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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  • pausanias

    I wish Dr. Carrier the best. He is a great hero in the secular movement. Religion is so silly it amazes me that it’s still a part of our society. For instance:

    1. AFTERLIFE. How anyone can believe that there is an afterlife when we die is astounding. There is no afterlife. When we die, we are completely gone. When a plant dies, it does not go to heaven. When a bacteria dies, it does not go to heaven. When a chicken dies, it does not go to heaven. When a person dies, he or she does not go to heaven. When something dies, it is simply gone. Human life and fungus life and hamster life all end up the same way. When life ends, that’s the end of the story.

    2. SUFFERING. How can their be a loving, caring, personal God who watches over us and has a plan for our lives when there are four year old children dying in cancer wards. That’s not love. If God exists, He is evil.

    • Andrew Dowling

      Exhibit #1 of why Carrier supporters won’t ever be swayed by logic or reason (and also why, personally, I think James gives Carrier too much credence in having so many posts on his work here, however critical). It’s not about the data; it’s about trying to de-legitimatize Christianity as a religion, for whatever reason. It’s part and parcel with conservative evangelical pseudo-scholarship.

      • Philo of Tasmania

        That is such crap, you smear Carrier with non- scholarly intent in an obvious attempt to protect your rusted on biases. So long as you do that you dont have to address, with evidence the big mythicist themes,
        1: Why was there no extra biblical mention of JC until 116CE?
        2:Why is it that nobody writing before the fall of the Temple seems to know a damn thing about Jesus’ earthly ministry?
        3: Why is it that the first person to mention the Jesus biography constructs it all ôut of OT verses and Psalms with no sign of the famous oral tradition?

        • The same could be said about other comparable figures, such as the Teacher of Righteousness at Qumran. I’ll be posting about this in a blog post later today, since the questions reflect a lack of familiarity with not just the immediate contextual data, but the history of religion more generally.

        • Lets give this silly, and repeated, suggestion that because Jesus is not mentioned by contemporary historical sources that this indicates that he does not exist some extended consideration. (In a debate with Zeba Crook, Richard Carrier has stated that this argument should not be given the weight it often is by the way…)

          We need to realize that any person in antiquity who would not likely be recorded about in physical assets such as coins, epigraphs (etc…), that we are dependent upon literary documents to know about their existence. These are extremely rare from antiquity. We probably have less than .001% of all literature from Classical period currently extant. Apart from a few examples, and most of these during specific events such as the Athenian-Spartan conflict, the Second Punic War, or the upheavals during the fall of the Roman Republic, we do not have sources from the time on people in Classical history. We have almost nothing written from the time about dozens of Roman Emperors who ruled one of the largest and most literate societies pre-enlightenment Europe. We only hear of great generals, such as Scipio, decades after the event. Perhaps we might suggest that he didn’t exist too? Great philosophers who mingled with Emperors, politicians and business men, who would have had infinitely more influence (and connections with literate people) than the itinerant failed messiah figure Jesus in rural Palestine with twelve regular followers! How much do we know of them from the time of their lives? Practically nothing.

          People like the founders of Stoicism and Epicureanism; their writings were part of every educated Romans’ libraries and had followers (like Christianity) in every major city. So there must be thousands of copies of their writings? No. Apart from three letters of Epicurus almost nothing. Alexander the Great who conquered the whole known world. Well, we must have thousands of reports about him from Nope. We can fit it on about half a page of A4. Consider the “Loeb Classical Library” that has been published by Harvard University Press for over a hundred years. It translates and publishes all the major works from Classical Antiquity. Over 1,000 years of writing, during which time the West enjoyed its first Golden Age of literature. How large is this corpus of material? It can fit into two bookcases (!)- and they are double the size they need to be: each volume supplies the Latin/Greek as well as an English translation.

          Read Professor Robert Garland’s “Celebrity in Antiquity: From Media Tarts to Tabloid Queens” and Graham Anderon’s “Sage, Saint and Sophist: Holy Men and Their Associates in the Early Roman Empire”, try to note down in a spreadsheet how close the extant records we have for apparently well-known people in antiquity (including actors, philosophers, religious charismatics etc”) are. All are pretty much written about decades, mainly hundreds of years after their lives, and are almost always only referenced in one solitary source.

          Look at the Jewish historian Josephus’ works. He lists many Jewish leaders who were equal to Jesus in fame. Who else records them? No one, just Josephus. (by the way no-one mentions Josephus for centuries, supposedly this BIG Jewish commander and how client of the Emperor himself, he must never have existed a well!).

          The destruction of Pompeii, a large city, completely destroyed. An event comparible in terms of shock to 9/11. This must be recorded EVERYWHERE. Only no. It isn’t. Only one source from near the the time talks about it. Decades and NOTHING but silence about a supposedly huge event. So perhaps it, and all these other figures, a just made up too, or perhaps people like these non-trained mythcists need a new argument.

          One interesting exercise to show how ancient fame vis-a-vis ancient literary records works is to compare Jesus with Cato the Younger. Cato was probably the most famous person by the time of Christ. We even have two classical authors saying they are fed up having with having stories of his live being constantly recollected by everyone. Now how many biographies of his life now exist? One, by Plutarch who wrote it over a hundred years later! This is a very good indicator of that this argument from silence needs to be put to bed, not given the oxygen of media attention- especially by free-thinkers(!!).

          Lets not be ignorant about this. Mythicists would have a field day producing books, blog posts, and having their readers high-fiving them if it served the atheist cause to turn their “methods” to question such ancient figures and events’ existence – yet they think that historians are only wrong about this one figure. It is online amateur activism parading itself as reasoned scholarship.

          The fact that Jesus is talked about by a dozen pagan references within a hundred years is remarkable. But this is a narrative that is sidelined, and just as illegitimately so as when Christian apologists sideline the evidence of competing traditions within the Gospels, or when creationists try to explain “show me the missing links” Both are reprehensible, and both show complete ignorance of how to properly approach and understand the field.

          (Also there is a an extra biblical reference to Jesus around 70-80 C.E from Mara Bar-Serapion.)

          • Philo of Tasmania

            “(Also there is an extra biblical reference to
            Jesus around 70-80 C.E from Mara Bar-Serapion.)”

            You are pretty much playing a lone hand here
            giving this piece any credence! Carrier gives him a short shrift in his latest
            book on page 275, “ Celsus, Lucian and Mara bar Serapion, e.g., all wrote in
            the 150s or later, and no other non-Christian text mentioning Jesus predates
            them.” He cites Van Voorst, “ Jesus outside the New Testament”, pp. 56-57 for
            Mara be Serapion. “Attempts to date Serapion to the first century depend on
            fallacious reasoning, which simply doesn’t survive scrutiny in face of the
            analysis in Van Voorst.”

            Just reading it myself, if you draw the long bow
            and presuppose it has anything at all to do with Jesus it sounds like it is
            referring back to Bar Kockhba revolt of 132-135. It contains historical
            inaccuracies about Pythagoras and of course Jesus was killed by the Romans not
            the Jews. The conservative scholar, FF Bruce thought that it dated later than
            73CE, “but how much later we cannot be sure.”
            That pretty much knocks your 70/80 range right out of the park! This is further
            quashed by Cureton and M’Lean who date it to the second or even third century.
            Even Holding admits: “[t]his reference to Jesus is not particularly
            valuable.” Bar Serapion is simply not an independent confirmation of the
            historical existence of Jesus. Neither is Tacitus in 116CE he just gives them
            their first mention and anything later than 120CE is not worth considering
            according to Carrier and I have to agree.

            I found the rest of your response interesting and
            I will try to address it quickly but not now.

          • Philo

            “You are pretty much playing a lone hand heregiving this piece any credence!”

            No I am certainly not! Please read the results of a recent conference on Mara Bar-Serapion, published as “The letter of Mara bar Sarapion in context : proceedings of the symposium held at Utrecht University, 10-12 December 2009” For more information on this project see http://www.phil.uu.nl/hsfl/project/mara_project/index.html

            There is also a forthcoming book Teun Tieleman that argues for its early date.

            Scholarship is broader than whatever happens to make it into Carrier’s book, and on this topic he is now arguing against a large and informed consensus, namely that 1) places its date to around 72 C.E., 2) believes that the most likely candidate that it references as the Jewish King is indeed Jesus. 🙂

          • Philo of Tasmania

            I’m not going to gainsay you but neither am I going to bog myself down with dubious conferences and books arguing the toss about an obscure and ambiguous text that even conservative historicist scholars have dismissed. If these sources contain anything of value to your unsupported position you need to present the ideas yourself not lethargically send people off on a wild goose chase on your behalf.
            Insult seems to be your default argument, scholarship is wider than Carrier, that’s why I cited 4 other scholars not referenced by him but thanks for the implied slur. So you and your informed consensus have narrowed the date down to 72CE yet you couldn’t be bothered presenting a single argument to support this. Is that really the best you can do? Sounds like wishful thinking.

          • Philo,

            Take a breath. Deal with this issue dispassionately and with civility.

            Now, this recent conference regarding Mara Bar-Serapion was held at one of the leading institutes of ancient history in Europe (Leiden), and involved dozens of leading classicists and ancient historians. Most are Professors, and teach at departments of history at equally major Universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, and Ivy Leagues. Mara Bar-Serapion is a text that has, until then, only been treated incidentially or without extended consideration. Here we have a major conference on it, that was then published by one of the leading academic presses in Europe and the world. In what possible way, other than your personal bias, label it “dubious”, and conclude that it is a “wild goose chase” and “really the best that I could do.” Certainly it does reveal that Carrier, and you, are out of step on this issue. As for your desire for me to distil the book and its complex and weaving arguments into a comment box well I am not sure if I can even begin to do this, but it revolves around philology, philosophical themes and their provenance, as well as cultural allusions (etc…). But I find the fact that you think I ask you to read a detailed book on a subject to be so objectionable bizarre.

          • Philo of Tasmania

            “Take a breath. Deal with this issue dispassionately and with civility.”

            This is just a bit rich for one who, not three posts ago, demonstrated his preferred method of debate against Dr. Carrier as insult and slur. You have calmed down since I called you on that, so that has been noted.
            I will restrict my use of the word dubious to you and your recommendation of it. It seems odd that despite having the Symposiums learned conclusions and Tieleman’s book ? (you are unclear on this) you still can’t argue a case, even in precis, that the Serapion letter in anyway represents early, independent attestation of a historical Jesus. Well, different things strike us as bizarre! I have offered you a case, logically set, backed by 6 scholars and partially referenced and yet you can’t do the same!?
            If you ever mount a case that Serapion’s letter is demonstrably from the early 70’sCE, I will take you seriously and consider it.
            If you ever mount a case that the subject of the letter is unarguably a historical Jesus of Nazareth,
            (or where ever you believe he hailed from) then I will take you seriously and consider it but you haven’t, you seem happy to hide behind a wall of academic complexity. I can’t debate something that you don’t present.
            I have argued my case with out any self serving claims about the quality of my research and now you need to do the same.
            Now that mythicism has blown the lid of this Pandora’s box I think that it should be come a pre-requisite for Christians to explain exactly what type of Historical Jesus they are defending. Are you defending a stripped down, non miraculous, failed apocalyptic JC or are you defending the full blown Gospel version complete with Quakes, Darkness and a Zombie parade? Maybe you’d like to identify where along the continuum your argument lies. As an atheist I don’t care whether he existed or not, it makes no difference to me but my interest in history compels me to conclude one way or the other. The evidence, so far points to myth, reluctant debaters like yourself do nothing for the historical cause.

          • Right…

            I am going to ignore your rather ungracious reading of the tone of my comments.

            You seem to misunderstand what I am doing. You say: “If you ever mount a case that Serapion’s letter is demonstrably from the early 70’sCE…you seem happy to hide behind a wall of academic complexity.” I am not wanting to have a debate with you over the internet regarding Mar Bar-Serapion. I merely want you to realize that you comment that I was “out on a limb” was wrong, and in fact the historical consensus was the opposite of what you thought. I am wanting you to go read the book for yourself and have an informed conclusion. You have just responded with derision and an extreme sensitivity to pick up implied insults. If you think that you can gauge the worth of the new consensus over Mara Bar-Serapion over whether I can distil its arguments into an internet comment box then, well, okay. There is little that I can do to really change that.

            Also, you have largely lifted your argument regarding it from infidels.org. So I imagine that you are not aware that of the sources they quote all of them do not explore Mara Bar-Serapion in any depth, but comment on it incidentially (i.e. a page or two, or even just a paragraph). Furthermore, you have mistakenly thought that “Holding” is a scholar. He is a self-confessed apologist who has a website- tektonics.org. Nothing wrong with that, but I don’t think anyone has ever called him a scholar. Also, Cureton and M’Lean wrote almost a century ago… Another of the scholars (F. F. Bruce) was actually a friend of my family, so believe me, I have respect for some of the people who argued for the later date. But this is largely scholarship from decades ago. Stop and think. Would you really be putting up some opposition if this scholarship supported what you thought? Seriously, would you?

            As for why they think that Mara Bar-Serapion is from 72 AD: its political cultural traditions (Speidel), the portrayal of Romanisation and local identities (Versluys), particular philosophical positions (Blank), Language (Facella and also Beentjes), firmly align with this time period. But again, you comment about being out on a limb was wrong. You need to reassess where you stand on this (and indeed on a large amount of your understanding of how to approach the historical Jesus, especially given your first post on here which I interacted with).

          • Philo of Tasmania

            First off it seems that I owe you an apology as I have
            realised that I have conflated your comments with some of those by an earlier
            writer, thus I apologise for all comments directed at you regarding your attitude
            towards Dr. Carrier’s character.

            ” You need to reassess where you stand on
            this (and indeed on a large amount of your understanding of how to approach the
            historical Jesus, especially given your first post on here which I interacted

            Not so. You try to dismiss
            the whole issue of independent attestation as silly, insult is not an argument,
            yet you are prepared to spend paragraphs trying to resurrect a long abandoned
            piece of apologetics. You don’t want to debate the letter here, OK accepted but
            you do want to claim that the contemporary consensus on the letter is to accept
            it as a genuine attestation for the historical Jesus. Interesting! So I assume that
            quite a few scholars in the field of New Testament studies are aware of the
            Utrecht Symposium, its arguments and its findings and that they in turn have
            published articles, papers etc. in support its findings. It’s just that since 2009
            I’ve not come across a ripple of support for this letter based on the Symposium’s
            findings, strange that. Not even anybody mentioning it let alone debunking it!
            So, if you would be so kind as to refer me to any links where a well-respected
            NT scholar, preferably not a Christian and preferably not involved with the
            Symposium, actually deliberates on the symposium’s findings, I would be

            “(In a debate with Zeba
            Crook, Richard Carrier has stated that this argument should not be given the
            weight it often is by the way…)”

            Up to a point, you, I and
            Carrier are in agreement, the issue of zero independent attestation for the
            historical existence of Jesus should not be over weighted. Neither, however
            should it be under weighted! Zero evidence does not in itself prove that Jesus
            did not exist. Agreed.

            The zero evidence that we
            have from the 1st century CE is exactly what I would expect if Jesus
            Christ began as a mythical/celestial entity in line with the evidence from the
            pre-70 Christian writings. That is, no genuine attestation of a historical life
            from non-Christian sources, then later interpolations, forgeries and textual deletions
            from the record. It is not what I
            would expect had a full blown gospel Jesus actually lived on earth, this is
            where the weight of zero evidence needs to be ramped up. Currently it is my
            opinion that zero evidence absolutely blows out of the water any vain hope that
            the full blown gospel Jesus ever existed. At least to date I have heard no
            convincing case that the two can coexist. Hence my previous enquiry, which you
            have studiously avoided, exactly what sort of historical Jesus are you defending?!
            Zero evidence by itself does not disprove a minimum historical Jesus (failed
            apocalyptic prophet) or even prove the myth but it does cast a long shadow of
            doubt over Mark and his redactors.

            Essentially I believe what
            you are engaged in is an activity that has recently been dubbed “tin foiling” in
            an erudite article by Tim Widowfield on the Vridar.org blog site. As this
            article also touches on the letter of Serapion and the unreliability of the
            consensus whose comfort you seek I recommend that you take the time to read it.


    • Michael Wilson

      So is it fair to say existence is meaningless and evil?

      • pausanias

        Life is what you make of it. You can be a famous actor who is a miserable alcoholic, or you can be a prisoner who makes a fun game out of dancing in your chains. It just so happens that there is no God, and your life has no objective purpose.

        • Michael Wilson

          well, if life isn’t meaningless and evil for me, then for me its not fair to say there is no god because there is suffering because I find value in the world in spite of the presence of evil, so God for me is not necessarily evil. To say that because there is evil in the world, god must be evil or nonexistent is to say that because their is evil in existence, as a net, existence is evil since only an evil person would let it be as it is.

    • plectophenax

      I hope this is not characteristic of mythicist arguments, as it seems to say, I hate Christianity, therefore Jesus didn’t exist. Tell me that there are better arguments than this, please.

      • MattB

        Ad-Hominem is usually the only thing that mythicists. like Carrier, Only focus on.

        • False with respect to Carrier.

          • MattB

            How is this false? Most mythicists arguments I’ve seen and read claim that historians and scholars have a religious agenda and usually are deluded or crazy because they believe Jesus existed. Richard Carrier is the greatest example of this.

          • Are you saying that the book “On the historicist of jesus: why we might have reason to doubt” ONLY focuses on claiming “historians and scholars have a religious agenda and usually are deluded or crazy because they believe Jesus existed”?????

            Even a cursory reading of his blog on the subject of historicity will show that he does not only focus on that.

            As to ad hominems, I don’t recall Carrier using any ad hominems. Perhaps you could provide an example. (actually, I suspect you simply don’t know what an ad hominem is, and I plan to wait for you to demonstrate this for me with an example so then I can expose your ignorance.)

          • Anonymous Coward

            Yeah guys stop and pause before you respond. Can you not anticipate Brian’s reply here? He has some familiarity with Carrier at least through THIS blog, and he just said Carrier doesn’t engage in ad hom. If you really don’t know, already, how he could say such a thing, you just may be out of your depth!

            Think, think, think before you post.

            (With that said, I’d bet we can catch Carrier in an ad hom or two, but Brian is entirely correct that most of the stuff Carrier says that people often call “ad hom” is nothing of the kind.)

          • arcseconds

            If you think insulting practically everyone who has commented negatively on your work, frequently calling respected scholars ‘probably insane’, I suggest your ‘ad hominem’ bar is too low.

            Just because you give a reason for your insults, doesn’t mean they’re not insults.

          • MattB

            You nailed it arcseconds!!!

          • Anonymous Coward

            We have a winner of the “doesn’t actually know what ad hominem is but uses the term anyway” prize. You showed you have some idea what the response is going to be with your final sentence, yet completely ignored its significance. You are right that Carrier gives reasons for his insults. Moreover, he doesn’t typically use these insults as a premise for anything. And in those cases where he gives reasons for them, and doesn’t argue from them, he’s not engaging in ad hom. This doesn’t mean they’re not insults, just as you say. But that’s a red herring. The relevant point is that they’re not _ad hom_.

            Call them what they is, on pain of seeming either dishonest or foolish.

          • Anonymous Coward

            Moreover even when he does use the insults to argue for a claim, this is only ad hom if the insult doesn’t actually support the claim.

          • arcseconds

            I know perfectly well what ‘ad hominem’ means, thanks.

            It literally means ‘to the man’, and as the title of the fallacy it means to dismiss an argument by attacking the person giving the argument — playing the man, not the ball, so to speak.

            (also, I know sarcasm when I see it… didn’t you make a plea for McGrath to change his tone a couple of days ago? I’m going to make a similar plea here. Perhaps don’t go for the insults straight away?)

            And that is exactly what Carrier is doing here. He is keeping a list of responses, and summarizes them in a way where the content is either entirely lost or almost entirely lost. In some cases he does present some kind of a summary of the argument, but in other cases he just attacks the man. Casey is an example of such. ‘Probably insane’. Ian is perhaps an even better example, as he’s said to be ‘pedantic’ (he is also falsely said to have withdrawn all substantive criticism).

            He is presents this in a way that encourages his readers to believe that no-one has a decent argument against him. That’s arguing for a conclusion on the basis of attacking the person giving an argument.

            And that’s ad hominem.

            Now, yes, you can continue to assert that he doesn’t actually draw this conclusion, which is I suppose is technically true, but when one looks at someone’s argument one generally does not stick to only that which is explicitly said, but also look for unmentioned premises, ellipses, and also conclusions that they don’t specifically draw themselves but are nevertheless leading their readers to conclude.

            Otherwise it seems easy to avoid the charge of fallacy: give a huge diatribe explaining how your opponent votes for the Nazi party and all hell will break loose if everyone were to believe him, but never explicitly say they’re wrong.

            (Hopefully you’re not trying to convince me that Carrier is just mentioning these things in passing… “here are some interesting facts about my detractors, totally irrelevant to the argument! Casey is insane, Ian is pedantic, and Goodacre’s tall and James has glasses and a beard!” )

            Here’s an even more dramatic example of Carrier in action:

            “The best way to describe this book is to imagine a rambling weirdo
            running into a grove of orange trees with a hammer and in a random
            frenzy smacking half the low hanging fruit, and then beating his chest
            and declaring proudly how the trees are now barren.”

            These are not the words of someone who’s trying to make a sober assessment of the arguments of others, or trying to engage in respectful dialogue. These are the words designed to undermine someone by making them look stupid.

          • “as the title of the fallacy it means to dismiss an argument by attacking the person giving the argument”

            Indeed. And this is what Carrier is not doing. You are simply mistaking colorfully worded CONCLUSIONS (that he supports) for fallaciously using irrelevant personal attacks against arguments.

            Indeed NO conclusions are “arguments”, none of them work as such. If they were used as arguments, each of them would be ASSERTIONS. This is a fundamental distinction between arguments and conclusions (I think, at least it seems like it is).

            Also, you claim he “frequently calling respected scholars ‘probably insane'” But no apparently he only said one scholar probably insane. http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/5730#comment-344665

          • arcseconds

            Clearly Carrier is a smart guy who writes in a grand style, even charismatic in his way, but he’s also clearly a megalomaniac. Look at his statement declaring his own genius and comparing himself to Hume and Aristotle.

            And not just a megalomaniac, a narcissist. The ranting purple prose directed at his detractors has every sign of narcissistic rage.

            In general we could expect a narcissist who values their intellect in particular to completely overestimate their intellectual ability, which will lead them to be careless and make frequent mistakes, especially with regard to to their fundamental thought, with which they expect to overturn the world.

            Of course, such people frequently have dedicated followers, attracted to the greatness projected by such people, impressed by their intellect (people like hearing their own thoughts regurgitated back at them but worded more eloquently). Such followers will frequently defend their hero vigorously from even the most minor criticisms.

            So, in summary:

            Carrier: intellectually bankrupt narcissist
            Pansky: intellectually bankrupt narcissist’s fanboy

          • He’s intellectually bankrupt? That conclusion kinda came out of nowhere. You might need practice 😉

          • arcseconds

            Why would I be interested in the opinions of a disciple of an intellectually-bankrupt narcissist?

          • lol.

            Anyways, you got the whole “ad hominem” VS “not ad hominem” thing? I’ve made all the points I came here to make. The only reason I’d stick around is to make any necissary clarifications.

          • arcseconds

            Did you get that I had already argued for Carrier enjoining us to reach a conclusion as to how seriously to take his opponents in the post you were replying to? Apparently not, because you didn’t address it.

            Quite similar to how Carrier treats his opponents, really, just keep on pressing the assumption that one is much smarter than everyone else, and they’re so stupid they don’t know what the words they use mean. No point in actually reading their arguments carefully, it’s fine to assume they don’t know what they’re talking about.

            (Anyway, hopefully you can see from my antics what the problem is here. So long as I avoid actually saying “Pansky is in love with Carrier therefore everything he says about Carrier can be ignored” I’m not committing a fallacy. Apparently so long as I just belittle you, make implications about you, and imply very strongly that nothing you say needs to be taken seriously, encourage other people to reach this conclusion, say things that sound very much like this conclusion, so long as I don’t actually make the link myself, I’m off scot free.)

          • My continued attempts at clarification continue in a discussion with arcseconds here:


          • “I suggest your ‘ad hominem’ bar is too low.

            Just because you give a reason for your insults, doesn’t mean they’re not insults.”

            ad hominem doesn’t have a movable “bar”, and it does not just mean “insults”. It is a specific kind of non-sequitur argument.

          • MattB

            No. That is not what I’m claiming. I’m saying that Carrier is frequently going on his blog and calling historicists names whenever they disagree with him instead of mostly dealing with their arguments. If you don’t believe me, then look at his link here:


            He calls people like Maurice Casey(A well-respected and known NT scholar who recently passed away) “probably insane”.

            He also calls other scholars “liars,” illogical”, or “crazy”.

          • Did you read Casey’s book?

          • MattB


          • I started it a couple months ago, was so appalled that I put it down, and finally finished it last week. It reads like a Usenet flame war from the nineties, and has little of substance to offer on…well, anything.
            My god was it bad. Like shockingly bad. Like probably the worst book by a respected academic I’ve read in a decade.

          • “I’m saying that Carrier is frequently going on his blog and calling historicists names whenever they disagree with him instead of mostly dealing with their arguments. If you don’t believe me, then look at his link here:”

            That link literally shows the opposite of what you claim. His reviews mostly deal with their arguments.

            Also, calling “names” is not what he is doing. The things you think are “names” are not names. They are serious statements. There is a difference.

            Indeed NO conclusions are “arguments”, none of them work as such. If they were used as arguments, each of them would be ASSERTIONS. This is a fundamental distinction between arguments and conclusions (I think, at least it seems like it is).

          • MattB

            Perhaps you should read McGrath’s blog posts where he frequently points out Carrier’s blunders and childish behavior

          • um, thanks for the suggestion. Relevance?

          • MattB

            I was citing you Dr. McGrath because he has examples of Carrier’s trash talk toward other scholars. Ehrman is another example of someone that Carrier frequently criticizes wrongfully.

          • MattB

            Brian, Maybe we should agree to disagree on the moral issue since it isn’t going anywhere. Anyways, I want to focus more on the historicity of Jesus since that is what this blog topic is more about.

            Now back to my main point about Carrier, you do realize that he’s not a very nice scholar, right?

      • Philo of Tasmania

        FFS! You must have your head in the sand! Read the books, argue the issues!

    • D Rizdek

      Humans are free and Humans have fallen because they are as children. Suffering is the result of the fall of man, we brought it on ourselves.

      Suffering is an unfortunate side effect of free wil.

      The existence of evil actually serves a purpose. God’s business is saving souls, not preventing a little suffering during our insignificant lifetime.
      Based on his desire that none perish, the amount of evil is exactly the amount needed to assure maximum souls in heaven.

      It could have been much worse…we have God to thank that there isn’t more suffering than there is.

      Many people suffer due to their own mistakes and failure to plan. Even whole populations might suffer because of mistakes made by their ancestors. Surely you don’t expect God to go around solving problems people bring on themselves.

      Suffering is a test to help us develop better character. ANY suffering at any time might be useful to improve character.

      Animals don’t actually suffer. They feel pain, but they really don’t suffer.

      We don’t know but what God deadens pain centers when folks are really suffering so they don’t notice it as much.

      There is the assurance that God will make it up to the innocent victims.

      God works in mysterious ways.

      I don’t understand, but I have faith God will work it out in the end.

      Don’t you just hate theodicies?

    • MattB

      Carrier isn’t doing himself any good for anybody. He’s degrading scholars and thinks he’s the bomb.com

      1. How do you know there’s no afterlife?
      2. On what basis do you make that moral value judgement? How can you say God is evil, when you’re worldview would show that evil wouldn’t exist.

      • Learn about the philosophy of morality. The actions or inactions of anyone, including a god, can be judged in such analysis. The word “evil” can also be used to have meaning other than that which you seem to be assuming.

        • MattB

          Evil is not meant to be defined as “harm to someone”. Evil goes above and beyond science. When you claim that someone is evil, you are in essence saying that person has violated another person’s moral vaule. But on atheism, why think we are worth something? We aren’t worth anything if God does not exist. What makes us any different than Chimpanzees or mosquitos?

