Jim Tabor Interview

This is an interview Jim Tabor gave to KRLD in early October 1993, talking about the unfinished Seven Seals manuscript, and why he believed it showed David intended to come out. At one point, he notes being surprised that it was "fairly systematic," having found David Koresh's March 2 address "wandering and incoherent." In his broadcast with Phil Arnold, he had praised the "systematic skills of the exegesis" in that address; this illustrates how Arnold and Tabor were willing to fudge to score points with David. However, this initial judgment was based on an extremely flawed AP transcript of David's broadcast, which mangled David's words into incomprehensibility.

There were two interviewers, a male and a female.

M: -tion of the Seven Seals in the, in the Book of Revelation. Dr. James Tabor of the University or North Carolina at Charlotte, is studying the manuscript with another expert, Phillip Arnold of Houston. And Dr. Tabor says he believes the 13-page manuscript confirms that Koresh did plan to come out of the compound. And he joins us now on the KRLD Newsline, with more. Tell us more about exactly what's on this, ah, this computer disk, Dr. Tabor, an-, and does it appear that, ah, Koresh wrote this the night before the April 19th fire, or very close to it?

JT: Yeah. We- ah, that information, actually from Ruth Riddle, who was the, ah, survivor that carried the disk out. And she also happens to be David's typist. And, uh, so she, she told us that he worked on it all afternoon Sunday, ah, the day before the, ah, fire. Um, it's 13 pages single-spaced, which would be about 25 double and it bears the, the marks of, ah, an attempt, I think, to come up with a substantial manuscript. It's got an introductory poem, and then about a three page introduction to the whole work, and then the first chapter, complete. And, she told us that he dictated it slowly, and she would type it and then be would look it over and... They worked on it for about four or five hours that Sunday afternoon.

M: Did he, uh, did he say at any point that, ah, he did plan to surrender?

JT: Beg your pardon?

M: Did he say at any point that he did plan to surrender, once this was complete- or make any allusion to surrendering at all?

JT: Well, I, I think that part of it is that, uh, I think there's three things. The existence of the manuscript itself is interesting evidence, because, ah, he had announced after Passover, if you recall, on the Wednesday before the fire, that he'd finally gotten his release word over Passover, and that he was to write this manuscript. On Thursday and Friday, then, the FBI were making their decisions, and then over the weekend- They said that they had evidence that he wasn't even working on it. So just the fact that he was working on it is one thing. Now, internally, though, there's some interesting things. It closes by quoting a, a Biblical passage from the Book of Joel, which talks about, uh, gathering the congregation, assembling the children, and then, as you know, he called himself the Lamb, or the Bridegroom. It says, let the Lamb go forth from his chamber, and then he ends it really by saying, um, ah, "should we not ourselves eagerly come out of our closet and be revealed to the world?" So it seems like he was addressing his group as well as the outside and Ruth Riddle reported to us by telephone from jail when we interviewed her about the manuscript that there was a spirit in the compound that evening of a kind of joy and calmness. They were rather- David was excited that he- he wasn't much of a writer, he was more of an oralist, but that he had, uh, made such good progress on it. And I think Monday morning was a real shock to all of them, because of- he got up that morning, you know, planning to work on this.

F: Dr. Tabor, these and other comments certainly indicate that he wanted to be free; there were any number of comments he made in the course of the siege that indicated that. That did not necessarily indicate he had any intention of surrendering. In, in point of fact, if you go back to the beginning of the siege, (JT: Mm-hmm) his comment, uh, when he heard that the ATF was on its way, was to tell the members of the group, "the ATF and National Guard are coming, they are not going to take me again!" (JT: Mm-hmm) This seems to contradict any intention to surrender.

JT: Well, I think we're 50 days later, and I think he had, uh, I would take this April 14 letter rather seriously when he talks about being allowed finally to write this manuscript. Also, Dr. Arnold and I had communicated with him, ah, through tapes that Dick DeGuerin carried in, uh, about a week or two before the Passover in which we had actually argued this precise point with him and tried to persuade him of a, a sort of, I would call it an alternative apocalyptic scenario. We pointed out, I think our strongest, ah, point that had weight with him was that even though he had appeared on the cover of Time and Newsweek and People, and had all this attention, that all anybody knew about him, if he claimed to be a prophet, which he did, was that he was a, you know, child molester, sexual deviant, and so forth, and that if he really had something to say, that he should, ah, write it out clearly and come forth. So we saw him as maybe responding to that. Of course, nobody absolutely knows what was in his head.

