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

I started this book back in December and just finished it. It’s not that it wasn’t interesting or captivating but it’s a lot of information. 

My family raised me Mexican-Catholic. I’m not sure what that would have to do with anything but I always here Irish people say: I was raised Irish-Catholic. Maybe there are certain traditions upheld differently but the bottom line being Catholic?

I have been baptized, done my first communion, and confirmed my faith. Except for my baptism I was an active participant in the last two sacraments. I enjoyed reading scriptures and completing the assignments. I didn’t question anything, just knew there were people who did and that’s why I was learning the bible and the purpose of my church. 

In my early twenties I was approached by a couple of young girls at a bookstore and they asked me about my religion and what I thought of God. They presented me with this huge idea that flipped the view of my religion upside down. I couldn’t shake it off and I called my parish and set up a meeting with the priest. He wasn’t able to reaffirm or reestablished my faith but I still practiced and cashed l called myself a catholic. Not much later I registered for a Religious Studies course as part of fulfilling my degree requirements. I loved that class. A whole new world had opened up to me. Today I don’t practice any religion and I dance around labeling myself agnostic or atheist.

Reading Aslan’s book opened up another world for me-  that of the historical Jesus. As I mentioned, I never questioned the bible during my sacrament years but as time passed I did question the Old vs. New Testament. I watched documentaries and read pieces of information and I got a better understanding. Again, Reza Aslan has peeled another layer. 

Aslan has chosen to illustrate the views of modern Christianity and answer why it’s so different from the days of it’s inception. I have learned so much from this book on the disciples, the letters and gospels and their origins. I learned more of the way church and state worked, the key players, target audiences, and got a better idea of thought processes. 

In the book, Aslan differentiates the reason people followed then and now. He defines the break in Jewish belief and modern Christianity. The key players, James, Peter, and John of the Old Testament and Paul of the New Testament, have been identified more clearly for me after reading this book.

I’ve known there were many people claiming to be the messiah and descendants of God or disciples of the word of God, but in the book I can see why Jesus stuck. I now understand the difference between Jesus of Nazareth versus Jesus Christ. I now have a better understanding of why histories were altered to be able to continue the belief that Jesus was the chosen one. I can see why this is considered the religion of the poor.

One of my favorite parts of the historical presentation of Jesus was the definition of The Kingdom of God. 

The Kingdom of God is a call to revolution, plain and simple. And what revolution, especially one fought against an empire whose armies had ravaged the land set aside by God for his chosen people, could be free of violence and bloodshed? If the Kingdom of God is not an ethereal fantasy, how else could it be established upon a land occupied by a massive imperial presence except through the use of force? (120)

But then Jesus, the revolutionary, the one calling for the overthrow of the roman empire, was crucified and the success of having his vision of the Kingdom of God was never realized. So what now? Jerusalem was now a heap of rubbish and ash after the Temple was taken down and the Jewish religion made pariah; the people had to make a choice. Non Jewish followers of Jesus were now outnumbering the Jewish ones. The Jews people had to chose to divorce themselves from the mother religion or move with the Jesus after death movement. 

To the Jews, a crucified messiah was nothing less than a contradiction in terms. The very fact of Jesus’s crucifixion annulled his messianic claims. Even the disciples recognized this problem. That is why they so desperately tried to deflect their dashed hopes by arguing that the Kingdom of God they had hoped to establish was in actuality a celestial kingdom, not an earthly one; that the messianic prophecies had been misconstrued; that the scriptures, properly interpreted, said the opposite of what everyone thought they did; that embedded deep in the texts was a secret truth about the dying and rising messiah that only they could uncover. (178)

I have known of the altering of stories/events to suit religious beliefs but getting the back story on this one is pretty cool. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, tho, so I encourage you to read on. 

Do I recommend the book, yes! Even if you’re a believer. I agree with Aslan that it’s equally important to know the historical Jesus (of Nazareth) as well as modern day Jesus (Christ).


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