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Mar 21 2012

Ehrman Trashtalks Mythicism

Yesterday Bart Ehrman posted a brief article at the Huffington Post (Did Jesus Exist?) that essentially trashtalks all mythicists (those who argue Jesus Christ never actually existed but was a mythical person, as opposed to historicists, who argue the contrary), indiscriminately, with a litany of blatant factual errors and logical fallacies. This is either the worst writing he has ever done, or there are far more serious flaws in his book than I imagined (Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth). Amazon just reported that it shipped my copy of his book yesterday as well, so I will be able to review it soon.

I am puzzled especially because this HuffPo article as written makes several glaring errors and rhetorical howlers that I cannot believe any competent scholar would have written. Surely he is more careful and qualified in the book? I really hope so. Because I was expecting it to be the best case for historicism in print. But if it’s going to be like this article, it’s going to be the worst piece of scholarship ever written. So stay tuned for my future review of his book. For now, I will address this brief article, not knowing how his book might yet rescue him from an epic fail.

Attacking Academic Freedom

I won’t address his appeal to the genetic fallacy (mythicists are all critics of religion, therefore their criticisms of a religion as myth can be dismissed) or his sniping at credentials (where he gets insanely and invalidly hyper-specific about what qualifies a person to speak on this subject [which as one reader pointed out is the no-true-Scottsman fallacy]), except to note that it’s false: mythicist Thomas Thompson meets every one of Ehrman’s criteria–excepting only one thing, he is an expert in Judaism rather than Christianity specifically. And I know Ehrman knows of him. So did he just “forget” when he says he knows of no one who meets his criteria? Or is he being hyper-hyper specific and not allowing even professors of Jewish studies to have a respectable opinion in this matter? As Thompson’s book The Messiah Myth introduces the subject, “the assumptions that the gospels are about a Jesus of history…are not justified.” He says (my emphasis) that “a historical Jesus might be essential to the origins of Christianity,” but is not essential to the construction of “the gospels” (p. 8), not even the sayings in them come from a historical Jesus (pp. 11-26).

Thompson allows the possibility of a historical Jesus, but concludes that the “Jesus” of the New Testament is mythical, and calls for renewed study of the question of historicity generally. In his introduction to a recent anthology on the topic, which includes works by mythicists alongside historicists, Thompson (as co-author) concludes that “an unquestioning acceptance of the New Testament figures of Jesus, Paul and the disciples as historical can at times be shown to ignore and misunderstand the implicit functions of our texts” (p. 8 of Is This Not the Carpenter? The Question of the Historicity of the Figure of Jesus) and the possibility that Jesus didn’t exist “needs to be considered more comprehensively” than the dismissive attitude of historicists (like, as it happens, Ehrman) has allowed (p. 10). Currently all we have, Thompson concludes, is “a historical Jesus” who “is a hypothetical derivative of scholarship,” which “is no more a fact than is an equally hypothetical historical Moses or David.”

That’s a prestigious professor of biblical studies. Is Ehrman really pooh-poohing his qualifications? Because if he is, this article becomes a massive case of foot-in-mouth. Because in it, Ehrman commits some glaring factual errors that entail he is either the one not qualified to discuss this subject, or one of the sloppiest and most careless writers on earth. I’ll get to that. But first I must remark on the significance of all this. Ehrman intimates that any professor who entertains this hypothesis will be fired or otherwise never hired, that he will in effect suffer career persecution. He does not say this with sadness, but with glee, satisfaction even. Indeed Ehrman’s own article represents a variety of this persecution: ridicule and the slandering of credentials. Thompson may have only felt free to be honest about his views after he retired, when no one could fire him or persecute his career. I personally know a few professors who themselves also feel this way: they do not touch this topic with a ten foot pole, precisely because they fear the kind of thing Ehrman is doing and threatening. They do not want to lose their jobs or career prospects and opportunities. They do not want to be ridiculed or marginalized.

This makes Ehrman’s observation that no mythicist presently has a professorship (a distinction he did not make, but I am) a self-fulfilling prophecy: since Ehrman has all but explicitly stated that professors in “accredited institutions” do not have academic freedom, that indeed Ehrman opposes that freedom, verbally and institutionally, and endorses persecuting, verbally and institutionally, any who dare exercise it, who else do you think is free to challenge the consensus on this issue? Obviously, only outsiders can. The fact that that is what he observes is therefore not an argument against the merits of mythicism, but against the merits of attacking academic freedom.

Few other issues have this problem. You can challenge the consensus on almost anything else in Jesus studies, but this is sacrosanct, and if you dare, “we’ll ruin your career.” Such is Ehrman’s message. The fact that he then finds this a mark against mythicism betrays his circular reasoning. No, Dr. Ehrman, it is a mark against mainstream scholarship. You are acting like it is a religion, with dogmas that cannot be challenged, lest you suffer the consequences. Just imagine all the professors who find some mythicist theories plausible, reading your article. You have just successfully intimidated them into shutting the hell up. Or at least, apparently, you hope to have. That’s not admirable. And it’s not how an institution that values the pursuit of the truth should behave.

The only people who should be in danger of losing their careers in the field, and who should be criticized as such, are those who persistently fail to follow sound and defensible methods, or persistently demonstrate dishonesty or incompetence (James Tabor I fear might be going down that road; time will tell). Taking a controversial position and arguing a controversial theory does not rise to that level (much less merely considering or discussing it as a possibility). Thus, you should not attack mythicists as a group, for merely sharing a common position or theory, as if there were no distinctions among them as to capability and quality of work. That’s defending a dogma, not a method. Rather, you should attack particular and demonstrable failures of method and competence. And not just claim incompetence, but prove it. Anything else is just special pleading and ad hominem. To do it in the guise of shaming anyone who would dare side with us by denouncing in advance their competence and sanity and implicitly threatening their jobs only makes this despicable rather than merely fallacious.

I’m told Ehrman might make a cleaner distinction between quality and crank mythicism in his book. But many more people will read this article than his book. It’s therefore irresponsible of him to cast this nuance to the wind.

Factual Mistakes

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 (his works in Jesus studies and textual criticism are among the best available, and I have and will always recommend Jesus Interrupted as the book anyone should read who wants to get up to speed on the current consensus in New Testament and Early Christianity, being a perfect parallel to The Bible Unearthed, which plays the same role for the Old Testament). A single error would be a minor lapse; but four in one brief article is a trend.

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…

Mistake #1: Ehrman says “not even … the most powerful and important figure of his day, Pontius Pilate” is “mentioned in any Roman sources of his day.” False. Philo of Alexandria was a living contemporary of Pilate, and wrote a whole book about him (or rather, against both Sejanus and Pilate, documenting the ways they had persecuted Jews contrary to prior imperial edicts, cf. Schürer and Eusebius, History of the Church 2.5, who had read this book), which we don’t have (it is one of the missing volumes of the Embassy to Gaius), but we do have Philo discussing one event involving Pilate in another book we do have, written in the 40s A.D., probably while Pilate was still alive, in his retirement (Philo, Embassy to Gaius 299-305).

We also have discussions of Pilate in Josephus’ Jewish War, written in 78 A.D., the same distance from Pilate’s life as the earliest Gospels are assumed to be from Jesus. But perhaps Ehrman is being hyper-specific again and only talking about contemporary attestation, although that would be disingenuous, since it is precisely this kind of early secular reference to Pilate that we don’t have for Jesus, and Ehrman is trying to say Pilate is an example of a famous person for whom we don’t have this–but, alas, we do. But even if we assume the disingenuous limiting of relevance to texts composed in “his day” we have Philo. If Ehrman is being hyper-specific as to his use of the word “Roman,” that would be even more disingenuous (as Philo’s cititizenship would hardly matter for this purpose; and at any rate, as a leading scholar and politician in Alexandria and chief embassador to the emperor, Philo was almost certainly a Roman citizen).

Forgetting (or not knowing?) that Philo attests to Pilate’s service in Judea is a serious error for Ehrman and his argument, because the absence of any mention of Jesus or Christianity in Philo is indeed very odd. In fact, the loss of his book about Pilate’s reign is a very curious omission–even though Christians preserved over three dozen other books of his, amounting to nearly 900 pages of multi-columned small type in English translation, Christians chose not to preserve the book on Pilate, and that despite preserving other volumes in the very same treatise. Why? Maybe the loss was just accidental (I suspect it was because no mention of Jesus was in it, but obviously we can debate that). Christians were evangelizing in Alexandria during Philo’s lifetime. If Acts is to be believed, Jewish leaders were very concerned to oppose this and took active effort to persecute Christians. If that is at all true, we can be certain Philo knew of Christians and their claims and stories, and thus knew of Jesus. He was a leading scholar, who wrote on various Jewish sects, and a significant political figure plugged into the elite concerns of Alexandrian Jews, who even chose him to lead their embassy to the emperor of Rome. (He also made regular pilgrimages to Jerusalem: Philo, On Providence 2.64.)

The only explanation for why Philo never mentions Christianity is that it was not as important to Jews as Acts depicts, but was a tiny fringe cult of no significant interest to the Jewish elite. And that is an important conclusion. Mythicists will say he doesn’t mention Jesus because there was no Jesus, but that does not explain why he doesn’t mention Christianity. Certainly, if Jesus was as famous and controversial as the Gospels and Acts depict, then Philo’s lack of interest in either the man or the threatening and grandiose claims made about him becomes improbable, but if we accept that the Gospels and Acts hugely exaggerate his fame and importance, then Philo’s disinterest goes back to being probable again. The consequence of this is that you must accept that Philo’s silence argues against the existence of Jesus as depicted in the Gospels. One must therefore conclude the Gospels substantially fictionalize the story of Jesus. I don’t think Ehrman disagrees with that conclusion, but he loses sight of it in his attempt to mock the importance of this kind of evidence, the silence of external sources.

But that is not the extent of his mistake. Forgetting (or not knowing?) about Philo (or even Josephus) mentioning Pilate is bad enough. Worst of all is the fact that Ehrman’s claim is completely false even on the most disingenuous possible reading of his statement. For we have an inscription, commissioned by Pilate himself, attesting to his existence and service in Judea. That’s as “Roman” an attestation as you can get. And it’s not just contemporary attestation, it’s eyewitness attestation, and not just eyewitness attestation, but its very autograph (not a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy, but the original text, no doubt proofed by Pilate’s own eyes). And that literally carved in stone. How could anyone not know of this, who intended to use Pilate as an example? Even the most rudimentary fact-check would have brought this up. And one of the most fundamental requirements of Ehrman’s profession is to check what sources we have on Pilate, before making a claim that we have no early ones. Ehrman thus demonstrates that he didn’t check; which is an amateur mistake. I’ve occasionally made errors like that, but only in matters of considerable complexity. We’re talking about something he could have corrected with just sixty seconds on google.

The lack of comparable inscriptions erected by any Christian churches or any wealthy convert at any time throughout the first century is indeed a curious thing. It can be explained (apocalyptic expectations, poverty, humility, the extremely small size of the movement). But it is still a fact, and it is not disingenuous to at least concede that we don’t have this or any comparable evidence. Explaining why we don’t have any evidence (like we have for Pilate: an inscription; a neutral contemporary text, and a neutral near-contemporary text) does not permit us to ignore the fact that we still don’t have it. And where evidence is missing, the possibilities multiply. Again, this entails things about early Christianity (whatever explanation you have for this lack of evidence, you must then accept as true about early Christianity as a whole, and that means accepting all the consequences of that fact as well).

So this certainly does not prove Jesus didn’t exist. Because we can retreat to the hypothesis that he was not anywhere near as famous as the Gospels portray, and the Christian movement not anywhere near as large as Acts implies. But Ehrman didn’t make that valid argument; he made the invalid argument instead, and premised it on amateur factual mistakes. Emotion seems to have seized his brain. Seeing red, he failed to function like a competent scholar, and instead fired off a screed every bit as crank as the worst of any of his opponents. Foot, mouth.

This is simply not how to argue for historicity. It’s a classic example of boner mistakes made by historicists, which calls into question their competence to speak on this issue. Usually I see this claim made of Socrates or Alexander the Great, for each of whom we have vastly more contemporary attestation than we do for Jesus, despite actual claims to the contrary made by Jesus scholars who incompetently didn’t bother to check. Thankfully Ehrman didn’t make that foolish a mistake. But making the same mistake in using Pilate puts him right in their company.

Mistake #2: Ehrman actually says (and I can’t believe it, but these are his exact words):

With respect to Jesus, we have numerous, independent accounts of his life in the sources lying behind the Gospels (and the writings of Paul) — sources that originated in Jesus’ native tongue Aramaic and that can be dated to within just a year or two of his life (before the religion moved to convert pagans in droves). Historical sources like that are pretty astounding for an ancient figure of any kind.

He actually says we have such sources. We do not. That is simply a plain, straight-up falsehood. I can only suppose he means Q or some hypothesized sources behind the creedal statements in Paul or the sermons in Acts, but none of those sources exist, and are purely hypothetical. In fact, barely more than conjectural. There is serious debate in the academic community as to whether Q even existed; and even among those who believe it did, there is serious debate about whether it comes from Aramaic or in fact Greek sources or whether it’s one source or several or whether it even goes back to Jesus at all. The background to the creeds and sermons are even more conjectural (the creeds might go back to Aramaic sources, but none attest to a historical Jesus in the required sense of the term; and the sermons almost certainly do not go back to Aramaic sources, but are literary constructions of the author of Acts, writing in a Semitized Greek heavily influenced by the Septuagint; see Proving History, pp. 184-86 and Richard Pervo’s The Mystery of Acts, just for starters).

So what Aramaic sources do we “have,” Dr. Ehrman? Do tell. And on what basis do you conclude they were written down “within just a year or two of his life”? How can you be so precise? I can only assume this is an allusion to the origin of the creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (whose origin some scholars date to the formation of the cult), which we do not have in Aramaic, and could have originated in a Semitized Greek (and therefore we cannot be certain it began in Aramaic; and it certainly is not the words of Jesus). But when did it originate? When did it originate in that form? (Since it is not a given that it hasn’t changed; it obviously did, since Paul has added to it, attaching a reference to his own revelation at the end; how many other changes did it undergo on its way to him?) More importantly, that creed contains no reference to Jesus living on earth, having a ministry, or doing or saying anything in life. All it says is that scripture says he died, was buried, and was resurrected (it notably does not say anyone witnessed this, or when it happened or by whom, e.g. it does not say Jesus was crucified by Pontius Pilate, a key component of later creeds) and only then this Jesus appeared to some people (in a fashion I know Ehrman himself agrees is not relevant to this debate: because a historical Jesus did not “appear” after his death, but a cosmic, revelatory Jesus, a product of the apostles’ imagination).

The fact that Jesus is not said to have appeared or taught or done anything at all before he died is not something to just brush under the rug. Nor also the fact that the only source being given for his death and burial in this creed is scripture, whereas the source for his “subsequent” (post-mortem) ministry is given as seeing him, and that only in “revelations” (Galatians 1:11-12, which then must be the same as all the others: 1 Cor. 15:5-8). Likewise, note that many mythical godmen “died, were buried, and resurrected,” or a near enough equivalent, thus Paul stating such a creed no more attests the historicity of Jesus than it attests the historicity of Osiris (or Romulus or Hercules or Inanna or Zalmoxis or Bacchus or Adonis and so on; Osiris is the only one of these who was explicitly “buried,” but similar stories were told of all these others, e.g. Hercules was burned on a pyre, and certainly before Christianity: see Not the Impossible Faith, chapters 1 and 3). None of this entails Jesus didn’t exist, but it certainly allows the possibility. If Ehrman doesn’t see that, then he is not being objective or reasonable.

Thus when he touts this conjectural, non-existent, uncertain-to-be “Aramaic” source (in fact he says sources, so we even have multiple imaginary attestation!), which in fact argues as much for the non-existence of Jesus as otherwise, as being comparable to a slam-dunk confirmation of his historicity, this is some very slipshod argument indeed. Had any of his opponents pulled that trick on him, he would not be at all kind in pointing out how fallacious it is. But alas, he cannot see that he is committing the very same fallacy, and in his effort to attack his enemies, has become just like them. That he actually says we have this conjectural, non-existent, uncertain-to-be “Aramaic” source is, by contrast, profoundly incompetent writing. I am certain he did not really mean to lie. In his emotional pique, he just didn’t proof his own article and thus didn’t notice how badly he misspoke. But that suggests he is driving on emotion and not reason or any careful process.

And yet one could easily mistake him for lying. Because he actually says of this conjectural, non-existent, uncertain-to-be “Aramaic” source that “historical sources like that are pretty astounding for an ancient figure of any kind.” You mean, not having a source is pretty astounding for an ancient figure? Stated correctly, his sentence makes no sense (there is nothing astounding about not having a source). Thus, it seems as if he really did intend the readers of his article to believe we have this source he is talking about (and indeed, many a layperson will make this mistake in reading it, and I fully expect to have people repeating to me that “Dr. Ehrman said we have multiple Aramaic documents dating to just a year or two after Jesus attesting his existence,” requiring me to correct them, an annoying phenomenon I usually have to deal with from mythicists, not proper scholars like Ehrman).

Altogether, these two sentences from him look more crank than anything he accuses mythicists of. A hypothetical source we don’t have is simply not “pretty astounding.” Indeed, if that’s the standard, then we have vast quantities of sources for other ancient persons. Really, if we get to count “hypothetical” sources like that, then in fact don’t we have such sources for all historical persons attested in antiquity?

Mistake #3: Ehrman says “we do not have accounts of others who were born to virgin mothers and who died as an atonement for sin and then were raised from the dead (despite what the sensationalists claim ad nauseum [sic] in their propagandized versions).” Taken strictly literally, this sentence is true. But that is misleading, and therefore disingenuous. As such, it amounts to a straw man (at least of many mythicists; some few mythicists, the more incompetent of them, make that specific claim, but attacking only the weakest proponent of a position is precisely what makes this a fallacy). No competent mythicist makes this claim. Rather, they claim that virgin-born gods were a common phenomenon in the region at the time and dying-and-rising gods were a common phenomenon in the region at the time (in precisely the way these were not anywhere else, e.g. in ancient China), and so for Jews to suddenly start claiming they have one, too, looks pretty easily explained in terms of standard theories of cultural diffusion. (See my chapter on the origins of Christianity in The End of Christianity, ch. 2, pp. 53-74.)

Ehrman appears to be denying this, and as such is making himself look like a crank again–in fact like an ignorant Christian apologist spewing contrafactual propaganda. That makes him at the very least guilty of really terrible writing. What I suppose he means to say is the disingenuous, strictly literal thing, but as I already noted, that would be fallacious and thus logically incompetent. Religious syncretism is the process of combining ideas from several sources, often the most popular or useful ideas in the air, into a new whole, making for a new religion. All religions are produced this way. Christianity therefore certainly was as well (it would go against all prior probability to claim otherwise, and against all the evidence as well). Judaism had a prominent component of sacrifices atoning for a nation’s entire sins, a belief in the holy spirit making Jewish kings into the sons of god (see Not the Impossible Faith, chapter 9), and a tendency toward ascetic denigration of sexuality. Paganism had a prominent component of dying-and-rising savior gods, who likewise offered ways to cleanse their followers of sins and thus procure them entry into paradise–not necessarily by their death, but always in some way, and in many cases through baptismal rituals long predating Christianity’s adoption of the same or similar ritual (see The Empty Tomb, p. 215, n. 210); and pagans had many traditions about virgin born sons of god. Note what happens when you combine the Jewish side with the pagan: you get Christianity. This is actually almost certainly what happened, and thus should not even be in dispute.

This does not equate to concluding that Jesus was a fictional person; rather, even if he was historical, the attribution to him of the properties of pagan deities had to come from somewhere, and cultural diffusion is the obvious source. Ehrman appears to be denying even that latter fact, which puts him at the far extreme of even mainstream scholarship. 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. (Can you imagine it? They independently think up the idea, then go preaching around Gentile cities and discover there are all these other virgin born sons of god…why, golly gee, what a coincidence! See Not the Impossible Faith, pp. 76-78, near the end of chapter 2, where Perseus is an example recognized even by early Christians as being “virgin born”; and to which can be added, in some traditions, the virgin birth of Romulus: Plutarch, Life of Romulus 3; Ra, in the tradition that had him born of the virgin Neith; Dionysus, in the tradition by which Semele is impregnated with a potion; etc.)

So does Ehrman mean we have no precedent who satisfied all those attributes at once? (A straw man.) Or does he mean we have no precedents for any of those attributes individually as available material for syncretism? (A false claim, of the most incompetent kind.) 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. Again, this makes him look like the slipshod crank.

Mistake #4:  This might not be a mistake, so much as an allusion to an argument in his book: 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.” He knows I have presented ample evidence refuting this, both as to the fact of it (Daniel 9:26 says a messiah will die, and the pre-Christian Melchizedek scroll explicitly identifies this passage as being about the messiah, or at least a messiah who would cleanse the world of sin), and also by demonstrating its irrelevance, since even Ehrman cannot deny later Jews taught and believed in a future messiah “son of Joseph” who would be killed by his enemies (as attested in the Talmud and other Judaica), and they certainly didn’t borrow this idea from the despised heretical sect of Christianity, which means the idea was not anathema to Jews and could easily be conceived by them (and likely predates Christianity, since both Jews and Christians imagining the dying messiah’s father as named “Joseph” seems otherwise a remarkable coincidence, but that need not be supposed to make my present point).

On all these points, see my essay The Dying Messiah. I can only presume Ehrman builds some sort of argument against my case in his book, which from our correspondence I predict will be fallacious (making a straw man of my evidence, selecting scholarship that agrees with him and ignoring scholarship that agrees with me, etc.). But in this article, to make so adamant an assertion, knowing full well there is a respectable case to be made to the contrary, is again crank behavior, not reasoned scholarship. Once again he is acting exactly like the worst of those he denounces.

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 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).

This means Ehrman is definitely failing at basic evidential logic. This is one respect in which my book Proving History will school him.

Ehrman’s Only Evidence

Ehrman lists only one single item of evidence for Jesus’ historicity that survives basic review: the fact that Paul once refers to having met “James the brother of the Lord” (Galatians 1:18-20; Paul also mentions a generic “brothers of the Lord” in 1 Cor. 9:5). Ehrman slightly misrepresents the evidence when he claims that Paul met “Jesus’ closest disciple Peter,” since Paul never once calls Peter a “disciple” (in fact, no such term appears anywhere in Paul’s letters), and never mentions him being close to Jesus at all, much less his “closest.” But Paul does say he met the brother of the Lord, and mentions “brothers of the Lord.”

However, 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 (or rather, all baptized Christians were, as there is evidence to suggest one did not become adopted until baptism, e.g. Romans 6:3-10, and Christians were not baptized right away, they had to undergo a period of initiation first). Though true in that sense, possibly one was not allowed to use that specific title until they had achieved full ascension through all the grades of initiation, and thus it was a title of rank, since there is evidence in Clement of Alexandria that one did not become fully a son of God until ascending several levels of initiation.

But one can question at what time that multi-stage process was begun, and exploring that would be too lengthy a digression. It’s enough to test the hypothesis that every Christian would be called brother of the Lord. The fact of it is true: as just shown, all Christians were brothers of the Lord, by their own religious conceptions; 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).

This is hypothesis (1); the alternatives are (2) that only actual brothers could use this title, even though all Christians were brothers of the Lord, which would entail some policing of the use of the phrase, which is not in evidence in Paul or (3) such policing was done, but to secure the title as one of rank and not actual biological kinship. Notably, (2) and (3) both require a practice of policing the use of the exact phrase, to prevent other brothers of the Lord from calling themselves or each other Brothers of the Lord. The probability that (1) or (3) is true is greater than the probability that only (1) is true, and only on (2) is this phrase evidence of the historicity of Jesus. So if we ignore (3) and only focus on (1), our conclusion against (2) will be even stronger when we include the possibility of (3).

So what happens when we compare (1) against (2)? Hypothesis (2) requires there to have been policing of the cultic title so that only biological brothers could use it or be referred to by it. Hypothesis (1) does not require that ad hoc assumption. This means (1) is the simpler hypothesis. It therefore has the greater prior probability (see Proving History, pp. 80-81). Furthermore, (1) is actually in evidence (we know all Christians in Paul’s time were brothers of the Lord in cultic fact, as all the passages above prove), whereas (2) is not (not one time in all of Paul’s letters does he ever say or even imply that this phrase means only biological brothers). (1) is therefore the most probable hypothesis. Which therefore means this phrase is not evidence for the historicity of Jesus. In Bayesian terms, this means: given the background evidence (the facts pertaining to Christians regarding themselves as all sons of God and thus brothers of the son of God), (1) has greater prior probability, and greater net consequent probability (since on [2] the probability can’t be zero that we would have better evidence against [1], whereas on [1] the evidence we have is 100% expected). [This conclusion could change if we verify that the claims in the Gospels (and subsequent sources) that Jesus had brothers are true, but that would first have to be done.]

The one argument left is to suggest that if (1) were true, it would be redundant of Paul to mention that James was a brother of the Lord (that would not, however, be the case in 1 Cor. 9:5), and redundant expressions are less probable (i.e. they are unexpected). But this fails a basic test: Paul often calls people “brother” along with their name even when the context makes this redundant (Philm. 1:1, 1 Thess. 3:2, Philp. 2:25, 2 Cor. 2:13 and 1:1, 1 Cor. 16:12 and 1:1, Romans 16:23). That he would on rare occasion use the complete phrase “brother of the Lord” would not be unexpected. The more so if Peter had a brother named James, as that would require Paul in this instance to distinguish the apostle James from James the brother of Peter, in which case saying just “brother” wouldn’t do, necessitating the full epithet “brother of the Lord,” i.e. not of Peter (because Paul says he met with “Peter” and no other apostle except this James).

[Nevertheless, after discussing this in comments, I do agree we should allow that his use of the phrase here nevertheless has some probability less than 100%, since it is not assured that he would have used it here. So we have to break the matter down into all competing explanations and work the numbers for each. And to argue a fortiori (Proving History, pp. 85-88) we might even lower that probability a lot, making this evidence for historicity rather than against. But these reasons are precisely why these conclusions have to be debated and not assumed.]

It is also entirely possible that “of the Lord” (tou kyriou) was a later scribal addition, aiming to turn this James into the brother of Jesus by harmonization with the Gospels and later legend. These kinds of harmonizing and retrodictive emendations to the text of the NT were common, and assuming they haven’t occurred in cases, like this, where they are most likely, is a dangerously weak platform to erect a theory upon (see the slideshow for my debate with J.P. Holding on the textual reliability of the NT, linked in Debates & Interviews and my post on Pauline Interpolations). Since this is literally the only evidence Ehrman has that Jesus existed, the weakness of it should be alarming to him, not cause for arrogant displays of unshakable certainty.

What’s Left?

Ehrman might answer “we have the Gospels” and “we have Paul relating sayings of the Lord” and “we have second century references” but none of these hold up, as he perhaps knows when he admits there is a lot of mythmaking in the Gospels, for example. But one myth is as good as another. To say that the Gospels contain a lot of myth, therefore they “can’t” be entirely myth, is not valid reasoning. They might contain a historical core, they might not. That has to be determined, and is at least an honestly debatable question. As Dr. Thompson admitted. I think on full analysis they come out as completely mythical (most of the attempts to argue otherwise fail on basic logic, as I demonstrate in Proving History, chapter 5). That should at least be a respectable position, even if Ehrman or anyone disagrees with it.

The second century references, meanwhile, cannot be shown to be independent of the Gospels (e.g. the reference in Tacitus, even the Testimonium Flavianum, even if it were completely genuine–and it’s not–says nothing that could not have simply been read out of a Gospel or gotten from any other Christian source relying on one), or to derive from any real source at all (e.g. the Infancy Gospels). And like any other mythic being, the Gospels would not be the earliest versions of the creed; many mythical demigods “died and were resurrected,” some were even “buried” or hung or burned or cut to pieces; that doesn’t make them historical. Thus, in Paul, that Jesus was created out of the “seed of David” (in fulfillment of prophecy) and “born of a woman” are claims that could just as easily be made of any mythical demigod (all of whom were born of a woman, and some of whom were “magically” born from the seed of their fathers, like Perseus, or even, as in the case of Dionysus, their previous corpses). They also said things–none of which were historical. Paul himself only identifies two sources for his sayings of the Lord: scripture and revelation (e.g. 1 Corinthians 11:23 in light of Galatians 1:18-20). No historical Jesus is needed there.

That leaves nothing.

Obviously, saying all this is by no means sufficient to demonstrate that Jesus didn’t exist. There is still evidence to debate and logic to test. But it ought to be sufficient to demonstrate that this is at least a respectable theory to consider. As long as it is considered competently and with due attention to facts and logic and productive peer debate, why not?

 

[For a follow up to this post see McGrath on the Amazing Infallible Ehrman. For my reply to Ehrman's response to this review see Ehrman's Dubious Replies (Round One). And for my subsequent critical review of Ehrman's book see Ehrman on Jesus: A Failure of Facts and Logic.]

346 comments

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  1. 1
    CJO

    Regarding the supposed Aramaic sources, I think he’s talking about Semitisms in Mark. Not just the actual transliterated Aramaic, but constructions in Greek that follow Semitic word-order and idiomatic phrasing. He may be following Maurice Casey, who I think also claims that this must be evidence that Mark had sources from Jesus’ lifetime or shortly after (I haven’t read Casey’s book).

    1. 1.1
      Richard Carrier

      That would be fallacious, of course (Semitized Greek was a whole spoken and written dialect at the time; I cite the references in Proving History). Thus Semitisms do not prove an Aramaic source. And, again, even if Mark (who actually exhibits poor knowledge of Judea and Judaism; we know this because Matthew so frequently corrects him) were somehow using an Aramaic source, that does not mean the source was written, or singular, or early, or not itself as fabricated as any other Gospel. I discuss all of these methodological issues in Proving History. Thus, if Casey argues what you say, it’s one more example of the bankrupt methodology in Jesus studies that I wrote Proving History to expose.

    2. 1.2
      Steven Bollinger

      (HTML is not my strong suit. I still haven’t figured out that citation code.)

      Richard, you said:

      “Just FYI, my book is much better. It improves on that chapter in every way”

      Noted. And I also have no reason to doubt your rave reviews of Ehrman’s earlier books. It’s just that, to be perfectly honest, I don’t know whether I’m going to be reading that many recent books — in ANY field. I’m not an academic. One of the reasons I dropped out of grad school 20 years ago, dropping plans to get an MA and a PhD in German literature, is that I realized I would have to spend more time reading new scholarly work than primary texts. And I’m all about the primary texts. And volume 2 of the MGH Scriptores and and an edition of Claudian (reprints of pre-copyright editions) just arrived from Amazon. And I’m working hard on learning Greek and Hebrew.

      All that by way of explaining why, although I find the historicist/mythicist doohicky very interesting, I probably won’t be delving into the fray and keeping current quite as if I were an actual Biblical scholar.

    3. Richard Carrier

      Steven Bollinger:

      (HTML is not my strong suit. I still haven’t figured out that citation code.)

      Just FYI (for everyone), the codes are above the comment input box. The relevant ones are ‹i› (for italics) and ‹blockquote› (for indented text; you don’t need to include the cite=”" attribute). You write that code before where you want it to apply, and then where you want it to end you wrote closing tag, ‹/i› or ‹/blockquote›, respectively.

      (As to your other remarks, I definitely know what you mean. I have to take the same perspective on countless other issues myself.)

  2. 2
    Avo, also nigelTheBold

    Ah, hell. I’m just reading Ehrman’s Jesus Interrupted and enjoying the fuck out of it. He seems to be reasonable, for the most part. I wonder if this is his blind spot, a kind of sentimental longing for his fundamentalist roots?

    In any case, he tacitly admits several times in the book that there is very little evidence for a factual Jesus, even though he doesn’t explicitly admit it.

    1. 2.1
      Richard Carrier

      Ehrman’s Jesus Interrupted is awesome. In fact, I’ve loved everything of his I’ve read so far (e.g. if you loved JI, you’ll love Forged). And I can vouch for it. He’s almost always right, and when he’s not, he’s at least reflecting the widest consensus or erring in a respectable way. So, yeah, don’t by any means take my article as reason not to voraciously consume his books. JI at the very least should be on everyone’s bookshelf.

      But yes, this has to be his blind spot. I suspect he is suffering from intellectual impact trauma: he’s so sick of reading all the complete tripe there is out there (all the truly terrible mythicism, which vastly outnumbers anything worth reading), that his brain is locked in outrage mode, which has sent him off the handle. Or, of course, it could be that he is engaging in system justification (he fears what would happen to him if he showed any signs of coming anywhere near us on this, so he has to prove he’s not by taking the most extreme position possible and attacking us as ruthlessly as he can get away with; just as closeted gays will beat up “out” gays to (a) prove they aren’t gay and (b) to justify their acceptance of the hatred of gays; and likewise all manner of social control attitudes, which are reinforced by convincing people they need to reinforce them for their own good).

    2. 2.2
      Mr Claw

      Hi Richard.

      I enjoyed the article. Thanks.

      I too have enjoyed Bart’s books. God’s Problem takes a mature look at the biblical approaches to suffering and evil – and points out that there is no consistent all-encompassing view. Forged, Jesus Interrupted and Misquoting Jesus were all good too.

      I have read some mythicist books. I agree with you that the claim that Jesus never existed needs serious evaluation (there appears to be virtually no evidence for the historicity of Jesus and a host of miraculous coincidences between the Gospel narratives and the tributes of dying/resurrecting godmen).

      However, I feel that much of the writing I have read on the matter is somewhat poorly written. For instance, Freke & Gandy (possibly the worst offenders!) clearly have a new-aged agenda to push, and take valid pagan comparisons to Jesus and mash them all together, fudging the gaps, to make them *look* like a consistent narrative. They are also guilty of assuming that *everyone* from antiquity was a pagan following the same sects at any given time, and of lumping all contemporary non-orthodox Christian sects together as a single ‘gnostic’ group (even though we know many rival Christianities existed – Ebionites, Docetists, Arians, Marcionites, etc with quite differing beliefs).

      The best it seems we can say about Jesus is that he may have existed; he may not have existed.

      Certainly the level of importance attached to him in NT scripture is a gross exaggeration of any possible historical figure (hence the lack of evidence); and clearly much detail of the NT stories has been grafted on from previously-extant pagan and Jewish spiritualism.

      Bart’s argument – that he’s made before – that one can infer historical evidence from Q, or from areas where all the Gospels agree on a point (e.g. that Jesus was executed) is, to that extent, a bad one. It was easily the weakest part of Jesus Interrupted.

      I would counter that several authors have since taken on the mantle of writing Sherlock Holmes books since the death of Conan Doyle; all these different authors agree that Holmes lived on Baker St in London. Using Bart’s logic we can therefore conclude that Holmes was a historical individual and really lived on Baker St. Hell, we even have a a tonne of Holmes pseudo-historical ‘evidence’ just down the road from where I work (next to Baker St). The same can be said of James Bond and countless other fictional figures for whom we have multiple authors in agreement on at least some biographical points. Inferring ‘historical’ info from differing texts, written at different times, that agree on one or two nuggets is just not good enough, and Bart should know that.

      In the case of Jesus, all the loose agreement between texts means is that there was likely a pre-existing narrative (spoken or written) that established a pseudo-biography. This may have been Q, it may have been another document; it may have been oral tradition. It doesn’t prove that the stories in the NT have historical bases; and without (reasonably) contemporary, attesting, neutral evidence we can’t seriously derive any more.

      Can you, or any of your readers, point me in the direction of some interesting, academic books that look at the historicity/mythicism of Jesus (other than Thompson’s Messiah Myth referenced in your article) in a mature and reasoned fashion, rather then the sensationalism of many popular mythicist tomes?

      Thanks,

      Chris

    3. Richard Carrier

      Mr Claw: Can you, or any of your readers, point me in the direction of some interesting, academic books that look at the historicity/mythicism of Jesus (other than Thompson’s Messiah Myth referenced in your article) in a mature and reasoned fashion, rather then the sensationalism of many popular mythicist tomes?

      Earl Doherty’s Jesus Puzzle is the only one really worth reading (as it argues a coherent thesis throughout, in a systematic and scholarly way; his follow-up book is much worse in this regard, so I don’t recommend it, except as a giant appendix to his first one). Robert Price’s The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man ranks next, although I have some problems with it (more than I do with Doherty: as to the latter, see my review, esp. the last section which summarizes those problems).

    4. 2.3
      Jason Goertzen

      I would like to second Richard’s review of Ehrman’s other work, with one caveat: “Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium” is not nearly as well argued as Jesus Interrupted, Forged, or The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.

      His own reconstruction of what the historical Jesus was (probably) like relies on a lot of fallacious reasoning, and several unjustified assumptions he doesn’t seem to be aware that he is making.

    5. Richard Carrier

      Jason Goertzen: I would like to second Richard’s review of Ehrman’s other work, with one caveat: “Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium” is not nearly as well argued as Jesus Interrupted, Forged, or The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. His own reconstruction of what the historical Jesus was (probably) like relies on a lot of fallacious reasoning, and several unjustified assumptions he doesn’t seem to be aware that he is making.

      That’s a worthwhile point. I would still cite that book as representative of what’s most likely true if mythicism is false. But even then it could do with a revision as to its methods, along the lines, and for the reasons, I develop in Proving History (where many of the “criteria” he relies on, for example, are shown not to hold up logically in the way they are used).

    6. 2.4
      Thomas Atwater

      Way back up to the beginning of this thread:
      Mr Claw: Can you, or any of your readers, point me in the direction of some interesting, academic books that look at the historicity/mythicism of Jesus (other than Thompson’s Messiah Myth referenced in your article) in a mature and reasoned fashion, rather then the sensationalism of many popular mythicist tomes?

      What about the work of G. A. Wells? E.g., his “The Jesus Myth” (Open Court, 1999).

      How does the work of Wells fit into the controversy about the historicity of Jesus bar Nazareth?

      Thanks,
      Thos. Atwater

    7. Richard Carrier

      I believe Wells is now an agnostic (he argues there might have been a Jesus, but that we can know nothing significant about him, that the NT Jesus is so embellished with legend as to conceal what if anything could have been true about him). So perhaps not strictly a mythicist. I also do not rely on Wells, because his command of ancient history is not good enough to prevent him making little mistakes (I give an example in Herod the Procurator), which runs the risk of causing him to make big mistakes. The best works to read (though I still have problems with them) are instead Doherty and Price (see upthread), which are not sensationalist (although Price leans on humor a lot, he is not a hyperbolic conspiracy theorist).

    8. 2.5
      Steven Bollinger

      Richard, you say of Ehrman:

      “[mythicism] has to be his blind spot. I suspect he is suffering from intellectual impact trauma: he’s so sick of reading all the complete tripe there is out there (all the truly terrible mythicism, which vastly outnumbers anything worth reading), that his brain is locked in outrage mode, which has sent him off the handle”

      It’s true, there is some truly awful mythicism. The website jesusneverexisted.com, for example, seems to be very popular. As they announce in their name, they repeat the same offense Ehrman makes, saying: The discussion is over, the question is answered, nothing to see here, move along. and then they compound it with some truly eye-rolling, teeth-grinding non-scholarship presented as facts.

      But since when does anyone address any position by attacking the dumbest people who hold it? If I critiqued Jerry Falwell or Benny Hinn instead of Aquinas or Karl Barth, and then claimed that I had made a serious critique of Christian theology, people would think I was very silly. And they’d be right. But somehow when historicists point out the mistakes the dumbest, most tinfoil-hat-wearing mythicists are making, they seem to get away with claiming that they have said something significant about mythicism.

      I keep hearing about how brilliant (some of) Ehrman’s books are. But I’ve read several of his articles, and I’ve seen him being a talking head on the freaking History Channel, and it’s hard to believe one of his books could be worth my time.

    9. Richard Carrier

      Steven Bollinger:

      But since when does anyone address any position by attacking the dumbest people who hold it?

      I do not think it’s wrong to attack dumb arguments. What’s wrong is to attack only those and then claim to have won the whole argument. Only the latter is a straw man fallacy. The former, if combined with attacking the smartest arguments, is just being thorough (or entertaining or useful, as the case may be). And in his book (Did Jesus Exist?) it appears he does that properly (or at least makes an honest attempt to). It’s only the article that conflates things.

      One can also attack dumb arguments and only claim to have refuted the dumb arguments (e.g. my investigation of Jerry Vardaman’s claims). Which is a useful thing for us to do, since often people do want to have an expert evaluation of some dumb things, particularly when they are used by mainstream Christian apologists to argue their case. Thus, I don’t mind Ehrman distinguishing good mythicism from bad and attacking both, each on its own terms.

      I keep hearing about how brilliant (some of) Ehrman’s books are. But I’ve read several of his articles, and I’ve seen him being a talking head on the freaking History Channel, and it’s hard to believe one of his books could be worth my time.

      I confess many of his public interviews are not what I’d call scholarly precise. His books (like Jesus Interrupted or Forged) should not be judged based on that. They are more measured and thorough, have the requisite references, and are usually correct (and all that without falling into the trap of being dull).

    10. 2.6
      Steven Bollinger

      Richard, you said:

      “I do not think it’s wrong to attack dumb arguments. What’s wrong is to attack only those and then claim to have won the whole argument.”

      The latter is what I’m objecting to. Acting as if the worst mythicist arguments somehow represent all of mythicism better than the best mythicist arguments. And it seems to me that we mythicists are assailed with that sort of shoddy debating not only by Ehrman but by many scholars of high reputation and secure tenure generally. And we atheists often are treated the same way by reputable tenured people claiming to represent “moderate” religious views — or at least the “moderate” authors of Huffington Post. Judging by the “moderates’” remarks about atheism, atheism and fundamentalist religion are equally bad and very similar in many ways, and the supposed conflict between science and religion is a myth no older than the 19th century. (I’m not making any of this up.)

      I suppose I will finally have to give some of Ehrman’s books a look. *grumble murmur grumble*

    11. 2.7
      Steven Bollinger

      I can’t do it! I can’t buy any of Ehrman’s books! I was in a bookstore yesterday and paged through several of them and simply couldn’t see anything I needed in a book. I already something about textual transmission, more than the lay audience Ehrman’s books seemed aimed at.

      So instead I ordered a copy of Sources of the Jesus Tradition, edited — very badly edited, Richard says — by that Hoffman guy whom Richard calls “a dick.” If I like Richard’s chapter on Bayes’ theorem enough I’ll consider getting his new book, Proving History.

    12. Richard Carrier

      Just FYI, my book is much better. It improves on that chapter in every way (clarity, ease of reading, less clunky, answers more questions, explains things better, etc.). In a sense, that chapter was more of a test run; the full show, with all the kinks and bugs worked out, is the book.

    13. 2.8
      Steven Bollinger

      I’m very sorry, I posted the following in the wrong place, hit the wrong reply button. Let’s try this again:

      (HTML is not my strong suit. I still haven’t figured out that citation code.)

      Richard, you said:

      “Just FYI, my book is much better. It improves on that chapter in every way”

      Noted. And I also have no reason to doubt your rave reviews of Ehrman’s earlier books. It’s just that, to be perfectly honest, I don’t know whether I’m going to be reading that many recent books — in ANY field. I’m not an academic. One of the reasons I dropped out of grad school 20 years ago, dropping plans to get an MA and a PhD in German literature, is that I realized I would have to spend more time reading new scholarly work than primary texts. And I’m all about the primary texts. And volume 2 of the MGH Scriptores and and an edition of Claudian (reprints of pre-copyright editions) just arrived from Amazon. And I’m working hard on learning Greek and Hebrew.

      All that by way of explaining why, although I find the historicist/mythicist doohicky very interesting, I probably won’t be delving into the fray and keeping current quite as if I were an actual Biblical scholar.

    14. Richard Carrier

      [I left both comments up; they fit in both places]

      Steven Bollinger:

      (HTML is not my strong suit. I still haven’t figured out that citation code.)

      Just FYI (for everyone), the codes are above the comment input box. The relevant ones are ‹i› (for italics) and ‹blockquote› (for indented text; you don’t need to include the cite=”" attribute). You write that code before where you want it to apply, and then where you want it to end you wrote closing tag, ‹/i› or ‹/blockquote›, respectively.

      (As to your other remarks, I definitely know what you mean. I have to take the same perspective on countless other issues myself.)

    15. 2.9
      Steven Bollinger

      Richard, I’ve finished Sources of the Jesus Tradition. I just read the whole thing front-to-back as printed, despite your suggestions in your review: http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2011/05/sources-of-jesus-tradition.html and I didn’t hate Hoffmann’s pieces as much as your review led me to think I might. In fact I didn’t hate them, period. Although I found his attitude of “Jesus fatigue” to be quite remarkable for a founder and leader of the Jesus Project. If I had been Procurator of the CSH in 2008, such fatigue would automatically have ruled Hoffmann out as the leader of the project. You wanted someone who was excited by the question of Jesus’ historicity, not fatigued by it. It’s easy for me to imagine how such fatigue might lead one to behave like a dick to other members of the project. I’ve read a bit of Hoffmann’s blog in which his “Jesus fatigue” crops up again. Strange, very, very strange that a leader of something like the Jesus Project should suffer from such an ailment. It’s the very last characteristic such a leader should possess. Doncha think? Still, speaking as someone who knows neither you nor Hoffmann personally, and therefore of course is missing a lot, I find both your work and his impressive enough that it seems a great shame that the two of you dislike one another so much.

    16. Richard Carrier

      Which is ironic, since the whole JP and 2008 conference was Hoffmann’s baby. Neither would have happened had he not worked to create them. And he was outraged when it was canceled and fought to get it reinstated under another organization. So he is clearly not really all that fatigued.

      I also do not see fatigue as a plausible explanation of his subsequent behavior, which was not fatigued or disinterested, but outright paranoid and bizarre.

