The Making of a Messiah

Did Jesus Claim to be the Messiah and Predict His Suffering and Death?

This article was originally published on Dr. James Tabor’s popular Taborblog, a site that discusses and reports on “‘All things biblical’ from the Hebrew Bible to Early Christianity in the Roman World and Beyond.” Bible History Daily republished the article with consent of the author. Visit Taborblog today. Click here for a brief bio of James Tabor.


 

In my post on “That Other King of the Jews,” I stressed my own conviction that Jesus of Nazareth thought of himself as much more than a teacher, prophet or healer, but rather that he understood himself to be nothing less than the “one to come,” the Davidic Messiah or King of Israel. For most Christians such a messianic claim by Jesus is self-evident since it lies at the heart of all of our gospel accounts, which are, as Mark puts things: “The good news of Jesus Christ the Son of God.”

In contrast, many of my academic colleagues in the field of Christian origins would argue that the identification of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah was one put on Jesus by his followers after his death, as part of their recovery of faith following the unanticipated shock of his crucifixion, not something he claimed himself. According to this understanding the scene in Mark where Jesus is confessed as Christ or Messiah by Peter is projected back into the life of Jesus, implying that he both anticipated his death and understood himself in the role of a “suffering Messiah”:

And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him. And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again (Mark 8:27-31).

 


 
James Tabor has discussed controversial messianic texts discovered at Qumran in BAR.
BAS Library members, read “A Pierced or Piercing Messiah?—The Verdict Is Still Out” and “The Messiah at Qumran” (co-authored by Michael O. Wise).
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I have no doubt that various theological interpretations of Jesus were retrospectively projected back on him in our New Testament gospels. I have written extensively on that process of theological “overlay” on this blog over the years. In fact, in my book Paul and Jesus I argue that all four of our gospels are essentially post-Pauline productions, fundamentally reflecting Paul’s understanding of the “gospel.” However, my own study of the history of “Messianism,” including messiah figures both ancient and modern, I am convinced that the gospels preserve for us a pattern of what I call “Messianic self-identity,” that is applicable to Jesus. In other words, I think we can trace in our sources elements of Jesus’ own messianic self-consciousness.

In this post I want to to consider what I call the “textual dynamics of messianic self-identity.” I realize that is a mouthful but bear with me here, as this subject is quite fascinating and I think we can see some light on this issue if we take all our evidence into account, both ancient and modern.

Running through the various layers and strata of the New Testament gospel traditions is a complex set of Messianic titles or designations against which the careers of both John the Baptizer and Jesus of Nazareth are tagged and evaluated. In the climatic exchange at Caesarea Philippi, the Markan Jesus puts it most bluntly–”Who do people say that I am?” (Mark 8:27). The possibilities subsequently enumerated appear earlier in Mark, when Herod Antipas hears of the “powers” at work in the career of Jesus and rumor has it that he might be John the Baptizer “raised from the dead,” or Elijah, or one of the prophets of old (Mark 6:14-17). Each of these possibilities are implicitly rejected by Mark as Peter makes his definitive, though at this point misguided, declaration: “You are the Messiah” (see Mark 1:1 where the reader is clued into the mystery of who Jesus is: Jesus Christ [Son of God]). On trial before the high priest, the question is put even more directly: “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus answers “I am” but then couples his affirmation with the added declaration: “You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven” (presumably based on a combined reading of Dan 7:13-14, Psalm 110 and possibly Psalm 2). Earlier, when Jesus is glorified on the high mountain, just following Peter’s declaration, the disciples ask, in response to their experience of the “kingdom of God coming with power”–“Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” (Mark 9:11). Jesus implies that the recently-executed John the Baptizer is indeed the Elijah to come (based on Malachi 4:5), but was rejected and killed based on what was “written of him” (Mark 9:13).

Similarly, in John’s Gospel, the Baptizer is asked by the Jerusalem religious establishment, “Who are you?” with the suggested possibilities: the Messiah, Elija, or “the Prophet.” John denies all three and declares himself “the Voice of one crying in the desert,” based on Isaiah 40:3.

