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Knohl, “Gabriel’s Revelation” Tablet, and the Resurrection

8th July 2008

gabrielsvision2.jpgI just came home from the lake and noticed that many news sources are carrying a story about a paper that Professor Israel Knohl presented at an Israel Museum conference on his interpretation of the so-called “Gabriel’s Revelation” tablet. Knohl argues that the best reading of line 80 of the text is “In three days you shall live, I Gabriel, command you”, and that this text is a pre-Christian reference to the death and resurrection of a Jewish leader.

The tablet was actually discovered a decade ago and has been dated by paleography to the end of the first century B.C.E. The provenance of the tablet is unfortunately unknown since it was purchased from an antiquities dealer. It is claimed it was found near the Dead Sea.

Here is an excerpt from the news story from The Independent:

Using other lines in the text that refer to blood and slaughter as routes to righteousness, along with the overall context of the Jewish revolt against the Romans at the time, Professor Knohl suggests that it refers to the death and resurrection of a Jewish leader.

The tablet, known as Gabriel’s Vision of Revelations because it contains an apocalyptic text ascribed to the angel, has attracted the intense interest of scholars. It came to light after it was bought from a Jordanian antiquities dealer by an Israeli-Swiss collector, David Jeselsohn, who kept it in his Zurich home. The location of the original discovery is not clear, though it may have been in Jordan on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea.

Two Israeli scholars, Ada Yardeni and Binyamin Elitzur, published a detailed analysis of the Hebrew script, which is written rather than engraved in the stone, last year, dating it towards the end of the first century BC. But when it came to the crucial line 80 in the script, which clearly begins “in three days”, the scholars concluded that the next word was illegible.

Professor Knohl argues that the word is “Hayeh” or “live” in the imperative. He goes on to outline his conjecture that the messianic figure could be a rebel leader against the Roman-backed monarchy of Herod named Shimon, who the historian Josephus says was killed by one of Herod’s military commanders.

He will claim today that the interpretation vindicates a theory which he had already expounded in a book in 2000, namely that the idea of a suffering messiah existed before Jesus.

Claiming that the idea that Jesus died to redeem the sins of all mankind was in large part generated by St Paul, who wanted Jesus to be a messiah “of the gentiles”, he said yesterday that the earlier Jewish tradition would have seen his death as necessary “to cause God to defeat the enemy, to liberate Jerusalem from the Roman occupation”. He added: “He was fighting for the liberty of the Jewish people. That is how I see it.”

Not all scholars at today’s conference are likely to be convinced, however. Professor Lawrence Schiffman, Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University, said that a single detail of a “phenomenal” text was being used to create a “media experience”.


I have not read the article by Yardeni and Elitzur, nor have I seen the tablet (or a picture or transcription of it), so I can’t really comment on whether Knohl’s reading is plausible. What I can say is that this reading, if correct, does nothing to diminish the Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus. If anything, this reading only shows once again that the early church is clearly rooted in the first century Jewish community.

UPDATE: BAR has a special news report that includes the article Yardeni published in the January/February 2008 issue of BAR (“A New Dead Sea Scroll in Stone?”) as well as her transcription of the Hebrew text and English translation.

Posted in Archaeology, Discoveries, Inscriptions | 2 Comments »

The Real Seal: Hezekiah Royal Bulla Impression

4th April 2006

The royal seal impression that I used as the basis for my April Fool’s Day post (ain’t Photoshop just amazing?!), is actually an impression of a bulla belonging to Hezekiah king of Judah. The bulla is part of the Kaufman collection and is published in Robert Deutsch, Biblical Period Hebrew Bullae. The Josef Chaim Kaufman Collection (Archaeological Center: Tel Aviv, 2003; Buy from The image is reproduced with permission:


As can be seen from the image, the black clay bulla is in a very good state of preservation. It measures 13.2 x 11.9 x 3.8-1.9 mm, while the seal impression measures 11.9 x 9.9 mm. On the back of the bulla a papyrus imprint is clearly visible along with a groove left by the chord that tied the scroll. The seal was likely set in a bezel of a ring, as is clear from the groove around the edge of the seal impression.


The seal, as can be seen from the line tracing above, is dominated by a royal emblem, what Deutsch considers a two-winged sun disk. The inscription is found above and below the emblem and reads:

לחזקיהו ×?×—/×– מלך יהדה

[Belonging to] Hezekiah, [son of] Ahaz, King of Judah.

