I got the first book where I get many of my books, from 89-year old Tommy Sinnott of Nauvoo. He's my inspiration. The book, "Zealot, the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth," by Reza Aslan, had been a New York Times number-one best seller. Tommy paid a dollar for it in the "Book-Bargain" section of a book store. The cover drew by attention; the title drew my curiosity; the writing drew my respect. It is, without a doubt, the best written, most captivating book I have read in years. I remember becoming so spiritually uplifted while reading it I thought the top of my head would come off.
I had been told this before, but had forgotten, "practically every word ever written about Jesus of Nazareth, including every gospel story in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, was written by people who ... never actually knew Jesus when he was alive ... With the possible exception of Luke, the gospels were not written by those after whom they were named."
Reza Aslan was born in Iran and was Muslim. As a teenager in America, he converted to Christianity. Through his education in religious studies, a PhD in Sociology, and his writing, which included stints at the University of Iowa Writers Workshop, Aslan's intention "with this book is to spread the good news of Jesus of history with the same fervor that I once applied to spreading the story of the Christ." "Jesus the man — is every bit as compelling, charismatic, and praiseworthy as Jesus the Christ. He is, in short, someone worth believing in."
I needed more of Reza Aslan. Voila, book two: "No God But God, The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam." Once again, to quote Aslan, "It is true that some verses in the Quran instruct Muhammad and his followers to "'slay the polytheists wherever you confront them" to "carry the struggle to the hypocrites who deny the faith" and, especially to "fight those who do not believe in God and the Last Day." However, it must be understood that these verses were directed specifically at the Quraysh [Arab tribe that controlled Mecca] and their clandestine partisans in Yathrib — specifically named in the Quran as the "the polytheists" and "the hypocrites," respectively — with whom the Ummah was locked in a terrible war." Writing such as this is no more violent than what is found in the Bible, such as in Mathew 10:34, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth, I have not come to bring peace, but the sword."
Still needing more of Reza Aslan, I pulled up book number three, simply titled, "God, A Human History." In it, I saw what is thought to be the oldest drawing of God yet found. Dubbed, "The Sorcerer," it was found in the Volp caves in the foothills of the Pyrenees, and is believed to have been drawn 41,000 years ago when Homo sapiens first arrived.
Also startling for me to learn was that, without exception, man's image of God has always followed political leadership. When kingdoms were governed by many rulers, there were many gods, such as a god for earth, for water, for the sun, for fertility, for crops, for hunting, for fighting, etc. When kingdoms were ruled by one king, the concept of one god was adopted.
I'm left wondering: if in our globalized world, as more and more countries become democratic and elect their leaders, how will man's concept of God change, if at all? Also, Aslan does not mention how direct inspiration/direction from God has or has not changed over time.
What is for certain is that, no matter how religious myths are shattered and reinterpreted, both Reza Aslan's and my faith have only been strengthened.
Now for book four: "Beyond Fundamentalism, Confronting Religious Extremism in the Age of Globalization."