          • Evil could be used to mean gratuitous harm, your opinion of that usage is of no weight.

            On atheism it could even be used in some association to value as well, since value does not require a god. Your assertion that it does is another philosophical ignorance on your part. You don’t even explain or back up your assertion that if god exists that somehow CAN give us value.

            Things don’t “have value”, even if a god exists it would not make sense for them to “have value”. Rather, things (and people) are valued BY people.

            For morality, if there are people who value themselves and their own goals, there will be morality. This is because morality turns out to be the way for people to pursue their goals, values, and preferences in reasonable ways, and ways that do not contradict themselves.

          • MattB

            But you’re missing the point. Why on atheism does it matter if someone harms somebody else? There’s no objective standard or foundation by which you can judge their actions because it’s your opinion. Their opinion is just as equal as yours. So now everything becomes relative and there’s no standard by which you can judge someone’s actions as moral or immoral. What if the pyschopath wants to harm people? What if the rapist wants to rape people? It’s not your place to judge because they’re pre-determined to do such actions and none of these actions would have any moral dimension to them because their predestined to happen, which means they are just apart of nature.

            God, by definition is the greatest maximal being. And only a being who is maximally great must be all good and all moral. Evil would be a weakness. It is through his nature and being is the root of Goodness found, which makes it “objective” and “binding”.

            Your proposition is subjective and relative since it depends upon what other human beings think and feel.

          • “Why on atheism does it matter if someone harms somebody else? There’s no objective standard or foundation by which you can judge their actions because it’s your opinion. Their opinion is just as equal as yours.”

            I told you my model of morality, and it does not involve a “all opinions are valid” problem at all. My model has correct answers, and in it someones opinion can be very wrong.

            Your “what if someone WANTS to do harmful things?” objection is handled by what I said about reason and non-contradiction. Which is to say that there are a hierarchy of desires etc. (by means of preference). But if you personally think you can tell me why raping and murdering will give me the most satisfying life, please tell me how, I’m waiting.

          • MattB

            That’s what I’m wondering. Why would it matter on your worldview if someone wants to do these actions? Animals do these things all the time, and that’s all we are without God, just advanced primates on this tiny speck we call “Planet Earth”. Where does this arbitrary value come from? Again. What would make someone else’s opinion right or wrong? There would be no right or wrong because everything is predetermined to happen. If right and wrong exist, then that means free will exists. If free will exists then that means God exists. On atheism, it may be more reasonable to prematurely kill someone in order to survive and you can’t object to that because it’s beneficial to the person’s survival(which is necessary to pass on traits to others). It may be beneficial to steal someone’s food or items. Your opinion would be no different than their opinion.

          • “There would be no right or wrong because everything is predetermined to happen. If right and wrong exist, then that means free will exists. If free will exists then that means God exists.”

            That is a TRAIN of non-sequiturs!

            “On atheism, it may be more reasonable to prematurely kill someone in order to survive and you can’t object to that because it’s beneficial to the person’s survival(which is necessary to pass on traits to others). It may be beneficial to steal someone’s food or items. Your opinion
            would be no different than their opinion.”

            You contradicted yourself. You said some action may be the MORE reasonable one, then said this reason is no different than a contrary opinion. But the comparison between which is more reasonable is a difference.

          • “God, by definition is the greatest maximal being. And only a being who is maximally great must be all good and all moral. Evil would be a weakness.[…]Because God is the foundation for objective moral values and duties. They are rooted in his being.”

            Such word games never work. They would require that this being is also the root of the very definition of “greatness”, which would be circular, and would produce an arbitrary result.

            The fact is that the basis you must be using is the human concept of greatness, what is great to us. You can try to rob humanity of this all you like with your assertions that those things are actually god etc, but those are just assertions. And that argument is also irrelevant because morality isn’t about some mysterious nonsense like you assert it is, it is about following desires and preferences in a social setting, and having a god or no god doesn’t alter this.

          • MattB

            These aren’t silly word games, God himself is the being by which we root moral greatness and goodness. God is like the Old metre bar in Paris which defines what a metre is, not by Conforming to some abstract length but he is the paradigm of what morals are, so your objection is circular because it misses the point of what God is.

            If Morals are about following desires and preferences, then they become subjective and relative because everyone has different preferences. On atheism, there’s no way for you to claim that the rapist or the serial killer or the psychopath are doing anything wrong anymore than someone who donates money to charity or gives their food to the homeless is doing anything right because there isn’t any “objective” standard for you to judge right and wrong.

          • As a Christian, I disagree. Jesus defined morality as treating others the way you would want to be treated, which is inherently subjective and about empathy. The suggestion that you can torture a person, and only God’s displeasure makes it immoral, seems to me to itself be a morally abhorrent idea, one that shows a complete lack of the love for and placement of value upon the lives of others as upon our own that Jesus taught.

          • MattB

            Jesus upheld the ten commandments and without God, there is no objective reason to think of ourselves, nor anybody else as “high and mighty”. If morals are subjective Dr M, then you would have to agree with me that someone who treats someone else badly is not “objectively” doing anything wrong anymore than someone who treats someone right since it’s there opinion.

          • I am not sure that “objective morality” is a meaningful phrase, but if it is, then surely it means the opposite of what you are using it to mean, which I understand to be that a divine subject can define it as moral or immoral to treat other human beings in a particular way, and which, contrary to the definition of objective, cannot be determined equally by all people regardless of their subjective perspective. But morality in any meaningful sense has to do with subjects – the value we place on persons above things, which is flouted when we treat subjects as though they were mere objects.

          • MattB

            By objective, I mean independent of what anyone thinks or feels about something. So, if the Nazi’s, for example, successfully brainwashed everyone into thinking that genocide was morally right, it would still be “wrong”. Morals are objective because we have a conscience inside us that gives us an awareness of certain actions as right and wrong.

            I think you’re misunderstanding the moral argument for God’s existence. It doesn’t argue that because God says something therefore something is Good. God is the paradigm of moral goodness. Just like the Old Metere bar in Paris is the paradigm of what a Meter is. When you place value on someone, you are in essence, going above and beyond what a human being really is. On atheism, human beings are nothing more than advnaced primates on this tiny planet called Earth. If that’s the case, then what makes us any different than other creatures in the world? One could argue “We’re more evolved” but that would be arguing speciesism, a bias in favor of one’s own species. What objective foundation is left for the atheist then? It would seem that none can be found because none would exist since it would serve no purpose. It makes far better since to claim that a moral law giver(God) has placed within us a moral compass or conscience that tells us right and wrong.

          • “Morals are objective because we have a conscience inside us that gives us an awareness of certain actions as right and wrong.”

            Such internal senses are subjective, and also not always reliable. Our evolved internal sense of right and wrong are USUALLY accurate, but we still have to review them critically because they can be mistaken.

          • You seem to be combining a number of different ideas. One is that God is the ground of morality, which seems to me incompatible with Jesus’ teaching that morality is to do unto others what we would want done unto us. It also, if you think God is personal, roots morality in a divine subject, which is not “objective.” It seems to me that when you say “objective” you just mean “really” in an emphatic sort of way. But that move seems dubious to me as a Christian, because it makes morality about something other than the harm we cause others when we don’t care about them as subjects in their own right like us.

          • MattB

            Dr. M, I’m not advocating mixed ideas here. God, by definiton, is a maximally great being, and only a being that is maximally great will have properties that are the pardigm of everything perfect(Love, Justice, Mercy, Forgivness,etc). Saying that God could be evil would be a logical contradiction because Evil is a weakness and limitation that we as humans for example have. A morally corrupt figure wouldn’t be maximally great. I don’t see how Jesus’ teachings on morality are in any way conflicting with what we know about morals. Jesus taught about love and yes about the Golden rule. But none of these are subjective. If morals didn’t exist, then there would be no such thing as right or wrong. But morals do exist, so that must mean there is a standard by which we must judge right and wrong. If God is not the standard, then Dr. M what standard or foundation is left for human beings to be the judge of good and evil? Society changes over time and so now morals become relative. What’s wrong today could be right tomorrow. As I’ve said before, a moral-law giver is necessary in order to have a moral-law because without a moral-law giver, we have no rights. We would have no such thing as moral values and duties. Who is there to establish them for us? And why should us advanced primates be the ones to conform to them? Why not apes or other primates? It seems to be arbitrary and dubious to think we as human beings in a planet where God doesn’t exist would have some sort of moral obligation to fulfill, when none would exist since there would be no purpose.

          • Some of the commands given by God in the Bible are in contradiction to other commands in the Bible. Is child sacrifice abhorrent to God, or something that he asked Abraham to do? Is calling down fire from heaven on one’s opponents appropriate? What about exterminating the inhabitants of a city but keeping the women for oneself?

            Either morality genuinely is objectively treating others in the same manner that we would want to be treated, or morality is something we cannot know objectively, and we must depend on a divine revelation to know whether we should or should not sacrifice our child or exterminate a city’s inhabitants.

          • MattB

            I’m not saying we need God in order to know right and wrong. I as a Christian believe that God has written the moral law on our hearts. I’m simply saying that we need God as our foundation for morals or otherwise we are lost in moral relativism.

            There are plenty of good ways philosophers of Religion have(Like WLC) have made in defense of God’s actions in the OT, but that isn’t really relative to the Divine Command Theory Argument. All the DCT says is that a moral law giver(God) is necessary for morals to exist.

            Maybe we should agree to disagree Dr.M.

            Also, I hope I haven’t been rude Dr.M. I always want to be civil in my discussion with others. I apologize if I am being rude.

          • “There are plenty of good ways philosophers of Religion have(Like WLC) have made in defense of God’s actions in the OT”

            Actually, WLC didn’t give a good philosophical defense. He just used a lot of words to say “the innocent kids who were slaughtered got to go to heaven so therefore the slaughter wasn’t wrong”. It’s not just terrifying, it’s also a non-sequitur.

          • MattB

            Not necessarily and there’s a lot more to the text than what you actually think it says. There are various theories that have been put forth to explain the cannanite slaughter. One theory is that the command was for the Cannanites were to be driven out and not actually killed unless they refused to leave. And to whom does God do the wrong? The Cannanites? Nope. They were a debauched people that were corrupt and lawless. The children? Nope. They inherited eternal life(Which is better than God let them suffer under the Pagan nation at the time). In fact, archaeology shows that Cannaites burned their as sacrifices to their false gods.

            Also, Jesus wasn’t a myth.

          • lol, you just quoted the exact non-sequitur part I was talking about, killing the kids. Yikes.

            And then you jump off topic into saying “Jesus wasn’t a myth”.

            I’m not going to continue conversation with you.

          • MattB

            This whole blog post was on the topic of the historicity of Jesus. I am the one who went off topic by replying to another blogger who said that God was evil, to which you replied to me.

          • “God is like the Old metre bar in Paris which defines what a metre is”

            hence just as arbitrary as I pointed out.

            You also haven’t addressed my responses to your objections about preference etc.

          • MattB

            What’s arbirtary about that? It’s not at all arbirtary to think that God is the paradigm of moral goodness just like the Old metre bar in Paris is the paradigm for a metre. It’s self-sustaining and purposeful. God is self-sustaining and purposeful.

          • You compared God to the standard meter. The meter could have been any length, and at any time people could just decide to use a different standard length (longer or shorter than the current one) and decide that it is now the official meter. It is an arbitrary convention.

            Similarly, according to you, however God happened to be (whether he told the truth or lied etc.) you would just call that “good”. Arbitrary.

            The moment you try to give some non-arbitrary justification for why God is one way rather than another way, you are using a standard/paradigm other than God with which to measure how good God is. You will possibly be using the standard I gave in my other post, which does not require a God, he would be redundant.

          • arcseconds

            How is this any different on the theistic view?

            I still fail to see how God valuing something has this magical property of making something ‘really’ valuable, whereas if we value something somehow it doesn’t count as valuable.

          • MattB

            Because God is the foundation for objective moral values and duties. They are rooted in his being. We as human beings are nothing more than just autonomous machines for propogating DNA. If that’s the case, then I don’t see how we can have any sort of moral value or duties anymore than mosquitos or frogs. When you start talking about good and evil, you are going above and beyond science.

            Plus, if God does not exist, then free willl wouldn’t exist, which means everything we ever do in life is pre-determined and hardwired into our brains. So there would be no such action as good or evil because that entails that there is a such thing as right or wrong. Right and wrong can only exist if we have free will. And free will can only exist if There is a being that gives man kind that freedom of the will to chose.

          • arcseconds

            Because God is the foundation for objective moral values and duties. They are rooted in his being.

            That’s just another way of saying ‘God has the magical property of making things ‘really’ valuable by valuing them, which all other valuers lack’, which is just what I said I don’t understand.
            The rest of your statement doesn’t help me to understand it. It seems like you’re arguing ‘God must be the source of value because I really don’t like the alternatives!’, which isn’t, of course, a sound argument. I don’t agree with what you say here, either, but I’m not going to address it right now, because it’ll distract you from explaining what I want explained.

          • MattB

            Arcseconds, perhaps you’ve misunderstood the Moral argument. It sounds like you’re trying to argue some form of Euthyro’s dilemma(Does God will something because it’s good? Or is something good and therefore God wills it?). God doesn’t will something because it’s “good”, nor is something good and therefore God wills it. God is the paradigm of what moral goodness is. Think of the Old meter bar in Paris. The Old Metre bar doesn’t define what a metere is by conforming to some abstract length. The Old Meter bar is the paradigm of what a meter is. So it makes little sense to ask why is the Old Meter bar a meter long because that objection is setting up circular reasoning.

          • “God doesn’t will something because it’s “good”, nor is something good and therefore God wills it. God is the paradigm of what moral goodness

            Your two Euthyro options are identical. You worded it wrong.

            It should be either option 1) God wills it because it is good or else option 2) something is good simply because God wills it.

            But an improved version that still has similar implications goes like this:

            option 1) we can use some standard other than God to see what is good (and therefore check if God is good or not)

            or else option 2) God is the standard we use to check if anything is good. (and therefore “good” seems arbitrary, because however God happens to be, we will just call that “good”)

            You chose option 2 here.

          • arcseconds

            You’ve used this analogy before, and I can’t see how it helps you at all.

            We decided we needed a standard for length, so we created (based on an earlier definition) a bar, and then arbitrarily specified that as the standard.

