Why Reza Aslan's Jesus is dull, confusing, and lacking
| Carl E. Olson | CWR blog
The author of Zealot has more in common with Dan Brown and Deepak Chopra than with actual Scripture scholars
"And so each subsequent epoch in theology found its own ideas in Jesus,
and could find no other way of bringing him to life. Not only epochs
found themselves in him. Each individual recreated him in the image of
his own personality." — Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (1906)
I am not a Scripture scholar, nor do I play one on television. But the study of Scripture and the specific study of Christology has been of great interest to me since I was a young man. My personal library has an entire bookcase of works of Christology, ranging from left to right, high to low, liberal to conservative. If there is one thing I have learned in reading many different books on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, it is this: there is nothing—absolutely nothing—new under the sun when it comes to grand theories and elaborate meta-narratives attempting to explain (or explain away) the man from Nazareth. Anyone who follows the field, even as a curious amateur, knows this to be the case.
But—and it's an important "but"—99.9% of people don't know this. And a number of those folks are curious about, or even obsessed by, seemingly original explanations about the "truth" regarding Jesus. (Mark Shea, in his recent CWR article, "The Messiah We Need, Not the Messiah We Want", delves into this very nicely.) For my part, I've tackled this in detail on two specific fronts. The first was The Da Vinci Code, which was constructed (like a deck of cards in a hurricane) on the premise that Jesus was a mere mortal whose sole claim to any sort of uniqueness was due to his alleged marriage to the "goddess" Mary Magdalene. The entire third chapter of The Da Vinci Hoax, which I co-authored with medievalist Sandra Miesel, was on "The Christ and the Code." There, we showed how Brown based nearly all of his "research" on conspiracy-theory-laden books including Holy Blood, Holy Grail and The Templar Revelation. The second was The Third Jesus, authored by New Age guru and peddler of neo-gnostic syncretism, Deepak Chopra, a book that was so laughably ignorant and brazenly arrogant that I likely took a bit too much pleasure in shredding it in this lengthy 2008 review.
What I've found in reading Brown, Chopra, and similar authors, are two consistent qualities: a nearly neurotic conviction that they have—at last!—discovered the untold, hidden, and shocking "truth" about Jesus, and an equally unshakeable conviction that anyone who disagrees with them is either a fearful Fundamentalist or a brain-washed papist. What they miss, among many other things, is something put very well by the noted New Testament scholar, Dr. Craig A. Evans in his book, Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels (IVP, 2006): "Radical skepticism is no more critical than is credulity."
Which brings me to Reza Aslan's best-selling, attention-grabbing, and radically skeptical book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (Random House, 2013), which has stirred up controversy (however contrived it might be) and sent many media types into fits of ecstasy. The book, The New Yorker authoritatively informs readers, is "an original account" (no, it's not; more on that in a moment), while the San Francisco Chronicle states, "Aslan’s insistence on human and historical actuality turns out to be far more interesting than dogmatic theology." Ah. Because we all know that dogma has nothing to do with human and historical actuality—especially if we don't bother to study the history of Christian theology, the early councils, and the subsequent debates within just the Church.
Apologist Jimmy Akin has penned a helpful primer and overview of Zealot and the surrounding hoopla.