Book Review: Zealot by Reza Aslan
by Reza Aslan
Random House, 2013
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I have not come to bring peace, but the sword.” —Matthew 10:34
Reza Aslan begins Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth with the above quote above as the epigraph. It made this peace-loving Christian squirm. I sat up and prepared to have my assumptions challenged.
Aslan described himself as a man “raised in a motley family of lukewarm Muslims and exuberant atheists . . .” At age 15 he “found Jesus,” and then still later unchained himself from the belief that Bible stories were literally true. The author with Muslim/atheist/Christian background studied and sought more meaningful truth in our ancient texts. Out of his studies grew an interpretation of what the Jesus before Christianity would have been like.
“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.”
Aslan builds a mind-world for us. He re-creates in vivid detail the “obscure hamlet” of Nazareth and first century Palestine. Within the Nazarene peasant homes of “whitewashed mud and stone” he sets the kind of man who would arise out of such a place. He shows what he believes Jesus of Nazareth, a man shaped by the people, the geography, and the politics of that impoverished village would be like.
Aslan’s insights into Paul and the unforeseen affect his actions would have on the shape of the church were particularly interesting. When Paul called Jesus “Jesus Christ” instead of “Jesus the Christ,” for example, his slant rippled down through the centuries to the Christians of today. Jesus the man dealt with the earthy bodily concerns of his people. He fought against poverty and oppression, he resisted Roman authorities, and he struggled for justice. Paul and others minimized Jesus’ nationalistic human concerns and transformed him into a universal spiritual leader. Out of that grew a new religion, something Jesus wouldn’t have imagined.
“. . . practically every word ever written about Jesus of Nazareth, including every gospel story in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, was written by people who, like Stephen and Paul, never actually knew Jesus when he was alive . . .”
Every reader will come to this book with different amounts of knowledge of the Bible and other historical writings, and with different interpretations of what they know. Some of the historical facts Aslan shares will surprise some readers; some of his assertions will upset others.
This book will kindle conversations about Jesus, Paul and Christianity, and it is a worthy read for that reason alone.
Posted on July 30, 2014, in Book reviews, Books I borrowed, History, Random House, Religion, Spirituality and tagged Jesus, Jesus before Christianity, Jesus Christ, Jesus the Christ, Reza Aslan, The Life and Times of Jesus. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.