Monday, February 24, 2014

Bookworming: Zealot

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, Reza Aslan, ****
A narrative take on the historian's view of Jesus, this one was bound to be divisive. It would be impossible to talk about the book outside of the religious and political context of our nation today, and I am not going to even try. Christians who view the Bible as God-breathed, literal truth are likely to view the book on the spectrum between deeply offensive at worst and simple dismissal at best. I am not one of those sorts of Christian. My chosen sect does not believe in scripture alone, but in scripture as the solid foundation from which be begin. And as such I personally find much more value in seeing them as historical documents in their historical context, with all the lessons and contradictions therein, than in viewing them as infallible. But what about the book itself, as a book?

In a word: stellar. Delving into what can easily be an extremely dry subject, Aslan's narrative is a surprisingly fast and flowing read. His vivid descriptions of the Temple and Jewish life lead naturally into the wider story of the relationship between Israel and Rome and back into how Jesus could have fit into the society and politics of the time. Whether you agree with his conclusions or not*, the the tale is well researched, splendidly told, and thought provoking. There is little more you can ask of a book.

* Slight spoiler alert here, read no further if you want to go in completely cold. Again, I feel the need to display my bias here. Aslan rolls into something that I have long pondered about the New Testament: that there is more Paul writing about Jesus's death than there is Gospel about his life and works. The notion of whether Jesus's original message was distorted by the "Pauline heresy" is a discussion I find fascinating for many reasons, and this is certainly coloring my view of the book somewhat. That said, this only really comes up later in the book, so it should not have swayed me too heavily.

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