My Online Course on the Bible Starts Tomorrow. Join in. Learn Cool Stuff!

How screwed up are the manuscripts of the New Testament? What aren’t Christian preachers and apologists telling the public? How can you know when they are trying to pull the wool over your eyes about what’s in the Bible…or if they even know they are reporting the facts correctly?

How can you tell which Bible translation is the most honest for any given passage?

How have books been transmitted to us from the ancient world two thousand years ago? Is their text reliable enough to trust? Why? Or why not?

Do the Gospels really disagree on when Jesus was born? Do modern Bibles really contain known forgeries? Has the Gospel of Mark been doctored after the fact?

Answers to those questions, and more, will be covered in this course.

But what questions do you have about the New Testament? Like about its formation and transmission, its survival and accuracy, how it’s translated, what Christians claim about what it says. Or any question in the subject of New Testament studies, or the study of Greco-Roman texts generally.

This is your chance to ask an expert and get as full a response as you want, with as much follow up as you want, within the month of February. So join this class and take advantage of it!

Only one course text is required (and you can get it on kindle): my anthology Hitler Homer Bible Christ.

See you there!

Join My New Course This February: Intro to Biblical Scholarship on the New Testament

Starting February 1 (2015) I will be teaching an online course, Introduction to Biblical Scholarship on the New Testament. Click that to register.

The required course text (which students should purchase as soon as possible) is my personal anthology Hitler Homer Bible Christ (available there in print or kindle). We will use its contents as springboards for learning and discussing all manner of issues related to textual, historical, and literary analysis in New Testament studies. All other course materials (articles and/or video lectures) will be provided for free, including research papers by various scholars we’ll discuss, and excerpts from critical scholarly editions of the Bible in the original Greek (and no prior knowledge of Greek will be required), public online tools, and other readings and resources. And that’s not all…

Official Course Description:

[Read more…]

Hitler Homer Bible Christ: A Surprise New Book by Richard Carrier

While waiting for Sheffield to finish and release On the Historicity of Jesus (the book everyone is waiting for, presently projected for late March or early April), I decided to produce my own anthology of all my published papers on history. That volume, Hitler Homer Bible Christ: The Historical Papers of Richard Carrier 1995-2013, is now available, in print and kindle.

The publication description reads as follows (emphasis added):

Richard Carrier, Ph.D., philosopher, historian, blogger, has published a number of papers in the field of ancient history and biblical studies. He has also written several books and chapters on diverse subjects, and has been blogging and speaking since 2006. He is known the world over for all the above. But here, together for the first time, are all of Dr. Carrier’s peer reviewed academic journal articles in history through the year 2013, collected with his best magazine articles, research papers and blog posts on the same subjects. Many have been uniquely revised for this publication. Others are inaccessible except through libraries or paywalls. Twenty chapters include his seminal papers on the scandal of Hitler’s Table Talk, the Jerry Vardaman microletter farce, and the testimonies to Christ in Josephus, Tacitus, and Thallus, as well as Carrier’s journalistic foray into ancient pyramid quackery, his work on the historical & textual errancy of the bible, and more.

Cover of Hitler Homer Bible Christ. Olive or brown with dark greek falling leaves is the only graphic. The rest is just the title, subtitle at the top, and author at the bottom all in white lettering.The biggest attraction will be the fact that my peer reviewed paper showing that the reference to Christ in Tacitus is an interpolation, which is slated to appear in the academic journal Vigiliae Christianae later this year, is included in this volume, as well as my two other peer reviewed, academically published papers on the historicity question, the one on Thallus not having mentioned Jesus, and the other on the two references to Jesus in Josephus being interpolations (the one deliberate, the other accidental), published in the Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism and the Journal of Early Christian Studies, respectively.

Also included is my brief but now hard-to-find article for The History Teacher published years ago, and all the articles I published in The Skeptical Inquirer (on the FOX special promoting pyramidiocy, and the two articles on the Jerry Vardaman microletters debacle), and most interestingly for some, my game-changing, peer-reviewed article in the academic journal German Studies Review, exposing the dubious nature of the still-only English translation of Hitler’s Table Talk, largely bogus quotes from which make Hitler look more atheistic than he was. Of particular value to anyone who keeps seeing those quotes repeated and wants ready access to the definitive take-down. I have also included a new afterword on the impact that paper had on Hitler studies, and expanding the analysis to include all the passages you’ll find cited from the Table Talk (and even some quotations elsewhere) to argue Hitler was godless.

All of the above are hard to find or get. I only have the rights to publish them in an anthology of my own works. So I did.

I have also included several online articles, from my blog and elsewhere, many revised for this volume, to produce a handy collection of my best and most useful work in the field of history. The table of contents reads as follows:

– Doing History –

1 :: The Function of the Historian in Society

2 :: History Before 1950

3 :: Experimental History

4 :: B.C.A.D.C.E.B.C.E.

– History Done –

5 :: Heroic Values in Classical Literary Depictions of the Soul: Heroes and Ghosts in Virgil, Homer, and Tso Ch’iu-ming

6 :: Herod the Procurator and Christian Apologetics

7 :: Herod the Procurator: Was Herod the Great a Roman Governor of Syria?

