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.
Within decades after his shameful death, his followers would call him God.
Sifting through centuries of mythmaking, Reza Aslan sheds new light on one of history's most influential and enigmatic characters by examining Jesus through the lens of the tumultuous era in which he lived: first-century Palestine, an age awash in apocalyptic fervor. Scores of Jewish prophets, preachers, and would-be messiahs wandered through the Holy Land, bearing messages from God. This was the age of zealotry - a fervent nationalism that made resistance to the Roman occupation a sacred duty incumbent on all Jews. And few figures better exemplified this principle than the charismatic Galilean who defied both the imperial authorities and their allies in the Jewish religious hierarchy.
Balancing the Jesus of the Gospels against the historical sources, Aslan describes a man full of conviction and passion, yet rife with contradiction; a man of peace who exhorted his followers to arm themselves with swords; an exorcist and faith healer who urged his disciples to keep his identity a secret; and ultimately the seditious "King of the Jews" whose promise of liberation from Rome went unfulfilled in his brief lifetime. Aslan explores the reasons why 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 of Nazareth's life and mission. The result is a thought-provoking, elegantly written biography with the pulse of a fast-paced novel: a singularly brilliant portrait of a man, a time, and the birth of a religion.
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Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Stuart on 09-10-14
Speculative but sometimes interesting
Would you listen to Zealot again? Why?
No, because I got all I needed from one listen
What about Reza Aslan’s performance did you like?
Well read, and it's always nice to hear the author read their own work.
Any additional comments?
The best part of the book is the first bit, setting out the cultural milleau in Roman Palestine. As for JC himself, Aslan is convinced that his take is sensational and new; but it's not the ground-shaker he thinks it is. The specifics where he diverges from other attempts to historicise Jesus are in Aslan's attempting to locate him in the Zealot tradition (rather than an apocalyptic as he's usually seen). But his evidence for this largely relies upon his own exegesis of biblical passages. In one particularly excruciating section he goes into details of the exact etymology of the Greek verb in “render/give/return unto Caesar...” in order to show what Jesus really meant by it; in the process apparently rather forgetting his own previous emphasis that JC would have spoken little if any of this language, and the word in the NT is not that that he would have uttered himself.
Similarly, he shows how the trial before the Sanhedrin as recorded in Mark contradicts the rabbinical procedures for such trials. He then admits that the trial took place in the second temple period, before the emergence of the Rabbinic/Mishnaic tradition, but quickly points out that Mark *was* written within the Rabbinic tradition. A bizarre position: that the author of Mark ought to have rewritten his oral sources to make them conform to the standards of his day, and that because he did not this is evidence that the events could not have occurred as the traditions described them.
These are both typical of its approach: it presents itself as falling within the scholarly rather than christological tradition, yet ultimately relies upon exegesis and substantial interpretative assumptions rather than painstaking and careful critical comparison.
Not a bad or deliberately dishonest book, but he has a prior agenda (JC the militant anti-Roman), and cherry-picks and interprets the sources to back it up.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
By Elizabeth on 03-09-13
Informative,but more questions than answers.
I have surprisingly enjoyed this audio book. I have long been interested in the real truth and the fiction hidden within the Bible. Reza Aslan narrates his book with enthusiasm. I must admit that I wouldn't make it to the end of the written book, but the audio version is more bearable. I didn't fully understand all of the threads which he references throughout, but I picked up the general gist. It is a revealing book but you have to have an interest in the subject to make sense of it. It's not a book for someone unfamiliar with the Bible in my opinion. It has made me ask more questions than finding answers.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By David on 11-09-15
"Historical" data more opinion than fact
Would you try another book from Reza Aslan and/or Reza Aslan?
Mr. Aslan is easy to listen to, and I like his auditory style. However, I would hesitate to try another book by Mr. Aslan due to the conclusions I came to while fact-checking this book. Namely, that he presented his opinions and misguided critiques of the historical Jesus as historical facts.
If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Zealot?
Honestly, there's too much to cut out because many of his premises are based on old, re-hashed arguments about the historical Jesus, and Mr. Aslan presents one side of the arguments as historical facts when in reality, he has too much of his own opinions mixed in. He approaches one side of an argument that sounds really compelling and proceeds to proclaim this one side as absolute truth, without any attempt to consider the historical facts and variables around the issues. To be quite frank, this book is nothing more than a modern-day flat-earther.
8 of 8 people found this review helpful
By Charles on 22-07-13
Palastinian Politics 4 B.C.E. - 70 C.E.
The title of this book is provocative and in your face, and just it was supposed to do - it drew my attention. I did not feel, however, that the book itself was all that confrontational. Whatever your persuasion, the author's overview of the apocalyptic fervor in Palastine, particularly Galilee, is helpful for understanding the time period. His account of the life of Jesus is well written, but familiar to most secularists I imagine, but the history of Christianity after the death of Christ and before the destruction of Jerusalem was not something I had heard before and I enjoyed it immensely. This book is probably best described as an overview of the politics of Palastine before, during, and after the life of Christ, and how those interactions influenced Christianity.
I always prefer to have authors read their own work. I'm not sure what it adds, but I like it better. Good narration.
56 of 62 people found this review helpful