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Zealot: Part II
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] Par


PART II
Prologue
Zeal for Your House

What is significant about this episode— what is impossible to ignore— is how blatant and inescapably zealous Jesus’s actions at the Temple appear. (Kindle Locations 1309-1311)

Is it lawful to pay the tribute to Caesar or not?” This is no simple question, of course. It is the essential test of zealotry. Ever since the uprising of Judas the Galilean, the question of whether the Law of Moses permitted paying tribute to Rome had become the distinguishing characteristic of those who adhered to zealot principles. (Kindle Locations 1315-1318)

In asking Jesus about the legality of paying tribute to Rome, the religious authorities were asking him an altogether different question: Are you or are you not a zealot? (Kindle Locations 1320-1321)

The truth is that Jesus’s answer is as clear a statement as one can find in the gospels on where exactly he fell in the debate between the priests and the zealots— not over the issue of the tribute, but over the far more significant question of God’s sovereignty over the land. (Kindle Locations 1330-1332)

So then, give back to Caesar what is his, and give back to God what belongs to God. That is the zealot argument in its simplest, most concise form. And it seems to be enough for the authorities in Jerusalem to immediately label Jesus as lestes. A bandit. A zealot. (Kindle Locations 1340-1342)

“If you do not have a sword,” Jesus instructs his disciples immediately after the Passover meal, “go sell your cloak and buy one.” (Kindle Locations 1350-1351)

Jesus was crucified by Rome because his messianic aspirations threatened the occupation of Palestine, and his zealotry endangered the Temple authorities. (Kindle Locations 1365-1366)

Chapter Seven
The Voice Crying Out in the Wilderness

Word of the Baptist spread quickly throughout the land. People came from as far as Galilee, some traveling for days through the stark Judean wilderness to hear him preach at the lip of the Jordan River. (Kindle Locations 1378-1379)

A more prosaic yet reliable account of the death of John the Baptist can be found in Josephus’s Antiquities. According to Josephus, Antipas feared that John’s growing popularity among the people would lead to an insurrection, “for they seemed ready to do anything that he should advise.” (Kindle Locations 1395-1397).

Antipas was right to fear John; even his own soldiers were flocking to him. He therefore seized John, charged him with sedition, and sent him to the fortress of Machaerus , where the Baptist was quietly put to death sometime between 28 and 30 C.E. (Kindle Location 1403)

John’s life and legend were preserved in independent “Baptist traditions” composed in Hebrew and Aramaic and passed around from town to town. Many assumed he was the messiah. Some thought he would rise from the dead. (Kindle Locations 1407-1409)

he had stripped himself of his priestly privileges so as to offer the Jews a new source of salvation, one that had nothing to do with the Temple and the detestable priesthood: baptism. (Kindle Locations 1415-1417)

The most famous ablutionary sect of the time was the aforementioned Essene community. The Essenes were not strictly a monastic movement . Some lived in cities and villages throughout Judea, others separated themselves entirely from the rest of the Jews in communes like that at Qumran, where they practiced celibacy and held all property in common. (Kindle Locations 1424-1427)

And both John and the Essenes seem to have identified themselves as “the voice crying out in the wilderness” spoken of by the Prophet Isaiah: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight the paths of our God” (Isaiah 40: 3). (Kindle Locations 1438-1440)

John may have been influenced by the water rituals of other Jewish sects of his time, including the Essenes, but it appears that the baptism he offered in the Jordan River was uniquely his inspiration. (Kindle Locations 1445-1446)

Indeed, the life of the historical Jesus begins not with his miraculous birth or his obscured youth but at the moment he first meets John the Baptist. (Kindle Locations 1457-1458)

If John’s baptism was for the forgiveness of sins, as Mark claims, then Jesus’s acceptance of it indicated a need to be cleansed of his sins by John. If John’s baptism was an initiation rite, as Josephus suggests, then clearly Jesus was being admitted into John’s movement as just another one of his disciples. This was precisely the claim made by John’s followers, who, long after both men had been executed, refused to be absorbed into the Jesus movement because they argued that their master, John, was greater than Jesus. After all, who baptized whom? (Kindle Locations 1459-1463)

Hence the steady regression of John’s character from the first gospel, Mark— wherein he is presented as a prophet and mentor to Jesus— to the last gospel , John, in which the Baptist seems to serve no purpose at all except to acknowledge Jesus’s divinity. (Kindle Locations 1467-1468)

This is all part of Luke’s concerted effort, which the evangelist carries forth into his gospel’s sequel, the book of Acts, to persuade John’s disciples to abandon their prophet and follow Jesus instead. (Kindle Locations 1488-1489)

Jesus very likely began his ministry as just another of his disciples . Before his encounter with John, Jesus was an unknown peasant and day laborer toiling away in Galilee. John’s baptism not only made him part of the new and redeemed nation of Israel, it initiated him into John’s inner circle. Not everyone who was baptized by John became his disciple; many simply returned to their homes. But Jesus did not. (Kindle Locations 1501-1503)

