Reza Aslan’s new book on the historical Jesus gets celebrated by left-wing media

Fox News reports. (H/T Melissa P.M.)


Reza Aslan, author of the new book, “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth” has been interviewed on a host of media outlets in the last week. Riding a publicity wave, the book has surged to #2 on Amazon’s list.

Media reports have introduced Aslan as a “religion scholar” but have failed to mention that he is a devout Muslim.

His book is not a historian’s report on Jesus. It is an educated Muslim’s opinion about Jesus — yet the book is being peddled as objective history on national TV and radio.

Aslan is not a trained historian. Like tens of thousands of us he has been formally educated in theology and New Testament Greek.

He is a bright man with every right to hold his own opinion about Jesus—and to proselytize his opinion.

As a sincere man, Aslan’s Muslim beliefs affect his entire life, including his conclusions about Jesus. But this is not being disclosed. “Zealot” is being presented as objective and scholarly history, not as it actually is—an educated Muslim’s opinions about Jesus and the ancient Near East.

“Zealot” is a fast-paced demolition of the core beliefs that Christianity has taught about Jesus for 2,000 years. Its conclusions are long-held Islamic claims—namely, that Jesus was a zealous prophet type who didn’t claim to be God, that Christians have misunderstood him, and that the Christian Gospels are not the actual words or life of Jesus but “myth.”

These claims are not new or unique. They are hundreds of years old among Muslims. Sadly, readers who have listened to interviews on NPR, “The Daily Show,” Huffington Post or MSNBC may pick up the book expecting an unbiased and historic report on Jesus and first century Jewish culture. (I will let my Jewish friends address Aslan’s statement on MSNBC that, “there were certainly a lot of Jewish terrorists in first century Palestine.”)

I took a look at the  author’s CV and I don’t see a single degree in ancient history on it. He is a professor of creative writing, though. Studying “religion” is not the same thing as studying ancient history, by the way.

Here is his faculty page at UC Riverside:

Professor Aslan joins UCR from the Center of Public Diplomacy at University of Southern California. He has Degrees in Religions from Harvard University, and the University of California, Santa Barbara, as well as a Masters in Fine Arts from the University of Iowa, where he was named the Truman Capote Fellow in Fiction. He is currently working on his Ph.D. at University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of the New York Times Bestseller, No god but God: The origins, Evolution, and the future of Islam which has been translated into half a dozen languages, short-listed for the Guardian (UK) First Book Award, and nominated for a PEN USA award for research Non-Fiction.

He has a PhD in sociology of religions. SOCIOLOGY. Not history.

A search of publications on Google Scholar turns up no academic articles on the historical Jesus.

Here are his recent non-academic publications from his web site – see if you see any in academic history journals:

The Devastating Consequences of the anti-Morsi Revolution
Vocative, July 2, 2013

Bahrain’s Fake Sectarian War
Foreign Affairs, June 30, 2013

Missing Mahmoud
Foreign Policy, June 12, 2013

The impact of the Arab Spring on the Palestinian Authority’s foreign policy.
Council on Foreign Relations, April 24, 2013

Israel risks its place in America’s affections by its tone-deaf policy
The National, February 4, 2013

Divided by the Same Father
Tony Blair Faith Foundation, November 30, 2012

Rejected by Religions, but Not by Believers
New York Times, October 4, 2012

Political Islam in the Middle East
Council on Foreign Relations, December 7, 2012

Grand Ayatollah or Grand Old Party?
Foreign Policy, February 29, 2012

Fire This Time
Los Angeles Review of Books, September 11, 2011

Ibn Battuta: World Wanderer
Time Magazine, July 21, 2011

Backward Glances: Islamic Erotica, Then and Now
Playboy Magazine, January 2011

Now, I do think it’s possible for someone without formal training to write a book on the historical Jesus. But I would regard such books with skepticism. Especially when he dates the Gospel of Mark to later than 70 A.D. – definitely not a mainstream view. The atheist scholar James Crossley dates Mark to the late 30s to early 40s, for example. But a plausible case can be made (by an actual historian) that the Gospel of Mark is dated sometime in the mid-50s.

The real story here though is media bias. Why is the liberal media so interested in promoting a book about the historical Jesus which questions the orthodox view of Jesus, whereas they were not doing anything to promote Darwin’s Doubt, which questioned the orthodox view of Darwinism? I think there is a double standard here. Meyer did his PhD work on these issues and has the relevant academic publications in science journals. (Here is one that was published in a peer-reviewed journal) And Meyer has actually debated his thesis with his opponents.

My previous post on media bias explains a bit more about what the left-wing media is really like.

UPDATE: Mathetes posted a link to this article on First Things.


Aslan does have four degrees… a 1995 B.A. in religion from Santa Clara University, where he was Phi Beta Kappa and wrote his senior thesis on “The Messianic Secret in the Gospel of Mark”; a 1999 Master of Theological Studies from Harvard; a 2002 Master of Fine Arts in Fiction from the University of Iowa; and a 2009 Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

None of these degrees is in history, so Aslan’s repeated claims that he has “a Ph.D. in the history of religions” and that he is “a historian” are false.  Nor is “professor of religions” what he does “for a living.” He is an associate professor in the Creative Writing program at the University of California, Riverside, where his terminal MFA in fiction from Iowa is his relevant academic credential. It appears he has taught some courses on Islam in the past, and he may do so now, moonlighting from his creative writing duties at Riverside. Aslan has been a busy popular writer, and he is certainly a tireless self-promoter, but he is nowhere known in the academic world as a scholar of the history of religion. And a scholarly historian of early Christianity? Nope.

What about that Ph.D.? As already noted, it was in sociology. I have his dissertation in front of me. It is a 140-page work titled “Global Jihadism as a Transnational Social Movement: A Theoretical Framework.” If Aslan’s Ph.D. is the basis of a claim to scholarly credentials, he could plausibly claim to be an expert on social movements in twentieth-century Islam. He cannot plausibly claim, as he did to Lauren Green, that he is a “historian,” or is a “professor of religions” “for a living.”

Well that settles it. His PhD has nothing to do with the historical Jesus. He’s unqualified.

6 thoughts on “Reza Aslan’s new book on the historical Jesus gets celebrated by left-wing media”

    1. I’ll add it to the main post. I think that the fact that so many copies of this book have been sold is proof that the default position of most people is to put as much epistemic distance between themselves and the historical Jesus as he really is as possible.


  1. This is not unusual. There are many who choose to disregard the testimony about Jesus in the Apostolic letters and follow a different teaching.


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