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Jesus, the Supernatural, and the Historian: Guest Post 2 by James Tabor

Here is the second half of James Tabor’s guest post; for the first, see yesterday!   I think you will agree, the two parts are very stimulating.  If you want to hear more of James’s thoughts on all sorts of topics connected to the New Testament and Early Christianity, he too has a very helpful blog where he discusses all sorts of relevant topics.  Give it a look!  It’s at https://jamestabor.com/

James will be happy to address questions you have in your comments.  Please keep them short and to the point, if possible!   Happy reading.

James Tabor’s most popular books are The Jesus Dynasty and Paul and Jesus.


The public has been geared to think of the suppression of evidence, usually with the Roman Catholic church being the culprit, but such grand “conspiratorial” theories have little basis in fact. What is most characteristic of early Christianity, or more properly, “Christianites,” is a competing diversity of “parties and politics,” each propagating its own vision of the significance of the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. All sorts of interpretations are offered of Jesus, but the question finally comes down to…

To see the rest of James’s intriguing post, you’ll need to be a blog member.  It’s easy and inexpensive to join, and everything you pay goes to important charities.  So give it a shot!

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A “Newly Discovered” “Gospel”: Was Jesus Married with Children?
Guest Post by James Tabor: The Historian and the Supernatural



  1. Robert
    Robert  January 21, 2020

    Hi, Professor Tabor. I’ve followed your career from a distance since we first met during your U Chicago days.

    I have always loved your openness to ‘crazy’ ideas. Seriously. I really do. Makes exegesis a little more fun and less dreary:

    1. I read somewhere that you think the Los Lunas Inscription in New Mexico may be up to 2,000 years old. Do you really think that?

    2. Do you still read ὡς ἐνομίζετο in Lk 3,23 as indicating Luke is giving the genealogy of Mary and not of Joseph?

    • JDTabor
      JDTabor  January 22, 2020

      Thanks Robert…remind me where we met…good to hear from you.

      As for Los Lunas, based on long discussions with the late Prof. Cyrus Gordon I think that ancient sea contacts with the new world are entirely plausible and the the Los Lunas inscription might well be ancient–i.e. not a recent Mormon forgery or prank. Reasons are many, but Cyrus agreed, speaking from the philology. But hey, I do not think Morton Smith’s Secret Mark was forged, nor even the Shapira scrolls! The latter are getting, at last, a new consideration.

      As for as Luke 3:23, no I don’t think the phrase ὡς ἐνομίζετο indicates the genealogy is Mary’s, though I do think it is Mary’s…assuming Matt 1 has any validity. Lots of reasons, see Bauckham , who thinks it is drawn from traditions among the Desposyni…good arguments I think, though he does not agree with me about Mary. You will have to wait for my next book, The Lost Mary.

      • Robert
        Robert  January 22, 2020

        Sorry to misrepresent your reading of ὡς ἐνομίζετο in Lk 3,23!! I couldn’t find my copy of The Jesus Dynasty when some apologist claimed to me that this was your view. Did you know that you’re giving aid and comfort to the fundamentalists in their zeal to ignore contradictions between Matthew and Luke???

        One of your very enthusiastic students at Notre Dame (when I think you were finishing your doctorate at U Chicago) introduced us briefly a long time ago when we were both much younger. You wouldn’t remember me, but I always remember every scholar I’ve ever met. I revere scholars, especially those who inspire their students.

        Los Lunas. Crazy!!!

      • Robert
        Robert  January 23, 2020

        Maybe the fundamentalist apologist was right, after all. I found my copy of The Jesus Dynasty, where you do say this about ὡς ἐνομίζετο in Lk 3,23 (p 52):

        “A freely paraphrased translation would go like this: “And Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his work, supposedly being a son of Joseph but actually being of the line of Heli.” If Mary’s parents were indeed named Joachim and Anna, as early Christian tradition holds, it is possible that Heli is short for the name Eliakim, which in turn is a form of the traditional name Joachim.”

        A local NT scholar and reasonably good classicist, who shall remain anonymous (especially on his own blog), says this is “a serious misreading of the grammar, imho.”

        • JDTabor
          JDTabor  January 23, 2020

          Robert, thanks, glad we met in those ancient days. My God, that has to have been at least 40 years ago!

          Yes, I think I know that very good scholar very well. And my understanding has nothing to do with giving any aid or comfort to so-called “fundamentalists.” I simply hold the view that the author of Luke intends to give Mary’s lineage–probably passed on from the circles Bauckham discusses in his book on Jude and the Relatives of Jesus. He clearly thinks Joseph is not Jesus’ father, yet he has to uphold his view that Jesus is of the lineage of David (throne of his father David, house off David, etc. 1:32, 69, et.al. and all through Vol 2/Acts, where it really is central). What is remarkable is that he traces this through David’s son Nathan–of whom nothing is known–rather than Solomon as expected. It is not just that the “names” differ. It is a completely alternative Davidic line…

          Re: Luke 3:23, my comment (and I was using “translate” in a very loose sense here) was not about the phrase “as was supposed,” per say, but the sense of the passage as I understand it. Notice–all the other names but Joseph have the definite article in the genitive–the syntax is abrupt, the the indeclinable proper Name. But my reasons for thinking this is an alternative Davidic lineage–totally unknown in the royal tradition–leads me to think it is Mary. And the Hasmonean/priestly names are also of note. I lay this out in my forthcoming book on Mary…

          • Robert
            Robert  January 24, 2020

            Thank you for clarifying your view of Lk 3,23, Professor Tabor. In case it wasn’t clear, I was just joking about giving aid and comfort to fundamentalists! I really liked your Jesus Dynasty book, by the way, one of my favorite reconstructions of Christian origins.

  2. Avatar
    tadmania  January 21, 2020

    It can be historically posited that Paul spoke to Jesus, but not that the post-crucifxion Jesus replied. It is altogether reasonable to assume that people of ancient Judea truly believed miracles had happened, as modern humans do this everywhere today. For my part, I don’t believe that people who insist on the historical existence of the supernatural are really so convicted as they claim. Though culture may not have matured to a point necessary for accepting all the evidence that has ever existed, the vast majority of individuals within various cultures certainly have.

    • JDTabor
      JDTabor  January 24, 2020

      I think in the case of Paul all we have to go on is what he describes–thus we are left with his perceptions of things, whether Jesus’ replies or not. But think about it–most of us agree that at least the early seven of Paul’s letters are first person testimony–what an incredible thing! Not to prove this or that about the so-called “supernatural” but to have something so direct from a first founder of a movement. We might have something like that from the Teacher of Righteousness in 1QHodayot/Thanksgiving Hymns, that is, autobiographical material, but we can’t be sure and methods to sort out community materials from individual “Teacher” materials are challenging…much like using our gospels materials to try and get to Jesus.

      As for your other point, I am reluctant to judge anyone’s claim of any kind of “spiritual experience,” especially when it might be internal or visionary or whatever…however, no matter what the testimony of whoever I don’t believe in pregnancies without fathers, people flying off high buildings, or ascending into the heavens, or any number of other things reported in ancient texts. And I suspect, as you do, that lots of people who say they “do” are whistling in the dark…we all know what our common “natural” experience is…how the world appears to work. And however God (I am a theist) “acts” in history, God does not do silly things. An orchid from a pile of dirt and water or any of my precious children born of their mother from a single fertilized cell is “supernatural” enough for me. Van Morrison has a great phrase for this: A sense of wonder. Much more impressive than objects flying around rooms, or ships sinking at command (my favorite from the Greek Magical Papyri).

  3. Avatar
    fishician  January 21, 2020

    I’ve always thought it odd that the miracles described in the Bible left no evidence for later generations. I can think of any number of miracles that would have left evidence for future generations to review and examine (e.g., if Jesus really did throw a mountain into the sea through faith). Some will claim that God wants us to come to him on faith, not proof, but all the major characters of the Bible needed proof! Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Gideon, and especially Jesus’ own disciples; even Paul needed a personal visit from Jesus (as he interpreted it). People are free to believe in the miracles of the Bible, but they should not pretend such belief is based on valid evidence. Always interesting to see how people accept miracle stories from their own religious tradition, while easily rejecting those of competing religions (or even competing denominations).

    • JDTabor
      JDTabor  January 24, 2020

      Good observations…my comment above to Tadmania might double here…so I won’t repeat…

  4. Avatar
    AstaKask  January 21, 2020

    What do you think of the Craig’s minimal facts approach? He draws the conclusion that Jesus rose from the dead from six uncontested facts:
    1) that Jesus died by crucifixion;
    2) that very soon afterwards, his followers had real experiences that they thought were actual appearances of the risen Jesus;
    3) that their lives were transformed as a result, even to the point of being willing to die specifically for their faith in the resurrection message;
    4) that these things were taught very early, soon after the crucifixion;
    5) that James, Jesus’ unbelieving brother, became a Christian due to his own experience that he thought was the resurrected Christ; and
    6) that the Christian persecutor Paul (formerly Saul of Tarsus) also became a believer after a similar experience.

    Do you agree that all these are uncontested facts (well, as uncontested as things get in the historical community)?

    • JDTabor
      JDTabor  January 22, 2020

      I don’t have much respect for Craig or his arguments…haven’t we heard this “lying, deceived, or telling the truth” refrain all our lives–including the smug look as one “spring this” one on a skeptic. I am tired of it.

      Fortunately, we have one first-person eye witness to this phenomenon–and it happens to be our earliest. Paul in 1 Cor 15, Gal 1, etc. He uses terms like “appeared” or “revealed himself” but we are not sure what that meant to him. It apparently was not anything he could describe as he is convinced Jesus has become a “life-giving spirit” clothed in a glorious body, no longer flesh and blood, but he says he can tell you anything about it, any more than one can tell an oak tree comes from an acorn…God creates this new body. Paul seems to say he has never “seen one,” but he leaves it to God. So what Paul experienced was some presence, and I think surely a voice of some type–outside or inside his head who could say. The N.T gospels contain nothing like this–mostly just stories of corpse revival…opposite of Paul.

      People dedicate themselves, suffer, sacrifice, and die all the time for “illusions,” or “delusions,” of which they are wholly convinced…often in the so-called supernatural realm.

      I don’t think James was a late convert from the resurrection.

      So I guess I don’t agree to these minimal “facts.” Paul is our real only witness…eyewitness I mean who says something in the 1st person. Since he equates his apparitions with those before him–one might assume, since he had met Peter, James, and the others and surely they talked, that their experiences were somewhat similar–at least to shape basic agreement. Again the gospels, with the wounded corpse ideas, which are much later, really throw things off here.

      • Avatar
        Hngerhman  January 22, 2020

        Dr Tabor –

        You don’t believe James was a late convert from post-resurrection? Would you mind giving the thumbnail sketch of your view here?


