The Gospels are Reliable – A Refutation of a Recent Errors About Jesus Published in the Washington Post

092913The Washington Post recently published and article by Reza Aslan entitled Five Myths about Jesus.

At one level the article is the “usual fare” from those who wish to discredit the Biblical text and make a little money in the process. Indeed our deconstructionist times love to heap scorn on our Sacred text. Almost no other ancient text receives the scrutiny and cynicism that our Scriptures, especially the New Testament does. I’ll take it as a compliment. Jesus is “public enemy number 1” to the West. Neither Buddhist, Hindu, nor even (strangely) Muslim texts receive such scorn or scrutiny. But Jesus has to go, and one way to accomplish this is to seek to discredit our Sacred Text and subject it to a scrutiny that is extreme, unreasonable, and a standard to which almost no other ancient text is subject. But again, take it as a compliment.

As for Mr Aslan’s article, while there are many specific flaws in his article, the one overarching flaw is a flaw that is common to most 20th and 21st century historical scholars. And the flaw is the hubris that we, some 20 to 21 centuries removed from the events described, somehow know better than the ancients what really happened in biblical times. Never mind that!  Yet, Luke, for example, claims to have interviewed eyewitnesses and claims to carefully mapped out the historical events surrounding Jesus:

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4)

Never mind all that, our intrepid author, Mr. Aslan, 21 centuries later somehow knows better than Luke who lived then and walked with the eyewitnesses. He also knows better than Matthew and John, James, Peter, and Jude who all walked with the Lord. He dismisses what they have all written as “shrouded in legend and myth” and couches what he says as reputable “biblical scholarship.”

In effect we are left to choose between someone who lived in the time coterminous with the events described, versus someone who lived more than 2000 years later. I for one, choose those who actually knew Jesus, and witnessed what he did. I further choose others like Luke and Mark who knew and interviewed the eyewitnesses and who wrote in the lifetime of those witnesses, such that had they lied or erred, correction and rejection would have been forthcoming. Yes, I choose the accounts of the actual witnesses whose accounts have been subject to 2000 years of scrutiny and have withstood those fierce winds.

Yet there are those who proudly suggest they now know better, that modernity has been able to somehow assemble a greater command of the fact. This is hubris.

This hubris was common among the so-called “Jesus Seminar,” a gathering of questionable scholars somehow claiming to know what Jesus actually said and did not say. A remarkable pride actually, but a pride not uncommon for us moderns who tend to look askance at ancient times as infantile and far less sophisticated than our own glorious times.

Articles like Mr. Aslan’s, say a lot more about us, than the events they claim to demythologize, or the ancients they disrespectfully dismiss as either mistaken or liars.

As to the particular charges that Mr. Aslan raises, we can answer them rather quickly:

1. He first says, – It is a myth that Jesus was born in Bethlehem: The first Christians seem to have had little interest in Jesus’s early years. Stories about His birth and childhood are conspicuously absent in the earliest written documents…..but prophecies require[d] the messiah, as a descendant of King David, to be born in David’s city: Bethlehem. But Jesus was so identified with Nazareth, Not being born in Bethlehem….Simply put, Luke places Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem not because it took place there but because that story fulfills the words of the prophet Micah: “But you Bethlehem . . . from you shall come for me a ruler in Israel.

In the world of normal people, the fulfillment of a prophecy is evidence for the veracity of something. But in the twisted world of many Bible “scholars” the fulfillment of prophecy is contraindicative and produces suspicion. Mr. Aslan goes on to cite very questionable and murky histories about the first Century census that dislocated Mary and Joseph. Really what he does is to cite a lack of evidence for such a census. (But of course Luke IS evidence). And Aslan’s argument from silence really proves little or nothing except silence. Census taking was a common thing at the time and there is no reason to doubt Luke’s attesting to it.

He also uses a tired old tactic of saying that if something was not said in the earliest documents, it therefore isn’t true. But this does not follow. I may meet you and tell you nothing of the circumstances of my birth for months or years into our friendship. But it does not follow that I was not in fact born in St. Francis Hospital, Evanston Ill in 1961. Everything is not disclosed at once, it cannot be.

Once again we are simply told to trust our author over the actual source documents in which eyewitnesses were interviewed, eyewitnesses describe the events of Jesus birth. The Gospel states quite plainly that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Why doubt this? At the end of the day, I would rather trust someone who lived at the actual time of the events than someone 21 centuries removed. Jesus was born in Bethlehem no reason to doubt it.

2. He says Jesus had brothers, Despite the Catholic doctrine of His mother Mary’s perpetual virginity, we can be certain that the historical Jesus came from a large family with at least four brothers who are named in the Gospels….Even the 1st-century Jewish historian Josephus refers to Jesus’s brother James….Some Catholic theologians have argued that the Greek word the Gospels use to describe Jesus’s brothers — “adelphos” — could also mean “cousins” or “step-brothers,” and that these could be Joseph’s children from a previous marriage. While that may be true, nowhere in the New Testament is “adelphos” used to mean anything other than “brother.” So there is no rational argument for viewing Jesus as an only child.

Note that he says “it may be true” that adelphos can mean cousin. But then he simply rejects it with a circular logic that the New Testament never uses the term this way. But how can he know this without the full genealogy of each adelphos of Jesus? Again we are simply asked to believe something because he and scholars he agrees with say so.

And, while this issue has been much debated among Christians for some 500 years, it was not widely debated prior to that. Early Christians, less remote from the events of the New Testament, had no trouble accepting that Mary had no other children or that adelphos could mean cousin.

Further, if Jesus was a member of a large family as Mr. Aslan asserts, we have some puzzling things that take place in the Gospels. For example, Jesus seems to find it necessary to entrust his mother to the care of John, a non-blood brother. Strange thing if they were other brothers on the scene. Further, Mary’s question to the angel “How shall this be since I know not man?” while mysterious, does seem to imply that Mary did not anticipate having children at all let alone Jesus. However one wants to interpret her question, it does remain a puzzling inclusion in the text if, in fact, she had many children.

But the bottom line is, the Church received from antiquity the teaching that Mary remained a virgin before during and after the birth of Christ. Why should you or I believe our intrepid author, 21 centuries later, simply because he overrules with those in the scene, and what subsequent early centuries attested to?

3. His third “myth” that Jesus did not rally have twelve disciples is trifling, and I won’t even spend time on it. You can click through to the article using the link above to read his point.

4. He denies that Jesus was tried before Pilate: In his 10 years as governor of Jerusalem, Pilate eagerly, and without trial, sent thousands to the cross, and the Jews lodged a complaint against him with the Roman emperor. Jews generally did not receive Roman trials, let alone Jews accused of rebellion. So the notion that Pilate would spend a moment of his time pondering the fate of yet another Jewish rabble-rouser, let alone grant him a personal audience, beggars the imagination.

So once again we are being asked to deny the evidence of four Gospels, several more references in the Acts and Epistles, and the evidence of most early Creeds. Why? Because Reza Aslan says so. Again I choose the massive evidence of the First Century documents over Mr. Aslan’s mere assertion that it seems unlikely.
Further his argument does not address the facts. Pilate attended with concern to the “Jesus matter” because he feared a riot. It was Passover and about a million Jews where in the and around the city. The concern for the riot got his attention. This does not “beggar the imagination” that Pilate might have sought to quell a riot and a “rabble” led by the High Priest himself.

5. Finally he denies that Jesus was buried in a tomb saying The primary purpose of crucifixion was to deter rebellion… the criminal was always left hanging long after he died; the crucified were almost never buried. Because the point of crucifixion was to humiliate the victim and frighten witnesses, the corpse would be left to be eaten by dogs and picked clean by birds of prey. The bones would then be thrown onto a trash heap….[not] in an extravagant rock-hewn tomb fit for the wealthiest men in Judea.

