Thirty-five Years and Counting…

Tomorrow I begin my 36th year of university teaching…1979-2013 marking 35 years. I am as excited as I was the day I first walked into a university classroom in August, 1979 at the University of Notre Dame.

NotreDameJamesWeb

I have been reading Jonathan Z. Smith’s marvelous little book, On Teaching Religion (Oxford, 2013) and I feel like I have been born again. Highly recommended for all teachers in the Humanities. More later on what I am teaching and working on this new academic year–no longer chair but going into high gear in terms of teaching, research, and writing…some amazingly exciting things in the pike.

JZS Teaching Religion

Remembering Servetus and the “One God” Movement Among Evangelical Christians

Michael Servetus (aka Miguel Serveto) is surely one of the most remarkable men of history, though he is largely unknown in general circles. He was born in Spain in 1511 and died in 1553, at age 42, burnt at the stake as a heretic by John Calvin’s Geneva Council. He was a brilliant scientist and his field was primarily medicine, but it was his theological views that led to his universal condemnation by both Catholics and Protestants. Servetus rejected the doctrine of the Trinity, and although he maintained belief in the virgin birth, he denied that Jesus was God. He was fluent in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin, and in his primary work, De trinitatis erroribus (“On the Errors of the Trinity”), he ably argued that the Bible itself, in neither Old Testament nor New Testament, supported the subsequent Trinitarian notion of Jesus as God.

Servetus has even penetrated the Evangelical Christian world a bit after 500 years. Pro-Golfer and Evangelical writer Kermit Zarley, under the pen name of  “Servetus the Evangelical,” published a book titled The Restitution of Jesus Christ. You can visit his website at servetustheevangelist.com. Zarley’s work is impressive, all 600 pages. It is thoroughly researched and documented, and fully in touch with the massive amount of scholarly discussion currently available on the “Christology of the New Testament.”

In fact there is a growing “biblical unitarian” or “One God” movement that is making significant inroads within a variety of evangelical Christian circles. See the following links for a few examples:

http://focusonthekingdom.org/

http://kingdomready.org/

http://www.christianmonotheism.com/

http://www.biblicalunitarian.com/

The Passover Plot: An Easter Weekend Retrospective

In 1965 I well remember the publication of British biblical scholar Hugh J. Schonfield’s controversial and best-selling book, The Passover Plot. I like millions of others read it avidly and followed the controversies closely. I remember traveling on a flight just after it came out and seeing half a dozen people reading their copies of The Passover Plot. I still have my well worn original copy with its arresting book jacket pictured below. The book’s appearance was quite a phenomenon. In 2004 a 40th anniversary edition of the book was published and it is still available. I do not agree in the end with Schonfield’s central theory, that Jesus went to the cross willingly, having attempted to arrange beforehand his survival after a period of prophesied suffering, by insuring an early purported “demise” based on the administration of a drug. I do, however, highly recommend the book both for its gripping narrative of the social and political “messianic” contexts in which Jesus lived and died. Schonfield followed up in 1968 with another book, Those Incredible Christians, that I think has never been equaled and I recommend to all my students to this day. That along with Schonfield’s Authentic New Testament are treasured volumes in my personal library.

PassoverPlotThere is an fascinating interview on Youtube with Hugh Schonfield recorded in 1967 on the Long John Nebel Show in sharp dialogue with Christian apologist Walter R. Martin and others. One is able to hear Schonfield’s calm, professional, and engaging manner of presenting his case, which is in sharp contrast to Martin and other guests, who get quite exercised over the topic. You can hear it in its entirely here. It makes some good listening this Easter weekend and captures some of the religious dynamics of the 1960s that included the controversial ideas of Bishop Pike, Thomas Altizer, and Bishop John Robinson. Those were truly the days!

