting Hebrew scripture and applying it toward their leader (the “Teacher of Righteousness” as opposed to Jesus), awaiting a Messiah (actually, two Messiahs were expected at Qumran as opposed to only one (Jesus) in Christianity), engaging in ritual purification (cf. baptism in Christianity), holding property in common (cf. Acts 2:44-45), and awaiting a final, apocalyptic battle (cf. the War Scroll at Qumran and the New Testament book of Revelation). The Dead Sea Scrolls show us the importance of scripture and its interpretation to Second Temple Judaism.

Thank You

My thanks to Executive Producer Ray Bruce and CTVC for producing the show, choosing the scholars, and allowing much of their new research regarding Qumran to come alive. Thanks also to Producer, Director, Writer, and fearless leader John Fothergill for his excellent direction, script, vision, support, encouragement, and enthusiasm in making this project. Thanks also to associate producer Paula Nightingale, who made everything happen when it was supposed to, and to Director of Photography Lawrence Gardner, who shot a beautiful show, and to Sound Engineer David Keene for making the show sound so wonderful (as well as for the many great late evening laughs). Thanks also to Israeli producer Nava Mizrahi and to Antonia Packard for making everything in Israel pleasant and expedient. May we share many more adventures together.

holy ejection seat batman: pilot survived plane crash

Pilot ejects before plane crashyou simply will not believe this video. the pilot literally ejected moments before the crash. the pilot is said to be alive and receiving treatment at the hospital.

thoughts on the recent announcement by italian scientists regarding the bromine and chlorine levels of the temple scroll

The Temple Scroll, columns 19-21, from Qumran Cave 11. The scroll dates between the late 1st century BCE to the early 1st century CE. It is written in Hebrew with ink on parchment.

The Temple Scroll, columns 19-21, from Qumran Cave 11. The scroll dates between the late 1st century BCE to the early 1st century CE. It is written in Hebrew with ink on parchment.

Owen Jarus at Heritage Key has a nice summary of new evidence regarding the origin of the longest of the Dead Sea Scrolls: the Temple Scroll (11QT). Led by Professor Giuseppe Pappalardo, a team of Italian scientists made up of researchers of the National Laboratories of the South (LNS) in Catania of the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (INFN, or Italy’s National Institute for Nuclear Physics):

claim to have identified the origin of the longest of the Dead Sea Scrolls (known as The Temple Scroll) by identifying the source of the water used to make the parchment…The team analyzed the ratio of chlorine to bromine in fragments of the Temple Scroll. They then compared this ratio to that of the water sources near Qumran.

In a press release from July 2, 2010, the INFN concluded:

The ratio of chlorine to bromine in the fragments of the Temple Scroll was then analysed using proton beams of 1.3 MeV, produced by the Tandem particle accelerator at the INFN National Laboratories of the South. According to this analysis, the ratio of chlorine to bromine in the scroll is consistent with the ratio in local water sources. In other words, this finding supports the hypothesis that the scroll was created in the area in which it was found.

At roughly 32% salinity, the water in the Dead Sea is nearly 9 times as saline as the oceanic average. Likewise, the Dead Sea has the highest concentration of bromide ions (Br) of all bodies of waters on Earth. Because of these distinctive properties, the chlorine and bromine levels of the Temple Scroll’s parchment can be used as a way of determining the origin of the parchment. Because the bromine levels matched those distinctively elevated levels of the Dead Sea, the researchers could confidently conclude that the parchment of the Temple Scroll was manufactured at or near the Dead Sea.

The Italian team says it will next use the same XPIXE and particle accelerator technique to test the Temple Scroll’s ink. This is an important test because it is possible that the parchment was cured at or near the Dead Sea, and then sold or transported elsewhere for use by scribes residing in some other region. Qumran has offered evidence of animal husbandry, and appears to have had distillation vats (Locus 121) that may have been used to cure animal hides for the production of parchment. While the existence of inkwells in Locus 30, evidence of animal husbandry (needed for animal skins), and the presence of distillation vats all support the suggestion that scrolls (or at least parchment) were produced at Qumran, it does not necessarily follow that the resulting parchment was inscribed at Qumran. Granted this is somewhat of a minimalist position, but one cannot argue for certain that the Temple Scroll’s parchment was cured at Qumran, only that it was cured using water from the Dead Sea. Likewise, the presence of parchment production facilities (if that’s what they were indeed used for) at Qumran does not necessarily mean that the parchment was inscribed at Qumran, just as the presence of paper at a paper mill does not mean that the paper was used only at the mill. Just as most universities do not produce their own paper, but import it from elsewhere, so too could the parchment used for what became the Temple Scroll have come from the Dead Sea region, but inscribed elsewhere.

