Answering Reza Aslan 

Christ in the House of His Parents, John Everett Millais
Christ in the House of His Parents, John Everett Millais

The Bible-reader, familiar with Jesus the carpenter, meets 'another Jesus' in the pages of Reza Aslan's book, Zealot: the 'peasant' Jesus, although sometimes He diversifies and becomes a 'peasant and day laborer': ". . .The Galilean peasant and day laborer. . ." (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 179). This is not accurate to the normal usage of these terms; according to, a 'day laborer' is, by definition, an unskilled worker: "an unskilled worker paid by the day," not a skilled practitioner of the building trades. And what is a 'peasant?' A farmer, perhaps: "A peasant is, quite simply, an exploited farmer." (John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity, p. 158). But Jesus, first a carpenter then a travelling religious teacher, was no farmer. First they redefine the terms, but then they simply revert to their normal use, flinging them in disparagement. Reza Aslan hopes the reader shares his contempt for 'peasants,' who sink further into the rural muck as 'simple' or 'lowly' peasants. This usage is ubiquitous by now: "And so the question: How did a crucified peasant come to be thought of as the Lord who created all things?" (Bart D. Ehrman, How Jesus Became God, p. 1). It is worth pointing out it conforms neither to the dictionary definition of 'peasant,' nor even to the practice of those sociologists whose authority is invoked to defend it. How do they get away with it?

That Joseph was a carpenter is confirmed by a hostile source, the Talmud, which accuses Mary, "R. Papa observed: This is what men say, 'She who was the descendant of princes and governors, played the harlot with carpenters.'" (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 106a). In and of itself the fact that Jesus was a carpenter is no more remarkable than that Paul was a tent-maker, or that other rabbis plied various trades, as was customary:

"The elder Hillel earned a "tarpe'ik" (τροπαικος = a half-denarius) a day as a wood-chopper, spending one-half of his earnings to gain entrance to a bet ha-midrash; Shammai was a builder (Shab. 31a); R. Joshua, who was elected nasi, a blacksmith (Ber. 28a); R. Jose, father of R. Ishmael, a tanner (Shab. 49b); Abba Hoshaiah of Turya, a laundryman (Yer. B. K. x. 10); R. Hanina and R. Oshaya, shoemakers (Pes. 113b); Karna, a wine-taster; R. Huna, a water-carrier (Ket. 105a); Abba b. Zemina, a tailor (Yer. Sanh. iii. 6); and Hisda and R. Pappa were brewers of mead (Pes. 113a). Other rabbis whose names indicate their callings are: Isaac Nappaha = "the smith"; R. Johanan ha-Sandalar = "the sandal-maker"; and R. Abin Naggara = "the carpenter." Rabbis were also found as merchants, but principally as agriculturists." (Article 'Rabbi,' The Jewish Encyclopedia).

It was considered desirable for a teacher to maintain a day job, which would help to secure his independence: "Here we have a vivid light on the kind of life that Paul lived. He was a rabbi and according to Jewish practice every rabbi must have a trade. He must take no money for preaching and teaching and must make his own living. . .So we find rabbis following every respectable trade." (The Acts of the Apostles, William Barclay, p. 135). A teacher who must kow-tow to the powers that be in order to obtain an academic post is not free to tell out what he perceives in the law, without fear or favor, as is a man whose livelihood is independent. “We can scarcely wonder at this, since it was a Rabbinical principle, that 'whoever does not teach his son a trade is as if he brought him up to be a robber'” (Kidd. 4.14)." (Edersheim, Alfred. Sketches of Jewish Social Life (Kindle Locations 2478-2479).) When Paul the tent-maker stands before Felix the Roman Governor, do we see a humble working man standing before a representative of hereditary aristocracy? Not really because Felix was born a slave whereas Paul was born a free man: "The governor to whom Paul was taken was Felix and his name was a byword. . .He had begun life as a slave." (The Acts of the Apostles, William Barclay, p. 167).

This was the normal expectation: ". . .it was a tradition among the Pharisees that all scholars and teachers earn their living through labor. Some were shoemakers and others were tailors; some did heaver work — chopping wood or carrying burdens in the markeplace." (When Rome Ruled Palestine, by Norman Kotker, Kindle location 935). Mr. Aslan, descended from a people whose culture despises manual labor, is importing his own prejudice into an ancient culture which did not share it.

“That the judge might not receive presents was already prescribed in the Old Testament (Ex. 23: 8; Deut. 16: 9). Hence it is also said in the Mishna: “If any one receives payment for a judicial decision, his sentence is not valid.” The Rabbis were therefore left to other sources for obtaining a livelihood. Some were persons of property, others practised some trade as well as the study of the law. The combination of some secular business with the study of the law is especially recommended by Rabban Gamaliel III., son of R Judah ha-Nasi. 'For exertion in both keeps from sin. The study of the law without employment in business must at last be interrupted, and brings transgression after it.'”

(Schürer, Emil. A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ (Kindle Locations 9080-9084). Capella Press.)

They simply don't see it his way. He's welcome to his opinion, but it's a known fact that the Jews of the day did not see it his way: "They earned a livelihood as merchants, artisans, farmers, doctors, or even menial laborers. One of the heads of the academies of Palestine was a humble charcoal-burner. . .The dignity of labor was unquestioned. 'A tradesman at his task,' the rabbis said, 'need not rise before the most learned teacher.'" (Abram Leon Sachar, A History of the Jews, p. 148). And who knows whether it isn't reciprocal? Perhaps people who work with their hands despise those who make a living teaching creative writing. Certainly Christians don't see it his way!: "Whensoever then thou seest one driving nails, smiting with a hammer, covered with soot, do not therefore hold him cheap, but rather for that reason admire him. Since even Peter girded himself, and handled the dragnet, and went a fishing after the Resurrection of the Lord." (John Chrysostom, Homily 20, 1 Corinthians 8:1, Chapter 12, p. 271, ECF 1_12).

Did even pagans? Stories about the rise of great men from humble beginnings were popular generally in antiquity, not only in Israel:

"They say that Protagoras, a man eminent in the pursuit of learning, whose name Plato gave to that famous dialogue of his, in his youth earned his living as a hired laborer and often carried heavy burdens on his back, being one of that class of men which the Greeks call αχθοφοροι and we Latins baiuli, or porters. (Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights, Book V, Chapter III [1]).

This 'peasant' schlock did not start with this author, but it does reach its vanishing point of absurdity with him: ". . .a group of illiterate peasants from the backwoods of Galilee. . ." (p. 193, Zealot), ". . .a marginal Jewish peasant from the backwoods of Galilee. . ." (p. 235, Zealot). How much of Galilee was even forested during this time frame? The Mediterranean landscape of the classical world was not generally heavily wooded. The underlying problem here is that Mr. Aslan is the type of genial, gullible, obedient and obliging young man who believes what he was taught in school: "He [Jesus] was a Jewish peasant with an attitude. . ." (John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity, p. xxx). He should develop critical thinking skills and go back and examine it skeptically, because it is not meaningful or defensible:

Me and Thee
Japanese Warlord
The Farmer Feeds Them All
Cultured Class
What is a Peasant?
Gospel of Thomas
Bed of Procrustes
Second Generation
Offhand Brutality
To the Smiters
Open Commensality
Middle Class
A World of One's Own

Would they offer university courses in a discipline, the study of which leaves its professors more ignorant than when they began? You bet they would. And so, "And Epicharmus says, 'Don't forget to exercise incredulity; for it is the sinews of the soul.'" (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, Book IV, Chapter III). It is even mentioned in the Talmud that the Messiah must be a carpenter: "It is written [Zech. ii. 3 (i. 20)]: 'And the Lord showed me four carpenters.' Who are the four carpenters? Said R. Hanah bar Bizna in the name of R. Simeon the Pious: Messiah b. David, and Messiah b. Joseph, Elijah and Cohen Zedek." (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume VII, Section Moed, Tract Succah, Chapter V, Kindle location 29995).

Of the celebrated Hillel it is said,

"It was reported about Hillel the Elder that every day he used to work and earn one tropaik, half of which he would give to the guard at the House of Learning, the other half being spent for his food and for that of his family. One day he found nothing to earn and the guard at the House of Learning would not permit him to enter. He climbed up and sat upon the window, to hear the words of the living God from the mouth of Shemayah and Abtalion — They say, that day was the eve of Sabbath in the winter solstice and snow fell down upon him from heaven. When the dawn rose, Shemayah said to Abtalion: Brother Abtalion, on every day this house is light and to-day it is dark, is it perhaps a cloudy day. They looked up and saw the figure of a man in the window. They went up and found him covered by three cubits of snow. They removed him, bathed and anointed him and placed him opposite the fire and they said: This man deserves that the Sabbath be profaned on his behalf." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Yoma, 35b).

What does this character say to that? 'Peasants, peasants, they're all peasants!' We know the condescension of the Lord, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich." (2 Corinthians 8:9). However this incessantly repeated 'peasant' mantra answers to nothing in the world; it is just disparagement.

Is the remainder of this project any more true to life?:

Reserved for Sedition Conspiracy Theory
Reimarus Name That Zealot
The Talmud The Messiah
Mythology Ancient Literacy
Prophecy Impossible Apollonius of Tyana
Sic et Non Judge Judy
The Census The Vineyard
The Third Day
Contradictions: Bible vs. Koran
Temptation in the Wilderness

Reserved for Sedition

Reza Aslan is the newest sensation rolled out by those who make it their business to trumpet new discoveries hostile to Christianity. However very little of his material is new at all. He has resurrected the 'failed revolutionary' Jesus of the old German socialists like Karl Kautsky; his Jesus is in the business of "national liberation" (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 146). How do we know that Jesus was a failed insurrectionist? Because no one but failed insurrectionists was ever crucified in the Roman empire, this punishment was specific to that crime:

  • “Consider this: Crucifixion was a punishment that Rome reserved almost exclusively for the crime of sedition.”
  • (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 19).

Let's consider it, indeed. Is it accurate? It's possible he gets this from his mentor John Dominic Crossan, who says things like: "Second, it is also relatively certain, from Jesus' death, that Roman power considered him a lower-class subversive, since crucifixion was a publicly placarded and officially hung-up warning against such criminal activity." (John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed, Excavating Jesus, Kindle location 4073). Notice that Crossan already infers Jesus was considered a "subversive" from His mode of execution. And certainly we can read the placard on the cross, which accuses Him as 'King of the Jews.' The trouble is, the net result of all this busy-as-a-beaver activity on the part of the 'Jesus' publishing industry is that people end up with a filing cabinet full of facts about the ancient world which aren't factual.  Is it true that crucifixion was "reserved almost exclusively" for political crimes?:

Conspiracy Theory

It is characteristic of popular 'conspiracy theories' to discard or invert the available evidence, on grounds that the evidence is 'cooked,' precisely to conceal the 'conspiracy.' To read the Sermon on the Mount, you would not know that Jesus was a violent revolutionary, because He does not advocate needless violence. Don't fall for it; if that were so, He wouldn't be just another failed revolutionary!:

  • “The Christians, too, felt the need to distance themselves from the revolutionary zeal that had led to the sacking of Jerusalem, not only because it allowed the early church to ward off the wrath of a deeply vengeful Rome, but also because, with the Jewish religion having become pariah, the Romans had become the primary target of the church's evangelism. Thus began the long process of transforming Jesus from a revolutionary Jewish nationalist into a peaceful spiritual leader with no interest in any earthly matter.”
  • (Reza Aslan, Zealot, pp. 20-21).

The conspiracy paradigm upends the normal verification process. Evidence becomes suspect; no longer a friendly revealer, it is unmasked as a hostile disguise. There is a slight problem here. Once you've given up on evidence, how can you verify anything?

Instead of sifting, comparing and reconciling the evidence, our author simply tosses out whatever doesn't fit his predetermined paradigm. The trial before Pilate doesn't 'work' so well for the 'Failed Revolutionary' hypothesis; so out it goes: "That is pure fiction." (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 69). Did Jesus say, in "a single unreliable passage," "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36)? That will never do, so out it goes, "Even if one accepts the historicity of the passage (and very few scholars do). . ." (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 136). Don't ever let anyone tell you, 'You are entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts;' in the 'Jesus' publishing industry, you are entitled to your own facts.

If the documented facts do not fit your theory, throw out the facts. By these techniques, you can create your own world. This is the methodology of the fiction writer, not the historian. There is no discipline here, no restraint on the imagination. Is it any wonder that no two of the 'Jesuses' invented by these people resemble any of the others, and all of them bear a suspicious resemblance to their creators?

While every documented fact is reclassified as fiction, meanwhile this wildly imaginative author's own fictions pile up in wild profusion, for instance, "Nor does Paul ever actually quote Jesus's words (again, with the exception of his rendering of the Eucharistic formula: 'This is my body. . .')" (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 202). Is this true?:

"For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.'" (1 Timothy 5:17);
"And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages." (Luke 10:7).

This is the procedure throughout. Mr. Aslan announces that the gospels are fabrications, because the circumstances recorded therein conflict with. . .fill in the blank, some made-up 'fact' about the ancient world. For instance, Jesus' body cannot have been taken down from the cross post-mortem, because "The criminal was always left hanging long after he had died; the crucified were almost never buried." (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 173). He recounts the "staggering claim," that, ". . .unlike every other criminal crucified by Rome, their messiah was not left on the cross for his bones to be picked clean by the greedy birds. . ." (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p.180). "[E]very other criminal"? Oh, really? We know of no other instance where a crucified man was returned to his family? But Philo Judaeus knew of instances where the crucified were taken down in honor of the emperor's birthday, admittedly not the same holiday as the Passover, but still an apt precedent:

"I have known instances before now of men who had been crucified when this festival and holiday was at hand, being taken down and given up to their relations, in order to receive the honors of sepulture, and to enjoy such observances as are due to the dead; for it used to be considered, that even the dead ought to derive some enjoyment from the natal festival of a good emperor, and also that the sacred character of the festival ought to be regarded." (Philo Judaeus, A Treatise Against Flaccus, Chapter X).

Reza Aslan has the chutzpah to quote an apocryphal letter of Clement to James, which begins, "Clement to James, the Lord, and the bishop of bishops, who rules Jerusalem, the holy church of the Hebrews, and the churches everywhere excellently rounded by the providence of God. . ." (ANF 0.08, p. 450) as if it actually were written by Clement of Rome! (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 216). How nice to discover the monarchical bishop already 'in the chair,' so to speak, in the first century. Mr. Aslan's continuing effort to demonize Paul lands him in Bible interpretations which are bizarre and monstrous:

"That Paul is speaking about himself when he cites Isaiah 49:1-6 regarding 'the root of Jesse' serving as 'a light to the Gentiles' is obvious [!], since even Paul admits that Jesus did not missionize to he gentiles (Romans 15:12)." (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 301).

Really? Paul claims that he himself is the Messiah who is to rule over the Gentiles??!!

“Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written: 'For this reason I will confess to You among the Gentiles, and sing to Your name.' And again he says: 'Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people!' And again: 'Praise the LORD, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples!' And again, Isaiah says: 'There shall be a root of Jesse; and He who shall rise to reign over the Gentiles, in Him the Gentiles shall hope.'” (Romans 15:8-12).

Mr. Aslan transforms the heresiarch Arius into a Socinian, presumably to bring him into harmony with Mr. Aslan's own views, "Was he [Jesus], as those like Athanasius of Alexandria claimed, God incarnate, or was he, as the followers of Arius seemed to suggest, just a man — a perfect man, perhaps, but a man nonetheless?" (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 229). Arius, of course, and his followers for good measure, did not believe that Jesus was "just a man," rather they thought Him a god. Mr. Aslan's facts are not factual, and are in no way sufficient to rebut the testimony of scripture.

Mr. Aslan has inherited from his Jewish sources the view that Jesus must have loved the Pharisees, and hated the temple priesthood, who are imagined to have been compromised by dealings with Rome. This view is founded largely on wishful thinking; if Jesus came into conflict with the Pharisees as well as the temple priesthood, as the gospels relate, this would disappoint those modern Jews who trace the origin of their faith to the Pharisees. One obvious case which Bible advocates would raise to show that Jesus cannot have shared the irrational hatred of the temple priesthood displayed by authors like Hyam Maccoby is His instruction to the cleansed leper to make the specified temple offering laid down in the law of Moses. 'Leprosy' in the Bible comprehends a variety of conditions, some of which might well spontaneously remit; in this case Jesus performed a miraculous healing. So how to get rid of this inconvenient text? Mr. Aslan advises us that this command was intended as a joke! He explains that Moses' offering is prohibitively expensive, "the most laborious and costly ritual:" "Jesus is joking. His command to the leper is a jest— a calculated swipe at the priestly code. . .Obviously, Jesus is not telling the leper he has just healed to buy two birds, two lambs, a ewe, a strip of cedarwood, a spool of crimson yarn, a sprig of hyssop, a bushel of flour, and a jar of oil and to give them all to the priest as an offering to God." (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 132).

It turns out Mr. Aslan is aware, however, that healed lepers of meager resources are allowed to substitute less costly offerings: "Regarding the law for cleansing lepers, it should be noted that the Torah allows for those who are poor to substitute two turtledoves or two pigeons for two of the lambs (Leviticus 14:21-22)." (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 277). It should be noted indeed. So why offer his preposterous 'joke' theory in the text without noting it? The priests were not paid by the hour by their clients; rather, a specified portion is allotted to them: "Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar?" (1 Corinthians 9:13). Mr. Aslan's readers must keep a hand upon the wallet.

Back in the real world, even the Pharisees were not the political zealots of his imagination. Motivated not by quietism, but by the conviction that no secular solution could meet the very high expectations stirred up by Messianic prophecy, some suggest they could be fairly apolitical: "Those collections ascribed to Pharisaic authorship, have led some scholars to infer that the Pharisees rejected Hasmonean rule and even preferred forign rule until the advent of a real, restored Davidic kingship." (Juan Marcos Bejarano Gutierrez, The Judaisms of Jesus' Followers, The Rise of the Pharisees, Kindle location 733). Aslan's Pharisees, like all the other Jews of his imagination, were Zealots, because no other possibilities occur to his unfurnished mind.


Although most people, when they think about the 'Jesus as failed revolutionary' meme, probably think about the Nazis, in fact the paradigm goes back way before the National Socialist Party, to the eighteenth century German 'enlightenment' figure Reimarus. All the features of the program are already present, including the induced indignation against the gospel writers, our only real source of information, for their alleged dishonesty:

"We have now to deal with a matter which the evangelists have taken great pains to conceal from us (as I have recently shown), and for this reason we shall require the most careful attention; but as the evangelists did not seek to conceal that they looked upon Jesus as a worldly deliverer of Israel up to the time of his death; and as the Jews were well aware that such had been their constant belief, it could not well have been possible for them utterly to destroy and banish all traces of their former system from their history of Jesus. These traces we will now endeavor to discover." (Fragments of Reimarus, Lessing, Kindle location 98, Second par of Fragment on the Object of Jesus and His Disciples).

This sets forth our program: we will search out sayings and incidents which, detached from their context, exaggerated and set at variance with the other evidence in combination with which they would yield a well-rounded picture, may give us what we want. But is the first step even accurate: did the Jews, in fact, always expect their Messiah to be a violent political revolutionary? Is this their "constant belief"? Do the numerous Messianic aspirants who appear in Jewish history always fit this mold?

Ten Thousand Moses of Crete
Yemeni Madman Simon bar Kochba
Emperor Vespasian Serene
David Alroy Abraham Abulafia
Asher Lemmlein Solomon Molko
Sabbatai Sevi The Franks
Rabbi Menachem Schneerson

Reza Aslan is aware this is a well-trodden path:

"To call Jesus the messiah, therefore, is to place him inexorably upon a path — already well trodden by a host of failed messiahs who came before him — toward conflict, revolution, and war against the prevailing powers." (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 50).

To assert that the Messiah-trail leads inevitably to violent revolution is to ignore history. Readers who seek a logical structure beneath this author's frothy prose will seek in vain, because while the purported unitary Jewish viewpoint on the Messiah is the foundation of the 'failed revolutionary' claim, he also points out that there was no unitary Jewish viewpoint, because the scriptures are just so darned confusing: "When they scoured the smattering of prophecies in the scriptures, they discovered a confusing, often contradictory, array of views and opinions about the messiah's mission and identity." (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 153). He is so bound and committed to disparagement that he disparages his own argument away.

Name That Zealot

Adherents of the 'Failed Revolutionary' paradigm are obliged to normalize Zealotry. The 'Fourth Philosophy' in first century Palestine must become, not a minority view, but what everyone thought. No Jew could fail to be a zealot. This, after all, is the only way to dispose of the clearly-stated evidence that Jesus was not a Zealot; if everyone was, then He must have been too, and the evidence to the contrary may be safely discarded. See:

"And yet, a thousand years later, this same tribe that had shed so much blood to cleanse the Promised Land of every foreign element so as to rule it in the name of its God now found itself laboring under the boot of an imperial pagan power, forced to share the holy city with Gauls, Spaniards, Romans, Greeks, and Syrians — all of hem foreigners, all of them heathens. . .How would the heroes of old respond to such humiliation and degradation? What would Joshua or Aaron or Phineas or Samuel do to the unbelievers who had defiled the land set aside by God for his chosen people?

"They would drown the land in blood. They would smash the heads of the heathens and the gentiles, burn their idols to the ground, slaughter their wives and their children. They would slay he idolaters and bathe their feet in the blood of their enemies, just as the Lord commanded." (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p 39).

Really? And this is just exactly how the prophet Jeremiah explicated the Lord's commands to the children of Israel? The problem with this Bible interpretation is that it lacks an entire chapter, namely Deuteronomy 28. It is not ever and always God's will for Israel to occupy the land; even the Zealots would not have agreed with Reza Aslan on this point.

If we are starting with the assumption that all first century Jews were in fact Zealots, it should be fairly easy to find them, because voluminous Jewish writings from the first century survive. Let's see if we can find them! All of the New Testament authors except Luke were Jews, and the first century non-Christian Jewish author Philo Judaeus represents a library in himself. Was Philo a Zealot? ". . .cf. Philo, De Virtutibus [On the Virtues] 206: All humanity should remember that 'those who have no true excellence of character should not pride themselves on the greatness of their race.' Cf. De Praemiis et Poenis [On Rewards and Punishments] 152." (quoted in Footnote 31, Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People, E. P. Sanders, Kindle location 2194). Uh-oh, a universalist! It must be admitted that Philo perceived the Messiah as a man of war: ". . .for a man will come forth, says the word of God, leading a host and warring furiously, who will subdue great and populous nations. . ." (Philo Judaeus, On Rewards and Punishments, Chapter 16 (95).) But no reader of Philo can imagine he was man after Reza Aslan's own heart.

Was Rabbi Hillel a Zealot? Did he, as did they, look eagerly for the Messiah? Not exactly: "This was said in opposition to R. Hillel, who maintained that there will be no Messiah for Israel, since they have already enjoyed him during the reign of Hezekiah." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate 98b). (Whether this is the famous Hillel, or a third century Rabbi, is in dispute.) The man cherished peace: "On the other hand one of the sayings of Hillel (A.D. 10-20) recorded in Aboth 1.12 reads: "Be one of the disciples of Aaron a lover of peace, following after peace, loving mankind and drawing them to the Law.'" (Paul and Rabbinic Judaism, W. D. Davies, p. 64). The synergy between the serene, irenic Hillel and Jesus of Nazareth is so noticeable that some have tried to make the prophet of Galilee into a disciple:

"The genius of Hillel, who was probably a native of Babylon, became clearer in the generations which followed his death. The great Tannaim (teachers) recalled affectionately the serene beauty of his life, his generosity, his devotion to learning, his modesty, his extraordinary patience. When Jesus taught his followers to love their fellow men as they loved God, to do unto others as they would have others do unto them, to value humility as the highest virtue, he was repeating the teachings of the master who had preceded him by a generation." (Abrahm Leon Sachar, A History of the Jews, p. 144).

This too is exaggerated, though. Hillel's life quest was to make Judaism safe for the wealthy, which it had not been up to that time. The law of Moses contained radical provisions such as that every seventh year, debts had to be forgiven. Did this ever pinch. . .the creditor class, not the debtor class. Hillel, whose vaunted compassion began and ended with the well-to-do, figured out ways around this plain provision of the law. Jesus, who valued neither the rich nor efforts to evade the plain intent of the law, was no disciple. Nevertheless, neither man was a Zealot.

How about Paul of Tarsus? The Christians, i.e. Messianics, cannot in general have accepted Reza Aslan's thesis that the Gentiles defiled the Holy Land by their mere presence, because the Old Testament prophets specifically promise that the nations will come streaming to the Holy Land during the Messianic age. Mr. Aslan persistently claims to the contrary that, during the Messianic age, Gentiles would of necessity be expelled from the holy land: "Menahem and the Sicarii rallied to the temple captain's side. Together, they expelled all the non-Jews from Jerusalem, jus as the scriptures demanded." (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 78). Reza Aslan actually quotes Jesus quoting one of these Old Testament passages. . .and then goes on to make application by explaining this means no Gentiles are allowed in the temple!: "Jesus, according to the gospels, aloof, seemingly unperturbed, crying out over the din: 'It is written: My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations. But you have made it a den of thieves.'. . .Other parts of the Temple may have been sacrosanct and off-limits to the lame, the sick, the impure, and most especially, to the gentile masses." (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 94). Obviously the Christians cannot accept placing a 'No Gentiles Allowed' sign over the Messianic era; not even Paul's adversaries did that, it was a question of ways and means, not whether Gentiles had a place at the table of the Messianic banquet. See how many scriptures will need to be ignored to deprive the Gentiles (nations) of their place at the table:

“‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’” (Isaiah 49:6.)

“Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it. Many nations shall come and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion the law shall go forth, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between many peoples, and rebuke strong nations afar off; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Micah 4:1-3.)

“Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:2-4).

“All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and shall glorify Your name.” (Psalm 86:9).

“All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before You. For the kingdom is the LORD’S, and He rules over the nations.” (Psalm 22:27-28).

“‘On that day I will raise up The tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, and repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old; that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and all the Gentiles who are called by My name,’ says the LORD who does this thing.” (Amos 9:11-12).

