Saturday, July 05, 2008

The Death and Resurrection of Messiah--- written in stone.

Dominic Buettner for The New York Times

Why is that man above smiling? David Jeselsohn bought an ancient tablet, above, but he was totally unaware of its significance. Now it may be the earliest Jewish evidence for the idea of a dying and rising messiah figure

There just isn't enough controversy in Israel these days about Jesus, his death, burial and his resurrection. So, adding a little fuel to the fire is the revelation that comes from the finding of a substantial inscribed stone, probably dating to the first century B.C. that may refer to the death and resurrection of some sort of messiah figure. Here is the link to the NY Times which Bill Barnwell has kindly reminded me of, as I seem to have missed it.

I take quite seriously the authenticity of this stone, since Ada Yardeni has weighed in on it, and found it genuine. So let us suppose it is genuine-- let's ask the question, So what?

If you read the article you will discover that one eclectic Jewish scholar is now suggesting that the Christians got the idea from this stone or its source, and then predicated the idea of Jesus. It would be just as simple to argue that Jesus knew of this idea, and predicated of himself. What this stone then would show is that there was in early Judaism some concept of a suffering messiah whom God might vindicate by resurrection before the time of Jesus.

This is not entirely surprising in view of Isaiah 53 in any case. But the real implication of this for Jesus' studies should not be missed. Most radical Jesus scholars have argued that the passion and resurrection predictions by Jesus found in the Gospels were not actually made by Jesus-- they reflect the later notions and theologizing of the Evangelists.

But now, if this stone is genuine there is no reason to argue this way. One can show that Jesus, just as well as the author of this stone, could have spoken about a dying and rising messiah. There is in any case a reference to a messiah who dies in the late first century A.D. document called 4 Ezra.

Long story short-- this stone certainly does not demonstrate that the Gospel passion stories are created on the basis of this stone text, which appears to be a Dead Sea text. For one thing the text is hard to read at crucial junctures, and it is not absolutely clear it is talking about a risen messiah. BUT what it does do is make plausible that Jesus could have said some of the things credited to him in Mk. 8.31, 9,31, and 10.33-34. I will have more to say about the relevance of early Jewish material for the study of the historical Jesus shortly, in a lengthy review of David Flusser's final and interesting Jesus book The Sage from Galilee.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

This does not necessarily prove anything unless you are specifically trying to "prove" that Jesus rose from the dead in bodily form and thus, defending the evangelical understanding of bodily resurrection...which Paul underwrote. Jesus context was the "temple's" destruction...and he was speaking in symbolic form,I believe...and it has been interpreted differently depending on one's atonement...and definition of "temple"...
Evangelicals try to prove the uniqueness of Christian faith by such measures, but I find it "difficult to defend" in our scientific understandings...

phil said...

The article discussed the stone mentioning a messiah that will die and rise again 3 days later; it also mentioned that the stone dated pre-Jesus. However, I thought the understanding of resurrection in the pre-Jesus Jewish mind (those who believed in resurrection) was a “one-day” event when all will rise. And that the understanding of resurrection wouldn’t have changed until Jesus’ appearances. Can you shed some light on this for me?

Neil Parille said...

The first time I heard of Knohl was yesterday (funny how that happens!) when I read Joseph Fitzmyer's book The One Who Is To Come. He gives his book a well-deserved thrashing (at least that's how it appeared to a non-expert such as myself).

Recently, I read Fitzmyer's Responses to 101 Questions on the Dead Sea Scrolls and he draws attention to a number of dubious early readings of the Dead Sea Scrolls (crucified messiahs and the like).

Roger said...

I'm curious what you make of the end of that article, that the view of Jesus himself was that his death was not to die for sins but for the redemption of Israel. How is he arriving at that conclusion?

James Pate said...

What will this do to N.T. Wright's argument about the resurrection? His whole premise is that people in first century Judaism didn't expect a Messiah who would die and rise again. So he thinks the early Christians got the idea from it actually happening.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Angie: The problem for your theory is that bodily resurrection was the only sort of resurrection early Jews talked about. It was never a metaphor for some spiritual experience. As for what this will do for Tom Wright's views, it might cause a certain revision but nothing much. I tend to look at these things in terms of God's providence. He was preparing that whole people and social context for what would happen to Jesus, and so when it did, they would at least understand it. When the Scriptures say "and when the time fully came, God sent forth his Son..." it makes very clear that God knows when the due season and where the apropos place is for things to happen.

