Richard Carrier on Jesus and the Rank-Raglan hero-type

There’s one point in my comments on Richard Carrier’s On The Historicity of Jesus that’s worth expanding on—I’d initially meant to say more about it, but I was up late enough writing the post as it was.

In my previous post, I mentioned that:

Carrier, in trying to determine the prior probability that Jesus was a historical person, argues that we should determine that probability by putting Jesus in the reference class of mythic heroes, specifically of what he calls the “Rank-Raglan hero class.”

He defines the “Rank-Raglan hero class” as fitting twelve or more of the following criteria (pp. 229-230):

  1. The hero’s mother is a virgin.
  2. His father is a king or the heir of a king.
  3. The circumstances of his conception are unusual.
  4. He is reputed to be the son of a god.
  5. An attempt is made to kill him when he is a baby.
  6. To escape which he is spirited away from those trying to kill him.
  7. He is reared in a foreign country by one or more foster parents.
  8. We are told nothing of his childhood.
  9. On reaching manhood he returns to his future kingdom.
  10. He is crowned, hailed or becomes king.
  11. He reigns uneventfully (i.e., without wars or national catastrophes).
  12. He prescribes laws.
  13. He then loses favor with the gods or his subjects.
  14. He is driven from the throne or city.
  15. He meets with a mysterious death.
  16. He dies atop a hill or high place.
  17. His children, if any, do not succeed him.
  18. His body turns up missing.
  19. Yet he still has one or more holy sepulchers (in fact or fiction).
  20. Before taking a throne or a wife, he battles and defeats a great adversary (such as a king, giant, dragon or wild beast).
  21. His parents are related to each other.
  22. He marries a queen or princess related to his predecessor.

Carrier claims that he can find exactly fifteen figures from myth and history that fit this classification, including Jesus, and except for Jesus they’re all generally acknowledged to be mythical. The top three figures who fit the most criteria, he says, are Oedipus (at 21) followed by Jesus and Moses (tied at 20). When I reached this last claim, I was honestly confused.

(1-6) clearly fit. But with (7), Mary definitely isn’t a foster parent, and Joseph isn’t really either. Virgin birth aside, stories of Jesus’ life treat Joseph as his real father, with Matthew even tracing Jesus’ lineage through Joseph. And it’s implied that Jesus was only in Egypt briefly. Unless Carrier is thinking of Galilee, which was politically separate from Judea in Jesus’ time, though it would plausibly be part of a restored Israel that the Messiah could be expected to restore. Whether (8) fits depends on what sources you’re counting—Carrier clarifies that he got the 20-count from Matthew, in which case (8) is a hit.

(9-14) seem like awkward fits. Okay, sure, Jesus was proclaimed king (10). But he returns to greater Israel as a small child, and his entry into Jerusalem seems to come well after his reaching manhood (9). (11-13) need to be interpreted pretty loosely in order to fit, since Jesus never held earthly political power (unlike Oedipus, Moses, and many other figures on Carrier’s list of Rank-Raglan heroes). And Jesus isn’t driven from Jerusalem (14), he’s arrested and executed.

Execution seems a pretty non-mysterious death (15). This one, I felt sure was one of the two Carrier wasn’t counting towards Jesus’ score. Others up to this point, I could see how you’d get if you stretched things, but not this one. So I was quite surprised to see Carrier explaining “strange things happen at his death, and the death itself is a strangely sudden expiration.” Okay, I guess it’s where you set the bar for “mysteriousness.”

(16-19) fit. (20) Carrier himself admits isn’t obvious, though it occurred to me you could count Jesus’ exorcisms as battling and defeating demons. Carrier himself counts Jesus’ encounter with Satan in the wilderness. I’d totally give Carrier (21) given later traditions of Mary and Joseph being related, though he himself doesn’t count it because he’s mainly using Matthew—and note that if we counted (21) on the basis of later traditions, for consistency we’d also have to drop (8) on the basis of other later traditions. Finally, (22) obviously doesn’t fit.

So by my count, Jesus as portrayed in Matthew fits maybe 13 of the criteria for a Rank-Raglan hero (1-6, 8, 10, and 16-20). Carrier dismisses disagreement with his scoring of Jesus on the Rank-Raglan scale “specious apologetics,” but honestly such is not my intention. The criteria are vague enough to allow for some honest disagreement, but I’m personally baffled by some of the points Carrier scored for Jesus.

