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Zindler-Price Anthology: Contra Ehrman

Frank Zindler and Bob Price have edited their own anthology of “responses” to Bart Ehrman’s book Did Jesus Exist? For this project Zindler bought the rights from me to include a special summary edition of my blogging on the same subject (see Ehrman on Historicity Recap). This anthology is now available through American Atheist Press as Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth: An Evaluation of Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist? (also available on kindle).

The rights to my contribution were procured through a single-payment contract, so I won’t be getting any royalties from the sale of this book (if you want to buy it and still want me to get a cut, then you can buy it through the above link, which is to the respective sales page in my Amazon store, where I get a kickback on any sale). I also had (and have) no editorial control over this book or its publication. My contribution does contain some new material not included in my blogging, but the most important addition (quotations from the Egyptian Pyramid Texts) will be included in my next book, On the Historicity of Jesus Christ, and the rest is pretty much already what’s available online (either in or linked from Recap), although I made various improvements in wording throughout.

I required a disclaimer to be included (in the Foreword generally and in the first paragraph of my chapter specifically), since I do not endorse much of what gets said elsewhere in this book. I was sure of this even before I read it, but having at last read it I can now confirm my expectation was correct. In fact, I consider much of it terrible. But it is fair enough to say that each chapter represents the best of what you can expect from each contributor of late. So if you want to see what each mythicist author is most often like in their manner of argumentation and quality of research, this is the anthology for you, although at 567 pages from disparate authors, it can be a challenge to get through.

That’s the sum of it. But those who want to know more can read on…

Thomas Verenna has already provided a rather scathing review (although praising my contribution as worthwhile). His complaints are warranted but I think maybe a little excessive [and maybe more than a little; see comment]. Ehrman’s unscrupulous and shoddy work in DJE? does deserve some of the polemical treatment it gets in the Zindler-Price anthology–it is basically how he treated these mythicist authors, on exactly the same grounds, so it’s not as if Ehrman himself has any right to complain unless he couples his complaint with an apology for doing the same. On the other hand, Verenna raises some valid concerns worth mulling, such as about Zindler’s use and publication of his correspondence with Ehrman [It should be made clear, however, that Zindler had Ehrman's permission; the lack of which was not Verenna's complaint].

My own take on this book’s content has more to do with its utility: it has almost none in my view. The authors represented in its pages are Richard Carrier (myself), D.M. Murdock, Frank Zindler, Robert Price, Earl Doherty, David Fitzgerald and Rene Salm. Most of what they argue is not very well argued or is too introductory or tangential or needlessly verbose to maintain the average reader’s interest. And what you won’t find here is anyone actually summarizing their theory of Christian origins and the evidence they think supports it. Granted, that was not the overall purpose of the anthology (I was only paid for my critical material on Ehrman, for example), but at nearly 600 pages it does seem odd not to have included anything along those lines.

Example: The Nazareth Obsession

One of the worst contributions is by Salm, yet this is representative of the kind of problem frequently encountered in this book. Here he burns over 40 pages attempting to argue there is no evidence for Nazareth in the early first century and yet never once even mentions, much less addresses, the priestly inscription (of around 300 A.D., in Hebrew) proving it existed in 70 AD–when it was recorded as one of the towns that took in priests after the destruction of the temple and the outlawing of its rituals. There was no temple to house priests nor any temple cult for priests to attend after the first Jewish War, so obviously they were more likely relocated in 70 AD, not 132 AD (much less later)–although some scholars have attempted “arguments from incredulity” for the latter conclusion, I find those arguments quite dubious myself.

  • [Bibliographic Note: For the original publication of this inscription see Michael Avi-Yonah, "A List of Priestly Courses from Caesarea," Israel Exploration Journal 12.2 (1962): 137-39. And for a good summary of the best case made for the later date of this priestly resettlement, by someone who then goes on to argue that the inscription's content actually in fact predates Jesus (!): Uzi Leibner, Settlement and History in Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine Galilee (2009), pp. 404-20.]

In fact, numerous chapters by several authors in this anthology attack the historicity of Nazareth, and none of them mention this inscription (Murdock, on page 390, is even explicitly unaware of its existence). This is the kind of thing I’m talking about: what use is any of this lengthy and disorganized argumentation against Nazareth if it can’t even be bothered to address the best evidence we have for it? There are many other faults in Salm’s chapter (many errors of logic), but that one is problem enough [but not necessarily fatal as I originally said]. Which is a shame, because buried under his fallacies and hyperbole and omissions of key evidence are some valid points about the shoddiness of the archaeology of Nazareth and its demonstrably suspect motives. (Although the latter still cannot sustain the certainty Salm exhibits.)

