Ehrman on Historicity Recap

This is a summary of the current state of the debate after the mini blog war between myself and Bart Ehrman over his latest book, Did Jesus Exist?, which attempted to argue against various scholars (both legitimate and crank) who have concluded, or at least suspect, that Jesus never really existed, but was an invention in myth, like Moses or King Arthur or Ned Ludd. Some of this exchange involved other people, or were tangential to Ehrman’s book. But I will give a state-of-play for everything.

In one case I have concluded I was too harsh. But in every other case my criticisms have stood without valid rebuttal. Most were simply ignored (and thus no rebuttal was even attempted). For others, attempts to rebut them have only generated increasingly ridiculous errors of facts and logic to waggle our head at. Which in the end has only made historicists look just like the hack mythicists they rightly critique. This is not the way to argue for the historicity of Jesus.

Link Summary

My relevant articles in this series to date are (in chronological order):

Ehrman Trashtalks Mythicism (21 March 2012)

McGrath on the Amazing Infallible Ehrman (25 March 2012)

Ehrman on Jesus: A Failure of Facts and Logic (19 April 2012)

Ehrman’s Dubious Replies (Round One) (27 April 2012)

Ehrman’s Dubious Replies (Round Two) (29 April 2012)

-:-

Pre-Book Debate

This debate began when Ehrman published an article for the Huffington Post that was a travesty of errors and inaccuracies, in an attempt to promote his book. I criticized that article in my first critique. Ehrman attempted a weak response to that, which I then addressed in Round One, but the only substantive response attempted was by James McGrath, which I addressed separately. These rebuttals met with no substantive reply from either of them.

Here is the breakdown of the points I made and their attempt to deal with them:

 –

1.

• CARRIER: Ehrman commits the genetic fallacy (mythicists are critics of religion, therefore their conclusions about religion are false).

• EHRMAN: No reply.

• MCGRATH: Repeats the fallacy.

 –

2.

• CARRIER: Ehrman commits the no-true-Scotsman fallacy (no one is qualified to talk about this unless they have an extremely hyper-specific degree major and a specific kind of appointment at a university). In fact, myself, Robert Price, and Thomas Thompson are all more than adequately qualified to evaluate the evidence for and against the historicity of Jesus.

• EHRMAN: Ehrman doubles down and not only doesn’t concede the point but falsely impugns my credentials and makes absurd claims about how professional historians operate. As I observed of his response:

[He then] repeats his misrepresentation of my credentials, suggesting I don’t know the period in question, or the languages, or the documents or the literature on early Christianity. Which is all false. I am adequately trained in all of these. And it is disingenuous of Ehrman to assume Thompson is not, simply because he has a different specialty than Ehrman.

Ehrman then quote mines my review to argue I said something I didn’t (about Thomas Thompson’s credentials), and then attacks the thing I didn’t say, and ignores entirely the point I actually made. And then he makes completely ridiculous (and easily-refuted) claims about the publishing practices of modern historians in general.

• CARRIER: I then demonstrate he did all this.

• EHRMAN: No reply.

• CARRIER: This should never have been an issue. It’s just a fallacious attempt to dismiss arguments and evidence with a lame deflection tactic. He just assumes expert historians and biblical scholars can’t have familiarized themselves with the ancient languages and documents pertaining to Christianity, and that scholars who lack university appointments can’t be experts. Neither is true, and it is shameful that he keeps using those arguments.

And yet…

• EHRMAN: Complains that I (yes, I) am making this into a debate about professional competence.

• CARRIER: To which I wrote:

He also…alleg[es] I am making this into a pointless contest over who is the better scholar. Yet he is the one who made it about that. As we saw in his article about the Thompson affair (and as I showed regarding his HuffPo piece), he attacked my credentials and argued that he is qualified to discuss this issue and I am not (likewise Thompson and others). For him to now say he is not interested in this comparison is massively disingenuous. It’s his comparison, which he has pressed several times, and it was that that forced me to respond by pointing out that the facts seem to point to the reverse. For him to claim I am the one who brought this comparison up is simply absurd. All I did was take his own argument and defend it properly: instead of making fallacious and irrelevant points about the hyper-specifics of what degrees we have (as he did), I tested the comparison he himself started by actually looking at the quality of our work on this subject. A comparison in which he came out very badly.

I do not see this as a competition between us as to who is the better scholar, but as simply a matter of who to trust: someone who presents carefully researched, carefully worded, carefully reasoned work on this subject, with a minimum of mistakes (because as I’ve said, I make them, too), or someone who doesn’t.

And Ehrman simply doesn’t. Not in his article. Not in his book. Not in any of his replies.

• EHRMAN: No reply.

3.

• CARRIER: Ehrman commits a veiled ad baculum fallacy (his fellow colleagues had better not entertain the same ideas or people like him will make sure they will never be employed or taken seriously again).

• EHRMAN: No reply.

• MCGRATH: Repeats the fallacy.[1][2]

4.

• CARRIER: Ehrman commits a fallacy of false analogy. Whether by bad wording or bad memory (it doesn’t matter, since the misinforming effect on readers is the same), Ehrman makes the factually false claim that Pontius Pilate is like Jesus in being a famous person having no contemporary references to him, yet we believe he exists.

Ehrman does not rest on this argument (that would be another fallacy), he merely uses it to deflect one weak argument for mythicism (the argument from silence), and he is correct in his conclusion (absence of evidence does not entail evidence of absence; and whether a valid argument from silence can be made against a mundanely historical Jesus is indeed debatable), but not his premise, which is factually false: we do have contemporary references to Pilate. In fact, very good ones: an inscription commissioned by Pilate himself, and a discussion of him by a living contemporary, Philo of Alexandria. Would that we had such things for Jesus. The debate would be over!

We also have secure, detailed references to Pilate within forty years of his life in a secular historian (Josephus), something we also do not have for Jesus (even if we accept the two dubious references to Jesus in that same author, neither of them is in his early work but one written decades later, after the Gospels were published, and neither of those two references is secure or detailed, but rather brief and mysterious). In short, we have better evidence for Pilate than we have for Jesus. By a lot. And indeed, the silence of Philo on both Jesus and Christianity entails the insignificance of both to leading Jews of the time, which entails the Gospels hugely exaggerate (read: mythologize) the story of Jesus even if he existed–two conclusions even historicists must accept.

• EHRMAN: Gets the facts right in the book. But still commits the fallacy of false analogy with them. And never responds to my critique on either point, nor issues a correction.

So on this point his article was just sloppily worded (since he clearly knew the truth, in detail), and thus he will have misled tens of thousands of readers, who will in turn repeat that misinformation to hundreds of thousands or millions more. But even in the book Ehrman still uses this as a bad example of the point he wants to make, which is that plenty of historical persons have evidence comparable to what we can claim to have for Jesus. That conclusion requires examples of historical persons who actually meet that condition, producing a valid analogy. Pilate simply doesn’t. And Ehrman has still never produced a valid analogous case. He has therefore rested his case on a fallacy of false analogy, even though there is no reason to (since he should be able to find genuinely analogous persons). This I chalk up to his being lazy.

[I won't attribute to Ehrman the sad legacy of McGrath's attempts to defend his man, but McGrath's attempt at a rebuttal here went like this:

• MCGRATH: Claims only government officials erected inscriptions.

• CARRIER: Calls bullshit.

• MCGRATH: Wisely pretends he never said that.

• MCGRATH: Claims Ehrman was only talking about native Latin-speaking Italians.

• CARRIER: Explains why that's stupid.

• MCGRATH: Wisely pretends he never said that, either.

...and that was it, apart from various other stupid claims that don't deserve further mention.]

Update:

EHRMAN: Now tries to use that last embarrassingly bad argument after all (which I’ve already refuted as ridiculous), and asks that I retract my critique of this mistake in his HuffPo article because he got the facts right in his book, even though I have already said that he did, and even in my critique of this mistake in his HuffPo article I had already explicitly said that that might be so.

CARRIER: I point out the hypocrisy of that. As well as how disgraceful it is of him to still not have responded to any of the serious errors (and two lies) I’ve called him out on, but instead he just comments on the most trivial of them, like this, and even then misleads his readers about what I actually said, and still doesn’t come up with a plausible excuse for his mistake in the article. Nor does he call for it to be corrected at the Huffington Post. So it will go on miseducating readers. Forever.

5.

• CARRIER: Ehrman commits a fallacy of equivocation (trading on the tenuously variable meanings of the word “have”). Ehrman falsely claims “we have numerous, independent accounts” of Jesus, and that all these sources are “in Jesus’ native tongue Aramaic,” and “dated to within just a year or two of his life”; and he concludes, “historical sources like that are pretty astounding for an ancient figure of any kind.”

The last statement is indeed true: that would be pretty astounding. It’s just that the first statements are not true. We have no such sources. Ehrman knows this. So he is deliberately misleading the public with his choice of words. He is misrepresenting merely possible, and purely hypothetical sources (whose exact and complete content is unknown to us), as if they were sources we have, and as if we know those hypothetical sources were “numerous” and “independent” and “date within a few years of his life” (we do not know that at all). I then summarized several of the problems with relying on these “hypothetical” sources to prove Jesus really existed. Such evidence is simply not “astounding.” It is in fact deeply problematic. And it grossly misleads the public to say otherwise.

• OPHELIA BENSON: Confirms that Ehrman is almost as misleading about this in his book (What Ehrman Actually Says). He is there somewhat clearer (if you try hard and pay attention) that these sources he says we “have” don’t actually exist, and thus we don’t actually “have” them (see her further analysis in The Unseen and A Small Town Guy). But as she notes, the way he writes it, and given the way he leans on these non-existent sources, even in the book a reader can easily mistake him for saying they exist. He likewise maintains they date to within a few years of Jesus (because like any crank mythicist, Ehrman has magical knowledge about things like that), and that they are numerous and independent and written and in Aramaic–all claims that are not known to be true, however much scholars conjecture them. And again, we don’t have those sources. So we don’t actually know what was in them (even if they existed–and many respected scholars do doubt it).

EHRMAN: No reply. (On his treatment of this same subject in his book, see below.)

• MCGRATH: Claims Ehrman’s poor wording doesn’t matter because experts will know what he meant and agree with it.

• CARRIER: Explains why that does matter: most of Ehrman’s readers aren’t experts (and will be grossly mislead); and experts don’t all agree that what he said is true (in fact there is significant and pervasive disagreement on whether the Gospels used sources at all, whether any of those sources were written, whether they were ever in Aramaic, whether they were composed in the 30s, or what they originally said).

6.

• CARRIER: Ehrman commits a straw man fallacy (or a red herring fallacy, depending on what you think he was trying to argue). He correctly declares the non-existence of a single mythic god narrative (before Christianity no one deity was born to a virgin mother and died as an atonement for sin and was raised from the dead) and thereby implies none of its elements existed in any pre-Christian mythic god narratives. That is false. Each of those elements exists in the narrative of one pre-Christian god or another (or something relevantly similar to each element did), and some are shared by several gods. That all three are not shared by any single god narrative is irrelevant.

Ehrman is thus either making a straw man argument (“mythicists who claim Jesus is a copy of a previous god narrative with all three elements are wrong, therefore all mythicists are wrong”) or a red herring argument (“the Jesus narrative is not a copy of a previous god narrative with all three elements, therefore it was not influenced by any other previous god narratives with similar elements”). In fact, when we look at the peculiar features of god and hero narratives surrounding pre-Christian Judaism and the parallel features within Judaism itself, and combine them, what we end up with is a demigod so much like that of Jesus that this cannot be a coincidence. As I wrote in my critique:

He is implausibly implying that it’s “just a coincidence” that in the midst of a fashion for dying-and-rising salvation gods with sin-cleansing baptisms, the Jews just happened to come up with the same exact idea without any influence at all from this going on all around them. That they “just happened” to come up with the idea of a virgin born son of god, when surrounded by virgin born sons of god, as if by total coincidence.

That’s simply not plausible. And it misinforms the public to conceal this fact from them.

• EHRMAN: No reply.

• CARRIER: Possibly by punting to Hoffmann, Ehrman thought he’d responded. Against which I argued that a reasonable person should conclude Hoffmann is an unreliable loony. You decide.

7.

• CARRIER: Ehrman commits a fallacy of hasty generalization. He says “prior to Christianity, there were no Jews at all, of any kind whatsoever, who thought that there would be a future crucified messiah,” as if there was no evidence that could dispute that, even though I have presented a lot of it–there is room for debate over it, but it is fallacious to pretend no debate exists: see The Dying Messiah Redux. But more importantly, we simply do not know what most of the dozens of Jewish sects of the time believed, and therefore such blanket statements about what “no Jews of any kind whatsoever” believed are already wholly fallacious. We simply don’t know that “no” Jews were thinking about a future dying-and-rising messiah. We therefore cannot rest any conclusions on such a premise.

Worse, what Ehrman attempts to argue from this premise is in fact self-refuting. I will quote my original remarks on that point:

His mistake here is two-fold, in fact, since it does not merely consist of a factually questionable assertion, and one that does not entail the conclusion he wants even if the assertion were true (since imagining a murdered messiah was possible for Jews, he cannot mean to argue Christians wouldn’t have invented it, when later [Talmudic] Jews clearly had no problem inventing one), but he leverages it into a whopper of a logical fallacy: a self-contradictory assertion. Ehrman says “the messiah was to be a figure of grandeur and power who overthrew the enemy” (certainly, that was the most common view; but it is a fallacy of hasty generalization to assume that that was the only view, especially since we don’t know what most of the dozens of Jewish sects there were believed about this: see Proving History, pp. 129-34). From this fallacious hasty generalization, Ehrman then concludes “anyone who wanted to make up a messiah would make him like that.”

Now, I want to pause for a moment and perform a brief logic test. Before reading on, read that last quotation again, and ask yourself if you can see why that conclusion can’t be correct. Why, in fact, what he is suggesting, what he predicts would happen on mythicism, is impossible.

Answer: the only kind of messiah figure you could invent would be one who wasn’t like that. Otherwise, everyone would notice no divine being had militarily liberated Israel and resurrected all the world’s dead. This means the probability of that evidence (“anyone who wanted to make up a messiah would make him like that”) on the hypothesis “someone made up a messiah” is exactly zero. In formal terms, by the Bayesian logic of evidence (which I explain in Proving History), this means P(~e|h.b) = 0, and since P(e|h.b) = 1 – P(~e|h.b), and 1 – 0 = 1, P(e|h.b) = 1, i.e. 100%. This means that if “someone made up a messiah” we can be absolutely certain he would look essentially just like Jesus Christ. A being no one noticed, who didn’t do anything publicly observable, yet still accomplished the messianic task, only spiritually (precisely the one way no one could produce any evidence against). In other words, a messiah whose accomplishments one could only “feel in one’s heart” (or see by revelation, as the Corinthian creed declares; or discover in scripture, as that same creed again declares, as well as Romans 16:25-26).

Ehrman thus also rests a wholly illogical argument on his original hasty generalization, a generalization he cannot prove true, and which some evidence suggests might be false.

• EHRMAN: No reply. (He only addresses some of the evidence for a dying-messiah expectation in his book; and then rests again on the same fallacy of false generalization. See my discussion below.)

• MCGRATH: Repeats the fallacy. Only changing the claim up from “no Jews expected a dying messiah” to “all Jews expected a conquering messiah,” unaware that these are not the same thing and do not entail each other.

• CARRIER: Points out the obvious: that Christians also expected a conquering messiah, and thus were not going against that trend anyway (they were sure their Davidic messiah was going to come and conquer the universe any day now…he just had to die first, to clean the world of sin and gain his celestial powers). Thus, McGrath’s revision of Ehrman’s argument ceases to be any kind of rebuttal to mythicism.

 –

8.

• CARRIER: Ehrman commits a fallacy of begging the question. He claims that Paul met “Jesus’ closest disciple Peter,” but that begs the very question, whether the Gospels are telling the truth or weaving a mythical account. If we do not beg that question, then we must admit that (a) Paul never once calls Peter a “disciple” (in fact, no such term appears anywhere in Paul’s letters–he never shows any knowledge of such a thing as there being a “disciple” of Jesus) and (b) Paul never mentions Peter being close to Jesus at all, much less the “closest” to him (other than being the first to receive revelations of Jesus: 1 Cor. 15:5). This is actually one of the many curious things about Paul’s epistles that suggests the Jesus myth theory is correct: Paul continually assumes only apostles exist, and that apostles are made apostles by having a revelation of Jesus. The idea that anyone actually saw him or spent time with him in the flesh is nowhere found in his letters.

• EHRMAN: No reply.

 –

9.

• CARRIER: Ehrman begs the question again (assuming the Gospels are not myth, in order to conclude that Paul is referring to facts reported in them). In his article Ehrman produced only one non-fallacious argument for the historicity of Jesus: that Paul at least appears to refer to having met his brother.

This I acknowledged (it’s really the only evidence that historicity has). But in the Huffington Post Ehrman never mentions the fact that it is a fundamental cornerstone of all Jesus myth theories to offer alternative explanations of this passage. He thus misrepresents the strength of his own position by ignoring (and not telling the public about) fundamental elements of the contrary position. By contrast, I pointed out:

Paul does not say “brother of Jesus,” but “brother of the Lord,” which can only be a cultic title (one does not become the brother of “the Lord” until the person in question is hailed “the Lord,” thus the phrase “brother of the Lord” is a creation of Christian ideology). Yes, he may have earned that cultic title by actually being the brother of Jesus. But he could also have earned it by simply being a baptized Christian. Since all baptized Christians were the adopted sons of God, just as Jesus was (Romans 1:3-4), Jesus was only “the first born among many brethren” (Romans 8:29), which means all Christians were the brothers of the Lord…

[And] there are numerous passages in Paul that confirm this: Romans 8:15-29, 9:26; Galatians 3:26-29, 4:4-7; and Christians explicitly taught that Jesus himself called all of them his brothers in Hebrews 2:10-18, via a “secret message” in the Psalms (Psalms 22:22). They had obvious inspiration from what they regarded as scripture, the Psalms of Solomon 17:26-27, which Paul appears to reference, and which predicted that the messiah would gather a select people and designate them all the sons of god (and thereby, his brethren).

Debate can still proceed from there (for example, see my further remarks to McGrath), but it’s important not to straw man the opposition by leaving out key elements of their argument. Yet in his article, that’s exactly what Ehrman does.

• MCGRATH: Accuses me of burying the lead.

• CARRIER: I explain why that’s stupid.

• MCGRATH: Wisely pretends he never tried to argue that.

• EHRMAN: Admits in the book that mythicists have explanations for this evidence. (And properly attempts to rebut them there.)

-:-

Debating the Book

The main problem with the book itself was the sheer number of errors, fallacies, and misleading statements that fill it. It is important to emphasize this: a handful of errors or fallacies would not condemn any book, as every book has a few, and a good book can more than compensate for that by being consistently useful, informative, and on-point in every other respect. But Ehrman’s book was so full of gaffes it is simply unsalvageable, and as I said, it resembles in this respect some of the worst Jesus myth literature, which I can’t recommend to people either, as it will misinform them far more than inform them. (Scholars can also correct their errors. If they are inclined to. Ehrman, so far, does not seem at all inclined to.)

I could not list all the errors, fallacies, and misleading statements I marked up in my copy of his book. There were hundreds of them, averaging at least one a page. This shocked me, because all his previous works were not like this. They are superb, and I still recommend them, especially Jesus Interrupted and Forged. Their errors are few, and well drowned out by their consistent utility and overall accuracy in conveying the mainstream consensus on the issues they address (Interrupted is an excellent primer to get anyone up to speed on where the field of New Testament Studies now stands, and Forged is an excellent summary of why that mainstream consensus accepts that many of the documents in the New Testament are forgeries, and why that was known to be deceitful even back then, despite attempts to claim the contrary).

But Did Jesus Exist? was a travesty. In my review I chose a representative selection of the worst mistakes, in order to illustrate the problem. Some readers took that as a complete list, and suggested those weren’t enough errors to condemn the book. Although they certainly are (not all of them, but many of them are damning and render the book useless at its one stated purpose), they are not a complete list, but just the tip of the iceberg, and that is the bigger problem. Those errors are examples of consistent trends throughout the book, of careless thinking, careless writing, and often careless research. Which means there are probably many more errors than I saw, because for much of the book I’m trusting him to tell me correctly what he found from careful research, but the rest of the book illustrates that I can’t trust him to correctly convey information or to have done careful research.

And that was the gist of my review. So when, here, I check the state-of-play of the specific criticisms I made, keep in mind that these were only representative examples of hundreds of other errors in the book.

I think I have an idea what happened, if reports are true that Ehrman has said he takes only two or three weeks to write a book: with the exception of Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (and a few related works), which summarizes many years of his own dedicated research (and thus is an excellent piece of scholarship, not aimed at laymen), all his books have been just summaries of “what he knows” from being a trained New Testament scholar (plus occasionally a small foray into specific independent research, as when he investigated the nature of forgery in the ancient world for Forged, which could have been completed in a couple of long days at a library). He is thus relying on field-established background knowledge. Which is fine when that’s what you are reporting on (as he usually does). But when you are going outside your field, you do need to do a bit more, and you do risk being wrong a bit more often (which is why it’s a good idea to field ideas in other venues before committing them to print: it gives you an opportunity to be corrected by experts first).

I had said it was his “incompetence in classics (e.g. knowledge of ancient culture and literature) and ancient history (e.g. understanding the methodology of the field and the background facts of the period) that trips him up several times,” and that now makes sense: he is fully competent to make up for not being a classicist or specialist in ancient history, by getting up to speed in what he needed (which for this task might have taken a year or more), but instead he just relied on “what he knows,” which was all just what he was told or has read in New Testament studies. Which isn’t enough. Disaster resulted.

With those general points understood, let’s look at the problems I specifically selected to discuss:

10.

• CARRIER: Ehrman commits a straw man fallacy. This he does in two respects, one excusable and one not. Regarding the first I said:

Almost none of this 361 page book is a critique of the “bad” mythicists. He barely even mentions most of them. Indeed…for the few authors he spends any time discussing (mainly Murdock and Freke & Gandy), he is largely dismissive and careless (indeed, his only real refutation of them amounts to little more than nine pages, pp. 21-30). I was hoping for a well-researched refutation of these authors so I could recommend this book to students, so they could see what sound scholarship looks like and to correct the errors in their heads after reading authors like these. But this book simply doesn’t do that.

As I said, this I could live with. I sympathize with a disinterest in wasting the months of time it would take to fact-check and vet these terrible books and publish a comprehensive take-down of them. Although I would love such a book if anyone ever produced one, they have to do it right (actually do the fact-checking and make sure their criticisms are on point), and that takes a lot of work. And since his book’s professed aim is to defend historicity, he really only needed to deal with the serious rebuttals to it, not the cranks.

But he failed to do even that properly. As I said:

He treats our arguments only selectively, never comprehensively, and I never once saw him actually engage directly with any single mythicist case for their theory of Christian origins–as in, describing the theory correctly, listing the evidence its proponent offers for each element, and then evaluating that evidence and the logical connection between it and their conclusion. You won’t find this done once, anywhere in this book, for any author. He just cherry picks isolated claims and argues against them, often with minimal reference to the facts its proponent has claimed support it.

