Fox News Anchor Lauren Green, a thin black woman: Reza Aslan was a Christian but converted back to the faith of his forefathers—that's Islam. He has now written a book about Jesus. The book has become controversial, as it calls into question some of the core tenets of Christianity. And the book is called Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. And Reza joins me now from Los Angeles—welcome!Holy shit. (Literally.) That is one of the most embarrassing displays of "journalism" I have ever beheld, and I spend A LOT OF TIME watching total garbage masquerade as journalism on cable news.
Religious scholar and writer Reza Aslan, a thin Iranian-American man: Thank you for having me.
Green: Well, this is an interesting book; now I want to be clear about—you're a Muslim, so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?
Aslan: Well, to be clear, 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 PhD in the history of religions. Uh, but, I've been obsessed with Jesus—
Green: But that still begs the question, though, it still begs the question why would you be interested in the founder of Christianity?
Aslan: Because it's my job as an academic. I am a professor of religion, including the New Testament. Uh, that's what I do for a living, actually. So, I mean, it would be like asking a Christian why would they write a book about, y'know, Islam. I mean, I'm not sure about that. But, honestly, I've been obsessed with Jesus for, really, twenty years. I've been studying his life and his work and the origins of Christianity, both in an academic environment and on a personal level for about two decades. And, just to be clear, this is not some attack on Christianity. My mother is a Christian; my wife is a Christian; my brother-in-law is an evangelical pastor. Anyone who thinks that this book is an attack on Christianity has not read it yet.
Green: I, uh, but, I wanna, uh, I want to read you some quotes from, uh, some people who are criticizing you—one from John Dickerson who has written a, uh, an op-ed piece on FoxNews.com, and he says, um: "This is not an historian's report on Jesus. This is an educated Muslim's opinion about Jesus." He says: "His conclusions are long-held Islamic claims, namely that Jesus was a zealous prophet type, who didn't claim to be god." Um—that—
Aslan: Well, that's actually not what Islam claims about Jesus. My, my book about Jesus overturns pretty much everything that Islam also thinks about Jesus, as well. And, to be clear, I just wanna emphasize this one more time: I am a historian. I am a PhD in the history of religions. This isn't a Muslim opinion. This is an academic work of history. Not about the Christ, or about Christianity for that matter. It's about a historical man who walked the earth two thousand years ago in the land that the Romans called Palestine.
Green: How, how are your findings different from what Islam actually believes about Jesus?
Aslan: Well, Islam doesn't believe that Jesus was crucified, first of all. Islam believes in the virgin birth. Uh, I mean, Jesus was most definitely crucified, and my book does question the historicity of the virgin birth. So, again, I mean, I know that we've mentioned this three times now. Uh, I'm not sure what my faith happens to do with my twenty years of academic study of the New Testament.
Green: I'm just trying to bring out, um, what some others are claiming at this point, and I want you to answer to those claims, which is—
Aslan: Well, it's pretty clear that there are those who actually do not like the book, who are, y'know, unhappy with its general arguments. That's perfectly fine. I'm more than willing to talk about the arguments of the book itself. But I do think it's perhaps a little bit strange that rather than debating the arguments of the book, we are debating the right of the scholar to actually write it.
Green: Well, let me, let me give you some, uh, let me give you some other quotes from, uh, Dr. William Lane Craig, um, who is a, uh, Christian philosopher and theologian. He's written a lot of books, and, um, done a lot of debates about science and religion. Um, he said: "Reza Aslan merely repeats bygone claims about the historical Jesus that have since been abandoned and refuted." What do you say to that?
Aslan: Well, I would disagree; I have one hundred pages of notes [in the book] and about a thousand books that I use in my discussions. And, of course, in any scholarly discussion of Jesus, as with any scholarly discussion of any ancient figure, there are gonna be widespread differences. But my hundred pages of end notes cites every scholar who disagrees with me, and every scholar who agrees with me. And I would suggest that anyone who wants to actually comment on the argument of the book read not just the book, but the end notes, to figure out where my scholarly argument about Jesus comes from. And I'm sure you're gonna find people who disagree with me.
Green: Right, exactly, what're your—um, we're not talking about just people who disagree with you; scholars, many scholars, disagree with you as well. But I want to get to the heart of—
Aslan: Absolutely, and many scholars do agree with me—
Green: [crosstalk] —what do, what are your conclusions about Jesus?
