NPR’s curiously biased quest for the historical Jesus

NPR’s curiously biased quest for the historical Jesus July 26, 2013

Did you know that Jesus wasn’t really God? Despite what his disciples claim, he never believed he was the Messiah, much less God incarnate. He was a merely a Jewish revolutionary that was crucified by the Roman Empire and later deified (quite literally) by people who really didn’t know him.

That’s not a new claim, of course, but it’s getting new attention because of a new book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, by Reza Aslan. Many media outlets have covered the book or interviewed the author. But one of the most peculiar is an interview by Terry Gross on NPR:

Writer and scholar Reza Aslan was 15 years old when he found Jesus. His secular Muslim family had fled to the U.S. from Iran, and Aslan’s conversion was, in a sense, an adolescent’s attempt to fit into American life and culture. “My parents were certainly surprised,” Aslan tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross.

As Aslan got older, he began his studies in the history of Christianity, and he started to lose faith. He came to the realization that Jesus of Nazareth was quite different from the Messiah he’d been introduced to at church. “I became very angry,” he says. “I became resentful. I turned away from Christianity. I began to really reject the concept of Christ.”

But Aslan continued his Christian scholarship, and he found that he was increasingly interested in Jesus as a historical figure. The result is his new book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth — a historical look at Jesus in the context of his time and Jewish religion, and against the backdrop of the Roman Empire.

From that introduction you might get the impression that Aslan is a historian and an unbeliever, probably an agnostic or atheist. So you might be surprised to hear that Aslan is a devout Muslim and a professor of creative writing at University of California at Riverside. While Aslan has a PhD in sociology of religions, he is not a trained historian. Rather than a work of “Christian scholarship” the book is merely one Muslim’s opinion about the historical figure of Jesus.

There’s nothing wrong, of course, with a Muslim, a sociologist, or a creative writing instructor, producing a book on Jesus. But there is something wrong with media outlets presenting an author as if he were some an objective expert on a subject when they clearly are not.

It’s not surprising that secular outlets that are moderately hostile to religion (The Daily Show,” Huffington PostMSNBC, etc.) would keep such information from their audience. But for a reputable outlet like NPR to give a creative writing instructor 45 minutes to espouse his historically revisionist views on Jesus without ever mentioning his religious faith or credentials (or lack therefore) reveals a surprising disrespect for it’s radio listeners.

As John Dickerson says, “As a journalist and author who is Christian I cannot imagine penning a so-called objective biography of Muhammad and then concealing my conflict of interest in national media interviews.” Whether Aslan intentionally concealed his conflict of interest is uncertain. But it it clear that NPR failed to make it’s audience aware of that potential conflict and bias. Perhaps they assumed listeners would discount the work as mere opinion and then wonder why they were running such an interview in the first place.

UPDATE: As a reader points out, NPR does acknowledge that Aslan became a Muslim — forty minutes into the forty-five minute interview.

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94 responses to “NPR’s curiously biased quest for the historical Jesus”

  1. “But for a reputable outlet like NPR . . . ”

    Very generous of you to distinguish NPR from “secular outlets that are moderately hostile to religion.” Unwarranted, unfortunately. This kind of soft bias is really old hat for NPR.

  2. Describing it as “a reputable outlet like NPR,” is your first mistake. When it comes to religion, and especially orthodox Christianity, NPR is not much different than MSNBC, Huffington Post, etc.

    • True, but the frustrating thing to me about NPR id that whereas with the private commercial media outlets you KNOW they will be hostile to Christianity, NPR sometimes is respectful and fair, then they do something like this. That inconsistency is irritating . I used to admire Warren Olney who was a newscaster in Los Angeles who is now with the local public radio station. In as story about the Catholic Church, he was nearly angry that the person he was interviewing did not hold the same negative assumptions regarding the Church as held. Whatever your opinion on the Church is, it was a clear negative bias he held. If it was a negative bias towards Judaism or Pentecostalism I would have found it equally offensive. I was very disappointed with him and have to question his objectivity in all other areas of his work now.

      • Exactly, Kullervo.

        At least we are not forced to subsidize the “other” radio stations with our tax dollars. And the others make no pretense of ‘objectivity’.

        • For what it’s worth, NPR doesn’t get very much of its funding from the government. Most of its funding is from private sources, and even the government funds are filtered through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. It’s not like the BBC in the UK, which is more closely funded by the government.

        • Steve, perhaps you should use the wonderful tools given to you by the US Government (the internet) to research the ACTUAL funding structure of NPR, and stop regurgitating right wing propaganda.

  3. This post is not accurate.

    Aslan clearly and extensively states that he reembraced Islam in college:

    GROSS: At what point did you return to Islam, and why?

    ASLAN: Well, ironically, it happened while I was in college. I went to a Jesuit Catholic university called Santa Clara University. Wonderful, incredible learning institution with a really wonderful religious studies program. And it was, you know, speaking to the Jesuits that I became very close to, talking about the New Testament, the doubts that I had about Jesus and the things that I was learning about the historical Jesus.

    My advisor at the time, who was a Catholic priest, just sort of offhandedly said, you know, what happened? Why did you abandon Islam? Why did you abandon the faith and culture of your forefathers? And aren’t you interested in learning more about that, especially now that you seem to be kind of spiritually unmoored by the academic work that you’re doing?

    And it’s funny. I had never really thought about that issue. I was never really all that serious of a Muslim. It was just kind of something that I grew up with and something that, as you say, was removed from my household after we moved to the United States. And so, at the encouragement of these Catholic priests, no less, I began to go back and study Islam, study Islamic culture, Islamic theology.

    And something remarkable happened. What I discovered in the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed and what I read in the Quran and particularly the great works of the Sufis, was what I already believed. It was as though I was being told something I already knew. I already felt it.

    GROSS: But like what? Like what?

    ASLAN: Well, partly it had to do with the way that Muslims and Islam thinks about God. This – the problem that I always had with Christianity, and would ultimately push me away from it, was the notion of the Trinity, was the notion of the Incarnation. The idea of Jesus as the literally begotten son of God as fully god and fully man. It never made sense to me.

