Historical Research around the Blogosphere

Historical Research around the Blogosphere May 6, 2013

Kevin Brown has finished reviewing Richard Carrier’s book.  I’ve shared other parts previously, but now you can read part threepart four, and part five. In the final part of the review, Brown sums up his assessment this way:

All in all, I found this book to be pretty mediocre. Richard Carrier states in his bio on his blog that he is a specialist in Christian origins and with this book he has tried to make a name for himself in the field. But he has failed. Abysmally. This book only goes to demonstrate Carrier’s lack of familiarity with the field he is trying to navigate.

It has been funny to see the blog Vridar criticize Richard Carrier for criticizing the non-scholarly mythicist contributions to a volume to which he also contributed. If mythicists are going to not take seriously the one individual with a PhD in history who supports mythicism, is it any surprise that mythicism is not taken seriously by others?

Tom Verenna blogged about recognizing fiction in history.

Mike Kok shared a handout about the fact that Christianity did not appear in a historical vacuum (and another about the Synoptic problem).

Duane Smith mentioned a new, free journal of ancient history.

Ken Schenck suggested that, for “most scholars think” to be a meaningful phrase, most scholars need to make their work freely available online.

James Tabor discussed whether historians exclude the supernatural a priori.

Finally, Hieroi Logoi mentioned Morton Feldman’s avant garde setting of the Turfan Fragments.

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  • the_Siliconopolitan

    Richard Carrier states in his bio on his blog that he is a specialist in Christian origins

    Interesting. I did not realise it read that way to native speakers. I certainly specialise in maths (as a teacher), but I’d never consider myself a specialist in maths.

    As I read the RC bio, I’d consider him a specialist in “ancient philosophy, science and technology”. Assuming, of course, I’d take him at his word on those claims.

    • Kevin

      Carrier’s blog states:

      “…he specializes in the modern philosophy of naturalism, the origins of Christianity, and the intellectual history of Greece and Rome, with particular expertise in ancient philosophy, science and technology”

      I take “he specialises in” to be equivalent to “is a specialist in”. 

      • Tom Verenna

        He is quite qualified. He writes, “Twice Ehrman says I have a Ph.D. in “classics” (p. 19, 167). In fact, my degrees are in ancient history,
        with an undergraduate minor in Classics (major in history), and *three
        graduate degrees* (M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D.) with *four graduate majors*
        (Greco-Roman historiography, philosophy, religion, and a special major
        on the fall of Rome). One of those, you’ll notice, is in the *religions
        of the Roman empire–which included Christianity* (and my study of
        Christianity featured significantly in my dissertation work). I
        shouldn’t have to explain that the classics and ancient history
        departments aren’t even in the same building, much less the same major.
        Although I did take courses from each and studied under both classicists
        and historians, and have a considerable classics background, it’s a
        rather telling mistake of his to think (and then report) that I am just a
        classicist and not a historian, much less a certified historian of Christianity (and, incidentally, its surrounding religions, ignorance of which we have seen is Ehrman’s failing).”


        • Kevin

          Seems irrelevant to the point at hand. Learning about religions of Rome does not mean you specialize in Christian origins. If he did specialize in Christian origins, then he should have in-depth knowledge concerning more pertinent areas of knowledge e.g. Second Temple Judaism, Hebrew, Aramaic, biblical studies. However, he has revealed his staggering ignorance of such areas.

          • Tom Verenna

            We’ll have to disagree. You can take classes in those subjects and be formally trained without majoring in ‘Christian origins’–I’m double-majoring in Classics and Classical Languages and I’ve taken courses in religious Studies and Biblical Studies which count towards my majors. Your argument is a little presumptuous of what these majors entail and suggest you may not have first-hand knowledge of what these majors entail. If so, maybe you’re not qualified to speak on Carrier’s qualifications? =)

          • Kevin

            I am not speaking about Carrier’s formal qualifications.

            I am talking about the familiarity he has shown with areas of study most relevant to Christian origins.

            Sure, knowledge of the religions of Rome is important. But it pales in comparison to other, more pertinent, areas of study (such as the few I mentioned in my last comment).

            Perhaps Carrier did study such things as part of his majors. I don’t know. But I do know that on his blog and in his book “Proving History”, he reveals his staggering ignorance on such matters (no exaggeration). I mean, sheesh, he didn’t have the slightest clue as to what pesher was until Thom Stark schooled him on it. He couldn’t translate Daniel 9:26 to save his life. And there is a whole litany of other offenses he has committed against biblical studies.