The analysis of the ink is important because it could demonstrate that the ink used to write on the Temple Scroll may also have been produced with water from the Dead Sea. And while this still leaves open the possibility that both the inks and parchment were produced at Dead Sea industrial installations and exported to other areas (for instance, Jerusalem), the preponderance of evidence (animals at Qumran, inkwells at Qumran, scrolls in caves near Qumran) would seem to support the continued suggestion that at least some of the Dead Sea Scrolls were produced at Qumran.

While this research does not prove that the Temple Scroll was penned at Qumran, we can conclude that there were viable industrial installations and activities taking place near the Dead Sea. And while we do not yet know the full extent of the industrial activity in the Dead Sea region, the fact that many of these industrial activities such as date palm cultivation, animal husbandry, parchment curing, and ink production can all be shown to have been practiced on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea in the late Second Temple period supports the suggestion that small groups of people could have lived and even prospered, leading self-sustaining lives in that region.

Did the Essenes (or some other Jewish sect or sects like them) write the Dead Sea Scrolls (or at least some of them) at Qumran? From a purely archaeological perspective, we still don’t know. But, all of the elements necessary for scroll production appear to be present there.

more on ‘writing the dead sea scrolls’

With Shrine of the Book curator Adolfo Roitman (left), Professor Cargill looks at the longest segment of the actual Isaiah Scroll, the oldest copy of any book of the Bible known today. Only a few select scholars are allowed access to the document.

With Shrine of the Book curator Adolfo Roitman (left), Professor Cargill looks at the longest segment of the actual Isaiah Scroll, the oldest copy of any book of the Bible known today. Only a few select scholars are allowed access to the document.

the ucla press room has a short writeup by meg sullivan on my coming nat geo documentary probing the question of who wrote the dead sea scrolls. the documentary will appear on national geographic channel, tuesday, july 27, 2010 at 9:00 PM. you can read more about the show here or preview clips form the show here.

a great reference site for fellow computer nerds:

Cheat-Sheets.orgDr. Annelie Rugg pointed me to a great site for people who love cheat charts for everything from programming language to HTML tags to ‘how to’ sheets.

If you love referring to verb paradigms on a handy reference chart, then you’ll love It’s a website full of simple instructions for how to do just about everything on a computer. Need a quick HTML tag chart? Forgot your JavaScript code? Can’t remember how to do that one thing in Flash? Need to Photoshop something but forgot that shortcut?

There are even WordPress cheat sheets for fellow nerds that like to blog!

Check it out. Print them out. And then hack away!

ucla researchers awarded google digital humanities grants

Several UCLA professors were recently awarded Google Digital Humanities Research grants. The awards involved two projects headed by Dr. Timothy Tangherlini and Dr. Todd Presner. According to the UCLA Press release:

Timothy Tangherlini, chair of UCLA’s Scandinavian Section, will split a $45,000 grant with post-doc fellow Peter Leonard to develop tools that will allow them to trace similarities in roughly 160,000 literary works written in Danish, Swedish and Norwegian, all digitized by Google Books. The project is called “Northern Insights: Tools and Techniques for Automated Literary Analysis, Based on the Scandinavian Corpus in Google Books.”

Todd Presner, a professor of German, and three UCLA colleagues will receive $40,000 for “HyperCities GeoScribe,” a digital mapping tool for integrating Google Book Search with historical maps so that readers can digitally search out streets, buildings, parks and other significant sites from literature and in the lives of authors. Presner will share the grant with David Shepard, a graduate student in English; Chris Johanson, an assistant professor of classics; and James Lee, a graduate student in computer sciences.

More can be found on the Google website. Congrats to these instructors on their creative research and well-deserved awards.

news sites beginning to prohibit anonymous comments

Anonymous Speechit was only a matter of time.

the claims by some that certain forms of speech including slander/libel, defamation, and forgery are protected under the first amendment simply because they are spoken or written anonymously is coming to an end. according to an article by stephanie goldberg on

Like those bathroom-stall messages, online comments on news stories can be difficult to police. For years, many publications have tried to strike a balance between encouraging open communication among readers and maintaining civil discourse. But a few sites, fed up with rude or inflammatory comments, are taking bold new steps to raise the level of dialogue.

i applaud these news sites that are attempting to engage their readers in a responsible manner. while it is certainly possible to fake a name, an email, and even a credit card, these websites are taking positive steps toward ensuring that the comments offered in response to online articles are, in fact, not hateful, libelous, or a part of a greater campaign of defamation. (besides, even fake email addresses can be tracked back to a single ip address ;-)

news websites are beginning to realize that the continued tolerance of anonymous comments, especially those that make unsubstantiated claims, contain hate speech, or are designed to defame others actually undermine the website’s credibility over the long term. the credibility of news websites that allow unbridled anonymous talk slowly comes to resemble the bathroom stall and not the reliable news source they seek to be. and just like journalism that reports on whispers and rumors, for every significant scoop that unveils a conspiracy or exposes a crime, there are hundreds of sites that do little more than spread gossip and make claims that smear others.

