Category: Cultural Commentary Written by Jim Denison
His first "myth" is that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Aslan claims that Luke invented this tradition to fulfill Micah 5:2's prediction. In his view, Luke used the Roman census conducted in AD 6 while "Quirinius was governor of Syria" (Luke 2:2). We know that Jesus was born before Herod the Great died in 4 B.C., so the census of AD 6 would have been conducted as many as 10 years after Jesus' birth. Aslan also argues that this census did not extend to Galilee, where Jesus' parents lived, and would not have required them to return to Joseph's home town of Bethlehem.
However, in 5 B.C., Romans began listing their citizens and property through the Empire; this was likely the year of Jesus' birth. Historians note that a Roman census forcing Joseph's return to Bethlehem is extremely plausible, as we know of such a census conducted in Egypt during this time. While Quirinius was not "governor" before AD 6, Luke's word translated "governor" (hegemon) refers to an imperial commissioner, which describes his service to the emperor prior to AD 6. Luke's account is supported by significant historical evidence which Aslan omits.
His second "myth" is that Jesus was an only child. This is not a "myth" at all. While Catholic tradition maintains the doctrine of Mary's perpetual virginity, most Protestants believe that Joseph and Mary had children after Jesus' birth (see Matthew 13:55). And the Catholic belief that "brothers" can be translated "cousins" is far more credible linguistically than Aslan admits.
In response to the third "myth," Jesus had 12 disciples, Aslan points out that large groups followed him during his ministry. Of course, anyone who reads the Gospels will know this.
His critique of the fourth "myth," Jesus had a trial before Pontius Pilate, claims that the Roman governor would not have given an audience to a "Jewish rabble-rouser" unless "the magnitude of His crime warranted special attention." Of course, this was precisely the case. The Jewish authorities accused a very popular teacher and miracle-worker of claiming to be "king of the Jews," a direct threat to Roman rule and power. This was precisely the kind of danger Pilate was responsible for preventing.
His argument against the last "myth," Jesus was buried in a tomb, asserts that this biblical claim would require "an extremely unusual, perhaps unprecedented, act of benevolence on the part of the Romans." Actually, it makes perfect sense that Pilate would allow Joseph of Arimathea, one of the leading authorities and citizens of Jerusalem, to remove Jesus' body from public sight before his followers rallied around his martyred corpse.
Baylor University professor Alan Jacobs points out that "Reza Aslan is not a New Testament scholar" and writes as "an educated amateur"—in fact, his doctorate is in sociology, not biblical studies. But his attacks on the trustworthiness of the Gospels serve the Kingdom in this way: once again, a critic is proven wrong on the merits.
Abraham Lincoln claimed that "the Bible is the best gift God has ever given to man." J. I. Packer called the Scriptures "God preaching." Have you listened to his voice yet today?
NOTE: as a follow-up to Aslan's critiques, I'd like to do a series on intellectual attacks against Christianity. What topics would be most helpful to you? Please share them in the comments section; we'll address them in the future.