Rankled by Wranglings about Rank-Raglan Rankings

Rankled by Wranglings about Rank-Raglan Rankings December 23, 2014

I decided to go with an alliterative title for my second review for Bible and Interpretation of Richard Carrier’s book, On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt. The title of the review article is “Rankled by Wranglings about Rank-Raglan Rankings: Jesus and the Mythic Hero Archetype.”

I suppose I could have gone with a slightly less alliterative title – such as “Inanity about Inanna.” But then I would have needed to focus more on that specific alleged parallel that Carrier argues for. And so, on that topic, let me take this opportunity to remind readers that there is more detailed treatment of some other topics in Carrier’s book elsewhere online – for instance, on comparisons with Inanna, see the discussion by Maurice Casey in his book on mythicism.


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  • While Professor McGrath raises a number of questions about the usefulness of the Rank-Raglan list of hero archetypes he fails to address Richard Carrier’s specific argument and use of the list.

    Firstly, although McGrath refers three times to the list being used as a tool for “determining the historicity” of Jesus, Carrier in fact uses the list only to establish a prior likelihood of probability that Jesus would score as highly as he does if he were historical. This is set out (pp. 214-234) in the beginning of Carrier’s book where he sets out “background information” and again in his assessment of prior probability (pp. 235-53) before embarking on the main section of his book (pp. 254-618) where he undertakes his assessment of arguments for and against Jesus’ historicity.

    Secondly, contrary to an impression a reader may take from the above review, Carrier explains that he is prepared to concede that one in three names that appear to score highly on the Rank-Raglan scale might indeed by historical (pp. 241-244). So simply finding several historical names to sit alongside the mythical ones (Carrier even allows one in three historical names) is beside the point and fails to address Carrier’s specific argument. Carrier repeatedly points out that he is attempting to argue a fortiori in favour of Jesus being historical and to this end his arguments is simply that it is comparatively rare for historical persons to score highly on the list (p. 243).

    Thirdly, McGrath questions the relevance of later developments of mythical details but Carrier does in fact rely upon the details of Jesus found only in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew (pp. 232, 239).

    As for the function and origin of the Rank-Raglan list itself, while McGrath discusses the Freudian associations of Otto Rank’s list he overlooks the fact that Lord Raglan’s list (the one Carrier uses) is quite different in that it has no Freudian associations at all (See Part II of Lord Raglan’s The Hero). It is, moreover, simply a classification of those types of myths that were thought to have originated as from religious rituals. The debates to which McGrath refers in his review do not question the validity or reality of the elements themselves but are instead focussed on the disagreements over literary versus other cultural approaches in anthropological studies. Alan Dundes, whom McGrath cites, in fact himself uses the same Raglan list to score Jesus very highly indeed. (See Alan Dundes, “The Hero Pattern and the Life of Jesus,” in Otto Rank et al. “In Quest of the Hero,” Princeton University Press, (1990), Page 179 to 223) (Segal, also quoted by McGrath, similarly scores Jesus highly.) So McGrath’s assertion that his own belief that Jesus should not be taken as a more objective conclusion than Carrier’s score.

    McGrath is correct when he says that the conformity to a list does not itself determine the historicity or otherwise of a character. Lord Raglan explained why this is the case: in the case of historical persons one can peel away the mythical layers and still identify nonmythical historical substance. Carrier does not dispute this and in fact builds this fact into his assessment of prior probability.

    McGrath has unfortunately missed an opportunity to address Carrier’s argument concerning the Rank-Raglan case — that what the list demonstrates is that a person who ranks highly finds him/herself in the company of more mythical persons than historical ones. This is a prior probability only, and not used by Carrier to “determine” the question of the historicity of Jesus.

    • Avenger

      McGrath is correct when he says that the conformity to a list does not itself determine the historicity or otherwise of a character. Lord Raglan explained why this is the case: in the case of historical persons one can peel away the mythical layers and still identify nonmythical historical substance. Carrier does not dispute this and in fact builds this fact into his assessment of prior probability.

