Two scholars respond to the actual content of Reza Aslan’s take on Jesus

Over the last couple of days, two New Testament scholars have weighed in on Reza Aslan’s recent book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of NazarethI’ll read the book soon enough. Thus far I’ve just been keeping up in the spate of interviews–least of which worth mentioning is the FOX debacle (If I may quote Lisa Simpson, “The FOX Network has sunk to a new low.”)

Many conservative critics have focused on how Aslan represented/misrepresented his credentials on the FOX interview. I feel he should have been more careful, though my sense is that criticism is a bit overblown and–I may be wrong–driven by a desire to discredit a book with objectionable content.

I would bet dollars to donuts (what an odd expression) that if Aslan had written a book with a conservative spin, his academic claims would not have come up by these same critics, at least not with the same degree of righteous indignation–and may even have been buried.

For what it’s worth, and although not the same thing, I’ve called myself in certain contexts a “theologian” even though I have a PhD in Ancient Near Eastern studies with a focus on the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and its early history of interpretation. I’m pretty sure FOX wouldn’t know what to do with that.

Anyway, the content of the book is more the issue–as is the case with any book–and from what I see, Aslan’s credentials would not hinder him from doing solid academic work. I sensed though, especially after listening to the NPR interview, but also from perusing the internet, that the book may be getting more attention that it deserves.

From how Aslan represented his work, it seemed to me that he was simply rehearsing many of the main themes of mainstream New Testament scholarship.

Of course, in a book aimed at a general audience, packaging scholarship for the masses is fine and good, but Aslan spoke as if he had uncovered some deep mysteries of the life of Jesus–like, he was actually a person who lived in 1st century Roman controlled Palestine, and paying attention to that world helps you understand Jesus. So, for example, he was crucified for insurrection.

Yes, we know. Again, that’s not the problem, but he seems to be presenting these things like a wide-eyed novice, discovering for the first time that there is history behind the Gospels that the Gospels both shed light on and obscure.

In the NPR interview he announced once or twice, as if it were a new thought, that there is a difference between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. Yes, and scholars have been writing about that for quite some time, but Aslan’s apparently either/or take on this issue by-passes necessary nuancing (as opposed to something like this).

Aslan’s presentation of his book may simply be part of the rhetoric of generating interest for a general readership. But, my spidy-sense was tingling and I was almost immediately suspicious that there may be a some gaps in Aslan’s grasp of “the historical Jesus.”

That suspicion has been confirmed in my mind at least by two online reviews of  the book, one by Greg Cary, professor of New Testament at Lancaster Theological Seminary, and the other by Anthony Le Donne, known to many of you as yet another casualty of the fundamentalist resurgence in Christian academia, and is now among other things an editor of the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus.

Cary tries to draw out potential contributions of the book. Le Donne wastes no time going for the throat. Together they give two scholarly critical reviews of the book’s content that differ in tone but not too much in substance.

They are worth reading, especially for those who might not be familiar with the world of the academic study of “the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth.”

From my point of view, none of this casts aspersions on Aslan as a man or a scholar. And he certainly shouldn’t have to defend his right to write a book on Jesus because he is Muslim (or once was, or whatever). My sense, though, is that the book’s selling point may not be its content, but the life story of the man who wrote it–a Muslim convert to evangelical Christianity who left the faith at least in part due to his academic work in New Testament. That is a common enough story, and one worth telling, but what he wrote about Jesus needs to stand or fall on its own.

  • RD

    From my perspective as a non-academic, who is somewhat interested in these topics, I think a book like Aslan’s is important because the general population is so ignorant about “the historical Jesus.” Most historical books about Jesus just aren’t going to sell. If Aslan is able to at least shift the conversation from the widespread assumptions about Jesus to the actual historical debates, I’m all for it.

    • http://bookwi.se/ Adam Shields

      But NT Wright and other scholars have written accessible books on the Historical Jesus. That is not to say no one else should, just to say that there are others that have already done a pretty good job.

