Friday, July 11, 2008

Matt 24 watch, 61: The Gabriel ink-on-stone tablet

A few days ago, the news reports on the recently announced Gabriel Stone Tablet -- apparently, discovered in Jordan a decade ago [which, BTW, underscores the often overlooked fact that the historic land of Israel was on both sides of that well-known River . . .] -- were brought to my attention.

As is now sadly usual, the news reports have breathlessly announced yet another "undermining" of the authenticity of the New Testament.

This time, on novel grounds: based on interpretations of lines with lost or faded text regarding the thought of an obscure C1 BC Jewish sect, the NT's report that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, was allegedly simply copied from Jewish thought of the day:
. . . 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 . . . .
“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.” . . . .


Mr. Knohl said that it was less important whether Simon was the messiah of the stone than the fact that it strongly suggested that a savior who died and rose after three days was an established concept at the time of Jesus.

The obvious problem?

The 500+ eyewitnesses and the record of such within 25 - 30 years, leading to a worldwide movement over the past two thousand years that manifests the supernatural, liberating, life-transforming, healing power of that resurrection:
1 Cor 15:1Now, brothers, I [Paul] want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

3For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Peter,[b] and then to the Twelve. 6After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

9For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

Footnotes:

  1. 1 Corinthians 15:3 Or you at the first
  2. 1 Corinthians 15:5 Greek Cephas
Here are my thoughts, in response to the ever-alert reader I:

____________

1] Isaiah 53 speaks of a suffering Christ, who rises from the dead, 700 BC. [The idea of a suffering servant messiah who dies for the sins of the people and rises, bringing salvation to those who believe his report, as well as healing and deliverance was there all along, for at least 700 years!]

2] Jesus, in speaking of three days to rise, used the analogy of Jonah in the belly of the beast of the sea for three days. [So, indeed, the idea of such a rising messiah in three days was part of Jewish culture, from the days of Jonah.]

3] Jesus clearly had to address the issue of the political messiah, who would overthrow Roman rule on analogy of the Maccabean revolt. Indeed, the confrontation in Gethsemane with Peter trying to behead one of the arresting party distinctly echoes1 Maccabes 1 - 2 -- in the circle of disciples, no less. The difference is Jesus' rebuke, which is telling in light of the fate of 6 of 7 Hasmonean brothers: those who take up the sword will perish by it. And, of course he ducked the crowds who would make him king by force, and he told Pilate et al that his kingdom was not one of this world, or his followers would fight.

4] In short, the climate of being a part of the messianic trend of Judaism, but also deliberately distinguishing himself from the politicised messiah is plainly there in the NT. THAT is the key difference! (Including, Jesus distinguishing himself from sects that may have seen the political messaiah slain then rise. That is in the end -- given the texts such as Isaiah 53, and the general climate of yearning for "Maccabes Uprising II" -- not particularly surprising.)

5] Thus, we can see the deep flaw in:

. . . 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.” . . . .

Mr. Knohl said that it was less important whether Simon was the messiah of the stone than the fact that it strongly suggested that a savior who died and rose after three days was an established concept at the time of Jesus. He notes that in the Gospels, Jesus makes numerous predictions of his suffering and New Testament scholars say such predictions must have been written in by later followers because there was no such idea present in his day.

But there was, he said, and “Gabriel’s Revelation” shows it.

“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.”

--> First, that there should be a variant on the usual desired/expected/ candidate political messiah where he is slain [the usual fate of leaders of uprisings under the Romans!] but rises, even in three days is rooted in the OT expectations.

--> Thus, it is unsurprising in the end to see such a correlation as is now in view; but that is not grounds for inferring to cause in any sense that undermines the authenticity of the NT teachings. (There is a dubious higher critical principle that in effect disputes the autheticity of anything in the NT that reflects the hebraic context of C1 Palestine. Usually, it is read as ruling that a saying of Jesus is inauthentic; here, it seems to be used to infer that Jesus's teachings are simply derivative of that context.)

--> What is underscored, here, is the distinctive emphasis of Christ on spiritual transformation and a messiah whose work is primarily spiritual: dying as the lamb of God sacrificed for our sins [cf John the Baptist's "behold the Lamb . . ."], rising as our Lord and Saviour.

--> And, of course, precisely which of these would-be political messiahs rose from the dead in three days, with 500+eyewitrnesses and resurrection power in a church that has gone to the world of lost sinners -- one soul at a time -- with the gospel that saves, heals and delivers?

--> Thus, we see a strained twisting of evidence [in part somewhat scanty and based on reading missing or half-erased words] to find an anti-Christian interpretation. That says more about Mr Knohl and his ilk than it does about the NT and the gospel.

_____________

So, in the end -- and as Pastor Sam Green of Grace Missionary Church, Constant Spring Jamaica, so strongly reminded me five years ago -- we come back to the still telling force of the Apostle Peter's theological last will and testament:
2 Pet 1:12 . . . I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. 13I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, 14because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.

16We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."[a] 18We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

19And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. 21For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

So, then "whose report will we believe" -- why? END

3 comments:

IlĂ­on said...

Here's a CNN "report" on this (with a small cameo by Ben Witherington): link (video)

Gordon said...

Ilion

Thanks. (For some reason I cannot get the video to play, but it will doubtless be helpful to others.)

G

Gordon said...

H'mm:

After over an hour, the video suddenly came active and played.

The tone and substance of the remarks that CNN's reporter allowed to dominate make the above main remarks all the more relevant, given how pervasive CNN etc are in our region.

G