The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity

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Overview

The Jesus Dynasty offers a startling new interpretation of the life of Jesus and the origins of Christianity that is grounded in careful analysis of the earliest Christian documents and recent archaeological discoveries, including the much-discussed "Jesus family tomb."

In The Jesus Dynasty, biblical scholar James Tabor brings us closer than ever to the historical Jesus. He explains the crucial relationship between Jesus, a royal descendant of David, and his relative John the ...

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The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity

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Overview

The Jesus Dynasty offers a startling new interpretation of the life of Jesus and the origins of Christianity that is grounded in careful analysis of the earliest Christian documents and recent archaeological discoveries, including the much-discussed "Jesus family tomb."

In The Jesus Dynasty, biblical scholar James Tabor brings us closer than ever to the historical Jesus. He explains the crucial relationship between Jesus, a royal descendant of David, and his relative John the Baptizer, a priestly descendant of Aaron and Jesus' teacher. When John was killed, several of his followers — including Jesus' four brothers — joined with Jesus, who continued John's mission, preaching the same apocalyptic message. After Jesus confronted the Roman authorities in Jerusalem and was crucified, his brother James succeeded him as the leader of the Jesus dynasty.

James Tabor has studied the earliest surviving documents of Christianity for more than thirty years and has participated in important archaeological excavations in Israel. His reconstruction of the life of Jesus and his followers, and of the early years of Christianity, will change our understanding of one of the most crucial moments in history.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The result of 40 years of research into documents and archaeological sites in the Holy Land, James D. Tabor's fresh, provocative, and controversial examination of the evidence for the nature of the historical Jesus offers an alternative view that will fascinate anyone with interest in this perennial question.
From the Publisher
"Many scholars have undertaken studies of Jesus and his legacy; none has dared advance the boldly provocative theses of The Jesus Dynasty." — Bart Ehrman, author of Misquoting Jesus

"Provocative. . . . Takes the search for the historical Jesus to a bold . . . new level." — Jay Tolson, U.S. News & World Report

"James Tabor stands out among his generation of biblical scholars for his thorough familiarity with the full range of textual evidence from the first centuries, his extensive experience with archaeological excavations, and his imagination and creativity. Tabor has a remarkable ability to discern the contours of vital religious movements from the scattered bits and pieces of evidence that survive from antiquity. Anyone who takes the career of Jesus seriously will have to reckon with his bold, new synthesis."
— Professor Eugene V. Gallagher, Rosemary Park Professor of Religious Studies, Connecticut College

