Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth Info

Download Online Bibles, Christian Fiction, Bible Study books and more. Read Reviews and find question & answers about Reza Aslan book: Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. Read&Download Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan Online


#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “A lucid,
intelligent page-turner” (Los Angeles Times) that
challenges long-held assumptions about Jesus, from the host of
Believer

 
Two thousand years ago, an itinerant
Jewish preacher walked across the Galilee, gathering followers to
establish what he called the “Kingdom of God.” The
revolutionary movement he launched was so threatening to the established
order that he was executed as a state criminal. Within decades after
his death, his followers would call him God.
 
Sifting
through centuries of mythmaking, Reza Aslan sheds new light on one of
history’s most enigmatic figures by examining Jesus through the
lens of the tumultuous era in which he lived. Balancing the Jesus of the
Gospels against the historical sources, Aslan describes a man full of
conviction and passion, yet rife with contradiction. He explores the
reasons the early Christian church preferred to promulgate an image of
Jesus as a peaceful spiritual teacher rather than a politically
conscious revolutionary. And he grapples with the riddle of how Jesus
understood himself, the mystery that is at the heart of all subsequent
claims about his divinity.
 
Zealot yields a fresh
perspective on one of the greatest stories ever told even as it affirms
the radical and transformative nature of Jesus’ life and
mission.
 
Praise for Zealot
 

“Riveting . . . Aslan synthesizes Scripture and scholarship to
create an original account.”The New
Yorker

 
“Fascinatingly and
convincingly drawn . . . Aslan may come as close as one can to
respecting those who revere Jesus as the peace-loving,
turn-the-other-cheek, true son of God depicted in modern Christianity,
even as he knocks down that image.”The Seattle
Times

 
“[Aslan’s] literary talent is
as essential to the effect of Zealot as are his scholarly and
journalistic chops. . . . A vivid, persuasive
portrait.”Salon
 

“This tough-minded, deeply political book does full justice to the
real Jesus, and honors him in the process.”San
Francisco Chronicle

 
“A special and
revealing work, one that believer and skeptic alike will find
surprising, engaging, and original.”—Jon Meacham,
Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of
Power

 
“Compulsively readable . . . This
superb work is highly recommended.”Publishers
Weekly
(starred review)

Average Ratings and Reviews
review-bg

3.96

61003 Ratings

5

4

3

2

1


Ratings and Reviews From Market


client-img 4.3
3028
1211
404
202
202
client-img 3.8
107
116
74
3
0
client-img 3.84
21668
21249
6759
3
0
client-img 3.9
1
1
0
3
1

Reviews for Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth:

4

Jul 31, 2013

"Hello there! Jesus of Nazareth.....Right?"

"Um, yes that's me, and you are?"

"Stephanie, nice to meet you."

"How did you know my name?" Said Jesus "And what the devil is that contraption you're sitting on?"

"This is a time machine, a lawn mower/laptop, freak lightning strike.....and ta da! Time machine. A friend of mine let me borrow it so that I could come to your time and talk with you. See, I read this book about you and I decided to stop by here because there's some stuff we need to get "Hello there! Jesus of Nazareth.....Right?"

"Um, yes that's me, and you are?"

"Stephanie, nice to meet you."

"How did you know my name?" Said Jesus "And what the devil is that contraption you're sitting on?"

"This is a time machine, a lawn mower/laptop, freak lightning strike.....and ta da! Time machine. A friend of mine let me borrow it so that I could come to your time and talk with you. See, I read this book about you and I decided to stop by here because there's some stuff we need to get straight."

"That was nice of your friend to lend his machine to you."

"Oh, nice isn't the word I would use. It came at a hefty price."

"Wait a minute, a book about me? Why? I'm just a working class Joe. What could possibly be so interesting about me that could result in an entire book?"

"Well, there have been many books written about you. One big book, called the bible, has you as it's central character, which has made you a pretty big deal. It's called Christianity."

"Really? I don't understand. 'When' are you from Stephanie?"

"I'm from the year 2013, which is roughly 2013 years after your birth. See, we started keeping track of the years by using your miraculous birth as a starting point."

"Miraculous? What was so miraculous about my birth?"

"In the bible there is a story that you were born to a virgin, Mary, and your papa is God Himself.....making you the son of God....and a virgin. Don't ask me how THAT happened exactly, but that's the story many believe as literal, even though it was entirely made up to make you fit the description of the Messiah according to Jewish prophecy."

"My mother is a great person, but she wasn't a virgin, I've got siblings! Look, see the tall guy with the long hair and wearing sandals over by the camel?"

"Yeah."

"That's my brother James." We all wave.

"Hey." Says James.

"Oh, I read about him in the book I mentioned, Zealot, he played a big part in early Christianity but then he was downplayed because of the whole virgin Mary story." I said.

"That's odd. I know about the Messiah that your talking about, many other guys have been 'The Messiah' with many disciples of their own. Can't swing a sheep around here without hitting a Messiah. Whether or not we are 'The Messiah', we all want the same damn thing....to kick some Roman ass! Those bastards have occupied us for long enough!!" Said Jesus.

"I read the story about how you go into the Temple and wreck the money changers tables, you were pissed. Good for you! You are quite the political revolutionary. In the bible, you are portrayed as a peace loving, hippie type."

"Really? Man, I can't stand those rich Roman bastards, taking everything for themselves and leaving so little for my people. I like peace and all, but that's not going get these Roman bastards the hell out of here. Uh, what's a hippie?"

"Never mind that. I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but, the Romans are going to arrest you for that stunt. Your Governor, Pontius Pilate, is out to get you." I said.

"I know. I'm sure that the murderous jerk will crucify me along side the rest of the Messiahs." *sigh*

"Sorry, but that is what is going to happen. When the Romans adopt Christianity as their Religion they make Pilate a sympathetic character who calls for you to be saved from the cross. They make it appear as if your fellow Jews are the ones who call for your death instead."

"What the...why?"

"Because the Romans can't appear as the bad guy in this after turning Christian."

"What?? That's just nuts!! Why would my people want me to die? No one will ever believe that.....will they?" Asked Jesus.

"Sadly, they do Jesus. Some Christians believe the Bible is THE word of God and not a book of parables, this resulted in a lot of ugly antisemitism over the years. Many were persecuted and killed because it was believed that it was they who killed you."

"That makes me so sad." Said Jesus

"Me too."


I liked this book. Aslan obviously knows what he's talking about, as he pointed out in that unfortunate interview on Fox, he has a few degrees on the subject of religion. I think anyone would find this book fascinating. I did.

I particularly like how he ended this book....as I quote here.

"2000 years later, the Christ of Paul's creation has utterly subsumed the Jesus of history. The memory of the revolutionary zealot who walked across Galilee, gathering an army of disciples with the goal of establishing the kingdom of God on earth. The Magnetic preacher who defied the authority of the Temple priesthood in Jerusalem, the radical Jewish nationalist who challenged the Roman occupation and lost, has been almost completely lost to history. That is a shame. Because the one thing any comprehensive study of the historical Jesus should hopefully reveal is that Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the man, is every bit as compelling, charismatic and praiseworthy as Jesus the Christ. He is, in short, someone worth believing in."

I agree.


...more
5

Jul 15, 2013

Oh. My. God.

I'm just done with Part I of this book, which is a breathless roller-coaster of a narrative that seems to meld the painfully bureaucratic themes of "The Wire" with the ferocity of "Game of Thrones" to describe the world that was Jerusalem under Roman occupation before, during and after the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

The author's attempt here, unlike Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, is not to ridicule the contradictions in the New Testament, but to rather present as Oh. My. God.

I'm just done with Part I of this book, which is a breathless roller-coaster of a narrative that seems to meld the painfully bureaucratic themes of "The Wire" with the ferocity of "Game of Thrones" to describe the world that was Jerusalem under Roman occupation before, during and after the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

The author's attempt here, unlike Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, is not to ridicule the contradictions in the New Testament, but to rather present as historical a narrative as possible to describe the world of Jesus. And through that painstakingly detailed research concludes which parts of the New Testament seem plausible and which parts just cannot be.

But frankly, once you start reading you just fall under the spell of the masterful writing and are swept into a part of the world at a moment in history, during the life and times of one man, whose teachings defines the belief of a third of the people living on the planet today.

Highly, highly recommended reading.

--
Completed the rest of the book overnight. It's that good.

Parts II and III, delve deeper into the contradictions of the early church; something I had to learn for myself through many other books but one that Aslan pulls together in a compelling and concise narrative that makes for an entertaining read.
...more
1

Aug 19, 2013

Mr. Aslan has a thesis, and he has written Zealot to prove it. As we soon find out while reading the book, Aslan intends to accomplish his mission at any cost, sometimes even at the cost of betraying logic and the very historical facts he claims to draw his conclusions from.

Very early in the book, Aslan clearly lays out his thesis: Jesus was “a zealous revolutionary swept up, as all Jews of the era were, in the religious and political turmoil of first-century Palestine—[he] bears little Mr. Aslan has a thesis, and he has written Zealot to prove it. As we soon find out while reading the book, Aslan intends to accomplish his mission at any cost, sometimes even at the cost of betraying logic and the very historical facts he claims to draw his conclusions from.

Very early in the book, Aslan clearly lays out his thesis: Jesus was “a zealous revolutionary swept up, as all Jews of the era were, in the religious and political turmoil of first-century Palestine—[he] bears little resemblance to the image of the gentle shepherd cultivated by the early Christian community.” Then Aslan goes on to try to prove his theory and tells us: “Crucifixion was a punishment that Rome reserved almost exclusively for the crime of sedition. […] Jesus’s crime, in the eyes of Rome, was striving for kingly rule (i.e., treason), the same crime for which nearly every other messianic aspirant of the time was killed. Nor did Jesus die alone. The gospels claim that on either side of Jesus hung men who in Greek are called lestai, a word often rendered into English as ‘thieves’ but which actually means ‘bandits’ and was the most common Roman designation for an insurrectionist or rebel. Three rebels on a hill covered in crosses, each cross bearing the racked and bloodied body of a man who dared defy the will of Rome. That image alone should cast doubt upon the gospels’ portrayal of Jesus as a man of unconditional peace […]”

Aslan goes on to give us a list of the names of the rebels, revolutionaries, and bandits of first century Palestine who saw themselves as “messiahs.” They took up arms not only against Rome but also against the chief priests of the Temple in Jerusalem. The chief priests had deep pockets and exploited the population, deepening the gap between the rich and the poor. Some of the violent revolutionaries were Hezekiah the bandit chief, Simon of Paraea, and Judas the Galilean. These men and their followers robbed armories and fought the Romans and the Jewish elite with swords, spilling blood. Then came the Sicarii (Daggermen), zealots who “had begun their reign of terror. Shouting their slogan ‘No lord but God!’ They began attacking the members of the Jewish ruling class, plundering their possessions, kidnapping their relatives, and burning down their homes. By these tactics, they sowed their terror into the hearts of the Jews so that, as Josephus writes, ‘More terrible than their crimes was the fear they aroused, every man hourly expecting death, as in war.’”

Here, I will briefly break down some of the flaws in Aslan’s thesis:

1. Aslan expects us to believe that because the other “messiahs” of the first century Palestine were violent zealots, so was Jesus. This is despite the fact that the most violent act Jesus ever committed was to overturn a few tables of money exchangers in the Temple in Jerusalem. A few pigeons and goats were freed, but, from what we can tell, no one was seriously hurt in the process.

Jesus was, in a unique way, a revolutionary; his words and actions did not threaten the political establishment but challenged the priestly elite who used religion to get rich and gain more and more power. However, Jesus was not violent. On the contrary, what made him so dangerous was that he claimed his powers came directly from God, and he had his many miracles to prove this. Aslan admits that Jesus did perform many miraculous deeds like curing the sick, but he dismisses Jesus’s miracles as “magic” and says that many other “messiahs” were doing amazing things during the first century. Aslan tells us that what made Jesus different was that, unlike the others, he performed miracles for free. So, Jesus was indeed different from the rest. A question then arises: Why did Jesus perform his miracles for free when all the other healers charged for their work? If he were another violent revolutionary, wouldn’t he need money to fund his movement and arm his disciples?

To further prove that Jesus was a violent revolutionary, Aslan quotes the Gospel of Luke: “If you do not have a sword, go and sell your cloak and buy one.” (Luke 22:36) This sentence has been discussed thousands of times, and it feels ridiculously repetitive to talk about it again, but here goes. We have to look at this quote in its context: “And he said to them, ‘When I sent you out without purse and bag, you did not lack anything, did you?’ And they said, ‘No, nothing.’ And he said to them, ‘But now, let him who has a purse take it along, likewise also a bag, and let him who has no sword sell his robe and buy one. For I tell you that this which is written must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was numbered with transgressors’; for that which refers to me has its fulfillment.’ And they said, ‘Lord, look, here are two swords.’ And he said to them, ‘It is enough.’” (Luke 22:35-38) Jesus was known for speaking in metaphors. Here, he’s telling his disciples that even though during the time he has been with them, they have lacked nothing, the time will come, after his death, that they would have to take care of themselves and be well prepared for their difficult and challenging mission. If Jesus really meant to arm his disciples, would he have told them that two swords were enough? Two swords are enough for what exactly when facing the Roman Empire and the chief priests? Some “messiahs” who had picked up arms around the same time had robbed armories! In the Gospels and all recorded history of the life of Jesus, there is only one time when one of his disciples uses a sword. This happens at the time of Jesus’s arrest when tens of armed men sent by the high priest, Caiaphas, come to the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus and his disciples have taken refuge after the last supper. Peter panics, pulls a sword, and cuts off the ear of the servant of the high priest. “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.’” (Matthew 26:52) Are these the words and actions of a violent man? Jesus often preached about loving our enemies and praying for them.


2. Because Jesus was crucified, we have to assume he was a violent revolutionary.

As Aslan tells us, Pilate, the Roman governor of Palestine at the time of Jesus, was a coldhearted man who had no patience for any of the Jews’ religious beliefs and especially for their “messiahs” who saw themselves as kings and thus challenged the power of Rome. During his time as governor, Pilate had seen many so-called messiahs preach about the end of the oppression of the Jews, perform magical acts, begin violent movements, and spill blood. These actions destabilized the region and were a challenge to the power of Rome and the Emperor. It was Pilate’s job to put an end to these movements with an iron fist once and for all, but they kept sprouting.

