The discovery of any potentially-important ancient writing normally triggers a period of scholarly debate, with the debate’s intensity directly proportionate to the writing’s significance. Translating a document has its own issues, especially when the writing is faded and some words are missing. Scholars must replace missing words and letters and translate the restored text before they even attempt to interpret the writing’s significance in the broader picture.
Because scholars are regular people subject to normal prejudices and passions, interpretations often involve considerable subjectivity. I remember two occasions within my adult lifetime when sensationalist scholars have won media attention and achieved best-seller status with books purporting to debunk orthodox Christianity, supposedly based on passages from the Dead Sea Scrolls. Both times the attention abruptly ended, when it became apparent that each author’s conclusions depended on his speculations about the meaning of his own words, which he had used to fill in gaps in the scrolls where words were missing.
Even scholars of utmost integrity can err in the process of doing their tedious work. And the highest of motives does not eliminate the tendency to interpret evidence in light of one’s own affections and opinions. Reporting Galil’s translation of this ostracon, The Jerusalem Post, cautioned against being “carried away by academic hoopla” and noted that various scholars “have yet to weigh in.” And Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of American evangelicalism, quotes Seth Sanders of Connecticut’s nonsectarian Trinity College who says: “It’s not that [Professor Galil’s] readings are impossible. It’s just that none of the most exciting parts of his readings are clearly there in the text.”
For a pictorial history of the ostracon, click here (or go to qeiyafa.huji.ac.il/ostracon.asp). SOURCES: The Jerusalem Post online edition (01/10/10). Christianity Today. Khirbet Qeiyafa Archaeological Project Website. Yahoo News (01/15/20).