James Tabor on PBS: Imagining Immortality and Eternal Life

One more in this three-part series of conversations about the “Afterlife” on the PBS show “Closer to Truth” with the ever perceptive host Dr. Robert Kuhn. Here we explore more specifically the “Imagining Immortality and Eternal Life,” click on the video image here for the link:

If you are not familiar with this remarkable PBS series created by Dr. Robert Kuhn dealing with the “Big Questions,” namely God, Cosmos, and Consciousness, you can browse some of the past shows here. The group of experts he has gathered together is truly impressive, a virtual “Who’s Who” on all sides of every issue, with Kuhn’s probing skills as host bringing out their best.  I am honored to have been included. Television does not get better than this.

For further background reading on this topic see the links in the first post here.

James Tabor on PBS: What Is Immortality?

Here is a continuation of my exploration with “Closer to Truth” host Dr. Robert Kuhn regarding the concept of “Afterlife.” Here we explore more specifically the question of immortality. Click on the video image here for the link:

If you are not familiar with this remarkable PBS series created by Dr. Robert Kuhn dealing with the “Big Questions,” namely God, Cosmos, and Consciousness, you can browse some of the past shows here. The group of experts he has gathered together is truly impressive, a virtual “Who’s Who” on all sides of every issue, with Kuhn’s probing skills as host bringing out their best.  I am honored to have been included. Television does not get better than this.

For further background reading on this topic see the links in yesterday’s post here.

James Tabor on PBS: The Afterlife

One of the programs I did on the PBS Show “Closer to Truth,” hosted by Dr. Robert L. Kuhn was on the “Afterlife.” I have also published an article dealing with the same subject, “What the Bible Says About the Future,” which you can download free as a PDF here. Enjoy the interview by clicking the video image here:

If you are not familiar with this remarkable creation of Dr. Robert Kuhn dealing with the “Big Questions,” namely God, Cosmos, and Consciousness, you can browse some of the past shows here. The group of experts he has gathered together is truly impressive, a virtual “Who’s Who” on all sides of every issue, with Kuhn’s probing skills as host bringing out their best.  I am honored to have been included. Television does not get better than this.

While I am on the subject of the “Afterlife” I wanted to also recommend some past posts for new readers of this blog that I think will shed much light on this fascinating but complex subject–including the oft misunderstood concept of “Resurrection of the Dead.” As you will see there is a lot of in-depth material archived here, much of which I regularly present in my university classes and I am pleased to share with my blog readers.

The Earliest Account of the Discovery of Jesus’ Tomb: What It Says and What It Does not Say

Easter Morning: Sorting Through the Sources and Traditions

Resurrection Means Participation

Making the Dead Ones Live

What Really Happened Easter Morning?–The Mystery Solved

Why People are Confused About the Earliest Christian View of Resurrection of the Dead

Death as Life and Life as Death

Do Historians Exclude the Supernatural?

One of the most frequent responses I get to my work as a historian of religions, particularly in my dealings with Jesus, Paul, and the development of early “Christianities” is the objection that I “exclude  the miraculous” as a valid part of the investigation. The idea seems to be that “secular historians” prejudge evidence and are accordingly biased in that they will not allow even the possibility of the miraculous as part of ones historical inquiry. If historians ask the questions: what do we know and how do we know it–how is it that we claim to “know” from the start that miracles do not happen and that supernatural explanations for various developments are to be rejected? As Darrel Bock put things, reviewing my book, The Jesus Dynasty for Christianity Today: “James Tabor’s historical assumptions that reject God’s activity on Earth force him into odd arguments to explain the birth of Christianity.”

For Bock and others these assumptions essentially result in “explaining away the New Testament” to use his words. Bock is referring particularly to my observation that historians assume that all humans have two biological parents, that dead bodies don’t rise, and that humans do not bodily ascend to heaven. Oddly enough, I maintain, along with most historians, that the “odd arguments” are characteristic of those who take the assertions that Jesus had no human father or that he walked out of his tomb and ascended bodily into the clouds of heaven as literal scientific statements of fact. Whether I reject “God’s activity on Earth” is a much more complex matter that I will deal with in another context, but what about this charge that secular historians are biased against the supernatural?

My training at the University of Chicago was that of a historian, not a theologian or even a “Biblical Scholar” as such. My Ph.D. was not from the Divinity School but in the Division of Humanities. I worked broadly in the area study of “Ancient Mediterranean Religions and Culture” and more specifically within ancient Judaism and early Christianity. My teachers were primarily Jonathan Z. Smith and Robert M. Grant. What I reflected in The Jesus Dynasty and in all of my academic work, are the methods and approaches generally employed by most qualified scholars who work in these areas.

