While every documented fact is reclassified as fiction, meanwhile
this wildly imaginative author's own fictions pile up in wild
profusion, for instance, "Nor does Paul ever actually quote Jesus's
words (again, with the exception of his rendering of the Eucharistic
formula: 'This is my body. . .')" (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 202). Is
"For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.'"
(1 Timothy 5:17);
"And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages."
This is the procedure throughout. Mr. Aslan announces that the gospels are fabrications, because
the circumstances recorded therein conflict with. . .fill in the blank, some made-up 'fact'
about the ancient world. For instance, Jesus' body cannot have been
taken down from the cross post-mortem, because "The criminal was
always left hanging long after he had died; the crucified were
almost never buried." (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 173). He recounts the
"staggering claim," that, ". . .unlike every other criminal
crucified by Rome, their messiah was not left on the cross for his
bones to be picked clean by the greedy birds. . ." (Reza Aslan,
Zealot, p.180). "[E]very other criminal"? Oh, really? We know of no
other instance where a crucified man was returned to his family? But Philo Judaeus knew of instances where the crucified were taken down in
honor of the emperor's birthday, admittedly not the same holiday as
the Passover, but still an apt precedent:
"I have known instances before now of men who had been
crucified when this festival and holiday was at hand, being taken
down and given up to their relations, in order to receive the honors
of sepulture, and to enjoy such observances as are due to the dead;
for it used to be considered, that even the dead ought to derive
some enjoyment from the natal festival of a good emperor, and also
that the sacred character of the festival ought to be regarded."
(Philo Judaeus, A Treatise Against Flaccus, Chapter X).
Reza Aslan has the chutzpah to quote an apocryphal letter of Clement
to James, which begins, "Clement to James, the Lord, and the bishop of
bishops, who rules Jerusalem, the holy church of the Hebrews, and the
churches everywhere excellently rounded by the providence of God. . ."
(ANF 0.08, p. 450) as if it actually were written by Clement of Rome!
(Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 216). How nice to discover the monarchical bishop
already 'in the chair,' so to speak, in the first century. Mr. Aslan's
continuing effort to demonize Paul lands him in Bible interpretations
which are bizarre and monstrous:
"That Paul is speaking about himself when he cites
Isaiah 49:1-6 regarding 'the root of Jesse' serving as 'a light to
the Gentiles' is obvious [!], since even Paul admits that Jesus did
not missionize to he gentiles (Romans 15:12)."
(Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 301).
Really? Paul claims that he himself is the Messiah who is to rule
over the Gentiles??!!
“Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written:
'For this reason I will confess to You among the Gentiles,
and sing to Your name.' And again he says:
'Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people!' And again:
'Praise the LORD, all you Gentiles!
Laud Him, all you peoples!' And again, Isaiah says: 'There shall be a root of Jesse;
and He who shall rise to reign over the Gentiles,
in Him the Gentiles shall hope.'” (Romans 15:8-12).
Mr. Aslan transforms the heresiarch Arius into a Socinian, presumably to bring him
into harmony with Mr. Aslan's own views, "Was he [Jesus], as those like
Athanasius of Alexandria claimed, God incarnate, or was he, as the
followers of Arius seemed to suggest, just a man — a perfect man, perhaps,
but a man nonetheless?" (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 229). Arius, of
course, and his followers for good measure, did not believe that Jesus was "just a man,"
rather they thought Him a god. Mr. Aslan's facts are not factual, and are in no way sufficient to rebut the
testimony of scripture.
Mr. Aslan has inherited from his Jewish sources the view that
Jesus must have loved the Pharisees, and hated the temple
priesthood, who are imagined to have been compromised by dealings with
Rome. This view is founded largely on wishful thinking; if
Jesus came into conflict with the Pharisees as well as the temple
priesthood, as the gospels relate, this would disappoint those
modern Jews who trace the origin of their faith to the Pharisees.
One obvious case which Bible advocates would raise to show that
Jesus cannot have shared the irrational hatred of the temple
priesthood displayed by authors like Hyam Maccoby is His instruction
to the cleansed leper to make the specified temple offering laid
down in the law of Moses. 'Leprosy' in the Bible comprehends a variety of
conditions, some of which might well spontaneously remit; in this case
Jesus performed a miraculous healing. So how to get rid of this inconvenient
text? Mr. Aslan advises us that this command was
intended as a joke! He explains that Moses' offering is
prohibitively expensive, "the most laborious and costly ritual:"
"Jesus is joking. His command to the leper is a jest— a
calculated swipe at the priestly code. . .Obviously, Jesus is not
telling the leper he has just healed to buy two birds, two lambs, a
ewe, a strip of cedarwood, a spool of crimson yarn, a sprig of
hyssop, a bushel of flour, and a jar of oil and to give them all to
the priest as an offering to God." (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 132).
It turns out Mr. Aslan is aware, however, that healed lepers of
meager resources are allowed to substitute less costly offerings:
"Regarding the law for cleansing lepers, it should be noted that the
Torah allows for those who are poor to substitute two turtledoves or
two pigeons for two of the lambs (Leviticus 14:21-22)." (Reza Aslan,
Zealot, p. 277). It should be noted indeed. So why offer his
preposterous 'joke' theory in the text without noting it? The
priests were not paid by the hour by their clients; rather, a
specified portion is allotted to them: "Do you not know that those
who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and
those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar?"
(1 Corinthians 9:13). Mr. Aslan's readers must keep a hand upon the wallet.
Back in the real world, even the Pharisees were not the political
zealots of his imagination. Motivated not by quietism, but by the
conviction that no secular solution could meet the very high
expectations stirred up by Messianic prophecy, some suggest they could be fairly
apolitical: "Those collections ascribed to Pharisaic authorship,
have led some scholars to infer that the Pharisees rejected
Hasmonean rule and even preferred forign rule until the advent of a
real, restored Davidic kingship." (Juan Marcos
Bejarano Gutierrez, The Judaisms of Jesus' Followers, The Rise of
the Pharisees, Kindle location 733). Aslan's Pharisees, like
all the other Jews of his imagination, were Zealots, because no
other possibilities occur to his unfurnished mind.
Although most people, when they think about the 'Jesus as failed
revolutionary' meme, probably think about the Nazis, in fact the
paradigm goes back way before the National Socialist Party, to the
eighteenth century German 'enlightenment' figure Reimarus. All the
features of the program are already present, including the induced
indignation against the gospel writers, our only real source of
information, for their alleged dishonesty:
"We have now to deal with a matter which the evangelists
have taken great pains to conceal from us (as I have recently shown),
and for this reason we shall require the most careful attention; but
as the evangelists did not seek to conceal that they looked upon Jesus
as a worldly deliverer of Israel up to the time of his death; and as
the Jews were well aware that such had been their constant belief, it could
not well have been possible for them utterly to destroy and banish
all traces of their former system from their history of Jesus. These
traces we will now endeavor to discover." (Fragments of Reimarus,
Lessing, Kindle location 98, Second par of Fragment on the Object of
Jesus and His Disciples).
This sets forth our program: we will search out sayings and incidents which,
detached from their context, exaggerated and set at variance with the
other evidence in combination with which they would yield a well-rounded
picture, may give us what we want. But is the first step even accurate:
did the Jews, in fact, always expect their Messiah to be a violent
political revolutionary? Is this their "constant belief"? Do the numerous Messianic aspirants who appear
in Jewish history always fit this mold?