A Suffering and Resurrected Messiah—Before Jesus?: First It Was The NY Times, Now TIME Magazine Weighs In

A stone tablet scholars have dubbed “The Gabriel Revelation” and recently traced to the Dead Sea and dated to a full generation PRIOR to the death of Jesus appears to speak of a suffering and resurrected messiah.

The story, which has been developing over the past year, has moved from peer-reviewed scholarly publications, and contentious debates among scholars, into the mass media.

This is a very big story.

Scholar James Tabor, at his website yesterday, called it “major.” 

The NY Times ran a piece on the stone tablet on Sunday, and now TIME magazine has just posted a story on the tablet on its website. Here are two money quotes from the Time magazine piece:

A 3-ft.-high tablet romantically dubbed “Gabriel’s Revelation” could challenge the uniqueness of the idea of the Christian Resurrection. The tablet appears to date authentically to the years just before the birth of Jesus and yet — at least according to one Israeli scholar — it announces the raising of a messiah after three days in the grave. If true, this could mean that Jesus’ followers had access to a well-established paradigm when they decreed that Christ himself rose on the third day — and it might even hint that they they could have applied it in their grief after their master was crucified.

And this one:

[W]hat may make the Gabriel tablet unique is its 80th line, which begins with the words “In three days” and includes some form of the verb “to live.” Israel Knohl, an expert in Talmudic and biblical language at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University who was not involved in the first research on the artifact, claims that it refers to a historic 1st-century Jewish rebel named Simon who was killed by the Romans in 4 B.C., and should read “In three days, you shall live. I Gabriel command you.” If so, Jesus-era Judaism had begun to explore the idea of a three-day resurrection before Jesus was born.

This, in turn, undermines one of the strongest literary arguments employed by Christians over centuries to support the historicity of the Resurrection (in which they believe on faith): the specificity and novelty of the idea that the Messiah would die on a Friday and rise on a Sunday. Who could make such stuff up? But, as Knohl told TIME, maybe the Christians had a model to work from. The idea of a “dying and rising messiah appears in some Jewish texts, but until now, everyone thought that was the impact of Christianity on Judaism,” he says. “But for the first time, we have proof that it was the other way around. The concept was there before Jesus.” If so, he goes on, “this should shake our basic view of Christianity. … What happens in the New Testament [could have been] adopted by Jesus and his followers based on an earlier messiah story.”

Here’s a link to the full Time magazine story: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1820685,00.html

And here’s a link to James Tabor’s blog, where by searching about, you can find a good deal of scholarly discussion on the “Gabriel Revelation” tablet: http://www.jesusdynasty.com/blog/

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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