Reza Aslan, author of "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth"
BY IAN MYLCHREEST -- “I’ve been obsessed with Jesus for a very long time,” says author Reza Aslan. He will be speaking about his new book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, at the Clark County Library on Monday night.
Aslan converted to evangelical Christianity when he was 15 years old but, he says, “When I went to college and began studying the New Testament from an academic perspective, I noticed a big gap between what I was learning about the Jesus of history and what I had been taught about the Christ of faith.”
Much of his new book turns on that distinction between the historical man Jesus, and the religious figure he became after his death. As a woodworker, Jesus would have been on the lowest rung of the social ladder, argues Aslan. He nonetheless challenged the greatest empire in history on behalf of the poor and the downtrodden, and his life created the largest religion in the world.
The very fact that Jesus was crucified is evidence that he was a political revolutionary. “Crucifixion under the Roman Imperium was the punishment for treason, for sedition, for insurrection and rebellion, for crimes against the state,” Aslan says. “There was no other crime for which you could be crucified.” And that, he argues, is enough to tell us that Christ was not, as some Christians argue, only concerned with things beyond this world.
Any claim to being the Messiah was a treasonable offense. The claim itself challenged the Roman Empire and the Romans met such claims with overwhelming force. They massacred hundreds, perhaps thousands of Jews in first century Palestine, razed the Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple in 70 C.E. to crush the political rebellion of the Jews.
And part of the explanation for the legacy of Christianity lies in that Roman attack. The earliest Christians, particularly St. Paul, sought to take the political message out of Jesus life. They excised any claims of earthly power or apocalyptic endings to Roman rule and instead remade Jesus as a figure concerned exclusively with the next world. Doing so, Aslan argues, makes Jesus much less than he was in life.