      So the probability isn’t assigned solely on the basis of the score: other factors are taken into account. OK, let’s consider some other factors. One thing to note is that many of the Rank-Raglan elements centre on the theme of kingship. The hero is of royal descent, he becomes king, he passes laws, he loses his crown etc. The story of the mythic hero is very much the story of a king. The trouble is that Jesus didn’t become king and was never likely to do so. On that basis, I would say that Jesus wasn’t a mythic hero. You could argue that Jesus was a symbolic king, but that still makes him different from the other figures. Jesus was a symbolic king in the real world; the mythic heroes are actual kings in a symbolic world. Therefore, I don’t think we can draw any conclusions about Jesus’ alleged membership of the class of mythic heroes.

      Now, I know you have said that all the facts have to be taken into account in Bayesian analysis, but you are assuming that this is the right approach. I suggest that an alternative is to discard evidence about whose significance there is no agreement.

      • Again we are missing completely Carrier’s argument. It makes no difference how we explain the origin of the 22 elements (the number is not absolute or final, by the way), since the fact remains that either no or relatively few historical persons match high scores on the list (Carrier will allow every third person with high scores to be historical for the sake of a fortiori argument in favour of historicists.)

        That is the argument: that when it comes to matching the points on a scale we see on the basis of best odds that Jesus has a 33% chance of being historical. He does not use the RR scale to “determine the historicity” of Jesus. He merely uses it to assess a prior probability. I do not understand how a scholarly review can overlook explaining this central point of the argument under review to readers.

        As for the theme of kingship, by the way, Lord Raglan applies the scale to Elijah, Robin Hood, Asclepius and other non-kings — and he explains the significance of the kingship motif. I have explained that in an earlier post in which I attempted to address various misunderstandings about the significance and use of the RR scale according to Lord Raglan’s own discussion. It appears that many of those who argue so strongly about the use of this list fail to have read Raglan’s own explanations. It’s a bit like quoting Dundes against Carrier when in fact Dundes more than agrees with Carrier’s actual assessment of the relevance of the scale to Jesus.

        The scale is not used to determine historicity — neither by Raglan nor by Carrier. So much of the angst over what Carrier writes is misdirected.

        • Avenger

          Yes, I know that Carrier uses Jesus’ membership of the hero class to determine the prior probability that he was a historical figure, and that this initial calculation could easily (in theory at least) be outweighed by other evidence.

          I don’t think it makes a difference to my point if Raglan applied the scale to other mythical figures who weren’t kings. In that case, I would say that Raglan was misusing his own criteria to create a greater uniformity among mythical characters than there really is.

          • Gakusei Don

            Yes, Carrier writes in his “Final Calculation” chapter (page 596):

            “Bayes’s Theorem entails a concluding probability (the probability that Jesus existed) from estimating three other probabilities: (1) the prior probability that Jesus existed; (2) the probability of the evidence if Jesus did exist; and (3) the probability of that same evidence if Jesus didn’t exist.”

            Item 1 above is Carrier’s score from using the Rank-Raglan scale. So Carrier does use the R-R scale to slant his calculations of probability in the direction of the non-historicity of Jesus, as McGrath points out in his article.

          • Avenger

            Yes, that’s right. The score slants the probability towards non-historicity; that isn’t a misrepresentation. Neil seems rather obsessed with the idea that Carrier is being unfairly treated.

          • Gakusei Don

            I think it is also part of Neil’s obsession with Dr McGrath, to be honest. McGrath is simply correct on how Carrier uses the R-R scale to slant the probability towards non-historicity.

          • I’m sorry if you see my concern to correct factual errors made to describe others and their works as an ‘obsession’, GD. I would also like you to give some credit for my positive remarks, and many attempts to establish friendly dialogue with James. If there is an obsession one might consider repeatedly erroneous statements made about mythicists as persons and their arguments.

