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Dead Sea Scrolls Scandal

A few years ago I was asked to give a speech at a museum in Raleigh NC in connection with an exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls that had been long in the works and had finally become a reality. I will be the first to admit, I’m not the first person you should think of to give a lecture on the Dead Sea Scrolls. It’s not my field of scholarship. But the lecture was to be one of a series of lectures, and the other lecturers actually were experts, including my colleague Jodi Magness, a world-class archaeologist who happens to teach in my department (well, she doesn’t “happen” to teach there; I hired her when I was chair of the department) and who has written the best popular discussion of the archaeology of Qumran, the place where the scrolls were found, and my colleague at cross-town rival Duke, Eric Meyers, another archaeologist famous for his work in ancient Israel. The organizers of the exhibit wanted me to give a talk because they wanted a lecture dealing with the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls for understanding both the historical Jesus and the rise of early Christianity. And those *are* topics that I know something about.

Before giving the lecture, I started getting some emails from a person I did not know; these started out as innocent enough, but very quickly they turned highly vitriolic and mean-spirited and accusatory, attacking me viciously for not embracing the theories about the Dead Sea Scrolls held by Normal Golb, who is famous for thinking that the scrolls were not produced by the Jewish sect known as the Essenes (most other scholars think they were; I don’t know of anyone who has been convinced by Golb – but I’m sure there must be someone who has!).

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  1. Avatar
    toddfrederick  February 16, 2013

    There are so many horrid things done with regard to religion or in the name of religion, and I thought religion was all about goodness, forgiveness, compassion, and love !!! 😀

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  February 18, 2013

      Well, there’s religion, and then there’s religion….

    • Avatar
      aristotelian  February 25, 2015

      It seems Raphael Golb wasn’t concerned about religion but the academic reputation of his father.

  2. Avatar
    PaulH  February 16, 2013

    Please tell me you’re going to send him a copy of “Forged” to read while he’s in jail? Lol.

  3. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  February 17, 2013

    I saw the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit and had no idea about this episode. The New York Times article is quite good.

  4. Avatar
    Matt7  February 17, 2013

    Six feet tall and 120 pounds? Lucky for him you guys didn’t come to blows.

  5. Avatar
    Wilusa  February 17, 2013

    I was especially fascinated by learning about the “sock puppets”! Made me think of a naughty trick I tried long ago, in a less technological era. My favorite TV show had been cancelled, and I wrote protest letters using at least two fictitious names, in addition to my real one. Different stationery, different handwriting. I was very pleased with my twentysomething self! (Didn’t get the show renewed, though.)

    I’d never dreamed people would now be doing that sort of thing on a large scale, with the intent of actually hurting others.

  6. Avatar
    jonney38  February 17, 2013

    Thanks for sharing a fascinating story–I enjoyed the NYT article as well. Those of us from academia know well the bitter battles that go on.

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    Christian  February 18, 2013

    [Off-topic] Library at Loyola Marymount University posted your talk about the legacy of the KJ Bible:
    (Perhaps there should be a special thread for announcements?)

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  February 18, 2013

      Great idea. I’ll work on it.

      • Avatar
        samchahal  February 19, 2013

        hi Bart

        what in your opinion is the best Bible to study in order to understand the closest historical content- RJV? certainly not KJV!

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  February 19, 2013

          The New REvised Standard Version, which I especially like in a study edition such as the Harper Collins Study Bible.

      • Avatar
        Adam0685  February 19, 2013

        I think a list of audio or video sources of you is a good idea. I know your main website has some, but it’s not up to date. If you’re too busy to compile a list of online audio, videos, lectures, debates, etc. of you speaking that have been posted by reputable sources (to ensure that they have been unaltered) like from Yale, LMU, GoogleTalk, Allan Gregg Show, UCBerkeley, etc. on youtube and other media channels I would be more than willing to do that for you!

    • Avatar
      bamurray  February 20, 2013

      Thanks for the link – it was a very interesting talk!

      I noticed that you mentioned again (IIRC you have written about it elsewhere) the hypothesis that some changes may have resulted from one scribe inserting a marginal notation, then some later scribe incorporating the notation into the main text. Do we have any actual, extant examples of such a marginal notation – that is, actually a marginal notation in an existing manuscript? It seems to me that would strengthen the hypothesis. It would be even better to have the original and fully-substituted texts, as well, but maybe that’s too much to hope for.

      You mention the Codex Vaticanus in the discussion after your talk, but that sounds (if I understand it) like just a change in a single word, not an interpolation of additional material.

      • Bart Ehrman
        Bart Ehrman  February 20, 2013

        Ah! That would be nice to have *that* kind of evidence!! Unfortunately, we don’t have any instance in all our early manuscripts of a manuscript AND a copy of that manuscript. So without having that kind of thing, we really couldn’t hope to have one with the marginal note and the next one with the note in the text itself. I wish we did!!

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    DMiller5842  March 1, 2013

    The organizers of the exhibit wanted me to give a talk because they wanted a lecture dealing with the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls for understanding both the historical Jesus and the rise of early Christianity. And those *are* topics that I know something about.

    Is that “talk” online anywhere? I would like to hear it or read it.

  9. Avatar
    lderochi  March 25, 2014

    I thought you and your readers might be interested to hear that the Golb case has finally wound its way up the judicial ladder to the NY Court of Appeals (which, contrary to its name, is NY’s highest court). http://nypost.com/2014/03/24/new-yorks-top-court-to-hear-dead-sea-scrolls-case/

  10. Avatar
    SHameed01  April 23, 2014

    What are your thoughts on Christians who believe the KJV is the only perfect infallible Word of God in English?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 27, 2016

      Yes, I was one of the people he harassed, though (thankfully) I wasn’t involved in the court case.

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