Mythicism and James the Brother of the Lord (A Reply to Richard Carrier)

Mythicism and James the Brother of the Lord (A Reply to Richard Carrier) March 25, 2012

Richard Carrier has a lengthy response to my response to his response to Bart Ehrman’s Huffington Post piece on mythicism and why it is viewed as bunk by historians and other scholars.

Let me tackle one important topic first, one which I think is indeed the most crucial (which is why I have addressed it before): “James the brother of the Lord.”

Carrier accepts that there are references to all Christians as brothers. Let’s grant (if only for the sake of argument) that all Christians could be referred to as “brothers of Jesus” or “brothers of Christ” or “brothers of the Lord.”

If so, then what would it indicate if Paul singled out James as “the brother of the Lord” in a letter in which he also mentions other Christians?

In theory one could come up with any number of rather forced proposals. Maybe there was another James or Jacob known to the Galatians who was not a Christian. But we have no evidence of that. Maybe there was a particular subset of Christians who were referred to in this way, even though the term could refer to all Christians and it would thus be confusion. But we have no evidence of that.

What we have is a tradition that fairly consistently understood James to be the biological relative of Jesus, even when it eventually found it awkward to view him as Jesus’ biological brother because of other doctrines that had been developing surrounding Jesus and Mary.

And so I ask Richard to plug his own assumptions and the relevant data fairly into his Bayesian method, and let us know what it is most likely that Paul meant. No silly rhetorical nonsense about people policing the use of the title, which I don’t think anyone has claimed or has any relevance to the matter. Here’s the crux of it: If Paul knew that all Christians were Jesus’ brothers, then isn’t the most likely meaning, when Paul singles out someone as “the brother of the Lord,” that that person was “the brother of Jesus” in a biological sense, since that would be the only obvious meaning that could single out someone as “brother of the Lord” from among all the Christians who were “brothers of the Lord”?

It seems to me that, unless you’re inputting things into the method in a manner that accurately reflects these your own presuppositions, then the fact that your method has formulas will not make the results any less dubious.

And if it is likely that Paul referred to James whom he had met as “the brother of the Lord” meaning the biological brother of Jesus, then can we not both agree that mythicism is probably false?

As for the rest of Richard’s response, let me just say this: I thought I was clear that in my own piece I was giving Ehrman the benefit of the doubt regarding the clarity of the piece in suggesting that editors’ input could have been to blame for certain aspects. But let’s now adopt another scenario – I’ll let the reader choose. Either Ehrman was drunk when he wrote the Huffington Post piece, or all his other works that are lucid were ghostwritten by a scholar of superior eloquence while this one he decided to write himself.

I don’t see that doing so changes anything substantial about the points I made.

(Bart, if you’re reading this, I am confident that you will recognize the above as tongue in cheek. Everyone else, just to be sure, let me emphasize that my scenarios do not reflect any actual knowledge on my part about Bart’s alcohol consumption or use of a ghostwriter).

I encourage those interested in exploring my view of mythicism further to read some of my earlier blogging on this topic, a round-ups of which can be found herehere and here.

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  • Gakuseidon

    Using Bayes’s Theorem on this — that’s an excellent suggestion, James. I’d be interested to see what Richard Carrier comes up with here.

    • robertb

      Actually, Carrier did so in his response.

      Did you ready it? 

      • Gakuseidon

         Hi robertb, no, I missed it first time through somehow. Carrier uses all Christians as “brothers **of** the Lord” in his equation, which is interesting. Thanks for that.

        • Gakuseidon, I thought it was clear that I felt that Carrier’s way of posing the problem was problematic, and not that he had not actually offered a Bayesian treatment of the question. Sorry if that created confusion.

          I actually think the post illustrates the problem with his claim that Bayesian analysis will rescue historical study from subjectivity and put it on more stable ground (if I have understood what he hopes the method will accomplish – I have not read his book yet). On the one hand, he sets up the issue in such a manner that what seems to me the obvious line of reasoning is ignored. On the other, he indicates that at points one may just have to assign some value other than 1 to a statement, whereas the choice of values surely is not irrelevant to the outcome.

          What I would like to see is a plugging in of the situation as I see it: if Carrier is right that all Christians were viewed as Jesus’ brothers, then if Paul singles someone out with that title, does it not make it probable that he meant that person was a brother in some other sense than all Christians were?

          • robertb

            Good question.

            I imagine Carrier could first say that it is a fact that all Christians were viewed as Jesus’s brothers, based on Paul’s writings.

            He might then ask for relevant evidence for the type of occurance you allude to, a brother in some other sense, in Paul. If none is found, he might say that the probability that such did happen would be, in Baysean terms, less than 1.

            Any probability less than 1 applied to the equation will, of course, reduce the overall probability of the hypothesis.

            Unless you simply assume the only possible meaning of the phrase is a biological relationship, of course. 

            Kind of like applying the razor, I suppose.

    • DrJ

      Mythicism is Bunk.  But you will incur the Wrath of Carrier!


  • Woodbridgegoodman

    I haven’t really read the relevant posts here.  But Ehrman and others are addressing this question it seems:  was the apostle James literally the biological “brother” of Jesus … whose status was deliberately obscured by Christians, for ideological reasons?  Especially,  there is one likely thesis here:  1) was the biological status of James denied because … Christianity did not want to stress Jesus’ biological relatives, and thus seem to set up Christianity as a hereditary monarchy kind of arrangement?  As a family business?

    You object to this thesis, as mere “myth”icism.  But there are problems with this.

    2) Your first logical problem is this:  couldn’t Paul have just randomly referred to SOME people as “brothers” and others not?  Is every use of every word in the Bible, necessarily intended to “distinctive”? 

    3) Or? If there IS something distinct about “brothers”?  In fact, there is another cateogory other than biological, that might have been intended: “brothers,” meaning … the newly emerging, rather distinct, Christian Priesthood.   Monks; fathers.  You know:  the Brothers.

    4) To be sure, no doubt much of POPULAR mythicism is bunk.  However?  You seem unware of much scholarly mythicism.  As a randon example?  Even Dr. Candida Moss (real name) at Notre Dame, has just written a book on eaerly Christian martyrdom, that seems to at least mention that (semi-mythical) Greco-Roman accounts of martyrdom – like say the death of Socrates – may have inputted into (or bears interesting similarities to?) the newly-emerging martyr tradition of Christianity.

    5) There is in fact a vast academic corpus, that suggests that say, Greco-Roman traditions, myths, philosophies, inputted into Christianity.  Paul quotes from Plato’s Theory of Forms, for example. While Indeed, in the Bible, Jews complained that Paul was bringing Greeks (and Greek influence, myths) into the Temple, etc..

    6)  To be sure?  It is often as a practical matter, extremely hard for anyone in a Religion department, to be wholly dedicated to the idea that Christianity came from or was largely influenced by non-factual mythic ideologies; since after all, as a purely practical matter, even many academic religion departments tend to have to appear to be loyal to traditional sense of popular faith.  Which often in part funds and employs them, and is a major part of their audience.

    But mere economic pressures should not determine objective scholarship.

    • hanery


      – There was no priests, clergy or monks in Pauline Christianity for your theory above to operate within.
      – What “vast academic corpus”, and where does Paul quote Plato’s forms??
      – I don’t understand how on the one hand you can claim “there is in fact a vast academic corpus that suggests say, Greco-Roman…” and then claim well there is some sort of institutional conspiracy that stops people reaching this conclusion. I can’t square these two claims: is there a vast academic corpus arguing for this, or is it repressed and extremely hard to reach this conclusion.

    • woodbridgeman, I think it is important in response to your comments the following two points.

      First, few things are strictly speaking impossible. The historian must ask what is most probable. I would be interested, if you ever find the time to examine the relevant evidence and arguments, to know whether you think that Paul referring randomly to some people as brothers of the Lord fits the actual evidence better than the way mainstream scholarship understands it.

      Second, it is important to object to your mischaracterization of mainstream scholarship as “partial mythicism.” Mainstream historical study casts doubt upon the authenticity of much of the information we have that purports to tell us about Jesus from the ancient world, and assesses the authenticity of each tidbit as best it can. That is not the same thing as what mythicists like Earl Doherty do, which is to twist the meaning of words and ignore matters of context and probability, in order to undermine mainstream historical analysis and offer instead as their preferred view the implausible one that the earliest “Christians” didn’t think Jesus had ever been a historical figure.

  • Eric Long

    It seems to me that “X brother of Y” can be used to indicate that X is directly subordinate in the hierarchy to Y, as in 2 Corinthians 2:13 where Paul refers to “my brother Titus”. So if “the Lord” has no biological  brothers, wouldn’t the most likely interpretation of “James the brother of the Lord” be “James who in the hierarchy is subordinate to no one but the Lord”?

  • Woodbridgegoodman

    Finally read the Ehrman piece:  Ehrman is asserting that 1) Jesus existed historically, though 2) suggesting that he was not quite fully what he has come to be regarded as.  So that Ehrman is himself, partially 1) an advocate of the Historical Jesus, but also 2) a partial mythicist.

    And then?  Does Black Bart’s already-compromised Historical thesis, hold up against total Mythicists?  The assertion of strong contemporaneous “Aramaic” testimony to the actual physical existence of Jesus, is not documented by him here; is he merely aluding to the Q document (s)?  Which could have been merely local, fallible oral tradisions, summarized.  So that the Q document itself, would have no real force.  But could merely have been a summarization of itself-unreliable heresay, regarding many different local “lord”s or gods.

    Then too?  Ehrman apparently citing Paul as an “external” and objective verification of an actual historical Jesus, overlooks likely bias in such early Christians, their reliance on “visions” of Jesus as real evidence, and so forth. 

    And finally and to the point in the present discussion?  Likewise. Paul’s ref. to James as “brother” of Jesus, is widely and properly disputed.  As being linguistically ambiguous at best.  Here indeed, “brother” might not be biological.  But might be a metaphor, meaning – as Long just noted – 1) “subordinate.”  Or as I also suggested above 2) a “priest.”

    Is Dr. McGrath asserting that something in the New Testament could not be metaphorical? 

  • Woodbridgegoodman


    1)  Paul himself, a former Pharisee, and his “brothers,” might be taken to be in the early first wave of a proto-Christian priesthood of “Brothers.”  Indeed, his very characterization of “James, the brother of Jesus,” is one of the instituting, foundational remarks.  Helping push back to c. 55 AD, the first signs of a distinctively Christian – as opposed to Jewish – Christianity.  Indeed, the NT controversy between the “Hellenists” and “Judaizers” testifies to similar splits. We may be seeing in this very usage, the beginning of the Christian priesthood … I suggest in my various rough book drafts online.

    2) Where are those who assert such things, as foreign/mythic influence in Christianity?  The great tragedy of Christian Theology – is that there is a) an “accepted” school, which is the only one that most ordinary Christians know about.  The school that continues to support mainstream Christianity, for various reasons.  But that committed world, at times scarcely acknowledges, and at times seems entirely unaware of, b) a vast, non-committed body of scholarly work, that is not similarly committed.  Where to find it?  Review serious scholarship. Not faithfull credos.  It is there if you look for it.

    3) For example?  Consider the well-documented relation of Christianity to Platonism.  Paul was a Roman citizen, who constantly says good things about “Greeks”; and who constantly uses specifically, the vocabulary of Plato’s Theory of Forms.  When he speaks of God being an ideal “form” or paradigm in “heaven”; of which things in earth are the mere “perish”able “imperfect” “copies” or “shadows.”

    This kind of thing has long been noted, in the kind of scholarship that many have long ignored.

    • robertb

      Obviously, this is because the devil used his precognition abilities to influence Plato, knowing that this would cause scandal for Christians in the future.

      • Woodbridgegoodman


        Then the devil cleverly influenced the Popes: who once officially acknowledged that God had given some kind of pre-Christian revelation to the pre-Christian, ancient/classic Greeks….

        • robertb

          I suppose that there are some who would say that the devil still influences the Pope… 🙂

  • jjramsey

    Does Carrier have an interlinear that uses a different Greek text from mine? He claims that Philippians 1:14 doesn’t say “brothers in the Lord,” but in my mini-interlinear, “ton adelphon en kurio” is there, plain as day. I don’t recall Carrier arguing against the presence of “brothers in the Lord” in Philippians 1:14 when Doherty was using that verse to argue against the commonly understood meaning of “brother of the Lord.”

    • Woodbridgegoodman

      In any case, Paul notes an increased “confidence” in these not-biologically-related “brothers” (Php. 1.14).  Suggesting that they are now assembling more confidently around their new – Christian as opposed to Jewish? – identity.  Proclaiming not Jewish ideals, or even “God,” but proclaiming explilcitly “CHrist.”   Showing a confidence characteristic of a new order, a new “brotherhood”; a new Christian priesthood.  

      A spiritual, not biological, “brother”hood of/in the Lord moreover, embraced elsewhere by Paul.  As he 1) acknowledges a ministry not to the Jews, but to the non-blood related “gentiles.”  As Paul 2) begins to speak of a new rule or “covenant” of “Grace” as opposed to Jewish OT “law.”   Explicitly setting up a 3) traditional but new seeming priesthood, after Melchizedek (SP?).  One in which blood relation, Jewishness, is no longer required.

      As for joining to Greek influence?  Paul’s language clearly borrows from Greek, Platonistic ideas. And the new Christian priesthood – or brotherhood – was forming implicitly 4) centered around a Greek-language Bible; the Septuagint.  So that Christianity was emerging in effect?  As a form of Hellenized Judaism.  Or?  A “branch” of Judaism, as it turns out, heavily influenced by Greek ideas, or philosophies … or myths.  Like especially, Platonism.

    • robertb

      Looks like Carrier agrees with the NIV translation.

      “And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. “

  • Gabriel

    The whole question of historicity, going by James comments here, Earl Doherty’s book and some other things I have read seem to balance around that phrase – “brothers in the lord” or “brothers of the lord”. I have a very limited understanding of Greek but which one is correct please?!?!?

    • robertb

      The argument revolves around the meaning of “brother of the lord” in Gal 1.

      • Gabriel

         Thanks. I thought there was some misunderstanding about how the phrase gets translated depending on the author. In any case it seems to me that all we can offer is interpretations around that phrase but neither of those interpretations offer definitive proof one way or the other. I shall remain a Jesus agnostic.

  • Woodbridgegoodman

    CONTEXT:  What is the larger context for usage of “brothers,” in say Gal 1?  Clearly, the “brothers” and “sisters” are not biologically related in Php. 1.14 for example.  So that?  A precident is clearly set up, for a non-literal, non-biological usage.  

    Then in say Gal. 1.11?  Where Paul is giving his religion to “brothers and sisters.” Would Paul intend to give Christianity to only his own biological brothers?

    Galations?  Opens with God speaking to “all the members of God’s family who are with me” and “to the churches” (Gal. 1.2).  After that, Paul makes it clear that he is not hearing from flesh and blood or “human origin” (1.12).  Again, suggesting that blood relation is not important.  But rather a spiriutal kinship or brotherhood.

    Over and over, the importance of a biological kinship  – or “brother”hood –  is systematically and explicitly denied.

  • Woodbridgegoodman


    Hypothetically:  So if Noah is said to have been swallowed by a “whale” in one passage, and a “fish” in another, that is to distinguish two Noahs, in effect?

  • Trey

    “I saw none of the other apostles only James, the Lord’s brother”. It is reasonable to assume from this statement that James is an apostle and also a “brother” to Jesus. The fact that Paul thought it necessary to qualify this James as being the “Lord’s brother” likely means that there is at least one other apostle named James in the group who is not the “Lord’s brother”. But what does “brother” mean? Here it must mean something different than brethren since it would not help with clarifying who this James is since all the apostles are brethren. So brother cannot mean brethren and for me the only conclusion left is that Paul is saying that James is the biological brother of Jesus.