          • I like this ad hominem — someone who makes an effort to point out errors in certain criticisms is “obsessed”. I guess that’s much easier than a sustained argument of the facts.

          • Avenger

            Glad you liked the ad hominem – I do my best. In this case there was no need for a sustained argument. The fact is that James had not misrepresented Carrier.

          • If there was no need for a “sustained argument” you could have responded in a civil manner by simply citing the evidence for your assertion.

            My response cited the pages where one can see that Carrier’s argument is actually avoided by McGrath and that the focus of McGrath’s comments are accordingly misleading readers as to the nature of Carrier’s actual argument. Carrier allows a 30% ratio of historical persons to score more than half on the RR scale and does not use it to establish historicity — two facts McGrath for some reason chose to avoid mentioning.

          • Much of the confusion in this discussion arises from a failure to understand Lord Raglan’s thesis, what it was he was describing, and how this related to questions of historicity. Meaning and context have been lost behind sometimes a very narrow definition of some of the summaries of his views. I attempt to redress this in The Rank-Raglan Hero Types and Jesus.

            I think it is more likely that we have missed something fundamental about Raglan’s list than that Raglan did not understand what he was doing.

          • Just so folks know, Neil Godfrey will not be commenting here any longer. One of his comments got caught in the spam filter, and he quickly wrote to me via e-mail and also complained about it on his blog. Despite his really atrocious behaviour towards me in the past, which led me to decide not to interact with him any longer, I had allowed him to continue to comment, since there were other people here who seemed to like interacting with him. But he has refused to respect my choice to not interact with him directly, and so if you wish to interact with him, you can try his blog Vridar.

          • How is this any more fair than your being blocked by J. Coyne? I certainly don’t see what’s wrong with sending an email to sort out a technical issue.

          • Jerry Coyne did not have a prior stance, due to nasty behavior on my part, that he would not interact with me. And having seen the title of Godfrey’s blog post before unsubscribing from his blog feed, I did not have the impression that what he was seeking was the sorting out of a technical issue.

        • Mark

          > The scale is not used to determine historicity — neither by Raglan nor by Carrier.

          Unless this means, ‘Carrier is not determining historicity anyway, but assigning probabilities or degrees of confidence (in historicity)’, it’s complete nonsense.

          The use of the Rank-Raglan ‘data’ is what sets the original prior probability, which is then supposed to be updated by further probabilities and conditional probabilities through the book. It is a premise of the argument, pure and simple.

          It is in fact the only thing in the book that looks remotely like a standard real world use of bayesianism. In, e.g., statistical inference, updating is likely to be through the interaction of this original judgment with bodies of data. –It is indeed distinctive of bayesianism, as a theory of rational subjective confidence in general, that it can be employed without anything like accumulation of data – ‘probabilities’ in this sense – numbers – can indeed be assigned to particular datable historical propositions not covered by accumulations of statistical data. Everyone has degrees of confidence in e.g. Tory victory which can be expressed in betting dispositions; the bayesian or decision theoretic system just makes such degrees of confidence coherent, as logic makes ordinary beliefs coherent, and can be used as a principle of ‘inference’ as logical rules also can. (No other going interpretation of the axioms of the probability calculus has this character – except the now forgotten ‘logical interpretation’. They typically assign probabilities to ‘events’, or repeatable types of outcome, not ‘propositions’ which can be anything, e.g. ‘It’s snowing’ or ‘f = ma’ )

          The trouble is that the use of this ranking is a priori irrational. We have to do with a specifically Jewish phenomenon, and are attempting to make a judgment about 1st Palestine. Carrier’s idea is to sink the Jesus material under the general heading ‘religion’. So in come Inanna and Osiris. But ‘religion’ is a very abstract and doubtful category to begin with.

          The natural starting point would be something that massively concentrates focus, like gathering statistics on //which putative Jewish would-be messiahs were historical.// Here we could expand the messiah concept to cover Islamic messianic phenomena and Christian ‘second coming’ claims and so on. Here we will find, I think, that all putative messiahs are all historical, as Sabbatai and Schneerson are historical. The apparent loser (extending ‘messiah’ even more broadly) is John Frum, who is very much the ‘exception that proves the rule’, since he is clearly in some sense a parody of Christian teaching calculated to keep the missionaries out.

          After this original choice of prior, the program of updating throughout the book is completely chaotic and involves recourse to non-2nd T data throughout. The distinctive features of ancient Judean practices are disappeared into the body of ‘religious stuff’ alongside Inanna and Osiris. This is as rational as sinking Jesus into a body of ‘putative individuals whose names beginning with “J” in English translation.”

          The procedure is in fact latently anti-semitic in that it systematically ignores the distinctiveness of Jewish religious phenomena; this distinctiveness and strangeness was well know and baffled all ancient observer. But never mind that.

          It is a feature of this approach, where one is looking to assign a probability to one particular ‘one-shot’ proposition, that causal and explanatory factors – the essence of historical cognition – go out the window. Carrier is making inferences from how Jesus looked in the 2nd or 3rd century, instead of getting as close as he can to the causal point of origin and e.g. offering a systematic interpretation of Paul, which brings us close to causal ground zero. The interpretation of Paul (and thus his immediate predecessors) would seem to be the main theoretical problem. But here Carrier satisfies himself with discussing a short list of ‘historicity smash hits’, e.g. the epithet ‘brothers of the Lord’, ‘descendent of David’, the absence of biographical data, etc. Each of these is as usual explained away with an epicycle. (I read it over a year ago so I’m a little rusty now.)

          The probability that Palestinian Jews, probably in Jerusalem at the time, would adopt a neo-pagan doctrine like the one Carrier devises is estimated not as Nil, as it in fact would seem to be, but rather as quite high. After all, this kind of thing happens in Egypt, Syria and Asia Minor all the time.

          It is I suspect because Carrier has not taken the trouble to study Hebrew and Aramaic that he is trapped in this approach. He tries as far as possible to move the phenomena into a general hellenistic sphere because this is what he knows. Rather like looking for one’s keys under the lamp-post because the light is good. Here he has material to work with because that is indeed where ‘Christianity’ ended up. But though it ended up there, in started in the distinctive 2nd T milieu in which Carrier has no particular interest, much less even ABC competence. This massively distorts the whole procedure.

  • Gakusei Don

    Good article, Dr McGrath. A blogger called Johan Ronnblom also looked at Carrier’s use of the R-R scale here: http://ronnblom.net/is-jesus-a-rank-raglan-hero.

    Johan Ronnblom concluded:

    “Unfortunately, Carrier subtly changes the criteria to better fit Jesus,
    and reorders them. Worse still, Carrier does not inform his readers that
    he has done this. This is amounts to academic dishonesty, since he is
    clearly misrepresenting his sources.”

    Johan goes through each R-R point to show how Carrier has ‘tweaked’ some of them. There is also a discussion on this on FRDB involving Johan and others (quite long!): http://earlywritings.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=1052

    Based on R-R, Carrier calculates a prior-probability of between 6% and 33%. Bizarrely, the latter figure comes about because Carrier states ‘fundamentalists would refuse to accept that Moses and Joseph are mythical’ (page 243), so he has added them into the calculation as historical(!)

    • Johan Ronnblom’s interpretations of Raglan and Carrier’s application of the list were the subject of my exchange with him on the discussion forum to which McGrath linked in his footnote #3.