        • JDTabor
          JDTabor  January 24, 2020

          Probably too complex to try to get into here but okay, briefly…I think the two passages on Jesus family/mother/brothers not “believing” in him (Mark and John) are polemical attempts to downplay Jesus’ “earthly” connections…see Painter’s Just James, also Shoemaker’s brilliant introduction to his book on Mary Devotion in Early Christianity. Luke especially plays down the “family,” and thus James…so he suddenly appears out of nowhere in Acts 15–and in charge. Paul is our best source. James is at the center of things I think all along. Oh, did I mention I think he is the so-called “Disciple whom Jesus loved…” into whose hands Jesus commits his mother’s care–at least in John’s tradition. And probably the Comforter of John as well…We have little left other than fragments of Ebionite quotes, the saying in Thomas, Paul’s passing reference in 1 Cor 15…

          • Avatar
            Hngerhman  January 24, 2020

            Wow, thank you! Many many thanks for the generous plenty to chew on.

  5. Avatar
    Zak1010  January 21, 2020

    Dr Tabor,

    People rejected Divine messages since Adam. This rejection continued and continues till the present day.
    God sent prophets to people / communities with miracles contemporary with their time only to convince and prove they were credible, relaying a message from God:

    Noah, miracle of the Ark ( the perseverance of faith and promise over evil and wicked)
    Abraham, miracle fire ( fire signified Deity to the non believers- proving that there was a God Dominant over it)
    David, miracle of strength, bravery and Faith in God in overcoming strong evil enemy.
    Moses, miracle of magic – contemporary with his time to convince the Pharaoh and his ilk
    And on and on Jonah, the Whale, Joseph, Issac, Jacob, Lut……ect.

    Since the topic is about Jesus, Jesus came with the miracle of healing ( one of the miracles ). Sickness and illness / ( medicine ) was contemporary at that time. Jesus healed without medicine showing proof and significance in his character as a messenger in attempt to draw unconvinced Israelites to his message and him a genuine true heir of an age-old prophetic religious line.

    The miracles from these messengers whom God sent is not the salvation. Salvation is in the message they brought. Salvation isn’t believing or not believing Jonah was swallowed by the whale or Abraham did or did not burn in the fire or Moses split the sea or David knocked out the enemies’ eye or not ………nor Jesus’ healing….
    Noah, Abraham, David and Moses and the others preached oneness of God and to follow God’s commandments. Jesus continued the same message preaching oneness of God and follow the commandments.
    [ Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem[b] on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.]

    …… We reject just like previous generations.

    Why do we put more weight on the opinion and understanding of the Gospels and its supposed authors and not all the weight on the one messenger ( Jesus ) who claims to be sent by God?

    • JDTabor
      JDTabor  January 22, 2020

      In terms of doing the work of a historian I don’t reject any of these things…If I were studying you “historically,” I would accept these as our beliefs and it would be vital that I do so to get at any truth about you. That was the point of my post. The Jesus followers believed such things–as did most all ancient people–see my teacher, R. M. Grant’s wonderful book, Miracle and Natural Law in Greco-Roman and Early Christian Thought. We have to take account of that in trying to understand them. Whether emperors or historians like Josephus, or Rabbis…the more we can know of their “world view,” especially in terms of the so-called “supernatural,” the better off we were. No one can read the Mishnah or Talmud without understanding the key role magic, astrology, superstition, play in the world views of most of the players…

  6. Avatar
    dankoh  January 21, 2020

    I wouldn’t say the early Church tried to suppress evidence, but they certainly tried to suppress opposing views. We find this even in the NT, where 1 James and Jude warn against the Docetists, and we certainly find it after the Council of Nicaea, when Constantine ordered the destruction of documents promoting the Arian “heresy.” We have the Nag Hamadi documents only because the monks there disobeyed orders from Athanasius and buried the books instead of burning them.

    As I understand it, the ostensible reason for burning any doctrine or theology other than the accepted one was to prevent Christians from following the “wrong” belief and thus ending up in hell.

    • JDTabor
      JDTabor  January 24, 2020

      For sure…I still love Bauer’s classic “Orthodoxy and Heresy in Early Christianity,” and of course Bart’s monumental contribution on the “orthodox” corruption of Scripture. I think the “battle” is very early, even with Paul and James…yes, I don’t throw out Baur (F. C. I mean!) as many of my colleagues are prone to do–though few have read him.

  7. Avatar
    veritas  January 21, 2020

    Thanks James for your simplistic reading of your two posts. You mention, “that we will probably never know with absolute certainty,” I totally agree with that statement. So why is it so important to continue this exhaustive and never agreeing dilemma? Where is this going to lead us?

    • JDTabor
      JDTabor  January 22, 2020

      Not sure…I do what I do out of interest and fascinating. I guess everyone has their own things that fascinate…

  8. Avatar
    AJ  January 21, 2020

    Is it within the bounds of the historian to place 1st century supernatural claims in context…..the prevalence of healers, magicians, and prophets for instance….or the rate of literacy, the popularity of superstition, and the number of competing gods….and what anthropologically and sociologically drove god worship and myth building? Do we know if people would genuinely investigate claims made by the apostles or the gospels? For instance, Matthew 27:52 stands out as one of the most astounding claims in the gospels. Would 1st century readers/listeners have taken this literally or thought it just rhetorical flourish to emphasize the importance of Jesus’ death? Would anyone had thought to try and find a Joseph of Arimethea…or even Arimethea? Would a world-wide census requiring people to return to a distant ancestor’s homeland….or a slaughter of the innocents……been claims that would have received any scrutiny…or pushback? At what point does the historian just throw up his hands and say a document is not especially useful as history?

