The First Jesus… Oh Really?

He was referred to as the King of the Jews. Many of his followers believed he was the long awaited Messiah. After being executed by the Romans just before Passover, some contend it was prophesied on an ancient stone tablet by the Angel Gabriel  that he would be resurrected in three days. Of course this is Jesus, right? Now here is a radical claim, it was not Jesus! His name was Simon of Peraea and he died about the time Jesus was born in 4 BCE! This claim is made in a 2009 National Geographic documentary called The First Jesus.

Simon was undoubtedly a real historical figure mentioned by Josephus as a self-crowned revolutionary and failed Messiah.

In Perea also, Simon, one of the servants to the king, relying upon the handsome appearance, and tallness of his body, put a diadem upon his own head also; he also went about with a company of robbers that he had gotten together, and burnt down the royal palace that was at Jericho, and many other costly edifices besides, and procured himself very easily spoils by rapine, as snatching them out of the fire;[i]

The radical claims espoused in the documentary are hardly surprising coming from National Geographic, well known for their lunatic fringe anti-christian rhetoric. The dubious theory is derived from the discovery of a three foot stone tablet mythologized as Gabriel’s Revelation or the Jeselsohn Stone which was excavated near the Dead Sea in the year 2000. It is associated with the same community that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls.  It contains eighty seven lines of Hebrew text written in ink dated paleographically to the first century BCE. Ink on stone is a very unusual find. Needless to say, there is considerable debate as to its authenticity.

Israel Knohl, an expert in biblical languages at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, controversially reads the inscription at line eighty as a command from the angel Gabriel for the rebel Simon, beheaded by the Romans in 4 BCE,  “to rise from the dead within three days”.   He asserts that Jesus of Nazareth, aware of Simon’s story, set about a devious act of copycatting .  Consequently, Knohl calls for a complete reassessment of all previous scholarship on the Messianic claims of Christianity. Here is a transcription of the Hebrew text in question:

Column A

(Lines 1-6 are unintelligible)

7. [… ]the sons of Israel …[…]…

8. […]… […]…

9. [… ]the word of YHW[H …]…[…]

10. […]… I\you asked …

11. YHWH, you ask me. Thus said the Lord of Hosts:

12. […]… from my(?) house, Israel, and I will tell the greatness(es?) of Jerusalem.

13. [Thus] said YHWH, the Lord of Israel: Behold, all the nations are

14. … against(?)\to(?) Jerusalem and …,

15. [o]ne, two, three, fourty(?) prophets(?) and the returners(?),

16. [and] the Hasidin(?). My servant, David, asked from before Ephraim(?)

17. [to?] put the sign(?) I ask from you. Because He said, (namely,)

18. [Y]HWH of Hosts, the Lord of Israel: …

19. sanctity(?)\sanctify(?) Israel! In three days you shall know, that(?)\for(?) He said,

20. (namely,) YHWH the Lord of Hosts, the Lord of Israel: The evil broke (down)

21. before justice. Ask me and I will tell you what 22this bad 21plant is,

22. lwbnsd/r/k (=? [To me? in libation?]) you are standing, the messenger\angel. He

23. … (= will ordain you?) to Torah(?). Blessed be the Glory of YHWH the Lord, from

24. his seat. “In a little while”, qyTuT (=a brawl?\ tiny?) it is, “and I will shake the

25. … of? heaven and the earth”. Here is the Glory of YHWH the Lord of

26. Hosts, the Lord of Israel. These are the chariots, seven,

27. [un]to(?) the gate(?) of Jerusalem, and the gates of Judah, and … for the

sake of

28. … His(?) angel, Michael, and to all the others(?) ask\asked

29. …. Thus He said, YHWH the Lord of Hosts, the Lord of

30. Israel: One, two, three, four, five, six,

31. [se]ven, these(?) are(?) His(?) angel …. ‘What is it’, said the blossom(?)\diadem(?)

32. …[…]… and (the?) … (= leader?/ruler?), the second,

33. … Jerusalem…. three, in\of the greatness(es?) of

34. […]…[…]…

35. […]…, who saw a man … working(?) and […]…

36. that he … […]… from(?) Jerusalem(?)

