The Jesus Dynasty Eight Years After: Seven Major Themes

Eight years ago, in April, 2006 I published The Jesus Dynasty.  Now in paperback it has continued to sell moderately but steadily.  I wrote it as a popular summary of my own personal lifelong “quest” for the historical Jesus. It is written in a style accessible to the non-specialist and many readers find that it pulls them into the story in an engaging fashion. It also has extensive references and notes. It received an enormous amount of media attention when it was released and has also been translated into more than a twenty foreign languages. It is also available in all major e-book formats (Kindle, iBooks, Nook) as well as an CD Audio version ready by yours truly, see links here.

The following is a summary of some of the main substantive points made in the book that advance our understanding of Jesus and early Christianity. If you have not read it it maybe well be that these themes will grab your attention. I know of no other book on the historical Jesus that includes these wider parameters in trying to understand Jesus as a human being in his own time and place.

1. The Material Evidence
One of the unique features of The Jesus Dynasty is the way in which archaeological discoveries inform and offer a new interpretive context to the unfolding Jesus story. Whether one is considering the location of the family tomb of Jesus, the splendor of the Roman city of Sepphoris, just north of Nazareth, the site of the Suba “John the Baptist” cave, or the location of the sites of the Last Supper, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus in Jerusalem, Jesus is put in a time and place that becomes real to us through the material evidence that survives.

2. The Historical Mary
Much has been said about the “historical Jesus” but little attention has been given to Mary his mother. She is shrouded in legend, interpreted by theology, and the focus of personal devotion and piety. But what does history actually tell us? She is an unwed mother, a young Jewish woman, Miriam, mother of seven children, eventually widowed, struggling to survive in a troubled time, courageous and full of vision for her gifted children. So much of what Jesus and his brother James became has to trace back to her strong influence.

3. Jesus and John the Baptist
The relationship between Jesus and his kinsman John is a much neglected aspect of the Jesus story. John has been marginalized and minimized as the precursor of Jesus, introducing him and then quietly moving off the stage. John was in fact the most important influence in Jesus’ life. Their mothers were close. They likely knew one another growing up. Jesus looked to John as mentor and teacher and they joined ranks in their shared vision for Israel’s prophetic future as the two Messiahs, conducting a preaching campaign that rocked the nation back on its heels and drew the attention of the Roman authorities. John’s unexpected death was a vital factor in his own developing understanding of the role he and John were destined to play in the course of history, ultimately leading him to the cross.

4. Messianic Self-Identity
Jesus’ own Messianic self-identity, from an historical point of view, was a complex mix of his own royal pedigree, his reading of biblical prophetic texts, and unfolding events. He came to see that his destiny required him to confront the authorities in Jerusalem, and like John, face opposition and perhaps even death. He found himself in the sacred texts of Scripture, and at the same time he began to act out in his own life and career the series of events that would lead up to his death. His was no “Passover plot,” but a giving of the self for a cause in hope and trust that God would somehow honor his faith and fulfill the promises of the Kingdom.

5. On Earth, not in Heaven
The vision of the kingdom of God shared by John, Jesus, and their early followers was a spiritual one, but on earth not in heaven. Like the Hebrew Prophets they looked for a time in which peace would come to all nations and righteous and justice would emanate from Jerusalem as the new spiritual capital of a restored Israel, a beacon light to the world. The entire world would turn from idolatry to worship of the one true Creator God. The two Messiahs were to inaugurate that new era and their deaths would serve for the redemption of the world.

6. James and the Brothers as Successors of Jesus
Although recent studies have moved a long way toward rehabilitating the memory and importance of James, the brother of Jesus, his vital role as the “beloved disciple” and pillar of the Church has been largely lost and forgotten. A recovery of the “historical James” is not only possible, but it is perhaps our best method for getting back to the historical Jesus as well. The towering influence of James was based both on his pedigree, as a descendant of the royal line of King David, and also upon his remarkable faith and strong character, exhibited for over thirty years following the death of his brother. That Simon took charge of things after James’s death indicates that this dynastic aspect of early Christianity has been largely lost and forgotten through the legendary dominance of Paul and Peter. An understanding of the Jesus Dynasty is our clearest entrée to really understanding both the faith and the message of Jesus and his earliest followers.