The image that Aslan paints of Pilate sounds relatively accurate, but his conclusions are illogical. There is more than one way to see the situation. For example: Pilate is the Roman governor, and he is cruel. In addition, he is fed up with the “messiahs” and their followers. The Jewish elite despise the Romans, but they have no choice but to work with the occupiers. After all, the top priests’ main goal is to fill their pockets. The Romans can help them do just that as long as the Empire’s share of the profit is guaranteed. It is to the advantage of the priests and the Romans to get along and work together, but serious disagreements are unavoidable, and sparks fly. When Jesus eventually finds his way to Jerusalem from the countryside, the priestly class is alarmed before the Romans are. Romans do not speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus, but the priests do. Jesus has not been violent, so, at least for the time being, he has not set off alarms for Pilate, who is quite busy being the governor of a difficult region. But, of course, Pilate has heard of the peasant who cures the sick and attracts large crowds. However, this peasant has not picked up arms, so the Romans have tolerated him while they deal with more serious threats—and, by Aslan’s own admission, there are many. The priests, on the other hand, are getting more worried by the day. Jesus has some dangerous claims. Even though he doesn’t exactly call himself the messiah yet, he has directly challenged the power of the Temple and the priests. He has cured the “unclean” and has even forgiven their sins! The Temple priests have a complicated ritual when it comes to cleansing “unclean” individuals, a process that is financially lucrative for Temple authorities and demands that the “unclean” offer many sacrifices to the Temple. Who does this Jesus think he is? He might be non-violent, but he is extremely dangerous. After all, he has called himself the Son of Man. The other “messiahs” have never called themselves that. Jesus is different and a threat, yet the Romans are not aware of the terrible problems he can cause. The high priest, Caiaphas, takes it upon himself to make sure this threat is eliminated. In short, Jesus seems to represent a religious threat to the Jewish priests, not a political or military threat to the Romans.

3. Aslan tells us that Jesus didn’t call himself messiah or Son of God. Instead, in the Gospels, Jesus calls himself the “Son of Man” about 80 times, “an enigmatic and unique” title. Aslan traces the origin of the term to the Book of Daniel. Son of Man, at least in the context that Daniel and Jesus have used the term, doesn’t just mean “human being”; it is much more than that. In a vision, Daniel sees “‘the Ancient of Days’ [God] sitting on a throne. Thousands serve him as he passes judgment, and this is when Daniel sees ‘one like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, so that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion shall be everlasting; it shall never be destroyed.’” Aslan concludes that “because he [Jesus] failed to accomplish any of his messianic functions on earth,” early Christians came up with the idea that the Kingdom of God, which Jesus directly linked to his identity as the Son of Man, is not from this world.

As Aslan quotes from the Gospels, Jesus “goes on to describe how the Son of Man must suffer and be rejected before being killed […]” These hardly sound like the words of an ambitious and violent revolutionary who wants to oust the Romans and become king. If we go back to the description of the Son of Man in the Book of Daniel, we can easily see that the Son of Man, at least the way Daniel and Jesus see him, is not exactly a worldly figure and is not a “normal” king. Daniel’s Son of Man comes with the clouds of heaven and stands next to God. The Son of Man has dominion and glory and a kingdom and all people eternally serve him. Jews knew very well that even the kingdom of David had ended. Eternity is Godly; it is not from this world. Aslan finds Jesus’s descriptions of the Son of Man contradictory: “He is powerful (Mark 14:62) yet suffering (Mark 13:26). He is present on earth (Mark 2:10) yet coming in the future (Mark 8:38). He will be rejected by men (Mark 10:33), yet he will judge over them (Mark 14:62). He is both ruler (Mark 8:38) and servant (Mark 10:45).” Aslan sees all of these as contradictions, because he is trying to sell us the idea that Jesus wanted to become an earthly king. However, Jesus’s message and approach are fundamentally different. Let’s put all the words that describe the Son of Man together: powerful, suffering, present, coming in the future, rejected by men, judge over men. When these words are put together, just like Daniel’s description of the Son of Man, they vividly describe a king whose kingdom is literally out of this world and challenges old belief systems. This idea seems to confuse Aslan and sends him into ranting loops that make no sense. Aslan’s problem is that he desperately tries to fit Jesus into the earthly mold of a violent man who uses the sword to get his way.


4. Aslan claims that “The gospels present Pilate as a righteous yet weak-willed man so overcome with doubt about putting Jesus to death that he does everything in his power to save his life, finally washing his hands off the entire episode when the Jews demand his blood.” Aslan adds: “Either the threat posed by Jesus to the stability of Jerusalem was so great that he is one of only a handful of Jews to have the opportunity to stand before Pilate and answer for his alleged crimes, or else the so called trial before Pilate is a fabrication.” Basically, Aslan claims that either Jesus was a violent revolutionary whom Pilate insisted on executing, or the narrative of his trial in the Gospels is not true at all. In other words, if Jesus were not violent, it would simply mean that he was never brought before Pilate.

What seems to be a fabrication here is not at all the Gospels’ description of the last hours of the life of Jesus but is Alsan’s conclusion. These are the same Gospels that Aslan quotes time and time again when he feels he can manipulate them to serve his agenda and prove Jesus to be a mere revolutionary armed with a lot of zeal and a sword, basically what we might call a terrorist today, more or less, a member of an Al-Qaeda style movement in the first century, fighting the Romans.

As Aslan has quoted the Gospel of Matthew many times, I carefully read the part of it that has to do with the trial of Jesus. Aslan has claimed that it would have been impossible for Pilate to give a man like Jesus so much of his time, and that even if Jesus were brought in front of Pilate, his trial would have been very quick. Reading the Gospel of Matthew, it is difficult not to notice that Jesus’s trial was indeed very short and arbitrary; the whole episode is described in about 6 lines, which Aslan calls it a long trial, and, as a result, a fabrication and a creation of the Gospel writers.

5. Aslan writes that crucifixions were performed very often and served as a deterrent to others who might wish to defy the state. This is why crucifixions were carried out in public and usually on hills and at crossroads where everyone who walked by could see; “The criminal was always left hanging long after he had died; the crucified were almost never buried. Because the point of the crucifixion was to humiliate the victim and frighten the witnesses, the corpse would be left where it hung to be eaten by dogs and picked clean by the birds of prey. The bones would then be thrown onto a heap of trash, which is how Golgotha, the place of Jesus’s crucifixion earned its name: the place of Skulls.”

From what we can tell, it is true that the vast majority of those who were crucified were left on the cross, as Aslan tells us. But there are exceptions to almost any rule. The Gospels, which Aslan has quoted time and time again, tell us that “And when it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given over to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the entrance of the tomb and went away.” (Matthew 27:57-60) Thousands of people had followed Jesus, and even though he had 12 main disciples, he had many friends and followers, some of whom were rich and powerful. He had cured many, and these individuals had families and neighbors. From this story, we can tell that Joseph cared deeply about Jesus, and this is why he gave him his own tomb. Pilate allowed it, as he probably just wanted to get done with this whole Jesus thing even if the main reason for it was that his wife had been nagging about it! There were many other corpses left on Golgotha to serve as a deterrent to dissidents and revolutionaries.

6. Aslan writes: “Then something extraordinary happened. What exactly that something was is impossible to know. Jesus’s resurrection is an exceedingly difficult topic for historians to discuss, not least because it falls beyond the scope of any examinations of the historical Jesus. Obviously, the notion of a man dying a gruesome death and returning to life three days later defies all logic, reason, and sense. One could simply stop the argument there, dismiss the resurrection as a lie, and declare belief in the risen Jesus to be the product of a deludable mind. However, there is this nagging fact to consider: one after another of those who claimed to have witnessed the risen Jesus went to their own gruesome deaths refusing to recant their testimony. That is not, in itself, unusual. Many zealot Jews died horribly for refusing to deny their beliefs. But these first followers of Jesus were not being asked to reject the matters of faith based on events that took place centuries, if not millennia, before. They were being asked to deny something they themselves personally, directly encountered.” Aslan goes on to tell us: “It was precisely the fervor with which the followers of Jesus believed in his resurrection that transformed this tiny Jewish sect into the largest religion in the world.”

Indeed, many have dismissed Jesus’s resurrection as a lie, and we can see that Aslan would have loved to do the same. Yet, as he puts it so well himself, there is a “nagging fact to consider.” Jesus’s disciples, the ones who knew him personally and had claimed to have seen him after his resurrection, bore witness to what they had seen, even under torture and to horrific deaths. This is a truth worth pondering.

History can be used and abused, shaped and reshaped. It is sometimes extremely difficult to separate fact from fiction, even when it comes to what happened last year, let alone two thousand years ago. Many times, we are left with not much more than witness testimonies. Are witness testimonies perfect and entirely accurate? No. Memory filters everything, emotions affect the way we remember, and trauma can distort images. Yet, there is something powerful about the witness, especially a witness who would rather die than recant his testimony. Maybe this is exactly where the truth lives in all its mystery.


As other reviewers of Aslan’s Zealot have mentioned, this book, which now sits on top of various bestseller lists, would not at all have received so much attention if it were not for the controversial Fox interview conducted by Lauren Green that has been viewed a million times on YouTube. Green demands to know why a Muslim such as Aslan should be interested in the life of Christ. To me, as a writer and reviewer, Aslan’s religion doesn’t matter. If I have issues with a book, I address them in a direct and civilized manner after reading all the book and carefully analyzing its arguments. It is amazing how many of the people who have very strong opinions about this book have not read it. But, there are a few well-written reviews about it available. For example, in his review of Zealot for The Telegraph, Nicholas Blincoe writes: “It is a politically charged interpretation with a grand narrative sweep but, too often, the decisions underpinning it feel arbitrary.” And Stuart Kelly says in The Guardian: “To take just one example: the Romans are said to display ‘characteristic savagery’ on page 13 and are ‘generally tolerant’ on page 14. Aslan contends that an illiterate ‘day laborer’ called Jesus was part of an insurrectionary tradition in Israel, and the story of this Che Guevara of the early Middle East was co-opted by the dastardly Saul of Tarsus, aka Saint Paul, who defanged the zealot and turned him into an apolitical metaphysician. Frankly, parts of it are closer to Jesus Christ Superstar than any serious undertaking.”

Marina Nemat
Author of Prisoner of Tehran and After Tehran
...more
5

Jun 04, 2018

The Contextual Jesus

The textual religions of The Book - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - have a common problem. No matter how hard they try, they can’t stop their adherents from interpreting their foundational texts, often in diverse and incompatible ways. Among the interpretations are those which claim to be ‘fundamental’, that is not just logically essential to a coherent theology, but also historically the most primitive and therefore the most original and, presumably, the most authentic.

The Contextual Jesus

The textual religions of The Book - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - have a common problem. No matter how hard they try, they can’t stop their adherents from interpreting their foundational texts, often in diverse and incompatible ways. Among the interpretations are those which claim to be ‘fundamental’, that is not just logically essential to a coherent theology, but also historically the most primitive and therefore the most original and, presumably, the most authentic.

In the case of Christianity, the problem of interpretation spawned what has become known as the ‘search for the historical Jesus’. The idea behind this effort was that the ‘real’ Jesus was a figure whose ambiguities and ephemerality - and the resulting plethora of interpretations - could be resolved by some good old scientific research and rigorous reasoning. Turns out though that the historical Jesus is just as elusive as the theological Jesus. The effort was a failure.

Aslan takes a very different approach to the interpretive problem. He has little interest in the history of the individual called Jesus or in his theological attributes. What matters to Aslan is context: the politics, sociology, governmental administration and culture of the times before, during and after Jesus’s short life. Piecing together what we know about this context with the very limited historical knowledge of Jesus and the first theological interpretations of his life, Aslan creates a very readable, entertaining, and exceptionally coherent story about the man and his mission.

Believers, of course, don’t respond well to Aslan’s method. Their issue isn’t likely to be with Aslan’s exegesis, which is professional and generally inoffensive, but rather with the ease with which Aslan can explain so much of the theology and history of Jesus by reference to events, conditions, and motives that are entirely independent of him, his followers, and his opponents. That the story Aslan tells incorporates biblical contradictions, non-sequiturs, and sheer impossibilities into a coherent narrative better than most, is a threat to which believers may feel some considerable irritation.

The sharpest thorn under the dogmatic saddle is likely to be the picture Aslan creates of contemporary religious zealousness - or as we have come to call it, terrorism. The Roman territories of the Middle East - Syria, Judea, Galilee, Samaria - according to Aslan, are little different today than they were at the start of the Christian Era. A series of heavy-handed governmental regimes, self-serving religious establishments and radical religious sects are the main components of civil strife and violence - then and now. Only then it was the Jews not the Arabs who were passing the mantle of armed resistance from generation to generation.

Messianism was the theme of Judaic terror for decades, even centuries, from the Maccabees, seven or eight generations before Jesus, to Simon bar Kokbha, an equal interval after Jesus. Messianic terror became a family tradition. Messiahs, the saving leaders who claimed to be appointed by God, were thick on the ground. This was “... an era awash with messianic energy,” most of which was used to drive unofficial wars against anyone who held official power. The Romans called those infused with this energy ‘lestai’, bandits. And these bandits often “claimed to be agents of God’s retribution.” Osama bin Laden in the 20th century CE fits the profile of Judas the Zealot in the 1st century CE precisely.

Aslan doesn’t claim that Jesus was such a bandit. But the claims made about him by his followers constituted sedition to which the Romans were acutely sensitive. Messiahship is inherently revolutionary; it implies both a sectarian division (sheep and goats) and regime change (the kingdom of God). The complete destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, was a definitive response by the Romans to the seditious tendency in contemporary messianism. Jesus’s death was a minor historical prologue to this later attempt to rid the world entirely of the Jewish messianic menace, the first systematic Holocaust in Jewish history and a model for future Anti-Semites. The population was annihilated, expatriated, and dispersed into Greco-Roman culture. Judaism was demoted from most favored religion status to that of dangerous threat to empire.

This situation presented a problem for early followers of the Jew, Jesus. On the one hand their religious legitimacy depended on their Judaic legacy; on the other, this legacy had become anathema. Not unlike the situation of many Muslims today, one supposes, in Europe and North America. The texts of the Jewish scriptures themselves were enough to prove the violently destructive and irrational intent of this strange and ungrateful tribe. Its God is unpredictable, irascible, homicidal, and apparently insane.

It makes sense, therefore, that Paul, the international proselytizer for the new Jewish sect, should avoid almost all mention of Jesus’s Jewish life, including what he said and what he did. For Paul, Jesus lived, ate a dinner, died because he offended other Jews (not the Romans), and could be expected back momentarily in order to save mankind (but not the Jews; and not from the Romans). He tells us nothing else about him. It is Paul who transforms Jesus into the Christ, an entirely spiritualised Messiah, one who has plausible deniability about the disruption of political power. This is the beginning of the long Christian con.

Paul’s lack of historical detail, however, was worrying - politically as well as theologically. A more comprehensive alternative history, creating a non-Jewish identity among believers was essential. It is not incidental therefore that the gospels, the good news of the Christian Jesus, were written just as Judaism was being outlawed and its adherents oppressed. Today we call this sort of public/political re-positioning ‘spin’. And there can be little doubt that sophisticated spin is the primary content of the unique literary form of the gospel. Sophisticated because it seeks to do what seems impossible: to claim the historical legacy of Judaism, while simultaneously distancing itself from Jewish political history.

In this light, the most implausible and improbable biblical events become understandable - from the patent fables of Jesus’s infancy narratives, to the so-called messianic secret of Mark’s gospel, to the paradoxical violent non-violence of Jesus’s preaching. The gospels are a sort of press release, useful for both attracting a crowd but also making the crowd innocuous in the eyes of authority. They are meant explicitly to make it appear that this new Christian sect had no interest in earthly power. And the ruse worked; it took three centuries for the ‘religion of love’ to become the Christendom of arbitrary power, established hierarchy, and oppressive persecution. The power of fake news has always been an evangelical specialty

The modern world, that is the remnants of Christendom, has, by Aslan’s logic, assimilated the essential Anti-Semitism of the gospels as a matter of fundamental identity. Christians have always defined themselves as those who are not Jewish. This was an historic necessity which became a culture. The persistent Anti-Semitism of the Christian Church is an irrational fact of its cultural history until it is recognised that the fact isn’t irrational at all but an essential aspect, in a sense the fundamental aspect, of Christian doctrine. Without the primordial separation from the stigma of Judaism, Christianity wouldn’t have been allowed to exist.

Messianism always implies potential terror. But the enemy of Christians was never the Jews, it was Rome. Or, if one prefers, it was any civil government which felt threatened by the radical adherents of any Judaic-like messiah. Jews, and more recently that other group of spiritual Semites, Muslims, are the scapegoats necessary to divert attention from the de-stabilizing possibility of messianic theocracy inherent in Christianity.

In sum: a fascinating narrative with revelatory implications. What more could one ask from a religious story-teller. ...more
4

Sep 08, 2017

3.5 stars

The entire time I'm reading Zealot, I'm seeing this:



Ok, ok.
So, I really thought this was interesting, especially the all of the cool history-ish stuff that happened before, during, and after Jesus' birth and death.
BUT.
Occasionally the author comes off like someone who's pissed that once upon a time they got punked by this religion, so not everything comes across as super-duper scholarly. Some of it sounds a bit Ah-hah! See how stupid it is to take something on faith? So neener-neener 3.5 stars

The entire time I'm reading Zealot, I'm seeing this:



Ok, ok.
So, I really thought this was interesting, especially the all of the cool history-ish stuff that happened before, during, and after Jesus' birth and death.
BUT.
Occasionally the author comes off like someone who's pissed that once upon a time they got punked by this religion, so not everything comes across as super-duper scholarly. Some of it sounds a bit Ah-hah! See how stupid it is to take something on faith? So neener-neener religion!...ish.
Hey! I can relate!
I know a lot of people say they 'grew up in church', but when I say it, I mean it. I did Bible drills, studied the Roman Road, and could quote John 3:16 in my sleep. But more than that, I was told to study the Bible and listen to the Word of God. So, because I believed with all my heart, by the time I was ready to graduate from high school I'd already read the entire Bible more than once. Yes, even the random books like Nehemiah & Haggai.
I did what I was supposed to and studied God's Word. And therein lies the rub for people like me and (I'm assuming from the foreword) Reza Aslan. Unless you are willing to have faith...real blind faith in your God...then reading the Bible might make you lose your religion. Because here's the thing: it's next to impossible for some of us to look at the extremely contradictory statements and sentiments in it and still believe in the modern version of Christianity.
I could do a run-down of all the things that simply didn't make sense to me, but I'm not actually interested in 'converting' anyone away from believing in Jesus as their Christ. I'm a big believer in the you do you, I'll do me mentality, so I'll try to keep it short.
One of the things that always struck me (and Aslan mentioned it in this book) was that the God of the Jews commanded them more than once, when they were taking over a city, to kill every man, woman, child, and infant...not to mention the delicious poor cattle!
1 Samuel 15:2–3
But, for some reason, abortion is now considered supah-bad in the eyes of the Christian God. Now, putting aside the fact that the New Testament says nothing one way or the other about the good old fashioned coat hanger abortion, it makes no sense that killing the child/infant of your enemy is ok if you're staking your claim on some land, but aborting a fetus is some horrifying act of murder. I mean, if you look at it rationally, the Bible clearly says there are instances when you can most certainly kill a random child. Not only that, but there are most certainly times you can kill your own child if they're acting the fool!
Deuteronomy 21:18–21
To me, that means children are absolutely not considered special snowflakes under Biblical law, so it's time to stop picketing abortion clinics and start putting the fear of God into your teenagers.
If you sass me one more time, mister, I'm picking out some big-ass stones and getting the elders!
But, Anne! That's the Old Testament.
What about the whole...Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these... stuff? Well, that's certainly much nicer. But you're asking me to believe that we're talking about the same God, right? And I'm sorry, but to me, that just doesn't gel.
Ok, look. I'm sure there are a lot of budding theologians out there who could debate this and find a way to make it all sound mildly copacetic. And I can bet that most of it will sound something like this: mumble, mumble, we can't always understand the Creator of the universe, mumble, mumble, it's not our place to question God, mumble, mumble, questions like these will be answered when we stand before Him in Heaven, mumble, mumble, etc...
And that is fine if that's what you believe.



But to be honest, it was never what the Bible said that finally convinced me that it was just a book written thousands of years ago by random men. No. It was what it didn't say that ultimately tipped the scales for me. Because as far as I'm concerned, the Ten Commandments are a few "commands" shy. As in, where the hell is Thou Shalt Not Rape and Thou Shalt Not Molest A Kid?
Of course, there are obscure passages that you can dig up to support the FACT that those are two of the most horrific crimes you can commit against anyone, but if lying and adultry get a shout-out from Moses, don't you think fingering a 3 year old deserves one?
JUST SAYIN'.



Ok, you see how I got all worked up there? Ugh. Sometimes I get flashbacks that make me a tad angry.
Side note: I'm so glad I didn't fall for the if we do it in the butt you'll still be a virgin when you get married thing.
{insert emoji prayer hands here}
#grateful
Well, I could feel some of that same heat in Aslan's writing. And while I understood the place it came from, it doesn't necessarily mean that it made him sound trustworthy in a just the facts ma'am sense.



While I was enthralled by the actual history of the times and nodded along with some of the points Aslan made, I did wonder how much of Jesus' life fit into the mold he claimed for realsies. I mean, I don't have a degree or anything, but if you're going to say that the New Testament was written years after Jesus walked the Earth, and told (most likely) by secondhand sources that (even though the audience of the time was well aware) embellished and flat-out made up things to fit the narrative they were trying to promote?
Well, then it doesn't make sense (to me) to use the New Testament as reliable source material for much of anything else in your book. Again, maybe I'm misunderstanding the way he did it, but it appeared to me that Aslan would pick and choose what parts of the New Testament could be considered reliable. Which, in the end, made me doubt the theories he put forward.



However, most of what he said, even if it is just a best guess, was really fascinating and well worth reading. If you're a Christian and a true Belieber, then this certainly won't shake your faith. If you're like me, and come from a Christian background but no longer practice, then you'll probably get even more out of it than someone who doesn't recognize some of the Bible verses and stories Aslan uses as reference material. I thought it was pretty cool to see some of these stories played out in light of what was happening in Rome and Jerusalem at the time. I'm not much of a non-fiction reader, but this really captured my attention and held it well. ...more
5

Jul 28, 2013

Let"s face it. Theologians and religious historians will never get along. I am reminded of a scene in Clifford Simaks' clever time travel novel, Mastodonia. The inventor of a patented method of time travel is met by a rabbi, a priest, and a Protestant minister who wants to buy the exclusive rights of travel to the time of Jesus Christ. The inventor says, "That's wonderful. You three can go back and find out the truth about Jesus." But the three have other plans. They want to totally close off Let"s face it. Theologians and religious historians will never get along. I am reminded of a scene in Clifford Simaks' clever time travel novel, Mastodonia. The inventor of a patented method of time travel is met by a rabbi, a priest, and a Protestant minister who wants to buy the exclusive rights of travel to the time of Jesus Christ. The inventor says, "That's wonderful. You three can go back and find out the truth about Jesus." But the three have other plans. They want to totally close off time travel to that period. For them, and for the faith of their followers, it was better not to know. In this area, the three leaders of the these religions agreed that ignorance is best.

When it comes to the "real world's" search for the historical Jesus. I think there is a similar form of friction involved. A lot of people simply do not want to read historical facts especially if it conflicts with their faith. Aslan is bound to have to confront asinine interviews like the now notorious one he was subjected to at Fox News. I'm sure evangelists are already gearing up the cottage industry of rebuking the points of Zealot now that it is a best selling book. But hopefully cooler heads will prevail as people read this book and examine Aslan's evidence for his claims about Jesus.

But they are not really his claims. Aslan presents no earth-shaking revelations and no new information that has not been dug up by historians before. Where the author excels is taking all this information about the time of Jesus and presenting in a coherent, detailed and very entertaining format. Aslan researches the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew living in a time where Rome rules over Jewish territories, and rules often cruelly. It is a time when prophets claiming to be the Messiah abound and the religious hierarchy is often corrupt. Jesus is one the men claiming to be the Messiah, yet the author shows where his message differs and how his followers changed that message after his death. The main point here, and the one that is going to rile up the faithful is that Jesus is portrayed as not only Jewish (no big surprise there) but one of the Zealot teachers who preached the return of Jewish rule and an earthly "Kingdom of God", not one in the hereafter. Christianity actually arrives about 50 years after his death when Paul redesigns it into a religion for Gentiles and not the exclusive Jewish message that Jesus and the apostles originally meant it to be.

But Aslan's real triumph isn't his claims about Jesus but how well he enacts the place and time that all this took place. For a non-fiction work of this kind, it is the most easily read and most engrossing one that I've experienced. It really comes alive as he describes the cultural, religious and political environments. Both minor and major characters are dealt with in amazing care and details. And I think this is where Aslan really helps us understand. Placing the actions of Jesus, Paul, the apostles, Herod, Pilate and the rest of the cast firmly in context with the historical reality helps us understand what was really happening.

But if you are dealing with events that are only documented in Gospels which were not written by their namesakes and written 70 to 100 years after the fact, you have to make some judicial assumptions. Aslan uses other writings of the time to evaluate what is myth and what is fact. In some cases, he shows how certain events could not happen due to what we know historically; for instance The slaughtering of children by Herod after Jesus' birth that has no basis in fact as Herod the Great's history was highly documented by contemporary historians and no such event is recorded to have happened or the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem in which most scholars agree he was actually born in Nazareth and the story of his birth in Bethlehem was placed to justify certain aspects of the Messiah prophecy. But other times, Aslan discredits events, such as the resurrection, as being "Faith events" and not one of historical relevance for study. Of course, this is where people of faith will protest most and use aspects of Aslan's own upbringing to discredit him as we have seen in the fore-mentioned Fox interview. Yet what it should come down to is whether the author's own research is credible and validated. Aslan's research does hold up extremely well with what I've already known yet he also gave me a lot of facts I was not familiar with and did it in a way that kept me guessing as if this was an exciting suspense tale; the perfect combination of historical research and narration.

What it really comes down to, as you read this excellent book, is that you will accept or not accept it based on your own ability to have an open mind and to question your own beliefs and assumptions. And that's fine. What a person will do with the insight in this book is totally up to the individual. But it is an important book to read and I cannot recommend it too highly for persons of all faiths...or none.

...more
5

Aug 08, 2013

I was raised and educated as a Roman Catholic, so I don’t know if people from other faith traditions would be as surprised and grateful as I am for the insightful revelations made in this book about the historical Jesus. Aslan is careful to distinguish this Jesus—the historical Jesus—from the Christ who was constructed almost entirely from the writings of Paul, who had never met or seen Jesus, and whose epistles were written between 20 and 40 years after Jesus was killed. The historical Jesus is I was raised and educated as a Roman Catholic, so I don’t know if people from other faith traditions would be as surprised and grateful as I am for the insightful revelations made in this book about the historical Jesus. Aslan is careful to distinguish this Jesus—the historical Jesus—from the Christ who was constructed almost entirely from the writings of Paul, who had never met or seen Jesus, and whose epistles were written between 20 and 40 years after Jesus was killed. The historical Jesus is the one who was born in Nazareth, not Bethlehem, who had sisters and brothers, one of whom was the most important leader within the Jesus movement in Jerusalem after Jesus died. The historical Jesus was a Jew speaking to Jews his entire life with a mission to reform the toxic relationship between the ruling Romans and the high priests of the Jewish temple. This Jesus was tortured and killed because he represented a threat, not only to the Romans, but also to the high priests who profited so well from doing the Romans’ bidding. Aslan makes his arguments through the close reading of the Old Testament Prophets, the gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the letters of Paul, and the extant non-bibical manuscripts that describe the history and politics of Judea during and just after Jesus’s short life. It is detailed, compelling scholarship, balanced in its judgments but sharply critical of scholars who have chosen to ignore the evidence he has produced

Aslan’s most significant observation is that all the gospel material—all that we think we know about Jesus’s life and ministry--was written after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple that anchored it, that is, after the Jewish people had been entirely dispersed from Palestine. That meant that the Jewishness of Jesus had to be dissolved, even rendered invisible, so that a non-political, ahistorical, god-like individual could be presented to a Gentile audience. That Jesus, the one called Christ, would be unrecognizable to the historical Jesus and his immediate followers. Theirs is a different story, grounded in reason and carefully rendered scholarship.


...more
4

February 20, 2015

A very readable version of a Schweitzerian Jesus
Reza Aslan book is a readable defense of the Schweitzerian theory of Jesus (so called because it was popularized by Albert Schweitzer in his "Quest for the Historical Jesus"). Seeing ancient Palestine as a hot bed of revolutionary activity, he finds the most plausible explanation of the historical Jesus as one which sees Jesus as revolutionary who was ultimately crucified for his anti-roman views. The position is fairly common in Biblical Studies and a form of this argument is held by people like Bart Ehrman, N.T. Wright, John Meier, E.P. Sanders and many others. Aslan's version of it plays up the political aspect of it more than some others, but all agree that Jesus is best understood as an apocalyptic prophet. Aslan makes the argument in fairly traditional ways, beginning with the idea that crucifixion is a Roman punishment for treason and building the argument on the twin pillars of Jesus as a original follower of John the Baptist (who is also understood as an apocalyptic preacher) and the cleansing of the temple (understood as a prophetic act signifying the coming apocalypse). These two events are considered firmly historically established and when connected with the crucifixion draws a picture of Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet. I would again note that there is actually nothing particularly new is what Aslan does here. His emphasis on the political ramifications of apocalypticism is a important gloss, but the crux of the argument is found in many other scholars' work. Additionally, there is nothing particularly "Muslim" about Aslan's reading, even if he is himself a muslim. Many Christian and non-Christian scholars read the texts the same way.

