10th Anniversary “Jesus Dynasty” Tour to Israel Announced

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The Launch of The Jesus Dynasty in April 2006

I am officially announcing today a special 10th Anniversary “Experiencing the Jesus Dynasty” tour to Israel in 2016. The dates are March 4-13. As many will remember, The Jesus Dynasty was published in April 2006 and became an New York Times best-seller, now translated into over 20 languages.

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“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
refreshing 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.

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This tour is limited to only 45 participants in order to allow a maximum of personal
interaction with one another and with me. Each person will receive a copy of The Jesus Dynasty personally inscribed with a dedication noting the special occasion of this
tour.

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.

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The full itinerary, pricing options, registration forms, and other details are linked here. Arrangements are being organized via Blossoming Rose, as in the past, but with a completely different line-up of hotels and bus tour services shaped to our needs. I suspect from the positive response I got when I mentioned the possibility of this tour a few months ago that this one will fill up quickly.

John Schütz, Revered Scholar of Paul, has Died

I just heard via Jack Sasson the sad news of Prof. John Howard Schütz’s passing. John was professor Emeritus in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was severely brain damaged in a bicycle accident in 1985, at the prime of his career.  He received his MA and PhD at Yale Divinity School and spent a year in Germany in the late 1950s as a Fulbright Scholar. He also spent a sabbatical year at Oxford University at Jesus College in 1972-73.  After that, he published his first book, Paul and the Anatomy of Apostolic Authority, which was initially published by Cambridge and subsequently by Westminster John Knox Press. He was in the process of writing a second major scholarly book when he had his accident. John’s scholarly contributions before his accident were many and he was one of the most insightful and brilliant scholars I have ever known. His emphasis on the social world of Paul was one that informed the scholarship of so many of us in the 1970s through the “Social World of Early Christianity” SBL sessions inspired by Wayne Meeks, Abraham Malherbe, and others.

John Schutz

I  first knew of John Schütz as a graduate student at the University of Chicago in the 1970s through his book Paul and the Anatomy of Apostolic Authority that was a very important influence on my own work on Paul, subsequently published as my dissertation, Things Unutterable (University Press of America, 1986). I first met John face-to-face in 1985 after moving to the College of William and Mary as a young visiting Assistant Professor of New Testament. I regularly attended an informal South East regional group we called SCRAM (Study of the Culture and Religion of the Ancient Mediterranean) that would meet at various locations once or twice a year–Chapel Hill, William and Mary, Duke, etc. It was a wonderful group with the likes of Robert Wilken, Tom McCollough, Dale Martin, Tom Finn, Bart Ehrman, David Halperin, Robert Gregg, Elizabeth Clark, and many others sharing recent research and socializing together. When I took the position here at UNC Charlotte I continued to be a committed part of the SCRAM gatherings. The group sadly and gradually faded out and John’s accident was a huge blow to all of us.

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Just after I published my latest book Paul and Jesus in 2012 I had an email from John’s daughter, Amy Kelso, who is an attorney with UNC Charlotte. She had read about the book and thought her father might enjoy reading it. I shipped her an inscribed copy and she gave it to him that Christmas. Amy told me at the time that John’s short term memory was gone but remarkably, his long term-memory remained and she thought he would enjoy reading my book in “spurts.” John spent his last years in a retirement community with his wife who remained his sole caregiver these many decades.

I am sad to learn of John’s passing. All who knew him will understand the great respect and affection I had for him as a human being and an amazing scholar.

Tabor & Trible Team up at St Olaf Biblical Archaeology Society Seminar

It is not too late to join us July 19th through 25th…Full details are here.

The BAS Summer Vacation Seminar at St. Olaf is back by popular demand! This year, the tranquil campus of St. Olaf College will welcome two exciting scholars giving 20 dynamic lectures to our enthusiastic participants. Dr. Phyllis Trible of Union Theological Seminary and Dr. James Tabor of the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, will present what promises to be one of our most unique programs yet.

The program is truly amazing. Just think–to pack so much into a week, with time to “hang out” and interact in the evenings and at meals is an opportunity not to be missed. Come have a seat with us in this beautiful setting and let’s dialogue on these important topics.

