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Reza Aslan: Why Aren't You a Jew?

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Reza Aslan
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Lucky for Reza Aslan that he was subjected to a brutally ridiculous interview by religion correspondent Lauren Green on Fox News. Green asked why a Muslim would write a book about Jesus. Even though Aslan reminded her that he had also written a book about Islam, and that he was a scholar of biblical history, she continued to hammer him with hostile versions of this question. The controversial interview went viral worldwide -- and will guarantee Aslan's book, Zealot: the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, a long run on the best seller list -- and perhaps a distinguished professorship for Aslan at a leading university. Green relentlessly pounded on the Muslim theme with the view that as a Muslim Aslan would be hopelessly biased about Jesus' life.

What a strange accusation coming from the news organization widely regarded as king of doctrinaire spin and bias. Scholars have the right and skills to explore whatever issues they choose, regardless of their religions or theoretical preferences or beliefs. If that weren't the case almost all scholarship would have to be discarded. Just as an example, in my field of psychology, behaviorists are biased in their criticisms of Freudian psychologists and other clinical theorists and vise versa. Similar biases, seeped in ferocious in-fighting, can be found in every discipline -- particularly at universities. Aside from that, the charge of Muslim bias against Aslan is particularly unwarranted in view of Aslan's forthright statements in a note at the beginning of his book, which Green either ignored or didn't bother to read.

Aslan reports that he was raised in a family of "lukewarm Muslims and atheists... After the Iranian revolution forced my family to flee our home [they emigrated to the U.S in 1979 when Aslan was seven years old]... religion in general and Islam in particular became taboo in our household."

As a teenager, Aslan embraced Jesus while attending an evangelical Christian youth camp: "I burned with absolute devotion to my newfound faith. ... I began to eagerly share the good news about Jesus Christ with my friends and family, my neighbors and classmates, with people I'd just met and with strangers on the street." Later he attended Santa Clara University, a Jesuit school, where he deepened his study of Christianity. That's when he began to question the historicity or factual accuracy of the stories about Jesus. He concluded that Jesus was not the divine savior.

Aslan then revisited Islam: "... and began to rethink the faith of my forefathers." Nevertheless, his continued scholarly study of Christianity "... made me a more genuinely committed disciple of Jesus of Nazareth than I ever was of Jesus Christ." In Terry Gross's NPR interview on July 15, Reza Aslan confirms explicitly that Jesus was a thoroughly committed practicing Jew -- that he was immersed in a Jewish context, was devoted to the Jewish God, and had no intention of creating a new religion: "You have to place every word that comes out of his mouth, every action that he performs in a Jewish context."

Well, if you reject the virgin birth, Jesus' divinity, and the resurrection -- as Aslan does -- what remains is Judaism. So I can only say to Aslan: As a professed disciple of Jesus the man and Jew, why aren't you a Jew?


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Bernard Starr, PhD, is a psychologist and Professor Emeritus at CUNY (Brooklyn College). He is also a past president of the Brooklyn Psychological Association and the Association for Spirituality and Psychotherapy. His latest book is "Jesus, (more...)

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