The Gabriel Stone
I never get tired of being able to “connect the dots” between what we can read in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures (e.g. the Old and New Testaments) with what is discovered in the archaeological world of the Bible. This especially is true when it comes to the life and ministry of Jesus, not only in what He did to secure a bridge between us and God the Father but also who He was as the predicted Messiah. This recent Passover/Easter Season is a special time to make these connections.
Our good Messianic friends (Jewish believers in Yeshua / Jesus) who lead a wonderful ministry called One For Israel just shared an excellent article entitled Ancient Jewish Belief the Messiah Would Rise on the Third Day. The article states that not only was there a belief based on the Hebrew Scriptures about a prediction of the Messiah rising from the dead, but that some within the 1st century Jewish community also shared this belief. The “evidence” for this is based upon an archaeological find discovered somewhere in the Dead Sea area (probably on the easter side in Transjordan) around 2000. It has been called the Gabriel Stone.
This stone tablet is about three foot tall tablet features 87 lines (only 40% of the lines are legible) of an unknown prophetic text dated as early as the first century BC, at the time of the Second Jewish Temple. The interest in this stone peaked because of what was written on line 80 of the tablet. As originally interpreted, line 80 read, “by three days–live, I Gabriel command you, prince of princes, the dung of rocky crevices.” To some scholars, this was of direct prediction that the Messiah would “rise from the dead in three day.”
According to a Fox News Science report (April 30, 2013), “the Gabriel Stone made a splash in 2008 when Israeli Bible scholar Israel Knohl offered a daring theory that the stone’s faded writing would revolutionize the understanding of early Christianity, claiming it included a concept of messianic resurrection that predated Jesus. He based his theory on one hazy line, translating it as “in three days you shall live.”
In a recent Biblical Archaeology Review on-line article (by Dr. James Tabor, May 13-2013), this Gabriel Stone was discussed. The article states the following, “What is not so well known is that Professor Knohl has changed his mind about the transliteration, and thus the translation, of the key line 80 in the text that he had previously argued talked about resurrection of the dead after three days…”
Dr. Tabor explained, “In a paper given at a 2009 conference at Rice University on the Gabriel Stone, now published in the conference volume as, ‘The Apocalyptic Dimensions of the Gabriel Revelation in Their Historical Context,’ Knohl says he was mistaken in his original reading. Knohl still maintains that the text was “composed shortly after 4 B.C.E.” by ‘followers of the messianic leader Simon, who was killed in Transjordan in 4 B.C.E.’ What he now doubts is that the text speaks of ‘making the dead live after three days.’”
Knohl translates line 80 as “In three days the sign will be (given). I am Gabriel” The critical word that Knohl once read as a verb, “to make live” (חאיה) now is read as the noun “sign” (האות). On the whole, however, his overall interpretation is the same and if he is correct the text continues to have great significance for our understanding of “messianism” among late 2nd Temple Jewish groups.
Tabor continued, “Though I greatly respect Knohl’s integrity in so freely changing his mind I am not convinced that this alternative reading is necessarily correct. Unfortunately the text is faded at this point, and even after subjecting it to a battery of scientific tests designed to enhance its clarity, it may be that we will never know with certainty how it should be read.”
Hebrew scholar Ada Yardeni (an Israeli expert on ancient Semetic languages) offers a more definitive word, “After reviewing the document, I came to the conclusion that the reading suggested by Professor Knohl for the third word of line 80—HAYE “live”—seems to be the only plausible reading of that word. Thus, the first five words of this line should be translated as: “In three days live.”
However one interprets line 80, it would be prudent for us to remember what the prophet Hosea specifically said about the Messiah and resurrection on the third day, “Come, let us return to Adonai. For He has torn, but He will heal us. He has smitten, but He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us. On the third day He will raise us up, and we will live in His presence (Hosea 6:1-2).”
So can we “connect the dots” between this important archaeological discovery with what we read about resurrection of Messiah Jesus? We cannot be certain. Yet while it is an interesting connection that is contingent upon how one interprets it, one thing can be sure – our Easter hope is grounded in Christ’s resurrection on the third day.
Praise be to God for our risen Savior!