“I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.” (Psalm 2:7-8)

“I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14)

“And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.” (Isaiah 11:10)

“The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” (Isaiah 60:3).

“For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language, that they all may call on the name of the LORD, to serve Him with one accord. From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia My worshipers, the daughter of My dispersed ones, shall bring My offering.” (Zephaniah 3:9-10).

“‘Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,’ says the LORD. ‘Many nations shall be joined to the LORD in that day, and they shall become My people. And I will dwell in your midst.’ Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent Me to you.’” (Zechariah 2:10-11).

“O LORD, my strength and my fortress, My refuge in the day of affliction, the Gentiles shall come to You from the ends of the earth and say, ‘Surely our fathers have inherited lies, Worthlessness and unprofitable things.’” (Jeremiah 16:19).

“Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘Peoples shall yet come, inhabitants of many cities; The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, “Let us continue to go and pray before the LORD, and seek the LORD of hosts. I myself will go also.” Yes, many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the LORD.’ “Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘In those days ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”’” (Zechariah 8:20-23).

“‘For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; in every place incense shall be offered to My name, and a pure offering; for My name shall be great among the nations,’ says the LORD of hosts.” (Malachi 1:11).

Who are They? Boundary Line
Retrogression Apocrypha
The Gentiles and the Kingdom A Test Case
Psalm 96 In the Belly of the Fish
Ruth What Then?

If the scriptures say, and they do, 'the Gentiles are coming,' how helpful is it to reply, 'kick them all out.' The conflict between Paul and a party of the Jewish Christians, which Mr. Aslan imaginatively recasts as a debate about Christology, concerned the terms under which the Gentiles who were in fact observably streaming to Mt. Zion, as was prophesied for the Messianic era, are to be welcomed and/or allowed in. Must they become Jews in order to enter? Or are they to be something like the dhimmis of Mr. Aslan's native religion, a defeated and subjugated people who are graciously allowed to exist in order to serve? Or are they fully equal Kingdom participants, as Paul taught? The temple after all was a place of prayer for all nations, even though not all had access to all precincts:

"Moreover, concerning a foreigner, who is not of Your people Israel, but has come from a far country for Your name’s sake (for they will hear of Your great name and Your strong hand and Your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this temple, hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, that all peoples of the earth may know Your name and fear You, as do Your people Israel, and that they may know that this temple which I have built is called by Your name." (1 Kings 8:41-43).

Mr. Aslan does not explain how these instructions fit into his 'expel all the Gentiles' program. Paul however was committed to their obedience. When Paul got into trouble with his fellow Jews, he appealed to Caesar. Is that what a Zealot would do? And why does a Zealot say this:

"Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves." (Romans 13:1-2).

So much for Hellenists, Christians, and Herod's appointees. Perhaps the problem is that we are looking at Jews who were not full-time residents of Palestine; a Babylonian migrant like Hillel or an Alexandrian like Philo might naturally take a more universalist stance. So let's query Josephus, the Palestinian historian from whom we derive most of our information about the Zealots. If Josephus had not told us about these people, we would know very little about them. But Josephus despised the Zealots! He blamed them for the destruction of the temple and the devastation of the Holy Land. At this the chorus starts up, Josephus was a Quisling. So may it be; however, he seems to have had considerable company in his lack of enthusiasm for this group. And indeed, they are hard to warm up to. Usually, first comes the revolution, then the civil war; the various malcontents band together to overthrow the existing government, then having done so, fight it out amongst themselves. But the Zealots were not even able to form a united front with their fellow Zealots. While Jerusalem was besieged by Roman armies, within its walls, rival bands were slaughtering each other. Is it self-evident these people were right?

Let's interrogate John the Baptist, who advises the soldiers who seek his counsel, not to mutiny, but "To the soldiers who begged for guidance, he said, 'Do not intimidate, do not blackmail, and be content with your wages.'" (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 100). This from a Zealot? Or, "To the tribute collectors who asked him the path to salvation, he said, 'Do not exact more than that which has been prescribed to you.'" (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 100). This is not a summons to the barricades.

The Talmud

The strain of thought that would be reflected in the Talmud, the foundation of modern Judaism, is not, in general, Zealotry, although at least one Rabbi, Akiba, was drawn to this perspective. Others took the New Testament tack of praying for the authorities: "R. Chananiah, prefect of the priests, said, Pray for the peace of the kingdom, since but for fear thereof we had swallowed up each his neighbour alive." (Pirke Aboth, Chapter 3.2).

The 'sages' could be reluctant warriors:

"A rabbinic school was established at Jamnia, a city that Vespasian had earlier used as a settlement center for Jews who voluntarily surrendered to the Romans (War IV. 444). The founder of this academy was Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai (ca. 1-80 C.E.). According to rabbinic tradition, he faked his death and escaped from Jerusalem in a coffin being carried away from the city for burial. His escape probably occurred early in the war rather than late, that is, before rather than after the Roman siege began. Johanan requested and was granted permission from the Romans to establish his school, which, with him as its nasi (prince or patriarch), replaced the Sanhedrin as the most prominent Jewish authority." (The Jewish People in Classical Antiquity, by John H. Hayes and Sara R. Mandell, p. 210).

The founders of modern Judaism did not share Reza Aslan's viewpoint: "The latter had spies within the walls of Jerusalem, and whatever they heard they wrote upon an arrow and threw it outside the wall. In this manner Vespasian learned that R. Johanan b. Zakkai was friendly to Caesar (and so he really was, and confessed it frankly to the leaders of Jerusalem)." (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume 9, Tract Aboth, Chapter I, Kindle location 37086). The Talmud recounts some Rabbis counseling peace:

"The biryoni [apparently rebels] were then in the city. The Rabbis said to them: Let us go out and make peace with them [the Romans]. They would not let them, but on the contrary said, Let us go out and fight them. The Rabbis said: You will not succeed. They then rose up and burnt the stores of wheat and barley so that a famine ensued." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Gittin 56a).

Thus not only Jesus, but the Rabbis as well, must fall prey to our author's historical revisionism: they are as impossible as He. The Talmud as it stands does not represent the Zealot viewpoint. Reza Aslan is actually aware of the problem, but hopes he can contain the damage by bumping it forward into a reaction of the next century: "For the most part, however, the rabbis of the second century would be compelled by circumstance and by fear of Roman reprisal to develop an interpretation of Judaism that eschewed nationalism." (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 91). No doubt the same conspiracy thinking he applies to the New Testament will explain why the earlier rabbis are represented as non-Zealots; they were Zealots! But the evidence has been scrubbed. If it is wished that Judaism should incorporate the Zealot viewpoint, then a rewrite will be required on numerous passages, like,

R. Safra taught thus: Rabbi enquired of R. Hiyya, 'Is one like myself to bring a he-goat?' 'There,' the other replied, 'is the scepter; here only the law giver;' as it was taught. The scepter shall not depart from Judah refers to the exilarch in Babylon who rules Israel with the scepter; nor the ruler's staff from between his feet refers to the grandchildren of Hillel who teach the Torah to Israel in public." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Horayoth 11b).

The "exilarch in Babylon"? This is not Zealotry. So where are the Zealots? It is actually a little difficult to track these people down; their writings, if any, do not survive,— a surprising outcome if it were indeed true that any and every Jew must at all times be a Zealot. And yet to make the 'Jesus-as-failed-revolutionary' case, Reza Aslan must transform all Jews, or rather all "pious" Jews, into Zealots, and make this minority viewpoint mainstream:

  • “What set the members of he Fourth Philosophy apart from the rest was their unshakable commitment to freeing Israel from foreign rule and their fervent insistence, even unto death, that they would serve no lord save the One God. There was a well-defined term for this type of belief, one that all pious Jews, regardless of their political stance, would have recognized and proudly claimed for themselves: zeal.”
  • (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 63).

This is because, in the absence of any meaningful positive evidence that Jesus was a violent revolutionary, and in the face of very considerable evidence that He cannot have been (the Sermon on the Mount), the case collapses to this: Jesus must have been a Zealot, because all pious Jews of the day were Zealots. But this is counter-factual. While the Talmud was compiled very late, and might encapsulate some corrections after the fact, it does also make a certain sense that, of the variegated forms of Judaism which existed in the first century, the only two survivors, Christianity and Talmudic Judaism, were those not bent on self-destruction.

Israel's brief national renaissance under the Hasmoneans was made possible in part by her friendship with Rome. The relationship between Rome and Israel started as a mutually beneficial security pact: "But for twenty six years the Romans kept faith with Israel and did not subdue them, and therefore those years are not reckoned in the period during which Rome cast her dominion over Israel." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Abodah Zarah, 8b, 9a). Those Israelites who supported good relations with Rome during Hasmonean rule were not acting irrationally or unpatriotically, because the Roman security umbrella deterred oppressors who would have made Israel prey. By the New Testament era, this relationship had devolved into the exploitation of a slave by a master, and it is not the first time a treaty community has ended under the thumb of the most powerful member.