Doing the work of an historian is not “hard” science in the purest sense of the term, but none of us in the field would want it to be understood as “art” either, at least not in some wholly subjective way. There is no doubt that historians often differ in their conclusions in important ways, and that “interpretation” of the data, how it is finally weighed and processed, is indeed a somewhat subjective process. When it comes to Jesus, as Albert Schweitzer pointed out long ago, historians all to often have “looked into the long well of history” and seen their own reflection staring back at them. In other words, when they come up with a so-called “historical Jesus” fashioned almost wholly by their own imaginations and biased desires.

When my students retreat to some historical conclusion that I or others have reached, with the easy retort “but that is just your interpretation,” I encourage them to go beyond that kind of reductionism. History is not mere subjective interpretation, even if it involves such. Ideally it is based on arguments and evidence and in the end a good historian wants to be persuasive. It is rare that historical conclusions close out any possible alternative interpretations, but the goal is to set forth, in the open court of reasoned argument and evidence, a compelling “case” for whatever one is dealing with. Even when we disagree we end up stating “why” we don’t find this or that argument convincing, or what we find weak in the assumptions of one with whom we differ.

As for sources, nothing is excluded and everything can be evaluated as long as it offers us some reasonable way to reconstruct the past. Historians love and welcome evidence. That is what we live on and we crave any new materials that can shed more light on what we know. But even our best sources, particularly the literary ones, are remarkably tendentious. Modern standards of argument and objectivity were unknown to ancient writers. Writing was more often than not a blatant attempt at propaganda and apologetics, and all the more so when it came to competing systems of religious understanding. Recognition of those factors is a vital part of every historian’s method. If we want to “use” Josephus we also have to give attention to what we know of him as a person, as a writer, what his tendencies are, what his competence was, and so forth. It is the same with the Gospels, with Eusebius, and with all the ancient texts and material evidence that we have at our disposal. It is also the case that for many important questions related to Jesus and his movement we simply do not have good evidence and probably never will. As thankful as we are for what we have, whether textual or archaeological or myth or tradition, in the end we have to face our own limitations.

Determining what Jesus said, or what he did, given the obvious theologically motivated editing and “mythmaking” that goes on even in our core New Testament gospels is a methodologically challenging project upon which none of us wholly agree. For example, we know virtually nothing about the so-called “lost years of Jesus,” and thus are left to speculate about his childhood and early adult life until about age 30 (assuming we even trust Luke, our single source, about his age when he joined John the Baptizer). Our attempts are educated guesses and creative reconstructions. Most of us are quite sure that the reports of the various so-called “Infancy Gospels” that have Jesus as a child magically turning clay birds into real ones or jumping off the roof a a building unharmed are less than historical. They are late, legendary, and fabulistic to the extreme. It is doubtful that such sources contain any useful historical information at all. I cannot prove that Jesus and his brothers worked with their father Joseph in the building trades in nearby Sepphoris, but I think it is a likely possibility, given what we know (see Mark 6:3). In contrast, the assertions that Jesus traveled as a child with his uncle Joseph of Arimathea to Britain, or that he studied in Egypt or in India, are based upon legendary materials far removed in time and place from his world. It is the same with the question of whether or not Jesus was married or had children. For years I agreed with most of my colleagues that the possibilities of this appear to be slight but over the past five years, in looking at the new evidence from the Talpiot tombs, as well as reviewing all the arguments, I have become convinced otherwise. A recent reviewer of our new book, The Jesus Discovery, has asserted on this point that “The claim that the Gnostic Gospels are a good source on Jesus being married to Mary Magdalene, for instance, is just breathtakingly silly — they were written incredibly late and reflect a particular theology/religious perspective–not history.” I have to disagree here and clearly, the reviewer, Raphael Magarik, is completely unaware of the solid scholarship on Mary Magdalene by fine scholars such as the late Jane Schaberg, April DeConick, or a host of others and seems not to have read very carefully the arguments I review in the book that I think are actually quite persuasive.

The public has been geared to think of the suppression of evidence, usually with the Roman Catholic church being the culprit, but such grand “conspiratorial” theories have little basis in fact. What is most characteristic of early Christianity, or more properly, “Christianites,” is a competing diversity of “parties and politics,” each propagating its own vision of the significance of the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. All sorts of interpretations are offered of Jesus, but the question finally comes down to how convincing a given argument is to other historians who work in the field and deal with the same sources and materials. But even “consensus” is no guarantor of final truth. Sometimes a minority view, in time, can prove to be true, and often pioneers in any area of history are castigated or rejected by colleagues when they initially put forth their theses.

