Stone Tablet May Provide Missing Link Between Judaism, Christianity
July 14, 2008 - 8:09 AMScholars are intrigued by a first century B.C. stone tablet suggesting that the notion of a Jewish messiah dying and being resurrected in three days is one that pre-dated Jesus. Some believe the relic could provide a missing link between Judaism and Christianity.
According to the Gospels, Jesus was crucified for the salvation of the world and the redemption of Israel and rose from the dead three days after his execution.
Although Jewish prophets foretold the coming of a Jewish messiah, mainstream Judaism does not recognize Jesus as the fulfillment of those prophecies. The ancient tablet may point to the fact that the idea of an executed and resurrected messiah existed before the time of Jesus, some scholars say.
Dubbed “Gabriel’s Revelation,” the three-foot-high tablet has 87 lines of ancient Hebrew script written on it, although pieces of the stone are missing and some letters are worn away. The archangel Gabriel appears in both the Old and New Testaments as a messenger from God.
The stone belongs to David Jeselsohn, an antiquities collector living in Switzerland who says he bought it from a dealer in the early 1990s. Although its origins are uncertain, scholars say it probably came from the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea.
Jeselsohn, who was in Jerusalem last week for a conference on the Dead Sea Scrolls, said he did not recognize the importance of the artifact until he showed it to Ada Yardeni, an expert in Hebrew writing, a few years ago.
After Yardeni viewed it and wrote a paper on it last year, prompting scholarly interest. A number of articles are set to be published soon.
The stone has prompted a lot of debate, Jeselsohn told Cybercast News Service. While some are skeptical about its authenticity, others argue that rather than detract from Jesus, the stone gives his claims more validity.
Prof. Israel Knohl, a professor of Biblical Studies at Hebrew University, is excited about the discovery because he believes the stone provides the missing link in his own earlier research.
Knohl published a book in 2000 contending that the idea of a messiah suffering, dying and rising from the dead after three days already existed in Jewish thinking before Jesus made his appearance in first century Israel.
He believes the artifact provides the proof for his thesis.
Line 80 of the text on the stone begins with the words “L’shloshet yamim,” meaning “in three days.” The next word is reportedly unreadable and two additional words are difficult to decipher, reports said.
Knohl believes the phrase reads, “In three days you shall live, I, Gabriel, command you.”
Since Gabriel is speaking to one called the “prince of princes,” Knohl believes this speaks about a Jewish leader who will die and be resurrected in three days.
Jesus spoke of himself as the Son of Man, who would die and be raised up on the third day. Until now, scholars believed that Jesus’ followers put those words in his mouth after the fact, and this is thought to be the first time that the concept is found before that time, Knohl said in an interview.
It could be, then, that Jesus saw himself as the Jewish messiah, who was willing to sacrifice himself and shed his blood to bring redemption to Israel, he said.
“It makes the common roots of Judaism and Christianity much more remarkable,” Knohl said.
Several experts have said they believe that the stone and the text are authentic. But because some of the inscription is missing, it is left open to interpretation.
Prof. Moshe Idel, professor of Jewish thought at Hebrew University, said that the interpretation of the stone tablet was part of the larger trend of searching Jewish matrixes for the ideas in Christianity.
The idea of a messiah is an ancient Jewish one, he said, but there had been “a galaxy” of ideas about the characteristics of the messiah and whether there were one or two messiahs.
“For sure the messiah came to save,” Idel said. But whether the goal was to save the Jews or humanity or the world was part of the question.
Dr. Stephen Pfann, an archeologist and expert on literature from the time of the Second Jewish Temple (which includes Jesus’ time) and president of the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem, said he and other top scholars agree that there are a lot of questions regarding the tablet.
He said “three” appears at least six or seven times and “three days” appears twice. But it remains unclear whether someone is commanded to rise from the dead after three days, he told Cybercast News Service.
Pfann said that even if the inscription was genuine, about half of the lettering is missing, making it impossible to make bold and definitive statements about it at this time.
If more of the worn lettering can be deciphered through special photographic techniques, scholars may be able to learn more about the environment of the time. That would be an exciting development, Pfann said.
Prof. Guy Stroumsa, professor of Comparative Religion and an expert in Early Christianity at Hebrew University, said assuming the stone is not a fake and the text is genuine, it would be a wonderful find.
But having a Jewish text about a messiah suffering on account of our sins, being executed and rising from the dead after three days would not essentially change things, he argued.
“Early Christianity is Judaism,” Stroumsa said. “It doesn’t change anything. It makes sense.”