      • Korus Destroyus

        Neil, I read your ‘response’ to Johan’s methodology and found it totally convoluted. It’s striking just how many misrepresentations and outright deliberate tweakings Carrier makes of the (vague) RR thesis to get Jesus to fit — it’s ridiculous. Your weak attempt to jam Jesus into the RR thesis isn’t convincing at all. Most honest counts I’ve seen have put Jesus at about a score of 8-9, the very highest I’ve seen of a serious analysis was 13 but the writer was an atheist and doesn’t seem to be too well equipped with spotting some of Carrier’s clear dwindles. Not only does Jesus not qualify the RR, it would be irrelevant either way since Bayesian methodology in ancient history is pseudohistorical anyways.

    • Neko

      Thank you very much for the links; they were illuminating, and Ronnblom was a pleasure to read. I had wondered why the person Carrier runs through the scale is Jesus Christ Superstar instead of a crucified preacher who inspired a religious sect and was relieved to see you mention it. I’m shocked, though, that Carrier has been accused of loading the dice. Wow!

      From what Neil says, there’s been a general failure to appreciate the context of the “elements” and their relationship with ritual. I don’t understand this, so I guess it’s off to footnote #3.

      As an aside, the following from Ronnblom’s piece is just delightful:

      Carrier refers to a number of Bible verses where Jesus is called a king, claiming that it is ‘denialism’ to disagree that Jesus was a king.

  • John MacDonald

    Hi Dr. McGrath.

    Merry Christmas!

    What do you think of Carrier’s claim that “Jesus Christ was regarded as having fulfilled (and thereby replacing) by his death the two greatest annual sacrifices in the Jewish religion, Passover and Yom Kippur, and thereby had replaced the temple as a relevant religious institution (On The Historicity Of Jesus, 143-144).” Does this mean Carrier thinks the original Jewish Christians didn’t go to the annual temple service? I could see how this could be true for the original gentile Christians, but I’m unsure of the original Jewish Christians. What are your thoughts?

    • The inclusion in Matthew of sayings that involve continued participation in temple worship (e.g. “when you bring your gift to the altar”), together with the depiction in Acts of the earliest Christians continuing to participate in temple worship, all suggest to me that the view of Jesus as replacing sacrifice in general, or specific sacrifices, was at the very least not something universal. Obviously we don’t have any specific reference to Christians either participating or refraining from participating in Yom Kippur, and so we can only infer as best we can from the other relevant evidence we have.

      • John MacDonald

        That makes sense. One good point Carrier seems to makes is in pointing to Phil 2.5-11 and explaining that it paints a very different picture than the usual miracle performing Jesus we are used to:

        “Have this mind [of humble love] in you, which was also in
        Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not decide to seize equality with God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being made in the likeness of men, and being discovered as a man in outward form, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, a death of a cross. (Phil 2.5-11)”

        Carrier comments on this passage that:

        “Key things to notice here are that again no mention is made of Jesus having a ministry, teaching anything or performing any miracles. To the contrary, having ‘emptied’ himself of all he was and ‘humbling’ himself completely to the status of a ‘slave’ imply he would have had no supernatural powers at all (Richard Carrier, On The Historicity of Jesus, pg. 535).”

        • I am continually struck by the fact that the one point at which mythicists don’t question the scholarly consensus among conservatives is the the point at which their view is most open to criticism as reflecting undue influence of dogmatic doctrinal positions. The notion that we are dealing here with divine self-emptying is the stuff of what is known as “kenotic Christology” in the realm of systematic theology. But it is unfortunate – if unsurprising – that Carrier uncritically accepts the reading of that back into Philippians. Even Robert Gundry, a conservative Evangelical himself, sees in this language an echo of Isaiah 53:12 rather than a reference to incarnation (The Old Is Better, p.239 n.35 and p.284).

          • Jim

            I appreciate your review in bibleinter very much. Contrary to one of the commenters above (who is apparently exuberantly bent on defending every statement that RC makes without ever critically analyzing the logic behind each of his statements), your approach highlights (to me at least), the notion of why even include an analysis that is based on such high uncertainty? Why not just move on to the stronger points of your argument? If I was in a similar situation I’d ask myself; why even include this part in my argument? Maybe I’m just weird though?