This alone almost condemns the book to the dustbin. I say almost because it would have been deeply flawed, but it could at least have had a lot of accurate and insightful analysis or well-researched information even when tearing down this straw man. But a straw man it is. And that is big error number one.

• EHRMAN: Gets completely wrong or ignores everything I actually said about this, and uses one of the most astonishing rhetorical tricks to avoid addressing an argument that I’ve ever seen.

• CARRIER: I point this out.

• EHRMAN: No reply.

11.

• CARRIER: Ehrman makes a false statement in his attempt to demonstrate that mythicist D.M. Murdock is unreliable as a scholar; but instead ends up proving he is unreliable as a scholar. Regarding a particular statue that Murdock cites as evidence of one of her theories, Ehrman claims “there is no penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock in the Vatican or anywhere else except in books like this, which love to make things up,” clearly meaning the statue she referred to never existed but was made up (by her).

A correct statement would have been “the statue she refers to does exist, or once did, but it’s not a statue of Peter but of the pagan god Priapus, of which we have many examples; the notion that this one represents Peter comes only from the imagination of theorists like her.” But that is not what he said, or anything like it. It’s clear to me that Ehrman simply didn’t research this claim. He assumed that because she presented only a drawing of it, and the statue looked ridiculous, that she was making this up. The result: he makes a false claim that misinforms readers and establishes that he is not a reliable critic of D.M. Murdock’s work. And as I pointed out, if he couldn’t even be troubled to check facts like this, what else “didn’t he check” in this book?

• EHRMAN: Insists that’s not what he meant, and that he knew the statue existed all along, and that he was only saying in the book that it wasn’t a statue of Peter.

• CARRIER: I adduce considerable evidence that he is lying.

• EHRMAN: No reply.

12.

• CARRIER: Ehrman commits the fallacy of poisoning the well by making a false claim about Earl Doherty that wrongly impugns his character and reliability as a scholar. Ehrman wrote that Earl Doherty “quotes professional scholars at length when their views prove useful for developing aspects of his argument, but he fails to point out that not a single one of these scholars agrees with his overarching thesis,” which is simply false.

Doherty is in fact one of the most careful scholars in the Jesus myth field, and is honest about his use of sources and fully in line with the way good experts handle them. (That doesn’t mean Doherty is always right or never makes an error, but no expert is infallible, so I am not holding him or anyone to an impossible standard. What matters here is that Doherty does as good a job as any New Testament scholar. So attempting to make it seem otherwise is a tactic on the dark side of shady.)

I explained how this is a characteristic tactic employed by Ehrman throughout the book and not a one-off goof, and why this sort of thing downgrades the book’s utility to junk status.

• EHRMAN: Claims he didn’t do this.

• CARRIER: Proves he did.

• EHRMAN: No reply.

13.

• CARRIER: Ehrman exposes how careless his research for this book was by horribly bungling his treatment of a key source. He discusses the one letter of Pliny the Younger that mentions Christ, but in a way that demonstrates he never actually read that letter, and misread the scholarship on it, and in result so badly misreports the facts that this section will certainly have to be completely rewritten if ever there is a second edition.

The error itself is not crucial to his overall thesis, but reveals the shockingly careless way he approached researching and writing this book as a whole. As I wrote:

Ehrman’s treatment of the sources and scholarship on this issue betray the kind of hackneyed mistakes and lack of understanding that he repeatedly criticizes the “bad” mythicists of (particularly his inability even to cite the letters properly and his strange assumption that both subjects are discussed in the same letter–mistakes I would only expect from an undergraduate). But if even historicists like Ehrman can’t do their research properly and get their facts right, and can’t even be bothered to read their own source materials or understand their context, why are we to trust the consensus of historicists any more than mythicists? And more particularly, how many other sources has Ehrman completely failed to read, cite, or understand properly?

• EHRMAN: Claims it was just a typo.

• CARRIER: I adduce considerable evidence that he is lying.

• EHRMAN: No reply.

14.

• CARRIER: Ehrman makes a false claim about Pontius Pilate’s title (that he wasn’t a procurator but a prefect; in fact, he was both) and about the historical development of Roman government (that prefects of provincial districts were renamed procurators by the time of Tacitus; they weren’t, they still held both titles).

However, I now conclude I was much too harsh on him about this. This issue I realize is at such an advanced level even many historians of Rome don’t know it correctly, and the literature can be confusing to someone not carefully attending to it. This counts as the kind of obscure error that commonly happens and doesn’t impugn a book when it does. It needs to be corrected, but it’s not indicative of any great failure for having made it.

• EHRMAN: Cites a modern source saying it’s not an error.

• CARRIER: No, it’s still an error. For readers who want to know why, I have prepared a special document explaining the scholarship and evidence establishing the point: On the Dual Office of Procurator and Prefect. But again, I no longer think this mistake counts against Ehrman’s work in this book, since it is a mistake easy to make.

15.

• CARRIER: Ehrman falsely claims that from antiquity “we simply don’t have birth notices, trial records, death certificates—or other kinds of records that one has today” and is adamant not only that we have none, but that such records were never even kept, because he asks “if Romans kept such records, where are they? We certainly don’t have any.” In fact, we have lots of those things. I mean lots. (So in answer to Ehrman’s question, “Where are they?,” probably some are in his own university’s library.) But more importantly, Christians could have quoted or preserved such documents relating to Jesus or his disciples, as such documents certainly would have existed then. Thus a historian must explain why they did not.

A correct treatment of this issue would be to give reasons why Christians didn’t quote or preserve any of these records; not to claim that no such records existed or could have survived. That is simply false. What he said, therefore, suggests he didn’t even check whether his claim was true, and had no experience with ancient documents other than New Testament manuscripts, two marks against him that cast a shadow over the whole book. If this is how clueless and careless he is, again, what else is wrong in this book?

At the very least what he says in the book badly misinforms the public, and that not on a trivial matter, but on a crucial issue in the debate between historicists and mythicists. As I wrote originally:

We cannot claim the Christians were simultaneously very keen to preserve information about Jesus and his family and completely disinterested in preserving any information about Jesus and his family. An example is the letter of Claudius Lysias in Acts, which if based on a real letter has been doctored to remove all the expected data it would contain (such as the year it was written and Paul’s full Roman name), but if based on a real letter, why don’t we still have it? It makes no sense to say Christians had no interest in preserving such records. Moreover, if a Christian preserved this letter long enough for the author of Acts to have read it, why didn’t they preserve any other letters or government documents pertaining to the early church, just like this one?

I personally believe we can answer these questions (and thus I agree with Ehrman that this argument from silence is too weak to make a case out of), but not with this silly nonsense. A good book on historicity would have given us educationally informative, plausible, and thoughtfully considered answers and information about ancient documents and the total Christian failure to retain or use them. Instead Ehrman gives us hackneyed nonsense and disinformation.

And as in this case, so we can expect in all others. Therefore we simply cannot trust this book. It belongs in the dustbin.

• EHRMAN: Says a variety of confusing, fallacious or false things, in an attempt to simultaneously deny he said what he said and at the same time defend what he didn’t say.

• CARRIER: Explains why none of that amounts to a valid response.

• EHRMAN: No reply.

16.

• CARRIER: Ehrman falsely claims that no “trained classicists or scholars of ancient Rome” have ever questioned the authenticity of the reference to Christ in Tacitus. In fact, some have, as I demonstrated (citing the survey articles of Benario). It is clear that Ehrman didn’t even bother to check. And if he didn’t bother to check this, what else “didn’t he bother to check”? It’s a serious question. Because given the many examples of this, it really looks like this book was a lazy armchair spinoff, and not a serious work of scholarship. And that also matters here specifically, because, as I wrote:

Part of Ehrman’s argument is that mythicists are defying all established scholarship in suggesting this is an interpolation, so the fact that there is a lot of established scholarship supporting them undermines Ehrman’s argument and makes him look irresponsible.

Acting like that is not how to respond to mythicists.

• EHRMAN: Misrepresents everything I said about this.

• CARRIER: I call him on it.

• EHRMAN: No reply.

• CARRIER: Ehrman also argued that he “meant” that no current Tacitus scholar doubts the passage, but he gives no reason to believe that’s true (the latest articles against its authenticity have no known rebuttal, so we really don’t know if or how many experts share their opinion). But more importantly, it’s not a valid excuse, since by concealing the fact that several Tacitus experts have doubted its authenticity, the entire argument he makes is undermined.

In my subsequent research I encountered a new reason to question the authenticity of the passage in Tacitus, and so I went back and checked the standard text on evidences for Jesus (which Ehrman should have read cover-to-cover for his book), Van Voorst’s Jesus Outside the New Testament, and I realized that he, too, documents serious scholars questioning the authenticity of the passage (pp. 42-43). I had forgotten about that. So Ehrman really has no excuse for either his ignorance on this fact or (as he now claims) his merely failing to mention it. For surely a scholar writing a book on historicity should have read Van Voorst, and should be honest about when mythicists can rely on actual published scholarship by Tacitean scholars.

Like Benario, Van Voorst mentions (most relevantly) C. Saumagne, “Tacite et saint Paul,” Revue Historique 232 (1964), pp. 67-110, and Jean Rougé, “L’incendie de Rome en 64 et l’incendie de Nicomédia en 303,” Mélanges d’histoire ancienne offerts à William Seston (1974), pp. 433-41. Van Voorst also argues (as have several other scholars, only some of whom he cites: pp. 43-44; Benario names others) that Tacitus originally wrote “Chrestians” and not “Christians,” which was corrected by medieval Christian scribes back to Christians (there is indeed some evidence of this).

I am increasingly convinced that Van Voorst (and his backers) might be right about that. Which creates a problem they overlook. If Tacitus originally wrote “Chrestians,” then it becomes possible he was originally writing about rioters who were following the Chrestus who had ginned up riots under Claudius (Nero’s predecessor) as reported by Suetonius (Claudius 25.4), and that later Christian scribes inserted only the line about Christ (that he was killed under Tiberius by Pilate), thus coopting a passage about a completely different group, turning it into a passage about Christians. So when Tacitus says the people punished for the fire are the ones “the public calls Chrestians,” he may have been referring to his treatment of the Chrestian riots under Claudius (which must have been covered in the lost books of Tacitus that covered Claudius’ reign from 41 to 47 A.D., as the date of the Chrestian riot could have fallen in that period, and it is indeed odd that Tacitus does not otherwise mention it: Van Voorst, pp. 31-32).

This makes the possibility of interpolation substantially more credible. This would also explain why no one else mentions this event (for centuries), and no other historians of Nero’s reign (like Pliny the Elder) were ever quoted or had their histories preserved (as we would normally expect if they had mentioned Christ or Christians–which fact supports the conclusion that they didn’t, which then entails Tacitus didn’t, unless he was repeating what was by then a Christian legend about the fire at Rome, about a persecution that never actually happened, and not anything actually recorded by historians contemporary with the fire).

In the end, I still think we cannot establish an interpolation has occurred here (even if one did), but it’s certainly more plausible than I had once thought. And it was always more plausible than Ehrman claimed.

17.

• CARRIER: Ehrman falsely claims “the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus were recent events” (of the 30s A.D.) is “the view of all of our sources that deal with the matter at all.” In fact, some of the sources that “deal with the matter” date the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus to the 70s B.C., and this would be known to anyone who read up on the basic literature on the historicity debate (whether, again, Van Voorst, or the mythicists Ehrman claims to be rebutting on this point). Instead of mentioning this or discussing these sources (Epiphanius and the Talmud), Ehrman gives the impression that the mythicist G.A. Wells was just making this up. Again, this kind of sloppy treatment of the evidence and mythicist arguments is typical of Ehrman’s book; this is just one of the examples I chose to discuss.

• EHRMAN: Claims he didn’t mean “all” when he said “all” (and that he had his reasons for keeping quiet).

• CARRIER: Explains why that’s not a valid excuse.

• EHRMAN: No reply.

18.

• CARRIER: Ehrman falsely claims that Osiris “return[ing] to life on earth by being raised from the dead” is a fabrication because “no ancient source says any such thing about Osiris (or about the other gods).” Note the hyperbole: no such thing about any gods. This is multiply false. Moreover, as I wrote:

He relies solely on Jonathan Z. Smith, and fails to check whether anything Smith says is even correct. If Ehrman had acted like a real scholar and actually gone to the sources, and read more widely in the scholarship (instead of incompetently reading just one author–the kind of hack mistake we would expect from an incompetent myther), he would have discovered that almost everything Smith claims about this is false.

I cited abundant evidence that his claim is false: many dying-and-rising gods predate Christianity. Many effected their deaths and resurrections in different ways (the differences being moot to the point that they nevertheless died and rose back to life), and some even “returned to life on earth by being raised from the dead” in essentially the same way Jesus did (who, after all, did not stay on earth any more than they did). Whether the one kind or the other, these gods include Osiris, Dionysus, Romulus, Hercules, Asclepius, Zalmoxis, Inanna, and Adonis-Tammuz.

• EHRMAN: Acts like a Christian apologist and invents hyper-specific definitions of “dying” and “rising” in order to claim that since no god meets his hyper-specific definition of those terms, therefore there were no dying-and-rising gods.

• CARRIER: I then demonstrate that there were indeed dying and rising gods even by his own hyper-specific definition, and the gods who don’t meet his hyper-specific definition are still sufficiently similar to the original beliefs of how Jesus died and rose to sustain mythicist arguments for cultural diffusion and syncretism (thus rendering his original argument moot, just as I originally said).

• EHRMAN: No reply.

19.

• CARRIER: Ehrman falsely claims “we don’t have a single description in any source of any kind of baptism in the mystery religions” (note the hyperbole again). To which I quoted and cited several sources describing baptisms in the mystery religions.

I proved sin-remitting baptisms had long been a component of the Bacchic mysteries and were in some way a feature of Osiris cult as well, and were then known to be a component of several other mystery religions. As I concluded regarding Osiris:

One could perhaps get nitpicky as to what might be the exact theology of the process, but whatever the differences, the similarity remains: the death and resurrection of Osiris was clearly believed to make it possible for those ritually sharing in that death and resurrection through baptism to have their sins remitted. That belief predates Christianity. Ehrman is simply wrong to say otherwise. And the evidence for this is clear, indisputable, and mainstream. Which means his book is useless if you want to know the facts of this matter. Or any matter, apparently.

• EHRMAN: No reply.

20.

• CARRIER: Ehrman commits the fallacy of hasty generalization (or the fallacy of argument from ignorance), claiming “there were no Jews prior to Christianity who thought Isaiah 53 (or any other ‘suffering’ passages) referred to the future messiah.” I explained why this is a fallacy in several respects, among them the fact that he couldn’t possibly claim to know what all Jews thought, among all the dozens of divergent sects we know about. (As I explained above.)

Ehrman later makes that very point himself (that blanket assertions about what “no one thought” cannot be allowed, because we don’t know what everyone thought: Did Jesus Exist?, p. 193), and thus he contradicts himself by using a rule that, applied to himself, would destroy one of the central pillars of his whole thesis (Did Jesus Exist?, pp. 142-44), which is the fallacy of inconsistency (an implicit fallacy of special pleading). He also didn’t address the evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls (even though he knew I had proposed some) or the Talmud (which he also knew about).

• EHRMAN: No reply.

• THOM STARK: At least did what Ehrman didn’t: actually engaged with my argument and evidence, in a series of lengthy exchanges online. And he identified a number of errors in my treatment of the evidence.

• CARRIER: I corrected my errors and revised my analysis. But the conclusion came out the same. See my latest analysis of all the evidence in The Dying Messiah Redux. As even Stark agrees, and contrary to Ehrman, we cannot rule out the possibility of Jewish theologians having imagined a dying messiah before the rise of Christianity; and though Stark still disagrees with me, there is still a lot of evidence that there probably were some pre-Christian Jews who did.

21.

• CARRIER: Ehrman neatly combines a no-true-Scotsman fallacy with a fallacy of poisoning the well, by (perhaps unintentionally) misrepresenting my credentials (saying my Ph.D. is in “classics” and not, as it is in fact, “history” with a specialization in ancient religion and historiography), thus making it seem as if I’m less qualified to discuss this subject than I am. As I pointed out, at the very least this demonstrates how carelessly he wrote this book, given (once again) how poorly he checked its facts.

• EHRMAN: Apologized.

22.

• CARRIER: Ehrman falsely claims in his book that there are no hyper-specialized historians of ancient Christianity who doubt the historicity of Jesus. So I named one: Arthur Droge.

(And of those who do not meet Ehrman’s irrationally specific criteria but who are certainly qualified, we can now add Kurt Noll–as I noted in my review of Is This Not the Carpenter–and Thomas Brodie–as I noted elsewhere. Combined with myself, Robert Price, and Thomas Thompson, that is more than a handful of well-qualified scholars, all with doctorates in a relevant field, who are on record doubting the historicity of Jesus. And there are no doubt many others who simply haven’t gone on the record. We also have sympathizers among mainstream experts who nevertheless endorse historicity but acknowledge we have a respectable point, like Philip Davies.)

• EHRMAN: No reply.

• CARRIER: See my remarks above on Ehrman’s continuing fondness for this No-True-Scotsman argument and why it’s a fallacy.

23.

• CARRIER: Ehrman hitches his wagon to a whole festival of fallacies by ignoring all the literature in his own field demonstrating that the “method of criteria” he relies upon is logically invalid and must be abandoned. In fact, every study ever produced specifically examining the value of those methods has come to the same conclusion: they are invalid and must be abandoned. I document this and demonstrate it myself extensively in my book Proving History.

• EHRMAN: No reply.

24.

• CARRIER: Ehrman commits the fallacy of inconsistency (which is an implicit fallacy of special pleading) by arguing that using the “criterion of dissimilarity” negatively is invalid, and then (later in the book) arguing that using the criterion of dissimilarity negatively is valid. His first claim (against Robert Price) was also false: using the “criterion of dissimilarity” negatively in the way Price actually did is not invalid. Thus, besides being inconsistent with himself, Ehrman also doesn’t know how logic works.

As I wrote:

Ehrman attacks Robert Price for using the “criterion of dissimilarity” negatively (on p. 187), insisting that’s a “misuse” of the criterion, and then defends using it negatively himself (on p. 293), a blatant self-contradiction. It is also fallacious reasoning. Price was using it “negatively” (in Ehrman’s sense) to show that the case for historicity from the Gospels is weak because for every story about Jesus the Christians had a motive to invent it, which is a logically valid way to argue: he is rebutting the contrary claim (that some of these stories must be true because they didn’t have a motive to invent them) and thereby removing a premise that ups the probability of historicity, which necessarily lowers the probability of historicity (by exactly as much as that premise being true would have raised it). Ehrman outright denies this (on p. 187) which betrays a fundamental ignorance of how logic works. Perhaps what Ehrman meant to say was that this argument cannot alone prove Jesus didn’t exist, but Price never says it does.

(Similarly, Ehrman uses the same self-contradiction tactic when he complains about my dismissing his book as unreliable because of all the errors I found in it, and then defends his dismissing of mythicist books as unreliable because of all the errors he found in them. Nice.)

• EHRMAN: No reply.

25.

• CARRIER: Ehrman commits the fallacy of hasty generalization again. In order to assert absolute certainty that the “Q” source existed (since he leans a lot of his case on it), he dismisses the work of Mark Goodacre (who extensively presents The Case against Q in print and on the web) and other leading scholars who agree with Goodacre (including Michael Goulder, E.P. Sanders and Margaret Davies), without giving, or citing, any rebuttal to it whatever. He just says it “has failed to convince most of the scholars working in the field” (buried on p. 352, n. 10).

But I doubt Ehrman has widely polled scholars on this (so as to know “most” reject it), much less all and only those scholars who have read and examined the case made by Goulder and Goodacre (since the opinion of scholars who haven’t even examined their argument obviously doesn’t count for anything). He is therefore arguing from his own ignorance, and making hasty generalizations about “the scholarly community” as sufficient reason to dismiss Goodacre’s case. That is a fallacy. His case has to be addressed. It can’t be dismissed by armchair polls conducted in Ehrman’s head.

• EHRMAN: No reply.

26.

• CARRIER: Ehrman commits the fallacy of non sequitur by arguing that if there is material in a document (like Matthew) that doesn’t come from a known source (like Mark), it therefore comes from another source (like M), and therefore we “have” that source (we “have” M). He never allows that it comes from no source at all but was fabricated by the author of the document we have. I explain why this is ridiculous.

• EHRMAN: No reply.

27.

• CARRIER: Ehrman commits the fallacy of non sequitur again by arguing that if stories everyone agrees were fabricated were originally fabricated in Aramaic, then Jesus historically existed (try to wrap your head around that travesty of logic for a moment). I discuss two of his examples: Jesus’ cry on the cross and Jesus’ resurrection of the daughter of Jairus. Every (non-fundamentalist) expert on these materials agrees neither story is true, both are fabricated, and therefore these are not historical recollections of Jesus. Yet Ehrman argues that they probably derive from Aramaic sources, therefore they prove Jesus was a real person. I explain why this is ridiculous. (Even granting the premise that they derive from Aramaic sources.)

Even in the case where we know a source was used, obviously it can be wholly fabricated–even fabricated in the original language of Aramaic, as clearly happened here (supposing Ehrman is right about these stories originating in Aramaic). Therefore the existence of such a source does not argue for historicity at all.

• EHRMAN: No reply.

• CARRIER: I should add that this isn’t the only way our knowing of sources doesn’t help the case for historicity. The fact that we don’t have that source also means we don’t know exactly what it said, and that also makes it useless for determining historicity.

For example, if someone used a book like Revelation as a source for some sayings of Jesus and put those sayings in the middle of his Galilean ministry, if we didn’t have Revelation we would not know that it actually claimed those sayings came from a vision of Jesus in heaven and not an actual historical Jesus. Likewise, if we did not have the Epistle of Eugnostos, we would not know that the source used for the sayings of Jesus in the Sophia of Jesus Christ actually originally claimed those sayings came from Eugnostos and not Jesus.

Thus not having the actual source makes it impossible for us to know whether that source would have supported historicity or not. The mere existence of such sources is therefore useless. Even when we can confirm there were such sources, which we cannot honestly do with the kind of certainty Ehrman claims anyway–for many leading mainstream scholars do not believe such certainty is warranted on this point.

28.

• CARRIER: Ehrman commits the fallacy of affirming the consequent. As I pointed out:

Aramaic…was not only spoken in first century Judea; it was spoken in parts of Syria and to an extent across the diaspora, continually for centuries, so “Aramaic source = Judean source written in the 30s A.D.” is a ridiculous inference, yet Ehrman uses it again and again.

Repeatedly, Ehrman argues that because the lost sources behind the Gospels were in Aramaic (which is a double conjecture: that there were sources; and that they were in Aramaic), that therefore they originated in Judea in the 30s A.D. Because, you see, Aramaic was spoken in Judea in the 30s A.D. But this is a classic fallacy of affirming the consequent:

If p, then q. If a source was written in Judea in the 30s A.D., then it was probably written in Aramaic. If a dog ate your homework, then you have no homework to turn in.
q. The Gospels used sources written in Aramaic. You have no homework to turn in.
Therefore, p. Therefore, those sources were probably written in Judea in the 30s A.D. Therefore, a dog ate your homework.

