Rated Reads

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

by Reza Aslan

Rated: Mild

I’ve had my eye on this one for a while, since it came out. But it was only on a prompting from a friend that I finally stuck it on my library hold list and picked it up. Having only ever read one other Reza Aslan book (No god but God) and that being years ago, I don’t know what I expected.

Whatever that was, it wasn’t a historical look at the man Jesus of Nazareth and how (historically) he came to be Jesus the Christ. I should say going in that there are other, better reviews of this one out there, as well as criticisms of both Aslan’s interpretation and presentation of what little data there is.

I am not a Biblical scholar (duh), and I’ve not really been interested in Biblical scholarship. (Hubby, on the other hand, is: most of the points I brought up as new to me, he’d already heard of.) I know that those who are have found this one reductive, but I don’t think Aslan is writing for the scholarly audience. Rather, he is writing for people like me: curious individuals who don’t know much about Biblical history but are interested in what he has to say.

And I found what he had to say to be, well, interesting. Although he uses a mishmash of scholarship — relying on the gospel of Mark mostly as well as Roman history from the time period — he presents his thesis — that Jesus of Nazareth was someone who wanted to overthrow the Roman rule of Jerusalem — in a way that, while it doesn’t challenge Christianity as a theology, challenges the idea of the Bible as a historical document. Which makes sense, if you think about it; having been translated and passed down and retranslated, it’s probably not a history of Jesus as a person. I’m not sure if Aslan’s book is, either, but it tries to put Jesus in a historical setting. And, with that at least, I think it succeeds.

Did I like it? Well, I was interested in it. And it made me think. And I learned things I didn’t know, though after reading some scholarly reviews of this, I’m not sure how accurate the things I learned are. But I’m not sure that boils down to “like.” It was an interesting reading experience, which may be the best I can hope for.

Rated: Mild. There really isn’t anything objectionable. I think the issue here is content. Again, nothing questionable, but Aslan is a scholarly writer, and so the reading ability will match that. It’s in the thought/religion section at the store, but it’s more history than anything else.

— Reviewed by Melissa Fox

Melissa Madsen Fox's blogging career began in 2004 when she started Book Nut. Reading, reviewing and book blogging have taken over what's left of her life after being a stay-at-home mom to four rambunctious daughters and wife to a slightly- absent-minded professor of political science.

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  • Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth
  • by Reza Aslan
  • Rated: Mild
  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Reviewer: