The Continuing Adventures of Space Jesus

Richard Carrier is clearly scraping the bottom of the apologetics barrel once again. In his most recent post, he starts off by insisting that I am badly wrong – for making a point that he himself agrees with, but which I made in words that he decides to interpret in an unnecessarily narrow and frankly uncharitable way. When I said in a blog post that rulers and nobles made inscriptions, and that there is no reason therefore that we ought to expect an inscription by or about Jesus from his own time, could anyone be in any doubt that my point was that inscriptions were typically made by the wealthy and powerful and not the poor and ordinary? Obviously if one includes graffiti and scratchings onto ossuaries in the category of “inscriptions” then people of a wide range of social classes made “inscriptions.” If I wanted to play Carrier's childish game, I could say that he is wrong to suggest that poverty might explain why the earliest Christians did not leave us inscriptions. But if I were to engage in such behavior, I would sacrifice my credibility, at least in the eyes of those who know what rational discourse and academic decorum are supposed to look like. The truth is that we do not have inscriptions of any sort that we can confidently connect with the first generation of Christians. But we are aware from texts that there was a first generation of Christians. And so debating inscriptions as though it were proof of Jesus' historicity or ahistoricity is apologetics of a sort that wants to score points with those who do not actually care about doing justice to the evidence in a nuanced historical fashion.

When commenting on mythicism or creationism, one must accept the fact that promoters of fringe pseudoscholarship are likely to find ways of interpreting your words in an uncharitable manner, one that would never occur to someone who is not desperately reading your words precisely in the hope of finding cheap apologetics points to score, precisely because they are unable to mount a serious substantive case about the things that really matter. Of course, in the same post, Carrier calls such comparisons between mythicists and creationists a mere poisoning of the well. But it isn't poisoning the well to make a comparison that is apt. And if it were, then surely all his comparisons, even assuming they were apt, would be at very thing. In the post in question, he shows that he failed to grasp the point of one of my remarks about something that some mythicists have in common with creationists. The latter often say that, since Paul compares Adam and Christ, if the former is deemed mythical, then what is stopping you from viewing the latter in the same way? I have had mythicists say the same thing, as though young-earth creationist logic were sound. Indeed, they often don't care to stick with the question of the inner logic of Paul's arguments, but are happy to say that if Batman can by fictional, why not Jesus? There is no “logic” whatsoever to that “argument,” since one could substitute absolutely any name instead of Jesus' and doing so would not render the person in question ahistorical.

Carrier also gave an answer to a question I asked on my blog a while back about other references to a celestial human that might correspond to what mythicists think Paul meant. And if it had come from someone interested in serious discussion of the evidence, an interesting conversation might have ensued. Alas, Carrier's typical bluster precludes all hope of that. Philo's “heavenly man” is not purely celestial in the sense that the mythicist Jesus is supposed to have been. For Philo the first human of Genesis 1 is an ideal form, the pattern of which the material human made in Genesis 2 is a copy. And as such, he is incorruptable and not susceptible to death and decay. It would be great to have a serious conversation with mythicists about the clear differences between Paul's heavenly man and Philo's, a topic which scholars have written about for generations. But first I need to find a mythicist who is actually interested in serious conversation.

I should probably not even mention Carrier's posts in the future, given their tone as well as their content, and that they offer nothing that requires or deserves a response. I am sure that anyone who reads this blog and who also read his post could have worked out for themselves all the points that I made in this post. It is always hard to know how to best respond to apologetics. As anyone who has dealt with antievolutionists and oher denialists will know all too well, it seems like a no-win situation. Say nothing, and you leave the internet to their voices. Respond, and it may make them look like they have said something worthy of a response by a professional expert. But then again, I don't have to worry about that latter in the case of Carrier. Since he considers every professional scholar who agrees with him to be incompetent or insane if not both, my mentioning him can't possibly enhance his credibility in the eyes of his readership.

But I will give Carrier this: he apparently knows how to make a good poster, as the image below demonstrates. But I do not expect his show The Amazing Adventures of Space Jesus to get renewed for another season. Despite what mythicists will tell you, their show is already a tired rerun whose ratings have not improved in the past century, at least among academics.

Poster for


Stay in touch! Like Religion Prof on Facebook:
  • Bilbo

    I find your posts about Mythicism to be very helpful. I hope you don’t stop posting them.

  • Paul Regnier

    Wading through his article, it seems that Carrier is not including graffiti or ossuary scratchings as inscriptions, but is referring to the inscriptions sometimes left by followers of e.g. Mithraism that refer to their gods.

    However clicking through the links it seems that your point about inscriptions was originally addressing Carrier’s specific discussion of the Pilate stone as first hand evidence for the existence of Pilate. Carrier says something along the lines of “Pilate would have proofed it with his own eyes”. It’s fairly obvious that Jesus would have neither the money nor opportunity to have such a stone made, as even Carrier pretty much states.

    Presumably Carrier doesn’t count inscriptions thanking Zeus as evidence for Zeus’s historicity? So Christian inscriptions, or the lack of them, must be similarly irrelevant in proving or disproving Jesus’ existence.

  • Phil Ledgerwood

    Deluge of comments by Carrier fanboys in 5… 4… 3…

  • Bruce Grubb

    “Carrier calls such comparisons between mythicists and creationists a mere poisoning of the well. But it isn’t poisoning the well to make a comparison that is apt.”

    The problem is that comparison of creationism to the more rational mythicist theories is NOT apt.

    The “mythicist” position has had so many definitions since it was suggested back in the 1790s that the term nearly has no meaning anymore.

    John Robertson’s 1900 version “The myth theory is not concerned to deny such a possibility [that Jesus existed as a flesh and blood human being). What the myth theory denies is that Christianity can be traced to a personal founder who taught as reported in the Gospels and was put to death in the circumstances there recorded”

    “This view (Christ Myth theory) states that the story of Jesus is a piece of mythology, possessing no more substantial claims to historical fact than the old Greek or Norse stories of gods and heroes…” Geoffrey W. Bromiley (ed) (1982, 1995) International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: E-J Eerdmans Pub Co; Revised edition ISBN-13: 978-0802837820; ISBN-13: 978-0802837851 –

    There are modern examples of stories of known historical people “possessing no more substantial claims to historical fact than the old Greek or Norse stories of gods and heroes”–George Washington and the Cherry Tree; Davy Crockett and the Frozen Dawn; Jesse James and the Widow to mention a few. How we get from story of to person doesn’t exist I have no idea.

    Never mind the evidence for a Jesus remotely like the one portrayed in the Gospel account is nil. In fact, EVERY time we can cross check some social-political aspect of the Gospel-acts account (be it throwing out of the Temple’s moneychangers or how the Romans reacted to a body supposedly being stolen) it spectacularly blows up.

  • John MacDonald

    Carrier is a wellspring of passive aggressive stomach acid hell bent on toppling the academy that wouldn’t hire him.

    • Andrew Schefe

      Maybe so, but it wouldn’t have any bearing on whether he is correct or not.

    • Bruce Grubb

      And yet Carrier was able to write a work ( _On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt_ )that not only passed peer review but was published by one of the major Bible studies publishers (Sheffield Phoenix Press) in the world. And the best I have seen from any major critics of his work is self published (ie drivel).