Larry Hurtado on Reza Aslan's Zealot Jesus


If you don’t know who Larry Hurtado is, he’s basically a New Testament-Christian origins scholar whose main claim to fame is to argue for the so-calledEarly High Christology:” the idea that the exalted place of Jesus in belief (expressed in the idea of Him sharing in the glory of the Father) and devotional practice (including corporate worship) - ‘high Christology’ - is already evident in the earliest Christian sources and likely goes back to the first circles of Jesus’ disciples, as opposed to the idea that high Christology had emerged later, a view held by some other scholars such as James Dunn, the late Geza Vermes, or Maurice Casey on the grounds that Jewish monotheism could not have allowed Jesus’ Jewish disciples to view Him in any way as ‘divine’.

That’s a whole other topic right there, but for now here’s him commenting on Reza Aslan’s recent book on Jesus being a Zealot: “Zombie Claims” and Jesus the “Zealot”.


I like this sentence:

"Aslan (a PhD in Sociology of Religion, and with his own marketing firm, and with a university connection in creative writing, but no training or demonstrated expertise in ancient Judaism, early Christianity, Roman history, or any of the subjects relevant to the book in question) pushes in sensationalist prose the supposedly shocking idea that Jesus was actually a political revolutionary who advocated an armed struggle against Roman occupation of his homeland. "

Oh well.. I liked his books on Islam.


I once heard part of an Intellegence Squared debate on NPR, and the topic was "Resolved: Islam is a Dangerous Religion" and Mr. Aslan unsuprisingly was on the opposing team. During the time Mr. Aslan was being questioned by the other side, Mr. Aslan essentially lost the debate then and there when he admitted, that under certain circumstances of anti-muslim rhetoric but NOT physical action, Mr. Aslan could be provoked into physical (forcible) counter action.


Here are a few other posts by other authors commenting on Aslan's thesis:

A Usually Happy Fellow Reviews Aslan’s Zealot by Anthony Le Donne

Review of Reza Aslan's Zealot by Craig A. Evans

What Jesus Wasn't: Zealot by Allan Nadler

Reza Aslan on Jesus: A Biblical Scholar Responds by Greg Carey

Return of the Jesus Wars by Ross Douthat

How Reza Aslan's Jesus is giving history a bad name by John Dickson


I'd like to highlight a different part of Hurtado's article:

Let’s track backward chronologically through some of the various prior appearances of this particular zombie. We can start with Jesus and the Zealots: A Study of the Political Factor in Primitive Christianity, by S.G. F. Brandon (Manchester University Press, 1967). Brandon was a respected scholar and presented what is still probably the best scholarly attempt to proffer the idea that Jesus was (or aspired to be) a political revolutionary.

A few years earlier, there was the more “popular” oriented book by Joel Carmichael, The Death of Jesus (1963), which even made it into a Penguin edition (1966) and was translated into German (1965) and French (1964).

A few decades earlier, we have the works by Robert Eisler, e.g., The Messiah Jesus and John the Baptist (New York: Dial Press, 1931).

But the “granddaddy”-predecessor of them all, perhaps, was the 18th century figure, Hermann Samuel Reimarus, whose manuscript on Jesus as failed revolutionary lay unpublished for a number of years until Lessing discovered it. English translations of a couple of Reimarus’ works = Reimarus: Fragments, ed. C. H. Talbert, trans. R. S. Fraser (Fortress Press, 1970); and* The Goal of Jesus and his Disciples*, trans. with introduction by G. W. Buchannan (Brill, 1970).

Craig Evans in his own review (see my last post) also pointed out S.G.F. Brandon's study, admitting that it is "the ablest presentation of this line of interpretation." However at the same time he noted that "[f]ew followed Brandon then; virtually no one does today. I doubt very much Aslan’s fresh take on it will win a following—at least not among scholars."

Now Hermann Samuel Reimarus (1694-1768) is one of those people who will appear on any textbook about historical Jesus studies: people (especially those with a conservative bent) may - would - disagree with much of his theses, but he was one of those who paved the way for modern historical Jesus research.

Reimarus, as a staunch Deist, attempted to apply the 'Rational' historical methodologies of his day to distinguish supposed 'fiction' from fact. He was hardly the first to dispute Jesus' miracles and the resurrection, but he was the first to imagine who Jesus could have been if He wasn't the Savior that Christians had "mistaken" Him for. He was the first person to explicitly propose a divide between 'the Jesus of history' and the 'Christ of faith', but he went further: in his view, Jesus was a failed political revolutionary whose disciples had posthumously elevated into an exalted figure (by inventing the resurrection!) in order to cope with this failure.

