Reza Aslan, Fox News, and Jesus as violent revolutionary

Religion scholar Reza Aslan has a new book called Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth and has been plugging it on the talk shows (like The Daily Show). Last week, Fox News had a hilariously boneheaded interview with him where they questioned why a Muslim should even have an opinion on Jesus. That took off on social media, most notably BuzzFeed, which asked Is This The Most Embarrassing Interview Fox News Has Ever Done?

On Wednesday, religion scholar Stephen Prothero took on the substance of Aslan’s book for CNN’s Belief Blog and cited a number of controversial things that Aslan has written. Aslan argues, for example, that Jesus was a violent revolutionary and was trying to become a worldly king.

Both Prothero and Aslan have Quaker connections. Aslan is a former intern at Friends Committee on National Legislation. In 2010, then FCNL Executive Secretary Joe Volk wrote about working with him, and Aslan is scheduled to speak at FNCL’s Annual Meeting this November. For his part, Prothero sometimes attends Friends meeting in Cape Cod, Mass., and once tried to get Stephen Colbert to convert to Quakerism.

Is Reza Aslan’s view of Jesus one that Friends identify with? And just how should Americans talk about controversial religious viewpoints?

10 thoughts on “Reza Aslan, Fox News, and Jesus as violent revolutionary

  1. Martin, I think the point or reason the Fox clip went internet viral is almost entirely because the newscaster could not comprehend that he could be a scholar, a highly educated person with great knowledge. I am going to go back and see what he actually thought about Jesus!

  2. I am disappointed by the reference in the article above to statements with which one disagrees as, “boneheaded.” I find that, generally, building avenues of communication begins with not “labeling” the other and with avoiding sarcasm; especially, if the other is doing those very things!
    I am delighted to learn that a former intern with FCNL has pursued studies and degrees that make that person an expert in the field. I look forward to learning more.

  3. “Aslan argues, for example, that Jesus was a violent revolutionary and was trying to become a worldly king.”

    The question is, what does this mean? Does the author’s use of “violent revolutionary” and “worldly king” suggest the historical Jesus was willing to kill people who disagree with him to establish himself as leader of the material world?

    Assuming this is true, for the sake of discussion, such an approach strikes me as reflecting some truth in the same way as someone arguing people cherish books because they enjoy turning the pages and looking at the pretty designs on the nice white paper. There is truth there but it does not approach whole truth. As academic or intellectual abstractions – “violent revolutionary” and “worldly king” are helpful study and reflection points. If these are taken as encompassing the whole of the historical personality of Jesus, these helpful abstractions then hinder meaning and understanding.

    Further, if they are used to harden the reader’s heart toward the Jesus’ witness of eternal being through the personal experience of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the inner light … perhaps the author’s word reflect intemperance?

  4. Not to rag on Aslan’s credentials but he simply isn’t in a position to do serious work in New Testament scholarship. He has a Masters in Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity (I’m a current student myself) and a PhD from UC Santa Barbara, but to my understanding he didn’t concentrate in New Testament studies at either. His actual dissertation work is on modern Islam. I’d trust him to teach an undergraduate course in the subject but experts in the field just don’t take the guys work that seriously.

    While the Fox News interview was hilarious Aslan simply is not standing on good scholarly ground with the idea that Jesus was a violent revolutionary. S.G.F. Brandon argued the same point in the 1967 book Jesus and the Zealots, at the time his views were criticized and the evidence hasn’t gotten any more persuasive since then. That’s not to say that Aslan’s work is terrible but I”d rather people be reading someone like Bart Ehrman before they pick up this book.

  5. Those who call themselves Quakers, at least in what I have seen called “the traditional, liberal” arm of Quakers, would better spend their time reading Karen Armstrong’s essay on the Axial philosophers in her book “The Great Transformation.” I am a Quaker because I believe in the transcendent–that is, something beyond what humans can know–and that the transcendent exists in all creation.

  6. I have read Aslan’s book and found it to contain some relevant historical and social context material that is accurate and he does have a readable and engaging writing style. Some of his assertions I found to be incompatible with orthodox theological sentiment however, yet my faith was not harmed by simply considering Aslan’s ideas. I did not consider the book to be spiritually authoritative by any means, and personally differ with the author’s implied conclusions concerning who Jesus is, but I respect his right to hold opinions that differ with mine and welcome the opportunity for an opening for Christian dialogue the book might facilitate between spiritually mature Christian people and other seeking souls who have read Aslan’s book but have not been introduced to “Jesus the Christ”.

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