Book Reviews,  History,  Israel,  Memoir/Biography,  NON FICTION

Zealot by Reza Aslan *** (of 4)

Before Jesus was the Christ (Savior), he was Jesus of Nazareth.  This book does its best to set the scene in First Century Palestine.  The Romans rule their far-flung, not-very-important outpost on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean and do so with typical Roman efficiency and brutality.  Only it isn’t working.  The Jews of Palestine are having a difficult time living beneath authoritarian rule of an outside government that insists it’s ruler is a God.  Complicating matters among Jews in the region is the Temple cult dominated by a handful of power-crazed Pharisees.  Messiahs are a shekel a dozen, each promising some variation of escape from hunger, brutality, and corruption.  By cross-referencing Roman documents from the period, archaeological evidence, and the Gospels, Reza Aslan takes his hand at reconstructing a historical Jesus who emerges from all the Messiahs in the Middle East as the one who makes it.  Aslan’s contextualization of the geography and the era are extremely informative.  His guesswork about who Jesus was and what he might have been really like as a man are superficial at best because so little documentation is available.  He finishes the book, however, with the transformation of Jesus the man into Jesus the Son of God by analyzing the context in which the Gospels, especially Paul’s, were written.  Naturally, for the deeply religious much of the book will be blasphemy.