A family affair

Wed, 07/12/2006 - 10:25am
By: Michael Boylan

Noted biblical scholar discusses "The Jesus Dynasty"

Dr. James Tabor has been a hot commodity since his book “The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity,” was released in April. He has been featured on the cover of U.S. News and World Report as well as on the television programs, “20/20,” and “Nightline.” He will discuss his book, which is the culmination of a lifetime of research, on Saturday, July 15 at the Peachtree City Library.

Tabor, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, has always been interested in history and religion. Raised with a Christian background, Tabor first visited the Holy Land at the age of 14 and has been back for various archaeological expeditions 25 times since. While studying Greek and religion in college, Tabor began to focus on an academic study of religion and the rest, as they say, is history.

“It is really the history of ideas,” Tabor explained. “It is the study of the roots of all of our cultural heritages and presuppositions.”

Tabor’s focus is the history of Jesus and his book “The Jesus Dynasty” is what he considers “the book” of his career. Through the study of documents and artifacts, Tabor has constructed a theory that states that Jesus and John the Baptist were leaders of a messianic movement and Jesus’ brother James, took up the movement after Jesus’ death. While the topic is sensitive, Tabor doesn’t see his theory as being in conflict with faith.

“Good history is never the enemy of devoted faith,” Tabor stated. “In the book, I pose the question as if it were in a courtroom, what do we know and how do we know it.”

A lot of what Tabor knows comes from a study of ancient documents and Tabor knows Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Latin. His knowledge of these languages and this field has also helped place him in the right place at the right time at different points in his career. For example, he got a glimpse of the Dead Sea Scrolls and was also present at Waco during the Branch Davidian standoff with the FBI. Tabor has a lot of knowledge about ancient apocalypticism and messianism and he and a colleague were able to help the FBI translate what they considered Koresh’s “Bible babble.”

While on an excavation with his students, they stumbled across a freshly robbed tomb and were able to investigate and study the tomb after alerting the proper authorities. Inside they found a burial shroud that had been preserved fairly well. The excavations are much like the forensics process that one sees on programs like “CSI” where photos are taken at every step and contact with human touch is limited. This process is important to determine the authenticity of the item. A current brouhaha is occurring over a piece that may or may not be the ossuary of Jesus’ brother James. If it is authentic, the tomb where it was found could be the family tomb of Jesus which would open up more doors and questions. Whether the ossuary is authentic or not, it does raise the question of who James was and why he was forgotten after a certain period.

While Tabor is interested in the ossuary, one of the focal points of his archaeological excavations is the city of Sepphorus, which was located four miles from Nazareth.

“It is important to know about Sepphorus because it was the cultural center at the time of Jesus,” Tabor explained. “To know him, one must know the area.”

Tabor stresses that his book is a work of history, not theology.

“This is a book of what historians can maintain with certainty,” Tabor said, adding that response has been good to his book and his appearances and that the public is especially receptive to alternative ideas these days. Call it the “Da Vinci Code” effect, but people are interested in different takes or premises and while Dan Brown’s work was a work of fiction, there are books like Tabor’s out there that have historical data to back up their argument.

Tabor likens his book to what he teaches in the classroom, which is the topic as far as history can take a person. Peachtree City Library Director Jill Prouty is excited to have Tabor speaking at the library, calling him a “real-life Indiana Jones” and adding that his slideshow of excavations in Israel is astounding.

The event, which is free, will start at 7 p.m. and as the event will be held after hours, attendees are encouraged to use the back entrance to the library.

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