Furthermore, from the point of view something like Bart Ehrman’s views of Jesus, Jesus’ scoring on the Rank-Raglan criteria makes a lot of sense. “Of course,” Ehrman and other secular scholars would say, “obviously the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke are legends, and its no surprise those legends would draw on the tales of established mythological figures.” But the awkward fit of criteria 9-14 also makes sense: Jesus very likely believed himself to be the Messiah, and expected God to miraculously intervene in history to grant him a kingdom on earth. But when that failed to happen and Jesus was executed instead, Jesus’ followers had to rationalize by pushing Jesus’ earthly reign into the future, after his second coming (which itself keeps getting pushed further into the future.)

Still, fitting 13 criteria is enough to classify Jesus as a Rank-Raglan hero by Carrier’s definition. If Carrier were right that no other real historical figures have ever fit 12 or 13 out of the 22 criteria, that would definitely be a point in his favor. And he may be right about this, but I’m suspicious. I don’t know as much about the legends that grew up around, say, Alexander the Great as some people. But from what I know about the stories that have been told about various deified political leaders and gurus from Apollonius of Tyana to Sathya Sai Baba, I’d be surprised if there wasn’t at least one of them that scored a 12 or 13 on the Rank-Raglan criteria. Carrier, for his part, claims the highest-scoring political figures are Alexander the Great and Mithradates of Pontus, both at 10, and he give them points for things like being supposedly born of a virgin or the son of a god.

Okay, so things aren’t looking too bad for Carrier yet. But then he notices one significant difference between Jesus and the other entries on his list of Rank-Raglan heroes (p. 249):

Although the deities and heroes in the Rank-Raglan class were either euhemerized [placed in historical context - Hallquist] centuries after they were first worshiped as deities (like Osiris), or at the moment of their invention they were placed centuries in the past (like Jason), this was not because either was necessary for the process to work. Rather, it was because euhemerization had not become popular until centuries after these gods had become popular (in the case of preexistent deities), or because a cultural trend had already been established of placing all heroes in the same imagined Age of Heroes (around the assumed time of the Trojan War), as if nothing exciting ever happened in any other century of history (or, in the case of Romulus, because legend required that he be placed in the already-traditional century of Rome’s founding—so he would have been placed there no matter when his tale was created). We can therefore draw no conclusions about what was possible from what early Greeks and Romans chose to do.

I want to be clear that I agree with Carrier that legends can develop very rapidly. In fact, he cites my book UFOs, Ghosts, and a Rising God on this point. Still, the difference between Jesus and other mythic heroes is noteworthy. And insisting that a thing is possible is answering the wrong question, when you’re supposed to be doing Bayesian analysis. Sure it’s possible, but what’s the probability? Also notice that Carrier doesn’t seem inclined to be as charitable to historicist explanations of things that might seem to support mythicism.

Now I want to respond to something Carrier said about me in a Facebook thread:

Also, modern history bears no reference class relevance to ancient history on this particular point. KJI is in fact basing his narrative *on* Christianity. Chris needs to google “dependent probability” to understand his mistake. But also, I count 4 possible historical persons in my a fortiori calculation, so I am already including the possibility of historical persons fitting the profile. This shows Chris doesn’t even understand what a *probability* is.

I confess, I chose the Kim Jong-Il example partly for humor value, and an ancient example probably would have been more relevant. But no relevance? Why not also say, “the Gospels were written hundreds of years after the stories of figures like Oedipus and Moses became well known. Yes, parts of myth that developed around the historical Jesus drew on stories about such figures, but that’s not relevant!” In reality, the example of Kim Jong-Il does show that originally mythological tropes can be transferred to historical people, and the same might have happened to Jesus, even if you don’t think it’s likely. This is true even if it isn’t a perfect analogy. Conversely, the analogy between Jesus and the other Rank-Raglan heroes isn’t perfect either, but that also doesn’t make the comparison irrelevant.

In short, it’s complicated. It’s often complicated. The less I take away from things like Philip Tetlock’s Expert Political Judgment and Nassim Taleb’s writings is that doing probabilistic thinking well requires the ability to doubt your own probability calculations, and integrate different pieces of evidence that point in different directions. Carrier seems to want everything to be either totally irrelevant, or else a decisive point in his favor.

