Curiously, for all his historical scepticism about the canonical Gospels, there is one “document” Reza Aslan does seem to trust.

The one “document” Aslan looks to with confidence for accurate historical information about Jesus is commonly known as Q. Aslan writes,

The Q material which was compiled around 50 C.E., makes no mention of anything that happened before Jesus’s baptism by John the Baptist. 29

Q comes from the German word Quelle which means “source”. It is a purely hypothetical document, constructed on the basis of the assumption that, because Matthew and Luke share material in common that is not found in Mark, there must have been a fourth document which Matthew and Luke used as a source and to which Mark had no access. This document, if it existed, certainly cannot be dated and it is impossible to state with any certainty what the imagined Q document may or may not have contained.

The canonical Gospels of course are completely dismissed as credible historical documents. Speaking of the Gospel of Luke, Aslan affirms that

Luke would have had no idea what we in the modern world even mean when we say the word ‘history.’ The notion of history as a critical analysis of observable and verifiable events in the past is a product of the modern age; it would have been an altogether foregin concept to the gospel writers for whom history was not a matter of uncovering facts, but of revealing truths. 30, 31

It is a curious idea that “we in the modern world” view “history” as “a critical analysis of observable and verifiable events in the past.”

How are events in the past “observable” to anyone thousands of years after they took place? All history is interpretation. And, as Aslan himself points out, the history written often reveals more about the writer than the events themselves:


Scholars tend to see theJesus they want to see. Too often they see themselves – their own reflection – in the image of Jesus they have constructed. xxxi

But Aslan’s claim that Luke was not interested in any “verifiable events in the past” runs completely contrary to Luke’s own statements in his introduction to his Gospel where Luke writes,

Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us,2just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word,3I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,4so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed. (Luke 1:1-4)

Luke seems to have thought he was writing an “orderly account of real “events” that had their origins in the accounts passed on to him from “many” others who “were eyewitnesses” of the events they recounted. Even if Luke’s Gospel was written as late as 90 C.E., sixty years after the events they record, there would still have been “eyewitnesses” to the events Luke narrates available to support or refute Luke’s account.

It is odd that anyone with no interest in history or “factual accuracy” would bother at all to write the stories of an historical person?

The noncanonical Gospel of Thomas gives an accounting of Jesus’ teaching with absolutely no narrative context. The author who recorded the sayings in the Gospel of Thomas truly had no interest in “factual accuracy.” In fact he had no interest in history at all.

Why, according to Aslan’s view, would any Gospel writer have bothered telling any stories about Jesus?