Two scholarly reviews of Aslan’s Zealot

Whatever the fallout from the interview, and the bestseller status achieved by Aslan, I’m doubtful that New Testament scholars, or the more narrow circle of historical Jesus scholars, will agree with much of Aslan’s account of Jesus.

Anthony Le Donne is scathing:

Jesus’ preaching about God’s kingdom is undoubtedly political.  It makes sense that this teaching was directly related to the title posted on the cross (and/or the symbolic value of that title in Christian memory).  This much is not all that controversial.  Defining “political” is the key problem.  Reza Aslan’s book barely touches the vast sea of literature on this problem.  In short, this book is a surface-level (albeit well-promoted) rehash of an old puzzle in Jesus research.  Unfortunately, Aslan brings nothing new to the table that will help us solve the puzzle. He simply dismisses all of Jesus’ sayings about nonviolence as Christian invention.  This move isn’t unheard of, but he fails to make his case for invention adequately.

Greg Carey is more charitable:

I would add that Aslan provides some of the most helpful discussions I have yet encountered regarding the accounts of Jesus’ healing ministry and of his resurrection. These stories represent minefields for any historical investigator. Aslan handles them with sympathy, imagination, and critical judgment.

At the same time, I have some serious reservations about Aslan’s portrait of Jesus, and I suspect that most professional biblical scholars will share some of them. First, the book contains some outright glitches, things a professional scholar would be unlikely to say. Aslan suggests there were “countless” revolutionary prophets and would-be messiahs in Jesus’ day. Several did appear, but “countless” is a bit much. Aslan assumes near-universal illiteracy in Jesus’ society, an issue that remains unsettled and hotly contested among specialists. At one point Aslan says it would seem “unthinkable” for an adult Jewish man not to marry. He does mention celibate Jews like the Essenes, but he seems unaware that women were simply scarce in the ancient world. Lots of low-status men lacked the opportunity to marry. Aslan assumes Jesus lived and worked in Sepphoris, a significant city near Nazareth. This is possible, but we lack evidence to confirm it.

The Resurrection of the Body: On Gardening in Easter Week

On this Friday after Easter, I’ve been pondering the resurrection. Perhaps because it’s because I was working in the garden this morning and was amused by the images I encountered. Up by the house, there was still snow and two inches of ice on the path that goes around the side of the house. In the front yard, crocuses are blooming and the daffodils will be very soon. Overhead, a lonely sandhill crane flew and called.

We were cleaning up after a long and very snowy winter. Signs of new life were all around; the bulbs shooting up through the mulch; buds on the trees. But there was also a lot of death and decay. We removed branches that had broken under the weight of ice and snow. There are still some evergreen branches that we can’t deal with because they are frozen in bent the lingering snow and ice.

I’m not sure I saw Jesus Christ in the garden today, unlike Mary Magdalene on Easter. Perhaps a sandhill crane and a robin searching for food on a snowy bank will have to do. And my muscles’ aching after several hours of work remind me of the frailty of my aging body. But the very physical reality of how I spent my time today, the very physicality of the soil, decayed plant material and the new life that is springing up around it is a reminder that the physical world matters in Christianity and that the resurrection of the body matters, too.

I’m not preaching on Sunday but the gospel is one of my favorite texts–the story of Jesus’ appearance to Thomas. It’s wonderful because it faces head on our doubts as well as our faith. Thomas gets a bad rap in the tradition; “Doubting Thomas” he is called. But his refusal to take others’ words for Jesus’ resurrection is not that different than any of the other disciples; Peter and the Beloved Disciple run to the tomb to make sure when Mary Magdalene tells them it’s empty. Thomas expresses what we would all express when he refuses to believe unless he can see it for himself.

A couple of other things to point out in the story: First, although he demanded that he touch Jesus’ wounds, he doesn’t actually touch them; seeing was enough. Second, his confession, “My Lord and my God” is in many ways the gospel’s climax. It’s the clearest confession by any of the disciples of the identity of Jesus Christ and God. Although Jesus had been talking about it throughout the gospel, it’s not apparent that anyone understood what he meant until this point.

Some others’ reflections on the resurrection of the body. From Greg Carey, “Bodies Matter:”

Whatever we believe about the nature of resurrection — how it works, whether the language is metaphorical — early Christians insisted that the resurrection involves bodies.

Very early in Christian history, some believers argued that the Savior could not have inhabited a real human body. Bodies, they argued, come with problems. We all get sick, experience limitations, decay and eventually die. Therefore, what matters is not the body but the spirit. These “docetists” believed Jesus only appeared to be human and to die.

The larger church rejected the docetic view. Bodies are important, the church testifies. When we say the Apostles’ Creed, we do not say, “I believe in the immortality of the soul”; we say, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” To put it simply, we believe that God redeems all of creation. The resurrection embraces all of who we are, body and soul. Indeed, it’s probably a mistake to think of body and soul as separate categories. Bodies matter.

From Sam Wells: Easter and the resurrection of the body tie together forgiveness of sins and everlasting life:

But the resurrection of the body is about us as well as about Jesus. Remember where I began: there is no such thing as the present tense. Well, there isn’t any present tense if there is no forgiveness and no life everlasting. But if there is forgiveness – if the past is a gift – and if there is everlasting life – if the future is our friend – then we really can live, we really can exist, we really are a new creation. Every detail of our lives is then precious and meaningful, rather than passing and pitiful or feeble and futile.

This is our present – God’s present to us, God’s presence with us, now and forever. This is resurrection. This is Easter.

And from Beth Maynard, John Updike’s Seven Stanzas for Easter