Wednesday, February 3, 2016


by Pa Rock

Zealot, the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth was written by biblical scholar Dr. Reza Aslan over two years ago.  The book, which chronicles the historical Jesus (the man) rather than the religious Jesus (the Christ), would have probably quickly landed  in the remainder bins of some large book retailers if it had not been for the sudden boost in sales that it got through an awkward and very slanted interview on Fox News.

Fox wheeled out one of its pretty blondes to interview Dr. Aslan, and it quickly became apparent that she likely had not read his book, and the focus of her interview was going to be on informing and  reminding America that the author was a Muslim.

It started off like this:

"This is an interesting book.  Now, I want to clarify:  You are a Muslim, so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?"
Reza Aslan:
"I am a scholar of religions with four degrees, including one in the New Testament, and fluency in biblical Greek, who has been studying the origins of Christianity for two decades, who just happens to be a Muslim.  So it's not just that I'm some Muslim writing about Jesus.  I am an expert with a Ph.D. in the history of religions."
"But it still begs the question:  Why would you be interested in the founder of Christianity?"
 And from there it just went downhill!

Dr. Azlan sold truckloads of his historical tome as a result of what some journalists dubbed the "most embarrassing" and "dumbest" interview in television history.  Suddenly everyone wanted to read for themselves the history of Jesus as seen through the eyes of a (highly educated) Muslim.  I bought my copy back during the controversy and finally got around to reading it last week.

I was impressed.

First, through Zealot, I got a feel for the turbulent times in which Jesus lived.  His hometown of Nazareth  was a small, impoverished community, many of whose residents worked as day laborers for wealthy Jews and Romans in the larger cities.  There was dissension and some revolutionary fervor among the struggling masses, many of whom lived with the expectation a messianic intervention and the creation of God's kingdom on earth - a kingdom that would reunite the twelve tribes of Israel, drive the Romans from the holy land, and rid the temple of the corrupt priests.  To that end, there were several individuals who called themselves "messiah" and traipsed across the countryside trying to bring about revolution prior to the arrival of Jesus.

Most of the historical record regarding Jesus was written in the decades following his death, and much of that seems to have been penned with the purpose of codifying and clarifying the emerging religion.  Jesus, as a young man, probably did work as a carpenter with his father, and, as such, got to see life beyond the small town of Nazareth.  His involvement with religion seems to have begun when he was baptized by John the Baptist.  Jesus, initially a follower and disciple of John, eventually took over the role of itinerant preacher himself after the Baptist was executed.

As Jesus walked the dusty paths between the small towns of Judea, the number of his disciples increased and his following grew as word spread of his powers as a healer.  By the time his traveling band made it into Jerusalem, his reputation as a healer and a defender of the poor and downtrodden had earned him enemies among the city's Jewish elite and its Roman overlords.

While Dr. Azlan questions the biblical accounts of Jesus's birth - and even the location where it was reported to have occurred - he does see his eventual crucifixion as having actually happened.  Rome, at that time, used crucifixion for crimes against the state, and Rome as well as the Jewish elite would have seen the foray of Jesus into the temple in Jerusalem (where he put the money-changers into such disarray) as being seditious in nature.

Dr. Aslan also spends time in this volume discussing the formation of the religion following the death of Jesus.  Much of that focuses on the struggle for control between Paul, the self-appointed apostle, and James (the Just), the younger brother of Jesus.  James won that struggle in the short term as he managed to force Paul t recant much of his theology and ostracized him to Rome.  But, in the long term, Paul's view of Jesus as the Christ, completely free of Jewish law and trappings, won out as Rome eventually adopted and shaped the growing religion.

I'm admittedly not much of an expert on religion, but I did feel that Dr. Aslan presented his account of the life of Jesus in a fair and balanced manner that was both thorough and interesting.  His work contained over fifty pages of end notes and a bibliography of more than twenty pages, leaving the reader able to quickly zero in on the scholastic and historic fundamentals of any claim which might foster controversy.

Zealot is definitely a work of praiseworthy scholarship.  Thank you, Fox News, for causing me to read it!


Don said...

I've heard several such interviews with Azlan and all featured the same sort of rubbish you refer to here. His scholarship is impeccable.

Xobekim said...

Your post brought up a detail about life in the Middle East during the time of the Roman occupation, income inequality. The indigenous population was poor and the Romans were wealthy. Of course King Herod, his cronies, and the priests and vendors at the Temple in Jerusalem were raking in the money hand over fist as well.

This cultural basis forms an interesting perspective which fundamentalist Christians fail to consider while condemning homosexuality. When Jesus and Paul of Tarsus walked the land in places like Jerusalem slavery was rampant, especially sexual slavery.

Today our larger cities have corner grocery stores, green grocers, or convenience stores every few blocks; then there were corner brothels. The Roman could enter one of these establishments and order up whatever he wanted at that moment; a boy or a man, a girl or a woman, or a combination. In comparative costs the Roman procured a slave for about the cost of a loaf of bread. Of course he wasn’t buying the slave, only renting.

When Christ and Paul were decrying homosexuality they were specifically speaking out against the exploitative practices of the Romans. Why else would Paul say “slaves obey your masters”? It was not uncommon for Jesus to convey his message circumspectly, avoiding a frontal attack on the governing authorities.

There is no law against love.