Religion

Catholic clergy sex abuse and its effect on the declining number of Catholics in the United States

I have recently published a book about Catholic clergy sex abuse and its effect on the declining number of Catholics in the United States. I timed the release of the book and my petition to the Pope to coincide with his arrival in New York. Clergy sex abuse is under a fairly high level of control in the United States due to media coverage, in particular revelations published by The Boston Globe in 2002. We have seen what media coverage can do to calling attention to problems and getting the appropriate laws enacted. Without the revelations in the Boston archdiocese, it is not likely that clergy sex abuse in the United States would have fallen as much as it has. Indeed, the Church resists responsibility for abuse and to do the right thing by the victims. At a hearing of the Maryland legislature to extend the statute of limitations for clergy abuse, the Church testified against the then pending bill. Cardinal Timothy Dolan attempted to shelter $57 million while he was the archbishop of the Milwaukee archdiocese. It took the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to rule that those funds are available for victim compensation in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee bankruptcy. A priest in Uganda was suspended indefinitely for exposing child sex abuse. He was told to help cover up the crimes because “that’s what one is supposed to do.” He refused and was suspended.

 

My book is primarily about abuse in less-developed countries. I traveled to the Philippines late last year and I was appalled at the status quo. In 2002, when the revelations in Boston became front page news, the Church in the Philippines acknowledged that 200 of its priests had abused women and children. Here we are 13 years later and not a single, solitary priest has been convicted of a sex crime in the Philippines. The same is true in Mexico. A widely publicized case of clergy sex abuse in Mexico resulted in the priest being “sentenced” to a life of prayer and penitence by Pope Benedict XVI. There has never been a priest criminally convicted of a sex crime in Mexico. The Pope has set up a 17-member papal commission on abuse. There is not a single member from SNAP (the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), which has great expertise in clergy sex abuse. SNAP has over 10,000 abuse victims internationally among its membership. Why isn’t its voice being heard or included?

 

Pope Francis announced that he will be giving the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) the ability to discipline bishops who do not report clergy sex offenders in their charge to the civil authorities. This is the fox watching the chicken coop. On June 5 of this year, the state of Minnesota filed charges against the archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Two weeks later, the archbishop and auxiliary bishop of this archdiocese resigned. In April Bishop Finn of the archdiocese of Kansas City–St. Joseph resigned. He was criminally convicted of failing to report a priest who had child pornography on his laptop computer.

 

Pope Francis has the ability to issue a motu proprio (executive order) to require bishops to report clergy sex offenders to the police, in addition to the CDF. It is Church policy that bishops are not required to report offenders to the authorities unless the law requires them to do so. There are few such laws in the less-developed countries. Sadly, there are 23 American states, including New York, which do not have mandatory reporting for clerics.

 

My petition asks the Pope to issue an order requiring bishops to report offending clerics in their charge and in addition make it mandatory for all Catholic personnel to take the following oath, “I will not abuse women and children, intimidate them or their families, cover-up for fellow clergy or subordinates, nor tolerate among us those who do so.” This oath is patterned after the Cadet Honor Code at the U.S. military academies.

 

Let me end this note with a quote from Frances Kissling, former president of Catholics for a Free Choice. “Clergy sexual abuse is a global problem. It is imperative that individual nations assume responsibility for the welfare of their young citizens and take steps to protect their youth from this type of abuse…One of the reasons that governments must step up is that we have a clear sign from the Vatican that sex abuse is not a priority.” In less-developed countries, the most likely children and women to be abused are the poorest people. Indeed I describe in my book how priests seek uneducated and indigent parents and target their children for abuse, especially those kids who come from single-parent homes.

 

I would like to call your attention to a clergy abuse petition I have set up online and which I hope to present to the Pope when he arrives in New York in September of this year. It was in October 1517, nearly 500 years ago, that Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This acted is considered the spark which ignited the Protestant Reformation. I plan to post my petition on the door of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I may even dress up like Martin Luther when I post my petition on St. Patrick’s door if I can get the appropriate media attention.

