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The title of this book is provocative and in your face, and just it was supposed to do - it drew my attention. I did not feel, however, that the book itself was all that confrontational. Whatever your persuasion, the author's overview of the apocalyptic fervor in Palastine, particularly Galilee, is helpful for understanding the time period. His account of the life of Jesus is well written, but familiar to most secularists I imagine, but the history of Christianity after the death of Christ and before the destruction of Jerusalem was not something I had heard before and I enjoyed it immensely. This book is probably best described as an overview of the politics of Palastine before, during, and after the life of Christ, and how those interactions influenced Christianity.
I always prefer to have authors read their own work. I'm not sure what it adds, but I like it better. Good narration.
52 of 58 people found this review helpful
Reza Aslan has tackled a big project in this book: not just a biography of Jesus, but also a recreation of life in first-century Palestine, combining anecdotal evidence from the New Testament and other writings with the latest evidence from archaeological and sociological investigations. For the most part he succeeds brilliantly. It's one of the most vivid books on this subject I've read in nearly 40 years of study.
I might not feel so positively toward it if his take on Jesus was too far removed from my own. But it isn't. Aslan leans toward the Bart Ehrmann school of thought rather than the NT Wright or Jesus Seminar approach. His Jesus is an apocalyptic prophet who goes to Jerusalem with every expectation that God will intervene in history in a spectacular and visible way; but the Kingdom of God that he's spent a couple of years preaching and predicting (and possibly much of his life preparing for) fails to materialize.
This is not to say his take on Jesus is one of complete skepticism. More rationalist / humanist readers may be surprised at the weight he gives to the miracles of Jesus. Here he seems to most closely reflect the views of John P Meier, who points out that the standard historical criteria for New Testament research - the criteria of multiple sources, dissimilarity, and the like - when applied to the question of Jesus' miracles, lead to the conclusion that he was, in fact, a "doer of mighty deeds" - or at least that the people who knew him, friends and enemies alike, never questioned that he was a healer, exorcist, and wonder-worker.
The same is true of Aslan's discussion of the resurrection. There are no eyewitness accounts and no physical or archaeological evidence for the resurrection, and so it can't be evaluated by historical methods; but it's clear that "something happened." Of all the people who proclaimed themselves Messiah during this period - and Aslan gives a great deal of attention to the other messianic figures - Jesus is the only one whose followers remained devoted to him, who continued to proclaim his messiahship (and later his divinity) long after the crucifixion.
Aslan describes three types of messiahs that appear in Jewish literature leading up the the time of Jesus. The most obvious one is the kingly messiah, the descendant of David who would restore the twelve tribes of Israel; but there were also messiahs-as-liberators like Moses, and messiahs-as-prophets like Elijah. He evaluates the evidence for and against and suggests that, even though he was reluctant to proclaim it openly, Jesus thought of himself as the kingly Messiah. His choice of twelve disciples to "rule the twelve tribes of Israel" is only one piece of evidence to that end. There is also his many references to himself as "the Son of Man," which Aslan connects to the kingly figure depicted in the book of Daniel.
Aslan also gives remarkably full coverage of the early church, up to the time of the writing of the Gospels. Peter is here, as is James, the brother of Jesus, and Paul: and in the controversy that plagued the relationship of James and Paul, it probably comes as no surprise that Aslan believes James was closer to what Jesus actually proclaimed. One of the big problems of the early church, as Aslan describes it, is explaining how, if Jesus was crucified, he could have been the kingly Messiah he thought of himself as being. Aslan's conclusion, like that of many mainstream scholars, is that the disciples resolved the problem by redefining the Messiah as a suffering servant who would one day return in glory to judge the living and the dead. It can be defended with reference to different parts of scripture, but it doesn't reflect any concept of the Messiah that preceded the crucifixion of Jesus.
Aslan narrates the book himself. I'm not a great fan of self-narrated audio books, and there are times when I think he emphasizes the wrong word in his own sentence; but he is an enthusiastic reader who carries the narrative momentum forward with clarity.
I recommend the book highly. I've already listened to it twice (the second time, granted, at double-speed for the sake of review), and I plan to listen to it many timesa in the future.
117 of 134 people found this review helpful
Would you listen to Zealot again? Why?
No, because I got all I needed from one listen
What about Reza Aslan’s performance did you like?
Well read, and it's always nice to hear the author read their own work.
Any additional comments?
The best part of the book is the first bit, setting out the cultural milleau in Roman Palestine. As for JC himself, Aslan is convinced that his take is sensational and new; but it's not the ground-shaker he thinks it is. The specifics where he diverges from other attempts to historicise Jesus are in Aslan's attempting to locate him in the Zealot tradition (rather than an apocalyptic as he's usually seen). But his evidence for this largely relies upon his own exegesis of biblical passages. In one particularly excruciating section he goes into details of the exact etymology of the Greek verb in “render/give/return unto Caesar...” in order to show what Jesus really meant by it; in the process apparently rather forgetting his own previous emphasis that JC would have spoken little if any of this language, and the word in the NT is not that that he would have uttered himself.
Similarly, he shows how the trial before the Sanhedrin as recorded in Mark contradicts the rabbinical procedures for such trials. He then admits that the trial took place in the second temple period, before the emergence of the Rabbinic/Mishnaic tradition, but quickly points out that Mark *was* written within the Rabbinic tradition. A bizarre position: that the author of Mark ought to have rewritten his oral sources to make them conform to the standards of his day, and that because he did not this is evidence that the events could not have occurred as the traditions described them.
These are both typical of its approach: it presents itself as falling within the scholarly rather than christological tradition, yet ultimately relies upon exegesis and substantial interpretative assumptions rather than painstaking and careful critical comparison.
Not a bad or deliberately dishonest book, but he has a prior agenda (JC the militant anti-Roman), and cherry-picks and interprets the sources to back it up.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
I have surprisingly enjoyed this audio book. I have long been interested in the real truth and the fiction hidden within the Bible. Reza Aslan narrates his book with enthusiasm. I must admit that I wouldn't make it to the end of the written book, but the audio version is more bearable. I didn't fully understand all of the threads which he references throughout, but I picked up the general gist. It is a revealing book but you have to have an interest in the subject to make sense of it. It's not a book for someone unfamiliar with the Bible in my opinion. It has made me ask more questions than finding answers.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Reza is an engaging narrator, weaving source material into his interpretation without confusing the listener.
2 of 3 people found this review helpful
Enthralling book, I could not stop listening to Reza. He respectfully and fearlessly approached his subject. I felt his love. Thank you for acknowledging Palestine.