Zealot (Book)

Reza Aslan, an Iranian who grew up as a Muslim, flirted with Christianity, became a New Testament scholar, and returned to Islam again, is uniquely placed to write this book about Jesus the man, not Jesus the Christ. He reviews the available evidence and comes up with some startling, not always persuasive, interpretations about Jesus’ life.  Aslan does a good job demolishing the myth of the hand-washing Pilate, charting its trajectory from the earliest Biblical sources (which barely mention Pilate), to the later “let the guilt be upon our heads for generations” version that was used to justify centuries of anti-Semitism. And Aslan is certainly correct that the followers of Jesus had to refocus the view of Jesus’ mission after his crucifixion (the same way Jews had to refocus after the destruction of their temple).  But they didn’t create the more spiritual Jesus out of whole cloth — there’s a reason why Jesus is still remembered after 2000 years, and the rest of the more politically-oriented would-be messiahs of 1st C Judea (and there were a bunch of them) are now forgotten.

Aslan has a lively writing style suitable for the general reader. For those interested in more information, in the end notes (which take up about 1/3 of the book) Aslan reviews the academic controversies on various points and explains why he has made the choices he has.  More scholars should write this way.

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