You can prove anything with logic like this.

• EHRMAN: No reply.

29.

• CARRIER: Ehrman ignores the relevant scholarship in classical studies demonstrating that fabrication was actually commonplace in the construction of biographies and stories about people, using as inspiration things they were thought to have said or an author wants them to have said, and borrowing models and elements from other stories about other people; and that ancient schools specifically taught students how to do this. And as a result, many elaborate biographies were written about non-existent people. This significantly reduces the value of the Gospels (and their sources) as evidence for Jesus, unless any element in them can be proved not to have been fabricated to a convenient purpose.

• EHRMAN: No reply.

-:-

Closing Summary

That’s where things stand. To all of which Ehrman has made some general replies worth closing with:

30.

• CARRIER: I carefully explain that hundreds of errors plague his book, and that I chose only a representative sample of them, a representative selection of all the errors in the book (and a large sample, to demonstrate I wasn’t joking about their being a lot of them), and that it was their vast number that ruined the book and made it useless to any and every reader–as I put it, a “sad waste of electrons and trees.”

• EHRMAN: Complains that I picked on only a few mistakes and no book can be condemned for a few mistakes. Also claims I only picked random mistakes and didn’t address his “mounds of evidence” for the historicity of Jesus. Then says some other silly things.

• CARRIER: I myself said in my review, many times, that a few errors would not condemn any book (as we all make them). But I didn’t pick on only a few mistakes; I documented a great many serious mistakes, and even the many mistakes I wrote about were, as I repeatedly said, just a fraction of all there were. A book can be condemned for that scale of error. And I did address his evidence (of which there were not “mounds” but barely a molehill), in the whole second half of my review demonstrating that his methods of arguing from it were illogical.

• EHRMAN: No reply.

31.

• CARRIER: Throughout my review of his book I point out how the kinds of errors he made cumulatively and repeatedly demonstrate his shoddy and careless research for this book and his incompetence in relevant ancillary fields (like classical literature, historical methodology, and Roman history), which he clearly made no effort to make up for.

• EHRMAN: Complains that I am being mean to him and that my review is a personal attack.

• CARRIER: I point out that he must not understand the difference between a personal attack and an attack on a person’s work product. As I wrote:

I pointed out failures of wording, failures of fact, and failures of logic, and showed why these all entail his book cannot be trusted, that his research and writing of it was sloppy and careless, that it fails at its every professed aim, and that he (professionally) doesn’t know what he’s doing here–ironically, considering how much hay he tries to make over the point that the rest of us can’t know what we’re doing because we have the wrong degrees.

That is not a personal attack. It’s a valid criticism, and a relevant deduction from the evidence I adduced.

• EHRMAN: No reply.

 

Comments

  1. Fortigurn says

    * “Ehrman wrote that Earl Doherty “quotes professional scholars at length when their views prove useful for developing aspects of his argument, but he fails to point out that not a single one of these scholars agrees with his overarching thesis,” which is simply false.”

    You’re misrepresenting Ehrman with your truncation of what he wrote. Ehrman said Doherty cites scholars in support of his specific thesis that Paul thought Jesus was crucified by demons in a spiritual realm, without saying that these scholars disagree with Doherty’s overarching thesis that ‘Jesus was crucified in the spiritual realm’. There is abundant evidence that Ehrman is correct on this point.

    * “Ehrman falsely claims that no “trained classicists or scholars of ancient Rome” have ever questioned the authenticity of the reference to Christ in Tacitus.”

    No he didn’t claim that. Ehrman wrote ‘Some mythicists argue that this reference in Tacitus was not actually written by him—they claim the same thing for Pliny and Suetonius, where the references are less important— BUT WERE INSERTED INTO HIS WRITINGS (INTERPOLATED) BY CHRISTIANS WHO COPIED THEM, producing the manuscripts of Tacitus we have today. (We have no originals, only later copies.) I don’t know of any trained classicists or scholars of ancient Rome WHO THINK THIS, and it seems highly unlikely’.

    Erhman is referring explicitly to the specific interpolation theory he describes, and he says ‘I DONT’ KNOW of any trained classicists or scholars of ancient Rome WHO THINK THIS’. He does not say ‘NO trained classicsists or scholars of ancient Rome have EVER QUESTIONED THE AUTHENTICITY OF THE REFERENCE TO CHRIST IN TACITUS’.

    * “Ehrman falsely claims “the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus were recent events” (of the 30s A.D.) is “the view of all of our sources that deal with the matter at all.””

    He then goes on to list exactly which sources he is referring to; the four canonical gospels, the gospel sources, and the non-Christian sources such as Josephus and Tacitus. Ehrman was referring to the sources he was about to enumerate in the same paragraph as this sentence.

    You wrongly take Ehrman to task for not mentioning writings which didn’t exist until 300 years and more after Jesus lived, and which are typically not regarded by scholars as sources for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The only scholars you cite who treat these sources as valid sources for the historicity and history of Jesus, are those you acknowledges yourself are ‘fringe’.

    * “Ehrman falsely claims that Osiris “return[ing] to life on earth by being raised from the dead” is a fabrication because “no ancient source says any such thing about Osiris (or about the other gods).” ”

    Actually Ehrman addressed your claim that Osiris ‘did indeed return to earth in his resurrected body’. The specificity was yours; you said explicitly ‘in his resurrected body’. Erhman disproved your claim, and you immediately abandoned your original claim for a new one. Originally you claimed Osiris is a legitimate parallel to Jesus because they both returned to earth in their resurrected body.

    When Ehrman proved Osiris didn’t return to earth in his resurrected body, you dropped that claim and switched to a completely different claim, that Osiris is a legitimate parallel to Jesus because neitherof them returned to earth in their resurrected body.

    So first you said Osiris and Jesus are both said to have returned to earth in their resurrected body, and then you claimed neither of them are said to have done so. Then you said that the difference wasn’t important anyway, despite the fact that this difference was a point you yourself appealed to previously.

    * “Ehrman neatly combines a no-true-Scotsman fallacy with a fallacy of poisoning the well, by (perhaps unintentionally) misrepresenting my credentials (saying my Ph.D. is in “classics” and not, as it is in fact, “history” with a specialization in ancient religion and historiography), thus making it seem as if I’m less qualified to discuss this subject than I am.”

    This is a highly misleading representation of what Ehrman wrote. Despite referring wrongly to your degree as being in classics, Ehrman said the complete opposite of what you claim; he said you WERE qualified to discuss the subject. Here are Ehrman’s words:

    * “RICHARD CARRIER, who along with Price is the only mythicist to my knowledge WITH GRADUATE TRAINING IN A RELEVANT FIELD field (Ph.D. in classics from Columbia University)”

    You have represented Ehrman as saying the opposite of what he actually said. He did not commit a ‘no-true-Scotsman’ fallacy, nor did he commit the fallacy of poisoning the well. He identified you as having graduate training in a relevant field. You promptly represented him as saying the opposite.

    * “I point out that he must not understand the difference between a personal attack and an attack on a person’s work product.”

    But you didn’t just attack his work product. You attacked him personally, repeatedly. You accuse him of ignorance, of incompetence, and even lying.

    This article is very light on intellectual honesty.

    • says

      Fortigurn:

      You’re misrepresenting Ehrman with your truncation of what he wrote. Ehrman said Doherty cites scholars in support of his specific thesis that Paul thought Jesus was crucified by demons in a spiritual realm, without saying that these scholars disagree with Doherty’s overarching thesis that ‘Jesus was crucified in the spiritual realm’. There is abundant evidence that Ehrman is correct on this point.

      No, he is not. Read my analysis and that of Vridar. If “Jesus was crucified in the spiritual realm” then he did not exist; that is the mythicist thesis. Thus Ehrman is claiming that Doherty misrepresents the scholars he cites as supporting the mythicist thesis. He does not. He makes clear in his introduction that this is not the case (the thesis is his own). Nor does he imply it in any specific case, either.

      Ehrman wrote ‘Some mythicists argue that this reference in Tacitus was not actually written by him—they claim the same thing for Pliny and Suetonius, where the references are less important— BUT WERE INSERTED INTO HIS WRITINGS (INTERPOLATED) BY CHRISTIANS WHO COPIED THEM, producing the manuscripts of Tacitus we have today.

      That is indeed what Saumange and Rougé argue (as well as classicists before them). And that is indeed what Ehrman shows he did not know. Because he did not check.

      “Ehrman falsely claims “the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus were recent events” (of the 30s A.D.) is “the view of all of our sources that deal with the matter at all.”” He then goes on to list exactly which sources he is referring to; the four canonical gospels, the gospel sources, and the non-Christian sources such as Josephus and Tacitus. Ehrman was referring to the sources he was about to enumerate in the same paragraph as this sentence.

      Precisely. Ehrman thinks those are “all of our sources that deal with the matter at all.” Which is false. And which also misrepresents Wells’ case, which is based on evidence. Evidence Ehrman fails to mention. Hence my point (which you evidently didn’t read, since I make several points there that your reply doesn’t even address).


      Actually Ehrman addressed your claim that Osiris ‘did indeed return to earth in his resurrected body’. The specificity was yours; you said explicitly ‘in his resurrected body’. Erhman disproved your claim, and you immediately abandoned your original claim for a new one. Originally you claimed Osiris is a legitimate parallel to Jesus because they both returned to earth in their resurrected body.


      Osiris does rise in a resurrected body. I proved that claim. Ehrman never disproved it. You are evidently confused. Try reading.


      So first you said Osiris and Jesus are both said to have returned to earth in their resurrected body, and then you claimed neither of them are said to have done so. Then you said that the difference wasn’t important anyway, despite the fact that this difference was a point you yourself appealed to previously.

      No. I cited a passage proving Osiris returned to earth in his resurrected body. Ehrman doesn’t understand how resurrection operated in the theology of most pagans (through body exchange, exactly as the first Christians believed Jesus did it), so I explained that, demonstrating that his claim was incorrect. So how do you come up with your version of events? Oh, right. You don’t read things.

      I also pointed out that this detail doesn’t matter. And it doesn’t.

      This is a highly misleading representation of what Ehrman wrote. Despite referring wrongly to your degree as being in classics, Ehrman said the complete opposite of what you claim; he said you WERE qualified to discuss the subject.

      Funny, Ehrman thinks he said the exact opposite. Because in his reply he tried to explain why I wasn’t qualified, “because” I don’t have an appropriate degree. Thus revealing that he did intend his double mention of my degree in “classics” in the book to be a slur (a reminder that I don’t have his hyper-specific notion of a degree in “New Testament Studies” or “Early Christian History”).

      More to the point, I said this is another example of Ehrman being careless and sloppy and not checking basic facts, even when he makes a special point of noting them, and clearly thinks they are important (as his reply shows he does).

      And then…

    • says

      Fortigurn:


      But you didn’t just attack his work product. You attacked him personally, repeatedly. You accuse him of ignorance, of incompetence, and even lying.

      If those reflect badly on him, that’s merely a consequence of the facts. But they are still facts, and relevant facts. The trustworthiness of his work in this debate is indeed affected by whether he has been honest about it (it seems he has not, and I don’t just accuse him of this, I document it), whether he has made himself informed in the materials and subjects required (it seems he has not, and I don’t just accuse him of this, I document it), and whether he has been careful and reliant on sound methods (it seems he has not, and I don’t just accuse him of this, I document it). I do not accuse him of career incompetence, but of incompetence in dealing with this subject, i.e. failing to gain the requisite competence in what he discusses. And again, I don’t just accuse him of this, I document it.

      As I wrote:

      An example of proving a specific instance of incompetence is to identify a factual error that no one who claims to be an expert on the issue in question could possibly have made. There are many other errors one can make, which don’t rise to that level, but I mean here errors of a very exceptional kind. Ehrman commits several, which I find astonishing, given his competence generally.

      Likewise, in the article he exhibits what I identify and demonstrate to be “incompetent writing” and I demonstrate instances of him being “logically incompetent.” Not accuse, demonstrate. And accordingly, as I conclude, “Either he is engaging in patently illogical argument, or disturbingly incompetent reporting. Neither makes him look like he’s the one to trust in this debate.” That is not a personal attack (however much he might not like it), it’s a demonstration of the poor quality of his work product. As I note several times, his competence is exhibited in his past works, which are excellent. It is this work in which he acted illogically, carelessly, and incompetently, numerous times, to the point of being a consistent trend.

      Thus, again, as I wrote:

      What is most galling about this is that my article demonstrates that it is Ehrman who hasn’t done the work necessary to be qualified to discuss this question competently, and unlike Ehrman I did not base this conclusion on what degree he has (I think his degrees should be fully sufficient to make him competent to research and write authoritatively on this), but on the actual evidence of his incompetence. In other words, he has the qualifications, he just didn’t use them. His book is carelessly and irresponsibly and illogically written.

      Note that Ehrman agrees with me in principle. He himself said:

      My view is that there is no reason to take seriously people who cannot be taken seriously: a few indications of general incompetence is good enough.

      Thus, as I said:

      Does he regard his treatment of [the bad mythicists] as an inappropriate personal attack that they didn’t deserve? Or as simply a demonstration that the books he examined are incompetently researched and incompetently written, a perfectly valid thing to point out and say, and exactly what I did [with his book]?

    • Aaron Ross says

      You have certainly shown that Richard is arguing to support an agenda,not find the truth.

      He is perhaps even intellectually dishonest, but I am undecided on that.

      He is certainly a jerk.

    • Fortigurn says

      1. Doherty’s misrepresentation.

      You say “No, he is not. Read my analysis and that of Vridar. If “Jesus was crucified in the spiritual realm” then he did not exist; that is the mythicist thesis. Thus Ehrman is claiming that Doherty misrepresents the scholars he cites as supporting the mythicist thesis”.

      Your ‘analysis’ truncates Ehrman and misrepresents what he wrote. Godfrey at least quotes him in full, but then ignores half of what Ehrman wrote, misrepresenting him in the same way.
      Here is what Ehrman actually wrote.

      “One of the staunchest defenders of a mythicist view of Christ, Earl Doherty, maintains that the apostle Paul thinks that JESUS WAS CRUCIFIED, NOT HERE ON EARTH BY THE ROMANS, BUT IN THE SPIRITUAL REALM BY DEMONIC POWERS. In advancing THIS THESIS, Doherty places himself in an ironic position that characterizes many of his mythicist colleagues. He quotes professional scholars at length when their views prove useful for developing aspects of HIS ARGUMENT, but he fails to point out that not a single one of these scholars agrees with HIS OVERARCHING THESIS. The idea that JESUS WAS CRUCIFIED IN THE SPIRITUAL REALM is not a view set forth by Paul. It is a view invented by Doherty.”

      * “this thesis”: the thesis that Jesus was crucified, not here on earth by the Romans, but in the spiritual realm by demonic powers
      * “his argument: the argument that Jesus was crucified, not here on earth by the Romans, but in the spiritual realm by demonic powers
      * “his overaching thesis”: the thesis that Jesus was crucified, not here on earth by the Romans, but in the spiritual realm by demonic powers

      It is perfectly clear Ehrman was referring specifically to Doherty’s claim that the thesis that Jesus was crucified, not here on earth by the Romans, but in the spiritual realm by demonic powers.
      Doherty represents a number of quotations from different scholars as supporting this thesis (C. K. Barrett, Morna Hooker, S. G. F. Brandon, Robert M. Grant), but never once tells readers that none of these scholars holds the view that Jesus was crucified, not here on earth by the Romans, but in the spiritual realm by demonic powers.

      You might be confused over this, but Doherty isn’t. He acknowledged freely that he quoted certain scholars to support this theory even when those scholars didn’t hold his view:

      * “She stated a principle (Barrett once stated a possible meaning in regard to a Greek phrase which I was able to make use of, THOUGH IN A MANNER HE DID NOT). It is completely legitimate for me to appeal to such observations WHEN THEY CAN BE APPLIED TO A MYTHICIST INTEPRRETATION, even if the scholar himself or herself does not choose to make the same application of their observations.”

      Yes it is completely legitimate. What isn’t legitimate is when he quotes the scholars in this way and doesn’t tell his readers that the scholars he quotes don’t actually support the mythicist interpretation he is advancing. That is precisely what Ehrman objected to, and that’s what Doherty does in the specific case to which Ehrman refers.

      2. Ehrman on Tacitus.

      You say “That is indeed what Saumange and Rougé argue (as well as classicists before them)”. You are avoiding the issue. You originally said this.

      * “Ehrman falsely claims that no “trained classicists or scholars of ancient Rome” have ever questioned the authenticity of the reference to Christ in Tacitus.”

      Ehrman never said any such thing. He said this.

      * ‘Some mythicists argue that this reference in Tacitus was not actually written by him—they claim the same thing for Pliny and Suetonius, where the references are less important— BUT WERE INSERTED INTO HIS WRITINGS (INTERPOLATED) BY CHRISTIANS WHO COPIED THEM, producing the manuscripts of Tacitus we have today. (We have no originals, only later copies.) I don’t know of any trained classicists or scholars of ancient Rome WHO THINK THIS, and it seems highly unlikely’

      Changing your tune and saying ‘Well Ehrman didn’t know about Saumange and Rougé’ doesn’t change the fact that your original claim was false. Ehrman did not say what you claimed he said. You were not telling the truth.

      3. Sources for the life, death, and reurrection of Jesus.
      Yes I did read your point. It’s precisely what I’m disputing. You offer absolutely no evidence that Epiphanius (writing three hundred years after the time of Jesus), and the Talmudic writings you cite (even later than Epiphanius), are actual sources for the life and death of Jesus (let alone his resurrection). I have looked for current scholarship which treats them as sources for the life and death of Jesus, and I have not found any. You yourself noted that the writers you found who treat them as sources are fringe to say the least.

      On the contrary, I have consistently found scholarship saying they are not sources for Jesus,[1] that Epiphanius contains ‘no trace of a tradition, Jewish or Christian, regarding an unknown Jesus at the time of Joshua b. Perahia.’,[2], that ‘scholars (Christian as well as Jewish), cannot agree on the degree to which the rabbis even cared to allude to Jesus, let alone on which passages were framed with him in mind’,[3], and that ‘rabbinic texts that do refer to Jesus (however many or few), convey nothing credible about him’.[4]. At best I have found scholarship treating Epiphanius as a source of what SOME OF HIS CONTEMPORARIES THOUGHT about Jesus, but not as an actual source for the life and death of Jesus (let alone his resurrection).

      Where is your evidence that Epiphanius and the Talmudic references you cite are actual sources for the life and death of Jesus? Saying that later writings MAY preserve earlier traditions just isn’t good enough. If you want to assert them as sources, and especially if you want to claim that they preserve earlier traditions, you have to actually provide evidence for your claim. It’s this evidence thing which is repeatedly missing from your claims.

      If you think he’s a source, what kind of source do you think he is? A primary source? Secondary source? Tertiary source? Can you even reconstruct the chain of ‘earlier tradition’ to which you appeal vaguely? I can only imagine what mythicists would say if Ehrman pointed to a 6th century Christian author and claimed he was a ‘source’ for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

      Likewise, your claim that ‘all the Jewish sources on Christianity that we have (from the Talmud to the Toledot Yeshu) report no other view than that Jesus lived during the time of Jannaeus’ is simply wrong. The Jewish sources identify Jesus with several different individuals, living at different times over a span of some two hundred years.[5]

      [4] Osiris.

      You don’t seem to remember what you wrote. You first claimed Osiris ‘did indeed return to earth in his resurrected body’. You claim Ehrman never disproved it, but he did:

      * “Literally, he [Osiris] came “from Hades.” But this is NOT A RESURRECTION OF HIS BODY. His body is STILL DEAD. He himself is down in Hades, and can come back up to make an APPEARANCE on earth on occasion. This is not like Jesus coming back from the dead, IN HIS BODY; it is like Samuel in the story of the Witch of Endor, where King Saul BRINGS HIS SHADE back to the world of the living temporarily (1 Samuel 28). How do we know Osiris IS NOT RAISED PHYSICALLY? His body is still a corpse, in a tomb.”

      So you claimed Osiris ‘did indeed return to earth in his resurrected body’, and Ehrman disproved this. You then changed arguments, claiming that Christians ORIGINALLY believed Jesus came back IN VISIONS, and NOT in his resurrected body; you explicitly said that Jesus was ‘resurrected’ in the SAME WAY as Saul:

      * “Of course THE SAME IS MOST LIKELY TRUE OF JESUS (as I and several scholars have argued: see my Empty Tomb FAQ; even conservative scholar N.T. Wright has suggested the possibility), and obviously this is in fact how Jesus was originally believed to have appeared (IN VISIONS, NOT A WALKING ANIMATED CORPSE), so there is no clear difference from the Osiris case even as Ehrman describes it.”

      Your original argument:

      * “he [Osiris] did indeed return to earth IN HIS RESURRECTED BODY“: returned to earth in his resurrected body

      Your argument after Ehrman’s correction:

      * “Jesus was originally believed to have appeared (IN VISIONS, NOT A WALKING ANIMATED CORPSE)”: did not return to earth in his resurrected body, only appeared as a vision like Saul

      These two arguments contradict each other completely; you simply changed your argument after being proved wrong, and claimed you were still right. Once again you are not telling the truth, even about what you wrote. Naturally you provide no evidence that Jesus was originally believed to have appeared in visions but NOT a walking animated corpse.

      5. Your qualifications.

      No, Ehrman does not think he said the exact opposite. And again, I note you are attempting to avoid the original point. You claimed Ehrman identified you in his book as having studied classics, ‘making it seem as if I’m less qualified to discuss this subject than I am’. But what he said in his book did no such thing. He made it clear that you WERE qualified in a relevant field. Here are his words again.

      * “RICHARD CARRIER, who along with Price is the only mythicist to my knowledge WITH GRADUATE TRAINING IN A RELEVANT FIELD field (Ph.D. in classics from Columbia University)”

      Again we find you are not telling the truth about what Ehrman wrote.

      You do it again when you claim ‘ in his reply he tried to explain why I wasn’t qualified, “because” I don’t have an appropriate degree’. He didn’t say that either. Here’s what he said:

      * “Now, I suppose someone from outside the field of NT or Early Christian studies MIGHT MISTAKE someone with those kinds of expertise as being qualified to address, authoritatively, something having to do with early Christianity. But no one actually in the field would MAKE THAT KIND OF MISTAKE. Carrier too, of course, is not trained in these fields and is an outsider to them, so possibly that is why he DOESN’T UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE.”

      He says absolutely nothing about you not being qualified for study of the historical Jesus because you don’t have an appropriate degree. He says the fact that you are ‘outside the field of NT or Early Christian studies’ (and you can debate that with him all you like), is POSSIBLY why you don’t understand the difference between being an expert on ‘the Pentateuch, the history of Israel in the Bronze Age, the alleged lives of the Jewish patriarchs’, and being an expert on ‘the field of NT or Early Christian studies’ (and you can debate that with him all you like).

      He did not say what you attributed to him. Once again you are not telling the truth.

      6. Personal attacks.

      Now you acknowledge you did make personal attacks (justifying them by claiming you documented evidence for each charge). At least you’re telling the truth here (mostly).

