[b-hebrew] how scholars debate controversial issues

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Mon Apr 2 09:39:21 EDT 2007

On 4/1/07, Bryant J. Williams III wrote:

> Dear Yitzhak,

> Is there truly a doctoral dissertation that is "new" and "original" and
> advances the field of understanding in Hebrew? Greek? Archaeology?
> Linguistics? Furthermore, what about the assumptions?

Hi Bryant.

Yes, it appears to me that there are important dissertations that are new
and original.  In particular, I personally feel that all the study of Hebrew,
Israelite and Judaean archaeology, and history, and Semitic linguistics are
all very young as far as studies go, and there is much more to be done so
there is much room for innovation.  I think a properly executed dissertation
will be new and original although perhaps not as groundbreaking.  Also,
I think that a dissertation, even if it is innovative but with a very narrow
scope, will train the PhD student in the execution and study of an innovative
idea.  The important step afterwards, in my opinion, is for the researcher to
continue developing ideas and studying them.  Some will be more convincing,
some will be less convincing, some will have narrower scope, some will have
wider influence.  But as more and more studies are executed the chance for
a groundbreaking step in the fields of study increases.

> I know that when one is preparing to present a doctoral dissertation, one
> must do so that presents "original" and "new" in that particular field. Now,
> since there is "nothing new under the sun," it would appear to me that what
> is happening is that more and more doctoral dissertations are going off the
> "deep end" to "earn" the doctorate. I am also becoming increasingly alarmed
> at the number of doctoral students who so specialize that they "forget the
> forest through the trees."

Going off the "deep end" may be an appropriate way to describe some
dissertations.  know if it is appropriate to say that "more and more"
are "going
off the deep end."  I would hope there are few dissertations that "go
off the deep
end."  I also would be happier seeing that a doctoral student has several
subjects or lines of interest, but perhaps that is something that
develops after
he publishes his dissertation.

> I do understand that specialization is necessary
> to help proceed when things get rough, but I think that when it becomes the
> center of discussion and leaves the hoi polloi in the dark, or confused,
> then I really wonder whether or not the "scholar" is really doing his job.
> Specialization is great, but the person in the church, synagogue, et cetera,
> needs to be taken into account so that confusion does not reign.

I don't understand exactly what a researcher has to do with a synagogue or
church.  I think a researcher in linguistics or biblical history is trained in
different areas than a person who is supposed to serve in a synagogue or
church.  While the research in linguistics or history may help as far as giving
a wider perspective on certain issues, I think these are two different subjects
entirely.  In Judaism, a Rabbi is a legal designation and signifies the person
as a capable and recognized legal authority.  It involves less innovation in
scholarship, and much more the ability to master previous scholarship of
legal decisions.

> When it comes to the date of the Exodus, United Monarchal period, or any
> other historical event/name, it should be remembered that we do not have the
> whole picture. If I remember correctly, there are some 2100 archaeological
> sites in the ANE, but only about 500 have been excavated. Of those that have
> been excavated, only a small number have had final field reports published
> for all to read and digest (this is especially true of the Dead Sea
> Scrolls!!!).

My understanding is that the idea that most DSS are not published does not
represent the modern situation.  Today, most DSS are published.  Also, while
we can always claim that some evidence is lying somewhere undiscovered, the
fact is that many major sites have been excavated and many more others have
been surveyed, and the excavations together with the surveys do give a generally
clear picture of history.  This area is one of the most actively
excavated in the
entire world, if I remember correctly.  We may not have 100% of it all
but we do have a good portion excavated, enough to allow us to draw certain

Happy Passover (and Feast of Unleavened Bread) to everyone!

Yitzhak Sapir

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