Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Messianism Before Christ: Gabriel's Revelation

HT: The New York Times

I've received many emails asking me what I think about all the recent buzz on "The Vision of Gabriel," the stone tablet from (purportedly) the first century BCE that appears (according to Dr. Israel Knohl) to speak of a dying and resurrecting messiah (click here, and here, and here, and here, and here). Knohl reconstructs lines 80-81 of the text to read: "By three days, live, I Gabriel, command you, prince of the princes." Let me make a few initial observations and comments about this fascinating artifact.

First, the stone was not found as part of a scientific dig, so its authenticity may never be assured. Second, the text is very fragmentary, so the reconstruction of its meaning will be open to debate. Indeed, reading the text through quickly, it is not immediately obvious that it refers to a suffering and dying messiah. That said, reading the text also quickly reveals a lot of verbal echoes of the books of Haggai and Zechariah, which do include the idea of a humble, suffering Messiah at places such as Zech 9:9-10; 12:10-13:1; and 13:7-9.

AFP - Getty Images; HT: MSNBC
I have long been a fan of the bold and innovative scholar Israel Knohl who is one of those popularizing the "Gabriel's Revelation" artifact. Knohl has already written a book discussing the expectation of a suffering, atoning messiah as it appears in the Dead Sea Scrolls. I referenced this work in my Abingdon/IBT book, The Apocalyptic Literature. I argued there that for Christianity---the religion that claims the Christ/Messiah has come---to be meaningful and valid, there must have been a longstanding hope for just the sort of Christ/Messiah that Jesus became (i.e., a humble, suffering Messiah). This is nothing new---the point goes back to the famous Enlightenment debate between Collins and Sherlock. So, when journalists now look at "Gabriel's Revelation" and ask, "What impact would a pre-Christian reference to suffering, death and resurrection have on Christian scholarship?" (MSNBC), the answer is clear: This would be another piece of evidence showing that the idea of Christianity is a meaningful and valid idea. I.e., there were relevant messianic expectations around for Jesus to fulfill.

It is hardly any sort of challenge to Christianity that the idea of a resurrection after three-days was around before Christ. Again, the Christian claim is that Christ fulfilled longstanding messianic expectation. Across religions, three days of death is a motif common to the archetypal theme of death and rebirth. It is a symbolic reference to transformation. Think of the three days and nights that Jonah spent in the belly of the whale and the three days Inanna hung dead in the underworld "like a piece of rotting meat" in the Summerian story, "The Descent of Inanna." Perhaps more to the point, see me annotation to Hosea 6:2 in the Harper Collins Study Bible.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Cook, thanks very much for this illuminating post. In some recent online conversations about the topic, initiated by the NT Times article, I've learned (much to my surprise) that the motif of resurrection (with or without the 'after three days') as existing prior to Jesus is an upsetting thought to some Christians. I'll direct my correspondents to your careful and thoughful analysis.

Wed Jul 09, 10:34:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

Hi Gail. Thank you for your comment and for the referrals! ---SLC

Thu Jul 10, 09:28:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Mr. Cook.
I was led to your website via I enjoyed your article, though could you clarify something for me? It has been said that this some Christians have been concerned about the translation of "Gabriel's Revelation", but as a Christian myself, I can only see this as strengthening the claims of Jesus. More so, does this not just add to the many OT references of Jesus? Am I reading this wrong?
Cheers & God Bless

Sat Jul 12, 12:57:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

Benjamin, thank you for visiting my blog and for your comment. I gather that data making Jesus looks less unique can be upsetting to some. My understanding is that Jesus is not unique in departing from the Hebrew Scriptures but in actually fulfilling and instantiating them in a wondrous way. At least, this is what I understand to be the core Christian claim. ---SLC

Sat Jul 12, 01:21:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Cook:

Can you help me?
I'm greatly concerned for a group of women I know.

One believes SHE is one of the 'two witnesses' in Revelation.

My friend was in a meeting with this women and she (my friend) heard -within her.

'the Last martyr.' My friend sensed only a great sense of honor for this women. She believed

the voice was the voice of God and confirmed that this women is one of the two witnesses.

This women is leaving next week for Jerusalem to fulfill the destiny of being one of the two witnesses. And a couple of other women will be following after her, one leaving her unsaved husband and teenage son behind.

Now if I'm wrong someone needs to set me straight and quickly.

All I see is deception and lying counterfeits.

I've been praying for a few days about this situation.

Thank you,

Tue Aug 19, 01:23:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

Dear Lindielee, I will certainly pray for this situation. I hope your friends don't get themselves arrested or worse. It wouldn't help much for me to counsel you in this forum. I would try to talk to a counselor you trust and see if you can work out some things you can say to your friends that might help. Peace, ---SLC

Wed Aug 20, 09:17:00 PM GMT-5  

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