This article, discussing the inscription “Gabriel’s Revelation,” was originally published on Dr. James Tabor’s popular Taborblog, a site that discusses and reports on “‘All things biblical’ from the Hebrew Bible to Early Christianity in the Roman World and Beyond.” Bible History Daily republished the article with consent of the author. Visit Taborblog today, or scroll down to read a brief bio of James Tabor below.
Many of my regular blog readers know all about the so-called “Gabriel stone” and its intriguing references, as argued by Prof. Israel Knohl, to raising a corpse “after three days.” I have several blog posts dealing with this topic that you can access here: “Suffering Messiahs and Resurrection after Three Days.”
The stone itself is currently on display in Jerusalem at the Israel Museum:
JERUSALEM (AP) — An ancient limestone tablet covered with a mysterious Hebrew text that features the archangel Gabriel is at the center of a new exhibit in Jerusalem, even as scholars continue to argue about what it means.
The so-called Gabriel Stone, a meter (three-foot)-tall tablet said to have been found 13 years ago on the banks of the Dead Sea, features 87 lines of an unknown prophetic text dated as early as the first century BC, at the time of the Second Jewish Temple.
Scholars see it as a portal into the religious ideas circulating in the Holy Land in the era when was Jesus was born. Its form is also unique — it is ink written on stone, not carved — and no other such religious text has been found in the region.
Curators at the Israel Museum, where the first exhibit dedicated to the stone is opening Wednesday, say it is the most important document found in the area since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
What is not so well known is that Professor Knohl has changed his mind about the transliteration, and thus the translation, of the key line 80 in the text that he had previously argued talked about resurrection of the dead after three days:
By three days–live, I Gabriel command you, prince of princes, the dung of rocky crevices.”
In a paper given at a 2009 conference at Rice University on the Gabriel Stone, now published in the conference volume as, “The Apocalyptic Dimensions of the Gabriel Revelation in Their Historical Context,” Knohl says he was mistaken in his original reading. Knohl still maintains that the text was “composed shortly after 4 B.C.E.” by “followers of the messianic leader Simon, who was killed in Transjordan in 4 B.C.E.,” which is where the stone was probably found. He continues to see it as an example of what he calls “catastrophic messianism” where a slain Messiah gives a new/holy covenant to Israel. What he now doubts is that the text speaks of “making the dead live after three days.” Following the readings of Yardeni and Elizur he accepts as the translation for line 80:
In three days the sign will be (given). I am Gabriel
The critical word that Knohl once read as a verb, “to make live” (חאיה) now is read as the noun “sign” (האות). On the whole, however, his overall interpretation is the same and if he is correct the text continues to have great significance for our understanding of “messianism” among late 2nd Temple Jewish groups.
Though I greatly respect Knohl’s integrity in so freely changing his mind I am not convinced that this alternative reading is necessarily correct. Unfortunately the text is faded at this point, and even after subjecting it to a battery of scientific tests designed to enhance its clarity, it may be that we will never know with certainty how it should be read.