And here’s where I’m not impressed with Carrier’s a forteriori calculation, where he says he’s going to try to stack the probabilities against himself, and show that they still come out saying he’s probably right. I mean, it’s a step in the right direction, but the execution is off. The “possible historical persons” references in the quote above are mainly Moses and Joseph, to which Carrier decided to add two unknown pagan figures for good measure. This seems to be done mainly as a sop to the Christian fundamentalists who claim Moses and Joseph were historical. Carrier and I both agree that all credible scholars think Moses and Joseph were myths. Carrier isn’t making a serious effort to think about where his assumptions might be wrong. He’s making random concessions and hoping that will force his opponents to agree with his probability calculations.

The most disappointing part of Carrier’s reply is the bizarre suggestion that I don’t know what a probability is. Carrier knows way more about ancient history than I do, and if I went toe-to-toe with him debating the history of Jesus, I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself completely out-argued on historical grounds. But instead, I get this kind of shit? To be clear, I’m not complaining about this because it’s an “ad hominem” or because of “tone” or anything like that. Rather, it’s a depressing sign of Carrier’s apparent extreme difficulties with nuance.

Edit: J. J. Ramsey makes a very good point about the Rank-Raglan class in the comments.

  • Raphael Lataster

    “In reality, the example of Kim Jong-Il does show that originally mythological tropes can be transferred to historical people, and the same might have happened to Jesus, even if you don’t think it’s likely.”

    “The most disappointing part of Carrier’s reply is the bizarre suggestion that I don’t know what a probability is.”

    While I often respect your work, I am also starting to think you don’t know what a probability is! We Bayesians use frequencies (like the general dearth of historical people that fit most of the Rank-Raglan criteria) to estimate the prior probabilities. Of course ‘the same might have happened’. And Jesus might have been resurrected from the dead. We are dealing with low prior probabilities, not assumed impossibilities.

    • jjramsey

      We Bayesians use frequencies (like the general dearth of historical people that fit most of the Rank-Raglan criteria) to estimate the prior probabilities. Of course ‘the same might have happened’. And Jesus might have been resurrected from the dead.

      Are you honestly suggesting that the probability of people using mythological tropes to construct legends about actual people is on par with the probability of resurrection of the dead?

      • Adam King

        He obviously did not make that claim.

    • Dante
    • Lotharson

      It’s an old comment but I think I have to answer to this.

      The problem of SINGLE VALUE Bayesianism is that it can’t make a difference between knowledge and uncertainty.

      Let us consider for example that for a given historical situation we have a sample of 5000, 500 and 4 persons.

      It goes without saying that the first case 2500/500 would give us a far better approximation than the latter one 2/4.

      And yet according to single-value Bayesianism, the value is the same and carries the same amount of information.

      This is why I find interval Bayesianism far superior for fields where there is a huge dearth of data. This is obviously the case for history.

  • Dante

    Carrier jumped the shark a while ago.

  • jjramsey

    Another issue is how useful the Rank-Raglan criteria are in the first place. The impression that I get from them is that they are less a description of natural recurring patterns in the literature, and more of an attempt to fit Christian mythology and the mythology about Greek heroes together.

    The biggest tell that I see is in the first criterion, “The hero’s mother is a virgin,” which tends to be applied to the Jesus of the Gospels in the obvious, literal way, while being applied very loosely to other figures, e.g., treating the hero as born of a “virgin” if his father was a god, glossing over whether the god had sex with the hero’s mother. The second tell is how other criteria have broad leeway into how they are applied. Take point two, for example. There is a vast difference from a story standpoint whether one’s father is a king or someone who’d actually realistically end up on the throne at some point, like a prince, or someone whose genealogy has a king from some distant past, but has no intent or likelihood of assuming royal power. Odysseus’s parentage is the former, and Jesus’ purported parentage is the latter.

    [ETA: Come to think of it, both of my "tells" are symptomatic of someone taking the story of the Jesus of the Gospels and the stories of Greek heroes and then describing both in vague terms such that they look superficially similar. That's not finding a natural pattern, but rather playing a language game.]

    • Greg G.

      The parallels between Jesus and pagan mythology were noticed as early as the second century. It pretty much started the field of apologetics with First Apology by Justin Martyr.

