The premise that the Messiah died and was resurrected after three days is considered the foundation of the Christian faith, one which differentiates it from Judaism. Through the generations, this belief stood at the center of the debate between Christians and Jews. But now, a mysterious tablet from the time of the second temple has led researchers to believe that this premise of messianic resurrection is not unique to Christianity, but rather existed in Judaism years before Jesus was born.
The tablet, which has been dubbed "Gabriel's vision" because much of its text deals with a vision of the apocalypse transmitted by the angel Gabriel, was discovered eight years ago, but a large part of it is illegible and researchers have had difficulty interpreting its meaning.
Israel Knohl, a professor of Bible studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, has offered a new interpretation of this text recently, which has sparked interest in the Christian realm. Knohl's interpretation could shed light on the history of Jesus and the way Christianity grew out of Judaism.
"Gabriel's vision," a previously unknown prophetic text written in the first century B.C.E., was written on a large gray limestone tablet. In the center of the text, which includes quotes from the Bible and prophetic verses, there is an image of the angel Gabriel. The tablet was not discovered in an organized archaeological excavation, therefore the location of its discovery is not clear. Some believe it was found in Jordan on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea.
The New York Times reported recently that the tablet was bought from a Jordanian antiquities dealer by an Israeli-Swiss collector who kept it in his Zurich home. When an Israeli scholar examined it closely a few years ago and wrote a paper on it last year, interest began to rise. There is now a spate of scholarly articles on the stone, with several due to be published in the coming months.
"I couldn't make much out of it when I got it," said David Jeselsohn, the owner, who is himself an expert in antiquities. "I didn't realize how significant it was until I showed it to Ada Yardeni, who specializes in Hebrew writing, a few years ago. She was overwhelmed. 'You have got a Dead Sea Scroll on stone,' she told me."
Yardeni and fellow researcher Binyamin Elitzur published a long analysis of the text in the Hebrew-language history and archaeology quarterly "Cathedra". However, Professor Knohl interpreted one of the words in the text differently, changing the meaning of the text entirely.
"This is a revolutionary text," Knohl said when presenting his research at a conference marking 60 years since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls held this week at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. "The text changes the way we look at the historical Jesus, and provides a missing link connecting Judaism and Christianity," he added.
"I identified a previously unrecognized Jewish notion that the blood of the messiah is necessary in order to bring about national redemption. The idea of a tortured messiah who was resurrected three days after his death was adopted by Judaism before the birth of Jesus. The main ideas of the Jesus myth existed in Judaism," Knohl went on to say.
In the "Gabriel's vision" text there are 87 lines. Toward the end, on the 80th line, there is an unclear sentence containing the words "shloshat yamin" (three days). The next word is broken up, and when the text was first published, three dots were used in its place. However, Professor Knohl recognized it as "Hayia", which he interpreted to be the command form of the work "Hai", to live, concluding that the text is describing the angel Gabriel as someone who raises from the dead the prophet leader named "Minister of ministers" three days after his death. He associates this minister with a historic figure-a Jewish leader named Shimon who declared himself king and led a failed rebellion against Herod in the year 4 B.C.E. until he was killed by Herod's army.
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