A Response to Zealot by Reza Aslan

By Gary Manning Jr Aug. 4, 2013 10:18 p.m. Apologetics, New Testament

Reza Aslan’s new book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (Random House, 2013), is in most ways a typical attempt to paint a new picture of Jesus. Because so many hundreds of books of this type have been published, Aslan’s book would most likely not have received significant attention at all, except for two factors. First, a botched interview of the author on Fox News caused a huge surge of interest, making his book an overnight best seller. And second, Aslan is a very good writer. His primary teaching role, after all, is as a professor of creative writing at UC Riverside. Aslan is able to take a lot of important historical background and present it in a riveting manner, accessible to most readers.

Since Aslan is a Muslim, some have responded to Zealot as if it is a Muslim look at Jesus. This is simply not the case; Zealot does not present traditional Muslim views of Jesus at all.  Zealot is instead typical of other modern skeptical approaches to Jesus. Aslan is strongly influenced by (among others) John Dominic Crossan, the Jesus Seminar author who has written a number of books presenting Jesus as a peasant social revolutionary.

The central argument of Zealot is this: Jesus, like other messianic figures of his day, called for the violent expulsion of Rome from Israel. Driven by religious zeal, Jesus believed that God would empower him to become the king of Israel and overturn the hierarchical social order. Jesus believed that God would honor the zeal of his lightly armed disciples and give them victory. Instead, Jesus was crucified as a revolutionary. Early Christians changed the story of Jesus to make him into a peaceful shepherd. They did this for two reasons: because Jesus’ actual prediction had failed, and because the Roman destruction of rebellious Jerusalem in AD 70 made Jesus’ real teachings both dangerous and unpopular. Paul radically changed the identity of Jesus from human rebel to divine Son of God, against the wishes of other leaders like Peter and James.

To be fair to Aslan, there are several strengths to his book. He explains well the multifaceted economic, political and religious setting of first-century Palestine (with some exceptions pointed out below). While heavily influenced by Crossan, he abandons some of Crossan’s more bizarre claims. Interestingly, Aslan points out what strong eyewitness evidence there is for the resurrection, although ultimately he says that the resurrection is the sort of thing that historians simply cannot evaluate. He points out that Jesus’ contemporaries fully believed that Jesus performed healing miracles. Aslan also explains some things that most Christians are not aware of, but are widely accepted by both believing and non-believing scholars of the gospels. For example, Aslan correctly writes that Jews before Jesus were not expecting the messiah to be divine or for him to die and rise from the dead. He correctly explains the original significance of some of Jesus’ titles such as “Son of God” and “Son of Man,” both of which had kingly connotations before Jesus.  

However, Zealot is seriously flawed in many ways. There are many factual errors (some of which I will highlight below), but more importantly, Aslan’s approach matches the flawed approach of Jesus Seminar scholars, which is almost guaranteed to produce a skewed picture of Jesus.

Zealot’s claim is essentially a conspiracy theory: Jesus was really a proclaimer of violent revolution, but the gospels and Paul covered up the evidence. Aslan then has a typical conspiracy-theory approach: any time the gospels present evidence against Aslan’s theory, they were making it up; any time the gospels present evidence in favor of Aslan’s theory, they were telling the truth. This is found countless times in Zealot, but a few examples will suffice.

Aslan is certain that Jesus never said “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36), because of course that would be evidence against Aslan’s theory. The idea that Jesus was “an inveterate peacemaker” is a “complete fabrication” by the evangelists.1 Apparently, according to Aslan, Jesus never said “If anyone compels you to go one mile, go with him two” (Matt 5:41, talking about submission to soldiers who demand labor) or “Do not resist the one who is evil” (Matt 5:39). Although Aslan does not deny the historicity of Jesus’ parables, he dismisses them as impossible to understand - a claim that would surprise most modern scholars of the gospels. Aslan needs to dismiss the parables because the Kingdom of God described in the parables is mostly incompatible with violent revolution.

But Aslan is perfectly willing to accept the gospels’ testimony whenever it helps him. He accepts the historicity of sayings from Jesus such as “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt 10:34) and “the kingdom of God suffers violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matt 11:12).  Of course, Aslan ignores the clear context of those sayings, which has nothing to do with violent revolution. Aslan mostly dismisses the gospel accounts of Jesus’ arrest as entirely fictional, so he does not accept that Jesus stopped Peter from using a sword: “Put back your sword… For all who take up the sword will die by the sword” (Matt 26:51-52). But Aslan is quite willing to accept that Luke is correct when he records Jesus saying, earlier that evening, “Let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36). This pattern is repeated over and over in Zealot. It is simply an unfair and extremely biased treatment of the historical evidence. It presents Aslan as somehow having secret knowledge that allows him to correctly identify when the four evangelists were accurate and when they were fabricating. In reality, Aslan is simply ignoring most of the evidence against his theory.

The second big thrust of Zealot’s claim is that the peaceful, divine Jesus was made up primarily by Paul. According to Zealot, Peter and James sharply opposed Paul’s claim that Jesus was divine. The New Testament on several occasions does describe conflict: between Paul and Barnabas, between Paul and Peter, and between Paul and men from James. Aslan tries to pretend that all these arguments were about the identity of Jesus, and that Barnabas, Peter and James believed in Jesus as a human messiah against Paul’s view of a divine Christ. But this is simply nonsense. The disagreement between Paul and Barnabas is over the inclusion of Mark in their mission team, and Paul’s disagreement with James and Peter is over whether Gentiles need to keep Jewish laws such as circumcision and food laws.

Here again, Aslan is very selective in his use of evidence. He accepts the letter of James as being authorized by James, because it helps him emphasize (and exaggerate) differences between James and Paul. But he never even mentions the epistles of Peter, because of course they show that Peter is in agreement with Paul about who Jesus is. While pointing out the difference between James’ and Paul’s theology, Aslan doesn’t mention that James has an equally high view of Jesus: he is “our glorious Lord Jesus Christ” (James 2:1) who will return to judge (James 5:7). Aslan also ignores all of the evidence in the New Testament for agreement and harmony between the apostles, such as Paul's collection of money for poor Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.

Aslan’s conspiracy approach continues in this section of his book. Why does Paul make a sacrifice in Jerusalem? It must be that James forced him to recant his heretical views, not (as Luke claims) to complete a Nazirite vow that Paul voluntarily began before arriving in Jerusalem. Why does Luke end the book of Acts with Paul’s imprisonment, not his death? It must be to cover up some damning evidence against Paul! (No mention of the idea that Luke ended Acts then because that’s when he wrote Acts).

Perhaps not surprisingly, the claims in Zealot come with a fair degree of scholarly arrogance (which I acknowledge many scholars are prone to!). Aslan says that his goal is to “purge the scriptures of their literary and theological flourishes and forge a far more accurate picture of the Jesus of history… Everything else is a matter of faith.” In other words, when Aslan accepts some information from the gospels and rejects the rest, that is scholarly and historical; but if someone accepts other information from the gospels, their view is not scholarly or historical, but "a matter of faith." The parts of the gospels that Aslan agrees with are historical; the parts that he doesn’t agree with are “literary and theological flourishes.” Of course, Aslan often tries to explain why he thinks that some claim in the gospels is unhistorical, but taken as a whole, it is impossible to ignore the essential arbitrariness of his choices.

This scholarly hubris is also apparent in Zealot's determination to point out contradictions in the New Testament accounts. For example, Aslan wants to make sure that we know that Luke is mistaken when he says that the seven Hellenistic deacons (Acts 6) were primarily in charge of distributing food. They also engaged in preaching and evangelism, Aslan tells us. How does Aslan know that Luke is wrong? By reading the rest of Acts 6 and 7. In other words, Luke was not wrong – he just had more to say on the next page. Aslan is convinced that Pilate’s trial of Jesus is “a complete fabrication” by the evangelists, because Aslan is certain that he knows how Pilate thinks. Pilate, in Aslan’s telling, would have absolutely no problem sending someone to the cross without any trial at all. He bases this on a single line from the Jewish philosopher Philo, exaggerated out of proportion.

Finally, despite his generally good understanding of the field, Aslan makes a number of significant errors. I took pages of notes just on historical and linguistic errors in Zealot. Here are only a few examples of significant scholarly errors: use of Greek definitions not found in any standard Greek lexicon; using the wrong Greek lexicon for the New Testament; incorrect definition of the targumim; unawareness of the evidence for high literacy in ancient Israel; unawareness of literary approaches to the gospels; claims that violence against foreigners was the only faithful Jewish response; claims that Pilate crucified “thousands upon thousands” without trial; very late, unlikely dates for the writing of the four gospels; claims that ancient people did not understand the concept of history; claims that Luke was knowingly writing fiction, not history; claims that Mark does not describe Jesus’ resurrection; and on and on. In many cases, I had to come to the conclusion that Aslan was just not familiar enough with modern scholarship related to the New Testament.

There are numerous other problems with Zealot, too numerous to address in an already-too-long blog post. Aslan repeatedly presents highly unlikely interpretations of passages in the New Testament, makes little effort to defend those interpretations, then moves on as if he has made his case. Suffice to say this, as others have said before: there is something a little bizarre about using our only historical documents about Jesus (the New Testament) to come to conclusions quite in opposition to those documents. There is a good reason to believe that Jesus claimed to be a divine king and savior who would die and rise again, and would one day return to judge the world: all four gospels, and indeed the entire New Testament make this claim. You can deny that this claim is true, but it is scholarly folly to deny that the earliest Christians believed it.

