Is Reza Aslan Anti-Christian?

The author of Zealot explains his views on faith and historical scholarship

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Reza Aslan, left, on "Meet the Press" in 2010 with and Ron Brownstein, Political Director of Atlantic Media.

Reza Aslan, whose exchange with a Fox news anchor this week sparked a lot of outrage, used to be a Christian. As he discusses both in his book and his interview with Time this week, he “gave his life to Christ” at a camp when he was 15.  Born in Iran to a Muslim family, his mother and sister also subsequently became Christians. His mum is still a believer.

While studying religion at university however, Aslan came to the conclusion that the claims of the Bible didn’t hold up. Nevertheless, as a scholar of religions, he kept studying it; his new book Zealot is partly a result of all that scholarly inquiry.

It’s certainly true that the book disputes many of the New Testament’s teachings.  Zealot’s premise is that the life of an ordinary man sparked the world’s biggest religion. Aslan’s contention is that Jesus had no intention of starting a religion and neither did his disciples. The real brains behind the creation of Christianity, suggests Aslan, was Paul. The Christ “is an invention of the early church.”

This sounds like a position that undermines Christianity, yet in the extended answers from TIME’s interview below, Aslan treads gingerly around other core Christian beliefs. Here are his own words on faith and religious scholarship, and how to differentiate the two.

TIME: The point of difference between Christianity and all other faiths, Christians believe is the resurrection. Was there a resurrection?

Aslan: As a historian, I cannot comment on the resurrection as a historical event because it falls, quite literally, beyond the boundaries of history.

TIME: Yet you comment on other “miracles.” You argue that it was very unlikely that Jesus stood up in the temple and taught because he was illiterate.

Aslan: I scrutinize every word and action of Jesus, and the claims of his followers according to what we know about history. What cannot be denied is what I refer to as “the resurrectional experience.” Whether or not you believe that after three days of being dead and entombed, Jesus got up and walked out of his own accord, what you cannot argue about is the fervent belief of the followers that this happened. And the fact that their belief in this resurrection allowed this marginal movement of a bunch of backward, illiterate peasants, mostly from the backwoods of Galilee, to become the largest religion in the world. So, all I can talk about, as a historian, is the validity of the experience and the consequences of their belief. As a scientifically minded person, if you asked me is it likely that a man rose from the dead? I would say, no. But I don’t judge the historicity of any miracle. What I’m interested in is the historicity of the claims about those miracles. And the fact of the matter is that the one thing that both his followers, and his detractors, his friends, and his enemies, both agreed about, was that Jesus performed miracles.

TIME: You say that Jesus the man is every bit as compelling and charismatic and praiseworthy, as Jesus the Christ. How can that be true? That’s like saying that muggles are as interesting as wizards.

Aslan: The man Jesus is just as compelling and charismatic as this figure that has been created by Christians, because you’re talking about a poor, marginal, illiterate peasant, who dared to take on the greatest empire the world had ever known, and yes, lost, but who did so in the name of the poor, and the weak, and the dispossessed, and the outcast, and was willing to pay the consequences for that insurrection. He knew that this movement that he was founding was very likely going to end in his arrest and execution, and he did it anyway. That, to me, makes him an incredibly compelling individual, one worthy of being followed.

TIME: So, do you consider yourself an atheist?

Aslan: No, on the contrary, I’m a person of faith.

TIME: And what faith do you subscribe to?

I’m a person of faith, and the language that I use to define my faith, the symbols and metaphors that I rely upon to express my faith, are those provided by Islam because they make the most sense to me. The Buddha once said, “If you want to draw water, you don’t dig six 1-ft. wells, you dig one 6-ft. well.” Islam is my 6-ft. well. But I recognize that I am drawing the same water that everyone around me is.

