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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

"Not only is there no God, but try getting a plumber on weekends." - Woody Allen


A letter Paul wrote to complain about the "The Dead Sea Scrolls" exhibition at the Arts House:

To Ms. Amira Osman (Marketing and Communications Manager),

Colin Goh, General Manager,
Florence Lee, Depury General Manager

Dear Ms. Osman,

I visited the Dead Sea Scrolls “exhibition” today with my wife. Thinking that it was from a legitimate scholarly institute or (how naïve of me!) the Israel Antiquities Authority, I was looking forward to a day of education and entertainment.

Yet when I got it, much of the exhibition (and booklets) merely espouses an evangelical (fundamentalist) view of the Bible – there are booklets on the inerrancy of the Bible, on how archaeology has proven the Bible to be true etc.

Apart from these there are many blatant misrepresentations of the state of archaeology and mainstream biblical scholarship:

a) There was initial screening upon entry of a 5-10 minute pseudo-documentary on the Dead Sea Scrolls. A presenter (can’t remember the name) was described as a “biblical archaeologist” – a term that no serious archaeologist working in the Levant would apply to him or herself. (Some prefer the term “Syro-Palestinian archaeologist” but almost all reject the term “biblical archaeologist”). See the book by Thomas W. Davis, “Shifting Sands: The Rise and Fall of Biblical Archaeology”, Oxford, New York 2004. Davis is an actual archaeologist working in the field and the book tells why the term “Biblical archaeologist” is not considered a legitimate term by serious archaeologist.

b) In the same presentation, the presenter made the erroneous statement that the entire old testament was translated into Greek in the third century BCE. This is a mistake – only the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) was translated during that time. Note that this ‘error’ is not inadvertent but is a familiar claim by evangelical apologists who try to argue for an early date of all the books of the Old testament - if all the books have been translated by the third century BCE obviously these books must all have been written before then! This flies against modern scholarship which show that some books in the Old Testament such as the Book of Daniel was written only in the second century BCE]The actual state of scholarship on the Septuagint [The Greek translation of the Bible] is accurately given in the book by Ernst Würthwein, “The Text of the Old Testament” – Eerdmans 1988 pp.52-54

c) Perhaps the most blatant error was one which claimed that the “Magdalene fragments” – which contains the 26th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew is dated to 50 AD!!! Scholars are unanimous in dating these fragments to 200 AD. The only ‘scholar’ cited that dated these fragments to 50 AD was the German papyrologist Carsten Thiede – a well know fundamentalist. This is what Burton Mack (a critical – legitimate – NT scholar) has to say about Thiede’s eccentric dating “From a critical scholar's point of view, Thiede's proposal is an example of just how desperate the Christian imagination can become in the quest to argue for the literal facticity of the Christian gospels” [Mack, Burton L., “Who Wrote the New Testament?:The Making of the Christian Myth” HarperCollins, San Francisco 1995] Yet the dating of 50 AD is presented as though it is a scholarly consensus position!

In fact the last point was so blatant that I confronted the exhibitors. (Tak Boleh Tahan!!) One American exhibitor told me that “Yes, it could have been worded differently, but then we would have to change the whole display” (!!). When I told him that this was not a typo but a blatant attempt to deceive, he mentioned that Theide’s views are supported by “The Dallas Theological Seminary” – another well know evangelical institute!

I have no issue with the religious strengthening their faith by having their own internal exhibitions on historical artifacts etc. But when it is presented to the public as a scholarly exhibition – this is quite close to being dishonest.

I felt cheated of the $36 dollars I paid for the tickets and of the hour that I spent there before realizing what type of exhibition it was.

I am disappointed with The Art House for show casing this without warning potential visitors of its clear religious bias.

Yours sincerely,
Paul Tobin

To their credit, the Arts House speedily replied.
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