            Then we stopped using it and settled on another definition.

            So, if you think we invented God because we wanted a standard for goodness, and then we arbitrarily said that anything he likes is good, and we could depart from this if we wanted (and I think we largely have) then I suppose it’s a good analogy, but I don’t think that’s what you’re trying to argue.

            And, as Wittgenstein pointed out, what we’re doing when we say the standard metre bar is a metre long is different from when we say a table is a metre long:

            There is one thing of which one can say neither that it is one metre long, nor that it is not one metre long, and that is the standard metre in Paris.-But this is, of course, not to ascribe any extraordinary property to it, but only to mark its peculiar role in the language-game of measuring with a metre-rule.

          • arcseconds

            Also, even if you’re right and God is the only thing that’s inherently morally good, and everything else is measured by that (which doesn’t make any sense to me either), does that really mean my valuing things doesn’t grant them value?

            I mean, I value, say, the Ursonate. Does God value this? I have no idea (maybe not? It’s just a bunch of nonsense written by a long-dead Dadaist). And what difference would it make to me if God valued it, didn’t value it, or wasn’t there at all? I still value it, so at least one thing in the world has value: the Ursonate.

          • MattB

            You keep making the distinction between God and good like most atheists do when they object to the moral argument for God’s existence. God isn’t some being who conforms to an external goodness. God himself is the paradigm. God’s properties are what define moral goodness(love, justice, mercy, forgivness). That’s what his nature is. It doesn’t make sense to ask well “Why is God’s nature Good?” It’s like asking “Who Created God?” The questioner misunderstands the answer by substiuting a question that misses what the answerer has already said. Only a being who is maximally great can have these kind of properties. Evil would be a weakness and therefore, it doesn’t logically make sense to say that a maximally great being would have everything we don’t but has a weakness or pefection.

            P.S. THanks for that interesting video:)

          • arcseconds

            I don’t think you’re taking seriously the notion that in order to make these predicates of God meaningfully, they have to have definitions that are independent of God.

            Take, for example, another one of God’s traditional properties that’s perhaps the easiest to reason about: omnipresence. We do not define omnipresence by saying “it’s the property of God’s location, that’s what it is, stop asking questions” or saying “God is the paragon of omnipresence: that’s what her nature is”. And we certainly don’t define having location in terms of God.

            We already know what location is, because every material thing has a location. And we can define omnipresence in terms of this. We say ‘it’s the property of being everywhere’. And if they don’t get this, we could point to other things that have this property, like gravity, maybe, and say ‘OK, so you see how gravity pervades the universe? that’s what omnipresence is’. Or we could say ‘OK, you know how the continental USA stretches from sea to shining sea? In between the seas is where the USA is. So we could say that the USA has the property of between-sea-and-shining-sea-ness. Now, imagine if something wasn’t bordered by anything at all. Rather than going out and encountering a sea, and saying “that’s where this thing stops”, you can keep going indefinitely and still be in that thing. No need to mention God at all.

            Similarly with omnipotence, although it’s a bit more difficult to reason about, and many think it’s a contradictory property. But we know what power is, or the capacity to do things is. Some people have more capacity to do things than others, some machines are more powerful than others, etc. So if someone asks us ‘what is power?’ we can give an answer that doesn’t involve God at all.

            And similarly for omniscience.

            So these properties have an independent definition, which means when a theologian argues from the definition of God the greatest being of all, that God must be omnipresent, then we’ve learned something about God. They have the property of being everywhere, which we already understand, so we understand something about God.

            But you’re saying that being all good is totally unlike the other omni-properties, and rather than build up from particular things having location to the property of omnipresence, and then demonstrating that God must possess this property, for goodness it’s backwards: we know God must be all good, and then we learn about what a particular good thing is by comparing it with God.

            And that just seems weird, to start with. Surely we know about goodness from our every day lives: when someone is kind to us and helps us find our parents when we’re upset and lost as a child, that’s a good thing. This seems an everyday example of goodness that helps us to inform what good is, just as your computer being in front of you is an everyday example of location that helps to inform you about location.

            But also, I still don’t understand how it makes it meaningful to say that God is good. If you’re proceeding with the Anselmesque definition of God as being the greatest thing ever, and therefore must be good, but good doesn’t have an independent definition besides God, then I can’t see how you’re doing anything else other than saying “whatever God does, I’m going to call good”. And therefore, accept when he tells people to kill the Amekelites down to the infants or to sacrifice your son, that is good, because it comes from God.

            Anyway, we’re getting sidetracked. Why is it necessary to get my valuing approved by God before you will take it seriously as a valuing?

          • MattB

            Perhaps this video will explain it better since I’ve confused youhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ixqsZP7QP_o

            Because your objection is that of Euthyphro. Your asking why God is good, which is redundant. Your basically saying “Why is the good good?”

          • arcseconds

            Well, no. I’ve watched that video, and not only does it not explain it, it doesn’t address the idea at all. Everything in that video could be said on the assumption that good has a definition that’s independent of God, and, indeed, I think it only makes sense if that is the case.

            (well, makes more sense. The modal logic seems pretty confused to me, but he did rush past it very quickly… reeling off an involved modal logic argument in a couple of minutes seems like a pretty dubious method of presentation to me, it seems like the strategy here is to bluff, baffle and bludgeon people into believing, not to actually give people understanding)

            You’re now sounding like a Platonist about the Good. OK, fine, but what legitimizes you in identifying the Good with God? How do you know God doesn’t just participate in goodness like every other good thing, except maybe in their case to the fullest possible extent? And doesn’t it seem weird to you to identify goodness with a being that has causal properties? Normally platonists think the Ideas exist independently of causation, and it’s a category mistake to think they have a history in the normal sense.

            And, again, is this different from any of the other omni-properties? Is God identical also with Power?

            If so, do you think atheists also are at a loss to explain or understand power, so that on an atheist worldview, nothing can be sensibly said to have power? Or location?

            That sems pretty odd to me…

            And again, you’re not addressing the fact that the Ursonate has value to me (and also the guy in the video, and also apparently some value to you… and someone used it to foil some muggers once, so it also had considerable value to him). So it seems that the Ursonate does have value (it is valued by at least some people), and God seems to have little to do with this.

          • Bethany

            I don’t see it necessarily as a problem for atheism per se, but I’ve read arguments that it *is* a problem for the view put forth by some of the New Atheists that we should never believe anything for which there is no scientific evidence.

            I occupy the nebulous space between Christianity and UU. The First Principle of UU is “The inherent worth and dignity of every person.”

            You don’t need to be a theist to believe that every human being has inherent worth and dignity — there are many atheist UUs — but I’m unaware of any scientific experiment demonstrating that humans have inherent worth and dignity and am having trouble imagining what empirical evidence for inherent worth and dignity would look like. So it seems like a statement that both theists and atheists must take on faith,

          • MattB

            Right. I’m not saying that in order to know right and wrong or to believe that morals exist, you need God. As a Christian, I believe that God has written his law on everyone’s heart so we can know it. My argument is that without God, there would be no moral standard by which right and wrong exist. On the atheist worldview, human beings have evolved this herd morality as a survival mechanism and hence, anything more or less is purely an illusion. Michael Ruse, an atheist philosopher of science says it best:

            “The position of the modern evolutionist … is that humans have an awareness of morality … because such an awareness is of biological worth. Morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth. … Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate that when somebody says, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. … Nevertheless, … such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction, … and any deeper meaning is illusory.”

          • “but I’m unaware of any scientific experiment demonstrating that humans have inherent worth and dignity and am having trouble imagining what empirical evidence for inherent worth and dignity would look like.”

            hmm, but you think it is true that humans have inherent worth? Why, if you can’t think of any evidence of this? This is an honest question, and I also think it is true that we have value, and I have a reason for this. Your usage of “take this on faith” seems to imply having no reason at all to believe it, but we do have reasons.

            Have you read my comments above regarding value?

  • Anonymous Coward

    Hallquist’s criticism quoted here is very disappointing, because it seems to mean he doesn’t know what a prior probability is! (This is really suprising coming from him!)

    Just given that description, the prior probability _is_ extremely low that the figure describes an actual person. (I’m papering over some technicalities here about reference class etc.)

    That does NOT mean it is probably not a description of an actual person, because we know _more_ than the prior probability of that statement.

    • David Evans

      How many mythological figures fit a description of that order? I’m guessing less than 9. Therefore, including Kim Jong-Il, at least one out of 10 persons fitting such a description is real, giving a prior probability of 0.1 or more. That’s not extremely low.

      • Anonymous Coward

        I am not sure where you’re coming from so let me make sure by clarifying something: Do you realize that what you just said is actually helpful for my point? If so, then I see now you were trying to help me out. If not, though, then I can explain why.

      • Anonymous Coward

        I am not completely sure whether you mean that to be a criticism of my point or further evidence toward my point. To clarify that, I’ll ask–are you aware that what you just said directly supports my point? If so, then thanks for pointing it out, if not, then I can explain why.

    • jjramsey

      Just given that description, the prior probability _is_ extremely low that the figure describes an actual person.

      The prior probability that the figure accurately describes an actual person is fairly low. However, the prior probability of it being a depiction of legends about an actual person isn’t particularly low at all.

      • Anonymous Coward

        Fair enough, but of course that only helps Carrier’s case, right?

        • jjramsey

          You claimed that “the prior probability _is_ extremely low that the figure describes an actual person,” but that wasn’t really true, because you conflated the low prior probability that the “figure” describes an actual person accurately with the far higher prior probability that it manages to describe an actual person at all, however poorly. As a result, you (and apparently Carrier as well) underestimated the prior probability drastically.

          • Anonymous Coward

            I was not talking about the probability that it describes an actual person accurately, I was talking about the probability that it refers to an actual person. If we’re basing our prior probability on the story, then the prior probability is what I called “extremely low.” You said “not particularly low.” Whatever. LOW, right?

            Even if you don’t grant that, the point is still moot–whatever the probability is when we’re just looking at that story, the _important_ question is what does the probability turn out to be after looking at _all_ the evidence. If Carrier’s method would have called the probabliity of this referring to an actual person low after looking at _all_ the evidence, then he’d have a problem. But of course, the method wouldn’t end up doing that.

            There’s no gotcha here just because it turns out there’s a real guy being referred to. Calling the prior probability (extremely or not) low doesn’t commit us to thinking there’s probably not an actual guy being referred to.

          • jjramsey

            I was not talking about the probability that it describes an actual person accurately, I was talking about the probability that it refers to an actual person.

            Ah, but the problem was that you acted as if the probability that it describes an actual person accurately was the same as the probability that it refers to an actual person — but in fact the two probabilities are vastly different. People doing miracles? The probability of that is extremely low. People telling tall tales about miracles? That probability isn’t particularly low at all.

            You said “not particularly low.” Whatever. LOW, right?

            Umm, “particularly” is not a negating adverb. You might as well have said, “You said not low.’ Whatever. LOW, right?” You need to read more carefully.

          • Anonymous Coward

            “Not particularly low” means low but not very low. It is sometimes used sarcastically to refer to things that are not low, but the literal meaning of the phrase is “low but not very low.”

            Concerning the larger point, I did not engage in the confusion you accuse me of, but I think I did misunderstand your point. (And my misunderstanding led me to say things that, given what you actually were trying to say, could lead you to think I was confused in the way you describe.)

            Now I think I understand you’re saying that since this is the one and only story in all the world that has all the events found within it, and it does refer to an actual person, we could, if taking “stories exactly like this one that refer to actual people” as our reference class, we come up with a prior probability of 1/1.

            That’s, of course, not a low probability at all.

            If that’s the point, though, it’s still not a good one. Go ahead and use that as your reference class, and then go through all the other relevant evidence and see what you come up with. It will, correctly, end up being very close to certain that KJI exists. No problem here, the method works, and Carrier is using the same method.

            So whatever the criticism is supposed to be, it doesn’t seem to hit the mark.

          • jjramsey

            Now I think I understand you’re saying that since this is the one and only story in all the world that has all the events found within it …

            Nope, that’s not even close to what I said, as should be clear from even a cursory reading of my previous comments.

          • Anonymous Coward

            ” the prior probability of it being a depiction of legends about an actual person isn’t particularly low at all.”

            And later:

            “People telling tall tales about miracles? That probability isn’t particularly low at all.”

            That’s what I’m referring to when I say “what you said.” What I’m trying to do is figure out why you think it’s true.

            It’d be true if what you mean is that, since there’s only one such story out there, and it refers to an actual person, the probability of such a story referring to an actual person is 1/1.

            That’s not what you mean, though?

            Well, what do you mean? I read and understand the quoted comments, but do not know what your basis is for making the statements. In that sense, I don’t know what you mean. I don’t know the sense in which you think these quoted claims are true.

            What’s the reference class you’re working from? Is it tall tales in general? Okay, out of all tall tales, how many refer to actual people and how many to non-actual people? I’m surprised if you know this (but you might!) and so I’m surprised if this is what you meant.

            Is it stories involving specifically doves at birth and weather anomolies? If so, again, what are the numbers? What are the facts that support your idea that the probability is not low? (And by not low do you mean over 50 percent or what?)

            Without having at least gestured toward some kind of explanation of the rationale for your claim, it’s hard to know even what your claim means–since for different reference classes, you’d mean a different thing by the claim.

            Do you understand what I’m saying here?

            Anyway, it’s all beside the point since it doesn’t matter what the prior probability is ultimately–as long as, end the end, you’ve taken all the evidence into account in calculating the actual probability. Theres’ no valid gotcha here that I can see.

          • jjramsey

            “the prior probability of it being a depiction of legends about an actual person isn’t particularly low at all.”

            And later:

            “People telling tall tales about miracles? That probability isn’t particularly low at all.”

            That’s what I’m referring to when I say “what you said.” What I’m trying to do is figure out why you think it’s true.

            Why I think it’s true? Because, for example we have legends about divine paternity about people who really existed, such as Alexander the Great and Augustus Caesar. Because even relatively recently, we have tall tales told about Daniel Boone and Davy Crocket. Because we have no shortage of stories about ancient miracles and even have a fair number of modern miracle stories. People can and do make up fantastic stories, and have for generations, and many of them are told about real people.

