Two scholarly reviews of Aslan’s Zealot

Whatever the fallout from the interview, and the bestseller status achieved by Aslan, I’m doubtful that New Testament scholars, or the more narrow circle of historical Jesus scholars, will agree with much of Aslan’s account of Jesus.

Anthony Le Donne is scathing:

Jesus’ preaching about God’s kingdom is undoubtedly political.  It makes sense that this teaching was directly related to the title posted on the cross (and/or the symbolic value of that title in Christian memory).  This much is not all that controversial.  Defining “political” is the key problem.  Reza Aslan’s book barely touches the vast sea of literature on this problem.  In short, this book is a surface-level (albeit well-promoted) rehash of an old puzzle in Jesus research.  Unfortunately, Aslan brings nothing new to the table that will help us solve the puzzle. He simply dismisses all of Jesus’ sayings about nonviolence as Christian invention.  This move isn’t unheard of, but he fails to make his case for invention adequately.

Greg Carey is more charitable:

I would add that Aslan provides some of the most helpful discussions I have yet encountered regarding the accounts of Jesus’ healing ministry and of his resurrection. These stories represent minefields for any historical investigator. Aslan handles them with sympathy, imagination, and critical judgment.

At the same time, I have some serious reservations about Aslan’s portrait of Jesus, and I suspect that most professional biblical scholars will share some of them. First, the book contains some outright glitches, things a professional scholar would be unlikely to say. Aslan suggests there were “countless” revolutionary prophets and would-be messiahs in Jesus’ day. Several did appear, but “countless” is a bit much. Aslan assumes near-universal illiteracy in Jesus’ society, an issue that remains unsettled and hotly contested among specialists. At one point Aslan says it would seem “unthinkable” for an adult Jewish man not to marry. He does mention celibate Jews like the Essenes, but he seems unaware that women were simply scarce in the ancient world. Lots of low-status men lacked the opportunity to marry. Aslan assumes Jesus lived and worked in Sepphoris, a significant city near Nazareth. This is possible, but we lack evidence to confirm it.

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2 thoughts on “Two scholarly reviews of Aslan’s Zealot

  1. Pingback: Two scholarly reviews of Aslan’s Zealot | ChristianBookBarn.com

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