A wall-hanging over 2000 years old

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Dead Sea Scroll in stone

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

Some years ago, David Jeselsohn, a Swiss-Israeli collector bought an ancient stone tablet, actually a wall-hanging, from an antiquities dealer. This tablet has suddenly become the talk of the archaeological world.

In a recent video report by CNN’s Ben Wedeman, David Jeselsohn says that the writing on the stone tablet is not easy to understand because it speaks of the future, of visions, and of mystical experiences.

In the same report, Israel Knohl of Shalom Hartman Institute says that the stone, which predates Jesus, speaks of death and resurrection. According to him, the stone also suggests that

“only the shed blood of the Messianic leader will move God to come and redeem His people.”

The writing is apocalyptic in nature. In other words, it is written in the style of the Revelation (and like parts of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah) forecasting the ultimate destiny of the world using very grandiose style. The writer refers to himself as the angel Gabriel and the name of the Messiah suggested in the article is Simon. Obviously, it is a creative piece of writing that nevertheless shows that it was possible for Jews, even before the time of Jesus, to accommodate for a suffering and dying Messiah. The apocalyptic style was a style of literature that was in vogue at the time. I have come across at least one extra-Biblical piece, The Dream of Mordecai.

The website http://www.bib-arch.org has an article called “A New Dead Sea Scroll in Stone?” about a “Bible-like prophecy” that “was mounted in a wall 2000 years ago” The article is written by Ada Yardeni from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Of the two-columned tablet, she writes:

“IF it were written on leather (and smaller) I would say it was another Dead Sea Scroll fragment—but it isn’t. It is written on gray-colored stone! And it is 3 feet high and 1 foot wide!…
It is clearly dated by the shape and form of the letters (paleography) to sometime between the late first century B.C.E. and early first century C.E.—around the turn of the era, the same period as the scrolls. . .
One would expect that an inscription on stone would be engraved . . . It is written in ink, just like the Dead Sea Scrolls. . .
It is very badly preserved, with lacunae all over.
And the letters that have survived are often very hard to read.”

She goes on to list the similarities of the language and style of this document to the Biblical writings.

Will the credibility of the Bible be affected?

This stone tablet has excited the media and some news headings read as:

  • Ancient ‘Dead Sea’ Stone Tablet Predates & Might Rewrite the Bible (The Daily Galaxy)
  • Ancient Tablet Ignites Debate on Messiah and Resurrection (The New York Times)
  • Stone tablet links Judaism, Christianity (news.com.au)
  • 2000 yr-old biblical scroll found in Israel (The New Zealand Herald)
  • New Biblical Controversy (CNN)

As believers of the Lord Jesus, let us neither look for signs that make the Bible more credible nor be upset about finds that sully the truth. Although the evidence available in support of the authenticity of the Bible is overwhelming, making the gospel intellectually convincing is not God’s primary intention.

The Bible says of those who will not be saved,

  • To intellectuals and philosophers, the message of the cross is foolishness
  • To those who want evidence, the message of the cross is a stumbling block

That anything of eternal significance could be achieved from a cross on which once hung the dying Savior simply does not add up in the minds of those who will not be saved. Only God can intervene by His grace and give men the gift of faith when the message of the cross is preached.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
For it is written: “ I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”
Where is the wise?
Where is the scribe?
Where is the disputer of this age?
Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.
For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness,
but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Cor 1:18-25)

My take on the matter
As for me, neither a find such as this that could, if viewed in a particular way, add to the credibility of the New Testament Jesus, nor the Da Vinci Code that openly attempts to tarnish the name of the Lord is of much consequence. The Bible, with the New Testament and the Old Testament, is a compilation of writings that make up the Holy Scriptures, which has stood the test of time. It is complete and is the inerrant and infallible word of God.

Some material may be yet written or discovered that makes the Bible more believable. But there is a step of faith that God alone must grant to individuals, based on the Holy Scriptures, concerning Jesus the Messiah. Only then can anyone be saved. If a new find or discovery helps someone towards that step of faith, who am I to grudge them that help? But we do not stand or fall on the basis of finds and discoveries such as this stone tablet.

From the little I have read about this tablet (remember that I am a lay person as far as archeology or recognised Biblical scholarship go) I understand that this piece was written by a writer and Bible scholar who lived a few decades before the Lord Jesus was born, who was astute enough to see that the promised Messiah had to suffer and die before He could liberate the Jews, and who wrote his feelings in this creative piece referring to himself as the angel Gabriel and naming the Messiah as Simon, a common name at the time that meant “to hear” and “to be heard.”

Yes, what most interests me about this find is that, if the dating of this tablet is correct, and Dr. Knoll is right about it’s interpretation, it is indeed interesting that someone was able to understand and accommodate from the Old Testament scriptures, years before our Lord was born into the earth in our likeness, the fact that the Messiah must come and shed His blood and rise again.

The Old Testament prophecies include pictures of Jesus

  • coming as the suffering and dying Messiah and
  • coming in kingly glory to judge the world

It was not easy for God’s people, before the coming of Jesus, to understand that the Messiah could come to die. This is especially the case, considering that the Jews so desperately and longingly yearned for a Savior who would liberate them from the Roman yoke. This truth (of how difficult it would have been to arrive at the idea of a dying Messiah) was brought home to me over fifteen years ago when I read the book Benhur.

As an aside, may I point out that in this is no small warning that as we look forward to the second coming of our Lord, we ought to look at the prophecies with an open mind and a longing heart. Let us not allow our understanding of eschatology to cause divisions among Christians. For we have much work to do and the time is short.

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2 responses »

  1. What is not sufficiently said, is that no solid information is available on the provenance of this “ancient tablet,” or on the kind of scientific testing of the ink that alone would be able to confirm its authenticity. Many a forged artifact has been touted in a similarly sensationalist manner, only later to be revealed a fraud. This one has funny scent about it, to my nose at least.

    Attempts to describe it as a “Dead Sea scroll on stone” are a further hint of sensationalism, and thus call to mind the ongoing scandal over the rigging of lectures and museum exhibits on this topic. See, e.g., http://timothyfishbane.wordpress.com/

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