Our discussion leader did an outstanding job in presenting the background story on Zealot.
Dr. Reza Aslan is a non-religious American whose family emigrated from Iran to the United States when he was a child. His family was Muslim. He was invited to go to a Christian summer camp and became a Christian, because it attracted him emotionally and helped him feel he belonged. He was a practicing Evangelical Christian for some years. He was later educated by Jesuits and investigated the historical Jesus, finding that they could no longer be Christian. He studies Islam and found that he was attracted to it intellectually.
In his book about Jesus, he pulled from the few historical records of the time and from the social history of the era. In his research he discovered that much we have all been taught about the life of Jesus does not correspond to the real history of the times. He points out that three fourths of the New Testament was written by Paul, who did not know Jesus and had a perspective different than the Apostles. Aslan defined the concept of Messiah in terms of Judaism. No Jew at that time or in the present would define Jesus as a messiah. Messiah was a royal title, NOT a religious title.
The difference between Jesus and other preachers of the era was that although many performed miracles, Jesus never charged money for the service. Jesus focused on the disenfranchised, the poverty stricken and the exploited Jews of Palestine.
The first gospels were written in 72-75 AD over 40 years after Jesus died. James, the brother of Jesus, took over the management of the followers and focused on the laws of Moses, since at that time all the followers were Jews. (We noted that Catholics are taught that Jesus had no brother, whereas the Gospels mention James as his brother.)
Later when Paul became involved, there was a split between Paul and James. Paul was a product of Rome, spoke Greek and was literate, three qualities that James did not have. Since Paul wrote, his interpretation of the life of Jesus is the one that has had the most influence and has been more lasting.
Paul claims he was the 1st Apostle and he geared his message to the Jews in the Roman Empire.
A little background: Judaism was temple centered before Jesus. The first temple was destroyed in 586 B.C. The second temple was destroyed in 70 A.D by the Romans. The Romans destroyed it, because of the constant rebellious acts against the power of Rome. Tens of thousands of Jews were killed in 70 A.D. and others dispersed. Those Jews were no longer in Israel and in a temple centered life. Eventually many of them were less culturally affiliated with the Judaism of Israel and more drawn to other beliefs, some of those being Christianity.
Aslan points out that Jesus never said he was the Son of God. Jesus, however, was a revolutionary, as in preaching in a way that ultimately would undermine the power of Rome. He was crucified and crucifixion was the execution reserved for sedition. The sign on his cross labeled his crime as Jesus' claiming that he was the King of the Jews. The leaders of the temple were making a lot of money and Jesus' teachings were a direct threat to the temple leader's ways of supporting themselves in the style they liked.
As Paul gained a following of Gentiles (non-Jews) after the death of Jesus, Gentile men could join and not have to be circumcised. There was also no need of a temple and its priests to absolve people of their sins, because "Jesus died for our sins."
In the oral culture of the time there were two elements, "Fact" and "Truth." Fact was not as important as Truth. Truth was the tradition. For example, there was no massacre of first born sons during the early childhood of Jesus. Another example is that Pontius Pilate didn't have the exchange with the crowd of Jews, where the Jews took responsibility for killing Jesus. Paul had to absolve the Romans of guilt for Jesus' death, since he was preaching in a Roman world. After 70 A.D., the generation of non-Jewish followers of Christianity outnumbered the Jewish Christians. It made more sense for Paul to blame the Jews for Jesus's death.
There are other sources that point to other possible historical interpretations of Jesus's life. In the book, How Jesus Became God there is a reference to a papyrus document that mentions that Jesus had a wife.
Before Paul, Judaism and Christianity was only for Jews. The Jews held that they were chosen by God and that infuriated the non-Jews around them.
Another non-truth shows that Jesus was not truly from the House of David. His father Joseph was from the House of David. Jesus was considered at the time to be the illegitimate son of Mary, which would make him a person of ridicule, so his lineage was marked from Joseph's family.
We discussed how some of the issues over which people are currently fighting in the Middle East sound very similar to the issues in Jesus's time, such as power and religious zealotry.
Aslan pointed out that Jesus was in fact a zealot. His Palm Sunday ride into town on a donkey was actually provoking the establishment to retribution. It was a revolutionary act of rebellion, because at that time only Kings rode donkey's in processions. He rode into town with the trappings of a King! It was, therefore, an overt threat to the system.
It was pointed out that if you take all the writings from the Bible attributed to James, Jesus's brother, it amounts to the total of three pages and those pages show the Jesus we would most likely want to know.
One member of our group, who is Hindu, described the evolution of Hindu stories and how they have also changed over time to reflect what people needed to hear to understand reality in the light of belief. She said there are 400 basic Hindu stories that have all changed over time. We can see that the stories about Jesus also changed.
The writer, Alan Dundee, says there are 22 things that make a hero and Jesus has 19 of them, virgin birth, miracles, etc.
We all thought this book was thought provoking and certainly had a new take on the story of Jesus, that he was a Zealot and a candidate to be the King of Jews.
It was Jesus' followers who witnessed his resurrection and the believers of that event, which in turn made the religion expand. Paul's letters all over the new Christian world unified those beliefs among the new followers with gentile origins.
St. Stephan declared that Jesus was the Son of Man while Stephan was being martyred, in effect saying that Jesus of the actual Son of God, equal to God!
That belief was made official when Emperor Constantine, a few hundred years later, called for the Bishops of Rome to make a unified decision on the beliefs of Christianity, hence the creation of the Nician Creed and throwing out of the Bible books which were controversial or did not mesh with what the group at that time believed. This paved the way for the persecutions of heresy and for future rules about what to believe.
We discussed a very popular book that came out in the 1970s that a few of us read at that time, called The Passover Plot, which is by a Jewish Rabbi explaining what he thought of Jesus. There were some correlations Zealot. I recommend trying that one, also, if you liked Zealot.
What a ride! We had a hard time leaving after our discussion. It was truly exciting to share with others how this book affected us.
Our discussion leader emailed an addendum of points she forgot to make that night. She said that Aslan made these points during some fascinating interviews she found online on YouTube. She said:
"I remember some questions that were asked about what Reza Aslan's wish was for the people who read his book. Aslan stated that "faith" and "history" are two separate ways of knowing something. Faith concerns what is *possible* and History concerns what is *likely.* The Jesus of history became more relatable to Aslan than the Christ of faith, so he stopped "believing in the creed." He said that people have a choice of how they can view Jesus.
Aslan also said that his book attempts to reveal the historical Jesus to provide a sense of who Jesus was and why he was perhaps the most important man who ever lived. Aslan tried to peel back the layers of myth, interpretation, legend, dogma, theology and doctrine that have been placed upon Jesus for millennia. He said that Biblical scholars already know the information he presents in his book.
Aslan said that religion is far more a matter of identity than a matter of beliefs and practices. Living in revolutionary Iran showed him the power of religion and how it can transform a society for good or bad. He stated that after studying the religions of the world it is hard to take any one religion seriously. He said that it's not that Islam is true and correct and other religions are not true, but the language of Islam feels more comfortable to him."
We liked this history, which often read like a novel. We recommend it to anyone interested in a new view of the life of Jesus.