Back to Aslan’s Zealot. I will not be going on forever, but I do want to make a few final posts. So far I have shown that the book is filled with mistakes, some of them important, about the ancient world, about the New Testament, and about early Christianity. These are simply errors, things (I tried to show) that Aslan just got wrong. After that I tried to show why the thesis itself was highly problematic by taking on his lead chapter and showing just why the claims he makes don’t “work” historically. And then, most recently, I’ve shown why scholars have widely opted for a solution that differs from Aslan’s view that Jesus is best seen as one totally zealous for the law and the land of Israel to the extent that he favored a military overthrow of the Roman empire as foreign occupiers. The alternative is that Jesus instead was a preacher of apocalyptic doom. It was not by military force that the enemy would be defeated, but by an act of God, when he sent his Son of Man in judgment over the earth to destroy the forces of evil – not just the Romans but including the Jewish leadership of the temple – and set up a utopian kingdom on earth where there would be no more oppression, injustice, hatred, misery, or suffering.
I have given some of the reasons that scholars have accepted this view. Now I want to show how two data that are crucial for the “zealot hypothesis” actually make better sense with this apocalyptic understanding of Jesus. The two data involve the temple cleansing and the crucifixion itself.
If one wants to establish – as Aslan very much does want to do – that Jesus favored violence, there is no better scene to focus on than the disruption he caused in the Temple upon arriving in Jerusalem in the last week of his life. According to the earliest accounts, Jesus enters the temple, overturns the tables of those exchanging money, and driving out those who were selling sacrificial animals. In our first account, Mark’s, Jesus actually shuts down the entire operation of the entire temple.
I have already shown why Aslan’s reconstruction of that event as a historical incident can’t work. Mark’s Gospel simply can’t be taken as historically reliable at this point. If Jesus really shut down the Temple cult, how could he not have been arrested on the spot by soldiers stationed there (both Jewish temple police and Roman soldiers, brought in for the occasion) precisely to quell any possible violence?
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