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Staring Down the Well: Jesus and the Zealotry of Reza Aslan

It probably didn’t feel like it at the time, but being hectored for 10 minutes on Fox News may have been the best thing that ever happened to Reza Aslan, the author of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.

Lost in the discussion about whether a Muslim can or should write a book about Jesus — the answer to both questions is “yes, of course” — is whether Aslan has written a book worth reading. By “worth reading” I mean “has he said anything that hasn’t been said before or at least has he said it any better?”

The answer to that question, as my friend Joe Loconte recently pointed out at the Huffington Post, is definitely “no.”

Now, folks, let me be honest; I’m a big Joe Loconte fan. He’s a professor of history at The King’s College in Manhattan and he’s simply one of the best Christian writers around. So I take what he says very seriously.

Loconte points out that Aslan is only the latest in a long series of writers who claim “to have discovered a radically different Jesus from the personality portrayed in the gospels and preached by the church for two millennia.”

Like virtually all of these authors, Aslan claims “that the Christian community conspired to reinvent Jesus in order to meet pressing social needs,” despite the lack of substantiating evidence.

As N.T. Wright, among others, has pointed out, while we know a great deal about the Judaism of Jesus’ time, and even more about the Christianity of the second century A.D., we know little, if anything, about the Christians Aslan and others say “reinvented” Jesus.

The “pressing social needs” that allegedly prompted this reinvention are almost entirely the product of writers like Aslan’s imagination. Or to be more precise, they’re what you have left when you rule out a priori the trustworthiness of the New Testament accounts.

Aslan is in august company. In his book Reasonable Faith, William Lane Craig of Biola surveyed the various attempts to find the “historical Jesus.” There was “[David] Strauss’s Hegelian Jesus, [Ernest] Renan’s sentimental Jesus, [Bruno] Bauer’s non-existent Jesus, [Albrecht] Ritschl’s liberal Jesus, and so forth.”

As Craig put it, “apparently unaware of the personal element they all brought to their research, each writer reconstructed a historical Jesus after his own image ... each one looked down the long well of history and saw his own face reflected at the bottom."

The same is true of Aslan. For Aslan, Loconte says, events like the “Arab Spring” are part of “an unequivocal march towards freedom.”

Thus it should come as no surprise that when Aslan looks down the long well of history he sees “Jesus the Zealot for Political Liberation.” It doesn’t matter to Aslan that the evidence for this interpretation is virtually non-existent.

Nor does Aslan account for Jesus’ extraordinary influence throughout history. There was no shortage of revolutionaries in first-century Palestine. Like Jesus, they died at the hands of the Romans. Unlike Jesus, that was the end of the story for them.

It’s Aslan’s failure to confront what Loconte calls “the question that haunts all honest minds about the legacy of the Nazarene,” and not Aslan’s religion, that makes the book not worth your time and the author just another guy staring down a well.

What would be worth your time is reading Joe Loconte’s excellent article. Please come to, click on this commentary, and we’ll link you to it.

BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at where you can read and search answers to common questions.

Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

Publication date: August 13, 2013

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