Apologetics and the Dead Sea Scrolls
Recently I was asked to speak to a church group about the Dead Sea Scrolls. I thought I might share some of my thoughts from the experience.
In trying to express what the Scrolls are and their value for academic study I thought it necessary to locate them historically by giving a brief background of the Second Temple time-line and the possible groups that existed within Judaism at the time.
No one gave a shit.
They just wanted to know one thing: what do the Scrolls mean for my faith? In other words: can I use the scrolls in an apologetic defense of my faith or for an attack on your secular humanism?
No matter how I tried to guide and facilitate the conversation away from this the group kept coming back to these concerns again and again: Do they prove the reliability of the Bible? Do they prove the historical records in the Bible? Do they prove anything about Jesus? Do they prove our Bible is the right one?
Basically, they wanted me to do this:
(HT: Robert Cargill: How Not to Talk About the Dead Sea Scrolls)
As I commented on Dr. Cargill’s site the argumentation in this video is a selective appeal to critical scholarship (amongst its many other faults). Basically, it misrepresents a few items about the scrolls in an attempt to “prove” the reliability of the Bible. The reason it’s selective of course is the fact that if Mr. Niles mentioned the majority scholarly opinion on the authors of Isaiah most evangelical Christians would freak out. If Mr. Niles followed that up with some scholarly opinion on Hebrew prophecy, the dating of Isaiah 53, and its historical meaning… well, let’s just say it doesn’t “preach”.
Just as an aside: I work for Dr. Peter Flint who has recently finished work on DJD 32 “The Great Isaiah Scroll;” I’ve seen the variant list for merely the first three chapters, and just that is several pages!
Ultimately, what I found most interesting was the insatiable thirst for certainty and for proof. I would suggest that this is probably normal for human beings inculcated in a post-Enlightenment society that values the scientific process and a certain type of reason. I would also think that this is so natural for some people that they can’t even really see what it is they truly value. It’s like a fish swimming in water.
Sometimes I have to wonder if this sort of Christian has any “faith” whatsoever or if they are so blindly committed to some sort of epistemic certainty that their loyalties and arguments will always run towards some kind of apologetic.
Anyways, I was nice and suggested to the group that if anyone tells them that the scrolls disprove their faith they don’t know what they are talking about. Equally, I would suggest, they can’t “prove” your faith either. Sometimes texts are just texts; sometimes historical events are just historical events.
Of course, I believe that the scrolls are of great value, and there is many things we can learn from them, but as an apologetic tool? I would think their value is very limited.