James D. Tabor Taken Aback: Claims About the Shroud Blood X and Y Chromosomes

imageJames D. Tabor, Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, writes in his blog, What Have They Done with Jesus? When History and Theology Collide:

I presented the results of my take on Jesus in my 2006 book, The Jesus Dynasty. It is a book written for a non-specialist audience, not for my academic colleagues, though I am happy that any number of them have offered their reviews. This includes Jim Strange, Craig Evans, Darrel Bock, Jack Porier, and Ben Witherington–all of whom are academics with a decidedly conservative approach to matters of Christian Origins. Craig Evans and Ben Witherington have written entire books on the more general issues involved in historical Jesus research. Evans titles his book, Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels, with a chapter endearingly titled “Hokum History and Bogus Findings,” in which he treats my own take on Jesus. Still, Ben Witherington’s title surely has to be my favorite: What Have They Done With Jesus?  The book is a rather imagetypical  liberal vs. conservative treatment of recent historical studies written by well known academics on Jesus and early Christianity that have made it into the mass market trade publishing world. Witherington is bound and determined to save Jesus from the critical scholars but at the same time to be cute and engaging with chapter titles such as: Gullible’s Travels,” “Naughty Gnostic Gospels,” “For Pete’s Sake,” “Simon Says,” “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” and “Hey Jude, Don’t Make It Bad.” In an appendix to the book, hastily added as it was going to press, is Witherington’s critique of The Jesus Dynasty, previously published on his blog in several parts. Gary Burge, in Christianity Today, characterized Witherington’s treatment of my work as “a stinging dismantling of James Tabor’s primary theses in his speculative book, The Jesus Dynasty.”

I find it interesting that Prof. Burge considers Witherington’s treatment a “stinging dismantling” of my primary theses, though I suppose I should not at all find it surprising that Burge would characterize my work as “speculative.” After all, I do indeed “speculate” that Jesus had a human father, or that dead bodies don’t rise and walk around and eat and drink, talk to folks, and then rise up into the heavens. Therefore I assume that Jesus must have had the normal DNA that comes from a human mother and father, and that if the tomb into which he was temporarily and hastily place after his execution was empty someone must have removed Jesus’ corpse. It is that simple. Since I know neither the father nor what happened to the body I suggest a few possible speculative scenarios that you can take a look here and here. So in that regard I guess I have to plead guilty of “speculation.” But is there really any serious alternative? Seriously? See my essay here on “Sense and Nonsense in the Academic Study of Religions.”

There are of course many things we don’t know with certainty about the historical Jesus, and when I can I try to fill in what one might reasonably suppose, and that could well be labeled speculation as well, but I think it is the “Jesus had a father” and “dead messiahs don’t come to life” assumptions that most hackle folk who take such things literally. As for the charge that Witherington has offered a “stinging dismantling” of my primary theses I must confess I find myself at a loss here. Somehow I can not imagine that anyone familiar with the areas I cover in my book would evaluate Witherington’s critique in that way. I guess it just goes to show how Evangelicals love champions, those few of their number who go out and somehow “meet the lions” on their own terms (and I am surely not even one of the lions compared to the likes of Crossan, Ehrman, or Funk).

I have not chosen to “answer” Witherington’s critique of my book in an explicit and direct way. I think our basic presuppositions are so very different on many issues there is, unfortunately, simply no room for dialogue. Ben is doing theology and I am trying my best to stick with history. Witherington wrote me in the course of his questioning my discussion about Jesus having a father that he believed the blood samples tested on the Shroud of Turin had strangely showed neither X nor Y chromosomes, indicating that Jesus was somehow human, but without normal human blood like the rest of us with two human parents. I must admit, it took me aback more than a bit.  But it also helped me to realize that in such circles the normal rules of scholarly engagement and critical discussion are suspended. On the other hand, I have responded to most of the critiques of Witherington, Evans, and others in the many posts on this Blog, particularly the matters relating to the Talpiot tombs, the ossuaries and their inscriptions, and the matter of Jesus having a father. It is all there for those who want to go back and read a bit, beginning with the links above as well as here, here, and here. (bold emphasis mine)

What do we really know or think we know about this subject?