Looking around at the tinder-boxes of our own day, we see Zealots a-plenty, in Northern Ireland, in Palestine, and in the Sikh homelands of India. Does that mean all those people are Zealots: there is no peace party, there is no tear shed in the darkness of night for all the lives cut short, all the needless suffering? There is no 'silent majority' that would rather give peace a chance? In fact there always is such a party; there were many Tories in the American Revolution; as the song 'Marching Through Georgia' tells us, there were patriotic Americans in the states of the Confederacy who wept when they saw their beloved flag: "Yes, and there were Union men who wept with joyful tears, When they saw the honored flag they had not seen for years. . ." (Marching Through Georgia, Henry C. Work); there will always be a Jane Fonda to enthuse over every Ho Chi Minh. To Mr. Aslan, these people deserve contempt; his implication is that we are rescuing Jesus from ignominy if we make Him into what He was not, a Zealot. Do they really deserve contempt in all cases? In the Jewish Revolt, the nation shouldered aside its traditional leaders in favor of cut-throats and madmen who could not even manage the first pre-requisite of a successful revolt: to form a united front. Instead, they fought each other right up until the Romans overran Jerusalem. I wouldn't follow these leaders if they led a parade around the block, much less a doomed war. Why were they obviously right, as he expects us to believe?

We are expected to believer that the Zealots, people who failed as dramatically and totally as anyone ever yet has, were the smart money, the folks who had a workable plan, so much so that Jesus, who had He conformed to the portrait of Him in the gospels, would have been the stupid exception, must be redacted and corrected to conform to their pattern. But nothing succeeds like success, and He succeeded where they failed:

"Napoleon tried to establish a kingdom by the force of arms. So did Alexander the Great, Caesar, and other great warriors, but they utterly failed. Jesus founded His kingdom on love, and it is going to stand." (Dwight L. Moody, A Life for Christ, Kindle location 336).

The pagan Romans, who trounced the Zealots, had ultimately to bow to the Prince of Peace. Millions today still follow Him. An approach that actually works cannot be considered so implausible that it cannot even have been tried. If it works, and it does, then it might have been proposed, even carried through; history cannot be rewritten to rule it out.

Reza Aslan explains that Jesus is a Jew, but unfortunately for him 'Jew' means only 'Gentile-hating.' His Old Testament contains Leviticus 19:18, which he interprets as meaning only love for the fellow-Jew, the Lord's parable of the Good Samaritan to the contrary notwithstanding: "To the Israelites, as well as to Jesus' community in first-century Palestine, 'neighbor' meant one's fellow Jews." (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 140). According to him, the operative verse for Gentiles is Deuteronomy 23:33, "they shall not live on your land"! For some reason his Old Testament is missing Leviticus 19:34,

"The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself;  for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God." (Leviticus 19:34).

The Messiah

Reza Aslan lays down the law to which the Bible must conform:

  • “There is, however, one thing about which all the prophecies seem to agree: the messiah is a human being, not divine. Belief in a divine messiah would have been anathema to everything Judaism represents, which is why, without exception, every text in the Hebrew Bible dealing with the messiah presents him as performing his messianic functions on earth, not in heaven.”
  • (Reza Aslan, Zealot, pp. 54-55).

This is a plain case of making the evidence conform to your pre-existing belief. The Old Testament Messiah is not divine? To the contrary,

"Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness more than Your companions." (Psalm 45:6-7).

The Messiah is seen only on earth, not in heaven? To the contrary, one of the special favorite verses of Jesus and the apostles places Him explicitly in heaven:

The Messiah is both God and man. Though that viewpoint is anathema to Islam, it is the plain statement of the text. Moreover, Jesus of Nazareth is not the only Messianic aspirant who explicitly claimed to be God; so did Sabbatai Sevi. A better way, though utterly alien to this way of doing 'history,' is to let the evidence determine your convictions, rather than the other way around.

"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." (Reza Aslan, Zealot, pp. 153-154).


Born at Bethlehem Pierced
O God His Bones
Cast Lots Born of a Virgin
Mother's Children Lifted Up
Stretched Out My Hands On a Donkey
Weeks The Grave
Thirty Pieces of Silver Light to the Gentiles
Out of Egypt House of David
House of My Friends With the Transgressors
Eyes of the Blind With the Rich
I thirst Darkness over the Land
Gall and Vinegar Shame and Spitting
Familiar Friend Son of Man
Den of Thieves Afar Off
E'er the Sun


Reza Aslan has a vivid sense of what happened in first century Palestine, and yet there is a road-block standing in his way, which seems substantial to some: contemporary accounts, those of Luke and Matthew, don't tell it his way. What is the respectful historical procedure when a first century account says Jesus was born in Bethlehem,— and being born in a certain locale is by no means an incredible or supernatural event,— and he prefers to believe something else? Toss out the evidence! After all, as everyone knows, first century writers can be nothing but mythographers, because no one in those days had any sense of objective reality:

"This is an extremely difficult mater for modern readers of the gospels to grasp, but Luke never meant for his story about Jesus's birth at Bethlehem to be understood as historical fact. Luke would have had no idea what we in the modern world even mean when we say the word 'history.' The notion of history as a critical analysis of observable and verifiable events in the past is a product of the modern age. . .The readers of Luke's gospel, like most people in the ancient world, did not make a sharp distinction between myth and reality; the two were intimately tied together in their spiritual experience." (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 53).

Really? Who cannot distinguish between myth and reality: the moderns, who make up a 'Jesus' to suit their fancy, changing such facts as birth locale to suit what they like, or the ancients, who show a perfectly cogent awareness that made-up facts are not as good as real ones, and moreover know what to do with people who make things up?:

Moses Twelve Tables
Untangling the Threads Fact-Checking
Seth Speaks Quintilian
Self-Incrimination Pythagoras
Who's Zooming Who? Historiography
False Musaeus Jerome's Vulgate
Publishing Contract

Ancient Literacy

Reza Aslan assigns a literacy rate for first-century Palestine of three percent:

  • “Illiteracy rates in first-century Palestine were staggeringly high, particularly for the poor. It is estimated that nearly 97 percent of the Jewish peasantry could neither read nor write, a no unexpected figure for predominantly oral societies such as the one in which Jesus lived. . .Whatever languages Jesus may have spoken, there is no reason to think he could read or write in any of them, not even Aramaic.”
  • (Reza Aslan, Zealot, pp. 57-58).

Where does this number come from? "It is estimated." By whom? By the modern-day 'Jesus' publishing industry, which does, indeed, routinely supply just such staggeringly low numbers for ancient literacy. Lest the gospels be suspected of being early and authentic, these people are obliged to reduce literacy rates to numbers far below anything that can be substantiated from ancient literature in general or from the Talmud in particular:

A Priori Desiderata
Reality It Takes a Village
School-houses Quintilian
Public Library Grants to Education
Normalcy Hellenic Civilization
Voting Child of Destiny
Liberal Education Old Deluder
A Father Set Free Caius and Caia
Down on the Farm Learned Slaves
Women's Literacy Enlightened Audience
Invisible Ink Banquet Menu
Fame and Fortune The Public
Sign-board Fair Warning
Inscriptions Spare No Pains
Those Left Out Shorthand
Caesar's Army Small Print
Writing on the Wall Ordinary
Believe it or Not Barbarians

By way of background, these geniuses have discovered that, in the ancient world, unskilled labor was recompensed at a higher rate than skilled labor. Probably water flowed uphill, as well. What to do, if evidence should surface that Jesus, the "illiterate peasant," could read and write?:

"So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah." (Luke 4:16-17).

The attentive reader surely knows the answer by now. If the evidence conflicts with your pre-existing assumptions, discard the evidence as a "fabulous concoction. . .of the evangelist's own devising." (p. 58).

Prophecy Impossible

Modern secular Bible scholarship dates texts by looking for any identifiable events 'prophesied' by speakers. Since it is, of course, impossible for anyone to know the future, the texts are then dated subsequent to the latest event 'prophesied.'

Reza Aslan endorses this approach, by accepting a post-70 A.D. date for the gospels. There is no manuscript nor archaeological evidence for this date; it is arrived at solely according to the premise that prophecy is impossible:

  • “It is not the accuracy of Jesus's prediction about the Temple that concerns us. The gospels were all written after the Temple's destruction in 70 C.E.; Jesus's warning to Jerusalem that 'the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you and crush you to the ground— you and your children—and they will not leave within you one stone upon another' (Luke 19:43-44) was put into his mouth by the evangelists after the fact.”
  • (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 95).

This leaves the reader wondering. Realizing that the author is at least a nominal Muslim, should the question come up as to Mohammed ibn Abdallah's occupation, what are we to answer? He is usually stated by his followers to have been a 'prophet.' But if prophecy is conceded to be impossible, what are we to enter in the blank? 'Camel thief?' At least the unlettered Arabian prophet never lowered himself to devouring human brains on reality TV.