  • Chuck Haberl

    I have to wonder whether that the quote with which Rosson leads is really reflective of the work from which it was extracted, because when I see scholars (mis-/ab-)using statistics in that manner, I want to tear my hair out.

  • 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.

    That isn’t what Rosson says that Carrier says. According to Rosson, Carrier’s view is that Gal 1:19 “is ‘the only real evidence’ historicists have from Paul’s letters.” (emphasis added) Do you see the difference?

    • Well, if it helps you, I will rephrase what I wrote for your benefit: “if Carrier actually says that he thinks the reference to James is the “only real evidence” in Paul’s letters 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.”

      • I don’t know that it helps me, but I’m pretty sure that it doesn’t help you. I don’t see why anyone would be disappointed by Carrier pointing out the significance of Galatians 1:19 when it comes to the question of Paul’s understanding of the historical Jesus. It is clearly a key verse.

      • MattB

        Carrier says something interesting here on his blog,yesterday. He himself agrees that mythicism as a theory, isn’t compelling enough because it doesn’t have “gun-smoking” evidence to support it. In fact, he even claims that Christianity didn’t start like Roswell. This is interesting because it seems like in his debates/books that he tries to make this kind of analogy that myth and legend rapidly took over narrative involving Roswell, as it supposedly(according to Carrier) did to Jesus.

        Link(If you’re interested): http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/6084

    • Scott P.

      Carrier also says Paul’s letters are the only real evidence historicists have. He dismisses the Gospels and the references in Josephus and Tacitus entirely.

      • MattB

        And that’s where he goes wrong.

  • Ed

    I like Carrier. He seems an affable and intelligent guy. I’m not a scholar, but I have followed this debate between the minimalist and the mythicist views of Jesus for quite some time now. I think there are a couple of things that I think if know and have observed during this debate. #1 I don’t know. #2 No one else does either. That said, perhaps I am speaking intuitively when I say that I have yet to read a mythicist argument that doesn’t seem to be reaching a bit to far in their conclusion.

    • MattB

      Just to be fair, there isn’t a debate regarding the existence of Jesus. However, I agree with you that mythicists make some very bizarre conclusions.

  • Bethany

    So I haven’t read Carrier’s book (and don’t plan to) but the roadbump I’m reaching in trying to apply Bayes’ Theorem to this question is how you determine the prior probability of any given person existing. I mean, the probability of any particular combination of DNA occuring is pretty small, yet here we all are.

    The most obvious thing seems to me to be starting with how common wandering Jewish preachers were in 1st century Palestine and making an estimate from there, but I get the impression that wandering Jewish preachers weren’t uncommon in 1st century Palestine, so that’s not going to get Carrier where he wants to go.

    I’m not a mathematician, nor do I play one on TV, but saying the prior of Jesus existing is low because the stories about him resemble stories about some people who didn’t exist strikes me as confusing the priors with the conditional probability given the evidence. In other words, that seems more relevant to determining P(Evidence | Jesus Existed) and P (Evidence | Jesus Didn’t Exist) than it does to P(Jesus Existed).

    • Bethany

      But then I’ve always been confused about how mythicsm was supposed to work in the first place. (Caveat: again, haven’t read the books, don’t plan to, have better things to read with my time!) I mean, we know from Paul’s letters that there was a Christian community dating from a few years from Jesus’ (alleged) death. It’s one thing to create a legendary figure that lived centuries of year ago in another country, but one that lived a few years ago, locally? Not impossible, but a lot harder to do. And what incentive would the early Christians have had to concoct this whole tale? It’s not like Peter, Paul, and James got rich and powerful off of Christianity — on the contrary, they all ended up dead.

      • Scott P.

        The other issue is, that if every (or nearly every) Christian in AD 40 thought Jesus was a celestial being only, how did the religion develop so that by AD 200 (or whenever), 100% felt the opposite? A billion heresies, and not one that saw Jesus as entirely spiritual, despite that being the origin of the entire faith?

        • Mythicists will often pretend that docetism is evidence for what they envisage, ignoring the fact that docetism was still about a Jesus who appeared in history, but who supposedly was incapable of suffering and dying because he was divine.

        • Philo of Tasmania

          The sect was a mystery religion, it euhemerized the celestial Jesus for it’s initiates only later did they get to learn the truth. With all the upheavals of famine and the crushing war of 66-70CE one off shoot sect, for whatever reason became totally historicist, grew to become dominant, kept only the texts covenient to them and the rest, as they say is history!

          • Avenger

            the rest, as they say is history!

            I don’t know whether the rest is history, but that certainly isn’t.

          • Philo of Tasmania

            You need not be so certain as the famine of the late 40’s certainly did happen, the war of 66, yes well that happened too, Christians forging & deleting texts? No! Yep ‘fraid so! I think what you were trying to say in your own, lethargic, ” I know the answer already” kind of way is that, Christianity was not a mystery religion. So now that you’re not so certain maybe you could enlighten me?

          • Avenger

            With all the upheavals of famine and the crushing war of 66-70CE one off shoot sect, for whatever reason became totally historicist

            Philo, saying that this is accurate history is like saying that a heavily photoshopped picture of a model is an accurate portrayal because the backdrop hasn’t been tampered with.

    • “So I haven’t read Carrier’s book (and don’t plan to) but the roadbump
      I’m reaching in trying to apply Bayes’ Theorem to this question is how
      you determine the prior probability of any given person existing.”

      His books are exactly where you can be educated on such a thing.

      • Bethany

        Maybe, but the excerpts I’ve seen and the comments in the reviews that have linked here makes me wonder how well Carrier actually understands Bayes’ theorem. Also, I don’t want to have to sift through all the mythicist stuff to get to it, and certainly don’t want to support it financially by buying a book. 🙂

    • Anonymous Coward

      Carrier’s method is to use all the evidence he musters in the book (which he claims is exhaustive enough, but which he of course also acknowledges could well be added to by other scholars in ways that may change the probabilities) to determine P(Evidence | Jesus Existed) and P(Evidence | Jesus Didn’t Exist).

      He then uses these Ps, together with a prior probability, to calculate a P(Jesus Existed).

      • Bethany

        By P(Jesus Existed) I mean the prior probability. P(Jesus Existed | Evidence) would the posterior probability.

        • Anonymous Coward

          Sorry, I meant P(Jesus Existed|Evidence).

          I don’t understand your objection. What would you say is the difference between that which is relevant to determining the prior probability and that which is relevant to determining the conditional probability given the evidence?

          It seems to me the distinction is (psychologically and rhetorically meaningful but) ultimately arbitrary–any piece of evidence at all could be used as the starting place (“prior probability”). If he hadn’t used the resemblance-to-stories as his prior, that resemblance would have had to go into the conditional probabilities anyway–and one of the bits that had gone into _that_ would have had to be treated as the prior.

          Or not?

          • Bethany

            But that’s the whole point of Bayes’ Theorem in this context. You have a prior probability, you get a piece of evidence, you want to update the probability based on the evidence. If all the evidence has already somehow been incorporated into the prior, there’s nothing left for Bayes’ Theorem to work on.

          • Guest

            The evidence isn’t all incorporated (in Carrier’s book or in my post) into the prior. I said you can have your pick of some _individual_ bit of evidence to use as the prior. Then everything else into the… whatchamcallit, the not-prior stuff.

          • Bethany

            I’m not claiming to be a Bayes’ Theory expert, I just have some knowledge about it and quite a bit of experience teaching it to undergrads. 🙂

            That said, consider this example, a common example that I use when I’m teaching Bayes’ Theorem.

            Suppose someone has gotten a positive HIV test and they want to know the probability that they are infected with HIV. Here the positive test is the evidence and probability that they’re infected with HIV given the test results is the posterior probability, P(HIV+|positive test).

            So to start, you need the prior probability, the probability he was positive before the HIV test, P(HIV+). That’s going to involve determining some sort of reference class. Obviously, that’s a judgement call, but it seems reasonable that the reference class should take into account major risk factors for HIV infection, like IV drug use or (for men) having sex with other men (MSM). So, if the person we’re testing is an American man who doesn’t use IV drugs, if isn’t an MSM we’d use the base rate of HIV infection in non-MSM non-IV-drug-using American men, if he is an MSM we’d use the base rate of HIV infection in MSM non-IV-drug-using American men.

            Now you’re right, in that case we’re incorporating the information about sexual practices in the prior. We could take it a step back, use the base rate for all non-IV-drug-using American men regardless of sexual orientation as our prior, use this individual’s sexual orientation as evidence, and then use Bayes’ Theorem to update. But if we already have a pretty good idea about the base rate of HIV infection in men who do or don’t have sex with other men, there’s no point in doing this step.

            So to answer some of your points above:

            “It seems to me the distinction is (psychologically and rhetorically meaningful but) ultimately arbitrary”

            I wouldn’t say that. To incorporate a piece of evidence into the prior, we have to already know (or at least have reasonable grounds to make assumptions) about what effect that evidence has on the probability.

            I’m really not sure what evidence Carrier is incorporating into the prior (and like I said, I don’t care to read the book) but I find the idea that we pretty much already know how the extent to which stories about a guy look similar to stories told about other people effects the probability he existed, that we can just rattle off P(X existed | stories told about X sound similar to other people’s) without much further analysis. I have problems with this notion. Besides the whole question of “what exactly constitutes similarity” it means you need to be able to look at the whole reference class of “people about whom stories like this are told” and estimate what percentage of them actually existed… but that’s precisely the problem we’re trying to solve.

            Another way of putting it: putting “this kind of story” directly into the prior means we need to already be able to look at the stories and have a feel for what percentage of the stories are based on a real person that existed.

            To be perfectly honest, I’m skeptical that “story resembles other stories” has any bearing on the question of whether the stories are inspired by a real person at all. When we’re telling stories we tend to fit them into certain schemas we’re culturally familiar with, regardless of whether the stories originated in fact or are completely imaginary.

            “If he hadn’t used the resemblance-to-stories as his prior, that resemblance would have had to go into the conditional probabilities anyway–and one of the bits that had gone into _that_ would have had to be treated as the prior.”

            No. For example, if we hadn’t used whether our subject had sex with men in the prior, that doesn’t mean we would have had to use his test results in the prior. It means that we’d have done Bayes’ Theorem twice: once with neither MSM nor the test results included in the prior, and MSM as the evidence, then we’d use that result as the prior with the test results as the evidence.

    • Philo of Tasmania

      I don’t even get how you can apply math to the study of history so I skipped all those bits but still found his book interesting and persuasive. You are definitely selling yourself short by not even bothering to read his book.

  • Anonymous

    These reviews were surprisingly positive, also as a side point, didn’t Ehrman also at one point say the best evidence for the historicist position was the James issue (I might be wrong on this)?

  • MattB

    Carrier says:

    “When we approach the Epistles of Paul we must look at each passage with the assumption that mythicism is true and then estimate how likely it would be that the passage would look like that. And then look at that same passage with the assumption that historicity is true and do the same. The latter probability may even be high. But is it as high as the probability on mythicism? (Or higher?) That’s the only question that logically matters?” (p 514)

    This is something that Dr. Crook, in his debate with Carrier, addressed by saying that if you approach the text w/your pre-conceived ideas about what it says then your conclusion will be your assumption. Carrier’s assumption is that Jesus never existed, so of course he’s going to deny anything about what Paul’s epistles say as “historical”. Crook made the good point in the debate to approach the text open-minded, which is something that historians and scholars do. I wonder why Carrier constantly undermines his own arguments and claims. We don’t see historicists do that(Virtually Everybody).

    • Anonymous Coward

      Matt, can you please summarize the quote you offered from Carrier above? I want to know what you think it means. Your response seems like a complete nonsequiter to me, but maybe we’re reading your quoted passage differently.

      • MattB

        Perhaps I misread what he said. Carrier means we should assume mythicism true and then measure the probability of mythicism via the text and the same with historicsm via the text.

        The problem with Carrier is that he wants to assert that mythcism is more probable than historicsm but that doesn’t seem to be the case, especially when one looks at Paul’s epistles.

  • EmmaZunz

    Re the James verse in Galatians, the entirety of chapters 1 and 2 are IMO highly suspect anyway as to authenticity. They have pretty obviously been the targets of a propagandistic edit-war probably between Marcionites and the Catholic Church concerning whether Paul was an independent apostle or subordinate to the Jerusalem Church. We know that from Tertullian’s tirade against Marcion. If we had nothing else, merely the fact that the very next line reads “(In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!)” would set alarm-bells ringing! Plus we also know that parts of our text were not in Irenaeus’ Latin Galatians. I think it most likely the “brother” verse is a late Catholic interpolation, referencing biological brotherhood, later indeed than the spurious canonical Epistle of James which makes no reference to the putative author’s fraternity with Jesus.

    • If you are happy to treat as an interpolation anything that contradicts your assumptions, then no evidence will ever be able to change your mind. Seems a very dangerous approach to take.

      If you think the addition of biological brothers could be a late Catholic interpolation, then you clearly need to learn more about the Catholic Church. Although perhaps all the evidence from Catholic theologians that I have in mind are themselves tampered with…how far down does this conspiracy rabbit hole go?

      • EmmaZunz

        I am happy to keep my mind open to the possibility of interpolation because the texts are riddled with polemic, forgery, manuscript differences, etc.. In fact, there is an entire manuscript tradition of the epistolary canon belonging to a widespread and successful church, that is yet inextant except in quotations by hostile polemicists, namely Marcion’s Apostolikon. Is an open mind about textual manipulations dangerous or a necessary precaution?

        Do you really believe that the Proto-Catholic Church circa 120-160 (the central period I would propose for anti-Marcionite edit-wars) was strongly opposed to Jesus having biological brothers? Hegesippus (died circa 180), for example, has no problem with James being the brother of the Lord. Why does this orthodox, Catholic, anti-Marcionite writer of the period in question say, “There still survived of the kindred of the Lord the grandsons of Judas, who
        according to the flesh was called his brother”, if there is orthodox resistance to such a claim?

        • Right, so we only know what Hegesippus is supposed to have written through quotations from others writing still later, but that you will rely on without question because you think it supports what you are trying to conclude. Can you not see the problem? Can you not see that this is apologetics and not scholarship that you are imitating?

          It seems to me much more likely that the New Testament evidence and other subsequent sources show that Jesus had siblings, and when the church later moved away from that viewpoint, they did not simply alter the texts that were difficult for their viewpoint, but found ways to reinterpret them.

