Zealot: The Life And Times Of Jesus Of Nazareth

Zealot: The Life And Times Of Jesus Of Nazareth

Hardcover | May 5, 2015

byReza Aslan

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#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
Good Housekeeping • Booklist • Publishers Weekly • Bookish

From the internationally bestselling author of No god but God comes a fascinating, provocative, and meticulously researched biography that challenges long-held assumptions about the man we know as Jesus of Nazareth.
 
Two thousand years ago, an itinerant Jewish preacher and miracle worker walked across the Galilee, gathering followers to establish what he called the “Kingdom of God.” The revolutionary movement he launched was so threatening to the established order that he was captured, tortured, and executed as a state criminal.
 
Within decades after his shameful death, his followers would call him God.
 
Sifting through centuries of mythmaking, Reza Aslan sheds new light on one of history’s most influential and enigmatic characters by examining Jesus through the lens of the tumultuous era in which he lived: first-century Palestine, an age awash in apocalyptic fervor. Scores of Jewish prophets, preachers, and would-be messiahs wandered through the Holy Land, bearing messages from God. This was the age of zealotry—a fervent nationalism that made resistance to the Roman occupation a sacred duty incumbent on all Jews. And few figures better exemplified this principle than the charismatic Galilean who defied both the imperial authorities and their allies in the Jewish religious hierarchy.
 
Balancing the Jesus of the Gospels against the historical sources, Aslan describes a man full of conviction and passion, yet rife with contradiction; a man of peace who exhorted his followers to arm themselves with swords; an exorcist and faith healer who urged his disciples to keep his identity a secret; and ultimately the seditious “King of the Jews” whose promise of liberation from Rome went unfulfilled in his brief lifetime. Aslan explores the reasons why the early Christian church preferred to promulgate an image of Jesus as a peaceful spiritual teacher rather than a politically conscious revolutionary. And he grapples with the riddle of how Jesus understood himself, the mystery that is at the heart of all subsequent claims about his divinity.
 
Zealot yields a fresh perspective on one of the greatest stories ever told even as it affirms the radical and transformative nature of Jesus of Nazareth’s life and mission. The result is a thought-provoking, elegantly written biography with the pulse of a fast-paced novel: a singularly brilliant portrait of a man, a time, and the birth of a religion.

Praise for Zealot
 
“Riveting . . . Aslan synthesizes Scripture and scholarship to create an original account.”The New Yorker

“A lucid, intelligent page-turner.”—Los Angeles Times
 
“Fascinatingly and convincingly drawn . . . Aslan may come as close as one can to respecting those who revere Jesus as the peace-loving, turn-the-other-cheek, true son of God depicted in modern Christianity, even as he knocks down that image.”The Seattle Times
 
“[Aslan’s] literary talent is as essential to the effect of Zealot as are his scholarly and journalistic chops. . . . A vivid, persuasive portrait.”Salon
 
“This tough-minded, deeply political book does full justice to the real Jesus, and honors him in the process.”San Francisco Chronicle

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Zealot: The Life And Times Of Jesus Of Nazareth

Hardcover | May 5, 2015
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From the Publisher

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLERNAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY Good Housekeeping • Booklist • Publishers Weekly • BookishFrom the internationally bestselling author of No god but God comes a fascinating, provocative, and meticulously researched biography that challenges long-held assumptions about the man we know as Jesus of Na...

Reza Aslan is an internationally acclaimed writer and scholar of religions. His first book, No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, has been translated into thirteen languages and named by Blackwell as one of the hundred most important books of the last decade. He is also the author of How to Win a Cosmic War: God,...

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Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism In The Age Of Globalization
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Format:HardcoverDimensions:336 pages, 9.55 × 6.42 × 1.1 inPublished:May 5, 2015Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:140006922X