      • jjramsey

        It was pointed out by someone with the on-line moniker Gakuseidon that

        Justin was not trying to explain away parallels between Christ and the pagan gods, but was clearly doing the opposite: he is trying to convince the pagans that the parallels existed in the first place. Again, Justin was suggesting that Greek myths copied from Christianity via its Hebrew roots. It was Christianity that predated the Greek myths. However, the parallels were so weak that the pagans didn’t recognize them. But, as Justin explained, there was a reason for that:: the devil got them wrong!

        Indeed, if one looks at examples of actual parallels from Justin, they are often pretty weak. One particular howler was this one: “And when they [the demons] knew what was said, as has been cited above, in the prophecies [of the Hebrew prophets] written aforetime, “Strong as a giant to run his course,” they said that Hercules was strong, and had journeyed over the whole earth.”

        I have found that real parallels between Christianity and Greek myths tend to not be very strong, and the strong parallels between Christianity and Greek myths tend to not be very real (i.e. someone like Kersey Graves or Freke & Gandy made them up).

        • Pofarmer

          When I read stuff like that from Justin Martyr, or Augustine, or even some things from Thomas Aquinas, I can’t help but feel we’ve been led around by the extremely gullible for a couple millenia.

          • Greg G.

            I have found that real parallels between Christianity and Greek myths tend to not be very strong, and the strong parallels between Christianity and Greek myths tend to not be very real (i.e. someone like Kersey Graves or Freke & Gandy made them up).

            The pagan myths were accrued over centuries by different writers. Not all the details of each character from various tales add up to a cohesive account. This holds with the Jesus stories, too. If one statement hits while another contradicts it, the contradiction does not cancel the hit. They are separate claims and the scale only measures hits.

            There is nothing in the Bible that suggests Mary was still a virgin after the Holy Ghost came over her. You have to go to… let’s call it the Gospel of Aphasia, for now… where Jesus was born in a cave and the midwife checked Mary out after the birth to discover Mary’s hymen was still intact. The purpose of the virgin mother elements are to discount the possibility that the child was cuckolded. Since the Raglan’s list was compiled from the claims of individual stories and not from a composite of them, you have to allow that the virgin mother is a hit.

            Some gospels have Jesus descended from David and others associate Jesus with the Messiah who was expected to take the throne. Paul expected Jesus to establish the kingdom of God within his lifetime in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 and descended from David in Romans 1:3. Mark 12:35-37 has Jesus disputing that the Messiah would be a son of David by quoting Psalm 110:1. So there are hits. To play the game fairly, you have to count them the way the list was compiled for the pagan myths.

            To me, it doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t say anything about Jesus was real or not. The gospels are not reliable stories.

  • Luke Breuer
    This shows Chris doesn’t even understand what a *probability* is.

    What am I to make of Carrier’s scholarly work when this is how he treats people like you? Does he just write off everything which he doesn’t like? Surely not, but even if he writes off some things, that’s too much. His poor publication record is another mark against him; true scholars would nail him for making these kinds of errors.

    I find this exchange fascinating; I heard Carrier speak in person and he seemed arrogant, but not that arrogant. He even defended use of AD and BC over CE and BCE, on the basis that the transition date is obviously around when Jesus was allegedly born, and people are just going into denial by trying to avoid this. Given his shtick about Jesus mythicism, I found that surprising.

    • Pofarmer

      What do you mean by ” poor publication history?”. He’s only had his PhD for six years. What would be a typical publication rate for someone like that?

      • Luke Breuer

        I’d like to see him pass his ideas by the best in the field. If he’s going to be the lead Jesus mythicist in the world, let’s see him test his ideas against the best experts in the world. If he’s going to say we should prove history with Bayes’ Theorem, let’s see him pass his ideas past experts in probability, statistics, and history. His publication history does not indicate that he’s done anything like this.

        Given the above, why believe that he’s onto something, given that he’s taking extremely minority positions?

        • Pofarmer

          I dunno, this last book was peer reveiwed through an academic publsher, and he has published several peer reveiwed articles and papers. What kind of peer reveiw do you thinkthe rebuttal book to “the historicity of Jesus”. Passwd

          • Luke Breuer

            Ahh, thanks for pointing that out. I have no idea how good Sheffield Phoenix Press is, so I’ll stop talking about this issue until I further investigate it.

        • RooBookaroo

          Luke Breuer:

          You say “If [Carrier]‘s going to be the lead Jesus mythicist in the world,”

          What a bizarre assumption. On what is it based? On his tone whereby he tries to pose as if he had the final word on everything?

