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.