Richard Carrier as False Prophet

Richard Carrier as False Prophet December 10, 2017

Larry Hurtado has written an excellent blog post in which he shows that Richard Carrier is simply not telling the truth, not accurate, and not persuasive on a number of topics central to his claims about Jesus. Here is a sample excerpt:

The “mythical Jesus” view doesn’t have any traction among the overwhelming number of scholars working in these fields, whether they be declared Christians, Jewish, atheists, or undeclared as to their personal stance. Advocates of the “mythical Jesus” may dismiss this statement, but it ought to count for something if, after some 250 years of critical investigation of the historical figure of Jesus and of Christian Origins, and the due consideration of “mythical Jesus” claims over the last century or more, this spectrum of scholars have judged them unpersuasive (to put it mildly).

Hurtado then posted a follow-up that sought to respond to a post on Neil Godfrey’s blog Vridar. Hurtado also blogged about the phenomenon of mythicism a few days earlier (kindly mentioning my efforts to address the topic in the process). In that post he wrote:

Despite Carrier’s evangelistic prophecies that the scholarly world will come to see that he, though now a voice in the wilderness, is correct in judging Jesus of Nazareth to be a mythical invention, there is in fact no sign of fulfillment. He is a paid advocate of his views (having been hired to produce these books), not a disinterested or dispassionate assessor of things. He is not expert in the very subjects on which he writes in these books, and his mishandling of the evidence shows this all to clearly. I conclude that, in so far as scholarly judgment of the matter is concerned, Carrier’s often-strident efforts will be judged as the last hurrah of the “mythicist” claim, although internet die-hards are likely to remain doggedly committed to it.

One of the reasons young-earth creationism is viewed as pseudoscience is that it makes false predictions. As religion, of course, that viewpoint should perhaps lead to stoning according to biblical law. But simply in terms of science, the fact that antievolutionists have been declaring evolution a “theory in crisis” since even before Charles Darwin’s time tells us a lot. When mythicists do the same in relation to the fields of history and biblical studies, should the same principles not apply?

Rather than continue as I originally planned with a very long post that also discusses another mythicist, stay tuned for more on this subject tomorrow. In the meantime, if you still want more on this subject and can’t wait, Hurtado posted another entry on his blog on this topic that I have not linked to above, to which Carrier has responded to Hurtado with one of his classic lengthy posts full of accusations, but which never does anything that might render mythicism plausible.  Hurtado  then responded to another one of Carrier’s claims, and Carrier then offered the most hilarious post of his that I ever read, in which he offers imagined conversations between himself and Hurtado which are supposed to show how Hurtado would respond if he were a “real historian” – in essence, the point is that if Hurtado were a “real historian” he would concede that Carrier is right!

Deane Galbraith has also joined the conversation. I will not try to guess how much of Carrier’s book Hurtado has read, but I am quite sure that there is no academic who has not stopped reading a book without finishing it because the part they had read was so atrocious, they could determine on that basis that the rest was not worth reading…

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  • Phil Ledgerwood

    As long as he doesn’t post a video where he debates with an empty chair….

    Are Carrier’s predictions that new evidence will come to light that will be consistent with his conclusions, or are they that, as people are confronted with his research, there will be widespread conversion? That might be a slight difference in the predictive trajectories of YEC and mythicism.

  • Neko

    Comments to Godfrey’s riposte at Vridar are just painful: e.g. “you’ll lose your tenure.” Hey Neil, it might be in the “public interest” to explain to “Blood” (who’s been around forever) what “tenure” means. Earl Doherty as go-to guy on Paul’s allusions to the human Jesus is laughable. And on and on and on.

  • John MacDonald

    One of my favorite anti-mythicist arguments, that I shared on Dr. Hurtado’s blog, is:

    “Paul calls the resurrected Jesus the ‘first fruits’ of the general resurrection of souls at the end of the age (1 Corinthians 15:23). This would seem to imply Jesus was “of the same kind” as the rest of the imminent upcoming ‘harvest’ of souls, not just some celestial being ‘unrelated’ to the rest of humanity.”

