I think John Dickson may have written the most devastating review of Reza Aslan’s book that I have seen yet. It’s lengthy and does not pull any punches. He catalogues the errors and exaggerations and shows how Aslan’s conclusions are well outside the mainstream of historical scholarship on Jesus. But there is one particular bit at the end that I thought was telling. Dickson writes,
For a brief moment, Reza Aslan will be heralded as a breakthrough author. In a month or so, some other theory, equally unsubstantiated and certainly contradictory, will get the same kind of airtime. Such works are generally ignored by working scholars, who tend to be suspicious of anything that bypasses the peer review process.
Devastating. And there’s much more where this came from. Read it here.
(HT: Mike Bird)
Denny, JD is the real deal, he is a great historian, apologist, evangelist, and pastor. See esp. his book “Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission.” Check out the Center for Public Christianity stuff. They do awesome work in apologetics, ethics, and public theology.
First off, I think Reza’s stuff is quite off base with regards to historical studies of Jesus and the New Testament. The interview on Fox was a bit embarrassing. But, nonetheless, Reza is expounding on something that scholarship has not taken serious for quite some time.
There was one question I had, a very small one. In the section titled, Litany of errors, one of the bullet points states this: Weirdly, Aslan says in passing that the letters of Paul make up “the bulk of the New Testament.” In fact, they represent only a quarter.
I cannot understand this statement, for at normative book count we have 13 of 27 NT writings by Paul. I counted up chapters in the whole NT (260) and divided by Pauline chapters (87) and that is still one-third. Or maybe he’s working from a more scholarly level, which doesn’t see the pastorals, Eph, etc, as necessarily Pauline. Just wondering your thoughts.
Word count. The four Gospels alone make up almost 65,000 words (and that’s not including Acts, Hebrews, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2, & 3 John, Revelations, and Jude) while Paul’s entire group of letters only averages about 32,400 words (less than half of the Gospels). And if you take the entire word count you get about 24% for Paul and 76% for the rest of the New Testament. (approx 105,600 to the rest of the Bible to Paul’s 32,400 for a total of 138,000).
Rest of the New Testament* not rest of the Bible…Oops!
Thanks, Alex. Is that how most of scholarship works – from word count? Cause I’ve not read that kind of statement before, nor about measuring things by word count. Maybe I’ll see this more as I work on a second Master’s and my PhD. 😀
I think it’s easy to lose how big the Gospels+Acts are compared to the rest of the New Testament when they’re all clumped together in the back of our Bibles that are two-thirds Old Testament, plus we’re preaching/studying out of the Epistles most of the time anyway. Word count is a much better measure of content.
Yes, word count is what you must go by. People often miss this, and that is why many people mistakenly believe that the Psalter is the longest book in the Bible. The number of chapters is not what determines this.
Good review, Denny, thanks for posting.
Ironically, much of the criticism of Aslan is that his credentials are in the sociology of religion, not theology. But we have ample evidence throughout history that theology often intertwines with sociology. While I agree with the criticisms of Aslan’s poor scholarship, what I enjoy most abt the book is its discussion of NT sociology.
Dickson says that, “Jesus was about as far from being a political revolutionary as a first-century Jew could be.” But while Jesus did not OFFER Himself as a political figure, its hard to believe that many Jews did not PERCEIVE Him as a political figure. Otherwise you have to believe that the Jews begged Pilate for Jesus’ execution merely because they disagreed with His theology. In our own times we see how the Tea Party and OWS movements seek to overturn the power of US elites just as Jesus overturned the power of the Pharisees, and yet we’re supposed to believe that Jesus’ actions were perceived as purely apolitical?
Religion and politics often bleed together. Was Martin Luther King a religious leader or a political leader? How about Malcolm X, or Elijah Muhammad? What abt Jerry Falwell who founded the Moral Majority & Pat Robertson who ran for president? What abt Pope John Paul II, who often gets credit for the fall of communism? Even Martin Luther’s work ignited substantial political change.
So while Aslan may not offer much insight on the Jesus of history, he does offer an engaging perspective on the political currents which Jesus faced among 1st century Jews.