Tuesday, August 26, 2008

What If Israel Knohl is Right?

This will be my last post related to "Gabriel's Vision" for a while.  After this, I'll have said all I think I need to say about the stone and its interpretation.  All the relevant posts can be found with the new "Gabriel's Vision" category link on the sidebar. 

Reading Knohl's response to Collins at Ancient Hebrew Poetry made me want to follow the lead of NT Wrong, close up shop, and head for the hills to await the Apocalypse.  After this, there's nothing more to say and no need to repeat myself.  I have other interesting things to blog about and if my views on the so-called "Messiah Stone" change, I'll let you know.

It occurred to me on Sunday that my persistent opposition to Knohl's interpretation of "Gabriel's Vision" and to the idea of a suffering messiah before Jesus of Nazareth could be misconstrued as stemming from an ideological agenda.  That is, I could be driven to prove him wrong because my beliefs would be threatened if he was right.  For the record, that is not the case.  I feel that I am a neutral observer, objectively weighing the evidence.  I have no vested interest in the suffering messiah idea being there or not, either in "Gabriel's Vision" or in Second Temple Judaism before Jesus.  Knohl simply has not provided solid evidence to support his conclusions.  It saddened me to see today that he attempted to dismiss the objections of John J. Collins by suggesting he was driven by a Christian bias - even though Collins himself said he didn't find the idea threatening to Christianity at all.

I agree with Collins that the idea is not threatening to Christianity, despite the sensationalist headlines.  If anything, Christian theologians should be lining up to help Knohl shore up his hypothesis.  Why is that, you may ask?  Putting my theologian hat on, I considered what the significance would really be if Israel Knohl was right (so far, his argumentation and evidence fall short of making his conclusions anything more than speculation, but I digress).

If Knohl is right, it would provide a strong validation for NT claims that the Messiah would suffer.  A suffering messiah would be a natural part of the message of the Hebrew Bible or to use Walter Kaiser's term - it is endemic.  Rather than being a NT innovation, the idea of a suffering messiah is an inherent concept.  Therefore, the existence of the motif before Jesus of Nazareth would be perfectly understandable.  It gives a context to the words of Jesus in Luke 24:26-27:

"Wasn't it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory? Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself." (NLT)

So, rather than threaten Christianity, the awareness of a suffering messiah before Jesus would strengthen the NT's interpretation of the Hebrew Bible.  Anyone with a Christian bias, therefore, should be motivated to help Knohl prove his case, not oppose him.  Despite the words of Jesus in Luke 24:26, the suffering messiah idea is hard to find in the Hebrew Bible until the Suffering Servant motif (Isa 50, 53) is connected to the Davidic Messiah motif.  I still think the NT is innovating - the writers link Jesus to the OT and make connections with a wide set of images all finding fulfillment in one man Jesus.  Their interpretation pulls the pieces together and provides a remarkably coherent model for reading the OT. Perhaps I should switch sides and work on helping strengthen Knohl's argument . . .

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