Letter from Israel Knohl

I received this letter from Professor Knohl this morning. He asked that I post it on my blog which I do below. Just to be clear, the line Professor Knohl is referring to is this one: "When I watched one of their previews, I could not believe the nonsense that the (NGS) narrator was stating. The narration suggests (dubbed on top of some Israeli folk music) that Professor Knohl's reading and interpretation is going to revolutionize and destroy the heart of Christian belief."

It is not my interpretation that Knohl's reading will threaten Christian belief, rather it is the spin that National Geographic has put on it. One of the things I have been trying to communicate on this blog is that the media spins us and we need to be concerned about it. The media is taking our work and spinning it to whatever sensation the media thinks will sell. When scholars like me or Knohl are filmed, they are required to sign an agreement that whatever is filmed can be edited and used in whatever manner the company wants to. This is how the media gets away with spinning our work and words in whatever direction is desired, without any care whether or not we think our work or words support the media's sensationalism and interpretation.

My real concern is that all these "new" finds and the scholars working on them are going to appear sillier and sillier, and what could be very significant to our understanding of the history and formation of Judaism and Christianity will be further marginalized and neglected by other scholars and the broader public who have become confused and numbed.

I want to get the message out there that serious work is being done on these "new" finds, but it takes time and patience to sort out what is going on. The process requires years of scholars examining the new evidence and offering opinions, until some sort of consensus forms, or two dueling positions arise.

If you see a "documentary" that claims things like "it will revolutionize Christianity", etc., beware. New finds usually don't overturn established religions, which have weathered the Copernican Revolution, the Enlightenment and Darwin, adjusting their teachings (or not) to survive. Most often new finds supplement our previous knowledge, and sometimes they will provide us with information that will require us to adjust older paradigms or shift them. But rarely do they require us to throw out the baby with the bath water.
Dear April,

I was very sorry to read the following line in your blog : "Professor Knohl's reading and interpretation is going to revolutionize and destroy the heart of Christian belief". I have not seen yet the NG film, but if this is indeed what they say, it is ridiculous. In my view, my reading and interpretation of the inscription supports the historicity of the Gospels story about Jesus predictions of his death and resurrection rather than "destroy the heart of Christianity".

With regard to your suggestion to explain the word "HAYE" in line 80 as "revive" I must say that in terms of the Hebrew syntax I find this interpretation very problematic. If this was really the meaning of this word, we should expect to find the object of the reviving act immediately after that. Like we find it in Hosea 6 "He will revive us". However, the words which appear after the word HAYE are "I Gabriel" and they can not be the abject of the revival act. In my view, this proves that we should understand the word HAYE here as a commandment: "resurrect, come back to life".

I would be happy if you could post my response at your blog.

Best wishes,

Israel Knohl
Israel Knohl
Yehezkel Kaufmann Professor of Bible
The Hebrew University

National Geographic and the Apocalypse of Gabriel

Is National Geographic at it again? This time with the Gabriel Stone instead of the Gospel of Judas? It appears that they are going to be airing next week another sensationalistic "documentary" about how the Gabriel Stone may destroy Christianity's "unique" claim for a resurrected Messiah. When I watched one of their previews, I could not believe the nonsense that the narrator was stating. The narration suggests (dubbed on top of some Israeli folk music) that Professor Knohl's reading and interpretation is going to revolutionize and destroy the heart of Christian belief.

Professor Knohl's reading of the stone is severely challenged (in fact there is a brief article in the recent Cathedra, pp. 133-144 [in modern Hebrew] where Elisha Qimron and Alexey Yuditsky challenge some of the previous readings). The area of the tablet where Knohl reads "In three days live" is eroded. I have seen this line because the stone was here in Houston and we held a conference on it last semester. The tablet does not say, "In three days live." The tablet probably says, "In three days raise us up" and the reference is biblical to Hosea 6:1-3, which I have commented on in previous posts about this stone.

