Monday, July 7, 2008

Does it Matter if the Resurrection was an Original Idea?

Following in the footsteps of James Cameron's Jesus Tomb, Gabriel's Revelation, an "ink on stone document" that shows some literary links to the Dead Sea Scrolls, is causing a stir in the archaeological community over the Bible's theological roots.

Now, I have no reservations that this is a genuine artifact. I'm concerned that so many sources seem to anticipate that this will cause problems for Christianity, as the stone may contain an allusion to "living" in three days, written in a time that probably pre-dates Jesus and the writers of the Bible.

But what may make the Gabriel tablet unique is its 80th line, which begins with the words "In three days" and includes some form of the verb "to live." Israel Knohl, an expert in Talmudic and biblical language at Jerusalem's Hebrew University who was not involved in the first research on the artifact, claims that it refers to a historic 1st-century Jewish rebel named Simon who was killed by the Romans in 4 B.C., and should read "In three days, you shall live. I Gabriel command you." If so, Jesus-era Judaism had begun to explore the idea of a three-day resurrection before Jesus was born.

This, in turn, undermines one of the strongest literary arguments employed by Christians over centuries to support the historicity of the Resurrection (in which they believe on faith): the specificity and novelty of the idea that the Messiah would die on a Friday and rise on a Sunday. Who could make such stuff up?Time: Was Jesus' Resurrection a Sequel?

I'm sorry. Did you say "novelty"?

I'm not familiar with the argument that claims the Resurrection is true because it was an original idea. I don't see the logic in that. Frankly, I don't think that argument would be very convincing, let alone one of the "strongest" that Christians have to offer.

Furthermore, think that Israel Knohl's interpretation is sketchy at best. All he has to go on is "...some form of the verb 'to live'"? This is hardly Time-worthy scholarship.

The related NY Times article uses similarly ominous language, as though the very foundations of Christianity will be shaken by this [possible] interpretation:

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.NYT: Ancient Tablet Ignites Debate on Messiah and Resurrection

Here's a bit on Knohl's personality and past work (also from NYT, emphasis added):

...Israel Knohl, an iconoclastic professor of Bible studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem...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.

Let's stop for a moment to recap: A scholar seeking to "shake up" views on Christianity (this is mentioned more than once in the NYT article) finds a barely-legible text, and interprets it in a manner that would shake up Christianity. Is anyone surprised? I'm not.

However, I am surprised by the amount of attention this is getting in the media. Look again at the headline: "Ancient Tablet Ignites Debate on Messiah and Resurrection." One scholar and a faded, smudged text. Newsworthy? Only if it involves doubting the Messiahship of Jesus.

To go a little deeper, let us assume the Dr. Knohl's interpretation is correct, and that the idea of a third-day resurrection existed before Jesus' death. Does that instantly make it untrue? Does it necessarily follow that the disciples used this theology to invent a resurrection story? Hardly.

It may be argued that the Old Testament already holds this theology. Isaiah 53:10-11 references a resurrection, as well as Psalm 16:10 (which could also imply a three-day death), additionally Jesus mentions Jonah's three day ride in the belly of a great fish, which could also hint at Old Testament texts influencing Resurrection theology.

And even if Knohl is right, all this "Revelation" will do is prove to further connect Jewish and Christian beliefs, which should be intimately intertwined, as Christianity sprouts from Judaism, and Judaism finds its completion in Christianity.

Here are a few brief reasons why I trust that the resurrection accounts are true. And, just to be "fair" to those who don't believe it, I'm leaving out mounds of evidence from within the Biblical text itself:

  • If he was dead, Jesus' grave would've stopped the excitement.

    • Opponents would only have to point to Jesus' grave to discredit his Disciples

    • Christianity exploded in Jerusalem immediately following Jesus' Resurrection. This was the town where he should have been buried

  • Jesus' Disciples were changed, and even gave their lives because they witnessed the Resurrection.

  • The New Testament was written and circulated during the time when witnesses to his death could have spoken out against them. Why weren't claims of Resurrection thrown out as lies?

Links of Interest:

Original Article in Biblical Archaeology Review

Text Translated into English