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Paul’s Ascent to Paradise. Guest Post by James Tabor

A couple of weeks ago I learned that James Tabor had republished his book Paul’s Ascent to Heaven, his first scholarly monograph, which, alas, had gone out of print.  But it’s back in!  I wrote him to ask if he’d be willing to write a couple of guest posts about it, and here is the first.  This one explains how and where the book originated (published 1986); his next post will discuss how his mind has changed on some issues in the intervening years.

Many of you know James from his other writings.  He publishes for both scholarly and popular audiences.  James has long been a professor of Religious Studies at UNC Charlotte.  Here is his story of how his book first came to be.  He will be happy to respond to comments and questions.


James D. Tabor, Dept. of Religious Studies, UNC Charlotte

Paul’s Ascent to Paradise

I have been thinking deeply about Paul—and more particularly about “Paul’s Ascent to Paradise” for the past forty-five years. I first suggested a dissertation on two verses of Paul’s composite letter that we refer to as “2 Corinthians” back in 1975 at the University of Chicago. I asked Jonathan Z. Smith, a fairly recently arrived young faculty member at Chicago, if he would consider directing it. He smiled and said, “You just put your finger on the pulse of what is most central and characteristic about the Jesus movement from its earliest and most direct witness.” At the time, I had little inkling of what he meant, as I was just beginning to understand what Smith called “the dynamics of persistence and change” in understanding the religions in the ancient Mediterranean world in the Hellenistic period.

I think I might have been the first student to ever write a “New Testament” dissertation under Jonathan Z. Smith’s direction–and I was honored (and a bit terrified!) to have him as my director. He was known more for what some of us used to call “History of Religions,” as if to imply that forms of ancient Judaism and emerging Christianity were central—and those “other” religions were background. As one who had only been exposed to a fairly standard form of what we call “New Testament Studies,” I had a lot to learn. Smith gave me a mimeographed single-spaced reading list about thirty pages thick. I had majored in Greek and Bible in college and even gotten an M.A. in Ancient Judaism and early Christianity before coming to Chicago. I had never heard of, much less, read, a slew of the towering scholars on the “basic” reading list, such as Reitzenstein, Priezendanz, Widegren, Wendland, Prümm, Bieler, Festugière, Nilsson, Nock, Goodenough, Colpe—most of them publishing in German and French. Looking back, I wonder how I survived.

The focus of my dissertation was Paul’s cryptic and mysterious account in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 of his heavenly ascent to Paradise. I use that revelatory experience as an entrée into Paul’s self-understanding of his mission and his gospel message, set within its broader Jewish and Hellenistic contexts. What that meant is summarized by these five overall insights I gained from Smith and sought to apply to understanding Paul:

  1. The study of Hellenistic religions is a study of the dynamics of religious persistence and change in this vast and culturally varied area. Almost every religion in this period occurred in both its homeland and in diasporic centers—the foreign cities in which its adherents lived as minority groups.
  2. Rather than a god who dwelt in his temple, the diasporic traditions evolved complicated techniques for achieving visions, epiphanies (manifestations of a god), or heavenly journeys to a transcendent god. This led to a change from concern for a religion of national prosperity to one for individual salvation, from focus on a particular ethnic group to concern for every human. The prophet or savior replaced the priest and king as the chief religious figure.
  3. The history of Hellenistic religions is rarely the history of genuinely new religions. Rather it is best understood as the study of archaic Mediterranean religions in their Hellenistic phase within both their native and diasporic settings. It is usually by concentrating on the diaspora that the Hellenistic character of a cult has been described.
  4. The archaic religions of the Mediterranean world were primarily religions of etiquette. At the center of these religions were complex systems governing the interrelationships between gods and humans, individuals and the state, and living people and their ancestors. The entire cosmos was conceived as a vast network of relationships, each component of which, whether divine or human, must know its place and fulfill its appointed role.
  5. The old religions of conformity and place no longer spoke to this new religious situation and its questions. Rather than the archaic structures of celebration and conformity to place, the new religious mood spoke of escape and liberation from place and of salvation from an evil, imprisoned world. The characteristic religion of the Hellenistic period was dualistic. People sought to escape from the despotism of this world and its rulers (exemplified by the seven planetary spheres) and to ascend to another world of freedom.

I finished the dissertation and graduated in 1981 with Robert M. Grant (N.T/Church History)as one of my readers. The legendary Morton Smith of Columbia University read a draft and filled every page with handwritten notes. I still have that copy, one of my most treasured possessions.

Like so many young scholars I turned the dissertation into my first published book: Things Unutterable: Paul’s Ascent to Paradise in its Greco-Roman, Judaic, and Early Christian Contexts (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1986). It went out of print years ago and used copies, mostly paperback, have been listed as “first editions” on Amazon at the ridiculous price of $245 to $393–in “acceptable” to “very good” condition! Yes, you are reading those numbers correctly! And no, it is not a Brill book and is only 155 pages!

Over the years I have had scores of my students, colleagues, and readers ask me if I had any copies left. I think I only have three now–one hardback and two paperbacks–one of the paperbacks I gave to my mother years ago and got it back when she died. But I own the rights.

When the book came out it was widely reviewed—both positively and negatively. The Journal of Religion rated it as one of the “ten best books on Paul” of that decade. The late Alan Segal devoted a special session of the SBL annual meeting to the book as it was released. So it got a fair amount of attention.

This summer of Covid-19 I decided to take advantage of my time at home, since I am usually in Israel doing archaeology in Jerusalem. The original edition was in very small Times Roman type and back then we did not have the advantage of a copyeditor from the publisher. I produced camera-ready copy myself with my Compac portable computer using Xwrite. Some of you will remember those days.

I decided to reissue a revised version. I would not in any way call it an “updated” version, as it would be impossible and impractical for me to even attempt to summarize thirty-five years of subsequent scholarship on Paul, and what is often referred to as “Pauline mysticism.” I began slowly to work back through it, improving the phrasing, making corrections, and adding clarifications and a very few notes here and there.

I have to say that I learned a lot from reading my own book! I don’t know how many authors read their books after they are published. Of course, we all look through them, or read portions thereof, but the demanding process of getting a book in final form and finally turning it in for publication, after having pored over it so intensely, leaves one with the sense of “knowing” the book by heart. So, for me it was quite an experience—it was as if someone else had written it, but as I read through, slowly, page by page, so much came back to my mind, like watching an old film you loved but not remembering all the details. I published it a few weeks ago on Amazon in both print and Kindle editions, with a rephrased title: Paul’s Ascent to Paradise: The Apostolic Message and Mission of Paul in the Light of His Mystical (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08GB52LTN)

In a follow-up post I want to write about how my mind has changed and stayed the same over the three decade stretch between the dissertation and my publication of Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity (Simon & Schuster, 2012), which I know some of you have read.

