A striking aspect of the “Gabriel Revelation” tablet discovery is that Israel Knohl, one of the Israeli scholars cited in both the NY Times and TIME magazine articles, had already drawn together, back in 2002, a number of lines of evidence to suggest that the Qumran community, a generation before Jesus, was buzzing with ideas about a suffering and resurrected messiah.
Knohl did this in a book titled, The Messiah Before Jesus.
Generally, we regard it as a plus for a scientific or scholarly thesis that, whenever a new piece of data turns up, it nicely matches the thesis, and does not undermine what the thesis posits.
In this case, the “Gabriel Revelation” stone is a striking confirmation of Knoll’s thesis and ought to lead curious seekers to a rediscovery of his original 2002 book.
By coincidence, I read Knohl’s book back in 2005 and reviewed it at Amazon.com. Below is that 2005 review with a few revisions for clarity:
Israel Knohl’s The Messiah Before Jesus is a University of California publication and has a promotional blurb from a number of big-gun scholars on its back cover, including Emanuel Tov, the Editor-in-Chief of the Dead Sea Scrolls Publication Project.
It’s a good thing, because the thesis of the book has the potential of overturning many assumptions about early Christianity and might be dismissed if proposed by a less respected scholar.
The thesis of Knoll’s book is that the most recent fragments coming out of the Dead Sea Scrolls project reveal that the Qumran community believed that the messiah would suffer, be pierced, and rise again on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.
This has been the long-anxiety of conservative apologists, that the Dead Sea scrolls would prove to undermine the uniqueness of Jesus, or somehow anticipate the central doctrines of the New Testament, making them less “special.” And Knoll’s thesis, and the evidence he supports it with, is compelling and ought to be of grave concern to those who style themselves defenders of fundamenalist faith.
Knoll believes that the Qumran community not only anticipated an Isaiah 53-style “suffering servant” messiah, but that the leader of their sect believed that he was that messiah. Knoll further postulates that this messiah had in fact acted out his beliefs, was martyred, and that the Qumran community believed that he had been raised from the dead and taken up to heaven. This messiah, according to Knoll, did this a full generation prior to Jesus.
Knoll gathers several lines of persuasive evidence for these assertions, some from within the Qumran writings, and some even from the New Testament.
Two that I found interesting come from the books of Revelation and John. In Revelation, for example, there seems to have been retained a memory of not one, but two messianic witnesses who die in Jerusalem and are raised from the dead (Revelation 11:10-12).
And the gospel of John seems to have retained, in a distorted form, a memory of Jesus’s messianic-lineage consciousness. In the gospel of John Jesus tells his disciples that he will send them “another Comforter” after he is gone (John 14:16). The word translated in English as “comforter” is, in Greek, “paraclete.” According to Knohl, this in turn is the word used by Greeks to translate the Hebrew word “menahem.”
It just so happens that a man named Menahem was the leader of the Qumran sect a generation before Jesus. It is this Menahem (mentioned also in Josephus) who Knohl postulates may have been the first suffering servant of the Qumran community. Thus John’s gospel may retain the memory of Jesus telling his disciples that he was a “Menahem” and that he, being in a line of “Menahem,” would send “another Menahem” after his death.
Since writing the above, it appears that Israel Knohl thinks that someone named Simon was, in fact, the Qumran suffering messiah from the generation before Jesus. I’d be curious to know if he still subscribes to his thesis that the designation belongs also to Menahem. How many suffering servant messiahs—or “Menahems”—might the Qumran community had believed in, or anticipated?
Was there a royal or priestly line of “Menahems”—and if so, how far did they go back?
In any event, Knoll’s original book is excellent and can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Messiah-before-Jesus-Suffering-Foundation/dp/0520234006/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1215614641&sr=8-3