(MORE: Read the full interview with Reza Aslan here)

105 comments
AlfeshZuber
AlfeshZuber

so what everybody knows paul is the founder of christianity historians says that and he wrote first 5 books of the bible and 15 books in 27 books after 40 to 50 AD later mathew , luke , john wrote another gospels by the influence of PAUL in 90 to 110 AD he is the true founder , no body knows jesus cruified or where his dead is buried jesus dont know all this christianity and bulding church how can a christians beleive in PAUL the apostle saul of taurus who killed so many christians with romans PRIZE? read the history of paul and so many scholars says this 

AbrahamYeshuratnam
AbrahamYeshuratnam

Although Aslan may pretend to be a man of faith, his Muslim upbringing will never allow him to see the truth in Christianity. Why is it he doesn't have the guts and stamina to write about Mohammed, his Prophet? Mohammed's early career and his exploits are all known to students of history. His war against the Meccans and his private life, especially Mohammed's  last days with young Ayesha could have been vivdly presented by Alsan, instead of the flawed biography of Jesus.

SteveAustin1
SteveAustin1

Belinda Luscombe appears to be only slightly less obtuse than Fox's Lauren Green - still largely more interested in the messenger than the message.

QRKim
QRKim

Wow.  You let a Muslim be the voice of Christianity Time?  You have sunk to an all time low.

SharonHenderson
SharonHenderson

I will Never, Ever buy Time Magizine again, if all that they can Destroy their Magizine by Lowering Our America people with a Muslim that hates Americans, and you are giving them a spot to Talk about Our JESUS CHRIST!  What kind of person would have this on a Magizine? He claims that he was Christian, then changes back to Muslim! That is so Stupid, and if he Really was a Christian, he would have the Holy Spirit in him, and that is not something you drop out of your pockets, like change! When we were born, we allare from the Earth, When we are saved by the Grace of God, we are no more of this Earth, But are of God, "His Powers" are in us, and we are of "The Spirit"! God's Son died on the Cross,and his blood paid the price for our sins. If w choose to except Jesus as our Lord and Savior, Jesus fills our hearts and souls with him, and powers to do things you may not ever believe. There is NOT ONE MAN, that could have taken the beatings that "JESUS" Took before they hung Our Lord on the Cross. JESUS was not all human, because no human man could have lived as long as he did. If you read the Bible, you would have known that Jesus could have called Ten Thousand Angels to save him, and everyone would go to hell, because only a perfect one, Without Sin, Could pay the price for all of our sins. 

benyaminshaker
benyaminshaker

he isnt anti-christian, cause all muslims and christians are just messed up jews

WilliamD.Simpson
WilliamD.Simpson

I will ask that people read a book which gives undeniable evidence to the truths of the Bible against Reza Aslan's "THE ZEALOT" to show that he has absolutely no truth to back his false accusations of Christ's historical account. If you wish to read a compelling testimony to the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ I am offering a free eBook version of "LIVING IN THE HOPE OF MY IMAGINATION". He presents his argument as I have presented mine. Lets see whose witness is the more convincing witness of historical truth...


Author, William D. Simpson

http://wsimpson.wordpress.com/2013/08/01/living-in-the-hope-of-my-imagination-ebook/

lisakaiser
lisakaiser

Whoops, there are not 40 gospels.  i meant to write "each of the 4 gospels was written after 70CE...)

lisakaiser
lisakaiser

joela46,

No writer of the gospels was an actual "apostle" and each of the 40 gospels was writenn after 70CE (after the destruction of the Temple--and that is the conclusion of every reputalbe Biblcial scholar who is publishing today).  It is even the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church in its published Bible--you can see this on the website of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.  I am not a Christain or Roman Catholic, but the RCC does good Biblical scholarship.  jesus was an observant Jew.  as such he would not go around saying he was God (that would be the grave sin of idolatry) and he did not establish any new faith tradition.  Christianity arose in the Roman Empire and was the creation of Peter and Paul--not Jesus.    And your thought that something is true becaue people die for it totally lacks logic.  Please read some history.  People of every faith tradition throughout history have died for their beliefs.  Christians killed Jews, Muslims and other Christains for their beliefs.   Buddhists have died for their beliefs, Hindus have died for their beliefs.  Muslims kill and have killed other Muslims for their beliefs.   So you as a Christian, would say these faith traditions are "true" becaue people have died for them????

