Queen EstherAs someone who is interested in the history of religion and who works in technology, this story piqued my interest. The New York Times reports on an aspect of the targeted Stuxnet virus which is currently making its way through various countries (WebCite cached article):

Deep inside the computer worm that some specialists suspect is aimed at slowing Iran’s race for a nuclear weapon lies what could be a fleeting reference to the Book of Esther, the Old Testament tale in which the Jews pre-empt a Persian plot to destroy them.

That use of the word “Myrtus” — which can be read as an allusion to Esther — to name a file inside the code is one of several murky clues that have emerged as computer experts try to trace the origin and purpose of the rogue Stuxnet program, which seeks out a specific kind of command module for industrial equipment.

The article goes on to show the various inferences — both drawn from within the Stuxnet code and outside of it — that Israel may have been behind its development and deployment and that it’s intended to hinder or halt Iran’s nuclear program. The Times also goes over the label “myrtus” that’s embedded within it:

Several of the teams of computer security researchers who have been dissecting the software found a text string that suggests that the attackers named their project Myrtus. The guava fruit is part of the Myrtus family, and one of the code modules is identified as Guava.

It was Mr. Langner who first noted that Myrtus is an allusion to the Hebrew word for Esther. The Book of Esther tells the story of a Persian plot against the Jews, who attacked their enemies pre-emptively.

“If you read the Bible you can make a guess,” said Mr. Langner, in a telephone interview from Germany on Wednesday.

Carol Newsom, an Old Testament scholar at Emory University, confirmed the linguistic connection between the plant family and the Old Testament figure, noting that Queen Esther’s original name in Hebrew was Hadassah, which is similar to the Hebrew word for myrtle. Perhaps, she said, “someone was making a learned cross-linguistic wordplay.”

As interesting as this may be, this sounds like pretty slim evidence of religious motivation or of Israel’s involvement. There’s no doubt that Israel would love to derail Iran’s nuclear program, but the inclusion of “myrtus” within Stuxnet code can hardly be considered compelling evidence of either.

Update: The New York Times ran a report this morning (1/16/2011) on the development of the Stuxnet virus (cached). It doesn’t mention any religious motivation behind it, or religious content inside it, but it is a fairly comprehensive — and interesting — chronicle of how it came to be.

Photo credit: Lawrence OP.

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