Three further fallacies with the rewriting of the person of Jesus.
Problem two: Stereotyping
Zealot may be guilty of sociological stereotyping. According to Aslan’s theory, Jesus is, and can only be, like all other first century Jewish ‘messiahs.’ In his own words, “Indeed, if we commit to placing Jesus firmly within the social, religious, and political context of the era in which he lived – an era marked by the slow burn of a revolt against Rome that would forever transform the faith an practice of Judaism – then, in some ways, his biography writes itself” (xxxi). The author leaves no room for Jesus to break the stereotypical mold and have ideas outside of common first century Jewish aspirations.
Aslan understands that his theory rises or falls upon whether or not Jesus fits this stereotype. “The question is, did Jesus feel the same [as the other revolutionaries]? Did he agree with his fellow messiahs… that violence was necessary to bring about the rule of God on earth? Did he follow the zealot doctrine that the land had to be forcibly cleansed of all foreign elements just as God had demanded in the Scriptures?” (120). The author says, yes. I say, no. This theory is akin to saying that, despite the best evidence, there is no way that William Wilberforce really stood against slavery since we know that virtually every other politician of that day was in favor of the institution of slavery. Later historians rewrote the story of Wilberforce for their own political purposes. We can be thankful that not all great figures in history (or today!) fit historical stereotypes.
Problem three: Conjecture
Aslan says, “[A historian] has no choice but to fill in the rest of the puzzle based on the best educated guess of what the completed image should look like” (xxxi). Reader beware! Take the author seriously on this point. The vast majority of the Aslan’s work is conjecture, theories, and stories that have originated in his mind rather than the historical documents. Readers of Zealot will find page after page of ‘filling in the blanks.’
At best, the author’s conjecture paints an inaccurate picture of Jesus. At worst, however, Aslan seeks to correct the testimony of those who were very close to the original event. After all, who would know better what took place at the Jerusalem Counsel; a man named Luke who was alive at the time and took careful notes from eyewitnesses who were at the meeting or a twenty-first century college professor who is limited to and dependent upon the writings of the very men who were interviewed by Luke? I’m going with Luke on this one.
Problem four: Misunderstanding
A final issue that contributes to Aslan’s misguided theory concerning Jesus is his misunderstanding of the New Testament. Although some of the author’s interpretations are fair, he often seems to miss the point of what the biblical authors were communicating. As a single example, the story of Jesus before the Sanhedrin is dismissed because the committee “violates nearly every requirement laid down by Jewish law for a legal proceeding” (157). Yet, this is the precise point of the Gospels: the anger against Jesus was so great that rule of law was disregarded. The biblical writers did not get it wrong; rather, they intended to present a Sanhedrin that violated its own rules of order.
In addition to missing the interpretation of several important texts, Aslan takes several liberties on biblical interpretation that are outside of the scope of probability. This especially reveals itself as he attempts to highlight the tension and distance between Paul and James. He is not the first to assume that James and Paul preached two different gospels. Many theories have been constructed off this liberal theology popularized by F.C. Baur. However, the comments that Aslan makes are probably too farfetched for even liberal scholars. Ideas such as James forcing Paul to repent (208), Paul anathematizing James (192), and Paul beating up James in the Temple area (209-10) reveal not only a fanciful imagination, but a complete unwillingness to listen carefully to what Paul said about James (Gal. 2) and what James said about Paul (Acts 15).