Fake “Experts”

Fake “Experts”

While most people might ask, “Who?” – followed quickly by “Who cares?” – regarding the author of yet another pseudo-“scholarly” book about Jesus, evidently the latest installment in the long and undistinguished line of pulp fiction benefited from an virally inept cable-TV interview. As new-media commentator Joe Carter points out, the REAL missed story here is not what is known about Jesus, but that author’s own self-promotional misrepresentation of his credentials.

My, my – where are all the “investigative journalists” when you really need them? And why does the news media – of all stripes and flavors – insist on putting people on air who make fake claims to be “scholars” when they have no real expertise in the areas they write about? Excerpts:

Snickering at FoxNews while getting duped by ‘Zealot’ author

July 29, 2013 By Joe Carter

…  critics are right about the interview — it is a mess. But while New Media journalists were snickering at FoxNews.com, they failed to notice that the person being interviewed was pulling one over on them by getting away with misrepresenting his credentials.


The first question by host Lauren Green on why a Muslim would want to write about Jesus isn’t as out of line as the Fox critics seem to think. It’s a fair question — a softball question — that allows the interviewee to explain away any apparent bias. But Green should have moved on after asking it and not made Aslan’s religious background the primary focus of the interview. More importantly, if she had been better prepared she could have called Aslan out for at least one blatant and seemingly undeniable untruth.

After being asked the first question by Green, Aslan responds:

 “…So it’s not that I’m just some Muslim writing about Jesus I am an expert with a PhD in the history of religions.” Later in the video he says it’s his job as a “professor of religion including the New Testament. That’s what I do for a living, actually.” And to make sure we get the point, he later adds, “I am a historian. I am a PhD in the history of religions.

At this point, Green should have stopped him and asked him to clarify since he appears to be misrepresenting his credentials.

For starters, he does not have a PhD in the history of religions. Aslan has four degrees: a Bachelors of Religious Studies from Santa Clara University; a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School; a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Iowa; and a PhD in sociology of religions from the University of California, Santa Barbara (his dissertation was on “Global Jihadism: a transnational social movement”).

Why would Aslan claim he has a PhD in history when his degree is in sociology? Does he not understand the difference between the two fields of study?

Aslan also claims that he has a degree in the New Testament. But is this true? Santa Clara doesn’t offer a degree in the New Testament so he can’t be talking about his Bachelors. Perhaps he is referring to the Master’s of Theological Studies degree he earned from Harvard Divinity School in 1999. That school does offer an “area of focus” in “New Testament and Early Christianity.” Is Aslan claiming this was his degree’s area of focus at Harvard? (If so, this would make his claim about having a “degree in New Testament” misleading, at best.)


When exactly has Aslan taught classes on the New Testament? And as a scholar, has he published peer-reviewed academic articles on Jesus?

Aslan’s book should not be dismissed because it was written by a Muslim. But in making untrue claims about his credentials he raises questions about his credibility. It also raises the question of how often so-called experts and authorities with no real expertise or authority on a subject are presented by New Media outlets as representative “scholars.”

Maybe if these journalists spent less time mocking the gaffes of their competitors and more time vetting the so-called “experts” we wouldn’t have to listen to people snicker about the credibility of online media.


Read more at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/getreligion/2013/07/snickering-at-foxnews-while-getting-duped-by-zealot-author/#more-108675


3 thoughts on “Fake “Experts”

  1. Not trying to defend this guy necessarily; however, given his academic background I can imagine that he has a very good handle on the NT even from a scholarly perspective. I would assume the NT would be pretty heavy in both his undergraduate religious degree (which doesn’t make him a scholar), and also his MA in Theology. The real issue is his misrepresentation of “history in religions;” however, is it possible given the academic track that was likely required of him that we might being a little picky? Just a question. History of Christianity has nothing to do with my MA degree, yet I have had a few classes that deal with this history in a good amount of detail. Maybe the question is “does this make him a scholar?” The part I agree most with is the reality that to non-academics its hard for them to imagine the problematic nature of claiming to be an expert in a field that really is outside your direct realm of study. With that in mind it could very well be that he is purposely misusing his credentials to dupe the non-academic public.

  2. The question should be “Does this make him an expert?” sorry, not sure why I wrote “scholar.” He is clearly portraying himself as an expert in this specific area, and I guess that is the problem being identified.

  3. Brent: He claims to be a “professor of religion including the New Testament. That’s what I do for a living, actually.” NOT. He later claims, “I am a historian. I am a PhD in the history of religions.” NOT. His relevant academic credential for what he teaches is an MFA in creative writing. That IS appropriate given the fictionalized and speculative nature of some of the claims in the book. There’s more in Carter’s original blog if you’re interested.

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