37. … on(?) … the exile(?) of …,

38. the exile(?) of …, Lord …, and I will see

39. …[…] Jerusalem, He will say, YHWH of

40. Hosts, …

41. […]… that will lift(?) …

42. […]… in all the

43. […]…

44. […]…

Column B

(Lines 45-50 are unintelligible)

51. Your people(?)\with you(?) …[…]

52. … the [me]ssengers(?)\[a]ngels(?)[ …]…

53. on\against His/My people. And …[…]…

54. [… ]three days(?). This is (that) which(?) …[… ]He(?)

55. the Lord(?)\these(?)[ …]…[…]

56. see(?) …[…]

57. closed(?). The blood of the slaughters(?)\sacrifices(?) of Jerusalem. For He said,

YHWH of Hos[ts],

58. the Lord of Israel: For He said, YHWH of Hosts, the Lord of

59. Israel: …

60. […]… me(?) the spirit?\wind of(?) …

61. …[…]…

62. in it(?) …[…]…[…]

63. …[…]…[…]

64. …[…]… loved(?)/… …[…]

65. The three saints of the world\eternity from\of …[…]

66. […]… peace he? said, to\in you we trust(?) …

67. Inform him of the blood of this chariot of them(?) …[…]

68. Many lovers He has, YHWH of Hosts, the Lord of Israel …

69. Thus He said, (namely,) YHWH of Hosts, the Lord of Israel …:

70. Prophets have I sent to my people, three. And I say

71. that I have seen …[…]…

72. the place for the sake of(?) David the servant of YHWH[ …]…[…]

73. the heaven and the earth. Blessed be …[…]

74. men(?). “Showing mercy unto thousands”, … mercy […].

75. Three shepherds went out to?/of? Israel …[…].

76. If there is a priest, if there are sons of saints …[…]

77. Who am I(?), I (am?) Gabri’el the …(=angel?)… […]

78. You(?) will save them, …[…]…

79. from before You, the three si[gn]s(?), three …[….]

80. In three days li[ve], I, Gabri’el …[?],

81. the Prince of Princes, …, narrow holes(?) …[…]…

82. to/for … […]… and the …

83. to me(?), out of three – the small one, whom(?) I took, I, Gabri’el.

84. YHWH of Hosts, the Lord of(?)[ Israel …]…[….]

85. Then you will stand …[…]…

86. …\

87. in(?) … eternity(?)/… \


A serious problem for this radical claim is that the translation of line 80 as “in three days li[ve]” is pure speculation. According to the documentary no other scholars agree with him. In spite of their best efforts, further testing has failed to reveal the missing letter(s).

However the principle problem (the fatal one)  is that it fails to address the evidence for Jesus of Nazareth. To refute the idea that Jesus copied Simon I will appeal to prophecy. Jesus fulfilled prophecies that he had no control over, like being born in Bethlehem.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. (Micah 5:2)

Born in the tribe of Judah, line of David,

“You have said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David my servant: ‘I will establish your offspring forever, and build your throne for all generations.’ ” Selah ” (Psalm 89:3–4)

Sorry Simon but you just can”t pick your parents and place of birth… and Simon fails on all accounts. Furthermore, Jesus fulfilled hundreds more.  For example, the description in Isaiah 53 is nothing like Simon and fits Jesus perfectly, even describing the substitutionary atonement.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. (Isaiah 53:5-7)

This was all written centuries in advance and we even have a carbon dated copy form the Dead Sea scrolls dated at 125 BCE.[ii] It describes the humble lamb of God not a self crowned violent revolutionary who made  Messianic claims yet failed to deliver.  There is only one Jesus that matches Isaiah’s prophecy. John the Baptist was nobody’s fool. He lived during Simon’s lifetime and he knew who he was waiting for,

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)

[i]Josephus, F., & Whiston, W. (1996, c1987). The works of Josephus : Complete and unabridged. Includes index. (Wars 2.57). Peabody: Hendrickson.

[ii] (accessed 05/13/2010)

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