We come now to the third part of James Tabor’s guest post thread on the biological father of Jesus, where he proposes a controversial solution that will surely spark some reactions!  Are you convinced?  Inclined to be convinced?  Not at all convinced?  Let us know what you think!

Again, these posts are tied to James’s forthcoming book The Lost Mary: How the Jewish Mother of Jesus Became the Virgin Mother of God (Knopf).


Part III

These earliest references to Pantera stand in the sharpest contrast to several dozen much later references in rabbinic literature that slanderously charged that Jesus was the illegitimate son of a man named Pantera, with whom his mother had committed adultery.[1] And it was this story that then got passed on beyond Jewish circles—including to the philosopher Celsus, who identifies it as a tale passed on by Jews.

Several early Christian writers, responding to these charges that Jesus was the adulterous “son of Pantera,” a Roman soldier, counter with the explanation that the name Pantera was an ancestral name in Jesus’ family lineage, so it would be appropriately used, not as the name of Jesus’ biological father, but as a designation of his general family ancestry. This would be like the way in which the term Hasmonean came to be used for those descended from Asamonaeus or Hasmon—a forebearer of this famous priestly family. Josephus, for example, says of his ancestry, “Moreover, on my mother’s side I am of royal blood; for the posterity of Asamonaeus from whom she sprang, for a very considerable period were kings, as well as high-priests of our nation.”[2] In that general sense, these writers claim, Jesus could be identified as a “son of Pantera.”

Epiphanius, an early fourth-century Christian writer, claims the name is from Joseph’s side of the family.[3] This is of course possible, but less likely than a related claim. John of Damascus, a sixth-century CE church father, introduces the name into the genealogy of Mary, stating that she was the daughter of Joachim, who was the son of a certain Bar Panther, who was the son of Levi, presumably surnamed Pantera.[4] This is rather remarkable, as it would put the name Pantera into Mary’s royal/priestly line. The sixth-century CE Jewish Christian author of the Teachings of Jacob quotes a Jewish teacher from Tiberius who claims to know the genealogy of Mary. He writes she is “the daughter of Joakim, and her mother was Anna. Now Joakim is son of Panther, and Panther was brother of Melchi, as the tradition of us Jews in Tiberias has it, of the seed of Nathan, the son of David, of the seed of Judah.”[5] It is difficult to imagine these Greek Christian writers making a place for the name Panthera (or Pantera) in the genealogical records of Mary, Jesus’ mother, unless they had warrant for it in Eastern Christian tradition. It does not surprise me that the name was completely lost in the West and became a mark of slander, since Luke’s genealogy of Mary was usually downplayed in favor of Matthew’s royal line of David through Solomon.

Unfortunately, beyond this idea that Pantera is a name from the families of Mary and Joseph, who might well have been related, we have little to go on.

Outside Israel the name Pantera is relatively common as a Roman cognomen or surname, with several examples referring to Roman soldiers.[6] One in particular, noted by Adolf Deissmann in 1910, has caught the attention of several scholars, including Morton Smith, who suggested it might be the only authentic “relic” of the historical Jesus. It is a tombstone monument of a first-century Roman soldier named Pantera near the Roman camp at Bingerbrück on the Rhine River in Germany. Here is the Latin with an English translation:

Tib. Iul. Abdes. Pantera.                                   Tiberius Julius Abdes Pantera

Sidonia. Ann. LXII.                                                  of Sidon, aged 62

Stipen. XXXX. Miles. Exs.                              A soldier of 40 years’ service,

Coh. I. sagittariorum.                                     of the 1st cohort of archers,

  1. s. e.                                                                         lies here

Julius Abdes Pantera was an archer in the Roman army. He was from Sidon, just north of the upper Galilee on the Mediterranean coast of Syria, only sixty miles from Nazareth and he served as a Roman soldier for forty years in the first century CE. He was apparently a slave, freed for his service sometime in the reign of Tiberius (14-37 CE)—honoring the emperor by taking on his name. It is possible he might have been Jewish, based on the name Abdes.  I have traveled to Germany several times to examine the tombstone and learn what I could about this Julius Abdes Pantera and his career. The tombstone is now in the Römerhalle Museum in Bad Kreuznach not far from the original Roman camp at Bingerbrück. Today there are modern roads and apartments built over the spot. The Roman camp, from what I could tell in consulting with local archaeologists, was nearby on the banks of the Nahe River, which still has foundations of a bridge from Roman times. However, more recent research on the details of Julius Abdes Pantera’s career, has established that this Roman archer Pantera was definitely not a soldier at the time Mary would have become pregnant. Whether he was Jewish, and perhaps taken as a slave into the Roman army, remains a possibility.[7]

The idea that Mary was raped by a Roman soldier has been most ably defended by Jane Schaberg.[8] Needless to say, the backlash on that idea has been massive. The argument she makes is that given the times in which Mary lived, and especially the unrest in the Galilee we have seen following the death of Herod the Great, unless Mary willingly violated her engagement, rape is the most likely scenario with a Roman soldier, perhaps named Pantera, as the father. I see several problems with this possibility. First, our earliest ancient source that identifies Pantera as a Roman soldier is the text from Celsus in the late 2nd century, and he says nothing about rape. Quite the contrary, he asserts that Mary and Pantera choose to be together, despite her engagement to Joseph. Second, at the time of the birth of Jesus, which was nearly two years prior to Herod’s death in March 4 BCE, we know of no disturbances in Galilee that would account for women being raped.  Roman soldiers were not stationed in Sepphoris or around Nazareth, but in Syria to the north, under the command of Varus. Herod was in firm control of things around the time Jesus was born.

