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Jesus' resurrection

"Gabriel's Revelation" tablet: A possible ancient
Jewish belief of a suffering & resurrected messiah

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About resurrection:

The Bible teaches that Jesus was executed by the occupying Roman Army just prior to a Passover in Jerusalem. perhaps during the springtime of either 30 or 33 CE. The most common belief is that he died on a Friday afternoon and was resurrected sometime before sunrise on the following Sunday morning, perhaps a day to a day and a half later. Belief in this miracle is one of the cardinal doctrines of historical Christianity; some suggest that it is "the" cardinal doctrine.

There is some evidence that the story of the resurrection may be linked to an earlier Jewish prophesy that was active in the 1st century BCE. This was probably before Jesus' birth and decades before his execution. If so, then the Gospel stories may related to earlier Jewish prophecy in addition to -- or instead of -- being based on real events. That is, the Gospel story of Jesus' resurrection and ascension may not have actually happened; it may have been partly or fully derived from an earlier Jewish prophesy.

Jesus' resurrection story may be related to an earlier Jewish belief:

Jesus, his mother, father/stepfather, siblings, followers and friends were all observant Jews. After his execution circa 30 CE, some among his family, his disciples and followers formed a Jewish religious group in Jerusalem -- now generally referred to as Jewish Christians. Religious historians generally believe that they:

  • Were led by James, the brother/stepbrother of Jesus,
  • Worshiped in the Jerusalem Temple,
  • Followed the Mosaic Law including kosher food rules,
  • Circumcised their male infants,
  • Observed all the Jewish holy days,
  • Worshiped Yahweh as God and
  • Regarded Jesus as a fully human prophet -- not as a deity.

Thus, Jewish teachings, beliefs, and practices were of paramount importance to Jesus' very earliest followers.

It was only with the return of Paul to Jerusalem circa 38 CE that Christianity as we know it today began to spread among former Pagans. Later in the first century CE, when the concept of the virgin birth was promoted by the some faith groups within the Jewish movement and recorded in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, the Jewish Christians rejected that belief.

There is some archeological evidence in the form of a stone tablet that at least some ancient Jews -- decades before Jesus' ministry -- expected the arrival of a great Jewish leader. He would be a "prince of princes" -- who would die and be resurrected three days later.

According to the New York Times, the tablet:

"... 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." 1

About the tablet:

2  It is made of stone, with a flat polished front surface, and a rough, unfinished back. It might have been intended to be mounted in a wall. It is about 40" tall (1 meter) and 12" (30 cm) wide, with 87 lines of Hebrew written on its surface in two columns. 3 It is now known as "Gabriel's Vision of Revelations" or "Gabriel's Revelation" or "The Vision of Gabriel." 2 Analysis of the lettering and language indicates that the words on the tablet were written sometime in the late first century BCE; i.e. probably before Jesus' birth. Some of the letters on the tablet are now illegible, making a consensus interpretation impossible at this time.

Collector David Jeselsohn owns the tablet. He said:

"I couldn’t make much out of it when I got it. I didn’t realize how significant it was until I showed it to Ada Yardeni, who specializes in Hebrew writing, a few years ago. She was overwhelmed. 'You have got a Dead Sea Scroll on stone,' she told me."
The tablet does not appear to be a forgery; no expert has yet criticized its authenticity. According to the New York Times:

"A chemical examination by Yuval Goren, a professor of archaeology at Tel Aviv University who specializes in the verification of ancient artifacts, has been submitted to a peer-review journal. He declined to give details of his analysis until publication, but he said that he knew of no reason to doubt the stone's authenticity." 1

Interpretation of the Hebrew text:

The writing on the stone includes some quotes from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament):

  • God "shows mercy to thousands," from Exodus 20:6, Deuteronomy 5:10 and Jeremiah 32:18.
  • "And I will shake the heaven and the earth" from Haggai 2:6.
  • The Archangel Gabriel is mentioned in the text. He also appears in Daniel 10:13, Jude 9 and Revelation 12:7. 4

Israel Knohl, a senior fellow at Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and the Yehezkel Kaufman Professor of Biblical Studies at Hebrew University has translated the tablet.

According to the Biblical Archaeology Review:

"In this pre-Christian Jewish text, he finds references to two different concepts of the messiah"one, the Messiah son of David; and the other, the Messiah son of Joseph (Ephraim)."

"The return of the messiah of David would involve a military victory. Indeed, the Davidic messiah will institute the messianic age with a 'day of battle.' He will make his enemies 'a footstool'.

"The Messiah son of David is a triumphal messiah. Ephraim, or the Messiah son of Joseph, is a very different kind of messiah and reflects a new kind of messianism. This kind of messianism involves suffering and death. In the new Dead Sea Scroll in stone, Knohl sees a messiah who suffered, died and rose. 5

Predicting a messiah who was the son of a father named Joseph appears at first glance to be an amazing prophecy. Yet, curiously, it has not been commented on by various professional and lay theologians that we have found who have written about the tablet. The prediction also has implications for the Christian belief in the virgin birth. Most Christians believe that the Holy Spirit is the father of Jesus, not Joseph.

