What’s wrong with this statement?

Something is odd about this comment:

…to help make his point that the bible was the word of god, he introduced the Dead Sea scrolls. He said that they were 3,000 years old and that scholars had found that they were identical to the modern day bible. In fact, he said, “Every dot over every ‘i’, every cross of the ‘t’, every comma, and every period is in the exact same place as in the bible in your hand” (quote paraphrased).

And to this day in Hebrew school, the children receive careful instruction in dotting i’s and crossing t’s.


  1. quork says

    I thought Hebrew, or at least ancient Hebrew, was written without vowels. No ‘i’s to cross. Punctuation? Ha ha, what a sissy.

  2. quork says

    And the “Bible in your hand” is presumably in English, which did not exist at the time.

  3. BC says

    There are plenty of things wrong with that statement. Not only the date (as Blake Stacey pointed out). But, there have been changes in the Bible. I remember reading a while back that a former Christian fundamentalist who studied ancient New Testament manuscripts (and eventually de-converted because of it) said that there were no copies of the ancient Greek New Testament that were identical. Apparently, there are over 200,000 differences between all these copies. As I recall, he wrote a book called, “Misquoting Jesus”. (I realize that his comment was about the differences between the Old Testament and the Dead Sea scrolls, so maybe my comments about the New Testament aren’t entirely relevant.)

    Additionally, the Dead Sea scrolls contained several “holy” books not included in the Old Testament. And, the books that do match the Old Testament aren’t competely identical to the ones included in “the Bible”. I’m sure I could lookup those differences if anyone is interested, since I have a book on the Dead Sea scrolls on my bookshelf.

  4. quork says

    You’re being a wee bit misleading there, I think some of the Dead Sea Scrolls were in Greek, not Hebrew.

  5. Caledonian says

    To resurrect and old and frequently referenced quote:

    “If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for me.”

  6. quork says


    The fragments span at least 800 texts that represent many diverse viewpoints, ranging from the beliefs of the Essenes to those of other sects.
    About 30% are fragments from the Hebrew Bible, from all the books except the Book of Esther and the Book of Nehemiah (Abegg et al 2002). About 25% are traditional Israelite religious texts that are not in the canonical Hebrew Bible, such as the Book of Enoch, the Book of Jubilees, and the Testament of Levi.
    Another 30% contain Biblical commentaries or other texts such as the Community Rule (1QS/4QSa-j, also known as “Discipline Scroll” or “Manual of Discipline”) and the War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness (1QM, also known as the “War Scroll”) related to the beliefs, regulations, and membership requirements of a small Jewish sect, which many researchers believe lived in the Qumran area.
    The rest (about 15%) of the fragments are yet unidentified.
    Most of the scrolls are written in one of two dialects of Hebrew, Biblical Hebrew or Dead Sea Scroll Hebrew (on which see Hoffman 2004 or Qimron 1986).
    Biblical Hebrew dominates in the Biblical documents, and DSS Hebrew in the documents composed in Qumran. Some scrolls are also written in Aramaic and a few in Greek.

  7. SEF says

    But the Greeks don’t dot their ‘i’s or cross their ‘t’s (well not in the same way) either! :-D

  8. Chris Stephens says

    doubtless they’re crossing their ‘t’s and dotting their ‘i’s in Greek, too.

  9. George says

    Remember, we need to be nice to these people because it’s not “Christian” to be mean or condescending or to call someone an idiot.

    I think he just got confused at some point. I will go to his web site and thank him for being so willing to teach so many people over the airwaves all about the stuff he cares about and all for free, then I will gently remind him of a couple of things he overlooked, in a neighborly, friendly fashion.

    Who knows. Maybe he will thank me. I might make a new friend.

    Oh wait, I think the valium is wearing off… I’m feeling…. hostility… yes, it’s definitely… it’s coming….

    What a BONEHEAD!

  10. Steve LaBonne says

    I wish I could say, “unbelievable”. Sadly, though, this level of profound ignorance of their own religion is very much expected from Christianistrs.

  11. Scott Hatfield says

    quork: I referenced the article you linked to but it did not provide a date for the inclusion of the allusions to the Trinity provided in John.

    My understanding has always been that much of John is older than the other Gospels and that its opening preamble is a theological gloss. I confess, however, open skepticism that it was added as late as the 13th century. Are you saying that ‘In the beginning was the Word’ was not in the original Vulgate? That seems difficult to credit on the basis of one scholar.

    Do you have another source for this? I’d need more evidence to buy a 13th-century origin for the opening of John. I might well believe that it was added after the original gospel’s composition, however, prior to the 5th century. And I have no problem agreeing with you that the doctrine of the Trinity really doesn’t appear in the Bible. I just question the date.


  12. says

    I’m fairly certain that Scott Hatfield did not mean to say that the gospel of John is “older” than the other gospels. It is, rather, “later” than the other gospels. Quite a bit later.

