Central to Christianity is a belief in the divinity of Jesus.
But religious scholar Reza Aslan, author of the best-seller Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, contends that the miracle worker’s Messianic claims were misinterpreted after his execution by the Romans.
Jesus lived in tumultuous times, when Jews yearned to throw off the yoke of Roman oppression. By proclaiming himself as the Messiah, he was staking his claim to rule the kingdom of King David, according to the author, who will discuss his new book at the Presbyterian Parish House in Morristown on Sept. 22, 2013, at 9:15 am.
“Nobody in those times who heard Jesus say ‘I am the Messiah’ would have thought that he was saying ‘I am God.’ Nobody. He meant he was the king,” Reza told the Washington Post.
Some sparks flew when Fox News questioned why a Muslim was challenging Christian beliefs. Reza, who holds three degrees in religious studies, will be welcome at the Presbyterian Church in Morristown, which likes to stimulate vigorous discussion at its Sunday morning seminars, said Pastor David Smazik.
“We have had a variety of speakers over the years that have presented a diversity of ideas and insights so I do not believe our congregation will be offended,” the Pastor said.
“Our members have a sincere interest in intellectual inquiry and discussing a broad spectrum of ideas. We look forward to having Dr. Aslan in Morristown and the opportunity to hear him share about his latest book.”
Born in Iran and raised in the United States, Reza Aslan converted from Islam to evangelical Christianity as a teenager. While many of the teachings of Jesus would continue to resonate with him, he eventually returned to the Islamic faith, contending that Christianity has imposed interpretations of Jesus that are historically inaccurate.
Reza holds degrees in religious studies from Santa Clara University, Harvard and the University of California, Santa Barbara.
A former professor at Drew University in Madison, Reza now is an associate professor at the University of California, Riverside. He also is an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a trustee of the Ploughshares Fund, which gives grants for peace and security issues. As a member of PEN USA, he advocates for writers under siege; with the Levantine Cultural Center, he uses the arts to promote understanding between Americans and the Arab world.
Reza’s first book, No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, has been translated into 13 languages.
Members of the book club at the Presbyterian Church read that one, and Lisa Fraebel of the adult education committee suggested they read Zealot and invite the author to come talk about it. Of course, Lisa did not know that the book–which had not been released when she made her suggestion–would top the nonfiction category of the New York Times best seller list.
“We are grateful that Random House has agreed to let him honor that commitment,” Lisa said via email. “We hope that people will have read the book and come with questions.
“Presbyterians are part of the Reform tradition, and tend to be intellectually curious,” she said. “There’s a long history of scholarship on the search for the historical characters behind the people in the Bible. Learning about real people and their very real struggles with issues not unlike those faced by every generation can strengthen faith and provide guideposts for contemporary behavior.”
Reza Aslan’s talk is open to the public. The parish house is at 65 South St.