          • The reason is that it provides a way of setting the prior probability of historicity low. If this were acknowledged by Carrier to be irrelevant, then he would need to find some other basis for calculating the prior, such as Jewish messianic figures in this time period, which would not have given him the result he was trying to force the data to produce.

  • Avenger

    Neil Godfrey’s grammar is as muddled as the rest of his thinking:

    the focus of McGrath’s comments are accordingly misleading readers

  • John MacDonald

    Otto Rank, in 1909, developed a Hero pattern that was very much based on Oedipus’s legend. Lord Raglan, in 1936, developed a 22-point myth-ritualist Hero archetype. Oedipus scores the highest on this scale, at 21 out of 22 possible points. Rather than claiming, as Carrier does, that Jesus scoring well on this scale is evidence in favor of Jesus being mythical, a far more simple explanation is that some legendary material about Jesus was added to his biography to pattern his story after the model of Oedipus (just like Dr. Dennis R. MacDonald argues in his new book “The Dionysian Gospel: The Fourth Gospel and Euripides,” that the fourth Gospel is modelled after the pattern of Dionysus in Euripides). Folklorist Alan Dundes has noted that Raglan did not categorically deny the historicity of the Heroes he looked at, rather it was their common biographies he considered as nonhistorical. Furthermore, Dundes noted that Raglan himself had admitted that his choice of 22 incidents, as opposed to any other number of incidents, was arbitrarily chosen. This could all just as well mean legendary embellishment of the historical Jesus, as it could mythical genesis. So, the Rank-Raglan mythotype seems irrelevant to the mythicist/historicist debate about Jesus

    • John MacDonald

      If Jesus’ portrayal is in fact imitating Oedipus, Jesus scoring high on the Rank Raglan scale is no more evidence of mythicism than is Matthew portraying Jesus as the New Moses.

      • John MacDonald

        I was curious about whether the story of Oedipus may have influenced the characterization of Jesus in the bible, so I looked up how Oedipus met the criteria in the Rank Raglan scale and this is what I found:

        1. The hero’s mother is a royal virgin, at least until marriage.
        Oedipus’s mother, Jocasta, is certainly royalty, as she is the queen of Thebes. She was most likely a virgin as well, as it is never implied that she wasn’t, and saving virginity for marriage is the noble thing to do. Regardless, I would say Oedipus meets this requirement.
        2. The Hero’s father is a king.
        Oedipus’s father is king Laius, as clearly stated in all three books of the trilogy, and the fact the Oedipus killed the king of Thebes, which happened to be his father.
        3. The Hero’s father is often a near relative of his mother.
        Greek royalty often married within the family to keep the bloodline ‘pure’, as stated by an article from Quatr.us (sourced). Jocasta was most likely a cousin of Laius.
        4. The hero’s conception is rather unusual.
        I would certainly say so. Oedipus was born under a prophecy, and doomed to death by his parents because of it. (Greek Mythology).
        5. The hero is reputed to be the son of a god.
        Oedipus is indeed reputed to be the son of a god by his own people, who stated that he simply had to be after defeating the Sphinx. “We have not come as suppliants to this altar because we thought of you as a God”. (Lines 34-35, Oedipus The King.)
        6. An attempt at his life is made at birth.
        Oedipus’s parent’s attempted to sentence him to death by pinning his ankles and abandoning him, in order to prevent the prophecy from coming true.
        7. The hero is saved, in spite of this.
        The shepard saves Oedipus, as the messenger admits in line 1175 of “Oedipus The King”- “I loosed you; the tendons of your feet were pierced and fettered.”

