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Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth | [Reza Aslan]

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

From the internationally bestselling author of No god but God comes a fascinating, provocative, and meticulously researched biography that challenges long-held assumptions about the man we know as Jesus of Nazareth. Sifting through centuries of mythmaking, Reza Aslan sheds new light on one of history's most influential and enigmatic characters by examining Jesus through the lens of the tumultuous era in which he lived: first-century Palestine, an age awash in apocalyptic fervor.
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Publisher's Summary

From the internationally best-selling author of No god but God comes a fascinating, provocative, and meticulously researched biography that challenges long-held assumptions about the man we know as Jesus of Nazareth.

Two-thousand years ago, an itinerant Jewish preacher and miracle worker walked across the Galilee, gathering followers to establish what he called the "Kingdom of God". The revolutionary movement he launched was so threatening to the established order that he was captured, tortured, and executed as a state criminal.

Within decades after his shameful death, his followers would call him God.

Sifting through centuries of mythmaking, Reza Aslan sheds new light on one of history's most influential and enigmatic characters by examining Jesus through the lens of the tumultuous era in which he lived: first-century Palestine, an age awash in apocalyptic fervor. Scores of Jewish prophets, preachers, and would-be messiahs wandered through the Holy Land, bearing messages from God. This was the age of zealotry - a fervent nationalism that made resistance to the Roman occupation a sacred duty incumbent on all Jews. And few figures better exemplified this principle than the charismatic Galilean who defied both the imperial authorities and their allies in the Jewish religious hierarchy.

Balancing the Jesus of the Gospels against the historical sources, Aslan describes a man full of conviction and passion, yet rife with contradiction; a man of peace who exhorted his followers to arm themselves with swords; an exorcist and faith healer who urged his disciples to keep his identity a secret; and ultimately the seditious "King of the Jews" whose promise of liberation from Rome went unfulfilled in his brief lifetime.

©2013 Reza Aslan (P)2013 Random House

What the Critics Say

"In Zealot, Reza Aslan doesn't just synthesize research and reimagine a lost world, though he does those things very well. He does for religious history what Bertolt Brecht did for playwriting. Aslan rips Jesus out of all the contexts we thought he belonged in and holds him forth as someone entirely new. This is Jesus as a passionate Jew, a violent revolutionary, a fanatical ideologue, an odd and scary and extraordinarily interesting man." (Judith Shulevitz, author of The Sabbath World)

"A bold, powerfully argued revisioning of the most consequential life ever lived." (Lawrence Wright, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief)

"The story of Jesus of Nazareth is arguably the most influential narrative in human history. Here Reza Aslan writes vividly and insightfully about the life and meaning of the figure who has come to be seen by billions as the Christ of faith. This is a special and revealing work, one that believer and skeptic alike will find surprising, engaging, and original." (Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power)

What Members Say

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  •  
    Vincent North Vancouver, BC, Canada 08-12-13
    Vincent North Vancouver, BC, Canada 08-12-13 Member Since 2014
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    "Surprisingly compelling"
    Would you consider the audio edition of Zealot to be better than the print version?

    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.


    Any additional comments?

    Not really a religious spiritual book but a great historical/biblical account of the times and events surrounding the life of Jesus.

    7 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bosco 09-20-13
    Bosco 09-20-13 Member Since 2009

    Make no mistake: We're all mammals here.

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    "Good, Not Great"
    Any additional comments?

    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).

    4 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Darwin8u Mesa, AZ, United States 08-03-13
    Darwin8u Mesa, AZ, United States 08-03-13

    "... there are times when silence is a poem." - John Fowles, the Magus ^(;,;)^

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    "Rogerios Aīlātos is not impressed!"

    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).

