Richard Carrier on Crucified Messiahs

As someone who has appreciated things that he has written in the past, I have kept hoping that Richard Carrier might eventually come around, see the folly of getting bogged down in that realm of nonsense known as mythicism, and return to the rigor and attention to detail expected in mainstream historical critical scholarship.

If his recent blog post is anything to judge by, that is not to be.

He uses Rabbinic sources uncritically, ignoring the wealth of scholarship on Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, which he attributes unquestioningly to its traditional purported author, Jonathan ben Uzziel. But if all that one needs to do in order to settle a matter is quote a text based on its traditional authorship, then one can simply quote the Gospels back at him, to say nothing of the Testimonium Flavianum!

It is incredibly ironic that Carrier wrote the following, foreseeing this possible line of objection:

Perhaps a hard nosed doubter would then say that this text has been tampered with and that this isn’t how it originally read in Jonathan’s autograph. That would be a pretty desperate claim, there being no evidence of it, and its conjecture serves only to avoid a conclusion that we have already seen other evidence proves obvious.

If Carrier keeps to this line of reasoning, accepting the authenticity and antiquity of texts unless there is clear manuscript evidence of tampering, then that will close down lines of argument that are popular with certain mythicist bloggers and commentators.

But let us get to the heart of the matter. Carrier emphasizes that the Book of Daniel features a messiah who dies. Consultation of any mainstream critical commentary would have drawn to his attention that the Book of Daniel contains pseudoprophecy in its second half, and that the predictions of an anointed one being cut off is considered a reference to the high priest Onias III being deposed and later assassinated.

The most important thing to note is that Daniel provides evidence of a text that refers to a priestly anointed one being killed, based on actual events in which an anointed one was killed. How is that going to serve to bolster the case for mythicism?

Carrier then goes on to ask whether various figures mentioned by Josephus could have been trying to get themselves killed, expecting that their deaths could have atoned for Israel’s sins. He suggests that Jesus and Christianity do not seem nearly as unique against the background of such figures.

This is indeed true if Jesus was just another figure seeking to die in the way Carrier suggests. It is equally clearly not true if, unlike these other movements, no historical Jesus existed.

I wonder whether Carrier’s “case” here will seem better or worse to readers than the one offered recently by Neil Godfrey, in which a lengthy discussion by Dale Allison is summarized, only to be dismissed on the basis of the fact that Godfrey is already persuaded that an ambiguous phrase in 1 Corinthians 2:8 refers to celestial beings. But as actual scholarly commentators have discussed often, a probable background for Paul’s language can be found in Baruch 3, where the topic is the same one he is talking about in 1 Corinthians 2 and many other parts of the letter: Wisdom. Baruch reads:

But who has found out where she lives, who has entered her treasure house? Where now are the leaders of the nations and those who ruled even the beasts of earth, those who sported with the birds of heaven, those who accumulated silver and gold on which all people rely, and whose possessions had no end, those who worked so carefully in silver -but of whose works no trace is to be found? They have vanished, gone down to Sheol. Others have risen to their places, more recent generations have seen the day and peopled the earth in their turn, but the way of knowledge they have not found…

See also Gordon Fee’s treatment of the linguistic evidence, indicating that the term translated “rulers” in the possibly pseudo-Pauline Colossians and Ephesians, where celestial entities are arguably in view, is different from the term used for “rulers” here, and is never applied to celestial powers (Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians p.104 n.24).

It is not impossible that some day, someone will actually try to make a serious scholarly case for mythicism. But what has been offered so far is not at all impressive.

  • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

    the one offered recently by Neil Godfrey, in which a lengthy discussion by Dale Allison is summarized, only to be dismissed on the basis of the fact that Godfrey is already persuaded that an ambiguous phrase in 1 Corinthians 2:8 refers to celestial beings.

    Excuse me, but how much of the so-called “lengthy discussion” did I omit? Not very much at all if you care to check. There was no discussion beyond those points I listed — I do beg you to point out all that I missed if you think I have done a misjustice to Allison’s words.

    Secondly, where did I “dismiss” Allison’s argument on the basis of what you say? What I DID do was point out what Allison had overlooked to address. Now why don’t you admit that?

    Thirdly, have you yourself now changed your mind from what you argued earlier that the phrase refers to demons working through human rulers — an interpretation you are arguing for strongly iirc and that Allison rejects?

    • steven

      NEIL
      Thirdly, have you yourself now changed your mind from what you argued earlier that the phrase refers to demons working through human rulers — an interpretation you are arguing for strongly iirc and that Allison rejects?

      CARR
      Neil, McGrath’s position is quite consistent.

      The phrase refers to humans. Only an ignorant mythicist would suggest otherwise.

      Except , of course, there are lots of mainstream scholars who say it refers to supernatural entities.

      In which case, it obviously means supernatural entities working through humans.

      So there you are.

      The phrase means humans, so Jesus was crucified by humans. All clear so far?

      But the phrase could  mean supernatural entities.

      If that were to be the case, and quite a few scholars suggest it is, it means Jesus was crucified by humans, not by supernatural entities.

      Hope that’s cleared that up for you.

  • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

    I might add, Dr McGrath, that one of the aims of my blog is to share with many others what is very often found only in scholarly works with a limited audience. If I see what looks like a comprehensive set of arguments or points on one side that is rarely found anywhere else I tend to post it — as I did here.

    Yes, I entitle myself to an opinion if I think the list fails to address certain things.

    But your representation of what I have posted is false — I have not oversimplified Allison in any way shape or form as you imply — if I have then show me how I have done so. And I have given full space to his views and this one particular anti-mythicist argument.

    Why can you not respect that and give a little credit for intellectual honesty even if it does come from one you look to denigrate at every opportunity?

  • Just Sayin’

    Please Neil, dry your eyes.

  • Anonymous

    James, I don’t understand one of your objections very well, that concerning Daniel 9.  Yes, the prophecy was made to refer to an person and event in the 2nd century BCE.  Why does that matter? It’s a red herring because in the first century CE some believed it to be a prophecy of the future, as Carrier notes from various sources. Why suppose all the Jews were taking the position of modern higher critics?  Also, that you berate Carrier for not noticing critical commentary on Daniel 9 referring to Onias, but Carrier notes that in this very blog post!  (He also refers to the study by LaCoque on this matter.)

    One last red herring: Carrier’s post was to show that there was a belief in a messiah that was killed; a messiah did not have to be the superman many have said he had to be.  You don’t seem to have any argument against this, so Carrier’s point stands.  How this relates to the historicity of Jesus is another argument, one that he hasn’t made here.

    As for the targum, it seems there is scholarship in Carrier’s favor.  See Smolar, Aberbach, Churgin, “Studies in Targum Jonathan to the Prophets” (1983).  I cannot speak of the current consensus, but the intro to this book (I read it via Google Books) says that it is from the 2nd temple period.  So even on this count, your criticism isn’t so strong, unless you know of newer scholarship that goes against this.  This also takes the sting out of your argument that if we are uncritical of traditional attestations, then we ought to believe the New Testament; since the critical position is that the TJ is 1st century, then there is no inconsistency.

    As far as I can tell, all your points are invalid, at least without further explanation, and you don’t address the point of Carrier’s post at all: that there were Jews that expected the messiah to be killed.

  • steven

    Carrier no more ‘unquestioningly’ assigns the Targum to Jonathan than do people who use phrases like the Gospel of Luke unquestioningly assign authorship to somebody called Luke, or people who use the phrase ‘the Epistle of Jude’ unquestioningly assign authorship to somebody called Jude.

    I assume James is familiar with the normal conventions in Biblical terminology, used widely .

    But I ought to double-check as I am often guilty of making dangerous assumptions without checking my facts.

  • steven

    Good to see that McGrath does not deal with what Paul says and has to start talking about other authors.

    Neil, why do you expect McGrath to take your words seriously, when he regards Paul  as channeling the voice of Baruch from the grave?

    No wonder Paul is regarded as silent by historicists when they refuse to let him speak.

  • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

    This part of Carrier’s post I found fascinating, I’ll have to read André LaCocque’s The Book of Daniel (John Knox 1979)!

    “Daniel 9 was forged specifically in a desperate attempt to fix another failed prophecy in Jeremiah 25:8-33, in which the end of the world was supposed to have happened seventy years after the Babylonian conquest. Trying to get ‘seventy years’ to mean a completely different number of years (exactly enough to give a result of 164 B.C.) is what the weird, convoluted number crunching is all about in Daniel 9. All this is very expertly demonstrated in André LaCocque’s The Book of Daniel (John Knox 1979).”

  • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

    Below are some passages from Susan Sorek’s, The Jews
    Against Rome: War in Palestine AD 66-73 (Continuum, 2008):

    “There were a variety of underlying causes that helped spark [the 70 CE] revolt; social tensions, bad Roman procurators, the divisions amongst the ruling class, the rise of banditry and poor harvests, but perhaps the most significant feature of all was the apocalyptic storm brewing over first-century Palestine.

    “Of all the messianic movements one in particular drew the most
    attention; the . . . community that wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, based their calculations on the ‘end of days’ on a prophecy from the book of Daniel. Josephus says that the major impetus inspiring the Jewish revolt of 70 CE against Roman rule was an ‘oracle found in the sacred scriptures.’ This oracle effectively said when the time came ‘one from their own country would become ruler of the world.’

    The writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls calculated that the year 26/27 CE would usher in the messianic age. There was never a time previously quite like it, and there has never been one since; two messiahs, one king one priest would rule over Palestine. The fervor with which many fought against the greatest power of the ancient world could only have come from such beliefs; that the end of days was nigh. . . .