Apollonius of Tyana

Reza Aslan likens Jesus to Apollonius of Tyana, a travelling mountebank of the second century:

  • “Perhaps he most famous miracle worker of the time was Apollonius of Tyana. Described as a 'holy man' who taught the concept of a 'Supreme God,' Apollonius performed miraculous deeds everywhere he went. He healed the lame, he blind, he paralytic. He even raised a girl from the dead.”
  • (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 125).

Was Apollonius, as claimed, really very much like Jesus?:

Sic et Non

For most of his book, 'Zealot,' Reza Aslan portrays Jesus according to the well-trodden 'Failed Revolutionary' paradigm. However, it turns out he lacks the courage of his convictions:

  • “To be clear, Jesus was  not a member of the Zealot Party that launched the war with Rome, because no such party could be said to exist for another thirty years after his death. Nor was Jesus a violent revolutionary bent on armed rebellion, though his views on the use of violence were far more complex than it is often assumed.”
  • (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 99).

Perhaps he has become aware most readers will not, upon command, obediently discard as fiction those parts of the gospel account which do not accord with the 'Zealot' thesis,— and there are very many which do not,— or perhaps he is tired of being laughed at when he explains that 'Render unto Caesar' is really a demand to expel Caesar from the land.

So what does he wish to say, after all? That 'non-violent' does not mean 'non-political'? But anyone at all would say that. What Reza Aslan giveth, Reza Aslan taketh away:

"The Kingdom of God is a call to revolution, plain and simple. And what revolution, especially one fought against an empire whose armies had ravaged the land set aside by God for his chosen people, could be free of violence and bloodshed?" (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 138).

So he is, after all, trying to claim that Jesus was a failed violent revolutionist; it is only the unfortunate fact that this claim is Biblically indefensible that induces him to blend in a bit of 'deniability:' "Jesus was not a fool. He understood what every other claimant to the mantle of the messiah understood: God's sovereignty could not be established except through force." (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 141). Jesus, according to Mr. Aslan, was a violent revolutionist, only not a very forthright one.

Reza Aslan seems to owe a great deal to recent Jewish writers like Amy-Jill Levine and Shmuley Boteach. These authors seek to place Jesus within His Jewish context. There are indeed, amongst the sages, precursors to Jesus; for example, Hillel offered the Golden Rule, in its negative, not its positive form:

"On another occasion it happened that a certain heathen came before Shammai and said to him, 'Make me a proselyte, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.' Thereupon he repulsed him with the builder's cubit which was in his hand. When he went before Hillel, he said to him, 'What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbour: that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof; go and learn it.'" (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbath, 31a).

Unfortunately, instead of allowing these people to be precursors, which they are legitimately, the flip them over to make a lid, in hopes of achieving containment. If it seems on its face that Jesus, in the gospels, teaches a much higher standard of morality than that attained to by the sages, then He cannot really have so taught; it is fabrication. But no one applies these rules in other cases; who has ever said, 'on their face, the writings of Plato and Aristotle contain many statements no one is known to have formulated in precisely that way before; unless we can find a contemporary Athenian who said the same thing, these sayings can safely be dismissed as fabrications.' But we call people like that 'original.' Denying originality will land the observer into infinite regress; if no one can make original statements, then how can the nameless, faceless crowd who supposedly fabricate these sayings, long after the career of the Big Name to whom they become attached, ever be expected to do so? Someone has to say something original at some time! How do attaching the conditions, 'anonymous,' 'not him,' 'someone else' and 'later' solve or even diminish the difficulty?

According to Mr. Aslan's retelling, the 'Turn the Other Cheek' material was produced, long after Jesus' ministry, by anonymous, obscure persons desperate to conceal, in the face of the public's anti-Jewish backlash after the Jewish War, that Jesus had been an exclusivist Jewish nationalist zealot: "As a Jew, Jesus was concerned exclusively with the fate of his fellow Jews. Israel was all that mattered to Jesus." (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 139). (Incidentally, Mr. Aslan's time-line is 180 degrees out of sync with events in the real world: "With the temple in ruins and the Jewish religion made pariah, the Jews who followed Jesus as messiah had an easy decision to make: they could either maintain their cultic connections to their parent religion and thus share in Rome's enmity (Rome's enmity toward Christians would peak much later), or they could divorce themselves from Judaism and transform their messiah from a fierce Jewish nationalist into a pacifistic preacher of good works whose kingdom was not of this world." (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 167). In real life, Rome's enmity toward Christians, whenever it did or did not 'peak,' manifested itself in horrific fashion in the aftermath of the great fire of 64 A.D., for which the Christians were blamed as incendiaries. This was several years before the outbreak of the Jewish War).

So the Sermon on the Mount was drafted by a committee of unknown nobodies, in terror and haste. However, people have always reacted to Jesus by saying, never a man spoke like this man. People read the Sermon on the Mount and are inspired to change their lives. How odd that the famous, celebrated figure to whom those words were attached got all the credit,— life is unfair!— while the anonymous toilers, particles of that great beast Das Volk, never receive any mention nor any note of gratitude. How do these cardboard cut-outs, who perhaps did not even exist, agglomerate all the credit to themselves, while the true creative thinkers labor in impenetrable gloom and obscurity? Or perhaps this is not really very likely. Originality is an observable, even testable, attribute; some people have it, others, like Mr. Aslan, who seems never to have had an original thought in his life, do not. What could be simpler or more parsimonious than to ascribe the creative material to the original thinkers, like Jesus, to whom it arrives ascribed in any case?

Younger Brother Say Not Three
Incomprehension Pure Words
Reversion to the Mean Mass Guilt
Changes Beautiful Words
The Evidence The Messiah
Christians United Conspiracy Theory
Must Not, Therefore Did Not
Jacob's Son On the Cross
Anachronism Wrong Day
Was Dead But Lives Appropriation
Saved by the Blood Rabbi Gamaliel
Hyam Maccoby

Judge Judy

The Romans were, as the Greeks had been before them, a litigious people. Verres, a provincial governor of Sicily, robbed that province blind, so much so that Cicero felt he had to prosecute him for his plundering. The reader may be interested in seeing how it's done:

Against Verres

Woody Guthrie sang, "Some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen." Not to mention a stylus and tablet. Among the ways Verres and his clique extracted wealth from Sicily was to hale the "simple peasant[s]" and "lowly peasant[s]"— these are not whimsically mislabeled peasants, but real ones, sons of the soil, better yet, 'family farmers'— into court, pepper them with false accusations and unfamiliar procedures, and end up owning their land, without ever having paid for it. Verres and his crew played tricks of jurisdiction to drag these judicial victims into court:

"But what follows is not only contrary to the law of Hiero, not only contrary to the customs of all former praetors, but even contrary to all the rights of the Sicilians, which they have as granted them by the senate and people of Rome,—that they shall not be forced to give security to appear in any courts of justice but their own. Verres made a regulation that the cultivator should appear to an action brought by a collector in any court which the collector might choose. So that in this way also gain might accrue to Apronius, when he dragged a defendant all the way from Leontini to Lilybaeum to appear before the court there, by making false accusations against the wretched cultivators. Although that device for false accusation was also contrived with singular cunning, when he ordered that the cultivators should make a return of their acres, as to what they were sown with." (Cicero, Against Verres, Second Pleading, Book 3, Chapter 15).

This is reality. But now comes word from Fantasyland that Roman provincial governors would never lower themselves to appear in the same courtroom with a "lowly peasant." Well, how on earth were they going to steal all that stuff if they stayed away from the scene of the crime?

  • “I will speak more about Jesus's 'trial' in subsequent chapters, but suffice it to say that the notion that a no-name Jewish peasant would have received a personal audience with the Roman governor,  Pontius Pilate, who had probably signed a dozen execution orders that day alone, is so outlandish that it cannot be taken seriously.”
  • (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 267).

We Americans are also a litigious people. Once visiting a nursing home, I walked by a room where the ladies in wheel-chairs were neatly lined up before a big-screen TV down from which beamed Judge Judy. Though the Romans' preferred form of entertainment was watching people kill each other, perhaps the hangers-on about the forum found the same kind of pleasure in watching these performances as do we, after all, our legal system is derived from theirs. In any case this recent 'discovery' that the Romans actually shunned the court-room is no advance.