1 In order to respond quickly to Aslan's book, I needed to use the Kindle edition, so I have not included any page numbers in this blog post.


  • John Wiltshire Aug. 5, 2013 at 7:55 AM

    What of his claim that the authors of the Gospels were not Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? Is he correct in this...he says that this is accepted by almost all researchers.

  • Russell Kaufman Aug. 5, 2013 at 9:54 AM

    Thank you for a scholarly review of a purported "scholarly" book that will only tend to deceive popular readers.

  • john wood Aug. 5, 2013 at 10:00 AM

    once again it shows me how some suppose scholar can red scripture and take it out of context to make there point incorrectly. God is not a liar, and therefore, God!s word in scripture are truth.

  • Betsy Barber Aug. 5, 2013 at 11:09 AM

    Thanks Gary! This is helpful.

  • John Aug. 5, 2013 at 4:32 PM

    Did you read the book?

  • Bob Barnhart Aug. 5, 2013 at 4:44 PM

    Thank you!

  • Gary Manning Jr Aug. 5, 2013 at 6:12 PM

    Thanks for all of your interest in this post!
    John: Aslan's beliefs about the authorship of the four gospels are widespread among NT scholars. However, conservative NT scholars still have excellent reasons for believing that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all wrote the books ascribed to them. The church authors were unanimous in ascribing authorship to these men, and the arguments against their authorship are not compelling.
    John: Yes, I read Zealot very carefully, which is why I was able to give examples throughout my review. I actually shared only a small portion of the problems with the book.

  • LH in Seattle Aug. 5, 2013 at 8:31 PM

    Well done.
    hard to consolidate all the issues into one post.
    what's sad to me is the theme.
    if aslan believes that Jesus wasn't a peaceful king with a kingdom not of this world, then that will somehow leak into his readers (secular or not) & soil an already underserved part of Jesus' persona on the western church. His anti-violence peace at all costs solution to our struggling with sin via the cross & resurrection is the most peaceful & counter intuitive eternal move ever...and aslan's view of Jesus has no room for that.
    sad, but both Jesus & God's word have endured worse and survived.

  • Nate the Great Aug. 6, 2013 at 9:10 AM

    This goes hand in hand with the overall goal of the powers that be. They have gotten us to believe that all muslims are radical fundamentalists and that we should "kill them all" in the middle east while hundreds of innocent Muslims are getting killed by extremists. Next is the demonizing on protestants calling us "radicals" for believing in Jesus' real resurrection. The same foxnews channel that gave Aslan media attention also refers to Muslims as "them" as if all Muslims are with the jihadists. Wake up people. Syria is in ruins where the Christians and Muslims have gotten along for centuries because the radicals jihadists have invaded their country from abroad. Go back and review old news from 2010 to 2013 and you will see.

  • John Wiltshire Aug. 6, 2013 at 9:56 AM

    Thank you Gary for taking the time to answer my question. Very much appreciated. God Bless!

  • Nathan Plos Aug. 6, 2013 at 1:20 PM

    I think the majority of the people here have missed the message of the book: If you believe in Jesus then you have to agree that he was a real person living in a real place and time. Based on historical evidence (outside of the Bible) certain events, movements, ideologies, etc were all going on. Aslan puts context of the historical happenings behind the stories and passages in the Bible about Jesus. Aslan made it quite clear from the beginning that he was trying to approach Jesus from the historical point of view and not the theological point of view. When you look at an event/person from one view point certain logical arguments arise. For example: a biologist and a physicist both look at a flower and describe how it works from their own view points. A biologist will see the flower and explain its workings through the descriptions of cells and chemical interactions. A physicist will explain the flower using forces and atoms. Both scientists have different explanations on the same thing, but it's because of their view points that they differ. Aslan made very clear that the book was a historical perspective and not a theological one (which most of the Biblical passages are just that, theological). Aslan also makes very clear that his whole discussion on Jesus comes from one single fact, that Jesus was crucified. So having that one fact certain logical historical statements can be made without ever consulting the scriptures.

    As to the few comments on "Aslan selectively chooses which passages are true and which are false" that is a very silly argument. He could make the same argument about which passages you think are true and which are false. He is a scholar and as such tries to use the best educated choice based on the facts that he has. If you want to believe every passage in the Bible is true 100% of the time then that would be a very uneducated (and not scholarly at all) way to approach the historical topics Aslan was trying to convey. Really what it boils down to is Aslan has a different view on the efficacy of the Bible that doesn't always match with the readers of the book and that frustrates the hell out of people with strong beliefs on the matter. If you want to argue a passage is more true than another or that they're 100% true all the time then you have to have something to back it up other than "because the Bible says so." You can't prove something in a book is true just because the book says its true. Having said that, I highly suggest the readers of doubt look into Aslan's many pages of notes that he puts in the end of the book for the references and reasoning behind some of his claims. Otherwise your claims are just as invalid as you claim his are, which defeats the whole purpose of the book. Don't jump to attacking his statements.