    “Some anti-Roman Jewish extremists equated the Evil Kingdom of Daniel’s prophecy with Rome and the end of days (‘In the
    time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever’ Dan 2:44, NIV).”

    See also Dead Sea Scroll 1Q33 (1QM) = 1Q War Scroll:

    (Column 1) “The first attack by the sons of light will be launched against the sons of darkness, against the army of Belial [Belial = supernatural evil figure]… The sons of Levi, the sons of Judah and the sons of Benjamin [in other words, “The Hebrews”], will wage war against them. . . against all their bands . . . And there will be no escape for any of the sons of darkness . . . And the sons of justice shall shine to all the
    edges of the earth, they shall go on shining. . .

    “There will be a battle, and savage destruction before the God of Israel, for this will be the day determined by Him since ancient times for the war of extermination against the sons of darkness . . . It will be a time of suffering for all the nation redeemed by God. Of all their sufferings, none will be like this, hastening till eternal redemption is fulfilled . . . The army of Belial will gird themselves in order to force the army of light to retreat. There will be infantry battalions [so large as to] melt the heart [at their sight], but God’s might will strengthen the heart of the sons of light . . . And God’s great hand will subdue Belial and all the [evil] angels of His dominion and all the [evil] men of his lot . . . He [God] will [show Himself] to assist the truth, for the destruction of the sons of darkness. . . “

  • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

    the one offered recently by Neil Godfrey, in which a lengthy discussion
    by Dale Allison is summarized,

    Fact 1 that anyone with a copy of Allison’s book beside them can verify:

    Allison’s discussion of “rulers of the age” begins on page 296, the third line down. It concludes on page 398 ten lines down. It consists of 49 lines in total, plus sime footnotes.

    Fact 2: I quoted word for word 45 of those 49 lines of Dale Allison’s discussion. That is not “a summary” of a “lengthy discussion” by anyone’s standards.

    I also added a summary of his argument.

    I also quoted word for word the bulk of one of his most lengthy footnotes, and added to Allison’s words online links and explanations of the acronyms.

    I also added to Allison’s main discussion online links to further assist readers check references for themselves.

    To describe my post as a summary of a lengthy discussion is blatant misrepresentation. Rather, it is a virtual in toto citation, quotation, of his entire discussion.

    I at not point dismissed the arguments. In order to dismiss something I wouid expect myself to mount arguments against the points made. I did nothing like that. I left it “as is” for readers to see for themselves exactly and clearly what the best points are — according to a leading scholar — for a particular interpretation.

    I did point out that Allison’s list of points was a mere list of “main points” points (Allison’s own description!) from a range of authors in favour of a certain interpretation rather than a coherent argument. That is also a fact. I also pointed out that Allison failed to explain the argument he was opposing apart from giving a brief summary few lines — and failed to address a key point made by the opposing point of view.

    That was not a “dismissal” of his arguments but an invitation for readers to consider and weigh his “main points” — which I think are surely comprehensive — against other views found elsewhere.

    That is called fair debate and I want the alternative argument to the one I had publiced recently put online in the same space.

    McGrath speaks of “rigor”. Does he even understand what Bayes’ theorem is and how it works? He has admitted he is lost with formal logic. Does he think that criteria (embarrassment, double dissimilarity, etc) are all that “rigor” means?

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Neil Godfrey, my point was that you went on at great length describing Allison’s arguments, and then offered as a reason for rejecting his case the simple fact that someone had previously persuaded you that the phrase means something else (which of course it does not, if by what you wrote you meant that the phrase consistently has the meaning you assign to it and only that specific and limited meaning). As always, you seem to have missed the point.

    Ed, yes, the Book of Daniel Famously turns Jeremiah’s 70 year exile into 70×7 years, and so contributed to the view in Jesus’ time that the exile was still ongoing, which some have seen as important in the rise of early Christianity.

    Gilgamesh, it certainly is the scholarly view that the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan may contain material that goes back to the first century and indeed earlier. But the view he regards as desperate is in fact a well-established, widespread and well thought out scholarly position, based on evidence from the paraphrase itself that the work was not placed and preserved in its present form in the first century. As for the other points, the key issue is that Carrier is trying to use as part of a case for mythicism evidence that, at best, does not effectively serve that purpose, and could just as easily if not more easily be used to make the opposite case.

  • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

    my point was that you went on at great length describing Allison’s
    arguments, and then offered as a reason for rejecting his case the
    simple fact that someone had previously persuaded you that the phrase
    means something else (which of course it does not, if by what you wrote
    you meant that the phrase consistently has the meaning you assign to it
    and only that specific and limited meaning). As always, you seem to have
    missed the point.

    No, James, I went to great length to quote Allison fully so nothing of his argument was lost. That was my point that you missed. I quoted nearly his entire discussion in full. I was not describing his argument — I was QUOTING it fully.

