Updates on Reza Aslan

Updates on Reza Aslan August 1, 2013

A few points on the Reza Aslan/Zealot issue that I wrote about previously.

1. Lauren Green pushed Aslan to the point where he had to cite his credentials. In doing so, he overstated them, or stated them misleadingly. Aslan is not an accredited historian; he teaches creative writing and he has a Ph.D. in sociology of religion. Objectively, he is not qualified to write in this field.

That said, he’s not a complete amateur either. He has published on the history of Islam, fundamentalism and other religious topics, so he’s not a complete stranger to the field. His bibliography and notes look decent, so he’s not just pulling things out of his ass.

If he were expanding the field or making novel suggestions we’d want much more in the way of qualifications, but this is closer to a work of popularization than cutting edge history. I’m willing to give him a pass. But I should admit that I see Historical Jesus studies as a field cluttered with dilettantes and as a result I don’t take it very seriously, so the bar is set pretty low.

2. I don’t agree with Get Religion or Daniel Silliman in their defense of Lauren Green. Perhaps because I’m viewing her performance in tandem with the John Dickinson article, but I saw her as a hostile interviewer who knew only that Aslan was trying to hide the fact that he’s a Muslim. It really was that bad, and also hypocritical.

Both blogs, along with folks like Kyle Roberts, have brought up questions they would have liked to have seen addressed. I completely agree.

3. Having poked at the book and read some reviews, it looks like Aslan’s thesis is that Jesus was a (small z) zealot opposed to the Roman occupation and passionate for the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. This is not a new theory, and it’s one of a dozen or so historical Jesus theories that have been kicked around.

Robert Price discusses the theory and mentions a half dozen scholars engaged in the debate. Price has in the past admitted that he finds some of the arguments compelling, although his primary stance is still agnosticism on the existence of Jesus.

For better or worse, the controversy has made the book very popular. At least many people will now be exposed to an aspect of Biblical history that doesn’t often get covered in Sunday school. But I could wish that Aslan was more cautious in his history.

4. Hemant has pointed out that Aslan has previously taken a shot at the new atheists. I hadn’t made the connection, but it doesn’t surprise me. Aslan is a favorite on NPR, like Karen Armstrong and other progressive believers. We’re never going to be moderate enough for those folks.

Aslan would like us to be the descendants of philosophers like Feuerbach or Schopenhauer, but we’re the descendants of Robert Ingersoll and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. He needs to deal with it.

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