Thursday, 10 July 2008

Dead Sea tablet 'casts doubt on death and resurrection of Jesus'

From The Times

July 9, 2008

Dead Sea tablet 'casts doubt on death and resurrection of Jesus'

Stained Glass window of Jesus

Opinions of what the tablet’s writing means are deeply divided

Sheera Frenkel in Jerusalem

The death and resurrection of Christ has been called into question by a radical new interpretation of a tablet found on the eastern bank of the Dead Sea.

The three-foot stone tablet appears to refer to a Messiah who rises from the grave three days after his death - even though it was written decades before the birth of Jesus.

The ink is badly faded on much of the tablet, known as Gabriel’s Vision of Revelation, which was written rather than engraved in the 1st century BC. This has led some experts to claim that the inscription has been overinterpreted.

A previous paper published by the scholars Ada Yardeni and Binyamin Elitzur concluded that the most controversial lines were indecipherable.

Israel Knohl, a biblical studies professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, argued yesterday that line 80 of the text revealed Gabriel telling an historic Jewish rebel named Simon, who was killed by the Romans four years before the birth of Christ: “In three days you shall live, I, Gabriel, command you.”

Professor Knohl contends that the tablet proves that messianic followers possessed the paradigm of their leader rising from the grave before Jesus was born. He said that the text “could be the missing link between Judaism and Christianity in so far as it roots the Christian belief in the resurrection of the Messiah in Jewish tradition”.

Professor Knohl defended his theory at a conference at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem marking 60 years since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. He said that New Testament writers could have adapted a widely held messianic story in Judaism to Jesus and his followers. “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.”

Several participants of the conference accused him of using the tablet to rehash a theory that he had presented in his 2002 book, The Messiah Before Jesus. Moshe Bar-Asher, president of the Academy of Hebrew Language, said that he would publish his own paper on the tablet in coming months that would take into account possible variations in the text.

Professor Knohl said he was aware that the tablet could upset Christians. For some the stone confirms Christianity’s roots in Jewish tradition while others feel that the tablet discredits the Resurrection as a mere reproduction of an ancient fable.

The owner of the tablet, David Jeselsohn, a Swiss-Israeli collector and archaeologist, said that he was excited by Professor Knohl’s interpretation, though he was not entirely convinced by it. “I am more cautious than Knohl,” he said. “Some people say it may take away from the uniqueness of Jesus’s Resurrection but I believe it gives credibility to the story that the followers were expecting a Messiah.”

A hit and a myth

- The Homeric city of Troy was believed to be mythical until 1822, when Charles Maclaren claimed to have found its remains at the modern site of Hisarlik. Excavations between 1870 and 1890 by Heinrich Schliemann confirmed his claim

- Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, dropped a cultural bomb last month claiming that the Stone of Destiny, a Scotish relic said to have been used as a pillow by Jacob before he climbed the biblical ladder, was a medieval fake

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