Thursday, August 1, 2013

The quest for the ahistorical Jesus

Reza Aslan having been subjected to a most shambolic and partisan interview on Fox New about his new book - 'Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth' - has benefitted enormously.

The interview went viral, his book sales are up and Fox News has egg on its face (from a liberal perspective). If you are going to be so partisan (aggressively questioning why a Muslim can write a non-partisan book on Jesus), you should at least do it well (and possibly read the book first)!

The answer, of course, is that nobody can write a non-partisan book about Jesus (or indeed about my Aunty Flo). All interpretation, as the great Hans Georg Gadamer would say, is prejudicial but prejudice not in the modern 'negative' sense but as 'prejudgement': the questioning frame you bring to any enquiry that shapes (but does not determine) the answers you receive.

What I found most interesting about the interview was Aslan's implicit assumption that he was adopting the 'privileged' position of scholarship (backed by a string of virtuous qualifications) that, as it were, immunised him from 'prejudice', in Gadamer's terms, which I found, from a sociologist of religion, a mite naive! It runs through the blurb (to the book) imagining that there are 'historical sources' and then there are 'the Gospels' but, of course, the principal historical sources are the (prejudiced) Gospels (and the New Testament as a whole)!

I have always found that the most interesting books on Jesus are those, whilst informed by diligent study, want to claim him for a deep seated (and transforming) faith commitment because in so doing they seek to answer who Jesus is, as well as who Jesus was. The 'historical' Jesus is an inaccessible chimera, the Jesus in history is altogether a more lively and compelling character.

I have read such books by both Jews and Christians. I would love to read a book that brings Jesus alive as a prophet in Islam, not because I would necessarily find him ultimately compelling, but because it would undoubtedly draw out aspects of his potential that I had not noticed before in a way that an 'historical' account of the 'real' Jesus frankly will not. And the writing in such a book will give additional testimony to how what is important, as well as the scholarship you bring, is the quality of the consciousness being applied, who you are is as important as what you are in enabling a genuine revelation of the truth of things.

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