James McGrath responded to my reply to Ehrman’s intemperate and badly worded assault on the theory that Jesus was mythical (McGrath: Responding to Richard Carrier’s Response to Bart Ehrman), and as such represents exactly what is wrong with defenders of historicity: carelessness, post hoc rationalization, and factual error. I shall examine these flaws in detail, because they are important: they demonstrate how bankrupt historicity is as a position (or at least “unyielding” historicity…a historicist who allowed for the possibility of myth is a creature I rarely meet).
McGrath’s overall thesis he asserts in his conclusion: “Ehrman did not make mistakes in his piece.” Except that he did. In every respect I documented. McGrath actually couldn’t refute that (not in one single instance did McGrath even purport to correct any factual claim in my post), so he has to try other tactics to get a success out of a fail.
McGrath begins by trying to make excuses for the atrociously inaccurate wording of Ehrman’s article by claiming the editors did it, and that this is normal. That is simply false. I have written for numerous periodicals as well as other websites as guests, and always I am given a proof and asked to correct any errors in it. Consistently, they correct any errors I say there are, including confusions of wording. And I have never had an editor edit my wording so egregiously as McGrath’s argument requires (the only thing that comes close is a religious organization “editing” an essay of mine without my consent). It is in fact a fundamental requirement of journalistic ethics to ensure that an article accurately represents the true thoughts of the author. My publishers have always been very concerned with this, and with making sure I fully approve of what posts.
Here at Freethought Blogs we have several contributors to The Huffington Post, and they actually tell me that HuffPo editors do little to no editing, in fact only reinforcing standards and practices and correcting for typos and suggesting improvements for readability. They don’t rewrite your articles. They certainly don’t rewrite them and publish them without even consulting you as to the accuracy or acceptability of the result first. As our own Chris Rodda told me by email:
I’ve been a blogger on HuffPost for nearly four years, and they have almost never edited any piece that I’ve written, and on the rare occasions when they did they were very minor edits (grammar and spelling corrections, breaking up long sentences, etc.). Out of all the many, many pieces I’ve written there, there was only one where the editors wanted to make any significant changes, and in that case they contacted me first and sent me a draft of their proposed changes for my approval prior to publishing the piece. So I do not believe for a minute that HuffPost would edit anyone’s piece in the way they’re being accused of.
That McGrath would attempt such an absurd and bogus defense suggests that he, too, is very worried about how badly worded and inaccurate Ehrman’s article is, but can’t bring himself to admit it. I have to wonder why.
Wait, What Was That about Academic Freedom Again?
McGrath says my post will only persuade mythicists, and thus completely dismisses my defense of the principles of academic freedom. It is most strange that McGrath says nothing in favor of academic freedom, not even to insist he supports it and wouldn’t dare think of doing the things Ehrman’s post intimates their industry does or would do to suppress it, not even to agree that it is inappropriate to ridicule and assault the character of qualified peers in an attempt to intimidate others from supporting them. In short, he doesn’t even acknowledge that historicists ought to agree with everything I said about that. No, my defense of academic freedom “will only carry weight with people who desperately want there not to have been a historical Jesus.” That’s disturbing. Particularly as it actually proves everything I said. Thanks, James McGrath.
Wait, Why Does the Order of Evidence Matter Again?
McGrath then launches into a rebuttal to my remarks on the evidence. The weirdest thing about this is not that he tries the fallacy of “poisoning the well” (and that the very first thing he does, which is indeed a recognized tactic: it’s exactly how a dishonest opponent is supposed to use that fallacy! Nice, James McGrath) by intimating that I am engaging in the nefarious and dishonest “tactics” of the crank mythicists (and thereby implying I am no different than them, as if my methods and motives and qualifications were no better). No, the weirdest thing is that he turns a logical order of discussion into evidence of evil nefarious purposes:
Carrier engages in a common mythicist tactic also used by promoters of other forms of pseudoscholarship: begin with the less strong evidence and sow doubt, in the hope that when you get to the stronger evidence, your audience will be inclined to accept your implausible dismissal of it. Carrier describes as “Ehrman’s only evidence” Paul’s reference in Galatians to having met “James the brother of the Lord.”
