James Tabor’s natural enthusiasm for this subject, the historical Jesus and his extended family is beguiling but also sadly baffling. Professor Tabor is a recognised authority on things biblical but his sheer exuberance tends to overwhelm the point he is trying to make. As a devout agnostic, one who deplores the sorry weight of organised religion that still plagues the education of the young with its abusive dogma and unsubstantiated doctrine, I would still like to learn the history of Yehoshua ben Yosef’s time on earth, the ramifications and the intrigues and basically the truth. Any responsible coverage of this topic should begin with the caveat that not all scholars believe in the existence of this particular 1st Century Jew known as Yehoshua or Yeshua.
The existence of a man known to the English-speaking world as Jesus is accepted by two major world religions, Christianity and Islam, based on their respective scriptures, the Bible and the Qur’an. However, the true historicity of Jesus is difficult to determine, as few reliable records of his life exist. While Christianity believes Jesus to be the Christ (originally Greek – Christos meaning the anointed one or Messiah) and the Son of God whilst Islam views him as a prophet. Secular historians and most other world religions regard him as an ordinary human, perhaps even a rebellious rabbi in the first century AD Israel, and a few dispute whether he ever existed.
With this book, Professor Tabor attempts to highlight, unearth might be a better expression, plausible alternatives to the historical figure who gave birth to the Christian demi-god/messiah.
In many respects, he succeeds but I felt he too often simply accepts certain events or individuals as either having happened or existed. There is too much conjecture. How do we know how Jesus and his army (not just twelve but more like fifty) grew excited as they approached Bethlehem? Was there really a Moses? Or Indeed an Abram? Figures upon whom myths have been created perhaps but nothing substantiated.
There is also a feeling of him, Tabor, running away with his excitement, of allowing his intuitive beliefs to obscure his detection, his scientific eye; of believing his own hypotheses that all evidence, all data is overlooked.
I enjoyed his chapters regarding Jesus and his siblings, his brothers and two sisters. I thought that his theory of Joseph dying early in Jesus’ life plausible as I did the possibility that Mariam (Mary) re-married Joseph’s brother as part of the then Hebrew tradition. I also enjoyed reading how a life lived in Nazareth would have been two thousand years ago, the lack of wooden built houses and how Joseph was not a carpenter but a labourer, a stone mason, how the fabled stable was, in fact, a cave…but.
The concept of the book is worthy of deep discussion. It is not by any means bad but its sheer exuberant zeal tends to negate its serious intent. A fine example, hopefully not pedantically poised, is the way the author neglects to inform us until page twenty that there never was a man named Jesus, no Jew with an anglicised forename and that his correct name would have been Hebrew. Small stuff maybe but with a little more studious cross referencing this could have been so much better.