19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on July 3, 2009
Israel Knohl's book is an important event for students of Christian origins, for it is the first book-length treatment, by a prominent biblical scholar, of an unusually important archeological artifact: A recently discovered and described text, written upon a stone from the Dead Sea area, and dubbed by scholars "The Gabriel Revelation."
Because "The Gabriel Revelation" has been dated to a full generation prior to Jesus, and because it has a curious passage that may suggest that the angel Gabriel will command a slain messianic figure to "in three days, live," it opens up the possibility that early Christianity's understanding of Jewish messianism was not perhaps as "out of the blue" as once supposed.
One consequence of "The Gabriel Revelation" is that it resurrects a once apparently defunct scholarly theory known as the "Messianic Secret" (in which Jesus has a plan, known only to himself and a close circle of disciples, that he will suffer, die, and rise again on the third day). Here's Knohl on a passage from Mark's gospel: "'The Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he will rise.' (Mark 9:31), might very well reflect Jesus' original words" (87).
Barring appendices and notes, Knohl's text is less than 100 pages long and is very clearly and concisely written. In the first two chapters, for example, Knohl translates the text of "The Gabriel Revelation" (which is only 87 lines long and fragmentary) and then literally does a line by line commentary on what we have, laying out its apocalyptic and messianic assumptions, the historical background for the statements, and the biblical allusions that the text renders. On reading Knohl's translation and commentary, I came away from the book rather dazed, realizing that what Khohl has done is given the reader a window into the world of suffering-servant messianism and resurrection a full generation prior to Jesus's crucifixion. It is a heady glimpse into an otherwise obscured past. As you read, you get the thrill of observing the religious outlook of an author who may literally be one of the intellectual precursors to the fully developed Christianity of a generation later. The author of "The Gabriel Revelation", for example, clearly reads Daniel and Zechariah in ways recognizable to Christian interpreters today.
In addition to this heady look into a past just at the brink of evolving into full-blown Christianity, Knohl also addresses the "Antichrist" figures in the text, and draws some interesting parallels between "The Gabriel Revelation" and the Book of Revelation (particularly the eleventh chapter of Revelation, in which two messianic witnesses are slain and rise again). Knohl thinks that the Book of Revelation may have been, in places, echoing ideas from early first century pre-Christian texts like "The Gabriel Revelation."
In short, Knohl's book is an excellent and engaging survey of the text and implications of "The Gabriel Revelation". Knohl is a respected biblical scholar at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and his book is published by a good academic publisher (Continuum). It's a great read for any serious student of Christian origins, and it may transform the way you understand the nature and mission of Jesus, and the evolution of early Christianity. To paraphrase and echo Charles Darwin in another context: From so humble a beginning an exotic religious form (Christianity) appears to have evolved. "The Gabriel Revelation" could be, as it were, the stone "Archaeopteryx"---a key transition---to Christianity's flight. The author of "The Gabriel Revelation", and the sect to which he belonged, may have made the imaginitive biblical interpretive leaps concerning messianism that, by a series of unlikely contingencies, led to the global religion that we have today. Contemplating that fact alone makes Knohl's book well worth reading.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 26, 2015
The discovery of the inscribed stone and its subsequent decipherment reveals the ideology of an apocalyptic-messianic group that belonged to the period of the death of Herod the great. This is a fascinating revelation that may have great import for the history of Christian origins and especially for Pauline theology. It seems to me that it is entirely possible that the individual who was referred to in this inscription was the prototypical "Jesus".
But, it is Knohl's explication of the theology of the inscription that is most fascinating. It seems that the shed blood of the martyrs of that time was seen as the catalyst for the coming of salvation. It was rather like the blood itself created a "stairway to or from heaven" in some sense, that not only allowed the cry of the Jewish people to attract the attention of their god, but created a pathway for the descent of that god and/or his agents to wreck vengeance upon the oppressors, i.e. the Romans, specifically Augustus AKA the Antichrist, the latter idea being one that Knohl develops.
