For Reza Aslan exactly what happened following the death of Jesus “is impossible to know.”

It is impossible for Aslan to know what took place because he disqualifies the only explanation offered by the original witnesses to the events that took place after Jesus died. Aslan asserts that

Jesus’s resurrection is an exceedingly difficult topic for the historian to discuss, not least because it falls beyond the scope of any examination of the historical Jesus. 174

The reusrrection of Jesus only falls “beyond the scope of any examination of the historical Jesus” if it did not happen.

So, according to Aslan,

the fact remains that the resurrection is not a historical event. 176

An event is only “not a historical event” if it did not take place. The only reason to claim that the resurrection of Jesus is “not a historical event” is that Aslan does not believe resurrection is possible. If the resurrection took place it is in fact “a historical event.”

How is the historian to account for the fact that, no more than twenty-five years after the events he records, Paul, who had been a vicious opponent of Christianity, wrote that Jesus ,

was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. (I Corinthians 15:4-6)

For Paul the resurrection of Jesus was a historical event. And, Aslan acknowledges that Paul’s testimony here is rooted in a belief that was even closer to the original events. Referring to I Corinthians 15, Aslan explains,

Paul may have written those words in 50 C.E., but he is repeating what is likely a much older formula, one that may be traced to the early forties. That means belief in the resurrection of Jesus was among the community’s first attestations of faith. 175

But, Aslan doggedly asserts,

these stories are not meant to be accounts of historical events. 177

Why is Paul automatically discounted as a reliable historical source? How did Paul come to proclaim as historical an event that many living witnesses during the time of his writing would apparently have known to be a complete fabrication and that Paul himself must have known to be fictitious?

The only “evidence” for the non-historicity of the resurrection is that Aslan can’t believe in it.

Does the fact that something falls outside the scope of my experience, automatically mean that it could not have happened? How is the historian whose mind remains open, to prove the non-occurrence of an event? Upon what criteria can historians assert that writers in close proximity to the events they proclaim took place, were in fact either fundamentally deluded, or lying about the events they recorded?

Aslan’s alternative explanation to makes sense of the stubborn fact of the existence of Christian faith following the ignoble end of Jesus, is perhaps even more difficult to believe than the traditional Christian story.

According to Aslan’s version, Jesus died a shameful death on a corss which would have insured that no one in the Roman Empire would have dared to allow their name to be associated with this failed messiah. And yet, following his death on a cross, Jesus’ followers apparently banded together and manufactured a lie contradicting what they knew to have been the most fundamental quality of his life and ministry.

After his death, Jesus’ followers apparently made up the story that Jesus had never been a revolutionary leader. He had been a teacher of peace and goodwill, no threat at all to Rome or to the entrenched powers of the Temple. Jesus’ followers created this more palatable teaching for their messiah while knowing it contradicted everything he had sought to accomplish during his brief attempt to overthrow the Romans and remove the Temple officials from their place of power. They created the fantastic story of Jesus’ resurrection to give credence to their unbelievable assertion that a man who died by crucifixion could legitimately be considered the Jewish messiah.   They then died for this faith that they knew to be completely false.

Aslan’s story takes more faith than I can muster. It certainly does not lead me to conclude, as Aslan curiously does at the end of his book, that the “one thing” his tale of a failed political revolutionary

should reveal is that Jesus of Nazareth – Jesus the man – is every bit as compelling, charismatic, and praiseworthy as Jesus the Chris. He is, in short, someone worth believing in. 216

Aslan may be happy “believing in” the story he has manufactured around the historical person of Jesus.  I am content to trust in the beauty and mystery of a God who works in human history and has demonstrated through the resurrection of Jesus that death is no end to life and truth and beauty are the ultimate deep reality of all creation.

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