But Mr. Aslan omits two important facts. First it was Passover, and for this reason, the Romans deferred to requests that the bodies not be left out. Secondly, the burial in the tomb was favor to a wealthy and likely powerful man, Joseph of Arimathea.

Thus, however unlikely Mr. Aslan thinks the facts, they are reasonably explained to any reasonable listener.

We end where we began: the need for seculars and other non-Christians (I think Mr Aslan is Muslim) to debunk and try to disarm Christ and his Church. Why this need? Why do they seem to fear the untamed Jesus of Scripture? Were they as secular or as unconvinced as they say, they would not exhibit such need and passion to undermine him, they would just ignore us. But why the need to destroy, to undermine, why the passionate intensity? Does anyone passionately attack other religious traditions, to include Protestantism?

The answer seems clear enough to me, and I am complimented by it. Namely this, that Christ and His Church are public enemy # 1. Any read of history shows that we are not going away and that we have endured, even thrived in every upheaval. Civilizations and empires have come and gone in the age of the Church, nations have risen and fallen, heresies and silly theories have come and gone. And here we are, obnoxiously still standing foursquare against secularism, unbelief, Islamic Terrorism, and every error, every doctrine of demons. Strike us and we just get stronger, the blood of martyrs soaks into the ground and becomes seed.

The “Five Myths” column is a collection of either tired old theories, or simply claims that lack any basis other than Mr. Aslan pridefully says so. The Washington Post is just showing its true colors in publishing such stuff. But long after the Post is gone, (and it seems to be fading fast) the Church will still be here, perhaps suffering, perhaps thriving, but here, always here, by Christ’s promise. It isn’t human power, its God-power.

Attacks like these are ultimately a compliment and my mind drifts back to an old gloss: “Methinks thou dost protest too much.” ….Why is that?

And to my brethren in the ranks of the faithful: Keep Calm and Viva Christo Rey!

52 Replies to “The Gospels are Reliable – A Refutation of a Recent Errors About Jesus Published in the Washington Post”

  1. The piece that ran on Sunday is part of the opinion page – a submission by an outside person sharing his personal opinion. We can take issue with the piece, which was really bad and not at all sourced, but it’s not a news piece and it was not written by a Post employee. Cardinal Wuerl has had items published in the same section. I’m sure people who don’t like Catholicism or Christianity argue he shouldn’t have that platform, but that is what the opinion section is for: presenting different perspectives. Readers can write to the Post or in the comments section to critique an article or a decision to publish an article.

    Stepping back, it’s only fair to note that the Washington Post has mentioned Aslan a number of times, including a news article (Style) that questions his credentials and claims: Columnists also have weighed in.

    I hope people applaud the Post directly and online in forums like this when they run positive stories. Today’s Post includes a huge feature on Catholics visiting the Blessed John Paul II Shrine ( This follows another story that ran on Saturday. Just off the top of my head, I remember a great article about the new evangelization that ran earlier this year and a front page article on Pope Francis’ interview that was pretty straightforward.

    Again, this is great forum to correct the record on Aslan’s claims, and I have my own issues with content decisions in the media at times, but in this case, it’s not fair to imply his views are those of the Post or media or to use it as an example of media imbalance – especially since the day before, the Post ran a really positive news article about our new saints-to-be.

    1. Fair Enough, It is true that the Post does often run articles of a positive nature regarding the Church. Heck, they’ve even published an article by me! 😉 I probably have spoken too strongly in linking this to the Post directly. The beef is with Mr. Aslan and I spent too much time on the medium, rather than the message.

    1. Thanks for sharing this! I thought it was a pretty good interview, overall, but I’m amazed that O’Reilly admits that although he uses the gospels as historical evidence, he doesn’t believe everything written in them, including what Jesus said from the Cross. He makes the foolish assertion of what was and wasn’t possible to be said and heard. Foolish mistake. How misguided.