As for the comment of Prof. Kohl about the death being not for atonement for sin but for the redemption of Israel, these are hardly mutually exclusive ideas, and indeed we already have the idea of a martyrs death atoning for sins in 2 Maccabees.


Ben W.

Kyle said...

Dr. Witherington,
(Sorry in advance for the length of this comment)

Here's my problem, and its bothered me since first reading about this a few weeks back on Jim West's blog:

If this text is 1st century BC, and if we assume (which is a stretch) what Knohl says "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," then doesn't it radically change one of the strongest historical arguments for the resurrection?

In "The Resurrection of the Son of God" I find Wright's most compelling argument to be the uniqueness of Jesus' resurrection (as an individual resurrection ahead of the great resurrection) to be one of his best arguments. If this shows that there was an established idea of an individual resurrecting ahead of the great resurrection, then doesn't that defeat Wright's argument?

I guess it does make more historical sense of some of Jesus' predictions concerning his death, but it still seems that this tablet does more to serve as a historical reason for critics to say the early church made up the resurrection so that it would fit his personal claims to be the messiah of the Gabriel stone.

Of course, that also begs the question how much influence an apocalyptic, relatively new, Essene text would have had on Jesus at the start of the 1st century CE.

Ben Witherington said...

The simply answer to your question Kyle is no. It is one thing to have an idea or a concept. Quite another for it to happen in reality. The thought cannot be the father to the event! You need to be able to make a distinction here. For example, suppose I had a conception that the moon was made of green cheese. Would my thinking this turn the moon into green cheese? Of course not. Now if I went to the moon and discovered it was made out of green cheese, then I could say-- I foresaw this, or thought this might be the case. But even if there was this correspondence between my thought and the reality, it was not my thought which made the reality what it was.

Jesus' resurrection is indeed unique in all of history. And its uniqueness is in no way added to or subtracted from by whether someone thought of this in advance of it happening or not.


Ben W.

phil said...

Would this “messiah resurrection” understanding have been widely assumed in all Judaism, or just to a particular community; or is there just no way of knowing? I ask because in scripture, it appears no one was familiar with this belief, because no one understood and could not believe it when Jesus did resurrect.

Derek Gilbert said...

Angie van de Merwe wrote: "Evangelicals try to prove the uniqueness of Christian faith by such measures (the bodily resurrection of Jesus), but I find it "difficult to defend" in our scientific understandings..."

Angie: If we could understand the workings of God through science, that would make us gods, would it not?

Peter and John also made it very clear that they saw the risen Christ with their own eyes, and the very first sermon of the Christian era (Peter's, in Acts 2) was all about the resurrected Jesus, not a symbol, metaphor, analogy, myth, legend, or fairy tale.

I sure don't understand it, but the eyewitness testimony of those who were there (especially that of James, who was martyred in A.D. 62; I mean, I love my sister but you won't find me ready to die claiming that she's God incarnate) is compelling.

John Fraser said...

Hello Dr. Witherington!

You will (I hope) recall me as a former student of yours at Asbury. I've been reading some of your books (not enough free time to read them all!), and your blog for a couple of months now. I just today saw a story on this stone, and thought I'd check your blog to see if you had anything to say about it. You did not disappoint!

I had several immediate thoughts regarding the article. First, the evidence is admittedly incomplete, with several lacunae at key points in the text. Sensationalism seems to again be taking priority over scholarship here as has been the case with so much of recent Jesus scholarship.

Secondly, even if (the big "if") the idea of a Messiah rising from the dead after three days was inscribed on this stone before Jesus' time, surely the idea couldn't have been very widespread or popular at the time or there would be more evidence for it, would there not? This stone appears to be the only textual evidence found to date of such a belief existing before Christ, and given the condition of the text on the stone, it's not even conclusive. So this seems to be quite overblown (big surprise). It hardly lends credibility to the idea that the disciples manufactured the Resurrection to conform to this idea (and stole the body, and invented the discovery of the empty tomb by women, and invented the post-Resurrection appearances, etc., etc.). It just seems highly implausible that they were such masterful authors of deception to pull that off, especially if the idea itself was not widespread, and there seems to be no other evidence of it in pre-Christian Jewish literature.

On the other hand, Jesus himself said in the Gospels that everything that was to happen to him was written in the Law and the Prophets. Somebody else might have figured it out in advance, just as some pagan astronomers figured out where and when the King of the Jews was born.

This stone seems to me to be like the Turin Shroud, in that people will see in it what they want to see. The evidence itself doesn't seem to compel one in any particular direction, unlike the evidence that we have in the text of the New Testament which DOES point to risen Savior who died for the sins of the world AND the redemption of Israel.

Oh, and I enjoy reading your blog and your books. Keep up the amazing work!

Kevin said...

Dr. Witherington,

I just got done reading "Can we trust the Gospels?" which was a good read and I felt more confident with my faith coming out of that back. I am currently in my own journey toward finding God and his existence. I have to be honest, reading this article really shook my faith.

One argument I've heard against Christianity quite a few times is that early Christians copied earlier "groups" (can't think of the proper word). Doesn't this article seem to confirm that?

In all reality shouldn't Christians be a little worried that the Jesus they have grown to love and worship could be a fake who tricked people into thinking he was the Messiah?

Please know I'm not knocking Christianity at all, I more than ever want to have the secure feeling of Jesus and God in my heart but sadly for me this seems to have had me take a step back.

Any reply is deeply appreciated.


DimBulb said...

I read through the story rather quickly so I may be wrong, but I don't recall any reference being made to a bodily resurrection. Given the muddled concepts of the afterlife among Jews of the time that cannot be without significance. Does "rise" necessarily mean bodily resurrection? Does it mean rise to old life, like Lazarus, or to new life?

Andrew C. Thompson said...

Dr. Witherington, I appreciate your commentary on this issue. As one who is related to contemporary biblical studies as a cousin rather than a son, I can find it frustrating to read all the 'in house' debates that occur whenever a significant archeological discovery is made. It oftentimes seems that the differing sides line up very quickly - particularly between those who want to argue that a specific discovery undermines Christian claims and those who want to argue that it undergirds the very same claims.

I know that many biblical scholars shy away from allowing theology to influence their conception of the historical study of scripture (as construed through textual criticism, archeology, etc.). But I do not understand how biblical scholarship can be done apart from one's confessional stance (even if that confessional stance is agnostic or even atheistic). What one believes God has revealed will influence how one reads the evidence, so to speak. And that is as true of atheists as it is of orthodox believers.

I, for one, am thankful for your skill in helping the 'rest of us' interpret developments in the field. And I am thankful for your role in guiding Methodist folk who are interested in new discoveries but need help in knowing how to interpret their significance.

dvd said...

Ben Witherington

Hi, could you comment on the passage in Hosea 6:2 and if it has any bearing? The passage reads:

--"He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day, That we may live before Him.--

I was wondering, if the Jews saw some of these passages as having "dual" applications? Another example is the prophecy where God called his firstborn out of Egypt, the passage is talking about Israel in context but has an additional application about Jesus, also the suffering servant etc.

Perhaps, they saw the raising up on the 3rd day to be about Both Israel and the Messiah?

michael said...

Since it is not stated explicitly in the TaNaKH that the Messiah was
going to rise again on the third day, yet Jesus and others said over
and over that he [i.e. Christ] would [or had...depending on which
side of the cross the statement was made] rise again on the third
day, as it was "written" in the "Scriptures" (E.g. Luk 24:46; Joh 20:9; 1Cor 15:4), this "messiah tablet" seems to vindicate an essentially Jewish hermeneutic for both Jesus and his early followers because, in the case of the tablet, Jews independent of Jesus Christ, and decades before his advent, appear to have concluded not only that the Messiah would rise from the dead, but that he would rise on the third day.

Shalom from Manila,
--Michael Millier

Ben Witherington said...

Two points. The reference in Hosea is clearly metaphorical, speaking of God chastising then restoring a person. The only really clear reference to a physical resurrection is in Dan. 12, though it is indirectly implied in Ezekiel, who is also talking about a spiritual restoration, and perhaps a return from Exile. The Saducees did not believe in bodily res. in Jesus' day, so there were a variety of views.

Again. it is not clear there is a reference to bodily res. on the stone, but we do know that the Qumranites believed in such an idea. What would be different here is a believe in an isolated res. of just one person.


zefiriel said...

"In all reality shouldn't Christians be a little worried that the Jesus they have grown to love and worship could be a fake who tricked people into thinking he was the Messiah?"

