Erhman covers a lot of ground in this series, and starts from absolute scratch. His goal for the first few lectures is clearly to shake us loose from any baggage we may have coming into this, and get us acquainted with the source material. If you have some familiarity with the subject matter, you're just going to have to be patient with him - after almost five hours of this you'll be screaming at your ipad for him to get on with it. If you're less familiar, I'd recommend you just go along with it with the understanding that starting in lecture nine he will start talking about the historical method,- source criticism, text criticism, criteria of authenticity, dating approaches, etc - and revisit the more relevant sources with a more rigorous analysis. I personally think this would have been better right off the bat, not 1/3 the way through the course.
Once he gets into the analysis things improve.
I'm not sure it's possible to have a SPOILER in an historical lecture review, but if it is, I'm about to do it: Erhman's analysis is basically identical to Albert Schweitzer's. I wouldn't have mentioned this, except he never tells us it's identical to Schweitzer's. He mentions The Quest for the Historical Jesus earlier in the series, but when he presents his thesis he doesn't credit it. There is a jaw-dropping, palm to the forehead moment in Schweitzer's book concerning the betrayal of Jesus that Erhman presents as his own. Not cool. If he wanted to make it up to us, I'd ask him to do a series that unpacks that marvelous book for non-scholars. I'd certainly buy it.
If you have an interest in the subject, and a modicum of patience, I think this series is well worth the credit.
If Aslan were to ask me "Who do you say I am?" I would answer "You are a scholarly bull in a theological china shop." There is an energetic recklessness about this well written book, as he goes from point to point, flinging solid scholarship and wild conjecture in equal measure like stones from a sling. He really nails the popular history genera, and the book is on the best seller lists for a reason. His thesis, that Jesus was a zealot (not a Zealot, as one might have guessed from the title) and His intent one of temporal revolution, is really just a framework for a much broader discussion. What Aslan does in this book is to take a hard look at the life of Jesus and the early church in the context of Second Temple Judaism and first century Palestine. First century Palestine is something Aslan knows quite a bit about, and he's not shy about filling gaps in the source material with well-reasoned, and often fascinating, conjecture. If you have an interest in the subject, it’s a great listen, and I'd recommend it. That said, I'm never really sure now to take books like this. Sound and well established scholarship is interspersed with scholarly fabrication without any break in the pace or rhythm of the narrative. One moment he's describing Masada using Josephus' exact words, the next he's talking about Jesus’ apprenticeship in Cephorus, or his 40 day reunion with John in the desert. It's history, much of it, but there's no way to tell from the tone of the text when the history stops and the compelling, but oftentimes entirely unattested, conjecture begins. Often it reads like an historical novel. There is a faint aroma of revisionism to the whole business, but I disagree with the reviewers who think there is some ideological axe being ground here. I think it's just commerce. The title and the tone were intended to raise hackles, and he tends to neglect evidence that weakens his positions. Most popular history is written like this now. They push our buttons. It sells books. Still, I like Aslan. I think he's sincere, he writes well, and he brings a lively scholarship to the subject. At one point he recommends we "Put aside for a moment, centuries of exegetical acrobatics....” which I think is exactly the right way to listen to this book. Grant Aslan a bit of intellectual elbow room, and you may find that much of his conjecture has a ring of truth to it.
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