179. Jesus And The Historians. Part One
Recently, this mote came across a book (1), “Zealot, by Reza Aslan”. This is a book about historical Jesus. What are my credentials to say anything on this subject? Let me mention them right at the outset. I am a secular humanist, who does not believe in any religion, but passionately loves God. I also practice mysticism, but am still a novice. Furthermore, I am not unbiased, because I have tremendous respect for Jesus Christ. I also love Jesus.
The following are my impressions about this book in particular, and about other scholars in this area in general. After reading the book I had the overwhelming feeling of unfairness of the process to Jesus. I was mystified by the lack of uniform criteria for judging the authenticity of the data about the life of Jesus. It was as if the author had a preconceived conclusion. He selected the data which supported his contention and rejected or ignored the data which opposed his contention. This is not the way of science. I did research in cell biology for 6-7 years, I know what I am talking. I think scholars in other fields pursue the truth in a similar way: go the way the evidence leads you.
; don’t choose certain facts and ignore other facts, but consider all facts ( see blog 97 for more detail).
Let me give an example. The author himself acknowledges on page xx the importance of Q source (the material unique to the gospels of Mathew and Luke) and the gospel of Mark, which was the earliest of all gospels. He relied on them because they were ‘the earliest and thus the most reliable’.
Now won’t you set a criterion right from the beginning of your research, that if a narrative is present, in broad details, in all the three gospels, then it is correct. Of course there might be minor variations because they were written by different person(s) separated from each other in time and space. If a fact is mentioned in all four gospels or in all three gospels and in the letters of Paul, it should be considered indisputable. That does not necessarily mean that it is true, but it means that it was perceived as such by the gospel writers, unless all of them were lying. The only other possibility is that they were mistaken about what they saw or heard due to disease of mind: what they saw or heard was not real (although they thought it was real); it was a hallucination.
The investigator has to distinguish between these three possibilities: correct, lying, or impairment of the mind. Hallucinogic drugs, fatigue, or lack of sleep can temporarily cause the mind to play tricks.
Truth must be distinguished from correct, the two are not synonymous. For instance, New Testament is full of stories of people possessed by demons. Modern science will consider them to be suffering from epilepsy or hysteria, but people in those days truly believed that they were possessed by demons. The people were mistaken but not deliberate liars.
The scholars also take into consideration that the incidents written in the gospels have passed through many hands and thus may be polluted. But they, and the letters of Paul, are all that we have. Paul’s letters were written by him with no intervening persons, so are extremely important (although Aslan is not sure about some letters; see page 264). Josephus’s ‘Antiquities’ is of little help because, it does not throw any light on the life-history of Jesus.
Careful consideration should also be given to whether a reported incident is a fact or an opinion; is it just mentioned as an observation or the name of the observer is actually mentioned. For instance, this mote noted that mention is made in gospels of Mark, Mathew, and Luke, of a voice from heaven, after the baptism of Jesus, but no mention is made of the name of person(s) who heard the voice.
Now let us first consider the trial of Jesus by the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate. It is a detail of the final hours of his life which has been mentioned in all four gospels and by Paul.( Mark 15:1; Mathew 27:11; Luke 23:13; John 18:29-40, 1 Timothy 6:13 ) Aslan goes at great length to advocate the notion that the trial never happened, although in one place he grudgingly concedes the possibility.
He uses very strong language. Here is what he has to say: ‘The story of Jesus’ trial as narrated by gospels was a drama, purely fictitious, concocted by Mark, and one should completely dismiss it. The Roman Governor would not even have sat in the same room as Jesus, what to talk of granting him a trial. The trial was a pure fantasy, did not make any sense at all, was never held, there was no need of a trial; etc. ( pages, 148-149, 152-154, 156,158)’
To be continued
(1) Zealot___The life and times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan. Published by Random House, 2013