Hello reddit! I am Reza Aslan, writer and scholar on world religions. You may have seen the clip of me appearing on FOX this past weekend to discuss my latest book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, with Lauren Green. I'm here and happy to answer any additional questions you may have, so please Ask me Anything!

Proof tweet

Also, I am going to a quick interview but will be back and taking all of the questions you are submitting to this thread in an hour. Thank you.

Comments: 8315 • Responses: 50  • Date: 

Slagathor912494 karma

Is there any hard evidence that Jesus of Nazareth existed? I think many people just take it for granted that he existed and that the Bible itself is more than enough evidence. Is there anything else?

edit: Thank you for the gold, stranger. I am truly honored.

RezaAslan3220 karma

Outside of the Bible there is almost no trace whatsoever of the historical Jesus. However, in 94AD (60 years after Jesus died) a Jewish historian named Josephus casually mentions him.

In a brief throwaway passage in the Antiquities, Josephus writes of a fiendish Jewish high priest named Ananus who, after the death of the Roman governor Festus, unlawfully condemned a certain “James, the brother of Jesus, the one they call messiah,” to stoning for transgression of the law. The passage moves on to relate what happened to Ananus after the new governor, Albinus, finally arrived in Jerusalem. Fleeting and dismissive as this allusion may be (the phrase “the one they call messiah” is clearly meant to express derision), it nevertheless contains enormous significance for those searching for any sign of the historical Jesus. In a society without surnames, a common name like James required a specific appellation—a place of birth or a father’s name—to distinguish it from all the other men named James roaming around Palestine (hence, Jesus of Nazareth). In this case, James’ appellative was provided by his fraternal connection to someone with whom Josephus assumes his audience would be familiar. The passage proves not only that “Jesus, the one they call messiah” probably existed, but that by the year 94 C.E., when the Antiquities was written, he was widely recognized as the founder of a new and enduring movement.

That's pretty much all we have but it is significant.

GretchenG619 karma

In that same vein of thought, is there hard evidence that Muhammad existed? Which religious figure has more physical evidence?

RezaAslan1255 karma

Good question. We have a good deal of writings about Muhammad from his followers and his detractors that suggests that the man himself was a real person who started a movement sometime around the beginning of the 7th Century AD. But as with Jesus, these are not historical documents. They are mainly testimonies of faith written by communities of faith many years after the events they described. So we are left to cull whatever historical information we can get from them by analyzing their claims in the light of what we can know about the history of the time.

That's what separates studies of Jesus from studies of Muhammad: we have a LOT more information about Jesus' world (thanks to the Romans) than we do about Muhammad's

I did my best to reconstruct Muhammad's world in my first book No god but God.

tamman2000143 karma

I don't even want "hard" evidence... Just something that isn't from a religious text, and dates to within a couple years of his life.

I understand that there is a consensus among historians that Jesus existed, but I don't understand why. I am not familiar with any source showing his existence that wasn't written by someone with much to gain from others believing he existed...

(not to say that the absence of evidence is the evidence of absence, I just don't understand why people treat it as a settled fact)

somedelightfulmoron543 karma

I encountered names such as Josephus and Tacitus in my religion class discussing the existence of Jesus in his time. I think they are prominent Roman scholars who recorded a thirty year old man executed for rebellion due to his controversial teachings. There are numerous historical sources that Jesus of Nazareth existed, but the claim that he is the Messiah or the Chosen One is of course debatable and subjective to faith.

Read: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historicity_of_Jesus

RezaAslan497 karma

Well said.

RezaAslan2395 karma

OK folks let's get the party started.

skee10801957 karma

Were you surprised by Lauren Green's questions on the Fox News interview? Was there any indication of the tone of the interview beforehand?

RezaAslan2773 karma

I had some indication of what was about to happen from the attack piece they did on me a few days before the interview. I assumed that we would deal with that at first and then move on to the book. It was only about half way thru that realized what was happening.

wisekow914 karma

Yeah, I'm really curious if you had any discussions with your interviewer prior to or afterwards where she potentially apologized for what events transpired/told you that she had to follow a really awkward script.

