Professor Reza Aslan, scholar of religious studies and best-selling author, has news for Bill O’Reilly and for Christian fundamentalists, and it boils down to this.
The Bible is not factual, and the historical Jesus would have been Bill O’Reilly’s “nightmare.”
The Gospels, say Aslan, are “replete with historical errors and with contradictions,” and that, for over a thousand years, religious leaders and scholars didn’t take the Bible as literal fact.
The idea of taken the Bible literally, says Aslan, is actually a really new phenomenon, an idea that is less than a hundred years old.
“In the 2,000 year history in which the Gospels have existed, the idea that what you are reading in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is literal and inerrant is a little more than 100 years old. It was the result of a very interesting movement, a backlash to Christian liberalism and the Scientific Revolution at the end of the 19th century … by a group of American Protestants who began a movement that was launched by a series of tracts that were written called ‘The Fundamentals’ and that is where we get the term ‘fundamentalism’ from. It’s a very new phenomenon.”
But that doesn’t mean that the Bible isn’t the truth, Aslan says. He maintains that the idea that truth and fact are two sides of the same coin, to be accurate, and that was not the way the ancient minds who crafted the Bible would have thought. He points out the fact that the Gospels all have different timelines and that the Apostles are given different genealogies in different books — and that those who put the Bible together would have been very aware of those discrepancies. Instead, Aslan maintains, they simply did not care, because they never would have thought the Bible would be taken literally, as factual data.
Instead, they believed that the Bible encapsulated a truth — the truth about Jesus, the kind of life he lived, and the kind of life he would have wanted his followers to live.
“They were not as interested in the facts of Jesus’ life as they were in the truth revealed by Jesus’ life. When they constructed these stories about Jesus, and I mean that quite literally, they constructed these stories. If you asked them, ‘Did this really happen?’ they wouldn’t even understand the question. What do you mean did this really happen? You’re missing the point! The point isn’t ‘Are these facts true?’ the point is, ‘What does this story reveal about the nature of who Jesus is?'”
As far as Bill O’Reilly’s views on Jesus as portrayed by O’Reilly’s book Killing Jesus, Aslan was very pointed.
Aslan admittedly has not read the book, and so he could not speak directly to it at any length, but he did say that he finds the fact that O’Reilly and the right wing have “co-opted Jesus” as their figurehead to be fascinating.
“I understand basically he’s turned Jesus into a member of the Tea Party. Because it’s all about taxes as far as he’s concerned. That Jesus was upset about the high cost of taxes, which actually is true, and government interference, and that’s why he rebelled, and that’s why he was killed. That’s fine,” Aslan stated, adding, “What fascinates me is the way that the political right in this country has sort of absorbed Jesus and made Jesus their own icon.”
“The Jesus of history is a Middle Eastern Jew who advocated free healthcare and fed the poor. That’s the nightmare of Bill O’Reilly. That’s about the exact opposite of everything Bill O’Reilly thinks.”
Of course, Reza Aslan doesn’t have the best relationship with the Fox News Network, after one reporter attacked him last summer for being a Muslim who wrote a book about Jesus. That infamous interview can be seen here, and is probably responsible for Aslan’s scholarly book becoming a New York Times bestseller.
[Image via the Salon]