The Jesus Dynasty: How to Explain Away the New Testament
Among the series of books recently released about Jesus, the most serious entry is James Tabor's The Jesus Dynasty. The author is a professor at the University of North Carolina and has spent a great deal of time on archaeological digs in Israel. For Tabor and other scholars, one thing is clear: The Bible is difficult to believe. What does a historian do with a book that claims God was born as a human to a virgin, later died and was resurrected? The simple answer is to explain such problems away.
Professor Tabor's Jesus Dynasty is a fascinating combination of historical and archaeological detail mixed with bits of naturalistic, "historical" explanation. He introduces the Virgin Birth as Christianity's "fundamental theological dogma":
But history, by its very nature, is an open process of inquiry that cannot be bound by dogmas of faith. Historians are obliged to examine whatever evidence we have, even if such discoveries might be considered shocking or sacrilegious to some. The assumption of the historian is that all human beings have both a biological mother and father, and that Jesus is no exception. That leaves two possibilitieseither Joseph or some other unnamed man was the father of Jesus. (Emphasis his).
I start my overview here, because here we have stated a historiolgraphical dogma. (Note Tabor's phrases: "by its nature cannot be are obliged assumption is no exception.") Even before we look at the evidence or consider the possibilities, we have the Bible's explanation ruled out. This is the dilemma the Bible poses for those who wish to explain its claims while denying that God is capable of doing unique things.
The Dynasty Theory
Despite Tabor's mostly excellent historical work, his assumptions force him to conclusions far from what historical documents would suggest. Tabor's study is an intriguing look at how one very competent Bible historian attempts to appropriately root Christian origins in first-century Judaism while reacting whenever that testimony violates Tabor's assumptions. Tabor often heads off these discussions by ending paragraphs with a series of "perhaps" sentences designed to redirect one's view. Otherwise the book is filled with solid detail about the first-century Jewish world and its customs. This includes numerous appeals to key textual evidence from Jewish and early Christian sources. Discussions of ossuaries and how the temple was managed and policed are well done and presented with very effective vividness. These are but two of many such examples throughout the book that make it worth reading.
But let us turn to Tabor's main thesis and its motivation. Tabor writes clearly about his claims regarding the historical Jesus. His summary on pages 308 to 314 outlines his thesis about a thoroughly human story (emphasis his). He argues Jesus had a human mother and father (someone other than Joseph). Jesus also had five siblings, including four who became members of his self-selected council of the twelve, what we know as the twelve apostles.
Jesus was a follower of John the Baptist, Tabor says. It was John who initiated the messianic movement. They preached as twin Messiahs, one regal, another priestly. John the Baptist was the priestly Messiah who never ministered in a temple. They launched a Jewish apocalyptic movement focused on the kingdom of God in which Jesus' person or work was not a central concern. Their call was for Israel to repent and embrace the Torah and the Hebrew prophets. After John was murdered by Herod, Jesus decided his destiny was to travel to Jerusalem, enter the temple, and confront the religious authorities with his message of radical reform and call for justice to the poor. Jesus expected God to intervene on his behalf and to save him from his enemies at the end. But that did not happen.