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Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of…

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (2013)

by Reza Aslan

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,7511005,781 (3.86)2 / 140



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English (103)  German (1)  All languages (104)
Showing 1-5 of 103 (next | show all)
Can't get enough of that textual criticism and early Christian history. Yeah, I know how that sounds. Nope, I don't care. I'll continue to litter everyone's update feeds with my occasional forays into these topics.

[b:Zealot|17568801|Zealot The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth|Reza Aslan|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1367929567s/17568801.jpg|24258336] by [a:Reza Aslan|14210|Reza Aslan|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1375702579p2/14210.jpg] got ridiculously popular in a short period of time. I was reading arguments on the internet about its history and sources, hearing occasionally it being touted on popular television shows. It changed lives, or people claimed it did. They used it as an argument for the oft-repeated centurion hypothesis of paternity and other such poorly researched finds. It was inevitable I eventually read it, and lo and behold, the library just happened to have a copy sitting right there.

All in all, I actually enjoyed [b:Zealot|17568801|Zealot The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth|Reza Aslan|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1367929567s/17568801.jpg|24258336]. I didn't find it as well researched as much of [a:Bart D. Ehrman|643|Bart D. Ehrman|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1237161718p2/643.jpg]'s works, nor as in depth. I nearly stopped reading when he argued that authorship wasn't necessarily worth questioning as people often wrote under other's names to imply they were further espousing their ideas (false) and that there was no definitive concept of history at the time (also false.) The idea that a lot of what was written would be known to be historically inaccurate and was meant as metaphor - that could gain better ground. The other two points though... we really need to excise them from our minds. They are patently untrue, and history just doesn't work that way.

[b:Zealot|17568801|Zealot The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth|Reza Aslan|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1367929567s/17568801.jpg|24258336] shines not in its early bits, but far far later when his arguments come in about Jesus, his relation to Rome and Paul and James and their arguments for what early Christendom should mean. The book truly shone in the Pauline arguments and James refutation of them. The book would be good reading for anyone interested in Christianity, or simply Christian's themselves. It offers at once a more literal and metaphorical view of what was done, and a more concise view of what Jesus said and meant at the time in which he lived. [a:Bart D. Ehrman|643|Bart D. Ehrman|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1237161718p2/643.jpg]'s works are a better source of textual criticism, but [b:Zealot|17568801|Zealot The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth|Reza Aslan|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1367929567s/17568801.jpg|24258336] was a better way to get a true feel for the history of the times and just how much the Jews went through during the Roman occupation.

The two authors, and their respective works, complement one another wonderfully and together offer a more comprehensive understanding of a vast and heated topic. ( )
  Lepophagus | Jun 14, 2018 |
Reza Aslan was born into a Persian family and Islamic faith, but was so enamored of the story of Jesus that he converted briefly to Christianity as a teenager. He eventually returned to Islam, but remained fascinated with Jesus. His book, Zealot, is a nonfiction history that looks at the man, not through the lens of his religious/mythological importance, but rather in the context of his time and place: Israel (or rather, the Roman province of Judea) in the early Common Era.

This is not a hatchet job by a nonbeliever intent on denigrating an important figure of faith. But it will challenge some of the fundamental facts Christians take for granted. For example, Jesus' birth. According to Aslan's research, what the Bible states about a census compelling all to return to the cities of their father's birth (leading Jesus to be born in Bethlehem), would have been completely anomalous among the many Roman censuses. While that doesn't necessarily mean it's not true, it does mean that it is much, much more likely that Jesus was both born and raised in Nazareth. He also places Jesus into context as one of many self-annointed Kings of the Jews in the area at the time, and far from the only one that was crucified by Rome for such a crime.

As an agnostic/atheist with a Christian background, I found the book fascinating. This is my first time reading a history of this time period, but Aslan's research seems well-grounded. His writing doesn't come across like an attempt to debunk the Christian religion (indeed, he usually states that the most faith-based aspects of Jesus's life are unknowable by historical accounts), but rather asks the reader to think about the world in which Jesus, whether he was just a man or a prophet or divine, actually lived. For my money, more critical thinking is always a good thing. ( )
  500books | May 22, 2018 |
2.5 stars.

