August 2, 2013
News Flash! Zealot Isn't News
Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan has exploded on the scene as the #1 bestseller on several lists and become a media feast. This book suggests that Jesus was just a failed revolutionary and that the apostle Paul should be credited with making him into "Christ." This is not news on several levels.
First, skeptical scholars have been saying such things for decades--centuries, actually. It should not be surprising that a scholar has once again brought out these rather worn ideas. Almost two hundred years ago, in the early 1800s, David Strauss and some of his contemporaries questioned the historical value of the Gospels. More recently the Jesus Seminar and Bart Ehrman have done the same.
Second, the author of Zealot is a Muslim. The Fox News interview tried to make a big deal out of this. News Flash: Muslims have thought Jesus was a human (though one to be honored) and not the Son of God for about fourteen hundred years. And as Aslan rightly said in the Fox interview, it's perfectly reasonable for any New Testament scholar, regardless of religious conviction, to put forward a theory about the person and ministry of Jesus. A Muslim? Again, not news.
What is also not news is that we can be skeptical of skeptics such as Aslan. Perfectly good reasons exist to question their reasoning and results, and equally good reasons exist to hold to the historical reliability of the Gospels. IVP has published any number of the books over the years which do just this. To name two:
Fabricating Jesus by Craig Evans does an excellent job of looking at the problems with the methods and conclusions of recent Jesus scholars. Evans shows how very narrow starting points and overly strict guidelines squeeze their conclusions before they ever get started. On the other hand, overconfidence in other areas leads to exaggerated claims about the early Christian centuries.
The second edition of Craig Blomberg's The Historical Reliability of the Gospels does what many other books fail to do--it offers a calm, balanced overview that considers the value and limitations of critical methods. He also weighs the evidence of the Gospels themselves with clarity and accuracy.
While Zealot isn't news, we should also say that Jesus is always worth taking seriously and for two thousand years has, for many, been quite good news.