Jesus of Nazareth,” by the above title, and am not myself a scholar of
religion (I haven’t even read all the other books written by other
scholars on the subject of Jesus), I believe I am just as entitled to
my opinion based on my conclusions about what I have read or learned
about Jesus as is Reza Aslan, the author of said book, and any of his
One does not have to be Christian to appreciate Jesus. Further, one
does not have to believe that Jesus started the Christian religion
just because the name “Christian” comes from the word “Christ.” I
would dare say that the actual religion of Jesus would not look like
the Christian religion of today. But that might be a subject for
The brief but very talked-about Fox News interview (FoxNews.com) of
Dr. Aslan by Lauren Green regarding his book about Jesus showed us
that Dr. Aslan is a very well-bred, well-educated and cultured man of
good bearing. Whether he is Christian or Muslim should not in any way
diminish his vast depth and span of education, which appears to more
than qualify him to write on his chosen subject. Unfortunately, that
same interview showed us that Ms. Green was apparently set on making
that her whole point: Why would a Muslim choose to write a book about
Jesus, and how could he possibly be unbiased in such a portrayal? Sad
to say, if Lauren Green was trying to make a case for a better
presentation of Jesus from what she perceived Dr. Aslan had written,
to something she felt would have done Jesus more justice, she fell
very short of her goal.
How often do we hear people trying to “stick up” for someone (or be on
what they perceive to be the “right” side of something) and the way
they go about it ends up making others feel inclined to root for the
“wrong” side just because of their approach? (My father always taught
me — and no doubt someone taught him, since these words of wisdom have
been around for quite awhile — that it’s not what you say, but the way
that you say it. I often wished he would have given more heed to his
own words — but, be that as it may, I took his words to heart.)
No one living today was around when Jesus of Nazareth was walking the
earth. Some people at the time were obviously making notes about this
or that (specifically, what was going on politically, nationally,
financially and ecclesiastically), and some no doubt even kept some
version of a journal regarding the ongoing doings-of-the-day worth
noting. There are ample records from that time, from various and
sundry sources, to fill many books about the life and times of the
people in general and a few in particular — Jesus being one of them.
When one considers that Jesus could well be — and has claimed to be,
and has been spoken about as being — the Son of God (in that he came
directly from God his Father, although through his human parents, Mary
and Joseph), who wouldn’t want to learn and know all he could about
this could-be, would-be, might-possibly-be, God-man?
Reza Aslan, in his own words, has been obsessed with Jesus for 20
years. “I’ve been studying his life and his work and the origins of
Christianity both in an academic environment and on a personal level
for about two decades. Just to be clear, this is not some attack on
Christianity,” he said. “My mother is a Christian, my wife is a
Christian, my brother-in-law is an evangelical pastor. Anyone who
thinks this book is an attack on Christianity has not read it yet,” he
told his interviewer on Fox News.
So he did his homework and he wrote his book. Yet just because he
wrote it based on his research and his notes and his review of all the
other scholarly books on the life of Jesus rather than from his
personal experience, his passion, his beliefs or his what would be
considered logical assumptions based on some perhaps little-known
tidbit of information that might likely put a whole different slant on
his book changing it from one of a merely scholarly work to one of a
more humanly relatable one that includes faith and feelings, does not
in any way disqualify him from having the right to write it.
Not that any one person, or any one book, could attest to every word,
action or intention of Jesus so as to present him in a way for all to
know and appreciate as he perhaps wanted to be known and appreciated
(for his purposes, not our interpretation of his purposes), but many
give it a shot; they write from their own passion and/or their own
knowledge and understanding. I offer my own considerations for seeing
Jesus as the non-Zealot I believe he was.
First, a definition of the word zealot: Someone who believes they are
right to do whatever will help their political or religious ideas to
succeed, even if it is cruel or unfair. Zealot: A member of an ancient
Jewish sect in Judea in the first century who fought to the death
against the Romans and who killed or persecuted Jews who collaborated
with the Romans.
May I remind readers that Jesus didn’t even fight to save himself
either when he was arrested or at his trial? And being either cruel or
unfair was the opposite of what Jesus stood for and how he lived his
life. He taught men to return good for evil, to overcome evil with
If Jesus taught that it was all about doing the Father’s will (and
that Father would be God, call him by whatever name you will), it was
obviously not about his (Jesus’) will. He was not in any way militant.
He taught that the world is not to be regarded as an enemy. And
although he employed the practice of nonresistance, he did not teach
passive tolerance of wrongdoing. He made it plain that he approved of
the social punishment of evildoers and criminals, and that the civil
government must sometimes employ force for the maintenance of social
order and in the execution of justice. But while he abhorred the idea
of retaliation, he did not teach or advocate becoming a passive
sufferer or victim of injustice. Surely we remember Jesus saying, in
so many words, “When an enemy smites you on one cheek, do not stand
there dumb and passive but in positive attitude turn the other cheek.”
He meant for us to take the positive initiative to return good for
evil. And he was a man of infinite patience.
I acquiesce to the research and knowledge of Dr. Aslan, yet scholars
do not know everything. By entitling his book as he did, he of course
is calling Jesus a Zealot. In Jesus’ time, as we know, there was much
rebellion against the payment of taxes to Rome. And there was also the
beginning of a strong nationalist party which was to be called the
Zealots. The Zealots, unlike the Pharisees, weren’t willing to await
the coming of the Messiah, and thought to bring things to a head
through political revolt. They even brought their plan to Jesus in
Nazareth, but he refused to join them.
Jesus was always careful to avoid the political snares of his enemies.
And he did not revolt against paying taxes, saying rather, “Render to
Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things which are
God’s.” In his personal life he was duly observant of all civil laws
and regulations, while in his public teachings he ignored the civic,
social, and economic realms since he was only concerned with the
principles of man’s inner and personal spiritual life.
I will probably read Dr. Aslan’s book to see how a strictly scholarly
researcher — and a once Christian-now-Muslim one at that — sees Jesus.
The Jesus I know, however, is no Zealot. If I could design a
combination Son of Man-Son of God to be as perfect as possible and be
a role model for all us lowly and imperfect human beings, I know I
couldn’t even come close to the reality of the Jesus that already is.
Zealot? I think not.
Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune. She
writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Maramis, email
her at firstname.lastname@example.org.