    • JDTabor
      JDTabor  January 24, 2020

      On another post/comment I mentioned Robert Grant’s classic, Miracles and Natural Law. And Morton Smith’s various works, especially pulling in so-called “magical” materials…In some ways I think Josephus’s writings give us a fairly good sense of how ancient works of this time and culture would be pitched or presented…Let’s just say that “superstition” and credulity were widespread…In contrast, Lucian is wonderful to read, see his Alexander the False Prophet…my favorite…for a more sophisticated approach. We can not dismiss the notion of “entertainment…”

  9. tompicard
    tompicard  January 21, 2020

    Dr Tabor thanks for contributing this post

    Do you think there is any good (well, convincing) argument that when Jesus spoke of ‘eternal life’ or the one time he was asked about ‘resurrection’, or when Paul spoke of going from ‘death to life’, that either of these two men understood any of those terms/phrases to mean immortal life on earth in physical bodies?

    or even whether Matthew (27:51) spoke of people rising from graves they meant the words literally?

    • JDTabor
      JDTabor  January 24, 2020

      I think the views in late 2nd Temple Judaisms regarding the “age to come” are varied and contradictory. Various texts draw on New Creation imagery from latter Isaiah–but remember, even there the “old man dies at 100…” I guess it all depends on what one means by the “physical.” Paul is maybe our best source, some combination of Rom 8 and 1 Cor 15, 2 Cor 5…the creation being “released” from bondage to decay…but what does that look like? Since Paul says he can’t describe it–and God “gives a body” as he choses, which might be as different as a seed becoming a plant–it seems the transformation is radical. Nothing we know or experience in “this age.” Rev 21 is interesting, with a strange mixture of what seems to be the so-called “physical” and the transformed new creation…

      I am very intrigued with Matt’s story of revived corpses. I don’t think it would have interested Paul much though, as he is expecting something much more transformative. I also think the lines in Mark about Herod Antipas thinking Jesus is “John raised from the dead” is pretty interesting…since I don’t get the idea he sent a search party to check the tomb and see if it was empty.

  10. Avatar
    Matt2239  January 21, 2020

    Still, no one can dispute that Jesus and his disciples are the most improbable historical figures of all time. Even the Roman Emperors who ruled in Jesus’ time are less well known and less well documented. Today there are more than 7 billion books on earth that all say Jesus of Nazareth was born of a virgin, walked on water, changed the water into wine, and rose from the dead. There are also billions of his followers who will tell you they believe these things to be true. And all this has been going on for thousands of years. If a Martian stepped off his UFO and said “take me to your leader,” an earthling who handed them a New Testament would be viewed as credible by the interplanetary traveler. All the objective evidence reveals a story so unlikely, that the fact we know about Jesus today is an even greater and more improbable miracle than any described in the Bible itself.

    • Avatar
      flcombs  January 23, 2020

      Actually it doesn’t seem very unlikely at all to have stories like those and they are easy to dispute. Many people do and there are even better stories out there if you like that kind of thing. The ancient world was full of wonder and magic and miracles. Even many followers of the “billions of books” disagree about what is in the books and one reason there are thousands of Christian groups out there. Instead of just declaring it so, what is your evidence of those stories being true as you say? You do realize I hope that “billions of books” are really just copies and versions of the SAME book and doesn’t mean at all that any of the stories are true? I could declare red is blue and make a billion copies of my paper. Do you accept the Quran as true since there are billions of books out there declaring Allah as the true God? Does the number of copies of the Book of Mormon prove the Mormon claims are true and do you accept them?

    • JDTabor
      JDTabor  January 24, 2020

      I am very interested in the 7 billion book idea…wow! I think today, with self-publishing and all, about 2 million books are estimated per year…and relatively few of them are about Jesus. But seems to me that would mean nothing in terms of any claims about Jesus…not to mention the Jesus in the gospels seems to imply that numbers and popularity mean nothing (Beware when all men speak well of you). That said, I surely agree, that Jesus is one of the more intriguing figures of our Western history…hey, I have spent 50+ years trying to get a handle on the guy…beginning with majoring in Greek in college–you can imagine what my parents thought of that idea in terms of “what you going to do with that?”

  11. Avatar
    doug  January 21, 2020

    I would imagine historians would treat a supposed “supernatural” event like anything else – someone would have to make a convincing case that the supernatural event happened. But how does someone demonstrate that a *supernatural* event happened? And what are the criteria for something being a supernatural event? How would we know the event is supernatural?

    • Avatar
      Matt2239  January 22, 2020

      Love me, love my dog.

    • JDTabor
      JDTabor  January 24, 2020

      My concern is not so much whether something “happened” or not as how the reports and stories and beliefs were part of the ways in which religions thrived and developed…I doubt that any of the “real” historical characters mentioned in the N.T. were all that “rational” about science and nature and the like. Almost everyone believed in spirits, fate, astrology at some level, disease as a result of sins, etc.

  12. Avatar
    JoeWallack  January 21, 2020

    “We can note that Mark reported that …met his disciples in Galilee after his death,”

    “Mark” never wrote that. It’s not in the LE either (which I have faith you believe is not original).

    • Avatar
      ZeroSheFlies  January 22, 2020

      Mark 16:7 comes pretty close.

      But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” (NIV)

    • JDTabor
      JDTabor  January 24, 2020

      Not sure I know the code for the LE? Sorry…but I think my teacher Perrin and others have shown that Mark’s “see you in Galilee” lines (ignored by Luke of course who says the disciples must NOT leave Jerusalem) are prefigured in Mark 9 and the apparition story there…But not sure of your point…seems clear to me Mark’s tradition has Jesus doing just what he told them he would do…even if it drops off at 16:8.