As far as the subjects of the miraculous and the supernatural, historians of religions remain observers. The fact is we do not exclude religious experience in investigating the past–far from it. We actually embrace it most readily. What people believe or claim to have experienced becomes a vital part of our evidence. We can note that Mark reported that Jesus walked on water or raised the dead or met his disciples in Galilee after his death, and then we date and evaluate Mark as a source, just as we note the miracles that Philostratus claims for his contemporary hero Apollonius of Tyana, or that the story that Zeus fathered Hercules or that Romulus was taken bodily into heaven (see these and other texts here). Most scholars in the field would say that Jesus practiced “exorcism,” and healed the sick, which was seen as a releasing one afflicted from Satanic power, but what that implies about the reality of the demonic world goes beyond our historical methods. We know enough about human psychology and our modern controversies regarding psychic phenomenon to realize the complexities of drawing such conclusions. History and theology/faith do part ways in some of these areas but I tell my students often: “Good history is never the enemy of proper faith.” It is easy to hold that “God” can do anything, and thus argue for the acceptance of a male baby being born without male sperm, or reports of a corpse rising after two or three days and ascending bodily into heaven, but such claims are not the purview of historians and they run contrary to our human experience and a more rational scientific understanding of birth and death. Historians likewise deal with “beliefs” about the afterlife and the unseen world beyond, but without asserting the historical reality of these notions or realms. We can evaluate what people claimed, what they believed, what they reported, and that all becomes part of the data, but to then say, “A miracle happened” or this or that “prophet” was truly hearing from God, as opposed to another who was utterly false prophecy, goes beyond our accessible methods. I don’t want to oversimplify things here and I realize that the question of “faith” and “history” and the assumptions modern historians make in terms of a so-called “materialistic” worldview can be challenged, even philosophically. But for the most part historians are willing to leave the “mystery” in, but in terms of advocating this or that view of the so-called “supernatural,” as an explanation, they properly, in my view, remain wary.

We will probably never know with absolute certainty who Jesus’ father was, or what happened to the body of Jesus, or whether Paul “really” talked with Jesus after his death, but I prefer the “odd arguments” of the historian in investigating those matters, however inconclusive and speculative, to the dogmatic assertions of theology that are problematic from a scientific point of view.

Face-to-Face and Head-to-Head on “The Jesus Discovery” at Upcoming Meeting of the Southeastern Comission for the Study of Religion

This just in from Prof. Ralph Hawkins:

Click on Image to Enlarge

Dear Colleagues,

Greetings, and I hope this message finds you well.

I am writing to invite you to join us in beautiful downtown Greenville, South Carolina, at the Hyatt Regency, on March 15-17, 2013, for a special ASOR session in which we’ll be considering the new book by Dr. James Tabor, entitled The Jesus Discovery: The New Archaeological Find that Reveals the Birth of Christianity (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012). Dr. James Tabor will give the featured presentation, followed by responses from Chris Rollston and Mark Goodacre. The session details are as follows:

Special Session on The Jesus Discovery: The New Archaeological Find that Reveals the Birth of Christianity (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012)

Ralph K. Hawkins (Averett University), Presiding

1.     James Tabor (UNC – Charlotte), “A New Iconographic Image and an Mixed Greek/Hebrew Inscription from a Sealed 1st Century CE Tomb in Jerusalem”
2.      Chris Rollston (George Washington University), “The Talpiyot Tombs: Some Sober Reflections on the Epigraphic Materials.”
3.       Mark Goodacre (Duke University),  “The Jesus Discovery? A Skeptic’s Perspective”.
4.       James Tabor, response

The session will be part of the ASOR Southeast program, which meets each year as part of the Southeastern Commission for the Study of Religion. For more information, go to http://groups.wfu.edu/secsor/, or contact Ralph K. Hawkins at rhawkins@averett.edu.

I am very much looking forward to this discussion. I will be presenting my response to the major alternative interpretations and critiques of our findings and analysis of the Talpiot tombs. I am honored to have the input and critique of my esteemed colleagues Masrk Goodacre and Chris Rollston. One thing for certain–the session will not be boring! Even if you are not a professional member of ASOR, SBL, or the AAR you can attend through a guest registration process. Check the web site above for details.

Once we are past this March program I plan to post a number of substantive pieces on where our evidence now stands regarding Talpiot as a whole. I want to first present my views this ASOR sponsored academic forum before I put them out on the blog. In the meantime I invite my blog readers to “Read the Book!


Was Jefferson for Jesus?

Robert Orlando has an interesting piece in the Huffington Post today titled “Was Jefferson for Jesus? Our Founding Father’s Religious Resume.