          But that is a pretense.

          A few years back, not very long ago, Carrier was a staunch defender of Jesus’s historicity. Any doubt about it struck him as close to dementia. He’s always had extreme, even rabid dismissals of anybody taking an opposite view to whatever views he happens to currently hold. I suspect it’s a strong ingrained character trait. He uses the accusation of insanity very freely against any objection.

          Then Carrier somehow connected with a fiction writer who came out from the boondocks to write a novel called “The Jesus Puzzle”, and who was an Irish-American called Earl Doherty, without any known position, looking for a new source of income.

          This Irish/Canadian writer decided to use whatever background research had done for his novel for another book of the same title, “The Jesus Puzzle”, which claimed to be a “scholarly” study.

          Carrier decided that Doherty’s new book (1999) had put together the decisive argumentation in favor of denying Jesus’s historicity, and he changed camps to become a historicity denier as well — a follower of Earl Doherty’s thesis.
          Carrier started quoting Doherty as his basic reference about the question of Jesus’s historicity. Carrier wrote the only in-depth scholarly review of that Doherty book (Feb. 2002), and has always referred to Doherty’s argumentation as the basis for his own thinking.

          I have pointed out to Carrier many times that it was impossible to attribute any scholarly value to Doherty’s writings. This fiction writer has no proven educational background, and no proven expertise in biblical studies.

          I pointed out that everything in “The Jesus Puzzle” was, if not a barely disguised plagiarism, at least a semi-novelized paraphrase of previous authors like George A. Wells (and his 12 books already written on the subject), Gilbert Murray, John M. Robertson, Arthur Drews, Paul-Louis Couchoud, Herbert Cutner, John S. Kloppenborg, Burton Mack, etc. None is ever clearly referenced nor disclosed as the explicit basis for Doherty’s paraphrasing. A magpie parading to the ignorant dressed up with the peacock’s feathers.
          This book was swallowed by a (mostly young) public ignorant of the immense historical literature on the subject as a “revelation”.

          Carrier does not seem to ever go back to the original statements of all the writers from whom Doherty has so laboriously borrowed to check on the original arguments, and dismisses most of them as not worth his precious time.
          In addition a lot of this literature predates 1950, which, in Carrier’s clairvoyant survey of the world’s knowledge, renders it suspect and dismissible. Only the amateur Doherty, who came in cold from the night, was being hailed by Carrier as his mentoring guide and final reference.

          This, in my view, betrays a somewhat simplistic, absolutist, and distorted approach to scholarship. The debate about Jesus’s historicity dates back at least 220 years, to the French authors Charles François Dupuis and Count Constantin François de Volney (around 1790). It has fuelled the studies and speculations of a long line of skeptical scholars and their critics, including David Friedrich Strauss and Albert Schweitzer. This long history of the Jesus’s historicity debate is being ignored both by Bart Ehrman and Richard Carrier, as being irrelevant and not worth their time.

          This to me, this dismissal of past literature fills me with doubts about the finality of whatever Carrier may claim to be bringing to the subject.
          Bayesian probability arithmetic has been revived by modern psychologists as relevant to the study of how modern minds make assumptions, especially to denounce illusions and errors. And Carrier has jumped on that Bayesian angle to give another version of the old debate.

          We can now advance our own new assumption that Carrier is not going to bring anything new to the old debate (let’s compute the prior and the posterior probability), but is simply jumping on the bandwagon of the recent renewal of the public interest in the “Frage nach der Historizität Jesu”.

          • Luke Breuer

            You say “If [Carrier]‘s going to be the lead Jesus mythicist in the world,”

            What a bizarre assumption. On what is it based? On his tone whereby he tries to pose as if he had the final word on everything?

            He claimed precisely this in a talk he gave in SF on 2014-03-29, which I attended. The specific note I took is:

            Carrier is leading scholar on historicity of Jesus who argues against his existence.

            I am under no delusion that Carrier is correct, although I am told that so few totally deny Jesus’ existence that he could well be correct.