7. Recovering the Original Gospel
Paul’s gospel message is the formative influence within the entire New Testament and thus forms the foundation of what became world Christianity.  In contract, the original message of John the Baptist, Jesus, and James is a singular one that was gradually, forgotten, suppressed, and marginalized in a Gentile Church that largely lost its Jewish roots and origins. That message can be recovered in both the New Testament and other ancient sources through a careful sifting of textual evidence and a commitment to recover the lost treasures of earliest Christianity. Throughout the book John the Baptist, Jesus, and James are put in the thoroughly Jewish 1st century contexts in which they are most clearly understood historically.

Pope Francis Concecrates the Entire World to the Immaculate Heart of Mary

While most of the news media were concentrating the past ten days on issues such as ending the congressional budget/debt crisis, the computer glitches with the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) and the latest reports of the NSA phone tap spying on the world leaders of our closest allies you might have missed this story.

The original statue of Our Lady of Fatima had been transferred from its home at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal to St. Peter’s Square especially for the consecration. The act marked the culmination of a weekend of Marian prayer and devotion.

The events began on Oct. 12, when Pope Francis led a Marian prayer vigil in St. Peter’s Square, followed by a worldwide televised vigil at various Marian sites all over the world.

Immaculate-Heart-E-300x350Pope Francis, in celebrating the 96th anniversary of the apparition of the Virgin Mary to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal in 1917, consecrated the entire World to the Immaculate heart of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. The story below from the National Catholic Register is really pretty unbelievable–at least to me as a historian who has pleaded for a quest for the historical Mary–that is a rehabilitation of the memory of Miriam the Jewish mother of Jesus and his brothers and sisters (See my book, The Jesus Dynasty). 

My post last year, “Mary, Mother of God or Jewish Mother of Seven ?,” which appeared on the front page of the Religion section Huffington Post, and stirred up lots of controversy with nearly 1000 comments, drew both ire and praise, as one might expect when one touches on such a sensitive topic–see here and here. If you have not taken a look at the Huffington Post site please visit and leave your comments to add to the fray.

To be fair to Pope Francis, my guess is he is invoking Mary more as a symbolic example of virtuous behavior than the overtly superstitious extremes of “Marian” devotion that are so common to the masses, but there is no doubt that such “prayers and expressions of devotion” serve to perpetuate the myth rather than recover for our day an appreciation for the thoroughly Jewish mother of Jesus who surely would have recoiled at any such misguided worship. After all, was it not Miriam who most likely taught the young Jesus the great confession of Jewish faith we call the Shema–as witnessed by Jesus’ rebuke to those who offered him even the mildest devotion–Why do you call me God–there is One who is good–God alone (Mark 10: 17-18).

This official story from the Register deserves a very careful reading, including the links. Sadly, it reflects how far we have to go in achieving anything even close to a realistic appreciation for Mary, the Jewish mother of Jesus, in her own time and place in history.

 

National Catholic Register


Daily News

Pope Francis’ Consecrating the World to Mary Culminates Fatima Celebration

Approximately 150,000 pilgrims jammed St. Peter’s Square for the occasion.

BY EDWARD PENTIN

| Posted 10/15/13 at 12:45 AM

Rex Features via AP Images

VATICAN CITY –– Tens of thousands of pilgrims from all over the world gathered under unseasonably warm and sunny weather in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday to witness Pope Francis consecrate the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

The Holy Father performed the consecration before the image of Our Lady of Fatima, asking Mary’s help to “revive and grow faith.”

