Thursday, February 27, 2014
It is hard to believe that anyone could propose that Jesus might have been a Zealot. If wishes were fishes, my apartment would have one hell of a smell. The Zealot theory smells just as bad. Little to no evidence supports it and important evidence contradicts it.
Then again, considering that most New Testament scholarship is about promoting ideological or theological beliefs and not about paying careful attention to the evidence, it really is not all that surprising that some writers think Zealot is a good possibility for Jesus. Most recently, we have Reza Aslan’s Zealot. This is not a review of that book, as I have not read all of it, but it seems he makes the same arguments others have made.
Proponents of this idea like to point out that two swords are mentioned in connection with Jesus’ group and that some of his disciples had suggestive nicknames, like sons of thunder. My response to such evidence is: Seriously!? Seriously!? This is incredibly trivial stuff and proves nothing. It does not even tend to prove anything. Not everyone today who carries a gun is a member of gang. Not everyone back then who carried a sword was a rebel. As for names, I would bet that more than half the kids in New York City who style themselves with gangsta names are definitely not gangstas. First century Israel probably had their wannabe Zealots just as we have our wannabe gangstas. These clues in the Gospels amount to nothing, certainly nothing solid. They are too ambiguous and could point to very different realities.
More importantly, one major piece of evidence contradicts the thesis that Jesus was a Zealot: He alone was arrested and executed by the Romans. There are no other cases of the Romans treating a rebel like this. In every case we have of the Romans going after a rebel leader, at the same time they also kill a number of his followers. With Jesus, they arrest only him and leave his group alone. It is impossible to believe that Jesus was a Zealot and the Romans would behave like this. Having scanned Aslan’s book very carefully, but not closely read all of it yet, I cannot see any sign that he has addressed this problem. If I am wrong about that, I apologize.
Exaggerate the trivial and suppress the significant, and you can prove anything. I could prove that Jesus was an alien from another planet. There is a better case for that than for Jesus as a Zealot.
© Leon Zitzer 2014