Publishers Weekly
Tabor, chair of religious studies at UNC-Charlotte, offers a bold and sometimes speculative interpretation of the historical Jesus and his family, beginning with his paternity. Evaluating several possibilities, Tabor concludes that the most historically plausible claim is that Jesus' father was neither God nor Joseph, but another man, possibly a Roman soldier named Pantera. He also argues that Joseph likely died when Jesus was young, leaving Jesus head of a household that included his six half-siblings. Like many scholars, Tabor emphasizes that we must understand Jesus in the context of first-century Judaism. After Jesus' death, his brother James took over the titular family dynasty. James championed a version of the faith quite different from Paul's, and, although James was more faithful to Jesus' original teachings, Paul's Christianity won. Tabor not only challenges Christian dogma, he also makes some assumptions with which not all scholars will agree: he places a great deal of emphasis on the hypothetical text Q, calling it "our most authentic early Christian document." This book is accessible and sure to be highly controversial, attracting the attention of reporters, spiritual seekers, historians and fans of The Da Vinci Code. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Tabor (religious studies, Univ. of North Carolina at Charlotte; Why Waco?: Cults and the Battle for Religious Freedom in America) here aims to provide as accurate a biography of the human Jesus as possible. Recent archaeological discoveries, the rereading of Old and New Testament texts in light of these discoveries, and the use of additional intertestamental and noncanonical literature form the nuclei of Tabor's methodological search for the life of Jesus. The book is divided into five parts-"In the Beginning was the Family," "Growing Up Jewish in Galilee," "A Great Revival and a Gathering Storm," "Entering the Lion's Den," and "Waiting for the Son of Man"-that seek to explain who Jesus of Nazareth really was and the significance of his preaching. Yet Tabor's methodology exhibits serious weaknesses. Some of his interpretations (e.g., that Mary married Joseph's brother after he died in accordance with ancient tradition; that Jesus had a human father) go far beyond the evidence. It is this willingness to overreach and misuse theological sources that make Jesus Dynasty an ultimately irresponsible endeavor. Not recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 12/05.]-Charlie Murray, Boston Univ. School of Theology Lib. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
CD 0-7435-5203-2Think you know who Jesus was? Well, think again. Using archaeological evidence and textual analysis, Tabor (Religious Studies/Univ. of North Carolina, Charlotte) puts forth a very different history of the Jesus movement than is traditionally taught within Christian theology. Jesus, a descendant of David, was shaped by the events of his time. He became a disciple of the charismatic John the Baptizer and soon became John's partner in ministry, taking over the movement upon John's execution. He was convinced that Roman rule over Israel would soon end, allowing him to set up an earthly kingdom. His Council of Twelve acted as regional rulers over this kingdom. When Jesus was crucified, the Council set up a provisional government, led by James, the brother of Jesus and heir to the Davidic line. Beyond that, not only was Jesus made divine, but his teachings were corrupted, and the roles of John and James were dramatically diminished, says Tabor, who raises some good points and spurs meaningful thought for the reader. And his archaeological backup makes for exciting reading. However, his book has a number of flaws. While identified as a historian, Tabor often sounds like a conspiracy theorist, piecing together tiny shreds of evidence to create a revisionist history, while rarely pausing to address the counterarguments that arise at every turn. Tabor accepts his conclusions as truth without ever entertaining the notion that there are other arguments to be made. This arrogance can be an affront to the educated reader. The author writes for those with only a marginal knowledge of Christian history and theology, and for those already skeptical of Christianity. There are vastdiscrepancies between his own presumptions and the presumptions of the majority of Christians-a gulf he fails to address and for which some will make efforts to debunk his work. Tabor simply speaks past actual believers, who will be perplexed by his approach at best, insulted at worst. A provocative contribution, diminished by an overbearing approach. First printing of 100,000
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743287241
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 4/24/2007
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 168,882
  • Product dimensions: 9.02 (w) x 6.08 (h) x 0.71 (d)

Meet the Author

James Tabor

James D. Tabor is chair of the department of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. He holds a PhD in biblical studies and is an expert on Christian origins. He is the author of several books, among them The Jesus Dynasty. Visit him online at JamesTabor.com.

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Read an Excerpt

Preface

DISCOVERING THE JESUS DYNASTY

It is a rare book that is forty years in the making. In some sense this is the case with The Jesus Dynasty. Over forty years ago, as a teenager, I made my first visit to the Holy Land with my parents and my sister. It was that experience that set me on my own lifelong "quest for the historical Jesus." This is the phrase scholars use to describe historical research over the past two hundred years related to Jesus and the origins of early Christianity.

What do we really know about Jesus and how do we know it? Forty years ago I had not even formulated the question with any sophistication. I knew nothing of archaeology, the Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient texts, or historical research. But I had begun to read the Bible, particularly the New Testament, and had become fascinated with the figure of Jesus. On that Holy Land trip this interest began to develop into a more intense desire to know what could be known about him and to somehow touch that past.

I vividly remember walking around the Old City of Jerusalem. The city was thick with tourists, all Christians, no Jews or Israelis. This was before the 1967 Six Day War when the Old City of east Jerusalem was still ruled by Jordan. We were shown around by one of the hundreds of would-be resident guides who could be hired on the spot pressing upon anyone who looked like a tourist. We saw all the sites typically shown to Christian pilgrims — the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Upper Room of the Last Supper, and the Dome of the Rock, where the ancient Jewish Temple once stood. On such a tour one enters dozens of churches, all built centuries after the time of Jesus but supposedly at the precise place where this or that event took place.

Over the three days we were there I began to experience a growing sense of disappointment. I was having difficulty connecting, even in my imagination, 20th-century Jerusalem with the city in the time of Jesus as described in the New Testament. Even if the names and places were the same, and correctly identified, what I saw before me were Turkish, Crusader, and Byzantine remains, with little if anything from the 1st century a.d. visible. Even the modern street level, I learned, was twelve to fifteen feet above that of Roman times. I had purchased a tourist guidebook entitled Walking Where Jesus Walked, and somehow, in my naiveté, I wanted to do just that.