  13. says

    It’s not the gospel of John, but the first epistle of John, whose reference to the Trinity is extremely dubious. The relevant passage is 1 John 5:7-8, known as the “Comma Johanneum” (or sometimes the “Johannine Comma”). It probably originated sometime during the fourth century, perhaps in the writings of Priscillian or his follower Instantius. Even during the heated debates amongst the early churchmen about doctrinal matters — like the Catholics’ struggle with the Arian heresy — nobody quoted the Comma. Odd, you’d think, that they would overlook the best piece of evidence the New Testament provides for the Trinity when they’re trying to convert the Arians to Trinitarianism.

    Erasmus was more or less browbeaten into including the Comma in his New Testament translation, from which the King James derives. Isaac Newton wrote a treatise demonstrating how ludicrously false the Comma was (in a letter to John Locke, as it happens). The Roman Curia’s Holy Office, which had once overseen the Inquisition, declared in 1897 that Catholics could not “with safety” deny the Comma’s authenticity; Pope Pius XI declared the Comma open to dispute in 1927, but he ended up dead, possibly at Nazi hands. (His doctor’s daughter was Mussolini’s mistress.)

    Coincidence, I’m sure.

    Nowadays, the only people who give a tinker’s dam about the Comma are members of the “King James Only” movement. They advance convoluted reasons to keep the Comma, many of them incorrect on historical grounds. One is never sure whether they’re advocating the King James Version because it preserves these arcane readings or if they love the dubious verses because the King James includes them.

  14. Kyra says

    “Remember, we need to be nice to these people because it’s not “Christian” to be mean or condescending or to call someone an idiot.”

    I’m not Christian.

    What an idiot!

  15. says

    Quork and Scott,
    John doesn’t really matter; none of the New Testament books are among the Dead Sea scrolls.

    More to the point, whether or not people were able to correctly copy the books of the Bible over the last 2000 years in no way proves or disproves them being the word of his God. His point is completely irrelevant.

  16. BlueIndependent says

    I had no idea English was the preferred tongue of God Himself. What’s with all the Latin crap then?

  17. Joe Shelby says

    I love the potential Dr. Who-ish irony in a 3,000 year old document that was “identical to the modern day bible”.

    1) it would (even if 3000 years old) be older than the actual established (sort-of) date of events described within.

    2) I wonder how many other great works in New American Standard English, or even just King James English, were buried in the seas and sands of Israel that might enlighten us.

    Who knows, maybe a rabbit in the jurassic is hiding in there…

  18. says

    Besides all the i’s and t’s discussion, there’s “every comma, and every period.” Now, I’m not sure about the Dead Sea Scrolls, but I seem to recall that not only does old Hebrew not use commas or periods, but it has no punctuation or spaces between words whatsoever.

    And, furthermore, isn’t Hebrew read from right to left? Why would the commas and periods be in the “exact same place” as in my left-to-right English Bible? Wouldn’t that be a sign of gross incompetence?

  19. Grumpy Physicist says

    Joe Shelby writes:

    I wonder how many other great works in New American Standard English, or even just King James English, were buried in the seas and sands of Israel that might enlighten us.

    If it’s a copy of the Wall Street Journal dated from sometime in the next few years, it might indeed enlighten (and enrich) us. Even the scores for the upcoming NCAA bowl games could be quite profitable.

    But why waste using a perfectly good time machine on a bunch of theological crap? Dr. Who would have to come up with quite a convoluted explanation for that, I think.

  20. Georgiana says

    Oh this is easier than being blindfolded and upside down shooting fish in a barrel.

    We have manuscripts that we can attempt to read, contrast and compare. In fact, for those interested in the development and assembly of the Bible, (Or just looking at some really cool old documents including some from the Dead Sea Scrolls) the Freer Gallery has a nice online version of their exhibition Bibles to 1000 AD. Not to mention some pretty terrific calligraphy and artwork.

    And it’s not like there isn’t a long tradition of oral and written commentary on how to read and interpret the Hebrew among Jews. Not to mention a pretty long tradition among Christians of translating Biblical texts and commentary as part of their religious devotion.

    methinks my lying eyes show lots of proof of human industriousness and endeavor.

  21. Georgiana says

    As for the King James’ Version, has everyone forgotten it was a serious (and successful) attempt to supplant rival English translations, particularly the threat posed by the Puritans’ Geneva Bible? As beautiful as its English may be, the KJV was designed as a monument to the unity of God and King.

  22. Remzi says

    There are a couple of problems with this statement. First, the poster, Rhosgobel, should have capitalized “the Bible” and “the Word of God.” This is the grammatical convention when referring to holy books, the names of God, specific deities, etc., the objections of atheists notwithstanding. Second, the speaker making the Dead Sea scrolls argument (presumably a televangelist) relies on troubled logic to make his point. Simply because the originals are found to be like surviving copies does not mean that they should be accepted as true or believable with respect to their content. A fallacious argument such as this is made in order to lend credence to the Dead Sea scrolls and, by extension, Christianity.

  23. JohnnieCanuck says

    Would it be safe to say that the people he was addressing are relying on him to guide them on the path to eternal ecstasy? And not only that, but they are paying him to do so?

    Forgive them for they know not what they do.

  24. Warren Terra says

    Not to mention that, dogma about the careful method by which the Torah is hand-copied notwithstanding, the dead sea scrolls are written in a different alphabet than is the Torah …

  25. SEF says

    Modern Hebrew is also vowel-less.

    Not really, it isn’t. I learned the vowels and vowel-carriers along with the consonants. I’m less good at the actual words though … :-D

  26. quork says

    It’s not the gospel of John, but the first epistle of John, whose reference to the Trinity is extremely dubious. The relevant passage is 1 John 5:7-8,

    Thanks for filling that in, I had to go do the eat & sleep thing.

  27. O-dot-O says

    My Jewish brother-in-law told me that the vowels were dropped in informal Hebrew writing. He called it “Heebonics”.

  28. Kuzum says

    Just to add to the deliciousness of this stupid quote:

    Not only do the the dead sea scrolls contain no i’s or t’s, since they were written in Hebrew letters, they also have no commas or periods.

    I refer you to your neighborhood synagogue, to check out the velvet-covered bible, and see that it has no commas or periods in it.

  29. says

    Aside from the obvious thing wrong with it, it also doesn’t address the facts of the textual transmission of the Tanach. Hebrew spelling didn’t become standardized until the 16th century when printing came in–the Leningrad Codex, the earliest complete Tanach, differs from the Koren version (of Bible Code fame) in 41 places in Deuteronomy by itself.

    Furthermore, it gets even worse when you go compare the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Leningrad Codex. There’s a 19% difference in the Leningrad Codex Torah vs. the Samaritan Torah. That’s not surprising, because the Samaritan Torah was handed down by people who would deliberately alter it in order to fit their sectarian biases. However, even in the Great Isaiah Scroll, there are thousands of differences between it and the LC. Granted, most of the changes are mere spelling differences and make no major changes to the subject matter, but even so it is letter-to-letter fidelity that is being asserted here.

  30. SEF says

    the Freer Gallery has a nice online version of their exhibition Bibles to 1000 AD.

    I came back to this because thought I had enough time for a quick look at that site and might possibly want to save the link for later. However, the first paragraph has already somewhat ruined it for me:

    In what language where they written?

  31. Scott Hatfield says

    Blake Stacey: Thank you for offering that clarification. Not only did I fail to read quork’s original post carefully (sorry, quork) but my response, as Zeno noted, said ‘older’ when I meant to say ‘later.’ Apologies to all for my lack of attentiveness, including quork. And thanks again for the info…SH

  32. says

    @Scott Hatfield:

    You’re welcome. I love few things more than the sound of my own words, so I never pass up the opportunity to expound and exposit. ;-)

  33. says

    I will clarify: modern Hebrew has vowels of a sort.

    Hebrew doesn’t have vowels in the same way that English or many other languages do; they’re not part of the alphabet. They’re diacritical markings around the actual letters. They do exist, but most of the time they’re not actually written. People learning Hebrew will use them as training wheels, but fluent speakers generally don’t bother.

  34. E-gal says

    “Who knows, maybe a rabbit in the jurassic is hiding in there…”

    To whomever wrote that, I would be much more pleased with the pre-cambrian.

  35. E-gal says

    Then is reading Hebrew like reading a post that has been disemvolved? That would seem exceedingly difficult.

  36. Tim B. says

    Just a side-thought: I would think that religionists would find much enlightenment should they stumble on threads such as this, dominated by those with a rational, scientific way of examining reality. My hunch is that most religious believers are ignorant about biblical scholarship, while most sceptics or atheists are pretty much well informed. Maybe I’m wrong, but it just strikes me that the higher intelligence of the overall well-informed usually leads to a more serious and thorough examination of, really, any topic.

  37. Brian X says


    Actually, I find that reading disemvowelled text doesn’t take too long to pick up — I can do it unaided with difficulty, and I’m sure I’d be fluent by now if PZ had more troll problems.

    Anyway, as far as I know, it is more or less like that (though I don’t read Hebrew), and always has been. As I understand the mechanics of Semitic languages, you’re more or less supposed to supply the vowels according to context, since the placement of vowels is based on the grammar of the sentence. (If you know anything about ablaut, it’s basically an extreme form of that sort of thing.) I think the only exception is Maltese, which has lost a lot of Semitic morphology from its medieval Arabic ancestry due to influence by Italian.