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The Jesus Dynasty    by James D. Tabor order for
Jesus Dynasty
by James D. Tabor
Order:  USA  Can
Audioworks, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I discovered The Jesus Dynasty after reading Kathy Reichs' latest forensic thriller, Cross Bones. In it, she credits her UNC-Charlotte colleague, Dr. James Tabor (chair of religious studies) with the facts behind the plot, as documented in The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity.

Tabor narrates a stirring search for truth, telling us how his interest in the field grew from his first visit to Jerusalem with his parents at age fourteen, during which he visited the Garden of Gethsemane at night. He describes the historical context of first-century Judaism, that must have strongly affected Jesus' family and beliefs. He reminds us that it gives a whole different perpective on the Christmas story to know that brutal Roman occupiers had just ruthlessly crushed a Jewish revolt and burnt down the city where Mary grew up.

Tabor logically pieces together fragments of this ancient and absorbing puzzle, making the process of biblical research as intriguing as the results. He speculates on Jesus' parentage and siblings, John the Baptizer's formative influence, and the role of Jesus' brothers (James the Just in particular) in carrying on his teachings and keeping his movement alive after the crucifixion. I found the analysis of Jesus' Davidic lineage through Bible begats interesting, though researching it must have taken incredible patience!

Tabor portrays John the Baptizer and Jesus as partners in a 'movement that sought the spiritual, social, and political redemption of the Jews'. He shows them as deliberately attempting to fulfill Messianic prophecy, expecting a new age to follow. As others (for example Bart D. Erhman in Lost Christianities) before him have noted, it was pro-Roman Paul, a latecomer to the movement, who defined today's Christianity (and preached Jesus' divinity), taking his own (written) version to the gentiles.

Tabor makes a cogent argument that Peter and Paul, the twin pillars of the Christian church, did not lead the Jesus movement in the years after the crucifixion, but that rather it continued to be guided by Jesus' blood relatives, who shared his royal Davidic lineage. He argues that the letters of James, Jude and the Q source more accurately reflect Jesus' teachings than Paul's writings do. I was fascinated to learn how inaccuracies - like the timing of the Last Supper, which was apparently on a Wednesday, not Thursday evening - can creep into the historical record, accidentally as in this case or deliberately as in the revisionist portrayal of brutal Roman governor Pontius Pilate as trying to avoid killing Jesus. Tabor makes a key distinction between history (which must bear close examination and analysis) and faith-based theology.

James Tabor narrates the audiobook in a delivery that starts rather monotonic, but becomes more forceful in the second half. Nevertheless, the content held my interest throughout, shedding fascinating light on past events that have had a huge impact on modern history and faith, and on how the truth of events can get distorted through time. Over the centuries, Tabor tells us that 'Jesus became a figure whose humanity was obscured; John became merely a forerunner of Jesus; and James and the others were all but forgotten.'

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