  2. Yes, Mr. O’Reilly is killing us softly with his song, killing us softly with his song, killing us softly, with his song. He went so far as to vainly admitt he is a sensationalist because sensationalism sales. I sense another egomaniac about to take the liberal fall. Foxes have dens and his is every henhouse he can sneak into from Fox television network. The man is obnoxious and pathetic. Oh, and did he mention he’s highly educated from a life time of attending Catholic schools and Notre Dame? Stick a fork in him, he’s done.

  3. I was just about to write the same thing as Steve! Mr O’R. Claims that Jesus could not have said “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” from the cross. He believes the physical effects of the crucifixion would not allow the breath needed for such a statement! Really?!

    1. I wonder if this doesn’t explain in part why St. Longinus made the statement he did. Only the Christ could have the strength to speak from the cross as Jesus did. Only the Son of God could make a loud cry as He expired on the cross.

  4. …nothing in the media is not controlled by the one group which controls every aspect of our society: Congress, media, Hollywood, pornography, education policy, immigration policy. The group despises Christians; many “Christians” are shills for the group; perhaps the writer of the article is – certainly appears he is. Nancy Pelosi attended the wedding of George Soros recently, yet maintains herself on some level believing that she is Catholic. Our problems have remained the same for 2,000 years but the situation is much more dire today; Christ speaks the truth in John 8:44.

  5. Thank you for this piece! You make some excellent points, including that most modern “historians” overlook the fact that Luke was a first-rate historian!

    I checked out this article. It’s pathetic, really. It’s in the OPINION section! Also, Mr. Aslan does not include any support (as in quotes from primary sources) for the ridiculous things he writes.

    It’s too bad we don’t teach our kids how to verify history (or news, for that matter). Today, people accept “history” from the likes of Bill O’Reilly and don’t realize that mostly what they’re getting is often historical fiction.

  6. Why is everyone ranting about O’Reilly’s book? It is not a theological statement. He is using historical sources to back up what we know about Jesus the man and his times. The book is not trying to disprove the Gospels, which we accept on faith! Reason and faith can go hand in hand.

    1. Actually, just to be clear, I am here writing about a Guy named Reza Aslan and an article he wrote in the Wash Post. I know nothing about O’reilly’s interview or a book he is writing. And I am not sure how this side-thread set up. It is fine, but “everyone” is not ranting about O’Reilly since I (who happen to fall into the category “everyone”) have no idea what this involves.

      1. Sorry Msgr. I didn’t mean you… I was referring to a number of comments about O’Reilly’s book, and I’d bet they haven’t even read the book yet! I agree with you 100% on Reza Aslan….. coming from a Muslim background, he seems to have a rather Arian view of Jesus and Christianity. He asserts Jesus existed but denies many aspects of his life and ministry. What makes him dangerous is that he presents himself as having theological credentials!

    2. I (among others) mentioned O’Reilly’s book, because unlike Mr. Aslan, who is virtually unknown and only offering his opinions, O’Reilly is practically a household name and is offering the public his own version of what could have or couldn’t have happened.

      Sure, we who have faith don’t need O’Reilly’s book or Aslan’s opinions to believe what we believe. However, there are millions of souls who are still searching and might be thrown off by these writings. Shouldn’t somebody speak up?

  7. He is a Mohammedan and trained to deny Jesus except in the twisted Gnostic version they accept. But, as you note, Father, these same old so called arguments are based upon the tired assumption that men today are smarter and in a better position to determine the truth than men who lived 2000 years ago, many of whom were witnesses or who knew witnesses to the events and people, including Jesus. But these attacks, while they need to be refuted, just really serve to strengthen the truth of the Gospels and the Church and tell us that we are in fact in the right place and that Jesus is who He says He is.