      • Avatar
        JoeWallack  January 24, 2020

        “Not sure I know the code for the LE? Sorry…but I think my teacher Perrin and others have shown that Mark’s “see you in Galilee” lines (ignored by Luke of course who says the disciples must NOT leave Jerusalem) are prefigured in Mark 9 and the apparition story there…But not sure of your point…seems clear to me Mark’s tradition has Jesus doing just what he told them he would do…even if it drops off at 16:8.”

        Thanks for your reply Mr. Tabor. LE = Long Ending. I’m primarily interested in Textual Criticism and I think you are primarily interested in History. Your offending verse:

        ““We can note that Mark reported that …met his disciples in Galilee after his death,”

        We now agree that “Mark” did not write that. That was my point. Did “Mark” imply that Jesus met his disciples in Galilee after they abandoned him (what does killed/die really mean here)? Let’s look at what “Mark” said/didn’t say:

        “14:28 Howbeit, after I am raised up, I will go before you into Galilee.”

        “Mark’s” Jesus doesn’t say they will meet. He just says he will get to Galilee before they do. The Young Man of 16:7 (From Secret Mark I think but that’s another issue) says:

        “But go, tell his disciples and Peter, He goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you. ”

        But the only place you can find “Mark’s” Jesus saying “there shall ye see him” is in “They Never Said That”. Just the type of clue Sherlock Ehrman likes to find. Also, to the extent there is implication in GMark that Jesus met the Disciples in Galilee what is the implication from the body of GMark as to the significance? GMark has a primary theme that the physical meaning is often ironically different from the spiritual/figurative meaning. I picture the Disciples accidentally running into Jesus at Lord & Taylor’s in the Galilean Mall while Jesus is trying on new clothes after losing 160 pounds during the crucifixion but amazingly still being a 53 Medium. Jesus says to the Jewish taylor, “They’re with me but they’re not “with me””.

        I also do not think 14:28 is original to GMark, argument here:


        Perhaps Textual Criticism of 14:28 could be a future topic here?


  13. Avatar
    joemccarron  January 21, 2020

    “Most scholars in the field would say that Jesus practiced “exorcism,” and healed the sick, which was seen as a releasing one afflicted from Satanic power, but what that implies about the reality of the demonic world goes beyond our historical methods.”

    I agree. But the accounts of what people saw and heard are certainly within historical method. So people did claim he could raise the dead, heal cripples etc. I agree it goes beyond a historians work to say what this implies about the demonic, psychological, or medical world but I am not saying you, as a historian, should speak to that. You should just speak to whether the historical criteria backs up whether a body was raised and cripple was healed or not. The criteria Dr. Ehrman says he uses as a historian involves whether it was attested by Multiple sources, close in time to the event etc. Do you agree you can use that criteria?

    It may be that you ultimately decide historical evidence gets trumped by philosophical or religious beliefs. But be clear about what you are doing. Don’t claim analyzing the accounts as a historian forces you to discount these claims, because that is not what is happening. Refusing to use historical analysis is not the same as drawing a conclusion based on historical analysis.

    Historians can and do address whether someone was in fact seen alive or dead at certain dates and times. They analyze historical sources to determine whether someone was or was not a cripple or blind at certain times. So saying 1) Jesus died by crucifixion and 2) he was alive after a certain date, are the sorts of things historical accounts provide evidence to support.

    If you say there can be historical evidence to support someone was alive at time x, unless saying that would be evidence in support of a religion or a miracle claim, then you are just using a double standard. If you use historical criteria in an objective way then you should not be concerned with whether the views it supports helps or hurts religious or atheist world views. People of all worldviews might agree that, if an account is recorded closer in time to the event and it is multiply attested then it is better evidence.

    • JDTabor
      JDTabor  January 24, 2020

      I have probably made too many comments already on this post so might be repeating myself. I am not trying to determine if this or that “happened,” when it comes to the supernatural, but rather how such things are not “excluded” by the historian…I don’t think our sources lend themselves to the kind of verification you might be implying here, if I am reading you right. If you have ever seen a really GOOD slight of hand magician, who works with no paraphernalia whatsoever–just hands and no sleeves–you would know one can not even trust one’s eyes…Separating the “normal” from the “paranormal,” to use other terms from our age of scientific verification, is notoriously difficult.

      • Avatar
        joemccarron  January 24, 2020

        I’m not saying a historian should separate out what is natural or supernatural. In fact, I think you are the one separating out what is supernatural and natural and then treating whatever you believe to be supernatural differently.

        Take the eclipse Thales predicted. Perhaps many ancient people thought this was some sort of supernatural omen. Now let’s say you lived around the time of Herodotus and you had no idea how this could have occurred naturally. Indeed you thought that, if it really happened, it must have been some supernatural act. And being a naturalist you think only rubes believe in supernatural acts and they are by nature very unlikely. But you are trying to write a historical account of what happened and since you never heard of eclipses you think this must be a supernatural act if it happened.

        It seems to me that if you have multiple sources all saying that the day turned to night for a short time as predicted by Thales (and these sources meet the other criteria of being close in time to the event unbiased consistency etc) then as a historian you would write that in your history. If you excluded that the day turned to night as Thales predicted, because you thought it was supernatural (and you thought supernatural things never happened) you would be letting your own philosophical views influence your history.

        That is what you are doing now. The only difference is you think you are correct now and the hypothetical historian got it wrong about what is supernatural and what is not.

