Jul 5, 2008

NY Times: Tablet Ignites Debate on Messiah and Resurrection

The NY Times has an article on a recently discovered tablet. I have reproduced the article below. In light of the recent controversy and disputes over archaeological findings, caution is probably in order.

JERUSALEM — 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.

It is written, not engraved, across two neat columns, similar to columns in a Torah. But the stone is broken, and some of the text is faded, meaning that much of what it says is open to debate.

Still, its authenticity has so far faced no challenge, so its role in helping to understand the roots of Christianity in the devastating political crisis faced by the Jews of the time seems likely to increase.

Daniel Boyarin, a professor of Talmudic culture at the University of California at Berkeley, said that the stone was part of a growing body of evidence suggesting that Jesus could be best understood through a close reading of the Jewish history of his day.

“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,” Mr. Boyarin said.

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, as well as the concern over forgery and charlatanism, it will probably be some time before the tablet’s contribution is fully assessed. It has been around 60 years since the Dead Sea Scrolls were uncovered, and they continue to generate enormous controversy regarding their authors and meaning.

The scrolls, documents found in the Qumran caves of the West Bank, contain some of the only known surviving copies of biblical writings from before the first century A.D. In addition to quoting from key books of the Bible, the scrolls describe a variety of practices and beliefs of a Jewish sect at the time of Jesus.

How representative the descriptions are and what they tell us about the era are still strongly debated. For example, a question that arises is whether the authors of the scrolls were members of a monastic sect or in fact mainstream. A conference marking 60 years since the discovery of the scrolls will begin on Sunday at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, where the stone, and the debate over whether it speaks of a resurrected messiah, as one iconoclastic scholar believes, also will be discussed.

Oddly, the stone is not really a new discovery. It was found about a decade ago and bought from a Jordanian antiquities dealer by an Israeli-Swiss collector who kept it in his Zurich home. When an Israeli scholar examined it closely a few years ago and wrote a paper on it last year, interest began to rise. There is now a spate of scholarly articles on the stone, with several due to be published in the coming months.

“I couldn’t make much out of it when I got it,” said David Jeselsohn, the owner, who is himself an expert in antiquities. “I didn’t realize how significant it was until I showed it to Ada Yardeni, who specializes in Hebrew writing, a few years ago. She was overwhelmed. ‘You have got a Dead Sea Scroll on stone,’ she told me.”

Much of the text, a vision of the apocalypse transmitted by the angel Gabriel, draws on the Old Testament, especially the prophets Daniel, Zechariah and Haggai.

Ms. Yardeni, who analyzed the stone along with Binyamin Elitzur, is an expert on Hebrew script, especially of the era of King Herod, who died in 4 B.C. The two of them published a long analysis of the stone more than a year ago in Cathedra, a Hebrew-language quarterly devoted to the history and archaeology of Israel, and said that, based on the shape of the script and the language, the text dated from the late first century B.C.

A chemical examination by Yuval Goren, a professor of archaeology at Tel Aviv University who specializes in the verification of ancient artifacts, has been submitted to a peer-review journal. He declined to give details of his analysis until publication, but he said that he knew of no reason to doubt the stone’s authenticity.

It was in Cathedra that Israel Knohl, an iconoclastic professor of Bible studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, first heard of the stone, which Ms. Yardeni and Mr. Elitzur dubbed “Gabriel’s Revelation,” also the title of their article. Mr. 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, partly because he had no textual evidence from before Jesus.

When he read “Gabriel’s Revelation,” he said, he believed he saw what he needed to solidify his thesis, and he has published his argument in the latest issue of The Journal of Religion.

Mr. Knohl is part of a larger scholarly movement that focuses on the political atmosphere in Jesus’ day as an important explanation of that era’s messianic spirit. As he notes, after the death of Herod, Jewish rebels sought to throw off the yoke of the Rome-supported monarchy, so the rise of a major Jewish independence fighter could take on messianic overtones.

In Mr. Knohl’s interpretation, the specific messianic figure embodied on the stone could be a man named Simon who was slain by a commander in the Herodian army, according to the first-century historian Josephus. The writers of the stone’s passages were probably Simon’s followers, Mr. Knohl contends.

The slaying of Simon, or any case of the suffering messiah, is seen as a necessary step toward national salvation, he says, pointing to lines 19 through 21 of the tablet — “In three days you will know that evil will be defeated by justice” — and other lines that speak of blood and slaughter as pathways to justice.

To make his case about the importance of the stone, Mr. Knohl focuses especially on line 80, which begins clearly with the words “L’shloshet yamin,” meaning “in three days.” The next word of the line was deemed partially illegible by Ms. Yardeni and Mr. Elitzur, but Mr. Knohl, who is an expert on the language of the Bible and Talmud, says the word is “hayeh,” or “live” in the imperative. It has an unusual spelling, but it is one in keeping with the era.

