Saturday, May 05, 2007


I know it's been ages since I've posted (more than a month, in fact ...). What can I say in my defense? Just that I've had too much work, and not enough thinking time.

Anyway, here is an interesting (and extremely civil) debate I came across, on the topic of whether historical and archaeological scholarship affects faith.

It's just interesting, is all.


Blogger Savtadotty said...

It's surprising and then again not surprising to learn that your work doesn't involve thinking!

Seriously, I guess you mean your work doesn't involve the kind of thinking required by the issues presented in the debate. I'm glad you posted it, although it just illustrates for me that matters of belief are beyond words. The Bible is a gigantic poem, not a formula (even though G_d may also be present in formulas).

05 May, 2007 06:22  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear NomChal,
as an archaeologist i can't resist to put in my 3 cents. i really think that real faith can withstand anything. learning/education only makes one ask questions. and faith is supposed to weather that. but i started as an agnostic before even entering university. who knows what would have befallen me otherwise;)

K.of the illustrated freier.

ps. i wouldn't recommend BAR as one's source of archaeological news. unless one remembers to take everything Hershel Shanks writes with a big grain of salt.

05 May, 2007 09:15  
Blogger nominally challenged said...

Hi Savta - Well, yes, my work really does involve very little thought. Of course, as you note, that's not exactly what I meant, but the interpretation is as valid as any other :)

I like your idea of the Bible being a gigantic poem. As such, of course, it takes its place alongside any of the other ancient epics. The problem, I think, is that far too many people try to make it into more than that. God (with or without the dash), for what it's worth, may also be present in the very poetry of it, and not merely in the formulas. But that is a question of faith :)

illustrious one - Yet again you humble me. I agree that faith ought to weather learning and education, but I think that that depends on what one's faith is based on in the first place. Where faith is grounded in the absolute truth of a story that can be unravelled through scientific inquiry, then won't that faith find it difficult to withstand such inquiry?

I take your point about BAR. I'll just note that until this morning I'd never come across either the organization or the journal, so I'm not endorsing it or its views in any way. I merely found the debate interesting. And as Hershel Shanks is merely the moderator here, letting the other, more interesting people, talk about themselves, I think that this article at least can be digested without condiments.

By the way, you mention starting out as an agnostic before commencing your studies. Do you view yourself as having remained one? Of course, you don't have to answer. It's just that the topic is of supreme interest to me :) The reason I ask is that if 'agnostic' means 'without knowledge' - usually of the 'truth or otherwise' of religion - then what happens to that definition, or to a person's definition of herself, once she gains knowledge? Is there a point where an agnostic feels that she has to move out of the "I don't know" camp, and take a stance one way or the other? Or is my entire premise wrong, and have I misunderstood agnosticism entirely?

05 May, 2007 10:13  
Blogger Savtadotty said...

The problem, I think, is that far too many people try to make it into more than that.

Whose problem would that be? And wouldn't that be a political/social problem rather than a theological one?

As for me, I think the problem is words.

05 May, 2007 11:27  
Blogger nominally challenged said...

And wouldn't that be a political/social problem rather than a theological one?

Perhaps. It is a social amd political problem if your society and politics are based on it, and a theological problem if your theology is based on it. In my view anyway.

As for me, I think the problem is words.

That goes without saying :)

05 May, 2007 12:34  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear, Dear NomChal,
point duly taken:)
you got me, i have been acused of sitting on the fence previously (that's what an undergrad degree in soc-cult anthropology does to one;)
although, technically agnostic means a person who believes that the existence of god is not provable. i suppose what i mean when i call myself that is that i cannot prove that god does NOT exist. i don't know about other agnostics (or anyone really) but i doubt i will ever feel i know anything! i comfort myself with the thought that the pursuit of knowledge is really where it's at. even if we assume that god is just a creation of the human mind we cannot say we possess the 'truth' about religion. i mean, how can we, we dont' quite understand our own brains. not yet anyway.
oh, i don't know. i need to think about this some more.
and i never meant to 'humble' you! on the contrary, the topic humbles me to no end.
thanks for the discussion!
cheers from Canada,
K. of the illustrated freier

05 May, 2007 23:23  
Anonymous Andrey said...

What about LagBaOmer, doesn't it deserve a story?

06 May, 2007 18:27  
Blogger nominally challenged said...

Illustrious K - I see what you mean. I'm not sure whether a non-believer (or even a questioner) has to "prove that god does NOT exist" as you say. The believer, as we know, does not have to prove that god does exist - she takes it as a matter of faith. For the non-believer, then, I think it is a matter of, um, "non-faith". But I don't think that that need necessarily be connected to gnosis or agnosis. I guess what I'm trying to say, perhaps perjoratively (and maybe I need to review my own position in this regard) is that agnosticism, relying as it does on agnosis, implies the opposite of a search for knowledge. In my view, atheism can be gnostic (grounded in at least a search for knowledge - rather than being necessarily grounded in actual knowledge) or pistic (in which case, in my view, it differs little from any other pistic religion, and is usually as proscriptive in its non-belief, as many religions are in their beliefs).

Agnosticism, by definition (according to my view at least), cannot be gnostic.

Again, the search for the 'truth', as it were, does not seem to me, as a non-believer, to be all that important. I'm not sure that such a concept can even exist, in an absolute abstract form. The search for knowledge, however, (elusive as knowledge is) is, in my view, a worthwhile pursuit.

Andrey - Hey :) I thought about a post for Lag BaOmer and I decided that it's simply going to have to be a footnote (or similar) to the Shavuot story, which I'm being urged on pain of considerable pain, to write. So, pyromaniacs everywhere are simply going to have to wait.

07 May, 2007 01:53  
Anonymous jennifer said...

Just finding out that Bill Dever became a reform Jew had me snorting coffee up my nose this morning. Last week I found out that the teen-aged boy I did reconstruction work with at Beer Sheva 25 years ago is now head of the new museum at Masada. Hoo boy, I certainly have been out of the archaeological loop!

09 May, 2007 23:30  

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