Then they should call into question of why they've come to love this so-called Messiah.

It's easy to be distracted by historical discoveries and rhetorical arguments. Not that they're not important, but the fact is, did we not grow to love this one that we call Lord because of the mornings and nights we experienced with Him?

And I thank God that He provided us with an assurance and a companion: the Holy Spirit. And this One made all the difference.

Did you come to believe in Christ only because you think the Bible is credible? I hope not, which is why I like this statement by the theological professors of the American Lutheran Church (The Bible: Book of Faith) that says, "we do not have faith in Jesus Christ because we believe in the Bible, but we trust in the Bible because the Holy Spirit has brought us to faith in Jesus Christ through the Bible."

What is the foundation of your faith? On which Rock is it founded upon?

James Pate said...

Kyle states: "In 'The Resurrection of the Son of God' I find Wright's most compelling argument to be the uniqueness of Jesus' resurrection (as an individual resurrection ahead of the great resurrection) to be one of his best arguments. If this shows that there was an established idea of an individual resurrecting ahead of the great resurrection, then doesn't that defeat Wright's argument?"

The thing is that the Gospels acknowledge belief in an individual resurrection ahead of a general one. People thought Jesus was John the Baptist or one of the prophets risen from the dead.

Ben Witherington said...

We would have no idea who it was we were experiencing or worshipping without the historical sources. These things cannot be radically separated in any historical religion which stands or falls on certain historical realities.


zefiriel said...

"We would have no idea who it was we were experiencing or worshipping without the historical sources. These things cannot be radically separated in any historical religion which stands or falls on certain historical realities."

Ah, but of course.

And often, what we know as history is being enriched/changed continually by new discoveries, and sometimes, by new interpretations.
There goes "history absolutism."

I don't deny that these are important, but can we be so obsessed with these historical "facts" that they become our idol?

What I said seems out of topic though. Heh.

Reformed Baptist said...


A few things about interpretation of events, and N.T. Wright:

1)If this is what Knohl says that it is, then maybe Wright is wrong in one area of his argument for the resurrection. So what? The other arguments for the Resurrection still stand.It does not, for instance, affect Wiliam Lane Craig's arguments for the Resurrection, or probably what Dr. Witherington would say on the subject. As other posters have pointed out Jesus tells the Jewish leadership time and again that scripture testifies to him, and that if they knew their Old Testament then they would understand his coming.

2) There is no such thing as a brute fact. Facts demand interpretation, and interpretation comes from one's presuppositions (most deeply held beliefs about the world). I come to this find and I think that it supports various things that we find in the New Testament, specifically, Jesus's sayings about resurrection. One would also have to assume methodological naturalism in order to find this troubling, and I do not believe that there is any good reason to believe in methodological naturalism.

3) Of course unbelievers will always dispute the resurrection, it is not something that can be fit into a either methodological naturalism, or metaphysical naturalism, because in either of these theories the Christian God is excluded apriori. So N.T. Wright's argument has never been found convincing to most non-christian biblical scholars, because the resurrection cannot happen in certain worldviews, the evidence must be explained in some other way, that accords with their presuppositions about how the world is. The naturalist will find it more reasonable that Jesus was a space alien, than the proposition that God raised him from the dead. Or in other words, " No God needs to apply."

In Christ,

The said...


"One argument I've heard against Christianity quite a few times is that early Christians copied earlier "groups" (can't think of the proper word). Doesn't this article seem to confirm that?"

The problem is, that accusation has always been paired with certain earlier groups - namely, ancient pagan. Even if this tablet does in fact make reference to a resurrection after three days, those objections really wouldn't apply since it's clear this is a belief within jewish thought itself. As (I think) BW3 says, what this tablet would do for Christianity is provide some confirmation that the idea of a messiah rising after three days was present in jewish thought, rather than some kind of post-Christ development by theologians.

Oddly, I think this tablet is more a boon to orthodox Christianity than anything else. It must be kept in mind that, no matter what evidence is found, there will always be a skeptical bend to it. If it was discovered that there were independent Roman reports of Christ rising, some would argue that that was further proof Christ's resurrection was part of a Roman conspiracy to divide the jews.

James Pate said...


You say that facts can be interpreted. Can there be different interpretations of the same fact? If so, how does an empty tomb prove Christianity (as many Christian apologists act like it does)? Can there be non-Christian ways to account for that?

