Jerusalem - A unique 2 000-year-old stone tablet takes centre stage at an exhibition that opened in Jerusalem on Wednesday and traces depictions of the Archangel Gabriel in Jewish, Christian and Islamic scriptures.
In the three so-called Abrahamic religions, Gabriel typically serves as a messenger to humans from God.
First mentioned in Jewish scripture, Gabriel is particularly prominent in the Christian gospels - he announced to Zechariah the forthcoming birth of John the Baptist and to the Virgin Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus.
And Muslims believe it was Gabriel who dictated the Qur’an to their Prophet Mohammed.
Adolfo Roitman is curator of the “I am Gabriel” exhibit at the Israel Museum, which will run until February 2014.
He says the Gabriel Revelation stone is the first example of the angel's name appearing in ink on stone, although earlier mentions of his name are found in the Dead Sea scrolls.
“In such a way, presented on stone, it is the first time ever,” he told reporters. “We don't know of anything like this.”
“The Gabriel Revelation stone is, in a way, like a Dead Sea scroll written on stone and it's unique in that respect,” agreed museum director James Snyder.
The artifact, acquired by Swiss collector David Jeselsohn in Jordan in 2000, is believed to have been made in an ancient Jewish community on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea, Roitman said.
The tablet is 93 centimetres tall and dates back to the end of King Herod's reign and the start of the Jewish revolt against Roman rule in the first century of the Christian era.
It is covered with 87 lines of Hebrew writing, less than half of which are legible.
The text refers mostly to an attack on Jerusalem, contains a possible prediction of a future event and reflects a messianic atmosphere and a new view of angels as intermediaries between God and man.
“The subject of angels is a crucial issue in the spirituality of Second Temple Judaism,” Roitman said, referring to the period in which Herod's temple stood in Jerusalem before its destruction by the Romans in 70 AD.
“There is a new paradigm, a new relationship between God and human beings,” he added.
On the Gabriel stone, the angel announces himself three separate times with the words “I am Gabriel.”
One statement has caused dissent among academics because of the poor condition of the section where it is written, Roitman said.
Line 87 of the text widely accepted by scholars as reading: “In three days, the sign will be (given). I am Gabriel.”
But an alternative interpretation of the eroded Hebrew writing could read: “Be alive in three days!” in what could be a possible pointer to the resurrection of Jesus.
While the stone has already been displayed in the United States and the Vatican, the Jerusalem exhibit puts it alongside rare Christian and Islamic texts about Gabriel for the first time.
The exhibit draws on loans from Oklahoma City's Green Collection - the world's biggest archive of ancient biblical texts - and archives of the Roman Catholic church in Jerusalem.
It encompasses one of the Dead Sea scrolls that predicts a war between the forces of light and darkness at the end of days, mentioning Gabriel and the Archangel Michael.
There is also a 10th century Latin manuscript of the Gospels with Luke's account of Gabriel's appearances to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, and to Mary.
And there is a 16th-century Persian depiction of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed ascending to heaven accompanied by the angel - known as “Jibril” in the Qur’an.
“The fact that we have manuscripts from three monotheistic religions together in one room showing the shared tradition, I feel, is very significant in our day,” Roitman said.
“Today, when we mention Islam it is mostly in the context of the clash of civilisations... Here is the opposite.
“In a metaphorical way, this is the starting point of an ongoing tradition that still is relevant today.” - Sapa-AFP