    The God that I sort of deeply and intimately felt in my heart was a being of divine unity, was a being that sort of encompassed all of creation, in a sense. And that’s how Islam talked about God. You know, in Islam, particularly the Sufi tradition, which is the tradition that I most adhere to, there is this notion that God is all of creation.

    That in other words, that his very substance is existence. Which means that everything that exists – from me to you to this book to this table to this microphone – everything that exists, exists only insofar as it shares in the existence of God. It creates this sense of divine unity amongst all of creation without this separation between creator and creation. That was profoundly moving to me and spiritually speaking, it’s what I gravitated towards.

    • Thanks. I updated the post to note that NPR does acknowledge — forty minutes into the forty-five minute interview — that Aslan is Muslim.

      I had listened to the program but I hadn’t read the transcript. I don’t know how I missed that last part. My only defense is that my brain must have shut down after listening to such shoddy “scholarship.”

      • And, in any event, such a crucial bias should be at the beginning of the interview, rather than the end. If the tables were reversed — a Christian writing a book that claimed Muhammad wasn’t a prophet — you can bet that would be at the very top of the interview.

        • It is in the very first minute of the broadcast. How much closer to the top of the interview could it be?

          • Keith is just telling us his thoughts on Joe’s thoughts, neither of whom have bothered to actually listen to the interview or read the book.

      • Sir, your utterly biased blog post has nothing to say about this ‘shoddy “scholarship”‘ that you so decry. What you have resorted to amounts to a attack on Reza Aslan’s person. What is also troubling is the suggestion that being a muslim somehow automatically disqualifies a person from being an objective scholar of Christianity. This is patently untrue.

        • Incorrect. The article is clear that it questions the author as being inferred as an authority on the subject just because of his NPR soapbox. It doesn’t matter if the author was Muslim or not in terms of his true credentials. However, the emphasis on his faith is necessary since the author does NOT speak on valid academic or theological grounds, and also because the Muslim faith emphatically denies Jesus as the Son of God. That’s a clear conflict that the NPR interview all but emphasizes.

          • Can you please elucidate exactly how being muslim invalidates the veracity of his academic and theological scholarship? Does it follow that only Christian scholars are allowed to write about Jesus? Does that not present a bias, a “clear conflict”? Can you point out any claims that the author has made in the book that is not substantiated with scholarly evidence?

          • GetReligion is a site dedicated to media criticism so my critique is about NPR not Aslan. As I said, I have no problem with him being a Muslim, but that should have been made clear from the beginning. How would you feel if a Christian pastor were to write a book about Muhammed but never mention his own faith (and potential bias) until near the end of a long interview?

            And the point isn’t just that Christians would discount his views. Aslan’s presentation of Jesus would be disputed by many Muslims, including Muslim religious scholars. To have him merely state he is a Muslim — as if all Muslims would agree with his “scholarship” — is in itself misleading.

          • I would have absolutely no problem with a Christian pastor or a Rabbi or anyone writing a book about the Prophet Muhammad as long as it was subject to the rigors of academic scholarship. In inferring a bias on Aslan’s part, you are only revealing your own.

            Also, I have no objection to academic dissent based on a critique of the facts that the author has presented. You, however, have not provided a single shred of factual evidence to show that Aslan’s scholarship is skewed by his faith. What we are left with is an ad hominem attack on the author and the familiar stench of bigotry.

          • A Christian pastor or a Rabbi writing about “Muhammad the false prophet” subject to the most rigorous academic standards would be in fear for his life in any Muslim majority country. There is nothing new in Aslan ‘s “scholarship” about Jesus since it follows a century of modernist liberal criticism of the Bible in the West. Such freedom of expression is impossible to imagine even in Muslim democacies such as Turkey or Indonesia, let alone the rest of them.

          • Even if this was true, I fail to see what it has anything to do with my previous comment. In rhetoric, this is a logical fallacy known as a straw man argument. Look it up.

            My problem is that the author of the blog and many of the commenters assume that being muslim automatically disqualifies a person from being a scholar of Christianity. If indeed Aslan`s line of reasoning is in line with `modernist liberal criticism of the Bible in the West`, then I urge you to show me how and why this is a fundamentally flawed approach.

            I also challenge you and the author to find me scholarly evidence in Aslan`s book that indicate that his research is biased as a result of his faith.

            Till then, I will maintain this blog post and many of the commenters are simply regurgitating the Faux News style septic bile that polarizes, demonizes, and disseminates bigotry, racism and xenophobia.

          • Hi Anan, I can’t speak for others, but my issue is not with his religion as it is with his claims to be a scholar of history. Sociology of religions is not history of religions, and he did not secure an academic teaching post in this field but in creative writing. But yes, scholars generally ought to reveal their biases up front & don’t pretend that they don’t have biases (we all do!). A Muslim has as much right to study Christianity as anyone else, but perspective is very important… it is beneficial in fact to study an issue from as many perspectives as possible, but one ought to be straightforward with one’s perspective… both religious background (especially if you are discussing a historical actor that plays a part in your own religion) AND academic/methodological background.

          • In Aslan`s own words, `”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 Ph.D in the history of religions.” I think this makes him more than qualified to write a book about Jesus, don`t you?

            As far as being `straightforward with one’s perspective`, Aslan discloses his religious background in the SECOND page of his book, but you, probably never bothered to read it.

            But I wonder – do you think each and every scholar is obligated to reveal their faith background, or is this an honour your reserve for muslims?

            Maybe Alsan’s book should be listed as “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan, Mawzlum”.

            Maybe muslims should be made to wear a star and crescent armband so as to be easily identifiable huh.

          • Once again, I challenge you to produce scholarly evidence that proves that Aslan’s faith has skewed his academic research. So far no one has produced a single shred of evidence that indicates a bias, just regurgitations of Faux News style demagoguery.

            And as I point out in my previous post, he discloses his faith background in the SECOND page of the book.

            Until I see evidence, I will maintain that your assumption that he is biased simply because he’s muslim is prejudicial.