          Your conspiracy theory approach is simply not plausible, not only because it doesn’t fit the evidence we do have, but because it allows you to posit that the evidence we have is attempting to cover something up, and that something can be whatever you imagine. That is how conspiracy theories operate, and they are best avoided.

          • EmmaZunz

            You seem to have claimed that anti-Marcionite Catholics circa 120-160 would have a problem with Jesus having brothers. Please present evidence for that.

            Then you implied that Hegesippus’ discussion of Jesus’ brothers, which seemingly dates from that era and is a counter-example to your claim, might be unreliable. In other words, you proposed interpolation/editing of Hegesippus by his citers in such a way as to protect your position, despite a lack of evidence. Have you not thereby committed the sin you accuse me of?

            More importantly, if the Galatians verses are authentic, then why does the writer declaim, “In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!”? Can you indicate what controversial or novel idea you think the author is introducing at 1:18-19 that would warrant such an outburst of self-justification, if it is not the new claim that Paul visited the Jerusalem Pillars early in his career?

            Why do you think Irenaeus lacked the word “again” in the verse referring to the second visit to Jerusalem in his version of Galatians at 2:1, if it were not that the word “again” were added at the same time as the first visit to Jerusalem?

            Edit: I might enlist Tertullian on my side as at the least a non-witness to the non-verses I claim did not originally exist. In “Against Marcion” book 5, chapter 3, he says of Paul, “So he writes that after fourteen years he went up to Jerusalem, to seek the support of Peter and the rest of the apostles…” but makes no mention of the dubious prior visit.

          • I take it that you have never read a commentary on Galatians, that might help you to understand it? From the very first words, Paul is seeking to assert the independence of his own authority from that of the Jerusalem “pillars.”

            Your conspiracy theory approach is extremely dubious. Supposedly the church rewrote the texts so extensively that everyone but a small number of observers sitting in their armchairs reading websites have, through their superior intellect, managed to see the truth. I don’t buy it.

          • EmmaZunz

            Yes, the original has Paul asserting independence, although I am suggesting it has been interpolated to subordinate Paul to the Jerusalem Church. This would have been done to reclaim Paul from the Marcionites. We know Marcionite editions of the Pauline epistles existed, that have not survived, so it’s hardly a leap to propose this verse as a variant. As Marcion believed Jesus descended in adult form, his Apostolikon would hardly have featured any brother James.

            I am suggesting something along the lines of Tyson’s theories about the importance of the response to Marcion as a catalyst for the creation of the Catholic version of the NT writings.

            I am finding your responses tetchy and personal. You are not responding to my points and questions. I hope you will read and think about more radical approaches to both Jesus and Paul questions though.

          • If I seem tetchy, it is because you haven’t explained why you choose to trust later sources but be skeptical of our earliest ones with no apparent guiding principle other than what allows you to draw the “conclusions” that you wish to. Being “radical” is fine, but ignoring the evidence we have, and inserting in their place what you think might have been in sources we do not, may be “radical” but it isn’t persuasive scholarship, if it is scholarship at all.

          • LordSteel

            The idea is that because there are plausible reasons to think it might be an interpolation, we’re not justified in assuming it’s original. It is not a matter of choosing to trust this or that, it is a matter of realizing how much we don’t know.

          • There are lots of things that we do not know, but historians must work with the evidence we have and seek to discern what is probable given that evidence. It is always possible that our surviving evidence has been tampered with, and historians and textual scholars look carefully at the texts to see where there are signs of that. In some cases there are clear signs of interpolation. In others, it is merely a possibility. And in some instances, some people are happy to insist that there was an interpolation despite there being no evidence. If you wish to provide evidence that persuades you that something was interpolated, please do so. But the mere possibility of it is not enough. Historians do not refrain from drawing probabilistic conclusions because of the ever-existent possibility that evidence we do not have could require us to rethink our conclusions. When such evidence is found, we rethink our conclusions – until then, we draw the best conclusions we have given the evidence we have.

          • EmmaZunz

            This is why I have tried to explain why the assumption in favour of authenticity is improper in the case of a highly polemical environment of rival churches where a whole edition of the texts has been lost. The prior possibility of forgery is in this case so wide, that you need arguments for authenticity just as urgently as arguments for interpolation.

          • Not at all. The evidence from our earliest manuscripts of Paul’s letters and of the Gospel of Luke have the identity between the God of Jesus and the Jewish God so integral to their very fabric that, unless you are going to posit that the imagined Marcionite originals were radically different from what we now have, and offer some explanation of how all trace of them was made to disappear so effectively, then you aren’t offering something that is plausible, much less something that can be considered more probable than the consensus conclusion of mainstream historians.

          • EmmaZunz

            Well, that wasn’t how Marcion felt when he wrote his “Antitheses”.

            If the NT texts have been heavily edited, then you would expect the Catholic Church to have removed the most egregiously dualistic verses and reinterpreted others.

            But such a verse as this one seems to be dualistic: “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the GOD OF THIS WORLD has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
            2 Cor 4:4

            Maybe it is dualism that survived the editor by reinterpretation as a reference to Satan, or maybe that is what it always meant.

            I’m not going to get into an entire presentation here and now of the evidence for dualism and Gnosticism in the epistles though. Robert Price has attempted it at length in “Colossal Apostle” and perhaps you could review that book, if you haven’t already.

            Thank you for your responses. I’m going to devote myself to watching the football now.

            P.S. I love Doherty’s book and I think he is a visionary scholar. Each to his own!

          • There is no particular reason to view ‘god of this world’ as dualistic except in the sense that Jewish apocalyptic is dualistic, and yet still claims to be monotheistic.

            If you think that Doherty is a scholar, I cannot imagine how you got that impression. I will grant that he is a visionary, but visionaries are not always right, and Doherty’s vision simply doesn’t fit the evidence.

          • Herro

            >…and offer some explanation of how all trace of them was made to disappear so effectively,

            All traces of what? The Marcionite originals? :l

          • According to Ehrman, we can’t know what happened during the first 150 years of the transmission or Galatians. That Paul’s original words made it through unscathed is no less a mere possibility than that an alteration to the text was made.

          • I know of no one other than some religious fundamentalists who suggest that Paul’s original words made it through unscathed. That doesn’t justify positing that he wrote something completely different which was replaced by something with a totally different meaning, while leaving no trace on the extant manuscript tradition.

            This is not the either/or that fundamentalists posit. We have good reason to conclude that no text when copied is left unscathed, but also have equally good reason to believe that the copies we have reflect the meaning of what Paul wrote in most places.

            Presumably you understood that from reading Ehrman.

          • LordSteel

            “That doesn’t justify positing that he wrote something completely different which was replaced by something with a totally different meaning…”

            Who posited that on the basis you named? What was posited on that basis was the claim that we can’t confidently think we know what was in the original. It would be wrong to posit, as an assumption in an argument, that the original text said what it says today. Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t.

          • We can be as confident as it is appropriate to be given the evidence of our extant manuscripts. It is always possible to take a conspiracy theory approach and propose that the text was radically altered, but without evidence of that, we should believe that it was copied about as well as it was subsequently copied, and as well as other texts were copied over that same period where we have such to provide a basis for comparison.

          • Why would we believe that? Isn’t the mainstream consensus of textual critics that the earliest copies were more likely to be made by untrained copyists and that the highest rate of variants is likely to have occurred during the period for which we have no manuscript evidence?

          • Frankly, I don’t find Ehrman to be so clear when it comes to the implications of the gap in our knowledge. I find “reflect[ing] the meaning of what Paul wrote in most places” to be rather vague, too.

            Like Emma Zunz, I cannot see why we shouldn’t expect arguments for authenticity as well as arguments for interpolations. If a passage is corroborated by similar passages in different letters, we can have greater confidence that it expresses Paul’s original idea as the probability of multiple letters being altered in a specific way is lower that the odds of a single letter being altered. However, any passage that is uncorroborated by other passages is necessarily less secure as is any conclusion based upon the passage.

            When assessing the authenticity of sayings or incidents from the gospels, scholars consider the purpose that the story might have served for later Christians, such as having Jesus’ born in Bethlehem to fulfill a prophecy. That usually seems to be enough to push a story into the “uncertain” category, even when it doesn’t warrant dismissing it as unhistorical. By the same token, if a passage in Paul is uncorroborated and we can see the purpose someone might have had for inventing, it necessarily makes it less secure.

          • EmmaZunz

            In fact, I have made several supporting points in this thread, in re:
            i) Irenaeus;
            ii) Tertullian;
            iii) “before God, I do not lie!”
            iv) motivation for the verses’ absence in Marcionite versions and potential insertion in Catholic ones.

            I have shown a textual possibility that Irenaeus and even perhaps Tertullian did not know the verses in question. I have doubted the protest of honesty and requested you to give an alternative explanation for it. I have described a sitz-in-Leben for the hypothetical interpolation.

            I also provided a counter-example to your suggestion that Catholics would have refused to make an interpolation promoting the existence of Jesus’ brothers, by providing evidence, albeit second-hand, from Hegesippus. By your own standards, you will need to provide reasons for doubting the reliability of Eusebius’ citation of Hegesippus. You might also tell us why you think such early Catholics had widely taken against the idea of Jesus having brothers.

            Fundamentally, I think you need to appreciate that, dealing as we are with a text that was deeply engaged in the Marcionite-Catholic strife that birthed the NT canon, there can be no assumption of authenticity. Remember that an entire edition of the NT has been lost, except for discussions by hostile polemicists. Of course this edition contained many and serious variations, and there may well be more of them than can be proven with great certainty. Where there are clues from textual witnesses, a warning-flag in the text itself, and plausible motivation, I think a prima facie case is made, if not proven.

            I wonder if you have read the work of Tyson on Marcion, or of Detering, and recently Price, on the Historical Paul? When you come to see texts like Galatians as central to the heated polemic between rival churches, and appreciate the depths of dishonesty to which Catholic leaders and scribes were prepared to sink in order to win, you will be more willing to entertain the possibility of scriptural manipulation. I, for one, have no trust left in the texts on which to base an assumption of authenticity.

            This is why I propose interpolation as an alternative hypothesis for explaining the “James, brother” phrase. Not because it can be proven, but because it is an alternative worth considering.

          • You mentioned some possibilities. You did not make a case for them. You are assuming that I doubt the testimony of Eusebius and others. I don’t particularly, especially given that, by their time, they would have had reasons to downplay Jesus having had biological brothers. That very fact makes your suggestion that we go in a relatively short space of time from a celestial Jesus to a Jesus with invented brothers to an attempt to reinterpret the brothers as something else seems far-fetched, especially as you have made no attempt to provide a case for why anyone should accept this scenario as more likely than what mainstream secular historians now think.

            Views like yours have come up before on this blog. If you have no additional evidence to offer for your position, then feel free to explore possibilities all you like, but don’t expect them to be judged probable by historians. Historical possibilities are a dime a dozen.

          • EmmaZunz

            Well, I am sure you have read Earl Doherty and Richard Carrier on precisely this issue. If you don’t consider them to have provided much evidence, then that is your call. If you don’t think 100 years is enough time for two changes in ideas, then you are probably not being imaginative enough.

          • I take it then that you have not read my previous posts here about Earl Doherty’s and Richard Carrier’s views? I began blogging through Doherty’s book, and it is so painfully bad, and his fans so unwilling to accept even the slightest criticism, that I didn’t bother continuing the series. I’d encourage you to read it.


      • Philo of Tasmania

        What? Catholics never interpolated new material into their texts to suit what they believed?

        • We have evidence of interpolation, and evidence of things being left as they are even though interpolation or replacement would be useful. When a text is examined using historical critical methods, one avoids simply positing interpolations merely to get the text to say what one wants it to. One can make a case for interpolation, but one cannot simply assume it.

  • I particularly appreciated this from Rosson:

    Nor is it a crackpot theory that Jesus began as an apostolic fantasy until historicized 40 years later. Especially if you . . . allow that the meager amount of early evidence — Paul’s eight letters, possibly Hebrews — evince high Christology and do little to hint at an historical Jesus. I believe Paul does this more than Carrier grants, but not so as to leave me supremely confident.

    Personally, I find Paul’s hints more ambiguous than Rosson does.

  • redpill99

    I’ve not read his book nor do I plan to. But how does Carrier and other mythicists deal with Ehrman’s claim that no Jews prior to Christianity predicted a messiah who would be crucified? That preaching a crucified messiah is like claiming David Koresh or Timothy McVeigh is the messiah? therefore the most likely explanation is historicity.

    • If you can believe it, some mythicists actually read later works back in the time in question, accepting the later Christian attempts to show that Isaiah 53 and other texts predicted a crucified Messiah!

      • EmmaZunz

        I think you’d be better off hearing from the horse’s mouth:

        • redpill99

          I don’t see Carrier address the issue as stated by Bart Ehrman.

          • EmmaZunz

            Well the simple answer as to why “no Jews prior to Christianity predicted a messiah who would be crucified” is that Christianity was a new idea!

            A bunch of ppl started reading Isaiah, Psalms, etc. in a new way, had some visions, and the rest is history. I’m sure ppl have written about how the Suffering Servant idea approached the Messiah idea though.

          • OK, but you like most mythicists seem not to be even trying to do justice to the fact that the Davidic anointed one was someone expected to restore the dynasty of David to the throne. Just saying that a group emerged that said the rightful heir to the throne was someone who had been crucified by the Romans, because people sometimes have new ideas, is not adequate.

          • Have historians accurately identified all the cultural antecedents to Mormonism? The Mormons would say they haven’t and offer that as proof that Joseph Smith really got the Golden Plates from the Angel Moroni. Personally, I don’t think the fact that I cannot definitively show where the ideas came from tells me anything about the historical reality behind Smith’s stories.

            I suspect that every new religion subverts cultural expectations in some way. In first century Palestine, Jews praying for God to liberate them repeatedly saw their hopes crushed by the Romans. All that was needed was one Jew searching the scriptures to come up with the idea that it was really God’s plan to have his servant crushed before vindicating him. Even if there was a historical Jesus, someone still had to come up with that idea.

