I’ve seen the headlines floating around the last few days about the interview of Muslim scholar Reza Aslan conducted by Lauren Green on Fox News. I didn’t bother to watch the interview because (a) it’s Fox News and (b) I don’t care.
But someone from my congregation wanted to know my thoughts on this so I bit the bullet and watched it (I watch it so you don’t have to, we believe in vicarious suffering after all) and it is cringe-worthy. (The video is embedded below.)
Note that this critique is of the interview, not the book. I sat and read through the book and the few statements I make about it are based on nothing more than that: looking through it and reading some salient passages.
Here are my thoughts:
Reasonable Question Turns Unreasonable
The headlines don’t do justice to this segment. The headlines and blurbs sounded like they were simply poking fun at Fox News (which is like shooting fish in a barrel) for asking a reasonable question. Asking the question “Why would you, as a Muslim, want to write about Jesus?” is a reasonable question and Aslan gave a reasonable answer. That line of questioning should have ended right there. Asking the question repeatedly and then using the answer you wanted to hear, but didn’t receive, as the basis for a claim of bias is ridiculous, foolish, wrong-headed, and just plain stupid.
Research Would Have led you to the Right Questions
According to this article on First Things, it seems Aslan fudged on his credentials. The article has further links to support the claim. This doesn’t make the interview any better, in fact, it makes it worse, because if Ms. Green had bothered to do any research at all she would have caught this and been able to call him out on it. That’s what these interviews are for.
A Well-Cited Source does not an Argument Make
The quote from William Lane Craig is right on the mark. I browsed through Aslan’s book (though you can bet I ordered it after watching this video! Review to come later) and all I saw was question-begging, tired old theories, and very little in the way of actual evidence despite its 100-page bibliography. (For example, in the chapter on the Resurrection he says that we know this didn’t happen but he never actually says how we know it didn’t happen. He says that texts reflect later tradition but he never supports this with actual evidence. Citing sources in a bibliography is not that same as making an argument. The citing of sources is to support an argument, not serve in place of an argument.)
One Interesting Thing
One strength of this book is that it focuses on Jesus as a political revolutionary, which, while not the focus of the New Testament’s teaching about Jesus, is an aspect we often overlook and which needs to be explored given the close union of religion and politics in first-century Palestine and the charge of treason used to justify the politically-motivated execution (murder) of Jesus.
This Isn’t News
Aslan is correct when he says that he has not reached any different conclusions from other scholars. (It may be that his emphasis on Jesus as Revolutionary will have some unique aspects to it; I’ll know more when I read the book). But it appears that there is really very little new in this book. As wrong as one may think his conclusions are, it remains that there is nothing new. The reviews, favorable and otherwise, do not mention anything ground-breaking in the book. To be fair, Lauren Green is a journalist but not a scholar of religion so she may not know this but that’s what research is for. (Incidentally, the same thing happened after The Da Vinci Code was published. Everyone was aghast: “Dan Brown says Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had children…other Gospels…Gnostics…” It was all quite amusing to those of us who do this for a living since Dan Brown simply recycled gossip and rumor that has been around for centuries.)
Maybe You Shoulda Read the Book First
You don’t have to read a book to do a book review (though not to read it is intellectually dishonest), and apparently you don’t have to read it before doing an interview with the author, either. The difference is, in a book review, the author can’t smack you down immediately and do it on live television so it’s best just to read the book before doing either one. I have a hard time believing that Green read the book before this interview. Either a producer gave her these questions (as this piece claims) or she simply talked about the one thing she actually knew about.
Anyway, here’s the interview in full: