Skip to content

Zealot: Old News

August 10, 2013

Zealot by Reza Aslan is in the news at the moment, not least because of a disastrous interview on Fox in the US. Unfortunately, the book itself is hardly newsworthy, as explained in this article by John Dickson.

Ignore the questionable questioning by Dickson of Aslan’s credentials in the first three paragraphs and get into the meat of Dickson’s analysis. The general conclusions are:

  • Aslan over-exaggerates elements of the historical context of the gospels, to the point of error, in order to fit his thesis
  • Aslan picks-and-chooses what historical documents and gospels (or elements thereof) he wants to trust, in order to keep the ones that fit his thesis and dismiss the ones that don’t
  • Aslan covers over his historical inaccuracies with strong rhetoric

Ordinarily, I would recommend that Christians read whatever is the “flavour of the month” for attacks on Christianity. But, given the detail in which Dickson has dismantled this particular book, I don’t think it’s really worth the effort this time around. Instead I recommend that you familiarise yourself with Aslan’s arguments (because you’ll likely be hearing them a lot over the next few months) and with the correct history.

To quote Dickson’s (non-exhaustive) list of Aslan’s errors:

  • Aslan repeatedly calls revolutionary leaders of the first century “claimed messiahs,” when this crucial term hardly ever appears in our sources and certainly not in the contexts he is claiming.
  • Aslan pontificates on questions such as Jesus’s literacy (or illiteracy, in his judgment) with a cavalier style that does not represent the complexities involved.
  • He rushes to dismiss some Gospel passages as “fabulous concoctions” while accepting others as “beyond dispute” – and the only rhyme or reason I can detect is whether a passage fits with the story he wishes to tell.
  • He informs us that Mark’s Gospel says “nothing at all about Jesus’s resurrection,” overlooking the plain narrative signals of Mark 14:28 and 16:7.
  • He declares that Mark’s portrayal of Pilate’s prevarication over the execution of Jesus was “concocted” and “patently fictitious.” We are told that this Roman governor never baulked at dispatching Jewish rabble-rousers. This overlooks the widely-discussed evidence that Pilate did precisely this just a few years earlier with some Jewish leaders from Jerusalem.
  • Weirdly, Aslan says in passing that the letters of Paul make up “the bulk of the New Testament.” In fact, they represent only a quarter.
  • He dates the destruction of Sepphoris near Nazareth to the period of the tax rebellion of AD 6, when in fact this city was destroyed by Varus a decade earlier in the troubles following Herod’s death in 4BC.
  • He says that the traditions of John the Baptist were passed around in writing in Hebrew and Aramaic throughout the villages of Judea and Galilee. This is baseless.
  • He claims that Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was from the Hellenistic diaspora (and was therefore liable to fall for the un-Jewish perversion of Jesus’s message he heard in Jerusalem). This is pure invention, and overlooks the fact that many Greek-speaking Jews like Stephen lived in Jerusalem for generations. They even had their own Greek-speaking synagogues.
  • Aslan’s claim that “the disciples were themselves fugitives in Jerusalem, complicit in the sedition that led to Jesus’s execution” is disproven by the complete absence of evidence for any Roman attempt to arrest the followers of Jesus. Indeed, this is one of the reasons specialists remain confident Jesus was never viewed as the leader of a rebel movement.
  • He says a certain Jesus son of Ananias, a prophetic figure who appeared in Jerusalem in the early 60s AD, spoke about the appearance of the “Messiah.” Our sole source (Josephus) says nothing of the sort.
  • Aslan avers that even Luke, a Pauline “sycophant,” avoids calling Paul an “apostle” since only the twelve bear the title that Paul so desperately tried to claim for himself. In fact, Luke happily calls Paul and his colleague Barnabas “apostles” (Acts 14:14). Almost everything Aslan says about Paul and his place in ancient Judaism and Christianity is either wildly exaggerated or plainly false.

Full article here: http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2013/08/09/3822264.htm

Advertisements

From → Current Events

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: