The first time I heard of “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,” by Reza Aslan, was when I heard people complaining about it on Twitter. Well, not really complaining about the book per se, but the author’s religion. I’ve previously read another book by this author and I remember it being pretty good, especially considering it was a book on religious history, and I didn’t recall it being unusual or laden with religious messages that could indicate a lack of academic impartiality in the writer. Apparently, though, for some people, just being a Muslim makes one incapable of being an academic or of being objective.
Fox News (a.k.a. Fox Entertainment) published an Op Ed about the book by John Dickerson, claiming the author is just some random, poorly educated schmuck who must have an agenda because he is a Muslim. As a result of the unfounded allegations and fear-mongering spin Dickerson put on the article, the Fundamentalist Christian-Taliban masses were enraged and set out to destroy the infidel (Reza Aslan, PhD) for daring to be a non-Christian while writing about Jesus.
It’s almost amazing, in a negative sort of way, how difficult it is for some people to comprehend that people of other religions are capable of obtaining higher degrees and writing from an academic, objective standpoint. Here’s an example of a Fox News desk jockey embarrassing herself while reading from a pre-prepared script during an interview with Reza Aslan:
She just can’t seem to get past the fact that he’s a Muslim and wrote a book about Jesus, as if it’s impossible to write about another religion with academic impartiality. She also seems to think that Reza Aslan’s claims to being educated are some sort of fantasy hocus-pocus that she just brushes off to get at the heart of the matter (in her opinion): “You are a Muslim! You are not capable of rational thought, because Fox says so! I say so! Every day!”
After watching the YouTube interview and reading the piece on ThinkProgress about how Dickerson’s claims are all sorts of retarded, I proceeded to check the Kindle book out on Amazon. The product page was flooded with one-line, one-star reviews that do not analyze or review the book, but simply discredited the entire possibility of the book being worthwhile because the author is a Muslim. It was pretty obvious that most of the “reviewers” had simply regurgitated what they’d read on Fox. Some didn’t even bother to process the information and just cut & paste the article into the review section, as if that would magically prove their uneducated and uninformed hate-mongering to be undeniably true. Some “reviewers” went so far as to claim that a conspiracy exists to trick people into buying the book because the author never revealed his religious orientation during previous interviews (also parroted from Fox), as if that has some bearing on a book written from a secular, historical perspective.
Does every Christian author need to reveal his religious preference prior to writing a book about the history of a religion other than Christianity? No, of course not, so why does Reza Aslan have to defend himself to a mob of Fox Zombies that are claiming his religious preference somehow invalidates his four degrees, including a BA in Religion from Santa Clara University, a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School, a Doctor of Philosophy in the Sociology of Religion from UC Santa Barbara, and an MFA from the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop? The history of religion and its development is this man’s bread-and-butter. If he’s not qualified to write a book on it, then doctors with medical licenses aren’t competent to diagnose the common cold.
I reported quite a few of those one-star reviews as abuse, because that’s what they are: hate-speech and abuse that have nothing to do with the product and certainly aren’t legitimate reviews that should be allowed to affect the product rating. The obvious intent behind this mob-style digital attack on the book’s product page is to prevent sales just because the author is a Muslim. And not only is he a Muslim (and according to some the instrument of Satan), he’s not writing about Jesus from the modern Christian fundamentalist perspective, much like dozens of other authors before him have done in an attempt to understand who Jesus-the-man was. Amazon seems to not really care about hate-speech or abuse or fake reviews that damage sales, though, because none of the so-called reviews have been taken down. In fact, the number has jumped by 10 since I looked at it last night.
I took the time to try to have a discussion with one reviewer about why he feels that Reza Aslan is incapable of writing a book about Jesus, but instead of actually addressing that question, he attempted to convince me that Peter never denied Christ, Christ never rebuked Peter for trying to convince him to not be crucified, that “Allah” does not translate directly to “God” and does not represent Abraham’s God, even though the Quran specifically mentions numerous times that it is a prophetic work in the tradition of Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael and Jacob. I kept asking him what his point was to try to figure out what his comments had to do with the ability of Reza Aslan to write a book, but he kept going on and on, changing topics as soon as he was proved wrong on some point. I finally realized that he wasn’t trying to justify his opinion or create a logical, though complicated argument about the book. He was just trying to waste my time by turning the conversation into one about the validity of Islam as a religion instead of being about the validity of the book as an academic work.
The bottom line is, the attempt of fundamentalist Christians who somehow believe it’s ok to break one of the ten commandments and bear false witness by pretending to review a book they haven’t read has propelled Reza Aslan’s book to the #1 best-seller position on Amazon, something it may have never achieved otherwise. It only goes to show that when you approach someone with hate in your heart, your efforts will usually fail and often backfire. If there’s something wrong with the book, because of its style, a failure to prove the thesis, or because the author played fast-and-loose with sources and added too much interpretation, then those are valid criticisms. But, just because a person is of a religion that is not the religion of the person they’re writing about (let’s forget the fact that Jesus was a Jew and Christianity didn’t develop until hundreds of years later for a moment), that doesn’t automatically invalidate the work as a whole. Obviously. Well, to me anyway, and to plenty of others who are calling out Fox for this rampant stupidity. For example, the Lauren Green interview embedded above is being hailed as a new contender for the most embarrassing interview ever by MSN.
I purchased the book. It will help me prepare myself for a course I’m taking on the historical Jesus this Fall semester at college. I’m also going to make sure I leave a real review for the book on Amazon to help counter all of the ridiculous bashing, assuming the book is good of course.
2 thoughts on “Reza Aslan’s “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth” and the Fundamentalist Christian-Taliban Response”
I purchased this book due to all the “controversy” surrounding it. I am nearly half way into it. Thus far I have not read anything profound or anything meticulously researched. At this point appears to be a educated guess at what Jesus real persona may have been. One thing Aslan has succeeded at it stirring up enough controversy around his book to make sales go through the roof. In that sense this book is already a success. I read all those reviews by what you called “the christian taliban” (accurately labeled) and they are ridiculous. I was raised Catholic and most of the time go to church, but I also subscribe to truths from many other religions as well. I will most certainly be able to give a better opinion after I complete the book but, at this point what it appears to be doing best is painting a picture of what Jerusalem was really like during those days.
Almost makes you wonder if he orchestrated the whole thing and is paying off Lauren Green now, right? I’m looking forward to starting this book. I’ve been putting it off to get all of my post-Summer session pre-Fall semester chores done. I know what you mean about “other truths”. It’s hard not to start feeling that way when you see how heavily the Abrahamic faiths have borrowed from each other. I look forward to hearing your final opinion on the book, Peter!