Title: Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth
Author: Reza Aslan
Release Date: July 16, 2013
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Nonfiction, History
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
We all know the story of Jesus the Christ, but who was Jesus the man? That’s the question that religious scholar Reza Aslan tries to uncover the answer to in his book about the life of Jesus.
At times shocking and always gripping, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth is a study of what the life of Jesus was like, based on evidence from the gospels, historical sources, and what is known about the way people lived during the time period. Aslan presents conclusions that might be difficult for some readers, but this is a great introduction to the debate over the life Jesus actually lived.
I’ve always been fascinated by the Bible and the Catholic church from a secular point of view, so I’ve read quite a bit of scholarship on the subject. But many of the debates that are so familiar to me are foreign to the general public; that’s why I was so excited to hear about Reza Aslan’s Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. Aslan has mainstream appeal, and I was curious to see how his ideas would be received.
Zealot has certainly made waves, and not without good reason: it presents some shocking, and convincing, theories about the life of Jesus. I’m not going to spoil them for you here, but if you haven’t read much in terms of biblical scholarship, and what you know about Jesus is limited to his life as the Christ (the religious figure), then you’ll probably be surprised at how different his life likely was than legend suggests. Aslan does a great job putting Jesus into a historical context; he doesn’t court controversy for the shock value. Instead, he makes cogent arguments and is quite convincing in his suppositions.
However, there are definitely some holes in Zealot. Indeed, it isn’t a long book, and barely scratches the surface when it comes to some of the issues of the early church. But then again, this isn’t a book written for religious scholars. Aslan does an incredible job making this book gripping, and making it completely accessible to a mainstream reader with no previous knowledge of these issues. You can definitely delve further if you’d like to, but if you want a basic narrative, this is a great choice. The readability makes it easy to forgive the issues here and there, the gaps in knowledge and less-than-stellar arguments (such as Aslan’s complete refusal to deal with the subject of Jesus’s miracles).
This can be a sensitive subject, to be sure, but if you’re interested in history and aren’t likely to be offended by its contents, I highly recommend Zealot. What Aslan has to say about the times Jesus lived in, and his status as a radical, is fascinating. What’s more, Aslan does a great job distinguishing between Jesus the man and Jesus the Christ, showing that it was Jesus’s followers, and not the man himself, who were the founders of Christianity. It’s utterly thought provoking and well written; if you’re looking for an easy but information packed nonfiction read, this is a great choice.