On Monday July 29 I saw an interview of Reza Aslan about his book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth on Foxnews. It is supposed to be about the “historical” Jesus, as compared with the Jesus of Christianity. That the real Jesus was different than what Christians think of him as. He is wrong on that account, but I’ll get to that later. Here is the clip from Foxnews.
Tuesday morning I saw him on more interviews (CNN & MSN). The Foxnews story went viral because Reza Aslan was questioned why he as a Muslim is writing about Jesus. To that he said he did not write as a Muslim, but as an academic historian of religions. The firestorm in the news media and blogs began.
Tuesday around noon my wife and I decided to go to Portland Oregon for a day trip. While there we stopped by Powell's Bookstore for the first time, which is a huge bookstore! We happened to walk into the Pearl room, and we see many copies of the book Zealot and a crowd sitting in chairs in front of an empty lectern. I wondered if Reza Aslan was going to be there, I thought surely not, it’ll probably be someone else giving a talk about the book but I decided to stay to see what was going on. I thumbed through the book and read portions of it and noticed what appears to be blatant dishonesty about the writings of the gospels and the writings of Paul. He quotes several of the New Testament writings and pieces portions together way out of context. I’m not talking about diverse interpretations of scripture, but putting scriptures, sayings, quotes, etc. in a context that is very dishonest to the plain reading of the text. I was flabbergasted, because this is supposed to be an academic scholarly book and many will be reading this book (especially students at Universities), yet the substance is very inaccurate. Far from being scholarly. Dishonest is likely. Yet many who read this will not even checkup on the supposed “facts” but will simply take Aslan’s word for it.
As I was continuing to read, sure enough about 45 minutes later Reza Aslan comes on out, waves and smiles at our youngest child as he makes his way to the lectern. He was friendly, told a few jokes, and is an eloquent speaker. What was disturbing though was either poor research or dishonesty. He was captivating in his talk, but the information he was spouting out wasn't only untrue from what the biblical text says, but also other historical information was inaccurate. When the floor was opened for questions, I questioned and challenged him on his academic honesty regarding some of the things he said and wrote in his book. He said my question was going to be the last one as he wanted to spend extra time answering it. He answered eloquently yet would say things that were false and again would piece New Testament writings together in such a fashion that would be dishonest to it’s immediate and historical context. I even spoke up again in the middle of his answer respectfully yet firmly calling out his dishonesty specifically, and then was quiet to let him finish his answer since people did come to hear him in the first place. I hope there will be people that will do diligence in research and not blindly accept his opinions or book as “facts,” since I did challenge him on the accuracy of some of his statements.
I purchased the book and am going to read it in its entirety and post a review and rebuttal supposed facts as necessary. In it I will post in detail the things that were misrepresented in his speech and book that I briefly mentioned in this post. I talked to Reza Aslan following the talk, thanked him for taking my question, and even got a picture with him. He signed my copy, and I gave him a gospel tract.
The firestorm in the media was about Aslan being questioned about his motives in writing about Jesus, since he was a Muslim. Aslan responded with his degrees and credentials, and that he was not writing as a muslim, but as a historian. I agree that Aslan can write about Jesus as a Muslim, just as Christians can write about Muhammed. It is also inevitable that both to a degree will have a bias in their writing even with academic credentials. Yet it is claimed that this book is purely academic on who the real Jesus was, with no faith bias at all. After scanning the book and listening to Aslan speak at Powell’s Bookstore, it is obvious to be the contrary. There is an agenda to undermine the historical Jesus and the Christian faith. He is free to try to do that, but don’t say it is an academic work when the book either manifests poor scholarship or is outright dishonest in an attempt to undermine the credibility of the Christian faith. He would often say things similar to “You can believe what you want. If believing in Jesus in a celestial spiritual way helps you, and you find comfort in it, then believe it. Don’t let what I say shake your faith. I’m just interested in the historical Jesus.” He was simply employing a “polite” form to mock Christians as being unintellectual and blind followers. Yet I'm sure even Aslan knows that many will be blind followers of his misrepresentations of the Bible and other history. There was even a post online in The Oregonian (in regards to Aslan's visit to Powell's Bookstore) that implied that people can believe in a fairytale Jesus if they want to, but scholarship and academia focus on the "real man" named Jesus. I quote the writer of the post, "Aslan was challenged only once and responded with a lengthy disquisition on the Apostle Paul that included several reminders that it’s OK to believe what you want to want to believe. Scholarship is one thing; faith is something else." The Christian faith, however, is not a blind faith but based on much historical evidence. One of many good resources to read is the book titled The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict.
For the record, the historical Jesus is the same Jesus that Bible believing Christians worship. The Old and New Testament writings are a reliable collection of historical documents, many written by eyewitnesses themselves and those who lived during the lifetimes of other eyewitnesses. Many of the things they saw and heard were a fulfillment of many of the prophesies found in the Old Testament. The books of the Bible were written on three separate continents (Africa, Europe, and Asia), in three languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) between 40+ diverse authors, written over the course of about 1,500 years. They are filled with names, times, and places. Archaeological digs confirm historical facts that are mentioned in the Bible. There are almost 6,000 known Greek manuscripts for the New Testament alone. As compared to other ancient writings this amount is astronomical. Assuming the following figures are still accurate, there are only 10 copies of Julius Caesar's Gallic Wars (written in first century B.C.), seven copies of Aristotle's Poetics, and zero manuscripts of the writings of Socrates (what we know of him is only in the writings of Plato). In regards to the New Testament, besides the Greek manuscripts, there are over 19,000 copies in the Syriac, Latin, Coptic, and Aramaic languages. The total supporting New Testament manuscript base is well over 24,000, and this is not even counting early Christian writings in the 1st-5th centuries quoting the New Testament text.
For Gallic Wars, the earliest manuscripts we have were written about 1,000 years after the original. Aristotle’s Poetics earliest was written 1,400 years later. You take Homer’s Iliad and the earliest manuscript was written approximately 500 years later. The earliest historic manuscript we have of the New Testament dates from around 125 A.D. It is a fragment of the Gospel of John (John Rylands Papyri). That is within around 28-30 years of the original. That is unheard of in any other ancient writings. I mention this to point out that the New Testament writings are a reliable collection of historic documents with many manuscripts testifying to the purity of it’s transmission to what we have today in our english Bible. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, the writings of Paul and others are not simply “spiritual/devotional” writings, but are in fact historical documents. They are historic accounts of many eyewitnesses of Jesus Christ and his resurrection. Christians have superior criteria confirming the authenticity and reliability of the New Testament than anyone has of any other other ancient writing. It is already evident that the Bible is a superior historical account of the man Jesus than Reza Aslan’s book Zealot. Stay tuned for a rebuttal of the accuracy of Aslan’s book.