ISBN - 13:9781400069224

Customer Reviews of Zealot: The Life And Times Of Jesus Of Nazareth

Reviews

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Zealot An eye opener. A change in my view of Christianity. Jesus the man worthy of honour without Jesus the Christ.
Date published: 2015-01-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Add This To Your Reading List! Even though many books and articles have covered the issue of the historical or political Jesus of Nazareth, no one has done it better than Reza Aslan. In a user-friendly style backed up solid research, the revolutionary environment of the first century Roman Empire which Jesus and his followers lived is presented with facts not faith. Many readers may shy from reading this book perceiving it as a threat to long-held cherished beliefs but Aslan concludes that Jesus the Zealot or Jesus the Christ are both worth believing in. An essential read for Christians and secularists alike.
Date published: 2015-01-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fascinating Aslan looks at Jesus as a historical figure more so than a religious one. However, it’s impossible to completely ignore that major aspect of Jesus’ character. Having been brought up Catholic, this book illuminated how the Virgin birth, the cleansing of the Jewish temple, the relationship with John the Baptist, and the crucifixion most likely differed factually with what is told in the Bible. And I came to better understand the schism between Judaism and Christianity.
Date published: 2014-11-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Well written with biblical info Bring to you a new angel to read the scripture again.
Date published: 2014-10-15
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Well written fiction, not history Aslan has an agenda from the first pages: recreate Jesus' history based on a mixture of history and personal bias. It's contradictory and misleading, and discredits millenia of study and devotion to the person Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, the Messiah. It should not be taken as history, but a fabricated version whose chief purpose is to humanize Jesus and effectively crush the foundations of the world's largest religion, Christianity. Despite a weak agenda, Aslan is a good writer stylistically. That's all the credit he deserves. He is not a true biblical historian, but a creator of historical fiction!
Date published: 2014-09-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well written fiction, not history This was a fascinating read for me. It was a very controversial book when it was released but it was way overblown by people who hadn't bothered to even read it. The only people who will be upset by this read are the people who believe that everything that is written in the Bible is literally true (despite the fact that it was written by fallible human beings long after actual events had taken place.) I am not very familiar with the history of the region so a lot of it was really eye-opening for me. For example, it turns out that Pontius Pirate was not actually a Roman "nice guy" - he actually crucified Jews at such an alarming rate that an official complaint was filed against him back in Rome. And yet the Bible has him essentially pleading with the Jewish Council to "spare" Jesus. How does that make sense to anyone? There's lots of interesting little tidbits like that. Highly recommend.
Date published: 2014-02-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Well written fiction, not history There's nothing really new in this book if you are well read in the history of early Christianity and the early church. If you're in this group, you might find the notes very useful. If you aren't familiar with this history, then this book is a great place to start. Aslan writes in a narrative style that can help to keep a reader engaged and interested. One thing that I didn't like was that the notes seem disconnected to the text. There are no raised numerals in the text that are connected to the endnotes themselves. I suppose this is a personal preference but it's one of the reasons why this book didn't get five stars from me. Also, Aslan tells us that the we can't completely rely on the gospels to know about the historical Jesus but much of his material about the historical Jesus is the gospels. That's fine but much material about Jesus that is based on the canonized gospels as well as other sources like gnostic gospels already exists. Overall, this was an enjoyable read but not a gripping one. If you have done extensive reading on Jesus and-or the early Christian movement, you may want to borrow from the library or even skip this one.
Date published: 2014-01-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well written fiction, not history The brilliance of this book is not that it provides any new academic understandings of the historical Jesus, but rather how it makes those academic understandings amazingly accessible to popular audience. Gone is the day where you just accept what your priest tells you about Jesus, or where scholarship studies about Jesus were only contained within the ivory walls of universities. Zealot successfully brings us closer to one of the most important persons in the history of man.
Date published: 2014-01-24
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Presumptuous Informative and detailed as far as historical context and timeline. However, many audacious claims about the written and spoken words, roles and events. Presented in a materialistic way from a very human and limited point of view, along with it's share of guessing and assumptions.
Date published: 2014-01-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Extracting Historical Facts from Biblical Narratives 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.
Date published: 2013-09-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Phenomenally Eye Opening & Educational!!! This book provides a great insight into the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth, the son of man, and later known as Jesus Christ. Many of the accounts were familiar to me from "teachings" in school, which were told from one perspective, that of the Bible. However, Reza Aslan, through pain staking research was able to compile, as accurately as possible the series of events in a historical a context. Given his academic background it was an enjoyable and enlightening read, even for a layman. I would definitely recommend this book and look forward to reading his other published works.
Date published: 2013-09-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Zealot Very interesting. Gives new understanding and meaning to the historical background of the Church and Jesus. Worthwhile read. :-)
Date published: 2013-08-11