For those unfamiliar with the script, here is a key from Deutsch’s volume:


The provenance of the seal impression is unfortuantly unknown, though there is no good reason to doubt its authenticity. There are actually four royal bullae beloinging to Hezekiah, impressed by three different seals, in the Kaufman collection.

Posted in Archaeology, Bullae, Inscriptions | 3 Comments »

SBL Round-Up

21st November 2005

OK, so I wasn’t at the Society of Biblical Literature meetings in Philadelphia the last few days — but due to the excellent posts by my fellow bibliobloggers, I feel like I was there! (Truth be told, I REALLY regret not going to SBL this year. It sounds as if it was a good meeting and it especially would have been great to meet other bibliobloggers.)

A number of bibliobloggers have posted their musings on the SBL. See, for example, Christopher Heard’s Friday, Saturday, and Sunday updates, Mark Goodacre’s daily posts (Saturday am/pm, Sunday am/pm, Monday am/pm), as well as Jim West’s numerous posts.

Sessions I Would Have Liked to Attend

CARG Biblioblogging Session. From the papers that were posted earlier (see Jim Davila’s paper here; R.W. Brannan’s paper is here), this session had the potential to be quite interesting — and it sounds like it was. I’m not sure if much was accomplished in regards to setting the future of biblioblogging, but it provided a venue for everyone to meet face to face. For impression of how the session went, see Christopher Heard’s thoughts here, Joe Cathey has posted his impression on meeting various individuals as well as some reflections on the session. Torrey Seland also has posted his reflections here; he also had an excellent pre-SBL post about biblioblogs here. There are also some reflections by AKM Adam and Jim West. I personally find the whole “biblioblog” phenomenon great. I have really enjoyed blogging — I have learned a lot by writing my own posts and reading others. I also think the variety among biblioblogs is great and should be encouraged.

Tel Zayit Abecedary Session. From the number of posts, this session seems to have been one of the more interesting to attend. Even prior to the SBL, Paul Nikkel posted a summary of the presentation on the Tel Zayit inscription at the ASOR meetings (as well as the Tell es-Safi inscription here). Make sure to check out Michael Homan’s interesting firsthand account of the discovery here. Christopher Heard has a number of excellent posts on the abecedary (here and in response to Joe Cathey here), as does Joe Cathey (here and in response to Chris here) and, of course, Jim West’s post may be found here. Joe sees the cup half full and perhaps assumes too much, while Jim sees the glass half empty and questions whether the inscription can bear the conclusions drawn from it. Chris brings his characteristic level head to the discussion and cautions about seeing too much significance vis-a-vis maximalist-minimalist historical questions, though its paleographical significance is immense. Jim Davila also has a superb four-part discussion of the inscription (Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4; for a more general SBL report from Jim see here). His final conclusion concerning the inscription is so good I just have to quote it in full:

So what does it all mean? I’m tempted to picture the final exam for scribes: the candidates walk in and sit down. At each desk there is a forty pound stone. The instructor says, “Now incise the alphabet on this stone with your metal tool. You have 50 minutes.” Unfortunately, our scribe made several mistakes and flunked out. His final exam was posted on the wall as a warning to other students. Don’t let this happen to you.

New Historicism and the Hebrew Bible. This entire session looked interesting, but in particular Jim West notes a paper by Sean Burt (Duke University) who offered a critique of Long, Longman, and Provan’s A Biblical History of Israel. Jim argues that Burt rightly pointed out that “those who privilege the Hebrew Bible as a source should also explain why Jubilees and The Samaritan Chronicles are not.” He further notes that “the ‘maximalists’ owe it to us all to explain why and how they justify their exclusive use of the Hebrew Bible as their only source. Why not use Josephus or Philo instead?” Of course, the simple answer to Jim’s question is that Long, Longman, and Provan limited their sources to the Hebrew Bible because they were writing a “Biblical” History of Israel (note the title of their book!). But, that answer would be too simple. In my humble opinion I would agree with Jim insofar as I think that all potential sources should be evaluated and used when appropriate. In regards to Josephus, they do in fact use him a bit in their work, but I’m not sure why one would use Josephus instead of the Hebrew Bible — especially since Josephus is clearly later and derivative of the Hebrew Bible. That being said, Josephus may preserve some valuable historiographic information. From the online abstract Burt’s paper looked quite interesting in that it explore the ideological nature of historiography.

All in all it looked as if SBL was quite interesting. Of course, what I find most valuable about SBL is not the papers; I find that getting together with old friends and meeting new ones the most enjoyable thing about SBL (and, of course, the book displays!).

Next year in Washington, D.C.

Posted in Abecedary, Inscriptions, SBL | Comments Off

Tell es-Safi Ostracon Again: New Tracing and Comments (UPDATED)

21st November 2005

I have updated my previous tracing of the Tell es-Safi Ostracon based on the higher resolution images available at Dr. Stefan Jakob Wimmer’s excellent website (Wimmer is one of the team of archaeologists involved in the dig).

N.B.: I have received some crucial information about the inscription from Danny Frese who heard Dr. Maeir speak on the inscription at University of California, San Diego, last week (for more, see the interpretation section below).

Here are the (now updated) images with some tracings:

This image seems to support a slightly different reading for the first word, which becomes a bit easier to see with some magnification:

Here is an image with the contrast and brightness adjusted in order to see the inscription a bit better:

And here is a tracing:


Deciphering the first couple letters of the ostracon provide the most trouble. If you compare the three available hi-resolution images, it becomes clear that the first two (or three?) letters are somewhat problematic:

This new image originally raised some questions about my (and others) original reading: ×?לות )LVT and ולת VLT. From right to left you still find a somewhat odd aleph with the horizontal cross stroke transversing the V-strokes (kind of like the aleph at Gezer or from the plaque at Shechem). But then in this image the second letter sure appears to be a tav, as Duane Smith had pointed out. This reading raises it own problems in regards to spacing, as Chris Heard noted in the comments to my original post.

As it turns out, my original tracing was in fact correct. After his lecture, Danny Frese asked Dr. Maeir about the markings between the aleph and the lamed. In response, Maeir acknowledged that part of the inscription gave them some troubles, until they finally figured out that the vertical stroke inbetween the aleph and lamed is not a stroke at all; it’s an accumulated mineral deposit on the surface of the sherd, it just happens to be in a line and looks like a stroke. The horizontal stroke, on the other hand, is part of the aleph, it’s just a long arm. Danny also noted that this is discernable in the enhanced photos I have posted (which were better quality than the images Maeir had at his talk). A close examination (see the enlarged picture below) reveals that there is no shadow in the vertical stroke between the aleph and lamed, as there would be if it were incised. There are, however, clear shadows in the vertical portions of the aleph and the lamed. Moreover, Frese notes, there looks like a slight shadow on the bottom right hand side of the vertical stroke, whereas the shadows on the lamed and aleph are on the left side. That is to say, this part of the vertical stroke looks to me like a lump of minerals, and not an incision.

Here is an enlarged image. If you look closely you can see the shadows on the lefthand side of the inscribed aleph and lamed, but there are no shadows to the left of the verticle stroke. But, as Danny notes, there is a slight shadow to the right of the verticle stroke. Absolutely facinating!

The rest of the inscription is the same as previously noted. After the aleph you find a lamed, which instead of the almost vertical stroke with a hook to the right at the end, you find it more like a coil. This is similar to the lamed on the potsherds from Tell ed-Duweir (Lachish; dated around 1250 BCE). Following the lamed you have a vav followed by another tav. Then after the vertical stroke (on which see below), you have another vav followed by what is a very poorly inscribed lamed followed by a partial tav.

In the comments on my previous post, Ed Cook suggested the possibility that this could be some sort of invoice or the like (interpreting the vertical stroke between the two names/words as an amount of some kind with the vertical stroke being a universal symbol for the number “1″. According to Ed, “This would place the ostracon in the very large category of receipts.”

No matter how one interprets the first word, it is the second word (ולת VLT) that is argued to be connected with the Hebrew name Goliath (גלית GLYT), the questions surrounding the first word are not as significant. The connection with the first word VLT and the Hebrew GLYT “Goliath” is based on an assumed Indo-European G/V shift, the validity of which I will have to let the linguists work out.

As a side note, while I agree that referring to this ostracon as the “Goliath inscription” or the like is misleading, calling it the “‘LWT/WLT inscription” is also problematic considering the difficulty of ascertaining what letters are actually represented. I still think that the safest bet is to refer to it by where it was found, thus the “Tell es-Safi ostracon” it is!

Posted in Archaeology, Goliath, Inscriptions, Tell es-Safi | Comments Off

Tell es-Safi Ostracon Tracing and Comments (UPDATED)

13th November 2005

I was taking a closer look at the picture of the Tell es-Safi ostracon and decided to trace the letters in Photoshop. I found it quite difficult to identify some of the characters — especially the aleph. I should warn you that I am not a paleographer, though I do find this sort of stuff quite interesting. Any and all correction are most welcome!

So, for what it is worth, here are the images:

The reported reading — ×?לות ‘lwt and ולת wlt — is not too difficult to make out. From right to left you find a somewhat odd aleph with the horizontal cross stroke transversing the two V-strokes (kind of like the aleph at Gezer or from the plaque at Shechem). I am not sure what to make of the two small verticle lines just to the left of the aleph, however. Next you find a lamed, which instead of the almost vertical stroke with a hook to the right at the end, you find it more like a coil. This is similar to the lamed on the potsherds from Tell ed-Duweir (Lachish; dated around 1250 BCE). Following the lamed you have a waw followed by a tav. Then after the vertical stroke, you have another waw followed by what is a very poorly inscribed lamed followed by a partial tav.

In regards to the interpretation of the ostracon, Jim West has reproduced some comments from the Biblical Studies email list by Yigal Levin (who worked on the dig), as well as a summary.

UPDATE: Enlarged Image of Ostracon

Duane Smith over at Abnormal Interests wonders about the identification of the initial aleph on the ostracon. While I think it does begin with an aleph, I am not sure what the two vertical strokes between the aleph and the lamed are supposed to be. I don’t think it is a tav as Duane suggests. I magnified and adjusted some settings in Photoshop so that the letters/mrkings may be seen a bit more clearly:

Anyone have any thoughts as to what those strokes represent?

Archaeology, Goliath, Inscriptions, Tell es-Safi | Comments Off

Giant Pickle’s Goliath’s Cereal Bowl Discovered

11th November 2005

I know this is (relatively) old news — at least on the ‘net — but there has been another exciting archaeological discovery announced: Goliath’s cereal bowl has been found! An ostracon (a fancy scholarly name for a piece of broken pottery) has been with found with Goliath’s name on it. Now we can rest assured that our faith is not in vain because we can prove Goliath existed! (Now if we could only figure out who actually killed Goliath! See 2 Sam 21:19 if you are confused).

OK, OK, I may be guilty of exaggerating the evidence a wee little bit. OK, perhaps my claims are a bit unfounded. OK, fine, I don’t know what I am talking about!

Now that I got that off my chest, what was really discovered at Tell es-Safi (the site of the ancient Philistine city of Gath) was an ostracon bearing names that are similar to the name of David’s boyhood nemesis, Goliath (גלית). The names inscribed on the pottery shard (×?לות ‘lwt and ולת wlt) appear to be of Indo-European derivation, like the hypothesized etymological parallels of the name Goliath.

So when we come right down to it, this discovery does not prove that a young David killed a giant named Goliath. It does not even prove a Goliath ever existed. It is, however, the earliest known Philistine inscription (being dated to the 10th or early 9th century BCE), which is something to be excited about. And it may even suggest that the derivation of the name “Goliath” accurately reflects naming conventions of that period.

Christopher Heard suggests calling the ostracon the “‘LWT/WLT sherd” (Isn’t that “shard”?). While that may be more accurate (and less sensational), it isn’t very “sexy”! I still lean towards calling it “Goliath’s Cereal Bowl.” (OK, how about the “Tell es-Safi ostracon”?)

Christopher Heard has an excellent summary of the news/blog stories surrounding the inscription as well as an insightful deconstruction of the exaggerated claims found in the popular press. Jim West has reproduced the press release from Bar Ilan University regarding the find here. In addition, I just noticed Duane Smith over at Abnormal Interests has an interesting entry on the inscription.

Posted in Goliath, Inscriptions, Tell es-Safi | Comments Off

Ancient Hebrew Alphabetic Inscription Discovered

10th November 2005

Another significant archaeological discovery in Israel was just announced. A large limestone boulder with an “abecedary” (an inscription with the letters of the alphabet written from beginning to end) was discovered on the last day of the 2005 season of excavations at Tel Zeitah, Israel, which is about 30 miles south of Tel Aviv.

What is also exciting about this discovery is that the stone was embedded in a wall in the 10th century BCE strata of the site. This dating — if confirmed — makes the inscription the oldest Hebrew alphabetic inscription to date. P. Kyle McCarter is pictured (see above) with the inscription in the background during the news conference in Pittsburgh yesterday (photo: AP).

For more information see the Zeitah Excavations website, the New York Times, Associated Press, as well as Michael Homan’s blog (Michael was participating in the dig this last summer). Joe Cathy also has a couple posts about the discovery (here and here), as does Jim West (here and here). Finally, Chris Heard responds to Joe’s blog here.