      _______________________

      [1] ‘Nevertheless, there is no lack of modern attempts to uncover an ancient core in that report that identifies Jesus of Nazareth with Joshua b. Perahia’s pupil, relying on the support of Epiphanius, who sets the birth of Jesus in the reign of Alexander (Jannaeus), and Alexandra, that is, in the time of Ben Perahia or Ben Tabai. All these attempts, however, are based on pure delusion.’, Efron, ‘Studies On the Hasmonean Period’, p. 158 (1987).

      [2] ‘His entire exegesis contains no trace of a tradition, Jewish or Christian, regarding an unknown Jesus at the time of Joshua b. Perahia.’, ibid., p. 159.

      [3] ‘But scholars (Christian as well as Jewish), cannot agree on the degree to which the rabbis even cared to allude to Jesus, let alone on which passages were framed with him in mind.’, Cook, ‘Jewish Perspectives On Jesus’, in Burkett (ed.), ‘The Blackwell Companion to Jesus’, p. 220 (2011).

      [4] ‘In any event, rabbinic texts that do refer to Jesus (however many or few), convey nothing credible about him but do convey a flavor of how Jews in this third period viewed him.’, ibid., p. 220.

      [5] ‘The rabbis mentioned Jesus in connection with various figures whose time frames, when combined, spanned at least two centuries.’, ibid., p. 219.

    • says

      Fortugurn:

      Nothing you say makes your points against mine. You are clearly not reading what I actually wrote, at any stage of your argument.

      I can only conclude you are living in a delusional bubble at this point.

    • Aaron Ross says

      An evasion by Carrier. Remember, to ignore something is the same as no rebuttal according to Richard.

    • says

      Because in Knobster’s Dictionary of Standard English, “I will respond to it if it ever produces anything relevant and intelligible on this subject” means “I will ignore everything it ever produces.” Oh, wait. Only knobsters use that dictionary.

    • says

      Which is so uninformed and childish, one need only read it to see how irrelevant her commentary is. She clearly didn’t even read my book (since she is unaware of the fact that it answers every substantive question she asks about it), and just slags off every scholar she doesn’t like, without presenting any adequate evidence of their being wrong about anything.

      Ironically, her piece has the character of baseless personal attack that Ehrman thinks my critiques of him have. One need only compare how I document carefully every claim I make and keep to the issue of the work product and its value, with how Fisher behaves, to see I need not waste my time with a reply.

    • Jason Goertzen says

      Fisher is strange. She is really quick to think she’s being attacked viciously and personally, even when the person is *quoting her words* (Read the comments section here, if interested http://tinyurl.com/cyjvgtl but I’ll warn you that it’s not really worth the trouble). Then she’s quick to applaud personal attacks from her camp, (calling Hoffmann’s ranting “eloquent satire,” and embracing the term “mythtics,” for example).

      It seems that she, like so many of those in the historicity camp, follow the rule “it’s criticism when we do it to them, it’s a personal attack when they do it to us.”

      It’s frustrating that this debate generates such vitriol. :\

    • Paul Doland says

      Richard,

      In regards to the critique of you book by Stephanie Louise Fisher, how I even found out about her paper was it was listed as a reference in the Wikipedia page on you. I went to see if you had done a rebuttal, and I see that all you have done is said it isn’t worth a rebuttal. I hope you might reconsider, as, to me it seems to give the appearance you don’t have a response. Thanks.

    • says

      Paul, just read my book. It already rebuts everything she says. That’s my point. Her critique appears to be based on no actual reading of the book itself. Why should I waste my time repeating rebuttals that I already published in the book? The whole purpose of publishing arguments is so I don’t have to keep repeating myself.

      If you have read my book carefully and still don’t see a rebuttal to some specific argument she made, then please do post here what that argument is.

  2. fangora66 says

    Couldn’t it possibly be that Dr. Ehrman is actually a professional, working at an internationally renown university, and he has a busy schedule, so he got tired of this childish bickering? After all, I don’t have as busy a schedule and I have gotten really tired of it.

    You whine about Ehrman’s factual errors, but your critique is just as full of even worse errors. Your claim is that his errors are discovered after detailed research. On the other hand, your errors are obvious to anyone who has simply read Ehrman’s book. For example, you repeatedly claim that Ehrman says this or that “proves” something. This is factually incorrect as we can all see in the book. Ehrman is *very* careful about *not* calling these things proof and talks about probability and likelihood. So claiming Ehrman says anything is “proof” is factually incorrect and you should know that. What conclusions can we draw? You didn’t actually read the book completely? You actually did read it, but decided to mispresent what Ehrman says?

    Keep in mind that this kind of thing is not the only place you misrepresent what Ehrman says. There are a number of contextotomies that would impress even the most ardent Christian apologist. The first thing that came to mind was that you have a lot of nerve complaining about Ehrman’s apparently lack of research ability, when all anyone has to do is read his book to see you got it wrong.

    Dr. Carrier, are you a professional? Do you have a life? Do you have so little pride in what you have accomplished so far that you have to spend so much time and energy to “vindicate” yourself? Do you think your biggest claim to fame is being listed in “Who’s Who in Hell”? How long is your whining going to continue?

    Is your professional pride bruised over this? It happens. Get over it! It’s really easy if you have enough professional self-respect.

    I must say, I have lost a great deal of respect for you because of this whole thing.

    • says

      fangora66:

      your critique is just as full of even worse errors.

      Give me an example and I will correct it.

      My colloquial use of the word “prove” is not an example. Since I never use it in the sense you imply. Ehrman and I are both in agreement that historical conclusions are always just matters of probability. I have never challenged him on that or claimed he said otherwise.

      The rest of your commentary is just fantasy mindreading from someone who clearly doesn’t know me nor has followed my work and the way I approach it.

    • Aaron Ross says

      On the contrary, Richard, his critique is right on target.

      And you are obviously frustrated that Ehrman has a professional academic position, prestige, and get s big speaking fees.

      While you, after all those years of education, are working for peanuts.

      You are so jealous of Ehrman its sad.

    • says

      What’s sad is your comments’ complete lack of substance, your desperate Freudian projection defense, and your childish claims of telepathy. And, of course, your worship of money.

  3. says

    Richard,

    Galatians 1:19 (key words in Greek): …. “ton” brother “tou” the Lord. That’s not the same as “brother of the Lord”, “one of the brothers of the Lord”, “a brother of the Lord”, or even “the Lord’s brother”. It is “*THE* brother of the Lord”. I used bible.cc Greek textual analysis. http://biblos.com/galatians/1-19.htm
    If you have some argument why this isn’t a special usage indicating familial relation, I haven’t seen you state it as such yet. I am open to “Jesus” being John the B if that is useful. Several arguments for it have merit, like John being in prison in Luke when he supposedly baptized Jesus, and the name Jesus perhaps being simply a post-mortem title. Agron Belica wrote a book on this and cites Qur’an 19:15 and 19:33 saying the same thing: “Peace is on me the day I was born, the day I die and the day I shall be raised up to life (again)!” about one, the son of Zakariya (15), and again, a dude named Jesus (33).
    http://islammattersnow.com/islammattersnow.com/AGRON_BELICA.html
    I’m on your side. I don’t believe Jesus was a real person (for other, theologically related reasons that I know you think are laughable). But this is a weak spot, I think, in your case. Another is your unscholarly language: don’t use the word “bullshit”. This is a family show. We want to engage Ehrman, not belittle him.

    • says

      You must not know Greek grammar. The use of the definite article does not have all the same connotations in Greek as it does in English, particularly in koine. For example, see: 1 Cor. 16:12 (“Apollos the brother”), Philippians 2:25 (“Epaphroditus the brother”), Rom. 14:10 (“the brother of you”), 1 Thess. 4:6 (“the brother of him”), 1 Cor. 8:13 (“the brother of me”), 2 Cor. 2:13 (“Titus the brother of me”), 1 Thess. 3:2 (“Timothy the brother of us”), etc.

      As to colloquial language, I disagree. We should be accurate and correct. But we don’t have to be stuffy and highbrow. It is elitist to not speak the language of the people as if it were “beneath” you. Indeed, the very notion that there are intrinsically “bad” words is a religious superstition you would do best to purge from yourself.

      (And as to your theories, I don’t agree with them. But that’s neither here nor there.)

  4. ACN says

    Let me just say that I stopped to “lol” at this point:

    [I won't attribute to Ehrman the sad legacy of McGrath's attempts to defend his man, but McGrath's attempt at a rebuttal here went like this:

    • MCGRATH: Claims only government officials erected inscriptions.

    • CARRIER: Calls bullshit.

    • MCGRATH: Wisely pretends he never said that.

    • MCGRATH: Claims Ehrman was only talking about native Latin-speaking Italians.

    • CARRIER: Explains why that's stupid.

    • MCGRATH: Wisely pretends he never said that, either.

    ...and that was it, apart from various other stupid claims that don't deserve further mention.]

    Oh McGrath…

    • Aaron Ross says

      Oh Richard. Why the ad hominems? Do you think they make your arguments stronger?

    • says

      Which ad hominems were you referring to?

      (Trick question. I’m going to embarrass you when you demonstrate you don’t know what an “ad hominem” is. Let’s see if you are stupid enough to take the bait. Even after I told you what I was going to do.)

  5. sqlrob says

    /me pulls out popcorn

    I wonder if having all of this in one place will encourage responses. Please keep things up to date if it does.

  6. Andrew says

    It’s clear what the problem is now. Ehrman’s hyper-specific degree in New Testament Studies has blinded him from studying and seriously contemplating comparative mythology and the religious beliefs and practices of the Ancient Near East. He doesn’t have time to study those things, and it shows, giving him (with many others) a false sense of security about the supposed historicity of Christianity as opposed to the “pagan myths” that surrounded it. Perhaps one day he’ll broaden his horizons.

  7. says

    I’ve read a number of Ehrman’s books and listened to his lectures.
    I’ve always thought them excellent “neutral” ground starting point when debating some of my Christian friends.

    I would have really liked to see him make a better effort at addressing your points.

    I’d be curious to know if Ehrman does not have good answers or has merely written you off as no longer worth his time, or some other reason.

    (No offense, just trying to understand his lack of response)

    • says

      He has probably written me off as no longer worth his time.

      I have heard him say as much through the grapevine.

      As it looks to me (and judging from what I’ve heard him say), by ignoring all my substantive evidence and points, and even occasionally lying to cover his ass (and never once correcting anything, except the trivial: the citation of Pliny and my degree), he has constructed a delusion in his head that I said nothing substantive and just threw a bunch of out-of-context invectives at him.

      Any objective observer can see that that is not what I did. But it appears to be what Ehrman believes I did. And thus his cognitive dissonance is cured by relying on the standard avoidance defense.

    • Ehrman Fan says

      Actually, Dr. Carrier you are bordering on libel.

      Hope to see you soon cross right over the line!

    • says

      Statements of opinion and speculation are not libel. Nor are statements of fact that can be proved in court are reasonable for me to believe.

      But more importantly, if you do find anything I say can be shown to be false (that is, what I actually said can be shown to be false), I will correct it accordingly, and issue an apology if necessary.

      I have always stood by that standard.

  8. says

    Dr. Carrier. Hope you are well and I enjoy reading your blog! I just gave a quick look at some of my old Christian theology and origins books and found that the word “Christian” only appears three times in the entire New Testament we have today and when one reads the uncorrected Codex Sinaiticus in Greek the word Christian is “chrestianoi” or Chrestian if you will.

    Also an old book by the late Adolf Von Harnack (died in 1930 I believe) argues that “Chrestian” was the original “latin” spelling of the English “Christians” and he noted that Tacitus used the spelling. So this Tacitus think is far from certain and likely and to me (just a laymen) is likely NOT a forgery.

    Several supporters of the Jesus as myth position I’ve met online insist that Tacitus’ spelling of Christian and the fact he used “procurator” as Pilate’s title is a dead giveaway that it is a forgery. But I’ve never been able to defend that view when looking around in new books, old books and on line.

    Also I’ve never been able to defend the view that the “TF” passage in Josephus is completely a forgery and THAN ALMOST ALL SCHOLARS & EXPERTS AGREE.I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a “myth” supporter tell me that. But when checking into it which included Email to Louis Feldman and a phone call to Alice Whealey, I find that MOST experts agree that the TF has suffered a minor interpolation (gloss) but that Josephus likely wrote much of it.

    You may not remember, but years ago I wrote Louis Feldman, PhD at New York University about this assuming he would hold the passage is a forgery. But to my surprise he held that the passage was probably mostly genuine but that at some point a scribe made a gloss to it that changed Josephus saying the Christians believed Jesus was the Messiah to Josephus himself believing this. Dr. Feldman pointed out that the Christian apologist Origen even wrote Josephus did NOT believe Jesus was the Messiah. And finally Dr. Feldman told me that most fellow scholars of Josephus hold the view it has been tampered with but Josephus did write about Jesus here including being executed by Pilate. But certainly they are just guessing.

    I wrote YOU just after I got my reply (probably 10 years ago) from Dr. Feldman and you wanted me to provide you with Dr. Feldman’s Email address. I never found out what, if anything, you and Dr. Feldman talked about. But I don’t expect you to even remember this, so I’m not asking. I thought about writing him again to see if his position has evolved but noticed that he has retired & well into his 80′s now.

    I think the view held by Acharya S, Ken Humphreys ( I think Ken is out of his mind sometimes) and others I’ve met online that Paul never existed and ALL his letters are fakes is unlikely and probably crazy talk. I imagine Galatians was written by Paul and have you noticed that Paul claims to have met Jesus’ brother James and his noted follower Peter but NEVER says a word here or in other letters about the virgin birth? Did the virgin birth doctrine not exist then or did James and Peter (assuming this meeting took place) not tell Paul about such a fantastic birth or did Paul think it not worth mentioning? Do you have a position on this?

    And finally I’m of the opinion that Jesus probably did exist but neither side of the historical Jesus debate has a knock out punch, a walk off homerun if you will. I recall hearing Dr. Bob Price speak and he said it will likely continue to be a subject without a clear winner unless we find his skeleton. Well I imagine Price was trying to be funny. What test would one do on such a skeleton?

    Oh and I agree that Ehrman likely didn’t put much work into his latest book. Ehrman seems to be good when doing the kind of New Testament scholarship he usually does but with his latest book which is really outside of the area he usually works, it seems to be a book Ehrman wrote quickly and relied on just his general knowledge of the subject rather that really digging into the work done on the historical Jesus. I’ve heard Ehrman lecture several times on New Testament origins and criticism and he seems then to be very “expert” and deep if you will.

    Burton L. Mack told me a few years ago via Email that the evidence for a historical Jesus is pity and problematic but there is enough there for him to conclude that Jesus did exist as a first century Jewish preacher and his little original ban of followers held him as the Messiah but not virgin born or divine with most of his gospel deeds and sayings being myth. If the fantastic things never happened then why would most in early first century Israel notice him anymore than a 21st century history of the United States would mention Oral Roberts. Of course that is Mack’s professional opinion. He has no real proof as is the case on his expert opinions on what “Q” said.

    • says

      Larry:

      Also an old book by the late Adolf Von Harnack (died in 1930 I believe) argues that “Chrestian” was the original “latin” spelling of the English “Christians” and he noted that Tacitus used the spelling. So this Tacitus think is far from certain and likely and to me (just a laymen) is likely NOT a forgery.

      Yes, that’s true (i.e. there is evidence of Christians calling themselves Chrestians), and that does weigh in when trying to consider what Tacitus originally said and meant–although we cannot show that Tacitus would have used that spelling, when he was using [supposedly] “Christ” to explain the name “Chrestian” (when all other Latin authors of his time consistently use Christian, including his colleagues Pliny and Suetonius); contrary to Van Voorst, that doesn’t actually make much sense. Nevertheless, the possibility of it is indeed one of the reasons I am still not convinced the passage has been interfered with. Nevertheless, the points I made also stand: for the reasons I state, there is a real possibility it has been interfered with, one that cannot simply be dismissed as implausible or impossible. It might just have a low probability–but not a negligible one.

      Several supporters of the Jesus as myth position I’ve met online insist that Tacitus’ spelling of Christian and the fact he used “procurator” as Pilate’s title is a dead giveaway that it is a forgery. But I’ve never been able to defend that view when looking around in new books, old books and on line.

      Right. Both arguments are invalid.

      At best, Tacitus’ spelling of Chrestians supports one theory of interpolation; but it does not thereby prove it (per my remarks above).

      Also I’ve never been able to defend the view that the “TF” passage in Josephus is completely a forgery and THAT ALMOST ALL SCHOLARS & EXPERTS AGREE.

      Just FYI, all the scholars I know who think it existed in some form, base that argument on the Arabic TF. But that has been disproved (and most scholars are simply unaware of this). Hence the consensus here is not soundly based. The Arabic TF is not an independent witness to Josephus; it derives from Eusebius (via a Syriac intermediary). That, plus the arguments I delineate in my forthcoming article, are sufficient to prove the TF almost certainly a complete forgery.

      But saying that is different from saying “almost all scholars and experts agree.” That’s hyperbole. Most are agnostics (as I point out in my article).

      See (when it comes out later this year): Richard Carrier, “Origen, Eusebius, and the Accidental Interpolation in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.200.” Journal of Early Christian Studies 20.4 (Winter 2012).

      I think the view held by Acharya S, Ken Humphreys ( I think Ken is out of his mind sometimes) and others I’ve met online that Paul never existed and ALL his letters are fakes is unlikely and probably crazy talk.

      It is unlikely. But it’s only crazy talk if you assert it as being certain (or “very probable”). To entertain or explore the possibility is not crazy talk, nor is the suspicion that it might be true crazy talk. But relying on it as a premise in an argument to a conclusion you then declare to be proved, is crazy talk.

      I imagine Galatians was written by Paul and have you noticed that Paul claims to have met Jesus’ brother James and his noted follower Peter but NEVER says a word here or in other letters about the virgin birth? Did the virgin birth doctrine not exist then or did James and Peter (assuming this meeting took place) not tell Paul about such a fantastic birth or did Paul think it not worth mentioning? Do you have a position on this?

      Just FYI, there are better arguments for Galatians being a forgery than for the whole Pauline corpus being a forgery (although I am still unpersuaded by them; the evidence is better explained, IMO, by understanding that the author of Acts is using Galatians and deliberately contradicting it, and not the other way around).

      But as to your question, I don’t have an opinion on that, since I don’t see any particular place in Paul’s letters where the virginity of Jesus’ mother would be a relevant point to make, even were it then in circulation (which we don’t know, one way or the other).

    • says

      Richar Carrier: Just FYI, all the scholars I know who think it existed in some form, base that argument on the Arabic TF. But that has been disproved (and most scholars are simply unaware of this). Hence the consensus here is not soundly based. The Arabic TF is not an independent witness to Josephus; it derives from Eusebius (via a Syriac intermediary).

      The Arabian TF is an example of the red herrings you could get away with in the dark pre-internet ages.


      Today the chronicle has been made available in English and French by Roger Pearse, and it’s clear enough that Agapius is quoting Eusebius, since he’s referencing Eusebius in the paragraphs just before and after.

      I think it was Feldman who pointed out that Agapius includes information about Herod (“he burned the books of the tribes of the Hebrews“), which he must have found at Eusebius (“when Herod was appointed governor, he burned the books of the tribes of the Hebrews, because they knew only that he belonged to a race which was little valued by them“, HE 1,7,13), and which he couldn’t have found at Josephus, who never wrote any such thing, but in fact himself referred to these genealogies (Vita 1, Against Apion 1,7).


      The Arabian TF’s only claim to fame is that Agapius lived in the 10th century while our oldest manuscript of Josephus’ Antiquities vol. 18 is the Ambrosianus from the 11th century, but that’s another red herring: If you want to compare ages, you must look not at when Agapius lived (after all, he lived 900 years after Josephus), but at how old the surviving manuscripts are.

      Volume two of Agapius’ chronicle (with the Arabian TF) , only survives in one copy, which is located at the Biblioteca Mediceo Laurenziana in Florence. The library’s site doesn’t give many details about the manuscript except for referring to a catalog, Bibliothecae Mediceae Laurentianae et Palatinae codicum mms from 1742. It took me a few weeks (yes!) to track down that catalog on the Net (LINK).

      That catalog only adds to the confusion. Supposedly the chronicle contains a list of emperors up to Andronikos II Palaiologos, who became Byzantine emperor in 1283 — along with annals up to 1312. Quite astounding considering that Agapius died in 941/2.


      So how old is the manuscript? The script itself says that it was “Copied for himself by Sa’id, son of Abu-l-Bedri John, son of ‘Abd al-Mesih“. Presumably ‘Abd al-Mesih is the Coptic pope Christodoulos of Alexandria (both names means Slave of Messiah), and since he lived 1047-1077, his grandchild would have made this copy in the 12th century. But naturally the manuscript could be a more recent copy that included the old preface.

      The first one to translate the manuscript (into Russian) was Baron V. Rosen. The preface is online here. My Russian is as non-existent as my Latin, but what I gather from Google Translate is (1) that von Rosen was as puzzled over the strange information in Florence catalog as I was, and was unable to explain it, and (2) that he estimates the manuscript to be from the 14. or 15. century.


      But the rabbit trail doesn’t end here (I’m reminded of Carrier’s Ignatian Vexation), for this manuscript is severely damaged, pages are stuck together and parts of the text are obliterated (although the manuscript has been restored since von Rosen’s time). For this reason Shlomo Pines has “enriched” his translations with quotes by the Coptic historian Jurijis al-Makin (George Elmacin, 1205-1273). And how old are these manuscripts? According to WikiPedia, the oldest manuscript is from 1280, but this is not the one Pines is using, he’s using two Parisian scripts: “These passages have been collected by Cheikho (who consulted MS Paris At. 1294) in the volume containing the edition of Agapius. A second MS of al-Makin (Paris 294, foil. 162v-163r) has been used by me for the purposes of the present paper. The quotation of al-Makin is of great help in establishing the text of Agapius’ passage“. This is where I gave up.

      The same thing goes for Michael the Syrian: His chronicle only survives in one copy which is from 1598.


      In contrast we have a ton of translations of Eusebius’ works (I think the oldest is a Syriac translation of the HE from 462), so the attestation of the “standard” TF as compared to Agapius’ version is in another order of magnitude — both when it comes to the number of manuscripts and the age.


      I might add that Shlomo Pines’ treatment of Agapius and Michael concerning Plegon are equally odd. He claims to quote Chabot’s French translation, but when Chabot writes, “La 4e année de la CCII olympiade“, Pines quotes him as “la quatrième année de la IIIe Olympiade” thus moving the earthquake to 768 BC (I haven’t got access to Pines’ book, but I checked this with the snippets in Google Books).

    • natlove says

      Dr. Carrier:

      Did you catch Dr. Ehrman on the British radio show “Unbelievable?” (available as a podcast). The interview consisted mainly of whining about your tone, but I’m wondering whether you will respond on the blog.

  9. Bob Carlson says

    Just FYI, there are better arguments for Galatians being a forgery than for the whole Pauline corpus being a forgery (although I am still unpersuaded by them; the evidence is better explained, IMO, by understanding that the author of Acts is using Galatians and deliberately contradicting it, and not the other way around).

