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Thursday, July 10, 2008


Mark Brumley

Sorry for all the typos, folks. I should have been more careful and I should have reviewed what I wrote before posting. But I think you still get the point.


My thing about it is this: if the tablet exposes Christianity as a fraud today, it would have done so infinitely more clearly back in the first century A.D. when the story that is on the tablet would have been more widely known. This in turn would render the success of Christianity inexplicable.

Further, the way the New Testament talks about the resurrection undercuts the claim that the authors of the New Testament were conforming their story to a pre-existing expectation of a messiah who would rise from the dead after three days. The New Testament makes clear that the resurrection was a surprise to Jesus's supporters and that it fulfilled prophecies that had not previously been understood. According to Luke, when Jesus predicted his resurrection he referred specifically to what the prophets wrote about the Son of Man and the Apostles did not understand what he was talking about. (Luke 18:31-34.) Presumably Luke knew nothing more than what the Apostles knew. The theory then must be that Luke was lying, the Apostles really did know what Jesus was talking about, and what he was talking about was his adaptation of the type of story that (allegedly) is on the Simon tablet to fit the OT prophecies. However, this kind of fraud wouldn’t work if the “a messiah will rise from the dead after three days” was a pre-existing expectation that was widely shared – none of the Jews would have believed that the Apostles didn’t understand Jesus’s prediction or that Jesus’s followers were surprised at the actual resurrection.

MMajor Fan

While the resurrection of Jesus was “a surprise” to everyone, even though he prophesied it several times to the Apostles, there is extensive evidence and detail within King David’s psalm 21 so much that this psalm, in my 1962 Confraternity-Douay version of the Bible it is labeled as “Passion and Triumph of the Messiah.” The footnotes read, “Psalm 21 is one of the most important of the Messianic psalms. Our Lord Himself on the cross repeated its first line.” [That line is, to refresh everyone’s memory “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”] The footnote continues, “…and several other verses are directly quoted, or at least alluded to, in the New Testament as pertaining to His Passion. Of no other person is this touching description of spiritual and physical suffering so eminently true as it is of Jesus Christ. Hence, the entire psalm has been traditionally interpreted in the Catholic Church as referring to Him. The psalmist, therefore, speaks in Christ’s name when in the first section (2-22) he describes the Messiah’s dereliction (2-6), opprobrium (7-9); and physical sufferings (18-19), together with his unshakable confidence I the heavenly Father (10-12; 20-22); and in the second part, the fruits of His Redemption: the grateful praise of the redeemed (23-27), the conversion of the Gentiles (28-30), and the glory of God and His beloved Son (30-32)."

Psalm 21 is understood by all Catholic scholars to be the phrase by phrase “Messianic psalm.” Jesus quotes from it as he is dying on the cross, Matthew 27:46 so, um, clearly Jesus “got the idea” to “say that” from this psalm, which was written before the exile to Babylon and hence at least five hundred years before Jesus. Psalm 21:17-18 prophesies “Indeed, many dogs surround me, a pack of evil doers closes in upon me; they have pierced my hands and my feet; I can count all my bones. They look on and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my vesture they cast lots.” That precisely happened on Cavalry. I say prophesies because clearly no one crucified King David and in fact there were no crucifying Romans in sight when this psalm was written, so he was not writing about himself. King David, and I gaze on one of my favorite pictures depicting this, was the pre-eminent prophesier of the Messiah, from the details quoted above of the crucifixion to the conversion of “all the ends of the earth” (the Gentiles), which no one could have made up as a scenario in 500 BC. Psalm 21, referenced by Jesus Christ himself on the cross, is the step by step validated description of the passion of the Messiah and his ultimate triumph. The only thing not in that psalm is to state literally that he would rise from the dead after three days and remain on earth another forty.

But if one thinks about it, the passion is described in the lines up to and including line 22, where the Messiah appeals to God to “hasten to aid” and “save” him. Line 23 then states, “I will proclaim your name to my brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will praise you.” The psalm has been entirely sequential in “order,” and so after “they have pierced my hands and my feet” the prophesied Messiah appeals to God and next he will “proclaim” the name of God “in the midst of the assembly.” Any Jewish scholar would have had an expectation of a miraculous return, if not literally as soon as rising from the dead after three days. This psalm was hardly unknown to anyone and in fact, Jesus quotes its first line as he is dying on the cross. So it would be entirely consistent that Jewish scholars would interpret this psalm as having been the disbelief in and then triumphant return of the Messiah, envisioning something like Elias returning in glory. In fact, that is the first thing that those who hear Jesus appeal on the cross believe he is calling for, Elias to come. Jewish Messianic expectations would be entirely consistent with believing the Messiah would be disbelieved and mocked (certainly they would expect that from the Romans), and then a sudden glorious intervention by God. It would not have occurred to them that the Messiah would allow his own death, and then resurrect in the body within a matter of days, bearing the actual wounds, but in a glorified body that could appear through walls into the gathering’s midst.

