Standing Again with Jesus: Ecce Homo Revisited

It was about twenty years ago that I first began to combine my textual study of the historical Jesus with an in-depth interest in the archaeology of late 2nd Temple Jerusalem and Galilee as it relates to the life of Jesus. An obvious interest of mine has been to determine, if and where possible, the locations of various sites that are the settings of the basic gospel narratives. This interest actually goes back to 1962 for me–so a full fifty years ago, when I first visited Jerusalem with my family on a trip back to the United States from Iran where my father, an Air Force officer, had been stationed for the previous two years. One of my major interests, then as now, as I describe in the preface of my book, The Jesus Dynasty, was to ask the Sandburgian question–“What is this place, where are we now?” Back in 1962 there was precious little one could see in the Old City of Jerusalem–then a part of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and forcibly emptied of its Jewish population–that could be reliably connected to our gospel narratives. Of course there were all the standard holy sites–the garden of Gethsemane, the Via Dolorosa, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and the Mt. of Olives, but even at that time I had read enough from the guidebooks to know that many of these places to which the Christian pilgrims flocked had little historical or archaeological basis, despite their devotional attractiveness to millions.

When one visits Jerusalem with such a focus one inevitably concentrates on what might be called “the Last Days of Jesus,” that final week, narrated in both the Synoptic gospels and John, that includes his daily excursions into the Temple court area, the guest house where he ate his last supper, the garden of Gethsemane, the various stages of his “trial,”–first before the High Priest Caiaphas at his residence, then Pontius Pilate, followed by Herod Antipas–the place of the execution by crucifixion, and the location of the nearby tomb where his corpse was temporary placed in haste. In almost every case I have found reason to question the traditional sites, many of which were settled upon in the 4th and 4th centuries CE, or even much later–in Crusader times. Today the landscape, both on the ground and under the ground has dramatically changed. There are a dozen or more sites to which one can reliably point that are connected to narratives in the gospels–from the recently discovered Pool of Siloam to the roadway and southern steps leading up into Herod’s Temple complex. It is today now possible again to “stand where Jesus stood” and “walk where he walked.”

Over the years, in now over 50 of trips to Jerusalem, I have studied the various sites and their traditions and my views have settled over time. I have given particular attention to the theories of the late Bargil Pixner, whose instructive book, With Jesus in Jerusalem has become a classic. I knew Bargil well and spent many pleasant hours with him on dozens of visits to Jerusalem.  I helped him edit two of his popular articles, both of which I have linked on my University Web site: Jerusalem’s Essene Gateway and The Church of the Apostles Found on Mt. Zion. I highly recommend these fascinating treatments even though Bargil and I held different views on several matters, especially the location of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and initial burial.  I have a photo from the early 1990s taken in Jerusalem where we were discussing some of these very matters. It is of great sentimental value to me. I came to love and respect Father Pixner very deeply.


I have learned from various people over the years and I have continued to refine my conclusions, particularly in dialogue with my colleague, Shimon Gibson, whose remarkable book, The Final Days of Jesus: The Archaeological Evidence, represents one of the most up-to-date treatments of all the relevant issues. Gibson and I continue to have our differences, but his arguments for the location of Herod’s palace just inside the Western Wall of the Old City, with Pilate’s judgment seat just outside that wall I find wholly convincing.

Gibson locates this judgment seat of Pilate, the Roman governor, and the scene of the trial, just outside the western wall of the Old City, with the Praetorium inside the wall through a gate leading inside the palace (John 18:28). Gibson argues, and I wholly agree, that it is unlikely Pilate would be staying in the barracks of the Antonia Fortress, near the first station of the cross on the Via Dolorosa inside the Old City, which is the traditional location. I remember visiting that site as a teenager on my first trip to the Holy Land, maintained by the Sisters of Sion. I was profoundly moved as our tour guide narrated how Jesus was scourged and mocked in the courtyard of the Antonia, where the stone pavement, today known as the “Lithostrotos,” is still visible three meters below the present street level. At that time I had no idea this was surely the wrong place and that the tradition of the Via Dolorosa only went back to Crusader times.

As Gibson has shown, the governor Pontius Pilate, who preferred his residence at Caesarea on the Mediterranean, in town for Passover in April of 30CE, would have surely stayed in the complex of Herod’s palaces, on the luxurious western side of the city. I have marked the spot of the scene with a red square on this map, just to the west of the Old City wall:


Although the Oxford map does not show it, the vast palace grounds would be just inside the wall, running south the entire length to the Hinnom Valley, as I have marked here in white. In the painting below, that artist Balage Balogh did for for The Jesus Dynasty, he puts the palace grounds just inside the wall and also shows the gate leading inside to the royal grounds:


Here in the model of Herodian Jerusalem that has now been moved to the Israel Museum. You can see how the various buildings of the palace might have looked in their splendor, just inside the city wall. It was inside this area that Jesus was taken for his interrogation and scourging at daybreak the day he was executed. The crowd of his accusers waited outside, as they would be eating the Passover that evening (John 18:28).


Shimon Gibson helped to excavate this entire western wall area back in the 1970s under Magen Broshi. He has studied it in great detail and has been able to identify its main features. Of our four New Testament gospels it is John alone who seems to know the precise topography of the scene. The way this area looks today appears in the photo below. You can still see the steps, intact from Herodian times, leading up to the platform where Pilate sat and the area where the gate led into the Praetorium. The platform was called called Gabbatha (John 19:13) and the flat stones making up the floor are still in place. Following the interrogation inside Jesus was brought back outside on this judgment seat to face his accusers and it was here that Pilate uttered his famous words: Ecce Homo–Behold the Man! Jesus was then taken down these steps and led to the place of crucifixion, outside the city walls–which for reasons I will not elaborate here I argue was near the summit of the Mount of Olives.


Balage Balogue produced this wonderful painting that accurately reconstructs how things would have looked. He did a great deal of research on the archaeology of the site based on Gibson’s findings, as well as careful attention to clothing and other features:


Whenever I read the gospel accounts of the trial of Jesus before Pilate, especially in the gospel of John, I have these images and pictures vividly in my mind. It is one of those rare juxtapositions between imagination, place, and text. I hope some of my readers can manage to visit this site someday. In my estimation it is truly holy ground and as yet it is pristine and untouched by church, shrine, or tourist vendor.

Locating Golgotha

“On a hill far away, stood an old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame”

Evangelical Hymn, George Bennard, 1913

Balage Cruifixion Watermarked

According to all our historical records Jesus was crucified somewhere outside the city wall of Jerusalem. He was sentenced to death by the Roman prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate, at the Praetorium, which we can now locate at the western entrance to Herod’s place, see my recent post, “Standing Again with Jesus: Ecce Homo Revisited.” Mark, our earliest record, then says:

And they led him out to crucify him. And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. And they brought him to the place called Golgotha, which means Place of the Skull. (Mark 15:21-22)

Matthew and Luke repeat Mark, who was their source. John also names the place as Golgotha–place of the Skull, but he adds a detail, “the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city,” thus visible to passersby (John 19:20). Golgotha is Aramaic for Skull. The more familiar name Calvary is based on the Latin Calvariae, or Skull, the word Jerome used when he translated the gospels into Latin. How or why the place got this name is unknown to us. There is a late Jewish tradition, known also by Christian fathers like Origen, that Adam’s skull was buried in Jerusalem, which accounts for the tradition so common in medieval art of placing a skull at the foot of the cross. Some have speculated that the name might be related to “Goliath,” based on the text of Samuel that mentions David bringing his severed head to Jerusalem (1 Samuel 17:54). Others have seen the name as describing a despicable place of execution, where skulls and bones would be strewn about. Still others, have seen it more as a physical description–perhaps of a craggy rock-like hillock that gave the appearance of a skull.1

Crivelli Adam's Skull

What none of these texts explicitly say is anything about a hill called Golgotha or Calvary, which is so familiar in Christian tradition, but as we will see, that notion does have support in other texts.

So the question is–where is Golgotha? Can it be located? And why would it be called the “place of the Skull.” There are two traditional sites in Jerusalem that tourists and pilgrims revere as its likely location.

The oldest and most revered is of course the 4th century Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the holiest site in Christendom, honored by Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox and other Eastern branches of Christianity. It is located in the Christian Quarter, inside the present Old City walls and was built by queen Helena, the devout mother of Constantine, the first Christian Emperor. Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Armenian, and Coptic Christians share the veneration and operation of the site. In the time of Jesus the area was a rock quarry and was just outside the northern city wall. The problem with this location, despite its overwhelming favor with both Christian believers and a score of scholars who have written on the subject, is there is no connection of Jesus to the site before the early 4th century–approximately 300 years after the time of Jesus. Helena, the pious mother of Constantine, the Roman Emperor, is the first one to give it her stamp of approval and consecrate it as the location of Golgotha, but it has little or no other basis in any of our historical records.


Many Protestants prefer an alternative site, outside the Old City walls, just north of the Damascus Gate near the bus depot. It is commonly referred to as the “Gordon’s Calvary” or the Garden Tomb, after its “discoverer,” the British general Charles “Khartoum” Gordon. Gordon suggested the location on a visit to Jerusalem in 1882, impressed by the elevated craggy rock outcropping that he thought resembled a skull, and a nearby ancient tomb with an entrance sealed with a rolling stone. The main problem with this site is that the tomb adjacent to this hill has been definitively dated to the Iron Age, which would preclude it being the newly hewn tomb used by Joseph of Arimathea in the time of Jesus.


Some years ago I encountered the view that the crucifixion took place on the Mount of Olives, as expressed in a little book published by the late Ernest Martin titled The Place of Christ’s Crucifixion: Its Discovery and Significance (Foundation for Biblical Research, 1984). This book is long ago out of print though used copies can still be found at Amazon and other sources.