      • RD

        I’m not sure that I would put Wright in the same category as mainstream historical Jesus scholars. I think he offers some interesting and sometimes attractive theories, but he obviously has a fairly conservative bias when it comes to Jesus (in comparison to the mainstream).

        • http://bookwi.se/ Adam Shields

          Are saying is that you want non-Christians to be the primary writers of historical Jesus? Maybe I have not read enough historical Jesus scholarship, but I believe that Wright has written four books on historical Jesus, one of them jointly with John Dominic Crossan and another with Marcus Borg (neither known for their conservative stances with regard to the historical Jesus.)

          Sure Wright is relatively conservative, but he is certainly not an academic slouch.

          • RD

            The only people I hear referencing or interacting with Wright as an important scholar are (usually evangelical) Christians. I’m not saying that he’s not. I just think his work is primarily theological – it’s coming to the data with a lot of assumptions about where the lines can be drawn and where they can’t. He does push those boundaries at certain points, but he hasn’t written or said anything that would put him outside Christian orthodoxy. And, that’s fine. I would just put him in the very same category of scholars that I would expect from Fox “News” (along with Ben Witherington, Dan Wallace, Darrell Bock, Craig Blomberg, Andreas Kostenberger, etc.).

          • http://bookwi.se/ Adam Shields

            I think politically, Wright would not be a part of the traditional Fox news commentator. He has a hard time writing theologically without talking about the need for working on climate change or around areas of poverty.

          • RD

            True! What I meant was, for example, if Fox “News” wanted to do a story on the resurrection of Jesus, I would assume Wright – or Gary Habermas or Mike Licona – would be consulted as scholars while Ehrman or Crossan or Borg would be denounced as frauds (in their minds).

          • al

            actually, I think if Fox News did it, they would have both sides represent, while MSNBC would only have one side. But on the other hand, if Fox did that they would have a very good Christian NT scholar on one side and then bring on a raving lunatic to represent the other side :-)

          • RD

            Admitting my own bias here, but I am not a Christian. If I’m wanting to better understand the first century or Jesus, I’m just not going to primarily seek out orthodox Christians. I am much more likely to trust non-Christian (or unorthodox Christian) scholars.

          • http://bookwi.se/ Adam Shields

            I understand that. I am not Catholic but I have been reading about Catholicism for the past year or so. So I have been reading both Catholic and non-Catholic perspectives on Catholicism. Sometimes someone is too close to see their own bias. But also when you are writing from a distance you are also including biases.

            I would encourage you as part of getting the whole story, to at least read some Christian accounts of the historical Jesus. Personally, I have found Wright to be the most readable of the Christian historical Jesus authors that I have read.

            (Although admittedly historical Jesus is not an area I have read really widely. I have however, read a lot of Wright in other areas, so that may be contributing to my own bias.)

          • RD

            To add to my admissions, I am actually an ex-evangelical pastor. Before I left the ministry, Wright was my go to guy. I was really introduced to this whole conversation through Wright and Witherington. But, now that I’m out of that world, I just don’t see any point in revisiting any of that. I visit blogs like Enns’ here and there because I find some of what he writes to be really interesting (and I wish I would’ve been exposed to writing like his back then). But, beyond that, if I really want to dig into the research, I’m going to stick with the mainstream.

          • http://bookwi.se/ Adam Shields

            Well that is entirely different. I understand your point.

