Reviews: Mostly Books...

Lots of readers at St. Stephen's Episcopal. We the usual collection of people, young and old, professional, blue collar, no collar. No professional writers gave rise to what's printed below, but we do love our books. these are some rooted out from past editions of The Messenger, our parish newsletter. Enjoy!

The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett Sheela Premsagar Summer, 1997
Babette's Feast Video, movie
At the Entrance to the Garen of Eden: A Jew's Search for God with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land March 2003, Cynthia Reedy
Faith and Politics, Senator John Danforth Chris Jones, December 2006
Trust, Salvatore Belardo and his son Anthony Belardo Al Lowe, April 1998
Francis, the Poor Man of Assisi, Tomie de Paola Eunice Chouffi April 1997
Stellaluna, Janell Cannon Eunice Chouffi April 1997
A History of God, Karen Armstrong September, 2007, Course description
Our Endangered Values, Jimmy Carter Laura Davis, November 2006
AMISH GRACE Jane Tatge, March, 2008
THE SPIRIT OF HAPPINESS Jane Tatge, March, 2008
Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life Deacon Pat, March 2007
"Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer" Deacon Pat . March 2005
The Friendship of Women June, 2007
BUDDHISM: Introducing the Buddhist Experience December, 2007
Going to Heaven: The Life and Election of Gene Robinson Chris Jones, April 2007
The Pity of it All: a History of the Jews in Germany, 1743-1933 Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2002
Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth James McDonald. December, 2013

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is a lovely book about an iII tempered and spoiled young girl's transformation into a vibrant and happy child on the brink of adolescence. The girl is Mary and she is sent to live with her uncle after her parents both die. it is at her uncle's place that she discovers the joy of watching things grow. She is joined by the gardener in her appreciation of the great outdoors. Eventually she meets and befriends her sickly cousin, Colin, who was always in bed and he, too, is excited at the prospect of the outdoors and a garden on the grounds. It is Mary who knows of the garden and introduces Dickon (one of the local children) to Colin and both of them to the garden. It is a marvelous look into the beauty of flowers and the like through children's eyes and the fun to be had. The Secret Garden is recommended for all children and even those children who are just old enough to read.

........Sheela Premsagar Summer, 1997
Babette's Feast - Written by Isak Dinesen, Screenplay written by Gabriel Axel, Directed by Gabriel Axel

This is a tale of two beautiful young girls who grow up in a small Danish village where their father is a minister. One girl passes up love and the other passes up fame so that they can remain in the village. They grow old using religion as a substitute for living life. They take in a refugee from Paris, Babette, to help them with the cooking and housekeeping. Babette serves the traditional and unexciting meals. She keeps the secret of her past to herself. But one day she wins 10,000 francs in a lottery and decides to spend it all on the simple villagers. She, herself, cooks a magnificent feast. Babette truly is an artist.

This film is about life - unfulfiliment, pleasures and artistic passion. It is a 1987 academy award winner for best foreign language. The language is Danish and French with English subtitles.

I guarantee you will find "Babette's Feast" truly delicious!

At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew's Search for God with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land

by Yossi Klein Halevi (2001)

 It's a privilege to meet Yossi Klein Halevi on the printed page:  he's a man of faith, a devout Jew, an open-minded lay-person, and a journalist, living in the most volatile place on earth, beside and among people of very different beliefs.  His goal is to find commonality with the Christians and Muslims also living in the Holy Land , yet his search yields other results:  it exposes the stark differences between the religions, and it inspires the reader with Halevi's own beliefs and practices.There is no fanaticism among the Muslims that Halevi prays with.  They center their days, their thoughts, and their communities around their religion, interrupting their secular activities five times a day with the urgency of prayer (how different from the secular culture of America !).  Judaism appears quite different:  where Islam insists on the perfection of its spiritual heroes, Judaism stresses their humanity and their struggles.  The Jews view their long national history as one of continuous struggle and strife.  Halevi uses the word "resurrection" in this book to refer to the re-instatement of national strength after a nation's destruction, as often as he uses it to mean the Christian Resurrection.  His personal prayer practice involves the stilling and focusing of his mind to offer the souls who have passed before him an opening to intervene in his life. For Halevi, some of those souls had their struggle during the Holocaust.  The Christians that Halevi meets with (a monastic order of nuns requesting anonymity; half of the sisters live in absolute silence) seem to have an "ultimate" mission of converting Halevi, the Jew, to Christianity.  This goal, unfortunately, gets in the way of true dialogue, or sometimes "short-circuits" it at a crucial time.  Yet, Yossi Halevi credits Christians in general with bravely engaging in interfaith dialogue that has led to profound theological changes since the Holocaust.  As a person, Yossi Halevi is able to find beauty in divinity, in the smallest of details and the largest of world orders.  He is sensitive to the most intricate and minute details of the faith practices of others, and is able to incorporate them into his own prayer and meditation.  He comes to see all of the Muslims, Jews, and Christians he meets as "fellow spiritual seekers" even as he enters some of the "forbidden" neighborhoods with fear and dread.  My favorite passage in the book is Halevi's thoughts on the divinities of individuals he meets:"Each person is unique.  God doesn't repeat himself. We need to see ourselves as souls on the way to perfection.  Life is the process of . . . exposing each person's unique divine quality.  You can't get angry or disappointed at human failures.  To identify a person with his flaws is to arrest a soul at an awkward moment of its evolution.  All life is a prelude."  What a wonderful view for a person to have; what a wonderful world view as well!  