RezaAslan1441 karma


RezaAslan1474 karma

3 O'clock and time to sign off. Sadly, I have to depart, but I have really enjoyed answering many of your questions and appreciate you taking the time to stop by to ask them. Please feel free to ask me more on Twitter @rezaaslan and if you take the time to read "Zealot," share your thoughts!

Special thanks to all of you asking how I as a Muslim dare write about Jesus. Really appreciate it.

PhilosopherBaron1431 karma

As a scholar of religions, what is the fundamental difference between the Abrahamic religions that prevents, historically, and culturally a long lasting, peaceful interaction between these three? (Judaism, Islam and Christianity). Thank you for your thoughts.

RezaAslan2400 karma

Perhaps it's partly a result of monotheism. After all if you believe there is only one God then you could easily believe that there is only one path to that one God, that there is only one myth to describe God. That means all other paths/myths are not just wrong, they are ANTI GOD. They are evil and demonic. But the truth is that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are providing similar answers to the same questions of ultimate concern. They are just using different sets of symbols and metaphors to do so.

-MD-1423 karma

That blurry background picture on your website is terrible, change it.

RezaAslan1877 karma


xcerj611364 karma

Dr. Aslan,

Has studying religion influenced your faith? Do you find new things that change your view of the things you believe?

RezaAslan2184 karma

Yes absolutely. It is difficult to study the world's religions and not recognize that they are pretty much all saying the exact same things, often in exactly the same way. Some scholars think that's because there's something in the human mind or in human societies that longs for divine connection and so comes up with similar answers in the pursuit of God. Maybe. But it could be just as conceivable that the reason we all talk about God in pretty much the same way (though with different symbols and metaphors) is because we are all talking about the same God!

grant0785 karma

Following up on this: as a scholar of religion, do you believe in one true faith? (In your experience, do most religious scholars?)

What are your thoughts on individuals reading holy texts as historical texts?

RezaAslan3079 karma

I think the Buddha said it right: If you want to draw water you do not dig six one foot wells. You dig one six foot well. Islam is my six foot well. I like the symbols and metaphors it uses to describe the relationship between God and humanity. But I recognize that the water I am drawing is the same water that every other well around me is drawing. And no matter the well, the water is just as sweet!

Nasty19311359 karma

Jesus and Muhammad walk into a bar... (Please continue)

RezaAslan2504 karma

Muhammad orders a cranberry juice.

hobbes61911022 karma

Hi Reza,

I haven’t read the book yet but I own a copy and am looking forward to starting it!

On The Daily Show you talked about how Jesus was Jewish and that, if he were alive today, Jesus (“the illiterate, uneducated Jewish peasant”) would be confused by the fact that he is interpreted as a “demi-god” or God-man because that has no scriptural precedence. So I’m wondering this:

  1. How does today’s interpretation of Jesus “the demi-god” differ from the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah?

  2. If you we take into account that everything in the Bible is not meant to be taken literally - Do you think Jesus actually proclaimed himself to be the Messiah because he believed he was the Messiah? Or is that a title he assumed to lend himself more legitimacy? Or was it a title ascribed to him afterwards by his followers?

Thanks for your time!

EDIT: Just to be clear: Reza used the word "demi-god" in the interview. Not my word choice.

RezaAslan2162 karma

The single most important thing to remember about Jesus is that he was Jew. Now that seems obvious but if it's true then it means that everything he said or did must be viewed in its Jewish context. So if he claimed to be the messiah, he meant the messiah as most Jews would have understood it: the descendant of King David whose chief task was to restore David's Kingdom on earth. The idea of a messiah who is also God simply did not exit in Judaism at the time. That was a later development.

skirlhutsenreiter486 karma

I think demigod is a poor word to describe Jesus's status in modern Christian theology. While his parentage mirrors that of pagan demigods, the word literally means half-god, but the Athanasian Creed explicitly declares Jesus as both fully god and fully man.

