Reza Aslan is one of my favorite authors and religion scholars. There aren’t many who are as capable as Aslan of igniting religious debate and dialogue within our broader culture today.
Aslan’s most recent book, Zealot, is a look at Jesus in light of the historical context in which he lived. Zealot posits the very interesting thesis that Jesus was actually a revolutionary Jewish nationalist who sought to cleanse the Holy Land of pagan Roman rule.
The book has outraged Islamophobes such as Rev. Deacon Robert Spencer, the Fox News propaganda machine and some Christians who can’t believe a Muslim scholar of religion has the temerity to pen a book on Jesus. Legions of Christians have taken to the Amazon page for Zealot where they are submitting rather reactionary, petulant, and mean reviews that have the embarrassing common feature of deriding Reza’s faith, a lack of awareness about Islamic theology regarding Jesus and ignorance of the actual content of the book.
Many of the one star Christian reviewers are simply copying and pasting from a Fox News opinion piece by senior pastor John Dickerson of Cornerstone Church in Arizona titled, Liberal Media love new Jesus book, ‘Zealot,’ fail to mention author is Muslim. Despite the fact that some media outlets, including the very liberal Salon.com have pointed to Aslan’s Muslimness, Dickerson’s article is high on rhetoric and low on substance, its central point is the stupefying and groundless assertion that,
“Zealot is not new work from a historian. It is a sophisticated presentation of views that Muslims have held about Jesus for more than 1,000 years. [It is] selling to America the core Muslim beliefs about Jesus—that he did not claim to be God, that Christians made up his divinity, that the Gospels are ‘myth,’ and so forth.”
This is especially stupefying because Dickerson does not seriously attempt to back up his assertions with a serious engagement of either Aslan’s work or Islamic theology regarding Jesus.
Reza Aslan’s book on Jesus is purely academic, as was his previous work, No god but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam; a work that by no stretch of the imagination can be viewed as hewing to “Orthodoxy.”
Pastor Dickerson’s ignorance is revealed in the fact that there are major differences between the historical Jesus presented in Reza’s work and the Orthodox Islamic Jesus. Aslan’s Jesus is born of a man and woman and dies on the cross whereas the Orthodox Islamic Jesus is that of a great Prophet of God, born of a virgin, who did not die on the cross but instead ascended to heaven.
On a side note, is it really surprising that Dickerson exposes his own biases when he presents the “Christian” view of Jesus? In fact, as Dickerson should know quite well, early on and for many centuries Christians also disputed about the divinity of Jesus, the status of the various gospels and the role of Paul–such controversies are still a part of Christian scholastic debate.