  • BA Aug. 7, 2013 at 8:05 AM

    Nathan, based on what you read in his notes section, what facts did he have to determine the truth of one of Jesus' and the falseness of another?

    BTW - we Christian scholars don't just accept New Testament passages b/c we want to. We, like everyone else use Textual Criticism to determine the authenticity of passages in comparing the more than 24,000 extant ancient manuscripts we have available. (This is how every ancient work of writing is evaluated). When something appears in later manuscripts that isn't in earlier manuscripts, we don't hide that fact - you'll see it notated in any Bible you read (Mark 16:9-20 is a good example). So then the question becomes who do you trust? The authors who were nearer to the time of the events, who had sources nearer to the time of the events and who had no reason to lie (death, persecution and isolation were the rewards for recording the events)... or do you put greater trust in authors today, 2,000 years removed from the events?

  • Darrell Young Aug. 7, 2013 at 8:08 AM

    Nathan, I fear you have missed the point of this post, that Aslan has decided ahead of time what he thinks of Jesus, then sees as historical any Biblical reference that supports this view. Then he sees as fiction any Biblical reference that undermines this view. This is a decidedly unscholarly approach.

  • Gary Manning Aug. 7, 2013 at 11:29 AM

    Nathan, thanks for your comments. I actually was not responding to Aslan's theology, but his history (by the way, the gospels claim to be historical documents, so it doesn't help to just dismiss them as theology). I did indeed read the endnotes in Zealot very thoroughly, but still found Aslan to be lacking in his understanding of important aspects of NT scholarship. To give just one example: Aslan insists that Jesus and the apostles were illiterate and did not know Greek. His reasoning is that most people were illiterate, so Jesus was too. But this reveals that Aslan just has not kept up with scholarship about literacy in the ancient world. A study of written graffiti in Herculaneum reveals more written items than the total population of the town - why would they do that if 97% were illiterate? Aslan's claim is also just silly - one might as well claim that 97% of Americans do not have a doctorate, so I must be lying if I claim to have a Ph.D. Luke tells us that Jesus could read, and clearly Luke and his readers did not think that this was some unlikely claim.

    I think Darrell responded well to your other claim. If Aslan had some consistent method that he used to decide which items to accept or reject, that would be more scholarly. Instead, like the Jesus Seminar, he has decided beforehand to accept only the things that fit his hypothesis. A better approach is to come up with a hypothesis from the existing data. For example: what sort of a reconstruction can we come up with about a man who at times spoke with a pacifism unheard of for his time, yet who acknowledged that he was likely to be crucified as a rebel?

  • Gary Manning Aug. 7, 2013 at 11:38 AM

    Another example of Aslan's arbitrary approach: Aslan rejects the story of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, partially because "only Matthew and Luke" record it. But Aslan accepts many other sayings that are found only in Matthew and Luke, especially some of the Q sayings. Aslan accepts many items from John, but whenever he doesn't like something from John ("My kingdom is not from this world"), he points out that John is very late and theologically contrived.

  • Ben Aug. 7, 2013 at 12:07 PM

    Thank you for writing this. I have just completed Aslan's book. I appreciate you providing a thorough counterbalance to the points he made. While I don't agree completely with either of you, your insights have spurred me to do more research and learn more.

  • Jack Jones Aug. 7, 2013 at 1:22 PM

    Thank you for your informed response. I enjoyed the book and your thoughts/comments on the book. It seems that everyone including Mr. Manning and Mr. Aslan see and interpret what they want to in the ancient texts. If this were not true then there would a definitive interpretation of the texts that would be unassailable. So the beat goes on...one side sees it one way, the other side sees it another way and there is only one sure way to discover the 'truth'. And that involves a one way ticket that none of us get to come back and file a report on... except Jesus of course :-)

  • alakbar alim Aug. 7, 2013 at 4:40 PM

    Aslan sought to reconstruct history. That challenge is uphill for anyone trying to look back more than1400 years ago. Some degree of faith will likely overshadow absent facts in that kind of sojourn. Imagination and counterfactual will fill in blank spots. Aslan did that. All historians who had treaded this path did the same thing, with varying degrees of imaginative prowess. Fiction and facts can hardly be separated in the story of Jesus. Zealot did not succeed in drawing a thick line between the two. So the investigation goes on: was Jesus a myth, a historical figure, a fanatic, an al Quaida leader of his age, a true messenger of God ( the Muslim view), or a triun God ( a Christian viewpoint). Aslan could not unravel any of these questions. So he left us where he met us: as believers, agnostics, and atheists - all seeking to find some meaning in their lives on a daily basis. Jesus, fact or fiction, brings meaning to the lives of millions of people across the globe. In their minds he lives on: zealot or not.

