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- Laura Crockett - Jesus of Nazareth: a man of true grit.This is one of the most intriguing books I've ever read. The subject is Jesus of Nazareth, who is quite different from Jesus the Christ.
The writer, Reza Aslan, gives a very clear picture of the context of Jesus' life in first century Israel. Israel at this time is made up of various regions, which the Romans dubbed "Palestine." In Roman Palestine, there were two differs groups of people; those who went along with Roman rule of their country, and those who wanted the Romans out. Those two groups were quite different. The ruling class, who cooperated with the Romans, were corrupt. They stood by while the small farmers lost their lands to wealthy landowners. Indeed, whilst reading this book I kept thinking of modern America and how we have two distinct groups; those who go along with the ruling class and those who wish to return America to its Founder's principles and the Constitution. Except we don't have invaders into our nation, though we can say our invaders are ideas that are foreign to the concept of America. But I digress.
This book is very well researched. As I write on historical and mythological subjects, what Aslan had to say about Jesus rang true. I have researched the Romans, and they did not fool around in their conquering of the Mediterranean countries. Romans had rules. Disobey their rules, and too bad for you. Their punishment was swift and deadly. The Jewish ruling class of Palestine understood this only too well, so they went along with the program so that they could prosper and keep their status. Jesus of Nazareth was not the first messiah to come along to try and upset this apple cart. He belonged to that second group of Jews who wanted the Romans out. There were many of these zealots for the old time religion, which is the pure form of Judaism. Meaning no foreigners on the land that their god gave them. The zealots wanted Rome out of Israel, and the messiahs were supposed to be the kings who would raise an army to throw out the invaders. Jesus of Nazareth was one of the zealots. The Romans, however, who had those rules, one of which was not to proclaim oneself king and suggest the Romans should go home, these are the folks who arrested Jesus and crucified him. The Jewish ruling class complained about Jesus, but they had no power to do anything about him. Only the Romans could.
Jesus of Nazareth knew that he would be put to death for his ideas. What were those ideas? That Jews needed to get back to their founding principles. That Jews needed to care for themselves. Jesus' speeches on poverty were all about this idea of those Jews who prospered were not to prosper at the expense of their fellow Jews. Their land was for all of God's chosen, not for any foreigners and not to be exploited by the rich. Jews were supposed to be on the exclusive side, but not as something that excluded because of wealth but of breeding. It is a DNA thing, a group thing. Those within the group are supposed to behave in a certain way. Zealots wanted Jews to act like Jews, not like Romans. They wanted Jews to follow their religious laws and teachings, ideas that were for all Jews, not just the wealthy. The wealthy, however, acted like most wealthy people; they are more global in their approach to life. They enjoy what the world has to offer. They forget to take care of the poor.
The second half of the book covers the transition of how Jesus of Nazareth, revolutionary, became Jesus Christ, king of heaven. Here Aslan agrees with the theory Elaine Pagels puts out in her book on Revelation; that early Christianity distanced itself from the Jews because Jewish Palestine was nearly wiped off the face of the earth because of the zealots. Jesus had to lose his Jewishness. As Christianity prospered, as it became a Roman religion, the blame for the death of Jesus had to be transferred to the Jews. Aslan explains this transition very well.
This book gives the reader much to think about. I am still thinking about it. If you are a person who enjoys thinking for yourself, you will enjoy this book. If you like history, you will like this book. If you love Jesus Christ, you will love Jesus of Nazareth even more. He was a guy with true grit.