Categories: Clergy Sex Abuse, Religion | Leave a comment

Book Review of, “Killing Jesus: A History,” by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard.

More fiction than fact. Poorly researched and certainly not history.

Killing Jesus: A History? Not according to most modern biblical scholars. The authors of this book clearly read the New Testament too literally and rely on it as their basis for much of this book. They do not include footnotes so that the reader can differentiate from what is their opinion and what is the opinion of the few qualified scholars they cite in the appendix to the book. In a footnote (page 22) it says, “thanks to scholarship and archaeology, there is growing acceptance of their overall historicity [the Gospels] and authenticity.” Just the opposite is true. Modern religious historians now view the four Gospels included in the New Testament as only a subset of the knowledge base about the historical Jesus. Indeed with the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library (Gnostic gospels) in Egypt in 1945, we now know there were differing views about the life of Jesus among his followers during the first century and that the Canonical Gospels do not always agree about what is the true story of Jesus. In fact, the Gospels are often inconsistent with one another. Following are some of the errors and misrepresentations in this book. It seems O’Reilly and Dugard did not do their homework or wrote this book with an evangelical bias. (See end of review)

On page 7, the authors describe the killing of less than two-year old Jewish male babies by King Herod. This event is known as the Massacre of the Innocents, which the authors failed to mention. According to the Gospel of Matthew [2:16-18], Herod ordered the execution of all young male children in the vicinity of Bethlehem, so as to avoid the loss of his throne to a newborn King of the Jews whose birth had been announced to him by the Magi. Whether a massacre actually occurred is dubious. The massacre is not attested outside of the New Testament, making its historicity most suspect.

In the footnote on the bottom of page 8, the authors write, “The fact that Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem eight days after his birth, and then again on the fortieth day…,” is misleading. These are stories in the gospels of the New Testament, which biblical scholars generally view as having little verifiable truth. They are not “facts,” as the authors suggest.

In a footnote (page 14), the authors write, “The northern portion of this kingdom (Israel) fell in 722 B.C. to the Philistines.” In fact, the northern Kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians. The Philistines were never a major power nor did they ever control an empire in the Levant (Eastern Mediterranean) during biblical times. In the same footnote they write, “[the term] Israel was once again put into use when the independent Jewish state was founded on May 14, 1948 long – almost 4,000 years after the first Jews crossed into the promised land.” There were no Jews 4,000 years ago. Judaism did not arise until sometime after 1500 B.C.E. This means Judaism is no more than 3,500 years old. The first non-biblical reference to Israel resides in the Egyptian Merneptah Stele, erected circa 1200 BCE.

On page 14, the authors write, “The baby will be born in Bethlehem, the small town where the great King David was born a thousand years before. The third prophesy is that the child must also be a direct descendent of David.” On page 176, “His [Jesus’s] lineage is that of David.” It is generally accepted that Joseph, the stepfather of Jesus, is a descendent of David. However according to Christian theology, the Virgin Mary was impregnated by the Holy Spirit. Thus it makes no difference whether Joseph descended from David. Jesus is not biologically related to Joseph. Jesus is therefore not biologically connected to David. The authors ignore this huge elephant in the room. So much for the belief that Jesus is the Messiah descended from David. The authors do not even address this obvious paradox.

On page 17 the authors write, “The [First] Temple was first built by Solomon in the tenth century B.C.” There is no historical evidence for King Solomon. However there is evidence of both Solomon’s predecessor, King David, and Solomon’s son, King Rehoboam. So Solomon was almost certainly a historical figure. There is also no hard evidence for the existence of the First Temple built by Solomon. Professor Israel Finkelstein, at Tel Aviv University, strongly argues that there was no United Monarchy during the reign of Kings David and Solomon and that Solomon and David reigned over a small kingdom, not one rich enough to construct temples and other monuments. Finkelstein refutes the existence of the First Temple and its construction under Solomon.