    But if the evidence for Paul’s historicity is equivalent to that for the historicity of Jesus, as Hermann Detering says in the ebook The Fabricated Paul: Early Christianity In The Twilight, what basis is there for arguing that any of the Pauline letters are authentic? This seems all the more suspicious in view of the fact that all other parts of the New Testament are regarded as being pseudepigraphic.

    • says

      That’s a circular argument. Paul’s historicity is far better attested than that of Jesus: because we have the things written by Paul himself! (Would that we had such evidence for Jesus.) You can only assume “the evidence for Paul’s historicity is equivalent to that for the historicity of Jesus” if you assume the letters are forged. But then you can’t use the fact that “the evidence for Paul’s historicity is equivalent to that for the historicity of Jesus” as an argument for the letters being forged (without arguing in a circle).

      This also illustrates a common mythicist fallacy: that having evidence “equivalent to that for the historicity of Jesus” entails non-historicity. That’s precisely what I explain isn’t correct, and is one of the points on which Ehrman and I agree, as I explained in my analysis of his use of Pilate as a false analogy. Most historical persons have as little evidence for their existence as we have for Jesus. Thus, we cannot infer non-historicity from that. It’s simply an invalid argument from silence (as I explain in Proving History, pp. 26-29 and 117-19).

      The only effective way to argue for non-historicity is to present evidence for non-historicity (and not just demonstrate the lack of evidence for historicity). And we have that for Jesus (for both the prior probabilities and consequent probabilities). We don’t have it for Paul.

      Ultimately, “there was a Paul and he wrote the seven authentic letters attributed to him in or around the 50s A.D.” has a higher prior probability and is a better explanation of all the evidence than any alternative. (I’ll just note that there may be only six authentic letters, since Philemon has a good case against it, but since it says nothing relevant to the historicity of Jesus I generally ignore it.)

  10. steve beck says

    Although I didn’t read Ehrman’s book (I decided not to after reading about it here and elsewhere), I think that you are being too generous with Ehrman when you attribute the book’s faults to hasty scholarship. It seems to me that Ehrman wrote as a biased religious apologist, even though he claims to be an agnostic. Perhaps his affection for Christianity hasn’t been completely severed.

    I have read books and articles by you, Doherty, Price, Thompson, Wells, Carrier and others, and it seems to me highly likely that no Jesus ever walked the earth as a real human being.

    I recently watched the video of your talk at Missouri State, and I must say you’ve got a really good sense of humor, and I’m surprised that your audience didn’t laugh more than they did.

    • says

      Ehrman certainly is biased and uses tactics familiar in apologetics. But he has no affinity for Christianity. He is more than happy to smash their teacups (Misquoting Jesus and Forged are veritable broadsides). So he has no Christian-serving motive here. He’s just stuck on a secular dogma.

    • Michael Kingsford Gray says

      It is my opinion that BE merely wrote it in unseemly haste.
      Nothing more need be implied.
      Certainly not any conspiracy theory.
      Now, if he would only admit to such a corporate blunder, then we might all be satisfied.
      But he has yet to do so, instead applying the cowardly tactic of re-writing his history, in the hope that no-one will notice.
      I, for one, am glad that RC is keeping the bastard honest.
      And were the reverse true[1], I’d be equally satisfied!
      _______________
      [1] Should RC pen an unsupportable thesis, I’d welcome BE’s analysis of same, with a logical demolition of same.

    • wayneD says

      Read the book before you make a decision. Erhman makes some damn good arguments for the existence of Jesus.

  11. Sheridan says

    I really hope this isn’t a dumb question (I’m simply a young college student learning about these issues just now), but I keep reading about the “consensus” of scholars in these debates. I don’t doubt there are consensuses on different historical matters among scholars, I’m just wondering how it’s known what the consensus is on a specific matter? When someone says “well, the consensus of scholars is such and such” how do they know that exactly? Are all scholars regularly polled on what they think about a certain historical issue? I read scholarly history journals and books all the time (in the field of historical musicology to be specific) and I certainly can see trends among the articles and books I read but I’m not sure I could establish accurately what might be the consensus of the majority of scholars on a certain issue based on the opinions of a few published scholars.

    • says

      You are quite right.

      There is no polling method in place, like there is (sort of) in philosophy. Would that there were. It’s much needed. Although in history such a method would necessarily codify a major flaw (and therefore this would have to be taken into account in some way), which is that most experts in a field have not read all relevant work even within their own specialty, much less outside of it.

      For example, I would wager that most biblical/NTS/Early Christianity scholars have not read Goodacre’s The Case Against Q, and yet having a valid expert opinion on the Q hypothesis requires not just reading that (though certainly at least having read that), but also examining the subsequent arguments pro and con and then weighing them all and arriving at a conclusion–which I doubt more than a handful of experts worldwide has ever done (and we have no way of knowing who they are, so as to poll them).

      When you hear references to consensus (or as I often try to qualify, “widest” or “broadest” consensus) you are seeing either bullshit (e.g. William Lane Craig will sometimes say a consensus exists when none does) or cognitive error (one interprets “the books/scholars I’ve read lately” with “the whole scholarly community”) or a reflection of intuitive polling of personal background knowledge from extensive literature surveys, which are how one normally researches and learns things at the postdoctoral level.

      Only that last is reliable. It won’t convey what all scholars think, but it will convey what a significant majority think, since if you have done your diligence (e.g. read widely as to how the Q hypotheses is lately being remarked upon by a large and diverse number of scholars, particularly in reference works, but also research articles and monographs), you would have seen significant dissent if there were any. Case in point: when I did my literature survey on the criteria-based methodology of Jesus studies, I consistently found dissent, not affirmation. The only scholars who affirm and use the methods are those who never examine their merits; whereas all the literature dedicated specifically to examining their merits concluded in the negative. So here we have a consensus (“most scholars think the methods are valid”) that is itself invalidated by the actual expert consensus (a uniform agreement among all method-testing specialists who have studied the validity of those methods).

      That’s the best anyone can do, as far as gauging whether a consensus exists, how strong it is, and whether it’s valid or consists of a generalist consensus in contradiction to actual specialist consensus. And then of course even a specialist consensus can be wrong, if it is illogically founded, which one can only tell by examining the arguments and evidence on which that specialist consensus rests. Honest scholars will then change their opinions when this is pointed out to them, and so the consensus shifts. But you can run against paradigm-defending conservativism (a la Kuhn).

      And so on.

  12. Andrew says

    Re: the authenticity and historicity of Paul and his letters.

    I guess I’ll never understand why we should be so credulous when approaching ancient, polemical religious texts written by mystagogues subsumed in a mental myth-world indistinguishable from “The Wizard of Oz.” The historical credibility of such a group would be almost zero even without evidence of outright deception and forgery in their canonical texts; since we have evidence of both of those in spades, we have no reason to ever give these people the benefit of a doubt.

    The New Testament is mythic debris from the clever but diseased minds of a weird religious cult. The outright fakery of so much associated with the church for most of its’ existence gives me no reason to think otherwise.

  13. says

    For reference (and since you did ask for links to replies), here are the posts by Chris Hallquist that addressed your criticisms of Ehrman.

    * http://freethoughtblogs.com/hallq/2012/04/24/on-carrier-on-ehrmans-huffpo-piec/

    * http://freethoughtblogs.com/hallq/2012/04/26/dear-richard-please-admit-you-screwed-up-with-your-review-of-bart-ehrmans-latest-book/

    * And a minor followup (reposting an old post): http://freethoughtblogs.com/hallq/2012/04/27/from-the-archives-its-not-about-tone/

    It would probably be worth at least listing these among the various critical responses you got to your reviews.

    • says

      None of those articles advances the discussion in any way. I found them (like many others online) useless. My recap and rounds one and two already adequately address anything in them worth a reply.

  14. Jacob Aliet says

    Hi Richard,
    I am surprised at the mindless flak this posting has received compared to your previous postings. Is it that you have stopped censoring posts or have these ‘attack dogs’ just picked up your scent?
    At any rate, I salute your restraint in indulging them and letting their content-free and erroneous insults come through. It is quite an exercise in patience you are performing.
    I would agree with you: Fischer’s posts are rather infantile and more keen on attacking rather than sober reflection and commitment to accuracy and truth. And those guys mostly targeted Doherty. Hofmann, his eccentricities aside, agrees with you that Ehrman did a poor job.
    Jacob

    • says

      It’s just a third rail issue. So it attracts the loons, haters and trolls in larger numbers.

      (I expected my post on sexism to do the same, as it has for other bloggers on this network, but somehow that post didn’t attract hardly any.)

  15. David Hillman says

    Yes, the simplest explanation of the existence of epistles supposedly written by the apostle Paul is that the core epistles were written by an apostle called Paul, especially since there is no convincing evidence, as with the other canonical epistles, that they are not what they claimed.

    But what do you make of the asides in the epistles that Paul was formerly a persecuter of the church. What Luke makes of it is obviously fictional in its outlines and its details. But elaborate theories have been made that the persecuting stories reflect much later history: that Paul’s reputation as persecuter originates from his opposition to James and Peter, and this Ebionite tradition is then turned upside down to make him an early zealot for the Torah before his conversion.(Stephen and Simon Magus are brought into the argument as ersatz figures).

    Is there a good explanation of what Paul meant, or do people think that his sometimes abrupt mention (perhaps though a feature of Paul’s style) of his persecuting past is perhaps interpolated.

    The problem with such theories of course is that they take the information in the epistles as reflecting enough facts to use to show the epistles are made up.

  16. Bob Carlson says

    That’s a circular argument. Paul’s historicity is far better attested than that of Jesus: because we have the things written by Paul himself! (Would that we had such evidence for Jesus.)

    Obviously, someone had to write the letters, but that is also the case for all the other books of the New Testament. What evidence is there that a person named Paul was the author of the letters attributed to Paul? Detering said that they first appeared in the possession of Marcion, and he cited evidence that they weren’t known until well into the 2nd century. I don’t know whether that is correct, but Detering seems to have thoroughly examined the issue.

    • says

      Bob Carlson:

      What evidence is there that a person named Paul was the author of the letters attributed to Paul?

      They say they are, and represent themselves as such.

      To challenge that, you need some evidence other than “maybe it was all made up.”

      Detering said that they first appeared in the possession of Marcion, and he cited evidence that they weren’t known until well into the 2nd century. I don’t know whether that is correct, but Detering seems to have thoroughly examined the issue.

      Detering’s claim is an invalid argument from silence (on what is logically required for such an argument to work, see Proving History, pp. 117-19). We don’t have any Christian writings of the early second century or before that would have occasion to mention Paul’s letters, except 1 Clement (traditionally dated to 95 C.E. although there are some scholars who put it earlier or later, and IMO I think it could date earlier), which does mention Paul and his letters. Thus there is no way Detering can know “they weren’t known until well into the 2nd century” (and I am assuming he bases even that statement on yet another argument that 1 Clement is a forgery, which is possible, but yet again hardly provable–just saying “maybe” doesn’t get you to “probably”).

  17. McNihil says

    Hi Richard,

    I have a question and I hope even though this isn’t the most recent of your posts you’ll still answer here.

    It seems to me – and I think you have mentioned this somewhere in another post of yours but I can’t remember/find where – that it’s only somewhat recently become more respectable to assume that Jesus never existed. If I’m not mistaken, that notion has been a total taboo until somewhere around the second quarter of the 20th century or so and only much more recently – in the last decade or two – the idea that Jesus never existed has made it into the preiphery of mainstream thought and media and more scholars start to embrace it or at least entertain the idea as a remote possibility.

    So my question is, is there something like a timeline of this development? Is there some resource (preferably online) that outlines when this idea first cropped up and how it developed and increased in acceptance over time? I am, obviously, not a scholar and the timeframes I mentioned above are pretty much just very weak and vague assumptions based on snippets of information I have gleaned from your blog and other online resources. So it’d be great to have a resource that accurately outlines this trend (if it can be called that).

    Thanks in advance and cheers!

    • says

      Earl Doherty and Robert Price are more familiar with the historiography of Jesus mythicism, and would be better ones to ask this question. I don’t really concern myself with the history of the idea, only with whether it is defensible now. All I can say is that (a) I have read some of the old literature (pro and con), and I am fairly certain it was always a fringe idea (an outlier that never won a consensus over) and (b) I don’t know any significant proponents of the Jesus myth theory between 1950 and 1980. But maybe I’m overlooking someone. Of course, early 20th century mythicism was flawed, and so were its rebuttals, such that the consensus emerging between 1950-1980 was not necessarily well founded. But that’s a separate matter.

      Again, I suggest asking your question of Doherty or Price.

  18. Will says

    I have to say that criticizing Ehrman really brings the nastiness out in some people.. I guess it is because Ehrman is typically a very reasonable scholar so lots of his fans assume that he is probably right on this issue too. That’s the impression I’m getting from reading some of the backlash against Carrier on this thread. It’s also looking like Ehrman can’t really rebut Carrier’s criticisms so he has withdrawn from the discussion behind the facade of “I won’t lower myself to talk to him because he isn’t polite”. Having said that, I honestly think Ehrman seems like a great guy and a good scholar (as Richard has often pointed out)… In fact I’ve always found myself taking his side in his other debates since he is typically the most reasonable.. but on these issues it seems like he is just defending the dogma of secular historicity….which is a dogma that would probably be difficult for him to abandon given that much of his work is based on the a priori assumption of a historical Jesus. The fact that he won’t even touch the issue of methodology is a probably a sign of that, because those methods are the bridge to his historical Jesus. I suspect he has a sense that engaging Richard on the problems with his criteria for historicity will be a losing battle so he has opted to just ignore it. Refusing to acknowledge the criticisms of his historical methodolgy is perhaps the best way for him to keep the scholarly house of cards from caving in on him. Anyway, just some observations.

  19. Bob Wahler says

    Richard,

    Regarding midrash, or borrowing from elsewhere, are you aware that Poppea, Nero’s wife, ordered Nero’s mistress’s head on a platter, like Herodias’ daughter did in Mark 6? I assume so.

  20. wholething says

    I disagree with you that Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist? is not useful. I’ve read a dozen of his books and a couple of Burton Mack books on Q, so I pretty much held Ehrman’s view on a historical Jesus. I was aware of the Jesus myth arguments and accepted many of them regarding the resurrection. I also saw your articles on the book and a few others.

    When I read DJE?, I saw the evidence for Jesus all lined up and even in its exaggerated form, it was paltry. It was enough to make my buy Doherty’s The Jesus Puzzle and read it with Ehrman’s criticisms in mind, then went back to reread those criticisms. Doherty’s arguments seemed tighter. When Doherty argued that 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 was an interpolation, Ehrman dismissed it by saying that all mythicists cry “Interpolation!” for all inconvenient passages and ignoring his argument and the anachronism verse 16. (Ehrman uses 1 Thess. 2:14-15 in Misquoting Jesus to establish Paul’s attitude toward the Jews.) Actually, Doherty only claims two interpolations (that I recall), the other being in 1 Timothy and I learned from Ehrman that most consider that to be a 2nd century pseudopigraphy. Ehrman’s criticism that Doherty doesn’t point out that the authors he cites don’t support his conclusion was hogwash. He states it many times in many ways.

    What astonished me was that Jesus doesn’t appear to have done anything as a living being on earth outside the Gospels. The Epistles talk about the crucifixion and the resurrection alot but he is never quoted or spoken of as if they knew him as a person and many of these are supposed to be written by his companions! The “in the flesh” passages are vague but 1 Timothey 3:16 says that he was “seen by angels” but “preached to all nations” and “believed on”. “In the flesh” doesn’t seem to mean “visible to humans.”

    Then I read Robert M. Price’s The Jesus Myth and Its Problems. He shows that nearly every story about Jesus has been traced to Old Testament verses and/or Homeric tales by various authors who may or may not be mythicists.

    So it seems to me that we have positive evidence for the non-existance of Jesus just from the New Testament by the writing of his supposed companions who never wrote anything that would suggest they knew him and that the stories about him were generated from documents that pre-dated his supposed existance.

    We have evidence that Santa Claus goes back to a real person named Saint Nicholas but Jesus is less real than that.

  21. Matt Gerrans says

    “The main problem with the book itself was the shear number of errors…”

    Somewhat ironically, that should be “sheer” not “shear.” ;)

  22. wayneD says

    I’ve read Erhman’s book and, no matter how you couch it, he makes some damn good arguments for the existence of Jesus. Richard Carrier fails to prove that Jesus was an invented person. For one, there are independent sources saying that Jesus existed and telling similar stories about him. Also, if Christians simply invented the existence of Jesus, what would be the point? If they invented him, then they would have done it right like having him born in a specific place instead of a one horse town. The Jews were expecting a great military leader. Why would Christians then invent a man who was hung on a cross like some common criminal? As it was, they had to scramble for some explanation for this. Also, Paul claims to have met with one of the apostles. I really think Richard is grasping at straws here when he attempts to ‘prove’ that Jesus was an invented myth.

    • says

      wayneD:

      There are independent sources saying that Hercules existed and telling similar stories about him. And likewise for almost any mythical person you care to name. That’s simply not a valid argument. See Proving History, pp. 172-75.

      Also, if Christians simply invented the existence of Jesus, what would be the point?

      What was the point of inventing Hercules? King Arthur? Moroni?

      Why would Christians then invent a man who was hung on a cross like some common criminal?

      Similarly, we can ask why Attis worshippers invented a god who castrated himself, why Hercules worshippers said he died by being set on fire, why Romans made up stories about Romulus murdering his own brother, why Greeks invented a story about the god Asclepius being killed by a thunderbolt, why Sumerians invented a story about their national goddess Inanna being stripped naked and killed, with her naked corpse nailed up on display? And so on. There are always interesting theological, ideological, esoteric reasons for these strange religious beliefs arising and serving important functions.

      In the case of Jesus: Hebrews 9 answers your question.

      Paul claims to have met with one of the apostles.

      Paul himself was an apostle. Paul said an apostle is someone who saw visions of Jesus, like he did. In the most plausible Jesus myth theory, the original Christian faith was based on visions of Jesus, not an actual flesh-and-blood Jesus. Those stories came later, to codify, embody, and market the ideals of different Christian communities.

    • wholething says

      I suspect that there were many different sects of Jews in Jerusalem. Some of them were looking for a Messiah to come for centuries. Some began to see verses in their scriptures that the Messiah may have already come. The New Testament Epistles seem to bear this out as they never mention anything that Jesus did apart from the crucifixion and the resurrection. They don’t seem to know when that was, it may have been in the dim past. The more lore that was produced, the more some thought he may have been recent. After the destruction of Jerusalem, there was nobody around to dispute them. Mark may have written a midrash to make sense of the situation and people took it literally.

      Paul probably did meet some of the people who were written into the story as companions of Jesus.

      Nearly every passage in Mark has been traced by various scholars to Old Testament verses or to the writings of Homer. The fact that the other gospels copy or draw on those stories show they didn’t have any real information either. Much of their extra material can also be traced to the Old Testament.

      So Jesus the Messiah was a mirage in the Old Testament that was unintentionally conjured up by later literature. Subsequent generations of followers had no way to determine its source. It’s like Prokofiev’s Lt. Kije. Through some pun in the Russian language, the Czar got the impression that there was a Lt. Kije and nobody had the nerve to tell him he was wrong. Rather they invented parties, his wedding and his death. With Jesus, it was just a different order of invention.

    • wayneD says

      “Nearly every passage in Mark has been traced by various scholars to Old Testament verses or to the writings of Homer. The fact that the other gospels copy or draw on those stories show they didn’t have any real information either. Much of their extra material can also be traced to the Old Testament. So Jesus the Messiah was a mirage in the Old Testament that was unintentionally conjured up by later literature.”

      Richard, I’m confused. You state that Jesus was conjured up from the Old Testament Homer, yet the Jews were expecting a powerful military leader, not a Messiah who is hung on a cross.

      Christians have tried to use the Old Testament to show that Jesus was meant to suffer and die, i.e., the verses which actually are referring to the suffering of Israel, not a future messiah.

      Why is it so hard to admit that there could have been a charismatic preacher who preached a coming Kingdom? People thought he might be that great military leader they were expecting, but were so taken in by this guy that when he ended up being crucified as a common criminal, his followers had to come up with a reason. Therefore, the dying for our sins seemed like a good one.

      I understand your argument that it was just a myth like the Greek myths, but that said, how can you be certain that the Christians were doing the same thing?

    • says

      wayneD:


      Richard, I’m confused. You state that Jesus was conjured up from the Old Testament Homer, yet the Jews were expecting a powerful military leader, not a Messiah who is hung on a cross.

      The two are obviously not mutually exclusive. The Christians also expect a powerful military leader–who will descend from outer space any time now (just like the Jews who composed the Dead Sea Scrolls did). The Christians just added the idea that he had to die first to gain his supernatural powers (a notion that is too coincidentally similar to the mystery religions of the period to be an accident). And they claimed to have discovered this idea in the scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3-4; Rom. 16:25-26), among which Daniel 9 is a likely candidate, as is Isaiah 53, which Jews, independently of Christians, also came to believe predicted a dying messiah. I discuss all of this in The Dying Messiah Redux.


      Christians have tried to use the Old Testament to show that Jesus was meant to suffer and die, i.e., the verses which actually are referring to the suffering of Israel, not a future messiah.

      Except Talmudic Jews said otherwise: they, too, took some of those verses as referring to the messiah. Likewise pre-Christian Jews often took verses as referring to the messiah that were never originally intended to be. Thus it was a common thing to do.


      Why is it so hard to admit that there could have been a charismatic preacher who preached a coming Kingdom?

      It’s not hard at all. It just looks increasingly unlikely the more you honestly look at the evidence.


      I understand your argument that it was just a myth like the Greek myths, but that said, how can you be certain that the Christians were doing the same thing?

      I have repeatedly and consistently said we can be certain of nothing. We simply don’t have the documents we would need to be certain of what happened at the origin of Christianity. We can only come to conclusions about greater probabilities from what little we have. In my experience it’s the historicists who have a hard time admitting that fact.

    • wayneD says

      “The Christians also expect a powerful military leader–who will descend from outer space any time now (just like the Jews who composed the Dead Sea Scrolls did). ”

      And these Christians would be wrong since Jesus stated in Mark 9:1 to the people he was preaching to that there would be some of them who would still be alive when his father arrived in glory in his kingdom. Jesus also thought he would be the head of this kingdom where the poor and powerless would be elevated into this kingdom and the powerful and rich would be destroyed. Obviously, it didn’t happen which would indicate that Jesus was nothing more than another failed apocalyptical prophet. What I don’t understand is if the Christians invented Jesus, why would they leave something like that in their scripture. Later, when it didn’t happen, they modified it some by leaving the last part out about the kingdom. And in John, they ignore this entirely and state that the prophesy was fulfilled by the logos made flesh, which completely ignore what Jesus had said. My guess is that it was already written and that they simply couldn’t obliterate what they wrote and, therefore, had to modify it in later Gospels.

      My biggest concern is that using probability math doesn’t necessarily mean that Jesus was an invention. Erhman argues that when you have independently attested writings that are the same, the probability that it happened and that Jesus existed is high. So he is also hanging his hat on probability, though he admits that it’s not 100%.

