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Mysterious Hebrew stone goes on display in Jerusalem

By Israel Hayom–

A museum worker points at the 'Gabriel Stone' as it is displayed at an exhibition at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem | Photo credit: AP

A museum worker points at the ‘Gabriel Stone’ as it is displayed at an exhibition at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem | Photo credit: AP

Scholars continue to debate significance of the so-called Gabriel Stone • Said to have been found 13 years ago on the banks of the Dead Sea, it features 87 lines of an unknown prophetic text dated to the time of the Second Temple.An ancient limestone tablet covered with a mysterious Hebrew text that features the archangel Gabriel is at the center of a new exhibit in Jerusalem, even as scholars continue to argue about what it means.

 The so-called Gabriel Stone, a meter-tall tablet said to have been found 13 years ago on the banks of the Dead Sea, features 87 lines of an unknown prophetic text dated as early as the first century B.C.E.

Scholars see it as a portal into the religious ideas circulating in the Holy Land in the era when was Jesus was born. Its form is also unique — it is ink written on stone, not carved — and no other such religious text has been found in the region.

Curators at the Israel Museum, where the first exhibit dedicated to the stone is opening Wednesday, say it is the most important document found in the area since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

“The Gabriel Stone is in a way a Dead Sea Scroll written on stone,” said James Snyder, director of the Israel Museum. The writing dates to the same period, and uses the same tidy calligraphic Hebrew script, as some of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of documents that include the earliest known surviving manuscripts of Hebrew Bible texts.

 The Gabriel Stone made a splash in 2008 when Israeli Bible scholar Israel Knohl offered a daring theory that the stone’s faded writing would revolutionize the understanding of early Christianity, claiming it included a concept of messianic resurrection that predated Jesus. He based his theory on one hazy line, translating it as “in three days you shall live.”

His interpretation caused a storm in the world of Bible studies, with scholars convening at an international conference the following year to debate readings of the text, and a National Geographic documentary crew featuring his theory. An American team of experts using high resolution scanning technologies tried — but failed — to detect more of the faded writing.

 Knohl, a professor of Bible at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, eventually scaled back from his original bombshell theory but the fierce scholarly debate he sparked continued to reverberate across the academic world, bringing international attention to the stone. Over the last few years it went on display alongside other Bible-era antiquities in Rome, Houston and Dallas.

Bible experts are still debating the writing’s meaning, largely because much of the ink has eroded in crucial spots in the passage and the tablet has two diagonal cracks the slice the text into three pieces. Museum curators say only 40 percent of the 87 lines are legible, many of those only barely. The interpretation of the text featured in the Israel Museum’s exhibit is just one of five readings put forth by scholars.

All agree that the passage describes an apocalyptic vision of an attack on Jerusalem in which God appears with angels on chariots to save the city. The central angelic character is Gabriel, the first angel to appear in the Hebrew Bible. “I am Gabriel,” the writing declares.

 The stone inscription is one of the oldest passages featuring the archangel, and represents an “explosion of angels in Second Temple Judaism,” at a time of great spiritual angst for Jews in Jerusalem looking for divine connection, said Adolfo Roitman, a curator of the exhibit.

 The exhibit traces the development of the archangel Gabriel in the three monotheistic religions, displaying a Dead Sea Scroll fragment which mentions the angel’s name; the 13th century  New Testament, one of the oldest illustrated manuscripts of the complete Hebrew Bible; a 10th century New Testament manuscript from Brittany, in which Gabriel predicts the birth of John the Baptist and appears to the Virgin Mary; and an Iranian Quran manuscript dated to the 15th or 16th century, in which the angel, called Jibril in Arabic, reveals the word of God to the Prophet Muhammad.

“Gabriel is not archaeology. He is still relevant for millions of people on earth who believe that angels are heavenly beings on earth,” said Roitman. The Gabriel Stone, he said, is “the starting point of an ongoing tradition that still is relevant today.”

The story of how the stone was discovered is just as murky as its meaning. A Bedouin man is said to have found it in Jordan on the eastern banks of the Dead Sea around the year 2000, Knohl said. An Israeli university professor later examined a piece of earth stuck to the stone and found a composition of minerals only found in that region of the Dead Sea.

The stone eventually made it into the hands of Ghassan Rihani, a Jordanian antiquities dealer based in Jordan and London, who in turn sold the stone to Swiss-Israeli collector David Jeselsohn in Zurich for an unspecified amount.

A museum worker looks at the "Gabriel Stone" as it is displayed at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Tuesday, April 30, 2013. An ancient stone with mysterious Hebrew writing and featuring the archangel ...

A museum worker looks at the “Gabriel Stone” as it is displayed at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Tuesday, April 30, 2013. An ancient stone with mysterious Hebrew writing and featuring the archangel …

Rihani has since died. The Bible scholar traveled to Jordan multiple times to look for more potential stones, but was unable to find the stone’s original location.

Israel Museum curators said Jeselsohn lent the stone to the museum for temporary display.

 Lenny Wolfe, an antiquities dealer in Jerusalem, said that before the Jordanian dealer bought it, another middleman faxed him an image of the stone and offered it for sale.

 “The fax didn’t come out clearly. I had no idea what it was,” said Wolfe, who passed on the offer. It was “one of my biggest misses,” Wolfe said.