On page 58-59, the authors write, “The lineage of Jacob and their devotion to a one true God has not changed since Abraham walked the earth 2000 years ago.” I presume they meant 4,000 years ago or 2,000 years before Jesus, since rabbinical dating puts the life of Abraham at circa 2000 B.C.E. On page 85 they write, “Galilee is the northernmost properties in what was once called Canaan by the patriarch Abraham. One of Abraham’s grandsons was a man named Jacob, who also went by the name Israel and fathered the people would come to be known as the Israelites.” I am not aware of any modern biblical scholar who believes that the story of Abraham and his offspring, Isaac and Jacob, is historical. An even if these three figures from the Old Testament actually are historical, all scholars agree they were not father, son, and grandson. The Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) was written over many centuries during the first millennium B.C.E. The authors of the Old Testament had no way of knowing who lived more than a thousand years prior, other than through the oral traditions which no modern scholar takes literally. To sum up, there is not a shred of evidence that there was a historical Abraham. Most scholars believe the story of Abraham was written sometime during the middle of the Iron Age (1150-600 B.C.E.) describing life during the Iron Age. For instance, Abraham is described as employing camels as domestic beasts of burden. It says in The Bible Unearthed, co-written by Israel Finkelstein, “We now know through archaeological research that camels were not domesticated as beasts of burden earlier than the late second millennium and were not widely used in that capacity in the ancient Near East until well after 1000 BCE.”

In the postscript, the authors write, “The legalization of Christianity by the Roman Empire, in A.D. 313, soon led to his expansion to every part of the Western world.” Christianity was never the official state religion of the empire in the way Islam is today in Iran. Christianity became the quasi-state religion of the empire in 325 C.E. after the First Council of Nicaea. On page 266 they write, “Christianity was officially legalized throughout the Roman Empire in 313, with the edict of Milan.” That edict only required that Christians throughout the Empire be treated benevolently, rather than being persecuted. Whether or not there was a formal “Edict of Milan” document is not known.

On page 80, the authors write, “These men remember the shame attached to the early days of that relationship between Mary and Joseph, when it was announced that she was pregnant out of wedlock. They recall Joseph’s stubborn loyalty and his refusal to shun her.” They did not do their homework and read the Bible (NIV). Joseph was not stubbornly loyal to Mary but planned to divorce her, according to Matthew. In Matthew [1:18-20], it says, “This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.’”

On page 81 the authors say, “He [Jesus] labor six days a week as a carpenter alongside his father.” On page 90, “because Joseph is a skilled carpenter he is able to pay his taxes.” In the original Gospels composed in Greek, Jesus is described as the son of a τέκτονος (Greek for craftsman). He might have been a stone mason, and not a carpenter, or perhaps both. Describing Jesus as a carpenter or carpenter’s son is not fact, just tradition.

On page 90, the authors write, “She [Mary Magdalene] will grow up to be a prostitute, doing what she must do to survive, though she longs for something better in this world.” On page 144, “Rarely does a woman of ill repute enter the home of a Pharisee. Nevertheless, Mary of Magdala–or Mary Magdalene, as she will go down in history long–now stands behind Jesus…It is well known how Mary makes her living.” The view that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute can be traced to a sermon of Pope Gregory I (“Gregory the Great”) circa 591 C.E. This depiction of Mary has no historical basis. How can the authors claim this is a fact-based book, as they state in the beginning (on page 2) of the book? In 1969, the Roman Catholic Church amended its erroneous view of Mary and no longer claims that she was a prostitute. It appears that the authors, who are both Roman Catholic, are not even aware of the teachings of their own church.

On page 147 in a footnote, the authors write, “Miriam worked with her brothers, Moses and Araon, to lead the exodus from Egypt. And of course the prostitute Rahab helped bring about the Israelite victory over Jericho.” More nonsense! There is no evidence for the Exodus as described in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and Jericho was destroyed centuries before Israel ever existed. The author’s didn’t even bother to research modern archeological findings.