Smith-Pettit Lecture – The History of Heaven and Hell



  1. Avatar
    Stephen  August 28, 2020

    Thanks for contributing, Prof Tabor.

    Paul seems to have been a thoroughgoing ecstatic. But what about Jesus and his disciples? Do we have any intimations as to their practice? Was apocalypticism always associated with revelatory experience so that we can assume the historical Jesus and his disciples would have sought out visionary experiences?

    • JDTabor
      JDTabor  August 29, 2020

      I would say so. Although our gospels reflect subsequent traditions beyond the time of both Jesus and Paul, collectively there is enough there I think to place the movement with the magical mystery category. The practice of exorcism alone moves us into a world in which the air is thick with spirits, demons, and plenty of what is often called today, “magical thinking.” Disease is caused by evil spirits. Jesus can read minds. Satan is alive and well. I am making a very general comment here. I think Morton Smith’s Jesus the Magician lays out a good case overall but his Harvard volume, Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark is of immense value. Beyond the question of the authenticity of M. Smith’s ms. that he called “secret Mark,’ which I won’t get into here (though I don’t think he was a forger and I knew him quite well), the book has a long section laying out the entire textual world of Hellenistic magic. Don’t be thrown off by the word “magic,” as Smith used to say–one person’s magic is another person’s miracle. It is an “inside” “outside” issue, so the labels are not critical so much as the assumed worldview. Hope that helps.

      • Lev
        Lev  August 31, 2020

        Dear Prof. Tabor,

        I’ve been a fan of your work ever since I read your 4Q521 post (https://pages.uncc.edu/james-tabor/archaeology-and-the-dead-sea-scrolls/the-signs-of-the-messiah-4q521/) which I’ve cited (as well as your work with Michael Wise) in an essay and my Masters’ dissertation (on apocalyptic eschatology) I’m currently finishing off. I’m convinced JBap is the missing link that connects Jesus to the apocalyptic theology of Qumran.

        On that note, how likely is it that Jesus inherited his Cosmic Dualism from JBap? And could this not better account for his ‘magical mystery’ worldview? In Q11:18 Jesus describes Satan possessing a Kingdom. Q11:24 speaks of defiling spirits possessing people. In Q11:34-35 Jesus uses the metaphor of generous or jaundiced eyes result in people being filled with either light or darkness. These sayings find some affinity with 1QS3:20 that discusses righteous and perverse living in terms of light and darkness and people living either under the dominion of the Angel of Darkness or Light.

        However, as Qumran’s specific terminology of “Sons of Light/Darkness” is missing from the earliest gospels (only found in John) it also seems possible Jesus could have picked up his Cosmic Dualism independently from JBap. What do you think? I’m on the fence.

        Many thanks in advance.

        • JDTabor
          JDTabor  September 1, 2020

          I certainly agree that the message of Jesus is grounded in, and emerges out of, the Baptister’s movement, and yes, there are many parallels to both the language and outlook at Qumran. I have a blog post that you might find relevant here: https://jamestabor.com/what-kind-of-a-jew-was-jesus/. That said, I think the Qumran group would have likely found Jesus and his halachic approach to the Torah much too “liberal.” However, in terms of the apocalyptic, cosmic, dualism that pervades most forms of Judaism of that time, both Jesus and John would have been reflections of the wider culture. In other words, Jesus does not need to explicitly drawn things from John, but both of them are reflective of a more general worldview–big ideas like the end of the age being at hand, salvation as cosmic deliverance from the alien forces of Satan and his angels, evil spirits controlling things but being overthrown by the forces of light, and so forth. So I guess I am thinking yes, and yes…from John and also from the Weltanschauung of the time…

          • Lev
            Lev  September 2, 2020

            Many thanks Prof. Tabor – the link you provide is incredibly useful. Would the Pharisees (who believed in angels and demons) be another example of a group that held to a cosmic dualism theology?

            We know the Sadducees didn’t, but do we know where the Zealots stood on this? I’m trying to figure out if Cosmic Dualism was found in fringe groups only (Essenes seemed to be on the margins – I think Josephus estimated their population was around 4’000?) But if the Pharisees were also on board, maybe that would tip the scales in favour of it being a widespread worldview at the time?

  2. Avatar
    tadmania  August 29, 2020

    Beginning to read your book. Congratulations on its second coming! I found this statement very interesting.

    I am convinced that emerging Christianity and the other contemporary forms of Second Temple Judaism are, by definition, “Hellenistic” (i.e. Roman imperial) religions, essentially similar to the other religions of the period.

    Tabor, James D.. Paul’s Ascent to Paradise: The Apostolic Message and Mission of Paul in the Light of His Mystical Experiences (p. 10). Genesis 2000. Kindle Edition.

    • JDTabor
      JDTabor  August 29, 2020

      Yes, that is quintissential Jonathan Z. Smith. The dichotomies of “Hellenistic” and “Judaic” I don’t find that helpful. Clearly every cult, sect, and tradition has its own indigenous proclivities and assumptions about the world, but there is no “airtight” expression of “Judaism” (if you can define it!) of this period that is outside the broader parameters of cosmology. So the old debate about whether Paul was more “Jewish” or more “Hellenistic” and the whole “Jerusalem” vs. “Athens” categorization tends to collapse. The similarities between phenomenon such as Temples, the Holy Man, Miracles, Epiphany, Healing, and attaching oneself to a “savior” who will take you into the heavens (and these are only a few examples) run through and across traditions. I have some texts posted on my university web site you might enjoy reading–that illustrate some of this..don’t know if I can hyperlink in these comments, but you can copy and paste: https://pages.uncc.edu/james-tabor/hellenistic-roman-religion-philosophy/temples-holy-places/. There is lots more there if you want to browse the left sidebar.

      Let me add something here…Jonathan Z. Smith used to say “if any of you dropped in on the assembly at Corinth described by Paul in 1 Cor. 5, 11, 12, 14, don’t assume you would understand a single thing going on or find any of it comfortably familiar.” We get “familiar” with these very strange texts by imagining they are kind of like “Church” services today…well not in most traditions, but I will say I have visited some fairly radical “Pentecostal” services over the years where I thought to myself–maybe this is getting close. My favorite example is the “Jesus be cursed” fellow or gal who is claiming this is coming from the spirit…

      • Avatar
        tadmania  September 2, 2020

        Read the article – twice! Those interstitial decades between the life of Jesus and the writings of Paul make for an intriguing mystery. Regarding that, what is your take on the timing accuracy of Jesus’ life and death? It seems to stretch even the most ancient of incredulities that so cohesive a faith could have emerged and propagated throughout the Mediterranean in so short a time.

