On the advice of an acquaintance that had read Reza Aslan’s (2013, Random House) Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth I ordered a copy from my local public library and dove in. I freely admit that when I began reading I did not know of the controversy and scandal that surrounded this title, and too be quite honest I do not think it is deserved.
This is a historical journey looking at the context and the reality that surrounded the life of Jesus Bar Joseph. Or as Aslan points out that Jesus was never mentioned to be Joseph’s son in the Gospel texts, but referred to as Mary’s son. Which ties into ancient wonderings if Jesus was actually the offspring of a rape of Mary by a roman soldier? The overlay of the mystic/mystery aspects of Jesus’ life finds itself in the mystery religions of the time, and Aslan deftly points out that the Gospels’ written decades after Jesus’ execution, and after the razing of Jerusalem, are finding away to appease the Empire. That is cast Pontius Pilate in a good light, and the Jews in a negative light so as not to have the destructive fervour turned towards them. This is how the stories in the Gospel that did not seem congruent with Jewish practice of trials came to be grafted in to the narrative as well.
It is also interesting to point out the struggles historically to distance themselves from Judaism that Jesus did not find in needing, but Paul did (I have personally always maintained that current Christendom is more Paulist than Jesus). Also pointing out though that Jesus was not from upper classes, If he was a skilled tradesman then he would have been travelling quite a bit, but more than possibly he was a general day labourer, much like many experiencing poverty and homelessness in North America going through a cash corner or temp agency. His message was about overthrowing the Temple, which had become a corrupt and oppressive system that lost out on its true purpose of community.
Stop and think of that, outside of the Roman powers that Jesus was calling out for oppression, what led to his execution was calling out the religious institution of his heritage and world. This led to the all leaders executing a rabble rouser, messiah claimant for sedition. He was executed along with many other want to be messiahs of the time. What was different was his teachings and such did change the world. For the 21st Century it does raise the question for the religious institution that bears his title, what would Jesus say/challenge? What needs to change? What tables in our Temples need to be overturned and stripped? What messages need to emerge? Which ones silenced?
Zealot may be a work that turned up turmoil and scandal in the religious world, but what I discovered in the pages was an academic confirmation of a lifetime of beliefs. Beliefs I had been beaten down in traditional church circles about, and attempts to silence with a call out for churches to get back to being the safest places on earth, a place where community happens, and a light shines out to transform communities for the healthier and better ways. A place where all are welcome and the guiding question of What Would Jesus Do, resonates with the true meaning, What Would Love Do?
But these are questions, comments and ways that scare Christendom and in many ways those that raise them have been silenced, marginalized or for their own spiritual health have, much like Elvis, metaphorically left the “building”.