'Jesus Dynasty': Were There Two Messiahs?

Israel remains a land of holiness and of controversy -- and not just in political terms. 

Almost by the month, religious scholars and historians propose a new way of understanding the life and impact of Jesus Christ.  In his new book "The Jesus Dynasty," James Tabor is the latest addition to this hotly contested catalog.

Tabor, a historian with the Religious Studies Department at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, has spent his entire career studying the life of Jesus.  He says his new book is the culmination of 40 years of research.

"I first traveled to the Holy Land with my parents over 40 years ago," Tabor told "Nightline." "It was that experience that set me on my lifelong quest for the historical Jesus."

His conclusions are certain to provoke intense controversy and skepticism among other scholars and followers of the Christian faith. Tabor argues the historical evidence shows that Jesus had a human father, and that he was joined by a fellow messiah.

We took Tabor back to where it all started, the city of Jerusalem, to assess the major claims in his book.

'Unbelievable' Discovery

We began our journey at the location of Tabor's most remarkable archaeological discovery: an ancient hillside tomb outside Jerusalem that had been recently ransacked.

Inside, there were compartments hewn from ancient stone where corpses had been laid to rest.  They were empty, apart from one that appeared to contain an old newspaper laid out within the chamber.  In fact, it was a burial shroud -- a linen fabric into which a corpse would have been placed.  Test results proved almost beyond Tabor's wildest dreams.

"We had to believe the unbelievable," he said. "We had stumbled upon the only example of a burial shroud from the first century."

Analysis showed the shroud had contained the remains of a first-century man who died of tuberculosis.  In the same tomb, Tabor's group also found an ossuary -- a box used to contain the bones of the deceased -- that had the name Miriam or Mary inscribed upon it.  Tabor also believes the recently discovered ossuary of James, which some scholars have dismissed as a forgery, may have also originated in this tomb.

"There's some circumstantial evidence that the ossuary of James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus, came from this particular tomb," he said. "We have entertained the possibility that this tomb might've been the family tomb of Jesus."

And it's with regard to Jesus' family that Tabor levels his most controversial claim.

"I'm ready to let the average reader know what we scholars actually discuss.  And if it's shocking, it's shocking.  You don't have to accept it. Jesus had a father."

Did that mean Tabor does not believe in the Virgin Birth of Jesus?

"I don't," he said. "I think all humans have a human father."

Tabor, who studied first- and second-century Rabbinic and Greek texts, suggests a possible name for the human father of Jesus.

"They begin to call Jesus, 'bar Pantera,' son of Pantera," Tabor said. "And we even have an early Greek source.  He's a philosopher named Kelsus, who seems to know a bit more about it.  He says that Jesus was the son of a man named Pantera, who either was or became a Roman soldier."

The tombstone of Pantera is in Germany, says Tabor. 

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