ZEALOT: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth
ZEALOT: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth
Reza Aslan
Random House, 2013
296 pp., $27.00

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Robert Gundry

Jesus as a Jewish Jihadist

Reza Aslan's "Zealot."

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Despite doubting the historicity of all but Jesus' leading a popular movement and being crucified for doing so, Aslan bases his reconstruction time after time not only on Mark and a hypothetical Q as our earliest documents, plus the grid of Jewish revolutionism, but also on other materials, including John's Gospel (strikingly). Sad to say, the reconstruction is riddled with factual errors—some significant, others insignificant.

According to Aslan, for example, Matthew and Luke are "the only two evangelists" who mention Joseph, Jesus' father. (But Joseph is mentioned also in John 1:45; 6:42.) "[T]he building boom in Jerusalem and the completion of the Temple" ended "shortly before Herod's death." (The sanctuary proper reached completion a whole decade and a half before Herod's death, while construction of the out-buildings and courts and the building boom lasted for more than six decades after the death of Herod.) "Nazareth was just a day's walk from … Sepphoris." (Make it about an hour's walk.) The Samaritans worshipped God "in their temple on Mt. Gerizim." (Not during Jesus' time, for their temple had been destroyed in the 2nd century BC.) "Jesus replaced the costly blood and flesh sacrifice mandated by the Temple with his free healings and exorcisms." (Why then did he instruct his disciples to prepare a Passover meal, which included a lamb sacrificed at the temple?)

Luke had no idea of what we mean by "history." (Why then does he appeal to eyewitnesses?) Crucifixion entailed "the nailing of the hands and feet to a crossbeam." (The feet too? Only in the case of a contortionist.) John's Jesus is "an otherworldly spirit without earthly origins." (But he "became flesh," had a mother named Mary, had his rib cage pierced and his corpse given a sumptuous burial, and upon his resurrection told Mary Magdalene to let go of him and invited doubting Thomas to touch the nail- and spearprints in his body.)

"[T]he earliest manuscripts we have of the gospel of Mark end the first verse at 'Jesus the Christ.' " (Wrong! Most of the earliest manuscripts add "the Son of God.") For lack of interest, Mark writes "nothing at all" about Jesus' resurrection. ("He's been raised" and "there [in Galilee] you'll see him," spoken at Jesus' empty tomb, trumpet resurrection, as in three passion-and-resurrection predictions earlier in Mark.) "[A]nyone who reads Mark in the original Greek can tell that a different hand wrote the final eight verses [of Mark 16]." (True only of the twelve verses followingMark 16:1-8.)

Greek was "[t]he language of the [Roman] victors." (How about Latin, as on the Arch of Titus, which celebrated their victory over the Jews?) Noncanonical gospels "written mostly in the second and third centuries … . demonstrate the dramatic divergence of opinion [concerning Jesus] … even among those who claimed to walk with him, who shared his bread and ate with him, who heard his words and prayed with him." (They must have lived a long time, then.)

Paul's hometown Tarsus was located "on the Mediterranean Sea." (Actually, 22 kilometers inland.) Upon his conversion, Saul of Tarsus "changed his name to Paul." (Saul almost certainly bore from birth the Hellenistic name "Paul" as well as the Hebraistic name "Saul.") Luke never refers to Paul as an "apostle." (On the contrary, see Acts 14:14.) Paul "thinks he is the first apostle" (emphasis original). (What to do, then, with his "Last of all … to me"?) "The letters of Paul … make up the bulk of the New Testament." (Oh? Pagewise, barely over 22 percent, though bookwise 13 over against 14 non-Paulines.) Paul did not preach "to his fellow Jews." (Scratch the book of Acts, then—also Paul's saying, "To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews.") Apart from Jesus' Words of Institution, "Paul seems totally unconcerned with anything 'Jesus-in-the-flesh' may or may not have said." (Yet he explicitly cites Jesus' teaching on divorce.) "Paul's Christ is not even human, though he has taken on the likeness of one (Philippians 2:7)." (But according to Paul, Jesus "was descended from David according to the flesh" and "born of a woman.")

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