Oct. 13 marked the 96th anniversary since the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to shepherd children Jacinta Marto, her younger brother Francisco and Lúcia dos Santos at Fatima. It also took place as the Year of Faith draws to a close on the Feast of Christ the King, Nov. 24.

In front of an estimated 150,000 pilgrims, the Pope asked Mary to welcome the consecration “with the benevolence of a mother.”

“Guard our lives in your arms,” he said. “Bless and strengthen every desire for goodness; revive and grow faith; sustain and illuminate hope; arouse and enliven charity; guide all of us on the path of holiness.”

He also asked Our Lady to teach mankind her “special love” for children and the poor, for the excluded and suffering and for sinners.

The original statue of Our Lady of Fatima had been transferred from its home at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal to St. Peter’s Square especially for the consecration. The act marked the culmination of a weekend of Marian prayer and devotion.

The events began on Oct. 12, when Pope Francis led a Marian prayer vigil in St. Peter’s Square, followed by a worldwide televised vigil at various Marian sites all over the world.

Untier of ‘All Knotted Hearts’

In his address, the Holy Father stressed that the Virgin Mary leads Christians to the mercy of God, who can untie “all knotted hearts” caused by sin. “These knots take away our peace and serenity,” he said, and he urged the faithful not to give up hope that God can untie these knots. Mary, he said, “takes us with the hand of a mother to the embrace of the Father, to the Father of mercy.”

Repeatedly over the weekend, the Holy Father explained how Mary, through her witness of faith, is the paradigm for all believers. Drawing on her example, he challenged the faithful to consider their own faith more profoundly, following her example of fidelity, which was shown all the way to Jesus’ crucifixion.

Her faith at that moment, he said, was “like a little flame burning in the night”; and at the empty tomb, her heart was filled with the joy of faith.

During his Sunday homily, Pope Francis reflected on the importance of Mary’s faithfulness even in moments of difficulty. “Her Yes to God was a Yes that threw her simple life in Nazareth into turmoil. Many times,” he said, “she had to utter a heartfelt Yes at moments of joy and sorrow, culminating in the Yes she spoke at the foot of the cross.”

Importance of Gratitude

He also preached about the importance of gratitude, especially for the Christian community and for family life. “If families can say these three things, they will be fine: ‘sorry,’ ‘excuse me,’ ‘thank you,’” he said, adding that, “all too often, we take everything for granted.”

Reflecting on Mary’s example of Christian gratitude, he recalled the Magnificat, saying it is “a song of praise and thanksgiving to God not only for what he did for her, but for what he had done throughout the history of salvation.”

He added that God reveals himself in poverty, weakness and humility and stressed that the journey to salvation also entails commitment.

“I ask myself: Am I a Christian by fits and starts or am I a Christian full time?” the Pope said. “Our culture of the ephemeral, the relative, also takes its toll on the way we live our faith. God asks us to be faithful to him, daily, in our everyday life.”

But he stressed that the Christian knows God cannot be unfaithful even if the believer is himself, and he “never tires of stretching out his hand” to help and encourage us. “This is the real journey: to walk with the Lord always, even at moments of weakness, even in our sins,” he said.

Many attending the consecration and weekend of events dedicated to Mary warmly welcomed the Holy Father’s initiative and said it was much needed.

David Carollo, executive director of the World Apostolate of Fatima in the United States, told the Register that, unlike in the struggle against Soviet communism, “the whole world is in trouble today.”

Russia spread its errors, he said, and that’s been particularly clear in the U.S. and the West. “We’re rotting, culturally,” he said, and exporting a culture that is “disgusting.”

Secularism, he added, has evolved from the “mandated atheism” of communism, but is more subtle. The consecration, he said, is a way of combating this and helping the world convert to Christ. “The Pope is saying to the faithful: ‘Be simple like Mary, because the whole pontificate has that theme.’”

Timothy Tindal-Robertson, president of the World Apostolate of Fatima in England and Wales, stressed that Sunday’s ceremony was “a giving of the world into the Immaculate Heart of Mary to save it.”