    • Woodbridgegoodman

      Trey?  It might 1) be a random variation; like Jonah being swallowed by a “fish” instead of a “whale.”  Or 2) perhaps there were other “James”es, that were not apostles.  Or 3) this James was simply CLOSER emotionally to Jesus; a super-brethren.  

      Or … 4) in any case, it is strangely perverse, theologically, a reversal of centuries of theology, to insist on the physical reality of any James.  When most of Paul theology is spiritual, and concerned with proving that physical things are relatively unimportant; but serrve mainly as metaphors for spiritual things.  Indeed 5) Galatians and much of Paul specifically, are concerned with showing that who our biological family or race is, is irrelevant; what matters are who we electively choose as our spiritual brothers.  So that the NT normally, adamantly opposes attaching importance to a biological kindship.  

      While 6) there are many Pauline useages of “Brother” that are clearly metaphorical.

      Or then too?  Even 7) if there ARE SAY, minor differences in wording in these various “brothers,” still, strong anti-historicists would say that most of the New Testament, even much of its most “physically real” side, was all made up anyway.  And nobody could really witness to the contrary, when Jerusalem itself was demolished, burned entire to the ground, along with most evidence, in 70 AD.  And when all those who disagreed with Rome were – either the empire, and/or the Roman Church – were soon executed.  And their works burned. Which eliminates lots of evidence.

      In fact, 8) Dr. C. (?; the original respondent to Ehrman,) makes the point that the main reason that few radical Mythicists do not exist in academic Religion departments, is that until very recently, all such were simply fired.  Or earlier, they were simply hunted down and killed as heretics.  While to this day, there are strong forces working to keep such persons from ever being hired in Religion departments.  Though?  You might find some of them, hiding out in Classics, or Anthropology, or Philosophy departments, say.

      Or indeed?  The world of religious scholars is fairly self-selecting; if you didn’t believe in it in the first place, likely you wouldn’t be there.  In the first place.

      But in fact?  Dr. McGrath makes some good points to be sure:  first, that there are few current, open, total mythicists out there.  Though I expect that the modern climate may permit more and more of them, to make themselves known.  So that we will soon see, some of the very much more scholarly and defensible agnostics and so forth, more clearly, prominently emerge. 

      9) For that matter? Even you, Trey, admit that the assumption that James the brother of Christ, is after all, an “assumption.”  One that moreover, does not seem quite as reasonable as many have thought, when you look at it more carefully.

    • guest

      Trey, I hope you don’t mind that i discussed your objection as stated above with Carrier as i thought it was interesting. 🙂

      • Trey

        Not at all. I don’t think any of the comments are copyrighted.

  • I have a hard time seeing your “fairly consistent tradition” about James’ relationship to Jesus.  It seems to me that there was a fair amount of confusion from a fairly early point.  The author of Acts declines to identify the James who was the leader of the church in Jerusalem (let’s call him “James the Just”) as being Jesus’ brother despite the fact that he knows that Jesus has brothers (Act 1:14) and that Jesus had a brother named James (Mark 6:3).  If Luke thought that James the Just was the biological brother of Jesus, why does he drop Mark’s reference to Jesus having a brother of that name?

    In the book of Acts, Luke identifies two apostles named James, one being the son of Alphaeus and the other the son of Zebedee. After the son of Zebedee is killed, Luke’s makes additional reference to a man named James (who is the man who comes to be known as “James the Just”) without identifying his father.  The logical conclusion is that this is James the son Alphaeus but Luke no longer needs to identify him as “the son of Alpheaus” because there is only one James left, and not that this is a third James that Luke is introducing into the narrative without distinguishing him from the Jameses that have been seen previously.

    I think it is overly simplistic to blame all the doubts about James the Just’s relationship to Jesus on the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity. The confusion starts with the canonical writings.  It is hard for me to see Paul at the start of a fairly consistent tradition making James the Just the biological brother of Jesus when the very next source in line seems to indicate that he wasn’t.

    • Trey

      Jeffrey Butz in his book, “The Brother Of Jesus” has a theory that the writers and or editors of the New Testament were trying to wipe James out of the picture and deny the leading role James played in the early church because James as a staunch and faithful Jew to the end was opposed to Paul’s teaching on the law. I think this idea may have merit and explain in part the obscurity surrounding who “James” was.

      • Trey,

        It’s an interesting hypothesis and I have heard generally favorable things about the book.  However, I doubt that it is much more than one of several interesting possibilities, none of which is subject to much in the way of corroboration. 

      • Woodbridgegoodman


        The Butz theory seems attractive and plausible, to many. 

        Christianity did in fact eventually break away from Judaism, and any center at Jerusalem.  Where James lived.  And where he had probably defended a rather more Jewish idea of Christianity. 

        When Jerusalem, the main site of Jesus and orginal Christianity, where Christianity remained in close contact with Jews and judaism, was burned to the ground in 70 AD?  When Jerusalem itself was destroyed, except for a few towers retained by the Romans to garrison their troops?  The old hometown, James-ian, still heavily Jewish-inflected Christianity, would likely have been all but wiped out.  Leaving primarily Paul’s gentile-oriented, Roman Empire Christianity, prevailing.

  • robertb

    It seems to me that the first visit to Jerusalem in Galatians was contested by some early Christians, as Tertullian seems to imply contra-Marcion.

    So maybe this is much ado about nothing.

    It is sad that our MS tradition for Paul starts so late.

  • Let me get some of these mythicist ideas straight.

    Mythicist: Jesus is a myth!
    Scholar: Jesus is a historical figure.  We have proof!
    Mythicist: I’m not saying that a figure named Jesus never existed, just that the supernatural elements are exaggerations.
    Scholar: We’ve been saying that for a hundred years!
    Mythicist: You’re really a mythicist then!  You should visit our website
    Scholar: But I believe Jesus existed!

    How much of a difference between one’s view of the historical Jesus and the traditional Jesus of faith does there have to be for them to count as a mythicist if a mythicist can say that there was a historical Jesus?

    • If someone is not saying that there was no historical Jesus, and is just saying that the supernatural elements are myth or legend, then they are not mythicists. Mythicists say that there was no historical figure of Jesus at the origin of Christianity, but rather a purely celestial and fictional one.

      • That’s what I thought.  I just read some comments on blogs by mythicists saying that there still could be a historical figure behind the myth of Jesus, which was weird.

        • I wonder how frequently people who say they are or support mythicists have a misunderstanding about what is being referred to. I suspect that some of the scientists who have signed “dissent from Darwin” letters may have done something similar, because they rightly emphasize that there are more factors involved than natural selection, without realizing that their statement will then be misused for the purpose of undermining rather than supporting science.

    • josh

       Let me set you a little straighter.

      Mythicist: Jesus is a myth!
      Historicist: Jesus is a historical figure! We have proof!
      Mythicist: Okay, what’s your proof?
      Historicist: Well, if we take these copies of documents which were plausibly written as early as 30 years or so after the alleged death of this Jesus character, and we assume they were based on an earlier tradition for which we have circumstantial evidence, presupposing that certain archaic phrases were deliberately chosen for the specific reasons I have in mind, then…
      Mythicist: Um, that’s not proof. In fact there’s a notable lack of any primary evidence of this Jesus character or his followers prior to these relatively late documents.
      Historicist: Well, it’s plausible. In fact I argue that my version of events is the most plausible based on the available evidence.
      Mythicist: Yeah, but there are lots of ‘plausible’ stories. I argue that the most likely scenario is one where a ‘revealed’ demigod figure, based on syncretism between jewish and pagan ideas we know to be around at the time,  was retroactively converted into a physical, historical figure.
      Historicist: That’s just a made up story! You can’t prove that.
      Mythicist: … I’m arguing it’s plausible, same as you.
      Historicist: Mythicists make terrible arguments, they’re sloppy with details and they oversell their conclusions.
      Mythicist: Some do, that doesn’t make the position itself unreasonable. Do I really need to point you to the host of religious apologists making bad arguments and dubious claims? Or, say, here’s a popular article written by respected historicist Bart Ehrman, and, hmmm it’s full of either outright mistakes or egregiously misleading wording.
      Historicist: So you don’t think any Jews named Joshua were ever crucified, you think Paul made the whole thing up off the top of his head, none of the traditions came from anywhere except borrowed whole from paganism or invented from scratch decades after the fact.
      Mythicist: Well, no, not exactly. The main thing we should emphasize is that we don’t know with any great certainty. I think there is too little there to talk about Jesus as a historical figure when, to me, everything looks consistent with a mythical construction. Of course, it’s possible that some particular incidents or sayings that later became part of the Jesus myth derive from actual occurrences or people. I just don’t see a good reason to assume they all lead back to a singular, central founding figure.
      Historicist: Aha, you admit Jesus could have existed, so you’re not really a mythicist.
      Mythicist: That’s not what I said. I admit such a figure could have existed but I don’t think it the most likely case. I don’t think the ‘quest for the historical jesus’ is the right approach, because the character may well be so fictionalized as to make said quest incoherent.

      • @f80b96454497a2fda1ce3486de1914e3:disqus , the problem I see is that you are content just to say that some other scenario is not impossible, and then by the end assert that the mainstream historians’ view does not seem more probable to you.

        That you retort at one point that religious apologists and articles for the popular press fall short in many respects is telling. What you should be asking about is rigorous, critical, peer-reviewed historical research, not what apologists for either religious viewpoints or mythicism write, or even what scholars write in op-eds, but at least what scholars write in formal publications for a general audience, if not their more scholarly works.

        When you do, and ask the key question of what is most likely and not merely possible, then I think you’ll be headed in the right direction, and will understand why mainstream historians find mythicism no more impressive than conservative religious apologetics. “Not impossible” is setting the bar way too low.

        • Woodbridgegoodman

          Whereas, stories of a guy born of a virgin, who literally walks on water and makes bread appear out of thin air, are all … relatively far more plausible than “not impossible”? 

          • You seem not to be treating the sources using the methods of historical study. Where do you find Jesus born of a virgin in our earliest sources? Our very earliest author says he was descended from David according to the flesh, which in fact contradicts the later legends about a virginal conception.

  • I have been engaging Carrier on his own latest blog entry “McGrath on the Amazing Infallible Ehrman” at
    He had to admit error on the data he fed his Bayes theorem with, and one component of his fed data is highly irregular. The result of it is mostly manipulated by the fact “brother(s) of the Lord” means Christians and that is mainly demonstrated by Christians, in two cases are called “brother(s) of the Lord”, a typical circular argument. Plus a few lame excuses.
    It is clear to me that this Bayes theorem, in that application, is just a front for biases and assumptions.

  • Dr. McGrath,

    I wonder how frequently someone who is accused of being a mythicist is either simply a skeptic about the sufficiency of the evidence for historicity or thinks that talking about a historical Jesus is essentially meaningless because for all practical purposes he is beyond recovery by historical methodology.  I know how frequently I am so accused.

    I would probably call myself a mythicist regarding King Arthur because it is hard for me to imagine the historical King Arthur hypothesis ever having any real explanatory power even though I can imagine that an actual person might have existed at some point who played some role at the very beginnings of the stories. 

    On the other hand, I consider myself an agnostic regarding the historical Jesus because I can see the explanatory potential of the hypothesis.  I just don’t think the evidence is as compelling as the historicists do and I think that there is some data that it does not satisfactorily explain.  (That’s basically the same reason that I consider myself an agnostic about God rather than an atheist.)  On the other hand, I am doubtful that the mythicists could ever muster enough evidence to make their theory anything more than an interesting possibility.

  • Richard wrote:  Even though this goes against the Christian doctrine that all are equals, and no one has a special privilege from being biologically related to anyone.
    Thanks Richard, you just explained to us why James is not indicated to be the brother of Jesus in ‘Acts’ and James’ epistle.

  • Carrier is refusing to answer the following (see his reply on his blog):

    ” RC wrote: That would not make any rhetorical sense in the context of either 1cor9 or Gal1 (where in neither case is such a term of intimacy appropriate). See my remarks on this point upthread.
    BM: I read it. A lot of verbose and excuses to defend your point. This is not math and not evidence. You wrote: “Indeed, to always consistently refer to them as brother (or indeed, the pleonastic “brother of the Lord”) would be fastidious, which is the kind of thing all schools of the time taught writers not to do.”
    But Paul did not do that: He used also “in Christ” and “in the Lord” in place of “brothers”. Does one “brother of the Lord” in one epistle and a “brothers of the Lord” in another one would avoid the fastidiousness?

    RC continued: but it’s an ambiguity all his readers understood because they knew what he meant: not biological brothers, but brothers of the Lord),
    BM replied: you are assuming a lot here. That’s not math!
    Then RC wrote: I am not assuming anything here that isn’t obviously and undeniably true. And that which is obviously and undeniably true has an epistemic probability of effectively 100%. That is math. And it’s correct math.
    BM: You are assuming “his readers understood because they knew what he meant: not biological brothers, …” No it is not correct math. It is not math.

    RC: But there is then an ambiguity: biological or adopted brother? As I’ve said. Ad nauseam.
    BM: But Richard, you postulated that Paul’s readers understood by “brother of the Lord” as not meaning biological brother. Which means you think Paul’s readers knew a few things about James. So I can also postulate Paul’s readers knew about that James as the blood brother of Jesus. (And there is evidence for that in the gospels!).
    Also, a good explanation why Paul wanted to identify that James from possible others:
    This is the first reference of “James” in ‘Galatians’. But at the time (around 38) of Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion (as narrated in Gal1:18-20) there was another prominent member of the “church of Jerusalem” named James, the brother of John, who got executed around 42 (according to Ac12:1-2). Therefore, Paul probably wanted to identify the “James” he met then, more so because this one became most important later. “

  • Again Carrier is refusing to answer the following (see his reply on his blog):

    ” RC wrote: Why do you assume Peter is not one of them? Peter is an apostle (Gal. 1:17-19). He is thus not being distinguished from apostles and brethren, he is being singled out as a prime example of them.
    BM: It’s like me saying: I met the adults, the extended family and Bruce (well known to be the patriarch). Does not make sense to write this way? Rather something more like: I met the adults, the children and Bruce. And why would Paul mention the Christians in general to make his case? Sure many of those were married. So what?
    However it makes more sense that Paul was pleading his cause by selecting persons or groups with particular significance: Peter, of course, well known, the other apostles (just like Paul) and … Jesus. But Jesus was not married, so he could not have him as example. But his brothers were. That’s the next best thing!
    One very important thing: Paul wrote 1Cor9:5 in the context of travelling:
    RSV: “Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a wife, as the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?”
    The apostles were travelling. Paul was travelling. Peter was travelling. Some Christians might have been travelling but most were not. So “brothers of the Lord” cannot mean Christians at large. Here is another challenge for you.

    RC wrote: That’s complete fiction. Moreover, the story he tells there does not say it is about James the brother of Jesus (Hegesippus thought it was, but the story itself never makes any mention of it).
    BM: Fiction, a lot, but in some circles, in the 2nd century, James is represented as a super Jew, not a Christian (his “confession” is obviously forced on him to make him look like one). Certainly a clue in my book about James was not “in Christ”. And Hegesippus had James as a brother of Jesus. Is once not enough?

    RC wrote: No, yours is. My theory is confirmed by two instances of what it predicts (i.e. it predicts there will be a few instances; when we look, that’s what we see). You said there are no instances. That’s false. You can only say there are no instances if you circularly assume these aren’t instances.
    BM: What is predicted is all yours. [it is easy to taylor an argument to fit a resulting known evidence]. There is no evidence in the whole NT that “brothers of the Lord” means “Christians” even if it can be [theologically] justified.

