Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Pair of Holy Land Discoveries

This article: A Pair of Holy Land Discoveries, is exciting for a couple of reasons. Not  the jewelry part, though I suppose that's fine too. What's key here is the discovery of portions of Nehemiah in the Dead Sea Scrolls:
For years, it was believed that the DSS fragments include pieces of every Biblical text with the exception of Nehemiah and Esther.
Well, we can reduce that to just Esther now. Torleif Elgvin of Evangelical Lutheran University College in Oslo has announced that he has discovered a piece of Nehemiah among some two dozen previously unpublished fragments.
Now, every book of the Old Testament except for Esther has at least partial external verification.
Why does this matter? Because it's a general rule of historiography that the more independent copies of a given text we have, the more we can trust the veracity of the source material. So, imagine that we dig up a copy of Julius Caesar's Gallic Wars in Rome that dates back to the 2nd century AD. How do we know whether or not we can trust the information therein? What if whoever copied the work made a mistake? One way to verify the material is to compare it to other extant sources (does what Cicero says about the same issues match up?). Another way is to compare what is said in another copy of the same work discovered in a different place, say, Southern France. While the former method is more important (it gives you two witnesses instead of just one), the latter is useful in establishing what the original text actually said and proving that little tampering has occured over the years. The discovery that Nehemiah was at least in part included in the Dead Sea Scrolls gives us yet another source that verifies the content of the Scriptures.

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