It is written novelistically, but with plenty of reference material interspersed with the story to lend credence to the arguments. Very thought-provoking. I am sure there are other interpretations besides this one, but the author makes his interpretation(s) quite convincing.
Yes, this would have been a book I could have listened to in one sitting. However, it is so packed with ideas, it does merit stopping once in awhile to let the ideas sink in.
When I drive, I read... uhm listen. I like SciFi, Fantasy, some Detective and Espionage novels and Religion. Now and then I will also listen to something else.
Did the early Christians transform their leader from a ‘revolutionary Jewish nationalist’ into a ‘peaceful Spiritual leader with no interest in any earthly matter’ in order to gain converts from the gentile Roman world? Reza Alsan, ex-Evangelical Christian turned moderate American Muslim and religious scholar, thinks so. His argument begins at the crucifixion. Accordingly Jesus was crucified as an insurrectionist, just like the two political bandits who hanged next to him. For Aslan Jesus was a Zealot - though he makes it clear that he was not from the later Jewish Zealot party - his zeal for his people and his political awareness made him a threat to the Roman Government.
Aslan points out very early in the audiobook that every gospel account about Jesus was written after the Jewish revolt against Rome in 66 C.E. Like most scholars of the New Testament today, he claims that the gospels should be read in light of the destruction of the temple in 70 C.E. For Aslan the consequences of the temple’s destruction lead to a very similar outcome in Second Century Judaism and early Christianity. These two movements sought to divorce themselves from the radical messianic nationalism that lead to the war against Rome and the temple’s destruction. Rabbinic Judaism emerged when Jews centred their life on the Torah rather than the temple. Early Christianity divorced itself from the messianic zeal, not only because of being excluded from Judaism, but also because the Romans were now the people from which this movement had to gain converts to grow. Thus Jesus the Zealot had to be made more presentable. Aslan argues basically that he had an image makeover.
In this book Aslan attempts to claim the Jesus of history, the Jesus before Christianity. He tries ‘to reclaim the Political conscious Jewish revolutionary who walked the Galilean country side 2000 years ago, gathering followers as part of his messianic movement with the goal of establishing the kingdom of God, but whose mission failed after he entered Jerusalem, attacked the temple and was captured and crucified.’ His method is to clean the ‘literal and theological’ add-ons of the New Testament up. Starting with the verifiable - Jesus’ crucifixion - he claims to forge a more accurate picture of Jesus, notwithstanding many scholars being sceptic that it cannot be done.
The book is divided into three parts. In Part 1 Aslan presents a summary of Josephus’ History of the Jewish War placing Jesus squarely within the political and social background of his time. He focusses on the various false messiahs, who with their eschatological zeal failed to rise to political power and was suppressed by the Roman Empire. Part 2 focus on what we know about Jesus of Nazareth as a person within history. Aslan begins with the crucifixion as historically verifiable and seems to add Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem and some basic claims, like his wonderworking ability and exorcisms to his sketch of Jesus. He also debunks Luke and Matthew’s birth narratives, while describing Jesus as a lowly peasant who spoke out against the great divide between rich and poor in his time. Lastly in Part 3, Aslan debunks Paul and the Pauline branch of Christianity as out of synch with the earliest and truest followers of Jesus of Nazareth, those who accepted James as their leader. He makes the dramatic claim that the Jesus of history died with the martyr Stephen when he called to Jesus as God before his death.
Listening to the audiobook I got the impression that Reza Aslan brought Richard Horsley’s political anti-colonial Jesus with something of Jon Dominic Crossan’s fighter for the poor and oppressed and Burton Mack’s historical consciousness together. He seems to have used Gerd Lüdemann’s argument of great turmoil, diversity and divide within earliest Christianity to construct his picture of the Jerusalem church and the role of James, the brother of Jesus, within the movement.
Here are a few questions that came to my mind while listening to the audiobook: How much would this critical Jesus sketch agree with a similar sketch of Muhammad today? Did I hear a very Lukan construction of Jesus’ agenda? By ignoring the aspect that the gospels as literature, I suspect that he might have projected Jesus’ own agenda ‘the coming of the kingdom of God’ onto John the Baptist. How does he know that the above came from John? If Pontius Pilate was sending almost every Tom, Dick and Harry to the cross, doesn’t it undermine Alsan’s historical reconstruction of a very politically active minded Jesus? Isn’t there too much focus of the discontinuity between various New Testament books, thus ignoring the continuity within those same books?
I think that Aslan’s book describes a type Jesus that could only be constructed listening to the most critical of Jesus scholarship. This allows him to strip Jesus down to the bare minimum. While adding a lot of the insights from New Testament scholarship over the last few years, this enables him to conceive a zealous Jewish and very political Jesus, who seems to me might have a modern-day agenda. His style of writing, often using a word as “ludicrous” or “absurd” when dealing with historical improbabilities within the gospels, feels very confrontational at times. This is the type of language that places you within a group or outside it. Thus using insider and outsider language, Aslan effectively wants the listener to see things his way, if not, well then… you are probably an idiot?
The value of Aslan’s book lies within bringing a vast array of research - though be it in my opinion a bit biased - together, thus producing yet another “mostly” American portrait of Jesus. The portrait is valid and for most of the part Aslan seems to stand on sturdy ground. Yet he reduces Jesus to very little and seems to fill it in with those aspects that might fit the founder of Islam. The book is written in short chapters bringing over time and again the point that Jesus was a Roman insurrectionist who was crucified by the Roman authorities. At some point it felt like a mantra. Yet Alsan has placed a book on the table that has popularised minimalistic critical New Testament scholarship, making it accessible to John and Jane Dow.
Reza Aslan narrated the audiobook himself. I couldn’t help to think of the fervour of Shane Clayborne while listening to Aslan. He read with zeal. It comes across that this Jesus that he has constructed is really the Jesus he believes in and defines his understanding of how to follow him.
This is one of those books that you might need to take note of. It could shape popular opinion about who Jesus is or was for some time to come. Listen to it with a critical ear.
Haven't read the print but the audio is well narrated - unusual for an author narration but the author is very engaged and engaging and the material is well researched and well told.
Not really a religious spiritual book but a great historical/biblical account of the times and events surrounding the life of Jesus.
A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.
Let me just throw in here now that Fox skeptics need not worry, while this book was written by a Muslim, it wasn't written by that d@mn lion from Narnia.
The book's good points: compelling, well-written, and challenged a lot of well traveled myth-making by Christianity, Islam, etc., about the life and acts of Jesus of Nazareth. The bad points: there wasn't much NEW history here. The book was written to challenge, but not support. It isn't as much a biography of Jesus as a history of early Christianity, an examination of Jerusalem around the time of Jesus, a longish academic piece on Jewish Zealotry, and a examination of some of the other major players that might have reflected (James) or tilted (Paul) our view of who Jesus was. This isn't groundbreaking history about Jesus, and a rehash of ideas of other Early Christian historians that have been kicked around for the last 50 years.
The challenge a historian faces with writing a biography of Jesus is there are only a couple real facts you can hang your reputation on: Jesus lived. Jesus died on a cross. The rest is hearsay, myth, reflections, faith, hope and stories. All you have left to do, as a historian, is: examine the space around the hole. Look at the times, the place. Use templates of similar men to approximate what Jesus was like. Examine other figures who have more of a historical footprint (Paul, Peter, Pilate, etc), and then enter triumphantly into FOX News and overthrow the tables of the producers and drive out the lamb-like anchors. Fox New prefect Rogerios Aīlātos now washes his hands of Aslan of Tehran (and now California).
This is a case where I simply disagree with the research of the author, Reza Aslan. Reza used the reason, "Scholars disagree" many times as a basis for discrediting the Bible. Furthermore, Reza quoted Josephus to contradict a portion of the scriptures, where I thought the Josephus writing actually confirmed the killing of John the Baptist during 28 to 30 CE. I tried to approach this book with an open mind, and provide the author a chance to make his case for Jesus basically being a worthy zealot, but not the son of God. Time and time again, Reza would select Gospel scripture, and simply discredit it for the reason, "Scholars disagree...", and insinuate that about 50% of the Gospels is purely mythical. For those who choose to doubt the Gospels, this would be a great read.
In my humble opinion, the book was not well researched. It appeared to me that the author had an agenda of discrediting the Gospels, and used this book as a forum to do so. Reza's favorite reason for disagreeing with the New Testament is "Scholars disagree." I could also add, that many scholars over the last 2,000 years do indeed agree. I will concede that much of the Bible is based on faith, and the Bible makes that clear.
Reza's performance was okay.
The character that I would cut from Zealot would be the author. The book is a worthy subject. Jesus was indeed a zealot, and many other things as well.
If you are looking for a book to discredit Christianity, this could be for you. I would encourage readers to research this subject further in other sources.
After seeing the way he handled Fox News ignorance, I was looking forward to reading Aslan's book. I can't say that I was disappointed, but I can't say that I was overly impressed, either. People who have never been exposed to literary/historical biblical criticism, or those who have never looked into the historical Jesus really would benefit from reading Zealot. But for those who are part of mainline churches, there's not too much here that's completely new.
I suppose what underwhelmed me was the author's seeming lack of realization that there are millions of Christians who are continually confronted with the tension between (as he differentiates them) Jesus the Christ and Jesus the Zealot. It is this very tension that causes our faith to grow and thrive, and the doubt it creates forces us to be tolerant of other viewpoints.
As all authors do - even in scholarly works - Aslan manipulates words, research, and data to prove his point. One point in the book stands out, and that is his treatment of the baptism of Jesus. He very cogently examines how this event in the life of Jesus is dealt with in each of the four gospels, moving from an explicit reference to John being the baptizer to no direct connection at all between Jesus' baptism and John. I found it very thoughtful and meaningful until Dr Aslan suddenly referred to Christianity's "frantic" attempt to disassociate John from the baptism of Jesus. Does he not realize that this is nothing new to mainline Christians, that we don't see anything "frantic" about this phenomenon, and that we are well aware of the greater popularity of John and the possibility that Jesus started out as his disciple?
In closing, there's nothing about this work that I find incorrect. After all, Dr Aslan is a greater scholar than I'll ever be. But I would just advise the reader that even excellent scholars can choose subjective words to manipulate the reader's (or listener's) opinions.
Laypersons reading this book would do well to discuss it with their pastor. In so doing, may would discover that much of what the author talks about has already been incorporated into the thinking of their denomination (especially if it's the UCC, ELCA, PCUSA, UMC, ECUSA, ABC etc).
The book is not told for a wide audience. Other scholars of religion might find it interesting.
Even though Aslan tells us there really is limited proof for the jesus of the bible. For the entire book he continued to quote the bible and started to analyze the Bible and it wasn't remotely interesting. He also said he was going to give alternative views on the subject but never did.
He makes interesting points about the historic jesus and the time which he lived. But he never referenced anything directly other than the bible. He constant tells us the bible isn't factual over and over . He never adds anything else. The book should have been shorter.
He paints a picture on the specific time that Jesus lived and all the other messiahs that came before him.
It's a complete waste of time. Not thought-provoking at all.
As a fan of ancient Roman history and having not had any religious upbringing, I enjoy the history of Jesus and the early Christians and their world. This book did not disappoint- Jesus and his followers as anti-Roman, anti-collaborators, and VERY pro-Jewish rabble-rousers was a take on this story I hadn't heard before. Reza Aslan paints a very clear portrait of the situation in that part of the world at the time of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty. Israel/Judea is under foreign occupation and Jesus of Nazereth is only one of several self-proclaimed 'messiahs of the Law of Moses' in a volatile 1st century Jerusalem. Rome and its client Judean partners don't particularly cotton to revolutionary Jewish nationalist- which is how Aslan portrays JC- and dispatch the full penalty of the state towards him.