    No, James, I offered no reason to reject it at all and you cannot quote any evidence to support your false claim. I merely offered one key point — the same point is argued by MAINSTREAM SCHOLARS — that Allison failed to address. That is NOT offering a reason to reject an argument. I have more respect for my readers and let them decide for themselves by giving them as much as I can of both sides — in this case Allison’s side, not mine.

    You clearly inferred that I simplified Allison’s argument with words like “summary” and “lengthy discussion” opposing each other. You know very well I did no such thing.

    Do try to be honest in your treatment of what I post.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    I’d be more than happy to reword what I wrote to be closer to my intended meaning, that you provided an incredibly lengthy presentation of Allison’s meaning, only to dismiss it as though it were a failure, because someone unspecified had previously persuaded you that the phrase means something else.

    The key question is what the point is of presenting someone’s viewpoint at length only to dismiss it for no good reason.

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      Dear Dr McGrath, you have inadvertantly failed to notice that I explained in a full paragraph in the opening of my post what I saw as the weaknesses of Dale Allison’s grab-bag list of points from various scholarly works. You appear to be of the opinion that because I add another reason at the end of my word for word quotation of about 95% of Allison’s words for finding a serious lack in Allison’s list that that constitutes a blanket dismissal of Allison’s point. 

      But it is perfectly legitimate, you will surely agree, to point out if a scholar has oversimplified an argument he is opposing and has failed to address a central point made by his own peers.

      You will surely also agree that by pointing out such a detail is not synonymous with dismissing the entirety of an argument. I am quite sure you are capable of doing the same yourself.

      My point — and you seem to have overlooked my many explanations of the whole rationale of my posts, my blog itself — is to record arguments that are not easily found by or accessible to lay readers. I would have thought you would congragulate me on making Allison’s point of view so comprehensively and available to all, and with minimal criticism of my own.

      If I wish to dismiss a point I would expose its weakness in detail — and I would do that for each and every one of Allison’s points.

      I am not so slack as to dismiss details with a wave of the hand over one phrase as you are thinking. That might be your style (compare your dismissal of Carrier’s entire post over just a few points of disagreement) but it is not mine. Perhaps you are projecting?

      Now, would you care to retract your inference that I oversimplified Allison’s point?

      It has nothing to do with this particular point, but out of interest, would you like to explain if you no longer argue that the phrase in question means demons were working through human rulers after all? If so, is it fair to say that after reading the points of Allison you have now changed your mind?

      If so, on what basis did you originally accept your earlier argument that the phrase did mean demonic powers (albeit working through humans)?

      Thankyou

  • Anonymous

    One wonders what it is about Chapter Eleven of JNGNM that has so silenced Dr. McGrath. Obviously he has time to review mythicist documents in detail, yet he remains silent on a chapter about the ancient mystery religions. 

    Perhaps we will hear about his opinion on this chapter soon, or it has already been posted and I have missed it among the numerous Dr. Who posts.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Let me reproduce here a comment I just left on Richard Carrier’s blog:  Gilgamesh, you are indeed correct that I was running together in my mind the earlier Targum on the prophets attributed to Jonathan and the later one on the Pentateuch that also came to be attributed to him. I do apologize.

    In fact, when Targum Jonathan identifies the Servant in Isaiah as the anointed one, it also transfers the element of suffering and rejection from him to the people of Israel, as in this example: “Behold my servant Messiah shall prosper; he shall be high, and increase, and be exceeding strong: as the house of Israel looked to him through many days, because their countenance was darkened among the peoples, and their complexion beyond the sons of men.”

    Apologies again for the confusion!

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @neilgodfrey:disqus , you appear to be confusing my criticism of Earl Doherty’s false antithesis for advocacy of a particular view on the meaning of the passage.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Here is a link to an English translation of the Targum in question. Read its rendering of Isaiah 53.

    http://books.google.com/ebooks/reader?id=_boCAAAAQAAJ&printsec=frontcover&output=reader&pg=GBS.PA181

  • Anonymous

    Hi James,

    Glad that bit of confusion about the Targum worked itself out.  As for how this whole crucified messiah works in favor of or against historicity of Jesus: since it is so often in the scholarly literature said that the messiah was not expected to die, then the Christians had to reformulate their beliefs in the light of Jesus failing to do the expected; it is obviously difficult to explain this on a mythicism perspective.  Since now the premise is unsound, that position cannot be taken.

