Reza Aslan’s recent foray into the historical Jesus debate has certainly been provocative. Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth has become a New York Times best seller and has predictably engendered a good deal of controversy. Aslan attempts to revive the thesis of the eighteenth century scholar Herman Reimarus who argued that Jesus is best seen as a kind of failed political revolutionary (or zealot). As Aslan says, “Jesus was crucified by Rome because his messianic aspirations threatened the occupation of Palestine, and his zealotry endangered the Temple authorities” (p. 79). The book goes on to argue that belief in the divinity of Jesus was a later development in Christian history—something not even Jesus believed. There are several problems with the book that I wanted to comment on.
Zealot promotes the tired bifurcation between the “Jesus of history” and “the Christ of faith.” The former being what can be uncovered about Jesus using the historical method and the latter being the object of Christian devotion. However, Aslan never seriously engages with arguments that the two may not be that far apart. The idea that Jesus’ teachings and miraculous deeds were the impetus for the early church’s evangelism and courage in the face of persecution is given little credence. [Read more...]