Sunday, July 26, 2009

John Collins on the Vision of Gabriel

John Collins discusses and explains the Vision of Gabriel and its controversy with his typical clarity in the Yale Alumni Magazine. Click on the link for the full article, discussing the handwriting analysis, Israel Knohl's (unaccepted) conclusions. Here, however, is Collins's conclusion:

At a conference in Jerusalem in early July, Knohl was met by skepticism from both Jewish and Christian scholars. The skepticism had nothing to do with theology. The text simply does not say what Knohl claims. It is too fragmentary. It is not clear that the Ephraim mentioned is a messiah. Even if the word after "three days" is "live," it does not follow that it means "rise from the dead." A chariot does not necessarily imply ascent to heaven. This is not to say that Knohl's interpretation is impossible. But there is not much reason to think it is right.

But even if Knohl's interpretation were right, it would hardly warrant the ensuing fuss. Everyone who has taken an introductory New Testament course knows that the early Christians understood Jesus in light of Jewish prophecies and expectations. The motif of resurrection after three days is based on a passage from the prophet Hosea about restoration of the people: "on the third day he will raise us up that we may live before him." If Knohl's interpretation should prove to be right, it would be an interesting contribution to the history of religion. But its supposed threat to Christian theology is no more than a marketing strategy. In that respect, the Vision of Gabriel is only the latest of many discoveries that have been sensationalized for the sake of publicity.

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