Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Dangers of Wikipedia

I like and use Wikipedia for all kinds of things.  The more I know about the subject, however, the poorer the quality of the articles.  This morning I was going through some photos I took a few months ago, including some that I took of Har Nitai, across the Wadi Hammam from Arbel.  This picturesque mountain is not easily accessible as there are no roads and no good footpaths (that I could find).  The site has significant ruins on the surface, but as far as I could tell, no excavations have been carried out.

A quick search for the site on Google brought me to this Wikipedia entry, which is largely a page written by a single person ("Truthresearch").  That should be the first clue; anybody with a username like that is immediately suspect. 

The entry gives a little information about the site, but quickly goes to a suggested identification of the site as Nazareth.  The basis for this identification appears to rest solely on the location of a steep cliff here (fitting the story in Luke 4 where Jesus is nearly thrown off a cliff).  If that's the method for site identification, then we can rearrange the entire map of Galilee.  The writer acknowledges that the present-day Nazareth has the evidence of tradition, but it tries to make that a negative, explaining that it is only about 300 A.D. when Nazareth is mentioned in ancient sources.  He fails to note that most Christian traditions are not attested until that time because Christianity was persecuted until the end of the Roman empire (circa 300 A.D.).  Nazareth's insignificant status and size explain its lack of mention in non-Christian sources.  None of this of course is any sort of an argument that Har Nitai is the real Nazareth.  But there is a cliff; what more do you need?

The link at the bottom of the article to a geocities site ("The Real Nazareth?") suggests that the author of the two is identical.

All of this does of course give me the excuse to share a photo of the Arbel cliffs taken from Har Nitai.  No sign yet of the planned golf course on top of Arbel.

Sea of Galilee and Arbel cliffs panorama, tb0221007888sr

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4 Comments:

  • It is a lovely photo! BTW do you think it would be a "good thing" to yourself lightly edit the entry to be more accurate? That way Wikipedia gets better, because like it or not people ARE using it!

    By Blogger Tim, at Thu Jun 07, 03:27:00 PM  

  • Todd, this is a great question, and Tim offers a helpful suggestion. I'm curious what you think of my blog post on this subject, and the attending comments from Micah about Wikipedia approaching an accuracy level close to the standard encyclopedia. See here: http://stratkey.blogspot.com/2007/05/wikipedia.html

    By Blogger Christopher, at Thu Jun 07, 03:50:00 PM  

  • Tim - I do think it would be a "good thing" to make appropriate edits on Wikipedia. My problem is that I have a lot of "good things" to do and I will not allow myself to start another "good thing" (why stop with this particular entry?). But perhaps a reader of this blog will have the time and interest.

    Christopher - in my experience, wikipedia is generally helpful and accurate. I think that the multitude of people who contribute make it better. This particular article mentions a site that honestly I didn't know the name of until yesterday when I looked it up on a very detailed map in order to properly label my photographs. Very few people are reading that article and thus it essentially becomes the mouthpiece of one person with an agenda. Overall, I think there is a place both for Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia, as long as people understand the difference. Properly moderated, I wouldn't be surprised if Wikipedia becomes more accurate than most general reference works. It certainly has more entries than any other subject I know of, and it's accessibility and cost are in its favor.

    By Blogger Todd Bolen, at Fri Jun 08, 08:05:00 AM  

  • The one thing I wasn't aware of when I wrote my post is that wiki employs a fairly robust oversight committee that will remove users (like Colbert) who abuse the service. I think, given the presence of continual oversight, that wikipedia is probably a good thing. That was an important assumption that got left out in my original critique of it.

    By Blogger Christopher, at Fri Jun 08, 12:36:00 PM  

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