Five more evaluations of the significance of
"Gabriel's Vision of Revelations" tablet
Material to read first:
Evaluations of the tablet's significance:
(Text in brown represent our
synopsis of various bloggers and theologians' comments)
- The debate is about the lack of originality
of Christianity, not its origins: T. Michael W. Halcomb writes:
"... this debate is not about the origins of Christianity. A better and
more accurate title might be: 'Tablet Raises Debate On Christianity’s
"This is not a debate about origins as much as it is originality. The
fact of the matter is, the 'dying and rising Messiah-type' figure, even
if it did exist in Hebrew thought prior to Jesus, means quite little. In
all reality and in my estimation, it has no significant bearing on
Christianity. I know when I say this that I am at odds with some
prominent scholars but seriously, I think many—including the
non-scholarly 'Yahoo'—are off-base."
"There are a number of reasons as to why I’m saying this. Firstly, let's
just assume the claim that Jesus took this idea from Judaism or
somewhere else. Just because he adopted the idea or notion of a dying
and rising messiah / savior figure from somewhere else, means next to
nothing. Jesus borrowed parables, theological principles, scripture,
analogies, etc. from the people and culture He lived in. If He
“borrowed” or “adapted” the idea, oh well."
"Secondly, the “dying and rising” theme was present in ancient
Mediterranean astrology and agricultural stories/myths. Some of these
are found in Hebrew thought long before Jesus. It has long been known
that Jesus did not come up with this idea. This is nothing novel (thus,
to make the assumption of the previous claim, is to assume something
erroneous). What was novel about Christianity, however, was that where
the other stories were mythic narratives or pagan beliefs, the first
Christians claimed that Jesus, as a human, was literally killed and
raised as 'The' Messiah."
"Thirdly, and I shall not belabor this point, but some will have a
problem with the tablets because they may call their “predicting” Jesus
into question. I have written a number of posts concerning this aspect
of Jesus and have repeatedly shown that the things Jesus said would
happen, before they happened, were not so much predictions (as in
telling the future) as the logical consequences and outworkings of what
He heard that the religious and political leaders of His day were
planning to do to Him. ..."
In the end, the tablet does little for Jesus, modern or ancient
Christianity and certainly, it does nothing to discredit any of them.
Other than affirming what scholarship has already known about 'dying and
rising' savior figures, this tablet is probably most valuable for
recognizing the fact that ancient Hebrews had strong views on this
matter—which, again, we’ve known for quite a while. So, while this has
really, nothing to do with the origins of Christianity, it does have a
few things to say about the originality of Christianity—namely, that
some aspects of it weren’t all that original. In the end, though,
originality isn’t what made Christianity catch on. What made
Christianity spread like wildfire is that Jesus wasn’t simply a mythic
figure but rather, an actual human who was killed and raised. He was the
'dying and rising' Savior / Messiah, par excellence."
- Tablet shines light on predictions
attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of Mark: Ben
Witherington III, prolific author and Professor of New
Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary in
Wilmore, KY wrote:
"... Most radical Jesus scholars have argued that the passion and
resurrection predictions by Jesus found in the Gospels were not actually
made by Jesus-- they reflect the later notions and theologizing of the
"But now, if this stone is genuine there is no reason to argue this way.
One can show that Jesus, just as well as the author of this stone, could
have spoken about a dying and rising messiah. There is in any case a
reference to a messiah who dies in the late first century A.D. document
called 4 Ezra."
"Long story short-- this stone certainly does not demonstrate that the
Gospel passion stories are created on the basis of this stone text,
which appears to be a Dead Sea text. For one thing the text is hard to
read at crucial junctures, and it is not absolutely clear it is talking
about a risen messiah. BUT what it does do is make plausible that Jesus
could have said some of the things credited to him in Mark 8.31, 9,31,
and 10.33-34. ..." 2
- Tablet fully supportive evangelical
interpretation of the Gospels: Rich Deem, a
writer for God and Science web site wrote:
"... this stone strongly supports the New Testament's claim that Jesus
is the Messiah who died for the sins of the people and rose again the
"Conclusion: A first century B.C. stone tablet discovered a
decade ago near the Dead Sea in Jordan has been translated, showing it
to be an apocalyptic description attributed to the angel Gabriel. The
text of the tablet makes clear references to the Messiah who will
destroy evil and bring in righteousness. In the stone tablet, Gabriel
commands the Messiah to live after three days, a seeming reference to
the resurrection of Jesus." 3
- Tablet reinforces traditional belief; modern
Bible interpretation faulty: Timothy Gray, a professor of Biblical Studies at the
in Denver, CO told the Catholic News Agency (CNA) that the news of the tablet was
"very fascinating. ... Everything seems to point to its authenticity." The CNA
"He said the text seems to draw heavily upon the Book of Daniel. Scholars
know from the work of Josephus that many Jews immediately before and during
the time of Jesus focused on the Book of Daniel because of his prophecies
related to a messiah coming to usher in a Kingdom of God."
