In the summer of 2013, religious scholar, Dr. Reza Aslan, released a controversial book about Jesus entitled Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. It caused quite a stir in the media, and not just because Aslan is a practicing Muslim.
The controversy actually revolves around a confession he made in an interview.
When Aslan released his book, he took the well-paved route of many authors who’ve gone before him, namely newscasts and talk-shows. He gained notoriety in the aftermath of an ill-fated interview with FOX News when he was asked if a Muslim can write a book about Jesus. The answer to that question is, of course, yes – after all, a Christian can write about Buddha and a Hindu can write about Allah. The fact that Aslan is a Muslim (who converted from Christianity) isn’t what discredits his work; it’s how he went about the process of writing his book.
In a sit-down with TIME Magazine Dr. Aslan makes a surprising confession about his methodology. The following admission is why his book about Jesus shouldn’t carry any weight:
Your book Zealot is about Jesus. Why write about such a well-studied historical figure?
My biography of Jesus is probably the first popular biography that does not use the New Testament as its primary source material. My primary source material is 1st century Palestine, the world in which Jesus lived.
Isn’t that like trying to write a biography of Barack Obama by writing about 1960s Hawaii?
The New Testament is not a historical document. It was written by communities of faith many years after the events that they describe. So the historian has no choice but to try to cull as much information as possible from the world in which he lived.
There is so much wrong with Dr. Aslan’s thinking that it’s hard to know where to begin. But let the main critique be sufficient: if historians were to write about Abraham Lincoln, wouldn’t they do well to consult the 16th President’s contemporaries? Wouldn’t they want to know about his life from those closest to him?
Of course they would!
Thus, the best place to turn for understanding about who Jesus is remains the Bible.
Belinda Luscombe. “10 Questions.” TIME Magazine, August 5, 2013: Page 60.
Topics Illustrated Include:
(Resource cataloged by David R Smith)