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The Tablet that Ends Christianity?

“Corporeal” of the Rational Response Squad says that the recent discovery among the Dead Sea Scrolls gives Christianity a “death blow.”  What is it that he speaks of?  Why it is a tablet that contains a myth about a savior who dies and rises again on the third day.  Thing is, this tablet predates Jesus by decades–and the story, therefore, is probably much older than that.

Here’s the story.  Is it the end of Christianity as we know it, or something altogether different?

Personally, I think that it is something altogether different.  I think that this tablet actually strengthens the case for Christ and for Christianity.  How, do you ask?

Well, I won’t say just yet.  Let’s just say that I agree with Ben Witherington and Theology Web member “ApologiaMonk:”

In Christianity, this was all said to be done according to the Scriptures and that the Scriptures might be fulfilled. If someone reading the OT sees it beforehand, why should that cast doubt on what happened?

Nonetheless, many opinions, both scholarly and otherwise, have been and will be advanced on this topic.  Originally, I had planned on following this story without offering much in the way of commentary on it.  However, I’ve been asked by Rook Hawkins of the Rational Response Squad to offer whatever insight I can to the equation.  So in a future post, I will do just that.

Meanwhile, feel free to discuss the find below in comments, here on Theology Web, or here at the Rational Response Squad forums.  My comments will follow by Wednesday of this week.  I have three full days off to study this find and offer an informed opinion.

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About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian, amateur apologist and philosopher, father of 3. Want to know more? Check the "About" page!

Posted on July 13, 2008, in Apologetics, Site News and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. Oh, no! Another death blow to Christianity?

    I’ve barely recovered from James Cameron finding Jesus’ tomb, the DaVinci Code, and all of the other death blows the Truth has taken over the past few years.

    I hope it’s okay if I don’t get too worked up about this tablet.

  2. A somewhat interesting take on this could be that, yes, this is confirmation that the story predates Christianity, but that’s because it is based on actual events that predate the DSS: i.e., the events that happened to Jonah to foreshadow Christ (Matthew 12:39-40). Thus it actually strengthens Christianity, by supporting the idea that Christians rightly, fully understood Jonah’s experience as pointing to messiah (and not merely as some kind of fairy tale to make kids obey God, or whatever), and thus casting doubt on the idea that a Hellenized Jew from Asia Minor (Paul) came along and made up the resurrection based on pagan ideas imported from the Greeks and others. That first century Jews were interpreting Jonah literally, and were seeing that the three days was significant to a mighty work of God that would show “the Glory of YHWH the Lord of Hosts, the Lord of Israel” (lines 25-26)–well, I see nothing we (Christians) shouldn’t want to own in that.

  3. Ps. Just to make it clear, my reference to “lines 25-26” was referring to Ada Yardeni’s English translation of the tablet.

  4. -Winkle,

    I appreciate the humor, but as an atheist, I didn’t even take Jacobovici (Cameron) seriously. His conclusions stretched beyond what the evidence presented was. He certainly didn’t find Jesus’ family tomb, and the James Ossuary is clearly a forgery (no matter what Hershel Shanks seems to think – the case for its authenticity is close to nil). And, ironically, the Da Vinci Code was not a book out to “destroy Christianity”, but as popular, wholesome entertainment. Which it was. Even the critics of the book’s purported historical nuances would admit the the book was well written (even if Dan Brown does use too many exclamation points!).

    However, in both instances, (moreso in the Da Vinci Codes’ case) books surfaced not only exposing the problems of these alleged criticisms, but also presented even stronger cases against Christiainity (I would recommend Bart Ehrman’s ‘Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code’, and Bob Price’s ‘The Da Vinci Fraud: Why the Truth is Stranger than Fiction’).

    Additionally, unlike these two instances, this tablet predates Christianity by decades (if not generations), making it obvious that Jews had a legend about a death and resurrection prior to when Jesus supposedly lived. This is (and would be) a death blow to resurrection theology. Even though such theology has, according to historical- and literary-criticism, been dead since the days of Strauss and Schweitzer.

    -MonkeeSage,

    That is an interesting interpretation. But it would validate Christianity, it would only confirm the existence of literary mimesis, and how Christians actively interpreted scripture to create such brilliant (and indeed they are brilliant) works of literature. Much as the Mesha stele is eponymous, this stele would also be. More importantly, it would follow along a clear path of anthropological, socio-cultural and archaeological evidence we currently possess in the area of scribal writing and imitatio.

