Review: Zealot by Reza Aslan

I’ve known for a long time that Jesus was a revolutionary figure. And, that the historical Jesus was alive during turbulent times in Palestine. And, even before Resa Aslan made the circuit of TV talk shows where he defended his right as a scholar to study a historical figure and then write about them (the issue, in case you missed it, is that Muslim scholar. And, by that, I don’t mean He is a scholar of Muslim topics I mean he is a scholar of Religious topics who happens to adhere to the Islamic faith. Like, I happen to adhere to a flexitarian diet but still blog about vegan and plant-based things. I don’t see what the point is. Man’s got a degree in the sociology of religions and another in writing from the workshop in Iowa (Represent!) which says to me he’s particularly qualified to write about dry historical topics in a way that will be accessible by non-Historians. But, wevs. Have your little freak out, Media.) I probably would have added this book to my reading list. Well, listening list. I’m so very glad I did. I can see why Christians might take offense to this treat of their savior but as someone with complicated feelings towards religion in general and the Christian church in particular I’m really happy that I read this book because I really like this Jesus who tried to stand up to the Romans. This Jesus who took offense to, and then action against, others who were collaborating with the oppressors against the people. I like this Jesus who championed the poor (okay, Biblical Jesus does that, too) went against the occupying force with little more than his Zeal. I loved putting things like Jesus saying, “Give what belongs to Caesar to Caesar and what belongs to God to God,” into a historical context and learning what that might have meant for someone in that time period. (Basically, the land of the Jews wasn’t Rome’s to invade. It belonged to God. So, this statement that I grew up thinking was about souls and being appropriately pious may have actually been a declaration of war.)

Oh, and I loved, loved, loved, learning about Roman occupied Palestine and the early Church. Learning about the Zealot party and the war to take back Palestine from the Romans was interesting. Learning about how Saul was instrumental in stoning Stephen, one of the first martyrs for the early church (maybe the first martyr?) which had tremendous consequences for the structure of the early church put Saul/Paul into a context I’ve never before had him in. (Which was really nice and I have to tell you, transformative moment on the road to Damascus or not, I still think he comes off as a jerk in his epistles and while now I know why it doesn’t make me like him any more.)

This was an interesting book and a quick listen (read by Reza Aslan himself!) I’d definitely recommend it if you are interested in a historical perspective on Jesus.

I got this book from the Buffalo Public Library. Library’s are the best!

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