"I grew up where the alphabet was invented," says George Kadifa. He's decidedly nonchalant about his relationship with the Dead Sea Scrolls -- ancient manuscripts most of us will view only in facsimile form or under glass. "History is something I am quite comfortable with," says the 43-year-old native of Lebanon. "I'm used to seeing 2,000-year-old Roman coins and ruins." Perhaps, then, it's fitting that Kadifa, the chairman and CEO of Corio Inc., a 300-employee Silicon Valley-based applications service provider, spends his weekends studying Dead Sea Scrolls translations instead of playing golf or tennis.
Kadifa traces his interest in the scrolls to the memorable day when his great uncle, the archbishop of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, called him to his library. "He showed me some fragments of the scrolls he had gotten from the shepherd [who discovered them in 1947]," says Kadifa. "The shepherd had literally knocked on his door and said, 'I found these. Can you read them?"
These texts, written on animal-skin and papyrus scrolls, are mostly in Aramaic -- an extinct language Jesus spoke, and in which Kadifa is proficient. "Until then, I was a rebellious kid. I wondered who wrote what in the Bible, and when. But here we were, looking at an extensive, provable set of writings consistent with our Bible. It was a profound moment."
In 1989, while studying for his M.B.A. at the University of Chicago, Kadifa renewed his fascination with the scrolls when he visited the school's Oriental Institute, a center for scroll scholarship.
"I really dug into the details," he says. He sees parallels between the Essenes, the Jewish splinter group most likely responsible for hiding the scrolls more than 2,200 years ago, and the 21st-century business community. To him, that earlier era of political and religious discord, which eventually gave rise to Christianity, is similar in its "discontinuity" to the Information Age.
As for Corio's part in that "discontinuity," its software helps organizations like Visa International and the Department of Defense maintain vast amounts of critical business information. Its data experts work like a fleet of hyper-organized scribes, culling and organizing payroll, human resource, and other records. That said, it's fitting that Kadifa is fascinated by one of the Western world's most valuable data caches.
Despite advances in technology, Kadifa sees history repeating itself: "I read an incredible book called The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, the story of the Crusades in the Middle Ages from an Arab perspective. It was like, this is happening now." The fact that ongoing conflicts have caused the theft and destruction of Iraq's antiquities saddens him. "The Tigris and the Euphrates region is the birthplace of civilization," he says.
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