The real problem with Aslan's work (and this holds true I believe for other scholars who are in the Schweitzerian tradition), is a lack of clear method. Aslan challenges this or that saying or text as being late creations and thus not relevant to the historical Jesus, but methodologically he is all over the map. Occasionally he uses multiple attestation to support the authenticity of passage, but he is certainly willing to use a singly attested passage if it suits his image of Jesus. Occasionally likewise he will use dissimilarity, but this method he also will abandon as necessary. Essentially, the problem in dealing with the sayings tradition is that you can't know the answer before you work with it. But those in the Schweitzerian tradition have discovered the answer through those three "Certain facts" and then they evaluate the sayings tradition in light of that. This makes for a haphazard and problematic method which cannot be replicated. But of course, by not starting with the sayings tradition first and applying a method to it (as say Dominic Crossan does) you ultimately sort the sayings tradition subjectively based on what fits your image and what does not. This is what Aslan ends up with, but again he is not alone among Biblical Scholars in this regard.

The reader might ask if I have such strong criticisms of Aslan, why I rated it so highly. The answer lies in its readability and its presentation of the history starting around 300 years before Christ. I used this book in my "Life and Teachings of Jesus" class at a public university, and students were impressed with Aslan's accessibility and information. While I think in the end the book has methodological issues which is rampant among all scholars in the Schweitzerian tradition, much of its history is informative and engaging. Additionally, I think the emphasis on the political ramifications of Jesus is something that is important to consider and often gets lost in those with a more "cynic-like" Jesus. For those reasons I think this book should be read though I would suggest it be read in dialog with John Dominic Crossan's "Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography" for a different and more methodologically sound approach to the Historical Jesus.
4

Jun 19, 2013

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan is a study of the historical Jesus and the Jewish people and their relationship with the Romans. Rez Aslan is an Iranian-American writer and is on the faculty of University of California, Riverside. He came to America in 1979 with his parents who were fleeing the Iranian Revolution. Aslan holds a BA in Religions, a Masters in Theology in from Harvard Divinity, and a PhD in Sociology of Religions from UC, Santa Barbara. He is well Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan is a study of the historical Jesus and the Jewish people and their relationship with the Romans. Rez Aslan is an Iranian-American writer and is on the faculty of University of California, Riverside. He came to America in 1979 with his parents who were fleeing the Iranian Revolution. Aslan holds a BA in Religions, a Masters in Theology in from Harvard Divinity, and a PhD in Sociology of Religions from UC, Santa Barbara. He is well published in newspapers and has made numerous appearances on television and radio. He has also written several books on religion.

Warning: This book and this review is not for everyone. I can see how some would be offended by the contents of this book and for that matter this review. Aslan writes about the historic Jesus and not the divine Jesus. He places events in their historical context, examines the original language texts, and compares it to Hebrew scriptures. The Gospels are compared for content and for the time period they were written.

Aslan provides a good history of the Jewish people and the Roman occupations. Pontius Pilate who had a great dislike of the Jews. He wold never release a prisoner for Passover, and it is unlikely that he would have given any personal attention, let alone a trial for a Jew accused of treason. Death sentences were carried out regularly without much more thought the a stroke of a pen. If there was to be a question asked of Pilate it would be “Are you the King of the Jews? “ King of the Jews was a political title, Herod held that title. For someone not appointed by Rome to take that title would be considered treason against the Roman Empire.

Zealot challenges many ideas and words that have been misrepresented through history. Jesus was a Nazarene; he was not born in Bethlehem. Only Mathew and Luke place Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, but consistently refer to him as a Nazarene. The census that supposedly brought Jesus' family to Bethlehem was a fabrication to tie Jesus to the House of David. Rome would not shut down its entire economy for weeks or months so that people could return to their birthplaces and wait to be counted. People were counted where they held property so that their taxes could be assessed, not in their birthplaces.

Paul is also covered in the book and his rise to prominence over James the Just, brother of Jesus. Paul is shown to do his own thing and ignore many of the teachings of Jesus. In fact his only mention Jesus life is the crucifixion, resurrection and the Last Supper. Paul appoints himself as the 13th apostle and he is the one who breaks with the Old Testament teachings much to the astonishment of the twelve apostles.

It's not that Aslan is trying to destroy Christian beliefs. He looks at the events strictly as a historian. He covers a great deal of ground in Zealot. Temple history and practices are covered as are the Romans and Roman Law. Healing, purification, and the many messiahs that existed before Jesus are also covered. Very little in first century Holy Land is left unexamined.

Zealot will make you rethink what you know about the New Testament and Jesus. Alslan writes a very well thought out book and a very well supported book. He includes over seventy pages of documentation to back up his claims, and that support is needed on such a sensitive subject. It is an very informative book for any reader with an open mind and willing to look at history. I highly recommend the book. ...more
2

May 28, 2018

Some interesting historical insights, but not convincing
In fairness, I’m a Christian, so it’s unlikely that I’d love this book. I was interested in seeing if he had any insight into Jesus the historical person (archaeology, etc). As the book turned toward a theme of discrediting Jesus as the Son of God, I wasn’t particularly pleased. However, there are probably a lot of non-Christians who have a point of view similar to the author’s, so it would prove instructive to continue reading.

My main issue is that I just didn’t find his arguments convincing. How to explain the radical change in behavior of the apostles from chickens to courageous preachers of the gospel? How to explain the conversion of Saul of Tarsus into Paul, a committed devotee of Jesus? How to explain why none of these people recanted under threat of death and torture. Surely the stories of a apostle recanting would have been maintained somewhere?! Without undercutting the motivations of these people to believe in a risen Jesus reinterpreting the other events that occurred feels incomplete and unconvincing.
4

Dec 07, 2013

For the Exhaustive Review: CLICK HERE>

In The Shadow Of The Cross: Jesus, before The Christ

Once Upon a Time, there was a Great Empire. At its very edges, hardly noticed, was a small region. A minor kingdom in fact. A Theocracy of sorts, now. The Empire was not too concerned about them, but they knew in their hearts that they were the Chosen People. Their religious books and prophesies told them as much. They believed fervently that one day a savior will come and return the kingdom of god and For the Exhaustive Review: CLICK HERE>

In The Shadow Of The Cross: Jesus, before The Christ

Once Upon a Time, there was a Great Empire. At its very edges, hardly noticed, was a small region. A minor kingdom in fact. A Theocracy of sorts, now. The Empire was not too concerned about them, but they knew in their hearts that they were the Chosen People. Their religious books and prophesies told them as much. They believed fervently that one day a savior will come and return the kingdom of god and overthrow the alien rule. All they needed was zeal - complete abandonment to belief in god’s words and in the millenarian prophesies.

They might be small and backward but their zeal was great and wave upon wave of revolutions started to crash and break on the great shield of the Empire as the Millennium drew near. Their conditions were bad and oppression was great. But, all this only contributed to their zeal. The corrupt priests, who were supposed to preserve god’s rule in the Holy Land, was also hand-in-glove with the oppressive alien rule. The zealots (filled with zeal) targeted them as much as the alien rule - both were inseparably mixed by now. It was a proletariat uprising of sorts against all oppression and oppressive regimes. All they wanted was their Messiah to come, for the prophesied Davidic descendant to reclaim their throne and restore His rule, The Kingdom Of Heaven.

Unfortunately, the Empire was too strong and crushed every uprising with almost uncaring ease. Zealots were hung up on the cross to die, one after the other. A full procession of them.

One among them was a Jesus, of Nazareth. Born in an oppressed class, believing in the same zeal and crusading with a few followers, against The Temple and The Empire. There was noting much to differentiate him from the rest of the self-professed Messiahs. His story didn’t even fit any known prophesies well enough. To top everything, he himself was just a disciple to the famous John The Baptist. This carried on for a few years, probably in parallel with other zealots and messiahs. He had a decent following and was important enough to be noticed, but not enough to be given much notice on written records. Hardly any written records survive even though many of his predecessors and contemporaries have more detailed histories.

In time, Jesus grew bold and mounted a direct attack on the Temple. Heresy of heresies, he was reported to the Empire. The Empire summarily did what it always does to people like Jesus. It was an act of treason to proclaim oneself Messiah/King as it implies an overthrowing of the current rulers and to be punished in the standard way - death by crucification. Jesus might have been important enough to be given a trial by one of the most notoriously cruel Pontius Pilate, but was judged guilty and sentenced to death.

Jesus was then crucified along with dozens of other ‘bandits’ or revolutionaries in a mound filed with such crosses. He died and was probably picked clean by the vultures.
That is how, on a bald hill covered in crosses, beset by the cries and moans of agony from hundreds of dying criminals, as a murder of crows circled eagerly over his head waiting for him to breathe his last, the messiah known as Jesus of Nazareth would have met the same ignominious end as every other messiah who came before or after him.
Another failed revolutionary dead. With none of his promises even remotely fulfilled. Another Messiah would probably take his place soon, first on the streets and then on the cross. This would continue until the Millenarian zeal passes away and the eternal Empire carries on, as ever, hardly concerned about this small region. The story should have ended there and thus.

It did not.


The Historical Jesus, Or, Jesus as Himself

The Question:

How did Jesus became God? How is it that a scarcely known, itinerant preacher from the rural backwaters of a remote part of the empire, a Jewish prophet who predicted that the end of the world as we know it was soon to come, who angered the powerful religious and civic leaders of Judea and as a result was crucified for sedition against the state—how is it that within a century of his death, people were calling this little-known Jewish peasant God? Saying in fact that he was a divine being who existed before the world began, that he had created the universe, and that he was equal with God Almighty himself? How did Jesus come to be deified, worshipped as the Lord and Creator of all?

That is the real story. Much more interesting and much more adventurous. History was written, modified and made in the construction of this story.


The Burial & The Resurrection: The Anti-Historical Twins

Instead began the centuries long resurrection of Christ and the burial of Jesus. This is the real exploration. The search for the ‘Historical’ Jesus - conveying by the very naming convention that the known Jesus is not historical, but mythical, constructed.

The Aftermath: A Summary

To the revolutionaries, filled with Zeal, Jesus was what he was. A failed Messiah, not to be wasted time on. They continued their zeal and their insurrections, their half-crazed fight against the greatest Empire on Earth, armed only with their complete faith, their Zeal.

Jesus was succeeded by other Messiahs, some more successful, some less but all more and more loud. Then finally culminating in the famous Zealot movement. There was no turning back now. The Jews had just declared war on the greatest empire the world had ever known. Thus, eventually the lumbering Empire turned its head, and decided to swat of the irksome fly. Caught in its own worries, the Empire chose Judaea as a good place to make an example of. Just as they had been exceptionally lenient until now, now they were exceptionally cruel. Somehow, for an Empire that had lost its one enemy, Carthage, long ago, for an Empire that loved to define themselves in opposition to its enemies, The Jew provided a pervasive and hateful figure. Across the Empire the Hate spread, just as the Jews themselves were scattered across, homeland destroyed, banished forever.

Such was the come-down on the Jews that the Jews themselves realized that the only way to survive was to distance themselves from their on violent recent-past. They settled down into their religion, their Torah and became a different species altogether, No longer the millenarian fantasists but just a minority, getting by. The eternally prosecuted, the eternal victims. The image was not just cultivated, it was embraced. But the hatred was too deep-rooted, it never seeped away but collected in rivulets and drains, to explode sporadically in the rest of the violent history of this small ‘promontory’ of Asia.

Meanwhile, the Jews who followed the cult of Jesus, soon to be called Christians, had begun separating themselves entirely from Judaism, and in very creative ways. Survival is the mother of creativity.

The Early Days - The Early Christians (& Jews)

It is not easy to figure out when which distortions began and ended but the direction was already there from the very early days. This is partly reflected in the progression of the gospels - radically departing from the ‘synoptics’ (the first 3 gospels - gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and becoming rapidly spiritualised in each subsequent installment.

As described, the first century was an era of apocalyptic expectation among the Jews of Palestine, the Roman designation for the vast tract of land encompassing modern-day Israel/Palestine as well as large parts of Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. Countless prophets, preachers, and messiahs tramped through the Holy Land delivering messages of God’s imminent judgment. Many of these so-called false messiahs we know by name. A few are even mentioned in the New Testament.

In the midst of all this, a small cult tried to stay true to the fallen Messiah. The very act of staying true to Jesus meant that the long history of reinterpretation of Jesus’s life had to begin right there - to make sense of the irreconcilable fact that Kingdom of God was NOT upon them. To follow and to gain followers to a failed Messiah, when there was an over-abundance of ‘false’ Messiahs was no easy task.

The earliest manifestation of this tendency must have been the Resurrection. By this single act, Jesus Messianic ambitions are transformed and transposed - from the earthly sphere to a heavenly one.

This was an essential cog in the wheels and absolutely necessary for getting new converts, for who would follow a dead Messiah (read future King). The need for conversions meant that the process of reinterpretation had to be speeded up to build a whole new mythology around Jesus and his message. His life and purpose had to be made part of the ‘prophesy tradition’ and the scriptures. This was not easy Jews happened to be especially well read in the scriptures, especially the city-dwellers. This meant that the first conversions had to be from the rural areas, the ones who were ignorant enough of the traditions, prophesies and scriptures to not question the contradictions in the adapted Jesus story. Stephens is the perfect example for this sort of convert. He accepted Jesus quickly as the Right Hand of God and accepted the reinterpreted version of Kingdom of Heaven as a spiritual kingdom to be established by a Messiah who will ‘return’.

The problem was that this was a big stumbling block for the educated, tradition-immersed city Jews and they cracked down hard on this small cult. Sparking the mutual hatred that was to continue for centuries. Stephen was again the prime example. Stoned to death for his assertions of Jesus as God made flesh, for blaspheming.
One can say that it was not only Stephen who died that day outside the gates of Jerusalem. Buried with him under the rubble of stones is the last trace of the historical person known as Jesus of Nazareth. The story of the zealous Galilean peasant and Jewish nationalist who donned the mantle of messiah and launched a foolhardy rebellion against the corrupt Temple priesthood and the vicious Roman occupation comes to an abrupt end, not with his death on the cross, nor with the empty tomb, but at the first moment one of his followers dares suggest he is God.
The process was accelerated by the Diaspora Jews who spread out and started preaching the Gospel (good news) of Jesus far and wide, far also from the Temple. The repression only fueled the more fanatic believers in the new religion to fan out further and further.

The Temple persecution continued, the preaching continued, but most importantly the insurrection by the new Messiah’s continued.

Finally came the first-century Jewish revolutionary party (of the Essene sect) known as the Zealots, who helped launched a bloody war against Rome; and the fearsome bandit-assassins whom the Romans dubbed the Sicarii - who together brought embarrassment on the Roman Empire. And the Grand Retaliation that blew the Holy City off the face of the planet.

Now we can finally come to the question - Why would the gospel writers go to such lengths to temper the revolutionary nature of Jesus’s message and movement?
To answer this question we must first recognize that almost every gospel story written about the life and mission of Jesus of Nazareth was composed after this Jewish rebellion against Rome of 66 C.E, after the destruction.

The spiritual trauma faced by the Jews in the wake of that catastrophic event is hard to imagine. Exiled from the land promised them by God, forced to live as outcasts among the pagans of the Roman Empire, the rabbis of the second century gradually and deliberately divorced Judaism from the radical messianic nationalism that had launched the ill-fated war with Rome. The Torah replaced the Temple in the center of Jewish life, and rabbinic Judaism emerged.