    Now, if a suffering messiah was expected by some, then that leaves open a Christ killed by humans (like the false messiahs mentioned before) or a celestial Christ killed by cosmic forces.  If Carrier demonstrates that the early Christians or some sect of Jews sought a heavenly rather than earthly figure, then it can fit the expectations of the killed messiah and have nothing happen in Judea.  So it seems a Christ killed can fit either the historist or mythicism position; it is just a matter of showing which is actually the case.  Richard will have to make that case later; he obviously didn’t in this blog post, nor did he try.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Gilgamesh42:disqus , thanks for your comment. Just a few quick thoughts in response. First, note that in applying Isaiah 53 to the Anointed One, the targumist inverts its meaning so that it is not he who suffers. Second, note that the texts from Daniel had in view a particular high priest whose position was usurped by his brother and was exiled and eventually killed. No one would have denied that it was possible for a king or high priest to be killed. But the expectation regarding a Davidic Anointed One was the expectation of the restoration of the Davidic line to the throne, and it is hard to see how the discussion of Daniel makes it any more plausible that someone would invent a figure, claim that he was the one to restore the Davidic line to the throne, and also invent that he was crucified by hostile powers – whoever those might be.

  • Anonymous

    Quick thoughts on your quick thoughts:

    Yes, the figure in the Targum is exalted.  However, Carrier’s point was to show that people in the first century saw the suffering servant of Isaiah 52-3 as the messiah.  The targum proves that, so his point is valid.  Since the Hebrew and LXX of Isaiah 52-3 have the servant suffer, then that is the most likely way for it to be interpreted.  Also, Carrier notes Dead Sea documents to show that they also related the messiah to the suffering servant of Isaiah.  The targum does exactly what Carrier used it for (proof that people thought it referred to the messiah), and the servant of Isaiah is said to suffer.

    As for Daniel 9, yes it had in mind a particular person.  So what?  What matters it what first-century Jews thought it referred to; obviously a lot of Jews thought it referred to a messiah to come along with the end of the world,* and Carrier shows that.  Besides, would most Jews think Daniel was a failed prophet yet keep the book cannon?  Lastly, with the Davidic line being restored, again there were messiah concepts other than a Davidic, and in particular Carrier notes that the Messiah ben Joseph had to die in order to bring on the new kingdom.  You keep bringing up ONE version of messianism, but the point is that the concept was diverse.

    Lastly with Daniel 9, it’s not a question of whether a king or priest could die, the point is that the prophecy says the Christ would be killed, and then the End Times would come.  That is what the text says, and that is how it was interpreted.  I don’t understand your downplaying of this.

    *For comparison, if the authors of Genesis didn’t think there was an ark built by Noah and it was fiction, that doesn’t undo the fact that millions think the events really happened.  What matters is what people think at the time, not at time of the story’s origin.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_MUIGGGWVZRPI7DRSO4ENSPPHCQ ConnorO

    “He suggests that Jesus and Christianity do not seem nearly as unique against the background of such figures.

    This is indeed true if Jesus was just another figure seeking to die in the way Carrier suggests. It is equally clearly not true if, unlike these other movements, no historical Jesus existed.”

    False.

    It is your contention that the only plausible explanation for the kerygma of the early church was the cognitive dissonance experienced by the followers of a man believed to be the messiah in the sense of a kingly liberator after the model of David who ended up disatrously executed by the governing powers.

    But “against the background” of a belief system in which it was precisely the attoning sacrifice of a messiah-figure that would usher in the Messianic Age, variously conceived, and the birth pangs of the End of Days, the development of an invented figure whose death follows this template becomes more plausible in the absence of any response to a real executed messiah figure. Carrier is adducing the behavior of these pretenders and false prophets recounted by Josephus as evidence for this belief system.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    ConnorO, if lots of figures claimed to be the chosen one because the Danielic timetable led them to conclude that they were living at the pivotal moment in history, that still doesn’t provide a natural precedent for what mythicists say that Christians did, which is to invent a failed figure like these other ones and proclaim him as the one in whom people should place their trust. Do you see why I think the background material Carrier presents fits a historical Jesus better than a purely fictional one?

  • Anonymous

    James, Carrier didn’t present a case for mythicism in his post; in fact he is fully aware that as it is currently presented, it fits a historicist view better.  But his point is to show only one line of evidence; that messianic expectations in the second temple period included a dying messianic figure.  He does prove that; invalidating, in fact, the argument for embarrassment.  That was his goal.  I am not sure how this fits into his argument on mythicism, which is why I will be reading his book when it comes out. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_MUIGGGWVZRPI7DRSO4ENSPPHCQ ConnorO

    But your “invent a failed figure” begs the question. Was an attoning death that inaugurated the beginning of the End a failure? And I think that the Danielic timetable was just one element of the set of beliefs and circumstances that gave rise to the “messianic” fervor of the period in history we’re discussing. Roman hegemony over the region was for many both religiously intolerable and politically inevitable. The cognitive dissonance surrounding that state of affairs is sufficient to posit novelty of expression at the interface of those two realities, which is precisely where messianism conceptually resides.

