A respected Israeli scholar and professor at Hebrew University is making an intriguing and compelling case that it is a distinctly Jewish notion to expect the Messiah to come, die as a “suffering servant” as an atonement for sins and the redemption of Israel, and then to rise from the dead on the third day. Based on his many years of research, and fairly recently analyzed archaeological evidence — including a previously unstudied Dead Sea Scroll — the scholar is also arguing that this notion of the Messiah rising on the third day is a pre-Christian concept that dates back to before the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem Ephratah. The case made by Dr. Israel Knohl has attracted significant attention, including a major article in the New York Times and several articles in Biblical Archaeology Review — see here, and here, and here.
The Times story, which ran under the headline, Ancient Tablet Ignites Debate on Messiah and Resurrection, begins as follows: “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. If such a messianic description really is there, it will contribute to a developing re-evaluation of both popular and scholarly views of Jesus, since it suggests that the story of his death and resurrection was not unique but part of a recognized Jewish tradition at the time. The tablet, probably found near the Dead Sea in Jordan according to some scholars who have studied it, is a rare example of a stone with ink writings from that era — in essence, a Dead Sea Scroll on stone.” The tablet has been named by scholars as “Gabriel’s Revelation” because it suggests that the angel Gabriel was instructed by God to direct that the Messiah be raised from the dead on the third day.
Admittedly, this isn’t news. The stone tablet was discovered about fifteen years ago and is owned by a Israeli-Swiss Jewish man by the name of David Jeselsohn who didn’t understand its significance when he purchased it. The Times article was published in 2008. Dr. Knohl then published a book about all this in 2009 entitled, Messiahs and Resurrection in “The Gabriel Revelation.” That was a follow up to his previous book, The Messiah Before Jesus: The Suffering Servant of the Dead Sea Scrolls (first published in Hebrew in 2000 and then in English in 2002). In the book, Dr. Knohl explains the various Jewish theories about the Messiah, including the idea of a “Messiah son of David” who will be a reigning king on the earth like King David was, and a “Messiah son of Joseph” who will be rejected by his brothers, mistreated, left for dead but will eventually reappear and save not only the nation of Israel but the world like Joseph did in the book of Genesis.
Why do I bring it up now? Because it absolutely fascinates me. I was intrigued with the various stories when they were first published. But in recent days — in part because of Passover and Easter — I began sharing all this with our four sons. Together, we’ve been studying the book of I Corinthians together each morning before school. Last week we just happened to begin studying I Corinithians 15:1-5, which reads, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you,unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve [apostles]. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time….” We studied how the Hebrew Scriptures speak of the Messiah suffering and dying to atone for our sins and how we see these ancient prophecies described in Isaiah 53, in Daniel 9:26 (which says the Messiah will come for atonement, then be “cut off,” and afterwards Jerusalem and the Temple will be destroyed), and Psalm 22. We also looked carefully at the Gospel accounts to show how Jesus remarkably fulfilled each of these prophecies.
This morning over breakfast, I read excerpts of the Times story to Lynn and the boys, and we discussed why many Jewish people think the idea of a suffering Messiah who dies and rises again on the third day is a Christian idea, when really it is a Jewish idea, as explained with such intriguing research by Dr. Knohl. Unfortunately, I’ve never read Dr. Knohl’s books, only excerpts, but since today is my birthday we’ve ordered both and are eager to read them when they arrive. I’d encourage you to read them, too, or at least to read the articles that I’ve linked here on the blog.
Even more importantly I would ask you to consider today: What if the Gospel story is true ? What if Jesus not only died for our sins but was buried and raised from the dead on the third day, according to the ancient prophecies? Why should that matter? How should you respond? May the Lord bless you as your process these critical questions. (Please click here for a simple, concise summary of the Gospel message, and a clear explanation of how best to respond.)