After his crucifixion is the part I truly found fascinating- the way his group of illiterate farmers and fisherman carried on without him, how they found new adherents to Jesus' teachings and how post-crucifixion followers like Stephen and Paul (formerly 'Saul') helped his message spread outside of Judea and how that message dramatically changed...how a militant anti-Roman/pro-Jewish movement turned into one that proclaimed the man himself, Jesus of Nazereth, was, not the "Son of Man" or the "Son of God", but God Himself. I really found the political squabblings between Paul's Gentile Faction and James' (brother of JC) Hebrews of Jerusalem Faction quite interesting and entertaining.
My major (yet minor) complaint is Aslan voice doesn't have the stamina for a whole book, maybe a ringer should have been hired. Still a very good listen.
The author himself narrates the book, and his performance makes more apparent his reckless interpretations of "facts" and wild conclusions. Not at all a scholarly work. He comes across as a cheeky, sarcastic adolescent. I could not listen any more after listening to two hours, and am returning the book. Perhaps it is more palatable in print, which might account for its place among current best sellers.
Wow! I really must start off my expressing my gratitude to Reza Aslan for writing such a book that speaks to the history and culture of both the decades leading up to, and the millennia following, the life of Jesus of Nazareth. I'll get this one imperfection out of the way, and it's really the only flaw I found in the book: I don't know if Aslan was reading from the published copy of his work (certainly not the copy I own) or if he read from an earlier edition but, whenever the phrase 'the Jewish faith' or 'the Jewish religion' came up he said 'the Jewish cult.' A little annoying; and there were some other phrases that didn't match what my eyes were reading as I followed along. But I'll let it pass.
Aslan spends a bit of time explaining how Jesus's trial was fabricated and embellished over time, noting that the governor Pontius Pilate executed thousands upon thousands of insurrectionists with a flick of his pen, never even giving them proper trials. But the Pilate we read of in the New Testament is a man who cared deeply about whether or not the fellow he was sending to the cross was truly guilty of his crimes; he even tries to make the people choose between the insurrectionist Jesus or the murderer Barabbas (supposedly a custom at Passover, though there is no evidence of this custom). Also, with Mark's gospel in hand, Luke and Matthew paint an even broader picture of a week-willed Pilate, though history speaks of a man who had great disdain for the Jews.
One thing that must be realized is that the gospel writers were not writing to Jews in Jerusalem but to Romans who had overthrown the Jewish revolution. Therefore Pilate had to be "innocent of this man's blood" (just like Annas and Caiaphus) and and the Jews had to be made responsible. Matthew, writing later than Mark, says that the Jews responded as a whole: "His blood will be on us and on our children!" (Matthew 27.25). Luke's gospel says that Pilate "found in [Jesus] no ground for the sentence of death; I will have him flogged and then release him" (Luke 23.22). But John goes the farthest, saying that Pilate actually thought Jesus was the son of God, and Jesus tells Pilate that the Jews are to blame, guilty of a greater sin for handing him over (John 19.11). But then, when Pilate asks "'Shall I crucify your king?' The chief priests answered, 'We have no king the the emperor'" (John 19.15). This is heresy among Jewish faith.
Do not forget that Jesus is arrested at night on the eve of the Sabbath (against Jewish law) during the festival of Passover (against Jewish law); he is brought at night (against Jewish law) to the high priest's courtyard where the Sanhedrin are awaiting him; a group of witnesses appear to testify that he has made threats against the Temple of Jerusalem (also against Jewish law because the trial must begin with a detailed list of why the accused is innocent before witnesses testify against him). Now, if the high priests did actually conduct this little trial, then the Torah could not be clearer about the punishment: "One who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be put to death; the whole congregation shall stone the blasphemer..." (Leviticus 24.16), not be handed over to the governor for questioning and crucifixion.
I could go on for hours telling of eye-opening phrases and word-changes in translation that Aslan explains with great clarity, but I thought the previous tidbit would be most interesting. It certainly was for me! Enjoy!