It should also be noted that in the case of this Pantera of Sidon, he would not have to be in the Roman army at the time Mary became pregnant with Jesus. He might well have either joined or been conscripted into the Roman army after Jesus was born, and thus the rumor circulated that Mary had gotten pregnant from a Roman soldier. Since we have sources that claim that Pantera was a name known in the family of Mary, it is entirely possible that Mary became involved with someone by that name, associated with her extended family, even before her marriage to Joseph was arranged by her parents, whether that Pantera became a Roman soldier subsequently or not.

We can assume that Mary’s parents must have considered Joseph the best match for her—perhaps given his artisan’s trade and some degree of social status. Disagreements over the choice of marriage partners is probably as frequent a topic of contention in families as any other. It is entirely possible that Mary was already involved with Pantera, had become pregnant and kept it to herself, but then when presented with the marriage firmly stood her ground, honoring the child growing within her as a gift of God.

How Joseph comes into the picture we don’t know. Nor do we know whether he was indeed older, or the pick of the family, or whatever, but he appears to be a “good man,” and he can be honored for that. Jesus’ biological father, whoever he might have been, disappears. Whether he was caught up in the massive exile of the upper Galilee after the 4 BCE revolts, or he joined the Roman army, or he met with any number of other possible fates—we will never know.

No one cannot possibly know what Mary might have told Jesus about his father, if she chose to relate to her son the circumstances or exact story of his birth. Jesus might well have grown up under the stigma of being called “son of Mary,” with no father named, as we have seen in our earliest text—the gospel of Mark. Mary may well have stood firm in her choice of his father—no matter what wagging tongues might imply to the contrary and decided to go ahead with her arranged marriage given her circumstances. Only a woman knows the inner secrets of her heart, and with whom and why she decides to share her bed. Maybe Mary believed in destiny. Maybe she raised Jesus with a sense of his specialness, his uniqueness, precisely because she loved his father. We simply have no way of knowing or verifying any of these speculations. But yes, Jesus had a father, as all of us do. And if his name was Pantera, what early evidence we have would make him part of the family clan.


[1] Peter Schäfer, Jesus in the Talmud is the best study of these later materials. Without claiming they give us accurate historical information, Schäfer shows that such references, even though often cryptic, do in fact refer to Jesus of Nazareth. This is in sharp contrast to Johann Maier, who denies there are any significant references to Jesus in the rabbinic literature, see his magnum opus, Jesus von Nazareth in der talmudischen Überlieferung (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1978). The tradition carries well into the middle ages, with the polemical Jewish treatise known as Toledot Yeshu that exists in many versions, see Krauss, Das Leben Jesu nach jüdischen Quellen, Nachdruck der Ausgabe Berlin 1902 (Hildesheim: G. Olms, 2006), who includes nine different versions of the text. Many of the English translations omit the “seduction scene” as too offensive.

[2] Josephus, Life 1.

[3] Epiphanius, The Panarion, De Fide II and III 78:7-5 through 8:2.

[4] John of Damascus, De Fid. Orthod. iv, 14

[5] Doctrina Jacobi V.16, 209. See Doctrina Jacobi nuper Baptizati, in G. Dagron and V. Déroche, “Juifs et chrétiens dans l’Orient du VIIe siècle,” Travaux et Mémoires 11 (1991) 17-248, that contains an edition of the Greek text with French translation.

[6] Adolf Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East: The New Testament Illustrated by Recently Discovered Texts of the Greco-Roman World, trans. Lionel R. M. Strachen, from the 1922 revised 4th German edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1965), pp. 73-75. Deissmann published a more extensive treatment in his 1906 article “Der Name Panthera,” Orientalische Studien T. Nöldeke gewidmet (Brunnen Verlag: Giessen, 1906): 871-875. He gives a half dozen examples of the name Pantera published in Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum—the comprehensive multi-volume collection of Latin inscriptions from the Roman world—including the Bingerbrück tombstone of the Sidonian archer. See also the summary of L. Patterson, “Origin of the Name Pantera,” The Journal of Theological Studies 19, no 73 (October 1917): 79–80.

[7] The best and most recent study is by Christopher B. Zeichmann, “Jesus ‘ben Pantera’: An Epigraphic and Military Historical Note,” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 18 (2020): 141-155.

[8] Jane Schaberg, The Illegitimacy of Jesus: A Feminist Theological Interpretation of the Infancy Narratives, Expanded Twentieth Anniversary Edition, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press Ltd, 2006). For reactions see her prologue “Feminism Lashes Back: Responses to the Backlash,” pp. 3-10.