We stayed in a small hotel on top of the Mount of Olives just to the east of the Old City. About midnight, restless, I got out of bed, Bible in hand, and decided to walk to the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the mountain. The steep path down is now paved, but I could see bedrock cut or worn along the way on both sides, indicating this was the narrow road from ancient times. I imagined Jesus riding the donkey down that very path into the Old City, hailed by the crowds as Messiah, a week before he was crucified. In those days, unlike today, you could enter the Garden of Gethsemane at any hour, day or night, as the gate was always open. Visitors were also allowed to walk among the centuries-old olive trees. I was the only one there that night, at that hour. My reading had convinced me that this was the spot where Jesus spent the last night of his life in prayer. For the first time on our tour, on that path and in the garden, I felt that I was able to reach back and connect with the past that I sought. I stayed there for the longest time, trying to imagine it all. I kept thinking to myself — this is the place. It happened here. The "historian" in me was awakening and I think a bit of the "archaeologist" as well. In some way I had begun what would become a lifelong quest to discover and to understand the life of Jesus as he lived it.

There is something in all of us that thrills to this experience of touching the past. It could be an old letter, a genealogical record, a battlefield, a cemetery, or fragments of an ancient text. Today in Israel you can visit the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum and view the Dead Sea Scrolls, which date to around the time of Jesus. I think many visitors experience the same feeling I did the first time I saw the displays. There, under glass, just a few inches away, are the actual ancient documents written over two thousand years ago. I remember pausing for long minutes before each exhibit, trying to take in the reality of what I was viewing. There one is looking at the very parchment or papyrus from that long-ago time, with words in Hebrew and Aramaic that could have been read by Jesus or his followers.

Many other sites in Jerusalem have now been excavated. You can walk or sit on the very steps that led up to the Jewish Temple built in the time of Herod the Great. When I first visited Jerusalem in 1962 these steps were twenty-five feet below the present surface, completely lost to modern eyes. In various places the paving stones of the streets of the Roman city have been exposed. Twelve feet below the modern street level, in the Jewish Quarter, you can walk in the ruins of a wealthy mansion, one that likely belonged to the family of high priests who presided over the trial of Jesus. In the summer of 2004 the pool of Siloam, mentioned in the New Testament, was uncovered, after being forgotten and hidden from view for centuries. All over the country the past is being exposed to the present by the spade of the archaeologist and equally by the deciphering of ancient texts by the historian.

I have since been back to Israel and Jordan dozens of times as a researcher and scholar. Whether I am digging an archaeological site, researching in a library, or studying firsthand a given area or location, my focus remains the same — to recreate a past that has important relevance to our present. The Jesus Dynasty is a new historical investigation of Jesus, his royal family, and the birth of Christianity. At the same time it is a reflection of my own personal quest, integrating the results of my own discoveries and insights over the course of my professional career.

The Jesus Dynasty presents the Jesus story in an entirely new light. It is history, not fiction. And yet it differs considerably, sometimes radically, from the standard portrait of Jesus informed by theological dogma. The Jesus Dynasty proposes an original version of Christianity, long lost and forgotten, but one that can be reliably traced back to the founder, Jesus himself. The impact and implications of this book are far-reaching and potentially revolutionary. There is a sense in which one might call it "the greatest story never told." It will thrill and excite many, upset and anger others, but also challenge its readers, of whatever persuasion, to honestly weigh evidence and consider new possibilities.

The Jesus Dynasty has no connection to the recently popularized notions that Jesus married and fathered children through Mary Magdalene. While gripping fiction, this idea is long on speculation and short on evidence. But as is so often the case, the truth is even stranger than fiction — and every bit as intriguing.

In The Jesus Dynasty you will discover that Jesus was the firstborn son of a royal family — a descendant of King David of ancient Israel. He really was proclaimed "King of the Jews," and was executed by the Romans for this claim. Rather than a church, or a new religion, as commonly understood, he established a royal dynasty drawn from his own brothers and immediate family. Rather than being the founder of a church, Jesus was claimant to a throne. According to the Hebrew Prophets, the Messiah, the scion of David, who would lead the nation of Israel in the last days, was to spring from this specific lineage. Recently released portions of the Dead Sea Scrolls have shed further light on the concrete nature of this expectation. This coveted royal bloodline, the family of David, with its radical revolutionary potential, was well known to the Herod family, the native rulers of Palestine at the time, but also to the Roman officials who ruled the country, including the emperors themselves. These "royals" were not only watched, but also at critical times even hunted down and executed.