Note to future mythicists: if you are going to write a chapter or article on a subject, make it comprehensive enough to be required reading on that subject. That means: don’t leave key evidence out of it, and be a better Devil’s Advocate of your own arguments as you write them, to ensure they aren’t easily shown faulty or hyperbolic, and that they exhibit the caution and self-awareness of their weaknesses any good scholar should rightly expect.

  • [Editorial Note: Salm certainly knows the inscription exists, BTW: he discusses it in The Myth of Nazareth, pp. 275-78, though he argues tendentiously there, simply assuming the late dates are correct for the priestly resettlement and giving no good reason why we should agree. But at least he mentions this crucial piece of evidence and tries to deal with it there. Salm's overall position is that Nazareth was founded (and named) by Jews in the late first or early second century (Salm agrees no Christians could ever have been settled there until much later: p. 278). Notice the potentially poor logic of this: what are the odds that Christians would invent the name of a fake town in Galilee and the Jews would then go on to independently found a town in Galilee with exactly that same name? I think probability is against Salm here. Quite heavily (unless we grant certain assumptions: see comment). But that's a needless digression here, since Salm doesn't make this argument in the anthology.]

This obsession with Nazareth is one I am familiar with from many of these authors, but it still baffles me. There are six chapters arguing Nazareth didn’t exist in this anthology–more even than the four listed in the actual section of the book wholly dedicated to Nazareth! I actually agree that Jesus, even if he existed, didn’t really come from Nazareth, that that was a mythical attribution to him based on creative exegesis of scripture and a clever (or ignorant) eponymous play on the original name of the Christian cult, the Nazorians (whose real meaning is obscure but it definitely does not mean people from Nazareth). But this means the non-existence of Nazareth is irrelevant to the historicity of Jesus. A “historical Jesus” in Paul, and even the Gospel of Mark sans one suspect verse, would have and require no connection with Nazareth.

Some of the chapters devoted to this subject do correctly address the one pertinent (though, I agree, feeble) argument that Jesus “must be” historical because no one would invent a town named Nazareth to place him in (that that argument is in fact unsustainable I document myself in Proving History, pp. 142-45, w. notes on p. 315: note I needed just a few pages to dispatch this argument, not a hundred), and they raise other valid questions (such as about the weaknesses in the archaeology, or the valid reasons to suspect Mark 1:9 of being an interpolation, and so on). But I don’t see us having anywhere near the evidence we would need to prove Nazareth definitely didn’t exist (we might be able to warrant a very weak agnosticism at best). Nor do I see any evidential value in proving it didn’t exist. So this obsession with disproving the existence of Nazareth, and with the fallacious argument “~Nazareth = ~Jesus,” is beyond all sense of proportion and for most readers will just be tedious.

There are a lot of other dogs-with-irrelevant-bone threads like this that crowd and weave through the whole anthology. To riff on the title of my own contribution: this is not how to write defenses of mythicism.

Summary of Chapters

My chapter (pp. 15-62) I’ve already described. Likewise Salm’s.

Price produces two elegantly written chapters that are a charm to read as always, although a bit rosy in their treatment of the contributing mythicists and a bit harsh on Ehrman, but they are still more just summaries of the anthology and its function. Murdock ably surveys the “phallic savior” fiasco (Ehrman stuck his foot so far down his throat on this one she could hardly go wrong at this point), but her chapter on Nazareth is hopelessly flawed (even when it contains some worthy insights, readers won’t know how to tell which). Fitzgerald’s piece is mostly a 101 survey of mythicist questions (not all of which are equally apt), but includes examples of Ehrman’s previous statements that seem to have been swept under the rug when Ehrman wrote DJE? and it is interesting to see them collected here, demonstrating how starkly Ehrman’s past caution and skepticism was abandoned.

That leaves Zindler and Doherty.

Zindler has ten chapters in this book, on scattered subjects, each of which makes some interesting points but also other points many will take issue with (including myself). I’m still not sure his use of Bayes’ theorem in textual criticism is correctly modeled, for example, but it’s a complicated affair that I haven’t devoted the time to tackle myself. Likewise many other complex arguments on minute issues Zindler attempts. Although his chapters are mostly erudite, readers might just end up confused.

Doherty contributes five chapters, which appear to have been plucked straight from the web with little editing (right down to including cross references to sections now no longer present) [note: I have been informed these defects were a result of the technical catastrophe in post-production: see comment]. In these he is too frequently off target and not adequately judicious in selecting which concise case to make, and he just doesn’t make the best arguments for his conclusion even when he’s right. It’s frustrating. (Just compare his whole chapter on mystery cults and dying-and-rising gods, pp. 167-82, with my section on the same subject, pp. 36-45, to get an idea of what’s missing from his treatment that should be there.)

For all the reasons I’ve voiced, I can’t honestly say I like this book very much. I can stand by my chapter in it, since I took special care to ensure that was soundly referenced and argued. But my readers might already be content with my blogging on DJE? and thus won’t necessarily need this update to it in print or kindle (unless you want its improved wording and organization on hand).

