The New Yorks Times #1 bestseller right now is Reza Aslan’s new book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (Random House, 2013).

It recently received a publicity boost from an awkward interview, which Joe Carter analyzes here. (But amidst the hub-bub about the interview, which focused on why a Muslim would write a book on Jesus, Joe wonders why people aren’t snickering at Dr. Aslan himself, who seems to be more of an amateur historian—with no teaching experience on, or peer-reviewed academic articles about, historical Jesus research—who is implying that he is an expert in the field. As Alan Jacobs notes, “Reza Aslan’s book is an educated amateur’s summary and synthesis of a particularly skeptical but quite long-established line of New Testament scholarship, presented to us as simple fact. If you like that kind of thing, Zealot will be the kind of thing you like.”)

Ross Douthat has a good post on the book, and Mike Bird will be reviewing the book for TGC.

The Good Book Company Blog also has a review by Gary Manning Jr., associate professor of New Testament at Biola University’s Talbot School of Theology.

Here’s the conclusion:

Finally, despite his generally good understanding of the field, Aslan makes a number of significant errors. I took pages of notes just on historical and linguistic errors in Zealot. Here are only a few examples of significant scholarly errors:

  • use of Greek definitions not found in any standard Greek lexicon;
  • using the wrong Greek lexicon for the New Testament;
  • incorrect definition of the targumim;
  • unawareness of the evidence for high literacy in ancient Israel;
  • unawareness of literary approaches to the gospels;
  • claims that violence against foreigners was the only faithful Jewish response;
  • claims that Pilate crucified “thousands upon thousands” without trial;
  • very late, unlikely dates for the writing of the four gospels;
  • claims that ancient people did not understand the concept of history;
  • claims that Luke was knowingly writing fiction, not history;
  • claims that Mark does not describe Jesus’ resurrection;
  • and on and on.

In many cases, I had to come to the conclusion that Aslan was just not familiar enough with modern scholarship related to the New Testament.

There are numerous other problems with Zealot, too numerous to address in an already-too-long blog post. Aslan repeatedly presents highly unlikely interpretations of passages in the New Testament, makes little effort to defend those interpretations, then moves on as if he has made his case. Suffice to say this, as others have said before: there is something a little bizarre about using our only historical documents about Jesus (the New Testament) to come to conclusions quite in opposition to those documents. There is a good reason to believe that Jesus claimed to be a divine king and savior who would die and rise again, and would one day return to judge the world: All four gospels, and indeed the entire New Testament, make this claim. You can deny that this claim is true, but it is scholarly folly to deny that Jesus and the early Christians believed it.

You can read the whole thing here.

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7 thoughts on “Reviewing Aslan’s “Zealot””

  1. MarkO says:

    Justin,
    Here is another review, not so much of the book, but of the author’s false claims. What makes this analysis so pointed is that the writer is also of Iranian descent and has personal experience at the U of C where Aslan is employed.

    http://frontpagemag.com/2013/majid-rafizadeh/the-lies-and-misrepresentations-of-reza-aslan/

  2. Sam Osborne says:

    In an effort to cover messy journalistic tracks visibly left by Fox News’s Lauren Green in an ending segment of a supposed book interview with of “Zealot” author Reza Aslan, rather than just move on or better just apologize, the network decided to go ballistic in attack of Aslan. In so doing they set out to destroy the intellectual messenger Aslan in place of presenting a different interpretation of the subject of the book which is the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth.

    The attacking smear is not based on fact; it attempts to twist fact away from the fact that his doctoral study centered in the study of religion and in place of this Fox News seem to think it disparages the author by contending that he is nothing more the a sociologist; Fox apparently a bit remiss in understanding that the focus of the field of sociology is the behavior of mankind within the institutions that deal with our human condition on Earth and that religion is one of them.

    But had the author of “Zealot” only mentioned the general scientific approach to his doctoral study, sociology, and not the subject matter of the institution of religion, the distorting fabrication by Fox would surely have been to insist that an examination of his actual course work in the study of religion shows that he is not really a sociologist.

    Can reason be found inside and outside of sociology to have an opinion that is markedly different from the one in which the author of “Zealot” poses Jesus of Nazareth? Sure and there are as many as there are people to ever taking any view of Jesus.

    From the religion into which I was born and remain and as I see the founder of my faith on Earth and the footstep he put down for me to attempt to follow as best I messily track along on feet of clay, Jesus is the ultimate Prince and Pauper: the Prince of Peace and a pauper when it comes to violence. The limited violence displayed by his doing little more than turning over the tables of the moneychangers in the temple that were too upsettingly piled in greed. And more regularly Jesus as Prince of Peace that went counseling to do in love what he lived in word and dead: “Turn the other cheek.” That one, given my ample share of carnal hypocrisy, I am working on, but not enough like Jesus here on Earth among us—in this I pray that I would prove to be a true zealot

  3. shelley taylor says:

    so glad for your post. i recently caught an interview with this guy on NPR and could find holes in his claims just from what i studied as an undergrad. it concerned me that he seemed to be taken a a final authority. always love the sources your blog provides to go deeper into issues.
    after college, i moved away from my church community for my job and used TGC as a sort of devotional.
    thanks for diligently defending the Word and graciously providing Godly perspective. it has truly been a blessing when i struggle with issues.

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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