Former TaborBlog Site

Welcome to TaborBlog–not! This is not a non-public version of TaborBlog which is being reshaped and can be visited anytime at http://jamestabor.com. If you happened on this site you can, however, search it for 10 years of previous posts from the old Jesus Dynasty and TaborBlog sites–though some of the images are missing. Otherwise the content is all here–over 800 posts.

Enjoy!

A Wedding in Cana–Whose and Where?

There is a very intriguing story, unique to the Gospel of John, about a wedding attended by Jesus and his disciples at the Galilean village of Cana (John 2:1–11). Within the Gospel of John the story functions in a theological and even allegorical manner—it is the “first” of seven signs, the “water into wine” story, but that is not to say it lacks any historical foundation.

CanaWedding

The story is part of an earlier written narrative that scholars call the “Signs Source,” now embedded in the Gospel of John much like the Q source is embedded in Matthew and Luke. Many scholars consider the Signs Source to be our most primitive gospel narrative, earlier than, and independent from, the Gospel of Mark. Most readers of John’s gospel concentrate on the long “red letter” speeches and dialogues of Jesus with the lofty language about him as the “Son” sent from heaven, in cosmic struggle with “the Jews” who are cast in a pejorative light. Such elements are apparently a much later theological overlay, as they are absent from this primitive narrative source. The work, at least according to this “Signs Source,” was originally written to promote the simple affirmation that Jesus was the Messiah, the anointed King of the line of David, and to explain how his death was part of the plan of God. This narrative source is written in a completely different style from the later material now in John’s gospel. It moves along from scene to scene with vivid details and in gripping narrative flow.

Read more here.

1st Century Mikveh with Mystical Inscriptions Discovered in Jerusalem!

Breaking news!

Graffiti on 1st Century CE Mikveh plastered walls. Courtesy Shai Halevy, IAA.

Graffiti on 1st Century CE Mikveh plastered walls. Courtesy Shai Halevy, IAA.

The word is out as of today and I am writing this on the plane flying back from Jerusalem. A first century CE mikveh or ritual bath was recently uncovered just south of the Old City and east of Hebron road in the Arnona neighborhood of Talpiot. Back in late June Shimon Gibson and I had been invited by the IAA to visit this newly discovered site. We spoke with the excavators and were able to examine the inscriptions firsthand–but we were not permitted to speak of the details publically until the story was officially released today. Here are two links with videos and photos, one in HaArtez the other from Arutz Sheva.

Talpiot Mikveh

I find it somewhere between amusing and predictable that we are already getting speculation by the various experts evaluating the “significance” of these inscriptions asserting that they are nonsense, “secular,” or have no meaning at all. I have been working on these symbols in the mikveh now for the past month and I can assure you they have to do with mystical ideas of rebirth and the heavenly world that we can document precisely in Jerusalem during this period. Folks need to get out their copies of some of the publications of  Goodenough, Testa, Saller, and Bagatti on Jewish/Christian symbols to put this find in its proper context. For example, here is a plastered wall of a Jerusalem tomb I will not identify, lest it get defaced, but notice the striking similarities in motif and symbolism–and remember this is a tomb not a mikveh.

Bethphage Graffiti

 

We also have similar symbols in the Talpiot patio tomb, not far from the Jesus tomb, as well as within the Dominus Flevit necropolis on the Mt of Olives. This mikveh is just down the ridge from the Talpiot tombs and dates to the same period.

I will write more on this topic in the days to come.

Jerusalem Day–48 Years Ago Today–Are You Old Enough To Remember?

June 7, 1967. Are you old enough to remember?  Those of us who are will never forget how the entire world was riveted to their televisions during the “Six Day War.” Today is Yom Yerushalayim or “Jerusalem Day” on the Hebrew calendar (Iyyar 28), commemorating the Israeli return to the Old City of Jerusalem in the Six Day War. You can read the account by Michael Oren here, taken from his book, Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East. This Youtube video captures the moment with live radio transmissions and footage as Israeli soldiers arrived at the Western Wall.

For me it was one of the defining events of my life and my generation.  I was 21 years old, living in Texas, and like so many others was glued to the television 24/7 as the fate of Israel hung in the balance. None doubted that the shrill words over Egyptian, Jordanian, and Syrian radio about finishing the job that Hitler began would be carried out in full should it be militarily possible.  The ancient words of Psalm 83 and Psalm 124 seemed uncannily relevant, as if history does indeed repeat itself in some strange cycle of protagonists.

