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A Dead Sea Scroll in Stone — Walter C. Kaiser Jr.

Categories Old Testament

Quite a stir has been fomented in recent weeks over what is being nick-named "A Dead Sea Scroll in Stone." This three-foot-tall tablet of 87 lines in Hebrew has raised more than eyebrows because it appears to speak of a Messiah who will suffer and rise from the dead after three days. Even more startling is the fact that it purports to come the decades just before Jesus' time on earth.

According to press reports, it is written in ink (not engraved) in two neat columns, but the stone is broken and a portion of the text has faded, leaving a good deal of what it contains open to debate. Moreover, though this stone apparently had been around for 60 years since the Scrolls were uncovered, the authenticity of this stone has not faced the stiff challenges it can probably expect both with regard to its authenticity and interpretation.

But there is no doubt that one of the key debates in the days ahead will be the concept of a Suffering Messiah. Was this a real part of the TENAK (=Old Testament), or is this concept of a Suffering Anointed One and his Resurrection a Christian imposition or is it a reinterpretation of the TENAK?

Both in my The Messiah in the Old Testament and in the most recent The Promise-Plan of God (Zondervan), I have argued that both Messiah's suffering and his resurrection are an endemic part of the earlier writings of the TENAK.

One text I have recently been reexamining is the Third Servant Song in Isaiah 50:4-11. It is not as well know as the other three Servant Songs (Isa 42:1-7; 49:1-12; 52:13- 53:12). Though the word "Servant" does not appear in Isaiah 50 until verse 10, and even though Israel is clearly said to be that "Servant" in a number of texts in this same Isianic context, nevertheless the Servant also has a ministry to Israel herself. But Israel cannot be the servant in this context of Isiah 50, for verse 11 attributes power to the speaker that goes way beyond anything Isaiah or Israel would claim.

It is Adonai Yahweh (a title mostly reserved for the Abrahamic Covenant in Gen 15 and the Davidic Covenant in 2 Sam 7 [but nowhere else in Samuel]) who instucted the tongue of the Servant of the Lord (Isa 50:4, and 3 other times here in 5, 7, 9 and taught or discipled the Messiah. Thus the Servant of the Lord was endowed with prophetic utterance, a word that was not his own, but the word of the One who sent him!

The Servant is depicted as exhibiting neither an attitude of rebellion nor an outward type of hesitancy (50:5). In fact, he submitted himself to all forms of ill-treatment (50:6), many of which were the traditional ways the state treated criminals (Num 12:14; Deut 25:9; Neh 13:25; Matt 26:67; 27:30). The beating and the scouring by the authorities , the contempt of pulling out part of his beard (Neh 13:25), the mocking and the spitting all have a startling fulfillment in the mistreating of Jesus of Nazareth.

But this Servant Song ends with the expressed confidence that Yahweh will vindicate him (50:7-9). That is why he has "set his face like a flint" (50:7), for it is the same one who gave the Abrahamic-Davidic Covenant, viz., Adonai Yahweh, who will vindicate him in the end.

If the "Dead Sea Scroll in Stone" exhibits any message similar to what the prophet Isaiah laid out in the Third Servant Song, we are in for some very interesting Jewish-Evangelical dialogues! Perhaps the Church can pick up where it broke off from the Synagogue in the second to fourth Christian centuries! This would be one giant step forward for all who take Scripture and history seriously.

Walter Kaiser (PhD, Brandeis University) is the Colman M. Mockler distinguished professor of Old Testament and president emeritus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. His most recent publications include The Promise-Plan of God, a complete revision and expansion of his earlier biblical theology. He is a contributor, along with Darrell L. Bock and Peter Enns, to the forthcoming Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament.

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