BOOK REVIEW: Zealot by Reza Aslan

A book on Jesus of Nazreth should be reviewed on Christmas day. I am cheesy that way.

Zealot

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazreth is both the first book of Reza Aslan’s that I purchased and the first audiobook I’ve ever listened to.

Zealot helped me make up mind about two things:

First, I am not a ‘purely’ audiobook person. I loved listening to this one, but will soon have to get an ebook or hard copy, to be able to flip pages and re-read sections and commit to memory phrases and names…

Second, religion is scary. It’s not for me.

Reza Aslan in his book No god, but God* says religion is not faith, religion is the story of faith. (That’s something I get completely and see it in the lives of the most faithful, be it of mono- or poly-theistic religious dispensation. They always put their faith over rituals.)

So, Zealot is the story of people who sought a different story to guide their faith. It’s a fascinating narration of Roman rule, power of the clergy and Jesus of Nazareth. Even more fascinating is the building of myths and stories to empower faith, after crucifixion of their prophet. The roles played by Jesus’s brother James and both the apostles who knew him personally and those who didn’t, and the debatable claims about Jesus’s life by Paul. As per Aslan, Paul is amongst the first to envision Christianity as a religion.

This book has been controversial in that it says Jesus was a passionate and zealous Jew, and not the man of peace that Christianity now makes him out to be. There have also been disagreements with the author on his reading of the New Testament.

Since I am neither well-versed in the Testaments nor have read in great detail the counter-arguments, I consumed the book with the simple familiarity of a Hindu-born irreligious person who schooled in a Catholic convent.

Zealot speaks of Jesus the revolutionary from Nazareth, before he became Christ. The life of a man when he was still in control of it vs. the history of a man as his followers sought to write it.

Zealot is a reminder that everything that is to happen has already happened, and stories of violence, cruelty, abject poverty, vulgar wealth, goodness and humanity are cyclical. But with every cycle new martyrs, new heroes and new villains are created. Some cycles are more powerful than the rest, they give birth to set-in-stone narratives… religion.

Listening to Zealot, for me there was an echo of another book that addresses the duality of Jesus: The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman. That book again distinguishes between the human and the divine, and is well-worth a read too.

I learnt a valuable lesson as a writer, listening to this audiobook; it underscored the importance of metre in all types of writing, not just poetry and lyrics. Aslan reads the book, or to put it more accurately, recounts a story. You realise then that why some writing is so compelling, while others barely manage to ride on the merit of its content.

*My current read.

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