Aslan: Well, my conclusions about Jesus start by placing him in the world in which he lived. So I start with one fundamental truth that everyone agrees on with Jesus, and that was that he was crucified. You have to understand that crucifixion in first century Palestine was a punishment that Rome reserved exclusively for crimes against the state, like sedition or rebellion, treason or insurrection. The thieves who were crucified alongside Jesus were not thieves. The Greek word "listis" [ph] means "bandit," and bandit was the most common term in Jesus' time for an insurrectionist. What I say is that if you know nothing else about Jesus except that he was crucified, you know enough to understand what a troublemaker this guy must have been. The movement that he started was such a threat to the political stability of the empire that they actually had him arrested, tortured, and killed for it. So I start with that fundamental fact, and then I take the claims of the gospels, as every single biblical scholar for two hundred years has done, and look at them in light of the history of this world that we know. And what's interesting about Jesus' world is that we know a lot about it, thanks to the Romans, who were very good at documentation. And the picture that arises from this, is of a real political revolutionary, who took on the religious and political powers of his time on behalf of the poor and the meek, the dispossessed, the marginalized—who sacrificed himself in his cause, for those who couldn't stand up for themselves. And whose death ultimately launched the greatest religion in the world.
Green: B-b-but my question— [crosstalk] Yeah I want you to ask— Actually there's another chat (?) coming in, and I wanna get this on before we, uh, end this interview. Taylor, uh, Taylor Cain [ph], um, just says: "So your book is written with clear bias and you're trying to say it's academic. That's like having a Democrat writing a book about why Reagan wasn't a good Republican. It just doesn't work." What do you say to that?
Aslan: Well, it would be like—it would be like a Democrat with a PhD in Reagan who has been studying his life and history for two decades writing a book about Reagan.
Green: But then why—why would you—
Aslan: Again, I think that it is unfair—
Green: But then why would a Democrat want to promote democracy by writing about a Republican? I mean, I, uh, I see that the point is—
Aslan: You're assuming— Ma'am, may I just finish my sentence for a moment, please? I think that the fundamental problem here is that you're assuming that I have some sort of faith-based bias in this work that I write. I write about Judaism, I write about Hinduism, I write about Christianity, I write about Islam. My job as a scholar of religions with a PhD in the subject is to write about religions. And one of the religions that I have written about is the religion that was launched by Jesus.
Green: But Reza, you're not just writing about a religion from a point of view from an, uh, observer. I mean, the thing about this is that you're—
Aslan: Why would you say that?
Green: You're putting yourself as a scholar, and I've interviewed scholars who have written books on the resurrection, on, y'know, the real Jesus, and, um, who are looking at the same information that you're saying—to say that your information is somehow different from theirs is really not being honest here!
Aslan: Ma'am, my information is not different from theirs at all. I'm afraid that it sounds like you haven't actually read my book or seen what I've said about the resurrection, or about Jesus, or about his claims. I think you might be surprised in what I say. And there have been thousands of scholars who have written about this very same topic, many who disagree with me, many who agree with me. That's the thing about scholarship, is that it's a debate over ancient history, and I am one of those people making that debate. I think it is unfair to just simply assume, because of my particular faith background, that there is some agenda on this book. That would be like saying that a Christian who writes about Mohamed is by definition not able to do so because he has some bias against it.
Green: No, he can do so, he can do so, but—
Aslan: And frankly almost every book that's out there is by, is by Christians.
Green: No, he can do so, he can do so, but I believe that you've been on several programs and have never disclosed that you were a Muslim, and I think that's in the interest of full disclosure.
Aslan: Ma'am, the second page of my book—the second page of my book says I'm a Muslim. Every single interview I have ever done, on TV or on print, says I'm a Muslim. You may not be familiar with me, but I'm actually quite a prominent Muslim thinker in the United States. I've written a number of books about Islam. It's just simply incorrect to say that media isn't saying that I'm a Muslim. I would actually encourage you to actually try to find media that doesn't mention my biography, which, by the way, again, is on the second page of the book.
Green: All right, Reza, I want to thank you very much for coming on. The book is called Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. I wanna thank you for coming on Spirited Debate—thank you.
Naturally, Dr. Aslan was typically awesome and hilarious (as he always is in interviews, even and especially ones where he isn't being questioned by a dogmatic clown being paid to engage in religious harassment under the guise of FAIRNESS and BALANCE), but no one should have to subject themselves to this sort of (feigned) aggressively ignorant prejudice in order to address the mendacious discrediting strategies of professional shit-stirring fucklords.
Any conservative with a modicum of decency or a shred of integrity should be deeply ashamed to be affiliated with this kind of anti-intellectual nincompoopery.
On another note: Just wait until I drop in to promote my upcoming book Jesus Jones: In Maude We Trust. Grab the popcorn and wait for the fireworks!
(Full Disclosure: That was a joke. I have not written a book and would rather eat glass than appear on Fox News.)