Mythicism, Creationism, and other Conspiracy Theories

Mythicism, Creationism, and other Conspiracy Theories August 19, 2015

I was made aware of a post by John Anthony Dunne, asking whether there is any parallel in Judaism for what Richard Carrier and other mythicists claim that Paul believed, namely that a celestial being died in the celestial realm. Presumably the closest Carrier can offer is his claim that Adam was buried in the third heaven – although even that claim is open to dispute. How would you answer the question Dunne asks?

Lee Basham and Matthew Dentith wrote a piece arguing against the prevailing view that conspiracy theorists are gullible. I think that is right – in the sense that they are very selectively gullible while in certain areas they are extremely skeptical. But I am not persuaded by the overall tone of the piece, suggesting that conspiracy theories are not problematic. But perhaps I just need to read Dentith’s book, The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories. What do others make of that article, or the book if you’ve read it?

God of Evolution shared a meme that I think gets at the heart of what I’ve said above. The issue is selectively appealing to mainstream sources. Young-earth creationists will say “See, I told you so” when a scientist says something they can spin as supporting their view. 9/11 Truthers will happily try to prove a media cover-up using video clips the media made available.


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  • Paul E.

    On the conspiracy theory angle, I think we need to separate conspiracies
    from what we call “conspiracy theories.” “Conspiracy theory” has become derogatory jargon for something whacky, but what we need to remember is that conspiracies happen all the time. They aren’t just once-in-a-generation aberrations, like Watergate, they happen every day (organized crime, price fixing, surprise parties, extra-marital affairs, etc.). We have huge, powerful laws designed specifically to target illegal conspiracies. By a conspiracy’s very nature, someone outside the conspiracy will have a difficult time determining its existence. Therefore, sometimes quixotic (crazy?) thinkers are necessary to ferret them out.

    So, yes, the term “conspiracy theory” has taken on a derogatory meaning and the derogatory nature takes the term’s common usage to a different level (i.e., a theory determined by experts using the proper process to be against the weight of evidence and consensus in a bizarre way, etc.), but we must always remember that a conspiracy is a very normal explanation for a lot of events. A knee-jerk application of “conspiracy theory” to a theory attempting to determine an explanation for events not otherwise obvious can shut down possibly fruitful lines of inquiry even if it seems “crazy” to some of us.

    • Thanks for making these important points. Let me link to the earlier discussion of this topic here:

    • Nofun

      The problem is that people end up not believing anything the media, science or anyone tells them and only believe, without question, the conspiracy behind it. Its the idea they are more clever than everyone else because they know the “real story”.

      You could blame biased journalism, political agendas or whatever for this rejection, but the problem is, this habit of uncritically believing a conspiracy theory is just that … a habit.

      Its a problem because such people can’t be reasoned with because they were not reasoned into their conspiracy belief in the first place. It just a habituated behavior. Any notion against the conspiracy becomes part of the conspiracy. A nation of such people is a disaster.

  • Gary

    Using “Apocalypse (Revelation) of Moses” for anything seems strange. Why not use the “Revelation of Paul”, that has not three heavens, but ten. Or use the Nag Hammadi document with the walking, talking cross (I forget the name of it now, darn it), to derive some conclusion about the crucifixion. If I have a walking, talking cross, gee man, it is hard to nail those nails into the wood, without the cross complaining to the Romans. Thus any crucifixion would be most difficult. This defies logic. If I were Carrier, I think I would be embarrassed to use that logic anywhere. But I must be missing something.

    • Robert Eckert

      A manuscript of Gospel of Peter has the cross talking, although it is considered fairly evident that in the original text it was the “crucified one” who came out of the tomb lecturing the frightened soldiers: a simple explanation is that some copyist used an abbreviation which a later copyist expanded mistakenly.

