*** 3 of 5 Stars
The Historical Reza
Reza Aslan started out a hero . . . is now becoming a goat . . . but I predict he will end up a revolutionary. Aslan became a hero after Lauren Green’s biased Fox interview, garnering sympathy, publicity, and book sales. Now that actual PhDs in the Historical Jesus are reading and reviewing Zealot, Aslan is turning into a goat. I will tell you why I think Aslan is actually a revolutionary at heart.
At first, I too felt sorry for Aslan and bought Zealot. He writes beautifully and I breezed through the book. As I read, I screamed at it. I even screamed at the footnotes. He would say things like the Judaizers Paul attacked in Galatians were really James-brother-of-Jesus, Peter, and John. And that this was “definitively proven” by Gerd Ludemann in 2002. He claimed first century Jews were xenophobes who wanted to “rid the land of all foreigners.” He loves to use dramatic language, calling Paul “heretical” and “deviant’’ from James’ and most likely Jesus’ perspective. He sees deep spiritual discontinuity between Jesus, the gospels, and Paul, in just 60 years time.
OK, I’m an open minded person. Show me what ya’ got. When Aslan laid his cards on the table all I saw was inconsistent logic, meager evidence, and picking /choosing dubious sources. The book is so replete with errors, Elizabeth Castelli, Barnard Religion Professor, advises, “Nothing to see here, people. Move along.”
After I finished the ranting stage, I began to wonder about the historical Reza. Who is this man? Why did he write this book? Reza quotes Bultmann, who said that the quest for the historical Jesus is ultimately an internal quest. Scholars see themselves in the image of Jesus they have constructed. Reza looked in the mirror and saw in Jesus a deep compassion for suffering, powerless people. Reza says that Jesus blamed Rome and the elite Jews who sided with Rome. So, Jesus tried to create a revolution. While Jesus failed at toppling Rome and putting his 12 disciples in charge, he succeeded in becoming Reza’s hero. Reza calls himself a “committed disciple of Jesus of Nazareth” but not the Christ of Paul’s invention.
So, who is this man, Reza Aslan? Probably someone who has deep compassion for people suffering under oppressive and greedy governments, especially in the Muslim world. Why did he write this book? To destroy Paul’s over-spiritualized Christ and replace him with a more useful regime-changing role model. Reza is not a hero. Not a goat. Not a historical Jesus scholar. But a highly intelligent and caring child of Iranian immigrants trying to mitigate suffering by inspiring regime change.
To test my hypothesis, I investigated Reza’s academic interests and activities. His PhD Dissertation: Global Jihadism as a Transnational Social Movement: A Theoretical Framework. He is the founder of AslanMedia.com, an online journal for news and entertainment about the Middle East and the world, and co-founder /Chief Creative Officer of BoomGen Studios, the premier entertainment brand for creative content from and about the Greater Middle East. BINGO.
I only hope and pray he doesn’t edit out the parts of the gospels where Jesus tells us to purge ourselves of anger. Because, by my reading of Jesus, the enemy isn’t Rome. We’re our own worst enemies; the Bible word is “sin”. Both Islam and Jesus teach that the secret to winning the “outer jihad” is winning the “inner jihad.” I am curious about Aslan’s inner jihad, spirituality, theology, and mission. Zealot was a lot of deconstruction; by the end, there wasn’t much left to believe in. Maybe his next book?