It’s been a minute since I’ve discussed the historical Jesus. It’s not that I’ve lost interest, it’s that I feel like I’ve hit a ceiling with that research. New evidence is hard to come by, and quite frankly, I doubt that anything of significance will ever turn up.
For armchair historians like myself, that’s a hard pill to swallow but those are the facts. Any new developments will be derived from a reinterpretation of the available archeological and historical data.
But every now and then, a REAL historian will present a compelling argument based on nonfalsified archaeological evidence that fits the historical record. Enter James Tabor and his argument for a certain Roman soldier being Jesus’s real father.
Clearly this is not a new argument. Even the ancients probably joked about Jesus’s virgin birth being a cover up for Mary’s alleged infidelity. What I didn’t realize though is that there is traces of this tradition very early, notably in Jewish texts. But according to Tabor, these texts aren’t mocking the fact that “Pantera” (and not Joseph) is Jesus’s real father.
I do find it interesting (if Tabor is correct) that this would survive in Jewish tradition and not in Christian tradition. We know that redaction was going on all the time with early Christian texts…especially the ones that survived into the New Testament…so it makes sense why these early followers would try to cover up this uncomfortable fact (and why Jewish sources wouldn’t bother doing so).
Still, I’d be cautious in embracing this theory. While I find Tabor to be a compelling speaker and historian, I feel like he might be a little too gullible. In the video, he also defends Morton Smith and his “Mar Saba letter” which discusses the “Secret Gospel of Mark.” If memory serves, I mentioned elsewhere on this blog that that letter is almost certainly a forgery. That might not sound like a big deal, especially considering that Tabor knew Smith, but it raises a few red flags for me.
But you be the judge.