    The major mythicist books seem to have been written:

    1. (a) The Jesus Puzzle by Earl Doherty
    (b) Jesus: Neither God nor Man by Earl Doherty
    2. The Christ Myth Theory and its Problems by Robert M Price
    3. On The Historicity Of Jesus by Richard Carrier
    4. Jesus Did Not Exist by Raphael Lataster
    5. Jesus: Mything in Action (3 Vol) by David Fitzgerald

    The fact that these books have continued to not make inroads with the scholarly community, including the one peer reviewed book among them (Carrier’s), speaks against Carrier’s prophesy that the Christ Myth position will ever have weight among the academy. As Ehrman said, it will probably simply remain popular among the anti-religious atheist masses on the internet who are in no position to judge the merits of the argument. When it comes to making predictions, Carrier is clearly not a Sith Lord.

  • robrecht

    It is rather amusing to observe Carrier’s overzealous faith in a mythical being.

  • PremiumOsmium

    Isn’t the difference between mythicists and mainstream historians just a matter of degree? Nobody but the most ardent biblical literalist believes that everything the gospels and epistles say is factually true, right? Plenty of progressive and liberal Christians accept that there are exaggerations or even outright fabrications in the gospels. And plenty of atheist historians just discard all of the supernatural stuff. And since the only source of the life of Jesus is the anonymous gospels, which copy from Mark, and there’s no way to corroborate nearly all of it, then what’s the difference between discarding some of it and discarding all of it? Either way, it’s widely agreed that the miracle man described in the gospels didn’t exist, and the “real” Jesus was somebody else.

    • No one seems to think it appropriate to say “the Alexander/Socrates/Plato who was of divine parentage did not exist.” They simply ise the more natural way lf speaking, “the historical alexander/Socrates/Plato was merely a historical human being, with none of this mythical divine parentage stuff being at all relevant to our understanding of him.” Is there any particular reason why you are uncomfortable speaking about one historical figure as like any other?

      • PremiumOsmium

        I’m not aware of any religions centered around any of those guys. As for Alexander, the important stuff he did, such as defeating the Persians at Gaugamela or founding a bunch of cities named after himself, can be corroborated historically. Those events did happen, and they changed the course of history. If somebody else was responsible, that would be a pretty interesting find. And Plato? Somebody wrote his works, and that’s the important part, not who said it. Same with Socrates. I’m fine if Socrates didn’t actually say all the things attributed to him; he probably didn’t. But again, the ideas are what’s important, not the person.

        But the entire Christian religion relies on the divine nature and miraculous deeds of the person of Jesus. The ideas attributed to him aren’t very important to Christians. What’s important is that Jesus supposedly died for your sins and came back to life. Christians don’t talk about how Jesus’s teachings are a good guide to life; they talk about how his death allows you to be forgiven of your sins. And where his teachings are used, their authority doesn’t depend on their value or morality, but rather on the belief that they come from a divine source.

        • Jesus is not a divine figure in our earliest sources. What the Christian religion finds to be important is irrelevant to the historical questions, just as it may be that Plato or Aristotle said things that did not support the views of later Platonists or Aristotelians. You seem to be interested in matters of theology, but the question being discussed here is a matter of history and not theology. For historians, it most certainly does matter who said what.

          • PremiumOsmium

            Are there sources earlier than Paul in which Jesus is not a divine figure? Because Jesus was totally a divine figure, according to Paul, and as far as I know his genuine epistles are the earliest known canonical Christian writings.

            I’m more interested in history than theology, but the Jesus question is both, and the theology is inescapably tied up in the historical claims. Either Jesus actually did and said everything the Bible says, or he didn’t. Is Jesus rising from the dead an historical fact or not? Was the mass appearance of zombies in Jerusalem following his death an historic event or not? Were Jesus’s teachings accurately transcribed or weren’t they? Did the apostles follow him around with notebooks and pens and take shorthand of the Sermon on the Mount? Supposedly Jesus was giving people a message directly from God. That’s both an historical and a theological question.

          • What in the authentic letters of Paul indicates Jesus as a “divine figure” in a sense other than that he was a human being whom God exalted to a status of divine authority?

            What does the fact that no one was taking shorthand notes when Jesus, or Socrates, or Hillel, or anyone else was teaching in ancient times have to do with the question of whether these were historical individuals? No historian is approaching any ancient figure in the all-or-nothing terms you seem to have inherited from Christian fundamentalism…

          • PremiumOsmium

            I was actually raised United Methodist. I don’t know if you consider them fundamentalist, but they do believe everything in the Bible is true, and asking questions is sinful.