8 :: On the Dual Office of Procurator and Prefect

– Debunking the Bogus –

9 :: Flash! Fox News Reports that Aliens May Have Built the Pyramids of Egypt!

10 :: Pseudohistory in Jerry Vardaman’s Magic Coins: The Nonsense of Micrographic Letters

11 :: More on Vardaman’s Microletters

12 :: Hitler’s Table Talk: Troubling Finds

– The Vexed Bible –

13 :: Ignatian Vexation

14 :: Pauline Interpolations

15 :: Luke vs. Matthew on the Year of Christ’s Birth

16 :: Mark 16:9-20 as Forgery or Fabrication

– The Troublesome Evidence for Jesus –

17 :: The Nazareth Inscription

18 :: Thallus and the Darkness at Christ’s Death

19 :: Origen, Eusebius, and the Accidental Interpolation in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.200

20 :: The Prospect of a Christian Interpolation in Tacitus, Annals 15.44

In all, Hitler Homer clocks in at 395 pages.

I already have a contract to produce an audio version of Hitler Homer. Recording will likely begin in a month or so. The audiobook will thus be available probably mid-year. (Meanwhile, I spent most of last week in the studio finishing the recording of Proving History, which you can expect to be released on audio in just a few months. Sheffield wants to do an audio edition of On the Historicity of Jesus but so far hasn’t discussed arrangements with me, so alas, I have no idea when that will be available.)

The Star of Bethlehem: The Definitive Takedown

Cover of Aaron Adair's book The Star of Bethlehem: A Skeptical View, showing a star to the left, the milky way as viewed from earth to the right, part of an astrological horoscope to the bottom right, and the stock bible image of the magi on camels in shadow at the bottom.An astrophysicist has just done a bang-up job debunking the Star of Bethlehem and its affiliated fawning scholarship. All in just 155 pages (in fact, really only 128 if you skip the appendix, glossary, and bibliography). The author is Dr. Aaron Adair. The book is The Star of Bethlehem: A Skeptical View (also available on kindle). Like any responsible amateur, he sought the help of historians, classicists, and specialists for composing his sections on the literary and historical arguments, and for translating the original Greek (even though he has some competence in the language himself). His research was exhaustive. His key arguments fairly conclusive. He explicitly sets aside many eye-rolling side-debates like dating the death of Herod the Great, yet even then he mentions them and his reasons for not delving further into them. And his command of the astronomical arguments is, of course, unmatched, being directly in his field of expertise.

I was one of the experts who advised him on the project and I got to read an advance draft and was very impressed with the result. Hence you’ll see my promotional blurb on the book’s cover. I wrote:

Well researched, scientifically reasoned, elegantly concise, this book will long be required reading on the ‘Star of Bethlehem’. Full of fascinating historical facts, and better informed and more careful than any other book on the subject, this should be on the shelf of everyone interested in that legendary celestial event.

True that. His bibliography alone is of great value. Scientists will find the book especially heartwarming. Historians will as well. It even taught me a few things. In the foreword by astronomer and science writer Bob Berman, for example, I learned something I hadn’t even thought of, an example of Christianity seeping its way even into popular astronomy education. Berman writes…

[The Star of Bethlehem] has been a staple of holiday planetarium shows since the 1930s…[and my] very first column, published in Discover in December 1989, was a two-page spread about the Star of Bethlehem. Basically I summarized the various “explanations” shown to the public during planetariums’ annual “Star of Wonder” shows, then noted that Planetarium Directors–I’d interviewed quite a few–were well aware that each was impossible. Nonetheless, the shows remain popular, and have become such a tradition in and of themselves that no one seems bothered by such make-believe science being annually offered to the public.

Indeed.

Beyond that, however, I find this book of value not just because it will teach you a lot of cool things about history and astronomy with an economy of words, nor only because it has a great bibliography and is the go-to resource now for discussing this subject, but also because in the process of addressing astrological theories of the Star account, Adair deftly demonstrates a point I had long made myself but never had the time to demonstrate: ancient astrology was so wildly inconsistent and diverse that any astrological theory of either Christian origins or biblical accounts is probably beyond any possibility of demonstrating.

And this is relevant to the historicity debate. Not because proving the star account was a wholesale myth (and was inspired by no actual natural or supernatural event), as Adair does, entails or even implies Jesus didn’t exist (a historical man can have such myths spun around him easily enough), but because it shows why every Jesus mythicist who attempts to make an astrotheological argument for the origins of Christianity and (especially) the construction of the Gospels is just engaging in a Rorschach inkblot test. There was no consistent symbolism or system of allusions in ancient astrology, so any attempt to use one (or cobble one together) is just another multiple comparisons fallacy run amok.

That doesn’t mean astrotheological theories are necessarily false. But it does mean none can be proved even probable on present evidence, so the whole attempt should be abandoned.

To understand why, Adair’s book is a must-read. And that’s on top of all the other reasons I’ve summarized. So if any of this is your thing, check it out!

Brodie on Jesus

Cover of Brodie's book "Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus"Last month I completed Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery by Thomas Brodie (Sheffield Phoenix, 2012) and have only just now found the time to review it here (I’ve been so busy I haven’t even had internet access for most of the last two weeks–buried in the moors and quaint villages of England–sorry about that!).

