Christopher Rollston writes a very sensible piece on the ASOR blog cautioning us to take proper stock of what the archaeological evidence coming out of Khirbet Qeiyafa does and does not tell us. Looking particularly at the Khirbet Qeiyafa Ostracon and the various theories about what it says, he urges for logically restricting our firm conclusions to the specific evidence before us. It sounds like Chris is just stating the obvious, and to an extent he is. But given the excitement with which artifactual evidence coming out of the ground in the Middle East can be greeted, and the flames of speculation that it often fans (cf. last week’s announcement of the box shrines from Khirbet Qeiyafa), it’s sage advice. There must be congruence between the scope of the evidence and what we make of it, without feeling the need to fill the gaps in our knowledge with what we’d like to be there. Let the evidence say what is says—no more, and no less. Possibilities can and should be stated, so long as we remember that they are possibilities, not confirmed actualities. He writes:
…the decisive manner in which the site of Qeiyafa has been associated with a particular king or a particular “kingdom” (e.g., David) is pressing the data much harder than I would. Or, to put it another way, even if we could contend that this site was Judean or Israelite, could we definitively state that it is to be associated with a particular king of one of these states? I would suggest that without decisive epigraphic evidence, the answer must be no. Rather, we must be content to refer to some possibilities, and to leave it at that.
[…]In the final analysis, it must be said that there is a sincere human desire on the part of scholars to fill the gaps in our data, to fill in the lacunae. That is honest and it is sincere. Nevertheless, it is also imperative that we attempt to be sober, disinterested scholars, restricting our conclusions to the data at hand…That is, it is imperative that a concerted effort be made to avoid going further than the data would allow.
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