The plot thickened, so to speak, today with John Hobbins giving us a glimpse at John Collins's upcoming response to Knohl. Jim West also weighed in with the score - "Knohl and Yardeni against, well, everyone else." I'm not sure that it's fair exactly to claim Yardeni agrees with Israel Knohl's interpretation of the stone. She agreed with his reading of line 80. This distinction lies at the center of the issue I have with Knohl's response to DeConick, published on her blog on Sunday August 24th. DeConick raised two important issues concerning the "Messiah Stone" or "Gabriel's Vision" and Knohl's interpretation of it - 1) the authenticity of the stone and 2) his use of late post-Christian sources to support the suffering messiah idea.
Concerning authenticity, Knohl doesn't really tell us anything new except for the information that there are other inscriptions in ink on stone from the same time period. We already knew that Yuval Goren and Ada Yardeni concluded it was authentic. I'm willing to concede the point on the authenticity of the stone and accept that it's genuine and from the 1st century BCE based on what we know up to now and the opinions of the 2 scholars noted above.
In fact, I'm willing to grant Knohl both the authenticity of the stone and the plausibility of his reading of line 80 because of Yardeni's opinion. The reason for my concession is that even if it's real AND his reading is accurate, it still does not make his interpretation of the stone correct or even likely. As Collins points out, Knohl is using "Gabriel's Vision" to promote his earlier suffering messiah idea (see first link above). He's not letting the stone be read on its own terms.
The problem is that he appears to assume in his letter to DeConick that since the stone is probably authentic and Yardeni agrees with his reading, then his interpretation must be correct. There's a big difference between being a good reader of text and a good interpreter of text (If you need an example, I can track down a book review I read once by James Vanderkam that makes that observation). In this case, Knohl claims a link between the title Ephraim in the stone and the Messiah ben Joseph purely based on the assumptions that 1) the text is messianic and 2) the messiah figure is addressed in line 80. It's not clear that the title Ephraim is meant to be used messianically or that references to Ephraim as a suffering "son" of YHWH in Jer. 31 and Hosea 11 are meant to be messianic. Knohl himself points out that Ephraim is used at Qumran for the Pharisees (Journal of Religion, Apr 08, p 148). In the Hebrew Bible, Ephraim often refers to the northern kingdom. Basically, he hasn't proven Ephraim is a messianic title or that line 80 refers to a messiah figure at all.
"Gabriel's Vision" is clearly apocalyptic and has close ties to Daniel and Zechariah, but how can we tell if it is also messianic? What counts as an indicator of messianism? A concern for the last days? A mention of David? The word tsemach "branch"? I don't know that the work has been done to adequately define the categories and lay out what constitutes a messianic text.
Concerning the issue of late sources, Knohl doesn't give a satisfactory response. He simply appeals to his article in the Journal of Religion, implying that he must have given solid reasons for their use there. So, I read the Journal of Religion article from April 2008 (pp. 147-158). I was surprised to discover that his latest BAR piece is simply a condensed version of that article. He has only minor elaborations on the use of the late sources and nothing to strengthen his case against the objection that these texts are post-Christian.
I'm beginning to suspect that Knohl believes in his interpretation of "Gabriel's Vision" and his conclusions about the suffering messiah so strongly that he's unable to tell what really counts as firm evidence for his theories. The main argument of the article is nothing more than a long chain of speculative connections linked with assertion and conjecture. I have so many notes on the faulty logic of his article that I may just write an article-length critique and reappraisal of his evidence. His general method consists of making an assertion, then speculating that some other texts could be connected and if they were they would support his assertion, then he moves on like he'd actually proved something and uses his assertion as the premise for further development of his speculation.
I have much more to say on Knohl and the suffering messiah idea, but I'll save that for a future post. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing Collins's full article. It sounds like his assessment of the whole issue is similar to mine - either great minds think alike, or it really is as Jim says - Knohl against pretty much everyone else.