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I’ll Be Debating the Historicity of Jesus in Ottawa, Canada

The Center for Inquiry Canada is hosting two events with me in early April in Ottawa (Ontario, Canada), sponsored by CFI Ottawa.

The first will be a debate between myself and Zeba Crook, professor of religious studies at Carleton University, on whether it’s likely a historical Jesus existed. Details here. (Although, amusingly, we certainly aren’t debating whether “a man named Jesus live[d] in Palestine 2000 years ago,” since plenty of men named Jesus did; of course, we’re only debating the particular Jesus claimed to be the author of Christianity). The next day I’ll be taking questions and speaking on various matters of philosophy for the Philosophy, Phood, and Phriends meetup. Details here.

The debate will be held on Saturday, April 5 (2014), at 7:30pm, at the Centrepointe Chamber Theatre (101 Centrepointe Drive, Ottawa, ON K2G 0B5; the theatre is located at the back). Admission is $15 (or just $5 if you are a CFI member; and new members can also get a free ticket). The format will be something like 20/20-10/10-5/5 (openings-rebuttals-closings), with the first to speak chosen at random on the day. Written questions will be taken from the audience.

The philosophy meet will be on Sunday, April 6 (2014) at 11:00am, in the CCOC Meeting Room (OPSEU Local 464, 2255 St Laurent Boulevard, Ottawa, ON K1G 6C4 464 Metcalfe St., near the Museum of Nature). $10 admission includes food and drinks ($5 for members of CFI). “Bring your questions–suggested topics include: metaphysics, naturalistic philosophy, morality, counter-apologetics.”

There may be copies of Proving History for sale at the first or possibly both events. But I will sign anything you bring (so you can buy any of my books online now and have them in time for that).

Comments

  1. Tim Bos says

    Forget about the historicity of Jesus. I very much doubt the existence of anyone with the unlikely name “Zeba Crook.” What are the priors on that, pray tell?

    • theobromine says

      I do not know Zeba Crook’s ethnic background, but I have to say that making fun when a person’s name seems unusual is not a good way to encourage diversity in the freethought community.

  2. E says

    Hey Carrier, let’s hypothetically say your book doesn’t convince mainstream scholarship. Will you focus more on Roman science instead of the existence of Jesus?

    • says

      It had always been my plan to get back on Roman science once I completed my grant project on historicity. But I’m also inclined to focus more on philosophy. Probably I’ll just continue the academic conversation on historicity, get my work in ancient science published, and then turn to advancing the field of humanist philosophy. But I can’t really say. I will go where passion and a living take me. Teach. Write fiction. Open a restaurant. Build the world’s first android. Could be anything.

  3. Tim Bos says

    Theobromine,

    I agree with the general sentiment about diversity, I just don’t think it applies to my comment. I made a lame joke about an unusual sounding name. It had nothing to do with ethnicity, and I certainly was not making fun of the guy. I happen to think that the name is kind of cool, actually.

  4. says

    This dude is a professor at my university. I know he has a BA in Political Science…so watch out ;)

    Im NOT sure if he has a MA in religious studies though, although he must have something on the subject if he is teaching it at Carleton University.

    • says

      Dr. Crook indeed has an MA in Religious Studies as well as a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies, and he is reputably published in the field, e.g. he just released a critically acclaimed synopsis of the Greek Gospels (with his own translation), and more. He teaches multiple subjects in the field. And he wrote a book on ancient religion and culture broadly, so he is not narrowly focused the way many NT scholars disastrously are.

    • Guest says

      “So far only two contemporary books have been written in defense of the historicity of Jesus (nothing properly comparable has been published in almost a hundred years). They both suck.”

      As opposed to what? Richard Carrier’s egotistical and rambling blog posts that are rude and insulting to professional scholars that have more experience than him.

      It’s unfortunate that Dr.Carrier has to resort to ad-hominem attacks on such well-placed scholars. I don’t hate Dr. Carrier, but I simply hate his lying about Jesus of Nazareth.

      The Consensus won’t change because his book will be probably no different than that of any of his other books.

    • says

      [Note to my readers: this commenter has used a fake name and email address to join this conversation. There is a good chance they are someone important, possibly Casey or Fisher or McGrath. The childish nature of the comment suggests it is Fisher, if anyone of the three.]

