The Significance of The “Gabriel Revelation” Tablet—Explained Through an Imaginary Dialogue Between Socrates and a Student

Student:

Why, exactly, is the recently discovered “Gabriel Revelation” tablet supposedly so important to our understanding of Christian origins? If some people were already thinking, a generation before Jesus, about Isaiah 53 in messianic terms, why is this such a big deal? And if they were anticipating a messiah who resurrects after three days, why should this call into question the historicity of the gospels?

Socrates:

It’s a big deal because expectations color how we recall experiences and tell stories about them, and the gospels, it should be recalled, are recounting experiences and telling stories. If those experiences and stories are driven by a previously existing template, then it becomes well nigh impossible to untangle truth from fiction in the gospels.

Student:

Is this what makes the “Gabriel Revelation” monumental?

Socrates:

Yes. It drives us into a confrontation with the literary nature of the stories told about Jesus, particularly with regard to his suffering and resurrection.

Student:

Can you give an example?

Socrates:

Sure. The situation is exactly analogous to UFO sightings and tales of alien abduction. What if you were told, two thousand years from now, that thousands of people in the United States had claimed, over a period of decades, without any promptings, to see metallic UFOs in the sky in the shapes of discs and cigars, and that others claimed to be abducted onto spaceships, and that still others saw aliens with big heads and told vivid stories about them?

Student:

I might think that the stories were odd, or curious, and I might even wonder if there was any truth to them.

Socrates:

But what if, the next day, you read in the news that a discovery of science fiction magazines, several decades ahead of these purported sightings, had surfaced, and they depicted UFOs and aliens in the way that people later claimed to experience them?

Student:

I’d think that the science fiction genre had colored the supposedly “real life” account storytelling of a generation later.

Socrates:

That’s a reasonable inference. Likewise, our gospels are late-comers on the literary scene, arriving anywhere from 40-70 years after the death of Jesus, and 70-110 years after the “Gabriel Revelation” tablet. Moreover, they are written in Greek, not Hebrew or Aramaic, and are geographically far from the “scene of the crime.”

Student:

So there was plenty of opportunity for the literary genre of a suffering and resurrecting messiah to develop before the seemingly “true story” versions appeared? 

Socrates:

Yes. The “Gabriel Revelation” tablet is, as it were, one of the science fiction magazines that sparked in the sectarian religious imagination the “strange but true” storytelling of a generation later.

Student:

So the testimony of a witness is more credible when it is spontaneous, and not thought out or contrived in advance by a shaping genre?

Socrates:

Yes. The Gabriel Revelation tablet seems to show that there was plenty of time for a suffering and resurrecting messiah to be thought through before any supposedly eye-witness testimony of real life events was offered.

Student:

So leading a witness generally leads to contrived conclusions?

Socrates:

Yes.

Student:

So the “Gabriel Revelation” tablet is like an attorney leading a witness?

Socrates:

Yes.

Student:

Or a teacher leading a student?

Socrates:

You got me. Checkmate. 

About Santi Tafarella

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