Over the weekend, Fox News religion correspondent Lauren Green interviewed Dr. Reza Aslan, author of the new book "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth." From the moment it began, the nearly 10-minute interview was contentious. Green questioned Aslan, a Muslim, about his faith and what interested him in writing about Christianity's central figure.
There are five exchanges, in particular, that showcase just how contentious, uncomfortable, and even awkward, it was. But before we look at those, it's important to note that, outside of this interview, there's a large-scale debate unfolding over the claims presented in Aslan's book and whether they are theologically and historically sound.
The author certainly contends that they are, but critics, like Dr. William Lane Craig, founder of the online ministry ReasonableFaith.org, maintain that the book includes assertions that were long ago examined and debunked.
"Aslan has offered nothing new under the sun when it comes to offering a critique of the historical Jesus," Craig charges. "In fact, he is attempting to revert scholarship back to the early 1900’s by echoing Albert Schweitzer’s book, 'The Quest for the Historical Jesus.' Like Schweitzer, Aslan claims that Jesus is historically unknowable and we can never get back to the real Jesus."
This is only one of many theological critiques. TheBlaze will be looking at these elements in-depth later this week. But for now, let's explore the interview that is making headlines:
1. "You're a Muslim"
Green started the interview immediately by pointing out Aslan's faith and asking why, considering his personal theological views, he decided to write a book about Jesus.
"You're a Muslim. So, why did you write a book about the founding of Christianity?," she asked.
Aslan, citing his academic credentials and professional experience, responded.
Fox News' Lauren Green and Dr. Reza Aslan (Photo Credit: Fox News)
"Well, to be clear, I am a scholar of religions with four degrees, including one in the New Testament and fluency in Biblical Greek who has been studying the origins of Christianity for two decades who also happens to be Muslim," the author said. "I am an expert with a PhD in religions."
Green pushed the issue further, with Aslan again dismissing her questions about his faith.
2. Islamic Opinion About Jesus
Throughout the exchange, Green continued to question how Islam influenced Aslan's book. And, repeatedly, the author rebuffed her attempts to explore this matter, claiming that he is fully qualified to be writing the book and that his faith is of minimal importance surrounding the subject.
"I am a historian. I am a PhD in the history of religions. This isn't a Muslim opinion," he responded at one point (interesting, at least one critic accuses Aslan of "misrepresenting his credentials" on this front). "This is an academic work of history -- not about the Christ or about Christianity for that matter. It's about a historical man who walked the earth 2,000 years ago in a land that the Romans found Palestine."
Still, Green forged on, asking how Aslan's findings differ from Islamic beliefs about Christ. The author mentioned two examples, noting that Islam doesn't believe that Jesus was crucified; the historian contends that he was. And while Christianity and Islam both believe in the Virgin birth, Aslan questions it in "Zealot."
"We've mentioned this three times now. I'm not sure what my faith has to do with my twenty years of academic study of the New Testament," he told Green.
3. "Many Scholars Disagree With You"
The journalist proceeded to mention scholars who disagree with Aslan's book, at points reading quotes from these experts.
"We're not just talking about people who disagree with you. Many scholars disagree with you as well," she said. "I want to get to the heart of -- what are your conclusions about Jesus?"
Aslan notes that he makes an effort in the book to place Jesus "in the world in which he lives," and he describes focusing upon the crucifixion and the notion that Jesus was seen as a troublemaker in his time. From there, the author says that he takes the claims of the Christian gospels and explores them.
Dr. Reza Aslan (Photo Credit: Fox News)
Following this explanation, Green reads a comment from a reader -- one who believes that Aslan is biased and who questions the lens through which the book was written. The viewer said that the author writing about Christianity is akin to a Democrat writing a book about why Reagan was not a good Republican.
"Well, it would be like a Democrat with a PhD in Reagan who has been studying his life and history writing a book about Reagan," Aslan responded.
4. "Why Would You Say That?"
After sharing the viewer's comments, Green steps in to ask a similar question surrounding bias.
"But then why would a Democrat want to promote democracy by writing about a Republican?," she asked, piggybacking off of the question that the viewer posed.
"Ma'am, may I just finish my sentence for a moment," Aslan responded, going on to again defend his academic record as the basis of his writing the book.
Rather than dancing around the allegation, Green simply stated it: "But Reza, you're not just writing about religion from the point of view of an observer."
Aslan, clearly unhappy with her comment, asked, "Why would you say that?"
Green then responded that there are many other scholars -- individuals with whom she has spoken -- who disagree with Aslan's information and the conclusions to which he has come. To that, the author claims that it seems as though, based on her assessment, the religion correspondent hasn't actually read his book.
"I think it's unfair to just simply assume because of my particular faith background that there is some agenda on this book," the author said. "That would be like saying that a Christian who writes about Muhammad is, by definition, not able to do so because he has some bias against it."
5. Full Disclosure?
Full disclosure was also a big issue for Green, who brought up the fact that she believes the author has been less-than-forthcoming about his background in past interviews -- a charge he denied.
"I believe that you've been on several programs and never disclosed that you're a Muslim," she charged.
Aslan noted that the biography in his book provides this information and that he often discusses it. Additionally, he let Green know that he sees himself as a "prominent thinker" and that she may simply be unaware of just how well-known he is.
"You may not be familiar with me, but I'm actually quite a prominent thinker in the United States," Aslan said. "I've written a number of books on Islam."
As mentioned, some critics have claimed that Aslan may have had some inconsistencies in how he billed his professional background. Unreasonable Faith, a blog that explores how religion is covered in the mainstream media, also looked at the exchange between Green and the author, noting that his educational claims may not be entirely accurate:
For starters, he does not have a PhD in the history of religions. Aslan has four degrees: a Bachelors of Religious Studies from Santa Clara University; a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School; a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Iowa; and a PhD in sociology of religions from the University of California, Santa Barbara (his dissertation was on “Global Jihadism: a transnational social movement [...]
Aslan also claims that he has a degree in the New Testament. But is this true? Santa Clara doesn’t offer a degree in the New Testament so he can’t be talking about his Bachelors. Perhaps he is referring to the Master’s of Theological Studies degree he earned from Harvard Divinity School in 1999. That school does offer an “area of focus” in “New Testament and Early Christianity.” Is Aslan claiming this was his degree’s area of focus at Harvard? (If so, this would make his claim about having a “degree in New Testament” misleading, at best.)
While this is a possibility, it raises the question of how — armed with only a Master’s degree with a focus on the New Testament — he became the first full-time professor of Islam in the history of the state of Iowa.
You can read the rest of that post here.
Glenn Beck plans to address Aslan on his television show later this week.
Watch the uncomfortable interview in its entirety, below:
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