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 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 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.

Join Us And Dig Mount Zion in 2015!


Announcing our 2015 Mt Zion Excavation Season

June 14 through July 10th 2015

Registration is now open for both student and non-student participation in our 2015 Mt Zion Excavation. UNC Charlotte is the only American university excavating in the historic Old City of Jerusalem and our site is rich with material remains from all periods of habitation–Iron Age, Herodian/Roman, Byzantine, Muslim, Crusader, and Ottoman. There is no excavation like it in all of Jerusalem.

We ask that applicants dig with us a minimum of two weeks but those who can stay longer are encouraged to do so. Many of our participants come for the entire four weeks. Participants of any age over 18 are welcome to apply with no previous experience or background required other than good health and an enthusiasm and willingness to take part. The Mount Zion excavation is run as a field school and all team members receive specialized training from the directors and area supervisors as part of their participation.

Photo courtesy of Joel Kramer

Photo courtesy of Joel Kramer

We have two tracks for registration and participation:

I. A University academic credit option for UNC Charlotte Students or students registered at any accredited U.S. University. This program includes a course taught by Dr. Tabor with 3 semester hours credit (transferable through UNC Charlotte) and runs two weeks, June 14 through 28. The program cost includes lodging at the Gloria Hotel (including breakfast and lunch), tuition, special lectures, and tours, but airfare is extra and arranged by the students themselves. It is administered through our UNC Charlotte Education Abroad office. Full information and links to register are here:

II. Non-student or non-credit option for any participants over age 18 and in good health. A “dig fee” of $250 per week (discounted to $200 for previous participants or those who stay four weeks), with a two week minimum stay. Lodging, airfare, and meals are arranged by each individual but we encourage our team members to stay at the Gloria Hotel where we have arranged special discounted group rates (single, double, and triple options), or a slightly cheaper option at the German Lutheran Hospice nearby. For details, questions, and an application form write our administrator Mareike Grosser at Prospective participants are also encouraged to interact with others on our Facebook group page (anyone can ask to join the group) to arrange roommates, ask questions of former participants, and gather details on the history of our operations:

You can also find more information on our dig, photos, and past discoveries at our official web site:

Mt of Olives Looking East

Mt of Olives Looking East, Mt Zion Site as it Appeared in 1880

TaborBlog in 2014


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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Sale Ends Tomorrow: 2-1 Sale: Restoring Abrahamic Faith

SALE ENDS TOMORROW, December 31st.

Many of my blog readers have copies of my book Restoring Abrahamic Faith but I wanted folks to be aware of the annual “Holiday” 2-1 sale on this particular book. I was thinking many who appreciate find this book might find it to be an ideal gift for friends and family. Here are the details on the sale and below is a post from 2010 where I describe the book, its history, and how I came to write it. Unfortunately, due to sky high international postage (more than the cost of the book!), this 2-1 sale is only offered to US domestic customers. I hope to have an e-book version out in 2015. Copies are mailed UPSP Priority Mail and shipped the next business day of the order.

Holiday 2-1 SALE through the end of 2014
Order any quantity of copies of Restoring Abrahamic Faith
and your order will be automatically doubled at no extra cost
All Copies are signed by the author
US Domestic Orders Only

Payments by Credit/Debit or Paypal via or through Amazon.
Payments by Check to: Genesis 2000 mailed to:
Genesis 2000 Press
2124 Crown Centre Drive, Suite 300
Charlotte, NC 28227


As a professor in a large and thriving Department of Religious Studies in a public/state university I make every effort to keep my personal religious faith and our enterprise as a faculty in the area of the academic study of religion properly separated. There is some debate in our field on this question with arguments on both sides as to what extent one’s implicit religious or political views should become part of the teaching discourse. Although there is no need to avoid matters of religious faith in the classroom, and indeed such matters are part of our study, my position is that personal theology belongs elsewhere–particularly for those in public education.

That said, like Frank Moore Cross and many others in our field who were raised in Christian contexts, I have found myself more personally drawn toward the complex of ideas, concepts, tensions, and even contradictions, reflected in the Hebrew Bible, as I have noted previously in my Blog post “Reflections on the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.”

Back in 1991 I published a little book titled Restoring Abrahamic Faith with a small non-profit publisher called Genesis 2000. It was more or less in response to questions I was getting from many quarters regarding my own “beliefs.” It was mainly an attempt to save my “breath,” so I could refer it to those who were curious about my own personal faith, or the lack thereof.  Also, in the final chapter of my popular book, The Jesus Dynasty, that was intended for general audiences far beyond my academic arena, I did include, a final “Conclusion” that delved into matters of faith and the consequences of historical Jesus studies–mentioning my view of “Abrahamic Faith.” In 2008 in an expanded, 3rd edition was released.  It is now available either directly from the publisher ( or through Amazon. And yes, alas, it also has a Facebook Fan page! You can read the preface to the book on-line here, as well as several endorsements and reviews.

