Zealot : The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, Paperback

Zealot : The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth Paperback

4 out of 5 (1 rating)


Sifting through centuries of mythmaking, Reza Aslan sheds new light on one of history's most influential and enigmatic figures by examining Jesus within the context of the times in which he lived: the age of zealotry, an era awash in apocalyptic fervour.

Balancing the Jesus of the Gospels against historical sources, Aslan describes a complex figure: a man of peace who exhorted his followers to arm themselves; an exorcist and faith healer who urged his disciples to keep his identity secret; and the seditious 'King of the Jews', whose promise of liberation from Rome went unfulfilled in his lifetime.

Aslan explores why the early Church preferred to promulgate an image of Jesus as a peaceful spiritual teacher rather than a politically conscious revolutionary, and grapples with the riddle of how Jesus understood himself.

Zealot provides a fresh perspective on one of the greatest stories ever told.

The result is a thought-provoking, elegantly written biography with the pulse of a fast-paced novel, and a singularly brilliant portrait of a man, a time and the birth of a religion.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 318 pages
  • Publisher: The Westbourne Press
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Biography: religious & spiritual
  • ISBN: 9781908906298



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A fascinating outline of the life and times of the historical Jesus. Rest assured, you don't need to be a Christian or be religious (I am neither) to enjoy this. Also, you shouldn't expect any discussion of the tenets of Christian faith such as the Resurrection. Aslan shrugs his shoulders at these; either you believe them or you don't. They are nothing to do with history, and its the historical Jesus Aslan is seekingAnd to this end sets a scene of apocalyptic fervor in 1st Century Judea; there are many messiahs, there is dissatisfaction with a bloated Jewish priesthood, and uprisings against Rome, which are brutally crushed. Its a turbulent time; but one potential messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, created enough concern for his name to be recorded by Roman historians. The discussion of the "times" is illuminating - but sadly there are just very few sources to use when discussing Jesus' life. In the end, Aslan is forced to rely on the scriptures and although his textual analysis of these is fascinating, he does rather pick and choose the sources he is prepared to believe. If "Luke"'s description of the birth of Jesus is not to be taken literally (which seems self evident given that there is no record of the Roman's conducting any census etc), why then should his account of any other part of Jesus ministry be taken literally? . However Aslan makes a strong case for the following 1. That Jesus was executed for the crime of sedition 2. That the idea that the Romans, specifically Pilate, were reluctant to execute him but bowed to Jewish pressure is ludicrous given Pilate's reputation for blood thirsty cruelty is well established 3. That far from being the meek, other worldly pacifist, Jesus was agitating for revolutionary change on earth in his lifetime. The last shall be first, and the first shall be last was meant to be taken literally. 4. His main battle was with the bloated, out of touch priesthood controlling the temple - but in the end he wanted to evict the Romans too. 5. In short, Jesus was a zealot. A man so passionate in his fundamental religious beliefs that he was prepared to fight and die for them. There are 3 parts of the book I found particularly interesting; firstly Aslan's discussion of the meaning of the parable of the Good Samaritan. He argues that the point of the parable is not to praise the Samaritan; exactly the opposite. Samaritan's were held to be almost the lowest of the low in Judaism as they did not place the temple at the centre of their worship. Jesus' point here, Aslan contends, was not the good behaviour of the Samaritan but the bad behaviour of the priests who ignored the injured traveller . Look, Jesus, is saying, these priests are so bad that even a Samaritan, a Samaritan for goodness sake, behaves better than they do. Secondly the discussion of the "Render unto Caesar" teaching. This is better translated as "Give back to Caesar" Aslan says, and I am in no position to argue with him. But if that translation is better, then the meaning of the teaching does seem to be clear. Look, Jesus is saying, this coin has Caesar's face on it. Its his. He can have it back. This land is God's and he wants it backThirdly the split in early Christianity between the Jerusalem sect based around Jesus' brother James, and the Greek converts led by Saul / Paul. This deserves a book of its own; but essentially James and those who had known what Paul describes as "flesh and blood" Jesus see their faith as essentially a fundamentalist strand of Judaism. Paul takes Jesus and turns him into something else entirely , something acceptable to Greeks and ultimately RomansIts a very interesting book, but just to reemphasise it has very little to do with Christianity and the reader shouldn't expect that. Readers however may be struck by the similarity of the historical Jesus, as portrayed by Aslan, and the Jesus of the liberation theology movement of the 70s and the 80s. And they will see very little in the historical Jesus to support any love of free market economics, capitalism, or right wing reactionary politics generally. The last shall be first, and the first shall be last

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