      • Gary

        Sounds good. We could use the Revelation of Peter instead!
        “And who is the one smiling and laughing above the cross? Is it someone else whose feet and hands they are hammering?” The Savior said to me, “The one you see smiling and laughing above the cross is the living Jesus. The one into whose hands and feet they are driving nails is his fleshy part, the substitute for him.”
        So….if I was Carrier, using the same logic, I could say Jesus never existed in the flesh. Just some Joe Shmoe. He only existed in people’s mind. Ok, not exactly a parallel to “legend only”. But drawing a conclusion from the Apocalypse of Moses seems a stretch. But there are so many off-the-wall ancient texts, I can’t keep them all straight. But it’s fun.

  • Cecil Bagpuss

    A crucial argument which Carrier needs to make is that when Paul says Jesus was “born of a woman” (Gal. 4:4), he is speaking metaphorically. This is supposedly justified because in the same letter Paul uses descent as a metaphor when he says that Gentile believers are the sons of Abraham. Apart from the obvious problems with this interpretation, there is the difficulty of what it would imply if “born of a woman” was metaphorical.

    If Jesus was “metaphorically” born of a woman, does that mean he was only metaphorically human? Was Jesus’ death also metaphorical? In fact, we could argue that it was by following Carrier’s method. Paul also uses death as a metaphor (“dying to sin”), so if he does it once then why not every other time?

    This also raises the question of just how real the celestial realm is supposed to be. Is it a place where someone can “really” die, or where someone might metaphorically die? And if someone can “really” die in the celestial realm, why can’t someone really be born there as well.

    • ncovington89

      The singer Kid Rock is a “son of Detroit.” Do you think he means he was literally squozen out of Detroit’s solid earth or do you think he means that in a figurative way? If figurative, does Kid Rock mean he is only figuratively human? Those questions tell you all you need to know to see your mistake.

      • Cecil Bagpuss

        And that is supposed to settle it? This is the sort of facile reasoning one comes to expect from mythicists.

  • Ian

    Paul E makes a similar point. To me, reading the article, I felt they stuffed the rabbit in the hat when they said “history is replete with intrigue and conspiracy”.

    A ‘conspiracy theory’ is an appeal to an ongoing conspiracy to explain the lack of support of a fringe interpretation among experts.

    Suggesting a conspiracy, to explain a pattern of evidence, is not a ‘conspiracy theory’ in the way the term is normally used.

    It isn’t a surprise that 9/11 is the example the article fixes on, because it is an example where the two are easily conflated: the idea that there was a government conspiracy to blow up the twin towers and pentagon, and the idea that there is a conspiracy to keep the truth from being known. There are others (Sandy Hook conspiracists, for example) where, like 9/11, it is easy to blur the line because of how recent the inciting event is.

    But in the case of, say, creationism, mythicism, holocaust denial, alien landings, ancient astronauts, etc, the two are more easily separated. We can see that ‘explaining the lack of credentialled support’ is the necessary and sufficient element. That the original historical claim involves a conspiracy is irrelevant (c.f. creationism – the claim isn’t that God perpetrated a conspiracy, but that the ‘experts’ are involved in the conspiracy).

    Conspiracy theories in that sense do betray a certain intellectual stance. I wouldn’t say gullible, from my experience (lots of debating Creationism, a fair bit of Holocaust denial, some Mythicism) but a kind of intellectual arrogance is definitely evident.

    [Edit: clarified and expanded a little]

    • arcseconds

      I sometimes think that at least in some cases, the crank views result from having a complete lack of understanding of what scholarship / scientific investigation actually entails.

      They read a book or two on a subject, and have a whole lot of exciting ideas about it. They throw the ideas into a semblance of order, make up some connections with the evidence, and write it all down and perhaps even publish it.

      They think that this is equivalent to serious scholarship not because they think they’re so smart that the overflow of their armchair ruminations are worth more than the painstaking work of an expert, but because they don’t get that there is such a thing as the painstaking work of the expert. The experts are just throwing their armchair ideas down on paper too, and their ideas are pedestrian and boring to boot!