            Either the gospels are true or they aren’t. If there is anything in them that isn’t true, there is no reason to believe any of it. Where does Paul indicate he knew anything about Jesus being human and living on Earth? Paul’s Jesus was a spiritual being who only appeared to him in visions.

          • If your parents got anything wrong then nothing they said is valid? That fundamentalist all-or-nothing nonsense will not withstand even minimal scrutiny.

            Can you provide evidence for view of what Paul meant?

          • PremiumOsmium

            My parents aren’t gods. It’s Christians who claim that the Bible is perfect and infallible.

            And in Galatians 1 Paul outright says his only source of the gospel was direct revelation from Jesus. Does he ever say that Jesus walked the earth as a flesh and blood man?

          • Christian claims are not what we are discussing here. We are discussing historical matters, many of which are at odds with Christian dogma. Paul does indeed say that Jesus was a descendant of David according to the flesh, and he claims that he does not depend for the authority of his message on other apostles – but having previously persecuted the movement around Jesus, he obviously knew things even then. You need to read sources in a critical manner, not in the way religious indoctrination has taught you to.

          • PremiumOsmium

            I do read them in a critical manner. That’s why I don’t believe any of it.

          • Merely calling your approach critical does not mean it reflects the methods and approach used in the secular academic study of historical questions. A critical historical approach requires evaluating each claim on its own merits and evidence.

          • robrecht

            How in the world could asking questions be sinful? Do you think that is a typical attitude of all or most Christians? Sounds more like a mind-control cult. I’m not familiar with the United Methodist tradition, but I would not have thought such an attitude would be typical of them.

            As for Paul thinking Jesus was *only* a spiritual being, that’s a ridiculous caricature promoted by mythicists, but it cannot be supported by a common-sense reading of the entire text of Paul.

          • PremiumOsmium

            OK, just point to where Paul says that Jesus lived on Earth, that he preached in front of crowds and performed miracles.

          • You are free to believe that miracles are possible if you wish, but historians must set them aside as inherently improbable.

          • PremiumOsmium

            I don’t believe in miracles. I never said I did.

          • John MacDonald

            I find that debating with mythicists can be very tiring. They consistently fail to provide ground/support for their contentions, and simply ignore you when you make a good point against their position. Or maybe they just don’t recognize a poignant counter argument, I don’t know. I find that in debating with them I’m repeating myself to them constantly. In the end, their only tactic is to try to get the last word in, and in this way they believe they’ve won the argument. Bart Ehrman’s thoughts about Carrier on this are telling:

            Ehrman: “Carrier wrote a very long and detailed response which was meant to show, as is his wont, that I don’t know what I’m talking about. I have been asked several times by several people to respond to his response, but I know where that will go – it will take a response twice as long as his to show why his views are problematic, he will reply with a reply that is four times as long to show I don’t know what I’m talking about, I will respond with a response twice as long as that to show that I do, he will rejoin with ….”

          • Linnea912

            Sounds like you were raised in a very conservative congregation. As a rule, UMs are NOT fundamentalist. I was also raised UM, and our pastors never advocated for taking the Bible literally. Neither did they ever say that asking questions was sinful.

        • robrecht

          Personally, I think the moral teachings of Jesus, placed within their historical context of late 2nd-temple Judaisms, are of very great interest. Likewise their importance throughout later history. And not just from an academic perspective of historical research, but also from a personal, moral perspective.

  • Jerry Arias

    Biblical scholarship is a joke if a serious peer-reviewed book by a historian in the field is trashed without it even being read by these other so-called Bible scholars.

  • Jerry Arias

    With respect to Carrier vs Hertado on the issue of Philo on Zechariah 6 – some simple fact-checking indicates Carrier is correct, Jesus is mentioned, first born son of God and all the rest, why Hertado would deny this is unfathomable?

    • You have presumably either misunderstood what Philo is saying in his allegorical treatment of another historical individual named Jesus/Joshua, or you have misunderstood what Carrier is pretending that Philo says.