Many realize that Jefferson’s view of religion–and Jesus for that matter, were based on three insights: 1) The preeminence of reason over fable, myth, or miracle; 2) the corruptions of the gospels and all ecclesiastical and theological systems; and 3) Jesus as the greatest “moral rationalist” of history. His secret but now famous “Jefferson Bible” simply cut out portions of the Gospels that he considered offensive, mythological, rationally unacceptable, or immoral. I have the Smithsonian edition on my desk–it is a lovely  facsimile, complete with handwritten notations and the equivalent of 18th century “sticky notes” in the pages. Here is a bit of Orlando:

During our recent 2012 partisan campaign, with its familiar bipolar rhetoric regarding religion, we inevitably heard calls upon Jesus and the Founding Fathers, the latter among whom Thomas Jefferson stands as the most towering figure. Curiously, he supported both political sides. And he left an historical record, one that can be verified and that plainly spells out his hotly debated religious views (unlike Jesus, who never revealed his private thoughts in pen and ink). In his book “Thomas Jefferson, Author of America,” the late Christopher Hitchens, an outspoken atheist, defines Jefferson as a secular deist. Yet, Hitchens needs no artfully blended facts to find Jefferson a man clearly on the side of a secular nation. Though his writings at times publicly favored or encouraged the practice of religion, some of Jefferson’s most private writings did not.

You can read the rest at the link above…”Rest in peace Mr. Hitchens.”

Hoffmann on “The Historically Inconvenient Jesus”

It is hard to imagine Christianity surviving and spreading on the basis of Jesus’ teaching alone. That’s why Paul boasts that everything hinges on the resurrection of Jesus. I wrote a generation ago that “It was Jesus’ death, not his life, that saved him from obscurity” (Jesus Outside the Gospels) but in fact it was Jesus’ death dehistoricized and religionized by Paul and the resurrection traditions that really did the trick.

Joseph Hoffmann has an interesting post up this morning that takes the “mythicists” to task titled “The Historically Inconvenient Jesus.” Broadly this term refers to those who deny that the Jesus behind the Gospels and Paul even existed as a historical figure. Given myth and tradition, and especially the “mythmaking” of Paul, one has to legitimately ask what might lie “behind” the stories and how can we reliably know anything about Yeshua bar Yehosef, the historical figure?

The Emperor Hadrian and the Savior God Serapis

I have often said that Christians ended up putting Jesus in place of God, but perhaps more important, Paul is put before Jesus. It is Paul who ultimately “wins the day” in terms of how we think about practically everything “Christian.” True, the “Sermon on the Mount,” or something more academically esoteric such as the hypothetical “Q” source of Jesus’ teachings/saying, exist, but really they does not define the new religion or cult called Christianity as it moved into the wide Roman world. That achievement belongs to Paul. I argue in my new book, Paul and Jesus, for a “Christianity before Paul,” but clearly, as I explain, this is partly a deliberate choice of incongruent language on my part just to make the point that the Jesus movement lived and moved and had its being under the leadership of James, the brother of Jesus, along with Peter, and John decades before Paul began to play a more major role. After 70 CE this is very much a moot point, but in Paul’s own time he was a minor figure against the broader and thicker horizon of Jesus followers clustered in Jerusalem and Galilee waiting for the coming of the “Son of Man in the Clouds of Heaven,” a reference not so much to Jesus but to the consummation of the rule of the “beasts” of Gentile governments as  imagined by Daniel. What they most expected to happen never came, and what they never dreamed of came about–as my teacher at Chicago, Norman Perrin, used to say. Rather than the “beast” of Rome being slain and the “people of the Most High” taking rule of the cosmos, Roman mightily triumphed and had its “Golden Imperial Age’ well into the 2nd century.

The UNC Charlotte Department of Religious Studies “Does” Chicago in Style!

The big gathering this weekend in Chicago has convened. Upwards of 20,000 folks have descended upon a dozen of the major hotels around the Michigan Avenue “Miracle Mile,” just in time for the fabulous “Festival of Lights” kick-off last night with parades and fireworks.

This includes the Society of Biblical Literature, the American Academy of Religion, the American Schools of Oriental Research, and a half dozen smaller societies and meetings, including the ever-popular Biblical Archaeology Society “Bible and Archaeology Fest.” Our amazing Department of Religious Studies at UNC Charlotte is heavily involved at all levels with both faculty and graduate student participation. Here are my own presentations, along with those of my colleagues below:

James Tabor at the Biblical Archaeology Society “Bible and Archaeology Fest,” November 17, 2012

Biblical Archaeology Society, 15th Annual Bible and Archaeology Fest, November 17, 2012, Chicago, IL

Doubletree Hotel on Ohio: 10:45 a.m.

“Is There Reliable Archaeological Evidence Related to the Earliest Followers of Jesus?” by James D. Tabor

The recent events surrounding the James ossuary controversy as well as the new discoveries of a four-line Greek inscription and an image that is arguably one of “Jonah and the big fish,” in an ancient Jerusalem sealed tomb have sparked renewed consideration of the question of whether Jesus’ earliest Jewish followers left behind any distinctive archaeological remains. This paper will consider this century old discussion, represented by scholars like Sukenik, Bagatti, Figueras, Rahmani, Taylor, and Gibson, assessing the state of the question today.

