Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Gabriel Stone Seminar at Rice University

As promised, a summary of what happened at the Gabriel Stone Seminar at Rice University. Four presenters - Israel Knohl, Matthias Henze, Kelly Bautch, and myself - and others in attendance were Mr. Jesselsohn (who owns the stone), David Capes, Franklin Trammell, Daewoong Kim, Betty Adams, Mike Heyes, and Grant Adamson. Oh, yes (I almost forgot) and National Geographic sent a representative since the NGS is considering making a documentary about the stone.

Israel Knohl argued that "my servant David" is a personal reference, and therefore "Ephraim" who is paired with him must also be a personal reference. He identifies Ephraim with a suffering Messiah, the son of Joseph, known from late sources. He noted that the pairing of David with Ephraim is unique. Also unique is the "evil branch" that is whitewashed, which he understands to be an early formulation of an anti-Christ figure. He emphasized that these two spots in the text are highly significant because it shows something new in the traditions is forming. He came out strongly that this is not a Dead Sea Scroll because the text uses the name of the Lord frequently. He emphasized that the text contains many allusions to the prophets including Zechariah 14 and Haggai 2 and 3.

Matthias Henze was not convinced and argued that he doesn't necessarily see any messianic references in the text. He thinks that the evil branch that is whitewashed is not a messiah. That in fact the unusual pairing suggests that the "branch" is being used by the author to address something different, perhaps a wicked king. He concentrated on what he finds as the concerns of the author which appears to be knowledge of the prophets, interest in the number three, the glory of the Lord, the name of the Lord, and the merkavah. He pointed to the Pseudo-prophets of Qumran as a parallel, although he emphasized that he does not think this is a Dead Sea scroll composed by a sectarian because there is not unique sectarian language of dualism, etc., in the text. He thinks that the text opens with a seer in heaven who asks God a question, and then the Lord replies. The angels Michael and Gabriel are significant and suggest knowledge of Daniel 8.

Kelly Bautch discussed the text's indebtedness to Zechariah 14. She sees the text as an apocalyptic text, but one that is reserved. In this way she contrasted it with the Enochic literature. She thought that the text was very similar to the Qumran Pseudo-Prophets like Pseudo-Ezekiel. She argued that Ephraim was not a personal reference, but a collective, representing an eschatological expectation that Judah and Ephraim would be brought back together at the end of time. Kelly was unsure of the provenance but did not think it was the Qumran sectarians because sectarian language is not present.

I argued that the genre of the stone was very similar to the Pseudo-Prophets of Qumran, especially Pseudo-Ezekiel and Pseudo-Jeremiah. I noted that the text relies on the audience's knowledge of certain biblical passages and that the author only needed to use a word or phrase from the scripture in order to evoke the entire scriptural story and the interpretation of that story by the community. I gave a run down of a number of scriptures that the text invokes including large portions of Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Hosea. I saw Hosea 6:1-3 as key. I tried to understand the message of the stone in more comprehensive terms, even given the risk of its fragmentary nature. The stone appears to be a commission of God to his servant David. It is occurring in heaven before God's throne. The angels are there too, and one of them is supporting David and he is told not to be afraid. The Lord tells him that the last battle will occur when David converses with Ephraim. This is the sign that the end has started. The Lord will destroy evil, the wicked whitewashed branch. The heavens and earth will shake. Michael is mentioned. The Lord and his seven angels on their chariots will descend from heaven to the gates of Jerusalem. Surrounding Jerusalem are the nations encamped, at least some of who are from the north. The Hasidim are in exile outside of Jerusalem. There are a couple of references to blood sacrifices. One appears to be a command to stop the blood sacrifices, while the other appears to have something to do with the Day of Atonement since there is a bloodied merkavah. The Lord says that he has sent three holy shepherds to help Israel. The Lord is going to be merciful to those who love him. Then Gabriel enters the conversation, but what he says is too fragmentary for me to comment. This story appears to me to be one that the Qumran sectarians would have identified with, and indeed may have even produced. Although it doesn't have sectarian language, we wouldn't expect this in a Pseudo-prophetic writing where the goal is to imitate the scripture so that the new revelation appears to be scriptural. But the story and its themes fits well with the Qumran expectations of three messianic figures (prophet, Davidic king, and priest) and the cessation of the Jerusalemite sacrificial cult. The Qumran sectarians thought themselves to be in exile, and according to the War Scroll, were expecting the nations to encamp around Jerusalem at the end of time. They themselves would come and join in the fight against the nations and those wicked in Jerusalem led by a Davidic king. The angels would come down from heaven and join them in battle. And all of this would occur after the "simple from Ephraim" converted and joined their community.

So that is what happened. Matthias Henze and Israel Knohl are planning on editing a volume of papers about the stone which they will put together this year.

This afternoon, a professional photographer took pictures of the stone. So it is quite possible that we will be able to see some of the eroded letters better. Let's hope.


geoffhudson.blogspot.com said...

How do you see Qumran 'sectarians' as wanting to stop animal sacrifices?

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say thanks to Dr. DeConick for her fascinating synopsis of the Gabrial Stone as well as her enlightening comments on it. I can't wait for the papers to be published discussing the different interpretations of the text. Anyway, thanks again.