Responding to the Gabriel Stone

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.

The Biblical Archaeology Societyhas the text of this stone available online in both Hebrew and English.  BAS also has an article online that you can read here.  The key part of the text is this:

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 …[…]…
86. …\
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.

31 thoughts on “Responding to the Gabriel Stone

  1. Thanks so much for your considerable insights in this post, Stephen. They greatly clarify the issue, and help to put this interesting archaeological find into proper (non-sensationalized) perspective.

  2. Stephen,
    I found it difficult to agree with your conclusions concerning the Gabriel Stone. Though, I do agree that the Gospel writers had probably never heard of the Gabriel Stone, and know for certain that it had nothing to do with their message. (After all, they gave their lives for sharing the truth of what they had seen, received and believed from being with Jesus. You don’t do that for something written on a stone.)
    However, I cannot see that this stone should have no significance other than being a historical artifact. After all, the only place in Jewish history that the name Gabriel has come up before, has been in the book of Daniel and in the Gospels. The two things that both the Gospels and the book of Daniel have in comman concerning Gabriel is that in both places, he (Gabriel) speaks concerning the coming the Messiah (see Daniel 9:21,25,26)(Lu.1:26). Since “Prince of princes” is also on the GS, it should also be noted that the only place that the “Prince of Princes” has come up, is in the book of Daniel ((Daniel 8:25), for which it would be very easy to make a case to be the Messiah(Rev. 17:11-14; Zech 14, Psalm 2)
    (note: “Prince of princes” corresponds with haa’adoniym ‘adoneey (Lord of lords) in Ps 136:3.
    (from Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament: New Updated Edition, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1996 by Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.).
    I would also take exception with you, concerning the lack of importance of the number 3 in the New Testament. It is definitely an important number there, just as it is in the Old Testament. Please consider just a few:

    Matt 27:63 Jesus said that He would rise in three days.
    Matt 12:40 Jesus said that He would be in the belly of the Earth 3 days.
    I John 5:7 Three that bear witness on the Earth
    I John 5:8 Three that bear witness in Heaven
    Matt 18:16; II Cor. 13:1 – the importance of two or three witnesses in the establishment of truth
    Luke 24:10 lists 3 women plus others that witnessed the resurrection
    Rev. 11:11 The three witnesses sent from Heaven during the tribulation, will be raised in 3 days
    Rev. 21:13 The gates of Heaven are in 3’s

    These are just a few of the listings on the number 3. I hope you will check out the New Testament for more.

    Though we may not have the answers concerning the GS, it would be wrong for us to diminish it’s significance, in light of this information. Perhaps it is a message for the house of Israel, and not for us as Christians. The best thing that we as Christians can do is to pray (and carefully guard our input) that God will reveal to them what His message is.


    P.S. Since I formerly did research confirming the subject of the “Suffering Messiah” found in ancient rabbinical writings ( about 30 years ago), I rejoice that Israel Knohl is finally bringing it to light for the house of Israel and others to see.

  3. Sorry for the delay. I have been at a retreat over the weekend.

    I agree that this text is interesting in that it mentions Gabriel. But Daniel and the Gospels are not the only place he appears. Check out 1 Enoch 40.

    I do not deny that the number 3 appears in the New Testament. But as you have shown, it is spread throughout different texts and does not appear all together or in a form similar to the Gabriel Stone.

    My problem with the Gabriel Stone is not its lack of importance but the assertion that it teaches a dying and rising messiah when that is not at all clear.

  4. I’ve posted this on another blog but:

    “Have you ever read Hosea 6:2?

    2 After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight.

    This verse isn’t about a messiah. This is about Ephraim (The Kingdom of Israel). Hosea spends a lot of time talking about how Israel (Not Judah. Judah is still there.) will be restored.

    4 O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.

    Again, Ephraim, mentioned at the top of the tablet. If this tablet is apoclyptic in nature, then one would expect Israel to be restored. It just makes more sense that way then to insert an idea about a ressurecting messiah. Had it not been for Jesus, no one would be saying any-thing about someone coming back from the dead.”

  5. I disagree with Marsha on Rev. 11:11—there are TWO witnesses who will be raised in THREE AND ONE HALF days.
    I know this may sound like knit picking—but if we are going to study Scripture let’s be accurate.

  6. I just watched the first Jesus on discovery channel.Isreal Knol was saying that the stone is about some guy named Simon and Jesus just immitated him.That Simon and NOT Jesus was the true messia.I fully reject that idea.What fool in thier right mind(or not)would want to immitate a man who got killed?Not just to die but die horribly?And then Jesus’ followers died after him save one,willingly for talking about Jesus.I dont know the significance of the stone and maybe I am not suppose to,however I am a full fledged believer in Christ.

  7. Is it not a well accepted fact that the bible that we know today was written decades after Jesus died in a time where abotu 90% of the population was illiterate and has been re-written countless times by the church in order to eliminate all the inconsistencies therein? The church is nothing more than a way to control wealth and land and of course, people. Humans have developed enough to gain self-consciencousness, when this happens we naturally want to assign some sort of logical order to the world that we live. It causes too much anxiety not to know who we are. This is why people used to worship the sun, etc. Now we worship a book. The enlightenment was called such because people began to realize that the church was not the source of all knowledge and in fact most of the teachings were false.

