Separating Jesus the Man From the Myth

Reza Aslan Finds the Person Beneath Centuries of Dogma

The Gospel According to Reza: Reza Aslan, in his new book, “Zealot,” maintains that it was unlikely Jesus was able to read or write.
Getty Images/Hulton Archive
The Gospel According to Reza: Reza Aslan, in his new book, “Zealot,” maintains that it was unlikely Jesus was able to read or write.

By Naomi Alderman

Published July 29, 2013, issue of August 02, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth
By Reza Aslan
Random House, 336 pages, $27

Is it possible to change the tenor of public debate on a subject with a piece of writing? Is it conceivable that the “general reader” still exists, that judgment-suspended individual who picks up a book because she or he is interested in the topic and wants to know more, and not — as so often seems to be the case on the Internet — out of a desire to have prejudices confirmed or to be irritated by the “obviously wrong”?

Can we imagine that in a religious landscape as polarized as today’s, with fundamentalists and atheists ranged against each other with seemingly no points of commonality, we could calmly attempt to separate out the historical truths and convenient fictions behind the world’s most famous man?

The only real concern over “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,” Reza Aslan’s masterful investigation of the historical Jesus, is whether there is still an audience open-minded enough to be able to read and take onboard its messages.

For the Jesus he finds when the accreted layers of centuries of worship are scraped off is rather different from the one we might be used to, and all the more interesting, human and relevant for that.

“Zealot” is a work of tremendous scholarly synthesis. Aslan, an Iranian born scholar, surveys the literature around Jesus — what we might know of a man of his time, what the Gospels tell us of his life, what we can discover from contemporary writings and archaeology — and weaves together this material into a highly convincing account of Jesus the man.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.