Reza Aslan Isn’t Really All That Familiar With Historical Jesus Studies After All

Were he, he would have avoided saying the seven things he claims are true of Jesus:

1. Jesus was a violent revolutionary- Aslan portrays Jesus as a man of war who worshiped the “blood-spattered God of Abraham, and Moses, and Jacob, and Joshua” and who knew full well that “God’s sovereignty could not be established except through force.”

This one’s ridiculous.  See Bultmann’s ‘History of the Synoptic Tradition’.

2. Jesus’ kingdom was worldly- In the Gospel of John, Jesus famously says, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Aslan begs to differ. Jesus’ kingdom was neither purely nor predominantly spiritual. He preached “a physical and present kingdom: a real kingdom, with an actual king that was about to be established on earth.”

No, he didn’t.  See Bultmann’s ‘The Gospel of John’.

3. Jesus revolted against Roman and Jewish authorities.

He’s just dead wrong on both counts.  See Bultmann’s ‘Jesus’.

4. Palm Sunday is the key moment in the Jesus story.

Yeah… no.  See Bultmann’s ‘Jesus’.

5. The early church turned Jesus into a pacifist preaching a spiritual kingdom.

Yeah… no.  See Bultmann’s ‘Jesus’.

6. The idea that Jesus was God also originated with the early church.

Aslan needs to read a bit more broadly in studies of the Son of Man sayings of Jesus and his apparent self-awareness of divine origin and nature.  See Bultmann’s ‘Theology of the New Testament’.

7. The Bible isn’t to be believed (as history).

The fact that the bible isn’t historiography doesn’t mean there aren’t historical kernels. Aslan skipped Bultmann in his work (and only the foolish do that).  See Bultmann’s ‘Jesus Christ and Mythology’.

I wanted to believe that Aslan was someone who knew the subject, but these 7 factoids make it fairly clear that he isn’t as well versed as he wishes to believe and as his supporters wish him to be.

Author: Jim

I am a Pastor, and Lecturer in Church History and Biblical Studies at Ming Hua Theological College.

4 thoughts on “Reza Aslan Isn’t Really All That Familiar With Historical Jesus Studies After All”

  1. Jim, you forgat the eight and most important point

    8. Jesus was a disciple of Mao Tse Tung and Che Guevara.`

    …or something to that effect…Claude

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  2. I am currently reading the book. I think it is sincere. He follows J.P. Meier quite closely, leaving out the halachic part. So it’s a bit old-fashioned but I think it is a certainly respectable book. A fact checker would have been useful, but the analysis itself is valid (although I disagree).

    You will appreciate that Aslan has read Bultmann – or at least quotes him.

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  3. Ahem. After two thirds of the texts, I should repeat that a fact checker was VERY useful. On average, there’s about one factual error on 70% of the pages. Still, it does not criple the main argument, which is old-fashioned but in itself not unreasonable.

    Personally, I think it would have been a better book if he had known more about messianic theories, which means that he ought to have read more DSR. Now, he believes that the diverse messianologies were, to the common man, one and the same: militant. I think that is possible, but he does not prove this.

    I am also surprised that he does not focus a bit more on halacha, especially since the book opens with praise to J.P. Meier, whose fourth volume is the best book I’ve read in some five years.

    I am increasingly convinced that it is very good that a sociologist looks into this matter, but he ought to have given his book to a professional theologian/historian to check it. The review I am preparing will certainly end with a remark about this point. The quality of academic research is always evaluated by colleagues: theologians evaluate theologians, classicists classicists, and so on. If the university is to survive, we desperately need to end this incestuous system. Theologians writing about ancient Judaea must be evaluated by theologians AND sociologists; sociologists writing about Jesus must be evaluated by sociologists AND theologians/historians, and so on.

    This being said, Aslan knows how to tell a good story. One brilliant line is that ancient historiographers did not write about facts but about truths. If it raises interest in the historical Jesus, it’s in the end a good thing.

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  4. I now finished the book. Too many factual errors in the end completely invalidate the argument. I sincerely wished to give Aslan the benefit of the doubt, and the man is sincere, but the book is trash.

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