          • Rick

            NT scholar Scot McKnight would disagree. From an interview he did:

            Scot stated: “the Historical Jesus enterprise had an agenda, namely, to find the real Jesus behind the layers of interpretation and over theologizing. The goal was to find the pre Christian and pre Creedal Jesus. It operated with the assumption that Jesus, as he originally was, was reshaped and expanded into more than he was during his lifetime. So, the goal is to get back to what he was really like — before the Church started expanding him. That was its major intent and nearly all the books on Jesus proposed something “less than” what we find in the Gospels (Messiah, Son of God, etc) and Creeds (2nd person of Trinity)…The weaknesses were that historical methods can never get us to the fullness of a theological interpretation. Apart from Spirit and from Church, you can’t get to the Jesus of the Nicene Creed or the Jesus of John 1:1-14. Its biggest weakness was that it confirmed its presupposition: namely, if you assume the Gospels and Creeds largely got too theological and overcooked the real Jesus, then you will no doubt find such a lessened Jesus through your historical methods…Historical studies, and in this case I don’t mean the Historical Jesus enterprise (which is to find the Jesus behind the theology), attempt to locate Jesus and the Gospels in their historical context. Jewish studies have helped us understand Jesus and have given us fresh insights into what Jesus was saying and doing.”

          • RD

            I would simply distinguish between history and theology here: what (probably) happened? versus what does it mean (to Christians)?

          • Rick

            I think Scot’s point is that there is not always a clear cut was to distinguish them, since the theology may accurately reflect (interpret) the history. To eliminate consideration of the theology at the start (which in the case of Christianity contains history), which most non-Christian scholars do, would then diminish the attempts to find the true history.

          • RD

            I’m glad he admits there’s a sort of stalemate here. :)

            But, no, I don’t see any historical benefit whatsoever coming from the theological interpretation of those events (as a non-Christian).

          • Rick

            So you are automatically discounting them as valuable sources- which is Scot’s point. To discount those sources is to then predispose one’s research to only a certain take on things. Scholars such as Wright, Hurtado, Bauckham, etc… have written how those sources can be valuable (historically).

          • RD

            Right – orthodox Christian scholars have written such things. I haven’t come across anyone outside of those circles who would disagree with my distinction. But, again, I’m not a scholar, and I definitely haven’t researched this as much as I could.

          • Andrew Dowling

            “The weaknesses were that historical methods can never get us to the fullness of a theological interpretation.”

            But the historical Jesus studies aren’t looking for a theological interpretation. They aren’t books designed for prayerful reflection. The “agenda” ie finding what was historical beneath the layering of later religious interpretation, is the agenda that any historian will have with a study of any person in religious history, be it the Dalai Lama, Muhammad, or Caesar.

            I think a major source of contention in these studies is whether Jesus was a man that would be typical for his time or more atypical. I have usually trended toward the latter, as I think the notion that Jesus was just like any other 1st century Jewish apocalyptic preacher or political zealot, but unlike the many failed zealots/end time prophets before and after who are mere historical footnotes, his followers decided to keep his movement alive and by sheer chance/good luck it managed to sustain itself despite its apparent colossal failure initially. I think such a thesis not only strains any logical probability, but also doesn’t fit in with the spiritual/theological framework that runs through what would be acknowledged by most scholars as the words of Jesus most likely to survive decades of oral transmission relatively uncorrupted: his short memorable sayings-many found in the so-called Sermon on the Mount/Plain-and in his parables (of which a majority I would contend go back to Jesus in at least some fashion, although the Synoptics often added their own allegories).
            I think that should be the baseline from which to work with.

    • Antitory

      Does the general population know much more about the “non-historical Jesus”?

      A pity it isn’t a better book. Based on the reviews he seems to present certain debates as settled fact (e.g. the question of the literacy of Jesus) and to ignore or be unaware of work by more experienced and better qualified scholars e.g. on the “High Christology” of Jesus’ earliest Jewish followers by academics like Larry Hurtado and the significance of eyewitness testimony by Richard Bauckham.

  • al

    typo: “…he was simply rehearsing ” I think you meant “rehashing”. Feel free to make the correction and delete this comment – I didn’t want to fill up your inbox.

    As for “if he were a conservative…”. I agree, Fox would not have made an issue of it. But, I would bet YOU “dollars to donuts” that MSNBC would have!!

  • Mike H

    thanks for the post… most of the dialogue on this book has been fruitless. At the end of the day the strength of his argument is where his work should be judged.

