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Book on Jesus of Nazareth

by Greg Bernhardt
Tags: jesus, reza aslan
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Curious3141
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Sep14-13, 05:00 AM
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Quote Quote by Evo View Post
That he's not intellectually honest. He keeps inflating his credentials.

These are his credentials



http://www.scribd.com/doc/156747924/...n-Dissertation

* Aslan was named Visiting Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Iowa

Also see for more about inflating his credentials, and a fair review, I think of the book.

http://www.physicsforums.com/showpos...0&postcount=38 The review of the book is interesting, not just the quotes I posted.

Again as I said previously, he might write great books, but his inflating his credentials really makes me wonder about him, why he would do that.
Sorry, Evo, I think Russ and Pythagorean have already refuted your points more than adequately.

Basically, his PhD is in sociology of religions. His dissertation is on the sociology of jihadism.

His PhD is not in history per se, even though he has claimed in an interview that he has a doctorate in the history of religions. However, I think he can be given a pass for making this claim because his dissertation includes an in depth historical study of Islamic Jihad. Quoting from the abstract of his actual dissertation:

This study examines the phenomenon of Global Jihadism through the lens of modern social movement theory. Through an in-depth analysis of its history, beliefs,and practices, we will argue that Global Jihadism has taken on many of the same characteristics as other social movements of the 20th century by...
(emphasis mine)

He also *teaches* religion (and that will, no doubt, include a lot of religious history).

At the end of the day, the ones who nitpick on his representation of his credentials are splitting hairs. I can see why he had to come out strong in the Fox interview. The first question that ridiculous bimbo asked him was "As a Muslim, why are you writing about Jesus?" which is blatantly provocative. And this was just after she had introduced him as a former Christian who'd converted to Islam (so if Christian faith was somehow deemed important, he *had* experienced it).

In any case, let's play the ball, not the man. Keeping on harping on his credentials is just ad hominem as I've mentioned. If everyone cared as much about credentials as you seem to, we either wouldn't have the Theory of Relativity in its current form, or if we had it, it wouldn't have been attributed to Einstein, since he was only a humble patent clerk and not a god of science at the time he published his theory. The year (1905) when he came out with four groundbreaking papers covering the photoelectric effect and relativity theory, was the same year he had just got his PhD in Physics. In fact, a hair-splitter might have argued that his PhD was in an experimental field (estimation of molecular dimensions) and not a theoretical one, so he has no "credentials" to speak of. Ridiculous? Of course! But that's exactly the same sort of spurious nitpicking allegation that's being levelled at Aslan!

(Of course, I recognise that there's a difference when it comes to the "hard sciences" and pure math (where gifted amateurs have solved long-standing problems that have vexed the "experts"). The truth of the matter is plainly evident, either by experimentation (Physics) or by independently verifying the derivation (in both Physics and Math). These fields have clearly definable "objective truth", which the soft sciences (sociology, religion, theology) clearly lack. But we must also recognise the flip side: these soft sciences admit of many opinions. There's no one "right answer". As long as a scholar adequately justifies and defends his assertions (and Aslan has definitely done this in his book, as I wrote before), it is a worthy work. And Aslan is not being dogmatic, he's not saying he's absolutely certain he's right, and everyone else is wrong. He's merely putting forth the case for his considered belief in the history of Jesus.)

With regard to the review you cited, while the writer claims that Aslan "makes a hash of more careful scholarship on its way to preordained conclusions", he never actually justifies this claim himself. It's ironic that he's berating Aslan for not adhering to a standard of proof that he's not willing to uphold himself. And citing other reviews from "learned" sites is neither here nor there. One of the "learned" reviews referenced there (the Jewish review of books one) makes a blatant error when it comes to interpreting Aslan's thesis. Quote:

There follows a vivid narration of the political tumult that had gripped Roman-occupied Palestine during the mid-first century, which Aslan employs to great effect in introducing readers to the bands of Jewish zealots who wreaked terror and havoc throughout Judea for almost a century. It seems like an odd way to open a book about the historical Jesus, who was crucified long before the Zealot party ever came into existence, until one catches on to what Aslan is attempting. The Prologue effectively associates Jesus, albeit as precursor, with that chillingly bloody murder by one of the many anonymous Jewish Zealots of first-century Palestine.
And this is patently false, because Aslan takes great pains to distinguish "zealot" (common noun) from the later "Zealot Party" (proper noun), and states very clearly that the meaning to be inferred in Jesus's case is the former. This is an egregious straw man argument on the part of that reviewer.
Curious3141
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Sep14-13, 05:31 AM
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Quote Quote by atyy View Post
Thanks for the reply, I read your other remarks too, and I'll reply later. But on this point, since Aslan says Jesus is "praiseworthy", I think that does mean that Aslan agrees, at least in part, with the teachings of Jesus the zealot.
And even then, I don't see a lot wrong with it. We must remember that the Romans were an especially brutal occupying force, and the Jewish priestly hierarchy has been well-established to be rife with collaborators (often of necessity). In that context, I don't see anything to condemn a person with real revolutionary fervour who espouses even a militant rebellion to free the Jews from Roman bondage.

The reason that people seem to be getting so upset is exactly what Aslan mentioned right at the outset of his work - people have formed an idealised notion of Jesus Christ that the real man may simply not be able to live up to. When a cherished notion is challenged, even with good scholarship and sound evidence, people still get defensive. It's the whole "cognitive dissonance" thing.
atyy
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Sep14-13, 09:26 AM
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Quote Quote by Curious3141 View Post
And even then, I don't see a lot wrong with it. We must remember that the Romans were an especially brutal occupying force, and the Jewish priestly hierarchy has been well-established to be rife with collaborators (often of necessity). In that context, I don't see anything to condemn a person with real revolutionary fervour who espouses even a militant rebellion to free the Jews from Roman bondage.

