How Fox News helped Reza Aslan’s book on Christianity hit No. 1

This story has been circulating since the weekend, and hit my radar once Reza Aslan’s book, “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,” hit No. 1 on Amazon.

The book was doing well before Aslan’s much-talked about appearance on Fox News last week, but it is highly unlikely it would be No. 1 without the spot.

To summarize: Fox host Lauren Green was flabbergasted that Aslan, a Muslim, would write a book about Christianity. And as the interview descended into dreaded “awkward TV” territory, seemingly nothing in the exchange could convince Green that Aslan was merely a scholar who wrote a book.

“You’re a Muslim, so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?” Green asked.

“Well, to be clear,” Aslan said. “I am a scholar of religions 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.”

The exchange continued with Green repeating her question in different ways, and Aslan calmly stating that he is a scholar exploring a religious issue. In fact, Aslan is an associate professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside.

At one point, Green accused Aslan of hiding the fact he is a Muslim. The author calmly pointed out it is noted on page two of the book. And that’s kind of how it went for the 10-minute interview.

The Buzzfeed video of the interview quickly went viral and has been viewed nearly four million times. On Monday, Random House, Aslan’s publisher, said sales of the book increased 35 percent in two days. “Zealot” was in the No. 8 spot on Amazon.com on Friday, the nation’s biggest seller of books; by Sunday, it had hit No. 1.

Others have commented better than I can on the seeming double-standard when it comes to Muslims. For example, Omid Safi, professor of Islamic Studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, notes that Fox often has Bernard Lewis, of British Jewish background, on air to comment on Islam and Middle East.

Robert Spencer, with his background in Christianity, also appears on Fox as an expert on Islam. And there are others, Safi points out.

So why can’t the Muslim-turned-Christian-turned-back-into-a-Muslim scholar Reza Aslan speak on Jesus?

The question is an interesting one, and no doubt a product of our lingering distrust of Islam. Do you think a Muslim scholar can write about Christianity?

If you’re interested in an actual academic dicussion of Aslan’s book, which is garnering positive reviews, check out The Daily Beast rundown of his six most controversial claims.

About John Hilton

I grew up in Susquehanna County, Pa. and graduated Syracuse University with a dual degree in journalism/political science in 1998. After working for nearly three years for a weekly paper in upstate New York, I came to southcentral Pennsylvania. I spent 13 years as a reporter and editor for The Sentinel in Carlisle and joined the York Daily Record as religion reporter in September 2011.
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