Iowa State University Lecture: A Virtual Reconstruction of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Dr. Robert Cargill looks at a copy of the Great Isaiah Scroll in the Shrine of the Book, Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

Dr. Robert Cargill looks at a copy of the Great Isaiah Scroll in the Shrine of the Book, Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

Iowa State University has posted online the audio of my Oct 23, 2014 lecture at ISU entitled, “A Virtual Reconstruction of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls: Recent Advances and the Future of the Field“, along with the video of my PowerPoint. The video capture of the digital model toward the end is sketchy, but the audio and PPT slides and audio came out OK.

If you want to hear/watch the lecture, simply click the above link, right-click on the “Download Podcast” icon at the bottom of the list on the right, and save it to your computer. (The file is 111 MB total.) After it downloads, add .mp4 to the end of the file name, and then simply double-click to play or open it in QuickTime.

Many thanks to Dr. Hector Avalos for the invitation to speak. It was a beautiful evening on a beautiful campus in Ames, IA


Robert Cargill, an assistant professor of Classics and religious studies at the University of Iowa, will discuss how recent advances in the fields of archaeology and the digital humanities have enabled scholars to create digital reconstructions of archaeological remains at Qumran, the site associated with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. He uses 3D and virtual reality to introduce the audience to the ancient sites, proposes various reconstructions, and highlights the process for databasing archaeological data. Cargill was the chief architect and designer of the Qumran Visualization Project at UCLA’s Center for Digital Humanities. He has appeared as an expert on the National Geographic special, Writing the Dead Sea Scrolls, and History’s documentary series Bible Secrets Revealed. He is also the author of the recent book, Qumran through (Real) Time: A Virtual Reconstruction of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Co-sponsored by:

  • ISU Atheist and Agnostic Society
  • ISU Philosophy Club
  • Philosophy & Religious Studies
  • Committee on Lectures (funded by GSB)


To all who celebrate, Happy Rosh HaShanah

שנה טובה to all. May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year!



No, Barack Obama is Not the Antichrist: Debunking A YouTube Video

The following video has been sent to me four times in the last few weeks by different individuals asking for my thoughts on the matter. And while nonsense of this caliber doesn’t dignify a response, it is important to remember that it is nonsense like this that is often designed to confuse people who don’t know Hebrew and therefore don’t know any better. So despite the fact that the video is nonsense, here is my take down of this video and it’s ridiculous claims.

This is nothing but proof-texting poorly done. Here are the problems with the argument:

1) Whoever wrote this is bending over backward to try to claim that a Greek NT text was actually originally “spoken” in Aramaic. (Again, you can argue that Jesus spoke in Aramaic, but the text of the NT was written in Greek, especially Luke, which no one (of significance) argues existed in Hebrew prior to its Greek text.) But then the author of the video concludes by saying “as spoken by a Jewish rabbi today”, falsely (and ridiculously) assuming that a Jewish rabbi today would read text originally spoken in Aramaic and written in NT Greek in modern Hebrew. This is the epitome of absurdity and can’t even qualify as circular reasoning.

The author of the video is attempting to use the definitions of certain Hebrew words to define (incorrectly) other Greek words, and that it is the sounds made by these incorrect definitions of Hebrew words (and not their meanings – go figure!), that give use the name of the Antichrist (which the video desperately wants to be Barack Obama).

2) Remember also that when NT writers are quoting the OT, more often than not they are quoting the LXX (the Septuagint, or the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible), so these Hebrew words likely never entered into the equation. Additionally, the LXX provides excellent Greek translations of Hebrew words (as you’ll see shortly). So the author of the video is trying desperately to claim that any word he can find in any language that is remotely similar to the words in Luke 10:18 are eligible for substitution, and that it’s not the meaning of these words, but the sounds they make that matter. Of course, this is patently absurd and certainly not how language translation works, but that’s not going to stop this nutjob from trying.

3) The words that the author of this video is claiming are being used are simply wrong. He’s trying to argue that the word for lightning, ברק, or BRQ is the president’s name, when actually the President’s name is Barack, or ברך, or BRK, or “blessed”. (The president’s name is actually more likely derived from the Arabic word from the same Semitic root, which has the same meaning: “blessed”.) The author of this video confuses the qoph (Q) with the kaph (K) – a common mistake made by those who don’t know Hebrew. Thus, he’s looking at the wrong word in the concordance. But, since it “sounds” the same, he either figures he’ll be able to fool some folks, or simply doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing.

