Controversy is erupting over a new best-selling book that makes a number of claims about the life of Jesus Christ, including that He never claimed to be God, that He was a “man of profound contradiction” and that He was killed for His crimes, not as the Savior of the world.
Dr. Reza Aslan is a former professing Christian, and now a follower of the Muslim religion. He says that he turned away from Christianity as a teenager while studying the Scriptures.
“The more I probed the Bible to arm myself against the doubts of unbelievers, the more distance I discovered between the Jesus of the Gospels and the Jesus of history–between Jesus the Christ and Jesus of Nazareth,” Aslan, an Iranian-American, wrote in an article published by CNN. “I have modeled my life not after the celestial spirit whom many Christians believe sacrificed himself for our sins, but rather after the illiterate, marginal Jew who gave his life fighting an unwinnable battle against the religious and political powers of his day on behalf of the poor and the dispossessed–those his society deemed unworthy of saving.”
He states that he wrote his book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth to show the world his perception of the Jesus of history as opposed to Jesus the Christ.
However, Aslan’s book, which took the #1 spot on Amazon.com, has generated much discussion and controversy among readers for its claims. In Zealot, Aslan asserts that Jesus did not die for the sins of the world, but rather for breaking the law.
“Crucifixion was a punishment that Rome reserved almost exclusively for the crime of sedition. The plaque the Romans placed above Jesus’ head as he writhed in pain–‘King of the Jews’—was called a titulus and, despite common perception, was not meant to be sarcastic. Every criminal who hung on a cross received a plaque declaring the specific crime for which he was being executed,” he wrote. “Jesus’ crime, in the eyes of Rome, was striving for kingly rule (i.e. treason), the same crime for which nearly every other messianic aspirant of the time was killed.”
Aslan also contends that Jesus never claimed to be God, and that Jesus was often a “man of profound contradiction.” He states that while Jesus said that His kingdom was not of this world, Jesus’ goal was to establish an earthly empire. Aslan also asserts that Jesus often advocated violence as He knew that “God’s sovereignty could not be established except through force.”
However, a number of Christian scholars and pastors have sharply criticized Aslan’s work, stating that his views are based on Islamic opinion and not Biblical history.
“‘Zealot’ is written with the self-assumed authority of groundbreaking revelation from a historian. In reality, it is a religious person’s opinion about Jesus—from an adherent to the religion that has been in violent opposition to Christ for 1,400 years,” wrote Pastor John S. Dickerson of Arizona in an op-ed entitled Liberal Media Love New Jesus Book ‘Zealot’, Fail to Mention Author is Muslim. “Aslan informs us that we cannot trust the Gospel of Mark–because it was written 40 years after Jesus’ death. He then chides us to trust his new book, written almost 2,000 years later.”
“If apostles didn’t believe it to be so, they hardly would have let themselves become martyrs for a lie,” Dr. Dennis Burke, associate professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College, told reporters. “To ignore the central claims of the eyewitnesses is to ignore the testimony of those closest to the historical Jesus.”