Aslan, an associate professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside, told The Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog he converted to evangelical Christianity at age 15 and "Zealot" resulted from a fascination with Jesus that came after he converted back to Islam before attending Harvard.
"I converted to evangelical Christianity. I began preaching the gospel to everyone I met. I was told [Jesus] was fully God and fully man. Well I became more interested in the man part. The illiterate, uneducated, poor peasant from the backwoods of Galilee, who in the name of the poor and the dispossessed and the outcast, took on the religious and political powers of his time and became far more real and far more accessible to me than the Christ of the evangelical church was. And so although I left Christianity, ironically, I became more interested and more devoted to finding out who Jesus really was," Aslan said.
Aslan said the history of the region indicates Jesus was illiterate, despite biblical passages depicting the leader reading.
"Well, first of all, it may sound shocking to some people, but just because the gospels say something doesn't mean it's actually factual. The Gospel of Luke was written 60-70 years after Jesus had died ... And I would say the vast majority of Biblical scholars would agree that the illiteracy rates in Jesus' world were somewhere around 98 percent."
Aslan made headlines last week when an online video of an interview he did on Fox News Channel went viral. The interviewer repeatedly questioned his qualification, as a Muslim, to write a book about Jesus.