July 20th, 2013
10:00 PM ET
Reza Aslan: Why I write about Jesus
Opinion by Reza Aslan, special to CNN
(CNN) - When I was 15 years old, I found Jesus.
I spent the summer of my sophomore year at an evangelical youth camp in Northern California, a place of timbered fields and boundless blue skies, where, given enough time and stillness and soft-spoken encouragement, one could not help but hear the voice of God.
Amid the man-made lakes and majestic pines my friends and I sang songs, played games and swapped secrets, rollicking in our freedom from the pressures of home and school.
In the evenings, we gathered in a fire-lit assembly hall at the center of the camp. It was there that I heard a remarkable story that would change my life forever.
Through his words and miraculous deeds, he challenged the Jews who thought they were the chosen of God, and in return he was nailed to a cross. Though Jesus could have saved himself from that gruesome death, he freely chose to die.
Indeed, his death was the point of it all, for his sacrifice freed us all from the burden of our sins.
But the story did not end there, because three days later, he rose again, exalted and divine, so that now, all who believe in him and accept him into their hearts will also never die, but have eternal life.
For a kid raised in a motley family of lukewarm Muslims and exuberant atheists, this was truly the greatest story ever told. Never before had I felt so intimately the pull of God.
In Iran, the place of my birth, I was Muslim in much the way I was Persian. My religion and my ethnicity were mutual and linked. Like most people born into a religious tradition, my faith was as familiar to me as my skin, and just as disregardable.
After the Iranian revolution forced my family to flee our home, religion in general, and Islam in particular, became taboo in our household. Islam was shorthand for everything we had lost to the mullahs who now ruled Iran.
My mother still prayed when no one was looking, and you could still find a stray Quran or two hidden in a closet or a drawer somewhere. But, for the most part, our lives were scrubbed of all trace of God.
That was just fine with me. After all, in the America of the 1980s, being Muslim was like being from Mars. My faith was a bruise, the most obvious symbol of my otherness; it needed to be concealed.
Jesus, on the other hand, was America. He was the central figure in America’s national drama. Accepting him into my heart was as close as I could get to feeling truly American.
I do not mean to say that mine was a conversion of convenience. On the contrary, I burned with absolute devotion to my newfound faith.
I was presented with a Jesus who was less “Lord and Savior” than he was a best friend, someone with whom I could have a deep and personal relationship. As a teenager trying to make sense of an indeterminate world I had only just become aware of, this was an invitation I could not refuse.
The moment I returned home from camp, I began eagerly to share the good news of Jesus Christ with my friends and family, my neighbors and classmates, with people I’d just met and with strangers on the street: those who heard it gladly, and those who threw it back in my face.
Yet something unexpected happened in my quest to save the souls of the world.
The more I probed the Bible to arm myself against the doubts of unbelievers, the more distance I discovered between the Jesus of the Gospels and the Jesus of history – between Jesus the Christ and Jesus of Nazareth.
In college, where I began my formal study of the history of religions, that initial discomfort soon ballooned into full-blown doubts.
The bedrock of evangelical Christianity, at least as it was taught to me, is the unconditional belief that every word of the Bible is God-breathed and true, literal and inerrant.
The sudden realization that this belief is patently and irrefutably false, that the Bible is replete with the most blatant and obvious errors and contradictions — just as one would expect from a document written by hundreds of different hands across thousands of years — left me confused and spiritually unmoored.
And so, like many people in my situation, I angrily discarded my faith as if it were a costly forgery I had been duped into buying.
I began to rethink the faith and culture of my forefathers, finding in them a deeper, more intimate familiarity than I ever had as a child, the kind that comes from reconnecting with an old friend after many years apart.
Meanwhile, I continued my academic work in religious studies, delving back into the Bible not as an unquestioning believer but as an inquisitive scholar. No longer chained to the assumption that the stories I read were literally true, I became aware of a more meaningful truth in the text.
Ironically, the more I learned about the life of the historical Jesus, the turbulent world in which he lived, and the brutality of the Roman occupation that he defied, the more I was drawn to him.
The Jewish peasant and revolutionary who challenged the rule of the most powerful empire the world had ever known became so much more real to me than the detached, unearthly being I had been introduced to in church.
