Wikipedia and the Essenes

Matt Shafer over at Twice Infinity (the blog was recently accepted into CCBlogs, which I am jealous of because my blog was not "serious" enough for inclusion), pointed me a month back to this story of a Wikipedia article that reported a false fact, a paper reported it, and then Wikipedia referenced the paper as proof of fact.  Hilarious!  Slashdot reports:

The German and international press picked up the wrong name from Wikipedia — including well-known newspapers, Internet sites, and TV news such as, Bild,, TAZ, or Süddeutsche Zeitung. In the meantime, the change on Wikipedia was reverted, with a request for proof of the name. The proof was quickly found. On an article cites Mr. von und zu Guttenberg using his 'full name'; however, while the quote might have been real, the full name seems to have been looked up on Wikipedia while the false edit was in place. So the circle was closed: Wikipedia states a false fact, a reputable media outlet copies the false fact, and this outlet is then used as the source to prove the false fact to Wikipedia."
Matt and I mused back and forth about if there were any historical occurrences of this taking place in history. Wouldn't it be terrible if some church historical facts were shown to be referencing fictional accounts, even though for 60 years we have treated them as facts?  Hope that never happens....

...Oh, did you notice that Hebrew scholar Rachel Elior claims that those awesome Dead Sea Scrolls that we found in a cave 60 years ago....yeah, they were real, but the community of Essenes that we wax nostalgic about didn't exist.  (hat tip: Blake Huggins ' shared google reader items)
Elior, who teaches Jewish mysticism at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, claims that the Essenes were a fabrication by the 1st century A.D. Jewish-Roman historian Flavius Josephus and that his faulty reporting was passed on as fact throughout the centuries. As Elior explains, the Essenes make no mention of themselves in the 900 scrolls found by a Bedouin shepherd in 1947 in the caves of Qumran, near the Dead Sea. "Sixty years of research have been wasted trying to find the Essenes in the scrolls," Elior tells TIME. "But they didn't exist. This is legend on a legend."

Elior contends that Josephus, a former Jewish priest who wrote his history while being held captive in Rome, "wanted to explain to the Romans that the Jews weren't all losers and traitors, that there were many exceptional Jews of religious devotion and heroism. You might say it was the first rebuttal to anti-Semitic literature." She adds, "He was probably inspired by the Spartans. For the Romans, the Spartans were the highest ideal of human behavior, and Josephus wanted to portray Jews who were like the Spartans in their ideals and high virtue."
Oops.  If we accept the research, Josephus reports a false fact, Roman history reported it as fact, and we point to both of them as evidence that the Essenes never even existed.

Me?  I'm not convinced, but it will be interesting to read the academic rebuttals and responses in coming days.  And I was glad to finally have a parallel to Matt and my discussion a while back. 

Thoughts?  Discuss.


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