What function the stone had, where it was displayed, and why it was written are unknown, said curators of the Israel Museum exhibit.

“There is still so much that is unclear,” said Michal Dayagi-Mendels, a curator of the exhibit. Scholars, she said, “will still argue about this for years.”

mh- New Yorkk Jewish Guide.com

 

Jewish Ethics: Some Basic Concepts and Ideas

The biblical text and the rabbinic tradition provide the universal search for an ethical life with passion and some unique concepts.

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By the editors of the Encyclopedia of Judaism @ New York Jewish Guide.com

 

The rabbis of late antiquity, building upon the Hebrew Bible, shaped the terms and categories of practical ethics that have guided discussions of ethical issues in Jewish life for the past two millennia.

This survey of those terms and some of the main areas of concern of Jewish ethics in the formative period of Judaism is reprinted with permission from Encyclopedia of Judaism.

The rabbis generally referred to morality by the phrase bein adam la-havero (“norms between man and his fellow-man”), which was included in the term derekh eretz (“ways of the world”). From various expressions by some of the most authoritative rabbis, it could be inferred that morality was deemed one of the central components of Judaism: “Simon the Just said, ‘The world stands on three things: Torah, avodah (“divine service”), and acts of lovingkindness’” (Avot 1:2). Hillel said, “What is hateful to yourself do not do to your fellow-man. This is the entire Torah, the rest is commentary. Go and study” (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a).

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In terms of the content of the morality of Judaism, the basic meaning of key moral terms such asmishpat (“justice”),  halakhah(“righteousness”),hesed (“kindness”), and rahamim (“compassion”) is much the same as what is understood by current philosophic analysis. Yet there are special qualities to the morality of Judaism, which, in turn, seem to be the result of distinctive approaches.

The involvement of God in the moral struggle imparts a quality of urgency and passion which is unique to Judaism. “For I know their sorrows,” says God (Exodus 3:7) and “… it shall come to pass that when he cries out unto Me that I shall hear” (Exodus 22:26). Hence the “hysterical” tone of the prophets. Injustice cannot be tolerated. Cruelty and human suffering shake the foundations of society. Judaism did not introduce new definitions of moral terms but rather revealed the true source of morality: God rather than man, prophecy rather than wisdom. Therefore, man could no longer be complacent about the moral situation. “Righteousness was asleep until it was awakened by Abraham” (Midrash Tehillim, Psalms 110).

In Judaism, the realm of morality is not restricted to deed but rather includes man’s inner world of consciousness: thoughts, emotions, intentions, attitudes, motives. All are to a degree subject to man’s control and qualify for moral judgement. Thus the Bible warns against coveting (Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18), against hating one’s brother (Leviticus 19:17), against “hardening one’s heart” (Deuteronomy 15:9,10), while the rabbis inveighed against envy, desire, and anger (Mishnah Avot 2:11) and noted that “thinking about transgression may be worse than transgression itself” (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma29a).

Biblical sensitivity to the harm as well as the good that could be done by speech was unprecedented: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:2 1). Man must be careful not to lie, curse or slander (Leviticus 19:11,14,16), nor to receive a false report or speak evil (Exodus 23: 1, Deuteronomy 19:16-18). The rabbis also condemned the use of flattery, hypocrisy, and obscene speech and urged the practice of clean, pleasant, and non-abusive language. In terms of the good that could be achieved by speech, the rabbis encouraged proper greetings to all, the need to cheer people with good humor, rebuke properly, and comfort with words in times of bereavement (Babylonian Talmud, Bava Batra9, Ta‘anit22a). The halakhah [Jewish law]endowed the spoken word with legal force and in the area of vows and oaths applied the biblical teaching: “He shall not breach his word, he should do according to all that proceeds from his mouth” (Numbers 30:3).

In the ancient world, animals were sometimes venerated as gods or exploited for work or sport with extreme cruelty. The morality of Judaism includes concern for man’s relationship to all living creatures. They are seen as junior partners in the building of civilization and therefore entitled to rest on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-10). Since “the Lord is good to all and His tender mercies are over all His works” (Psalms 145:9), man must follow suit: “A righteous man regards the life of his beast” (Proverbs 12:10). Man must provide for those animals he has domesticated and must not cause them any unnecessary pain (Babylonian Talmud, Bava Metzia 32b). A number of biblical laws seem to aim at preventing “anguish” and “frustration” to animals, particularly in regard to their care for their young (Exodus 23:5; Leviticus 22:27,28; Deuteronomy 22:4,6,7,10, 25:4). The rabbis prohibited causing animals pain for the sake of sport or hunting when not for the sake of food, and permitted experimentation with living creatures only when it seemed likely to lead to practical advances in medical treatment.

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Concern for the dignity of man is another distinctive feature of the morality of Judaism, expressing itself primarily as respecting each person’s privacy and being careful not to cause anyone shame or embarrassment. The rabbis incorporated into the halakhah a special category of’ “shame” or “indignity” in awarding compensation for damages caused one’s fellow (Babylonian Talmud, Bava Kama 8:1)In this area, they showed their awareness of the irreducible dignity or worth shared by every human being, as well as their sensitivity to the individual needs of people depending upon each one’s self-image and standing in life.

Mh- New York Jewish Guide