RezaAslan945 karma

You may be right. The Christian creed is fully God and fully man. But part of why the idea of incarnation spread so rapidly in Rome is that it was primed by the familiarity with the idea of a demi-god.

Nacho_Papi971 karma

I was just amazed on how you kept your cool with that woman. I would have lost it after the 2 time you had to explain that writing about religions was your actual job.

RezaAslan3015 karma

When you are a brown Muslim man from Iran talking about Jesus you must always remain calm :)

spaceboy79890 karma

Do you find it encouraging or discouraging that we've had a much more interesting and substantive interview on a website full of internet memes rather than through a major news outlet?

RezaAslan2552 karma

A "major" news outlet :)

I'd rather sit on REDDIT for two hours then at Fox News for 2 minutes.

benriz884 karma

how has being a muslim influenced your ability to write candidly in this reddit ama?

RezaAslan2672 karma

It is had not to scream JIHAD every few minutes.

fivepmsomewhere806 karma

Did you have any off-air conversation with Lauren Green after the interview? If so, what did she say? And has she reached out to you since the backlash against her interviewing tactics?

RezaAslan2086 karma

No. I don't know her. I don't know anything about her actually. I've never spoken to her before or since. Frankly, I feel kind of bad for her.

sten45771 karma

Dr. Aslan, Thank you, thank you thank you. For that brief moment you elevated the state of debate in this country.

RezaAslan1180 karma

Thanks. Now everybody get back to talking about Shahs of Sunset :)

Pararapapapararapepe665 karma

Do you have the super power of revealing the ignorance of the people or it was just this one time?

RezaAslan1801 karma

Yes. I'm an X-Man. It's just my power is not that cool.

Revere12504 karma

I picked up your book on Friday. I'm about 1/2 way through and enjoying it a lot. Thanks for writing it.

You state that Jesus of Nazareth was deeply involved with the politics of his time. Do you feel that present day followers of Jesus should follow that example? Do you feel that the most politically active fundamentalist Christians are effective in carrying the word of Jesus of Nazareth?

P.S. If Redditors liked the Fox News interview, check out Aslan's radio interview on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. It was really interesting and insightful.

RezaAslan1026 karma

There was no difference in Jesus' time between religion and politics. They were one and the same force (some would say that is still the case). Whatever religious claims Jesus would have made would have been instantly recognized by his audience as "political." Especially the claim to be Messiah. After all, if you are claiming to be sent by God to usher in his kingdom, you are also claiming that you have been sent to usher OUT the kingdom of Caesar. That can't go unanswered if you are Rome.

daveinsurgent476 karma

As someone who has invested so much time in to the study of world religions what leads you to identify with a specific one? I'm not trying to suggest that you're asserting "fact" in doing so, but merely curious as to how you came to choose Islam as your personal belief system -- why not some combination of all the different belief systems you've seen? What about it struck you as most desirable?

RezaAslan1389 karma

Religion is nothing but a signpost to God. If you believe there is something beyond the material, and if you want to commune with that "thing" then it helps to have a set of symbols and metaphors to help you talk about it - both to yourself and to other people. That is ALL religion is supposed to be. A language of symbol and metaphors to help you make sense of something that is ineffable. I just happen to prefer the symbols and metaphors of Islam. That's all.

lawlschool88461 karma

Why did some cultures embrace monotheism, while others looked to polytheism?

Back in highschool, one of my history professors talked about how monotheistic religions came out of more nomadic peoples, where not much was had so they turned inwards (hence once god who judges intentions and actions). In contrast, polytheistic religions came from more settled regions that had access to everything they needed, so their gods reflected their surrounds (e.g. a god of thunder, or of the river, etc.) I never really followed up on this theory, but it's always fascinated me and I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

RezaAslan1234 karma

Monotheism is actually a very recent phenomenon. In the hundred thousand year history of human religious experience, monotheism is perhaps three thousand years old. That's because the idea of a single god being responsible for both good and bad, light and dark, is something that the ancient mind had a very difficult time accepting. And no wonder! The only way that monotheism finally "stuck" is thru the concept of angels and demons. In other words, it was only when all the other "gods" were demoted into spiritual beings responsible for different aspects of the human condition that people were able to accept the idea one GOD in charge of all the lower spiritual beings.