  8. The Bible was written decades after Jesus’ death but the fact is that very little history was written at the time it was happening. The life of Alexander the Great was written centuries after his death so in the case of Jesus we are doing quite good. And no the Bible has not been rewritten by the church to eliminate inconsistencies. Please compare the situation to Islam. Inconsistencies crept into the Qur’an and so they gathered all the texts, picked an authoritative text and destroyed the others. No such thing happened in Christianity. We have so many manuscripts that we can get to the earliest form of the text.

    As for the church trying to control wealth and land. I wish I could say that never happened but obviously it did. However, the church is self-reforming, because the church is made of humans who make mistakes, it does go the wrong way from time to time, but the Gospel draws us back. Thus we are far from perfect but we do our best to follow the teachings of Christ.

  9. Ginetta, thanks for your response. Good point. The reading of the stone as being about a dying and rising messiah is highly suspect. There were Jewish beliefs about a messiah of Ephraim but the details in this stone are unclear. Also, a comparison of the life of Jesus demonstrate very few points of contact. The Gabriel Stone is interesting but I do not think it says much about Christian origins.

  10. The Jewish writers often wrote in metaphor. The recurrance of the #3, 40 years in the desert, 40 days and 40 nights of rain, etc. While the GS is not clear on its meaning it is clear that it uses the same Jewish metaphors. This is important because it shows intent of message. The fact that the Gospel writers use the same metaphors and styles shows that they are drawing from the same history that the Jews have used for centuries. So it is possible that the GS shows exactly what Mr. Knohl thinks but there is no current evidence to support his theory.

  11. The problem is that the Gabriel Stone uses the number three as a poetic device and the (possible) resurrection is only one of these threes. There is nothing like this in the Gospels or any indication that they are taking the three from the Gabriel Stone.

  12. Anybody who can make sense out of this textual detritus has the gift of interpreting tongues! A threat to Christian uniqueness? A point in favor of the resurrection? Both nonsense.

  13. I completely agree with you. By far my posts on the Gabriel Stone get the most traffic on my blog and yet it was one of the least important issues. I very much doubt that the Gospel writers had any knowledge of the Gabriel Stone. Thanks for your comment.

  14. t’s all so much mumbo-jumbo. The Old and New testaments, stuff from thousands and thousands of years ago, I find highly doubtful to be true. Someone rose from the dead – give me a break. Like a God could be killed in the first place. And nothing has changed in the world since that time, anyway. We had the Roman Empire, the British Empire and now the U.S. Empire. Nothing has changed. Commerce is still the same, people are still the same, no new God has done anything to bring peace and harmony to the planet. We still hate each other and take advantage of our neighbors instead of help them. No God saved my Jewish brethren during the Holocaust and no Jesus would allow a country like ours that claims to be 80% Christian allow one in four children to live in poverty. Philosophers I get – Jesus included. But this God stuff of dieing for one’s sins – of just being born for crying out loud – is ridiculous. Is God supposed to be that touchy and insecure? And anyone can try to make sense of anything to believe it. Toss all this time wasting fluff out the window and just try to be good to one another. If anything else, this is what Jesus, the Philosopher, mainly wanted anyway.

    • Kevin,

      It would be good for you to get aquainted with the basics of Christian theology before you rant so incoherently about a religion you seemingly no very little about. You have provided not one single argument against God’s existence and the truth of Christianity; you have merely given a rant based on your own subjective bias. Your personal ‘feelings’ have no bearing on the truth claims of Christianity, making your post a complete non sequitur

  15. Kevin, I disagree with you about the Bible being mumbo jumbo. It is full of truth that is relevant to our life. Regarding Jesus, he was God and he was human. He had a fully human body and that is why he could die. Regarding suffering and the existence of God, I would like to ask what you would expect God to do? Should God over-ride people’s wills when they get out of line? Should he be sending thunderbolts from heaven to kill people who break the rules? God has provided a beautiful world full of all the resources we need to have a heaven on earth. The question is not why God allows these things, but why do we allow these things. Very often it has been people with a faith in God that have been on the forefront of making the changes.

  16. Wow, Jesus copied some guy named Simon. Gee, I wonder how He fulfilled over 300 prophecies! That took some doing. And how did Christianity become so popular and flourish when it could have been so easily discredited by SIMPLY PRODUCING HIS BODY!! These things weren’t done in secret. If one takes an honest look at the evidence, the conclusion is obvious – Jesus is who He claimed to be; The Messiah!

    Joe Delatte

  17. Genetta, The sign if i can-ce today, is this; that a few Jews are willing to look at a Jew who – though hypothetical – parrals Jesus / Yahshua as a suffering survant messiah.

    Stevan, as for your last two sentances.

    Also, a comparison of the life of Jesus demonstrate very few points of contact. The Gabriel Stone is interesting but I do not think it says much about Christian origins.

