The investigator in this case is James Tabor, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. And his provocative new book, The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity, takes the search for the historical Jesus to a bold--some would even say fanciful--new level. According to Tabor, Jesus, in partnership with his cousin John the Baptizer, saw himself as the founder not of a new religion but of a worldly royal dynasty. Fulfilling ancient prophecies, the dynasty, descended from King David, was destined to restore Israel and guide it through an apocalyptic upheaval culminating in the Kingdom of God on Earth. And all of this was to happen not in the distant or metaphorical future but in the very time in which they lived. Although their message was one of peaceful change, Jesus knew that he and John had aroused the suspicions of the native Herodian rulers of Palestine as well as their Roman overlords. To carry out his work, Tabor says, Jesus had established a provisional government with 12 tribal officials and named his brother James--not Peter, as traditional Christianity holds--as his successor. And indeed, according to Tabor, James later became the leader of the early Christian movement.
Hidden story. This alternative story of the birth of Christianity--including Jesus's quite worldly dynastic ambitions and the crucial role played by James and other members of Jesus's family--survives in the shadows of the New Testament, Tabor argues, but it was obscured in the version of Christianity that ultimately prevailed. Now, though, partly thanks to important archaeological finds, Tabor believes that this hidden story can be recovered. "Properly understood," he writes, "it changes everything we thought we knew about Jesus, his mission, and his message."
One thing that becomes obvious in reading this article is that the research that is being done about the historical Jesus is leading many scholars and lay readers to think creatively about Jesus and his life and purpose. Tabor is being very creative.
Tabor is certainly right to suggest that Jesus needs to be located firmly within the Jewish tradition. It was never Jesus' purpose to start a new "Christian" religion; he was a Jewish reformer. There is also no doubt that James had a role in the Jesus movement after Jesus death and his role was eclipsed in Christian tradition by Peter and Paul.
Tabor is weak, though on a number of historical facts. There is no historical evidence to support the notion that Jesus was really a cousin of John the Baptist. There are virtually no scholars of any stripe who believe that the New Testament book of James was really written by James, the brother of Jesus, as Tabor suggests. Tabor buys into the notion that Jesus was an eschatological prophet announcing the end of the current age and the beginning of a new one. As I mentioned yesterday, the scholars of the Jesus Seminar believe that by acknowledging the parables of Jesus as his genuine form of speech there is little support for calling him an eschatological prophet.Still, the article is a very good read and gives us another perspective on Jesus and the state of Jesus research.