  • John Hawthorne

    I’ve always said that a scholar has a right to write a bad book and then let the community respond. Just cause it got published doesn’t mean it’s great. It’s just the beginning of the conversation.

  • Kelly

    He was an evangelical that became Muslim…

    • Z

      Actually- he was raised nominally Muslim, became an evangelical Christian as a teenager and went back to Islam, specifically Sufiism, as an adult.

  • Guest

    right, but the way the above read was that he was a Muslim that converted to evangelical Christianity then thru academia became a skeptic….Unless I read it wrong!

    • Z

      He was.

  • Christopher StClair II

    While I appreciate the attempt to focus on the work and not the man, the man’s work is influenced by the man. And Aslan didn’t simply mislead about his credentials. He outright lied. He claimed to have graduate degrees in New Testament studies. He doesn’t. Claiming that your degree is in one field when it actually exists in a completely different field is not a misrepresentation. It is a lie. If he lies about his background and credentials, then any research and evidence upon which he claims to base the conclusions of his book are also suspect and therefore deserve greater scrutiny.

    That being said. One doesn’t have to have degrees in New Testament studies in order to have something worthwhile to say on the subject. In fact, sometimes degrees in New Testament studies make the New Testament difficult to see and obscure the text in the eye of the scholar. I say this as someone who actually does have a degree in Biblical Studies.

    However, this author of this particular article seems to have some of his own facts wrong (to which he did add the question mark to denote uncertainty). I would suggest to everyone that, before you publicly post an article criticizing other people’s criticism, make sure that your own criticisms are based on a firm grasp of the facts and not an instinctual reaction to perceived harshness based on ideology rather than fact.

  • Anthony Le Donne

    Thanks for the link. I suppose that I do “go for the throat”, if this means that I attack the thesis and general argumentation of the book. I do talk about the news media’s fascination with Xn-Muslim relations, but most of the review is a critique of Aslan’s ideas, not his religion.

  • david carlson

    Attacking the person instead of what they said is a technique for losers. He has four academic degrees – most people I think would see these arguements semantics and serving no purpose other than to attack him as a person.

    Deal with his writing.

  • Ann Gingrow Corbett

    I’m not a Biblical scholar and I’m not even an Evangelist, but I have an interest in this field. After the controversy, I bought the book and I have enjoyed it so far. Everyone here is right–it doesn’t seem to contain any new revelations about the life of the historical Jesus. It is written in an interesting, lively manner that will appeal to non-academic readers and others who haven’t read a lot about Jesus as a man of his time.

  • http://www.walkingtowardsthelight.org/ John Marcott

    Peter,

    I know this is a little off the topic, but since you referenced Dale Allison’s “The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus,” I thought this question was relevant.

    What do you do with the apocalyptic material in the NT that (apparently) “gets the end of the world wrong”? Do you think this data is better interpreted in ways that deny NT authors had unfulfilled expectations about the end (a la NT Wright), or do you “bite the bullet” of false expectations and then somehow assimilate that into your theology of Scripture in similar ways that you argue for the Old Testament (i.e. God speaks in ways the culture understands)?

    I am a previous Evangelical whose breaking point was accepting an Apocalyptic Jesus as presented by Allison.

    • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

      Good to see this point raised! It was not the “breaking point” for me (in leaving the Evangelical theological paradigm) but it has been an important point that is generally glossed over by Evangelicals of all theological sub-stripes (re. the rapture, Millennium, etc.). And it DOES have a lot to do with the “historical Jesus”… the setting of inter-testamental and 1st century Jewish apocalypticism is critical to his “life and times”, as to the Jerusalem apostles, Paul, etc. Schweitzer’s last-published book (posthumously), “The Kingdom of God and Primitive Christianity” is a forgotten classic on this… still informative now 60-some years after its writing (I reviewed it on my blog fairly recently).