14 thoughts on “James D. Tabor Taken Aback: Claims About the Shroud Blood X and Y Chromosomes”

  1. Tabor is well-known in the field, writes well, and most of what he says is part of his personal quest. There is a good review of his book by James Strange, available on the internet.

  2. Tabor is a fringe theorist who makes money and prestige for himself by pushing his controversial theories on a heartbreakingly ill-informed populace. The fact that he has hitched his intellectual wagon to Jacobovici really should help us to decide if he is qualified to call other scholars’ ideas into question.

  3. Tabor is a fringe theorist who makes money and prestige for himself by pushing his pet controversial theories on a heartbreakingly ill-informed populace. The fact that he has hitched his his intellectual wagon to Jacobovici really should help us decide if he is qualified to call other scholars ideas into question.

  4. James Tabor’s latest book was completely taken apart in March especially by the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) website. In the ensuing discussion he was shown pretty convincingly to have doctored his photos to fit his thesis that he had found the first Christian tomb. Do not touch.

    1. The Book is The Jesus Discovery (Simon and Schuster, 2012) and here is one extract from a review reproduced on the ASOR blog by Eric Meyers of Duke University. Tabor’s main argument was that he had ‘seen’ a fish on an ossuary which mainstream scholars had seen an amphora! He eventually became the subject of much ribaldry when some of his less reverent critics began seeing all kinds of things in the photos he reproduced. My own feeling is that he has landed himself in complete ridicule although, as always in these cases, he still has credulous admirers. Go to the ASOR website, access the blog and search James Tabor for a fuller assessment by the leading scholars.

      ‘The book is truly much ado about nothing and is a sensationalist presentation of data that are familiar to anyone with knowledge of first-century Jerusalem. Nothing in the book “revolutionizes our understanding of Jesus or early Christianity” as the authors and publisher claim, and we may regard this book as yet another in a long list of presentations that misuse not only the Bible but also archaeology. The image in the book (on page 91, fig.30) is very washed out, and any fish imagery is hardly identifiable let alone as that of a fish spewing out a human [Jonah claims Tabor]. In fact, the image in the book is so poorly reproduced in my copy that one suspects it has been intentionally altered so that no one could see what the the image really is.’

  5. I think RoyalCanadian/Bill summed it up pretty well with this statement; “The fact that he has hitched his intellectual wagon to Jacobovici really should help us decide if he is qualified to call other scholars ideas into question.” …or to be taken seriously at all I would add, as Jacobovici is a total joke.

    As to Tabor’s insistence that he sees a ‘fish’ on the ossuary; It is simply unbelievable! I have viewed a documentary where they totally rip Tabor’s theory apart; For one they show several other first century ossuaries found in tombs in the vacinity of Jerusalem, and these have cleary ‘amphora’ etched on them. When I see the ‘fish’, I see relatively the same amphora as shown on the other ossuaries, I just can’t understand how one can make such a mistake? Anyways, main point is I am wondering about Mr. Tabor’s credibility; If Mr. Tabor, as I would assume, would have some experience in first century tombs and ossuaries, then he would be quite aware of the amphora designs found on many ossuaries previous to this find….So how can he honestly mistake this one as a fish?

    R

  6. Charles, yes, Tabor was accused of showing “photoshopped” images to suit his theory and his working together with Jacobovici will only make matters worse for both. They are not bad fellows but do not seem to have learnt from mistakes. Ted Koppel (Discovery Channel) took the “Jesus Family Tomb” apart in the second documentary, where both were present, and it seems he was forced to do so due to pressure from the top biblical scholars and archaeologists. It is obvious that their “archaeology” is tailor-made to suit their worldviews.

  7. Some news, not exactly anything to do with the book, but within the context of those archaeological “finds”;

    The Harvard Theological Review has decided that it will no longer publish the paper by Karen King on the “Jesus’ wife” papyrus in January 2013. They have apparently decided to wait. As commented around a month ago by this author, it would have been more prudent to look before leaping.