What he means to say is that the James passage is his strongest evidence (I appreciate his admitting this, because it helps my point), and so I put that last, and lead with the other stuff, to “sow doubt.” (“Sowing doubt” meaning what anyone else would call arguing a case.) Rather than the actual reason I did that, which was to hold off the longest digression and the most disputed question until the end, so I could wrap up the easy stuff first and keep readers engaged. It is a perfectly logical sequence to address the clear points first, then close with the strongest point of debate. Instead of acknowledge that, he uses my ability to organize essays as evidence of my evil (and therefore disreputable) intentions. This dastardly scholar is trying to corrupt your mind with a wicked use of logical order.
The irony is, this is the kind of tactic I’d expect from a fringe myther. McGrath, like Ehrman, has become the very thing they despise: a logic-dismissing conspiracy theorist. I will get back to this James thing. Once again, last.
Wait, Why is Being a Roman Author Relevant Again?
McGrath amusingly argues that Ehrman made no mistakes, then assiduously attempts to explain all his mistakes (so, which is it, did he make mistakes that require an explanation, or is everything he said unmistaken?). For example, McGrath astonishingly attempts this defense of Ehrman:
Ehrman points out that Roman sources do not mention Pontius Pilate. Presumably he does not mean writers of the Roman era, but Roman authors in the strict sense, since there is no way that Ehrman could possibly be unaware that Philo and Josephus made reference to Pilate.
But Pilate references Pilate. Pilate is a Roman source. So, fail. But that’s not even the most pertinent point: the distinction McGrath is attempting here makes absolutely no sense in the context of Ehrman’s argument. What does it matter whether a source is Roman or not? A source is a source. Ehrman gives no explanation of why someone being a Roman matters to his point–nor could he have, since it doesn’t, and never logically could. It’s just worse that in fact Philo and Josephus were Romans (Josephus was certainly a Roman citizen and lived in Rome itself for part of his life; and, as I explained in my article, Philo was almost certainly a Roman citizen as well). So is McGrath saying Jews can’t be Romans? That would seem to mean Jews can’t be Americans, either. And even if such a strange thing were true, it would again be irrelevant. Yes, Philo and Josephus were not descended from Italians nor native speakers of Latin…so? McGrath’s whole argument here is fantastically illogical, and reeks of desperation. The more so as it ignores the fact that Pilate is descended from Italians and a native speaker of Latin (and a Roman government official), and he attests his own existence as an eyewitness thereto, by one of the best pieces of evidence historians of antiquity can ever have.
McGrath just can’t bring himself to admit that Ehrman so badly miswrote that he stated in a public article that will be read by millions of people a factually false claim. I agree that is not a lie or evidence of ignorance. It’s just terrible, terrible, terrible writing. Which is just as incompetent, just as careless, and just as warranting a correction.
Wait, What Was That about Only Officials Erecting Inscriptions?
McGrath betrays his ignorance and incompetence as a historian of antiquity with his next monstrous foot-in-mouth gaffe:
Carrier’s mention of inscriptions leaves off the obvious reason why we have no inscriptions referring to Jesus: prefects and procurators and governors and kings made inscriptions, as did other public functionaries. When, where, and why would a figure like Jesus have made an inscription, or had one made that referred to him? Mythicists regularly and frustratingly fail to compare like with like.
I nearly fell out of my chair when I read that. (And not because I didn’t say Jesus would erect an inscription; read my article again, James.) McGrath’s claim about who erected inscriptions in antiquity is false. Now, it is bad enough that McGrath didn’t know that. What makes him incompetent is not his ignorance, though, but the fact that it didn’t even occur to him to check this claim before making it. This is a classic example of a very error many mythicists make that annoys McGrath, yet here he is, doing the exact same thing.