DimBulb said...

Dr. Witherington,

have you read this article by Knohl on the subject? (PDF, 12 pages long)

DimBulb said...

Isn't it a bit problematic for Knohl that the stone itself doesn't speak about the death of the figure in question? he has to import that idea from other texts.

Also, given the fact that the OT uses resurrection imagery to speak about Israel's release from oppression suggest that the tablets reference to "rising" indicates victory over oppression/enemies, rather than a bodily resurrection?

Reformed Baptist said...


You say that facts can be interpreted. Can there be different interpretations of the same fact? If so, how does an empty tomb prove Christianity (as many Christian apologists act like it does)? Can there be non-Christian ways to account for that?"


Thanks for your questions and response. Facts do not come readily with their own interpretation pinned to them, it is the human minds job to make connections, make assumptions about how disparate facts connect.

I do believe that as far as an explanation goes, that the Christian arguments for the empty tomb are strong, but that is only because I believe in the Christian God, that he can raise the dead, and did in fact do so for Christ. I am reminded of Gerd Ludemann's comments in his debate with Craig when he kept saying like a broken record, "dead people don't rise", the point being that in Ludemann's interpretation of the world the dead rising is an absurdity. For Ludemann and others like him the argument for the resurrection is wrong on principle because God does not have anything to do with this world, if he even exists. The world runs on its own terms with nothing "intervening" from the outside.

Could a non-christian account for the empty-tomb? Of course they can, there is nothing like an argument for certainty that the tomb was empty. Add to that the presupposition that God does not exist, and miracles do not happen, and you have a pretty potent mixture excluding any divine intervention. Resuscitation would be possible, but that is far from Resurrection. The point in all of this is that all scholars come to data with background beliefs that judge what interpretation of events is more probable or even possible.

If I reject the possibility of miracles, or my method does, then I will be inclined to say well I cannot explain the data, but I am pretty sure that the resurrection is not what Christians say that it is.

The deepest held presuppositions of the opponent must be challenged, which would be metaphysical, and methodological naturalism. If you concede the ground to naturalism you will never ever make your case, because you have already given the floor over to the opposition. You might as well call it a night!

Blake Reas said...

God Bless you Professor Witherington. My name is Francisco Munoz. I know you are being deluged by question on "Gabriel's Prophesy". I'll wait for my turn since I regard your opinion highly.
(1) The experts are stating that the tablet could have been written anytime within 100 years from the time of King Herod's death.
(2)It matters very much if "Gabrile's Prophesy was written before or after the death of Jesus Christ.
(3)The controversial piece of Dead Sea Scroll papyrus that contains all the words found in the Gospel of Matthew is still a controversy.
(4) It's not within the realm of the impossible, if "Gabriel's Prophesy was written after the death of Jesus Christ, that it was the incipient Gospel which influenced the Essene community's conception of a suffering Messiah rising after three days, and not the other way around.
(5)And finally, Jesus Christ, before resurrecting, resurrected others. And, I believe, he left an indelible proof of his resurrection, in addition to the Gospels, in the Shroud at Turin.
Thank you Professor Witherington.

Ben Witherington said...

In fact there is no Dead Sea Scroll of any sort that has any portion in common with the Gospel of Matthew. Sorry, but this is a myth. The Gabriel stone is interesting, but hardly earthquaking. It's import is simply to show that Jesus was not the only one to expect a messiah to whom death and then resurrection might happen. This is only more clear evidence that the nonsense about the pagan origins of the Gospel story of a dying and rising Jesus are just that--- nonsense.


Museum Ethics Controversy said...

I would submit that this "ancient tablet" is probably another sensationalist scam, as is clearly indicated by the facts

(1) that no specific information is available on its provenance and

(2) that no details are provided on carbon dating of the ink.

As such, this "news" brings to mind the faked Lost-Tomb-of-Jesus "documentary" designed to make a profit off of people's fascination with the "real" Jesus, as well as the larger scandal of the biased and misleading way the Dead Sea scrolls are being presented in museum exhibits around the world, with an antisemitic expression appearing on a government-run North Carolina museum's website. See, e.g.,


Tankadin said...

Assume that the tablet in question can be ostensively picked out by the abbreviation “Tablet E”

(1) The linguistic contents of tablet E implies that the idea of a suffering, dying, and rising Messiah was explicitly present within first century (either BCE or CE) Judaism.