Come, let us return to Yahweh,
for he has torn, and he will heal us;
he has stricken, and he will bind us up,
will preserve our life.
After two days, on the third day
he will raise us up, that we may
live in his presence.
Let us know, yes, let us strive,
to know Yahweh.
As the dawn (breaks, so) certain is
his going forth.
He comes to us as surely as the rain,
as the spring rain that waters the land.

Almost every line of the stone is an allusion to other scriptures. The author is compiling and rereading them in such a way that they map out anew what will happen in the last days. This Hosea passage was being interpreted by the author of this apocalypse to refer to the liberation of the remnant of Israel that had been in exile and was now camping around Jerusalem and engaged in the last battle. God would raise up the exiled remnant and give them victory within three days was the promise being made.

I continue to be concerned with how the media is using academic discussions, especially over newly found objects that have yet not been vetted by the academic community, to threaten Christianity. The media will cry "wolf" enough times that pretty soon Christians won't listen to any academic argument, because they will not be able to distinguish the exploited and sensationalized from the rest.

So be careful consumers. Know that the goal of these so-called "documentaries" is entertainment. They pretend to be "balanced" but they are not. They take minority positions, and positions that cannot be maintained in light of the evidence or have not been vetted by the academic community at large, and make them sound reasonable and authoritative. It is all smoke and mirrors. So beware.

ADDENDUM: Michael in the comments mentions that this type of post will be used to characterize me as a "conservative scholar" who is trying to conserve the faith. Let it be known that this is not the case. Whether Christianity survives or not is not my concern. But good rigorous scholarship is. The Gabriel Stone is not going to make any difference to Christianity or its central tenet the resurrection because the Gabriel Stone does not even refer to the resurrection of a messiah, suffering or otherwise. What I worry about is the media's continual cry about how this new discovery or that new discovery is going to change Christianity and it is going to destroy the faith. This sort of media sensation does nothing more than dull the ears, so when we as academics have something that is actually important to say that may indeed impact Christianity, no one is going to listen.

The Gabriel Stone Seminar at Rice University

As promised, a summary of what happened at the Gabriel Stone Seminar at Rice University. Four presenters - Israel Knohl, Matthias Henze, Kelly Bautch, and myself - and others in attendance were Mr. Jesselsohn (who owns the stone), David Capes, Franklin Trammell, Daewoong Kim, Betty Adams, Mike Heyes, and Grant Adamson. Oh, yes (I almost forgot) and National Geographic sent a representative since the NGS is considering making a documentary about the stone.

Israel Knohl argued that "my servant David" is a personal reference, and therefore "Ephraim" who is paired with him must also be a personal reference. He identifies Ephraim with a suffering Messiah, the son of Joseph, known from late sources. He noted that the pairing of David with Ephraim is unique. Also unique is the "evil branch" that is whitewashed, which he understands to be an early formulation of an anti-Christ figure. He emphasized that these two spots in the text are highly significant because it shows something new in the traditions is forming. He came out strongly that this is not a Dead Sea Scroll because the text uses the name of the Lord frequently. He emphasized that the text contains many allusions to the prophets including Zechariah 14 and Haggai 2 and 3.

Matthias Henze was not convinced and argued that he doesn't necessarily see any messianic references in the text. He thinks that the evil branch that is whitewashed is not a messiah. That in fact the unusual pairing suggests that the "branch" is being used by the author to address something different, perhaps a wicked king. He concentrated on what he finds as the concerns of the author which appears to be knowledge of the prophets, interest in the number three, the glory of the Lord, the name of the Lord, and the merkavah. He pointed to the Pseudo-prophets of Qumran as a parallel, although he emphasized that he does not think this is a Dead Sea scroll composed by a sectarian because there is not unique sectarian language of dualism, etc., in the text. He thinks that the text opens with a seer in heaven who asks God a question, and then the Lord replies. The angels Michael and Gabriel are significant and suggest knowledge of Daniel 8.

