Something Different A Book Review

Trip Start Dec 02, 2013
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Trip End Dec 15, 2013


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Flag of United States  , Arizona
Sunday, December 8, 2013

This is my review of Zealot which was kindly given to me for my birthday by Bob Feeney and Nancy O’Donnell.  I read it in a day which is no special feat when you are on a train for 36 hours and most of the time there is no cell signal or way to get online.  Thanks to Bob and Nancy for the excellent gift.
The author, Reza Aslan, brings a persepective on Jesus that is unlike most Christian scripture scholars. He was born in Iran and raised a Muslim, moved to the US with his family as a child and converted to Christianity as a teenager.  In college and graduate school he took up the study of religion in a serious way and this led him to reject Christianity as he learned that all of the bible is not literally true.  He returned to his native religion and remains a Muslim.  He describes that later his religious studies led him to become an admirer of the historical Jesus and this is the perspective he brings to this book. I mention this because most scripture scholars have some denominational restrictions on the conclusions they may reach. That is not to say he is without bias - nobody is, but I think his perspective is a particularly independent one.  It allows him to present a theory about the historical Jesus which is provocative and which has to be taken seriously.  
Aslan acknowledges that any pursuit of the historical Jesus must be theory due to the fact that so little is known of his life other than what is presented in the gospels.  It is already a well established fact acknowledged by many prominent scripture scholars that the gospels were never meant to be mere historical accounts, but rather were written primarily for the purpose of spreading faith in Jesus. It is also widely accepted that they contradict one another on many historical points and have layers of content that were added in the late 1st Century (70 AD to 120 AD) to address issues that were occurring in the early Church and in the Jewish religion at that time.
Usually, books that have this much scholarly effort behind them are written by academics for academics and not for popular consumption.  Aslan should be credited for making this material accesible and for presenting it in a way which can have wider appeal. Granting that we can never go back in time and know great detail about the life of Jesus of Nazareth, Aslan uses to scholar’s tools of archeology and other available historical data to make compelling assumptions about certain things that he says had to be true of a 1st Century Jewish peasant from Nazareth.  
If you are gong to read this book, be ready to have some myths dispelled.  His assumptions include the assertions that Jesus was illiterate, that he had multiple brothers and sisters, that he must have first been a disciple of John the Baptist and only started his own ministry after John was beheaded.  More important than those assertions, and central to his book is his belief that Jesus was a zealot, not a formal member of the known Zealot group that fomed later in the 1st Century, but a type of Jewish zealot that was very common in the early 1st Century.  These zealots were incensed about the corruption among the Temple leadership in Jerusalem and their close alliance with the Roman occupiers.  These zealots had a very definite earthly mission and that was to expel the Romans and replace the Temple leadership at the same time.  Aslan lays out how such a mission was fully consistent with centuries of Jewish law and tradition. He follows Jesus the miracle worker and preacher as he travels about Galilee and draws disciples to himself.
Aslan also analyzes the passion, death and resurrection accounts and explores how the early church’s faith in the resurrection transformed the movement from a mere zealot mission to a new faith.  He traces the controversies in the early church between James, the brother of Jesus, and Paul including the question of whether new followers needed to maintain Jewish practices in order to follow Jesus.  
For students of the bible and of the origins of Christianity, Aslan’s work offers a fresh and provocative exploration into the historical Jesus.  He presents a figure that is in some ways unlike the other-worldly God/Man presented in some of the gospels and in other ways is more like us.
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Comments

Cynthia Ponce on

Hi Mike!

Thanks so much for such a detailed book review. It seems very interesting, and I love looking into the Bible from a historical perspective!

I hope you are enjoying the rest of your trip!

Cynthia

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