    • wholething says

      wayneD

      Why is it so hard to admit that there could have been a charismatic preacher who preached a coming Kingdom?

      For one thing, nowhere in the epistles is a charismatic preacher mentioned. Some of these were supposed to be written by his companions.

      Josephus lists 18 High Priests from Herod’s time to the destruction of the Temple and four of them are named Jesus so it was probably a common name. So there were probably many itinerant preachers named Jesus and some of them probably came from Galilee and some may have been crucified by Pilate.

      But the epistles are not about any of them. They only talk about a Jesus who was crucified and resurrected. They also talk alot about him being “in the flesh” which would be strange if they actually knew the person they referred to.

    • says

      WayneD:


      What I don’t understand is if the Christians invented Jesus, why would they leave something like that in their scripture.

      Indeed. That makes no more sense if he actually existed than if he didn’t. So any explanation you imagine will apply equally either way. Thus, this fact makes no difference. On the Jesus myth theory, scripture and revelation convinced Christians that the celestial Jesus said the end was nigh. So that is what they preached, and eventually wrote down. When it didn’t happen, they “explained it away” or even rewrote it, as you note. That works just as well for a hallucinated failed prophet as an actual one.


      Erhman argues that when you have independently attested writings that are the same, the probability that it happened and that Jesus existed is high.

      Except that’s a fallacy. The conclusion does not necessarily follow from the premise (example: the labors of Hercules are multiply independently attested, yet are certainly still bogus). I discuss this in more detail in Proving History (pp. 172-75), and many other experts in the field have said the same (as I cite there).

  23. gshelley says

    Ehrman claims “there is no penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock in the Vatican or anywhere else except in books like this, which love to make things up,” clearly meaning the statue she referred to never existed but was made up (by her).

    A correct statement would have been “the statue she refers to does exist, or once did, but it’s not a statue of Peter but of the pagan god Priapus, of which we have many examples; the notion that this one represents Peter comes only from the imagination of theorists like her.”

    I know this is an (excellent) summary of your part of the whole debate, but I still think it worth pointing out that she claims she never said there was a statue of Peter the Cock
    http://freethoughtnation.com/contributing-writers/63-acharya-s/669-the-phallic-savior-of-the-world-hidden-in-the-vatican.html

    Note that I do not say here or elsewhere that the bronze sculpture itself is a symbol of St. Peter, but only the cock or rooster, as in the story of Matthew 26:34, etc., in which Peter denies Christ three times before the cock crows. In several places elsewhere in my book I provide the citation for the cock/rooster being a symbol of St. Peter. I apologize for the ambiguity, but I was not in error here, despite the constant attempts to make me appear as such.

    Which destroys any defence of Ehrman. Even if we accept that he knew there was a statue, but it wasn’t Peter the Cock, and that it is only poor comprehension on the part of everyone else, he would still have done what he is claiming his critics did – take something that had several possible meanings (i.e. her statement) and ascribe the least charitable one to it.

    • says

      She was certainly implying that the statue in question represented Peter (there would be no point in mentioning the statue if she thought it was just a statue of Priapus, as in fact it is). I understand that she marshals arguments for that conclusion (and she is right to complain that Ehrman didn’t even mention them, much less address them), but to claim now that she meant it was just a statue of Priapus all along seems disingenuous to me. At any rate, Ehrman cannot be criticized for coming to that conclusion, given the way the picture is used and the caption is written.

    • G.Shelley says

      Oh, I agree that she was either trying to imply the statue was representing Peter, or it was badly written and a reasonable observer would believe she was.

      But if we accept (which I don’t) Ehrman’s “That’s not what I was saying” argument, I see no reason why the same logic would not force us to accept hers as well. He can’t argue that he meant something completely different to a reasonable reading of his text, but that we shouldn’t believe her when she says the same thing about her text.

      And if we do that, Ehrman was wrong for misrepresenting her, rather than being wrong for not knowing about the statue, or deliberately trying to imply it didn’t exist (and after following the debate, I lean toward the former)

  24. Bob Carlson says

    Thus there is no way Detering can know “they weren’t known until well into the 2nd century” (and I am assuming he bases even that statement on yet another argument that 1 Clement is a forgery, which is possible, but yet again hardly provable–just saying “maybe” doesn’t get you to “probably”).

    If you haven’t read Detering’s treatise, just say so. He researched the issue extensively, and it seems to me that his work deserves fair consideration.

  25. Pierce R. Butler says

    Richard Carrier @ # 25.1: I appreciate all call-outs of typos…

    Richard Carrier @ # 26.1: … Hecules… he died was set on fire… Ascklepius…

    Are we having fun yet?

    • Pierce R. Butler says

      @ # 26.1: What was the point of inventing Hecules? … why Greeks invented a story about the god Ascklepius being killed by a thunderbolt…

      Regarding which: didn’t Greek mythology consider thunderbolts the exclusive property of Big Z, thus implying that Asclepius had somehow irritated the Top Tyrant?

    • Pierce R. Butler says

      Okay. Now what about the syntactic hash (also in 26.1) of “…why Hercules worshippers said he died was set on fire…”?

      Besides, I thought Herc bought the farm via a poisoned shirt given to him by a centaur he was cuckolding. Did the old Greeks retcon their myths like a bunch of frantic DC comics writers, or was that a Roman rewrite?

    • says

      Hercules had his friend burn him before the poison finished him (because it was a pretty horrific poison):

      From him Deianira learned about Iole, and fearing that Hercules might love that damsel more than herself, she supposed that the spilt blood of Nessus was in truth a love-charm, and with it she smeared the tunic. So Hercules put it on and proceeded to offer sacrifice. But no sooner was the tunic warmed than the poison of the hydra began to corrode his skin; and on that he lifted Lichas by the feet, hurled him down from the headland, and tore off the tunic, which clung to his body, so that his flesh was torn away with it. In such a sad plight he was carried on shipboard to Trachis: and Deianira, on learning what had happened, hanged herself. But Hercules, after charging Hyllus his elder son by Deianira, to marry Iole when he came of age, proceeded to Mount Oeta, in the Trachinian territory, and there constructed a pyre, mounted it, and gave orders to kindle it. When no one would do so, Poeas, passing by to look for his flocks, set a light to it. On him Hercules bestowed his bow. While the pyre was burning, it is said that a cloud passed under Hercules and with a peal of thunder wafted him up to heaven.

      Apollodorus, Lib. 2.7.7

      (and grammar hash fixed)

  26. Branjo says

    Christianity is Ehrman’s subject, that’s fine and dandy, but (to me anyway) he seems content with prodding Christianity with a longish stick just enough to keep those disillusioned with organized religion or that particular organized religion to those who have no religion, happy. He doesn’t however seem to want to get his hands (career) dirty by flipping Christianity over to see the soft underbelly of blindingly obvious plagiarisms.

  27. says

    “Ehrman makes a false claim about Pontius Pilate’s title (that he wasn’t a procurator but a prefect; in fact, he was both) and about the historical development of Roman government (that prefects of provincial districts were renamed procurators by the time of Tacitus; they weren’t, they still held both titles).”

    This is not true.
    The evidence is quite clear that, from the reign of the emperor Claudius, the equestrian governors who were called prefects (or praefecti in Latin) were now called procurators:

    http://thoughtsphilosophyculture.blogspot.com/2012/05/carrier-versus-ehrman-on-procurators.html

    This is a standard view amongst Roman historians:

    (1) Syme, R. 1962. “The Wrong Marcius Turbo,” Journal of Roman Studies 52: 92.

    (2) Jones, A. H. M. 1960. Studies in Roman Government and Law, Blackwell, Oxford. p. 124.

    (3) Syme, R. 1962. “The Wrong Marcius Turbo,” Journal of Roman Studies 52: 87-96.

    (4) Weaver, P. R. C. 1972. Familia Caesaris: A Social Study of the Emperor’s Freedmen and Slaves, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. pp. 267-268)

    (5) Garnsey, Peter and R. Saller. 1987. The Roman Empire: Economy, Society, and Culture, University of California Press, Berkeley. p. 23).

    (6) Levick, Barbara. 2001. Claudius, Routledge, London. p. 48.

  28. says

    Carrier: If Tacitus originally wrote “Chrestians,” then it becomes possible he was originally writing about rioters who were following the Chrestus who had ginned up riots under Claudius (Nero’s predecessor) as reported by Suetonius (Claudius 25.4), and that later Christian scribes inserted only the line about Christ (that he was killed under Tiberius by Pilate), thus coopting a passage about a completely different group, turning it into a passage about Christians.

    That’s a very interesting thought. It would also explain why Tacitus writes “whom the common-folk called Christians” in the past tense, when Christianity was still alive and kicking in his own time.

    But I paid a visit to Mr. Google, and I’m afraid you will have to share your Nobel prize with Roger Viklund et al :) Tacitus as a Witness to Jesus – An Illustration of what the Original Might have looked Like.

    • says

      Oh, yes! Do not mistake me for claiming I am the only one who has thought of this. And Viklund makes an additional point, that the line could easily be the accidental insertion of a marginal note, which is a surprisingly common kind of error that I’ve become something of an expert on (I cite a lot of the scholarship documenting examples of this kind of error in my paper for JECS out later this year), and his observations on this point are quite correct.

      I have also been following Erik Zara’s work on this (and awaiting its formal publication) since he would count as a modern well-qualified expert who might doubt the passage’s authenticity (I can’t say for sure because I don’t know where he has ended up in his thinking about this, but he has been doing a ton of research on it lately).

    • Formerly Erik Zara says

      I am flattered, but I would not call myself an expert, since I am no paleographer or Tacitean scholar per say. But I have indeed somewhat researched the subject, and like Martin I pointed out that the use of “appellabat” instead of “appellat” is worth noticing. Dr. Pihl’s illustration of a hypothetical original passage could very well be plausible as to its contents. I would only claim that the Christus-sentence could be an interpolation, and not that the entire passage is. An interpolator of the entire passage would not have written Chrestianos. I don’t know if I will write anything for formal publication regarding this, since the interpolation hypothesis itself isn’t new scholarship, and it would perhaps be difficult to get published an article which could be viewed as questioning the reference being to Christians. As for publication regarding Chresto in Suetonius, and in footnote 2 also the ultra-violet examination of Chrestianos in Tacitus, see Inpulsore Cherestro.

  29. wayneD says

    Richard,
    Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t the Greeks actually consider their god myths as just that, myths? In the case of Jesus, he was an itinerant preacher who believed that God was going to bring in his kingdom and bring the evil age to an end by elevating the poor and powerless into this kingdom and destroying the rich and powerful. This was a common apocalyptical belief at the time. In Mark, the oldest Gospel, Jesus is not depicted as being born of a virgin impregnated by God or by the Holy Spirit. The virgin birth myth came in later Gospels. The oral stories passed down were, unlike the Greek myths, as being factual. The Jews were expecting a great military leader, but when Jesus ended up being hung on a cross as a common criminal, the Christians had to scramble to come up with a reason. That is how they came to claim that he actually died on the cross for our sins.

    Paul claimed to have met with one of the original 12 apostles of Jesus.

    • says

      wayneD:

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t the Greeks actually consider their god myths as just that, myths?

      Not as much as you think. For many works like Homer the trend in the Hellenistic and Roman periods was to regard them as highly mythologized histories, and attempts were made to date the figures and events in them. Euhemerization was all the rage. There was a segment of the literary elite who doubted the myths in whole or in large part. But it was more popular to deem them as histories that only came to be embellished. That’s why Cicero talks about trying to date when Romulus founded Rome by astronomically back-calculating the “eclipse” that occurred at his death (even though in the myth it’s not really an eclipse but a supernatural darkness), and why Plutarch saw fit to write a “biography” of Romulus in which it is assumed he really lived and one could debate which stories about him were true.

      As to whether the Gospels reflect embellishments on a real story (Mark has plenty of bogus stuff in it, from miraculous feedings to mass slaughters of swine herds to a three hour darkening of the sun), that’s precisely the question: that is a hypothesis that has to be tested against the best alternatives, to see which hypothesis is a better overall explanation of the evidence (including Paul’s epistles, for example; and what we know of how Mark composed his stories; etc.). One of those alternatives is that a dying Christ was invented to fulfill Daniel 9 and eliminate the cultic role of the Jewish Temple in man’s relationship to God (as explained in Hebrews 9).

      Paul claimed to have met with one of the original 12 apostles of Jesus.

      Technically he doesn’t say that. He claimed to have met with Cephas (“Peter”), whom Paul says was the first to have a revelation of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:5). He never mentions this Cephas ever seeing or having known Jesus before that. Paul also doesn’t ever say Peter was one of the twelve (he says visions of Jesus were experienced by Cephas “and then the twelve,” which may or may not mean Paul understood Peter to be one of them–although there are many problems with this statement, including the contradiction with the Judas legend in Mark, which suggest this could be an interpolation, but we really don’t know). Paul also never says the twelve had ever seen Jesus before he revealed himself to them, after his “death” (1 Cor. 15:5). And Paul never says Peter or the twelve or anyone was a “disciple” of Jesus. Paul regards apostles as anyone who has a revelation of Jesus (like himself). He never makes a distinction between those kinds of apostles and apostles appointed personally by Jesus when he was alive (Paul never mentions such things as Jesus doing anything when he was alive, or anyone having known him then).

    • wholething says

      Richard,

      Was Peter and Cephas really the same person? I know both names mean “rock” in different languages and that the Gospel of John puts the names together. In Galatians 2, Paul talks about Peter, then Cephas, and then Peter again as if they are different people.

    • says

      It was the other way around: Paul refers to Cephas, then Peter, then Cephas again.

      Paul only ever talks about Cephas throughout all his letters (several times). Whereas he only once mentions a “Peter,” in Galatians 2:7-8. It is traditionally thought he means the same person and just slipped into a different language (which really doesn’t make a lot of sense), or later scribes tried to fix it (which makes less sense, since such scribes would have fixed all the instances in Galatians 1-2 and not just in verses 7-8); some have suggested the Peter verses are an interpolation (though I would expect an emender would not switch names but match the surrounding text, so again I find this improbable, and as the sentences reference the first person, it cannot be an accidental interpolation); etc.

      Bart Ehrman published an academic article years ago (“Cephas and Peter,” Journal of Biblical Literature 109.3 [Autumn, 1990]: 463-74) in which he argued Paul was referring to two different people here–and though the rest of his argument in that article is implausible, this one point is probably correct.

      He has since backtracked to a more uncertain position, though part of his backtrack appears to be based on the false belief that Peter was not a familiar Greek name at the time, when in fact it was; while Cephas was not, in any language. Cephas appears to be a unique name. It was probably a cultic nickname (Cephas may have renamed himself as the founding stone of the church, the way many religious founders rename themselves in clever ways; see Markus Bockmuehl, “Simon Peter’s Names in Jewish Sources,” Journal of Jewish Studies 55.1 [Spring 2004]: 58-80). It does not correspond exactly to the Greek word petros, but overlaps in meaning enough that one could translate the one into the other. By contrast, Peter was a known Greek name; there would have been many people of that name (in fact from the evidence available it appears that roughly 1 in 600 male Jews were named Peter).

      I am sure Cephas is the one who became the Peter of the Gospels (and perhaps Acts), while I suspect Paul knew two men, Cephas, the founder of Christianity (first to receive a revelation of Jesus: 1 Cor. 15:5), and Peter, a spontaneous apostle like Paul (i.e. he was not converted by a Christian missionary but had a vision out of the blue like Paul did, which tasked him with evangelizing the Jews, possibly in the diaspora; this seems to be the implication of what Paul says about him in Gal. 2:7-8).

      It would be just a coincidence that an apostle named Peter had a name that, if you translated it into Aramaic, could be Cephas (and vice versa). Possibly this is the Peter referred to in 1 Clement, too (and thus that Peter is not Cephas either, and thus not the Peter of the Gospels). And all this information was lost or deliberately conflated by the time the Gospels came to be written.

  30. wayneD says

    “Technically he doesn’t say that. He claimed to have met with Cephas (“Peter”), whom Paul says was the first to have a revelation of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:5).”

    Great Point!

    ” One of those alternatives is that a dying Christ was invented to fulfill Daniel 9 and eliminate the cultic role of the Jewish Temple in man’s relationship to God ”

    According to Ehrman, Daniel was actually written in the future and made to appear it was actually written in the past, so any prophesies made were already known.

    “As to whether the Gospels reflect embellishments on a real story (Mark has plenty of bogus stuff in it, from miraculous feedings to mass slaughters of swine herds to a three hour darkening of the sun)”

    Agree, except for the miraculous feedings. This has been explained by the fact that most people carry food with them and that they simply added to the plates excess food they carried, which explains how they ended up with more than they started with. Therefore, actually no miracle at all.

    • says

      wayneD:

      According to Ehrman, Daniel was actually written in the future and made to appear it was actually written in the past, so any prophesies made were already known.

      I think you are confused. Daniel was written around 165 BC, falsely representing itself as being a prophecy written c. 600 BC, predicting what would happen in and around 165 BC. But what happened did not conform to the prophecy (it does up to 165, but not after, which is how we know when the forgery was composed). Therefore many subsequent Jewish readers believed the prophecy must have been referring to events still in the future, and not the events of the 160s BC (otherwise, the prophecy would be false, and the book not scripture). They then tried working out what year and what events it really referred to. One example of doing this is in the pre-Christian Melchizedek scroll at Qumran. And by the easiest and most obvious interpretation Daniel could be read as referring to events in the 30s AD. Thus we can expect some Jews to have expected a messiah to die around then (as Daniel 9 says will happen) and the world to end soon after (as Paul was preaching it would, and as Daniel 12 predicted would happen within years of that messiah’s death).

      Agree, except for the miraculous feedings. This has been explained by the fact that most people carry food with them and that they simply added to the plates excess food they carried, which explains how they ended up with more than they started with. Therefore, actually no miracle at all.

      This is ad hoc reasoning, a common fallacy skeptics succumb to. This is certainly not what Mark is claiming or talking about nor the function of the story itself, which is symbolic (and thus by our standards, bullshit, and not a memory of anything that ever happened). Just because we can think of some natural explanation for a story (“the Red Sea wasn’t parted, it was just a strong wind!”) does not make that explanation even remotely probable. Because a far more probable explanation for the story is that it was completely made up, and intentionally constructed to defy nature (if it didn’t, there would be no point in telling the story).

      However, it is true that a natural explanation will usually still be far more probable than a supernatural one. But that only matters when we are debating whether an actual miracle occurred. It does not matter when we are debating whether the author (or originator) of the story is being honest (and is therefore trustworthy in anything else he “reports”).

    • wayneD says

      “I think you are confused. Daniel was written around 165 BC, falsely representing itself as being a prophecy written c. 600 BC, predicting what would happen in and around 165 BC. But what happened did not conform to the prophecy (it does up to 165, but not after”

      I must admit that I didn’t realize that there were predictions in Daniel beyond the time it was actually written. Thank you. I learned something.

      “(“the red sea wasn’t parted, it was just a strong wind!”) ”

      Is there anything to the claim that the Red Sea was an incorrect translation, and was really Sea of Reeds, which was more of marsh than a sea which would explain how the Jews were able to cross and that chariots would bog down. I forget where I got this from.

      Also, is there any truth in the claim that there is no archeological evidence of the Jews wondering the desert for 40 years after Moses supposedly freed them from Egyptian slavery? Also, there is no evidence that they then took Canaan by force? In stead, the real evidence is that the religious leaders, in an attempt to instill pride in the Jews, after being held in exile, made this story up along with the story of Jericho and the walls falling down? The evidence supposedly is that the Jews were already living in Canaan and simply moved up into the mountains. In the case of Jericho, evidence shows that, at the time in question, Jericho was a one horse town and had no walls at all. I got this from The Bible Unearthed Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and The Origin of Its Sacred Texts by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silverman.

    • wholething says

      Agree, except for the miraculous feedings. This has been explained by the fact that most people carry food with them and that they simply added to the plates excess food they carried, which explains how they ended up with more than they started with. Therefore, actually no miracle at all.

      Randel Helms (Gospel Fictions) has traced all the miracles in Mark to Old Testament passages that tell of similar miracles by Moses, Elijah, and Elisha. The miraculous feedings come from 2 Kings 4:42-44 where Elisha feeds a hundred men with 20 loaves of barley. Elisha’s servant is incredulous that so many could be fed, just as the Disciples are incredulous both times.

      Dennis MacDonald (Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark, reviewed by Richard Carrier here) shows that many of the details come from The Odyssey where Odysseus’ son, Telemachus, goes to two feasts. He sails to one and the other he arrives by land, as does Jesus. One has 5000 and one has 4500 in The Odyssey while Mark has 4000 and 5000.

      The old hidden food trick is an unnecessary because both stories are taken from older literature.

    • wayneD says

      “Randel Helms (Gospel Fictions) has traced all the miracles in Mark to Old Testament passages that tell of similar miracles by Moses, Elijah, and Elisha. ”

      I find that very interesting. As far as these miracles go, Erhman seems to make a good argument that there is no way to determine whether or not they happened in the first place. Also, he states that evidence shows Jesus not to be the Son of God. He figures that the only thing left is historic records that indicate that Jesus existed as a mere man who was an apocalyptical preacher who turned out to be just another failed prophet.

      Funny, when first I saw claims on the PZ Meyer’s Science board that Jesus was an invention by the Christians I immediately jumped on that because I felt it was ludicrous. I had read Erhman and then got his book showing evidenced that Jesus actually existed. I was surprised that the regular bloggers there seemed to back off. However, after talking to you, I’m no longer so all fiery sure of myself anymore. I will definitely have to get your book. Thank you!

    • etoo says

      Let’s see, WayneD. “Great point.” “I learned something.” “I’m not so fiery sure of myself anymore.” You aren’t really getting this mean, nasty internet commenting thing, are you? Haha. Nice. I hope you understand my humor here. I admire this. And I have learned a lot here, too.

  31. DrB says

    I’m a fan of Ehrman’s other works (especially “Lost Christianities”) but agree with Richard that this latest is rife with problems. Ehrman’s thesis basically boils down to this:

    Well, the Gospels’ claims of Jesus’ birth, miracles, resurrection, and many of the sayings and details of his ministry may be grossly exaggerated, but even if all that is discounted, there still leaves an itinerant 1st C preacher who was crucified-and all that potential misinformation doesn’t preclude that the man actually lived.

    Sincere there admittedly are no true secular writings mentioning Jesus by name (there were many Christian (Messianic) movements at that time), Ehrman is forced to concede that there must have been ORAL traditions that can confirm the alleged existence of Jesus- and here’s the flaw: How can we be sure that the original oral traditions were not just legendary stories to begin with?

    Moreover, if the earliest Christians were aware of the basic Gospel accounts of Jesus life, why were there no shrines at Golgotha or Bethlehem (or Nazoreth) in the 1st C…2nd C…3rd C? It is inconceivable to me that no Christian shrine in Jerusalem existed in Jesus’ time following his death, despite the fact that Peter and James were stationed there? If the accounts of Jesus’ birth and death are dubious, what does that say about everything in between?

