I’ve had this book sitting on my shelves since it came out in 2013 and I just got around to reading it. To be fair, when I bought it the first time, it wasn’t really because I was burning to read a book about the historical Jesus, it was more to do with the shitstorm of criticism Reza Aslan got from conservatives because he’s a Muslim daring to write a book about Jesus. Remember this? He was so well-spoken and intelligent that I ordered the book immediately.
Well, I should have gotten to Zealot sooner. This book was SO GOOD. I’m not into nonfiction as a general rule and even less into historical nonfiction unless the author is Sarah Vowell. But color me completely surprised that this is the book I’ll be recommending and pushing onto everyone for the rest of the year. Aslan’s writing is great, but I was completely stunned by how interesting Jewish life was at the beginning of the 1st century. Aslan puts the beginnings of Christianity into perspective by bringing that time period alive for the reader. With the Roman occupation and their upper class Jewish cohorts, the Jews of that time dealt with so much political and social turmoil. Zealot does a great job of distilling these influences on everyday Jewish life and what we’re certain of about the historical Jesus.
I consider myself agnostic with atheistic leanings, so this book didn’t make me uncomfortable, only more and more interested. Although devout Christians might find this book more challenging, I don’t think it’s incompatible with faith. In some circumstances, I could see it enriching faith, giving it context. If you think everything in the bible is literally true (which doesn’t even make sense considering different gospels contradict each other), this probably isn’t the book for you. Everyone else should definitely give it a try though. A+