      • http://www.walkingtowardsthelight.org/ John Marcott

        It IS glossed over isn’t it? Like nobody even knows it’s an issue! It’s shocking to me how little this issue is addressed…I have an undergrad in Biblical/Theological studies and almost a graduate degree in Theology, both from Evangelical institutions, and the first time I really had to wrestle with this was by randomly stumbling upon Dale Allison. I get the feeling that Evangelical scholars (and many of my professors) want to just “leave it alone.” Too risky to address and too much is at stake (plus, IMO there really isn’t an answer compatible with Evangelical tenants). I’ll definitely check out your blog…

      • peteenns

        Thanks, Howard. Can you supply a link?

        • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

          Thank YOU. Here is the link to the review itself: http://wp.me/p5oBn-hz (I didn’t want to presume, but I see linking to one’s own stuff is acceptable here… within reason, I’m sure). At the bottom, some might find of interest the link to my just-prior post on Schweitzer’s life and thought more broadly… Most of which was new to me also, tho I knew of him as a kid before or upon his death, and a bit more via his “Quest of..” book much later. (Sorry that the blog is not more organized by topic, etc…. begun working better on that.)

      • http://www.walkingtowardsthelight.org/ John Marcott

        PS- if you haven’t read Allison’s Historical Christ and Theological Jesus, it’s brilliant. I wrote a review on my blog as well:)

        http://www.walkingtowardsthelight.org/the-historical-christ-and-the-theological-jesus-review/

        Blessings…

        • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

          Thanks for the prior response and this referral, John! Sounds like a book I’d really enjoy and must check out… starting with your review which I’ll go to right now. If you didn’t find my review (see above apology, under Pete’s comment) here, again, is the short link:
          http://wp.me/p5oBn-hz

    • peteenns

      I am more in the bite the bullet side of things.

  • Daniel Merriman

    I have a shelf or two of books on the historical Jesus that I have been reading since the 70′s when the writers who could actually reach an audience outside the academy painted Him as a wondering hippie guru. I have learned so much about Second Temple Judaism that if a time machine sent me to Jerusalem around 30 CE I could fit right in. There is one statement that struck me as wise 40 years ago and even more wise today:

    ““He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside,
    He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same words: “Follow thou me!” and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.”
    ― Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus

    • Tom Webber

      Daniel Merriman: I recognize your writing and thinking anywhere. This is your friend Tom Webber from Milwaukee, WI. Please contact me!

      • Daniel Merriman

        Tom, I really can’t recall that I know you, but I would be happy to touch base with you regardless. merrimandl at gmail.com

  • Pat Roach

    I recently heard Aslan lecture at Powell’s Books in Portland, OR. He said at the outset that if you are familiar with historical Jesus studies, then nothing in his book is going to be new or interesting to you. Rather, this was all interesting to him and he wanted to write it because about it because traced his own spiritual journey. And he thought that he could make this information accessible whereas scholars like Borg and N.T. Wright aren’t accessible (his words not mine).

    Anyway, Aslan is a very gifted communicator (he held a room of 300+ on his every word). And he is a talented writer as well (His book on Islam “No God But God” is engaging and worth the read). His “ditch” between history and and theology seems clean…too clean, as Pete mentioned.

    Also, while he is a genuinely nice man (I visited with him very briefly afterwards), he can come off a little condescending towards people who believe in Jesus as Christ. He kept telling folks, “Look, if you believe that the NT is a book that is written for you to apply in your life, then fine. That is okay. Worship Jesus. But I am doing history, and that has nothing to do with what you are doing.” I’d rather be told I’m an idiot for believing in Christ, than treated like a nervous little kid who believes in Santa.

  • mud man

    “Donut” of course is an occasional synonym for “goose egg”. Whereas a “dollar” is an archaic unit of value that at one time was considered trustworthy and valuable. Thus the expression implies a bet on a sure thing.