      This also explains why they get so upset when their ideas are not taken seriously. It’s grossly unfair that Herr Doktor Professor’s armchair ideas get to be published in serious journals and taken seriously by serious people, but the same serious people ignore my latest exciting notions, available at a reasonable price through my vanity publisher!

      • I really appreciate what you wrote here. I remember how often I thought as an undergraduate that I had some really exciting insights, which now I view as at best half baked ideas – the ones that are not, again with hindsight, simply laughably wrong. I wonder whether the experience of getting excited about an idea amd realizing that it isn’t even interesting, never mind likely to be correct, is a standard experience that most or all scholars have.

        • arcseconds

          Or a happier case of your idea being both interesting and correct, or at least worth taking seriously, and as a result it was thought up by someone smarter than you several decades ago and has had all the academic traction it’s going to get — so if it’s right, it’s well-known, and if it’s wrong, it was rejected years ago — and you’re simply unaware because you’re a know-nothing undergrad (i.e. you haven’t (yet) spent years reading the relevant literature) 🙂

        • Paul E.

          I can remember a history professor of mine in college talking about looking back at ideas he had had and things he had written in his early days with a certain “pleasant embarrassment,” and hoping that we students could one day be dedicated enough to our studies to have a similar later experience.

        • arcseconds

          A scholar, or indeed anyone conducting a serious investigation, needs to be open to being brought up short by something other than themselves, whether it be the natural world, the text, or other people. Some experience or other reveals the inadequacies of one ideas.

          Someone who’s never had this experience might, I suppose, just have been extremely lucky, but the chances are far greater that they’re not actually open to this possibility, and while their ideas don’t actually measure up, they’re not able to notice this.

          We often call this ‘intellectual humility’, because it involves accepting this inadequacy and accepting correction.

          I suppose calling this ‘intellectual humility’ makes sense of calling the lack of this kind of acceptance ‘intellectual arrogance’. However, normally one thinks of arrogant people as being conscious of the ‘fact’ that they are better than others, whereas I don’t think this is necessarily true of people with fringe beliefs (they are generally excited about (supposedly) knowing the truth, but I don’t think this is the same thing).

          Intellectual humility also involves acknowledging that one’s relationship with the something external is something that can demonstrate such inadequacy and prompt such correction. In other words, one’s ideas and even oneself are put at risk in this relationship.

          On the other hand, being caught up in one’s ideas frequently ends up being really a solipsistic relationship with oneself where nothing is really at risk.

          (It doesn’t have to be like that, of course, writers and artists do frequently comment that their characters, works, and ideas have a life of their own. I’m not sure I can articulate the difference between an author finding a character of theirs wants to do such-and-such and a fringe theorist finding themselves sure that aliens built Machu Picchu or whatever, but even here there seems to be a discipline in the former case that is lacking in the second. )

  • Ron Maimon

    Carrier’s thesis is a little too strong— he could get by with an “Even more minimal mythicist” hypothesis: Jesus decended to Earth, became Messiah (anonymously), got crucified on Earth (anonymously), and Paul and Peter know this because of scripture and revelation from the risen Jesus (without either having ever known any flesh and blood Jesus).

    It’s an answer to “Where is the Messiah?” The standard answer is “He will come.” The Messianic answer is “He is this particular great person.” The Peter/Paul answer is “He came, but humbled himself to be an ORDINARY person, and got crucified in righteousness to cleanse sin and obsolete the Jerusalem sacrifice cult. Then he revealed himself spirtually from beyond to the Apostles, to say that it had been accomplished.” This answer makes sense without latching on to any specific historical person, and it is compatible with several competing theories of historical Jesus.

    This hypothesis does not require a reading of Ascention of Isiah as stopping Jesus at the firmament, and does not require any stretch regarding “Born of woman” “died”, “crucified”, etc, they can take their ordinary meaning. It is otherwise identical to Carrier’s thesis, in interpreting “Brother of the Lord” as Christian without a direct vision of risen Christ, “Apostle” as Christian with a direct vision of the risen Christ, and again, has no need for a historical Jesus.