Kelly Bautch discussed the text's indebtedness to Zechariah 14. She sees the text as an apocalyptic text, but one that is reserved. In this way she contrasted it with the Enochic literature. She thought that the text was very similar to the Qumran Pseudo-Prophets like Pseudo-Ezekiel. She argued that Ephraim was not a personal reference, but a collective, representing an eschatological expectation that Judah and Ephraim would be brought back together at the end of time. Kelly was unsure of the provenance but did not think it was the Qumran sectarians because sectarian language is not present.

I argued that the genre of the stone was very similar to the Pseudo-Prophets of Qumran, especially Pseudo-Ezekiel and Pseudo-Jeremiah. I noted that the text relies on the audience's knowledge of certain biblical passages and that the author only needed to use a word or phrase from the scripture in order to evoke the entire scriptural story and the interpretation of that story by the community. I gave a run down of a number of scriptures that the text invokes including large portions of Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Hosea. I saw Hosea 6:1-3 as key. I tried to understand the message of the stone in more comprehensive terms, even given the risk of its fragmentary nature. The stone appears to be a commission of God to his servant David. It is occurring in heaven before God's throne. The angels are there too, and one of them is supporting David and he is told not to be afraid. The Lord tells him that the last battle will occur when David converses with Ephraim. This is the sign that the end has started. The Lord will destroy evil, the wicked whitewashed branch. The heavens and earth will shake. Michael is mentioned. The Lord and his seven angels on their chariots will descend from heaven to the gates of Jerusalem. Surrounding Jerusalem are the nations encamped, at least some of who are from the north. The Hasidim are in exile outside of Jerusalem. There are a couple of references to blood sacrifices. One appears to be a command to stop the blood sacrifices, while the other appears to have something to do with the Day of Atonement since there is a bloodied merkavah. The Lord says that he has sent three holy shepherds to help Israel. The Lord is going to be merciful to those who love him. Then Gabriel enters the conversation, but what he says is too fragmentary for me to comment. This story appears to me to be one that the Qumran sectarians would have identified with, and indeed may have even produced. Although it doesn't have sectarian language, we wouldn't expect this in a Pseudo-prophetic writing where the goal is to imitate the scripture so that the new revelation appears to be scriptural. But the story and its themes fits well with the Qumran expectations of three messianic figures (prophet, Davidic king, and priest) and the cessation of the Jerusalemite sacrificial cult. The Qumran sectarians thought themselves to be in exile, and according to the War Scroll, were expecting the nations to encamp around Jerusalem at the end of time. They themselves would come and join in the fight against the nations and those wicked in Jerusalem led by a Davidic king. The angels would come down from heaven and join them in battle. And all of this would occur after the "simple from Ephraim" converted and joined their community.

So that is what happened. Matthias Henze and Israel Knohl are planning on editing a volume of papers about the stone which they will put together this year.

This afternoon, a professional photographer took pictures of the stone. So it is quite possible that we will be able to see some of the eroded letters better. Let's hope.

Israel Knohl to speak in Houston on the Gabriel Stone

This is a reminder of the special event organized by my colleague at Rice University, Matthias Henze. Israel Knohl is going to be speaking at the Houston Museum of Natural Science on Monday evening about his thoughts on the Gabriel Stone. Matthias Henze will respond. This is part of a bigger lecture series that goes along with the exhibit "The Birth of Christianity: A Jewish Story," where the Gabriel Stone is on display. Lecture information HERE.
The Gabriel Revelation and the Birth of Christianity
Presented by Israel Knohl, Ph. D., The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
With Comments by Matthias Henze, Ph. D., Rice University
Museum of Natural Science, Houston
Monday, February 9, 6:30 p.m.
On Tuesday, Feb. 11, Matthias Henze has organized a seminar to discuss the Gabriel Stone. I will be presenting my thoughts on it, along with Israel Knohl, Matthias Henze, and Kelly Bautch. We hope to use this time as a workshop and make some progress in terms of understanding what exactly this stone is. It is not news that I don't agree with Professor Knohl's interpretation, and now I have my own to offer. I will keep track of theses of the papers and provide a summary on my blog following the seminar on Tuesday.