    Highest regards,

    Rook Hawkins

  5. I’m sorry…that should say “But it *wouldn’t* validate Christianity….”

  6. Indeed, it would not validate Christianity. But I thought it was an interesting perspective, in that it would *invalidate* the idea that bodily resurrection was a concept imported into the Jewish worldview by Paul (Saul) from alien sources, late in the game. (And really, the tablet, if it has been rightly interpreted as speaking of a bodily resurrection, proves this by itself; I just thought the Jonah connection was something worth pondering given the over-arching Jewish context).

  7. Ps. Forgive my confusion, but how would this tablet be eponymous? I’m not aware of any names given in the tablet (Knohl’s assertion about a man named Simon notwithstanding). Also, I’m curious about what psychological motive you would give for scribal imitatio, oother than finding something important in the source being imitated (I’m not saying that such a motive proves the factual nature of the original account; I just wonder if you expect some other reason why one work would imitate another).

  8. In regards to your later comment (I don’t disagree necessarily with your first, although I do not think Paul believes in a bodily resurrection – see my article ‘On Paul and Identity’ & Richard Carrier’s three chapters in Price’s ‘The Empty Tomb’), there isn’t any name, but I do not think that it was always that way. The stele is fragmented (if I recall) and missing pieces of the phrase, which is why it is so difficult to say what exactly this stele is all about, even if it can be dated earlier, and seems to allude to the resurrection of *somebody*. Perhaps it is premature of me to make the claim that it is eponymous, although I recognize the style of stele from other ancient Near Eastern stele from all different periods in the regions history which do reflect eponymous traits. (Merneptah and Mesha steles included, although the Tel Dan inscription-all three ‘sections’-would also fit the bill) We’ll wait until the verdict is out in the academic community before we finalize any statements made here in terms of its eponymic value.

    As for the imitatio statement, that is most probably accurate. (Again verdict is not out, so I have to go with what I know of the period, assuming the dating is correct) Imitatio was not necessarily “motivated” by “psychological” reasons, as it was common thread. Why did the author of Exodus use the trope of Sargon’s birth in his creation of the Moses birth story? Why does it seem as though Livy used the story of Sargon ( or perhaps a trope similar to this that is no longer available to us) when fashioning the birth narrative of Romulus and Remus? Why did Luke use the ascension of Romulus (as well as his meeting Proculus on the road to Rome) for the foundation of his narrative with Jesus meeting disciples on the road to Emmaus? Why did he then turn to Homer and use his account of doubting Laertes touching the wound of his son to prove his ‘existence’ to him when creating the narrative of Thomas, the twin, touching Jesus’ wound to see he had ‘resurrected’? These questions are not about psychological motivations as much as they key to the authors (whoever they were) tellings a story. Imitation (mimesis) was tought to every school boy, and was the foundation of written education . Hence the Second Sophistic, the great epic cycles, the “histories” of Josephus….

    See my blog for more details about this.

  9. I apologize for my spelling in the last comment, I did not check for errors before posting.

  10. No problem. I was just curious about your description of the tablet (I hesitate to call it a stele, as steles are generally ceremonial, and tend to be inscribed rather than written with ink (one of the reasons why this tablet is in such disrepair)).

    I, of course (if you were uncertain before, I should like to clarify now that I’m one of the evil “fundi” Christians–the worst kind, in fact–a Calvinist!), would disagree with your presumptions of source-text relationships through-out the Bible. However, I do believe that the only reasonable psychological motivation for imitatio is a felt connection with the source being imitated. I don’t subscribe to the “automaton” theory if inspiration, so I have no problem with holding that God perfectly superintended his revelation to humanity, by working through the human beings who recorded it (rather than preempting them with some kind of “auto-writing” trances and such). So I am comfortable with holding that Scripture is both human and divine, like Jesus. Human in execution, divine in being exactly what God intended for His people.

  11. While your faith may seem to guide your answer to this perspective (which I’m sure it does in more ways than you realize), you are ignoring what I have said. You did not address the source-text relationships between the text. While you may disagree, you offered no explanation for them. The fact that imitatio happened is a flat out fact. There is no disagreement here among scholars or literary critics. It is openly admitted by those the ancients and has been proven through archaeological finds (tablets and papyri from schools, called Gymnasium, where students would learn to imitate Homer, Sophocles, Euripides, etc…). Christians were not immune to this, as many have, themselves, admitted to imitation in their own words. (Mark, for example, makes it obvious he is imitating the Old Testament in his opening line; John makes it clear he is also, and Matthew directly points out where he is getting his narrative plot from when he cites the scriptures)

    I appreciate this kind dialog, so don’t get the impression that I’m being rude here when I say this. I just find your lack of acknowledgment of the facts distasteful to an otherwise open discussion. I also find your Semitic ineptitude for backing up assertions disturbing. You assume many things but do not back them up; (1) Inspiration from God (how would you even prove that to assert it in the first place?), (2) imitatio happens through ‘felt connections’ with the source being imitated (which is silly), (3) Jesus existed and (4) was divine and human (both of which are assertions with no merit).

