The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianityby James D. Tabor
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Based on a careful analysis of the earliest Christian documents and recent archaeological discoveries, The Jesus Dynasty offers a bold new interpretation of the life of Jesus and the origins of Christianity. The story is surprising, controversial, and exciting as only a long-lost history can be when it is at last recovered.
In The Jesus Dynasty, biblical scholar James Tabor brings us closer than ever to the historical Jesus. Jesus, as we know, was the son of Mary, a young woman who became pregnant before her marriage to a man named Joseph. The gospels tell us that Jesus had four brothers and two sisters, all of whom probably had a different father than his. He joined a messianic movement begun by his relative John the Baptizer, whom he regarded as his teacher and a great prophet. John and Jesus together filled the roles of the Two Messiahs who were expected at the time: John, as a priestly descendant of Aaron, and Jesus, as a royal descendant of David. Together they preached the coming of the Kingdom of God. Theirs was an apocalyptic movement that expected God to establish his kingdom on earth, as described by the Prophets. The Two Messiahs lived in a time of turmoil as the historical land of Israel was dominated by the powerful Roman Empire. Fierce Jewish rebellions against Rome occurred during Jesus' lifetime.
John and Jesus preached adherence to the Torah, or the Jewish Law. But their mission was changed dramatically when John was arrested and then killed. After a period of uncertainty, Jesus began preaching anew in Galilee and challenged the Roman authorities and their Jewish collaborators in Jerusalem. He appointed a Council of Twelve to rule over the twelve tribes of Israel, and among the Twelve he included his four brothers. After Jesus was crucified by the Romans, his brother James -- the "Beloved Disciple" -- took over leadership of the Jesus dynasty.
James, like John and Jesus before him, saw himself as a faithful Jew. None of them believed that their movement was a new religion. It was Paul who transformed Jesus and his message through his ministry to the Gentiles. Breaking with James and the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem, Paul preached a message based on his own revelations, which would become Christianity. Jesus became a figure whose humanity was obscured; John became merely a forerunner of Jesus; and James and the others were all but forgotten.
James Tabor has studied the earliest surviving documents of Christianity for more than thirty years and has participated in important archaeological excavations in Israel. Drawing on this background, Tabor reconstructs for us the movement that sought the spiritual, social, and political redemption of the Jews, a movement led by one family. The Jesus Dynasty offers an alternative version of Christian origins, one that takes us closer than ever to Jesus and his family and followers.
This is a book that will change our understanding of one of the most crucial moments in history.
"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
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The Jesus DynastyThe Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity
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 1967Six 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
Excerpted from The Jesus Dynasty by James D. Tabor Copyright © 2007 by James D. Tabor. Excerpted by permission.
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What People are Saying About This
Bart Ehrman, bestselling author of Misquoting Jesus
Meet the Author
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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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!
Eye opening and thought inducer
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.
A must read