      As opposed to what?

      As opposed to what they could have written. Just as I said. Indeed, read my first paragraph here. It immediately answers your own question literally right after the sentence you quote. So I can only assume you are a dishonest troll, who actually knows I have already answered that question and what the answer is, but you deceitfully pretend I didn’t answer it and that you don’t know it, in order to…what? Trick my readers into thinking my not having answered it (even though I did) says something about something or other?

      Richard Carrier’s egotistical and rambling blog posts that are rude and insulting to professional scholars that have more experience than him. It’s unfortunate that Dr.Carrier has to resort to ad-hominem attacks on such well-placed scholars. I don’t hate Dr. Carrier, but I simply hate his lying about Jesus of Nazareth.

      Note that not a single example of an ad hominem from me is presented here (I suspect the commenter doesn’t know what an ad hominem fallacy actually is), nor any examples of my being unfairly rude or insulting (I suspect the commenter thinks any negative statement is “rude” and “insulting,” which typifies the attitude of an elitist), nor any examples of an egotistical comment from me (I suspect the commenter mistakes being right or knowing something, and then saying so, for being egotistical), nor any evidence that any scholar in question has “more experience” than me on the issue at hand (I have spent years specifically studying the question of historicity; Ehrman, McGrath, and Casey et al. clearly haven’t, but instead shoot from the armchair thinking they don’t have to actually study that specific question as they would any other, a failing I document extensively, because it has led them to disastrous and embarrassing errors). Nor have they presented any example of my lying about anything.

      This commenter also appears to be confusing a scholar’s social status with their being correct. Incidentally, that is quintessential elitism–the issue here is whether these scholars have committed the errors I have extensively documented, not what social status they have.

      The Consensus won’t change because his book will be probably no different than that of any of his other books.

      Since no other book I have ever written defends the non-historicity of Jesus, this statement is literally false.

      But it is most amusing to see someone claiming to know how logic works, declaring an argument invalid or unsound that they have never even read.

      If this is who we have left defending historicity, historicity is dead.

  5. says

    Also, do you know if it all be recorded? I am not sure if I can go to the debate, but I will definitely be at the Q/A.

    Overall, thanks for the reply! I’m sure it will be a blast! Good luck, dude!

  6. says

    I just listened to Alex Tsakaris and Joe Atwill openly lie about your involvement as a true skeptic, Richard. Keep in mind both of these people also believe in ectoplasm and spirits who live on after they die as humans. lol

    I made a post “Please do your research and stop posting this libel. Elsewhere you have accused Richard of being a member of Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia. There is absolutely no proof, so you shouldn’t be posting libel” and it was immediately deleted.

    This whole believer vs skeptic thing is immature, we should not resort to posting libel about people. We must learn to cooperate but first the believers have to cradle their naivete and a good place to start would be with admitting all mediums are frauds and ectoplasms are made out of rolled up and swallowed cheesecloths.

    Thanks.

    Jon Donnis
    R.I.P. Eveshi

    [Update from the Editor: I have been informed this is an impostor. The real Jon Donnis, of the Bad Psychics blog, confirms that "I do NOT post on any forums or sites other than my own. Any such posts are NOT me (Jon Donnis), so please delete or ignore them! They are an imposter and are only interested in misrepresenting my position." -- RC]

    • says

      I didn’t even know what “Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia” was until you mentioned it just now and I googled it.

      Indeed, claiming I’m in that group doesn’t even sound like an insult. So it can hardly be defamation. It’s just factually incorrect.

      [Update: The above reply was to the impostor. I have lined it out only because I do not want anyone mistaking that as a response to the real Donnis. -- RC]

  7. Paul Thomas says

    Hi Richard

    As regards to Tacitus and Chrestus, I’ve read your article in Hitler Homer Bible Christ (‘The Prospect of a Christian Interpolation in Tacitus Annals 15.44′) and it got me thinking.

    Christian apologists state that the Codex Sinaiticus (both Acts 26:28 and 1Peter 4:16) use ‘Chrestians’ (indeed it seems to, unless this is wrong).

    Does this not make it more likely that Christus and Chrestus were somewhat interchangeable?