lisakaiser
lisakaiser

Its interesting that so many Christains forget that Jesus was an observantJew and not a Christian.  Reza Alsan is certainly not the only biblical scholar to raise the questions about the the reliabilaity of the gospels.   He is one of a long line of such scholars.  It is good to question, to examine.   That so many Christains are up in arms about Aslan's book just proves that many, many Christains are ignorant about their faith, about scripture, about history, about Judaism as it was practiced in the time of Jesus.  Jesus was an observant Jew, not a Christians, so if Christians have the right to write about Jesus, so does a Mulsim (who by the way has impeccable academic credentials).   If Christians want to make the claim that only people ho practiced the faith of Jesus have the right to write about Jesus, then they would have to admit that only Jews should have the right to write about Jesus.   

lisakaiser
lisakaiser

Joela46,:  None of the writers of the gospels knew, heard or swa Jesus.  Mark, the earliest gospel was written some 40 yrs after the death of jesus.  Just becasue a writer of a gospel attributes some words to Jesus does not mean that the real/historical Jesus ever spoke those words.  The writers of the gospels had targeted specific audiences with specific messages to address specific situations.   They did that by putting words int he mouth of Jesus--words that the real Jesus most likely never spoke.  Jesus was an observant Jew, steeped in his tradition and faith.  he was preaching stright from the Torah--he was not establihsing any new faith tradition

lisakaiser
lisakaiser

Reza Asaln was Christain at one point in his life and he is an authrntic scholar of the Bible.   I don't why people complain about a Muslim writing about Jesus.  jesus was not a Christain, Jesus was an observant Jew.   We do not question it when Christians write about Jesus, an observant Jew.  Reza Asaln, ans a Scholar of the Bible ahs every right to write about Jesus.  If Christians feel they ahve the right to write about an observant Jew, then a Muslim who is a Biblical scholar certainly ahs every right to write about jesus, an observant Jew.   

streetball2mvp
streetball2mvp

What interests me is i do not see how he can find the crucifixtion of Jesus as a true historical event without being in direct contradiction of the Koran which reports that it was not Jesus on the cross but someone else, right?

streetball2mvp
streetball2mvp

I mean, you have to admit, it is kinda odd that he decided to write about the historical Jesus instead of writing about the historical Mohammed.

streetball2mvp
streetball2mvp

Right, Jesus didn't come to start a religion He came to give them life and more abundantly. I think it is good if a Muslim wants to write a book about Jesus because he was such an interesting person and it has to be hard not to want to talk about him even if your are a Muslim.

....
....

Interesting...we relive and retell stories from 6,000 years ago like they still hold some semblance of relevance today. I wonder if in 2113, they will still believe in bronze age religions, and genuinely fathom the "magic" of miracles, or zombie messiah's stumbling out of tombs.

TutAnkhAmon
TutAnkhAmon

.

 The guy converted Back to Islam so all his actions are questionable



joela416
joela416

I'll probably be told to read the book, but I'd be interested in hearing how Aslan justifies his position that "Jesus had no intention of starting a religion and neither did his disciples."

In Matthew (16:15-19), Jesus asks who his disciples think he is. Peter responds, "The Christ, the son of the Living God". Jesus affirms that the Father has revealed that truth to Peter, and that Peter is "the Rock" on whom he will "build my church". 

Seems fairly clear what Jesus' intentions are there...am I wrong?

MikeDeFleuriot
MikeDeFleuriot

If you were Jesus, the son of god, how would you have made sure your message was understood by everyone that would ever live on the planet? What steps would you take to ensure that your words were accurate and always able to be comprehended by anyone at any time with any sort of intellect? 

