Thursday, September 29, 2011

Rosh Hashana & The Dead Sea Scrolls On The Web

Rosh Hashana (The "head" of the year) is a Jewish  holiday.  Today is the first day of the year 5772 according to the Hebrew Calendar.    The epoch or reference date of the hebrew calendar is the date of the creation of the universe  -  the Anno Mundi.    Around 160 CE, Jewish scholars worked backwards from "known" events and used time periods mentioned in the Hebrew bible and calculated "year zero" at around 3,920 years before their current time.  So if we are in 2011 CE,  then we get 2011-160+3920 =  5771.  Seems right. 

You won't have to travel spatially to Israel to see the Dead Sea Scrolls.   The Israel Museum, Jerusalem and Google have a project to digitize them, and make them available to all online.   The Official Google Blog has a post  about the project as well.   As of now, you can click on the Great Isaiah scroll and get images and translations to English of the text.   The scrolls were discovered in caves in the Dead Sea area which is usually hot and dry.  Most of the scrolls are badly fragmented - a few are almost complete.  The scrolls were carbon dated in the 1990s with calibrated ages for the oldest scrolls at about 300 BCE  (about 2,300 years ago).    These are the oldest known surviving copies of the Hebrew bible and related texts.

The Hebrew bible starts with Genesis, the creation of the universe.  The biblical creation myth is one of many.   No ancient one is close to the scientific value for the age of the universe.  The Chinese and ancient Egyptians came up with ~40,000 years.  The Hindu's were close at 4.5 billion, but then decided to multiply by fifty. Still, it's pretty good.   Christian estimates range from about 9,000 to 6,000 years.  

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