    RC wrote: There is no possible way Paul does not mean Christians in those two passages, because (in 1Cor9) what non-Christians do is wholly irrelevant to Paul’s argument (so he can only be referring to Christians) and (in Gal1) what non-Christians he spoke to is wholly irrelevant to Paul’s argument (which is that he didn’t speak to any Christians; so he can only be referring to a Christian).
    BM: In 1Cor9 I demonstrated that “Christians” for “brothers of the Lord” is irrelevant. But very relevant for “blood brothers of Jesus”. For Gal1, what do you mean? It seems you take Peter as non-Christian now. And also James “because he didn’t speak to any Christians”. But then you infer that James was a Christian! I am lost here. “

  • Again again Carrier is refusing to answer the following (see his reply on his blog):

    “RC wrote:
    P1. The evidence in Paul proves Christians called Jesus the Lord.
    P2. The evidence in Paul proves Jesus was the adopted son of God.
    P3. The evidence in Paul proves baptized Christians were the adopted sons of God.
    P4. By definition, sons of the same father are brothers of each other.
    P5. By definition, if P2 and P3, then Christians and Jesus were sons of the same father.
    C1. Therefore, (baptized) Christians and Jesus are brothers of each other.
    C2. Therefore, (baptized) Christians and the Lord are brothers of each other.
    P6. In the Greek language, when A is the brother of B, this is stated by saying “A is a brother of B.”
    C3. Therefore, in the Greek language when [a Christian] is the brother of [the Lord], this is stated by saying “a Christian is a brother of the Lord.”
    C4. Therefore, “a Christian is a brother of the Lord.”
    BM: Remain to be seen if the Christians that Paul was addressing thought as themselves as “son(s) of God”:
    In 1Corinthians (and 1 Thessalonians written earlier) there is NO “son(s) of God”.
    In Galatians, the first mention of Christians as “son(s) of God” comes at verse 3:26, that is two chapters after Gal1:19. Furthermore, “son(s) of God” seems to be a new concept introduced then by Paul to the Galatians.
    And in 1Thessalonians and 1Corinthians, “Son of God” appears in passages which I think (for good reasons explained in my website) are interpolations: 1Th1:10, 1Cor1:4-9 & 1Cor15:23-28.
    Here are some of the reasons, from my website:
    “in ’1Thessalonians’ and ’1Corinthians’, Paul was unlikely to mention Jesus as “the Son”, because he wrote:
    “God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1Th1:1)
    “our God and Father” (1Th1:3,3:13)
    “our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus” (1Th3:11)
    “For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many gods and many lords, [for Paul, as it seems here, “lords” are not “gods”]` yet for us there is one God, the Father … and one Lord Jesus Christ …”(1Cor8:5-6a)
    “the heavenly man [Jesus]“(1Cor15:48,49)”
    The author of ‘Hebrews’ did have Jesus considering Christians as his brothers, unambiguously. But Paul never did.
    And even if Paul’s audience was then aware of “Son of God” and “son(s) of God”, I do not think they had your 10 steps list in order to interpret instantanously “Brother(s) of the Lord” your way, when the passages were read to them. Nor that Paul was expecting such quick thinking. More so when “Brother(s) in_the_Lord/in_Christ” would not cause any confusion.”

  • I’ve had to give up on the conversation over there, since he said “Even in Mormonism, the fictional Moroni is the parallel to Jesus; Smith is the parallel to Paul”  and yet is complaining that I said that doesn’t provide an accurate parallel, precisely because (as he said earlier in the comment) Christianity involved other people who were Christians before Paul, and as far as we can tell, Smith was not merely promoting and transforming a belief system that already existed before he joined it. Even if one were to add Peter to the mix, what is the evidence that Peter, or Peter and Paul together, invented Jesus?

    Carrier also seems unwilling to apply the same reasonable deduction that leads him to agree with mainstream archaeologists and historians about Nazareth to arguably the most famous person from Nazareth. And he stoops to insults rather than consistently offering reasoned discourse about evidence. It is incredibly frustrating.

  • Gakuseidon

    I’m very surprised by the tone that Carrier has adopted towards you and Ehrman, James. It’s not his disagreement, but his conclusions about character (more so towards Ehrman). Having said that, Carrier responded to two recent private emails from me to him, cordially and in-depth. So perhaps it is the public nature of the debate that is encouraging hostility rather than just disagreement.

  • Brettongarcia

    I think I could imagine right away a simple compromise, between the more scholarly mythicists, and the scholarly non- mythicist Historicists.  It might be this: that both would agree that at least ELEMENTS OF the traditional PERCEPTION of “Christ” might not be true.

    But what about those who want to just say flatly, that “Jesus never existed”?  This is an extreme view to be sure.  Yet here I am inclined to forgive the popular, more radical mythicsts, in their desire to say that.  Because first of all in effect, even most Christians, and many “historicists,” would agree that the (fornmerly?)  mainstream idea of Jesus – Jesus born of a virgin; and/or Jesus literally walking on water – functionally, did not exist. And finally indeed, there are so many traditional qualities that do not seem right?  That if we had to give a simple answer – yes or no, did “Jesus” exist?  The most accurate quick-and-dirty answer for many is increasingly “no,” rather than “yes.”    

    In some ways, it is just a matter of degree, and of semantics, or emphasis:  how many of the traditional magical qualities attributed to Jesus can you remove, before functionally, you are justified in saying that “Jesus” did not exist? 

    Or even more:  how misleading can the popular view of Jesus as miracle worker say, be … before it is better to simply say, as a one-word typification, that “Jesus,” functionally, did not exist.  As opposing to saying that he DID exist .. and risk seeming to affirm mere popular prejudice?

    To be sure though?  There remains, in more moderate academic mythicists, an interest in whether there is any real, physical, historical person whatsoever, behind the Jesus legends; one like or unlike the popular lengends.  And that  question to be sure, remains a difficult and open question, for continuing research.

    But when asked to give simple, a quick-and-dirty, one word answer, to the simple question “did Jesus really exist”?  I can’t really blame the mythicsts, who want to say finally, “no.”

    Though as an academic, I prefer a more nuanced answer, at the same time, I can sympathize with those who are tired of 2,000 years and more of semantic gamesmanship, and want to simply put it all behind, with a simple negative response.

    At the same time though?  There is always the change that there was SOME historical root there; even a person.  Whether or not he matches the later legends that were attached to him – or not.

    (By the way?  The “DISQUS” or whatever log in system, is impenetrable).

  • Carrier wrote in a reply to McGrath:
    “Most likely he would have used a more familiar way of specifying which James was meant: like “James the son of Joseph” (or if there was more than one of those: “James the natural brother of Jesus,” using physikos, which we see many times in epitaphs and legal documents for distinguishing natural from adopted kin; “James the brother of Jesus in the flesh” might also be a Christian way of saying the same).”

    BM: Again, here is another example where a mythicist expects “technical” or legal language; and because that’s not used, rejects the normal reading of the data.

    Furthermore “son of Joseph” would be unspecific because there were many “Joseph” then. Ditto for “brother of Jesus” (‘Jesus’ was a common name then). But “brother of the Lord” is specific, and points to only one person.

    But Carrier said: “this goes against the Christian doctrine that all are equals, and no one has a special privilege from being biologically related to anyone.” (which, BTW, would explain why the “James” of Acts and James’ epistle is not said to be a brother of Jesus!)
    However this is overrided by the fact that Paul, at Gal1:9, needed to specify which James he saw then because:
    This is the first reference of “James” in ‘Galatians’. But at the time (around 38) of Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion (as narrated in Gal1:18-20) there was another prominent member of the “church of Jerusalem” named James, the brother of John, who got executed around 42 (according to Ac12:1-2). Therefore, Paul probably wanted to identify the “James” he met then, more so because this one became most important later.

    Carrier might blame me to use Acts in order to make a point. But he does use Acts also (to make arguments from silence again). I quote him:
    “For example, the earliest public history of the church begins in Acts 2 (Acts 1 is just an appendix to the Gospel, expanding events occurring in private at the end of the Gospel that Luke assumes happened). But from then on (Acts 2 to 28, all twenty seven chapters), James the “brother of Jesus” doesn’t exist. He vanishes from history. (As does the rest of Jesus’ family: no Mary, no Joseph, no other brothers, no family in Nazareth; in fact, nothing ever happens in Nazareth, no one ever comes from Nazareth or goes to Nazareth, etc.)”

    If Carrier can use Acts, so can I.

  • Brettongarcia

    What about the point, made by Carrier and many others, that the whole effort to prove the physicality of Jesus, might be wrong-headed?  Since the whole point of much of New Testament, spiritual theology, is to tell us that our bodies, our flesh, our real physicality, is unimportant?  And that specifically, our biological relations are less important than our spiritual brothers? 

    The New Testament specifically and adamantly, for eample, insists that gentile Christians, who are not biologically Jews, can now be saved, not according to the “flesh,” or biological inheritance from Jews, but by “faith” or mental embrace of God.  While, when Jesus’ real biological family is waiting outside the house in one case, Jesus not only ignores them, but pointedly proclaims that those of his new spiritual kin, are his true and new family. While then elsewhere, Jesus tells us that those who do not “hate” their father and brothers and so forth, cannot be his disciples.

    So here’s another part of Carrier and my criticism of your who attempt:  If this rejection of physical ties, physical family,is the main theology of the NT – and especially of Paul as it turns out – then doesn’t this make your whole effort to prove the material reality of Jesus, according to the relations of the “flesh,” exactly wrongheaded? 

    Indeed, the NT would almost seem to be saying that it hardly matters whether Jesus existed materially, or not.  What matters are the ideas or spirit that have been conveyed to us.

    How do you answer that criticism, of the very attempt to establish the material reality of James, and then Jesus himself?  That JEsus and Paul are telling us that such things as the physical life – and specifically, physical, blood relatives – are unimportant, and in fact misleading? And that physical relatives – specifically brothers – must be eshewed, left behind, if we wish to be Christians?

    • It doesn’t sound to me like you are familiar with the New Testament. Your statements certainly reflect views found in later Christianity, and popular contemporary views and misconceptions. But the question is about historical evidence, not the views that later people have had which are often very different from or even at odds with those earliest of sources.

  • Woodbridgegoodman


    I’ve cited a half dozen biblical references. 

    No doubt, the “spiritual” Christianity expressed in them, is rather late-biblical.  But still?  Firmly in the BIble itself.  In condemnations of the “flesh,” the “world,”  the distancing of Christianity from the Jewish religion and its “law,” and so forth.

    To be sure?  There is more than one theology in the NT; spirituality to be sure, conflicts with rather more materialistic theologies there too.  But?  It’s definitely there. 

    Feel free to address my specific references directly.   The ref. to Jesus neglecting his biological “family” would begin with Mark 3.32-4; the suggestion we must “hate” our biological family, is from Luke 14.26.  The rejection of the (possibly material) “world” is found in many writings attributed to John.  (Though countered to be sure by John 3.16).  Attacks on the “flesh” passim.  For one of many ascetic commands to denounce material “posessions,” Luke 14.3.  See also all of Pauls’ rejection of any necessary  biological tie to the Jews, by biological inheretance, as found in his condemnations of ties of the “flesh,” and etc..

    To be sure, this kind of extreme spirituality developed too far in the somewhat later theology of Gnosticism.  But?  The roots were there, in the Bible itself.  Specifically, the roots were there for a rejection of any tie to biological family, especially.  Including specifically, in Luke 14.26, our “brothers.”

    • All sorts of people quote snippets of the Bible for all sorts of purposes. But often times they are assembled into something that makes a different point or gives a different impression than they did in the original context.

      In the Gospels, the context of hating family is that of following Jesus and focusing on the imminent arrival of the kingdom of God. 

      Paul certainly does use the term “flesh” but it is important to ask whether he uses it in the same manner as it was used in non-Jewish Greco-Roman authors. John A. T. Robinson’s study, The Body, is one that is helpful in exploring this topic, since Robinson himself explains how he long assumed that Paul’s usage was the same as that wider Greco-Roman usage, but a closer examination changed his mind.

      At any rate, even in Paul, the hope he has is for a transformed bodily existence, not a disembodied one, which is different than what one finds in Gnosticism, for instance.

      But many find that Paul himself, when compared with the Gospels, seems to be moving in a recognizably different direction than the Jesus depicted in the earliest layers of them.

  • Woodbridgegoodman

    Often we need to look beyond the precisice specifics of a situation, to see what other things are analytically implied within those specifics.  In the case of those leaving their families for example, for a kingdom, what was made of it analytically, even within the Bible itself?

    Jesus asked us to “hate” our biological family.  Perhaps this just meant we might need to leave our families, to go out and fight the war that would establish a Jewish kingdom.  But?  Later biblical writers would indeed, turn this into a statement anticipating that our biological families and lineage, would not be entirely reliable.  As we created the (now-) metaphorical “kingdom” of a new religion, Christiantnity, many of our relatives would not always become Christian, but might remain Jewish, or non-followers of Jesus, when push came to shove; specifically in the coming of the Kingdom. 

    And indeed, as one of his elements, Jesus was in part acknowledging that the coming “kingdom,” in some way the old biological kinship system, would not be entirely reliable.  As his followers would at time have to break away from their unbelieving families, and join the non-biological, elective brotherhood of believers.

    To be sure, this reading might be a later – say Pauline – reading of Jesus.  However?  It is “in the Bible.”  And in a sense, there is no need or warrant, in one sense, to privilege some kind of first reading; if others felt the need to change it, likely there were problems with the “original” too.  Notoriously for example:  problems with a physical “kingdom” arriving in any timely way. 

    So that even an “original” account, would have problems too.

    So that?  The spiritualization of all that, the shift of emphasis – in Paul to be sure, and others – from a biological family, to the spiritual community of largely non-biologically-Jewish Christians – to “Brothers” in arms; then Christian monks or “BROTHERS,” “breathren” – would be as valid, and as biblical, as any reconstructed “original” concepts. 

  • Brettongarcia

    In any case?  Regarding the reference to “James, the brother of the Lord” (Gal. 1.19)?  Jesus himself, I suggest, might earlier have already been relating to metaphorical “brothers in arms,” so to speak. 

    Then too?  The text as we have it today is in Galatians; a text by Paul.  Therefore?  We would expect it to share Paul’s orientation; which seems metaphorical/ spiritual; and ready to embrace a spiritual understanding of “brother,” rather than a literal, physical reading.  Even as Paul rejected many ties to the “flesh,” and biological brotherhood, in the rest of his writing.

    Therefore?  The reference in Galatians to “James, the brother of the Lord” (Gal. 1.19), perhaps should not be taken as a very strong proof of any real or important physicality whatsoever.  Or even necessarily to a real, literal, physical brother to Jesus.  In james. 

    This particular quote therefore, is not very strong evidence of a real, physical Jesus. (Even assuming that the text has any early authenticity whatsoever).

    To be sure however?  Our present conversation might be of some use, to someone hoping to separate the “wheat from the chaff.”  And to perhaps move on from this specific text, to others; in an attempt to say especially, attempt to reconstruct what Jesus himself might have been like. 

    Specifically?  I’m suggesting, speculatively here, that Jesus himself might already have been partially metaphoricalizing “brothers”; thinking of even young soldiers, leaving home and biological family, to join brothers in arms.  In that case his biological brothers may – or may not – have been central to him. And he may – or may not – have mentioned or stressed them very often.

    Certainly Paul and others seem to have gone out of their way, to efface any such possible stress.

  • I already remarked that nowhere in 1 Corinthians (and 1 Thessalonians written earlier) the Christians are declared “sons/children of God”. However Paul said he considered these Christians as his children:
    1Cor4:14 RSV “I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.” (See also 1Cor4:15 & 1Cor4:17 & 1Th2:11)
    Therefore Paul considered the Christian males of Corinth as “his sons” (spiritually) but not yet as “sons of God”.
    Consequently Paul did not see then these Christians as “brothers of the Lord” (1Cor9:5) because sons of different fathers are not brothers.

  • Brettongarcia

    But elsewhere, the NT and even specifically Paul, suggests that all those who choose to follow God, whether they are biologically Jews or not, are 1) “heirs of the promise,” metaphorically, and 2) by “adoption,” brothers of God himself.  Since, among other reasons 3) “we are all sons of God.” Or sons of THE LORD, in effect: “Each one of you is a son of God because of your faith in Jesus Christ” (NAB Gal. 3.26). 

    So again finally?  Paul and the NT throughout, often insists that biological ties are unimportant; even giving gentile, non-biologially related believers, the status of not just “brothers,” but are even “sons of God.”  

    The phrase “James the brother of the LORD” therefore, has little if any evidentiary force, in the case for a biologically-evidenced, historical CHrist.  All such biological kinship terms are thoroughly metaphoricalized, and then effectively dissolved, in most NT texts. Even as the importance of biological ties, being biologically Jewish in the “flesh,” is systematically and rigorously attacked.

    Then too of course?  It may be that the Bible itself is simply unreliable text.  Even if the text had firmly said: “HEY!  Jesus was a real physical person, and he had a real physical brother that I, Paul met!” still of course, the text might simply have been false; a text made up well after the death of Paul and of Jesus.By the way? In the same books, Paul impugns the authority of another apostle, Peter, in Gal. 2.11. Suggesting that Peter – and the parts of the NT he wrote were simply often wrong or false. So that in the end the Bible selfdeonstructs; it questions itself.  Paul questioning the authority of peter, for example.

    Or again, even if we take the text seriously?  Then note that within it, Paul himself consistently denies the importance of such biological roots, in any case.  Paul insisting that we don’t have to be biologically Jewish, of Jewish family, to be Christian.  Paul even beginning specifically Galateans, with the insistence that regarding his own “gospel,” he “did not receive it from any man…. It came to me by revelation” (Ga. 1.11).

    Finally therefore, there is not much – if any – evidence here therefore, supporting the existence of a real, historical Jesus, in the phrase “James the brother of the Lord.”  Therefore?  Even rather extreme levels of Mythicism remain just as plausible as – or likely even more plausible than – Historicism. 

    Indeed I would suggest the hypothesis here, after Dr. W. Goodman, that the story of Jesus was likely a simple composite.  A composite of many mythical and semi-historical tales, of various good, admired “lords.”  Especially tales of David.  But then also tales of various “lord”s and “god”s from Greco-Roman and other ANE (Ancient Near East) traditions: like tales of the self-sacrificing Socrates; Mithra the god of light; tales of the various Jewish Herodian Tetrarchs and their “sons,” especially. All these many various tales of local and hsitorical “lord”s and “gods,” would often have been presented by locals, as tales of “the” Lord.  And many of them could easily have been confusedly taken to be about THE SAME Lord, by early assemblers of accounts of the Lord.  Like the author of Luke/Acts.

    To be sure, the Historical search remains interesting.  But still, firm evidence is lacking. Indeed, there is very strong scientific evidence against any figures claimed to be walking on water, and so forth. 

    So that therefore?  The Mythicist reading of Jesus, however vague it may be at times, does not at present have very strong competition.  And it seems therefore, to be at least relatively plausible.  Indeed, the scholarly (if not popular) Mythicism, seems at least as strong as the Historical thesis, at present.

    By the way?  The very debate between Carrier and Ehrman, McGrath and others, presented in part here in McGrath’s facebook pages, would present evidence of that;  that here are indeed, more Scholarly Mythicists.  Whose arguments are rather well-developed, after all.  Whose arguments are at least a strong as the Historical thesis, so far.  Or in fact, so far?  Stronger.

  • Jack D.

    Let’s assume James was Jesus’ actual brother.
    Then let’s read the following from Galatians 1:18-19 (NKJ):

    “Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles, except the Lord’s biological brother.”

    Oh, only him?! Why would Jesus’ kin be mentioned so nonchalantly? Consider how differently the verse would sound with the order reversed:

    “Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to meet the Lord’s biological brother, and Peter, with whom I remained fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles, except these.”

    I think meeting the actual brother of the Lord is a special occasion, considering verses 16-17 indicate they had not yet met each other: “…I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me…”

  • Brettongarcia

    Jack D:

    I think your first comment seems good:  the order. suggests that meeting Peter was more important, than James.  But even more important I’d suggest?  Was that much of Gal. seems concerned with establishing that other apostles, or indeed any human/fleshly connections, were not more important than Paul and the spirit he was feeling; perhaps such biological connections were not important at all. 

    Paul began Gal. in fact with the assertion that Gal. is from “Paul, an apostle – not from men nor through men, but through Jesus” (1.1).  Paul is over and over, concerned even as one of his central points, to make it clear that his source of authority is not from other men, and their tradition, their flesh. But straight from god and his spirit.  While Paul suggests that biological ties between Jesus and so forth, are unimportant.

    Most scholars suggest that there had been conflicts between the Jewish/Christian tradition in Jerusalem, with Peter and perhaps James there.  Those in Jerusalem perhaps claiming primacy, for several reasons, including perhaps basing themselves on a biological relation to Jesus, by way of a relative of Jesus, James.   But is such a biological connection important? Paul they say, appears to conflict with this tradition at times; Paul calling Peter/Cephas “hypocritical” and “insincere,” in fact, on the matter of biological heritage; and Peter is called bad, for preciselly, at times only admitting biological Jews into fellowship. 

    And as for James?  In some translations, James and others are called only “reputed” pillars of Christiandom. While Paul is eager to establish that he is not “inferior” to other ‘superlative” apostles.  And gets a different ministry; not to the Jews, but to the Gentiles.  And he says that allowing non-Jews into christianity is central; as indeed it becomes.  It is not so much Jews, but Gentiles from Rome and so forth, that flood into Christianity, and make it a major, sizeable religion.  If only Jews had been allowed,Christianity wouled not have become a great/large religion at all.  Most American Christians for example, are not biologically Jewis,

    In sum?  It is thought that in effect, there had been a conflict between a bio-Jewish Christianity in Jerusalem, and a more open, gentile- spiritual-oriented Christianity, in Paul and others.  Indeed, the importance of biological ties to Jesus, and a possible monarchical, biological Christian succession – the bio relatives of jesus succeeding him? – was a great issue.  But?  Biological relation and authority of the “flesh,” and Jewishness, was apparently rejected.  In large part, thanks to Paul.  The Christianity we have today, is more Pauline; we believe that you don’t have to be biologically Jewish to be a Christian; but what matters, as Paul argued at length, was that our mind or spirit, assents through “faith” or mental confidence, in the lordship of the (once Jewish) “God,” and that is enough to make us “heirs,” even “adopted” sons ( Gal. 3.24-29).

    Indeed the main stress of Paul, is to attack the notion that biological ties to Jewish tradition were important; and to establish that non Jews, Greeks and others, could be considered followers of “God”; so long as they expressed “faith” and confidence in him. In that case, Paul said we can even be considered “sons” of God.

    And since we are sons of the same God?  We are brothers with each other.

    Therefore?  The whole emphasis on James as a biological brother,in Historicism today, is in effect attacked by Paul, and mainstream Christianity. Paul arguing over and over that such links are unimportant. 

    To be sure?  That tie remains an interesting possible avenue of research, regarding any physical reality to Jesus.  Indeed, there are Palestinians today who claim they are biologically related to, bio. heirs of, Jesus.   But that connection, Paul asserted, is not in itself, of great importance in determining – or undetermining – the validity of your Christianity.  Insists Paul.

    To those who remain interested in the physical reality of Jesus, and in his biological nature,  in spite of all these biblical warnings, however?  We might note that indeed, if you wanted to eventually prove the Historical reality of Jesus, doing DNA makeups on those who today claim to be his Palestinian heirs, would be an important part, of a future body of evidence.  Though any such biological research, should always be accompanied by a few biblical cautions – from Paul and others – about taking such things as being absolutely, centrally, decisively important. 

    As noted here.

    Indeed, if the “SPIRIT” or idea, is the important thing?  Some might even claim that Jesus might even be wholly fictional; and yet that if the ideas or spirit he expressed were somehow still valid, they would still have some importance.  Even with no real historical or specifically biological base at all.  As some extreme Paulists/spritualists might claim.

  • Fortigurn

    Carrier says this.

    * ‘Here we have visions, seen as an exciting new event, being celebrated in stone. Christians could easily have done the same, erecting all manner of messages, in honor of their god, or to advertise their gospel, or to warn people to repent, and many other possible things. To suggest only “public functionaries” could do this is simply false.’

    * ‘To argue that private citizens and religious adherents didn’t erect inscriptions pertaining to their religions is simply ridiculous,’

    But McGrath made neither of these claims. Carrier is simply placing these claims in McGrath’s mouth. What McGrath actually said was ‘When, where, and why would a figure like Jesus have made an inscription, or had one made that referred to him?’, a question Carrier doesn’t actually answer.

    Carrier himself acknowledges that we should not necessarily expect inscriptions by Christians of the kind he describes, and that they would not be identical to his examples:

    ‘Note that I did not say we should necessarily expect them to; I listed many reasons why they might not have gotten around to it (and any such inscription would not have been as elaborate as at Lanuvium, which followed the law and sought a license to operate from the state, and so on, so I am not implying they would be identical, but that the same purpose would be served by minimally equivalent behavior).’

    So his entire rant on this point was irrelevant.

  • Brettongarcia

    I agree that Carrier is far too cursory and unfair, in his remarks.

    Still, among other things, the lack of (m)any early incriptions in stone that are indisputably Christian, seems ominous, or counterindicative, for the Historical thesis. 

    At best, the Christian movement for the first few hundred years, seems too small to come up with any early, lasting incriptions.  Today, in the way of possible Christian inscriptions in stone, we are looking at best, literally, a bonebox with an ambiguous inscription on it. An incription that might be a) a fish; or 2) a robed person on his/her side; or 3) some kind of urn.  Which is not strong evidence for a strong, real Christianity.

    While for that matter?  Even if you look at the Bible itself, at the book of Galatians?  We find here that the book’s primary intention seems to be to raise the possiblity of a real  – in this case, biologically situated – Jesus; only to explicitly discount the importance of any such “flesh”ly, worldly, merely human provenance.

    In fact, for that matter, the genuiness of Galatians itself is often questioned. Even as its main theme seems to be to question the real/biological roots of Jesus and Christianity – and to reject their importance. 

    “Galatea” by the way is the name of the female statue in the Greek myth, that came to life.  Which would be consistent with seeing the members of the church at Galatia, responding to/preserving a gospel or epistle, that was essentially concerned with examining the idea that “Jesus” was orginally a human invention, or a spiritual or imaginary or literary or fictional entity.  One brought to life, or thought to be entirely real, by say, popular opinion and misunderstanding of a literary figure.

    • Brettongarcia, let me use an analogy to illustrate the problem with such arguments based on similarity of sound between words or names. If someone wrote a letter to a group in Indianapolis, would it be legitimate to assume that their beliefs reflect Indian spirituality, because one can see “Indian” in the name of the place?

      Mark’s comment illustrates one of the most dubious and frustrating features of mythicism: the view that anyone with religious beliefs at any point in history is so untrustworthy that even asking about motives or probabilities is pointless, because they just make stuff up – even inventing enemies for themselves and presumably sending representatives of that invented nemesis to try to undermine their work, just to serve as a foil to their own arguments. It seems that mythicists tend to be people who hate religion more than they love logic or rationality, and as a result the careful reasoning of historians becomes the target of their polemic, as they seek ti promote their irrational conspiracy theory view of the origin of Christianity.

      Jack D., is it your view that Paul ought to have written “woo hoo” or something? I think you are viewing Jesus as the supernatural entity of the later creeds and not the human being Paul had to accept that he was, no matter how much he sought to exalt him.

      • Mark Erickson

         So untrue, good Dr. For instance, there are literally millions of books written by religious believers that I don’t think contain made up stuff. (excepting the fiction, of course). But that still leaves some that I do think made up stuff. Now, if it is a matter as trivial as how they addressed someone once, such as my first sentence, I let it go. But if it is a consequential matter like “inventing enemies for themselves and presumably sending representatives of that invented nemesis to try to undermine their work”, then I’d try to get to the bottom of it. But the present debate doesn’t warrant the effort.

        You’re not calling your posts on this topic “the careful reasoning of historians”, are you? If you call your reasoning here rational, then I’m happy to be called irrational by you. For instance, is it rational to offer a false dichotomy for explaining Ehrman’s incredibly weak Huffington Post piece? How about this explanation: Ehrman was promoting a forthcoming book in a pop culture website, and he didn’t take it very seriously (or actually wanted to court controversy to get attention), and the result was an incredibly weak piece. Quite a bit more plausible than either of your two false choices.

        • I do not call any blog post the “careful reasoning of historians.” If it were up to me, these matters would be decided by people who have read full-length scholarly monographs and peer-reviewed articles on the relevant issues. But since that is not something mythicists are willing to do, one can only try to summarize, explain, and simplify the reasons why mainstream historians consistently draw conclusions that certain armchair critics on the internet take exception to.

          Might I suggest that if you think the present debate doesn’t warrant the effort, you are not adequately familiar with early Christian literature, never mind historical critical scholarship about it?

          • Mark Erickson

            You might. But you still haven’t answered my second question: Is it rational to propose a false dichotomy?

          • False dichotomies are extremely problematic, and they are one of the reasons I view mythicism as bunk. So if you can point out where I have been guilty of posing a false dichotomy myself, I will be very grateful.

          • Mark Erickson

            Seriously? You can’t remember this: “Either Ehrman was drunk when he wrote the Huffington Post piece, or all his other works that are lucid were ghostwritten by a scholar of superior eloquence while this one he decided to write himself.”‘

          • Those are not my words. Did you mean to reply to someone else rather than to me?

          • Wow, you quoted me being satirical without the context, and I didn’t even recognize my own words. How could you or anyone possibly have failed to pick up on the sarcasm there?! If my explicitly saying it was tongue in cheek couldn’t get that across, I can’t imagine what else could have…

          • So you do blame the editors then as the only plausible scenario for all of Ehrman’s gaffes in the HuffPo article, even though he repeats many of them in his book, and others who have submitted anything to HuffPo have indicated HuffPo editors simply don’t do that?

  • Fortigurn

    With regard to inscriptions referring to Christians, apart from the Inscription of Kartir, there are the 3rd century funerary Phrygian ‘Christians for Christians’ inscriptions.

  • Mark Erickson

    OMG. Stick to Dr. Who?, Star Trekkers and the Wars of Stars. This reply is pathetic. Have you considered this answer to your question: because Paul felt like it. Or for style. Or he had a man crush. Or it was Tuesday.

  • Brettongarcia


    Believe it or not, I’ve got some graduate training in etymology; I’m not presuming here that “Galateans” and the region of “Galatea” are of common origin (cf. however “Gauls” in these religions?).  Unless – admittedly an extreme mythicist hypothesis – Paul’s writing was simply made up wholesale, and on even strictly literary/poetic/punning lines.

    The latter rather extreme Mythicist hypoethsis is to be sure, not a thesis that I presently hold myself. But it seems worth mentioning here; since some do hold it.  While even a respected TN scholar like Richard Bauckham for instance, refers to the “literary” nature of the NT, specially in his famous piece on Peter.

    More serious is the lack of inscriptions; 3rd century inscriptions means that about 200 years or so had passed since the death of Christ, before they appeared much at all.

    Meanwhile, relating to Historicists’ attempts at archeological verification of their own obsession?  Mythicists are not the only ones that make notorious errors; to this very day, in most real Archeology departments, “Biblical Archeology,” is a laughting stock, and full of texbook cases of dishonest and sloppy methodology.  To this day, every few years, Historicists come up with an alleged piece of Mark, or a bone box that the assert “historically proves” Jesus.  But typically, the evidence is soon disproved.  In particular, Historicists like to have the news break, just before Easter.  For lots of publicity.

    Then too?  Back to an earlier matter:  I think that Pauline Christianity especially, DID flirt with Platonistic idealism/dualism/spiritualism. And he was beginning to turn against biological reality, toward spirituality.  Though that Dualism was eventually rejected, even by Paul.  But in any case too:  if Paul evidences a “spiritualizing” influence, yet not necessarily of the Gnostic dualistic model?  Then what other spiritual model might we be thinking of?  I’d consider nascient Docetism….   And/or priestly asceticism.