  3. Avatar
    RICHWEN90  August 29, 2020

    I’ve recently read “Paul and Jesus” and must add this book to my collection. Recently I’ve encountered some new opinions about Paul’s descriptions of himself. Rabbi Tovia Singer has some interesting takes, disputing Paul’s claim to be a pharisee and a student of Gamaliel (sp?). According to Singer it’s unlikely that Christians were a distinct enough group, or a large enough group, to bother to “persecute” in any systematic way. Unlikely that anyone would have authorized Paul to do anything like Paul described. Singer claims that Paul was so clearly hellenized in his thought that he could not be considered to have been in any way part of the Jewish mainstream at that time– certainly not orthodox. So Paul in this view becomes an unreliable witness in regard to his own history, perhaps inclined to self-aggrandizement and exaggeration. A self-promoter. A liar, to be blunt. I wonder about your take on Singer’s views of Paul.

    • JDTabor
      JDTabor  August 29, 2020

      I know Tovia and consider him a friend, though we disagree on many things–including his evaluation of Jesus within late 2nd Temple Judaism. He is really reflecting Hyam Maccoby and his book, The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity: New York: Harper & Row (1986)–notice that book came out the same time as my book on Paul–now reissued as Paul’s Ascent to Paradise. Maccoby is in turn reflecting a long history of polemic against Paul, going all the way back to the Pseudo-Clementines. I think my best response here would be to point you to my review of Maccoby’s book (Critical Review of Books in Religion, 1988, pp. 232-235.. I am “nice” (always) but I have sharp disagreements the review brings out, too much to repeat here. So where are you going to find that? Well, I just went to my blog site, https://jamestabor.com, , which I hope you have bookmarked 🙂 and I uploaded it for you and anyone who wants to read it. Just go to my CV, scroll on down to the bottom, and you will see it under book reviews, and it is now hyperlinked. How’s that for service? https://jamestabor.com/academic-papers/. I think you will find a lot of information that will address your question there.

      I do think that much in the book of Acts about Paul is fiction, sometimes purely so, even tendentious so. To sort that out you have to work through four layers of “Paul,” and I have a blog post on that, and of course Bart has written extensively about this…as have many others in our field. https://jamestabor.com/the-quest-for-the-historical-paul-sources-presuppositions-and-method-are-everything/

  4. Avatar
    thelad2  August 29, 2020

    Greetings Bart. Blog hopping today. Just finished reading a post from your colleague, James Tabor (Taborblog), where he’s wondering about the actual origin of Paul’s “received” information. Did it come from Paul’s conversations with Jesus’ original apostles and other early Christians or, as Paul sometimes indicates, did it come directly from Jesus? This is especially important when considering Paul’s understanding of the Eucharist (1 Corinthians 11:23). If Paul believes Jesus told him the story of the Last Supper during some mystical connection, then would that not throw all the NT’s later Last Supper traditions into doubt? Tabor goes on to wonder if, perhaps, all of Paul’s gospel (and his apocalyptic predictions) is based on his mystical connection with Christ and not on real world events. Interested in your thoughts. Thank you.

    • JDTabor
      JDTabor  August 29, 2020

      This looks like it is for Bart and I am not sure what he thinks about my radical assertion that Paul “invented” the Eucharistic as we have it in 1 Cor. 11 and Mark. I realize it is a major point since eating the body and blood of Jesus as God–however viewed–is a very central and personal thing with people–as I think it was with Paul. But I think Paul came first, then Mark, and Matt and Luke follow suit, with Mark as the source. But are reading my post–and it is also in my book Paul and Jesus, so I won’t repeat it here. I do touch on it though in the new book, as I claim that Paul gets all sorts of very DETAILED things “from the Lord,” such as the precise details of the Parousia he presents in 1 Cor. 15 and 1 These. 4 that I don’t think he is drawing from Hebrew scriptures for the most part, or other texts of the period that we are aware of.

  5. Avatar
    fishician  August 29, 2020

    Dr. Tabor, I enjoy your blog also. Looking forward to your next post, while I put your republished book on my buy-and-read list.

    • JDTabor
      JDTabor  August 29, 2020

      Well I look forward to hearing what you think of it. Be sure and let me know once you get it.

  6. Avatar
    charleswood426@gmail.com  August 29, 2020

    Looking forward to read the revised Paul’s Ascent to Paradise.

    • JDTabor
      JDTabor  August 29, 2020

      Same to you Charles, let me know what you think…

      Let me pause here and say I will get back to Comments when I can, answering a few at a time and working through in order…Our classes begin in 10 days, suddenly everything on line the first three weeks, and after that who knows, so all of us are really busy this next week getting ready for the opening and hoping our students will be safe.

  7. Avatar
    jhague  August 29, 2020

    Thank you for this very interesting first post. I look forward to the next post. Some questions I have had regarding Paul and his claimed trip tp the third heaven:
    * Why did Paul say that he knows a man rather than just say it was him?
    * It seems very easy to fabricate such a tale. We would certainly say that anyone today who told a story like this was making it up. Did Paul make this up so that he could impress his Gentile audience?
    * Paul repeatedly says in his writings he is not lying…he is telling the truth. This makes me think that many people were accusing him of lying. Does that seem to be the case?
    * The other point that Paul states is that he is not permitted to tell what he heard. This seems to be a convenient way to claim this mystic trip but not be able to talk about it or answer questions about it. Do you agree?
    Thank you

    • JDTabor
      JDTabor  August 30, 2020

      I explore all of these issues in the book, as you might expect. In this case I don’t think his declarations that he is not lying reflect any kind of “thou protests too much” idea so much as he is in heated battles with opponents who are denying his status as an apostle on an equal footing with others. I think this little report gives us a window into Paul’s psychic and psychological world…Years ago I reviewed Gerd Theissen, Psychological Aspects of Pauline Theology in Religious Studies Review, 15 no 1 January 1989, pp. 38-40. I imagine it is still available if you check the SBL web site. I don’t have it handy or I would scan and post it for you. You know the ole Evangelical apologetic conundrum–were the apostles lying, deceived, or telling the truth–which I find a bit silly in terms of trying to pen people into a corner on options, I would reply that Paul was utterly sincere, convinced, and convicted–as are many who claim religious experiences. As a historian I am not interested in judging “validity” so much as trying to understanding what was claimed. Paul had an experience. He tells us what he made of it. That is what we have. I take him at his word–his perception of things as he interpreted it.

      We have to always remember that the ancient world was no different from our world in terms of these claims of spiritual experiences. Here there is nothing new under the sun. And yes, there were outright charlatans. If you want a real trip, read Lucian’s account of Peregrinus or his little treatise on Alexander the False Prophet. It is hilarious, but also will strike you as amazingly familiar to things we still hear today.

  8. LaoWho
    LaoWho  August 29, 2020

    Purchased. Thank you!

    • JDTabor
      JDTabor  August 30, 2020

      Let me know how you find it.

      • LaoWho
        LaoWho  September 5, 2020

        Alright. (And know that I tried going through all the possible academic genuflections, but none were satisfactory.) What I thought was, “Yeah, okay, so what ‘happened’? What was that?” It left me wanting Zinn’s “People’s History of Divine Encounters,” which might strictly be an anthropological or neurological matter now and unless your work and Bart’s can help to usher in better interdisciplinary cooperation among the sciences. We can only hope, you can only try. That’s where I think your boldness and direct assault at the core of Christianity succeeds; where until now all we’ve had the choice of are educated guesses from other educated guesses about resurrection, take-it-or-leave-it, you’ve actually raised the much more nuanced question of, “What’s a divine encounter?” never mind that all of Christianity hangs on it. I know you didn’t address that directly (free of a strict textual reliance), but it’s a start. (Dr. Strassman tried with “DMT and the Soul of Prophecy,” though I don’t think it succeeded on that front.) I’m grateful for it for these things and hope you’ll get your “dark ages of Christianity” book out too. I’ll be buying it.

        • LaoWho
          LaoWho  September 7, 2020

          I get it now. Pardon my exasperation. It’s about things unutterable. None of my drafts of reply worked, and this one won’t fare any better with any reasonable person, but how reasonable is it that for two-thousand years we’ve subscribed to a resurrection or the “encounter(s)” which established it? As though calling it God is any better? In the most minimalist terms we can accept that shamans and prophets and people of every stripe throughout history have suffered hallucinations, but why do we give assent to these? What evolutionary advantage was there to some kink in our double helix that mutated into any god notions? That we would try to explain natural phenomena and disasters this way is just as absurd–why create an absurdity with our new powers of abstraction? And a “projection” hypothesis doesn’t help because that requires that gods be innate. So, after 2m-70k years of coming up the evolutionary ladder, we still accepted these claims in the then very modern Roman empire, and since? Unutterable. The phenom doesn’t seem reducible, never mind “acceptable.” Paint me flummoxed.

        • JDTabor
          JDTabor  September 9, 2020

          Not sure I follow this but you sent me an email…thanks. I can’t imagine approaching these testimonial things any other way, we are dealing with Paul firsthand and then secondary literary accounts, in the gospels of sightings and so forth none of which agree. I have tried to lay out carefully my construction of the process through time…see my blog: Why Christians are Confused about the Earliest view of Resurrection, you can find it by searching: jamestabor.com.

          • LaoWho
            LaoWho  September 13, 2020

            Apologies Professor. I’ve since learned of the initiations of many mystery cults (their use of light), and which may be similar to whatever happened to Paul (even if it be frontal lobe epilepsy, or just an endogenous DMT dump under stress, etc.). Moreover, the work of Allan Botkin–modified EMDR–and his “induced after death communications” among his trauma patients, is strikingly similar, and the healing results are outstanding. (They’ve put up an institute in Germany in his honor.) It’s been my attempt to understand what happened to me (and what I thought made me a Christian), and your book provoked this to a tipping point. I’m not dismissing the phenomenon, just saying that this has all given me a context, and maybe even an architecture, for the phenomenon. And it’s an extremely powerful and lasting “experience” (Botkin’s patients have an 85% cure rate, over grief and subsequent addictions, as against the regular success rate of standard EMDR therapy). I’m just beginning reading on the possible neuroscience of it. Sorry for the incoherent ramblings through much of my guesswork all these years. Thanks again.

  9. Avatar
    Phil  August 29, 2020

    This is instantly gripping. It sheds a first beam of light on how Christianity mutated and emerged from Judaism into a new world. The idea that the special circumstances of a diaspora decisively influenced Christianity is compelling and I now want to know more. Is Prof Tabor’s book edible for a (interested and reasonably well read) non scholar?

    • JDTabor
      JDTabor  August 30, 2020

      I think you would find it edible enough, though it started out as a dissertation, the writing is clear I think. I would say, however, that the kind of mystical experience Paul reports is very bit at home in its Jewish context as its “early Christian,” in fact, ascent to/through the heavens texts are ubiquitous in this period. I do survey these in the book. One of my points is that although every tradition has its particularities, there are a set of basic perceptions of human life on earth, death, and the heavens where the soul belongs, that are shared across cultures and traditions. Let me know what you think if you end up reading it.

  10. JulieGraff
    JulieGraff  August 29, 2020

    Mr Tabor,

    May I ask, since I do not know your body of work?

    Have you looked into Near Death Experiences since you published your book (or before)?

    Are you aware of IANDS and people, and even medical doctors now (like Eben Alexander and Mary Neal) who are coming out now with having being declared dead and recounting their NDE?

    My Mom had an NDE when she was 16, before I was born, I had one of a different kind…


    My asking may be premeture to your next postings… but I felt it is a big part of the “Paul’s Story”

    Thank you!

    • JDTabor
      JDTabor  August 30, 2020

      I have read a bit here and there but have no personal experience. I have heard many such stories as most of us have and they are common in the ancient world. If you really want a deep dive take a look at John Grander Cook’s new book, Empty Tomb, Resurrection, and Apotheosis, nearly 700 pages, where he attempts to chronicle and classify the thousands of such experiences from late Antiquity. What is described in say, Matthew 28, which sounds more like an apparition–notice–some doubted–seems to me quite different from what Paul describes, see the link I posted below on What did Paul claim to have seen in “sighting” Jesus. My new book deals with some of this, especially the ascent to heaven texts from the period. I think we can assume Paul heard a “Voice” but he seems unclear, at least in his ascent account, as to the nature of that experience, other than he found himself transported.

      • JulieGraff
        JulieGraff  September 1, 2020

        Ok, thank you for your answer Mr. Tabor!

        The “John Grander Cook’s ” book you mentionned seam very interesting as it seams to be a very well researched and history book of this matter.and since I am not aware of those I will keep it in my to read bucket list…

        I am more aware of the contemporary studies of this matter since I have been living such a close experience to it, but I believe that when we share different angles on a matter, it’s like the cutting of a diamond, it makes it shine!

        A bit like G.od did with Adam… “It is not good that he is alone, I will put someone in front of him, different from him so to help him be better!” (as I can say in this poor translation)

        So I may not dive deep into your work, put I am happy to have the chance to share a different angle with you, as I do with Mr. Ehrman!

