“What We Have Here Is Failure To Communicate”

Back in September I quoted from a report on recent work on the Gezer water system. In that report I expressed concern about the reference to “the time of Abraham.” Yesterday, having read my post, Gary Myers sent me an email expressing his own concern about my post. With his kind permission, here is his email.

Duane,
I am the author of the Gezer articles you referenced on your blog and I found your critique interesting.
The goal of the expedition is to discover the date of the water system and the phrase “could date to the time of Abraham” is not used in the way you have suggested.
The phrase was used to give people a contextual time frame which they can understand. The piece was published on a site read by average American Christians who would immediately understand the time frame in question by the reference. (The same people would have to look up things like Middle Bronze Age or Iron Age II. If my words gave the impression the team was looking for something from Abraham at Gezer, I assure you, that was strictly unintended. Communication can be very difficult especially when biases or suspected biases are involved.
The team was and is working to find out which of the suggested dates for the tunnel is correct: Was Macalister correct in his dating? Or is Dever correct? If I failed to communicate that, the fault is mine. If the article is poorly written the fault is mine. I have never claimed to be a great writer. I would have been less confused if you would have just deemed the article “of poor quality.” However, it is the question of motivation that stuck in my craw. A writer cannot think of every possible way his work can be misinterpreted – though I did edit it with that eye. At some point the reader must take the article on face value.
I have no doubt that you have seen countless examples of people trying to prove the Bible through archaeology (people seeking Sodom and Gommorah or Noah’s Ark). That was not my intent, nor the intent of the dig team.
I hope this clears up any confusion you had about the article. In the future, you are welcome to email me directly if you have questions about the motivation or intent of an article I have written.
Thanks,
Gary D. Myers

To which I replied in part,

I am in sympathy with your point about communications in general. I am also in sympathy with the problems of communicating with a lay audience, Christian or otherwise. It is generally helpful to leverage their background understandings. In reading your email I now understand that that was your intention. My own scholarly work, such as it is, is primarily at the intersection of Akkadian divination traditions and the Biblical text. I often wish that my family and non-specialist friends had enough background understanding to prevent a certain awkwardness that often arises when they ask me how I spend my time in retirement.
That said, I do have two somewhat related worries. My first worry is that associating an archaeological installation or find with a Biblical figure often, in a popular context, unintentionally reinforces erroneous or simplistic thought that in the end is detrimental to a clear understanding of the installation or find or for that matter the Biblical text. My second worry involves a larger question. Why is any of this of interest to anyone other than a few specialists and a larger set of groupies of which I am a member? While I am not sure there is a single answer to that question, I do think that one answer is that, at least among some believers, the desire for confirmation of the Biblical text is high. I find this troubling for a number of reasons. Just to balance the ledger, it is true that some nonbelievers look to archaeology to invalidate the Biblical text. In my opinion, both hopes are false.

I certainly believe that there are points of contact between the Biblical text and the archaeology of the southern Levant. I am not a minimalist. I’m more of a “probability rangest” but that is another story. I see nothing wrong with noting points of contact in popular settings when there is an evidence based reasonable probability of an association. But I continue to worry about the dangers that others will infer connections that are not strongly supported in the evidence even if that risk is taken with the best of intentions.