Wishing all a Meaningful Shavuot 2015/5775

Chag Sameach Shavuot–Happy Festival of Weeks!

This year it just happens that the traditional Jewish day of the “Festival of Weeks,” known otherwise as Pentecost (from the Greek word πεντηκοστή meaning “50th”), corresponds with the more literal “count” of 50 days beginning the “day after the Sabbath” of Passover week–counting 50 days–until the day after the seventh Sabbath or Sunday (Leviticus 23:15-16; Deuteronomy 16:10). For Jews Shavuot marks the giving of the Torah at Mt Sinai or Horeb (Exodus 19:1ff) and for Christians, Pentecost (known by its Greek name) marks the beginning of what was later understood as the inauguration of a “New Covenant” (Acts 2:1-4). Even the Dead Sea Scrolls community had a ceremony for the “renewal of the Covenant” on this day in ancient times (Community Rule).

shavuotWhatever its meaning it always seems to have to do with “new beginnings” and inauguration. So wishing all new beginnings and abundance of “harvest.”

 

Jerusalem and the Holy Land in 19th Century Photos and Engravings

I am absolutely fascinated with old photos, engravings, and maps of Jerusalem and the Holy Land–especially from the 19th century. I have written previously of the massive 13 x 17 foot Stephan Illes model of Jerusalem from 1873 here. When you visit Jerusalem you don’t want to miss this, it is part of the Tower of David museum–but now in the basement and overlooked by most tourists. There is a growing archive of photos, maps, and engravings, now being posted online from the Ottoman Imperial Library, linked here. I just downloaded a few dozen of Jerusalem. You will need to scroll down to find the relevant albums and you can download in various resolutions. Here are a few of my favorites so far.

Panorama from the EastJerusalem from the SouthTomb of David Mt ZionEastern Gate and Muslim GravesPanorama from EastWestern Prayer Wall

Jerusalem Day–48 Years Ago Today–Are You Old Enough To Remember?

June 7, 1967. Are you old enough to remember?  Those of us who are will never forget how the entire world was riveted to their televisions during the “Six Day War.” Today is Yom Yerushalayim or “Jerusalem Day” on the Hebrew calendar (Iyyar 28), commemorating the Israeli return to the Old City of Jerusalem in the Six Day War. You can read the account by Michael Oren here, taken from his book, Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East. This Youtube video captures the moment with live radio transmissions and footage as Israeli soldiers arrived at the Western Wall.

For me it was one of the defining events of my life and my generation.  I was 21 years old, living in Texas, and like so many others was glued to the television 24/7 as the fate of Israel hung in the balance. None doubted that the shrill words over Egyptian, Jordanian, and Syrian radio about finishing the job that Hitler began would be carried out in full should it be militarily possible.  The ancient words of Psalm 83 and Psalm 124 seemed uncannily relevant, as if history does indeed repeat itself in some strange cycle of protagonists.

Today on the Hebrew calendar is called Yom Yerushalayim, Iyyar 28th, which commemorates the liberation of the city of Jerusalem, putting it back in Jewish hands after 2300 years of what the prophet Daniel calls the “trampling of the nations” (Daniel 8:13-14). Despite all the directions things have gone since that fateful day in terms of Israeli and Arab conflicts over the city of Jerusalem and its holy places I am convinced that we will look back someday on this date in history and know it is one of the most important and significant in world history.

What few realize today with all the rhetoric about “occupied Arab East Jerusalem” is that the Old City had a majority Jewish population under Turkish rule until the early 20th century, even though Jewish life was severely restricted, see my blog post on this here. Under Jordanian rule, from 1948 until 1967, Jews had been driven from the Old City and many historic markers of Jewish life and culture were systematically destroyed by the Arab Legion from Mt Zion to the Mount of Olives. I first visited Jerusalem in July, 1962, under Jordanian occupation, and even visited the Western Wall and the “Jewish Quarter,” but the Old City was filled with Christian tourists and Arabs, both Christian and Muslim–but strangely, no Jews. You can read my personal account here.

Forty-eight years later the differences are hard to fathom with religious rights and access guaranteed by the Israeli government to all faiths and holy sites and much of the Jewish Quarter restored–including most recently the magnificent Huvra Synagogue. Next month when we begin our excavation at our site just outside Zion Gate our students and participants will be able to experience fully the vibrantly diverse culture of the Old City with freedom to explore all areas of its historic past. It is still not too late to join us–we have over 60 people signed up we we can take up to 80, so we are accepting late registrations, see digmountzion.uncc.edu on details. I plan to be there the entire four weeks. Also, if you can’t join us we invite you to contribute to funding–all our operational costs are paid from funds we raise from our loyal supporters. See here regarding How You Can Participate.

April “Pageviews” on TaborBlog Reach All-time High

The numbers are in. April, 2015 had the highest volume of traffic for a month in the history of this blog–whether measured by “page views” or number of unique visitors. This goes back nearly 10 years to 2006 when it was initially called “The Jesus Dynasty” blog, see here.

April page-views came in at 67,491 whereas my previous “high” last year for a month was 60,231. For some blogs these numbers would be inconsequential but for me they represent some amazing and steady growth, much of which has come from my devoted and engaged band of Facebook friends. I want to thank all my readers for your interest.

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You can see here the breakdown by Country (those with 100 page views or more in April listed), and a graph showing the growth in blog traffic over the past few years. I find the country breakdown and map particularly fascinating. It is so amazing what our Internet world now represents in terms of this internationalization.

Here is a tally of the top 25 posts showing which subject drew the most interest throughout the month:

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The Jesus Dynasty: Seven Major Themes

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.