  8. Only those who had not experience JESUS CHRIST in the depths of their hearts and minds can say that HIS Words and Works are myths. You can write and say all you want against HIM and GOD but when you are touched by the HOUND of HEAVEN, you can hide nowhere, as the Psalmist sang:
    ‘Where shall I go from your spirit :
    or where shall I flee from your presence?
    If I ascend into heaven you are there :
    if I make my bed in the grave you are there also.
    If I spread out my wings towards the morning :
    or dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
    Even there your hand shall lead me :
    and your right hand shall hold me.
    If I say ‘Surely the darkness will cover me :
    and the night will enclose me’,
    The darkness is no darkness with you,
    but the night is as clear as the day :
    the darkness and the light are both alike.’
    I knew HIM not and fought in my life not to know HIM. Yet HE opened my eyes. By some mysterious intercession, I saw and now I believe. I pray for those who do not know HIM yet, let my little pains and sufferings be offered for their softening of heart that they, too who look may see, listen may hear, touch may feel, and know may understand. YHWH SHEKINAH.

  9. Well written, Monsignor. You get to the heart of the matter and lay Aslan’s case in shambles. Is he really this obtuse, or just another clashing cymbal?

  10. I love your blog, Msgr Pope.

    I find myself curiously wondering how C.S. Lewis would treat the authors “opinions” – mostly because his name is Aslan.

    1. C.S. Lewis on the “myth” of the Gospels from “Surprised By Joy”:

      “I was by now too experienced in literary criticism to regard the Gospels as myths. They had not the mythical taste. And yet the very matter which they set down in their artless, historical fashion—those narrow, unattractive Jews, too blind to the mythical wealth of the Pagan world around them—was precisely the matter of the great myths. If ever a myth had become fact, had been incarnated, it would be just like this. And nothing else in all literature was just like this. Myths were like it in one way. Histories were like it in another. But nothing was simply like it. And no person was like the Person it depicted; as real, as recognizable, through all that depth of time, as Plato’s Socrates or Boswell’s Johnson (ten times more so than Eckermann’s Goethe or Lockhart’s Scott), yet also numinous, lit by a light from beyond the world, a god. But if a god—we are no longer polytheists—then not a god, but God. Here and here only in all time the myth must have become fact; the Word, flesh; God, Man. This is not “a religion,” nor “a philosophy.” It is the summing up and actuality of them all.”

  11. Thank you Msgr. Pope for your post on Mr. Aslan’s “Five Myths about Jesus.” I am grateful you reminded me to take this as a compliment, lest I become more saddened over attacks on Christianity: in our own country and beyond – Egypt, Syria, Pakistan, Nigeria…

    Some points Mr. Aslan does not even consider:
    1. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Bethlehem means “House of Bread.” Christ is the Bread of Life. He was placed into a feeding trough…to become our food. Also, Mr. Aslan seems to leave Mary completely out of the picture. Although this is an argument from silence, Mary “treasured all these things and kept them in her heart.” (Lk 2:19) Wouldn’t the best source of Jesus’ birth facts come from His own mother?
    2. Jesus was an only child. Remember 2 Sam 6-7. “As they reached the threshing floor of Nodan, Uzzah stretched out his hand to the ark of God and steadied it, for the oxen were tipping it. Then the LORD became angry with Uzzah; God struck him on that spot, and he died there in God’s presence.” Good and Holy St. Joseph knew better than to touch/defile the ark of God: Mary his wife.
    3. Jesus had 12 disciples. I agree, this is silly.
    4. Jesus had a trial before Pontius Pilate. There are ancient documents outside of the Gospels, both Josephus and Tacitus refer to Jesus’ condemnation before Pilate. Mr. Aslan fails to mention these.
    5. Jesus was buried in a tomb. Quite simply, Mr. Aslan has a need to deny the resurrection. Also, Mr. Aslan does not mention Jewish burial customs of antiquity, similar to those Jewish customs of today.

    God bless you Msgr Pope. Your blog is a great source of inspiration and comfort!

  12. The writer claims that “nowhere in the New Testament is “adelphos” used to mean anything other than “brother.” That is a lie; the exact same “adelphos” is also used in Matthew 1:2 that says, “Abraham became the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers.” Judah’s brothers were not all full brothers (as the author is trying to argue) – Jacob’s 12 sons were by four women and included Joseph, whose only “full” brother (same father and mother) was Benjamin. So contrary to this “scholar’s” claims, the New Testament does, indeed, use “adelphos” for half-brothers.

