Reza Aslan’s Zealot is filled with curious statements, some of which make little sense, many of which are simply asserted as true with apparently unquestionable authority.

Aslan’s discussion of the likelihood of Jesus’ marriage, although wildly popular today, contributes nothing to the argument he is putting forward in his book, yet Aslan feels compelled to assert,

Although there is no evidence in the New Testament to indicate whether Jesus was married, it would have been almost unthinkable for a thirty-year-old Jewish male in Jesus’s time not to have a wife. Celibacy was an extremely rare phenomenon in first-century Palestine…. Yet while it may be tempting to assume that Jesus was married, one cannot ignore the fact that nowhere in all the words ever written about Jesus of Nazareth…. is there every any mention of a wife or children. 37

It is not at all clear why Aslan is pursuing this particular question, or what he actually believes about the marital status of Jesus. At the very least, he overstates his case that “it would have been almost unthinkable for a thirty-year-old Jewish male in Jesus’s time not to have a wife.”

“Unthinkable” is not a historically accurate term. It actually does not mean anything. Aslan may not have been able to think of celibacy in first century Palestine, but certainly it was thinkable for the ascetic Essenes who were known to practice celibacy in Jesus’ day.

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For better or worse, the only access one can have to the real Jesus comes not from the stories that were told about him after his death, but rather from the smattering of facts we can gather from his life as part of a large Jewish family of woodworkers/builders struggling to survive in the small Galilean village of Nazareth. 37, 38

If the Gospels are automatically disqualified as reliable sources for “access” to “the real Jesus,” we can only know that he probably existed and that he died. If Aslan accepts the writings of Paul as reliable points of access, we might also say that Jesus was raised after his death. That is the full extent of information about Jesus available to anyone who refuses to accord any historical veracity to the Gospels.

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Acceptance of his miracles forms the principal divide between the historian and the worshipper, the scholar and the seeker. 104

What is the nature of this “divide”? Is it impossible for a historian to be a worshipper or a scholar be a “seeker”? Must every legitimate historian begin with the assumption that miracles could not happen and therefore are excluded from any historical account of Jesus’ life and ministry? What are the criteria that exclude the possibility of miracles?

How is it possible to account for the fact that, as Aslan admits in relation to the accounts of Jesus performing miracles,

there was never any debate, either among his followers or his detractors about his role as an exorcist and miracle worker? 105

Surely, the accounts of Jesus’ miracle-working powers should have occasioned some controversy. Why would not those who knew Jesus’ miracles were a hoax have revealed him as the charlatan he obviously was, or at least bring evidence against the stories that were so quickly circulating about his extraordinary powers? On what grounds is every story of Jesus working a miracle automatically disqualified as historical?

Is it enough for the responsible historian to discount any evidence that falls outside the normal course of events? Is it impossible that we might live in a universe that is larger, more complex and vastly more mysterious than our common understanding is able to grasp? Could there be real events that actually take place in the physical material realm that we do not have the capacity to fully comprehend? Is it possible that our rational materialistic explanations may not be completely adequate to explain everything that has ever taken place?

 

 

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