I am saddened and grieved to report that everyone on the blog who has responded to me about yesterday’s pop quiz has gotten one of the questions wrong. 🙂 More on that tomorrow. (But in the meantime: I’m giving brownie points for anyone who can indicate which question everyone is missing and why they’re getting it wrong!)
But on rather more serious matters: back to Reza Aslan’s book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. Let me state emphatically that I have not yet and am not now writing a review of the book. I’m not attacking its views or its scholarship, I’m not praising its brilliant insights and clear vision, and I’m not recommending that you read it or, instead, use it as a very handy doorstop. I HAVEN’T READ IT! And unlike some people I know (oh so well), I don’t believe in passing judgment on a book I haven’t read.
My first post on the book was in response to a question of whether I consider to Aslan to be a scholar in the field of New Testament or early Christian studies. In fact, my consideration has almost nothing to do with it. He is decidedly NOT a scholar in the field. Some people think that has some relevance to the quality of his book; other people think that it has no relevance to the quality of his book; I haven’t taken a stand on that issue one way or the other. He’s not a NT/Early Christianity scholar, and he does not and cannot *claim* to be. But he still may have written an amazing book. (How many NT scholars have?!?)
As I’ve pointed out, I’ve assigned the book for my class of 24 first year students, one of a number of things they’re reading for the course, but the one book on which they are being asked to write a book review. A couple of my students have read it already, and they really liked it. Everyone else that I have heard from – apart from NT scholars, who can be a bit sniffy about these things (books written by outsiders in their own field of expertise) – has said the same thing. The book apparently reads like a novel (my NT scholar friends would probably insist that it *is* a novel 🙂 ), it is powerfully and compellingly presented, it makes a good case, it is unusually interesting, and it presents a view of Jesus that most people have never thought of before. More on that in a second.
I did pick it up to read a few pages yesterday, and it looks really interesting so far. I will have to read it, and will enjoy doing so. And when I do, I’ll report at some length on my view of it.
For now I want to make a general point that I will amplify later when I have actually read and digested it. From the various reports I have heard about the book (and, well, from the title) – reports made in reviews of it (my good friend Dale Martin wrote a very nice review in the New York Times), from friends who have read it, from readers of this blog, and so on – the book appears to advance the thesis that Jesus was in favor of a violent overthrow of the Roman oppressors of the Jewish people in Palestine. It’s not that he was a member of the “zealot party” (which did not appear until later in history), but like other Jewish preachers and activists before him, he very much wanted to drive the Romans out of the promised land. This is probably what got Jesus crucified. But his later followers silenced this aspect of his proclamation, and Christianity became something very different from what Jesus himself preached.
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