    The point here is that we’re looking at a period in which the whole concept of messianism was fluid. Consider, also, in the light of the eventual fate of the followers of Josephus’ pretenders, the advantages of proclaiming the (past) attoning sacrifice of an invented figure over death by heavy infantry. Which is just a special case of my overriding contention as regards plausibilty and parsimony: literary invention is effortless and risk-free compared to the difficulty of scaring up a credible messiah and following through with one’s commitments to the bitter end. Furthermore, since literary invention was demonstrably in force at the time and place in question, while the activities of Jesus are obscure, I think we have justification for taking seriously the idea that literary invention is all that is needed to explain earliest Christianity.

  • Anonymous

    Connor, I’m not sure you are making your case.  Just because literary invention is ‘risk-free’ and ‘effortless’ (which is, actually, quite incorrect on both counts) does not automatically mean that the concept would have caught on.  You need to demonstrate that, which you haven’t done (and I doubt such a feat could be done in the comments section of a blog anyway).  And whether or not literary invention was in vogue during the second temple period (in what way?) does not automatically mean Christianity started that way. 

    On the surface, sure, you might be right.  But you’re making a lot of unsubstantiated claims and then following through with “I think we have justification for taking seriously the idea that
    literary invention is all that is needed to explain earliest
    Christianity.”  In fact, there is not a single link in your comment which is justifiable as you have laid it out. 

  • Anonymous
  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_MUIGGGWVZRPI7DRSO4ENSPPHCQ ConnorO

     Just because literary invention is ‘risk-free’ and ‘effortless’ (which is, actually, quite incorrect on both counts)

    I said compared to actually following a messianic pretender with a death-wish to Jerusalem under Roman rule. Example: which is safer, writing a story in which a madman assassinates the president, or participating in an assassination plot?

    does not automatically mean that the concept would have caught on.  You need to demonstrate that, which you haven’t done (and I doubt such a feat could be done in the comments section of a blog anyway). 

    Well, sure, I doubt that too. And I have no scholarly standing from which to claim that I have conclusively demonstrated anything. I am contending that McGrath’s critique of Carrier’s thesis here is lacking and tried to indicate why, that’s all.

    And whether or not literary invention was in vogue during the second temple period (in what way?)

    Daniel, Midrash, the DSS, the Enochian and Esdras literature, The Syballine oracles, Ben Sira, Philo’s writings, the early Pauline and deutero-Pauline epistles… that’s 2+ centuries of sustained and varied literary activity treating precisely the themes under discussion. what are you asking for?

    does not automatically mean Christianity started that way.

    I claimed no such thing. On the surface, sure, you might be right.  But you’re making a lot of unsubstantiated claims and then following through with “I think we have justification for taking seriously the idea that literary invention is all that is needed to explain earliest Christianity.”  In fact, there is not a single link in your comment which is justifiable as you have laid it out.

    I’m taking as a given Carrier’s analysis in the article under discussion. I’m also dealing specifically with James’ oft-repeated contention that the cognitive dissonance suffered by the disciples upon having their messianic candidate executed is the only plausible background for the early kerygma. What claims, in that context, are unsubstantiated? I have claimed or implied that:
    1. attoning death =/= failure (necessarily)
    2. The Danielic timeline wasn’t the only factor in the popularity of messianic eschatology in the period
    3. Roman rule of the region was intolerable for many Jews
    4. Given (1. – 3.) the notion of a messiah could encompass attoning death (was fluid enough to do so)
    5. Inventing a mythico-literary figure is more attractive for at least some persons than dying a violent death

    What here, in your view, needs to be substantiated?

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    ConnorO, just as a clarification, I have always taken pains to emphasize that it is not the case that mainstream historical study’s explanation is “the only plausible background.” What I have said is that it is the best, the most persuasive, and the most straightforward. I am persuaded that, on the one hand, absolute certainty about this matter is impossible to achieve, while on the other, and for that very reason, one has to hold proposed answers to a higher standard of evidence and argumentation that that they are not impossible.

  • Richard Carrier

    From Dr. Carrier: James, you are a strange man. :_ You take a post of mine that says nothing whatever about mythicism and criticize it for supporting mythicism (!?), get your texts wrong (confusing two different Targums), and claim I didn’t say things that in fact I did (e.g. I explicitly mentioned Onias and cited scholarship on the very point you make). I suggest all readers of this blog read my response to his original comments on my blog (and his correction regarding the Targum error). It concerns me that you take me to task for supposedly sloppy scholarship, by yourself engaging in actually sloppy scholarship.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    I certainly am a strange man, and think your comment is entirely fair. I also think that at this stage it is probably more appropriate to leave the post here with the various comments pointing out errors, than to delete it and pretend it never happened, although if you feel otherwise about it, please do let me know!

    • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

      I suspect that “getting one’s self killed” was not the primary motive for Jesus or other first century religious rabble rousers (saviors). The prime motive as they each saw it was to do God’s will, but they probably took comfort in the fact that even should they die in their attempts to unite Israel, it was a worthy goal and God would note their sacrifice and bless them and/or bless the nation as a result, or come down and take action Himself. Carrier’s hypothesis seems to hang together well. If only because we know how crazy any nation was back then to go up against the power of Rome and during the Pax Romana, when Rome was in the midst of 500 years of unprecidented peace and could marshall her forces wherever they were needed. We are talking about apocalyptic madness in Palestine from about a hundred years before Jesus’ birth and continuing to about a hundred years after his death (the second revolt led by another new Messiah).

  • Anonymous

    ‘I said compared to actually following a messianic pretender with a
    death-wish to Jerusalem under Roman rule. Example: which is safer,
    writing a story in which a madman assassinates the president, or
    participating in an assassination plot?’

    That’s a silly analogy, since most assassination plots were successfully carried out in antiquity–particularly with the Romans–so it seems more likely you’ll survive participating than writing about it, and being accused of inciting plots. 

    ‘I claimed no such thing.’

    I beg to differ, since to me it seems that is exactly what you’re saying is likely.  Perhaps I misunderstood or maybe you weren’t clear enough.  If that isn’t what you are claiming, then I don’t understand the rest of your point.

    As for your series of claims after that, there is nothing wrong necessarily with your points.  But I still don’t think you’ve made your case.  That’s all I’m saying.

  • Anonymous

    ‘Well, sure, I doubt that too. And I have no scholarly standing from
    which to claim that I have conclusively demonstrated anything. I am
    contending that McGrath’s critique of Carrier’s thesis here is lacking
    and tried to indicate why, that’s all.’

    I agree.  And I think it was just a simple matter of responding too quickly on James’ part.  This has been one of the biggest concerns from me and others; it seems as though, at times, particularly on matters dealing with mythicism, James doesn’t take the time to read the content as carefully as he could or, on the other side of it, take the time to read his own replies as carefully as he could (and thus miscommunication happens).  Usually it all rights itself out in one manner or another. 

  • Anonymous

    And actually it did all work itself out.  I applaud James’ apology and his honesty here.  Miscommunication happens.  I’m glad to see that James is big enough to admit his mistakes and move on from the. 

    • Just Sayin’

      Hopefully you’ll do the same regarding Phil Davies ‘talking up’ of Elkington’s fake lead codices.

  • Anonymous

    No need to, since I don’t disagree with anything he has said or done on the matter.  Like I said, I know Philip and know what he is doing.  You, clearly, don’t.:

    http://tomverenna.wordpress.com/2011/04/23/lead-codices-watch-philip-davies-clarifies-his-comments/

    “‘Authentic’ means they are what they pretend to be. In the context of a hypothesis tat they are ‘early Christian’ that would mean form the 1st or 2nd century CE. This I doubt, though if the scientific tests continue to point to this timeframe, at least the metal is that old.  Which does not date the images, some of which are undoubtedly much later.

    What is most curious to me is the trouble taken to bind hundred of
    sheets into book forms and stack them in a cave (if this story is
    true, of course – the place need proper investigating). What has
    really been going on?

    Since the sheets apparently tell us virtually nothing of value (even
    if they are very old), I am really more interested in finding out
    just what they are.

    As I have said ‘forgery’ is not quite the right term for objects that
    are not making any claims to be anything. Maybe they are just trying to look old. But I can’t see that they are more valuable in book form than as single sheets. And why have they been hawked around museums and not gullible tourists or collectors?

    The answer may be banal, in the end. But more interesting that the so called ‘nails’ which is just plain stupid.

    Philip”

    Learn to do a little research, Mr. (Ms.?) cowardly anonymous commenter.

    • Just Sayin’

      “My own scrutiny suggests to me and to several of my colleagues that the form of the archaic Semitic script corresponds well to what was used in the era 200 BCE – 100 CE. The codex format of the documents is also known to have been adopted by Christians from about the first century CE. However much of the writing appears to be in code and many of the images are unfamiliar. The possibility of a Hebrew-Christian origin is certainly suggested by the imagery and, if so, these codices are likely to bring dramatic new light to our understanding of a very significant but so far little understood period of history.”
       – your pal Philip Davies, a long voice in the scholarly wilderness, ‘talking up’ Elkington’s fake codices.

  • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

    James, you are a strange man.. . . . You take a post of mine that says nothing whatever about mythicism and criticize it for supporting mythicism (!?), get your texts wrong . . .  and claim I didn’t say things that in fact I did . . . It concerns me that you take me to task for supposedly sloppy scholarship, by yourself engaging in actually sloppy scholarship.

