Why Did Reza Aslan Write ‘Zealot’ About Jesus?

The interview below from the FoxNews show Spirited Debate between host Lauren Green and author Dr. Reza Aslan has lit an internet fuse. Green, a Christian, interviewed Aslan, a Muslim, about his book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.

The question has been asked if this is the worst interview Fox has ever done. Some charge Green with holding double-standards when comparing this interview to another she did with a Baptist who wrote on Islam. One of the reasons for Green’s questions was to allow Aslan to address criticisms from Christians.

The bigger picture is that Dr. Aslan never actually answers the question of why he, a Muslim, wrote a book about Jesus. However, he does seem to answer this question in the “Author’s Note” in his book. I’ll explain below.

The video begins with Green explaining the Aslan was a Christian who converted back to Islam. Immediately, Green asks why Aslan, a Muslim, would write a book on Jesus. Not satisfied with his answer, Green asks again. (HT: RCP)

Green: This is an interesting book. Now, I want to clarify: You are a Muslim, so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?

Aslan: Well, to be clear, I am a scholar of religions with four degrees, including one in the New Testament, and fluency in biblical Greek, who has been studying the origins of Christianity for two decades, who also just happens to be a Muslim. So it’s not that I’m just some Muslim writing about Jesus. I am an expert with a PhD in the history of religions. I have been obsessed with Jesus…

Green: But it still begs the question: Why would you be interested in the founder of Christianity? (1)

Aslan: Because it’s my job as an academic. I am a professor of religion, including the New Testament. That’s what I do for a living, actually. It would be like asking a Christian why they would write a book about Islam. I’m not sure about that. But honestly, I’ve been obsessed with Jesus for 20 years. I’ve been studying his life and his work and the origins of Christianity both in an academic environment and on a personal level for about two decades. Just to be clear, this is not some attack on Christianity. My mother is a Christian, my wife is a Christian, my brother-in-law is an evangelical pastor. Anyone who thinks this book is an attack on Christianity has not read it yet.

First, Joe Carter, while not impressed by the interview, believes Aslan misrepresented his credentials. Carter points out the Aslan has a “PhD in sociology of religions” as well as taking issue with some of Aslan’s other academic claims. Education aside, someone does not need a PhD in the history of religions – nor a PhD at all – to write about Jesus or any religious figure.

Aslan’s education does not answer the “why” question.

Green asking Aslan why he wrote a book about Jesus is not the same as asking if he’s qualified to write the book. That he is a professor of religion does not answer the question either since a plethora of religious topics could have been chosen. Obsession may provide an answer, but why is he obsessed with Jesus? Also, notice Aslan’s defensive shift against charges that he may be attacking Christianity.

Green challenges Aslan at the end of the interview for his lack of disclosure that he is a Muslim. He retorts, “Ma’am, the second page of my book says I’m a Muslim.” However, a reading of the second page does not yield such an admission. In fact, a quick search reveals that the word “Muslim” appears three times in the book and “Islam” appears twice – all in two paragraphs in the “Author’s Note.”

For a kid raised in a motley family of lukewarm Muslims and exuberant atheists, this was truly the greatest story ever told. Never before had I felt so intimately the pull of God. In Iran, the place of my birth, I was Muslim in much the way I was Persian. My religion and my ethnicity were mutual and linked. Like most people born into a religious tradition, my faith was as familiar to me as my skin, and just as disregardable. After the Iranian revolution forced my family to flee our home, religion in general, and Islam in particular, became taboo in our household. Islam was shorthand for everything we had lost to the mullahs who now ruled Iran. My mother still prayed when no one was looking, and you could still find a stray Quran or two hidden in a closet or a drawer somewhere. But, for the most part, our lives were scrubbed of all trace of God.

That was just fine with me. After all, in the America of the 1980s, being Muslim was like being from Mars. My faith was a bruise, the most obvious symbol of my otherness; it needed to be concealed. (Kindle Locations 58-65). [Emphasis added]

There is no clear admission of Aslan’s Islamic faith. In fact, the “Author’s Note” begins with the sentence, “When I was fifteen years old, I found Jesus.” He then explains his story from faith in Jesus the Savior to an academic understanding of Jesus as a person. The beginning narrative draws the reader in and then away from the Jesus of Christianity.

Aslan claims his book is not an attack on Christianity, but it’s certainly not an endorsement.

Ironically, Aslan explains he disagrees with some Islamic teachings. Since he is a Muslim whose faith is in Allah, maybe Green should have asked if he would be better served to write a scholarly corrective to his own faith community? Either way, he’s free to write a book on whatever he likes.

But why did Aslan write a book about Jesus?

Today, I can confidently say that two decades of rigorous academic research into the origins of Christianity has made me a more genuinely committed disciple of Jesus of Nazareth than I ever was of Jesus Christ. My hope with this book is to spread the good news of the Jesus of history with the same fervor that I once applied to spreading the story of the Christ.(Kindle Locations 86-89).

Apparently, he wants to share his denial of Christianity’s Jesus the Messiah by putting forward the “good news” of Jesus as just a man. Academics aside, why didn’t he just answer Green’s why question as he did in the above quote from the book?

Why? Because it would have exposed an agenda.

~Mark Lamprecht (crosspost)

Mark Lamprecht is a licensed Southern Baptist Minister, long-time blogger, and owner of PulpitSupplyPreachers ministry. He lives in Metro-Atlanta with his wife and daughter working full-time during the day while also pursing a Master of Divinity degree.

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