Zealot: Part I
Aslan, Reza. Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth.
I have not come to bring peace, but the sword.

[MATTHEW 10: 34]

A Different Sort of Sacrifice

The war with Rome begins not with a clang of swords but with the lick of a dagger drawn from an assassin’s cloak. (Kindle Locations 281-282)

The Temple of Jerusalem is a roughly rectangular structure, some five hundred meters long and three hundred meters wide , balanced atop Mount Moriah, on the eastern edge of the holy city. (Kindle Locations 289-290)

The Temple is constructed as a series of tiered courtyards, each smaller, more elevated , and more restrictive than the last. The outermost courtyard, the Court of Gentiles, where you purchased your sacrifice, is a broad piazza open to everyone, regardless of race or religion. (Kindle Locations 313-315)

Entrance to the Holy of Holies is barred to all save the high priest, who at this time, 56 C.E., is a young man named Jonathan son of Ananus. (Kindle Locations 339-341)

Chapter One
A Hole in the Corner

Who killed Jonathan son of Ananus as he strode across the Temple Mount in the year 56 C.E.? (Kindle Locations 383-384)

Roman dominion over Jerusalem began in 63 B.C.E., when Rome’s master tactician, Pompey Magnus, entered the city with his conquering legions and laid siege to the Temple. (Kindle Locations 390-391)

The city that the Lord had clothed in splendor and glory and placed, as the prophet Ezekiel declared, “in the center of all nations”— the eternal seat of God’s kingdom on earth— was, at the dawn of the first century C.E., just a minor province , and a vexing one at that, at the far corner of the mighty Roman Empire. (Kindle Locations 404-407)

In 198 B.C.E., the city was wrested from Ptolemaic control by the Seleucid king Antiochus the Great, whose son Antiochus Epiphanes fancied himself god incarnate and strove to put an end once and for all to the worship of the Jewish deity in Jerusalem. (Kindle Locations 416-418)

But the Jews responded to this blasphemy with a relentless guerrilla war led by the stouthearted sons of Mattathias the Hasmonaean— the Maccabees— who reclaimed the holy city from Seleucid control in 164 B.C.E. and, for the first time in four centuries, restored Jewish hegemony over Judea. (Kindle Locations 418-420)

In 63 B.C.E., Judea became a Roman protectorate, and the Jews were made once again a subject people. (Kindle Locations 424-425).

What most puzzled Rome about the Jews was not their unfamiliar rites or their strict devotion to their laws, but rather what the Romans considered to be their unfathomable superiority complex. (Kindle Locations 457-458)

Chapter Two
King of the Jews

The peasantry were not only obligated to continue paying their taxes and their tithes to the Temple priesthood, they were now forced to pay a heavy tribute to Rome. For farmers, the total could amount to nearly half their annual yield. (Kindle Locations 492-493)

One of the most fearsome of all the bandits, the charismatic bandit chief
Hezekiah, openly declared himself to be the messiah, the promised one who would restore the Jews to glory. Messiah means “anointed one.” (Kindle Locations 513-515)

The principal task of the
messiah, who was popularly believed to be the descendant of King David, was to rebuild David’s kingdom and reestablish the nation of Israel. Thus, to call oneself the messiah at the time of the Roman occupation was tantamount to declaring war on Rome. (Kindle Locations 517-519)

In 37 B.C.E., Herod marched to Jerusalem with a massive Roman army under his command. He expelled the Parthian forces from the city and wiped out the remnants of the Hasmonaean dynasty. In recognition of his services, Rome named Herod “King of the Jews,” granting him a kingdom that would ultimately grow larger than that of King Solomon.He made Greek the language of his court and minted coins bearing Greek letters and pagan insignia. (Kindle Locations 536-538)

When Herod the Great died in 4 B.C.E., Augustus split his realm among his three sons: (Kindle Locations 572-573)

Simon— crowned himself messiah and rallied together a group of bandits to plunder the royal palaces at Jericho. The rebellion ended when Simon was captured and beheaded. (Kindle Locations 584-586)

Chapter Three
You Know Where I Am From

The hillside hamlet of Nazareth is so small, so obscure, that its name does not appear in any ancient Jewish source before the third century C.E.— not in the Hebrew Bible, not in the Talmud, not in the Midrash, not in Josephus. It is also the city in which Jesus was likely born and raised. (Kindle Locations 609-611)

Why, then, do Matthew and Luke— and only Matthew (2: 1– 9) and Luke (2: 1– 21)— claim that Jesus was born not in Nazareth but in Bethlehem, even though the name Bethlehem does not appear anywhere else in the entire New Testament (not even anywhere else in Matthew or Luke, both of which repeatedly refer to Jesus as “the Nazarean”), save for a single verse in the gospel of John (7: 42)? (Kindle Locations 617-618)

The Q material, which was compiled around 50 C.E., makes no mention of anything that happened before Jesus’s baptism by John the Baptist. The letters of Paul, which make up the bulk of the New Testament, are wholly detached from any event in Jesus’s life save his crucifixion and resurrection (though Paul does mention the Last Supper). (Kindle Locations 662-663

The problem faced by Matthew and Luke is that there is simply no single, cohesive prophetic narrative concerning the messiah in the Hebrew Scriptures. (Kindle Locations 703-704)

