You have criticized other scholars for writing on subjects outside their fields of expertise – Reza Aslan, for instance, for his book on the historical Jesus when he is a sociologist, not a historian of religion. Have you considered editing a work with experts in the various fields that speak to the eyewitness to tradition to textual pipeline? Would such a collaboration likely be any more informative to a general audience?



Ah, great question!  I’m going to answer what I take to be the underlying issue: why am I not following my own advice, but am publishing a book (next month!) that involves expertise other than my own?  (In answer to the specific question: no, I haven’t really thought about editing a volume of other experts on memory!  I have so many projects of my own that I have to do that… I haven’t even considered it, I’m afraid.  There’s simply not enough time in life!)

As to what I take to be the underlying issue:  My criticism of Aslan was not that he lacked expertise in the field he was writing about per se.  It was that as a result of his lack of expertise, he got a lot of things wrong.  I spent several posts talking about some of the errors in detail (just search for Aslan on the blog, and you’ll find them).   The vast majority of these are not just different interpretations of the data that knowledgeable people might disagree about.  They were just flat out mistakes.

I actually don’t object to non-experts writing about an area for which there actually is expertise and a large number of scholars who have it.  What I object to is non-experts writing as if they were experts and not having those who are experts look at their work to help them out, to keep them from making mistakes.  I don’t know why Aslan did not ask experts in, say, Roman history, ancient Judaism, and the New Testament to read over his manuscript tell him where he got his information wrong.  But it would have made his extremely well written book much better if he had.

So, about my forthcoming book on Jesus Before the Gospels.  Yes indeed, a lot of the book deals with memory studies and I do not have a PhD in psychology (working on personal memory) or sociology (collective memory) or anthropology (oral cultures).  So isn’t that a problem?

It certainly *could* be!  So let me tell you how I proceeded.  First, I…

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