Reza Aslan’s recent book “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,” is nothing new — not by a long shot! Aslan simply stands in line with many previous contenders offering to rewrite the history of Jesus (see: S. G. F. Brandon).
This is especially true when he (rather audaciously) claims that if “we expose the claims of the gospels to the heat of historical analysis, we can purge the scriptures of their literary and theological flourishes and forge a far more accurate picture of the Jesus of history.”
Consider this one profound point: “The idea of a crucified god really did not make sense in the first century. It’s not a message you make up if you’re going to start a religion in the first century A.D.” (Ben Witherington).
Aslan’s ongoing emphasis on his scholarship and extensive knowledge about Jesus is a little much to digest when he overlooks very basic facts. For example, Aslan is wrong when he suggests that the first written documents about Jesus were written by Paul. The NT book of James is slightly earlier (50 A.D.). Perhaps this is a small point but for one who places such heavy emphasis on his scholarship, Reza should be more careful.
Aslan is also wrong about the Paul only mentioning “three scenes from Jesus’ life.” He overlooked Philippians 2 where Paul referred to Jesus becoming human. Perhaps this is another small point but one that should be known by someone who has studied the life of Jesus for 20 years.
Why should we trust Aslan’s efforts to purge the New Testament? He’s given me more than enough reason to doubt the thoroughness of his scholarship. If one applies to the New Testament the accepted rules that guide criticism of historical witness, the veracity of the account is strongly validated.
All those who take history seriously must acknowledge the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ. It’s an indisputable fact of history that there existed in the first century a man identified as Jesus of Nazareth. We possess detailed accounts of his birth, life, contemporaries and death.
Of course, there is a turning point in the history of Jesus and, although found in the same historical documents, not everyone chooses to believe the rest of the story.
These documents equally present a view of Jesus as one who existed prior to his birth and one who rose from the grave (John 8:58).
“The life of Jesus is bracketed by two impossibilities: a virgin’s womb and an empty tomb. Jesus entered our world through a door marked ‘no entrance’ and left through a door marked ‘no exit’” (Peter Larson).
The story in the New Testament consistently presents Christ as one who does not fit the normal categories for human beings. He is fully human but not merely human (Philippians 2:5-11).
We don’t possess a fully comprehensible category for Jesus. What do we do with
- Virgin birth?
- Promised return?
The account of Jesus demands a God who breaks in on the natural order — a God who reveals Himself. Jesus is this God. His claims are so extraordinarily unprecedented that they shatter our categories and demand our worship.
An exceptionally reasonable case can be made for the historical reliability of the New Testament. In fact, when the rules that guide standard criticism of historical witness are applied to the New Testament, a solid case can be made for its trustworthiness.
“The biblical presentation of Jesus refuses to remain nicely confined to any of our containers. One picture after another of Jesus in this long line of nontraditional portraits fails before one question dear to the hearts of all faithful Christians: ‘What about the Cross?’… Why would anyone crucify the reasonable Jesus of the Enlightenment? Why would anyone crucify the dreamy poet of Romanticism? Why would anyone crucify the law-abiding, mild-mannered rabbi of revisionist Jewish scholarship? Why would anyone crucify the witty, enigmatic, and marginal figure of the Jesus Seminar?” A Jewish scholar says, ‘Theologians produced the figure they could admire most at the least cost.’ But the Cross stands amidst each such easy path, each attempt to avoid the heart of the matter and the cost of discipleship. The Cross remains a stumbling block for all who encounter this Jesus. He is perhaps not the person we want, but he is surely the person we still – desperately – need” (Allen).
Jesus offered an amazing promise
“…. whoever comes to me I will never drive away …For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:37-40).
If you reject Jesus – according to His own word – there is no other way to eternal life (see: John 14:6).
“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).
- Return of the Jesus Wars by Ross Douthat
- More About Reza Aslan’s Zealot Than I Wanted To Write by Alan Jacobs
- 7 claims of Jesus