Controversy grows over Reza Aslan’s book about Christ

Reza Aslan's new book about Christ is creating controversy. Unfortunately, the argument is now over his credibility rather than the content. Photo: Lauren Green interviews Reza Aslan

CHARLOTTEJuly 30, 2013 – Two things are clear about Reza Aslan, author of the controversial new book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. One is that he is a first-rate self-promoter and the other proves the age-old adage “there is no such thing as bad publicity.”

The divide between liberal and conservative thinking is highlighted in the uproar surrounding Aslan’s book. In the process, the author is laughing all the way to the bank.

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Until Lauren Green of FOX News interviewed Aslan last week, the debate was primarily limited to an adoring liberal media fawning over the manuscript while conservatives went on defense and dissenting biblical scholars attempted to counter his claims.

Ultimately, the most likely outcome will follow the traditional focus of liberal versus conservative perspectives with not much being decided.

On one side Green is being criticized for challenging Aslan’s ability to write an unbiased religious account of Jesus Christ when he is a Muslim. Various media outlets have termed Green’s interview an “embarrassment.” Even some FOX supporters called it “a mess.”

Countering that position, other observers, such as Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch, blame the media for ignoring Aslan’s Islamic background and misrepresenting his credentials in the interviews he is doing about his book.

SEE RELATED: What to learn from Reza Aslan’s Fox News interview

Spencer is a non-Muslim who writes extensively about Islam. In that sense any legitimate claim about Aslan’s right as a Muslim to produce a book about Christianity is moot. That said, Spencer’s dispute lies in what he says is the falsifying of facts that Aslan and the media have overlooked in endorsing the book.

Aslan appeared prepared for such assertions by Green by immediately defending his right as a religious scholar citing his four degrees which include one on the New Testament. Aslan then mentioned he has twenty years of research in all religions which include his studies on the life of Christ.

It is here the discussion becomes muddy. Consequently, the controversy will continue, but from now on, rather than discussing the merits of the book and its treatise, we will once again become mired in an endless philosophical argument over opposing liberal/conservative thought..

As sources have pointed out, Aslan’s degrees are 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.

On the surface, Aslan’s focus on religious studies appear extensive. However as Joe Carter explains in GetReligion 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?”

Says Carter, if this is the point Aslan is making, then having a degree in the New Testament is, at the very least, misleading.

As Matthew J. Franck points out in a column in First Thoughts, “…in making untrue claims about his (Aslan’s) credentials he raises questions about his credibility. It also raises the question of how often so-called experts and authorities with no real expertise or authority on a subject are presented by New Media outlets as representative “scholars.””

Some will argue that the degree of Aslan’s degrees doesn’t really matter when it comes to the overall context of his book. Franck disputes that point by stating Aslan is falsely presenting himself as an academic historian. As Franck sees it, “Most academic historians as well as academic sociologists would take offense at the idea that a “sociology of religions” degree and a “history of religions” degree are interchangeable.”

The unfortunate result of all of this will be that the argument will divert the focus to Aslan and his credibility while the author establishes a sizeable bank account. What will be lost is the intriguing premise Aslan offers in his book, which should provide legitimate material for debate.

The same is also true of an evaluation and study of the life of Muhammad.

If Jesus Christ and Muhammad were both analyzed honestly, without preconceived bias, it would go a long way toward a greater understanding of Christianity and Islam, regardless of who writes them.

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About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events and the people and cultures around the globe. He is foundrt of The Magellan Travel Club ( and his goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.

 His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.

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Bob Taylor

Bob Taylor has been travel writer for more than three decades. Following a career as an award winning sports producer/anchor, Taylor’s media production business produced marketing presentations for Switzerland Tourism, Rail Europe, the Finnish Tourist Board, Japan Railways Group, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council and the Swiss Travel System among others. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club ( and his goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.


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