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Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

by Giuseppe TovarNovember 10, 2013


According to Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, a secular biography of Jesus by Reza Aslan: Jesus was not strictly a member of the Zealot party, but rather a Zealot, in the original sense of the word: someone with a great religious fervor and a reluctance to commit to foreign domination.

Aslan’s account of Jesus is very much in line with the conventional scholarship, but his merit is in its ability to present complex facts and reasoning to the lay-man. Aslan is very emphatic that Jesus was one of many messianic figures in Palestine of the first century. He says that Jesus was likely a disciple of John the Baptist, but since the movement was crushed by Herod, Jesus started his own movement. In Aslan’s account, the Ministry of Jesus is steeped in Zealotism, in the sense that there is no agreement assumed visa-vis the Roman occupation.

Aslan does not say that Jesus was willing to call to armed action against the Romans, but he presents him as a combined figure of revolutionary zeal and apocalyptic prophesy. To Aslan, Jesus is extremely politically aware.

Be that as it may, Aslan is right when he says the Jewish priestly aristocracy, was also uncomfortable with the complaint of corrupt practices in the Temple. And, of course, their feverish cleansing of the temple in Jerusalem, drew the attention of the Roman authorities. Aslan correctly argues that Jesus was executed by the Romans for sedition. Pilate, a brutal administrator, would not have hesitated to put an immediate end to the slightest sign of social disruption, especially during the preparations for the Jewish Passover.

Aslan is completely secular, he has little patience for the miracles and the resurrection. Not devoting time to explore what could have been behind the claims of the disciples to have encounter to a resurrected Jesus. However, he pays close attention to the manner in which the disciples reacted to the fact that his master had failed miserably.

The most valuable part of the book, in my opinion, is in the last two chapters. Aslan describes the role of James and Paul in the later development of the Christian movement. Contrary to popular beliefs of Christian piety, the rivalry between Paul and James and Peter was quite bitter. Paul, never knew Jesus, he began to preach a separate message of openness to the Gentiles and contempt for the Mosaic Law. James, the brother of Jesus and leader of the church in Jerusalem, it was not strictly opposed to reach out to the Gentiles, but wished to maintain the movement of his brother within the limits of Judaism, as Jesus had planned from the beginning. James sent missionaries to preach against Paul. In the final showdown, James required Paul purify in the temple, and the willingness of Paul to do this suggests a willingness to recant his views above.

As recounted in the book of Acts, Paul was apprehended during this incident and eventually marched to Rome. Aslan’s point, however, is that the true leader of primitive Christianity was James, and his stance was more likely the original teaching of Jesus. The theology of Paul was a later invention. However, history gave Paul’s ideas the upper hand. James was executed, and Christianity suffered a significant blow. Therefore, the ideas of Paul, long after his death, became the current Christianity.

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About The Author
Giuseppe Tovar
  • Erik
    November 10, 2013 at 4:48 am

    If you saw the news in close to the publication of the book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan. Which is the most recent book of publication for popular consumption addressed to the figure of Jesus. As it is customary within the cycle of annual publications that some books come out with great fanfare by proclaiming a new interpretation of Jesus’ identity. But the curious thing about this book is the controversy that erupted was not caused by its contents, but rather by an interview on Fox News (some call it the worst interview in history) where he was questioned by the anchor that, if he is Muslim, why he wrote a book about Jesus.

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