Zealot by Reza Aslan: A Review

There are a lot of narratives around this book.  Reza Aslan says mean things about atheists, Reza Aslan doesn’t have the credentials he says he has, Reza Aslan was mistreated abominably by Fox News, Reza Aslan is Muslim and that taints his ability to see clearly on the history of Jesus.  The thing is, none of these are about the book itself.  So I decided that I would read it.

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There are a couple things you should know about my background here.  I am trained in historical methods, I have read most of the popularly available books about the history of Jesus and the New Testament written in the last decade, and I love the history of religions.  I am also an atheist.  My particular brand of atheism, as Christopher Hitchens would say, is very much a Protestant one, an Episcopal one at that.  There was no sturm und drang and little in the way of imposing dogma in my upbringing, I had possibly the least contentious relationship one can have with their religion while also not believing in it or understanding the point of it.

Unlike some, my particular atheism has no investment in the idea that a Jesus of some sort did or did not exist, and so no suspension of disbelief is necessary for me to accept the premise of the book.  Aslan doesn’t really address the question of Jesus’ existence, partially because it’s not really much of a controversy among historians.  Even if you don’t believe in a historical Jesus, however, it’s possible to read the book as a thought exercise.  Liberal Christians will also be able to reconcile the figure presented with their faith, to some extent.  Fundamentalists and Catholics, however, wouldn’t be able to do so, especially believers in the perpetual virginity of Mary.

The story is basically as follows:

Jesus was a poor man from the tiny town of Nazareth who witnessed his homeland of Galilee impoverished, enslaved, and mistreated by Roman occupiers.  Around the age of 30, he became a disciple of John the Baptist, by far the more famous of the two at the time.  When John the Baptist was executed, Jesus struck out on his own with a message primarily aimed at overthrowing the Temple and the Roman Occupiers — he was attempting to radically reform Judaism and free the state of Israel.  He was killed for sedition against Rome.

He was one of dozens of miracle workers with remarkably similar stories, distinguishable mostly by the fact that, after his execution, his message was carried on by his surviving family and followers, particularly his brother James and, later, Paul. The reason Christianity lasted was because Paul changed it drastically from being a critique of Judaism to being a totally new religion, one that Jesus’ brother James did not approve of.  James was killed, as were his followers with the destruction of Jerusalem, meaning that the head of the church changed from being someone who knew the Nazarene and lived in his culture to being foreigners who’d only heard secondhand tales.  Christianity is Paul’s reimagining of historical Jesus, a sort of fanfiction version — the Fifty Shades of Grey to Jesus’ Twilight.

The book is not really new in terms of the history it offers, but it is the most readable history of first century Jerusalem that I’ve come across.  If you are only mildly interested in the subject or the subject is totally new to you, I cannot emphasize enough how fun it was to read.

Aslan goes to great lengths to reassure readers that the possibility of a divine Jesus still exists within this story, sometimes to the point of annoying this reader, but he also makes a good point about the difference between what modern people accept as history and what ancient people did and the difference between facts and truth.  Since the scientific revolution, facts and truth have become more or less synonymous to many people, but the stories told of Jesus were meant to reveal truth about him rather than be facts.  In the same way that parables are understood to be lessons about the real world, even if they didn’t happen.

Read an excerpt here.

I get e-mail: Mitt Romney is super likable

Sometimes I get e-mail that I have to share.

Subj: FW: Why should we vote for Mitt Romney when he is such a despicable unlikeable guy?

This is the man who should be President of theUnited States!

A lot is being said in the media about Mitt Romney not being “likable” or that he doesn’t “relate well” to people.  Frankly, we struggled to understand why.

So after much research, we have come up with a Top Ten List to explain this “unlikablility.”

Top Ten Reasons To Dislike Mitt Romney:

1. Drop-dead, collar-ad handsome with gracious, statesmanlike aura. Looks like every central casting’s #1 choice for Commander-in-Chief.

2. Been married to ONE woman his entire life, and has been faithful to her, including through her bouts with breast cancer and MS.

3. No scandals or skeletons in his closet. (How boring is that?)

4. Can’t speak in a fake, southern, “black preacher voice” when necessary.

5. Highly intelligent. Graduated cum laude from bothHarvard Law School and Harvard Business School…and by the way, his academic records are NOT sealed.

6. Doesn’t smoke or drink alcohol, and has never done drugs, not even in the counter-culture age when he went to college. Too square for today’s America?

7. Represents an America of “yesterday”, where people believed in God, went to Church, didn’t screw around, worked hard, and became a SUCCESS!

8. Has a family of five great sons….and none of them have police records or are in drug rehab.  But of course, they were raised by a stay-at-home mom, and that “choice” deserves America’s scorn.

9. Oh yes…..he’s a MORMON. We need to be very afraid of that very strange religion that teaches its members to be clean-living, patriotic, fiscally conservative, charitable, self-reliant, and honest. 

10. And one more point…..pundits say because of his wealth, he can’t relate to ordinary Americans.  I guess that’s because he made that money HIMSELF…..as opposed to marrying it or inheriting it from Dad. Apparently, he didn’t understand that actually working at a job and earning your own money made you unrelatable to Americans. My goodness, it’s a strange world, isn’t it?