 

Comments

  1. Andy Trudo says

    Appreciate your comments Richard. I think the Nazareth obsession reflects the research interests of Zindler more than anything else. (that was my impression at least) I’m curious about your thoughts on Zindler’s treatment of docetism. I found this to be the most interesting of his topic choices.

    I’m confused as to the nature of Docetism. Can Docetists be used as early evidence of mythicism? (as Zindler seems to)

    • says

      I think the Nazareth obsession reflects the research interests of Zindler more than anything else.

      Zindler and Salm (it’s Salm’s entire focus, although he has a particular bone to pick with Christian financial and ideological exploitation of Nazareth research, and as I note in my review, he does have some valid points on that front). But Murdock is also sold on the idea (and as I noted, contributes her own chapter on it).

      I’m confused as to the nature of Docetism. Can Docetists be used as early evidence of mythicism? (as Zindler seems to)

      Yes and no. As Docetism is presented in the texts, it’s always by its opponents, who are often not reliable (they can at times willfully or ignorantly misrepresent the other side). As such, it sounds like a post-historicist development (Jesus was historical but was some kind of phantom: as Wikiedia describes), but there are hints that it may have been, or varieties of it may have been, or earlier forms of it may have been, something more mythicist in character. But alas, only hints.

      Unfortunately the evidence is too poor, vague and unreliable to settle any confident premises on. I discuss the best of this evidence in my next book and I do suspect some of it may reflect vestiges of an anti-mythicist polemic, but it’s too tenuous a thread to make a hard case out of.

  2. Jason Goertzen says

    “Salm’s overall position is that Nazareth was founded (and named) by Jews in the late first or early second century [...] Notice the poor logic of such a stance: what are the odds that Christians would invent the name of a fake town in Galilee and the Jews would then go on to independently found a town in Galilee with exactly that same name? I think probability is against Salm here. Quite heavily.”

    I suspect he has in mind that the town was founded later, and that the Christians, writing later, didn’t realize that the town didn’t exist in the period they were setting the Jesus story in–not that the Christians made it up, and the Jews later named a town the same thing.

    I don’t think this saves his argument, but at least it’s not absurd. That being said, I’m not about to read everything he’s written to find out, and you seem to have read more of it, so perhaps you could tell me if this is just hoping for the best on my part. :)

    • says

      Yes, that’s a good point. He (like Zindler) argues that Mark 1:9 is an interpolation (which I agree is plausible–though the evidence is insufficient to be certain, Zindler marshals what evidence there is for it in this book), and that Matthew (the first Gospel to otherwise clearly place Jesus in Nazareth) was written late first or early-late second century and thus possibly after Nazareth was founded (and Luke-Acts and John then later still). I’ll emend my review to note that.

    • neilgodfrey says

      Anyone who has read Salm’s Nazareth book could never write the following of his argument:

      “Notice the potentially poor logic of this: what are the odds that Christians would invent the name of a fake town in Galilee and the Jews would then go on to independently found a town in Galilee with exactly that same name? I think probability is against Salm here. Quite heavily . . . . ”

      Pages 299 and 300 make his position very clear. His position is exactly as Jason infers.

      But this Salm bashing is really pathetic. His criticisms of misapplied criteria for interpreting archaeological finds in Galilee have been published in a peer-review journal, and the responses published in reply simply avoided core criticisms of his original article. Nor does he argue that No-Nazareth-Means-No-Jesus. He is very explicit that that is not what he is arguing.

      Anyone who has read Salm’s Nazareth book could never write the following of his argument:

      “Notice the potentially poor logic of this: what are the odds that Christians would invent the name of a fake town in Galilee and the Jews would then go on to independently found a town in Galilee with exactly that same name? I think probability is against Salm here. Quite heavily . . . . ”

      Pages 299 and 300 make his position very clear. His position is exactly as Jason infers.

      But this Salm bashing is really pathetic. His criticisms of misapplied criteria for interpreting archaeological finds in Galilee have been published in a peer-review journal, and the responses published in reply simply avoided core criticisms of his original article. Nor does he argue that No-Nazareth-Means-No-Jesus. He is very explicit that that is not what he is arguing.

      You also seem to have missed the purpose of the book. It is a response to the charges made by Ehrman in DJE?. It is nowhere stated to be the full set of comprehensive arguments for re Nazareth. Salm wrote an entire book for that.

    • says

      Note I amended the review to take into account that he’s relying on a late date for the priestly resettlement. Note, in turn, that I led with the point that that is improbable. My conclusion was based on that. Certainly, if we grant his assumption and not mine on that point, then his theory makes better sense. And that’s what I have now made sure to say.

