Gabriel's Vision, archaeology, and the authority of scripture
The interpretation of a recently discovered Jewish text by Israel Knohl, professor of Biblical Studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, has been causing moderate fluctuations in the media and blogosphere. Opinions are divided over whether the text, written in ink on a stone tablet, is authentic, legible, or the sort of thing that could ‘shake our basic view of Christianity’. In case you’ve missed all the fun, have a look at an article from last year by Knohl at haaretz.com; the article in the New York Times that appears to have ignited the current debate; good commentary and discussion at the Catholic News Agency site, Cosmic Log, Scott’s Catholicism Blog; an English translation of the badly corrupted text; a useful Vision of Gabriel Watch at paleojudaica.com; and my own reflections on the possible historical implications of Knohl’s contention.
R. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, quotes long sections of a Time article on the matter (‘Was Jesus’ Resurrection a Sequel?’) and then makes some general comments about the relationship between archaeology and scripture:
I find this sharp, indeed absolute, dichotomy between archaeology and scripture regrettable, not so much because I think archaeology ought to be allowed to ‘prove or disprove the biblical text’, but because Mohler’s epistemological anxiety has the effect of defending the truth or authority of the Bible at the expense of its essential historicality, its participation in history, its narrative and imaginative integrity.
Mohler insists ultimately on elevating the Bible above the uncertainties of historical research. It seems to me that the fundamental post-modern challenge is for us to allow scripture to sink back down into the flow of history, as it is variously and changeably constructed, and to find its power and authority and truthfulness in an unprotected, unprivileged engagement with other narratives.