VoiceDude420 karma

What was going on in your mind when she (Reporter from Fox) kept going back to "You're a Muslim" I showed the interview to friends and family and they were baffled by her ignorance. This is your CAREER, it has nothing to do with your religion, and this lady kept attacking you based on your beliefs and not your credentials.

RezaAslan1659 karma

Look, I get it. There are people who are afraid and who feel attacked by a book that questions some of their most basic beliefs. But Jesus said to build your faith on the rock, not on sand. If your faith is strong, then nothing I say should be able to shake it. So relax. Pick up the book. Debate its arguments. But don't be afraid.

canadian-mongoose389 karma

What do you think about the new direction the Pope is taking the Vatican in?

RezaAslan1278 karma

I think this Pope is the best thing that has happened to Catholicism since Vatican II. Then again I'm biased as a proud product of a Jesuit education.

Nerdfighter45341 karma

I am frequently told by my parents the reason I'm not thankful is because I am an atheist. And that I can't be thankful because I don't believe in God. Can you speak to that? Or at least give me some kind of advice on the subject.

RezaAslan1282 karma

That's just ridiculous. You don't need God to be a good person. It's offensive to think so. I will always anyone take an ethical atheist to someone who "does good" because they think they'll get a reward from God for it (heaven)

billy822336 karma

Serious question, if aliens did come visit earth, what happens to religion?

RezaAslan849 karma

We would simply absorb their reality into our religious traditions they we have done with every major scientific breakthrough (the earth revolves around the sun!).

YoDeef316 karma

Dr Aslan,

After watching your recent appearance on Fox I have to commend you for being totally professional and unintentionally funny. Was that as painful to sit through as it looked?

RezaAslan1018 karma

What was painful was trying not to laugh.

UseKnowledge260 karma

Hello Dr. Aslan. I have a question about Christianity and Islam. If I recall correctly, Jesus is still a prophet for Muslims. How did Muslims react to Christian Roman councils such as the Council of Ephesus and Council of Chalcedon? Did they respect what was some about the body/spiritual nature of Jesus? Did they have their own teachings on it? Also, much respect for remaining calm during that interview.

RezaAslan623 karma

Of course Islam arose long after the council you refer to. But to your question, Jesus is a prophet and messenger in Islam. The gospel story is recounted in the Quran, though in a shortened, summarized version (an indication that the audience of the Quran were already familiar with the gospel story). There are some differences in the way that the Quran tells Jesus' story than the New Testament. But the simple answer is this: Muslims believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but they DO NOT believe he was God incarnate.

Cheeky_postman240 karma

I grew up in a non-theistic Jewish family and as such I was surrounded by religion without having any of the beliefs taught to me as "true". As a result I was fascinated by it and allowed to investigate it myself. As I became more and more studious, and eventually gaining a degree in philosophy covering many religious topics, I became entirely disdained with modern religion, whilst holding onto an almost child-like desire for there to be some form of "religion" in effect. My question to you, is have you found through you extensive research your faith has increased or decreased, or merely changed?

RezaAslan600 karma

I think my research in world religions has made me a far more spiritual person. I can't help but thing that the reason we have all been saying the same things in much the same way despite the thousands of years and thousands of miles that separate else is an indication that we are all having experiencing the same transcendent reality. You can call that whatever you like: God, whatever. It's the reality of the experience that matters, not how you describe it.

SoundsMessy239 karma

As a non-theist I find it difficult to begin any sort of religious practice in a world of literalists. How would you recommend approaching this problem?

RezaAslan934 karma

You are not the problem. The literalists are the problem. Literalism is an extremely new phenomenon. It can be traced to the end of the 19th century. The people who wrote and compiled the Gospels were NOT literalists. If they were they would not have canonized four gospels which contradict each other on numerous facts of Jesus' life. THEY DID NOT CARE about those contradictions bc they did not read the texts literally. neither should anyone else.