Society of Biblical Literature: Session 18-104
Ancient Near Eastern Iconography and the Bible
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: W176a – McCormick Place
Theme: The Relationship between Text and Image

Joel LeMon, Emory University, Presiding

Meir Lubetski, City University of New York
Baffling Inscribed Personal Names in Hebrew Onomastics (30 min)

Martin Klingbeil, Southern Adventist University
Seals and Scarabs from Khirbet Qeiyafa (2010-2011) (30 min)

Richard Freund, University of Hartford
Text and Artifact: The Emergence of the Menorah as the Symbol of Ancient Judaism in Coins, Mosaics, Murals, Glass and Pottery (30 min)

James Tabor, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
An New Image and a Mixed Greek/Hebrew Inscription from a Sealed 1st Century CE Tomb in Jerusalem (30 min)

Discussion (15 min)
Business Meeting (15 min)


Society of Biblical Literature Session 18-209a
Blogger and Online Publication
1:00 PM to 3:00 PM
Room: W183c – McCormick Place
Theme: Media Relations and Popular Archaeology
This is a special session with filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici and James Tabor discussing archaeological claims and the role the popular media plays with scholarship. Christopher Rollston and Robert Cargill will join Jacobovici and Tabor to discuss the role of popular media in scholarship.

Christian Brady, Pennsylvania State University, Presiding
Simcha Jacobovici, Panelist
James Tabor, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Panelist
Robert Cargill, University of Iowa, Panelist
Christopher Rollston, Emmanuel School of Religion, Panelist


The Department of Religious Studies, UNC Charlotte:

Friday, November 16
Sean McCloud, “The Problem of ‘Genuine Religion’ and Dominant Normative Claims,” AAR Preconference Workshop on The Study of Religion as an Analytical Discipline: The Analytical Handling of Norms and Values in the Study of Religion, 2:00-6:00 PM.

Saturday, November 17
Kent L. Brintnall, respondent to Behold the Book, the Author, and the Critics: Kent Brintnall’s Ecce Homo: The Male-Body-in-Pain as Redemptive Figure (University of Chicago Press, 2012), AAR Gay Men and Religion Group, 9:00-11:30 AM.

Joanne Maguire Robinson, “This Bundle of Elements is Void of Self: Porete, Molinos, and Parfit on Surviving Death,” The Ecstasy of the End: Mystical Death across Traditions, AAR Mysticism Group, 9:00-11:30 AM.

Ilya Merlin, “Ecce Tupac: Dead Bodies, Maternal Bodies, and the Sacred,” Faith and the Flesh: Religion, Hip Hop and the Body, AAR Critical Approaches to Hip-Hop and Religion Group, 1:00-3:30 PM.

David Mozina, presiding over session on The Transmission and Dissemination of Daoist Scriptures in Late Imperial and Republican China, AAR Daoist Studies Group, 1:00-3:30 PM.

Sean McCloud, “The Haunted Present: The Return of Repressed History and Ghost Hunting Reality TV,” Monsters Among Us: Vampires, Ghosts and Zombies in the Study of Religion, AAR Religion and Popular Culture Group, 1:00-3:30 PM.

 Sunday, November 18
John C. Reeves, presiding over session on Midrash and Method: Reflections on the Intersections of Jewish and Islamic Tradition, SBL Qur’an and Biblical Literature program unit, 9:00-11:30 AM.

Joanne Maguire Robinson, “Teaching About Teaching About Religion,” Roundtable Discussions, AAR Teaching Religion Section/SBL Academic Teaching and Biblical Studies Section/Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion, 1:00-2:30 PM.

John C. Reeves, panelist for AAR Exploratory Session on Late Antiquity East, 1:00-2:30 PM.
Jeremy Schott, “Palestinian Hypertexts: Navigating the Onomasticon,” Landscapes and Cityscapes: Jewish and Christian Spatial Practices in Late Antiquity, SBL Social History of Formative Christianity and Judaism program unit, 1:00-3:30 PM.

Kent L. Brintnall, panelist for session on Flesh, Desire, Divinity: Celebrating the Work of Karmen MacKendrick, AAR Bible, Theology, and Postmodernity Group, 3:00-4:30 PM.

Julie Hawks, “Constellations of Redemption in the Inner City in Satoshi Kon’s Tokyo Godfathers,” Roots in the Concrete: Urban Tales of Redemption, Hybridity and Family, AAR Religion and Cities Group/AARReligion, Film, and Visual Culture Group, 3:00-4:30 PM.
Monday, November 19

Mary Hamner, “Middle-Class Vodou: Spirit Possession and Marginality in the United States,” Contested Categories: Indigenous, Pagan, Authentic, and Legitimate, AAR Contemporary Pagan Studies Group/AAR Indigenous Religious Traditions Group, 9:00-11:30 AM.