Extra Content

Read from the Book

Chapter OneA Hole in the CornerWho killed Jonathan son of Ananus as he strode across the Temple Mount in the year 56 c.e.? No doubt there were many in Jerusalem who longed to slay the rapacious high priest, and more than a few who would have liked to wipe out the bloated Temple priesthood in its entirety. For what must never be forgotten when speaking of first-century Palestine is that this land—this hallowed land from which the spirit of God flowed to the rest of the world—was occupied territory. Legions of Roman troops were stationed throughout Judea. Some six hundred Roman soldiers resided atop the Temple Mount itself, within the high stone walls of the Antonia Fortress, which buttressed the northwest corner of the Temple wall. The unclean centurion in his red cape and polished cuirass who paraded through the Court of Gentiles, his hand hovering over the hilt of his sword, was a not so subtle reminder, if any were needed, of who really ruled this sacred place.Roman dominion over Jerusalem began in 63 b.c.e., when Rome’s master tactician, Pompey Magnus, entered the city with his conquering legions and laid siege to the Temple. By then, Jerusalem had long since passed its economic and cultural zenith. The Canaanite settlement that King David had recast into the seat of his kingdom, the city he had passed to his wayward son, Solomon, who built the first Temple to God—sacked and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 b.c.e.—the city that had served as the religious, economic, and political capital of the Jewish nation for a thousand years, was, by the time Pompey strode through its gates, recognized less for its beauty and grandeur than for the religious fervor of its troublesome population.Situated on the southern plateau of the shaggy Judean mountains, between the twin peaks of Mount Scopus and the Mount of Olives, and flanked by the Kidron Valley in the east and the steep, forebidding Valley of Gehenna in the south, Jerusalem, at the time of the Roman invasion, was home to a settled population of about a hundred thousand people. To the Romans, it was an inconsequential speck on the imperial map, a city the wordy statesman Cicero dismissed as “a hole in the corner.” But to the Jews this was the navel of the world, the axis of the universe. There was no city more unique, more holy, more venerable in all the world than Jerusalem. The purple vineyards whose vines twisted and crawled across the level plains, the well-tilled fields and viridescent orchards bursting with almond and fig and olive trees, the green beds of papyrus floating lazily along the Jordan River—the Jews not only knew and deeply loved every feature of this consecrated land, they laid claim to all of it. Everything from the farmsteads of the Galilee to the low-lying hills of Samaria and the far outskirts of Idumea, where the Bible says the accursed cities of Sodom and Gomorrah once stood, was given by God to the Jews, though in fact the Jews ruled none of it, not even Jerusalem, where the true God was worshipped. The city that the Lord had clothed in splendor and glory and placed, as the prophet Ezekiel declared, “in the center of all nations”—the eternal seat of God’s kingdom on earth—was, at the dawn of the first century c.e., just a minor province, and a vexing one at that, at the far corner of the mighty Roman Empire.It is not that Jerusalem was unaccustomed to invasion and ­occupation. Despite its exalted status in the hearts of the Jews, the truth is that Jerusalem was little more than a trifle to be passed among a succession of kings and emperors who took turns ­plundering and despoiling the sacred city on their way to far grander ambitions. In 586 b.c.e. the Babylonians—masters of Mesopotamia—rampaged through Judea, razing both Jerusalem and its Temple to the ground. The Babylonians were conquered by the Persians, who allowed the Jews to return to their beloved city and rebuild their temple, not because they admired the Jews or took their cult seriously, but because they considered Jerusalem an irrelevant backwater of little interest or concern to an empire that stretched the length of Central Asia (though the prophet Isaiah would thank the Persian king Cyrus by anointing him messiah). The Persian Empire, and Jerusalem with it, fell to the armies of Alexander the Great, whose descendants imbued the city and its inhabitants with Greek culture and ideas. Upon Alexander’s untimely death in 323 b.c.e., Jerusalem was passed as spoils to the Ptolemaic dynasty and ruled from distant Egypt, though only briefly. In 198 b.c.e., the city was wrested from Ptolemaic control by the Seleucid king Antiochus the Great, whose son Antiochus Epiphanes fancied himself god incarnate and strove to put an end once and for all to the worship of the Jewish deity in Jerusalem. But the Jews responded to this blasphemy with a relentless ­guerrilla war led by the stouthearted sons of Mattathias the Hasmonaean—the Maccabees—who reclaimed the holy city from Seleucid control in 164 b.c.e. and, for the first time in four centuries, restored Jewish hegemony over Judea.For the next hundred years, the Hasmonaeans ruled God’s land with an iron fist. They were priest-kings, each sovereign serving as both King of the Jews and high priest of the Temple. But when civil war broke out between the brothers Hyrcanus and Aristobulus over control of the throne, each brother foolishly reached out to Rome for support. Pompey took the brothers’ entreaties as an invitation to seize Jerusalem for himself, thus putting an end to the brief period of direct Jewish rule over the city of God. In 63 b.c.e., Judea became a Roman protectorate, and the Jews were made once again a subject people.Roman rule, coming as it did after a century of independence, was not warmly received by the Jews. The Hasmonaean dynasty was abolished, but Pompey allowed Hyrcanus to maintain the position of high priest. That did not sit well with the supporters of Aristobulus, who launched a series of revolts to which the Romans responded with characteristic savagery—burning towns, massacring