        If I understand you right, you are saying as a historian you can’t say Jesus physically appeared to others after the date he was crucified and he did not walk on water etc. In part you say that because of the historical analysis you provide in a linked blog, (which although I may not agree with your conclusions I agree it is proper historical analysis and not philosophy disguised as historical analysis) but in part it is because of your judgment that his physical appearance or walking on water would be a supernatural event and you think supernatural events are very unlikely.

        This second part is where you are going beyond a historian and becoming a philosopher.

        • Avatar
          veritas  January 30, 2020

          I think you make a good point Joemccarron. I am a skeptic believer but I love reading some of the posts here and responses. Just to add a comment, or a like analysis relevant to your point of view, in most * world* sporting events, usually the referee is from a neutral country because they do not want his/her bias or personal feeling pertaining to hjs/her own country, influence his/her judgement on how he/she referees the game. Another words, if Canada was playing the USA, a referee from those two countries would not be used for fear of influencing (authority) the game result (playing (favoritism) based on his/her bias from which he/she comes from. I agree, personal feelings are factored in how decisions/beliefs (philosophy) are concluded.

          • Avatar
            joemccarron  February 11, 2020

            Thank you Veritas. I am glad Dr. Ehrman allows people of different views to express themselves because I enjoy reading other peoples views on these topics as well.

            We all have biases and we can’t step outside ourselves to evaluate them. But I do think there are some measures we can take.

            1) learn about the different types of bias. A simple google search will provide easy to understand articles with some pretty interesting reading. Our brains literally create a chemicals that encourage biases.

            2) I try to frequent many more blogs where people disagree with me than those that do agree with me. This blog tends to have people that share many of Dr. Ehrman’s views and, of course, I share many of them as well. But on ultimate issues we disagree. I noticed on his youtube channel the extent of the negativity toward Christianity (in the comment section) is much higher than here. I like to think it is because the real anti-christians are against donating to charity so they can’t post here. Ha just kidding. But I rarely read or comment on blogs of fellow Christians.

            3) Buy books that have different opinions. Although I disagree with Dr. Ehrman he is likely the author that I have listened to the most about this time in history. The majority of the books I bought seem to have been written by non-christians.

            4) Don’t think others have a burden to prove anything to you. Take responsibility for your own beliefs and don’t imagine some barrier that others must overcome before your beliefs are shaped. It is very easy to immunize your beliefs from reason by placing them behind some imagined wall that someone else must overcome.

            5) Question others and ourselves.

            6) Those who disagree, are not the enemy. “We must love them both, those whose opinions we share and those whose opinions we reject, for both have labored in the search for truth, and both have helped us in finding it.” St. Thomas Aquinas Recognize and fight against the chemical reaction that may lead you to dislike those of different opinions.

            I would be interested in what you and others do as well.

  14. Avatar
    Todd  January 22, 2020

    I have tried to follow what has been going on in terms of research of the Talpiot tombs from the beginning of your writings about it but that active research has seem to have stopped. Are there any more probes into those tombs planned in the future or has that come to an end with no decisive conclusions reached or has further investigations been restricted by the powers that be in the Israeli government, etc ?

  15. Telling
    Telling  January 22, 2020

    Dr Tabor,

    I’ve sometimes found it amusing that Christian and secular historians of Christianity reject metaphysics yet the New Testament Bible is a metaphysical book. And this point is the basis for their sharp disagreements.

    • JDTabor
      JDTabor  January 24, 2020

      I guess we are trying to sort out just how all the myths unfolded and the traditions developed…a worthy enterprise it seems to me, since we have a hundred year stretch of time in which much is transformed and there is lots of unfolding development…

      • Telling
        Telling  January 24, 2020

        Dr. Tabor,

        Well, the Bible is a metaphysical book, but also a history book, so we can agree on that. Yet there are some things that don’t look to make any historical sense that do make perfect sense when viewed having a metaphysical background.

        If we are to compare Jesus sayings with Krishna pronouncements from the Hindu Bhagavad Gita, we see many similarities, such as “I am the way” and “[believe in] me”. Not having the metaphysical understanding it is believed by the faithful that Jesus is telling us to follow and put our trust in him, and on the judgement day we’ll have superior advantage. But this is “worldly” thinking, a hierarchical outer world power structure. The Bhagavad Gita however, is recognized as a metaphysical teaching and “Me” is understood in context as God, not man, speaking. The whole of all creation is the “Way” and we should “believe in” the greater “Self” within. What will not make sense to historians and is misinterpreted by Christians makes perfect sense to those having the inner understanding.

        It is the same regarding miracles. A metaphysical background tells us that we evolve from within, from formlessness through degrees for forms, attaining a dream state existence and finally a more solid seeming objective world where the forms are solid and trusted. My best source tells of there being times in the world’s history where the world becomes less stable and more fluid, and the time of Jesus was one such time. “Miracles” thus happened that historians deem impossible (but you’re right, even with this some will be myth). There are even greater times of instability where new life forms, bringing about new species’ on a large scale in a short period of time. This can explain the lack of transitional fossils in the “evolutionary record” where many new species just pop wholly into existence in a 25,000 year span. The forms emerge from within the dream state, probably a product of the life itself and a community agreement within and between species.

      • Telling
        Telling  January 25, 2020

        I want to add that historians generally believe the Bhagavad-Gita to be fiction. The Lord probably wasn’t charioteer for Arjuna and he probably didn’t give a lesson on self-awareness on the battlefront as the war was about to start. Yet, the most respected of American philosophers greatly praise the work.

        Christianity for Christians, however, generally falls apart if the New Testament Bible were proved to be fiction. I’ve been told by several practicing Christians that: “Without the Crucifixion there is no Christianity.”

