Zealot :: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

Our small group read and discussed this book together over the past few months. It was such a great experience to process the thoughts in the book with a group of committed believers. What follows here is not so much of a book review as a collection of random thoughts I had while I read it. Here is my list in no particular order:
  • The author's disillusionment with Christianity comes through a lot. He "accepted Christ" at a religious teen camp but then rejected the experience in college. I can relate a bit - college was not the best time for me spiritually.
  • Aslan's view of himself as a "scholar" bleeds through in the way that he writes and how he sometimes presents speculation as historical fact.
  • The book is confusing at times because it asserts that the gospel accounts are not historically accurate but then uses excerpts from these very same accounts when it is convenient to support it's thesis.
  • The bible is often quoted in a very literal way. It led me to believe that the author leans towards a narrow black and white view of scriptures. Yet my understanding is that his Muslim views are not fundamentalist in nature.
  • He reads the book of Acts and the Pauline epistles and sees a schism between the Jews who spoke/read Greek and the ones who did not. 
  • He asserts that James, Jesus brother, thought the Apostle Paul to be a heretic. He seems to agree with that because he believes that Jesus never really wanted the good news to be spread to non-Jews.
  • He purports to love the "historical Jesus" more than the one pictured in the gospel accounts but then seems to deride him with innuendo that presents Jesus as somewhat of a manipulator and ignorant peasant that was not dissimilar to the magicians parading around in that era.
  • The belief presented is that John the Baptist was the leader and Jesus was one of his disciples. He discounts much of what is written about Jesus as embellishments and thinks that the Baptist is the real deal.
  • The book presents Jesus as just another messiah type who embraced a view prevalent in his day and as a zealot type who actually wanted to overthrow the Roman government.
  • Most of his views about Jesus being a zealot or bandit stem from the idea that crucifixion was reserved for people who committed crimes of sedition and treason.
  • The book asserts that, after the fall of Jerusalem, the disciples reinvented Jesus to be a different kind of messiah than the historical one. It says that a kinder and gentler messiah was needed to appease Rome.
  • The book contains some interesting historical background about the time of Christ and the following decades. But I had a hard time trusting what it said as it rarely footnoted with the source of the information. The book did include a notes section but I did not have the want or the energy to weed though it.
All that said, I must admit that I liked the book. It made me think and challenged me at different points in my reading. However I do not recommend the book to you if you do not have a good working knowledge of the bible. Aslan has a very definite slant that could convince a person who was not familiar with bible and the gospel accounts of the life of Jesus.

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