Bias in a writer’s work can often be detected wherever the reader finds undocumented and unsubstantiated assertions simply offered as self-evident truth.

Reza Aslan shows his bias on numerous occasions with bold statements of “fact” that he feels no need to document or prove. The reader is simply supposed to accept Aslan’s imaginative reconstructions, presumably because he says them with such cool assertiveness and blissful self-confidence that they could not possibly be wrong.

Aslan’s conviction about the story of Jesus clearing the temple in Jerusalem is a worthy example. For Aslan this story is the lens through which everything else must be viewed. Aslan claims that,

Of all the stories told about the life of Jesus of Nazareth, there is one – depicted in countless plays, films, paintings, and Sunday sermons – that, more than any other word or deed, helps reveal who Jesus was and what Jesus meant…. It alone can be used to clarify his mission, his theology, his politics, his relationship to the Jewish authorities, his relationship to Judaism in general, and his attitude toward the Roman occupation. 73 (emphasis added)

This is a lot of weight for one story to bear even if it does appear in all four Gospels and is “depicted in countless plays, films, paintings, and Sunday sermons,” as if the Nativity, calming of the storm, crucifixion, resurrection, and countless other scenes from the life of Jesus, were not.

Why does to the story of Jesus driving the money-changers out of the temple “reveal who Jesus was and what Jesus meant” more than anything else he is reported to have done or to have said in the Gospels?  What makes this the single lens through which all other events and teaching in Jesus’ life must be viewed? Aslan never explains.

In his depiction of this event Aslan imports a popular embellishment on the story when he describes Jesus as

In a rage, he overturns the tabloes of the money changers and drives out the vendors hawking cheap food and souvenirs. 74

Jesus’ actions may appear to be fuelled by anger. In the limited capacity of most of our emotional capacities, fury might be the only explanation we can come up with for Jesus’ actions in the Temple. But, in fact, nowhere in any of the Gospel accounts of this incident is Jesus said to be angry, let alone “in a rage.” Jesus’ rage is added by the reader.

Aslan of course is happy to add his own quaint bits of colour to the scene whenever he feels moved to exert his poetic licence. You may find “souvenirs” in a contemporary Cathedral bookstore; but I had never known that the selling of souvenirs was Jewish practice in the Temple of Jesus’ day.

Regardless of what Jesus encountered in the Temple that he found distasteful and wanted removed, Aslan takes the Gospel account at face value when he reports the words of Jesus who is reported to have said,

“Take these things out of here!” he shouts. 74

Actually Aslan makes up the “shouting” part, presumably to support his image of the rage-fuelled rampage upon which Jesus is alleged to have embarked.

John the Gospel writer who alone reports this saying, is more muted, affirming that Jesus

told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” (John 2:16)

This muted picture suits Aslan’s dramtic pretentions less well than the rampaging bull he portrays.

In the Gospels Jesus is portrayed as deliberately acting out a parable. He is calling the Temple officials to return to an acknowledgement of the true function of the Temple as a structure that existed to point people to God. The Temple is to serve as God’s “house”, an indication of God’s presence among the people; it is not a “marketplace” to benefit a few religious officials. It is not difficult to understand why Jesus’ action in the Temple might have upset the privileged Temple elite and made them determined to remove this troublesome religious reformer from their midst.

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