        • JDTabor
          JDTabor  September 2, 2020

          Thanks Julie…since I just published a new translation of Genesis (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08GGB8X84), you give me here a chance to make a tiny side-point to your reply. Your translation of that most interesting phrase in Gen 3:18 might be elaborated. The Hebrew term used, כנגדו/k’negdo, lit. “as opposite/before him” seems to carry the idea of one corresponding to him. In other words, an opposite facing partner, as hand in glove, lock and key. So one compliments the other, but is nonetheless “different” from the other. You can view the translation on Amazon, the print edition I think lets you see the opening chapters and some of the methods I use. It is called the Transparent English Version.

  11. Avatar
    DirkCampbell  August 29, 2020

    ‘Rather than the archaic structures of celebration and conformity to place, the new religious mood spoke of escape and liberation from place and of salvation from an evil, imprisoned world.’

    What changed? How did ‘this world’ suddenly (or gradually) turn from a place where you can enjoy life with the blessing of the gods, to a place of misery where you can’t have any fun until after you die? This seems to me such a radical change of perspective that it requires further examination.

    • JDTabor
      JDTabor  August 30, 2020

      Dirk, I think in a word it was a new dualistic perception of the cosmos itself. From a heaven fairly close, that you could climb a stairway to reach the realm of the divine was separated by a vast expanse of seven heavens…the earth below at the bottom, lower, material, into which the soul had fallen. Death became life, and life/birth became death–into this dark and dreadful world. The earth was no longer the home of humankind, but rather heaven. I have written a lot about this. One place to begin is this article I wrote for my teacher, Robert Grant’s Festschrift: https://jamestabor.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Revisiting-Rohde.pdf

      Also my survey of Death, Afterlife, and the Future, in the Morton Smith, Joseph Hoffmann, volume, https://jamestabor.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Bible-Future.pdf

  12. Avatar
    Brand3000  August 30, 2020

    Dr. Tabor,

    Glad to see your post and book. If you could please tell me in layman’s terms, what do you make of 1 Cor. 15:6? i.e. Was this something like a Marian apparition from more recent centuries?

    • Avatar
      charleswood426@gmail.com  August 30, 2020

      I would like to see the comments on this question?

    • JDTabor
      JDTabor  August 30, 2020

      It sure sounds like something of that sort the way he describes the future “resurrection body” and its glory further on in that chapter, and likens it to the same transformation he thinks Jesus had to heavenly glory, with “flesh and blood” left behind. I have three very recent blog posts on this very subject, beginning with this one, and you can see the ones that follow, https://jamestabor.com/have-i-not-seen-jesus-our-lord-what-did-paul-claim-to-have-seen/.

      • Avatar
        Brand3000  August 31, 2020

        Dr. Tabor,

        Do you think that 1 Cor. 15:6 should be linked to the resurrection appearance at the mountain in Galilee?

        • JDTabor
          JDTabor  September 1, 2020

          No idea how to correlate the rundown of “sightings” Paul reports in 1 Cor. 15 with our varied and diverse accounts in the gospels…The mass appearance he refers to might well be something like the Mountain scene at the end of Matthew. I do think the “recovery” of faith was in the Galilee, as the gospel of Peter makes clear–the disciples weep and mourn through the seven days of Unleavened bread–no resurrection appearances that week!–and then they return to the Galilee. Since Matthew gets the “See you in Galilee” tradition from Mark, I think both agree that some scenes like that of John 21 emerged. The Jerusalem appearances I find very questionable…and apologetically motivated to account for the empty tomb.

          I have laid out my own approach to all of this in a series of posts on my blog, try these for example, these for a start: https://jamestabor.com/the-surprising-ending-of-the-lost-gospel-of-peter/; https://jamestabor.com/why-people-are-confused-about-the-earliest-christian-view-of-resurrection-of-the-dead/.

  13. Avatar
    GeoffClifton  August 30, 2020

    Dr Tabor, many thanks for a most stimulating post. It made me wonder what your take might be on the suggestion that Christianity became in effect another eastern mystery religion,
    (comparable, say, to the cult of Mithras), albeit an extremely successful one?

    • JDTabor
      JDTabor  September 1, 2020

      Thanks for this question. It all depends on what one means by a “mystery religion.” Taking JZ Smith’s broader perspective of how “salvation” was defined and understood by a wide range of movements and traditions in late Antiquity–namely liberation from the bonds of the flesh and the lower material world, either by escape or transformation (in the case of Paul, Romans 8, etc.) then yes! Jesus provides the way to both escape and decisively defeat these alien cosmic forces. In my book, Paul’s Ascent to Paradise, I got through dozens of texts of the period showing the thematic parallels. .Smith has a fantastic essay on the “Prayer of Joseph,” you can find–check his book, Map is not Territory. His conclusion has stood out to me now for 40 years–so well put: “Thus the PJ takes its place among a host of texts witnessing to what I have come to believe is THE fundamental pattern of hellenistic Mediterranean religion–an astrological mystery involving the descent-ascent of a heavenly figure, the Himmelreise Der Seele of the believer through the astral-angelic sphere and magical-theurgic practices.” (p. 62).

  14. Avatar
    Brand3000  August 31, 2020

    Dr. Tabor,

    I noticed on your blog you quote Galatians 1:16 as saying “TO me,” Do you think that’s more accurate than the NIV which says: “reveal his Son IN me”?

    • JDTabor
      JDTabor  September 1, 2020

      Not a big fan of the NIV, the problem is more English than Greek…the idea is that one agent affects another…that is Christ to Paul…but I think TO me is better in English…even if the revelation was “inside” somehow, and this gets into psychology. The best clue as to what it involved–I also cover in my new/old book, would be other things he says about it in terms of his “conversational” exchanges with Jesus and the things he says he directly received “from the Lord.”

      • Robert
        Robert  September 1, 2020

        Hi, Professor Tabor. Regarding Gal 1,16, I’ve always read it as a dative of means:

        Οτε δὲ εὐδόκησεν [ὁ θεὸς] ὁ ἀφορίσας με ἐκ κοιλίας μητρός μου καὶ καλέσας διὰ τῆς χάριτος αὐτοῦ 16 ἀποκαλύψαι τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ ἐν ἐμοί, ἵνα εὐαγγελίζωμαι αὐτὸν ἐν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν …

        But when God, who had set me apart in my mother’s womb and called (me) through his grace, to reveal his son by means of me, in order that I might preach the good news about him among the gentiles …

        Do you know if anyone else defends this reading?

        • JDTabor
          JDTabor  September 2, 2020

          Robert, I could go with that, as I think it carries essentially the same idea.

