[b-hebrew] how scholars debate controversial issues

stoneyb stoneyb at touchwood.net
Mon Apr 2 13:35:21 EDT 2007

Rev. Williams:

You write: "Whether one agrees or disagrees with BAR (Biblical
Archaeology Review), it has made the attempt to educate the people about
what the archaeological terms are and what they mean. This does not
happen very well in linguistic circles. Too many terms, it seems to me,
are used in non-normal usage that even a lawyer would have a hard time
deciphering. In issues dealing with the Bible, it is imperative that
articles, dissertations, etc. be written in a clear and precise way that
any person off the street would be able to understand "

While I sympathize with the layman's frustration in trying to comprehend
highly (and sometimes unnecessarily) technical language, I don't think
any scholar in any discipline would agree that "the primary role of THE
scholar is to educate and do so in such a way as to build up that
faith/knowledge of the believer" or that THE scholar's first concern
should be "to benefit the common person." These functions SHOULD no
doubt be discharged by the scholarly community as a whole; they MAY be
(and are) discharged by SOME individual scholars; but they are NOT
incumbent upon all or even most individual scholars.

The vast majority of scholarly writings - and virtually all
dissertations in particular - are addressed not to the layman but to the
authors' peers, and they take for granted comprehensive and detailed
knowledge of both the discipline's factual foundations and its technical
terminology and methodologies. Without these underpinnings, scholarly
discourse would be impossible - either scholars would be talking past
each other without any common understanding of what their terms meant,
or every scholarly article and note would have to be preceded by an
exhaustive methodological introduction.

Where does this leave the layman? ... Basically, the same place he's
left by experts in any field. While the layman has the right to ask the
experts to tell him, as best they can, what matters they discuss and why
he himself should care, he must accommodate himself to understanding
their terms rather than demanding that they accommodate - betray! -
their subtleties to his own understanding. If you want to understand
what dentists or automobile mechanics or baseball players are saying
when they talk among themselves, you have to study dentistry or
mechanics or baseball. 

There are no shortcuts. Or as Pope put it, "A little learning is a
dangerous thing; Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring."

Stoney Breyer

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