Heretics Crusade Reviews ZEALOT: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan


Anyone not familiar with my writing, religion or my politics should read these articles first to avoid getting the wrong idea ab out how the author feels about Iran, Imams and the Iranian-on-the-street that is the REAL “Iran”.

This is a review of the excerpted introduction from ZEALOT: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan

 I can’t wait to see the second volume, the one about ‘historical Muhammad’, to be followed no doubt by similar volumes on Krishna, Buddha, Lao Tse, the Rev. Moon and Bob Dobbs!

From the introduction I get the feeling that it should have been called the Charge of the Taqiyya Brigade! But, who is Reza practicing it against? Non-Muslims to confuse and convert, or Traditional Muslims to stay alive long enough to make a real difference; I can’t tell.

The only thing that is obvious is that B.S. plays a big part in this book; the introduction shows clearly both ignorance and dishonesty, while claiming pretensions of being objective analysis!

“… Palestine, the [Roman designation for the vast tract of land encompassing modern day Israel/Palestine as well as large parts of Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon].”

Not really. The name was of Egyptian/Judaic extraction [peleshet] and meant ‘rolling’, ‘migratory’ or something close to that; it referred to the, mostly Greek-derived culture that had invaded and conquered the coastal region of what is now Israel and Gaza all the way back in the 12th century BCE! The name was only made official by Rome (explicitly done to attempt to reduce the Jewish peoples’ identification the ‘Nation of Israel’) in 132 CE; also, the name had referred at overlapping times to a number of distinctly separate  places in the Middle East of 2,000 years ago.

The area was known, and had been known for centuries as Judea, Samaria and Galilee! It wasn’t until 3 full human lifetimes had passed after Jesus vanished from the world’s stage when a final Jewish rebellion brought turned Roman patience with Jewish Nationalism into Roman vengeance; the designation “Palestine” was chosen by the Romans in much the same spirit that neighboring Native Americans chose to call a particular North American tribe “the Sioux” – It meant “snakes” in the local dialects, and did not refer to wisdom dispensing kind in Greek lore; they picked the biggest boogiemen from Jewish history; the new dirige Provinciae Romanae was to be called after the Philistine invaders who conquered much of the Jewish lands for a time in centuries past.

Of course the pesky locals, probably already a bit peeved at having some invading peoples’ name imposed on them by leather skirt wearing “sore winners” carrying swords and eagles, and not even having an ‘F’ sound in their language just called it Filistin.

Common-sense tells us that anyone, of any religion or race who is descended from people, of any race or religion other than ‘Roman Citizen’ who is/was ‘from’ “Palestine” is no more, or less a “Palestinian” than any of the others who fit that description!

The earliest labeling of the area as “Palaistinē” (Greek – Παλαιστίνη) in the 5th Century BC by Herodotus hardly fails to conflict with the fact that the same century saw the steady return of the Jews from Persia to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of The Temple!!! Can this be any less “indigenously legitimate” a name than when a Spanish-Catholic invader (somewhat resembling in his cultural mindset the Jihadists under the First Caliph)namedmy birthplace and home after a mythical ‘Utopia’ from a contemporary book written within a culture thousands of miles away.*

Only after WW I was “Palestine” made in any way official; by the British who inherited responsibility for making sure the local infrastructure did not collapse when the Turks followed the defeated Germans West leaving their former subjects and brother Muslims in the mandate regions to sink or swim, Insha’Allah.

The newly named ‘Palestinian Mandate’ included Israel and the entire area that was given by the British as a (useless) gift/bribe to the Arabs for their own; we call it Jordan.

Despite some non-Muslim xenophobes trying to make a mountain out of that mole-hill it is irrelevant if the local Arab-culture Muslims cannot even pronounce the Roman-applied name; after all the Muslims are invaders too!

It certainly does make a difference though that that the word Palestine or Filastin appears 0 times in the Koran but, no fewer than 250 times does the Hebrew/Egyptian peleshet appear in the Jewish Tanakh.

Will the rest of your book be so generous to prides and prejudices of the religion you follow in other matters?

* Personally, I think it is cool be born and grow up where ‘our’ name was never a real place with a history, good or evil, until Californians made it real; we show cultural signs of our good fortune as American Californians in escaping much of the burden of guilt from slavery era, the Civil War or for displacing the natives simply because by the mid 1800’s the Spanish had already managed to more-or-less commit “benevolent” genocide by “saving the Natives’ Souls.” [i.e. forcing the natives into from their villages into “Missions” to be prayed over, worked to death and decimated repeatedly by various plagues as the over-crowding, bad sanitation and malnutrition weakened them and the “good Fathers” eliminated ancient cultures from Argentina to Oregon.]