    This is more minimal, in the sense that all of Carrier’s argument support this interpretation as well. It ALSO is more minimal in that it is very easy to see how people would later embellish this with stories of Christ’s sojourn on Earth, without bad faith, based on parable, experience, and some incidental testimony.

    One reason to believe that a Carrier type mythical Jesus (or the even more minimal mythical Jesus described above) is likely is that the experience of the visitation of the risen Jesus is a real psychological experience, it happens in people today, and it does not necessarily associate itself with any historical event. It is important to place the psychological experience as primary, the risen Jesus, not any random historical events that are completely irrelevant. It makes better theology.

    Carrier’s argument is maintained with this hypothesis, only the very few stretched interpretations of Ascention of Isiah and Paul’s Epistles are removed. It’s basically identical to Carrier otherwise. I should add that Carrier’s case is made stronger when you consider that in his interpretation, 1 Peter can be an authentic Epistle of Peter, this is extra evidence.

    • ncovington89

      Carrier allows for this. There’s a footnote in his book saying that maybe the first Christians could have believed Jesus came in secret but unobserved by regular people (he uses the example of “what if they believed Christ came to earth in the garden of Eden?”). I think it’s possible. However, there is still some evidence for celestial mythicism that needs to be explained.

      • Ron Maimon

        I am saying he could have come in secret, and was observed by regular people, just without them identifying him as messiah (nor did he care), just crucifying him. That’s the only purpose the incarnation serves.

        The celestial story could be primary, I agree, I just read the last part of Carrier, and there are celestial references. But the celestial events mirror Earthly events, so that there are Earthly analogs of celestial events. Any random crucifiction could be seen as the crucifiction of Jesus in this view, and there is no barrier to making a mythology from composites of martyr stories, as Carrier demonstrates happened later.

        If the conjectured theology is definitive on the location of Christ, it is less minimal, you are adding another factor without certain probability— namely that it was certain that Paul didn’t believe Christ appeared on Earth (anonymously) for crucifiction, and I don’t think Paul really gave a crap. He only cared about the risen Christ.

        • ncovington89

          “namely that it was certain that Paul didn’t believe Christ appeared on Earth (anonymously) for crucifiction”

          I think the earthly counterpart for Christ’s death were the annual animal sacrifices (like the Passover Lamb), which, notably, is the *only* earthly parallel that Hebrews speaks of to Christ’s celestial sacrifice, as if the sacrifice had taken place there and nowhere else:

          I think the ideas you’re floating are intriguing (as far as Jesus being a composite figure) but have you thought about a totally hidden messiah? As the book Tree of Souls documents, there were Jews who believed the messiah was imprisoned beneath Rome, others who believed the messiah lived in the garden of Eden, etc. In other words, lots of different groups had invented their own messiahs but posited him in a hidden realm. The same could’ve been done in Christianity. In fact, we need not imagine that they thought it happened in the garden of eden: if they just that somewhere at some point in time Christ descended and was crucified, possibly in a distant city, that would be enough to start Christianity, and would explain oddities like the tradition about Jesus dying under Alexander Jannaeus.

          • Assuming that ideas from later sources were around in the time of the appearance of what would later be called Christianity is problematic, to say the least.
            The rabbinic corpus uses a number of people named Jesus to comment on one particular Jesus that remained relevant to them in the time they wrote down those traditions.
            And there is a very simple reason why much later rabbinic sources might get the details about Jesus wrong. It is the same reason mythicists constantly get details wrong. It is easily explicable in terms of lack of intimate familiarity with the relevant sources.

          • ncovington89

            “And there is a very simple reason why much later rabbinic sources might get the details about Jesus wrong. It is the same reason mythicists constantly get details wrong. It is easily explicable in terms of lack of intimate familiarity with the relevant sources.”
            That hypothesis doesn’t explain why the 100 BC Jesus is mentioned by Epiphanius as a view held by Jewish Christians. I assume you lack familiarity with that ancient source, no?

