Early Reviews of Richard Carrier’s On The Historicity of Jesus Christ

Early Reviews of Richard Carrier’s On The Historicity of Jesus Christ June 25, 2014

Loren Rosson has reviewed two books which offer two different mythicist theories – one in relation to Muhammad, one in relation to Jesus. The former is Robert Spencer’s Did Muhammad Exist?: An Inquiry into Islam’s Obscure Origins, and the latter is Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt.

On the one that interests me more (although both interest me), Rosson seems to me to make great efforts to be not only fair but sympathetic as he seeks to assess the strengths and weaknesses of Carrier’s arguments. But there definitely are weaknesses, and here is an example of Rosson’s discussion of one example:

Finally, a word about Gal 1:19, which in Carrier’s view is “the only real evidence” historicists have from Paul’s letters. He argues that James “the brother of the Lord” is fictive kinship language rather than biological, as Paul wants to distinguish Christians generally from apostles specifically (p 590), which means of course that he’s not referring to James the pillar. It’s not a convincing argument. Paul would have little reason to bring up a lesser non-apostolic James in the context Gal 1-2, as such a figure would be beneath mentioning. Paul is referring to the apostle James who in fact is the biological brother of Jesus, and who has to be acknowledged, because he’s a thorn in Paul’s side being a rival authority in the Antioch incident as it now bears on the Galatian situation.

This was a point made by Zeba Crook in his recent debate with Carrier, to which Carrier later responded online:

  • “Crook claimed Paul ‘wished’ James wasn’t the brother of Jesus (because that made James a greater authority than Paul). There is no indication of that anywhere in the Epistles, at all (this is the same error I caught Mark Goodacre in). That is a Christian faith doctrine, that Crook has sublimated from having been taught ‘mainstream assumptions’ in his field inherited by its progenitors, who were not analyzing the evidence objectively in the first place.”

Carrier is being a bit obtuse here. No one, least of all Crook and Goodacre, is leaning on Christian faith doctrine; this is a scholarly construct based on objective assessments of Paul’s relationship to James and the other pillars. Even if you know nothing of Acts 15, it’s not hard to see the power struggles implied in Gal 1-2. (As an aside, I even suggest that James used his authority treacherously.) This is a feeble swipe on Carrier’s part and one of his least persuasive arguments.

Click through to read the rest. Chris Hallquist has also blogged about his first impressions of the book, expressing relief that the tone is not the one Carrier adopts on his blog. Hallquist offers some important criticisms. I particularly appreciated this point:

[A]rguing that the prior probability of a historical Jesus is low because Jesus’ story shares many features in common with that of mythic heroes strikes me as extremely dubious. Consider, who is the following paragraph describing?:

  • He was descended from a long line of great leaders, but at the time he was born, his country was under foreign occupation. Thus, his birth happened in secret, yet nevertheless it was heralded by a swallow, caused winter to change to spring, a star to illuminate the sky, and a double rainbow spontaneously appeared. Miraculously, he was able to walk and talk before he was six months old, and as an adult performed many amazing feats, including having the ability to control the weather. At the time of his death, a fierce snowstorm paused and the sky glowed red above the sacred, and the ice on a famous lake also cracked so loud that it seemed to shake the Heavens and the Earth. After his death, he was deified by his subjects, and his tomb became a shrine.

You might assume that this must be the description of some figure out of ancient mythology. But actually, it’s the story of the life of Kim Jong-Il, at least as told in North Korean propaganda.

I am still waiting to get hold of a copy of Carrier’s book, and will blog about it once I’ve read it. But obviously if Carrier actually says that he thinks the reference to James is the “only real evidence” in favor of the conclusion of almost all historians and scholars in relevant fields, then we are going to find the book a real disappointment.

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