Even more striking is the question in the Q source that the imprisoned Baptizer puts to Jesus shortly before his beheading: ”Are you the one, or are we to wait for another?” (Luke 7:20). In a closely related Q pericope John is declared to be not merely a prophet, but “more than a prophet,” and indeed the Malachi “Messenger” (Malak) whom, as Deutero-Isaiah’s “Voice crying in the desert,” is to “prepare the way of Yahweh” (Luke 7:26-27). This singular and resolute designation, “the one,” implies a cluster of speculative Messianic interpretations of prophetic texts, echoed in strangely parallel ways to Qumran materials (e.g. 4Q521, 4Q174, et al.). For more on the subject, see my Taborblog post “Making Live the Dead Ones”.

What we find then, within these multi-layered gospel traditions, is a whole set of textual “categories” with potential “candidates” measured against the reported career patterns, or “contexts” of a given figure—in this case the work, and particularly the deaths, of both John the Baptizer and Jesus.

For over a hundred years now these materials have presented scholars of the New Testament with a classic form of the proverbial “chicken or the egg” question. Do our gospel traditions import and impose these textual categories onto the figures of John and Jesus, long after their deaths, as a kind of exegetical or “scribal” enterprise to explain and justify the shocking and wholly unexpected facts of their deaths–the beheading of John and the crucifixion of Jesus? Or is it remotely possible, or even probable, that figures such as John, Jesus, and for that matter, a whole host of late Second Temple Jewish Palestinian “messiah” figures, intentionally acted within an existing messianic tradition? The Dead Sea Scrolls give us insight into the life and times of the unnamed “Teacher of Righteousness.” Josephus mentions a string of messianic figures, besides Jesus, including Judas the Galilean, Athronges, Simon the Perean, “the Samaritan,” Theudas and “the Egyptian.” I would argue that these and others might well have derived their self-identity and also a self-propelled “career pattern” based on a reading of prophetic “messianic” texts.

 


 
In the BAS DVD Biblical Controversies and Enigmas, Dr. James D. Tabor sheds light on longtime Biblical debates, such as the origins of Christianity, what archaeology reveals about the last days of Jesus and what the Bible says about death, the afterlife and resurrection. For beginners and seasoned readers of Biblical Archaeology Review–and everyone in between!
 

 

The vast majority of critical historians dealing with Christian Origins have taken the former position, put so succinctly by Rudolf Bultmann over a generation ago: the scene of Peter’s confession is an Easter story projected backward into Jesus’ lifetime (Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, I: 26). That Jesus himself ever claimed to be the Messiah is considered unlikely, and that he might have resolutely marched to an anticipated ordeal of suffering, and possible death, is categorized as theological apologetics, or perhaps worse, sensationalist romance (e.g., Hugh Schonfield, The Passover Plot). In contrast, Albert Schweitzer concludes his Quest for the Historical Jesus with the intriguing conclusion:

The Baptist appears and cries: ‘Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.’ Soon after that comes Jesus, and in the knowledge that he is the coming Son of Man lays hold of the wheel of the world to set it moving on that last revolution which is to bring all ordinary history to a close. It refuses to turn, and he throws himself upon it and is crushed.

The so-called “third Quest” for the historical Jesus seems hopelessly halted between two opinions (e.g. Crossan, Borg and Funk vs. Wright, Ehrman, and Fredriksen). The problem is clearly one of method, as we are always working, it seems, though a double veil: that of our own psychology—trying to probe the inaccessible inner psychology of Jesus himself—and secondly through the medium of a complex of layered texts, all of which are to a large degree theological, tendentious, apologetic and propagandistic. Despite prodigious effort and a plethora of sophisticated historical-critical studies published in the past ten years, it seems that by and large we end up with the “Jesus” of our individual methodological presuppositions. Indeed, one wonders, at the opening of the 21st century, whether Bultmann’s cautionary assertion that we could know next to nothing about the “Jesus of history” and everything about the “Christ of faith” has come back to haunt us.

In 1999 I was given two pre-publication book manuscripts to evaluate, one by Michael Wise, The First Messiah: Investigating the Savior Before Christ, the other by Israel Knohl, The Messiah Before Jesus. See my Taborblog post here on “The Messiah Before Jesus.” As it turned out, both of these scholars, working completely independently, the one completely unaware of the other, had come up with a strikingly similar thesis. Both Wise and Knohl put forth the argument, based on their reading and evaluation of the autobiographical nature of portions of the Thanksgiving Hymns (1QHodayot) and associated texts from Cave 4 (especially 4Q491 “Self-Glorification Hymn”), that the author of these materials had closely identified his mission, role, calling and career in the light of the Servant Songs of Isaiah, the “Seventy Weeks Prophecy” of Daniel 9 and various Psalms. In other words, what we have documented in the Qumran texts are the textual dynamics of what I am calling “messianic self-identity,” by the leader of the first-century B.C.E. Qumran community.