On a personal note, Hugh Schonfield died in 1988. I never met him but it was my privilege to carry on a lovely correspondence with him by post during my graduate school days at the University of Chicago in the early 1970s. He was one of the most gracious individuals I have ever had the pleasure of knowing and I was quite taken, and still am, with his ideas expressed in The Politics of God, one of his last works, which has now been republished. I also highly recommend Owen Power’s wonderful dissertation on Hugh Schonfield, now published as a lovely book, Hugh Schonfield: A Case Study of Complex Jewish Identities. My friend Greg Doudna traveled to the UK and interviewed Schonfield in his London flat in 1985. His notes on that extended conversation, which he has given me permission to publish here, are fascinating. Schonfield’s work is now being carried on via the Schonfield World Trust Service which seeks to promote his vision of a “Messianic Servant Nation,” an idea he developed from the inspiration of studying the historical figure of Jesus.

 

 

 

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-spet 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.

Vanderbilt Lecture: Was Paul the Jew the Founder of Emerging Christianity?

I am giving the 2014 Forrest Reed Lecture sponsored by Disciples Historical Society/Disciples Divinity House at Vanderbilt Divinity School on Monday at 10AM. My topic is both controversial and provocative:

Was Paul the Jew the Founder of Emerging Christianity? Details below and linked here. I hope to meet some of my blog readers at this event.

Vanderbilt JDT March 2014

 

A Bargain or an Insult–The Jesus Dynasty for $0.01?

I am not insulted in the least. Who does not love a good bargain? I believe this is a fine book and that you can get a hardcover copy, which I recommend because of the front and back end color cover plates, for a Penny–well all to the good. No excuse for not owning your own copy–and the postage will run more than the book! Click on the image and it will take you to Amazon:

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Paul Never Met Jesus: My Latest Interview on the “Paul & Jesus” Book

Listen (and watch–nice graphics inserted along the way) to my interview on my book Paul and Jesus with Jono Vandor and Jason “Spiritualbabies” of Truth2U.org. We hope in the near future to continue our conversation on this and related topics, including my book, Restoring Abrahamic Faith.

You can access or share the link to this program here.

Audio: Jono www.Truth2U.org 
Video: Jason www.Spiritualbabies.net

Links to this book and others mentioned in this show can be found below.

Paul and Jesus

The Jesus Dynasty

Restoring Abrahamic Faith

Podcast Interview on Paul with John Shuck of “Religion for Life” Now Available

My interview discussing the apostle Paul with host John Shuck of “Religion for Life” is now up as a Podcast so you can hear it anytime or download it. Thanks to John for putting it up early–just in time for Christmas! Just click on the link below and you can go from there.

http://religionforlife.podomatic.com/entry/2013-12-23T10_34_32-08_00

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Tabor Interview with John Shuck “Religion for Life” December 19-25th

The interview I recorded with John Shuck of “Religion for Life” will air this evening and through Christmas on selected FM/AM stations, and available by podcast thereafter. We talked about my new book, Paul and Jesus. Last week Shuck interviewed N.T. Wright on his latest work on Paul–so our two shows, back-to-back, should make a nice contrast. You can see the schedule below and most of these radio stations allow one to tune in “live” over the Internet.

Religion For LifeFrom John Shuck: James Tabor, Paul and Jesus, December 19-25

James Tabor is Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina Charlotte.  He is the author of The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity, and most recently, Paul and Jesus:  How the Apostle Transformed Christianity which has just been released in paperback.   This book is an excellent introduction regarding Christian origins, particularly regarding the difference between the historical Jesus and how Paul transformed him into something completely different, the Cosmic Christ.   Read about Professor Tabor’s exciting and controversial work on the TaborBlog.

pauljesuscover taborpublicty

Thursday, December 19th at 8 pm on WETS, 89.5.
Saturday, December 21st at 1 pm on KZUM, 89.3.
Sunday, December 22nd at noon on WEHC, 90.7.
Sunday, December 22nd at 1230 pm on WHAN, 1430 AM/102.9 FM
Sunday, December 22nd at 2 pm on WETS, 89.5.
Monday, December 23rd at 1 pm on WEHC, 90.7.
Wednesday, December 25th at 6:30 pm on WEHC, 90.7.
Via podcast beginning December 26th.