    However, I do take on board your point about the instigator being present.

    A reference to Jesus being good is referenced in:

    ‘1 Peter 2:2-3, as newborn babes, desire the unadulterated milk of the Word, in order that you grow by it, if indeed you have tasted that the Master is good (chrestos)’. This is from ‘http://sanctification.com/studies/christians-chrestians'; I know, it’s defending the divine Jesus (Hallelujah!) , but I thought it made a good point, minus the Aramaic stuff which I thought was irrelevant.

    Thanks

    • says

      I actually mention the equivalence of Christus and Chrestus there (HHBC, p. 377, n. 19). They were orally confusable because Koine was evolving at the time so that the iota and eta were sounding alike. But educated elites would be unlikely to make that error (hence when Suetonius does mention Christians under Nero, he did not say Chrestians, so far as we can tell). See here, with the bibliographic note, for more on this point.

      The real problem is that by the time of Sinaiticus the name was a nomen sacrum, and thus was only abbreviated, which means the vowel was not present. Hence only the term “Christianos” appears as Chrestianos, and that’s problematic because it means we don’t know if that was because it originally was placed there to mean “Partisans of the Christ” (Christian) or just an adjective, “goodfolk” (chrestian). Hence the 1 Peter reference as you note. Because there is no clear evidence otherwise that “Christian” was even a name in the first century (and 1 Peter is arguably a first century text, unlike 2 Peter; Acts could be as early as 95-115 AD).

      Further complicating this question is that this is all just in one and the same manuscript, and thus could reflect a linguistic trend peculiar to it. In all other mss., apart from one (Bezae) that has Chreistian- in both places (replacing iota or eta with the iota-epsilon diphthong…seen in a few other mss.), the reading is consistently Christian-. Two much later mss. of Acts are listed as reading Chrestian- at 11:26 but not at 26:28, as against many dozens that read the other way, so statistically that looks like just a misspelling (there are tons of accidental misspellings in all mss., and here there is an obvious potential cause of dittographic error since the word chrematizo, which is based on the same root and looks similar, is in a nearby line).

      In the case of Tacitus, he would not explain the name Chrestianus by saying it came from Christus. The fact that the two terms don’t agree suggests they were not written by the same author. Tacitus wrote Chrestians to refer to the Jewish rioters Suetonius describes, and someone later added the line about Christus, creating a conflict that a later editor then rectified by erasing the eta in Chrestians and replacing it with a iota. Otherwise, we would have both Chrestianus and Chrestus here, had both lines been written by Tacitus.

    • Paul Thomas says

      I seem to be unable to reply to your comments , but in response to 10.1, yes, the numerous points you made in your article (pp377-8) were quite penetrating and that would have been sufficient if not for the mention within the earliest bible of “Chrestians”, that was the only red flag for me; I’m glad you’ve addressed that.

      Thanks

    • says

      (Just FYI, when a reply option is not listed, you can reply to the comment that that reply is a reply to. In this case, hit “Reply” to 10, and your comment will thread chronologically under 10.1 as 10.2. Unfortunately WordPress gives me no ability to relocate comments to other threads, so I can’t move it there as I’d like. But for those who want to catch what we are talking about, comment 10 is here and 10.1 just below.)

  8. praestans says

    Why’s it Ottawa, ‘Canada’ and not Ottawa, ‘Ontario’.
    Ar the Ottawas in the U.S. better known?

    Iggeophacy?

    PS Ar being a Christian and a secularist nesasrily mutually ixclusiv?

    • says

      Would you say the Olympics were once held in Munich, Bavaria?

      P.S. No. But fundamentalist and secularist are. I did not know his actual belief status until the debate (I can now confirm he’s a non-believer). I knew only that he was not a conservative Christian and fully endorses secular (non-faith-based) approaches to the study of Jesus.

  9. James Barlow says

    I would have lovedtohave been in Ottawa to hear you but it is too far to go. Am curious: someone told mein an email recently that you once claimed you were the greatest philosopher since Kant, and that you think that the laws of logic are the laws of the universe. Regarding the former, I have nothing to say since I know I am the greatest philospoher since Kant, but…..re. the latter…you don’t reallybelieve thaqt, do you?