Although Wise and Knohl have their sharp differences, both with regard to the dating as well as the identity of the mysterious Teacher of the community, both of them argue that the ways in which their figure self-consciously appropriates these prophetic texts puts the question of the self-understanding of Jesus in a new light. The point is not merely that somewhere, once upon a time, someone combined the standard messianic texts regarding glorification (Isa 11, Micah 5, and others) with the notion of rejection, suffering and death (Servant Songs, Daniel, and the Psalms)—but rather that since it happened once, it might happen again. The case is actually much stronger, especially as set forth by Knohl, namely, that Jesus himself, as well as his earliest followers, rose out of the kind of messianic, apocalyptic way of thinking that has its closest parallels in the Qumran materials. In other words, the Jesus movement is best understood, as Robert Eisenman has put it, as a first-century C.E. revival of at least one branch of the “messianic movement in Palestine” that flourished in the first century B.C.E.

To quote Bultman again:

Of course the attempt is made to carry the idea of the suffering Son of Man into Jesus’ own outlook by assuming that Jesus regarded himself as Deutero-Isaiah’s Servant of God who suffers and dies for the sinner, and fused together the two ideas Son of Man and the Servant of God into the single figure of the suffering, dying and rising Son of Man. At the very outset, the misgivings which must be raised as to the historicity of the predictions of the passion speak against this attempt. In addition, the tradition of Jesus’ sayings reveals no trace of consciousness on his part of being the Servant of God of Isaiah 53. The messianic interpretation of Isaiah 53 was discovered in the Christian Chruch and even in it not immediately (Theology of the New Testament I: 31.).

This point, shared by the vast majority of scholars doing critical-historical Jesus research, bears a careful reconsideration in the light of the arguments of Wise and Knohl. It is surely possible, and maybe even probable, that Jesus himself appropriated a cluster of prophetic texts in this messianic manner, and the composite he came up with included the notions of rejection, suffering and death, as well as the more common elements of exaltation and glorification.

My own study of the messianic self-identity of two contemporary Messiahs, namely David Koresh (1993 in Waco, TX) and Moses Guibbory (1926 in Jerusalem), has both reinforced and clarified the unfolding textual dynamics of such an autobiographical enterprise. The kind of prophetic, or potentially prophetic, texts that most readily lend themselves to such a personalized interpretation are those in which the autobiographical “first person” style sets the stage for “third person” pesher-like interpretation. For example, the “I” of Isaiah 48:16; 49:1-7; 50:4-6; 61:1-4 can be combined with the narrative pattern of texts such as Isaiah 42:1-9; 52:13-53:12; Psalm 2 and 110, and Micah 5:2-4.

Draw near to me, hear this: from the beginning I have not spoken in secret, from the time it came to be I have been there. And now the Lord YHVH has sent me and his Spirit (Isaiah 48:16).

Listen to me, O coastlands, and hearken, you peoples from afar. Yahweh called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name. He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” But I said, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my right is with Yahweh, and my recompense with my God.” And now Yahweh says, who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the eyes of the Yahweh, and my God has become my strength–he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Thus says Yahweh the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation, the servant of rulers: “Kings shall see and arise; princes, and they shall prostrate themselves; because of Yahweh, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you (Isaiah 49:1-7).

The Lord Yahweh has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him that is weary. Morning by morning he wakens, he wakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord Yahweh has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I turned not backward. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I hid not my face from shame and spitting (Isaiah 54:4-6).

There is no denying that our earliest Passion Narrative, now reflected in the Gospel of Mark, clearly builds up the career of Jesus based on a set of prophetic texts such as Zechariah 9:9. Accordingly, the precise historicity of individual episodes remains in dispute. Did Jesus ride into Jerusalem on a colt, or does Mark create this scene based on the prophetic text? This uncertainty should by no means lead us to conclude that the inner dynamics of messianic self-identity, based on key prophetic texts and contexts, is unlikely in the case of Jesus of Nazareth.


 
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What really stirs this apocalyptic messianic “pot” of stew is the combination of subjective inward experience and objective, external, historical fact. In other words, the messianic candidate comes to the text to inform his or her self-understanding, as well as launch a messianic career, while at the same time external events, such as Pilate delivering Jesus to be crucified, elucidate the “true” meaning of the texts. This is the heart and core of the pesher method of interpretation as seen in, say, the Habakkuk Pesher (1QpHab). The “chastisement of the Teacher of Righteousness” (IV.10) and the suffering and faith of the followers (VIII. 1-3) both inform inner self-understanding and reinforce, or even “orchestrate,” external events.