The reason that people seem to be getting so upset is exactly what Aslan mentioned right at the outset of his work - people have formed an idealised notion of Jesus Christ that the real man may simply not be able to live up to. When a cherished notion is challenged, even with good scholarship and sound evidence, people still get defensive. It's the whole "cognitive dissonance" thing.
But none of this contradicts the point that Aslan's work does not claim to be purely historical, and so to understand why he considers Jesus "praiseworthy", it is legitimate to bring up his philosophical, moral and religious views.

Also, the "historical Jesus" has a long scholarly history, and it is important to know that Aslan's view is not the only view defensible - one can look at John Meier and Dominic Crossan for two other famous scholarly views, which are different from Aslan's. I would also point to Robin Lane Fox's "Unauthorized Version" for very good view of the consensus approach to treating the New Testament documents as historical artifacts.

Quote Quote by Curious3141 View Post
Hmm... this is an interesting point. I'll refute it by referencing the realm of politics. My country has been ruled by a single grossly dominant party ever since independence. Opposition finds it very difficult to even exist here, let alone thrive. Opposition parties that are seen as "rabid" and zealous - e.g. ones that say they can run the country better - are simply shunned by the populace, which has been quite effectively brainwashed by the government controlled mass media. It's the opposition that comes across as moderate, that says it doesn't want to rule, but rather is willing to work with the ruling party to balance out their opinions in parliament, etc. - that get some votes. It's the only way to survive in an entrenched politically oppressive climate.

See the parallel? Aslan's contention is that the Jerusalem leadership (comprising James the Just and the Apostolic Council) was the dominant force. Paul's was the "alternative viewpoint". Paul had to be moderate. If Paul had come out all guns blazing and slammed James's and Peter's teachings, he might have alienated his target demographic. And Paul was not incapable of compromise - he did participate in the lustration rituals at the direction of James the Just to "prove" he was not opposed to Jewish ritual. At least this was Aslan's contention. Whatever the validity of Aslan's claims may be in anyone's opinion, he was fairly internally consistent in his assertions.
But Paul does come out with "guns blazing" on the specific issue of whether gentile converts to Christianity have to follow the Jewish law. We also know that this issue was considered crucial to winning Gentile converts. Incidentally, the very same document ("Acts") from which Aslan describes Paul's "compromise", also claims that there was compromise from the Jerusalem church towards Paul's point of view. According to Acts, there are detailed differences between the compromise issued by the Jerusalem church and the teachings of Paul, so that till this day there are varieties of practice among Christians due to these differences in the New Testament itself.

Quote Quote by Curious3141 View Post
Aslan was making the point that Pauline thought was far more palatable to the Hellenised Diaspora Jews and the gentiles whom he wanted to convert. As you say, grading the difference between the beliefs espoused by Peter/James and Paul is a matter of subjective opinion, but the same can be said about many things religious - for instance, from personal experience, I've found that some Catholics are actually affronted to be lumped in with Protestants as "Christians". I find this divisive attitude ridiculous - but again, it's my opinion and no more or less valid than their own. Aslan's point was that divesting Jesus of his "earthly" ambitions and emphasising the celestial aspects (which is what Paul did) made him a whole lot more palatable to lots of people who were not strict observers of Jewish law, and ultimately the Romans themselves.
I like the Catholics versus Protestant analogy - it shows that one should be specific as to what the issues were, and that within one group, there can be a continuum of views, with different individuals agreeing and disagreeing at different points and with views that change in time.

However, did Paul differ from the Jerusalem church in his emphasis on the "celestial" versus "earthly" aspect of Jesus? While one can speculate about the extent of disagreement and agreement about whether the gentiles should follow the Jewish law, one can say there is no indication at all of any disagreement over the exalted view of Jesus taught by Paul - and it is unlikely that a disagreement over this has been lost, given that the disagreement about following the Jewish laws have been so well preserved. Paul himself started out as a persecutor of Christians, which indicates that he had some idea of what their beliefs were before his conversion. Paul says he persecuted them because he was zealous for his religion - presumably a form of Judaism. If the early Christians before Paul's conversion already believed that Jesus was on the same level as God, that would easily explain Paul's persecution of the Christians.
Curious3141
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Sep14-13, 10:32 AM
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But none of this contradicts the point that Aslan's work does not claim to be purely historical, and so to understand why he considers Jesus "praiseworthy", it is legitimate to bring up his philosophical, moral and religious views.
Aslan does make a serious effort to keep his work mainly about the history. But it becomes tough when he discusses the "mystical" topics such as Jesus's miracles and the resurrection. Adopting a hard-nosed rational approach, one would be forced to say that Jesus was a charlatan in the former case, and that one of his disciples was a grave robber in the latter. But Aslan can't say this - even if he doesn't believe in the divinity of Christ, he certainly respects the man and likely also the sensitivities of other "people of the Book". It is at these times that Aslan's prose fails as a purely historical document, but the rest of the book holds fairly true to the historicity of Jesus the man. To be fair, Aslan doesn't succumb to the temptation to bring in any sort of magical thinking here, he merely leaves the issue sort of open, stating that there were other miracle workers at the time, and that there were other resurrection traditions.

How exactly do you mean that Aslan's work does not claim to be purely historical? His stated goal was to separate the historical account of Jesus of Nazareth from the theological account of Jesus the Christ. I'd say that this is definitely a historical objective (albeit an immensely difficult and probably impossible one).

Also, the "historical Jesus" has a long scholarly history, and it is important to know that Aslan's view is not the only view defensible - one can look at John Meier and Dominic Crossan for two other famous scholarly views, which are different from Aslan's. I would also point to Robin Lane Fox's "Unauthorized Version" for very good view of the consensus approach to treating the New Testament documents as historical artifacts.
I believe that both Meier's and Crossan's work are extensively cited in Aslan's Notes section. I don't think RL Fox's is (at least I can't find it with an epub search). But, at any rate, Aslan does consciously air dissenting opinions and explains why he prefers his view. As I mentioned before, he is anything but dogmatic, but one might miss that nuance if one does not get as far as the Notes, or balks at delving into it (it's quite large, about a third of the entire book).

But Paul does come out with "guns blazing" on the specific issue of whether gentile converts to Christianity have to follow the Jewish law. We also know that this issue was considered crucial to winning Gentile converts. Incidentally, the very same document ("Acts") from which Aslan describes Paul's "compromise", also claims that there was compromise from the Jerusalem church towards Paul's point of view. According to Acts, there are detailed differences between the compromise issued by the Jerusalem church and the teachings of Paul, so that till this day there are varieties of practice among Christians due to these differences in the New Testament itself.
Aslan's work does make it clear that Paul basically derided Jewish law (referring to it as a "ministry of death" governed by "letters chiselled on a stone tablet" and referring to those who persist in practising circumcision as "dogs and evildoers"). He preached this "heretical" message (from the POV of the Apostolic Council) while at a safe distance from Jerusalem. But he was conscious of the primacy of the Apostolic Council, which is why he had to go to Jerusalem when summoned, and had to obey the lustrations ordered by James the Just. I believe Aslan also makes the point that James and Peter weren't against preaching to gentiles per se, but they did originally require that the converts obey Jewish law to the letter. It was only after an intense discussion (probably a mutual haranguing session) with Paul that they all arrived at a compromise solution where the converted gentiles didn't have to circumcise themselves and didn't have to observe all the dietary restrictions, but they still needed to abstain from ingesting blood (or something to that effect).

Aslan further argues that Paul went to Rome not so much to be tried by the Emperor, but to escape from James's influence. However, he felt a little deflated when he discovered that Peter had already been established there for a couple of years prior to his arrival, so he had stiff competition, so to speak.

The tension between Paul and the Apostolics (James and Peter) is always made clear, as is the grudging subservience of Paul when in open, direct confrontation with the other two. I don't see the contradiction here.

I like the Catholics versus Protestant analogy - it shows that one should be specific as to what the issues were, and that within one group, there a continuum of views, with different individuals agreeing and disagreeing at different points and with views that change in time.

However, did Paul differ from the Jerusalem church in his emphasis on the "celestial" versus "earthly" aspect of Jesus? While one can speculate about the extent of disagreement and agreement about whether the gentiles should follow the Jewish law, one can say there is no indication at all of any disagreement over the exalted view of Jesus taught by Paul - and it is unlikely that a disagreement over this has been lost, given that the disagreement about following the Jewish laws have been so well preserved. Paul himself started out as a persecutor of Christian, which indicates that he had some idea of what their beliefs were before his conversion. Paul says he persecuted them because he was zealous for his religion - presumably a form of Judaism. If the early Christians before Paul's conversion already believed that Jesus was on the same level as God, that would easily explain Paul's persecution of the Christians.
Sure, Paul's past as Saul of Tarsus (before his blinding conversion on the road to Damascus) is made clear in Aslan's book.

When I talk about the different conceptions of the "celestial" Jesus, I am referring to this block of text (from Chapter 14 - Am I not an Apostle?):

Most tellingly, unlike the gospel writers (save for John, of course), Paul does not call Jesus the Christ (Yesus ho Xristos), as though Christ were his title. Rather, Paul calls him “Jesus Christ,” or just “Christ,” as if it were his surname. This is an extremely unusual formulation whose closest parallel is in the way Roman emperors adopted “Caesar” as a cognomen, as in Caesar Augustus.

Paul’s Christ is not even human, though he has taken on the likeness of one (Philippians 2:7). He is a cosmic being who existed before time. He is the first of God’s creations, through whom the rest of creation was formed (1 Corinthians 8:6). He is God’s begotten son, God’s physical progeny (Romans 8:3). He is the new Adam, born not of dust but of heaven. Yet while the first Adam became a living being, “the Last Adam,” as Paul calls Christ, has become “a life-giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45–47). Christ is, in short, a comprehensively new being. But he is not unique. He is merely the first of his kind: “the first-born among many brothers” (Romans 8:29). All those who believe in Christ, as Paul does—those who accept Paul’s teachings about him—can become one with him in a mystical union (1 Corinthians 6:17). Through their belief, their bodies will be transformed into the glorious body of Christ (Philippians 3:20–21). They will join him in spirit and share in his likeness, which, as Paul reminds his followers, is the likeness of God (Romans 8:29). Hence, as “heirs of God and fellow heirs of Christ,” believers can also become divine beings (Romans 8:17). They can become like Christ in his death (Philippians 3:10)—that is, divine and eternal—tasked with the responsibility of judging alongside him the whole of humanity, as well as the angels in heaven (1 Corinthians 6:2–3).