rebels, enslaving populations. Meanwhile, the chasm between the starving and indebted poor toiling in the countryside and the wealthy provincial class ruling in Jerusalem grew even wider. It was standard Roman policy to forge alliances with the landed aristocracy in every captured city, making them dependent on the Roman overlords for their power and wealth. By aligning their interests with those of the ruling class, Rome assured that local leaders remained wholly vested in maintaining the imperial system. Of course, in Jerusalem, “landed aristocracy” more or less meant the priestly class, and specifically, that handful of wealthy priestly families who maintained the Temple cult and who, as a result, were charged by Rome with collecting the taxes and tribute and keeping order among the increasingly restive population—tasks for which they were richly compensated.The fluidity that existed in Jerusalem between the religious and political powers made it necessary for Rome to maintain close supervision over the Jewish cult and, in particular, over the high priest. As head of the Sanhedrin and “leader of the nation,” the high priest was a figure of both religious and political renown with the power to decide all religious matters, to enforce God’s law, and even to make arrests, though only in the vicinity of the Temple. If the Romans wanted to control the Jews, they had to control the Temple. And if they wanted to control the Temple, they had to control the high priest, which is why, soon after taking control over Judea, Rome took upon itself the responsibility of appointing and deposing (either directly or indirectly) the high priest, essentially transforming him into a Roman employee. Rome even kept custody of the high priest’s sacred garments, handing them out only on the sacred festivals and feast days and confiscating them immediately after the ceremonies were complete.Still, the Jews were better off than some other Roman subjects. For the most part, the Romans humored the Jewish cult, allowing the rituals and sacrifices to be conducted without interference. The Jews were even excused from the direct worship of the emperor, which Rome imposed upon nearly every other religious community under its dominion. All that Rome asked of Jerusalem was a twice-daily sacrifice of one bull and two lambs on behalf of the emperor and for his good health. Continue making the sacrifice, keep up with the taxes and tribute, follow the provincial laws, and Rome was happy to leave you, your god, and your temple alone.The Romans were, after all, fairly proficient in the religious beliefs and practices of subject peoples. Most of the lands they conquered were allowed to maintain their temples unmolested. Rival gods, far from being vanquished or destroyed, were often assimilated into the Roman cult (that is how, for example, the Canaanite god Baal became associated with the Roman god Saturn). In some cases, under a practice called evocatio, the Romans would take possession of an enemy’s temple—and therefore its god, for the two were inextricable in the ancient world—and transfer it to Rome, where it would be showered with riches and lavish sacrifices. Such displays were meant to send a clear signal that the hostilities were directed not toward the enemy’s god but toward its fighters; the god would continue to be honored and worshipped in Rome if only his devotees would lay down their arms and allow themselves to be absorbed into the empire.As generally tolerant as the Romans may have been when it came to foreign cults, they were even more lenient toward the Jews and their fealty to their One God—what Cicero decried as the “barbarian superstitions” of Jewish monotheism. The Romans may not have understood the Jewish cult, with its strange observances and its overwhelming obsession with ritual purity—“The Jews regard as profane all that we hold sacred,” Tacitus wrote, “while they permit all that we abhor”—but they nevertheless tolerated it.What most puzzled Rome about the Jews was not their unfamiliar rites or their strict devotion to their laws, but rather what the Romans considered to be their unfathomable superiority complex. The notion that an insignificant Semitic tribe residing in a distant corner of the mighty Roman Empire demanded, and indeed received, special treatment from the emperor was, for many Romans, simply incomprehensible. How dare they consider their god to be the sole god in the universe? How dare they keep themselves separate from all other nations? Who do these backward and superstitious tribesmen think they are? The Stoic philosopher Seneca was not alone among the Roman elite in wondering how it had possibly come to pass in Jerusalem that “the vanquished have given laws to the victors.”For the Jews, however, this sense of exceptionalism was not a matter of arrogance or pride. It was a direct commandment from a jealous God who tolerated no foreign presence in the land he had set aside for his chosen people. That is why, when the Jews first came to this land a thousand years earlier, God had decreed that they massacre every man, woman, and child they encountered, that they slaughter every ox, goat, and sheep they came across, that they burn every farm, every field, every crop, every living thing without exception so as to ensure that the land would belong solely to those who worshipped this one God and no other.“As for the towns of these people that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance,” God told the Israelites, “you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. You shall annihilate them all—the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites—just as the Lord your God has commanded” (Deuteronomy 20:17–­18).It was, the Bible claims, only after the Jewish armies had “utterly destroyed all that breathed” in the cities of Libnah and Lachish and Eglon and Hebron and Debir, in the hill country and in the Negeb, in the lowlands and in the slopes—only after every single previous inhabitant of this land was eradicated, “as the Lord God of Israel had commanded” (Joshua 10: 28–­42)—that the Jews were allowed to settle here.