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The program looks fantastic. I am doing “Trajectories through Earliest Christianity” and Phyllis Trible is doing “Treks through the Tanakh with Biblical Characters” as only she can do them. Here is the breakdown:

Tabor: Trajectories through Earliest Christianity
In his lecture program, Professor Tabor examines some of the most intriguing enigmas, mysteries, and controversies in early Christianity

  1. Re-humanizing the Mythological/Theological Miriam, Mother of Jesus
  2. Miriam the Magdalene: Wife, mother, Consort, or Literary Fiction?
  3. Identifying the Mysterious Disciple Whom Jesus Loved
  4. A Thoroughly Apocalyptic Jesus – Was Schweitzer Right?
  5. John the Baptizer—An Alternative Messiah in the Time of Jesus?
  6. Why the “End of the Age” Should Have Come in 70 CE
  7. Did the Apostle Paul Repudiate Judaism?
  8. The Q Source Hypothesis after 100 Years – What Can We Definitely Say?
  9. Understanding the Earliest View of the Resurrection of Jesus
  10. What Kind of a Jew was Jesus?

Trible: Treks through the Tanakh with Biblical Characters
The ten lectures will explore literary, theological, and feminist perspectives on Biblical narratives with particular attention to select characters. The characters, by lecture, include the following:

  1. God the Creator
  2. Eve
  3. Adam
  4. Hagar, Sarah, and Abraham
  5. Ishmael and Isaac
  6. Jacob
  7. Miriam
  8. Elijah and Jezebel
  9. Jonah
  10. God Wrathful and Merciful

Israeli Court Finds Joe Zias Guilty of Libel

Additional news coverage: The Times of Israel

From Simcha Jacobovici’s blog this morning, breaking news from Israel…

Lod District Court (Lod, Israel) – After 4 years in court, Judge Jacob Sheinman handed down a landmark decision today in my libel suit filed against former Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) curator Joseph Zias.

I’m used to criticisms. As a journalist, I’m committed to the principle of free debate in a democratic society. But free speech ends where libel begins, and Zias crossed every red line of a civilized debate. He accused me, among other things, of “forgery”, “planting archaeology”, “pimping the Bible” and “inventing Holocaust stories”. He also accused me of being in intimate contact with various criminal elements around the world. All these are horrible, made up lies that he circulated on the Internet and sent to various universities, publishers and broadcasters. Incredibly, he found some people to support him, especially those with a theological axe to grind.

After I sued him, Zias and some of his supporters claimed that my lawsuit was an attempt to stifle free speech and academic criticism – as if libel and lies are a legitimate part of academic discourse. I only called 4 witnesses to make my case. For his part, Zias argued that he had spoken the truth and called 25 witnesses in his defense. But the strategy backfired as most of his witnesses testified against his position!

Today, the judge threw the book at Zias. He quoted Israeli law stating that freedom of speech has to be balanced with protecting a man’s “good name”. He found that Zias did not prove a single allegation. By the end of his 38 page ruling, the judge found Zias guilty on 10 counts of libel – 6 of them “pre-meditated libel with an intention to cause harm”. To underline the seriousness of Zias’ wrongdoings, the judge fined him a total of 800,000 NIS.

I waited a long time for this moment. Justice has been served and a clear message has been sent to those who use bullying and defamation as a tactic to silence free debate.

Over the past four years I have constantly heard colleagues incorrectly characterizing the Zias lawsuit as a “freedom of speech,” issue, as if Simcha Jacobovici filed his complaint to stifle legitimate criticism and debate on his work. Joe is desperate to cast things that way so he can appear the victim rather than the perpetrator–of slander and defamation–which he most surely is.  If you are interested in the facts, here they are. I know only too well what is at stake here because I have been the victim of Joe’s slander myself, having been a close friend of his for over 20 years. The only difference is Simcha Jacobovici decided to sue Joe whereas I have chosen to ignore Joe’s ugly behavior as much as possible while providing those interested in the facts of the case as I know them.