      • Jerry Arias

        No, I read Zechariah 8 at Wiki – it’s pretty easy to understand and yes a allegorical Jesus is there, not exactly like Paul’s Jesus but real close (and that’s the point, before Christianity there were Jews aware of a celestial being named Jesus) and to Hartado’s argument that Philo’s Logos didn’t mean Archangel Jesus or much of anything and then goes into a paragraph of obfuscation about it’s meaning, I will quote from Wiki: “The Logos was the highest of these intermediary beings, and was called by Philo( “the first-born of God.”[14]) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philo%27s_view_of_God

        • You still seem not to understand. Zechariah is about a historical high priest named Joshua (or Jesus, if you prefer to use that version of this common Jewish name). Philo allegorizes the text to talk about the Logos, as he does with so many texts. None of this is news or surprising, and none of it means what Carrier claims it does. But I can see how someone who does not know the primary sources, and had to look up the primary sources on a Wiki, would be open to being misled in the way that you seem to have been.

  • John MacDonald

    I’ve been reading Carrier’s response to Daniel Gullotta’s recent review of “On The Historicity Of Jesus” see https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/13573

    In typical Carrier fashion, he writes “In every case, his arguments are illogical, and sometimes show he didn’t even read the book.”

    Reading on, I encountered an example of Carrier’s demand to thoroughly “mathematize” historical reasoning concerning claims of probability. He writes:

    “Roughly half the article is merely descriptive. Critique really only begins on page 325. It starts with Gullotta declaring sixth grade math is beyond him and therefore should be ignored. To the contrary, historians need to start learning the mathematical logic they all depend on in every argument they make. “Sixth grade math is hard” is not a valid rebuttal to that point. If he wishes to insist a historical Jesus is probable, he needs to explain what “probable” means and how he arrives at that probability. Saying “I refuse to do math, but will assert a mathematical conclusion at you anyway because I just feel it in my gut” is not a commendable response. If you have no actual understanding of how you can arrive at any logically valid conclusion, your expertise doesn’t count for anything. “Feeling it in my gut” is a dubious alternative, too easily hijacked by bias, and impossible to critique. Historians need to do better. They need to explain to us why their assertions of probability are valid. And “I feel it in my gut,” isn’t an explanation.”

    I think this misrepresents what “probability” means. While probability can certainly be explained mathematically, it doesn’t need to be. I can demonstrate I have a concrete understanding of probability concepts such as “probable” through use of exemplars, examples, and analogies, such as when I say “I will probably go to work tomorrow.” Carrier’s argument is like saying that since valid and fallacious arguments can be represented using formal logic, they must be represented that way or else there is no way to tell if they are valid or fallacious. People can know what Love is even if they don’t have a formal definition of it.

    Carrier’s own questionable use of probability language has been pointed out by many, such as when he says things like “I ‘proved’ this in chapter 6,” etc.

  • Linnea912

    When it comes to the literal existence of Jesus, I tend to take what you might call a halfway position.

    I think the figure of Jesus we meet in the Gospels is *based* on a real person, or possibly a composite of several real people. After all, 1st-century Palestine was a hotbed of self-appointed prophets and revolutionaries of various stripes. The supernatural aspects of Jesus, I think, are the accretion of myth and legend- what I like to call “a 2000-year-long game of Telephone.”

    • Matt M

      Jesus of Nazareth existed. Every serious historical scholar agrees with this. Even a vast majority of atheist scholars would agree that THE Jesus of Nazareth existed. Your comment would be like claiming “I think a composite of several people was a semi-mythical, semi-real, ‘Augustus Caesar’, who was a myth-legend among Romans who desperately wanted an Emperor greater than any Emperor in the history of the world, and created a sort of demi-god and called him ‘Augusts Caesar’ because they desired so much for Rome to be great and for its leader to be great”
      This is so idiotic and any person who concocts such a scenario literally has no idea what they are talking about. The kind of rambling you present here, and by Richard Carrier, would represent a view very similar to the number of historians who believe that the Holocaust never happened.
      You realize this, right?

  • Matt M

    Spot on!

  • John MacDonald

    This was kind of interesting: Carrier talked for about 5 minutes in an interview today about The Noble Lie Theory of Paul’s conversion story. Also, on his Twitter feed today Carrier commented that, regarding the general Noble Lie Theory of Christian origins: “I discuss it briefly as indistinguishable from the schizotypal cult hypothesis in Element 14 of On the Historicity of Jesus. It’s plausible but so is the schizotypal cult hypothesis. And it can be any combination, too (as some apostles claim visions for the social movement).” Here is the video. Carrier starts addressing the Noble Lie theory at 1:10:41. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1w3ppNIm41U