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Necrologophilia: Digging Dead Languages
October 12, 2011 - By: - In: Language - Comments Off on Necrologophilia: Digging Dead Languages

View the vodcast version of this post on the Translation Guy YouTube channel.

I think its a safe bet that you’re into language, if you are here in the first place. But we all have different tastes. I think its only adult to admit  that some linguistic preferences are not your plain vanilla ABCs. I speak of the character fetish known as necrologophilia. Love of dead languages, the linguistic love that dare not speak its name, at least in the Modern Languages Department. But it is the kind of company that archaeologists and others with the same interests seek out in the dark corners of history.

So for those of you whose nostrils flare at the scent of dusty parchment, or for whom the scratch of styli on papyri is, well, an itch that must be scratched, welcome. Today we will explore the darkest corners of the lost language closet, as we bring that which was once hidden to light of public view.

Now take the Dead Sea scrolls. That’s dead. Discovered by a Bedouin herdsman, Muhammad edh-Dhib in 1947, in what was once Jordan and is now the West Bank,  these 972 manuscripts, of parchment and papyrus  in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, were written between 150 BC and 70 AD, possibly by the Essenes, a Jewish religious order, or by others fleeing the wrath of Rome during the great Jewish revolt to 66 to 70 AD.

These ancient texts are of great religious and historical significance, as they include the oldest known surviving copies of much biblical material  and help to document an under-documented period of great upheaval in the region. Look it up on Wikipedia for details.

Now as any publisher can tell you, hiding your scrolls in jars buried in desert caves is not the best way to boost circulation. So digging them out should have brtought them to light. But curiously, even when cave-free, they still remained as hidden as ever.

A few of the documents  were published immediately, but many fragments were kept under wraps by scholars for decades after their discovery. This small group, apparently suffering from writer’s block, weren’t publishing much and weren’t letting others have a look-see. The secrecy surrounding the Dead Sea scrolls  became one of  the biggest scholarly scandals of the 20th Century.

Some say the shocking details of these texts threatened the very foundation of Christian faith. A conspiracy perhaps? I’d like nothing better than to report the same. I love conspiracies. I mean there’s something so darn optimistic about conspiracy, since it requires so much faith in human nature to imagine that a group of people would be smart enough, and fore-sighted enough, and trustworthy enough,to keep a secret so well for so long. Equally optimistic, that  there could possibly by anything in those  dusty old parchments that would cause even one believer to fall from grace. I mean, its called belief for a reason, right? Evidence is in the eye of the beholder.

Anyway, after 50 years of dispute, verily the scales have fallen from the eyes of scholars and the scrolls have been revealed for all to see. And now,  ultra high-rez photos of five of these scrolls may now be viewed online, in a joint project between Google and the Israel Museum of Jerusalem.

Eyal Miller of Google blogs “Now, anyone around the world can view, read and interact with five digitized Dead Sea Scrolls. The high resolution photographs, taken by Ardon Bar-Hama, are up to 1,200 mega-pixels, almost 200 times more than the average consumer camera, so viewers can see even the most minute details in the parchment. For example, zoom in on the Temple Scroll to get a feel for the animal skin it’s written on—only one-tenth of a millimeter thick.“

Google has rolled out these  scrolls so that anyone can study  them in order to achieve scholarly satisfaction in the privacy of their own home.

Hot, right? I hope I didn’t offend any readers with my Necrologophilial disclosure. Although I guess anyone who has read this far might feel a tad cheated since Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic aren’t exactly dead languages. It’s just that I’m worried about our traffic ever since those same Google bastards  pulled 1-800-Translate off the search engines  for reasons unknown. Pardon my language, its been bothering me.

Well, if you’ve read this far, It’s clear we have certain shared interests. Nothing to be ashamed of. So, in the the next TranslationGuy post on  Necrologophilia I promise it will be even more titillating for those of that ilk. I’m talking X-ray glasses and see-thru parchment. Hot figures too. Do the math.

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