Now come up with a reason why you would not do that.

sachi_bbsr
sachi_bbsr

All said and done, Reza Aslan is still crazy.


benyaminshaker
benyaminshaker

oh no, he should have said athiest. This is a clear sign though that islam is falling to pieces to Iran, hopefully , faith will aswell

jsmith01284
jsmith01284

I can call the leader of another religion a pedophile, but don't say anything about my backwards religion! read the bible. it is just as bad as any other religious text.they are wide than Ted Bundys mind.

jsmith01284
jsmith01284

It is so funny that people who criticize Muslims for defending their religion against heretics are now doing the same with Christianity. the best part is, they are blind to the entire irony. Fact is, all religions are made to control people in some way. your blind defense of something you can not prove is proof enough of this brainwashing. had you Christians grown up Muslims, you would not see the reason for anyone's faith in anything else. As far as crazy stuff in one religious text is concerned, as it is becoming the fuel for bigotry here in the us, the same type of craziness is available in the text of competing religions. I respect this guy for being able to look outside his faith and review religion in a more scientific

jkaravidas
jkaravidas

And after all why must we care for what an Islamist (as Reza Aslan clearly is) think of Jesus?????

dogmandd
dogmandd

@SharonHenderson And yet.. Muslims around the world believe in Jesus as much as Christians do. Look it up!

Some people believe that they "own" Jesus.. that they can define who believes in Him and how one should believe in Him. 

Reza found Christianity.. then he found Islam. He concludes that Islam is a logical continuation of Christianity.
You don't agree.. That's fine. 

But you don't own Jesus.. you don't define Jesus. He's not YOUR Jesus.. or AMERICA's Jesus.

Jesus is beyond what you ascribe of Him.. he's not beholden to you, nor needs to follow your definition of Him.

Billions of people believe in Jesus.. and not all are Christians.. MOST don't share your same beliefs. But it is what we DO, how we TREAT OTHERS, how we SPREAD LOVE that matters!

Any honest believer should confess the limitations of their knowledge.. we are all flawed.. all sinners.. so how can we judge another's conclusions when we know our own are suspect? Best we keep our heads down and treat others with love and respect and pray that God sends us His illumination.

jkaravidas
jkaravidas

@lisakaiser

You presume to know more about Christianity than anybody else out there??? why is that ??? because you have read about it over the internet??? Inaccuracies don't make facts if you state them in a definite and absolute way. You dismiss the gospels altogether and state some of your own beliefs in conjunction with some facts gathered from here and there, only to create some image of Christianity in your head and then pass it as the absolute truth !!.

The problem with scholars who write about Jesus and take into consideration only the historical facts is that they need Jesus Himself to appear in front of them in order to be convinced about the truth or not of the Holly Gospels.

And certainly Reza Aslan is not an expert on Christian religion because he was a christian when he was 15 years old !!!. That hardly makes him a scholar on the matter.

joela416
joela416

@lisakaiser On what basis do you claim that none of the gospel writers knew, heard or saw Jesus? The writers of Matthew and John were most likely Jesus' disciples by the same names. Also, your claim that Jesus most likely never spoke any of the words from the Bible is completely unsubstantiated. There were many eyewitnesses who were willing to give their lives on account of Jesus' teachings. There's just no logical incentive for such extreme devotion unless Jesus actually said those things.

dogmandd
dogmandd

@streetball2mvp because he's doing a scholarly study based on Biblical and historical sources. He's not studying it from the light of the Koran. 


dogmandd
dogmandd

@TutAnkhAmon why is that?


Muslims also believe in the truth of Jesus and His message.

djnorwalkcpa
djnorwalkcpa

@joela416 

The followers of Jesus who remained in Galilee and/or Jerusalem continued to be Faithful Jews in all respects.  This would lead to some conflict (as the author of Luke describes in Acts of the Apostles) between the Christians associated with Peter, James and John and those Gentile communities that Paul founded in various places in the Mediterranean world.  Had Jesus intended to create a new religion, we would have seen Peter, James and John implementing that religion in Jerusalem and Galilee.  Instead, Luke tells us that Peter, James and John were initially very disturbed with reports that followers of Paul were not remaining Faithful to all of the Jewish traditions that the community of Peter, James and John were still upholding.