  • James

    A good scientist must follow the evidence wherever it leads and be prepared for paradigm shifts along the way that may change the views of the entire community he or she influences. Yet, there is no pure researcher who is able to park his or her own biases at the door–especially in biblical studies. I am increasingly convinced you cannot read the scholariship without reading the scholar with it.

  • Helmers

    I was hoping you would review the book–before the Fox hysteria!

    No apostrophe when “its” is used in the possessive form–only when it’s a contraction.

    Keep up the good work!

  • Simon Joseph
  • Dan Bennett

    N T Wright “The Resurrection of the Son of God”

    No discussion of Jesus in the 21st Century can proceed
    without a point by point affirmation or refutation of this book. Period.

    Mr. Aslan can generate enormous revenue and buzz with
    outworn theories and his own agenda, but no one should take seriously anything
    he, or any other “scholar” for that matter, has to say about Jesus of
    Nazareth unless they confront this seminal work.

    N T Wright “The Resurrection of the Son of God”

    • http://www.walkingtowardsthelight.org/ John Marcott

      Dale Allison…
      “The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus”
      “Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet”
      “Resurrecting Jesus”
      “Constructing Jesus”

      • Dan Bennett

        Yes, indeed, Allison takes on the serious stuff…here is William lane Craig’s take…what do you think?

        http://www.reasonablefaith.org/dale-allison-on-the-resurrection-of-jesus

        • http://www.walkingtowardsthelight.org/ John Marcott

          Well I think there are two different issues…”Who was the historical Jesus? and Was he raised from the dead?”

          In regards the the first question, although I once subscribed to NT Wright’s view, I now find Allison’s paradigm on the historical Jesus the most compelling (i.e. Schweitzer’s Apocalyptic paradigm). In regards to the second question, I think Allison is also right in that the evidence is far from a “worldview challenger.” If you are Christian, there is enough evidence to confirm your belief. If you are a naturalist, there’s not enough evidence to persuade you.

          I agree that there must have been a missing body AND appearances for the Christian proclamation to make sense. To some Christians, this seems like almost knockdown evidence. The naturalist says “postmortem appearances are common enough (as documented by Allison) and then all you need is a lost physical body. No problem.”

          I’m definitely more intrigued by the historical Jesus debate than the debate regarding his resurrection. One of Allison’s main points is that NT Wright’s Jesus is one that “should” be raised (i.e. He is God, Messiah, etc.). If you don’t think Jesus is the Messiah, well the odds start to look a lot worse that God would resurrect him…

          • Dan Bennett

            Hasn’t Schweitzer been rejected by modern scholarship. pretty convincingly? Wasn’t that the flap over Aslan’s book?

          • http://www.walkingtowardsthelight.org/ John Marcott

            I haven’t read Aslan’s book. Schweitzer is widely known for presenting a Jesus who proclaimed an imminent end to the world followed by a supernatural utopia which he called “the Kingdom of God.” Although some liberal writers such as Marcus Borg, Crossan, etc. would have you believe otherwise, the “Apocalyptic Jesus” has most certainly not been rejected by modern scholarship, although it is certainly widely debated.

            To be honest, I don’t know that it makes sense anymore to say what “modern scholarship” has or has not accepted. In historical Jesus studies you have the Jesus of NT Wright, the Jesus of Marcus Borg, of Crossan, of Allison (following Schweitzer), etc. There is no king and each does what is right in his own mind:)

          • Dan Bennett

            Let me be honest in return. Much of academic theology becomes white noise for me within a few page. Lacking the language skills to verify the work myself, I’m easily frustrated. As you point out, choosing from the available menu of theological perspectives seems largely a matter of personality fit. I’m in an N T Wright frame of mind, not so much because I find his arguments defeating the alternatives, but because he exhibits the fruit of the spirit, in spades. His YouTube videos reveal a man a genuinely humble, pious scholar, with a self-deprecating English wit.
            So, I’m busted. In a world where I can’t do the math, I hang out with the nicest nerd in class and copy his homework. And I’m fine with that.