Kent L. Brintnall, panelist for Bible Trouble: Queer Reading at the Boundaries of Biblical Scholarship (ed. Teresa J. Hornsby and Ken Stone; Semeia Series; SBL August 2011), SBL Women in the Biblical World/SBL LGBT/Queer Hermeneutics program units, 1:00-3:30 PM.

David Mozina, “Paradox, Divine Reflexivity, and Daoist Ordination Oaths,” Paradox and the Chinese Ritual Imagination, AAR Daoist Studies Group, 1:00-3:00 PM.

Sean McCloud, “Delivering the Modern Soul: Protestant Exorcism as a Gothic Therapeutic,” “Saving the Modern Soul”: Religion and Therapeutic Discourse, AAR Sociology of Religion Group, 4:00-6:30 PM.

Kent L. Brintnall, “Barebacking as Sacred Practice: Bataille, Bersani and Dean on the Ethical Value of Self-Loss,” Bataille’s Sacred Ethics, AAR Theology and Continental Philosophy Group, 4:00-6:30 PM.

A Giant Has Fallen: Frank Moore Cross Dead at age 91

My favorite picture of Prof. Frank Moore Cross with his ever-present hat, intently discussing the James ossuary in Toronto in 2002 with Hershel Shanks and Joe Fitzmyer as we all crowd around to listen in.
Thanks to Lori Woodall for this lovely photo.

Just after noon today the sad news slowly began to trickle in from colleagues around the world: Harvard Professor Frank Moore Cross died last night in a hospice in Rochester N.Y at age 91. He had been ill for some time but the news of his death was nonetheless a sobering moment for generations of biblical scholars who either knew him or were influenced by his work. Although I never studied under Dr. Cross he and I knew one another as colleagues and we have carried on a warm and fruitful correspondence over the past decade, mostly about Jerusalem ossuary inscriptions, but also other wider issues. I was just looking through my e-mail and reading some of our last messages. He always called me “Jim” but I could never call him anything but Professor Cross. In a few days I am sure there will be some fine and full obituaries from students and colleagues who loved and admired him. I won’t even attempt anything like that here. I did want to refer my readers to my favorite interview with Prof. Cross, with Biblical Archaeology Review editor Hershel Shanks. You can find the link here.

I will be posting various tributes to the late great Frank Moore Cross, updated as they come in.

A memorial service is planned at Harvard University, the Memorial
Church, on Saturday, November 10, at 4 PM, with a reception to follow.

Sidnie White Crawford has also announced the following special session at the Society of Biblical Literature Meeting in Chicago next month:

Honoring the Legacy of Frank Moore Cross
11/17/2012 Saturday
5:00 PM to 6:00 PM
Room: W183a – McCormick Place
Frank Moore Cross (1921-2012) passed away on Oct. 17 at the age of 91. A legendary scholar whose reach extended over the entire field of Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Judaism, he also supervised over 100 dissertations, leaving an indelible mark on biblical scholarship in the 20th century with his own contributions and those of his students. Join friends and colleagues for tributes and an opportunity to reminisce and share appreciation.

Jim Davila one of his hundreds of students who have populated our field so widely here.

Hershel Shanks remembers Frank Moore Cross from their many interviews and exchanges here, including a link to the free e-book, Conversations with Frank Moore Cross here.

The New York Times obituary here.

Jonathan Rosenbaum on the ASOR Blog here.

From Peter Machinist <machinis@fas.harvard.edu> with permission to repost:
Hancock Professor of Hebrew and Other Oriental Languages
Harvard University

Frank Moore Cross

Frank Moore Cross, one of the premier biblical scholars of the past
century, died early Wednesday morning, October 17. 2012 in Rochester,
New York. He was 91. Cross had been Hancock Professor of Hebrew and
Other Oriental Languages Emeritus at Harvard University, where he
taught for thirty-five years before retiring in 1992. After
retirement, he and his wife, Elizabeth (Betty) Anne, remained at their
home in Lexington, Massachusetts, and then moved in 2008 to a suburb
of Rochester, New York, to be near one of their daughters, Ellen
Gindele, and her family; Betty Anne Cross died in May, 2009.

Born on July 13, 1921, the son and grandson of Protestant ministers,
Cross was educated at Maryville College (1942), where he studied
chemistry and philosophy and was a competitive swimmer, and McCormick
Theological Seminary (1946), and then took his doctorate at Johns
Hopkins University (1950). At Hopkins, his mentor was the renowned
ancient Near Eastern scholar, William Foxwell Albright, and he quickly
became one of Albright’s most important pupils. Leaving Hopkins, where
he had been a junior instructor, he went on to teach at Wellesley
College and McCormick Seminary, before coming to Harvard in 1957.

