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’ 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’ 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’ 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.
Some news media are repeating a story where Reza Aslan accuses health and wealth preachers of reducing the message. The same can be said of him.