The Sign of Jonah (and a stone tablet)

I have not been following the various stories very carefully about the so-called "messiah tablet" (but Jim West has a nice collection of links and his usual trenchant comments here ). Reading the Time article , however, I was struck by Israel Knohl’s quote regarding the origins of the three day resurrection model.

But, as Knohl told TIME, maybe the Christians had a model to work from. The idea of a "dying and rising messiah appears in some Jewish texts, but until now, everyone thought that was the impact of Christianity on Judaism," he says. "But for the first time, we have proof that it was the other way around. The concept was there before Jesus." If so, he goes on, "this should shake our basic view of Christianity. … What happens in the New Testament [could have been] adopted by Jesus and his followers based on an earlier messiah story."

Like the tablet, we do not know the full context of Knol’s quote but I think even without this tablet we can safely assume that the disciples at least looked at the story of Jonah as an antecedent or lens through which to interpret the events of the cross and empty tomb. Jesus is attributed with rebuking the "evil generation" that looked for signs but would only receive "the sign of Jonah" (Mark 16:4, Luke 11:29).

The fact that this reference to Jonah is present in the text certainly attests, if nothing else, to the importance of citing Scripture to justify the belief in a 3-day "descent" and resurrection. This is a fact of early Judaism that is often stated with regard to rabbinic teaching and halakhah yet often ignored with respect to Christian teaching. Originality is not a positive trait of teaching in first century Judaism.

That being said, I have often said that no one expected the immediate (relatively speaking) resurreciton of the Messiah. If this text really does refer to such a belief and if it is legitimate (something that will be very difficult to prove at this point) then it certainly adds new data to the discussion and will alter my teaching, but I am not sure that it changes or would challenge the Christian faith in any substantial way.

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