Exegesis is the art/skill/discipline of attempting to take seriously a particular text and come to some cogent understanding of what the text in question might mean or how it might be understood in a way that corresponds with the context in which it appears.

Aslan’s book Zealot is full of interpretation. Any reading of Scripture involves interpretation. Some interpretations deal more seriously and carefully with the actual text being studied. Aslan often seems to feel free to make grand leaps in his interpretation of the biblical text simply assuming the reader will go along with his understanding.

My favourite piece of Aslan biblical “exegesis” is in reference to the story in Matthew 8 where Jesus is said to have healed a leper. After performing this miracle, Jesus says to the healed leper,

‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’(Matthew 8:4)

Aslan explains Jesus’ statement here saying,

Jesus is joking. 112

Aslan feels no need to explain why this is a joke or why Jesus might seriously have instructed the healed leper to “go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded.” The instruction simply does not fit into Aslan’s picture of Jesus and so it must have been a “joke.”

*******

The Kingdom of God is a call to revolution, plain and simple. 120

For Aslan there can be only one understanding of the term “kingdom of God.” It meant “the destruction of the present order” and “the annihilation of the present leaders.” 119

Nowhere does Aslan feel compelled to offer the slightest evidence why there can be only one “plain and simple” understanding of how the complex symbol “kingdom of God” might be understood. No reason is ever given why a leader who was calling for the violent overthrow of existing powers would teach his followers:

‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.’ (Matthew 5:38-41)

Nor does Aslan explain the curious story in Luke’s Gospel of Jesus’ teaching about a kingdom that cannot be seen.

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.’(Luke 17:20,21)

How can a kingdom that is intended to overthrow existing political authorities be “not coming with things that can be observed”? Or, was this statement simply created later by followers of Jesus to rehabilitate his image in the eyes of Roman officials? But why bother rehabilitating a leader you have followed in the hopes that he would remove the existing authorities when he has clearly failed in this task?

*******

His commands to “love your enemies” and “turn the other cheek” must be read as being directed exclusively at his fellow Jews and meant as a model of peaceful relations exclusively within the Jewish community. 122

Even if there was any reason for Aslan to make this bold statement, it would in no way change the radical counter-cultural anti-violence nature of Jesus’ instruction here. Much of the Jewish community of his day was hardly kindly-disposed towards Jesus. The religious officials of his day were violently opposed to Jesus and his teaching. They sought to trap him in his words and were intent on branding him as a revolutionary and bringing about his execution. To “turn the other check” and “love your enemies” even if they were “within the Jewish community” was a dramatic and challenging call to nip the destructive force of violence in the bud by refusing to respond in kind to those who abuse you.

The non-violent nature of Jesus’ teaching is certainly supported by his response at the time of his arrest when one of his followers seizes a sword in an attempt to defend Jesus. Matthew says,

Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.’ (Matthew 26:52)

Luke describes a scene in which the followers of Jesus suggest using violence against those who refused to extend hospitality to Jesus.

When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ (Luke 9:54)

You would think the Jesus according to Aslan would commend his disciples commitment and zeal. But, the Jesus of Luke,

turned and rebuked them.(Luke 9:55)

Any shred of evidence suggesting that Jesus incited his followers to violence is slim at best and unconvincing in the face of the weight of biblical testimony that indicates that Jesus’ earliest followers at least were convinced that he came to bring peace.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.(John 14:27)

Advertisements