Suffering Messiah in Qumran? A Good News Before the Gospels

It was my last semester at the Hebrew University, when Israel Knohl published his book entitled The Messiah Before Jesus: The Suffering Servant of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Jerusalem: Schocken Press, 2000. Hebrew; Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. English). Almost nobody noticed the book. Suffering messiah before the nascent of Christianity? What a strange idea?

Israel Knohl is the Yehezkel Kaufmann Chair of Biblical studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a Senior Fellow at Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. He also served as a visiting Professor at Berkeley, Stanford and Chicago Divinity School. This is why his book was published in Berkeley. On the basis of hymns found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, Knohl argues that one generation before Jesus, a messianic leader arose in the Qumran sect who was regarded by his followers as ushering in an area of redemption and forgiveness. He was killed by Roman soldiers in 4 BCE, and his followers believed he was resurrected after three days and rose to heaven. He also argues that the idea of a suffering messiah was well known among the Qumran sect adherents and in the Jewish apocryphal literature before Christian Era.

The convictions presented by Knohl seemed unproved for several years. The situation changed in 2007, when Ada Yardeni published a fascinating text of an apocalypse transmitted by the angel Gabriel, that they suggest calling Hazon Gabriel (the Vision of Gabriel). The author, Ada Yardeni, received her Ph.D. in ancient Semitic languages, paleography and epigraphy from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. What is the Vision of Gabriel, called also Gabriel Stone? It is a meter-tall tablet found on the banks of the Dead Sea, features 87 lines of an unknown prophetic text dated as early as the first century BC. The tablet contains the words of Archangel Gabriel directed to messiah: “in three days you shall live”.

Based on its linguistic features, the scholars date the text, written in Hebrew on stone, to the late first century BCE. This suggestion is corroborated by the paleographic evidence, which points to the late first century BCE or the early first century CE.

Gabriel Stone confirms the thesis that the belief in a slain and resurrected messiah existed prior to the messianic activity of Jesus. It is a discovery that calls for a reassessment of all previous scholarship on the subject of messianism, Jewish and Christian alike.

And this is a good news, because it means that it was not the Church to invent the idea of suffering and resurrected messiah. The idea was known in Jewish tradition and Christianity flourished basing on Jewish prophecies fulfilled by Jesus himself.