    James marquetteia@yahoo.com

    • says

      Those sound like urban legends. For the original dispute that might have spawned the hyperbolic “greatest philosopher since Kant” myth, see here (with note 30), perhaps combined with the fact that I proved (in a chapter peer reviewed by several professors of philosophy) that Kant made a serious error in his metaphilosophy (TEC, pp. 340-43). For what I actually said about the ontology of logic, which is far more nuanced, see here.

  10. praestans says

    Richard please,

    I’v just red:

    http://vridar.org/2012/07/10/reply-to-hoffmanns-on-not-explaining-born-of-a-woman/

    Now in your latest debate. I wonder if you discust Galatians 4:4 ‘born of a woman’ -is ‘ginomai’ a conjugation of genesthai (or vice versa) as ‘made’ as you take it. if I look up the Greek at Jn 8:58 – ‘prin Abram genesthai.’ it’ll take me to Strong’s entry on ‘ginomai’ – which seems the infinitiv then. (do you have an article on this?)

    Would it be correct in saying, ‘this bike has a sturmey archer hub gear ‘ginomai’ in England’.

    what was the ‘born’ word that unscrupulus scribes used that Ehrman shows up as an interpolation?

    Finally, Doherty’s point that yes, Jesus is ‘born of a woman’ but Paul doesn’t say she’s Mary.
    How valid an argument do you think this is?

    Many thanks.

    Afzal

    • says

      I’m not sure I follow all you are asking.

      The other word is genaô (Paul only uses that when speaking of actual birth; and this is the word later scribes tried changing both passages to, as Ehrman has written about).

      The word ginomai is the lexical form of the other and different word that means “made” or “is” in Paul (yes, a conjugation: Greek is an inflected language so how a word is spelled will vary according to what grammatical role it is taking in a sentence, but it’s still the same word). Other authors can use ginomai to mean “born,” but that’s not as common, and in any event, it retains its ambiguity, which context usually resolves, but here the context is often a presumption a scholar brings to the text (note that in John 8:58 the word is simply being used to mean “was,” i.e. came to be, existed, it does not entail Abram’s birth specifically is meant, although it could mean or encompass that, the valence of the word is broad).

      I don’t know about your proposed sentence (there may be better words for that specific context), but one could indeed write it that way (conjugating correctly).

      On Doherty’s argument you paraphrase, that alone wouldn’t suffice to rebut Dr. Crook’s argument. But there are many other things one could say on the point. I cover it all in my book On the Historicity of Jesus.

  11. James Barlow says

    I am afraid your critique of Kant had been done much more gingerly by Nietzsche over 100 years agi; re.the other, I will examine it remembering the obiter dictum of Camus: “Logic is the opposite of thought.”

    Looking forward to your response I remain,
    Barlow (the Indefatiguable))

    • says

      Can you give me a usable citation to check what you mean? What did Nietzsche refute about Kant that anticipates my refutation? And where? (Work, edition, page number)

  12. Tim Bos says

    So how did the debate go? Was it a scholarly, productive exchange of arguments and views? Were you at all impressed by Crook’s reasoning? Did anything surprise you or stand out about Crook’s defense of historicity?

    • Will says

      As a follow-up, did you find Crook using problematic methodolgy? Had he engaged with PH as far as you could tell? My impression was that he was going to be relying on some kind of argument from oral tradition to salvage nuggets of historical data. I’m very curious since I’m convinced the methodological issues are key to this whole thing. thnx! (btw. if you plan on addressing this in a future blog i can just wait for that.)

    • says

      He did not have time to (the debate was right after the end of term, the busiest time for a professor; I sent him both my books, but he was unable to spend much time on them).

      But he was much more methodologically modest than your standard historicist. We actually agreed on most things. Ultimately, the debate hinged on how we interpret the Epistles. The Gospels factored less, although he did rely on one argument-from-the-Gospels overall, which was an argument from historical trend: the Gospels go from less mythical to more mythical over time, and extending that trajectory back gets you a historical Jesus not a mythical one. That was easy to respond to (and I did), but it was impossible to cover every nuance in the allotted time.

