Monday, September 30, 2013

One Myth About The Washington Post

... and that myth would be that they have any commitment to decent religion reporting.

The first of all questions asked of anyone about Jesus, by Jesus, is of course "who do you say that I am?" So when we get a column in the Washington Post claiming to explain Five myths about Jesus, when one reads the byline and finds that the author is Reza Aslan of Zealot fame, one can already presume to guess that the "myth" in question is that any part of the gospels can be taken seriously, and that one can expect a rationalization typical of Bultmann's followers.

And that, indeed, is exactly what we get. It's not necessary to go through all five claims, as most of the faults of the argument are manifested in the first claim: that Jesus was not born in Bethlehem. Well, one can go through all sorts of attacks upon the gospel narrative, but when all is said and done, it comes down to a 21st century apostate (not to mince words about it) arguing about whether the narrative is reasonable, not whether or not it is true. History, however, is frequently unreasonable: what is reasonable about the king of Greece dying of an infected bite from a monkey and then being succeeded by his own father, who was in turn succeeded by his eldest son? It is a preposterous tale, and of course everyone knows that the second son isn't king first, but nonetheless this is the true tale of the Greek monarchy, whose improbable course was not ended until the 1970s.

There comes a point when arguing that the narrative is unreasonable reduces to nothing more than a preference for a different narrative. The possibility that Luke didn't have all his details quite right doesn't prove that Jesus wasn't born in Bethlehem. There's no positive evidence that Pilate didn't do more or less what the gospels maintain, and it should be pointed out that the gospels are basically in agreement through this passage: it's the most strongly conserved part of the narrative. There's no proof that Jesus wasn't properly buried, just that this is the currently fashionable idea.

And then we get to the sixth, missing myth, because Aslan apparently didn't have the nerve to step up to the myth of the resurrection. Or perhaps the Post editors didn't have the nerve to allow it to remain in the article, but in any case that's the only one that really matters. Since Jesus is risen, there's not a lot of point in quibbling over how much the Church got the rest of the story right. If one wants to argue over whether Jesus had siblings, well, that's a doctrinal point which doesn't affect the core; if one wants to quibble about the number of disciples, I think that's fixing a problem which isn't a real problem. But as far as trusting the gospel story: well, if you're a Christian, why not believe it? And why should you worry about what some apostate modernist feels is improbable?

And beyond this, I don't buy the implication from the Post that Aslan is someone worth heeding. I've long ago rejected the modernist program of scriptural criticism, but even then I don't see a source for his implied authority as a teacher. As I see it, he's just another rationalist repeating the same old tired arguments. If you're a believer, the first thing you should do before reading anything like this in the paper or in a general news magazine is to find the next article and skip to it. Very occasionally such article prove to be educational, but the odds are against it.

UPDATE: Rick Allen has pointed out this review of Aslan's book from the Jewish Review of Books. It's an intelligent examination of the books many problems which more or less cements my resolve not to subject myself to his arguments, from a perspective which could hardly be called apologetic.


rick allen said...

You might be interested in the following, from the Jewish Review of Books:

Unlike so many "reviews," it actually takes a critical look at claims made.

C. Wingate said...

Thank you very much for the pointer.