Most common in this complex of categories, candidates, and contexts is the notion of a kind of “realized eschatology,” to borrow a phrase from C. H. Dodd. In other words, the hard reality of history is mediated by the imaginative projection of communal or individual self-understanding. The full confirmation of prophetic fulfillment is always “at hand,” just out of reach, but the serendipitous and fortuitous nature of events, as well as the self-conscious activities of the leader and the group, work together to construct a convincing picture. Although the texts themselves act powerfully in this mix, it is the utter conviction of the candidate, set in these historical contexts, that furnishes the apologetic power. With such dynamics at work we truly have “the makings of a Messiah” in ways that can be documented down through history, even into our own time.

 


 
Dr. James Tabor is Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte where he is professor of Christian origins and ancient Judaism. Since earning his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago in 1981, Tabor has combined his work on ancient texts with extensive field work in archaeology in Israel and Jordan, including work at Qumran, Sepphoris, Masada, Wadi el-Yabis in Jordan. Over the past decade he has teamed up with with Shimon Gibson to excavate the “John the Baptist” cave at Suba, the “Tomb of the Shroud” discovered in 2000, Mt Zion and, along with Rami Arav, he has been involved in the re-exploration of two tombs in East Talpiot including the controversial “Jesus tomb.” Tabor is the author of the popular Taborblog, and several of his recent posts have been featured in Bible History Daily as well as the Huffington Post. His latest book, Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity has become a immediately popular with specialists and non-specialists alike. You can find links to all of Dr. Tabor’s web pages, books, and projects at jamestabor.com.
 

 

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  1. Paul says

    The coversation on the way to Caesarea Phillipi (Mark 8:27) is significant in the way the group encountered the reality of the powers that govern the world, located at the northernmost boundry of the “House of Israel”;.a fountain at the source of the Jordan river. Here was a grotto of the pagan deity “Pan” and was depicted not unlike the European conception of the Devil with goat horns and legs.
    Known as the god of music, Pan could at times be intimidating to the other gods such as the time during the war between Zeus and the Olympians and the older generation of Chronos (from which we derive the word “crony” which means a toooo loooong time association with certain people) and the Titans (as in “Clash of the Titans” and “Wrath of the Titans” and possibly “Percy Jackson and the Olympians”).
    The Titans were routed by Pan with a bood-curdlling Roger Daltry scream (!) not unlike the Woodstock generation (with goat-like features such as beards and flaired pants). The prophetess Miriam also performs a function of liberation with a tamourine not unlike actress Ren Woods performing “Aquarius” in the movie “Hair” (Exodus 15:20,21). So let’s just say this status of the title “Son of Man” could be upsetting to the establishment since it is associated with the prophecy of a coming new established order (Daniel 7″13).
    The first century historian Josephus mentions the major sects in Judaism as being the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. He writes; “But of the fourth sect of Jewish philosophy, Judas the Galilean was the author .. they have an invioble attachment to liberty; and say that God is to be their only Ruler and Lord” (Antiquities, book 18, chap. 1 para.6). In the next chapter he mentions the Tetrarch Phillip “had built Paneas, a city, at the fountains of Jordan, he named it Cesarea” (chap. 2, para. 1). Judas the Galilean is also mentioned in Acts of the Apostles (5:37) at the time of a Roman census in 6 B.C.E.
    In his book “The Historical Jesus” (p.116) Crosson writes: “Judas may well have been advocating passive resistance rather than active rebellion, although, of course, such fine distinctions would have been lost comepletely on the Romans. It was Josephus, then, who elevated it from idea to sect to philosophy, from the nonviolent to violent action, and from passing incident to abiding situation.”
    “Even when Josephus was claiming Judas’ ideology as a fourth philosophy, he never gave it a name as he did the other three, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes” (Crosson p.117). The name Sicarii (synonomus with “terror”) is used by Josephus as being lumped together with others who adhered to passive resistance movements. It does seem that Jesus conciously crossed that threshold by driving the merchants out of the temple, coming into the cross-hairs of the rulers as if he were Barabbas, who killed Roman soldiers (Mark 15:7).
    An example of “merchants in the temple”; Concert promoters that try to mimck the 1969 Woodstook Festival like the one held in upstate New York late July 1999. People were penned in by fences so they could only get gouged by concessions with jacked-up prices. I couldn’t help but notice the prophecy of Nostradamus who said, “In the year 1999 and seven months (July), a great King of Terror will come from the sky.”
    I like to think the album cover of “Deja Vu” by Crosby, Still, Nash, and Young, with its imitation brown leather texture and the archaic-looking old-western photo of the armed band. They symolize (at least for me) the guardians of a tradition like the Cherubum who guard the way to the Tree of Life (Genesis 3:24).

