No I have not been on retreat for two full weeks.

Two things have kept me away from IASP:

1. I took my three-year-old laptop in to have the speakers repaired. I was told I would have it back within the day. However, when the technician opened my laptop, I am now informed, the motherboard shorted and the computer had to be sent back to the manufacturer for serious repair.

Although I have been given a “loaner” in the meantime, it is not the laptop with which I am familiar and working on this massive old clunker turns out to be extremely challenging.

2. The second and more significant reason for my absence from this blog is Reza Aslan’s book, Zealot: The Life And Times Of Jesus Of Nazareth.

I was asked recently by a member of my parish to attend his book study group that is being held this coming Thursday because they will be studying Aslan’s 272 page book and wanted to invite an “expert” to attend.

I am no expert in the matters Aslan is dealing with, but I have been working hard to get through his book while maintaining some semblance of sanity and dispassion. It is, for me, a deeply challenging read.

Aslan’s thesis is that Jesus was a failed revolutionary who intended to overthrow the pristely rulers of the Temple in Jerusalem and remove the despised Roman occupying forces from Palestine. After  Jesus’ complete failure to fulfill his mission and his execution as an insurrectionist, his disciples gathered together and created an entirely fictious story in which Jesus appears as a peace-loving teacher of non-violence.

These fictional stories and sayings of Jesus were reported in the Gospels that were all written following the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E.  In the imaginary re-creation of the life of Jesus as Aslan finds it in the Gospels, all vestiges of Jesus’ true revolutionary intent were removed in order that the newly created church with its newly invented Christian faith might live in harmony with the authorities in the new centre of Christianity in Rome.

Asaln’s book is filled with dogmatic declarations of interpretation presented as fact. He offers slim evidence to support his many controversial and debatable assertions. His language leaves no room for discussion or debate. For Aslan his way of viewing Jesus is the only credible reconstruction of the life, ministry and teaching of the failed Galilean messiah and his sorry band of failed rebels.

As I wrestle with the content of Aslan’s book, the most interesting question for me remains what it is about his writing that has such power to draw an audience. His ideas are not new or in any way original. This version of Jesus has been around in scholarly writing for some time. Some of the historical context Aslan presents is interesting. But he gives neither a particularly credible nor compelling vision of the life of Jesus. And he extends almost no credence to the Gospel accounts of Jesus as historically accurate documents except in the few places where they can be twisted to suggest agreement with his shaky thesis.

And yet Aslan’s book has 4,199 reviews on Amazon, 2,295 of which are five star ratings.  I hope I can come away from Thursday’s book study with some insight about what makes Aslan’s writing so attractive to so many people.

In the meantime, although I doubt it will be of much interest to many visitors to IASP, I am afraid this blog is going to be preoccupied for a while with quotes, random notes, and some comment on Reza Aslan’s Zealot. Now that I have pretty much ploughed through Aslan’s book, I cannot simply put it down without raising a few questions and inflicting them on anyone who will take the time to journey with me through this tortured territory.