Paul’s portrayal of Jesus as Christ may sound familiar to contemporary Christians—it has since become the standard doctrine of the church—but it would have been downright bizarre to Jesus’s Jewish followers. The transformation of the Nazarean into a divine, preexistent, literal son of God whose death and resurrection launch a new genus of eternal beings responsible for judging the world has no basis in any writings about Jesus that are even remotely contemporary with Paul’s (a firm indication that Paul’s Christ was likely his own creation). Nothing like what Paul envisions exists in the Q source material, which was compiled around the same time that Paul was writing his letters. Paul’s Christ is certainly not the Son of Man who appears in Mark’s gospel, written just a few years after Paul’s death. Nowhere in the gospels of Matthew and Luke—composed between 90 and 100 C.E.—is Jesus ever considered the literal son of God. Both gospels employ the term “Son of God” exactly as it is used throughout the Hebrew Scriptures: as a royal title, not a description. It is only in the last of the canonized gospels, the gospel of John, written sometime between 100 and 120 C.E., that Paul’s vision of Jesus as Christ—the eternal logos, the only begotten son of God—can be found. Of course, by then, nearly half a decade after the destruction of Jerusalem, Christianity was already a thoroughly Romanized religion, and Paul’s Christ had long obliterated any last trace of the Jewish messiah in Jesus. During the decade of the fifties, however, when Paul is writing his letters, his conception of Jesus as Christ would have been shocking and plainly heretical, which is why, around 57 C.E., James and the apostles demand that Paul come to Jerusalem to answer for his deviant teachings.
Sorry for the poor formatting, I had to perform a few miracles myself to get the epub into a copy-able and readable format.

I hope the bolded emphasis I added will make my point clear.

I'll close by saying this: it's a pleasure debating this with you, since you are clearly very knowledgeable and interested in the topic. Moreover, you are very polite and reasonable in your responses. I hope I can ask a favour of you - if you haven't read Aslan's book, please do so (if access is a problem, I'll be happy to send you the epub privately if you have no objections). After you read it, I would be most grateful if you could make a brief critique of it. I think I can learn a lot from your criticisms, since you already come armed with knowledge of the topic (which I sadly lack).
atyy
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Sep14-13, 04:35 PM
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Quote Quote by Curious3141 View Post
Aslan does make a serious effort to keep his work mainly about the history. But it becomes tough when he discusses the "mystical" topics such as Jesus's miracles and the resurrection. Adopting a hard-nosed rational approach, one would be forced to say that Jesus was a charlatan in the former case, and that one of his disciples was a grave robber in the latter. But Aslan can't say this - even if he doesn't believe in the divinity of Christ, he certainly respects the man and likely also the sensitivities of other "people of the Book". It is at these times that Aslan's prose fails as a purely historical document, but the rest of the book holds fairly true to the historicity of Jesus the man. To be fair, Aslan doesn't succumb to the temptation to bring in any sort of magical thinking here, he merely leaves the issue sort of open, stating that there were other miracle workers at the time, and that there were other resurrection traditions.
I think the hard nosed approach would that the miracles are embellishments, and the empty grave probably made up, as at least one of the stories of Jesus's birth in Bethlehem is.

Quote Quote by Curious3141 View Post
I believe that both Meier's and Crossan's work are extensively cited in Aslan's Notes section. I don't think RL Fox's is (at least I can't find it with an epub search). But, at any rate, Aslan does consciously air dissenting opinions and explains why he prefers his view. As I mentioned before, he is anything but dogmatic, but one might miss that nuance if one does not get as far as the Notes, or balks at delving into it (it's quite large, about a third of the entire book).
Yes, what I wanted to make clear was that there's a range of opinons, ie. there are large "error bars" on what we know of the historical Jesus.

Quote Quote by Curious3141 View Post
Aslan's work does make it clear that Paul basically derided Jewish law (referring to it as a "ministry of death" governed by "letters chiselled on a stone tablet" and referring to those who persist in practising circumcision as "dogs and evildoers"). He preached this "heretical" message (from the POV of the Apostolic Council) while at a safe distance from Jerusalem. But he was conscious of the primacy of the Apostolic Council, which is why he had to go to Jerusalem when summoned, and had to obey the lustrations ordered by James the Just. I believe Aslan also makes the point that James and Peter weren't against preaching to gentiles per se, but they did originally require that the converts obey Jewish law to the letter. It was only after an intense discussion (probably a mutual haranguing session) with Paul that they all arrived at a compromise solution where the converted gentiles didn't have to circumcise themselves and didn't have to observe all the dietary restrictions, but they still needed to abstain from ingesting blood (or something to that effect).

Aslan further argues that Paul went to Rome not so much to be tried by the Emperor, but to escape from James's influence. However, he felt a little deflated when he discovered that Peter had already been established there for a couple of years prior to his arrival, so he had stiff competition, so to speak.

The tension between Paul and the Apostolics (James and Peter) is always made clear, as is the grudging subservience of Paul when in open, direct confrontation with the other two. I don't see the contradiction here.
Circumcision was a big issue for Paul. If the Jerusalem church agreed that gentiles did not need to be circumcised, then essentially that shows that Paul did win agreement from them on a major issue.

Quote Quote by Curious3141 View Post
Sure, Paul's past as Saul of Tarsus (before his blinding conversion on the road to Damascus) is made clear in Aslan's book.

When I talk about the different conceptions of the "celestial" Jesus, I am referring to this block of text (from Chapter 14 - Am I not an Apostle?):
Yes, I understood what you meant by the "celestial Jesus". My argument about Paul's conversion was that it is quite possible that there was no disagreement between the Jerusalem church and Paul on this issue. I'll repeat my arguments.