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2023-09-26T13:06:32-04:00September 26th, 2023|Public Forum|

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  1. giselebendor September 26, 2023 at 7:22 am

    Mary’s age at her betrothal and/or conception is assumed to be between 12-16 years of age.Extensive range,considering that pregnancy and delivery at 12 could have left Mary injured and unable to have more children.And yet,Mary still had many more.
    Or Mary could have been infertile at such a young age.In fact,it is disturbing that so many of the matriarchs and mothers of Biblical important males-including Elizabeth,the Baptist’s mother-were barren,until “the Lord opened their wombs”.(Sarah,Rebecca,Rachel,Hanna,Samson’s mother,Elizabeth and one other).For example,whilst Rachel was “barren”,Leah,who was older,had children right away.
    Back then they were given in marriage as young as age 9.It would have taken them a few years to be able to conceive,both on account of their very young age and of the trauma of any kind of sex,consensual or not,that early on.Therefore,they were branded barren.This practice was still occurring in Iran-at the very least-in the 19th century,as photographs of these infinitely sad young girls in their festive wedding attires prove.These are available in books and museums.

    My point is that I doubt Mary would have consented to sex being so young.Or perhaps this factor could help fine- tune Mary’s age at conception,to determine how likely it would have been that she either consented to sex or was indeed raped.

    • JDTabor October 3, 2023 at 8:24 am

      Yes, lots of possibilities here, and variables…and it is hard to know much about village life and customs in Galilee in the time of Herod and his son Antipas…Of course in our own time, which I am not saying is parallel, my grandmother was 14 when she married, and this was quite common at the turn of the 19th century–lots more going back on both sides of my family. I think there are rabbinic materials on the topic but then the challenge is how reflective they are of earlier practices…thanks for your observations here.

      • dankoh October 5, 2023 at 11:54 am

        I don’t know specifically about first century Judaea, but it has often been common for people to marry around 13-17. The Talmud considers a boy an adult at 13 (hence the modern bar mitzvah), and a girl able to have sex at 9 (one authority said 3!), though I don’t recall that they recommended it. In an era (as in many eras) with high mortality and life expectancy less than 40, it made sense to marry at an age we would now consider too young.

    • Manasseh October 6, 2023 at 6:01 pm

      Has the “virgin” birth account as seen in the Gospel of the Kailedy been considered? It seems the most likely from my novice perspective.

    • ideamiles November 5, 2023 at 8:07 pm

      @Giselebendor (1/3)

      I don’t think age could be used to determine consent, if what you mean by consent is a contemporary legal or feminist judgment of sexual ethics. By today’s standard, if a 13-year-old and a 12-year-old sleep with each other, they do so non-consensually by definition because their sexual autonomy is not legally recognized. In contrast, if I understand correctly, ancient Jews would see the 13-year-old as able to consent, but possibly not the 12-year-old, and if the older were male, then he would be liable to pay damages to the girl’s father (her protector, or if you’re of a more cynical bent, her property owner).

    • ideamiles November 5, 2023 at 8:09 pm

      @Giselebendor (2/3)

      As for health issues related to childbirth, if I recall from my EMT cert classes, a healthy teenager should be able to give birth just fine (and this is unfortunately quite common for field medics, as many teens don’t have health insurance, are hiding their pregnancy from their parents, or sometimes don’t even know they’re pregnant until they go into labor and call for an ambulance). I don’t deny that chances for birth complications do increase the lower or higher in age a mother is, though. And for context, my first EMS instructor was one of Los Angeles County’s first female paramedics, and I completed my clinicals and certification after two tries, but ultimateley decided emergency medicine just isn’t for me.

    • ideamiles November 5, 2023 at 8:11 pm

      @Giselebendor (3/3)

      Personally I think it’s much more likely the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible matriarchs were so often barren due to cousin marriage causing genetic defects–the same thing happened in Charles Darwin’s family after engaging in cousin marriage.

  2. mathieu September 26, 2023 at 11:16 am

    Why do you say: “… Luke’s genealogy of Mary … ” when Luke clearly says: “He was the son (as was thought) of Joseph son of Heli,*” [Luke 3-23, USA, National Council of Churches. New Revised Standard Version Updated Bible]?

    Luke’s genealogy is clearly very different than Matthew’s, but in my reading, both track Jesus’s lineage through Joseph.

    The NRSV is worded differently than most other translations I have read. In fact, there are so many different wordings in different translations, that it seems as if someone is just making stuff up. I have no doubt the original authors of the bible stories just made stuff up, but it seems as if the practice is still going on today.

    • JDTabor October 3, 2023 at 9:12 am

      Yup, I am the “lone ranger” in that regard since everyone who suggests the idea of Luke being the lineage of Joseph the father is normally thought to be trying to “harmonize” things since the two lists are so different–that was the approach of the Church Fathers, trying to work out the obvious contradictions. Bauckham (Jude and the Relatives of Jesus https://amzn.to/3Q0Q75i) has some good arguments that the document Luke used was “real” not made up, though he does not say it is likely Mary’s as I do. The key thing to notice is that in Matthew the descendants of David are through king Solomon–but in Luke the otherwise hardly known son of David, Nathan–not the prophet but one of Bathsheva’s other sons. Not a thing noted about him–but oddly enough his clan is mentioned in Zechariah 12:10ff addressed to the “House of David” but specifying the that lineage…very odd and no one is quite sure what to do with that…it is quoted in the NT of course as applying to Jesus!

  3. Robert September 26, 2023 at 12:01 pm

    Professor Tabor: “These earliest references to Pantera stand in the sharpest contrast to several dozen much later references in rabbinic literature that slanderously charged that Jesus was the illegitimate son of a man named Pantera, with whom his mother had committed adultery.”

