What I meant to say was that zealous acts as manifested violently are indicative of internal Jewish conflict about devotion to God and against idolatry. Indeed, my comments do not make sense without this important qualification.
The parade examples of those "zealous" for Torah are Phinehas, Mattathias, and Saul. In these cases, acts of violence described as "zealous" are directed against a fellow countryman who is perceived as a transgressor of Torah. This is not to say that gentiles are not harmed (they obviously are), but the notion that one is a "transgressor" of Torah presumes that the person in question is expected to live within the confines of Torah (i.e. Jewish).
The "Zealots" (circa 66CE) who rise up against Rome might be an exception to this rule. However, I think that projecting the title onto Jesus (as Aslan does with the title page of his book) is anachronistic and misleading. In Dick Horsley's Jesus and the Spiral of Violence he writes: "there is simply no evidence for zeal as a passion for freedom from alien rule generally, much less as the primary motivating factor in some supposed fanatical Jewish drive toward violent rebellion against Roman domination" (p.129).
The more important point is one that I will reiterate here. Josephus writes:
Now Pilate, who was sent as procurator into Judea by Tiberius, sent by night those images of Caesar that are called ensigns into Jerusalem. This excited a very among great tumult among the Jews when it was day; for those that were near them were astonished at the sight of them, as indications that their laws were trodden under foot; for those laws do not permit any sort of image to be brought into the city. Nay, besides the indignation which the citizens had themselves at this procedure, a vast number of people came running out of the country. These came zealously to Pilate to Cesarea, and besought him to carry those ensigns out of Jerusalem, and to preserve them their ancient laws inviolable; but upon Pilate's denial of their request, they fell down prostrate upon the ground, and continued immovable in that posture for five days and as many nights.
On the next day Pilate sat upon his tribunal, in the open market-place, and called to him the multitude, as desirous to give them an answer; and then gave a signal to the soldiers, that they should all by agreement at once encompass the Jews with their weapons; so the band of soldiers stood round about the Jews in three ranks. The Jews were under the utmost consternation at that unexpected sight. Pilate also said to them that they should be cut in pieces, unless they would admit of Caesar's images, and gave intimation to the soldiers to draw their naked swords. Hereupon the Jews, as it were at one signal, fell down in vast numbers together, and exposed their necks bare, and cried out that they were sooner ready to be slain, than that their law should be transgressed. Hereupon Pilate was greatly surprised at their prodigious superstition, and gave order that the ensigns should be presently carried out of Jerusalem.In this case, we see that being "zealous" manifests as nonviolent resistance. This episode should not be overplayed, but it does nuance our understanding of "zeal". Dr. Aslan refers to this episode vaguely (Zealot, ch. 5) but fails to tell his readers that these Jews were nonviolent. While Aslan casts doubts on Jesus' supposed violent stance against gentiles, he repeatedly leaves out these kinds of details. The image of Jesus that has allowed him to sell books is that of a revolutionary who eschews what he calls "pacifism". Aslan clearly wants his readers to think of Jesus as political revolutionary and therefore must downplay or neglect all evidence to the contrary. My review takes him to task for this and many other failings.
All the more reason to correct myself for my own error. I apologize.