Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
There are lots of questions about the credentials of the author of this book, but also, a lot of people have said that Reza Aslan really hasn't said anything new here - so why the controversy? If he hasn't said anything new, but has just brought common academic knowledge to light in a fashion accessible to the layperson, excellent! I listened to the audio version (read by Aslan himself, and it was quite pleasing to listen to), and I may yet pick up the paper or e-version in order to access the notes and bibliography mentioned in the intro.
As a former Christian, I am appalled that I was never taught any of the context of Jesus' life. I am ashamed that I never thought in any depth about the fact that Jesus was a Jew (though everyone knew it, it just never seemed that strange). I never wondered, much, how Jesus' Judaism got turned into Christianity as we know it today. This is not to say that this book would have weakened my faith, rather I imagine that if I'd read it as a faithful Christian, it might have deepened it, and caused me to reflect on my methods of worship and understanding of Jesus as man and christ. As it is, it gives me pause. Understanding (or beginning to understand) the context of Jesus' life and ministry, HIS religion (Judaism), is extremely gratifying.
As a Unitarian Universalist with a light interest in the classical world, I am fascinated by the history surrounding the time before, during, and after the birth and death of Jesus of Nazareth. As someone who long ago put aside the idea of Jesus as God (or even of God as anthropomorphic and personal), it is extremely interesting to me to find out more about who the Man Jesus may really have been. The narrative of how the "New Testament" was put together (and the intention with which each bit was written and canonized), where the various gospels and epistles come from, and what they mean in context is quite compelling. The epilogue really sums it up well:
"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 empire 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."
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