I wasn’t planning to write any more about Reza Aslan and the conservative freak out over the fact that a self-identified Muslim (and one-time evangelical Christian) wrote a book about Jesus. Then I saw this awful clip from Fox News’s online program Spirited Debate in which Fox News has a conniption about Islam. Watch and cringe.
The clip begins not with anything about the book, Zealot, but rather that Aslan used to be a Christian before he “converted back to the faith of his forefathers,” with hints of apostasy when the anchor darkly hints that Aslan is questioning “the core tenets of Christianity.” (Faith of his forefathers? For me that would be, what, Greco-Roman mythology?)
Her very first question to him was this: “You’re a Muslim, so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?”
The anchor is Lauren Green, the Fox News religion correspondent.
The look on Aslan’s face is priceless as he pauses, seemingly in shock at the brazen ignorance of Green, who I again remind you is the religion correspondent and an actual graduate of a real college. “To be clear,” he replies, “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 just happens to be a Muslim. So it’s not that I’m just some Muslim writing about Jesus. I am an expert with a Ph.D. in the history of religions.”
Green’s reply? “It still begs the question, though: Why would you be interested in the founder of Christianity?”
Not only did she incorrectly use the phrase “beg the question” (which refers to a conclusion that is assumed true), she seems ignorant both of the role of Jesus in Islam as well as a fact I thought was obvious: Scholarship involves learning about things other than one’s own personal opinions and beliefs. (Insert Fox News joke here.) That’s why Aslan replied forthrightly that he studied Jesus because “it’s my job as an academic. I’m a professor of religion, including the New Testament.” At this point he was speaking very slowly to try to get the words to penetrate the anchor’s protective helmet of hairspray.
In Islam, Jesus is revered as a prophet, and he appears in the Qur’an by name 25 times to Muhammad’s five. While Muslims do not accept that Jesus was the literal son of God, they do hold that he was God’s messenger and Messiah and will return at Judgment Day to defeat the False Messiah, known in Christianity as the Antichrist. They agree with the doctrine of the virgin birth and hold that Jesus was God’s special creation. They differ only on whether the miraculous child was of divine substance, a question that more than a few Christian groups have also wrestled with. The other major difference is that the Qur’an (4:157-158) holds that God substituted a lookalike for Jesus at the crucifixion, and Jesus was assumed into heaven:
And [they] said, ‘Verily we have slain Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the apostle of God; yet they slew him not, neither crucified him, but he was represented by one in his likeness.’ […] They did not really kill him; but God took him up unto himself. (trans. George Sale)
But even this was hardly a new opinion at the time of its composition, nor originally an Islamic one. This was the well-known Gnostic heresy of Basilides, preserved by Irenaeus in Against Heresies:
Wherefore he did not himself suffer death, but Simon, a certain man of Cyrene, being compelled, bore the cross in his stead; so that this latter being transfigured by him, that he might be thought to be Jesus, was crucified, through ignorance and error, while Jesus himself received the form of Simon, and, standing by, laughed at them. For since he was an incorporeal power, and the Nous (mind) of the unborn father, he transfigured himself as he pleased, and thus ascended to him who had sent him, deriding them, inasmuch as he could not be laid hold of, and was invisible to all. (1.24.4, trans. Alexander Roberts and William Rambaut)
The same heresy appears in the Gnostic Second Treatise of the Great Seth, written in the third century as though in the voice of Jesus himself:
For my death, which they think happened, (happened) to them in their error and blindness, since they nailed their man unto their death. […] They struck me with the reed; it was another, Simon, who bore the cross on his shoulder. I was another upon Whom they placed the crown of thorns. But I was rejoicing in the height over all the wealth of the archons and the offspring of their error, of their empty glory. And I was laughing at their ignorance. And I subjected all their powers. For as I came downward, no one saw me. For I was altering my shapes, changing from form to form. And therefore, when I was at their gates, I assumed their likeness. For I passed them by quietly, and I was viewing the places, and I was not afraid nor ashamed, for I was undefiled. (trans. Roger A. Bullard and Joseph A. Gibbons)
If nothing else, such texts make plain that the study of early Christology is important for understanding Islam, which would be a direct and scholarly answer to the Fox News question. But it’s also the wrong answer. Scholarship should not be based on identity, and one’s inquiry ought not to be limited by one’s personal heritage. I am flabbergasted that an anchor for Fox News would question why a professor of religion would be interested in religions other than his own while having no problem whatsoever with Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly claiming special insight into Jesus with his book on the same subject, Killing Jesus, which is described in almost the same words as Zealot. Compare:
Isn’t it interesting that Killing Jesus is coming out in just two months? It’s almost as if someone at Fox News wanted to make Zealot unpalatable to the network’s key demographic to clear the way for O’Reilly’s book.
7/29/2013 06:21:57 am
Who is that botoxed thing with breast implants instead of a brain?.
7/29/2013 08:00:36 am
I don't think she is stupid or ignorant, just predisposed to her own agenda seeing Aslan's book as another assault on Christianity. In this post Christian era many Christians are a bit paranoid about any perceived threat to the church. It is obvious that she does not know what she is talking about and the actual framework of Aslan's book which is not a new theory; just an expansion on progressive Christian theology that was a product of the 20th century theologians such as Rudolf Bultmann, the Niebuhr brothers and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
What makes this a "Post Christian" era? I can't walk down block without running into one or two. It's no more post Christian than it is post Islam or post Hindu. The only people are know that believe we are witnessing the demise of Christianity or religion in general are members of the religious right that are upset because their "Religion" has evolved with the rest of the culture and they don't like the changes.
7/29/2013 10:36:00 am
Oh but she is stupid and she is ignorant, for a college graduate in general but especially for a 'Religion Correspondent.' Who at this point doesn't know that Jesus was a prophet of Islam?
7/29/2013 01:21:59 pm
"I don't think she is stupid or ignorant..." just predisposed to stupidity & ignorance.That "thing" manages to use her two functional brain cells to mumble,she is mostly inaudible
7/29/2013 09:53:53 am
Another view from MSN and commentary.
7/29/2013 01:24:30 pm
I realize that most people here are expressing a certain amount of vitriol against the Fox News correspondent (including you, Jason, which surprises me somewhat...your research is not nearly so angry at folks), but what surprises me is that an admitted progressive academic, who did his PhD in California, and has presumed spent much of his academic career surrounded by those who share his views....*was shocked and astounded to not receive similar treatment on FOX NEWS.* If a traditionalist or conservative went on CNN or MSNBC, they'd wisely be prepared for a potentially hostile reception. This guy had the "deer in a headlights" look about him. Wail against the host all you want: I'd be curious as to why a "scholar of religion" who speaks about being a professor, and boasts about his scholarship, is so shocked by a rather common question. Isn't he used to student interaction, people asking him questions? (Even perhaps silly ones?) He's very defensive, and apparently not used to people questioning him (which marks him as a very poor academic and scholar....I thought PhD work gave you a thicker skin.) Didn't he practice, or at least rehearse, in anticipation of a book tour (which he's on), of people questioning him as to why he wrote a book? It's not like he was asked a challenging technical question. "Why'd you write the book?" (shocked look on his face...)
7/29/2013 01:35:52 pm
"...and has presumed spent much of his academic career surrounded by those who share his views....was shocked and astounded to not receive similar treatment on FOX News..".
7/29/2013 01:48:03 pm
Honestly, reading his book, I don't see much that's new in it. It's pretty much just a summary of mainstream "historical Jesus" scholarship. I doubt Arthur Drews would have done much more than yawn at it.
7/29/2013 01:56:34 pm
I'll say one thing in defense of the anchor (who does not seem to be one of the shining lights of the Fox Network): I've seen numerous anchors on CNN and MSNBC who express similar intellect.
7/29/2013 01:58:40 pm
One of the issues is that Aslan is inflating his credentials somewhat. See this blog, though note that it is a bit too harsh. His PhD is in the sociology of religion and he teaches creative writing.
7/29/2013 04:03:32 pm
"One of his standard procedures is to spend five minutes describing his academic background, degrees, knowledge, experience, etc., as a way of preparing the audience to listen to him, and accept his "authority" of knowledge. ... I heard somebody expressing a huge load of pretentiousness, very condescending, and shock at being questioned."
7/29/2013 01:46:18 pm
The problem I had with Lauren Green isn't that she asked him why he wrote the book; that's a standard question. It's the presumptuous framing of it, with the ignorance it implied. For example, she might have asked "As a Muslim, did your Islamic faith affect your understanding of Jesus?" Instead, she used the language of heresy ("faith of his forefathers"...challenging "core tenets of Christianity" etc.)--and led off with that as the first and most important point! I found that rather shocking. There's nothing wrong with asking about Muslim perspectives on Jesus, but being seemingly unaware that Jesus is an Islamic figure as well as a Christian one was just bizarre.
7/29/2013 01:54:22 pm
Jason,Since we`re dealing with religious controversy,have you read John Boswell`s" Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe"?.
7/29/2013 01:59:59 pm
I did, but it was probably 15 years ago. My memory is a bit fuzzy.
7/29/2013 02:03:13 pm
7/29/2013 04:06:49 pm
7/29/2013 04:11:37 pm
"was unprepared (visibly) for such a question..."
7/29/2013 02:15:05 pm
7/29/2013 02:17:54 pm
7/29/2013 02:41:43 pm
"since when is high intelligence a requirement for being an anchor or talking head on TV...".
The Other J.
7/29/2013 05:29:56 pm
To be fair, let's say we were talking about a literature professor. Let's say his specialty was, I dunno, 19th and 20th century American literature. Let's say the prof also studied Anglo-Saxon and eventually writes a book on Beowulf, which is in a different language than a 19th or 20th century American idiom.
7/29/2013 01:29:29 pm
On the other hand,Non Christians should rely on the same argument to dismiss & stifle any criticism of their respective religions.
7/29/2013 04:17:52 pm
7/29/2013 04:37:14 pm
Uh, kennethos, I rather thought "I'm a religious scholar" was a PRETTY GOOD explanation for why he wrote the book, and it was like the first thing he said. And the last thing he said. "It's my job" was pretty clear, too.
7/29/2013 04:58:56 pm
7/29/2013 05:04:27 pm
"My own experience has been that of interacting with scholars who don't mind dissenting viewpoints..."
7/30/2013 10:52:37 am
Why do you think he's interacting with this anchor in a way that's different from any other interviewer he might encounter? I think the problem is that you're expecting him to react like, I don't know, a movie star or a politician. He's reacting like a normal dude, instead. The question this woman asked was rude and insensitive. "You're black. Why would you be interested in writing a book about George Washington/Thomas Jefferson/Queen Elizabeth I/Other famous white person?" "You're a woman. Why would you be interested in writing a book about Michelangelo?" Neither of those questions would do anything but raise a firestorm of protest. If anything, I didn't think Reza got ticked ENOUGH. Personally, I would have responded with, "Well, it's nice to know that you're a bigot, lady. Gods forbid anybody be interested in anything outside whatever prayer book they have in hand, much less trained in it."
7/29/2013 04:56:38 pm
"could have patiently explained"
7/29/2013 06:21:22 pm
I blame it on a bad casting decision.Lauren Green is not up to the task,Ann Coulter would have done a better job.She is a Christian crypto Nazi "intellectual" & she doesn't believe in the Darwin theory of evolution.
7/30/2013 05:41:23 am
Ahhhh.. so Reily has his own book coming out. That might be partly to blame for Fox's response to Aslan. Looking at this interview it's pretty clear that their 'outrage' that an outsider/apostate would publish a book about a subject they don't think he's allowed to discuss even if it's his field of expertise is a large component too.
7/30/2013 08:50:24 am
News anchors are notoriously ignorant people. Often the person in front of the camera knows nothing of the subject matter, and instead relies on teleprompter dictated talking points. One has to be overly pushy in reiterating what the teleprompter says when one is unable to debate intelligently on an unfamiliar subject.
7/30/2013 08:53:37 am
As an aside, I overheard a portion of Glen Beck's radio show this morning. He claims that he is going to blow the lid off of Reza Aslan's book on tomorrow's show. He hinted that Aslan is backed by some pretty shady characters, and that the book is agenda driven rather than a true scholarly account. It might be interesting to hear this side of the discussion. I'm seriously thinking of tuning in for once.
The Other J.
7/30/2013 12:20:58 pm
Detroit hasn't had Republican leadership, but the state has, and Gov. Rick Snyder has instituted a policy of emergency management whereby any city he deems to be an emergency case is taken over by an appointed official to help right its financial failings. Of course there are problems with that -- for one, it means the democratically-elected officials are ousted from their representative positions, and Snyder's hand-chosen person gets to take over the entire city. So much for representative government. Another problem is that much of the emergency management has consisted of taking public assets and selling them off to private owners, to either very little or no benefit to the municipality. Detroit was something like the 3rd or 4th city to be put under emergency management, well before the latest news that it's gone broke.
7/31/2013 02:52:10 am
So Rick Snyder, the three year Governor of Michigan, is responsible for Detroit's decades long financial decline. I stand corrected. FOX News IS the only biased news outlet. :)
7/31/2013 03:10:48 am
I checked a map and it turns out that Detroit is located in the United States of America. A bit more research reveals that is the level of government that makes most of the financial decisions for people who live in cities like Detroit.
7/31/2013 04:21:29 am
Hey everybody, listen up....Christopher has a map and is capable of a "bit" of research. Now, carry on.
7/31/2013 06:23:17 am
"Christopher has a map and is capable of a "bit" of research."
7/31/2013 09:03:07 am
Oops! Not sure what happened to the end of this thread, but see my response down the page a few steps.
7/30/2013 02:56:01 pm
As to any TV "news anchor", there has not been a single one of even average intellect since Huntley died and "unca" Walter retired.
7/30/2013 06:14:56 pm
Reza Aslan on the Lapham's Quarterly podcast
7/31/2013 08:40:35 am
I concede. I will not argue your comment about Scott Wolter. In fact, we almost became friends there for a second.
7/31/2013 04:04:18 pm
Not to be argumentative, but I think that you are expecting an intellectual conversation during the interview, but that is not realistic when you consider the intention of both parties.
7/31/2013 04:18:10 pm
I also wanted to comment about everyone's opinion about the situation in Detroit. I grew up in Michigan and lived in Metro Detroit for several years. I am not an expert on all aspects of Detroit politics but have been informed on the Detroit over the years.
Your comment will be posted after it is approved.
Leave a Reply.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.