Shortly before he died, Jesus set up a provisional government with twelve regional officials, one over each of the twelve tribes or districts of Israel, and he left his brother James at the head of this fledgling government. James became the uncontested leader of the early Christian movement. This significant fact of history has been largely forgotten, or as likely, hidden. Properly understood, it changes everything we thought we knew about Jesus, his mission, and his message. Everyone has heard of Peter, Paul, and John — but the pivotal place of James, the beloved disciple and younger brother of Jesus, has been effectively blotted from Christian memory.

The Jesus Dynasty explores how and why Christians gradually lost the recognition that Jesus was part of a large family, the members of which exercised dynastic leadership among his followers. This critical, alternative, story, which survives even in our New Testament records and in bits and pieces of later Christian tradition, can be effectively recovered. A combination of recent archaeological discoveries and the surfacing of texts long forgotten has given us a new perspective from which to view the birth of Christianity. Understanding the origins of this largest global religion not only offers us insights about the past, it also opens up whole new ways of seeing Christianity in our own day. We now have a sharper and more historically reliable understanding of Jesus as he was in his own time and place.

THE AMERICAN COLONY HOTEL, JERUSALEM

JUNE 7, 2005

Copyright © 2006 by James D.Tabor

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Table of Contents

Contents

Preface: Discovering the Jesus Dynasty

Introduction: A Tale of Two Tombs

Part One: In the Beginning Was the Family

1. A Virgin Shall Conceive

2. A Son of David?

3. An Unnamed Father of Jesus?

4. Children of a Different Father

Part Two: Growing Up Jewish in Galilee

5. The Lost Years

6. A Kingdom of this World

7. The Religion of Jesus the Jew

Part Three: A Great Revival and a Gathering Storm

8. Hearing the Voice

9. A Crucial Missing Year

10. Ushering in the Kingdom

Part Four: Entering the Lion's Den

11. Herod Strikes

12. Last Days in Jerusalem

13. The King Is Dead

14. Dead but Twice Buried

Part Five: Waiting for the Son of Man

15. Go to James the Just

16. The Challenge of Paul

17. The Legacy of the Jesus Dynasty

18. The End of the Age

Conclusion: Recovering Lost Treasures

Timeline of Major Events and Figures

Notes

Acknowledgments

Index

Photo Credits

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
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  • Posted January 11, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Put on your Sunday best, kids!

    I cannot describe the enlightening nature of Dr. Tabor's book with respect to what I was taught as a Catholic versus his archeological evidence and subsequent historical interpretations of Jesus's life and times. The book puts Jesus in his historical context, treating him and his cousin John the Baptist as devout Jews seeking to regain the power over the 12 tribes of Israel and calling for the end to Roman power. Comparing Jesus to previous "kings" who attempted similar overthrows (with the same result) along with his best interpretations as to how Jesus and his whole family lived, Tabor gives the reader a sympathetic look at a man who wanted to improve his world for Jewish brethren, not one who wanted to create a whole new religion.

    Subsequently showing how the gospels, though at times providing historical clues to Jesus's life, reinvented the story of Jesus only to be outdone by Paul who essentially created the Christian views as we know it through his own manipulation and dreams, Tabor's book breaks down much of Christian mythology through his rigorous research and piecing together of what's left of the 2000+ year old evidence.

    This has sparked more conversation with friends and colleagues than any book I've read in years! I can't recommend it enough!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 10, 2012

    Eye opening

    Eye opening and thought inducer

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 4, 2013

    I borrowed a copy of this book out from my local library. This b

    I borrowed a copy of this book out from my local library.
    This book was so cool to read. I loved how the author used more sources than just the Gospels, outside sources, and explained things in a cultural perspective. This year I have tried and tried to sit down and read the Bible, even a little a day and get through the whole thing. In January I did really well. As the days progressed though, it became harder and harder for me to fit it into my schedule, and the readings seemed to get longer and longer. However, the little that I did read either brought up more questions, or some suspicion. After all, did Noah really live to 900ish years? 
    Getting back to the point, the author of this book made it very believable in his hypotheses, even using statistics to lend a very credible air to his argument that the probability of the "Jesus tomb" being the tomb of the one in the Bible was pretty darn convincing. The way that he explained the way Jesus probably thought culturally, was inspiring. 
    The only thing I didn't like was towards the end, the author seemed to be very anti-Paul. However, maybe it should be, maybe the real Jesus would have been.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 5, 2011

    Dumber than before

    A must read

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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