One of my favorite programs to catch in the car is Fresh Air on NPR, with Terry Gross. Sure, I doubt we'd see eye to eye on much of anything socio-political, but I can easily set that aside to appreciate someone's professionalism and in this, I think Terry is simply one of the best professional interviewers ever. She always demonstrates her meticulous preparation and brings out the best in her guests.
So the other day I caught part of this interview with author Reza Aslan: Christ In Context: 'Zealot' Explores The Life Of Jesus. I found it interesting on a whole lot of levels, not the least of which is some parallels between the author's life and mine in terms of being seduced by "The Story of Jesus" in the fundamentalist, "born-again" sense at a young age and being rather, well, zealous about it.
In Aslan's case, he was a Muslim immigrant from Iran. You'll also learn in the interview that he induced his mother to convert to Christianity, a faith she retains to this day.
Writer and scholar Reza Aslan was 15 years old when he found Jesus. His secular Muslim family had fled to the U.S. from Iran, and Aslan's conversion was, in a sense, an adolescent's attempt to fit into American life and culture. "My parents were certainly surprised," Aslan tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross.
As Aslan got older, he began his studies in the history of Christianity, and he started to lose faith. He came to the realization that Jesus of Nazareth was quite different from the Messiah he'd been introduced to at church. "I became very angry," he says. "I became resentful. I turned away from Christianity. I began to really reject the concept of Christ."
But Aslan continued his Christian scholarship, and he found that he was increasingly interested in Jesus as a historical figure. The result is his new book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth — a historical look at Jesus in the context of his time and Jewish religion, and against the backdrop of the Roman Empire.
There's a good bit of interview highlights at the show page, and here's the transcript. There's also an abbreviated, 9-minute interview by Rachel Martin: 'Zealot' Tells The Story Of Jesus The Man, Not The Messiah (and transcript). A final quote from the highlights.
"Almost every word ever written about Jesus was written by people who didn't actually know Jesus when he was alive. These were not people who walked with Jesus or talked with Jesus. These were not people who ate with him or prayed with him.
"[The Apostles] were farmers and fisherman. These were illiterates; they could neither read nor write, so they couldn't really espouse Christology, high-minded theology about who Jesus was. They certainly couldn't write anything down. Instead the task of spreading the Gospel message outside of Jerusalem, of really creating what we now know as Christianity, fell to a group of urbanized, Hellenized, educated Jews in the Diaspora; [and] for [the Romans], having grown up immersed in this Hellenized, Romanized world, the concept of a God-man was something quite familiar. Caesar Augustus was a God-man. What we really see in these 20 years after Jesus' death is this process whereby this Jewish religion based on a Jewish revolutionary becomes transformed into a Roman religion, where Jesus is transformed from a Jewish conception of a Messiah to a kind of Roman demigod."
Alright, there you have it ... Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. Here's a book excerpt as well. I just may have to check out the book. I enjoyed the interview and his insights into finding what people term as "truth," as as opposed to fact. I've said it many times that what I find irritating about religion is not the struggle for morality and meaning, but the literal interpretation of it, which in 2013 I can only see as anything but.