            We cannot possibly know that no Jew ever came up with the idea of a suffering Messiah prior to Christianity, nor can we know that an actual historical Jesus is a necessary antecedent to coming up with the idea. We simply don’t have the kind of data that would enable us to make that kind of determination.

          • Scholars of religion can and have spelled out the antecedents to Mormonism. The point is not that we can know that no one ever did or could come up with a notion equivalent to trying to persuade their fellow Americans that an executed criminal is the rightful president who is the one to restore the Kennedy family to the Oval Office. But it is certainly more probable that such a view arose as a way of persisting in faith in a historical individual, than that it arose merely by someone concocting ideas.

          • How do you justify an assessment of “certainly more probable”? Do we actually have sufficient understanding of how such ideas arise and the kinds of people that come up with them that we can say what the necessary antecedents are? Do we really have sufficient understanding of what every first century Jew in every first century sect thought that we can eliminate the possibility of the idea of a suffering messiah ever occurring to anyone.

            I think that the idea of a historical Jesus is entirely plausible, but that doesn’t make it very probable any more than the fact that it is plausible that Jesus introduced “Abba” into the Christian vocabulary makes it “very probable” or “almost certain” that he did.

          • That sleight of hand is so subtle, I bet it fools quite a few people. But the existence of sources which say things that are radically different than the ones we have is itself a mere possibility, which cannot be excluded but neither should it be assumed to be probable. And so we should and do assess historical probabilities using the evidence we have, not the evidence that we could theoretically have.

          • Let’s not forget that the sources we have say that the belief in a crucified messiah arose from Jesus of Nazareth literally rising from the dead and appearing physically to his followers. The whole enterprise of trying to determine the actual events that might have led to the development of such stories necessarily involves a great deal of speculation and conjecture, if not sleight of hand.

            However, what I am saying doesn’t invoke the existence of any sources beyond what we have. I am simply pointing out that the sources we have are insufficient to determine the likelihood that some first century Jew might make the connection between the suffering servant in Isaiah and the Davidic anointed one without having been the follower of a specific first century messianic claimant, particularly given the number of devout Jews who must have been searching their scriptures in an effort to understand why their God was not delivering them from their tribulations. Our sources might not tell us that anyone had yet made the connection—although they are nowhere near exhaustive enough to assert as fact that no one had—but they do not tell us what the necessary preconditions are to someone coming up with an idea like that. Those are psychological and sociological questions to which answers have not been established.

            I agree that historians are constrained by the available evidence, but they are also constrained by the quality of that evidence. If the evidence of what Jesus said is anonymous religious propaganda based on unknown sources removed an unknown number of times from anyone who might or might not have had any first hand knowledge, it is absurd to express a high degree of confidence in any saying just because we lack comparably unreliable sources that depict him saying something else.

            Part of assessing historical probabilities has to be considering the uncertainties created by the pieces of the puzzle that are missing. If it weren’t, then there would be no need for historians to look for evidence to corroborate their conclusions because one data point would be just as good as ten as long as there was no contradictory evidence available. But ten data points are better than one because they make the possibility of missing contradictory evidence less probable. Moreover, ten independent data points are better than ten data points that come from the related sources as they further reduce the likelihood of missing contradictory evidence.

          • Do you have any particular reason for thinking that Isaiah 53 shaped our earliest writings about Jesus, much less that they were the inspiration for them?

            Given that all the texts that we have make clear what the expectation for the restoration of the Davidic dynasty was, and we can see more generally that dynasty restorers are expected to actually restore dynasties rather than being killed by those they would need to supplant in order to take the throne, why would one posit imaginary sources that suggest otherwise, other than a desire to draw conclusions at odds with the historical evidence?

          • What imaginary source do you think I am positing?

          • The sources which, although we do not have them, might in theory contradict the ones we have, and so ought to hinder us from considering conclusions based on our extant sources probable.

          • At the risk of repeating myself, which I know you hate, I am not positing any sources other than the ones we have because the issue I am raising is whether the sources we have are sufficient to establish the probability of the conclusions you are drawing. My uncertainty about whether Jesus used the word “Abba” has nothing to do with the possibility of finding a source that says he didn’t.

          • We were talking about the unlikelihood of someone inventing a crucified Davidic messiah and then trying to convince other Jews that he was the one they were hoping for. You said that we couldn’t be confident because even though our extant sources may be clear, we don’t know what other sources may have said.

          • I am not positing any other sources on that question either. I don’t need any other sources to know that the sources I have don’t support a generalization to what every first century Jew thought about the messiah or to what ideas every first century Jew might have been capable of inventing.

            However, since I know what we are discussing, let me pose my questions again: Do we actually have sufficient understanding of how such ideas arise and the kinds of people that come up with them that we can say what the necessary antecedents are? Do we really have sufficient understanding of what every first century Jew in every first century sect thought that we can eliminate the possibility of the idea of a suffering messiah ever occurring to anyone?.

          • You are doing exactly what I was talking about. If all the evidence we have points in a particular direction, why do we have to exclude the possibility that evidence we do not have might point in a different direction? How could any historian ever do that about anything? When dealing with ancient times in particular, but even more recently, we never have all the evidence we could possibly have had.

          • You only need to exclude the possibility if you are going to claim that the possibility is excluded. It would of course be impossible to exclude the possibility that no first century Jew imagined the idea of a messiah that suffered for the sins of his people. Therefore, it would be foolish for a historian to claim that this was impossible.

            What the historian can do is express appropriate degrees of certainty about his conclusions based on the quantity and quality of evidence that he has pointing in a particular direction, regardless of the lack of evidence pointing in any other. We may not be able to absolutely exclude the possibility that Abraham Lincoln didn’t write “four score and seven years ago” in the Gettysburg Address, but we have enough evidence that we can assess the probability that he didn’t as remotely small. On the other hand, the evidence we have that Paul actually wrote “the brother of the Lord” is much lower in both quantity and quality. We can’t treat it with the same degree of certainty as we can the Lincoln quote even though, in both cases all the evidence points in the same direction.

            As far as I can see, “all the evidence we have points in one direction” is rhetorical misdirection intended to sidestep the question of the quality and quantity of the evidence. It is the kind of argument that apologists routinely make. All the evidence we have may point to Jesus being born in Bethlehem, but that isn’t a very good reason for thinking he was. We don’t need to imagine a hypothetical source that puts his birth somewhere else to see the problems.

          • All the evidence we have does not point to Jesus having been born in Bethlehem.

          • So what? How does that respond to any point that I made in that comment? You might have noticed that I said “[a]ll the evidence we have may point to Jesus being born in Bethlehem.” The point was that we can recognize the problems with the evidence that says he did regardless of whether we have a source that tells us something different.

          • MattB

            We don’t have to have every single sect from the first-century to know that the idea of a suffering messiah was unheard of. We don’t have to have every fossil in the world to show that evolution happened. Pointing to gaps in our knowledge or limitations on certain things isn’t proof that the experts are wrong. If that were the case, then everything we know in reality would be wrong or we would have to cast doubt on.

          • Apples and oranges. You obviously need a lot more evidence to exclude an idea as impossible than you need to establish what was generally believed.

            What percentage of the population is represented by the sects we know? How much variation was there among those sects? There are ways to make intelligent probabilistic statements about the uniformity of beliefs. If the experts are not taking the limitations in the available information into account when expressing certainty about their conclusions, we have good reason to doubt what they are doing.

            The fact that I am skeptical that anything can be known with certainty about a first century itinerant preacher who had little impact during his life outside a small group of illiterate peasant followers doesn’t mean that I can’t have a reasonable degree of certainty about emperors and generals and politicians who were widely enough known during their lives that their activities were chronicled by their contemporaries. The notion that questioning the existence of a historical Jesus necessitates tossing out all ancient history is nonsense.

          • MattB

            Vinny, I don’t know what other evidence historians would need to show that a historical figure named Jesus existed. It seems that if the evidence doesn’t meet your subjective standard then it isn’t good enough. I don’t know why you cry foul at historians and scholars of Jesus, but not to anybody else in the first century. Why then do you believe Pontius Pilate existed? We have little to no artifacts that bear his name or mention him, and yet he was a Roman Governor at the time of Jesus. Given your argument, we must rule out his existence. We would have to deny many messianic claimants from the first century or other figures because there is scant contemporary evidence. But no historian would do that because that’s nonsense. Why should we expect to have contemporary records of someone who was from a backwater town that preached in tiny villages and towns?

            Historians know the expectations of the coming Messiah because it’s well documented. All the major sects that wrote about the expectations of the Messiah showed that he would be like King David who would in essence overthrow Israel’s enemies and establish God’s kingdom on earth. Why then invent a crucified messiah who didn’t overthrow Israel’s enemies but instead was executed by them? Even if there were sects that thought of a crucified messiah, what makes you think they influenced the gospel writers to make up such a story, or anybody else for that matter? Even the Romans didn’t crucify their own people(Unless for Treason) because it was such a shameful act. Every Jew knew what it meant when someone was crucified. Deuteronomy 21:22-23, Shows that someone who was hanged or put death was obviously a criminal who was accursed by God. It only makes sense to say that a there was a real Jesus who was executed by the Romans.

          • Did you even read my argument Matt? I argued that there was a difference between Jesus and a public figure who was widely enough known that his activities were chronicled by his contemporaries. With Pilate, we have a stone inscription created during his life that attests his existence and we have Philo who lived and wrote during Pilate’s lifetime.

            Another thing we have with someone like Pilate is knowledge of people of similar rank and the system in which they worked. Even though we only have a handful of accounts of Pilate, we can compare them to what we know about other Roman governors as well as the administrative system in which he worked.

            We also have mention of Pilate by Josephus who was born right after Pilate’s term as governor ended and Tacitus who wrote a bit later. Although neither was a contemporary of Pilate, they both had access to many important people in the Roman administrative system who would have known who the Roman governor of Judea was during the relevant period. If it wasn’t Pilate, there are lots of ways that fact might come to light. While Josephus and Tacitus both mention Christians, we cannot be certain that either of them had any access to anyone who had any first hand knowledge of the stories that were being told about Jesus. If there wasn’t a historical Jesus, there might not be any way for either to find out.

            As you note, we shouldn’t expect to have contemporary records of someone who was from a backwater town that preached in tiny villages and towns, because that’s not the kind of person who normally left much of a historical footprint. So unlike a general, an emperor, or a governor, it is very difficult to compare the evidence for Jesus to the evidence to a comparable person who is better documented. Historians reason by analogy, and if good analogies are lacking, conclusions will necessarily be less certain.

            It is not enough to say that “[a]ll the major sects that wrote about the expectations of the Messiah showed that he would be like King David who would in essence overthrow Israel’s enemies and establish God’s kingdom on earth.” That could be one sect or it could be twenty. That sect could represent 5% of the population or 95%. You cannot argue that a belief is universal solely because it is the only belief that was recorded.

          • MattB

            “was a difference between Jesus and a public figure who was widely enough known that his activities were chronicled by his contemporaries. With Pilate, we have a stone inscription created during his life that attests his existence and we have Philo who lived and wrote during Pilate’s lifetime.”

            Vinny, the purpose of using Pilate was to show that even for a powerful figure, who lived in the first century, there is little evidence of his existence. If that’s the case, then we shouldn’t expect there to be that much for Jesus. The same kind of evidence for Pilate, is the same for Jesus. Documents that were written after the fact by historians. The only contemporary records for Pilate is the stone that bears his name, which was dedicated to Tiberius. And the only written record would be Paul’s epistles for Jesus since Paul mentions he met Jesus’ contemporaries. If we deny that Jesus existed, then we’ll have to deny a series of other figures during his day that have little to no records available. Caiaphas, Herod Antipas, John the Baptist, Alexander the Great, Hannibal,etc.

            It is enough to say because this is what all the sects in Israel and mainly Jerusalem believed; including the people. It’s even commonsense to anyone living in that day that crucifixion meant you were a criminal. Why not make a figure like King David who conquered the Romans, but instead was executed by them? A contradiction that only makes sense if Jesus existed.

          • The evidence that Paul gives us for Jesus is nothing like the evidence that Philo gives us for Pilate. Think of the five W’s that historians are supposed to care about: who, what, when, where, and why. Philo tells us that Pilate was governor of Judea, what he did, where he did it, and when. Does Paul tell us that Jesus was a healer or a teacher? Does he say what Jesus did during his life, or where or when he did it? Paul couldn’t care less about the historical Jesus. HIs focus is entirely upon the supernatural risen Christ and his post-mortem supernatural accomplishments. I suppose you could say that Paul says something about why things happened but the reasons are a function of theology rather than historical circumstance..

          • MattB

            But this is where the mythicist argument goes South. Yes, Paul is interested in Jesus’ divinity, but there is too much in his epistles that go against his evanglistic agenda. He mentions many off-the-cuff things about Jesus that show he was a real human being. If we apply the five W’s then we should be able to see this, and we do. Why did Paul write about Jesus giving earthly details if he didnt’ exist? Again. One could say that Paul invented this stuff but that is less likely given that he claims to have receieved it. The alternative that you’re proposing is based on “could have” arguments. Could have is not enough in history or science. What historians do is look for what is more plausible than not.

          • OK. I’ll bite. What details do you think Paul gives us?

          • MattB

            The teachings on the Last Supper
            Jesus birth under a woman
            Him having a brother named James
            His crucifixion under Pilate

          • Paul claims that he got the teachings on the last supper by revelation, so it is a detail about the risen Christ who revealed it rather than about the historical Jesus.

            Born of a woman is true of every human being who ever lived so it doesn’t constitute a detail about Jesus any more than “It’s the one where the sun rose in the east” constitutes a detail about a specific day.

            If Paul does in fact mean that James is the biological brother of Jesus, that would constitute a detail about Jesus. I don’t think that the evidence that Paul means that is particularly conclusive.

            In the undisputed letters, Paul never says that Jesus was crucified under Pilate. He never says where or when Jesus was crucified.

            So what you have is a single possible detail. It is nothing compared to the kind of details that Philo provides about Pilate.

          • redpill99

            how is this more historically probable than the competing hypothesis that jesus existed and was crucified under Pilate?

          • plectrophenax

            But surely the messiah in Judaism is seen as human; in fact, even today the idea of a non-human messiah strikes Jews as abhorrent (I think). So this suggests for me a kind of parsimonious description – Jesus was a Jewish preacher, later divinized. Mythicism inverts this, I suppose.

