The Gabriel Stone: a BIG deal for…well, everyone

Recently, a discovery was made that may, in a way, turn out to rival the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in its significance for the history of Christianity. That discovery has been popularly dubbed ‘the Gabriel Stone’, and it just may turn out to have roughly the same effect on liberal religion departments that another, much larger stone had on the dinosaurs: extinction. My fingers are crossed.

Let me back up though. In 1985, a group of about 150 self-proclaimed religious scholars assembled with the intent of analyzing the earliest Christian writings to uncover the historical Jesus. Among the members of the Jesus Seminar, many of them seem to (quite unashamedly) believe that God doesn’t intervene in the world, and some are skeptical of even the existence of God. Inevitably then, the picture they paint of the true, historical Jesus is quite different from the Jesus one encounters in the New Testament. For a good explanation and defense of this position on Jesus, just download Thomas Sheehan’s Historical Jesus class from the Stanford iTunes U page. It’s free. Anyway:

At the heart of the Jesus Seminar’s picture of the historical Jesus is the belief that Jesus did not think of himself as the divinely-ordained Messiah, did not see his death as playing a saving role for humanity, and did not think of himself as divine in any sense. This picture of Jesus is largely supported, so says the Jesus Seminar, by the fact that there was absolutely no belief during Jesus’ day in a dying messiah, a resurrection of a single person, or a messiah whose death would bring about the salvation of the world. And, since these ideas didn’t exist in Jesus’ day, they must be inventions of the early church. So reasons the Jesus seminar. That’s important for the rest of this, so you might want to reread it to get it at the front of your mind. This ‘liberal’ (what a dumb term) picture of Jesus has nearly completely taken over university religious departments.

Well, enter the Gabriel Stone. Recently Israeli-Swedish artifacts collector, David Jeselsohn, had a piece of his private home collection examined by a scholar of ancient Judaism. What they discovered may start a revolution in religious thought, and one that may utterly destroy the Jesus Seminar’s conception of Jesus, along with the current picure of Jesus fed to most every student of religion in secular (and most ‘religious’) universities. Why?

Well, the Gabriel Stone, basically a large sheet of rock with several columns of Hebrew writing on it, documents a prophecy supposedly spoken by the angel Gabriel to an ambiguous Messianic figure who is facing execution. Now, execution would surely be taken as special kind of slap in the face by any messiah figure, since the messiah was supposed to be the one who would defeat the evil powers of the world (esp. the ones ruling over Israel) and establish Israel as God’s shining kingdom. Execution for Messiah by pagan authorities just isn’t normally thought of as part of the program. And this is the exact point made by most ‘liberal’ Jesus scholars who say that, since no one before Jesus believed that Messiah would die at the hands of his enemies, then the Christian idea that Jesus (the Messiah) was executed by Rome and later Resurrected by God must just be a story the early church made up. For the longest time, Christian scholars haven’t had much to say back either. Largely they’ve admitted that this was a new idea that began with Jesus. The Gabriel Stone, however, has something shocking to say here.

So far, having been dated around the late first century b.c.e. – just before Jesus – the prophecy of the angel Gabriel to the soon-to-die messiah includes the following (translated) statements:

In three days you will know that evil will be defeated by justice

and

In three days you shall live, I, Gabriel, command you.

It should be noted that the term live is spelled oddly, but Israel Knohl, professor of Bible studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, affirms that the spelling is in line with the era in which it was written. If this translation is accurate though (and it seems that no scholar has strongly contested the translation) the implications are massive. No longer can the same arguments be made that the Resurrection of Jesus didn’t take place, or that Jesus was a failed Messiah, and that the church made it all up. Why? Because those arguments are based on the idea that no one could have taken a dying Messiah seriously in the first century (including Jesus). If the Gabriel Stone is deemed authentic though, we now have irrefutable evidence that there did exist in ancient Judaism the idea that Messiah would suffer, die, and be vindicated (in three days!), and that this sequence of events would contribute to the salvation of Israel and the world.

The Jesus of the earliest Christian scriptures, then, will be found squarely rooted in the Judaism of his day, and can no longer be dismissed as a wishful fabrication of his first, broken-hearted followers, and so many who have (maybe honorably) lost their faith in the shadow of skepticism will be able to follow Jesus, the Messiah, with solid intellectual conscience.

