2013-07-31

Aslan on his book about Jesus

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by Neil Godfrey

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch ...

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Until recently I had always understood Aslan was the lion from The Chronicles of Narnia series. (He was also a not overly subtle cypher for Jesus in C.S. Lewis’s novels.) But I don’t live in America so am a latecomer is learning that he is really a prominent Muslim scholar who is now in the spotlight for writing a book about Jesus. That there was any controversy about a Muslim writing a book about Jesus led me, in my naïvety, to assume that Americans were excited that a scholar from that “greatest of evils in the world today”, Islam, had somehow seen the glorious light of the true Saviour of that “greatest crusading nation against all evil and darkness in the world”, the United States of America. It’s always a propaganda coup to have any of the enemy come over to acknowledge a virtue in your cause.

American readers will know how wrong I apparently was.

I have since caught up with the world through Al Jazeera online where I read this:

OMG! A Muslim is obsessed with Jesus

The subheading is this:

Reza Aslan’s embarrassing Fox News interview speaks to the right wing’s desire to suppress progressive ideologies.

It is written by Mark Levine, a “professor of Middle Eastern history at UC Irvine, and distinguished visiting professor at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University in Sweden . . . ”

Mark Levine’s article is triggered by this recent Fox interview with Alsan:

Levine sees more than “mere” Islamophobia at the heart of this controversy:

Ultimately, what’s involved in the attack on Aslan’s book represented by the Fox interview, however, is something much more telling than mere Islamophobia. Rather, it’s an attempt by conservative Christian commentators deeply tied to the corporate elite to stifle any attempts to reapproach the founding acts of their faith from a progressive perspective at a moment when an unprecedented number of Americans have, or will at some point, live near or below the poverty line . . . . .

The full article is at OMG! A Muslim is obsessed with Jesus.

I have done my duty and ordered the book. I expect to blog something on it. I hope I won’t fan anything unsavory, except, perhaps, the usual suspect theologians who don’t like an outsider questioning the assumptions upon which their careers and reputations have been built.

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21 Comments

  • 2013-07-31 03:54:09 UTC - 03:54 | Permalink

    She probably boosted sales of this book. I can only say, wow!. She is really not self-reflective at all.

  • 2013-07-31 06:59:01 UTC - 06:59 | Permalink

    From reading the intro on Amazon, it looks like he is completely cavalier with the evidence from our point of view. He relies in the first few pages on the Josephus passage proven to be an “accidental interpolation” by Richard Carrier last year, then goes on to claim Jesus’ leadership and crucifixion are “hard historical facts”. Let us know if I’m wrong, but it looks like it might be worthless as history. As for Fox News, did you expect any better?

    • 2013-08-01 10:46:22 UTC - 10:46 | Permalink

      I agree that Aslan is too credulous by half to write a good history of Christian origins. But, that just makes this whole flap so much more interesting. His Christian critics can’t dare accuse him of excessive credulity if he uses the same documents they appeal to for their version of history. All they can do, if he reaches unorthodox conclusions, is accuse him of bias.

  • 2013-07-31 12:52:52 UTC - 12:52 | Permalink

    Fox News is a well known super-conservative echo chamber in the USA. Just look at this article http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2013/07/30/liberal-media-miss-reality-in-jabs-at-lauren-green-interview-with-zealot-author/

  • 2013-07-31 14:29:19 UTC - 14:29 | Permalink

    Bill O’Reilly, a Fox News commentator, is writing a surely terrible book on the death of Jesus- http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/20/bill-oreilly-killing-_n_2729584.html . This might explain Fox News’s dismissive attitude to Aslan’s book.

  • Neil Godfrey
    2013-07-31 21:38:20 UTC - 21:38 | Permalink

    One of the two points that particularly interested me in Mark Levine’s article was his link to a scholar’s observation that Aslan is not, as he claims, a professional historian. His PhD is in sociology. His four degrees are:

    a 1995 B.A. in religion from Santa Clara University, where he was Phi Beta Kappa and wrote his senior thesis on “The Messianic Secret in the Gospel of Mark”; a 1999 Master of Theological Studies from Harvard; a 2002 Master of Fine Arts in Fiction from the University of Iowa; and a 2009 Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

    This is the same point I have made about several theologians who call themselves historians. Unfortunately, this issue is not a simple black and white one. Even among historians there are some who tend to be lazy (I am using this term because it’s what other scholars themselves have used to point out the problem) and anything but thorough when straying into areas they have less familiarity with. Michael Grant and John Romer are the two most obvious examples of this given their very lightweight treatment of the gospels and Christian origins. Lazy may be the wrong word, though. I think they are just caught up with the prevailing cultural assumptions and are working in an environment that remains blind to these.