    I also found it interesting that for the last two “myths” the author conceded that they were “possible,” not probable.

  13. Google this guy. He got slammed by just about everyone including the Washington Post. Then his opinion is on the front page. And check his cv, the man may not write well but he knows how to embroider.

  14. Aslan is a muslim…and the Washington Post thought that while Islam systematically persecuted Christians they would twist the knife by letting one is not even a Biblical scholar pretend that he is and print his anti Christian theories….now find they can find a non Muslim to write about mohammed…probably not.

    tThe proof for Jesus is quite profound. Even Islam thought so and their earliest writing is inside the mosque on Temple Mount insisting that Jesus was not Gods Son and that was in the seventh century.

  15. Aslan is a muslim…and the Washington Post thought that while Islam systematically persecuted Christians they would twist the knife by letting one is not even a Biblical scholar pretend that he is and print his anti Christian theories….now find they can find a non Muslim to write about mohammed…probably not.

    tThe proof for Jesus is quite profound. Even Islam thought so and their earliest writing is inside the mosque on Temple Mount insisting that Jesus was not Gods Son and that was in the seventh century.

  16. Monsignor, thank you for all you do. Can you please post some more sermons on your podcast page? My wife and I like to listen to them weekly and we have now gone two weeks without!

  17. Excellent post. That is, also, my favorite Father Barron videos, of the ones posted in your blog. I think articles like the Mr. Aslan’s one are really aimed at people who haven’t read the bible. His basic premise is, “You were right to not bother.” Happily, few people bother to read The Washington Post, as Monsignor points out. I once chatted with a Mormon who claimed that there is no use or mention of incense in the bible. I could show that he was speaking falsely. Looking back, I think he was probably just going off of his Mormon talking points that assume ignorance on the part of the listener.

  18. Thank you, again, Msgr Pope. Again, you hit the nail on the head. It really disturbs me that people think that “because I said so” is a logical argument. They seem to have lost the ability to reason.
    Btw, I thought of the same O’Reilly interview and book as I was reading, but at least he admits he is a shill. It is worth noting that Aslan is a creative writing instructor. Not very creative, after all. Just the same old, recycled nonsense.

  19. Just proves my theory that the “False Prophet” is indeed the News Media in it’s entirety.

  20. About Mary’s “children”: if Jesus had brothers, younger than him, how do they dare to criticise him? In old Patriarchal cultures, being Jesus the “man” of the house, his “younger brothers” should not be speaking bad of him as we see in his preaching in Nazareth… This means that those “brothers” were older, that is, cousins and other relatives.

    Also, a missionary with bedouins in Holy Land told me that even today, speaking in Arab, with a semitic thinking, they call “brothers” to all kind of relatives. This happens also with many African and Asian cultures and languages, and even with Russian people. My wife is Russian and although she perfectly knows the word “cousin” in our language, she never uses it and always calls “brothers” and “sisters” to her cousins.

  21. Also, the Bible never speaks of “Mary’s children”, but of “Jesus’s brothers”… which are relatives…

  22. Monsignor Pope: Do us all a favor and, just before Christmas, write a piece on “Five Myths of Muhammed”. Then wait three months or so and, just before Easter, write another on “Five Myths of Islam.” Maybe you could ask Bill O’Reilly to do it as a “historian” with expertise in “Killing Jesus.” Gonzalo T. Palacios, Ph.D., author “The Virgin Mary’s Revolution or Love and do what you will.”

  23. Three comments:
    Wikipedia reports that “At the age of 15 (Mr Aslan) converted to evangelical Christianity. He converted back to Islam the summer before attending Harvard.” The second statement comes from Exclusive Loonwatch Interview with Reza Aslan, November 21, 2011.
    On his website Mr Aslan lists his qualifications. Among them is a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Iowa, where he was named the Truman Capote Fellow in Fiction. It also says that he lives in Los Angeles …where he is Associate Professor of Creative Writing. Seems like he was using these qualifications to write the article in the Washington Post.
    The Washington Post likes supporting lost causes. It also supports the idea that human beings are causing catastrophic global warming.

