Ross Douthat on Reza Aslan & the “Historical Jesus” [QUOTE]


jesus-suffering-pmaHappy Lord’s Day!

Speaking of the Lord, I wanted to point you all to Ross Douthat’s new column in the Sunday edition of the New York Times. I really like Douthat, and this piece is a good example of why. He is responding to Reza Aslan’s new #1 New York Times Bestseller, Zealot: The Life & Times of Jesus of Nazareth.

As Douthat points out, Aslan’s books is just the newest shot in the two-century long war for the “Historical Jesus“, a series of “quests” in which the assumption is that the Jesus of history is entirely different than the Jesus represented of the Bible. (I’ve recently defended some of my own thoughts on this here and here).

Now some have effectively critiqued much of Aslan’s scholarship, and even his academic credentials to write such a book (it doesn’t seem he’s ever written a peer-reviewed piece on anything in the New Testament!). But Douthat, in usual style, zooms out to the 50,000-foot level and speaks to the bigger context in which these sorts of books seem to always be written. It’s fantastic, and you should read it. Here are the money quotes:

The fact that Aslan’s take on Jesus is not original doesn’t mean it’s necessarily wrong. But it has the same problem that bedevils most of his competitors in the “real Jesus” industry. In the quest to make Jesus more comprehensible, it makes Christianity’s origins more mysterious.

Part of the lure of the New Testament is the complexity of its central character — the mix of gentleness and zeal, strident moralism and extraordinary compassion, the down-to-earth and the supernatural.

Most “real Jesus” efforts, though, assume that these complexities are accretions, to be whittled away to reach the historical core. Thus instead of a Jesus who contains multitudes, we get Jesus the nationalist or Jesus the apocalyptic prophet or Jesus the sage or Jesus the philosopher and so on down the list.

There’s enough gospel material to make any of these portraits credible. But they also tend to be rather, well, boring, and to raise the question of how a pedestrian figure — one zealot among many, one mystic in a Mediterranean full of them — inspired a global faith.

That’s not a question such books are usually designed to answer. They’re better seen as laments for paths not taken, Christianities that might have been. The mystical Jesus is for readers who wish we had the parables without the creeds, the philosophical Jesus for readers who wish Christianity had developed like the Ethical Culture movement. And a political Jesus like Aslan’s is for readers who feel, as one of his reviewers put it, that “Jesus’ usefulness as a challenge to power was lost the moment Christians first believed he rose from the dead.”….

And they’re reminders that every modern account of how an alternative Christianity might have changed the world is itself indebted to the many ways the historical Christianity actually did.

Read more…

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3 thoughts on “Ross Douthat on Reza Aslan & the “Historical Jesus” [QUOTE]

  1. I was actually going to bring this book up the other day on here during the atheist threads when I heard about the book on the daily show. Sounds like a pretty decent book, especially for christians to read, so that they can sort of slog off the view of jesus as a mystical/ethereal figure in the clouds or with birds sitting on his hands and think about him as a man. And actually think about him as the sort of man he actually was. A common laborer with a real penchant for challenging authority.

    “In the quest to make Jesus more comprehensible, it makes Christianity’s origins more mysterious.”

    I haven’t read the book just yet but based on all the interviews of the author and what I can gather about the book, I find it hard to believe that this book makes anything more mysterious. Unless you’re dead set on taking the bible as literal “truth”, i.e. it being inerrant.

    “Thus instead of a Jesus who contains multitudes, we get Jesus the nationalist or Jesus the apocalyptic prophet or Jesus the sage or Jesus the philosopher and so on down the list.”

    He was obviously many things, if he existed and was similar to that described in the bible, and I’m pretty sure the author knows that from the interviews I saw. He just chooses to focus on the one that got Jesus killed since it was the main thing he apparently was at the crucial moment. Though I don’t remember him making too many apocalyptic prophecies. I might just not be remembering them all though.

    “to raise the question of how a pedestrian figure — one zealot among many, one mystic in a Mediterranean full of them — inspired a global faith.”

    I’m not sure why anyone would question that if they are not ignorant of the early church and Constantine.

    “Jesus’ usefulness as a challenge to power was lost the moment Christians first believed he rose from the dead.”

    Idk about that, having a war-chief that can resurrect would be a pretty nice thing.

    Like

  2. Pingback: Epistemology and the Dialectic of Hope | Life's a Lap

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