In the footnote at the bottom of page 22, it says, “The fact that John not only was there at every pivotal moment in Jesus’s ministry, and thus able to describe many scenes with vivid first-person imagery”…In the footnote at the bottom of page 222, it says, “Although none other gospel writers was present during Jesus’s prayer, it is believed that he shared his words and emotions with those present in the garden that night.” In the footnote at the bottom of page 224, it says, “That scene was witnessed by John, who made a focal point of his gospel;” footnote, page 231, “Based on his vivid depiction of that night’s events, is widely believed that John was this individual.” Believed by who? Certainly not modern biblical scholars. Scholars can’t even agree about which historical John the Gospel of John is based. On page 264, they write, “John…[was] exiled to the Greek island of Patmos. There he wrote his gospel.” The reason we refer to the gospels as the Gospel according to Mathew, according to Luke, etc. is because no one knows who wrote the Gospels. By using the phrase “according to,” it gives them an aura of credibility. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke are called synoptic in that they are all similar to each other. The Gospel of John is not similar. Synoptic means presenting or taking the same or common view. The term synoptic comes from the Greek syn, meaning “together,” and optic, meaning “seen.” Because these three Gospels are so similar, it is hypothesized that they came from a common source known as Q, from the German Quelle, meaning source, although no Q source material has thus far been discovered. The authors conflict with current biblical scholarship by asserting that the Gospels were actually written by eyewitnesses, to wit Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. There is no evidence to support that view and this book is the first I have read which makes that assertion, other than books written by zealous evangelicals.

On pages 236-240, the authors describe the conversation between Jesus and Pontius Pilate when Jesus was presented to Pilate for judgment. Here again the authors use the New Testament as a reference. Modern scholars are not certain that their conversation was more than a few exchanges, lasting perhaps 10 or 15 minutes for the trial, judgment and sentence. At that point, it is possible that the extremely anti-Jewish Pilate decided it was simply expedient to crucify Jesus, a Jew, and a troublemaker who was making a problem during the Passover. He might incite a rebellion by the large numbers of Jews in town for the Passover celebration. Indeed a rebellion occurred nearly three decades later in the First Jewish-Roman war (66-73 C.E.).

On page 240 the authors write, “It is customary for the Roman prefect to release a prisoner at the time of Passover.” Not true. The authors cite all four Gospels as their source of this “fact.” Actually, there is little to no evidence for any such custom by Roman prefects (governors). “Pilate finds a simple solution to ease out of this politically volatile situation: he will give the crowd a choice between releasing the peaceful Jesus or the horrific Barabbas…Give us Barabbas,” the Jews in the crowd shout. Shame on you O’Reilly! Not only is this story not historically true, as any biblical historian will tell you, but it is the basis of 2,000 years of anti-Semitism ultimately, indirectly leading to the Holocaust. Even the Catholic Church rejects this idea. Nostra Aetate, issued by the Second Vatican Council, and promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1965, states that the blame for Jesus’s crucifixion cannot be laid at the door of all those Jews present at that time, nor can the Jews in our time be held as guilty, thus repudiating an indiscriminate charge of Jewish deicide.

On page 241, the authors write, “the Roman governor does not believe that executing such a popular figure as Jesus is a wise decision… I have examined him in your presence and found no basis for your charges against him…Therefore, I will punish him and release him.” This account of Pilate “washing his hands” has also been rejected by the academic community. Pilate couldn’t give a fig about whether Jesus lived or died. Killing Jesus only meant to Pilate that there was one less Jew around who could cause a revolt. This is why some scholars believe Jesus never met Pilate nor was he judged by Pilate. On page 246 the authors describe Pilate “washing his hands” of Jesus’s blood. Washing of the hands was a Hebrew custom and not a Roman one. It is not likely the anti-Jewish Pilate would engage in a Jewish custom to placate the Jews he so despised. Even the authors acknowledge that Pilate was anti-Jew.

On page 263 the authors write, “There is good evidence that Peter is buried beneath St. Peter’s Cathedral in Vatican City.” Where did they dig up this drivel? The Vatican has been quite explicit is stating it is only possible that some of Peter’s bone fragments are buried in the tombs under St. Peter’s. And leading Vatican Jesuits and other archaeologists strongly dispute the bones are those of St. Peter. Why would anyone preserve the bones of a man who was crucified upside down? If anything, they would more likely distance themselves from Peter to avoid the appearance that they endorsed his views.

