“I’ve been obsessed with Jesus for a very, very long time,“ Reza Aslan confessed to HuffPost Live host Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, “I heard the Gospel when I was 15 years old and it just blew me away.”
Aslan, who became a successful evangelist in his youth, now identifies as Muslim. However his fascination with Jesus the person continues and inspired his new book, "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth."
The book excavates what can really be known about Jesus the person and the context in which he lived. Aslan feels passionate about why that kind of knowledge is so important:
Unless you believe that Jesus lived in some kind of a cultural and political vacuum, that the context of the world in which he lived played no role in his actions or his motivations, then you have to take seriously that he lived in a specific time and place and the things that he said were directed to a specific audience in one of the most tumultuous periods of the history of the Holy Land.
Ahmed didn't waste any time and started his interview by asking Aslan if Jesus was a revolutionary. Aslan responded:
Jesus was a Jew. He started a Jewish movement to establish the kingdom of God on earth and, as a result of that movement, he was arrested and executed as a state criminal. If you don’t know anything else about Jesus than that, it should give you some clue as to what kind of trouble maker we are talking about.
While the word "Zealot" might strike many today as a negative title, the author insists that this was really who Jesus was:
Zealotry as mode of piety was a widely accepted Biblical concept that many Jews would have claimed for themselves. It refers to the uncompromising devotion to the sovereignty of God and to cleansing the Holy Land of foreign presence and dedicating it to God as the sole king.
When asked if this meant Jesus supported violence, the author is of two minds:
There is no evidence that Jesus promoted violence in any of the histories that we have. But we need to rid ourselves of this notion that he was a pacifist. Jesus wasn’t a fool, if you are talking about the end of Caesar’s rule and inauguration of reign of God, you can’t be so daft as to think that will happen in a peaceful way.
While Christianity in America in more recent years has been associated with more conservative causes and politics, the Jesus Reza has portrayed might not actually fit comfortably within the Christian right who claim him:
This is who Jesus was, the historical Jesus: he was an illiterate, day laborer, peasant from the country side of Galilee who hung around with the most dispossessed, poor, weak, outcasts of his society -- people whom the temple rejected. And who, in their name, launched an insurrection against the Roman and priestly authorities.
That’s Jesus. So, if you claim to walk in Jesus’ footsteps, that’s what it means.
It means rejecting power, in all its forms -– religious and political -- it means denying yourself in the name of the poor and the marginalized regardless of their religious or their sexual orientation or anything else. If you do not do those things, you are not a follower of Jesus. 'Cause that’s who Jesus was.
Aslan also hopes that people reading the book will find another important parallel from Jesus’ life to the present-day world, specifically in the cause of the Palestinians.
The land that Jesus called his own, there is still a poor marginalized people who are being occupied directly by a military presence and so I would be curious how Christians couldn’t see the parallels between what’s happening in the occupied territories today and what was happening in the time of Jesus.
You can read an excerpt from "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth" here.
Watch the entire HuffPost Live interview below.