          I majored in Greek in college and I think we had to memorize about 25 different names for various kinds of Datives…Frankly, I find many of those kinds of categorizations by grammarians as really just attempts to get at the ways the dative is used in context, imposing our language on the Greek. I am not saying they are of no use but it is the content that tends to govern.

          In Galatians 1:11ff Paul is defending what he refers to ofttimes as “his gospel” and is keen to make it very clear that his message came from Jesus Christ, not from those who were apostles before him. Thus reveal to me, in me, or by means of me all sort out about the same. He “met” Jesus, got his message, called from the womb like Jeremiah, and thus he stands completely UNIQUE in every way from the others. Thus he is able to say, “what they are makes no difference to me.” He confidently asserts his gift. I cover this in my book, on the mission, and I argue that Paul sees his mission and the attendant message as completely different from anything that went before him. You might look up Steve Mason’s work on Paul’s use of “my gospel.” I found it very enlightening.

          • Robert
            Robert  September 2, 2020

            Thanks, Professor Tabor.

            I agree with you about grammatical language–it’s usually helpful only when it helps highlight some nuance in context. I’ve also read Steve Mason’s interesting discussion of Paul’s εὐαγγέλιον.

            Paul was not completely dependent upon ecstatic visions for everything he already must have known about Jesus and the proclaimed significance of his death and resurrection as an unexpected, even cursed messiah. He knew at least something that motivated his persecution of the sect prior to his own vision(s). Even after his own visionary encounter, he would still recount the appearances of Christ to Cephas, James, and many others before his own encounter and even after 14 years of preaching his gospel among the gentiles, he would still submit it to the Jerusalem leaders in order to make sure that he was had not been running in vain.

            Hurtado shows how Paul’s language about the Lord’s supper may be well understood as something he believed ultimately could be traced back to the Lord rather than through a more immediate vision. His differentiation between Paul’s language in Corinthians and Galatians is worthwhile: https://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2017/12/11/greek-prepositions-and-careful-exegesis/

            Do you disagree with his differentiation of απο + genitive vs a dative? If so, why?

          • JDTabor
            JDTabor  September 9, 2020

            I know Hurtado’s argument but I don’t think Greek is used in such precise ways. Either meaning is possible. My sense is that he gets it from Jesus directly comes more from the view that such a bizarre practice, in contrast to Qumran messianic meals, or what we find in the Didache, I just can’t trace back to Jesus, unless the original language was along the lines Chilton has suggested–see his famous Bible Review Article. This is my blood, my body–no lamb, but bread and wine. No sacrifice. A kind of “Ebionite” reading. Paul definitely get specific WORDS of this type that he claims are from Jesus…like in 1 These 4…again, I guess this could be pass on traditions but we have no record of such specificity…1 Cor 15 the same…it is so detailed, where is he getting this stuff. It has no precise literary parallel. And 2 Cor 12 back up the idea, as my book shows, that he is deeply bought into this sort of thing.

  15. kt@rg.no
    kt@rg.no  August 31, 2020

    Very interesting !

    From my persepctive, I can see the hellenistic ideology shining through some of the Christian theology, in particular through Gnosticism (particular the ideas of the descending and ascending soul in the Apocryphon of John and the Gospel of Philip) That these esoteric judaistic ideas have paralells to hellenistic beliefs is compelling, but also Mesopotanian (sumarian) ideas of the Innana Journey of the underworld, and the ancient Egyptian Journey through the solar barque through the 12 gates, and the “Solomon dance of the 7 veils”. This sets a pretty good stage of the Judaistic christian Gnosticism which according to John D. Turner (biblical scolar of Gnosticism) are open to that at least the Barbeloite branch of Sethian gnosticism had a pre-christian origin.

    For me, as a unscholar, it seems that some of the ideas shine through the cannonized christianity too(like a few examples , like. the opening in Gospel of John, and perhaps also Pauls vision of the 3. heaven as mentioned, and the book of Revelation.

    Since I see so many similarities with those Gnostic/Hellenistic etc ideas mentioned above, symbology,the use of tecnics/ritual (5 seal) like deep meditation and extatic visions (in spirit?) I’ve changed my view of the Revelation 10-15 years ago to a vision of the soul ascend where the symbology, the places and beasts are internal spiritual processes. For me it just looks like a similar story, a story of of the soul ascend found in the Gnostic/hellenistic/sumarian/egyptian ideas mentioned above.

    How do you consider the book of Revelation in relationship to this hellenistic influences at that time?

    • JDTabor
      JDTabor  September 1, 2020

      You are singing in my Choir, or me in yours…see my reference above to Geoff…as for the book of Revelation, it is a very complex work with layers…there are those dualistic “gnostic” elements, but also a strongly political message, “on the ground” so to speak, so I would not tend to agree with you that it refers to internal spiritual processes…I would set it very solidly in the time of Nero-Domitian…and like Daniel, what was most expected never came, i.e. Rev 11.

      • kt@rg.no
        kt@rg.no  September 1, 2020

        Thank you.
        I had this Nero/Roman view too for a long time, and I agree that it has a whole lot of similarities, even I’ve always found it hard to believe the usage of such an exsensively use of so difficult symbology that you almost have to use an Enigma maschine to decipher just to make a comfort story for your followers (which was mostly illiterate, perhaps uneducated and most had never been to Rome to know the references). It would have been a real waste of time and energy to make such a overly complicated story for so little.

        So much can be written on this, but in short, I find so many similarities to the spiritual realm described by the Gnostics of the soul descend and ascend, including the symbology and numerology (use of 7, 6, even 666, and 12 etc). The Gnostics seems to have their visions through these rituals (5 seals) and meditation (“in spirit”) a vision of going through the the 5 physical elements, then leaving the 7 soul garments, and then through the 12 states of mind, to the bridal chamber and unity with God (also protrayed in the beautiful “Pearl of the Hymn” , a beautiful example story).

        I’m not claiming the Revelation to be Gnostic, even I find a lot of different similarities (i.e. Chapter 12,,, and many more). To put it short, when I read it now, it seems to me that it tells a similar soul ascend story, using some of the same (kind) of symbology, the same kind of goal, and received it “in spirit”.