      I’ll blog about all this later this month (when the video is up), but by the end it seemed that he was left (on the Gospels angle) leaning on something vaguely like an Argument from Embarrassment, such that Mark would not have written x, y, and z unless they were true. The answer to which is that x, y, and z had demonstrable utility even if false, therefore his premise “not unless true” is false. I made my case, he asserted doubts. And we didn’t get to discuss that further, so it was an unresolved thread in the debate.

  13. Mr Smith says

    Hi Richard,
    I’ve been learning more info about this historicity topic, and found this video of you useful and enjoyable:

    I noticed about the 20:00 mark, you discuss the bread and cup(presumably containing wine) ritual that Paul said he received from the Lord in I Cor. 11:.23. You called this the “last supper”. Forgive me, but this phrasing grates on my ears whenever I hear it, and is attributed to Paul. In I Cor 11:20 Paul specifically calls this ritual the “Lord’s Supper”. I cannot find an instance in which Paul ever uses the term “last supper”, and I figure there’s no need reading anything into Paul’s writings that he didn’t actually write.

    Please correct me if I’m wrong, and accept my humble apologies. I know you are one who strives for accuracy, and this is one of the aspects of your work that I find very appealing.

    • says

      Yes, it’s only a last supper in the later mythology, and thus in common Christian parlance now. Thus I am there saying that what Christians refer to as the last supper was no such thing.

  14. mlt5198 says

    Dear Professor Carrier,

    I’m a chemistry teacher in Las Vegas who has an amateur interest in the origins of Christianity and have spent hours reading your material and watching your lectures online. The breadth of your knowledge is incredible and I don’t think anyone has the kind of understanding about the problems concerning the historicity of Jesus like you do. Because of that, if you have the time, I have some questions to problems that my amateur research was unable to solve and I’d like to access your knowledge to help answer them.

    1) Which of the potential solutions to the synoptic problem (2-source hypothesis, Farrer hypothesis, etc.) do you believe is the most likely to account for the similarities in their content?

    2) And as a corollary to that, what are your thoughts about the hypothesis from G. A. Wells that the earliest layer of Q (if it was a real document) might possibly be traced back to an “actual itinerant Galilean preacher” and that what we see in the Gospels are a fusion of this character- coupled with the evolving layers of mythology in Q-and the preexistent, revelatory Jesus that are in Paul’s gospels?

    3) And last, on the question of Pontius Pilate being either a ‘procurator’ or a ‘prefect’, I’ve read really divergent things and I hope you can clear them up. I read that ‘procurator’ was the title used in Rome but ‘prefect’ was the title used in Judea, so essentially they were one and the same thing. Is that so? And to piggyback on that, would a Roman procurator/prefect of that period have the authority to order the execution of a ‘political prisoner’ or social agitator of the status that the Jesus of the gospels purportedly had? Or would he have had to seek approval from the emperor himself before carrying out the execution?

    I thank you so much for your time and am grateful for all of your knowledge and research.

    mlt5198

    • says

      (1) Farrer. IMO, the evidence is overwhelming. But I cite the scholarship supporting it, and some of the most damning evidence against the Q hypothesis (its leading competitor), in On the Historicity of Jesus (expected this June).

      (2) Obviously, per above, I reject all hypotheses about the layering of Q. There was no Q. But there may be things in the material Matthew added to Mark that come from actual preachers. Probably several preachers. Just none of them were likely named Jesus, much less the Jesus worshiped by Peter and Paul and their congregations.

      (3) What you heard is wrong. I have several chapters outlining the actual facts in Hitler Homer Bible Christ. But they are also accessible online. See my summary here, and follow the link in there to my longer essay on the subject. On the second question, prefects definitely had the ius gladium, the right to enforce justice, without having to consult a superior (politically sometimes it would have been wise to, but no such political considerations would have applied to Jesus, so far as we know).

  15. Afzal says

    Richard please:

    How overwhelming s the techinical sense that 1 Corinthians 2:7-8’s ‘Rulers of this age.. that crucified Jesus’ [ton archonton tou aionos...] are actually demons of this age (would that be ‘Jinn’ in Islamic parlance’?] and not eg local magistrates as attested in secular Greek usage cited in christian apologia http://www.tektonics.org/doherty/doherty4sq.php

    • says

      It does not entail that interpretation, but neither does it entail the reverse. The use of the combined phrase “rulers of this age” is unique in Paul and indeed all ancient literature before much later Christian literature. Yet Paul uses it twice here (2:6, 2:8), implying it meant something particular. But both words can be used in reference to cosmic or terrestrial rulers. So what it meant requires attending to other aspects of context and usage in this place, and the rest of Paul’s letters altogether. One cannot prove he meant either temporal or cosmic rulers merely from the words alone.

      So historicists cannot validly argue that Paul is referring to a terrestrial crucifixion from the vocabulary here (which is strange: why would Paul use a phrase so unusual and ambiguous and all-condemning if he meant just Pilate or the Sanhedrin or both in collusion?), but so also mythicists cannot validly argue that Paul is “definitely” referring to cosmic crucifixion from the vocabulary here (only that he could just as easily be–maybe even a little more easily, owing to how strange it is as a way to refer to specifically Pilate and/or the Sanhedrin, or indeed anyone, but that differential in probability is too small to hang an argument on).

  16. E says

    My problem with mythicism is that it all falls under alternative non necessary interpretations. Did Paul mean “come of the seed of David” on the Earth, or does he mean it in a metaphorical heavenly sense. Did Paul believe Jesus was actually made from a woman, or was he just using an allegory? Was Jesus crucified by demons, or was he crucified under the Roman procurator/prefect Pilate. Does the Ascension of Isaiah say Jesus was crucified in the lower heavens, or does it mean on Earth? Did Hebrews teach a historical or a celestial Jesus? Are the Gospels myth or ancient bios? Did Philo think Joshua was the Logos or did he just apply the title to the LOGOS? It’s hard to see that being a good case for a mythical Jesus, but maybe your book will explain it better.

  17. Paul Jacobsen says

    Richard, I watched the debate on YouTube. A couple of things Crook said stood out to me, that I don’t think you responded to, though perhaps for time. For one, he didn’t seem impressed with your claim that Philo mentioned a celestial Jesus. I think he said that Philo actually used the name Joshua, though, I think that Joshua is the same name as Jesus in a different language. I think he also said it was a common name, so, it wasn’t all that impressive. I believe your response was that at the very least it is an amazing coincidence. Do you have anything further to add to this? Also, in regards to your claim that Paul tells us that “born of a woman” is metaphorical, Crook challenged that as saying what you said it says. Can you respond?

    • says

      Indeed, I had written more things in my notes during the debate than I had time on the clock to mention. As I noted in the debate, I had ten minutes to respond to thirty minutes of Crook.

      Crook never really addressed the Philo passage or its significance. We call that a “drop” in the parlance of debate. Had I time, I would have listed all his drops (there were several, not just that one). I am fairly certain he did not (nor would he) argue that the name being Joshua made it a different name. Crook certainly knows it’s the same name.

      I will be re-watching and blogging a commentary on the debate next week (at the earliest, I have too many obligations this week to devote time to it), including all my debate notes. But what you might be thinking of is the fact that the original text Philo is quoting was referring to an actual historical person centuries before Jesus (the first high priest of the second temple). But Philo is effectively saying he does not believe that is who it is referring to, that he thinks it is referring to the Logos figure (who has all the peculiar attributes Paul assigns to his Jesus, as I listed). That means Philo believed that Logos figure was named Jesus (Joshua). In scripture. Because he cites the passage saying so. That is indeed a remarkable (in fact, rather unbelievable) coincidence…unless it is a view predating both Philo and Christianity.

      Of course I say far more about this in my book (which is in final preparation at the press now).

      Likewise the Galatians passage about being born of a woman. I show in the book that the entire section (Gal. 4) is a single continuous argument, as I explained in the debate. Thus, he can’t appeal to Paul’s calling it an allegory several verses later. It’s all a single thread of argument. The distance in verses is irrelevant. You have to read the whole chapter as a single unit. You can’t cherry pick one verse, take it out of context, and spin some meaning out of it. But this is what scholars have been doing, even atheists like Crook, because they have unknowingly inherited Christian faith assumptions about how to read the text, rather than re-reading it without those assumptions, and treating it objectively as if you were reading the texts of a foreign religion you’d otherwise never heard of. The example of how the grammar of the James passage has been consistently overlooked is a perfect example of that.

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