Tuesday, July 08, 2008

News Flash!: Jesus Maybe Messiah After All!

An ancient tablet has come to light that could transform biblical scholarship. This three-foot stone contains 87 lines of Hebrew text written in ink, not engraved, on its face. Dating from the decades before Jesus' birth, it seems to describe a coming messianic figure who will suffer and die, but be raised again after three days. If this is the case, it would suggest that there was the idea of a suffering messiah in Israel before Jesus.

The scholarly assumption has been that there was no such idea before Jesus--that Jesus' role as a suffering messiah was completely unique. Of course Jesus being merely a Jewish teacher would never have claimed such a novel role for himself. The idea of Jesus as suffering messiah must have been added only after his death by his followers seeking to find meaning in the crucifixion. Such assumptions also lead to the widely discredited idea that Paul was the true architect of Christianity, basing his own teachings on a warped view of who Jesus actually was. This discovery has the potential to turn all that around.

If this was an idea that was already popular in Jewish thought, it would allow Jesus to have been a Jewish teacher, and everything else the Gospels claim for him. Of course, the idea of a suffering messiah does no more to dilute Jesus' mission than the idea of a messianic triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Such a prophecy as the one presumably written on this tablet could be an indication of God's voice being heard by those listening in preparation for the birth of Jesus. This would not be unprecedented, as even the Magi astrologically divined the birth of a king and the exact location.

It will be interesting to see how all of this turns out. As more scholars are able to view the text itself, there will be more interpretations as to what is actually being proclaimed (the condition of the artifact reflects its age, many of the words are missing or faded). This could turn out to be a very interesting historical addition to the story of Jesus, giving us more insight into the world that he grew up and ministered in. For a theology nerd like me this is very, very fascinating.

Josh R

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