The London Times has a strange article on a (disputed) archaeological discovery:
The death and resurrection of Christ has been called into question by a radical new interpretation of a tablet found on the eastern bank of the Dead Sea.
The three-foot stone tablet appears to refer to a Messiah who rises from the grave three days after his death – even though it was written decades before the birth of Jesus.
The ink is badly faded on much of the tablet, known as Gabriel’s Vision of Revelation, which was written rather than engraved in the 1st century BC. This has led some experts to claim that the inscription has been overinterpreted.
A previous paper published by the scholars Ada Yardeni and Binyamin Elitzur concluded that the most controversial lines were indecipherable.
Israel Knohl, a biblical studies professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, argued yesterday that line 80 of the text revealed Gabriel telling an historic Jewish rebel named Simon, who was killed by the Romans four years before the birth of Christ: “In three days you shall live, I, Gabriel, command you.”
Professor Knohl contends that the tablet proves that messianic followers possessed the paradigm of their leader rising from the grave before Jesus was born.
I just don’t get it. Let’s suppose than the inscription is correctly translated exactly as Knohl claims. (Apparently there is good reason to doubt this.) How exactly does this cast doubt on the resurrection? It has no bearing on whether or not it actually happened; all it does is suggest that the idea of resurrection was already out there. I think most people would agree that idea of resurrection is quite a bit easier than actually pulling it off.
Furthermore, there’s very little in the Gospels — the resurrection included — that isn’t already foreshadowed in the Old Testament. In fact, there is already a resurrection in the Old Testament. How would one more foreshadowing change anything? This result sounds greatly oversold.
UPDATE (7/17): One reader writes to tell me, none too kindly, that since Christianity is false anyway, all this discussion is vacuous. I disagree. There are at least two states of belief (Kripke worlds) we may consider here; in one Christianity is known to be false, and in the other it is seen as plausible. In either world, this discovery changes nothing. Clearly it is consistent with the atheist’s state, and, as I argue above, it is consistent with the believer/agnostic’s state as well. So, in what state of belief is this discovery germane? I still don’t get it.