Sunday, July 06, 2008

Dying-and-rising savior-god an ancient Jewish tenet

Or so a brief tablet, with 87 lines of Hebrew text, pictured by the New York Times at right, would indicate.

We’re only eight years into the 21st century, but this may last the next 92 as the most significant find in biblical archaeology.
Daniel Boyarin, a professor of Talmudic culture at the University of California at Berkeley, said that the stone was part of a growing body of evidence suggesting that Jesus could be best understood through a close reading of the Jewish history of his day.

“Some Christians will find it shocking — a challenge to the uniqueness of their theology — while others will be comforted by the idea of it being a traditional part of Judaism,” Mr. Boyarin said.

As the story notes, nobody has yet challenged the authenticity of the tablet, dated so far to the late first century BCE. (Why does the NYT use the anachronistic, for academia, and for New York City’s large Jewish population, for that matter, of “BC”?) Chemical analysis, though not yet released, appears to confirm that.

If so, it would be the first pre-Jesus (assuming that such a person as Yeshua bar Yusuf actually existed) text to speak of a dying-and-rising Jewish messianic figure.

As the article notes, modern critical New Testament scholarship assumes that Jesus’ own statements about dying and rising in three days are later additions. Maybe they’re not.

That then said, what’s the provenance of this text, other than starting as some sort of gloss on passages from Zechariah and Daniel? Can it be connected to any particular movement in Second Temple Judaism at that time?

It would seem to fit with scrolls associated with Qumran, as this “Dead Sea scroll on stone,” from what is extant, takes the form of an apocalypse revealed by the angel Gabriel.

Other questions abound, too.

Why was the Simon of this scroll supposed to die? His death, at least from the story, isn’t mentioned as atoning, unlike Jesus claimed for himself.

And, despite the efforts of Jewish leaders from Ezra through the Pharisees, and of course running through the Maccabees, to “purify” Judaism, what does this say about other “outside” ideas running around Judea at this time?

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