Monday, July 07, 2008

Gabriel's Vision (Messiah Stone)

The New York Times publishes an article on old news, Drudge links to it, and suddenly we have a sensational story that will "shake our basic view of Christianity."  Hold on a minute.

You can read the story in the NY Times, a copy at the International Herald Tribune, Haaretz, World Net Daily, and elsewhere.  You could also have read about it a year ago in Haaretz, or read the article in Biblical Archaeology Review Jan/Feb 2008 issue.  Why is it suddenly "news" now?

You can see photos of it at Haaretz, a large photo here, line drawing and transcription here (pdf), and an English translation here.  You can also read the original journal article published in Cathedra here (in Hebrew; pdf).

Here's a brief summary:

What: Three-foot tall stone inscribed in ink with 87 lines of Hebrew text describing a vision given by the angel Gabriel

When: The stone was written in the 1st century B.C. and it was discovered 8-10 years ago and sold by a Jordanian antiquities dealer to an Israeli-Swiss antiquities collector.

Where: It was found in the vicinity of the Dead Sea, possibly on the Jordanian side.  Ada Yardeni: "You have got a Dead Sea Scroll on stone."

Forgery?: Even though this was not uncovered in a legal excavation, scholars believe the inscription to be authentic.

The Sensational Claim: The end of the inscription mentions a messiah who would rise in 3 days.  Since the text was written before Jesus' resurrection, it explains how the story of Jesus' resurrection came to be.

The Sensational Quotation: "Resurrection after three days becomes a motif developed before Jesus, which runs contrary to nearly all scholarship. What happens in the New Testament was adopted by Jesus and his followers based on an earlier messiah story" (Israel Knohl, professor of biblical studies at Hebrew University and proponent of this theory). 

The Disputed Reading: "In three days you shall live, I, Gabriel, command you."

Why Disputed: "There is one problem.  In crucial places of the text there is lack of text. I understand Knohl's tendency to find there keys to the pre-Christian period, but in two to three crucial lines of text there are a lot of missing words" (Moshe Bar-Asher, president of the Israeli Academy of Hebrew Language and emeritus professor of Hebrew and Aramaic at the Hebrew University).

Why This Matters:

Knohl said that it was less important whether Simon was the messiah of the stone than the fact that it strongly suggested that a savior who died and rose after three days was an established concept at the time of Jesus. He notes that in the Gospels, Jesus makes numerous predictions of his suffering and New Testament scholars say such predictions must have been written in by later followers because there was no such idea present in his day.

In other words, if the disputed reading is correct, this reveals that Jesus and/or his disciples did not create the story of his resurrection after three days, but rather they borrowed it from existing ideas.  Of course, it is either one or the other: they invented it or stole it.  Here's a radical idea: Jesus was raised by God from the dead after he had been in the tomb three days.  Jesus expected this, which is why he predicted it.  His disciples remembered it, which is why they recorded it.

The author of this theory, Israel Knohl, says that this stone "should shake our basic view of Christianity."  Several assumptions are required for this stone to be so significant: 1) Knohl's disputed reading must be correct; 2) Knohl's interpretation of the text overall must be correct; 3) Jesus and/or his disciples must have known about this text (or a similar one not yet attested to); 4) Jesus did not rise from the dead; 5) Jesus' disciples were dishonest in claiming that he did rise from the dead and in attributing this idea to him from another source; 6) Jesus' disciples were stupid in dying for a lie that they invented.  Altogether, I think that these assumptions are shaky enough to suggest that Knohl is a little too optimistic about the impact of his theory.

UPDATE (7/8): I found the BAR article mentioned above online and added a link.  For today's articles and analysis on the story, see this post at Paleojudaica.

UPDATE (7/9): I can hardly do better than Paleojudaica with the latest stories, so I will not even try.  Note his choice for "inflated headline of the week."

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9 Comments:

  • Todd,

    This is the most helpful posts that I have seen on this topic. Thanks.

    I have linked to it at my blog www.bibleexposition.net

    By Blogger Charles, at Mon Jul 07, 05:24:00 PM  

  • I would submit that this "ancient tablet" is probably another sensationalist scam, as is clearly indicated by the facts

    (1) that no specific information is available on its provenance and

    (2) that no details are provided on carbon dating of the ink.

    As such, this "news" brings to mind the faked Lost-Tomb-of-Jesus "documentary" designed to make a financial profit from people's fascination with the "real" Jesus, as well as the larger scandal of the biased and misleading way the Dead Sea scrolls are being presented in museum exhibits around the world, with an antisemitic nuance emerging on a government-run North Carolina museum's website. See, e.g.,

    http://spinozaslens.com/libet/articles/dworkin_ethicsofexhibition.htm

    and

    http://blog.news-record.com/staff/frontpew/archives/2008/06/dead_sea_scroll.shtml.