    28 of 45 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John Chesterfield, MO, United States 09-04-13
    John Chesterfield, MO, United States 09-04-13 Member Since 2006
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    "Filled with Speculation"

    In the introduction the author points out how the New Testament was never intended to be a historical book and should not be interpreted as a historical book, and then proceeds to interpret the New Testament as a historical book for the rest of the novel. Of course, if the author did not do this, there wouldn't have been much to say other than provide a sense of the culture at the time Jesus lived. I initially thought the book might be worthwhile since it seemed to provide some historical context to the New Testament, however, given the author's propensity for pure speculation about Jesus, I now question the authenticity of the historic background provided in the novel, and wonder how much of that is also speculation. In addition, the author never seemed to question the accuracy of Josephus' writings, even though Josephus' history often times is at odds with archeological findings. Whenever there seemed to be a discrepancy between Josephus and another source, the author always sided with Josephus. Although many references are provided for the novel, the author's interpretation of the references and tendency toward conjecture lead to the low rating of this book. If this is what passes for biblical scholarship, I feel sorry for the field.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David 07-31-13
    David 07-31-13

    I'm an avid reader of many genres and issues. Audiobooks sometimes bring books into 3D , and when that happens its brilliant!

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    "Well-told history, questionable conclusions"

    I have been reading historical Jesus books for many years, as an Australia pastor to encourage informed exploration of both Jesus and the gospels.

    I must say that I enjoyed much of the content of this book, and Reza's vivid description of Jewish & Roman politics in the 1st century CE. He offers a very interesting reading of Jesus which clearly separates a an understanding of Jesus in his matrix with the Christ of faith ( blamed largely on Paul). Perhaps this is because his own faith story - becoming Christian and then returning to Islam??

    However, there are a number of excellent of theologians who need to be read alongside "Zealot" e.g. John Dominic Crossan & Tom Wright to look at the impact and theology of Paul in the emerging Christian movement.

    Reza argues ( and reads) persuasively and interestingly, but in the end I had a whole lot of questions about his purpose in constructing this interpretation.

    I gave it three stars overall because of these hesitations. It would be a good discussion book though.


    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John North Berwick, ME, United States 08-12-14
    John North Berwick, ME, United States 08-12-14 Member Since 2013
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    "Fascinating and Well-Researched"

    Despite the misguided scorn heaped upon this book by the obtuse pundits of FOX News, I found this to be a remarkably well-researched, highly readable, and non-biased attempt to explore the scant historical evidence which exists about the man, Jesus, within the historical and political context in which he lived. FOX makes a bumbling attempt to cast doubt upon the validity of the book because the author, Aslan, happens to be Muslim. Aslan is first and foremost a scholar with a Phd. and three other degrees pertaining to world religions. (And these degrees are not from Billie Bob's Christian University.) He has been studying for two decades the history of the man called Jesus as well as the period in which he lived AND the personal and political struggles which very early on formed the Christian church. Don't listen to anyone's opinion who has not actually read this book cover to cover. It is even-handed as well as provocative. Aslan uncovers a man who, whether you happen to be Christian or not, was a remarkable champion of the poor and dispossessed of his era. I read it twice, back to back.

    3 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Larry Powder Springs, GA, United States 08-20-13
    Larry Powder Springs, GA, United States 08-20-13 Member Since 2011
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    "Reza Aslan failed to provide adequate research...."
    This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

    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.


    What was most disappointing about Reza Aslan’s story?

    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.


    What didn’t you like about Reza Aslan’s performance?

    Reza's performance was okay.


    What character would you cut from Zealot?

    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.


    Any additional comments?

    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.

    18 of 33 people found this review helpful
  •  
    D. Rodriguez Bronx, Ny 08-30-13
    D. Rodriguez Bronx, Ny 08-30-13

    Lukabrasi187

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    "This is a best seller???"
    This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

    The book is not told for a wide audience. Other scholars of religion might find it interesting.


    What was most disappointing about Reza Aslan’s story?

    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.


    What aspect of Reza Aslan’s performance would you have changed?

    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.


    You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

    He paints a picture on the specific time that Jesus lived and all the other messiahs that came before him.


    Any additional comments?

    It's a complete waste of time. Not thought-provoking at all.

    8 of 15 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Carlos E Machado 08-20-15
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    "Excellent book!!!"

    if you are looking to understand the historical Jesus the real Jesus and submerge yourself into his time and what what's going on at that time when he was around this book is sure. help you accomplish that I think it's extremely enjoyable and very factual and it's easy to tell how knowledgeable and well-documented the author is

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rev. Matthew Arguin 08-15-15 Member Since 2014
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    "Good portrait of 1st century Judaism"
    What did you love best about Zealot?

    Having taken a degree in Religious Studies and Theology, I appreciate the way Aslan constructs a picture of what Jesus' culture would be. I disagree with some points regarding Paul and early Christian movment.....but this is a fun read with a great performance by the author.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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  • Nell
    Ferny Grove, Australia
    12/15/13
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    "Brilliantly done"

    This is a fascinating and impressive take on the early history of the major world religion that is Christianity. I found Aslan's arguments persuasive and he reads his own work with an engaging enthusiasm. Not all the ideas are new, but I liked the way he pieced things together. I also liked the respect that he shows to the Christian faith; this is a secular text, but it is not aggressive in its secularism - at least, not more than it needs to be.

    I learnt a lot about Judaism that I didn't know before, and the book constructs a clear picture of the political tensions that simmered in Jesus' lifetime. The parts that really captured me were the description of the temple in Jerusalem and its rituals, the conflicts between early leaders (especially between Paul and James; that was a real eye-opener!), and the important differentiation Aslan makes between Jesus the man and Jesus the Christ, which really forms the backbone of the book. The title 'Zealot' refers to the Jewish concept of 'zeal', which is similar to the more common, colloquial understanding of the term, but not the same. I'm not an expert on world religions but in my limited understanding, it reminded me a little of the Islamic concept of jihad: both involve religious passion, both imply a struggle against something, and both can lead to violence, but don't always.

    I can imagine that some Christians may have a problem with Aslan's book, because its content strongly shows that men, not gods, make religions. But he never disrespects the faith of others or tries directly to debunk anything that is based on faith: rather, he places this faith into historical context. The way that he does so reminds us of a key fact about Jesus that ought to colour our view of him but too often doesn't. He was not a Christian; he lived and died a Jew. What's more, he did so in a time and place where being Jewish could cause you problems, especially if you were inclined to dislike the Romans.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Elizabeth
    Lancaster, United Kingdom
    9/3/13
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    "Informative,but more questions than answers."

    I have surprisingly enjoyed this audio book. I have long been interested in the real truth and the fiction hidden within the Bible. Reza Aslan narrates his book with enthusiasm. I must admit that I wouldn't make it to the end of the written book, but the audio version is more bearable. I didn't fully understand all of the threads which he references throughout, but I picked up the general gist. It is a revealing book but you have to have an interest in the subject to make sense of it. It's not a book for someone unfamiliar with the Bible in my opinion. It has made me ask more questions than finding answers.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • M
    Wakefield, United Kingdom
    10/16/13
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    "Holy Moly!"

    So, who does this Jesus fella think he is? I’d never bought the whole middle-class, middle-aged, middle-of-the-road pacifist guru-magician image that was thrust down our throats at school; I couldn’t quite see how that ancient Jewish peacenik could’ve inspired billions of people across thousands of years and cultures to such heights of beauty and horror. But, the Jesus portrayed in this book is one I like! A complex and charismatic Angry Young Man filled to the brim-stone with revolutionary zeal, with a talent for whipping up a crowd with his rhetoric and sleight-of-hand - this is someone worth reading about. Picture Jesus as a Jewish Nationalist Socialist (oh, the irony …) taking on The Roman Man with his mob of illiterate, fundamentalist peasants - it’s quite an image. And then throw him into the wonderfully described world of spirits, magic, gods, and the starkly brutal and bloody politics of Imperial Rome, and you’ve got one helluva story! That that Jesus was swept aside for early Christian PR reasons is a tragedy we may never recover from ...I like and respect Jesus of Nazareth much more than Jesus the Christ, and the Son of Man has a lot more to offer us than the Son of God does. An excellent and thought-provoking book - Amen!