Today on the Hebrew calendar is called Yom Yerushalayim, Iyyar 28th, which commemorates the liberation of the city of Jerusalem, putting it back in Jewish hands after 2300 years of what the prophet Daniel calls the “trampling of the nations” (Daniel 8:13-14). Despite all the directions things have gone since that fateful day in terms of Israeli and Arab conflicts over the city of Jerusalem and its holy places I am convinced that we will look back someday on this date in history and know it is one of the most important and significant in world history.

What few realize today with all the rhetoric about “occupied Arab East Jerusalem” is that the Old City had a majority Jewish population under Turkish rule until the early 20th century, even though Jewish life was severely restricted, see my blog post on this here. Under Jordanian rule, from 1948 until 1967, Jews had been driven from the Old City and many historic markers of Jewish life and culture were systematically destroyed by the Arab Legion from Mt Zion to the Mount of Olives. I first visited Jerusalem in July, 1962, under Jordanian occupation, and even visited the Western Wall and the “Jewish Quarter,” but the Old City was filled with Christian tourists and Arabs, both Christian and Muslim–but strangely, no Jews. You can read my personal account here.

Forty-eight years later the differences are hard to fathom with religious rights and access guaranteed by the Israeli government to all faiths and holy sites and much of the Jewish Quarter restored–including most recently the magnificent Huvra Synagogue. Next month when we begin our excavation at our site just outside Zion Gate our students and participants will be able to experience fully the vibrantly diverse culture of the Old City with freedom to explore all areas of its historic past. It is still not too late to join us–we have over 60 people signed up we we can take up to 80, so we are accepting late registrations, see digmountzion.uncc.edu on details. I plan to be there the entire four weeks. Also, if you can’t join us we invite you to contribute to funding–all our operational costs are paid from funds we raise from our loyal supporters. See here regarding How You Can Participate.

April “Pageviews” on TaborBlog Reach All-time High

The numbers are in. April, 2015 had the highest volume of traffic for a month in the history of this blog–whether measured by “page views” or number of unique visitors. This goes back nearly 10 years to 2006 when it was initially called “The Jesus Dynasty” blog, see here.

April page-views came in at 67,491 whereas my previous “high” last year for a month was 60,231. For some blogs these numbers would be inconsequential but for me they represent some amazing and steady growth, much of which has come from my devoted and engaged band of Facebook friends. I want to thank all my readers for your interest.

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You can see here the breakdown by Country (those with 100 page views or more in April listed), and a graph showing the growth in blog traffic over the past few years. I find the country breakdown and map particularly fascinating. It is so amazing what our Internet world now represents in terms of this internationalization.

Here is a tally of the top 25 posts showing which subject drew the most interest throughout the month:

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A Talpiot “Jesus” Tomb and James Ossuary News Roundup

Since the NYTimes story broke last Sunday reporting on Dr. Aryeh Shimron’s linking of the James ossuary with the ossuaries discovered in 1980 in the Talpiot “Jesus” tomb, ((This article covers just Talpiot Tomb A, with the “Jesus family” ossuaries; see the book, The Jesus Discovery plus a summary of the evidence in my ASOR paper here, for an analysis of the contents of Talpiot tomb B as well–60 meters away on the same ancient estate.)) I have been both amazed and amused at the reactions from various detractors.

Photo by Yuval Pan:  Oded Golan Unpacking His Treasured Ossuary and Inscpecting the Damage

Photo by Yuval Pan: Oded Golan Unpacking His Treasured Ossuary and Inscpecting the Damage

Take for example just these three print stories all out today: AletiaThe Christian Post, and Live Science, that quote well some of well known critics such as Mark Goodacre, Robert Cargill, and Ben Witherington as well as a new “Biblical Archaeology Expert” Scott Stripling, of Wharton County Junior College and adjunct professor at a couple of Bible schools, of whom I had never heard of before and a Deacon Stephen Miletic of Franciscan University.

Aletia (not sure if that name is supposed to be the Greek word ἀλήθεια or Truth) is a conglomeration site for “Seekers of the Truth.” I am not familiar with it but it seems to just be a platform for a kind of standard Christian apologetics. Its headline, “New York Times Runs Easter Story Suggesting the Resurrection Didn’t Happen,” has the subheading “Scholars highly skeptical of new findings linking James ossuary to supposed tomb of Jesus.” Witherington is quoted of course, and Mark Goodacre, and even a 2007 quote from Hershel Shanks is dug up calling the theory that the James ossuary came from the Talpiot tomb “nonsense.”