Shuka Dorfman z”l, Israel Antiquities Director, is Dead

“When the leftists think you are a rightist and when the rightists think you are a leftist, when the Haredi Jews think that you are not even Jewish, and when everyone attacks you – then you know that you’re doing a good job,” he says with a smile.

I just received the sad news from a friend in Israel that Yehoshua Dorfman, age 64, Israel Antiquities General Director since the year 2000, died today. He will be laid to rest Friday at 2 pm in Gedera, Z”l

We all knew he was very ill, and of late hospitalized, but nonetheless the news of his death, however expected, comes as a shock. Although I knew and dealt with the previous Director, General Amir Drori, back in the 1990s, the various excavation permits that I have been involved with through the University of North Carolina at Charlotte–at Suba, Mt Zion, and the Talpiot tombs–have all been under “Shuka’s” watch. He and I had a good and cordial relationship. We were often on different sides of some very controversial issues–especially the matter of the authenticity of the “James” ossuary–but that did not seem to disrupt our professional dealings with one another. I remember at the last IAA annual reception at the Rockefeller I attended, celebrating all the achievements of the various excavations, the official wine of choice was “Tabor Cabernet,” and he joked with me–see, we are using your wine!

IAA Director Shuka Dorfman with Jerusalem Regional Archaeologist Jon Seligman conferring with Shimon Gibson and Rafi Lewis at our Mt Zion excavation site.

IAA Director Shuka Dorfman with Jerusalem Regional Archaeologist Jon Seligman conferring with Shimon Gibson and Rafi Lewis at our Mt Zion excavation site. Credit: James D. Tabor

HaAretz ran an fascinatingly revealing and candid piece on  Dorfman back in 2012–when he had served for 12 years and changed things dramatically at the IAA–mostly for the good in my estimation. You can access it here. His background was a brigadier general. He can be credited with the integration of advanced weapons systems, such as the multiple launch rocket system, into the Artillery Corps. He was also son of Holocaust survivors.

The Jewish Press has a notice here.

He will be missed. May his memory be for a blessing.


Amnon Rosenfeld is Dead: Read His Last Published Article

Update: Just published “In Memoriam” by Howard R. Feldman.

A personal note: I have been more or less off-line with regard to my blog during the four weeks of the Mt Zion dig and the International Society of Biblical Literature meeting in Vienna last week (though I have posted lots of photos on Facebook and my page is open to anyone with a FB account to view. I just got home this weekend.  Dealing with all the normal stress of an excavation with 40+ participants not to mention the tensions that broke in Jerusalem the day we arrived over the kidnappings and murders, the beginning of Ramadan, staying in east Jerusalem by the Albright at the Ritz hotel, and now the rockets from Gaza and Israel’s response made it nigh impossible to devote time to writing. I hate that my first post has to be the sad news of the death of a dear friend and colleague.

I got the sad and shocking news last night via e-mail from Robert Deutsch:

Amnon Rosenfeld was killed in a car accident on July 10
The funeral will take place tomorrow Sunday, July 13, in Givat Shaul Jerusalem
His wife is still alive in the hospital.

AmnonRosenfeldI know no other details but his Facebook page is here with a lovely photo that captures his fresh-faced wonderful personality. As Matthew Kalman wrote me last night in shock, “he was a lovely, lovely, man.” Besides Kalman I think Amnon might be the only person who attended all sessions of the infamous “Trial of the Century,” regarding the case against Oded Golan, et al. that he and certain accomplices had dealt in stolen artifacts and forged, among other things, the inscription on the James ossuary and the Jehoash tablet.

Ironically, his last article appeared yesterday morning on Bible & Interpretation without the editors even knowing Amnon was dead–so it turns out to be a posthumous publication. His vast knowledge of the facts of the fiasco as well as his acute analysis of the poisonous and spiteful atmosphere among many in our field is in my view “spot on.” This contribution is one of his best think and most important. Don’t miss it:

The Antiquities Game – Behind the Trial of the Century

Amnon was a retired Geophysicist from the Geological Survey of Israel and was involved in the early physical tests on both of these controversial articles. He also wrote about the Talpiot tomb. You can find many of his most important contributions archived here at Bible & Interpretation. I should also mention the high quality reporting on all of these matters by veteran reporter Matthew Kalman, which you can find archived here.

Amnon and I corresponded regularly and when I saw his article up at Bible & Interpretation yesterday I thought it strange I had not heard from him that it was posted. Of course I had no idea he was dead. We saw many things eye to eye and I enjoyed our occasional meetings for coffee or a snack in Jerusalem and we would talk avidly about all the latest in the crazy world of “Biblical Archaeology.” He was wise, witty, with a keen analytical mind and a quick smile. I send his family my deepest condolences and will be praying for them today with the funeral taking place just as I am finishing up this post. Like a billion+ others I will watch the World Cup this afternoon but I will have Amnon on my mind today and for a long time to come.