Whirlwinder232 karma

Something that has been giving me some trouble in my spiritual walk has been reconciling the existence of evil in a world formed by a God who is perfectly good. What are your thoughts on this topic?

RezaAslan1013 karma

Words like GOOD, are human attributes that we have ascribed to God because we want him to be in our image. God is beyond all simple dualities. He's neither good or bad. He just is.

Volntyr223 karma

Do you think people will ever get over the fact that Jesus was not a blonde hair blue eyed savior but actually someone who looked like one of the locals?

RezaAslan736 karma

I like to say that Jesus probably looked like me...but then that would make the collective heads at Fox news EXPLODE!

Peanutninja205 karma

If you had to do it all over again, would you have used a pseudonym so that the focus would be more on the content of the book than on who is qualified to write it?

Did you expect the media to react this way? Or did it take you by surprise?

RezaAslan1398 karma

Yes. I would have written the book under the pseudonym JK Rowling.

Daveeeeeeep202 karma

Why didn't you tell anyone you're a Muslim!!! (sarcasm)

Oh, do you have a PhD?

RezaAslan657 karma

I am stamping MUSLIM on my forehead from now on.

Super_Arsha169 karma

According to your belief, what will happen to the atheists after they die?

How will god judge them?

Does it matter if they were good or bad people on earth?

RezaAslan722 karma

I don't believe there is a heaven and hell where people who believe what I believe get rewarded and those who don't get punished. That's not a very sophisticated spiritual belief in my view.

ShikariShambhu136 karma

Can you make it a pre-condition that the interviewer should have read the book?

RezaAslan231 karma

i wish

arte_misia104 karma

Does your background in religious studies help you understand whatever if was that possessed you when you decided that being interviewed on Fox News might be a good idea?

RezaAslan277 karma

Well it did turn out to be a pretty good decision, so I must know SOMETHING!

SchraderFineMinerals88 karma

How do you deal with people not understanding that your personal religious beliefs are independent from your work as a religious scholar? I've been thinking about this a lot in light of your recent response to FoxNews. It's frustrating for me, so it must be painfully frustrating for you. How has the hate that stems from the inability of people to distinguish belief vs historical fact affected you personally and emotionally? It's got to take a toll on a person.

RezaAslan250 karma

It's funny. No one asks the hundreds of authors who have written about Islam if their faith influences their books. A good scholar makes a differentiation between the study of religion and the experience of faith. They are not one and the same!

antoniusmagnus80 karma

I dunno if this has been asked, but what are the implications (if any) from your denial of the statement in the Qur'an that Jesus wasn't crucified? have you had any backlash from this conclusion you've made?

Nice one schooling the FOX News lady, as well. You were a consummate professional and academic in dealing with her. Good on you, sir!

RezaAslan148 karma

Sure some Muslims are upset that I question a foundation of their faith, as are some Christians. But most do not have a hard time separating their faith from the histories I write about.

RuskiSilver79 karma

Earlier here you said that "Religion is nothing but a signpost to God" to help an individual commune with what's beyond the material. In my experience this is a deeply personal undertaking. Why does it make sense for this undertaking to be generalized in the form of religion? Why isn't it more encouraged for everyone to have their own private, specific set of symbols and metaphors?

RezaAslan173 karma

That's fine. Lots of people do. As the Sufis say, it's not the destination that matters. It's the journey.

Sahil1769 karma

Dr. Aslan,

I just have a few questions and you can pick one to answer

  • I have heard a lot by people that Jesus's story (as portrayed in the Gospels) was just a copy of other pagan gods (especially Horus) is this true? I've done research online and I keep finding mixed results.

  • My friend told me that Dr. Zakir Naik gave a talk about how Muhammad can be found in Hindu scriptures. I was born in a Hindu household, so this does interest me a bit. I can't find that talk but as a professor of religions have you found any mention of Muhammad in the Hindu scriptures.

