An Archaeological Parable
Once upon a time, a long long time ago, in a galaxy far away,
On a planet with a bible very similar to ours, there lived a young archaeologist. This young archaeologist, who really was quite young, had only been working in the field every summer for 13 years, which compared to most of his older colleagues was a drop in the bucket. Furthermore, he only had a handful of publications, which was also quite understandable given his young age. Most of these were related to his doctoral research, which he had just struggled to complete.
His salary was inexcusably low and his work conditions were awful. He spent days in the field without returning to civilization to see his beloved wife. He had trouble paying his electricity bills. He returned home to his wife a real grouch, and usually took three days to relax, and by that time, he was off to the field again.
But, of course, he was a dedicated young archaeologist who only rarely complained. He slowly was building up a reputation for good solid research which, while perhaps not overly exciting, was at very least useful. Everyone began to consult him on the subject of his doctorate, which was on pottery in the proto-historic periods. And some of them even paid him (in dollars) for the work he did for them. For which he was properly grateful since he rarely declared this money for taxes. Of course, most people didn't pay him since they themselves were short on money, and anyway, he would get a publication out of it, even if he wouldn't see it for 15 years.
But, we must stress that for the most part, he was a happy young archaeologist, content in his work, and satisfied in the knowledge that his foreign friends couldn't even find jobs, let alone get money to do the research that he was doing. Even his wife didn't object too much, since she too was a scientist, and understood the necessities of research and fieldwork.
Our young friend continued his struggles and research for many years. And all around him his colleagues and friends were making the most wondrous discoveries. One discovered the site of the crossing of the Red Sea, and even had an ancient Egyptian chariot to prove it! He had also succeeded in identifying desert ash layers as the remains of the Pillar of Fire with which the Lord led the Children of Israel in their wanderings. No matter that the prehistorians suggested these were actually small epipaleolithic campsites. Another had just discovered a series of altars which he could identify as those used in the contest between the priests of Baal and Elijah. Of course the absence of evidence for fire could be easily dismissed as the consequence of long exposure (or perhaps the magical properties of holy fire). Others were searching for the Ark of the Covenant, Noah's ark, Moses' magic staff, and the Golden Menorah.
And all these archaeologists were rolling in money. Enthusiasm for all these wonderful finds naturally resulted in support from numerous sources, some perhaps less savory than others, but all resulting in the advance of science, or at least such was the rationale. In short, momentous discoveries were being made all around our young friend, and he had absolutely no part in them.
This did not particularly bother him. After all, even if he did not agree with some of the theories being bandied about, everyone is entitled to their ideas. So he continued his research and tried even harder to understand the processes of settlement and abandonment of sites in his study area, the changes in ceramic styles and technology, the evolution of architectural features, the rise and decline of agriculture, etc., in short, some comprehensive understanding of the cultures and history of his research area. In fact, even if these subjects perhaps did not pump the adrenalin at the level of Indiana Jones, he felt quite strongly that the study of ancient civilizations could, at very least, suggest a more humble perspective from which to view the present.
Then one day, after a week's work in the field in which he had discovered numerous previously unknown sites, the young archaeologist's boss called him in to explain that there was no money left, and he could not continue his fieldwork. And his jeep was taken away from him, and his field pay removed (so that his phone bill went unpaid along with his electricity bill). The young archaeologist decided that this was a great opportunity to reacquaint himself with his wife. They actually rediscovered that they really did love each other. Aside from such mundane discoveries as this, the young archaeologist decided that he could also put the time to good use, and try to write up his work. So he wrote articles and sent them off to scholarly journals, and for the most part they were accepted for publication, although some needed revision. He felt that it was not his place to try to gain fame by appealing to the public at large. He was a small fry, a mere young archaeologist. So he didn't send his manuscripts off to the journals which published the major breakthroughs about the Red Sea, Elijah, etc. He was a scientist - a social scientist perhaps - but, after all, the rise and fall of civilizations was much less interesting than the precise location and dimensions of Solomon’s Temple, and probably could not be sold to the public at large.
Then one day, his boss called him in and explained that due to budget problems the artist who drew his ceramics and flint tools had to be fired. Other artists and surveyors also had to be fired, although no archaeologists had yet been released. The young archaeologist thought "Well, this is an opportunity to learn how to draw ceramics and flint tools again." And he went back to his old school texts and relearned the techniques of drawing, since there was no longer anyone to draw for him. His first efforts were quite poor, but eventually he succeeded in drawing well enough for publication, even if no one in his right mind would have called his drawings ART. He drew his own maps, and went out with another young archaeologist and surveyed and drew the plans of his sites. He rationalized that it was better this way anyway, since the surveyors that were employed never really managed to get the essence of the sites he found since they were not trained archaeologists. And besides that, he and his friend the other young archaeologist were better motivated, and managed to plan 50% more sites per week.
But one day, in spite of it all, his boss called him in to explain that the government just wasn't interested in his work and wouldn't fund him anymore. And here was his severance pay. His boss was sincerely sorry, and had genuinely tried everything he could to find the money, but it just wasn't there.
And during this period of financial hardship, all of those projects which had made the marvelous discoveries of biblical treasures had no problems in finding lots of money and support, although they all pleaded financial straits.
Our young friend had not been so upset since one of his professors at the university had accidentally thrown away a copy of his dissertation, and caused a delay of a year in the awarding of his degree. He didn’t know what to do. His wife was very understanding, and swore to support them both until times got better. So our friend continued to work in archaeology, depending on the good offices of his beloved wife for his daily bread. He liked to go out with his friends to dig prehistoric sites, since no one made any claims to great and fabulous biblical discoveries working on these sites. As far as the Bible was concerned, the prehistorians were all crackpots since clearly nothing existed before creation.
One fine and sunny June day, our friend was digging a test pit in the Jordan Valley, not far from Sha’ar Hagolan. The pit was actually being dug for a geomorphologist friend of his who was trying (and had been for years) to reconstruct the paleoenvironment of the earliest farmers from the Neolithic period in the region.