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?

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God Is Dead! Don’t Blame Nietzsche: It Was Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking Who Killed Him


Analyzing Religious Beliefs from a Historical and Scientific Perspective

G.R. Pafumi separates ill-founded beliefs from pragmatic knowledge in his new book

Spring Valley, NY– March 31, 2013 – According to author G.R. Pafumi, this book was originally intended to be an update of his first book, Is Our Vision of God Obsolete? Often What We Believe Is Not What We Observe. However the modifications were so extensive that he realized this was a new book which required a new title. Since his first book was written, science has come to believe that the universe had no beginning (it always existed and was not created) and he philosophically moved from being an agnostic to a full-blown atheist. Why believe in a creator who does not create, asks Pafumi? In a universe with no beginning, the concept of god the creator no longer has any meaning or relevance.

The book’s cover reflects the hypothesis behind this book’s new title. The image portrays the crucifixion of Jesus which ended with his death. Jesus is god, according to Christian theology, and Jesus is dead in the portrait; hence god is dead. “God is dead” is a quote made by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche from his classic work Thus Spoke Zarathustra. “God is dead” never meant that Nietzsche believed in an actual god who first existed and then died in a literal sense. It was Nietzsche’s way of saying that the increasing secularization of European society had effectively “killed” the Abrahamic god, who had served as the basis for meaning and value in the West for more than a thousand years. Christian values and dogma could no longer be the source of our moral compass. But it was not Nietzsche who killed god. It was the science of Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking.

However the origin of the universe stood in the way of his eventual atheistic beliefs. Newton second law of motion deals with cause and effect. Most college science students learn about the Big Bang theory and that the universe began from a single point in space and time. But what happened before the Big Bang? Steven Hawking has argued that asking about what happened before the Big Bang is like asking what is north of the North Pole. Pafumi is not satisfied with this notion. How could a universe be created from nothing? And if the answer is god or “The Creator,” who or what created the creator? Who or what created the creator who created the universe? This presents an endless circle of questions for which there are no answers. Thus for a while Pafumi was an agnostic in that he could not reconcile in his mind what happened before the Big Bang or who or what was responsible for it.

The question remained, if the universe was not created, how did it come into existence? Lawrence Krauss provided some possible answers to this inquiry in his book, A Universe From Nothing, Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing. Everything we see could have emerged as a purposeless quantum burp in space or perhaps a quantum burp of space itself. As Krauss explained, there really is no such thing as nothing. Even if all of the atoms are pumped out of a space and a perfect vacuum is created, the space is not really empty. There is still the energy which resides in the empty space. In empty space, the resident energy creates particles out of pure energy. In our universe, empty space creates particles and antiparticle partners continuously. They exist for a moment but as soon as they make contact, they annihilate themselves and convert the matter they contain back into pure energy. No matter or energy is created or destroyed. Energy is simply converted to matter and then matter is converted back to energy. This same concept can be applied to singularities, the particles which reside inside of black holes. A black hole can erupt into a universe when sufficient energy is provided to it by the fabric of the cosmos, in the same way that particle-antiparticle pairs are created continuously in the universe. Thus universes are created out of nothing all of the time, if one defines the fabric of the cosmos, which is a true vacuum, as nothing in that it has no matter. It is simply pure energy. God is not necessary to explain the origin of universe, and by extension, the origin of man.

If you wish to know why over half of the world’s population believes in the god of Abraham, not to mention the gods worshipped in African and Eastern religions, read Pafumi’s latest book.

For more information on God Is Dead! Don’t Blame Nietzsche: It Was Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking Who Killed Him, please visit

About the Author

G.R. Pafumi was a financial engineer and consultant specializing in investment and financial accounting analysis. He developed risk analysis products for hedge funds and was chief investment strategist and co-portfolio manager of a São Paulo based hedge fund. Mr. Pafumi has 40 years experience as a security analyst and portfolio manager in domestic equities, international equities, and derivatives (listed equity and index options). He was previously associated with Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and HSBC Bank.  Mr. Pafumi received his B.S. degree in Finance and Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. He also has an M.S. in Quantitative Analysis as well as an M.B.A. in Finance from the Stern School of Business at New York University. He has been cited in a variety of financial newspapers and investor magazines and has appeared on the CNBC, CNN, NBC and PBS television networks. His first book, Is Our Vision of God Obsolete? Often What We Believe Is Not What We Observe, compared the universe and our place in it, as articulated in the Bible, with the evidence available from contemporary science and discovery. His second book, The Origin and Rise, Decline and Fall of the God Known as Yahweh: Why the God of Abraham Is Incongruous in the 21st Century, traced the history of the Jewish people back 4,000 years to Egypt, based on recent archaeological discoveries. Both books present powerful evidence that god is a product of the human imagination and a relic from centuries past, when man was imprisoned by his ignorance of the universe which surrounds us.


