Thursday, August 21, 2008

My questions about the Apocalypse of Gabriel

Professor Knohl's new article in BAR has been posted HERE. I have also put a link to it on my growing index for the Apocalypse of Gabriel HERE.

I am a bit disturbed about Knohl's argument in the BAR piece, since the second temple passages that he quotes as evidence for a Jewish suffering messiah are from texts that have clearly been revised by later Christians.

How can we tell if the expectation of the suffering messiah in these late sources is pre- or post-Christian? One way to solve this dilemma is to notice HOW MUCH of the early Christian literature is devoted to apology for the fact that the Messiah Jesus suffered and died, and how this was a "stumbling block" to the conversion of Jews. Why would the Christians have so much explaining to do if there existed a common Jewish expectation of a suffering messiah prior to Jesus? This is a question that is absolutely necessary for us to face, and it suggests that IF the expectation already existed, it was not well-known or well-liked. Or the expectation grew as a result of Christians explaining the historical experience of their crucified Messiah Jesus.

So nothing is as "sure" as Knohl's argument suggests.

It is necessary that we approach this new apocalypse cautiously, especially until we determine its authenticity. This is the FIRST step, something that National Geographic Society recognized about the Tchacos Codex. The Society did the right thing by authenticating the Gnostic codex through scientific methods. I am concerned about the Apocalypse of Gabriel, however, because it is unusual to have ink on stone for a literary document. How sure are we that it is not a fraud?


Jared said...

Since it is ink on stone, could not the ink be tested? Or is it possible to extract enough ink without damaging it too much?

Paul said...

As I understand it from divinity school, the messianic theme is present in Judaism, but as a minor note - not at all the thing where, as some Christians would have it, all of Judaism was relentlessly consumed with the vision of a Messiah until Jesus came along.

Also, the Messiah was indeed expected to bring military and politcal triumph.

Leon said...

We know most Jews did not accept that Jesus was the Messiah. That is a given. But it is not necessarily certain that the reason Jesus' followers gave for Jewish resistnace was the actual reason. It may have been part of it, but there may have been other reasons as well, which Jesus' followers suppressed because it was an embarrassment to them.

For example, Jesus' followers were spreading the story of Jewish respnsibility in Jesus' death. Jews probably knew that was not true and figured that if we cannot trust them on this, why should we trust them on anything else? There was also a problem that gentiles were beginning to deify Jesus and that did not sit well with Jews. Gentiles were now making a big deal of the whole idea of the Messiah and Jews felt this was just a small part of the religion. Another factor is that a number of things were expected at the end of time (like more justice and an era of peace) and none of this seemed to be coming to pass. Mistranslating the Hebrew "almah" (Isaiah 7:14) as virgin was yet another problem. And then there was the general problem that Jesus' followers were saying that Jews did not understand Hebrew scripture.

There was a lot going on. That some of Jesus' followers spoke of a stumbling block is just the tip of the iceberg and may have been the smallest factor.

Leon Zitzer

Michael Lauer said...

If I understand correctly, Professor Knohl views the Vision of Gabriel (his interpretation of it, that is) as supporting his thesis that the "suffering messiah" idea predated Christianity, and I guess as a sort of corollary that those second-temple-era sources weren't worked over by Christians:

"Several scholars have argued that these late passages should be traced to Christian circles.5 A leading rabbinic scholar, Saul Lieberman, has argued otherwise.6 I have agreed with Lieberman.7 I believe “Gabriel’s Revelation,” now published in BAR, supports the view that the tradition of the Messiah son of Joseph who is killed goes back to the late first century B.C.E. or the early first century C.E."

I have no idea the arguments are either way about those passages, but I'd love to hear anything anyone has to say about them. More of my ill-informed thoughts here.


Roger Pearse said...

Ink on stone sounds very unusual. Are there any other examples?

Finds of Christian-related fakes are so common, and so profitable, that perhaps we should suspend all judgment until someone finds a way to authenticate the find.