On page 4 the authors write, “But the incredible story behind the lethal struggle between good and evil has not been fully told. Until now. At least, that is the goal of this book.” The authors failed to tell the full story and what they told is essentially the story told in the New Testament. A reader really interested in the life of the historical Jesus would do far better reading any one of the numerous volumes written by Bart Ehrman (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), Elaine Pagels (Princeton University) or Paula Fredriksen (Boston University). These academics are true experts in the historical Jesus and the New Testament.

Note: Many of the views articulated in this review were previously expressed in my book, The Origin and Rise, Decline and Fall of the God Known as Yahweh (Amazon Digital Services, 2012).

Categories: Religion | Leave a comment

Book Review of, “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,” by Reza Aslan

Zealot is the first book about the historical Jesus Christ to rank number one on the NY Times bestseller list. This is most unfortunate in that Reza Aslan is not a recognized New Testament scholar. But worse, it is riddled with factual errors, or at least views not widely accepted by the academic community. The book is sometimes confusing, not always well written, and too often does not distinguish between facts and hypotheses.

My first clue that this was not a scholarly work was on page xxvii in the preface. He dates the Gospel of John to 100-120 CE. Most scholars believe the Gospel of John was written in first century CE. The mouthpiece of the Catholic Church, the Catholic Encyclopedia, dates John’s gospel to around 96-99 CE, the first not the second century. On the same page he writes, “Matthew and Luke also relied on what must have been an early and fairly well distributed collection of Jesus’s sayings that scholars have termed Q (German for Quelle or ‘source’). Although we no longer have any physical copies of this document we can infer its content by comparing those verses that Matthew and Luke share in common but that do not appear in Mark.”

Austin Farrer, Michael Goulder, and Mark Goodacre have argued against Q, maintaining Mark was the first gospel written and claiming the use of Matthew by Luke. This view has come to be known as the Farrer hypothesis. Farrer, in his 1955 paper which first outlined this hypothesis, notes that when two documents are found which contain common material, identical in the words and phrases they use to describe some scenes, the simplest explanation is that one of the two used the other as a source, rather than both using a third document as a source. Goulder points to common Matthean phrases such as “brood of vipers who,” “make fruit,” and “cast into the fire,” which each appear in Luke only once, in a Q passage. Goulder’s conclusion, based on writing styles, is that Matthew is the actual source for these “Q” sayings. Goodacre notes that there is no extant copy of Q and that no early church writer makes an unambiguous reference to a document resembling the Q that modern scholars have reconstructed from the common material in Luke and Matthew. It is worth noting that there is no manuscript of Q in existence. No one has yet found even a fragment of Q. On pages 105, 111, 175, and 190, Aslan refers to Q as source material. I repeat, there is no extant copy of Q, not even a fragment.

On page xxviii Aslan writes, “crucifixion was a punishment that Rome reserved almost exclusively for the crime of sedition…The Gospels claim that on either side of Jesus hung men who in Greek are called lestai, a word often rendered into English as ‘thieves’ but which actually means ‘bandits’ and was the most common Roman designation for an insurrectionist or rebel.” Both the King James Version (KJV) of the New Testament and the Vulgate (the Latin bible used in the Catholic Church) state that the men crucified with Jesus were thieves. That is what I was taught in Catholic school and during Bible readings at Sunday Holy Mass. How could both sources (the KJV and the Vulgate) get it wrong? There were times when Romans ran out of pine wood needed for crucifixions. They would not have wasted it on thieves. It is far more likely thieves would have been beheaded. I believe that the story of Jesus being crucified with common thieves was made up by the authors. It seems to me, Jesus was more likely to be crucified alone to make a clear example of what happens to people who claim to be a king. The king of the Jews was Herod Antipas, who was appointed king by the Roman government.