      Note, also, that I attribute the argument ~Nazareth = ~Jesus to the book as a whole, which is in defense of the non-existence of Jesus against Ehrman’s case to the contrary.

      Note, also, that I credit the fact that Salm delivers some good points about the flaws in the archaeology. They just don’t suffice to make his case.

      Finally, if Salm is going to accuse Ehrman of not knowing the archaeology on Nazareth, it is very bad form to omit a major piece of archaeological evidence that can support Ehrman’s position. All the worse since Salm is arguing against Ehrman the case that the archaeology proves Nazareth didn’t exist…an argument that simply cannot stand without addressing the most important evidence to the contrary.

  3. says

    Note: Readers and reviewers should be aware that there was a catastrophic data loss during the typesetting process in publishing this book, which is responsible for a few typos and formatting errors throughout, which I know had been corrected, but those corrections never made it to the printer. This was a technology fault, not an editing one. Just FYI.

  4. David Mack says

    Richard, I downloaded the Kindle version the day it came out. Perhaps you have brainwashed me but I was extremely disappointed in virtually all the areas you mention and for all the reasons cited. Your review is spot on, IMHO!

  5. proudfootz says

    I suspect I will have to read this book for myself as the reviews are rather mixed. It’s almost as if they are talking about different books altogether.

    • says

      And do comment here after you’ve read it, I’d be interested in other perspectives, from those who have read divergent reviews of it especially.

  6. Cassandra V. Greer says

    Richard: I have been lurking for several years. This response has nothing to do with this post. I recently read a book called Slavery in Early Christianity by Jennifer Glancy (Oxford U. Press, 2002). I have also been re-reading Not the Impossible Faith, and the section on Groupthinkers triggered a question I was wondering about. I read somewhere that by the second century century slaves were no longer permitted to hold church office. Could that be because they could not marry and had no control over their sexual activity, and thus could not keep the standards of sex only in marriage? What influence did developing in a slave society have on the development of early Christianity? Thanks, Sandi Greer

    richard

    • says

      I don’t know the answer to your question. If Glancy didn’t know, it’s probably unknowable. She’s the world’s leading expert on the subject. But possibly she just didn’t think to include it. You should email this question to her (politely). I think she’s currently at LeMoyne (faculty page).

      If I were to speculate, I’d note that during the second century, Christianity abandoned its egalitarianism and began returning to the same elitist, hierarchical social structure of the wider society (with men over women and honestiores over humiliores and free over slave), and thus those of higher social rank would strenuously object to being presided over by those of lesser rank (and controlling the purse strings to large endowments, they might get their way). That could easily introduce pressure to push slaves out of office, just as it did women. But your theory may have played a role as well. Or there may have been other factors. If anyone would know, it would be Glancy.

  7. Will says

    I’m not really privy to all the data on Nazareth… but it does seem to me that, as you and Avalos both mentioned, if most of that area has not been excavated then the argument against it’s existence is that much weaker. Maybe not impossible, but perhaps not strong enough to warrant the level of certainty that Salm and others are asserting. Whatever one makes of the sloppy archaeological work that has been done, it sure seems to me that we cannot hang much on this issue in terms of the overall mythicist case. At best the evidence seems too ambiguous.

  8. Cassandra V. Greer says

    Richard: Thanks for responding. Both you and Ehrman have played major roles in my journey to atheism, via books and videos. I am disappointed in Ehrmans take in the historicity question, and due to your influence I will not bother reading is latest book. I was afraid I wouldn’t be up to reading _Proving History_, but it was very enlightening, and I am waiting impatiently for _On The Historicity of Jesus Christ_. Thanks again, Sandi Greer

  9. Stone says

    Keeping the historical/textual chronology in mind, tell me, please, how does one account for Origen knowing that Josephus did not view Jesus as a “Christ”?

    Thank you,

    Stone

    • says

      The last books Josephus wrote were ardent defenses of his stalwart commitment to Judaism (in his Life and Against Apion). Origen would know that, as would everyone familiar with the works of Josephus–especially since Josephus published the final edition of the very Jewish Antiquities that Origen cites with the Life appended as a final volume (Life 430). In the Life Josephus defends his Jewish commitments as a priest and member of the Pharisee sect. Thus, Origen had to admit Josephus had not converted to Christianity when he published the last edition of the Antiquities.

  10. says

    Having now read Vridar’s critique of Verenna’s review, I now believe I was inadequately critical of it myself. Even if I don’t always agree, Vridar has good points to make in the matter that are also worth mulling. Most importantly among them, he is right that Zindler had Ehrman’s permission to publish their correspondence, a fact I should have mentioned, since I can see how one might be misled into thinking that was the issue. I apologize for that mistake and have corrected the record accordingly. But it should be noted that lack of permission was not Verenna’s complaint, and is not what I meant was worth mulling.

    Vridar has criticized my review as well. I’ll comment on that following.

    • says

      Regarding Vridar’s criticism of my review:

      (1) Indeed, this was a business matter for me (Zindler wanted my contribution at any price; but out of friendship I quoted him a reasonable one). Yet I still expected the rest of the book to be better. My frustration and disappointment at discovering otherwise is sincere. I had in turn received several surprised queries from professional colleagues asking why I would have agreed to be a part of it. So in my review, I answered that question. Vridar doesn’t like the answer, but it’s the honest answer.

      (2) Nowhere in my review do I “concur with Verenna’s conclusion that the book is 600 pages of venom and disgust aimed to character assassinate.” You will find quite the contrary, that I found those characterizations excessive and in this very review I even explained how this aspect of Verenna’s reaction was actually unwarranted. Indeed, I immediately said “Ehrman’s unscrupulous and shoddy work in DJE? does deserve some of the polemical treatment it gets” in this book and Verenna was wrong to say otherwise.

      (3) I did not say Zindler didn’t have permission to quote his correspondence. But I can see how one might mistakenly think that, so I have corrected the record to make the matter clear. Contrary to Vridar’s critique, Verenna did not criticize Zindler for lacking permission, nor was such a notion the criticism I said was worth mulling. Verenna’s actual criticism is as follows (emphasis added):

      This troubles me as I am not so sure that such a move is ethical. Certainly Ehrman is busy, as he has actual scholarly work to do (at a prestigious academic institution no less), like teaching students, chairing committees, being a department head, reviewing grad work from students, appearing on doctoral panels, and so on. When I respond to emails, I am vague and type quickly, especially when I have a lot of them and other pressing matters on my mind. I can not imagine what Ehrman’s inbox looks like and I cannot begrudge him for being curt or limited or even appearing confused or disgruntled! The man has a lot to do. In my humble opinion, it is wholly unwelcome that Zindler dedicated so much space to these emails and also formulated a polemical argument around them; it is quite unfortunate that this appears in this volume.

      I quite agree that is a fact worth mulling. So should Vridar. I hadn’t thought of it myself until Verenna pointed it out, but this is a valid concern, there is an element of the unfair here, and that’s something I now realize I should take into account in future if I should decide to do something similar. And a reader should likewise take it into account when evaluating the record.

      (4) I have no knowledge of whether any of the other contributors were or were not paid. Vridar seems to assume they weren’t, and that somehow I knew that or assumed it. I did not. What I do know is that bad writing (including excessive verbosity, fallacy, redundancy, etc.) is the sort of thing a book reviewer is obligated to mention. It makes no sense to criticize a review for doing so. Indeed, I myself said some readers might like the book despite my impression of it (for some, “this is the anthology for you”), so Vridar’s objection that some readers might like the book despite my impression of it isn’t really a criticism.

      (5) Vridar makes light of the fact that Salm omitted key archaeological evidence supporting Ehrman in a chapter attacking Ehrman for ignoring the archaeological evidence. I cannot agree with Vridar’s cavalier attitude about this. Also, I do not “chastize him and all other mythicists with the need to write every single time a complete coverage of whatever topic they are addressing.” My exact words were :

      If you are going to write a chapter or article on a subject, make it comprehensive enough to be required reading on that subject. That means: don’t leave key evidence out of it, and be a better Devil’s Advocate of your own arguments as you write them, to ensure they aren’t easily shown faulty or hyperbolic, and that they exhibit the caution and self-awareness of their weaknesses any good scholar should rightly expect.

      Notice the huge difference between Vridar’s straw man of what I said and what I actually said.

      (6) I have corrected the record on my lack of charity to Salm’s position.

      (7) Regarding my criticism of the Fitzgerald piece (which is a criticism of its inclusion rather more than its content…in any other book it could be entirely apt), Vridar doesn’t seem to grasp that it is inappropriate to include a chapter that lists numerous facts, like that there is no evidence supporting the nativity stories, as if such lists are a response to Ehrman, when in fact Ehrman concedes almost all those facts (hence mentioning them as evidence for mythicism is not apt in this context).

    • says

      Yes. In fact, I have frequently mentioned that paper in talks and in blogs, and I will be citing it in my next book. It can even be expanded beyond his argument, and it can be given a Bayesian structure.

      It’s one limitation, of course, is that it only deals with the Gospels, and not the Epistles. So as an actual argument for ahistoricity it is incomplete. But it is important nonetheless.

    • says

      I had not heard of that claim before. Thanks for the link.

