The Interview With Raj Mathai

The Interview With Raj Mathai

In-depth interviews that go beyond one or two soundbites

The Interview: Reza Aslan

Acclaimed author talks about Jesus, Jews, Islam, and Fox News

By Raj Mathai, Liza Meak, and Alex Bozovic
|  Saturday, Oct 12, 2013  |  Updated 4:29 PM PDT
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Reza Aslan's newest book, Zealot, skyrocketed to the number spot on the best-seller list, thanks in part to Fox News. NBC Bay Area's Raj Mathai talks to the Bay Area author about the controversy the book created, and how the Jesuit priests at Santa Clara University helped him return to his Islamic faith. Raj Mathai reports.

Reza Aslan's newest book, Zealot, skyrocketed to the number spot on the best-seller list, thanks in part to Fox News. NBC Bay Area's Raj Mathai talks to the Bay Area author about the controversy the book created, and how the Jesuit priests at Santa Clara University helped him return to his Islamic faith. Raj Mathai reports.

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Reza Aslan may be Muslim, but he knows a lot about Jesus. The Santa Clara University alum has several degrees and decades of research to prove it, so it made sense to write a book about Jesus. When "Zealot, The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth" was published in July it sold well,  but when a Fox News interview he did went viral, it shot up to No. 1 on the best seller lists. Anchor Lauren Green asked him how a Muslim could write a book about Christianity. He answered with calm composure saying, "Well to be clear I'm a religious scholar with four degrees, including one in the New Testament and fluency in Biblical Greek, who has been studying the origins of Christianity for two decades who also just happens to be a Muslim."

Looking back at the interview Aslan said he wasn't surprised about the line of questioning, but was surprised that it went on for 10 minutes. "So about halfway into the interview it started to get a little surreal, but I didn't think anything of it honestly," Aslan explained. "The interview was finished and I thought well that was odd and I went about my day, but it never occurred to me it would become such a lightning rod in this country."

In his book, Aslan writes about Jesus the man, not the Christ figure. "What I'm trying to do is dig through those layers of dogma and myth and get to the man who lived 2000 years ago. It's not an easy enterprise. It's one that scholars have been doing for 200 years," Aslan said. "I mean for a scholar to say that Jesus wasn't born in Bethlehem, you know it's obvious. To a lay reader if you say Jesus wasn't born in Bethlehem, well their heads explode."

Aslan's interest in Jesus started long ago while growing up in San Jose. In high school, he went to an Evangelical Christian camp, which he says transformed him. "I spent the next 4 to 5 years being an Evangelical Christian, and then when I went to Santa Clara University to begin studying the New Testament, in an academic environment, I discovered what a lot of people in my situation discover which is most of what I thought I knew about Jesus was incomplete at best, and that the historical Jesus was so much more interesting, so much more appealing to me," Aslan said.

Decades after graduating from Santa Clara University, Aslan still credits the University with helping him shape the person he is today. "It was the Jesuits who taught me how to understand who Jesus was. It was the Jesuits who encouraged me to go back to Islam. It was the Jesuits who taught me the core principal of Social Justice," Aslan said.

The 41-year old author now lives in Southern California and teaches at UC Riverside, but he doesn't rule out moving back to the Bay Area. "If someone at Cal is watching this, or at Stanford and you've got an opening, I could be lured back here. I love it here."

Aslan's book, Zealot is available online and at bookstores everywhere.

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