Zias & Tabor at Qumran

Scholars in my field of ancient Judaism and early Christianity often sharply disagree on issues. Pointed critiques and exchanges are common and welcome, so long as they remain respectful. This has been the case with the academic discussion of the Talpiot tombs in Jerusalem and their possible relationship to Jesus of Nazareth and his family over the past few years.  You can find a representative archive of strongly differing articles atBible & Interpretation here.

Jodi Magness and I laid out the parameters of the early stages of the debate, pro and con, on the Society of Biblical Literature web site here and here. Near Eastern Archaeologypublished a forum involving me and four other scholars on the topic in late 2006, see here. In March 2012 the ASOR Blog devoted the month of March to an intense academic discussion of the new discoveries in the Talpiot “Patio tomb” resulting from the robotic arm probe, see here.  Most recently Prof. James Charlesworth has published the proceedings of the 2008 Princeton Symposium in Jerusalem, The Tomb of Jesus and his Family with over 30 contributions to the discussion, representing a cross sections of interpretations and viewpoints.

PrincetonTalpiotWhat is happily absent from this intense academic discussion is personal defamation, slander, and libel. Unfortunately that has not been the case with Joe Zias, former Israel Antiquities Authority curator, who has publicly and vocally slandered and defamed me as well as my colleague Rami Arav and filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici, in connection with our exploration of the Talpiot tombs. Many of my colleagues have cheered Zias on, mistakenly thinking that he is merely expressing his views and disagreeing with us on the interpretation of evidence.

The truth is Zias has moved way beyond respectful academic critique into defamation, libel, and personal slander. I know this firsthand because I have copies of e-mail and letters he has written to my Dean, Provost, Chancellor, literary agent, and publisher–Simon & Schuster, as well as dozens of colleagues, charging me with “conduct bordering on the criminal,” “planting of evidence,” and calling for my dismissal for academic misconduct. In fact, in those e-mails he even charges that we “faked” the Jonah ossuary image and entered the tomb clandestinely, planting it for later filming and “discovery.” Zias urges Simon & Schuster not to publish our book, The Jesus Discovery, charging that our work is based on fraudulent claims. More recently he has expanded his critique to the commendable work Gene Gallagher and I did on Waco–which was even praised by the FBI–charging that my defense of “cult leaders” before congress gave support to the Oklahoma City bombing. Early on I wrote him a couple of e-mails and urged him to drop the personal attacks and participate in the academic discussion, inviting his critique of any aspect of our archaeological exploration of the “Patio tomb” or our interpretations of these tombs. He replied that my career was ruined, that UNC Charlotte had shown itself to be an institution with no academic standards, and that none of my students would ever find jobs or achieve any respect in our field–even though our program in Religious Studies at UNC Charlotte is one of the finest in the country.

So far as I know, even though Joe Zias is surely the most vocal critic of our work on the Talpiot tombs, he has yet to publish a single scholarly article setting forth his own counter arguments or positions. What he has done is constantly post personal attacks in “Comment” sections of media and blog pieces against me, Rami Arav, Simcha Jacobovici, and those he loosely calls “The BAR Crowd,” (which apparently includes editor Hershel Shanks and anyone who is associated with Biblical Archaeology Review).

What is particularly ironic in all this is that Zias, back in 1996, was the first one to speak in favor of the possibility that the Talpiot “Jesus” tomb belonged to Jesus and a likely wife, expressing his amazement at the uniqueness of the “cluster of names” to a BBC film crew.

I care about Joe and his family on a human level and have always treated him with kindness and respect, despite his abuse and slander against me.  I take no joy in his personal pain, though I am pleased that justice has prevailed in this case. The lawsuit was never about Zias’s right to strongly express his disagreement with the theses of Simcha’s films on the Talpiot tombs or the books he had co-authored. It was specific in charging Zias with personal libel, slander, and defamation. Zias had a defense fund set up and various colleagues who have negative views of Simcha’s work have mistakenly taken the issue to be that of Zias’s right to the academic freedom of dissent. Joe has charged that “big money” interests have conspired to keep him from speaking out, punishing him for simply expressing his criticisms. Such is simply not the case, as hundreds of my colleagues who have gotten Joe’s defamatory e-mails can testify.