Today, I can confidently say that two decades of rigorous academic research into the origins of Christianity has made me a more genuinely committed disciple of Jesus of Nazareth than I ever was of Jesus Christ.
I have modeled my life not after the celestial spirit whom many Christians believe sacrificed himself for our sins, but rather after the illiterate, marginal Jew who gave his life fighting an unwinnable battle against the religious and political powers of his day on behalf of the poor and the dispossessed – those his society deemed unworthy of saving.
I wrote my newest book, "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth" in order to spread the good news of the Jesus of history with the same fervor that I once applied to spreading the story of the Christ.
Because I am convinced that one can be a devoted follower of Jesus without being a Christian, just as I know that one can be a Christian without being a follower of Jesus.
Reza Aslan is a bestselling author and a scholar of religion. This article was adapted from his newest book, "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth." The views expressed in this column are Aslan's alone.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.
Verses regarding Mary in Quran (Islamic Scripture)
“Mention in the scripture Mary. She isolated herself from her family, into an eastern location.” [19:16]
“While a barrier separated her from them, we sent to her our Spirit. He went to her in the form of a human being.”
She said, "I seek refuge in the Most Gracious, that you may be righteous."
He said, "I am the messenger of your Lord, to grant you a pure son."
She said, "How can I have a son, when no man has touched me; I have never been unchaste."
He said, "Thus said your Lord, `It is easy for Me. We will render him a sign for the people, and mercy from us. This is a predestined matter.' "
When she bore him, she isolated herself to a faraway place.
The birth process came to her by the trunk of a palm tree. She said, "(I am so ashamed;) I wish I were dead before this happened, and completely forgotten."
(The infant) called her from beneath her, saying, "Do not grieve. Your Lord has provided you with a stream.
"If you shake the trunk of this palm tree, it will drop ripe dates for you.*
"Eat and drink, and be happy. When you see anyone, say, `I have made a vow of silence, [to the Most Gracious]*; I am not talking today to anyone.' "
She came to her family, carrying him. They said, "O Mary, you have committed something that is totally unexpected.
"O descendant of Aaron, your father was not a bad man, nor was your mother unchaste."
She pointed to him. They said, "How can we talk with an infant in the crib?"
(The infant spoke and) said, "I am a servant of God. He has given me the scripture, and has appointed me a prophet.
"He made me blessed wherever I go, and enjoined me to observe the Contact Prayers (Salat) and the obligatory charity (Zakat) for as long as I live.
"I am to honor my mother; He did not make me a disobedient rebel.
"And peace be upon me the day I was born, the day I die, and the day I get resurrected."
“That was Jesus, the son of Mary, and this is the truth of this matter, about which they continue to doubt.”
“It does not befit God that He begets a son, be He glorified. To have anything done, He simply says to it, "Be," and it is.”
Thanks for taking time to read my post. Please take a moment to visit whyIslam org website.
How much insane HOGWASH will the human race have to put up with before common sense and sanity prevails.
Reza, when you were 15 years old, you say you found Jesus. I say you found indoctorination. At least you turned that indoctorination into a well-paying career.
The more you learn about christianity the more you hated it, specially after you learn majority worlds great war and human suffering are between christian, since the Roman empire adopting christianity to the 20th century earth. Today christianity is just continuation of roman empire civilization, that worship power, greed, many gods, adultery and alcohol, way far from the true teachings. Many europeans share your feeling according to the recent poll, you are not by yourself, welcome back to sanity..!
Welcome back to sanity? You should know that Aslan has embraced Islam. This means that he believes that the angel Gabriel came down from heaven to talk to The Prophet. I am failing to see the sanity here....
If you'd bothered to read the book, you'd know that's not the case.
Who in their right mind would waste 10 seconds or their life reading this HOGWASH.
Everyone is invited to visit... thetreasureofzion.com
Jesus was just David Koresh 2000 years earlier. A sociopathic conman with a good story and lots of charisma. All this foolishness, without a shred of proof, has sprung up from there.
utter, mind numbing nonsense.
Thank god I am not alone, well said.
