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on December 26, 2013
First and foremost, I generally enjoyed reading this book and it is worth the money I spent on it. It is well written and I learned a lot about the wider Holy Land at the time of Christ. I couldn't, however, get over the problems that I kept encountering.

The biggest of said problems is time and time again, Reza dismisses vast swathes of the Gospels as unhistorical, theological, fabricated etc. Yet he turns around and uses the very same Gospels to prove his points about the "historical" Jesus! One thing that I took particular amusement in was how literal and historical the author treated the brutal passages in the Old Testament...which are arguably the most mythological and widely exaggerated parts of the Bible! It was just too much at times.

For those who think he may be out to attack or completely discredit the Christian faith, you won't find that here. He is respectful (as any honest historian should be) about the Resurrection. It truly is a mystery of history which boggles the mind when you look at the historical evidence surrounding that event (some of which Reza touches upon). What Reza does more is expose the infighting and controversies surrounding early Christianity as opposed to discrediting the religion altogether. Obviously Evangelical Christians or other fundamentalists will have mountains of issues with the book's treatment of Christianity, but for more moderate readers it is quite compelling material. Vehement Atheists will also be disappointed, as miracles are not disproved and left open to the realm of possibility, as, for example, even Jesus Christ's enemies did not question his powers. Basically, the book is agnostic in regards to the supernatural, as any reasonable person should be when it comes down to it.

Chronologically, the book jumps around a bit: before Jesus, after Jesus, during Jesus, after Jesus, etc. It's a little weird in that regard. Another point of annoyance while reading the book is Reza's broad assumptions and complete lack of consideration for viewpoints outside his own. This can be best seen when he described the historical Pontius Pilate as a tyrannical, Jew-hating soldier, and that it is laughable to suggest that Jesus would have had a conversation with him consisting of anything beyond a single sentence. Why couldn't Jesus, known for stunning those he spoke to, have touched the hard Pilate with his words and eloquence? S(P)aul, after all, was a Pharisee who participated in the persecution of the first Christians before he became one, and was eventually martyred. Jesus transformed people, that much is certain. Yet Pilate was immune? Why? Paul's conversion (for reasons mentioned above) was also astounding and defies rational explanation, yet it happened: a Jewish Pharisee and persecutor of Christians martyred for the Christian faith. But somehow the hard Pilate couldn't be softened?

I guess a large part of the problem with this book is that it tries to have its cake and eat it too. All the passages that counter Reza's theories are dismissed as fabricated, exaggerated or even preposterous. Yet similar examples or passages from the very same pages as those just dismissed, are in turn called upon to support his arguments.

Despite being incredibly well written, very readable (a rarity in history) largely enjoyable and very educational in the non-Jesus parts, this book should not be taken as...gospel.
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In this book the author attempts to tease out historical facts about Jesus of Nazareth from the biblical Jesus of the Christian faith. He points out that there is very little historical information about Jesus outside of the Bible - Flavius Josephus being a rare if not the only ancient author to fleetingly mention Jesus in his `Antiquities'. Consequently, the gospels are what remain. After pointing out that these contain many inconsistencies, fabrications and fictional stories - these, apparently, to artificially attribute to Jesus the characteristics necessary to satisfy certain religious requirements - he proceeds to extract as much historical information from them as possible. Given that he pointed out that the gospels are unreliable as historical documents, that they were written decades after the events that they describe and that many of them were written in light of ones that already existed (hence a lot of copying/repetition), it is unclear to me why the author has put so much weight on them in his quest for historical facts.

Nevertheless, I did enjoy this book, particularly because it contains a lot of documented history of the period. The author is clearly very knowledgeable in his subject matter. His prose is clear, friendly, free of specialized jargon, lively, quite accessible and engaging. The book should appeal mainly to those who have an interest in the history of religion - in this case, Christianity. For me, the bottom line is whether the author was reasonably successful in separating the historical Jesus from the Jesus of Christianity. In my non-expert opinion, the author did his best, but for the reasons cited above, I wonder if doing this convincingly is at all possible.
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on August 1, 2013
I read Zealot because I was looking for insight into the life of the historical figure of Jesus. Jesus the human being, rather than the myth. How was he different from all the other "messiahs", healers and magicians of his time? What was it about this man that inspired a whole new religion to grow up around him? A religion that advocated love, sacrifice, peace and healing, so different a message from the brutality and violence of the times. So different a message from that of the Old Testament.

I was hoping to find in this book reference to historical source material that would separate the man from the myth. How did the historical Jesus compare to Jesus Christ the divine Son of God? But I was disappointed in this regard. It turns out that there really is no historical record of Jesus the man. Other than the record of his execution and that of his brother James, history records virtually nothing of the man himself.

