Imagining the Shores of Magdala

This wonderful painting of the shores of Migdal or Magdala, home of Mary “the Magdalene,” was painted by my friend Daniela Ciubuc who traveled to Israel with us last year and gave it to us as a gift. I absolutely love it. The infamous Cliffs of Arbel, mentioned by Josephus, where opponents of Herod the Great hurled themselves to their deaths rather than surrender are shadows in the distance at sunset (Jewish War 1.315). Just to the north is Ginosar/Ginnesaret, with Capernaum a bit further up. I find it easy to imagine Jesus, once he moved his mother and brothers to Capernaum, spending meditative time on these shores. The effect of the lake either early morning or at sunset is captivating. And if he did form a bond with Mary Magdalene, as some of our sources indicate (see The Jesus Discovery, chapter 5 titled “Jesus and Mary Magdalene”), it is easy to imagine them also together on these shores.


This little cove area seems to fit the “shore” of the Sea of Galilee described so vividly in the appendix to the Gospel of John, chapter 21. Peter and his companions had gone back to their fishing in Galilee–just as the Gospel of Peter records–still weeping and mourning over Jesus’ death, when they have experiences of Jesus that convince them that Jesus was nonetheless “alive.” See my exposition here that attempts to put all the sources together, “When Apostles and Angels Wept.”

Jesus Son of Mary…

Did you know that Joseph, husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus, is never mentioned in the gospel of Mark? Since Mark is our earliest gospel that seems all the more striking. Mark has no account of the birth of Jesus whatsoever, much less any story of the virgin birth. When Jesus is identified in Mark by paternity he is called “the son of Mary,” (Mark 6:3).


We all tend to read our New Testament Gospels “backwards,” meaning many of us have years and years of “stories” in our heads about Jesus, Joseph, Mary, the Disciples, and so on, but with no sense of where any of them came from in terms of Mark, Matthew, Luke, John. Just imagine if Mark was ALL we had with no father even mentioned much less named for Jesus, with Jesus being called “son of Mary” in the only text that identifies him in terms of his family. What a difference that would make. Everyone tends to just “fill in” the name “Joseph” wherever it is missing. There is clearly more to this phrase–son of Mary– in Mark than immediately meets the eye.

Given Jewish culture, then and now, in which children are referred to as “X son of X,” naming the father, this is all the more jarring. I remember for years in flying into Israel we would have to fill out the visitors visa form on the flight as it landed. Under name one had to give “father’s first name.”  So even as a non-Jew I became, legally speaking, “Jimmy Dan Tabor son of Elgie,” my birth name and my father’s first name! I remember reading the trial brief for Oded Golan, owner of the James ossuary who was accused and subsequently acquitted of forgery charges, the only Israeli trial brief I have ever read, and he was referred to as Oded Golan, son of his father–with his father’s first name given. I am convinced that the complete absence of Joseph from Mark’s record, plus the reference to “the carpenter, the son of Mary,” is a subtle admission by Mark, that Joseph was not the father of Jesus and at least by the time Jesus was an adult, he had likely died.

Interestingly, when Matthew does his “rewrite” of Mark, his main narrative source, he changes Mark’s reference to the “son of Mary” significantly to read: “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary?” (Matthew 13:55). And of course Matthew is our earliest source for the “virgin birth” of Jesus, in which it is asserted that Jesus had no human father.

What we do know with any certainty about the paternity of Jesus is precious little with lots of blank spaces to fill in. If Joseph was the father of Jesus we would surely expect Mark say so in this critical passage set in Jesus’ home town of Nazareth. For more on what we know, don’t know, and might responsibly determine see my series of posts here on the “Unnamed Father of Jesus.”

Hand Made Baroque String Instruments from Vienna

If any of my blog readers have any interest in a hand-crafted Baroque stringed instrument–violin, viola, or cello, my son, Nathan Tabor, who lives in Vienna is one of the best among Luthiers with years of experience and a 100% customer satisfaction rating. He tailors what he makes to the customer and his prices are incredibly reasonable. I love this recent photo of him hard at his craft on which he often spends 12-14 hours a day. Take a look at the web site and if you are interested you can shoot him an e-mail…tell him “James” sent you.


A Comprehensive Analysis of the Talpiot “Jesus Family” Tombs

You have heard about the “Jesus family tomb,” but If you have not read the book, check it out. It covers all the latest discoveries as well as a full and documented discussion of the three tombs on the ancient estate in East Talpiot, south of Jerusalem–plus related discussions, from Mary Magdalene to latest DNA results, to the James ossuary. No matter what your conclusion it remains the most comprehensive discussion in print on the “Talpiot tombs.”  You will find links and lots of additional information here at

Jesus Discovery Paper RD

Thirty-five Years and Counting…

Tomorrow I begin my 36th year of university teaching…1979-2013 marking 35 years. I am as excited as I was the day I first walked into a university classroom in August, 1979 at the University of Notre Dame.


I have been reading Jonathan Z. Smith’s marvelous little book, On Teaching Religion (Oxford, 2013) and I feel like I have been born again. Highly recommended for all teachers in the Humanities. More later on what I am teaching and working on this new academic year–no longer chair but going into high gear in terms of teaching, research, and writing…some amazingly exciting things in the pike.

JZS Teaching Religion