Watch the video interviews with this sham of an author. He claims the New Testament is a myth. Nothing new here, just typical Muslim hogwash...
Clearly, you didn't read one word of the book. He never claims the New Testament is a "myth." He is quite sure the historical Jesus existed. He also recognizes (as does every single other Biblical scholar in the world, mind you) that the first three gospels are earlier and closer to the historical person than the rest of the "New Testament." He also recognizes, as do most other Biblical scholars - nothing new or even controversial here - that a lot of stuff was added later. Christian Biblicists know this just as well as scholars of any other stripe.
Nothing like a Muslim, that claims the New Testament, is a myth writing a book about Jesus. I wonder what would happen if a Christian wrote a book about Mohammy and said the Koran was a myth. I wonder how many buildings would be burned down in riots?
It's MOHAMMED, imbecile.
I read the book and found it refreshing! True, most of the information is simply a rehashing of older information...(finding anything truly new about Jesus would be a miracle). But the style and comments were good and more interesting than the dusty theological tomes that sometimes bored me to tears in my Master's Program.
You must be Islamic.
LOL! By that kooky logic, you must be a hillbilly!
I read it too!! Fantastically well-written! I had read or studied some of it before, but not all of it, and it didn't get rounded up and interpreted as clearly as it was in this book. It was an eye-opener, and it and gave a full, founded, clear picture of the real man, Jesus, and what he was trying to achieve. It makes you realize that all monotheists should have a conclave and get together and merge all three of the religions into one.
The Bahai faith was founded in the 1800s by a man named Bahá'u'lláh in Persia (at the time). One of the core three principles being that all major religions have the same spiritual source and come from the same God. It's mostly an intellectual religion requiring lots of study of at minimum the Judeo-Islamic religions including Christianity. The headquarters are in Haifa Israel since that is where most Baha'is fled to avoid persecution. You'll find that many active members are generally intellectuals holding prestigious degrees and so on but you do not at all have to be a Doctor or whatnot to join. I've gone to some gatherings in Ann Arbor Michigan and I find this stance on religion to be the most sound as it is firmly connected to science and evidence.
I'm surprised that nobody has noticed how Mr. Aslan has rehashed (if not ripped off) the same material, adding virtually nothing new, to A.N. Wilson's "Jesus: A Life" published over 21 years ago. He should give credit where credit is due.
He did, actually. Did you read the book? Crossan was also a very large influence, however.
The very authorial purpose stated by Reza, separating the man from the deity which many Muslims want to do, disqualifies anything else he writes. You have to accept the self claims of Jesus in faith because he was more than a man unlike Mohammed. Similarly, a non Muslim cannot redact or revise what Mohammed said about himself to suit their agenda and write a book separating Mohammed from fundamental Islam.
Amen. It's confused balderdash, actually.
more than a man?
he was a man who got whacked by the romans
not the first nor the last
he just happened to have a myth formulated about him
"You have to accept the self claims of Jesus in faith..."
Actually, no I don't.
Why is it that the faithful always say "you have to believe" when they are the ones who are driven by some mania and terror that blinds them to any sense of common sense or reality.
Free music download for everyone at... thetreasureofzion.com
Jesus Christ has absolutely told the Truth!
Here, it is now:
UNIVERSAL MAGNIFICENT MIRACLES
How in creation can you say such an incredibly stupid thing. There is NO record of anything JC said even if in fact he ever existed. Everything that is in the bible is third fourth and fifth hand, NO EYEWITNESS ever wrote anything down. The NT was HEAVILY edited by the RC church and they have never been known as impartial.
So NO ONE knows what JC said so to say he told the truth is at best CHILDISH and NAIVE.
STOP PRAYING AND START THINKING.
My new book, Secret of the Savior: The Myth of the Messiah in Mark, challenges the view that the story of Jesus is based on the life of Jesus. Instead, the story of Jesus is based on the life of Israel. There is not just one historical Jesus; there are many historical Jesuses, from Joshua on. Mark's Jesus is a composite character, a symbol of salvation, not a specific person. Check it out. http://www.univpress.com/ISBN/9780761861454
Just more and more HOGWASH to fool those who do not have the intellect to see through it.
