Villeneuve said it's "completely fair" to think that the Romans might have perceived Jesus in such a secular way, but that there is a "big difference between how Jesus saw himself, and how the Romans perceived or understood Jesus."
"As far as Jesus' point of view goes, it's preposterous to put him in the Zealot camp."
Villeneuve noted Aslan's contention that Jesus never considered himself to be God, because "that was never heard of in ancient Judaism … he claims the idea of the divinity of the Messiah was completely foreign to Judaism in Jesus' time."
"This is false," Villeneuve explained. Among others, Daniel Boyarin, an Orthodox Jewish scholar, has noted that the idea of the Incarnation, "and even of … some plurality in the godhead, were concepts present in Second Temple Judaism."
Boyarin, he said, points to the book of Daniel and to the apocryphal book of Enoch for the presence of the idea of a divine Messiah being present in the Judaism of Jesus' time, and added that "Aslan does not refer – I'm not sure he's even aware – of these positions."
"The idea that the divine Messiah was present in Second Temple Judaism would be very important to find out and know, before you start dismissing it and saying 'divine Messiah' was a completely Greek, pagan concept."
While granting that "Zealot" is "thoroughly researched," Villeneuve said that it seems to have been researched in such a way that "he's influenced by the Jesus seminar school," which in the 1980s and 90s had proposed Jesus as nothing more than a rabbi, sage and healer.
Aslan's view is dismissive and prejudiced against the very possibility of supernatural occurrences, rejecting the miraculous "because these things just don't happen."
"Be careful of these anti-supernaturalist prejudices," Villeneuve advised, "and these revisionists really following the fad of questioning the Christian faith because it's the popular thing to do."
"There are dozens of good books written about Jesus every year, but whatever will question that will be more readily accepted."
Villeneuve offered Benedict XVI's books on Jesus of Nazareth as resources that "really answer a lot of these claims" and show that "not only in the Gospel of John, but in the Synoptics, you see a man who is definitely taking on this authority that goes way beyond that of the rabbis and scribes of his day."
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The irony, he said, is that Aslan "proposes Christianity is revisionist," that the earliest Christian community, as Jews, "were completely willing to go into apostasy" and preach things "contrary to what Jesus actually believed."
"When we really try to think along those lines of what Aslan's trying to make us believe, it's really somewhat preposterous actually: that all these early martyrs and disciples were willing to die as martyrs for what, according to him, was a colossal lie, or myth."
"I would submit that Aslan's book is a fad that will pass away, and he's not the first, not the last, but the Gospels will still be around in 20 years, when everyone will have forgotten his book."