            The above being said, I appreciate your notes here; I haven’t researched Carrier much, and so this is new to me. You’ve seen Chris Hallquist’s List of people Richard Carrier has called insane, right? There’s also DC Reviews of Carrier’s New Book “On The Historicity of Jesus” and His Responses, which points to List of Responses to Defenders of the Historicity of Jesus. Curiously enough, Carrier didn’t really show the side of himself at the talk in SF, which is made so clear given your comment and the material to which I have just linked. Then again, I didn’t stay to have dinner/drinks with him; perhaps he is much more reserved when giving talks.

          • RooBookaroo

            No, I had not seen Chris Hallquist’s “List of people Richard Carrier has called insane”, which I found very amusing.

            Right now, Carrier is intensely involved in destroying a book by Joseph Atwill on “Caesar’s Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus”, which is also defended by some of his fans. The accusation of “insanity” is raining so hard that I wouldn’t even bother to count.

            But people who said they knew him during his historicism phase have reported that he had the same kind of mental rejection against Jesus deniers.

            What is also interesting is the insightful remark of Chris Hallquist that Carrier tends to think in “black and white”. This is strikingly true, and I have often wondered at this bizarre mental attitude, for which I used the unsatisfactory word “absolutist”.

            The other hilarious comment is that Carrier now calls himself “the lead Jesus mythicist in the world.”

            If you go to the Wikipedia page on “Earl Doherty” and bother to read the TALK page, you will discover that Earl Doherty also, in his inflamed mind, called himself the “leading Jesus mythicist of the World”, which I parodied by making him “the leading Jesus mythicist of the WESTERN world”. This was a literary allusion (that practically nobody caught) to the famous Irish play of “The Playboy of the Western World” (1907) by John Millington Synge, which describes how a master of Irish gabbing can fool a whole community with a tall tale.

            Anyway, on the same page, you can read a furious objection by a fan of another writer, a woman called Dorothy Murdock, who also claims that she should be considered “the leading Jesus denier of the world”.

            What is intriguing is that Carrier not only launched his career as Jesus denier based on Doherty’s book, but that he is now borrowing Doherty’s claim to world pre-eminence. He is snatching the laurels of his mentor.

            So we now have three claimants to the title.

            If you read Bart Ehrman’s “Did Jesus Exist?” (2012), he now claims that it is George A. Wells who is “the best-known mythicist of modern times”. Not only did Ehrman Erhman copy George A. Wells’s own title (1975, 1986, 1987), but he also pretends to have read Wells’s book that he is criticizing.
            “Best known”, by whom? is a good question. Would that make Wells a contender for the title of “Leading Jesus denier of the (Western) world”? It’s a good question, because you can be “best known” in rarefied scholarly circles where Ehrman gravitates, and not have the popular following that would make you a “leading Jesus denier of the (Western) world”.
            At all events, most of Doherty’s arguments are simply lifted and paraphrased from Wells’s books, and a few other scholars of the same caliber.

            So, Carrier is busy constructing an image for himself. I tend to believe that this is due to his precarious financial situation, which obliges him to boost his reputation by all means and turn himself into a Jesus denial celebrity.

            Perhaps Carrier’s ferocious destruction of Joseph Atwill is also in part fueled by Atwill’s potential claim of becoming the revolutionary “leading Jesus denier of the (Western) World”. Carrier is now in the business of shooting down all extra pretenders to the title.

            For me, Carrier’s approach is so marked by his unusual mental set-up that it increases the prior probability of my doubts that he is ever going to prove himself an equal of the great Jesus deniers or skeptics of the past, including G.A. Wells.

            The 1950 cut-off date for valid historical reporting is so bizarre that taking it seriously can only come from a specially black-and-white obsessed brain.

            It highly looks as if every participant in the Jesus’s historicity debate brings a lot of personal baggage to his/her approach to the question.

          • Luke Breuer

            Good grief, drama galore! John Loftus also exhibits the binary nature you mention. Here are some choice quotations. I agree that the term “absolutist” is unsatisfactory. Perhaps my common on Roger Olson’s recent Deist John Toland Was Right! Even Religion Must Be Intelligible will help is find a better term:

            LB: Your focus on the LNC is fascinating. I wonder whether it has a potential difficulty: suppose we assert the truth of A = { X, Y, ¬Z }. Suppose we don’t know that A has sub-components X, Y, and ¬Z, where the true statement is actually B = { X, Y, Z }. Then there is truth in A and truth in ¬A. The LNC is not violated of course, but it can seem like it is when we have yet to discover the subcomponents of A. Do you have some comments on this? It strikes me that struggling with paradox sometimes results in flipping ¬Z → Z.