Riots on Mount Zion: Christians and Jews in Conflict

Some of you might remember the riots that broke out on Mt Zion last May when the Pope visited Jerusalem and held a Mass in the “Upper Room” or Cenacle, traditional site where Jesus ate his Last Supper. See the Jerusalem Post story here to refresh your memory.

Mass Cenacle

This past Sunday, which was both the Christian Pentecost and the Jewish Shavuot, similar skirmishes and arrests took place as Jewish protesters tried to prevent the Christians from worshipping in the Upper Room–which just happens to be over the so-called “Tomb of David.” I have not seen this covered in either the Jerusalem Post, HaAretz, or the Times of Israel, as of this morning, and a Google search yields only this AP wire story:

June 1, 5:54 PM EDT: JEWISH PROTESTERS TRY TO BLOCK CHRISTIAN RITUAL AT HOLY SITE

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli police say they forcibly removed dozens of Jewish protesters trying to prevent a Christian ritual from taking place at a holy site revered in both religions.

Police spokeswoman Luba Samri says the skirmish took place Monday at a site revered by Jews as the tomb of the biblical King David and by Christians as the site of Jesus’ Last Supper.

On Sunday, dozens of Jewish protesters also attempted to block Christian prayer there for the holiday of Pentecost.

A status-quo arrangement permits Christian prayer at the site on specific holidays. The Vatican is lobbying Israel for more access to the site, which fundamentalist Jewish Israelis oppose. The Custodia of Terra Santa, a Vatican representative in Jerusalem, said the events were “grave.”

This controversial site is unique in all the Holy Land. In a single building, the foundations of which might go back to the 1st century CE. I would say just about every one of the 3.5 million tourists–whether Christian or Jewish–visit this site. The reason is the upper floor, dating back to Crusader times, marks the traditional place of Jesus’ Last Supper, and precisely below, on the ground floor, is the traditional “Tomb of David,” also dating to Crusader times. These two communities, separated by a floor, stream in and out of their respective places. Before the Six Day War (June 1967), this area of Mt Zion was outside the Green Line and thus remained under Israeli control. It was the nearest Jews could get to the Old City from 1948–when they were all expelled–until 1967. This gave the tomb of David site an incredible significance–next to the Western (“Wailing”) Wall, which could not be accessed, as a place of prayer. Christians continued throughout this time to visit the Cenacle, or Upper Room site. I remember first going there in 1962 when I was a teenager, on my first trip to the Holy Land. I found it very moving. Here are some reflections on that trip written 50 years later with lots of links to my subsequent work in the area, “Fifty Year Ago: My First Visit to Jerusalem.”

Those of us who “Dig Mount Zion” each summer are intimately familiar with the Cenacle, as we walk past it daily from our dig site, just a few hundred yards to the east, to access the public toilets during our days in the field!

The history of the Cenacle has been a focus of my interest and research for 25 years spurred by the important article by Bargil Pixner, “The Church of the Apostles on Mount Zion,” published in Biblical Archaeology Review in May/June 1990. You can read the article here, reproduced with permission. In July 1990 I first met the author, the late great Father Bargil Pixner and we became fast friends 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 his influential 1997 article in BAR magazine, Jerusalem’s Essene Gateway.  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. Shimon Gibson and I visited the area last June, just after the rioting, to visit Pixner’s grave.  We were saddened to see the burning and vandalism at the Dormitian Abby nearby–very senseless destruction of priceless items–it reminds one of Isis or the Taliban.

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One of my graduate students, David Clausen, who just finished his degree in May, has produced a marvelous M.A. thesis on the history and archaeology of the Cenacle that will be published early next year with McFarland (www.mcfarlandbooks.com). I think it is the best thing available on the subject. Shimon Gibson and I were readers. I will keep you all informed.

In the meantime, see some of you at Mt Zion very soon! And if you can’t join us help us–see here: Mt Zion Dig: How You Can Participate.

Dig Mount Zion: How You Can Participate!

Our Mount Zion excavation begins two weeks from today. Here’s how you can participate if you can’t be on the site with us.

