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Re: orion 14C and falsifiability
It is a pleasure to read Paul Sodtke's lucid and clear summary of the
radiocarbon issues. Thank you Paul, for getting it straight. :-)
It is ironic that (in my opinion) radiocarbon is really the only path
to go for scrolls dating information next to internal dateable text
references, yet I also don't think single 14C dates, considered in isolation,
are trustworthy in an absolute sense--because there are simply too
many things that can go wrong, even slightly, with any individual
date. Quantities of high-quality measurements will give the contexts
and data to yield information. Each battery's data adds not
just cumulatively but exponentially to real information by giving
not only its own dates but increased context for interpretation of
previous data. Reasonable minds will disagree on interpretation--
one might think as an analogy of reasonable minds in the Qumran field
disagreeing on readings of specks and letters of texts. The 14C data,
however, is produced independently of the Qumran scrolls field.
These measurements are apart from our interpretation or arguments.
This independent input from outside the scrolls field--the AMS
measurements--this obtaining of objective numbers (I almost
wax lyrical here, in my 19th century optimism as to what science can
offer!)--this is the advantage.
It is like the discovery of a new ostracon or text. Once a good
photograph is published, we can fight over what the correct
readings, or reconstructions in lacunas, or interpretation or
translation might be. But the artifact--that is the data, and its
discovery gives a resource, something new, that wasn't there before.
Sometimes new information means learning more about what was
known. Other times learning means calling into question what
was thought to be known. Either way, it is exciting and an
I think of radiocarbon dating and the scrolls like the old saying
about democracy--its the worst form of government there is except
for all the others. Any individual radiocarbon date, I believe, can
hardly be weighed as stronger than a "maybe"--though several 14C
scrolls dates, such as 1QIsa(a) (replicated almost identically by two labs
independently) and Zurich's 1QH date (in which Zurich replicated
measurements from two samples from different areas of the same text,
each with a check for contamination) can well be argued to come
close to "almost secure" standalones.
This reluctance--on my part anyway--to consider single dates
as absolutes means, among other things, that the several 14C
dates which seem inconsistent with palaeographic date estimates--
one notices 4Q266 and 4Q267, for example (exemplars
of CD), or Zurich's date for 4QLevi(a) that is significantly older
than Greenfield and Stone's recently published palaeographic date
estimate in DJD XXII--these 14C dates do not, in themselves, in
my view, falsify Cross's different palaeographic date estimates.
I do not think the Tucson 1QpHab date, in itself, should be wielded
like a club against Robert Eisenman, for the same reason. If we get
three or four consistent and independent dates of the same type of
scripts in the same direction--then maybe we can start talking about
learning something new. But not now, not yet.
Nor do these AMS measurements and date ranges spit out year, month,
day, morning or afternoon. Nor will the radiocarbon method ever
be able, for example, to distinguish a 90 BCE text from a 160 BCE text--
because those particular decades (but not the decades in between) each
had the same amount of atmospheric radiocarbon--i.e. the same levels
on the calibration chart--and hence any text from either of those decades
will always register both possible decades in their calibrated date
ranges, every time (and the true date is not found by splitting the
difference and concluding the date is therefore "probably" in the middle,
c. 130 BCE!)
So there are limitations. I see no other way than to intelligently
accumulate further high-quality data designed to answer questions.
By piling up data--say three or four 14C dates for specific script
types as a start--then there is something to begin to work with.
With the Zurich and Tucson data there is a start. I urge us all to
avoid the twin pitfalls of rejection of the utility of gathering the data,
or of assuming premature conclusions in the absence of an adequate
database. That goes for me as for anyone. Someone mentioned
"escaping" Copenhagen. I view Copenhagen as a place I escaped
to, where it is possible to pursue this exciting work. Thank you!