4) The author of the video is also using the wrong word for “heavens”. Hebrew has a very well known word for “heavens”. It is שמים, or “SHAMAYIM”. However, the author of this video is attempting to argue that the word במה or “BAMAH” is being used here. The problem here is that the word “BAMAH” is a religious high place, not unlike the altar area in a cathedral. A “BAMAH” is mentioned in the Bible, but elsewhere (not here), as the places on which gods are worshiped. We find them, for instance, at Megiddo and Tel Dan. But they have nothing to do with the heavens. So the author of the video tries to make a diversion into the book of Isaiah 14:14, and claim that the poetic phrase במותי–עב, or “BAMOTEY AV”, which is used poetically here for “heights of the clouds” is another way to say the “heavens”, and invokes this verse because of an ancient theological claim made by some early Christians, who understand Isa. 14:4-21 to be referring to some “Lucifer” (a name that doesn’t appear until in the Latin Vulgate) and comes to be equated with Satan in later centuries, even though Isa. 14:4 clearly sets the content of the prophecy as a “taunt against the king of Babylon”, and not a prophecy about “Satan” (who is never even mentioned in the text). But because of this later Christian tradition that associates Isaiah 14 with Satan, the author of the video argues that the word “BAMAH” here can be substituted for the word for “heavens”. The problem is, of course, that although the root here is “BAMAH”, the word used here to refer to the “heights” is plural, not singular. The plural of במה in Hebrew is במות or “BAMOT”. So if the text were saying “heavens”—even though this is the completely wrong word for “heavens” in Luke 10:18—the word would be the plural “BAMOT” just as it appears in Isa. 14:14, and then it would appear in the genitive construct form (BAMOTEY-), and not simply “BAMAH”. But, because “BAMOT” or “BAMOTEY” do not sound like the President’s name, the author of this video deliberately ignores this.

(It’s rough when pesky facts get in the way, no?)

Again, it is important to point out that the word used in Luke 10:18 is not the phrase used in Isa 14:14 for “heavens”. The author of the video is attempting to do an end-around and substitute a phrase from a different text in place of the word in Luke 10:18 because the word in Luke 10:18 doesn’t fit his narrative. The word used in Luke 10:18 and translated as “heavens” is “οὐρανοῦ” or “OURANOU”, which is the genitive of “OURANOS”. It sounds similar to the planet named Uranus. οὐρανος is the typical Greek translation of the word שמים, or “SHAMAYIM”, the Hebrew word for “heavens”, found, for instance, in Gen. 1:1, when God created the “οὐρανὸν” (heavens) and the earth. The Hebrew word being translated here is שמים, or “SHAMAYIM”, or “heavens”. Thus, you’ll note that when ancient authors wanted to translate the word for “heavens” into Greek, the Hebrew word standing behind the word for “heavens” in Luke 10:18 is “SHAMAYIM”, not “BAMAH”.

It is also worth noting that the LXX translates the verse in Isa. 14:14 as

ἀναβήσομαι ἐπάνω τῶν νεφελῶν, ἔσομαι ὅμοιος τῷ ὑψίστῳ.

that is, “I will go up above/on the clouds (νεφελῶν, or NEPHELON, and NOT “οὐρανὸν” or “heavens”!!); I will be like the Most High”.

So, we see that because the text of Luke 10:18 does not say what the author of the video wants it to say, he attempts a detour through Isaiah 14:14, but then is not honest about the plural form of the genitive construct, and thus changes the word into the root he wants to use (the one that sounds more like “bamah”), even though the text of Luke 10:18 says no such thing. It is sheer deception and an ignorance of Hebrew (and scholarship for that matter).

