From Qumran to Christianity?: The Recently Discovered “Gabriel Revelation” Tablet as the Archaeopteryx of Academic Biblical Scholarship

How similar the “Gabriel Revelation” stone tablet debate is to the evolution-creation debate!

Liberal academic scholars have long said that Christianity didn’t just pop out of thin air—a creation ex nihilo—but evolved out of the contingency of circumstances surrounding 1st century Palestine. They say emphatically that neither 1st century Judaism nor Christianity were monolithic. There were lots of sects, or “species,” of Judaism and Christianity out there, competing for resources.

With regard to Christianity, liberal scholars tend to appeal to certain “fossils” to substantiate this view. Here are a couple:

  • The hypothesized “Q” Gospel
  • Qumran texts that seem to anticipate certain features of early Christianity
  • The Gospel of Thomas
  • Mark and “Q” as chief sources for Matthew and Luke
  • Paul’s tensions with James, the brother of Jesus, in Galatians

The “Gabriel Revelation” tablet now joins this list. And it’s a big puzzle piece. It is, as it were, academic scholarship’s newly discovered fossil Archaeopteryx.

In other words, it is a very important apparent transitional artifact between Qumran and early Christianity, and brings out starkly the value of seeing the early Jesus movement as a historically evolved phenomena, as opposed to a movement that began its reflections on a suffering and resurrected messiah only after it was confronted with an earth-shattering miracle.

Conservative scholars, by contrast, have long emphasized Christianity’s uniqueness, and have posited the theory that Christianity is the product of the disciples’s reflections upon what had happened after Jesus’s crucifixion. The disciples saw Jesus risen from the dead over a period of forty days, and the movement largely cohered in the way that the Book of Acts claims, and is a response to this encounter with Jesus’s resurrection—a singular, history-disjointing miraculous event.

In other words, once again we are standing over the faultline of creation v. evolution. Conservative apologists will continue to insist that a miracle explains the straightforward response of the apostles, and the beginning of the movement—a kind of creation out of nowhere.

Liberal scholars, by contrast, will keep pointing to the “fossils” and saying, “We see a process of evolution here.”

The “Gabriel Revelation” tablet is simply another “fossil” that makes the long-held conservative position more difficult to maintain.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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2 Responses to From Qumran to Christianity?: The Recently Discovered “Gabriel Revelation” Tablet as the Archaeopteryx of Academic Biblical Scholarship

  1. Martin Elderling says:

    What is not sufficiently said, is that no solid information (apart from 3rd-party rumors) is available on the provenance of this “ancient tablet,” or on the kind of scientific testing of the ink that alone would be able to confirm its authenticity. Many a forged artifact has been touted in a similarly sensationalist manner, only later to be revealed a fraud. This one has funny scent about it, to my nose at least.

    Attempts to describe it as a “Dead Sea scroll on stone” are a further hint of sensationalism, and thus call to mind the ongoing scandal over the rigging of lectures and museum exhibits on this topic. See, e.g., http://timothyfishbane.wordpress.com/

  2. John says:

    The “Gabriel Revelation” tablet is simply another “fossil” that makes the long-held conservative position more difficult to maintain.

    Well said. I love the fossil analogy.

    I saw the History Channel’s documentary on the Gabriel Stone. It was very interesting and excited both the liberal and conservative theologian in me but I like you see it as more evidence to support Bart Erhman’s idea that Jesus became God.

    You write well.

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