    • Pierce R. Butler says

      It is inconceivable to me that no Christian shrine in Jerusalem existed in Jesus’ time following his death…

      It would be an exaggeration, but not a huge one, to say that there were no two stones left stacked on top of each other by the time Titus had completed teaching his lesson about Why Not to Rebel against Rome in the year 70. The later rebuilding of a Roman city called Aelia Capitolina on the same site, and a refresher course in imperial discipline in 131-135, could quite plausibly account for eradication of any imaginable Jesus shrine and accompanying souvenir stands without invoking any mythicist arguments on either side.

    • DrB says

      Reply to Pierce R. Butler:

      Evidence of preserved physical remnants, maybe not. But why no mention of their existence by any Christian contemporary? Only reasonable conclusion is that they never existed.

  32. bdw says

    Thanks for publishing all this.

    Your articles on this “Ehrman” episode really are amazing. This is a real contribution to the field. I would buy the book!

    Your focus on logic and epistemology is great. Dull and boring subjects for most of us to be sure, yet absolutely critical for modern society.

    • etoo says

      Yes, bdw. Logic, epistemology, and along the same lines, methodology. And probability and statistics. As a philosopher myself, and NOT an ancient historian TOO, I must say, Richard–even if he were completely wrong about most of these things–is a breath of fresh air. We have to decide on a methodology, not a priori, of course, but along the way in our studies of whatever we are becoming experts in. Then we have to apply that methodology to the questions of our field. NO scholar in Richard’s general field has anywhere near the philosophical, much less methodological, competence that he does. That’s why I read him carefully. (We can of course, and should, tinker with the methodology along the way, but NOT for ad hoc reasons. Neurath’s boat and all.) And we have to realize that we MIGHT have to throw out our methodology somewhere down the road. But we have to do, essentially, methodology first, then the application.

      Richard clearly knows the field of critical thinking (as many philosophers in the analytic tradition do). He USES it. I argue that unless one has studied the TOOLS one is going to be using and know (have good theories, at least) how THEY work, one is not really competent to make knowledge claims in the area of study. That is why Richard is so good on these matters. Doesn’t MAKE him right, of course. But it’s better than the alternatives.

  33. Paul Doland says

    Richard,

    Your link for the statement “is too coincidentally similar to the mystery religions of the period to be an accident” gives a 404 error.

    • says

      Fixed. Thanks.

      (In future, you can fix those by just adding http:// to the front of the URL; but that’s only a stopgap–definitely still inform me so I can fix it when that happens!).

  34. says

    The Roman Catholic Church (or some scholars who are Catholic)have a website ( Haven’t visited it in a few years) that DEFEND Pauline authorship for ALL of Paul’s New Testament letters. After reading all the long and at times boring arguments the Catholic Scholars made in support of complete Pauline authorship; I remember doing a Google and as skeptical scholars went at that time, many hold that Paul wrote only seven while others hold Paul wrote 9 and a few hold 10 yet ALL reject 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus as 2nd century creations. And there are some that hold there are verses in some of the genuine letters of Paul are interpolations. So it is a complicated problem to approach for me.

    I’m agnostic about God existing, about the big bang, about how many letters Paul wrote etc! And it’s not fun for me to be very interested in these subjects, yet never have an answer that is firm and without some doubt. Especially when one is past 65 years of age. I feel like my uncle who worried in the early 1960′s he wouldn’t live to see man walk on the moon. But he did!

    Ken Humphreys says in his debate with a Christian apologist on YouTube that the Tacitus passage “just jumps off the page as an interpolation”. Well it doesn’t jump off the page to me!! I can’t understand how Ken could say such a thing??

    And if only part of the passage is an interpolation, then we are in the same territory as the “TF” from Josephus! Which part? That Christianity is an evil superstition? Or that Christianity disappeared after Christus or Chrestus or Christ was executed by Roman procurator Pilate but broke out again and spread to Rome? If that is true, after Christ was crucified (if he existed and was crucified0, the cult only went underground and did not disappear!!! But from Tacitus’ viewpoint I guess it did.

    The gospel of John is an interesting problem too! Some skeptical scholars hold there is the original John with layers of rewrites and interpolations here, there & who knows where. Even the gospel itself was in Christian circulation when the last interpolation appeared..that being John 7:8 which is the story of the woman caught in adultery. I have an N.I.V. study Bible with notes and it even admits those verses do not appear in the oldest copies of John’s gospel.

    Dr. Carrier. Do you have any thoughts on the story of the woman caught in adultery and if it’s an interpolation and when was it interpolated?

    I just read a post at another place that Josephus called Pilate a “procurator” and that means it’s an interpolation as the real Josephus would have used “perfect”. No that word does NOT prove that it’s an interpolation even if it is!!

    I appreciate Dr. Carrier for his candor at calling people out on both sides of the Jesus debate when they are not accurate..even those with a PhD!

    Thank you Dr. Carrier and full steam ahead young man!

    • says

      Do you have any thoughts on the story of the woman caught in adultery and if it’s an interpolation and when was it interpolated?

      It was an interpolation. It most likely was inserted into some manuscript in the third or fourth century (in fact it appears variously in mss. of both John and Luke). It possibly derives from the Gospel according to the Hebrews (Eusebius suggests that this may be where Papias knew it from).

  35. Garren says

    “The princes now being dead or reduced to insignificance, Claudius made Judea a province and entrusted it to Roman knights or to freedmen” (Tacitus, Histories 5.9). Freedmen as prefects of Judaea?!

    How come other historians and other scholars claim that procurators were given provinces and titles were changed during Claudius, if it has been known since the 1960s that procurators also were prefects if they governed provices?

    • says

      Tacitus is being bitchy. The only freedmen who ever held actual governing positions (i.e. legal command of troops and courts) were elevated to full citizenship in the equestrian order. But ordinary freedmen procurators could wield soft power, by using their influence with the emperor (since they were his legal agents, they could use the “but I’ll tell on you” tactic to get higher ranking persons to go along with their schemes). And this hugely annoyed Tacitus (he litters his many works with examples of this system being offensive or going wrong).

      Thus, for example, we actually know all the prefects of Judea from Claudius to the War, and none of them were freedmen, all were full citizens of equestrian status (typically army officers). Thus, Tacitus certainly does not actually mean any freedmen governed Judea. He just means they were calling a lot of the shots there (in both official and private capacities). This is like saying “Claudius left Judea to grunts and carpetbaggers.”

      In actual fact (as I explain and document in my longer paper on Herod the Procurator), the emperor owned a lot of properties in Judea and, by Judean treaties with the imperial family, was owed tribute directly (not to the Roman people, but the Julio-Claudians), and procurators (as private agents) were responsible for collecting this and managing it all. That gave them de facto power, without an official office. And since the prefect (the actual “governor” of the province) was also appointed procurator, all those other procurators worked for him. Thus the same man would officially control the courts and command soldiers, while simultaneously being the chief executor of all the emperor’s private valets, contractors, and landlords.

      Imagine if the U.S. President simultaneously owned most of the land in the U.S. and was not only commander in chief but also most people’s private landlord and employer. And then imagine the kind of soft power your landlord would have then, without actually being appointed sheriff or mayor or justice of the peace (or to any official office like that). Just by virtue of the fact that his boss was the President, he could get away with a lot. We would call such a system fundamentally corrupt. Welcome to the Roman Empire.

  36. Edouard de Mas says

    I landed here almost by accident, but I stopped everything I was doing to spend the day reading your initial critique and everything that came after it.

    It’s clear that Ehrman doesn’t make a substantive case for historicity, but I’d apply that to most attempts at historicity- yet you say “The clear consensus of experts is that Jesus existed, was crucified, and buried (in fact, only a very small minority, and that uninformed, argues against tomb burial, and I quite agree with the majority here, that this tiny minority’s arguments are uninformed and thus unsound).”- the implication is you believe in the historicity of Jesus and I’m curious as to why. Doesn’t negative evidence weigh more in favour of myth than historicity?

    • says

      It’s funny you would ask that question, since it suggests you didn’t read (or didn’t know) the actual context of that quote from me. Because if you did, you might know the answer to your own question. I reproduce it here (emphasis now added):

      Dave Huntsman said... How can you agree with him that there was burial in a tomb when there’s no reason to believe in a Roman crucifixion [or] that there was a tomb, at all?

      Because it is not physically possible to debate every such issue in less than an hour of time (as was all I had). Moreover, the debate topic was not the existence of Jesus or his crucifixion, and as I outright said in my opening, we should accept the clear consensus of qualified experts (when there is one) unless we intend specifically to challenge that consensus. The clear consensus of experts is that Jesus existed, was crucified, and buried (in fact, only a very small minority, and that uninformed, argues against tomb burial, and I quite agree with the majority here, that this tiny minority’s arguments are uninformed and thus unsound).

      Though there is no clear consensus on the historicity of Joseph, the name of the guy who buried Jesus is so vastly inconsequential only a lunatic would waste time debating it when the topic was the resurrection and not the name of the guy who buried Jesus. And though I foresee a rising challenge among qualified experts against the assumption of historicity, as I explained, that remains only a hypothesis that has yet to survive proper peer review. More importantly, I do not believe we have to accept that hypothesis to conclude there is insufficient historical evidence to warrant believing Jesus rose from the dead. Indeed, I think we can be far more certain of that, than we can of the non-existence of Jesus.

      So, first, I was talking about debate strategy (granting assumptions for the sake of the argument), and not my personal beliefs. And second, I was talking about what we should conclude if Jesus existed and was crucified (because then, it is more likely than not he was buried in a tomb–in fact he would almost certainly have been buried in a tomb complex owned by the court, as all such convicts were, as I had already argued in detail in my “Burial” chapter for The Empty Tomb in 2005).

      And another point of context is how old this is: this was three years ago, before I had read Komarnitsky (Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection 2009), who adduced evidence and arguments that made the argument of Kirby (in The Empty Tomb) more persuasive. I now think that though it is still improbable that a Jew then executed in Jerusalem would receive an earth burial rather than a tomb burial, the probability of an earth burial is nowhere near as low as I had thought in 2009, and is certainly much higher than the probability of a miracle. Therefore, I no longer consider earth burial arguments to be inherently “uninformed and unsound” (most are; but I now know some that aren’t).

      I thus expressed my new opinion on this point in my “Resurrection” chapter in The Christian Delusion (2011), p. 305 (w. p. 313, n. 21).

      Thus illustrating how important it is to check whether a scholar’s conclusions have changed.

      As to the methodological principle “doesn’t negative evidence weigh more in favor of myth than historicity,” that is an invalid rule, since sometimes it’s true and sometimes it’s not, therefore it cannot be a general principle. See my discussion of Arguments from Silence and how to make a proper case for myth in Proving History (2012), pp. 117-19 and 204-05.

  37. Edouard de Mas says

    Thanks! My question was the intellectual equivalent of premature ejaculation :) I got there in the end.I’ve ordered the book because I don’t see yet how in this specific case the negative evidence concept wouldn’t be applicable.
    If such a man existed as described in the bible it seems unlikely if not barely possible that secular references to him are so few and so dodgy.

  38. afzal says

    Bart Ehrman responds to Richard Carrier on UK Xtian Radio:

    http://www.premierradio.org.uk/shows/saturday/unbelievable.aspx

    Quote
    “Did Jesus Exist? Bart Ehrman Q&A – Unbelievable? – 18 August 2012
    18 August 2012, 10:00:00
    In this one-on-one edition of the show, Justin Brierley speaks to New Testament Historian Bart Ehrman about his recent book “Did Jesus Exist?” which argues for the historical fact of Jesus of Nazareth.

    Ehrman, whose books are more usually at odds with evangelicals, was this time attacked by atheist proponents of “mythicism” – the view that Jesus never existed.

    He responds to the criticisms, including mythicists Bob Price and Richard Carrier and answers questions sent in by Unbelievable? listeners.

    For Did Jesus Exist? http://www.bartdehrman.com/books/did_jesus_exist.htm

    • afzal says

      Bart Ehrman just didn’t engage with the arguments but just dismissed them. It’s telling that Unbelievable radio programme didn’t have a mythicist on to argue the opposing viewpoint.

      Ehrman gave a weird explanation as to why the mythicist finds it necessary to deny the historicity of Jesus. Too treacly apologetical, methinks. Ehrman, for some arcane reason cannot seem to engage with the substance of the arguments–citing a lack of professional deportment. Radio programme was a reflection of his book. But do listen for yourself.

  39. Bob says

    I’m calling bullshit on this one, your first paragraph gives the game away.

    It’s easy to see why Moses or King Arthur or Ned Ludd are myths while Jesus is not.

    In each of the other cases there where large groups of people who live for centuries before the myths were created for the sake of national or political unity.

    Moses was invented to sustain the unity of the ethnic group of people called the Jews who obviously just didn’t appear when the Moses Myth arose. The Jewish people needed the myth because they were not a powerful nation at the time (and never really were), otherwise they would not have survived.

    King Arthur was invented by the Britains who after living in the British Isles for centuries were driven to what is now Wales by the Saxons. The myth was invented to sustain an ethnic pride in much the same way that Moses Myth did. King Arthur holds out the Saxon hordes! Stirring stuff.

    Ned Ludd also was a myth invented by a large group of pre-existing people, the English textile artisans, whose jobs were under threat by advances made in the Industrial Revolution.

    Now you expect me to believe that Jesus was invented for anything like the same type of reasons?

    Apparently, there must of been a large group of similar people with similar goals and aims, living amongst the Jewish people for a long time (possibly centuries) and for some reason (that nobody has any clue about) invented a Jesus myth? Were there ethic ties that held these people together? Were they a specific class of people who had a political aim? What was even achieved by inventing a Jesus Myth?

    All of a sudden you have a new group called Christians with no ethic or political commonality and you expect me to believe that it must of been some movement that invented a myth for their own benefit? What was the benefit? Persecution for several hundred years?

    Your whole theory lacks any sense and this is why Bart Ehrman is dismissive of you. All you are doing is nitpicking details to cast doubt on the existence of Jesus without even considering the bigger picture.

    Jesus was obviously a charismatic figure who inspired a movement of people. Sure he didn’t say or do all the things they said he did and he obviously was not God but your theory lacks even a thread of the ring of truth. Next you will be telling me 911 was an inside job or that the Moon Landing was faked.

    • says

      All of a sudden you have a new group called Christians with no ethic or political commonality and you expect me to believe that it must of been some movement that invented a myth for their own benefit? What was the benefit? Persecution for several hundred years?

      The Jews were “persecuted” too. For millennia. Yet they doubled down and invented even more mythical people to cling to in the face of that persecution (such as Abraham, Isaac, and Daniel). So your reasoning doesn’t hold here.

      The benefit is a unified church to overcome persecution (and other forms of resistance, like simply not buying in).

      What you had “all of a sudden” is a Jewish sect that believed a dying celestial savior had replaced the Levitical temple cult. Then you got this upstart Paul creating a schism that doesn’t even keep Torah laws anymore, while many other schisms developed that Paul himself refers to (but that we know less about, not having their collections of letters). The rising disunity in this sect then generated intense pressure to try and unify it somehow. A mythic “historical” founder is what these kinds of groups tend to resort to as a tool for doing that. And that’s what they did. They took the original cosmic savior and reified him into an earthly man, so they could claim tradents and thus authority from him, and use him as a shibboleth to rally around. Much as happened to Moses, King Arthur, and Ned Ludd.

      Next you will be telling me 911 was an inside job or that the Moon Landing was faked.

      This is a fallacy of false analogy. Those things have vast quantities of evidence against them. If we honestly had that kind of evidence for Jesus, we wouldn’t be debating his existence here in the first place.

    • gshelley says

      It’s easy to see why Moses or King Arthur or Ned Ludd are myths while Jesus is not.

      The particular examples might have been poorly chosen (though they can of course be defended), though if Dr Carrier had chosen better examples – such as other mythical gods, the point would still stand and be stronger.

      Your whole theory lacks any sense and this is why Bart Ehrman is dismissive of you.

      I don’t think you even know what the whole theory is. Your comment shows you don’t even understand (and probably don’t even know) Doherty’s work, let alone Dr Carrier’s, which he hasn’t published yet. Your argument does seem to be very similar to Ehrman’s, and the whole post goes into a lot of detail to show that Ehrman also didn’t understand the mythicist argument.

    • Bob says

      Thanks for your considered and polite response. I thought you might not reply but obviously you are a busy guy.

      There are a few problems with your reply however. The point I was making was that I can’t really see the Christian motive for creating such a myth. In the other cases it is obvious, it is either a case of ethnic survival or class survival. Large groups of pre-existing people creating a myth to sustain themselves. What is the motive of the Christian movement?

      You even say that Paul created a schism, implying that there was this pre-existing movement that believed “a dying celestial savior had replaced the Levitical temple cult”. But what were the motives that had propelled this schism in the movement? Was it just that the movement liked what Paul (a single man in the movement) was saying? Or perhaps Paul was inspired by word-of-mouth (and the Q document)? Or perhaps Paul was just one of the biggest liars in history? Again, what were the motives behind these lies?

      You also say that “The rising disunity in this sect then generated intense pressure to try and unify it somehow”. Well this did not happen the moment that Jesus was written about. The Sect took 300 years before there was some kind of settlement of Christian Doctrine at the first of the Ecumenical Councils. I find it difficult to believe that the other groups in question took so long to codify their beliefs. In fact their systems of thought can be worked out almost immediately.

      Finally, I find this the most difficult to believe and that is the issue of evidence. I’m not an expert on it so I wont even go into detail apart from this point.

      Why would Bart Ehrman spend 30 years studying these things and give up his Entire Faith over to the evidence and yet not given in to any evidence concerning the historical existence of Jesus? This makes no sense! Bart, if he gave up his entire faith (which was his entire life) because of evidence, what are his motives for protecting the Historical Jesus? This one has me completely stumped!

    • says

      The point I was making was that I can’t really see the Christian motive for creating such a myth.

      Yet I can. And so can many other experts on record.

      An Argument from Lack of Imagination is a fallacy.

      Perhaps you just need to read my next book On the Historicity of Jesus Christ to understand the specific motivations in this case. But the general motivations I already just stated above. Ruminate on them.

      In the other cases it is obvious, it is either a case of ethnic survival or class survival. Large groups of pre-existing people creating a myth to sustain themselves. What is the motive of the Christian movement?

      Stated above: to rally together toward their common cause (a social-moral reform movement) against external and internal resistance. Some would add profit and power motives, too, but that’s more speculative (e.g. J.D.M. Derrett has argued [in The Empty Tomb] that there was money to be made and power to be gained by unifying the churches, on a model similar to Mormonism and Islam–rhetorical control of a movement and its resources is in any event always the actual motivation for creating myths, to whatever end these things are sought, as argued by K.L. Noll and others: see my review of Noll’s chapter on this subject).

      As to why the Christians thought their movement was actually important, read my book Not the Impossible Faith.

      You even say that Paul created a schism, implying that there was this pre-existing movement that believed “a dying celestial savior had replaced the Levitical temple cult”. But what were the motives that had propelled this schism in the movement?

      Note that this cannot be an objection to mythicism. Since something motivated that schism even if Jesus existed. Thus you have a proven fact (Paul created a schism; and Paul attests to there being other schisms besides his as well). There therefore had to be some motivation. Thus, your inability to imagine it is of no relevance.

      The motivation should actually be rather obvious in Paul’s case, but if you really can’t think of it, my book NIF (linked above) spells it out (and not even controversially; plenty of experts on Paul concur on why he sought to abandon Torah law and unify Jew and Gentile to grow and solidify the movement).

      Or perhaps Paul was inspired by word-of-mouth (and the Q document)? Or perhaps Paul was just one of the biggest liars in history? Again, what were the motives behind these lies?

      If they were lies, my book NIF explains their utility and motivation, relying on known anthropological models.

      But they needn’t have to be lies. Paul tells us what motivated him: a vision (and he is aware that the same was true of other schisms in Galatians 1). That can easily be true. And as to what may have subconsciously motivated such a vision, Paul gives us many clear hints throughout his extensive and passionate defense of the schsism he was creating across all his authentic letters, Romans and Galatians especially.

      You also say that “The rising disunity in this sect then generated intense pressure to try and unify it somehow”. Well this did not happen the moment that Jesus was written about.

      Now you are confusing motivations with outcomes.

      Every church (e.g. the Catholic church, the Mormon church, even Islam) has tried very hard and deployed every resource it could to unify its respective movement, and yet failed (the Catholic Church failed to prevent the Protestant schism and in fact never even unified Christianity even before that, having broken apart into the Eastern Orthodox and Coptic churches and continually fighting schisms all the way through the Middle Ages; likewise the Mormon church has fragmented into several sects, as has Islam).

      The products of their efforts to try however, remain. Thus, the fabricated sayings tradition in the Hadith were meant to unify Islam. That failed. Yet the product (a mythical sayings tradition attributed to Mohammed and his immediate successors) remains, and remains firmly believed by one or more Islamic sects.

      Thus, we can explain the invention of the Hadith as an attempt at unifying Islam without having to expect it to have succeeded in unifying Islam.

      So, too, Christianity. Although the effort in its case was far more successful (the heresies documented for the first and second centuries died out, and most especially, the original Torah-observant sect of Christianity that started it all died out).

      Why would Bart Ehrman spend 30 years studying these things and give up his Entire Faith over to the evidence and yet not given in to any evidence concerning the historical existence of Jesus? This makes no sense! Bart, if he gave up his entire faith (which was his entire life) because of evidence, what are his motives for protecting the Historical Jesus? This one has me completely stumped!

      His motivations may be fear, reputation defense and institutional inertia–the same reasons the historicity of the OT patriarchs was ruthlessly defended even by secular scholars in the 1970s, yet eventually they gave in and realized they were wrong: see my discussion of the example of Thompson in my article Historicity News.

      But the evidence I document in the article you are commenting on here is not so much that Ehrman’s motivations are misplaced, but that he is incompetent (and refuses to gain the competence he easily could if he tried): he has no logically valid method and doesn’t even know most of the relevant facts. Since I have extensively proved this, no further explanation of his position is necessary. That he won’t even admit his mistakes, but even, in my opinion, lies to cover them up, shows he is more concerned about his reputation and ego than the truth. So if you need a motivation, that would appear to be the one most readily evident.

      There is a reason the prominent biblical scholar Philip Davies chastised Ehrman for not even countenancing the possibility that Jesus didn’t exist. Read Davies on this point.

    • Bob says

      Thanks again for the reply,

      “An Argument from Lack of Imagination is a fallacy.”

      This is what is wrong with this whole thing right here. Having a considered opinion on something is exactly the opposite of having Imagination. You let your imagination wonder, develop theories, consider the likely hood of your theories and cull out any that do not make sense. Would my disbelief in Scientology just be an “An Argument from Lack of Imagination”?

      “a social-moral reform movement” until recently I don’t believe there was such a thing, people were too busy just surviving. And if you are comparing the Christian movement to “Mormonism and Islam” then you need to have a closer look at these. Islam was particularly political and militant. Mormonism was created by a single man (Joseph Smith, who nobody thinks is a myth by the way), who was a compulsive liar and egomaniac. Mormonism is and always was about money and control.

      On Paul. I must confess that I probably need to read your book to understand the motivations you are talking about. Which I will do (probably). But your talk of a schism implies a pre-existing movement was about and active and Paul created a popular schism within it. Is there evidence for this movement? It’s probably in your book so don’t bother answering that one.