So the dialogue about the tablet has been very strange and forces two artificial sides to quarrel with each other. One side I guess is supposed to think that early Christians just put together a Jesus fiction based on prophecy and common beliefs, and then conspiracy theory-like they would have made up the whole resurrection event. So that side would think finding some words seeming to “prophesy” or “record a belief” that a Messiah would resurrect in three days a “good thing” because they must have been bothered by where Jesus’ followers “got the resurrection idea from” if it’s not in Psalm 21 explicitly or in Isaiah. So that side is supposed to be gleeful that they found the place that Jesus’ followers “got the idea from” to fill in the “missing link” in the “fictionalized” account of Jesus’ life. Then the other artificial side is supposed to be, I guess, Christians who are supposed to be dismayed that some average Joe “heard from Gabriel” and had “expectations” of “dying and rising again in three days.” That’s kind of like saying that the “been there done that” T-shirt had already been worn, and therefore Christians are only supposed to believe in the truth of the Gospel only because “no one ever thought of those ideas before.” Both “sides” are constructs of the same agenda, which are poor faith, sensationalism and faulty logic and scholarship (if any). There is no proof of the goods authenticity and yet an artificial “debate” has already been framed. I hope this comment helps readers who might not have been taught the significance of the Davidic Messiah prophecies.


An interesting article was recently posted on

Nothing new, I think, but an interesting analysis.

Mark Brumley

Interesting points.

Of course this entire discussion takes place in a context where different folks bring different presuppositions to the reading of the New Testament. Many scholars don't think it tells us much at all about what Jesus really said and did or what Jesus' opponents really said and did. That means that it is difficult to argue from what the Gospels depict Jesus as having predicted about his death and resurrection, etc. Things such as that are dismissed as the Church's retrojection of ideas into the ministry of Jesus.

I think a strong case can be made for the general historicity of the gospel accounts. That does not mean that we can prove, as a matter of history, every jot and tittle of the gospels. It means we can show, given the nature of the early Church, its leadership, the nature of tradition, and a host of other facts, that at least in broad strokes the gospel accounts are reliable indicators of Jesus' teaching, his life, death, and resurrection.

The last item--his resurrection--is the trickiest. I think a strong historical case can be made that something happened to the disciples that they described in terms of encountering a resurrected Jesus and that interpretations of that "happening" as a hoax, an hallucination, another king of purely subjective experience, or some kind of natural survival of Jesus mistaken as resurrection, are unlikely.

How does the Gabriel Revelation fit into this? Well, as I said, we don't know that it is about a resurrection after three days at all. Even Knohl's rendition of the text--which others have disputed--is sufficiently vague that it is hard to say what its author envisioned. This whole discussion may be much ado about nothing related to resurrection.

But assuming Knohl's interpretation is correct, it changes little. Perhaps it makes historically more plausible the gospel accounts of Jesus' prophecies regarding his fate. I think even if we had no evidence of anyone else ever thinking about the Messiah based on OT texts in the way the gospels depict Jesus as doing, those OT texts provide sufficient grounds for someone who said and did the kind of things Jesus can be shown to have said and done to talk about his fate in that way. For that reason, it is not unreasonable that someone else living before Jesus might read the texts in a similar way. From the gospels and other literature from the period it seems reasonable to say that such a view of the Messiah's fate was not widespread--most Jewish authorities did not read the OT in this way. But that only shows that such a reading was not common; not that it was impossible or unlikely.

Some people will argue that the Gabriel Revelation could mean that the disciples expected Jesus to rise from the dead and therefore that they were disposed to hallucinate a resurrection or fabricate one. But these theories have long since been refuted (see the DVD DID JESUS REALLY RISE FROM THE DEAD?). Plus, it becomes harder to understand why the gospel accounts all depict the Twelve as not taking seriously Jesus' predictions of a resurrection or initially believing in it when the women report on it. One might argue that that is a mere apologetical literary creation without historical substance, but that seems highly unlikely. The risk of possibly undermining the authoritative position of the Twelve by showing them as initially unbelieving seems too great for that. And we can be sure that such a tradition regarding the Twelve's initial reaction would not have been allowed by them to circulate and become widespread enough to make it into the gospels if they were such nefarious plotters.

