Was Jesus a “Zealot”, a Jewish political revolutionary? According to a new popular book by Reza Aslan, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, the answer would be “yes”.
Aslan’s conclusion is in marked contrast with what I wrote on Veracity just last week and before. There I briefly made the case that Jesus offered an alternative between those Jews, like the tax collector, Matthew, who colluded with Rome, and others like Simon the Zealot, who sought to violently eject the Romans from the land. Matthew and Simon joined the group of Jesus’ twelve disciples and were drawn by Jesus’ extra-political claim as being the One who transcends and personally fulfills the messianic hopes and national aspirations of first century Judaism. A less convinced author, Reza Aslan, pretty much casts aside Jesus’ relationship with those like Matthew and places him squarely in the Zealot camp, prior to the formation of a distinct “Zealot party” that dominated Jewish politics during the era of Josephus.
But the Zealot issue is not what has captured the public’s attention about Aslan’s book. Rather, the spark was a recent, combative interview on the FOX television network. The controversy originated over whether or not a Muslim had a right to write a book about Jesus. The case that Aslan was making got lost in a series of ad hominem attacks. Yikes!! Granted, Aslan makes an embarrassingly big deal about how many academic degrees he has (“look how smart I am!”), but might I suggest that the way FOX conducted the interview was not terribly helpful, to put it mildly?