Okay. Epigraphy 101: Who erected inscriptions in antiquity? Nearly every kind of person with money. Yes, government people and public functionaries erected inscriptions. But the vast majority of ancient inscriptions were made by private citizens. Not just in graveyards, either. But we do have those, tens of thousands of funerary epitaphs, by all manner of not just wealthy but also middle class folk, celebrating their freedom from slavery or their profession or even, in many cases, their philosophy or religion. But leave those aside; I’ll also exclude graffiti; or marks on tombs or ossuaries (as the Jesus Tomb nuts…notably, historicists, not mythicists…keep claiming we have for Jesus). Even after leaving all those out, we still have inscriptions by practitioners of nearly every major religion in antiquity: pick your god, there is probably an inscription somewhere, by someone, celebrating them (the inscriptions attesting the miracles at Epidaurus, commissioned by those healed there, is just the most famous example; but we have thousands of inscriptions by Mithraists, and likewise by those of other cults, including Jews, e.g. the Revelation of Gabriel is one of those most recently discovered, and is an example of precisely the kind of thing we have from a fringe Jewish cult that we don’t have from Christianity); we also have inscriptions by philosophy enthusiasts, celebrating and broadcasting their philosophy to the public (something you’d think Christians were most keen to do, being evangelistic missionaries and all).
To give you just three pertinent examples (of dozens I could discuss):
(1) Diogenes of Oenoanda, a private citizen, commissioned a massive public inscription detailing his salvific philosophy for the good of mankind, declaring as its purpose “to help those who come after us” by publicizing “the remedies of salvation.” This was an Epicurean, who didn’t even believe in an afterlife or a coming end of the world to warn people about, yet he spent his own money to publish his gospel. Obviously Christians would be unable to do this in Judea, but they would have been free to in pagan cities for at least two centuries (contrary to the usual claims, Christianity was not actually outlawed and was rarely persecuted by Romans, as Acts routinely demonstrates and as we can tell even from Tacitus’ account, in which Christians had to be accused of arson to finally prosecute them; see Not the Impossible Faith, ch. 8, pp. 219-20).
They never erected any, for at least two centuries. Well, except heretics: evidently a Valentinian in the late second century finally got around to it. But no one else? Never for a hundred and fifty years? (I shouldn’t have to remind you that that latter inscription is a direct refutation of McGrath’s generalization that no Christians would ever do this. How is it that he didn’t hear of it? It was quite a big news item in our field last year.) And please, let’s not hear fallacious rebuttals to the Diogenes example (e.g. don’t tell me a Christian inscription was unlikely to be as elaborate and expensive as that of Diogenes; I am not saying it would be). And again, please, don’t ignore what I already said about this (in my original post I already listed reasons why such an inscription might not have been commissioned; that it “definitely would be” is not what I’m saying).
(2) We have an inscription (at Lanuvium, Italy) stating the rules of a private dinner club; these were religious associations that represent one of the models that early Christianity followed (and which they could even have done legally, had they wanted), in which members would have their burials charitably assured by their membership (among other charitable aims from the pooling of member resources), and in which they often shared fictive kinship (they were brethren), and shared communion in the form of regular divine meals (often of fish, bread, and wine) in celebration of a savior god. The Lanuvium inscription preserves the rules of order for one of these, which notably reflect some of the same concerns Paul faced with his dinner clubs (those rowdy Christian eucharist parties: see 1 Corinthians 11:16-34), and for which Paul voiced some of the same solutions, which (like at Lanuvium) must only have become more elaborate and codified over subsequent decades.
No Christians, in a hundred years of practicing, across seventy or more churches, ever once thought to write up their rules on a house wall, like pagan dinner clubs had? Nor even so much as to carve or scrawl “Jesus is Lord” on anything, anywhere? Note that I did not say we should necessarily expect them to; I listed many reasons why they might not have gotten around to it (and any such inscription would not have been as elaborate as at Lanuvium, which followed the law and sought a license to operate from the state, and so on, so I am not implying they would be identical, but that the same purpose would be served by minimally equivalent behavior). But for McGrath to give a reason they wouldn’t do this that is actually blatantly false (‘only state officials did that’) simply illustrates why historicists just aren’t thinking rationally, nor acting like careful scholars in this debate. Which tells you something about the merits of their position: it is more based on careless, irrational thinking than on careful, logical arguments.
(3) In chapter 4 of his excellent history of Christianity in its pagan context (Pagans and Christians, sadly out of print), Robin Lane Fox discusses an example of a private cult erecting an inscription to record the fact that they had recently been having a spate of revelations from God (and had consulted an oracle about it and were publishing its reply). This was in the city of Miletus; the cult was that of Demeter; and the celebrant who commissioned it was Alexandra, who was in a position similar to that of Peter: the inscription reads (in part) “Ever since she has taken on her priesthood” the “gods have been appearing in visitations as never before” either to or in the form of “girls and women, but also, men and children.” The inscription asks, “What does such a thing mean? Is it the sign of something good?” (the oracle’s answer was basically yes).
