by Rich Robinson
Got your attention, didn’t it? Some media announcements about archaeological discoveries paint them as shaking the very foundations of faith in Jesus. The latest such has been described on many blogs over the past month. In a nutshell, the media storm concerns a stone tablet that is said to date from the 1st century B.C. and which appears to describe a pre-Jesus messianic figure who dies and rises on the third day.
Well, maybe. Or maybe not. CNN has a helpful video summarizing the possible implications of “Gabriel’s tablet” (you may have to sit through an online ad before the actual video plays). The announcer intones that the tablet is “raising blood pressure in the world of biblical scholarship,” though I have yet to see any scholars turning beet-red over the find—certainly not the scholars interviewed by CNN. That’s because at worst, the tablet doesn’t say what it’s supposed to. And at best, rather than overturning faith in Jesus, it simply affirms the Jewishness of the gospels.
Take Stephen Cook’s blog, for instance. Dr. Cook is professor of Old Testament at Virginia Theological Seminary. He posted this on July 9:
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 …. Knohl reconstructs lines 80-81 of the text to read: "By three days, live, I Gabriel, command you, prince of the princes.”
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.
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.
Then move over to Ben Witherington’s blog. Witherington teaches New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, and he is a man of judicious opinions. One point he makes:
…the real implication of this for Jesus' studies should not be missed. Most radical Jesus scholars have argued that the passion and resurrection predictions by Jesus found in the Gospels were not actually made by Jesus—they reflect the later notions and theologizing of the Evangelists. But now, if this stone is genuine there is no reason to argue this way. One can show that Jesus, just as well as the author of this stone, could have spoken about a dying and rising messiah.
For those interested, many more links can be found on Mark Goodacre’s blog. Meantime, if anything, this discovery should end up raising the blood pressure only of those who think that Jewishness and faith in Jesus have nothing in common.