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Some Thoughts On Being A DSS/Second Temple Scholar

September 2, 2010

“All reconstructions are provisional; all reconstructions must be argued for.”

For some reason the whole Golb vs Cargill issue has been taking up some space in my brain. Obviously, it is difficult to know all of the issues involved with their online interaction, but there is one thing I am sure of: it is ridiculous.

Apparently R. Golb has a law degree. Unfortunately, I have had the experience of another lawyer who thought it would be a good idea to take his legal background and apply his argumentative skills to historical reconstruction. It seems to me that this lawyerly approach to biblical studies is a horrible model. Not only do you have to ‘prove’ your case and ‘win’ but you must also ‘destroy’ the other person’s case. It also appears the more hyperbolic and aggressive your language then the ‘better’ your case.

“All reconstructions are provisional; all reconstructions must be argued for.”

I had a wonderful opportunity last year to spend Shabbat with Hanan Eshel. Dr. Eshel (may he rest in peace) is one of the handful of people I have met in my life whom I wish I could have spent more time with and called my friend. He told a wonderful story that I think is a good way to view biblical studies. Let me paraphrase, “I am grateful for what we have in the Scrolls, however, the scrolls are full of holes, pieces of the text that are missing, and I sometimes wish that text was there. And often what we do is look at those holes, and the surrounding context, and we ‘guess’ what would have been there.”

Ultimately, I would suggest that is the best analogy for biblical studies: we look at the holes and make educated guesses. Of course this leads to the issue of probability, and surely some reconstructions are more probable, but that’s an issue for another day.

“All reconstructions are provisional; all reconstructions must be argued for.”

There is no historical reconstruction concerning the Scrolls that ‘certainly’ ‘must’ have happened. There is no theory (I wonder if you asked R. Golb to explain the word ‘theory’ which sort of response you would receive?) which closes the discussion and further research.

The data we do have is limited, often contextless, and separated from us by a great deal of time and conceptual space. Any historical reconstructions are merely that: reconstructions. No need to lose sleep over a reconstruction that is different than yours or which argues for a different theory.

“All reconstructions are provisional; all reconstructions must be argued for.”

(P.S. – Yes, I am a junior scholar in comparison with many in the field, but I hope to display this sort of humility as I go forward in my own research, and have the empathy to listen to the theories of others and consider them for their merits. I’m guessing that will get me further than attacking anyone that disagrees with me. Except for Tilling of course. He’s going down.)

4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 7, 2010 12:45 pm

    What do they say about the kitchen?

    • Jake permalink
      September 7, 2010 6:39 pm

      I just lawl’d all over the place.

    • September 7, 2010 6:56 pm

      That you should keep a fire extinguisher in it, just in case?


  1. Week in Review: 09.03.10 | Near Emmaus

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