Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Neither New Nor True

... But still worth a look.

By now, you've surely seen the video clip of a Fox News talking head who can't seem to grasp why scholars write books in their field of expertise.  She talks to Reza Aslan about Zealot, his new book on Jesus. Sadly, rather than discuss the content of the book itself, she concerns herself with its origin.  Why, she asks -- over and over -- does Aslan want to write a book about Jesus, even though he's ... a Muslim?*

The clip displays the combination of ignorance and bigotry that is Fox's stock in trade, and little more need be said about it.  But perhaps you are wondering about the book itself.  For you, there is a thoughtful and informative review by Peter Monaghan at the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Briefly, Aslan's premise is that Jesus must be understood principally as a political revolutionary.  This challenges the interpretations customary both in Christianity (Messiah) and Islam (prophet).  Still, it is hardly novel; as both Monaghan and Aslan himself point out, the case has been argued for decades, by scholars such as SGF Brandon and Geza Vermes. We imagine it can be heard occasionally in the pulpits of some churches.

Monaghan also speaks to several scholars in the field, who make the case that, while this interpretation of Jesus is not new, neither is it widely accepted.  Like many "historical Jesus" arguments, it draws heavily (and selectively) on the Gospels, but scants Paul's letters, which are likely earlier and certainly propose a different Christology.  Some historians take the fact that the first disciples were not hunted down by Roman authorities as evidence that the Empire did not perceive in the "Jesus movement" any threat to its power or insult to its dignity.

Aslan's appearance on Fox will help him to sell many books about Jesus, and that is no bad thing.  Zealot sounds like a thoughtful, well-written volume.  But it also sounds like one which should be read with a grain of salt at the ready.

*It is a point of minor interest that Aslan was raised Muslim, converted to Christianity, and has since apostatized.  He is now a Muslim again, of the Sufi school.  His academic resume is a mixed bag, but includes a BA in religion and a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard.  He teaches creative writing.

No comments: