Book Review: Zealot by Reza Aslan


Reza Aslan has been burning up social media with his hilarious Fox News interview, which has helped his new book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth skyrocket to the top of the New York Times bestsellers list. In his interview his interest, as a Muslim, in Jesus of Nazareth is questioned as opposed to his scholarly standing – it is truly worth a watch. The interviewer even quotes William Lane Craig, calling him a Philosopher.

As a lifelong “lay scholar” if you will with some familiarity with the scholarship behind Jesus of Nazareth and his historicity I was immediately interested in this book, and so shortly after seeing the interview I had to order it.

I had already heard the claim, prior to receiving the book in the mail,  that no new information on the historical Jesus would be made available to the reader familiar with the Jesus narrative or with the controversies behind gospel canon and Pauline discrepancies – this was absolutely true. Anyone with more than a couple years of serious study into the life of Jesus, the Canon of the Bible, and the history of the Early Church will not learn anything new from this book.

Reza Aslan does provide something that no other text on the matter has been able to provide for me in the past; an absolutely stunning depiction of the environment in which the atmosphere and fervor were made ripe for revolutionary Zionistic thought in and around Jerusalem, making way for an abundance of Jesus-esque figures to make the scene in Roman occupied Palestine. The reader will feel connected to the story and to the events in a way that simply reading the Canonized Gospels cannot possibly provide because the contextual differences between popularly accepted dogma and understandings gleaned from knowing the history of a people and a place. Zealot sticks a thermometer to Palestine during one of the most feverish times in history and then examines the claims about one of the least understood men of that time:  Jesus of Nazareth.

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth is a book I would recommend to anyone interested in starting an exploratory journey into the Christian religion, as it takes the most basic and accepted concepts taught in your average Baptist church and throws them out so that you might see this belief system at it’s most primitive level: A Jewish man upset about Roman occupation of what he saw as G-ds promise to his people and equally upset about the religious establishment’s cooperation in the matter.

How this message of “render unto Caesar what is Caesar and unto G-d what is G-d’s” message became the Christianity we know today is the topic of the third part of the book, which focuses on Paul’s transformative Christology of Jesus and the evolution of the Canon –  important subjects for anyone with any real concern for what Christianity is or who Jesus was, subjects I found myself studying intently a number of years ago as my doubts were beginning to surface…

So, Zealot is a book for those exploring the Christian religion as an outsider for the first time, but it’s also the perfect introduction for the believer turned skeptic to a critique of the evolution of the faith during the first century of it’s existence. It will introduce your average Christian believer to concepts that will blow his mind because they simply aren’t known or aren’t discussed by your average ThD. recipient that pastors a church, much less those in his congregation.

This book is dangerous to your assumptions and that’s why it gets my endorsement, and because it contains around a hundred pages of notes with a bibliography it is an excellent introduction to other works to add to your library on the subject of Historical Jesus. Read it as an introduction to the history of Christianity, but don’t stop there.



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