    I also applaud James’ apology. Perhaps now we will see James apologise for the very same sins committed against others: for the times he has maligned me as a mythicist looney over posts of mine that do not even mention mythicism and are not arguing for mythicism and whose arguments are more commonly used against mythicism (e.g. my arguments on methodology and midrash, and (e.g. http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/2011/07/11/mythicist-qumi/ ; http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/04/05/a-james-mcgrath-earl-doherty-exchange/ ), for accusing me of maligning biblical scholars generally despite my many, many positive posts about their (non-mythicist) works and contributions to understanding the nature of the Gospels and Christian origins.

    Perhaps now he would like to apologise also to Earl Doherty and Rene Salm for accusing them of not saying things they in fact did say and addressed in depth and saying things they did not — see just about every review James has posted on their works.

    Perhaps Tom Verenna would also like to be seek applause for being big enough to make similar apologies for his malicious accusations against books he has not read.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Or perhaps Richard Carrier will see who has been appealing to his authority and will understand why my impression of mythicism is so negative.

    • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

      I suspect that “getting one’s self killed” was not the primary motive for Jesus or other first century religious rabble rousers (saviors). The prime motive as they each saw it was to do God’s will, but they probably took comfort in the fact that even should they die in their attempts to unite Israel, it was a worthy goal and God would note their sacrifice and bless them and/or bless the nation as a result, or come down and take action Himself. Carrier’s hypothesis seems to hang together well. If only because we know how crazy any nation was back then to go up against the power of Rome and during the Pax Romana, when Rome was in the midst of 500 years of unprecidented peace and could marshall her forces wherever they were needed. We are talking about apocalyptic madness in Palestine from about a hundred years before Jesus’ birth and continuing to about a hundred years after his death (the second revolt led by another new Messiah).

  • Anonymous

    “Perhaps Tom Verenna would also like to be seek applause for being big
    enough to make similar apologies for his malicious accusations against
    books he has not read.”

    I wish I knew what you’re talking about; I don’t believe I’ve ever made ‘malicious’ (is this the word you really want to use?) accusations against a book that I haven’t read.  I know I’ve made generalized statements about subjects and book topics, but I’ve clearly made note that I
    couldn’t comment on a particular book because I haven’t read it. To which book do you refer? 

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      You used a different persona when you made your false accusations against Rene Salm’s book on a videoclip and subsequently excused yourself in exchanges with me by saying you had read some short pieces by Salm even though they in no way supported the rot you piled on Salm personally.

  • Anonymous

    Neil, if you’re referring to the conversation I had with Rene in 2006 (2007?), I certainly did read what I was given.  We’ve already had this conversation but it seems you’ve conveniently forgotten what I told you then.  Rene sent me 6 tracts (pamphlets) that he published for scholars (instead of doing the appropriate thing and publishing his work in a journal) and I read them all.  I still don’t find them at all convincing.  I’ll gladly take a picture of them so you can see I still have them. 

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      Tom, I recall very well (inconveniently for you) what you told me then but I also recall your response to my concerns I expressed about your online video. But this is hardly the place to discuss this. If you are serious about reconciliation then email me directly. Till then I have no time for people who change their spots to suit their surrounds.

      • Anonymous

        He does it every day.

  • Landon Hedrick

    I will mention that, even though Carrier’s blog post didn’t mention mythicism, the topic seems directly relevant to mythicism in at least one way.  Bart Ehrman is on record claiming that the fact that Christians preached a crucified messiah is a good argument for historicity, since if somebody was going to make up a story about the messiah, they would be expected to claim that the messiah squashed the enemy.  (He mentions this during the Q&A of his talk on the book “Forged” for the Commonwealth Club, moderated by Alan Jones.)

    I made Ehrman aware of Carrier’s chapter on this in “Not the Impossible Faith,” so I imagine he probably read that, though I doubt he’s read the recent blog post.

  • Anonymous

    Something that is not absolutely clear, in the writings attributed to Josephus, is whether or not the temple converted by Onias III in Egypt was used for animal sacrifice. It is noticeable how the writer of Antiquities 13.3.3 side steps the issue by referring the reader to “my seventh book of the Wars of the Jews” and then says “But we have said enough about this temple”. He does not wish to give any details.  I would say this text has been tampered with.   

    However, Onias “found other Jews like himself”.  So what were Onias and the other Jews like?  Prophets?   

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_BKNHTDAA6WTSRXXCL2T4UQL6YM Vince Hart

    Richard Carrier wrote “You are ‘against’ my conclusion right out of the gate, before carefully considering the actual arguments and evidence, merely because you think it’s ‘relevant’ to mythicism. That’s a problem.”

    Dr. Carrier has captured my feelings exactly.

    I am always very careful to identify myself as a historical Jesus agnostic when commenting on blogs both because it accurately reflects my opinion and because it seems to make a big difference in how my ideas are received.  I am often able to carry on very civil discussions with conservative Christians if they view me as an agnostic or a minimalist.  On the other hand, I was banned from commenting on Debunking Christianity because it was decided that I was a mythicist.


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