Scholar Intermission: Dr. James Tabor

  • +++++++++ I use “Tabor” to refer to the scholar, and “James” for the apostle, as they have the same first name.

I’ll be taking a break from blogging for a bit, but here are some fun facts on Dr. James Tabor relating to what I’ve been posting lately. I’ve talked a bit about how the Didache document and Q may reflect a primitive non-cross / non-resurrection form of Christianity before Jesus died. Tabor comments:

  • The Didache is divided into sixteen chapters and was intended to be a “handbook” for Christian converts. The first six chapters give a summary of Christian ethics based on the teachings of Jesus, divided into two parts: the way of life and the way of death. Much of the content is similar to what we have in the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain, that is, the basic ethical teachings of Jesus drawn from the Q source now found in Matthew and Luke. It begins with the two “great commandments,” to love God and love ­one’s neighbor as oneself, as well as a version of the Golden Rule: “And whatever you do not want to happen to you, do not do to another.” It contains many familiar injunctions and exhortations, but often with additions not found in our Gospels. Following the ethical exhortations there are four chapters concerning baptism, fasting, prayer, the Eucharist, and the anointing with oil. The Eucharist in the Didache, as I will discuss in a future post, is a simple thanksgiving meal of wine and bread with references to Jesus as the holy “vine of David.” It ends with a prayer: “Hosanna to the God of David,” emphasizing the Davidic lineage of Jesus. The entire content and tone of the Didache reminds one strongly of the faith and piety we find in the letter of James, and teachings of Jesus in the Q source. The most remarkable thing about the Didache is that there is nothing in this document that corresponds to ­Paul’s “gospel”―no divinity of Jesus, no atoning through his body and blood, and no mention of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. In the Didache Jesus is the one who has brought the knowledge of life and faith, but there is no emphasis whatsoever upon the figure of Jesus apart from his message. Sacrifice and forgiveness of sins in the Didache come through good deeds and a consecrated life (4.6).

Here is a good short video outlining some of Tabor’s thoughts on Paul vs James:

Tabor points out key to the Paul vs Peter and James divide is where Paul got his gospel.  Paul never met Jesus, and says he received the message directly from Jesus through revelation.  Ehrman would say against Tabor Paul’s unique gospel is not the salvific crucifixion/resurrection, because as per the pre Pauline Corinthian creed Paul got that most likely from Peter and James, either directly or indirectly.  Paul’s unique gospel was that the pagans didn’t need to become Jews to become Christians.  When Paul meets with the pillars in Jerusalem, one issue is whether the upright and moral pagan Titus is okay in the eyes of the pillars and the rest of the Jerusalem church as a Christian?   The other issue is whether the pillars are okay with Paul’s message?  The agreement was Gentiles were required to follow the Noahide covenant, the basic moral prescripts for all human beings since Noah, while Jews had to follow the Sinai covenant, the entire Torah and possibly the oral Torah (the oral traditions of how to walk in the Torah).

In his later visit Paul brings gifts from the gentiles to the Jerusalem church to help the poor which is meant to fulfill end time prophecy.    James questions Paul that some are saying Paul is going beyond the previous agreement that Jewish Christians had to keep the full Torah, because for Paul this was the end times and the world of this form was passing away and there was neither Jew nor Greek.  Acts seems to suggest Christian Jews needed to keep the Torah, but Tabor thinks the historical happening was different from Acts. James represents Torah observant messianic Judaism with Jesus as the Messiah.  Tabor believes contra Acts that, ala FC Bauer there was a split between Paul and James precisely on the issue of whether Christian Jews had to remain strict Torah observant.  Paul thought the Parousia of Jesus was so imminent that all the eat not touch not etc was a hinderance.  Tabor takes the minority position against the consensus of scholars that Paul’s dispute with the super-apostles was in fact against Peter and James.  I have tried to show in previous posts the super-apostles are not Peter and James, but like the false apostles and brothers.  In any case, what is fruitful here is trying to uncover a Christianity from before the cross. Tabor points to the book/epistle of James. Check out this short Tabor video:

Tabor points out the consensus of scholars says that the epistle of James is good Hellenistic Greek that the literate/semi literate James couldn’t have wrote. But it still might reflect James. Tabor argues against what he sees as Pauline dualism to a this worldly Jesus/James theology. The references to Jesus in the letter might be interpolations, the passages flowing perfectly well if they are removed, and there is nothing about the blood and cross of Christ. James wants to stress forgiveness is given throughout the bible by God, it did not start with Jesus, and even Jesus says it has nothing to do with being a Christian (the story of the 2 men who went up to pray in the temple – the humble one went up justified, but was not a Christian – See also psalm 51 David’s prayer). The epistle is apocalyptic, judgment is coming, but it’s on those not paying their workers, etc.

I think Tabor is right that we need to press back to a pre-cross Christianity that survived at least for a while until the crucifixion/resurrection theology won out. We see this in the Didache and the Book of James and Q. But I would say Jesus’ brother James, who thought Jesus was crazy and only converted after he died, probably with the 12 invented the crucifixion/resurrection narrative. This is all part of the pre-Pauline Corinthian Creed. As I have argued elsewhere, there were probably other Christians who maintained a non-cross non-resurrection Jesus theology after Jesus died, and reflected the false apostles and false brethren Paul identified. Here is a link to my post about this that links back to earlier posts on the topic:

The False Prophets And The Christ Myth Theory

This is of course crucial to the Carrier mythicism debate, because his whole argument depends on there being a cross centered vicarious atonement Christianity at the inception. This even leads us to a more basic issue of whether we have a penal substitution cross or a moral influence one.