Reza Aslan’s Zealot

I heard Reza Aslan in an interview on NPR a few weeks ago describing to a fawning* interviewer his book Zealot, a brand new title which purports to describe “The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.” I got the definite impression that Aslan (what a sadly ironic name!) was parroting a liberal Protestant/secularist line on Jesus that is anything but newsworthy.

So I was a bit surprised to see Christian criticism of Aslan focus on his Islamic faith and his academic credentials. I won’t call either criticism fallaciously ad hominem, because I don’t think his faith is entirely beside the point, and a few comments he made to a Fox News interviewer about his scholarship did perhaps stretch the truth a bit. But only a bit—and on the other issue, in all the materials I’ve seen on Aslan’s book, I haven’t yet read an argument of his that sounded particularly Islamic (the top-rated Amazon reviewer says the same). It all just sounds like the Jesus Seminar.

For example, this kind of statement (from Aslan) is not exactly cutting edge:

[The Scriptures] are valuable in the sense that they reveal certain truths to us, but that the facts that they reveal are not as valuable as the truths are.

Here’s another liberal Protestant/secularist line:

[Jesus was a] marginal, illiterate, uneducated Jew from the low hills of Galilee.

I’m a little late on this, but Alan Jacobs—an amazingly well-read man, and a great writer himself—weighs in with some helpful points along the same lines as the one I’m making in this post.

Bonus: This would be a good time for you to re-read a great quote I posed a while back from Ian Provan. Here’s an excerpt:

The biblical stories about Israel, on the one hand, are approached with the maximum degree of suspicion in regard to the extent in which they truly reflect what happened. There is, on the other hand, a touching degree of (sometimes quite uncritical) faith displayed when it comes to modern narratives about this same entity.

*The interviewer asked Aslan, for example, “I wonder if there is another detail that you could share with us from your research—something about Jesus, his life, his growing up—that might run counter to popular conceptions of him.”

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

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