On Jesus, a Conversation with Reza Aslan and Jack Miles

The literary journalism department hosted a conversation between authors Reza Aslan and Jack Miles last Wed., March 5. Both have written books about Jesus Christ in search of a type of objective truth about his actions, messiah-status and reasons for his ultimate crucifixion. The books seek to understand Jesus both as a character and as a man in history.  Miles’ historical version of Jesus is predominantly literary and historical, while Aslan’s biography was based on research and critical thinking, but both confirm that Jesus’s Jewish identity was crucial to understanding him.

Patrick Herrin | New University

Patrick Herrin | New University

Aslan teaches for the UC Riverside creative writing department and wrote a New York Times best-selling book, “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.” Miles authored Pulitzer-prize winning books “GOD: A Biography,” and “Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God,” and teaches in the English department here at UC Irvine. Both authors agreed that Jesus’ actions and social status in history help to shape a way to conjure up objective truth. Their understandings of the messiah would be based on critical thinking of the time period, religious views of his peers, as well as a literary understanding of Jesus as a character.

Aslan emphasized, “Jesus was a Jewish man who started a type of “Jewish movement.’” He began the conversation by affirming that it’s almost impossible to piece together a history or biography of Jesus, since the only accessible version of him is the biblical Jesus Christ, not necessarily an accurate or objective version. With only vague information provided, it was difficult to create a biography.

“You have to accept the postulate that the principle dividing line between the multiple ways of thinking about Jesus is whether his thinking was utterly unique, unlike any other Jew that became before him, or whether you think Jesus was extraordinary and that his conception of understanding the scripture was more or less in line with all these other Jews’ views,” Aslan said.

Patrick Herrin | New University

Patrick Herrin | New University

Patrick Herrin | New University

Patrick Herrin | New University

He points out that it is difficult to understand his argument without understanding the undeniable fact that Jesus was a “Jew preaching Judaism to other Jews.” According to Miles, Jesus was a man of great poverty who worked as a day laborer, and  he was illiterate and could not speak the elite Greek language. His social status was low, which might have triggered the new and progressive movement that might have helped to materialize Christianity. However, according to this argument, Christianity would be a type of adapted, reformed and possibly radical byproduct of Judaism.

In Miles’ book, he offers a purely literary reading of the New Testament. He demonstrates Jesus more as a character, and deciphers his existence through time. Through a literary description of Jesus, it becomes clear that Jesus was a man of greater influence in creating a type of division between Christianity and Judaism.

“Is that the secular engagement of Jesus is not confined to the discipline but there is another discipline of literary Christians. That most salient feature of dividing them is their Jewish identities.”