    By Blogger Museum Ethics Controversy, at Mon Jul 07, 06:10:00 PM  

  • A surprising number of American Democrats voted for the most radical liberal candidate in the recent primaries. I'd like to continue the trend by voting for Todd's "radical" suggestion herein.

    By Blogger G.M. Grena, at Mon Jul 07, 11:07:00 PM  

  • You know, it never really bothered me that this "resurrection in three days" motif may pre-date Christ. This would only shake the Christianity of Christians who believe Christ's life, death, and resurrection had no predating motifs to begin with. If one recognizes all the ones found in the Old Testament, this is just one more to add to the collection.

    By Blogger the postmortem, at Tue Jul 08, 02:30:00 AM  

  • I find the comments of the report on the discovery typical of much of the published Biblical theology since the 1850s. Only two alternatives are presented in that dominant theology, because the third alternative requires a God who intervenes in history.

    Much of Liberal "Christian" theology assumes that God does not intervene in history. This belief is an unchallengeable basic tenant of their belief system. Liberal theologians assume their belief God does not intervene in history is a fact, and write theology as if their religious belief was the only possible fact.

    How this works is only two alternatives are presented and, without saying anything about assumptions and faith, both alternatives are based on the assumption that God does not intervene in history.

    The problem with that theology is if God does not intervene in history, then Jesus died and stayed dead.

    The resurrection is the vital heart of Christianity. Without the resurrection, there is no Christianity and Jesus was a deluded madman who died horribly and stayed dead (who nonetheless gave us such wise teachings that the belief system of the Western world is based on these teachings).

    These liberal scholars lack the courage of their convictions in that they retain their posts as "Christian" theologians. Their theology eliminates the resurrection of Jesus, yet they still call themselves Christians.

    These scholars are dishonest because they do not say their writings are based on their assumption that God does not intervene in history. Scholarship that eliminates half the possibilities without saying it is eliminating half the possibilities is dishonest, to say the least.

    Thanks for your courage to tell the truth, that there is always (at least) a third alternative. I really appreciated how you saw through the faith assumptions presented as fact, and the courage it took to say it.

    Perhaps you will become the new little boy who says the emperor has no clothes on. You stand in good company if you do. Bishop N.T. Wright (The Resurrection of the Son of God) does a much better job of explaining the problem than I did.

    David Adams+

    By Blogger da-skypilot, at Tue Jul 08, 12:28:00 PM  

  • I am not seeing the same critical analysis of the Mishnah and the Talmud as is being seen of the resurrection story of Christianity. To me this is suspect, because at the time of the stone, the Mishnah was only an apparent oral tradition, written down after the resurrection (AD 70-200).

    The Jewish scholars of the time were admittedly trying to save their religious tradition, and may I say their reason for being. For if the Messiah is Jesus who clarified and even provided propitiation, then there was no longer a need for propitiation at the temple, nor anything else Jesus achieved. Living by the Law of Moses had ended, and the New Covenant of Grace through faith had begun.

    So I as a Christian must point to the Mishnah and the Talmud as being suspect of fabrication, as they will most certainly find a way to provide a commentary against Jesus being the Christ. And the Jewish scholars to this time being swayed then by the myths that were necessary to deny Hell, the 3 day resurrection, Christ's fulfilling of God's promises, and anything else which might cause a Jew think that the Christian story was a fabrication.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Jul 10, 02:34:00 AM  

  • I'm confused. I've read that it dates to the end of the first century maybe later. How then is the stone prechristian?

    Was Simon's rebellion written about by Josehus prechristian?

    If not,it seems plausible to me that those who inscribed the stone were perhaps borrowing from the Christian tradition that had arisen due to the bodily resurrection of Jesus and the spread of Christianity.

    By Anonymous Rickie, at Sat Sep 27, 08:58:00 PM  

  • appears to be fraud...only the Essenes kept the true scriptures and they made scrolls, not stone carved texts.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Oct 29, 11:16:00 AM  

  • I think it's referring to Hosea 6:2?
    Something like:
    "In two days you will revive us and in three days you will restore us." The line under the one about being brought back to life has something about the prince of princes. After prince of princes, there are letters enough letters that are unreadable to where we don't really know if prince of princes is even connected the ressurecting.

    By Blogger Tim, at Wed Jul 15, 12:46:00 PM  

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