Two more hard-to-read words come later, and Mr. Knohl said he believed that he had deciphered them as well, so that the line reads, “In three days you shall live, I, Gabriel, command you.”

To whom is the archangel speaking? The next line says “Sar hasarin,” or prince of princes. Since the Book of Daniel, one of the primary sources for the Gabriel text, speaks of Gabriel and of “a prince of princes,” Mr. Knohl contends that the stone’s writings are about the death of a leader of the Jews who will be resurrected in three days.

He says further that such a suffering messiah is very different from the traditional Jewish image of the messiah as a triumphal, powerful descendant of King David.

“This should shake our basic view of Christianity,” he said as he sat in his office of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem where he is a senior fellow in addition to being the Yehezkel Kaufman Professor of Biblical Studies at Hebrew University. “Resurrection after three days becomes a motif developed before Jesus, which runs contrary to nearly all scholarship. What happens in the New Testament was adopted by Jesus and his followers based on an earlier messiah story.”

Ms. Yardeni said she was impressed with the reading and considered it indeed likely that the key illegible word was “hayeh,” or “live.” Whether that means Simon is the messiah under discussion, she is less sure.

Moshe Bar-Asher, president of the Israeli Academy of Hebrew Language and emeritus professor of Hebrew and Aramaic at the Hebrew University, said he spent a long time studying the text and considered it authentic, dating from no later than the first century B.C. His 25-page paper on the stone will be published in the coming months.

Regarding Mr. Knohl’s thesis, Mr. Bar-Asher is also respectful but cautious. “There is one problem,” he said. “In crucial places of the text there is lack of text. I understand Knohl’s tendency to find there keys to the pre-Christian period, but in two to three crucial lines of text there are a lot of missing words.”

Moshe Idel, a professor of Jewish thought at Hebrew University, said that given the way every tiny fragment from that era yielded scores of articles and books, “Gabriel’s Revelation” and Mr. Knohl’s analysis deserved serious attention. “Here we have a real stone with a real text,” he said. “This is truly significant.”

Mr. Knohl said that it was less important whether Simon was the messiah of the stone than the fact that it strongly suggested that a savior who died and rose after three days was an established concept at the time of Jesus. He notes that in the Gospels, Jesus makes numerous predictions of his suffering and New Testament scholars say such predictions must have been written in by later followers because there was no such idea present in his day.

But there was, he said, and “Gabriel’s Revelation” shows it.

“His mission is that he has to be put to death by the Romans to suffer so his blood will be the sign for redemption to come,” Mr. Knohl said. “This is the sign of the son of Joseph. This is the conscious view of Jesus himself. This gives the Last Supper an absolutely different meaning. To shed blood is not for the sins of people but to bring redemption to Israel.”

Journaling Helping Preaching

Matt has an interesting post on how he believes that journaling is helping his preaching. In this technological age it is interesting to see that some people still write things down. Matt’s main points are

1. I begin reading the text from which I shall preach devotionally.
2. I think better with pen and paper than I do in front of a computer.
3. It’s portable.
4. It actually helps my penmanship.
5. It leaves a legacy.

Read the entire post here.

John Stackhouse: Thinking about a Ph.D.

Dr. John Stackhouse, Sangwoo Youtong Chee Professor of Theology and Culture at Regent College has a helpful series of questions and advice for those who are thinking about doing a Ph.D. You can give it a read

R.C.Sproul Changes his Mind on the Days of Creation

See this article on R.C. Sproul's recent shift in position. According to the article,

A noted evangelical, R C Sproul, has announced a conversion from having previously accepted the theory of evolution as valid science. He now accepts both the Biblical and scientific evidence that the world was created in 6 literal 24-hour days and possibly as recently as around 6,000 years ago.

Jul 4, 2008

Book Reviews

A blogger recently asked about how one goes about writing book reviews. Although I am not an expert on the matter, having only written around six ( I don't remember exactly) reviews myself, I suggested that a book review basically has four major components.

1. Introduction. Here you introduce the author and sometimes the topic addressed in the book. If you are reviewing a commentary, the topic is self evident. But if you are reviewing a book addressing a topic such as the new perspective on Paul then a brief introduction might be appropriate.

2. Summary. Here you summarize the organization and contents of the book.

3. Evaluation. This is where you interact with the material of the book. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the work?

4. Recommendation. Do you recommend that that the reader of your review read/purchase this book? In your recommendation you might also note who you think might most profit from the book (laymen, theological students, scholars, pastors, etc.).

I usually keep these four categories in mind when I am reading the book.

By the way, I am currently working on a review of a recent Acts commentary.

Jul 3, 2008

Priestly Clothes Being Created by the Temple Institute`

See this article at the Jerusalem Post. According to the article,

On Monday, the Temple Institute started preparing to build a Third Temple on Jerusalem's Mount Moriah, the site of the Dome of the Rock and the Aksa mosque, by inaugurating a workshop that manufactures priestly garments.