Some of it was interesting (mainly the not-as-speculative historical background), but it also meandered. ( )
  natcontrary | May 21, 2018 |
Maybe I'll try again at another time, but I just couldn't stay interested. The story's been told so many times there's really nothing new to tell, only more myths and legends to pile onto the very small amount of historical facts. Frankly, I've always thought Jesus was probably a zealot and troublemaker. How else would he have made such an impression without money or political clout? I'd hoped a Muslim writer would bring something new to the story -- and maybe he does in later chapters, but I can't muster up interest in the subject to stick with it.
  Yaaresse | Apr 24, 2018 |
Not quite what I was expecting, because the written records of the time are so sparse, but learning about the life and times and historical man named Jesus, before he became a religious movement, was very interesting and insightful. It is truly sad how much we've lost through the years and how much more interesting the lost story is in reality. ( )
  RivetedReaderMelissa | Mar 22, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 103 (next | show all)
There is a sense in which each "biographer" of Jesus of Nazareth is like my young son: once I finish the work then I will know what the subject looks like. Reza Aslan is no different. He is an Iranian-American writer and scholar of religions and is a contributing editor for The Daily Beast. He is best known as the author of No God but God: The Origin, Evolution, and Future of Islam, which has been translated into thirteen languages and named by Blackwell as one of the 100 most important books of the last decade. His new book is Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. In a recent interview with The Nation Aslan is asked, Your Jesus is "the man who defied the will of the most powerful empire the world had ever known--and lost." Sounds a bit like Bradley Manning.He answers:

I think you could make a lot of comparisons in that regard. The historical Jesus took on the powers that be on behalf of the poor and the dispossessed, the outcast and the marginalized; he sacrificed himself for a group that most Romans--and the Jewish elite--didn't consider to be real people, much less people worthy of salvation.

Most of his approach is evident in that answer. Jesus, he argues, was outcast and marginalized, probably illiterate, and filled with zeal for the Jewish religion he was born into. He reminds us that the gospels were written after 70 CE, an important date because that is when the Romans returned and destroyed Jerusalem, burning the temple to the ground. The Romans slaughtered thousands of Jews, exiled the rest, and made Judaism a "pariah religion". [Read the interview here.]
added by delan | editmetapsychology, Bob Lane (Sep 23, 2013)
Zealot reflects wide reading in the secondary literature that has emerged in the scholarly study of the historical Jesus. In that sense, as one colleague of mine puts it, Aslan is a reader rather than a researcher. Aslan’s reconstruction of the life of Jesus invests a surprisingly literalist faith in some parts of the gospel narratives. For example, he argues, against the scholarly consensus, that the so-called “messianic secret” in the Gospel of Mark (a text written four decades after the death of Jesus) reflects an actual political strategy of the historical Jesus rather than a literary device by which the author of that text made sense of conflicting bits of received tradition. His readings of the canonical gospels give little attention to the fact that the writers of these texts were engaged in a complex intertextual practice with the Hebrew scriptures in Greek, that these writers were interested in demonstrating that Jesus fulfilled prophecies written centuries earlier—in short, that the gospel writers were writers with (sometimes modest, sometimes expansive) literary aspirations and particular theological axes to grind. Biblical scholars have, over many decades, sought to develop methods of textual analysis to tease out these various interests and threads.

But Aslan does not claim to be engaged in literary analysis but in history-writing. One might then expect his reconstruction of the world of Jesus of Nazareth to display a deep understanding of second-temple Judaism. Yet, his historical reconstruction is partial in both senses of the term.
Simply put, Zealot does not break new ground in the history of early Christianity. It isn’t clear that any book framed as a “the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth” could, in fact, do so. Indeed, if it had not been thrust into the limelight by an aggressive marketing plan, the painfully offensive Fox News interview, and Aslan’s own considerable gifts for self-promotion, Zealot would likely have simply been shelved next to myriad other examples of its genre, and everyone could get back to their lives. As it is, the whole spectacle has been painful to watch. And as it is with so many spectacles, perhaps the best advice one might take is this: Nothing to see here, people. Move along.
Zealot likewise fits the temper of our times neatly -- too neatly. Aslan's controversial Fox News interview, about whether his Islamic background allows him to write an objective historical account of Jesus, obscures the real problem: the hubris of the professional provocateur.