“That is her whole mission,” he said. “Mary is again at the foot of the cross to bring salvation, and this is what the world needs.” He was especially struck by Pope Francis kissing the feet of the statue of Mary. “It is the Holy Father saying [to Mary] that we, the Church, welcome you; we embrace you; we love you,” he said. “That’s the message that needs to get right out into the Church.”

Consecration Must Continue

But those present were eager to stress that the consecration doesn’t end there if the world is to be converted.

“We’ve all got to play our part,” said Donal Foley, also a member of the World Apostolate of Fatima of England and Wales. “We must pray the Rosary on the first five Saturdays to make it happen in the West. It’s not meant to be a magic thing that happens and then we relax.”

Mike Daley, a founding member of the England and Wales branch of the apostolate, stressed that the consecration is meant for all people. “We mustn’t lose sight that Our Lady is our universal Mother, and that means everyone,” he said. “It’s very important just to consider it’s not an exclusive consecration.”

They also underlined the power of prayer and recalled the effectiveness of Pope Francis’ vigil for peace in Syria and the world –– a vigil at which the Salus Populi Romani, the most important Marian icon in Rome, was processed up to the altar.

“What does that tell you? Prayer moves mountains, and I think no one knows this more than Pope Francis,” said Carollo.

Carollo, Daley, Foley and Tindal-Robertson all uphold Sister Lúcia’s testimony that John Paul II consecrated Soviet Russia to the Immaculate Heart –– an explicit instruction of Our Lady of Fatima –– in 1984, along with all nations of the world. As opposed to some who still contend the pope must explicitly consecrate Russia, they believe it has been done, as proven by Soviet communism’s fall.

The real crisis, Tindal-Robertson believes, is and always has been the abandonment of belief in God. “That’s what Our Lady said; because if you address that, you’re on the path to salvation again,” he said. He also sees the consecration as a means to heal the Church and the continuing crisis that followed the Second Vatican Council.

“It’s very important to show the whole Church and the people of God Mary’s position in the Church in this Year of Faith,” said Tindal-Robertson. “We need the presence of Our Lady in the Church, and this is what Francis is proclaiming.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

Copyright © 2013 EWTN News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Jesus as Illegitimate and the Talpiot Tomb: Some New Considerations

In the meantime, it is indeed interesting to note that this very practice of patronymy/paponymy/metronymy, by its repetitive nature, leaves the sample of names quite narrow and refutes in essence the argument of “very common names” put forward by a number scholars that the Talpiot tomb was not that of Jesus’ family.

—Prof. Claude Cohen-Matlofsky

Professor Claude Cohen-Matlofsky has just posted a fascinating paper, “Jesus the Patriarch and Talpiot tomb A,” at Bible & Interpretation. Her article on this subject will be published in the soon-to-be released volume of 2008 Princeton Theological Seminar Jerusalem Symposium papers edited by James Charlesworth, The Tomb of Jesus and His Family (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014).

Cohen-Matlofsky’s academic focus is in late 2nd Temple Judaism (see her notable recent study Flavius Josèphe entre Hasmonéens et Hérodiens, les ambitions d’un homme, L’Harmattan, Paris) [1] but it is her distinguished work as a prosopographist that has new and overlooked relevance to a discussion of the Talpiot “Jesus” family tomb and its possible or probably relationship to Jesus of Nazareth and his family. Her work in this area stems from her broad and substantial study, Les Laïcs en Palestine d’Auguste à Hadrien: étude prosopographique (Paris, H. Champion, 2001).[2].

What Cohen-Matlofsky has undertaken is a much tighter chronological calculation (63 BCE to 70 CE.) of the occurrences of various Jewish names, both male and female, in the period, as well as a broader and more comprehensive sampling than just names on ossuaries. She points out, for example, that Tal Ilan’s most useful lexicon includes names from 330 BCE to 200 CE, which is a very broad chronological swath, and that is what many of us have relied upon.Although Tal Ilan includes other sources beyond ossuary inscriptions, Cohen-Matlofsky has been able to update, expand, and in some places correct, her tallies.