Of course, Jesus’s first disciples—Andrew and Philip— were not his disciples at all; they were John’s (John 1: 35– 37). They only followed Jesus after John was arrested. Jesus even addresses his enemies among the scribes and Pharisees with the same distinct phrase John uses for them: “You brood of vipers!” (Matthew 12: 34). (Kindle Locations 1509-1511)

Chapter Eight
 Follow Me

The Galileans seem to have considered themselves a wholly different people from the rest of the Jews in Palestine. Josephus explicitly refers to the people of Galilee as a separate ethnoi, or nation; the Mishnah claims the Galileans had different rules and customs than the Judeans when it came to matters such as marriage or weights and measures. (Kindle Locations 1538-1540)

There is evidence to suggest that the Galileans were both less observant of the Temple rituals and, given the three-day distance between Galilee and Jerusalem, less likely to make frequent visits to it. (Kindle Locations 1550-1551)

When Jesus was born, Galilee was aflame. His first decade of life coincided with the plunder and destruction of the Galilean countryside , his second with its refashioning at the hands of Antipas. (Kindle Locations 1571-1573)

Jesus had left Nazareth a simple tekton. He returned as something else. His transformation created a deep rift in his community. They seem hardly to recognize the itinerant preacher who suddenly reappeared in their village. The gospels say Jesus’s mother, brothers, and sisters were scandalized by what people were saying about him; they tried desperately to silence and restrain him (Mark 3: 21). (Kindle Locations 1577-1580)

But Jesus’s message was designed to be a direct challenge to the wealthy and the powerful, be they the occupiers in Rome, the collaborators in the Temple, or the new moneyed class in the Greek cities of Galilee. The message was simple: the Lord God had seen the suffering of the poor and dispossessed; he had heard their cries of anguish. And he was finally going to do something about it. (Kindle Locations 1612-1613)

Chapter Nine
By the Finger of God

Galilee especially abounded with charismatic fantasts claiming to channel the divine for a nominal fee. Yet from the perspective of the Galileans, what set Jesus apart from his fellow exorcists and healers is that he seemed to be providing his services free of charge. (Kindle Locations 1714-1716)

All of Jesus’s miracle stories were embellished with the passage of time and convoluted with Christological significance, and thus none of them can be historically validated. (Kindle Locations 1733-1734)

Again, Jesus was not the only miracle worker trolling though Palestine healing the sick and casting out demons. This was a world steeped in magic and Jesus was just one of an untold number of diviners and dream interpreters, magicians and medicine men who wandered Judea and Galilee. (Kindle Locations 1747-1748)

Jesus’s status as an exorcist and miracle worker may seem unusual, even absurd, to modern skeptics, but it did not deviate greatly from the standard expectation of exorcists and miracle workers in first-century Palestine. Whether Greek, Roman, Jewish, or Christian, all peoples in the ancient Near East viewed magic and miracle as a standard facet of their world. (Kindle Locations 1770-1772)

By connecting his miracles with Isaiah’s prophecy, Jesus is stating in no uncertain terms that the year of the Lord’s favor, the day of God’s vengeance, which the prophets predicted, has finally arrived. God’s reign has begun. (Kindle Locations 1844-1846)

But once he and his disciples leave their base in Capernaum and begin slowly making their way to Jerusalem, healing the sick and casting out demons along the way, Jesus’s collision with the priestly authorities, and the Roman Empire that supports them, becomes inevitable. (Kindle Locations 1875-1877)

Chapter Ten
May Your Kingdom Come

Of this there can be no doubt: the central theme and unifying message of Jesus’s brief three-year ministry was the promise of the Kingdom of God. Practically everything Jesus said or did in the gospels served the function of publicly proclaiming the Kingdom’s coming. (Kindle Locations 1901-1902)

Jesus spoke so often, and so abstractly, about the Kingdom of God that it is difficult to know whether he himself had a unified conception of it. The phrase, along with its Matthaean equivalent “Kingdom of Heaven,” hardly appears in the New Testament outside of the gospels. (Kindle Locations 1907-1909)

In fact, Jesus seemed to expect the Kingdom of God to be established at any moment: “I tell you, there are those here who will not taste death until they have seen the Kingdom of God come with power” (Mark 9: 1). (Kindle Location 1924)

Actually, his view of God’s reign was not so different from that of his master, John the Baptist, from whom he likely picked up the phrase “Kingdom of God.” (Kindle Locations 1940-1941)

The implications of Jesus’s words are clear: The Kingdom of God is about to be established on earth; God is on the verge of restoring Israel to glory. But God’s restoration cannot happen without the destruction of the present order. God’s rule cannot be established without the annihilation of the present leaders. (Kindle Locations 1953-1956)

