An article in the New York Timesrecently caused a stir as the discovery of the Gabriel Stone (it was actually discovered about eight years ago) has led some to suggest that it is a pre-Christian example of a messiah who dies and rises on the third day. This has had number of responses from both critics and believers. If this is true, it could demonstrate that Jesus’ death and resurrection were indeed a part of the Jewish messianic expectation and that it makes the New Testament more credible. On the other hand, it could suggest that it was a Jewish tradition and that when the Gospelwriters were creating the story of Jesus, they based the death and resurrection on this already existing tradition. Israel Knohl, the scholar who has been making the headlines over this find, argues that it does demonstrate the existence of this expectation and that this more firmly places Jesus in his Jewish context. At the same time, we must remember that in 2000 Knohl wrote a book about Jewish expectations of a suffering messiah and so he was already thinking in these terms before this was made public. However, we cannot dismiss his claims based on his bias (we are all biased). Let us look at the evidence.
69. Thus He said, (namely,) YHWHof Hosts, the Lord of Israel …:
70. Prophets have I sent to my people, three. And I say
71. that I have seen …[…]…
72. the place for the sake of(?) David the servant of YHWH[ …]…[…]
73. the heaven and the earth. Blessed be …[…]
74. men(?). “Showing mercy unto thousands”, … mercy […].
75. Three shepherds went out to?/of? Israel …[…]
76. If there is a priest, if there are sons of saints …[…]
77. Who am I(?), I (am?) Gabri’el the …(=angel?)… […]
78. You(?) will save them, …[…]…
79. from before You, the three si[gn]s(?), three …[….]
80. In three days …, I, Gabri’el …[?],
81. the Prince of Princes, …, narrow holes(?) …[…]…
82. to/for … […]… and the …
83. to me(?), out of three – the small one, whom(?) I took, I, Gabri’el.
84. YHWHof Hosts, the Lord of(?)[ Israel …]…[….]
85. Then you will stand …[…]…
87. in(?) … eternity(?)/… \
Now most people would be confused as to where this death and resurrection is. In line 80, Israel Knohl claims to be able to see the Hebrew imperative for ‘live’ – hayeh. However, the fact that this word does not appear in the current transcripts of the text tells us that this is far from certain. What about the reference to ‘stand’ in line 85? That word does not have to mean resurrection and could simply be a reference to standing in the face of opposition.
Now resurrection does not appear very often in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). One of the few passages is Isaiah 26:19 which has two Hebrew words in paralleland yet neither of these words appear in the Gabriel Stone (although the NIV has ‘live’ in this verse, the Hebrew is better translated ‘awake’). The other passage is Daniel 12:2. This passage has the same word that appears in Isaiah 26:19, quwts which means ‘awake.’ It seems as if the preferred Hebrew term for resurrection is not ‘live’ (which may not be in the Gabriel Stone anyway) or ‘stand’ but rather ‘awake’ (which does not appear in the Gabriel Stone).
There is another reason to suggest that this is not evidence of a tradition of a three day resurrection. If you notice in this passage and the text as a whole, that the number three is very important and appears often. If the person described here does rise on the third day, the only reason for this is that everything happens in threes. The point is that all that takes place is under God’s direction and control as demonstrated by the threes. The number three does not play the same role in the Gospels. Jesus has an inner core of Peter, James and John, but no big deal is made of that as the traditional three. Twelve is still a much more important number than three in the Gospels.
Finally, we have to ask how likely is it that this text could have influenced the Gospel writers? This reminds me of claims that some obscure inscription in a long lost pyramid is the key to understanding the New Testament. Even if there was a parallel (and there usually is not), it does not matter if that inscription was not available to the biblical writers. What are the chances that the Gabriel Stone was known to the Gospel writers? Unlike other non-biblical texts such as 1 Enoch and other examples from the Pseudepigrapha, we do not have evidence of this being a popular text in the first century. This is the first we have heard of it and it is very possible that it was forgotten as soon as it was written.
The excitement about the Gabriel Stone is another example of people getting worked up about something that is not that important. Yes, it may help us to understand some of the Jewish culture and beliefs at the turn of the century but it is by no means the “first draft” of the Gospel of Jesus. In all likelihood it has nothing to do with the resurrection and probably the Gospel writers had never heard of the Gabriel Stone.