Israel Knohl (photo), a professor of biblical studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, claimed that an ancient tablet shows that, before Jesus’s birth, the idea of the resurrection of a messiah after three days, was part of Jewish tradition.
Questions are raised by his reading of the Hebrew text, concerning when the concept of a resurrected messiah first emerged.
As there are still questions about the tablet’s precise origins, some scholars doubt its authenticity.
Known as Gabriel’s Vision of Revelations, the tablet is believed to date from the first century BC, and to have originated from the Jordanian, east bank of the Dead Sea.
The tablet is a metre (three feet) tall, with 87 lines of Hebrew in two columns. Discovered 10 years ago, now it belongs to David Jeselsohn, a collector who lives in Zurich and acquired it in Jordan.
Rather than being engraved, the text is written onto the tablet, which is unusual. Besides, on the tablet, some letters and entire words are illegible.
‘The missing link’
His interpretation of the Hebrew text could “overturn the vision we have of the historic personality of Jesus”, argues Israel Knohl.
“This text could be the missing link between Judaism and Christianity in so far as it roots the Christian belief in the resurrection of the Messiah in Jewish tradition”, he told the AFP news agency.
In Professor Knohl’s interpretation, the key line of the text quotes the Archangel Gabriel telling a “Prince of Princes” that “In three days you shall live: I Gabriel command you.”
Other lines on the tablet refer to blood and slaughter as ways to achieve righteousness, which Professor Knohl places in the context of a Jewish revolt against the Romans.
The tablet refers specifically to the resurrection of a Jewish leader at the time, he argues.
But with much of the text missing, the professor’s theory is challenged, and debate on the overall meaning of the text on the tablet rages.
Ada Yardeni, a specialist in ancient languages at the Hebrew University, has studied the tablet in question and disagrees with Professor Knohl’s conclusions, though she acknowledges that the key word in the quotation could mean “live”, despite being spelt unusually.