  24. Father,

    Another great article. And note that there is archeological proof of at least one victim of crucifixion was buried and not left out to be desecrated by wild animals.

    About 1968 an ossuary (box containing bones, common in 1st century Palestine) was found contains the bones of a young man named Yohannon. We know he was a victim of crucifixon because the nail used to fasten one of his feet to the cross is still imbedded in his heel bone. Obviously Yohannon’s family was able to recover his body after his crucifixion. Thus, it is not at all far-fetched that Joseph of Arimathea would have received permission from Pilate to bury Christ’s corpse.

  25. Maybe I missed it, but in all that i have read here, I have seen nothing of how much of the historical evidence of Jesus and His life was reinforced by non-Biblical, even non-Christian sources, including Josephus, and Pliny the Younger. We also tend to forget that history in the ancient world was largely recorded, and passed on, by word of mouth — yes, there are obviously written records, but even they rely more on oral accounts of the time than do historical accounts since then — so it should surprise no one that the full story in the Gospel may not have been literally written down for years, even decades.

    1. This is taken from Josephus’ Antiquities XVIII, ii, 3:

      “At the time appeared Jesus, a very gifted man – if indeed it is right to call him a man; for he was a worker of miracles, a teacher of such men as listened with pleasure to the truth, and he won over many of the Jews and many of Gentile origin as well. This was the Christ; and when at the instigation of our leading men he had been condemned to the cross by Pilate, those who had loved him at the first did not cease to do so; for on the third day he appeared to them alive again, the inspired prophets having foretold this and countless other wonderful things about him. Even now the grop of people called Christians after him has not died out.”

  26. What’s interesting is that aldelphos in the New Testament, contrary to his claims, is not used just in strictly familial relationships. When Christ says if you have something against your brother before going to the altar, reconcile first, he doesn’t just mean blood brother. He is clearly using it in the terms of kinsmen, countrymen, tribeman, etc. If it can mean tribesman or something broader, why not cousin? Besides, we know in the Old Testament such a word clearly WAS used for more. He is disqualifying it…. because he wants to disqualify it.

  27. And so, if I understand you correctly ,Msgr Pope,” historians” from the Jesus Seminar, along with John D Crossan are absolutely correct in advocating that other ancient gospels, say the Gnostic gospels, are also to be treated as historical evidence for the facts of Jesus’s life and teaching? If not why not? On what historical principles can you deny them and their truth claims? At the very least you are subverting Irenaeus when he says the Gnostics have made up their facts. I think a better way to deal with Mr. Aslan would be to criticize his credentials as being, not a historian, but an amateur writing his “biography” well outside of his own specialty, comparative religion.

    1. No, just the opposite. The rejection of those outlandish texts by the Church illustrates the credibility of the Gospels and epistles we do have and the Church’s careful reverence for the story of Jesus and that it not be corrupted with lies and outlandish legends of dubious origin. Those texts did not stand the test of time since they did not comport with the historical record. The historical evidence is that they did not make the cut, having been subject to the peer review of other early Christians and the measure of faith received by those who knew Jesus. Or do you not think it is hubris for scholars 20 centuries later to think they are better positioned to determine the historical truth than those who actually walked with Jesus? Further, The Gnostics claimed, not historical knowledge, but special and personal enlightenment well after the historical events. As such they do not even claim their works are historical.

      1. I think that there are a great many historians today who are certainly hubristic, but the concept of history in the ancient classical world was far different than today’s, and that it is not hubris to believe that 20th century scholars are in general better at understanding what the words “history” and “historical” mean today, after a generally accepted “historical method” has been taught in schools for several generations. So little did they think the serious work of serious historians to be hubris that several popes have encouraged Catholic scholars to partake in the task, as I expect you very well know. for example you say:
        Those texts did not stand the test of time since they did not comport with the historical record. The historical evidence is that they did not make the cut, having been subject to the peer review of other early Christians and the measure of faith received by those who knew Jesus.
        More precisely, a good historian today would say that among the reasons those texts did not stand the test of time was that they did not comport with the church’s understanding of the historical record. Other reasons for it would be the fact that the Gnostics lost big time, for which loss there are good researchable reasons, and so their texts were not protected by the church. And so forth.
        Historians today would certainly scoff and accuse you of assuming the conclusion to the whole argument. Your last two sentences are a good example of a defensible assertion. How do you know that it is true that the Gnostics do not even claim that their works are historical? Irenaeus says so. And how did he come to know that? He says he talked to them himself. And he names the people he talked to. They were on two sides of a fierce religious dispute; in that sort of circumstance people have been known to lie, what reason do we have to believe him when he describes his enemy’s religion? Irenaeus encourages people, both pagan and Christian to go and talk to them themselves. They were still available.
        A threat right now, as far as biblical scholarship goes, is that a movement is afoot to change the rules of historical method and put much later documents, as in the find of major Gnostic texts at Nag Hammadi, under the same kind of analysis that the New Testament gets, putting them on an equal historical footing with New Testament texts for judgements about differing threads of Jesus traditions with histories of their own.
        I understand and respect your pastoral concerns, but insulting hard working serious people to stomp on an opponent who claims his PhD is in comparative religion, but has not found a job in his field! A pimple to pop. If you are truly worried about modern Catholic historians, try taking on John P Meier.

  28. In Rev 1:9 John addresses brothers. Does the author want us to believe that John was only writing to his biological brothers? LOL!

  29. Regarding Josephus, he was a chronicler not a witness. So, the things he wrote was hearsay and should be given that weight when making a decision on the veracity of his writings.

  30. I agree totally with your take on it. It wasn’t a good use of space, but that said, it wasn’t a Wash Post article, but an OPINION piece. Take it for that and write a concise rebuttal and send it in!!

  31. It’s funny we start to see comedians taking themselves seriously. On the other hand it’s sad when we start to take the seriously ss well. You know whom I’m talking about. Right? If people want to buy his books for the entertaining value. It’s ok. If they want to buy his book as a theological gem. Well, that is ignorant. Whatever.

  32. I wonder if those who would rather believe in the dissertations of “scholars” who do not show the sort of scrutiny appropriate to scholastic writings; as Luke did; are really motivated by a sort of emotional cowardice. Looking at that which is beyond our ability to ever understand can be scary but – acknowledging the holiness of a fear of God – can help to inspire courage (which only exists in the prescence of fear) and can help us to turn to what is so much greater than us that we cannot understand.
    I had a strong dislike for a recently popular term about “God as I understand Him” until I came to see the “God of my understanding” as God who I could not understand. This concept offers more to me than the science (which I respect in a limited way) that is dependant on our ability to, eventually, understand things which we do not yet understand. Accepting the unlimited may be difficult but, more difficult often has more to offer.
    Perhaps those who follow the lead of those who give “believe it because I say so” pseudo scholastic stuff don’t want to see any true scholastic scrutiny. Wouldn’t that take them a whole lot closer to the truth than they can bear? Should we pray for them to find courage?

  33. Thanks again Msgr! Great post. The attacks on the Virgin bother me the most. There are so many good witnesses in the Gospels that Jesus did not have siblings. One of them is the account of the finding in the temple. If there were brothers and sisters why wouldnt Mary and Joseph have questioned them as to their brother’s whereabouts?

  34. Note that Luke cannot be an eyewitness to the infancy narratives that he describes. According to tradition, Luke was a friend of St. Paul, accompanying Paul on some later journeys; and he may have interviewed the Blessed Mother for facts about Jesus’s early life.
    Note that the Joyful mysteries of the Rosary include the Presentation in the Temple (when Jesus may be about forty days old) as well as the Finding in the Temple (at His age 12 years).

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