On page 100 Aslan writes, “It is the high priest Caiaphas who will become the main instigator of the plot to execute Jesus precisely because he was a threat to the [priests’] authority.” Aslan sounds like the anti-Semitic Mel Gibson. Aslan should have read Nostra Aetate, the Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions, issued by the Second Vatican Council and approved in October 1965 under the aegis of Pope Paul VI. It states that even though some Jewish authorities and those who followed them may have called for Jesus’ death, the blame for this cannot be against those Jews present at that time, nor can the Jews in our time be held as guilty, thus repudiating an indiscriminate charge of Jewish deicide. There are various hypotheses as to why Jesus was crucified. I like the one which blames Antipas. He had the motive (he, not Jesus, was the real King of the Jews) and the opportunity (his relationship with Pontius Pilate made having Jesus crucified no more than a simple text message to Pilate, or whatever they used to communicate back then).

On page 138, Aslan asserts that the Jewish religion is 5,000 years old. The oldest known non-biblical reference to the early Israelites is the Merneptah Stele. It is the first documented instance of the name Israel in the historical record and its only mention in Ancient Egypt. If the Jewish faith began with the expulsion of the Hyksos out of Egypt in the 16th century BCE, then Hebrewism is no more than 3,500 years old. Five thousand years ago would put the origin of Jewish faith to one thousand years before the time of Abraham, the time of Noah and the Ark. The Hebrew Bible is not considered to be a valid source for events back that far back in history. Actually, there is no evidence that Noah and Abraham ever even existed. Aslan reminds me of the moon-walking astronaut James Irwin, who spent the last 20 years of his life searching for Noah’s Ark. What a waste of time and energy.

On page 262, Aslan says, “Moses saw the burning bush on Mount Sinai when in fact it appeared to him on Mount Horeb, which, despite some arguments to the contrary, was not the same place as Sinai (Exodus 3:1).” The Hebrew Bible is not a valid source and scholars debate whether Sinai and Horeb are the same place. Some say yes, others no. The Jewish Encyclopedia says, “The Rabbis consider ‘Sinai’ and ‘Horeb’ to be two names of the same mountain, which had besides three other names.” Aslan should separate fact from opinion.

On page 172, Aslan writes, “it was, the Gospels say, the sixth hour of the day–three o’clock in the afternoon–on the day before the Sabbath when Jesus of Nazareth breathing his last… At the ninth hour, Jesus suddenly cried out, ‘my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” How could Jesus cry out at the ninth hour if he breathed his last at the sixth hour? According to Scripture, Jesus came back to life on the third day, not three hours after he breathed his last.

On page 177, Aslan writes, “Jesus’s is body was stolen? How so, when Matthew has conveniently placed armed guards at his tomb–guards who saw for themselves the risen Jesus but who were bribed by the priests to say the disciples had stolen the body from under their noses?” Here we go again, Aslan blaming the Jews. He is arguing that Jewish priests bribed Roman guards to contradict the “Jesus has ridden” story which was making the rounds.

Finally on page 60, Aslan describes the mass suicide at the fortress Masada by the Sicarii (Jewish zealots) in 74 CE. He writes, “This speech [by the Sicarii leader Eleazar] had its desired effect. As the Romans prepared for their final assault on Masada, the rebels drew lots among them to decide the order in which they would proceed with their gruesome plan. They then pulled out their daggers…and began to kill their wives and their children, before turning the knives upon each other. The last 10 men chose one among them to kill the remaining nine. The final man set the entire palace ablaze. Then he killed himself.” This story was likely embellished by Flavius Josephus, the noted first century Jewish historian. It is not accepted as historic. In The Credibility of Josephus, Shaye Cohen, the Jewish historian currently teaching at Harvard University, writes “We do not know what happened on the summit of Masada on the fifteenth of Xanthicus in 74 CE. The archaeological discoveries of Professor Yadin show that Masada was besieged by the Romans in the fashion described by Josephus, but they do not tell us how the defenders of Masada were killed. For this and for all the other details of Masada’s history, we are dependent upon Josephus alone…We know that Josephus’ account is false. Silva did not order a premature withdrawal, Eleazar did not have an opportunity for two magnificent orations, the Jews did not have a long evening for the leisurely slaughter of their wives and children, the deliberate collection of all their possessions in one pile and the methodical murder of all the remaining men. This scenario is implausible, contradicted by the archaeological discoveries, and motivated in part by Josephus’ polemical and literary concerns.”

