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The Gabriel Revelation and Jesus’ resurrection

Wikimedia Commonsgabriel-revelation
Figure 1. Detail of the text written in Hebrew of the Gabriel Revelation Stone on display in the Israel Museum.

The Gabriel Revelation is a stone tablet that has 87 lines of Hebrew text written on it in ink (figure 1). It contains a bunch of short prophecies and is dated to around the time of Christ’s birth. It speaks of messianic hopes, and so is important for understanding the sort of messianic hopes among Jews around the time of Jesus. However, does the New Testament plagiarize its notion of Jesus’ resurrection on the third day from the Gabriel Revelation?

A. from India writes:

Hi!

My name is A. from Kerala, southern India.

I would like to know about Gabriel revelation stele findings that has been discovered nearthe dead sea scrolls site.one of my friend who is an atheist asked and said to me that,inscription found on this stele shows that Jesus resurrection after 3 days and 3 nightsplagiarised from this stone information as it pre-dates before the birth of Jesus Christ. Andlater on Jesus adopted this idea in His case.

He went on further to say that Essenes a Jewish sect was the first and only group to come upwith the idea of 3 days and 3 nights death and resurrection and that idea of 3 nights anddays nowhere found in the Old Testament and no Jews had such notions about the Messiahexcept Essenes.

When a rebel named shimon who thought himself to be Messiah, was killed by roman forceand their closed companions were informed by angel Gabriel that Shimon would beresurrected in 3 days and nights and possibly, they may have penned that message down ingrey lime stone now known as Gabriel revelation stone, and Jesus copied that idea fromEssenes cult.

How do you take on it?

Kindly reply on this.

CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:

Dear Akhil,

Thanks for writing in.

First, so what? Even if it were true, it doesn’t really affect the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. The evidence for Jesus’ death, the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances, and the rise of the early church as a result is all still solid and true. And there is no better explanation of this data than Jesus’ resurrection. So, if line 80 of the Gabriel Revelation really read “On the third day, live, I Gabriel command you”, the most this would mean is that we should stop saying Jesus’ resurrection was a completely unprecedented expectation in Early Judaism. However, the Gospels themselves implicitly warn us against overstating this notion, since Herod Antipas (Matthew 14:1–2) and others (Luke 9:7) seemed willing to think of Jesus as John the Baptist resurrected.

However, does the Gabriel Revelation evince a broad expectation of a Messiah rising from the dead before the general resurrection? No. At best, it’s one example expecting it. This doesn’t reflect any general trends in the Jewish literature of the period (outside the New Testament), which is evidence against the notion that any such expectation was widespread. If the Jews were widely expecting a Messiah who would die and rise again before the general resurrection, then where’s the literature supporting it? The relevant literature (including the New Testament: John 12:34) shows that the dominant tradition in Judaism in Jesus’ day was that the Messiah would live forever without dying.

That said, the Old Testament by itself provides fertile grounds for an enterprising Jewish interpreter of the period to come up with the notion of a dying and rising Messiah. Indeed, to deny this would be to deny that Jesus “was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:4). For instance, a biblical motif of ‘raising up on the third day’ can be traced to Hosea 6:2: “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.” In the context of Hosea 6, this is the entitled language of Israel and Judah who treat God’s justice lightly, and God goes on in Hosea 6:4ff to excoriate them for their presumption.

However, one could easily see it applied more literally to a righteous sufferer as an expectation of speedy vindication. Where a sinful Israel/Judah can’t presume this, God’s righteous servant can. So, while God wouldn’t raise up a sinful Israel ‘on the third day’, He would raise up His sinless Son ‘on the third day’. Combine this with a notion of a righteous servant who suffers for the sins of his people (Isaiah 53), and it’s not hard to see how someone could conclude that the ‘righteous servant’ of Isaiah 53 would be ‘raised up’ on the third day.

Another way would be to see the righteous sufferer of Isaiah 53 vindicated in a typological replay of the prophet Jonah’s deliverance from death in the belly of the fish ‘for three days and nights’. Indeed, someone did combine these traditions to speak of a dying and rising Messiah: Jesus himself (Matthew 12:40 regarding Jonah, and Luke 22:37 regarding Isaiah 53).

Indeed, there is a broader ‘third day/three days’ motif in Scripture, which is a formulaic timeframe in many different contexts. Of all the ‘nth day/n days’ references in the OT (up to ‘50th day/50 days’), the ‘third day/three days’ pattern is the second most common (80 uses), after the ‘seventh day/seven days’ pattern (137 uses)—even outnumbering the ‘first day/one day’ pattern (59 uses) (figure 2).

n-day-use-in-OT
Figure 2. Uses of ‘n day/nth day’ in the Old Testament (in the Lexham English Bible). Data on the ‘three days/third day’ pattern circled in yellow.

At any rate, does the Gabriel Revelation even evince a ‘resurrection on the third day’ expectation? Unlikely. The consensus reading of the crucial line 80 has shifted since it was first published. The first scholarly translation of the crucial line 80 was, “In three days, live, I, Gabriel, command you.”1 However, this interpretation is no longer accepted, even by the scholar who first proposed it.2 Now, the consensus view is that line 80 reads: “On the third day: the sign! I am Gabriel, king of the angels,”3 This was first proposed by Ronald Handel in 2008.4 But this interpretation has nothing about a ‘resurrection on the third day’, thus emptying the Gabriel Revelation of any significance for Jesus’ resurrection.

I hope this helps,

Shaun Doyle
Creation Ministries International

Published: 19 November 2022

References and notes

  1. Yardeni, A. and Knohl, I., Gabriel’s Revelation, Biblical Archaeology Review, web.archive.org/web/20170929233022/https:/c795631.ssl.cf2.rackcdn.com/gabriels_revelation.pdf#page=8, accessed 10 October 2022. Return to text.
  2. Knohl, I., The apocalyptic and messianic dimension of the Gabriel Revelation in their historical context; in: Henze, M. (Ed.), Hazon Gabriel: New Readings of the Gabriel Revelation, Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta, Georgia, p. 43 (note no. 12), 2011. He still regarded his original reading as possible, but the evidence favoured the consensus reading. Return to text.
  3. Elgvin, T., Eschatology and Messianism in the Gabriel Inscription, Journal of the Jesus Movement in its Jewish Setting 1:5–25, 2014; p. 13. Return to text.
  4. The Messiah Son of Joseph, biblicalarchaeology.org/scholars-study/the-messiah-son-of-joseph, 24 September 2009. Ronald Handel’s comment is under the title “Simply Sign”. Return to text.

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