      I disagree with much of it. For example, it is a fallacious “argument from authority” that the “majority opinion now holds that the northward movement of priests (from Judea to Galilee) to which the inscription purportedly witnesses occurred after the Bar Kochba revolt (132-35 CE)” because that makes exactly zero sense. There were no priests in Jerusalem to migrate after the Bar Kochba revolt. The city was a ruin and the temple cult had been banned since 70. The only time priests would be in need of relocating is precisely then: the year 70. And these are existing towns receiving priests (not new settlements…priests would not go alone to start a whole new town from scratch when scores of towns already existed to take them in, as every other example of the list shows…you do understand the concept of infrastructure and capitalization costs, right?), so Nazareth had to have existed before 70, in fact before 66 (since new towns would not have been founded in the middle of a war). Likewise, the argument from silence vis-a-vis archaeological finds is invalid, since such arguments falsely assume we’ve dug everywhere the original town may have resided. In fact, we have dug in very few places even in relation to the existing town (most of which is still inhabited and thus not excavatable), much less all it’s possible locations. And that’s just the beginning of the problems with that argument. And so on down the line.

      Finally, your argument against the inscription is a possibiliter fallacy: you just assert that maybe it’s fake, and point out a bunch of things you think are suspicious but are in fact typical and not demonstrations of any forgery. Your method of argument sounds a lot like a denier of the moon landings. That is not the way to make arguments in this field.

      For example, if the “Nazareth” inscription were actually a microletter claim or otherwise rested solely on the testimony of Vardaman, you’d have a point. But it isn’t, and it didn’t. So you don’t. Likewise item after item. This is hyper-skepticism, not legitimate questioning of evidence.

      For comparison, Mark Goodacre recently published an article seriously questioning the traditional account of the finding of the Nag Hammadi texts, but in no way does he then conclude the Nag Hammadi texts are or even might be forgeries. Not only does this illustrate the difference in logical validity (you jump to the conclusion he rightly knew was a non sequitur) but even the way he builds his case against the traditional account of the find illustrates, point by point, how to make an argument like this soundly and validly, especially when contrasted with the way your case is argued in that linked essay and article. Even your implicit inference “Vardaman saw things that weren’t there, therefore he not only was a forger but had all the requisite skills and motives to forge exactly this inscription…yet never once forged any of the coins or inscriptions he actually did make false claims about.” The illogic of that inference bleeds from every word.

  11. Enrico Tuccinardi says

    I disagree with much of it. For example, it is a fallacious “argument from authority” that the “majority opinion now holds that the northward movement of priests (from Judea to Galilee) to which the inscription purportedly witnesses occurred after the Bar Kochba revolt (132-35 CE)” because that makes exactly zero sense. There were no priests in Jerusalem to migrate after the Bar Kochba revolt. The city was a ruin and the temple cult had been banned since 70. The only time priests would be in need of relocating is precisely then: the year 70. And these are existing towns receiving priests (not new settlements…priests would not go alone to start a whole new town from scratch when scores of towns already existed to take them in, as every other example of the list shows…you do understand the concept of infrastructure and capitalization costs, right?), so Nazareth had to have existed before 70, in fact before 66 (since new towns would not have been founded in the middle of a war). Likewise, the argument from silence vis-a-vis archaeological finds is invalid, since such arguments falsely assume we’ve dug everywhere the original town may have resided. In fact, we have dug in very few places even in relation to the existing town (most of which is still inhabited and thus not excavatable), much less all it’s possible locations.

    This is your respected opinion. Once accepted, it entails of course the reasons why the Caesarea’s fragment ‘A’ was possibly forged. But you’re supposed to be aware of the problematic question about the priestly course and their ‘supposed’ migration.
    .
    The more recent status quaestionis is in Grey’s dissertation (2011, p.317-328): https://cdr.lib.unc.edu/indexablecontent?id=uuid:a93ce35f-aa5c-47f7-bfb9-c9116b06ebcd&ds=DATA_FILE
    .
    However my argument is not about the existence of Nazareth in the first century but about the possibility that the Caesarea inscription is a forgery.

    For example, if the “Nazareth” inscription were actually a microletter claim or otherwise rested solely on the testimony of Vardaman, you’d have a point. But it isn’t, and it didn’t. So you don’t.

    What else do we have? If you’re speaking of Avi-Yonah you should read Govaars’ book (The Joint Expedition to Caesarea Maritima) and the astonishingly chaotic reports concerning the ‘presumed’ synagogue site at Caesarea. He was even able to write in the 1975’s report that “In the synagogue, mosaic floors were discovered, as were fragments of a Hebrew inscription giving the order of the priestly courses and their places, as detailed in late liturgical hymns.”

    Even your implicit inference “Vardaman saw things that weren’t there, therefore he not only was a forger but had all the requisite skills and motives to forge exactly this inscription…yet never once forged any of the coins or inscriptions he actually did make false claims about.” The illogic of that inference bleeds from every word.

    My explicit inference is that Vardaman was that kind of person who had no scruples to fabricate archaelogical evidence to attest otherwise controversial view (this is the link between the microletters and the fragment ‘A’) and so victouriously attacking people not thinking like him.
    .
    The indissoluble link between Vardaman and the Caesarea inscription increases the problems concerning this finding.
    .
    I think Vardaman was ‘inspired’ by another famous Caesarea inscription finally proving the historicity of Pilate, found in june 1961. As Kokkinos reports in the obituary of Vardaman (2001): “He (Vardaman) was particularly proud for having published the first report in English of the discovery of the Latin inscription of Pontius Pilate (in the JBL march 1962) and for having himself excavated in the synagogue of Caesarea the first fragment of the Hebrew inscription mentioning ‘Nazareth’.”

    Finally, your argument against the inscription is a possibiliter fallacy: you just assert that maybe it’s fake, and point out a bunch of things you think are suspicious but are in fact typical and not demonstrations of any forgery. Your method of argument sounds a lot like a denier of the moon landings. That is not the way to make arguments in this field.

    Ok I resume below what you consider ‘typical’ in the archaeological field.
    .
    A Samuel Klein, in 1939 after more than 30 years of studies, proposed a theoretical complete reconstruction of the priestly courses’ marble tablet. This theoretical reconstruction included Nazareth as the village of Happizess courses having existed at least from the beginning of the II century.
    .
    B Klein’s reconstruction was almost certainly known by Vardaman through his teacher Albright.
    .
    C in 1958 in Caesarea a fragment (fragment C) attesting the presence of a marble tablet with a list of the 24 priestly courses was found. In 1961 a sketch of fragment C appeared in Views of the Biblical World (vol. IV, Jerusalem, 1961:257). W. F. Albright and Avi-Yonah figure among the contributors to that collection of essays.
    .
    D in 1962 The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary sent funds and allocation of personnel to Caesarea helping the Hebrew team of Avi-Yonah. Vardaman was the chief-archaeologist of the Baptist Theological Seminary expedition. I think that his hope (or his aim?) was, since then, to prove the existence of Nazareth through a marble tablet’s fragment.
    .
    E Vardaman found the only ‘right fragment’ that could do the trick (4 words but only one almost complete: Nazareth) in a wheelbarrow (sic!) of one of his assistant, a wheelbarrow containing debris destined to the dump. Vardaman had explicitly ordered to his assistant to check in the wheelbarrow before carting the debris away to the dump.
    .
    F Jerry Vardaman, the ‘discoverer’ of fragment A, has showed, during his archaeological career, not to have any scruples to invent archaeological evidences supporting Christian controversial views.
    .
    G Avi-Yonah, even if surprised by the ‘astonishing identity’ of the fragments with Klein’s reconstruction, didn’t suspect anything and obtained honors and reputation thanks to this discovery.
    .
    H Last but not least: Avi-Yonah of course assumed the three fragments found in Caesarea were part of one and the same inscription, and of the same marble tablet. But comparison between the three fragments clearly shows that fragment A (the one containing the word ‘Nazareth’) is not compatible with either fragment B or fragment C.
    .
    I know Vardaman’s signature is not engraved on fragment A but it’s not necessary to be a ‘denier of the moon landings’ to be a little skeptical.

    • says

      Once accepted, it entails of course the reasons why the Caesarea’s fragment ‘A’ was possibly forged.

      A fundamental axiom of conspiracy theory nonsense is “if there is any reason to have faked x, then x was faked.”

      Sorry, that’s simply not remotely logical. Nor is “possibly x, therefore probably x.” That’s that possibiliter fallacy I was talking about.

      This is just not sound reasoning. It’s moon landing hoax logic.

      Likewise “a guy who never forged anything, clearly must have forged this.” And “I can imagine how someone could have done it, so therefore they did it.” And so on.

      (If you had read my articles on Vardaman, you would know he actually really believed his microletters were there. He was not a liar. He was insane. You have here confused “insane” with “dishonest.” And then built an elaborate theory of forgery. Just like they built an elaborate theory of a moon landing hoax. And you have no more evidence than they do that your theory is true.)

      “He (Vardaman) was particularly proud for having published the first report in English of the discovery of the Latin inscription of Pontius Pilate (in the JBL march 1962) and for having himself excavated in the synagogue of Caesarea the first fragment of the Hebrew inscription mentioning ‘Nazareth’.”

      So are you now claiming the Pilate inscription is a forgery?

    • Enrico Tuccinardi says

      A fundamental axiom of conspiracy theory nonsense is “if there is any reason to have faked x, then x was faked.”

      No, I’m saying instead: “If x was faked, there is any reason to have faked x.”
      You found the good reason: the northward migration of priests from Judea to Galilea in 70 attesting the existence of Nazareth at that time. The same reason as Vardaman of course (but he was less conservative than you, willing to accept a later date (early II century).
      Recent researches show that probably this is far for being true (see Grey’s dissertation, 2011, p.317-328) but Vardaman of course can be excused for this (not you I’m afraid).