Here we have visions, seen as an exciting new event, being celebrated in stone. Christians could easily have done the same, erecting all manner of messages, in honor of their god, or to advertise their gospel, or to warn people to repent, and many other possible things. To suggest only “public functionaries” could do this is simply false. I have given talks in which I use two other examples illustrating the same point: a brief inscription by the wizard Harnouphis celebrating a “manifestation” he had experienced of the goddess Isis; and the Memnon inscriptions, where a famous moaning statue in Egypt became covered with privately-commissioned inscriptions celebrating each witness’s experience of the miracle (even dating when it happened).
Of course by the third century onward we have Christian inscriptions and artwork in the catacombs as yet another example. But they would not have been limited to that location or medium. To argue that private citizens and religious adherents didn’t erect inscriptions pertaining to their religions is simply ridiculous, and one of the most boner mistakes I’ve yet seen from someone claiming to know what he’s talking about.
Wait, What Does the Word “Have” Mean, Again?
McGrath attempts to salvage Ehrman’s disastrously misleading wordage by claiming it wasn’t misleading at all. Which would suggest McGrath is a lousy teacher, as anyone who instructs students or deals with the public would be appalled by Ehrman’s sloppy phrasing, knowing full well how misleading it would be, and how badly it will miseducate those who hear it said. McGrath says:
Carrier makes much of the statement “we have” but once again there is no sense in which Ehrman could reasonably be thought to be claiming that he has a copy of Q, for instance. His meaning is not ambiguous, nor is it mistaken.
Experts like McGrath and I know that “Ehrman could not reasonably be thought to be claiming that he has a copy of Q,” but all other readers of that article won’t know that. Exactly as I said originally: I am now going to be met with people for years and years who repeat to me that Ehrman said we have “multiple” Aramaic sources dating to the 30s A.D. That was a massively irresponsible way to word his sentence. McGrath won’t even admit that. Even though it was obvious to dozens of readers, as confirmed in comments on my blog and elsewhere. McGrath would never accept this kind of misstep from a mythicist. Nor would he accept his own excuse for it. So once again McGrath becomes the very thing he opposes.
Fact is, Ehrman’s wording is ambiguous. In fact, worse than, because it literally says what Ehrman did not mean to say. That’s not ambiguous; it’s false. The only saving grace is that Ehrman cannot have intended it that way. But that’s what makes his writing here atrocious to the extreme. What is actually ambiguous is the fact that it’s not even agreed that Q ever existed (likewise anything else he could have meant). Ehrman gives no hint whatsoever that that is true, but instead declares this source exists with absolute certainty and beyond any doubt. But it’s worse than that even, because, as I pointed out, Ehrman went on to declare that this non-existed document whose existence is still debated amounts to amazing proof of the historicity of Jesus, which is not in any possible sense a logically correct inference to make. Indeed, he even confidently declares that it dates within a “year or two” of Jesus! That is the exact kind of obfuscatory triumphalism McGrath loathes from the mythicists. But as soon as a historicist commits the same sin, now it’s not an error in even the slightest possible respect. See where this is going?
Not Getting the Point
That covers most of McGrath’s failed attempt to rehabilitate Ehrman’s article. But before I get to the last item, I have to pause to discuss how McGrath routinely fails to get the point of what I’ve said. Here is a good example of what I mean…
He quotes me saying this:
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.
To which McGrath responds:
This is (apart from the very last clause, perhaps) a wonderful statement of the very point Ehrman is seeking to make, as Carrier seems to realize. Yet for some reason, Carrier aligns himself against Ehrman and mainstream scholarship even when articulating the evidence in favor of its conclusions.
Thus demonstrating he completely missed the point. He at least gets that I actually agree with Ehrman that silences are not alone sufficient to demonstrate Jesus didn’t exist (I have always made this point, for years now, and McGrath surely knows this). But my point here is that Ehrman’s dismissal of silences as irrelevant to any conclusion about historicity, by suggesting we would never have any attestation outside the Bible, throws the baby out with the bathwater. 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.