(2) Tablet E is reliably dated back to either the first century BCE or the first century CE.

Facts Blocking the Truth of (1):

First, you should note that they do not know who discovered this tablet.

Second, they do not know where the tablet was discovered. They speculate that it was found in the area around Jordan, but they really have not evidence upon which to base a “cogent” conclusion.

Third, the one scholar in the article who did infer (1) from the tablet has already published literature which has concluded that the idea of a suffering, dying, and rising messiah was already present within Jewish literature prior to the first century CE. It’s interesting that NY Times chose exactly such a scholar to interview for their piece. If anyone wants to see the interpretive ambiguities of the text in such a way as (1), it would be Dr. Knohl.

Fourth, the article states that the messianic figure referred to in the contents of the tablet could be Simon, the same Simon who was slain by the leader of the Herodian army. Two things to notice here, first the reading being proffered here is from the pen of Knohl, the individual who already wants to see a messianic figure in view here. The question is, can we properly infer form the contents of the tablets a messianic figure at all? Second, notice the weakness of the descriptions here “could be”. Here we have a simple modal possibility, and when it comes to the exegesis of ancient tablets/documents, possibilities are weak to say the most.

Fifth, notice how Knohl states that at lines 19 through 21 of the tablet, we have the reading, “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. Now what about this implies (1), or anything like (1)? You have “three days”, but you don’t have anywhere the use of the word/term “messiah.” Notice also, that if the article SHOULD mention anything, it SHOULD mention that in the tablets you have the term “messiah” mentioned. But do you? The article conveniently does not tell us, which implies the text no where contains the term. Furthermore, one would think that if any other terms which function euphemistically as “messiah-like terms”, they would mention those, however they do not. This implies, again, that there are simply no such terms present.

Sixth, the article tells us that all the way down (way far away from lines 19 and 21) on line 80, we have the words, “L’shloshet yamin,” meaning “in three days.” Extremely important to point here is that the two scholars who have written a lengthy article on the tablet, over a year ago (Yardeni and Elitzur) stated that what follows this phrase is unreadable. The article says that Knohl (an expert in Hebrew and such yes, but not in paleography) believes the unreadable section contains an irregularly spelled form of the Hebrew term which means “live again.” I don’t think I have to say anything more. The one individual who wants textual evidence for his already stipulated beliefs, is reading an “unreadable” part of the tablet as stating something that is consistent with his view. No surprise here.

Seventh, Moshe Bar-Asher, president of the Israeli Academy of Hebrew Language and emeritus professor of Hebrew and Aramaic at the Hebrew University said,

“There is one problem….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.”

Eighth, notice Knohl’s incredibly dubious inference, that if the tablet teaches what he says it does, it means that Jesus did not understand his own death as substitutionary!! Now how do we go from the interpretation of a pre-Christian tablet to Jesus’ self-understanding (with respect to his speech acts during the last supper)??????

Ninth, if (1) is true and Knohl’s supports are cogent, then part of William Lane Craig’s apologetic is moot. Craig has maintained that Christians had not reason to think that Jesus’ (messiah) was going to die, and then be subsequently resurrected…well, Knohl thinks that they would have had a reason to think this, and (some atheist will argue no doubt) they therefore had impetus (a source upon which to base) a “made up story” about Jesus’ death as Messiah and a subsequent resurrection.

I however reject (1), and stand by Moshe Bar-Asher…the tablet is ambigious, readings of it are multifarious, and we have no reason to suppose (a) a messianic figure is in view (b) the messianic figure in view suffers, and dies for others (c) the same messianic figure is viewed to have been resurrected by YHWH. There is no clear reason/evidence for (a), (b), (c), and therefore no evidence for inferring (1).

Kyle said...

You write, "if (1) is true and Knohl’s supports are cogent, then part of William Lane Craig’s apologetic is moot. Craig has maintained that Christians had not reason to think that Jesus’ (messiah) was going to die, and then be subsequently resurrected…well, Knohl thinks that they would have had a reason to think this, and (some atheist will argue no doubt) they therefore had impetus (a source upon which to base) a “made up story” about Jesus’ death as Messiah and a subsequent resurrection."

If Knohl is correct, then any messianic movement would have reason to want to see their leader resurrected after three days. Furthermore, many attempted messianic leaders were killed during this period. Despite this, there weren't visions, appearances or even stories about an individual resurrection of these individuals that I'm aware of. As such, it would give better credence to the gospel accounts of the tomb being guarded against robbers because the perception would have been widespread among messianic movements that their leader would resurrect.