  • Ozonato Aug. 8, 2013 at 9:11 AM

    I wonder why REZA AZLAN wrote this book this time. if a Christian did such what will be the Muslim reactions? While few of us will admit it, we knew before we were conceived what our life purpose would be, we just don't remember. When your time is up and you rise from your body, all is done and you will then remember your mission, lessons and why you came here on earth planet.

    And he should ask himself why are we humans only the creatures on earth that struggle to live the way we are designed to live.

    I believe ever individual is their own god and there body mind and soul is a temple And when you lose control of your temple. The Bible was wrote by several men of knowledge not just one person. And it is to give a person guidance to find their way to back to gain control of their temple. The Bible book is one of the best books ever written.

  • Marcelo Aug. 8, 2013 at 12:17 PM

    Thank you Gary for pointing out the errors in Dr Reza's conclusions, claims and fractured exegesis.

  • Ray Mack Aug. 9, 2013 at 11:49 AM

    He was totally incorrect about the authors of the Gospels. There is a great detail of CORRECT historical data that supports the authorship.

  • erid Aug. 10, 2013 at 6:26 PM

    Dr. Aslan claim he has four degrees: 1) B.A in religion from Santa Clara University 1995. 2) Master of Theological Studies 1999, 3) Masters of Fine Arts in Fiction from University of Iowa 2002, 4) Ph.D (HERE IS THE KICKER) Ph.D in SOCIOLOGY from the University of Calioifornia, Santa Barbara
    Note his claims. I am an expert with a PhD in the history of religions...and a historian. ??? Really I dont see any degrees in history professor.
    His PhD in Sociology. His dissertation is on 'Global Jihadism as a Transnational Social Movement: A Theoretical Framework. At the vert least he can be Honest with us and say that his doctorate is in Sociology and his Dissertation is as stated above. We respect Honest not Half Truth. If he can tell such LIES and publish such a book.... right there his credibility is SHOT. Dont take my word check out his credentials.

  • James Snapp, Jr. Aug. 13, 2013 at 6:36 AM

    For what it's worth, I published a small Kindle e-book responding to some of Dr. Aslan's claims. It's not an exhaustive refutation so as to pulverize every individual, so to speak, but I think it sufficiently breaks down the wall. I called it "Jesus: Zealous Savior of the World - Some Answers for Reza Aslan," and I welcome you to read it. (If you'd like a free copy, just let me know. It's 99 cents at Amazon. You're welcome to review it.)

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  • Rudolf Ravic Aug. 19, 2013 at 7:47 PM

    I'm wondering seeing all this righteous indignation about Jesus being something other than purely nonviolent if there's more Old Order Amish on the internet than I would've guessed.

  • Abel Sep. 5, 2013 at 9:30 PM

    I must admit that points made by Aslan made me question my Christian/Catholic faith so the arguments you have made here have been helpful in seeing the other side of the story. You have helped me remember that there are 3 sides to every story....Yours, mine, and the Truth...and the Truth will set you free.

  • Dramvie Starlucrendio Oct. 12, 2013 at 4:57 PM

    Thank you Dr. Manning for your thorough review of Zealot. While I wholeheartedly agree with your analysis of the problems of this book, I think we need to move beyond the interpretation and look at the effect this book has had on society. I have noticed that some Jews have been reading this book and now have a curiosity about Jesus like they never had before. This may be an opportunity to present the true Gospel to people who had always had a closed heart before. So I wonder if you would have any suggestions on how Christians can use this human work for divine intervention in the lives of these people.

    With His Passion,

  • John Stetson Oct. 24, 2013 at 2:31 PM

    I'm surprised you characterize Aslan as a Muslim. He states in his note at the beginning of "Zealot" that he started life as a not particularly observant Muslim, converted to Christianity at 15, and started to question the orthodoxy about Christ when he started his collegiate studies being now a "more genuinely committed disciple of Jesus of Nazareth than I ever was of Jesus Christ."

    I don't know if there is a specific adjective describing that perspective, but it is certainly not summed up accurately as being a "Muslim".

  • 6 Nov. 21, 2013 at 8:22 PM

    " A study of written graffiti in Herculaneum reveals more written items than the total population of the town - why would they do that if 97% were illiterate?"

