Review Round Up for Aslan’s “Zealot”

Well this week has had an interesting turn of events that began with the proliferation of clips from that ill-fated FoxNews interview of author and professor, Dr Reza Aslan about his new book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.

Any book that is marketed as a popular treatment of technical scholarship, and that subsequently makes it to the top of Amazon’s sales list, needs to be taken seriously.

So here’s a briefly annotated list of some review links in certain categories:

Technical/Scholarly Reviews

In his Huffington Post review, Greg Carey gives a thorough review of Zealot that makes notes of its achievements while avoiding polarizing language. This does not mean Carey lacks criticism, but rather that his tone is measured.

Anthony LeDonne’s review, however, is markedly different in tone and force. LeDonne is helpful in his completeness of noting how much Zealot lacks an actual historical basis for its purpose.

Peter Enns hasn’t added a review, so much as a couple of notes that are appropriate to continuing the conversation about Zealot.

Jim West provided a quick retort of seven of the core positions (I’ll save you some time: the answer is Bultmann) of the text and then later noted the challenge of this kind of marketing strategy. We’ll all be looking forward to his more in depth review which is surely forthcoming.

That’s about it for scholarly interaction in the theological blogosphere. If I’ve missed some, let me know, because I definitely want to include them.

Popular News/Media Reviews

There were a couple of reviews of Zealot from some pretty high profile publications. At first there were two quick review notes from the Publisher’s Weekly and the New Yorker. They are joined by longer reviews in The Los Angeles Review of Books. Each of these reviews (written by some with, it seems, limited backgrounds on the topic) talks about how well Aslan has written the book, points out the alarming points, and settles on recommending the text for both of these reasons. There isn’t really any scholarly interaction.

In a more engaged review at Salon.com, Laura Miller challenges the approach Aslan takes. Adam Kirsch, at The New Republicprovides a more detailed interaction with the text that also questions some of its method and conclusions.

Of course then we have the Amazon.com reviews…which are about as useful as a Southwest Airlines pilot in the international terminal.

Certainly there are more forthcoming interactions. I’ll be sure to update the post with them. Just one quick observation (or two):

I don’t know what the process is/was for a text like Zealot when it comes to submission. It is curious that the publisher submitted the text to some popular review sources and not, it appears, scholarly ones. If this perception is wrong, I apologize. However, if this is the case…why would they do this? Why not pick up the phone and call a couple historical Jesus scholars and ask them to look at it while the popular press is doing the same?

All of this seems to be leading to a point that I reflected on this morning that this has a parallel to Matthew 16:26 (cf. Mark 8:36.)

In the larger community Dr Aslan will enjoy a couple of weeks of press and publicity and likely a fat royalty check for some time. That might work for him and his publisher, but in scholarly circles (the circles that provide sustainable engagement and develop appropriate reputations) he’s pretty much done. If the book is, as we’re seeing, really this poorly researched he’s toast. We can’t imagine what will happen if significant scholars get a hold of this text (Wright, Ehrman, Hurtado, etc) and do a just treatment. Who is going to take Aslan seriously in six months, a year, ten years due to this book and subsequent follow ups that are equally as bad? How does he rehabilitate his reputation following this book? It will be difficult to say the least.

Just a quick hit. Please update me on some additional reviews as they are forthcoming.