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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book
A fascinating read that fills in some holes about the myth of Jesus. I highly recommend it. Don't worry - you can still be a Christian after reading it, from a more grounded context.
Published 6 months ago by Alicia

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Failed deconstruction
I have read a stack of books on Jesus and early Christianity over the years. The historical Jesus is variously concluded to be a Jewish religious teacher, Jewish Mystic, Jewish Apocalyptic preacher, Messianic revolutionary, Essene, Nazarite, etc, or purely mythological, all deduced by different scholars from the same available evidence.

Aslan now makes him out...
Published 3 months ago by becks


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, 17 Dec 2013
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This review is from: Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (Kindle Edition)
A fascinating read that fills in some holes about the myth of Jesus. I highly recommend it. Don't worry - you can still be a Christian after reading it, from a more grounded context.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A revealing portrait of Jesus rooted in historical fact, 27 Aug 2013
By 
Andrew Ross "J. Andrew Ross" (Southern England) - See all my reviews
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Reza Aslan has performed a public service with this readable review of the life and times of Jesus the Nazarene. As a scholar of religion and a teacher of creative writing, he has managed to hit a high note in a field both swamped with demented polemics from religious cranks and overgrown with pedantic exercises in obfuscation by bookish bores, all of which has fed a forbidding forest of obstacles to writers like Aslan. His new book is about as exciting as a monograph backed by a solid list of academic references can be, and it tells the story with a spin that begs for a Hollywood movie treatment by a team that can do justice to his thoroughly modern vision.

Zealot is the story of a politically engaged Jesus in a world where religion and politics were inextricably entangled. So the tale has a striking resonance in the turmoil currently gripping the Mideast region, and Aslan as a confessed Muslim is coming from the right corner to tell it. The Jewish struggle for freedom from Roman rule two thousand years ago finds a disturbing mirror in the modern Palestinian struggle to break free of Israeli domination, and although the contrast between the two struggles is so great as to make the second seem a wild inversion of the first, the parallel is revealing. Aslan is wise enough to do no more than hint at this side of his story and to focus on the old struggle. He presents the vivid facts surrounding the narrative in order to set in sharp relief the unknown details that have been blurred into mad minefields by endless polemics between various believers. What we see is a profile of Jesus that makes the Christian confabulations surrounding his life look transparent. No reasonable person can fail to see through the threadbare veils of faith to the shadow of the man behind them.

A great merit of the book is its gently ironic distance from the three monotheistic faiths. We see the facts, so far as they have been established by generations of patient scholars, plus an honest assessment of the gaps and the conjectures, all wrapped up in a story that stays lively enough to keep readers going. The ancient clash of Romans and Jews is a drama without equal in Western history, and its uneasy resolution in the Christian tradition is with us still. So Aslan needs skill and courage to stay on top as he surfs the waves of the ongoing controversies. He does so with such aplomb that even simple Christians need not be offended by his portrait.

Any such portrait confronts a historical challenge. A hundred years ago, Albert Schweitzer concluded a magisterial review of all previous lives of Jesus with the dismaying verdict that key facts were lost and all the lives said more about their authors than about their subject. More recent studies, for example on the Dead Sea scrolls and newly discovered gospels, have helped, but they have also raised wider questions. To disclose my own interest, last year I drafted a book on the life of Jesus that I now find largely shared the perspective Aslan adopts in Zealot. I know how hard it is to rise to the challenge posed by Schweitzer and failed to meet it. Aslan does better. His touch is so light as he approaches matters of moment to fundamentalists that he leaves his own opinions out of play, with the pleasing result that the facts, at least so far as we know them, can speak for themselves. Also, his scholarship has been impressive, albeit with gaps that some reviewers have attacked with their own zeal, so readers of Zealot can rest content that the main claims are reasonably solid.

In my opinion, Aslan fails the Schweitzer test on two aspects of the story. First, he drastically undervalues the pacific doctrines of the gospel Jesus, which show that Jesus was influenced by Essene ideas. The love and peace vibe makes Jesus more of a hippy than a zealot, and sets up a resonance between his ideas and Buddhism. Second, Aslan fails to look more closely at the resurrection stories. Odd details in the crucifixion drama suggest that Jesus may have survived the punishment, for a while at least, and perhaps even hoped to do so. Aslan may be forgiven for glossing over the resurrection issue, but losing the love thing behind a call to arms makes for a travesty.