(This book has been donated to the library at St. Stephen's.)

March 2003, Cynthia Reedy

Faith and Politics - By Senator John Danforth Ok,

I've read this short (233 pages) book one and a half times, so I ought to be able to tell you a little about why I think you might find it worthwhile reading.  Basically, it's a readable down-to-earth book by someone who is eminently qualified to talk about the issues.  John Danforth has a law degree and a seminary degree.  He has served many years as republican senator from Missouri, as well as an Episcopal priest.
The first part of the book can be summarized in the idea of "humility". What's wrong with current politics is "our certainty that our political agenda must be God's agenda"."I do not believe that any faith, including my own, monopolizes human understanding of God.  I believe that God created and embraces all humankind, and that religious bigotry against anyone is more than uncivilized, it is in opposition to Christianity." The middle portion of the book contains a discussion of "wedge issues", issues that don't have all that much theological content, but tend to drive wedges between us. This includes public religion (monuments to the ten commandments, prayer in schools), the Terry Schiavo case (individual rights versus the federal government), abortion, stem cell research, gay marriage, and family values.The last chapter begins with the twelfth chapter of Paul's Letter to the Romans, which Danforth calls a manual for Christian politicians, and maybe the rest of us too.  For example, "think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned" helps us to see that "no one corners the market on truth."  Love and reconciliation are other themes found in this chapter.This book is an easy but profound read.   I commend it to you.

Chris Jones, December 2006
TRUST by Salvatore Belardo and his son Anthony Belardo

This book is a comprehensive survey of business management and planning practices that have evolved due to the accelerating changes in markets and economics over the last decades and now particularly because of globalization of most markets and economies. Emphasis is on the human considerations, which is even more important, for the creativity of all from the line operations to all levels of management through trust not only resuts in individual satisfaction but is requiredfor overall success in satisfying the ultimate customers and markets.

Not only is the human element important from the point of view of the success of the enterprise, but it is the responsibility of a just society to each individual. It is the Christian (and some of the other great religions of the world) philosophy to respect each individual and to practice agape, so this point of view in my opinion is doubly important.

With "change" a continuing condition, the philosophy for unleashing the creative contributions of all, through pervasive "Trust" will help meet the requirements for the success of the organization and the satisfaction of individuals as they strive to contribute to the satisfaction of their customers and all of society.

Sal and Anthony have written an enlightened, refreshing and practical guide for all involved in organizational management in a just society. They have said it so well, with inspiring illustrations from other great writers. It is an inspiring book for all responsible people to read.

....Al Lowe, April 1998

Francis, the Poor Man of Assisi by Tomie de Paola An ALA Notable Book - 1982

This story is about Saint Francis of Assisi and his companion, Clare. Francis was the son of a rich man who indulged him with money, fine clothes, armor and a horse. He was a noisy kid and got in trouble a lot, but then had two long illnesses which subdued him. His life was changed forever when the voice of the Lord spoke from a crucifix in an old church, telling him to rebuild the church. Francis returned his material possessions to his father and began his simple life.

Each page of this story has a colored picture to go with the prose. The illustrations are simple as was St. Francis' life and typical of de Paola's paintings.