          • What every scholar has is a thesis, i.e., a unique insight into the subject he is writing about which he attempts to prove and defend using primary and secondary sources. And logic. This is not a unique phenomenon. Folks, however, have been making Aslan’s book is a part of some secret muslim conspiracy.

          • No, every human being–scholars included–has biases. Everyone has a personal and cultural perspective and set of assumptions. There is no such thing as a neutral point of view, because every human being exists in a context and brings their context to the table, always. People can do their best to try to control for their biases, but it’s impossible to get rid of them completely. Not just Muslims and Mr. Aslan, but everyone.

          • Perhaps. Fortunately, we have an academic system in place that requires scholars to defend their positions in a systematic manner. One of the fruits of the Enlightenment is known as the scientific method. Among other things, it has allowed for the creation of a body of peer-reviewed, verifiable academic work from which we can all benefit.

            But since your gripe is with “not just Muslims and Mr. Aslan, but everyone”, perhaps you can start petitioning all the venerable academic institutions of the world that would require authors of each and every academic work to explicitly disclose details of their faith right next to the title of their work.

          • Also: this is not exactly a scholarly book subject to peer review. It is a New York Times Bestseller published by Random House. He is a professor of Creative Writing. It is not some groundbreaking article in a respected academic journal or a peer-reviewed publication from Oxford University Press. And before you choose to insult my knowledge–I am finishing a PhD in a related field.

          • It’s not a gripe, it’s just a fact. Everyone has biases. Even scholars. Even in their peer-reviewed publications (which this book is not, by the way).

          • Hi again Anan,

            1: that’s my point. he says he has a PhD in history of religions & he doesn’t, it’s in sociology of religions (look it up). 2) This article is about his presentation in the media. I also think that it is foolish (and VERY few scholars would disagree) to pretend that one’s faith, whatever it is, won’t impact your view of a historical actor that is part of your faith. 3) Any scholar, regardless of faith, should be very open about that faith any time they work on a historical actor relevant to that faith. A Muslim may not need to disclose his/her faith if writing a book about Ivan the Terrible, but should disclose it when writing about Muhammed, Moses, or Jesus. A Christian or Jew would need to do the same thing. Even if you are an atheist, you should be up front about it & recognize that it colors your perspective.

          • Fair point about the book not being strictly an academic work. Alsan does however provide extensive endnotes detailing his source material. Anyone who disagrees with his findings has the ability to, but so far, there is nothing of that sort over here.

            Secondly, I understand that you’re of the opinion that a writer’s faith should be disclosed when writing about a subject that may be influenced by by that faith. I disagree with you – I think that a person’s work should be judged on its own merits, not by the author’s biography, but I respect that you extend this criteria to not just muslims.

            Even though I don’t think he or anyone should be obligated to do this, Reza Aslan reveals that he is a muslim in the second page of his book. And as far as the interview goes, the introduction explicitly states that he grew up in a muslim country and was from a muslim family. And this is elaborated upon later in the interview. Is this not disclosure enough for you?

            I will say this: what all the furor boils down to is not Aslan’s credentials or his skill as a historian or the arguments that he presents. What it comes down to is that an uppity brown skinned muslim immigrant had the audacity to write a book about the All-American Jesus, and this simply is not sitting well with many of us.

          • I don’t think that is a fair assumption. When people disagree, I don’t instantly assume that it is because they are hateful and racist. I think that assuming any who disagree with me are racists is its own kind of bigotry. I’m not condemning the book as horrible because of his biography or his faith, I just think it is foolish to believe anyone can write independent of his or her own perspectives & biases (I know I certainly can’t, although I do my best!). The intro also says he converted to Christianity without mentioning his return to the faith of his fathers. It’s also naive to assume that people will not be offended by the premise of the book–that their faith is not founded on truth. It denies the deity of Christ, which has little effect on the author’s own faith, but has tremendous implications for Christians. We’d like to pretend that our lives are segmented: I am a person of faith in services and on holy days, but just a scholar/lawyer/teacher, etc. the rest of the week. It simply isn’t true, it’s not something you can turn on & off.

          • A few points:
            1) I never accused you of racism. That’s not what my comment says, nor is it what I intended.
            2) I am not “instantly assuming” racism because we disagreed. I do feel that there is a pervasive sense of malaise directed at muslims and other minorities. Decades long illegal warfare in muslim countries, civilian murdering drone strikes, illegal and extrajudicial detentions, continued support of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine, etc etc. have have all been justified by the “otherizing” of muslims in the media. This blog post is helping perpetuate that same malicious narrative that constructs muslims as suspicious outliers with a hidden agenda who are not to be trusted. This is bigoted and racist and I make no bones about calling it out as such.
            3) Aslan’s book denies the divinity of Christ. Rather, it seeks to examine the life and times Jesus the man. Regardless, contention with the contents of the book is one thing. Attempts to demonize the author because of his religion – which is what Joe Carter is doing – is another.

          • 1) never said that you accused me of racism. I said you assumed those who disagreed with Aslan’s credentials, narratives, & motives are racists. 2) Not every criticism of a Muslim is directed at all Muslims. In this case, it is important to know the author’s perspective. There is no such thing as an unbiased source, so it is prudent to know the perspective of the author to evaluate it. 3) He says that Christ never claimed to be divine, that this claim made up years later by his followers. In his analysis, Aslan denies all biblical commentary as nonsense. You can’t ignore those implications, nor can you pretend that it isn’t offensive to Christians. I would assume that a book rejecting the Koran as garbage would be offensive to Muslims, this isn’t different. and I will reiterate: Aslan lied about his credentials, claiming a PhD in the History of Religions. This is not a serious work of scholarship, nor should it be billed as such. It is not peer-reviewed or published by an academic publisher, and he does not have the training to substantiate his claims.

          • Anan, sadly you are in a place attempting to metaphorically have a conversation with a barnyard chicken about a story in the newspaper.

            Good luck with this crowd.

          • Here are the key words in your post: “as long as it was subject to the rigors of academic scholarship.” That qualification has NOT been met here.