The Christians, too, felt the need to distance themselves from the revolutionary zeal that had led to the sacking of Jerusalem, not only because it allowed the early church to ward off the wrath of a deeply vengeful Rome, but also because, with the Jewish religion having become pariah, the Romans had become the primary target of the church’s evangelism. Thus began the long process of transforming Jesus from a revolutionary Jewish nationalist into a peaceful spiritual leader with no interest in any earthly matter. That was a Jesus the Romans could accept, and in fact did accept three centuries later, and what we now recognize as orthodox Christianity was born.
The last link in the chain was The James Vs Paul showdown:

James, Jesus’s brother was the last link to the original movement. He stayed true, as much as possible and despite the necessary modifications, to Jesus’s message and intent. But Saul (later Paul) represented a new breed - an entirely new Christian.
With Jerusalem despoiled, the early Christians could either maintain their cultic connections to their parent religion and thus share in Rome’s enmity (Rome’s enmity toward Christians would peak much later), or they could divorce themselves from Judaism and transform their messiah from a fierce Jewish nationalist into a pacifistic preacher of good works whose kingdom was not of this world. Also, Christianity was no longer a tiny Jewish sect. After 70 C.E., the center of the Christian movement shifted from Jewish Jerusalem to the Graeco-Roman cities of the Mediterranean: Alexandria, Corinth, Ephesus, Damascus, Antioch, Rome. A generation after Jesus’s crucifixion, his non-Jewish followers outnumbered and overshadowed the Jewish ones. By the end of the first century, when the bulk of the gospels were being written, Rome—in particular the Roman intellectual elite—had become the primary target of Christian evangelism.
Reaching out to this particular audience required a bit of creativity on the part of the evangelists. Paul was the man to do it. In open revolt against James, Saul went in the face of almost all of Jesus’s teachings and invented his own new religion - Christianity.

Preaching almost exclusively to the Diaspora Jews and soon to the Roman citizens plus the Gentiles, Paul had an audience who had no idea about the traditions he was supposed to be talking about. He could basically make up the story on the fly. And, he did.

Thus, it was Paul who finally solved the great dilemma of reconciling Jesus’s shameful death on the cross with the messianic expectations of the Jews - by simply discarding those expectations and transforming Jesus into a completely new creature, one that seems almost wholly of his own making: Christ.

Also, in accordance with the doctrine of Virgin Birth, James, the now prohibited Brother, too fades away after his death.
Two thousand years later, the Christ of Paul’s creation has utterly subsumed the Jesus of history. The memory of the revolutionary zealot who walked across Galilee gathering an army of disciples with the goal of establishing the Kingdom of God on earth, the magnetic preacher who defied the authority of the Temple priesthood in Jerusalem, the radical Jewish nationalist who challenged the Roman occupation and lost, has been almost completely lost to history.
From then on, the rest was history. Divorced from history, but yet history.


Historian Vs Theologian: Settling a Stupid Dispute

How can a Muslim write about Christianity? Sorry, but Muslims are allowed to write History too.

Serious historians of the early Christian movement - all of them, no matter what their religion - have to spent many years preparing to be experts in their field. Just to read the ancient sources requires expertise in a range of ancient languages: Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and often Aramaic, Syriac, and Coptic, not to mention the modern languages of scholarship (for example, German and French). And that is just for starters. Expertise requires years of patiently examining ancient texts and a thorough grounding in the history and culture of Greek and Roman antiquity, the religions of the ancient Mediterranean world, both pagan and Jewish, knowledge of the history of the Christian church and the development of its social life and theology, and, well, lots of other things.

Scholars who has spent all the years needed to attain these qualifications are the ones who are truly qualified and respected by their peers. Your religion is not a qualification required at the university for conducting historical research. So, shelve that argument. Or should we go about redacting every historical research conducted by any scholar on any historical piece with religious implications that did not meet the exacting requirement of religious qualification. The field would be much poorer for this.

Doubts & Minor Critiques:

Reza Aslan could (and should) have been much more exhaustive in the presentation to really bring in all the facets of his research and reinforce the conclusions. But, there is the need for an accessible yet scholarly work on this and Aslan has stepped up admirably. But in that quest, he leaves a few holes and makes a few sweeping assertions that makes the serious reader slightly uncomfortable in accepting all the assertions, especially when a good deal of them, by necessity, have to be conjectures. Intelligent and well-grounded conjectures, the very basis of historical study, but still conjectures.

For example, consider the following assertions:
Yet if one wants to uncover what Jesus himself truly believed, one must never lose sight of this fundamental fact: Jesus of Nazareth was first and finally a Jew.

If one knew nothing else about Jesus of Nazareth save that he was crucified by Rome, one would know practically all that was needed to uncover who he was, what he was, and why he ended up nailed to a cross. His offense, in the eyes of Rome, is self-evident. It was etched upon a plaque and placed above his head for all to see: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. His crime was daring to assume kingly ambitions.
Statements, nay grand assertions, such as these makes one slightly doubtful and want to consult other historians. It hinges on too few concrete facts in the end.


Another Exception:

Ultimately, the only point to ponder is the historicity of the narrative.  Aslan constructs an almost leakproof argument but there are grey areas - the biggest one being “Why Jesus? - Why of all the zealots that roamed, pick Jesus?

What differentiated Jesus from the rest?

Aslan does not explore this angle fully. To me, the answer could lie in the “messianic secret” that Aslan explains away as pure subterfuge on Jesus’s part, born from a desire to avoid direct confrontation, not entertaining the possibility that Jesus might actually have had different ambitions and hence tried to avoid this expectation. Jesus’s could actually have been a genuinely different teaching - still an outgrowth of the times but something could have marked Jesus out from the ‘zealots’ and hence qualified him for being the symbol of peace and love when required. So the resurrected jesus might not then have been so far off from the historical Jesus after all. I accept most of Aslan’s historiography. But, I would like to preserve for myself the personality of Jesus that I have always found admirable even when far removed from any theology - and this conclusion to the review is an attempt to salvage that from my reading.

It might be quite vital to entertain this possibility. ...more
5

Apr 13, 2014

Excellent book!

Some fellow reader friends recommended me the book and also I noticed the author in a documentary series "Secrets of the Bible" on History Channel since he was one of the people making comments there and identifying him as the writer of this very book. So, I thought that it was destined to read it at some point. Happily I was able to do it sooner that I thought.

This is a research book that Reza Aslan, the author, made a 20-years' investigation about all the possible sources about Excellent book!

Some fellow reader friends recommended me the book and also I noticed the author in a documentary series "Secrets of the Bible" on History Channel since he was one of the people making comments there and identifying him as the writer of this very book. So, I thought that it was destined to read it at some point. Happily I was able to do it sooner that I thought.

This is a research book that Reza Aslan, the author, made a 20-years' investigation about all the possible sources about Jesus' life. The author did a remarkable job merging the scriptures on the Bible with info from Greek and Roman historians, portraiting the political ambiance, religious background, military situation and social affairs of the times were Jesus lived. Not only the years when he was alive but also the key years before his birth and the following events not only the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman Empire but also the conversion of that reign to Christianity.

I think that's obvious but I want to mention that any reader who decides to read this book or any similar, well, they will find contradictory facts with the ones on the Bible. I mean, I am Catholic, I believe in God, but I don't find anything wrong to read research books since my faith is so strong that knowing that biblical events may happened in a different way won't diminish my believing on a higher power.

Victors are the writers of history. And you have to take in account that the Roman Empire devastated Jerusalem around the year 70, the few remaining Jews there exiled and even the very Roman Empire was converted to Christianity several years later. Well, to put simply, the Christian history was written by Romans. That's not even shocking but logical.

Also, even the books from the Bible, Old and New Testament has been edited, wrongly translated, manipulated, etc... that at this moment, it's very unlikely to know for certain what happened on those ancient times. Of course, to be fair, I found curious, how the Bible is always attacked for not being reliable as a historic source but other books from historians like Josephus and others are taken as fact without any doubt... not a single doubt. I mean, if the Bible has to be taken with doubt, I think that that same questionable doubt should be put upon those other books too. If the Bible lacks of hard evidence, that other books are in the same situation. Having an open mind is not only putting in doubt the Bible but any other book. A sound and reasonable doubt will let you to find the truths in the middle of the writings.

I really enjoyed the narrative style of Reza Aslan. He is able to write in such entertaining way that you really get to know in a simple and logical way how the events may happened on those ancient times. Honestly I think that now I have a clearer scenario on my mind of who, what, where and how, the events that generated the creation of the Christian religion.

And all the manipulation involved isn't a issue for me. Since religions are ruled by imperfect human beings.

My faith in God is above of all that.

Highly recommended!!!



...more
4

Jul 10, 2019

“The crossbeam would be attached to a scaffold or post, and Jesus’s wrists and ankles would be nailed to the structure with three iron spikes. A heave, and the cross would be lifted to the vertical. Death would not have taken long. In a few short hours, Jesus’s lungs would have tired, and breathing become impossible to sustain…That is how, on a bald hill covered in crosses, beset by the cries and moans of agony from hundreds of dying criminals, as a murder of crows circled eagerly over his head “The crossbeam would be attached to a scaffold or post, and Jesus’s wrists and ankles would be nailed to the structure with three iron spikes. A heave, and the cross would be lifted to the vertical. Death would not have taken long. In a few short hours, Jesus’s lungs would have tired, and breathing become impossible to sustain…That is how, on a bald hill covered in crosses, beset by the cries and moans of agony from hundreds of dying criminals, as a murder of crows circled eagerly over his head waiting for him to breathe his last, the messiah known as Jesus of Nazareth would have met the same ignominious end of every other messiah who came before or after him. Except that unlike those other messiahs, this one would not be forgotten…”
- Reza Aslan, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
- Hebrews 11:1 (King James Version)


There is only one, true, inarguable fact about Jesus of Nazareth: that he was the single most influential human being who ever lived.

Love him. Hate him. Believe in him or not. His very existence, pound for pound, outweighs that of any other king or queen or general or politician or scientist or inventor or movie star or hedge fund manager who ever lived. For better or worse, in a very short period, he changed the world forever.

It goes without saying (though I will say it, anyway) that Jesus was a first century preacher who posthumously founded one of the world’s great religions. He was born between 4 B.C.E. and 6 B.C.E. in the village of Nazareth. Other than the mere fact of his birth, and his death by crucifixion between 30 C.E. and 33 C.E., very little is known in terms that make historians comfortable.

The historicity of Jesus, however, has always been a bit beside the point. His fame, after all, derives from his ability to turn water into wine, multiply bread and fish, and to raise the dead, himself included. These are not attributes that can be tested in the usual way, through the combing of dusty libraries for primary documentation. It is, instead, a matter of faith, or if you prefer, utter disbelief.

Thus, Reza Aslan has taken on a difficult task in attempting a biography of the historical Jesus, the Jesus of Nazareth rather than Jesus the Christ. He is attempting to separate the man from the mystique, but the man lived 2,000 years ago, and the mystique is sort of the whole point. Ultimately, it is as fruitless a quest as trying to take the white off rice.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not a fascinating book.

Aslan begins Zealot by attempting to head off the criticism he knew – rightly – would come his way. He tells a bit about his own background, as an Iranian from a “lukewarm” Muslim family, who went to camp and briefly “found Jesus,” only to be shocked (as in Captain-Renault- in-Casablanca-shocked) to discover that the Bible is not literally true. This childhood reminiscence seems patently contrived, but it sets a soothing tone. To be sure, Aslan is a religious scholar who is here to take Jesus down a notch or two (or three). Yet he does so respectfully, eschewing the sneers, smirks, and snark of other writers, such as the late Christopher Hitchens, who took great enjoyment in trolling Christians.

Zealot is a very short book, at only 216 pages of text (though the endnotes are definitely worth reading). It is divided into three parts. The first sets the pre-Jesus stage. The second is about his ministry and death. The final section covers the earliest years of Christianity, focusing especially on the writings of Paul, also known as Saul, who had a change of heart on his way to Damascus (I should add that once Jesus leaves the stage, Zealot starts to sputter).

Aslan seems to be attempting to do two things simultaneously. First, he is presenting the documentary support – or more specifically, the lack thereof – for the big moments in Jesus’s life. For instance, he dumps a keg of spoiled eggnog on the traditional Christmas story, ridiculing the notion of a reverse-census, where people left their homes to be counted elsewhere.

Second, and more importantly, Aslan attempts to reframe Jesus in the context of Jewish resistance to Roman occupation. As Aslan writes, there were a lot of different prophets and “messiahs” walking the dusty roads of Galilee and Judea, of which Jesus was only one. He argues that Jesus did not aim to free the world of its sins, but to free the Jews from Emperor Tiberius and his legions. In that way, he reduces – whether intentionally or not – Jesus to a rather run-of-the-mill crypto-revolutionary. A “zealot,” if you will, though not a Zealot (of the Zealot Party).

This recontextualizing is interesting, though I’m not sure it is as pathbreaking as Aslan intends. While reading this, I happened to watch King of Kings (the more-modern version) on Turner Classic Movies. Today, King of Kings is not remembered by anyone (from Christians to movie critics) as having a whole lot of profound or interesting things to say about Jesus. It is, after all, the kind of unimaginative Biblical epic in which Jesus is played by the strikingly blue-eyed Jeffrey Hunter. Nevertheless, it presents Jesus in almost the same way as Aslan, in the midst of a nascent Jewish revolt. Specifically, it contrasts the movement of Jesus with that of Barabbas, who is portrayed as a militaristic partisan leader.

The difference, though, is that Aslan hints (or strongly implies, or wants you to infer) that Jesus might have been…violent?

This is perhaps the most off-putting part of Zealot, as well as the least supported. For some reason, known but to Aslan, he opens his book with an epigram from the Gospel of Matthew: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I have not come to bring peace, but the sword.” Taking Bible quotes out of context is typically a tactic of internet-intellectuals out to win a Twitter fight. Frankly, I expect more out of Aslan, who is a genuine intellectual. His only real support for the militant Jesus he is subtly proposing is a snatch from the Last Supper, when Jesus tells his followers that two swords are all they will need. This supposed call to arms is almost immediately contradicted – like so much else in the Good Book – by Jesus’s actions in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he stops his followers from fighting the men who come to arrest him (this does not stop Aslan from equating this ear-cutting little dust-up as the second coming of Cannae).

Overall, however, this is an enjoyable read. It is brisk, lively, and at times, written with incredible tactility, bringing to life a distant time. (His descriptions of the Temple in Jerusalem, for instance, are magnificent). That does not mean that Aslan proves its point.

I don’t intend to use this review as a platform to discuss faith and belief and Christianity. That sounds about as fun as discussing politics, which is to say, it is negative-fun. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that Aslan uses a very specific type of logic to prove his points. To wit: he compares Jesus, time and again, to the typical Jewish man of his times. The trap, which he recognizes without discussing, is that Jesus is not an ordinary man. If he was ordinary, his followers would not have been so willing to be hoisted upon crosses of their own. If he was ordinary, we would not be talking about him still. If he was ordinary, he would be as forgotten as all the other failed messiahs that Aslan lists, men whose names you have never heard.