" 'A focal point of Jesus’ teaching was the kingdom of God, and Jesus makes
many allusions to Daniel. That really seems to cohere with this view of
"Gray said that Jewish expectation of a dying messiah is shown in Daniel’s
prophecies, noting that Daniel chapter 9 talks about how an anointed messiah
will be cut off and killed."
"According to Gray, a standard view of modern biblical scholarship holds
that the sayings of Jesus in the Gospels where He predicts His Passion and
His death cannot be authentic because, scholars believe, most Jews had no
expectation of a suffering messiah. Such scholars attributed these words of
Jesus to later additions made by the early Church."
"Knohl’s minority contention that there were Jewish ideas of a suffering
messiah before Jesus, Gray said, is echoed in the work of Catholic biblical
scholar Brant Pitre."
"The interpretations of scholars reported in the International Herald
Tribune, Gray said, was 'very striking' for its insistence that any evidence
must undermine Christianity."
" 'On the one hand, scholars argue no Jewish tradition about a messiah
suffering shows that the Church added this idea. And once you show a
document, an ancient document to point to, showing that they did interpret a
prophet like Daniel to expect a suffering messiah, well then people say
'Well this proves Christianity can’t be true' '."
" 'You can’t have it both ways,' Gray said. ..." 4
- The tablet is helpful, not a threat, to
evangelical Christianity: Craig J. Haxen, director of the
evangelical Christian master's program in apologetics at Biola University in La Mirada, CA was interviewed about the tablet:
Q: Could the message of the Gabriel Tablet be a challenge to the
traditional Christian views of the death and resurrection of Jesus?
A: I don’t see how it could be. Let’s assume Professor Knohl is correct in
the controversial way he fills in the holes in the text. It certainly would
support the idea that a concept of a messianic figure rising on the third day
was circulating at some level. However, this only counts against the traditional
Christian view if one wants to make a huge naturalistic and fallacious leap to
the conclusion that because the concept was circulating, that proves it was the
actual source of the Christian resurrection account. And again if Professor
Knohl’s interpretation turned out to be accurate (and one does not commit a
cause-and-affect fallacy) it could actually be used to show that some Jews at
the time of Jesus were in tune with a dying and rising messiah, which could be
used to bolster the Christian position.
However, when the dust settles I don’t think Professor Knohl’s interpretation
will win the day. His conclusions are highly speculative and I think research
being published in the next few months will show that alternative
interpretations are equally strong if not stronger.
Q: Is there anything helpful to the traditional Christian position
on the Gabriel Tablet?
A: Yes, there is. The text is helpful in confirming that not all Jews at the
time of Jesus had abandoned the idea of a “suffering messiah” in the tradition
of Isaiah 53. I believe this is a very important point in Jewish evangelism. We
don’t want to make too much of just one text like this, but being able to show
some ancient evidence of an interpretation of Isaiah that resonates with
Christian teaching about what the messiah must suffer can be very helpful.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- T. Michael W. Halcomb, "The Messiah Tablet: Is It A Big Deal?," Blogspot,
- Ben Witherington III, "The Death and Resurrection of Messiah---
written in stone," Blogspot, 2008-JUL-05, at:
- Rich Deem. "Gabriel's Vision Stone Tablet: Prophecy of the Coming Messiah
Jesus?," God and Science, 2008-JUL-09, at:
- "Scholars divided on interpretation of ‘Gabriel’s Revelation’ tablet,"
Catholic News Agency, 2008-JUL-09, at:
- "Ancient Tablet Causes Debate Among Scholars," Biola University,
Copyright © 2008 by Ontario Consultant on Religious Tolerance
Essay originally written: 2008-OCT-04
Essay last updated: 2008-OCT-04
Written by: B.A. Robinson