          • BS, its a site to demonstrating Christian biases int eh name of criticizing the press when it disagree with Christian orthodoxy.

            This is a silly report not on bias but on Ad Hominems. Ones religion is wholly irrelevant to the content of the argument they made – if there is bias in the argument demonstrate it otherwise this post is worthless Ad Hominem attack worthy of Fox ‘News’ but nothing that claims to be uncovering biases in the press.

          • It was made clear in the beginning of the interview, as it is in EVERY INTERVIEW this gentleman has done in support of his book.

            You clearly need to actually listen to one of these instead of blathering on in your blog about them.

        • According to the transcript, the show-open says he was raised in a secular Muslim family and converted temporarily to Christianity. It is only near the end of the interview that it mentions he went back to being a Muslim.

          • According to the transcript, the show-open says he was raised in a secular Muslim family

            So how is being raised as a “secular Muslim” not stating he was raised as a Muslim.

            The very basis of this sorry piece of writing is contradicted in plain english in the transcript by your own admission you hack.

  4. objective expert on Jesus? as if they exist. ha

    and yes…it’s made explicit that Aslan is a Muslim. This article strikes me as very biased.

    I majored in Christianity…to suggest that there is some “accurate” foundational Christian scholarship out there is rather amusing.

    • Christians are under the impression that the Scriptures are an objective expert on Jesus and more reliable than, say, a Muslim scholar who has a motivation to believe that Jesus isn’t divine.

    • National Geographic has a wonderful documentary, called… ‘Islam’ …. After learning how many things the three major religions have in common ….I felt true shame for my ignorance.

  5. Wait, you’re basing a good chunk of your argument on the explicit assumption that non-professional historians can’t write informatively about history. And that’s not true.

    • Can a non-professional write informatively about history? Yes, I believe they can. There are some very good amateur historians out there. But when a media outlet presents someone as a “scholar” and say they wrote a book of history, it implies they are a historian. Give the reader an accurate rendering of the person’s credentials and let them make the decision.

      • Do you really think there’s that much difference between a PhD in sociology of religions and a PhD in history? When I was in grad school (in a STEM field), I hung out with grad students in the history, the sociology, and the religion departments and they often read the same books and went to the same talks.

        • They are very different disciplines with very different methodologies, even though they overlap. These disciplines aren’t defined so much by the area they study as they are by how they go about doing so, which is why they do meet, discuss, visit each others’ talks. It’s disgraceful to not be honest about where you are coming from… let’s not forget, he has a PhD in sociology of religions, but he is a professor of creative writing (that should differentiate him from those with degrees & careers in the field)

  6. What’s being missed in all this is the source of the zealotry. Listen to the broadcast if you have the stomach. The zeal is from Terry. From NPR. Your tax dollars at work. The author is just kind of amusing; actually getting a book deal to pretend to discover disbelief. Stop the presses. Man thinks Jesus not divine. I thought it was a fun coincidence to have a name like Aslan, which might be lost on NPR listeners who might have missed a series of books by Lewis.

  7. If you’re concerned about shoddy historical accuracy, you should do a write up on David Barton, the christian pseudo-historian who consistently gets his facts wrong. In fact, his publisher refused to take his most recent book to print because of all of the inaccuracies that he promulgated.

      • Amen to that! He’s a joke. My guess is that he has conservative benefactors who are paying him handsomely to bend the facts (aka lie through his teeth) via his shoddy (aka laughable) scholarship.

  8. “He was a merely a Jewish revolutionary that was crucified by the Roman Empire and later deified (quite literally) by people who really didn’t know him.”

    I’ve long found it amusing that historical Jesus scholars can claim that the Gospels can’t be reliable because they were written 30-40 years after the fact and then claim that they, two millennia after the fact, are in a better position to provide accurate information.

    • Along with the assertions that those wrote and first read the Gospels were not nearly so fluent in their native tongues as are modern “scholars”.

  9. I wonder if any of Aslan’s apparent media fans asked him how he thought a writer like himself would fare in most Islamic lands if he lived, wrote and published a book in those lands( like Iran) looking at Mohammed the revisionist way he looked at Jesus. He’d probably need to hire an army of 24-hour body guards. But that issue is rarely (or never) raised in puff interviews while , for example, a Protestant minister rots away in an Iranian jail .

    • In fact in the Huffington Post interview he discusses escaping from Iran (which is why when here his parents brought him up secular which seemed safer.) He fell in love with Jesus at 15 and was a committed evangelist in his teens who claims to have converted quite a few to Christianity, It was during his New Testament degree studies that he developed doubts about Christianity and was encouraged to look to his Muslim roots.

  10. I’ve long considered NPR to be “subtly hostile to religion,” just a step up from MSNBC and HuffPo, who make a point of being obvious about it.

    • Really? I find NPR’s coverage of religion to be outstanding, far better than any commercial network’s. NPR doesn’t take a position on belief, so maybe some fundamentalists might be offended, but any educated, modern thinker of any religious or spiritual affiliation would appreciate NPR’s even-handed, deeply thoughtful, informed and respectful coverage of religious topics. HuffPo is a mixed bag, but they publish many essays about the religious experience and perspective that are quite fine.

  11. Since Aslan is an Iranian and a Moslem–Has he spoken out or done anything to help , for example, the Protestant minister now in an Iranian jail for trying to exercise freedoms Aslan enjoys in a country whose cultural roots are Christian???

  12. First, is it really worth getting the pants up in a knot like that over an interview on a cultural magazine? While some Terry Gross interviews have made the news, none that I know would consider them “journalism.” This is roughly like confusing the New York Times Book Review with the New York Times the newspaper. Not the same thing, at all.

    Second, to cover the interview, note that Gross consistently leads with variations on “according to your book…” i.e., asking him to explain or detail the book. Her presence comes in only at the end referring to herself as a somewhat secular vaguely believing Jew. And of course Terry Gross is not “NPR” — as any one who listens can vouch, this is most definitely her show.