Aslan has advanced his career -- he is a professor of creative writing, not a historian -- with self-serving criticism of the "demonization" of Islam under the Bush administration. Having fled Iran in 1979 for the United States, he interprets the 9/11 attacks as a clarion call to Muslims in the Middle East to overthrow oppressive regimes. Thus, the Arab Spring is seen as the happy fruit of that horrific event: an unequivocal march toward political freedom. "Across the board," he told Mother Jones, "what has happened is that the regimes in the region now understand that they can no longer just ignore the will of the people." (Aslan has less to say about the pernicious influence of radical Islamist jihad in directing the "will of the people" in Egypt, Syria, Libya and beyond.)
“Zealot” shares some of the best traits of popular writing on scholarly subjects: it moves at a good pace; it explains complicated issues as simply as possible; it even provides notes for checking its claims.

But the book also suffers from common problems in popularization, like proposing outdated and simplistic theories for phenomena now seen as more complex. Mr. Aslan depicts earliest Christianity as surviving in two streams after Jesus: a Hellenistic movement headed by Paul, and a Jewish version headed by James. This dualism repeats 19th-century German scholarship. Nowadays, most scholars believe that the Christian movement was much more diverse, even from its very beginnings.

Mr. Aslan also proposes outdated views when he insists that the idea of a “divine messiah” or a “god-man” would have been “anathema” to the Judaism of the time, or when he writes that it would have been “almost unthinkable” for a 30-year-old Jewish man to be unmarried. Studies of the past few decades — including “King and Messiah as Son of God” (Adela Yarbro Collins and John J. Collins) and my own “Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation” — have overturned these once commonplace assumptions.

There are several other errors, though most are minor.
Scholars and believers alike tend to contrast sharply the founders of Christianity and Islam: Jesus the apolitical man of peace who turns the other cheek; and Muhammad the politician, jurist and general who takes much of the Arabian Peninsula by force. In “Zealot,” Reza Aslan blurs this distinction, depicting Jesus as a “politically conscious Jewish revolutionary” whose kingdom is decidedly of this world.

In short, Jesus was a frustrated Muhammad — a man who, like Islam’s founder, came to revolutionize the world by force yet, unlike Muhammad, failed. This makes for a good read. It might even make for a good movie. Just don’t tell me it’s true.

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Reza Aslanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bordwin, GabrielleCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Eklöf, MargaretaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Maestro, Laura HartmanIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I have not come to bring peace, but the sword.
Matthew 10:34
For my wife, Jessica Jackley, and the entire Jackley clan,

whose love and acceptance have taught me more about Jesus

than all my years of research and study.
First words
Author's Note: When I was fifteen years old, I found Jesus.

Introduction: It is a miracle that we know anything at all about the man called Jesus of Nazareth.

Prologue: The war with Rome begins not with a clang of swords but with the lick of a dagger drawn from an assassin's cloak.

Chapter One: Who killed Jonathan son of Ananus as he strode across the Temple Mount in the year 56 C.E.?
Today, I can confidently say that two decades of rigorous academic research into the origins of Christianity has made me a more genuinely committed disciple of Jesus of Nazareth than I ever was of Jesus Christ.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 140006922X, Hardcover)

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.
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. Aslan explores the reasons why the early Christian church preferred to promulgate an image of Jesus as a peaceful spiritual teacher rather than a politically conscious revolutionary. And he grapples with the riddle of how Jesus understood himself, the mystery that is at the heart of all subsequent claims about his divinity.
Zealot yields a fresh perspective on one of the greatest stories ever told even as it affirms the radical and transformative nature of Jesus of Nazareth’s life and mission. The result is a thought-provoking, elegantly written biography with the pulse of a fast-paced novel: a singularly brilliant portrait of a man, a time, and the birth of a religion.
Praise for Reza Aslan’s No god but God
A finalist for the Guardian First Book Award
“Grippingly narrated and thoughtfully examined . . . a literate, accessible introduction to Islam.”—The New York Times
“Aslan offers an invaluable introduction to the forces that have shaped Islam [in this] eloquent, erudite paean to Islam in all of its complicated glory.”—Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Wise and passionate . . . an incisive, scholarly primer in Muslim history and an engaging personal exploration.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Acutely perceptive . . . For many troubled Muslims, this book will feel like a revelation, an opening up of knowledge too long buried.”—The Independent (U.K.)
“Thoroughly engaging and excellently written . . . While [Aslan] might claim to be a mere scholar of the Islamic Reformation, he is also one of its most articulate advocates.”—The Oregonian

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:16 -0400)

Presents a meticulously researched biography of Jesus that draws on biblical and historical sources to place his achievements and influence against the turbulent backdrop of his time.

» see all 10 descriptions

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