Archive for July 9th, 2008

The Vision/Revelation/Apocalypse of Gabriel

July 9, 2008

dss-in-stone The “Vision of Gabriel”1 apparently surfaced a while ago, but has just made a splash this last week; I only heard of it here (where April DeConick wisely counsels caution). PaleoJudaica has lots of links. Here‘s the scholarly article that seems to have caused the stir.

Brief and probably inaccurate recap: the VoG is a piece of stone with 87 lines of difficult-to-decipher Hebrew written on it in ink (not engraved). The text, when creatively interpreted, seems to speak of a Messiah who is to die and be resurrected “on the third day.” As the text seems to date from the first century BCE—I see conflicting reports about whether the evidence is physical or purely linguistic—there is some implication that Jesus (or the early Christians, or the evangelists) were following an established paradigm in the Resurrection story, that the Christian Resurrection story was not novel, and the foundations of Christianity will be shaken to their very core. Or something. Israel Knohl, author of the afore-cited paper, in Time:

The idea of a “dying and rising messiah appears in some Jewish texts, but until now, everyone thought that was the impact of Christianity on Judaism,” he says. “But for the first time, we have proof that it was the other way around. The concept was there before Jesus.” If so, he goes on, “this should shake our basic view of Christianity. … What happens in the New Testament [could have been] adopted by Jesus and his followers based on an earlier messiah story.”

My own thoughts, which will certainly change once I do more than skim some of what I cited above:

  • The foundations of Christianity will not be shaken to their very core. The vast majority of Christians’ faith isn’t based on anything that can be affected by evidence of any sort (I mean that in both a good way and a bad way).
  • And in fact if the VoG is real and this interpretation is correct—big ifs—it seems to me to confirm the “standard view” of Jesus as “fulfilling the Scriptures.” It’s in the Nicene Creed, for goodness’ sake. See this for more along these lines.
  • If it’s legit it is of course very interesting, possibly as a direct or indirect precursor of the Gospels, certainly as a evidence of what sort of milieu Jesus and the early Christians lived in.
  • It could of course be a fraud. There doesn’t seem to be much reason to suspect this artifact in particular, but there’s lots of reason to suspect anything that allegedly pertains to early Christianity. Making convincing frauds is (relatively) easy and the stakes are high. I don’t know whether the unusual (unique?) ink-on-stone form ought to make us more or less suspicious.
  • The text is full of holes, and as with lots of these things would very likely be obscure even if it were complete. (See a transcription here, from the Biblical Archeology Review). Professor Knohl’s reconstruction and interpretation are of necessity awfully speculative.

1. I think I’d use the word “apocalypse” rather than “vision” or “revelation,” entirely for coolness value—I know no Hebrew, so that’s the only reason I could have—except that “apocalypse” has too much cultural baggage.