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  • Mika Neko
    4/16/15
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    "recommend"

    Good book, compelling facts, and smooth narration makes it a very nice experience to enjoy.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Amazon Customer
    UK
    2/28/15
    Overall
    "Well written."

    A pragmatic and unsentimental work. Pieces history together in a rational way, making sense of the politics and movements during the time of Jesus and the time when Christianity was emerging as a world religion.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Colin Burnett
    1/18/15
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    "Great"

    Brilliant, as near to the truth as I think you will get. Totally plausible and well researched story, read by the author himself.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Stuart
    10/9/14
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    "Speculative but sometimes interesting"
    Would you listen to Zealot again? Why?

    No, because I got all I needed from one listen


    What about Reza Aslan’s performance did you like?

    Well read, and it's always nice to hear the author read their own work.


    Any additional comments?

    The best part of the book is the first bit, setting out the cultural milleau in Roman Palestine. As for JC himself, Aslan is convinced that his take is sensational and new; but it's not the ground-shaker he thinks it is. The specifics where he diverges from other attempts to historicise Jesus are in Aslan's attempting to locate him in the Zealot tradition (rather than an apocalyptic as he's usually seen). But his evidence for this largely relies upon his own exegesis of biblical passages. In one particularly excruciating section he goes into details of the exact etymology of the Greek verb in “render/give/return unto Caesar...” in order to show what Jesus really meant by it; in the process apparently rather forgetting his own previous emphasis that JC would have spoken little if any of this language, and the word in the NT is not that that he would have uttered himself.

    Similarly, he shows how the trial before the Sanhedrin as recorded in Mark contradicts the rabbinical procedures for such trials. He then admits that the trial took place in the second temple period, before the emergence of the Rabbinic/Mishnaic tradition, but quickly points out that Mark *was* written within the Rabbinic tradition. A bizarre position: that the author of Mark ought to have rewritten his oral sources to make them conform to the standards of his day, and that because he did not this is evidence that the events could not have occurred as the traditions described them.

    These are both typical of its approach: it presents itself as falling within the scholarly rather than christological tradition, yet ultimately relies upon exegesis and substantial interpretative assumptions rather than painstaking and careful critical comparison.

    Not a bad or deliberately dishonest book, but he has a prior agenda (JC the militant anti-Roman), and cherry-picks and interprets the sources to back it up.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Frank F
    Northwest London
    1/5/14
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    "Kind of missed the point."
    If this book wasn’t for you, who do you think might enjoy it more?

    People who are sure that the Church is full of conspiracies and into sensationalism in some way.


    Would you ever listen to anything by Reza Aslan again?

    Probably not.


    Which scene did you most enjoy?

    Enjoy would be the wrong word. It was amusing to recognise where his conclusions were based upon misunderstanding and lack of proper scholarship


    You didn’t love this book--but did it have any redeeming qualities?

    I'm not really sure that it does. How often does the average man believe in the written word, just because it is written and the author lays claim to authority that he doesn't possess or more dangerously, misleads the facts about his authority. (Check out the realities of his degrees as they would apply to being a biblical scholar, especially if you've ever seen someone misrepresent a resume for a job they weren't really qualified for but needed.)


    Any additional comments?

    In today's world of the Internet, self publishing, and lack of academic critical review before getting published, it has been my experience that we must spend as much time researching the credentials of the scholar who publishes, as we do in researching sensational assertions. There is a danger as an author of settling on a hypothesis and then focusing on proving that hypothesis rather than collecting information objectively and completely and then seeing what hypothesis that information might suggest.
    This author appears to have fallen into these traps and so based upon the other scholars I have read, along with my personal research over a 5 year period, I'm not sure there is much value in this work any more than the works that Dan Brown used for the themes of the Da Vinci Code.

    2 of 7 people found this review helpful

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