I never doubted that Jesus existed; however, I have questioned some of the elements of his story, as conveyed through the Gospels. In particular, I doubted these supposed miracles he performed. My reading of the New Testament did little to dispel this impression—really, the man walked on water? He turned water into wine? He cured ailments with a touch of his hand? The fact that people—even well-educated people—accepted these miracles based on a rather old, and often contradictory book baffled me. To make matters worse, not to be mean, but I questioned how a healthy number of these believers denounced homosexuality, choosing not to accept the fact that gay people are born the way we are. The fact that our sexuality is dictated through the development of our brains and is as natural as being right or left handed is crazy, apparently.
So, when I began Zealot, I was curious to see how Aslan would address Jesus’ miracles. Of course he does, and he also takes on Jesus’ exorcisms. What he has to say about both these surprised me, in how they happened and why people reacted to them/Him the way they did.
According to Aslan, “in first century Palestine, professional wonder worker was a vocation as well established as that of woodworker or mason, and far better paid” (103). Because the actions attributed to Jesus were relatively common and accepted at the time, Aslan suggests that trying to disprove any of them individually is a waste of time—what is important is how people back then viewed Him. They saw Him as a miracle worker. Furthermore, he says that there is far more “accumulated historical material” (104) than about either His death (that famous crucifixion) or even His birth. In other words, he suggests that we accept the miracle work detailed in the Bible.
For the curious, Aslan even provides several names of other well-known miracle workers and exorcists during that time (105-6). It’s interesting to see how much more there was to this era not covered in the Bible.
I would have liked to hear more about specific miracles, such as how a crowd of five thousand could be convinced that a person turn a few loaves of bread and a couple fish into a feast; however, what is more interesting is understanding better why Jesus’ miracle work really rubbed people the wrong way. If Jesus was only doing business as so many others, why then was he a threat? Why did he becomes such a huge target? Simple: Jesus did it all for free. According to Aslan, given that His competition apparently earned healthy livings by working their own magic, He was bad for business. This threat to their industry had to be handled.
It’s sad that even back then, money influences bad decisions.
Although Aslan provides a thoughtful, interesting, and well-documented discussion of this particular aspect of Jesus’ life, I still don’t know how much of the miracle-working I buy. But whether or not Jesus walked on water doesn’t impact my life one way or another. If people believe and are better for this belief, have at it. Still, reading about the era does present a more well-rounded impression of Jesus for me, and although I don’t necessarily believe everything about Jesus, I do have a better appreciation for what the Gospels discuss. This exercise shows that with a little research, a better understanding—and tolerance—can be achieved. Now if all of those who choose to believe Jesus’ miracle working would do the same in regards to the homosexual “lifestyle” they choose to have an opinion about, my community would be better off.
Next up: Apparently, Jesus had quite a temper.