God is Dead! Don’t Blame Nietzsche

It Was Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking Who Killed Him

Publication Date: March 24, 2013

Trade Paperback; $24.99; Kindle Edition; $9.99; 434 pages; ISBN-13: 978-1482303483


For more information, contact VisionOfGod Public Relations at (845) 538-1892 or on the web at




For a limited time Createspace, the publisher, is offering a new-publication discount. At checkout, please enter the Discount Code DPCMMJ7K. This will discount the purchase price by $10.00 to $14.99. The book is also offered at $9.99 in PDF format for readers who do not own a Kindle or other e-Reader. Please go to Image

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Dr. Oz: Shaman and Charlatan

Following is an email I sent to the Dr. Oz Show on November 17, 2011. As expected, I got no response.

Please thank Mehmet Oz for today’s show featuring Joel OSteen. I had written an essay, partially included in my forthcoming book, entitled, “Dr. Oz the Evangelist: Surgeon or Shaman?” I can now update my essay and change the title to, “Dr. Oz: Shaman and Charlatan.” A few weeks ago Oz did a show suggesting that there was scientific evidence for life after death. There is NO scientific evidence. All evidence for life after death in anecdotal and anecdotal evidence is NOT science. OZ is a professor of medicine. He should know better.

Now he has Osteen identifying prayer with miracles. There is plenty of evidence that miracles occur. The Catholic Church identifies dozens of people every year who have been the recipients of miracles. The issue is, is there a scientific explanation? And there is: the placebo mechanism, among others. All of the miracles documented by the Church have to do with remission from cancer. There are no cases of spontaneous remission from muscular dystrophy or Parkinson’s disease. Does god only care about people who are afflicted with cancer? Osteen’s mother was “cured” from liver cancer.

This phenomenon has been known for a century. It is called spontaneous remission from cancer and one study shows spontaneous remission in about one out of 100,000 patients. In a carefully designed 2008 study on mammography, it was found that 22% of all breast cancer cases underwent spontaneous remission. A majority of spontaneous regressions from cancer occurred after a feverish infection, according to two other studies. Triggering the placebo mechanism is another explanation of how the body heals itself. If nothing else, these scientific explanations should have been offered to your audience. It was not.

Joel Osteen sells Jesus to ignorant people, one dollar at a time. It seems Oz does something similar and it would appear that the audience of the Dr. Oz Show is quite unsophisticated. Doesn’t Oz feel any social responsibility to educate the undereducated public with science instead of science fiction? Medicine is making great strides and Oz comes up with non-scientific explanations for miracles and suggests there is tangible evidence for life after death. Neither is the case.This leads to one, and only one, conclusion. Mehmet Oz is a shaman and charlatan. If he is going to talk about faith, he ought to become an imam and not refer to himself as a doctor, a man of medical science, on his show.

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Dr. Oz the Evangelist: Surgeon or Shaman?

In my book, The Origin and Rise, Decline and Fall of the God Known as Yahweh; Why the God of Abraham is Incongruous in the 21st Century, I wrote: “And Billy is not alone in believing in nonsense. In a July 2009 newsletter from the Billy Graham Evangelical Association his son, William Franklin Graham III, said, ‘First of all, the Bible says we’re going to worship God and reign with him. He’s also got specific jobs for us to do. So, we’re not going to be just sitting up there playing a harp. But we’re not going to get tired. We’re not going to have sore feet. We’re not going to be sick. Listen, God’s got a plan, and our minds can’t even begin to conceive all that he has for us.’” This makes me wonder, is Billy Jr. a con man or a schizophrenic? Does god talk to Billy Jr. or does Billy Jr. hear voices in his head? Inquiring minds want to know, Billy!

