Jesus book hits No. 1 in wake of viral Fox News interview

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By Scott Stump

After facing a controversial line of questioning in a Fox News interview online, religious scholar Reza Aslan saw sales of his new book about Jesus shoot past works by mega-selling authors J.K. Rowling and George R.R. Martin to No. 1 on the Amazon best-seller list.

In an interview with religion reporter Lauren Green on on July 26 about his book “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,” Aslan was repeatedly asked why he wrote a book about Christianity since he is a Muslim.

“It’s not that I’m some Muslim writing about Jesus,’’ Aslan answered when first asked. “I am an expert with a Ph.D. in the history of religions.”

Green continued asking versions of the same question throughout the 10-minute interview, with Aslan repeatedly providing similar answers such as “I am a historian,’’ and “I’m not sure what my faith has to do with my 20 years of study of the New Testament.” He also noted that his wife and mother are both Christians.

The interview went viral, and Aslan's book shot to the top of the best-seller list. Meanwhile, Green’s interview was criticized in The American Conservative magazine as “cringe-worthy,” “ignorant,” and “breathtakingly incurious.”

“For any writer or thinker to have inadvertently launched such a public discussion is about the best thing you can hope for,’’ Aslan said in an NBC News report that aired on TODAY Wednesday.

Green’s line of questioning also somewhat obscured some potentially controversial claims in Aslan’s book, which alleges that Jesus was not born in Bethlehem and was hardly God-like. “What little we know about him paints him as really an illiterate peasant from the backwoods of Galilee,’’ Aslan said in the NBC News report. “This man was able to gather people to him not because of his education but because of his charisma, because of the power of his message.”

During the interview with Green, Aslan referred to Jesus as a “troublemaker.”

“It’s the fact that he was such a troublemaker that I think makes him so compelling,’’ Aslan said in the segment that aired Wednesday.

Aslan also has drawn some criticism from a conservative commentator saying that his claim that he is a historian is inaccurate because none of his four degrees are in history. Aslan told NBC that three of his degrees are in religion, including his PhD, which qualifies him to write about religious history.