Aslan’s thesis requires us to believe that the Gospel writers were crafty enough to invent a Jesus who regularly called for humility, service and the “love of enemies” but stupid enough to leave traces in their works of a Jesus who endorsed fighting Roman enemies. It’s the stuff of conspiracy theorists: dismissing evidence that contradicts your theory as “manufactured,” while simultaneously interpreting the massive lack of evidence as proof of suppression.
The discipline of history cannot work like this. Rarely can a theory be taken seriously that is not based on evidence attested across sources. Deleting, cherry-picking and imagining are no substitute for the even-handed sifting of evidence that characterizes historical enquiry. This is why almost no one followed Reimarus back in the eighteenth century and why Brandon’s revival of the thesis in the mid-twentieth century is typically found today only in a footnote. I predict Aslan’s work won’t even find its way there.
Worse for Reza Aslan, there is overwhelming positive evidence that Jesus, far from being a closet zealot, directed his teaching against that tradition. That his message focused on love and, in particular, love of the unlovely and the enemy, is richly attested across the historical traditions left behind by those closest to him.
— How Reza Aslan’s Jesus is giving history a bad name. This makes me wonder whether there’s not something to Allan Nadler’s claim (cited in the quote below) that Aslan is trying to create a Jesus who is a good deal more like Mohammed than the Jesus of the Gospels is. Thanks to Gabriel Rossman for linking me to this.