“The Jesus that Aslan wants to present is the ‘zealot,’ which is to say, the Jewish insurrectionist intent upon challenging the Temple establishment in Jerusalem and, above all, the Roman military power that dominated the land of Israel.” In other words, Reza Aslan’s Jesus is someone very like Reza Aslan, who appears to be intent upon challenging what he sees as the establishment in Washington (although he himself is actually the quintessential establishment figure) and, above all, the U.S. military that he thinks dominates the lands of Islam.
To wit: Aslan is a Board member of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), which has been established in court as a lobbying group for the Islamic Republic of Iran. Said Michael Rubin: “Jamal Abdi, NIAC”s policy director, now appears to push aside any pretense that NIAC is something other than Iran’s lobby. Speaking at the forthcoming ‘Expose AIPAC’ conference, Abdi is featured on the ‘Training: Constituent Lobbying for Iran’ panel. Oops.” According to Charles C. Johnson in the Daily Caller: “Iranian state-run media have referred to the National Iranian-American Council (NIAC) since at least 2006 as ‘Iran’s lobby’ in the U.S.” Iranian freedom activist Hassan Daioleslam “documented over a two-year period that NIAC is a front group lobbying on behalf of the Iranian regime.” NIAC had to pay him nearly $200,000 in legal fees after they sued him for defamation over his accusation that they were a front group for the mullahs, and lost. Yet Aslan remains on their Board.
Also, Aslan tried to pass off Iran’s genocidally-minded former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a liberal reformer and has called on the U.S. Government to negotiate with Ahmadinejad himself, as well as with the jihad terror group Hamas. Aslan has even praised the jihad terror group Hizballah as “the most dynamic political and social organization in Lebanon,” as well as the anti-Semitic, misogynist, Islamic supremacist Muslim Brotherhood, which is dedicated in its own words, according to a captured internal document, to “eliminating and destroying Western civilization from within.” Aslan wrote: “The Muslim Brotherhood will have a significant role to play in post-Mubarak Egypt. And that is good thing.” Millions of Egyptians obviously disagree.
And now he has conjured up a Jesus who, lo and behold, looks almost exactly like the conjurer himself.
“Reza Aslan’s Cartoon Jesus,” by Fr. Robert Barron in RealClearReligion, November 6:
When I saw that Reza Aslan’s portrait of Jesus, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, had risen to number one on the New York Times bestseller list, I must confess, I was both disappointed and puzzled. For the reductionistic and debunking approach that Aslan employs has been tried by dozens of commentators for at least the past 300 years, and the debunkers have been themselves debunked over and over again by serious scholars of the historical Jesus.
Here is how the method works: a scholar focuses on one aspect of Jesus’s life, finds all of the Gospel passages that emphasize that aspect and declares them historically reliable, and then casually characterizes the rest of the Gospels as the non-historical musings of the evangelists and their communities. So in the course of the last three centuries, Jesus has been presented as, exclusively, an eschatological prophet, an itinerant preacher of the kingdom, a wonder-worker, a magician, a social revolutionary, an avatar of enlightened ethics, a cynic philosopher, et cetera. To be sure, evidence can be culled from the Gospels for all of these identities, but the problem is that these portraits invariably fail to present Jesus-in-full, the strange, beguiling, elusive, and richly complex figure that emerges from a thorough reading of the New Testament.
The Jesus that Aslan wants to present is the “zealot,” which is to say, the Jewish insurrectionist intent upon challenging the Temple establishment in Jerusalem and, above all, the Roman military power that dominated the land of Israel. His principle justification for this reading is that religiously motivated revolutionaries were indeed thick on the ground in the Palestine of Jesus’s time; that Jesus claimed to be ushering in a new Kingdom of God; and that he ended up dying the death typically meted out to rabble-rousers who posed a threat to Roman authority.
Jesus, he argues, fits neatly into the pattern set by Menahem, the heroic defender of Masada, Judas the Galilean, Simon son of Giora, Simon bar Kochba, and any number of other revolutionaries who claimed Messianic identity and who, in the end, were ground under by the Romans. On this reading, Jesus indeed died on a Roman cross, but he didn’t rise from the dead; instead, his body was probably left on the cross to be devoured by dogs or the birds of the air.
Now questions immediately crowd the mind. What about Jesus’s extraordinary stress on non-violence and love of enemies (hardly the stern stuff we would expect from a zealot)? Oh, it was made up by the later Christian community that was trying to curry favor with Roman society. What about Jesus’s explicit claim that his kingdom was “not of this world”? Oh, those were words placed in his mouth by John the evangelist. What about his practically constant reference to prayer, the spiritual life, and trust in divine providence? Oh, that was pious invention. What about the stories of his outreach to the Woman at the Well, the man born blind, and Zacchaeus? What about the healing of Bartimaeus, the raising of Lazarus, and the raising of the daughter of Jairus, actions having precious little to do with anti-Roman activism? By now, you can guess the answer and I trust you see the problem: huge swaths of the Gospel and the early Christian witness have to be cut away in order to accommodate the portrait that Aslan paints.
The most massive difficulty with Aslan’s interpretation is that it cannot begin to account for the stubborn fact that no one except specialist historians remembers Judas the Galilean, Menahem, or Simon bar Kochba — but everyone remembers Jesus of Nazareth. The clearest indication possible that someone was not the Messiah of Israel would have been his death at the hands of Israel’s enemies, for the Messiah was supposed to be a liberator and conqueror. And this is precisely why those failed revolutionaries were so quickly forgotten….