Fawning over falsehood II: Zealot

by Marvin Olasky

Posted on Thursday, July 25, 2013, at 11:44 am

Last week I wrote about the amazingly uncritical reception Reza Aslan’s falsehood-filled book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (Random House), received from National Public Radio.The bad news this week is that Zealot, aided by the NPR imprimatur, is near the top of best-seller lists, and is still meeting a fawning reception rather than the fact-checking it deserves.

Handsome and articulate Aslan (too bad he is sullying a good name) is performing well on the talk show circuit with hosts who know at most a couple of Bible maxims. Among the howlers Aslan got away with during a typical performance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe:

  1. “The ancient mind had no conception” of the difference between fact and truth.
  2. The biblical story of Pontus Pilate’s interactions with Jesus “never happened”
  3. “There is no difference between religion and politics.” (Muhammad apparently believed this, but Jesus did not.)

When challenged even slightly, Aslan raises his voice and tries to show total assurance, with lines like “what you need to always remember is. …” He labels Jesus a “nationalist revolutionary,” and Laura Miller at Salon, while calling Zealot “a credible account,” may have hit on its political message: “The parallels to today—to certain deeply religious and nationalist Muslims who zealously strive to cast out foreign occupiers and corrupt clerics—are hard to ignore, especially when Aslan describes Sicarii shouting, ‘No lord but God!’ Perhaps Zealot is partly intended to make today’s zealots seem less alien and scary.”

Here are just three of the many Aslan statements that even an uninformed talk show host could readily challenge:

  1. “Paul displays an extraordinary lack of interest in the historical Jesus.” False: Paul insisted that “our preaching is empty” if the resurrection did not occur.
  2. “The gospels are not, nor were they ever meant to be, a historical documentation of Jesus’ life.” False: Luke wrote that he wanted to do exactly that.
  3. Jesus’s “mission failed when, after a provocative entry into Jerusalem and a brazen attack on the Temple, he was arrested and executed.” False: Many times Jesus told the apostles that the only way He could succeed would be to suffer arrest and execution.

No such challenges came earlier this week when Zealot received an “I absolutely love this book” endorsement from Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, which is the prime way twentysomethings receive their news (and that’s a scary thought). The good news, though, is that Foxnews.com posted a critique of Zealot by pastor/author John S. Dickerson (see WORLD’s review of Dickerson’s The Great Evangelical Recession), who noted, “Zealot is not new work from a historian. It is a sophisticated presentation of views that Muslims have held about Jesus for more than 1,000 years. [It is] selling to America the core Muslim beliefs about Jesus—that he did not claim to be God, that Christians made up his divinity, that the Gospels are ‘myth,’ and so forth.”

I wholeheartedly agree with what Dickerson wrote: “We are truly, like Paul in Philippians 1, contending together for the faith. And like Paul, I can say, ‘I thank God every time I remember you … because of your partnership in the gospel.’ Let us together continue to ‘speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.’ … And let us never tire of graciously and lovingly ‘contending as one man for the faith of the gospel, without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you’” (verses 14, 27-28). 

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. His latest book is Reforming Journalism. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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