As we know, this dispute was ultimately decided in Paul's favor, although it is unclear from historical sources whether this was due to the agreement of Peter, James and John or whether it was due to the annihilation of the communities of Peter, James and John in the wake of the Jewish rebellion against Rome in the late 60's and early 70's.

So it is clear at least that Peter, James and John were unaware of any desire by Jesus to create a new religion outside of Judaism.  Otherwise, presumably they would have created it in Galilee or Jerusalem.  On the contrary, they were working to reform Judaism in Jesus' vision from within, not invent a new religion from without.


Many Christians believe that the Holy Spirit  guided Paul to invent a movement distinct from the Judaism of Jesus' time on Earth and the continuation of that ministry by  Peter, James and John.  And without Paul's differences with Jerusalem (and of course his voluminous letters), it is very unlikely Jesus' teachings would have survived the destruction of Jerusalem and Israel.  So from a theological perspective, I certainly understand how we can come to see God's will in the way the Christian church was eventually established. But that is an exercise in theology, and has nothing to do with Bible scholarship.

cjh2nd
cjh2nd

@MikeDeFleuriot 

if i was jesus i wouldn't be stupid enough to think my message was understood by everyone who ever lived. heck, i wouldn't be stupid enough to think it was understood by even 10% of everyone who ever lived. i'd also tell right wing religious nutjobs to chill the f--k out

romano70
romano70

@sachi_bbsr Why, because he dares to ask the questions we are ALL asking ourselves but are afraid of doing it because we would offend the "believers"?

cjh2nd
cjh2nd

@benyaminshaker  

3 people leaving the country and converting to christianity upon arriving in their new country isn't "clearly" a sign of anything other than the fact that they were more intrigued by christianity than islam. it says absolutely nothing about the state of islam in the rest of the country

jsmith01284
jsmith01284

[hit post by accident]... way. if more people were able to see things this way, we could possibly have a chance at peace. of course, we will create other differences. Before the nsa starts to track me, I'm not even remotely religious, so I won't be doing much more destruction than, hopefully, taking away some of the idiots who want to support that organization for a crusade.

yshabazz2
yshabazz2

@jkaravidasAslan was writing as a scholar not as a muslim however most of you don't know (or care to know) that Jesus is a Prophet of Islam and is revered in the Quran.  

jsmith01284
jsmith01284

science have you the computer you are using now. it gave you the electricity that runs it. you won't believe that guy, then believe science. all religion is fake. no one has to prove it's fake, you have to prove its real. you don't have any evidence for your religion, but science has a lot of proof. none of that will be enough for someone who has already made their mind. if God himself told you that all religions are man made, you would still not believe it.

djnorwalkcpa
djnorwalkcpa

@jkaravidas@lisakaiser 

I think you misunderstand the nature of historical Bible scholarship.  Its purpose is not to make Faith based theological assertions based on one or another Christian perspective.  Studying the Bible to support our particular beliefs and sermonizing those passages that we believe support our particular viewpoint is a fine exercise (when done with genuine respect for the differing viewpoints of others).  But that exercise is theology - not Bible scholarship.

Bible scholarship is an attempt to objectively use the tools of historical research, literary analysis, archeology and other fields to determine what we can objectively know about Jesus and the early Christian communities.  This is done with the same tools we would use to study any other historical figure.  And both Lisa and Aslan are correct in communicating the near unanimity of Bible scholars as to Jesus relationship to Judaism and Rome.  Neither Christians nor non-Christians have an intrinsic advantage in being objective.  The field of Bible scholarship is open to all.