    In any case, any of these spiritual elements would try to de-emphasize the physical/biological side of Jesus.  And would therefore seem to work against any such emphasis by Historicists.

    • Just a few quick points by way of response. On the question of ossuaries, there have been some claims that have been largely met with skepticism, and some where there has been both enthusiastic acceptance and extensive skepticism neither of which is necessarily merited.

      Certainly the New Testament contains literature, and not all of it gives us even a kernel of historical reality in the midst of it. But some does, and the fact that literary approaches ignore such questions does not mean that when one asks historical questions and applies historical methods to answering them, nothing worthwhile results. These are simply different ways of approaching texts.

      There is no doubt that, as Jesus was increasingly exalted to a level of divinity, forces came into play that felt it necessary to deny that he genuinely suffered or was a real human being like others. But I would point out just how different, at times diametrically opposed, our earliest sources are to those later ones in which Docetism becomes an issue.

  • Brettongarcia

    James et alia.:

    To be sure this is only a blog, and mistakes will be made.  In fact; note my own typos and frequent misspellings.  But the fact is, there are plenty of Mythicist monographs and scholars; they just aren’t allowed much in Religion departments.  Because they have been “redshirt”ed you might say; they stepped on the Third Rail of Theology:  flatly denying the reality of God.  But in fact?  There is a vast body of scholarship out there.  Noting especially say, quasi–fictional stories of ideal lords and moral heros, specially from the Hellenistic and intertestamental period, just before (and during?) the early days of CHrist. Especially, the notoriously Platonizing/metaphoricalizing Jewish scholar, Philo, fl. in Alexandria Egypt at the time Jesus was said to be there (c. 4-20 AD?); and was just 20 years older than Jesus.  Philo might in fact have taught Jesus himself; taught him some metaphoricalization in fact.  Famously in any case, Philo’s spiritualizing/metaphoricalizing ideas were in the air, just before Christianity formed; its “earliest” days.

    So that?  Even Jesus himself, and original Christianity, I submit, was already rather spiritual/metaphorical, even in its very earliest days.  There are many scholars who think that in fact, Paul’s very spiritual works, were written c. 53-58 AD; years before the gospels, c. 60-100 AD. 

    So what was the historical/physical Jesus like, if he was not a wholly made-up ideal?  I suggest he himself would likely have ALREADY BEEN, even from the “earliest” days and documents, already rather spiritual.  And by the way? Given lack of much influence, many incriptions, his circle of apostles and converts seems rather small. 

    But especially therefore?  Many want to see Jesus as wholly Jewish; but I see him outside the Jewish capitol, in the Greek-influenced Egyptian Jewish community, and then the Greek-influenced Caesarean/Galilean region.  So that?  I see Jesus HIMSELF taking in many allegedly “later” Greco-Roman spiritualizing/metaphoricalizing influences.  Beginning possibly in his (likely) childhood stay in Egypt.  Where he could, even as young child, or certainly his parents, have come under the influence of Philo.

    I suggest that Spiritual/Hellenistic influences therefore, might not rule out an Historical Jesus, or modify him unreasonably either; Jesus himself might have been halfway there, already, all by himself.  Even in the earliest days.  Even the Gospel of Mark, thought by some to be the earliest gospel, presents an often-ascetic Jesus.  While many of the earliest fragments we have of the NT, are from the rather-spiritual writings of John.

    Attempting to reconstruct Jesus’ early theology therefore?  Even the earliest Jesus therefore, seems … slightly (if not wholly) spiritual.  It is almost as if the earliest texts were rather ascetic, mental; and/or telling us not to bother with establishing the material reality of Jesus, say.  But to see him as a mental construct or ideal. 

    It is with some misgivings therefore, that I lay all that aside … and go ahead to join McGrath’s call for  whatever minimal-to-nonexistent evidence, people care to present here, of a physical/Historical Jesus.

    • If you have been told that there are up-to-date scholarly works supporting mythicism, you have been misinformed. You seem to think that religion departments at most universities are in fact theology departments aimed at defending or even advocating religion. Once again, that is not the case. Perhaps you heard it from someone offering a conspiracy theory explanation of why mythicism is not accepted? It is easier for some to offer such explanations than admit that it is because the evidence does not support their view.

  • Brettongarcia

    “Up to date”?  Most of the first scientific/scholarly Mythicist work to be sure was done beginning in 18th century Germany; then continuing primarily in fields other than Religion.  Especially the research connecting Christianity to Greco-Roman myth, and Platonism.  It was scientific, in part that it did not accept accounts of “miracle.” For example.  And sought “naturalistic” explanations for any and all alleged “wonders” and “prodigies.”

    For many centuries to be sure, any researchers, like the first Bible translators, who did not agree with the prevailing religious beliefs of the day – feared being burned at the stake, or certainly not hired in religious institutions.  Those not literally killed for “heresy” or “apostasy,” therefore were often gunshy about making their final conclusions clearly known.  But those who could understand?  Could see clearly enough what was being said in their works, reading between the lines.  Today to be sure, things seem slightly better:  there are often admissions in Theology/Philosophy departments, that there are mythic/fictive elements in the NT.

    But to be sure, this is in fact not the area of my own academic expertise.  So:  pehaps for the sake of us who are uninformed, you might generously begin by presenting whatever evidence you know, that there is an historical Jesus?  Citing say, four or five of what you consider the best texts.  And stating in a few words – for those of us admittedly unfamiliar with the latest literature – what their argument is.

    Briefly, I’ve ad-libbed an argument here, against “James the brother of the Lord” as presenting any solid evidence.  Among other arguments?  I might add here that the mere fact that the gospels sometimes mention physically real things – like a possibly real, biological brother for Jesus – 1) does not mean that EVERYTHING in them is real.   Or 2) that their references to those few allegedly real things, like a real James, is true.  Since writing can lie, or be fictional or historical-fictional, what we need, are more than mere written assertions of reality:  we need real factual, archeological evidence.   

    You are, admittedly, the expert.  Feel free to briefly present the evidence for an Historical Jesus.  So that those of us less familiar with the literature can address it?

    It may be that such physical evidence is not really available.  In such a case?  It might still be valuable here, to summarize whatever speculative theories there are out there, developed even just from texual evidence.

    Here you’ve referred to “early” documents for example? 

  • Many conclusions drawn in the early days of modern scholarship have had to be revised or tossed out in light of subsequent scholarship. Mythicist writings that seemed plausible positing a non-Jewish matrix for certain elements of early Christian thought no longer seem so in light of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other discoveries, to name just one major discovery that has changed the way scholars view the Judaism of the Greco-Roman era, and as a result the origins of Christianity.

    Here is a link to a round-up of some of the things I’ve written on this blog about this topic (Jesus mythicism) in the past. Let me know if there are questions that you still have after you’ve taken at what I’ve already written on this topic. 

  • BrettonGarcia wrote:
    “Believe it or not, I’ve got some graduate training in etymology; I’m not presuming here that “Galateans” and the region of “Galatea” are of common origin (cf. however “Gauls” in these religions?).”
    BM: ‘Galatians’ comes from ‘Galatia’ and there were Gauls (aka Celts) in this region.
    “The phrase “James the brother of the LORD” therefore, has little if any evidentiary force, in the case for a biologically-evidenced, historical CHrist.”
    BM: But in the same epistle, Jesus is declared a descendant of Abraham and having come from a woman, “under the Law”.
    “While Paul suggests that biological ties between Jesus and so forth, are unimportant.”
    BM: But in Rom16:13 & 15, Paul identified two women by blood relationship (mother and sister) with a named man. So blood relationship was used by Paul in order to specify one individual.
    And I repeat:
    In ‘Galatians’, this is the first reference of “James” in ‘Galatians’. But at the time (around 38) of Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion (as narrated in Gal1:18-20) there was another prominent member of the “church of Jerusalem” named James, the brother of John, who got executed around 42 (according to Ac12:1-2). Therefore, Paul probably wanted to identify the “James” he met then, more so because this one became most important later. But why write “the brother of the Lord” instead of “the brother of Jesus”? ‘Jesus’ was a common name then, but “Lord” is very specific in that context and identifies precisely that ‘James’.

  • In 1 Cor11:3 “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman [is] the man; and the head of Christ [is] God.”
    It is clear that Paul put Christ above man, which does not certainly hint to a parallel relationship such as spiritual brothers between Christians and Jesus. And Paul had no interest into suggesting equality between believers and Christ, which would lower the later.
    Paul wrote many times “Jesus”, “the Lord” (meaning Jesus) and “Christ”. Paul also wrote many times “brothers” meaning Christians. But never he wrote this brotherhood also included Jesus, such as “our brother Jesus/Christ/the_Lord”.
    Paul had several times the Christians as (spiritually) sons/children of God (2Cor, Php, Gal & Rom) and even explained why they would be called “sons/children of God” (Gal3:26-4:7 Rom8:14,16).
    But there is no explanation about any spiritual understanding of “brother(s) of the Lord”.

  • jjramsey

    I’ve had an ongoing argument with Carrier about the Melchizedek scroll. I’ve definitely made quite a few mistakes. One of them was in misreading “seventy weeks of years” as meaning that a week is a year rather than as meaning 70 x 7 = 490 years. Purely my bad. The second is in trusting the translation that Carrier cited, which filled in the lacunae of the Melchizedek scroll without indicating that there even were lacunae. The third was in giving Carrier the benefit of the doubt when he presumed that the “lot of Melchizedek” alluded to the lottery of the goats in Yom Kippur when it doesn’t fit the context very well, since this lot is being atoned for, not sacrificed. Still, even with all that, Carrier’s argument seems pretty weak.

    It’s understandable that Carrier thinks that the ten jubilees in the scroll, which is 10 x 49 = 490 years, is a reference to the 490 years in Daniel 9:24, but that verse presents a problem if he wants to argue that the anointed one in Daniel 9:26 not only died, but died for sin. Verse 24 reads, “Seventy weeks are decreed for your people and your holy city: to finish
    the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, …,” but the anointed dies before that last “week,” and that last “week” is the one where the worst stuff happens, like the “abomination that desolates.” So how is the death of that anointed one supposed to help? And if Melchizedek is supposed to come at the end of the 490 years, shouldn’t he be coming a “week” (i.e. seven years) after that anointed one dies? And all that is presuming that the author of the scroll will quote Daniel with some semblance of context, which is hardly guaranteed.

    His insistence that a quote of Isaiah 52:7 in the scroll points to the Suffering Servant passage in Isaiah is weird, when that passage begins in 52:13.

    When I look back at Carrier’s old blog post about “The Dying Messiah,” things just get worse. He claims that Psalm 89 is one of two OT passages that “explicitly predict the humiliation and death of the messiah” (the other supposedly being Daniel 9), when, as verse 89:20 indicates, the psalm is about King David [ETA: or someone in his royal line] and isn’t predicting anything, but rather points to David’s [ETA: or the current king’s] past and ongoing sufferings.

    He misreads the Targum of Isaiah 53 as indicating a suffering Messiah, even though the Targum clearly portrays this Messiah as not suffering or dying for sin. [ETA: He has since backtracked and tried to act as if that wasn’t why he was bringing up the Targum, never mind that he was using it as evidence that the notion of a suffering Messiah in the Talmud wasn’t a late belief.]

    • You are right when you say the “anointed one” in Daniel 9:25-26 does not die. He is just “cut off”, which can mean “banished”, not necessarily killed (by beheading!). And there is no atonement of sins. I studied Daniel a lot and found out that anointed chief was Jason, the last high priest of the Zadokite line. And he was banished from Jerusalem with nothing (according to 2Maccabees).
      All of that explained here:
      I was most surprised Carrier accepted the highly controversial calculation of Africanus (with the benefit of hindsight!) “demonstrating” Daniel predicted the Messiah to come around 30 CE. From that, he was certain the Jews also, before 30 CE, with the same calculation than Africanus (who gave us the genealogies in gMatthew & gLuke as not conflicting!), predicted the Messiah to show up in 30 CE. 

      • jjramsey

         Actually, in common critical interpretations, the anointed one being cut off in Daniel 9:25 is a reference to the death of Onias III. Ehrman covers this in his book, Did Jesus Exist?

        • jjramsey wrote:
          “Actually, in common critical interpretations, the anointed one being cut off in Daniel 9:25 is a reference to the death of Onias III. Ehrman covers this in his book, Did Jesus Exist?”
          BM: Yes, I know, but it is wrong, period.

  • Fortigurn

    I have to say Carrier’s new position on these prophecies is surprising to me. Atheists have always maintained that these prophecies of a suffering messiah are actually no such thing, and that such interpretations are post-hoc Christian misreadings of their own doctrine back into the original text. Now Carrier is reversing this and saying they ‘explicitly predict the humiliation and death of the messiah’. Fundamentalist Christian apologists must be rejoicing.

    • I know what you mean. While atheists long agreed with mainstream scholarship in recognizing that the supposed prophecies are at best ones that can be shoehorned to fit Jesus, mythicist atheists say instead that there is an exact fit, which proves that Jesus was invented on the basis of those prophecies! The whole thing is surreal…

      • Mythicists are desperate into finding evidence for their far-fetched theories. They look into the most unlikely sources, and have to go through a twisted interpretive process in order to fashion what they want. Carrier is no different.

  • Brettongarcia


    I glanced at your summary of your dozens of blogs against Mythicism; thanks for your referenced roundup.  Since there are so many, suppose we take a few of them one at a time, since there are so many?  I notice that first, you summarize your main objection, by stating that anti-mythicists seize on any small bit of historical evidence against Historicism; the testimony of classical sources against Christianity for example.  While anti-Historicists inconsistently refuse to acknowledge occasional pro-Jesus documents.

    In fact, it is my impression that this “bias” exists.  But probably the reason for it?  Is that classical/Roman sources are regarded as more reliable; Romans were the founders of one of the first civilizations, and empires, and their thinking and reportage was often more advanced than others around them.

    Bujt more specifically the main answer, to your main objection?  Is perhaps that 1) most scholars today, simply believe science.  And that “miracles” do not happen.  So that?  Any bits of early reportage that support a mostly miraculous Jesus, are likely from unreliable sources.  Deemed unreliable, because they report many things not supported by science.  (To be sure, so do some Romans; but to a lesser extent).

    Then too, related to this?  2) Christians are sworn to absolutely believe in positive evidence – to “have faith in” evidence of Jesus. Even when evidence seems against such belief.  This does not make them objective reporters, but highly partial ones.

    For these and other reasons, even if there were equal, small numbers of early testimonies for and against Christianity?  Many scholars will favor those that go against it.

    Next, regarding your most recent objection above say?  I suppose a hypothetical mythicst would say that there are two, admittedly-contrasting theses against a prophetic basis for Jesus.  EITHER as many say, 1) the old prophesies are too vague to be relevant. Or? 2) IF they DO fit, then after all, that could indicate that the New Testament was simply copying the Old, and pretending to be fulfillment of it. 


    • Brettongarcia, reading later Christian usages and practices into the first century origins of Christianity is precisely what a historical approach seeks to avoid. It is one of the major conclusions of historical study of the New Testament that there is a significant amount of change in Christian beliefs from the earliest period to say the Council of Nicaea, to say nothing of tracing things later still. And so I would recommend avoiding assuming that texts meant what later interpreters of them adamantly claimed that they must, and asking instead what they would have meant in the context of their most likely historical, cultural, religious and social setting.

  • Brettongarcia

    How do the Dead Sea scrolls prove or disprove, a Hellenistic source for the spiritual, anti-realistic side of Christianity? 

    Most of the foundational scholarly writing on the scrolls, found that they seem almost wholly unrelated to Christianity; most scholars say they probably contain no clear reference whatsoever to Jesus, for example. If anything, they don’t seem entirely mainstream Jewish either. They repeat many books of the OT … but then add a lot of strange unrelated material; material that doesn’t really match the Jewish/OT canon; or Christian spirituality either.

