Ph.D. student Erika Brown makes archaeology fun and relatable for all
Biblical archaeology goes digital in YouTube videos designed for those with little knowledge of the Bible.
Janel Shoun-Smith and Courtney Grable |
With her trend-setting wardrobe, multi-colored fingernails and big earrings, master’s degree holder E.R. Brown doesn’t look like the stereotypical image of an archeology professor. Nor does she match society’s image of the dashing 1930s Egyptologist in a pith helmet, and certainly not the image of Indiana Jones, a film character who was absolutely not practicing archaeology, says Brown.
No, Erika Brown, a doctoral candidate in Lipscomb’s Lanier Center of Biblical Archaeology, looks pretty much like any other modern woman with a passion, and her passion is making Biblical archaeology relatable to the general public, especially through her YouTube channel: Just So You Know by E.R. Brown.
Through short videos with music, animations, movie clips and illustrations designed to appeal to viewers with little to no experience with the Bible but lots of experience with social media, Brown is sharing her love for archaeology along with her love for God.
The Kansas native was an Army veteran married and living in Texas, active in her church New Life Fellowship in Arlington, Texas, when she “stumbled across” her love for Biblical archeology through her own Bible study. She happened upon information on Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s master’s and doctorate programs in Biblical archaeology online, and she was so inspired to earn those particular degrees, that she didn’t mind having to start at the beginning with a bachelor’s degree.
“Getting into the details of the text, discovering what they meant, fueling my overall understanding, I found I was really interested in ancient history and culture,” she says.
She attended Southwestern Assemblies of God University for her bachelor’s degree in ancient studies with a minor in Biblical language, and then she was off to Southwestern for her master’s degree in Biblical studies and archeology. About the time she finished that degree, Southwestern’s programs moved to Lipscomb, where she today continues her studies with Lanier Center Director Dr. Steven Ortiz as a doctoral student, although she still lives in Dallas, Texas. She expects to graduate in 2024.
“I have always been a teacher at heart,” says Brown, who regularly teaches and gives guest lectures within the church community in Dallas. “I want people to understand the Bible as much as I do, and to see that the Bible is brilliant and beautiful.
“When I am speaking at churches or giving lectures, a lot of students say to me, ‘Hey, I heard this on Facebook, YouTube or Tik-Tok. If people are getting information from there, then we need to provide good information for them in that format,” says Brown. “I’m working like the Apostle Paul: we need to meet them where they are. The info they are getting now is often from people who are not educated in the field at all, so I thought it would be good to have someone who is an actual scholar in that space engaging with them.”
Watch Brown's video on the Merneptah Stele.
As a social media influencer, Brown has racked up 2,500 followers on TikTok, 900 subscribers on YouTube, and 1,200 followers on Instagram, and she is currently beginning production on her third season of Just So You Know, which will include discussion on the size of the Temple, what is called “the Israelite House” and an early church found in Ethiopia.
She makes her videos fun and entertaining by breaking a complex topic down into small parts and adding a healthy dose of candid humor and authentic joy to the academic information.
“One of the things I struggled with early in my life was that I was a slow learner, so I had to break things down all the way, in order to learn. Many people need to have information presented in its most basic components,” says Brown.
“My site is for everyday people who don’t understand scholastic terms. Who cares how smart I am, if you are not learning. I want to communicate in the best way that will allow you to learn it in the best way, because that is how I learned.”
For example, “Archaeology is not digging up dinosaurs,” she declares in her two-minute video titled “What is Archaeology?” “It is not digging up rocks…and it is definitely not whatever Indiana Jones was doing! Baby that was just old-fashioned treasure hunting. We do NOT do that,” she informs the audience.
However archaeology is: “...the study of past cultures, past history, past peoples through the items that they left behind. That could be anything from houses to art to monumental buildings to tools to pottery. And honestly,” she adds as the music winds down to silence, “it is mostly pottery because we find a lot of pottery.”
“I‘m no fool; I know archeology is boring,” Brown admits as she analyzes the challenge to making Biblical archaeology entertaining, “and we have only three seconds before people click away.”
As a result, she incorporates a lot of music, animation and illustration, similar to CrashCourse and BuzzFeed videos. “If I can get you to pause for just a moment, then you can learn something,” she said.
Brown’s videos stand out from other content creators across digital platforms. “No one has attempted to create videos about Biblical archeology that speak to the modern context. It’s a format that wasn’t even created prior to my channel. Typically, archeology is presented more like an academic course than a just fun hot topic,” Brown states.
“The biggest influence I have had is that a couple of nonbelievers have told me that [watching my channel] was the first time they could interact with a Christian because they didn't feel like they were being attacked,” says Brown. “And many people comment that it makes the world of the Bible more real. We are so far removed, that the Bible can seem unreal, but Just So You Know creates an environment where it is more relatable.”