    That's a roman town near the heart of the empire. Not Palestine during this period. Take a look at Palestine, poor poor Palestine around this time then get back to me with your literacy numbers. I think I saw some in some slightly dated (but still good) scholarship not a few months ago. They were of the opinion that a good portion of the people in fact lived in caves. Where was all the expensive parchment coming from? The expensive ink? All those things are needed to truly make someone literate. Perhaps the heart of the roman empire had a great deal, but certainly not dirt poor Palestine.

  • 6 Nov. 21, 2013 at 8:25 PM

    "Aslan's claim is also just silly - one might as well claim that 97% of Americans do not have a doctorate, so I must be lying if I claim to have a Ph.D"

    On the other hand if you said 97% of people in america don't have a doctorate, and you're a guy that never left your backwoods villiage (due to lack of means, circumstances, etc. such as being a peasant and there being no grants/loans) that doesn't have any universities nearby then we can rightly presume that you are lying about having one (setting aside internet PhDs).

  • 6 Nov. 21, 2013 at 8:30 PM

    "For example: what sort of a reconstruction can we come up with about a man who at times spoke with a pacifism unheard of for his time, yet who acknowledged that he was likely to be crucified as a rebel?"

    Perhaps he hoped that the coup would be bloodless, if god rewarded their zeal with divine intervention. Indeed, the Jews did eventually force the Romans out in a more or less bloodless revolt (before the romans came back and demolished them). Or perhaps J was inept at overthrowing governments, as he was a backwoods peasant with no prior experience overthrowing governments. We know from the gospels that he went all up in the temple and caused a ruckus. Sounds pretty inept to me, no matter his goal. Unless of course his goal was simply to goad the Romans/Jewish Priests into martyring him which seems like a stretch even from the christian point of view.

  • Elie Dec. 28, 2013 at 1:20 PM

    Thank you Gary.
    Abel have already expressed what I wanted to say.
    Thank you Abel

    Elie, Lebanon

  • Paul Roberts Feb. 21, 2014 at 7:42 PM

    I read the book six times. I thought it an objective book that gave an accurate analysis of the times. It disappoints me that so many discredit the author because of their personal bias. I'm a follower of Christ...however I'm ashamed to claim myself as a "Christian" because I believe self proclaimed Christians don't have a clue as to what Christ was teaching. I think Aslan exposed many of the problems of traditional Christian theology with what the historical Jesus and far too many traditional Christians can't evaluate the truth from their own bias.

  • @John Stetson: Aslan says he's a Muslim Apr. 8, 2014 at 3:27 PM

    In the Q&A at Amazon.com Aslan says, "I pray, as a Muslim". So Manning is accurate.

  • james warren May. 2, 2014 at 1:23 PM

    Aslan says in his introduction that any scholarly opinion available has another scholarly opinion directly contradictory. Although I do not see Jesus as a zealot, Aslan is correctly describing the scholarly situation as it is.

    The biographical information on the book's cover clearly says nothing about any claims of his to be a mainline biblical researcher. He is a scholar of religion--no more or no less.

    One of the most notable scholars in the discipline once said all Jesus scholars look down into a dark well to glimpse the face of Christ but always end up with seeing a reflection in the water of their own face.

  • Tom Thurston Jun. 22, 2014 at 10:41 AM

    Manning says that the gospels claim to be historical documents. The Gospel of Mark starts with the sentence: "Here is the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God." Mark and the subsequent gospels are gospels, religious treatises. Their goal is not a detached examination of the facts but conveying a religious message.

    I appreciate Manning's comment on the Jesus seminar, that they develop a theory about what Jesus is about. Then evidence supporting their theory is treated as authentic, while evidence against it is inauthentic. However, to some extent this dilemma is inescapable, unless you go through a tortured exegesis to attempt to approve that the New Testament is entirely consistent. This also is imposing a pre-conceived notion on the text.

    So what we are left with as scholars is the challenge to find the approach that explains the most data while making the fewest and most modest assumptions. I have a masters degree in Scripture and a Ph. D. in Systematic Theology. While I find some of Aslan's interpretations of specific passages overly facile, I find his overall theory quite compelling for its ability to explain a vast amount of the information we have in the New Testament texts.

  • Ron Aug. 11, 2014 at 8:27 AM

    Misunderstandings: "The central argument of Zealot is this: Jesus, like other messianic figures of his day, called for the violent expulsion of Rome from Israel." (Gary)
    "To be clear, Jesus was not a member of the Zealot Party that launched the war with Rome, because no such party could be said to exist for another thirty years after his death. Nor was Jesus a violent revolutionary bent on armed rebellion, though his views on the use of violence were far more complex than it is often assumed." (Reza, Zealot) Reza means, that Jesus risked some violence with his provocative actions between his followers and the authorities (self defense).
    "Aslan claims that Mark does not describe Jesus’ resurrection" (Gary) "There are no resurrection appearances in the gospel of Mark, as it is the unanimous consensus of scholars that the original version of the gospel ended with Mark 16:8." (Aslan, Zealot)
    "No inscriptions have been found in Nazareth to indicate that the population was particularly literate. Scholars estimate that between 95 and 97 percent of the Jewish peasantry at the time of Jesus couldneither read nor write. On that point see Crossan, Historical Jesus, 24" (Aslan)
    Pilate was known for killing Jews without trial, only beacuse of protesting: Josephus recounts another incident in which Pilate spent money from the Temple to build an aqueduct. Pilate had soldiers hidden in the crowd of Jews while addressing them and, when Jews again protested his actions he gave the signal for his soldiers to randomly attack, beat and kill – in an attempt to silence Jewish petitions. (Aslan refers to this)
    "Aslan claims that Luke was knowingly writing fiction, not history" (Gary) "This is an extremely difficult matter for modern readers of the gospels to grasp, but Luke never meant for his story about Jesus’s birth at Bethlehem to be understood as historical fact. Luke would have had no idea what we in the modern world even mean when we say the
    word “history.” The notion of history a
    s a critical analysis of observable and verifiable events in the pastis a product of the modern age; it would have been an altogether foreign concept to the gospel writers for whom history was not a matter of uncovering facts, but of revealing truths." Aslan does not think that Luke writes fiction. He was expressing the theological, spiritual truth (experience) of Christ beeing the real descendant of King David and in his spirit.

  • Ron Aug. 11, 2014 at 1:21 PM

    "Pilate, in Aslan’s telling, would have absolutely no problem sending someone to the cross without any trial at all. He bases this on a single line from the Jewish philosopher Philo, exaggerated out of proportion." (Gary)
    Aslan thinks f.ex. of: "There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices... (Luke 13:1 = killed without trial) (Followers of Judas Gaulonites? It appears he was the head of a group who asserted God to be their only sovereign, and were so utterly averse to a submission to the Roman power, that they accounted it unlawful to pay tribute unto Cesar, and would rather endure the greatest torments than give any man the title of lord.)

  • Ron Aug. 12, 2014 at 6:10 AM

    "Aslan is certain that Jesus never said “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36), because of course that would be evidence against Aslan’s theory." (Gary)
    Aslan makes an intersting argument: "Yet the Kingdom of God in Jesus’s teachings is not a celestial kingdom existing on a cosmic plane. Those
    who claim otherwise often point to a single unreliable passage in the gospel of John in which Jesus
    allegedly tells Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Not only is this the sole passage in the gospels where Jesus makes such a claim, it is an imprecise translation of the original Greek. The
    phrase ouk estin ek tou kosmou is perhaps better translated as “not part of this order/system [of government].” Even if one accepts the historicity of the passage (and very few scholars do), Jesus was not claiming that the Kingdom of God is unearthly; he was saying it is unlike any kingdom or government on earth." Aslan thinks that Jesus hoped for a change, a new system, a new kingdom in this world with the help of god: a complete reversal of the present political, religious, and economic system. “Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are hungry, for you shall be fed. Blessed are you who mourn, for you shall soon be laughing” (Luke) But the poor and powerless will always loose in a violant revolution: “Put back your sword… For all who take up the sword will die by the sword” (Matt 26:51-52).

  • ginger wentworth Oct. 4, 2014 at 12:08 AM

    Ron is correct. Aslan provided these nuances as he went along, but they have been ignored one by one, by his critics.

  • Damon Feb. 2, 2015 at 2:35 AM

    I am not a Christian but wanted to read this book to get some insight. Having noticed two glaring grammatical errors in the introduction, I was put off as a book on such a serious topic should be properly edited. Forgiving this, I read on. Aslan says that Mark does not mention the resurrection. Not true. Even if you take out verses 16:9 and beyond, Mark still reads that the young man in the cave says that Jesus is not there, that he is risen and has gone to Galilee. I stopped reading the book there. If I had a fireplace, it would be kindling.

  • Boss I IS have know Know Can Jun. 11, 2015 at 12:28 PM

    Ginger, you don't have a phd either so stop criticizing critics points of view.

  • Ed Oct. 1, 2015 at 4:58 PM

    Just wondering if anyone has read Marvin Harris' "Cow, Pigs, Wars and Witches"? In it is a chapter called The Secret of the Prince Of Peace which Aslan's book closely parallels. Harris' book was published in 1975 and reissued in 1991 and is available on Amazon. You can read both and compare. I'm not saying that Aslan plagarized "Zealot," but I am saying that the biggest critique of this book is that there is nothing new here. I'm guessing that even Harris got the idea that Jesus was not peaceful during his days in Palestine from lots of folks just sitting around asking if you can take the Bible literally or not. Nothing special in this book deserving of all the hoopla.

