- Audible Audiobook
- Listening Length: 8 hours and 8 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Random House Audio
- Audible.com Release Date: July 16, 2013
- Whispersync for Voice: Ready
- Language: English
- ASIN: B00DYMLQEU
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Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
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1) This is a popularization of recent (late 20th-early 21st century) reputable scholarship regarding Jesus. There's nothing in this book that would surprise a person (like myself) who has read pretty much all of the accessible scholarship on Jesus published in the last 30 or so years. Just going through the (extensive!) notes and bibliography at the end indicates to me that Aslan has done his homework.
2) Aslan takes the position that Jesus was a zealot for God and God's Temple, but (and this is repeated several times in the book) he was not a member of the Zealot Party, which wouldn't arise until over 30 years after Jesus' death. In this, Jesus was just one of a number of people who arose in the period from the reign of Herod the Great to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE and his fate was like those others. In short, Jesus was killed for his zealotry, which was perceived as a threat to the Roman authorities and particularly to the Jewish sycophants who ran the Temple (and profited nicely from it). This is not a position shared by many members of the religious scholarship fraternity, who have attempted to carve out a position for Jesus where he's a religious figure who did not delve at all into politics. It's an interesting argument that I can't do justice in a few short sentences. If you're interested, you'll have to read the book yourself and decide if Aslan makes his case.
3) Aslan doesn't stop with the death of Jesus, and, as someone writing history, not hagiography, he carefully notes that he can't pass judgment on whether Jesus' resurrection occurred, because it is not a historical event but an event of faith. He then pushes on to a discussion of the earliest Christians and, in particular, the conflict between James the Just, described as the brother of Jesus and the head of the Jerusalem Christians, and Paul of Tarsus, the evangelizer of the Gentile world. This part is definitely worth the read, because it brings out the fact that the early Christians were not "in one accord" but were in fact fractiously divided over what Jesus taught and what it all meant.
4) My only serious factual gripe about the book comes from the first paragraph of Chapter 15, where Aslan describes James the Just as follows: "He himself owned nothing, not even the clothes he wore--simple garments made of linen, not wool." The problem is that historically linen was an elite fabric, not the fabric of the poor. (For example, Luke 16:19 points out that the rich man in Jesus' parable of the rich man and Lazarus wore purple and fine linen and all four gospels are agreed that Jesus was buried in linen.) Making linen from flax took a lot of preparation as compared to wool, which can be spun practically straight from the sheep. But getting back to James the Just: The sources, by putting James in linen, were more likely comparing James to the Temple High Priest, who would have worn linen for the sacrifices.
5) I'm knocking off one star for not being footnoted. Granted, there is an extensive set of chapter-based endnotes (and I strongly suggest reading them, they're as engaging as the book itself), but the lack of footnotes is a serious flaw. Even if the book is intended for a popular audience, it should have been footnoted.
6) As for the assertion that the book is fatally flawed because it's influenced by Aslan's Muslim background: That is flatly false. Let me state again that there is nothing in this book that can't be read in the scholarship done by *Christians* published over the past several decades. Moreover, if Aslan was pushing Islam, you'd think that he'd make a point of saying, "Well, Islam considers Jesus a prophet," but he doesn't. Not at all. The reviews which make the assertion that the book is terrible, horrible and awful because of "OOOOH EVIL ISLAM!!!!" appear to have been influenced by Fox News' promotion of a screed by John Dickerson. As a former journalist for Phoenix New Times, Dickerson should know better, but perhaps that's why Dickerson is no longer a journalist but now pastors a church in Prescott, AZ and churning out inaccurate and inflammatory junk for the fearful faithful.
To tell his story, the author not only uses the gospels, but also other historical documents. He also gives an excellent historical lesson on being a Jew at this time period. He talks about how the Jewish religion was practiced back then, and how the priests and Pharisees acted back then. He talks about how it was to be under Roman occupation, and how the Roman empire put down many different Jewish uprising before and after Jesus. I found this part of the book fascinating.
Just an FYI, I was born a Catholic and went through 12 years of Catholic school. Thus I know my bible pretty well. While I still believe Jesus is God, I am very disillusioned with established religion. Many aspects of Jesus's life I was taught in Catholic school are brought into question by Mr. Aslan. For example, where Jesus was born, and who the father of Jesus was. The author does an excellent job of explaining his positions, and for the most part I agreed with him.
I had a major problem with this book right when he was talking about the crucifixion. He makes great arguments, but when his arguments do not fit into his narrative, he ignores his own arguments. He argues that Jesus was a Jewish Zealot. That he was completely against the Roman rule, and was disillusioned with the Pharisees and Scribes. That while the Pharisees and Scribes were not happy with Jesus's teaching, the only one that could crucify him was the Romans. That Pilate sent "thousands upon thousands to the cross with a simple scratch of his reed pen". That Jesus's crime was that he was a threat to the Roman peace, as his crime stated, he was the "king of the Jews". That crucifixion was not only used to kill someone in a very painful way, but "to serve as a deterrent to others who might defy the state". "Because the entire point of the crucifixion was to humiliate the victim and frighten the witnesses, the corpse would be left where it hung to be eaten by dogs and picked clean by the birds or prey." That Pilate did not care about Jewish opinion, that he will do what he wanted to do. All of these points I agree with the author.
But here is where the author ignores all of his facts. If Jesus had thousands of followers, and was crucified for being a threat the Roman rule, why was he not left on the cross? Wouldn't the Roman want to send a message to Jesus thousand of followers. If Jesus was left on the cross, and he was not buried, he could not have rose in three days. Mr. Aslan makes a strong argument that this what should have happened to Jesus, but he does not address why the Roman allowed Jesus to be buried.
The other issue I have with the book is when he was talking about Saint Stephen. The author points Saint Stephen did not know Jesus, and never met Jesus. He did not hear about Jesus until after his crucifixion. That Saint Stephen became a follower of Jesus, because his disciples was he rose from the dead. This makes no sense to me. If someone told me someone rose from the dead, I would think the person was crazy. And then to believe that a crucified person was the messiah. The Catholic Church and now Mr. Aslan have never gave me a good reason why people who never met Jesus would think he is the messiah.
On the whole is was a really good book. The author challenged many of my beliefs. But in the end, the author had to explain to me how a poor Jew, became a God to millions of people. Why would a gentile, become a Christian in the first century AD? The Jewish religion was a small religion at the time. Why would they believe this Zealot Jew was God, instead of the Roman Gods, who were so powerful, they helped conquer most of the known world? It makes no sense that the Christian religion grew to the size it is today, but it did. And at least for me, it is because Jesus is God.