Cross had a broad and deep command of the study of the Hebrew Bible
and its multiple historical contexts, and achieved distinction in
several areas of this field. He was an expert in the interpretation of
biblical literature, making lasting contributions to the understanding
of biblical poetry, particularly its earliest phases, of the
compositional development of the great historical narratives of the
books of Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, and Ezra and Nehemiah, and of
biblical prophecy and apocalyptic. He was in the forefront of those
investigating the history and culture of ancient Israel, from which
the Hebrew Bible emerged, and of its relationships to the ancient Near
Eastern and Mediterranean cultures around it. Especially incisive and
important here was his work on the character and history of ancient
Israelite religion, emphasizing its background in and adaptation of
beliefs and practices from its Canaanite neighbors and forebears.

Cross was also a master of the ancient Semitic languages and their
interrelationships, particularly the Northwest Semitic group, from the
eastern Mediterranean and north Africa, that included Hebrew, Aramaic,
Ugaritic, Phoenician, and Punic. In these languages and their
inscriptions he achieved special recognition as an epigrapher and
palaeographer. As an epigrapher, he was regularly consulted by
scholars from all over the world for his uncanny skill at deciphering
and making sense of these inscriptions. As a palaeographer, he
produced meticulous studies of the scripts in which the inscriptions
were written, reconstructing the chronological developments of these
scripts and thus providing a vastly improved foundation for dating the
inscriptions on the basis of the type and character of the script
used. Most famous in this regard was his study of the scripts of the
Dead Sea Scrolls, originally completed in 1958, and with but minor
adjustments, still the essential resource for the analysis and 2
dating of these important texts. Cross also was a major spet in
the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible; his research on the ancient
manuscripts and versions of the Bible yielded new and far-reaching
conclusions as to how the biblical text was composed and transmitted.
Last and perhaps most well known was Cross’ scholarship on the Dead
Sea Scrolls, those texts from the last centuries BCE and first century
CE that came from a dissident Jewish community which had gone into the
Judaean wilderness to await the end of history and the coming of a new
age. Cross was one of the core members of the original team of experts
piecing together and deciphering the often fragmentary Scrolls, and
worked on all aspects of them, publishing editions especially of the
biblical manuscripts, and a path-breaking study of the entire Dead Sea
Scroll community, The Ancient Library of Qumran, which went through
three English editions and one German from 1958 to 1995.

Several features distinguished the scholarship just described. There
was first a combinatorial talent: Cross’s ability to bring to bear on
a particular problem an integrated range of skills, linguistic,
literary, historical, archaeological, philosophical. Cross also was
able to move in a fluent dialectic between the painstaking examination
of minute details and a vision of the larger issues and structures to
which the details could belong. And one cannot forget the skill at
communication: the explanations were always lucid, if at times
complex, and in a chiseled prose that could manage in a few pages what
others would need many more to express.

These same features also distinguished Cross’ teaching. His courses
introducing the Hebrew Bible and on the history of ancient Israelite
religion became staples for a large and broad range of students from
beginners to more advanced. At the doctoral level students came to him
from North America and beyond, and in his three and half decades at
Harvard, he was the primary director of over one hundred of them and
their dissertations, serving many more as a member of their
dissertation committees — ] a record unsurpassed and probably
unequaled internationally in his field. Cross was a demanding teacher,
setting the bar high in terms of technical competence and broad,
humanistic learning. He also had a remarkable knack for taking his
students to the very frontiers of knowledge in the field, and imbuing
them palpably with the excitement of standing at the brink of new
discoveries. To be sure, he could at times appear formidable, even
fearsome, but beneath the austerity was a warm human being who
followed his students’ careers long after they had graduated, and who
loved hearing as much as telling good jokes. Humor was indeed a deep
part of his character, and Mark Twain one of his favorite authors. The
gentleness could be found as well in his passion for horticulture: he
was an expert cultivator especially of orchids.

The honors that come from such a record of achievement were many.
Seven honorary doctorates from universities in the United States,
Canada, and Israel; elections to several scholarly academies,
including the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American
Philosophical Society; the presidencies and directorships of several
of the major professional organizations in his field, like the Society
of Biblical Literature and the American Schools of Oriental Research;
co-founder and co-chair of the Hermeneia Biblical Commentary Series
and editor or editorial board member of other major series and
journals; recipient of several major awards for scholarship, including
the Percia Schimmel Prize in Archaeology of the Israel Museum,
Jerusalem, and the Medalia de Honor de la Universidad Complutense of
Madrid, Spain; three volumes of studies in his honor (Festschriften)
by colleagues and former students, with a fourth in preparation.

Frank Moore Cross is survived by three daughters, Susan Summer, Ellen
Gindele, and Rachel Cross, and six grandchildren.

