Sunday, July 6, 2008

Tablet's Resurrection Narrative Predates Jesus

The Dead Sea as seen from Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered and near where the "Gabriel's Revelation" tablet was found a decade ago.

Biblical scholars and archaeologists are studying a three-foot-tall stone tablet found several years ago near the Dead Sea that describes a messiah – decades prior to the presumed birth of Jesus – who was slain and then resurrected three days after his execution.

“This should shake our basic view of Christianity,” Professor Israel Knohl at Hebrew University in Jerusalem told the New York Times. “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.”

The idea that a spiritual leader would rise three days after death is a recurring theme in several religions and cultures. This is a point made repeatedly by historians of religion and mythology, such as Joseph Campbell, Mircea Eliade and others who have been mostly ignored by the Judeo-Christian hierarchy. The New York Times article appeared on today’s front page.

The premise that the Jesus story is an adaptation of this earlier theme is not new. In fact, in 2000 Professor Knohl published a book based on the Dead Sea Scrolls, rabbinic and early apocalyptic literature where he contended that another suffering messiah predated Jesus. His book did not receive much attention because it lacked textual evidence to support his case.

The so-called “Gabriel Revelation” found on the tablet appears to be the evidence Knohl was lacking. He is part of a growing scholarly movement studying the political atmosphere in Judea and the people’s search for a messiah to lead Jewish rebels against the Rome-supported monarchy assuming control of the land after King Herod’s death.

Knohl, based on information gleaned from the “Gabriel's Revelation” tablet, believes the messiah it refers to was a man named Simon who was slain by an army commander, and that the tablet was composed by Simon’s followers. Knohl says the killing of Simon was a necessary step in the Jewish rebel narrative. The indication of resurrection is in lines 19 through 21 of the tablet: “In three days you will know that evil will be defeated by justice.” Later, amid some harder to decipher language, is: “In three days you shall live, I, Gabriel, command you.”

Knohl says the most important aspect of the tablet is its narrative of a savior who died and was resurrected after three days, and that the politically motivated concept was established prior to the time of Jesus. 

“This gives the Last Supper an absolutely different meaning,” he told the Times. “To shed blood is not for the sins of people, but to bring redemption to Israel.”

The stone tablet (shown at left in New York Times photo of the tablet's owner, David Jeselsohn) was found nearly a decade ago and has been kept in the Zurich home of an Israeli-Swiss collector. An Israeli scholar examined it a few years ago, wrote a paper on it, and scholarly interest has been growing ever since. The label “Gabriel Revelation” comes from an article about the tablet by Ada Yardeni and Binyamin Elitzur, recognized experts in Hebrew script.

There has been no scholarly dispute regarding authenticity of the tablet.

1 comment:

Christine LeFever said...

Fascinating stuff, Gregory!