Only after all that was over and done did you find Americans in large numbers braving the immense and dangerous crossing of the deserts and mountains west of the Mississippi into this magical land.

Americans soon outnumbered the Spanish, elbowing aside the Spanish; who were napping while the Indians and peasants worked only a little faster than they starved.

The Spanish, called “Missionaries”, and “Dons” were well dressed and drowsily stylish yet completely merciless against non-Catholics and peasants. These slave-holder/feudal Lords from Spain might just have been exhausted; it is not easy overseeing more than a hundred years of stagnation, native depopulation while regularly putting down revolts by sullen, despised-by-the-Spanish and always-about-to-rebel locals of mixed-blood called campesinos.

An embarrassing loss here, a cannon-shot there and California, now part of the United State of America could finally ‘get out of 2nd gear’! Of course, we STILL can’t won’t ‘Drive 55’!

 “the first-century Jewish revolutionary party known as the Zealots, who helped launched a bloody war against Rome”

What prompted the name of your book? WHY do you tar the Christian messiah with the filthy brush of a group he rejected in no uncertain terms when offered the chance by Simon to lead 50,000 fanatical warriors in taking Judea back from Rome? I will NOT put my earnings in your pocket to read the rest but, so far it seems no more than the usual taqiyya and dawa-based “narrative”!

You do know that the ministry of Jesus followed to its extreme the interpretations and philosophy of the Pharisee religious faction (expounded on at length in Jesus’ own lifetime by the beloved rabbi Hillel); the most devout stood aside during the defense of Jerusalem because they believed that a divine punishment had been ordained to the Jewish nation that must be accepted for a renewal of their ancient “covenant” with God? And you call Jesus a follower of the philosophy of Zealotes?

“He was a man of profound contradictions, one day preaching a message of racial exclusion (“I was sent solely to the lost sheep of Israel”; Matthew 15:24), the next, of benevolent universalism (“Go and make disciples of all nations”; Matthew 28:19); sometimes calling for unconditional peace (“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God”; Matthew 5:9), sometimes promoting violence and conflict (“If you do not have a sword, go sell your cloak and buy one”; Luke 22:36)”

Good Lord Man! I left Christianity because of its internal contradictions and such but, your interpretations of these passages are out of context, reinterpreted in your favor, seemingly with overt hostility. The only consistent message I ever found through the fog of two thousand years of political expedience by various sects bear no resemblance to your “interpretation”! This “profound contradiction” is hardly realistic; it is not any kind of objective scholarship I recognize!

Let me break it down for you…

1 what mystery regarding the difference between ‘I’ (me, myself, one person, one lifetime, one ministry, one goal) compared to ‘you’ (his followers, disciples, and later generations, broader goals) carrying his mission from a “saved” Judaism to other peoples is confusing you here? Isn’t’ that EXACTLY the way Mohammed is supposed to have done it; didn’t he only spread Islam to Most of Arabia and leave his followers to carry it to other nations? In English this is usually called hypocrisy.

I would say that you are misrepresenting even the “good” half of your pseudo-paradox regarding Jesus and pacifism!

sometimes calling for unconditional peace (“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God”; Matthew 5:9)”

In what language does call for unconditional anything, except Love for God? Jesus never advocated, he even refuted, the idea of unconditional non-violence; what mattered was if God was being followed or defied; the invocation and limits of violence were always tightly defined to avoid trespassing against “God’s Will” if their faith “called” them to do violence when required. He whipped the corrupting and religiously illegal money-changers from the forecourts of The Temple but, he most certainly did not storm in with a gang and start lopping off heads! That behavior is reserved for Friday evenings in certain Middle Eastern and South Asian countries!

As one raised in the faith by believers I saw NONE of what you are talking about even though eventually I left the religion for other reasons; in fact, as far as I saw it, read it, was taught it and saw it practiced, most of Jesus’ advice, his ministry and his teachings were aimed at an individual’s relationship with God; he wanted a city of saved souls, not to save the soul of a city, culture, nation or anything of that sort! In fact, he is recorded as advising those inclined to “get involved and save the world” to spend more time ignoring Earthly distractions and favored people, individuals all, living a Godly Life™. He certainly never promoted or promulgated any new societies, governments or states, nor did he promote the making of new laws to “make people be godly”! Do you even remember his treatment of the woman at the well, of the Roman Centurion wanting a sick servant who was absent healed by faith alone, the old non-Jewish woman he favored in ways he never favored any Jew? BZZZT, try again!