Article Note: "Micromorphologic Examination of the 'Gabriel Revelation' Stone (Yuval Goren)

For those of you who might be wondering about the authenticity of the Apocalypse of Gabriel stone, Yuval Goren has published a chemical analysis of it. "Micromorphologic Examination of the 'Gabriel Revelation' Stone," Israel Exploration Journal 58 (2008) pp. 220-229.

The report indicates that the soil on the inscribed stone originated from the Dead Sea area, particularly east of the Lisan area. There is evidence of calcitic incrustation built up over part of the inscription with no visible signs of unnatural materials. This looks to be the result of the natural process of crystallisation which takes place over time. Since there is no indication of modern treatment of the surface of the stone, it will be necessary that further analyses, preferably dating of the pigment of the inscription, be done in order to conclude that the entire inscription or parts of it were created in antiquity or forged in modernity.

Report on the Apocalypse of Gabriel Stone

Over the holidays, I did have a chance to take a first look at the Apocalypse of Gabriel stone that is being exhibited in the Houston Museum of Natural History. I was surprised with its large size, but also its detriorated condition. The ink is so eroded that it is nearly impossible to read under normal light conditions. I commend Ada Yardeni for her initial work transcribing this text.

To make matters even more difficult, it is broken across the stone about midway between the top and bottom. It is broken across the line that Professor Knohl is translating, "In three days, live!" So I am going to have to spend some time studying the break and the ink remains, but my initial look suggested that an alpha is certainly part of the word that follows "in three days." Whether we should translate that word "live" or something else remains for me a question.

For a bibliography of the stone, see my post HERE. If you are aware of other publications about the stone, send me the information and I will include try to keep this bibliography updated.

PHOTO: This is a picture of the stone circulating on the web. I post it here so that you can see its size.

Apocalypse of Gabriel at the Houston Museum of Natural History

The Houston Museum of Natural History has just opened an exhibit called "The Birth of Christianity: A Jewish Story." At the last minute, the Museum was able to get the Apocalypse of Gabriel stone. So it is here down the street from me. I have some more updates about interpretation and authentification, but I do not have time to post that now. Will return to the subject soon. I promise.

A letter from Israel Knohl addressing some of the issues I raised about the Apocalypse of Gabriel

Israel Knohl sent me an e-mail message addressing some of the issues I raised in an earlier post about the Apocalypse of Gabriel. He has asked me to post the entire correspondence, which I gladly do. By the way, in another exchange I also asked him about the status of ink testing. It has not yet been done because it would mean destroying some of the letters.

It is my feeling that in this age of "perfect" frauds, it is absolutely essential to test scientifically whenever possible these types of finds, especially when their archaeological history is unknown. So I hope that the owner of the Apocalypse of Gabriel will agreed to this ink testing, and the sooner the better. Otherwise the Apocalypse of Gabriel will go the way of the James' ossuary and the Secret Gospel of Mark. Knohl also told me that writing on stone with ink is known in the Dead Sea area. There is an example from Qumran and many examples from Zoar, at the southern end of the Dead Sea. I have not studied these examples yet, so I cannot comment on them here.

Here is a copy of Knohl's letter:

Dear April,

I have read with interest your learned comment on my recent article in BAR and would like to respond to it.

You are absolutely right that ancient artifact should be checked by experts from various fields in order to establish their authenticity. In fact this is exactly what was done with regard to the Gabriel Revelation: The stone itself was checked by Prof. Yuval Goren, head of the Archeology department of Tel Aviv university. The script was checked by Dr. Ada Yardeni who is the best expert of the paleography of the Hebrew script of this period and the Languish was checked by Prof. Moshe Bar Asher, President of the Academy of the Hebrew languish. All three experts confirmed the authenticity of the artifact!

