A Hebrew inscribed tablet believed to date from the decades before the birth of Jesus may refer to a Messiah who will rise from the dead after three days.
The Age reports the one metre tall tablet with 87 lines of Hebrew is causing a stir in biblical and archaeological circles. But the stone is broken and some of the text is faded, meaning that much of what it says is open to debate.
If such a messianic description really is there, it will contribute to a developing re-evaluation of both popular and scholarly views of Jesus, because it suggests the story of his death and resurrection was not unique but part of a recognised Jewish tradition at the time.
The tablet, probably found near the Dead Sea in Jordan, is a rare example of a stone with ink writings from that era — in essence, a Dead Sea Scroll on stone. It is written, not engraved, across two neat columns, similar to columns in a Torah.
To date the authenticity of the tablet has not been challenged.
Daniel Boyarin, a professor of Talmudic culture at the University of California at Berkeley, said the stone was part of a growing body of evidence suggesting that Jesus could be best understood through a close reading of the Jewish history of his day.
"Some Christians will find it shocking, a challenge to the uniqueness of their theology, while others will be comforted by the idea of it being a traditional part of Judaism," Professor Boyarin said.
Elsewhere a conference marking 60 years since the discovery of the scrolls began yesterday at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, where the stone and the debate over whether it speaks of a resurrected messiah, as one iconoclastic scholar believes, were also due to be discussed.
Ancient tablet spurs debate on story of resurrection (The Age, 7/7/08)