Reza Aslan’s best selling book claims Jesus was a zealot, but does he substantiate his claim? No, backed up by five reasons.
First, Aslan “not-so-humbly” sets himself up as a judge and jury of what is and is not historical in the New Testament, though he is not even a New Testament scholar by training. Professor Daniel Hoffman points out how Aslan “tries to prove this thesis (Jesus the zealot) by citing snippets of New Testament material and other sources while ignoring or rejecting texts that do not fit his views.”
It is fascinating to see how any and every passage of Scripture non-supportive of his thesis is rejected as not historical while every supportive passage is accepted as historical. He is the final arbiter. He even acknowledges that “it may appear to the casual reader that I am haphazardly choosing which gospel verses are historically reliable and what are not.”
Although he then suggests that his repudiation of the New Testament’s picture of Jesus is well within the mainstream of biblical scholarship, we shall see that this is not the case.
Second, while he may refer to a “broad consensus” of scholars and “what is widely acknowledged” to lend credence to his thesis, the undeniable fact is that his “Jesus the Zealot” is in conflict with the overwhelming majority of biblical scholars. Veslin Kesick writes: “The overriding result of modern critical investigation has firmly established that the Jesus of the Gospels belongs to history, not to mythology.”
According to “what is widely acknowledged by biblical scholars,” the Jesus the Christ that Aslan has rejected remains rooted in history. Aslan’s efforts to replace this Christ with his Jesus the Zealot are at best a curious caricature of our Savior and Lord who is confirmed by both first century Scripture and two thousand years of scholarship.
Third, Aslan uses his central text out of context. Although he is quick to quote Matthew 10:34 (“Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I have not come to bring peace, but the sword.”), it is cited in isolation from its context which has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with launching a revolution against Rome! Let us read the verse in context, Matthew 10:32-39:
“Therefore, everyone who will acknowledge Me before men, I will also acknowledge him before My father in heaven. But whoever denies Me before me, I will also deny him before My Father in heaven. Don’t assume that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to turn
a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and a man’s enemies will be
the members of his household.
The person who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; the person who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. Anyone finding his life will lose it, and anyone losing his life because of Me will find it.
A plain reading of the text refutes his contention upon which he has based his entire book.
Fourth, let’s explain how Aslan weaves a “rope of sand.” The ancient Christian writer Irenaeus in dealing with what the Apostle Peter called “false prophets among the people” and their “destructive heresies” (II Peter 2:1) wrote: “They father views from other sources than the Scriptures, and to use a common proverb, they strive to weave ropes of sand, while they endeavor to adopt with an air of probability their own peculiar assertions … and they dismember and destroy the truth” (Against Heresies, 1.8.1).
Aslan’s “other sources” such as the heretical gnostic gospels and the writing of Celsus (a critic of Christianity) were written long after the first century New Testament books, long after eyewitnesses to Jesus were dead and buried.
Fifth, after quoting the Apostle Paul’s warning recorded in II Corinthians 11:4 about “a person (who) comes and preaches another Jesus, whom we did not preach,” Ralph H. Sidway reflects:
“Interesting, after rejecting Christianity, Mr. Aslan turns back to his ancestral faith: Islam. Good heavens, why? A college scholar should have readily discovered the historical image of Muhammad as portrayed by the canonical Islamic sources to be at the very least alarming and off-putting. A rejected and persecuted preacher, claiming to have direct revelations from God which no other person can possibly verify, flees to a new city, only to re-emerge as a brutal warlord, conducting numerous raids on caravans and large battles, taking women as war booty, and marrying a six-year-old little girl along the way, before returning to his home with an army of 10,000 … This is the religion chosen by a college scholar who rejects Christianity supposedly on historical grounds? Something doesn’t sound quite right here!”
Reza Aslan expects us to believe that “Christianity could not withstand the harsh glare of modern scholarship” but “Islam can.” However, as Sidway says: The facts don’t support his story, but do support what the Gospels tell!