Who was Jesus and what did he preach? Does it match the gopsels message? How did Christianity become so popular? These are amongst the questions that Reza Aslan answers in this book that attempts to find the most plausible history to Jesus and the story of Christianity.
Most of those interested in this book know how it turns out so no spoilers to worry about, and so I will give you the short answers proposed....
Jesus was an itenerant preacher-healer that took over John the Baptist's mission upon John's death. This mission challenged the Jewish leadership and Roman rule. Jesus preached of a new world order that would come in his lifetime. He preached this message to the unsophisticated and poor and found a good following. His mission climaxed when he entered the temple at Jerusalem and kicked over tables and unleashed animals. At this point he became a criminal wanted for sedition, and for his sedition he was ultimately executed.
His message was not of peace and love to everyone rather it was about how the Jewish world was corrupt and needed clensing. It was a message to Jews for Jews. In the years after his death much of what he taught was changed to make it more palitable for new converts and to smooth over relations with the ruling class. Early church leaders like Paul completed hi-jacked Jesus's message and changed it so that he was God not man and so that gentiles were the primary evangelical target.
I have read a lot of religious material both from a faith perspective and from the historical perspecitive. Nothing I have ever read in this subject area has been as gripping as this narrative was to me. I really appreciate the context that was drawn around Jesus's life and the answers given to many of the inconsistencies in the new testament. I realize that there are other answers out there but this book took the simplest approach and most plausible I have ever read to explaining Jesus. The only downside was that the author would often jump around in history by many years which was a little confusing at first. I also wish he had devoted more time to the resurrection. That said I like the pacing and the length which helped this from becoming boring like so many other books on the subject.