clip_image002(Photo: Dominic Buettner for The New York Times)

According to a NY Times story, several Israeli scholars contend that an ancient tablet found near the Dead Sea, dated from the 1st century B.C., talks about a Messiah who would die and 3 days later be resurrected.

This is probably the first evidence from an ancient Jewish source that the idea a dying and rising messiah figure may not have been all that foreign in ancient Jewish traditions.

Some are already framing this as a problem for Christianity. However the sword in this case probably cuts in a number of unforeseen directions.

First of all, Jewish scholars and religious leaders have maintained for over 1,900 years that a Messiah who dies and is resurrected is foreign to Judaism. Now this may not entirely be the case.

Second, liberal Christian scholars over the last generation or so have discounted the gospel resurrection narratives as myths invented later by 2nd and 3rd generation Christians.  Many have contended that 1st century Jews like Jesus and the Apostles could never have originated the idea of a Messiah who dies and is resurrected. It would have been quite foreign to their religious culture, but quite in keeping with some Greek and Roman religious traditions and ideas which were in circulation during the last half of the 1st century and the beginning of the 2nd. The tablets could very well challenge these unfortunate assumptions.

It will be interesting to see how different scholars respond to the discovery. Here is Dr. Ben Witherington’s initial posting.  

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