Wednesday, July 17, 2013

“Zealot” by Reza Aslan – A God, or a Revolutionary?

Zealot by Reza Aslan - book cover
Jesus of Nazareth is arguably one of the most important historical figures on this planet, for he contributed more than anyone to the creation and spread of Christianity. Those who follow on of Christianity’s religious paths see Jesus as the son of God, a savior who preaches peace, compassion and understanding.

For what I am about to discuss here it is important to make a distinction between Jesus as a historical figure, and Jesus as a religious figure; the former one refers to the man who existed in first-century Palestine, while the latter one refers to the meaning attributed to him in religion.

Due to the lack of impartial literature available on him, Reza Aslan decided to collect all the information he could to create the most realistic, unbiased and factual portrait of Jesus as a historical figure, and Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth is the culmination of his efforts.

What I really enjoy about the novel is the fact that Reza doesn’t get into Jesus’ religious implications until much later. Rather, much of the book is focused on what it was like for Jesus during his life. As Aslan said it, he wanted to look at it from the lens of first-century Palestine, a religious land where being a zealot was the norm and everyone seemed to carry messages from God.

At that time, Roman occupation was a problem for the Jewish people, and so many of them considered resistance to be their duty in life. Such is the ideology Jesus believed in when he walked across the Galilee and gained many followers. His revolutionary movement was actually presenting a danger to the order that was established by the Romans, and so Jesus was captured and executed. In other words, before being the icon of a religion, he was the icon of a revolution.

I was also quite fascinated at the parts where Aslan explored the differences between how Jesus was and how he is described in religious texts. According to the author and the many texts he studied, Jesus preached peace, but asked his followers to take up arms and protect themselves with swords, and even though he was seen as a spiritual healer, he wanted as few people as possible to know about it. After Aslan explores these many differences, he also takes the time to explain why it is in the Church’s interest to depict Jesus the way they do now rather than the way he really was.

Though there certainly questions which have been left unanswered, in my opinion Zealot is the definitive piece of literature for those who want to learn the truth about the kind of person Jesus was when he lived almost two thousand years ago.

If you are deeply-religious, then let me assure you that Aslan doesn’t aggressively shove his beliefs down your throat; rather, he presents the reality he believes to be closest to the actual truth. If you keep an open mind, this book will leave a mark in your memory and perhaps even push you to ask yourself some important questions as to what you believe, why, and how religion functions in this world.

Reza Aslan (May 3, 1972)

Reza Aslan

Personal site

Reza Aslan has recently made real waves in the world of Western literature by bringing to it his deep knowledge and experience in regards to Middle Easter and Asian cultures and religions, penning well-known masterpieces such as Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.


  1. For readers in Spanish, I recommend the novel "Regalo de Reyes" ("The present of the Magi"), which presents an astonishing hypothesis about Jesus' infancy

  2. The book is similar to the earlier free online book called Devil or Delusion? The danger of Christianity to democracy, freedom and science - except that the devil or delusion book correctly explains how Paul created Christianity for a Roman audience as mentioned in the article above. The devil or delusion book also explains how the story of the resurrection was made up.

    1. That sounds pretty interesting. I haven't heard of the Devil or Delusion book, but from what you said it certainly sounds like it's worth a read, and that goes double if it's free. Thanks for the recommendation.