11 Comments

  1. In regards to the first part of your post, it is interesting seeing the two sides of scholars adjust their views of early Christianity. Especially entertaining are atheists that believe this proves their point that the disciples used this tradition to steal Jesus’ body and claim that he was resurrected. Not that I always put full faith in these apocryphal discoveries, but this would definitely fit well for any LDS that the Messiah was going to resurrect. So much for the claims that Christianity began with Jesus.

    A second point I want to make is the sign of Ephraim that Knohl seems to think is the blood or atonement of the Messiah. After reading this, it reminded me of the Savior’s teachings to the Nephites in 3 Nephi 21, especially the beginning verses:

    1 And verily I say unto you, I give unto you a sign, that ye may know the time when these things shall be about to take place—that I shall gather in, from their long dispersion, my people, O house of Israel, and shall establish again among them my Zion;

    2 And behold, this is the thing which I will give unto you for a sign—for verily I say unto you that when these things which I declare unto you, and which I shall declare unto you hereafter of myself, and by the power of the Holy Ghost which shall be given unto you of the Father, shall be made known unto the Gentiles [through the BoM] that they may know concerning this people who are a remnant of the house of Jacob, and concerning this my people who shall be scattered by them;

    5 Therefore, when these works and the works which shall be wrought among you hereafter shall come forth from the Gentiles, unto your seed which shall dwindle in unbelief because of iniquity;

    7 And when these things come to pass that thy seed shall begin to know these things—it shall be a sign unto them, that they may know that the work of the Father hath already commenced unto the fulfilling of the covenant which he hath made unto the people who are of the house of Israel.

    In other words, the Book of Mormon is the sign to the House of Israel that the restoration is occurring. The Son of David [Jesus] asks Ephraim [the modern church], as per Hazon Gabriel, to deliver the sign [BoM] to the rest of the world.

  2. David Buckna

    News release from Dr. Paul L. Maier…

    July, 2008
    THE “GABRIEL REVELATION” STONE

    This past week, a flurry of press reports dealt with a three-foot oblong stone
    tablet originally found on the east shore of the Dead Sea and presently owned by
    David Jeselsohn, an Israeli-Swiss collector from Zurich. The stone was not found in
    the course of an archaeological dig, nor was it engraved, but contained lettering
    in ink, much of it faded. Lettering styles placed the script in the first century
    B.C., according to specialists. Some claim that lines 80 to 87 refer to a
    suffering Messiah who died and would rise again in three days.

    As a result, sensationalist headlines on the discovery screamed: “WILL STONE
    TABLET SHAKE CHRISTIANITY?” and “STONE TABLET CASTS DOUBT ON THE RESURRECTION.”

    This is rubbish for many reasons, but two in particular: First, the text itself is
    by no means clear or agreed upon by scholars. It is rather pock-marked by
    questionable renderings and many elisions where no readings are possible,
    especially crucial line 86. And yet Israel Knohl, professor at Hebrew University
    in Jerusalem, is bold to translate the critical passage regarding a suffering
    Messiah: “In three days you will rise….I, Gabriel, command you.” One doubts
    that this will be the official rendering.

    Secondly, even if this reading were accepted, what’s the point? Some commentators
    have suggested that this is where the idea of a suffering Messiah first arose,
    which is ridiculous. The Old Testament is rife with passages regarding the Messiah
    who will suffer, such as Gen. 3:15, Psalm 22, Isaiah 52 and 53, and more. Nor is
    this where a resurrection concept was first devised. If that were the case, how
    could the Pharisees before Jesus’ day believe in a resurrection? Accordingly, the
    Gabriel stone actually supports rather than subverts the biblical record.

    What is unconscionable is Professor Knohl’s conclusion that the Christian Gospels
    adapted the existing concept of a suffering Messiah who would rise in three days as
    a pattern for their own stories about Jesus. Since he had come to this conclusion
    long before the Gabriel stone appeared, his translation and response are highly
    suspect and not shared by other scholars in Israel. Other translations will
    doubtless be attempted, none of which will pose any threat to Christianity.

    PAUL L. MAIER, Ph.D., Litt.D.
    Department of History, Western Michigan University
    Kalamazoo, Michigan 49008

  3. Bryce:

    As always, you provide a most fascinating analysis. It will take time for scholars to nail all the pieces together, so to speak. In my own analysis posted at Mormon Insights, I stated the following:

    *****

    Although these findings [from the stone] are exciting, several caveats are in order: 1) The essential aspects of the provenance of the stone are unknown. However, Knohl states, “The authenticity of the inscription was recently checked and confirmed by Yuval Goren of Tel Aviv University.” The Goren report, however, has yet to be published. 2) The stone is in bad condition, and the ink on the stone is highly faded and indecipherable in places. The Knohl translation involves some educated conjecture. 3) Knohl is known for his book, The Messiah before Jesus: The Suffering Servant of the Dead Sea Scrolls (translated in English, 2000, University of California Press), which describes the early historical context of the Jewish concept of a slain Messiah. His natural biases to the “pre-Jesus Messiah” thesis possibly could have predisposed his interpretations of the Hazon Gabriel text. 4) Knohl makes it clear that the “prince of princes” in the text is NOT identified as Jesus. However, portions of the text do appear to have a prophetic tone. 5) Scholarly analysis of the stone and its text is at the beginning stages, and there will be much debate over the Knohl translation.

