The following is a summary of some of the key points in James Tabor’s excellent book ‘The Jesus Dynasty’. Follow the link in the title above for more information.

Please Note: This blog entry has been posted as part of an ongoing study into work on the origins of Christianity and is not intended to endorse or criticise Tabor’s opinions, or to reflect my own personal beliefs . I’ve just been reading a lot on the subject lately and I needed a way to keep track of what I am learning.

Unless in quote marks, all of the following is more or less direct paraphrase of the author.

Key contention
‘An understanding of the Jesus dynasty opens the way for us to recover an original Christianity and its potent message for our own times’ (p.283).

Key Points

[Note: List numbers do not follow Tabor’s text]

  1. Jesus had a human father and a human mother.
  2. Mary, while set to marry an older man Joseph by family arrangement, may have become pregnant by another man before the wedding.
  3. Mary bore six other children, four boys and two girls, whether by Joseph or his brother Clophas.
  4. John the Baptizer (sic), Jesus’ cousin, and valued by him as a Prophet and Teacher, was the initiator of the Messianic movement that became Christianity.
  5. Jesus was baptized by John and joined the movement that John had begun, working with him to advance it.
  6. The movement preached the imminent earthly arrival of the Kingdom of God, with John and Jesus fulfilling the roles of Two Messiahs, one as priestly descendant of Aaron, the other as a royal descendant of David.
  7. Their message was to repent of sins, with baptism as a sign of this.
  8. ‘Theirs was an apocalyptic movement that expected God to soon intervene in history to establish the Kingdom of God as described in detail by the prophets. It was to be a new era of justice, righteousness, and peace for all humankind, centred on the reconstituted nation of Israel with Jerusalem as the new world capital from which would radiate the knowledge of God and the universal ethics of the Torah to all the nations of the world.’ (p.281).
  9. ‘John and Jesus proclaimed justice for the poor and oppressed and pronounced warnings on those who refused to turn from their unrighteous ways… (neither) had any idea of beginning a new religion, but both lived as Jews according to the Torah or Jewish law’ (ibid.)
  10. Their message was intended for both Jews and non-Jews to ‘turn to the revelation of the Torah of Moses and the Hebrew Prophets.’
  11. Following John’s arrest by Herod Antipas, Jesus continued to preach John’s message.
  12. Jesus chose an inner council of 12, including 4 of his brothers, to whom he promised rule over the 12 Tribes of Israel, which he expected to be gathered back to the Land.
  13. He began a campaign throughout Galilee and much of Roman Palestine and became known as a healer and exorcist, as well as a preacher of God and a teacher of Torah ethics.
  14. Jesus was convinced that the downfall of Satan, the unseen ruler of the world, was imminent and his activities stirred bitter dissension among certain leaders of the various factions: Herodians, Pharisees and Saduccees, particularly those that shared a measure of political power with the Romans in Jerusalem.
  15. When John was unexpectedly murdered, Jesus believed that his destiny was to go the Temple in Jerusalem and confront the people and authorities with his message of radical reform. He likely realized that this could lead to his arrest and even execution, but he may have been convinced that God would intervene to save him from his enemies at the final moment to usher in his Kingdom.
  16. Jesus was arrested on charges of sedition and executed by the Romans.
  17. Upon Jesus’ death his followers were devastated and returned to Galilee in fear and disappointment.
  18. Under the leadership of James the community survived and began to rebuild its faith. ‘They believed that Jesus, though dead, had triumphed in his cause, and would in the end be vindicated, as would all the righteous martyrs for the Kingdom of God.’ (p.282).
  19. As a descendant of the House of David, James was seen as the successor to Jesus and ruled over the nascent movement Jesus had initiated with his Council of 12 (ibid.).
  20. ‘The message and teaching of James, Peter, John, and the 12 was a continuation of that of John the Baptizer and Jesus. They expected the imminent manifestation of the Kingdom of God, and they preached a message of repentance from sins, baptizing their followers into what they believed was the core of a newly constituted and reformed nation of Israel.’ (p.283).
  21. Non-Jews were invited to join them in the cause, as long as they turned from the worship of idols and adhered to the minimum ethics prescribed for the Gentiles in the Torah.’ (ibid.)
  22. ‘The message that Paul began to preach in the 40’s and 50’s CE, as Paul himself so adamantly insisted, was in no way dependent upon, nor derived from, the original group of Jesus’ apostles in Jerusalem led by James. It was based on his own visionary experiences of a heavenly Christ.’ (ibid.).
  23. It was Paul’s message that became the foundation of Christian theological orthodoxy, though this bears scant connection to Jesus’ original message (see below).
  24. James and his successors provide us our best historical link to Jesus and his original teachings, e.g. via the Q source, the letter of James and the Didache.

Proposed key Teachings

A very minimal summary from p.284-5:

Love God first and your fellow humans as yourself.
Follow the commandments of the Torah.
Think carefully when you give to charity (?)
Give to those who ask, expecting nothing in return and take no interest.
Pray in secret.
Don’t be a hypocrite and mean what you say.
You will get the same as you give and be judged as you judge others.
Draw near to God, cleanse your heart and humble yourself before him.
You cannot serve both God and this world and do not expect honour in this world from following God.
He who is not for me is against me.

And that’s about it…

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