    • mcduff
      2013-08-01 04:33:43 UTC - 04:33 | Permalink

      I’m reading “Ancient Rome” by Simon Baker a BBC book from 2006 apparently related to a TV series.
      I’m up to Chapter 4 ‘Rebellion’ about the first Jewish War 66-70ce.

      The author is quoting the alleged words of Jesus from the gospels as historical fact as well as citing ‘The Acts of the Apostles’ in his bibliography..

      “In the gospels Jesus himself acknowledged that Caesar and God could coexist” p.249″…”
      “In Judea, according to the Gospels, a consensus was reached and advocated by Jesus ….Render unto Caesar…..” p250
      “… the notion promoted by Jesus of an acceptable Roman administration in Judea only became harder to stomach.” p.250

      I’ve stopped reading.

  • Vike Minson
    2013-08-01 21:05:59 UTC - 21:05 | Permalink

    Hey Neil. Typo on the title of the post. You’ve put “Alsan” when you clearly meant “Aslan.”

    • Neil Godfrey
      2013-08-01 21:24:30 UTC - 21:24 | Permalink

      Damn. I kept looking at that title, wondering — never spotted it. Thanks.

  • Mark Erickson
    2013-08-05 14:24:13 UTC - 14:24 | Permalink

    OT, but about Muslims at least. BBC will have a show from the series Panorama on tonight – “The Brothers who Bombed Boston”. Preview here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-23541341 Key quote:

    A spokesperson for Tamerlan’s mosque in Cambridge, Nicole Mossalam, said Tamerlan only prayed there occasionally. She portrayed him as an angry young man who latched onto Islam. “As far connecting with the Islamic community here, to actually praying, being involved, doing acts of charity….all of those were pretty much lacking. “I would say he was just a Muslim of convenience,” she said.

    • 2013-08-06 04:32:52 UTC - 04:32 | Permalink

      I doubt very much if he was a real Muslim.

      • Neil Godfrey
        2013-08-06 05:05:49 UTC - 05:05 | Permalink

        This is Steven’s sarcasm at work, of course. (For the benefit of those who may not know Steven’s views on this matter.)

        One always sees claims that so and so was not a true Christian or Muslim or Scotsman or whatever whenever that one misbehaves. Anyone can use religious thinking to justify just about anything. But of course some people believe (in defiance of all that is known about religious thinking and human nature) that Muslims can only think one way — and that is violently.

        • 2013-08-06 05:59:27 UTC - 05:59 | Permalink

          My apologies.

          People who bomb marathons can be real Muslims, and I was wrong to imply otherwise.

  • 2013-08-05 17:45:04 UTC - 17:45 | Permalink

    “…by definition, all interpretations are valid.”
    -Reza Aslan
    http://tinyurl.com/nbtx3kz

  • David Hillman
    2013-08-12 17:04:54 UTC - 17:04 | Permalink

    Discussion with the author her http://web.archive.org/web/20131007075100/http://stream.aljazeera.com/story/201308062112-0022963 . Nice personable people compared to their critics – but naïve.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2013-08-13 11:03:15 UTC - 11:03 | Permalink

      I’m half way through this video now and have heard three grossly overstated claims — I hope Aslan is more careful in his writing (I have ordered his book), because his off-the-cuff statements in these live interviews are not encouraging — he even says Pliny the Younger writes that Jesus was crucified. No, he doesn’t. He has a very narrow notion of the Jewish concepts of the Messiah at that time, too — he insists only one Jewish view of the Messiah as if there was no complexity of Jewish views at that time. He says his book is a distillation of the scholarship of the last 200 years. Thoroughly immersed in the conventions of both scholarship and the conventions of spirituality . . . .


      Have now finished listening to that interview. Interesting. Aslan says he wants to have a relationship with the Jesus he used to believe in as a Christian and that his Christian wife believes in now — how can anyone take this perspective as an ideologically neutral one? It is as ideological as any view of Jesus from any other believer or scholar whose work on Jesus is his reputation.

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