With respect to the Gabriel prophecy making it easier to think the disciples hallucinated, again, we have to explain how the tradition of unbelieving apostles arose. You might argue that in fact the apostles were initially unbelieving but then someone hallucinated an encounter with the resurrected Jesus and the idea caught on with others who came under the influence of an expectation of a dying and rising Messiah. But that doesn't account for the fact that Jesus would still have been in the tomb, and people who think they saw him alive would sooner or later visit the tomb and discover otherwise. It doesn't address the multiple claims of encounters with the risen Jesus, listed by Paul in 1 Cor 15. Nor does it account for Paul himself, an enemy of Christianity, coming to be an apostle of it.

For these and other reasons, it seems to me that there is a benefit to the Christian apologetic from the Gabriel Revelation, assuming it says what Knohl thinks it says, because it tends to make more historically plausible the idea that Jesus saw himself as dying and rising from the dead. There is also a slight negative element against the Christian apologetic in that it makes it slightly easier to argue for alternative explanations of the resurrection, but this is a matter of complicating the argument a bit, not undermining it. The case against the alternative explanations remains substantially the same.

MMajor Fan

Mark, a really fine analysis of several aspects of this enormously complicated topic. I must admit, since I do not tend to read the non-faith nor arguments advocating that the Gospels are fictionalized, I had not realized there was a hallucinating theory.

So putting aside both my Catholic hat and my tin foil hat, I put on my psychiatric outpatient counselor hat. It is highly unlikely that any of the Apostles could have hallucinated. This is because of the dangerous occupation that they are demonstrated to engage in to support their families (fishing). During that time in human history most who hallucinated were unable to support themselves or their families. Fishing has always been one of the world's most dangerous occupations and hence attracts the most pragmatic and least prone to imagination people. The Apostles are fishing, observed by the Resurrected Jesus Christ, who shares a meal with them, so they are documented in the Gospel as still fishing even after the crucifixion. Hallucinators are unlikely fishermen.

I know you realize this but I thought I'd add this point for the consideration of general readers new to these arguments! It is easy for modern life style people to imagine folks back then overcome with religious fervor resulting in fantasy, but that would have been an extremely rare situation and highly unlikely when living was difficult and literally depending on day to day, well, sanity and pragmatic activities. These were not people who received paychecks and bought their food, and thus had time to be caught up in rapturous thoughts about spiritual events. Fishermen in particular do not give in to imagination if they hope to return from wind and water alive with their catch. The fishermen who had to watch every movement of wind and water are pretty much the ones least likely to hallucinate anything at all.

Carl Sommer

Excellent post, Mark! It should be pointed out that the idea of resurrection after three days comes from Hosea 6:2, which reads: "After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up..." In the context of Hosea, it is the nation of Israel that God will revive, not an individual Messiah, but it is fascinating the number of things that happen “on the third day” or “after three days” in the Old Testament. Some highlights: (1) in Genesis 40, the chief butler is restored after three days, but the chief baker is executed. In Genesis 42, Joseph’s brothers languish in prison for three days before being set free. In Exodus 19:11, we find Moses preparing the people for a theophany: “on the third day the Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai…” These are only a small sample of the passages relating to three days. In general, in Hebrew Scripture, three days is the length of time one must wait for vindication, or for a revelation from God. In the case of Jesus, His resurrection was seen as both a vindication of his life and ministry, and a unique revelation from God.

It is impossible to prove or disprove historical events from a typological reading of Scripture, but I think the average pious Jew of the first century would have understood what was being claimed on Jesus' behalf. It makes very little difference whether the same thing was claimed of Simon the Zealot (and Israel Knohl's case is far from proven). What would have mattered in the first century, as today, was whether or not the claim was true. In the case of Jesus, it is clear that some people found reason to believe the claim. In the case of Simon the Zealot, even if Knohl's argument is correct, seemingly not very many people believed the claim.


The old testament is full of prophesies about the "great sacrifice" and then the ressurection. Why were the Jews offering sacrifice? It was all in similitude of the great sacrifice Jesus would make, giving His own life. And of course He spoke of His own future resurrection during His ministry. Even His enemies understood that. Why did the wicked Priest insist a stone be put at the entrance to the tomb and guards posted? Because they knew of His prophecy of the rising on the third day (though they didn't believe it). They put the stone and guards in place to make sure his followers wouldn't steal the body and then claim he has risen. But like all evil plans, God outsmarted them, sent angels, rolled the stone and put the guards to sleep and He did rise in the resurrection. You don't have to believe it now, but come judgement day you can bet "every knee will bow and every toungue confess that Jesus is the Christ". No new discoveries will ever change that fact and no writings by anyone will ever take the place of devine revelation given to millions and millions of followers.

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