      And it was only that that caused me to get the hell away from him. Before and even during the 2008 conference I thought Hoffmann was awesome and doing great work and I was looking forward to continuing to work with him (and he was similarly enthusiastic about me).

      Then he went insane.

      IMHO.

  3. 3
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    This is peculiar.

    The review of Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus starts out “In the absence of any original manuscripts of the books of the New Testament…” and Ehrman points out that the supposed eye-witness accounts were written in the 2nd century (IIRC) and that while historical records talk about Christians, they don’t talk about Christ–stating that Christ the myth could have been the source of the Christ cult.

    1. 3.1
      Reginald Selkirk

      Note that Ehrman’s current article says sources, not manuscripts or documents.

    2. Richard Carrier

      And to say we “have” those “sources” is false. I am convinced this is just really bad writing (as I explain in the article). And it’s going to create a huge public mess I’m going to have to constantly correct people on (since everyone who reads it is not going to take away what he actually meant). That annoys me.

  4. 4
    J. J. Ramsey

    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.

    If that’s the case, then why does Paul in 1 Cor. 9:5 distinguish between “brothers of the Lord” and the apostles and Cephas? Are we to presume that the latter two are not baptized Christians?

    The second century references, meanwhile, cannot be shown to be independent of the Gospels …

    Except maybe that passing reference “brother of Jesus called Christ, James his name.” Yes, I’ve seen the argument that Josephus “really” wrote “brother of Jesus, James his name” and that this Jesus was the “Jesus, son of Damneus” mentioned later on in the text, but this requires that the purported original text be needlessly confusing. The James that would be a brother of Jesus, son of Damneus would also be a son of Damneus himself, and it would have been trivial for Josephus to have just written “James son of Damneus” instead of “brother of Jesus, James his name” if he really wanted to refer to James son of Damneus. There’s an old thread from IIDB that shows what a mess the argument for interpolation can be.

    in the midst of a fashion for dying-and-rising salvation gods with sin-cleansing baptisms …

    Name names please, and give details. Between Acharya S and Kersey Graves on the one hand, and the criticisms of J.Z. Smith on the other, I see little reason to give this credence on its face.

    Ehrman may have made some screw-ups, but I have yet to see a case built to support Jesus’ ahistoricity that didn’t end up mired in ad hockery or pseudohistory. (And, yes, I’m including David Fitzgerald in that.) Seems to me like a historical Jesus is sort of like Churchill’s democracy, the worst of all options, except for all the others.

    1. 4.1
      Richard Carrier

      J. J. Ramsey:

      Why does Paul in 1 Cor. 9:5 distinguish between “brothers of the Lord” and the apostles and Cephas? Are we to presume that the latter two are not baptized Christians?

      The sentence reads (in effect) “like the other apostles and Christians, even Cephas?” (lit. “like the other apostles and brothers of the Lord and Cephas,” hôs kai hoi loipoi apostoloi kai hoi adelphoi tou kuriou kai kêphas). Obviously he is not saying Peter (Cephas) is not an apostle; likewise, he is not saying Peter is not a Christian, either. He starts with his own category (apostles), then generalizes to the whole brotherhood (brethren), then zigs back for rhetorical impact to the most particular example of all, “even Peter,” who is both an apostle and a brother, just like Paul is.

      (In a similar same fashion, in 1 Cor. 1:1 and 2 Cor. 1:1 Paul says he is an apostle and Sosthenes or Timothy is their brother, but this in no way means Paul is not also their brother.)

      Except maybe that passing reference “brother of Jesus called Christ, James his name.”

      Ehrman is probably aware of my refutation of that (which is scheduled to appear as “Origen, Eusebius, and the Accidental Interpolation in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.200,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 20.4 (Winter 2012)). The words “called Christ” is almost certainly an accidental scribal interpolation of an interlinear note (someone just wrote “the one called Christ” above the line; or in the margin, with a place marker). At any rate, Josephus is a first century source, not second. Since I find the evidence adequately conclusive that Josephus never mentioned Jesus (in neither passage where Christ now appears), and I know Ehrman may be considering that possibility, I did not attribute to him any argument from Josephus. (Maybe he makes one in his book, I haven’t gotten there yet.) Since he didn’t make the argument in the article, I didn’t respond to it.

      This requires that the purported original text be needlessly confusing. The James that would be a brother of Jesus, son of Damneus would also be a son of Damneus himself, and it would have been trivial for Josephus to have just written “James son of Damneus” instead of “brother of Jesus, James his name” if he really wanted to refer to James son of Damneus.

      Actually, James is not the protagonist in that story, Jesus is. The execution of James is only mentioned because it explains why Jesus was then appointed to replace Ananus–as punishment for killing Jesus’ brother. The very awkward construction (“the brother of Jesus, for whom the name was James, and some others”) calls the reader’s attention to the fact that this is a story about Jesus, to which his brother’s name is practically incidental (the “others” are so incidental they don’t even get named; James at least gets named to draw attention to his importance to the story: it is his execution that causes Jesus to gain the office of High Priest). In context it is not that confusing (indeed, the Christian hypothesis is even more confusing–except to a Christian reader–for a number of reasons I outline in my article), except that one might expect “ben Damneus” to have appeared where “called Christ” now does.

      Although that isn’t necessary (a reader who started asking who this Jesus is gets their answer very shortly, producing a nice literary device of tension ending in a surprise irony), it’s actually quite likely the passage originally did say that, the one being replaced with the other by mistake. If the text originally read “brother of Jesus ben Damneus,” then the scribe who mistakenly thought “called Christ” written above it indicated an erroneous omission would conclude that a common scribal error called dittography had occurred (which resulted in an uncompleted haplograph): the previous scribe skipped from this Jesus to the “Jesus ben Damneus” a couple lines down and started copying, realized he had made a mistake, stopped, and wrote the intended correction above the line before continuing with the correct text (we have countless examples of this kind of error in surviving manuscripts of all kinds, even biblical manuscripts). Since “ben Damneus” and “called Christ” can’t go together (whereas the dittograph would be self-evident, once an error had been assumed), the scribe who mistook this for a correction would have omitted “ben Damneus” and written in its place “called Christ” when producing his copy.

      [re: dying-and-rising salvation gods with sin-cleansing baptisms] Name names please, and give details. Between Acharya S and Kersey Graves on the one hand, and the criticisms of J.Z. Smith on the other, I see little reason to give this credence on its face.

      Thus illustrating why bad mythicism annoys me. Their popularizing so many bullshit analogies leads people like you to think they are all bullshit analogies. They are not. There are many valid ones, which can be competently proven from good sources. I cited references in the article (see NIF, chs. 1 and 3; baptisms, ch. 16, with TET, p. 215, n. 210; short answer: Isis cult and Bucchus cult both involved dying-and-rising salvation gods and baptismal rituals of symbolic death and rebirth that abolished the weight of the recipient’s sins; it’s likely other cults did as well, we just don’t have enough sources for them). Thus, bad mythicism only makes my legitimate work harder, and ultimately falsely discredits mythicism by a device you would normally expect from a Stalinist disinformation campaign.

      Basically, stop reading them. Read, instead, what I just referred you to (and the sources cited therein).

    2. 4.2
      J. J. Ramsey

      Obviously he is not saying Peter (Cephas) is not an apostle

      Fair enough, although you still haven’t justified your claim that Christians actually did use “brothers of the Lord” in the way that you claim. As I pointed out in a post on the “McGrath on the Amazing Infallible Ehrman” thread (which at the time of writing is still awaiting moderation), the context of 1 Cor. 9:5 seems more consistent with the “brothers of the Lord” being privileged members of the Christian community, especially those who are entitled to live off the resources of other Christians (see verses 9:4,6-14).

      Actually, James is not the protagonist in that story, Jesus is.

      No, Jesus son of Damneus is just another relatively minor player in the struggle between the “most equitable” Jews who willingly abide by Roman-imposed laws, e.g. not assembling a sanhedrin without the procurator’s consent, “insolent” people like Ananus, and outright rebels like the Sicarii.

      Come to think of it, your scenario has other problems. Officially, Ananus’ crime is that he unlawfully assembled a sanhedrin, and while he was punished by losing his position as high priest (a position that he didn’t even have for very long), there’s nothing indicating that he had suffered further. That’s easy to explain if the ones that Ananus had killed were undesirables that the authorities didn’t care much about. According to your scenario, Ananus had killed a brother of an aristocrat, yet got off relatively lightly. No imprisonment, no execution, nothing like that.

      Isis cult and Bucchus cult both involved dying-and-rising salvation gods and baptismal rituals of symbolic death and rebirth that abolished the weight of the recipient’s sins

      So your examples are (1) the wife of another god, Osiris, who, as J.Z. Smith pointed out is a god who died but didn’t rise, and (2) Bacchus, the friggin’ wine God?

    3. Richard Carrier

      J. J. Ramsey:

      I have addressed everything you ask regarding interpreting Gal. 1:19/1 Cor. 9:5. If you think something remains unanswered, then please re-read the thread here and that of the companion post on McGrath. There are likely many things there now that weren’t there when you submitted your comment. (As you might be able to tell, so many comments were posted that it is taking me a great deal of time to get through them all.)


      RC: Actually, James is not the protagonist in that story, Jesus is.
      JJR: No, Jesus son of Damneus is just another relatively minor player…

      First, I was speaking of the Jesus in the line we are discussing (and not assuming a priori that it’s ben Damneus). In other words, Josephus names James there obliquely, making clear from his odd construction that the protagonist of the story is Jesus, whose brother is being killed. That is, a reader of the Greek would see that the story has something to do with Jesus, the name of his brother being little more than an afterthought.

      Second, this entire section is a sequence of stories explaining the succession of Jewish priests. Josephus goes from one priest to the next. So Jesus ben Damneus is not a minor player, but the very point of Josephus’ narrative, just as Ananus is; because Ananus succeeded his predecessor to the high priesthood, and Jesus ben Damneus succeeds Ananus to the high priesthood (and he comes up again later in Josephus’ narrative), and Josephus is narrating the succession of men in that office.

      (Which succession was obviously very important to Josephus, being that he is writing a lengthy narrative about it; that you find it uninteresting is not something you can project back on to him.)

      Officially, Ananus’ crime is that he unlawfully assembled a sanhedrin, and while he was punished by losing his position as high priest (a position that he didn’t even have for very long), there’s nothing indicating that he had suffered further.

      My explanation does not entail or require that he did.

      That’s easy to explain if the ones that Ananus had killed were undesirables that the authorities didn’t care much about.

      And they may well have been. Christians weren’t the only such people. Josephus is clearly not even interested in their crimes or why they were killed. He is only interested in explaining why Jesus succeeded Ananus (indeed, why he did so so quickly, after Ananus had served only a few months).

      According to your scenario, Ananus had killed a brother of an aristocrat, yet got off relatively lightly. No imprisonment, no execution, nothing like that.

      First, Jewish law did not exempt the elite from execution for crimes (nor in all cases did Roman law). Second, if I had a nickel for every elite who got away with killing a rival under dubious legal circumstances, I’d be a rich man. Google Kangaroo Court. Third, Ananus didn’t kill him. The Sanhedrin did, in consequence of a trial under Jewish law. The execution was thus in fact fully legal. It just violated a Roman procedural rule. How many elite officials, even today, violate procedural rules, even getting people killed (I can list a dozen examples in Iraq and Afghanistan in just the last ten years) and do no time for it? And this is a high sight more just age than then.

      So your examples are (1) the wife of another god, Osiris, who, as J.Z. Smith pointed out is a god who died but didn’t rise, and (2) Bacchus, the friggin’ wine God?

      First, please tell me exactly, where does J.Z. Smith discuss Osiris, much less the sources on his resurrection?

      Second, what does Bacchus being a wine god have anything to do with the matter?

      You seem to be ignoring here what I said about syncretism in the very post you are here commenting on, and what I said further in comments above.

  5. 5
    Happyheretic

    I was delighted that you responded Dr. carrier. I thought the case that Bart made in the HuffPo article was beneath him. Having read Jesus interrupted, I was expecting more than an emotional diatribe against mythicists.

    I just purchased his book, and look forward to cracking the spine.

    HH

    1. 5.1
      Happyheretic

      F’ing spell check…. The first sentence should read, “I was delighted that you responded Dr. carrier.”

  6. 6
    John

    Though I lean towards a historical Jesus, I’m keeping an open mind about the mythical vs. historical Jesus debate, and find mythicist arguments thought provoking.

    On the question of Paul’s meaning of “brother(s) of the Lord” (1 Cor. 9:5; Gal. 1:19), I find it strange that Cephas could be considered a “pillar” (Gal. 2:9) and “of repute” (2:2) like James, yet, unlike James, not also a “brother of the Lord” (1 Cor. 9:5).

    It seems natural enough that there was a system of ranking within “Jewish Christianity” (like there is in the Dead Sea Scrolls), but it strikes me as odd that someone could be a “pillar” and “of repute” but not a “brother of the Lord.”

    In most cases, when Paul uses the word “Lord” (when not quoting the OT), he means Jesus, especially in Galatians. The first time he uses it is in 1:3, and he means Jesus. The second time is the James reference (1:19). So prior to 1:19, the only other “Lord” he has mentioned is Jesus.

    These and other reasons make me lean towards seeing James as a natural “brother of the Lord.”

    1. 6.1
      Richard Carrier

      Answered downthread.

      (I never said Lord did not mean Jesus, so I don’t understand the second half of your objection.)

    2. 6.2
      Beachbum

      It’s actually quite simple:

      It’s actually quite simple, Paul doesn’t witness an historical, or Gospel, Jesus as evidenced by his never mentioning anything of an earthly life or ministry of this character in his epistles. Furthermore, all those references to the all too few, vague, and cryptic epistle verses by apologists, clearly show the weakness of the historicist’s position. As the claim that James is a brother is countered by James in his own epistle (James 1:1), when given the chance to identify himself as such and thereby substantially increasing this epistle’s authority, he doesn’t, and then Jude identifies himself as James’s (as in Mk 6:3) brother (Jude 1:1) but yet a servant of a Lord just as does James. Why doesn’t this James describe himself as a brother of Jesus or at least of Jude? Could it be that being the brother Jude wouldn’t add authority to the head of the Gnostic brotherhood like being the blood kin of deity born to a virgin? Clearly showing that these authors, pseudonymous as they are, know nothing of the supposed relational claims to the son of a virgin and this is in the books of the Bible.

      Optionally, one might claim that this pseudonymous epistle is attributed to some other James, but why? There would be no reason to include it in the canon if he’s not Jude’s brother nor Jesus’s brother, except that he is the head of the Church of God, a Gnostic brotherhood, and this epistle was garnered for use in the Bible.

      Besides, the Epistle of James reads like an instructional monograph describing expected ethical behavior of members of an organization. An organization conceptually similar to, say, Brethren of the Lord, a brotherhood of apostles, or monks. Keep in mind that originally, reading the Bible was off limits to laypeople. In fact, readers then were as common as dentists are today. These books were meant to be preached, not read. They didn’t call them hidden (apocryphal) writings for nothing. Why else would an epistle of a James not claiming to be the brother of Jesus be included in the NT canon if not as instructional to a priesthood?

      Also, the claim that “born of a woman” means a human birth is countered by both the context, Gal 3:16 to 4:31 within which the shift is from mystical to allegorical, and the 12th chapter of Revelations and the babe born to the woman in the spiritual realm.

      But, here is something into which one can sink one’s teeth.

      Along with Paul not being a witness to a historical Jesus, he also claims that neither James, Cephas (Peter), or John (the pillars of their organization) have witnessed the Gospel character either. Putting the lie to the whole of the Gospels and the claim of Christianity, the Nicene Creed.

      Here is how it works. First, Paul claims that he is just as much an apostle (2 Cor 11:5) as James, Cephas, and John whom he calls the Pillars (Gal 2:7-9), because he has had a scripturally prompted revelation just as those Pillars have (1 Cor 15:1-8). That is, he has just as much authority as James, and the others. If James, et al., had been disciples, that is followers, of an historical Jesus as claimed in the Gospel fictions, Paul would have no claim to an apostleship based on the authority of a mere revelation from scripture (1 Cor 15:3) or his Damascus Moment as James and the Pillars would still have more authority as the Gospel character’s Disciples, but they don’t. Neither do the Elders of the Jerusalem(?) synagogue to whom Paul presents his gospel, good news, when summoned along with Titus, who could have been circumcised by those Jewish elders who served James, et al.

      This clearly shows that neither Paul, James, Cephas, nor John had witnessed a Gospel Jesus according to Paul’s Epistles. Then, since these Epistles are considered the oldest works of the NT from which it can be shown much of the rest of the New Testament is derived, paralleled, or at least have been redacted to reflect a consistent (or, in some cases, a counter attack putting Peter over Paul, see: Acts vs Gal.), narrative, this house of cards falls away to nothing in short order.

    3. Richard Carrier

      Beachbum:

      As the claim that James is a brother is countered by James in his own epistle (James 1:1), when given the chance to identify himself as such and thereby substantially increasing this epistle’s authority, he doesn’t, and then Jude identifies himself as James’s (as in Mk 6:3) brother (Jude 1:1) but yet a servant of a Lord just as does James. Why doesn’t this James describe himself as a brother of Jesus or at least of Jude?

      To be fair, the historicist could reasonably say that those epistles were written by (or forged in the name of) a different James and Judas than Jesus’ brothers (most likely James the Pillar, one of the top three dogs in the Church, and the Disciple Judas, son of James). Since I think that’s likely even on mythicism, I have to give them that one.

      Keep in mind that originally, reading the Bible was off limits to laypeople.

      That was a medieval Catholic notion (and not as enforced as has been claimed). In antiquity, all Christians were laypeople in this sense. Although there is evidence they had secret doctrines reserved for higher ranks (which were probably never written down), the epistles of Jude and James are not likely to be those. These are letters used as essentially bylaws and inspirationals, and would be publicly read to a congregation.

      Along with Paul not being a witness to a historical Jesus, he also claims that neither James, Cephas (Peter), or John (the pillars of their organization) have witnessed the Gospel character either.

      He doesn’t quite say that. As you note, in 1 Cor. 15:3-8 he clearly says (even if some interpolation has occurred there) that they had seen what he saw, and before he did. But of course it does clearly mean they saw visions on isolated occasions, just like he did. He doesn’t mention anyone ever seeing Jesus in any other way. But that is not as conclusive as explicitly saying no one saw Jesus in any other way; nevertheless, we have no reason to expect him to (since he would not have to gainsay a claim made only long after he was dead). So this point is not a conclusive proof, but is evidence for mythicism.

    4. Beachbum

      Richard:

      Oh, I agree that it is most likely James head of the Brotherhood, head of the Church of God. What other James had that significance. It is not a brother of Jesus as that would have been the claim in the first verses had that idea, that power play, been available to the authors.

      “(most likely James the Pillar, one of the top three dogs in the Church, and the Disciple Judas, son of James)…”

      Except that the author of Jude’s claims in 1:1 that this literary Jude is a brother of James.

      When I said reading the hidden writings were “off limits” I didn’t mean to infer it was enforced as much as beyond the capability of the laity who didn’t have access to the skill, writings, or in some cases the language.

      And finally, I shouldn’t have used the word “claim.” I confess. Only, when Paul equates his authority with that of James, John and Cephas he is effectively telling the Galatians he has had the prerequisite vision required to be an apostle on par with the Pillars, as I see it. But, and this is my point: these pillars were apostles, not disciples, not followers, merely teachers, preachers. One cannot be a follower of a platonic entity. One can only tell of the vision, the revelation. One can only preach the good news. By not using the word disciple, anywhere that I have found in the earliest works, the epistles, Paul is calling them preachers not followers, and by claiming his vision equates his authority to theirs he is claiming his vision gives him the highest authority he mentions in his epistles.

      Thanks for your insights.

    5. Richard Carrier

      Beachbum:


      “(most likely James the Pillar, one of the top three dogs in the Church, and the Disciple Judas, son of James)…”

      Except that the author of Jude’s claims in 1:1 that this literary Jude is a brother of James.

      (Again, if that’s even authentic. Historicists don’t need to insist it is.) Names often repeat in a family, so it’s possible Judas would have a brother and father named James; it’s also possible that this Judas is the brother of a different James than wrote the letter of James; and so on.

      Note I’m not defending any of these theories; I’m just noting that a historicist can explain this data without reducing the probability of historicity.

      When Paul equates his authority with that of James, John and Cephas he is effectively telling the Galatians he has had the prerequisite vision required to be an apostle on par with the Pillars, as I see it.

      And IMO, you are correct on that.

      Likewise:

      But, and this is my point: these pillars were apostles, not disciples, not followers, merely teachers, preachers. One cannot be a follower of a platonic entity. One can only tell of the vision, the revelation. One can only preach the good news. By not using the word disciple, anywhere that I have found in the earliest works, the epistles, Paul is calling them preachers not followers, and by claiming his vision equates his authority to theirs he is claiming his vision gives him the highest authority he mentions in his epistles.

      I agree. However, this is not a slam dunk argument. Because historicists have responses to it. Their responses are weighed down a bit by their improbability, but don’t sink to the bottom from it. Long story short, I think this is evidence that ticks the scale a little toward mythicism, even if not a lot.

    6. 6.3
      AllusiveAtheist

      “These and other reasons make me lean towards seeing James as a natural “brother of the Lord.” ”

      What is in question is the meaning of “brother,” by genealogy or fraternal order.

  7. 7
    BibleName

    Fantastic article, thank you. I was confused when I saw Ehrman’s article, and I do hope that the book is better than that tripe, but this cleared up some things.

  8. 8
    Martin Rolfe

    Bart Ehrman’s piece at HuffPo is creating a dust up. I first heard about it morning over at Jerry Coyne’s web-page. I am decidedly glad to see that you have offered this take down. I have read nearly all of Ehrman’s works that target a general audience and have enjoyed all of them to date. I eagerly await this one as well. I fall into the mythicists’ camp, and am also a regular listener of Robert Price aka the Bible Geek podcasts. Price has on several occasions taken care to explain the mythicist’s position and offered a take-down of the historical Jesus–because the consensus of scholars says so paradigm.
    I am putting off reading this post for the weekend. I want to be able to take time and care to digest it. Also I’m looking forward to your upcoming visit to Madison, WI Freethought Festival 2012. I took your advice and registered last evening.

  9. 9
    ryanswanson

    Very nice smack down. I submitted this to fark, and it is going green at 10:28 on the geek tab.

  10. 10
    davesmith

    In an old youtube debate I saw somewhere, Hitch said he believed there was an person named Jesus, and he gave a reason I found compelling.

    There was no particular reason for Jesus to be from Nazareth since it would be more natural to have Jesus borne in Bethlehem. Instead, the Bible goes to great lengths (e.g. tax on all the land) to have Jesus born in Bethlehem to fulfill the prophecy. Why twist the story like that to have Jesus from Nazareth if you’re just making up myth from whole cloth?

    This is not to argue for the historicity of the biblical Jesus, but that there may have been a person (long since lost from history) about whom the bible was based.

    1. 10.1
      Richard Carrier

      davesmith: There was no particular reason for Jesus to be from Nazareth…

      Hitch’s argument was fallacious (but does reflect a real argument legitimate scholars have made, so Hitch couldn’t have known better). See “Nazareth” in the index to Proving History.

  11. 11
    Landon Hedrick

    Richard,

    Ehrman is somewhat careful to separate the cranks from the serious scholars in his book. He spends a chunk of chapter one trashing Acharya S and Freke & Gandy so that he can set them aside and deal with the more serious folks (Wells, Price, Doherty, Thompson, and yourself). He even says that the more serious mythicists are worth taking seriously.

    Here’s (part of) what he says in the book about Pilate:

    “What archaeological evidence do we have about Pilate’s rule in Palestine? We have some coins that were issued during his reign (one would not expect coins about Jesus since he didn’t issue any), and one–only one–fragmentary inscription discovered in Caesarea Maritima in 1961 that indicates that he was the Roman prefect. Nothing else. And what writings do we have from him? Not a single word. Does that mean he didn’t exist? No, he is mentioned in several passages in Josephus and in the writings of the Alexandrian Jewish philosopher Philo and in the Gospels. He certainly existed even though, like Jesus, we have no records from his day or writings from his hand. And what is striking is that we have far more information about Pilate than about any other governor of Judea in Roman times. And so it is a modern “myth” to say that we have extensive Roman records from antiquity that surely would have mentioned someone like Jesus had he existed.

    It is also worth pointing out that Pilate is mentioned only in passing in the writing of the one Roman historian, Tacitus, who does name him. Moreover, that happens to be in a passage that also refers to Jesus (Annals 15). If an important Roman aristocratic ruler of a major province is not mentioned any more than that in the Greek and Roman writings, what are the chances that a lower-class Jewish teacher (which Jesus must have been, as everyone who thinks he lived agrees) would be mentioned in them? Almost none.” (pp. 44-45)

    Regarding the fact that Philo doesn’t mention Jesus:

    “He never mentions Jesus, but we would not expect him to do so, as Christianity had probably not reached his native Alexandria by the time of his death in 50 CE, whatever one thinks of the mythicist view of Jesus.” (p. 57)

    I guess you disagree with him about whether Christianity had reached Aleaxandria by that time.

    But, what is the relevance of your claim that “Philo’s silence argues against the existence of Jesus as depicted in the Gospels”? Presumably you mean: It argues against the idea that there was a person who did the things that the Gospels say. But why is that relevant to the debate between mythicists and historicists? Ehrman isn’t defending the view that Jesus did the things the Gospels say. He’s defending a view which says that there was a historical Jesus who was relatively unknown during his lifetime.

    It looks to me like you and Ehrman are pretty much on the same page regarding the evidence for Pilate, though. He did not forget about the references in Philo or Josephus. He did not forget about the inscription. He must have just meant something very specific in his short article.

    Regarding the speeches in Acts, Ehrman thinks that there is oral tradition underlying those which go back several decades. He presents some of the evidence in his book (p. 109-113)

    1. 11.1
      Richard Carrier

      Landon Hedrick:

      What he says in the book about Pilate…

      …is all correct, facts and logic. I’m glad to see that. Thanks. That is how to correctly make the argument. (Although he perhaps could emphasize how the Gospels make Jesus vastly more famous than he could possibly have actually been: famous not only throughout all Judea, but even all Syria [Mt. 4:24], with thousands of people following him, even hailing him en masse at the gates of Jerusalem, and at whose death the sun went out for three hours, and so on.)

      “[Philo] never mentions Jesus, but we would not expect him to do so, as Christianity had probably not reached his native Alexandria by the time of his death in 50 CE, whatever one thinks of the mythicist view of Jesus.” (p. 57)

      That seems massively improbable. How could Christians have evangelized the whole Aegean, Galatia, and Rome, but not Alexandria, which is almost immediately adjacent to Judea? That would surely have been among the very first places they went. That Acts doesn’t discuss the Christian mission there (not even in the 50s) can only be because it’s author only documented Paul’s missions (and those within Judea), not those who evangelized Alexandria (and thereby converting Apollos, who, at least Acts claims, then left Alexandria to evangelize, which would entail the mission was already market-saturated in his home town: Acts 18:24), or its author lacked sources for them or interest in them (e.g. we know from his own letters that Paul evangelized Arabia, yet Acts doesn’t even mention this for some reason; likewise, 1 Clement reports that Paul evangelized Spain, yet Acts never covers that, either).

      It would be peculiar of Ehrman to accept an invalid argument from silence here, when he correctly dismisses equally weak arguments from silence elsewhere (surely, no sources for Jesus, entails an even less probability of sources for the first missionaries to Alexandria).

      Unless Ehrman has sources he cites that verify the mission to Alexandria was inexplicably delayed twenty years?

      [The silence of Philo et al.] argues against the idea that there was a person who did the things that the Gospels say. But why is that relevant to the debate between mythicists and historicists?

      It refutes the premise that there can’t have been massive legendary development of the gospel narrative; by proving in fact there was. And if you can invent the sun going out for three hours in front of millions of witnesses, you can invent a man seen by mere thousands.

      I must reiterate, this does not prove he was invented. It only refutes one of the most common arguments that he couldn’t have been.

      My reason for bringing it up is that Ehrman’s intemperate and error-filled dismissal of all arguments from silence, saying in effect that we would always surely not even have any evidence of a famous man like Pilate, is irresponsibly hyperbolic (and, of course, miseducated every reader by its various factual falsehoods, which I had to correct even if they weren’t intended). Thus, as I said in the article above:

      But Ehrman didn’t make that valid argument; he made the invalid argument instead, and premised it on amateur factual mistakes. Emotion seems to have seized his brain. Seeing red, he failed to function like a competent scholar, and instead fired off a screed every bit as crank as the worst of any of his opponents. Foot, mouth. This is simply not how to argue for historicity. It’s a classic example of boner mistakes made by historicists, which calls into question their competence to speak on this issue.

      In short, miseducating the public with atrociously inaccurate wording and omissions is simply a serious fail.

      And as I said in my reply to McGrath:

      Ehrman is actually destroying the very argument McGrath is here trying to rehabilitate: that such silences are indeed significant. In precisely the way I state, and McGrath affirms: they argue “against the existence of Jesus as depicted in the Gospels” and we therefore must “conclude the Gospels substantially fictionalize the story of Jesus.” That conclusion does not follow if we accept what Ehrman says about silences in other sources. Do you see the problem? Ehrman is actually attacking the very premise of McGrath’s own argument. I do not believe Ehrman intended to do that, but in his intemperate zeal to mock arguments from silence, he didn’t even notice that he was attacking himself.

      Regarding the speeches in Acts, Ehrman thinks that there is oral tradition underlying those which go back several decades. He presents some of the evidence in his book (p. 109-113)

      Good to know. I’ll cover that in my future review. (I actually think that may be correct in some cases, when stated in that specific way. But that fact doesn’t support the historicity of Jesus.)

    2. 11.2
      Larry

      meh, problem here is that Acharya S is far better than she gets credit for. She certainly showed Carrier wrong on the Luxor issue and Carrier refuses to admit he made the sloppy and egregious errors that Acharya pointed out. He’s just jealous. http://www.freethoughtnation.com/contributing-writers/63-acharya-s/665-is-jesuss-nativity-an-egyptian-myth.html

      Anyway, Errorman made some really sloppy and egregious errors of his own with Acharya’s work too as pointed out here:

      The phallic ‘Savior of the World’ hidden in the Vatican
      http://freethoughtnation.com/contributing-writers/63-acharya-s/669-the-phallic-savior-of-the-world-hidden-in-the-vatican.html

      Ehrman accused her of making stuff up – that’s libel and defamation and he can be sued for it because he was wrong as her blog proves. Dr. Price commented there too saying Errorman’s book is a “hack job,” which it is.

    3. Richard Carrier

      Larry:

      She certainly showed Carrier wrong on the Luxor issue and Carrier refuses to admit he made the sloppy and egregious errors that Acharya pointed out.

      Just one error. Which had no significant effect on my conclusion.

      I like how you invent the myth (within a matter of days!) that it was many errors, and egregious ones, and that therefore she wasn’t even wrong.

      The phallic ‘Savior of the World’ hidden in the Vatican…Ehrman accused her of making stuff up – that’s libel and defamation and he can be sued for it because he was wrong as her blog proves. Dr. Price commented there too saying Errorman’s book is a “hack job,” which it is.

      He can’t be sued for what he actually said, since he didn’t actually assert that she made this up. He only expressed doubts about the claim’s authenticity. However, what Acharya then does (in that article you link to) is a beautiful example of what she should have done in the first place: all of those references should have been in her footnotes/endnotes with the original claim. This is what a proper scholar would do. Why didn’t she do it the first time?

      But now finally doing what she should have done before, what she accomplishes is perhaps to show that Ehrman didn’t even check. Which if true would be a good example of how Ehrman is not doing good work on this issue. If he wishes to argue against the claim, he should be arguing against these other sources, or at least making an effort to check them by doing what she did, or by contacting the Vatican Museum (which if he did, I would expect him to say so, since that would be significant to his point).

      However, nothing Acharya presents makes any case for this being a statue with any connection to Christianity (much less Peter). To the contrary, it all establishes it as a pagan statue to Priapus (the Vatican Museum contains many non-Christian artifacts).

  12. 12
    Kris

    This makes Ehrman’s observation that no mythicist presently has a professorship (a distinction he did not make, but I am) a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    I’m wondering what disqualifies Robert Price from this observation. He certainly has a professorship in a relevant field, and he may not be an outright mythicist, but he most definitely considers Jesus’s historicity an open question, and I believe that he leans strongly towards mythicism.

    1. 12.1
      Richard Carrier

      Price is a professor at CFII, which is not an “accredited” institution (I am unaware of his holding a prior professorship, but do correct us on that if otherwise). Notice how many requirements Ehrman packs into his statement, he unloads every conceivable one he can think of, as if to gerrymander every mythicist out of qualifying. Maybe Ehrman is a Republican? (<–that’s a joke.)

  13. 13
    helenaconstantine

    At first I couldn’t tell if this piece of whining quote mining was being written by Ken Hovind or Ben Stein–but I see its Carrier–oh well.

    I wont waste much time:

    If any academic could actually argue convincingly that Jesus never existed, they would not be expelled, but would have their career made–just as if any biologist could actually disprove evolution, it would mean the Nobel Prize.

    1. The text as displayed at the HuffPo is a sentence fragment–clearly there is an editing problem there, so neither you nor I nor anyone except Ehrman and anyone he has shown his original text to knows what that is supposed to say. To call this editing mistake an argumentative or factual mistake is like pointing to yourself and saying, “Come and look at the idiot.”

    2. Q is hypothetical in the same way the big bang is hypothetical (and I could sight web sources that deny the big bang too). The independent Biblical witnesses are Paul, Q, other sayings material preserved in Thomas, Mark, The source of the Gospel of Peter, and a group of sources used by John which used to be called the signs source.

    3. You concede that the point you pick out of Ehrman is correct, but the you claim it argues agaisnt a straw-man. Except it isn’t. I’ve seen plenty of cranks make exactly that claim on the internet. It is especially common to see people claim all of those things about Mithras, and then claim that Jesus was just a myth based on Mithraism, despite the fact that Mithras was none of those things and was founded after Christianity (Dec. 25 was the birthday of Sol Invictus–i.e. the traditional date of the Solstice in the Roman calendar prior to their contact with Greek astronomy–which was later synched up with both Mithras and Jesus).

    4.This is so desperate, I don’t even know how to approach it. The passage of Daniel you mention might well be one which early Christians found meaningful when they looked to their scripture to figure out what had happened when their movement suffered the disaster of the death of its leader. But they wouldn’t have looked to it, or to many other LXX texts if they had not had a leader and if he had not died in some unexpected, dramatic, devastating way, would they? We know that the NT text is largely a meditation on the Jewish scriptures. What on earth does that have to with the historicity of Jesus?

    1. 13.1
      Richard Carrier

      helenaconstantine: If any academic could actually argue convincingly that Jesus never existed, they would not be expelled, but would have their career made–just as if any biologist could actually disprove evolution, it would mean the Nobel Prize.

      The analogy is false, because history has nowhere near the evidence and certainty that science has. That’s why there is so much disagreement allowed among historians. (Normally. This one issue appears to be verboten for some reason.) This is especially the case for ancient history, due to the vast loss of data, and even more especially for the origins of Christianity, for which we have among the least data of any major ancient event.

      By contrast, for example, the evidence confirming the holocaust is so incredibly vast, holocaust denial is understandably crank; whereas for the origins of Christianity we don’t have even a billionth of a drop of that kind of evidence, for any position on historicity, which again is why there are so many contradictory conclusions about Jesus allowed, and not derided as crank.

      Thus there will never be the kind of “Nobel Prize” winning evidence for any conclusion about Jesus (and not only because there is no Nobel Prize for history). Certainty will never be had. Which is why it is so bizarre for someone like Ehrman to act the contrary. He should know better.

      The text as displayed at the HuffPo is a sentence fragment–clearly there is an editing problem there, so neither you nor I nor anyone except Ehrman and anyone he has shown his original text to knows what that is supposed to say. To call this editing mistake an argumentative or factual mistake is like pointing to yourself and saying, “Come and look at the idiot.”

      Can you quote what you claim to be a sentence fragment? I don’t know what you are talking about. (Authors do write sentence fragments, BTW, even intentionally sometimes, so your weirdly desperate conclusion does not follow even from the premise.)

      Q is hypothetical in the same way the big bang is hypothetical

      That isn’t even remotely true. That’s why many mainstream scholars, whom even Ehrman respects, argue (and persuasively) that Q does not exist. That is a widespread and legitimate debate in NT studies, in precisely the way Big Bang skepticism is not. You are thus once again resorting to false, even absurdly hyperbolic analogies, which does seem to be a common trope for histrionic historicists.

      You concede that the point you pick out of Ehrman is correct, but the you claim it argues against a straw-man. Except it isn’t. I’ve seen plenty of cranks make exactly that claim on the internet.

      You evidently don’t know what a straw man argument is. Like I even said in the original post: “attacking only the weakest proponent of a position is precisely what makes this a fallacy.”

      It is especially common to see people claim all of those things about Mithras, and then claim that Jesus was just a myth based on Mithraism, despite the fact that Mithras was none of those things and was founded after Christianity (Dec. 25 was the birthday of Sol Invictus–i.e. the traditional date of the Solstice in the Roman calendar prior to their contact with Greek astronomy–which was later synched up with both Mithras and Jesus).

      It’s ironic how you get the facts wrong in the very act of (correctly) pointing out how others get the facts wrong. That’s gotta be like some sort of Dadaist art or something.

      First, yes, Mithras is often used wrongly as an example of a dying-and-rising god (there is no evidence he died; his “passion” enacted some other kind of struggle by which he gained victory over death for his followers), and the Roman-era mystery religion based on Mithras probably began at the same time as Christianity (Beck’s case is pretty sound that it was being formed at the same time Paul was evangelizing). But Mithras is a Persian deity worshipped for at least a thousand years before Christianity (you seem to be confusing the mystery-cult, with the Persian religion it drew on), so it is disputed whether his birthday was December 25 before Christianity; more accurately, we mean the Winter Solstice, which was December 25 according to the Julian calendar in the time of Pliny or shortly before (not “before Roman…contact with Greek astronomy”), when it became fixed at that date in many cults ever after (many gods were born on that day, in fact most solar deities were). The solstice became December 21 only when the Gregorian reform realigned the calendar with the solar cycle in the Middle Ages, it having drifted from the 25th back to the 21st between Julius Caesar and the Council of Nicea, and Pope Gregory chose the latter as the reset point. Either way, you are right that Mithras and Christianity were assimilated to the birthday of pre-Christian solar deities (principally Sol Invictus and ANE equivalents), this happening to Mithras before it was then done to Christianity.

      But it doesn’t matter, because December 25 was never the birthday of Jesus until a 4th century decision was made to make it so, and that’s the relevant point. I agree people who make a big deal out of this as a basis for arguing mythicism have their chronology backwards.

      But that doesn’t de-legitimize the parallels that do exist. You can’t argue “some parallels are nonsense; therefore all parallels are nonsense.” That’s a fallacy of false generalization.

      The passage of Daniel you mention might well be one which early Christians found meaningful when they looked to their scripture to figure out what had happened when their movement suffered the disaster of the death of its leader.

      That’s not the issue. The question Ehrman is addressing is: did pre-Christian Jews imagine a dying Christ? (It is that which he is denying). Since a pre-Christian Jew wrote in Daniel about a dying Christ, the answer is yes. End of story. The evidence in the Dead Sea Scrolls just proves the point further.

      But they wouldn’t have looked to it, or to many other LXX texts if they had not had a leader and if he had not died in some unexpected, dramatic, devastating way, would they?

      There is too much to explain here, but the short of it is that the Daniel passage predicts when the Christ will die, and by one obvious (in fact, the most obvious) interpretation, the math works out to be in the vicinity of 30 A.D. Either that’s a coincidence, or…

      We know that the NT text is largely a meditation on the Jewish scriptures. What on earth does that have to with the historicity of Jesus?

      Ehrman wants to argue that Christians would never invent a dying messiah, because (1) no Jews imagined such a thing; (2) if no Jews imagined such a thing, no Jews ever would imagine such a thing; ergo, (3) the only way the Christians could end up with a dying messiah is if they actually had one (i.e. a claimed messiah who died); ergo, (4) Jesus existed.

      Now, both premises in his argument are false. Jews did imagine such a thing (in Daniel and the Melchizedek scroll; so premise [1] is false); and even if they didn’t, they could imagine such a thing (as the “Christ ben Joseph” legends prove; so premise [2] is false). Therefore (3) is not established, therefore (4) is not established. All this accomplishes is that it eliminates one of his arguments for historicity. It does not prove mythicism (as that would be a fallacy fallacy, i.e. concluding that because his argument is fallacious, that therefore it’s conclusion false). But I do not say it does.

  14. 14
    ss123

    I believe his wife is a Christian. Do you suppose he was trying to conjur up something for her, even of it involved a stretch or two?

    I haven’t read any of his books yet, but I love listening to him speak.

    1. 14.1
      Richard Carrier

      I doubt that. If he does have a believing wife, and she hasn’t left him over everything else he’s written up to this point, siding with mythicism (or even just allowing it as a possibility) would hardly be likely to make a difference. BTW, I don’t like people speculating on scholars’ marriages. Ehrman’s views are Ehrman’s. His wife is not relevant to this conversation.

  15. 15
    ss123

    I must add, this is strange. Doesn’t seem like something he would write.

  16. 16
    Jonas

    I’m a big fan of Ehrman. I also find the mythicist position compelling. I think it’s a testament (heh) to how weak the historicist case is that when I’m reading Ehrman’s books it’s rare that anything stands out in the facts he presents as incompatible with the mythicist case. Quite the contrary: In most of his books when he does insert a statement that assumes there was a historical Jesus, I sometimes find it a little jarring. It seems out of place with all that he writes in the rest of those books about the NT wording being freely changed in the early years, about alternative scriptures floating about, and so on. It was especially jarring in “Forged” when he went on a small diatribe about how the mythicist position is not held by serious people. In a book about how forgery in early Christianity was the norm, it almost struck me that he had to pause and reaffirm his (dare I say) faith in the historicity of Jesus lest one be misled by, well, the rest of the book.

    I was very interested when I read he was doing a book-length treatment of the matter. I thought maybe he had very good reasons to scoff at the mythicists but simply didn’t get into it in his other books because it wasn’t the main point he was trying to make. I find the historicity question fascinating, and if Ehrman presented a solid case, I was willing to be persuaded (having a historical figure at the core is more interesting to me, but I currently find the mythicist position more compelling).

    So I went to buy the book for my Kindle and…no Kindle version. I was disappointed, but some of his books have been delayed on the Kindle before, so I figured I’d just have to be patient…

    Then I read this review of his article summarizing his book. This doesn’t sound like the solid case I was hoping for. This doesn’t sound like I’m going to read the book and come away understanding how correct Ehrman was for scoffing at the mythicicsts. This more sounds like Ehrman has lost most of his former Christian faith but wants to hold on to a small part of it, that he wants to believe there was a good man who inspired many people and was thought to be the son of God and the Messiah by many at the time.

    While I can empathize with that, it shouldn’t be the basis of his argument. This is very disappointing. I’ll probably wait for the full review of the book before buying it. Perhaps he foolishly let someone ghost-summarize the book for the Huffington Post article and it will turn out not to be representative of the book.

    One can hope, right?

    1. 16.1
      Richard Carrier

      By all accounts here, the book is better. And at my own glance, I think it is, too. But my review will take maybe a week to produce.

  17. 17
    Austerity

    I’m actually kind of embarrassed for him about the “messiah was to be a figure of grandeur and power who overthrew the enemy” line. That is so blatantly illogical I didn’t even need to stop and think about it; it just immediately jumps out at you.

    I had planned on buying his book as I would very much like to hear the best possible case for Jesus’s existence, but after reading his blog I may wait for some reviews first. In addition to that line it just seems more of the usual weak tea I’ve heard before. I say that as someone without strong convictions either way, so, Mr. Ehrman, if you are reading, I hope you did better than that in the book.

    1. 17.1
      Richard Carrier

      I just got my copy today. I won’t be able to get to it today, I have too much to do. But at first glance it looks more calm and reasoned than his article, but his endnotes and bibliography are very light, and that worries me (it suggests there will be a lot of unsourced arguments from authority). It’s also longer than I expected (360 pages), which I consider a good thing.

      Even if it’s terrible, it might still be the best case in print. Because all previous ones are pretty weak overall, in fact there really hasn’t been a book dedicated to interacting with mythicist arguments; at best it gets a couple of pages in this or that text on historicity. So you might still want this, even if only as a solid collection of the standard responses, and as representative of the historicity establishment as a whole.

  18. 18
    Ben Schuldt

    Y u no hav ur “Come at me, bro!” image on this post: http://i.chzbgr.com/completestore/2012/3/21/e3f5481e-9960-4070-b0b0-1b83909126a5.jpg

  19. 19
    Mike

    Just an FYI-

    Ehrman is scheduled to be on the Think Atheist Radio Show / Podcast (this Sunday, I think) to discuss his new book. I’m pretty sure at least one of the people involved with running that site is a fan of yours and into applications of Bayes’s Theorem. Given that, it wouldn’t be surprising if your new book comes up in conversation.

  20. 20
    leemyers

    Quibble, I believe “mythicists are all critics of religion, therefore their criticisms of a religion as myth can be dismissed” is an ad hominem circumstantial fallacy, not a genetic fallacy. This seems especially true considering his comment “what better way to malign the religious views of the vast majority of religious persons in the western world, which remains, despite everything, overwhelmingly Christian, than to claim that the historical founder of their religion was in fact the figment of his followers’ imagination?”