For Reimarus, Jesus the revolutionary predicted the imminent arrival of the kingdom of God (conceived here as an actual earthly kingdom), with Himself as the Messiah and thus its harbinger, but His plans eventually all ended in failure when He was killed. The disciples were obviously very disappointed when things turned out this way, since they expected themselves to become Jesus' right-hand men when the kingdom is established. They only got over this fatal blow by inventing the claim that He was glorified by God and would soon return: in other words, they 'spiritualized' Jesus' original politically-oriented mission. So if anything, in Reimarus' view, Christianity only came about because of the disciples' misplaced hopes and inventions. You can see that Reimarus' thesis has many points of similarity with what Aslan is proposing right now in 2013. But the funny thing is, whereas in Reimarus' time this was dangerous talk (his study was published posthumously by his student Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, who even then did not reveal the author's name in order to protect Reimarus' integrity), saying the same thing nowadays would earn you quick and easy fame and publicity.

In fact, many of the sensationalist claims about Jesus are 'zombies' as Hurtado would call it: rehashes of ancient, oftentimes long-discredited theories that are 'rediscovered' now and again by people who do not know better. You know the 'explanation' that the miracle of the loaves and fishes were just the crowd sharing the lunches they hid within them with each other? Explanations like that had their origins among 18th century naturalists, who tried to say that Scripture is still 'correct' but at the same time explained away anything and everything they deemed to be 'irrational' and backward. What about the idea that Jesus was actually an Essene (or a pawn of the Essenes - portrayed as some sort of secret society a la Freemasons)? Again, a theory which in the 18th-19th century might have been taken seriously - try reading through a 'Life of Jesus' written by an author from those days: many of them seem to have seen Essenes everywhere ;) - but would nowadays would not have much supporters. :shrug:


One might also add that since Aslan is a Muslim, he DOES have a dog in this fight. ;) Admittedly he converted to Evangelical Christianity for a while but is back with Islam now. He's bound to have some confused ideas. :cool:


Asain lives in Hollywood and you can bet a screenplay is coming.

Why is this thread in the "sacred scripture" sub-forum?


Probably because Aslan is interpreting the Scriptures in his new book.


[quote="AmbroseSJ, post:6, topic:339538"]
One might also add that since Aslan is a Muslim, he DOES have a dog in this fight. ;) Admittedly he converted to Evangelical Christianity for a while but is back with Islam now. He's bound to have some confused ideas. :cool:


It really seemed that Aslan has really played on the fact that the interviewer on FOX news questioned how he, a Muslim, could ever dare write a book about Jesus. Granted, I do think that historical Jesus scholarship should be open to everybody regardless of personal conviction and not just be a Christians-only club (as it admittedly was a century or two ago during the days of the First and Second Quests and intervening "no quest" period, when just about every other author on the historical Jesus was German and/or Protestant, if not Deist - all at least with Christian backgrounds), but Aslan's appeal to his 'credentials' is really just the wrong way of defending himself.


Granted, I do think that historical Jesus scholarship should be open to everybody regardless of personal conviction and not just be a Christians-only club

The difficulty is that people from other faiths, or no faith find it just as difficult to be objective as any Christian. Non-Christian scholarship can certainly shed an interesting light, illuminating things that may have been overlooked etc. if people can get outside of themselves enough to bring real insight into something that is otherwise foreign to them. But I suspect that is rare.


Then again I think that being ‘objective’ is difficult for any human being regardless of nationality or creed. Nevertheless I’m all for it - I mean we’re not talking about theology here, although the Person in question is certainly a subject of it.


If he does make a movie about Jesus I have a gut feeling that it will be a rehash of the film version of The Passover Plot minus the faking death bit.


Reza Aslan should not be taken seriously when speaking of Christianity. He is a Muslim and a member of a pro-Iranian lobby group who praises the Hizballah terrorist organization, and so of course he says Jesus was a Zealot because he wants people to think that Muslim terrorists are acting “Christ-like”.


I wouldn’t go so far. If I were you I wouldn’t make presumptions about Aslan just because of his religious background or his affiliation with NIAC. In fact I don’t care about the guy himself - it’s the scholarly theory that he sells in his book that’s in question here. Besides, he’s already deviating from Islamic orthodoxy by saying that Jesus was indeed crucified instead of being taken up to avoid death.

(Anyways, strictly speaking it’s not so much ‘Christianity’ we’re talking about here but Jesus as an historical figure.)


What do you mean presumptions? He is a propagandist for the mullah regime in Iran and Hizballah. This is a fact. What do you mean “scholarly”? Larry Hurtado said in his blog that Aslan doesn’t have the credentials to talk about what he wrote about. Ok if we’re not talking about “Christianity” and we’re instead talking about “Jesus as a historical figure”, then I misspoke. What I should have said was–Reza Aslan should not be taken seriously when speaking of Jesus as a historical figure.


What I mean is I don’t care if Aslan’s the pope. :wink: What is at question is what he’s claiming in his book - not so much his private life or his personal convictions.

What do you mean “scholarly”? Larry Hurtado said in his blog that Aslan doesn’t have the credentials to talk about what he wrote about.

Since Aslan is trying hard to pass himself off as a scholar, it’s just valid to deconstruct his theses in a scholarly way - which is what Larry and others did. He’s just getting what he wants to get.


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit