TODAY   |  July 31, 2013

Author Reza Aslan: Viral Fox interview is ‘best thing’

In the wake of a controversial Fox News interview, scholar and author Reza Aslan is at the top of Amazon’s best-seller list with his book “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.” Aslan says the interview, during which reporter Lauren Green focused on his Muslim faith rather than the book itself, was “the best thing you can hope for” to launch “such a public discussion.”

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>>> back now at 7:43 with this week's unexpected rise to the top of the best seller chart for a controversial book on jesus . sales are surging thanks to an interview with the book's author. mike has details on this story. good morning to you.

>> talk about religion often turns into an argument about religion and if the argument is about a book and they spell the name right, it's usually good news for the author.

>> reporter: the biggest bookstore in portland oregon hosted a reading and question session with reza aslan .

>> it's not a book about christianity . jesus was a jew.

>> now the biggest selling author. but now his book zealot didn't zoom to number one until after an interview on fox. lauren green starting the ten minute segment with a challenge regarding his muslim faith. you're a muslim so why did you write a book about the founder of christianity .

>> it's not that i'm just some muslim writing about jesus . i am an expert with ph.d. in the history of religions.

>> green, minute after minute kept asking versions of the same question.

>> why would you be interested in the founder of christianity .

>> he was compelled to keep giving versions of his same answer. i am a historian. my mother is a christian. my wife is a christian. this isn't a muslim opinion. i'm not sure what my faith has to do with my 20 years of academic study of the new testament.

>> the interview went viral and his book was a publishing home run.

>> for any writer, any thinker to have inadvertently launched such a public discussion is about the best thing you could hope for.

>> some what lost in the controversy over the interview is the controversy over the claims in the book himself. among them that jesus was not born in bethlehem and in his historical view was hardly god-like.

>> what little we know about him paints him as really an illiterate peasant from the backwoods of galilee. he was able to gather people to him not because of his education but because of the power of his message.

>> in the ten minute fox interview he was able to squeeze in one point from his pook.

>> if you know nothing else about jesus except he was krus crusified you know enough to understand what a troublemaker he might have been.

>> it's the fact that he was such a troublemaker that i think makes him so compelling.

>> and in combination with that interview.

>> you're a muslim.

>> has turned a scholar book into publishing catnip.

>> reporter: now there's been blow back against his claim to be a historian. one come mentator saying not one of his four degrees is in history. but three of his are in religion which does qualify him to write about religious