So, I hope it’s legit. Even though, if the stone turns out to be a fake, it doesn’t hurt Christianity’s orthodox conception of Christ. It has been shown, very powerfully, by authors like N.T. Wright and Gary Habermas that the Jesus of scripture is not at all a fanciful fabrication of the early church, but is historically defensible.

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  1. #1 by Clint on 7.24.08 - 4.26 pm

    Whats up butter cup!

    If in fact the stone is legit, it not only poses a problem for the Jesus Seminar but also for some conservative scholars and many of their apologetic cases which are built on the novelty of the idea of a resurrected messiah (and by implication, a dying messiah). Many Conservative scholars (i.e.Habermas & Licona, et al) use this to argue that it would therefore be impossible for the eyewitnesses to be psychologically predisposed to risen messiah hallucinations. N.T. Wright says something like nobody in the first century had an idea of a rising messiah precisely b/c nobody had a concept of a dying messiah. It seems to me that Wright's presentation in the Resurrection of the Son of God concerning "Jewish mutations of resurrection belief" will be severely weakened if the stone turns out to be legit. Moreover, it does seem as though the consensus of scholarship more broadly supports the traditional claim. And we have to ask how would the findings of the stone square with passages such as Lk 24 where Luke writes:

    "And he said to them, "What things?" And they said to him, "Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel."

    At the very least I think that we have to say that it was certainly not the broad view of 2nd temple judaism (as supported by Lk 24).

    All this is not to say that I am against the findings. On the contrary. I just wanted to point out that it is not only liberal scholars that will have to revise their beliefs (and apologetics)if in fact the stone turns out to be authentic. Time will tell.

    Good Post!

  2. #2 by Michael Glawson on 7.24.08 - 5.32 pm

    Hey man! I was just trying to find your phone number the other day. Definitely email me with it. I miss you man.

    I hear what you’re saying about some of the more (seemingly) negative implications of the Gabriel Stone. It’s funny that everyone seems to be taking the GS on the defense. It’s almost a danger to everyone’s views in a way. I understand that though, some arguments on both sides will need to be reformed.

    Honestly though, does anyone REALLY think mass hallucinations account for the resurrection appearances? The idea is laughable, regardless of whether people had any belief that would make such a (particular) hallucination coherent for them.

    It seems to me that, even though some of the strong arguments for the resurrection will suffer, it would be better to paint a picture of Jesus that establishes some sort of continuity with the thought of his day, than to rely on an argument from discontinuity to defend it.

    I for real miss you man. Love you.

  3. #3 by Clinton on 7.24.08 - 6.33 pm

    Dude, I really miss you too. I was just talking about you the other day to one of my friends regarding your hilarious wit.

    I think that Ben Witherington's account of the GS is actually pretty positive. Have you heard it?

    If at the end of the day GS is authentic, I think that we emerge not with the conclusion that "we have to change everything regarding 2nd temple judaism views of resurrection," but rather the question, "ok, now what is the community that this emerged from?" It's community/date of origin will be helpful in determining how likely it was to travel/migrate to other communities and thereby help in solve how widly held it was. Regardless, there still IS good historical evidence to support the (current) consensus view which would have to be addressed in light of GS. What the GS does (again, if it is authentic) is expand our knowledge know of 1st century views of resurrection. It shouldn't, however, be proclaimed to have derived from a majority view unless there is good evidence for this. Right now, even the scholars who are for it don't (to my knowledge) claim that it represents the majority 1st cent. view but rather a strand of belief that seemed absent before now in the archaeological and textual evidence. So, when all the dust settles, what we have are conflicting views regarding messiah /resurrection both in the 1st cent which are sample beliefs on an entire spectrum of belief (there are still other beliefs with respect to resurrection/messiah). If this is the case then scholars may not have to overhaul their material drastically but just modify it depending on which community they are speaking about.

    I, for one, find the continuity factor very appealing if for no other reason (though I have others) than that it might give me a really sweet doctoral dissertation topic.
    may not have to overhauled drastically but just modified depending on which community you are speaking about.

    Anyways, just some random (somewhat) unconnected thoughts.

    Have you heard anything from Gonzaga or any other schools yet?

    Hugs & Kisses
    Clint

  4. #4 by Michael Glawson on 7.25.08 - 3.04 am

    I hadn’t read that blurb on it from Witherington. Where is that from?

    I did hear back from Gonzaga. I sent them a list of all the classes I’ve taken and they said that I meet their requirements and they want me to apply. That was super encouraging.

    Email me though for real with your phone number and let me know what’s been going on with you.

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