    Third, it is rather unfair to dismiss Aslan’s book as “merely one Muslim’s opinion about the historical figure of Jesus.” What is clear from the interview itself, is that his credibility lies in his revisionist take on Islam, No god But God (2005), a best seller. Aslan writes as some one who has come out of grad schools, not the mosque. And to be fair again to Gross, every time she introduces Aslan, she mentions his first book; it is his excellence there that qualifies him here. Generally, a best seller and translation into 13 languages serves as warrant — this is no mere writing instructor publishing his first screed.

    In short, the concern for potential conflict or bias seems rather misplaced. If anything they confirm impressions of evangelicals as being culturally parochial. You folks know better than that.

    • The problem is that Aslan DOESN’T actually have a PhD in the History of Religions (it is in sociology, a field with completely different methodologies & aims), neither of his books are peer-reviewed scholarship, selling a lot of books does not make you an expert (just a popular writer), and he isn’t employed as a scholar of religions but as a professor of creative writing.

  13. I remember
    the frothing outrage on the “Muslim street” when someone discovered
    that a minister who was a collateral ancestor of President Bush
    the outrage monger described as “his grandfather”) had written a book
    about Mohammed? (As though anyone in the White House had even read it.)

    I followed the story because that particular George Bush was the first pastor of my church.

    • If I may summarize where we are thus far: a Muslim who wishes to write about Jesus (or really anything, by implication), is obliged to at the very top of all interviews say 1) that he is a Muslim and thus ever so biased 2) how awful things would go for him in Muslim nations, including the one his family fled, and 3) that he apologizes for everything bad that happens in any Muslim nation anywhere, because Muslims are all the same apparently. And any news outlet that doesn’t insist he do all these things within any media critic’s attention span will be tagged for bias. Am I missing something?

  14. Lighten up folks, wear loose underwear. He’s a scholar not a man of God. Since went can we not have a discussion about Jesus. Blessed are you that believe. Stop badmouthing anyone who disagrees with you. Lighten up!

  15. Funny, one will expect the criticism of the book rellies on the issue of how sources and arguments are used on it, not on the religion on the author. Smells like Ad Hominem Spirit. But also as double standards. So, one wonders if the situation was inverted, if it was a christian writing about the historicity of Jesus (say, a philosopher with no training in history, and an APOLOGIST) this site, supposedly dedicated of “getting religion [right]”, will be so insistant in try to dismiss him or her on those grounds. I bet not.

    An example:this shamefull interview made on Fox News ( )the journalist – if I may call her that way- following perfectly the guidelines of criticism set in this post, and obssesed with Aslam religion, says stuff like “but Schoolar like William Craig Lane disagree with you”, without failing to mention that Dr Craig himself is a christian conservative theologian and aplogist. Some double standards there,

  16. “But for a reputable outlet like NPR to give a creative writing
    instructor 45 minutes to espouse his historically revisionist views on
    Jesus without ever mentioning his religious faith or credentials (or
    lack therefore) reveals a surprising disrespect for it’s radio
    listeners..” …”Whether Aslan intentionally concealed his conflict of interest is uncertain. But it it clear that NPR failed to make it’s audience aware of that potential conflict and bias.”

    Failed to make it’s audience aware??? Did anyone actually listen to the interview? Your textual quote is a synopsis, not a transcript. The first minute was all about his religion and how Terry Gross had been surprised to discover that the Muslim author was writing about Jesus.

    He then discussed his family’s fleeing from Iran, his conversion to Christianity, evangelizing his own mother and his continuing admiration and fascination with the historical Jesus after religious scholarship caused him to question the difference between the Jesus he heard about in church and the Jesus he studied about in the texts, and ultimately his discovery of his unknown Muslim roots.

    He says in the Fox interview that he has not once been interviewed without discussion of his own religion. He discloses it on the second page of his book. So where is this conspiracy to hide an alleged bias?

    Look there is a difference between not believing Jesus as savior and hostility to Christianity. Aslan is no longer Christian because he does not personally believe that Jesus is Messiah. He is still fascinated by Jesus. He writes about Jesus the man in a deeply descriptive Roman historical context that too few people of any religion understand. And whether you accept his conclusion about the divinity of Jesus or not there is much to learn about the life and times of Jesus in this book.

  17. When you write that some report denies an author is a muslim, and then you find that the report clearly calls him a muslim, you shouldn’t write an “update.” You should write a “creation.” Because you were demonstrably wrong.

  18. I’ve seen Mr. Aslan ( great name, by the way ) in a couple of interviews. He seems like a tremendously likeable and interesting fellow. I’m offended by the attacks that have come against him because he is a Muslim. His faith should have no bearing on his ability to perform scholarly research. My problem is that he appears to be overstating his credentials and his conclusions are hard to support. In one interview, he must have stated 20 times that he is a scholar, and his work is “scholarly”. In fact, he said it so much, it began to make me question whether it was true ( me thinks he doth protect too much ). Truthfully, while he has numerous degrees, only his Master of Theology directly addresses this, and he has no credential in history. This, in itself, does not disqualify him, but when his conclusion is so radically different from 2 millenia of study by scholars with credentials in fields more pertinent to the topic, you have to take what he says with a grain of salt. By his own admission, when he left the Christian faith, he was angry, so it’s also fair to ask if his research is unbiased. To make the claim that the Church, starting with Christ’s disciples, have misrepresented Christ’s claim to divinity, goes against established history and common sense. The most pertinent question would be, “why would the disciples, if they didn’t believe that Jesus ever claimed to be God, and was simply another victim of Rome’s power, pursue a deception that would ostracize them from family, friends, and the world, and lead to very violent deaths for all of them ( with the exception of John, who was exiled to the island of Patmos ). It’s one thing to lie in order to get something. It’s wrong, but it makes logical sense. What would the Apostles and countless other disciples gain from misrepresenting Jesus? Nothing. Also, considering the thousands of his day who heard Jesus speak, it would have been easy to counter, if Jesus hadn’t said these things. Certainly Jesus’ brother and family would have tried to set the record straight. While some references to Jesus in Josephus’ “Antiquities of the Jews” have been questioned, some are universally considered to be authentic. Josephus, a Roman historian, wrote in the 90’s AD and references Jesus numerous times. One statement in Antiquities that is not questioned is:

    “so he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the
    brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some
    others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of
    the law, he delivered them to be stoned.”

