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Scriptural scholars are abuzz over a stone tablet that is said to bear previously unknown prophecies about a Jewish messiah who would rise from the dead in three days. But there are far more questions than answers about the tablet, which some have suggested could represent "a new Dead Sea Scroll in stone."
Do the tablet and the inked text really date back to the first century B.C., as claimed? Where did the artifact come from? Can the gaps in the text be filled in to make sense? Is the seeming reference to a coming resurrection correct, and to whom does that passage refer? Finally, what impact would a pre-Christian reference to suffering, death and resurrection have on Christian scholarship?
How the tablet came to light
The 1-foot-wide, 3-foot-tall (30-by-90-centimeter) tablet has a checkered past: According to the tale that has been woven around the stone, it was found near Jordan's Dead Sea shore and sold by a Jordanian dealer to Israeli-Swiss collector David Jeselsohn a decade ago. A few years ago, Jeselsohn showed the stone to Ada Yardeni, an expert on ancient Semitic scripts, who consulted with another expert, Binyamin Elitzur.
But Herschel Shanks, founder of the Biblical Archaeology Society and editor of the Biblical Archaeology Review, said that such a linkage really isn't surprising, let alone shocking.
"The really unique thing about Christian theology is in the life of Jesus - but in the doctrines, when I was a kid, you had little stories about the Sermon on the Mount and the people listening to this saying, 'What is this man saying? I never heard anything like this! This is different,'" Shanks told me. "Today, this view is out. There are Jewish roots to almost everything in Christian experience."