Thursday, July 25, 2013

Zealot by Reza Aslan

Aslan found Jesus as a teen at an evangelical camp. But by college he was convinced that the “Bible is replete with the most blatant and obvious errors and contradictions...” (12) He discarded his faith but continued his work in religious studies. He now provides his own investigation into the life of Jesus.

Aslan says the gospels are not historical documentations of the life of Jesus. He does not believe they were written by eyewitnesses of the events. After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70, Christians worked at transforming Jesus into a peaceful spiritual leader rather than a revolutionary Jewish nationalist. They created a Jesus that the Romans could accept, Aslan says.

In this book, Aslan tries to reclaim the Jesus before that transformation. “The task is somewhat akin to putting together a massive puzzle with only a few of the pieces in hand; one has no choice but to fill in the rest of the puzzle based on the best, most educated guess of what the complete image should look like.” (22)

Aslan certainly does not take what the gospel writers have written at face value. For example, he writes, “Whatever languages Jesus may have spoken, there is no reason to think he could read or write in any of them, not even Aramaic.” (56) He claims that Jesus debating with the rabbis and scribes, and Jesus reading from the scroll, “...are both fabulous concoctions of the evangelist's [Luke's] own devising.” (57) He also writes that predictions Jesus made, such as the coming destruction of the Temple, were “put into his mouth by the evangelists after the fact.” (90) Regarding the account of John the Baptist's death, “the gospel account is not to be believed.” (95) Luke invented the infancy narratives of John the Baptist and Jesus. (101)

He certainly does not believe Jesus was divine. “...Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew and nothing more.” (129) The fate of Israel and the Jews was all that mattered to Jesus. (129) Also, “...the fact remains that the resurrection is not a historical event.” (173)

So Aslan has invented a life of Jesus not based on the biblical accounts but based instead on his study of the social and political scene at the time. His is merely an educated guess as to what Jesus said and did.

Aslan claims the gospel writers have invented most of the life of Jesus they record. And I would say the same of Aslan. He has invented a life of Jesus based on his educated guesses and speculations. It is ironic he thinks we should take his invented account over the “invented” account of the gospel writers. I'll take the gospel writers.

The positive aspect of this book is the vast amount of historical information. For biblical fiction writers, there would be lots of usable information available for creating characters and the actions they would do, since that is basically what Aslan has done with Jesus.

Evangelical Christians like me will find this book very frustrating. I was disappointed in the book. I don't recommend it.

You can find out more about Reza Aslan at his website:

Random House, 336 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.
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