Reza Aslan’s book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth tried to give the zealot hypothesis a shot in the arm. Even more recently, Dale Martin has written a piece entitled, “Jesus in Jerusalem: Armed and Not Dangerous,” JSNT 37.1 (2014): 3-24. The substance of his argument is that:
In debating the meaning of Jesus’ arrest and death at Jerusalem, scholars have paid too little attention to normal Roman practices of dealing with persons found armed in public in Rome or other cities under their control. Moreover, the idea that only one or two of Jesus’ disciples were armed has been accepted uncritically in spite of the probability that more or all of them were armed. This article highlights the signiﬁcance of Jesus’ disciples being armed when he was arrested just outside the walls of Jerusalem, linking that fact with other details from the sources, such as Jesus’ opposition to the temple, the presence of Samaritans among his early followers, the absence of lamb at the last supper, and the fact that he was executed by the Romans as a ‘social rebel’. Jesus led his followers, armed, to Jerusalem to participate in a heavenly-earthly battle to overthrow the Romans and their high-priestly client rulers of Judea.
You can find responses to Martin’s piece over at The Jesus Blog by Brian Pounds (here and here).
Concerning whether it was legal to carry weapons into ancient Rome, you MUST watch this video from the Horrible Histories series!!!
I covered this topic in an article published in 2006 called, “Jesus and the Revolutionaries: Did Jesus Call Israel to Repent of Nationalistic Ambitions?” Colloquium 38.2 (2006): 127-39. There I looked at the Zealot thesis of H.S. Reimarus and S.G.F. Brandon as well as the anti-Zealot thesis of Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright.
In addition to the mandatory quotations from Simon Zealotes in Jesus Christ Superstar, the article has a few memorable quotes including this one:
[I]n supposing that Jesus was a zealot we are faced with a problem of historical discontinuity between Jesus and his followers that is roughly analogous to trying to explain why a group of Al-Qaeda terrorists have traded their guns for guitars and have established a hippie commune in down-town Manhattan.