About the author: Tomie de Paola (de-pow-la), always a favorite of mine, is a professional artist, designer, painter, and muralist. Many of his works were done for Catholic churches and monasteries in New England. He grew up in Connecticut with a very social mother and father and his house was always filled with people. His father loved to cook and his mother read aloud to the family every night. He made the decision to be an artist and author when he was four years old. After graduating from Pratt Institute he spent six months in a Benedictine monastery in Vermont.

Mr. de Paola has illustrated and/or written over 160 books.

Stellaluna by Janell Cannon A Reading Rainbow Award - 1993.

Stelialuna is a fruit bat who is very lucky. She gets lost from her mother but is rescued and welcomed by a family of birds who take care of her and feed her like one of their own. (They feed her bugs and crawly things she hatesl) Poor Stelialuna is quite confused, but this provides humor to the story. Unexpectedly she finds her mother who introduces her to delicious fruit, how to hang by her feet, and night flying. The baby birds and Stellaluna remain friends.

This story sends a wonderful lesson in tolerance and friendship and the illustrations are delightful. Stellaluna is Jannell Cannon's first published picture book.

............Eunice Chouffi April 1997

A History of God

For over 4,000 years, adherents of the world's monotheistic faiths have wrestled with the question of God. This extraordinary, feature-length film, based on Karen Armstrong's acclaimed book of the same name, traces that elusive and fascinating quest.In A HISTORY OF GOD Karen Armstrong examines the familiar images of deity as presented in the Bible and Koran and traces the evolution and interrelation of the various Christian, Jewish, and Islamic interpretations of the divine figure. Through balanced analysis of historic and holy texts and extensive use of ancient art and artifacts, we'll follow the long road to today's understanding of God and what the journey--and the destination--have to tell us about humanity and its never-ending search for meaning and comfort. From the time of Abraham to the present, this is a thought-provoking look at the God at the heart of the world's three great monotheistic religions.  The classes will take place on Sept.  23 & 30 at 9am in the Parish Hall.

September, 2007, Course description
Our Endangered Values - Jimmy Carter

When I was younger, I was lucky enough to see Jimmy Carter inaugurated as the 39th President of the United States. Then, when I was in high school, my mom took my sister and me out of school to see the hostages return home from Iran. I still remember the buses filled with former hostages waving as they drove slowly by in Washington, D.C.When I saw this book in a pile of books to be reviewed at the Parish Faire, I was quick to pick up Our Endangered Values by Jimmy Carter. I recommend this book. The beginning explains in depth his spiritual journey thus far. He did this, so that the reader would understand the basis of his opinions for topics such as the environment, divorce, and the death penalty. Towards the end of the book, Jimmy Carter discussed the very serious situations in which we are engaged in the Middle East and America’s changing attitudes about war, terrorism and torture. It’s not a happy book, but Jimmy Carter expresses his views plainly and openly. He wrote in a way that helped me to understand and identify my views on some very tough subjects.If you have a book you recommend and would like to write a short article for the Messenger, please email us. For a list of books to consider, please see Deacon Pat.

Laura Davis, November 2006

AMISH GRACE relates the story of how forgiveness

transcended tragedy. On October 2, 2006, Charles Carl Roberts IV entered an Amish school house near Nickel Mines, PA and shot ten girls, five of whom died before he took his own life. The Fetzer Institute provided research funds for Amish Grace as part of The Campaign for Love and Forgiveness. Authors Donald B. Fraybill, Steven M. Nolt and David L. Weaver-Zercher have all written extensively on Amish society. They researched hundreds of media stories and editorials and conducted many interviews comparing the Amish practice of forgiveness with the attitudes of other Christians.        The book is divided into three sections: the story of the school shootings, the spirituality and practice of forgiveness in Amish life, and a look at the meaning of forgiveness in American society today. The Amish believe that if they don’t forgive, they won’t be forgiven, and this forms the core of their faith. The Amish have a 300-year tradition that proclaims the necessity of loving one’s enemies. The community forgave the killer’s widow, her parents, and the killer’s parents. This wonderful book reminds us that revenge and hatred are never ends in themselves, and that the true miracle is found in loving our enemies.


THE SPIRIT OF HAPPINESS is a very candid and challenging book on the ways and wisdom of the Monks of New Skete, an Orthodox Catholic monastery in nearby Cambridge, NY. The book is a clever narration by “The Seeker”, a composite figure representing the monks themselves. Honest and well-written, it is not difficult to read. It debunks many of the stereotypes of monastic life (they eat well, and earn their bread by breeding and training German Shepherd dogs!). The book is warm and loving and sometimes humorous, and will challenge all who read it. It is the kind of book that can be read again and again as we strive to improve our spiritual lives. Former Presiding Bishop  Frank Griswold noted that “The straightforward observations and insights of the monks of New Skete are like rain upon parched soil”.


Jane Tatge, March, 2008
Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life. By Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn and Matthew Linn. Paulist Press: Mahwah/New York, 1995.

This book is a real gem! It was brought to my attention while I was on a retreat last fall, trying to discern how to simplify my life.

The authors’ purpose is “for people to hear the voice of God guiding them from within.” The process recommended is very simple: every day (for a month), ask yourself two questions: For what moment today am I most grateful? For what moment today am I least grateful? It can be done alone, by journaling, or with a family or friend. Even young children can join in. (I have given a copy to my daughter and her husband, to share with their children.) Even if you are not trying to reach a decision about some aspect of your life, it raises awareness of specific joys and regrets in each day. This awareness can lead to making healthy changes or choices. The fancy name for this process, which has been used for hundreds of years, is the “examen of consciousness.” Thank you, St. Ignatius!

Sleeping with Bread will be in the parish library as soon as Jane and Bruce Tatge can process it. A word of warning: DO NOT judge this book by its cover. It looks like a children’s book, but it contains much more than pretty pictures. It can be read easily in a couple of hours, but like bread, it will nourish you for a long time.

Deacon Pat, March 2007
"Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer" by Brother David Steindl-Rast. Paulist Press, NY, 1984.

This wonderful book was brought to my attention by Jane Tatge, who will put it into the St. Stephen's Library as soon as I hand it back to her! It is full of reminders of things I may have always known but somehow forgotten in the busyness of life. And it is full of wisdom, not complicated or elaborate but simple and refreshing wisdom.

There is a difference between saying prayers, which is one activity among others, and prayer, which is an attitude of the heart. What matters, says the author, is prayer, not prayers. But our prayers help us to develop an attitude of prayer, so that we can become more mindful of the ordinary moments of our life and more grateful for them. Both our prayers alone and our prayers together, in worship, are important, and both contribute to our living prayerfully all the time.

I like what Steindl-Rast says about discipline in our personal prayer life:
"Discipline is one thing; however, regimentation is another. Discipline is the attitude of the disciple, the pupil who looks into the teacher's eye
and is mirrored in the teacher's pupil. A drill sergeant couldn't care less about eye contact with the men in his regiment. Conformity is all that
matters. But eye contact with the teacher encourages creative discipline and disciplined creativity in the pupils."

This book makes excellent Lenten reading, but its wisdom is welcome at any time that a person wants to freshen up their attentiveness to the One who is our teacher and Lord.

Deacon Pat . March 2005
The Friendship of Women by Joan Chittister

This small book, 89 pages, has a lot to say about friendship over the years, and how the meaning of this word has changed. Women’s friendship has recently been seen as much more relevant and powerful in our society. As she looks at each of twelve women Joan Chittister also looks at twelve qualities of friendship. The women are both Old and New Testament, although most are found in the NT. The qualities of friendship range from growth, wisdom, leadership to truth, joy, trust and love. In each chapter she describes the aspect of friendship, then tells about the woman who has lived her life exemplifying it.

In her epilogue Chittister summarizes the qualities of friendship and also her hopes for the future of women and their friendships. “It is precisely in their penchant for bonding, for tending, for befriending, for embracing, for the gathering of peoples that women’s gift for the creation of human community becomes most clear.” She also includes a list of scripture references for each of the women. A book I have found to be a friend for a few quiet minutes. 

June, 2007
BUDDHISM: Introducing the Buddhist Experience by Donald W. Mitchell

Prof. Mitchell presents a broad picture in his introduction to Buddhism including a suggested reading list at the end of each chapter, and at the end of the book a very helpful glossary. 

The first few chapters cover the life of Gautama Buddha, his travel and teaching. This includes the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. Following his death The Elders met and an authentic standard of Buddha’s teaching and discipline were set. This oral tradition became known as the “Baskets”; one for his teachings and one of rules for the monastic life.

Buddhism spread through Asia with varying acceptance giving rise to the many schools of Buddhism we see today. Tibet, China, Korea and Japan are discussed, showing the influence of the dynasty in control of the country as well as existing customs. The Silk Road became a favored route for those desiring to make a pilgrimage to India. 