So even if the idea of an individual resurrection was widespread at the time, it may explain a desire to see it come about with each movement's "messiah," but it doesn't offer a compelling answer to the rest of the story.

Even if this stone is authentic and all of Knohl's claims are true, the stories are still rather unique...and extremely unique in the fact that despite all of the other messianic movements with these same expectations of their leader resurrecting...only one movement seems to have made the claim and were successful in doing so.

Jason Engwer said...

Ben Witherington and some of the commenters have made some good points about the tablet. Jim West has written a blog entry that provides many relevant links on this subject, including an English translation of the tablet's text:

This story has already been picked up by many critics of Christianity, such as Richard Dawkins' web site and Debunking Christianity. I and others at Triablogue have been writing responses to some of the claims being made, if anybody is interested in reading more:

GordonBlood said...

While this is certainly a very interesting find, it seems to me that even if genuine (in the sense that it is neither a forgery, which seems unlikely, or it is wrongly interpreted, which seems at the very least highly plausible) it ought not to cause too much shock for Christians. It is pretty clear that the gospel writers had no notion of this themselves, in all the narratives the persons depicted as seeing Jesus ressurected are shocked, amazed and definately not expecting a ressurection of any sort. If this was a truly widespread expectation one would think the gospels would depict the disciples as simply patiently awaiting Jesus to come to them. Of course, even if they did think that, if he hadnt been ressurected one would expect that to be a more than sufficient death-blow to the movement. Of course all this grants that the interpretation is correct, which again seems more than alittle questionable. said...

Dear Professor Witherington, thank you for addressing my concerns.
The NYT articles seems to imply that the idea of a suffering and resurrected Messiah was common currency in 1st Century Apocalyptic Expectations. If this were the case:
(1)Would not Matthew, Hebrews, and the Letters and Preachings of Paul wuold have referred to it as another indication of profetic fulfillment in Jesus Christ?
Thanks again Professor Witherinton.
God Bless.

Mr. Head said...

I appreciate and agree with "Reformed Baptist" Blake's response to these posts and the significance of "Gabriel's Revelation." One must admit that this finding, if all of the historical assumptions are granted (which may be unwise), seems to pose significant problems for N.T. Wright's argument referred to previously. This shouldn't bother Christians too much though because the argument wasn't that good to begin with.

As far as dealing with pre-Christian typos of Christ, these can be interpreted differently depending on one's methodological assumptions. I first came to this realization after reading an interesting article on the supposed origins of Docetism in Stroumsa, Gedaliahu A. G. Christ's Laughter: Docetic Origins Reconsidered
Journal of Early Christian Studies - Volume 12, Number 3, Fall 2004, pp. 267-288. Stroumsa points out that Philo of Alexandria's reading of Genesis 22 develops many of the theological concepts that would later be predicated of Christ. Philo, for instance, claims that Isaac was actually the son of God, not of Abraham, and that his mother Sarah was a virgin when she conceived him. Should Christians be bothered by this? It seems to be a bit of a leap to suggest that because a concept is developed prior to the supposedly historical instantiation, that historical instantiation must be a fabricated story based on the pre-existing conceptual frame. For the record, I think N.T. Wright merely reverses both the terms in this argument and falls prey to the same mistake.

CJD said...

James Pate: Isn't Wright's thesis rather that what was totally unexpected among first-century Jews was that one body was resurrected and not the entire harvest all at once? (hence, X as the "firstfruit")

sotty said...


"One argument I've heard against Christianity quite a few times is that early Christians copied earlier "groups" (can't think of the proper word). Doesn't this article seem to confirm that?"

Assuming the reconstruction of the text is accurate, it only means the ancient Jews were better readers of the old testament than we are. They could have figured the Messiah would be dead for three days from a typological interpretation of Jonah for example (see Mat 12:39-41)

I think the argument against Christianity you're referring to is that supposedly Jesus is a fictional character based on older people, myths and religions like Mithra, Buddha or Dionysus. This is then "proven" by citing parallels. When you look at them closely though, these parallels are all rather flimsy. A good book on this is "Shattering the Christ Myth" by James Patrick Holding.

I hope this helps you on your way.

James Pate said...

