Sunday, July 06, 2008

Stones, Messiahs, and Revelations

There's something I love about this world, and it's that every time people think they've figured something out and that they have all the answers, a new piece of information somehow manages to materialize and calls everything into question. Depending on how you look at it, this can be either frustrating or liberating. I tend to think it is, most often, the latter.

A three-foot-tall tablet with 87 lines of Hebrew that scholars believe dates from the decades just before the birth of Jesus is causing a quiet stir in biblical and archaeological circles, especially because it may speak of a messiah who will rise from the dead after three days.

If such a messianic description really is there, it will contribute to a developing re-evaluation of both popular and scholarly views of Jesus, since it suggests that the story of his death and resurrection was not unique but part of a recognized Jewish tradition at the time.

The tablet, probably found near the Dead Sea in Jordan according to some scholars who have studied it, is a rare example of a stone with ink writings from that era — in essence, a Dead Sea Scroll on stone.

It is written, not engraved, across two neat columns, similar to columns in a Torah. But the stone is broken, and some of the text is faded, meaning that much of what it says is open to debate. [...]

Daniel Boyarin, a professor of Talmudic culture at the University of California at Berkeley, said that the stone was part of a growing body of evidence suggesting that Jesus could be best understood through a close reading of the Jewish history of his day. “Some Christians will find it shocking — a challenge to the uniqueness of their theology — while others will be comforted by the idea of it being a traditional part of Judaism,” Mr. Boyarin said. [...]

“His mission is that he has to be put to death by the Romans to suffer so his blood will be the sign for redemption to come,” Mr. Knohl said. “This is the sign of the son of Joseph. This is the conscious view of Jesus himself. This gives the Last Supper an absolutely different meaning. To shed blood is not for the sins of people but to bring redemption to Israel.”

They're calling it "Gabriel's Revelation," but my favorite thing about this is the fact that the stone is broken, and that some of the text is faded. Even revelations often fail to reveal all. I'll be interested to read about what comes of us over the next few months.


Kelly said...

"Gabriel's revelation," eh? nothing heavy-handed about that name, no...

Kelly said...
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Casey said...

I totally agree that the best part is the elipses -- we've had this conversation before (I think) when I was talking about what I love most about the Nag Hammadi collection (that is, it's textual gaps).

In a way, this doesn't seem very groundbreaking, though -- all of the gospel writers explicitly pointed out that Jesus' experience was foretold in already existing Hebrew texts. Wouldn't this just be one more fulfilled prophecy?

Then again, this is awesome to have on record... I think that both Jews and Christians often imagine a divide that does not exist around the person of Jesus. Christians imagining that he was "the first Christian," and that he did away with the Law; Jews tending to think, when they think of him, as a Jewish reformer working against Rome.

This tablet may refocus intellectuals and "popular" believers alike on the fact that Jesus' words and actions seemed to implicate both Rome and Israel (almost at once) in some very strange ways.

As a corollary, I like to imagine the person of 2008 who is neither a republican (Pharisee) nor a democrat (Sadducee), and who believes in no organized religion (Judaism or Paganism). A rare bird, I think.

One of these days you're going to get a nine-page email, I promise, with all of my questions gathered together...

Monica said...

That's exactly what I was thinking, Casey--that this just seems to be one more opportunity for fulfilled prophecy, rather than an occasion to disprove something. Then again, I don't think it really matters. Both sides (Christians and Jews) and every person in between will likely see in this proof of their own religious or spiritual biases. It's not hard to do...