Review 1856: Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

First, let me say that I am not a religious person, furthermore, that I have a big problem with how many people practice their religion, especially if it involves war. I believe one of my brothers feels the same, so I was surprised when he recommended Zealot to me.

Reza Aslan is not so much interested in Jesus Christ as in Jesus of Nazareth, that is, not in the ministry of Jesus or the beliefs about him, but the actual man—what can be found about him from the earliest and most reliable sources. This examination involves placing utterances and events in their proper context, not as we understand them today.

The result is eye-opening, starting with the story of his birth, for example. For Aslan reveals this story as a construct by the writers of the gospels—all written well after his death—to support messianic claims. The messiah was supposed to be a descendant of David, which meant he had to be born in Bethlehem. There was indeed a tax levied, but on Judea, and it would never have required the populace to travel to pay it, as taxes were levied in the place of residence. Jesus’s parents lived in Galilee and so were not subject to that tax. Jesus was known as Jesus of Nazareth all his life, as he was born in Nazareth.

One by one Aslan knocks down the myths that have risen around the life of Jesus and explains why these myths were created. Instead of the gentle soul that emerges from the gospels, we get a fighter for the poor and a strong supporter of the laws of Moses who never intended his teachings for anyone but Jews.

One of the myths is that Jews killed Jesus, not the Romans. Aslan explains that after his death, the new religion shifted from being a sect that was always meant to be a form of Judaism to one that began to recruit gentiles. As Rome was the base of many of these activities, the writers of the gospels had to find a way to appease Rome. They couldn’t come out and say Jesus was killed by Rome. So, to quote Aslan, “Thus, a story concocted by Mark strictly for evangelistic purposes to shift the blame for Jesus’s death away from Rome is stretched with the passage of time to the point of absurdity, becoming in the process the basis for two thousand years of Christian anti-Semitism.” And wait until you read what this book says about Paul.

This book is an eye-opener, written by an acclaimed scholar of religion.

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10 thoughts on “Review 1856: Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

  1. Jane May 17, 2022 / 12:35 pm

    This is very interesting, I read the bible last year as a ‘project’ and was amazed by the new testament and how really we follow Paul’s ‘invention’ of jesus. I read the King James version but in the Oxford Classics edition and the editors referred a lot to the ‘cult of Jesus’. This book seems to be agreeing with them.

    • whatmeread May 17, 2022 / 4:18 pm

      Yes, it certainly says it was a cult. You might find the book interesting. It is fairly short.

      • Jane May 18, 2022 / 10:08 am

        I think I will find it interesting thanks. I was bought up to believe it hook line and sinker as if it was all the word of Jesus!

      • whatmeread May 18, 2022 / 10:11 am

        I wasn’t, but you’re not the only one.

  2. Cynthia May 17, 2022 / 9:26 pm

    I read it a few years ago and felt like I finally had a grasp on who the man called Jesus might really have been – and of the history that created the myth.

  3. thecontentreader May 19, 2022 / 8:43 am

    Very interesting. I have read several books on the same theme. I am more interested in the real, historical story, rather than the somewhat adapted story that has grown up through religion.

    • whatmeread May 19, 2022 / 10:18 am

      After reading this, I wouldn’t say it was somewhat adapted.

  4. John Schimmelman May 21, 2022 / 12:11 pm

    I’m glad you reviewed this book, Kay. I have always instinctively been suspicious of the cult of Jesus people. Therefore I keep my distance and avoid the subject. But I heard a riveting lecture by Reza Aslan and immediately bought his book. I hope your review will encourage others to read this important book.

    • whatmeread May 21, 2022 / 7:10 pm

      Thanks, John! I would have loved to hear that lecture.

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