    So, from a secular source ( not that the gospels are less reliable ), you have a statement that James was Jesus’ brother and that he was called the Christ ( the Messiah- the Savior ), so clearly the messianic claim was not imposed centuries later. Better historians than Aslan have looked into this. If Mr. Aslan wants to rewrite history, it would be good if he had proof, a better argument, and a degree in history.

  19. Wow, you didn’t really actually LISTEN to the interview on Fresh Air did you?

    In the interview Aslan at no point made any secret about his past and current faith, he is a Muslim, and based on the sorry piece of writing above, I would submit he knows more about your religion then you do.

  20. This book is really tame. Perhaps Aslan, being a muslim, thinks he is being radical, but in the field of N.T. criticism he is in the junior league.

    For a more radical assessment please read the book ‘Jesus, King of Edessa’, which traces the links between Jesus and a king of Edessa, and concludes that they were the same person. Why? For many reasons, but two of these are that they both were Nazarene Jews, royal princes, revolutionaries, ‘persecuted’ by the Romans, and wrote letters to Edessa. In addition they both:
    a. Have the same names.
    b. Wore a Crown of Thorns.

    • Aslan wrote a book about Jesus, which (as I understand it), says approximately what Muslims learn about Jesus via the Koran. And all I’ve read about his book has been said before by scholars who claim to be Christian (though they disbelieve most Christian doctrine). Why should anyone be surprised? And why should anyone go to such a source for information about Who Jesus really was? Thanks but no thanks.

      The argument over the author’s academic degrees is so much froth, IMO.

  21. Reza Aslan, the author of the book, “ZEALOT,” dismissed the Holy Bible as erroneous. Why then did he convert to Islam, a religion with a terribly erroneous scripture (Qur’an)? If he was looking for a religion with an accurate religious book then Islam was the last religion he would convert to for the following reasons:


    Zalqarnain Allegedly Has Visited the Rising and Setting Places of the Sun

    Qur’an 18:84

    “They will ask thee of Dulqarneyn say: I shall recite to you a remembrance of him 85. Lo! We made him strong in the land and give him A ROAD TO EVERY THING. 86 And he followed a road. 87 Till when he REACHED the setting PLACE of the sun, he FOUND it SETTING in a MUDDY SPRING, and FOUND a people there about. We said Dulqarneyn: Either punish or show them kindness. 88 He said: As for him who doeth wrong, we shall punish him, then he will be brought back to his Lord, who will punish with awful punishment! 89 But as for him who doeth right, good will be his reward and we shall speak to him a mild command. 90 Then he FOLLOWED a ROAD. 91 Till when he REACHED the RISING PLACE of the sun, he FOUND it RISING on a people for whom We had appointed no shelter there from. 92 So it was and WE KNOW ALL concerning him..”

    1. Allah was telling Muhammad the story of Zulqarnain in case he was asked about it. So it was not intended to be a parable but exact account.

    2. Allah gave Zulqarnain ROAD TO EVERY PLACE (thing) impliedly including the roads to the setting place and rising place of the sun.

    3. Zulqarnain did not just saw from a distance but supposedly REACHED the SETTING PLACE and RISING PLACE of the sun.

    4. Zulqarnain FOUND a people at both the SETTING PLACE and RISING PLACE of the sun. So he supposedly visited the two locations. So, this is an OBVIOUS error!!


    Abu Dahrr was with Muhammad during the sunset. Muhammad asked him:” Do you know O Abu Dharr where this sets?” He answered:” God and His apostle know better.” Muhammad said:” It sets in a spring of slimy water.”


    Sûrah YâSîn: 38
    “And the Sun runs on to its place of settlement. That is the determination of the Mighty the Knowing.”

    Prophet Muhammad Ridiculously Explained Surah Yasin: 38 thus:

    Bukhari:V4B54N421 “I walked hand in hand with the Prophet when the sun was about to set. We did not stop looking at it. The Prophet asked, ‘Do you know where the sun goes at sunset?’ I replied, ‘Allah and His Apostle know better.’ He said, ‘It travels until it falls down and prostrates Itself underneath the Throne. The angels who are in charge of the sun prostrate themselves, also. The sun asks permission to rise again. It is permitted. Then it will prostrate itself again but this prostration will not be accepted. The sun then says, “My Lord, where do You command me to rise, from where I set or from where I rose?” Allah will order the sun to return whence it has come and so the sun will rise in the west. And that is the interpretation of the statement of Allah in the Qur’an (Surah Yasin: 38)’ ” And the Sun runs on to its place of settlement. That is the determination of the Mighty the Knowing….”


    In the Qur’an 3:45, the author initially mentioned “angels” but later (in verse
    47) said “he” instead of “they.” God can’t make such silly mistake.

    Qur’an 3:45

    “…THE ANGELS said ‘Oh Mary! lo!
    Allah gives you a glad tiding of a word from him. Whose name is Messiah, Son of
    Mary, a sign in the world and Hereafter and one of those close to Allah. 46 He
    will talk to mankind in his cradle and his manhood. And he is among the
    righteous. 47 She said ‘My Lord how can i have a son when no man has touched
    me? HE SAID so it will be. Allah creates what He wishes. If he decrees a
    thing he just say to it ‘be’ and it will. 48 And he will teach him scripture
    and wisdom and torah and gospel. 49 And he will make him a messenger to I

    Therefore Reza Aslan, has no business in Islam.



    “ It is not by that which
    is obscure in Mahomet, and which may be interpreted in a mysterious sense, that
    I would have him judged, but by what is clear, as his paradise and the rest. In
    that he is ridiculous. And since what is clear is ridiculous, it is not right
    to take his obscurities for mysteries.”