    Although you are quite right in hesitating with calling it a stele, (I only did because I don’t exactly know what else to call the thing) and again, it would have to wait until the monograph comes out.

    Best regards,

    Rook

  12. I understand how my beliefs effect my interpretation of evidence (–and which types of things I believe constitute evidence, and what types of inferences I believe can be drawn from those things, &c.–I have a philosophy of science). But facts only have meanings in the context of entire worldviews; there is no such thing as an uninterpreted (“brute”) fact–of course, we strive to make sure our interpretations amount to actual knowledge (viz., true, justified belief). I’m not neutral, you’re not neutral–I’m comfortable with that psychological reality.

    You said:
    >>You did not address the source-text relationships between the text. While you may disagree, you offered no explanation for them.

    You’re right, in a sense. I’m not a textual critic and I can’t read Akkadian or Proto-Hebrew or Cuniform; so I haven’t studied all of the various source-text relationships. However, on my worldview, there is no reason to assume a directionality or lineage for them, one way or the other. If there was a united race of people, with a united language, with a united religious cultus (as the Bible claims was the case before the tower of Babel), then a prehistoric origin of any shared accounts is just as much a possibility as imitation in the other direction. I see no good reason to assume in one way or the other.

    If I offended you by the term “assumption” I did not mean to. I mean by “assumption” the logical result of filtering our experience through our worldview. Hence, given that you don’t believe in the Biblical account, you have a reason to assume a certain directionality and lineage for the relationships that I don’t share. Obviously, both a reason to assume one way and a reason not to assume either way, cannot both be valid; but that comes down to the worldview context itself–we have to ask which worldview is correct, as simply shooting at each other from within our own separate worldviews is futile (what are “bullets” on your view may be “butterflies” on mine, to use a metaphor).

    However, I do believe I offered a general explanation for the fact of various sources and texts existing in the forms in which we possess them (even if I don’t know their exact relationships to each other, or other sources which we may no longer possess). I said that God is superintending history in such a way the His message to humanity is carried out by the secondary agents He employs, in the ways He desires, be that through inspiring a feeling of connection with a secular source and prompting imitation, or what-have-you. As B. B. Warfield said in his article on “Inspiration” in the ISBE (q.v.): “If God wished to give His people a series of letters like Paul’s, He prepared a Paul to write them, and the Paul He brought to the task was a Paul who spontaneously would write just such letters.”

    You said:
    >>Semitic ineptitude

    That sounds racist, but I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt. Please explain what you mean by that expression.

    You said:
    >>You assume many things but do not back them up; (1) Inspiration from God (how would you even prove that to assert it in the first place?), (2) imitatio happens through ‘felt connections’ with the source being imitated (which is silly), (3) Jesus existed and (4) was divine and human (both of which are assertions with no merit).

    Well, yes, I do. Likewise, you did not provide a list of (alleged) contradictions and atrocities in the Bible when you assumed a certain directionality and lineage for the various source-text relationships between secular and Biblical writings. I’d be happy to discuss my reasons for my assumptions, and the foundational presuppositions of my worldview, it just hadn’t come up yet. To that end:

    1.) Because I believe that the validity of the worldview expressed in the Bible is knowable a priori, being the ontological precondition which makes human experience possible, and the epistemological precondition which makes it intelligible. I believe that the presuppositions of the Christian worldview are necessary to prove anything. Kant argued that time is the precondition of the possibility of all appearances (_CPR_, I.ii.2), and hence the perception of a person affirming *or* denying time, is thereby proving the logical necessity of time despite the content of their verbal statements; I think a similar argument holds for Christianity. I’m sure you’re familiar with Bahnsen, Butler, Wilson and the TAG (though they give a more populace treatment of the issues than Van Til himself). And yes, I’ve read Martin’s attempted counter-argument, but it seems to horribly misunderstand the nature of a transcendental argument (a la Kant, above), let alone TAG.

    2.) As I said, what other psychological motive do you believe explains it? Let’s say that you read a poem, and it “inspires you” (using the expression loosely) to write a poem using the same metrical form. What is the motivation behind that, other than some feeling of connection with the original poem? The cause of that feeling doesn’t matter to my point. As far as I can tell, I can’t see a better motive to explain imitatio. There may be one, but I’m not aware of it. At the very least, I don’t see why it would be silly to suppose that feeling a psychological connection with a piece of literature could account for the imitation of that piece of literature.