There is no evidence that Jesus himself openly advocated violent actions. But he was certainly no pacifist. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I have not come to bring peace, but the sword” After the Jewish Revolt and the destruction of Jerusalem, the early Christian church tried desperately to distance Jesus from the zealous nationalism that had led to that awful war. As a result, statements such as “love your enemies” and “turn the other cheek” were deliberately cleansed of their Jewish context and transformed into abstract ethical principles that all peoples could abide regardless of their ethnic, cultural, or religious persuasions. (Kindle Locations 1969-1971)

The same God whom the Bible calls “a man of war” (Exodus 15: 3), the God who repeatedly commands the wholesale slaughter of every foreign man, woman, and child who occupies the land of the Jews, the “blood-spattered God” of Abraham, and Moses, and Jacob, and Joshua (Isaiah 63: 3), the God who “shatters the heads of his enemies,” bids his warriors to bathe their feet in their blood and leave their corpses to be eaten by dogs (Psalms 68: 21– 23)— that is the only God that Jesus knew and the sole God he worshipped. (Kindle Locations 1991-1995)

Chapter Eleven
Who Do You Say I Am?

Two years have passed, more or less, since Jesus of Nazareth first met John the Baptist at the lip of the Jordan River and followed him into the Judean desert. In that time, Jesus has not only carried on his master’s message about the Kingdom of God; he has expanded it into a movement of national liberation for the afflicted and oppressed— a movement founded upon the promise that God would soon intervene on behalf of the meek and the poor, that he would smite the imperial Roman power just as he smote Pharaoh’s army so long ago and free his Temple from the hands of the hypocrites who controlled it. (Kindle Locations 2063-2066)

(Mark’s gospel is written in a coarse, elementary Greek that betrays the author’s limited education). (Kindle Locations 2145-2146)

The problem for the early church is that Jesus did not fit any of the messianic paradigms offered in the Hebrew Bible, nor did he fulfill a single requirement expected of the messiah. Jesus spoke about the end of days, but it did not come to pass, not even after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and defiled God’s Temple. (Kindle Locations 2184-2186)

He promised that God would liberate the Jews from bondage, but God did no such thing. He vowed that the twelve tribes of Israel would be reconstituted and the nation restored; instead, the Romans expropriated the Promised Land, slaughtered its inhabitants, and exiled the survivors. The Kingdom of God that Jesus predicted never arrived; the new world order he described never took shape. According to the standards of the Jewish cult and the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus was as successful in his messianic aspirations as any of the other would-be messiahs. (Kindle Locations 2186-2190)

The phrase “the Son of Man” (ho huios tou anthropou in Greek) appears some eighty times in the New Testament, and only once, in a positively operatic passage from the book of Acts, does it occur on the lips of anyone other than Jesus. (Kindle Locations 2208-2210)

Even at the end of his life, when he stands in the presence of his accusers, he is willing to accept the generic title of messiah only if it can be made to fit his specific interpretation, à la the book of Daniel, of the Son of Man. (Kindle Locations 2300-2301)

The sole weapon he had with which to build the Kingdom of God was the one used by all the messiahs who came before or after him, the same weapon used by the rebels and bandits who would eventually push the Roman empire out of the city of God: zeal. (Kindle Locations 2336-2338)

Chapter Twelve
No King but Caesar

Why would Mark have concocted such a patently fictitious scene, one that his Jewish audience would immediately have recognized as false? The answer is simple: Mark was not writing for a Jewish audience. Mark’s audience was in Rome, where he himself resided. His account of the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth was written mere months after the Jewish Revolt had been crushed and Jerusalem destroyed. (Kindle Locations 2391-2393)

Like the Jews, the early Christians struggled to make sense of the trauma of the Jewish Revolt and its aftermath. More to the point, they had to reinterpret Jesus’s revolutionary message and his self-identity as the kingly Son of Man in light of the fact that the Kingdom of God they were awaiting never materialized . Scattered across the Roman Empire, it was only natural for the gospel writers to distance themselves from the Jewish independence movement by erasing, as much as possible, any hint of radicalism or violence, revolution or zealotry, from the story of Jesus, and to adapt Jesus’s words and actions to the new political situation in which they found themselves. (Kindle Locations 2395-2398)

After 70 C.E., the center of the Christian movement shifted from Jewish Jerusalem to the Graeco-Roman cities of the Mediterranean: Alexandria , Corinth , Ephesus, Damascus, Antioch, Rome. (Kindle Location 2411)

Thus, a story concocted by Mark strictly for evangelistic purposes to shift the blame for Jesus’s death away from Rome is stretched with the passage of time to the point of absurdity, becoming in the process the basis for two thousand years of Christian anti-Semitism. (Kindle Locations 2444-2446)

As with everything else in the gospels, the story of Jesus’s arrest , trial, and execution was written for one reason and one reason only: to prove that he was the promised messiah. Factual accuracy was irrelevant. What mattered was Christology, not history. (Kindle Locations 2470-2472)