The scholarly world is aflutter over the latest discovery of a 3-foot tall tablet being called “Gabriel’s Revelation,” “Hazon Gabriel,” or the “Vision of Gabriel.” It contains 87 lines of Hebrew text written in ink on stone, and has been dated to the first century BCE. The tablet was found near the Dead Sea in Jordan around 2000, and has been associated with the Qumran community who produced the Dead Sea Scrolls. For this reason, it has been called a “Dead Sea scroll in stone.” An exciting discovery, indeed.
The discussion has been primarily about a certain line of the text which tells of a messiah dying and resurrecting in three days (line 80). Many scholars are pointing to this as evidence of a resurrection theology in existence in Judaism before the coming of Jesus Christ, therefore raising questions of the conception among some that a messianic 3-day resurrection was a uniquely novel Christian principle. This is not news to Latter-day Saints, who already firmly believe that Christianity has been known and practiced since Adam (see Moses 5:6-8).
But I want to look at this text from a different angle than that which is making the headlines. Since this text has been categorized as an apocalyptic text, the Greek apokálypsis meaning “lifting of the veil” or end of days, delivered from the angel Gabriel, it is likely that we should find temple imagery here too. And we are not left wanting.
The following bolded elements from Gabriel’s Revelation recall temple themes and elements. The line number is on the left. The English translation is by Israel Knohl (see link for full translation):
- 4. [ f]or th[us sa]id the Lo[rd] I have betr[oth]ed you to me, garden
- 16. …My servant David, ask of Ephraim
17. [that he] place the sign; (this) I ask of you. For thus said
18. the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, my gardens are ripe,
- 27. at the gate of Jerusalem and the gates of Judea they will re[st] for
28. my three angels, Michael and all the others, look for
29. your power….
- 65. Three holy ones of the world from…. [ ]
- 67. Announce him of blood, this is their chariot.
- 70. prophets. I sent to my people my three shepherds. I will say (?)
- 75. Three shepherds went out for Israel … [ ]…
76. If there is a priest, if there are sons of holy ones ….[ ]
- 79. from before of you the three si[g]ns three .. [ ]
- 80. In three days, live, I Gabriel com[mand] yo[u],
- 83. to me, from the three…
Here we can see several temple motifs, several are even repeated:
- Being betrothed, or promised in marriage, i.e. Bridegroom (Matt. 25:1-13; Matt. 9:15; D&C 33:17; D&C 65:3; D&C 88:92; D&C 133:10)
- Three angels/shepherds/holy ones
- Chariots (ascension, Merkabah)
- Bestowal of life & resurrection
Knohl makes some interesting observations of this text. He notes that the text is divided into two parts:
The first part describes an eschatological war: the nations of the world besiege Jerusalem, and the residents are expelled from the city in groups. This description is followed by a passage in which God sends “my servant David” to ask “Ephraim” – the Messiah Son of Joseph – to deliver a “sign.” From the context, it appears that this sign heralds the coming redemption.
The second part of the Gabriel Revelation focuses on death and resurrection – and the blood of the slain. The last paragraph cites the words of the Archangel Gabriel who commands a person to return to life after three days: “By three days, live.” ((http://www.imj.org.il/DSS_conference_2008/abstracts.html#Knohl))
This seems very much in keeping with similar Egyptian religious traditions and rituals where the deities bestowed eternal life and resurrection by declaring “Life! Prosperity! Health!” upon the subject, which we’ve recently analyzed.
So far I haven’t seen any analyses from scholars about the three angels/shepherds/holy ones that are sent by God, and are repeated several times in the Hazon Gabriel text. I’d like to see the scholars’ take on this.
In his article “‘By Three Days, Live’: Messiahs, Resurrection, and Ascent to Heaven in Hazon Gabriel,” in the Journal of Religion, Knohl gives further interesting insights. There are two messianic figures present. First, “my servant David” is another term for an eschatological (last days) and triumphal leader. Second, Ephraim can represent a “suffering messianic figure” or “beloved Son of God.” Although Knohl admits that the “nature of the sign” that God sends David to ask Ephraim to deliver or place “is not specified,” he offers his own insightful interpretation:
The “sign of the Son of Man” that will appear in heaven prior to the redemption is reminiscent of Hazon Gabriel’s depiction of “Ephraim.” According to our reconstruction, in lines 16–17 God addresses David and asks him to request Ephraim to place the sign. This placing of the sign is followed by a description of the breaking of evil and the appearance of God and the angels. Hazon Gabriel is the only work known to us in which the Messiah son of Joseph places a sign heralding the advent of the salvation. The tradition of the “sign of the Son of Man” would therefore seem to be founded on the depiction of the sign of “Ephraim” in Hazon Gabriel. What, then, is the nature of this sign?
According to Hazon Gabriel, the blood of the slain is transformed into a chariot that ascends to heaven. I would therefore suggest that the sign that Ephraim is to place is that of the spilled blood, which is now revealed in heaven. The depiction of blood as a “sign” could be based on a verse in Exodus (12:13): “The blood shall be a sign for you.” In light of this possibility, the “sign of the Son of Man” that is seen in heaven could well be the spilled blood of the “Son of Man.” Thus, when the “sign of the Son of Man” is seen in heaven, all the tribes of the earth will mourn for the slain Messiah. It is possible that Matt. 24:29–30 is based on the tradition that is attested in Hazon Gabriel. ((Israel Knohl, “‘By Three Days, Live’: Messiahs, Resurrection, and Ascent to Heaven in Hazon Gabriel,” Journal of Religion.))
So the “sign” that Ephraim is asked to “place” could perhaps be symbolic of the spilled blood of the Son of Man, or Christ’s atonement and crucifixion. This is all very meaningful to Latter-day Saints. I will be anxious to see an LDS scholar’s perspective and study of this new Dead Sea discovery.
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:
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.
News release from Dr. Paul L. Maier…
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
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.
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.
Stephen M (Ethesis)
That was an interesting twist to take in looking at it, and a well thought out one.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.