In this book Brodie (a major biblical scholar) drops a bombshell: he has been convinced that Jesus never existed as a historical person since the 70s. Only now (in this much-anticipated book) has he felt free to say so publicly, and explain the path of discovery that took him there. This book is as the subtitle says: a memoir. It isn’t really a good book for arguing his case. In fact, it’s terrible at that. Consequently, I cannot recommend this book to anyone who wants to see a good case for Jesus not existing. You simply will not be convinced by his treatment of that here. All it does do is explain, autobiographically, the steps that took him to this conclusion, with some brief outlines of the kind of arguments he could perhaps gin up if he were to do a full-force defense of the thesis.

However, even were he to write that hypothetical book, I still don’t think he’d have a case. Not that there isn’t a good case for the conclusion (that Jesus probably did not really exist historically as the Gospels claim). Rather, I think Brodie has come to that conclusion invalidly, from a rather weak series of arguments. Cover of Hector Avalos' book The End of Biblical StudiesOthers will complain of his theology, as he attempts to argue in Beyond that he can still be a good Catholic (and a member of the church hierarchy) even if he believes there was no historical Jesus. His attempt to make sense of that is nonsense, IMO, worse even than the dubious “have it both ways” theology of the Episcopal skeptic, John Shelby Spong. But I really don’t care about that. That’s for the superstitious goons at the Vatican to argue over. Atheists can be satisfied with the gut punch to all such kinds of hyper-liberal reasoning in Hector Avalos’ The End of Biblical Studies (which smartly treats and refutes both conservative and liberal attempts to rehabilitate the bible as anything but awful ancient woo).

My interest is in this book’s value toward advancing the historicity debate. Assessment: it unfortunately won’t. It’s one merit is its honesty, and its setting an example that one major well-qualified expert does not deem the notion of Jesus’ ahistoricity to be implausible or out of bounds. I cannot say it adds to any argument from authority. Since his case is invalid in my opinion, his being a proponent of ahistoricity does not itself support ahistoricity, only its respectability. Why? Well, he rests on one non sequitur and one false premise.

The non sequitur is common among myth proponents: the Gospels are obvious contrived myths, therefore Jesus didn’t exist. The premise is true (many have well proved it already, but I will marshal the best evidence in my book on this next year). But the conclusion does not follow. Brodie also does not make a very good case even for the premise in this book, though I know he can. His treatment in The Birthing of the New Testament does a better job of that, albeit flawed in the same ways MacDonald’s Homeric argument is: the case is made with enough strong arguments, but those are buried under many weak arguments, so people tend to dismiss the whole thesis because of the latter, not taking proper note of the former. But in any case, if you want to see the best case for that, Beyond is not it. I don’t think he will convince anyone with what’s presented here. It’s possible I’m too jaded, though, and that the material in Beyond will be fresh and intriguing enough to someone not already familiar with the Brodie thesis.

Meanwhile, the false premise has to do with his treatment of the Pauline epistles. Really the only evidence for historicity there is is a scant few obscure passages in the Pauline epistles (e.g. references to “brothers of the Lord”), so they are really the most important evidence to deal with, and he deals with them almost not at all. In fact, his answer to them is to declare them all forgeries, and Paul himself a fiction. Brodie makes no clear case for this conclusion, and what arguments he does have are fallacious (e.g. the letters have certain features that forged letters sometimes share–except, so do authentic letters), and the position as a whole is too radical to be useful. Not that it hasn’t had serious defenders before this. But it constitutes a whole additional fringe thesis one must defend successfully first, before one can use it as a premise in an argument for the ahistoricity of Jesus. And I am skeptical that that can really be done (see my comments here and here). Certainly none of his arguments in Beyond are convincing on this subject.

To be clear, Brodie’s view appears to be that the authentic Paulines were written in the early first century by Christians who would have known the original apostles. So he is not advancing the Detering thesis, for example, that they are all mid-second century forgeries. But he doesn’t explain how their contents can still make sense within the context of a non-historical Jesus. In fact, Brodie presents absolutely no theory of Christian origins at all. And that is perhaps this book’s most decisive failing. You simply cannot argue successfully for ahistoricity without testing a theory of Christian origins without Jesus against the best (i.e. most defensible and least speculative) theory of Christian origins with Jesus.

So, methodologically, this book is just as unsound as Ehrman’s book arguing the contrary (which is rife with fallacies cover to cover). Does it have any merits? As autobiography, it is very informative. As a précis of why he believes what he does, it’s adequate, just not persuasive. His treatment of the presumption of an oral tradition behind the Gospels is spot on (no one has summed it up quite so well in so short a space: pp. 115-19, cf. also p. 156). His rebuttal to Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist? is over-brief but on point (pp. 226-31). And he has sound opinions on the criteria used to defend historicity (they suck: p. 157) and the extrabiblical evidence (they prove nothing: pp. 16-68; I disagree with some of his premises here, but his conclusions follow all the same, e.g. here you will find the best argument that Josephus doesn’t matter even if everything he says is authentic). And there are occasional gems (e.g. he has an intriguing thesis as to why Jesus was mythically construed to be a carpenter or the son of one: pp. 159-60; and his conclusion of Josephus is eminently quotable: “it is not possible, in any reliable way, to invoke Josephus as an independent witness to Jesus. Unreliable witness cannot be used to condemn someone to death. And neither can it be used to assert that someone lived.”).