    The German secular scholar Salomon Reinach in his rather harsh analysis states that:

    “From the literary point of view, the Koran
    has little merit. Declamation, repetition, puerility, a lack of logic and coherence
    strike the unprepared reader at every turn. It is humiliating to the human
    intellect to think that this mediocre literature has been the subject of
    innumerable commentaries, and that millions of men are still wasting time in
    absorbing it.” (Reinach 1932:176)

    “Unfortunately the Qur’an was badly edited and its contents
    are very obtusely arranged.” He concludes that, “All students of the
    Qur’an wonder why the editors did not use the natural and logical method of
    ordering by date of revelation, as in Ali ibn Taleb’s lost copy of the
    text.” (Dashti 1985:28)

    In a similar vein, McClintock and Strong’s encyclopedia maintains that:

    “The matter of the [Koran] is exceedingly
    incoherent and sen- tentious, the book evidently being without any logical
    order of thought either as a whole or in its parts. This agrees with the
    desultory and incidental manner in which it is said to have been delivered.
    (McClintock and Strong 1981:151)

    Another problem is that of repetition. The Qur’an, we are told,
    was intended to be memorized by those who were illiterate and uneducated. It
    therefore engages in the principle of endless repetition of the same material
    (Morey 1992:113).

    “The subject matter within individual chapters jumps from one
    topic to the next, with duplications and apparent inconsistencies in grammar,
    law and theology also abound” (Rippin 1990:23).

    There is grammatical discord (such as the use of plural verbs with
    singular subjects), and variations in the treatment of the gender nouns (for
    examples, see suras 2:177; 3:59; 4:162; 5:69; 7:160; and 63:10) (Rippin

    Patricia Crone points out that, “within blocks of verses
    trivial dislocations are surprisingly frequent. God may appear in the first and
    third persons in one and the same sentence. There may be omissions, which if
    not made good by interpretation, render the sense unintelligible.” (Cook

    Al-Kindi, a Christian
    polemicist employed in the Caliphal court, had discussions with Muslims as
    early as 830 A.D. (thus soon after what I believe was the Qur’an’s
    canonization). He seemed to understand the agenda of the Muslims at that time.
    Anticipating the claim by Muslims that the Qur’an itself was proof for its
    divine inspiration he responded by saying:

    “The result of all of this [process by which the Qur’an came into being] is patent to you who have
    read the scriptures and see how, in your book, histories are all jumbled
    together and intermingled; an evidence that many different hands have been at
    work therein, and caused discrepancies, adding or cutting out whatever they
    liked or disliked. Are such, now, the conditions of a revelation sent down from
    heaven?” (Muir 1882:18-19,28)

    Interestingly, Al-Kindi’s pronouncement as early as the ninth
    century agrees with the conclusion of Wansbrough over eleven hundred years
    later; both maintaining that the Qu’ran is the result of a haphazard compilation
    by later redactors a century or more after the event (Wansbrough 1977:51).

    In the Qur’an there are also clear cases of interpolation. An
    example which Michael Cook points to can be found in the fifty-third sura,
    where “the basic text consists of uniformly short verses in an inspired
    style, but in two places it is interrupted by a prosaic [unimaginative] and
    prolix [verbose, boring] amplification which is stylistically quite out of
    place.” (Cook 1983:69)

    The same story can be found repeated with small variations in
    different suras. When placed side by side these various versions often show the
    same sort of variation that one would find between parallel versions of oral
    traditions (Cook 1983:69)

    Therefore, if an certain relatively obscure Reza Aslan, under the
    protection of the anti-Christian Western Libiots/atheists, dismisses the Holy
    Bible as nonsense, it shouldn’t be as authoritative as the views of the really
    great men about the violent book of the Qur’an.


    (The Prince of Peace)


    Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”

    Matthew 5: 38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[h] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek
    also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give
    to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow
    from you.


    Matthew 26:51-52 …. Jesus said to him, “Put
    your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”


    43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your
    enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute
    you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to
    rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the
    unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are
    not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own
    people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be
    perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

    1 Peter 3:11

    11 They must turn from
    evil and do good;

    they must seek peace and pursue it.

    Galatians 5:22

    22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy,
    peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.


    1 Chronicles 22:8

    8But the word of the LORD
    came to me, saying,(A) ‘You have shed much blood and have waged great
    wars. You shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed so much
    blood before me on the earth.

    Psalm 34:14

    14 Turn from evil and do

    seek peace and pursue it.

    Psalm 37:37

    37 Consider the blameless, observe the upright;

    a future awaits those who seek peace.[a]

    1 Chronicles 28:3

    3But God said to me,(A) ‘You may not build a house for my name, for you
    are a man of war and have shed blood.’

    Proverbs 25:21

    21 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;

    if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.

    Exodus 23:4-5

    4 “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey
    wandering off, be sure to return it. 5 If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under
    its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it. “

    Exodus 23:6-7

    6 “Do not deny justice to your poor people in
    their lawsuits. 7 Have nothing to do with
    a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will
    not acquit the guilty.

    Exodus 23:8-9

    8 “Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds
    those who see and twists the words of the innocent.

    9 “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves
    know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.

    Exodus 20:16-17

    16 “You shall not give false testimony against
    your neighbor.

    17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You
    shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or
    donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

    Amos 5:21-24

    21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals;

    your assemblies are a stench to me.

    22 Even though you bring
    me burnt offerings and grain offerings,

    I will not accept them.

    Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,

    I will have no regard for them.

    23 Away with the noise of
    your songs!

    I will not listen to the music of your harps.

    24 But let justice roll on
    like a river,

    righteousness like a never-failing stream!

    Isaiah 2:4

    4 He will judge between
    the nations

    and will settle disputes for many peoples.

    They will beat their swords into plowshares

    and their spears into pruning hooks.

    Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they
    train for war anymore.

    On the other hand:


    NQuran (9:29) – “Fight
    those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which
    hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of
    Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya
    with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”

    Quran (9:111) – “Allah
    hath purchased of the believers their persons and their goods; for theirs (in
    return) is the garden (of Paradise): they fight in His cause, and slay and are
    slain: apromise binding on Him in truth, through the Law, the Gospel, and the
    Quran: and who is more faithful to his covenant than Allah? then rejoice in the
    bargain which ye have concluded: that is the achievement supreme.”