        How does the Gita faith survive but not Christianity? It has to do with “beliefs”. Regarding Christianity, belief in an undefined “God” is necessary as well as a need that he had to be crucified, the latter belief because authorities say this narrative is a person’s ticket to eternity, proof that God in a man’s form has overcome death (and so he can overcome your death for you too, I presume).

        The Gita, however, gives a detailed explanation as to how a person can practice ways for obtaining self-awareness, even in the most desperate of situations such as fighting a war in a bloody battle of survival. The differences between the two is like night and day, and is the key to obtaining that ticket to eternal life. Krishna’s lesson is that we rise above our beliefs and see a truer nature of the reality facing us.

        We are entities, consciousness, and the world before us is a reflection of our inner qualities. We are eternal in nature (this must be assumed, by our very being and our cognizance of it). We are developing qualities for controlling energy so that we become independent of the group mind (planet earth) that we have tethered ourselves to and become able to build stable living envionments. Until that happens, as the Bbhavagad-Gita reveals, we must incarnate again and again, forgetting past interactions, living a compartmentalized life framed by birth and eventual death. This is illusion, but is necessary for the moment.

        With this understanding, many of the Jesus sayings come to life and with new meaning, as others may be discarded as myth.

        This is metaphysics in a nutshell.

  16. Avatar
    bcdwa288  January 22, 2020

    Do you believe the super natural events in the Bible actually happened?

    • JDTabor
      JDTabor  January 22, 2020

      I would say read–or if you have–reread the post where I make that clear.

      • Avatar
        joemccarron  January 23, 2020

        “…but such [miracle] claims are not the purview of historians and they run contrary to our human experience and a more rational scientific understanding of birth and death.”

        Between this post and the other you suggest that to believe in miracles one would be less scientific and less rational. These views of yours obviously play a role in how you approach history. But whether it is irrational or unscientific to believe in miracles seems to be beyond the domain of what historians do. Whether it is irrational and unscientific to believe in miracles is by and large a philosophical issue. And of course many anti-religious people often try to say religion opposes science. This is why what you write here strongly suggests your historical analysis is influenced/biased by your philosophical or anti-religious bias.

        Do you at least understand why religious people read what you say and think that? Be upfront and say you have strong philosophical “beliefs” about the unlikelihood of God and/or God acting in the world and therefore all their analysis will assume your “beliefs” about philosophical naturalism. (I put beliefs in quotes just as you did) That would be transparent. But don’t claim that the actual historical analysis devoid of this influence is so clear cut that these events did not occur. You are not reaching that conclusion by historical analysis alone. You are adding in your philosophical world view of naturalism as a trump card. Therefore someone who does not hold your “beliefs” about naturalism as strongly as you, may not interpret the data the same way.

        So for example if you or Dr. Ehrman explicitly said your historical criteria is that it is impossible that historical evidence can lead to the conclusion that philosophical naturalism is untrue, I would not mind. I think that approach would be upfront, and it would be clear to everyone your priorities in how you are interpreting the evidence. You would not need to insult religious people by smugly suggesting they are unscientific or irrational. You would your philosophical assumptions clear and explain arguing for them is beyond the scope of what you are doing. I believe in God and Miracles, but I am still interested in your analysis of these texts from the point of view of philosophical naturalism.

        • Avatar
          RICHWEN90  January 24, 2020

          Butting in here, and no insult intended, if there is one thing I can say with certainty about religious people, it is that they are indeed superstitious, irrational, and more than a little ignorant of scientific method. Critical thinking? If they
          were capable of critical thinking they would not be religious. Of course that does not equate to “crazy”. Religious
          people usually are able to function reasonably well in society. Although when they pray over their sick children and
          reject medical care the cognitive breakdown is evident, or when they persecute “heretics” or interfere in other
          cultures, or try to keep women from controlling their own bodies, and so on. Then the cognitive pathology is pretty
          clear. Religious people no longer burn supposed witches but the mind set that allowed them in the past to
          commit various atrocities is still there, implicit in all kinds of superstitious, faith-based, irrational, uncritical, modes
          of thought. Calling a spade a spade isn’t being insulting. Cults are dangerous, even when the cults are popular.
          This is, of course, my personal opinion only. What I would offer is therapy. Help. Deprogramming. Information. I certainly don’t feel smug. I’m as vulnerable to the pathology I’ve outlined as anyone else.

          • Avatar
            joemccarron  January 24, 2020

            Such views should be supported by evidence (beyond anecdotes) and arguments. Christian Cultures are some of the most educated world wide. Not atheist cultures like China. The Western cultures are some of the most advanced and they were also the most steeped in Christianity. When cultures took a hard turn against Christianity they tended to do poorly. We can talk about horrible Godless people like Pol Pot, Kim Jung Un, Stalin, or Mao whose atrocities committed in a couple of decades make, two millennium of Christian malfeasance look like mild faux pas.

            But your post is actually quite helpful for understanding both sides. Tabot may not realize that his backhanded comment suggesting that those who believe in miracles must be somehow less scientific or rational than his own group, will lead to more heat than light. But at base it seems that belief is what is driving his historical analysis.

            I am not saying he has to change his mind about these issues. I am just saying he should be honest and upfront about it. The differences are differences of philosophy, not applying historical criteria. Christians, Muslims and Atheists can agree that the historical criteria are good criteria. Often people will only want to apply that criteria when it supports their worldview. I am suggesting that people should try to apply the criteria regardless of whether it helps or hurts their worldview. They should not claim Historical analysis is suddenly “invalid” when it doesn’t help support your naturalistic worldview.