McGrath does stuff like this many times, painting me with the same brush as all mythicists, when in fact he knows better. For example, I completely agree with him that Christianity is far more a product of its Jewish roots than its pagan inspirations. I have said this repeatedly for years now, and again I know McGrath knows this. So why does he write as though he is schooling me on that point, when in fact I have been schooling mythicists on it myself? He also knows that I argue Paul got his commandments “from the Lord” directly, by revelation (and in my post that he is replying to, I gave examples and referenced passages proving this). Yet he argues Paul quotes Jesus, therefore proving Jesus exists (even though I devoted a whole paragraph in my post to why that is an invalid inference; McGrath says nothing in response to it).
McGrath likewise says “Ehrman is clearly correct that there was no expectation prior to the rise of Christianity that a Davidic Messiah – i.e. the one who would restore the kingdom to the line of David” (a distinction Ehrman did not make; you see, like a biblical fundamentalist, McGrath has to correct his oracle before claiming it is infallible) “would be executed by the foreign empire ruling over the Jewish people,” but this ignores the argument I actually made, that nevertheless a messiah who would die to atone for the sins of Israel was expected by some Jews (McGrath doesn’t even mention this or interact with any of my evidence or argument for it). You can’t push that fact under the rug with yet another no-true-Scottsman fallacy.
The irony is that as soon as McGrath introduces this element (of the role of a Davidic messiah), he destroys Ehrman’s argument: because Christians did believe in Ehrman’s messiah in that sense…for Jesus was on his way to do exactly what Ehrman says all Jews expected a messiah to do: destroy the enemies of God and reestablish home rule. You see, McGrath confuses Ehrman’s argument that no one would countenance a dying messiah, with the argument that Christians didn’t believe in a militarily triumphant messiah. They obviously did. Thus, McGrath’s attempted revision of Ehrman’s argument fails, and it fails precisely because Ehrman was wrong about Jews not imaging this messiah could die first.
Another boner example is what he finally does say about academic freedom:
Carrier doesn’t address whether he thinks people ought to be allowed to pursue young-earth creationist or intelligent design research in mainstream academic contexts. But his argument is one that proponents of those views have used to argue precisely that.
This is a false analogy (the evidence for evolution is vastly greater, billions of times greater, than that for historicity), but more importantly, it ignores what I said in some detail: McGrath is committing the very sin I labored to explain Ehrman was, that of confusing a theory with a method. Should professors be free to pursue “creationist or intelligent design research” using valid methods? Yes! It would be completely wrong to reject all works submitted to peer review just because they argued for ID, even when their facts are correct and their methodology sound. Likewise it would be wrong to fire them or otherwise persecute them because they did that. It’s just that that hasn’t happened yet. No one has produced a pro-ID argument based on correct facts and sound methodology.
Which brings us back to that false analogy thing. Creationists want an exception to be made that allows their fallacious methods and false claims equal respect; I do not want that for mythicism. I want mythicism to be treated equally with all other theories about Jesus, by the same standards of method and argument. Ehrman’s sin is in acting like that is a priori impossible and therefore all mythicism is creationism. He is therefore setting up an untouchable dogma, all who even contemplate questioning it be damned–literally, by every institutional means available; McGrath agrees with Ehrman on that, because he just said we should be treated like Creationists. Whereas I made the crucial distinction that bad methodologies warrant that treatment, not debatable theories; McGrath epically fails to get the point.
Yet another example is where I actually agree with McGrath, and again it is worth pointing out why, because it reveals how badly he misses the point. McGrath says “if one is willing to posit interpolations where the manuscript evidence does not show evidence of such interpolation, then one can draw any conclusion,” so we can’t rely on that. I agree (see my previous comment on this; although McGrath is wrong to say one must have manuscript evidence, as even mainstream textual critics like Ehrman accept non-manuscript evidence; I can only assume McGrath was being hyperbolic, as otherwise he should know this). I did not argue the evidence should be dismissed because it could be an interpolation; I said the evidence was shaky because it could be an interpolation. That is, the probability of it being one (even if low, it is not vanishingly low) makes resting one’s entire case for historicity on this one single use of two Greek words in a document collection known for harmonizing and dogmatic interpolations, should be alarming, and not grounds for inviolable certainty. McGrath doesn’t seem to understand the weight of that point. But as David Hacket Fischer demonstrated (in Historians’ Fallacies), historians tend to be logic challenged.