You can have as many jesus's as your little heart desires, the whole concept of a supernatural being is BOGUS and you know it.
keith your wrong about eyewitness report.Mark John and Matthew were with Jesus the whole time of his ministry.If you want to say its all fake thats your right.
Oh I did not know that there were apostles present at the manger when the 3 dumb kings and the shepherds arrived. So much for your argument.
Secondly the apostles as simply NOT CREDIBLE, they were for the most part illiterate and the fact that they were dominated and brain washed by JC just as David Koresh did to his followers, makes ANYTHING they say simply not believable.
There are NO independent, unbiased eyewitness observers to ANY part of the JC story. Any other accounts such as those of Josephus are similarly suspect because they rely on word of mouth accounts from people who themselves were NO EYEWITNESSES. Even eyewitness accounts are as we now know highly unreliable, just remember 2,000 years ago 99.9% of the people did not even have a calendar and did not keep diaries. So asking an illiterate peasant if he saw JC perform a miracle several years before will NOT produce CREDIBLE EVIDENCE.
The whole JC story is largely myth but those who are driven to make the myth real will concoct the libraries full of religious claptrap that now exist, these libraries are just that CLAP TRAP.
Nothing was every witnessed? Have you ever read the bible? The Gospels are 4 firsthand accounts of Jesus and his time spent on the earth.
NO nothing was ever witnessed by ANY CREDIBLE EYEWITNESS. If you think the 4 gospel writers are credible then you would believe ANYTHING.
Do you know that the Earth is a sphere and that it orbits the sun? apparently if the gospel writers had stated otherwise you would believe them rather than the evidence of science and reality.
NONE of those writers are CREDIBLE, to start with NONE OF THEM witnessed the birth of JC, they couldn't have done because it is all fiction. Who counted the 5,000 when JC fed them with loaves and fishes? who contacted all the people who claimed to have seen JC after he rose from the dead. Come on how did these people get together and say "I saw JC after his crucifixion" so that it could be written down.
Remember these events were supposed to have happened 2,000 years ago, when the vast majority of people never ventured more than a few miles from where they were born let alone had calendars and could recall what happened on a particular day.
There were NO NEWSPAPERS announcing the crucifixion of JC so the vast majority of people never knew it had happened until years later. And as we now know even EYEWITNESS accounts are HIGHLY SUSPECT and in many cases they are downright lies.
There are a few account from historians, Josephus being the best known, but even he DID NOT HAVE FIRST HAND KNOWLEDGE of any of JCs life, he relied on the word of mouth accounts from people who could not possibly have accurate detailed knowledge of the events in question.
The apostles were for the large part unsophisticated and largely illiterate people and in any case their involvement would make their accounts highly suspect, they were not independent and unbiased observers.
So we come back to my original statement, there are NO CREDIBLE, UNBIASED, IMPARTIAL observers of what JC actually SAID or what he DID and NO ONE has any evidence to support the claim that JC was the son of a GOD.
Most of the claims made in the bible in general and the NT in particular are LUDICROUS and have NO CREDIBLE EVIDENCE TO BACK THEM UP PERIOD.
If you believe any of those claims then you will believe ANYTHING, that is what faith means, you will accept and believe anything without any evidence even in the face of incontrovertible proof to the opposite.
That is the danger of faith, unscrupulous people will use your gullibility and failure to think critically for their own ends be those ends good or evil. the history of religion proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that religion is EVIL.
STOP PRAYING AND START THINKING.
Source #2 = The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ
Hey Fudgewell the records stuck, tell me does the book of Fudgewell explain who counted the 5,000 people who JC was supposed to have fed by JC or is that just another part of the fairy tale.
Reblogged this on uggggh.
Actually, he is a Muslim. And a Persian. He openly states these fact routinely. And he's academically qualified to write a book on Jesus.
You are not an Okie From Muskogee but a Muslim posing as an American in order to justify Resa Asman's Biblical ignorance and stupidity. No matter how many degrees he claims to have–that does not mean everything he says is the absolute true. If he were a physicist or a mathematician where numbers do no lie, neither fail, and if he were to prove a point mathematically, he would be saying the truth; but in a subject that is prone to interpretation such as his dumb descriptions of who Jesus really is, he cannot claim that everything he says is the absolute true. Resa is just a closet Muslim/Islamist.