But these do not constitute enough of a merit to warrant recommending this book to most readers, who will not much benefit from it, I’m sorry to say.

Historicity News: Notable Books

This is the second of three posts covering news in the historicity-of-Jesus debate (for the first see Thallus et Alius). I recently finished reading the latest books by John Crossan and Dennis MacDonald. They inadvertently support the mythicist case with their latest arguments (despite making some weak, almost half-hearted arguments for historicity), and are worth taking note of. I don’t have time to write a full review, but here are some observations of interest to the historicity debate… [Read more…]

Historicity News: Thallus et Alius

I have a slew of things to report. I was thinking of doing some book reviews, for example, but I am not going to have the time. With my England trip coming up and my push to hunker down and finish On the Historicity of Jesus Christ, I will have much less time for blogging over the next two months. So I’m just going to summarize some things of late, including a new publication of mine, new books by others, and major events in the field, over the course of three posts.

First, my peer reviewed paper on Thallus has just been published (my paper on Josephus is soon to follow). The full citation is Richard Carrier, “Thallus and the Darkness at Christ’s Death,” Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 8 (2011-2012): 185-91. [It was available online, as part of Volume 8, as a downloadable PDF, but only until it appeared in print]. The conclusion is that Thallus never mentioned Jesus in any capacity, and must therefore be removed from all lists of authors attesting to Jesus. In fact, we have what is certainly a direct quotation of what Thallus said in Eusebius: that in the year 32 “the sun was eclipsed, Bithynia was struck by an earthquake, and in the city of Nicaea many buildings fell.”

If anyone wants to update Wikipedia’s article on Thallus to quote and/or cite this peer reviewed article, please feel free. It currently quotes my very old online essay on the matter; whereas the new paper is not only peer reviewed, but contains additional arguments confirming the conclusion, improves various points, and skips over unnecessary digressions.

Second, in yesterday’s post “Understanding Bayesian History” I responded to a scientist’s critique of my book Proving History, and he posted a well written reply in comments there, which I much appreciated and to which I have responded in kind, and that exchange makes a lot of things clearer, especially as to my objectives in writing PH and how to improve upon it, and regarding what his concerns actually were. I consider this a model of constructive dialogue, so it’s worth looking at.

Next I’ll report on two new books I’ve read that relate to the question of historicity.

The Dying Messiah Redux

The following article has been revised and corrected, with appreciation to the critiques and analyses of Thom Stark. Revisions may continue so as to perfect the content and make this article of greatest utility. Latest revision: June 29 (2012).

Last year I made the case that the idea of a “dying messiah” was not wholly anathema to Jews and even already imagined by some before Christianity made a lot of hay out of the idea. I made small revisions to that article (The Dying Messiah) to make its claims and evidence clearer. This year, Thom Stark (a seminary graduate) wrote a response (The Death of Richard Carrier’s Dying Messiah) and discussion on his blog has continued since (culminating in It Is Finished for Richard Carrier’s Dying Messiah). His analysis has changed my opinions and conclusions on several matters, and identified several errors in my original analysis (now corrected or removed), but does not change the overall thesis. Some of his replies also get wrong what I said or quote me out of context or go off on irrelevant digressions, but I won’t waste words on that. I’ll just cut to the chase and deal with the relevant evidence and argument. [Read more…]

Ehrman on Jesus: A Failure of Facts and Logic

Having completed and fully annotated Ehrman’s new book Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (Harper 2012), I can officially say it is filled with factual errors, logical fallacies, and badly worded arguments. Moreover, it completely fails at its one explicit task: to effectively critique the arguments for Jesus being a mythical person. Lousy with errors and failing even at the one useful thing it could have done, this is not a book I can recommend.

 

Overall Impressions

I was certain this would be a great book, the very best in its category. And I said this, publicly, many times in anticipation of it. It’s actually the worst. It’s almost as bad, in fact, as The Jesus Mysteries by Freke & Gandy (and I did not hyperlink that title because I absolutely do not want you to buy it: it will disease your mind with rampant unsourced falsehoods and completely miseducate you about the ancient world and ancient religion). I was eagerly hoping for a book I could recommend as the best case for historicity (but alas, that title stays with the inadequate but nevertheless competent, if not always correct, treatment in Van Voorst’s Jesus Outside the New Testament and Theissen & Merz’s The Historical Jesus). I was also expecting it to be a good go-to rebuttal to the plethora of bad mythicism out there, so I could just refer people to this book every time they ask me why (for example) Freke & Gandy suck.

But I cannot recommend books that are so full of errors that they will badly mislead and miseducate the reader, and that commit so many mistakes that I have to substantially and extensively correct them. Did Jesus Exist? ultimately misinforms more than it informs, and that actually makes it worse than bad. Like the worst of mythicist literature, you will come away after reading it with more false information in your head than true, and that makes my job as a historian harder, because now I have to fix everything he screwed up. This is why I don’t recommend anyone ever read bad mythicist literature, because it will only fill your head with nonsense that I will have to work harder to correct. Ehrman’s book ironically does much the same thing. Therefore, it officially sucks.

