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Study Guide for the book Zealot, by Reza Aslan

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Suggestions for Using This Study Guide

  1. Purpose: The material we are exploring is controversial; the subject matter is often tied to deeply held beliefs. The intention of this study guide is not to change your mind but to challenge your beliefs. That is, our initial objective is not to believe what the author proposes but to be open to consider the validity of his proposition. In so doing, we empower our beliefs through the dynamics of our evolution of consciousness — the purpose of this discussion group.
  1. Organization: The Study Guide is organized by Discussion Sessions. Generally the first and the last two sessions cover thirty to forty pages of reading. While it is not expected that the first session reading be completed prior to the Discussion Session, that reading is important to the development of the author’s proposition and is highly recommended to be completed prior to the second Session.
  1. Material from Zealot: the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth: The Guide includes extensive quotations extracted from Reza Aslan’s book. The material will sometimes omit words and sentences, linking general ideas together with ellipses (“…”) for the purpose of stimulating our discussion.
  1. Initial Reaction: Some quoted material is followed by a line with three symbols and a short line to add your comments:

This is intended to be used to capture your initial reaction (“don’t agree”, “ah-ha! I’ve discovered something!” or “I already knew that”) plus a short phrase to capture any additional words that will stimulate your discussion during our session.

  1. Questions for Reflection: The quotations will often have an additional question or two to stimulate the discussion. In most cases, the questions are intended to help you find personal meaning in the material – how the topic applies to your life in tangible, experiential ways. Past participants report that writing out answers to the questions have helped them deepen their engagement of the material. Thus, consider the questions as “study aids”. The questions identified for discussion may or may not come up during our discussions. Their inclusion is intended to give you a foundation of inquiry and exploration that may continue during the discussion – or not.
  1. Honoring: Feel free to offer your thoughts and opinions, whether “substantiated” or not. AND let us conduct our discussion using only “I” statements, by listening to others’ views patiently and attentively, by avoiding piling “should’s” on others and by avoiding repeatedly dominating the discussion.

Author’s Note:

A. “The bedrock of evangelical Christianity, at least as it was taught to me, is the unconditional belief that every word of the Bible is God-breathed and true, literal and inerrant. The sudden realization that this belief is patently and irrefutably false, that the Bible is replete with the most blatant and obvious errors and contradictions—just as one would expect from a document written by hundreds of hands across thousands of years—left me confused and spiritually unmoored. And so, like many people in my situation, I angrily discarded my faith as if it were a costly forgery I had been duped into buying.”

Have you experienced this in any part of your life – religious or otherwise? What do you consider to be the detrimental effects of this ‘discarding of faith’?

B. “The Jewish peasant and revolutionary who challenged the rule of the most powerful empire the world had ever known and lost became so much more real to me than the detached, unearthly being I had been introduced to in church.”

C. “There are a few things to keep in mind before we begin our examination. For every well-attested, heavily researched, and eminently authoritative argument made about the historical Jesus, there is an equally well-attested, equally researched, and equally authoritative argument opposing it.”

Review & Commentary