  8. Further to the above comments, it seems that Smithsonian has also delayed its documentary on the papyrus. It is written all over the walls that the hesitation of both the HTR and Smithsonian derives from the fact that most scholars have judged it to be something like a “clumsy counterfeit”.

    Why just one tiny fragment, with no context, and therefore no narrative? The author, or the person who did the “patchwork,” was obviously well-versed in gnosticism and copied the style seen in “The Gospel of Thomas”, where there are only loose sayings.

  9. In the past I have read some very strange speculations (source = “The Marian Conspiracy: The Hidden Truth About the Holy Grail, the Real Father of Christ and the Tomb of the virgin Mary” by by Graham Phillips, etc.).
    So …
    Where are the remains by Antipater ?
    Reference :
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antipater_(son_of_Herod_the_Great)
    >Antipater II (ca. 46 BC – 4 BC) was Herod the Great’s first-born son, his only child by his first wife Doris. He was named after his paternal grandfather Antipater the Idumaean. He and his mother were exiled after Herod divorced her between 43 BC and 40 BC …
    — —
    See also the book :
    Herodian Messiah: Case For Jesus As Grandson of Herod
    by
    Joseph Raymond …
    What is the true proof about the presumed shocking theory, that Jesus was the grandson of both Herod the Great and the last Hasmonean king ?
    — —
    Is it possible to find the DNA by Antipater ?
    Where is the system to discover the useful DNA remains ?
    Regards

    1. I believe in Jesus, so I can agree with your (hasty) reply.
      But if you want to do a great genetic research you can try to search what you are able to show …
      Do you agree ?
      So …
      What is rubbish ?
      Is the strange question of the Antipater’s remains ?
      … and …
      Where are the presumed bones of Antipater ?
      … or …
      Where are the other bones, those of the soldier Panthera ?

  10. Tabor may be onto something concrete, but it needs the critical test of time and the critique of his peers. He does operate in the area of probability and needs more evidence to convince us. His claim that Paul “invented” Baptism and the Eucharist should almost be considered heresy.

    But then again,……………..????????????

  11. Cliff :
    Tabor may be onto something concrete, but it needs the critical test of time and the critique of his peers. He does operate in the area of probability and needs more evidence to convince us. His claim that Paul “invented” Baptism and the Eucharist should almost be considered heresy.
    But then again,……………..????????????

    Cliff, saw your recent comment & (re)read the main post-the boldface phrase caught my eye: “the Shroud of Turin had strangely showed neither X nor Y chromosomes, indicating that Jesus was somehow human, but without normal human blood like the rest of us with two human parents.”

    “Strangely showed neither”…this appears misleading: it is phrased to sound as though the presence of X & Y chromosomes was looked for, but not detected.

    As far as I am aware, here is what has been reported: Garza-Valdes described (in a book) that portions of both X & Y sequences present on bloodstained threads from the Shroud.
    Canale and coworkers reported (in a Shroud journal) that they found male DNA with traces of female DNA present on bloodstained threads, with male DNA more abundant; further examination of the samples showed that multiple forms of other, unrelated genes were present, more than could be accounted for by one individual.

    That being said, I’ve written before about (what are, in my opinion) over-generalizations about the DNA on the Shroud. In my judgement, the sex typing of the blood also falls into this category: the data that exists is extremely limited. In my opinion, a scientific panel or journal would not accept the conclusions based on such results. The heterogeneity must be addressed. The reproducibility is an unknown. The conclusions at this stage are much too preliminary.

    “Strangely, showed neither?” This is at the other end of the extreme. When scientific results become elasticized and stretched beyond what can be conclusively determined from the data, it can quickly become like the party game where you whisper something in the first person’s ear and compare the end result five minutes later. These issues take on a life on their own-it is always best to stay within the context of the original scientific data-it is unclear to me where this particular line of reasoning (strangely showed neither) is coming from.

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