  • Lastly, I'm 16 years old and have always been interested in religion. I've read a lot of scriptures (bible, qur'an, gita etc...) and listened to many religious speakers. So getting a PhD in the history of religion is something I've been thinking about for the past few years. What advice can you give me if I decide to follow through on this?

Thank you for doing this AMA! I'm actually about to go to my local bookstore to pick up your book. Very excited to read it! Once again, thanks!

RezaAslan203 karma

I'll answer your 3rd question. Studying religions is the best thing you could do. If you are interested in history, sociology, art, architecture, philosophy, anthropology, but just can't decide which to focus on, choose religion and you can study them all at once!

code2live66 karma

Dr. Aslan, You mentioned in the interview that you converted back to Islam even though most of your immediate family did not share your faith. What was the reason behind this conversion, and what advice would you give to anyone trying to build their level of Islamic faith?

RezaAslan246 karma

I have spoken at length about why I converted but your second question here is my advice. NOBODY GETS TO TELL YOU HOW TO LIVE YOUR FAITH. There's no Muslim Pope with the power to say who is an who is not a Muslim. It doesn't work that way. So find out for yourself what you believe and ignore all the noise.

MrBookman58 karma

Dear Mr. Aslan,

I wonder if you can elaborate more on the political and (I believe racially tinged) motivations behind Ms. Green's line of questioning in your recent FOX news interview. Watching the interview, it was clear that Ms. Green's questions repeatedly sought to discredit and situate your scholarly research as something outside of "the academy" and a voice not to be trusted merely because of your faith. Have you encountered this same kind of distrust and skepticism in researching other world religions or has the political pushback been most critical with regards to your research on Christianity?

RezaAslan295 karma

But but but.... Fair and Balanced??

Look every news outlet (even CNN) has political motivations, but ultimately cable news is a commercial enterprise. The ONLY thing that matters is getting folks to the commercial, selling them Coke and Viagra. So the same considerations that go into filling a one hour day time soap opera is what goes into an editorial board meeting at many news outlets. HOW DO WE GET PEOPLE TO WATCH?? That is the ONLY question that matters.

Turtle_Stragler30 karma


What do you think about the persecution of Muslims in Myanmar/Burma? Also Ramadan Mubarak

RezaAslan56 karma

A travesty that shames Aug Sunn Su Kyi who has said not a word about it!

RedCometZaku29 karma

Did your faith help you to stay calm in the face of such irrelevant, accusing, and immature questions, or are you naturally just a good-natured and patient person? Also, are you going to do any book signings, and if so, where?

RezaAslan103 karma

No but my sense of humor does.

el_tigre_stripes23 karma

What are your thoughts on people using the image of Muhammad? (ala South Park and other pop culture references who try to cause a rise in showing the image of him)

RezaAslan126 karma

If you think either God or Muhammad needs defending from South Park then you probably don't know either of them.

Matholemew17 karma

Why do you think religious people become so violent when that is the opposite message that religion is trying to teach?

RezaAslan45 karma

Religion is about identity. And identities are often most powerfully preserved when in opposition an other. If you are a Christian then you pray like me, you worship like me, etc. If you don't then YOU ARE NOT ME. So violence often becomes a natural response.

terriblehuman16 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA. Despite the unfortunate way you were treated in your interview on FOX news, the points you were able to get in were quite fascinating, and piqued my interest toward your book. In what ways do you believe that Christ was a threat to Roman power?

RezaAslan44 karma

Jesus' ministry was founded upon the reversal of the social order. That's what the Beatitudes mean. The weak shall be made strong, the strong shall be made weak, etc.

That is both incredible appealing if you are the weak, and incredibly threatening if you are the strong!

nucky65 karma

would it would be fair to say that religion and science both have evidence that is flawed yet compelling to some leaving the decision of choosing a side up in the air for analytics?

RezaAslan23 karma

I think religion and science are two different modes of knowing. They ask different questions and begin with different presumptions but in the end they are both means of exploring the mystery of our reality. There's really no reason for them to be in conflict with each other.