    That seems to me a textbook example of an ad hominem circumstantial fallacy

    1. 20.1
      Richard Carrier

      leemyers: Quibble, I believe “mythicists are all critics of religion, therefore their criticisms of a religion as myth can be dismissed” is an ad hominem circumstantial fallacy, not a genetic fallacy. This seems especially true considering his comment “what better way to malign the religious views of the vast majority of religious persons in the western world, which remains, despite everything, overwhelmingly Christian, than to claim that the historical founder of their religion was in fact the figment of his followers’ imagination?” That seems to me a textbook example of an ad hominem circumstantial fallacy.

      I don’t think the second statement is false, so it wouldn’t be an ad hominem fallacy. (Apart from falsely generalizing in its implication, it is false only in a manner Ehrman doesn’t digress on, i.e. that it doesn’t work, precisely because the Ehrmans of the world will go to bat for the Christians and shame-trash anyone who tries it, but shaming is only a fallacy in the other respects I describe in my article, and is not the argument being made here; moreover, I believe many mythicists do have this motivation and delusionally really do think the approach works, so Ehrman is not off base in calling them out, he is only off base in attributing this to all mythicists).

      Rather, the first statement is a genetic fallacy because it presumes that an argument against religion is invalid merely because it comes from an unbeliever. He is thus presuming that all arguments that originate from that source are false or unsound. That’s the genetic fallacy. Indeed, even given the nefarious motive alleged (to “malign” a religion) it would be a genetic fallacy, since even someone who intended to malign a religion is not necessarily making false statements about it (i.e. I can often malign something by telling the truth). This is why you have to refute the argument first, and not use “motivation” as that refutation. You might appeal to motivation to explain why someone uses a refutable argument, but such an explanation can never itself be a refutation of an argument.

    2. 20.2
      R.J. Moore

      One might point out that there are also plenty of axe-grinding atheists who want there to be a historical Jesus, one who is divergent with mainstream Christian norms (Jesus was a hermaphrodite communist, etc.) or an embarrassment to Christians (i.e., Jesus was a fraud, a sorcerer, a criminal).

      On top of that, by far the largest axe-grinders in the historicity of Jesus are the theists, so I am not sure what the point of Ehrman bringing up the kooks is. Much of what passes for ‘Bible scholarship’ is just as ridiculous as the worst crank-mythicism.

  21. 21
    Rob

    Ehrman only says that Josephus does not mention Pilate. I think you have misunderstood.

    1. 21.1
      Rob

      Wait. Or is he saying that Josephus is not mentioned? I can’t tell what the hell Ehrman is saying with that sentence fragment.

    2. 21.2
      Richard Carrier

      No, Josephus very definitely does mention Pilate (and Ehrman knows that). So he certainly was not saying that.

  22. 22
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    Hey Richard, there’s a historicist person calling you out over here on PZ’s thread.

    1. 22.1
      Richard Carrier

      Alethea H. Claw: Hey Richard, there’s a historicist person calling you out over here on PZ’s thread.

      Tell him to come over here. This is where I am.

  23. 23
    gshelley

    This is a shame, though not surprising given what I have previously heard him say on the matter. I am still going to hope that the book will address the actual points of the mythecists, rather than strawman versions, or the selected weak points of the “cranks”
    So, either way, I will look forward to your review, though I imagine it will get the same kind of criticism as we are seeing over at Pharyngula, from people who start off with the view that Jesus was a historical figure and that this has ben demonstrated beyond any doubt so assume anyone who comes to a different conclusion must be an ideologically driven crank who is ignoring the evidence.

  24. 24
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    Ehrman done been replaced by a replicant pod-person? Or did someone at huffpo play random word jumble with his article?

    I don’t do a lot of heavy traffic in history, but I don’t particularly recall Ehrman as an unreasonable sort. And everyone here seems to report rather the opposite. So, weird. Maybe we can just hope that the article doesn’t inspire a lot of bad internet factoid references. But here I wait for them to come.

  25. 25
    MSmith

    In Galatians 1:18-20, if “James, the brother of Lord” is a title for a baptised Christian and does not refer to a sibling of Jesus, then why is Cephas (Peter, who appears in the same passage) not also described as a “brother of the Lord”?

    1. 25.1
      Richard Carrier

      MSmith: In Galatians 1:18-20, if “James, the brother of Lord” is a title for a baptised Christian and does not refer to a sibling of Jesus, then why is Cephas (Peter, who appears in the same passage) not also described as a “brother of the Lord”?

      Because it’s not necessary. Paul doesn’t always put “brother” with every Christian he names in his letters. It’s just a matter of literary style, no different than saying “I only met with Peter, unless you count brother James.” To say “I only met with brother Peter, unless you count brother James” is overly fastidious and thus bad style (from the way good writing appears throughout the period, it can be concluded that schools taught to avoid parallel structure unless it served a specific purpose, aesthetically or logically).

      There might be a deeper meaning intended (like that hypothesis (3) is correct and this is a rank of some kind; or more likely than that, IMO, it means this James was not an apostle, and thus Paul is saying this is not the same James as in Gal. 2:9, 12: see Trudinger’s article “Heteron de tôn apostolôn ouk eidon, ei mê iakôbon: A Note of Galatians 1:19″ in Novum Testamentum 17.3 [1975]: 200-202; to which the rebuttal by Howard ibid. 19.1 [1978]: 63-64 doesn’t actually make any valid argument), but that would only up the probability further (hence my remark originally about the effect of ignoring (3)).

  26. 26
    Alex

    Sooooo … will there be an e-book version of your new book? :)

    And thanks for this great reply; I was reading Ehrmans article, and was quite baffled. I’m thinking, maybe it was … forged?

    1. 26.1
      Richard Carrier

      Yes, there will be digital versions of my book eventually. It usually is delayed a few months after the print release.

  27. 27
    John

    Beautiful reply to Mr Ehrman’s shocking rant. I read Mr Ehrman’s The New Testament . . . and was very impressed with it. If I remember correctly, he wrote that there are no sources for the period of Jesus. I was shocked to read his comments on that in his HP rant, which you addressed very well.

    The tone of the criticism was so shrill, so tantrumism, that I was at first sure I was misreading it. The more I read I thought this couldn’t be the man whose videos I’ve watched, who said history is about evidence. His use of arguing from authority almost unseated me I was so surprised. At that point I thought, hello, plate tectonics, sometimes a more fitting interpretation of the evidence comes along that contradicts all the established ideas held by tenured academics.

    It was an embarrassing expression of pure emotional outrage. That suggests to me that he may have a very strong emotional attachment to believing that Jesus existed. It’s a shame. It is very hard to be objective about something you have a deep emotional attachment to.

  28. 28
    alexanderjohannesen

    How odd; my comment vanished? (And I wasn’t saying anything stupid as far as I can tell?)

    1. 28.1
      Richard Carrier

      alexanderjohannesen: How odd; my comment vanished? (And I wasn’t saying anything stupid as far as I can tell?)

      To everyone to whom this may have happened, you can always email me, and tell me the user ID you used, and that will clue me in to check the spam folder (which is normally so packed every day I haven’t time to vet it, but if I have a specific user id I can search them, and rescue anything that got there by accident).

      In this case, however, your comment did indeed vanish. It’s not in the trash or spam. It was just never transmitted (I have no way of diagnosing why, though). Sorry!

      (But also, everyone, be aware: I have full moderation turned on, so your post won’t “post” until I approve it; sometimes that can seem like it “vanished,” as it might take me a day or two to get to it, so wait at least two days first. So far, full moderation has greatly improved the quality and consistency of comments posted, so I am definitely sticking with it.)

  29. 29
    fredericksparks

    Thank you Richard. I also scratched my head over that claim of Aramaic sources from within one or two years. And how about this doozie of an analogy:

    It is also true that our best sources about Jesus, the early Gospels, are riddled with problems. These were written decades after Jesus’ life by biased authors who are at odds with one another on details up and down the line. But historians can never dismiss sources simply because they are biased. You may not trust Rush Limbaugh’s views of Sandra Fluke, but he certainly provides evidence that she exists.”

  30. 30
    Cameron

    “Ehrman says “not even … the most powerful and important figure of his day, Pontius Pilate” is “mentioned in any Roman sources of his day.” ”

    In fairness to Ehrman, he mentions Philo’s reference as well as the archaeological evidence you cite. It’s also clear, in the book at least (p 45-46), that Ehrman is talking about the period that Pilate served as governor of Judea.

    News outlets like HuffPo are generally lousy places for religious commentary, so I’m not surprised to see that Ehrman presented his case in a very truncated form.

    I am curious to read your review of the book, however, since Ehrman addresses your despised messiah argument directly.

  31. 31
    Anne C. Hanna

    I’m interested to see you mention the Pilate Stone as solid support for the existence of Pilate, because I remember reading something recently (which, frustratingly, I cannot locate anymore) that suggested that the stone isn’t in fact a terribly good piece of evidence. The argument was along the general line that the extremely fragmentary nature of the inscription allows people to see in it what they expect to see (Pontius Pilate), and that a particular alternate reading having nothing to do with Pilate makes far more sense in context and is far more likely to match the actual complete text.

    I’m hoping that with your superior familiarity with the field maybe you’ll be able to dig up the arguments on the subject and give your take on them. I don’t really have a dog in this fight, not being a historian of any kind myself, I just find the discussions fascinating, and I’d like to know what’s actually true.

    I’ll be awaiting with interest your response to Ehrman’s newest book.

    1. 31.1
      Richard Carrier

      Anne C. Hanna: I remember reading something recently (which, frustratingly, I cannot locate anymore) that suggested that the stone isn’t in fact a terribly good piece of evidence. The argument was along the general line that the extremely fragmentary nature of the inscription allows people to see in it what they expect to see (Pontius Pilate), and that a particular alternate reading having nothing to do with Pilate makes far more sense in context and is far more likely to match the actual complete text.

      If you or anyone finds that argument (especially if it’s in print), do post the source here. I’d love to read it. But I doubt it’s a good argument. The inscription is indeed fragmentary, but there is no other plausible reconstruction, particularly given the location where the stone was found.

    2. 31.2
      Anne C. Hanna

      I really wish I could find it, but I’ve searched my browser history to no avail, and I don’t think any of the books I’ve read recently fit the bill. :/ Sorry I’m throwing around vague insinuations rather than being able to be specific, but maybe somebody else will be able to put their finger on it.

    3. Richard Carrier

      No worries. Maybe someone will find it eventually. I don’t think it’s crucial.

  32. 32
    Ben

    “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.”

    lmao, I noticed that, too. It’s like he doesn’t know how make believe works. Ehrman is really good in general and for some reason you get him talking about how mythicism can’t be true and he starts making no goddamn sense.

  33. 33
    mal099

    “despite what the sensationalists claim ad nauseum in their propagandized versions”

    Could you put a [sic] in there? The fact that a biblical scholar apparently doesn’t know Latin sickens me, and the fact that you left it in there without comment doesn’t make it better…

    1. 33.1
      Richard Carrier

      Wow, I totally missed that. You are quite right. Certainly, it’s ad nauseam. I’ve made the same mistake myself, thoughtlessly (by simply emulating others without checking). But we certainly ought buck that trend. Thanks for the catch.

  34. 34
    Stewart

    The serious things that need to be said have been; the only “Q” we can be certain ever existed is the TV series made by Spike Milligan, which would go a long way to explaining some parts of the New Testament.

    1. 34.1
      Badger3k

      You forget “Q: the winged serpent” (1982) and the inventor of James Bond’s gear (played by Desmond Llewelyn).

      I’ve gotten the sample from the iBooks store last night and read the first 20 pages (of 52), and it seems like it’s the same as his HuffPo piece (from what I remembered, if someone has a link to it anywhere but HuffPo I’ll read it – I refuse to patronize that website in any fashion). I was not impressed with what I read so far.

    2. Richard Carrier

      You might not be able to judge by the first twenty pages. That will be summary, to which the rest of the book would be qualification and nuance. Although his summary should still be accurate and clear and not make misleading statements about what is to follow.

    3. 34.2
      F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

      In Cleveland, the “Q” is a stadium.

      [re: upthread - ed.]

  35. 35
    Marella

    Ever since I heard Ehrman saying on a podcast that we have as much evidence for the existence of Jesus as we do for Julius Caesar I knew he couldn’t be trusted on this issue. He then went on to use the argument from authority (no proper people espousing this idea). He clearly has an emotional investment in the existence of Jesus for reasons I do not understand, I guess as a former fundy he just can’t make that final step. It’s very disappointing because he really is great on other topics.

    1. 35.1
      Richard Carrier

      Marella: Ever since I heard Ehrman saying on a podcast that we have as much evidence for the existence of Jesus as we do for Julius Caesar

      Holy shit. Did he actually say that? This is even worse than the same claims made for Socrates and Alexander the Great. I mean we have Cicero’s letters for Christ’s sake. And that’s just the tiniest tip of the iceberg (before we even get to inscriptions, coins, statues, the many extant books about him or that mention him written by his contemporaries and near contemporaries, and, again, Caesar’s own writings).

      That is not the way to defend historicity. It makes him look like an idiot. If he did say that, I certainly hope he doesn’t say it anymore.

      BTW, on this see my discussion of the evidence for Caesar crossing the Rubicon (just one event), in Sense and Goodness without God IV.1.2.5, pp. 242-47 (supplemented by The Rubicon Analogy).

    2. 35.2
      Badger3k

      I remembered that from an old Infidel Guy show that Reginald Finley did with him, but I may be wrong. I have all of them saved on my hard drive, and if I can find it, I can probably get it for those interested (not sure of legality in posting it, but it was freely distributed at the time). At the time, he also dissed Robert M Price as if he never heard of him when they had recently had some kind of debate/conversation/contact – it’s been a few years. I couldn’t find it in a quick search, so I’ll probably have to go back over my archived material and hope it stands out. Those two things caused me to lose some respect for him.

    3. 35.3
      rupi capra

      The Julius Caesar comment can be found here starting at about 2 minutes in:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRx0N4GF0AY

  36. 36
    Ryan

    I’m just a bit confused about all of this – I love history but I’m not a historian or scientist, but something that’s always bothered me, is what makes something a good “source” of information.
    How do you verify something that happened 2000 years ago? Surely you have to take everything with pinch of salt?

    1. 36.1
      Richard Carrier

      ryan: I’m just a bit confused about all of this – I love history but I’m not a historian or scientist, but something that’s always bothered me, is what makes something a good “source” of information. How do you verify something that happened 2000 years ago? Surely you have to take everything with pinch of salt?

      There is no single answer to that question, since it varies by case and category. The short answer pertains to the governing logic (which I describe in Proving History): for any given source x, if the prior probability that x is reliable when it reports fact y is higher than the converse (which you would determine categorically; e.g. recovered government documents and physical inscriptions have a high prior here; hagiographies a low one), then the x is a “good” source if y being true makes the content of x more likely than y being false would. The degree to which it is “good” will then be a measure of how far these probabilities diverge. In the case where the prior is against reliability, a large enough divergence in the second case can still overcome that and establish x as a “good” source on y, and again the degree of reliability depends on the divergences. How this works out mathematically I explain in the book. How this is applied to particular cases (e.g. how we assign the probabilities) is then a function of field-specific background knowledge (i.e. you have to ask an expert, who will rely on a conjunction of highly probable premises based on expert knowledge of human behavior and past precedents in the relevant context).

  37. 37
    The Squeaking

    From the Article:

    It is true that Jesus is not mentioned in any Roman sources of his day. That should hardly count against his existence, however, since these same sources mention scarcely anyone from his time and place. Not even the famous Jewish historian, Josephus, or even more notably, the most powerful and important figure of his day, Pontius Pilate.

    Surely this is saying (in a badly written way) that Pontius Pilate and Josephus don’t mention Jesus, rather than “Roman sources of [Jesus's] day” don’t mention Pontius Pilate?
    You point out sufficient evidence for Pilate, that surely Ehrman must be aware of it; I think the problem is with the phraseology and / or editting of Ehrman’s article, rather than Ehrman claiming there is no evidence for Pilate.

    1. 37.1
      Richard Carrier

      The Squeaking: Surely this is saying (in a badly written way) that Pontius Pilate and Josephus don’t mention Jesus, rather than “Roman sources of [Jesus's] day” don’t mention Pontius Pilate?

      No. Pontius Pilate left no writings; and I am sure Ehrman believes Josephus does mention Jesus (that has been much debated; I have an article on it coming out in a peer reviewed journal soon).

      What Ehrman is saying is that no third party mentions Josephus (e.g. even though Tacitus may have used Josephus as a source, he never says he does, nor says anything about Josephus, for example regarding his role in helping the Romans win the Jewish War; of course, the problem with that is that we don’t have more than a fraction of what Tacitus said about the Jewish War, his Histories being very fragmentary, so he may well have mentioned Josephus, but that’s a separate matter, since we still don’t have that mention even if it existed, and that would be Ehrman’s intended point). Or, of course, Pilate.

      On Josephus, he’s in essence correct, if we only count things written while Josephus was alive. I had thought the first external mention of him was in Origen, over a century later; but in the previous edit of this comment I said I hadn’t checked if there was any more obscure mention before that, and Martin Hagstrøm did us a favor and subsequently adduced two: Suetonius and Cassius Dio, although Dio was a contemporary of Origen, so really one, and Suetonius and Josephus at least had overlapping lives even if Josephus was probably dead by the time Suetonius wrote; also, we know of contemporary works that did mention Josephus while he was still alive–Josephus himself refers to them and even describes some of them–but they don’t survive. But even all that aside, this example is disingenuous again. Because there is one problem with using Josephus as an example: we obviously have attestation to his life and existence because we have his own writings. If we had the actual writings of Jesus, and could vet their authenticity the way we have Josephus, then there would be no contest as to Jesus’ existence. Thus Josephus is a terrible example for Ehrman to use here.

      But you are right, he just wrote very terribly. Because as someone reports upthread, he does get the facts on Pilate right in his book.

    2. 37.2
      Martin Hagstrøm

      Thanks for a great article (and ensuing discussion).

      Josephus was mentioned by Sueton (Vespasian 5,6), »and one of his high-born prisoners, Josephus by name, as he was being put in chains, declared most confidently that he would soon be released by the same man, who would then, however, be emperor«.

      He was also mentioned by Dio Cassius (Book 65, 1, 3-4), although that may be too late a source for your purpose, »[…] These portents needed interpretation; but not so the saying of a Jew named Josephus: he, having earlier been captured by Vespasian and imprisoned, laughed and said: “You may imprison me now, but a year from now, when you have become emperor, you will release me”.«

      Let that be a lesson to all Josephus-deniers. ;-)

    3. Richard Carrier

      Awesome. Thanks for that. I updated my comment on this earlier to reflect this data. Yes, Dio is a contemporary of Origen, so over a century away; Suetonius almost certainly wrote a decade or so after Josephus died, but they were contemporaries (Suetonius would have been in his twenties or thirties when Josephus completed the Antiquities).

  38. 38
    jacob aliet

    This is a good quality, thorough refutation of Ehrman. He has become a disappointment to many who are thirsty for serious work on the historicity of Jesus.

    1. 38.1
      Richard Carrier

      Well, refutation of his article. Not his book.

  39. 39
    andrea

    The essential problem I see with declaring that Jesus Christ was a historical figure is that there are vanishingly few Christians who accept that their supposed messiah was one more primitive “teacher” who was sure that the world was going to end and did no supernatural acts whatsoever. There is no purpose in discussing *this* character, especially when discussing the validity of religion. The Jesus Christ that Christians believe is not this character; they believe in a magical man/god that did supernatural acts, that gathered a Roman legion’s worth of people several times just outside of Jerusalem and the Romans didn’t notice, that is the blood sacrifice for other supernatural nonsense.

    To me, this desperate search for a historical Jesus is little more than a strawman argument, one created to hide the fact that all religions are human made stories and no more valid than the flying spaghetti monster. Yes, all myths may have had some kernel of basis in reality, but all that does is confirm that humans like to use reality to make up stories around, just like fiction about Jack Bauer or Darth Vader or Raoul Duke.

    As much as I have liked Ehrman’s books up to now, I seriously wonder about him and his making such massive errors. Is this the return to religon by an agnostic man seeing his mortality?

    1. 39.1
      Richard Carrier

      andrea: One thing to consider is that Ehrman and other scholars have an interest in system justification: they have fought hard to get secular scholarship on the bible accepted by the Christian community (even fundamentalists have to give it a nod, even as they argue against it), and there may be a fear that if secular scholarship embraces this theory, that they will lose their influence and “respectability” with that crowd. That’s not really a valid concern; but it can be a strong motivation to someone who doesn’t realize it’s wrong. It would be as if evolution should be attacked by scientists simply because science will then be rejected by Christians; yes, Christians who find evolution appalling are driven to disdain and reject science and scientists because science defends evolution, but evolution is simply true and scientists are committed to defending the truth; they are not obligated to make themselves respectable to Christian fundamentalists. I think the secular Jesus studies field has lost sight of this fact. It’s still too beholden to the funding and status that is connected to Christians who would be “offended” by the conclusion that Jesus didn’t even exist. This would happen even among many liberal Christians, who actually are okay with the non-miraculous Jesus of secular scholarship, because then they can try to defend the “he was still a great teacher and we should heed his wisdom” position. They won’t even have that fallback if Jesus didn’t even exist. Hector Avalos has said a lot about this problem, including why liberal Christians are a part of that problem as I just suggested, in The End of Biblical Studies, which is an excellent work everyone should read.

  40. 40
    Ophelia Benson

    I’m reading the book, and he does say “we have” – it brought me up short too. “We whut?”

  41. 41
    Dave

    I am currently reading Ehrman’s book and I can say that he does not make mistake 1, as he discusses Philo and the inscription in relation to Pilate.

    1. 41.1
      Richard Carrier

      That’s a relief.

  42. 42
    Chuck Messenger

    Richard: I love all your analysis – very cogent.

    My question: what is your take on the historicity of Jesus? Could you spell out, briefly, what you currently think – where the balance of current evidence points? Perhaps with associated probabilities?

    1. 42.1
      Richard Carrier

      Chuck Messenger: You will have to wait for my book on that, On the Historicity of Jesus Christ. But this present article gives you a good idea of where that will be going. I would only add that I think something like what Doherty argues is true (I don’t agree with every element of his thesis, and most of what he argues I do not deem necessary to his thesis and therefore I don’t necessarily oppose or endorse it, since I haven’t bothered with it). Anyway, my old review of his original book is Did Jesus Exist? Earl Doherty and the Argument to Ahistoricity.

  43. 43
    cipher

    I was a little shocked as well while reading it. I kept thinking, “Wait, did I understand him correctly?”

    Those bits about source texts and lack of precedent were especially troublesome. Surely he’s aware of recent archeological evidence demonstrating a Jewish precedent for the concept of a suffering and dying messiah?

    If I had to guess, I’d say he’s having some form of the stereotypical “crisis of faith”. He’s had a bit of a hard time defining himself to others over the years, as it is – agnostic, deist, etc. Also, he comes from that world. Perhaps he’s experiencing some sort of rebound, perhaps occasioned by a personal crisis, or simply the need to belong or to return to his roots… whatever the reason(s), it looks like the result isn’t going to be pretty.

    1. 43.1
      Richard Carrier

      cipher: Surely he’s aware of recent archeological evidence demonstrating a Jewish precedent for the concept of a suffering and dying messiah?

      That’s highly debatable, though. It’s not what I would consider strong evidence. (For those not in the know, I believe Cipher is referring to the Revelation of Gabriel, a fragmentary text carved in stone from just before the Christian period.)

      As to your psychological thesis, I’ve speculated more than I should already. It’s all just guessing anyway.

    2. 43.2
      cipher

      (For those not in the know, I believe Cipher is referring to the Revelation of Gabriel, a fragmentary text carved in stone from just before the Christian period.)

      I was referring to the Revelation of Gabriel. I was having a senior moment and couldn’t for the life of me remember its name!

      That’s highly debatable, though. It’s not what I would consider strong evidence.

      No, of course. I’m aware there are differing opinions – but it’s possible evidence. He’s saying there’s no evidence.

      As to your psychological thesis, I’ve speculated more than I should already. It’s all just guessing anyway.

      Agreed – but the signs are there. Let’s just leave it at this – if you hear he’s gone back to some form of belief, don’t be surprised.

    3. Richard Carrier

      cipher: [re: the Revelation of Gabriel is highly debatable / not strong evidence.] No, of course. I’m aware there are differing opinions – but it’s possible evidence. He’s saying there’s no evidence.

      That’s a valid point. It reflects his hyperbole. It’s one thing to say there is insufficient evidence (which would force him to think about what insufficient means); another to insist that it’s absolutely entirely and utterly impossible.

  44. 44
    mcbender

    This is very disappointing. I’ve just started reading Ehrman recently (I read Misquoting Jesus, Jesus Interrupted, and Forged all in the past week), and greatly enjoyed his work, although I did notice quite a few offhand remarks even in those books where he basically asserted without question that a “historical Jesus” existed. I suspect him of a bit of wish-thinking here, which is disappointing because on so many other things he seems to get it exactly right (of course, I’m no expert, so perhaps I shouldn’t be making such a judgment), but this particular logic seems really shoddy.

    I’ll be very interested to see your review of this more recent offering, Dr. Carrier; I probably won’t pick up a copy just yet…

    1. 44.1
      Richard Carrier

      mcbender: I did notice quite a few offhand remarks even in those books where he basically asserted without question that a “historical Jesus” existed.

      I wouldn’t criticize him for that. In those books he is summarizing the consensus view (and, when he says so, his own views), and that is the consensus view. So there is nothing wrong with him saying so.

      One could pick any statement he makes in any book and find some professor somewhere who has published a peer reviewed article arguing against it. Ehrman isn’t obligated to say so or list all of those, unless the article in question is very convincing and therefore must be addressed.

      To an extent consensus must be generated first, but of course no one reads most articles and books published, so consensus can’t be generated unless an article or book is widely read and debated in the field, which requires scholars like Ehrman to notice and make mention of them and discuss them, so the process can begin. But many articles and books (even peer reviewed) are just too poorly argued to warrant that attention; and when someone is only outlining the consensus, really the only contrary position one should mention is any there may be in the latest peer reviewed work on the issue.

      But in this case there has not been any (no one has published mythicist arguments through any peer review process I know of, apart from at the Journal of Higher Criticism which Ehrman doesn’t trust for that reason–a bit of a circular argument, I know, but it is a valid concern that they only appear there). I have been working to change that. But until I do, Ehrman is within his rights to say that the current consensus is that Jesus historically existed.

      But saying that that consensus can’t possibly be wrong is not valid reasoning (and saying only unemployable lunatics would even consider it is simply appallingly bad reasoning), particularly given the actual state of the evidence.

    2. 44.2
      mcbender

      Hmm. I wasn’t aware that the mythicist view was underrepresented in the peer-reviewed literature; that does make it significantly less egregious. Perhaps I’m just surprised by his making this argument when, as far as I can tell, the body of his work suggests that the documents we have are (at the very least) insufficiently reliable to draw a conclusion one way or the other on the “historical Jesus” question.

      I’m an engineer, not a historian, so I probably shouldn’t be passing judgment one way or the other on this question really.

    3. Richard Carrier

      There is a certain dogmatic bias (reflected throughout Ehrman’s article) that could stymie even the attempt to get an article through peer review, and would discourage scholars from even considering the theory in the first place (much less far enough to actually produce an article on it). Thus the absence of such articles is not as telling as it would be for other disputes.

  45. 45
    ShunkW

    The original Huffington Post article was complete rubbish. Thanks for submitting a factual rejoinder to the original mythical article. Wonder if HP will pick up on this like they did the original article. I doubt it.

  46. 46
    Pluto Animus

    “We do not have accounts of others who were born to virgin mothers and who died as an atonement for sin and then were raised from the dead.”

    Ehrman might as well have added, “who was also left-handed and played ping-pong on Tuesdays.”

  47. 47
    CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain

    Maybe the HuffPo article was pseudepigraphal? :P

    1. 47.1
      F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

      I, for one, found that to be amusing.

  48. 48
    Ignorance

    “But if it’s going to be like this article, it’s going to be the worst piece of scholarship ever written. So stay tuned for my future review of his book. For now, I will address this brief article, not knowing how his book might yet rescue him from an epic fail.”

    Hello Dr Carrier,

    This seems uncharitable on your part. Considering that the article you wrote for professor Hoffmann’s anthology was savagely rejected, it could be prudent not to throw stones if you’re in a glass house (http://rjosephhoffmann.wordpress.com/2011/05/31/play-mythty-for-me-dr-carrier-carries-on/). Obviously I can’t compare a book with an unpublished contribution, but in any case, both are written, so the article is still in the game.

    1. 48.1
      Richard Carrier

      Ignorance: Considering that the article you wrote for professor Hoffmann’s anthology was savagely rejected

      I don’t know what you are talking about. That article was accepted (Hoffmann approved it enthusiastically and published it in that anthology).

      Perhaps you are confusing this with Hoffmann’s subsequent flight into seeming insanity? It was only after I criticized that anthology that Hoffmann wrote the trash piece you link to, even though I have documented evidence he did not have any of those opinions before I criticized his book.

    2. 48.2
      F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

      [Re: upthread - ed.] How is the statement, qualified as it is, uncharitable? It’s perfectly sensible.

      Your conclusion, on the other hand, does not follow, and sounds like a standard passive-aggressive “warning”.

  49. 49
    kacyray

    Great post. Thanks.

  50. 50
    Dan

    Why did Ehrman get pissed off at mythicism in general? If I may be allowed to speculate: some years ago an amateur mythicist (the Infidel Guy) “interviewed” Bart Ehrman for an internet radio show supposedly on the historical Jesus and about Ehrman’s turn to agnosticism. But they spent the entire time debating the topic, with the said mythicist making a complete fool of himself since he knows nothing about historical Jesus studies, and Ehrman getting agitated while correcting the mythicist time and again.

    Bart Ehrman may have had a grudge with mythicism since then.

    1. 50.1
      Richard Carrier

      Dan, I think you could be right: that’s the “intellectual impact trauma” I was talking about upthread. If Ehrman surrounds himself and immerses himself in the crap, his outrage is natural (I can’t stand it myself, which is why I simply don’t engage it much at all, because I have serious work to do, I don’t need to spend all my time correcting other people). But he ends up lashing out with too broad a brush that way, conflating all the crap with the rarer but better work, and conflating a crap argument for a theory, with the theory itself. These are common fallacies that many historians make (not just in this debate). All I can do is call them out. As I’ve done here.

    2. 50.2
      F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

      It could be the experience you mention, or it could be that a lot of popular mythicism is crap. And when people are inundated by crap, they sometimes go so far as to have a complete reversal of thinking. Consider any social/political movement, say environmentalism. Some supporters are so loud, stupid, and annoying that others who can’t stand their idiocy decide that the whole idea is bad rather than recognizing that there are mouthy stupid people who support good ideas with bad reasoning, woo, or generic bafflegab, and that this in no way changes the standing of the idea itself. For some people at some times, it’s the “easy way”.

    3. Richard Carrier

      That’s a good observation, F. That’s kind of what I had in mind with the “intellectual impact trauma” idea. But your example adds an important nuance.

  51. 51
    bernarda

    Your point 3 applies to Hercules too, who was tortured to death but arose to sit by his father Zeus.

    Unfortunately you didn’t mention Apollonius of Tyana who lived at about the same time as the supposed Jesus and whose story is about the same.

    1. 51.1
      Richard Carrier

      bernarda: Apollonius of Tyana who lived at about the same time as the supposed Jesus and whose story is about the same.

      That example is problematic because all our relevant sources postdate Christianity by nearly two centuries, and thus we cannot prove the influence wasn’t the other way around.

  52. 52
    Ophelia Benson

    I found one place where he said it. Post here:

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2012/03/what-ehrman-actually-says/

    1. 52.1
      Richard Carrier

      Thanks for those quotes, Ophelia. I haven’t gotten my copy yet. But I see he is indeed throwing the whole kitchen sink into it, of all the hypothetical, conjectural sources ever proposed by anyone, all together in one big jumble as this amazingly vast body of “evidence” we (don’t) have. The irony is that his argument is fallacious anyway. There were no doubt numerous different texts about Hercules that came to be merged in later retellings. That does not make Hercules historical. Or consider Deuteronomy, which purports to be by Moses (it’s not) and to contain the sayings (of God) as related by Moses (it doesn’t), yet almost certainly came from multiple sources that were merged into this one document. In no way does that make it historically true, even in one tiny bit. We likewise have multiple sources merged into one document in Genesis (hence there are two contradictory creation accounts in it, for example). But that doesn’t make Genesis true. And so on.

      A second problem is that not having the source documents is key, because we want to know what exactly was in them, vs. what was added or changed in the documents we do have. Possibly the source documents (if they even existed; possibly the “sources” were just random collections of oral tales and verbally transmitted homilies and fables, not actual documents) portrayed Jesus as even more clearly mythical than our Gospels do. For example, Thomas Brodie pretty much demonstrates this for Luke-Acts (The Birthing of the New Testament, supported by Helms in Gospel Fictions and Pervo in The Mystery of Acts), which he proves was based on an earlier version that clearly was entirely made up (it is basically just a rewrite of 1 and 2 kings, casting Jesus in the central role instead of Elijah and Elisha); the author of Luke-Acts then “dressed it up” with more historical sounding data and phrases to make it appear “true.” Or imagine if the earliest version of the gospel story began “and the following was revealed to Peter in a vision,” which then the later Gospel authors simply left off. And so on. Thus, we can’t support any theory on documents we don’t have, because we don’t know exactly what was in them. This makes his argument irresponsible at best.

    2. 52.2
      Ophelia Benson

      That’s certainly how it strikes an outsider, Richard. The book does seem very circular at times (a lot of times, sad to say).

    3. 52.3
      Ignorance

      And Charles Freeman does not???

    4. Richard Carrier

      Ignorance: And Charles Freeman does not???

      Due to formatting issues I have to set threads to break, so you should note that this statement might end up so far from the comment you are responding to no one will know what you mean. Please provide context (e.g. a quote). Otherwise we have no idea what you are saying. Just FYI.

  53. 53
    RhubarbTheBear

    I loved all of Ehrman’s books, particularly “Jesus Interrupted”… with the exception of the final chapter, which seemed a begrudging non-explanation explanation of why he still believed in a historical Jesus of some kind. I was hoping he would get around to writing a full treatise on the matter, and hooray, he has!

    As a layperson, I find Ehrman’s attitude as displayed in his Huffington Post article to be odd. Of all the writers I’ve read so far (and sadly I’m behind on your stuff, Richard, but I’ll catch up soon, promise), Ehrman seemed the most adroit in patiently disassembling the Jesus of faith for those of us who are interested in such matters but can’t devote our entire lives to such study. For him to now insist that we all still need to accept that there is a Jesus of history or be thought cranks and bad thinkers, all I can do is scratch my head. I thought I was following YOUR train of thought, Ehrman! Why should it matter if I believe there was some ancient guy at the root of all the myth? Only the myth is compelling. Only the myth impacts my life as a 21st century person.

    The thing I hope to learn from Ehrman’s new book is if the “real Jesus” he’s about to reveal is, in any sense, interesting enough to study.

  54. 54
    Rebecca

    Great article, and I’m much looking forward to the full review. Could you clarify something re “according to scripture” in 1 Cor. 15:3-8? Which scripture is Paul talking about? I’ve always thought it was a reference to the “fact” that Jesus’ death and resurrection were prefigured in the Old Testament scriptures, eg Isaiah 53:12; but are you saying Paul was referring to gospels written about Jesus? The latter is how I first read your comment, but I wasn’t so sure on second reading. Neither interpretation actually affects your point, I’m just interested.

    1. 54.1
      Richard Carrier

      Rebecca: Could you clarify something re “according to scripture” in 1 Cor. 15:3-8? Which scripture is Paul talking about? I’ve always thought it was a reference to the “fact” that Jesus’ death and resurrection were prefigured in the Old Testament scriptures, eg Isaiah 53:12; but are you saying Paul was referring to gospels written about Jesus? The latter is how I first read your comment, but I wasn’t so sure on second reading. Neither interpretation actually affects your point, I’m just interested.

      Regarding the first question, scholars are undecided. The question is complicated by the fact that (a) the earliest Christians regarded as scriptures many texts that didn’t end up in the OT canon, and many of which we don’t even have any more (or have complete) and (b) they were using manuscripts that said different things than ours now do (this is evident in the second century debates, where Christian apologists sometimes quote passages of the OT that read significantly differently than the text we now have; likewise, texts of the OT recovered at Qumran show a number of variants not otherwise attested, and those are just a fraction). The most recent suggestion is that the scripture Paul means is the Revelation of Gabriel. But that is unfortunately too fragmentary to be conclusive.

      Regarding the second question, this is something often overlooked when people read the text in English in the “traditional” understanding. In the Greek, Paul says each thing is kata tas graphas, where kata usually means “according to” in the sense of a source, e.g. one would say “according to Josephus, Pilate was a terrible person,” using kata. The same word can also mean “according to” in the sense of “in conformance with” (as in, “in conformance with the law”), and as such is here traditionally taken as meaning “in fulfillment of,” but that presupposes what is not in evidence: that the events were confirmed to have happened independently of the scriptures (making that a circular argument). On a plain reading of the text, he is saying he was told (as Romans 16:25-26 confirms) that scripture said these things had happened. One would more commonly say “as scripture had foretold” or some such thing if the other meaning were intended. That does not rule out the other meaning, but one must present a case for it; otherwise the natural meaning of the text is a reference to a source, not a fulfillment, as that passage in Romans confirms.

  55. 55
    jamessweet

    I found Mistake #2 the most baffling. I am an abject layperson when it comes to the historical Jesus question, and even I knew that was a false statement.

    I think it would be very hard to ever prove that there were not one or more historical Jesuses (Jesii?) on which the tall tales are based. But 1) clearly if such a man (or men) (or woman?) did exist, the Biblical Jesus bears very little relation to him/her/them; and 2) again admitting my status as an abject layperson, I’ve seen nothing that I would remotely consider to be strong evidence of such an individual. The most convincing evidence I have seen has all been entirely circumstantial, not to mention amenable to alternative explanations.

    There’s a lot of weird details in the Gospels that would make a lot of sense if the authors were making a tortured attempt to reconcile Jewish prophecy with a historical figure… but then again, there are a lot of weird details in e.g. the new Star Wars movies that would make a lot of sense if Lucas was making a tortured attempt to reconcile his desired storyline with a historical figure, but in that case we know the REAL explanation is that he was making a tortured attempt to reconcile his crappy new fantasy world with the much awesomer fantasy world he invented thirty-odd years ago.

    Pretty much all of the other evidence I have seen seems to be of the form of taking some ancient manuscript and either a) assuming its authenticity even in the face of evidence to the contrary, b) reading into it things that it doesn’t really seem to say, or c) taking some detail far too seriously than is warranted. But again, I’m no expert, so maybe I am wrong…

  56. 56
    rizzo

    Yeah I read that article yesterday and I thought it was just as full of holes as you. No Roman sources for Pilate, what? It was worse than the usual HuffPo drek.

  57. 57
    dalazal

    Very interesting post. I must say I was also very puzzled by Ehrman’s HuffPo post, because he seemingly contradicts some of the other stuff he says in his books (Jesus Interrupted and Jesus, Apocaliptic Prophet of the New Millenium, notably). More importantly, I’ve always been kind of puzzled by Ehrman’s strong defense of a historical jesus, given all the evidence (mostly lack thereof) he presents in his books.

    I mean, he mentions the lack of contemporary sources outside of Christianity, he mentions the religious context of apocalypticism, he mentions the similar religious themes in the region at the same time period and he mentions all the contradictions about Jesus’ life found in the gospels. I would imagine anyone at that point would just say “nope, not a whole lotta evidence that this Jesus fellow actually existed”. But he doesn’t. If I understand his claims, he thinks that Paul offers strong evidence for a historical Jesus, but in the same breath points to the fact that Paul is virtually mute about Jesus’s life and deeds, and focus only on his death and resurrection narrative, including theological commitments that seem to be at odds with some of the gospel traditions (like Matthew, for instance).

    Then there are the supposed meetings of Paul with Peter and James the brother of Jesus, but these are very brief (and apparently ambiguous) notes, and could have easily been fabricated (by Paul, or interpolators) to lend support for Paul’s theology (which he explicitly claims come from personal revelation, rather than through the direct apostolic line). Are these strong evidence for a historical jesus? Apparently Ehrman thinks so, but that has always been surprising to me.

    After reading some of Ehrman’s books, I was left with the feeling that, ASSUMING JESUS EXISTED, he would probably look like the reconstructions reported in his books (ie, failed jewish apocalyptic prophet, etc.). However, I haven’t seen what is the overwhelming evidence in support of this assumption. Maybe Ehrman thinks that BECAUSE a very reasonable historical jesus CAN be reconstructed, it provides evidence that there was one?

  58. 58
    Richard The Illogical Carrier

    Hey Richard, why don’t you just debate him. I am sorry but its funny that you are one of the only <2 of historians that actually thinks Jesus was a myth.

    1. 58.1
      Richard Carrier

      Richard The Illogical Carrier: Hey Richard, why don’t you just debate him.

      That may occur later this year.

      (BTW, I love the lame fake ID and email address. Snazzy.)

  59. 59
    truthspeaker

    Really disappointing. I expected better from Ehrman.

    Personally I don’t find the question all that interesting. Someone made up the character of Jesus in the books that became the New Testament and put words in his mouth. Whether or not it was based on a real person just doesn’t seem that important to me.

  60. 60
    Elle

    “Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?”

    In this question Paul seems to be citing specific people (the apostles and Cephas) in order to set an example.

    What are the odds of him citing the whole Christian community (the Lord’s brothers, and not THE Lord’s brothers) while writing to a specific christian community?

    Or am I misinterpreting something?

    1. 60.1
      Richard Carrier

      Elle: In this question Paul seems to be citing specific people (the apostles and Cephas) in order to set an example.

      No, he is arguing that no one should complain if he has a wife to feed, and his argument is that “don’t all other Christians get to have wives? Why is it only me and Barnabas who can’t?” (the gist of 1 Cor. 9:5-6). The actual issue, in context, is that Paul was accused of not working for the money he takes from his churches, and the implication is that he and his entourage have to support their wives (or be able to, should they take a wife). Thus a “loose” translation of verses 5-6 is “Don’t we have the right to be accompanied by a wife, as all other apostles and Christians do, even Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have to labor for our keep?”

  61. 61
    honestchristian

    Richard,

    is it possible to prove that anyone from 1st century palestine existed, who was not a Roman ruler?

    1. 61.1
      Richard Carrier

      honestchristian: Is it possible to prove that anyone from 1st century palestine existed, who was not a Roman ruler?

      Yes. We have the burial ossuaries of several figures, for instance. Plus tons of inscriptions attesting to people. Etc. We have early historians covering the area and period who used sources of mixed reliability but out of which we can often make a good case for many people’s historicity. Etc. We have writers like Philo. Etc. And so on.

      You might be assuming axiomatically that historicity is to be doubted without sufficient proof, but that’s a fallacy. Historicity is to be believed or doubted based on the prior probability, which depends on a reference class. So, for example, mythic demigods tend not to be historical, so initial doubt is warranted, and the burden is on the case for historicity (don’t mistake that for saying historicists bear the burden presently, since they have already met that prima facie burden, and therefore the burden is now on the rebuttal side, i.e. the mythicists); whereas, mundane historical actors (e.g. Judas the Galileean or Justus of Tiberias, as reported in Josephus) tend to be historical, so initial trust is warranted, and the burden is on anyone who would deny it. And the burden is greater, the higher the prior probability either way. The logic of this is detailed in Proving History.

  62. 62
    steph

    It is surprising you write such a long piece full of confident and complicated mistakes and assumptions, responding to a very very brief article by Ehrman introducing his book. I have not read Ehrman’s book yet. It has been shipped from the bookseller but has not arrived yet. I will reserve judgement until I have read his book. However in your very long blog post you completely misrepresent several things, Casey included. For example, you cite Philo, De Prov. II, 64, to show that Philo ‘made regular pilgrimages to Jerusalem’. This passage survives only in Armenian, which in general does not provide reliable tradition. Moreover, the passage does not say that he ‘made regular pilgrimages’ at all. It only says that he went via Ascalon, and it is perfectly consistent with the common view that he went only once.

    You also attribute to Ehrman numerous things which he does not say. For example, ‘You can challenge the consensus on almost anything else in Jesus studies, but this [i.e. the existence of the historical Jesus] is sacrosanct, and if you dare, “we’ll ruin your career.” Such is Ehrman’s message.’ Ehrman does not say this. It is moreover a conspicuous falsehood, since lecturers and professors in independent British universities who have academic tenure, cannot be dismissed for holding inconvenient opinions. Lecturers and professors in independent universities in the Antipodes are appointed to permanent positions without tenure but they cannot be dismissed either, for holding inconvenient opinions, whatever they are.

    In the comments, CJO speculates that Ehrman may be following Casey on Aramaisms, which we will find out when we have his book. Your response demonstrates that you have not has not read Casey’s learned arguments in the monographs Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel (CUP, 1998) or in An Aramaic Approach to Q (CUP, 2002), or his summary for general readers who cannot read Aramaic in Jesus of Nazareth (T & T Clark, 2010). It is completely unacademic and typically presumptuous to imagine that you have refuted work which you have not read.

    Maurice Casey’s forthcoming book, due to go to press in June 2012 (with T&T Clark), contains a detailed refutation of all the major mythicist mistakes. The title has not yet been agreed upon.

    1. 62.1
      Richard Carrier

      steph:

      It is surprising you write such a long piece full of confident and complicated mistakes and assumptions, responding to a very very brief article by Ehrman introducing his book.