She has previously published some of her results in connection to  names in the Talpiot tomb at Bible & Interpretation here and here, but this latest contribution adds a new dimension to the consideration of the six names in the tomb–namely how the cluster of relationships reflected in the names sheds light on the family as a whole. For example, taking the three names with patronymic relationships in the Talpiot “Jesus” family, namely:

Jesus son of Joseph
Judah son of Jesus

Theoretically we would have six possible combinations of linear descent from grandfather to grandson, namely:

Joseph-Jesus-Judah
Joseph-Judah-Jesus
Jesus-Joseph-Judah
Jesus-Judah-Joseph
Judah-Jesus-Joseph
Judah-Joseph-Jesus

What is striking is that only the first, that is Joseph-Jesus-Judah would potentially have a fit with a hypothetical “Jesus of Nazareth” family tomb, making the sequence in the tomb much more unique than one might initially think.

The tomb of Jesus is an atypical, fatherless tomb: Jesus, the eldest son, became the patriarch by “replacing” the “husband” of his adulteress mother.

Cohen-Matlofsky takes seriously the likelihood that Jesus was most likely born illegitimate (Hebrew term mamzer)–that is not the biological son of Joseph, her betrothed.[3] I have written extensively about this in a series of posts on this blog, see, for example, see, “Who Was Jesus Father?– Imagining the Best,” and “Joining the Slanderers,” as well as my five-part series on “The Birth of Jesus.” Whatever the circumstances of her pregnancy by another man, which we have no way of determining given our lack of evidence, Jesus’ legal status as a mamzer in Jewish law, becomes an important factor in assessing the implied relationships reflected in the Talpiot tomb. I recommend a careful reading of Prof. Cohen-Matlofsky’s latest important contribution.

 

  1. See her contribution on Josephus in Bible & Interpretation []
  2. This study consists in a list of 715 names found in the various sources with statistical charts including male and female distribution []
  3. See the references in Prof. Cohen-Matlofsky’s paper in her footnote here. []

A Review of my book The Jesus Dynasty

I have been asked by numerous readers if I will be reviewing Reza Aslan’s new and controversial book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. I do plan to write such a review as soon as I can finish reading the book. In the meantime, for my own take on the historical Jesus, but with some strongly contrasting differences with Aslan, here is  a comprehensive review of my book The Jesus Dynasty.

The following is a review of my book, The Jesus Dynasty (Simon & Schuster, 2006), professor Dennis E. Groh, noted scholar of early Christianity.  If you find this very thorough review intriguing I urge those who have not to “read the book” itself, see more information here, and you can “like” it on our new Facebook page here.[1] This study of the “historical Jesus” is a precursor to my new book, Paul and Jesus (Simon & Schuster, 2012), published last November.[2]

James D. Tabor, The Jesus Dynasty. The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity. NY: Simon & Schuster, 2006. ISBN # 13: 978-0-7432-8723-4

Is there anyone who has been so cut off from the religious scholarship and news reporting of the last decade that s/he does not realize that our portrait of the person and message of Jesus has been seriously “messed with,” if not “messed over” [i.e., intentionally distorted] as it has been transmitted to us in the traditions of both the New Testament and early catholic Christianity? We can now add to the myriad of books offering new pictures of what has come to be called “The Jesus Movement” yet another reinterpretation of its founder and progress.

