Note: Please see addendum at the bottom of this post -- my thoughts on this matter have been changed. -- BK
"And did they tell you the name of the game boy?
We call it riding the gravy train." -- Pink Floyd "Have a Cigar"
With the pending release of the Da Vinci Code, I expected that people who seek to follow the admonition of 1 Peter 3:15 to be prepared to defend the faith would need to become familiar with the many historical speculations and inaccuracies in the book and movie as their first priority. What I didn't expect (although I ought to have expected) was the number of other books seeking to ride the coat-tails of the Da Vinci Code. Earlier, I have mentioned the efforts of Michael Baigent, and his new attack on Christianity The Jesus Papers. Now, comes a new book by James D. Tabor, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, entitled The Jesus Dynasty.
According to The Jesus Dynasty website, The Jesus Dynasty teaches the following:
[Jesus] joined a messianic movement begun by his relative John the Baptizer, whom he regarded as his teacher and as a great prophet. John and Jesus together filled the roles of the Two Messiahs who were expected at the time, John as a priestly descendant of Aaron and Jesus as a royal descendant of David. Together they preached the coming of the Kingdom of God. Theirs was an apocalyptic movement that expected God to establish his kingdom on earth, as described by the prophets. The two messiahs lived in a time of turmoil as the historical land of Israel was dominated by the powerful Roman empire. Fierce Jewish rebellions against Rome occurred during Jesus's lifetime.
John and Jesus preached adherence to the Torah, or the Jewish Law. But their mission was changed dramatically when John was arrested and then killed. After a period of uncertainty, Jesus began preaching anew in Galilee and challenged the Roman authorities and their Jewish collaborators in Jerusalem. He appointed a Council of Twelve to rule over the twelve tribes of Israel, among whom he included his four brothers. After he was crucified by the Romans, his brother James -- the "Beloved Disciple" -- took over leadership of the Jesus Dynasty.
James, like John and Jesus before him, saw himself as a faithful Jew. None of them believed that their movement was a new religion. It was Paul who transformed Jesus and his message through his ministry to the gentiles, breaking with James and the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem, preaching a message based on his own revelations that would become Christianity. Jesus became a figure whose humanity was obscured; John became merely a forerunner of Jesus; and James and the others were all but forgotten.
In an book review authored by James C. Howell simply entitled "Book Author: James Tabor" posted April 1, 2006, the Charlotte Observer notes the following conclusions from Dr. Tabor's book:
Tabor's conclusions will trouble many:
Mary had sex with not zero men, or one man, but three men.
Jesus' father wasn't God or even Joseph, but a Roman soldier named Panthera (whose grave Tabor found in Germany).
Jesus was a disciple of John the Baptist, and learned all his good material from John.
The "beloved" disciple wasn't John (as traditionally thought), or Mary Magdalene (as "The Da Vinci Code" suggests), but James, Jesus' brother. In fact, Jesus' brothers are among the twelve disciples -- though they weren't really disciples, but the regional managers, the "cabinet," of a provisional government Jesus was fashioning.
Tabor's thesis? "Rather than a church, or a new religion, Jesus established a royal dynasty."
He and John the Baptist were co-Messiahs until they died; then James, Jesus' brother, took over and "ruled" for more than 30 years ("rule" being an extravagant word for what anyone could do with a few dozen impoverished, persecuted Christians).
Jesus' tomb indeed was empty on Easter morning -- but his own followers had reburied him, either in the family tomb Tabor studied outside Jerusalem, or in Galilee, in another grave Tabor has visited.
So, what are we to make of this? Well, even the Charlotte Observer seems a bit skeptical. Note the following warnings and insights from the Charlotte Observer's book review:
The reader should beware: Though Tabor has much hard evidence, he builds on facts with a hypothesis, then a guess, a few more facts, then another two hypotheses, an artifact that admits of multiple interpretations, another fact, then a guess -- then he connects all these dots in one of dozens of possible ways.
The feel in this marvelously well-written volume is that he is building a structure of facts toward his conclusion, and the reader may easily forget that a hypothesis is merely a hypothesis, and a string of them become guesswork.
* * *
His reading of the Bible is selective: At one moment he takes a text quite literally as revealing fact, but the next moment he debunks what is in the Bible as trumped up by later generations. How do we pick and choose?
I ambivalent about Dr. Tabor. I don't know a great deal about him other than what little I have read on his website in the past. I feel comfortable in saying much of the work I have read by him in the past seems to be factually based even if it is apparent that he reaches conclusions that I find artificial. But I find it very difficult to believe his hypothesis when the Charlotte Observer can so readily find many flaws in a quick book review. With all due respect, it seems that Dr. Tabor, consciously or unconsciously, is trying to ride the gravy train from the upcoming Da Vinci Code movie just as I think Michael Baigent is doing. But it seems that the train is already overloaded with nonsense, and I hope that Dr. Tabor's book accidentally falls off the caboose.
Addendum: (4/19/2006): I made a mistake in this post which I acknowledge as the result of comments offered by Dr. Tabor. I hereby note that I am withdrawing my claim that Dr. Tabor was seeking to ride the gravy train, and my apology can be seen here. As I say, I remain skeptical about the book itself, but I was apparently wrong that Dr. Tabor was seeking to capitalize on the Da Vinci Code movie based upon the word of Dr. Tabor which I have no reason to doubt at this point.