This book got on my radar due to this hilarious, albeit embarrassing interview by Fox News on the author, Reza Aslan:
In the clip, the anchor couldn’t fathom why a Muslim would write about the life of Jesus. As Reza explains, he is “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 also just happens to be a Muslim.”
Zealot attempts to paint a picture of what the historical Jesus was like (as opposed to the theological version) as well as the social, and political environment at that time. Even before reading the first few pages, I knew I had to keep an open mind and toss out any opinion I have of the Immaculate Conception and Jesus’ resurrection (among others), and which in any case, I’ve learned to take with a grain of salt as I grew older.
I enjoyed—with much pleasure—his writing on the social and political situation in Jerusalem (and in Rome). In Zealot, Aslan provides context on how the Jews lived at that time, including how their lives revolved around their religion, and what this meant as Jesus strode in the Walled City, after having gained prominence as a messiah in the surrounding gentile communities.
My main issue with the book is on how he treated the gospels: he makes a disclaimer saying that these were written decades, some, even centuries after Jesus’ death (and none of which were written by the apostles that they were named after), and therefore, were seldom accepted as factual by historians (unless they corroborated with other existing historical accounts). However, while dismissing some gospel passages as creative flourishes, he uses them just the same to either debunk prevailing myths or support some of his other theories; it didn’t make sense.
Hence, while reading this book, I glossed over parts where he cited the gospels, and instead focused on those generally supported by historians as events that in fact transpired during Jesus’ time. (Reza also provides a generous footnote section for further reading.)
Jesus was eventually accused of treason, much like the many other self-proclaimed messiah that were also crucified before him.
James, his brother, Peter, and John (JPJ) led his mission, extolling Jesus’ teaching while also ensuring that they adhere to Moses’ law (Judaism). They certainly viewed Jesus as a man, not the God incarnate that modern Christianity has come to recognize him.
It was Paul (formerly Saul), who cast Jesus as a deity through his teachings, his letters, and his gospel, as written by one of his protégés, Luke. He also rejected Moses’ Law.
Paul was definitely the outsider among Jesus’ rising followers (he was not one of the apostles), and even wrote negatively about the three disciples, JPJ. Because of his theology, he was eventually summoned by the Apostolic Council in Jerusalem where, led by James, Paul was forced to undergo a cleansing ritual, and in effect, retract his teachings. Peter also sent missionaries to where Paul had evangelized to correct his doctrine.
The eventual destruction of Jerusalem, where the Apostolic Council was based, may have given rise to Paul’s theology, that Jesus is Christ, the Son of God. (Paul was highly educated, having been a former Pharisee. He spoke Greek, which was the lingua franca of the Roman Empire. JPJ, along with Jesus himself, are believed to have been illiterate.)
In the First Council of Nicaea in AD 325, whose goal was to form a consensus among Christian bishops, Jesus’ divinity was established.
The New Testament would eventually contain 14 books attributed to Paul, of the total 27.