Reza Aslan's Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth resurrects the theory that Jesus' ministry and death are best explained against the background of Jewish zealot movements at the turn of the era. There is little here that is new. The ablest presentation of this line of interpretation was made by the British scholar S. G. F. Brandon in 1967. Few followed Brandon then; virtually no one does today. I doubt very much that Aslan's fresh take on it will win a following—at least not among scholars.
Aslan, who is writing for non-experts, describes Jewish zealotry (largely in terms of zeal for the temple and for Israel's law of Moses) and surveys some of Israel's history between the Testaments. He reviews the attempts of a number of men who in one way or another sought to throw off either King Herod or the Roman yoke and win freedom for Israel. He places Jesus of Nazareth and his following squarely into this history and social setting. On this understanding, Jesus' proclamation of the coming kingdom of God was a call for regime change, for ending Roman hegemony over Israel and ending a corrupt and oppressive aristocratic priesthood.
Aslan's core contention might be outlined as follows: The regime change that Jesus and his followers anticipated did not take place. Jesus was arrested and executed, along with two other rebels. Not long after—however it happened—Jesus' followers became convinced that their master had been raised from the dead and that his mission had not been a failure after all. Unlike other zealot movements that ceased after the deaths of their respective founders, the Jesus movement not only continued, even in the face of severe opposition. It flourished, ...1