Thursday, July 10, 2008

Messiah Tablet Confirms Published Dissertation

The Catholic News Agency ran a story on the Tablet which I posted on below. The author interviewed one of the brightest up-and-coming Catholic Biblical scholars around, Tim Gray.

"Dr. Timothy Gray, a professor of Biblical Studies at the Augustine Institute in Denver, told CNA that the news of the tablet was “very fascinating,” saying “everything seems to point to its authenticity.”

He said the text seems to draw heavily upon the Book of Daniel. Scholars know from the work of Josephus that many Jews immediately before and during the time of Jesus focused on the Book of Daniel because of his prophecies related to a messiah coming to usher in a Kingdom of God.
“A focal point of Jesus’ teaching was the kingdom of God, and Jesus makes many allusions to Daniel. That really seems to cohere with this view of Jesus.”

Gray said that Jewish expectation of a dying messiah is shown in Daniel’s prophecies, noting that Daniel chapter 9 talks about how an anointed messiah will be cut off and killed.

According to Gray, a standard view of modern biblical scholarship holds that the sayings of Jesus in the Gospels where He predicts His Passion and His death cannot be authentic because, scholars believe, most Jews had no expectation of a suffering messiah. Such scholars attributed these words of Jesus to later additions made by the early Church.

Knohl’s minority contention that there were Jewish ideas of a suffering messiah before Jesus, Gray said, is echoed in the work of Catholic biblical scholar Brant Pitre."

Gray is absolutely correct--this tablet confirms what my good friend and co-blogger, Brant Pitre, argued in his masterful dissertation, Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005).
But, as much as I love Tim Gray, I've got to quibble a little with what he said. Knohl's work is not echoed in Pitre's work--Pitre was arguing that Jews believed the messiah would suffer long before this tablet was known to the academy. In fact, the evidence is so strong, he doesn't even need to cite this Tablet to make his case.
Where does he get all of this evidence? Is it from some obscure source? Well, as Gray mentioned, first and foremost, is the biblical book of Daniel, which, in chapter 9, states:

“Know therefore and understand that from the going forth of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. 26 And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off, and shall have nothing; and the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. His [or "its"] end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war; desolations are decreed. 27 And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week; and for half of the week he shall cause sacrifice and offering to cease; and upon the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.”

Here's what Pitre says:
"Despite the difficulties of interpretation surrounding this admittedly dense text, it is clearly a description of a final period of tribulation that is characterized by at last three important elements. First, the text explicitly asserts that during the last days before the "end" (קץ) an "anointed one" or "messiah" (משׁיח) shall rise up during this troubled time and be killed or "cut off" (כרת) (Dan 9:26). [Whether the text refers to one or two messiahs is irrelevant for our purposes; if there are two envisioned (something I doubt), at least one of them - the latter - comes before the end and is killed.] Thus, at least for Daniel, the eschatological tribulation is quite explicitly messianic: i.e., it is a period during which the Messiah - a royal eschatological figure, a "prince" (נגיד) - will come and be killed." (Jesus, the Tribulation and the End of the Exile, 56-7).
Many other passages could be referenced here--that's part of the reason Brant's book is over 550 pages.
So what are you waiting for--go buy it.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

New Inscription Found: "Messiah to be Raised After 3 Days"?!

From tomorrow's New York Times:
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.
Read the rest.
I've known about this for sometime, but it looks like it now is finally hitting the mainstream media.
For the record, it should be pointed out that the idea of a resurrection on the third day flows from 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."
Indeed, Jesus explains to the disciples that his resurrection on the third day would take place in order to fulfill Scripture.
"Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead" (Luke 24:46).
In fact, the New Testament is clear that Jesus came to fulfill the hopes of ancient Israel.
Yet, the New York Times story seems to suggest that this tablet will somehow raise questions about the truth of Christianity. Somehow, for them, the discovery that some ancient Jews expected the messiah to suffer and rise on the third day is problematic for Christianity.
I really don't see why. Indeed, scholars generally agree that finding parallels in Judaism to Jesus' teachings tends to strengthen the probability of historicity. If this inscription says what the article claims this would seem to strengthen--not weaken--the historicity of the Gospels' story about Jesus.
In fact, I actually find this hugely ironic. For some have made the opposite claim--namely, that the lack of evidence that Jews expected the messiah to suffer and rise from the dead calls into question the historical authenticity of Jesus' prediction of his passion and resurrection.
I guess this just goes to show that no matter what the evidence is some scholars will find a way to conclude that Christianity isn't true.
Photo: Dominic Buettner, New York Times

Name the Author: "Historical Criticism Like the Devil"

It's time for another edition of the "Name That Author Contest"!

This one's for double points.

Who said the following?
"Give the historical method an inch and it will take a mile. From a strictly orthodox standpoint, therefore, it seems to bear a certain similarity to the devil."

Now come on everyone--take your best shot. The clock is ticking...

Joseph Klausner and the Neglect of Jewish Scholarship

Up until only recently the work of Jewish scholars has been largely ignored by those doing historical Jesus research. One such scholar whose work, though lacking some of the critical precision expected today, is still immensely insightful is Joseph Klausner. In particular I've been reading his work of Jesus of Nazareth (repr., Boston: Beacon, 1964 [1925]).

One of the great things about this work is survey of the history of Jewish scholarship. It is worth noting the number of Jewish scholars mentioned who have been largely ignored. In particular, I was struck by the way Klausner discusses the way Albert Schweitzer’s seminal survey of the history of Jesus research pays hardly any notice to the work of Joseph Salvador, Jésus Christ et sa doctrine: histoire de la naissance de l’église, de son organisation et de ses progrès pendant le premier siecle (2 vols., Paris: A. Guyot et Scribe, 1838; 2nd ed., Paris: M. Lévy Frères, 1864–65).
The neglect cannot simply be chalked up to the fact that the work was originally written in French--as Klausner suggests--since Salvador’s work had been translated into German by the time of Schweitzer’s writing [cf. Das Leben Jesu und sein Lehre: die Geschichte der Entstehung der christichen Kirche, ihrer Organisation und Fortschritte während des ersten Jahhunderts (Dresden: Walther’s Buchhandlung, 1841)].
Strikingly, not only is Salvador’s work badly mischaracterized and mentioned only in passing, appearing under the section, "Further Imaginative Lives of Jesus," but Schweitzer even misspells his name (“Salvator”)! See Schweitzer's, The Quest for the Historical Jesus, 162.
By the way, a great antidote to this kind of neglect is Donald A. Hagner, The Jewish Reclamation of Jesus: An Analysis and Critique of Modern Jewish Study of Jesus (with a foreword by G. Lindeskog; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984).