First, there is no sign at all of a disagreement in any of the New Testament documents on this issue. The disagreement about whether gentiles have to follow the Jewish law is easily read in the New Testament, so it's not as if signs of disagreement are absent. It's just that there is no sign of disagreement on the "celestial" Jesus.

Second, Paul initially persecuted the Christians. Why? If at that time the Christians already believed in the celestial Jesus, that would be heretical to the Jews, and a reason for Paul's persecution of the Christians. This would be consonant with why although though there is plenty of evidence for other disagreements in the New Testament, the celestial Jesus seems to be a belief present at the very earliest stages of the church some time after Jesus's death.

Quote Quote by Curious3141 View Post
Sorry for the poor formatting, I had to perform a few miracles myself to get the epub into a copy-able and readable format.

I hope the bolded emphasis I added will make my point clear.

I'll close by saying this: it's a pleasure debating this with you, since you are clearly very knowledgeable and interested in the topic. Moreover, you are very polite and reasonable in your responses. I hope I can ask a favour of you - if you haven't read Aslan's book, please do so (if access is a problem, I'll be happy to send you the epub privately if you have no objections). After you read it, I would be most grateful if you could make a brief critique of it. I think I can learn a lot from your criticisms, since you already come armed with knowledge of the topic (which I sadly lack).
I've read the book quickly, not as thoroughly as you, and have library access to it, so if you need to quote from it at length you can just refer to the chapter, instead of working some miracles
Evo
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Sep14-13, 06:36 PM
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Quote Quote by Curious3141 View Post
Sorry, Evo, I think Russ and Pythagorean have already refuted your points more than adequately.

Basically, his PhD is in sociology of religions.
(Darn google crashed and I lost everything, here goes again.)

Not since I posted additional proof to back up what I posted. It is especially important that someone writing about the time of the biblical Jesus have a very in depth knowledge due to the number of sources whose authenticity has been questioned or even discarded as not credible. I'm only trying to explain why an in depth knowledge of this time is so critical, which I'm sure is the reason Aslan is overstating his credentials, because he also knows. Doesn't mean it's not a well written book with a compelling story. I've not heard any horrible reviews, just mistakes, but that's not an uncommon accusation in this field.

Here is more detailed information of why it is not believed that he has this depth of knowledge.

As far as his book, I don't have a dog in this fight as I am not religious. From descriptions, it sounds very much like a tv documentary years ago about the "real Jesus". I found it quite interesting to hear reasoning for his actions based on "Jesus" being a very savvy person that made sure to use 'prophecies' for his benefit, such as riding a donkey into Jerusalem. He was quite the schemer working towards a specific goal.

Anyway, back to the issue of Aslan's questionable level of knowledge.

Aslan, 41, has variously claimed to hold a doctorate in “the history of religions” or a doctorate in “the sociology of religions,” though no such degrees exist at the university he attended. His doctorate is in sociology, according to the registrar’s office at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Aslan, who has an undergraduate degree in religious studies and a master’s in theological studies, is not currently a professor of religion or history. He is an associate professor in the creative writing department of the University of California at Riverside. He has asserted a present-day toehold in the field of religion by saying he is “a cooperative faculty member” in Riverside’s Department of Religious Studies.

Yet this is not so, according to Vivian-Lee Nyitray, the just-retired chair of the department. Nyitray says she discussed the possibility last year with Aslan but that he has not been invited to become a cooperative faculty member
His own advisor contradicts him. Aslan argues that he is within his rights to claim a PhD in the sociology or history of religion because the history and sociology of religion are encompassed in the larger field of sociology. To back him, he refers questions to his graduate adviser, Mark Juergensmeyer, of UC Santa Barbara.

“We don’t have a degree in sociology of religions, as such,” Juergensmeyer acknowledges.But he says he doesn’t have a problem with Aslan’s characterization of his doctorate, noting that his former student did most of his course work in religion.
It seems the religion studied was Islam from his dissertation.

Juergensmeyer helped arrange the shift of Aslan’s doctoral dissertation on Jihadism from the religious studies department to sociology. Juergensmeyer says the shift was undertaken to get Aslan out of time-consuming required language courses; Aslan says he moved to another department because religious studies professors were jealous about the 2005 publication of his best-selling book “No god, but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam.” Juergensmeyer did not recall resentment among professors being a factor.

Dale Martin, a Yale University religious studies professor who reviewed Aslan’s “Zealot” for the New York Times, sees Aslan’s characterization of his credentials in a different light. “I think he overplayed his hand,” Martin says of Aslan in an interview. “He’s just overselling.” Martin, who has praise for Aslan’s writing skills, was critical of his seeming reliance on the work of previous scholars to formulate one of the central theories of his book: that Jesus was a revolutionary executed because he posed a political threat to the Roman Empire.

“The record needs to be corrected,” Martin says. “Both about his credentials and his thesis.”
http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2...udies-religion
Pythagorean
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His doctorate did focus in "history of religions" which is an accepted term for comparative religious study and used commonly at University of Chicago with regard to sociology of religion. You do focus on one religion, but in the context of other religions (the breadth requirement) is still taught and history is unavoidable in that sense (since most religion is based almost completely on historical writings). It's just like being a physicist in quantum chromo dynamics. You still have to learn mechanics, thermodynamics, electrodynamics, etc, in addition to your focus.