Although Martin independently came to his view that the crucifixion of Jesus took place on the Mount of Olives, after publishing his first work he discovered the views of Nikos Kokkinos (1980) who had developed a somewhat different argument related to the notion that the crucifixion would have taken place at the scene of Jesus’ arrest, based on Roman law, thus near the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mt of Olives. Later Martin also noted the views published by W. J. Hutchinson in the Palestine Exploration Quarterly (1873, 115; also 1870, 379-381), that Jesus’ crucifixion must have taken place somewhere east of the Temple Mount.


The basic case for the Mt. of Olives being the site of Jesus’ crucifixion rests on several interrelated arguments of varying evidential strength.

1) The first, and in my view, the most weighty, is a passage in the New Testament book of Hebrews (13:10-13) that speaks of “going outside the city gate,” to a specific altar that was not inside the Temple, but “outside the camp.” This is a clear and unmistakable reference to the Eastern Gate, leading to the Mt of Olives, and the Miphqad altar located on its slopes. It was at this spot that the Red Heifer (parah ‘adamah) was burnt to provide the essential ashes for cleansing all things related to Temple worship (Numbers 19). The Talmud and Mishnah are clear that this altar was located 2000 cubits, outside the Eastern Gate, on the slopes of the Mt. of Olives (bYoma 68a, mSanhedrin 6:1). The author of the book of Hebrews makes use of this essential sacrificial practice, “outside the camp,” to establish the legitimacy of Jesus being crucified “outside the gate.” Rather than a gate on the north of the city, the Eastern Gate is really the only one that would make sense in this passage. This image of the Red Heifer, that had to be “without spot or blemish” was picked up by the early Christians as the most fitting allegorical image of Jesus’ own cleansing sacrifice, with the “sprinkling” of his blood likened to that of the water prepared with the ashes of the Red Heifer. The writer of Hebrews, preserving pre-70 CE traditions, subsequently lost after the destruction of two Jewish Revolts and the establishment of Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina by Hadrian, seems to be reflecting some actual take on the geography of Jerusalem and is able to make a very effective point to his readers based on Jesus being crucified east of the city, outside the gate, on the Mt. of Olives.

2) The Acts of Pilate (aka Gospel of Nicodemus IX.5) preserves a tradition that Jesus was sent away by Pilate with two malefactors named Dysmas and Gestas, to be crucified in the garden where he was arrested–Gethsemane, which all our gospel sources agree was across the Kidron on the slopes of the Mt of Olives. As Prof. Kokkinos demonstrated, this was in keeping with Roman law.

3) The Hebrew Gospel of Matthew (preserved by Ibn Shaprut in his work Even Bohan), published by George Howard, refers to the site of the crucifixion, in Hebrew, as Har Golgotha, which means a “mountain” or “hill,” and certainly not the little outcropping of rock preserved at the stone quarry where the Church of the Holy Sepulchre now stands. This is one of our earliest records of Golgotha being called a “hill” or “mountain,” which seems to have become a popular notion in Christian lore and legend down through the ages.

4) Josephus says that during the Jewish revolt (66-70 CE) as many as 500 Jewish victims per day were crucified “before the wall of the city,” in order to terrorize the population (War 5:289; 5:449-450). This description fits perfectly with the Mt. of Olives, before the main city gate, with the Romans camped just to the north on Mt Scopus. This was the only location that could be seen by anyone in the city of Jerusalem, and the week Jesus died it would be visible to passersby arriving from all directions for the Passover feast, thus providing a visible warning to those who might be tempted to sympathize with rebels.

The traditional site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre fits none of this evidence. By the time Constantine’s mother, queen Helena came to Jerusalem, in the early 4th century, there was no memory of the original tomb of Jesus or the site of the crucifixion, as that oral tradition, that would have belonged to the Jerusalem Church, led by James and Simon, brothers of Jesus, had long ago perished. The tomb and monument area she was shown, by a stone quarry, most likely was the tomb of John Hyrcanus, that is often mentioned by Josephus as precisely in that area.

Back in 2005 when I was working on The Jesus Dynasty I commissioned the extraordinary artist Balage Balogh to paint the crucifixion scene on the Mt. of Olives based on my own exploration of the siteI had located a bedrock area, flat and just above the site of the miphqad altar, that seemed to me to be an idea location for crucifixion as alluded to in the book of Hebrews and “in front of the city wall” as Josephus indicated. It is directly in front of the Eastern Gate, looking into the courtyard of the Temple. Nearby are lots of 1st century tombs, as well as an oil-press (Gethsemane/Gat Shemen means “press of oil), and lots of Olive Orchards. None of these features fit the quarry area just north of the 1st century city wall, where the Church of the Holy Sepulchre stands today.


The image of Jesus dying, overlooking the city of Jerusalem, on the very slopes of the mountain he had ridden down a week earlier on the donkey, hailed by the crowds as the harbinger of the kingdom of David, is surely one of the most touching scenes imaginable. To this day there is a steep path on the north slope that goes up to this area of crucifixion that I have proposed and a southern path that goes down, from Bethany, both worn deep into the bedrock.