And I am really appalled that Mehmet Oz also promotes nonsense on The Dr. Oz Show. In a September 2011 episode, Oz discussed life after death. On his website he put up a video of the episode under the banner, “The Science of Near Death.” There is no science of near-death experiences, scientifically speaking, when it comes to out-of-body experiences or visits to “the other side,” as the psychic medium John Edward likes to put it. All of the evidence for life after death is anecdotal. Anecdotes are not science. That is why Carl Sagan did not believe we have been visited by aliens or UFOs. There is not one peer-reviewed medical study which supports Oz’s view about life after death. If there was, he would have undoubtedly told us about it. Oz says he believes in the hereafter. Good for him. But there is not a shred of evidence that anyone has died and come back from the dead. Perhaps Oz should become a Christian and accept the resurrection of Jesus Christ, just like Bill Graham, senior and junior. (Oz is a Muslim.) He is a cardiothoracic surgeon. In English this means that Oz’s job is to cut out people’s hearts. He is also a professor of surgery at Columbia University. Oz is a scientist and his views about life after death are totally unscientific. I would not want a surgeon cutting up my heart (in heart bypass surgery) who might regard that any patient lost on the operating table is better off because he is now in heaven. As a scientist, Oz should know the difference between matters of science versus matters of faith. And when it comes to heaven, I accept the opinion of the world’s most famous scientist, Stephen Hawking. “Heaven is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” Mehmet, are you afraid of the dark? It seems so. The real question is,”is the wizard of Mehmet Oz a surgeon or a shaman?

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Does Abstract Science Make a Difference in Our Daily lives? Who Cares? Darwinism in Real Time

Leonard Susskind, professor of theoretical physics at Stanford University, posed the question, “Who cares?” in his book The Black Hole War: My Battle With Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics. He said, “No one is ever going to use Hawking radiation to cure cancer or to make a better steam engine.” (Hawking radiation is thermal energy theoretically emitted by black holes.) “Black holes will never be useful for storing information or swallowing enemy missiles…[these are] two subjects that…may never have any practical applications.…Why, then, does anyone waste his or her time on [them]?”

Who cares? Answer: we all care. Or we all should care. Many questions put forward by science have no practical daily applications. But, there are exceptions, important exceptions. When Einstein posed his theory of special relativity and then general relativity, no one but physicists had any interest. As it turns out, special relativity teaches us that velocity affects the ticking of clocks. General relativity teaches us that gravity affects the ticking of clocks. Were it not for Einstein, the Global Positioning System (GPS) would not work and no one would know why. GPS satellites are moving at high velocities and are far from the earth’s gravitational field. Without adjusting for special and general relativity, GPS systems would miscalculate the location of GPS navigation devices on the ground by six miles a day. And the effect is cumulative.

A February 2011 story in the Journal News of the Lower Hudson Valley reported “the discovery of a PCB-resistant fish in the Hudson River–one of the fastest species adaptations on record….Under normal natural selection, a fish like this would mutate in tens of thousands of years. In this case, it took about 50 years….One tiny change in a gene caused all this evolutionary change,” according to Isaac Wirgin of the New York University Medical Center. This is Darwinistic evolution in real time.

According to Michal Heller, a Catholic priest, physicist and adjunct member of the Vatican Observatory staff, “Our image of God strongly depends on our image of the world, and our image of the world continuously changes under the influence of science and scientific discoveries.” It is appalling that only 28% of biology teachers present evidence for evolution as recommended by the National Research Council, while 13% explicitly advocate creationism or intelligent design, according to a 2010 survey conducted by Penn State professors Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer. Randy Moore, professor of biology at the University of Minnesota, was unsurprised by the study’s conclusions. “At least 25% of high school teachers in Minnesota explicitly teach creationism.”

What this country needs is another John Kennedy. President Kennedy had a dream of putting a man on the moon and safely returning him to earth before the end of the decade. According to a 2010 report from Thomson Reuters, China’s overall patent filings grew by 26% a year between 2003 and 2009. Growth was much slower elsewhere: 6% in America, 5% in South Korea, 4% in Europe and 1% in Japan. Thomson Reuters projected China will become the world’s largest publisher of patents this year. America was fascinated with space and science in the 1960s. It’s not anymore. Will America become the next Great Britain, a former world superpower?

In March of 2011, the New York Times reported that “The City University of New York has long spent much of its energy and resources just teaching new students what they need to begin taking college-level courses….At [its] LaGuardia Community College, where 40% of the math classes are remedial…professors are becoming de facto high school teachers.” This is appalling! In September 2010, CBS News reported that our children ranked 25th in math out of 30 comparable countries.

Congressmen Pete Stark (CA) and Edward Markey (MA) proposed House Resolution 81 naming February 12, 2011 as Darwin Day. It failed. It seems even the Congress does not appreciate the important of science, or the language of science (mathematics), any more than the general public. The largest particle accelerator (atom smasher) in the world spans the border between Switzerland and France. We killed our Super Collider accelerator project in 1993. The monies we spent in Iraq and Afghanistan could have funded the Super Collider as well as many other science projects. How long will it be before we lose our dominance in science? We could start by getting creation and intelligent design out of our high school science classrooms. Let’s stop teaching science fiction in science class. We need to keep God in the pews and science in the laboratory. The long-term survival and security of America and its citizens lies in scientific discovery and technical achievement.

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