while it is true that anonymous speech allows some to say things that would otherwise go unsaid, credibility over the long term resides in the consistent verifiability of a story’s source. and when an anonymous source is shown to be involved in a systematic campaign of media manipulation for the purposes of discrediting a perceived rival, then we have moved from a realm of protected speech to the basic elements of slander/libel and defamation on the civil side, and in some cases, forgery, identity theft, and criminal impersonation on the criminal side.

a site is only as good as its sources. put your name on what you write. use your own name, write responsibly, and don’t cite rumors and whispers. don’t make sensational claims, and never attempt to use any form of protected speech to commit crime – it always backfires.

and oh yeah, i almost forgot: there is no such thing as anonymity on the internet!!!

report: cuneiform tablet preserving portion of a law code discovered at hazor

Tel Hazor, IsraelWhere was this in 2006 when I was digging there? lol.

Potentially great news: according to Dr. Jack Sasson:

Hazor Law Code Fragments

The Selz Foundation Hazor Excavations in Memory of Yigael Yadin have
recovered two fragments of a cuneiform tablet preserving portions of a
law code at Hazor.

The text parallels portions of the famous Law Code of Hammurabi, and,
to a certain extent even the Biblical “tooth for a tooth”. The team is
presently working its way down towards a monumental structure dating
to the Bronze Age, where more tablets are expected to be found.

The tablet is currently being studied at the Hebrew University. More
details to follow as soon as possible.

The excavations are sponsored by the Hebrew university and the Israel
Exploration Society, and take place in the Hazor National Park.

Now this has the potential of being something big. Drs. Amnon Ben-Tor, Sharon Zuckerman, and the excavation team have been looking for some sort of text archive for some time there. But to uncover a law code, well, that will get scholars and sensationalists alike buzzing.

Congrats to the excavators. Now that the story has broken, I’d love to see some photographs and some preliminary comments from the excavation team. A blog would be a great way to show some images to scholars and get their initial feedback.

The next question is: how long until a major news outlet gives us some sensationalist headline like ‘Biblical Law Code Found in Israel’ or ’10 Commandments Discovered?’ and who will be the guilty party?

More on the Hazor excavation here.

UPDATE:  See photos here.

on the cuneiform text recently discovered in jerusalem

This small fragment of a clay tablet, inscribed with Akkadian cuneiform text, is the oldest written document ever discovered in Jerusalem, dating to the 14th century BCE.

This small fragment of a clay tablet, inscribed with Akkadian cuneiform text, is the oldest written document ever discovered in Jerusalem, dating to the 14th century BCE.

Dr. Christopher Rollston has published an excellent examination of the small cuneiform text that was recently discovered in the Jerusalem Ophel, and a critique of some of the claims made by its discoverer, Eilat Mazar, who recently published the findings with others in Israel Exploration Journal (Eilat Mazar, Wayne Horowitz, Takayoshi Oshima, and Yuval Goren, “A Cuneiform Tablet from the Ophel in Jerusalem,” IEJ 60:1 (2010), 4-21.)

Rollston’s “Reflections on the Fragmentary Cuneiform Tablet from the Ophel” is a careful, reasoned analysis of the inscription and a much needed cautionary response to some of the sensational claims that we’ve begun to hear regarding this fragmentary text.

The Jerusalem Post’s Ben Hartman reported the story here.

Voice of America’s David Byrd has a nice article and audio report on the find here.

Ferrell Jenkins and Bible Places Blog have posted about the tablet.

Jim Davila has offered reflections on the discovery and the reporting of it here.

I’ll make only a few summary notes regarding the discovery of this inscription.

  • It is an administrative text, very fragmentary in nature, and wholly non-descriptive.
  • While one could understand it as a part of a correspondence between Amarna and Jerusalem, there is nothing other than the approximate date of the fragment and the location of its discovery that supports this. As Rollston points out, “There are no personal names that are preserved on this tablet… There are no titles (e.g., “king”) preserved on this tablet… There are no place names (e.g., “Egypt”) preserved on this tablet.” It could have been written to another administrator in Jerusalem. This is contra Horowitz, who argues that the high quality of the writing and the object suggests that it was a message sent from an early king of Jerusalem to a Pharaoh in Egypt.
  • This fragment demonstrated that there was someone capable of writing and giving orders in Jerusalem long before the rise of Israel.
  • It proves that someone (we don’t know who) was writing to someone (to whom we don’t know) in Akkadian in Jerusalem in the 14th century BCE. That’s about it.

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