Jesus Dynasty / James Tabor

April 26, 2006

Sunday at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco

Filed under: The Jesus Dynasty Discussion — James Tabor @ 12:00 pm

From London, Early Wednesday AM, April 26th…

Those of you who have finished reading my book know that at both the beginning, in the Preface, and at the end, in the Conclusion, I try to bring a bit more of my personal self into what I intend to otherwise be an academically based study on the historical Jesus.

This past Sunday at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco I was vividly reminded of how important this element is, and how important the topic of Jesus is, to our diverse society. I was the guest of the Dean of the Cathedral, the renowed Dr. Alan Jones (see his inspiring new book, Reimagining Christianity: Reconnecting your Spirit without Disconnecting your Mind) in his Forum series.

We had a standing room only crowd that turned out to be a nice mixture of Christians of all persuations, Jews, Muslims, and the unaffiliated, whether secular or otherwise. We did a Question and Answer session between the Dean and me, then opened things to the floor as well. I should point out that Dr. Jones and I are at very opposite poles on many issues, including our evaluation of the message and mission of the Apostle Paul. And yet, despite our differences it was an altogether lovely time of civil discussion and learning. At one point Dr. Jones recommended that everyone who reads The Jesus Dynasty, pay careful attention to my Conclusion to understand more of where I come from as an author who does indeed have some rather unconventional things to say about the development of Christianity.

This warm and engaging audience was my first chance to do a bit of testing of my more controversial ideas with a large and diverse group. I found the whole experience quite profoundly moving and meaningful. I have loved Grace Cathedral for years, since I lived in California in the 1970s and Bishop James Pike was making his own kind of waves.

The full forum is archived at the Grace Cathedral Web site: The Forum

James Tabor


April 22, 2006

Dr. Tabor, What Are You?

Filed under: Jesus Dynasty News — James Tabor @ 11:06 am

When authors go on book tours one thing they do is visit local bookstores and sign stock so that interested customers can by a copy of their book with the author’s signature. Bookstores put a sticker on the front but the cost of the book remains the same. Often while signing stacks of books a customer will walk up and ask the obvious–Are you the author? Yesterday I was in Powell’s Bookstore in downtown Portland, in town for the annual book fair called Wordstock. If you are ever in Portland you have to visit Powell’s, it is truly one of the great independent bookstores in the United States. Anyway, this customer began to talk to me while I was signing stock and her first question was one I get often–Dr. Tabor, what is your faith?

I am a professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, chair of the Department of Religious Studies with over 30 faculty in which we cover the diversity of world religions taught from an academic perspective. Our students often ask us what we “believe” and most of us tell them that such matters are irrelevant to the academic study of religion. Whatever we are teaching, whether Christian Origins, Islam, Hinduism, or even a new religious movement, our goal is to be evenhanded and objective, taking an historical and descriptive approach, not one that involves the confession of any faith. This is different from what goes on in a seminary or theological setting and even some parochial schools that are founded to support education in the context of a specific faith.

Sometimes I have half jokingly replied to my students who ask, “Dr. Tabor what are you?” (they usually mean–are you a Christian?), “I am a human being.” The rabbis have a term for this in Hebrew: Bnai Noach, it means “children of Noah.” According to the Bible all human beings are “children of Adam,” and then later, “children of Noah,” with basic ethical obligations to one another and to animals. I am not sure I would want a label beyond that, even though, like most people, I have my own spiritual perspective. I do, however, say a bit more than this in The Jesus Dynasty. In the Preface I begin with a story of a Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land when I was 14 years old. And in the Conclusion I try to set forth my vision of what a recovery of the mission and message of the historical Jesus might mean for Christians, Jews, and Muslims. In the Conclusion in particular one can hear a bit of my inner self in terms of what I believe, even beyond what I generally am comfortable doing with my students, given my Jeffersonian commitment to the free and academic atmosphere in a secular university. This is essentially what I told my inquirer in Powell’s yesterday, and what I generally tell audiences when asked this question while on tour. I autographed a book for her and assured her that she would pick up an overall sense of my own spiritual journey in the way I convey the Jesus story in The Jesus Dynasty.