*****************************************************

Personal Information:

His full Name is: Willard Mitt Romney

He was Born: March 12, 1947 and is 65 years old.
His Father: George W. Romney, former Governor of the State of Michigan

He was raised in Bloomfield Hills , Michigan
He is Married to Ann Romney since 1969; they have five children.

Education:
B. A. from Brigham Young University, J. D. and M.B.A. from Harvard University

Religion:
Mormon – The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints

Working Background:
After high school, he spent 30 months in France as a Mormon missionary.

After going to both Harvard Business School and HarvardLaw School simultaneously, he passed the Michigan bar exam, but never worked as an attorney.

In 1984, he co-founded Bain Capital a private equity investment firm, one of the largest such firms in the United States.

In 1994, he ran for Senator of Massachusetts and lost to Ted Kennedy.

He was President and CEO of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.

In 2002, he was elected Governor of the State ofMassachusetts where he eliminated a 1.5 billion deficit.

Some Interesting Facts about Romney:

Bain Capital, starting with one small office supply store in Massachusetts,

turned it into Staples; now over 2,000 stores employing 90,000 people.

Bain Capital also worked to perform the same kinds of business miracles again and again, with companies like Domino’s, Sealy, Brookstone, Weather Channel, Burger King, Warner Music Group, Dollarama, Home Depot Supply and many others.

He was an unpaid volunteer campaign worker for his dad’s gubernatorial campaign 1 year.

He was an unpaid intern in his dad’s governor’s office for eight years.

He was an unpaid bishop and state president of his church for ten years.

He was an unpaid President of the Salt Lake Olympic Committee for three years.

He took no salary and was the unpaid Governor ofMassachusetts for four years.

He gave his entire inheritance from his father to charity.

Mitt Romney is one of the wealthiest self-made men in our country but has given more back to its citizens in terms of money, service and time than most men.

And in 2011 Mitt Romney gave over $4 million to charity, almost 19% of his income….

Just for comparison purposes, Obama gave 1% and Joe Biden gave $300 or .0013%.

Mitt Romney is Trustworthy:

He will show us his high school and college transcripts.

He will show us his social security card.

He will show us his law degree.

He will show us his draft notice.

He will show us his medical records.

Mitt Romney’s background, experience and trustworthiness show him to be a great leader and an excellent citizen for President of theUnited States.

You may think that Romney may not be the best representative the Republicans  could have selected. At least I know what religion he is, and that he won’t desecrate the flag, bow down to foreign powers, or practice fiscal irresponsibility.

I know he has the ability to turn around this financial debacle that the current regime has gotten us into. We won’t like all the things necessary to recover from this debt, but someone with Romney’s background can do it.

But, on the minus side, he never was a “Community Organizer”, never took drugs or smoked pot, never got drunk, did not associate with communists or terrorists, nor did he attend a church whose pastor called for God to damn the US.

If you care about the United States of America– Send this to all your friends!

I get e-mail! Noboma fo fou mo yrs

The following is an e-mail I received from family. Feel free to go nuts in the comments.  Everything presented as it was, with names removed.

These are all govt stats & are only the tip of the iceberg.  What did you expect from a couple disbarred lawyers whose only “job” had been a inner city community worker?   Sure will be interesting to see if anyone but non caucasians vote for oboma husain for four more years of these stats.

He is the most inexperience President in our history.  He is the most corrupt President in our history.  He is the most destructive to our Constitution in our history.  Noboma fo fou mo yrs.

Subject: Stats

 

You decide – 4 more years????

CHECK ON THE DIFFERENCE IN YOUR INHERITANCE TAX OBAMA WANTS?

Movie News; January is Entertainment on Crack

December is a relentlessly slow month in Los Angeles.  It can be refreshing or really painful if you need to be working.  January, however, makes an attempt at making up for all the hours not worked in December.

Today:

Sarah Palin will have her own show on Fox News.  “It’s wonderful to be part of a place that so values fair and balanced news,” Palin said in a written release.

Spiderman 4 is NOT happening anymore.  Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire are off the project.  They’re going to reboot the franchise, which seems insane considering it’s not even a decade old, but whatevs.  This also means no more Kirsten Dunst!!!

All signs point to the Arrested Development movie happening this year.

SNL film MacGruber is looking good from early reviews, apparently as good as Wayne’s World.  Which is good, since the SNL movies of late have included The Ladies Man, Superstar, and Night at the Roxbury.

I’m sure you’re all aware of George Lucas on The Daily Show and the horrifically funny youtube review of Phantom Menace.

The 2010 WGA nominations are out.  Only 79 scripts were eligible to be nominated, versus last year’s 267.  Shockingly, Avatar is nominated for Best Original Screenplay.  But thank God!  That screenplay has been released online!  And it has a deleted sex scene

NEYTIRI
I am with you now, Jake. We are mated for life.

JAKE
We are?

NEYTIRI
Yes. It is our way.
(innocently)
Oh. I forgot to tell?

He rouses up, making her look at him.

JAKE
Really, we are?

NEYTIRI
We are.

JAKE
It’s cool. I’m there.