Biblical Zeal by Reza Aslan


Zeal in the Bible means something fairly specific. It essentially is a byword for an uncompromising devotion to the sole sovereignty of God. That concept—the sole sovereignty of God—is in many ways the very foundation of the Hebrew Scriptures. It is the first and most important commandment. It is of course part of the very DNA of the Israelites and the nation of Israel, that there is just one king, not just over this land but over all the universe, and that you are to, not just worship no other god, but to have no other master, which is why all the great heroes and prophets and kings of the Hebrew Scriptures were all praised for their zealousness, for being zealous for the Lord.

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This concept of zeal and zealotry was very much present in the first century, in the time of Jesus and was, as the great Jewish historian Josephus refers to it, a kind of virus that spread through the land, and it’s no surprise. I mean, after all, the Jews in Jesus’ time were living under a brutal military occupation by a heathen, pagan power that lived a thousand kilometers away that controlled almost every aspect of life for the Jews from the economy to politics, to even the religious cult itself.

It shouldn’t be surprising, therefore, that for poor, pious Jews in particular, the revival of this concept, of biblical zeal, provided an impetus for standing up against the occupation, for pushing back against it, for calling for the liberation of the Jews and the cleansing of this land as God had intended in the first place.



Reza Aslan

Reza Aslan
Professor, University of California

Reza Aslan is professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside and serves on the board of trustees for the Chicago Theological Seminary. His degrees in religion and creative writing led him to write the best-sellers Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (Random House, 2013) and No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam(Random House, 2011). His new show Believer premieres on CNN Sunday, March 5, 2017 at 10 p.m. ET (see

A system of religious worship, or cultus (e.g., the Israelite cult). Also refers to adherents of that system.

A West Semitic language, in which most of the Hebrew Bible is written except for parts of Daniel and Ezra. Hebrew is regarded as the spoken language of ancient Israel but is largely replaced by Aramaic in the Persian period.

A Jewish historian from the first century C.E. His works document the Jewish rebellions against Rome, giving background for early Jewish and Christian practices.

(n.) One who adheres to traditional or polytheistic religious and spiritual belief and practice systems; sometimes used to refer broadly to anyone who does not adhere to biblical monotheism.

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