Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Newsflash: Prophecies of Christ Might Shake Christian Faith

In an article which sounds like it could have been written by the parody site: Lost Gospel of Zaccheus, the New York Times writes about a stone tablet from the first century BC, which contains a text which is advertised (like just about anything dating from that period seems to be) as having the potential to shake Christianity to its foundations:
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....

“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.
Now don't get me wrong, this sounds like a fascinating find. What the stone contains is a fragmentary apocalyptic prophecy from the first century BC, which draws on the model of late Old Testament prophecies such as Daniel, Zechariah and Haggai. Some of the scholars involved have dubbed it "Gabriel's Revelation". The difficulty is, the text is fragmentary in a couple of key places. However, it appears to describe the Angel Gabriel providing a revelation either to or about a messiah who suffers for the people of Israel. One scholar has argued that, based on his interpretation of some hard to discern words, it may hint at this messiah dying and rising after three days:
Two more hard-to-read words come later, and Mr. Knohl said he believed that he had deciphered them as well, so that the line reads, “In three days you shall live, I, Gabriel, command you.”

To whom is the archangel speaking? The next line says “Sar hasarin,” or prince of princes. Since the Book of Daniel, one of the primary sources for the Gabriel text, speaks of Gabriel and of “a prince of princes,” Mr. Knohl contends that the stone’s writings are about the death of a leader of the Jews who will be resurrected in three days.

He says further that such a suffering messiah is very different from the traditional Jewish image of the messiah as a triumphal, powerful descendant of King David.

“This should shake our basic view of Christianity,” he said as he sat in his office of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem where he is a senior fellow in addition to being the Yehezkel Kaufman Professor of Biblical Studies at Hebrew University. “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.”
The thing is, I'm not really clear why this is considered big news, unless you start out by ascribing to the theory that all references in the New Testament to Christ's death and resurrection were added in long after their original composition. In other words, unless you figure Christianity is hogwash to start with.

As it stands, Christians interpret a number of passages in the Old Testament as prophesying Christ's suffering, death and resurrection, so it's hardly going to surprise a Christian audience if you find evidence that Jews in the hundred years before Christ believed that a messiah would eventually suffer, die and rise after three days.

Very, very interesting stuff (both religiously and as a matter of history), but I'm not clear why it's supposed to shake anybody.


crankycon said...

This is earth shattering, but not as shocking as something I've recently discovered. Did you know that there's this book in the Bible called Isi-something. It's got like all these cryptic references to a coming Messiah. And it was in the Old Testament! Man, my faith is just being shaken every day.

Ginkgo100 said...

One of the many reasons I am a believer is that Christ fulfilled a whole bevy of OT prophecies. So he fulfilled another one — and that's supposed to be a blow to my faith

Is this a case of areligionists completely misunderstanding Christian outlook?

Theocoid said...

Yes, it takes a really anti-prophetic view of scripture to consider this earth shattering.

TS said...

Sometimes I feel like I live in a parallel universe when I read the hysterical headlines to something as uncontroversial as this.

Kyle R. Cupp said...

There's a clear image of Pentecostal Fire in Virgil’s grand epic, but did we hear Dante complaining of a shaken faith from that? There is something very mysterious about Christian symbols and images. They appear in unexpected places and at unexpected times.

Donald R. McClarey said...

"Very, very interesting stuff (both religiously and as a matter of history), but I'm not clear why it's supposed to shake anybody."

I assume that this is supposed to somehow detract from a unique aspect of Christianity. Of course since Christians have always insisted that Christ was the fulfillment of hundreds of Old Testament prophecies the whole argument is nonsense. In regard to the resurrection, Christ Himself brought up Jonah in the belly of the Fish. Too many modern scholars in areas, such as archaeology in the Middle East, that require a good understanding of Christianity, are obviously woefully ignorant of it.

John Farrell said...

We at the Gospel of Zaccheus site are grateful to Darwin Catholic for pointing out this latest news.

Fodder for future posts, no doubt.

Jennifer F. said...

Yes, as Christians, this should definitely shake our faith. After all, our Creed does say, "On the third day He rose again, in a totally surprise even that nobody saw coming."

Anonymous said...

Jen - HA HA HA HA! Good one!

TJR said...

Because headlines that say things like "having the potential to shake Christianity to its foundations" Sells more papers".

Patrick said...

Of course, it's a matter of no small import to you whether the rest of the text is compatible with the Gospels, or whether it's an idea of a Messiah very different in many respects from Jesus but sharing this idea of rising from the dead on the third day.

But you're of course right that the tiny bit thus reported on doesn't seem to contradict Christian interpretations at all.

Anonymous said...

As several folks have said, Christians already consider numerous passages of the Old Testament to predict Christianity.

However, this newly found stone tablet might have the potential to shake the faith of many Jews who have faith that Jesus is *not* the Messiah.