So I guess in ancient Rome, “Misser of Points” would be McGrath’s cognomen (I thereby dub him Iacobus Magrathius Amissoquaestio). In the same vein, McGrath also ignores maybe 90% of the things I said (facts, arguments, essential points). It’s always interesting to compare what a critic responds to, with what they ignore. It’s usually all the things that refute their claims and generalizations. Take a look for yourself: read his critique, then go back and read the article he is criticizing.
James the (Adopted/Biological?) Brother of the Lord
I argued that all Christians were “brothers of the Lord” because: (a) they were all adopted sons of God, (b) Jesus was an adopted son of God, and (c) that by definition made them all the adopted brothers of Jesus; and (d) Christians called each other brother, therefore they would have called each other brothers of Jesus, too. I also showed (e) that they believed Jesus had explicitly called them his brothers and (f) they explicitly said Jesus was only “the firstborn among many brethren.” Another important point I made is that Jesus became Lord at his adoption, so Christians would be brothers of the Lord specifically, a uniquely Christian concept (and one that could only have been uttered after the origins of Christianity; e.g., even if James was the biological brother of Jesus, he would never have been called “the brother of the Lord” until Christians invented that phrase for him).
McGrath does not challenge any of the above (which is fortunate, because it is all proved conclusively from passages in Paul, which I cited profusely). The argument then follows: all Christians were the brothers of the Lord; so it would be confusing to call James a brother of the Lord. Because which do you mean? The James who is the biological brother of the Lord, or the James who is the adopted brother of the Lord? And even if we can guess, why use the confusing phrase at all? Why would a phrase that was equally true of all Christians, ever be used to uniquely identify biological brothers? Christians would only do that if somehow they policed the phrase and prevented Christians from using it of themselves (even though it would be correctly used that way otherwise), and restricted it only to specify biology, and that somehow all Christians knew this (it’s ability to uniquely identify being the only point of Paul using the phrase at all, on the historicist thesis). Even though this goes against the Christian doctrine that all are equals, and no one has a special privilege from being biologically related to anyone.
I explored other possibilities, but McGrath is too easily distracted so I won’t reiterate those. He can only handle one argument at a time. So let’s do that. We have two theories: (1) that Paul is merely saying James is a [baptised] Christian (hypothesis), because all [baptised] Christians were brothers of the Lord (established fact) and (2) that Paul means to say James is a biological and not adopted brother of Jesus (hypothesis), because Christians policed the use of the phrase in such a way as to make that a practical way to indicate that distinction (not in evidence). The fact that (2) requires assuming something ad hoc, but (1) does not, makes (1) initially more probable than (2). To borrow McGrath’s own words, “the phrase is clear.” All Christians are brothers of the Lord, James is a brother of the Lord. You do the math. If we have to add to it something whose probability is not 100% (the assumption of policing behavior), the probability drops. For example, if that policing behavior has a 50% chance of being true, while Christians being the brothers of the Lord has a 100% chance of being true (as I proved it did), then P(1) = P x 1 and P(2) = P x 0.5. If we start without presuppositions, i.e. before examining any evidence in the case, (1) and (2) are equally likely. So if (2) is reduced by half, and (1) is not, (2) is initially half as likely as (1), so in total probability, the relative priors for (1) and (2) are 0.67 and 0.33, respectively (if we assume no other theories have a significant prior probability). There is no getting around this. That is the logic of evidence.