By the way, Ada Yardeni who was the first to read and publish this text agrees now with my reading of the crucial line, line 80 of the text where we have the words "In three day live, I Gabriel". She expressed her agreement with my reading in a letter to Hershel Shanks which is now published as an appendix to my article in the BAR website, under the title "web extras".

Finally, I would like to respond to your comment about the apocryphal writings that I have referred to in my article. You are of course right that these Jewish writings were later on edited by Christians thus there is a possibility of later Christian additions. In fact, I have dealt with this issue in length in my scholarly article at the April issue of the Journal of Religion. However, I do believe that the fact that "Ephraim" is mentioned in the Gabriel Revelation, which is clearly pre-Christian text, beside "My servant David" supports the view that these are not later Christian interpolations.

I would be happy if you could my response in you website.

Thank you in advance and best wishes,

Israel Knohl

Israel Knohl
Yehezkel Kaufmann Professor of Bible
The Hebrew University

My questions about the Apocalypse of Gabriel

Professor Knohl's new article in BAR has been posted HERE. I have also put a link to it on my growing index for the Apocalypse of Gabriel HERE.

I am a bit disturbed about Knohl's argument in the BAR piece, since the second temple passages that he quotes as evidence for a Jewish suffering messiah are from texts that have clearly been revised by later Christians.

How can we tell if the expectation of the suffering messiah in these late sources is pre- or post-Christian? One way to solve this dilemma is to notice HOW MUCH of the early Christian literature is devoted to apology for the fact that the Messiah Jesus suffered and died, and how this was a "stumbling block" to the conversion of Jews. Why would the Christians have so much explaining to do if there existed a common Jewish expectation of a suffering messiah prior to Jesus? This is a question that is absolutely necessary for us to face, and it suggests that IF the expectation already existed, it was not well-known or well-liked. Or the expectation grew as a result of Christians explaining the historical experience of their crucified Messiah Jesus.

So nothing is as "sure" as Knohl's argument suggests.

It is necessary that we approach this new apocalypse cautiously, especially until we determine its authenticity. This is the FIRST step, something that National Geographic Society recognized about the Tchacos Codex. The Society did the right thing by authenticating the Gnostic codex through scientific methods. I am concerned about the Apocalypse of Gabriel, however, because it is unusual to have ink on stone for a literary document. How sure are we that it is not a fraud?

Index of links on the Apocalypse of Gabriel

I'm feeling overwhelmed with the coverage of this stone. So I'm putting together an index with links. I'll update it as needed. You can easily find it in the future by clicking "Apocalypse of Gabriel" under LABELS in my sidebar.

Original publication of text
Ada Yardeni, Hebrew transcription, Cathedra
Ada Yardeni, "A New Dead Sea Scrolls in Stone?" Biblical Archaeology Review
Ada Yardeni, BAR, transcription HERE
Ada Yardeni, BAR, English translation HERE
Drawing of the inscription HERE
Israel Knohl's publication of text
Israel Knohl, "By Three Days, Live: Messiahs, Resurrection and Ascent to Heaven in Hazon Gabriel," Journal of Religion
Israel Knohl's Hebrew transcription and English translation HERE
"The Messiah Son of Joseph," Biblical Archaeological Review HERE
Media Coverage
Ethan Bronner, "Ancient Tablet Ignites Debate on Messiah and Resurrection," The New York Times
BAR Special Report, Biblical Archaeology Review
Donald Macintyre, "Hebrew tablets 'predates Bible on resurrection," The Independent
Ari Rabinovitch, "Ancient text sheds light on Jewish-Christian links," Reuters
David van Biema and Tim McGirk, "Was Jesus' Resurrection a Sequel?" Times
"Tablet stirs resurrection debate," BBC
Hillel Hawkin, "Blurry 'Vision of Gabriel," New York Sun
"Dead Sea tablet casts doubt on death and resurrection of Jesus," The London Times
"Scholars divided on interpretation of 'Gabriel's Revelation' tablet," Catholic News Agency
Archaeology and the Bible," Baptist Press
If you know of a link I don't have, please post it in the comments.

