ZEALOT: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JESUS OF NAZARETH by Reza Aslan is definitely a controversial book. Aslan seeks to reveal the "historical Jesus," whom he believes is a completely different and much more accurate figure than Christianity's Jesus the Christ. Interestingly, Aslan recounts his conversion to Jesus the Messiah as a teenager before discovering what he came to believe was the historical Jesus. Once this happened, Aslan returned to Islam. Aslan's interest in Jesus didn't end, however. Aslan has spent his life studying religions, and this book dives deep into the world Jesus inhabited.
The book is controversial because it proposes a lot of perspectives on the life of Jesus that have largely been rejected by Christians and other New Testament scholars. He makes the claim that there is "no evidence" that the Gospels were written by who they are traditionally attributed to or even written within the first century. He goes on to say that there is "no evidence" for many of the events that are attributed to his life. Aslan sees Jesus as a zealous revolutionary who got himself killed just like many other self-proclaimed messiahs of the first century. The problem is that many New Testament scholars and Christian philosophers have presented compelling evidence of Christianity's validity, including the authorship of the Gospels and the date of their composition. The work of William Lane Craig has been very illuminating in this regard. Aslan loses credibility when he claims there is "no evidence" for what Christianity proposes for the life of Jesus.
People could see this as an attack on Christianity and take offense at it. Or they could engage with it and discover some things about the world Jesus inhabited. While some of Aslan's arguments make a lot of logical sense, given the time I've spent studying the works of those who have looked into the evidence before him, I'm not convinced ZEALOT paints an accurate picture of who the real Jesus was. However, I did find the book a very interesting read, and I felt that I learned much about the violent first-century Jewish context that Jesus was in.
Review copy provided by Random House through NetGalley
Photo Credit: Random House