The Making of a Messiah
by James Tabor
James Tabor Takes on Biblical Controversies and Enigmas
from Biblical Archaeology Society Bible History Daily, July 19, 2012
Running through the various layers of the New Testament Gospel traditions is a complex set of Messianic designations for John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth. Many scholars believe that the authors of the Gospels frame the events in Jesus’ life to match their expectations of a messiah, with many fictionalized messianic events inserted after Jesus’ death. In “The Making of a Messiah,” James Tabor uses evidence of other contemporary prophetic and messianic figures to propose that these events were a part of Jesus’ life; that he acted like a prophet from the Hebrew Bible precisely because of his awareness of Isaiah and other messianic texts.
Tabor asks the chicken or egg question: “Do our Gospel traditions import and impose these textual categories onto the figures of John and Jesus, long after their deaths, as a kind of exegetical or ‘scribal’ enterprise to explain and justify the shocking and wholly unexpected facts of their deaths–the beheading of John and the crucifixion of Jesus? Or is it remotely possible, or even probable, that figures such as John, Jesus, and for that matter, a whole host of late Second Temple Jewish Palestinian ‘messiah’ figures might have derived their self identity and also a self-propelled career pattern based on the reading of prophetic messianic texts?”
James Tabor uses self-references by the Qumran teacher and other contemporary figures to suggest that Jesus may have referred to himself as “anointed by the spirit.” He would have been self-aware of the Biblical tradition of prophets, and would have acted the part intentionally, including an acceptance of his death and martyrdom before the event. Tabor argues that this should not be viewed as later editorializing of Jesus’ life, but instead an indication that Jesus intentionally acted within the Biblical tradition.
“The Making of a Messiah” is one of nine lectures that Tabor delivers in the BAS DVD lecture series Biblical Controversies and Enigmas, now 40% off as part of the BAS summer sale. Tabor, the chair of the Department of Religious Stuides at UNC Charlotte, tackles subjects such as the origins of Christianity, what archaeology reveals about the last days of Jesus and what the Bible says about death, the afterlife and resurrection. Read more and watch a clip from Biblical Controversies and Enigmas.
- In the interest of “full disclosure” I want to point out that speakers for BAS Seminars and the annual Bible & Archaeology Fest are not paid royalties for their lectures that are put on DVD but offer them as an educational service and as a way of supporting the many worthy non-profit activities of the Biblical Archaeology Society [↩]