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Sunrise MtZion RD

The magazine Popular Archaeology recently headlined our dig with the following update and you can read their full coverage here:

A team of archaeologists and students will be returning in 2015 to excavate at a site just below the ancient walls of Jerusalem not far from the Temple Mount, an area that has recently been yielding structures and artifacts that are beginning to show a slice of times both turbulent and peaceful in a city sacred to three great religions. Among the most recent finds are an Iron Age II (8th – 6th centuries CE) stamped pottery handle depicting a double-winged scarab with the Hebrew inscription, “le-Melek…” (of or belonging to the King) representing royal or state property; walls and structures from the late 1st century BCE to 70 CE, including a Jewish ritual bath and numerous coins; and more structures, features and artifacts from the Byzantine, Islamic, Crusader, and Ottoman periods.

We are very excited about our 2015 seasons and have over 60 participants from around the world joining us. It is not too late if any of you want to still join us–see digmountzion.uncc.edu for details and contact information.

Annual operational costs of our excavation run about $76,000 a year. We have already raised $56,000 from individual donors that we have approached directly but we need to close this $20,000 gap in the next two weeks. These funds are used directly for excavation costs, conservation, curating of finds, and post-excavation analysis–no personal salaries. The dig is under the academic oversight of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and is fully licensed by the Israel Antiquities Authority and the National Parks, who administer the land.

We are not using any of the popular programs such as Kickstarter or GoFundMe since they extract fees for their services. We want 100% of what our supporters give to go directly to our excavation. Our vender for the past decade, The Foundation of Biblical Archaeology (TFBA) is administering this special campaign and they do not extract fees for such services–simply because they are dedicated to advancing the projects they represent in the most economical way possible. TFBA is a IRS-Approved 501 (C) (3) non-profit and contributions are tax-deductible. All donations are promptly acknowledged and annual statements are provided to donors.

To participate you can go to the link here and give via Paypal or with a Credit/Debit card (add a note that your contribution is for Mt Zion), or you can send a check made out to TFBA/Mt Zion to:

The Mount Zion Excavation Fund
The Foundation for Biblical Archaeology
2175 Dahlonega Highway
Cumming, GA 30040

There can be great strength in numbers and we hope that hundreds of our friends who have dug with us in the past or followed our progress along the way will pitch in and help with whatever amount they decide to give. Please contact me via e-mail with any questions: jdtabor@uncc.edu.

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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.”

 

Remembering James Olof Ribb (1946-2006)

In my more resigned moments I figure this thing is going to get me sooner or later — it wasn’t exactly caught in the early stages–but all I really want is what I’ve always wanted even before this happened: some good days (without pain) and the opportunity to put things in order, providing for a minimum of fuss after I’m gone. If I can have that, I’ll be happy. It’s quality, not quantity.

Olof James Ribb died nine years ago today on January 16, 2006 of a very aggressive form of bone cancer. Olof was one of those rare friends of a lifetime that some of us are fortunate enough to have. He was one of the truest people I have ever known, a “man in whom there was no guile,” and one of the most brilliant and honest human beings I have ever known. When I think of sterling impeccable character I think of Olof. All who knew him say the same. He had some rare combination of intelligence, brutal honesty, kindness, keen insight, a quest for truth, and a passionate sense of justice. I miss him immensely and think of him every day.

Two years ago I posted the draft of a manuscript he finished in 1994 but never published: Excerpts: A Collection of Thoughts, Quotations, and Observations. ((I want to thank our dear and mutual friend of Olof–Stephen Estes–for scanning and preparing this original manuscript for posting and Olof’s nephew Erick Mortensen who maintains the web site olofribb.com.)) Olof was exceedingly modest about this work and during his lifetime only shared it with a few friends, though he and I talked about publishing it someday and he seemed quite willing but said it would “need a lot of work.” I invite my readers to delve into this rather remarkable collection of random observations on “People, Books and Ideas, Death, Tradition, Politics, Reason and the Mind, Women, Gender, Sex, Morality, and Superstition,” as well as to browse the web site olofribb.com for the many photos, tributes, and memories of Olof Ribb–especially by his students. The section on “Olof’s Thoughts” is particularly fascinating. Olof was preeminently a linguist, a reader, a thinker–but most of all a teacherpar excellence. He was reluctant to write much formally given his conviction that most of what needed to be said about la condition humaine had already been said far better than he felt he could express things–hence the many quotations in his little book. He was a high school teacher of German and Latin much beloved of students, family, and friends. He could have easily had a Ph.D. and taught at the university level but he felt strongly that high school was the best and most critical place to serve in our culture so he was content with his M.A. in German and Latin. When he won the “Teacher of the Year” award at Western Alamance High School in Burlington, NC, where he was teaching when he died, he commented to a friend who congratulated him, “Thanks, Joy, for your card and congratulations. I certainly bamboozled them!” Olof lived in Greensboro, not far from the UNC campus and spent much time at Chapel Hill as well, both in the libraries and taking post-graduate classes in philosophy, literature, and Classics. Beginning in January, 1973 Olof and I exchanged letters in the good old-fashioned way, three to five page typed single-spaced, mailed back and forth every week to ten days for over 20 years. The last decade or so we turned to e-mail. I have copies of all our correspondence filling several storage boxes.  Those files are among my most precious possessions, next to family pictures and movies. Someday I hope to publish excerpts–mostly his not mine–as this weekly record of his intellectual and spiritual development over the 33 years of our friendship is truly an impressive legacy. Olof made a profound difference in countless thousands of lives over the years. German was Olof’s main academic expertise, though he had learned Italian and Spanish quite well, and was a master of Latin. His great loves were history, philosophy, religion, and literature, though he maintained a curiosity about almost everything, including the latest in science. He had read the complete works of Nietzsche and dozens of others German philosophers and writers, not to mention his deep love of Classics.  Because of his family “roots” he plunged into Swedish with a special passion the last decades of his life. I remember asking him once, since I knew his Germany was so fluent, if his Swedish would compare, and he answered simply “Yes.”  He had become over 20 years as comfortable in Swedish as in English or German. I don’t know of anyone inside or outside my academic field who had followed my work and research on the historical Jesus more avidly than Olof. But he was much more of a dialog partner and a critic than a fan. He had studied the Bible line-by-line in his youth and I have his old worn copy with markings and notations on every page–no exaggeration here. Over the years he read and thought himself “out of Christianity,” and in the end even the more Hebraic “process theism” that I find appealing failed to grip him. In the oddest way his “skepticism” and even “agnosticism” seemed to have more integrity to it than the creedal statements of so many. He was neither contentious nor pretentious, and was perfectly willing to patiently listen to my own expositions but just found himself unconvinced of what he considered to be the naive assumptions of “certainty” in any sort of biblically oriented faith.  I benefited immensely from his input and we differed sharply on some of these issues. Olof read every word of my Jesus Dynasty manuscript along the way and gave me helpful feedback on nearly every page. I still have his MS Word “markup” copies of each chapter, filled with his notes.  He traveled with me to Germany when I was doing the Pantera research in October, 2005, just a few months before he died. We had no idea he was even sick but he complained on that trip of a pain in his shoulder that turned out to be a malignant bone tumor. I mention him in the Acknowledgments of that book that was published in April of 2006. Olof never lived to hold a printed copy of the book in his hands but I flew up to Minneapolis the weekend before he died and showed him the final page proofs which pleased him immensely.

I hope all of you will both enjoy and be stimulated by Olof’s thoughts on this anniversary of his death.

Killing Heretics: Now and Then

Islamic violence must be called Islamic. To say that Islam owns it, produced it, and has to solve it is not saying that all Muslims agree with the tactics of ISIL, contract killers in Paris, or child killers in Pakistan.