  2. bas says

    Perhaps it would interest you to apply Hjalmar Sunden’s psychological concept or religious role-taking, as a means of exploring how religious people may appropriate texts in their own identity development (I have a chapter on that in my Psychological Analyses and he Historical Jesus: New Ways to Explore Christian Origins, t&t clark 2012).

  3. Frank says

    Just another sad attempts by unregenerate minds to disparage the deity of Jesus, the Christ, and Biblical inspiration. Nothing surprising here, at all. Anyone can make that case. This isn’t scholarship, but blind scholasticism. It removes the good news from ‘gospel’ making it no ‘gospel’ at all. Thus, we should quit calling the synoptics and John “gospels.’ For if the story they tell is not what they tell, then they contain no good news, but rather reflect the delusions of pitiful men.

  4. Barry says

    Brilliant James. I have often wondered which was first, but from what you are saying it could have been both-and as well as either-or. Thank you for this article.

  5. Sandra says

    Did you consider that Jesus was well aware of his mission before he came to earth in the form of a man? The Old Testament is full of prophecies of Jesus’ coming and why he was coming.

    I don’t understand why the author bothers to teach about Christian origins since clearly he is not a Christian and will only put his negative slant over on his students.

    I would not recommend him in the least.

  6. GEORGE says

    Good scholarship examining New Testament messianic claims regarding Jesus should take into account the early testimony of the apostles who paid with their lives, never recanting what they’d seen and heard of the risen savior. Those who like to mix Jesus in with other messianic-type figures should note also that that one life changed the whole world and shaped human history to this very day having arguably had more impact on mankind than any other human being. These facts set him apart, far apart, from all others. This is important evidence and to ignore it belies honest objectivity betraying good scholarship. As long as I’m on the soap box, I’d like to also air a related pet peeve, the mis-use of the term “Palestine” and “Palestinian” when it is mis-applied by people who know (or certainly should know) better. To say, “…a whole host of late Second Temple Jewish Palestinian “messiah” figures” doesn’t make historic sense. The Philistines never occupied Judea, Samaria or the Galilee. After finally defeating Bar Kosiva’s rebellion, the Roman emperor Hadrianus cursed the Jewish people and spitefully decreed that their land would thereafter be called by the name of their perennial enemies the Philistines. Thus “Palestine” was hatefully applied as a derogatory epithet to the historically Jewish land never occupied by the Philistines. It’s fine to use “Palestine” to the post-Hadrian Roman province. But, when scholars apply it to earlier periods, rather than using the correct names of Judea and Samaria, or Israel, in favor of “Palestine,” not only do they perpetuate Hadrian’s hateful disparagement but they also encourage and reinforce the pervasive anti-Jewish bias of our time. I don’t say that it is always intentional. Surely it is not. Intentional or not, it is inaccurate and suggestive of the oldest hatred on earth, still with us today. Even if it yet enrages Israel’s enemies, the Jewish people deserve to have their historic homelands called by the historically correct names at least if we are discussing the period prior to 135 AD.

  7. Krzysztof says

    To claim we never get to a “historical person” through textual and other documents is quite …fancy: one should quit do doing any history and writing textbooks. I the case of Jesus we a have a lot and we know perfectly the history behind the story. To claim that the historical Jesus from Nazareth was only one of many is quite a fancy interpretation; even if he claimed only to be the Son of Man (of Daniel) but he was resurrected unlike other “messiahs”. Are resurection stories are just a fiction invented just to be chased and persecuted and killed by Herod and Sanhedrin and later by Cesars? Where is the logic in such ..fancies?
    More: the works like J.P.Meier, Jesus a Marginal Jew, or R.E.Brown, The Birth of the Messiah(1975), nad The Death the Messiah give plenty of details. They do not deny the Good News=Devil has not the last word because Jesus is the exalted Lord. Of course, in general biblical scholars do not understand at all such terms like “God” or “evil” and the term “relation” in oreder to relate it to the relation of: “God”, “FAther”, “Son”, “Holy Spririt”, “Jesus from Nazareth” – Aristotle and 20th century of logic, here, the “description name” as contrary to individual or general name is too difficult to …Akademia!