    Comparring Simion to Jesus / Yahshua sould reveal that they were both thoroughly Jewish.

    That combind with the astounding fact that we find Jews looking squarely at this Simon in the context of his being a suffering Messiah for Israel, is evidance that the Jews do not reject Jesus / Yahshua for His suffering. But rather the Jesus / Yahshua the Jews have been exposed to has been completely removed from an accurate Jewish portait of who He was and who He is.

    Hence Christianity is liable / and IMO guilty for removing Jesus / Yahshua from His clear identity within the framework of Judaism and Torah and have placed Him in a false and pagan identity.

  18. Christianity does see Jesus in a Jewish context. The current quest for the historical Jesus has one of its emphases a focus on Jesus within his contemporary Judaism. Their interpretations are different than yours but it is still Jewish.

  19. You appearently are a Christian who on this occation spoken of Jesus / Yahshua, and I would referance your statment above again; Also, a comparison of the life of Jesus demonstrate very few points of contact.
    why, if as you say, you see Jesus / Yahshua as Jewish, don’t you see this as a signifigant point of contact between these two Jewish men ? Was this a Christian/Freudian slip ? Or is being Jewish INSIGNIFICANT ?

    Can the Jewish people look at Jesus / Yahshua as a Jewish suffering Messiah with the same openmind that seems to be present in their consideration of Simion ?

    IMO the sole point of the Gabriel stone is to announce to Isreal, through the incommonsurable possiblility of there being a suffering Messiah at all, that God HAS sent His Son to suffer and save the world through them, and that they are then able to see Yahshua with fresh eyes, and that He is a thuroughly Jewish Messaih.

    Rom 9:29 And as Isaiah predicted, “If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah.”
    Rom 9:30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith;
    Rom 9:31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law.
    Rom 9:32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone,
    Rom 9:33 as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

    Rom 10:1 Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.

    Rom 11:15 For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?
    And if that is accompished they hence-forth come to a saving faith in Him.

  20. I don’t really see a need for Simion and Jesus / Yahshua to line up completely. What is amazing to me is that some Jews are willing to look at a suffering Messiah at all.In the past the Jewish people have been given a historically inaccurate portait of Jesus / Yahshua . And over the centuries they’ve refused to even consider Yahshua as The Messiah because He was either cloaked in a pagan persona and called Jesus, or they were told He was the solution to legalistic Juwdaism.

    Their interpretations are different than yours but it is still Jewish.

    Rom 11:15 For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?

    And if that is accompished they hence-forth come to a saving faith in Him

    please remove my earlier post.

  21. I think where we disagree is one the Jewish context of the traditional Jesus. I see Jesus as thoroughly Jewish already and that his Jewish background has not been taken away. As for Simon, if this stone helps some Jews to see the possibility of a suffering messiah, that is great. But I do not think that is the purpose or the message of the text.

  22. You’ve said; I see Jesus as thoroughly Jewish already and that his Jewish background has not been taken away.

    But do you see His Jewishness as more than background? Do you see that His the Jewish framework and context is NEEDED for a Jew to consider Him as the Messiah of the covanents, and more than that His Jewishness as needing to be current? I hope that this stone helps RESTORE Yeshua to His correct covanent participation as the prophwt like Moshe.

  23. Let me first say that I am not a biblical scholar, one who can quote scripture and I am by no means as knowledgeable as many of those who have posted comments on this site. It is my humble and personal opinion that God / YHWH / Yeshua / Jesus realized that past attempts to bring salvation to man by using other men ( such as Simon of Perea, believed to be a messiah, King Saul, King David, King Solomon, to name a few ) failed because they were in fact human, had their own way of thinking and agendas, and were born into sin. He decided to come to us as a man but fully God to be born without sin so that we would have life everlasting through Him. I believe that God saw that man, His creation, which He so fully and completely loves would be the cause of it’s own destruction and the only way to save them was to come down, be born as man, take our sins upon Him, suffer for our sins, die for our sins, then rise again so that we would not be separated from Him. I can believe in the existence of the Gabriel Stone, just as I believe in the existence of Jesus.

  24. Stephen,

    Thanks for your comments on the stone. I, too, doubt whether the Gospel writers would have directly been aware of this item – or anything similar. The item, if authentic, is interesting… but it’s hard to say how much insight it really gives us into Jewish thought at the time.

    So little to really work from.

  25. There was a airing of the Gabriel Stone story today so that’s one reason I’m posting here. Having read some of the comments I too see the stone not as evidence against our understanding the messiah Jesus Christ, but rather as an interesting Jewish document.

    I read one person’s comment about most people being illiterate, I think that is a falsehood in regards to the Jewish culture. It was customary for Jewish men to take turns reciting from the Jewish writings (Old testament) and espousing on them in the temple gatherings. Further, scripture from the New Testament indicates Jesus himself contended in the temple in such a manner. With his own words several times he recites OT scripture and makes reference to it to his own disciples. Now either the Jews possessed perfect memory or they were able to read from or reference existing materials.

    A good expose on this topic can be read here:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s