Now, initially likely does not mean ultimately likely. We have to examine the remaining evidence. But there, if we reject the Gospels as myth (as well as much later legends), all we have are the letters of Paul. And nowhere in those letters does Paul mention Jesus having had specifically biological brothers. But he frequently talks about Jesus having adopted brothers: all Christians. That is exactly what we expect if (1) is true. But if (2) were true we would have some expectation the evidence would be different; it would not be a certainty, but there would be some probability that Paul would more clearly mention Jesus having biological kin. Therefore, the probability of the evidence we actually have on (2) is somewhat less than 100%. Let’s say it’s 90% (I’m just picking a number; it has to be something less than 1, the difference representing the probability that Paul would have mentioned this more clearly, in this arbitrary case I’m saying that probability is 10% or just 1 in 10). But the probability of the evidence we actually have on (1) is arguably 100% (or near enough). If we assume no other theories have a prior probability even near 1%, then this gives us a Bayesian result of P(2) = (.33 x .9) / [(.33 x .9) + (.67 x 1)] = .297 / (.297 + .67) = .297 / .967 = 0.31, only a 31% chance McGrath’s theory is correct, and a nearly 69% chance the mythicists are correct on this one. [And if we make a case that P(e|(1)) is less than 100%, as subsequent comments have attempted, then for this passage to be evidence for historicity, P(e|(1)) has to be less than 45%, but that’s when e includes all evidence pertaining to the case, not just what’s in Paul–and that’s assuming P(e|(2)) = 90%, which is already unreasonable, especially when e includes all evidence pertaining to the case, not just what’s in Paul.]
This is how James attempts to reply:
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.
This doesn’t respond to anything I argued. I never said God had a brother, or that Lord meant God. I said Jesus is the Lord, and as such was the adopted son of God (not brother of God), and as such all Christians, who were also the adopted sons of God, were the brothers of Jesus (in his role as Lord). McGrath’s failure to even grasp my obvious point calls into question his ability to evaluate any arguments whatever.
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.”
McGrath is making things up here. There is no instance anywhere in Paul’s letters of him ever saying such a thing as “brothers in” anything (much less brothers “in the Lord” or in Christ or in Jesus; claims to the contrary notwithstanding). Yes, the two phrases are obviously distinct in meaning. Which is precisely why Paul would never use “brother in the Lord.” Christians were not brothers in the Lord, they were actually the brothers of the Lord.
McGrath seems to be confusing completely different phrases, that don’t relate here. 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. Notice how the meanings there don’t work the other way around: is Ampliatus Paul’s “beloved of the Lord”? No. Is Urbanus their “fellow-worker of Christ?” No. Is Apelles “the approved of Christ”? No. Are those in the household of Narcissus “of the Lord”? No. Do Tryphaena and Tryphosa and Persis “labor of the Lord”? No. Was Rufus “the chosen of the Lord”? No. In each case they are in the Lord (literally: see The Empty Tomb, pp. 144-47, e.g. Romans 8:1 and Romans 12:5 and 2 Cor. 5:17), or they are these things in respect to the Lord.
Let’s look at the very different case of kinship: are Christians only brothers in the Lord? No. That would mean they were all brothers of each other because they were physically in the body or care or bosom of the Lord (by having faith in the Lord: Gal. 3:25-29) but that they weren’t thereby the brothers of the Lord. Just as above: every time you are something because you are in Christ, this is because you are not that something of Christ. You do not share equality with Christ in that respect, you are simply a part of him. But this is not the case for kinship. Jesus calls Christians his brothers; Christians called Jesus the firstborn of many brethren; Christians regarded themselves as the adopted sons of God and regarded Jesus as also the adopted son of that same God. Thus all Christians were in fact the brothers of the Lord, not just brothers of each other in the Lord.
To suggest otherwise is to insist that Paul defied all conventions of the Greek language, all common sense, all literal truth as he understood it, and chose to avoid the natural expression “brother of” for some unexplained reason even when it was correct, without any evidence he ever did that, or would. McGrath somehow thinks that is a more natural way to read the text than what I just explained above. You decide.
It’s pretty clear to me. 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? McGrath pulls the same stunt Ehrman did, and references on his behalf evidence that doesn’t exist: “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? We can clearly infer from all the evidence I presented (notice all the verses I listed; McGrath lists not one) that this was in fact the custom of the time; and the evidence shows Christians were all called brothers, and believed themselves to be the brother of Christ, and the one thing that would distinguish their brotherhood from any others, was that they were his brothers. 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. This is what historicists attempt to stand on. And they are surprised they are losing clout with their audience?
The Succinct Conclusion
The irony is that, when we consider everything I examined above, McGrath proves he is the one who “is clearly and unambiguously trying to make a case for a predetermined conviction, not follow the evidence where it leads” (his own words, fallaciously projected onto me, when they clearly describe himself…and Freud is smiling in his grave).