[Read more…]

That Luxor Thing Again

Acharya S (aka D.M. Murdock) responded to my post on That Luxor Thing, with a number of weirdly paranoid claims, but one valid criticism, and a few incorrect criticisms and more bad arguments, and it is worth addressing these in this new post. To read her entry in this exchange see Parallelophobia, Personal Attacks and Professional Jealousy: A Response to Richard Carrier’s ‘That Luxor Thing’.

Paranoia vs. Professionalism

One of the reasons Murdock’s methodology goes off the rails is that she assumes everyone is out to get her and that there is always some sort of evil conspiracy against her work. Which insulates her from listening to criticism and correcting the way she does things. That is one of the surest ways to fail as a scholar. It likely also prevents her from having useful dialogs with experts in ancient history. Which is the surest way to make yourself irrelevant as a scholar. But that’s her own lookout.

What concerns me more is her mean-spirited paranoia. For example, she says of me that “He’s releasing a new book about mythicism; hence, he’s trying to get attention by attacking others in the field who seem to have a significant following, in order to garner those followers to himself.” Huh? Why on earth does she come to that conclusion? It’s not even logical, much less in evidence. I’m not interested in “followers” (although by her expressed fear, she evidently is; which is more characteristic of a guru than a scholar). I am interested in persuading academic professionals that a particular theory is true, or at least plausible enough to treat as respectably as other theories in the field. Every time I attempt to do that, I have the sloppy methodology of other mythers thrown in my face as a reason to dismiss all mythicism, and I have to spend a great deal of additional time explaining why my methods are valid and that mythicism can be supported with valid arguments. (I have also had mythers’ unfriendly paranoia cited at me by professors in the field, forcing me to also prove I don’t act like that–I had dismissed that claim about Murdock in the past, but now seeing it flung at me, evidently the scholars who mentioned it to me were correct about it; this is not doing her or mythicism any good, it makes them both look like tinfoil hat.)

By contrast, I have said many times that Earl Doherty’s approach is the most methodological and theoretically sound of any so far (despite only some minor flaws), and I have adapted his theory into its most defensible variant, and I always recommend his book The Jesus Puzzle as the best case yet made for mythicism. My review of his work mentioned all the ways it was correct, and all the ways it could be improved. In what way does this fit Murdock’s theory about me? Contrary to her paranoid fantasies, I address the validity of facts and methodology, praise where praise is due, censure where censure is due. Instead, Murdock thinks this is a political game whereby we should all “up vote” and “positively review” each others work, and never be “adversarial.” That is a perfect example of why her methodology sucks. That is not how a professional should ever behave. You can never make progress toward any true knowledge if you never criticize or call out error, if you show no interest in the validity of the methods being employed, if you show no desire to root out errors and improve methodologies. If it’s all a “back slapping” game whereby our only aim is to promote each others’ book sales, then we are not scholars. We’re hucksters.

Thus, Murdock intimates that she will now negatively review any books I produce, simply because I did not play her game (which is ironic, as it implies a level of vendetta and dishonesty in her that she projects onto me, to the eternal satisfaction of Sigmund Freud). Instead, I acted like actual scholars act: we criticize each other’s work, specifically so as to identify error and improve our methods and conclusions as a collective enterprise. Instead of being objective and simply evaluating works on their merits, Murdock says she “could have” positively reviewed my work as she did Doherty’s and Price’s, that I “could have benefited likewise,” had I “not chosen to be adversarial.” So, simply because I dared criticize her, now she will trash my work or ignore it, like a pouting child. Not behave, apparently, like a professional. (Notably, “personal attacks” is in the title of her post, yet between us, the only personal attacks I see are hers against me, impugning my motives and honesty; she fails to adduce any actual personal attacks from me against her.)

Her paranoid behavior continues to show when she assumes I was making an argument of “Guilt by Association” when I mentioned the bad scholarship of Kersey Graves as something to be aware of (even though linking to my past work on similar subjects, particularly to inform the public, is a common practice of mine, and I never once said she was relying on Graves or even like him, apart from the single fact of seeing parallels where there are none). She then weirdly implies some sort of vague defense of Graves, rather than agreeing with me that Graves’s scholarship sucks, while simultaneously insisting she doesn’t rely on him, which I never implied she did. It’s all very confusing. Is Graves’ scholarship reliable, or not? She then goes on to chest pump about all her amazing work that I ignore. It’s not exactly the behavior of a person who believes in being objective or resolving disagreements.

Murdock also seems obsessed with radical counter-consensus claims, rather than showing any humility or caution in exploring them. For example, she says Ph.D.d scholars (whom she doesn’t name) agree with her that “Christian scribes at Alexandria copied Buddhist texts for much of their source material. Carrier endorses The Case Against Q, but these Buddhist scholars are quite certain they have found Q, so let us sit back and watch the fireworks.” Indeed. When this gets in a peer reviewed journal in the field, I will read it. When will that be exactly? Because I would be most eager to use this as evidence in my own book. The thing is, I find the claim dubious. As will most experts in the field. The proper procedure in that case is to admit you have some convincing of experts to do, that until it gets properly vetted it might not hold up to scrutiny, and that you should go through proper channels and methods to seek that scrutiny, and see what comes out. Instead the arrogance and certainty she exhibits on this point is another example of her bad methodology. It’s a set up for verification bias and a failure to detect and correct errors of method and inference.

This is not the correct way to behave as a scholar. It is anathema to sound methodology. And it’s guaranteed to get you ignored by the very people you should be aiming to persuade: the expert community as a whole.

The Valid Criticism

Even so, Murdock corrects me on one error of fact, and that I gladly concede and I apologize for getting it wrong: the actual inscription in the Luxor temple was probably produced almost a century after Hatshepsut, and thus not commissioned by the same queen as I had mistakenly reported. I have revised my original post to reflect this. It does not change my conclusion (as I now explain there), but it does soften it a little, since it would be much easier to prove that the inscriptions refer to the same story if they were commissioned by the same person; being a century apart opens up the possibility at least that the second commissioner changed the story in fundamental ways. But I do not see any evidence that this is what happened. Murdock relies on an elaborate system of speculations to conclude that the second story is not an abbreviation of the first but a substantial rewrite that has changed its fundamental character.

Normally a radical reinterpretation like that would be published under peer review so experts can consider it and criticize it if it is found wanting. An analogous example is the theory once advanced that the Marduk resurrection narrative recovered in clay tablets was a political satire of actual Marduk cult and that his “death” was meant to be an insult and not an actual part of ceremony and belief. This was published under peer review, then duly criticized by further articles under peer review, with the end result that it was found to be completely untenable, and it is now accepted that the death-and-resurrection of Marduk was a real part of Marduk cult, which long predated Christianity (and would still have been a component of cult at Tyre, which the Gospels claim Jesus visited, and which was right adjacent to Judea and a major trade hub for Judeans, so it can’t be claimed that Jews had never heard of it). This is how conclusions in the field become acceptable and usable as evidence to build theories on.

The analogy is that (I presume) Murdock agrees that the theory attacking the Marduk resurrection narrative was false and should have been rejected. But if we followed her methodology, it would have become “the theory” simply because someone (her analog) simply insisted it’s correct, and that their reinterpretation of the evidence is obviously correct, and that anyone who criticizes it is only doing so out of envy or to sell books, and therefore not only can all criticisms be ignored and all critics denounced as ignorant, but there is no need for any consensus to develop in the expert community at all before declaring this a proven fact. By that methodology, we would have rejected Marduk’s resurrection as a precedent for Christianity, exactly the opposite of what Murdock would want. Instead, the theory went through a correct process of professional presentation and consensus evaluation, and thus, thankfully for her, was rejected. If you want a radical new theory to be accepted, you have to go through the same process. Because it is precisely by surviving that process that a claim becomes established knowledge. Otherwise it just remains an outside fringe claim built on two parts speculation and one part arrogant certitude.

In this case, not only has her radical reinterpretation not gone through this process, it looks prima facie implausible. The Luxor inscriptions are self-evidently abbreviations of the other (they are uniformly shorter and lift identical phrases), not rewrites–in which what has changed would have to be explicitly asserted, precisely because otherwise everyone would assume the already-familiar story is what was being referenced. But the Luxor accounts do not actually assert that any part of the story has changed. They just tell the same story in a lot fewer words. This is how we work with myths and texts routinely: when we find an abbreviated version of the labors of Hercules, we interpret it in light of more elaborate versions, which fill in what has been cut short. We do not attempt to argue that, even though nothing different is explicitly being said, that nevertheless the story has radically changed. That is improper methodology. Because it goes against all natural probability, and rests on a number of ad hoc assumptions not firmly in evidence (which intrinsically reduces the prior probability of any hypothesis, because a simpler hypothesis, which does not need them, is inherently more likely, yet explains the evidence just as well: the reason this follows is among the methodological principles I demonstrate in Proving History).

Nevertheless, I admit I was wrong about one fact in this analysis, and I have now corrected it. Which is another of the methodological principles I articulate in Proving History (Rule 12, page 39).

The Invalid Criticisms

The rest of her commentary is barely worth the trouble of reading. Nothing else in it makes any valid point against what I said. Contrary to Murdock’s rebuttal, for example, I did not say anything follows from the images, but in fact made the opposite point, that like an illustrated bible, the images do not tell the whole story but only fractional snapshots. We therefore must rely on the inscriptions. Hence my argument above, and my own quotation of the actual Luxor inscription itself as an example. Likewise the idea that “no” mythical beings have genitalia (even though the phallus of Osiris, which impregnated Isis, was a major component of that cult, and we have inscriptions from Egypt depicting divine copulation) is simply not tenable. It is fallacious to argue that some impregnations were effected by other means (e.g. Zeus as a shower of gold), therefore all divine impregnations were effected by other means. This kind of hasty generalization is another example of bad methodology.

In attempting to bypass that point with the additional argument that even if they did have sex (a “having it both ways” approach to making her point, which is not intrinsically fallacious, but starts to look so here), “sex between an Egyptian god and a mortal woman is not all its cracked up to be” (whatever that is supposed to mean, and however it is supposed to be relevant to my point I don’t know; even the Luxor inscription, as I quoted, does not seem to suggest it was anything but a very amazing and very physical experience) and that, she says, in any case “both stories represent a godly act that produces a divine offspring.” But if that is all she is reducing her argument to, then her argument collapses altogether. Because there are hundreds of stories across dozens of cultures “that represent a godly act that produces a divine offspring.” That is in fact a necessary element of all demigod narratives whatever. So how then are we to suppose Christians needed the Luxor narrative to get theirs from?

