Zealot by Reza Aslan

Title: Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth
Author: Reza Aslan
Genre: Nonfiction / history

Rating: 3 / 5


I had wanted to read this book for a while, and one day I finally picked it up. It felt like it was time! After reading the introduction and first chapter, I was impressed, and offered to read it aloud to Peter. He accepted.

And that may not have been a great decision. I think the book was more confusing reading it aloud than reading it silently; at least I know I wouldn’t have been able to follow very well if I had only been listening to it.

This is a history book, and the history is told in an engaging fashion; I enjoyed the arguments he makes. What I didn’t enjoy was that it wasn’t very well ordered. The timeline jumps around a lot. It’s all over the place, all the time. So that thread could be hard to follow. I still got the gist, but the experience would have been better if the book followed a more logical plan.

Aslan’s main objective is to illuminate what we know and can reasonably guess about Jesus the historical figure rather than Jesus of the Bible, and especially of Jesus of the popular imagination. In that regard, I think Aslan succeeded, because he was able to bring that time period and that figure to life for me in a way I hadn’t experienced before. Jerusalem ~2000 years ago sounds super interesting, and I want to find a book that can tell me more about it, about the time in which Jesus of Nazareth lived. Aslan describes Judea as a hotbed of “messianic fervor” and impassioned stabs at revolution; it sounds quite chaotic and some of the stories he relays were fascinating.

Some of the history of the early church was really interesting too, the split between Peter, James (Jesus’ brother), basically the disciples who knew flesh & blood Jesus on teh one hand, and Paul, who had never met him and was actually anti-Jesus-movement for quite a while. Likewise, the “true” meaning of the Bible/Jesus’ words, or what people from that historical time period hearing those words would have inferred, was often at odds with the mainstream interpretations of today. It really illuminates how difficult historical analysis and finding historical “fact” can be.

This was definitely a worthwhile book for me, and I’m glad I read it; I just feel that it had enough organizational issues to make it confusing and a little frustrating, especially in a read-aloud context. I liked it, and I would recommend it, but those problems prevent me from wanting to rave about it.


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