    So that, unrelated as the Dead Sea Scrolls are?  They are of no real relevance, one way or another, regarding the origins of Christianity. 

    To be sure, the Scrolls do evidence a – marginally? – Jewish mysticism or proto-gnosticism.  But they seem quite, quite disconnected from the mainstream.  And are essentially irrelevant.  Just another strange desert sect, at best.

    In any case, logically:  even if there WAS a STRONG spiritual element in Judaism, that would not be proof that there were no other such influences from other cultures, inputting into Christianity.  Specially when, say?  St. Paul is so obviously influenced by Plato, and his Theory of Forms, and his Idealistic spirituality.  As noted here by Dr Goodman.

  • About the singularity of “brother of the Lord”: this is how Carrier explained it (Ref: RC posting on this blog entry dated March 27, 2012 at 11:27 am):

    RC: “Accordingly, because of how composition was taught in antiquity, we should expect Paul to stick mostly to an idiom [“brother(s)] but occasionally vary it. This entails the prediction that we will see occasional variations in the way he refers to Christians. Pleonastically including the complete phrase “brother of the Lord” would be one possible form of that variation;”
    BM: But “brother in the Lord” is no more pleonastic and certainly beyond confusion, because “brother” and “in the Lord” are used by Paul for “Christian”. So why Paul did not use “brother in the Lord”?

    RC: “That he would on rare occasion use the complete phrase “brother of the Lord” would not be unexpected. The more so if Peter had a brother named James, as that would require Paul in this instance to distinguish the apostle James from James the brother of Peter, in which case saying just “brother” wouldn’t do, necessitating the full epithet “brother of the Lord,” i.e. not of Peter (because Paul says he met with “Peter” and no other apostle except this James).”
    BM: Peter having a brother called James is never stated in the NT.

    RC: “I think the most probable explanation is another one entirely: that part of Paul’s point in Gal. 1 is that he is not on intimate terms with the Jerusalem Pillars (the same Peter, James, and John of Gal. 2), and one way to rhetorically emphasize that is to use the complete formal expression “brother of the Lord,” since truncating to “brother” implies more familiarity (which Paul does not want to do here), and Paul’s most common idiom (of saying “my/our/your” brother) implies more than familiarity, but actual intimacy (it is an endearment),”
    BM: But Paul called the Christians of Rome “my brothers” (Ro 7:4, 9:3, 15:14) even if he never met most of them. He also called the churches of Judea as being “in Christ” although their members never saw Paul (Gal 1:22).

    RC: “The next most probable explanation is the possibility (which has been entertained even under peer review, as I discussed in the previous thread) that Paul is saying the James he met is not the pillar but not even an apostle, possibly a mere companion of Peter, which is why he would have to mention him, so as to make sure no one can accuse him of lying (Gal. 1:20) by pointing out that another Christian was present when Paul met with Peter, just not an apostle (Gal. 1:18-19).”
    BM: If in one article, I write “President Obama”, then later I refer to just “Obama”, who is going to think that the later ‘Obama’ is not the President but someone else?
    Paul first introduced James as the “brother of the Lord”, so the ‘James’ mentioned later is the same person, that is one of the pillars.

    My conclusion: that’s a bunch of lame excuses.

  • Brettongarcia

    There is much discussion here on this, and more elsewhere; with no firm agreement.  So?  Maybe the bottom line is that the exact meaning of “James the brother of the LORD” cannot be determined.  And therefore?  Not too much evidential weight should be given to it, one way or another; it is far too ambiguous.

    Personally though? With taking any particular stance – other than to note that no firm stance should be taken at all?  I lean toward the theory that the term WAS meant to make a distinction between two “James”; a common situation, when you are around several people with the same, common name.  I might even agree that it was to give special status to one of them.  But I suggest that this was merely special intimacy, to a special James.  But more specifically?  It was a James who more than the others, was more spiritually close to Jesus than the other breathren.  Closer, to the point of being a prototype of the new class of uniquely Christian (not Jewish) priests, and monks.  Who were specially known, more than others, as “Brothers.”  AS THEY ARE TO THIS VERY DAY.  Cf. the “Cistercian brothers”; etc.

    Others are translated differently; as the “breathren,” or “brothers in Christ.”  There might be a unique status being conferred here therefore.  But it is not just being an ordinary follower of Christ, but even a sort of priest or minister.

    No absolutely firm biological kinship tie is indicated therefore.  But only a mental or spiritual kinship, albeit of high degree.

    References to an anointed one who falls, may be similarly ambiguous.  And even less distincitve.  Many anointed would-be messiahs often fell.  David set up one of his rivals, for death, and is said to have fallen morally; Solomon had his problems; Somolon’s son, rebelled against him, and was killed. 

    Many good kings, would-be and even actual messiahs. were often killed.  Likely most of them had been anointed with oil; a standard part of various Jewish ceremonies.

    Such references are not therefore indisputably references to Jesus.

    By the way?  There is a style of speaking, that speaks of things that already happened, as if I was speaking from a time, before they happened.  I might be writing about history just before the Civil war, and say for example, “One day, this country of slaves, will see a great leader arise, called Abraham Lincoln; who will save this country from slavery.”  This might be taken as prophesy; if it is not known that it was actually written in a certain style.  And if it is not know it was written well after the “prophesied” event happened. 

    This relates to something that is wellknown to biblical scholars.  And that is commonly called “prophesy after the fact.”

  • Brettongarcia

    I’m familiar with some classic Liteary theories of “Historicism,” which have been widely discussed since c. 1940.  I am aslo familiar with many theories of historiography.  In addition, I have at least one graduate degree in a subfield of History.  Therefore?  I am quite familiar with the need to try to simply recreate the mentality of an ancient times – without projecting our modern ideas on it.   Or accepting intermediary era’s spin on very ancient times.

    But then too?  Long ago, many critique of literary Historicism (then opposing Formalism and/or New Criticism), noted that strictly speaking, putting aside all our own modern minds, to try to authentically re-create the mind of say, a 3rd-century Christian, was for all practical purposes, impossible.  While then too?  Some things are timeless; some elements of modern experience are no doubt, found in ancient peoples too. 

    To be sure though, most of us are interested in seeing ancient times as they really were, insofar as that is possible.  So?  In the present case, where do you feel I am projecting modern ideas, on ancient times? 

    Many might feel that 1) seeing signs of an independent Christian priesthood – seen as separate from a Jewish priesthood – was a projection from a later period.  But I have argued here that Paul showed signs of it, already in c. 55 AD; in some of the earliest writings in the NT.  It 2) might also be thought that Rome could not have been so much closer to modern thought, than other provinces; yet in their highly realistic art, and advanced technology, we see a high degree of “MODERN” rationalism.    It might also be thought that 3) “spiritual,” metaphorical readings of the old promise of a physical Jewish “kingdom,” are later additions to the tradition as well; though I have argued extensively here that they are found in the earliest NT documents; and in the Greco-Roman, Platonist culture contemporaneous with Jesus. 

    I therefore do not see (m)any “anachronisms” here.  If you see one, feel free to mention it.

    • Brettongarcia, no one is talking about trying to put themselves in the mindset of ancient people, but of correlating the data we have from texts and archaeology. One simply cannot create a plausible historical scenario without intimate acquaintance with not only early Christian literature but other literature from the same time period and place, studied in the original languages. Otherwise one is doing what creationists do – trying to evaluate evolution without a deep comprehension of genetics, paleontology, radiometric dating and other relevant data and methods.

      Thus far you have only offered speculation. You have not made a case that your view is more probable than that accepted by mainstream scholarship and historians. Many mythicists I have interacted with make this mistake, and think that explaining what you think and showing it to not be utterly impossible is “making a case.” Historical criticism sets the bar of evidence higher than that, and I can only surmise that those who do not realize this have at best read popular works by historians but not their more detailed and rigorous academic ones, or have only read scholarship from past centuries when most fields of academic inquiry were still in their infancy.

  • Trying to understand what went inside Carrier Bayes theorem, I picked up that:
    RC wrote: “And nowhere in those letters does Paul mention Jesus having had specifically biological brothers. But he frequently talks about Jesus having adopted brothers: all Christians.”
    BM: where did Paul talk about Jesus having adopted brothers: all christians?
    Nowhere, as far as I know.
    But that claim is what makes the result of his Bayes theorem so much in favour of his mythicist cause.

  • Brettongarcia

    1) Paul once called himself the “father” of his followers; making them implicitly brothers.

    2) But especially?  In the NT as a whole, there are perhaps literally HUNDREDS of references to believers, as brothers or “brethren.”  Probably a hundred in Paul alone. Check a concordance.

    3) FOr that matter?  Jesus himself said “whoever does the will of God is my brother” in Mark 3.35. And Mat. 23.8.  Among HUNDREDS of places where “BROTHER” is clearly metaphorical.

    I’m not sure how all this massive data, inputs into a Bayesian probability model; but likely it still suggests that the overwhelming sense of “brother” of Jesus or the LORD in the NT, is overwhelmingly, metaphorical.

    4) Indeed, the NT, Jesus himself, often emphasized that one’s biological heritage was unimportant.  As when Jesus left his biological family standing outside, and proclaimed that his followers were his true family.  As Paul affirmed that it is not biology, but common belief, that makes of “brothers” by faith.

    5) And so?  If the Bible for once referred to a literal, brother of Jesus?  It was likely only to emphasize the relative unimportance of such connections. Such a brother might have existed.  But?  The Bible did not stress such connections; perhaps eager to avoid making Christianity a hereditary monarchy, as some religions were. 

    To be sure? Likely Jesus had a biological brother or two; and any archeological search for his skeleton and so forth, for the Historical Jesus, could look for that.
    And indeed? An historical James or Jesus, might one day be found. A body, a skeleton, might be found.  But curiously?  The New Testament perhaps, does not emphasize the importance of such a thing.  But rather places emphasis on the faith-community, the spirit or ideas that unify us, as spiritual “brothers.”

    As for an actual, original body, even of Jesus himself?  That is left for the “vultures.” Or the “eagles.”  Depending on how you translate it.

    Personally, I see the Bible, the OT vs. the NT, as a dualistic dialogue between a rather crude Materialism, and an exaggerated proto-Gnostic spirituality; a contest that is to be resolved, synthesized eventually, in what you might call a refined or holy materialism.  A “spiritual body.”  In this case, we might look to a return of spirit to this earth.  But probably not from dead bones coming to life, as much as new spirit, coming to those of us physical beings,  who can take it all in.  Who take in the spirit of Jesus.  And allow our own phsyical bodies, to become the “body of Christ.” The material body hosting the spirit.

  • Fortigurn

    Brettongarcia, you didn’t provide a single example of the Christians referring to themselves as a ‘brother of the Lord’. Brothers of each other, yes. A brother of the Lord, no.

    We find the ‘X, brother of Y’ usage in the LXX (2 Kingdoms 36:10), in the New Testament (Mark 5:37),
    and Josephus (Life, 41.201), all in contexts which refers explicitly to
    biological kinship.

    So on the one hand we have a meaning for this Greek phrase which is well attested in relevant Greek texts. On the other hand, we have a meaning to which Carrier clings despite there being no evidence for it. I’ll take the one with the evidence thanks.

  • Brettongarcia

    Fort. et alia:

    I think you are asking for far too exact a replication.

    To be sure?  I did not find an example of the EXACT PHRASE “Brother of the Lord.”  But?  I cited hundreds of examples, of many variations, on brothers of the lord, in the Bible (including “breathren,” etc.).  And then?  Jesus himself, telling us we are his brothers. “Whoever does the will of God is my brother.”  The EXACT PHRASE you insist on, is not there; but the CONCEPT is embraced.

    Carrier rightly observes that there are occasional insignifant variations in wording in ancient texts; if Noah is swallowed by a “fish” in one text, and a “whale” in another, would be one hypothetical example.

    And finally, EVEN IF “Brother of the LORD” is intended to be a significant, distinguishing variation?  I noted that its significance is not necessarily biological; it might simply indicate a particularly holy/priestly follower of Jesus.

    Listening to all this, a little like me asserting that these most pennies are basically the same – and then someone noting that this penny has a nick in it, that the other does not have.  And this other penny has a slightly different color.  And that one has this or that difference.  while all are different, microscopically. And then hearing that therefore, these are not the same thing.

    Strictly speaking, there are no two, absolutely identical pennies, anywhere in the world.  But?  We often overlook minor differences. But if you insist?  Yes, we have not cited another example, of this very selfsame, exact phrase, in the Bible.

    But?  Strictly speaking, that proves nothing.  First note that many differences in wording in the Bible are random, and not intended to be signficiant.  Second note that any distinction intended, might not have related to biology. 

    Third, all those that insist on noting the importance of a biological distinction?  Note that you are not following the essential message of Jesus himself.  Who explicitly rejected the importance of specifically, biological kinship: 

    “‘Your mother and your brothers are outside, asking for you.’   And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother'” (Mark 3.33).

    Aren’t you rather looking at the “letter of the law,” rather than the spirit of it all?    

  • Fortigurn

    Brettongarcia I already pointed out that this doesn’t require exact wording; my
    example ‘X the brother of Y’ is uses anything but exactly the same
    wording as in Galatians. You could have ‘Jonathan the brother of
    Eliphaz’, ‘Gideon the brother of Jabez’, ‘Saul the brother of Amittai’,
    or any other combination. What matters is the lexical evidence for this
    grammatical construction.

    It’s really simple. Carrier claims that a specific Greek construction means X. He provides no evidence that this specific phrase means X. There is abundant textual evidence that this construction means Y. We should follow the evidence rather than Carrier’s completely unsubstantiated claims. Talk of the spirit of the law rather than the letter, misses the point completely.

  • Brettongarcia

    James:  Why would “recent” scholarship seem to suddenly, so completely sure of so many things, verifying religion?  Partially, 1) by simply failing to read non-approved older theological texts, without the papal imprimatur or approval; 2) by the liberal scholars simply at last, leaving the field; 3) leaving behind, Fundamentalists, creating “evangelical scholarship.”  A term which I submit is a contradiction in terms.

    James:  I have yet to hear an actual argument from you, for these things; 4) only vague citations of Authority;  the Stellar Consensus of scholars today.  I am mistrustful of Authority, especially one so self-selected and governed; no one seems to remember that the Dictionary of Accepted Ideas gets rewritten every few years.   Rather than citing them in the abstract, if you would simply repeat not just their reputation,  but detail one of their arguments, so we can address them as ideas, see their evidence, that would be better.

    Fort:  What are you talking about?  I’ve done nothing here but cites REAMS of contextualing material, showing that overwhelmingly, when the NT – and especially Paul; and especially Galatians – speak of “brothers,” they overwhelmingly meant our spiritual brothers. 

    While the order of the words, or the use of random synonyms here as in many languages, often, does not matter much, in these cases.  As far as the contextual effort to “distinguish” two James?  I’ve noted that even if this is a contextualizing p[roblem, the phrase “brother of the LORD” would not necessarily be meant to distinguish one James, from a biological brother.  But could perhaps one ordinary follower, from a more distinguised, closer follower; a new priest of Christianity for example.

    James?  If you want to disprove that, if you would please – for those of us who do not trust Authority as much as many here seem to  – do more than just make a simple call of reverence to a collective Authority or Consensus; if you would be so kind as to reproduce the substance of their remarks, that would be far better.  So that we can evaluate their arguments, not the basis of Simple Appeal to Authority, or their Supreme Reputation.  But on the simple merits of their individual arguments.

    In other words?  Please cite evidence, not Authority.  If History has taught anything, it is that eventually, every Authority and accepted idea is eventually overturned, as knowledge progresses.

    • It is not about certainty but probability. That is what history deals with. The conclusions of historians about Jesus are a problem for religious beliefs about Jesus rather than supporting it. And I can only guess that is why you ask me to present the evidence to you – because you are not familiar with historical scholarship on this topic, and have not even read the things I’ve already written on this blog and directed you to. Please inform yourself about this field, preferably from detailed scholarly monographs dealing with primary sources. Read my responses to the claims of mythicists. Then let me know if there is some specific point I have overlooked or some argument you would like me to clarify further. But just ignoring what I have already said and asking me to type it up for you personally again is at best odd, and at worst incredibly rude, to say nothing of a bizarre request that a scholar waste his time.

      • Dr. McGrath,

        If it is about probability rather than certainty, would you agree that Ehrman is a little bit over the top when he says that Paul’s reference to meeting the brother of the Lord “shows beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt that Jesus must have existed as a Palestinian Jew who was crucified”?  After all, it is hard to imagine that a historian is going to ever reach a greater level of certainty than “beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt.”   On the other hand, I think that it is easy to imagine evidence that would increase our confidence that Paul meant biological brother.  For example, even if we assess the probability as being reasonably high, we would be even more confident if Paul referred to James being the brother of Jesus several times where the biological context was clear rather than just once,  wouldn’t we?  I think we would also be more confident if Acts identified James as the brother of Jesus or if Josephus described his James the brother of Jesus as being the head of the Christian community in Jerusalem.  And if we can imagine evidence that might make us more confident, then we cannot currently claim to be confident “beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt,” can we?

        • I don’t think that any additional evidence would prove the matter to those who use denialist tactics to avoid obvious conclusions, and I don’t think that additional evidence would do more than confirm to historians what they already feel they can be confident of on the basis of the evidence we have. In the case of most figures comparable to Jesus in his time, the historian doesn’t wish they had more evidence than we have for Jesus. They wish they had as much evidence as we have for Jesus. Rarely are we so fortunate.

  • Fortigurn

    //Fort:  What are you talking about?//

    I’m talking about grammar. When you’re ready to talk about grammar, and do so with evidence, let me know.

    //I’ve done nothing here but cites REAMS of contextualing material,
    showing that overwhelmingly, when the NT – and especially Paul; and
    especially Galatians – speak of “brothers,” they overwhelmingly meant
    our spiritual brothers. //

    Irrelevant. The topic in question is a specific grammatical construction, not a single word. None of the material to which you have pointed actually uses the construction in question.

    I’ve cited evidence, you’ve done nothing but make unsubstantiated assertions.

  • Brettongarcia

    Fort:  among other things, I noted in passing, over and over, that often, in most languages, 1) the exact grammatical construction, and sometimes the 2) exact word usage, does not matter.  If I say “I walked to the house,” vs. “I strode to the house,” or “Toward the house I walked,” in many, many contexts, these grammatical/syntactic changes, do not matter.  They do not significantly change the meaning.  No great shift of meaning, is necessarily intended, from one construction to the next.

    Often therefore, the precise grammatical construction or word choice, does not matter much.  As in the case of the merely random use of different synonyms, or changes of word order.

    James:  I’ve addressed a few of your specific objections, briefly, below.  Asking me to address all of them – dozens of them – is in fact more than you or I would want to do.  THough if you’d like to just pick another one of your objections, I’d be happy to discuss it in detail.

  • Fortigurn

    //Fort:  among other things, I noted in passing, over and over, that
    often, in most languages, 1) the exact grammatical construction, and
    sometimes the 2) exact word usage, does not matter.//

    Well we’re talking about Greek here, so when you have evidence that it ‘doesn’t matter’ in this particular case in this particular language, do let me know. I’ll simply repeat the fact that we have abundant lexical evidence for one meaning of this construction, and no lexical evidence for the meaning you’re claiming.

    If you’re in the mood to teach professional Greek linguists the finer details of Greek grammar, I suggest you go here, where this particular discussion has already taken place:

  • Another argument on 1 Cor 9:5 “brothers of the Lord”:
    Carrier said the expression means “all Christians”. But, if it is the case, just “brothers” would have been sufficient. There was no need to add “of the  Lord”, more so when ‘Lord’ is already used three times in the preceding four verses.

    Carrier wrote: “I also showed (e) that they believed Jesus had explicitly called them his brothers and (f) they explicitly said Jesus was only “the firstborn among many brethren.””
    BM: but RC placed the quote totally out-of-context. NO, Jesus is not the firstborn here! The Christian elect is:
    Rom 8:29-30 RSV “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren.
    And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified”.

  • Brettongarcia

    Fort:  I looked briefly through the linguistic discussion on “James the brother of the LORD”; and found that there was in fact, no strong agreement. No consensus that “X is Y” must always indicate a biological brother. Here’s just one of dozens of scholarly disagreements on your position, for instance:

    (QUOTE) In the opening post, it was suggested that the Cartesian formula, ‘X, the brother of Y’, had sufficient weight such that, a priori, whatever Paul generally means by the noun, in the stricture of the formula, it must mean “brother”. This is an assertion, rather than evidence. In discussion elsewhere it was suggested that “proximate literature” uses αδελφος this way when in the formula, ‘X, the brother of Y’, so this is a sufficient indicator as to what Paul means. But how many of Paul’s contemporaries can we find who actually use αδελφος regularly as Paul does? Knowing this would help construct useful contextualization for applying the formula. If such a shift can be regularly shown elsewhere from this Pauline type usage to the common meaning of the noun when in the formula ‘X, the brother of Y’, then it should be considered with Paul. However, an analogous a priori rule, ‘X, the son of Y’ means biological son, fails in the situation of “son of God”. In Wisdom 2:18 the writer says,ει γαρ εστιν ο δικαιος υιος θεου αντιλημψεται αυτου και ρυσεται αυτον εκ χειρος ανθεστηκοτωνfor if the righteous man is God’s son, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversariesX = ο δικαιοςY = θεοςI doubt that anyone would want to claim that the righteous man is actually the biological son of God. In fact in Wisdom 5:5 we find εν υιοις θεου paralleled with εν αγιοις, telling use that “sons of God” here is basically another way of saying “holy ones”, so ‘X, the son of Y’ is not a pointer of biological necessity. Why should ‘X, the brother of Y’ be? Obviously there is no “should” about it. 


    • Fortigurn

       //Fort:  I looked briefly through the linguistic discussion on “James the
      brother of the LORD”; and found that there was in fact, no strong
      agreement. No consensus that “X is Y” must always indicate a biological
      brother. Here’s just one of dozens of scholarly disagreements on your
      position, for instance://

      You’re wrong. There was only one person in that thread who was disputing the meaning of the phrase, and that was Sean Ingham, whose words you have quoted. Unsurprisingly, Sean Ingham is a Mythicist who had come to the forum to try and push his view on the Greek grammar. His view was overwhelmingly opposed by every single respondent in the thread, all of whom agreed: Barry Hofstetter, Stephen Carlson, David Lim, Jason Hare, all of whom are academically qualified in Greek. So now you’ve sunk to completely misrepresenting other people.

      You haven’t shown even one scholarly disagreement on the meaning of this grammatical construction, let alone dozens.

  • Carrier wrote: “Christians were not brothers in the Lord, they were actually the brothers of the Lord.”
    BM: That did not prevent the author of Colossians to write:
    1.2a “to the saints in Colossae, and to the faithful brethren in Christ: …”

  • When Paul used the word “brothers”, most of the times he meant “Christians”, male and female (Paul never used “sisters”). And Carrier said that “all Christians were “brothers of the Lord””.

    Let’s consider the following verse:
    1 Cor 9:5 NIV “Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?”
    Here, these “brothers” are male because they are accompanied by (believing) wives; and they are travelling: that definitively limits their number!
    “the brothers of the Lord” refers to some travelling married men (minimum two), but not including Cephas/Peter. What about them being apostles? Maybe, but they were set apart from the others by Paul.
    Therefore 1 Cor 9:5 is not a good showcase for Carrier’s theory, certainly not demonstrating “the brothers of the Lord” means “the Christians” as in:
    “Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and [the Christians] and Cephas?”
    Note: that sounds rather odd! Why mention “Christians” when few of them were travelling? Sure because of their relative large number, some were, and among those, a few with their wife (and even less with a believing one –1Cor7:12-14). It’s like saying: “Don’t we have the right to travel with a dog, as do the neighbours, the Canadians and Mike?”

    Most likely, the expression refers to some itinerant men (linked by a common relationship), excluding the apostles and Peter, but relevant & significant enough in order to be mentioned by Paul for reinforcing his point. Who would they be?
    If “brothers” here does not have a cultic/figurative meaning (of “Christians”, according to Carrier), we are left with “blood brothers”. Of whom? “Of the Lord”, meaning Jesus.

    • Brettongarcia

      I liked your post when it had an open ending:  when it ended with the paragraph indicating that this was all still an open question:  “who would they be.”

      When it was revised (?) to end with a more dogmatic assertion, it is wrong.  The fact is, that Judaism, like most ancient cultures, was rather patriarchial; and regarded males as far more important.  So that when it spoke of Christians, it meant – more than you might have thought – male Christians. (Not completely; but often).  Some of these gender preferences have been taken out of our Bibles by Feminists.  But?  Looks like you found one still there.  In this case, “Christians” still stood for the men.  But Carrier might be forgiven for this, since the Bibles were changed here.

      And so the better reference is “brothers.”  But How do you get “blood brothers” out of that?

      In fact 1 Corin. 19.5 says, in the RSV:  “Do we not have the right to our food and drink?  Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a wife, as the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?” 

      Here if anything, “brothers” appear possibly even, as a synonym of “apostles.”  As does “Cephas.”

      They say when you are taking a multiple-answer test, it is best to go with your first answer, which is most often the right one.  In this case?  The best ending, is an open one.  The evidence, the jury, is still out, on who “James the brother of the LORD” means.  And the best answer is … to say we don’t have a reliable answer.  And to leave it open: 

      “Who would they be”?  No one knows for sure.

      • Brettongarcia

        Better said:  “brothers,” in a patriarchial society like ancient Judah/Israel, was a male term, that stood for believers, emphasizing male believers, or later male Christians.  It was only in our own times, c. 1950 ff., that it was re-translated as “breathren,” or by other non-gender specific terms, to include famales.   Or all “Christians.”

        So to be sure?  Originally, the term “Brother” technically connoted male believers only.  But even if this is so?  There remains this problem: why insist that it must be strictly biological and male, and exclude not only women say, but also spiritual kinships?  Why insist that it can only include, here, blood brothers?  When there is no absolutely clear indication of this?  (The exact meaning of “brother of the LORD” having not been determined, either by context, nor other examples from the Greek, as testified by Greek specialists, especially Classicists). In religious forums here cited by Fort, the biological school outnumbers the rest; but in other academic departments, it is the other way around.

        Indeed in fact, suppose we look at this particular Biblical example:   “brothers” here note, seem firmly intermixed in with “apostles” in effect.  Leaving open the possiblity that, though it for once clearly indicates males, it refers to those males who are not biologically, but who are spiritually tied to Jesus.  His apostles, and other similar followers.

        Still, to be sure?  There being no absolutely firm or decisive information on this, as of this moment?  It is best to simply leave the matter as an open question.  “Who would they be”? 

        Bio brothers?  Or brothers in spirit?  Brothers of the cloth?

    • jjramsey

      I’d be cautious with this line of argument, since it presumes that 1 Cor. 9:5 is clearly about taking one’s wife along in travel as opposed to simply having a wife. Judging from how the passage has been translated, I suspect the former meaning is intended, but more literal translations seem more ambiguous about the meaning, and I’d prefer confirmation from an expert in Greek before pressing that particular argument.

      • to jjramsey,
        The key Greek word is ‘periago’ and, outside 1Cor9:5, is used in the NT at Mt4:23,9:35,23:15, Mk6:6, Acts13:11, always with the meaning of travelling or going around.

  • Fortigurn

    //(The exact meaning of “brother of the LORD” having not been determined,
    either by context, nor other examples from the Greek, as testified by
    Greek specialists, especially Classicists). In religious forums here
    cited by Fort, the biological school outnumbers the rest; but in other
    academic departments, it is the other way around.//

    Evidence please; I want to see evidence cited from the relevant peer reviewed scholarly literature.

    //Fort:  among other things, I noted in passing, over and over, that
    often, in most languages, 1) the exact grammatical construction, and
    sometimes the 2) exact word usage, does not matter. //

    Just present the lexical evidence from proximate Greek texts please, and cite the relevant lexicographical scholarship. For your argument to have any validity, it must be supported by evidence.

    Once again I note that this is the difference between the historicist and Mythcist cases. The historicist starts with evidence, the Mythicist starts with speculation. Then the Mythicist becomes enraged when asked for evidence, and changes the subject. Neil Godfrey has provided plenty of examples of this.

  • Dr. McGrath,

    I assure you that it would help me.   I love Ehrman’s stuff and I would love to believe that the case is as strong as he says it is, but I’m just not seeing it.
    Are you telling me that you don’t think that the case for James being the biological brother of Jesus wouldn’t be any stronger if Acts referred to him that way as well?  I truly do not want to attribute to you any position that you do not actually hold, but that sounds like what you are telling me.  

    • If Luke recorded all the same information, it would probably indicate collusion or direct literary dependence. I think independent attestation of the same information, and/or acknowledgment of the same basic points even by hostile witnesses, is more useful to a historian, at least in some instances. Whether Acts lacks some details simply because the author didn’t know them or took them for granted, or because he was trying to minimize this figure’s authority even while not being able to avoid telling stories in which he nonetheless has that authority, either way the portrait compliments and confirms what we find in other sources. And Acts being significantly later, if Paul tells us something that Luke omits, which should we regard as more likely to be correct?

  • Dr. McGrath,

    I’m not asking what a historian might think if Luke recorded all the same information.   I’m asking about Luke corroborating one specific point and whether the case for that point would be stronger if Luke corroborated it.

    I don’t think that there is much doubt about Luke’s direct literary dependence on Mark.  Luke tells us that he is writing his gospel because earlier attempts have not been sufficient to ensure that Theophilus knows the truth.  If Luke changes something in Mark, I don’t see how a historian can ignore the possibility that Luke thinks Mark was wrong.  Luke knows that Mark names one of Jesus’ brothers as James and he changes that point.  One of the possibilities has to be that Luke doesn’t think that the James in Acts 15 is the brother of Jesus.  It’s not the only possibility, but it has to be one of them, and that possibility has to reduce our certainty about the information in Paul to some extent.

    • I’m still not following your logic. If Luke-Acts thinking there was a historical Jesus doesn’t make it seem more likely that there was a historical Jesus, then why would Luke-Acts thinking James was not Jesus’ brother (if that is what the author thought – we don’t actually have evidence of that) then why would that lead you to think it was less likely that he was Jesus’ brother?

  • I certainly think that Luke-Acts saying that there is a historical Jesus makes it more likely that there was one than if Luke-Acts doesn’t say there was a historical Jesus.  It may not be sufficient to make it more likely than not, but it absolutely adds to the case.  I don’t think for a minute that it’s irrelevant. 

    We have the fact that Luke-Acts only identifies two Jameses, the son of Zebedee and the son of Alphaeus.   We have the fact that one of them dies in Acts 12.  We have the fact that the author doesn’t tell us that the James in Acts 15 and 21 is a new character in the story making the logical implication that he is the previously identified son of Alphaeus.   We have the fact that Luke drops Mark’s reference to Jesus having a brother named James.  That is at least some evidence that Luke-Acts doesn’t think that its James is the brother of Jesus even if its not conclusive proof.

    Given that this is our second earliest source about the James who was a leader among the Jerusalem Christians, how could it possibly not cause us to assess the probability as lower that if it had corroborated it?

    • It might lower the probability slightly in at least some historians’ evaluation, perhaps. But since Luke’s silence may be explained more than one way, and is not disconfirmation, and other sources earlier than Luke confirm Jesus having a brother named James, it surely isn’t some sort of decisive counterevidence the way at least some mythicists I’ve interacted with seem to think. Would you agree?

      •  No it’s not decisive.

        However, it is my understanding that James was a pretty common name at the time.  Mark and Matthew indicate that Jesus had a brother named James, but they don’t give us any information about him that would enable us to identify a James mentioned by anyone else as being the same person.  So what is our evidence that the James who was a leader in the church in Jerusalem was the biological brother of Jesus?

