Saturday 3 March 2012

Tabor controversy - something fishy?

Dr. James Tabor is no stranger to controversy in the world of Biblical Studies, especially as it intersects with archaeology.  His career began most inauspiciously, at Ambassador College in Pasadena, before gaining credibility with legitimate degrees and teaching posts.  Dr. Tabor, now a longtime professor of religious studies at UNC Chapel Hill, is undoubtedly a decent and sincere man, an impression that has come through strongly in personal correspondence I have had with him on a variety of issues.

Like a moth to the flame, Tabor - along with filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici - is back in the limelight with a new archaeological discovery to revolutionize our understanding of Bible times.  Or maybe not.  There has been almost universal skepticism over those claims from those best qualified to judge.  Andrew Vaughn, executive director of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) put it bluntly: "In my assessment, there's zero percent chance that their theory is correct."

I suppose it might seem crass to describe the discovery as "fishy" (much is made of a fish symbol in the new tomb), but the team that previously brought us "the Jesus family tomb" seems to have spent its credibility capital all the way down into overdraft.  Stephen Fine observes:
The interpretation presented by Professor Tabor is not grounded in the evidence, nor in even the most basic rules of art-historical analysis. The image has nothing to do with Jonah, Jesus, or Judea in the first century. Elsewhere I have referred to this genre of media-driven discoveries as the “DaVinci Codification” of our culture—the presentation of odd and associative thinking previously reserved for novels as “truth” to the general public. The “Jonah Fish” is just the next installment in the Jesus-archaeology franchise—timed, as always, to precede a major Christian feast. 
I, for one, am wearied by the almost yearly “teaching moment” presented by these types of “discoveries.” I am hopeful, however, that—this time—a forceful and quick display of unanimous dissent by the leading members of the academic community will be taken seriously by the media and the public at large. (Full comments on ASOR)

 Of course, there's a book - just released - to flesh out the claims.  The Jesus Discovery (co-authored with Jacobovici) follows in the wake of The Jesus Dynasty and, well off the mass market circuit, Restoring the Abrahamic Faith (reviewed here in 2009).  Having read the earlier two, I think I'll pass on the latest.

Mind you, the mullahs of the Missouri Synod are very excited!  Paul McCain seems to have swallowed the fish, fins and all.


  1. It's almost Easter and from past observations, it is a time when there has to be one good "Look! We found Jesus" story.

    Jim Tabor is a very fine guy. His writings are a bit "God Haunted" as I have observed however. I think he tends to get a bit overwhelmed when in Israel and looking for the artifacts of a Jesus or Original Church. Wishful thinking seems to be just beneath the surface. Kind of like the Jerusalem Syndrome but not so off the wall.

    What if they found Jesus bones in Jesus tomb? What a great Sunday morning after that would be!

  2. This is just one more example of a christian apologist who is more than willing to lie for God. Yes, twisting facts to try to make them say what you want them to say is lying, plain and simple. It's dishonest.

    But I guess you can't blame the man. Or any of his colleagues. The only way they can "prove" their beliefs is via dishonesty. They have no evidence so they try to create some.

  3. Lying for God? Who does that?

  4. Excellent question. Who does that? Let's see, can we think of any?

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