Conclusion: Aslan wrote an interesting book and it provides a brief summary of the life of the historical Jesus, as best as historians can tell. But it is not ready for prime time or the classroom. A reader really interested in the life of the historical Jesus would do far better reading any one of the numerous volumes written by Bart Ehrman (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), Elaine Pagels (Princeton University) or Paula Fredriksen (Boston University). These academics are true experts in the historical Jesus and the New Testament. Ehrman has read all of the gospels in their original language, Koine Greek. He would know best whether the story of Jesus being crucified with common thieves is a misperception and why. Ehrman teaches that the Bible isn’t consistent. He discovered the inconsistencies grew exponentially as he traced translations through the centuries. There are some 5,700 known ancient Greek manuscripts which are the basis of modern versions of the New Testament. Scholars have uncovered 400,000 textual variants (differences) in those texts. “Put it this way: There are more variances among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament,” Ehrman lectures his students. How could Aslan write a book about Jesus and Greek translations of the manuscripts without consulting Ehrman. There is not one reference to Ehrman, Pagels or Fredriksen in the text or in the footnotes of Aslan’s book. Perhaps his book would have been more historically accurate if he had reviewed their vast body of work and knowledge.

The most important question about the historical Jesus is, “Why was Jesus the only messiah to become a source of a religion?” For believers the answer is quite simple. Jesus is god and/or the son of god. For nonbelievers, the answer is not simple. Aslan describes a variety of messiahs both before and after Jesus. But none, save for Jesus, either was the basis for a major religion or even remembered after his death. Were it not for biblical historians, we would never know about the other messiahs.

On page 215, Aslan writes, “Paul’s conception of Christianity may have been anathema before 70 C.E. But afterward, his notion of a wholly new religion free from the authority of the Temple that no longer existed, unburdened by a law that no longer mattered, and divorced from a Judaism that had become a pariah was enthusiastically embraced by converts throughout the Roman Empire… Christianity after the destruction of Jerusalem was almost exclusively a gentile religion; it needed a gentile theology. And that is precisely what Paul provided. The choice between James’s [James the Just, brother or half-brother of Jesus] vision of the Jewish religion anchored in the Law of Moses and derived from a Jewish nationalist who fought against Rome, and Paul’s vision of a Roman religion that divorced itself from Jewish provincialism and required nothing for salvation save belief in Christ, was not a difficult one for the second and third generation of Jesus’s followers to make.”

Aslan argues that Roman gentiles comprised the majority of Christians in the immediate generations after Jesus. Somehow Aslan suggests that the Romans abandoned their pantheon of Roman gods and replaced them with a singular human being who was the son of god, god almighty, or both. I find this implausible. If the Romans needed a man-god, there was Julius Caesar, who was decreed god by the Roman Senate in 42 BCE. In 27 BCE, Octavian, aka Caesar Augustus, the adoptive son of Caesar, assumed the title of Divi Filius (son of a god). Why did Romans believe Jesus was god or the son of god instead of Julius Caesar or Caesar Augustus? According to Marvin Meyer, deceased professor of religious studies at Chapman University, the Gnostics believed Jesus taught that we can all become sons (or daughters) of god. Certainly the Jews would have never accepted Jesus as god since the Jewish tradition has no belief in a human being who is also god. That would be considered both blasphemous as well as polytheistic. There are no major religions today, except Christianity, which believe that a human being, now or in the past, is god or the son of god. I think Aslan would have served his readers far better had he spent his entire book researching this all-important question. Sadly, after reading this book, I know little more about the historical Jesus Christ than before.

G.R. Pafumi
Author, Is Our Vision of God Obsolete?

Categories: Religion | Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress.com.