The most disappointing thing about the fanfare accorded to a book like Zealot is not that it will undermine the Christian faith (it will not); even less that it poses a challenge to the consensus of working scholars (it certainly does not). It is that it chips away at the public’s confidence in history per se.
For a brief moment, Reza Aslan will be heralded as a breakthrough author. In a month or so, some other theory, equally unsubstantiated and certainly contradictory, will get the same kind of airtime. Such works are generally ignored by working scholars, who tend to be suspicious of anything that bypasses the peer review process.
The general public, however, over time experiences breakthrough fatigue – an increasing contempt coupled with a decreasing curiosity toward any new claim about the man from Nazareth. The net effect is a weary scepticism that we can know anything about the historical Jesus or about history at all.