December 11, 2018

The Gospel according to Aslan [Q&A]

Reza Aslan, author of the best-selling “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,” spoke with Jewish Journal book editor Jonathan Kirsch by phone from Portland, Ore., where Aslan was part of a national book tour. This interview took place just a few days after Aslan’s attention-getting appearance on Fox News.

Jonathan Kirsch: Did you feel some trepidation, not only as a Muslim, but as a public figure who has taken on the role of explaining the Islamic world to Westerners, in writing a book about Jesus?

Reza Aslan: Honestly, not in the slightest. It’s true that I have made a name for myself in writing and talking about Islam. That’s the religion that people most want to talk about nowadays, but that’s not my educational background. My background is in the study of religions, and especially Western religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam. “Zealot” is a book that I had intended to write all along. I understood that some people would regard it as an attack on Christianity. But I had already written a book about Islam that overturns a lot of orthodoxies, “No god But God,” and I was prepared.

JK: The Fox News interviewer seemed to assume Christian readers would resent the fact that a Muslim writer has dared to point out the difference between, as you put it, “the Jesus of the Gospels and the Jesus of history.” Has that turned out to be true?

RA: One of the very interesting things that has happened as a result of this book is the response I have gotten from Christian readers who, for the first time, realized what it meant to say, as orthodox Christianity does, that Jesus is fully God and fully human. When you go to church, all you hear about is the “fully God” part. To think about the Gospel story as though it was written about a person, rather than a god, is to open up a whole new level of spiritual understanding. I have had numerous e-mails and conversations with Christian readers that this book on Jesus the man has actually strengthened their faith in Jesus Christ.