Review: Zealot: The Life and TImes of Jesus of Nazareth

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of NazarethZealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

While Aslan’s book is well-written and engaging, it is, ultimately, unconvincing. Arguing that the focus on Jesus the Christ in Christianity for the last two thousand years has overshadowed an understanding of Jesus of Nazareth (the “historical Jesus”), Aslan attempts to peel back the layers of obfuscation and deliberate manipulation in order to ‘rescue’ the “historical Jesus” what we Christians have done.

Arguing that the Scriptures are not historical documents – which any mainstream Christian would accept willingly since we believe them to be first and foremost theological documents – Aslan then proceeds to use the Scriptures to support his primary thesis that the real Jesus, the Jesus of Nazareth who was a zealot and a revolutionary, has been essentially hijacked by Christianity (and largely by Paul and his supporters in the days of the early Church immediately following the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans), and that it is high time that an understanding of the “historical Jesus” was recovered and embraced.

I am, by and large, a fan of Aslan and his work, but this particular iteration has been exceptionally disappointing.

From the back cover:

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.

Balancing the Jesus of the Gospels against historical sources, Aslan describes a complex figure: a man of peace who exhorted his followers to arm themselves; an exorcist and faith healer who urged his disciples to keep his identity secret; and the seditious King of the Jews, whose promise of liberation from Rome went unfulfilled in his lifetime. Aslan explores why the early Church preferred to promulgate an image of Jesus as a peaceful spiritual teacher rather than a politically conscious revolutionary, and grapples with the riddle of how Jesus understood himself.

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