      • redpill99

        i think if you apply the kind of skepticism Jesus mythicist to other historical figures you can conclude no one from history existed nor we can know anything about historical figures.

        • This is just plain wrong.

          The fact that I have concluded that I can’t have any certainty about an obscure ancient preacher who went unnoticed by literate and prominent people during his lifetime in no way leads me to doubt that I can have a reasonable degree of certainty about ancient emperors and generals and politicians whose activities were recorded by their contemporaries.

          Ancient people who left a historical footprint that is discernible today usually did so because they were literate or prominent people themselves or they did things during their lives that had an impact on their literate or prominent contemporaries. Jesus of Nazareth was an obscure figure who went unnoticed during his lifetime outside a small group of illiterate peasant followers until he sufficiently annoyed the authorities to get himself executed. Absent a belief that arose in supernatural events taking place after his death, there is no reason to expect that he would left any mark in the historical record that would be discernible two thousand years later.

          Historians reason by analogy and it will necessarily be difficult to find analogies for people who wouldn’t be expected to leave a mark in the historical record because the reason they aren’t expected to have left a mark is because analogous people didn’t leave marks.

          Jesus really does pose unique questions for historians and being skeptical that they can be solved doesn’t necessarily lead to skepticism about the possibility of answering other types of questions.

          • redpill99

            If you accept certain historical documents from antiquity as providing reliable historical information about figures in antiquity, there’s no reason a priori to reject the documents that do exist about Jesus.

          • What makes you think that I have rejected anything a priori? I’ve explained that I think Jesus poses unique historical problems and I’ve looked at the arguments for his existence and I haven’t found one yet that I think really comes to grips with those problems. I think there may yet be such an argument out there and I don’t think that the mythicists have solved all the problem either, but I think I have good reasons fro remaining in the minimalist/agnostic camp when it comes to Jesus while affirming the existence of Alexander the Great.

          • redpill99

            In rejecting the historical method, you are rejecting honest historical scholarship and evidence a priori

          • Where have I rejected the historical method?

          • redpill99

            when you stated “remaining in the minimalist/agnostic camp when it comes to Jesus while affirming the existence of Alexander the Great.”

    • jjramsey

      Carrier did actually try to ideal with that, arguing that there were hints in the Targum of Jonathan and the Melchizedek scroll of a suffering Messiah. The problem is that he argued very poorly, as Thom Stark showed in gory detail:



  • redpill99

    James F. McGrath- do u plan to review this Carriers book? Carrier trashes Ehrman and Casey

    • I do. I am waiting to see whether I get an opportunity to review the book for a journal. Otherwise, I’ll probably just buy a copy of get it from the library and will blog about it.

      • redpill99

        if you review for a journal, i also hope u blog about it so i and others can read it. i don’t claim to have expertise in this matter, but my skepticism of Jesus myth is not only does paul mention james brother of the lord, he also states jesus born under a woman, born under the law, seed of david, was crucified, was seen by 500, the night he was betrayed, etc., alludes to his teaching i.e divorce. all of these taken together makes carrier’s bayesian theorem unconvincing.

  • redpill99

    btw what do you think of Carrier’s statements about Ehrman?

    Richard Carrier’s review of Maurice Casey’s book:

    already exposed all the egregious errors of fact and logic in Bart
    Ehrman’s sad armchair failure at this. Which evidently provoked him to
    repeatedly lie about what happened, which I then also documented. I
    consider him disgraced as a scholar. If you have to tell lies to save
    face, rather than admit a mistake and do better, you are done in this
    business. Or certainly ought to be. Anyway, I’ve already summarized that
    sorry story, with links and summaries (Ehrman on Historicity Recap).

    • I am not intimately acquainted with what he is referring to, but every time Carrier has proclaimed that he has exposed the egregious errors of others, and I’ve looked into it, I’ve found the product not to have lived up to Carrier’s commercials for it.

      • MattB

        Indeed. It seems that even the best historians like yourself, if they don’t meet Carrier’s whacky criteria, then they are considered either A) Loony or B) Delusional.

        I’ve always wondered what sort of evidence would convince a mythicist because it seems that no amount of critical scholarly investigation will convince someone with an anti-religious agenda.

  • Bruce Grubb

    Two important facts about this book were omitted: it went through *formal peer review* and is published by a *respected academic press*

    • Those points have been mentioned on this blog in the past. This can be said of a lot of books the arguments in which the scholarly community has judged to be wrong. Christian apologists often appeal to the mere fact that someone who says something has a PhD or publishes in peer reviewed journals, regardless of whether the particular claim they are making is found persuasive by their peers. Are mythicists aiming to be the mirror image of that?

  • Lurker

    You appreciated Hallquist’s point, but it is indeed a very weak one. For a prior probability is not a final probability. And Hallquist simply confuses the two. A classic bait and switch. It can be, that, in absence of all other data, the prior probability of a man such as that described in the quote is small AND that the final probability (when all other evidence is plugged into the Bayesian formula) is still 99.999%.

    Moreover, since we are talking about probabilities (and not vanishing ones), it is obvious that *some* men would actually exist that also fit this mythological criterion. Carrier does not argue otherwise. So what Hallquist does is cite an exception that is already foreseen by Carrier’s theory.

  • Joe

    That argument about James is void. Saying he is the ‘brother of Jesus’, when Jesus’s existence as a biological being is the point we are trying to establish is poor. But, I have seen Carrier address that argument before. The language in the original manuscripts gives no room for making an interpretation like Crook’s. His bias shows.

    • Your comment is not clearly worded, but if I have misunderstood you correctly, you have been misinformed. Kindly explain the meaning of Paul’s reference to “James the Lord’s brother” where this designation (which is never used unambiguously to refer to Christians, who are consistently “brothers IN Christ”) is used to distinguish James not from people who are not Christians, but from people who are. It is very tiresome to have mythicists say “but Christians are called brothers” as though mainstream historians are not aware of that. It is the eqivalent of asking “Why are there still monkeys?” as though that were an objection to evolution.

  • Simon Albright

    What catches my eye as a linguist (I have an MA in Applied Linguistics from the University of Nottingham) is the following bit:

    “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.”

    It’s an “objective” assessment of the evidence that scholars rely on to refute Carrier? Except, there is no such thing. I mean, it’s almost as if Rosson doesn’t know anything about linguistics at all or has never studied the interpretation of texts. The use of the term “objective” is an illusion–a chimera. On page 163 of Martin, J. R. and White, P. R. R. (2005), The Language of Evaluation: Appraisal in English, New York: Palgrave MacMillan, the authors have a table they call ‘The Cline of Instantiation from System to Reading’ which goes as follows:

    “1. system (the global meaning making potential provided by the language)
    2. register (contextual variants or sub-selections of the global meaning-potential–involving more fully institutionalised reconfigurations of the probabilities for the occurrence of particular meaning-making options or for the co-occurrence of options)
    3. text type (groups of texts with comparable configurations of the probabilities of occurrence of options–involving less fully institutionalised configurations of the probabilities)
    4. instance (individual texts–the actualisation of the global meaning making potential, typically in conformity with the sub-potential settings of a given register)
    5. reading (the uptake of meanings in a text according to the listener/reader’s subjectively determined reading position.)”

    What’s missing is any mention of “objective” assessments or how these are supposed to be accomplished. In fact, they don’t exist. Certainly, some readings are much more probable than others, and most of the time it’s clear what people mean via texts, but there is no such thing as an “objective” reading. And especially when we are dealing with an ancient text, in another language, it’s dubious to claim that there is such a thing as an “objective” reading. In short, this is rhetoric to protect a traditional reading, and there is nothing scholarly about it.

    • Anonymous Coward

      //Certainly, some readings are much more probable than others,//

      Right there you acknowledge the possibility of objectivity. There can be objective facts about what is more probable than what. Rosson did not imply any more than this.

      • Simon Albright

        No, I don’t. You are confusing probability with objectivity. And the fact that the social and religious environment is being reconstructed from the Pauline texts rather than having them independently confirmed is another strike against any alleged objectivity.

        In fact, that you would misunderstand my words is another instance of how texts are not objective. So, your inability to properly construe my words (i.e., your desire to project your own subjective reading onto mine that turned out to be false) proves yet again that interpreting texts is not objective. A fortiori will this be the case with ancient texts.

  • Jonathan Bernier

    To suggest that Zeba Crook is defending Christian doctrine is beyond laughable to anyone who has met Zeb. It is genuinely absurd.

  • Callum

    Disinterested third party reader here. Seems a bit like shadenfreude to highlight some of the problems (but none of the praise) from some reviews, and then speculate that it will probably be a disappointing book! It only takes a few dollars, a few clicks, and a few days to get a book delivered to your doorstep. Why not review it … after you’ve read it!? For what its worth, to this non-expert, the James / brother claim does seem tenuous, but it doesn’t strike me as something I can decide on my own; it is one of those times when I have no choice but to see how experts in the field react over time. BUT, in the criticism you quoted, I notice there is not really an argument being made, more like a statement that other experts aren’t wrong (when they say Carrier is wrong). I guess I’ll have to dig deeper to find out exactly why they don’t agree on that point. Thanks

    • Avenger

      If you know that I have met Fred’s brother James, then you can assume that Fred is a real person. Since we know that Paul met the Lord’s brother we can assume that the Lord is a real person unless we have good reason to think that Paul’s statement doesn’t mean what it appears to mean. It is possible to speculate about alternative meanings of the statement but speculation doesn’t equal good reason.

    • I’m sorry that you somehow found your way to an older post on this topic. I’ve had a review focusing on one of the book’s many controversial and, in my opinion, unpersuasive claims here: http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2014/10/mcg388028.shtml

      There has also been significant blogging here about the book since this post appeared.

  • hellbindercda

    I begrudgingly got the carrier book in audio format. I didn’t finish the Bayes theorem, book because I hate the way he snidely treats anything he considers “supernatural” and the condescending attitude he has towards people.

    But, I got it and started listening to it a few days ago. I nearly deleted it after the first chapter because again his just atrocious attitude towards people insisting that everyone who has any kind of a “supernatural” experience is hallucinating or lying. Also his attitude towards other peoples work, who put forward fringe ideas about history or events.

    I kept on and I am glad I did. He has done a phenomenal job presenting his case and I have learned an incredible amount about the beliefs and practices of that time period and before. His work has had an opposite impact on me than he intended though. While I am no longer a practicing, believing fundamentalist Christian Carrier has inadvertently given me a deep new respect for the ideas, beliefs and practices that birthed Christianity in the first century and even the scriptures themselves as well as the other religious and philosophical writings of the day.

    The philosophy and understanding they had of their world, all the layers of heaven and the beings inhabiting them is just fascinating and I find myself deeply drawn in to them. It will never happen, but modern Christianity would be so much richer and rewarding if it would get back to its true first century roots.

    I still find Carrier a complete Douche bag when it comes to his attitude about other peoples experiences, but I owe him a debt of gratitude for his depth of research. IMO he really , and fairly presents and examines the true heart of the early Christian faith and world view.

    Something no modern church I know of will or even can do because if the hell risking dogmas they have locked themselves into.

  • blue_chilli

    Oh my lord, can people please stop trying to make terrible analogies when trying to dismiss the argument that belonging to a class of people that are described in mythological terms are more likely to be mythical? Yes Kim Jon Il was a real person. But why do we say that he was a real person? Because we have huge swathes of evidence outside of the myths associated with him establishing his existence! The analogy breaks down as soon as you examine why the sudden “oh yeah” reaction of realising this mythological archetype argument applies to someone we know exists comes about: it is because there are other reasons that lead us to the conclusion that he existed. If we had this for Jesus this evidence would overcome the prior probability of the myth archetype. Please just take the time to remove yourself from the context of this debate and think through the logic carefully.
    Boy I wish more of those conducting this debate actually cared about investigating history and not the implications of the outcome of that investigation. I honestly want to see this question engaged without anyone bringing up the biases of the other party. Even if it is concluded that there was no Jesus, I would not consider Christianity refuted by this fact. You cold simply conclude that the original, historical Jesus free, Christianity was the correct one! Though I consider Christianity to be false for other reasons unrelated to historical investigations.

    • The point of the analogy is to show that Carrier and others are lying when they claim that we do not find these kinds of things being said about historical figures. The point is that the archetype is not a historian’s tool, was not designed to be, doesn’t provide evidence one way or the other about historicity, and should not be used in the way Carrier tries to.

      • blue_chilli

        Where does he claim this? Of course these things are said about historical people. This does nothing to demonstrate the falsity of the claim that ‘most’ figures that are attributed mythological characteristics did not exist.
        To demonstrate that this argument does not provide evidence one way or another you need to show that the number of figures that are attributed mythological characteristics and yet exist despite this is exactly equal to (or within some small margin of error of) the number that are attributed mythological characteristics and do not exist.
        If probabilities based on reference classes are not the historians tools, then they should be.

        • I’m not persuaded that the methods typically used in the natural sciences are universally and directly transferable to history.

          Here’s something I wrote about Carrier’s use of the Rank-Raglan typology: http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2014/12/mcg388023.shtml

          • blue_chilli

            You mean like the science of forensics…? Why should statistical methods apply to one field of empirical inquiry and not another?
            The article you linked tackled the issue much more thoroughly. However in that (ignoring the guilt by association you attempt to present in bringing up Sigmund Freud), you are actually arguing against the use of Rank-Raglan as a reference class and not against the use of reference classes per se so this does nothing to support your use of a single data point above as though it can defeat an argument based on the balance of a range of data collected. That is what I was responding to.
            I was originally planning on responding to the arguments made in the linked article (thank you for your quick responses by the way), but it’s past 2 am here so I’ll perhaps respond in more detail tomorrow. Unless you really don’t want me to and that’s fine I don’t even know why I’m doing this.

          • I would be happy to hear your feedback. Just to be clear, in the article I am arguing against the use of Rank-Raglan scales as a reference class. I would have no problem with the use of something more appropriate, such as Jewish messianic figures in the first century, as a reference class. It is Carrier’s combination of Bayesian reasoning with dubious choices for reference classes, and implausible interpretations of the evidence, that I object to.

            I would love to see a good illustration of how the method works in confirming a conclusion about the ancient world that historians already regard as sound.