Despite the flaws, Zealot is the best book on Jesus for a long time. Atheists and believers alike will find both cheer and challenges as they come to grips with its drama. All its readers will be better informed in the debates on faith that are likely yet to come. Our global civilization is struggling to integrate the three strands of monotheism in a world where science puts hard bounds on any truth behind their faiths. Zealot helps narrow the scope for believers to make wild assertions about Jesus the Nazarene, and thus helps us all.
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123 of 137 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars let the blind see, 30 July 2013
This review is from: Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (Kindle Edition)
I think that a book should be judged by the quality of its research and argument not on whether the author is a Muslim or a Christian. As a professional academic this is no more relevant than whether the author is left or right handed. I have studied 1st century palestine history and politics and jesus role within it at a postgraduate level and I can say confidently that this author is taking a proper and correct approach based upon current historical and scriptural research and his research is meticulous. I can also write this with authority as a priest who accepts Christ as Saviour. When we love we can see the truth a little clearer. Reading this book will help many Christians to understand scripture more accurately.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Failed deconstruction, 23 Mar 2014
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I have read a stack of books on Jesus and early Christianity over the years. The historical Jesus is variously concluded to be a Jewish religious teacher, Jewish Mystic, Jewish Apocalyptic preacher, Messianic revolutionary, Essene, Nazarite, etc, or purely mythological, all deduced by different scholars from the same available evidence.

Aslan now makes him out to be a Zealot, a radical religious fundamentalist nationalist, who wanted to see an overthrow of the corrupt and exploitative temple priesthood and the Roman domination system and usher in the “Kingdom of God”, a Jewish theocracy based on the Torah, -along the lines of the mythical Kingdom of David and the more historical Josiah. According to this view of Jesus, if he had been a Muslim it would make him an Islamist in the modern sense.

Even without believing in Jesus as the Son of God, modern followers look to him as teacher of moral values, behaviour towards others as well as guide to experiental spirituality. All this Aslan strips away from his historical Jesus.

However, his book is wholly unpersuasive. Whilst it exudes scholarship in some places, it is superficial in others and leaves large gaps, in places where other scholars mined evidence and have drawn different conclusions, e.g. Burton Mack, Bart Ehrman, Marcus Borg and others. As such, Aslan’s book reads as if it is peppered with confirmation bias.

I find the book lacks credibility for the following reasons:

1.Aslan bases the idea of Jesus being a political revolutionary on the fact that he was crucified, and had the inscription “King of the Jews”. He says this is good evidence because Romans only used crucifixion for the crime of sedition and used inscriptions literally, not sarcastically, to announce the crime. Yet Aslan also declares that Pilate was not one for trials and summarily sent thousands upon thousands of Jews to the cross with a stroke of a pen, so his threshold for crucifixion was pretty low and it does not provide good evidence of what Jesus actually was.

The same sources that inform us about the inscription (the gospels) also tell us that the Roman soldiers made fun of Jesus, gave him a fake crown (of thorns) and mockingly called him “King of the Jews”. So, again, the inscription does not provide evidence of what Jesus actually was. Philo of Alexandra records similar mocking of prisoners by the Romans.

2.Aslan says that the closest we can get to Jesus’ ideology is through examining his successor as head of the movement in Jerusalem, his brother James (not the apostle), is known to have been a strict observer of the Torah. But how much more does that say about Jesus? James sent out emissaries outside Palestine to places like Galatia, Corinth and Thessallonica in order to correct the religious teachings of Paul. Why bother? He surely can’t have been expecting that this biblical “Kingdom of God” would be established in those places.

Further, James sent (or allowed to go) Peter, his closest fellow “pillar”in Jerusalem, to Rome as missionary, - surely not with Aslan’s ideas of Jesus’ vision? There is not much info on Peter’s mission in Rome, but his immediate successor, Clement of Rome, is only known for his efforts to establish an organised church within the Roman empire.

This suggests that the “pillars” in Jerusalem, James, Peter and John, had only religious and no political aspirations.

3. Aslan only talks about two groups of followers of Jesus, the community in Jerusalem headed by James and the Paul “school”. He ignores the evidence that Jesus left behind numerous communities each with their own perspective and ideas about Jesus' teachings. (See "Lost Christianities", Bart Ehrman, "Who wrote the new Testament", Burton Mack). They grew over the years and their beliefs and practices changed; some interacted, some remained isolated. Many of them created writings, purely aimed at preserving and defending their beliefs in their specific settings. This accounts for the differences in tone and content of the large numbers of writings we know about. Only some writings were kept and canonised, - as Gospels, Acts and Epistles, the majority of writings were lost or destroyed as "heresies". Some of these extracanonical writings are reflected in surviving writings and recovered through scholarship, or were rediscovered amongst the finds at Nag Hammadi.

Apart from the Gospel of Thomas and the earliest form of “Q” they do not contain close echoes of the historical Jesus. But note, none of them, including “Thomas” and “Q”, have any echoes of a revolutionary zealot. In fact, apart from the Jerusalem community (which survived as the community of Ebionites), none showed any concern for sticking to the Torah purity codes. If they were all followers of Jesus at the founding moment of their communities, this would seem very odd, and undermines Alsan’s position.

4. Although Alsan spends time and effort trying to extract evidence for his position from the community of James (who wrote nothing), he spends no time looking for evidence from other contemporary communities in the lost Gospel of “Q” and the found Gospel of “Thomas”, even though other scholars believe these may contain the closest documented echoes we have of the historical Jesus. Nor does he look at Paul’s letter for pre-Pauline material that Paul said he had received as a “tradition”, such as the early “kerygma”, and Christ hymn (which he quotes in Phil 2: 6-11), which undermine the idea of Jesus as a Jewish zealot.