The Christian Post, true to form, builds its entire story around Prof. Stripling, who in fact reports, “I have been to the Talpiot Tomb and interviewed one of the archaeologists who excavated it in 1980.” He asserts there is no evidence that Jesus was buried there and calls the careful scientific work of Dr. Shimron trafficking in sensationalism.

The Live Science piece is by far the best, as one would expect from a thorough staff writer like Tia Ghose, who did her homework, interviewing Shimron, Goodacre, Cargill, and me and producing a really balanced and informative story.

So why am I amazed and amused? Mostly because of what I consider to be the inaccurate or unfounded assertions that come out in these stories. This is nothing new and I am not the only one to lament this sort of treatment of the subject, see Kilty and Elliot, “Talpiot Dethroned.” I realize the Talpiot tombs (there are two not just one) story is complex and not so easy to get a grasp on in terms of the issues, but some of the assertions in these articles are just plain misleading.

Just a few observations:

  • No one is claiming that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as the temporary tomb of Jesus, near the place of his crucifixion is invalided by the discovery of the Talpiot “Jesus” tomb as is implied by so many of the stories out this week. It as if I and others are playing a game of “who moved the tomb” which is decidedly not the case. Unless one believes Jesus body (bones and all) went up to heaven–since the tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was never thought to have held the body of Jesus past Easter Sunday–Jesus must have been buried elsewhere. See my SBL paper on-line here for further exposition on this point–in response to Jodi Magness who accepts Jesus was first buried the rock-hewn tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepurchre, but apparently things he was then removed (she does not explain how or by whom) and buried in a “trench grave.” What we can say is that all of our sources claim that Joseph of Arimathea had charge of Jesus’ burial and it would have been him who would have provided a permanent tomb for Jesus–and I would argue, subsequently for his family.
  • We are told (“once more with feeling”) that the names found in the Talpiot Jesus tomb are extremely common–and Stripling even tells us that virtually every family in the first century would have this cluster of names. This is completely untrue as I have shown in several publications–exhaustively going through all 600 ossuary inscriptions we have with these names ((see a complete list here.)) There is not another tomb anywhere in Jerusalem with a “Jesus” of any sort (there are only 19 total outside of Talpiot with none containing any cluster that could be identified with Jesus of Nazareth and most disqualified by context. And the names are not all common–Yose is extremely rare, and if you add a James (Yaaqov), also rare–and a son of Joseph and a brother of Jesus at that–the stats on probability go through the roof, see Kilty & Elliot’s new calculations here. Cargill assures us that the “statistical case” falls apart without assuming Mary Magdalene is the Mariamene in the tomb. This is completely incorrect. The rareness of the names can be calculated without reference to any historical correspondence to anyone. Number are numbers and the cluster is the cluster–regardless. Kilty & Ellioit make no such assumptions, and Jerry Lutgen has demonstrated clearly why the different statistical studies–namely Feuerverger, Kilty & Elliot, and Ingermanson, differ so drastically. I assume Cargill is referring just to the names in the Jesus tomb, not with the addition of a “James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.”
  • The Talpiot tomb containing the bones of Jesus of Nazareth may or may not be a threat to “faith in Jesus’ resurrection.” It depends on how one understands Jesus’ resurrection. As Paul put the issue–“How are the dead raised; in what kind of a body do they come forth”? (1 Corinthians 15:35). Paul went on to argue that the “old body,” that is, the mortal, corruptible, flesh and blood, “body of dust” was left behind like discarded clothing and a new glorious, incorruptible (“neither male nor female) “spiritual” body, was “raised” from the dead. He likened it to discarding “old clothing,” entering the realm of death “naked,” but then being “re-clothed” (2 Corinthians 5:1-5). He described the resurrected Jesus as a “life-giving Spirit,” and expected that same transformation for Jesus’ followers. This is not the only view of Jesus’ resurrection in the New Testament, but it is the earliest one we have by decades. I think we should pay careful attention to it. Sorting out the texts and traditions over the next 100 years (30 CE to 130 CE) is complicated but here is hypothesis I have developed over the years: “How the Belief in the Resurrection of Jesus Originated and Developed.”
  • Many are persuaded that the presence of a “Jude son of Jesus” and presumably Jude’s mother in the Talpiot Jesus tomb preclude it from being that of Jesus of Nazareth. Goodacre, among others, seems to make this point most forcefully and most often. In my view this argument from silence is simply invalid. If a tomb of James or any of Jesus’ four brothers, or any of his 12 disciples for that matter were discovered and verified, but contained inscribed ossuaries with the names of sons–or their mothers–we would be in a very similar position. No wives or children of any of these intimates of Jesus are ever named–or even alluded to–in all of our Gospel records other than Peter’s unnamed “mother in law.” But we know some were married and can assume most if not all were, and had children–as Paul mentions in contrasting his own choice of celibacy with theirs (1 Corinthians 7-9). But we know none of the names of the wives or sons. ((Jesus’ brother Jude’s grandsons are mentioned in a passage in Eusebius attributed to Hegesippus, see Richard Bauckham’s discussion in Jude and the Relatives of Jesus, pp. 93-100)) Sadly, women were more often than not left in the dust-bin of anonymity. Paul never uses Jesus as an example of celibacy, though he offers a strong defense of the practice. That alone is quite telling. We have to face the fact that our theologically oriented gospel writers, so focused on Jesus as the divine (and in some cases pre-existent) Son of God, had no place for a Jesus who lived a normal life as a Jewish male of his day, married and sexually active. That is what makes Mary Magdalene’s mysterious and sudden appearance–at Jesus’ cross and leading (even ahead of his mother) the burial party responsible for washing and anointing his naked body–so compelling. Here is a woman, an intimate of Jesus and his inner family, who is named. This is not the place to rehearse all the arguments, as I have done here, but I maintain this objection to the Talpiot tomb belonging to Jesus of Nazareth is a moot one (see “Kilty & Elliot, here).