 

The-Sabbath-Breaker-Stoned-by-James-Tissot-1900-Jewish-Museum-New-York

The notion of killing “unbelievers” or heretics, whether in the past, the present, or even in the future, is historically part and parcel of the three Abrahamic Faiths. Worshipping gods other than Yahweh brings a death penalty in the Torah (Deuteronomy 13:10-12). Paul declares a fatwah-like “death decree” (“destruction of the flesh”) on the man living with his father’s wife at Corinth (1 Corinthians 5:5).  Christ returns, according to Paul, to burn those who “know not God and obey not the Gospel” (presumably everyone but the Christians) with flaming fire and eternal punishment (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10). Christian history, unfortunately, is–among many other things–a long tale of torture, murder, and “holy wars,” as as the late great Karlheinz Deschner so meticulously documented in his monumental 10 volume work, Die Kriminalgeschichte des Christentums. The Qu’ran commands the killing of all unbelievers, including those “People of the book” (Jews and Christians), who do not submit to Muslim Shari’a and take the status of Zimmis–forbidding all public practice of faith (just read through Surahs 8-9).

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In the aftermath of the murders in Paris this week we are assured “these are acts of terrorism and are not part of the Islamic religion.” We are told constantly, “this is not Islam,” these are just thugs wanting power. That is like saying the Roman Catholic Inquisitioners who killed “heretics” or the Reformers who slaughtered Catholics were not “really Christian.” From a moral point of view, perhaps not, but in terms of religious identity such disavowals are nonsense. Let’s call extreme views of ALL traditions “bad” forms of the religion, fine, but to deny that such violence and evil is perpetrated by “devoted” religious fanatics who take their faith seriously misses the power that such evil forces draw upon. They have convinced themselves they are doing God’s work and God is on their side–a sad and ubiquitous aspect of the violent history of ALL religious traditions.The issues are much more complex and I recommend these successive blog posts of Joseph Hoffmann as providing some clear thinking on what we are facing in our times when it comes to the new waves of Islamic violence:

Sex, Salvation, and Violence in Islam

Religion begins in violence. Its archetypes and myths are saturated in blood–the predations of Ishtar, the cannibalism of the Greek Titans, the binding of Isaac, the crucifixion of Jesus. Its holy books are full of violence.

Islam is no exception. It is the rule. It’s important to say however that no religion but Islam seems suicidally bent on making violence a permanent part of its contemporary world-view and operations manual. There seems to be no doubt that, at least as represented by its most visible adepts, Islam is the religion which brings us into closest contact with the religion of our vicious tribal past. Religions may begin in violence. But they usually do not survive through violence.

Owning Isis: Collective Responsibility and Personal Guilt

Islam, as I’ve argued here before, was never able to produce a coherent theological or “orthodox” tradition apart from its simple belief in the arkān al-Islām –the pillars of Islam. It did try, and once upon a time, in the storied Golden Age of Islam prior to the thirteenth century there were philosophers who offered a ray of light. Later on however that light was snuffed out by the likes of the imam Abū Ḥāmid Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Ghazālī who taught (contra the much more learned Ibn Rushd) that philosophy and Islam had nothing to do with one another, and to the extent they did, the philosophers were heretics. The rigidity of that teaching deprived Islam of a Renaissance, a Reformation and an Enlightenment. Worse, it created a disconnect between Islam and modernity that still plagues a religion that–in some of its most visible manifestations–belongs to another time and place.

Charlie and Ahmed

It is not some sort of intrinsic desire to kill that makes them violent. It is a sort of pornographic idealism, supported by the worst possible reading of an ancient book, interpreted by the worst possible religious experts—many of them in their twenties and lacking any sort of educational qualifications to teach or preach fiqh.

We do Islam no favour by not asking it to take its share of the blame. We do it a distinct disservice by spreading the veil of the sacred, the untouchable, around it-closeting it off from critique, satire and serious discussion through the imposition of blasphemy and anti-defamation laws.

 

 

TaborBlog in 2014

THANK YOU ALL!

Thank you to all my blog readers–old and new–for your continued interest in my postings on TaborBlog during 2014. It was a record year by every measure. Total page-views, going back to 2010 when the present metrics were activated, topped 1,000,000 in November, 2014 with 467,877 page-views in 2014 alone. At the end of 2011 we were at just 40, 967–so that is a 10-fold increase in four years! Here is a report that WordPress put together with lots of interesting stats about top posts, countries reached, total traffic, and so forth. I look forward to a fantastic 2015 with lots of new postings and information to come–so bookmark the site and check back often! Click on the image to view a report and then scroll down.

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