  4. Interesting comments everyone. Please note that I did not focus on the debate over the resurrecting messiah figure of line 80, but rather turned to the temple motifs that appear scattered throughout the text. This was the thesis of the post. Almost any apocalyptic apocryphal text is bound to have allusions to temple theology, which is precisely what we find here. This is plain to see, even without all of Knohl’s questioned interpretations.

    Thank you Hans for recognizing a possible connection with the “sign” of the Book of Mormon. As with any symbol, there are are a multitude of possible interpretations and each may find some truth. I believe a symbol is largely what one believes it to be, and finds meaning in one’s own experience and intellect.

  5. Bryce,
    This is some really interesting analysis. I have a few comments.
    1. “This is not news to Latter-day Saints, who already firmly believe that Christianity has been known and practiced since Adam.” I know that this isn’t the main part of your post, but I want to suggest that this may be a misreading of the significance of the stone according to Knoll. He argues that there is another messianic figure besides Jesus who was resurrected after 3 days. You comment seems to assume that the stone is evidence of pre-Christian Christianity, but it is not Christianity at all.
    2. I am not sure that I see the connection between apocalyptic and the expectation that we would find temple imagery. This seems to be an assumption that requires investigation and demonstration, not just stated. This is further complicated because the text doesn’t label itself as “apocalyptic,” this is a modern scholarly category.
    3. I think that we always need to ask “which temple?” when we are looking at “Temple imagery.” The first and second temples are very different, as is Ezekiel’s visionary temple, as is the Qumran view, as is the Enochic view, the Rabbinic view, and especially the LDS temple which is quite different from all of these. There is no unmediated “Temple imagery.” Rather, this is a highly charged and contested subject in ancient Judaism, and was at least in the first and second centuries BCE the major cause for factionalism and even war.
    4. Some of the specific things that you mention I find to be awfully generic. Pretty much all of them have extensive non-temple associations. For this same reason, I object to Knoll’s messianic readings of David and Ephraim. He basically just sees what he wants to see without any definitive evidence from within the text. It would be nice if this text mentioned the temple somehow, or even the temple priesthood or some other definitive reference, but it does not.
    5. I have some reservations about some specific aspects of your reading. For instance, I don’t find any evidence that this text promises a general resurrection to its readers (even assuming Knoll’s reconstruction is correct, which I find doubtful). Further, the reference to “gardens” doesn’t seem to have any creation connotations here. Finally, the “sign” doesn’t seem to have any ritualistic overtones whatsoever, no more than the apocalyptic “signs” in Revelation or the Synoptics.
    6. There doesn’t seem to be any reason that I can tell to read this text ritualistically, or even to be interpreting specific rituals.

    Anyway, I’d love to get your thoughts on any of these items.

  6. TT,

    Here are my thoughts on your points.
    1. According to all the major news reports that I have read, the discovery of this stone sheds light on pre-Christian Christian themes, particularly a 3-day resurrection, which existed in Judaism prior to Christianity, which has not been assumed before by some. My point was that this 3-day resurrection motif may exist not only in first century BCE Judaism but in many other cultures as well, even in the Old Testament, and I believe they all point to very early Christian beliefs among the antediluvian patriarchs which is not incompatible with the restored gospel.
    2. Many of the apocalyptic texts that I have studied in the apocrypha have all had temple motifs scattered throughout them, just as John’s Revelation does in the Bible. I believe this is a common element among many, if not all, apocalyptic texts, and is further evidence that Hazon Gabriel is an apocalypse, besides the fact that scholars have labeled it as such.
    3. Asking “which temple” is a good question to ask. Although I was just reading again today the words of Joseph Smith when he says “We all admit that the Gospel has ordinances, and if so, had it not always ordinances, and were not its ordinances alwas (sic) the same?” (HC 2:16). Even I have admitted on this blog that the ordinances in the scriptures do not appear the same as they do today, but I am increasingly being convinced that it is because of the filters that the Bible has had to pass through to get to us today that it appears this way. I think the ordinances have generally been very similar since Adam. Nibley saw modern LDS temple imagery in many ancient documents, and rightly so, for it is the same eternal pattern repeated consistently throughout antiquity, or as Nibley puts it, “the same sort of thing has been going on for a very long time and in virtually all parts of the world” (MJSP, 2nd ed., xxvii).
    4. Generic, yes, and that is intentional. The details of temple ritual change from era to era, but the general framework stays the same. Nibley consistently pointed out the same general motifs of primordial existence, purification, creation, garden, travel, and ascension. These he says, “are basic to the mysteries everywhere” (MJSP, 2nd ed., xxvi). While they may have extensive non-temple associations, looking at them through a temple lens can also be beneficial. Many texts lend themselves to analysis on more levels than direct correlation and meaning. Symbolism often runs deep and can lend itself to an understanding of contemporaneous belief systems.
    5. My reading didn’t treat a “general” resurrection, so I’m unsure of that critique. While reference to “gardens” several times in this text may not seem to have direct Eden connotations, when combined with the corpus of apocalyptic literature that deals with trees, ritual-meals, flowers, gardens, lush environments, waters, fruits, transformations, serpents, etc., you begin to get strong garden of Eden imagery. As for the “signs,” is there a difference between ritualistic signs and apocalyptic signs? I’m not sure there is. They may be one in the same on a much deeper level.
    6. While you may not read the text ritualistically, I see no reason why not to. Everything I read these days is with a temple lens, which opens up some very interesting readings, particularly in scriptures such as the Book of Mormon. I believe these things permeate our surroundings, even to something as mundane as blowing out birthday candles.

    Thanks for your comments.

  7. Thanks Bryce,
    You’re answers were very insightful. They reveal for me that we are coming at these issues from very different methodological perspectives. Given your citations of Nibley, at your predisposition to see the temple in a variety of places, I believe that you are practicing a form of comparative religious studies that thrived for the first 3/4 of the 20th century. This model sought to find commonalities and comparisons, between diverse time periods and peoples. Some scholars, such as Margaret Barker and many LDS apologists, still use this model.

    More recently, with the rise of historicism, deconstruction, and other critical methodologies, scholars began to realize that the kinds of comparisons that they made often obscured significant differences, and frequently distorted what they were studying. The rise of this school of thought in religious studies emphasized differences and particularity over broad similarities. J.Z. Smith, for instance, demonstrates forcefully how Eliade completely misunderstands and distorts some of the evidence he uses for his theories.

    I tend to come at things from this latter methodological perspective which requires me to check my presuppositions and have more rigorous standards of evidence, which is why I am skeptical of your readings.

  8. Very interesting TT. I was not aware of these different comparative study models. Thank you for bringing them to my attention. For me, it is not the diverse differences that intrigue me among civilization’s traditions, but the thread of similarities that I find fascinating, even if they are very broad. Might this hinder or obscure interpretation? Perhaps. But comparative religion by definition must analyze similarities as well as differences. But your point is well taken that we can arrive at a better understanding of the commonalities by better understanding the particularities. I have a hard time believing that Nibley or Eliade didn’t understand the detailed differences, but Nibley has been called out for being too liberal in pointing out parallels. He did succeed in getting people thinking in a new light, however.

  9. Thank you, Bryce, for picking up on this topic. I really enjoyed your post. I had read a couple of small articles on this discovery, but nothing made me really take interest until I read your commentary. This is a lot more interesting material there than I had initially imagined! I will certainly look into it in more depth now. Thank you for your insightful and exciting post!
    David

  10. Joe

    Hey Bryce,
    This has aged quite a bit. Has this stone been claimed to be a fraud or anything in the last five years? Like you, I would also be interested in seeing an educated LDS perspective on this. My google search didn’t find anything though, and landed me here.

    Anyway, in reading the Israel Knoll article, what caught my eye was the language about Ephraim being asked to “place the sign.”

    TRUMPING THE TRIUMPHAL MESSIAH? In lines 16–17 the Lord asks David to request that Ephraim (the son of Joseph) “place the sign.” The exact nature of this sign is not specified, but it seems to be a sign of salvation. The fact that David is a messenger to Ephraim suggests that David ranked below Ephraim. The passage reads in English, “My servant David, ask of Ephraim [that he p]lace the sign; (this) I ask of you.”

    I note that “sign” in Hebrew sometimes can be “ensign.” From Strongs:

    Word Origin from nasas
    Definition a standard, ensign, signal, sign
    NASB Translation banner (2), distinguishing mark (1), sail (1), signal (4), standard (12), warning (1).

    Anyway, I don’t know enough to even know if this Hebrew word is the one on the stone, but the idea of Ephraim being asked to raise an ensign certainly sounds interesting to my LDS ears. Or is there a common tradition that I’m missing? Thanks for the blog on these translations.

    -J

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