Monday, July 7, 2008

Another Hebrew Inscription

The study of ancient Hebrew had been getting a bit boring and predictable lately, so it's great that we now have another controversial Hebrew inscription to study. The NY Times has a story about a 3 foot tall stone tablet with 87 lines of Hebrew written in ink in two columns. It's being called "The Vision of Gabriel." Study of the tablet so far supports dating it to the late first century BCE. The tablet was published in BAR at the beginning of the year by Ada Yardeni who had previously published it with Binyamin Elitzur in Cathedra in 2007 in Hebrew.

The controversy stems largely from Israel Knohl's interpretation of the text. Knohl believes it describes a messiah-figure who dies and is resurrected three days later. Does anyone else think it's awfully convenient that his reconstructed reading supports his earlier controversial theory about the suffering servant image and messianism? Can we even trust Knohl to be truly objective with the evidence? I am constantly amazed at how very detailed, complicated theories can be built on very little evidence. For example, I have no doubt that the inscription involves messianic and angelic characters. The idea of resurrection, however, comes from the reconstruction of one word that must be spelled unusually to make that word fit the space. I'm skeptical. However, I'm hoping that the photograph in BAR is readable or that a high quality photo is made available soon so that the rest of us can get a closer look at this inscription.

I don't see an issue with admitting that the NT draws on numerous ideas current in first century Judaism about the Davidic messiah, the suffering servant, and the redemption of Israel. I don't believe that all the pieces were pulled together and applied to a single figure before Jesus. Even if Knohl's reading is correct, it doesn't seem to undermine Christian teachings just to admit that they built on traditions, motifs, and images already found in Judaism.

No comments:

Post a Comment