This was the very point I made in my last post: divine acts impregnating females to produce divine sons were a ubiquitous element of pagan cultures all around the Jews, and of Hellenistic kingship narratives (most famously Alexander the Great). There was nothing even peculiarly Egyptian about them, much less “Luxorian.” Murdock’s further point that the Egyptian tales might have influenced these is actually a point I myself made: its irrelevant (since we want to know what the Christians borrowed from, not what their borrowee borrowed from, which might not have even been known to the Christians, as I explained) and unprovable (from the evidence we have we cannot demonstrate that this wasn’t just a ubiquitous cultural trope, or that these Egyptian ideas weren’t influenced by foreign ideas instead of the other way around). So why bother with it?

Murdock still has not cited any living Egyptologist who regards the Luxor narratives as a nonphysical (nonsexual) experience, yet taunts me with claims that she has. Instead she cites Wikipedia (not an Egyptologist), and even that does not say this (as the text she highlights only describes the pictures, not the text, and doesn’t say anything about the experience not being sexual). Again, this is not sound methodology. She then does this a lot, citing this or that Egyptologist saying one thing (with which I have never disagreed), then claiming it means what she says, but the quote doesn’t say that. You can’t cite an authority as affirming x, by quoting them saying y. Indeed, you shouldn’t even want to. (And I must warn anyone who might be thinking of “editing” the Wikipedia article to “support” her: I know how to read Wikipedia editing histories.)

And even despite all that weirdness, Murdock then backpedals and says “the debate remains whether the Egyptians themselves perceived their gods as having literal sex with mortals, or in general was the concept more spiritual or allegorical” (The debate where? What living Egyptologist is debating this?). We actually know something about this: all ancient texts about the allegorization of myths that discuss what “the people themselves” believed say that “the people themselves” not only took the myths literally but were sometimes so offended by the suggestion of allegorizing them that some scholars advised their peers to avoid mentioning this in public (see Strabo, Geography 1.2.8 and Heliodorus, Aethiopica 9.9.5; Seneca’s On Superstition, as quoted in Augustine’s City of God 6.10, presents an example; similar observations are made in Plutarch’s On Isis and Osiris and his On Superstition; Origen had something to say about it, too; Socrates was even executed by the state in part for the alleged “crime” of suggesting the state gods and myths not be taken literally).

The allegorical meaning of a narrative was often a component of mysteries that higher ranking members would learn; while the rank and file (and outsiders) would be lured and taught by the myths as literal texts. Thus, both “readings” of a narrative could exist at the same time. Even sometimes in the same mind: the allegory could be read as the meaning of a literal event. All three modes (literal reading, allegorical reading, and simultaneously both) are exhibited throughout Philo’s treatises on Allegorical Interpretation. So it is pointless to handwave about a “debate” over whether the allegories were taken literally or not. It was both. And the story was still there, and still had all its cultural connotations regardless. That’s why no Christian would “allegorically” have said Yahweh impregnated Mary with a phallus or that she fondled and smelled him in her bed. That would have been repugnant, just as I said. By contrast, sexless impregnations were plenty to be had from all surrounding cultures, so why are we assuming Christians were inspired by Egyptian tales specifically, or indeed the Luxor inscriptions specifically? Murdock’s answers to that question are not well founded.

Finally, Murdock spends a lot of time showing that divine birth narratives were all over Egypt. Well, yes. They were all over Tyre and Syria and Greece and Rome and Arabia and everywhere else, too. That’s my point. You can’t argue “it was everywhere, therefore it came from Egypt,” and since it was everywhere, it can’t be argued that Christians were influenced specifically by Egyptian versions of it. For example, per my previous post’s analysis, such a thesis does not explain the presence of magi in Matthew’s story, but a derivation from the OT does. When we account for every element that way, we end up with only one thing left over that’s held in common with Luxor: a God impregnating a woman to produce his Son. Which is not uniquely Egyptian but a universal trope repeated everywhere in every culture of the time. (Which is why it is odd she accuses me in her title of “parallelophobia,” even though I explicitly said even in that post that some such parallels were obvious and in fact more likely influences on the Christian story; so how am I parallelophobe, again?)

Her methodology throughout all this is simply not sound, and would not impress any expert I know. It clearly annoys her when I say that, but that doesn’t make it untrue.

Case in Point

I will close with a prime example of what I mean. At one point in her long post Murdock quotes a medieval author (Proclus) as saying that Cleopatra claimed to have been a virgin who never had sex with anyone yet gave birth to a divine son (which I suppose means Caesarion, although apparently she had several kids). That is simply not in the text.