In addition, if you are interested in reading a bit about the origin of the alphabet, you can check out my blog entry here.

All in all, this last summer was a good season for archaeology in Israel. In addition to this inscription, a large public structure was discovered by Eilat Mazar in Jerusalem (see here). The same dig also unearthed a seal mentioning a “Yehukal son of Shelemyahu son of Shobi” (see here). Finally, some fragments of Leviticus came to light earlier in the summer (see here) — with continued controversy (see here).

Posted in Abecedary, Archaeology, Inscriptions, News, Tel Zeitah | Comments Off

Yehukal Seal Tracing Update

10th August 2005

I had some very helpful comments by Robert Deutsch on the tracing of the letters on my Yehukal Seal blog entry. I have updated the image to reflect most of the recommendations, though I have to admit that I cannot make out some of the suggestions on the picture of the seal I am working with — even after magnifying the image and making changes to the contrast and colour balance, etc., with Photoshop. For instance, I just don’t see the upper half of the first lamed, but I think I do see part of the middle bar on the yod (the second letter). At any rate, I did make some of the suggested modifications. (A higher resolution picture would perhaps make it easier to trace).

As I noted in the comments thread to the original post, the (only) purpose of the tracing was to bring the letters — as best as I could discern them from a lo-resolution photograph — into sharper relief so that people who haven’t ever looked at a seal or other inscriptions can use the chart to read the seal. Thus, my purpose was pedagogical, not paleographical.

Robert Deutsch remains convinced that the bulla is from the late 8th or the first half of the 7th century BCE, while Peter van der Veen defends Mazar’s date of late 7th early 6th century BCE. Perhaps we’ll need to get them to debate their evidence to see if some consensus can be reached on the date.

Posted in Archaeology, City of David, Hebrew, Inscriptions, News | Comments Off

Yehukal Seal Picture and Discussion (Updated)

7th August 2005

Here is a pretty clear picture of the Yehukal bulla that was discovered by Eilat Mazar in her Jerusalem dig:

(Thanks to Joseph I. Lauer for the link; the picture was published in the Taipei Times)

Here is a tracing of the bulla I made to show the letters in greater relief; note that the first nun begins on the second line and is incomplete and the heh-vav at the end of the second line were difficult to make out in their entirety (Thanks to Ed Cook for the identification of the partial nun).

While it is not the easiest to decipher, it appears to read: ליהוכל בנ שלמיהו בנ שבי, which could be translated variously as “Belonging to Yehukal son of Shelemyahu son of Shobi” or “Yehukal son of Shelemyahu son of Shobai.” I translated the name שלמיהו with a shin primarily because that is a known name (Jer 36:14, 26; 38:1; Ezra 10:41; 1Chron 26:14), while Selemyahu is not. The same argument can be made for Shobi (2Sam 17:27) and Shobai (Ezra 2:42; Neh 7:45). Moreover, since most (if not all) Hebrew names are related to verbal roots with specific meanings and include theophoric elements which interplay with the meaning of the root, both Shelemyahu and Shobi make sense, while the alternatives readings with the letter sin do not.

This may very well be the same person mentioned in Jeremiah 37:3 יהוכל בן שלמיה “Jehucal son of Shelemiah” (NRSV) and 38:1 יוכל בן שלמיהו “Jucal son of Shelemiah” (NRSV). Robert Deutsch, however, dates the bulla on paleographical grounds to the late 8th, or the first half of the 7th century BC, precluding the identification with the Yehukal mentioned by Jeremiah. In respone to this dating, Peter van der Veen has defended Mazar’s date well within the range of Jeremiah’s career. He notes: “the unequal stance of the horizontal lines as well as the long top horizontal bisecting the vertical shaft are strong indications of a late 7th-6th cent. BC date (as we know from all the provenanced material!!). The lack of field dividers (though more common around 700 BC) is not an argument against a late Iron Age IIC date. Similar bullae were found at Lachish Str. II and hence are well attested ca. 600 BC” (From Jim West on Biblical Theology).

For those who may know Hebrew, but are unfamiliar with the archaic Hebrew alphabet, here is part of a handout I give to intermediate Hebrew students:

There are a number of good discussions of the seal on the web: Ed Cook perhaps has the best at Ralph the Sacred River. Jim West also has a number of posts on the subject at Biblical Theology blog: here and here. Duane Smith at Abnormal Interests has also posted a good discussion of the seal.

Posted in Archaeology, City of David, Hebrew, Inscriptions, News | Comments Off