'Zealot' Author Reza Aslan, Biblical Scholar Peter Lillback Engage in Heated Debate Regarding Jesus Christ

( [email protected] ) Dec 23, 2014 11:21 AM EST
'Zealot' Author Reza Aslan
Reza Aslan converted to Islam from Christianity and is the author of the controversial book ''Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.'' Photo: Malin Fezehai

Reza Aslan, author of the controversial book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth and theological scholar Peter Lillback recently engaged in a heated debate regarding the life and nature of Jesus Christ.

In the discussion, which aired on HuffPost live, Aslan argued that a strong tension exists between the historical and theological narratives of Jesus, as "many Christians would say Jesus fulfilled" the prophecies written before his birth, while "many historians would say Jesus' life was crafted so that it would fulfill these prophecies."

"There are many prophecies of the coming messiah that Jesus does not fulfill," Aslan, who converted to Islam from Christianity, said. "It's kind of a hodge-podge of different prophetic statements about what the Messiah's supposed to do, where the Messiah's supposed to be born, etc."

Aslan added that many aspects of Christianity are clouded by theology and are not, in fact, "historically valid," including Jesus Christ's birth in Bethlehem, His death, and His resurrection.

"It's a causality thing...a matter of your perspective," he said, "You've got to remove the theology from the Scriptures [to get to the true history]."

In response, Lillback, who is a bestselling author and the President of Westminster Theological Seminary, argued that there are innumerable indisputable historical facts gleaned from the Hebrew scriptures regarding the life and person of Christ.

"[The problem with Aslan's argument is that] there's no authenticity to the teaching of Christ historically," he said.

"When we continue to separate history and theology and say they cannot be together, that means that we who are living two millenia after Christ know more about that historical milieu than the people who actually lived there and saw the story," Lillback continued.

"We have to take the position that [the disciples] were liars, not speaking clearly about their view...that doesn't fit. They saw their leader crucified, their movement persecuted, they saw it being hounded, they were thrust out of  the synagogue and temple--but they believed it because they held onto something they believed actually had happened in space and time..the resurrection of Christ...which He had, in fact, promised."

Aslan's claims that the Bible presents many contradictions and historical errors regarding the life of Christ, all of which he documented in his controversial book  "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth," have been heavily criticized by many Biblical scholars.

Last year, John S. Dickerson, a pastor at Cornerstone Church in Arizona and the author of "The Great Evangelical Recession: 6 Factors that Will Crash the American Church...and How to Prepare," penned an op-ed in argued that Aslan's assertions are blatantly influenced by his Muslim beliefs and are far from historically accurate.

"His book is not a historian's report on Jesus. It is an educated Muslim's opinion about Jesus - yet the book is being peddled as objective history on national TV and radio," Dickerson wrote. "Aslan is not a trained historian. Like tens of thousands of us he has been formally educated in theology and New Testament Greek."

Dr. Denny Burk, an associate professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, also suggested that Aslan's assertions are not only heretical, but "bad history" as well.

"[Aslan is] selling a historically reconstructed Jesus, not the Jesus that appears on the pages of Scripture," he writes.

"And that's the bottom line here. The author doesn't take the testimony of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as reliable eyewitness testimony," Burk added. "It is bad history to argue that Jesus' crucifixion means that he must have been an insurrectionist - especially given what we know about the brutality of the Romans and in particular of Pontius Pilate."