      Ordinarily I wouldn’t bother. It was the extreme irresponsibility and disinformation of that article that compelled me to publish a response, so that people who read that article but not the book won’t be misled by it.

      I will reserve judgement until I have read his book.

      As to the book, you certainly should. As I state repeatedly in my article, I am doing the same. My article here is only a corrective to his article, not his book.

      For example, you cite Philo, De Prov. II, 64, to show that Philo ‘made regular pilgrimages to Jerusalem’. This passage survives only in Armenian, which in general does not provide reliable tradition.

      I don’t know why you assume (a) Armenian “does not provide reliable tradition” or (b) that therefore someone (?) fabricated this statement so as to fool us into thinking Philo (an observant Jew) made pilgrimages to Jerusalem.

      This is precisely the kind of baseless “evidence dismissal” that I am sure annoys Ehrman when mythicists engage in it. That historicists would then do the same thing just when it suits them ought to be embarrassing.

      Moreover, the passage does not say that he ‘made regular pilgrimages’ at all. It only says that he went via Ascalon, and it is perfectly consistent with the common view that he went only once.

      He says he went to make “the prayers and sacrifices,” which implies he was an observant Jew, i.e. he went every time the law required. This was not Islam, where one was expected to make just one pilgrimage; if you observed the Torah law regarding sacrifices, you went every year, or as near to as you were humanly able. (I don’t know what you mean by “the common view”; did you have a specific scholar in mind?). Many diaspora Jews could not do this (although even many of them will still have made more than one trip throughout their lives), but Philo was near enough that he could, and by his casual reference to observing the sacrifices and prayers, he does not appear to regard this as a singular or remarkable occasion (apart from, perhaps, the route he took). One could argue there is at least a possibility that he really did go only once, but the evidence does not assert that, so we cannot rest on it as a fact; it would only be a conjecture. And probability weighs against it.

      You also attribute to Ehrman numerous things which he does not say. For example, ‘You can challenge the consensus on almost anything else in Jesus studies, but this [i.e. the existence of the historical Jesus] is sacrosanct, and if you dare, “we’ll ruin your career.” Such is Ehrman’s message.’ Ehrman does not say this.

      I didn’t say he said it. I said he “intimates” it (my exact word).

      It is moreover a conspicuous falsehood, since lecturers and professors in independent British universities who have academic tenure, cannot be dismissed for holding inconvenient opinions.

      But they can be persecuted (their papers and books can be rejected by peer reviewers or editors, they can be swamped with committee assignments and other excess responsibilities to push them to retire, they can be given the worst selections of classrooms and hours and offices, they can be passed over for conference invitations, they can be ridiculed and marginalized, etc.). And tenure is a vanishing benefit in the U.S.; in fact, it is generally not available to younger scholars who would otherwise be the ones most likely and able to challenge a consensus (not having staked a reputation on arguing otherwise, nor having been enculturated in all the academic dogmas). Tenure will have been given to scholars who prove they won’t rock this boat to begin with. And thus tenured professors are the least likely to do it, even apart from the way it can result in pressures and hardships they would prefer to avoid.

      In the comments, CJO speculates that Ehrman may be following Casey on Aramaisms, which we will find out when we have his book. Your response demonstrates that you have not has not read Casey’s learned arguments in the monographs Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel (CUP, 1998) or in An Aramaic Approach to Q (CUP, 2002), or his summary for general readers who cannot read Aramaic in Jesus of Nazareth (T & T Clark, 2010). It is completely unacademic and typically presumptuous to imagine that you have refuted work which you have not read.

      I don’t claim to have refuted it. I referred to my book, which references other scholars who have published the case regarding the problem of distinguishing hypothetical Aramaic sources from Semitized Greek (in short: they often look the same). My other points are correct: even if we proved an Aramaic source behind Mark, that does not prove it was written “within one or two years” of when Jesus is supposed to have died; and even if it were, that would still not prove it was true. Moreover, it would not tell us what exactly that source said (a point I illustrated with examples upthread).

      Maurice Casey’s forthcoming book, due to go to press in June 2012 (with T&T Clark), contains a detailed refutation of all the major mythicist mistakes. The title has not yet been agreed upon.

      I will certainly want to read that. Please notify me here or by email when it comes out or is available for pre-order.

    2. 62.2
      steph

      Carrier:

      You are extraordinarily confident in your opinions. Casey doesn’t do what other scholars do regarding the problem of distinguishing hypothetical Aramaic sources from Semitized Greek. His methods of exploring historical plausibility are not based on ‘an Aramaic source behind Mark’. Casey has done a lot of original research, and judging his work by anything else you have read on the same subject is completely inadequate, not least because all such work was written earlier, when the Aramaic of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the like was not available for scholarship to make original use of it.

      Any competent scholar would read genuine cases for historicity before leaping to conclusions and generalising about such work. It is hardly sufficient to read Casey’s refutation alone. It is just a reflection of lazy incompetence that you cannot be bothered reading his learned monographs on Aramaic.

      I do not assume that the text is unreliable because it is Armenian. My conclusions are based on detailed scholarly arguments, in texts which you appear not to have read. I do not indulge in evidence dismissal as you have done in one single blog post. ‘Common view’ reflects the majority of scholarship, not ‘one single scholar’. You have made extraordinary assumptions about Philo which have no basis other than suggestions made by sources such as Josephus that Jews went as often as humanly possible.

      Secondary traditions about Philo began in the patristic period, long before there was any Armenian tradition. For example, Eusebius relates a tradition that Philo became acquainted with Peter in Rome (Eus. H.E. II, 17). Eusebius then argues that the Therapeutae were Christians. From a historical point of view, it should be obvious that all such traditions are secondary story-telling. It was the second millenium before these traditions were further developed in Armenian Christianity. Armenian traditions include the attribution to Philo of De Sampsone and De Iona. Do you seriously imagine he wrote such things? You don’t say why you interpret De Prov II, 64 as you do, especially not why you imagine that it means that Philo went every year, let alone why you believe that. You assume the reliability of a second millenium text because it is convenient to your belief, despite overwhelming evidence demonstrating its unreliability, yet you reject the historicity of Jesus because it conflicts with your belief that Jesus the Jew didn’t exist, ignoring recent scholarship on history and making assumptions about what it contains.

      You attribute things to Ehrman does not say. I did not say you said he said those words. You are imposing ideas he has not declared. It is dishonest to assume he meant was he has not said. Where is your evidence for bullying of mythicists holding academic posts? Have you got an academic post? Your discussion on the persecution of lecturers and professors bears no relation whatever to the academic environment which I have encountered in England or in the Antipodes. There are occasional problems, as Professor Casey and Professor Crossley have found in having careers as New Testament scholars from a non-religious perspective. But these have no reasonable relationship to the scenario which you appear to have invented off the top of your head.

      A competent scholar does not need to have special emails delivered with notification of publications. I’m surprised at your bossy demand. I suggest you read all his original scholarly monographs before you read his refutation. That’s the logical order of a genuinely critical mind. You’re severely under-read. I do not run erands for bloggers.

    3. Richard Carrier

      steph My conclusions are based on detailed scholarly arguments, in texts which you appear not to have read.

      Like?

      A competent scholar does not need to have special emails delivered with notification of publications. I’m surprised at your bossy demand.

      Asking for you to source your claims is an inappropriate demand?

    4. Richard Carrier

      steph: Casey doesn’t do what other scholars do regarding the problem of distinguishing hypothetical Aramaic sources from Semitized Greek.

      That’s precisely the problem, and why his conclusions are logically invalid (not invalid as to what claims he makes about Aramaic).

      You seem not to understand what I am saying. I am saying Casey did not even consider the alternative hypothesis that his Aramaicisms are in fact Semitisms. For example, pp. 139-140 of Aramaic Sources: he argues the use of plural for “sabbath” indicates an Aramaic source; wrong, it is how the Septuagint Greek operates, and Mark is using Septuagintal Greek (in fact, sometimes even by direct quotation or derivation, a fact Casey also overlooks: see The Empty Tomb, pp. 158-61). Casey even admits there that Semitized Greek also used the pluralized word. Yet it doesn’t occur to him that this would be as good an explanation for why Mark is using it, as there being an Aramaic source would.

      That is what I am talking about. Casey doesn’t even attempt to argue against what I just said. Yet what I just said is obviously correct, as many a scholar has pointed out (as I reference in my book). There are many other flaws in his arguments (some pointed out by his reviewers). I am just highlighting one to illustrate what I mean, and why it doesn’t matter what Casey’s expertise is, since the error is the same no matter who makes it, expertise makes no difference. And many scholars have said this, I’m not alone (again, see Proving History, pp. 185-86). Indeed, his entire attempt to re-interpret the Son of Man is a clear failure and doesn’t make sense on how Mark constructs his Gospel (that reviewer points this out; as have many others: see Proving History, pp. 150-51). I don’t think you honestly are aware of any of this.

    5. 62.3
      steph

      Source my claims?! Oh come on Carrier – you bossily asked me to email you when Casey’s book is released because you are too lazy or haven’t the ability to keep up to date. I informed you of the probable forthcoming date. But you’re not even willing to read his learned monographs and perhaps you don’t have the language or historical skills of an Aramaist, Aramaic being the language of first century Jewish environment and therefore fairly fundamental for historical Jesus enquiry. You blatantly demonstrate your ignorance of published scholarship on textual criticism, preferring to believe against reason, in the historical reliability of a second millenium document. You are not even aware of recent historical critical scholarship and learned monographs which you haven’t or cannot read so you cannot interact with them at all.

    6. Richard Carrier

      steph:

      Source my claims?! Oh come on Carrier – you bossily asked me to email you when Casey’s book is released because you are too lazy or haven’t the ability to keep up to date.

      Oh, my bad. I thought you were back-referencing something else. It didn’t occur to me someone would get into a snit over a polite request.

      Since you have descended into vitriolic name calling and are ignoring my every argument, we’re clearly done here.

    7. 62.4
      steph

      This is completely inaccurate from beginning to end. For example, on pp. 139-40 of Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel, Casey pointed out (with however sources in the original languages, as I cannot do here), ‘The rendering of the singular shabbata with the plural tois sabbasin had been normal for a long time. It arises from the fact that the ending of the Aramaic shabbata may be assimilated to a Greek n.pl., and this is especially well illustrated at LXX Exodus 16.29. Here the Hebrew singular hashabbata is rendered with the Aramaizing plural ta sabbata, and the purely grammatical nature of the plural is shown by the explicitative addition of the singular ten hemeran tauten in apposition to ta sabbata. It follows that, in passages like these, no-one has misunderstood anything. Rather, the plural form ta sabbata, used of a single sabbath, entered Jewish Greek because Aramaic was the lingua franca of Israel. So Josephus, who often uses to sabbaton in the singular, also has kata de hebdomen hemeran, htis sabbata kaleitai (A.J.III,237; cf I,33; XII,4; XIII,12). Hence the use of tois sabbasin by Mark’s translator for the singular shabbata, the ending of which would encourage him to use the plural rather than the singular through the normal process of interference.’ His argument that Mark was translating an Aramaic source is not dependent on this word at all, but on an argument of cumulative weight which you do not discuss.

      Price and Lowder do not discuss Casey’s work, which they are not competent to do as they are not competent Aramaists. They simply invent a wayward theory of Mark inventing things without any historical reason, and make it up as they go along. Matthews’ review of ‘an important study that deserves to be considered very seriously’ is not the impression you give. I cannot of course respond to any criticisms you make in a book which is ordered but not yet received, but your lack of competence in Aramaic is not encouraging for anyone who makes up their mind on the basis of evidence and argument. Why do you not offer proper scholarly discussion?

      You demonstrate that you haven’t read the complete work with the developed arguments and evidence. You make assumptions instead from your own misrepresentation of a selection of text. I suspect you googled it from a secondary source. I am very well aware of all of this and I am also aware of authors published subsequent to this scholarly monograph published in 1998. And not surprisingly so is Maurice Casey who also takes these things into account and engages with them. Price isn’t an Aramaist. Neither is Lowder. Are you? I don’t think so. I think you are being dishonest.

    8. Richard Carrier

      steph:

      His argument that Mark was translating an Aramaic source is not dependent on this word at all, but on an argument of cumulative weight which you do not discuss.

      You’re still missing the point. The cumulative weight of a hundred zeroes is zero. If every instance is a Semitism, then it is not evidence of an Aramaic source. I was just giving one example of what I mean. Casey does not address this possibility. One does not need to be an Aramaicist to see the failure of logic here.

      (And I did not reference Price or Lowder, so I don’t know why you bring them up. In my book I reference well-known scholars of the bible; both as to the Aramaicism vs. Semitism logical error, and also as to Casey’s implausibilities in trying to interpret “Son of Man” as indicating an Aramaic source, a conclusion that seems resoundingly rejected by every other expert I know, and yet is a crucial component of his so-called “cumulative” case.)

    9. 62.5
      steph

      You are still missing the point. You still haven’t read his academic arguments to see why he believes in written Aramaic sources behind parts of the synoptic Gospels, not just general Semitisms. You shouldn’t dismiss learned arguments of cumulative weight like this. Casey does address this possibility and has demonstrated in his arguments why it is invalid. You used one example but you completely misrepresented it. And you’re dismissing his argument without taking all of his evidence into account. You linked to ‘The Empty Tomb’, Price and Lowder, in your response to me as evidence against Casey. I have that book here on my desk. What experts are you referring to? Unfortunately many scholars are not competent Aramaists and his work has to be interpreted. Of course his work is rejected by all fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals, who are determined to believe that ‘Son of man’ in the Gospels is derived from Daniel 7, a view which is still attractive to more liberal Christians because it derives what they think of as a Christological title from Scripture.

    10. Richard Carrier

      steph:

      You are still missing the point. You still haven’t read his academic arguments to see why he believes in written Aramaic sources behind parts of the synoptic Gospels, not just general Semitisms.

      No, you are missing the point: other scholars have done this. And I cite them in my book.

      Moreover, you keep assuming I haven’t looked at Casey’s arguments, when in fact I have. In most instances he does not make any case for them being “not just general Semitisms”; that thesis simply isn’t even one he properly considers. In nearly every instance, what he sees as a translation from an Aramaic source, can equally be a translation from an Aramaic thought. In fact, there is rarely any way to tell the difference (because they represent exactly the same process, which has exactly the same effect). One of the few arguments of his that would entail otherwise is his Son of Man theory, that Jesus meant just “people” and not himself as an eschatological being (since this theory requires Mark not to have understood the Aramaic). But that theory is false: it has been rejected by most scholars I know, because it is easily proved that Mark means an eschatological being, and means us to understand it to be Jesus (as part of Mark’s theme of the “messianic secret”). Again, I discuss the evidence and cite the scholars on this point in my book.

      You linked to ‘The Empty Tomb’, Price and Lowder, in your response to me as evidence against Casey.

      Now I know you aren’t paying attention. I have only ever referred to pages in my articles in that book; I have not referred to any pages in theirs. I don’t know what instance you are talking about, but since I never did what you claim, I can be fairly certain you aren’t being a careful reader at this point. And since I know I cited Proving History on this point (because it is there that I cite the scholars who undermine Casey), you must be very confused.

  63. 63
    Eric

    Richard,
    You say,

    “Likewise, note that many mythical godmen “died, were buried, and resurrected,” or a near enough equivalent, thus Paul stating such a creed no more attests the historicity of Jesus than it attests the historicity of Osiris (or Romulus or Hercules or Inanna or Zalmoxis or Bacchus or Adonis and so on; Osiris is the only one of these who was explicitly “buried,” but similar stories were told of all these others, e.g. Hercules was burned on a pyre, and certainly before Christianity: see Not the Impossible Faith, chapters 1 and 3).” No competent mythicist makes this claim. Rather, they claim that virgin-born gods were a common phenomenon in the region at the time and dying-and-rising gods were (in precisely the way these were not anywhere else, e.g. in ancient China), and so for Jews to suddenly start claiming they have one, too, looks pretty easily explained in terms of standard theories of cultural diffusion. (See my chapter on the origins of Christianity in The End of Christianity, ch. 2, pp. 53-74.)”

    I assume you have read the Boyd Eddy book The Jesus Legend. They have responded to a large portion of the entire Jesus Myth hypothesis. Of course, they don’t agree with your presuppositions. So that will always play a large role.

    Anyway, they quote J.Z. Smith when he says,
    “The category of dying and rising gods, once a major topic of scholarly investigation, might now be understood to have been largely a misnomer based on imaginative reconstructions and exceedingly late or highly ambiguous texts. This rejection of the existence of a “dying and rising gods” pattern among ancient Mediterranean religions have become a virtual consensus over the last half century- see J.Z. Smith, “Dying and Rising Gods” 4:521, quoted in Boyd Eddy, The Jesus Legend, pg 143.

    I am really surprised to still see comparisons between Inanna or Zalmoxis or Bacchus or Adonis and so on; Osiris and the Jesus story.

    As Boyd and Eddy note, “Similarity is not the same thing as sameness. Parallel terms do not equate to parallel concepts.” (pg 142).

    It seems when we try to say the early followers of Jesus would be so quick to borrow from other mystery religions/paganism, we run into what is called the false cause fallacy. This fallacy occurs when someone argues that just because two things exist side by side that one must be the cause of the other. What evidence do you really have that these things existed side by side (they were a a common phenomenon in the region at the time) let alone caused a bunch of Second Temple Jews such as Paul to borrow from them. I was reading books dated as far back as the 70’s and 80’s that refuted this (such as Hengel’s work).

    And just wondering: Do you disagree with T.N.D. Mettinger, a Swedish scholar, professor of Lund University, and member of the Royal Academy of Letters, History, and Antiquities in Stockholm, who wrote one of the academic treatments of the dying and rising gods in antiquity. He says:

    “The death and rising gods were closely related to the seasonal cycle. Their death and return were seen as reflected in the changes of plant life. The death and resurrection of Jesus is a one-time event, not repeated, and unrelated to seasonal changes…… There is, as far as I am aware, no prima facie evidence that the death and resurrection of Jesus is a mythological construct , drawing on the myths and rites in the dying and rising gods of the surrounding world. While studied with profit against the background of Jewish resurrection belief, the faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus retains its unique character in the history of religions. The riddle remains.” (The Riddle of the Resurrection: Dying and Rising God’s in the Ancient Near East, 2001, pg 221.).

    Thoughts?

    1. 63.1
      Richard Carrier

      Eric:

      I assume you have read the Boyd Eddy book The Jesus Legend. They have responded to a large portion of the entire Jesus Myth hypothesis.

      Yes. And Price’s response to them in The Christian Delusion (ch. 10) is in all essentials correct. Their view is simply not mainstream (which illustrates the issue I raised in my article: we let this radical work by Boyd and Eddy pass as respectable even if incorrect scholarship, but vilify the other side as unemployable lunatics, which is a major malfunction of scholarly objectivity).

      Anyway, they quote J.Z. Smith when he says…

      Try actually reading Smith. Don’t trust what Boyd and Eddy “quote mine” from him. All Smith argues is that one particular case of the dying-and-rising god mytheme (the Zagreus cycle) is a debatable scholarly construction and not really factual. He does not address any of the other cases. Therefore it is irresponsible to draw a “hasty generalization” from just this one case being wrong (even if it is; I haven’t examined it, since I don’t rely on that case).

      I am really surprised to still see comparisons between Inanna or Zalmoxis or Bacchus or Adonis and so on; Osiris and the Jesus story. As Boyd and Eddy note, “Similarity is not the same thing as sameness. Parallel terms do not equate to parallel concepts.” (pg 142).

      The first statement is a straw man (no one is claiming they are the same). The second statement is either false or inane (parallel terms may or may not equate to parallel concepts; that’s why you have to examine them case by case).

      What “Inanna or Zalmoxis or Bacchus or Adonis and so on; Osiris” etc. (Romulus as well) illustrate is a common mytheme: a son of god who dies and is resurrected. This is a mytheme not found anywhere else (like China). It is therefore a cultural peculiarity of the ANE and Mediterranean. That is why it would be an extremely improbable coincidence if Jews started claiming to have one of those and didn’t get the idea from that cultural fad. Down right impossible, in fact; the probability of such a coincidence is that low.

      Notably, this is clearly a fad (so many resurrected sons of god in this era and region; zero in any other cultural regions, like China), yet all these gods are different from each other in many ways; yet many also share improbable similarities (e.g. Osiris, Romulus, and Bucchus were all torn apart, a very unusual way to die or be disposed of; thus it is extremely improbable that this idea didn’t migrate by diffusion among them–the most likely pathway is Osiris belief influenced Bacchus belief through Greek contact with Egypt, then Bacchus belief influenced Romulus belief through Italian contact with Sicily and Magna Graecia). No one finds that a dubious hypothesis; everyone agrees it’s pretty obvious. But the moment you suggest any such thing for Jesus, everyone gets all in a rage, like ‘ol handless Luke Skywalker, “No!!! That’s not true! That’s imposssssibbble!”

      The key thing here is that focusing on the differences is irrelevant. Romulus, Bacchus, and Osiris are very, very different deities attached to very, very different religions. Yet they share so many similarities the probability is astronomical that these cults did not influence each other to some extent; and all of them reflect a common trend toward revering resurrected sons of god all across the Mediterranean. Jesus fits perfectly into that trend, every bit as much as Romulus does, or Bacchus does, or any of the other resurrected gods.

      Do you disagree with T.N.D. Mettinger…

      Mettinger never examines that issue (of whether Jesus has any links to mystery cults). I suspect he tacked that bit you quote onto the end of his conclusion about a completely different period (a thousand years before our period of interest) in order to get the book through peer review; otherwise, he is just repeating the consensus as told to him, not having examined the matter. In support of the first thesis are the peculiar code words he includes (“as far as I am aware” and “prima facie”) and the rather pandering expression “faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus retains its unique character in the history of religions” (a statement that would be true of every religion whatever; e.g. “faith in the death and resurrection of Romulus retains its unique character in the history of religions” is just as true; it is therefore a meaningless statement, and thus looks smartly chosen by Mettinger to quell the bile of his peer reviewers while actually not saying anything substantive).

      When you read what Mettinger’s actual analysis says (and not that final paragraph), he meticulously proves that the mytheme of dying-and-rising gods actually existed at least a thousand years before Christianity, that it was reproduced in several cults across the region, and that all attempts to argue otherwise are baseless.

      Importantly, he was studying the earliest roots of the mytheme, and thus studying it when it was still a component of agriculture cult, before the rise of the mystery religions, which transformed communal agro-salvation into the personal salvation of initiated adherents (that is an innovation that first appears among the Greeks, as early as the Classical period or before, unless there is evidence to trace it further back in other regions, like Egypt; I have not bothered to check since it isn’t relevant, all we want to know is what was going on at the time Christianity began, not trace its thousand year backstory; as admirable as a study like that would be–I’m just saying it isn’t relevant to the issue at hand). By the time of Christianity, all these deities had been transformed into personal salvation cults, and though the mytheme originated in an agricultural context, it no longer had that sole or primary meaning, but before the common era had become universally regarded as a metaphor for personal salvation; once every major nationality had one of these savior gods, the Jews were the last culture to get one, and theirs we call Jesus.

  64. 64
    James F. McGrath

    I’ve shared some thoughts in response to your response on my blog: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2012/03/responding-to-richard-carriers-response-to-bart-ehrman.html

    1. 64.1
      Richard Carrier

      I have at long last found time to read that, and have now replied: see McGrath on the Amazing Infallible Ehrman.

  65. 65
    Husky54

    Your appeal to Thomas L. Thompson is, quite frankly, laughable. Thompson, and the entirety of the Sheffield/Copenhagen school has consistently and convincingly displayed their inability to be able to effectively read the pertinent texts and archaeological evidence surrounding these issues. A marquee example of this is the way in which the biblical minimalist school has chosen to eisegete the Tel Dan inscription, an Old Aramaic inscription from the 9th century BCE that offers extra-biblical evidence for an historical David. (The inscription itself contains the phrase ביתדוד, which those in the minimalist school have chosen to render as things such as “chamber pot,” in order to avoid the much more likely reading of “house of David.”) Furthermore, the minimalist suggestion that the biblical text is entirely a creation of the post-exilic period is betrayed by the linguistic, philological, epigraphic, and paleographic evidence available. Those of us who are trained in historical Semitic linguistics are fully aware of the development of not only the Hebrew language, but other pertinent Semitic languages as well (e.g., Aramaic, Ugaritic, Moabite, Akkadian, etc.). When one truly looks at the textual evidence, it is patently clear that the minimalist stance is purely untenable. This is also why I would strongly hesitate to call Thompson “prestigious.” “Notorious” might be the word you’re really looking for.

    So, no I do not see Ehrman’s lack of mention of Thompson as being hyper-specific, but aware of the fact that the Sheffield/Copenhagen school is notorious for their fringe – and in most cases highly unlikely – stances of these types of issues. This is no exception.

    Secondly – your suggestion that Philo is a Roman source is a straw man. Philo was Greek living under Roman rule. Not only that, but Philo was from Egypt. You’ve done a brilliant job at misrepresenting Ehrman, as well as not really knowing what qualifies as a “Roman source.” Josephus is also not a ROMAN source. While these two men were Roman citizens, they were by no means Romans, nor should they be considered “Roman sources.” (The fact that they worked during the Roman Period is a different point altogether.)

    Concerning the Pilate Stone – the inscription itself was ACTUALLY commissioned by Herod the Great – who wasn’t even a Roman citizen. Ergo, not a ROMAN source. No trained Classicist would ever consider any of those sources as Roman. Roman era =/= Roman.

    But it was a nice try, friendo.

    Your explication of Ehrman’s “Mistake #2″ is entirely based off of assumption. Without having read his book, and by basing your suggestions off of a HuffPo article intended to be a TEASER for his book where he treats these things more fully is deceptive at best. Your classification of First Century Christian writings as “scripture,” moreover, while synchronically correct, is really anachronistic. As someone trained in “ancient history,” I would expect you to have a better understanding of the canonization process that led to the Bible as we have it today. While the Gospels and writings of Paul (among other Christian epistles) eventually became scripture, this is not how they were initially conceptualized by their original audience. To call these texts “scripture” is nothing more than rhetoric you’re using as an attempt at more or less castrating those who would appeal to those texts as containing reliable historical data.

    Concerning the apparent “Mistake #4″ – you display your profound eisegetical abilities in the way in which you read Dan 9:26 and 11Q13. Those of us who actually work in the original languages know that the Hebrew משיח is never used in the Hebrew Bible to refer to an eschatological savior figure (see J. J. M. Roberts, “The Old Testament’s Contribution to Messianic Expectations,” The Bible and the ANE, Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2002, 376-389.). This also includes your reading of 11Q13. The Qumran community anticipated both a priestly and a Davidic messiah – neither of which were to be tortured and killed.

    So really, you’ve done a great job at setting up your OWN straw men, by poorly marshaling the evidence yourself.

    1. 65.1
      Richard Carrier

      Husky54:

      Your appeal to Thomas L. Thompson is, quite frankly, laughable. Thompson, and the entirety of the Sheffield/Copenhagen school has consistently and convincingly displayed their inability to be able to effectively read the pertinent texts and archaeological evidence surrounding these issues.

      That’s not a common opinion. Indeed much (even if not all) of his work on the OT narratives and backstory is now the mainstream consensus. I wonder if you actually know what he has argued, since your reference to David suggests not. Thompson established the ahistoricity of the patriarchs, not David. He questions how much we can know about David, not his existence per se. His treatment of the Tel Dan Stele is often mischaracterized by critics (he has only made perfectly reasonable statements about the Hebrew language, in which he is indeed an expert, and explains reasons why we can’t be excessively certain about the meaning: see The Mythic Past, pp. 203-04, for what he actually said).

      (It should also be noted that I do not necessarily agree with all that Thompson argues regarding the Gospels or Jesus, either. My only reason for mentioning him is as a counter-example to Ehrman’s claim that no established professors of biblical studies have advocated the possibility that Jesus didn’t exist.)

      Furthermore, the minimalist suggestion that the biblical text is entirely a creation of the post-exilic period is betrayed by the linguistic, philological, epigraphic, and paleographic evidence available.

      That’s not the minimalist thesis. The minimalist thesis is that the redactions that we have are the creation of the post-exilic period, not that all of their content is.

      So, no I do not see Ehrman’s lack of mention of Thompson as being hyper-specific, but aware of the fact that the Sheffield/Copenhagen school is notorious for their fringe – and in most cases highly unlikely – stances of these types of issues. This is no exception.

      That would be irrelevant even if true. They are still respected professors at accredited institutions. And it’s also not true. Many of their positions as a whole have become part of the mainstream synthesis, and Thompson’s conclusion on the patriarchs is now the prevalent view. If the standard were to reject every scholar who has made some arguments that did not become universally accepted, then neither Ehrman nor any other scholar is qualified to talk about anything whatever.

      Secondly – your suggestion that Philo is a Roman source is a straw man. Philo was Greek living under Roman rule.

      (a) That isn’t at all relevant and (b) Philo was (as I argued) almost certainly a Roman citizen, not just “a Greek living under Roman rule” (am I to suppose you regard Mexican Americans as not Americans but “Mexicans living under American rule”?). If all you mean to say is that Philo was not a descendant of Italians or a native speaker of Latin, then we’re back to (a).

      Not only that, but Philo was from Egypt.

      I don’t know what you mean that to imply. I already addressed this in my article as far as the relevance of his geographic and institutional proximity to the facts. And I can’t imagine what else you mean. Are you saying something like that Californians aren’t Americans because they are from California?

      Josephus is also not a ROMAN source.

      Here we know for a fact Josephus was a Roman citizen; he was also a friend of the imperial court and a resident of Rome. So if Jews can’t be Romans, then I guess Jews can’t be Americans, either?

      (And, again, the distinctions you are desperately trying to draw are wholly irrelevant–they have nothing whatever to do with the issue of whether they can attest someone’s historicity or not.)

      Concerning the Pilate Stone – the inscription itself was ACTUALLY commissioned by Herod the Great

      I’m curious to know how you know that. Please provide a source. Particularly since Herod the Great had been dead since long before Pilate was even a man–which would make this a pretty neat trick.

      – who wasn’t even a Roman citizen.

      Yes he was.

      No trained Classicist would ever consider any of those sources as Roman. Roman era =/= Roman.

      Then you are not a trained Classicist. Since you clearly don’t know what you are talking about.

      Your explication of Ehrman’s “Mistake #2″ is entirely based off of assumption. Without having read his book, and by basing your suggestions off of a HuffPo article intended to be a TEASER for his book where he treats these things more fully is deceptive at best.

      As I said in the article, more people will read his HuffPo piece than his book. So it certainly matters what he says in it and how. It is irresponsible to make misleading or false statements, even in a teaser. Knowing full well his book would qualify or alter each statement (assuming it does in every case), it was his responsibility to say that in each case, rather than writing a screed declaring absolute certainty and the complete absence of any nuance. Accuracy and clarity is a requirement of short articles every bit as much as books.

      Your classification of First Century Christian writings as “scripture,” moreover, while synchronically correct, is really anachronistic.

      I can only assume you mean the Psalms of Solomon (the only thing I called scripture other than the OT). That’s Jewish, not Christian. It was regarded as scripture by Christians (this was before the OT canon formed).

      As someone trained in “ancient history,” I would expect you to have a better understanding of the canonization process that led to the Bible as we have it today.

      Foot, mouth.

      Those of us who actually work in the original languages know that the Hebrew משיח is never used in the Hebrew Bible to refer to an eschatological savior figure (see J. J. M. Roberts, “The Old Testament’s Contribution to Messianic Expectations,” The Bible and the ANE, Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2002, 376-389.).

      That’s an opinion about the original composition, not the later interpretation. You evidently don’t understand the difference. Hence my reference to the Melchizedek pesher, which shows that the word in Daniel was interpreted that way by some pre-Christian Jews. Moreover, we don’t even need that to know that Jews could interpret it that way (as all Jewish speculation shows regarding scriptural references to the messiah, both in the Dead Sea Scrolls as a whole, and in later texts as well).

      This also includes your reading of 11Q13. The Qumran community anticipated both a priestly and a Davidic messiah – neither of which were to be tortured and killed.

      You evidently didn’t read the link. That is not a scroll about the “priestly and Davidic” messiahs. You are thinking about a different argument from a different set of Dead Sea Scrolls (e.g. 4Q521) that some scholars have made (but that I did not, since I regard that matter unresolvable on present evidence). I am talking about the Melchizedek scroll, which speaks of an eschatological savior who will atone for all sins on a great “day of atonement” predicted to occur at the end of Daniel’s timetable (the seventy periods of seven years), and it says this Christ is the dying Christ spoken of in Daniel and the dying “atoning” servant spoken of in Isaiah 52-53 (as I explain in my blog, also linked in my article).

      So really, you’ve done a great job at setting up your OWN straw men, by poorly marshaling the evidence yourself.

      I think this actually describes what you just did.

    2. 65.2
      Julien Rousseau
      Your classification of First Century Christian writings as “scripture,” moreover, while synchronically correct, is really anachronistic.

      I can only assume you mean the Psalms of Solomon (the only thing I called scripture other than the OT).

      I don’t think he refers to that as he puts it next to (with in my understanding) his criticism of Mistake #2 and then talks about Mistake #4 whereas your post only talks of the Psalms of Solomon after Mistake #4, not between #2 and #4.

      I think instead that he misread you and he thinks that the two times* when you use the word scripture in the text of Mistake #2 that you are referring to NT texts as scripture whereas you are just referring to Paul’s reference to scripture in 1 Cor. 15:5-8 (unless I misunderstood what you wrote).

      *:

      All it says is that scripture says he died, was buried, and was resurrected

      Nor also the fact that the only source being given for his death and burial in this creed is scripture

      PS: looking forward to your review of his book and to your debate later this year (if it happens and becomes available online).

    3. Richard Carrier

      Julien, you’re probably right. He mistook those two other occasions as references to the NT (!) when in fact obviously they were to the OT (as then constructed).

  66. 66
    Jon H

    Really enjoyed this post Richard, but I’d also like to point out that James F. McGrath has a pretty worthy rebuttal of your points over at his blog:http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2012/03/responding-to-richard-carriers-response-to-bart-ehrman.html

    I’d be really interested in your take.

    1. 66.1
      Richard Carrier

      As noted upthread, I’ll be getting to that in due time. Although from one example quoted upthread already, it doesn’t look like his reply is all that worthy.

  67. 67
    Bryan

    Dr. Carrier, you sound like a creationist railing against the consensus held by biologists :) As a former Christian apologist, I would know…

    I have to say, I don’t find your argument against the “James brother of the Lord” passage very convincing. It seems a bit strained. It’s certainly not the most natural reading of the text.

    1. 67.1
      Richard Carrier

      Bryan: It’s certainly not the most natural reading of the text.

      It would be if all we had were Paul’s letters. That’s the danger of bias. You have been reading it only the one way for so long, you can’t see it any other way. But when you step outside of those ruts, it actually doesn’t make as much sense in the traditional reading. It’s actually more natural to read it my way.

      Imagine if this weren’t Christianity (imagine there is no Christianity, you’ve never heard of it, it never existed), but some other ancient religion, Ridianism, the worship of a cosmic dying-and-rising demigod Ridian. And we knew nothing at all about it except from seven letters from one leader of the forgotten cult, named Paul. Imagine these letters are identical to those we have, but everywhere that it talks about Jesus it talks about Ridian instead as being the Christ and the Lord whose cosmic body they all “live in” and who reveals himself unto them from the heavens and about whom they find messages hidden in their ancient holy books. Then imagine we learn from these letters that Ridian, the Lord, declared that all who follow him are his brothers and they all call each other brothers and that they, just like he, are officially adopted by God as God’s sons, Ridian being only the firstborn. And then Paul says he met with an apostle of this religion named Peter, the first one Ridian had appeared to in a dream, “and of the other apostles I met no one, except James the brother of the Lord.” Would you “naturally” conclude that James was the biological brother of Ridian (even though these letters never once mention Ridian having a family or even ever being on earth, the only way anyone appears to ever know anything about him is by mystical revelations and ancient holy books), or instead would you conclude that Paul is merely referring to the fact that James, like Paul, is an adopted son of God and thus another brother of the Lord Ridian?

      I think the answer is pretty obvious. If you can actually put your mind in the right objective position to grasp the analogy.

      That’s why it’s important to strictly frame the matter in terms of probabilities, as I did in the article. That way your cognitive biases (your faulty “intuition”) aren’t deciding what you should believe, reason is.

  68. 68
    addisonhart

    Some straightforward questions. Why does it matter to you to demonstrate the non-historicity of Jesus? What motivates such a colossal waste of energy and time? You can’t prove your case, and it’s such a fringe position that only you and a relative handful of others take any of this seriously. What is the psychological motive here? I’m not interested in any “pursuit of the truth” or “undoing a massive propagation of delusion” bullshit. What in particular makes you so hot and bothered about this? What went wrong in your life to make you this way? What are you trying to prove to yourself or others — that you’re smarter or more scholarly than all those who have studied this for years before you popped up, or what?

    Sorry, but I’m really mystified.

    1. 68.1
      Richard Carrier

      addisonhart:

      Why does it matter to you to demonstrate the non-historicity of Jesus?

      Because I was paid to.

      What motivates such a colossal waste of energy and time?

      Because a lot of people are interested in the question. Enough to pay me to look into it. What motivates them is the same thing that motivates any interest in any question about history. Indeed, you can pick any article in any history journal and declare it a colossal waste of time and wonder why anyone bothered. My dissertation adviser’s favorite example was a guy who wrote his dissertation on ancient dolls. Dolls!? Who cares? Well, he did. And in fact so did a lot of people, who find the question of what kinds of toys kids played with in antiquity (and what it tells us about gender roles and other social facts of the time) very fascinating.

      I think the question of whether Jesus actually existed (and thus how and why Christianity actually began) is way more important than knowing about ancient dolls. And yet I often cite the dolls study as an example of historical work I consider interesting and valuable that no one would have thought to undertake had some guy not been really interested in it. (No one paid him. To the contrary, he paid to do it. He even had to fight for it and defend it as an acceptable object of study.)

      You can’t prove your case…

      How do you know? Have you checked?

      Granted, if I deemed it unprovable (or, rather I should say, undecidable) then that is the position I would be taking now, and the position I would be demonstrating in my next book. Likewise if I found the converse true (that his historicity is provable), I’d be doing that.

      and it’s such a fringe position that only you and a relative handful of others take any of this seriously.

      If that were an acceptable reason not to investigate a question, no progress could ever be made. Every consensus challenging conclusion is a fringe position at its origin. If the consensus is never challenged, it can never correct its errors. That would no longer be scholarship. It would be a religion.

  69. 69
    typecaster

    Thanks for this post – I avoid HuffPo, so I hadn’t seen Ehrman’s article. I’ve also enjoyed his work to date, and this seems out of character.

    The whole issue of the historical Yeshua has fascinated me for some time, although there’s many works on the topic that I just haven’t had time to read. My general feeling is that there was, most likely, an actual individual (completely human, of course, I’m not even a little bit theistic) that most of the stories are based on, although most of the stories are theological fictions based on many sources other than that person’s actual life or teachings.

    The one issue I’d be fascinated to hear your opinion on relates to things in the stories that probably shouldn’t be included if there wasn’t a historical Yeshua behind it somewhere. Specifically, the acknowledgement that he was Galilean rather than Judean, and the story of how he started his career as a follower of John the Baptist. Neither point would seem to be needed for a purely mythical Jesus, and would detract from the narrative that anyone constructing a myth (intentionally or not) would want to establish. This seems to be a reasonable argument, at least, and I’d very much appreciate your comments about it.

    1. 69.1
      Richard Carrier

      I address both questions in Proving History (check “John the Baptist” and “Nazareth” in the index).

  70. 70
    Moe

    Your list of “mistakes” is misleading, Dr. Carrier, since you claim 3 and 4 as mistakes but then desribe them as not really mistakes, sort of, maybe, etc.

    Disengenous at best.

    1. 70.1
      Richard Carrier

      It’s not disingenuous when you say what you are actually saying. I don’t think you know what that word means. Since I was explicit about my not being sure in each case whether the mistake was of fact or of writing or of logic, there can be nothing disingenuous.

  71. 71
    Matthew

    Richard,

    I’m curious about something; would you possibly be interested in a written debate over the historical Jesus with a scholar like Ehrman or Maurice Casey? I was just thinking that having the most qualified experts on the subject debate over it would be an excellent way to inform people who lack the knowledge that you have. I was thinking of a book between either you and Ehrman or you and Casey. If you debated Casey, maybe Ehrman and Bob Price can weigh in or if you debated Ehrman, maybe Casey and Price could weigh in. I am thinking that this is something you could do after your next book On the Historicity of Jesus Christ is published.

    1. 71.1
      Richard Carrier

      Yes. I would even prefer that to an oral debate, because it would be so much more useful and productive. But I don’t have time to arrange such things. If anyone else undertook the task of making it happen (e.g. someone for Internet Infidels or Biblical Interpretation anywhere else) I would gladly participate.

      (Although you are right, it would be better after OHJC is published, since then I wouldn’t be blindsiding Ehrman with the evidence he doesn’t consider, and we could cut past all the wordy preliminary sharing of data and get right to the core of where our disputes actually are.)

  72. 72
    Brian

    Richard, this is a great read. I loved history as a kid, and if I had time, it’s one of the things I’d love to really dive into, as well as philosophy, mathematics, quantum mechanics, etc… :)
    Any idea when Proving History will be released on Kindle?

    BTW, I am enjoying your book Sense and Goodness. I will probably have to pay it another read, as I only get moments on the train or whatever to read it, so some points I sort of don’t. Parts remind me of functionalists like Hume. You’re an empiricist, something I favour. What do you say if someone accuses you of being a logical positivist? I think that you can avoid the charge of holding a self-refuting axiom (assuming you’ve ever had that charge mentioned) by saying it’s an empirical conclusion, not an axiom. Anyway, I’ve probably made no sense. :)

    1. 72.1
      Richard Carrier

      Proving History should manifest on kindle in a couple of months. No idea exactly when.

      Logical positivism: I explain I have combined Ayer (the last best positivist) with Polanyi (the only anti-positivist with something truly useful to say), to produce a post-positivist epistemology.

      BTW, you made sense to me. And you’re right. My demarcation axiom of meaning is empirically refutable and therefore does not have to be self-validating. My epistemology builds on basic empiricism, which I explain a little in my critique of Rea and my blog on the foundations of knowledge.

      I also of course think the positivists were wrong to dismiss metaphysics and ethics not because their principles were mistaken, but because their application of them was, i.e. metaphysics (properly reconceived) is entirely compatible even with Ayer’s own positivism, as is an objective morality (e.g., as I prove in chapter 14 of The End of Christianity).

    2. 72.2
      Brian

      Thanks for your reply Richard. I meant to write ‘foundationalists’ like Hume. As in philosophers who build their theory of knowledge on a foundation. My bad.

      I’ll need to read those links.

  73. 73
    Chris Zeichmann

    You may be interested in this: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2012/03/responding-to-richard-carriers-response-to-bart-ehrman.html

    Also — whatever the Journal of Higher Criticism’s strengths and weaknesses may have been during its existence — it was not a peer-reviewed journal.

  74. 74
    christoferpierson

    Richard,

    Excellent response to Ehrman! Thoroughly enjoyed it.

    I wrote about this on my own blog, but as I’m a humble amateur rather than a professional, I couldn’t even try to come close to your precise and intellectually robust reply. My main point in the debate, which I’ve participated in in various forums for just about 10 years (though not being a pro, my interest ebbs and wanes, frankly) is that the Jesus we talk about when we talk about Jesus is the character from the gospels and legend, not the historical one that character may or may not have been based upon. And by “we” I mean everyone who talks (or ever talked) about Jesus whether they believe he was the Son of God or not–i.e., whether or not they were or are Christians.

    But I also think that whether or not one considers oneself a Christian will tend to have a huge influence on one’s stance toward this question. A self-identified Christian is much more likely to have problems with the idea that Jesus was never a real person. It’s built into their belief systems. It’s built into their values, even. To a lot of Christians, Jesus remains real even today–and I mean literally today.

    There’s probably a type of logical fallacy this hypothesis of mine typifies. Of course I wouldn’t argue that all historicists are Christians. I was one myself–albeit an extremely casual one–for a brief year or two after I began to realize I was not a Christian and was probably more of an agnostic or even atheist. (I’ve since settled on atheist.) I think I was one because it’s a fundamental of Western culture, which is similarly shaking off a childhood and adolescence of more or less intense association with Christianity. (Not that my association with it was ever all that intense, to be clear.)

    An interesting writer on the stickiness of Christian ideology in Christ studies is Jonathan Z. Smith of the University of Chicago divinity school. Interestingly enough, he’s a Jewish Marxist atheist. He came to comparative religion via the study of the taxonomy of grasses. Interesting story. Do you know him? I highly recommend his Drudgery Divine. For nonspecialists like me, it can feel like drudgery to get through Smith’s dense prose, but his main point is that scholarship into questions like what the early church was like and what Jesus himself was like is virtually all filtered through Enlightenment-era (when High Criticism came on the scene) Protestant and Catholic ideology, to the exclusion of all other modes of interpretation. This might explain why Professor Ehrman and the club of historicists find attacks from outside that narrow purview “extreme.”

  75. 75
    Marcus Ranum

    I heard Ehrman saying on a podcast that we have as much evidence for the existence of Jesus as we do for Julius Caesar I knew he couldn’t be trusted on this issue.

    Jesus’ version of the “gallic wars” is gonna be a blockbuster, for sure.

