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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