Matthew has Jesus flee to Egypt to escape Herod’s massacre not because it happened, but because it fulfills the words of the prophet Hosea: “Out of Egypt I have called my son” (Kindle Locations 718-719)

Luke places Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem not because it took place there, but because of the words of the prophet Micah: “And you Bethlehem  …   from you shall come to me a ruler in Israel” (Micah 5: 2). (Kindle Locations 721-723)

Chapter Four
 The Fourth Philosophy

Here is what we know about Nazareth at the time of Jesus’s birth: there was little there for a woodworker to do. That is, after all, what tradition claims was Jesus’s occupation: (Kindle Locations 730-733)

The Romans used the term tekton as slang for any uneducated or illiterate peasant, and Jesus was very likely both. Illiteracy rates in first-century Palestine were staggeringly high, particularly for the poor.

Whatever languages Jesus may have spoken, there is no reason to think he could read or write in any of them, not even Aramaic. (Kindle Locations 746-747)

That Jesus had brothers is, despite the Catholic doctrine of his mother Mary’s perpetual virginity, virtually indisputable. (Kindle Locations 753-754)

But there are those who believe that Joseph never actually existed, that he was a creation of Matthew and Luke— the only two evangelists who mention him— to account for a far more contentious creation: the virgin birth. (Kindle Locations 759-761

On the other hand, outside of Matthew and Luke’s infancy narratives, the virgin birth is never even hinted at by anyone else in the New Testament: not by the evangelist John, who presents Jesus as an otherworldly spirit without earthly origins, nor by Paul, who thinks of Jesus as literally God incarnate. (Kindle Locations 763-765

After Herod’s death, Judas the Galilean joined forces with a mysterious Pharisee named Zaddok to launch a wholly new independence movement that Josephus terms the “Fourth Philosophy,” so as to differentiate it from the other three “philosophies”: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. (Kindle Locations 824-826)

Many Jews in first-century Palestine strove to live a life of zeal, each in his or her own way. But there were some who, in order to preserve their zealous ideals, were willing to resort to extreme acts of violence if necessary, not just against the Romans and the uncircumcised masses, but against their fellow Jews, those who dared submit to Rome. They were called
zealots. (Kindle Locations 834-836)

Such ideas had existed long before Judas the Galilean came along. But Judas was perhaps the first revolutionary leader to fuse banditry and zealotry into a single revolutionary force, making resistance to Rome a religious duty incumbent on all Jews. (Kindle Locations 843-844)

In 4 B.C.E., with Herod the Great dead and buried, Judas and his small army of zealots made a daring assault on the city of Sepphoris. They broke open the city’s royal armory and seized for themselves the weapons and provisions that were stored inside. (Kindle Locations 847-849)

Jesus of Nazareth was likely born the same year that Judas the Galilean— Judas the failed messiah, son of Hezekiah the failed messiah— rampaged through the countryside, burning with zeal. (Kindle Locations 880-881)

In fact, from the time he began his apprenticeship as a tekton to the day he launched his ministry as an itinerant preacher, Jesus would have spent most of his life not in the tiny hamlet of Nazareth, but in the cosmopolitan capital of Sepphoris: a peasant boy in a big city. (Kindle Locations 885-887)

Chapter Five
 Where Is Your Fleet to Sweep the Roman Seas?

Prefect Pontius Pilate arrived in Jerusalem in the year 26 C.E. (Kindle Locations 899-901)

The gospels present Pilate as a righteous yet weak-willed man so overcome with doubt about putting Jesus of Nazareth to death that he does everything in his power to save his life, finally washing his hands of the entire episode when the Jews demand his blood. That is pure fiction. (Kindle Locations 917-919)

Chapter Six
 Year One

Thus, in late April of 70 C.E., as death stalked the city and the population perished by the hundreds from hunger and thirst, Titus rallied his legions and stormed Jerusalem. (Kindle Locations 1207-1209)

The soldiers set upon everyone— man, woman, child, the rich, the poor, those who had joined in the rebellion, those who had remained faithful to Rome, the aristocrats, the priests. It made no difference. (Kindle Locations 1212-1213)

With the last of the rebel fighters trapped inside the inner courtyard, the Romans set the entire foundation aflame, making it seem as though the Temple Mount was boiling over at its base with blood and fire. The flames enveloped the Holy of Holies, the dwelling place of the God of Israel, and brought it crashing to the ground in a pile of ash and dust. (Kindle Locations 1215-1218)

Vespasian’s point was hard to miss: This was a victory not over a people, but over their god. It was not Judea but Judaism that had been defeated. Titus publicly presented the destruction of Jerusalem as an act of piety and an offering to the Roman gods. (Kindle Locations 1224-1226)

All of Palestine became Vespasian’s personal property as the Romans strove to create the impression that there had never been any Jews in Jerusalem. By the year 135 C.E., the name Jerusalem ceased to exist in all official Roman documents. (Kindle Locations 1236-1237)

The lingering effects of this messianic fervor would even lead to the outbreak of a brief second Jewish war against Rome in 132 C.E., this one led by the messiah known as Simon son of Kochba. (Kindle Locations 1246-1247)