The Census

Reza Aslan is indignant over Luke's census which, in accordance with his normal procedure, he interprets implausibly and then scoffs at:

The First Handwritten List
Gaul Palestine
The Institution Taxation
Blunder After Blunder Whole Round World
Every Tribe Citizens and Aliens
The Jubilee Quirinius
City of David

In reading Reza Aslan's complaint about Luke's census, let us ask ourselves which of these features actually characterize Luke's account. Does Luke really say that "every Roman subject" had to "travel great distances"? Under what circumstances would such an outcome actually occur? In the 'peasant' society he and John Dominic Crossan whimsically describe, did most people live "great distances" from their natal home? Did the Roman empire really lack any means by which citizens of the various municipalities could update their registry information pertaining to residency?:

  • “However, because the sole purpose of a census was taxation, Roman law assessed an individual's property in the place of residence, not in the place of one's birth. . .Luke's suggestion that the entire Roman economy would periodically be placed on hold as every Roman subject was forced to uproot himself and his entire family in order to travel great distances to the place of his father's birth, and then wait there patiently, perhaps for months, for an official to take stock of his family and his possessions, which, in any case, he would have left behind in his place of residence, is, in a word, preposterous."
  • (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 53).

What is "preposterous" is not Luke's account, but his analysis of what consequences follow from Luke's account. As with most Bible difficulties, atheist complaints about the census are somewhat less than substantive, though they can legitimately point out that secular history does not describe this event. However, since historical literature from that period has come down to us in a fragmentary, mutilated and partial state, this objection is less than telling:

The Vineyard

There is nothing more important to these people than to deny that Jesus called Himself the Son of God, though this cannot plausibly be denied:

  • “Nor, by the way, did Jesus call himself 'Son of God,' another title that others seem to have ascribed to him.”
  • (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 154).

But oh, by the way, Jesus certainly did make this claim, as even an alien source, the Gospel of Thomas, must admit. According to Reza Aslan,

"Nowhere in the gospels of Matthew and Luke— composed between 90 and 100 C.E.— is Jesus ever considered the literal son of God." (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 205).

What does this author mean by "literal" son of God? Probably what Muslims generally mean, i.e., the result of a divine sex act. Elsewhere he speaks of a "physical" son: "He is God's begotten son, God's physical progeny." (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 204).  Needless to say there is no such suggestion in the scriptures, but it is nevertheless made clear that Jesus is the son of the vineyard-planter:

The Third Day

According to Reza Aslan, Jesus' claim that the Messiah must suffer and die, and rise again on the third day, is laughable:

"In the entire history of Jewish thought there is not a single line of scripture that says the messiah is to suffer, die, and rise again on the third day, which may explain why Jesus does not bother to cite any scripture to back up his incredible claim." (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 193).

You think? "What is the cause of the mourning [mentioned in the last cited verse]? — R. Dosa and the Rabbis differ on the point. One explained, The cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, and the other explained, The cause is the slaying of the Evil Inclination. It is well according to him who explains that the cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, since that well agrees with the Scriptural verse, And they shall look upon me because they have thrust him through, and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for his only son. . ." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sukkah 52a). Looking at the same evidence that convinces Christian interpreters there are two advents, the Rabbis sometimes see two Messiahs, the Messiah ben Joseph and the Messiah ben David. As to the former, what he does is die. What are they looking at?:

The Messiah is to make His grave in certain company: "And they made His grave with the wicked—But with the rich at His death. . ." (Isaiah 53:9). Was He buried alive? He was led to slaughter, "He was led as a lamb to the slaughter. . ." (Isaiah 53:7), did He not die? What does 'slaughter' mean? These scriptures are not selected at random; there is good reason to think they speak of the Messiah: "You have brought Me to the dust of death." (Psalm 22:15).

As Peter points out, the promise of Psalm 16: "For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption." (Psalm 16:10). . .never came true to David. It never came true for Solomon. It never came true for Hezekiah. So to try to push it onto those worthies is to make it fall to the ground. Or can it be suggested it only means, 'You will escape with your life. . .this time??!!! Then what mouse chased by a cat cannot lay claim to the promise?

Mr. Aslan has a very low view of scripture, he does not even believe his own scriptures, which teach that Jesus was not crucified and that He was a prophet, a designation which in the mind of the unlettered Arabian 'prophet' is incompatible with bumbling failure. To say that these verses are about David and Solomon is the same as to say that they are false. As to the specific mention of the third day, perhaps what the Lord had in mind was Hosea 6:2,

"After two days He will revive us;
On the third day He will raise us up,
That we may live in His sight." (Hosea 6:2).

If it is thought ridiculous to apply this verse to the Messianic age, realize that the rabbis are equally ridiculous, though they paint on a broader canvas: "Abaye said: it [the world] will be desolate two [thousand], as it is said, 'After two days will he revive us: in the third day, he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight.'. . . The Tanna debe Eliyyahu teaches: the world is to exist six thousand years. In the first two thousand there was desolation; two thousand years the Torah flourished; and the next two thousand years is the Messianic era. . ." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 97a). The Messianic interpretation of this verse is not unique to Jesus. (The reader may wonder why this matters, however to this author, 'Jesus' or 'apostle' = 'illiterate peasant,' whereas rabbis are presumed sapient and sophisticated. Part of the collapse and failure of the 'Mediterranean peasant' meme is that, after proposing to define an entire society as a 'peasant' society, we end rather with similarly or identically situated people supposedly pointing a finger at Jesus and the apostles and saying, 'Look at those ignorant peasants!')

Contradictions between the Bible and the Koran

Reza Aslan is a Muslim who has even written in defense of his inherited faith. What makes this odd is that his Jesus is not the Jesus of the Koran. The Jesus of the Koran was never crucified!:

"And for their saying, 'Verily we have slain the Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary, an Apostle of God.' Yet they slew him not, and they crucified him not, but they had only his likeness. And they who differed about him were in doubt concerning him: No sure knowledge had they about him, but followed only an opinion, and they did not really slay him, but God took him up to Himself.  And God is Mighty, Wise!" (Sura 4:156).

Yet as the modern, Western, Jesus-deconstruction industry will hasten to inform you, there is no historical fact about Jesus of Nazareth better known and attested than that He was hung upon a tree. Our author evidently lives by the motto, the way to get along is to go along, and so, ". . .as a murder of crows circled eagerly over his head waiting for him to breathe his last, the messiah known as Jesus of Nazareth would have met the same ignominious end as every other messiah who came before or after him," (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 177), never mind what the (presumably false) prophet Mohammed ibn Abdallah said about the matter. What's more, the unlettered Arabian prophet was aghast at those who questioned the virgin birth, which our author is not buying: "There is no debate here: alma is Hebrew for a young woman. Period." (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 250). How could the virgin birth possibly be wrong when Luke and Matthew recounted it, but then become right centuries later when Mohammed repeated it? It is difficult to know what to make of an author who simultaneously wants it understood that, a.) the Koran is in error on significant facts about the life of a major prophet, Jesus, and b.) the Koran is the revealed word of God.

The Koran portrays Jesus as a healer:

"When He shall say: O Jesus! Son of Mary! call to mind my favor upon thee and upon thy mother, when I strengthened thee with the Holy Spirit, that thou shouldest speak to men alike in the cradle, and when grown up; — And when I taught thee the Scripture, and Wisdom, and the Law, and the Evangel: and thou didst create of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, by my leave, and didst breathe into it, and by my leave it became a bird; and thou didst heal the blind and the leper, by my leave; and when, by my leave, thou didst bring forth the dead; and when I withheld the children of Israel from thee, when thou hadst come to them with clear tokens: and such of them as believed not said, 'This is nought but plain sorcery...Remember when the Apostles said — 'O Jesus, Son of Mary! is thy Lord able to send down a furnished Table to us out of Heaven!' He said — 'Fear God if ye be believers.'" (Sura 5:109-112).

So why does Reza Aslan, who claims to be a Muslim, adopt such an arch tone as, "Again, Jesus was not the only miracle worker trolling through 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." (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 125). "[T]rolling through Palestine"??!! To the unlettered Arabian prophet, it is the detractors, the unbelievers, who say "This is nought but plain sorcery". . . or, perhaps, "In the end, it may be futile to argue about whether Jesus was a magician or a miracle worker. Magic and miracle are perhaps best thought of as two sides of the same coin in ancient Palestine." (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 130). Or so the infidels say.

Throughout, he writes with a polemical tone whose purpose and agenda at times seem inscrutable. For instance, his panorama of the temple as a mammoth slaughter-house seems intended to invoke the reader's disgust or indignation against animal cruelty; but why, when Islam is one of the few remaining religions which practice animal sacrifice? Muslims sacrifice a sheep at Eid al-Adha (photo). "We also observed Idd-ul-Hajj. . .After that, we sacrificed sheep, goats or cows in commemoration of what Abraham did to his son Ishmael (not Isaac)." (Hussein Wario, Cracks in the Crescent, pp. 20-21). The Koran visualizes animal sacrifice as a continuing practice, appointed by God, unto all people:

"And proclaim to the peoples a PILGRIMAGE: Let them come to thee on foot and on every fleet camel, arriving by every deep defile:
That they may bear witness of its benefits to them, and may make mention of God’s name on the appointed days, over the brute beasts with which He hath supplied them for sustenance: Therefore eat thereof yourselves, and feed the needy, the poor:
Then let them bring the neglect of their persons to a close, and let them pay their vows, and circuit the ancient House.
This do. And he that respecteth the sacred ordinances of God, this will be best for him with his Lord. The flesh of cattle is allowed you, save of those already specified to you. . .
This do. And they who respect the rites of God, perform an action which proceedeth from piety of heart.
Ye may obtain advantages from the cattle up to the set time for slaying them: then, the place for sacrificing them is at the ancient House.

