Israel Knohl’s book, Messiahs and Resurrection in The Gabriel Revelation, is an important event for students of Christian origins, for it is the first book-length treatment, by a prominent biblical scholar, of an unusually important archaeological artifact: A recently discovered and described text, written upon a stone from the Dead Sea area, and dubbed by scholars “The Gabriel Revelation.”
Because “The Gabriel Revelation” has been dated to a full generation prior to Jesus, and because it has a curious passage that may suggest that the angel Gabriel will command a slain messianic figure to “in three days, live”, it opens up the possibility that early Christianity’s understanding of Jewish messianism was not perhaps as “out of the blue” as once supposed.
One consequence of “The Gabriel Revelation” is that it resurrects a once apparently defunct scholarly theory known as the “Messianic Secret” (in which Jesus has a plan, known only to himself and a close circle of disciples, that he will suffer, die, and rise again on the third day). Here’s Knohl on a passage from Mark’s gospel: “‘The Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he will rise.’ (Mark 9:31), might very well reflect Jesus’ original words” (87).
Barring appendices and notes, Knohl’s text is less than 100 pages long and is very clearly and concisely written. In the first two chapters, for example, Knohl translates the text of “The Gabriel Revelation” (which is only 87 lines long and fragmentary) and then literally does a line by line commentary on what we have, laying out its apocalyptic and messianic assumptions, the historical background for the statements, and the biblical allusions that the text renders. On reading Knohl’s translation and commentary, I came away from the book rather dazed, realizing that what Knohl has done is give the reader a window into the world of suffering-servant messianism and resurrection a full generation prior to Jesus’s crucifixion. It is a heady glimpse into an otherwise obscured past. As you read, you get the thrill of observing the religious outlook of an author who may literally be one of the intellectual precursors to the fully developed Christianity of a generation later. The author of “The Gabriel Revelation”, for example, clearly reads Daniel and Zechariah in ways recognizable to Christian interpreters today.
In addition to this intriguing look into a past just at the brink of evolving into full-blown Christianity, Knohl also addresses the “Antichrist” figures in the text, and draws some interesting parallels between “The Gabriel Revelation” and the Book of Revelation (particularly the eleventh chapter of Revelation, in which two messianic witnesses are slain and rise again). Knohl thinks that the Book of Revelation may have been, in places, echoing ideas from early first century pre-Christian texts like “The Gabriel Revelation.”
In short, Knohl’s book is an excellent and engaging survey of the text and implications of “The Gabriel Revelation”. Knohl is a respected biblical scholar at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and his book is published by a good academic publisher (Continuum). It’s a great read for any serious student of Christian origins, and it may transform the way you understand the nature and mission of Jesus, and the evolution of early Christianity. To paraphrase and echo Charles Darwin in another context: From so humble a beginning an exotic religious form (Christianity) appears to have evolved. “The Gabriel Revelation” could be, as it were, the stone “Archaeopteryx”—a key transition—to Christianity’s flight. The author of “The Gabriel Revelation”, and the sect to which he belonged, may have made the imaginative biblical interpretive leaps concerning messianism that, by a series of unlikely contingencies, led to the global religion that we have today. Contemplating that fact alone makes Knohl’s book well worth reading.
The book at Amazon.com is here.