It is very interesting that many who have held that the James ossuary inscription was a forgery are now citing the photograph supplied by Oded Golan from the 1970s that shows the entire inscription–proving Oded did not forge it, as evidence that the James ossuary could not have come from the Talpiot Jesus tomb, excavated in 1980! I guess that is called coming around full circle.

But what is most missing from these various news stories is any statement from the Talpiot tomb detractors of all stripes and persuasions as to whether adding the “James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” ossuary to the tomb would change things considerably.

An Authentic 1st Century Jerusalem Burial Shroud

My latest article in the Huffington Post with a new gallery of photos, some previously unpublished, related to the “Tomb of the Shroud,” discovered in the year 2000 in Akledama, in the Hinnom Valley just south of Jerusalem.

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CNN focused on the question of the authenticity of the controversial “Shroud of Turin,” in the first episode of its new pre-Easter series “Finding Jesus.” Those challenging the authenticity of this ancient relic point to carbon dating tests done at three independent labs in 1988 that dated samples of its cloth to AD 1260-1390, which coincides with the first appearance of the shroud in France in the 1350s. Believers in the shroud’s authenticity have questioned the authenticity of the tests.

What many do not know is that we do in fact have an unquestionably authentic burial shroud from a tomb in Jerusalem that has been carbon dated to the 1st century. Any consideration of the “Shroud of Turin” should begin with a comparison of what we know rather than what we might want to believe. How this shroud was discovered, tested, analyzed, and with what results is a fascinating chapter in the history of recent Jerusalem archaeology in which I was privileged to play a small but “accidental” part….

Read the rest of the story here, with links to the scientific reports, and view the gallery below.

 

 

 

 

 

Sorting out the “Jameses” in the New Testament

Despite what many have heard or assumed the evidence favoring the authenticity of the inscription on the James ossuary, namely “James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus,” has become more and more convincing. Unfortunately few have kept up with the controversy following the conclusion of the forgery trial. I have posted a summary here with lots of links for further reading. The main question remaining is how to determine the provenance of the ossuary–where did it come from and when did it make its way onto the antiquities market? We explored what we know about this in our book, The Jesus Discovery and alluded to the ongoing research that may well prove definitive on this question in the future. The ossuary is one thing but what about “James” himself–who was he and how can he be differentiated from all the other “Jameses” in the New Testament.  When news of this ossuary inscription first broke in 2002 any number of people asked–James who? Or responded that they had no idea Jesus even had a brother!

Few English readers of the New Testament are aware that the familiar name “James,” as it is translated in English, is actually the name “Jacob,” or Yaaqov in Hebrew. In other words James=Jacob. It is the same name. In Greek it is written Yakobos, which echoes the name Jacob quite clearly. It is an unfortunate circumstance of English naming traditions that the original origin of the name James has been largely lost on people.