In the end, it’s hard not to conclude that Zealot is a minor exercise in futility, rather than the upending of centuries worth of Biblical scholarship that Aslan intends. You simply cannot divide Jesus of Nazareth from Jesus the Christ. They are one and the same in ways that transcend both history and theology. This – in a desert of unverified speculation and centuries-old hearsay – is as close as we can come to an objective truth. ...more
5

Apr 11, 2017

Finding Reza Aslan's biography of Jesus of Nazareth was timely, this being the holiest of weeks for many Christians around the world. Some readers are likely familiar with the key events in Jesus' life: family discussions, Sunday School classes, or even sermons at a weekly gathering spot. Taking those repetitive moments in mind when the same stories and lessons were rehashed, Aslan wrestles the story of Jesus away from the documented Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and applies historical Finding Reza Aslan's biography of Jesus of Nazareth was timely, this being the holiest of weeks for many Christians around the world. Some readers are likely familiar with the key events in Jesus' life: family discussions, Sunday School classes, or even sermons at a weekly gathering spot. Taking those repetitive moments in mind when the same stories and lessons were rehashed, Aslan wrestles the story of Jesus away from the documented Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and applies historical fact, thereby developing a strong and documented biography. While some may call this blasphemy, the curious and patient reader will surely be captivated by some of the clarity Aslan offers in his presentation. Eye opening and very educational in this week's lead-up to the death of the man known as Jesus of Nazareth, a book that is sure to stir up many emotions.

Aslan lays some of the strong groundwork at the outset by explaining to the reader that the four Gospels best known for depicting the inculcated biography of Jesus do so from the 'Christ' perspective rather than that of his manliness. By this, Aslan explains that the four authors documented their tales to highlight the glorified depiction of events, rather than those founded in fact. Additionally, the reader must accept that the Gospel writers published accounts well after events took place, in locations and languages other than that which was spoken at the time. This delayed and biased lens ensures that Jesus the Man was lost and outshone by his 'Christ' persona, though no one thought to tell those who read these chapters for centuries thereafter. This should not pose a problem for anyone other than the evangelical Christian (of whom the author was once a member), who feel that the written Word is entirely truthful and literal (Aslan's words, not mine). There are also a number of historical inaccuracies that arise in the Gospel tellings, which Aslan is clear to discuss throughout, alongside rectifying them with any documentation he has been able to ascertain. Armed with these building blocks, Aslan takes the reader along the journey of Jesus the Man for a biography that offers much inspiration and entertainment.

Jesus was likely born to Joseph and Mary, as has been depicted, though there is much dispute about why they were in Bethlehem at the time of the baby's birth. Roman taxation rationale was not to have individuals travel back to their place of birth, but where they were employed, so Aslan is left to wonder why the Gospel authors thought to add this interesting tidbit. Raised in the poor community of Nazareth, Jesus had a plain childhood, surely free some any formal education, leaving him illiterate and surely unable to have read from any scroll in the Temple (a place that never existed in Nazareth). When he was old enough to earn a living, Jesus likely left Nazareth to work as a carpenter, as his father had, in the provincial capital of Sepphoris, making the day-long walk home regularly. Sepphoris had been destroyed by recent insurrections that were quelled by the Jewish leaders and, if necessary, Roman centurions, though fire gutted large portions of the city. A youth free from conflict or much excitement, this would contrast greatly with the life that Jesus could expect when it took up his next profession.

With a gap in time in the life of Jesus and nothing to report, let us take a minute to explore the historical view into the region and its political scene. The Roman Empire ruled with an iron fist, using Jewish regional leaders to handle many of the day to day skirmishes of the people. It is here that we find the likes of 'King' Herod, who was anything but a king. He came from a lineage known to oversee Jews in the region and worked to stack the temples and positions of High Priests to stand in line with his own views. However, at the time, there were many who claimed to be messiahs and King of the Jews, forcing Herod and even the Roman Governor to quell rebellions and gather up the rabble rousers before putting them to death (as mentioned above in Sepphoris). There were literally scores of men who claimed to be messianic in nature, many listed by Aslan throughout the text. John the Baptist proves to be the most recognisable and served to pave the way for this Jesus, acting as a prophet. Many will know that Herod sought to quell John's rankings by beheading him, one of the most common means of silencing Jewish unrest.

While Jesus did consider John a mentor, the former began his own ministry and found a strong collection of followers. As an itinerant preacher, Jesus quoted the Hebrew Bible and spoke of what was to come. Aslan discusses many nuances in the Gospel texts that exemplify the fact that Jesus never proclaimed himself as Messiah, but it was attributed to him by others, both the followers and the writers (decades or a century later). Interestingly enough, Jesus was not one to self-aggrandise, even when others thought it important to do so. Walking on water? Healing the lame? Aslan offers interesting perspectives on these events, based less in miracles and more along the lines of linguistic interpretation and author bias. Jesus travelled around Judaea, preaching and piquing the interest of many, but not causing many issues for the Jewish elders or priests. All that changed after he rode into Jerusalem and crossed paths with the High Priests: stormed into the Temple, overturned the tables, and upset the money changers. Plots to bring this Jesus before the Sanhedrin, a quasi-religious court, to account for his actions began, culminating on the eve of Passover. Aslan pokes many holes into the entire Sanhedrin trial, taking the rules of the court and applying them to the depictions in the Gospels. This was surely inserted to appease an unsuspecting readership who would not have understood the specifics. Jesus then headed to the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, a ruthless man who hated the Jews and was known for ordering so many executions that official complaints made their way back to Rome. Aslan questions the apparent 'Passover release' that is well known to Christians, whereby Jesus could have been released as a peace offering, finding no record of this practice in the Roman books anywhere or at any time. Sentenced to die by Pilate, Jesus was led out to be crucified, where the public could watch and be deterred from repeating the rabble rousing that brought about this sentence. The death and burial of Jesus seemed to go by somewhat normally, though there are key elements of hyperbole to exacerbate the importance.

The aforementioned 'biographers' of Jesus took their time and eventually penned versions of events, though it was one man, Saul (Paul) who takes up the charge and begins turning this man into a Messiah through his own writings and speaking. Aslan does not try to justify or vilify any of these actions or writings, but simply tries to put them into context for the curious reader. Jesus of Nazareth had an interesting life, even if it was likely sanitized and glorified for Bibles around the world. Anyone who has a life worth knowing makes for a wonderful biography subject and Aslan effectively weaves a superior narrative.

In looking back on some of the content I wrote above, one might presume that I am sitting on the fence of blasphemy. I prefer to see it as opening my mind to new possibilities based on fact. I will not enter into (or even entertain) a debate on fact versus faith, but it is interesting to revisit some of the stories or foundational beliefs that I held, influenced by time, language and interpretation. History is that childhood game of 'Telephone', whereby the message is bastardised over time. This is no fault of any person, it simply happens. Open-mindedness can sometimes prove difficult, though it is the most liberating feeling!

How a man such as Jesus could not only receive so much attention at the time but been singled out as any different than any of the other messianic men who preceded him is truly baffling. Aslan presents these queries in a way that invites discussion, but does not deride anyone. I have not read any of his past work, so I cannot compare it, though the clarity and attention to detail is second to none. I was completely enthralled to learn many of the nuances found within the book and how they differ greatly with the events that I had been led to believe happened those two thousand years ago. Aslan offers up his sources and acknowledges that there are many interpretations, which I will do as well. I am drinking no one's Kool-Aid (Flavor-Aid actually, but that is another biography entirely) in having completed this, but am impressed with the alternate opinions that have been accentuated herein. I hope others will take the time to read this and synthesise it. I know some have found it too dense or too 'much'. This is a highly academic subject and does lead itself to some convoluted and somewhat analytical narratives, which makes its presentation somewhat daunting. Patience and dedication should help any reader interested in learning more, if only to have something interesting to offer at Easter Dinner when the potatoes are done and the hot cross buns are still baking.

Kudos, Mr. Aslan for opening my mind and eyes to so much in this book. I am pleased to have found something so comprehensive and digestible for my layman mind. I shall surely keep my eyes open to see what else you have to offer.

Like/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at:
http://pecheyponderings.wordpress.com ...more
5

Jul 18, 2013

This is a fascinating look at the historical, social and political context of the First Century in Palestine and of Jesus the man. The information will be familiar to religious scholars, but Reza Aslan writes so well and synthesizes so much knowledge that he makes it accessible to the layperson.

The book begins with a touching author's note, which tells how he first became interested in Jesus. It happened when Aslan was attending an evangelical summer camp in California:

"For a kid raised in a This is a fascinating look at the historical, social and political context of the First Century in Palestine and of Jesus the man. The information will be familiar to religious scholars, but Reza Aslan writes so well and synthesizes so much knowledge that he makes it accessible to the layperson.

The book begins with a touching author's note, which tells how he first became interested in Jesus. It happened when Aslan was attending an evangelical summer camp in California:

"For a kid raised in a motley family of lukewarm Muslims and exuberant atheists, [Jesus' sacrifice and resurrection] was truly the greatest story ever told. Never before had I felt so intimately the pull of God. In Iran, the place of my birth, I was Muslim in much the way I was Persian. My religion and my ethnicity were mutual and linked. Like most people born into a religious tradition, my faith was as familiar to me as my skin, and just as disregardable. After the Iranian revolution forced my family to flee our home, religion in general, and Islam in particular, became taboo in our household. Islam was shorthand for everything we had lost to the mullahs who now ruled Iran. My mother still prayed when no one was looking, and you could still find a stray Quran or two hidden in a closet or drawer somewhere. But for the most part, our lives were scrubbed of all trace of God. That was just fine with me. After all, in the America of the 1980s, being Muslim was like being from Mars. My faith was a bruise, the most obvious symbol of my otherness; it needed to be concealed. Jesus, on the other hand, was America. He was the central figure in America's national drama. Accepting him into my heart was as close as I could get to feeling truly American."

Aslan, who became a religious scholar, goes on to explain his interest in the origins of Christianity:

"The moment I returned home from camp, I began eagerly to share the good news of Jesus Christ with my friends and family, my neighbors and classmates, with people I'd just met and with strangers on the street: those who heard it gladly, and those who threw it back in my face. Yet something unexpected happened in my quest to save the souls of the world. The more I probed the Bible to arm myself against the doubts of unbelievers, the more distance I discovered between the Jesus of the gospels and the Jesus of history -- between Jesus the Christ and Jesus of Nazareth. In college, where I began my formal study of the history of religions, that initial discomfort soon ballooned into full-blown doubts of my own. The bedrock of evangelical Christianity, at least as it was taught to me, is the unconditional belief that every word of the Bible is God-breathed and true, literal and inerrant. The sudden realization that this belief is patently and irrefutably false, that the Bible is replete with the most blatant and obvious errors and contradictions -- just as one would expect from a document written by hundreds of hands across thousands of years -- left me confused and spiritually unmoored."

After sharing his personal background, Aslan sets the stage for the First Century in Palestine, which was teeming with political activity and zealotry. The Romans were in control and demanded high taxes from everyone they conquered, which often led to revolts. Anyone charged with sedition against Rome was put to death. Meanwhile, the Romans disliked the Jews and tried to wipe them out. In 70 C.E., Roman soldiers stormed the gates of Jerusalem, massacring Jewish citizens and setting the city on fire.

This is important to note because Aslan is trying to correct the long-held belief that the Jews killed Jesus, when it's more historically accurate to say that the Romans put Jesus to death because he was a revolutionary and was threatening sedition by trying to be "King of the Jews."

Aslan goes through the Gospel stories and explains how and why they were written. For example, the Book of Mark has a story that Pontius Pilate offered to release a prisoner to the Jews, and instead of picking Jesus, the Jews demanded the release of a murderer named Abbas. Aslan argues that the scene makes no sense, especially since Pontius Pilate was "a man renowned for his loathing of the Jews, his total disregard for Jewish rituals and customs, and his penchant for absentmindedly signing so many execution orders that a formal complaint was lodged against him in Rome."

So why would Mark write such a fictitious scene, one that Jews would have recognized as false? "The answer is simple: Mark was not writing for a Jewish audience. Mark's audience was in Rome, where he himself resided. His account of the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth was written mere months after the Jewish Revolt had been crushed and Jerusalem destroyed ... Thus, a story concocted by Mark strictly for evangelistic purposes to shift the blame for Jesus' death away from Rome is stretched with the passage of time to the point of absurdity, becoming in the process the basis for two thousand years of Christian anti-Semitism."

That's just one example of how knowing the historical context of the New Testament helps to better understand what was really going on. There are many other insightful details in the book, such as addressing Jesus' birth, his baptism, the prophecies, the title of Messiah, how Jesus died, and the stories of his miracles and resurrection. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of Jesus' life, and Aslan references the religious texts and historical documents to better understand it.

Perhaps I should share that I do not belong to a religion, although I was brought up in the Christian faith and spent my share of childhood in Sunday school. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and I loved learning the details of what some biblical phrases and stories really meant. I would recommend it to anyone interested in the history of Christianity. ...more
3

Jul 29, 2013

“...most people in the ancient world, did not make a sharp distinction between myth and reality. The two were intimately tied together in their spiritual experience. That is to say, they were less interested in what actually happened, than in what it meant."
― Reza Aslan, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth



Let me just throw in here now that Fox skeptics need not worry, while this book was written by a Muslim, it wasn't written by that damn lion from Narnia.

The books good points: “...most people in the ancient world, did not make a sharp distinction between myth and reality. The two were intimately tied together in their spiritual experience. That is to say, they were less interested in what actually happened, than in what it meant."
― Reza Aslan, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth



Let me just throw in here now that Fox skeptics need not worry, while this book was written by a Muslim, it wasn't written by that damn lion from Narnia.

The books good points: compelling, well-written, challenged a lot of well traveled myth-making by Christianity, Islam, etc., about the life and acts of Jesus of Nazareth. The bad points: there wasn't much NEW history here. This isn't groundbreaking history about Jesus, simply a rehash of ideas of other Early Christian historians that have been kicked around for the last 50 years.



The challenge a historian faces with writing a biography of Jesus is there are only a couple real facts you can hang your reputation on: Jesus lived. Jesus died on a cross. The rest is hearsay, myth, reflections, faith, hope and stories. All you have left to do, as a historian, is: examine the times, try and use templates of similar men to approximate what Jesus was like, examine others who have more of a historical footprint (Paul, Peter, etc), and then enter triumphantly into FOX News and overthrow the tables of the producers and drive out the lamb-like anchors. Fox New prefect Rogerios Aīlātos is not impressed and washes his hands of Aslan. ...more
3

Jul 16, 2013

Reading Reza Aslan's short history of Islam, "No God but God," one quickly understood the book's purpose. As a Western educated theologian, Aslan wished to take Islam back to its roots. He sought to compose a portrait of the prophet Mohammed that was enlightened and egalitarian. Likewise, by "contextualizing" early Islam, he sought to redefine certain key terms, as well as crack the veneration of the prophet that has with the centuries has grown akin to worship, ironically making the great Reading Reza Aslan's short history of Islam, "No God but God," one quickly understood the book's purpose. As a Western educated theologian, Aslan wished to take Islam back to its roots. He sought to compose a portrait of the prophet Mohammed that was enlightened and egalitarian. Likewise, by "contextualizing" early Islam, he sought to redefine certain key terms, as well as crack the veneration of the prophet that has with the centuries has grown akin to worship, ironically making the great idol-shatterer into an idol-in-spirit. Scholars raised many legitimate questions about Aslan's arguments. He gave short shrift to the cultural context of pre-Islamic Arabia. His discussion of the rise of the Shi'a/Sunni rupture read too much like tragic high fiction and not enough like Machiavellian realpolitik. Yet these criticisms missed the point: Aslan's goals were less historical than theological. As has been true with Christianity since before Martin Luther, a reconsideration of the past can often light a path that takes believers into a brighter future.

While such new examination of Mohammed is relatively recent, the "historical Jesus movement" has been on-going for more than 200 years. As such, Aslan's purpose with his newest book, "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth" is something of a mystery. What exactly does Aslan have to add to the reconstructionist project?

The answer seems to be not much. While Aslan's fluid precisely observed prose make for a good read, his book does not seem to add much of anything to an already rich vein of scholarship. For example, one expects that few readers will be surprised that Jesus of Nazareth was born a Jew, lived as a Jew, and died as a Jew in a deeply Jewish context. Perhaps some will be unaware of the extent of Roman brutality, the meaning of messianism in Jesus's milieu, and/or the degree to which Paul of Tarsus constructed out of Jesus a character that neither he nor his Apostles would have recognized. Such readers will no doubt find this book interesting. Aslan likewise does a good job painting the factionalized ferment that was Roman Judea and discussing - albeit a bit too deterministically -- how it gave rise to the Jesus movement. That said, lots of authors have produced work at least as strong as Aslan's and in many cases with more nuance and better scholarship.

Aslan does a do good job brushing away the layered stories that smother the life of the historical Jesus. Some Christians will surely find this troubling. Contrary to a newly popularized and often repeated claims, the historical Jesus status of a carpenter did not mark him as "middle class" (a designation that didn't exist in that period). Quite the contrary, carpenter represents a poor translation of tekton, a term which meant builder or day laborer and was applied by Romans to the great mass of illiterate Israelite peasants. Likewise, one can safely assume that the historical Jesus was either wholly or nearly illiterate. Christians will almost certainly share the early Christians trouble with Jesus relationship as a disciple to John the Baptist, a topic to which Aslan gives considerable attention. Again, born a poor Jew, Jesus died a poor Jew, at the hands of a Roman governor with so much Jewish blood on his hand the whole Jordan River could not have washed those stained hands clean.

My issue with Aslan's analysis arises from his tendency to take issues of great controversy and present them as settled. Since he eschews citations, readers will be left taking his word for claims and methods which many scholars would dispute. In terms of facts, time and again Aslan makes assertions that range from the problematic to the likely incorrect. Take for example his unsupported claim that the author of Luke's Gospel was like the author of Mark and Matthew "...a Greek speaking Diaspora Jew." This view runs contrary to the vast majority of scholars, who see Luke as a Gentile, writing for Gentiles, drawing on only limited original Jewish sources. Of course Aslan has every right to side with the minority scholarly view here, but he should make that plain to his reader rather than simply asserting his opinion as fact. The same can be said of Aslan's belief in a late dating for Mark's Gospel. Again, that puts him within the range of scholarly opinion, but on an issue where people make strong arguments on both sides. With regards to Mark, Aslan is in the majority when he argues that it was written for a Roman gentile audience. Still, he not only fails to recognize the very existence of differing views, but also misses the most interesting thing about Mark's Gospel - that while written by a Jew for gentiles, the gospel's theology represents a deeply Jewish Christian text and that it advocates an Adoptionist world view (that Jesus was not born divine, but adopted later by God), an idea that was declared heretical at Nicaea.

I was likewise uncomfortable with Aslan's tendency to pick and choose passages from the various Gospels to construct his Jesus. As the excellent scholar Bart Ehrman cleverly pointed out, many tend to read the Christian Scripture as if there was a Gospel of "MarkMatthewLukeJohn." This is plainly not the case. Each Gospel exists as a literary whole and each offers Jesus in a different light. In Mark, he is a rabble rousing insurgent who suffers terribly. In John, a divinity with only the barest grasp on the world (which explains why the former was a popular text among Jesus Jewish followers and the latter among Gnostics). The Jesus who in death yelled "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark and Matthew) isn't the same Jesus as the one who says, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (Luke) or the one who calmly reports "it is done" (John) before bowing his head to death. Aslan asserts a common consistent narrative where none can be found.

One must also wonder at Aslan's narrative about the spread of Christianity through the Roman Empire, a subject about which scholarly controversy abounds. One thing is certain, his claim that the Nicene Creed was "...merely codifying a creed that was already a majority opinion...of the entire Christian community" will send more than a few heads spinning.

In the end, Aslan's "Zealot" offers an interesting account. He constructs a highly readable narrative about how the "zeal" of First Century Judea gave rise to Jesus and his movement. Many will praise Aslan for the ease with which he presents that material. I only wish he had been more trusting of his readers' ability to digest questions with no ready answers instead of time and again coming down on the side of simplicity and clear answers. ...more
4

May 20, 2018

I've been told that this book is controversial, that's why I wanted to read it. I don't read many religion related books, because I don't really believe in religion. I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school the majority of my school aged years. I believe in God and I follow the basic tenets of Biblical teachings, but I no longer consider myself Catholic. In my experience religion divides more than it unites. Just look at the conflicts in the Middle East, every war or conflict over there I've been told that this book is controversial, that's why I wanted to read it. I don't read many religion related books, because I don't really believe in religion. I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school the majority of my school aged years. I believe in God and I follow the basic tenets of Biblical teachings, but I no longer consider myself Catholic. In my experience religion divides more than it unites. Just look at the conflicts in the Middle East, every war or conflict over there has been over religion. That's true now and it was true way before a man named Jesus was born, lived and died.

I think this book is controversial because people can't separate Jesus the Man from Jesus the Messiah. Reza Aslan has written a book that tries to shine a light on how Jesus the Man was viewed in his lifetime and in the first century after his crucifixion. I read a review of this book that raged at how disrespectful the author is to imply that Jesus was a radical and a religious zealot. The writer of that review also implied the author must be a Muslim(A lot of the negative reviews mention that the author must be a Muslim). I don't know what religion the author practices and I don't care but the fact that people use religion as a weapon proves my point about religion.

Jesus of Nazareth was a radical.

Jesus of Nazareth was a religious zealot.

Jesus of Nazareth was considered an enemy of the Roman Government.

As proof of this Jesus was arrested, sentenced, tortured, and put to death because he was considered too dangerous to live. Jesus of Nazareth was preaching overthrow of the Roman Government. He was preaching overthrow of the Jewish hierarchy. He was preaching that people shouldn't pay taxes to the State because, the State doesn't own this land God does. He was preaching that the poor should rise up against the State because the only laws they should follow are the laws of God. Jesus was committing Sedition everytime he said these things. He was dangerous and radical and he needed to be stopped so he was crucified by The State.

All that is the historical Jesus. Jesus the man. Jesus of Nazareth was poor, illiterate, uneducated. He was also a deeply faithful man and a leader of Man. Jesus was a man of the people, that's why his message spread during his life and why since his crucifixion and resurrection it has continued to spread. Several reviews for this book said that the author was disrespectful to Jesus and Christianity , if anything I thought the author was trying to figure out when/why the fellowship of Jesus split and became modern Christianity?

I don't think Jesus of Nazareth even recognizes modern religion. Because the things he preached are not the things most Christians are following. Jesus of Nazareth was sickened by the wealthy and preached that the poor would inherit the Earth.Jesus preached that power and the men who wield it are in violation of God's word. Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth is about how the Men who started the Christian movement in the century after Jesus' return to God the Father twisted his message to fit themselves and their hunger for power.

I won't recommend this book because religion is a touchy subject.

2018 Popsugar Reading Challenge: A book set in a country that fascinates you.
Around the Year in 52 Books: A book with a map.
Hooked On Books May Read-A-Thon.
Read-A-Thin May Challenge: Read a book outside your comfort zone ...more
4

March 26, 2018

Very good book on the historical Jesus
The first thing that all potential readers must know is this is a book about the historical Jesus, not Jesus Christ. If you are a fundamentalist Christian, there are many theories this author puts out, that you will find disturbing. If you want to be challenged on who the historical Jesus is, I highly recommend this book. If you believe the bible is the literal word of God, then I suggest you don't read this book.

To tell his story, the author not only uses the gospels, but also other historical documents. He also gives an excellent historical lesson on being a Jew at this time period. He talks about how the Jewish religion was practiced back then, and how the priests and Pharisees acted back then. He talks about how it was to be under Roman occupation, and how the Roman empire put down many different Jewish uprising before and after Jesus. I found this part of the book fascinating.

Just an FYI, I was born a Catholic and went through 12 years of Catholic school. Thus I know my bible pretty well. While I still believe Jesus is God, I am very disillusioned with established religion. Many aspects of Jesus's life I was taught in Catholic school are brought into question by Mr. Aslan. For example, where Jesus was born, and who the father of Jesus was. The author does an excellent job of explaining his positions, and for the most part I agreed with him.

I had a major problem with this book right when he was talking about the crucifixion. He makes great arguments, but when his arguments do not fit into his narrative, he ignores his own arguments. He argues that Jesus was a Jewish Zealot. That he was completely against the Roman rule, and was disillusioned with the Pharisees and Scribes. That while the Pharisees and Scribes were not happy with Jesus's teaching, the only one that could crucify him was the Romans. That Pilate sent "thousands upon thousands to the cross with a simple scratch of his reed pen". That Jesus's crime was that he was a threat to the Roman peace, as his crime stated, he was the "king of the Jews". That crucifixion was not only used to kill someone in a very painful way, but "to serve as a deterrent to others who might defy the state". "Because the entire point of the crucifixion was to humiliate the victim and frighten the witnesses, the corpse would be left where it hung to be eaten by dogs and picked clean by the birds or prey." That Pilate did not care about Jewish opinion, that he will do what he wanted to do. All of these points I agree with the author.

But here is where the author ignores all of his facts. If Jesus had thousands of followers, and was crucified for being a threat the Roman rule, why was he not left on the cross? Wouldn't the Roman want to send a message to Jesus thousand of followers. If Jesus was left on the cross, and he was not buried, he could not have rose in three days. Mr. Aslan makes a strong argument that this what should have happened to Jesus, but he does not address why the Roman allowed Jesus to be buried.

The other issue I have with the book is when he was talking about Saint Stephen. The author points Saint Stephen did not know Jesus, and never met Jesus. He did not hear about Jesus until after his crucifixion. That Saint Stephen became a follower of Jesus, because his disciples was he rose from the dead. This makes no sense to me. If someone told me someone rose from the dead, I would think the person was crazy. And then to believe that a crucified person was the messiah. The Catholic Church and now Mr. Aslan have never gave me a good reason why people who never met Jesus would think he is the messiah.

On the whole is was a really good book. The author challenged many of my beliefs. But in the end, the author had to explain to me how a poor Jew, became a God to millions of people. Why would a gentile, become a Christian in the first century AD? The Jewish religion was a small religion at the time. Why would they believe this Zealot Jew was God, instead of the Roman Gods, who were so powerful, they helped conquer most of the known world? It makes no sense that the Christian religion grew to the size it is today, but it did. And at least for me, it is because Jesus is God.
5

September 7, 2013

A Biography of the Historical Jesus
Reza Aslan’s biography of Jesus opens with this quote from the gospel of Matthew: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I have not come to bring peace, but the sword.” (10:34) Aslan’s Jesus is an angry Jewish peasant who has come to Jerusalem to drive out the moneychangers and corrupt priests of the Temple who are bleeding the people dry. Thus, the title---Zealot, one who is full of zeal, so full of zeal that one will resort to any means necessary to achieve that end, including holy war. Of course this idea of a violent Jesus is the opposite of the orthodox Christian idea of Jesus as a man of peace. But nevertheless, those militant words in Matthew, and others like them, are part of the Christian gospels.

Part of Reza Aslan’s task in this book is to explain these contradictory portrayals of Jesus, and to do this it is necessary to make readers aware of the historical context within which the short life of Jesus is played out. First century Judea was a Roman province, and Rome ruled its subjugated provinces with an iron fist. Rebellion and even talk of rebellion was considered treason and was stamped out with torture, execution, massacre, and wholesale destruction. Rome sought to divide a conquered people by setting up puppet rulers, showing them favor, and encouraging them to keep their own people in control by any means necessary. In Jerusalem, the capital, the puppets were the high priests and elders of the Temple. They were a corrupt lot and enjoyed wealth and luxury at the expense of everyone else. Thus they were hated and had many enemies. Among the most dangerous enemies were zealous preachers, magicians, and healers who moved among the poor stirring up trouble. To the high priests, elders, and their Roman masters, Jesus was just another such troublemaker. Thus, he had to be put to death.

Most of the conclusions Aslan presents about this “historical” Jesus have been debated by religion scholars for decades. The author does not pretend to be covering new ground in this book. In fact, his back-of-the-book notes provide more than fifty pages of very interesting documentation for his views. (This is a book where the back notes are almost as interesting as the main book matter. Aslan cites authors on both sides of the controversy. He lets you know who disagrees with him.) Even though, the historical Jesus controversy has been raging for decades now, it is telling that this book will probably be surprising and controversial among the faithful. A reaction of shock and surprise would suggest that the scholarly debates about Jesus have not filtered down to the people in the pews. As so often happens, the pastors out in the parishes have not spent a lot of time educating people about theological controversies raging in seminaries and universities, if even they themselves are aware of them.

With Zealot, Aslan plays the role of popularizer of scholarly theological matters. He brings the debate down from the misty heights of academia and presents it as a fascinating story for the masses. One does not have to be a Christian or follower of any faith, for that matter, to be captivated by Aslan’s biography of Jesus. He has turned it into a great story. It may be quite different from “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” but it is definitely a page-turner. (And don’t forget to read the back notes.)
4

Sep 28, 2016

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, Reza Aslan
Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth is a book by Iranian-American writer and scholar Reza Aslan. It is a historical account of the life of Jesus and analyzes the various religious perspectives on Jesus as well as the creation of Christianity. Two thousand years ago, an itinerant Jewish preacher and miracle worker walked across the Galilee, gathering followers to establish what he called the “Kingdom of God.” The Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, Reza Aslan
Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth is a book by Iranian-American writer and scholar Reza Aslan. It is a historical account of the life of Jesus and analyzes the various religious perspectives on Jesus as well as the creation of Christianity. Two thousand years ago, an itinerant Jewish preacher and miracle worker walked across the Galilee, gathering followers to establish what he called the “Kingdom of God.” The revolutionary movement he launched was so threatening to the established order that he was captured, tortured, and executed as a state criminal.
تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز دوازدهم ماه می سال 2014 میلادی
عنوان: فدایی، زندگی و هنگامه عیسای ناصری؛ نویسنده: رضا اصلان؛ مترجم: رویا ملایری؛ تهران، البرز، 1392؛ در 328 ص؛ شابک: 9789644428777؛ موضوع: تاریخ ادیان - سرگذشتنامه عیسی مسیح - سده 21 م
عنوان: غیور، زندگی و زمانه عیسی ناصری؛ نویسنده: رضا اصلان؛ مترجم: فاطمه صادی؛ تهران، نگاه معاصر، 1394؛ در 326 ص، شتبک: 9789649940045؛
از دیدگاه آقای رضا اصلان: عیسی در ناصره زاده شد، و چونان کارگرِ فقیری بالید. عیسی تا زمانِ بازداشتِ یحییِ تعمید دهنده، حواری وی بود. عیسی هم مانندِ یحیی، فرارسیدنِ قریب ‌الوقوعِ ملکوت خداوند را، موعظه می‌کرد، که دولتی این‌ جهانی و سیاسی خواهد بود که خدا یا «مسح‌ شده ی او، مسیح»، بر آن فرمان خواهند راند. عیسی هرگز قصدِ بنیانگذاری کلیسا را نداشت، و ابداً قصدِ بنیانگذاری دینِ تازه ‌ای را هم، نداشت. او به شریعتِ موسی، آن‌گونه که خود تفسیرش می‌کرد، وفادار بود. آقای اصلان می‌نویسد: عیسی نه ‌تنها در برابرِ اربابانِ رمی به پا خاست؛ بلکه رویاروی نمایندگانِ ایشان در فلسطین: «کاهنانِ معبد، اشراف ‌سالاری ثروتمندِ یهودی و نخبگانِ هیرودی» نیز قرار گرفت. ا. شربیانی ...more
3

Apr 25, 2019

I’ve been looking for someone like either Karen Armstrong and/or Elaine Pagels, whose works I have devoured. It’s funny, I guess it’s because I’ve heard him on TV so often, but I can hear Aslan’s professorial voice as I read—a bit of synesthesia.

I think of this as exegesis for the non-religious person who nevertheless finds the complex history of Christianity–and monotheism generally—a fascinating area of inquiry. I particularly like how scholars of religion pick the historical bits out of the I’ve been looking for someone like either Karen Armstrong and/or Elaine Pagels, whose works I have devoured. It’s funny, I guess it’s because I’ve heard him on TV so often, but I can hear Aslan’s professorial voice as I read—a bit of synesthesia.

I think of this as exegesis for the non-religious person who nevertheless finds the complex history of Christianity–and monotheism generally—a fascinating area of inquiry. I particularly like how scholars of religion pick the historical bits out of the morass of the fantastic—so we can see what function the mythologizing serves? If we are to believe, as I do, that the stories were created out of a fundamental need to understand.

Very interesting is Aslan’s discussion of the diminishment of John the Baptist “...from from the first gospel, Mark—wherein he is presented as a prophet and mentor to Jesus—to the last gospel, John, in which the Baptist seems to serve no purpose at all except your acknowledge Jesus’s divinity.” (p. 86)

“‘I myself saw the Holy Spirit descend upon him from heaven like a dove,’ John [the Baptist] claims of Jesus, correcting another of [the gospel] Mark’s omissions, before expressly commanding his disciples to leave him and follow Jesus instead. For John the evangelist, it was not enough simply to reduce the Baptist; the Baptist had to reduce himself, to publicly denigrate himself before the true prophet and messiah. ‘I am not the messiah,’ John the Baptist admits in the fourth gospel. ‘I have been sent before him . . . He must increase, as I must decrease.’ (John 3:28-30)”

“This frantic attempt to reduce John’s significance . . . betrays an urgent need on the part of the early Christian community to counteract what the historical evidence clearly suggests: whoever the Baptist was . . . Jesus very likely began his ministry as just another of his disciples.” (p. 88)

Interesting, too, is the story of how Paul broke the ur-church away from its Jewish underpinnings—defying James et al. in Jerusalem who constituted the brain trust for Jesus’s message—and began to virtually invent aspects of the way Jesus is still viewed today, i.e. that fidelity neither to the Temple nor the Law of Moses was required, that circumcision was no longer necessary. Moreover, Paul preached that Jesus’s intention all along had been for the creation of a celestial Kingdom of God, not an earthly one meant to take on the Roman usurpers, and this according to Aslan was entirely new. Paul, on reaching Rome, moreover, decided he would in the future preach exclusively to gentiles, and ignore the Jewish community which resisted his innovative message. He believed himself, you see, to be in almost daily touch with the spirit of Jesus, who spoke, and revealed his ministry, now solely to himself.

It was with the Roman destruction of the Temple and the people of Jerusalem in 66 CE, that the mother assembly of Jerusalem consisting of Jesus’s disciples was destroyed, and Paul’s famous letters, the only writings about Jesus that then existed, “became the primary vehicle through which a new [largely gentile] generation of Christians was introduced to Jesus the Christ. Even the gospels were deeply influenced by the letters. One can trace the Pauline theology in Mark and Matthew. But it is in the Gospel of Luke, written by one of Paul’s devoted disciples, that one can see the dominance of Paul’s views, while the gospel of John is little more than Pauline theology in narrative form.” (p. 215) ...more
3

Aug 01, 2013

3 fascinating yet frustrating stars !


This was a fascinating book that was well-researched but the layout was very frustrating to me. The notes were all at the end (in the ebook- and I wish that they were footnoted throughout the book to give greater clarity and breadth as I was reading).

The other great difficulty I had was most of this book was conjecture but often not labeled as such. (or did not remind reader of this in a more measured and consistent way). You only understand this fully when 3 fascinating yet frustrating stars !


This was a fascinating book that was well-researched but the layout was very frustrating to me. The notes were all at the end (in the ebook- and I wish that they were footnoted throughout the book to give greater clarity and breadth as I was reading).

The other great difficulty I had was most of this book was conjecture but often not labeled as such. (or did not remind reader of this in a more measured and consistent way). You only understand this fully when you read the notes and again they were not linked to the text in the e-book.

I learned a great deal and it whetted my appetite to learn more about the historical Jesus. It also did not lessen or change my Christian faith but rather enhanced it and deepened it.(for this I am thankful).

I am also very appreciative of the wonderful bibliography that will lead to further reading in the years ahead about the historical Jesus. ...more
3

Jul 01, 2013

The author seeks to balance the Jesus of the gospels with the “historic Jesus.” It is important for readers to know this, as it impacts the possible reception of the book.
As a believer in Christianity, I hold the words of the Bible in high regard, believing scripture to be true. “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 The author seeks to balance the Jesus of the gospels with the “historic Jesus.” It is important for readers to know this, as it impacts the possible reception of the book.
As a believer in Christianity, I hold the words of the Bible in high regard, believing scripture to be true. “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV)
On the other hand, the author of this book is forced to quote scripture in attempting to discredit it, in favor of what he calls the “historical” version of events.
Due to the fact that most of the writings about Jesus that have survived from antiquity are canonized in the Christian Bible, this presents a problem for academics such as the professor authoring this book. Even non-canonical works from the period of the early Christian church are problematic for the professor, as they are infused with spiritual mysticism that most assuredly is not written as contemporary views of history seek to do.
To his credit, Aslan acknowledges these shortcomings early on in his book, preparing the reader for his slicing and dicing of scriptural references.
Due to a worldview that is substantially different from that of the author, it gets annoying having him denounce parts of the Bible as “outlandish,” “patently absurd,” “troublesome,” and “inaccurate.” However, despite my annoyance with his treatment of what I consider Holy Scripture, he presents some information I found fascinating.
Other men, both contemporaries of Jesus Christ, and those that came before and after him, are mentioned as claiming to be messiahs. One known only as “The Egyptian,” another as “The Samaritan,” Hezekiah, Simon of Peraea, Judas the Galilean, Menahem, Simon son of Giora, and Simon son of Kochba are all written about in this book as having messianic ambitions.
Those wishing to know more about the religious views of Jews at the time of Jesus will find something to learn by reading this book.
I rate it 3 stars out of 5.
I read this book as an advanced reader’s copy uncorrected proof. This review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. ...more
4

Oct 05, 2014

Let me start off on a tangent. I've been watching some Reza Aslan clips on YouTube and been really pleasantly surprised by some of his perspectives. This one for example:
Q: As a historian and scholar, as you read all this, how can you still believe any of these religions?

A: I don't believe in a religion, I believe in God. The only reason that I call myself a Muslim is because the symbols and metaphors that Islam uses to talk about God are ones that I like, the ones that make sense to me. It's Let me start off on a tangent. I've been watching some Reza Aslan clips on YouTube and been really pleasantly surprised by some of his perspectives. This one for example:
Q: As a historian and scholar, as you read all this, how can you still believe any of these religions?

A: I don't believe in a religion, I believe in God. The only reason that I call myself a Muslim is because the symbols and metaphors that Islam uses to talk about God are ones that I like, the ones that make sense to me. It's not that Islam is more true than Christianity, or Christianity is more true than Judaism, they are all equally true equally valid ways of expressing what is absolutely inexpressible. If you believe there is something beyond the material world, that there is something truly transcendent, then you need some kind of language to talk about it, to make sense of it, that's all that religion is. Anyone who says "I believe in Christianity" or "I believe in Islam" misses the point. Christianity and Islam are not things to believe, they are signposts to God. They are a means to an end, not an end in themselves.

...

It's a simple proposition. You either believe there's something beyond the material world, or you do not. If you do not, fine. If you do, then do you want to actually experience it? Commune with it? Or do you not? If you do not, fine. If you do, then you need some help. You need a way to express what is fundamentally undefinable. And that's all religion does, it gives you a language to express it. Anything more than that and you're missing the point of what religion is. The great Christian mystic Meister Eckhart once said "If you focus too narrowly on a single path to God, all you will ever find is the path."I love this idea of religion as simply a language. A language that may help some to reach God. As well as a language to commune with other believers. It's a way of making life easier and more meaningful for some, and there's nothing wrong with that, even if it is historically inaccurate and/or technically untrue. And as an agnostic-bordering-on-athiest but one who disagrees with the attitudes of extreme athiests like Richard Dawkins, I find Reza's attitude refreshing. If more people adopted this viewpoint of religion, the world would be a much more relaxed, laid back place to live.

This perspective also comes across when you read his book. It doesn't take many pages to realize that the Jesus we know from Christianity is different from the Jesus of history. But Reza does not say therefore Christianity is wrong. I think the people who are offended by this book are being automatically defensive because that is exactly the claim they think a book like this would be making, whereas the book simply presents a different "knowing" of Jesus. Reza talks about different ways of knowing, to know something factually and historically (which only became a way of knowing things in very recent history, say for the last 300 years or so) or to know something through faith. And each way of knowing is equally valid and can co-exist.

So back on the topic of this book, specifically... It's quite amazing that historians know anything about Jesus (the man) at all. Afterall, there were very few written records of Jesus beyond the four gospels. And the gospels were written decades after Jesus's death by communities of believers--not by the actual Matthew, Mark, and John. (Luke was written by Luke, but he never met Jesus and wrote it more than half a century after Jesus's death). And there are only a few very brief mentions of Jesus from outside sources. On top of that, the concept of historical truth was totally foreign to the people at the time. So even though we may read the gospels now as supposedly what happened when Jesus walked the earth, nobody read it that way at the time when the gospels were written! It's simply a difference in literary convention and cultural understanding that has been lost over time. People back then wouldn't understand the concept of historical accuracy, what they looked for was a portrayal that got at the "truth" of who Jesus was, regardless of whether or not things actually happened that way.

What Reza did here (while standing on the backs of a lot of other research) was to put what little we know about Jesus in the context of ancient Rome, which we do know a lot about. And through this, he is able to make educated guesses on what is more likely vs. less likely in terms of what is written about Jesus in the gospels.

So, yes, I read these chapters with many grains of salt. Some parts I agreed with his conclusions more than other parts, and overall, it was more of a spark to my imagination than a "oh this really was how Jesus was" kind of thing. There is very little certainty here, but I liked that about it.

Even though I found the chapters on Jesus and Jewish/Roman society fascinating, what was even more fascinating were the chapters on the aftermath of his death and resurrection. I remember reading about Saul/Paul in Bible study, but it isn't until now that I realize what a huge influence he had in setting up what we know as Christianity now. Because Paul never knew Jesus firsthand, his interpretation of Jesus was not tethered to any facts whatsoever. (He was basically an egomaniac and crazy-person -- he told people not to believe anyone's teachings but his own, even if it came from the mouth of an angel!). Much of what Paul preached went against what the other apostles (James, Peter, et al) were preaching at the time. And much of what he said contradicted Jesus's own words--probably the biggest one being that Jesus never claimed to be the literal son of God. Son of God was a title that was attributed to many people at the time, kings and such received the title, and it definitely did not mean being actually God himself. Besides Jesus mostly used the phrase "son of man."

Despite these facts, Paul is the real bedrock of the Christian religion, not Jesus! Without Paul's transformation of Jesus's original message, there would be no Christianity today. His (some would say) misunderstanding of the real living Jesus and his re-interpretation of it into a more inclusive, less Jewish, more palatable to Gentiles, "Jesus as literal Son of God" thing made Christianity into a totally separate religion from Judaism. And because of the political landscape at the time, his version of Christianity ended up really catching on:
[when a] group of bishops gathered ... to canonize what would become known as the New Testament, they chose to include in the Christian scruptures one letter from James, the brother and successor of Jesus, two letters from Peter, the chief apostle and first among the Twelve, three letters from John, the beloved disciple and pillar of the church, and fourteen letters from Paul, the deviant and outcast who was rejected and scorned by the leaders in Jerusalem. In fact more than half of the twenty-seven books that now make up the New Testament are either by or about Paul.
I'd love to read a full biography of Paul by Aslan, or someone similar. Knowing Aslan and his views on religion, I wonder if he's ever read Joseph and His Brothers by Thomas Mann. Even though that is more historical fiction/philosophy, I feel like it shares a lot with this book... both value history while also understanding the power of myth, storytelling, and the human imagination. Both vividly recreate a historical place and time and context for reinterpretation of these myths. And Joseph's story has a lot of obvious echoes with Jesus's. ...more

Best Books from your Favorite Authors & Publishers

compare-icon compare-icon
Thousands of books

Take your time and choose the perfect book.

review-icon review-icon
Read Reviews

Read ratings and reviews to make sure you are on the right path.

vendor-icon vendor-icon
Multiple Stores

Check price from multiple stores for a better shopping experience.

gift-icon

Enjoy Result