            I’m sure he is a very smart guy (his academic credentials testify to that). But when it comes to such things as early Christianity and its corollaries, he is simply out his league. 

          • Tom Verenna

            I think you’ve missed the point entirely with his book. I appreciate your replies here, but I think the book went over your head a little. The point is to address the staggering problems in the field of historical research–including the basic concepts you lay out in your responses above. Carrier is aware of them, but he lays out the fact that for far too long arbitrary factors have played in theses about Christian origins, Second Temple Period, etc… because no one has taken into account factors which *should have been* considered before the studies in those areas were done. You may disagree with his conclusions, but his point is a valid one. Assuming this is Kevin from Diglotting, I do not approve of your polemical attacks in your review of his book either. Your other reviews have a professional feel–this one felt as though you were on the attack throughout. Maybe sensational amateurs deserve such treatment, but scholars like Carrier with strong qualifications in the field deserve more respect than that. And to be clear, I’ve defended Ehrman and James McGrath against their attackers on the same issue. Carrier and Ehrman and James deserve a level of courtesy for their work in the field, whether we agree or disagree with their arguments. It comes with earning their laurels. Those of us who haven’t should show respect.

          • Kevin

            No I understood the point of his book. I will reply to this later thisvevening when I’m in front of my computer.

      • the_Siliconopolitan

        I see. That’s exactly what I don’t.

  • steph

    “If mythicists are going to not take seriously the one individual with a PhD in history who supports mythicism, is it any surprise that mythicism is not taken seriously by others”. While I agree with Neil that theologians are not necessarily adequately equipped to deal with research into Christian origins and the historical Jesus, and history is a necessity, why would it necessarily reflect badly on an idea (mythicism) because a scholar whose credentials they might approve of, doesn’t convince them with his argument and evidence? I would have said that Neil did well to criticise Carrier in this context (and any fault would be in taking Carrier too seriously). Surely you don’t really think that Neil should agree with amythicist just because he has a classics degree and not a degree in theology (or religions or second temple Judaism or relevant languages …. )

    • Hi Steph! My point was that it is already problematic, as a non-specialist in a field, to hunt around for one lone rogue scholar who says that what you think is correct. It’s what conservative Christian apologists often do, and it reflects a problematic way of interacting with scholarship.

      But if you won’t even embrace the views of the one scholar who kind of agrees with you, then that seems to be placing yourself on a lower level of credibility than even the conservative Christian apologists. That was my only point – the irony of the situation, not that Neil Godfrey or anyone else ought to be accepting one individual’s idiosyncratic views, as I have emphasized time and time again.

      • steph

        I see no irony – just contradiction on your part (and perhaps that is the irony) Your principle would translate to you agreeing with the evidence and argument of any scholar proposing a historical figure of Jesus, purely because his conclusions appeal to you and he’s a ‘specialist’ (theology? divinity) in the field.

        • Steph, I don’t follow your logic. My point is that we are talking about a viewpoint that has only one historian who thinks it is credible, and I think there is irony that the folks at Vridar don’t even find they can rely on the one person with such credentials in their camp. If you don’t see the irony in that, so be it, but please don’t try to remake what I said into something that I’ve never said.

          • steph

            Most of the ‘folks’ at Vridar do celebrate Carrier precisely because he is a mythicist (despite claiming/pretending ‘agnosticism’h which is the same thing). Neil Godfrey though has apparently seen through flaws in his method and argument. Give credit to Godfrey when it is due. And by the way Carrier is not the only qualified ‘historian’ in the world who doubts Jesus existed.

          • I have no problem giving Neil Godfrey credit when credit is due. If every attempt to interact with him had not ended with him acting maliciously towards me, I probably would have linked to his recent posts about Islam, which deserve to be shared. But given the history, I thought that it is best to avoid interacting unnecessarily. As for whether Godfrey or Carrier is right about the recent volume that is the focus of their posts, I cannot say, not having read it.

          • steph

            It’s a shame you bring up Vridar at all. I doubt that ‘qualified’ Carrier’s recent volume on Jesus ‘Christ’ will make much of an impact on historical scholarship. It will no doubt satisfy his convinced fans and apologists (highly amusing) but who else cares.