James the Just, Brother of Jesus

The name itself occurs about 60 times in the New Testament and according to John Painter, in his worthwhile book, Just James, these occurrences break down into as many as eight different Jameses (or Jacobs):

(1) Jacob the patriarch (Abraham’s grandson) in the Hebrew Bible

(2) Jacob the father of Joseph (husband of Mary, Matthew 1:16)

(3) James the son of Zebedee, brother of John the fisherman

(4) James the son of Alphaeus, one of the Twelve (Mark 3:18)

(5) James the “less,” son of Mary and Clophas (Mark 15:40)

(6) James the brother of Joses/Joseph (Mark 6:3)

(7) James, the brother of Judas (one of the Twelve Luke 6:16; Jude 1)

(8) James the brother of Jesus (Mark 6:3; Galatians 1:19)

This can all become rather confusing but I think we can bring some clarity to the data with a bit of examination.

The first three are without question different persons, thus unlikely to be confused. Number 3 is the well known Gospel character, James son of Zebedee, the fisherman, brother of John. The possible overlap occurs with numbers 4, 5, 6, 7 & 8. Each might well refer to a separate person, giving us our total of eight Jameses, but I am convinced all five of these references could well be the same person.

Number four and five fit well with the Clophas/Alphaeus scenario which I cover in chapter 4 of my book, The Jesus Dynasty. Number six seems likely to be the same James as well because the brothers of Jesus were James and Joses according to Mark 6:3. Number seven is also the “other” James of the Twelve, and brother of Judas/Jude, and therefore Jesus. Number eight is clearly James the brother of Jesus.

Therefore, each of the Jameses listed here, namely numbers 4, 5, 6, 7 & 8 can be seen as one individual represented in five contexts. It is confusing to readers today, but once the identification of this “second” or “other” James is made, these texts fit together rather well. If we leave out the Patriarch Jacob, and Jacob/James the father of Joseph, husband of Mary, that leave only TWO Jameses–James the fisherman and James the brother of Jesus. And that is indeed what we find in the letters of Paul as well as in the book of Acts–two Jameses not six. I not only find the economy of this interpretation convincing but it makes the best sense of the various passages where these “Jameses” are mentioned.

James the fisherman apparently dies quite early on, beheaded by Herod (Acts 12). But what about the “other” James, the brother of Jesus, about which there is so much confusion. Two theories come to dominate in Christian theology, one being the eastern view and the other being the western. The eastern view holds Mary to be a virgin not only at the time of the birth of Jesus, but throughout her entire life. It goes on to portray Joseph as father of four sons and two daughters with another woman prior to his marriage to Mary. He becomes a widower, remarries, and thus brings these six children to the marriage. The western view is stricter in that it holds not only Mary, but Joseph also were strict virgins throughout their entire lives and neither of them ever had any children. These “brothers” and “sisters” are merely cousins, children of Joseph’s brother Clophas, but through another woman named Mary, not Mary the mother of Jesus. In The Jesus Dynasty I present an alternative view.

Here is how I have reconstructed what we know. Jesus was the son of Mary, father unknown, but possibly one named Pantera. See my post on “An Unnamed Father of Jesus.” We know nothing about the circumstances of her pregnancy and should not assume the worst, joining the slanderers she must have faced in her circumstances, as I discuss here. Joseph marries Mary, despite her pregnancy, but dies early leaving no sons behind, see my post on the “Mystery of the Missing Joseph.” Joseph’s brother, nicknamed Clophas/Alphaeus, stepped in, according to the custom of Levirite law (Deuteronomy 25:5-10), and married Mary, Jesus’ mother, and they had six children–the four boys, James, Joses, Simon, and Jude, as well as two sisters, whose names are not given in the New Testament but tradition holds were named Mary and Salome (Mark 6:3). Jesus was adopted by Joseph and is thus called “Jesus son of Joseph,” whereas James, the second-born, was also designated “son of Joseph” in keeping with Levirite law–that the second brother “raise up seed” in his deceased brother’s name.” I am convinced, as Robert Eisenman has argued, that Clophas/Alphaeus comes from the Hebrew word chalaf= replacer, to replace, to step in, one who replaces. I am further convinced that at least three of these brothers, and possibly all four, were part of the Twelve. ((See Robert Eisenman’s James the Brother of Jesus)) In my thinking this particular theory makes the best sense of all the evidence we have, concerning the various James, both Alphaeus and Clophas, and the “two” Marys, whom I take to be one–namely the mother of Jesus. The gospel of John puts Mary, mother of Jesus, at the cross, along with “Mary her sister, wife of Clophas, conflating the two (John 19:25). That Jesus’ mother Mary is at the cross in John, but “Mary, the “mother of James and Joses” in Mark, seems to indicate the two Mary’s are the same, Jesus’ mother Mary in Mark 6:3–mother of James and Joses

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