I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
This is not the Jesus that we are used to hearing about in church, at least not the church that I grew up in (a Baptist-like evangelical tradition).
The author delves into the historical documents of the 1st century C.E. to learn more about the politics, religion and social conditions of the time. The Jews and Palestine are under the hob-nailed boot of the Roman Empire. The rich are getting ever richer and the poor are so beleaguered that they have very little left to lose. The Temple is in cahoots with the Romans to collect taxes and stay in power.
If you would expect political volatility in such a situation, you would be right. Would-be messiahs and kings abound--and are brutally dispatched by the Roman army. It turns out that Jesus of Nazareth is merely one of many--but he ended up with a better PR department than most. There were self proclaimed Kings of the Jews both before him and after him, but he is the one that is remembered.
Aslan points out that Jesus was very much a Jew and the followers that he leaves behind are almost entirely Jewish until Saul of Tarsus/Paul comes on the scene. Because he has never actually met Jesus the man, but was converted by a vision, he feels free to cut the ties between early Christianity and Jewish law. Jesus' brother, James and his apostles, like Peter, beg to differ with him. Needless to say, there is conflict and hard feelings. James sends emissaries to "correct" Paul's teaching, something that Paul is understandably bitter about.
In many ways, the gospel becomes a non-Jewish faith only when the early Jewish Christians are wiped out when Jerusalem is razed by the Romans. It leaves Paul free to preach to the gentiles as he sees fit, downplay the Jewishness of the new faith and tailor it to appeal to a Roman audience.
I had never twigged to the tension between Paul and the Christians of Jerusalem. I view the New Testament with fresh eyes, seeing politics that I never perceived before. And this despite my usual statement, that if you gather three people or three chimpanzees in one spot, you will have politics. Church politics are not immune.
Excellent, thought provoking material.