Question: 

Can you please explain the Gabriel stone?  How will this affect Christianity?

 

Answer:

 

This is a good question.  The "Gabriel Stone" has now been around for a while and it is a good time to begin thinking about its significance.  I have learned from experience that when a new find comes out it is good to hold off at least for a while on forming too strong a view of the find one way or another while some of the dust clears.   I remember when the James Ossuary came out several years ago, I was very skeptical of this find and refused to join the bandwagon for this "very important discovery."  It turned out to be a hoax.

 

Having said that, I think the requisite period of time to listen to the initial response to the report of the Gabriel Stone discovery has passed and it is now a good idea to formulate a response to this discovery.

 

First, it is good to ask what this discovery is.  Where was it found?  What is its provenance (in other words, who has put his or her hands on it since its discovery, and how confident are we about where it was found?)?  Who probably wrote it?  What was its significance in its own time?  Did it represent a broad view at the time or was it just the random thought of one relatively uninformed person?   What is are the meaning and interpretation of the inscription itself? 

 

Only after we answer these questions are we ready to ask what is the significance of this find.

 

We cannot answer all these questions, but it seems an initial response is possible.  First, the question of what it is arises.  This object is rather unusual because it is written ink on stone.  I do not know of any other important document from that time and area of this sort.  Some have called this the Dead Sea rock (as opposed to a Dead Sea scroll).  Second, there is the date of this inscription.  It has been dated to either the second half of the first century BC or the very early first century AD.  This date does tend to increase the possible importance of the inscription, because it is from a time relatively near to the lifetime of Jesus and the writing of the gospels.  Third, there is no evidence that this inscription represents an important view at the time.  Unlike the book of 1st Enoch or some of the documents found at Qumran, there is no reason for us to suspect that what was written on this scroll was ever taken seriously by a large group of Jews.  Of course, lack of evidence is not evidence of lack, but it should cause us to take what is written here more cautiously, as it could very well just be the idea of one relatively obscure person.

 

Now, to the inscription itself.  Below is a translation (found at http://1peter315.wordpress.com/2008/07/14/responding-to-the-gabriel-stone/) of the relevant lines:

  

69. Thus He said, (namely,) YHWH of Hosts, the Lord of Israel …:

70. Prophets have I sent to my people, three. And I say 71. that I have seen …[…]… 72. the place for the sake of(?) David the servant of YHWH[ …]…[…] 73. the heaven and the earth. Blessed be …[…] 74. men(?). “Showing mercy unto thousands”, … mercy […].

75. Three shepherds went out to?/of? Israel …[…] 76. If there is a priest, if there are sons of saints …[…] 77. Who am I(?), I (am?) Gabri’el the …(=angel?)… […] 78. You(?) will save them, …[…]… 79. from before You, the three si[gn]s(?), three …[….] 80. In three days …, I, Gabri’el …[?], 81. the Prince of Princes, …, narrow holes(?) …[…]… 82. to/for … […]… and the … 83. to me(?), out of three – the small one, whom(?) I took, I, Gabri’el.

84. YHWHof Hosts, the Lord of(?)[ Israel …]…[….] 85. Then you will stand …[…]… 86. … 87. in(?) … eternity(?)/…

 

Some have seen in this document evidence of a Jewish belief in the resurrection of the Messiah after three days.   If we look at this translation, we can see immediately that it is not at all obvious that this document reflects a belief in a resurrection of the Messiah.  In fact, it is quite incomplete and the meaning is very obscure.  It does seem to be messianic in its focus (see line 72 and its mention of "David the servant of YHWH), but that it is predicting a resurrection on the third day or even a resurrection at all is quite unclear, to say the least.  The number three here is being used in rather obvious symbolic ways, making a literal interpretation of a resurrection on the third days very unlikely.  Even if the evidence for a predicted resurrection is extremely weak, it is interesting to see a Jewish person associating messianic expectation with Gabriel.  There may be some significance to this find in its connection of Gabriel with the Messiah (not necessarily to Christian belief, but to studies of Jewish expectations).

 

Those who claim that this is indeed a story of a messianic resurrection after three days fall into two camps as to what this implies.  Some say that this is a reflection of Jewish messianic expectation which is in line both with what Jesus did and with earlier Old Testament statements about the Messiah, making the idea that Jesus fulfilled Jewish messianic expectations more credible.  Others say that this is evidence that the gospel writers may have borrowed the idea of the resurrection, not from historical fact, but from Jewish ideas which were already around at that time.

 

Let me give my response to this controversy.

 

First of all, there is no evidence at all that this document represents a significant view of Jews as a whole at the time of Jesus.  We simply do not have enough information from the time to support the idea that this is more than just the reflection of a single relatively insignificant opinion.  The idea that the gospel writers were influenced by this document seems a wild speculation.  

 

Second, that this document is messianic seems fairly clear, but what it is saying about the Messiah is garbled and very unclear.  For this reason, any conclusion about its meaning–never mind its significance should be correspondingly quite tentative.  To conclude that this is proof of an expectation of resurrection on the third day is to grossly overstate the case.

 

Third, Christian apologists should be very hesitant to put this document out there as evidence in support of the gospel accounts.  I believe that the Old Testament documents themselves are vastly more useful than this rather obscure and difficult to read (never mind interpret) document at telling us what the Jews expected or should have expected with regard to the resurrection of Jesus.  The story of Jonah (Matthew 12:38-42) and the fact of Abraham receiving his son back from the dead on the third day (Hebrews 11:17-19) seem to be a far better indication of resurrection of the Messiah on the third day than this rather obscure document by an unknown author.

 

Fourth, the idea that this document might lend support to the claim that the resurrection of Jesus was a Christian invention if simply ludicrous.  Which is more likely–that the apostles actually believed Jesus was raised from the dead, or that they stole the idea from this document or from others who thought like its author and invented the story out of nothing?  I think we can say that for anyone who makes this conclusion we learn more about that person than about the believability of the New Testament accounts.

 

Fifth, having said all that, I do feel that this document is not completely without significance.  Despite what I said about the greater importance of the Old Testament with regard to messianic prophecy and understanding Jesus, this document is in fact from the time fairly near when Jesus lived and the gospels were written.  For this reason, I do feel it can shed some light on Jewish thinking about the Messiah at that time.  Scholars will want to spend significant time trying to narrow down possibilities about the meaning of the text and continuing to find sufficient connections to other materials in an attempt to discover what line of contemporary Jewish thinking it might represent.  However I do not think this particular document will be viewed in the long run as being one of our major finds.  Once the dust settles and people move on to other things, the Gabriel Inscription will be a fairly minor blip on the radar screen.

 

John Oakes

 




What do you think?