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This Blog is named after an ancient gnoseological riddle which hints hidden, disseminated, omnipresent wisdom.
I invite you to search, listen and observe with me for "the word of tree, whisper of stone, and humming together of the abyss and stars."


Jesus' Fire!

Can a Muslim scholar write a book about Jesus?
Of course he can, especially if he is as gifted a writer as Reza Aslan!
His book is titled Zealot, the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth” (Random House, New York, Summer 2013).
    He has been viciously attacked by militant evangelicals and American conservatives alike, because he writes about Jesus who was born and grew up in Nazareth (not Bethlehem!), who was an non-literate peasant laborer, who was loyal to the Torah (the Law of Moses) as he understood it, who preached kingdom of God as an earthly benevolent theocracy, who criticized the imperial Roman occupation and economic exploitation, who challenged local priestly and aristocratic “quislings”, and who was executed by the Romans for his provocative social/religious/political program, who never really intended to found a new religion and even less the Church, and whose resurrection is historical in so far as it is a religious and theological statement of his followers, a new step in the development of his movement towards a new religion eventually quite different from his own intentions.
    Now you know why this book is so controversial: the Conservatives hate it because of this social-justice Jesus, the Evangelicals do not like this social-justice Jesus either, and they dislike this historical critical approach even more. And cultural and religious chauvinists dislike the fact that the Muslim so aptly investigates the roots of their own tradition.
    I think it is a scandal that this book is such a scandal! The problem is not the book, but the reactionary response from so many! Aslan’s book contains hardly anything new or controversial for those who pay any attention to biblical scholarship. The German thinker Herman Samuel Reimarus (born 1697 died 1768) reached very similar conclusions centuries ago and the study of the Bible did not stop there! That is the biggest problem of Aslan’s book. It suffers from a malady so common in popularizing literature: It is well written with a real belletristic flair, but it popularizes scholarship, hardly cutting-edge which is sometimes more than 50 years old. Aslan is criticized for being too radical, but, frankly, he should be criticized for not being radical enough. Similarly, he is criticized for being Muslim, but this book is most valuable where it is most Muslim, bringing forward the Semitic ethos and prophetic zeal for fairness, and for political as well as social justice.
    This Sunday’s lectionary reading is bringing to us a zealous Jesus, radical and revolutionary. The one who opened his discourse with saying “My mission in life is to bring a revolution, and I’m longing to see the sparks fly!"  or in a more traditional translation “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49). Come to hear this radical passionate Jesus and to seek and rekindle his holy prophetic flame.


And for those who read this far, here are some examples where Aslan could have been more radical:
    Right at the beginning  (page 4) - Jews in Jerusalem were changing coins for coinage acceptable in the Temple, but they were not changing “foul foreign coins for the Hebrew shekel”. It is a well known fact that the temple coinage in Jesus’ time was actually the Tyrian shekel. It was as pagan and “foul” as it could get with the depiction of the Phoenician god Melkart on it. Of course we could hardly ever know why one pagan coinage was accepted and the other not; most likely it was a statement against the cultural and imperial hegemony of Greeks and Romans. This is just the first example of factual inaccuracies in this book.
    More substantial systemic inaccuracy comes in the portrayal of the dichotomy between James and Paul (variant of older Peter and Paul dichotomy). Come on! This is a theological cliche hardly good for discussions at church youth-camps, long gone from any serious scholarship. The early church was a far richer and more diverse phenomenon than this old schematic depiction. Similarly crude, schematic and cliche is highlighting the difference between Jesus and Paul. It almost makes me to cringe. Paul was not a quietist who perverted the radical Jesus and utilized him for his own conservative religious agenda. Where did this idea come from among American liberals?! (As if E.Käsemann, G.Bornkamm or J.D.G.Dunn, E.P.Sanders and J.D.Crossan never published anything!)
    Throughout the book, Aslan is biblically credulous, not always exercising proper text-critical caution. For example he presents the kingdom of David and Solomon as a historical reality, or he relies uncritically on Luke’s account of the early church as recorded in the Acts of Apostles. Far from being a disrespectful Muslim, in many places he is actually showing exemplary Muslim religious credulity to religious texts and deference to their religious authority. In it, he is closer to his evangelical critics than both sides recognize.
     Personally I would always recommend "The Political Aims of Jesus" by Douglas Oakman better. It never made it into media, it is perhaps less flamboyant in language, but it is better researched, well balanced work by known author and pathfinder in the field of the  NT socio-economic context

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