I am no archaeologist.
I teach a course on world civilization at the local college. The first chapter of the textbook is the chapter of evolution, or, better said, a commentary on the discovery of skeletal remains of beings that closely resemble humans. The challenge, in teaching the first few days of this course, is to counteract what the text holds to be indisputable truth: that we are the product of survivalist evolution. Actually, it is all intelligent conjecture, but none of it can be absolutely proven. The first city in the history of the world was the city of Jericho (or the site of Catal Huyuk, but not all of that has been revealed as of yet), and Jericho was bound together in the form of a community around 10,000 BC. But, there are artifacts of humanity found prior even to this date. The archaeological discoveries of these artifacts present a myriad of questions, none of which I really want to address here. But they are very, very interesting.
So, when stories come across the wire that not only discuss the latest, or most prominent archaeology discoveries, I can’t help but read them. And when those discoveries intersect archaeology and religion, the read, and the find, becomes much more interesting.
The International Herald Tribune recently published a report on the discovery, or re-discovery, of an artifact that not only intersects archaeology and faith, but uncovers the idea resurrection outside of the biblical text. This artifact is a tablet, referred to in some books as Gabriel’s Revelation, and was found near the Dead Sea, and presents the idea of messianic resurrection.
The suggestion that arises from this tablet is that the idea of a messianic resurrection is not unique to Christianity, or, even to Jesus, and that this story may have held some prevalence in Jewish circles before, and during, the life of Jesus himself.
In other words, it was either a common story, or a common belief, not original to the presentation of this idea given by Jesus.
To be fair, the tablet literally has the words (in Aramaic) “in three days,” followed by the word “live.” The archangel Gabriel is giving this prophetic word, and is speaking to someone identified only as the “prince of princes.” These lines, combined with Gabriel’s message in the Old Testament book of Daniel, seem to indicate that these two people were meant to be one in the same.
This idea is combined with a story of which Josephus details, of a man named Simon, killed by Herodian officials. The theory is pushed that this tablet was written to, or by, Simon’s followers.
But this is just a theory, and there is nothing in the text that refers to anyone named Simon. It is, however, fairly accepted that the table dates from the first century, B.C., just a few decades before the birth of Christ. And given the devastating political situation of the Jewish people, the people of God, controlled and oppressed (again) by the hands of foreigners, it is theologically assumed that the Jewish people longed for another deliverer, such as Moses himself delivered the chosen from the hands of foreigners.
The idea of the tablet, anyway, constitutes the shedding of blood for salvation and repentance. This idea, found in the story of the bible, from the first story of humanity, through the story of Christ, is an idea of atonement, or the idea that the sinful will die, if there is no acceptable offering as a substitute. With lines that speak of bloodshed offering pathways to justice, and that this prince will live in three days (if it is translated correctly) it is no surprise that the story this tablet records sounds very, very familiar.
The controversy, then, is whether or not the sacrifice of a great leader will lead to the salvation of the Jewish people from the hands of oppression, or was he really to be a savior to all of humanity?
The idea presented in the tablet is not very different from the mission of Christ, in its purest form. The idea of sacrifice, not only itemized in the biblical texts, was the central message of Christ. A leader should offer himself on behalf of his beloved. And the very life and death of Christ is presented as the atonement that did lead to salvation. But, the story continues with a resurrection that was, and is, the very triumph of perfection over the decay of flesh and morality.
After all, a sacrifice that just dies prompts the idea of necessary and continuous sacrifice — because people never really stop sinning, and consistently require atonement. But a sacrifice that defies natural law, and rises to live and breath and sustain itself also defies the need of constant atonement.
And whether that idea was a political thought of oppressed Jews in the years before the birth of Christ, really, is irrelevant. Of course people were looking for a perfect sacrifice, and the perfect Savior.
They still do.