Mitchell’s final two chapters examine Buddhism today in Asia and in the West. He tries to present a balanced overview without favoring a particular school. The book was strongly recommended by Sue Spang during her October presentation. 

December, 2007
Going to Heaven: The Life and Election of Gene Robinson. By Elizabeth Adams.  It’s all there – how this son of a poor Kentucky tenant farmer was thrust into the center of a controversy that threatens to unhinge the whole Anglican Communion. How he was married, raised two daughters, had an amazingly amicable divorce (he still has solid relationships with his former wife and with both his children), how he met his present partner, his long history in the Diocese of New Hampshire, and his eventually election and consecration as Bishop of New Hampshire.

On a personal note, I had a colleague at the college who, after adopting two biracial children and then fathering a natural child, discovered that he was gay and left them all. I had a LOT of anger about that, but I’ve gotten over it, helped along by the process of discovering that one of my daughters was lesbian. So I found this book informative, engrossing, and often profoundly moving.

The road to the election and consecration of Bishop Robinson is beautifully chronicled. There was a meticulously organized election process, so that no-one could claim that there was anything irregular about it. The chapter about the actual ceremony makes fascinating reading, from the logistics of the large crowd, to the security arrangements, to the service itself. If you’d like a local take on that, talk to Fr. James or Barbara and Dennis Wisnom, who took the trouble to be there, as did my daughter Susan. Equally interesting was the chapter on the theological stuff: why some people are opposed to gay ordinations, and how Robinson responds to those critics.

If you’re open to change and the recognition that we’re ALL God’s well-loved children then you might want to read this book.

Chris Jones, April 2007

From the Library:

In response to a long standing request to anyone in the congregation to suggest books that they have read that they think others may want to read, Jane Tatge and Jo Adams recommend The Pity of it All: a History of the Jews in Germany, 1743-1933, by Amos Elon. 2002, New York:Metropolitan Books.  943 Elo in the St. Stephen’s Library.  The following review is taken from Kirkus Reviews:

"A superb account of the sometimes exalted, often tragic relations among Germans and Jews, "two souls within a single body."Jews, writes Israeli novelist and historian Elon (A Blood-Dimmed Tide: Dispatches from the Middle East, 1997, etc.), had lived in Germany since the days of the Roman conquest, though always uneasily. For a 200-year period, however, much of German society opened to them, with institutional barriers and common prejudices falling away. Elon begins with the arrival in Berlin, in 1743, of a shoeless, hunchbacked boy from Dessau, Moses Mendelssohn, who spoke only Hebrew and Yiddish; fewer than 20 years later, Mendelssohn had taught himself several languages and had "become a renowned German philosopher, philologist, stylist, literary critic, and man of letters, one of the first to bridge the social and cultural barrier between Jews and other Germans." Within a few years, other Jews were able to enter the professions, attend university, and engage in business more or less openly; some even received titles of nobility. Over time, their influence on the arts and culture, combining with what otherwise was a golden age for German language and literature, produced a remarkable body of work that has been likened to that of the Renaissance and, Elon observes, would be remembered as such had not the end been so tragic. In few other places did Jews so successfully assimilate into the dominant society, so much so that German Jews widely opposed the mass immigration of their brethren from Russia following the pogroms of the late-19th century, with German-Jewish politician Walter Rathenau decrying the arrival of the "Asiatic horde." At the time of WWI, Germany was renowned as a place of religious tolerance, a situation that would soon thereafter change abruptly with the assassination of Rathenau, the collapse of the Weimar Republic, and the rise of Adolf Hitler.Well-written, humane, full of learned asides and character sketches of figures such as Heinrich Heine, Else Lasker-SchÜler, and Karl Kraus: a memorable evocation of a disappeared world."

(Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2002) January, 2015

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth
by Reza Aslan & Published by Random House

Just when it seemed that the Quest for the Historical Jesus had finally ended once and for all with the Jesus Seminar, we have a new book. In Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, Reza Aslan follows this long tradition.
Ever since the end of the 18th century, there has been a great deal of effort on thinking about the historical Jesus: who Jesus was, his personality, his consciousness. This was an attempt to find who the real Jesus was behind all of the accretions and additions of the early church. Biblical theologians tended to think of the early church as adding their own cultural understandings to the real portrait of the historical Jesus. For example, they added the resurrection and Jesus' predictions of his resurrection and worship of Jesus as God. That is all the early church; that is added later. What the historical Jesus scholars of the 18th and 19th centuries wanted to get to was the earliest strata of the New Testament where all you have is the historical Jesus and not the Christ of Faith as he is called, the resurrected Lord, this exalted Lord of God's right hand. All that is not really the historical Jesus; it is the teaching of the church.