James D. Tabor of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, a distinguished scholar of the texts and archaeology of first century Palestinian movements, has written a book that offers a real alternative to historic interpretations of Jesus founded on, and (he thinks) obscured by, the literature of early Gentile Christianity—most notably Paul’s letters and Luke/Acts. In fact, Tabor proposes a different list of literary sources from which he reconstructs a far different picture of Jesus and his movement, one that builds on Jewish prophetic and royal messianic movements:

“The Christianity we know from the Q source, ((Behind both Matthew and Luke was an oral sayings-collection common to both and unknown to Mark. The German word Quelle (or “Q”) which means “source” was given to this collection of sayings, which most scholars believe began as an oral source but was eventually written down, perhaps as early as 50 AD in a form that served as a source for Matthew and Luke, either directly or through one using the other’s work.)) from the letter of James, from the Didache, and some of our other surviving Jewish-Christian sources, represents a version of the Jesus faith that can actually unite, rather than divide, Jews, Christians, and Muslims, or at least open wide new and fruitful doors of dialogue and understanding among these three great traditions that have in the past considered their views of Jesus to be so sharply contradictory as to close off discussion.” (316).

Tabor has utilized recent archaeological finds from first century Jewish ossuaries to stabilize and verify the authenticity of family names attributed to Jesus by the New Testament and other literary remains of the period; he has leaned heavily on the genealogical tables of the Gospels and upon the notices in the New Testament and contemporary literature on the relatives of Jesus; he has drawn on the picture of contemporary Messianic prophecy and scriptural fulfillment from Qumran and the New Testament; he has mined early Christianity for notices of so-called “Jewish Christianity”; and he has accepted as historically accurate many statements from the narrative framework of the Gospels, usually ignored by biblical scholars as purely theological constructs. The picture of Jesus, his expectations, and the successor movement we know as early Christianity departs in a completely different direction from the Christianity long-associated with triumphant Gentile Christianity—that of Paul and Luke/Acts.

Briefly stated, Tabor’s thesis can be summarized as follows:

Jesus was “the firstborn son of a royal family—a descendant of King David of ancient Israel. He really was proclaimed ‘King of the Jews’ and was executed by the Romans for this claim.” (4). Neither a religion-founder or a church-founder, “he established a royal dynasty drawn from his own brothers and immediate family.” (4). The Hebrew Prophets which pointed to a leader from this blood line in the Last Days and the Dead Sea Scrolls gave precision to this expectation that Herod’s house and the Roman rulers worried about and watched-out for. “Shortly before he died, Jesus set up a provisional government with twelve regional officials, one over each of the twelve tribes or districts of Israel, and he left his brother James as the head of this fledgling government. James became the uncontested leader of the early Christian movement. This significant fact of history has been largely forgotten, or as likely, hidden. Properly understood, it changes everything we thought we knew about Jesus. . . . The pivotal place of James, the beloved disciple and younger brother of Jesus, has been effectively blotted from Christian memory.” (4-5).

Not surprisingly, such a radical thesis from so respected a scholar has generated a storm of discussion plus an unusual amount of curiosity in the wider public. The Jesus Dynasty was featured on ABC 20/20 and Nightline, the centerpiece of a cover story by USNews and World Report, and shot immediately upon publication to number 22 on the New York Times best-seller list.

Some key conclusions of Tabor’s—ossuary evidence confirming Jesus’ familial names (including accepting the authenticity of the disputed “James Ossuary”); his assertion that Jesus’ brothers and sisters were children of Mary by a second marriage (likely to Clopas or Alphaeus, the brother of Joseph); the location of Jesus’ probable permanent burial [hence, Tabor’s denying any resurrection claims], along with that of James, somewhere near the Mount of Olives where he thinks Jesus was actually crucified—really push the boundaries of the evidence to its extremities. And his case is not helped by “what if” thinking that he reports from various historic locations he visits in ancient Palestine. But despite its radical ragged-edges and popularist speculations, this book makes a major contribution to a new picture of Jesus which takes into account very crucial and completely disregarded aspects of early Christianity. I want to take you on a sampling of three “soundings” into Tabor’s research that show how truly interesting and controversial his work is.

