Messiahs by Reza Aslan


Jesus lived in a time of apocalyptic expectation, a time in which many claimants to the messiah rose up, challenged Rome and the Roman occupation, challenged the priestly authority, declared themselves to be the promised messiah, the liberator of the Jews, and yet failed to do the one major thing that the messiah was supposed to do, which is to reestablish the kingdom of David to set the Jews free from the yoke of occupation as the majority of Jews expected of the messiah in Jesus’ time.

Well, the truth is that Jesus was as successful as those so-called failed messiahs. He too, failed to do the most important job of the messiah and yet, two thousand years later, we still call Jesus the Messiah and we’ve forgotten about those other messiahs. The question is why? There are many answers to this question but I think that two answers really rise to the surface; one has to do with Jesus’ teachings, his social teachings especially.

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Those teachings survived his death in a way that, as far as we know, did not occur with his fellow messiahs. We don’t have a long oral tradition of teachings from, say, Judas the Galilean or the Simon the Pariah or even Simon bar Kokhba. And, this is important when I say those teachings survived his death because what we can be fairly confident about is that the community that Jesus left behind was far more interested in the things Jesus said than in the things that Jesus did, with the exception of course, of things like the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection (these were liturgical formula and so they were very much a part of the Jesus story); but it was his teachings that were passed along among these communities both within Judea and in the diaspora. It was those teachings that allowed this movement to continue and to ultimately break out of the shell of Judaism and attract non-Jews to this movement. It was those teachings that then became the foundation for what would become the Gospels.


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

Jews who live outside of Israel or any people living outside of their native land.

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).

the southern kingdom of Judah during the divided monarchy or what later became the larger province under imperial control

Relating to the priests, the people responsible for overseeing the system of religious observance, especially temple sacrifice, depicted in the Hebrew Bible.

Jewish leader who led a revolt against the Romans

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