    If I understand correctly, you date the story in the Tosefta as roughly a century earlier than the account by Celsus, based on the dating of Eleazar ben Dama, a character in the story. And some conservative Talmudic scholars do pay close attention to biographical dating of the people quoted, but I am also under the impression that more critical scholars date the material based more on when we think the writings would have been produced. Thus the written form of the Tosefta would probably date to about the same time as the writing of Celsus.

    Can you point me to a scholarly discussion of this question of dating statements in rabbinic literature based on the attribution to a particular speaker?

    • JDTabor September 29, 2023 at 8:21 am

      I think there is a general consensus that these rabbinic texts in their current written form come to us much later–2nd to 3rd centuries, but when they pass along stories, sayings, and accounts of these early Tannaim, set in Sepphoris or associated with Shikin–with the village of Nazareth a kind of “suburb,” or name figures such as Hillel, Akiba, Eliezer, etc. I think we can evaluate that material for some historical possibilities. See, for example, Jacob Neusner’s attempt to write a “biography” of Yochanan ben Zakkai…he is very careful about method and his work in this regard is really worth considering. It is much like Luke or John–which many put in the early 2nd century–but they reflect Herodian Jerusalem and Galilee in the early first century, despite theological overlay.

      • Robert September 29, 2023 at 1:31 pm

        Professor Tabor: “Jacob Neusner … he is very careful about method.”

        I do very much enjoy the work of Jacob Neusner for what it is, but I am also mindful of the criticisms of the likes of Solomon Zeitlin with respect to Neusner’s methodology: “… the book is a great disappointment. … he did not utilize proper Rabbinical literature. He did not differentiate between legend and history. … Some of the author’s statements … even betray his lack of comprehension of the history of the period. … This type of scholarship is harmful to true scholarship.”


        • JDTabor September 30, 2023 at 10:25 am

          Yes, well aware of the critique…and Zeitlin’s opinion and why he found Jack’s work so threatening…also was present at the SBL when Morton Smith denounced Neusner…I had breakfast with Smith that morning…but that had more to do with translation…not this issue. The idea of separating legend from history is what it is all about. On the book I mentioned, and not sure if Zeitlin is commenting on that or not, I think it is a watershed.

          • Robert September 30, 2023 at 10:40 am

            Professor Tabor: “On the book I mentioned, and not sure if Zeitlin is commenting on that or not …”

            Yes, it was Zeitlin’s review of Neusner’s book on Yochanan ben Zakkai. See the link I posted above. Interesting story about breakfast with Morton Smith.

          • Robert October 1, 2023 at 8:05 am

            Professor Tabor: “Yes, well aware of the critique…and Zeitlin’s opinion and why he found Jack’s work so threatening…”

            Very interesting! I would love to hear more about this. Why did Solomon Zeitlin find Jacob Neusner’s work so threatening?

          • JDTabor October 2, 2023 at 10:35 am

            I would suggest you just to a simple “Google” search for Neusner and Zeitlin for starters…it is all over the place. Zeitlin was very nasty…as was Lieberman about his translations…but Jack, whom I knew well, was not a shrinking violet…he answered back with force, though when his teacher Morton Smith raised objections to some of his work publicly at the SBL, with hundreds of folks there, Jack got up, and humbly said: “I honor my teacher and hope to continue learning.” When you get down to it though, in my view at least, Jack and his students advanced the historical and academic study of these Jewish sources far far beyond what the rabbinic world could take.

      • ChimpoChimperoo September 30, 2023 at 12:46 am

        Years ago, before I joined the blog, I sent private messages to Dr. Ehrman referencing my belief that there might be some credibility to the idea that Pantera might have been the real life father of Jesus. From the meager scatter shot approach I took of the issue from various books–many of them non scholarly, I determined that according to some, the fact that the rumor appeared in two separate non Christian traditions at relatively the same time period and that these two traditions were totally separate from each other and in addition that there was evidence as Dr. Tabor points out of the existence of an actual Pantera: (Tiberius Julius Abdes Pantera ) discovered in Germany in the 19th century that this presented a strong argument for Pantera as father.

        Dr. Ehrman sent me back a curt note saying that this was unlikely without much explanation. I am wondering why he now–about 4 years later–features Dr. Tabor on the blog who seems to lend credibility to the idea.

        • JDTabor September 30, 2023 at 10:12 am

          Well, I would have to agree…it is still unlikely, but so far as I know I was the first one to investigate it further, rather extensively, and I have not yet published all I have found about our Sidonian archer…One aside, did you know Thomas Hardy wrote a long poem Pantera, and the amazing poet James Whitehead a whole book of Pantera poems…see my blog posts on “Pantera,” there is a lot there. I am working with the preeminent Roman period archaeologist of the area around Bingerbrücke, so more to come…as I commented earlier on another post…

  4. stevenpounders September 26, 2023 at 12:07 pm

    This sounds like an enormous stretch based on late historical legends. Mark doesn’t even mention Joseph, much less any alternative fathers. Matthew and Luke agree on a few facts, like the names “Mary” and “Joseph”, but differ wildly on the birth narrative. There is plenty of motivation for the creation of these completely different birth narratives in the early Christian desire to present Jesus as the “son of God”. Doesn’t crediting these much later “Pantera” references make a grand assumption that there was something to explain away in the first place?

    Isn’t the most parsimonious explanation that we simply know next-to-nothing about Jesus’ birth and that the out-of-wedlock tradition was simply a necessary part of the legendary son-of-God traditions?

