Boy, how to begin this review?
On my maternal side I come from a family steeped in Christianity. I have traced my family tree on that side back to the 1500s, and the absolute common thread running from my earliest traceable ancestor to my grandmother who just passed away a month before I started this book is an absolutely rock solid, full hearted belief in God and Jesus Christ. My ancestor's lives were devoted to Jesus.
My paternal side, though, was far, far more ambivalent about God and Jesus. I have never seen my father or grandparents even near a church except for weddings and funerals. I certainly have never seen them pray. My religiously brought up mother married my not so believing father, and this union produced a child (me) constantly trying to square Jesus Christ, the Son of God with the historical Jesus. I simply couldn't take Jesus on faith, but at the same time, I could feel Jesus around me, particularly when with my mother's family. In church, my soul finds Jesus to the point that I come close to tears, and I hold my participation in Ash Wednesday a few years ago as one of the most special personal moments of my life.
So yeah, Jesus puzzles me.
Reading Zealot : the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth has given me some footholds into trying to understand who Jesus was as a person, and how this man came to be the central figure in Christianity. This book helped me to understand what on Earth made Jesus run around claiming to be the Son of God (turns out, not exactly what he said), claiming himself to be The Messiah, and creating a huge ruckus all over Jerusalem and Galilee. The book further illustrated for me how this zealot's (not used in the sense we use it today) rather very much Jewish and very much political mission came to be modern Christianity. This book put the historical Jesus into historical context for me, and that is the most helpful information I could have as I continue to reconcile my two halves on this matter.
The book does not try to challenge the idea of Jesus as divine. It doesn't try to minimize him in any way. All this book does is try to illustrate how Jesus of Nazareth (read, Jesus as a historical, not religious figure) was motivated by the world he lived in, how and why people came to follow him, and how others preached and practiced his teachings once he had been crucified. It explains how Jesus of Nazareth came to be Jesus Christ, center of the world's largest religion. The author leaves it to you to examine your own beliefs.