Jesusgate: A Stone Tablet Discovery Drives Scholars to Ask, “What Did the Disciples Know About Jesus and When Did They Know It?”

The gospels seem adamant: the disciples did not see Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection coming.

And its long been taken for granted that the notion of a suffering and resurrected messiah would have taken most 1st century Jews by surprise.

But now we have a new piece of data: a stone tablet from the Dead Sea, apparently written upon a full generation prior to Jesus’s death, talking about the suffering and third day resurrection of a messiah! See the NY Times article on the extraordinary tablet here:

What this new suffering messiah tablet finding does is call into question whether the early followers of Jesus, and those of the Qumran community, would have found a suffering and resurrected messiah surprising afterall. 

What the tablet also brings to our attention is something scholars have long insisted upon: 1st century Judaism and Christianity were diverse and complex phenomena.

In other words, there was not one Judaism among 1st century Jews and one Christology among 1st century Christians. Instead, there was enormous diversity and conflict about many issues, and there were peculiar sects around with peculiar beliefs.

Some sects may have held beliefs that had little circulation beyond the sects themselves. This is where archeology and the study of antiquites can bring a great deal of light if a text or tablet from such a sect is stumbled upon, which seems to have happened in the case of this recent finding. 

What this tablet discovery hints at is that at least one sect in early Judaism, a full generation prior to the death of Jesus, was talking about the messiah in terms of suffering and resurrection.

It’s very interesting and important and opens up many questions that might once have seemed to be in the category of settled.

Isn’t scientific scholarship fun? Just when you think you know something, an inconvenient piece of evidence comes along that demands accounting for.

So what did the earliest disciples of Jesus think they knew about the messiah, and when did they think they knew it?

Call it Messiahgate.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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4 Responses to Jesusgate: A Stone Tablet Discovery Drives Scholars to Ask, “What Did the Disciples Know About Jesus and When Did They Know It?”

  1. Sirius says:

    Now what makes you suppose that the Gospels are lying about the disciples’ ignorance that he would be crucified and would rise again in 3 days? Oh, wait. They don’t really say that. They say that Jesus WARNED THEM REPEATEDLY of this, but they didn’t believe Him! They didn’t want to. They wanted rather that he should overthrow the Romans and set up a Davidic kingdom.

    Messiahgate?! Meshugenagate! Check your facts next time.

    –Sirirus Knott

  2. santitafarella says:


    With regard to your comment #1 above, I think that you made a distinction that is misleading. There is a difference between not BELIEVING Jesus and not COMPREHENDING him. The gospel of Mark, for example, is adamant that the disciples did not understand what Jesus told them. It was not a matter of belief, but of comprehension.

    In short, they were clueless.

    But this stone tablet discovery raises the possibility that the first disciples of Jesus might well have not been clueless, but thoroughly prepped psychologically to absorb the notion of a suffering and resurrected messiah. The notion may have been in the Qumran sectarian air for a generation prior to the death of Jesus.

    Psychologists have long noted that expectations often effect perceptions, and so I think that it is not trivial to discover that a pre-existing template for Jesus’s mission may have existed for a generation prior to his movement. The implications of this tablet discovery are far reaching and will make for a lot of interesting discussions over the next decade. I don’t think it should be downplayed or dismissed too quickly.

  3. Sirius says:

    Respectfully sir…

    When Jesus stated it outright, Peter protested “Not so!” That’s denial,not a lack of comprehension.

    –Sirius Knott

  4. santitafarella says:


    You’re right about the Matthew 16 passage—that is denial.

    But I’m just asking you to absorb the broader point, and here it is:

    Our gospels are late-comers on the literary scene, arriving anywhere from 35-70 years after the death of Jesus. They are written in Greek, not Hebrew or Aramaic, and are geographically, and in time, far from the “scene of the crime.”

    Their general thrust is that the disciples were without knowledge or comprehension of any sort of suffering/resurrected Messiah until after Jesus started to reveal this concept to them himself.

    What this discovery calls into question is whether, in fact, the initiates of the Jesus movement would have walked onto the scene so relatively clueless. It may, in fact, be the case that the earliest Jesus-movement sectarian followers were initiates of this earliest Qumran tradition, coming to the movement not having to be convinced of a messianic mission that involves suffering and resurrection.

    Like the readers of science fiction magazines in the 1950s, who were prepped to expect UFO encounters to go a certain way (aliens will fly in saucers, we will see fast moving metallic things in the sky, they will have big heads etc.), and then in subsequent decades people reported exactly such things, were the disciples also prepped to imagine the mission of a messiah to go a certain way, and were the stories of that messiah then colored by the expectation?

    What did the earliest disciples know, and when did they know it? The gospels now have a clear piece of data (the stone tablet) to weigh against our previous assumption, that Jesus was the revealer of this notion to, at first, clueless, unprepped disciples.

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