What Have They Done with Jesus? When History and Theology Collide

I have written quite a bit over the past few months on the differences between the historical critical method in biblical studies, particularly as applied to the “historical Jesus,” which has been my area of focus for over three decades. This is much on my mind this weekend since the case of Chris Rollston, and attempts to remove him from his tenured post at Emmanuel Christian Seminary, have recently come to light. See my blog post from yesterday here.

I presented the results of my take on Jesus in my 2006 book, The Jesus Dynasty. It is a book written for a non-spet audience, not for my academic colleagues, though I am happy that any number of them have offered their reviews. This includes Jim Strange, Craig Evans, Darrel Bock, Jack Porier, and Ben Witherington–all of whom are academics with a decidedly conservative approach to matters of Christian Origins. Craig Evans and Ben Witherington have written entire books on the more general issues involved in historical Jesus research. Evans titles his book, Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels, with a chapter endearingly titled “Hokum History and Bogus Findings,” in which he treats my own take on Jesus. Still, Ben Witherington’s title surely has to be my favorite: What Have They Done With Jesus?  The book is a rather typical  liberal vs. conservative treatment of recent historical studies written by well known academics on Jesus and early Christianity that have made it into the mass market trade publishing world. Witherington is bound and determined to save Jesus from the critical scholars but at the same time to be cute and engaging with chapter titles such as: Gullible’s Travels,” “Naughty Gnostic Gospels,” “For Pete’s Sake,” “Simon Says,” “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” and “Hey Jude, Don’t Make It Bad.” In an appendix to the book, hastily added as it was going to press, is Witherington’s critique of The Jesus Dynasty, previously published on his blog in several parts. Gary Burge, in Christianity Today, characterized Witherington’s treatment of my work as “a stinging dismantling of James Tabor’s primary theses in his speculative book, The Jesus Dynasty.”

I find it interesting that Prof. Burge considers Witherington’s treatment a “stinging dismantling” of my primary theses, though I suppose I should not at all find it surprising that Burge would characterize my work as “speculative.” After all, I do indeed “speculate” that Jesus had a human father, or that dead bodies don’t rise and walk around and eat and drink, talk to folks, and then rise up into the heavens. Therefore I assume that Jesus must have had the normal DNA that comes from a human mother and father, and that if the tomb into which he was temporarily and hastily place after his execution was empty someone must have removed Jesus’ corpse. It is that simple. Since I know neither the father nor what happened to the body I suggest a few possible speculative scenarios that you can take a look here and here. So in that regard I guess I have to plead guilty of “speculation.” But is there really any serious alternative? Seriously? See my here on “Sense and Nonsense in the Academic Study of Religions.”

There are of course many things we don’t know with certainty about the historical Jesus, and when I can I try to fill in what one might reasonably suppose, and that could well be labeled speculation as well, but I think it is the “Jesus had a father” and “dead messiahs don’t come to life” assumptions that most hackle folk who take such things literally. As for the charge that Witherington has offered a “stinging dismantling” of my primary theses I must confess I find myself at a loss here. Somehow I can not imagine that anyone familiar with the areas I cover in my book would evaluate Witherington’s critique in that way. I guess it just goes to show how Evangelicals love champions, those few of their number who go out and somehow “meet the lions” on their own terms (and I am surely not even one of the lions compared to the likes of Crossan, Ehrman, or Funk).

I have not chosen to “answer” Witherington’s critique of my book in an explicit and direct way. I think our basic presuppositions are so very different on many issues there is, unfortunately, simply no room for dialogue. Ben is doing theology and I am trying my best to stick with history. Witherington wrote me in the course of his questioning my discussion about Jesus having a father that he believed the blood samples tested on the Shroud of Turin had strangely showed neither X nor Y chromosomes, indicating that Jesus was somehow human, but without normal human blood like the rest of us with two human parents. I must admit, it took me aback more than a bit.  But it also helped me to realize that in such circles the normal rules of scholarly engagement and critical discussion are suspended. On the other hand, I have responded to most of the critiques of Witherington, Evans, and others in the many posts on this Blog, particularly the matters relating to the Talpiot tombs, the ossuaries and their inscriptions, and the matter of Jesus having a father. It is all there for those who want to go back and read a bit, beginning with the links above as well as here, here, and here.

I think my book speaks for itself and anyone who wants to carefully read it will be able to judge for themselves whether Witherington has “dismantled” my main theses as Budge seems to think. Frankly, in my experience Christianity Today is not an objective vehicle for reviewing and airing critical reflections and debate on Christian Origins. How could it be otherwise, since the end is always determined from the beginning–the very opposite of scientific and historical processes and method? Since I grew up in that world I think I tend to have less patience with it. Some of these reviewers are my friends and though I find their treatment of my book sometimes polite and respectful I obviously operate in such a different world than that of the “dismantlers” I find it hard to respond within normal academic parameters.