      So are you now claiming the Pilate inscription is a forgery?

      So I say “I think Vardaman was ‘inspired’ by another famous Caesarea inscription finally proving the historicity of Pilate, found in june 1961” and you understand that I’m now claiming the Pilate inscription is a forgery.
      I think we have some communication problem. Sorry for that.
      Keep you informed.

      http://www.mythicistpapers.com/

    • says

      No, I’m saying instead: “If x was faked, there is any reason to have faked x.”

      That isn’t an intelligible sentence. So I don’t know what you are attempting to say here.

    • says

      As for Grey (2011), he concludes “I have found the evidence to be too mixed and too complicated to reach a definitive conclusion on this matter.” So, you can’t really lean on him.

      He repeats arguments and scholarship pro and con either position. And for yours, he just repeats Trifon, whose arguments from silence are invalid (because they are based on the assumption that we’d have certain evidence, that in fact we have no reason to believe would have survived for us to have it…a common fallacy employed by Nazareth deniers, as well). You can’t argue from the silence of documents you don’t have. Rule number one. And a single migrating family generally does not leave archaeological evidence. Rule number two. Both rules violated.

      Her arguments from implausibility are likewise baseless, involving the same mistake of reasoning that leads people to claim Christianity can’t have had church offices in place in the time of Paul, even though all anthropological examples of new religious movements in all of history confirm that it would be unique for them not to have had, that in fact such developments of organization and structure occur within years, often immediately, and don’t wait lifetimes. Yet “an organized transfer of the [priestly] courses seems unlikely” is based on the same invalid reasoning, and substitutes baseless opinion for objective fact.

      This is not the way to argue.

      Worse, Grey concurs with Leibner that even Trifon’s hypothesis entails that Nazareth existed in the pre-Christian era (“they were all Jewish villages founded in the Hasmonean period” because the list is demonstrably archaic, “locations founded after that period – including Roman Tiberias – are conspicuously absent from the list of course settlements,” and thus the town names must come from a Hasmonean source, even if their association with priests does not). So for you to cite Grey in defense of doubting the Hasmonean foundation of Nazareth is a bit self-contradictory.

      At any rate, there is no valid argument in Grey (and Grey even seems to be aware of this) that the migration did not occur when it obviously must have (if it ever did), which is when the priests no longer had a place to live or a temple to manage. And that was the year 70.

  12. Enrico Tuccinardi says

    (If you had read my articles on Vardaman, you would know he actually really believed his microletters were there. He was not a liar. He was insane. You have here confused “insane” with “dishonest.” And then built an elaborate theory of forgery. Just like they built an elaborate theory of a moon landing hoax. And you have no more evidence than they do that your theory is true.)

    Yes I read and I’m sure you are wrong and you must correct your view. He was not simply insane. Vardaman was even more than dishonest and liar. Look at this link:

    http://www.mythicistpapers.com/2013/08/25/vardaman-6/

    How can you passively accept the authenticity of a fragment found in a wheelbarrow (sic!) by a man who “simply cannot be trusted to do anything right, not even when is watched every minute” being “as devious and as untrustworthy as an ambassador in the Near East as any many could possibly be”?

    How can you justify the existence of three fragments coming from THREE DIFFERENT PLAQUES in an area were no demonstrable evidence exists at all for a synagogue?

    http://www.mythicistpapers.com/2013/07/21/new-light-on-the-caesarea-inscription-pt-1/

    Dr. Carrier, try to answer honestly to these questions.

    Defending the authenticity of the Caesarea inscription is getting harder and harder.

    • says

      You are making leaps of logic and confusing categories again.

      It is not unusual to resort to bribery of officials in third world countries (or to be arrested on false charges in third world countries). That does not make you more likely to be a liar or a forger. “Gross incompetence” (and lacking judgment and temperament) is the exact opposite of being a liar. And “moral turpitude” is too vague to mean anything.

      You seem to forget that being delusional looks exactly like dishonesty to anyone who doesn’t test the overall nature and context of the false claims one makes. Thus merely thinking someone has been dishonest does not confirm that they were–rather than delusional. One would need more details to go beyond the one and settle on the other.

      For example, were his microletters a “lie” or did he delusionally really believe they were there? The evidence I report in my second article suggests the latter.

      By contrast, nothing in the letters you adduce confirms even a single lie was told by Vardaman, much less such lies as would make him a likely forger (those not being the same thing).

      Nothing in those letters even suggests Vardaman forged the Nazareth fragment, or even increases the likelihood that he did by any significant amount.

      You appear instead to be so biased against its authenticity that you leap across any chasm of logic to maintain your hostility to its authenticity.

      That is not the way to argue. And it’s not going to persuade the experts whose opinion you should be concerned to change.

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