Proclus says nothing about Cleopatra; nor is he talking about Isis, but Neith (Murdock often assumes that because these goddesses were merged or conflated in some cases, that therefore they are always the same goddess with always the same associated properties and stories, which is not correct reasoning; they are often referred to as working together–and thus often regarded as different goddesses–and their stories, relationships, and powers were often distinguished in some times and places even as they were merged in others); and what Proclus does say isn’t about virginity, even though Neith was indeed a virgin goddess, who gave birth to gods spontaneously, i.e. without the involvement of any other God (see Barbara Lesko, The Great Goddesses of Egypt, pp. 45-63)–which would not make this a passage relevant to Murdock’s thesis.

Just as importantly, no such claim is to be found anywhere near the actual time of Cleopatra (whereas the claim that her son was born to Julius Caesar, in the fully traditional way, she trumpeted high and low), and is not made even in Proclus (despite Murdock being so certain it was, for what reason I don’t know). So this is simply not a plausible claim, and the way Murdock argues for it exemplifies everything that is wrong with her methodology. Not least in failing to notice or mention that Proclus is not talking about Cleopatra. An occasional mistake like that, duly corrected, might be no big deal (if she does correct it). But it’s not like this is an isolated example. And the further one digs into her case here, the worse it gets…

You can read the text yourself: Proclus, Commentary on Plato’s Timaeus 1.98 (5th century A.D.). The section starts as his commentary on section 21e, where he begins explaining who the Neith is whom Plato mentions as the goddess who founded Sais (Plato, Timaeus 21e), identified with the virgin Athena. When Proclus gets to the relevant quote, this is the context:

But the Egyptians relate, that in the adytum of the Goddess there was this inscription, “I am the things that are, that will be, and that have been. No one has ever laid open the garment by which I am concealed. The fruit which I brought forth was the sun.” The Goddess, therefore, being demiurgic, and at the same time apparent and unapparent, has an allotment in the heavens, and illuminates generation with forms.

(According to the linked translation; I’ll provide my own shortly.) Proclus clearly understands the passage as referring to Neith’s ability to spontaneously give birth to elements of creation (as a demiurge); this is not a reference to any merger with the Isis narrative. The goddesses were merged or conflated from time to time, but that did not always result in all properties and stories being combined, and such a merger is not occurring in this inscription as far as I can see. Even so, Murdock tries to read virginity into it by translating “garment” as “undergarment” but that is not a correct translation (or is a misleading one, if readers are misled by it to think “undergarment” means “nickers” when in fact it means tunic or top).

For instance, Plutarch said some think this goddess is Isis, quoting a different version of the same inscription, or perhaps a different but related inscription (without mention of the birth part), in On Isis and Osiris 354c. Plutarch’s version reads (my translation) “I am all that has been and is and will be and my robe (peplon, an outer-garment, not an under-garment) no mortal has uncovered (apekalypsen, which means “revealed” as in made public).” Thus only mortals have not lifted her veil; no reference to giving birth (so we can’t assess how Plutarch would have rendered that part, if it then existed); some different wording throughout; and undergarments are not meant, nor sex or virginity, but a revealing of mysteries. The version that appears in Proclus reads (my translation) “that which is and will be and was, I am; my dress (chitôn, a tunic, which is not an undergarment in our sense of the word) no one has uncovered (again, apekalupsen); I bear the fruit, the sun comes to be” (whether the fruit meant is the sun, or all the things she creates, of which the sun is one, is unclear from the wording, but either way she gives birth to the sun). In neither case is there a reference to her “undergarments” staying put. The verb and imagery is of the mystery religions, her secrets being kept. And in the Proclean version the emphasis is on her spontaneous creative power. There is no reference to a divine father.

In her book (Christ in Egypt, p. 147) Murdock quotes a hundred-year-old article (even though you should not do that) by William Emmette Coleman (an army clerk and avid spiritualist with no known credentials and dubious reliability: see Jeffrey Lavoie, The Theosophical Society: The History of a Spiritualist Movement, pp. 269-74) who profusely insists this is about virginity and that every expert would agree. But does he name any? And what about now, 120 years later? Murdock names no one. Apparently Murdock thinks that what one amateur was “confident” every Egyptologist would say 120 years ago cannot possibly have been wrong then, nor have changed at all in 120 years. This is not how to support a conclusion. And it is maddening to run into this method of arguing a point again and again.

This is simply not how good scholarship works.

I will conclude with this: it is precisely because of these threads of research and analysis, which tediously take up my time for no purpose, only to reveal how unreliable Murdock is, in reporting, sourcing, and discussing facts, and in drawing inferences from what she quotes, that I don’t want to engage in these debates. If I were to repeat this for every claim she makes, and every claim every myther made, I would be occupied with this for hundreds of years. All to no purpose. I would rather start from the evidence itself, and recent peer reviewed scholarship by well-qualified specialists, and build my own case using a methodology I know to be sound. That is hard enough. It has taken me years (only now near to completionProving History is out in a few weeks, and I expect to have a reviewable first draft of Historicity by end of April). I am not going to waste any more time with “other people’s” shoddy scholarship. If someone else out there wants to do this, all the power to you. But from here on out I am disengaging. I will not bother “checking” any more of Murdock’s facts. Nor will I “debate” any of this, unless you can confirm I have made an actual, provable error (as I did make one, noted above). I am always interested in getting things right. But I am not interested in being someone else’s fact check boy. And I’m certainly not interested in Murdock’s paranoid aspersions or the trolling of her fanatical followers. Do keep that in mind.