Monthly Archives: July 2013

Review: Zealot- The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan

17568801Title: Zealot- The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

Author: Reza Aslan

Rating: 4 stars

There’s something I have to confess. I am a religion junkie.

I used to spend Sunday afternoons as a child watching something called Mysteries of the Bible, a historical survey of Biblical times that went way over my head at the time but still fascinated me. I came fairly close, within a class or two, of minoring in religion in college. That spot was ultimately taken by history, because I was not ready to go so in depth with my studies, but I still love learning about the history and development of religions from all cultures, and read lots of popular religious surveys.

When I heard that Reza Aslan had written a biography of the historical Jesus, I knew I had to read it as soon as possible. Jesus is a figure very close to my heart, even as I no longer hold to most of the tenents of faith I was raised with. I was also skeptical about what Aslan would have to say. The number of “facts” that can be said to be known about the historical Jesus of Nazareth are few, and can be very divisive. But Zealot turned out to be very compelling narrative, very accessible to general readers while backed up with extensive research.

Most of the book has little to do with the historical Jesus in and of himself. Aslan takes what is known about Jewish culture in such a tumultuous and transformtive time, and what is known about men who interacted with and followed Jesus, to construct a template of how the historical Jesus probably acted, who he probably was.

He begins his narrative with the Jewish Revolt of 66 CE and the subsequent destruction of Jerusalem. This, not the birth, ministry, or death of Jesus, turns out to be the central linchpin of the book, as he argues that it is with the destruction of the Temple that the Jesus cult was able to fully break from the Jewish roots of the faith. Christology and the Roman church truly began at this point, but most links to Jesus the man, Jesus the Nazarene, were buried.

He also spends a lot of time talking about figures such as John the Baptist, James the brother of Jesus, Paul, corrupt high priests of the Temple, and Roman officials. There were many ideas I have already been exposed to, but also many things that were new to me, and yet make complete logical sense (for instance–Jesus of Nazareth was probably initially a disciple of John the Baptist. Something that had never even crossed my mind, but struck me as a complete ‘of course!’ moment).

The book is small, barely weighing in at two hundred pages, but there are a ton of notes and further reading at the back for anyone interested in how Aslan came to his conclusions, or looking for greater depth of study. The student part of me would have preferred footnotes and in-text reference, but the structure of the book does make sense. It’s cleaner, makes for faster reading, and I would assume hooks more causal readers who would be turned off my footnotes and tiny text.

In addition to his Ph.D, Aslan also holds an MFA in Fiction, and it shows in the meticulous construction of his prose. Zealot is beautifully written, with vividly drawn descriptions of the Temple, the life of the peasantry, and of a world overflowing with wandering messiahs.

Some, especially conservative Christians and Bible literalists, may find this book controversial. They should not. Having a greater understanding of the historical roots of the world’s largest religion is important to keeping that religion relevant in the modern world. Whether you believe Jesus was divine, a man, or some combination thereof, there is no doubt he was a charismatic and fascinating figure, and Aslan shows how he gained such a hold over the human imagination through the most humble and prosaic of roots.



Filed under Book Review

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Movie Adaptations


It’s time for another Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! This week is a topic I could talk about for days, the best (or worst) movie adaptations. I chose to go with best, and it was hard to narrow it down to ten.

Brokeback_mountainBrokeback Mountain

I think short stories have a greater capacity to be well adapted than novels. Where readers in love with a novel decry every slight change and omission, movies allow short stories to achieve greater scope and detail. Annie Proulx’s short story is good. The movie that came out of it is astounding.


The Princess Bride 9780156035217_custom-s6-c30

I first saw The Princess Bride in a seventh grade language arts class, and I still can’t believe it took me that long to discover it. Hands down the most perfect fantasy movie ever. Plus the screenplay was written by the author of the book, so it’s pretty much guaranteed to be as well adapted as possible.


The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo 

David Fincher’s version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo wasn’t as well received as people thought it would be, but to my mind it is miles ahead of the Swedish TV adaptation. Rooney Mara brings the perfect amount of vulnerability and flintiness to Lisbeth Salander, and the cinematography is just amazing. Plus, with Daniel Craig it finally seemed plausible that Blomkvist would be such a babe magnet. As time goes by the sequel seems less and less likely, but I still hope for it.

The Hunger Games MV5BMjA4NDg3NzYxMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTgyNzkyNw@@._V1_SX214_

While some of the adaptation choices didn’t sit quite right for me, I thought the casting was spot on, the tone was right, and it made me cry even harder than the book. I can’t wait to see what they do with the rest of the series.


The Secret Garden

There was a time in about 1994 or 95 when HBO was showing The Secret Garden two or three times a day for an entire summer. I cannot tell you how many times I watched it, but the number would be absolutely ridiculous. I had struggled to get through the book before that summer, thrown by the extreme dialects, but after that summer it became one of my most treasured books.

                                                                                   Sense and Sensibility MV5BNzk1MjU3MDQyMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjc1OTM2MQ@@._V1_SX214_

Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman. I don’t even need to say any more.


Jane Eyre 

I’ve never been a huge fan of the Brontes, but I will watch Michael Fassbender being all broody and sexy any time of day.


                      The Lion King Lion King

Because it’s the only version of Hamlet I ever liked.

easy a

Easy A

Ditto The Scarlet Letter. (I have a weakness for teen-comedy adaptations of classic literature, and Easy A is definitely my favorite.)

Oh no, wait, I forgot about CluelessMV5BNjQxNTA1NjE5Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwOTMwNzE5._V1_SY317_CR4,0,214,317_

Learning that Clueless = Emma changed the way I look at literature, and how we tell stories. Once you see that there are only so many stories in the world, it frees you to see that it’s how a story is told that matters. And to my mind, there’s no better time capsule of 1990s culture.

What are you favorite (or least favorite) movie adaptations? Any that are better than the book?


Filed under Book Talk

Shameless Self Promotion

Hello there, lovely readers! I have just received my first e-galleys from NetGalley, and I have a couple of reviews in the pipeline. I’m hoping to get back to the sorely lapsed Short Story Sunday either this week or next. But in the meantime, some self-promotion!

A short story of my very own, “Hold Your Breath and Wait,” has just been published in the July issue of Bards & Sages Quarterly. It’s about a boy named Theo at the end of the world. (Both of my published stories have been about the end of the world. What this says about me, I don’t dare to speculate.) You can purchase a physical copy of the magazine here, or a Kindle edition here. I’m still very much a beginning writer, but I’m really proud of this one, so I hope if any of you choose to read it you enjoy it 🙂

Leave a comment

Filed under Writing Life