Editorial Reviews

“Riveting . . . Aslan synthesizes Scripture and scholarship to create an original account.”—The New Yorker“A lucid, intelligent page-turner.”—Los Angeles Times   “Aslan’s insistence on human and historical actuality turns out to be far more interesting than dogmatic theology. . . . This tough-minded, deeply political book does full justice to the real Jesus, and honors him in the process.”—San Francisco Chronicle“Aslan brings a fine popular style, shorn of all jargon, to bear on the presentation of Jesus of Nazareth. . . . He isn’t interested in attacking religion or even the church, much less in comparing Christianity unfavorably to another religion. He would have us admire Jesus as one of the many would-be messiahs who sprang up during Rome’s occupation of Palestine, animated by zeal for ‘strict adherence to the Torah and the Law,’ refusal to serve a human master, and devotion to God, and therefore dedicated to throwing off Rome and repudiating Roman religion. . . . You don’t have to lose your religion to learn much that’s vitally germane to its history from Aslan’s absorbing, reader-friendly book.”—Booklist (starred review)   “Be advised, dear reader, Sunday school this isn’t. Yet Aslan may come as close as one can to respecting those who revere Jesus as the peace-loving, turn-the-other-cheek, true son of God depicted in modern Christianity, even as he knocks down that image. . . . Aslan is steeped in the history, languages and scriptural foundation of the biblical scholar and is a very clear writer with an authoritative, but not pedantic, voice. Those of us who wade into this genre often know how rare that is. . . . Fascinatingly and convincingly drawn.”—The Seattle Times   “[Aslan’s] literary talent is as essential to the effect of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth as are his scholarly and journalistic chops. . . . A vivid, persuasive portrait of the world and societies in which Jesus lived and the role he most likely played in both. . . . Fascinating.”—Salon   “Accessibly and strongly presented . . . Readable and with scholarly endnotes, Aslan’s book offers a historical perspective that is sure to generate spirited conversation.”—Library Journal   “A well-researched, readable biography of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus of Nazareth is not the same as Jesus Christ. The Gospels are not historical documents. . . . Why has Christianity taken hold and flourished? This book will give you the answers.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)   “[Aslan] parts an important curtain that has long hidden from view the man Jesus. . . . Aslan develops a convincing and coherent story of how the Christian church, and in particular Paul, reshaped Christianity’s essence, obscuring the very real man who was Jesus of Nazareth. Compulsively readable and written at a popular level, this superb work is highly recommended.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)“A bold, powerfully argued revisioning of the most consequential life ever lived.”—Lawrence Wright, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief   “The story of Jesus of Nazareth is arguably the most influential narrative in human history. Here Reza Aslan writes vividly and insightfully about the life and meaning of the figure who has come to be seen by billions as the Christ of faith. This is a special and revealing work, one that believer and skeptic alike will find surprising, engaging, and original.”—Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power   “In Zealot, Reza Aslan doesn't just synthesize research and reimagine a lost world, though he does those things very well. He does for religious history what Bertolt Brecht did for playwriting. Aslan rips Jesus out of all the contexts we thought he belonged in and holds him forth as someone entirely new. This is Jesus as a passionate Jew, a violent revolutionary, a fanatical ideologue, an odd and scary and extraordinarily interesting man.”—Judith Shulevitz, author of The Sabbath World