The idea of a Messiah who is killed and then resurrected is a Jewish one that pre-dates Christianity, according to a Hebrew University scholar.
Israel Knohl, a professor of Bible, believes the evidence lies in the “Gabriel Revelation”, an inscription on a stone found at the Dead Sea, which dates back to the beginning of the first century CE or the end of the century before.
“There were Jews around in the time of the birth of Jesus who had this anticipation of the death and resurrection of the Messiah on the third day,” he told the Institute of Jewish Studies on Tuesday, at the London launch of his book on the Gabriel Revelation.
The traditional Jewish concept of a Messiah is of a descendant of King David who comes to lead the Jewish people in triumph.
But ancient Jewish sources also speak of another Messiah, a “son of Joseph” who is killed as part of the ultimate plan of redemption.
In the apocryphal book of Zerubbabel — dated to the seventh century, though some scholars believe it earlier — the son of Joseph is killed by a kind of anti-Christ; his body lies unburied but he eventually comes back to life when the Messiah, son of David, appears.
Scholars have previously suggested that this story reveals Christian influences on Judaism, Professor Knohl explained.
But the Gabriel Revelation inscription contains a passage in which the angel Gabriel proclaims “In three days, live” with the following line referring to “a prince of princes” whose body lies unburied.
The text, Professor Knohl believes, was written shortly after the unsuccessful Jewish rebellion against Roman rule in Israel in 4BCE and the death of its leaders.
Although other scholars have disputed his interpretation of the words on the stone, Professor Knohl is sticking to his guns: “It should cause a revolution in the understanding of the historical Jesus both for Jews and Christians,” he said.