Seen in the wider context of a scholar’s career, a new book about that stone mason, Yeshua, raises the question, When did its author become aware that Jews, and Hebrew literature, are a part of the Middle East?
While TV and the blogosphere are all a-Twitter tonight over FOX NEWS’s purported anti-Muslim bias/ignorance/ineptitude (no argument here), in view of the network’s bumbling treatment of Professor Reza Aslan and his new book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth–the real scandal concerning this author goes unreported. The Nation‘s Corey Robin, for instance, declares hysterically on his personal blog that FOX’s interview with Aslan proves definitively that “Islam is the Jewish Question of the 20th Century.” Exsqueeze me? You’re suggesting an equivalence between the condition of Muslims in the liberal-democratic multicultural West today, and that of Jews in the old Europe–either before they were emancipated by law or shortly thereafter, just prior to the Holocaust?
Pretty much everyone else seems to be following suit. Piers Morgan, for instance, had Aslan on CNN tonight to essentially apologize to him, knowingly (chuckle, chuckle), on behalf of the real (tolerant, “PC”) Christendom. The Daily Show, a program that makes fum of everything, won’t touch this except to refer to Aslan repeatedly as “the fantastic Reza Aslan.”
But what neither TDS, FOX NEWS, Piers, Corey, nor anyone else that we’re aware of either seems to know, or think important enough to mention (whatever the merits of the new page-turner on Yeshua, which ZE hasn’t yet had a chance to study closely…more soon on that one), is that his previous book, an edited anthology of fiction called, misleadingly, Tablet and Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East, is completely Judenrein. Yep. That’s right. Sans les Jouifs.
Not so much as a lonely sand dune, let alone even a single oasis or dried-up wadi featured on Aslan’s “map” of the of “the Modern Middle East” is marked “Jewish” or “Hebrew” territory–never mind “Israeli.” Arabic, Turkish, Persian and Urdu literatures–to be sure–are all well represented. As they should be (!), in a book ostensibly interested in representing what the “literary landscape” of the region has looked like over the past century. Yet the naive tourist who begins her journey in 1910 (a year after Tel-Aviv was founded as a Jewish community under the Ottomans, incidentally) and faithfully follows her guide all the way to 2010 (the year before the volume was published) would never know that Hebrew was in fact, of course, one of the languages spoken (and indeed, penned) in the “modern Middle East”–at least if all she had to go on was the excerpts listed in the volume’s sanitized Table of Contents.
To insult an author on TV by bringing up his religious affiliation in order to question his scholarship (Aslan is a Muslim, who as a boy emigrated from Iran with his family: the interviewer seemed to imply that this was suspicious for someone writing about the Christian Savior) is egregious–because it’s ignorant and rude. To intentionally expunge by omission all of the wealth of modern Hebrew-language literature from a fat doorstopper of over 600 pages, a tome that looks very much as if it aspires to be assigned in college classrooms (the thing’s published by Norton), is nothing less than a blatant act of textual “ethnic cleansing”–far stupider and vastly more insulting than anything FOX News’s ill-prepared interviewer ever could have said to such a book’s editor about his more recent book. And that is what calls into question Aslan’s scholarship–not his religion, his education, or his opinion of Jesus.
Aslan (who teaches Creative Writing at UC Riverside) may declare insistently, condescendingly, to said interviewer that he has several postgraduate degrees, is fluent in biblical Greek, and is an “expert” on JC–but, when all is said and done, had said Moshiach come to town a couple of millennia later…. And Aslan were responsible…. We never would have heard of him. (ZE knows full well that Jesus spoke Aramaic, and probably some koine Greek, but he at least read Hebrew literature!)
So, instead of asking (lamely and impertinently) words to the effect of, “How come a Muslim wrote a book about Jesus?,” what FOX–and everyone else–should be asking is, “Why would anyone, of any faith, choose to publish a purported ‘anthology’ of Middle Eastern literature that systematically excludes Hebrew and Israelis? Including not only Jews in this ban but also–that is to say, excluding as well–Arab Israelis writing in Hebrew, such as Anton Shammas, the author of Arabesques, for example?” Such unasked (unaskable?) questions–contra Corey Robin et al–would be far more relevant to the real “Jewish Question” of today.