GetReligion: Put a cork in it: the story of the tablet that is to shake the foundations of Christianity

MUST READ: Mollie has done an excellent piece about the reporting of “the tablet,” and particularly the coverage in the New York Times. Bottom line: no big deal despite journalistic spin:

The latest example [the story about the tablet] shows the difficulty journalists have in resisting the shock angle on stories. A completely legitimate and interesting story gets turned into yet another thing that is supposed to shake the very foundations of Christianity. Come on! Enough already! Or can the media at least come up with a better spin, hoax or overblown discovery?

The bulk of the story by Ethan Bronner of the New York Times isn’t terrible. Some of it is fascinating. But the spin put on it is regrettable. Here’s how it begins:

A three-foot-tall tablet with 87 lines of Hebrew that scholars believe dates from the decades just before the birth of Jesus is causing a quiet stir in biblical and archaeological circles, especially because it may speak of a messiah who will rise from the dead after three days.

If such a messianic description really is there, it will contribute to a developing re-evaluation of both popular and scholarly views of Jesus, since it suggests that the story of his death and resurrection was not unique but part of a recognized Jewish tradition at the time.

Um, newsflash to the New York Times. Christians pretty much think the entire story of Jesus life, death and resurrection is part of a “recognized Jewish tradition” at the time. In other words, Christians read much of the Old Testament as prophesying about Jesus. They see Jesus as the fulfillment of those prophecies.

After leading with the spin that this table might threaten Christianity, the article has some very interesting information about the tablet. The reporter cautions that it could take decades to clarify whether the tablet is forged, much less what the actual text says. The stone was bought a decade ago by an Israeli-Swiss collector. An Israeli scholar wrote a paper on it last year and a spate of articles will be coming out in the coming year. It turns out that much of the text is unreadable and many of the translations make quite a few assumptions. Results of a chemical examination of the document are pending.

Bronner says the text is a vision of the apocalypse by the angel Gabriel and draws on Old Testament prophets. One of the oddest things about the story, given the angle of “shaking the world of Christology” is that many of the sources for the article are people who want to shake up Christianity. There are no Christian apologists quoted to explain whether or not this discovery bears at all on the Christian faith.

Excellent reporting: Put a cork in it » GetReligion

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