      “the original Torah-observant sect of Christianity” which is probably the pre-existing movement you are talking about something akin to the Ebionites perhaps? Again is there evidence for this outside the Ebionotes? Probably found in your book no doubt.

      Finally, as far a Bart Ehrman goes, is ego the only explanation? I think what he has done previously actually has seen him completely disregard his ego but now he is an egomaniac? Anyway, I think to make my mind up on all this I will have to read your book and then find something to read on the counter arguments (although according to what you are saying there are no counter arguments). I will also check out all the links you have left.

      Cheers.

    • says

      Would my disbelief in Scientology just be an “An Argument from Lack of Imagination”?

      Read what I actually presented: the thing you couldn’t imagine is not a theory like Scientology, but an established fact already undeniably fixed in evidence. Thus your lack of imagination is moot. Clearly something caused all that. That you can’t imagine what is simply not an argument against that conclusion. That’s the difference.

      Additionally, if indeed you couldn’t imagine how Scientology answers some question X and Scientologists tell you that question X is answered in resource Y, you cannot appeal to your lack of imagination as a reason not to read resource Y and instead just continue asserting that you can’t imagine what answer could be in it, therefore there must be none. That’s a fallacy.

      “a social-moral reform movement” until recently I don’t believe there was such a thing, people were too busy just
      surviving.

      Hmm. You evidently don’t know anything about the study of the origins of Christianity. Like why a social system (Acts 4) and a moral system (Matthew 5) were so central to it from the start. We have evidence of both already in the Epistles of Paul, as in fact what was driving the movement. In any event, I explain all this, and cite extensively the anthropological literature on the origins of Christianity, in Not the Impossible Faith.

      And if you are comparing the Christian movement to “Mormonism and Islam” then you need to have a closer look at these. Islam was particularly political and militant. Mormonism was created by a single man (Joseph Smith, who nobody thinks is a myth by the way), who was a compulsive liar and egomaniac. Mormonism is and always was about money and control.

      These are not relevant distinctions. Nor are they all even distinctions (money and control feature prominently in Paul’s epistles, and Christianity was supposedly created by a single man, Jesus…and if not him, then Peter…although the Christianity that exists now was originally created by a single man named Paul; all other forms of it died out…we just don’t have the source materials we have for these men that we have for Smith, so we cannot honestly say there were relevant differences in other respects either).

      What is a relevant similarity is that the people who amassed to follow Mormonism and Islam did so because they saw it envisioning and creating what they believed would be a better society. They may have been wrong, but as the Middle Ages proves, so were the Christians.

      Your talk of a schism implies a pre-existing movement was about and active and Paul created a popular schism within it. Is there evidence for this movement?

      Read Galatians 1-2 and 1 Corinthians 15:1-8.

      (This is remedial Christian history here, so I am a little taken aback by your question.)

      “the original Torah-observant sect of Christianity” which is probably the pre-existing movement you are talking about something akin to the Ebionites perhaps? Again is there evidence for this outside the Ebionotes? Probably found in your book no doubt.

      In addition to Galatians 1-2, subsequent confirmation is in the Talmud and Epiphanius. I discuss the latter sources here.

    • Bob says

      Hmm. You missed my point about the “a social-moral reform movement”. The Christian Movement is largely as you say it is, I just find it difficult to believe that it was a group without political or ethnic motives that was formed based solely on social-moral reform. What other a social-moral reform movements have formed in history without an inspirational leader?

      Also:

      “What is a relevant similarity is that the people who amassed to follow Mormonism and Islam did so because they saw it envisioning and creating what they believed would be a better society. They may have been wrong, but as the Middle Ages proves, so were the Christians.”

      I find it hard to believe that if you have studied these subjects you would make such grossly incorrect statements. Comparing the early history of Christianity to “Mormonism and Islam” is the same as comparing apples and oranges.

      Islam may have started as a moral reformation and it may have been Muhammad’s original impulse but during and after his Medina period Islam became nothing more than political conquest. Also, Joseph Smith and his immediate followers were nothing short of conmen. Both Movements arose out of a blood stained history.

      Perhaps, do a bit more study and write a book about these movements. It would be much more worthwhile.

    • says

      I just find it difficult to believe that it was a group without political or ethnic motives that was formed based solely on social-moral reform.

      Those amount to the same thing: “political or ethnic motives” => “social-moral reform.”

      What other a social-moral reform movements have formed in history without an inspirational leader?

      Peter and Paul were all the inspirational leaders needed. They were in fact the actual founders of the movement (Paul most obviously, if we’re to discuss the actual branch of Christianity that survived, rather than the Torah-observant Jewish sect that died out, but even the latter Paul acknowledged as having inspirational leaders in its apostles).

      Comparing the early history of Christianity to “Mormonism and Islam” is the same as comparing apples and oranges.

      We can’t really say that, because we don’t have sources for early Christianity comparable to what we have for Mormonism and Islam, and what we do have, suggests many similarities may have been present–we can’t rule them out. Just as I said.

      But you are here challenging the claim that “the people who amassed to follow Mormonism and Islam did so because they saw it envisioning and creating what they believed would be a better society.” You seem to be confusing the people who amassed to follow these cults, and their founders. Their founders may have been lying scoundrels. That makes no difference to the question of who the people who amassed to follow them were or why those people did that. The “why” of it is the same as in Christianity: those people thought those movements would improve the world. That they were wrong is irrelevant. That the Christians were likewise wrong is just as well documented.

      Islam may have started as a moral reformation and it may have been Muhammad’s original impulse but during and after his Medina period Islam became nothing more than political conquest.

      You mean like the Crusades and the British Empire and the Holy Roman Empire and Spanish Conquests and…?

      The Hadith proves “nothing more than political conquest” is just rank hyperbole. It had political ambitions, just as Christianity always has, but it has always had a lot of other ambitions as well, persistently surrounding faith-doctrines about what would make society a better place (even, for example, Islam’s eventual abandonment of science and its oppression of women is based on a belief that this would make the world a better place–that belief is false, but that it is false is irrelevant to the fact that it is believed and thus is what motivates Islamists of all brands).

      Islamic literature consistently shows this in every century of its existence even right up to the present day. Ignoring nearly the whole of Islam to focus solely on its “political” dimension is simply bigotry that wallows in willful ignorance of historical fact. We could play the same trick on Christianity, and ignore all its moral literature and all its literature and actions regarding what it believed would improve society, and then we’d be left with only the examples of its efforts at political-military conquest and control. Then we could say “Christianity became nothing more than political conquest.” But that would be just as false, and for the same reasons.

      Indeed, the only real difference is that Mohammed got an army sooner than the Christian Church did, and didn’t have an undefeatable empire in his way. That was just happenstance. If the Roman Empire were collapsing in the first century and the Christians had converted a legion or two, its history would have proceeded the same as Islam’s, different at most in the particulars of what vision it had for the society it then came to conquer and control. We know this because it’s what Christianity did the instant it had an army and no significant opposition. It’s only when a movement can’t win militarily that it claims, in its own self-defense, to be meek and harmless and just engaging in nonviolent social reform. But as soon as it gets the power to actually win, that facade drops faster than a rock in a vacuum.

  40. Bob says

    I’ve lost count of the number of straw men you have created but not only that you are drawing very long bows in or to shoot them down.

    It’s clear that you don’t understand the philosophies and motivations that differentiate these movements. I doubt you understand the significance of the “verse of the sword” or have read any of the Christian Church Fathers.

    I have spoken to REAL scholars about these things and the differences between the movements are enormous.

    Religious movements change as time progresses so it’s hard to say they are just one thing or another as a blanked statement. But I have never done that! We WERE talking about the BEGINNINGs of the Movements in order to juxtapose their motivations.

    “Indeed, the only real difference is that Mohammed got an army sooner than the Christian Church did, and didn’t have an undefeatable empire in his way. That was just happenstance. If the Roman Empire were collapsing in the first century and the Christians had converted a legion or two, its history would have proceeded the same as Islam’s.”

    Again, I find it difficult to believe that anyone who has studied this would make such a grossly inaccurate statement. THIS is simply bigotry that wallows in willful ignorance of historical fact!

    I’m beginning to understand Barts attitude towards you. Please do some more study.

    • Bob says

      You have done 10 times more “gainsaying” than me.
      The discussion has ended for 3 reasons.
      1. Gainsaying, mostly by you.
      2. I don’t have the time or inclination to teach someone who is meant to be an expert on religion on the very basics of religious philosophy.
      3. I’ve discovered more than I need to know about you to not take you at all seriously.

      Good Luck with you efforts to become a lone voice in the wilderness who will eventually get his kudos like some tragic Van Gough icon…… who was it again who bought up the subject if ego?

    • says

      Gainsaying by claiming your opponent only gainsaid. That’s a new one.

      Let’s review what really happened. You posted this comment.

      I followed with a reply that contained actual arguments and references to evidence (that’s not gainsaying, that’s making an argument and basing it on stated facts).

      You even liked that reply, prompting you to ask further questions.

      I responded with references to literature and research, and extensive argumentation (again, the exact opposite of mere gainsaying).

      You thanked me and challenged some of claims with further questions.

      To which I responded with reasoned arguments again, once again appealing to and referencing evidence and research supporting my claims.

      At this point you replied in some confusion over the issues.

      I then answered by resolving those confusions, again with arguments and appeals to facts and evidence (still no mere gainsaying).

      You then answered with no arguments, just assertions, with no evidence or even premises, all you did was just gainsay all the evidence and arguments I presented by claiming it’s some sort of ignorant straw man, without demonstrating how anything I said is ignorant or a straw man.

      I then called you on this by pointing out that you were no longer making arguments but just gainsaying me (and thus had evidently given up caring about whether anything you were saying was even true–instead, stalwartly avoiding any arguments or even appeals to evidence or research).

      To which you now reply by absurdly claiming I merely gainsaid you (indeed “10 times more”)…which is not true in even a single case.

      That’s the reality of it.

    • Bob says

      Dear Richard,

      I thought you had called an end to this discussion……..

      Maybe I was wrong using hyperbole when I said “10″ times more but your post (previous to the one in which you had apparently ended this discussion) was completely full of gainsaid with NO “appeal to the facts”.

      The favourite straw men and long bows have come out again.

      This style of augmentative running in circles is giving me a headache but thank you all the same I have learnt many things.

      Can we please call it quits this time for real?

    • says

      I said you had ended it by no longer making arguments or appealing to evidence.

      Every single post of mine before that references facts and draws conclusions from stated premises (those are called arguments). So for you to now say otherwise is just more gainsaying (which is simply denying without making any argument at all).

      Meanwhile, if you want to call it quits, stop making claims here.

  41. says

    Thank you so much for providing a summary of the argument, at least as you perceive it. The original material is there if anybody has a substantive criticism of your summary, and I am time and mental-resource poor, so I am very satisfied in having this overview. I’m pleased to see you have so much interest in the structure of argument, since it’s only when this stuff gets really nailed down that inroads are made against apologetics. I have enjoyed Ehrman’s books, but thought that he was lacking when he needed to make tightly reasoned arguments on controversial points

    • says

      According to those who have tried to arrange such a thing, he has flatly refused, on the grounds that I’m too “mean” (which I suspect is really just code for honest).

    • WayneD says

      Rich, I have read comments between you and Erhman and find his more believable. You have some interesting theories based on Greek gods, but I really don’t think they extrapolate in the case of Jesus.

    • says

      I don’t know what you mean. My book answering his hasn’t even been published yet, so you can’t have read it to compare.

      In the article you are commenting on, all I do is find errors of fact and logic in Ehrman’s writings on the subject. I do not argue for non-historicity here, only that Ehrman cannot establish historicity with errors of fact and logic.

      So did you find any mistake in my analysis, where an error of fact or logic I identified in Ehrman was not an error?

      If so, please identify it.

      Otherwise, I’m not sure what you are talking about.

    • WayneD says

      Hi Rich, I believe I got it from your blog some time ago or Erhman’s. You were arguing that Jesus was a myth and brought up some interesting parallels with stories of Greek gods. I admit that I have a disadvantage since I only have Erhman’s book in my hand plus I have read several books on Jesus including listened to various Teaching Co. lectures by Erhman. At this point, your Jesus myth theory seems to smack of a conspiracy theory. I don’t mean that as a put down, only that is the feeling I get. Perhaps, i need for you to publish that book. I first came across the myth argument on PZ Meyers blog and must admit that I was incredulous. I tend to agree with Erhman that Jesus was considered as a hope for freedom from Roman rule, but when he ended up dying on a cross, followers had to scramble for an explanation which was that he was supposed to do so as an atonement for our sins. When we talk about Greek gods, it is obvious that they were mythological stories. I can’t see the same evidence for Jesus.

    • WayneD says

      I’m at a disadvantage here as I read it quite some time ago so my memory may not be serving me well. Let me see if i can find it and I will get back to you. Thanks.

  42. G.Shelley says

    Having just finished the book, I was struck by just how much my reading supported the claim that you had only picked a small portion of the errors to give an idea of the overall failings. Ignoring what I felt was his frequent circular logic, his misrepresentation of the views of people such as Murdoch, Freke & Gandy and Doherty, to the extent that he would sometimes claim they said something that was the exact opposite of what they said left me feeling I couldn’t trust any claim he made about anything

  43. Larry Weisenthal says

    What it comes down to is Ehrman accusing you of not proving that Jesus never existed and you accusing Ehrman of not proving that Jesus did exist. If both of you would simply admit that neither of you has the documentation to prove your own respective points of view beyond the shadow of a doubt, we would be back to the pre-existing status quo, which has existed since the conclusion of Albert Schweizer’s work on the subject — to wit, it can’t be proven one way or the other. Believers will always be free to believe, and I don’t see any sign whatsoever that Christianity is in any danger of dying out anytime soon — the pendulum swing towards secularism in Western Europe and North America notwithstanding. Non-believers will always be free to disbelieve, and there have always been a great many non-believers.

    Both sides have had their say. Nothing at all of substance has been changed by any of it. At this point, until something truly new and convincing emerges, it’s just so many angels dancing on pin heads. The irony of all of this is that the so-called mythicists have motivated a great many people, believers and non-believers alike, to read the Bible, which may or may not be of any value as a history text, but which notwithstanding has much which is entirely worthy of consideration and reflection.

    - Larry Weisenthal/Huntington Beach CA

    • says

      Uh, no. I caught him lying. Several times. And proved it. (You should know that, if you actually read the article you are now commenting on.)

      Before that I caught him making factually false statements (I suspect originally from incompetence; he then lied to try and cover that up). Several times. And proved it.

      I also caught him using blatantly illogical arguments. Several times. And proved it.

      He has done none of those things with respect to me.

      So your attempt to claim we are in equivalent positions here is simply farcical.

      But I will agree with you on one point, and it’s a point I myself have been making already for years (now in your words with my emphasis): “neither of [us] has the documentation to prove [our] own respective points of view beyond the shadow of a doubt.” I have always said that. Ehrman, however, has always denied it.

      I do not believe even I can prove Jesus didn’t exist “beyond a shadow of a doubt.” I only argue that it’s more probable than not. Ehrman, by contrast, argues he can prove Jesus existed “beyond a shadow of a doubt,” for which even Christian peers in his field chastised him.

      So even on that point, he and I are nothing alike, and you might do well to pay closer attention.

    • Curious guy says

      It is true that none of them has enough evidence to prove their positions for now. Maybe in the future a new great discovery might change everything and we might be able to figure out the truth. Anyways, I believe there is some kind of misunderstanding between Ehrman and Carrier. I respect both Ehrman and Carrier. They both are hard working passionate scholars who care about humanity. I wish they could set aside their differences and work together so that they could do more to change our world into a better place. What about extending your hands to Ehrman first and try to communicate in a more diplomatic tone, Carrier? Maybe once he gets to know you better than he will see where you are coming from.

    • says

      Ehrman lied. Repeatedly. And I documented it. In my view that means he is disgraced as a scholar. This is not a misunderstanding. He made terrible mistakes, I caught him doing so, he lied to try and cover it up rather than admit he erred and correct himself. And that’s the story of him. It’s the bed he made. Now he sleeps in it. There is no place for diplomacy here. He is the one obligated to confess his lies and mistakes and issue public corrections of them. I’ve done my duty. He now needs to do his.

  44. Curious guy says

    Thank you for your reply. I’m sorry that this happened. I haven’t heard his side of the story so it is hard for me to conclude whether he lied or not. I know you have taken your precious time to document it and I also respect your judgment. Maybe time will tell.

    I think Ehrman’s book is intended to make people think and his book “Did Jesus Exist” serves that purpose. It’s not perfect and there are mistakes but it makes people to think about where we are on this topic and encourage others to improve on his arguments or their counter arguments. Not all scientific articles ( I studied science so I am just mentioning this as an example) are perfect but sometimes peer reviewers allow them to be published if they have merits that could be useful for other researchers. Ehrman handles historicity of Jesus in a certain perspective and methodology. Others will read it and try other approaches or develop a new methodology. I don’t have too much trouble with his book being ridden with errors or mistakes for I am interested how he approaches the topic and what methodology he employs to make his arguments for a subject so challenging and difficult. After all both sides, those arguing for historicity and non-historicity, need to make arguments based on limited evidence and materials. I believe scholars like you will eventually figure things out and bring out the truth. So I’m optimistic and I appreciate your effort and hard work. It is always exciting to see what great minds like you could achieve just with a pen and a good brain.

    I don’t know whether Ehrman is taking your reviews personally or not but your review might be seen negatively if he doesn’t understand where you are coming from. He mentioned you in an interview with Justin Brierley (Unbelievable) and stated that he didn’t know you well enough. He is older than you and he comes from a different generation. He might think and perceive thinks in a different perspective than younger people like you do. I have no prove whether I am correct. I could be wrong. But I am giving a probable account of what might have happened and trying to open a door for reconciliation. After all you two are working together to come close to the most probable historical account of Jesus. I don’t know why I want you to reconcile with Ehrman. Maybe I’m a very illogical and nosy person who likes to meddle in other people’s disputes. I want to live in a better world where two people who are compassionate for humanity could understand each other better, however illogical and silly it might sound. :)

    • says

      That book doesn’t “make people think” in any meritorious way because it misinforms them, thereby making it difficult for people to think correctly or fairly about this topic.

      Meanwhile failing to retract factual errors in his HuffPo article is a serious abrogation of a scholar’s moral duty to the public.

      I don’t see how his being fourteen years older than me is relevant. I’m 43. And I have full qualifications.

      I want to live in a world where scholars take their moral obligations to the public seriously, and don’t tell lies to save face, but tell the truth, and care about accurately informing the public, and thus care about retracting errors.

      When Ehrman does that, then reconciliation will be in the cards for me.

  45. Curious guy says

    Yes you have full qualifications. I didn’t know you were in your 40s. I somehow thought you were much younger than that. You look very younger than your age then. :) I understand what your arguments are and your positions. I didn’t write a reply to say that you did something wrong and I see there is nothing more you could do for now then. I hope Ehrman could see where you are coming from. Thank you again for taking your precious time to reply to my comments. :)

  46. gshelley says

    I see Ehrman has a new book out, “How Jesus became God”
    http://www.amazon.com/How-Jesus-Became-God-Exaltation/dp/0061778184
    Will you be reviewing this, or did you just lose all patienence/respect for him with his historicity book

    It looks like this will be starting from the assumption Jesus exists, but actually putting forward a theory of historicity, which was of course missing from his previous book, which in those occasions it was accurate and honest when it touched on mythicism didn’t really compare the mythicist explanation to the historicist explanation, so it won’t be comparing the two, but as it is something he is apparently genuinely interested in, it is likely to be well researched and written and not hastily compiled and full of misinformation and logical errors.

    • says

      I’m not very interested in the overall subject of that book (since I don’t need to know how, e.g., the trinity later developed, in order to study how Christianity began). There are hundreds of books published every year based on the stock presumptions of historicity. Since I know their premises are false or fallacious, their conclusions can’t be all that worth the bother of reading, even when they are useful (e.g. I would expect his analysis of the development of the trinity doctrine has merit; but since that’s useless to me, it bears no high priority, any more than the most expertly written book on ancient dolls–which I would actually be much more interested in reading).

      Even so, there may be things in it worth consulting for my future work, e.g. how he deals with the Philippians Hymn. I have slated to look at it, but I doubt it will warrant a review, any more than the other hundred books on Jesus one can expect this year. If I write about it at all, it will only be on a specific question or two within the book, and not the whole book.

      If you want to see an expert rebuttal to the whole book, the place to start is here (I am not vouching for their arguments, only their expertise: this is most likely to be the best rebuttal that could be mounted, whether successful or not).

  47. Antonio says

    It might be of interest to you that Bart Ehrman has apparently responded to this debate on 04/21/2014:

    http://ehrmanblog.org/attacks-from-the-other-side-an-ill-tempered-richard-carrier/

    The text is only visible for members of his site though.

    Such a late response is somewhat odd, but apparently somebody asked him about you during a podcast.

    I don’t know if I am allowed to copy&paste the text here since it has been published in his members-only section (access requires a small fee which goes to charity), but since you check these comments before publication, I’ll just put it in and leave it to you to cut it out:

    [remaining content removed in the interests of copyright protection--RC]

    • says

      Yes, thank you. I don’t want to run afoul of fair use doctrine by simply posting the whole thing, so I did remove it. But I had received the text of that post last month already, so I was already aware of it. I’ve been accumulating a few more examples of his public comments as well, that reflect similar sentiments. I have planned to blog about it, in which event I can apply fair use doctrine to quote and comment on the post. But I have to find the time.

      I know it’s of little use to those who haven’t seen it yet, but as you have, you will notice that he doesn’t address any of the significant issues I raised in this recap (including the evidence of his lying), and instead picks one single softball, and then doesn’t even get my argument correct, and thus attacks a straw man even of that. Worse, his post completely ignores the fact that I corrected the very point he harps on once I acquired his book (and the fact that I had said even before that that reading his book might lead to a correction, e.g. “Surely he is more careful and qualified in the book? I really hope so…So stay tuned for my future review of his book…Perhaps these aren’t mistakes, and just very, very, very badly worded sentences. When I receive his book in a few days I’ll be able to check. Possibly he does a much better job there, and gets his facts right. We’ll see. But for now, I have to address this article…”), and thus he isn’t even in fact reading my recap, but responding to my review of his Huffington Post article, not my review of his book, and doing so as if I never wrote a review of his book. Yet he quotes his book against my critique of his article, as if that counts. It’s a travesty of illogicality, one that in context looks rather dishonest to me.

  48. Slimy Man says

    G’day Dr. Carrier. Hopefully you can forgive me for having missed possible references you have made to such books (I am new to your site). I was wondering if you could cite any books which well cover the evidence that Moses was a mythical character. I have taken for granted my knowledge that he was a mythical being, but really have never read over the evidence for this.

    I have purchased most of your books (very excited to read ‘Hitler Homer Bible Christ’ [interesting title] and ‘On the Historicity of Jesus’, which both arrived today). Sense and Goodness Without God, and Proving History were great. Keep up the good work. You write wonderfully, and your coverage and application of Baye’s Theorem in history studies has been most intriguing. You’ve secured a life-long customer. Do pardon my brown-nosing if you will.

    Regards,
    James.

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