Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Fox zealot vs. mainstream Aslan

By Frank Moraes

The Fox News interview of Reza Aslan was interesting and fun. (For those who haven't seen it, it is embedded below.) He was on to hock his book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. And basically, the entire interview was about why a Muslim would write a book about Christianity. I understand why they approached Aslan and his book this way. The truth is that he was only being interviewed because according to conservative ideology the only interesting thing about the book was that Aslan is a Muslim. And really: who in the mainstream press is interested in New Testament scholarship?

What is sad about the current state of Biblical scholarship is that the field is overflowing with Christians. To me, there is no question that a Muslim can be a good Biblical scholar. But I have great questions as to whether any given Christian can be a good Biblical scholar. This isn't to say that there aren't Christian Biblical scholars who are good. In fact, there are great Christian biblical scholars. But there is a natural concern that these scholars will try to conform their scholarship to their religious beliefs. A Buddhist, for example, doesn't have that problem.

The attitude on view at Fox News is typical. It is also an indictment of modern American Christianity. The way I see it is that "believers" are so insecure about the truth of their belief that they can't brook any objective discussion of it. What's funny about it is that such people think they are protecting the religion. But any objective viewer can see the terror in their attacks.

I haven't read Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. What's more, I have no intention of doing so. Based only on the title of the book, it sounds distinctly like well traveled territory. In particular, it sounds like John Dominic Crossan -- himself a Roman Catholic. I don't mean that as an insult. Crossan is brilliant. I just don't see why I would read yet another book on biblical scholarship that says more or less what I already know.

Plus, in the interview, Aslan said something that I really disagree with. He said that there was no question that Jesus was crucified. There is very much a question about that! There are no non-Biblical sources for the Crucifixion. What's more, the Crucifixion stories are not consistent. I think it takes a great will to assume that somehow there must be some historicity behind what are at least mostly legend. As Robert M. Price wrote in The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man:

One wonders if all these scholars came to a certain point and stopped, their assumption being, "If Jesus was a historical figure, he must have done and said something!"

His point (in this comment and the book as a whole) is that as scholars dig into the Bible, they find very little that works as history. So believers have a tendency to simply stop working at a certain point and figure what they haven't studied must be true. Regardless of who Jesus was or was not, it just can't be determined by what is in the Bible. Regardless of all this, Aslan is firmly in the middle of New Testament scholarship. He isn't arguing that the historical Jesus isn't to be found in the Bible, much less that Jesus was a myth. Clearly, he thinks we can determine who Jesus really was based upon the Bible. And that man most likely is very much the man who Crossan finds in the Bible.

I used to have a roommate named Jerry. He was very conservative. He was also a hardcore Christian. Or so he thought. He never went to church. He never read the Bible. He commonly hired prostitutes, did drugs, and was extremely mean to many of God's creatures. He was only a Christian in the sense that he would explode in rage if anyone suggested that Jesus was the one, true way. That's what the whole Fox News interview seemed like to me. The truth is that Aslan's book falls somewhere within the mainstream of Biblical scholarship. But such people can't accept anyone who is not a true believer discussing their religion. It really comes down to the fact that they know almost nothing about their supposed faith. And that is something that is worthy of outrage.

(Cross-posted at Frankly Curious.)

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