The original forms of “Q” are discernible in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, where it was drawn on, whilst the writer of Mark did not know it. “Thomas” was rediscovered in 1945 at Nag Hammadi, amongst a stash of scriptures hidden by 4th C Egyptian monks.

Written in its current form some time between 50 and 140 AD, the gospel of Thomas contains oral traditions of various ages, some of which may have been written down when Jesus was still alive. Both “Q” and “Thomas” contain nothing to do with Jewish Zealotery or political change. Thomas and the deduced earliest versions of Q contain only “sayings” of Jesus, aphorisms, wisdoms, mostly metaphorical. They are mostly to do with the revelation of a knowledge of a “kingdom of the Father” “that’s inside of you and all around”, and are clearly spiritual in nature.

5. I do not understand how Aslan’s Jesus thought his aim would be achieved and Alsan provides no explanation. He says Jesus amassed a following through performing miracles “for free” ! He then travelled to Jerusalem for the final week, but all this time he kept his idea of what the “Kingdom of God” was hidden from his followers. He provokes temple authorities, predicts his own death, then is executed, leaving baffled followers.

Alsan makes an interpretation of Jesus mentioning swords and violence but otherwise provides no evidence that Jesus was attracting large numbers of potentially militant followers inspired by Jesus to start a rebellion, whether armed, peaceful or spiritual. (In fact, as with most of Jesus’ aphorisms, the mention of swords and violence was undoubtedly metaphorical).

Or was Jesus relying on God to do it all at the end? But there is no mention of this in any of Jesus’ sayings in the Gospels. Aslan does not go into this.

6. Universally, scholars view the bible narrative as a mix of allegory, myth and history. Annoyingly, Alsan quotes left right and centre from both the old and new testaments as if they were factual, without explaining why he holds those particular quotes as truth, as if he still has a foot stuck in Christian fundamentalism.

In summary, Alsan’s deconstruction of the normative image of Jesus is unwarranted. More comprehensive scholarship, as in Burton Mack’s “Who Wrote the New Testament” (1995) and the level headed portrayal by Marcus Borg in “Jesus” (2006) leave room for the historical Jesus as a guide to behaviour and action towards others and experiential connection to all existence.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not for zealots, 6 Aug 2013
When analyzing the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth, if you remove faith from the equation you're left with a few hard facts and a lot of historical context.

This book is as more about the times Jesus lived in than Jesus himself. He lived in an era of brutal Roman occupation, failed rebellions, false messiahs, Jewish nationalism, rampant illiteracy, a corrupt Jewish priesthood, and massive differences between rich and poor.

60 pages of notes and research references document both sides of academic arguments. This is not a haphazard book of opinions. It's a meticulously researched, balanced analysis.

Jesus lived in a time of apocalyptic visions, culture clashes, and competing religious orthodoxies. Judging from the debate and attacks this book has inspired, so do we.

The author is respectful of his subject. His final conclusions is that "Jesus the man is every bit as compelling as Jesus the Christ ... He is, in short, someone worth believing in..."

People of faith as well as `ye of little faith' will find this a fascinating read. Believers have an opportunity to deepen their faith. Skeptics and non-Christians have an opportunity to increase their understanding. Only zealots will find reason to be offended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well researched book, 28 Oct 2013
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This review is from: Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (Kindle Edition)
A very well written interesting book looking at the difference between the Jesus of history and the Jesus created by Paul and the writers of the gospels.
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107 of 127 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Evangelical Christian Smear Campaign, 25 July 2013
Nothing much new in this book, but very enjoyable.

By the way, FOX News have today posted an article by an Evangelical Christian Activist, attacking the book and trying to discredit the author.

Claiming the author can't be trusted as he's a muslim (!)

And hinting he supports terrorism in Israel.

This has led to hundreds of rednecks, coming on here and posting 1 star reviews, quoting the religious nut.

Disgusting.
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53 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing author, 28 July 2013
Brilliant book, amazing scholar, eye opening book! Cannot recommend it enough. Reza Aslan has a brilliant mind and is charming and thoughtful in his approach.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The real historical Jesus, 9 Nov 2013
By 
K. Strachan (Kingston upon Thames, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (Kindle Edition)
I'm a self confessed atheist with a curiosity about religion. Did Jesus truly exist and if so what was he like? Who was he? I've read a few books before that takes an historical view of Jesus but Reza Aslan's book is the most compelling and, for me, the most believable. This is an extensively researched document and the result is in no way sensationalist. The fact that Reza Aslan was born a Muslim (much mentioned by his Christian critics) has no bearing on his judgement as an historian.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book, 2 May 2014
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This sets Jesus in his historical and political background. It describes his life and the development of the early church at the time when the Holy Land resembled, in some ways, Afghanistan at present.
The opinions are backed by multiple references to enormous source materials.
Despite this it is highly readable and informative.
I strongly recommend it.
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