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Weekend Word Wrap: recovered words

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Taking a cue from guest-star _floss blogger A.J. Jacobs and his past week's worth of postings on these pages, I thought I'd use the Wrap to look at some Biblical words found in the caves of Qumran in 1946: The Dead Sea Scrolls.

The San Diego Natural History Museum has mounted a fantastic exhibition featuring the 2000-plus year-old scrolls and has generously put together a enlightening list of facts for us. Plus, they've given us permission to repurpose a cool video on the scrolls, so be sure to check that out as well. (And if you live in Southern California, or think you're going to be visiting before the end of the year, be sure to check out the museum's Web site for tickets to this one-of-a-kind exhibit.)

scroll.jpgDead Sea Scrolls Facts

The Dead Sea Scrolls are the oldest known copies of the Hebrew Bible and Christian Old Testament: more than 2000 years old.

The scrolls were first found in caves along the shoreline of the Dead Sea in 1946. There are 225 caves in the area. Eleven caves yielded the scrolls. The search took place from 1946 to 1957.

A Bedouin goat-herder was the first person to discover the scrolls; he was looking for a lost goat which he thought had wandered into a cave. The goat-herder threw some rocks into the cave, hoping to route out the goat. He heard the rocks hitting the clay jars and knew something besides his goat might be in the cave. He did not understand their importance right away and took some of the leather fragments to give to his co-workers to repair their sandals.

(Many more interesting scroll facts after the jump.)

  • Some of the scrolls were found in little pieces, and some were found somewhat in tact.
  • In total nearly 100,000 scroll pieces were found; over the years they have been put together like pieces of a puzzle, resulting in 900 recognizable individual documents.
  • Piecing the scrolls together was like putting together a 100,000-piece puzzle with no picture on the box top.
  • The pieces were matched by: color, handwriting style and language. With the evolution of crime- scene science, many were matched using DNA, since most of the scrolls were written on goat skin.
  • Many of the scrolls were wrapped in linen cloth and stored in clay jars. The steady, dry climate in the caves helped preserved the scrolls over 2000 years.
  • Originally, as the scrolls were being pieced together, the conservators used Scotch tape. Later all the tape had to be meticulously removed when conservators realized the tape was disintegrating and damaging the scrolls.
  • Using more crime scene investigative techniques, scientists study the pollen, clothing fibers, and even lice that were found on the scrolls to learn more about who wrote the scrolls and also about the environment back then.
  • The scrolls are written in three languages: Paleo-Hebrew, Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. Aramaic was the predominant language of the time. Paleo-Hebrew was writing that was used before the Babylonian exile.
  • It is believed the writers of the scrolls hid them in caves because they were anticipating an invasion by the Roman army and they wanted to keep the scrolls safe.
  • There are three types of scrolls: biblical, apocryphal and sectarian. The biblical scrolls are those that became the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament. The apocryphal scrolls were determined not to be the inspired word of God and the sectarian scrolls were scrolls written about the current times and included land deeds, rules of war and community._
  • Some people believe the Essenes wrote the scrolls. The people who lived in Qumran called themselves "the sons of light."
  • The Deuteronomy scroll containing the Ten Commandments uses both versions of the Ten Commandments, from Deuteronomy and Exodus: same rules with slightly different wording. It "weaves" the two versions together.
  • The 10 Commandments are the original commandments, 613 Jewish laws hang on 10 commandments.
  • The Copper Scroll is the only Dead Sea Scroll engraved in copper. The Copper Scroll is also unique because it doesn't talk about religion or community living—it's all about treasure. It lists 67 locations and the treasure that can be found in those places (over $1 million in 1960's US dollars). Some people take it seriously, and others think it's an ancient hoax. Treasure hunters and archeologists haven't found anything (yet).
  • The Copper Scroll is from Jordan and has never before been displayed on American soil.
  • In the Psalms Scroll, the order of the Psalms is different than what we are used to—there are also "extra" psalms (155 vs. our 150) and a few extra poems.
  • The St. Petersburg Codex (a codex is the first form of a book) is the oldest complete manuscript of the Hebrew Bible. It is dated to 1010 CE. There are 11 codices in the exhibition; most have never been seen on the West Coast; never been seen outside of Russia.
  • Like Jewish people today, the people that wrote the scrolls thought saying or writing out the name of God was irreverent. So they used four letters, called a tetragrammaton in Greek: YHWH. Some scribes were even more cautious and put the four letters in an older, blockier Hebrew called Paleo-Hebrew. One scribe just used four dots in place of the letters,
  • like this: "¢ "¢ "¢ "¢
  • This is the largest exhibition of Dead Sea Scrolls ever assembled and it will only be in San Diego. It won't travel to LA or anywhere else. In all, 24 scrolls from Israel and three from Jordan are on display
  • In addition to the Dead Sea Scrolls, this exhibition has dozens of other ancient manuscripts from around the world that trace the Bible through history and different cultures.
  • As of October 15, the oldest copy of the Ten Commandments from the Dead Sea is on display. The Genesis Scroll with the flood story is also on display.

