Shuck and Jive

Friday, March 30, 2007

Is Jesus Under YOUR Porch?

1980 photo of Talpiot Tomb. (Credit: Amos Kloner)

I have been working today on my powerpoint presentation for Sunday's adult forum (9:45 a.m. -- join us! If ya can't stop then throw us a kiss!). The topic is the Talpiot Tomb. There are many great resources for the curious. You will want to check out The Discovery Channel website. This is a good one to explore around and get a feel for the issue. Especially helpful is the PDF Document that contains the drawings by the original excavators and their recording of the inscriptions. You will also find on that document Amos Kloner's 1996 article about the tomb and the statistics computed by Andrey Feurgverger regarding this cluster of names. You will find articles by other scholars who question that this is the tomb of Jesus.

Then, of course, you will want to go to Simcha Jacobovici's site, The Lost Tomb of Jesus. There is a great deal of speculation there as well, some of it interesting, some of it less so. Nevertheless, it is a fun exploration. I have already mentioned James Tabor's blog. Tabor affirms that there is a good possibility that this is the tomb of Jesus and his family. Mark Goodacre's blog is also quite good. Goodacre is a skeptic regarding this issue. I have great admiration for both of these scholars. They are civil and dispassionate.

As I was putting this powerpoint together, I realized that if this is not the tomb of Jesus and his family, then somewhere in the suburbs of Jerusalem, Jesus is still under someone's porch. My point being that the discovery, debate, and analysis of the tomb is a great benefit for the future of Christianity. It is helping people get beyond the literalism that has enslaved us. Christians will be able to look at the Gospels with a more critical eye. Further, they will have a deepened understanding of faith claims and how they developed, (ie. Resurrection). Faith will not be about "believing" in a virgin birth, a resuscitated corpse, substitutionary atonement, the second coming, and an error-free Bible. It will be about trusting in what Jesus trusted.

I am learning about the importance of James, the brother of Jesus. Most of us probably aren't even aware that Jesus had brothers (and sisters!) yet James was not only the brother of Jesus, but was the leader of the Jerusalem church. Even Peter took orders from James, and Paul (according to Acts) submitted to his authority. There is a whole tradition of James and the brothers of Jesus as leaders of the movement.

There is a Letter of James in the New Testament. Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer, sniffed at it calling it "an epistle of straw." But when you read it, it sounds a lot like the Sermon on the Mount and like many of the things that Jesus said. No mythology such as a virgin birth or resurrection in that letter. In fact, the letter of James takes Paul to task. He criticizes the notion of faith without works. "It is dead!" writes James. I am not sure if this letter is by James the brother of Jesus. It could be, but it could also be by someone who carries on the James /Jesus family tradition. Because it is such a precise critique of Romans, it may be that the author has Romans before him, which would put the epistle of James after the death of James.

James was killed in 62 CE in Jerusalem. For thirty years, from 30 CE until 62 CE, the eldest brother of Jesus, James, led the movement. Saying 12 of the Gospel of Thomas reflects this tradition.

12 The disciples said to Jesus, "We know that you are going to leave us. Who will be our leader?" Jesus said to them, "No matter where you are you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being."

This saying from Thomas could go back to that early period. There were other contenders for leadership. Paul was one. Paul didn't have any connection with the earthly Jesus. He prides himself in that. Paul defends himself in his letter to the Galatians:

For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.

Paul, here is distancing himself from James. Paul is likely the one who introduced the concept of Resurrection. For him, it wasn't a resuscitated body, but a vision on the road to Damascus. The Gospels, starting with Mark, then the others, writing at least a decade after Paul's last letter, Romans (circa 60 CE), incorporate Paul's resurrection theology in their narratives, and hence move James to the margins. The Resurrection becomes literalized as the tradition develops.

Jesus has yet another brother, Jude. The letter of Jude may also be in the family tradition. Jude's letter has apocalyptic references and is basically a slam on those who have come into the community and disturbed the "love feasts." No details about what these troublemakers are saying, so we don't know who it is about. My hunch, and it is only a hunch, is that it is about Paul and his gang.

When Acts is written (who knows, 80-125 CE), the task is to tame Paul. He sounds pretty darn gnostic at times. Paul, in Acts, submits to the authority of James at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. But that is not how Paul tells the story in Galatians. In Paul's view, he gave them hell.

The New Testament reflects a huge tension between Paul and James. As a whole, however, the New Testament follows the mythology of Paul and reinterprets the Jesus story under Paul's influence.

But if James gets marginalized, what about Mary? You cannot ignore this woman. She is mentioned at central places in the Gospels. The writers have to include her, even though she is woman who tells "idle tales", is possessed by demons, and probably a whore. At least that is how she ends up being portrayed by the later church.

Nonetheless, there is something about Mary. We have the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Philip, The Dialogue of the Savior, and Pistis Sophia that have a tradition of the leadership of Mary, "the Apostle to the Apostles." In these texts, she knows Jesus better than anyone.

It is very likely that Mary was part of the family tradition with James and the other brothers and sisters. Hints of intimacy between Jesus and Mary are reflected in this tradition. Why not? Why can't Jesus be a sexual being? If anyone, it would likely be with Mary. Who would carry on the message of Jesus better than his own spouse and family members?

All of this is to suggest that one stream of the early Jesus movements would have been connected with the intimates of Jesus, his family. So finding this tomb as connecting with the family of Jesus, would explain a lot. It is not so unusual, once one gets beyond the literalism of dogma and creed.

Then again, it may not be the tomb of Jesus. Time will tell. Regardless of whether it is or it is not, Christianity will make a leap forward by looking at the history of the various Jesus movements.

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