Gabriel’s Revelation

Gabriel’s Revelation

In today’s NY Times there appeared an article on a controversial first-century BC stone tablet with two columns of painted Hebrew text, the so-called “Gabriel’s Revelation” tablet. This “stone Dead Sea Scroll” recounts an apocalyptic vision revealed by the Angel Gabriel, one that involves a suffering messiah who will redeem Israel through bloody sacrifice and be resurrected after three days. The Jewish text relies heavily on the Old Testament prophets Daniel, Zechariah and Haggai. What makes it controversial is that it seems to be an archetype for the Jesus movement.

In part, there is small-scale controversy among archeologists and scholars arising from its various readings, due to some missing text and faded lines. In particular, in the faded line (line 80) addressing the “prince of princes” which appears (to some) to read “In three days you shall live, I, Gabriel, command you.”

Undoubtedly, the “Revelation” text helps to situate the New Testament Gospels in a new light. Perhaps, as the scholarly evidence works itself out, the stone will further elucidate the historical context surrounding the life of Jesus and ancient Jewish culture. For instance, some scholars believe that the scroll coincides with the career of a man named “Simon,” killed by a Herodian commander, as mentioned in the first-century writings of the Jewish historian, Josephus.

It remains unlikely, however, contrary to what Israel Knohl (professor of Bible Studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem) states—that the common understanding of the mission of Christianity will change. Referring to the tablet as evidence of a purely political view of a Jewish messiah, in the Times article Knohl states, “This is the conscious view of Jesus himself. This gives the Last Supper an absolutely different meaning. To shed blood is not for the sins of people but to bring redemption to Israel.”

There are many glaring problems with his opinion. First, it categorically neglects the repeated attestations that Christ and his apostles understood that his death and resurrection were a new covenant to abolish sin, as represented by the Last Supper. (Matthew 26:26-30; Luke 22:14-20; I Corinthians 11:23-25; Acts 2:36-42; Acts 5:31-32) And, that they felt this salvation was open to Jews and Gentiles alike. (John 5:19-29; John 6:25-59; Acts 10:34-43; Acts 13:26-35; Acts 23:1-11; Romans I:16-17; I Corinthians 15:1-11; we might also cite Isaiah 25:6-9).

Second, Knohl intimates that (rather than a trailblazer) Christ was simply following an earlier construct of a resurrected leader, as laid out by this tablet. In fact, Knohl wrote a book back in 2000—which predates knowledge of the slab—that also outlines his predictive vision of a pre-Jesus suffering Messiah, based upon the Dead Sea Scrolls, and early apocalyptic and rabbinic literature. In both, Knohl neglects the originality of the Gospel accounts and the role of prophecy-fulfilled in the New Testament.

For example, though there were many messiah-like figures in Roman-occupied Palestine, most were military or politically-motivated warriors, not peaceful resisters who were given the severest form of capital punishment without committing a crime. And, according to the Evangelists’ testimony, Christ was always very clear that earlier divine revelation and Messianic prophecy were fulfilled in his life and work. Thus, just because someone else predicted a certain chain of events, or articulated this idea of Resurrection after three days, it does not nullify the originality of the life and teachings of Christ.

Perhaps most importantly, none of those patriot figures (before or after Christ) catalyzed an ecumenical religious movement that transformed world history. (How many of them can you name?) In essence, if Christ was “just another zealot” how then could we explain how so many apostles and early Christians were willing to proselytize across the Roman Empire and perish as martyrs if they themselves did not fully believe in the Resurrection message? Why would a third of the world continue to do so, even at such a chronological and cultural remove?

Dr. Knohl and his colleagues are laudable for unveiling new knowledge about ancient Jewish culture in the interest of history. But, like those in the science community who attempt to use science to answer questions of philosophy, or the Jesus Seminar of the 1990s who also worked to pare the historical man away from the myth, Dr. Knohl will find that scientific and historical debate can never fully account for the Christian phenomenon, one based upon passionate individual testimony and unflinching faith.

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Comments
10 Responses to “Gabriel’s Revelation”
  1. It is highly probable this stone tablet text is simply another sensationalist scam, as is clearly indicated by the facts

    (1) that no specific information is available on its provenance and

    (2) that no details are provided on carbon dating of the ink.

    As such, this “news” falls right in line with the faked Lost-Tomb-of-Jesus “documentary” designed to make a profit off of people’s fascination with the “real” Jesus, and with the larger scandal of the biased and misleading way the Dead Sea scrolls are being presented in museum exhibits around the world, with an antisemitic expression appearing on a government-run North Carolina museum’s website. See, e.g.,

    http://spinozaslens.com/libet/articles/dworkin_ethicsofexhibition.htm

    and

    http://blog.news-record.com/staff/frontpew/archives/2008/06/dead_sea_scroll.shtml.

  2. percyflage says:

    Dear Museum Ethics,
    Thanks so much for your extremely informative comments.
    I read through the links you sent and was quite interested to hear about the so-called “alternative” theory about Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls. I’m very surprised that the displaced library idea is not more popularized/mainstream here in America. (I must say that I am not in the field of Bible studies, just an amateur enthusiast and so don’t know the state of the field in particular.)
    For what it’s worth, the issues surrounding the presentation of the traveling Scrolls exhibit sounds like a case of the prevalent popularization of museum exhibits; ones that simplify and gloss over scholarly debate for the sake of appeasing a somewhat uncultured, or worse, dogmatic and incurious (yet of course, paying) general audience.
    Of course, I can only speak as an art historian, and questioning the role of museums in educating/serving the community may be another thread altogether…
    Thanks again.
    Best wishes,
    Kimberlee

  3. Jdgilkenson says:

    Whats interesting to me is that any facts relating to Christ or his resurrection will never be able to be proven definatively….no matter how man tries to get his mind around it. It just wont happen. God calls for faith and by its definition you cant have faith with proof. Only a few got to see it first hand and that was to make it easier for the stupid ones that would come along in the future to have faith.It just amazes me that some of our brightest scholarly minds fumble around the REAL truth found in faith in Jesus as the messiah in order find real proof that he was or wasnt.
    Doesnt work with God and those who continue down that path will find out how foolish they really were and die in their sins.

  4. percyflage says:

    Dear Jdgilkenson,
    Thanks for your comment. You are absolutely correct in that faith does not require proof, by definition. That said, it remains interesting (at least to me) to learn as much as we can historically, but with the understanding that that route has its definite limitations.
    Best,
    Kimberlee

  5. Stephen Bedard says:

    I appreciate your post on this. I am doing a little bit of research on this for a project I am working on and you give me some things to think about. Thanks.

  6. percyflage says:

    Dear Stephen,
    You’re most welcome. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject, too. So, please be sure and check back in.
    Yours,
    Kimberlee

  7. Stephen Bedard says:

    Just to let you know, I posted my comments on the Gabriel Stone on my blog http://www.1peter315.wordpress.com. Thanks.

  8. percyflage says:

    Thanks so much for the considerable insights in your 1peter315 blog post, Stephen. They greatly clarify the issue, and help to put this interesting archaeological find into proper (non-sensationalized) perspective. I highly encourage all to give it a read.
    Best,
    Kimberlee

  9. james says:

    Great post, People need to read this.

  10. Kimberlee says:

    Thanks for visiting, James. Glad you enjoyed the post. -Kimberlee

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