Posted by: Corri van de Stege | January 4, 2014

Catching up – Reza Aslan and Zealot

A very happy new year to you all – I’ve gone underground for a few weeks, too busy with family and loved ones.

The last guests have now left, the rooms are tidied and I have my own work room and desk back, the sofa bed has been collapsed back into a proper sofa and my desks are cleared of crayons, sticker books and children’s writing pads.  I can lock myself away again, start writing as well as reading and am planning the year ahead around these two activities.  It’s switch-over year for me: I have given up the day job and can now focus on reading and writing and blogging and researching and….  Plenty to do.

Meanwhile and despite all the busyness of the christmas and new year celebrations I have managed to carry on reading, even if sometimes all I could get in was an hour or so before falling asleep.  That, I find, is not very conducive for keeping on track and the danger is that you lose interest for the simple reason that you cannot keep the flow of the story in your head.  And then there have been all these reviews on the best books of 2013.


There’s one book that I read in 2013 and have not reviewed even though I wrote up the notes.   It’s kind of apt to review it this time of the year.   It’s Reza Aslan’s book ‘Zealot: The Life and time of Jesus of Nazareth’.  The book received a kind of notoriety when just published due to an extraordinary Fox News interview which went viral over the internet: Why, asked the reporter, did Aslan as a Moslem dare to write a book that was clear critical of Jesus Christ?  As Aslan explains very patiently on the video, he is not out to attack Christianity, in fact close members of his family are Christians and he is a well qualified scholar with a PhD in the subject.  What he is trying to do in this book is to shed new light on a life that is full of myths and to try and discover who the real person is: someone who grew up in a time that was full of zealotry, and who played into and was part of a number of myths current at the time, one of which was that a king of Jews would liberate them from Rome.

I must own up to having a special interest in any author, researcher or historian who can shed light on these stories about Jesus and who he really was.  I am writing a story about children brought up in a fanatical Calvinist environment where to question even a word of what is in the bible was considered blasphemy.  I am quite taken by this book by Aslan that sheds so much light on what was going on in reality, during this time of Jesus, a book that is not afraid to ask the questions and to show us the context in which so many of these bible stories were written, part of a long and ongoing mythology.

In his introduction Aslan writes (and this is definitely true of a Calvinist belief system) ‘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.’

When you then, as a child in such a Calvinist household, begin to realise that the bible is in fact full of the ‘most blatant and obvious errors and contradictions’, it comes as a kind of relief whilst at the same time it is unsettling, and you develop a certain anger at the lies, and more lies, that you have been indoctrinated with.

Aslan’s approach however is one of becoming reconnected, he says, as if with an old friend;  I on the other hand have become curious about the myths, the environment of myths as history or reality within which people have developed, how such myths have developed over centuries, interpreted and re-interpreted, the Greek and Roman myths, the European folk tales and myths, all trying to resolve man’s insecurity and finding an explanation.

Aslan has done his homework, he has tried to find out more about the man Jesus Christ within the historical sources that are available; Aslan outlines the era in which Jesus lived as one of zealotry and apocalypse and nationalism which was opposed to Roman rule and occupation of the land of the Jews.  The sources and notes are fully referred to in separate sections at the end of the book so that you can read the main chapters asa  continuous narrative, without the interference of source data interrupting the flow.

I very much enjoyed reading this book.  It is now available as a kindle e-book for as little as £1.09, however, I would recommend a hard copy in your hand so that you can scan forward and backward.  No date has been set yet for the paperback version.  I love my hardback copy though!


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