  8. GEORGE says

    Huh?

  9. Krzysztof says

    Mr. J.T writes :NT “layered texts, all of which are to a large degree theological, tendentious, apologetic and propagandistic”. It is a typical agnostic position applied into the faculty of history. Agosticts and sceptics were already defeated and ridiculed by Aristotle. In the case of Jesus we know exactly what is a “story” and “history” in particular event or person! Only in few cases there is going debate what it means, ex. “thorn in flesh” (1 Cor 12:7). Scholars are divided on the meaning: a) it refers to the trouble of Paul’ conscience on the persecution of Christians in the past or 2) the attack by the in-church enemies, “dogs” (Phil 3:2). The personal life experience shows me that the second interpretation is the correct one. I know absolutely now the meaning of the text from first century C.E. (Christ Era). The same methodology applies to every literary text to any literature. If NT is called “propagandistic” how will you call J.T@others such texts: super- propagandistic fooling the lazy who do go to Library to study a little more. “Amicus Plato sed plus amicas verits” (Aristotle)

  10. Elias says

    1 Peter 2:6-8
    “6 Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded.
    7 Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner,
    8 And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed…”

    1 Corinthians 3:19,20
    “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.”

  11. Timothy says

    The author said “That Jesus himself ever claimed to be the Messiah is considered unlikely,” which directly contradicts what Christ, in fact, did say to the high priest in Mark 14:61-62. Who are we to believe – the inspired and innerrant word of God, or this scholar???? As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!

  12. Edward Michael says

    I am so weary listening to and or reading the works of ”smart college” professors who disparage Christ and his Lordship. Dr. Tabor, there is nothing new here: if one does no not accept Christ as Messiah and God in the Flesh, FINE, then just have the intellectual honesty and say so! This world’s “Vanity Fair” culture has rejected Christ as Messiah and LORD so your perspective will certainly be with the majority opinion. However, after 65 years plodding this earthly coil, I am more certain than ever that Christ is God Among Us, instant by instant, moment by moment, and that His return as Judge, Jury and Executioner is imminent. By the way, I have been a subscriber to BAR for decades and I consider it an excellent publication. Maranatha!

  13. Eliezer says

    According to various versions of the resurrection of Yeshua (in his lifetime no one called him Jesus), he is seen by one individual or another, or by disciples, who later report that must have been him, and later that he was seen by “hundreds.” If this individual was indeed the Messiah, why did he not immediately go to the Temple and address the people? it was the Passover, and the city was crowded with hundreds of thousands of Jews from all over the empire, plus thousands of non-Jews and a couple of Roman legions,, not to mention Herod and his people. Had he appeared, risen, alive, omnipotent, the multitudes would have prostrated themselves, acknowledged him as Lord and savior—and the history of the world would have been far different. But he did not do this? Why not? with all the known world available ass witness. What is the reason for this enormous lost opportunity? What are we to believe?

    Eliezer

  14. Dimitar says

    It’s always funny to see the believers’ helpless wrath and poor knowledge.

  15. Elias says

    @Eliezer: The history (hestoria in Greek,stress the “i”) is “far different” beloved friend,it is…
    @Dimitar:So glad you cracked a smile Dimitar with our poor knowledge…pls read:

    Zephaniah 3:17: “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing”
    1 Corinthians 1:27-29:”But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”

    He loves you so much Dimitar that He did not spare His Son and gave Him as a sacrifice instead of you/us…you will remeber Him in due time friend.

    True and cordial greetings from Thessaloniki,Hellas,
    Elias

  16. Mary says

    I kept waiting for someone to refer to John 4 where Jesus is talking with the Samartian woman. In 4:25 she says “I know the the Messiah is coming…:when he comes, he will show us all things. vs 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.” I think that is a pretty clear declaration of who he considered himself to be the Jewish Messiah who came for all.

