Excerpt: 'The Jesus Dynasty' by James D. Tabor

James Tabor is the chairman of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. His book challenges many of the beliefs that Christians hold dear, maintaining that Jesus is neither the son of God nor the son of Joseph but most likely the child of a Roman soldier named Pantera. Jesus, Tabor maintains, became the head of the household when Joseph died and looked after his six half-brothers and sisters. When Jesus died, his brother James took over his dynasty. Jesus and James' teachings, Tabor says, are very different from the Christian philosophy that eventually spread across the world.

Read an excerpt of the book below.

Many of the great archaeological discoveries of our time have been accidental. It is as if there is some mysterious hidden axiom at work -- what we most hope to discover we seldom find, and what we least expect can suddenly appear. This seems to be particularly true when it comes to the historical study of Jesus and the movement he founded, subsequently known as Christianity. One thinks of the appearance of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 from caves in the Judean desert, or the uncovering of the 1st-century A.D. skeleton of a crucified man by a road-building crew in Jerusalem in 1968, or the chance discovery in 2000 of the tomb of the high priest Caiaphas, who presided over the trial of Jesus.1 When it comes to archaeology it seems that time and chance are equal partners with careful planning and method.

A Late Night Discovery in Jerusalem

I learned this firsthand late one Wednesday afternoon on June 14, 2000, while hiking with five of my students in the Hinnom Valley, just south of the Old City of Jerusalem in an area known as Akeldama.2 We had been in Israel for two weeks excavating a newly discovered cave a few miles west of Jerusalem at a place called Suba, which has the earliest drawings related to John the Baptizer ever found. The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where I am a professor, is the academic sponsor of the dig. Dr. Shimon Gibson and I are co-directors of the excavation. It had been an exciting trip, our second season at the "Cave of John the Baptist," as we had come to call it. We had decided to do a bit of archaeological sightseeing as a break from a hard day of digging in the summer heat. The Hinnom Valley is an area thick with ancient rock-hewn tombs, just a stone's throw from the Arab village of Silwan. Many of the tombs are open, having been robbed and emptied centuries ago. But a significant number are still sealed and intact, covered with topsoil and preserved for the past two thousand years. On that late evening Gibson, who is an Israeli archaeologist, had offered to take us into some of the open tombs to give us an idea of what Jewish burial was like in the time of Jesus.

None of us had the slightest inkling of the exciting discovery just ahead, or the stealth operation that was about to begin. I certainly had no idea that we were about to stumble onto something that would relate to my lifelong research regarding the historical Jesus, and more specifically to the Jesus dynasty itself. We finished our tour of half a dozen tombs about 7 p.m. It was beginning to get dark and we needed to head back to Jerusalem to the British School of Archaeology where we were staying so we could get some rest. As it turned out, none of us were to sleep at all that night.

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