The theme of the night at Wednesday’s Miami Book Fair International was religion. At the first event, a speaker examined the historical truths about the life of Jesus; at the second, a raucous crowd worshipped a Florida icon.
Religious scholar Reza Aslan told the crowd his new book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (Random, $27) was not about Christianity but Judaism and reminded them of the few facts we know about the man: He was a Jew, he started a Jewish movement to establish a “kingdom of God” on Earth and he was put to death by the Roman government for creating that movement, which challenged the status quo.
“It’s actually enough,” he said, “because we know a lot about the era in which he lived.”
Aslan, who was born in Iran but emigrated with his parents to the United States in 1979 — a bad time to be Iranian: “I spent part of the early ‘80s pretending to be Mexican,” he joked — said he has always been intrigued by religion and spirituality. Also author of the book No god but God: The Origins, Evolutions, and Future of Islam, he said he wrote Zealot because he’s fascinated by Jesus the man (“besides my secret Muslim agenda to destroy Christianity,” he said wryly, referring to a now-famous Fox News interview that went a bit awry).
“You do not have to be a Christian to be a follower of Jesus,” he said, noting that as a poor, uneducated man, his subject managed an extraordinary feat divine or not. “The way to confront social injustice and the powers that be — that model is as resonant today as it was 2,000 years ago.”
Carl Hiaasen didn’t go that far back, but he did reminisce fondly about olden times (when the newspaper business was solvent), and Miami corruption (an ongoing process). He also talked about his latest book, Bad Monkey (Knopf, $26.95) to an audience eager and practically on the edges of their seats for his Only In Florida stories. “The hardest task you have as a novelist writing in Florida is staying ahead of the great curve of weirdness,” he said. Nothing is too strange for his home state: “George Zimmerman could get elected in this state. Anything is possible.”
On a serious note, when asked about the future of journalism, he said that he did worry about it.
“Once there are no reporters in the room, the thieves run wild.”
And yes — someone did ask him about the Miami Dolphins’ latest scandal. His reply was exactly what you were thinking: “Only in Miami.”