Top Five Commentaries on Numbers

Ligonier Ministries has a
list and discussion of their top five commentaries on Numbers. I would not rank Wenham as high and Levine's work in the Anchor series ought to be in the top five. To the runners up I would add Ronald Allen's work in the the Expositor's series (recently revised). In any case, the top five they have listed are:

1. Gordon Wenham -- Numbers (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, 1981).
2. Timothy R. Ashley -- The Book of Numbers (The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, 1993).
3. R. Dennis Cole -- Numbers (The New American Commentary, 2000).
4. Jacob Milgrom -- Numbers (The JPS Torah Commentary, 1990).
5. Iain M. Duguid -- Numbers (Preaching the Word, 2006).

Jul 2, 2008

Getting Lost in Jerusalem

Mark Hoffman at the Biblical Studies and Technological Tools
blog has a nice write-up on The Getting Lost in Jerusalem program. This program is being offered free by its creator Ted Hildebrandt at his website. See Mark's helpful description and information before downloading the free program here.

Deuteronomy 30:1-10 and the Land Promises to Israel

Matt Waymeyer has a nice follow up to his previous
post on Joshua 21:43-45 and the fulfillment (or not) of the Abrahamic promise of land. In particular, Matt is addressing the view that the return from Babylonian exile might constitute a fulfillment of the restoration promises and land promises, e.g., Deuteronomy 30:1-10. He offers ten reasons why this view ought to be rejected. You can read it here.

Latest Issue of Review of Biblical Literature

The latest issue of the Review of Biblical Literature is out. Reviews that may be of interest to those interested in Bible exposition include:

Paul N. Anderson, Felix Just, S.J., and Tom Thatcher, eds.
John, Jesus, and History: Volume 1, Critical Appraisals of Critical Views
Reviewed by Mark A. Matson

Carol Bakhos, ed.
Current Trends in the Study of Midrash
Reviewed by Siam Bhayro

David Catchpole
Jesus People: The Historical Jesus and the Beginnings of Community
Reviewed by Paul Foster

John Granger Cook
The Interpretation of the Old Testament in Greco-Roman Paganism
Reviewed by David Lincicum

Brad E. Kelle
Ancient Israel at War 853-586 BC
Reviewed by T. M. Lemos

Thomas J. Kraus
Ad fontes: Original Manuscripts and Their Significance for Studying Early Christianity: Selected Essays
Reviewed by Christopher Tuckett

Amy-Jill Levine, ed., with Maria Mayo Robbins
A Feminist Companion to the New Testament Apocrypha
Reviewed by Heike Omerzu

Yuzuru Miura
David in Luke-Acts: His Portrayal in the Light of Early Judaism
Reviewed by Steven Cox

Stephen W. Need
The Gospels Today: Challenging Readings of John, Mark, Luke and Matthew
Reviewed by Peter J. Judge

Birger A. Pearson
Ancient Gnosticism: Traditions and Literature
Reviewed by Philip L. Tite

Richard D. Phillips
Reviewed by Knut Backhaus

Brant Pitre
Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile: Restoration Eschatology and the Origin of the Atonement
Reviewed by John A. Dennis

Laurence M. Vance
Guide to Prepositions in the Greek New Testament
Reviewed by Paul Elbert

Robby Waddell
The Spirit of the Book of Revelation
Reviewed by Jan A. du Rand

Mark Wilson
Charts on the Book of Revelation: Literary, Historical, and Theological Perspectives
Reviewed by Jan G. van der Watt

Magnus Zetterholm, ed.
The Messiah in Early Judaism and Christianity
Reviewed by James H. Charlesworth

Jul 1, 2008

Sovereign Grace in Proverbs?

Dan Phillips has an interesting post on sovereign grace in Proverbs, in particular Proverbs 20:12. You can read it

Joshua 21:43-45 and the Promise of Land

Matt Waymeyer has a nice
post on Joshua 21:43-45 and the fulfillment (or not) of the Abrahamic promise of land.

Jun 30, 2008

Peter Flint on the Dead Sea Scrolls

Shaun Tabatt has brought attention to a lecture by Peter Flint in the Logos Lecture Series entitled
The Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament. Flint is a knowledgeable, engaging, and entertaining speaker. Listen to it here.

Piper on Providence

John Piper has a helpful reminder here on the advantages of believing in God's providence.

Jun 29, 2008

Favorite New Testament Books to Preach

I was looking through my files recently and came across this survey from Sermon Central dated November 2006. Preachers were asked their favorite New Testament books to preach. Here is the top five according to the survey.

1. Ephesians (16.8%)
2. John (12.2%)
3. Philippians and James (both at 10.7%)
4. Romans (9.2%)
5. Mark and Hebrews (both at 6.1%)

Do you have a favorite?