M: And of course he had lied before, he'd said he was going to come out before and did not, and there were, there were certainly plenty of grounds if federal authorities even had this information and knew that he was writing this on, or April 18th and, and, uh, they had plenty of, uh, grounds not to believe him anyway.

JT: It might not have made a difference to them. I think it would have been worth, uh, look, just by looking at it I would think another week to ten days to, uh, it would have been worth, uh, waiting for that, maybe pulling back a bit if some were, some of the FBI were advising. You know, cooling it down a bit in terms of media and letting him work on this, and, uh, um, that, you know, other than that we're all speculating, I suppose.

M: And, and you're interpreting too, these final writings, because he didn't directly say "we're coming out," you're just interpreting what he, what he said. More or less.

JT: Yeah, well, the final quote, he does say, uh, it's ti-, you know, it's time to come out, the one that I read. But (M: Right.) it is part o-, it's woven in to the end of the manuscript. You're right on that.

M: Do you, uh, do you think he lied when he said, according to last week's Treasury Department report that he planned to, uh, arm his followers and, uh, and, and use violence against some people in Waco?

JT: Uh... Was- I was, I'm not familiar with that. Was that in that 200-page re- (M: Right.) ATF report?

M: Right.

JT: I'm just not familiar with it I'm, I've been- actually, as soon as I got the disk, I spent several days just trying to, uh, interpret it and write a short little commentary on it.

M: Well, will, will material from your research be used in any upcoming, uh, trials of, of Branch Davidians who did survive?

JT: It's certain-, it would certainly be available if anybody wants it. Uh, the manuscript we have made available to the press and to others that want it. Um- it's basically out if people want to look at it. It, it's pretty interesting from our standpoint of trying to understand David as a, uh, and the whole group as a religious community with a set of beliefs, however bizarre. It's fairly systematic, that's the thing that surprised me; I thought it would probably be gibberish and nonsense. Uh, it does show- it gives us a little glimpse into how he had a Scriptural hold on these people by using, uh, Biblical exegesis and, uh, Biblical argument.

M: In that sense, it's similar to the, uh, statement that he broadcast, uh, very early on.

JT: No- the statement that he broadcast was much more wandering and incoherent, I would say. And that, maybe that's because of, ah, nervousness on the radio or something, I don't really know. I read that- at least I read the transcript of it that was in the Ft. Worth paper, I think, and I found it very difficult to follow. This is, uh, quite well organized, and it, uh, gives us some idea of, of his own self-understanding.

F: Speaking as a, a theologian, and a Biblical expert, as you read this 13-page manuscript, uh, and I know it's difficult to do, but putting aside everything else you knew, did you feel you were reading the manuscript of a man of God?

JT: Um... Judged from what standpoint, I would have to say. Uh- I think I was reading the manuscript of somebody who had a systematic understanding of the Bible, definitely not mainstream. Uh, so, you know, it's- I, I try to stay away from making, you know, personal judgments about anybody, not just David. David's a pretty easy target, I think. In terms of, uh, you know, labeling him as bizarre. But, uh-

JT: -tions of the Bible that are not mainstream, and it would be slung- similar to those kinds of things. (F: So you think-) He does have a system and a flow to it, that's what I'm trying to say.

F: So you're going to take a judge not approach. That's (JT: Yeah, yes-) perfectly acceptable from a Biblical-

JT: -As an-, you know how academics are, we always try to, uh, objectively comment on what's before us rather than make those sorts of judgments.

F: All right. I want to thank you very much for taking the time to join us this afternoon. Dr. James Tabor, of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, who along with Phillip Arnold of Houston is now studying the manuscript that, ah, came out of the Branch Davidian compound.

M: KRLD Newstime 1:34-

Arnold/Tabor Broadcast to David Koresh

Link to Tabor's Why Waco Collection

Link to 1994 Tabor Speech (rough draft transcript)

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