            What strikes me is that this behavior of Carrier and Loftus shows up in the refusal to admit that A is not atomic, but indeed made up of { X, Y, ¬Z }. It is the refusal that A contains truth and ¬A contains truth, with no violation of the law of non-contradiction. Either A is all-true or all-false, according to the “absolutist”. I’m tempted to use the terms “Aristotelian” or “Atomist”, but I think both terms would denigrate those who held them.

            Perhaps a useful term is “unarticulated background“? Folks like Loftus and Carrier are in effect denying its existence, or [kinda-sorta] asserting perfect correctness of their own unarticulated backgrounds, such that you couldn’t possibly have a thought which arises from them which is part true, part false. This is, of course, a fundamental misunderstanding of how human thought operates. A much better understanding starts at a place like de Koninck’s The Unity and Diversity of Natural Science—just read the first two pages.

            Does this make sense? If so, do any good terms spring to mind, to replace “absolutist”?

          • RooBookaroo

            Finding the right qualifier (if there is one) for Carrier’s mental attitude and approach is not easy. For the time being, Hallquist’s description of “black-and-white” categorizing bias, leading to “apparent extreme difficulties with nuances” is pretty good.

            Only a top professional psychologist like Daniel Kahneman could detect all the heuristics involved.

  • Bernard Muller

    It is a bit dishonest for Carrier to choose Matthew’s gospel for the Rank-Raglan list.
    Matthew’s gospel was written after Mark’s gospel and “Matthew” knew about the earlier gospel (I think Carrier would agree with that).
    With Mark’s gospel, the score for Jesus would be much lower. Which would prove (with other Christian writings) that legendary items were added to a Jesus decades & centuries after his death and are not representative of the initial Jesus. Actually, in the few bits that Paul wrote about a seemingly human Jesus, there is hardly anything mythical.
    I got into a debate with Carrier’s fans long ago on Carrier’s old blog, and I questioned the binary system. I would prefer a per cent rating for each items to take in account there are few perfect fits or complete misfits for each point.
    Also, there was a tendency for my opponents to declare a 1 in case where there is a very loose & weak connection with Jesus’ legend and a point in the list. I wonder if Carrier is doing the same.
    Cordially, Bernard

    • Greg G.

      It is a bit dishonest for Carrier to choose Matthew’s gospel for the Rank-Raglan list.

      Mark has only 16 chapters. Matthew has 28 chapters that contain 90% of Mark. Matthew is said to rely on the Q source and the M source which Bart Ehrman takes as evidence for the historical Jesus. It is not dishonest to use Matthew.

      It has been a few years since I last looked at the Raglan scale but it seems to me that the information for the characters considered were taken from all the stories about them. If we applied the test for Abraham Lincoln, it wouldn’t be right to include Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer. Likewise, we shouldn’t use material about Jesus that is not taken as support for his existence either. But a compilation of writings that are taken as evidence should be fair game.

  • Scott F

    Here’s someone who scores The Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama – generally considered a real person) at 15.

    • Chris Hallquist

      FWIW I think The Buddha and Cleopatra are both a stretch, though it is interesting to read the slightly different phrasing of the criteria at this link. If Raglan’s original phrasing was as the link claims, it becomes even clearer why it’s a stretch to apply anything after the first 7 points to Jesus.

      • Scott F

        Yeah, the scoring gets a bit creative but that is half the fun.

        I found the differences in phrasing interesting, too. It would matter if your father was a king or merely descended from a king. I am curious how the “Rank” got added to the “Raglan”. Did Otto Rank combine his work with Raglan’s or was it done at a later date.

        • Paul Regnier

          Interesting points. On the subject of phrasing, Raglan’s original has “his father is a king”. I can’t see anything about “heir of a king” (and I have his book in front of me). I’d be interested to know where this has crept in from, because it obviously makes a difference whether Jesus scores a hit or not.

          Rank wrote first, I’m not sure who first came up with the “Rank-Raglan thing”. Problematically (to me), Rank used Jesus as an example of a hero and also included Cyrus the Great, who has a more than decent claim to be historical.

          Incidentally Mithradates (very real) seems to get a whopping 23 points plus merits in several categories. Beat that, Jesus!

  • Scott F

    This is fun!

    Here’s Cleopatra scoring 13 – must be a myth (or is it “Miss”?)

  • Alex SL

    What these comments and links seem to indicate to me is that my original gut feeling looks ever more convincing: The claim that some person vaguely fulfills some criteria for a hero class does not really show anything either way.

    First, the mythological elements could have been tacked onto a non-magical historical person, as in the Korean example or certain Medieval German emperors I could mention.

    Second, at least the non-magical criteria can actually be fulfilled by real people. 2, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 20, 21 and 22 for example are true, in varying combinations, for several historical people from the English Wars of the Roses, at least partly because they often go with each other. (Of course a ruler in Medieval feudalism would usually be descended from a family of rulers, fight other rulers, and marry into another lineage of inbred European royalty. Of course somebody would try to murder an heir in civil war, and of course the more lucky ones would be spirited out of the country by supporters and later brought back at the front of an army when adults, etc.)

    But third, the whole concept seems suspiciously vague to me. Three clear criteria of which all must be fulfilled, okay, then we are talking. But 22 vague criteria of which a mere 12 must be fulfilled? Surely that leaves too much room for motivated reasoning?

  • Ophis

    The use of the Rank-Raglan hero class seems to me to be missing the point. Carrier’s book isn’t supposed to be a work of anti-apologetics; it’s an attempt to explain the origins of a particular myth. Any non-religious reader of this book will already accept that the figure of Jesus as described by the Bible and by modern Christians is in fact a mythical figure, and the dispute is over whether this myth originated by the accrual of stories around a historical person.

    To enumerate the various ways in which the stories of Jesus follow common mythical tropes shows us nothing more than that the Christian idea of Jesus falls into the category of “mythical figure”, which any non-apologist involved in this debate has already accepted anyway. It doesn’t tell us anything about the origin of the myth, which is supposed to be the matter under discussion. To say that most other examples of mythological figures were probably not based on historical persons, and therefore Jesus wasn’t either, is merely question-begging.

  • Bernard Muller

    Here is my scoring. I think it is fair. First number is according to gMark, second according to gMatthew.

    1 The hero’s mother is a virgin. 0, 1

    2 His father is a king or the heir of a king. 0, 1

    3 The circumstances of his conception are unusual. 0, 1

    4 He is reputed to be the son of a god. 1, 1

    5 An attempt is made to kill him when he is a baby. 0, 1

    6 To escape which he is spirited away from those trying to kill him. 0, 1

    7 He is reared in a foreign country by one or more foster parents. 0, 1

    8 We are told nothing of his childhood. 1, 1

    9 On reaching manhood he returns to his future kingdom. 0, 0

    10 He is crowned, hailed or becomes king. 1, 1

    11 He reigns uneventfully (i.e., without wars or national catastrophes). 0, 0

    12 He prescribes laws. 1, 1

    13 He then loses favor with the gods or his subjects. 1, 1

    14 He is driven from the throne or city. 0, 0

    15 He meets with a mysterious death. 0, 0

    16 He dies atop a hill or high place. 1, 1

    17 His children, if any, do not succeed him. 0, 0

    18 His body turns up missing. 1, 1

    19 Yet he still has one or more holy sepulchers (in fact or fiction). 0, 0

    20 Before taking a throne or a wife, he battles and defeats a great adversary
    (such as a king, giant, dragon or wild beast). 0, 0

    21 His parents are related to each other. 0, 0

    22 He marries a queen or princess related to his predecessor. 0, 0

    My count: 7 for gMark, 13 for gMatthew
    Carrier`s count: 14 for gMark, 20 for gMatthew

    Cordially, Bernard

  • Psycho Gecko

    All this Bayesian stuff. Isn’t it enough that there are no contemporary sources outside the bible? The same bible that treats as real things like curses, demons, miracles, and talking animals? The same bible that contradicts itself all over the place and mentions people in places that didn’t even exist yet, like Bethlehem?

    That’s not enough evidence to support the claim that Jesus existed as a historical person. I know historians are okay accepting that lots of regular people existed who didn’t leave evidence. But Jesus, even just a historical Jesus, is noteworthy enough and has had enough claims made about him that the standard of evidence for his existence should be a little higher than “Some people say he existed.”

  • MattB

    It’s also important to note that the Rank-Raglan scale that Carrier champions so much, is not made for disproving the existence of people. It is intended for judging the traditions and stories about figures, not judge their existence.