Friday, February 26, 2010

The Jesus Dynasty

Well, this was interesting.

It's hard to put my reaction to this book into words. First of all, I wouldn't recommend The Jesus Dynasty, by James Tabor.

Now that's out of the way, I can try and clarify my reaction to this book. I'm still unraveling it all myself--and to top it off, I listened to it on audio cds rather than read it, which, for a book like this, filled with 'scholarly stuff', made it a very different experience than usual.

I don't agree with most of what James Tabor has to say in this book. I imagine that he would not be surprised, as the book is filled with his interpretation that Jesus was not truly the Son of God and did not rise from the dead and didn't perform miracles (at least, I'm assuming the last part, since I don't remember Tabor touching on the miracles of Christ). That's not exactly the best formula to get the ministers on your side. Throughout the book Tabor accuses the church of multiple cover-ups of the 'real' story. He believes the church is intent on suppressing most of his side of the story, and while I don't doubt that the church has made dubious decisions to emphasize one side of the story over the other, I wonder how credible Tabor's side is.

It just seems that, throughout the book, the scholarship that Tabor subscribes to seems to be rather debatable. It's easy to argue from his position, that it's the church's fault, not history's, that some of his sources are not seen by all in a positive light. I guess the part I struggle with is that Tabor wouldn't agree at all with William of Ockham, after whom Ockham's razor is named (basically, the simplest solution is probably correct). Tabor always seems to choose the most complicated possibility. When presenting multiple options for how Jesus was conceived, Tabor chooses the possibility that Mary was raped by a Roman soldier who died in Germany rather than a multitude of others that seem far more possible. Could it be true? Maybe. Likely? Doubtful.

The other main problem I have with the book is that some sources are credible for some parts of the story, but not all. We all pick and choose our sources, but Tabor picks and chooses sections of his sources. Sometimes the Gospels are leaned on, sometimes discarded. Tabor leans pretty heavily on the Q theory, presenting it almost as fact, but I still haven't heard of anyone discovering an early 'Q' manuscript. It seems like he picks what is convenient for his argument.

I believe the strongest aspect of his argument is the end. Had he started with it, I imagine my reaction to the book would have been very different, not nearly as defensive. Tabor discusses that the point of his book, and, in his opinion, the point of Jesus, is to point all religions back to Abraham and the original Judaism. The argument is that we're all following the same God, and Jesus was trying to take us back to an earlier worship. Tabor suggests that he is trying to illustrate that as well. (at least, that's how I understood his case). Had he started with that, clearly stating his intent rather than beginning with complicated and controversial theories about Jesus, perhaps I would have reacted better to this book.

Guess we'll never know...

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