    3.) You earlier appealed to the consensus of scholars and literary critics; so I must ask, do you reject the consensus opinion among scholars regarding the historical Jesus (which includes at least the fact that Jesus existed)? You may of course do so, but I would appeal to the same lines of evidence used by those scholars, so I would just recommend you to any of the works of von Harnack, Schweitzer, Ehrman, any of the fellows or chairs of the Jesus Seminar.

    4.) That goes back to the issue of (1). Of course, there are disputes about Christ’s (unique) divinity, even among those who affirm (1). But there are disputes among string theorists about which theories best account for their data sets as well (not so much now that m-theory has taken form, but it illustrates the point). Humans are fallible beings with complexes of beliefs, who have the potential for inconsistency and delusion; but that’s a biographical statement about humans. So just because humans may dispute over some interpretation of the Bible, doesn’t mean there isn’t a logically necessary conclusion or set of conclusions to be drawn from the data; it just means that humans aren’t always logical.

    Ps. As an aside, I’m not a fideist, so if you are using “faith” as a synonym for “blind faith” I’d prefer that you use a different term.

    Pss. Sorry for the long reply, but much of that was “boilerplate” to provide a better understanding of my views, for the sake future discussion.

  13. 😉

    ^ I’m not trying to make emoticons. Sorry about that.

  14. About the “Semitic” comment, I think that was a spell-check blunder. Obviously I’m not antiSemitic, since one of the irrational precepts I feel we need to rid from the world is antiSemitism (especially those ignorants who hold to the “Holocaust never happened” ideology which I find to be beyond disturbing). I apologize for that slip-up, I should have proofread before posting. For that there is no excuse.

    As per your other comments, while I understand you feel this way, I cannot agree that such beliefs are acceptable. (I can’t, because that is not how our world works, nor how we function daily) So I will have to politely bow out of the conversation here, because this is not the forum for me to be giving a sermon on why I feel your beliefs are effecting your mental state and how it could harm you. (I’m sure Cory would not appreciate me misusing his hospitality here on his blog in such a way) However, I would be more than happy to take this conversation to my forum if you’d like. If not, know I still really enjoyed this conversation, and hopefully you’ll come by RRS and hang out there someday.

    Highest regards,

    Rook

  15. No problem. I honestly didn’t think you held any type of anti-semitic sentiment; I wanted to give you the chance to confirm that. As I have the time (in short supply these days), I’ll try to drop by the RRS forums.

    Ps. I’ve responded (ever so briefly) to the article you mentioned above, specifically concerning Paul and bodily resurrection, here: http://seeingfaith.blogspot.com/2008/07/paul-and-bodily-resurrection.html

    Regards,
    Jordan

  16. Doesn’t this whole debate just prove that Christianity is not falsifiable? Karl Popper observed that any legitimate theory must, in principle, admit of evidence that would prove it false. Just as geology has proved the book of Genesis wrong, the religionist will simply re-interpret to prevent falsification. There is literally no evidence that could, even in theory, be brought to bare that would shake the faith of most believers.

    Of course, I would be interested to know if anyone has any ideas as to what would constitute evidence that proves Christianity (or any other religion) false.

    Dan

  17. Popper recognized that any hypothesis or theory can infinitely resist falsification by the addition of ad hoc postulates (a la Flew’s invisible gardener parable). Kuhn showed that this is not just a possibility, but is the normal operation of science. Lakatos (one of Popper’s students), tried to synthesize Popper’s methodology with Kuhn’s findings, and basically concluded that resisting falsification is only a flaw in a hypothesis or theory when other, “better” hypotheses or theories (i.e., those with a broader explanatory scope, fewer extraneous postulates, &c) are rejected in the process. I say this to illustrate that the Demarcation Problem is far from solved with Popper. An example is the Duhem–Quine Problem (see also Confirmation Holism).

    But regardless of what philosophy of science one might adopt, falsification is certainly not a prerequisite of truth, even if it is a prerequisite of “scientific hypothesis” or “scientific theory.” This is easily proved by a reductio ad absurdum:

    1.) Nothing may be considered true, except it be hypothetically falsifiable.
    2.) (1.) is not hypothetically falsifiable.
    3.) Therefore, (1.) cannot be considered true.

    Also, when dealing with one’s ultimate criterion of truth, it is necessarily unfalsifiable, by definition, because it is that by which the very idea of falsification is meaningful. Say we take sense experience as the ultimate criterion of truth. What sense experience could possibly falsify the verity of sense experience? Quite simply, none, because every evaluation of sense experience will itself presuppose sense experience as the standard by which to evaluate everything–including the sense experience in question. So to evaluate sense experience as false will involve presupposing that sense experience is true, which means that the evaluation is false. And when you eliminate the double negative (“sense experience is false” is false), you end up with the proposition that sense experience is true. It is absolutely unfalsifiable.

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