    • JDTabor September 29, 2023 at 9:18 am

      Thanks Steve, you are right that we know little to nothing about Joseph or even Mary–even though I just finished an entire book on Mary! Virgin conceptions are about as legendary as one can get, but I think the names in Mark, our earliest tradition–such as Simon of Cyrene and his sons Alexander and Rufus, are real people–BTW, what appears to be their ossuary was found in 1941 and I have examined and written about it somewhat extensively–see my blog. On one level we know “next-to-nothing” about any of the names in the gospels, unless they are well known figures like Herod, Pilate, et. al. Three of the apostles never say a word or do anything–James, Jude, and Simon (curiously, the same names as Jesus’ brothers in Mark). Others get one or two sayings–like Thomas or Philip in John–but in the Synoptics only the four fishermen are really highlighted, and of them we know almost nothing. We are often just cobbling together scraps here. I actually think the Tosefta references to Yeshua ben Pantera offer more weight, given time and geographical setting, than Mark, who never even mentions Joseph or any father.

      • stevenpounders September 29, 2023 at 6:31 pm

        Thank you for the thoughtful response (and I hope my original comment didn’t sound too dismissive)! Clearly there is a voluminous tapestry of legendary writings about Jesus to sift through!

      • hsourceofthebible September 30, 2023 at 2:23 am

        Given that Mark is not mentioning Joseph and the allegory drawn, have you Prof. James Tabor, considered the Dionysian angle. That is, have you considered taking a page out of Prof. Dennis McDonald and the rest of the Dionysian groups who have this link to the Panther and the Panther skin for Dionysus. Maybe its a way of tying the Panther. In the East, Lord Shiva is associated with Tiger Skins often. One should also point out that Sidon is also associated with Dionysus through the Temple of Eshmun.

        • JDTabor September 30, 2023 at 9:58 am

          I have not gone in that direction, as I think the most reliable sources might be the Tosefta references set in Sepphoris and associate with Shikin…See Bauckham’s work on Jacob of Shikin, in his Jude and the Relatives of Jesus volume. I do know Dennis and his work…but in this case I don’t see much that might apply. Our Sidonian archer I think has more to offer, but I am not ready to publish that yet…so stay tuned. I have been there four different times and am working with the preeminent Roman historian of the area, have located the Roman camp and some of the artifacts from the 1859 excavation. Those Germans keep everything!

          • hsourceofthebible September 30, 2023 at 1:22 pm

            Thank you Sir. I understand Celsus could have been the Epicurean Fahrenheit 9/11 of the Era. However I am going to request added latitude, by citing the second link — the name Abdes — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiberius_Julius_Abdes_Pantera.
            “The meaning of the name Abdes is up for speculation. Abd in Phoenician means “servant of”, and es is perhaps short for Eshmoun/Eshmun, a Phoenician god of healing and the tutelary god of Sidon. However, it is also possible that Pantera was ethnically (and/or religiously) Jewish, given his birthplace.” — it is possible that Abdes Pantera was a worshipper of Eshmun(by tradition). But it is also possible that the Eshmun/Dionysian connection was added in by Celsus and his friends who were opposing Christianity. Hellenstic Judaism in the context of the Syrio-Tarsic Pantheons in many ways is the larger framework from which we have early Christian tradition. It is neither from Rome nor from Jerusalem that it draws its full fledged origins. No doubt, these traditions are the eventual target of this New Faith drafted by Paul, Mark, Matthew, Luke and yes, John.

  5. fishician September 26, 2023 at 1:17 pm

    Am I correct in thinking that there was no Scriptural requirement for the Messiah to be born of a virgin? So does that imply that Matthew and Luke had other reasons for portraying that idea, perhaps as cover for a questionable father? Or perhaps that simply wanted to portray Jesus as quite literally a “son of God?”

    • JDTabor September 29, 2023 at 6:08 pm

      You got it…a bit of both I think…given the other evidence. Also note that Matthew is more about what should Joseph do now that his bride to be is pregnant…whereas Luke is about Mary being told about what was coming her way…a pregnancy by the agency of the Holy Spirit…

    • dankoh October 5, 2023 at 12:03 pm

      I’ll go a little further: there is no Scriptural (ie, Jewish Bible) requirement, expectation, or possibility that ANYONE could be born of a virgin; it wasn’t an Israelite or later Jewish idea.

  6. OmarRobb September 26, 2023 at 1:21 pm

    Let us analyze the following exercise that we will call here the “Alexander Paragraph”:

    {{Alexander the Great claimed that he is the son of the God “Zeus Ammon”. This is very surprising claim, but we know very well that the relationship between the son (Alexander) and his supposed father (Philip) was strained.

    Was Alexander Conceived out of Wedlock by Olympias?

    Philip was so busy in training his troops, and it might not be surprising for Olympias to have a short affair with one of the Generals. It is difficult to imagine that Alexander would suddenly deny his lineage to Philip and claim Ammon to be his father unless he was told by his mother about the truth.

    Did Alexander know his real true father, did he try to reach out, did he try to find his own paternal brothers and sisters! We simply have no way of knowing these small details, and all of these details are now lost to history}}.

    We all know without a doubt that the conclusions in this “Alexander Paragraph” are false. This the beauty of this exercise: we already know the answer.