That's my understanding of his thesis, CJD. I wrote a post on that topic on my blog. It's entitled "N.T. Wright on the Risen John."

3220Blues said...

Just so we all can see (sort of) what we are dealong with, here is the English translation of the text (per Biblical Archeology Review). I must admit, I am not sure I see the reference to a messiah figure being raised after three days. In fact, I am not seeing any definite reference to either the Messiah or a ressurection at all. Am I missing something?

Justin said...

For some reason, my cut and paste job of the English translation did not come through (my fault, no doubt). Anyway, it can be found here:

Again, its hard to see how the actual text on the stone (as translated) has any bearing at all on the arguments of N.T. Wright or William Lane Craig.

Charity said...

Forgive any ignorance here, but isn't it possible that this text is prophetic in some way, especially because it references Old Testament prophesy? It seems that throughout the Bible there were prophesies for their time,prophesy they didn't understand yet to come, and prophesies that have repeated throughout time. Nothing in the article surprised me. It was Mr. Knohl's interpretation that surprised me. I too thought of Isaiah. Thank you for voicing another view. I would like to read what other Biblical scholars "see" in the text.

Tankadin said...

See the following link for a complete translation...and in order to download the Hebrew version:

DimBulb said...

Concerning the attempts to link to Knohl's aritcle:

Obviously blogger doesn't allow working links. Specific file addresses are to long to register and allow cutting and pasting. You can however go to the way of the fathers blog:

Find the post entitled Three Days, then follow the second link which reads "we discussed here." The link will bring up another post on which you can access the document.

Ed said...

Ben Witherington said...
"In fact there is no Dead Sea Scroll of any sort that has any portion in common with the Gospel of Matthew. Sorry, but this is a myth."

Maybe the previous commenter was referring to the work of the late Carsten Peter Thiede, who identified the 7Q5 papyrus fragment as a fragment of Mark but was also associated with the redating of the Magdalen papyrus, which contains a fragment of Matthew. Have his views been totally rejected? If so, why?

preacherjeff said...

ben please comment on the following...
1. if any nt source read "blessed are the (unable to read) .... for they (unable to read) the (unable to read)" would scholars find this valid reliabe evidence to prove or disprove anything? instead manuscripts leave few holes and the nt is deemed unreliable to many and instead concepts are validated by spurious texts that may say this or that.
2. did christians invent the roman method of crucifixion based on the ot saying "they have pierced his hands and his feet" (is.53) does this ot passage prove that christians borrowed from the ot. do you think the ot prophets would feel ripped off that their prophecies were actually fulfilled? this dead sea work (whatever it says about the resurrection) is not the first to connect the messiah to a resurrection. and ben i can tell you confidently that the patriarch david died and was buried and his bones are ash, but he spoke of one who was coming. jesus the christ.

Tycho said...

Let's be honest. Regardless of the accuracy of the evidence or the validity of the discovery, it will be "parsed" and/or "interpreted" in a manner that will support the standing of Christianity. The same can said for any religion that is culturally ingrained in the society. Not to worry Christians.

Brian Chilton said...

I disagree with Angie De Merwe to an extent. Granted, this stone does little to prove or deny anything about the life of Jesus and the start of Christianity besides the fact that some had the idea of a dying and resurrecting Messiah. As Phil states, this may have referred to the general resurrection as the Gospel of John shown with Mary and Martha's knowledge of the final resurrection.

My disagreement comes by your final statement, "I find it 'difficult to defend' in our scientific understandings." Science is used to understand many things. But you have to use the legal-evidence style to prove something in history. If the CSI lab can prove a person guilty of a crime, certainly we can use the evidence available to us to prove the resurrection and life of Christ. Such evidence exists biblically and extra-biblically. This doesn't mean that you have to believe the gospel story. But, it does mean that you are denying the facts moreso because of presuppositions rather than an absence of data. People have a hard time believing in the resurrection, but there are people who miraculously rise from death all the time. These accounts are light years away from Jesus' resurrection, but they still rarely happen. See Ben Witherington in Lee Strobel's movie "The Case for Christ" and see only a portion of this data that is available. Do I believe the resurrection of Jesus to be a real event in space-time? Absolutely!

Lay Hendra Wijaya said...

Dr Witherington,
Thankyou for visited Indonesia,Iam really regretful for being missed your exciting seminar at Jakarta,Indonesia.