  17. James says

    Thanks to all of you for taking time to comment on my work. It is an interesting discussion all around and I have learned from each of these comments. I think some of the sharper differences as evidenced by the negative tone of a few of these responses have to do with a fundamental misunderstanding of the roles of historical academic studies of religion–and that means any religion, not just Jesus and early Christianity–and approaches that are informed by personal faith or theology. The methods are totally different. I have written a lot about this but as a Chair of a major department in a State university I am a strong advocate for the academic study of religions. Taking a critical-historical approach does not mean one has abandoned faith, but in terms of methods of inquiry both the goals and the outcomes are bound to be quite different. Whether one contradicts or threatens the other can be debated. Here are a couple of blog articles that might be helpful to clarify things in this regard:

    http://jamestabor.com/2012/10/05/can-a-christian-be-a-historian-heretic-hunting-in-2012/

    http://jamestabor.com/2012/10/06/what-have-they-done-with-jesus-when-history-and-theology-collide/

    http://jamestabor.com/2012/06/23/rejecting-the-supernatural-2/

  18. Jeanie says

    Tabor concludes by asking a not-so-simple question:
    Or is it remotely possible, or even probable, that figures such as John, Jesus, and for that matter, a whole host of late Second Temple Jewish Palestinian “messiah” figures, intentionally acted within an existing messianic tradition? The Dead Sea Scrolls give us insight into the life and times of the unnamed “Teacher of Righteousness.” Josephus mentions a string of messianic figures, besides Jesus, including Judas the Galilean, Athronges, Simon the Perean, “the Samaritan,” Theudas and “the Egyptian.” I would argue that these and others might well have derived their self-identity and also a self-propelled “career pattern” based on a reading of prophetic “messianic” texts.

    I used Tabor’s conclusion at the end of my own exploration of the subject in relation to Mark 8: http://crain.english.missouriwestern.edu/Back_to_Galilee/Ch8.htm

  19. Jeanie says

    Tabor has also said:
    Our earliest source for Jesus as a Davidic “Royal” comes from Paul (Romans 1:3). Indeed, I believe that the Davidic messianic claims for Jesus are an essential factor for any interpretation of the figure of Jesus in his own time and context. I am convinced the Messianic self-identity of Jesus opens up a world of understanding of both the man and his movement, and that without it, any interpretation of the historical Jesus fundamentally fails.

  20. gambir says

    Good post. I learn something new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon every day.

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  21. mohd says

    my opinion is jesus wasnt be killed because of he claim to be son of god but because he call himself as a son of man….back to the tradition of jews people,they all believe that they we made as a son of god that not bind to any rules of god as what they read in KOL NIDRE

  22. Carol says

    Hi, James!

    Some years ago, I was in your fascinating seminar at St. Olaf College. Keep up the good work!

    Carol J.

  23. Carol says

    I’d like to add a little test of historicity to the comments I just made. My approach to the historicity of the Bible goes like this:

    Consider a particular Biblical situation. Then, ask: Who was on the scene to record this conversation, this meeting, this series of events?

    The answer, of course, is no one.

    The actual events upon which the text of the Bible is based were kept alive as stories, which were told orally and, eventually, written down. There is no guarantee that the stories are accurate; however, it is still possible that God has given us this complicated and often contradictory assembly of stories to keep the faith in the basic story–that Jesus was, indeed, the Messiah-alive.

    To assert that God sponsored the writing or the assembling of the text is not to say that it is all historically true. Rather, it is, as history often is, a series of perspectives on events which, generally speaking, were not witnessed by the persons who wrote of them.

    Then, considering that the events spoken of in the Gospels occurred long before the writing of the books themselves, and considering that none of the writers of the Gospels appears to have been an on-the-scene observer, ask: What is the likelihood that the Bible always reflects historical truth?

    The answer is self-evident. It does not. it is a collection of stories complied after the events. But that should not shake one’s belief in an Omniscient God, or in a Messiah.

    As a tonic to the fear of historical truth, I would suggest a long and serious study of the book of Revelation. It is presented as a vision, a vision of the future, and its narrator claims to be a consistent, on-the-scene, witness to that vision. Faith in Christianity is based upon a promise of the future appearance of the Messiah. Without that promise, we would not have Christianity.

    Why not let the scholars puzzle out the past? They are trained to do so, and they have been doing so for centuries. Some of their interesting discoveries appear in magazines such Biblical Archaeology Review, whose pages are filled with tales which verify the Good Book.

    Carol J.

  24. Carol says

    The stories were compiled, not complied! mea culpa!

    Carol again.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. elier skin care linked to this post on July 28, 2014

    elier skin care

    The Making of a Messiah. – Biblical Archaeology Society


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