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Probe Ministries > Reasons to Believe: Apologetics > Gabriel's Vision: An Angelic Threat to the Resurrection?


Gabriel's Vision: An Angelic Threat to the Resurrection? Print E-mail

Patrick Zukeran

Written by Patrick Zukeran

An article in TIME magazine titled "Was Jesus' Resurrection a Sequel?" opened with the statement, "A 3-ft.-high tablet romantically dubbed 'Gabriel’s Vision' could challenge the uniqueness of the idea of the Christian Resurrection."{1} What exactly is this tablet and does it have any significant impact on the teaching of the resurrection of Christ?

About a decade ago a stone tablet about three feet in height owned by a Swiss-Israeli antiques collector received the attention of historians. This tablet contained eighty-seven lines in Hebrew text written, not engraved, on the stone. Experts date the tablet to the late first century B.C. or a little later. The origin of the tablet is unknown. Some surmise that it came from the Transjordan region and other scholars think this may have been a part of the Dead Sea Scrolls collection.

The tablet contains an apocalyptic prediction of the end of the world spoken by a person named Gabriel. Other scholars believe the name refers to the angel Gabriel. There are several parts of the message that are missing or difficult to decipher.

The connection to the resurrection of Christ is found in line 80. Jewish scholar Israel Kohl, an expert in Talmudic and biblical languages at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, believes that the line begins with the words "In three days" and includes some form of the verb "to live."{2} He believes that this text refers to a first century Jewish rebel named Simon who was killed by the Romans in 4 B.C. Kohl believes the translation reads, "In three days, you shall live. I Gabriel command you."{3}

Time magazine writer David Van Biema writes that if Kohl’s translation is correct, it would somehow undermine the historicity of resurrection. He states,

This, in turn, undermines one of the strongest literary arguments employed by Christians over centuries to support the historicity of the Resurrection (in which they believe on faith): the specificity and novelty of the idea that the Messiah would die on a Friday and rise on a Sunday. Who could make such stuff up? But, as Knohl told TIME, maybe the Christians had a model to work from. The idea of a "dying and rising messiah appears in some Jewish texts, but until now, everyone thought that was the impact of Christianity on Judaism," he says. "But for the first time, we have proof that it was the other way around. The concept was there before Jesus." If so, he goes on, "this should shake our basic view of Christianity. ... What happens in the New Testament [could have been] adopted by Jesus and his followers based on an earlier messiah story."{4}

Biema states that one of the strongest arguments for the resurrection was that it was a unique concept introduced by Christianity. The belief in the resurrection is based on "faith." The defense Christians gave for the resurrection is that it was not believed by the Jews and therefore could not have been made up by the Christians. This discovery would then undermine one of the strongest arguments for the resurrection of Christ.

What implications does this discovery have, and is it a devastating blow to the resurrection as Biema asserts? First, Kohl contends that the words of line 80 should be translated as, "In three days you shall live." But the exact words of that line are not known. Hebrew scholars remain uncertain regarding line 80 because in crucial places there are a lot of missing words. The Israeli scholar who first worked on the tablet is Ada Yardeni. Yardeni’s translation of the text shows indeed there are key words missing. The English translation reads, "...from before You, the three si[gn]s(?), three ...[....](line 79). In three days ..., I, Gabri’el ...[?], (line 80).{5} Yardeni considers the words in line 80 to be indecipherable.{6}

Church history scholar Ben Witherington states that the verb Kohl translates as rise could also mean "there arose." So, instead of a resurrected messiah, the text refers to the appearing of a Messiah.{7} Since the words of line 80 are not clear, we cannot state conclusively the text is speaking of a messiah who dies and resurrects in three days.

Second, I do not find this discovery a threat to the resurrection. Even if Kohl’s translation is correct, it does not affect the evidence for and the teaching on the resurrection. If Kohl’s translation is correct, it would highlight the debate in Jewish belief regarding the Messiah. The popular notion was teaching of a Davidic Messiah who would overthrow the nation’s enemies and establish the Davidic Kingdom. However, some Jewish schools although a minority, held to a belief in a suffering Messiah. If Kohl’s translation is correct, this tablet would show this suffering Messiah would rise from the dead in three days.

This would not pose a major threat to Christianity. Many Christians have taught that the idea of a resurrected Messiah was never taught in Judaism. However, Christians have long taught that the Old Testament prophecies such as Isaiah 53 teach of a dying and resurrected Messiah. In fact, a few people are recorded being raised from the dead in the Old Testament (1 Kings 17, 2 Kings 13). Therefore, it should not be so surprising if there was a pre-Christian Jewish belief in a resurrected Messiah held by a minority of Jews.

Finally, Biema states that the "novelty" of the resurrection is one of the strongest literary arguments for the historicity of the resurrection. He also states that Christians' belief in the resurrection is based on "faith." I would disagree with Biema’s assertions. First, the historicity of the resurrection is not based on "faith" or belief without credible reasons. The belief in the resurrection is based on compelling historical evidence. Second, I do not believe the novelty of the resurrection is one of the strongest arguments for the resurrection. I rarely if ever have used it in an apologetic presentation. I believe the strongest arguments come from the historical evidence.

What are those evidences? First, the Gospels represent an accurate historical account of the life of Christ written in the lifetime of the eyewitnesses. The internal evidence, archaeology, manuscript evidence, quotes from the early Church Fathers, and ancient non-Christian historical works affirm the first century date and historical accuracy of the gospels (See my article on The Historical Reliability of the Gospels.)

In studying the resurrection, there are several facts agreed upon by historians of various persuasions. First, the tomb of Christ was known and was found empty. Second, there is the transformation of the Apostles from cowards to men who boldly proclaimed the resurrection of Christ in the face of their enemies. Third, the preaching of the Resurrection originates in Jerusalem, the most hostile place to preach such a message. Fourth, we have a massive Jewish societal transformation. Thousands of Jews abandon key tenets of Jewish faith and accept the teachings of Christ. Fifth, the origin of the church was built on the proclamation of the resurrection. Any explanation of the empty tomb must account for these facts, and the resurrection remains the most reasonable explanation. All other attempts have failed as alternative explanations (See my article Resurrection: Fact or Fiction.)

These remain the strongest arguments for the resurrection, not the novelty of a resurrected Messiah. Even if Kohl’s translation is proven to be correct, it does not affect any of these facts. There is still compelling evidence for the resurrection of Christ. Kohl’s translation would highlight the controversy among pre-Christian Jews regarding the two concepts of the coming Messiah. His translation would simply add the idea that the minority view regarding the suffering Messiah included a belief by some Jews in a Messiah who would die and resurrect three days later.

Notes

1. David Van Biema, "Was Jesus' Resurrection a Sequel?" TIME, 7 July 2008, www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1820685,00.html?xid=newsletter-weekly.
2. Ibid., 1.
3. Ibid., 1.
4. Ibid., 2.
5. Ada Yardeni's translation, www.bib-arch.org/news/dssinstone_english.pdf 6. Gary Habermas, "'Gabriel's Vision' and the Resurrection of Jesus," July 2008, www.garyhabermas.com/articles/gabrielsvision1/gabrielsvision.htm.
7. Biema, 2.

© 2008 Probe Ministries


About the Author

Patrick ZukeranPatrick Zukeran served on the staff of Probe Ministries for 22 years, having received graduate degrees from Dallas Theological Seminary (Th.M) and Southern Evangelical Seminary (D.Min). He presently serves on the faculty of the Bible Institute of Hawaii (www.biblehawaii.org) and is the Director of the Pacific Apologetics Center (www.pacificapologetics.org) based in Hawaii. He serves on the faculty of several Christian colleges around the world. He has a national and international speaking and teaching ministry, and also hosts a national and international radio show “Evidence and Answers” (www.evidenceandanswers.org). Pat has authored several books including The Apologetics of Jesus, co-authored with Norman Geisler, Unless I See, and served as editor of God, Eternity, and Spirituality. Pat can be reached at pat@biblehawaii.org.

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