1. Jesus Relationship to John the Baptizer. One of the clearest embarrassments of the written Gospels is the priority in time and importance of John the Baptizer. John not only began the “Kingdom” preaching first; it was John who baptized Jesus, not the other way around. The writers of the four Gospels respond by stressing the clear superiority of Jesus to John, emphasizing that he was only a forerunner of or witness to Jesus’ messianic status (cf. 136-137). ). Here, Tabor turns to the Q document’s saying in Luke 7:26, that there is “no one greater than John,” which Luke or the early Christians amended to, “yet the least in the kingdom is greater than he” (136). Clearly, Jesus had considered John an equal in the original form of the saying. Another Q saying preserved in Luke 7:32-34 (which Tabor does not cite) underscores the contention that early in his ministry, Jesus considered John and him to be equal partners in announcing the news of the Kingdom. Thus when Jesus’ disciples ask to be given a prayer, as were the disciples of John, Tabor suggests the Lord’s Prayer Jesus taught his disciples was the very one he himself learned from John (137).

In Tabor’s complicated and intriguing reconstruction, early in his ministry Jesus moved south into Judea baptizing while John remained baptizing in the north—at the crossroads of Herod’s territory, the Galilean routes south, and the safety of western Transjordan (that is, out of what he supposed was the “reach” of Herod Antipas). Drawing on the Qumran literature, Tabor argues for a joint message to Israel delivered in concert by the Priest Messiah (John the Baptizer) and a Davidic Royal Messiah (Jesus) (pp. 147-150).

“Later, after Jesus’ death, when a replacement on the Council of Twelve was chosen for Judas Iscariot. . .it was specified that only candidates who had been with Jesus and the group ‘beginning from the baptism of John’ would be considered for this important office (Acts 1:22). Christians later tended to separate the two movements—that of John the Baptizer and Jesus, as if one was ‘Jewish’ and the other ‘Christian.’ In the lifetime of Jesus, and among his immediate followers, there was one unified movement and one baptism.” (150). It is only with the shocking and sudden arrest and killing of John, that Jesus realizes he must go on alone proclaiming: “the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is at hand.” (157).

2. Jesus’ Genealogy and Family. While most scholars skirt the genealogies of Jesus that open Matthew and Luke, Tabor mines them for the strange inclusions that appear there. He treats the information as historical data and not just as the Gospel writers’ inventions of interwoven quotations from the Septuagint [i.e., the Greek translation of Hebrew Scripture cited in the New Testament]. These genealogies provide Tabor with important clues to Jesus dynastic claims. Noting that especially Luke includes the names of women associated with the Leviticus (Priestly) tradition, he argues that Mary possess both the Davidic and Priestly lines of descent which she passes on to Jesus (56). In fact, Mary has both the royal and priestly lines one expects in an “anointed king” [a priestly king; cf. Aaron, actually the first ‘Messiah’ in the bible: Exodus. 40:12-15]. (56). The Talpiot family tomb-find (near Jerusalem) shows another first century example of the family association brought about through the intermarriage of individuals descended from both Priestly and Davidic lines (51-56).

Most importantly to Tabor is the fact that all four Gospels avoid claiming paternity for Joseph, thus clearing the way for him to argue for an unknown (human) father for Jesus and a second marriage for Mary (61-62), producing the four brothers and two sisters of Jesus that Mark 6:3 mentions (73).

It is on his biological family that Jesus builds his dynastic hopes: “Jesus by age thirty functions as head of the household and forges a vital role for his brothers, who succeed him in establishing a Messianic Dynasty destined to change the world. This extended family of Jesus is the foundation of the mostly forgotten and marginalized Jesus dynasty and it is long overdue for resurrection. By restoring the various historical possibilities related to the family, we are prepared to gain a truer understanding of Jesus and how he might have understood what he believed was his God-ordained mission as Messiah and King of a restored nation of Israel.” (81).