    • OmarRobb September 26, 2023 at 1:23 pm


      However, the exercise here is to try and identify the “general logical fallacies” that are used in the “Alexander Paragraph” to prove logically that the conclusions in this “Paragraph” are false. So, we know they are false, but we want to know “why they are false”.

      It is not the “specific arguments” that we want here, but we want the “general” logical fallacies that were used in this “Alexander Paragraph”.

      After identifying the set of “logical fallacies” that can be used to prove that the conclusions in the “Alexander Paragraph” are false, then it would be fun to see if this set can be applied on the current article.


      Just a note:

      To my understanding, John of Damascus wasn’t a 6C-AD Scholar, but he was born in the late of 7C-AD and was active in the early of 8C-AD.

      Also, the “Teaching of Jacob” was highly likely written at the mid of 7C-AD as there were stories in it about the Muslim conquest to Palestine.

      And I wonder how some “claims” in the 7C & 8C AD are more reliable than a “claim” in the 4C-AD.

  7. wpoe54 September 27, 2023 at 10:08 am

    Such an interesting set of posts. Thank you (really enjoyed your talk at NINT). I’ve often wondered if Jews during the period Christianity developed knew relatives of Jesus and heard stories. After all, he had brothers and sisters and it seems likely at least some of them had families. Perhaps they kept their relations secret since, as you point out, people even saying good things about Jesus’s teachers were chastised for heresy.

    Are there any extant texts that mention relatives of Jesus other than the NT? Did any emperors go after relatives of Jesus?

    • JDTabor September 29, 2023 at 6:05 pm

      .Yes, there is a lot on this subject, especially about the Desposyni, the term used for blood-line the “relatives of the Lord,” in so-called Judaeo-Christian/Jewish Christian (I have both terms!) circles. Both Vespasian and Hadrian sought members of the house of David, to tamper down potential aspirants to some kind of messianic role, and two grandsons (or sons?) of Jude the brother of Jesus were arrested and tortured at one point. All the sources and a full discussions are in an excellent, too often overlooked book, by Richard Bauckham, Jude and the Relatives of Jesus (T&T Clark, 2004). It is pricey but worth its weight in whatever you want to measure it against! Happy reading…

  8. gavriel September 29, 2023 at 3:20 pm

    From Paul we learn that Jesus’ brothers joined the early movement, one of them becoming a “pillar”. Is this likely if they grew up in the shadow of some kind of illegtimate or scandalous ancestry?

    • JDTabor September 30, 2023 at 10:23 am

      Not so sure, if the pregnancy is not from Joseph, that it would be such a scandal if Joseph went ahead with the marriage…we just don’t have those kinds of records, but the whole point of Matthew’s story–in contrast to Luke–is that Mary was not exposed publicly but Jesus becomes “Yeshua bar Yehosef,” as we see several times in the N.T. I touch on this a bit in the post. We simply have no sources or ways to fill this kind of stuff in…

      • AngeloB October 7, 2023 at 10:06 pm

        Was James really an opponent of his brother Jesus’s ministry? Or is that a myth?

        • BDEhrman October 11, 2023 at 10:03 pm

          Hard to say. In the Gospels James definitely did not accept Jesus message (clearly in both Mark and John, e.g.)

  9. wpoe54 September 29, 2023 at 6:22 pm

    Thank you. I received the reply and greatly appreciate the reference. I have ordered the Baukham book through interlibrary loan.

  10. kellygene63 September 29, 2023 at 7:36 pm

    I’m amazed how we know so much about Pantera just some random archer in Roman military, and had such a big tombstone. And a name that possibly means servant and healer ironic since Jesus was healer. There was revolt at Sepphoris near Nazareth, Is possible Romans March through Nazareth going to or from Sepphoris, so some scholars say it’s fictitious anti-Christian story, but we could say same today about any scholar that isn’t a Christian today your either for or against the word. I have no idea what the truth is. Scholars often get hooked on we need the oldest text possible in order to know the truth, but maybe they had no clue in older test if Jesus had a father or not and just added some spice to the story, maybe people didn’t figure it out until much later who Jesus father was or wasn’t, just like scholars do now thousand years later.

  11. curtiswolf69 September 29, 2023 at 8:34 pm

    Could we consider a simpler answer? The story of Jesus’ supposed miraculous birth to a virgin could immediately be countered by Christianity’s critics who would suggest that Jesus’ birth is not that mysterious. His mother had an affair with someone other than Joseph. They would have no factual basis for this but it did not matter. As we know from current social media, an unverified rumor is enough to cast doubt on Jesus’ birth.

  12. michael324 October 1, 2023 at 12:14 pm

    The Gospels of Matthew and Luke say Mary was betrothed/pledged/engaged etc to Joseph when Jesus was born. Does this mean Jesus has a different legal status in Roman Law and the law of the old testament compared to if they were married and if so what are the consequences ?

    • JDTabor October 2, 2023 at 10:28 am

      I cover a bit of that in the posts…but really we don’t know a lot about how village life worked in the Galilee during the reign of Herod the Great…whether Roman Law (which we do know all about), or various “rabbinic” types who claimed this or that authority. I think in most cultures things are left to village gossip…and no one is stoning anyone that I know of in that time, or heading down to Herod’s Temple to mix up the dust of the floor drink for an accused woman!

