Muslim scholar catches flak for book on Jesus

Faith Column



If you’re looking for a little mud-wrestling on a lazy August, cast no further than the dust-up involving a new book about Jesus written by a scholar whose credentials are impeccable.

What Dr. Reza Aslan says in his new book “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth” is probably not especially groundbreaking; after 2,000 years, authors and preachers are covering well-traversed territory. Were Dr. Aslan a Christian or even an atheist, his book would hardly have gained traction.

But Dr. Aslan is a Muslim who was recently ambushed by Lauren Green, host of Fox News’ “Spirited Debate.” You can find this nine-minute “interview” on the Internet; I listened to it earlier this week. Ms. Green repeatedly challenged, “You’re a Muslim. Why would you write a book about the founder of Christianity?”

Dr. Aslan patiently explained that his Ph.D. was in the history of religion and that he writes about Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, etc. He mentioned that he had studied Jesus for 20 years, but Ms. Green kept suggesting there was something sinister about a Muslim writing about Jesus, citing conservative Christian scholars who took issue with the book.

Almost any book written about Jesus (even by Billy Graham) will find detractors. That’s fair enough. But Ms. Green was pandering to inter-religious strife, even wondering (gasp!) what if a heretical Democrat wrote a book about Ronald Reagan. (Just about as close as you can come to Jesus on Fox News.)

At best, her comments were naïve, uninformed and simplistic; I hope she simply had a bad day at the office. Her performance revealed a fundamental insecurity present in some who claim allegiance to Jesus: What really hackled Ms. Green seemed to be not that the author was Muslim, but that this Muslim did not hew to traditional Christianity or worship Jesus as Lord and Savior.

If only a Christian can write about Jesus, then what kind of Christian would the author need be? Only one who has been immersed? Who attends church weekly? Who tithes? Who believes every phrase of the Apostles’ Creed? Who takes every word of the Bible as literally true? Can an unlettered Christian man, woman or child write a book about Jesus?

As for political authors needing to be in their own party, what kind of nonsense is that? Rand Paul could write a fascinating book about Hillary Clinton. Roy Barnes could write a fascinating book about Sonny Perdue. Those who write from within their own party tend to offer the hackneyed party line, whereas an outsider can pose incisive questions.

This column is not a book review; I have not read Dr. Aslan’s heavily footnoted and scholarly offering, although sales are up, thanks to the publicity. My issue is with the implication that only insiders and true believers can write about Jesus. If this were the basis on which people were hired in television journalism, Ms. Green would be looking for work elsewhere.

Creede Hinshaw, of Macon, is a retired Methodist minister.