    • JDTabor
      JDTabor  September 2, 2020

      Yes, most all of the literature of this period belongs in these broad categories of Hellenistic religiosity, see my quotation from JZ Smith above to Geoff…it is so on target in my view. What distinguishes some forms of “gnosticism” from more general Hellenistic expressions of dualistic religiosity, is the idea of an Evil Creator/Demiurge, which is an extension of the general dualism of the period, but it is a logical extension thereof in some ways. The point is we humans are in this lower material world of death, tragedy, sin and Fate, whereas we belong potentially in the world above, which is full of light and life. Salvation is “getting out” or “getting home.” Moving from the imperfect and temporary to the transcendent and eternal. It of necessity involved apotheosis, however you define it. You can view this on the horizontal temporal line of history and it works the same, this age becomes the one characterized by death, Fate, and sin, and the “age to come” is your transition to the perfected world beyond. That is why “age” and “world” really mean much the same thing. Up or down, now or then…the “salvation” brings what Paul calls the release from the bondage to decay. Now Paul is very “ungnostic” in that he says in Romans 8 that the human state in our perishing world was willed by God–not some alien being. It is not a mistake, a Fall, but stage one of God bringing many sons into glory. It is all in the book 🙂

  16. Avatar
    Eskil  August 31, 2020

    Do you think this passage in 2. Corinthians could be reference to the apocryphal book of Life of Adam and Eve?


    • JDTabor
      JDTabor  September 1, 2020

      I hate to keep saying, See my book! But yes, all that is discussed…and many more similar texts…

  17. Avatar
    eblevine  August 31, 2020

    I have been trying to clarify my thinking about Paul’s view of the continued validity of the law for Jews. I am very partial to your argument in Paul and Jesus that Paul radically broke from Judaism in teaching that Christ replaced the law, even for Jews, not just for pagan Christians. Yet, I just finished Paula Federiksen’s Paul the Pagan’s Apostle, and she is in the opposite camp, claiming that Paul always believed that the law remained in force for Jews. Moreover, Frederiksen and many other modern scholars claim that the view that Paul radically broke from Judaism is tinged with the anti-Judaism of traditional scholars, who had to see the “good” Paul as in opposition to “bad” Judaism. I get that point, but I still find persuasive your argument that Paul’s statements about the law radically departed from the Judaism of his time. Yet, perhaps my own Jewish perspective biases me to that view.

    I’d love to know how, if at all, your thinking has changed on this issue since Paul and Jesus, what you think of Federiksen’s position on this issue, and how your view is different from the “traditional” view that she criticizes.

    • JDTabor
      JDTabor  September 1, 2020

      I am with you all the way on that–although with Paul, it is tricky, as he plainly says he has different ways of dealing with the continued validity of the Torah and its observances in different contexts or circumstances…you know, “to the Jew” and “to those outside the Torah” etc. So yes, Paul can be “seen” to be observant (reflected in Acts 21–which I think might be a pretty accurate reflection of the way he might have dealt with James). I love Paul’s work. Let me begin there. Here critique of “N.T. Wrong” is just brilliant in CBQ…but I absolutely can not go with Gaston-Gager-Nanos, et al. on the Jews not only keeping Torah but not needing salvation in Christ. That is why Jason Staples approach to Romans 9-11 is so important and so brilliant. It allows an entirely different set of possibilities to emerge. In my book, Paul and Jesus, I deal with your question in great detail and I take the position that the entire Sinai revelation is valid but “passing” or fading, as per 2 Cor. 3, etc. but that the imminent eschatology is the missing key to this whole discussion. The “form” or skema of this world is passing, and that affects social relations, circumcision, marriage, and just about everything else…but it is a process, already but not yet…He continues to live “between two worlds.”

  18. Avatar
    Brand3000  September 1, 2020

    Profs. Ehrman and Tabor,

    “For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” – This is the NRSV, (the version scholars favor)

    Prof. James Tabor: “Paul…says the Christian hope is not to become “naked,” escaping the body, but to be “reclothed.”

    Is this where Profs. Ehrman and Tabor differ? Dr. Tabor takes the view that there are two ENTIRELY DIFFERENT bodies involved. According to Tabor’s exegesis, at resurrection the earthly body is COMPLETELY SHED rather than TRANSFORMED with some CONTINUITY to the earthly body.

    In Sum: Dr. Ehrman says that Paul presumes that Jesus’ place of burial (if there was one) would have been left vacant at resurrection. Dr. Tabor seems to go with the notion that Paul would have thought that Jesus’ earthly body would have continued to rot.

    • JDTabor
      JDTabor  September 1, 2020

      Yes, we disagree on that one and I think I am pretty much alone in my view as most everyone else has gone with the continuity idea. N.T. Wright waves eloquent on this, and I see John Granger Cook has a whole section on it in his massive Empty Tomb, Resurrection, and Apotheosis volume. To me continuity is not the point. Bodies perish, they go to ash and dust, or to the sea–but they are “brought forth” from the realm of the dead in a new transformed way. That is the key to me. You don’t need body parts or elements. Of course there is continuity–in the sense that the new “life giving spirit” form of the person, like Christ, is still THAT person, but dealing with the “flesh and blood” elements are irrelevant. I hate that this whole thing ends up of interest to people because of those folks who want to argue the “empty tomb.” to prove Jesus was resurrected–a real resuscitated body walked around, wounds and all, but somehow transformed, able to eat (and poop?) but also pass through walls? Looks, resurrection of the dead in 1 Cor 15 is not about how to get dead bodies transformed, it is about participation–will those who have died be INCLUDED in the metamorphosis at the Parousia…and Paul’s answer–Yes! I am not sure what Paul would think of the body “left behind” in the case of Jesus, but I think he is thinking more along the lines of shedding the flesh somehow (not sure what residue that would leave in a fresh corpse) and immediate ascent to heaven and glorification…thus his new body in the case of Jesus is glorious beyond any description…yes, the oak tree comes from the acorn, but as Paul says, the acorn must essentially perish and what comes forth is nothing like what was “planted.” I love the description of Romulus ascending to the heavens in Ovid: “His mortal body became thin, dissolving in the air, as a lead pellet shot by a broad sling will melt away in the sky. Suddenly he had such a beautiful form more worthy of the high couches [gods who dwell in heaven].” I guess there is continuity there, but who cares…the old is gone, the new is indescribably different. On the whole issue of continuity see Robert Kuhn’s wonderful programs:” What is in a Resurrection” and “Why a Body in the Resurrection” (PBS show at Closertotruth.com). Wonderful philosophical discussion. The idea of a body is “mode of existence.” Death is not annihilation, but it is “inactivated sleep” to use a metaphor, not fully participatory life in the age to come–which is not here yet.

      • Avatar
        charleswood426@gmail.com  September 1, 2020

        Very good: clear teaching> literal from understanding the basic (literal) meaning.