If we wish to understand Jesus the man, we really have no choice but to turn to the scriptures. As the author points out, our best option is to rely on the most reliable of the gospels as our source of information. This generally means the earliest works. But even these shed little light on the real man, as the purpose for which the gospels were written was really something entirely different from what I was seeking.

So, while I didn't find the wealth of historical information on Jesus that I was looking for, I did learn a lot about the times in which he lived. I also learned a lot about the books of the New Testament, who wrote them, when and why. The author, Reza Aslan, has some ideas that are thought provoking and interesting. This book gave me a greater understanding of the context of Jesus's life and the documents written about it.

As for the writing style of the author, this book is not necessarily an easy read. Being a scholarly work, a great deal of this text is devoted to a discussion of sources, historians and their varying opinions on the topic under discussion. In fact, the last 30% of the book consists of notes on the previous chapters. It can sometimes be confusing as different and often contradictory points of view are discussed.

At times I found the author's style to be somewhat over bearing, as he tends to pound points home with rather more heavy-handedness than necessary. However, all in all I finished the book with a lot more knowledge and insight than when I started. I recommend The Zealot for anyone looking for an objective and realistic look at the turbulent times that led to the creation of one of the world's great religions.
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on April 28, 2016
Zealot gives an historically accurate and very plausible account on the life of a profit who has mesmerized the world for two millennia.
With meticulous historical evidence and an acute account of Roman dominated Palestine, Aslan has given an eye-opening account of the social turmoil and political machinations of the Jewish temple system and Roman occupation which influenced and ultimately destroyed the profit called 'Jesus of Nazareth'.
An excellent read for anyone interested in the historical man.
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on November 30, 2014
Loved this book. First I have to say I'm not a Christian, nor do I follow any "religion", therefore I didn't have the emotional baggage that many people will bring to reading this book. I have always had problems with the Bible, other than as a broad overview of the times. Since none of the Bible was written in the actual time Jesus lived, to me it is unreliable. And I'm not a scholar of the man or the times by any means! But how can people who never met the man, who were not even alive at the same time as him, speak for him? Wiki says, "None of the Gospel authors is thought to be an eyewitness, and none claims to be. There is a broad consensus that many of the books of the New Testament were not written by the people whose names are attached to them", and most scholars agree that the New Testament was written between 50-150 AD. Since Aslan, too, is not a Christian, he is free to be unbiased in his view. He has studied religion, and especially Christianity, all his adult life and it shows in this book. Its very difficult to reconstruct a time from when there is little written history, but I think he did a masterful job with this book. I found it easy to read, and definitely had a ring of truth to it. Even if you are Christian, I think you'll find this an interesting description of the life and times of the area, and may give you some realistic background in which to anchor Jesus the man.
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on March 31, 2014
This wonderful book uses history to deconstruct the Christian and Jewish faith. It is a narrative about the man known as Jesus of Nazareth. It is a story about how faith encapsulated the world at this period in history. At present we can examine faith in the west and faith around the world. This is neatly done by reading this book.

If deconstructing faith through historical accounts is valuable, construction of faith through the use of beliefs can be accounted as important. Hence the recent revival of stoicism and philosophical tracks. Highlighting these tracks in religion are done very clearly in this book: the key tracks noted are working the ten commandments, giving people a chance to have faith in some degree is always supportive, and all faiths are ripe with good practice. In this sense all readers can benefit from the knowledge in this book. A respect of group religion and individual faith is always useful in understanding and the application by others who may practice a serious belief.

Works are mentioned as important by James the Just. Being a student and applying faith in one’s own life is a good way to express the proper use of impressions. Lastly, my personal faith is about accepting the works of myself and others as long as no harm is done to anyone. To uncover ways that reveal the truth about oppression, poverty and other forms of violence are a rich way to practice wisdom and faith and recover from the problems of day to day affairs. I hope everyone who reads this book enjoys it half as much as I did. And good luck practicing your works in your daily life.
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on February 13, 2014
Scholarly material that should not be rejected based on the religion of the writer. Great read that provides a different perspective.
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on September 22, 2014
I found this interesting but not a compelling read and in some cases, a bit farfetched based on other historical literature I have read before. I also read a book that counters many of the theory's presented by Aslan which I found more logical.
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on December 16, 2013
Well-written, well-researched, fantastic. Only downside (which isn't entirely even a downside) is that the book is written from a somewhat atheistic perspective, despite that Aslan is, or was, a Christian. You keep hoping that he will contextualize some of Jesus' works into the realm of divine, if not just for the possibility, or recognition of the legitimacy of the flip-side of the argument, but at the very least to reconcile his own faith.
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on December 12, 2013
Intelligently written; valuable insights; a must read for anyone interested in understanding the early evolution of Christianity and the deification of the historical figure that was Jesus.
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