3. The Leadership of the Jerusalem Church. Despite efforts to skip over, or minimize, the fact, when the curtain opens after Jesus death, James leads the The Twelve. The leadership of the early New Testament church has passed to Jesus brothers, especially James.
“This is perhaps the best-kept secret in the entire New Testament: Jesus’ own brothers were among the so-called Twelve Apostles.” (165).

Everyone assumes that Jesus brothers never believed in him. “This spurious opinion is based on a single phrase in John 7:5 that many scholars consider to be a late interpolation. Modern translation even put it in parentheses.” (165). James, in fact, is not only a disciple; he is the beloved disciple (165).

Thus, the latter part of Tabor’s book is spent carefully introducing the kind of Christianity that was dominant in the succession of Jesus relatives [note: not Peter] as heads of their church (until 106 CE) (291-293), whose movement continued to exist into the fourth century CE. The theology of this earliest movement existed in sharp contradistinction to the Pauline views of the heavenly, divine Christ whose Gospel abrogated the Jewish Law. For the Jesus Movement, who saw themselves as “faithful Jews” (not “Christians,” and certainly not “Jewish Christians”), no abrogation of the Law, no matter how widely the good news was to be proclaimed, was ever conceived (266). Paul’s insistence that the Law was a temporary or custodial guardian until Christ or a “temporary revelation” and his bitter polemic against Jewish observance was totally different from the Messianic Movement’s proclamation and aims (cf. 267).

I have only scratched the surface of this book in the three soundings above; but I encourage you to read it for yourselves. Because Tabor is constructing a new thesis on all kinds of evidence, a number of his statements are educated “guesses” and speculation to be tested by future information and study (cf. his discussion of DNA evidence, pp 11-12, 14, 22). Many who read this book will be outraged by his arguments and conclusions. But, from my point of view, a thesis rarely flies into my scholarly life out of nowhere that makes me rethink my entire scholarly framework; and The Jesus Dynasty is certainly one of those very rare birds.

For contemporary “children of Abraham,” by emphasizing the human, prophetic, ethical and messianic center of the Jesus Movement, Tabor has put interfaith dialogue on an entirely different basis. He has set the very matrix and foundation of early Christianity back into a world comprehensible in terms of both ancient Judaism and the rise of Islam.

  1. I personally love the original hardcover edition which is now bargain priced the same as the paperback. It is beautifully bound and even has color plates in the front and back. []
  2. Dr. Groh received his Ph.D. from Northwestern University, where he spent his career teaching, rising to the rank of Full Professor. After his “first” retirement he took a post as Professor of Humanities and Archaeology, and University Chaplain at Illinois Wesleyan University, from which he has now retired as well. He has served as President of the North American Patristics Society and is the author or co-author of six books and over 100 articles. Perhaps his most enduring and notable contribution is his study, with Professor Robert Gregg of Stanford University, titled Early Arianism: A View of Salvation (1981), unfortunately now out of print. This single work has completely transformed our understanding of “how Jesus became God” and the history and development of what is called “Christology.” It is rare that a single book transforms an entire field–but that was in fact the impact of Groh & Gregg on Arianism. Dr. Groh is not only a textual scholar but a highly accomplished and widely experienced archaeologist. He and I worked together at Sepphoris with James Strange for many seasons in the 1990s. []

There’s Something about Mary…More Heat than Light at the Huffington Post

There’s some thing about Mary…the mother of Jesus that is.

My Huffington Post piece is featured on the front page of the Religion section and is the headliner for Christianity. The comments (over 450 this morning and over 1000 “Likes” with 35,000 views) are a strange mixture of the good the bad and the ugly. Seems any discussion of Mary, the mother of Jesus, brings out the best and the worst in folks, including atheists, mythers, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and even Muslims–all battling it out with much more heat than light. In the meantime my post tries to sort out the differences between a historical Miriam, Jewish mother of seven children, based on our New Testament sources, and the Blessed Virgin Mary of Christian tradition. Check it out if you have not, and weight in if you wish, either with a “Like” or a comment here.