This book/audio follows the lives and thought of four Catholic literary figures from the 20th century: Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day. The perspective is clearly on the literary aspect of the lives of these well known Catholics. This is its strength and its weakness.
I found the work to be insightful and informative regarding the life stories of its protagonists, giving a helpful understanding of the contexts in which these persons lived and wrote. I was particularly taken by the portarits offered of O'Connor and Percy. Of course, these were to two persons of whom I had the least detailed knowledge.
The author's handling of Day and Merton left me somewhat frustrated. Perhaps this is because I have a better working knowledge of these two authors. The scheme of a life story with a literary focus worked well with the protagonists whose focus was literary. It didn't prove satisfying with those protagonists whose literary output was not the primary focus of their life's work.
These frustrations duly noted, my over all impression was that the tale told by the author was well worth the time spent listening. The audio quality of the spoken version is excellent and the narrator is quite good.
The author presents her reflection on the Lord's Prayer in the context of her personal spiritual journey, as well as drawing on insight from the practice of Labyrinth prayer and a wide variety of works on Christian spirituality. While drawing on traditional sources, her personal insight and struggle adds depth to the work. While I've grown fond of her fiction, this book had me from the beginning. It also provides insight into the spirituality that she injects into her fictional works.
As other reviewers have noted, Aslan does a fine job of pulling together the material on Jesus of Nazareth from all available first and second century sources both religious and secular. His conclusion is that Jesus of Nazareth saw himself as a messiah through which God was going to bring about the Kingdom and see justice done. This puts him in opposition to Rome and its representatives, such as the Temple leadership. He also does a nice job of helping the listener to see how the Christ of the Gospels and Epistles took shape from the life of Jesus and subsequent events in Rome and Israel that created the context in which Christianity emerged.
Nothing in the book is radically new but it is well written and the story told by Aslan is not only well researched but gripping. Rarely have I enjoyed a book on theology or scripture studies as much as Aslan’s Zealot.
The author also serves as the narrator, which usually proves to be a major ingredient in a recipe for disaster. However, Aslan did an excellent job of reading his book. I didn’t realize it was the author who had been reading until I finished the book and checked to see who the narrator was. He read with an appropriate mix of excitement and seriousness, drawing the listener into his vision of the historical Jesus and the world in which he lived.
As an author and researcher Aslan is also honest. His forward discusses his religious history, including his Islamic roots, an involvement with Evangelical Christianity in his youth and an eventual return to Islam. This allows the listener to be sensitive to any influences on the book from his life history. The resulting vision of Jesus that emerges is probably closer to the Islamic perspective on Jesus, as human and prophet, than the traditional Christian perspective, which divinizes Jesus. Yet, if the historical record supports the Christian tradition, he accepts that position, as with the death of Jesus by crucifixion. The final result is a reasonable, etic perspective on the historical material and well argued conclusions.