Archaeology and textual studies: a reflection

When you are a Masters student studying ancient Judaism you tend to spend a lot of time in the library. You become very acquainted with where certain books—esoteric publications of the Dead Sea Scrolls, compendia of pseudepigrapha, festschrifts for John Collins—are hiding out on the shelves. You grow intimately comfortable with a certain working space and spend your days slogging through your daily dose of text translation.

Such is the life of scholarship. And it is a life I am deeply passionate about. I am particular about my translations, interested in text critical histories, and earnest in my search for answers to questions about ancient religion.
And then there is archaeology—out in the field, moving dirt, recovering finds seen by human eyes for the first time in centuries. As one who has only scrapped the surface of archaeological studies, I am disadvantaged in offering details concerning our progress at Huqoq. But I am here to learn. And I think more students of textual studies should be.
The relationship between text and archaeology is sometimes too sour to palate in the world of scholarship, especially where biblical periods are considered. Whether it is marriage or divorce, there has been too much irresponsible speculation concerning texts and archaeology than is good for these fields. But I think a careful mutual illumination between text and archaeology is not only beneficial to the scholarship in both fields, but goes as far as being necessary for achieving well-rounded, thorough, and serious work. Granted there are cases when textual history and material culture dispute one another, but to simply note these things is to do more justice to both than prioritizing one over the other. And although opinions and conclusions may differ between authors, the exercise still provides the fields with important research and new ideas.
It is my hope that future scholarship will be responsible and diligent in incorporating text and archaeology into research. For myself, I am fortunate that this dimension of my academic career has begun at Huqoq. And I could not think of a better excuse for getting out of the library into the fresh air than digging up an ancient synagogue with beautiful mosaics.
Patrick Angiolillo is a Masters student at Yale Divinity School studying Second Temple Judaism, with a particular interest in early Jewish prayer practices and the Dead Sea Scrolls.