  76. 76
    Mitch

    “Forgetting (or not knowing?) that Philo attests to Pilate’s service in Judea is a serious error for Ehrman and his argument, because the absence of any mention of Jesus or Christianity in Philo is indeed very odd. In fact, the loss of his book about Pilate’s reign is a very curious omission–even though Christians preserved over three dozen other books of his, amounting to nearly 900 pages of multi-columned small type in English translation, Christians chose not to preserve the book on Pilate, and that despite preserving other volumes in the very same treatise. Why? Maybe the loss was just accidental (I suspect it was because no mention of Jesus was in it, but obviously we can debate that). . . The only explanation for why Philo never mentions Christianity is that it was not as important to Jews as Acts depicts, but was a tiny fringe cult of no significant interest to the Jewish elite. And that is an important conclusion. Mythicists will say he doesn’t mention Jesus because there was no Jesus, but that does not explain why he doesn’t mention Christianity. Certainly, if Jesus was as famous and controversial as the Gospels and Acts depict, then Philo’s lack of interest in either the man or the threatening and grandiose claims made about him becomes improbable, but if we accept that the Gospels and Acts hugely exaggerate his fame and importance, then Philo’s disinterest goes back to being probable again. The consequence of this is that you must accept that Philo’s silence argues against the existence of Jesus as depicted in the Gospels. One must therefore conclude the Gospels substantially fictionalize the story of Jesus.”

    I’m not trying to defend Ehrman here (You didn’t even touch his claim that Pontius Pilate was “the most powerful and important figure of his day”? What self-restraint!), but rather I take issue with the above passage on its own. For someone who prides himself on his logic (see “Proving History”), you’ve botched it here. Either that, or you’re being disingenuous; I’d like to give you the benefit of the doubt, appreciating your candor in the comments as I do, and treat it as an error. You tell us Philo’s book on Pontius Pilate is lost – you assume Christians did not preserve it because it contained no mention of Christ – then you state outright that “the only explanation for why Philo never mentions Christianity is that it was not as important to Jews as Acts depicts.” You cannot assume Philo never mentions Christianity when one of the most likely places for him to do so is within a text not extant; that’s obvious in itself. But furthermore, your grounds for this assumption are unfortunately weak; is it not far more likely that they would have left uncopied or destroyed a text which portrayed Jesus in an unflattering way, as Philo almost certainly would have done? Particularly if they were willing to insert testimonia of Jesus’ existence into documents which otherwise did not mention him, as you seem to think? You admit that why it is lost is up for debate, but nevertheless proceed with these poor assumptions and this faulty logic, which become all the more heinous when you conclude that “The consequence of this is that you must accept that Philo’s silence argues against the existence of Jesus as depicted in the Gospels.” We can prove no silence of Philo, no “lack of interest”; we “must” not do anything, except perhaps brush up on our Quellenforschung before we lead “freethinkers” astray.

    1. 76.1
      Richard Carrier

      Mitch:

      You didn’t even touch his claim that Pontius Pilate was “the most powerful and important figure of his day”? What self-restraint!

      Good point. Is there an emoticon for amused chuckling?

      You tell us Philo’s book on Pontius Pilate is lost – you assume Christians did not preserve it because it contained no mention of Christ – then you state outright that “the only explanation for why Philo never mentions Christianity is that it was not as important to Jews as Acts depicts.” You cannot assume Philo never mentions Christianity when one of the most likely places for him to do so is within a text not extant; that’s obvious in itself.

      I indirectly acknowledged that possibility in my article (the question would then become why Christians chose not to preserve it or ever even make mention of it), but it isn’t relevant to my argument at that stage, since we can’t argue for historicity from a document we don’t have. Thus if Philo did mention Christianity or Jesus somewhere, we have no idea if that mention supported or opposed historicity. It is therefore of no account. All we can be sure of is that Christians were uninterested in it, as were all critics of Christianity for at least three hundred years.

      But furthermore, your grounds for this assumption are unfortunately weak; is it not far more likely that they would have left uncopied or destroyed a text which portrayed Jesus in an unflattering way, as Philo almost certainly would have done?

      Like, say, reporting that he didn’t exist?

      Do you see what I mean? Even if his report was negative, we still don’t know if it supported or opposed historicity (if any such mention even existed).

      That’s problem number one.

      Problem number two (which pertains to your second argument) is that his books were still known and read by Christian apologists like Clement of Alexandria and Eusebius (including the missing ones we know of). Yet usually when something slanders Jesus (at least in any novel way), apologists published rebuttals, knowing full well others have access to it and will cite it against them constantly, necessitating a response, and not just a response, but one published widely enough that all their cohorts can make use of it. Thus we have Origen’s rebuttal to Celsus, Eusebius’s to Hierocles, and so on. Yet when Philo’s books are mentioned, no one mentions him disparaging Jesus or offers a rebuttal to defuse the damage it would have caused to the movement. Christians didn’t actually control all transmission of documents until the Middle Ages; by then anything damaging said by Philo would have been used by pagans like Celsus and Hierocles and other critics, necessitating a rebuttal, or have been read by Christians, inspiring a rebuttal (likewise if it was positive or neutral, it would have been quoted far and wide in support of their claims).

      That’s why the most likely explanation of the loss of Philo’s book on Pilate is that it didn’t mention Jesus at all, as then it would never come up in any debate or ever be of interest to anyone before the Middle Ages, whereas it would be perceived as embarrassing enough to ditch the book once they had the option to (there is evidence similar decisions were made to cut out sections of other books, but that’s a whole other story, and again, we can’t use that as evidence for either side, since a removed section could have attested a historical or nonhistorical Jesus or neither; all we can know is that it didn’t say anything that caught anyone’s interest, whether Christians or their critics, until the Middle Ages, when most of these decisions were made).

      Particularly if they were willing to insert testimonia of Jesus’ existence into documents which otherwise did not mention him, as you seem to think?

      I don’t think it. I and most experts know it. But this happened only very rarely (in fact, as far as deliberately, I know of only one instance: the Testimonium Flavianum; and that happened to only one manuscript, the one at Caesarea, which became the ancestor of all the manuscripts we have now). Unlike the crazy mythers, I don’t countenance any kind of centralized cabal at the Vatican (or Alexandria or anywhere else) pulling a Stalin on the entire corpus of antiquity. Insofar as things like that happened to non-Christian literature, it happened exceedingly rarely (and obviously didn’t happen to Philo, as otherwise we’d have it). This is notable, because doctoring happened with remarkable frequency to Christian literature. I suspect this was because that held authority for doctrine, whereas non-Christian sources did not. Conversely, before their domination, Christians couldn’t get away with doctoring their enemy’s literature, whereas when they were in control of it, they no longer needed to. The effect of this dilemma would be to make the exceptions exceedingly rare. And lo and behold, that’s what we see: only one clear case.

      (And that was to cover a silence, not an attack. We know this because Origen makes no rebuttal to Josephus, nor did Celsus use Josephus against him; whereas if Josephus had said something bad, Origen would have had to answer it, since he uses Josephus against Celsus otherwise, and if his own prized source supported his opponent, that would be a boner move on his part, he would have had to defuse it with a rebuttal; and indeed, as much as he was motivated to rebut Celsus, he would certainly be as motivated to rebut the even more important author, Josephus.)

  77. 77
    Will

    Hi Richard. I was reading through McGrath’s response to your review of Ehrman’s article and found this quote:

    ‘Carrier describes as “Ehrman’s only evidence” Paul’s reference in Galatians to having met “James the brother of the Lord.” He attempts to sow doubt about the meaning, but the phrase is clear. There is no evidence for any Jews in Paul’s time speaking of God having a brother, and so the most natural reference is to Jesus being the Lord here, as indeed Paul refers to him often with this title. Carrier then follows mythicists like Earl Doherty in trying to suggest that “brother(s) of” can mean the same thing as “brother(s) in.” But the two phrases are obviously distinct in meaning, and based on the evidence available, it was not the custom in this time to refer to Christians in general, or a specific subset of Christians, as “brothers of the Lord.”’

    I’m sure you address this in your upcoming books, but I was wondering if you could comment on this distinction between “brother OF the Lord” and “brothers IN the Lord”. Does this linguistic distinction carry the weight that McGrath suggests? How would you address this point?
    thanks for your time.. I know you’ve got your hands full as the critique of Ehrman is bringing on the hordes :-) But you continue to exhibit clarity, logic and honesty in your replies. keep it up homie.

    1. 77.1
      Richard Carrier

      Paul never once uses the phrases “brothers in the Lord” or “brothers in Jesus” (or “brothers in Christ”). So why does McGrath think this is what Paul would say?

      McGrath seems to be confusing descriptions with epithets. See, for example, Romans 16:8-19, where Paul is describing the virtues of various brethren, but not once calling them by the appellation brother (or sister), except in verse 14, which conspicuously omits “in the Lord/Christ” despite that being commonly used in the other sentences. By contrast, Paul refers to Christians as brethren frequently (I gave many examples). So there is no evidence he ever used or would ever use the phrase “brother in the Lord/Christ/Jesus.” He uses “in” only when describing properties of a Christian, not to describe them as a Christian. He likewise uses “in Christ” as a way to describe the security of salvation (he means it literally: Christians are physically within the body of Christ and so will be saved along with it, see The Empty Tomb, pp. 144-47), for example Romans 8:1 and Romans 12:5 and 2 Cor. 5:17. Again, these are descriptive remarks. He is not here calling them Christians, and accordingly, does not here call them brethren, but simply describes the fact of their being in Christ.

      One does not become a brother in Christ; that theologically and metaphysically would make little sense. As an adopted son of God, whom Jesus himself called his brother, you were a brother of Christ, same as any physical brother would be. You could become this by entering in the body of Christ by having faith in Christ (Gal. 3:25-29), but this made you a brother of Christ same as it made you a brother of Paul; all were equal heirs. To suggest otherwise is to insist that Paul defied all conventions of the Greek language and chose to avoid the natural expression “brother of” for some reason, without any evidence he ever did, or would.

      The logic of this is obvious in precisely the way McGrath’s logic is not (if the Lord said you were his brother, you were the brother of the Lord; why would it ever occur to any speaker of Greek to think or say otherwise?). Instead he makes the sorts of ridiculous claims that bad mythicists do: “it was not the custom in this time to refer to Christians in general, or a specific subset of Christians, as “brothers of the Lord.”” Custom of the time? Based on what? We only have the letters of Paul. How does McGrath know what the custom of the time was, except by reference to the letters of Paul? In fact Paul twice refers to Christians as brothers of the Lord, unless McGrath circularly assumes he doesn’t. Thus, circular arguments, and generalizations based on no evidence, purporting to know the contents of sources we don’t have, to arrive at a conclusion contrary to obvious logic. That’s bad argument 101.

      I also notice McGrath’s first argument also makes no sense. I have not yet read his essay (I’m trying to get through approving all the comments submitted to mine first, then I’ll look at the websites people referred me to). But the quoted argument is confused. I never said “Lord” didn’t mean Jesus; I said it can only have meant Jesus after Jesus was called Lord, which is only a construct of Christians. He seems to think I said Lord meant God, which makes no sense from the passages I cited and what I said, wherein Christians are the adopted sons of God, not his brothers. This is another thing I get from McGrath a lot: he doesn’t pay close attention to what I actually say. Somehow McGrath just skimmed what I said and assumed I said something else, not even noticing that I couldn’t possibly have meant “being the adopted sons of God, Christians became the brothers of God,” which is self-contradictory. Perhaps his mistake is in still running in the ruts of assuming Jesus is God in the mindset of the early Christians? (Which is false. Jesus was an appointed agent of God–his adopted son–he was not identical to God.) I don’t know. Anyway, he is not properly responding to anything I actually said, and until he does, he’s boxing with shadows.

    2. 77.2
      Will

      hey thanks so much for that detailed response.. that clears up alot for me with the James issue..

    3. 77.3
      Gilgamesh

      Richard,

      I am a bit confused when you say “Paul never once uses the phrases ‘brothers in the Lord’ or ‘brothers in Jesus’ (or ‘brothers in Christ’).” However, it seems he does.

      In Philippians 1:14 (also cf. Philemon 1:16) Paul uses the phrase “brothers in (the) Lord”, the definite article being excluded. Colossians 1:2 also uses “brothers in Christ”, though this is a disputed letter of Paul. I think I can follow your argument otherwise, but it seems your statement is inaccurate or at least needs modification. Otherwise, I am grossly misreading the Greek.

    4. Richard Carrier

      Paul did not write Colossians. (It also isn’t clear if Col. 1:2 says “brothers in Christ” or “greetings to you in Christ,” since Greek didn’t often include punctuation; it could also be read as “brothers faithful in the Lord,” in an attempt to echo Phil. 1:14; but since this is post-Pauline, it doesn’t matter either way.)

      Philemon 16 does not say he is a “brother in the Lord”; it says “he is a brother beloved especially to me and how much more to you in both the flesh and the Lord” (emphasis added). In other words, Paul is not saying Onesimus magically became the biological kin of Philemon, but that he became beloved to Philemon (this is more hopefully stated than factual; Paul is trying to persuade Philemon of this) in two different respects: physically (i.e. in the usual way) and spiritually (i.e. as a Christian and a member of the same body of Christ).

      Philippians 1:14 doesn’t say “brothers in the Lord” either, it says “brothers have confidence in the Lord.” Some (but not all) English translations disguise this fact. Read in context it’s the obvious meaning.

    5. 77.4
      Gilgamesh

      Glad to be corrected. Thank you for the clarification.

  78. 78
    SAWells

    Richard, do you think there’s any leverage to be had from this argument:

    We now know there’s no historical Adam, no historical Noah, no historical Abraham and no historical Moses, as the things they supposedly did and the events they supposedly took part in — never happened. Why then should we assume that a historical Jesus, as the events described in the Gospels are no better evidenced than the events described in Exodus – which we now know didn’t happen?

    I’m a bit worried that it will turn out Biblical studies is still full of people who think there was too a historical Abraham and Moses etc… which would depress me.

    Keep up the good work!

    1. 78.1
      Richard Carrier

      SAWells: Richard, do you think there’s any leverage to be had from this argument?

      We would need to specify in what respect Jesus is relevantly like those other religious heroes, and then examine the complete reference class (i.e. whatever criteria you assign for inclusion, you then have to apply them to all reported persons and thus collect every example, not just the ones you list). Then you can ask what the frequency is that inclusion in that set entails historicity.

      But that only gets you what is called the prior probability. You then have to look at what evidence we have for Jesus, that’s different from the evidence we have for (let’s say) Moses. And that examination might greatly alter the probability, even making his historicity probable.

      I explain all this in Proving History. No one properly does this. Because Jesus studies has no valid method (as I also show there; indeed, every expert in the field who has specialized in its methods has come to this conclusion, so it’s not just me saying it). The correct method has yet to be applied to the evidence. I will do that in On the Historicity of Jesus Christ.

  79. 79
    Elle

    “I will certainly want to read that. Please notify me here or by email when it comes out or is available for pre-order.”

    Speaking of Maurice Casey, what are your first thoughts after reading this introduction to his 2010 book “Jesus of Nazareth”?

    http://www2.macleans.ca/2010/12/23/jesus-historians-get-an-earful/

    He seems to criticize both mythical and theological views, while standing with Ehrman when he believes that Jesus can be best understood as an apocalyptic prophet expecting the imminent end of the world (a position also supported by a chapter in “The Christian Delusion”) and addressing several points made by you and other secular historians in the past (the probability of bereavement visions as explanation for the resurrection, the fact that the story of the empty tomb was probably a later developnent, etc.)

    Take a look at his take on the resurrection (there are several parts, this is the first one)

    http://www.equinoxpub.com/blog/2011/04/caseys-jesus-1-apologetic-works/

    What do you think?

    1. 79.1
      Richard Carrier

      Regarding Jesus Historians Get an Earful from Maurice Casey I have no need of comment. It’s just boiler plate. I actually agree with almost everything he says, even about mythicists; and the last paragraph is already adequately undermined by what I argue in Proving History (chapter 5), except the bits I obviously agree with (Jesus was seen in visions and the empty tomb is a legend).

      As to Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? Casey on Jesus, that page is not sufficiently relevant to the historicity debate to slog through it here. Although on a skim it looks like I mostly agree with him, and I’m glad to see a mainstream academic speaking out against conservative extremism in Jesus studies. I’m always glad to see Ehrman doing the same.

  80. 80
    donald

    what created semiticised greek? when the hebrew torah was translated into greek was this the cause? the sentences in greek were following the pattern in hebrew language?

    1. 80.1
      Richard Carrier

      donald: What created Semiticised Greek? When the Hebrew Torah was translated into Greek was this the cause? The sentences in Greek were following the pattern in Hebrew language?

      Sort of. A better way to put it is that bilingual Jews evolved into speaking and writing a dialect of Greek that was very Aramaicized, the way way you might say English was “Americanized” after the Revolution (and thus looks different than British English, even as regards spelling and sometimes sentence structure), only stronger (the differences are somewhat greater; although not quite as extreme Yiddish, which is a Semitized dialect of German; Semitic Greek is somewhere in between, but Yiddish is still a good example of the kind of thing the Jews did with Greek).

      Part of it was from influence by the Septuagint itself. The Septuagint is a translation into Greek of the Hebrew bible, which then came to be read, privately and aloud, especially but not only in diaspora communities (e.g. fragments were found even in the possession of the hyper-conservative Jews at Qumran), to the extent that, like the influence King James English had, Jews started talking that way and writing that way. But even without the influence of the Septuagint, any Hebrew who spoke Greek would tend to speak a Semitized Greek, because that is how his or her mind translated it, and the way usually their Jewish teachers spoke, and the way Hebrew texts were translated into Greek (a common way to learn a language is by reading, or hearing read, translations of your familiar native books and stories into the target language). The extent to which you Semitized your Greek would reflect the extent to which you cultivated formal learning (Paul, for example, adopts a high style that is not as Semitized as Mark, who, like Mark Twain, adopted a low style, which would sound less pretentious and more familiar to commoners).

  81. 81
    Eric

    Richard,

    You say:

    “Yes. And Price’s response to them in The Christian Delusion (ch. 10) is in all essentials correct. Their view is simply not mainstream (which illustrates the issue I raised in my article: we let this radical work by Boyd and Eddy pass as respectable even if incorrect scholarship, but vilify the other side as unemployable lunatics, which is a major malfunction of scholarly objectivity).”

    Richard, I find this to be funny. You say Boyd and Eddy’s work is radical and not mainstream? I find it interesting that we have scholars like Bauckham and Craig Evans endorse the book. Are they radical as well? So they endorse the book as respectable? I have seen you use Evan’s work before. So is it radical and not mainstream because they don’t agree with your presuppositions and they deconstruct the entire methodology behind the Jesus myth view? And if Price is so on target, why does he thank them for taking his work seriously?I have already read responses to the Christian Delusion (including your chapter as well). And what qualifies as being objective? You and Price are totally objective in your writings?

    You also say:

    “Try actually reading Smith. Don’t trust what Boyd and Eddy “quote mine” from him. All Smith argues is that one particular case of the dying-and-rising god mytheme (the Zagreus cycle) is a debatable scholarly construction and not really factual. He does not address any of the other cases.”

    Richard, I don’t care how many other cases there are.

    What are our primary and secondary sources for these supposed other cases? And if there are sources, I am still looking for evidence that these things existed side by side (they were a common phenomenon in the region at the time). And even if they did exist, what evidence do we have Second Temple Jews such as Paul and others had access to them and would be so quick to copy the Jesus story from such a motif? Or is this pure speculation?

    Looking forward to the debate with Ehrman

    1. 81.1
      Richard Carrier

      Eric: You say Boyd and Eddy’s work is radical and not mainstream? I find it interesting that we have scholars like Bauckham and Craig Evans endorse the book. Are they radical as well?

      Hell yes! They are fundamentalists! (The “creationists” of Jesus studies; but Old Earth Creationists, since they take scholarship seriously enough to do some good work, e.g. Evans on Jewish messianism.) For example, see Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 6 (2008), which illustrates how extreme Bauckham is relative to mainstream Jesus studies. And for how radical Craig Evans is (he’s in the camp of NT. Wright) see his debate with Bart Ehrman, in which he practically defends the inerrancy of the Gospels (a radical view compared to mainstream scholarship).

      As to your question, you are confusing radical scholars with radical theories, which indeed is exactly what my article warns against. Just because that specific Boyd-Eddy thesis is radical and implausible and certainly false, does not mean every single thing they have ever argued is. More importantly, as radical as they are, and as rejected their positions on many things are by mainstream scholars, they are still treated as respected scholars and not attacked as incompetents who should be ridiculed and persecuted by their peers. This is precisely my point as well. These guys are advocating theories just as ridiculous to Ehrman as Ehrman regards mythicism, yet he does not treat them the way he treats mythicists.

      And if Price is so on target, why does he thank them for taking his work seriously?

      That question is profoundly unintelligible.

      And what qualifies as being objective?

      Applying the same standard equally. Exactly as I said (in the very line you quoted). So try reading what I said again. It already answers your question.

      Richard, I don’t care how many other cases there are.

      Translation: “I don’t care about facts.”

      What are our primary and secondary sources for these supposed other cases?

      I provide them extensively in Not the Impossible Faith, chapters 1 and 3. And that isn’t even a complete reference list. More is provided in the scholarship I also cite there. There has since appeared another good article on a related theme (translation fables as popular pagan resurrection belief: Richard C. Miller, “Mark’s Empty Tomb and Other Translation Fables in Classical Antiquity,” Journal of Biblical Literature 129.4 [2010]: 759-76).

      And even if they did exist, what evidence do we have Second Temple Jews such as Paul and others had access to them and would be so quick to copy the Jesus story from such a motif?

      First of all, there was nothing “quick” about it. The Jews resisted this trend longer than any other local culture (they were the last to adopt the mytheme as far as I know). Second, Judea was not in any conceivable sense isolated from the Roman world, not only because of tons of Gentile neighbors (in the Decapolis, Caesarea, Tyre) and traders (Jews traded with the outside world quite a lot, ports being one of the main loci of cultural diffusion in every culture) and conquerors (the Seleucids occupied Judea for centuries and even tried forcing pagan religions on them), but also because most Jews lived in the diaspora, and thus in the very cities where all these pagan religions were preached and practiced, and those Jews returned to Jerusalem every year to mingle and spread news and ideas with Palestinians (as illustrated in Acts 2:9-11, for instance). The Jews also lived in exile among resurrected-god-worshipping foreigners throughout the period between the first and second temple, and even celebrated resurrected deities before that: Ezekiel 8:14 attests that Innanna-Tammuz cult was practiced in Jerusalem itself.

  82. 82
    Steven Carr

    BART
    ‘Moreover, aspects of the Jesus story simply would not have been invented by anyone wanting to make up a new Savior. The earliest followers of Jesus declared that he was a crucified messiah. But prior to Christianity, there were no Jews at all, of any kind whatsoever, who thought that there would be a future crucified messiah. The messiah was to be a figure of grandeur and power who overthrew the enemy. Anyone who wanted to make up a messiah would make him like that. Why did the Christians not do so? Because they believed specifically that Jesus was the Messiah. And they knew full well that he was crucified. The Christians did not invent Jesus. They invented the idea that the messiah had to be crucified.’

    CARR
    This makes no sense to me.

    If Christians invented the idea that the Messiah had to be crucified why is it impossible for a crucified Messiah to have been invented?

    After Bart carefully explains why Jesus did not tick any of the boxes that needed to be ticked by the Messiah, he explains that Christians believed specifically that Jesus was the Messiah.

    Why? How?

    According to Bart’s logic, Christians could believe Jesus was Elijah returned, Melchizedek, the Son of God, Enoch returned, anything at all was possible, but the one thing Bart’s logic rules out is calling him the Messiah.

    Have I understood Ehrman correctly?

  83. 83
    1. 83.1
      Richard Carrier

      Regarding that dense, paragraphless post you link to, I don’t know why its author thinks I “didn’t realize that [Ehrman] was firmly of the opinion that Jesus existed.” It was no secret that Ehrman and I have been in communication about our competing views for half a year now, and I even helped him with finding materials and assessing mythicist literature while he was writing the present book. And if you read through comments above, you’ll find many atheists were well aware of (and even annoyed by) his position on this for many years now. So there is no surprise over that. The surprise is at the sloppiness and intemperance of his HuffPo article, which is uncharacteristic of his evenness and accuracy elsewhere.

      But I love their identifying the no-true-Scotsman fallacy in Ehrman’s article. I feel kike they scooped me! I should have thought of that. :-)

    2. 83.2
      Steven Bollinger

      I’m the author of that dense post. I did not say that you, Dr Carrier, had not known previously about his position on the historicity of Jesus. I said that many of his fans had overlooked this. Less importantly, it’s not completely paragraphless: there are six paragraphs in it.

      I’m new here and I don’t see any way to reply specifically to your reply so I’m replying to my own original post. Hope I’m doing it right.

    3. Richard Carrier

      Ah, my bad. Sorry I misunderstood that remark. And kudos to you for the no-true-Scottsman reference.

      I’d still want more paragraph breaks. :-)

    4. 83.3
      Steven Bollinger

      I really can’t honestly take a lot of credit for spotting the no-true-Scotsman fallacy in Ehrman’s article. I spend a lot of time among other atheists commenting on articles in Huffington Post’s Religion section — that readers’ comments section is the biggest and liveliest meeting place for atheists I know, by the way — and some days, every second sentence in the atheists’ comments is “No true Scotsman.” Anyone who’s spent as much time there as I have has developed highly-honed no-true-Scotsman-spotting faculties. It’s in the air, and the water. Those readers’ comments are also where I first followed a link to your blog. Before yesterday I’d heard your name but never read any of your work. I’m glad I clicked on that link, you’re impressing me so far.

      I’m afraid my sentences and paragraphs may actually grow still longer and more convoluted as the decades roll by. It’s nothing personal. In my defense just allow me to point out that I don’t write nearly as atrociously as Ronald Syme or the later Henry James.

  84. 84
    Yi

    Richard, both you and Ehrman are among my most respected scholars in this field. You should go toe-to-toe with him on this topic anyways. That’d be really interesting.

  85. 85
    Chris

    As a teenager and “bible believing” Christian, I took a course at college on the origins of the gospels and I was absolutely shocked to learn about the NT from scholars rather than preachers. I’ve read numerous Bart Ehrman books and found them fascinating. I am definitely an amateur on this whole subject, but I have never heard an explanation of why Paul never quotes Jesus yet is happy to correct James and Peter on doctrine, as an equal. The new testament provides very little detail of the man Jesus and what he said. I believe that the question is not so much was there a teacher that could fit some of the description of a historical Jesus, but did Paul believe in a historical Jesus?

    Thanks for an interesting conversation, which I have chanced upon from Jerry Coyne’s blog. I’ve ordered Richard’s forthcoming book rather than Bart’s.

  86. 86
    David Marshall

    I am inclined to dispute the claim that no such pattern (flexibly described, as you do) can be found in China. The popular goddess Miao Shan was daughter of a king, was killed, and raised to life because of her kindness. The parallel is arguably closer. In Journey to the West, furthermore, Tai Zong descends into hell, though he has not quite died, and is brought back. He is emperor, also son of the founder of the Tang.

    I just wrote a response, a bit off the cuff, to your arguments, entitled “Carrier vs. Ehrman: Drama Queen Smackdown.”

    We will, of course, follow this conversation with great good humor. To me its a peripheral argument, though, and I don’t plan to waste much time on it.

    1. 86.1
      Richard Carrier

      David Marshall: The popular goddess Miao Shan was daughter of a king, was killed, and raised to life because of her kindness.

      But dating to when? Not antiquity. Miao Shan didn’t even exist as a deity until the 10th century, long after Nestorian Christians entered China. China also did not have a belief in hell or reincarnation until the Buddhists imported it, and the earliest known version of the Miao Shan tale appears from a Buddhist source. And that version does not in fact involve a resurrection (Miao Shan never actually dies in the story; she is snatched away by a divinity before her murderers can find her). We do not hear of the resurrection version until later still. Tai Zong is likewise a mediavel Buddhism-influenced tale (7th century).

      Why didn’t it occur to you to check any of this? Do you see how you are defending historicity by acting exactly like the sloppy mythicists who pay no attention to chronology? Why do you start acting exactly like them the moment you desperately need to defend the contrary thesis? This isn’t the only time historicists do this. It is a very curious thing.

      (I should also add: and in what respect is either of these examples a son of god or a savior deity? If we limit the trend to dying-and-rising savior demigods, these examples fail to apply altogether, and yet there were numerous dying-and-rising savior demigods in the West, thus a trend existed in the West that did not exist in the East; whereas when we allow all resurrection tales to count, there are literally dozens in the West [see Not the Impossible Faith, chapter 3], and only two in the East, and both are late medieval and thus post-date both Buddhist and Christian influence, so again we have a downright fascination with resurrected heroes in the ancient West, and none in the ancient East.)

  87. 87
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    Something I’ve been wondering about, and asked at PZ’s place, but I’d like your take on it. Where is the mythicist/historicist boundary located? Is there a recognised intermediate position?

    Is a mythicist someone who says that JC never existed at all? Or someone who says the stories were possibly based on a real person, like Robin Hood & King Arthur? Or that the myths actually were based on a known real person, but there’s such a ludicrous amount of totally unrelated myth accreted on that it’s really all myth anyway, like Santa Claus?

    I’m pretty sure that academic historicists don’t say the gospels are all true, so where do they cut off? Which parts of the story can one reject before crossing the border into mythicism? There was a Jewish preacher – did he also have to be named Yeshua, or have disciples, or be crucified, or be a carpenter from Nazareth and/or Bethlehem? If you look at the Nicene creed, which bits can one say no to, and still be a historicist?

    1. 87.1
      Richard Carrier

      Alethea H. Claw:

      Where is the mythicist/historicist boundary located? Is there a recognised intermediate position? Is a mythicist someone who says that JC never existed at all? Or someone who says the stories were possibly based on a real person, like Robin Hood & King Arthur? Or that the myths actually were based on a known real person, but there’s such a ludicrous amount of totally unrelated myth accreted on that it’s really all myth anyway, like Santa Claus?

      The term “mythicist” is usually used to refer to those who propose the first of these, although many might still be “agnostic” with regard to the other possibilities (as opposed to adamantly against them).

      Otherwise, someone who is “adamant” that Jesus existed, but that we can know nothing substantive about him (because, e.g., the Gospels are completely fictive), is not denigrated as a mythicist. Dennis MacDonald, for example.

      It’s kind of like the same “policing” behavior in the godist community: for most it’s okay to be unsure about Jesus, as long as you believe in some God. But take the next step, to atheism, and now you are a crazy immoral commie whom no one would dare vote for or invite for tea. Indeed, even agnostic is almost okay. Many an occasion I have seen theists try to insist I’m an agnostic and not an atheist, so they can justify liking me. Because I just can’t possibly be a nice, rational person if I’m a full-on atheist. If I’m an agnostic, maybe. That at least keeps my foot in the “acceptable” door.

      I have seen the same behavior from historicists regarding mythicism.

      I’m pretty sure that academic historicists don’t say the gospels are all true, so where do they cut off? Which parts of the story can one reject before crossing the border into mythicism? There was a Jewish preacher – did he also have to be named Yeshua, or have disciples, or be crucified, or be a carpenter from Nazareth and/or Bethlehem? If you look at the Nicene creed, which bits can one say no to, and still be a historicist?

      That’s very similar to the question posed and explored by Lindsay in his chapter in Sources of the Jesus Tradition.

      My answer is the one above: this is policing behavior. It’s okay to challenge some things, but you can’t upset the whole applecart. That’s just too far. Now you’re a crank. Where the line is drawn is illogically just precisely there: whether you will countenance the mere possibility that there was no Jesus at all. As long as you reject that one premise, all is forgiven and you can be welcomed into the fold as safe to converse with and employ.

    2. 87.2
      Stewart

      Not sure where in the thread this will show up (and it’s also possibly too obvious to merit saying), but in relation to crossing a line of untouchability with the acceptance of the possibility that there really was no such person, there must be some element there in most cases of “as long we keep his existence as a person unquestioned, we haven’t killed the possibility that all or part of the rest is/was also true.”

    3. 87.3
      Alethea Kuiper-Belt

      Thanks, Richard. It seems pretty weird to me, like a shibboleth – especially your example of MacDonald. That one’s a big WTF?

      Functionally, Santa Claus never existed even if Nicholas the bishop of Myra did. The stories are still all myth, so what does that tiny kernel even matter? Existence, non-existence, why even care? It’s all academic – which is to say, it’s a perfectly fine pursuit for those interested in ancient history, but a puzzling point to make such a huge fuss over.

      I’m fairly new to your work, and will read your book and Ehrman’s JI on your recommendation. Is your position analogous to agnostic atheism – Jesus cannot be shown either way to have existed, or not to have existed – or do you go further and say he actually didn’t exist? That is, not even in the minimal sense of Bishop Nick, since we all acknowledge that jolly fat Santa doesn’t exist.

    4. Richard Carrier

      My position is in between: I say more probably than not a historical Jesus didn’t exist, but there is still a non-vanishing probability he did. In On the Historicity of Jesus Christ I will spell out in detail just what probabilities I think are possible on present evidence.

  88. 88
    Elle

    “Even if it’s terrible, it might still be the best case in print. Because all previous ones are pretty weak overall”

    Your list of recommended books on the origins of Christianity mentions “the best work on the historicity of Jesus”.
    Which one would that be? Does it resort to the same flawed arguments you so often address?

    Or did you just mean a book which gives the most probable portrait of Jesus, in case he actually existed?

    1. 88.1
      Richard Carrier

      I was referring to the best available books that evaluate the evidence for Jesus (e.g. Van Voorst, Theissen, pro; Doherty, con) and that relate to the question by discussing the merits of the evidence (e.g. Helms, Brodie, Avalos) or its essential background (e.g. Fox, Matthews). I have only mentioned a few examples. All the books there are relevant to understanding how to resolve the question, IMO.

  89. 89
    MikeyB

    I am a fan of Ehrman and I can say from skimming the Ehrman book at the bookstore that it is quite cogently argued in a rather breezy non-dogmatic function. It has rather the tone of a Shakespearian scholar combating the Oxfordians on the so called authorship controversy by poking gaping holes in the arguments. Part of his claim is that by the most clear inference from the gospels, Paul and other NT writings is that Jesus existed despite how much midrash, mythmaking and theological rhetoric may be added to the writings, so denying the obvious inference that Jesus existed amounts to the proverbial throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    He is of the Schweitzer interpretive school – Jesus was a 1st Century apocalyptic prophet. He takes strong issue with the notion that Paul was influenced by some form of middle Platonism, that Platonism itself had any real influence in 1st Century Palestine, since it was one of many philosophies and one primarily confined to philosophers and intellectuals. He also takes strong issue that there is any evidence that the so called mystery cults of dying and rising gods even actual existed, so could not even have influenced early Christianity even in principle. He thinks the Testimonium Flavium issue is debatable but ultimately irrelevant to the overall case of whether Jesus existed or not. He also thinks that notion that Jesus was God was foreign to 3 of the 4 gospel writers including Paul so could not be a factor. He thinks the gospels themselves represent multiple attested sources whether Q existed or not, since Luke and Matthew have unique material to both and Mark and evidence seems to suggest that John cannot be for example in any way be completely based upon Mark.

    In short he seems to suggest that presuppositions required for many versions of the mythic position such as Platonism, mystery cults in 1st Century Palestine, gospels formed from pure midrash, etc are tenuous at best, and even though undeniably much of the gospel material does reflect theology, rhetoric and yes made up stuff, underlying all of this is a historic kernel of truth – the historic Jesus. He seems to suggest that the mythic position better resembles an Oxfordian conspiracy theory than a rational case, and that accepting Jesus existence is not tatamount to declaring him the Son of God. His own position seems to be that Jesus was an apocalyptic 1st Century prophet who mistakenly thought the world would end, whose ethics seem closer to the paranoia of Glen Beck than Martin Luther King, not exactly the Jesus evangelicals would advocate.

    I don’t know if this accurately reflects Ehrman’s position – it is the gist of what I think I read. I will say that the book seems pretty persuasive. I am pretty agnostic about the whole Jesus existed debate, so would be open to a vigorous fact based counterargument. Actually I think ultimately the question maybe in the end is unknowable. Not being a scholar or an expert in this debate, I will say that Ehrman did not come across anything like as dogmatic as he appears in the article. His reasoning could be mistaken, but the book struck me as the position he honestly believes based upon the evidence and not by dogmatism.

    1. 89.1
      Richard Carrier

      MikeyB: Thanks for that brief review. That seems to be the common impression: the article was intemperate and sloppy; the book, not.

      I agree with your analogy. Indeed, most mythicism is far more crazy than the Oxfordian thing. The problem is that there is a difference between (to pick a different analogy I’m more familiar with) pyramidiocy, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, legitimate consensus challenges on the construction of the pyramids (like the concrete theory, which may turn out to be false, but was not crank and was pursued using proper methods). So, too, Jesus mythicism. For the article to completely erase that distinction is, as I said, irresponsible.

      He takes strong issue with the notion that Paul was influenced by some form of middle Platonism, that Platonism itself had any real influence in 1st Century Palestine, since it was one of many philosophies and one primarily confined to philosophers and intellectuals.

      That’s an example of the kind of thing that looks incompetent to me (although maybe he is just naively rebutting something some mythicist said). There is no need of full-blown Platonism, one needs only the common theological zeitgeist, which was influenced by Platonism (and Stoicism), and this is demonstrable in numerous Jewish writings. Of course even full-blown Platonism is evident in Philo, and clearly was not unique to him (since he mentions other Jews making similar arguments, as if it was commonplace) and there are many demonstrable similarities between Philo and Paul and their theology and metaphysics. The fact that Platonic-Orphic notions are found in all the other salvation cults lends strong prior probability to it being found in Christianity, too. And it clearly did influence Paul (see my discussion in The Empty Tomb, pp. 142-47).

      He also takes strong issue that there is any evidence that the so called mystery cults of dying and rising gods even actual existed, so could not even have influenced early Christianity even in principle.

      It would be astonishingly incompetent of him if he said that. I have to assume you misread him.

      He thinks the Testimonium Flavium issue is debatable but ultimately irrelevant to the overall case of whether Jesus existed or not.

      It’s relevant insofar as, if it is false, then it refutes the number one argument historicists always use against mythicism. That doesn’t exactly make it irrelevant.

      He also thinks that notion that Jesus was God was foreign to 3 of the 4 gospel writers including Paul so could not be a factor.

      This may be a semantic fail. That Jews did not call demons and angels gods is mere semantics; they were still cosmic beings with supernatural powers, and not humans. Likewise, Jesus was a preexistent heavenly being given by God all the supernatural powers of God (Philippians 2:6-8; 1 Cor. 8:6, 15:24-28; 2 Cor. 4:4), and it’s clear all Christians regarded him as “the firstborn son of God in heaven” who communicates to us by mystical means. By any actual sense of the word, that’s a god. That Jews did not call it a god is irrelevant to the point, since that simply reflects naming taboos unique to their culture. If Ehrman doesn’t grasp this distinction, that would make him look sloppy or incompetent to me.

      He thinks the gospels themselves represent multiple attested sources whether Q existed or not, since Luke and Matthew have unique material to both and Mark and evidence seems to suggest that John cannot be for example in any way be completely based upon Mark.

      That’s illogical. It requires the premise that none of those authors made anything up. Which is a false premise (since he cannot maintain that a lot of the Gospels is made up, but no one made anything up). Since he must accept the premise that these authors made things up, then he cannot reject the claim that Matthew added to (and altered) Mark, and Luke to Matthew (and Mark), and John to Luke (and Mark). That leaves only one actual source: Mark. And if Mark made everything up…

      So obviously it matters if Q existed. Of course, even if Q existed, it may simply indicate that Q was the original Gospel, and Mark just selected some material from it, and Matthew and Luke more. Which would still leave us with only one source: Q. A source we don’t have. And again, if the author of Q made everything up…

  90. 90
    Steven Carr

    On page 132 of Ehrman’s book, Ehrman says mythicists resort to interpolations too readily.

    Doherty is hardly alone in thinking that 1 Thessalonians 2 contains interpolations.

    Ehrman might disagree and claim Paul really did think God was bringing down the wrath of God upon Jews, but he can’t get away with claiming Doherty is simply crying ad hoc interpolation for this text.

    In fact, it is Ehrman who comes up with ad hoc claims on page 124 that Romans 1:18 is at all relevant to 1 Thessalonians 2 ’18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them…..’

    There is nothing whatever in Romans 1 which says this pasage is about God’s wrath on Jews.

    It is about pagans.

    This is just ad hoc proof-texting by Ehrman, taking one occurence of the word ‘wrath’ and claiming it explains another occurence of the word ‘wrath’ in another passage, when they have nothing to do with one another.

    So to sum up, Ehrman accuses Doherty of crying interpolation ad hoc, when it is perfectly legitimate scholarship to maintain that 1 Thess. 2 contains interpolations.

    And then Ehrman produces an ad hoc proof text to try to shoehorn the passage in Thessalonians into Paul’s theology.

    This looks bad to me.

    1. 90.1
      Richard Carrier

      Steven Carr: On page 132 of Ehrman’s book, Ehrman says mythicists resort to interpolations too readily.

      As a generalization, that may be true. I find some myth proponents rely on hypothesized interpolations too much (e.g. Price arguing that the whole of 1 Cor. 15:3-8 is an interpolation; although some of it may be, that all of it is is a stretch). It’s not that they aren’t right that there could be interpolations (which is always a problem that must weaken our certainty; as in the “brother of the Lord” example I give in the original article), it’s just that they shouldn’t have to depend on them to make a case, unless they can make a strong enough case that many experts would agree with them (the example you cite is one such, cf. my Pauline Interpolations; the evidence is very strong there, and most experts agree; indeed I find it odd if Ehrman is actually trying to defend that one).

      Case in point: I don’t think mythicism can rest on assuming “of the Lord” in Galatians 1:19 is an interpolation; that it could be does weaken historicism, but does not make it improbable. The way to think of it is this: if there weren’t so much evidence of harmonizing and dogma-reinforcing interpolations in the NT, then the probability of this being an interpolation would be extremely small; but there is that background evidence, which entails the probability is much higher in this one case than it would otherwise have been. And any increase in that probability, decreases the probability of historicity (although by how much is a different matter).

      Contrary case: the evidence that “the one called Christ” is an interpolation in the Josephus passage about James is extremely strong, in fact to a near certainty given all the evidence we have (as I demonstrate in “Origen, Eusebius, and the Accidental Interpolation in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.200.” Journal of Early Christian Studies 20.4 (Winter 2012)).

      Obviously, the historicizing church was keen on adding historicizing interpolations, not the reverse, so obviously the evidence against historicity is going to consist of many examples of historicizing interpolations, not the other way around. It is fallacious to then say that that is a mark against it, when in fact it’s exactly what we should expect if historicity is false. (It’s also expected if historicity is true, however, which is why these interpolations do not refute historicity but only subtract from the evidence for it and thus only reduce its probability, a distinction Ehrman might be struggling with).

      Another problem I have encountered with Ehrman before, and maybe it happens in his book (many historicists make this same error) is that they obsess on rebutting incidental arguments, and then conclude they have rebutted essential arguments. Case in point: in no way does Price’s case for mythicism depend on 1 Cor. 15:3-8 being an interpolation; he merely makes an incidental case that it could be. It is fallacious to then say his case for 1 Cor. 15:3-8 is weak, therefore his case for mythicism is weak. Doherty shoots himself in the foot a lot by setting himself up for this: he defends hundreds of incidental claims that go against mainstream views, and historicists have a feast on those incidentals and conclude his case for mythicism is weak, simply because they failed to dig out the signal from the noise. That’s why I think his Jesus: Neither God Nor Man is a much worse book than Jesus Puzzle, as the latter is far more focused on the signal and less on the noise (although it does have some, e.g. his reliance on speculations about the tradition history of Q, which is wholly unnecessary for his case), whereas the former is almost all noise, and finding the signal is something of a chore.

  91. 91
    Steven Carr

    Amazingly, after Ehrman waves around invisible early sources as representing stuff going back to just after Jesus died, he then claims on page 238, that even if Phillipians 2 predates Paul, ‘it does not represent the earliest Christian understanding of Christ.’

    Because Ehrman has to deny that Jesus was thought of a as a god, he denies that anything which predates Paul must represent early Christian thought, if the picture of Jesus it presents is not one he is selling, while he simultaneously has to invent oral and written sources for the Gospels which go back to early Christianity and predate Paul.

    If you read the book, you can see Ehrman rewriting history, moving sources around in time, to build up a picture of a Jesus he can sell to himself.

    1. 91.1
      Richard Carrier

      True, that would be special pleading, if Ehrman maintains 1 Corinthians 15 is evidence of historicity because it predates Paul, but Phillipians 2 isn’t evidence even though it also predates Paul.

  92. 92
    Badger3k

    I just started reading it (I had enough of my check that I could afford the $10 ebook price). In the second chapter (where he starts to lay out the evidence for Jesus that people have accepted), he brings up Tacitus as a credible source that a historical Jesus existed. He does mention that Tacitus could have been repeating information that he learned from Christians, then assumes (at the end of that section) that that means the information is true. What? Am I completely bonkers in thinking that the only thing that tells us is what Tacitus believed? If Tacitus reported that Hercules was killed on a pyre in some city (sorry, I forgot the details), would that indicate that it was true? We don’t read Heroditus and assume that what he wrote was true, so why do it here? Is this another case of Special Pleading?

    I haven’t come to any final conclusions (and may never, who knows), but I do lean toward the mythicist position, but even when thinking the apocalyptic prophet hypothesis had serious merit I saw this argument as flawed. Am I wrong?

  93. 93
    Gilgamesh

    Hi Richard,

    Prof. James McGrath has written some response to your rebuttal.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2012/03/responding-to-richard-carriers-response-to-bart-ehrman.html
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2012/03/wonka-vs-mythicists-plus-the-historical-jesus-unicorns-and-atlantis.html

    The latter link is more a link-farm.

