As indicated by the subtitle, “The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,” this book titled The Zealot is about the historical Jesus. But the reader will probably be disappointed to learn that most of that history comes from the Gospels in the New Testament. Only small bits and pieces of information come from non-Christian history. The author Reza Aslin, however, often relies on non-Christian history to point out statements in the Gospels that are false or inaccurate.
The title of The Zealot comes from a group of Jews who resisted Roman rule of Palestine. Aslin believes Jesus was one in a long line Jewish Zealots. Like many other of the Zealots, the Romans executed Jesus for his sedition. Crucifixion was a type of execution primarily reserved for rebels. What set Jesus apart from these other rebels was not his life, but rather his death. None of the other Zealots were resurrected, yet several of Jesus’s disciples and apostles swore that they saw the resurrected Jesus and refused to retract their statements even unto death.
Incidentally, Aslin suggests that (a) John the Baptist was more of a mentor to Jesus than the current Catholic Church is willing to concede, (b) Apostle Paul was more of an outlier and a minor figure in the Church during his life, but after his death he became more prominent because his Gospels better fit the message that the Church was trying to sell, and (c) Jesus’s brother James was actually bigger than Peter or Paul in developing the Church following Jesus’s death.
The Zealot is an excellent primer for someone wanting some basic information about the conception of the Catholic Church.