      • dankoh October 2, 2023 at 3:28 pm

        Well, we do know (or have a pretty good idea, from Josephus) that there wasn’t much Pharisaic authority (rabbinic in quotes or otherwise comes later) in Herod’s time. The Pharisees then were a small (8,000 or so) group trying to get Jews to be more aware off Mosaic law. I doubt that their reach would have extended to a miniscule farming community in rural Galilee in Herod’s last years, much less in the chaos that followed.

      • michael324 October 3, 2023 at 5:36 pm

        Deutronomy 22 on the face of it would have been a dark cloud over Mary ?

        ‘I married this woman and had relations with her, but I discovered she was not a virgin.’ verse 13

        If, however, this accusation is true, and no proof of the young woman’s virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house, and there the men of her city will stone her to death. For she has committed an outrage in Israel by being promiscuous in her father’s house. So you must purge the evil from among you. Verses 20,21

      • michael324 October 3, 2023 at 5:37 pm

        Deutronomy 20 Seems to cover the late or never marriage of Joseph to Mary ?

        ‘Has anyone become engaged to a woman but not yet married her? He should go back to his house, or he might die in the battle and another marry her.’ verse 7

      • michael324 October 4, 2023 at 6:34 pm

        Deutronomy 23 maybe Jesus should not have ever entered the temple ?

        ‘Those born of an illicit union shall not be admitted to the assembly of the LORD. Even to the tenth generation, none of their descendants shall be admitted to the assembly of the LORD.’ verse 2

  13. Serene October 3, 2023 at 1:59 pm

    Hi Dr. Tabor!

    Julius Abdes Pantera being a real person just signifies the real confundation of back-country polemicists as to who this man’s father was.

    The Gospels read *normally* if you just add the Galilee war in Chapter 5 of Antiquities of the Jews! Yeah, the Gospels are polemic, too.

    In AJ, the Galilee-Nabataea war is started by Herod breaking the *marital alliance* with Phaesalis for Herodias. John the Baptist in his camel (read Arabized) attire is protesting Herodias — he’s just protesting it from the Jewish law side.

    Jesus’ dad is the divinized Arab king Aretas IV through the handmaiden Mary. The right of foreign officials to have the first night with engaged Jewish virgins codified in the Babylonian Talmud.

    PATER can mean father, grandfather, ancestor, and father of a country. Jesus is also talking about his pater Obodas THEOS, the ancestor cult peaking in 6 BCE-40 CE in now Ein Avdat, Israel. Regarding the temple, he is likely talking about PATER Solomon.

    Two easy heuristics:

    1. Jesus speaks eloquently – that’s an education.

    2. In a quick scan, there are *no* poor men praised in ancient literature. Jesus likely displayed the resources he did, feeding crowds, diagnostic physician for medicated oils, etc.

    • JDTabor October 5, 2023 at 11:21 am

      No extended comment on this…but hey, you put it out there…

  14. Serene October 4, 2023 at 4:27 am

    Also want to add that I like your guest post banner, nice.

    Ok. : “…sixty miles from Nazareth…He was apparently a slave”. Not sure that 12- to 16-year-old Mary with no transportation had a No Strings Attached with a slave 60 miles away.

    Have you you seen romantic films written *by women*? It takes many private moments to get to Female Third Base (holding hands). In 1C Galilee, “good girls” did not even go to the market unchaperoned.

    A marriage of a 14-year-old is different — many folks make it happen, it’s a big celebration of her, it’s commitment.

    So “village gossip” about an extended relative of Mary (once Jesus tells the world Joseph isn’t his father), sounds plausible, everyone’s an extended relative there. But what criteria would you have to believe that *over* the gospel of Luke?

    1. Mary is a handmaiden of a Lord. That word Lord is also used for human kings. She’s told by an angel. Angel is also used for human messengers.

    2.The right to engaged Jewish virgins here: https://www.sefaria.org/Ketubot.3b.1?lang=bi&with=all

    3. Some Arab royalty let their handmaidens marry after producing an heir. One Aretas was rumored to have 600 sons, only one is begotten.

    • JDTabor October 5, 2023 at 11:19 am

      Banner was not mine…but yes, nice. All of this is speculation but the young Pantera, given his age and dates, would not be from Sidon–that is later when he is part of a Roman regiment–and assuming the Bingen tombstone is connected, which it might not be. My main position is that someone in the family named Pantera became the father, and that the designation “Yeshua bar Pantera,” then is not slander, but reflections of local traditions…Other than the name we know nothing about him.

      I also think we know very little about day to day village life in Herodian period Galilee in terms of family and extended family relations…and people have a way of being people at all times and places, even in what you imagine here to be very “conservative” cultures of various periods.

      • Serene October 8, 2023 at 4:42 pm

        “I also think we know very little about day-to-day village life in Herodian period Galilee”

        True, there are three subjects we have less information on — women, the non-wealthy, and Arabs (For example, the Herodian Dynasty was ethnically Arab, and Galilee’s queen right up to the start of Jesus’ mission was Arab, just like the Queen of Sheba in the South.)

        Aside from Deuteronomy 22:24 and John 7:53-8:11 (possible interpolation, but also, Jerusalem was more progressive than Galilee), a tryst is less likely during hymen final exam time because of:

        1. Yichud

        Yichud proscribes even brothers from being alone with unmarried sisters. Codified in the Talmudic period, but said to date to King David because of Tamar. Sure, it could be outwitted, but it makes building romantic attachment less easy.

