Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Book Everyone's Talking About

ISBN-10: 140006922X
ISBN-13: 9781400069224
Published: Random House, 07/16/2013
Pages: 336
Language: English
A little more than a week ago, I began to notice Flyleaf customers were suddenly eager for a book that had initially shipped only a modest number of copies called Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. Naturally, we were caught by surprise by this sudden sharp increase in demand (although I'm happy to say we now have a stack of copies prominently displayed) which, according to our customers, was all due to an interview Fox News conducted with the author of the book, Reza Aslan. Without wading into the controversy, I think it's fair to say that many, including the author, were surprised by the line of questioning taken, which emphasized his personal beliefs rather than the scholarly content of his book. For example, the interview began with the question: “You’re a Muslim, so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?” to which Aslan responded: “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 just happens to be a Muslim.” A tad more combative than your typical book interview, certainly.

The fires of controversy were apparent sparked by a series of articles written by conservative pastors and thinkers, who took offense at what they perceived to be Aslan's bias against Christianity. Aslan has now become a religious/political football for both the right- and left-leaning media, frequently to the point of obscuring the book's actual content, which is a shame, because it seems quite fascinating. I haven't managed to read Zealot just yet (I do, occasionally, have to meet basic human needs) but I have read and heard enough about it to put it at the top of my reading list. 

For the curious, I recommend the pre-Fox News-incident  interview conducted with the author on NPR's Fresh Air program. Aslan retraces his formative years with host Terry Gross, and does, in fact, explain why he is so interested in Christianity and the historical Jesus Christ. More importantly, perhaps, he explains some of the finer points of his book's thesis, which involves reinterpreting Jesus as a kind of Jewish freedom fighter: "...that's why if we really want to know who Jesus was and what he meant, we should start not at the beginning of the story — with him in a manger — but at the end of the story, with him on a cross. Because if Jesus was in fact crucified by Rome, he was crucified for sedition. He was crucified because he challenged the Roman occupation."

Regardless of whether you agree with Aslan's interpretation-- there have been scholarly critiques of his central thesis-- I think it's a little bit wonderful that the literary world still inspires such passionate debate. Who's right? I couldn't tell you. But I have an opinion, and I'm glad other people do too.

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