Book Review: Zealot – The Life And Times of Jesus of Nazareth

After composing “No God But God”, which got shortlisted as one of the most important books of the last decade, Iranian American writer, Reza Aslan is back with his excellent scholarly research on Judeo- Christian history, says Naveed Qazi

Zealot by Reza Aslan

The book is a product of two decades of academic research into the origins of Christianity. The author claims that he is deeply indebted to John P. Meier’s work, “A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus” when he was studying the New Testament at Santa Clara University.

The book works because it not only gives a concise account of the socio- economic and political conditions of the Jewish Temple State that existed before Jesus claimed messiahship for the State he believed was his to purify from corruption, but the reader also gets a chance to dive into the remnants of Jesus’s past – his family, status and social background. The author questions conventional truths, which are taught by religion today.

“Riveting . . . Aslan synthesises Scripture and scholarship to create an original account.”—The New Yorker.

The enigmatic and influential Jesus is characterised as an extensive traveler, “a logos”,  and a preacher of new reunification of The Temple of Jerusalem, in the age of zealotry of exploitative aristocrats – where the Temple State is flooded with the advent of prophets, and why his message gained popularity amidst fervent Jewish Nationalism that espoused hostility towards the Roman Empire.

Jesus is characterised by the author as an ambitious wannabe King of Jews, who gains unconventional popularity in forming a new religion, which got essential formed as “The Pauline Christianity” – this holds a very important contention, according to Aslan’s perspective, as his followers are actually responsible in transforming him from a nomadic peasant at war into a “man of peace.”

The books also holds arguments regarding the compositions of Gospels. Aslan, boldly, concludes the New Testament as fanciful. There are also narrations about historic splinter groups in Jerusalem – the Sicaris, the Zealots, the background of the Herodian Dynasty, the class conflicts of Hebrews and the Hellenists, and in mitigating common confusions like the concept of “God’s Kingdom” in the “Promised Land”.

The style of the book composition is excellent because the reader gets revitalised by passages from the Testament along with the synthesis of Judeo- Christian history. The end notes provide a frutiful summary of the bibliographic material used in the original chapters for verification of facts.

The author has succeeded in giving a new fervour to Christology discussion. Aslan, boldly, concludes Jesus as a ‘failed’ revolutionary at a specific time, that is, with reference to early Christianity times, when his followers wanted to pacify with Rome. However, crucifixion which was widely regarded as an end product of slave revolt eventually found itself as a symbol of love, with the Romans too, accepting it as a new faith in the new world order today, according to Evangelical Christians.

“Jesus was crucified by Rome because his messianic aspirations threatened the occupation of Palestine, and his zealotry threatened the Temple authorities. That singular fact should colour everything we read in the gospels about the messiah we call as the Jesus of Nazareth – from the details of his death on the cross in Golgotha to the launch of his public ministry on the banks of the Jordan River,” Aslan claims.

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