        2. Ketubah
        Marriage contracts incentivized 2X the denarii for a virgin. We have written ketubahs since ~167 BCE for the Levant. (And from again, limited information, the rewards for a doulē and heir of paternally Arab royalty makes these denarii look like chicken flatulence.)

        3. Mary could just have an uncommon sexual drive, but wouldn’t that pattern of behavior be polemicized? Instead, the discourse follows Jesus revealing his parentage.

  15. Twendland2 October 5, 2023 at 2:12 pm

    Jesus’s birth and the circumstances of it were considered immaterial and unworthy of note until the later development of a high christology which imagined him to be a pre-existent divine being and one with god. I would posit that we are only discussing the question of Jesus’s parentage because later Christians devising how this could be possible came up with the idea of the virgin birth. Mark doesn’t really see the need to address it because this theology wasn’t fully developed in his time. Matthew and Luke had to deal with this concept. This leaves us 2000 years later trying to figure out if Jesus knew his dad. I think he knew who his dad was, who his mom was, and had a pretty ordinary life. Later Christians created a problem that needs solving.

  16. Serene October 5, 2023 at 3:50 pm

    Thanks for responding, James! I learned about Solomon and Nathan from you in this thread.💡

    1. Abdes is theophoric to the Caananite city god of Sidon, so he’d be *lower-class* in the Jewish sphere (converted ancestry). It’s not even Hellenized.

    2.While Yahweh theophoric names are Jewish *upper-middle-class* for 1C. Jesus, John, Joseph, Jude, James, Jacob, ‘Nathan, Zechari’yah, Elijah, etcs are names only found buried in Jerusalem — archaeologists find 0 Yahweh theophoric names buried in Galilee. Though there are leaders from Galilee, like Josephus, Y‘ohanan Z‘, and Y‘huda the Galilean, their remains are expected to be repatriated to statusy Jerusalem.

    Considering these marriages are arranged, it is *unlikely* they are marrying Joseph to someone who grew up without a middle-class skillset.

    3. Names like Hill’el, Gamali‘el, Dani’el, Samu‘el, Phaes‘el, and ofc, Immanu‘el are the *upper-class* for Jewish folk — and Nabataeans. Theophoric to El Elyon, the God Most High over the og SW nomad god Yahweh in Deuteronomy 32:8-9.

    3. Circa-1C Nazareth is a middle-class, like 50-family village. No one is utilizing a male slave there. And Mary would not be socializing outside of it. It’s just what gLuke Skywalker says, a far-flung place to hide.

    Conclusion: Mary’s and Abdes’ social spheres likely don’t cross.

  17. Serene October 9, 2023 at 4:59 am

    PS, not to spam, but I may have found your Pantera today. He’s a panther-suit-wearing hero whose mileu seems to date to the BCE Parthian era. He secretly impregnates a woman, their son has magical abilities via the father, and after some chaos, he seeks the resurrection of his grown son.


    Good pun if true.

    I got the research idea by looking at Abdes Pantera’s wiki. That may be an occupational garment, that his Roman occupation wore panther fur hats.


    So Rostam was patrilineally Arab in folk tales, could that be a hat tip to Aretas? Today I came across the law for what might have made it legal on the Arab side, since we already have the Ketubot codified later on the *Jewish side*:

    “Rabba said: The baraita is referring to a period where the government said that a virgin who is married on Wednesday will submit to intercourse with the prefect [hegmon] first.”


    Just in case conception didn’t occur as a ray of light only, the law that Panther Suit used was said to be sigheh. The woman has to be either Jewish, Arab, Persian, or Sabian, and the temporary union conveys full inheritance for any heirs created.

  18. ChimpoChimperoo October 12, 2023 at 1:09 am

    Hi Dr. Ehrman,
    In your response to the idea of James VS Jesus, you state:
    “Hard to say. In the Gospels James definitely did not accept Jesus message (clearly in both Mark and John, e.g.)”

    This is one I–lacking the scholarship capabilities necessary have totally missed. I am aware of the disputes between the Jerusalem faction and Pauline faction, but this James VS Jesus dispute escapes me. Could you please briefly explain this.

    • BDEhrman October 15, 2023 at 12:39 pm

      The most explicit statement is John 7:5; but you can find it in Mark (3:21, his family thinks he has gone out of his mind; his family is identified in 3:22 as his mother and brothers and in 6:3 the brothers are named).

  19. Erland November 9, 2023 at 10:07 am

    I believe:

    1. Joseph was Jesus’s biological father, and the first Christians didn’t believe otherwise.

    2. The first Christians didn’t believe that Jesus was Son of God in the biological sense. “Son of God” meant “king” for them, and I agree with Bart that they believed that Jesus was elevated to Son of God at his baptism.

    3. When Christianity spread to Graeco-Roman pagans, some of them, being used to pagan sons of gods, misunderstood #2 and got the idea that Jesus was the Son of God in the biological sense. Hence, the idea of the virgin birth developed.

    What speaks against this?

    • BDEhrman November 13, 2023 at 7:23 pm

      Well, I guess Matthew and Luke do! On December 10 I’ll be giving a remote lecture on the question of whether Joseph was actually Jesus’ father, in which I focus on the New Testament evidence (!).

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