These same conclusions have been reached by scholars of Faith such as retired Episcopalian bishop John Shelby Spong, Lutheran minister Marcus Borg, former Catholic monk John Dominic Crossan and many many others.  People of Faith need not feel threatened by appreciating the Jesus of history as well as the Christ of Faith.  It only makes the Faith journey more surprising and enriching.  Clinging to ancient dogma is an authoritarian tool that helps keep people in line, but utterly fails to nourish the soul.  Those who are afraid of embracing the Jesus of history usually do so because they are scared to death of generally struggling with dogmatic beliefs.  To my Christian brothers and sisters in this stage of their Faith journey, I heartily recommend contemplating Jacob in Genesis 32 (verses 22 and following) and Jesus' words in Luke Chapter 10 (verses 25 and following).  To love God with all your mind requires us to challenge dogma - not to bend history to fit it.

 

djnorwalkcpa
djnorwalkcpa

@joela416 @lisakaiser  

The vast majority of Bible scholars have asserted for a century and a half that the gospels do not contain eyewitness accounts for the following reasons among others.

 The gospels were written in Greek, not Aramaic, and they were written between 70 C.E. and 100 or 125 C.E..  Jesus'  followers were illiterate fisherman.  Like virtually all their peers, they would not have known or spoke Greek

Mark does not profess to be an eyewitness

Matthew and Luke reproduce about 90% of Mark in their gospel.  That is a very odd thing for an eyewitness to do.  Where Matthew and Luke are not reproducing Mark, they disagree on most points.

The author of John is unaware of both basic Judaism and the geography of Israel, and is clearly steeped in Greek philosophical traditions.

While this is challenging for some Christians at first blush, it need not be.  As Aslan has stated, it is very clear that the gospels are products of believing Christian communities. Mark, Matthew and Luke passionately and eloquently proclaim Jesus as messiah, a concept that would have seemed absurd to their contemporaries.  A messiah was to be like David, a magnificent king.  Jesus was crucified as a criminal and his few followers were disbursed.  And yet three different communities (those of Mark, Matthew and Luke) would make complementary, and sometimes contradictory, assertions that Jesus was in fact a Jewish messiah.

John took the Jewish concept of messiah and imported it into a Greek philosophical concept of the Logos.  Mystics for centuries have pondered over the exquisite presentation of Jesus from the community that gave us John.

Divinely inspired Scripture - true for very many of us.

By eyewitnesses?  No. God had other plans.

jessi713
jessi713

@romano70 @sachi_bbsr why is he crazy - well muslims hate Christians...it was a matter of time that someone wrote about just how much muslims hate Christians, but in an intelligent way. This is all this is.

jessi713
jessi713

@cjh2nd @benyaminshaker oh and I forgot to mention that he is now a rich man for it. pfff - but money has nothing to do with it right?(sarcasm)

jessi713
jessi713

@cjh2nd @benyaminshaker oh please - if he were still Christian he'd be dead right now in his own country. If anything he converted out of fear to stay in his own country or to enter. This is like a huge "please don't kill me - look look I wrote about bashing Jesus".

jkaravidas
jkaravidas

@yshabazz2 @jkaravidas for your information i have read the Quran (more than once) and i know that Jesus is stated there as a prophet of God along with some other figures from the jewish Bible like Abraham. Don't presume that anyone who is not a muslim is ignorant about Islam. The Quran aknowledges Jesus as a prophet before Muhhamad but does not accept him as the son of God in the way that Christians worship him

However Asan's research was talking about Jesus as he is presented in the Christian faith, meaning the son of God who resurrected from the dead and performed miracles using his divine power

jkaravidas
jkaravidas

@kaja.mohideen @jkaravidas if you want to know the true commandments of Jesus you must read much more besides the Quran!!!!!. Mohhamed states Jesus as a prophet of God but his teachings are in many ways contradictory to the ones of Jesus 

jkaravidas
jkaravidas

@jsmith01284 i don't have to believe what i can see, and not accepting what i see is blindness and ignorance. But it's a whole different thing than relifion and faith, these things are not backed up by evident facts and that's why it takes faith to accept them. Even atheism is one kind of faith because you're not sure that there is no God, you don't have the undeniable facts to prove it, you rely upon theories to believe this.

Science has nothing to do with religion, don't compare them because they are two entirely different things