Knohl says that the 80th line in the text describes the Archangel Gabriel telling a "Prince of Princes" that "In three days you shall live: I, Gabriel, command you." 6

Knohl suggests that the tablet could:

"... overturn the vision we have of the historic personality of Jesus. ... This text could be the missing link between Judaism and Christianity in so far as it roots the Christian belief in the resurrection of the Messiah in Jewish tradition." 6
The Independent newspaper in the UK comments:
"Using other lines in the text that refer to blood and slaughter as routes to righteousness, along with the overall context of the Jewish revolt against the Romans at the time, Professor Knohl suggests that it refers to the death and resurrection of a Jewish leader." 7

According to the New York Times:

"In Mr. Knohl's interpretation, the specific messianic figure embodied on the stone could be a man named Simon who was slain by a commander in the Herodian army, according to the first-century historian Josephus. The writers of the stone's passages were probably Simon's followers, Mr. Knohl contends." 1

Ada Yardeni, a specialist in ancient languages at the university disagrees with Professor Knohl's interpretation. So does Devorah Diamant, a professor at Haifa University. She said that some of the passages he referred to could be connected to other figures from the Bible and not necessarily the messiah. She said: "What he suggested is fanciful." 8 An anonymous Israeli archaeologist said: "It's very strange that such a text was written in ink on a tablet and was preserved until now. To determine whether it is authentic one would have to know in which condition and exactly where the tablet was discovered, which we do not." 9

Implications in Christianity:

There has been a trend among theologians involved in the search for the historical Jesus to increasingly concentrate  on his roots in Jewish religion and culture -- specifically to the teachings of Hillel, a first century BCE liberal Jewish rabbi. The tablet meshes nicely with this approach.

Dr. Knohl expressed his belief that:

"This should shake our basic view of Christianity. 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. ... [Jesus'] 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. 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." 1

On another occasion he said:

"This sheds new light on the messianic activity of Jesus. It proves that the concept of the messiah was already there before Jesus. ... This is evidence that the idea of a suffering messiah, put to death and coming back to life after three days was known to at least a group of Jews."

If the tablet predates Jesus' ministry and describes a messiah figure, a son of Joseph, who is violently killed, and resurrected in three days, the discovery could have profound effects on Christians' understanding of Christian exclusivity, atonement, salvation, incarnation, resurrection, ascension, Trinity, virgin birth, etc.

Daniel Boyarin, professor of Talmudic culture at the University of California at Berkeley, suggested that Christians may have a range of reactions towards the tablet. He said:

"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." 1

Some progressive Christians, who are often skeptical of the Gospel stories of Jesus' resurrection and ascension, may conclude that the stories are grounded more in Jewish tradition and self-fulfilling prophecy than on real events.

See comments on the tablet by professional and lay theologians

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Ethan Bronner, "Ancient tablet ignites debate on messiah and resurrection," New York Times, 2008-JUL-06, at:
  2. Photograph of the stone tablet was released by Dr. David Jeselsohn on 2008-JUL-2008.
  3. Ada Yardeni, "A New Dead Sea Scroll in Stone? Bible-like Prophecy Was Mounted in a Wall 2,000 Years Ago," Biblical Archaeology Review, 2008-JAN/FEB, at:
  4. Heitah, "Gabriel's Vision of Revelations," Everything, 2008-JUL-09, at:
  5. "A New Dead Sea Scroll in Stone? BAR Special News Report," Biblical Archaeology Review, 2008-JUL-08. at:
  6. "Tablet stirs resurrection debate," BBC, 2008-JUL-08, at:
  7. Donald Macintyre, "Hebrew tablet 'predates Bible on resurrection'," Independent newspaper (UK), 2008-JUL-08, at:
  8. "Ancient text sheds light on Jewish-Christian links," Reuters, 2008-JUL-08, at:
  9. "Professor to release research n 'Messianic' tablet," Telegraph newspaper (UK), 2008-JUL-09, at:
  10. Israel Knohl, "The Messiah Son of Joseph: 'Gabriel’s Revelation and the Birth of a New Messianic Model'," in the Biblical Archaeology Review, 2008-SEP/OCT.
  11. Israel Knohl, "The Messiah before Jesus: The Suffering Servant of the Dead Sea Scrolls," University of California Press, (2002). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  12. Ada Yardeni, an Israeli scholar, has translated the tablet's text into English. Her translation is at:

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Copyright © 2008 by Ontario Consultant on Religious Tolerance
Essay originally written: 2008-OCT-05
Essay last updated: 2008-OCT-05
Written by: B.A. Robinson

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