Muslims Writing About Jesus: Reza Aslan’s Zealot
Reza Aslan grew up in a nominally Muslim family in Northern California, and converted to Christianity at age thirteen. After two decades of rigorous research into the origins of Christianity he concluded he had previously been duped, and returned to Islam (xix). He now claims to be more devoted to Jesus than ever–a “committed disciple” (xx) of the “real Jesus”–not the “Jesus of faith.” Aslan thinks his portrait of Jesus, hidden behind layers of theology and centuries of interpretation, may in fact be more accurate than what the Gospels present (xxviii). His book is for the general audience with the express purpose of prying the historical Jesus away from the Christ of Christianity (120, 215-216).
Zealot shot to the top of the bestseller list due to a notorious interview on Fox News, where Lauren Green began by asking the author why a Muslim would write about Christianity’s founder. After that the discussion went downhill, recording the anchor’s ignorance (bias?) of Islam, and the author’s vigorous self-defense as scholar, who just happens to be a Muslim. Throughout the tense dialog, Aslan repeated his credentials three times: he has four degrees and is an “expert” in the history of religions. New Testament scholars would agree that he is a scholar on the history of religions, though not of early Christianity (his PhD is in sociology). But rather than question an author’s credentials, it is more helpful to discuss the contents of his work.
Having previously read the author’s No god but God, I was eager to purchase this book, but found it disturbing and unconvincing. It is poor scholarship in that the author confidently relies on outdated and untrustworthy sources. He does not seem interested in grappling with those who believe New Testament writers, like Luke, wrote with diligence and integrity. Finally, though some of the history is interesting, and the author engaging, there is little that resonates with how most Muslims see the prophet Jesus. Here, he is presented more like a failed Muhammad. A statement in the Introduction of Zealot seems to sum up the author’s own bias: “Scholars tend to see the Jesus they want to see.”