        8. The hero is fostered in a far country.
        Oedipus meets this requirement as well, since the messenger took him to Corinth, where he was raised as a prince by King Polybus and Merope.
        9. We are told nothing of his childhood.
        Neither the reader nor Oedipus himself are told anything of his childhood in the beginning of the story (although we all knew his history). It is not until the near end that his childhood is revealed.
        10. Returns to original kingdom as a man.
        Oedipus returns to Thebes as a man, in an attempt to avoid the prophecy that first expelled him in the first place.
        11. He achieves victory over a beast.
        Oedipus conquers the Sphinx by solving it’s riddle, thus gaining access to Thebes and being regarded as a hero. (ancientgreece.com)
        12. The hero marries a princess.
        Here, I used loose interpretation. Oedipus marries Jocasta, the newly-widowed Queen of Thebes. While not a princess, Jocasta is royalty nonetheless. I would say Oedipus meets this requirement, as they are very similiar, powerful titles.
        13. The hero becomes a King.
        Oedipus does indeed become the King of Thebes, as the book “Oedipus The King” begins well after he has already been declared the King.
        14. He reigns uneventfully for awhile.
        Many years of uneventful rule pass, enough time for Oedipus and Jocasta to birth four children. This uneventful rule comes crashing down when the Plague begins.
        15. The hero prescribes laws.
        Being that Oedipus is a King, and his word is law, I assumed that Oedipus issued his own decrees, or at least gave somebody a command at some point.
        16. He Loses favor with the gods and his subjects eventually .
        The plague is a clear sign that the gods had lost favor with Oedipus. One the truth is revealed, the chorus’ favor of Oedipus quickly fades, as shown by their speech at line 1490 of “Oedipus The King”: “This is a terrible sight for men to see! I never found a worse! Poor wretch, what madness came upon you! What evil spirit leaped upon your life to your ill-luck—a leap beyond man’s strength! Indeed I pity you, but I cannot look at you, though there’s much I want to ask and much to learn and much to see. I shudder at the sight of you.”
        17. He is driven from his throne and city.
        Oedipus is exiled from Thebes (of his own desire) and sentenced to a life of exile. Oedipus himself exclaims: “Drive me from here with all the speed you can to where I may not hear a human voice!”. (Line 1620, “Oedipus The King”)
        18. He eventually meets a mysterious death.
        The Oracle predicted that Oedipus’s burial place will bring good fortune to the city it is within, and a curse to the one he is not. He hears thunder, a ‘signal of his time’, and prepares for death. Only Theseus, despite others being with him, witnessed his death. We, the readers, are not even completely sure how Oedipus dies. I would interpret this situation as unusual, if anything.
        19. His death occurs atop a hill.
        Oedipus dies at the grove in Colonus, a town that rests on a hill. Going on this, I would argue that Oedipus meets the requirement of dying on hill.
        “Do not touch me, but allow me unaided to
        find the holy tomb where it is my fate to be secreted away in this land.” (Line 1545, Oedipus At Colonus)
        Oedipus’s body resides at his tomb in colonus, so he does indeed have a sepulcher.
        20. His children do not succeed him.
        Polyneices and Eteocles, Oedipus’s sons, end up killing each other in war over the throne of Thebes. Antigone and Isemene, his daughters, eventually end up killing themselves. Considering that none of his children remain alive shortly after his own death, his children do not succeed him.
        21. His body is not buried.
        Oedipus is entombed and buried at Colonus. Antigone’s words reinforce this:
        “He died on the foreign ground that he desired; he has his well-shaded bed beneath the ground for ever; and he did not leave behind unwept sorrow. ” (Line 1708, Oedipus At Colonus)
        Thus, Oedipus does not meet this requirement.
        22. He has at least one sepulcher.

        • Gary

          I’m sorry, John, but I can’t resist. A psychiatrist developing a theory based on Oedipus, a guy killing his father and marrying his mother, and developing a scale to measure anything but stinkfish, has to not be taken seriously.

          • John MacDonald

            Jesus and Oedipus (according to Carrier) both score high on the scale, so there is bound to be some overlap.

          • Gary

            Personally, I think it is an example of Sigmund Freud followers, over-obsessed with Ego, Id, and SuperEgo, and sexually suppressed dreams. Or too much Freud fueled Coca consumption 🙂
            I thought Freud followers (Otto Rank), were discredited a long time ago. And Raglan was an amateur something or another? Not something that builds up much confidence.

          • John MacDonald

            I think the Rank Raglan argument is one place where the mythicist argument breaks down. For instance, Robert M. Price argues:

            “Recruitment of the First Disciples (Mark 1:16-20)
            As Bowman suggests , Jesus summons James and John as well as Peter and Andrew, two pairs of brothers, as a gospel counterpart to Moses’ recruiting his own unsuspecting brother Aaron at the analogous point in the Exodus story (4:27-28). But the events, minimal as they are, come from Elijah’s recruitment of Elisha in 1 Kings 19:19-21. Likewise, the calling of Levi in Mark 2:14. All are said to have abandoned their family livelihoods on the spot to follow the prophet.”

            So, the mythicist argument seems to be if there are a significant number of parallel themes, a New Testament narrative pericope can be said to be derived from an Old Testament or Greek literary source.

            However, mythicists then want to argue you can’t say a lot of common themes between the New Testament and Oedipus are a result of direct literary borrowing, but rather reflect common themes in the mythic hero archetype. Hence, regarding the common themes between Oedipus and Jesus, Neil Godfrey writes:

            “Correlation is not causation, as we know. That Jesus and Oedipus fit a common type does not mean one influenced the other.”

            So which is it? Does a number of common themes mean there is literary borrowing, or doesn’t it? Mythicists want (1) common themes to mean there is literary borrowing when they are making the haggadic midrash/mimesis argument, and (2) that common themes means there is not literary borrowing when they are making the Rank Raglan argument.

            Mythicist argumentation is a ridiculous exercise in special pleading.

          • Gary

            I agree – although the logic is too complicated for me to understand. I just look at the source. I would be embarrassed to use Rank Raglan for anything besides scientifically analyzing Dr Who or Star Wars. Fits Raglan, as a British royalty, who had hobbies, not professions.

          • John MacDonald

            Gary said: “I agree – although the logic is too complicated for me to understand.”

            It’s not that complicated. Mythicists say Mark wrote his Gospel by inventing the Jesus story by recapitulating stories from the Old Testament and Greek narratives.

            At the same time, mythicists say Mark invented the character of Jesus by portraying him in the light of the mythic hero archetype. The problem is no ground is given for saying why Jesus was created in the light of the mythic hero archetype, rather than that Jesus was simply imitating someone who scored extremely high on the Rank Raglan scale, like Oedipus.

            The Rank Raglan identification is extremely important to mythicists, because simply pointing out that Jesus imitated older sources could just as well mean legendary embellishment of an historical core, as it could mean total mythical invention out of whole cloth.

            And even if the Gospel of Mark is a literary invention that doesn’t reflect the events in the life of Jesus, this still doesn’t mean Jesus didn’t exist. Maybe Mark wanted to write a narrative piece of eschatological or apocalyptic writing depicting historical figures he knew like John The Baptist, Pilate, and Jesus caught up in events at the end of time.

  • John MacDonald

    Here is a Rank Raglan list compiled by Professor Thomas J. Sienkewicz that includes analysis of a number of historical figures that score over half on the Rank Raglan scale: https://department.monm.edu/classics/Courses/Clas230/MythDocuments/HeroPattern/

  • John MacDonald

    Carrier is actually a little more clear about what he means by his use of the Rank-Raglan mythotype in some of his interviews than he is in his book “On The Historicity Of Jesus.” To illustrate his argument, Carrier says if you take all the individuals that are mythologized to the extent Jesus is and put their names in a hat, the highest likelihood of pulling the name of an historical person (as opposed to a mythical person) out of the hat is 1/3.