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- Lauren: Reza Aslan was a christian but converted back
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- to the faith of his forefathers.
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- He has now written a book about Jesus. The book has become controversial, as it calls into question some of the core tennets of Christianity. And the book is called: "Zealot, the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth". Reza joins me now from Los Angeles, welcome!
- Reza: Thank you for having me.
- Lauren: Well, this is an interesting book, now I want to clear, you're a muslim, so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?
- Reza: 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. So it's not that I'm just some muslim writing about Jesus. I am an expert with a PhD on the history of religions. I've been obsessed with Jesus -(cut off)
- Lauren: But that still begs the question, why would you be interested in the founder of Christianity?
- Reza: Because it's my job as an academic. I am a professor of religion, including the New Testament. That's what I do for a living, actually. So, I mean, it would be like asking a christian why would they write a book about, y'know, Islam. I mean, I'm not sure about that. But, I mean, honestly, I've been obsessed with Jesus for, really, twenty years. I've been studying his life and his work and the origins of Christianity, both in an academic environment and in a personal level for about two decades. And, just to be clear, this is not some attack on Christianity. My mother is a christian, my wife is a christian, my brother-in-law is an evangelical pastor. Anyone who thinks that this book is an attack on christianity has not read it yet.
- Lauren: I, uh, but, I wanna, uh (stutters) But I want to read you some quotes from some people who are criticizing you, one from John Dickerson who has written an (stutters) op ed (opinion editorial) on FoxNews.com and he says, uhm: "This is not an historian's report on Jesus. This is an educated Muslim's opinion about Jesus. His conclusions are long-held Islamic claims that mainly Jesus was a zealous prophet type, who didn't claim to be god. (stutter)"
- Reza: Well actually that's not what Islam claims about Jesus. My book about Jesus overturns pretty much everything Islam thinks about Jesus as well. And to be clear, I just want to emphasize this one more time, I am a historian, I am a PhD in the history of religions. This isn't a muslim opinion. This is an academic work of history. Not about the Christ or about Christianity for that matter. It's about a historical man who walked the Earth two thousand years ago in the land that the romans called Palestine.
- Lauren: How are your findings different from what Islam actually believes about Jesus?
- Reza: Well, Islam doesn't believe that Jesus was crucified, first of all. Islam believes in the virgin birth. I mean, Jesus was most definitely crucified and my book does question the vericity of the virgin birth. So, again, I mean, I know that we've mentioned this three times now. I'm not sure what my faith happens to do with my twenty years of academic study in the New Testament.
- Lauren: I'm just trying to bring out what some others are claiming at this point, and I want you to answer to those claims, which...
- Reza: Well, it's pretty clear that there are those who actually do not like the book, who are, y'know, unhappy with its general arguments. That is perfectly fine. I'm more than willing to talk about the arguments of the book itself. But I do think it's perhaps a little bit too strange that rather than debating the arguments of the book, we are debating the right of the scholar to actually write it.
- Lauren: Well, let me give you some, uh, other quotes, from, uh, a Dr. William Lane Craig, who, is, uhm, a... christian philosopher and a theologian. He's written a lot of books, and, uhm, done a lot of debates on science and religion. Uhm, he said: "Reza Aslan merely repeats bygone claims about the historical Jesus that have since been abandoned and refuted." What do you say to that?
- Reza: Well, I would disagree, I have one hundred pages of notes. And about a thousand books that I've used in my discussion. And of course, in any scholarly discussion of Jesus, as with any scholarly discussion of any ancient figure, there are gonna be widespread differences. But my hundred pages of end notes cites every scholar who disagrees with me, and every scholar who agrees with me. And I would suggest that anyone who wants to actually comment on the argument of the book would read not just the book, but the end notes to figure out where my scholarly argument about Jesus comes from. And I'm sure you're gonna find people who disagree with me.
- Lauren: (Stutter) Right, uhm, we're not talking about just people who disagree with you, scholars disagree with you as well. (Stutter)
- Reza: Absolutely, many scholars (cut off)
- Lauren: (stutter) ...what are your conclusions about Jesus?
