Context of the Gospels by Reza Aslan


I think to truly understand the historical Jesus, you have to understand both the context in which Jesus lived and equally as important the context in which the Gospels were written. The context in which the Gospels were written was in post-70 C.E. Judaism; this was after the destruction of the temple, after the destruction of Jerusalem, after the exile of the Jews from the Holy Land. This was a time in which the apocalyptic expectation—the sense that something profound was going to happen, that the Kingdom of God was about to be established—was violently destroyed and, so, what you have in the Gospels is a story about Jesus that is being written in a political environment that didn’t exist when Jesus himself was alive and so it’s important to read them as such.

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Why is Jesus’ radical, political consequences of his teachings, why are they deliberately made more temperate, more easy to accept in a particularly Roman context? Why, for instance, is his Jewish identity somewhat suppressed in the Gospels? I mean the Gospels themselves were not written for a Jewish audience; otherwise, they wouldn’t go through such great lengths to explain every Jewish thing that Jesus does. Why is there so much effort in removing blame from Rome for Jesus’ death? All of those things have to be understood in the context of this catastrophic event that happened in the year 70 C.E. It’s really probably the most important thing to know when coming to the Gospels, when figuring out how to read it, is the political context in which they were being written.


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

general condition of living away from ones homeland or specifically the Babylonian captivity

Often not the person Jesus but scholarly reconstructions of his life based on textual and archaeological evidence as well as theological beliefs.

Associated with a deity; exhibiting religious importance; set apart from ordinary (i.e. "profane") things.

The religion and culture of Jews. It emerged as the descendant of ancient Israelite Religion, and is characterized by monotheism and an adherence to the laws present in the Written Torah (the Bible) and the Oral Torah (Talmudic/Rabbinic tradition).

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