You also get it wrong on the “sword verse”, that is defensive based advise because of supposed fore-knowledge, a prediction of an overwhelming and swiftly approaching conflict, not an incitement to start cutting off people’s heads!!! He was even right in is prediction; within a hundred years Jerusalem had been destroyed by war!

The problem with pinning down the historical Jesus is that, outside of the New Testament, there is almost no trace of the man who would so permanently alter the course of human history. The earliest and most reliable nonbiblical reference to Jesus comes from the first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (d. 100 C.E.). In a brief throwaway passage in the Antiquities, Josephus writes of a fiendish Jewish high priest named Ananus who, after the death of the Roman governor Festus, unlawfully condemned a certain “James, the brother of Jesus, the one they call messiah,” to stoning for transgression of the law. The passage moves on to relate what happened to Ananus after the new governor, Albinus, finally arrived in Jerusalem.

Fleeting and dismissive as this allusion may be (the phrase “the one they call messiah” is clearly meant to express derision), it nevertheless contains enormous significance for those searching for any sign of the historical Jesus.”

So? Mohammed has even less! His name was also a title back, it is certainly possible that Mohammed also might have been mentioned a total of zero times in the Qur’an!! Do I think there was one man that we know as Jesus? I don’t know. Given that I am not Christian it has little importance to me. I am also not Muslim so, being able to put his existence in doubt is no more important! His teachings are the parts that mattered, not what fools made them into decades, centuries, millennia later!

I think it seems more likely than otherwise there was a radical Rabbi named Yeshua but, I am not so blind that I failed to have noticed that all four gospels contradict each other; it seems so far that your book is more an of an undercover defense of Islam than any kind of realistic critique regarding the existence or ministry of a man moderns call Jesus of Nazareth!

Oh, you did know, scholar that you are, that many Jews thought, and think that “the Messiah” already came and freed them… from the Persians… long before Jesus was born. Or that there are from three to five different versions of “The Messiah” and may, or may not, manifest combined in one, or more people? You can call yourself a Christian scholar if you must, I would disagree but, you certainly lack much understanding about Judaism of the time or about Judaic theology before the 1st Century.

Paul may be an excellent source for those interested in the early formation of Christianity, but he is a poor guide for uncovering the historical Jesus.”

Well what do you know! We agree on something!!!! Though I regard Paul more as the heretical Greek hijacker of Christianity than as one of its founders! Of course that doesn’t protect you from the fact that Islam is on even shakier ground; it was a  member of a family hostile to Islam from the beginning, a gentle soul… a family that had constantly sought to do to Islam just what Paul did to Christianity; this is the tree that fruited a Caliph. Then he just happened decide to oversee the destruction of all versions of the Qur’an in conflict with his tribe’s version.

And there is worse! If ‘Muhammad’ is being used in the Qur’an as a title, instead of a name, well  then Mohammed the man was ignored by the main source book of the religion he is supposed to have founded.

I guess you can write about any religion you like but, it would be nice if you refrained from bearing false witness when doing such a thing!

Simply put, the gospels tell us about Jesus the Christ, not Jesus the man.”

How can you write that and claim honest scholarship, even noting that there were a lot more than the “Four Gospels ™” which do show Jesus the man; even the Final Four give us glimpses… Just one example here; the Biblical story about the wedding with the water and wine was likely talking about HIS wedding to the third Mary (Did you forget Mary the Hairdresser?) the Magdalene. In the time of the reign of Tiberius it simply was not possible to be a Jewish Rabbi of any sort without being a married man; marriage was considered a religious duty to anyone with pretense to being devout. It would be similar to an openly gay drag queen trying to start up a preaching circuit at Southern Baptist churches in 1972 Alabama; ‘Minister’ is not one of the names they would call him! Nor could Yeshua have been able to be treated as a Rabbi, even a radical one, if unmarried. Only a segment of the Essenes preached celibacy and even they “married”!

“a zealous revolutionary swept up, as all Jews of the era were, in the religious and political turmoil of first-century Palestine”

That statement is about as bigoted and misleading as if I wrote a book claiming  “many Indian leaders were caught up in the turmoil that swept over New Amsterdam in 1374”, but never mention that there was a long established nation of Native Americans called the Iroquois there until about 200 years after that date!

