Today may be a good time to bring this up. We’ll see how it works out.
This is not a review of the book. I’ll get around to that later. For now I’m going to discuss the book’s author, Reza Aslan. He’s been in the news the past few days with an on-line panel discussion about Jesus.
Reza Aslan And Theological Scholar Peter Lillback Debate Who Jesus Really Was
The different historical and religious interpretations of Jesus are generally cause for a heated debate, and in a HuffPost Live panel discussion on Monday, author Reza Aslan and theological scholar Peter Lillback had just that.
The “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth” author argues that a tension exists between the historical and theological narratives of Jesus, as “many Christians would say Jesus fulfilled” the prophecies detailed in the Bible, while “many historians would say Jesus’ life was crafted so that it would fulfill these prophecies.”
“There are many prophecies of the coming messiah that Jesus does not fulfill,” he added. “It’s kind of a hodge-podge of different prophetic statements about what the messiah’s supposed to do, where the messiah’s supposed to be born, etc.”
Lillback, the President of Westminster Theological Seminary, took issue with Aslan’s claim, firing back that he’d like to “correct” the author about the level of fact to be gleaned from the Hebrew scriptures.
“When we continue to separate history and theology and say they cannot be together, that means that we who are living two millenia after Christ know more about that historical milieu than the people who actually lived there and saw the story,” he said.
Yes, that really is the problem with Jesus. Jesus is supposed to have fulfilled biblical prophesies, thereby making him the promised messiah, the Christ. Unfortunately for the story of Jesus is that none of this fulfillment was realized until many years after the execution a person named Jesus, or Joshua, from Nazareth, in what is now the modern state of Israel.
Today for most Christians around the world is the celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, and an interesting thing about the story of Jesus’s birth is where he was supposed to have been born. Christians celebrate Bethlehem as his birth place, and we are drawn to ask, “Why?” Why Bethlehem?
The answer to that swings the conversation back to the prophesies Jesus is presumed to have fulfilled. One prophesy was that the messiah would be born in Bethlehem, and the stories of Jesus, written years after his death, point toward Bethlehem.
The problem is there is no evidence that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. His family, his father Joseph and his mother Mary, are said to have lived in Nazareth, hence “Jesus of Nazareth.” So how did Jesus get born in Bethlehem? Good you should ask.
Supposedly the Roman government was superbly efficient, and they needed a census of all their subjects. So to fulfill the census everybody had to show up at the place of their birth and participate in the census—there.
At this point all kinds of historians and also serious biblical scholars are asking, “Why?” The answer to that question is, “No way!” First, there is no reason an efficient government would require people to return to their place of birth to participate in a census. Second, there is no record the Romans ever held a census about that time, neither a census of this sort of at any time. The solution to this conundrum is simply that Jesus was not born in Bethlehem. And I won’t get into the fable of the star that hangs in the sky over a single point on the ground. There’s some serious physics that argues against that.
What we apparently have is the case of a radical Jewish rabbi from about 2000 years ago who got crosswise with the church and was executed by the Romans for insubordination. And no messiah.
Jesus was gone, along with a number of possible candidates from the time. And no messiah. Years later, in fulfillment of the prophesies, Jesus was nominated as the messiah, now dead, and a (nearly) complete history was concocted of his life, death and ultimate ascent into Heaven. And the rest is history.
Now come serious biblical scholars such as Reza Aslan to do the research and to step forward to state the obvious truth and then to catch all heck for their efforts. Most famous was an interview Aslan had on Fox News.
Fox News to Scholar: Why Would a Muslim Write a Book About Jesus?
It’s got plenty of competition but this may just be the single most cringe-worthy, embarrassing interview on Fox News. At least in recent memory. Fox News anchor Lauren Green had religious scholar Reza Aslan on her FoxNews.com show Friday to talk about Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, his book that has been stirring up some online controversy recently. And right off the bat, Green gets to what is important: “You’re a Muslim, so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?” Aslan seemed a little flabbergasted: “Well, to be clear, I am a scholar of religions with four degrees, including one in the New Testament, and fluency in biblical Greek, who has been studying the origins of Christianity for two decades, who also just happens to be a Muslim.”*
But Green just wouldn’t let it go: “It still begs the question though, why would you be interested in the founder of Christianity?” Aslan then starts talking to Green slowly, as if she were a child: “Because it’s my job as an academic. I am a professor of religion, including the New Testament. That’s what I do for a living, actually.” But Green insisted, accusing him of failing to “disclose” that he’s a Muslim and at one point asking him about a stupefying claim on whether a Muslim writing a book on Jesus isn’t sort of like a Democrat writing a book on former president Ronald Reagan.
Yes, that is a curious question. Why should a religious scholar, who is not actually a Christian, write about Jesus (who also was not a Christian, but that’s beside the point)? Somebody needs to step back and take a real-world look at this question. It’s sort of like asking, “Why would a veterinarian, who is not actually a horse, feel comfortable writing a book about a horse?”
Enough of that. Today is Christmas, and later this morning we’re over the hill and through the woods to grandmother’s house to open presents with people we see three or four times a year. Did I mention some great food?
Merry Christmas to all, readers. And may Jesus have mercy on your souls.