"And to every people have we appointed rites, that they may commemorate the name of God over the brute beasts which He hath provided for them. And your God is the one God. To Him, therefore, surrender yourselves: and bear thou good tidings to those who humble them,—
Whose hearts, when mention is made of God, thrill with awe; and to those who remain steadfast under all that befalleth them, and observe prayer, and give alms of that with which we have supplied them.
And the camels have we appointed you for the sacrifice to God: much good have ye in them. Make mention, therefore, of the name of God over them when ye slay them, as they stand in a row; and when they are fallen over on their sides, eat of them, and feed him who is content and asketh not, and him who asketh. Thus have We subjected them to you, to the intent ye should be thankful.
By no means can their flesh reach unto God, neither their blood; but piety on your part reacheth Him."
(Koran, Sura 22:28-38)

If there is something shameful or discreditable about animal sacrifice, why would a Muslim be the one to bring the topic up? He has mistaken Islam for a pallid deism. Mohammed himself engaged in the practice:

"'A'isha reported that Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) commanded that a ram with black legs, black belly and black (circles) round the eyes should be brought to him, so that he should sacrifice it. He said to 'A'isha: Give me the large knife, and then said: Sharpen it on a stone. She did that. He then took it (the knife) and then the ram; he placed it on the ground and then sacrificed it, saying: Bismillah, Allah-humma Taqabbal min Muhammadin wa Al-i-Muhammadin, wa min Ummati Muhammadin (In the name of Allah," O Allah, accept [this sacrifice] on behalf of Muhammad and the family of Muhammad and the Umma of Muhammad")." (Sahih Muslim, Book 22, Chapter 3, Number 4845).

The Muslims will tell you this is a benign practice because the meat is shared with the poor, as indeed was the case with some of the Biblical offerings. The critic who is not a vegetarian can scarcely find fault, though looking into the bewildered eyes of the animal in the photo, it is difficult to know what to say; perhaps it is a mercy that they do not understand. As to the temple sacrifices, Christians view these as foreshadowing Jesus' once for all offering upon the cross; Jews do not share this interpretation, but also do not currently practice them. Since this unguided missile only rebounds upon the hand that launched it, what indeed is the point?

At times he seems to be inviting the reader to share his contempt for the people and places of the gospel account, over and again for inscrutable reasons. The reader is invited to despise Jesus for having been employed as a carpenter,— why? So we can admire Mohammed ibn Abdallah for being a camel thief? The Koran portrays Jesus as a prophet, not a failed revolutionary. But this is simply not our author's perspective. A case in point: "The notion that an insignificant Semitic tribe residing in a distant corner of the mighty Roman Empire demanded, and indeed received, special treatment from the emperor was, for many Romans, simply incomprehensible. . .Who do these backward and superstitious tribesmen think they are?" (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 38). The speakers are imagined to be Romans, yet the contempt is all Mr. Aslan's. After all, did these people sacrifice tens of thousands of their sons in the reconquest of Judaea and Galilee because they thought it "insignificant?" If this populous and prosperous part of the empire was "insignificant," then what part was significant? Contemporary authors know nothing of Israel's insignificance: "And since the nation is the most numerous of all peoples, it follows naturally that the first fruits contributed by them must also be most abundant." (Philo Judeaus, On Monarchy, Book II, Chapter III). It seems that the reader is invited, indeed expected, to embrace this perspective, but why on earth?

Victory in the Jewish War made Vespasian an emperor, a position for which he was not otherwise in the running; why, if Judaea were insignificant?:

"This, as the Haruspices agreed, was an omen of brilliant success, and the highest distinction seemed prophesied to Vespasian in early youth. At first, however, the honors of a triumph, his consulate, and the glory of his victories in Judaea, appeared to have justified the truth of the omen. When he had won these distinctions, he began to believe that it portended the Imperial power." (Tacitus, The Histories, 2.78).

Objective observers have a hard time avoiding the word 'superstitious' in describing the Romans, because these were after all a people who made major decisions of state based on how the chickens were feeding:

"I need only mention, in addition, the auguries, auspices, and Sibylline books, to remind you how fettered the Romans were by superstitions of all kinds, and how they pursued exclusively their own aims in all the observances in question. The entrails of beasts, flashes of lightning, the flight of birds, the Sibylline dicta determined the administration and projects of the State." (G. W. F. Hegel, The Philosophy of History, Part III, Chapter 1, Elements of the Roman Spirit, Kindle location 5500).

The Romans believed they had in hand a reliable means of predicting the future, because a farmer had plowed up a little boy who explained the system. Naturally, coming from such an impeccable source, who would find any reason to question?:

On Divination

While some Romans were skeptical Epicureans, the vast majority were not. No doubt, one man's piety is another man's superstition; the Jewish invective against pagan idolatry, the Romans gave back in good measure, offering Roman sovereignty as indisputable proof that "the immortal gods" just plain liked them better:

"While Jerusalem was flourishing, and while the Jews were in a peaceful state, still the religious ceremonies and observances of that people were very much at variance with the splendor of this empire and the dignity of our name and the institutions of our ancestors. And they are the more odious to us now because that nation has shown by arms what were its feelings towards our supremacy. How dear it was to the immortal gods is proved by its having been defeated, by its revenues having been farmed out to our contractors, by its being reduced to a state of subjection." (M. T. Cicero, Speech in Defense of Lucius Flaccus, 28, 69).

However, given that the Muslim faith is built upon the Jewish polemic against idolatry, it is more than a little odd that this author, who claims to be a Muslim, expects his audience's sympathy to lie with the people who are asking chickens to tell them the future. The tone is a bit off. Perhaps he is no more than a nominal Muslim; are there, after all, 'liberal' Muslims?

Caricaturing either side in the contest of these two competing world views is unhelpful, but portraying the winning contestant as laughable is especially so. By the first century A.D., the Jews had made real strides towards converting the pagan Romans. The Romans were a cruel, unrelenting and brutal people, whose ideas of 'entertainment' revolved around watching people kill one another. However they were not without better impulses; the pagan Pliny the Younger advises a governor going out to the provinces, "Power tries its strength ill by injuring others; veneration is ill acquired by terror; and love is far more efficacious for obtaining one's ends than fear. For, fear vanishes when you have taken your departure, love remains; and as the former turns to hatred, so does the latter to reverence." (Pliny the Younger, Letters, Book VIII, Complete Works of Pliny the Younger, Kindle location 4959, Letter 24 To Maximus).

The higher morals and the sounder theology of Judaism had a real appeal. Though they crucified Him, King Jesus in the end wound up conquering them, by peaceful conversion: a historical outcome, which cannot be denied, for which the present project can offer neither context nor explanation. To the 'Failed Revolutionary' crowd, He has to have failed, the fact that He did, in the end, succeed,— seeing the Romans bow before Him,— acting in accordance with His own principles, is inconvenient. In order to understand the world and what happens in it, it would be better to toss the cartoony stereotypes and look at things as they are.

Temptation in the Wilderness

The possibility of being Reza Aslan's kind of Messiah did occur to the Lord. He did not have to be the Suffering Servant of God's prophetic word, He could have been a triumphant political Messiah. He rejected that option, however, as a Satanic temptation:

“Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.”’” (Matthew 4:8-10).

Case closed.

Reza Aslan gives us 'Jesus the Failed Revolutionary;' just a few years ago, Burton Mack's 'Jesus the Hellenistic Cynic Sage' was all the rage. That should cue the reader into what kind of Bible 'scholarship' we are dealing with here; it's the Land of Make-Believe, where Jesus is whatever you want Him to be, where there is no criterion of truth higher than wish fulfillment:

"The Jesus people were not organizing to fight Roman power or to reform Jewish religion." (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q and Christian Origins, p. 120).

If Jesus was not a Jewish revolutionary, and Burton Mack says he was not, then who was He? Why, a Hellenistic Cynic Sage, of course!:

"The lifestyle of the Jesus people bears remarkable resemblance to the Greek tradition of popular philosophy characteristic of the Cynics. Cynics also promoted an outrageous lifestyle as a way of criticizing conventional mores, and the themes of the two groups, the Cynics and the Jesus people, are largely overlapping. . .They were gadflies whose social critique had a point, and who made it with strikingly humorous twists of memorable gestures and sayings. Popping pretensions and pointing up the foolishness of normal standards of honor and shame were exactly what everyone expected from the Cynics." (Burton Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth, p. 50).

Or more to the point, what they expected from the hippies: