Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

Zealot_Holiday_NYTBR_RTG copy

From the internationally bestselling author of No god but God comes a fascinating, provocative, and meticulously researched biography that calls into question everything we thought we knew about Jesus of Nazareth.

Two thousand years ago, an itinerant Jewish preacher and miracle worker walked across the Galilee, gathering followers to establish what he called the “Kingdom of God.” The revolutionary movement he launched was so threatening to the established order that he was captured, tortured, and executed as a state criminal.

Sifting through centuries of mythmaking, Reza Aslan sheds new light on one of history’s most influential and enigmatic characters by examining Jesus through the lens of the tumultuous era in which he lived: first century Palestine, an age awash in apocalyptic fervor. Scores of Jewish prophets, preachers, and would-be messiahs traipse through the Holy Land, bearing messages from God. This is the age of zealotry—a fervent nationalism that made resistance to the Roman occupation a sacred duty incumbent on all Jews. And few figures better exemplified this principle than the charismatic Galilean who defied both the imperial authorities and their allies in the Jewish religious hierarchy.Two decades after his shameful death, his followers would call him God.


Balancing the Jesus of the Gospels against the historical sources, Aslan explores this diverse and turbulent age and, in doing so, challenges the conventional portraits of Jesus of Nazareth. Aslan describes a man full of conviction and passion, yet rife with contradiction: a man of peace who exhorted his followers to arm themselves with swords; an exorcist and faith healer who urged his disciples to keep his identity a secret; and ultimately, the seditious “King of the Jews” whose promise of liberation from Rome went unfulfilled in his brief lifetime. Aslan explores the reasons why the early Christian church preferred to promulgate an image of Jesus as a peaceful spiritual teacher rather than a politically conscious revolutionary. And he grapples with the riddle of how Jesus understood himself, the mystery that is at the heart of all subsequent claims about his divinity.

Zealot questions what we thought we knew about Jesus of Nazareth—even as it affirms the radical and transformative nature of his life and mission. The result is a thought-provoking, elegantly written biography with the pulse of a fast-paced novel: a singularly brilliant portrait of a man, a time, and the birth of a religion.

Read reviews here and below:






About the Author

rezaaslanDr. Reza Aslan’s bachelor’s degree is in religious studies, with an emphasis on scripture and traditions (which at Santa Clara University means the New Testament). His minor was in biblical Greek. He has a master of theological studies degree from Harvard University, in world religions, and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in the sociology of religions. UCSB’s doctoral program is an interdisciplinary one that draws from religion, history, philosophy, and sociology, among other fields. Aslan’s doctorate in the sociology of religions encompasses expertise in the history of religion. Reza also has a master of fine arts degree from the University of Iowa.

Dr. Aslan is currently professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside, with a joint appointment in the department of religion, and he teaches in both disciplines. He was previously Wallerstein Distinguished Visiting Professor at Drew University, where he taught from 2012 to 2013, and assistant visiting professor of religion at the University of Iowa, where he taught from 2000 to 2003. He has written three books on religion.

Review & Commentary

    • Thanks for the review! Sounds as if Aslan has been reading the minds of Straight Thinkers of centuries.
      And did an excellent job. Truth can’t be hidden forever. It emerges as mythology and legend are identified as imposters. A slow, ongoing process aided by honest education, and scholars such as
      Dr. Reza Aslan.

      Another excellent book/novel that broaches the same general topic: dysfunctional-truth that unsettles the misinformed into unsatisfying lives. A somewhat common state in our old world for centuries.
      Book title, “GUYS Growing Up” Amazon, ISBN 978.147.597.8407 http://www.rhmorrison.ca

      Subject: GUYS are responsible for the state of humanity & world resources; Jesus is the Greatest GUY of all! Be well, Roger H. Morrison

    • Edwin L. Holton, Ph.D.

      This seems to me bore Progressive Christian hoopla. They have a habit of claiming more than should be claimed and a tendency to omit the footnotes claiming that the publishers told them to do so. Scholarly documents, if they are to be seriously scholarly, need the footnotes and publishers of scholarly materials are not going to advise anyone to omit them. Clearly this not a document written from a clear understanding of First Century Judaism. If you wish to see material that is much better founded (and that denies that Jesus was a zealot…small z or big z) see the works of Geza Vermes. You will be better rewarded.

  • A bloodthirsty Jesus?

    You won’t find many more liberal than I, but “Zealot” seems to give no credence to themes in the Hebrew Bible or New Testament that do not harmonize with its thesis that:

    “…the God who repeatedly commands the wholesale slaughter of every foreign man, woman, and child who occupies the land of the Jews, the ‘blood-spattered God’ of Abraham, and Moses, and Jacob, and Joshua (Isaiah 63:3), the God who ‘shatters the heads of his enemies,’ bids his warriors to bathe their feet in their blood and leave their corpses to be eaten by dogs (Psalms 68:21-23) – that is the *only* God that Jesus knew and the *sole* God he worshiped…. The oft-repeated commandment to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ was originally given strictly in the context of internal relations within Israel. The verse in question reads: ‘You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). To the Israelites, as well as to Jesus’s community in first-century Palestine, ‘neighbor’ meant one’s fellow Jews. With regard to the treatment of foreigners and outsiders, oppressors and occupiers, however, the Torah could not be clearer: ‘You shall drive them out before you. You shall make no covenant with them and their gods. They shall not live in your land’ (Exodus 23:31-33).” (pp.121-2)

    What happens to the continuation of Leviticus 19: “When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34) ?

    Because the powerful themes of compassion and inclusion in the Hebrew Bible are missing, and difficult-to-support theories are maintained, such as that “Paul is speaking about himself when he cites Isaiah 49:1-6 regarding ‘the root of Jesse’ serving as ‘a light to the Gentiles,’ ” (p.266) it is very difficult to take “Zealot” seriously. I have been a big fan of Aslan, and I am hoping I do not have to revise my reliance on “No God but God .” Staying tuned, disappointed but hopeful.

  • Jo Critchfield

    I am disappointed to see that the old controversies about trying to define whether Jesus was a “real” person or a “true” Messiah continue to give rise to more popularization of the Latest Research. When will scholars and those who read them finally accept that the human mind needs to believe in something beyond the struggles and hardships that this world has always presented to its residents? The only difference between the crab scuttling away from what eats it and us scuttling away from bombs, etc. is that we need to blame someone for our problems, and we need to make sense of being alive where our neighbor is not likely to love us as him or herself unless we have something they need.

    In other words, believing in something beyond the craziness of our own tendencies is essential to us staying sane! Whatever it is that we find makes the most meaningful purpose behind our condition as the thinking beast will be what we cling to until or unless we are shown that meaning to lead to more problems. The “ultimate” truth can never be agreed upon: look at how many sects exist just in Protestant Christianity, and more keep breaking off! And these all supposedly have access to the “truths” evident in the Bible.

    My wish for humankind is to learn how to honor the hidden truths within each of our own beings: those truths that truly do wish good for one’s neighbors, which can only happen when our own sense of safety is secured. However that is brought about, it cannot be other than in that other dimension of sensing that is usually called “spiritual”. Let’s just keep seeking for how to find our own spiritual connections to something beyond the Self, and then honor that in each one of this world’s entities, plant and animal included, since we cannot exist alone and separate!