Before the FoxNews.com interview with author Reza Aslan went viral, I wrote an opinion piece suggesting his revisionist Jesus biography, Zealot, was getting a free pass and uncommon promotion from many media outlets. (Pakistani-born and French writers have said the same thing.) Aslan immediately reached out to me through Twitter to let me know I am a “dumb,” as well as “shameful” and “ignorant and offensive.”
Following Aslan’s lead, The Washington Post’s Max Fisher likened me to a Nazi, suggesting I want all non-Christian writers identified “with a gold star on their sleeve.” The message of intimidation was clear: Question Aslan and we will label you an Islamophobic, prejudiced bigot—regardless of facts or reason.
In recent weeks we’ve witnessed a media mosh pit—with reporters from the mainstream media tripping all over each other to praise Aslan and mock the one reporter who asked a critical question. Meanwhile, actual historians have concluded that Zealot is a misguided and amateur work, but with a couple of exceptions you won’t hear that from reporters still backslapping Aslan. So, for those who care, here are some documented facts about the best-selling Jesus “biography.”
Fact: Actual first century scholars report 10 key blunders in the argument of Zealot. Anthony LeDonne (Ph.D., Durham University, England) and Chris Keith (Ph.D., University of Edinburgh, Scotland) are professors of the era that Aslan describes in Zealot. They conclude that Aslan shows his ignorance of the times Jesus lived in “on about every third page.”
Fact: It is mathematically impossible for Aslan to have spent the last 20 years exclusively studying Jesus and the first century, as he claims. Twenty years ago, Aslan was 21 years old, and his focus for at least 10 years since is well-documented: studying creative writing, teaching creative writing, studying modern Islam for his Ph.D., and writing four in-depth books about Islam.
Fact: While Zealot deviates from some details in the Muslim traditions about Jesus, its conclusion galvanizes Islam’s most important doctrine about Jesus—that He never claimed to be God.
Fact: Conversely, Zealot tries to demolish Christianity’s most important doctrine about Jesus—that He claimed to be God. Zealot concludes not with opinion or theory but with claimed fact that the faith of 2 billion Christians is historically impossible and irrational and therefore foolish.
Fact: It is not just scholars and Christians who find Aslan’s sudden claim to first century scholarship opportunistic. Pakistani-born and Muslim-raised writer Rob Asghar writes that it is self-serving for Aslan to write books applauding his own religion (No god but God) and then follow with a “history” book destroying the core tenet of another world religion.
Fact: The Jesus of Zealot is a violent and illiterate troublemaker who Aslan says is more inspiring to him than the Christ who taught humility, grace, forgiveness, love for enemies, and self-sacrifice. In so much media coverage, could a single reporter ask what following this Jesus looks like for Aslan and for society?
Fact: As CNN reported, Aslan writes that the New Testament Scriptures are “preposterous,” “fanciful,” “obviously contrived,” “riddled with the most basic errors,” “simply ridiculous,” and “absurd to the point of comedy.” And yet, when those same Scriptures can serve Aslan’s own argument and purposes, he quotes them as gospel in interviews and in the book.
Fact: Aslan bullies those who question his work, wielding his “four degrees” as infallibility. Of those four, one degree is in creative writing. One is an undergraduate degree. And the most important one is in sociology of religion (not history), with a dissertation titled “Global Jihadism as a Transnational Social Movement. …”
As The New York Times’ Ross Douthat wrote, a best-selling antichrist book is nothing new. But multiple media outlets embracing, applauding, and promoting the book as indisputable history without fact checking through historians, without investigating the author’s self-promoting claims, and without addressing the author’s obvious conflict of interest, that is new. And for many of us, frightening.