232: Zealot by Reza Aslan

by Gerard


232: Aslan, Reza. Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. New York: Random House, 2013. 336 pp. ISBN 978-1-4000-6922-4.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 200: Religion
  • 230: Christian theology
  • 232: Jesus Christ and his family (Christology)

There is a curious line in Josephus’ The Antiquities of the Jews. It reads: “…so he [Ananus, high priest of Judea] assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others…” This is one of the few non-Biblical passages that give credence to the existence of an historical Jesus, and indeed, most historians are on board with the existence of a person named Jesus who lived and preached to Jews in Galilee and Judea. But what else can be gleaned from the historical record? And does this information change the way historians should view the life of Jesus? Reza Aslan’s believes so, and traces the life, teachings, and even his political agenda in Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.

Aslan finds, in a very close reading of the Biblical and historical source material, that a different picture of Jesus emerges. He places Jesus in the historical context of the age. First century BCE Jews rebelled against their Roman leaders, especially as they began to denigrate the holiness of the Temple of Jerusalem by appointing unqualified high priests. Those who advocated for a separate nation for the Jews became known as Zealots. Aslan’s contention is that Jesus’s activities and sayings point to him being more a part of this movement that previously thought. Only after his crucifixion did he change the way in people believed and worshiped.

This book was interesting, but not in the way I thought it would be. While there is a good discussion on the life of Jesus, there is also a lot more on the history of ancient Judea and political movements of the day. Those who do not normally study in this era will pick a great deal of contextual information on Biblical history. Also, Aslan’s commentary on translation leads one to believe that the Biblical sources are not as cut and dry as they would seem to be. A curious and engaging book.