    It seems James thinks Ehrman made no mistakes in his article, or any mistakes are the fault of the editor. I imagine you will want to respond in kind.

    1. 93.1
      Richard Carrier

      I will eventually. Maybe tomorrow or Monday. I’m trying to get through all the comments on my page first, before going to other pages. And there are a lot!

  94. 94
    Steven Bollinger

    A plea that professors of Christian theology and New Testament studies who are NOT certain that Jesus existed, but have not said so publicly for fear it would damage their careers, be outed. Preferably by themselves — that of course would be the most dignified way — but otherwise by people to whom they have confided their unorthodox views. Betraying private confidences is a serious thing, of course. But a systematic pattern of lying, affecting an entire academic discipline or two, is VERY serious. Think it over. I plead at more length here: http://thewrongmonkey.blogspot.com/2012/03/i-accuse-you-you-cowardly-closeted.html

    1. 94.1
      Richard Carrier

      There is, I should note, a difference between a scholar who suspects Jesus didn’t exist, and one who fears even to investigate or consider it. In my experience there are more of the latter than the former, precisely because there are more of the latter than the former.

      In short, they don’t want the grief. So they aren’t going to touch it. That might change as Ehrman and I are now making the debate more visible to them. But for an analogy, there are topics I won’t go near because I don’t want to be sucked down a hole of vast research and debate, so I declare them either unresolved or I side with the consensus, trusting that the odds are that will be correct (that doesn’t mean it always is, only that the odds are it is). I decided to do this for the controversy over dating the Gospels, for example, because I found it fruitless for what I was doing to delve any further. And that’s not even a lightning rod issue (I have no fear of doing it; I just have better things to do with my time). Imagine if my chances of tenure, my institutional reputation, my access to privileges of status were all in the balance as well. Then, unless I were unusually ballsy (I am, but not everyone is), I might just avoid it, or just rubber stamp what Ehrman says without actually checking it carefully–because if I criticize him, I will be perceived as defending the mythicists, and that’s bad, so I had better never admit he ever made a mistake in his argument against mythicism.

      Keep your eye on the scholars who weigh in on this, or who don’t. How many will admit he made some mistakes? How many stay a mile away from the whole debate altogether? Then you’ll know.

    2. 94.2
      Steven Bollinger

      “Imagine if my chances of tenure, my institutional reputation, my access to privileges of status were all in the balance as well”

      So it’s okay to be a liar or a coward as long as you get a lot of perks for it? For Republicans, maybe. I’m sorry, your reply has not lent me more sympathy for liars and cowards.

      Imagine if tenure, reputation and privilege were all given as rewards for honesty and guts!

      I’m angry! Can you tell?

    3. Richard Carrier

      Steven Bollinger: So it’s okay to be a liar or a coward as long as you get a lot of perks for it?

      Reputation, happiness, and livelihood are not perks. They are some of the fundamental requirements of life.

      Imagine if tenure, reputation and privilege were all given as rewards for honesty and guts!

      If only. But not.

    4. 94.3
      Steven Bollinger

      Perhaps an overly-acute sense of moral outrage lingers in me as a remnant of my Protestant upbringing.

      Anyway, it’s clear you have no plans to out any secretly-mythicist people. And that’s fine. I take it that you’ve been dealing closely with academics in what Ehrman calls “the relevant fields” for much of your life. I haven’t attended a university in 20 years, and in that time I haven’t even attended as many as a dozen academic lectures in person. I don’t know the people involved personally. I only developed a closer interest in Biblical studies and related fields in the past two years as a result of the readers’ comments on the Religion section at Huffington Post. (The comments are usually much more interesting than the articles themselves.) My education has been mostly autodidactic. I had taught myself Latin earlier, now I’m working on my Greek and Hebrew and other ancient languages. Why take anybody’s word about what is in any text, why accept anyone’s spin on a given text, when you can learn the language and read it yourself?

    5. 94.4
      Steven Bollinger

      Richard, you wrote:

      “for an analogy[to the silence of academics the historicist/mythicist debate], there are topics I won’t go near because I don’t want to be sucked down a hole of vast research and debate, so I declare them either unresolved or I side with the consensus, trusting that the odds are that will be correct (that doesn’t mean it always is, only that the odds are it is). I decided to do this for the controversy over dating the Gospels, for example, because I found it fruitless for what I was doing to delve any further.”

      But surely you must see that this analogy is less than perfect. On the one hand, you decided that it would not be the best use of your personal time and resources to delve into the debate over the dating of the Gospels, and you publicly announced this and explained that your comments on this matter were not to be understood as reflecting more than your understanding of the general scholarly consensus. On the other hand there is a widespread, systematic suppression of a question, and widespread systematic bullying of any and all who dare to discuss it, bullying behavior which we would quite rightly condemn in young children. Biblical studies and theology claim to be disciplines like other academic disciplines, and in many ways that claim is fully justified, but their behavior concerning this one question does not measure up. Concerning this one question, academia has not advanced very much in two centuries.

      I’m not the only one who’s used the term “closeted” to describe some academics. Above in the comments you’ve pointed out how professors who are secretly mythicists may publicly atteck mythicism to protect themselves. like gays who publicly are homophobic. How much longer can this closet door remain closed?

    6. Richard Carrier

      That’s all a valid point.

  95. 95
    David Marshall

    Richard (on Chinese dying and rising gods)

    “But dating to when? Not antiquity. Miao Shan didn’t even exist as a deity until the 10th century, long after Nestorian Christians entered China.”

    But you didn’t say antiquity. I was responding to what you actually said.

    In any case, the chance that the Religion of Light inspired these ideas is remote. Jing Jiao was not terribly influential by that time, if it ever was, among Han Chinese.

    “And that version does not in fact involve a resurrection (Miao Shan never actually dies in the story; she is snatched away by a divinity before her murderers can find her).

    Actually, in most versions, she does die, descends into hell, and transforms the place as Psyche was said to. And then she is resurrected.

    “We do not hear of the resurrection version until later still. Tai Zong is likewise a mediavel Buddhism-influenced tale (7th century).”

    Probably later. I said Journey to the West, not Tai Zong himself, the historical character.

    “Why didn’t it occur to you to check any of this? Do you see how you are defending historicity by acting exactly like the sloppy mythicists who pay no attention to chronology? Why do you start acting exactly like them the moment you desperately need to defend the contrary thesis?”

    You’re scatting, Richard. I don’t need to check this because I know the facts. Apparently you delayed posting my comments until you could do a little searching, but didn’t do enough. You should have at least googled “Journey to the West,” if you didn’t know what I was talking about, when I mentioned Tai Zong.

    “(I should also add: and in what respect is either of these examples a son of god or a savior deity?”

    Miao Shan is generally identified with Guan Yin, the greatest Chinese “savior deity,” technically a bodhisattva. She’s everywhere in East Asia.

    1. 95.1
      Richard Carrier

      David Marshall:


      But you didn’t say antiquity. I was responding to what you actually said.

      James, yes I did. I wrote “dying-and-rising gods were a common phenomenon in the region at the time (in precisely the way these were not anywhere else, e.g. in ancient China)” (emphasis added). Can you please start reading what I write? (Or stop trying to make post hoc excuses for your mistakes, whichever is the case here.)

      And that is a lame way to avoid the issue, anyway. It should be obviously invalid to argue that a phenomenon post-dating Christian influence in China represents an independent trend. The point of my argument is that people don’t just spontaneously come up with dying-and-rising savior demigods. If you don’t get that point, you need to start thinking harder and reading more carefully. Because this is getting annoying.

      Actually, in most versions, she does die, descends into hell, and transforms the place as Psyche was said to. And then she is resurrected.

      Yeah. And my point is, those changes to the story long post date even the 10th century original story (which was Buddhist), and thus are even more likely inspired by Christian competition (as Buddhists started vamping up their myths to match the intriguing ideas that, after many, many centuries, they heard from Christians).

      In short, neither independence, nor the existence of a trend, can be established here. It is therefore a shit example, and you should never have resorted to it.

      Especially since this kind of chronological gaffe is exactly what you say mythicists shouldn’t do. Yet here you are doing it.

      Miao Shan is generally identified with Guan Yin, the greatest Chinese “savior deity,” technically a bodhisattva.

      You are playing semantic games. You do not achieve salvation by worshipping her. She is therefore not a savior deity in any relevant sense of the term. Nor is she a demigod (the daughter of God).

      Again, such semantic tricks are the very thing you accuse mythicists of. Yet here you are doing it, too.

      You should have at least googled “Journey to the West,” if you didn’t know what I was talking about, when I mentioned Tai Zong.

      I actually knew all about that. I was only talking about the earliest versions of the relevant tales (Zong’s tour of hell in this case), since that was all that mattered to my point. Again, you are desperately ignoring what I actually said, and grasping at straws, and fabricating mistakes I didn’t make, to try and rescue yourself from admitting to having made a boner mistake that’s just as bad as the worst we get from any mythicist.

      Someday, maybe, you’ll learn to admit a mistake, instead of spinning yarns and excuses.

      And possibly, on the day after that, you’ll be less certain of Jesus’ historicity.

  96. 96
    Russell Dowsett

    I have really enjoyed & admired many of
    Ehrman’s audio books but felt frustrated
    when he asserted the historicity of JC but
    Provided no arguments/ evidence to back
    Up his claim. Now it appears he has done
    just that, can’t wait to read it, I hope it is not
    As flawed as his article!

  97. 97
    Roberto Perez-Franco

    I have finished reading Dr Ehrman’s book, and I smell at least three or four rats. Thus, I look forward to reading both your review and Mr Doherty’s review of the book.

    In the meantime, a question.

    Dr Ehrman seems to have too much riding on Paul’s claim to have met Peter and James (which he goes go great lenghts to identify as the carnal brother of Jesus).

    I remember reading somewhere that Paul may have made up or embellished his contact with such prominent early apostles as a way to bolster his credentials with early Christians.

    My question is: do we know of any non-Pauline reference to a meeting between Paul and Peter and/or James?

    1. 97.1
      Richard Carrier

      No. (Unless you count Acts, of course; or some apocryphal fictions composed in later centuries.)

  98. 98
    bobwahler

    Richard,

    Thanks for taking the time to write this. Talk about interpolation! Ehrman literally wrote the book on it. Maybe “brother *of the Lord*” is an emendation. Ehrman’s “Orthodox Corruption of Scripture” is far more important as a contribution to the story of Christianity than perhaps all his other works combined. Most of those, as you know, just rehash each other (“God’s Problem”? He must have had a college tuition bill for a kid due, or something).

    I once sent him an early draft of something I wrote on mystic saviors and he wrote back, “Nothing I don’t already know about.” This after just telling me he had never heard of the line of living Masters that forms the backbone of my work.

    Have you read Robert Eisenman? What he establishes as the working m.o. in the first century between the Jamesian Christians at Qumran and the Pauline Jerusalem Church is more important than anything going on in the mythicist genre as regards what to make of Pauline Christianity, pro or con, real or fake. You don’t even need to ascertain whether Jesus existed or not at all (I am open on it) to see that Pauline Christianity is a phony teaching built on Paul’s jealousy of James and Peter’s fame. For that alone, the debate about Christian origins should center on his work, not Ehrman’s or Couchoud’s or Doherty’s. The easily discovered orthodox corruptions of scripture in favor of Pauline sacrificial atonement are legion. I suggested to Ehrman that he conduct a survey, for example, to see how many incidents of removal of evidence for saviors other than Jesus there were from the New Testament, and he agreed that might be interesting. I have personally found perhaps a few hundred such. The NT is a POLEMIC, not a record. It argues a dead savior for all time, not a gnostic series of them (the real). John the Baptist was Jesus’ MASTER, and James, his SUCCESSOR. (Unless Jesus is fictitious, which means drop him and insert James directly.) NONE of the miracles happened, except perhaps a few healings. Most are teachings of mysticism, as walking on “water”, for instance. This is meditation, as it occurred in “fourth watch” (many of the events are at NIGHT, you may notice, because most devotees meditate at night, when it is easiest). I wrote a book on the mystic Jesus called “Saviors, Beyond Qumran, Nag Hammadi, and the New Testament Code”. It is available at Amazon, or you can have it absolutely free as a pdf through email. (sahansdal, Yahoo dot com).

    There is so much more to all this than you know, it will blow your ever-lovin’ mind, Richard. Go to RSSB.org for a list of FORTY FIVE titles written by or about perfect living Masters of the RSSB line in India (Radha Soami Satsang Beas). Several are line by line exegesis of gospel accounts by a real Master.

    No one ever seems to notice that Jesus’ work was strictly limited to REAL TIME salvation of the immediate contacts in his life (John 6:40, 9:4-5 “sent US” C. Sinaiticus, 12:35-36, 14:6-7, 13:1, 17:11).

    1. 98.1
      Richard Carrier

      bobwahler:

      (“God’s Problem”? He must have had a college tuition bill for a kid due, or something).

      No, I think there’s a more plausible backstory to that. He was being accused of abandoning Christianity because of his work in textual criticism, which he repeatedly insisted wasn’t true, he lost faith because of his struggle with the argument from evil, not his work on the bible. But evangelical critics wouldn’t let up, so he wrote a book about it for the same reason I wrote most everything I do: so he could stop answering questions about it and explaining himself over and over again, and just refer people to the book instead. “Asked and answered” as they say. I think he talks about this in one of his other works, I can’t recall which (possibly Jesus Interrupted).

      Have you read Robert Eisenman?

      I’ve even met him. I found him to be a bit of a loony (read my account of him at the Amherst conference). But that’s just IMO. I also find his published theories to be poppycock. Sorry. But it’s just as crazy and conspiracy-theory and tea-leaf-reading Da Vinci code as any mythicist thesis (which makes him an example of someone who seems even crazier than the worst mythicists yet is treated with respect by Ehrman and the academic establishment–because he at least plays their game of insisting Jesus existed, just not anything else mainstream scholars agree with.)

      And I don’t hold much merit in theories that require too many ad hoc assumptions (like Paul being driven by jealousy of Peter and James’s “fame,” for example). That just goes beyond what we can ever really know. Likewise all the many other things you propose. This is just not how to argue for mythicism.

  99. 99
    marckl

    As an outsider who came to this page out of curiosity, from pharyngula, I have a question about the conventions of biblical scholarship.
    Obviously, some people in this field believe in a literal, physical resurrection of Jesus. For instance, by following a couple of clicks, I discovered that the McGrews, whom Hoffman considers “respectable” experts on the use of Bayesian statistics, have written articles using statistical analyses of ancient texts to “prove” that the resurrection occurred.
    So, in this circus of historical biblical studies, do “respectable” scholars who believe the supernatural stories from the NT come to conferences in clown suits, and do they submit manuscripts full of CAPITAL LETTERS and !!!!!, or do they pretend to have a serious, fact-based approach to the questions of NT studies?

    1. 99.1
      Richard Carrier

      Or to put it another way: why does Ehrman treat those guys (who believe in literal resurrections) more respectably, but not mythicists?

    2. 99.2
      James F. McGrath

      I have no idea who the McGrews are. Why not actually read some works of New Testament scholarship written by mainstream scholars, rather than use examples of people who are doing apologetics for their faith rather than (or at least in addition to) historical study?

    3. Richard Carrier

      Although I quite agree with James, I have to remind him that “mainstream scholars” include a lot of people doing apologetics for their faith (Bauckham, Evans, Davis, Boyd, Eddy, Wright, Brown, etc., etc.). Do we dismiss all their work as crank? If not, then why should we behave that way toward equally qualified and competent mythicists? (Whereas if we should dismiss all their work, why? Just because they have crazy fundamentalist views and use their scholarship to defend them?)

      I realize this doesn’t apply to the McGrews, who have no competence in our field (and make abundant factual errors in their treatment of it). But the McGrews aren’t the only ones Marcki could have mentioned.

    4. 99.3
      marckl

      The relevance of the McGrews is that Hoffman, whom I infer IS a mainstream historian, considers them respectable, but not Carrier.

    5. Richard Carrier

      If that is all you meant, then you should know that many of us think Hoffmann is a nutter (see my discussion in my post and subsequent comments here). So his opinion doesn’t carry much weight with his peers anymore, nor is it reflective of the field.

    6. 99.4
      James F. McGrath

      I suppose I would distinguish between someone who occasionally or even frequently allows their presuppositions to sway their judgment, but on the whole uses mainstream academic methods, and someone who does not in fact use scholarly methods or does so only when it suits them.

      Stephen Jay Gould apparently allowed his (in my view admirable) opposition to racism to skew his evaluation of some data. That doesn’t make him a crank, in my view, it makes him human and thus fallible, like the rest of us.

      I wrote a blog post recently in which I suggested that “scholars” and “apologists” represent poles on a spectrum rather than absolute categories. I’d be interested to know whether you think that’s on the right track.

    7. Richard Carrier

      Insofar as you mean everyone can err (no matter their qualifications and commitments), I fully agree. I myself have. And I seek to correct myself when I do, as we all should. Insofar as you mean apologists and scholars have different but equally valid methodologies, then I don’t agree (but I don’t think that’s what you meant anyway). Your point in the bottom link was hard for me to fathom.

      I would frame it differently: the correct position is to commit yourself to error-correcting methodologies, which entails committing yourself to finding out what methods those are (and that includes studying all the ways people, and thus we, can err, and how to detect it when it happens, even in our own work). The more one satisfies that condition truthfully, the better. The matter of different perspectives or dogs in races and all that simply doesn’t matter. Any error that could arise by being in any particular position or committing to any particular theory, will always be found out eventually if you employ error-correcting methods. You will be self-critical, responsive to criticism, and able to detect valid criticism, and you will aim to test your theories in the arena of debate, and revise them as you learn.

      That is what we should all aim for, whether scholar or apologist or anywhere in between.

  100. 100
    Elle

    @Richard Carrier

    “This may be a semantic fail. That Jews did not call demons and angels gods is mere semantics; they were still cosmic beings with supernatural powers, and not humans. Likewise, Jesus was a preexistent heavenly being given by God all the supernatural powers of God (Philippians 2:6-8; 1 Cor. 8:6, 15:24-28; 2 Cor. 4:4), and it’s clear all Christians regarded him as “the firstborn son of God in heaven” who communicates to us by mystical means. By any actual sense of the word, that’s a god.”

    I think Ehrman is saying that Mark and Matthew do consider Jesus as a supernatural being (obviously above the human level, but subject to God), while only John thinks of Jesus as God himself (as he states clearly at the very beginning of his gospel)

    Take a look at these quotes from an interview:

    “To illustrated the differences between the Gospels, Erhman offers opposing depictions of Jesus talking about himself. In the Book of John, Jesus talks about himself and proclaims who he is, saying “I am the bread of life.” Whereas in Mark, Jesus teaches principally about the coming kingdom and hardly ever talks mentions himself directly. These differences offer clues into the perspectives of the authors, and the eras in which they wrote their respective Gospels, according to Erhman.”

    “In Mark’s gospel, Jesus is not interested in teaching about himself. But when you read John’s gospel, that’s virtually the only thing Jesus talks about is who he is, what his identity is, where he came from,” says Erhman. “This is completely unlike anything that you find in Mark or in Matthew and Luke. And historically, it creates all sorts of problems because if the historical Jesus actually went around saying that he was God, it’s very hard to believe that Matthew, Mark and Luke left out that part. You know, as if that part wasn’t important to mention — but in fact, they don’t mention it. And so this view of the divinity of Jesus on his own lips is found only in our latest gospel, the Gospel of John.”

    Also:

    “But if Matthew and John were both written by earthly disciples of Jesus, why are they so very different, on all sorts of levels? Why do they contain so many contradictions? Why do they have such fundamentally different views of who Jesus was? In Matthew, Jesus comes into being when he is conceived, or born, of a virgin; in John, Jesus is the incarnate Word of God who was with God in the beginning and through whom the universe was made. In Matthew, there is not a word about Jesus being God; in John, that’s precisely who he is. In Matthew, Jesus teaches about the coming kingdom of God and almost never about himself (and never that he is divine); in John, Jesus teaches almost exclusively about himself, especially his divinity. In Matthew, Jesus refuses to perform miracles in order to prove his identity; in John, that is practically the only reason he does miracles.”

    (Jesus, Interrupted, Chapter 4)

    The statement “In Matthew, Jesus teaches about the coming kingdom of God and almost never about himself (and never that he is divine)” may be debatable, but given the context I believe he means that the author didn’t think of Jesus as God himself in the way John does (which seems to essentially be a prefiguration of the Trinity).

    What do you think?

    1. 100.1
      Richard Carrier

      Elle:

      I think Ehrman is saying that Mark and Matthew do consider Jesus as a supernatural being (obviously above the human level, but subject to God), while only John thinks of Jesus as God himself (as he states clearly at the very beginning of his gospel)

      Yes, quite so: John’s theology is a highly developed one of much later Christians, not that of Paul’s generation.

      But how does this distinction matter for the mythicism debate?

  101. 101
    Husky54

    Regarding Thomas L. Thompson, you said that my comments are not common opinion. They actually are – and regarding the nature of the scholarship within the field of Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East, you’re pontificating OUTSIDE of your field. You’re not trained in Semitic, and really have very little ability to critique scholarship on the subject. (Note, furthermore, your CV, where you list the languages in which you are trained as German, French, Latin, and Greek. I see no Semitic languages listed there. So, how about you stay in your own field, big guy.) Thompson is a part of the larger Sheffield/Copenhagen school which HAS argued what I stated in my original post. You display your own ignorance on the issue when you state that Tel Dan is in Hebrew (“…he has only made perfectly reasonable statements about the Hebrew language…and explains reasons why we can’t be excessively certain about the meaning…”). Tel Dan is Old Aramaic, and the construction /bytdwd/ is not difficult to understand – or at least, for those of us actually trained in those languages, with an ability to actually critique the scholarship. So – yes, notorious is a better descriptor of Thompson than prestigious.

    And again, if you really knew the scholarship in the field, then you’d know that the mythical nature of much, if not all, of what happens in Genesis has been around for years, thanks to the work of people such as Noth, Alt, Gunkel, etc.

    Regarding Philo as a Greek speaker living under Roman Rule – it is absolutely relevant. Philo is not a Roman source. That fact is not up for debate. Philo not only was not Roman, but wrote in Greek. By your logic, Paul – as a Roman citizen – would be considered a Roman source, which is something that I’m sure you wouldn’t consider kosher. Your point in bringing Philo up was to try and prove Ehrman to be incorrect in his statement that there are no Roman sources attesting Pilate. Your attempt to make Philo a Roman source is a feeble attempt at countering that claim. “Roman source” implies Latin as the source language, most likely originating from some kind of Roman oversight – not from a Jew writing in Greek living in Alexandria. So yes, it’s very relevant.

    Josephus was also a JEW, writing JEWISH history, writing in Greek. Again, not a Roman source.

    And I just love the assumptions you make – literally based on zero evidence – concerning the Pilate stone and how Pilate “no doubt” collated the inscription himself. This goes far beyond the available evidence as you try to force your point.

    Regarding your comment “Then you are not a trained Classicist. Since you clearly don’t know what you are talking about.” >> I have consulted real classicists – who actually have been able to procure tenure track positions and are not just regurgitating other people’s scholarship as popular literature – who vehemently disagree with you. But it’s a nice way for you to just write off the evidence contrary to your point.

    Regarding how you use the term “scripture” to bias your argument – apparently you’ve already forgotten what you wrote:

    You state: “All it says is that scripture says he died, was buried, and was resurrected (it notably does not say anyone witnessed this, or when it happened or by whom, e.g. it does not say Jesus was crucified by Pontius Pilate, a key component of later creeds) and only then this Jesus appeared to some people (in a fashion I know Ehrman himself agrees is not relevant to this debate: because a historical Jesus did not “appear” after his death, but a cosmic, revelatory Jesus, a product of the apostles’ imagination)…The fact that Jesus is not said to have appeared or taught or done anything at all before he died is not something to just brush under the rug. Nor also the fact that the only source being given for his death and burial in this creed is scripture, whereas the source for his “subsequent” (post-mortem) ministry is given as seeing him, and that only in “revelations” (Galatians 1:11-12, which then must be the same as all the others: 1 Cor. 15:5-8)…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).”

    Your response to my point about the Hebrew משיח leaves much to be desired. As someone who is clearly not trained in Dead Sea Scrolls studies, I can’t expect you to really be able to effectively parse out this data, so allow me to lay it out for you. Given the fact that the scrolls were most likely composed at Qumran, and given the fact that one must take into consideration the full corpus of Pesharim taken from Qumran when attempting to exegete them – it should be fairly easy to see (when one takes into consideration the broader use of the term משיח at Qumran) that texts such as Pesher Habakkuk are also necessary when attempting to analyze these data. Had you any understanding of some of the prevalent theories concerning the situation of the Qumran community, and how the Hebrew כרת was used both in Daniel and in the DSS, then you would know that they used it primarily to refer to being cut off – that is, excluded from the religious community. Regardless, there is nothing in 11Q13 that suggests your reading of it (not that you can actually read it in its original language, by the way – and I might also note how fragmentary the text in question is, another important fact that you failed to mention). In fact, you explicitly stated: “(Daniel 9:26 says a messiah will die, and the pre-Christian Melchizedek scroll explicitly identifies this passage as being about the messiah, or at least a messiah who would cleanse the world of sin)” – none of which is actually true. I’ll go ahead and quote 11Q13 for you here:

    11Q13 2:18 And “the messenger” is the Anointed of the Spir[it,] of whom Dan[iel] spoke, [“After the sixty-two weeks, an Anointed One shall be cut off ” (Dan. 9:26). The “messenger who brings]
    11Q13 2:19 good news, who announ[ces salvation”] is the one of whom it is wri[tt]en, [“to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, the day of vengeance of our God;]
    11Q13 2:20 to comfo[rt all who mourn” (Isaiah 61:2). This scripture’s interpretation:] he is to inst[r]uct them about all the periods of history for eter[nity … and in the statutes of ]
    11Q13 2:21 [the] truth. […]
    11Q13 2:22 [… dominion] that passes from Belial and ret[urns to the Sons of Light …]
    11Q13 2:23 […] by the judgment of God, just as it is written concerning him, [“who says to Zi]on ‘Your divine being reigns’ ” (Isaiah 52:7). [“Zi]on” is
    11Q13 2:24 [the congregation of all the sons of righteousness, who] uphold the covenant and turn from walking [in the way] of the people. “Your di[vi]ne being” is
    11Q13 2:25 [Melchizedek, who will del]iv[er them from the po]wer of Belial. Concerning what Scripture says, “Then you shall have the trumpet [sounded loud in] all the land [of …” (Leviticus 25:9, modified).]

    I’m sure you’ll notice that the citation of Dan 9:26 is in brackets – meaning that it’s being reconstructed here. So, the reference you seek isn’t even actually attested in the scroll due to a big fat lacunae. And, that’s not even to mention the fact that 11Q13 does not reference a suffering/saving messianic figure. You’re eisegeting the Hebrew כרת either way.

    Furthermore, there’s no such thing as a “different set of Dead Sea Scrolls.” While 11Q13 and (your example) 4Q521 were found in different caves, they are of the same corpus.

    You’re not a Scrolls scholar. You’re not a Semitist. You’re not really even that much of a Classicist. It’s no wonder you’re an author of popular fiction.

    1. 101.1
      Richard Carrier

      Husky54:

      I never made any claims to being a Semitic scholar. I spoke only of the logic of arguments (which has nothing to do with expertise in any language) and of what other experts say who are Semitic scholars. You keep ignoring this and making irrelevant attacks on my expertise. Which just makes you look like an ass.

      Your attempt to make the term “Roman” relevant to anything Ehrman actually argued is even more lame and ridiculous than McGrath’s, and betrays your lack of objectivity or seriousness.

      You clearly don’t know that a dedicatory inscription on a monument funded by Pilate himself (the inscription is a dedication from PIlate to Tiberius) would not have gone forward without Pilate’s own proofing of the text to be carved (and Pilate would have seen the carved text on a near daily basis). For you to attempt to argue the contrary simply betrays your lack of understanding of the evidence and the ancient world, and your complete lack of concern for even wanting to.

      You evidently don’t understand that Paul himself said the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus were learned from scripture (the OT). You seem to be implying I said this. No, Paul said this.

      Your attempt to re-translate (what, Daniel?) on the use of “cut off” is not only lame (like a fundamentalist, you dismiss context as if it didn’t matter to how a word is translated), it contradicts all established scholarship on this passage, and obvious evidence (like that the Septuagint clearly indicates killing is meant, and ancient Jews knew their Hebrew and Aramaic better than you do). Indeed, the Melchizedek scroll links the Daniel passage to the Isaiah passage in which the death of the person described is entirely explicit, up to and including a declaration of his burial.

      Your attempt, likewise, to challenge all published scholarship on this scroll, by suggesting the reconstruction is incorrect, is likewise ridiculous. Every expert concludes there is no other passage that can complete the fragment except one of the two Christ verses in Daniel 9 (and it doesn’t matter which one it is, since both are adjacent verses constituting the same passage and speaking of the same person). (It is only further obvious by the context: that passage speaks of a death ending sin, as does the Isaiah passage it is immediately linked with in the scroll, and the Melchizedek scroll fragment itself begins by talking about a final atoning for sin on a specific day the calculation of which in the scroll matches the numbers calculated in that same passage of Daniel.)

      You also evidently don’t know that the verse in Isaiah linked to Melchizedek in “11Q13 2:19-20″ is the beginning of the suffering servant passage.

      And your attempt to hide (with completely impertinent semantics) your mistake in thinking the Melchizedek scroll contains a reference to the two messiahs (Davidic and priestly), when in fact that’s in different scrolls (exactly what I actually said), simply proves to me you are simply a jackass who isn’t at all interested in honest debate on this issue.

    2. 101.2
      J. J. Ramsey

      Carrier:

      the Melchizedek scroll fragment itself begins by talking about a final atoning for sin

      The scroll fragment begins with this:

      (…) And concerning what Scripture says, “In this year of Jubilee you shall return, everyone f you, to your property” (Lev. 25;13) And what is also written; “And this is the manner of the remission; every creditor shall remit the claim that is held against a neighbor, not exacting it of a neighbor who is a member of the community, because God’s remission has been proclaimed” (Deut.15;2) the interpretation is that it applies to the Last Days and concerns the captives, just as Isaiah said: “To proclaim the Jubilee to the captives” (Isa. 61;1) (…) just as (…) and from the inheritance of Melchizedek, for (… Melchizedek) , who will return them to what is rightfully theirs. He will proclaim to them the Jubilee, thereby releasing them from the debt of all their sins. He shall proclaim this decree in the first week of the jubilee period that follows nine jubilee periods.

      Then the “Day of Atonement” shall follow after the tenth jubilee period, when he shall atone for all the Sons of Light, and the people who are predestined to Melchizedek. (…) upon them (…) For this is the time decreed for the “Year of Melchizedek`s favor”, and by his might he will judge God’s holy ones and so establish a righteous kingdom, as it is written about him in the Songs of David ; “A godlike being has taken his place in the council of God; in the midst of divine beings he holds judgement”

      While there is definitely an atonement for sin, there’s no hint of Melchizedek dying in order to accomplish it. Heck, at this point, we don’t have any dying at all at this point.

      Carrier:

      It is only further obvious by the context: that passage speaks of a death ending sin,

      You mean this passage?:

      (The …) is that whi(ch …all) the divine beings. The visitation is the Day of Salvation that He has decreed through Isaiah the prophet concerning all the captives, inasmuch as Scripture says, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion “Your divine being reigns”.” (Isa. 52;7) This scriptures interpretation : “the mountains” are the prophets, they who were sent to proclaim God’s truth and to prophesy to all Israel. “The messengers” is the Anointed of the spirit, of whom Daniel spoke; “After the sixty-two weeks, an Anointed shall be cut off” (Dan. 9;26) The “messenger who brings good news, who announces Salvation” is the one of whom it is written; “to proclaim the year of the LORD`s favor, the day of the vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn” (Isa. 61;2)

      Apparently, the messengers who claim that “Your divine being reigns” are being cut off, but there’s no indication here that their deaths somehow end sin. There’s an atonement mentioned earlier, and deaths mentioned later, but nothing saying that these deaths atone for sin. Indeed, this passage doesn’t seem to identify the “anointed” in Daniel with anyone that we’d recognize as acting as the Anointed One, the Messiah. If anyone is being messianic here, it’s Melchizedek, who is proclaiming Jubilee and delivering from the power of Belial. Yet the anointed in the verse from Daniel are only identified with the messengers proclaiming the reign of Melchizedek, which the scroll calls a “diving being.”

      on a specific day the calculation of which in the scroll matches the numbers calculated in that same passage of Daniel.

      The scroll itself does not appear to be making that kind of numerical argument.

    3. Richard Carrier

      J. J. Ramsey:

      Carrier: the Melchizedek scroll fragment itself begins by talking about a final atoning for sin
      Ramsey: While there is definitely an atonement for sin, there’s no hint of Melchizedek dying in order to accomplish it. Heck, at this point, we don’t have any dying at all at this point.

      The “hint” is when it says this Melchizedek is the Christ who dies in Daniel 9 to end sin and the servant who dies in Isaiah 53 to atone for sin. It’s clever of you to ignore that, and just quote a different section of the scroll and go “Whuh? I dun see nuttin.”

      (I could also point out that the “lot of Melchizedek” and “lot of Belial” [the web translation renders this loosely as "predestined," disguising the actual meaning] are also references to the Yom Kippur atonement lottery, in which both are killed, sacrificed, one to atone for sin, the other to carry the sin; Also, the scroll says the day of atonement will occur after a period of time essentially identical to that stated as being when the Christ will die in Daniel 9; and so on; add all that to the fact that the scroll says Mechizedek “will atone for all the sins” at that designated time, and there really is no other meaning to take from this scroll.)

      Apparently, the messengers who claim that “Your divine being reigns” are being cut off, but there’s no indication here that their deaths somehow end sin.

      That messenger goes on to be killed (53:8-9) and thereby atones for all Israel’s sins (53:8-12). The Christ who dies in Daniel also ends sin (9:24). That is why the scroll says that this messenger is the Christ who dies in Daniel 9.

      The remaining context makes clear that Mechizedek is meant (although not that it matters, since either way we still have a Christ dying to atone for all sins on a Great Day of Atonement predicted to occur in a specific year in Daniel that clearly was believed not yet to have come in this scroll, and that’s all that matters for my point against Ehrman.)

      The scroll itself does not appear to be making that kind of numerical argument.

      Sigh. I feel like I’m teaching kindergarten.

      The scroll says “He shall proclaim this decree in the first week of the jubilee period that follows nine jubilee periods. Then the Day of Atonement shall follow after the tenth jubilee period.” A Jubilee is 49 years. Ten Jubilees is 490 years. Daniel 9:24 says the end of sin will come in 70 x 7 years. Gee. Let’s see. What do you think 70 x 7 equals? Wait. I want you to guess. Can’t guess? Scratching your head? Get a calculator. I’ll wait. Got it yet? Right. 490 years.

    4. 101.3
      J. J. Ramsey

      Wait a minute …

      I wrote (in a post in moderation as of this writing),

      Apparently, the messengers who claim that “Your divine being reigns” are being cut off

      But that’s assuming that the text is actually quoting the part about being cut off. Yet the extant text doesn’t have that. You write, “Every expert concludes there is no other passage that can complete the fragment except one of the two Christ verses in Daniel 9,” but all that means is that some part within Daniel 9:25-26 is being quoted, and we don’t know which part. And, no it’s not the least bit clear that a “death ending sin” is discussed here. There is atonement, certainly, but in the absence of an actual quote of Daniel 9:26, no indication that anyone is about to die, except perhaps for the wicked. Come to think of it, there is enough counting of weeks in the extant text that Daniel might be quoted just for a numerological purpose after all. Another translation fills in the gap by quoting from Daniel 9:25 rather than 9:26: “Until an anointed, a prince, it is seven weeks.” To the extent that the scroll has much of a flow at all, that particular quote flows with the rest of the text at least as well as Daniel 9:26.

      I have to wonder why you linked to a translation that doesn’t clearly mark which parts are actually translations of the extant text and which parts are attempted reconstruction to fill in the gaps.

    5. Richard Carrier

      It doesn’t matter which part is being referenced (and I already referred to the scholarly disagreement about which it was, so don’t act like this is a surprise). It’s the same Christ spoken of in both. Thus when the scroll says this is that Christ, it means the whole narrative about that Christ is being applied, not some isolated verse. As to why I linked to that online version, that’s because it was the only one I knew that was online and therefore available to anyone. Don’t worry, I have scholarly commentary on it on my desk with the complete mark up and notes.

    6. 101.4
      J. J. Ramsey

      The “hint” is when it says this Melchizedek is the Christ who dies in Daniel 9 to end sin …

      As I pointed out in a later post, the scroll doesn’t say that Melchizedek is the Christ who dies in Daniel 9. That’s you filling in the gap with your own ideas. All we know from the scroll itself is that it says “And the messenger is [the ano]inted of the spirit about whom Dan[iel] spoke,” and then there is a lacuna. There are only a couple verses from Daniel that would fit, but we don’t know what the author quote, and given that he quotes Scripture way out of context, there’s no reason to assume that he would quote the part about someone being “cut off.” Furthermore, there’s no indication, either in Daniel or the scroll of an anointed one dying to end sin. That too is you filling in the gap with your own ideas.

      … and the servant who dies in Isaiah 53 to atone for sin.

      There’s no indication of an allusion to the suffering servant passage itself. Verses Isaiah 52:7 and 61:2-3 are quoted out of context, and there’s no indication that the quote from verse 52:7 is supposed to be an allusion to later verses in Isaiah 53.

      (I could also point out that the “lot of Melchizedek” and “lot of Belial” [the web translation renders this loosely as "predestined," disguising the actual meaning] are also references to the Yom Kippur atonement lottery, in which both are killed, sacrificed

      And I could also point out that on Yom Kippur, the lottery selected goats on behalf of “the Lord” (apparently identified here with Melchizedek) and one for Azazel (apparently identified with Belial). There’s no indication of humans dying here, let alone anointed ones.

      Sigh. I feel like I’m teaching kindergarten.

      Yeah, as I pointed out in my later post, there does seem to be some numerology after all.

      It doesn’t matter which part is being referenced (and I already referred to the scholarly disagreement about which it was, so don’t act like this is a surprise). It’s the same Christ spoken of in both.

      This is Daniel 9:25-26 (NRSV):

      Know therefore and understand: from the time that the word went out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the time of an anointed prince, there shall be seven weeks; and for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with streets and moat, but in a troubled time. After the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing, and the troops of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed.

      It’s not clear at all that the “anointed prince” and the later “anointed one” are one and the same. They are separated by sixty-two “weeks,” which appear to really be years. Also, the expert opinion seems to be that the “anointed prince” was originally referring to either Zerubbabel or high priest Joshua, and the later “anointed one” is referring to the high priest Onias III.

      … not some isolated verse.

      The scroll repeatedly jumps around the Hebrew Scriptures quoting verses out of context to shoehorn Melchizedek into them. Use of isolated verses is very much what we see.

      As to why I linked to that online version, that’s because it was the only one I knew that was online and therefore available to anyone.

      Yet I found other, better, less misleading ones, thanks to, you know, Googling. If you are going to make an argument that depends on you filling in the gaps in a certain way, you ought to be upfront about it.

    7. Richard Carrier

      J. J. Ramsey:

      As I pointed out in a later post, the scroll doesn’t say that Melchizedek is the Christ who dies in Daniel 9.

      And as I said, the contextual evidence shows that indeed it does, and that even if it doesn’t, it still says there is a dying Christ and that he will (per Isaiah) atone for the sins of Israel on the Great Day of Atonement that will occur at the end of the 490 year period.

      There are only a couple verses from Daniel that would fit, but we don’t know what the author quote…

      Again, you don’t seem to understand. It does not matter what the author quoted. What the scroll says is that the Christ spoken of in Daniel 9 is the “messenger” spoken of in Isaiah 52-53 and the one who will be “the visitation” on “the Day of Salvation” at the end of the 490 days. The rest follows from seeing what is said in those passages. Pesherim do not function by quoting the entire passages they refer to. They only quote one line or phrase to indicate to the reader where to go to read the rest. When we do that, it becomes clear why this author was linking them and what he was saying by doing so.

      Furthermore, there’s no indication, either in Daniel or the scroll of an anointed one dying to end sin. That too is you filling in the gap with your own ideas.

      Again, you are not paying attention.

      Daniel says an end will be made of sin on that day (9:24: “seventy sevens are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place”), all of which is triggered at the beginning of the last seven-year period when the Christ dies (9:26).

      The scroll then says this Christ is the same figure as the one who dies to atone for the sins of Israel in Isaiah 52-53.

      Thus, the scroll is connecting Daniel’s Christ’s death with the atonement, by using Isaiah to interpret Daniel.

      That is what the pesher says. It’s not my own idea. I’m just saying what the pesher itself says.

      Verses Isaiah 52:7 and 61:2-3 are quoted out of context, and there’s no indication that the quote from verse 52:7 is supposed to be an allusion to later verses in Isaiah 53.

      Again, pesharim do not “quote out of context.” They quote to indicate context. Since they didn’t have verse numbers and numerical citation methods like we do, they operated like this: they will say “the guy talked about where it says this, is the same guy talked about where it says this,” in each case giving just enough of a quotation that a reader can find the passage referred to, and then read the entire section there.

      And Isaiah 53 is a continuation of Isaiah 52: they are the same passage (they did not divide passages by numbers; that is our doing).


      And I could also point out that on Yom Kippur, the lottery selected goats on behalf of “the Lord” (apparently identified here with Melchizedek) and one for Azazel (apparently identified with Belial). There’s no indication of humans dying here, let alone anointed ones.

      Yes, in the Yom Kippur ceremony, animals die as substitutes for humans (that was the whole point of the Isaac episode). But the scroll is implying humans will be substituted back for the animals: Belial will die, and Melchizedek will die, the latter thereby atoning for sin. Now, as I also said, it is possible the scroll’s author means Melchizedek will arrange the sacrifice, but in that case the sacrifice he arranges is that of the Christ in Daniel 9, who is the Servant in Isaiah 52-53. The scroll is very explicit about this. It’s just that this doesn’t make as much sense of all that the scroll says (e.g. Melchizedek is not Yahweh, so “lot of Melchizedek” can’t mean Melchizedek is Yahweh).


      It’s not clear at all that the “anointed prince” and the later “anointed one” are one and the same.

      Really? That’s what you’re going with? That’s how desperate you are to deny the obvious, that you are now acting like a Christian fundamentalist and making the Bible say exactly the opposite of what it obviously says and what everyone in history has until now understood it to say? That pretty much shows which of us is correct here. That you have to stoop to that

      By contrast, we have Daniel 9 being linked to Isaiah 52-53, in each of which there is a person who dies and an end of sin by atonement. The scroll’s author would not have linked the two passages but for that commonality. Add to that that the scroll says the end of sin and atonement will occur at the same time Daniel does (after 490 years), and there really is no way your desperate re-interpretation can possibly be correct.


      Yet I found other, better, less misleading ones, thanks to, you know, Googling. If you are going to make an argument that depends on you filling in the gaps in a certain way, you ought to be upfront about it.

      I was (I actually stated every ambiguity relevant here). You are the one making issues out of the text that aren’t relevant.

    8. 101.5
      J. J. Ramsey

      You claim that pesher does not quote out of context, even though the way the quoted passages are linked to Melchizedek makes no sense when context is taken into account.

      You say I’m like a fundamentalist because I find it credible that two anointed ones spaced over sixty years apart are not the same person and then point to a common critical interpretation to bolster my case.

      I suppose that I could put up another long response, going point-by-point, but it’s getting tiring, and you are already putting up red flags.

    9. Richard Carrier

      J. J. Ramsey:

      You claim that pesher does not quote out of context, even though the way the quoted passages are linked to Melchizedek makes no sense when context is taken into account.

      To the contrary, they make perfect sense.

      You are just being stubborn and refusing to listen.

      You say I’m like a fundamentalist because I find it credible that two anointed ones spaced over sixty years apart are not the same person and then point to a common critical interpretation to bolster my case.

      Now I have no idea what you are talking about. What do you mean by “two anointed ones spaced over sixty years apart”? When did that come up here? And you have yet to cite a single scholar as supporting anything you have argued against me, so what you mean by “a common critical interpretation” remains mysterious.

    10. 101.6
      J. J. Ramsey

      What do you mean by “two anointed ones spaced over sixty years apart”?

      Sorry, that should be 60 x 7 seven years apart, or to be precise 62 x 7 years apart. My bad. I was a bit slow to figure out what exactly the “weeks” meant.

      When did that come up here?

      Good grief! It’s in my quote of Daniel 9:25-26, NRSV translation. The JPS translations render the text in a similar fashion. It’s the translations that try to render Daniel 9 as messianic (e.g. the NIV) that have only one Messiah after 69 “weeks,” rather than an anointed prince after seven “weeks” and an anointed one 62 “weeks” after that.

      And you have yet to cite a single scholar as supporting anything you have argued against me, so what you mean by “a common critical interpretation” remains mysterious.

      Ehrman himself got it from Louis Hartman. As for me, I first found it in a more humble source: a HarperCollins Study Bible, and as far as I can tell, Hartman is not one of its contributors. Judging, too, from the JPS translations, that critical interpretation is indeed common.

      Speaking of red flags, I found this in your blog post on the “Dying Messiah”:

      Already we have two OT passages that explicitly predict the humiliation and death of the messiah (Daniel 9 and Psalms 89)

      I looked up Psalms 89. The gist of it can be summarized as, “Hey God, you’re great and mighty and all, but do you remember that covenant you made with David? The one where he was supposed to proper and have his royal line last forever? Now you’re letting him get eaten alive! He’s dying out here! What’s up with that?” (And just to avoid the ambiguity, I mean “eaten alive” figuratively.)

      And this, also from the Dying Messiah post:

      The Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel, which was originally composed in the 1st century A.D., actually inserts “messiah” right in Isaiah 52:13 (“Behold, my servant, the messiah…”), thus confirming this “servant” was already being interpreted as the messiah by Jews decades before Christianity began.

      It’s interesting to compare the original Suffering Servant passage with the paraphrase from the Targum:

      52:13, NRSV: See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high.

      52:13, Targum: Behold, my servant the Messiah shall prosper, He shall be exalted and extolled, and He shall be very strong.

      So far, so good for you. I’ll also note that the author of the translation capitalizes “He” when the pronoun refers to the Messiah, not just when it refers to God.

      53:3, NRSV: He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account

      53:3, Targum: His visage shall not be the visage of a common person, neither his fear that of a plebian; but a holy brightness shall be His brightness, that every one who seeth Him shall contemplate Him.

      53:4, NRSV: Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted.

      53:4, Targum: Although He shall be in contempt; yet He shall cut off the glory of all the wicked, they shall be weak and wretched. Lo, we are in contempt and not esteemed, as a man of pain and appointed to sickness, and as if He had removed the face of His Shekinah from us.

      53:5, NRSV: But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.

      53:5, Targum: Therefore He shall pray for our sins, and our iniquities for his sake shall be forgiven us; for we are considered crushed, smitten of the Lord, and afficted.

      The Targum’s take on Isaiah 53 is almost unrecognizable in some places. Also, the Messiah doesn’t seem to be doing any suffering here. The closest thing I see to that, and the one thing I might expect you to jump on, is this passage, which does not appear to correspond with a passage in Isaiah, FWIW: “He shall build the house of the sanctuary, which has been profaned on account of our sins; He was delivered over on account of our iniquities, and through His doctrine peace shall be upon us, and through the teaching of His words our sins shall be forgiven us.

      The phrase “delivered over” in another context might refer to being delivered over to enemies, but that doesn’t seem to mean that here. Still, you can cling to that straw if you want. If anything, though, this Targum looks more like support for Ehrman’s position that the Messiah was expected to triumph, rather than suffer or die for sin.

    11. Richard Carrier

      J. J. Ramsey:

      Sorry, that should be 60 x 7 seven years apart, or to be precise 62 x 7 years apart. My bad. I was a bit slow to figure out what exactly the “weeks” meant.

      That doesn’t help. What “two anointed ones” are you talking about that are hundreds of years apart?

      that try to render Daniel 9 as messianic (e.g. the NIV) that have only one Messiah after 69 “weeks,” rather than an anointed prince after seven “weeks” and an anointed one 62 “weeks” after that.

      I don’t know who you are reading. Try the leading expert: Lacocque.

      The text says “there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks,” not “seven weeks.” The same anointed one is meant in both verses. This is obvious in the LXX. And again, the Jews who translated the LXX knew Hebrew better than you do (and better than the translators of the RSV, apparently, which I suppose is your source; try the ASV, KJV, NIV, and the Vulgate…Jerome being yet another person who knew Hebrew better than you do). This is obvious from the original intended meaning (this was supposed to be Onias III, not two different guys).

      Ehrman himself got it from Louis Hartman.

      Got what from Hartman?

      I looked up Psalms 89. The gist of it can be summarized as, “Hey God, you’re great and mighty and all, but do you remember that covenant you made with David? The one where he was supposed to proper and have his royal line last forever? Now you’re letting him get eaten alive! He’s dying out here! What’s up with that?” (And just to avoid the ambiguity, I mean “eaten alive” figuratively.)

      Verse 44 is not figurative: it says the Christ’s days are cut short.

      It’s interesting to compare the original Suffering Servant passage with the paraphrase from the Targum

      That was already done in the comments. I didn’t claim the Targum passage supported the dying messiah theme, but that it supported a variant reading of this passage that recognized it as about the Christ. In other words, it is evidence that some pre-Christian Jews were already seeing this as a messianic passage. It thus corroborates what we see in the Melchizedek pesher, which does not cite this Targum, but the original Biblical text; yet like the Targum, it too clearly recognizes it as messianic.

    12. 101.7
      J. J. Ramsey

      The text says “there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks,” …

      That’s one reading. Another, seen above in my quote of the NRSV translation of Daniel 9:25-26 and in a JPS translation, is that “there shall be seven weeks” is the end of one sentence, and “and sixty-two weeks” begins another. If you simply didn’t not agree with the reading, that would be one thing, but you act as if you never even heard of it, despite it being fairly common.

      Verse 44 is not figurative: it says the Christ’s days are cut short.

      I thought that you’d misinterpret “eaten alive” by taking my colloquialism literally and complaining that there’s nothing in Psalm 89 about someone being eaten while still alive. It appears that you found an entirely different way to miss the point.

      That was already done in the comments. I didn’t claim the Targum passage supported the dying messiah theme, but that it supported a variant reading of this passage that recognized it as about the Christ.

      It’s pretty clear from the Google cache of your Dying Messiah blog post that you meant for the Targum to be an example of Jews associating the Suffering Servant with the Messiah. That’s especially clear when you begin by discussing the Talmudic interpretation of Isaiah 53 as being about how “the messiah was expected to endure great suffering before his triumph,” and then segued from this to the Targum by saying, “But one might claim that this, being a late text, could reflect a late belief. Well, for such doubters we have even better evidence to add.” It’s only after McGrath brought up the issue of what the Targum actually said about the Messiah that you brought up the matter yourself in the comments, and then later altered your blog post to make a note of it.

      As for you seeing a quote from Isaiah 52:7 in the Melchizedek scroll as a reference to the Suffering Servant passage Isaiah 52:13-53:12, well, one might judge the plausibility of this by reading Isaiah 52-53 for oneself.

    13. Richard Carrier

      J. J. Ramsey:

      That’s one reading.

      That’s the Jewish reading, as proved by the Septuagint translation. This isn’t my reading. It’s their reading.

      (That’s also why the 62 weeks is repeated in verse 26, since if the sentence ended after the 7 weeks in verse 25, it would make no sense to then explain that what happens next happens after the 62 weeks, since those 62 weeks have then already passed according to your reading; whereas on the obvious reading, the reconstruction is what happens at the seven weeks and the anointed one appears after the 62 additional weeks, which explains the order of verses; that’s also why in verse 24 only one anointed one is mentioned, not two; I also suspect the original meaning of “Christ prince” in verse 25, otherwise a strange construction, means two people, the Christ and the Prince, since those two are then mentioned together again in verse 26. Confirming all this is Lacocque’s demonstration that the original meaning the author intended was not two sequential periods but two overlapping periods, in order to get the timeline to match Onias III–so it really was supposed to mean “7 weeks in parallel to 62 weeks: Jerusalem gets rebuilt at the 7 week mark and Onias comes at the 62 week mark” but that interpretation entailed the rest of the prophecy didn’t come to pass, which later Jews could not allow to be possible, so they had to find some other meaning than that Onias was meant, and the rest is history.)

      It’s pretty clear from the Google cache of your Dying Messiah blog post that you meant for the Targum to be an example of Jews associating the Suffering Servant with the Messiah.

      An example of associating the man there described with the messiah, yes. I never said anything about the Targum talking about a dying messiah. I only used it as evidence that the passage was understood by some Jews then as messianic. You shouldn’t read into my words what isn’t there. Especially since I made the meaning clear when asked about it (and have now added a link to that so there can be no mistake).

      As for you seeing a quote from Isaiah 52:7 in the Melchizedek scroll as a reference to the Suffering Servant passage Isaiah 52:13-53:12, well, one might judge the plausibility of this by reading Isaiah 52-53 for oneself.

      I agree.

      Of course, the scroll’s authors clearly saw they were the same (the one who “brings the gospel” in Is. 52:7 is the “Christ” in Dan. 9:25/26, and the only thing linking the two passages is an unjust death corresponding to and end of sin, which happens later in the Isaiah passage). But the text is already clear enough: the one who “brings the gospel” and “declares salvation” in 52:7 is the “arm of the Lord” who manifests “salvation” in 52:8-12, and in 53:1 this “arm of the Lord” is identified as the “servant” in 52:13-53:12.

    14. 101.8
      J. J. Ramsey

      That’s the Jewish reading, as proved by the Septuagint translation.

      No, that’s your interpretation of a Jewish reading, and as a reading of a JPS (Jewish Publication Society) translation would indicate, not necessarily the only or obvious way that a Jew would interpret it. The Septuagint, while a potentially useful source, doesn’t prove anything here. It’s merely a Greek translation of Jewish texts, and the style and quality of the translations within it is known to vary, sometimes very literal, other places quite free. It is not authoritative or the last word on anything, nor necessarily an indication of the “obvious reading.”

    15. Richard Carrier

      The JPS is a modern text. I’m talking about what ancient Jews understood the text to mean (since those are the only ones who count for the present point).

      And my other points only corroborate what the Jewish translators of the LXX demonstrate they understood; and likewise, Lacocque’s analysis corroborates the same (and he is a leading expert on Daniel).

      I must conclude you are just intent on gainsaying anything I say that tends to challenge your assumptions. You cannot allow the text to read as I say, so you refuse to admit it ever was or ever could have been read that way, all evidence be damned, and you will just quote mine the scholars who side with you and conveniently ignore the scholars who don’t, as if arguments and evidence don’t matter, and aren’t relevant to deciding between competing scholarly opinions.

      If this is the kind of reasoning historicity must stand on, then as a logically valid position, historicity is simply dead. The establishment just hasn’t gotten the memo.

    16. 101.9
      J. J. Ramsey

      The JPS is a modern text.

      The translation is a modern text, but it is translated by experts in the ancient texts being translated, who ought to know quite a bit about “what ancient Jews understood the text to mean.” The age of the translation itself is somewhat of a red herring.

      As for the rest of your rant, well, an old saw about logs and eyes come to mind.

    17. Richard Carrier

      No, it’s not a red herring. When we are talking about how pre-Christian Jews were reading the text, how pre-Christian Jews were reading the text is our most important concern. (Moderns likewise have theological and ideological agendas unique to our time that distort what ancient Jews would have cared about or thought. For example, modern Jews are often concerned to undermine Christian uses of OT scripture to defend their Christ. That would not have been a Jewish concern before Christianity even existed.)

    18. 101.10
      J. J. Ramsey

      When we are talking about how pre-Christian Jews were reading the text, how pre-Christian Jews were reading the text is our most important concern.

      And the LXX translators are only a subset of those pre-Christian Jews. The LXX is a witness to a possible reading (at least if I take you at your word), but is hardly an authoritative last word.

      For example, modern Jews are often concerned to undermine Christian uses of OT scripture to defend their Christ.

      True, but that is not a particular concern of the translators of the NRSV, or of Louis F. Hartman, who is Catholic. Indeed, the reading that I mentioned seems to be the majority view among scholars.

    19. Richard Carrier

      That’s the point: we only need some pre-Christian Jews to see a text as saying x to conclude that Christianity came from those kinds of Jews.

      As to why the RSV translators deviate from most other translations, I have not investigated their possible reasoning or motives (but all bible translations deviate from each other to suit the interests and assumptions of those making them, which is why we should always just return to the original text). As for “majority view,” not of any specialists on Daniel post-Lacocque, to my knowledge (Sandoval means by “mainline” interpreters those published before Lacocque; check the dates). Sandoval also points out why the old “mainline” interpretation can’t be correct (the date ends up sixty plus years off). There are many other reasons why it doesn’t work either (which I have enumerated in this thread already).

      And it’s moot, since all we need is some Jews to see the text the obvious way, even if others read it differently. And the Mechizedek scroll makes it clear why the two passages are being linked, and therefore how its author was reading Daniel (and his seventy sevens). That’s all we need know.

    20. 101.11
      J. J. Ramsey

      Sandoval also points out why the old “mainline” interpretation can’t be correct (the date ends up sixty plus years off)

      Actually, that’s not what Sandoval actually says. See here:

      The majority theory, on the other hand, makes the seven weeks and the sixty-two weeks consecutive. The advantage of this theory is that this arrangement is more natural and straightforward. However, the sixty-two-week period is sixty-seven years too long. Under this theory, one must assume the author either did not know any better, or simply did not care. The Jewish historian Josephus was thirty to sixty years off in his dating of events in Persian times,[45] so it is equally reasonable to suppose that the author of Daniel was similarly hazy about the chronology of those times.

      You write:

      And the Mechizedek scroll makes it clear why the two passages are being linked, and therefore how its author was reading Daniel (and his seventy sevens). That’s all we need know.

      We’ve been through this already. The Melchizedek scroll doesn’t make its use of Daniel clear at all, due to the lacunae. Indeed, a lot of what you’ve said about the scroll seems to either be misleading (e.g. giving the impression that the extant text actually quotes Daniel 9:26) or highly improbable (e.g. the scroll doesn’t quote Scripture out of context, or that a reference to Isaiah 52:7 is an allusion to the suffering servant passage beginning in Isaiah 52:13). I really have no reason to accept what you say about the scroll at face value.

    21. Richard Carrier

      You are just arguing by assertion at this point. My previous comments already stand as an adequate rebuttal.

  102. 102
    Will B

    Ehrman is a journeyman in ancient languages pertaining to the New Testament; and you’re right, he’s produced some great books. But he does enlist ‘elitist’ sentiments and his often solipsistic attitude can be very claustrophobic. I think he needs to consider that most of the fellow scholars he refers to as the final arbiters on the New Testament are New Testament scholars, that is – they get paid to teach religion. As a general rule, religion departments are the red headed stepsons at universities – so the joke’s on Bart. The truth is that there are: 1) other religious traditions with scholarly critics of the historicity of Jesus; and 2) secular disciplines with scholarly critics of historicity. Disciplines such as archeology, anthropology, history, classics, philology, ancient languages, psychology – etc…many simply don’t care about the debates raging in this particular tea cup. They don’t spend much time on it since many believe it’s wish thinking, period. I’m an environmental scientist and I can tell you that almost to a person everyone I know in this field and in university research departments is either agnostic or atheist; it’s endemic in academics. So Bart’s refuge in the low floors of his Ivory Tower appears to resemble a monk riding a high horse of religious scholarship, but the horse’s hoofs are made of clay…sorry, couldn’t resist.

    1. 102.1
      Steven Bollinger

      Bart’s agnostic too, Dude. The Jesus he says it’s certain exists was just a regular, non-supernatural being who didn’t perform miracles and didn’t rise from the dead. And as far as the position of “redheaded stepchild is concerned: I’ve seen a few Departments of Religious Studies, and the digs seemed pretty lush. Not hurting for funding. On the contrary.

  103. 103
    brettongarcia

    So finally, what is Black Bart up to?

    Maybe its all just a marketing strategy. Making a few sensationalistic and inflammatory remarks on video, is a good way to … 1) generate lots of attention. And 2) sell lots of books. As evidenced by this very blog.

    Then? If he’s smart, 3) he covers himself. By qualifying those remarks in his actual book.

    Are his incendiary remarks, just sheer marketing strategy?

    4) Or is his book just that bad?

  104. 104
    gshelley

    I re-listened to his interview on American Freethought Podcast. This one was about one of his other books (I forget which), but they tangentially touched on the mythicist case.
    Ehrman compared the people making the argument to Lee Strobel (who they had just mentioned) and said he had often considered writing a book to refute the claims, but that his publisher didn’t want him to.
    The only specific claim they mentioned was the one that Nazareth didn’t exist at the time of Jesus, and Ehrman said that they had archeological evidence from the first century, so he didn’t know what they were talking about.

    1. 104.1
      Richard Carrier

      Ehrman is right about that (there are questions about the archaeology, but none fatal to the conclusion that the location now called Nazareth was inhabited at the time; we also have other external evidence that Nazareth was a pre-war Jewish town, since Jews continued celebrating it in stone as one of the towns that took in priests after the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., and they wouldn’t have renamed it to satisfy Christians). So no good argument can proceed from the premise Nazareth didn’t exist. There are, however, good arguments that Jesus didn’t come from Nazareth, even if he existed. See “Nazareth” in the index of my Proving History.

  105. 105
    Eric

    Richard,

    If you don’t mind, I would like to back up to the Mettinger quote I brought up before- comment #59: You had responded to it. But I went back and looked at it a little closer.

    Since I can’t afford to buy every book there is (and don’t have the Mettinger book), I did remember this from Mike Licona’s The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographal Approach. Knowing you, you probably have it.

    This info was taken from pages 536-537. It is part of one gigantic footnote. Licona says:

    “Perhaps the most recent treatment thorough treatment on the subject of dying and rising gods in the ancient Near East is that of T.N.G. Mettinger (2001).

    Mettinger states the scholarly consensus lay with the position that there was no clear motif of the dying- and-rising god in antiquity. However, he takes issue with the consensus and argues that his recent research has led him to a different conclusion.

    “There is now what amounts to a scholarly consensus against the apparent appropriateness of the concept of [dying and rising gods in the ancient Near Eastern world]. Those who still think differently are looked upon as residual members of almost extinct species. The results of my investigation led me to challenge this scholarly consensus and to disagree with a number of colleagues whom I greatly esteem.” (pg 7).

    Licona goes on to say:

    “Mettinger’s work is impressive. He argues that there are three fairly clear examples of dying and rising gods in the ancient Near East (Dumuzi, Baal, Melqart) and possibly two others (Eshmun and Adonis). Mettinger arrives at four conclusions as a result of his research:

    1.“The world of the ancient Near East religions actually knew of a number of deities that may be properly described as dying and rising gods” (217).

    2.These examples listed “long before the turn if the Christian era, in pre-Christian times” (217).

    3.“One should not hypostasize these gods into a specific type ‘the dying and rising god.” On the contrary, the gods mentioned are of very different types, although we have found tendencies to association and syncretism.” (218)

    4.“The gods that die and rise have close ties to the seasonal cycle of plant life. The summer drought is the time when their death can mourned ritually. The time after the winter rains and flooding may provide the occasion for the celebration of their return. (219)

    What about Jesus as a dying and rising god? Mettinger says the answer is beyond the scope of his study. However, he makes the following notes:

    “For the earliest Christians, “the resurrection of Jesus was a one-time event, historical event that took place at one specific point in the earth’s topography. The empty tomb was seen as a historical datum (221). Whereas the death and rising gods were closely related to the seasonal cycle with their death and return were seen as reflected in the changes of plant life. The death and resurrection of Jesus is a one-time event, not repeated, and unrelated to seasonal changes…… (221).

    The death of Jesus is presented in sources as vicarious suffering as an act of atonement for sins. The myth of Dumuzi has an arrangement with bilocation and substitution, but there is no evidence for the death of the dying and rising gods as vicarious sufferings for sins” (221).

    There is, as far as I am aware, no prima facie evidence that the death and resurrection of Jesus is a mythological construct, drawing on the myths and rites in the dying and rising gods of the surrounding world. While studied with profit against the background of Jewish resurrection belief, the faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus retains its unique character in the history of religions. The riddle remains.” (The Riddle of the Resurrection: Dying and Rising God’s in the Ancient Near East, 2001, pg 221.)

    So a few questions:

    1.You said before that Mettinger stated this last part here (the last paragraph) so he could get published? Is this not a bit of stretch? Why could this statment not be based on solid research?

    2.As of today, traditional or Orthodox Judaism still upholds the position that Jewish people are forbidden to pray and worship anyone other than the God of Israel (Ex. 20:1–5; Deut. 5:6–9). Jewish followers of Jesus refused worship (Acts 14:15) as did angels (Rev. 22:8–9). There are also references to the negative views of gentile polytheism (Acts 17: 22-23; 1 Cor 8:5).

    Gentiles were regarded as both sinful (Gal 2:5) and idolatrous (Rom 1:23). I am still trying to understand how we would could really say Paul, a Pharisee (similar to an OrthodoxJewish position today) or other Second Temple Jews who recited Deuteronomy 6:4-9, “Hear O Israel! The Lord our God is our God, the Lord is one,” quite regularly would really be so quick to copy some pagan motif.

    3.So is this insistence to say that the Second Temple Jews would base the Jesus story off a dying and rising god motif really based on strong evidence? I have your Impossible Faith book so you don’t need to keep pointing me to it. It just seems that Mettinger’s work (and others) is not matching up with what you are saying. Or, are you just admitting it is just a possibility and you are throwing it out there?

    Btw, I will make sure to tell Evans and Bauckham that they are “fundamentalists.”

    1. 105.1
      Richard Carrier

      Eric:

      You said before that Mettinger stated this last part here (the last paragraph) so he could get published? Is this not a bit of stretch? Why could this statement not be based on solid research?

      You yourself quote Licona noting this: “Mettinger says the answer is beyond the scope of his study”; likewise, Mettinger doesn’t analyze in his book anywhere any evidence or scholarship pertaining to the Hellenistic mystery religions. So the question is, why would you assume he engaged the solid research that he never mentions and says is beyond the scope of his study?

      By contrast, I know (from reading scholars who do cover the Hellenistic mystery religions) that the mystery cults took some of these agro-deities (and others like them) and turned them into personal salvation deities; since Mettinger shows no sign of knowing this (or, alternatively, deliberately plays dumb about it, take your pick), we can conclude he did not research it, because his remarks otherwise entail he is ignorant of how these deities were subsequently transformed (or, to avoid the scandal of having to defend the claim that they did, he chose to just write a quick paragraph singing the uninformed party line…again, take your pick).

      As of today, traditional or Orthodox Judaism still upholds…

      Let me stop you there. There were likely some three dozen sects of Judaism in antiquity, many of which worshipped angels, practiced astrology, forgave pretended obeissance (i.e. allowed members to pay cult to idols as long as they did it only in pretense to avoid persecution), and all manner of other things “traditional or Orthodox Judaism” would regard as bizarre or abhorrent. Thus, no conclusions can be drawn about what no Jews in antiquity would do or countenance doing, from what “traditional or Orthodox Judaism still upholds.” (On these other sects, see Empty Tomb, pp. 107-10.)

      Moreover, we already know the Jews copied pagan motifs quite freely: the very idea of resurrection itself is a pagan idea (see NIF, ch. 3), as is the idea of Satan as God’s divine opponent (Paul even calls this Satan a god, in 2 Cor. 4:4, something your “traditional or Orthodox Judaism” would find unimaginable), and the whole concept of an end-times (complete with fire as the means of destruction). The elaborate Jewish demonology and angelology is likewise a borrow from Zoroastrianism. Philo merged Jewish theology with pagan philosophy quite freely. We have Jewish-Orphic poems, confirming even Orphic theology was freely integrated into Jewish. Some Jews adopted astrology. I could go on.

      So is this insistence to say that the Second Temple Jews would base the Jesus story off a dying and rising god motif really based on strong evidence?

      Yes.

      To phrase it more correctly, Second Temple Jews found a way to adapt that idea to their own belief system, just as they had done with every other thing they borrowed from surrounding cultures and religions. In doing so, they transformed it, and made it acceptably Jewish (within the immense variety and diversity of what then counted as “Jewish”) by connecting it up to established Jewish premises and assumptions (this is how all new religions arise: see NIF, ch. 4).

      The order of diffusion is thus:

      (1) Dying-and-rising agro-deities
      (2) Adapted by Greeks into dying-and-rising personal savior deities
      (3) Adapted by Jews into a dying-and-rising Jewish messiah

      (3) differs from (2) in the same extent (2) differs from (1), but there can be no mistake that adaptation and diffusion has occurred. It’s as obvious that (3) adapts (2) as that (2) adapts (1). The only alternative explanation is an extremely improbable coincidence. A coincidence that, ironically, your own premise entails is impossible: Jews thinking up what you deem to be an un-Jewish innovation (which just happened by coincidence to match pagan religions all around them) and enthusiastically adopting it. If you think they could do that, why would simply adapting it from the pagans be any different?

      And since proposing a magical Jewish ignorance of the motif all around them entails an even more improbable ad hoc premise (as I already demonstrated upthread), that’s two extreme improbabilities the alternative hypothesis requires.

  106. 106
    stevencarr

    Have you seen page 97 of Did Jesus Exist where Ehrman goes into hyperbole about how many sources and how early they are?

    1. 106.1
      Richard Carrier

      Not yet. But I’ll get there eventually.

    2. 106.2
      Will

      I did notice that as well Steven. and i’m very much a novice to this field… but i know enough to see when overly ad hoc interpretations and inferences are squeezed from the texts.. he really seems to be pulling a rabbit from a hat with regard to all the pre-gospel sources (oral and written) that he posits. Ehrman is obviously done some great work, but I think on this issue his identity as a scholar -with a body of work that presupposes the HJ paradigm- will keep him interpreting the data in that direction.. no matter how much such interpretations overstep the evidence.. I think he sees himself as a mainstream crusader defending the middle ground of NT scholarship from the extremes of left (mythicism) and right (fundamentalism).. i don’t know if thats whats going on, but it’s just the feeling i get from reading this new book. I’m eagerly awaiting Richard’s review of it.

  107. 107
    Robert Bumbalough

    Hello Dr Carrier and readers from Robert Bumbalough

    I think Gal. 1:18-19 is more probably than not an interpolation-forgery because neither Tertullian or Irenaeus new of this passage. The argument below is credited to Jake Jones IV who posted in into the Yahoo Jesusmysteries group back in May of 2011.

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/JesusMysteries/message/58588

    Dr Carrier, would you comment this sort of argument? Does this have merit in assessing a prior probability of interpolation of the contentious brother of the Lord verse?

    Best Wishes to All
    *****************************************
    In Galatians 1:18-20 it is stated that Paul made a trip to Jerusalem to meet with Peter and James there three years after his conversion.

    Here is the text. Galatians 1:18 to 2:1 (Young’s Literal Translation)

    18then, after three years I went up to Jerusalem to enquire about Peter, and remained with him fifteen days,

    19and other of the apostles I did not see, except James, the brother of the Lord.

    20And the things that I write to you, lo, before God — I lie not;

    2:1 Then, after fourteen years again I went up to Jerusalem with Barnabas, having taken with me also Titus;

    (RB: Note in verse 20 the redactor has placed a protestation of not lying in Paul’s mouth. Why would Paul have to assure his readers he was not lying when the presumption of the faithful Galatians would have been that Paul was a trusted religious teacher. Me thinks he doth protest too much.)

    Tertullian, in Against Marcion 5.3.1, does not mention the alleged first visit of Paul to Jerusalem. cf AM 1.20.2, cf De praescr. haer. 23,6f: (Neither does Irenaeus in AH 3.12.14.)

    Here is Tertullian’s text.

    But with regard to the countenance of Peter and the rest of the apostles, he tells us that “fourteen years after he went up to Jerusalem,” in order to confer with them about the rule which he followed in his gospel, lest perchance he should all those years have been running, and be running still, in vain, (which would be the case, ) of course, if his preaching of the gospel fell short of their method. ~ Tertullian AM 5.3.1

    http://www.tertullian.org/anf/anf03/anf03-35.htm#P7223_2090790

    Notice that the first trip is unmentioned, even though that would have regarded the countenance of Peter, and when Tertullian quoted from Galatians 2:1 the word “again” (palin) is missing.

    This implies his text of Galatians did not mention it either, even into the early third century CE. If it had, Tertullian would surely have used it against Marcion. It would have clearly implied that Paul was subordinate to the Jerusalem authorities, something that Tertullian was very anxious to do. He didn’t, and this implies that he didn’t have gal 1;18-20 or 2:1’s inclusion of the word ‘again’ (palin) to use.

    Ireaneaus wrote of Paul’s and Barnabus’ trip to Jerusalem that Paul referenced in Gal. 2:1 when it would have served his purpose of showing Paul subordinate to Peter and James to have referenced the alleged first trip after three years mentioned in Gal 1:18

    “14. This is shown in a still clearer light from the letter of the apostles, which they forwarded neither to the Jews nor to the Greeks, but to those who from the Gentiles believed in Christ, confirming their faith. For when certain men had come down from Judea to Antioch—where also, first of all, the Lord’s disciples were called Christians, because of their faith in Christ—and sought to persuade those who had believed on the Lord to be circumcised, and to perform other things after the observance of the law; and when Paul and Barnabas had gone up to Jerusalem to the apostles on account of this question, and the whole Church had convened together, Peter thus addressed them: “Men, brethren, ye know how that from the days of old God made choice among you, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the Gospel, and believe. And God, the Searcher of the heart, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as to us; and put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore why tempt ye God, to impose a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that, through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are to be saved, even as they.” ~ Irenaeus, AH 3.12.14

    http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.pdf

    Thus, it is in all likelihood a later insertion designed to abet the notion that Paul did go to Jerusalem as soon as possible to submit himself to Cephas and James. “Again” was added to Galatians 2:1 at the same time by way of harmonization. Tertullian apparently entions the visit of 2:1-10 as the visit, not the second visit. See Robert Price, The Pre-Nicene New Testament, page 317, note K.

    But the interpolator had a problem. The text of Galatians was already well known without the “first” visit. He had to “thread the needle” in order to plausibly insert the new information into the text. When we examine the passage carefully within the context of what was there before, we can see quite clearly that this is what he did, and it was quite clever. The initial problem is that the earlier version had stated that “I did not mmediately consult with flesh and blood…” confirming that Paul had gotten his gospel 100% from revelation, as in Gal 1:1. It would be 14 years before he visited Jerusalem (Gal 2:1). Thus the plausible “three years” was chosen; not long enough to make Paul independent of the Jerusalem apostles, but long enough to satisfy “not immediately.”

    Paul was unknown in Judea, never having been seen in person. Galatians 1:23-24. Thus, the “first” visit of Paul to Jerusalem must have been a *secret* and that is why it had ever been heard of before. And this is exactly what the interpolator posed. Paul was only seen by Cephas and James, it was the only way to preserve his general anonymity! Can we imagine Paul sneaking in and out of Jerusalem in the dead of night, and hiding in Peter’s dwelling through his alleged 15 day stay? Or should we imagine him wearing a
    clever disguise, or should we imagine Paul cleverly exiting and entering in a basket? The only alternative to subterfuge is that Paul walked in openly and freely, during his two week visit, the only Christians in Jerusalem were Cephas and James! I find all of these scenarios rather less likely than the first trip was an interpolation. ~ (RB: Is this a generalization fallacy?)

    But do we have any indication within the text itself that the passage was an interpolation, i.e. new material? Indeed we do. We read in Galatians 1:20 “Now in this recounting, I swear before God: I am not lying!” Now, why take an oath before God about the truth of what we are supposed to believe was an otherwise unremarkable prosaic trip? It can only be that new information has been inserted into the text, and the oath is meant to reassure the reader of the trustworthiness of the “secret” trip. (RB: Is it a fallacy to reach a conclusion on the foregoing speculative argument?)

    Now, it should not fail to be noticed that the proposed interpolation carries within it one of the most contentious passages in the debate between historists and mythicists. That is “James the brother of the Lord” that is often the first test supporting the historical existence of Jesus. But this text is of little concern in it was inserted very late.

    1. 107.1
      Robert Bumbalough

      Correction: Ireaneaus did know of Gal 2:1 having the word again (palin) in his version of the text as is found in AH 3.13.3

      “Then, fourteen years after, I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking also Titus. But I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that Gospel which I preached among the Gentiles.”889

      Jake was wrong. Please ignore the prior message’s allusion to Against Heresies, and the section I cut and pasted above appears to have been drawn from Acts 15.

      Of course that Tertullian or Ireaneaus did not refer to the alleged first trip does not mean they did not have a text describing Paul’s alleged first journey, so any change to prior probability of 1:18-20 being an interpolation would likely be too small to be worth crunching.

      Best Wishes to All

    2. Richard Carrier

      Thanks for the follow up.

    3. 107.2
      Richard Carrier

      Robert Bumbalough:

      I think Gal. 1:18-19 is more probably than not an interpolation-forgery because neither Tertullian or Irenaeus new of this passage. The argument below is credited to Jake Jones IV who posted in into the Yahoo Jesusmysteries group back in May of 2011. Dr Carrier, would you comment this sort of argument? Does this have merit in assessing a prior probability of interpolation of the contentious brother of the Lord verse?

      Thank you for cross-posting the whole text of that (I am not a Yahoo Groups member and do not dig through other threads for arguments anyway, so this is the best way to get me to consider it; although I am familiar with similar arguments from Price against the authenticity of Galatians as a whole).

      I would prefer to see a peer reviewed article claiming this before taking it seriously. If it has not gone through peer review, then I have to vet the whole thing myself, and that’s a huge task (for example, I have not read the entire works of Tertullian and Irenaeus back to front checking whether this specific claim holds up), and I don’t have the time to undertake a thousand huge tasks like that. I have to be very selective as to which arguments I will vet and reconstruct my own defense of.

      Indeed I prefer to rely as much as possible on established or indisputable facts or peer reviewed work. That doesn’t mean I reject all else as false, it just means I don’t think mythicism should require anything else at this point.

      So I can only briefly vet an argument like this…if I see too many things wrong with it, I see it as inefficient to spend any more time examining it. And this has too many things wrong with it.

      First, I know it was only an aside, but I don’t find very persuasive arguments like “Me thinks he doth protest too much,” precisely because many a writer who finds himself in a corner does indeed protest too much. Paul has clearly been accused of something, and he is very keen to defend his account against that accusation. I don’t see his protests as out of joint with the obvious aims and context of that chapter.

      Second, Tertullian is not talking about “seeing” Peter but about Peter’s support of Paul’s position on circumcision, and not just Peter’s, but all the apostles. Thus Paul’s previous visit to Peter has nothing whatever to do with that, and so there is no reason for Tertullian even to allude to it. Likewise Irenaeus.

      Third, I do not find it implausible that Paul, then just one apostle among many, might have visited Peter and James alone for only a fortnight. Particularly if Paul was avoiding the Jewish authorities (who might have it in for him owing to his apostasy from their prosecution team over to helping the prosecuted; Paul sometimes had to sneak around in Damascus, his own home town, for much the same reason: 2 Cor. 11:32-33).

  108. 108
    David Marshall

    Yes, I overlooked the word “antiquity” in your OP; a stupid mistake. You also misread a few of my comments, and now seem loath to admit it. So who is unwilling to admit to errors?

    And why are you pretending to know what you’re talking about, when it comes to China? Guan Yin / Miao Shan most certainly is seen as a savior in the most relevant senses — indeed, as China’s favorite divine savior for a very long time, also among Koreans and Japanese. And no, this cannot easily be attributed to Nestorian influence.

    But getting back to the main issue, here, I think you do Christians a favor, by drawing attention to pagan analogies to the Gospel. I don’t agree entirely with the Nash line, that dismisses such parallels. Christians can, I think, show stronger parallels that cannot possibly be ascribed to cultural influence in either direction. What this shows is that the Gospel is universal, and fulfills truth in world cultures, not just among the Jews.

    This includes China before the birth of Jesus.

    So I just posted a fuller response to your argument, that takes us back to first principles, entitled “Richard Carrier Proves the Gospel, by Accident,” at http://christthetao.blogspot.com/.

    Credit should be given, where credit is due.

    1. 108.1
      Richard Carrier

      David Marshall:

      You also misread a few of my comments, and now seem loath to admit it. So who is unwilling to admit to errors?

      Since you have yet to point me to a single example, I can hardly have any idea what you’re talking about here.

      And why are you pretending to know what you’re talking about, when it comes to China?

      Because I read the texts by qualified scholars of ancient China. Do you have a Ph.D. in ancient Chinese history? Have you published peer reviewed scholarship on this issue? If so, please refer me to it.

      Guan Yin / Miao Shan most certainly is seen as a savior in the most relevant senses — indeed, as China’s favorite divine savior for a very long time, also among Koreans and Japanese. And no, this cannot easily be attributed to Nestorian influence.

      You evidently don’t understand the difference between modern, medieval, and ancient China. Or what I mean by savior deity.

      And it’s amusing to see you insist this can’t be due to the influence of Christians evangelizing the region for several centuries, when I’m sure you would make exactly the opposite argument about Attis and Mithras cult in respect to Christianity.

      (I’m not interested in your other argument, which you cover on your blog. It isn’t relevant here.)

  109. 109
    R.J. Moore

    As regards Nazareth, the Gospels are still wrong because they identify Nazareth as a city. It certainly was not. This is akin to W.G. Devers identifying every tent-pole and ditch from the 9th century B.C. as part of ‘David’s Jerusalem’, but in doing so he demonstrates precisely that the Bible is wrong because Jerusalem is clearly described as a magnificent city.

    1. 109.1
      Richard Carrier

      There are two things wrong with this argument.

      First, Mark does not call it a city. Later Gospels do. That the later Gospels exaggerate or err on this would not mean anything as to the existence of Nazareth. Nor would it even if Mark had called it a city.

      Second, “polis” did not mean “city” in the modern English sense. It was variously a legal and a topographical term, not a reference to population size or construction materials. It typically referred to a geographically fixed legal community in which one held citizenship. It could be of any size (although economically speaking it would usually be at least a few hundred adults). You might be thinking of the contrast with kômê, “village” or “hamlet” (e.g. cf. Mt. 10:11). A kômê was distinguished from a polis either by the lack of a wall (which did not necessarily mean a high wall; anything that stopped a wagon counted) or by the lack of a legal body granting formal citizenship (inhabitants of a kômê might have held citizenship in a nearby polis; in fact a kômê would often be regarded as part of a polis, in the way the suburbs of LA are still regarded as LA). When we put that in mind, there is no evidence that Nazareth was not a polis.

  110. 110
    chris

    I am friends with a Josephus scholar, actually he has a PhD but it’s in physics so he is an amateur Josephus scholar, who has the website http://www.josephus.org & Gary Goldberg, PhD (physics) has studied Josephus for years and is convinced Josephus wrote the TF but used a source document that the author of Luke also used for part of his gospel. He spells out his argument on his site and oddly informs me he could care less if Jesus actually existed & has NO interest in that subject. But Goldberg agrees with Louis Feldman, PhD, Alice Whealey, PhD & what Dr. Feldman told me in a private Email is the most popular position today among scholars; that what Josephus wrote about Jesus & his execution by Pilate was later glossed (changed) by a scribe to make it read as if Josephus believed Jesus was the Messiah. Have you considered this position? It seems then there are three TF positions. Josephus wrote it or he wrote it but it was altered to some extent or he did not write it. But Goldberg’s position that Josephus used a source document & never interviewed anybody or even injected his own memory is novel! Alice Whealey, PhD (who was suggested to me by Dr. Feldman) holds that Josephus originally wrote “was believed by them to be the Christ/Messiah” or “was thought to be the Christ” rather than “was the Christ” which some scribe later changed a bit & she mentions the Josephus word used which denotes skepticism but I can’t remember now & too tired to go through her long book on Josephus on Jesus to find it. I remember the Pines Arab version & Jerome’s copy were important to Dr. Whealey. But how can see know with certainty. It’s probably just a good doctor’s opinion. And surprisingly, she argues Origen likely didn’t have a copy of Josephus even though he quotes the brother of Jesus called Christ passage several times. In another place she mentions Origen quotes Josephus but it is actually another historian & she holds that he was using an author other than Josephus who actually quoted Josephus so likely Origen never actually had a copy of Josephus.

    It’s all interesting but I don’t really give a shit who wrote what:-) Just curious at times.

    Also I’ve watched the video “The Big Bang Never Happened” & doubt it’s position. I find the big bang theory the best argument. It is interesting that a number of PhD level scientists are interviewed or mentioned on this video who reject the big bang. This video must be a bit old as several of these men are now deceased. We have Fred Hoyle, Harold Arp, Geffory Burbidge & his wife Margaret who also has a PhD in Astronomy, Thomas Gold, Herman Bondi & Chandra Wickramisinghe who did his PhD under Hoyle at Cambridge. It is Hoyle & Wickramisinghe who also did several books supporting the view that life is older than the earth & comes from outerspace via comets etc. I bought Evolution From Space in 1981 & thought it was crazy but then again…who really knows if life began here or out there. Richard Dawkins says in his interview with Ben Stein on YouTube: “Nobody knows how life began & it is possible it didn’t start on the earth”.

    So it is interesting that no matter what the field, one can find PhD level experts who reject the most popular theory. Human nature I suppose. And it makes life more interesting. Gives everybody something to ponder or fuss about.

    I read Ehrman’s new book & have his other books & as I sit here right now, I agree with Ehrman that a historical Jesus likely existed & Erhman’s Jesus is almost a carbon copy of the historical Jesus Dr. Robert Miller of the Jesus Seminar holds to be the likely candidate. But even as committed Christian scholar F. F. Bruce wrote “the secular evidence is small & problematic” It seems that either side can’t make a case that is 100% certain if we are completely unemotional & honest to ourselves. Indeed I recently read Bob Price saying “we will never know with absolutely certainty until we find his skeleton” Actually that would destroy Christianity so Christians would then need to heed the words of Paul who wrote that if Christ has not be raised “let us eat, drink & be merry for tomorrow we die”.

    Oh and I understand Acharya S leans toward Paul being mythological too & ALL of his letters are second century forgeries. Any chance you give that any support?

    Hope you are well & much success in the future.
    I had posted on your blog before, but several years ago, and at the time you were working on your PhD. Bravo!!!!!for getting it done! Having a PhD in a particular field is impressive & you deserve to be proud of a job well done!!!

    1. 110.1
      Richard Carrier

      chris:

      [That] what Josephus wrote about Jesus & his execution by Pilate was later glossed (changed) by a scribe to make it read as if Josephus believed Jesus was the Messiah. Have you considered this position?

      I have examined it (and the scholarly surveys of why some scholars believe this, etc.), and find it to be implausible. The arguments against it are strong (I list them in a footnote to my article for JECS). And the arguments for it typically rest on a single premise: that the Arabic version in Agapius derives from an earlier version of the passage in Josephus. We now know that to be false: it derives, by a Syriac intermediary, from Eusebius, and thus represents a corruption of Eusebius and not an earlier version of the TF. Since the premise is false, and the scholars who assert the conclusion do so on this premise, their conclusion is fallacious. It is therefore to be rejected. That combined with the evidence against anything being present at the TF’s location entails the conclusion that no mention of Jesus was present here.

      However, Goldberg is right that if some form of the TF was present, it would obviously derive from a Christian or Christian Gospel, and thus not represent independent information (or not verifiably independent information). Indeed, some scholars argue that all the evidence that Luke used Josephus actually means Josephus used Luke (that is unlikely, but it is at least arguable, since the evidence in each case is nearly the same), or that they shared common sources. One of which could be a Gospel (like Mark), which Josephus may have read out of his interest in Pontius Pilate and collecting stories about him. I think all of this is unlikely, but not impossible; and if Josephus wrote any form of the TF, it’s probability increases considerably (not least because the TF contains no information not in the Gospels, and therefore does not appear to have any other source but them…it’s just that the more obvious explanation for that is that it was written by a Christian).

      That Josephus used a source document & never interviewed anybody or even injected his own memory is novel!

      I’m not sure how novel it is. I suspect it’s a point that has been made many times. It’s certainly standard knowledge regarding the actual methods of ancient historians: it’s the very thing they did (they were not meticulous like us and did not have the high standards and practices we now do, and only rarely dug into things in the kind of detail we would like). This has been shown in every book about ancient historical methods written in the last thirty years (from Greek and Roman Historians: Information and Misinformation to From Arrian to Alexander).

      (BTW, Josephus can’t have used his own memory, since he wasn’t even born at the time the events the TF relates happened.)

      I remember the Pines Arab version & Jerome’s copy were important to Dr. Whealey.

      Whealey is actually the one who proves that the Arabic version derives from Eusebius. Her argument is that Eusebius’ version originally had the “believed to be.” But that is improbable, because it requires a massive conspiracy to doctor dozens of unrelated manuscripts simultaneously, whereas the opposite thesis (that “believed to be” was added to one manuscript in an attempt to make the passage more believable from a Jewish author, and that this manuscript tradition is occasionally the one later quoted) explains all the evidence we have.

      In another place she mentions Origen quotes Josephus but it is actually another historian & she holds that he was using an author other than Josephus who actually quoted Josephus so likely Origen never actually had a copy of Josephus.

      That is also possible, but less likely (for reasons I detail in my article for JECS).

      (The Big Bang is off topic, but again see my assessment.)

      Oh and I understand Acharya S leans toward Paul being mythological too & ALL of his letters are second century forgeries. Any chance you give that any support?

      No. For all his letters to be second century forgeries is very improbable and does not explain their existence or content well at all. Paul is also not in the same category as a heavenly divine being.

    2. 110.2
      Larry

      Chris: “Oh and I understand Acharya S leans toward Paul being mythological too & ALL of his letters are second century forgeries.”

      That’s not at all what she says:

      Apollonius, Jesus and Paul: Men or Myths?
      http://www.truthbeknown.com/apollonius.html

  111. 111
    Eric Chabot

    Richard,

    You say: “Mettinger doesn’t analyze in his book anywhere any evidence or scholarship pertaining to the Hellenistic mystery religions.”

    Okay, but the Boyd/ Eddy book, The Jesus Legend, does cover quite a bit with the Hellenization issue/the mystery religions. And Hengel did quite a bit with this in the past. You pointed me to the Price essay in the Loftus book which I hope is better than the one he did in the Five Views of the Historical Jesus. Have you personally read the Boyd Eddy book? Or, are you just dismissing it and thinking it holds the party line? They do some pretty extensive research in that book.
    Also, curious as to whether you have read Glen Miller’s work on this issue: http://www.christianthinktank.com/copycatwho1.html

    1. 111.1
      Richard Carrier

      Eric Chabot:

      Okay, but the Boyd/ Eddy book, The Jesus Legend, does cover quite a bit with the Hellenization issue/the mystery religions. And Hengel did quite a bit with this in the past.

      Neither of which are Mettinger. So this is moot to the point we were discussing.

      You pointed me to the Price essay in the Loftus book which I hope is better than the one he did in the Five Views of the Historical Jesus. Have you personally read the Boyd Eddy book? Or, are you just dismissing it and thinking it holds the party line? They do some pretty extensive research in that book.
      Also, curious as to whether you have read Glen Miller’s work on this issue: http://www.christianthinktank.com/copycatwho1.html

      I have read both.

      They commit all the fallacies I have already listed in my original article above and in comments here. (Like ignoring how syncretism works; tearing down straw men; selectively quoting only the scholars that agree with them but omitting those that don’t, as well as omitting actual primary evidence that refutes the scholars they do quote; mentioning one version of a myth that lacks an element, but curiously not mentioning other versions of the same myth that have that element; refuting false cases and concluding they’ve refuted all cases; etc.) It is for this reason that I regard these scholars as unreliable. They are not being honest with me, or even themselves.

  112. 112
    R.J. Moore II

    Your command of Greek and Levantine archeology is far and above mine, and your argument sounds perfectly valid. Thanks for your response, Dr. Carrier.

  113. 113
    Larry

    Errorman said: “[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.]”

    So he certainly does imply that she made this up. That’s a smear, libel and defamation.

    I read all of your Luxor blogs and I disagree with you. Several other scholars I know disagree with you too. You certainly made sloppy and egregious errors that Acharya exposed but you simply refuse to admit. It’s obvious that you’re incapable of ever acknowledging that she may be right about anything. When it comes to the work by Acharya S/Murdock you simply are not reliable and are not to be trusted at all. You are prejudice against her and that much is as transparent as glass for all to see.

    Anyway, the phallic ‘Savior of the World’ hidden in the Vatican thing was simply an aside in her book. Her work doesn’t stand or fall on this issue. It just shows the low level that Ehrman stooped to smear her.

    He was wrong on every point about her book. He just raised a bunch of strawman arguments in order to do a huge hand waving dismissal of her entire body of work that he never read. She is apparently already working on a 2nd edition to Christ Conspiracy. Care to offer a peer review? BTW, I’d much rather see you guys working together, at least at some level, instead of fighting against each other. You’re always going after her – she’s done nothing to you beyond respond to your attacks so, just stop it.

    1. 113.1
      Richard Carrier

      Larry:

      So he certainly does imply that she made this up. That’s a smear, libel and defamation.

      Not necessarily. The statement has to be literally false to count as libel. Saying “books like this love to make things up” is not literally false (unless one can prove in court that no books like this make anything up, or that nothing in Acharya’s book is made up, which would be near impossible to prove, especially considering how freely she speculates everywhere throughout).

      At best she might have a case in arguing that he says she made a false claim (as to the statue’s existence), that he could reasonably have known his statement was false (as any basic research would have revealed her claim at least had merit), and that this libels her competence as a historian (in which case she wouldn’t even have to prove damages, insofar as writing about history is her profession). But I’m not sure the costs and hardships of taking such a claim to court would even make it worth pursuing (even assuming she was sure to win). She might have an additional hurdle if she is deemed a public figure, since then she must prove actual malice, and not merely the making of a false statement (i.e. she’d have to prove he knew the claim was false, and not merely that he incompetently assumed it was true).

      I read all of your Luxor blogs and I disagree with you

      And you have what degrees in what fields?


      Several other scholars I know disagree with you too.

      Like who? And disagree with me on what exactly?

      You certainly made sloppy and egregious errors that Acharya exposed but you simply refuse to admit.

      Like what?

      It’s obvious that you’re incapable of ever acknowledging that she may be right about anything.

      Except that I did.

      You’re always going after her – she’s done nothing to you beyond respond to your attacks so, just stop it.

      Why? Are we not supposed to criticize scholarship we find to be in error? How can progress ever be made if no scholar can ever be criticized or challenged on anything they say?

  114. 114
    gerald fitzgerald

    One aspect of the “James the brother of the Lord” issue that I haven’t noticed you addressing yet, at least not here, is how it plays into the overall tone of the passage.

    It seems to me like the whole point of the passage is to denigrate James and Cephas and to elevate Paul, and in that context it seems very strange to add a symbolic designation that could only be honorific, affectionate or expressing comraderie, whereas it would seem far more natural if it were just a reference to a well-known mundane fact.

    This seems especially so since, as you point out, Christians were very frequently called in the NT corpus “brother,” “a brother,” “my brother” or “our brother,” but never (except possibly in these two places) “brother of the Lord”. So if calling James “brother” only meant to identify him as a Christian, then adding “of the Lord” was clearly not the norm and could only have further emphasized that identification, which would seem the opposite of Paul’s intention here.

    All through chapter 2 he keeps referring to James & Cephas not straightforwardly as leaders and pillars, but rather as people of reputation or thought to be pillars, and in 2:6 says explicitly that he doesn’t share those opinions of their stature.

    He ends by pretty much repudiating Cephas, James and even Barnabas for their hypocrisy. And in 2:12 isn’t he basically linking the “men from James” with the ψευδαδέλφους (false brothers) he introduced in 2:4?

    I’m having a hard time seeing why he would use the appellation the way you suggest in the context unless it were meant to be bitterly ironic.

    1. 114.1
      Richard Carrier

      gerald fitzgerald:

      It seems to me like the whole point of the passage is to denigrate James and Cephas and to elevate Paul

      Not Gal. 1. Gal. 2 has some backhanded tone against them, but the verse in question is in the context of Gal. 1, where Paul’s aim is to answer some accusation (he never states what that accusation was exactly, but it probably relates to the topic of Gal. 2) that he was relying on human traditions for his gospel, and not direct revelations from Jesus. Someone had evidently claimed that Paul got his gospel from some Christian(s) in Judea or Jerusalem, and Paul’s response is to swear up and down that he had never even gone there, much less met any one there, until three years after he received his gospel, and even then he only met with one dude (Peter), unless you count this one other dude (James). But no one else in Judea had ever even seen him, until fourteen years later, and it was only then that some in the Peter faction started claiming Paul’s gospel was inauthentic, and he defends himself against that charge in Gal. 2 (by claiming he at first had a full endorsement from Peter and James).

      However, Paul certainly does not want to imply any affection or intimacy in the case, since it is crucial to his argument that he is not the buddies of these Jerusalem Christians (that in fact he never even went there until years later, and no one there, but these two, had ever even met him until more than a decade later). Thus he would use the most formal and non-intimate form of identification and address possible. Peter he simply identifies as an apostle (his Aramaic name-form being enough to single him out, being clearly the only apostle so named), James he simply identifies as a brother of the Lord. It’s unclear if Paul means this James was not an apostle, although that is a valid reading of the text. Possibly he means only “I met no other apostle except brother James” simply for rhetorical variation, but avoids the intimate abbreviation “brother” and inputs the coldly formal pleonasm instead, possibly even to emphasize his lack of intimacy with James.

      adding “of the Lord” was clearly not the norm and could only have further emphasized that identification, which would seem the opposite of Paul’s intention here.

      To the contrary. Paul has to emphasize that these were Christians (thus apostles/brethren), since that’s the point of his argument (that he hadn’t spoken to any Christians in Judea). And using just “brother” would be an endearment, implying intimacy (the more so if he said “my/our brother”), which is very definitely not what he wants to imply. Thus his last remaining option is to be coldly formal about it.

      in 2:6 says explicitly that he doesn’t share those opinions of their stature.

      No, he is there implicitly agreeing with those opinions (although perhaps in a passive aggressive way); rather, what he says there is that he doesn’t think their having this stature makes them better than him, since all Christians are supposed to be equals. (Paul is clearly dealing with the fact that everyone shares that opinion of them, so he can’t possibly hope to succeed in changing that opinion. He therefore takes the only available alternative: pointing out that that opinion is irrelevant.)

      He ends by pretty much repudiating Cephas, James and even Barnabas for their hypocrisy. And in 2:12 isn’t he basically linking the “men from James” with the ψευδαδέλφους (false brothers) he introduced in 2:4?

      Not repudiating, chastising. He is saying the pillars did not side with the false brethren, but instead accepted Paul and his gospel, and after that they seemed to backslide on that agreement, under pressure from the false brethren, and it is this that Paul admonishes them for. Throughout, the obvious assumption is that the Galatians respect these guys more than Paul, so Paul needs their support, and is here struggling to insist to the Galatians that he has it, and anyone who has claimed otherwise has just not heard the whole story (which Paul then tells in Gal. 2).

  115. 115
    Michael

    You can hear Bart E compare Jesus and Julius ceasar wrt evidence on YouTube. Ehrman vs Reg Finley, audio of a radio interview.

    Also you hear Ehrman pretend to never have heard of Robert Price, in a transparent attempt to show price has no academic credibility, and then a bit later has to admit he has heard of him.

    He says something like, of course I believe Jesus existed, I wrote a book about what he said and did. Which might be a clue about his approach.

    1. 115.1
      Richard Carrier

      I can’t speak as to the rest, but I don’t think Ehrman was being disingenuous in not remembering Price. I have often forgotten the exact names of scholars I’ve read, until something reminded me. And it would be silly to think that you have to know someone to consider them a credible academic. There are thousands of scholars Ehrman would deem fully credible academics in this field, most of whom Ehrman could not name. And he would not find this surprising. We can’t all know each other, much less have read everything we’ve all written.

  116. 116
    @blamer

    The answer is easy; check wikipedia. Or obtain the qualifications necessary for swaying academic consensus.

    A man existed, did earthly deeds, was one of many claiming to be an incarnation of the Creator God and Savior described in the Jewish Bible, and was executed in the usual way.

    Historians and academics know that Jesus was a man. That man is profoundly different to the character of miracle and divine nature that New Testament teachers claim to “know” and those who believe them have in mind.

    1. 116.1
      Richard Carrier

      I let this comment through to serve as an example of the kind of comment I am inclined not to approve. It makes no argument, just a series of assertions, which completely ignores all the argument preceding it and in the post it is responding to. As a rule, I will allow this sort of thing the first time, but not its continuation (see my comments policy). Make arguments, not assertions, and address what has been said. Failure to comply will result in comments being rejected. Consider yourself warned.

  117. 117
    Eric Chabot

    Well Richard, interesting comments about the Boyd/Eddy book and Miller article. I will get back you on some of your points later this week. But a few things:

    1.You say on comment #111:

    “Neither of which are Mettinger. So this is moot to the point we were discussing.” Do you understand that Mettinger’s thesis is that there are 3 and perhaps as many as 5 cases of dying and rising gods that predate Jesus in the Ancient Near East? This was the scope of his thesis. But in the appendix, he wishes to go beyond his thesis and comment on whether the Christians borrowed from these and he does provide a few reasons for rejecting that thesis (see my quotes from him previously). Furthermore, if you notice what Mettinger says: He emphasizes that Jesus’ resurrection may be profitably studied against the background of JEWISH resurrection beliefs (not pagan mythology).

    And yes, I am well aware of the different sects of Second Temple Judaism. But I seem to not understand your points given that Paul makes it clear he was a Pharisee and we see that it is in his texts a rejection of polytheism, other gods, etc. When we read 1 Cor 8:5-6, is Paul accepting a Hellenistic view of God? Is he telling his audience to fit Jesus into their gods? Unless I am missing something, I also don’t see in this passage that Paul is abandoning Jewish monotheism for paganism.

    2.Notice the following article by Paul Eddy called Was Early Christianity Corrupted by ‘Hellenism’? at http://www.ukapologetics.net/hellenism.htm

    “Although Judaism and early Christianity were affected by the surrounding culture in certain ways, they diligently guarded their religious beliefs and practices from Hellenistic pagan influences, even to the point of martyrdom. We now come to the heart of the issue. The historical and archaeological evidence shows that both Judaism and early Christianity carefully guarded their religious views from the surrounding Hellenistic culture. For example, with regard to Judaism, the archaeological work of Eric Meyers on the city of Sepphoris in first-century Upper Galilee reveals that, in spite of wise-spread Hellenistic influence on various cultural levels, the Jewish people maintained a strict observance of the Torah.

    “When it comes to early Christianity, it is clear that the religious influences are Jewish rather than Hellenistic paganism. The essence of the Christian Gospel is nothing more nor less than the fulfillment of all the Old Testament covenantal promises through the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. It is the climax of the history of Yahweh-God’s dealings with the Jewish people through a series of covenants, culminating in the New Covenant of Jesus Christ. It is a Jewish worldview that dominates the Gospel, not that of paganism. Gregory Dix’s conclusions on the question of the Hellenization of the Gospel confirm this claim: the central core of the Gospel consists of “a Jewish Monotheism and a Jewish Messianism and a Jewish Eschatology; which is expressed in a particular pattern of worship and morality.”

    This conclusion does conflict with what used to be a popular view of Christian origins in the early twentieth-century. This view, held by a group, of critical scholars known as the ‘History of Religions School,’ claimed that many early Christian beliefs and practices were actually borrowed from Hellenistic pagan ‘mystery cults.’ In recent years, however, this view has largely been abandoned by the scholarly world. The evidence now demonstrates that early Christianity is best understood as arising from the Jewish thought world. “

    So after reading this, am I to understand that you are still a strong advocate of the ‘History of Religions School?’ And am I to understand you don’t cite select scholars to support your views?

    1. 117.1
      Richard Carrier

      Eric Chabot:

      But in the appendix, he wishes to go beyond his thesis and comment on whether the Christians borrowed from these and he does provide a few reasons for rejecting that thesis (see my quotes from him previously).

      But he examines no evidence or scholarship on the mystery religions or the dying-and-rising god cults in the Hellenistic. That’s my point.

      He emphasizes that Jesus’ resurrection may be profitably studied against the background of JEWISH resurrection beliefs (not pagan mythology).

      The coyness of which I already addressed earlier. I actually agree Jewish religion (including resurrection belief and eschatology–although both were Jewish borrows from pagan Zoroastrianism) is crucial to understanding the Christian version of the dying-and-rising savior son-of-god mytheme. To suggest that the dying-and-rising savior son-of-god mytheme itself is not as crucial betrays either ignorance of the Hellenistic evidence on Mettinger’s part, or his deliberate avoidance of controversy.

      And yes, I am well aware of the different sects of Second Temple Judaism. But I seem to not understand your points given that Paul makes it clear he was a Pharisee and we see that it is in his texts a rejection of polytheism, other gods, etc. When we read 1 Cor 8:5-6, is Paul accepting a Hellenistic view of God? Is he telling his audience to fit Jesus into their gods? Unless I am missing something, I also don’t see in this passage that Paul is abandoning Jewish monotheism for paganism.

      Don’t move the goal posts. I was speaking of your blanket generalization about Jews, not Paul specifically.

      If you are now changing the subject to Paul specifically, then you must first recognize that the dying-and-rising savior son-of-god mytheme was adapted into Judaism by Peter, not Paul; Paul was merely persuaded of it by a revelation, which caused him to abandon his strict Phariseeism–including the Torah law, a far more radical departure from Jewish expectations than believing in a pagan-like resurrected divine savior.

      And no one is saying Paul “abandoned Jewish monotheism for paganism.” Rather, he (or rather Peter) found a Jewish way to accept pagan ideas as compatible with core tenets of Judaism (the same way previous Jews had done in adopting resurrection and eschatology and demonology and angelology and a Devil and a firey hell, and so on, from pagans before).

      The historical and archaeological evidence shows that both Judaism and early Christianity carefully guarded their religious views from the surrounding Hellenistic culture.

      Except we know that’s not true. From the dozens of cults we have evidence of (and I cited where I list examples and references), Judaism was wildly diverse in its adaptation of Hellenistic concepts, religious and philosophical, as it had done before with Zoroastrianism. The existence of conservative Jews (or even towns) in no way argues that all Jews held the same resistance–and even the conservative Jews failed to make themselves wholly immune (as again their ready adoption of several core concepts from Zoroastrianism proves).

      This is just one giant fallacy of false generalization. And I have already listed countless examples of why it doesn’t hold up. As just another example, the widespread use of sorcery by Jews, even in the Holy Land, despite it being a death penalty offense: finding few or no examples of open sorcery in Sepphoris, for example, would in no way argue against this, because it was always a fringe pursuit, just as Christianity was, and just as every other divergent sect was (e.g. at Qumran and beyond). So the evidence is going to be next to nil. That does not permit a false generalization that there wasn’t any; because we have enough evidence to prove there was plenty.

      The essence of the Christian Gospel is nothing more nor less than the fulfillment of all the Old Testament covenantal promises through the long-awaited Jewish Messiah.

      This entails a catch-22: either a dying-and-rising personal-savior son-of-god was an obvious “fulfillment of all the Old Testament covenantal promises through the long-awaited Jewish Messiah” (and therefore already Jewish and thus not a unique Christian development, contra Ehrman) or it was borrowed from pagans (where it existed widely and publicly all around and among the Jewish towns and diaspora communities). Take your pick.

      Indeed, falling on your sword and picking option 1 will actually just slide you right back onto the blade of option 2, since insofar as any dying-and-rising personal-savior son-of-god could be read out of “all the Old Testament covenantal promises” is by being inspired to look for it by the pagan zeitgeist promoting it. Otherwise, its appearance at only that time in history is a hugely improbable coincidence.

      It is a Jewish worldview that dominates the Gospel, not that of paganism.

      That’s a false dichotomy. Syncretism simply doesn’t work this way. Obviously Christianity is a Jewish religion, and thus “a Jewish worldview dominates” it. That has nothing whatever to do with how pagan concepts were used to modify and adapt that Jewish worldview. Christianity is a syncretism of Judaism and paganism, not a replacement of Judaism with paganism.

      Thus “a Jewish Monotheism and a Jewish Messianism and a Jewish Eschatology; which is expressed in a particular pattern of worship and morality” is the Jewish component, and the dying-and-rising personal-savior son-of-god is the pagan component. Likewise the use of baptism to cleanse the individual of sin or other spiritual obstacles to entering paradise (which was adopted from pagans into Judaism before Christianity, and Christianity picked it up from there).

      In recent years, however, this view has largely been abandoned by the scholarly world.

      That’s not really true. It’s what fundamentalists want to be true, and usually it’s fundamentalists who are cited as saying it’s true, and some secular scholars have been duped by it, but there is no informed consensus that matches this conclusion.

      The fallacy here is conflating the whole program of the “History of Religions” school with all possible claims of Hellenistic influence on Judaism and the origins of Christianity. One does not have to accept the former to conclude that many of the latter claims are true. It’s simply a red herring to talk about the “History of Religions” school. That simply becomes a lame excuse to refuse to talk about the evidence.

  118. 118
    russell dowsett

    Richard, I am currently reading, ” Jesus A very Jewish Myth” 3rd edition by RG Price. I found his take on Josephus and the TF very thorough & convincing although I tend to think of more sinister motives for the interpolation than he does. I will need to reread Ehrman’s effort on the TF in the light of Price’s arguments but I did notice that both men failed to mention Josephus’ antecedents when discussing the plausibility of the TF. Surely the facts that his father, Matthias, who was born in the census year of 6CE and was from a high ranking priestly family, A Pharisee, I think, is extremely relevant to the question of how much Josephus was likely to know about Jesus, had he existed. My instinct tells me that had Jesus existed Josephus would have known a very large amount of intimate detail about the man and his activities just from table-talk, within the family, alone. Also consider his teenage flirtation with contemporary religious sects that would have operated cheek by jowl with an emergent Jesus sect. To me, that this man demonstrates so little knowledge of Jesus is more astounding than the silence in the works of Philo.

    1. 118.1
      Richard Carrier

      I disagree. Christianity was far more fringe and insignificant than you are assuming. See chapter 18 of Not the Impossible Faith (particularly the case of Pliny the Younger). There were dozens of fringe Jewish cults even in Judea that Josephus never mentions, and Christianity was maximally unsuccessful in Judea. It was mainly a tiny urban diaspora movement. Josephus would not likely encounter them any more than you would be likely to stumble across a Rastafarian, much less chat about them over dinner with anyone (even if you were a Bible Belt Southern Baptist missionary and politician hell bent on routing all the heathens), or write about them or know much about them. And IMO you will likely know more about Rastafarians (or chat about them etc.) because you have a modernist interest in foreign religions and international history that Josephus did not share. Moreover, even those who knew things about Christians would not likely know the details of their origins or founder (just as an average modern is unlikely to know such things about Rastafarianism), and they would be even less likely to ever imagine an occasion to mention them in their writings even if they did know such things (or even if they did not).

      In all, I do not think much can be made of Josephus’ silence except to conclude that Christianity was so small a movement it was socially invisible–as invisible as the dozen or so other Jewish sects Josephus doesn’t ever mention–and Jesus (if he existed) did nothing at all significant enough for barely anyone to notice or care about.

  119. 119
    Steven Bollinger

    Some people say, “I’m not going to brag[...]” and then proceed to brag. Not me. I’m going to brag: I was on to this guy sooner than the rest of you, put off by his smugness and hucksterism. Smugness is never anything but the calling card of stupidity, and hucksterism, well, you all probably already know what that is.

    I don’t want to read Did Jesus Exist? but eventually I may have to, for the same reason I eventually had to read the Bible and the Kritik der reinen Vernunft: not for any charm or depth inherent in the text, but because they were so important to others that I had to read them just to keep up in discussions.

    Did Jesus Exist? is available in limited preview on amazon:com: you can read some but not all of the pages there. I just finished reading most of the Introduction and the Conclusion there, and if possible they’re even more obnoxious than Ehrman’s blurb on HP. I’m cautious with words like “certain,” words which imply absoluteness, much more cautious than, oh, say, Bart Ehrman, but just those few pages at the front and the back of Ehrman’s latest book make it seem fairly certain that he never actually entertained the question in the book’s title. Rather, he had always “known” that Jesus existed, and that no “sensible and educated” person doubted it for a moment, and when he recently learned, to his horror, that a great many people do doubt it, he set out to set them straight. Hence this book, for the writing of which it was at no time necessary to ask himself whether the mythicists might be right.

    What a hick! What a bigot, already knowing what’s what and not about to let experience or knowledge change that. He reminds me of the professors and statesmen in Brecht’s Leben des Galilee who decline to look through Galileo’s telescope at the night sky because they already know from the Bible that they will not see what Galileo is telling them they will see, and the Imam in Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, who spends his time in exile in the West inside a room with no windows, and when he must leave that room for any period of time he is surrounded by his followers to his front, back, left and right, to make sure that his eyes are never insulted by a glimpse of the wicked West. Ehrman is the enemy, not just of mythicists, but of anyone in favor of things like free inquiry.

    C’mon now. Nobody here thinks that Ehrman ever introduced anything new into Biblical studies, do they? He went from conforming to conservative evangelism to conforming to liberal New Testament studies, including its “shocking” tendency to agnosticism. And maybe someday he’ll “shockingly” jump that boat for the mythicist camp, where he’ll parrot mythicist positions and continue to trample and break the bones of people unwittingly standing between him and the cameras of documentary filmmakers.

    1. 119.1
      Richard Carrier

      I assume you meant to say “hack” and not “hick.” The latter doesn’t make any sense.

    2. 119.2
      Steven Bollinger

      I meant “hick.”

      I meant “Don’t let the credentials fool you, folks, on the inside this man is still a back-woods, gap-toothed, snake-handling hick. He’s just hunkered down and speaking tongues in a differnt holler now. And not necessarily a classier one when it comes to earnest sophistication.” That’s what I meant.

    3. Richard Carrier

      Then I don’t think that insult was justified by the evidence you presented.

    4. 119.3
      Kris

      I don’t think anyone, least of all Ehrman, is claiming that he introduced anything new to biblical studies. He’s always been very clear that his aim is to introduce mainstream biblical scholarship to audiences who would normally not be exposed to it. That’s a perfectly admirable goal in my view, and he does it well overall, so I don’t see any need to denigrate him for it.

    5. 119.4
      Steven Bollinger

      Maybe I got a little carried away. (Or a lot.) Let me try again:

      It seems to me that Ehrman sometimes is less than entirely fair and forthright. For example, when he wrote a piece about Gnostic Gospels for the mostly-lay audience at Huffington Post in order to plug the book he co-wrote with Plese: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bart-d-ehrman/didnt-make-the-bible_b_905076.html or talked about those texts on a History Channel program, he referred to them as representing an “alternative Christianity” which was violently put down in the 4th and 5th centuries by the Roman Empire allied with what emerged as what we think of today as mainstream Christianity. He did not mention that some of these “alternative” Gospels he listed off were written during, or even after, the 4th and 5th centuries.

      He didn’t say that these other Gospels were competing with the 4 ones since canonized, and so he could always plead innocence when many HP readers inferred that people like Origen and Constantine had banned and destroyed them and prevented them from joining the canon, when some of them hadn’t been until long ofter the Orthodox canon was already established. Of course, it was more sensationalistic to let them infer such things. Of course, I can’t prove sensationalistic intent.

      Similarly, I can’t prove that Ehrman meant for many readers to read his new book and equate people like you and Price with Holocaust deniers and people who thought the moon landings all took place on Hollywood film sets. He never specifically makes those comparisons with you or Price. But it’s not surprising that some people are putting serious non-historicists — never mind just mythicists, or just the less-competent mythicists — into that category of nut in the wake of Ehrman’s book. Certainly Ehrman will insist that he didn’t mean for people to draw such conclusions. Perhaps he’ll even mean it, who knows.

      I can’t prove anything that would stand up in court. But I think I see a clear and very unpleasant pattern, in which Ehrman writes and says things which can be very easily misconstrued, whether it’s to sensationalize the subject matter of one of his books — another example: suggesting, without ever getting terribly specific, once again maintaining plausible deniability, that textual variants in Biblical manuscripts are mountain-sized, when they look more like molehills to me — or to defame opponents or potential future opponents, or with some other purpose which has nothing whatsoever to do with the advancement of learning, and everything to do with the rise of Bart D. Ehrman.

      Maybe I’m completely crazy. Or maybe I’m just exceptionally perceptive.

    6. Richard Carrier

      Steven Bollinger:

      It seems to me that Ehrman sometimes is less than entirely fair and forthright.

      That I will agree with: because it must be that or else he was marvelously sloppy and incompetent in his treatment of mythicist writings and even mainstream evidence and scholarship. It has to be one or the other. Neither is flattering to him.

      But IMO even being a lying polemicist (the worst possibility here) does not make him a hick by any definition of the term, even by hyperbole. Just saying.

    7. 119.5
      Steven Bollinger

      Richard Carrier:

      it must be that [Ehrman sometimes is less than entirely fair and forthright] or else he was marvelously sloppy and incompetent in his treatment of mythicist writings and even mainstream evidence and scholarship. It has to be one or the other. Neither is flattering to him.

      As I said, his behavior this go-round with historicism/mythicism seems to me to be of a piece with his behavior earlier when introducing subjects such as the dating of Gnostic Gospels and the extent of Biblical manuscript variations to a lay audience. (Add the extent of changes made to the received text in the edition of the KJV to that list of subject, and vague mentions of nefarious political motives for those changes.) There’s a consistency of misleading statements without any outright, and therefore clearly impeachable errors.

      Also, Ehrman strikes me as being the very opposite of sloppy or incompetent. Just my superficial impression, unsupported by any personal contact with the man. But it’s very hard for me to imagine that all of things could have been due solely to inadvertant misstatement and sloppy work.

      I must say, I had not anticipated such vehement rejection of my use of the epithet “hick.” I think my using that word distracted from the actual subject of Ehrman, and I apologize for that.

    8. Richard Carrier

      Like devout Catholics who are scientists, one can be a credulous defender of dogma using fallacies and poorly researched arguments, while in every other area delivering competent and careful research and logically sound arguments.

      Ehrman is more likely acting like this, not defending a religious belief but an academic view he regards as sacrosanct, against villains he regards as nefariously motivated incompetents incapable of being right. Thus, he doesn’t do careful research here, because he honestly believes they must be wrong and he must be right. He is in effect rationalizing his belief, by finding reasons to believe he is correct, even though that belief was not actually formed based on any of those reasons–rather than following the evidence where it leads or being suitably self-critical.

      That may be delusional. But it’s not dishonest.

    9. 119.6
      Steven Bollinger

      Richard Carrier

      “one can be a credulous defender of dogma using fallacies and poorly researched arguments, while in every other area delivering competent and careful research and logically sound arguments”

      I know this very well. A beloved uncle of mine is a brilliant mechanical engineer. A lot of my basic education in science occurred at his house, both talking to him and reading Scientific American. He subscribed for a long time and he didn’t throw the back issues away. The same uncle is also a creationist born-again Christian. He’s not a young-Earth creationist, but rather, one of the sort who get a lot of mileage out of Bible verses like 2 Peter 3:8: “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (I haven’t spoken with him about the fact that 2 Peter is now widely regardeed as pseudepigraphical.)

      So I’m well acquainted with how one and the same person can be both highly-rational and dogmatic. I daresay that many if not most of us are very intelligent in some areas and very unintelligent in others.

      In the end, it doesn’t really matter to me whether the things to which I object in Ehrman’s behavior are the result of blind spots or conscious deviousness. For one thing, we can’t ever really know for sure, barring telepathy, which I assume you don’t believe in any more than I. For another, the behavior does the same amount of damage either way.

      And as far as credulously defending things goes, you and others may well be defending Ehrman based to some degree on not wanting to believe his intentions are less than honorable. It would be perfectly natural if your previous high opinion of him clouded your judgement of his current behavior and its motivation.

    10. Richard Carrier

      It’s more that I don’t see evidence of him being deliberately dishonest here. Unlike what I do see in some cases with certain Christian apologists, where there is no other credible explanation for certain things they do and say but that they are being deliberately dishonest.

    11. 119.7
      Steven Bollinger

      Sincere self-deception can lead to very obvious errors which may look like shameless lies, and dishonesty can be very skilled and subtle and hard to spot. Again, we lack telepathy. It’s true, I haven’t read any of his books all the way through, but I have read several of his articles and seen several of his interviews, and before Did Jesus Exist? he already struck me as untrustworthy. Competent, yes, but always skewing his remarks toward a personal agenda.

      For example, I don’t know whether you’ve spotted this from your viewpoint closer to established academia, but from where I’m standing it seems clear that many if not most laypeople who’ve heard of him assume that Ehrman is quite unusual in being both a Biblical scholar, an actual well-established professor in the field, and an agnostic, and that his positions prior to Did Jesus Exist? were quite daring, shaking things up in academia. As you and I both know, it’s been a long time since an agnostic Biblical scholar has been a shocking phenomenon, and Ehrman’s positions mostly run pretty close academic consensus.

      It’s hard for me to believe that Ehrman was never aware of this false image of him as a rebel and an outsider in his field. But I never saw him do anything to correct this false image, just as, as I mentioned upthread, I’ve never seen him correct the false notions about the dating of some Gnostic Gospels which many people have gotten from his work.

      It’s conceivable that an author such as Ehrman could be completely out of touch with the part of his audience which only reads him in the mainstream media or sees him on TV, and therefore completely unaware of widespread misconceptions for which he was responsible. On the other hand, it would have been very simple for Ehrman to make clear to a lay audience that his positions were not outside the academic mainstream, and that some of the Gospels he was describing were written after the canon was well-fixed. He doesn’t so much as mention their dates: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bart-d-ehrman/didnt-make-the-bible_b_905076.html And then ends up the article referring to “the earliest Christians.” Sloppy? Or sloppy like a fox? A see a pattern of statements which might give his colleagues no occasion for objection, but which consistently misleads a wider public, and is very plausibly deniable. That’s a very subtle tightrope of deception to walk, but I believe I see it. Sloppiness is not nearly so consistent. Sloppiness looks more like randomness. I don’t see a Poisson distribution here.

      Nota bene, I said deception, not dishonesty. It could well be instinctual rather than deliberate. I was thinking of instinctual behavior upthread when I used that unfortunate four-letter epithet beginning with h. Poor people living in hollers or trailers parks often must rely on instinctual and sometimes ruthless craftiness if they want to survive, let alone thrive. I don’t blame them a bit for it. Of course, if one of them rises to an influential position in academia, they’re freed from the need for such desperate behavior. And in fortunate cases also actually freed from the behavior.

      Of course, Did Jesus Exist? is objectionable both to academics and to many of Ehrman’s fans, or in many cases actually former fans. And so it’s break with his previous work both in your opinion, that it was first-rate, and in mine, that it lead a large atheist audience around by the nose.

      (Full disclosure of my paranoid-nutbag credentials: I believe the Holocaust happened, I believe climate change is being caused by humans, I believe the Apollo moon landings were real, and I think the “specacraft” that caused all the hullabaloo in Roswell in 1947 was a weather balloon. But I’m not convinced that Oswald acted alone, nor that significant numbers of Federal employees and contractors didn’t participate in JFK’s assassination. [Including LBJ? Yeah, could be.] I think Oliver Stone is crazy most of the time, but I don’t think Mr X’s story in JFK is farfetched.)

  120. 120
    Michael Macrossan

    I second that Richard’s objection to “hick”.

  121. 121
    SocraticGadfly

    I don’t have a Ph.D., but I do have a subject-level masters, and, Ehrman’s claims surprise me indeed, as does the relative vociferousness, as I’ve actually exchanged a couple of emails with him re the historicity issue. (I’m in neither “camp” but I think the possibility of at least the ahistoricity of the Jesus presented in the Bible [Thompson] or even Jesus period is high enough to deserve academic discussion. That said, there’s Option 3 … “Jesus” was historical, but the Pharisee crucified by Alexander Jannai. That gives a century plus for a myth to develop around a historic person.

    Of course, at the same time, Carrier and Ehrman are dueling book authors; Ehrman’s comment may be in part a defense of his book; ditto Carrier. And, in the background both PZ and Hoffmann are advancing their own agendas to boot.

  122. 122
    Jonathan

    Stop using ‘fallacy’. Also, stop naming these supposed fallacies. It’s driving me crazy.

    1. 122.1
      Richard Carrier

      He who does not learn to think well, will not think well. And he who does not care to learn to think well, will not learn to think well.

    2. 122.2
      Robert Bumbalough

      Hello Johathan. The fallacy you’ve made by asking Carrier to stop it with the pointing out of and naming fallacies because it drives you crazy is called appeal to emotion.

      Its hard to be a good thinker, arguer, and writer.

    3. 122.3
      Jonathan

      slippery slope fallacy

    4. 122.4
      Jonathan

      To Robert. Well, not really. I never said “because it’s driving me crazy.” I may have perfectly good reasons for asking someone to avoid talking like that. I wonder what Susan Haack’s reasons were:

      “Maybe we should start by dumping those hundreds of “critical thinking” books, with their over-emphasis on identifying fallacies, and encouraging teachers and students to read John Locke’s extraordinary essay on The Conduct of the Understanding”

      - Susan Haack, http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/1207

  123. 123
    P

    Richard “The Aircraft” Carrier gets schools and made to look like a petulant 5th grader

    http://ehrmanblog.org/fuller-reply-to-richard-carrier/

    Welcome to the world of real scholarship, you big, hulking, hulk you.

    1. 123.1
      Richard Carrier

      The reality is quite the reverse.

    2. 123.2
      Robert Bumbalough

      @P No True Scotsman Fallacy

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_true_scotsman_fallacy

  124. 124
    Jon Steinar

    What we have of Tacitus is fragmentary and even dubious in a sense, since you mention that as a source.
    Have you read a document named: Tacitus and Bracchiolini? It tells of how those books were found and claims that some of those 16 books (I think) are forgery. I recommend the reading. The the latest 5 or six not forgeries in that sense were found in a monastery and dated to the 15. century. Those include the famous reference to Chrestus /Christos.
    Not my point though.
    Those books are all in chronological order but missing some years. Those years are ca. 29-32AD. Maybe Pilate was mentioned there and even more significant “happenings”. The lack of these years may by some be called unfortunate and for others maybe fortunate.
    Just wanted to add that snippet.

  125. 125
    Robert Bumbalough

    Hello Dr. Carrier. Were wealthy, educated elite persons of late first or early second century Roman empire generally conversant in Hebrew or Aramaic? How were those people taught to compose essays or descriptive narrative reports regardless of language?

    1. 125.1
      Richard Carrier

      There were plenty such persons. Rabbis, for example. Members of the economic elite among Jews in Palestine and some among the diaspora (like Philo). Some scribes. Etc. How Hebrew schools taught composition we don’t know. But many of these people mastered Greek as well (like Paul, Josephus, etc.), and we know all the authors of the NT had done so, so we know they were taught Greek methods of composition, which we know a lot about. Since we don’t have any Aramaic or Hebrew documents from early Christianity, how they were composed is already unknown. But we have comparanda: a ton of Jewish apocrypha and legends and fabrications in Hebrew or Aramaic (the book of Daniel is a good example, likewise Tobit, Enoch, etc.).

  126. 126
    kentonforshee

    Hi Richard,

    My best friend Ben says, “The fact that the authors of Matthew and Luke had to devise a way to explain how it is that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in spite of growing up in Nazareth strongly suggests that there was a historical Jewish teacher at the root of the belief systems.”

    What is the mythicist position on this?

    1. 126.1
      Richard Carrier

      See “Nazareth” in the index to my book Proving History.

    2. 126.2
      kentonforshee

      Thanks, will do!

  127. 127
    Andrew Viceroy

    The ‘no true Scotsman’ thing goes all the way back to when Ehrman was on Infidel Guy years ago and he went off about Robert Price and got very emotional asking what degrees he has and what books he’s written and where he teaches. Reggie remarked at the end of the show (and I was thinking it too) that he committed the NTSF. Ehrman also busted out the “brother of the Lord” argument. That was years ago…

  128. 128
    Cornelius

    If we used Richard Carrier’s standard for determining who existed and who didn’t, 75% of all ancient Greek philosophers would instantly disappear into the Carrier black hole where sources must be within X number of years.

    To name a few:

    Protagoras
    Socrates (known from 3 or 4 main sources all 30-40 years after his death – not many reliable facts, but shows he was historical: Plato, Xenophon, Aristotle, and the 4th source is a comment by Aristophanes; perhaps scholia have more, all of which disappear as sources using Carrier’s logic)
    Pythagoras

    *Practically all of the ancient Greek philosophical schools and their heads such as Diogenes the Cynic, Zeno of Elea and so on.

    *Most of the philosophers mentioned in Diogenes Laertius virtually vanish in the Carrier wormhole.

    *Countless painters, sculptors, and architects in antiquity who are mentioned in only one source centuries later (usually Pausanias). For example Pausanias is the main (reliable) source for events such as the First Messenian War (mid 8th century BC) when he wrote in the 2nd century AD! According to Carrier’s criteria the war shouldn’t even exist! Not to mention what Carrier would do with ancients who had similar names (e.g. Aristocles of Cydonia (sculptor) and his grandson Aristocles of Sycion… not to mention Aristocles of Cydonia was also called Aristocles of Sycion – Carrier would immediately through both under the bus claiming they were the same legendary person).
    ———

    It’s one thing to compare Iamblichus’ Vita Pythagorae and say that none of the episodes are historically authentic, it’s quite another to claim that Iamblichus’ narrative is an amalgam of various legends and mathematical superstitions put together to create Pythagoras. That’s the difference between Ehrman and Carrier. And no, Ehrman is not out to warn anyone trying to encroach the “sacrosanct” topic of Jesus’ existence as if it were a religious dogma – he is simply trying to end the absurdity of the mythicist position and supposed evidence of it. Ehrman’s annoyance with the people who so vehemently propel the mythicist position is similar to other scholars’ frustration when the fringe conspiracy theorists come around such as Anglo-Saxon historians who have to deal with those denying the existence of people such as the chronicler Asser (Smyth).

    No, dear Dr.Carrier, the mythicist position is not only fairly attacked by Ehrman, but nobody should even claim the arguments put forward, especially here, are any kind of convincing support.

    Oh, by the way, Thomas L. Thompson’s views are completely dismantled by the rest of the scholars – David’s existence (Beth David inscription), United Monarchy (Menander of Ephesus apud Josephus) and so on.

    Mythicism is just a push in the opposite direction of scholarship.

    1. 128.1
      Richard Carrier

      If we used Richard Carrier’s standard for determining who existed and who didn’t, 75% of all ancient Greek philosophers would instantly disappear into the Carrier black hole where sources must be within X number of years.

      What do you think is my “standard” for determining who existed and who didn’t?

      One was not stated in this article. So I’d be curious to know how you know what it is, or what you think it is.

      Particularly given that the standard I have discussed elsewhere does not seem to be the one you assume I employ. Nor does the standard I elaborately lay out in my book Proving History.

      By my actual standards, none of the conclusions you infer follow.

  129. 129
    Kwame Ajamu

    Hello Dr. carrier, I want to say that this Christ thing is nothing but disguished, not so disguished king worship, just like the other ancient states in the meditteranean. and I have Joe Atwill coming on my Blogtalk radio show feb 23, at 8pm eastern, and Dr. Robert Eisenman coming on the 20th of feb 8pm eastern, the call in number is(347)838-9066, please call in with questions, and I hold out an invitation to you dr carrier to come on my show as well to talk about your new books.

    1. 129.1
      Richard Carrier

      So sorry, I was traveling and not able to find time to get to this comment in the queue in time for that event. But it sounds like there should be an archived audio file of that show online somewhere.

  130. 130
    Kwame Ajamu

    I am not advocating Joe Atwills theory here, but from rading your blogs here debunking Ehrmans article in HuffPo, I don’t see why you don’t have room for Christianity being purposely created. You say Philo does not mention Christ and he does mention Pon Pilate, and that means that Christianity was too small to get on the Elite Jewish agenda. Then if Christianity could have existed and just be too small to be noticed then Christ could have existed and just been too none important to be noticed.

    You acknowledge this and say that this proves that even if Christ existed( this mindset by the professor of Jewish study’s that Ehrman is debunking) but this not likely. As you say that no ancient scholars mentioned Jesus or Christianity, that name gives it away, don’t you see that that the characterization of the cult that the gospels betray was really the Essene movement that the Romans were fighting, and that intellectuals mostly Jewish in the Herod camp and the Roman camp wrote those fake gospels trying to pass it off as Jewish Messianic Scripture.

    That paul was a key player in creating a counter religion to Messianic Judaism, somewhere in the bible I forgiot where but will get back on the verse later, Paul salute all all in Caesars household and the littlest Herod and Epaphorditus who since Paul tells us he salutes all Caesars household he must be talking of Epaphorditus Neros secretary, whom Domitian executes for being a Christian(Helenized word for Messianic Jew) Paul even says that they heled him start his Christian community, these were just the people who could have wrote the gospels, tats why you scholars are still argueing over Q, because these documents was the story gathered to fake the peaceful messiah, when I found who these cpeople where who Paul was writing salutes too I knew that it was an attempt to create a false messianic Judaism with the Philo otherworldly celestial yeshua that I found out about from your book dr Carier Not The Impossible Faith.

    And from your article here I conclude that the short length of time that Christianity sprouted up that it is not an organic myth but a constructed one and from the synoptic gospels and Q. And from your explaining the syencretization of the paegan with the jewish, some college of Herod appointed Jewish priest, erod and Roman appointed Sanhedrin pharisses put the Christian religion and the gospels and Jesus togather.

    1. 130.1
      Richard Carrier

      Just to be clear, I have nothing against the possibility of Christianity being a deliberate creation (I even discuss the anthropological basis for such a theory in chapter ten of Not the Impossible Faith). But being possible is not the same thing as being presently provable. Moreover, just because there are plausible deliberate-invention theories, does not mean all deliberate-invention theories are plausible. There are many vastly more plausible deliberate-invention theories than Atwill’s. And those are two distinct points. That I think there are plausible deliberate-invention theories does not mean I think there are any provable deliberate-invention theories. We simply can’t know on the available data. Thus any theory we propose, to be probable, has to be flexible to account for different models of origin.

  131. 131
    Porkborg Bond

    The proof in Paul’s letters can’t be narrowed down to two quotes. Paul is constantly on the defense in his epistles. While he’s off evangelizing throughout Rome, his congregations are getting word of angry Palestinian Jews who claim Paul has been teaching them loads of crap. Paul recognizes that the others — Peter and James — have more credibility than he does. He acknowledges this. Even later, when Luke writes Acts, Luke tries to white-wash the whole thing and make it seem like they’d always been in agreement. And this is all going on just a decade or two after the supposed death of Jesus. And there are already early tribes of Jewish Christians like the Ebionites and Nazarenes. We know Peter existed, that his views differed radically from Paul’s, and that he was martyred in Rome. It’s breathtakingly absurd to think that all these people are bickering over the teachings of a man who would’ve been alive just a few years earlier but in fact never truly existed — he was just fabricated. How can you believe this, Dr. Carrier? There’s a reason no serious scholar of early Christianity takes this idea seriously.

    The myth hypothesis is unncessarily complex. The simplest explanation is that there was a Jewish rabbi named Jesus who had a small cult following, made a little noise, pissed off the wrong people and got crucified for it. After he died, his followers couldn’t deal with it — they started generating stories about how he would come back to save them from their Roman opressors. The stories built up over time, Paul caught wind of them and they branched off into two directions: the Petrine version in Palestine and the Pauline version in the developed cities of Rome and Greece.

    If we didn’t have so much early activity between Paul and Peter’s crew, the myth hypothesis might seem credible. But there’s no need for it. The simplest explanation is that there was a guy named Jesus. Ehrman wins. Scholarship wins. Dr Carrier, you lose.

    1. 131.1
      Richard Carrier

      You have the thesis wrong. The Doherty thesis is not that Jesus was made up, but that he was believed to be a celestial being who communicated by revelation and secret messages hidden in scripture. The first founders of this belief had obvious authority, since they came first. That this was a big deal is revealed by Paul early in Galatians 1 where even he says newcomers who claim to receive revelations are to be shunned…only those who see Jesus can claim authority. Paul was fighting for his right to claim he saw Jesus (and not one of the false spirits even Paul is worried about).

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