  • PJS Oct. 20, 2015 at 11:58 AM

    If I understand your objection regarding literacy correctly, yes you are right, papyrus or other writing materials and ink were very expensive. But you are reading in your 21st century definition of literacy into the 1st century definition of literacy. Today, literacy is both knowing how to read and write. Then, literacy just meant that you knew how to read. To us today, it is inconceivable to us that someone could know how to read and not know how to write. But then, most *literate* people did not write. Scribes were hired to do the writing for them, and professional-looking writing was expected in any formal letter or document. It probably would have been insulting one some level to send someone an unprofessional looking document. We know this through handwriting analysis that shows that documents ascribed to different people was written by people with the same handwriting--clearly the same person. The only other conclusion would be that the majority of documents dating to the period were forgeries. We know that in letter writing there were expected formalities--just consider the formalities of address and closing in Paul's letters. In any case, you can teach someone the basics of writing using wax tablets, or even a stick in the dirt. But just because you could write with a stick in the dirt didn't mean that you could be expected to write in the formal manner required with pen and ink. No expensive ink and paper was necessarily needed to know how to write at all. And if you are claiming that they had nothing that could teach them to read, don't you think that any written document was highly valued and kept for a long time? Documents show that even Egyptian farmers sent letters to others. So farming didn't necessarily preclude sending letters. I'm sure there are better explanations and evidence than the ones I give here, and if I made any mistakes, please let me know.

  • gary Jun. 27, 2016 at 9:07 PM

    Two of the biggest assumptions that many Christians make regarding the truth claims of Christianity is that, one, eyewitnesses wrote the four gospels. The problem is, however, that the majority of scholars today do not believe this is true. The second big assumption many Christians make is that it would have been impossible for whoever wrote these four books to have invented details in their books, especially in regards to the Empty Tomb and the Resurrection appearances, due to the fact that eyewitnesses to these events would have still been alive when the gospels were written and distributed.

    But consider this, dear Reader: Most scholars date the writing of the first gospel, Mark, as circa 70 AD. Who of the eyewitnesses to the death of Jesus and the alleged events after his death were still alive in 70 AD? That is four decades after Jesus' death. During that time period, tens of thousands of people living in Palestine were killed in the Jewish-Roman wars of the mid and late 60's, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem.

    How do we know that any eyewitness to the death of Jesus in circa 30 AD was still alive when the first gospel was written and distributed in circa 70 AD? How do we know that any eyewitness to the death of Jesus ever had the opportunity to read the Gospel of Mark and proof read it for accuracy?

    I challenge Christians to list the name of even ONE eyewitness to the death of Jesus who was still alive in 70 AD along with the evidence to support your claim.

    If you can't list any names, dear Christian, how can you be sure that details such as the Empty Tomb, the detailed resurrection appearances, and the Ascension ever really occurred? How can you be sure that these details were not simply theological hyperbole...or...the exaggerations and embellishments of superstitious, first century, mostly uneducated people, who had retold these stories thousands of times, between thousands of people, from one language to another, from one country to another, over a period of many decades?

  • Gary Manning Jr Jun. 30, 2016 at 4:25 PM

    Hi Gary,
    Those are some important questions. Answers, of course, can be found in many books. But let me give some brief responses:
    -I'm a scholar of the gospels, and I interact with many other gospel scholars. As a matter of fact, it is quite common for scholars to believe that the gospels are based on eye-witness testimony. Luke and Mark don't claim to be eyewitnesses, but Luke claims to have researched and received information from eyewitnesses.
    -Mark may have been written any time from the late 50s to the 70s. But Mark was summarizing material that already existed. The church was already widespread long before Mark wrote, and the church was already preaching the message of Jesus before the gospels were written. If you read through Paul's letters, you can already find a basic summary of the life of Jesus by the mid 50s. Many scholars believe that Q, a collection of primarily Jesus' teachings, was already in circulation 20 years before Mark was written, and became the basis of the teachings found in Matt and Luke.
    -Polycarp, a late 1st century/ early 2nd century church leader, said that he preferred hearing the stories from eyewitnesses over reading them in the gospels. He was a disciple of John the apostle, who was an eyewitness. (There's a name and the evidence, at least in brief!)
    -Richard Bauckham, author of Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, does a great job giving much more detailed answers to your questions about eyewitnesses.
    -The deaths of many in Judea in the war of 66-70 doesn't affect the availability of eyewitnesses. Christianity had already spread to Rome, and historians agree that Peter, definitely an eyewitness, was martyred in Rome.

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