To me, the idea of the "living blood" was the most fascinating because of the similarity of it to certain Greco-Roman philosophical ideas (Stoic, I believe) about comets being the conveyors of souls of heroes to the heavens or realm of the gods. One is also reminded of the verse in Genesis where God tells Cain "The voice of your brother's blood cries to me from the ground." A careful reading of the epistles of Paul reveals some of these rather esoteric ideas about the value of the shed blood of martyrs, mainly "Jesus".
Another interesting idea was that only the heroic would be granted conveyance to the heavens/realm of the gods, while ordinary folks were still stuck in Sheol/Hades.
Well, it's difficult to present the evidence and arguments of Knohl in a few paragraphs; just notice that the book itself is not terribly long, but is packed with data and implications the most significant of which is that this individual, killed at this early point in time, could very well have been the "real Jesus", and it was Paul, who encountered his followers later who took some of these concepts and transformed their Jesus/Joshua from a Messianic/deliverer of vengeance on Rome to a Messianic/reconciler/justifier of both Jews and "Greeks". In other words, Paul was a sort of John Lennon of his time preaching "All you need is Love...." That would have explained his early pharisaic hostility to the "Jerusalem ecclesia AKA political/religious sect" which was geared toward revolution while pharisees were notable Hellenizers. It would also explain the hostility of the Jerusalem sect toward Paul, evident in his epistles: they were extremely hostile because he "stole their messiah" and turned him into a wimp thus diminishing their efforts to build up a strong revolutionary spirit among the people so that when the right time came, they would strike. Well, Paul did concede to them that he would only preach to the Gentiles and leave the Jews alone, but his successes made the Jerusalem peeps a bit worried because the "good news" was filtering to the Jews also. Thus, there was a serious conflict between the Cephas/James/John party and Paul who eventually referred to these "apostles" as servants of the devil.
Anyway, a fascinating piece of the puzzle; highly recommended.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 23, 2013
Israel Knohl brings to light the Gabriel Revelation inscribed on a memorial stone dating to the beginning of the first century CE. Knohl theorizes that the inscription memorializes the failed Jewish revolt of 4 CE in which one of its celebrated leaders, Simon, suffered an inglorious death at the hands of his enemies.
Knhl offers a serious challenge to modern critical scholars who would like us to believe that the idea of a suffering and dying messiah was written back into the gospels after the fact. As he had done in his previous book, The Messiah before Jesus, Knohl offers some unique insights into the origins of Christianity.
The idea of a suffering and dying Messiah Son of Joseph or Ephraim in the Gabriel Revelation, which Knohl refers to as "catastrophic messianism", may have been the product of certain apocalyptic, messianic Jewish groups in the early first century who believed they were living in the end times. Jesus predictions of his own suffering and death were probably authentic and not a post-resurrection belief projected back onto him. The triumphant Messiah Son of David who was not supposed to be conquered by his enemies may have been Jesus' future role, but Jesus perceived his earthly role as the suffering Messiah whose sacrificial death would trigger the end-times.
In Mark 12:35-37, Jesus refutes his present role as the Messiah Son of David by quoting Psalm 110.
I would add that Albert Schweitzer also proposed the idea that Jesus' saw his own suffering and death as a sacrifice which would provoke God into inaugurating the end times and manifesting His Kingdom on Earth.
Knohl demonstrates how the Gabriel Revelation was influenced by the books of Daniel and Zechariah and has parallel ideas in the Testament of Moses written at about the same time. The 11th chapter of Revelation also reflect ideas found in the Gabriel Revelation.
Knohl offers thought-provoking interpretations of prophecy. The moon turning into blood in the book of Joel, symbolized by the lunar eclipse at the time of the Jewish revolt of 4 CE, represents the blood of the righteous martyrs ascending to Heaven to provoke God to take action in judging the wicked. The exaltation of Caesar Augustus as Son of God and saviour was reversed by his Jewish enemies as the son of Belial. This same idea of Caesar as antichrist was taken up by the book of Revelation.
The idea of a suffering and dying Messiah was not created in a vacuum by evangelists but was a role which Jesus took upon himself.