Book Review: Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan

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

Disappointing. The author starts out by giving a well done and well explained historical context for the teaching of Jesus. However, the author then spends the majority of the book presenting a series of arguments from a vacuum. Using an absence of data as his basis, the author presents a very different version of Jesus than is presented by either the gospels or the various traditional teachings. Stripping away what the author feels is anachronistic editing by later teachers, he then adds his own teachings and traditions to replace them, with little or no evidence to support it. Using thin justification, he posits a strenuous – even violent – schism between Paul and the original disciples of Jesus. He presents a background of Jesus as a long time follower of John the Baptist and a picture of Jesus as an illiterate spiritual teacher who struggles to understand the Hebrew scriptures, but is unable to present any compelling textual basis for this theory. The author repeatedly references the Q document, citing passages from it as an authority, then only in a passing comment at the end of the book admits, almost sheepishly, that the Q document is a purely theoretical one, assumed only by an editorial reading of Matthew and Luke. The author casts aside the gospels as any kind of authentic record, but then pulls in verses out of context to support his arguments when it suits him.

The author concludes that his version of the historical Jesus is one just as worthy of devotion and respect as the religious one of the Christian tradition, but gives us no argument to support this. Indeed, after his editing the Jesus we are left with is a boring one, with nothing to set him apart from the other zealous would be Messiahs of the time. Perhaps just as importantly, by removing the distinctive aspects of Jesus, the author leaves us without the rich and meaningful tension of seeming disagreements between the traditional teachings of Jesus and the traditions of the Hebrew scriptures. We are robbed of the chance to rest in those tensions, where we can be stretched and forced to grow, in a place far closer to regular life than some esoteric spiritual Jesus that can only live on the page.

Ultimately, the Jesus the author gives us may be a Jesus that is far more comfortable to contemplate as a historical figure(though again without any historical text to support him), but it is one with no distinguishing characteristics to make him worth remembering thousands of years later

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