Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Zealot by Reza Aslan

I've said before, I'm glad I'm in a book club so I'll read books I normally wouldn't have picked up.
In fact, sometimes the book completely escaped my attention when it was released. Reza Aslan's Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth is one of those books. Written by a scholar of religion, it reexamines what we actually know about Jesus, based on writings and the history of his times.

Aslan depicts Jesus as a Jewish peasant and revolutionary itinerant preacher. He says we actually only know two hard historical facts about Jesus of Nazareth. "Jesus was a Jew who led a popular Jewish movement in Palestine at the beginning of the first century C.E." And, Rome crucified him for doing so. He describes "The Jesus that emerges from this historical exercise - a zealous revolutionary swept up, as all Jews of that era were in the religious and political turmoil of first century Palestine."

Zealot is a fascinating book. It places Jesus' life in context. What was happening in Jerusalem and Palestine at the time he lived? What brought the Jews to the point of revolution against the Romans and against the priesthood? How many self-proclaimed messiahs were crucified or killed for their revolutionary movements during that same time period? What would have Jesus' life been like as a Jew from Nazareth? He was probably from the lowest class of peasants, and 97% of Jewish peasants at the time were illiterate, so much of what is commonly believed about him reading from scripture is undoubtedly false.

I'm not about to discuss religion and faith with anyone, and, I'm sure we won't next Monday night at the book discussion. We'll examine the facts that Aslan presents, with an entire section of notes explaining where his viewpoint comes from. His discussion of Paul's view of Jesus, a man who never knew him, in contrast to that of the people who knew him, his apostles, is intriguing. And, he says it was Paul's philosophy, in opposition to that of the Jews who knew Jesus, that carried the day. "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."

Reza Aslan's website is

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan. Random House. 2013. ISBN 9781400069224 (hardcover), 297p.

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