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Zealot by Reza Aslan

Zealot (original 2013; edition 2014)

by Reza Aslan

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1,9921085,318 (3.86)2 / 144
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.… (more)
Authors:Reza Aslan
Info:New York : Random House, 2014.
Collections:Your library

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



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English (112)  German (1)  All languages (113)
Showing 1-5 of 112 (next | show all)
A fascinating, historical look at the environment and context surrounding Jesus of Nazareth. Loved all of it. ( )
  Oregonpoet | Jul 12, 2019 |
Excellent book. Presents a great take on the real history behind the time Jesus was born and the environment in which he lived. A true eye opener. ( )
  DemisGR | Jun 27, 2019 |
I disliked much of his style at the beginning of the book, but as I read I really got to like it, particularly once he got into the Greek Aramaic and Hebrew translations and research about first century conceptions of illness and miracle-working. I found particularly validating his comments about Paul and the radical changes that Paul made, as well as the fact that after the destruction of Jerusalem, only Paul's writings remained. Everyone really should learn at least three languages, and read his or her Sacred Scriptures in the original languages! ( )
  FourFreedoms | May 17, 2019 |
I disliked much of his style at the beginning of the book, but as I read I really got to like it, particularly once he got into the Greek Aramaic and Hebrew translations and research about first century conceptions of illness and miracle-working. I found particularly validating his comments about Paul and the radical changes that Paul made, as well as the fact that after the destruction of Jerusalem, only Paul's writings remained. Everyone really should learn at least three languages, and read his or her Sacred Scriptures in the original languages! ( )
  ShiraDest | Mar 6, 2019 |
Very thought provoking about the Christian church. ( )
  DonaldPowell | Feb 5, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 112 (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.

» Add other authors (12 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
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.
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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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