            If the method is valid when it supports your views it is valid when it cuts against them as well. That is an important part of being rational and objective. If we have to admit that historical analysis would lead to a certain conclusion that would conflict with our other beliefs, we do not necessarily have to change those other beliefs. As Tabot and Ehrman have said determining what actually happened thousands of years ago based on historical analysis only gets us so far on the probability scale. We all wish it got further but it doesn’t. So it is perfectly legitimate to say yes the historical analysis suggests X but I am still going to believe “not X” because of my strong philosophical (or other) beliefs.

          • Avatar
            Jayredinger  January 24, 2020

            Exactly my experience and thoughts.

          • Avatar
            RICHWEN90  January 26, 2020

            Actually it seems to me that the bloody despots you mentioned functioned almost like gods on earth, and were
            treated as such by their followers. Communism is nothing if not anti-rational, and the adherence to those
            ideas by Stalinist types resembles in many ways the adherence of a religious zealot. I’m suggesting that
            believers in God or the supernatural and believers in Communism/Fascism can fall into the same cognitive
            traps. And wreak the same kinds of havoc. Believers and non-believers alike can be absolutists. My way or the
            highway. Our way or hell. Or a mass grave with a bullet in the back of your head. Inquisition or purge. Pogrom because Jews killed God, or holocaust based on unscientific racial theories. You pays your money and takes your choice.

          • Avatar
            joemccarron  January 31, 2020

            Obviously this is going beyond Hume’s argument or how one might believe in Miracles. But I do think you should recognize that you are so against religion that you are even trying to blame the actions of the most anti-religous people and institutions, on religious belief. It was more the abandonment of belief in a Christian real objective morality that lead to these problems.

            All the people I mentioned were very anti-religious.

            Hitler was also very anti-clerical and certainly not fan of Christianity.


            You say the nazis had unscientific racial views. I agree, but we should be clear. They claimed their views were scientific. Their racism certainly was not Christian.

            “11. None but superficial minds could stumble into concepts of a national God, of a national religion; or attempt to lock within the frontiers of a single people, within the narrow limits of a single race, God, the Creator of the universe, King and Legislator of all nations before whose immensity they are “as a drop of a bucket” (Isaiah xI, 15).

            12. The Bishops of the Church of Christ, “ordained in the things that appertain to God (Heb. v, 1) must watch that pernicious errors of this sort, and consequent practices more pernicious still, shall not gain a footing among their flock.”


            Now I would agree they were not scientific views because I do not think science answers moral questions or “what should be.” But people like Sam Harris disagree. To be clear, I am not saying Sam Harris is at all sympathetic to the conclusions drawn by Nazis! But he does share one mistaken view of science with the nazis and communists – namely that science will somehow tell us what is moral.

            At base the issue comes down to whether all human life is a sacred gift from God. Whatever these moral monsters of the past century thought, they did not believe all human life was a sacred gift from God. Atheists do not believe anything is sacred so this view which was a bedrock of our culture quickly came under scrutiny. Attempts have been made to try to provide a similar foundation for concern for all people but IMO none have been successful so far.

            Douglas Murray is an atheist who acknowledges as much. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E2hRUXuEhgI

  17. Avatar
    rivercrowman  January 23, 2020

    Wow! Great to read your posts here. I have read and learned from four of your books, now part of my personal library.

  18. Paul94d
    Paul94d  January 24, 2020

    Hi Professor, I have a question about the word ‘resurrection’. The original translation it’s actually ‘resuscitation’? (from Greek)
    Well… I mean… Religious leaders or who ever change the text gave it a different interpretation or maybe multiples? I remember reading an article on the blog about sexual immorality… I don’t remember it properly; the word ‘porneia=prostitution’? (from Greek)
    My point is… I’ve been raised catholic and I was taught a lot of different ‘meanings’ of it (against sexuality), more than prostitution.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 26, 2020

      I’m not sure what you mean about the original translation? Which Greek word are you thinking of? And what do you mean that this is the “original” translation? I talked about porneia in some blog posts: just searcy for it on the blog and you’ll see.

      • Paul94d
        Paul94d  January 26, 2020

        Well..what I’m trying to say is…the meaning behind the gospel and what I’ve been thought to believe (being raised in a christian family and christian school). I know that the Gospels are not historical reliable after reading “Misquoting Jesus”. In a way, was something very new for me, after all I’ve been taught. What I’m trying to say..the church gave multiple meanings to some teaching of the Gospels?

        • Bart
          Bart  January 27, 2020

          Yes, it always has, indeed. They don’t have to be historical to be meaningful!

  19. Avatar
    ShawnAllbee  January 25, 2020

    Bart, I really appreciate the blog topic. I grew up in one those fundamentalist religions that teach that crucifixion was performed on an upright stake, and not a “T” shaped cross. Though they go into detailed explanations about why they believe this, I believe that their primary reason is doctrinal rather than historical. How strong is the evidence that an upright stake with a crossbar of some type was used?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 26, 2020

      Pretty strong. When ancient authors refer to the shape of a cross, it’s usually to a T figure rather than an |.

  20. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  January 27, 2020

    Dr. Tabor: I have read “The Jesus Dynasty” and “The Jesus Discovery” and have followed your blogs and really appreciate your research. I have seen no convincing evidence of any miracles, but I don’t see how we can rule them out from the get-go. In the church down the street from me a minister allegedly raised a woman from the dead. Do I think that happened? Well, no. But what if the woman had had an EKG and an EEG that showed she was dead and then she got up and walked around. Not likely, but wouldn’t that have to be interpreted as a miracle? We couldn’t just rule out the “miracle” from the get-go or could we?. Thanks for this summary.

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