My younger daughter says, “What do you think of that new book about Jesus called ‘Zealot’ where Jesus turns out to be nothing more than a political revolutionary?”
Typical family conversation in our home.
I’ve heard of it of course. I’ve even seen the author interviewed. His name is Reza Aslan, and the book’s title is Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. A FOX News interviewer gave him a hard time for being a Muslim and writing about Jesus, an interview that gave off more heat than light, but was probably great for sales.
“I haven’t read it,” I say. “I don’t have much use for these searches for the historical Jesus. They never amount to anything.”
“Really,” she says, genuinely surprised. “Why don’t you blog about that?” It had never occurred to me that anyone would be interested. I thought everyone knew the history.
Peeling back layers of tradition and getting to the person who lived and taught and died in first century Palestine sounds like a noble and worthwhile thing to do – and plenty of scholars over the years have attempted it – but the consensus seems to be that the search doesn’t go anywhere.
But my daughter was right. Most people don’t know that. They hear or read about the publication of a book like “Zealot,” and they’re not quite sure what to think. It’s easy to understand why someone would conclude that it’s nothing more than the work of a Muslim trying to smear Christianity.
I don’t know what Aslan’s intentions are, but his claims to have a Ph.D. in the history of religions and to teach the history of religion are false. He’s an associate professor in the creative writing program at the University of California, Riverside. Nowhere in the academic world is he known as a scholar in the history of religion.
That’s all troubling – and tends to undermine the authority of the claims he makes – but what’s really important to know is that all of these searches for the Jesus of history (as opposed to the Christ of faith) have one thing in common. They make Jesus look a great deal like the person who set out on the search.
Albert Schweitzer famously wrote (in his own Quest for the Historical Jesus, published in 1906) that Jesus “comes to us as One unknown” and that the searches are “often pale reflections of the searchers” themselves.
John Dominic Crossan, who has given the search more than one try himself, finally concluded that most researchers will “do autobiography and call it biography.”
I won’t be reading “Zealot.”