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Profile: James D. Tabor
James D. Tabor was a participant or observer in the following events:
A recent spate of chain email attacks on presidential contender Barack Obama (D-IL) include claims that Obama may be the Antichrist of Biblical prediction. PolitiFact, the nonpartisan, political fact-checking organization sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times, notes that the email entirely distorts the words of the Book of Revelation to make its claim. The email reads: “According to The Book of Revelations the anti-christ is: The anti-christ will be a man, in his 40s, of MUSLIM descent, who will deceive the nations with persuasive language, and have a MASSIVE Christ-like appeal.… the prophecy says that people will flock to him and he will promise false hope and world peace, and when he is in power, will destroy everything is it OBAMA??… I STRONGLY URGE each one of you to repost this as many times as you can! Each opportunity that you have to send it to a friend or media outlet… do it! If you think I am crazy… Im sorry but I refuse to take a chance on the ‘unknown’ candidate.” PolitiFact notes that there are at least 635,000 hits on Google for the search term “Obama + Antichrist,” indicating that the subject has a certain interest to many. There are also literally thousands of blog posts about “Barack Obama the Antichrist” and such. PolitiFact states flatly, “Nothing about this detailed allegation is true.” According to PolitiFact’s research, which includes interviews with two religious scholars, the email makes a number of egregious errors.
The email misstates the name of the “Book of Revelation” as “Revelations.”
The email falsely says that the Book of Revelation uses the term “anti-christ” or any such term. Religious studies professor Dr. James D. Tabor tells PolitiFact: “The word Antichrist is not used in the Book of Revelation so this is important to point out. Everybody thinks the word is used.” Dr. L. Michael White, a professor of classics and religious studies, adds, “First and foremost, the word Antichrist and a figure called the Antichrist never occurs in the Book of Revelation in the New Testament.” There are characters in Revelation that some interpret as being the Antichrist, particularly one beastly figure in Chapter 13 “having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy” that some consider to be an allusion to the Antichrist. “It’s only in Chapter 13 and you could almost miss it,” Tabor says. White notes that most Biblical scholars do not consider that figure to represent the Antichrist. “It wasn’t there in the Bible,” he says. “It emerges in the Middle Ages. It’s something historians deal with.” The term does appear a few times in other books of the Bible, specifically First John and Second John.
The Bible does not identify the Antichrist as a man of any particular age. Nowhere does it describe “a man, in his 40s,” as the e-mail alleges. “As you notice, there’s nothing about being age 40,” Tabor says. “This is completely wrong. The Book of Revelation doesn’t say that. It says it’s a male, so I guess they got that right. It says ‘he,’ ‘he,’ ‘he.’”
The Bible does not identify the Antichrist as being Muslim; Islam was not founded as a religion until 400 years after the completion of the various books of the Bible. “A Muslim would be a monotheist and the last thing a Muslim would do is have anyone worship anyone other than God,” says Tabor. And Obama is a Christian, not a Muslim (see October 1, 2007, December 19, 2007, and January 11, 2008).
According to White, the email lifts much of its information from the Left Behind series, a group of post-apocalyptic novels written by Christian-right preacher Tim LaHaye and his co-author, Jerry Jenkins. The email is, White says, “a jigsaw puzzle of bits and pieces all filtered through the kind of end-of-world scenarios we get in the theology that is the underpinning of the Left Behind novels.” He says this kind of “patchwork interpretation of the Bible” is used by groups who wish to justify certain beliefs. “Of course, they never bothered to read the Scriptures carefully,” he says, “so it’s kind of a system of interpretation. That if you start with that presupposition… it’s all there you can just find it.… That description [in the chain email] never occurs anywhere in one place nor are the component parts really about the same situation. It’s a cherry-picking through Scripture to get it all to fit together.” PolitiFact calls the email’s claim “egregiously inaccurate.” [St. Petersburg Times, 3/19/2008]
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