          • http://www.walkingtowardsthelight.org/ John Marcott

            :)

          • Andrew Dowling

            A lot of Schweitzer’s contentions (for example, that the KIngdom was meant as an “interim ethic” prior to the end of the world) have practically zero backing from any modern scholars, although yes a number still hold to Jesus being an apocalyptic prophet.

            I’m more in the Borg/Crossan/Patterson camp than the Allison/Brown camp myself (although there’s no scholar I would say I agree with 100% . ..Crossan in particular I think mixes excellent scholarship with what at times is some rather hefty leaps to weak conclusions), although I appreciate the studies and contributions of those latter two scholars immensely.

            Regarding historical Jesus research done from a more orthodox christian framework, I prefer the late Raymond Brown over NT Wright. Frankly, Wright’s whole theological framework is way too dependent upon Revelation for my liking.

          • http://www.walkingtowardsthelight.org/ John Marcott

            Have you read “The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus”? I literally couldn’t even force myself to disagree with Allison if I tried (and I tried) after reading it.

          • Andrew Dowling

            I have read “Millennial Prophet” but not the Historical Christ. In any case, Allison makes strong arguments but I think he makes certain claims that are simply not substantiated by the text (like Jesus’s asceticism) and while I agree that one can’t pinpoint exactly (word for word) what in the Gospels is directly from Jesus and what comes from later tradition (a la the 5 Gospels book by the Jesus Seminar), I think to disregard any attempt, through sound form and textual criticism/historical analysis, to be able to describe layers of the Gospels into earlier and later traditions and acknowledge them as probabilities (ie this passage is “likely from an earlier tradition” or “is likely influenced by the community at the time of the Jewish-Roman War) is disregarding what we know about oral tradition and story developments over time. While subjective bias always clouds any such attempt to a degree, to toss it out because one can’t disengage from bias is foolhardy. I could get more into why I don’t think Jesus’s “milieu” was apocalypticism but my response is already late to the party and this is off-topic from the thread anyway. :)

          • http://www.walkingtowardsthelight.org/ John Marcott

            You should read Historical Christ…I think it’s his best, and clearly most concise, work. It totally won me over (very much against my will) to his methodology and conclusions (esp. about Apocalyptic).

            I agree with Allison that the historical waters are just too murky to give any type of accurate probabilities to the vast majority of gospel sayings. The best we can do is get general impressions from the tradition as a whole. In regards to Apocalypticism, to say Jesus didn’t work within that framework, you have to end up excising a vast amount of the tradition by assigning it to later stratums/community influence. IMO, it’s just way too convenient that all of these sayings happen to be from “later stratums.” Too much data to deal with.

            As Allison says after listing Apocalyptic data (which, coincidentally I have listed at…

            http://www.walkingtowardsthelight.org/jesus-dale-allison-and-apocalyptic-belief/

            “I do not contend, because I do not believe, that all this material comes from Jesus, directly or indirectly. Nor do I insist that any of it is word-perfect memory. To repeat what I have said before: the Synoptics are not primarily records of what Jesus actually said and did but collections of impressions. They recount, or rather often recount, the sorts of things that he said and did, or that he could have said and done. As for eschatology in particular, my contention is that either a decent number of the entries in my catalogue fairly characterize what Jesus was about, or the tradition is so full of mnemonic holes and fictional accretions that the quest is a vain aspiration and we should find some other pastime with which to amuse ourselves.”

            Anyways, the book is definitely worth checking out…Not to make this a total shout out to my blog, but I have a review listed here http://www.walkingtowardsthelight.org/the-historical-christ-and-the-theological-jesus-review/

            IMO it’s never too late or too off topic to talk Dale Allison or anything Historical Jesus:)

  • Dan Wick

    An excellent scholarly refutation of Aslan’s thesis may be found in John P. Meier’s superb four volume “A Marginal Jew” For a more novel approach to an effort at understanding the Jesus of History see my blog at mysticjesus.wordpress.com


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