Jose. Listen. Calm down. Listen: Aslan is a Muslim. He never hid it. He also had a Christian period. Right now, he's back to where he started, kinda: a very, very, very, very secular Muslim whose family ran from the lunatic mullahs in Iran. Honestly, what's so hard to understand about that?
Archbishop Usher was academically qualified to calculate how many angels could dance on the head of a pin, he was also a certifiable lunatic. This guy as well as ANYBODY ELSE who write about JC is also certifiably insane. You see JC was a mythical character for which there is NOT ONE IOTA of evidence for his existence. So anyone who writes about him as if they know him and those who read the GARBAGE are also certifiably insane.
You all need to get a life.
STOP PRAYING AND START THINKING
On the contrary, Keith. You are making that up and hoping it's true. There is in fact a reference to Jesus (very offhand, mind you) in the writings of the first-century Jewish historian Josephus. He is talking about the brother of Jesus, James the Just, who ran the cult in Jerusalem after Jesus was crucified. He identifies James by saying he is the brother of that guy who was called the messiah a while back. There were a number of guys who claimed to be the messiah in first-century Israel, so it was getting to be quite an industry. But Jesus apparently did exist and was one of them.
I dont see why people get so offended that he wrote a book on Jesus. Its like Fox News asking the same question over and over again about why a Muslim wrote a book on the founder of Christianity. He is a Religious Academic who has studied religions, especially Christianity. Who cares if he is Muslim or not. The book is on facts about Jesus. Get over the fact that he is Muslim. Enough with the profiling and the religious bias.
But he's NOT a Muslim! He's devotee to Jesus. He's Iranian, Persian!
Muslim is a religious affiliation, not a race!
Americans wonder why the rest of the world thinks we're idiots...people like you who dont know a Muslim is a devotee to Islam! Not a race!
He actually IS Muslim. He re-converted to Islam shortly before he went to Harvard.
Do you have a link to show this because all the media makes claim of is that he is christian and he does attend a christian church.
Yes, and here's the link:
Your point is valid, but yes, Reza Aslan gave up on Christianity. I don't think he actual "re-converted" to Islam as someone here now claims–nothing so formal. I'm pretty sure he's beyond that sort of thing now. I think he just got interested in his own culture again, mainly the Sufis. This was the result of his becoming an agnostic when he recognized the lies and distortions of the Christians who converted him as a teenager. It was a Catholic priest who actually encouraged him to find a faith again. I know all this from the book and from a very interesting interview Aslan did with Terry Gross on Fresh Air.
DOES IT, INFORMATION NORMAL?.
CNN INFO – DENOUNCE.
GENOCIDE BY DESTELOMERIZATION. NEURAL HAMMER EXPLOTION IS NOT TAC PATOLOGY.
WHY THE VATICAN SAY WE ARE GOOD WHEN PAY FOR HUMAN RACE STUDIES.
IRRADIATION FROM SATELITES WITH NANO COMPUTERS VEMEZUELA.
HUMAN SELL IN VENEZUELA.
MINISTER OF CHINA COREA
HOW MANIPULATE HUMANS WITH VOLTAGES TENSION, NANO TESLAS BOBINES.
VENEZUELANS IRRADIATED 12 HRS AT DAY.
BRAIN DESTRUCTION CASES, HIPOTALAMUS, ORGANS, LATINO AMERICA.
HUNDRED OF CASES MENTAL TORTURE.
NICOLAS SELLYNG NEURAL PATRONS TO OTHER COUNTRYES.
TRYNG TO ROB ECONOMIC MODELS LIKE PERFECTIBLE BANK.
WRITE A TEXT UNDER IRRADIATION, HACKING.
August 22, 2013 at 9:19 am | Report abuse | Reply
I am reading Alsan's book now. Quite interesting. Why would so many christians be afraid to minds to Alsan's views. Sheer ignorance.