5) There is also a problem with the grammar of the phrase that the author of the video is attempting to interpret as “lightning from the heavens”. The Hebrew letter ו, or “WAW” is used as the word for “AND” at the beginning of a word. But at the 2:55 point, the author of this video is attempting to use “WAW” as the word “FROM THE” in this construction. The problem is that this is not how one creates a construct or possessive in Hebrew. The way to do this in Hebrew is by using the construct form, which usually entails the use of a “YOD” and a maqqaf (hyphen) in between the words to be joined (cf. see the phrase במותי–עב in Isa. 14:14. See the -י in the middle?), or employing the word מן, or “MIN-” meaning “from”, followed by the word. But the author claims that adding the letter “WAW” can produce the same result. Of course, it can’t, but the author of the video needs it so that he can produce the sound “O-bamah”. So despite the fact that Isa. 14:14 clearly employs the construct state (-י) to form the poetic phrase “heights of the clouds”, the author claims that since you could use a “WAW” (which you can’t), that it’s all the same thing and so poof – “Obama”. Thus, the author of this video is again betraying his ignorance of Hebrew by arguing that the genitive of possession is represented by the conjunction “WAW”, rather than following Hebrew convention and placing the words in a construct state or using the word “MIN”. Again, this is simply made up nonsense in the attempt to produce something that sounds like “Obama”.

One further mistake: the author of the video claims that the Hebrew letter “WAW” makes an “O” or “U” sound. “WAW” typically makes an English “V” or “W” sound when spoken. The only time a “WAW” makes a vowel sound is when it is used as a plene vowel – either as a holem producing an “O” sound, or as a shureq, producing a “U” or “OO” sound. When it appears at the beginning of a word, it can produce a “U” sound (which is what the author is attempting to claim), but it then means the conjunction “AND”, which would render “lightning and high place” (in the singular). So the author of the video simply claims that a “WAW” is there (when it’s not), and that you should pronounce it as an “O”, and only listen to its sound, but NOT read its meaning, because that would insert the word “AND”, and he can’t have that.

Sound absurd yet??

So in the end, we see that the author of this video incorrectly assumes that the Hebrew words are used instead of the Greek (originally, he claims), and then proceeds to use the WRONG words for BOTH the President’s name (Barack vs. Baraq) AND the word for “heavens”, and then uses the singular instead of the plural, IN ADDITION TO using the wrong word for “from”.  And even if he were to use the correct Hebrew words, a methodology that claims that one can back-translate Greek text into Hebrew words from different Old Testament passages in order to produce a combination of mere sounds (not words with meanings, but mere sounds) that when combined produce the sounds of a modern name is faulty methodology. This is not how translations (or languages, or exegesis, or theology, etc.) work. This is sheer nonsense.

This video is completely bogus, and is obviously the work of some fool ignorant of Hebrew, who simply wants to convince listeners that the Bible says that President Obama is the Antichrist. It’s completely fake – just as fake as when other fools attempted to argue that since Ronald Wilson Reagan had six letters in each of his names, that he represented the mark of the beast – 666.

These are the foolish ramblings of idiots who think that they can use the Bible to convince people that the sitting President is somehow evil.

Raphael Golb re-sentenced to 2 months in prison, 3 years probation

Go_To_JailAccording to the AP:

A man convicted of using digital-age tools to impersonate and malign his father’s academic rivals on the ancient subject of the Dead Sea Scrolls was sentenced Monday to two months in jail after the state’s highest court tossed out some of his convictions — and with them, a state aggravated-harassment law.

The sentencing of Raphael Golb, who also got three years’ probation, came after the Court of Appeals upheld convictions on other charges, including criminal impersonation and forgery. Golb had been sentenced earlier to six months’ jail but free on bail during his appeal.

Golb was given a surrender date of July 22, but could ask the courts to hold off the jail term while appealing the case further.

So once again, the courts have decided that Dr. Golb is a convicted criminal. Dr. Golb was sentenced yet again to two months in prison and three years probation.

Raphael Golb, son of Ludwig Rosenberger Professor in Jewish History and Civilization at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago Dr. Norman Golb, committed multiple crimes, was caught, lied about it to police, then claimed he was just joking, was convicted, was sentenced, appealed his conviction, was still found to be guilty on multiple counts, and now has been re-sentenced.

Dr. Golb is still guilty. Dr. Golb is still a criminal. Dr. Golb has been sentenced to do time.

(And of course, Dr. Golb will appeal yet again…)

For a history of this case, click here.


On the passing of Yuval Peleg ז״ל

It hurts my heart to hear reports of the death of Dr. Yuval Peleg in an accident at an archaeological dig site between Homesh and Karnei Shomron in the West Bank on Thursday, June 26, 2014. Dr. Peleg was the respected Deputy Archaeological Staff Officer in the Civil Administration for Judea and Samaria.

I came to know him in 2007 because of his 10-year excavation at Qumran, the site associated with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Wherever he was, Yuval was always the “big man” on site. He was one of the few people in the field who actually made me feel small.

Robert Cargill with Yuval Peleg at Qumran in July, 2013.

With Yuval Peleg at Qumran in July, 2013.

And his personality was even bigger than his impressive physical stature. But Yuval exhibited perhaps one of the greatest qualities a scholar can possess: while we fundamentally disagreed on our interpretation of Qumran, Yuval was always professional, polite, friendly, reasoned, and always had a huge smile on his face.

Robert Cargill and Yuval Peleg

Sharing a laugh with Yuval Peleg on site at Qumran in 2010.

We also worked together on several television documentaries. While filming some footage for Bible Secrets Revealed, Yuval was kind enough to escort me into Qumran Cave 4, where we talked and shared stories about Qumran. To this day, my time in Cave 4 with Yuval Peleg is one of the highlights of my archaeological life.

Yuval Peleg in Qumran Cave 4.

With Yuval Peleg in Qumran Cave 4.

He died tragically, but he died doing what he loved: archaeology. And like soldiers, cowboys, and archaeologists of legend, he died with his boots on.

Yuval Peleg gave his life working with Israelis and Palestinians to uncover the history of a land that means so much to so many. And he always did it with a smile.

Robert Cargill and Yuval Peleg

Yuval Peleg shows me parts of his excavation at Qumran in 2010.

Yuval is scheduled to be laid to rest on Friday morning at 9:30 in the cemetery of Kfar Adumim, east of Jerusalem.

I mourn the death of Yuval Peleg. I grieve with his family. And I shall remember him fondly.

Robert Cargill and Yuval Peleg in the locus 138 miqveh (ritual bath) at Qumran.

With Yuval Peleg in the locus 138 miqveh (ritual bath) at Qumran in 2010.

Yuval Peleg ז״ל

Yuval Peleg enters Qumran Cave 4

Yuval Peleg enters Qumran Cave 4

Dr. Robin Jensen, Vanderbilt file Motions to Dismiss Lawsuit Filed by Simcha Jacobovici

Dr. Robin Jensen and her employer, Vanderbilt University, have filed motions to dismiss the lawsuit brought against them by pseudoarchaeologist, professional filmmaker, and recent filer of multiple lawsuits against critics who disagree with his conclusions, Mr. Simcha Jacobovici.

These legal court filings are available to the public via the Washington DC court website, but as a public service to my readers, I’m making them available here for download as well:

A quick perusal will demonstrate that there are multiple grounds on which the cases should be dismissed, including, but not limited to:

  1. The case is not in Washington DC’s jurisdiction.
  2. The allegation does not meet the threshold for the alleged “conspiracy” with an “unnamed, but not unknown” co-conspirator (who happens to be Joe Zias, whom Mr. Jacobovici is also suing).
  3. The statute of limitations had expired.

Any of the above three reasons are enough to dismiss (or at least transfer to a different jurisdiction) the conspiratorially-minded, frivolous lawsuit designed to intimidate scholars into not criticizing Jacobovici’s highly speculative films about archaeology.

(To his credit, his company’s non-archaeological documentaries are quite good, but his archaeology documentaries are roundly dismissed by scholars in the field, both in the US and Israel, with the exception of those scholars appearing in them or profiting somehow by working with Jacobovici on his archaeo-fantasies.)

Go and read the motions to dismiss Mr. Jacobovici’s most recent lawsuit against a scholar who once found herself working with him.


Prof. Robert Cargill on Iowa Public Radio to Discuss Issues of Separation of Church and State in Iowa

I’ve been invited to discuss matters pertaining to the separation of church and state on Iowa Public Radio‘s “River to River” with Ben Kieffer tomorrow, Monday, June 2, 2014, from noon to 1pm.

Iowa Public Radio mugWe’ll likely be discussing the recent proclamation signed by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, as well as the use of public Iowa funds to build a Christian themed park in Sioux City, recent court decisions dealing with prayer at government meetings, and my favorite, the placement of religious monuments on government lands and buildings.

You can listen to the discussion live by clicking on the LISTEN LIVE button on the top of the page here.

Tune in tomorrow. Should be fun.


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