Hosea 6:1-3 and the Apocalypse of Gabriel

Although I remain skeptical about the authenticity of the Apocalypse of Gabriel because we do not know its provenance, and ink on stone for a literary text seems odd, I am very curious about the three day resurrection reference found on the stone.

The stone tablet and its owner, David Jeselsohn

There is a hymn embedded in Hosea (6:1-3) that has relevance to this discussion:
Come, let us return to Yahweh,
for he has torn, and he will heal us;
he has stricken, and he will bind us up,
will preserve our life.
After two days, on the third day
he will raise us up, that we may
live in his presence.
Let us know, yes, let us strive,
to know Yahweh.
As the dawn (breaks, so) certain is
his going forth.
He comes to us as surely as the rain,
as the spring rain that waters the land.
Originally this priestly (?) poem from 8th c. BCE or earlier, addresses Israel's expectations that the nation has become ill but that God will heal it in as shortest time as possible. It was similar in content with the priestly psalms in which the wounded are raised up from their sickbeds (cf. Ps. 41:3, 10) and statements that God wounds and heals, kills and enlivens (Deut. 23:39; Ezek. 30:21; Job 5:18). In this old context, it had nothing to do with resurrection from the dead.

However, once resurrection doctrines came into existence in the Maccabean period, could Hosea 6:1-3 have been read as a post-mortem expectation, that the dead would be raised by God on the third day after their deaths? Could the Christians have understood or framed Jesus' resurrection along these expectations?

The earliest blatant reference to this is made by Tertullian (Against Marcion 4.43.1ff.; An Answer to the Jews 13.23). There is an old scholarly article written on the scriptural basis for the three day expectation in the Journal of Biblical Literature 48 (1929) pp. 124-137, by S.V. McCarland, "The Scripture Basis of 'On the Third Day.'"

So it is quite possible, that in Judaism at the time of Jesus there was an expectation that after death, God would resurrect those who died "on the third day" after they had died, using Hosea 6:1-3 as the proof-text. I can imagine the first Christian Jews relying on this expectation as they told stories about Jesus' resurrection. This expectation happened to get connected with Messianic beliefs through association with the Jesus stories.

But what the Apocalypse of Gabriel suggests, if it is authentic and should be read in the way that Knobl insists, is that in Judaism there was also the expectation that the MESSIAH would die and be raised on the third day. Again, I am very hesitant about this since so much of the early Christian literature is open apology for the Messiah's death (and suffering and resurrection) which Jews apparently did not expect. I'm not sure how to reconcile this with the Apocalypse of Gabriel.

Questions about the Apocalypse of Gabriel

What are your thoughts about the Apocalypse of Gabriel? I'm just wondering what to think of it.

I am tending to be skeptical mainly because I haven't seen photos of the text or stone yet to be able to see the problem areas of the text for myself. I also wonder how sure other scholars are that the text is authentic (not forged or tampered with) and really from the first century BCE. Jim Davila is keeping track of the media attention HERE.

I am very cautious because of what has happened with the James ossuary and the Gospel of Judas. The ossuary is highly suspect as a forgery and the Gospel of Judas was so badly misread.

I think that we need to approach this newest discovery with caution, and sort things out. One of the things that keeps nagging at me is the fact that the early Christians had to explain again and again that the messiah was meant to suffer and die, to Jews who thought otherwise. If the Apocalypse of Gabriel is authentic, then its messianic ideology must not have been very well known among the Jews.

Anyway, I'd like to collect some initial reactions and thoughts about the Apocalypse of Gabriel.