    Quran (9:123) – “O you
    who believe! fight those of the unbelievers who are near to you and let them
    find in you hardness.”

    Quraan (9:5). “fight and
    slay the pagans (or infidels or unbelievers) wherever you find them?”

    Quran (9:41) – “Go
    forth, light-armed and heavy-armed, and strive with your wealth and your lives
    in the way of Allah! That is best for you if ye but knew.”

    Quran (9:73) – “O
    Prophet! strive hard against the unbelievers and the hypocrites and be
    unyielding to them; and their abode is hell, and evil is the destination.”

    Quran (9:88) – “But the
    Messenger, and those who believe with him, strive and fight with their wealth
    and their persons: for them are (all) good things: and it is they who will

    Quran (66:9) – “O
    Prophet! Strive against the disbelievers and the hypocrites, and be stern with
    them. Hell will be their home, a hapless journey’s end.”

    Quran (61:9): “He it is
    who has sent His Messenger (Mohammed) with guidance and the religion of truth
    (Islam) to make it victorious over all religions even though the infidels may

    Quran (2:191-193) – “And
    slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they
    drove you out, for persecution [of Muslims] is worse than slaughter [of
    non-believers]…and fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for

    Quran (2:244) – “Then
    fight in the cause of Allah, and know that Allah Heareth and knoweth all

    Quran (2:216) –
    “Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye
    dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad
    for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not.”

    Quran (25:52) –
    “Therefore listen not to the Unbelievers, but strive against them with the
    utmost strenuousness…”

    Quran (47:3-4) – “Those
    who reject Allah follow vanities, while those who believe follow the truth from
    their lord. Thus does Allah set forth form men their lessons by similtudes.
    Therefore when you meet in battle those who disbelieve, then smite the necks
    until when you have overcome them, then make (them) prisoners,”



    “Allah’s Apostle said, ‘Who is willing to kill Ka’b
    bin Ashraf who has hurt Allah and His Apostle?’ Thereupon Muhammad bin Maslamah
    got up saying, ‘O Allah’s Apostle! Would you like me to kill him?’ The Prophet
    said, ‘Yes,’ Maslamah said, ‘Then allow me to say false things in order to
    deceive him.’ The

    Prophet said, ‘You may say such things.'”

    Bukhari:V4B52N44 “A man came to Allah’s Apostle and
    said, ‘Instruct me as to such a deed as equals Jihad in reward.’ He replied, ‘I
    do not find such a deed.'”

    Bukhari:V4B52N50 “The Prophet said, ‘A single
    endeavor of fighting in Allah’s Cause in the forenoon or in the afternoon is
    better than the world and whatever is in it.'”

    Sahih Bukhari 9:84:5, Sahih Muslim1:31

    “I (Mohammed) have been commanded (by
    Allah) to fight against people till they testify that there is no god but
    Allah, and believe that I am the Messenger and in all (Islam) that I have
    brought. Whoever says this will save his property and life from me.”

    Bukhari:V4B52N46 “I heard Allah’s Apostle saying,
    ‘Allah guarantees that He will admit the Mujahid [Muslim fighter] in His Cause
    into Paradise if he is killed, otherwise He will return him to his home safely
    with rewards and war booty.'”


    Sahih Bukhari 4:53:386

    “Our Prophet (Mohammed), ordered us to
    fight you (non-Muslims) till you worship Allah alone or pay us Jizyah
    (extortion) in submission…Whoever amongst us is killed as a martyr shall go to
    Paradise…and whoever survives shall become your master”

    Sahih Bukhari; and Hanbel.

    Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 4, Number 234:

    “A group of people from the Oreyneh and Oqayelh
    tribes came to the prophet to embrace Islam, the prophet advised them to drink
    the urine of the camels. Later on when they killed the prophet’s shepherd, the
    prophet seized them, gouged out their eyes, cut their hands and legs, and left
    them thirsty in the desert to die.”

    Bukhari:V4B52N53 “The Prophet said, ‘Nobody who dies
    and finds Paradise would wish to come back to this life even if he were given
    the whole world and whatever is in it, except the martyr who, on seeing the
    superiority of martyrdom, would like to come back to get killed again in
    Allah’s Cause.'”

    Bukhari:V4B52N54 “The Prophet said, ‘By Him in Whose
    Hands my life is! Were it not for the believers who do not want me to leave
    them, I would certainly and always go forth in army-units setting out for
    Jihad. I would love to be martyred in Allah’s Cause and then get resurrected
    and get martyred again only to be resurrected so that I could get martyred once

    Muslim:C40B20N4676 “Believers who sit home and those
    who go out for Jihad in Allah’s Cause are not equal.”

    Muslim : Book 19 : Hadith 4413
    “It has been reported on the authority of Anas b.
    Malik that (when the enemy got the upper hand) on the day of the Battle of
    Uhud, the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) was left with only seven
    men from the Ansar and two men from the Quraish. When the enemy advanced
    towards him and overwhelmed him, he said: Whoso turns them away from us will
    attain Paradise or will be my Companion in Paradise. A man from the Ansar
    came forward and fought (the enemy) until he was killed. The enemy
    advanced and overwhelmed him again and he repeated the words: Whoso turns them away, from us will attain Paradise or will be my Companion in Paradise. A
    man from the Ansar came forward and fought until he was killed. This
    state continued until the seven Ansar were killed (one after the other).”
    Therefore, Reza Aslan, or any Muslim for that matter, has no moral justification to call Jesus a zealot/violent.

  25. Quacks abound in any field as they display their ignorance. As …whoever he calls himself will have hordes of fans. For the person of average intelligence the historiography of Lord Jesus is easily researched from nonChristian historians of the time. Targeting Jesus is good money as the plagiarist Dan Browne did. Fiction has many types of worms crawling through the woodwork. One must waste life reading bad research. A news clip has this author claiming that Josephus writes only one sentence on Jesus. This demonstrates the extent of quackery. He also has not found anyone else who has written about the Lord outside of Josephus, what a joker!