Robert Gundry reviews the NYT #1 non-fiction bestseller Zealot by Reza Aslan:

In his New York Times #1 best seller for nonfiction, Reza Aslan portrays the historical Jesus as a zealot who preached sedition against Rome. According to Aslan, Jesus’ message of God’s kingdom promised the overthrow of Rome, the expulsion of all foreign elements from the Holy Land, and the Jews’ world-wide political dominance under Jesus’ kingship. Though he himself did not take up arms, he said he came not to bring peace on earth, but the sword; and he told his disciples to arm themselves with swords for the coming conflict. Since the Jewish hierarchs who controlled the temple served as lackeys to the Romans, Jesus’ cleansing the temple challenged not only the hierarchs’ authority, but also that of the Romans. Hence his crucifixion as “The King of the Jews” counted as the execution of a messianic rebel. But the kingdom of God as Jesus envisioned it did not come. In fact, even the nearly successful Jewish rebellion against Rome in ad 66-73 collapsed under the onslaught of Roman power. As a result of these embarrassments and the influx of non-Palestinian Jews and non-Jews into the Jesus movement, the historically human Jesus of zealotic rebellion was transformed into the fictitiously divine Christ of a peaceful, heavenly kingdom.

Gundry praises some parts of Aslan’s book, but ultimately writes the book off a sundry mix of narrow historical sources, unoriginal thesis, marxist analysis, and Islamic sensibility vis-à-vis CA-style postmodernism:

It helps this comparison—mine, not Aslan’s—that he was born in Iran, grew up a nominal Muslim at first, converted to evangelical Christianity during his teens in Northern California, lost that faith during his higher education, returned to Islam (minus its usual denial of Jesus’ crucifixion), and has written also on jihadism.

That Aslan’s book, with its latent relativism (“See! Christ was just as violent as Muhammad!”), would cause him to be a cause celebre within liberal intelligentsia (“He’s offending Christians? Book him!”) isn’t too surprising.

I sometimes wonder how differently Western Civilization would have evolved if Christianity hadn’t taken root, had the polytheism of classical Greece and Rome not been ‘usurped from within’.

Nietzsche is perhaps the most famous speculator of how things might’ve turned out, and the great Edward Gibbon weighed in with chapters 15 and 16 of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

There’s also the perspective of the late Christopher Hitchens who got to his core concern in a 2008 interview:

It may be the diminishing returns of a bottle of whisky, but at one point he takes a swooping line back beyond left-sectarianism, way past the Protestant revolution, and deep into his argument about the regressive influence of Christianity—beginning with religious factions in Palestine 2,000 years ago.

“We live in the wreckage of what they did,” he says. “There should have been a thorough Roman cleansing of all that, and a Hellenisation of the Jews. We wouldn’t have had to put up with fundamentalist Christianity, and its plagiarism in the form of Islam. There would have been other barbaric shit. But we wouldn’t have lost the connection to Athens.”

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