Who Believes This?

For this one, you can thank/blame my sister, who tipped me off to this article’s existence.

Well, a few weeks ago, a fellow name of Reza Aslan published an article that showed up in several newspapers. The article was called “Five Myths About Jesus,” and was part of the promotion for his recently published book Zealot, which attempts to cast Jesus as a political revolutionary. Having not read the latter, I will withhold comment except to recommend that anyone who believes this should re-read the Gospels.

The article, however, contains enough half-truths and strawmen that I am disinclined to read the book. Here’s why.

His first claim is that Jesus was not born in Bethlehem, on the grounds that Jesus was referred to as being from Nazareth, while disparaging the Gospel of Luke–and forgetting entirely the Gospel of Matthew, which also puts Jesus in Bethlehem for his birth. Perhaps he simply lacked the space, but come now. Really? Also, regarding the birthplace thing, let me put it this way. Technically, my father was born in Texas. His parents, however, were from Louisiana, and he spent the largest chunk of his childhood there. He is from Louisiana. Such things are commonplace, and the author ignores them. The census thing has more viability, but I seem to recall that it’s been dealt with elsewhere.

Moving on to the second part about Jesus not being an only child. Why does this matter, and why is this even a thing? Of course he wasn’t an only child, it says so in the Bible. There are some people who think that he was, though, and I’ll get to that in a moment.

As to the twelve disciples thing–yes, I agree that the supporting cast for the twelve apostles deserves better billing. And? So? This is important why, exactly? Again, I’ll get to this in a moment, so hold your horses.

Regarding the fourth thing, here Aslan has a better leg to stand on. However, he neglects the fact that the Jewish leaders practically dragged Jesus to Pilate–also, this wasn’t just another rabble rouser, this was the guy who’d had a procession into Jerusalem that very week. Kind of a big deal, here. Apparently Pilate did have kind of a rep as being a massive jerk–that being said, it’s not out of line to believe that the Jesus incident could have happened after one of this jerkier moments, when he might have been concerned about riling folks up worse.  Throw in the fact that this characterization is pulled from a pair of Jewish historians of the period (and historians of the period were known for being biased), and, well…he said, he said.

As to the fifth–exceptions to the rule happen all the time. The entire point of the Gospels is a series of unlikely occurrences, beginning with a virgin giving birth. Come on, man.

Anyway, here’s the thing. Two of these “myths,” if anyone believes them, stem from a basic lack of reading the Bible. Going further, anyone who tries to tie either one of these back to some kind of Biblical unreliability has not even set up a strawman–all he has is straw.

One of these myths–the first–has some grounding, but this sort of thing has been discussed before, and has been reconciled.

Finally, the last two “myths” aren’t “myths”, unless you believe that because things don’t normally happen in a particular way that they can’t happen in a particular way. While that may make an occurrence unlikely, they do not make it impossible–and it certainly does not make the notion that such an occurrence happened a myth. To claim so is ridiculous.

Unfortunately, this discloses one of the basic problems with debunking and historiography–namely, the tendency to describe things you happen to disagree with the implications of as myths and the tendency to claim that erroneous beliefs about what you’re talking about bolster your argument–kind of like people who claim that Social Darwinism discredits Darwinian evolution.

In other words, take things seriously.

‘Til next time,

Lowell Van Ness


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