A New York Times article on the Hazon Gabriel tablet, a three-foot-tall stone with 87 lines of Hebrew that apparently dates from the decades just before the birth of Jesus, quotes Shalom Hartman Institute scholar Israel Knohl on this controversial subject.
The article describes the stone tablet as “causing a quiet stir in biblical and archaeological circles, especially because it may speak of a messiah who will rise from the dead after three days..”
Knohl’s recent article suggests the stone’s text supports his controversial thesis that messianic activity in the ancient land of Israel predated Jesus, as discussed originally in his 2000 book, ” The Messiah Before Jesus: the Suffering Servant of the Dead Sea Scrolls .” The case Knohl presents will resurface in greater detail in an upcoming book.
Knohl’s theory first received exposure in hisbook, but the Times said Knohl’s theory “did not shake the world of Christology as he had hoped, partly because he had no textual evidence from before Jesus.” However, the tablet does, indeed, in Knohl’s view, provide information that supports his theory, and the tablet’s provenance from the days before Jesus was said to have lived seems clear.
The Times wrote of Knohl:
When he read “Gabriel’s Revelation,” he said, he believed he saw what he needed to solidify his thesis, and he has published his argument in the latest issue of The Journal of Religion.
Mr. Knohl is part of a larger scholarly movement that focuses on the political atmosphere in Jesus’ day as an important explanation of that era’s messianic spirit. As he notes, after the death of Herod, Jewish rebels sought to throw off the yoke of the Rome-supported monarchy, so the rise of a major Jewish independence fighter could take on messianic overtones.
In Mr. Knohl’s interpretation, the specific messianic figure embodied on the stone could be a man named Simon who was slain by a commander in the Herodian army, according to the first-century historian Josephus. The writers of the stone’s passages were probably Simon’s followers, Mr. Knohl contends.
The slaying of Simon, or any case of the suffering messiah, is seen as a necessary step toward national salvation, he says, pointing to lines 19 through 21 of the tablet — “In three days you will know that evil will be defeated by justice” — and other lines that speak of blood and slaughter as pathways to justice.
To make his case about the importance of the stone, Mr. Knohl focuses especially on line 80, which begins clearly with the words “L’shloshet yamin,” meaning “in three days.” The next word of the line was deemed partially illegible…but Mr. Knohl, who is an expert on the language of the Bible and Talmud, says the word is “hayeh,” or “live” in the imperative. It has an unusual spelling, but it is one in keeping with the era.
Two more hard-to-read words come later, and Mr. Knohl said he believed that he had deciphered them as well, so that the line reads, “In three days you shall live, I, Gabriel, command you.”
To whom is the archangel speaking? The next line says “Sar hasarin,” or prince of princes. Since the Book of Daniel, one of the primary sources for the Gabriel text, speaks of Gabriel and of “a prince of princes,” Mr. Knohl contends that the stone’s writings are about the death of a leader of the Jews who will be resurrected in three days.
He says further that such a suffering messiah is very different from the traditional Jewish image of the messiah as a triumphal, powerful descendant of King David.
“This should shake our basic view of Christianity,” he said as he sat in his office of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem where he is a senior fellow…. “Resurrection after three days becomes a motif developed before Jesus, which runs contrary to nearly all scholarship. What happens in the New Testament was adopted by Jesus and his followers based on an earlier messiah story.”
…Moshe Idel, a professor of Jewish thought at Hebrew University, said that given the way every tiny fragment from that era yielded scores of articles and books, “Gabriel’s Revelation” and Mr. Knohl’s analysis deserved serious attention. “Here we have a real stone with a real text,” he said. “This is truly significant.”
Mr. Knohl said that it was less important whether Simon was the messiah of the stone than the fact that it strongly suggested that a savior who died and rose after three days was an established concept at the time of Jesus. He notes that in the Gospels, Jesus makes numerous predictions of his suffering and New Testament scholars say such predictions must have been written in by later followers because there was no such idea present in his day.
But there was, he said, and “Gabriel’s Revelation” shows it.
“His mission is that he has to be put to death by the Romans to suffer so his blood will be the sign for redemption to come,” Mr. Knohl said. “This is the sign of the son of Joseph. 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.”
The Israel Museum, which houses many of the Dead Sea Scrolls in its famous “Shrine of the Book,” is opening a conference this week marking 60 years since the first scroll’s discovery. The issue of whether the tablet speaks of a resurrected messiah, as Knohl believes, also will be discussed.