        • JDTabor
          JDTabor  September 2, 2020

          Yea, for us today looking at a box of cremated ashes scattered in the wind is likely the best experience we have of the “natural” body perishing…and yes, there is “continuity,” but not with those ashes and dust in the wind! The continuity is that the “dead” sleep in that dust, and awake, but in a transformed spiritual body. This is clear in Paul…and I think even in texts like Daniel 12. The thing that has confused people is the idea of a Parousia before the final end in which those “living” are transformed on the spot…so yes, their “meltdown” of the flesh and blood state can look like that is the picture of resurrection, but it really is not. Resurrection is for the dead, but metaphorphosis is for all. It is the empty tomb thing in the gospels that throws everyone off, as it looks like resurrection in the case of Jesus is some kind of revived corpse walking out of a tomb, eating and drinking, and then ascending to heaven. I think the earliest view of Jesus’ resurrection was ascent and glorification…and that was Paul’s view. What is “left behind” I am not sure, as to what he thinks. He does say Jesus was buried…but in three days you don’t have time for the “sleeping in the dust” idea to come about…but the process is the same. It has very little to do with the former body, already rotting in the grave. If I had to guess I would think Paul might have thought the corpse body maybe melted away or whatever, but not sure.

  19. kt@rg.no
    kt@rg.no  September 2, 2020

    It seems to be that there are and ever larger Jewish acceptance of a more esoteric view of the Hebrew Bible, like how the Kabbalists later compiled their version of the ideology. Much of the story from the origin, through Adam Kadmon, and descending through 5 (4 ) worlds (levels of counciousness), and the process of ascending and unification. In my view, much are princippially similar with the Gnostic view(s) of soul descend and soul ascend.

    This also affect the view of the Hebrew bible, in particular, but not alone, the Genisis. Even the book of Daniel, Ezeciel, and Isaiah (in particular Chapter 40 and onward) could easily fall into this category.(and more).

    I’m well aware, even facinated by the hellenistic influences like Platon/Neo Planto and Neo-Pythagoreanism, and ancient Egyptian/Sumarian influences in the esoteric part of Christianity/Judaism, who deeply reflects on “conciousness” or “level of conciousness”. From this perspective, the creation/acend similarities with hinduism may be striking sometime, and even the cosmic man (son of man? /Adam Kadmon/Anthropos Adam),

    Hinduism was well established(written materials from the 2. tempel periode and onward, and also shared the view of level of conciousness as a fundament of excistence. And, for them, some similar ideas were just mainstream religion.

    Do you think there are a hinduistic influence in the esoteric Christian/jewish views?

    • JDTabor
      JDTabor  September 2, 2020

      You just hit on the BIG question in terms of the history and flow of ideas in Western antiquity. The first hint we get of this notion that “heaven is our home,” in such contrast to the ANE, are the so-called “Golden Plates,” these gold foil lamellae found in a few dozen tombs around the Mediterranean world. The great confession of the soul in the lower world in these texts is “I am a child of earth and starry heaven, but heaven alone is my home.” This “Gnosis” is what can free you from the Chthonic powers below–not the reference to guardians, and escaping the cycle of birth and death. These are dated 400 BCE. We also find in Empedocles the same idea: “I was once a bird, a fish, and now a Man, I wept, I wept, when I saw this dreadful place.” Jumping to Plato and we find it fairly full blown in the Phaedo and the Timaeus. So the question is, where and how and by whom did the idea take hold? The idea that it came from the East is very appealing to me, but so far as I know it is still a guess. I do know that once it is out there it is irresistible, as it EXPLAINS everything we find hard or challenging about life–reference here Bart’s book on theodicy. Whether death or disease or tragedy or suffering or any of the horrors of. history–in this “veil of tears,” suddenly disappears. I call this the “Idea that Took over the World.” I have a BAS lecture on this if you want to look it up. Also the texts are on my university site, here is the URL: https://pages.uncc.edu/james-tabor/hellenistic-roman-religion-philosophy/dualism/.

      I really don’t have any big problem with people wanting to believe such things. It seems pretty irresistible and it is not going away. But it does affect things socially, especially human sexuality, and that gets into ethics. See my thoughts on that here: https://jamestabor.com/the-non-sexual-life-a-misplaced-sense-of-holiness/

  20. Avatar
    Brand3000  September 2, 2020

    Dr. Tabor,

    Your writings seem to indicate that you believe that the appearances of the risen Jesus were private, internal events, in layman’s terms, hallucinations, but what about the appearances to groups such as 1 Cor. 15:6?

    • JDTabor
      JDTabor  September 9, 2020

      We of course know of mass visionary experiences in our time and in ancient reports, see Cook’s book I mentioned earlier…I can’t really say anything about whether what one claims to “see” or experience is “internal” or “external” and it seems Paul implies the same with his “in the body” or “out of the body” qualification. As those observing or listening to the testimony, we simply hear what is being claimed…and as historians that becomes part of our data…either first, second, or whatever hand removed from the “witness.” I long ago decided I am not judge of anyone’s “spiritual” experience, and can only listen. But I have a very skeptical ear, though I have not in my own worldview reduced things to “atoms and the void” as per Jacque Monad. See my personal blog, Genesia.org where I write of those sorts of things.

      • Avatar
        Brand3000  September 9, 2020

        Dr. Tabor,

        1 Corinthians 15:6 “Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.” On the topic of 1 Cor. 15:6 itself, you think that there was some kind of actual event that is being referenced here, correct?

        • JDTabor
          JDTabor  September 13, 2020

          I can’t really answer that since various “spiritual” experiences, whether internal or external, are difficult to define in terms of a word “actual,” usually meaning either “genuine,” or if not, at least “really” experienced as opposed to someone just making something up for his or her own purposes–which I am also sure happens quite often. People do and claim things for many reasons, and one can of course be “self-deluded” or just a plain fakery. That is why I love Lucian’s stories of religious charlatans. They ring so true to our day as well, proving again, when it comes to the human there is nothing new under the sun. I would give Paul the benefit of the doubt here and assume he is reporting something that was reported to him about a mass apparition of some type, when and where we don’t know. Much like the “appearance” to James, that only survives in certain Hebrew gospels fragments quoted by the church “fathers.” Clearly Paul’s rundown of the “sightings” does not correspond too well to a mishmash of gospel accounts…so we are left with what he claims he “received.”

          • Avatar
            Brand3000  September 13, 2020

            Dr. Tabor,

            Just to follow-up. Do you think, even if it is by a preponderance, that 1 Cor. 15:6 is rooted in some kind of experience that people had of a mass apparition of some type?

          • JDTabor
            JDTabor  September 21, 2020

            Brand3000, I must apologize as I am not really following your follow-up…as I thought I addressed this in my reply…I think all we can say is Paul reports this…I doubt he made it up, he has “received” it somehow, passed along, like a story. However, to know the basis of that story, when, where, by whom, etc. who knows. If I had to guess I would put it in the Galilee, something like Matt 28…with people seeing and some doubting…or on the Sea of Galilee as the word spread that Jesus is still walking around and appearing…but who knows or possibly could know.

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