There has been a lot of hubbub surrounding Reza Aslan’s new book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. NPR is excited. So excited they interviewed Aslan not once, but twice. FOX News could not imagine why a Muslim might want to write a book about another religion (Aslan skillfully played the part of the persecuted academic). Still others want to know why such fuss has been made over a sociologist’s popular rendering of warmed-over Jesus Seminar theories. Alan Jacobs over at The American Conservative points out the remarkable similarities to John Dominic Crossan’s Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography which Aslan never seems to get around to citing, reprinting both its scholarly assumptions and its many flaws.
The most concerning puzzle is the disproportionate media attention given to books like Aslan’s that make much of running counter to the orthodox belief, (often deceptively referred to as “the accepted wisdom”) even when they don’t do it very well. There is often such a rush to deliver the coup d’etat to faith that facts get a touch slippery. Consider this little flub in the Weekend Edition piece:
ASLAN: The first Gospel – the Gospel of Mark, which was written in around 70 or 71 CE – is unusual in that there is actually no statement of messianic identity from Jesus in it. From the beginning of the Gospel to the end of the Gospel, at no point does Jesus ever actually say, I am the Messiah. On the contrary, he keeps denying it when other people claim the Messiah for him. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In fact, in Mark 14:62, Jesus responds affirmatively when asked if he is the son of God.]
In 2008, Cambridge professor of History, Richard Bauckham published Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, a compelling case that the gospels were likely based upon eyewitness testimony. Needless to say, the fanfare was decidedly more muted. Scant attention was paid to his book outside academic media. In NPR’s case, any evidence that they were aware of Bauckham’s book at the time of its publication is not extant. This little puff piece about Bart Ehrman’s Jesus Interrupted, highlighting the bit where he says that eyewitness testimony isn’t really all that reliable (though without engaging Bauckham) shows that they might have heard of it, even if a year down the road. But in the end, what’s so special about eyewitness testimony when we’ve got sociologists to consult?