  1. Thanks to Bill Sulesky for pointing out that Julius Caesar was also buried at a “place of the skull,” according to Appian, Civil Wars bk 2: “The people returned to Caesar’s bier and bore it as a consecrated thing to the Capitol.” The word capitol (Capiolium) is derived from the latin word CAPUT which means dead man’s head or SKULL. Supposedly an Etruscan king, Olus (i.e. Aulus Vulcentanus) was killed and buried there, and that the Capitoline temple and hill in Rome received its name after his skull was later found: “the head of Olus”—caput Oli—Capitolium…place of the skull. So Julius Caesar’s murdered body was also carried to the Place of the Skull. 

Can Human Brain Consciousness be Replicated?

Robert Kuhn, an old friend, colleague, and producer of the amazing PBS program “Closer to Truth,” (see my own contributions here) has just published a most provocative piece at LiveScience titled: “The Singularity, Virtual Immortality and the Trouble with Consciousness.” Will science replicate the human brain and thus produce the phenomenon we all experience our conscious “inner-self,”–what Plato and Freud called the “Ego”?

According to techno-futurists, the exponential development of technology in general and artificial intelligence (“AI”) in particular — including the complete digital replication of human brains — will radically transform humanity via two revolutions. The first is the “singularity,” when artificial intelligence will redesign itself recursively and progressively, such that AI will become vastly more powerful than human intelligence (“superstrong AI”). The second revolution will be “virtual immortality,” when the fullness of our mental selves can be uploaded perfectly to nonbiological media (such as silicon chips), and our mental selves will live on beyond the demise of our fleshy, physical bodies.

AI singularity and virtual immortality would mark a startling, transhuman world that techno-futurists envision as inevitable and perhaps just over the horizon. They do not question whether their vision can be actualized; they only debate when will it occur, with estimates ranging from 10 to 100 years. [Artificial Intelligence: Friendly or Frightening?]



Kuhn, who has his Ph.D. in brain science has his doubts, but takes us through all the various views with clips and interviews from the best and the brightest in the field of the physiology and psychology of the human brain. A fascinating read.

I surely have no expertise in this field but I remain convinced that any such replication, however precise and infinitely complex, would remain as “dumb” as a more sophisticated version of Siri on my iPhone. More is more, but more is not consciousness. 

On the other hand I think the idea of a “non-physical” component or aspect of the brain is perhaps a category mistake. Why denigrate the so-called “physical” to the four forces of physics as they are currently conceived—electromagnetic, magnetism, and strong and weak nuclear—when there might be “other” aspects of reality, whether one wants to use the term physical or not, being manifest through the 3 lb human brain. Many have argued that brain size (100 billion neurons for us humans) relative to body-rate is what seems to distinguish us from other creatures on the planet–but such is not the case, see “The Four Biggest Myths About the Human Brain.”

I am not thinking so much here of the proverbial human “soul,” conceived as a non-physical “entity” somehow inserted by the Divine into our physical world. This view is in fact based on a mistranslation–and thus a misunderstanding–of Genesis 2:7: “Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (KJV). The problem is twofold here. First, the term in Hebrew, “breath of life”  (נשמת חיים) is not some mysterious non-physical component–but simply a reference to air-breathing creatures–human or otherwise (see Genesis 7:15 where it is used for land animals in general). Second, the term translated “living soul” (נפש חיה) has absolutely nothing to do with any idea of an immortal soul–it simply means any air breathing creature (see Genesis 1:30).

On the mind/body problem, in terms of this article, I would favor some version of 2 & 3 with openness to 4. I do think we have to distinguish between “consciousness” more generically (“being aware of an outside world”) and a unique sense of “self,” or the Ego. I am pretty sure my dog lacks the latter. With it goes the ability, of course, to think in time, and about time, and thus to contemplate the future and to act by “choice,” with anticipation of outcomes—and thus ethics. This of course goes way beyond “instincts” or learning patterns (i.e. don’t touch a hot plate). Another factor of course is the body itself as mental states are also bodily and can hardly be separated therefrom—hearing music, seeing colors, sensing smells, sexual feelings, various kinds of emotions, including love, kinship, happiness, sadness, well being, et al. I wonder how any computer that “replicates” the structure of the brain would function without a “body,” since the two are one and the same system—impossible to separate out.

I loved the film Ex Machina as much as anyone but I nonetheless think we still have a lot to learn about the proverbial “mind body problem,” and philosophers from antiquity to the present have laid out most of the parameters of the arguments. Read much more on this and related topics at the “Closer to Truth” homepage–five minutes of browsing and you will be hooked!

A Might One Has Fallen: My Teacher Robert M. Grant

In Memoriam: An Archive Post:

My legendary and beloved teacher, Robert M. Grant, of the University of Chicago, has died. So many personal memories flood my mind and heart. I have many stories, experiences, and reflections which I will save for a future more personal post. For now I will simply take the reader to the Chicago Divinity School site where ones finds the announcement here.


Robert McQueen Grant passed away at his home in Hyde Park on June 10, 2014 at the age of 96.
Grant was born on November 25, 1917 in Evanston, Illinois.  He received the BA with distinction from Northwestern University, a BD from Union Theological Seminary, and an STM and ThD from Harvard University.  He was an ordained minister in the Protestant Episcopal Church.  Grant was Carl Darling Buck Professor Emeritus of New Testament and Early Christian Literature at the University of Chicago Divinity School, where he taught from 1953 until his retirement in 1988.

Professor Grant was the most prolific and influential American historian of ancient Christianity of his generation.  The author of over thirty-three books and countless articles, Grant’s work was characterized by philological exactness, a deep knowledge of the ancient world, and philosophical and theological finesse, together with a tight prose style and dry wit.  Among his major works are Miracle and Natural Law in Graeco-Roman and Early Christian Thought (1952); The Letter and the Spirit (1957); The Earliest Lives of Jesus (1961); Augustus to Constantine:  The Rise and Triumph of Christianity in the Roman World (1970; revised ed. 2004); Eusebius as Church Historian (1980); Greek Apologists of the Second Century (1988), Heresy and Criticism (1993); Irenaeus of Lyons (1995); and Paul in the Roman World: the Conflict at Corinth (2001).

Over his thirty-five year teaching career at the University of Chicago, Professor Grant taught many of the academic leaders in the field of ancient Christianity.

Grant was also an international authority on U-Boats in World War I, on which he published multiple volumes, including U-Boats Destroyed: The Effects of Anti-Submarine Warfare 1914-1918 (1964) and, most recently, U-Boat Hunters: Code Breakers, Divers and the Defeat of the U-Boats 1914-1918 (2004).

Over his extended career Grant received Fulbright and Guggenheim Fellowships, and held many honors, memberships and leadership roles in scholarly societies, such as president of the Society of Biblical Literature, the Chicago Society of Biblical Research, American Society of Church History, and the North American Patristics Society.  He was an elected member of the American Academy of Art and Sciences (1981).

Mr. Grant is survived by his wife, Peggy (née Margaret Huntington Horton) of Hyde Park, and their children Douglas, Peter, Jim and Susan, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Services will be private.  A memorial will be held in September at St. Paul and the Redeemer church in Hyde Park; details to be announced.

Remembering Norman Perrin

In Memoriam: An Archive Post:

I was recently reminiscing in my “Christian Origins” class about my studies with the late great Norman Perrin (1920-1976) as a graduate student at the University of Chicago. I took my first course with him in Autumn, 1974, an “advanced N.T. course.” His textbook, The New Testament: An Introduction: Proclamation and Parenesis, Myth and History (Harcourt College Pub., 1974) had just been released. By that time, Perrin, who had been influenced in his earlier days by T. W. Manson and Joachim Jeremiah was quite thoroughly a “Bultmannian,” and one of the clearest thinkers in that regard I have ever encountered. His little book, The Promise of Bultmann, (New York: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1969), remains a classic, as does his little primer, What is Redaction Criticism? (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969). His earliest major work, Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus (New York: Harper & Row, 1967) set the stage of the “Quest for the Historical Jesus” for a whole generation of colleagues and students–before it became fashionable to talk about a “new” or “3rd quest,” which I always took as more of a self-designation by a handful of younger scholars, in the shadow of Bultmann, Käsemann, Conzelmann, and Perrin, who imagined themselves as doing something quite new.

Perrin Stylized

I took a number of courses from Perrin including his incomparable course on the Gospel of Mark which influences me to this day in all of my teaching–second only to Jonathan Z. Smith and our work on Hellenistic Religions and Robert Grant dealing with “Augustus to Constantine,” as he put it so well. In my case, because we both lived in Park Forest, Illinois, I got to know Professor Perrin on another level. He did not drive a car much and the weather was often too harsh to try to take the train, so many dozens of times I gave him a ride up to campus in my car and we came to know each other very well in our endless private conversations on the hour commute back and forth. I mostly listened and what a treat it was–hearing his whole life and career, peppered with stories of his time in the British forces during the war years. I will never forget the word from his wife the day he died–Thanksgiving Day, 1976–that he had left us. It was quite a shock and a sad loss–he was only 56 years old. Perrin’s productivity was enormous and he was one of the hardest working scholars you could ever encounter. He rose from a working class UK background to a distinguished professor of New Testament at the prestigious University of Chicago–who influenced countless students and shaped the field of Christian Origins forever. I miss him enormously and 40 years seems like but a moment thinking back on those days at Chicago when I sat as a very naive and inexperienced graduate student in his classes and would not missed a word of his lectures or discussions.

Anyway just today I pulled down from my bookshelves my original copy of Perrin’s New Testament: An Introduction and the one page syllabus we had used in that 1974 course dropped out! Talk about memory lane. I reproduce it here. It shows the advanced work Perrin expected of his students and the independent way he worked with us all. Sweet memories. What a time to be at Chicago: J. Z. Smith, Robert M. Grant, and Norman Perrin–for the study of New Testament and Early Christianity, how could it have gotten any better!

Perrin Syllabus 1974

Further resources on Norman Perrin and his “pilgrimage” as he often referred to it see:

  • The Journal of Religion 64 (1984), Norman Perrin 1920-1976 with a complete issue devoted to his work and memory.
  • David Abernathy, Understanding the Teaching of Jesus: Based on the Lecture Series of Norman Perrin (New York : Seabury Press, 1983).
  • Calvin R. Mercer, “Norman Perrin: A Scholarly Pilgrim” (Ph.D. dissertation, Florida State University, 1983).
  • Welton O. Seal, Jr., “Norman Perrin and His ‘School’: Retracing a Pilgrimage”, Journal for the Study of the New Testament (1984), pp. 87–107.
  • Welton O. Seal, Jr., “The Parousia in Mark: A Debate with Norman Perrin and ‘His School'” (Ph.D. dissertation, Union Theological Seminary, 1981).
  • Criterion, vol. 16, no. 1 (Winter 1977); personal tributes to Norman Perrin, from a memorial service held in the Joseph Bond Chapel, 30 November 1976

Norman Perrin

It’s Not too Late to Join Us for the March “Jesus Dynasty” Tour of Israel

Touring IsraelI invite you to join our special 10th Anniversary Israel tour “Experiencing the Jesus Dynasty” in 2016. The dates are March 4-13.  It is not too late to join us, in fact airfares to Israel right now are reasonable if you shop around a bit. Here is what makes this tour unlike any other–so whether you have been to the Holy Land before or not this might be the perfect opportunity for you.

As many will remember, my book The Jesus Dynasty was published in April 2006 and became an New York Times best-seller, now translated into over 20 languages

“Experiencing the Jesus Dynasty” is a tour like no other tour. There are places and sites that are included on nearly every other Holy Land tour that we will not visit. On the other hand we will see and experience the ancient Land of Israel in ways no other tour includes. Our emphasis will be on newly discovered archaeological sites that shed light on our understanding of the historical Jesus and allow us to read our gospels sources in refreshingly new ways. Those who have been to Israel with me before will quickly recognize from the itinerary that this tour shaped with a different perspective than those I have done in the past–so we welcome “repeat” travelers!

The emphasis of this tour is historical rather than theological and like The Jesus Dynasty, it will appeal to Christians, Jews, and those of no particular religious persuasion who simply want to have a better understanding of the historical figure of Jesus in his own time and place.

Participants will also take part in a rare private evening “Conversation” with Simcha Jacobovici, Emmy-award winning Israeli filmmaker, hearing firsthand the latest updates on the Talpiot tombs in Jerusalem and the James ossuary.

Continue reading “It’s Not too Late to Join Us for the March “Jesus Dynasty” Tour of Israel”

Resurrection of the Dead: Old Body or New Body?

Readers of the New Testament often assume that the idea of Jesus being “raised from the dead” must of necessity imply a revivification of his physical body–wounds and all. The idea seems to be that unless you have the resuscitated corpse seen alive again there is no “proof” of resurrection. After all, two of our gospels, Luke and John, imply just such proof–touching the body, examining the wounds of Jesus–are the only sure evidence that he has been raised (Luke 24:36-43; John 20:24-29). I have argued extensively that such a view of Jesus’ resurrection, and indeed the concept of resurrection more generally in late 2nd Temple Judaism, is simply invalid, see my posts “How Faith in Jesus’ Resurrection Originated,” and “Why People Are Confused About the Earliest Christian View of Resurrection of the Dead.

The phrase “resurrection of the dead” can indeed be used for corpse revival, as in Matthew 27:51-53, but it might come as a surprise to many that such an idea is not the dominant one in our ancient Jewish and early Christian texts. Here are a few examples:

Herod Antipas hears of the wonder-working preaching, exorcisms, and healing of Jesus’ followers and wonders whether Jesus might be “John the Baptizer, raised from the dead” (Mark 6:14). Obviously, Herod is not thinking that John’s tomb has been found empty, as the subsequent account of John’s execution makes clear. John’s beheaded corpse was given a proper Jewish burial by his followers (Mark 6:29).

Spiritual Bodies

The enemies of Jesus, according to Matthew, are concerned that Jesus’ disciples might clandestinely break into the tomb into which he was initially placed (see my post “The First and Second Burials of Jesus“), steal his corpse, and then claim that he had “been raised from the dead” (Matthew 27:64). Even though this passage has often been used to show that a “missing corpse” is a requirement for any claim of “resurrection,” the opposite could well be the case. Here the implication of a missing body is that Jesus has indeed been taken to heaven. One thinks here of many Hellenistic parallels but the account of Diogenes Laertius of the “disappearance” of Empedocles is one of the clearest:


Then, after the feast, the remainder of the company dispersed and retired to rest. . . while Empedocles remained at the table. At daybreak all woke up and he was the only one missing. A search was made, and they questioned the servant, who said that in the middle of the night he had heard a very loud voice calling Empedocles. He got up and beheld a light in the heavens. . .[they concluded] it was their duty to sacrifice to him since he was now a god. [Previously he had said himself, “All hail! I go about among you an immortal god, no more a mortal!” (Diogenes Laertius, Lives, 7. 66-68)

Finally, in the book of Revelation, that offers us the most expansive scene of the resurrection of all the dead in human history–including those who perished in the seas–all of whose corpses are long decayed, or disappeared.  There is no hint at all of a need for any kind of physical body:

Then I saw a great white throne and him who sat upon it; from his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them.  And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead in them, and all were judged by what they had done (Revelation 20:11-14).

That is not to say in any way that this Jewish/Christian view of resurrection of the dead implied a disembodied spirit of soul of the departed. Clearly, resurrection means to “come forth” from Sheol or Hades–the dwelling place or state of the dead. But the issue here is, “In what sort of a body do they come?” as Paul phrases things. And his answer is clear–the dead are “sown” a physical body, but raised a “spiritual body,”–a state that he calls a “life-giving spirit”–embodied, but no longer in the former state (1 Corinthians 15:42-50).

The “Jesus son of Panthera” Traditions

Predictably one of the more controversial topics in my book The Jesus Dynasty is my discussion in chapter 3 titled “An Unnamed Father of Jesus?” in which I treat the “Jesus son of Pantera/Pantira” traditions. The topic has generated more than one sensational headline as well as lots of disdainful treatment, particularly from evangelical Christian readers and reviewers. As my colleague Prof. Ben Witherington dismissively phrased it in his four-part 28 page single-spaced Blog review of my book, “Tabor trots out for us the shop-worn tale of Mary being impregnated by a Roman soldier named Pantera” (Witherington on Tabor’s Jesus Dynasty)


The topic is as controversial as it is complex. My own position is that Jesus’ biological father remains unknown but is unlikely Joseph, husband of Mary. This puts me in an odd position of partial agreement with Christians who take the virgin conception/birth story literally and would likewise hold that Joseph was not the father of Jesus. In the book I then pose the sensitive question–if not Joseph then whom? Is there anything at all to be said of this matter? Has any alternative tradition regarding Jesus’ father come down to us? And the answer is yes, the name Pantera is found in a number of ancient sources. Rather than dismiss these out of hand as a “shop-worn tale” produced by Jewish opponents of the Christians who wanted to cast aspersions on Jesus’ paternity, I felt compelled to honestly examine what one might responsibly conclude about the subject. Having examined the “Jesus son of Panthera” textual traditions in their various forms I then turned to my own investigation of the tombstone of the 1st century Roman soldier, one “Tiberius Julius Abdes Pantera” from Sidon who was buried outside of present day Bingerbrück, Germany.

The earliest textual evidence comes from three sources:

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Albert Schweitzer and a Thoroughly Apocalyptic Jesus (and Paul)

I dedicated my book, The Jesus Dynasty to the memory of Albert Schweitzer, who was born 140 years ago this month:

Ad memoriam Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965).
Missionary, philosopher, historian extraordinaire.
In whose shadow we all stand.


Albert Schweitzer’s influential work titled Von Reimarus zu Wrede was published in 1906—just one hundred years earlier. The better-known and brilliantly titled English edition, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, came out in 1910 (translated by W. Montgomery with a preface by F. C. Burkitt).

Schweitzer opens his rather dense 400 page survey of historical Jesus research down to his own time with the sentence: “Before Reimarus, no one had attempted to form a historical conception of the life of Jesus.” He refers of course to Lessing’s anonymous publication of Hermann Samuel Reimarus’s writings in 1778, in particular the fragment “Vom dem Zweke Jesu und seiner Jünger” (“The Aims of Jesus and His Disciples”) of which he says “This essay is not only one of the greatest events in the history of criticism, it is also a masterpiece of general literature.” (p. 15). Schweitzer knows his heroes over the next 128 years and he celebrates them exuberantly.

Schweitzer focuses on what he calls “three great alternatives” that historical research on Jesus had to meet. The first he calls the “purely historical or purely supernatural.” This he considers decisively settled by David Friedrich Strauss’s first “Life of Jesus” published in 1835. The second had to do with determining the priority of Mark and the Synoptic tradition over John’s gospel, which he sees as satisfactorily worked out by the Tübingen school and Holtzmann. And finally, most important, what he calls the eschatological question. Here his hero is Johannes Weiss with the publication of his work on the preaching of Jesus concerning the kingdom of God in 1892.

In Schweitzer’s final and most important chapter he argues that the union of what he calls “thoroughgoing skepticism” and “thoroughgoing eschatology” represents an impassible and enduring obstacle to traditional Christian theology. Jesus, according to Schweitzer, “lays hold of the wheel of the world to set it moving on that last revolution which is to bring all ordinary history to a close. It refuses to turn, and he throws himself on it. Then it does turn; and crushes him” (p. 370-71). And yet, even with this perspective, this “negative theology” as Schweitzer calls it of a “failed messiah,” he leaves the reader with his final chapter that he calls “Results.” He writes that “Jesus means something to our world because a mighty spiritual force streams forth from him and flows through our time also,” and “…it is not Jesus as historically known, but Jesus as spiritually arisen within men, who is significant for our time and can help it. Not the historical Jesus, but the spirit which goes forth from him and in the spirits of men strives for new influence and rule, is that which overcomes the world.” (pp. 399, 401).

Schweitzer Quest

Apocalypticism and apocalyptic ways of thinking and living in their late 2nd Temple Jewish manifestations focus on the imminent “end of the age” and the wholesale overthrow of the powers that be, both visible and invisible. From the standpoint of the apocalyptic group it involves nothing less than a “cosmic takeover” through the power and agency of God, followed by a new world order, namely the rule of God and the triumph and vindication of the people of God. It has a clear linear and temporal focus, but the (normally) unseen heavenly world of Satan, the demons, and the corrupt state of the cosmos are an essential and ever present foreground. John the Baptist, Jesus, James, Peter, and Paul all lived and violently died with this imminent hope of cosmic reversal on their lips. What they most expected to happen never came about, and what they could have never imagined, namely the 2nd century AD heyday of Roman glory and power, and the terrible destruction of Jewish life in the land of Israel, became a reality. This is and remains the fundamental historical reality. So what are we to make of this disappointment and failure?

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Praying to Jesus: From Jewish Messiah to Incarnate God

For untold millions of Christians asking the “Lord” for guidance, help, and even salvation is a complex and confusing business. Evangelicals often pray the “sinner’s prayer” asking Jesus directly to come into their “hearts” (Revelation 3:20; Romans 10:13). Or alternatively, they might call upon God to save them “in the name of Jesus.” I remember growing up in an evangelical Christian tradition and hearing prayers that began: Heavenly Father, we thank you for this or that…for sending your son Jesus Christ into the world…and we are grateful that you shed your precious blood for our sins…”

The switch from  talking “to” God “about” Jesus and praying “to God” as if he were Jesus, or talking “to Jesus” as if he were God was often seamless–in a single prayer. I remember being surprised my first semester teaching my historical Jesus course at Notre Dame when some of my Roman Catholic students would refer to Jesus as God without blinking an eye–as in “Dr. Tabor, what about that time God walked on the water and calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee?” It took me and any non-Catholics in the class a second or two to realize they were referring to the gospels narratives about Jesus. But had they used the term “the Lord” there would be no problem–since the word “Lord” in English can easily mean God, Jesus Christ, or both–and is commonly so used in our culture. I remember the popular evangelical song from the 1960s–“I know the Lord will find a way for me…” It really did not matter if one was referring to God or Jesus–and dozens of Christian hymns, both formal and informal, have the same ambiguity.1

Praying to Jesus

Part of the confusion is that the God of the Hebrew Bible, who mostly goes by the name Yahweh/Yehovah, is referred to as “the LORD” (the ALL CAPS indicate the name–but are missed by most readers) in most popular English translations of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament–Catholic, Protestant, and even Jewish2 This translation practice is an ancient one–and is even found in some copies of the Septuagint or Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, where יהוה/YHVH is rendered as ΚΥΡΙΟΣ/Lord.3

The problem comes with the New Testament in which Jesus is also commonly referred to as “the Lord.” Often only the context is all we have to go on to sort out whether one is referring to “God” or “Jesus”–and many would say since Jesus is God–why would it matter? But for others, the distinction between God the Father and Jesus the “Son of God” is an important one. I will never forget my 90 year old mother–who was raised in a solid Trinitarian evangelical tradition–saying to me, “Well I surely don’t think Jesus is God! God is God, and Jesus is the Son of God–he was Divine but he was not God. Jesus prayed to God just as we all do. He did not pray to himself!”–thus settling the issue in her mind.

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  1. Love Divine All Loves Excelling
    … Jesus, Thou art all compassion; Pure, unbounded love Thou art.
    Visit us with Thy salvation; Enter every trembling heart.

    Jesus the Very Thought of Thee
    Jesus, the very thought of Thee with sweetness fills my breast;
    But sweeter far Thy face to see, And in Thy presence rest.

    Jesus, Lover of My Soul
    . . . let me to thy bosom fly
    . . . Hide me, O my Savior, hide
    . . . Oh, receive my soul at last!

    More Love to Thee
    . . . O Christ, more love to Thee!
    Hear Thou the prayer I make on bended knee
    This is my earnest plea: More love, O Christ, to Thee.

    Close to Thee
    Thou, my everlasting portion, More than friend or life to me,
    All along my pilgrim journey, Savior, let me walk with Thee.
    Close to Thee. . .

    My Jesus, I Love Thee
    . . . I know Thou art mine.
    For Thee all the follies of sin I resign.
    My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art Thou.
    If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ‘tis now.

    My Faith Looks Up to Thee
    . . . Thou Lamb of Calvary, Savior divine!
    Now hear me while I pray; Take all my guilt away.
    Oh, let me from this day Be wholly Thine!  

  2. There are a few mainstream exceptions, including the American Standard Version (that used Jehovah) and the Roman Catholic Jerusalem Bible (that uses Yahweh).  

  3. A few such Greek manuscripts in fact write the name in Hebrew characters: יהוה –which were then confused for the Greek letters: ΠΙΠΙ–leading some who were unlearned to conclude that the name of the Hebrew God was PIPI.