  • Lastly, if you're a fan of satire, here's a Biblical recovered word send-up on The Morning News I wrote some moons ago.

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    6 Wordsmiths Who Couldn't Spell
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    This month marks my 6-year anniversary blogging for mental_floss. It also marks mentalfloss.com's 6-year anniversary in the blogosphere. To celebrate the more than 2,000 daily posts, I'll be republishing some of my favorite posts from these last half-dozen years, starting today, running to the end of the month. Hope you enjoy this stroll down memory lane...

    (Originally published on Feb. 3, 2009)

    1. Alfred Mosher Butts

    Best known for: inventing Scrabble (first called Lexiko, and then later, Criss Cross Words)
    But did you know: We owe our Scrabble addictions to the Depression? Butts was an architect who suddenly found himself unemployed. With nothing but time on his hands, he set about to invent a board game (he must have been, er, bored, without work).
    So how bad was his spelling? By his own admission, Butts says he wasn't a good speller, and was delighted when his Scrabble score hit 300. Apparently his wife Nina, a former school teacher, usually outplayed him.

    2. William Faulkner

    faulkner.jpgBest known for: his stream of consciousness technique in such celebrated novels as his 1929 classic, The Sound and the Fury
    But did you know: the title of the novel comes from a Macbeth soliloquy? "It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
    So how bad was his spelling? One of Faulkner's editors at Random House, Albert Erskine, said, "I know that he did not wish to have carried through from typescript to printed book his typing mistakes, misspellings (as opposed to coinages), faulty punctuation and accidental repetition. He depended on my predecessors, and later on me, to point out such errors and correct them; and though we never achieved anything like a perfect performance, we tried."

    3. F. Scott Fitzgerald

    f-scott-fitzgerald-1921.jpgBest known for: The Great Gatsby
    But did you know: The novel didn't sell well during Fitzgerald's lifetime? (fewer than 25,000 copies)
    So how bad was his spelling? Preeminent American literary critic Edmund Wilson described This Side of Paradise as "one of the most illiterate books of any merit ever published."

    4. Ernest Hemingway

    hemingway.jpgBest known for: those great stoic characters, like Robert Jordan in the 1940 novel For Whom the Bell Tolls
    But did you know: Hemingway was decorated as a hero after being injured during WWI? And served as a war correspondent in both the Spanish Civil War and WWII? (in case you ever wondered how he got all those Spanish Civil War details down so well in For Whom the Bell Tolls)
    So how bad was his spelling? Whenever his newspaper editors complained about it, he'd retort, "Well, that's what you're hired to correct!"

    5. John Keats

    john-keats.jpgBest known for: the 1820 poem, Ode on a Grecian Urn
    But did you know: tuberculosis took the young Keats in 1821, at only 26 years of age? The same disease had already claimed his mother and younger brother.
    So how bad was his spelling? In a letter to his great love Fanny Brawne, Keats spelled the color purple, purplue. This generated a longer conversation between the two, as Keats tried to save face by suggesting he'd meant to coin a new portmanteaux - a cross between purple and blue.

    6. Jane Austen

    HI08_JaneAusten_1.jpgBest known for: her elegant novels, like Pride and Prejudice, published in 1813
    But did you know: she'd actually written the novel a good 15 years earlier, under the title First Impressions, but the publisher rejected it? (Let this be a lesson to all ye aspiring writers!) Then, after Sense and Sensibility was published in 1811, there was interest in the older story, which, after some editing, was eventually published with the title we know today.
    So how bad was her spelling? She once misspelled one of her teenage works as "Love and Freindship" and is infamously known to have spelt scissors as scissars.

    Check out all past Weekend Word Wraps>>

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    Phrase Origins: The Real McCoy and On The Wagon
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    We use these hackneyed expressions all the time (hence the hackneyed element), but where do they come from? I’m reviving the Weekend Word Wrap feature from years ago to take a look at a couple each week or so. First up, The Real McCoy.

    The Real McCoy

    Our version is actually a variation of the original Scottish phrase dating back to the mid 19th century, “A drappie o’ the real MacKay" What’s interesting here is that the ay in MacKay is actually pronounced like “eye.”
    But what about the real meaning? Well, there are a few interesting theories. The first refers to a brand of fine whisky that was made in Scotland in the 1850s and then was marketed as 'the real MacKay' starting in 1870. Another theory involves Elijah McCoy, a Canadian inventor who was educated in Scotland, who invented a successful machine for lubricating engines that wound up spawning myriad copies, all inferior to the original. The design was patented in 1872.

    On The Wagon

    The term “On The Wagon” also has a few origin stories but my favorite derives from prisoners who were on their way to jail on the back of a wagon. They were allowed one last drink in the local pub before the enforced temperance inside their cells. The other popular one, and the one many say is more accurate (though one can never be sure) is about being "on the water wagon." Back in the day, water wagons would come through town hosing down the streets to keep the dust from getting out of hand. So if you were sitting atop this wagon, you were drinking water, not alcohol.

    Have any phrases or expressions you want me to take a look at next week? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.

    Check out past Weekend Word Wraps here.

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