- Reza: Well, my conclusions about Jesus start by placing him in the world in which he lived. So I start with one fundamental truth that everyone agrees on with Jesus, and that is that he was crucified. You have to understand that crucifixion in 1st century palestine was a punishment that Rome reserved exclusively for crimes against the state, like sedition or rebellion, treason or insurrection. The thieves that were crucified alongside Jesus were not thieves. The greek word "listis" means bandit, and bandit was the most common term in Jesus' time for an insurrectionist. What I say is that if you know nothing else about Jesus except that he was crucified, you know enough to understand what a troublemaker this guy must have been. The movement that he started was such a threat to the political stability of the empire that they actually had him arrested, tortured and killed for it. So I start with that fundamental fact and then I take the claims of the gospel, as every single biblical scholar since two hundred years has done, and look at them in the light of the history of this world that we know. And what's interesting about Jesus' world is that we know a lot about it, thanks to the romans who were very good at documentation. And the picture that arises from this, is of a real political who took on the politicial and religious powers of his time on behalf of the poor and the meek, the disposessed, the marginalized, who sacrificed himself for their cause, for those who couldn't stand for themselves. And whose death ultimately launched the greatest religion in the world.
- Lauren: (stutter) Yeah I wanted to ask (stutter) actually there's another (inaudible) coming and I wanna ask before we, uhm, end this interview. Taylor Cain just said: "So your book is written with clear bias and you're trying to say it's academic. That's a democrat trying to write a book about why Reagan wasn't a good republican. It just doesn't work." What do you say to that?
- Reza: Well, it would be like a democrat with a PhD on Reagan who has been studying his life and history for two decades writing a book about Reagan. Again, I think that it is unfair... (cut off)
- Lauren: But then why would you try to promote democracy by writing about a republican. I mean, I, uh, see (stutter)
- Reza: You're assuming... Ma'am, may I just finish my sentence for a moment, please? I think that the fundamental problem here is that you're assuming that I have some sort of faith-based bias in this work that I wrote. I write about Judaism, I write about Hinduism, I write about Christianity, I write about Islam. My job as a scholar of religions with a PhD in the subject is to write about religions. And one of the religions that I have written about is the religion that was launched by Jesus.
- Lauren: But you're not just writing about religion from the point of view from an, uh, observer. I mean the thing about this is that you're...
- Reza: Why would you say that?
- Lauren: You're putting yourself as a scholar and I've interviewed scholars who have written books about the resurrection, on, y'know, the real Jesus, and, uhm, who are looking at the same information that you're saying that your information is somehow different from theirs. Is really not being honest here?
- Reza: Ma'am, my information is not different from theirs at all. I'm afraid it sounds like you haven't actually read my book or seen what I've said about the resurrection, or about Jesus, or about his claims. I think you might be surprised in what I say. And there have been thousands of scholars who have written about this very same topic, many who disagree with me, many who agree with me. That's the thing about scholarship, is that it is a debate over ancient history and I am one of those people making that debate. I think it is unfair to just simply assume that because of my particular faith background that there is some agenda on this book. That would be like saying that a christian who writes about Mohamed is by definition not able to do so because he has some bias against it. And frankly almost every book that's out there is by christians.
- Lauren: No, he can do so, but I believe you've been on several programs and never disclosed that you're a muslim. When I think that's a reason for disclosure.
- Reza: Ma'am, the second page of my book says I'm a muslim. Every single interview I have ever done on TV or on print says I'm a muslim. You might not be familiar with me, but I'm actually quite a prominent muslim thinker in the united states. I've written a number of books about Islam. It's just simply incorrect to say that media isn't saying that I'm a muslim. I would actually encourage you to actually try and find media that doesn't mention my biography, which, by the way, is on the second page of the book.
- Lauren: Alright Reza, I want to thank you very much for coming on. The book is called "Zealot, the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth". I wanna thank you for coming on, it's been a spirited debate, thank you.
Transcript of Fox News interview to Reza Aslan
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