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Book Review: Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan is a study of the historical Jesus and the Jewish people and their relationship with the Romans. Rez Aslan is an Iranian-American writer and is on the faculty of University of California, Riverside. He came to America in 1979 with his parents who were fleeing the Iranian Revolution. Aslan holds a BA in Religions, a Masters in Theology in from Harvard Divinity, and a PhD in Sociology of Religions from UC, Santa Barbara. He is well published in newspapers and has made numerous appearances on television and radio. He has also written several books on religion.

Warning: This book and this review is not for everyone. I can see how some would be offended by the contents of this book and for that matter this review. Aslan writes about the historic Jesus and not the divine Jesus. He places events in their historical context, examines the original language texts, and compares it to Hebrew scriptures. The Gospels are compared for content and for the time period they were written.

Aslan provides a good history of the Jewish people and the Roman occupations. Pontius Pilate who had a great dislike of the Jews. He wold never release a prisoner for Passover, and it is unlikely that he would have given any personal attention, let alone a trial for a Jew accused of treason. Death sentences were carried out regularly without much more thought the a stroke of a pen. If there was to be a question asked of Pilate it would be “Are you the King of the Jews? “ King of the Jews was a political title, Herod held that title. For someone not appointed by Rome to take that title would be considered treason against the Roman Empire.

Zealot challenges many ideas and words that have been misrepresented through history. Jesus was a Nazarene; he was not born in Bethlehem. Only Mathew and Luke place Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, but consistently refer to him as a Nazarene. The census that supposedly brought Jesus’ family to Bethlehem was a fabrication to tie Jesus to the House of David. Rome would not shut down its entire economy for weeks or months so that people could return to their birthplaces and wait to be counted. People were counted where they held property so that their taxes could be assessed, not in their birthplaces.

Paul is also covered in the book and his rise to prominence over James the Just, brother of Jesus. Paul is shown to do his own thing and ignore many of the teachings of Jesus. In fact his only mention Jesus life is the crucifixion, resurrection and the Last Supper. Paul appoints himself as the 13th apostle and he is the one who breaks with the Old Testament teachings much to the astonishment of the twelve apostles.

It’s not that Aslan is trying  destroy Christian beliefs. He looks at the events strictly as a historian. He covers a great deal of ground inZealot. Temple history and practices are covered as are the Romans and Roman Law. Healing, purification, and the many messiahs that existed before Jesus are also covered. Very little in first century Holy Land is left unexamined.

Zealot will make you rethink what you know about the New Testament and Jesus. Alslan writes a very well thought out book and a very well supported book. He includes over seventy pages of documentation to back up his claims, and that support is needed on such a sensitive subject. It is an very informative book for any reader with an open mind and willing to look at history. I highly recommend the book.

For those posting comments:

1) I am not Reza Aslan, PhD.  I just reviewed his book.

2) Your personal religious beliefs are your own.  They do not belong here and will not be approved unless, you have a book detailing your religious beliefs.  Then I would be more than happy to review it.  Send me a copy along with your academic credentials.

3) Post concerning material in the book or my review are always welcome.

And finally, Thank You to the hundreds of people who took the time to read my review.


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