This is the week of Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Feast of First Fruits. Millions of Jews in Israel and around the world are celebrating the story of how the Jewish people were saved from the “angel of death” in ancient times if they put the blood of a perfect slain lamb on the doorposts of their homes in Egypt.
This is also the week of Good Friday and Easter. Billions of Christians around the world are celebrating the death of Jesus of Nazareth, and His resurrection from the tomb three days later, and the belief that all mankind can be saved from the “angel of death” in our times if we, too, trust in the blood of a perfect slain Passover Lamb.
But did the Jews of the first century really believe the Messiah would one day come to earth, die as a “suffering servant” — as an atonement for sins and the redemption of Israel — and would then rise from the dead on the third day?
A respected professor and Dead Sea Scrolls expert at Hebrew University says “yes.” Based on concrete evidence, he argues that the death and “third day” resurrection of the Messiah is, in fact, a distinctly Jewish concept that actually pre-dates Jesus.
Dr. Israel Knohl has based on his conclusions on many years of research and recently analyzed archaeological evidence, including a previously unstudied Dead Sea Scroll. Indeed, Knohl argues that this notion of the Messiah rising on the third day is a pre-Christian concept that dates back to before the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem Ephratah.
I had the opportunity to sit and discuss this with Dr. Knohl at length a few years ago and it was an absolutely fascinating conversation.
I first heard of him when he drew worldwide media attention several years ago for his research, including a major article in the New York Times and several articles in Biblical Archaeology Review — see here, and here, and here.
The Times story, which ran under the headline, “Ancient Tablet Ignites Debate on Messiah and Resurrection,” begins as follows: “A three-foot-tall tablet with 87 lines of Hebrew that scholars believe dates from the decades just before the birth of Jesus is causing a quiet stir in biblical and archaeological circles, especially because it may speak of a messiah who will rise from the dead after three days. If such a messianic description really is there, it will contribute to a developing re-evaluation of both popular and scholarly views of Jesus, since it suggests that the story of his death and resurrection was not unique but part of a recognized Jewish tradition at the time. The tablet, probably found near the Dead Sea in Jordan according to some scholars who have studied it, is a rare example of a stone with ink writings from that era — in essence, a Dead Sea Scroll on stone.”
The tablet has been named by scholars as “Gabriel’s Revelation” because it suggests that the angel Gabriel was instructed by God to direct that the Messiah be raised from the dead on the third day.
The stone tablet was discovered about fifteen years ago and is owned by a Israeli-Swiss Jewish man by the name of David Jeselsohn who didn’t understand its significance when he purchased it. The Times article was published in 2008. Dr. Knohl then published a book about all this in 2009 entitled, Messiahs and Resurrection in “The Gabriel Revelation.” That was a follow up to his previous book, The Messiah Before Jesus: The Suffering Servant of the Dead Sea Scrolls (first published in Hebrew in 2000 and then in English in 2002).
In the book, Dr. Knohl explains the various Jewish theories about the Messiah, including the idea of a “Messiah son of David” who will be a reigning king on the earth like King David was, and a “Messiah son of Joseph” who will be rejected by his brothers, mistreated, left for dead but will eventually reappear and save not only the nation of Israel but the world like Joseph did in the book of Genesis.
As an evangelical Christian from a Jewish heritage (my father is Jewish, my mother is Gentile), this subject fascinates me and my family.
Several years ago, my wife and sons and I were studying the book of I Corinthians. One day we focused on I Corinithians 15:1-5, which reads, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you,unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve [apostles]. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time….”
We studied how the Hebrew Scriptures speak of the Messiah suffering and dying to atone for our sins and how we see these ancient prophecies described in Isaiah 53, in Daniel 9:26 (which says the Messiah will come for atonement, then be “cut off,” and afterwards Jerusalem and the Temple will be destroyed), and Psalm 22. We also looked carefully at the Gospel accounts to show how Jesus remarkably fulfilled each of these prophecies. Then I read excerpts of the Times story to Lynn and the boys, and we discussed why many Jewish people think the idea of a suffering Messiah who dies and rises again on the third day is a Christian idea, when really it is a Jewish idea, as explained with such intriguing research by Dr. Knohl.
I would commend these articles — and his books — to your attention. Read them yourself. Study and discuss them with family and friends.
And during this Passover, Good Friday and Easter week, let me encourage you to consider the following critically important questions:
- What if the ancient Hebrew prophecies really did foretell that the Jewish Messiah would die as an atonement for our sins but was also supposed to be buried and raised from the dead on the third day?
- What if Jews in the first century really believed that the coming Messiah would be rejected by the religious leaders of the day in order to be killed on Passover (the ultimate Passover Lamb) and raised from the dead on the third day, on the Feast of First Fruits?
- Did the life of Jesus of Nazareth fit with the ancient Hebrew prophecies?
- Why should that matter?
- How should you respond?