You hear about these kinds of things every now and then. I’m blogging on an article I saw today on a tablet they are calling “Gabriel’s Revelation.” Here it is.
This is the first that I’ve heard of this tablet and haven’t seen the text allegedly inscribed on it. I only have what is in the article, so I’m going tread lightly on the stone’s implications as evidence for or against Christianity. What I found really interesting was the glimpse into the scholarly community and its approach to research into the Historical Jesus. Let me just issue some running commentary.
Let’s start with the first paragraph.
A three-foot-tall tablet with 87 lines of Hebrew that scholars believe dates from the decades just before the birth of Jesus is causing a quiet stir in biblical and archaeological circles, especially because it may speak of a messiah who will rise from the dead after three days.
A nice opening paragraph. Too bad the whole rest of the article softens this considerably. In the first place, the article goes on to say only that they are confident that the tablet dates to the first century. The sole justification for placing it ‘decades just before the birth of Jesus’ is analysis of the style of the text. And the whole business about rising from the dead after three days turns out to be the pet view of what one scholar thinks the hard to read words should be construed.
Here we have an example of a provocative opening that is basically false, but you only know that if you read on, and how many people will read on? Give it time and this will be leading the news and trumpets will be blaring that Jesus’ resurrection was just borrowed Jewish mythology, one more reason it can’t be true! A month later after all the truth comes out, you won’t hear about it on the news, leaving hundreds of thousands witih the impression that the tablet means just as it was first presented.
Still, its authenticity has so far faced no challenge,
Of course not. That’s because no one has decided that the tablet in any way is evidence for Christianity or for the existence of Jesus. As soon as that happens, it will be ruled a fraud. A good example of that sort of thing happening is the James ossuary. Things like the so called Gospel of Judas and the ‘Lost Tomb of Jesus‘ face no ‘challenge’ because anything that undermines Christianity is accepted willy nilly but anything that supports Christianity is subjected to the most excruciating set of standards it isn’t silly. Of course, it will be pointed out that the Gospel of Judas and the Lost Tomb were challenged- by Christian scholars. But skeptics are not convinced- what else would Christian scholars say? See how it works? Christian scholars cannot be trusted. Secular ones can.
“Some Christians will find it shocking — a challenge to the uniqueness of their theology — while others will be comforted by the idea of it being a traditional part of Judaism,” Boyarin said.
Nonsense. Assuming it says exactly what they say it says, I don’t think it is controversial in the slightest. Any investigator worth their salt knows full well what the messianic fervor of the period was like. And even if some stone says that the Messiah would die and rise, the remaining question is whether it actually happened, not whether it was a unique idea. The article offers no hints about whether or not the tablet, if as described, would strengthen or weaken the evidence for such an event actually happening. One wonders why.
Given the highly charged atmosphere surrounding all Jesus-era artifacts and writings, both in the general public and in the fractured and fiercely competitive scholarly community,
Aha. We begin to see the picture. Competition. And you thought academia was about the search for truth.
Knohl posited in a book published in 2000 the idea of a suffering messiah before Jesus, using a variety of rabbinic and early apocalyptic literature as well as the Dead Sea Scrolls. But his theory did not shake the world of Christology as he had hoped,
Do the pieces begin to fall into place? Is the man interested in learning the truth or ‘shaking the world of Christology’?
I could go on for awhile but who wants that? Basically, this news story highlights some really serious problems in academia right now. There is too much show boating and not enough genuine curiosity about what is true. What catches the news is what is ‘new’ and ‘innovative.’ In the ‘world of Christology’ nothing could be more boring than more evidence that Christianity is actually true. What puts the bread on the table and the name in the news is one more reason why Christianity can’t possibly be true. When the itching ears have been satisfied, more cautious voices look the matter over, sifting it all out, and usually Christianity stands just as strong as it always did. But no reporters are around to announce when that happens.
Maybe the problem isn’t the scholars or the news community, but we the people. If we didn’t fuel this cycle… well, I’m sure there is blame enough to go around.
I hope while we wait for this tablet to get ‘sifted’ that people withhold their judgment and then have the fortitude to keep abreast of the research on it, even if, sadly, it ends up being evidence that Christianity is true after all.