“The plaque the Romans placed above Jesus’ head as he writhed in pain—“King of the Jews”—was called a titulus and, despite common perception, was not meant to be sarcastic. Every criminal who hung on a cross received a plaque declaring the specific crime for which he was being executed.”

Half right! The Romans were not caught up in the Messiah game; I believe the word gravitas would help define the distinction. In the book King Jesus Graves puts forth a very convincing argument that Jesus possibly WAS the actual “King of the Jews” by right of inheritance at the time of his arrest… one telling point is that the Romans would have called him a pretender or usurper of the title, not just declared him King of the Jews as his “crime”; it would be like a court convicting a forger while calling them a “’mint owner’ instead of making the crime as charged “making false coinage’!

“That image alone should cast doubt upon the gospels’ portrayal of Jesus as a man of unconditional peace almost wholly insulated from the political upheavals of his time. “

Where do you GET these interpretations? He is portrayed as being HOUNDED by zealots on all sides who wanted political power even his own disciples constantly earn his rebuke on this matter!!

“The notion that the leader of a popular messianic movement calling for the imposition of the “Kingdom of God”—a term that would have been understood by Jew and gentile alike as implying revolt against Rome—could have remained uninvolved in the revolutionary fervor that had gripped nearly every Jew in Judea is simply ridiculous.”

This is getting boring! What is ridiculous is that you seem to have missed the fact that his popular support drained away, and the mob turned against him when he FAILED to do what you just claimed he DID, namely attempt to “impose” a political kingdom that would free the Jews from Rome! Rather he told them the struggle was useless, Jerusalem was self-doomed and that HIS kingdom would not be “of this world”… or you can go on mixing up the characteristics of five different Messiahs until you have the mixture that fits your prejudices. You already admitted that only ONE gospel was written by anyone that was even alive, let alone a companion of Jesus, son of Mary, when all of this was supposed to have occurred.

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. That was a Jesus the Romans could accept, and in fact did accept three centuries later when the Roman emperor Flavius Theodosius (d. 395) made the itinerant Jewish preacher’s movement the official religion of the state, and what we now recognize as orthodox Christianity was born.”

Do you just make it up as you go? Rome was being torn apart by the conflict between a growing Christianity and the established pagan priesthoods; he saw the Christians’ zeal and growth. And he coldly chose the faction he thought would win anyway; the idea was for ROME to win back some stability in a conflict that looked about to tear the Empire to shreds.

It happens. I have dealt as many if not more ‘Evangelistas’ as I call them than you probably have. As for me, I would say that even more often it is the pseudo-devout who do what you seem to be doing; see people not of your own faith (which has an even more fogged origin and a founder virtually invisible for over a hundred years after he  is supposed to have lived. Islam is on at least as shakily grounded as Christianity when even Muslims cannot agree on who is and who is not a ‘real’ Muslim even within the Sunni and Shiite sects; all conflicting faith is “the enemy”, is competition.

You can read a million books and collect a hundred degrees I do not seeing you getting over the bar labeled “scholar and historian” until you can see the humble fallibility that ALL humans are subject to; unfortunately you seem to  have too little honor to refrain from bearing false witness against those who are not “of the body” if there is some thread of hope you might be “winning” converts by damaging your self-declared enemies’ common bonds with deceit, stratagems and bald-faced lies instead of debating in favor of a theology built from honesty and love. No, I am not saying that Christianity is that theology… True theology is mostly about what happens between ONE person and God; ALL organized religions are, at best, social clubs crossed with support groups; at worst they are the Taliban, the Inquisition, “peaceful Buddhist sects” warring against each other unto extinction… Are those the kind of “godly” compatriots, the brand of co-religionist you seek?

“If we expose the claims of the gospels to the heat of historical analysis, we can purge the scriptures of their literary and theological flourishes and forge a far more accurate picture of the Jesus of history. Indeed, if we commit to placing Jesus firmly within the social, religious, and political context of the era in which he lived—an era marked by the slow burn of a revolt against Rome that would forever transform the faith and practice of Judaism—then, in some ways, his biography writes itself.

The Jesus that is uncovered in the process may not be the Jesus we expect; he certainly will not be the Jesus that most modern Christians would recognize. But in the end, he is the only Jesus that we can access by historical means.
Everything else is a matter of faith.”

 And that was only the introduction?