April 16, 2006

After Easter

Filed under: Jesus Dynasty News — James Tabor @ 12:04 pm

Now that the dust has settled a tiny bit from the publication of my book The Jesus Dynasty (Simon & Schuster) last week, with heavily edited sensational treatments on ABC-TV (Good Morning America, 20/20, and Nightline), a really decent cover story on this week’s USNews&WorldReport, dozens of newspaper articles, and a mailbox full of many hundreds of messages of every persuasion, I thought I might say something more directly about the book myself, as the author. Frankly, I have no reason to complain about the “press” and I am grateful for the massive attention the book has gotten in just over a week.

Despite the title, The Jesus Dynasty, and the fact that Michael Baigent had a book out the same week, and Dan Brown was released in paperback all over the universe, my work is a serious academic study of Jesus along the lines of what we scholars (à la Albert Schweitzer) call the “Quest for the historical Jesus. The book is wholly an historical investigation, not a theological or dogmatic one, and it rests upon my 35 years as a historian of ancient Judaism and early Christianity. Its presuppositions and methods are those common in the field among historical investigators. I deliberately chose to write it for a broad non-specialist audience, not for my colleagues in the field, so I present my evidence of Jesus, from birth to death, in what I hope will prove to be an engaging unfolding narrative style. The focus of the book is singular: What do we know about Jesus and how do we know it? Although I consider all the surviving evidence of which I am aware, including a strong emphasis on the material side of the story revealed by archaeology, much of my results come right out of the New Testament texts themselves—though read in an historical-critical fashion based on the methods in our field.

I turned 60 this year, and like many of my colleagues before me (Vermes, Crossan, Chilton, Ehrman, Friedrikson, Wright, et al.) I felt it was my time to “step up to the plate” and present my “Jesus book” before the world. I put into this book all that I have learned about Jesus in my long teaching and research career at Notre Dame, William&Mary, and UNC Charlotte). I wanted the book to be in every sense, for me at least, a “summing up.”

I interpret Jesus as a Jewish apocalyptic messianic inaugurator of the Kingdom of God set in the context of the wider movement sparked by his kinsman John the Baptizer, with all the radical social, political, and religious implications thereof. After the death of John and Jesus I trace the movement through James, the brother of Jesus, and subsequently into the second century led by Simon, another bother (or perhaps cousin)—hence the “Jesus Dynasty” idea. I set the entire story in the context of the broader messianic movement in Palestine before the catastrophe of 70 A.D. I am not convinced there is any strong evidence that Jesus was married with children. My emphasis in this regard is upon Jesus’ own immediate family—the seven children of Mary his very Jewish mother. I understand Paul as diverging sharply from these founders, John, Jesus, and James, and presenting for the world a dualistic otherworldly vision of Christ and salvation that ultimately becomes “Christianity.”

The book has many surprises, some of which have been sensationalized by the press, as one would expect—particularly what I discovered about the Pantera tradition, the notion of “two Messiahs,” the surprising identity of the “beloved disciple,” and my speculations about the empty tomb. But there is much more than these elements, important as they are, and all that I say is given a wider context and laid out in a sensible academic way. I do speculate and imagine in the book, but like any historian I seek to do that responsibly, in the “direction of the evidence,” and nothing of that nature do I present dogmatically. I have expected some readers of a more evangelical Christian perspective to react negatively to the book, or I should say, to “reports” of the book, as in truth most who read it go away with a positive evaluation, even while not accepting all its conclusions.

For reviews and more information about the book see the menu at the Home Page of JesusDynasty.com, but better still—there is always the book itself! I also have archived a wealth of interesting materials related to my work on Christian Origins at my University Web site. There is also a perceptive review of my work, contrasting it (a bit too harshly I think) with Baigent’s latest on Salon.com

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