Yet another book taking advantage of the dearth of direct source material to define Jesus, known as the Christ, the man from Galilee. This time by Reza Aslan, a professor of creative writing with a background in religious studies in “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth”
It is a portrait of the political and social climate of Jesus’ day, 70 years or so after the conquest of Judea by Rome, an event that ended a century of Jewish self-rule. The Romans replaced the last in a series of Jewish client-kings with a Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, when Jesus was in his 20s, but even Pilate ruled by working closely with the aristocratic priestly families that controlled the Temple in Jerusalem and thereby all of Jewish politics. This elite reaped great wealth from the sacrifices the faithful were required to offer in the Temple, as well as taxes and tributes. In the provinces, noble families used the tax and loan systems to seize and consolidate the lands of subsistence farmers. They also began to adopt the customs of the pagan occupiers.
The dispossessed migrated to cities in search of work or roamed the countryside causing trouble. Some of them, called “bandits” by the Romans, robbed the wealthy (who were often seen as impious) and rallied the poor and discontented. They invariably offered religious justifications for their activities; many claimed to be the messiah, the prophesied figure who would eject the foreigners, raise up the oppressed, punish the venal rich and restore the Jews to supremacy in their promised land.
The Zealots are characterized as “a strict adherence to the Torah and the Law, a refusal to serve any foreign master — to serve any human master at all — and an uncompromising devotion to the sovereignty of God,” just like “the prophets and heroes of old.” Although the Zealot Party would not exist for a few more decades, most insurrectionists of the time — including Jesus — could be rightly called zealots. They revered the Torah and honored its many rules and regulations. The most fanatical of such groups, such as the Sicarii, practiced a form of terrorism, attacking members of the Jewish ruling class, even assassinating the high priest within the precincts of the Temple itself, “shouting their slogan ‘No lord but God!’”
Jesus himself wasn’t such a “bandit,” he definitely fit the well-known type of apocalyptic Jewish holy man, so commonplace in the countryside. Jesus is a provincial peasant turned roving preacher and insurrectionist, a “revolutionary Jewish nationalist” calling for the expulsion of Roman occupiers and the overthrow of a wealthy and corrupt Jewish priestly caste. Furthermore, once this overthrow was achieved, Jesus probably expected to become king, not as assumed an unworldly pacifist preaching a creed of universal love and forgiveness. Jesus, was this “zealous Galilean peasant and Jewish nationalist who donned the mantle of the messiah and launched a foolhardy rebellion against the corrupt Temple priesthood and the vicious Roman occupation.”The parable of the Good Samaritan is less concerned with the Samaritan’s compassion than it is with the “baseness of the two priests” who passed by the injured man in the road before the Samaritan stopped to help him. It was a class critique as much as an exhortation to help one’s neighbors.
Jesus as the incarnation of God, a being who sacrificed his life to mystically redeem the souls of all mankind was largely the invention of Paul. Paul clashed with James, John and Peter, who led the core of Jesus’ following after his death. Theirs was a deeply Jewish community centered in Jerusalem, where it awaited its founder’s return and the restoration of God’s kingdom on earth. Paul instead opted to convert and minister to gentiles as well as Jews in Rome and beyond. In the year 70, the ferment in Palestine finally erupted in a full-fledged revolt and then Roman reprisals. Ultimately, the Temple, Jerusalem and the holy city’s occupants were destroyed, and with these the Jewish core of Jesus’ followers. By default, it was Paul’s version of Jesus’ teachings — Christianity — that survived, splintering off from Judaism and incorporating many ideas from Hellenistic philosophy.
The thing is, that with the passage of time, with the disappearance of several “gospels" and the redaction of so many biblical sayings in existing ones, we will never know but simply hazard a best guess.