        The most natural reading of Paul is that he was.

        The most natural reading of Luke is that he wasn’t.  The most natural reading of Luke is that he was the son of Alphaeus.

        Josephus doesn’t give us anything that enables us to identify his James as a leader of the Christians or a Christian at all.  

        We might place more weight on Paul because he’s earlier, and because there are fewer alternative readings of Paul than Luke which are less plausible than the alternative readings of Luke.  Nevertheless, I cannot imagine how evidence that scant could ever get a historian’s confidence anywhere near “beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt.”

        When I first ran across mythicism, I was intrigued by the possibility, but the more I see of it, the more absurd I find the degree of certainty they express about their conclusions.  However, I often see a similar lack of perspective on the other side of the debate as well.  

        • “James” was indeed a common name then – in fact, the name that is rendered as “James” in the New Testament is in fact Jacob.

          I think that if we had nothing else to go on than Luke-Acts then we might indeed assume that “James” in Acts is the son of Alphaeus. But just as other early Christian sources introduce characters without explanation, assuming they are known, when we combine Acts with Galatians, we would understand the James leading the church in Jerusalem in Acts to be the same one that Paul mentions. The question then becomes whether Luke has any particular reason for not explicitly mentioning James as the Lord’s brother, and the possible answers might include an attempt to downplay his authority, or just assuming that it was clear who he was talking about, or any other number of possibilities.

          • Dr. McGrath,

            That’s fine, but you have to do the analysis both ways.  You have to consider the possibility that the leader in Jerusalem really was the son of Alphaeus and you have to ask whether there might be some reason other than biological kinship behind “the brother of the Lord in Galatians.”  Only after looking at it from both directions can you make some sort of assessment of the relative probabilities.  

          • And of course you are aware that these topics have been investigated in more studies and volumes than even I as a professional in the field will have time to read, unless I decide to make this particular set of texts my primary research focus for a while.

            But the consensus that has emerged and persisted from such study is easily identified. Paul had no reason to turn an individual whose authority was being appealed to over against his own from a son of someone else into a brother of Jesus. And so it is more likely that Luke, writing later, either simply took for granted that the James who leads the Jerusalem church would be unambiguously known, or perhaps didn’t want to lend him any extra authority over against Paul and so decided not to mention the fact (those who already knew could not be persuaded otherwise, but those who might, living later, not yet have known could be usefully left in the dark).

  • to James F. McGrath,
    I have been looking at Romans 8:29b, “εἰς τὸ εἶναι αὐτὸν πρωτότοκον ἐν πολλοῖς ἀδελφοῖς:” that is “that he [might] be the firstborn among many brethren.”
    According to what precedes “he also did predestinate [to be] conformed to the image of his Son”, it seems that Paul postulated, that once in heaven (the only place where they would meet with the Son), the Christians (“brethren”) will resemble the Son, and the later, as the firstborn, will be among them.
    I do not see here any allusion the Son is also a brother of these brethren.
    Am I right?
    What would be expected is “his” as “among his many brethren” in order to validate Carrier’s theory.
    I also noted “many” and “brethren” have the dative case. If Paul wanted to indicate the Son was part of the brethren, would he need to use the genitive case, with or even without “his”?

    • When Jesus is described as the “firstborn among many brethren” I think the context makes clear that he is included among brothers. But note that Paul is still working within the framework of an early view that held the resurrection to be the decisive moment in Jesus “becoming” the Son of God. And so it is when others are resurrected and transformed as he has that they will become “brothers” in that sense, participating in the full crop of the resurrection as Jesus was the firstfruits.

      Personally, the issue for me is not whether Paul or anyone else at times referred to Christians as Jesus’ brothers. The point is that in Galatians and elsewhere, Paul refers to James, and to other brothers of the Lord, in a manner that distinguishes them from other Christians. Therefore Paul is not using the term there in the sense of Christians in general. Therefore he is using it in the only other sense for which we have evidence in early Christianity and which would fit the context: to refer to Jesus’ actual siblings, children of one or both of the same parents as him.

      • Thank you for your answer Dr. McGrath,
        Yes it is clear, that in the future, Ro 8:29 alludes to the brothers (= elects?) being reunited with the firstborn (= Lord, as in 1Th4:17b). But I am far from certain Paul suggested the firstborn becoming one of the brothers then. If so, he would have written “firstborn among his many brothers” or “firstborn of many brothers”.

        And “firstborn” is not exactly “firstfruits”. If Paul used the later word, the Son being one of many brothers would have been more justifiable.

        So why did Paul write “brothers” instead of “elects”? Maybe to emphasize that the elects, when in heaven, will have “spiritual bodies” similar to the Son’s one, somehow making the Son and the elects look like brothers.

  • Fortigurn

    What I am looking for is Carrier’s list of Christian texts (both in and outside the New Testament), in which ‘X, the brother of the Lord’ is used as a reference to fellow Christians rather than as a reference to biological kinship. How many does he cite? Does he cite any at all?

  • Dr. McGrath,

    My area of expertise is finance and economics.  Prior to the 2008 financial crisis, many of the finest minds in the field thought that they knew a lot more about how things worked than it turned out that they actually knew.  Sadly, many of them still do. One of the problems was that the portion of recorded economic history for which testable data existed is really quite small.  So you had lots and lots of experts combing over the same forty to fifty years worth of data and extrapolating all sorts of models and predictions.  I think this created an echo chamber effect which convinced the experts that they understood a lot more than they really did.

    I can see a similar problem in New Testament studies.  We only have a handful of pieces to the puzzle and no matter how many scholars comb over those pieces and how many times they do it, there is no way to overcome the problem of the missing pieces.  However, they may succeed in convincing themselves that they know more than they really do.  Happily, if they are wrong, it probably won’t lead to the collapse of the international banking system.

    • I think there is a useful analogy there, and I do think that some folks (not thinking of mythicists here, but scholars who’ve deal with the relevant evidence in detail) attribute more reality to their hypothetical scenarios than is appropriate. Perhaps most of us do. 

      But I think that a matter as fundamental and as closely investigated as the evidence for the historical Jesus is such that to say historians and scholars are completely off base about this is not equivalent to saying that economists know less than they were prone to believe. It is equivalent to saying that they can’t even tell whether there is such a thing as an economy at all. 🙂

  • There is nothing that would give me more pain than to accuse Ehrman of being completely off base.  I have argued with a lot of internet apologists using the information that I have found in his books and I don’t believe that he has ever steered me wrong.  Nevertheless, “beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt” suggests to me someone that has lost at least some perspective.

  • Jonathan Burke

    I have observed that Neil Godfrey is completely unaware of how Bayesian approaches are already used in professional historiography, specifically in the history and archaeology of the Ancient Near East. Is Richard Carrier equally ignorant of this fact?

    • Hi Jonathan. Thanks for kindly alerting me. What do you mean exactly by “Bayesian approaches” and can you kindly inform me where and how etc they are used? Many thanks.

    • Jonathan, I’m sure you have been too busy elsewhere to help me out by bringing me up to date with “Bayesian approaches” in various academic fields. But till you get back here to enlighten me I can say I have read more of Carrier’s book and have come to the part where archaeologists use the BT! Cool! So you can probably say that Carrier is up to speed with all of this.

      Sorry for being so slow, but at least you can have the thrill of pulling a face and saying “Nyaa Nyaa I know something you don’t know!” But if you ever want to leave your adolescent Christianity behind and become friends in a mature manner you are welcome to keep me up to date with things I would love to know more about. Cheers.

  • Jonathan Burke

    Neil, I’m not going to apologize for having been at work earning my salary, no.

    Thank you for acknowledging that you were previously ignorant of the fact that Bayesian approaches have already been used in history and in archaeology. No I won’t be ‘pulling a face and saying “Nyaa Nyaa I know something you don’t know!”‘; text like this isn’t the stuff of mature discussion, and it’s telling that you think writing in that way is appropriate.

    Since Carrier was already aware of the use of Bayesian approaches in these fields, why did he write this?

    * ‘Another common question is how “out of the mainstream” my conclusions
    are. Actually, in this book, they are fully in the mainstream, with the
    exception of the groundbreaking idea of structuring the logic of
    historical argument on a foundation of Bayes’ Theorem,’

    * ‘I’m just the first expert in the humanities to come along who also loves math and knows enough about it to introduce it there.’

    In these two sentences he claims that his idea of ‘structuring the logic of
    historical argument on a foundation of Bayes’ Theorem’ is ‘groundbreaking’, and that he is ‘the first expert in the humanities’ to ‘introduce it there’. Neither of these statements are true, and from what you have indicated about the contents of Carrier’s book he was aware that neither of these statements are true.

    Before I continue, to what extent does Carrier’s book explain how Bayesian approaches have already been used in the fields of historiography and archaeology? Is he aware that professional historians and archaeologists start with actual evidence instead of making things up?

    • Why on earth this hostility, Jonathan? Do you believe I poisoned your grandmother or something? Why not try to be civil? Isn’t that what Christians are supposed to try to be?

      No, I do not know everything there is to know about anything and I am always willing to learn.

      But do try to listen to others. I did not say I am ignorant of “the fact that Bayesian approaches have already been used in history” etc. Did you hear or read me ask you what you meant, exactly, by “Bayesian approaches”? I have discussed “Bayesian approaches” to things quite a number of times over the years, and see nothing radically new about them. But in this context of addressing Carrier’s book on the Theorem explicitly, I was wondering what, precisely, you were referring to. I do have some problems with the BT at this stage, but you have no doubt read that I am also open minded about it. If you are really so diligent and perceptive as to know my thoughts and what I know and don’t know, then you will know what I have said about certain types of “Bayesian reasoning” in the past.

      You come across as some sort of warrior out to slay windmills, er, sorry, giants.

      What on earth is your problem? Do you need more prayer time to calm down? Does your faith forbid you to take the medication you need? You don’t even know me. Why so hostile?

      Why this silliness about others just “making things up”? What on earth is your problem? Do you really think we have horns and tails and pitchforks?

  • Jonathan Burke

    Neil, I’ll recommend you a work which addresses the subject; Day & Radick, ‘Historiographic Evidence and Confirmation’, in Tucker (ed.), ‘A Companion to the Philosophy of History and Historiography’ (2011). It addresses in detail the application of Bayesian approaches to historiography, including their strengths and weaknesses.

    I hope Carrier’s work is honest in its presentation and treatment of the professional use of Bayesian approaches to historiography, which is well represented in the relevant scholarly literature. I really hope he stops presenting the idea as his own invention.

    •  Thankyou for the recommendation. I will have a look at it. What other books, by the way, have you read on historiography, the nature of history and historical methodologies? Meantime, I suggest you try to climb down from those clouds and get back to reality and see that Carrier nowhere that I have read (maybe you can cite for me what I need to know otherwise) presents “the idea as his own invention”.

      Please, I can understand our host James McGrath and people like Mike Wilson being loaded with ignorant bile, but I don’t know you at all and you don’t know me- – so why your hostility for god’s sake?

    • Jonathan, I have read the pages of your recommended book that are allowe to me on Google books and can see nothing I particularly disagree with or that I haven’t myself expressed in some form in the past.

      What was it that you felt that chapter said that I presumably needed to learn or read?

      Or is there some radical new twist in the pages not available that I have not addressed myself in some form whenever discussing Bayes’ approaches to things?

  • Jonathan Burke

    Neil I don’t bear any hostility towards you, though I do find you impossible to take seriously. You say you want mature discussion, but you write things like ‘Nyaa Nyaa’. You say you want civil discourse, but you write things like ‘Does your faith forbid you to take the medication you need?’. You claim that other people are hostile to you, but you write things like ‘What on earth is your problem? Do you need more prayer time to calm down?’.

    You asked ‘What do you mean exactly by “Bayesian approaches” and can you kindly inform me where and how etc they are used?’. In answer to this, I referred you to a specific article. You read a few little bits of it, and then asked me why I referred you to it. The reason why I referred you to it was in answer to your question, which you appear to have completely forgotten.

    I note you haven’t answered my questions, so here they are again. Since Carrier was already aware of the use of Bayesian approaches in these fields, why did he write this?

    * ‘Another common question is how “out of the mainstream” my conclusions
    are. Actually, in this book, they are fully in the mainstream, with the
    exception of the groundbreaking idea of structuring the logic of
    historical argument on a foundation of Bayes’ Theorem,’

    ‘I’m just the first expert in the humanities to come along who also
    loves math and knows enough about it to introduce it there.’

    In these two sentences he claims that his idea of ‘structuring the logic of
    argument on a foundation of Bayes’ Theorem’ is ‘groundbreaking’, and
    that he is ‘the first expert in the humanities’ to ‘introduce it there’.
    Neither of these statements are true, and from what you have indicated
    about the contents of Carrier’s book he was aware that neither of these
    statements are true.

    Before I continue, to what extent does
    Carrier’s book explain how Bayesian approaches have already been used in
    the fields of historiography and archaeology? Is he aware that
    professional historians and archaeologists start with actual evidence
    instead of making things up?

    My comment about making things up is a reference to what people do when they aren’t doing history. For example:

    * You claim that Jesus ‘exceeded all earthly expectations’, but not only failed to provide any evidence for this, but failed to address the evidence to the contrary (you then became enraged when I asked you for evidence)

    * Doherty appeals to Greek word meanings which he acknowledges freely are contained in no professional lexicons whatsoever, and for which he provides no lexical evidence whatsoever

    * Carrier likewise makes a claim for the meaning of a specific Greek phrase, despite providing no lexical evidence at all for the phrase being used in this way, and failing to address (or even mention), the evidence for the phrase being used in a different way

    • Jonathan, I said those things to point out to you how you come across. I’m asking you to back off and be civil if you want a civil discussion. But you brush everything aside and resume your hostile questioning, demanding answers that are not so much asked as demanded as from a prosecutor. Your tone is not one that is open to discussion. It is one that demands confessions. It is one that indicates it will not be satisfied with anything less. Any attempt to “explain another point of view” will be unacceptable to you because you have already made your hostile interpretation and judgement. And you are not even asking me about my own views but are asking me about someone else’s. Good grief, if you have a problem with Carrier then ask him!

      That you referred me to that online publication as your answer to my question asking what you meant by “Bayesian approaches” was not at all clear to me. Yet you find in my response another opportunity to find fault and accuse.

      Your whole approach to me, to the question, is one of hostile fault-finding. Your questions are hostile in tone as from a prosecutor. You do not come across in the slightest as genuinely interested in open discussion but only in hostile debate.

  • Jonathan Burke

    Neil you made those comments not because I made comments like them (I made no comments remotely like them), but because this is simply what you do every time people ask you questions you don’t want to answer.

    In the year and a half or so in which I’ve been reading your posts and interacting with you, your modus operandi has not changed at all. What you are doing right now is called ‘tone trolling’; when the discussion takes a direction you don’t like (especially when you are asked for evidence of your claims), you immediately attack the other person and claim that the tone of what they write is so offensive to you that you are withdrawing from the discussion. This is particularly ironic given that you typically complain about the very kind of behaviour to which you habitually subject others.

    I did not ask you to explain Carrier’s views. I asked you a question about the content of a book by Carrier which you own, and which you say you have been reading. It was a question you could answer very simply and easily.

    • Jonathan, you don’t know me. Why your hostile approach? I did not say you said comments “like the ones” I made but that I made those comments to indicate to you how you come across. I am sure you are well accustomed to getting lots of people who engage in what you call “tone trolling”. Maybe you need to really examine how you do come across to those whose views you take very strong exception to. Maybe some of the fault really does lie with you. Ever considered that possibility seriously for more than a few seconds?  (I don’t find people who disagree with me or whose views I believe are flat wrong regularly “tone troll” me when I engage them in discussion. The exceptions are few. But I would worry if I thought everyone who was “a believer” or of this or that perspective was “against me”. That would suggest something was wrong with my approach.)