I think Aslan writes about Jesus for the same reason that all profs write - it's required for their status. It's the old saying of "publish or perish." As a non-Christian I am not interested in a book about Jesus, but I would like to see what Aslan's reaction would be to a book written by a non-Muslim who presents the Quran as "blatantly false" and full of contradictions. He presents himself as a secularist who respects Jesus the Man but he is actually a Muslim who has decided that while one 'holy' book can't be trusted, the tripe that the Quran has about Jesus (speaking to his mother in utero, speaking as an infant in his crib, etc. is infallible. And if Aslan thought being a Muslim in the 80s was tough, guess what? After 9/11 and all the other atrocities the Muslims have been raining down on others and even themselves, I think non-Muslims are even less sanguine about this religion. In Southern California we have many immigrants from Iraq, Iran, and Egypt who are Christian, Zoroastrian, and atheists, and so far I have not met one who does not think Islam is a dangerous evil religion hell bent on ruling over the planet.
Jennifer, of course you are correct, Islam (as a Meme) is in fact Hell Bent on ruling over the planet.
Many would think that this threat has a "Classical Geopolitical Solution" as in a "Ground War" and this is THE mistake.
This is a war of Ideas and must therefore be fought in the right context, challenging one IRRATIONAL idea with another IRRATIONAL idea won't work, never will.
So we have to take a step outside of that older, lower-level Meme and STEP UP to the NEXT STAGE of Meme Evolution, the RATIONAL approach, in this case the one and only Meme that has the potential to SERVE all people more equally and that means that we must leave Religion behind FIRST before we can ask the Islamic world to leave Religion behind.
America will eventually realize that it must leave Religion out of its own Politics before it can expect the Muslim world to do the same.
Real cjristian charity you show. Hypocrite.
Christian charity, I have received some of the most vile comments and threats from CHRISTIANS, conversely I have had respectful dialogs with ATHEISTS.
You can stick your christian charity down the drain.
HUMAN RACE STUDIES IN VENEZUELA SELL OF NEURAL PATRONS INFORMASTION.
CANNIBALISM CASES, AGENCIES MANIPULATE CITIZENZ TO DO THIS VIOLATIONS.
CASES OF SEMEN SALE TO CLONATE ORGANS.
EXPERIMANTATION WITH HUMANS, NANOTECHNOLOGY IN STELITE.
MANIPULATION OF HUMANS, PUBLICS CRIMES IN VENEZUELA.
SATELITAL CONECTION IN VENEZUELA.
NO LEGAL SOFT WARE TO BLOK SATELITAL COMUNICATION.
Wow. You need a woman or a hobby pronto !!
This Commissioned OP/ED is a little bit of WOO-WOO and I am seriously entertained!
Reza, I hope the Oil Lobby paid you WELL, because elections are riding on your WORDS.
Jesus was NO rebel, in fact, we can tell that he was not real because the Romans could not have invented a more congenial Jew to help them control Judea (you mistakenly call Judea, Israel)
"Give unto Caesar, what is Caesars" (PAY YOUR TAXES) Ooops no rebel here!
Everything else in the NT makes the Jews out to be devils, this is the Origin of Anti-Semitism.
Anti-Semitism is the Finger-Prints of ROME.
sirhuxley, you are right and Aslan is wrong: Jesus was neither a rebel nor a revolutionary. Jesus declared outright to Pontius Pilate that he was not interested in politics but in saving souls. (And, indeed, one version has it that both Pontius Pilate and his wife, Procula, both eventually became Christians. The Copts and Abyssinians rank Pilate among the saints and his wife has been canonized in the Greek Churc.)
On the other hand, you are wrong to judge Christianity by reference to bad Christians. Do you really want atheism judged by reference to bad atheists?
You might have a point except for the fact that all the BAD christians seem to be on radio and TV and in the news all the time.
The TV is full of televahgelists who are all BAD and the radio is full of hatred and vile remarks from CHRISTIANS. Where I live is the middle of the bible belt there are hundreds of churches, I often send e-mail to these churches taking them to task for their mean, disrespectful and hurtful messages outside the churches. They NEVER RESPOND, these are even more BAD christians, so what am I to do.
Please tell me last time you ever saw similar messages about christians outside an atheist house, the answer is NEVER because the atheists house would be burned to the ground.
So much for good christians, where are they?