Even today there is a tension between the tradition of the Christian theological faith and the historical critics which began in the 18th century . It is a kind of competing set of authorities: the authority of the Christian tradition, which is the Christ of Faith, which says the Christ of Faith and the Jesus of history are the same; and the authority of the German scholars, the history professors, the theology professors who hold that we need to be critical of the authority of the early church. We need to find who the historical Jesus really was on the basis of sound historical method. It is really competing authorities, the authority of the academy and the authority of the church.

What ended up happening in fact is that according to the critics, so many of these historical Jesuses turned out to be reflections of the needs of scholars who were searching for him. This search for the historical Jesus was a religiously motivated quest by theology professors who wanted a religiously powerful Jesus that wasn't in thrall to or wasn't indebted to the early church. In order to get their religiously meaningful Jesus, they often ended up finding a Jesus who looked a lot like them. As one critic puts it, it was like they looked down this well of nineteen centuries of dogma and at the bottom of the well they saw their own reflection. Or as Albert Schweitzer said, they had a "Jesus of their own making." And yet, the Quest goes on.

In his notes section, Aslan remarks that he is heavily indebted to John Meier's multivolume A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. Like Meier, Aslan analyzes historical information from first-century Palestine in order to situate Jesus within the turbulent social and political context of his time, appreciating the man for who he really was: one of many itinerant peasant preachers and teachers who sought to reinvigorate the Judaism of his day with eschatological and spiritual fervor. There is nothing new here, and yet Aslan’s book has been both criticized and acclaimed as something new and outside the traditional interpretations of the Christian churches. Aslan's thesis is not as startling, original or "entirely new" as the book's publicity claims. Nor is it as outlandish as described by his detractors.

What Aslan gives us is an extremely readable ‘quest’ for Jesus, written at a popular level. Yes, his statements could surprise readers who are not familiar with the 250 year ‘quests’ that have gone before. However each of Aslan’s statements about Jesus have been with us for over two centuries. Jesus:

was born in Nazareth and grew up a poor laborer.
never intended to found a church, much less a new religion
was one of the many itinerant peasant preachers and teachers who sought to reinvigorate the Judaism of his day with eschatological and spiritual fervor.
opposed not only the Roman oppressors, but also their representatives in Palestine: "the Temple priests, the wealthy Jewish aristocracy, the Herodian elite."
was zealous for the political future of Israel as the kingdom of God on earth
provoked the Temple authorities to arrest him by his violent cleansing of the Temple.
was crucified by the Romans as a rebel, a zealot and a pretender to the Judean throne.

For readers who believe that the Bible is the true word of God and its meaning must be taken literally, Aslan's book will be rejected. Aslan makes his case that Jesus of Nazareth is not the same as Jesus Christ. The Gospels are not eyewitness accounts of Jesus' life. i.e. were written two to three generations after Jesus' life and therefore by people who never knew Jesus, including Paul of Tarsus. In fact, Aslan holds that it was Paul, who reshaped Christianity's essence, obscuring the very real man who was Jesus of Nazareth. Paul's concept of a divine, cosmic Christ was at odds both with the Jerusalem church of James, brother of Jesus, and with the Gospel of John.

I think that Aslan's book has been greeted with unwarranted controversy. In his quest for the historical Jesus, Aslan uncovers what has been hidden from view: the man Jesus, who "is every bit as compelling, charismatic, and praiseworthy as Jesus the Christ." Well-researched, Asia’s book compares the non-biblical historical records with the New Testament accounts, and develops a convincing, coherent, and easy-to-understand story of how the early Christian church reshaped Christianity's essence, obscuring the very real man who was Jesus of Nazareth.

There are limits to Aslan’s book. True, the 250 years for the search for the historical Jesus has a lot to say to us, even today; however, if you need a religiously powerful Jesus, a Jesus that is going to transform your life, you are going to have to deal with the tradition of the church because the historical Jesus aside from the tradition of the church is very thinned rule and is not going to be the religiously meaningful Jesus who we worship on Sunday mornings.

I recommend Zealot as an entertaining, well researched quest for the history Jesus which might challenge (and even change) your thinking. But if you want a spiritually up-lifting book that might change your life, this is not the one.

James McDonald. December, 2013