It is the same as a general historian, though, so if he makes an claims to being a historian in general, then I would beg to differ.
Evo
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Quote Quote by Pythagorean View Post
His doctorate did focus in "history of religions" which is an accepted term for comparative religious study and used commonly at University of Chicago with regard to sociology of religion. You do focus on one religion, but in the context of other religions (the breadth requirement) is still taught and history is unavoidable in that sense (since most religion is based almost completely on historical writings). It's just like being a physicist in quantum chromo dynamics. You still have to learn mechanics, thermodynamics, electrodynamics, etc, in addition to your focus.
But based on the fact that, unlike the University of Chicago, his Uni had no such course and he admits in his dissertation that his course of study was Islam, I'd have to say, the religion he studied for his PhD was Islam. Nothing wrong with that, but it doesn't give him credibility in biblical studies or history of that time. Is he also an expert in Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, etc...?

I'm fine with him having studied Islam and writing outside his expertise, but it does make me take what he presents as facts a bit less seriously. That does seem to be the issue knowledgeable people have with his book. Just take what he says with a grain of salt, that's all.
Astronuc
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Sep14-13, 07:20 PM
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I'm up to Chapter 8 in the book. I do notice that there are no notes or citations in the text, which I would expect in a 'scholarly' article/text, and which I find in texts like those of Karen Armstrong.

In Part II, Prologue, "Zeal for Your House,", Aslan states "To be clear, Jesus was not a member of the Zealot Party . . . ". Later, it is written: "Jesus was crucified by Rome because his messianic aspirations threatened the occupation of Palestine [as did similarly described aspirations of others], and his zealotry endangered the Temple authorities." p. 79.

The criticism herein should focus on 1. What is Aslan's thesis? and 2. does the text support that thesis.

I believe the thesis is stated on p. 79 as I indicated above.


Chapter 1 provides some historical background of the times in Roman-occupied Palestine and earlier. I think most civilizations (Rome, Greece, Persia, Egypt, . . . . ) were brutal back then. There was many messianic individuals, and it appears that the one known as Jesus is perhaps the most significant and famous, or infamous.
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Sep14-13, 07:32 PM
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Quote Quote by Curious3141 View Post
Basically, his PhD is in sociology of religions. His dissertation is on the sociology of jihadism.
But isn't the PhD or dissertation about sociology or sociological behavior or a sociological phenomenon rather than being about the religion? Also, would have to discuss the religion and it's texts and then explain how jihadists interpret and apply the texts in their jihadic behavior - and how the religious texts contradict the jihadist views/practices. Then the dissertation might be about religion, somewhat.

We may need to break out the discussion/posts on Aslan's credentials and other points not related to the content of the book into a separate thread. I'm concerned the author (and others) has become the focus of the thread, and not the content of the book.
Pythagorean
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Sep14-13, 07:37 PM
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Quote Quote by Evo View Post
But based on the fact that, unlike the University of Chicago, his Uni had no such course
It's not a course, it's a specialization, and the college where he got his PhD does, in fact, have such a specializaiton for religious studies:

http://my.sa.ucsb.edu/catalog/Curren...TS-2013-14.pdf

It's clearly based on history (as most religious studies are, anyway, there's no modern prophets that theologists take seriously)

he admits in his dissertation that his course of study was Islam, I'd have to say, the religion he studied for his PhD was Islam.
Dissertations are not, whatsoever, an exhaustive display of the knowledge you accumulated during the course of graduate studies; dissertations are very specialized application of your general knowledge. Again, just because your dissertation is on quantum chromodynamics doesn't mean you neglected classical mechanics as part of your physics PhD.
atyy
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Sep14-13, 09:07 PM
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Quote Quote by Pythagorean View Post
Dissertations are not, whatsoever, an exhaustive display of the knowledge you accumulated during the course of graduate studies; dissertations are very specialized application of your general knowledge. Again, just because your dissertation is on quantum chromodynamics doesn't mean you neglected classical mechanics as part of your physics PhD.
History is part of physics too! http://books.google.com/books?id=oZh...gbs_navlinks_s
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Sep14-13, 11:27 PM
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Atyy: I'm refreshing myself on my KJV, specifically Galatians (for the relevant part of Paul's version) and James (for James the Just's version). When I'm done, I'll formulate a reply. This is just a note to let you know I haven't forgotten our discussion!
atyy
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Sep14-13, 11:47 PM
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Quote Quote by Curious3141 View Post
Atyy: I'm refreshing myself on my KJV, specifically Galatians (for the relevant part of Paul's version) and James (for James the Just's version). When I'm done, I'll formulate a reply. This is just a note to let you know I haven't forgotten our discussion!
While you're reading Galatians, may I recommend my favourite part 5:12 :p

There are couple of weird details about the KJV (like an extra verse in 1 John 5:7), so it's worth seeing how the NRSV does things also.
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Sep16-13, 09:32 AM
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Sorry 'bout the delay, I fear I may not be able to devote as much time to this discussion as I would like.

Quote Quote by atyy View Post
I think the hard nosed approach would that the miracles are embellishments,
Fair enough, but I think it depends on how much Jesus himself "played along" with it. If he was aware that people were trumping up ordinary events as "miracles" and he went along with it he was either a) sincerely (naively) deluded or b) a charlatan.

Yes, what I wanted to make clear was that there's a range of opinons, ie. there are large "error bars" on what we know of the historical Jesus.
No dispute there!


Circumcision was a big issue for Paul. If the Jerusalem church agreed that gentiles did not need to be circumcised, then essentially that shows that Paul did win agreement from them on a major issue.
No doubt, but there were compromises on both sides as I understand it. For instance, I've already mentioned Paul's lustration ritual where he is basically ordered to purify himself, along with 4 others in order to allay the doubts that have developed about Paul's disregard for Jewish law (Acts 21:23-24).

It was sort of a bargain, I guess, because immediately after this is mentioned, James seems to have made his compromise about exactly how observant a gentile covert of Paul need be. (Act 21:25)


Yes, I understood what you meant by the "celestial Jesus". My argument about Paul's conversion was that it is quite possible that there was no disagreement between the Jerusalem church and Paul on this issue. I'll repeat my arguments.

First, there is no sign at all of a disagreement in any of the New Testament documents on this issue. The disagreement about whether gentiles have to follow the Jewish law is easily read in the New Testament, so it's not as if signs of disagreement are absent. It's just that there is no sign of disagreement on the "celestial" Jesus.
Fair enough, I may have overstated this point. It does seem interesting to me that the Epistle of James only mentions "the Lord Jesus Christ" by name twice (at the beginnings of Chapters 1 and 2) but Paul really goes to town on this. But I don't think anything can really be inferred from this alone.

Second, Paul initially persecuted the Christians. Why? If at that time the Christians already believed in the celestial Jesus, that would be heretical to the Jews, and a reason for Paul's persecution of the Christians. This would be consonant with why although though there is plenty of evidence for other disagreements in the New Testament, the celestial Jesus seems to be a belief present at the very earliest stages of the church some time after Jesus's death.
I think the key thing is that, in the early history of Christianity, there were a hodgepodge of belief systems that were continually evolving. It's almost impossible to say where a "Jew" ends and a "Christian" begins for a person from that period. Even Paul (post-Damascus vision and conversion) refers to himself as a Jew e.g. in Galatians 2:15 ("We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles").

So, it is conceivable that the "degree" of belief in Jesus's celestial nature might also have differed, even among people considering themselves to believe in Christ.

Stephen's case is an interesting one. Remember that he was a Hellenised Jew before he started believing in Christ. The disdain he holds for the strictly-observant Jews is quite clear in Acts 7:51 - "Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in hearts and ears. If that isn't a zinger, I don't know what is. This was spoken during his speech before the crowd stoned him to death. Isn't it fair to say that James, even though he was Bishop of the first Church, was much more of a strict observer of Mosaic law than Stephen seems to be? I'm sure James would never have said such a thing to make light of the circumcision ritual (especially when you consider that this was one of the principal bones of contention between him and Paul).

There is also the weaker evidence that the Jews didn't exactly persecute the Apostles to anywhere near the same extent as they did Stephen (though they did lock them up in prison, but God jailbroke them, Acts 5:18-23). Subsequently, I guess the Jewish priests did want to do them in, but were persuaded otherwise by Gamaliel (Acts 5:34). Bottom line: the Jewish priests didn't really seem to have their hearts into killing off the Apostles (whereas the Jews killed Stephen pretty much without hesitation). I don't know if this can be attributed to James and Peter having a "less heretical" Christian outlook (with regard to the Celestial Jesus) or whether it's just a matter of the Jews being more afraid of the Apostles' popularity and following among the others in Jerusalem. I don't think it's a question of the Jews being afraid of direct Roman reprisals, since the Romans were not exactly fond of the Christian sect at this time (and it wouldn't have taken much for them to label the brother of the man they'd crucified a criminal in the same vein), whereas they did have a working relationship with the Jewish high priest.

At the end of the day, I can't find anything definitive in the NT to support the assertion that the Apostles had a different conception of the Celestial Jesus from Paul post-conversion. All I can find are weak inferences, which I mentioned above. So I'll concede the argument.


I've read the book quickly, not as thoroughly as you, and have library access to it, so if you need to quote from it at length you can just refer to the chapter, instead of working some miracles
Ah good, but as I said, I'm afraid I may not be able to devote all that much time to this thread. But your opinions are very enlightening, so please feel free to keep them coming.

BTW, your favourite from Galatians (5:12) - that was the "infamous" part about emasculation, wasn't it? My KJV just phrases it as "I would they were even cut off which trouble you." which is a very neutered (pardon the pun) rendition, but I'm aware there are some versions which talk about Paul telling the circumcised to go "all the way" and castrate themselves. Who says the Bible is not lurid and fun?

Not really related to this discussion, but could I just trouble you for your opinion on one particular thing that I came across in my reading?

Background from Genesis: I know about Abraham siring Ishmael first with his bondmaid Hagar. Subsequently, years later, Abraham's wife Sarah becomes preggers and bears Isaac. The Bible says that Isaac was the son that Abraham was supposed to sacrifice. (The Bible says this was his only son, but that's ambiguous because by this time, Hagar and Ishmael had been flung out by Sarah, so that effectively left only Isaac as Abe's son). The Quran doesn't mention which child was to be sacrificed, but it's presumed that it implies Ismail (Ishmael) since Isaac hadn't yet been born (and Isaac's birth gets explicitly mentioned later).

Of course, the Jews claim descent from Abraham through Isaac, whereas the Muslims claim descent from Ibrahim (Abraham) through Ismail (Ishmael), so it seems like they each glorify the son that's their direct ancestor. At any rate, God sort of placates both sons, or more accurately, their parents.

I know about the controversy here between the Christians and the Muslims (was it Isaac or Ishmael), but do you have an opinion on this?

Also, when Paul mentions this in Galatians 4:22 onward, he states that the story is merely an allegory (Galatians 4:24). Basically he's saying Agar (Hagar, I guess) is mount Sinai in Arabia, and is in subjugation to Jerusalem. What exactly is Paul driving at here? I thought the story of Abraham's sons was to be taken literally (by a believer)?

Also, I thought this part was interesting: In Galatians, Paul is basically making the argument that heathens (gentiles) would be justified (saved) by faith in God. But to justify this, he states in Galatians 3:8 - "And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed."

Paul seems to be interpreting this as God telling Abraham that (people of) all nations may be blessed through him, provided they have faith.

But if you look at what Paul is actually quoting, Genesis 22:18, "And in they seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" - the implication here is that the seed of Abraham through Isaac (the Jews, basically) will spread throughout all nations of Earth. Essentially, the Diaspora.

Did Paul get a hold of the wrong end of the stick here in Galatians? Or am I misinterpreting something?

Thanks again!
Curious3141
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Sep16-13, 09:35 AM
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Quote Quote by Astronuc View Post

We may need to break out the discussion/posts on Aslan's credentials and other points not related to the content of the book into a separate thread. I'm concerned the author (and others) has become the focus of the thread, and not the content of the book.
I couldn't agree more. I'd much rather focus on the content rather than getting knotted up with the credentials.
atyy
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Sep17-13, 12:30 PM
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Quote Quote by Curious3141 View Post
Sorry 'bout the delay, I fear I may not be able to devote as much time to this discussion as I would like.
Yeah, me too. After all there are much more controversial things to discuss on PF, like firewalls

I think we're roughly in agreement, and it's probably fun to talk about disagreements about second or third order terms, but one can say they are within the error bars.

Quote Quote by Curious3141 View Post
No doubt, but there were compromises on both sides as I understand it. For instance, I've already mentioned Paul's lustration ritual where he is basically ordered to purify himself, along with 4 others in order to allay the doubts that have developed about Paul's disregard for Jewish law (Acts 21:23-24).

It was sort of a bargain, I guess, because immediately after this is mentioned, James seems to have made his compromise about exactly how observant a gentile covert of Paul need be. (Act 21:25)
Yes, I agree. I don't want to give the impression that I necessarily agree with Acts as being correct on so many historical details. But just that if one makes an argument from Acts that Paul compromised, then the same argument would seem to imply that Peter and James compromised too on the issue of gentiles following the Jewish law.

Quote Quote by Curious3141 View Post
Fair enough, I may have overstated this point. It does seem interesting to me that the Epistle of James only mentions "the Lord Jesus Christ" by name twice (at the beginnings of Chapters 1 and 2) but Paul really goes to town on this. But I don't think anything can really be inferred from this alone.
Quote Quote by Curious3141 View Post
I think the key thing is that, in the early history of Christianity, there were a hodgepodge of belief systems that were continually evolving. It's almost impossible to say where a "Jew" ends and a "Christian" begins for a person from that period. Even Paul (post-Damascus vision and conversion) refers to himself as a Jew e.g. in Galatians 2:15 ("We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles").

So, it is conceivable that the "degree" of belief in Jesus's celestial nature might also have differed, even among people considering themselves to believe in Christ.

Stephen's case is an interesting one. Remember that he was a Hellenised Jew before he started believing in Christ. The disdain he holds for the strictly-observant Jews is quite clear in Acts 7:51 - "Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in hearts and ears. If that isn't a zinger, I don't know what is. This was spoken during his speech before the crowd stoned him to death. Isn't it fair to say that James, even though he was Bishop of the first Church, was much more of a strict observer of Mosaic law than Stephen seems to be? I'm sure James would never have said such a thing to make light of the circumcision ritual (especially when you consider that this was one of the principal bones of contention between him and Paul).

There is also the weaker evidence that the Jews didn't exactly persecute the Apostles to anywhere near the same extent as they did Stephen (though they did lock them up in prison, but God jailbroke them, Acts 5:18-23). Subsequently, I guess the Jewish priests did want to do them in, but were persuaded otherwise by Gamaliel (Acts 5:34). Bottom line: the Jewish priests didn't really seem to have their hearts into killing off the Apostles (whereas the Jews killed Stephen pretty much without hesitation). I don't know if this can be attributed to James and Peter having a "less heretical" Christian outlook (with regard to the Celestial Jesus) or whether it's just a matter of the Jews being more afraid of the Apostles' popularity and following among the others in Jerusalem. I don't think it's a question of the Jews being afraid of direct Roman reprisals, since the Romans were not exactly fond of the Christian sect at this time (and it wouldn't have taken much for them to label the brother of the man they'd crucified a criminal in the same vein), whereas they did have a working relationship with the Jewish high priest.

At the end of the day, I can't find anything definitive in the NT to support the assertion that the Apostles had a different conception of the Celestial Jesus from Paul post-conversion. All I can find are weak inferences, which I mentioned above. So I'll concede the argument.
Yes, I agree. There were certainly different conceptions about the "celestial" nature of Jesus in the early church. The disciples did not have this idea while Jesus was alive, and so their understanding of the idea developed over time, and they are still developing. A fun difference between some eastern and western traditions is whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, or from the Father and the Son, or from the Father through the Son! I think the various understandings of the peculiar phrase "Son of Man" is especially intriguing. But basically at the time of Peter and Paul, the extent of the debate over this, if it existed, was minor compared to the issue about gentiles and the Jewish law.

Quote Quote by Curious3141 View Post
BTW, your favourite from Galatians (5:12) - that was the "infamous" part about emasculation, wasn't it? My KJV just phrases it as "I would they were even cut off which trouble you." which is a very neutered (pardon the pun) rendition, but I'm aware there are some versions which talk about Paul telling the circumcised to go "all the way" and castrate themselves. Who says the Bible is not lurid and fun?


Will get to the rest of your post later.
Curious3141
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Sep20-13, 07:28 PM
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Quote Quote by atyy View Post
Will get to the rest of your post later.
Thanks for the reply, and please take your time.


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