Stories & Scones Book Club will meet Sunday, December 29, 2013, at 12:15 pm in the Library. Child care will be provided. The book for discussion will be Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan. Ali Aghbar has compiled a chapter-by-chapter summary, including excerpts, which may be requested by emailing Ali Aghbar.
“A Leading to Read”
A regular column by the Library Committee reviewing books in the Meetinghouse Library
ZEALOT: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JESUS OF NAZARETH by Reza Aslan. Reviewed by Ali Aghbar
Reza Aslan contends that the Gospels, written between 70 C.E. (Common Era or A.D.) and the early second century, increasingly transform the nature of Jesus from a rebellious leader to a divine being. In Zealot, he attempts “to reclaim the Jesus of history, the Jesus before Christianity.”
Jesus was a woodworker or builder. Like many artisans and farmers in his region, at some point he was attracted to zealotry.
“Zeal” implied a strict adherence to the Torah and the Law of Moses and a refusal to serve a foreign master. Some zealots went so far as to resort to violence, not only against Roman forces but also against Jews who cooperated with the Romans. These zealots sought to establish the Kingdom of God. But a kingdom needed a king; that’s why zealot leaders often declared themselves Messiah (the anointed one).
Aslan casts both John the Baptist and Jesus as revolutionaries who proclaimed that the kingdom of God was near. Jesus chose twelve disciples as his emissaries. They symbolically represented the Twelve Tribes of Israel, which had been wiped out centuries earlier. Thus Jesus’ ambition was to restore the lost glory of Israel by restoring God’s kingdom. Jesus’ miracles had an added significance in that he used them to demonstrate that he was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesies and that he was the promised messiah who had come to establish the Kingdom of God. This was seen as a call for revolution. Thus Jesus was arrested and crucified as a political rebel. But, unlike other self‐proclaimed messiahs, his movement endured, although after the 70 C.E. destruction of Jerusalem, and with it the dashing of any hopes of establishing God’s physical kingdom, it would be natural for the early church, especially one expanding in the diasporas and the territories of the Roman Empire, to downplay Jesus political role.
Aslan shows that, nonetheless, passages in the gospels and hypothetical early writings called Q source materials reveal Jesus political ambitions. He contends that the most important thing to consider about Jesus is that he was crucified for the crime of sedition against Rome and not for blasphemy or sacrilege. Had it been for blasphemy, he would have been stoned to death as was Stephen some years later.
As Jesus message spread, two major views of his mission emerged. One view was championed by those who had met and lived with him and knew him as a zealot determined to liberate the oppressed Jews from the yoke of the Romans. These people lived as Jews but additionally believed that Jesus was the Messiah and that his return was imminent. The spiritual leader of this group was James, a brother of Jesus. According to James (see the Epistle of James), faith without good deeds would be in vain. This group was centered in Jerusalem. Their missionaries spread the message of Jesus to near and far regions, but as simple folk who spoke only Aramaic, they were limited in their language and rhetorical abilities. The other group, led by Paul, were Diaspora Jews who were highly educated in Greek language and philosophy.
Paul transformed Jesus from a revolutionary zealot to a demi‐god who, although born as human, was of the substance of God. Paul also proclaimed that faith alone would lead to salvation and eternal life. It was this group’s doctrines that became the basis of Christianity as we know it. Eventually, the Jamesian version of Christianity declined due to James’s execution in 62 C.E., the political turmoil of 66 C.E., and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. As a result, the assemblies in the Diaspora lost their connection to the mother assembly in Jerusalem and with it “the last physical link between the Christian community and Jesus the Jew. Jesus the zealot. Jesus of Nazareth.”
Zealot reads more like a novel than a scholarly work. However, Aslan provides a hundred pages of end‐notes that cite both supporting and opposing views. Unlike Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard’s newly published book, Killing Jesus, which adds little to the story of Jesus as told in the gospels, Zealot provides a vast array of new information about Jesus and his times.
Zealot is one of many books that cast doubt on the authenticity of the Jesus portrayed in the Bible. In the end, that should not matter to the followers of Jesus, just as books written about Buddha the man would not detract from his standing in the consciousness of those who believe in him.”
Note: Anyone may write a review for “A Leading to Read,” as long as the book is, or will be, in our Meeting library. (Book donations are always welcome!) If you are interested in reviewing a book, please contact Nancy James.