          • Not at all. Indeed, I know Epiphanius well enough to know that his descriptions of the views of others are not always well-informed. I doubt that Jewish Christians would have thought the Maccabees were of Davidic descent. But they may well have decided that they must have been, and created this chronology, in an attempt to salvage the prophecy that David would never cease to have a descendant on the throne.

            Again, it seems as though mythicists are looking for anything which can be made to seem to support their desired conclusion, whereas scholars want to actually understand Epiphanius’ writings for their own sake, in their own time and context.

          • ncovington89

            So according to you, The Talmud writers made up a Jesus who lived in 100 BC by sheer mistake because they did not understand the Christian beliefs, and Epiphanius independently made up a Jesus who lived in 100 BC by sheer mistake because he did not understand the beliefs of a rival Christian group.
            Instead of positing two wild mistakes that happened by sheer chance to converge on the same picture, why not posit just one group of Christians who actually did believe that Jesus lived in 100 BC?
            The simplest explanation is most probably correct.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            This argument is typical of Carrier’s legerdemain. There is almost total agreement that Jesus was crucified during the governorship of Pilate – a rather precise piece of historical information. Is it usual to have this sort of information about mythical figures from the ancient world? But, of course, this isn’t allowed to count in favour of historicity.

            On the other hand, one isolated report about a belief that Jesus supposedly lived in a different era IS allowed to count against historicity.

          • ncovington89

            No, not one isolated report. Two independent reports (the Talmud and Epiphanius).
            Second, the report of Jesus being crucified by Pilate comes out of documents that were probably or plausibly influenced directly by Mark, only exceptions being Josephus (which is forged anyway) and Tacitus (maybe not a forgery, but late enough to have probably passed on information from Christians who got them from documents like Mark).

            Third, you think the fact that somebody said “Jesus was crucified by Pilate” is supposed to impressive, but you forget that our earliest report of this (Mark) weaved a portrait of Pilate that many historians think is ludicrous: why would the murderous Pilate execute Jesus based on the whims of the crowd?

          • Before we go any further, could you kindly explain why (1) you think Mead is persuasive, and then why (2) you think that Epiphanius and the Talmud can be assumed without argument to be more reliable than sources written centuries earlier, within decades to less than a century of the events in question?

          • ncovington89

            (1) We’re not talking about GRS Mead here, even though he did write a book about the subject.
            (2) You don’t know as much as you think you do about mythicism, since no mythicist believes that the Talmud or Epiphanius convey accurate historical information about Jesus. What we think is that they convey accurate information about the beliefs of one particular group of Christians. The million dollar question is: why and how did a group of Christians come to believe that Jesus had lived in 100 BC? We’ve been through this before, and you failed to give any kind of an explanation about how this could be the case (besides saying that people back then did not have a standardized calendar, which is a poor explanation for reasons I’ve spelled out before). However, mythicists *do* have ready explanations for this phenomenon: Carrier, for example, floats the idea that different groups made up different allegorical stories and did not pay any mind to the fact that they were in different time periods (it didn’t matter because they weren’t history anyway). I floated the theory that maybe Christianity started with a belief in a flesh and blood man but nobody had a clear idea of when and where he was crucified, so people made up different stories about the details (the terrestrial myth theory I just mentioned, by the way, is perfectly capable of taking the standard interpretation of Galatians 4:4 and Romans 1:3).

          • The “million dollar question” is not why two fourth century Jewish sources agree. The million dollar question is why mythicists are impressed by this fourth-century convergence of two sources, but not the first-century comvergence of all the early Christian sources.

          • ncovington89

            We’re impressed with it because it disproves your assertion that the authors of Sepher Toledoth Jeschu just made up everything they said, instead of deriving it from real Christian beliefs. Which means there was a group that believed in a 100BC Jesus. We need to explain why such people existed. Which mythicism explains pretty neatly.

          • Mythicism fits any evidence, simply by saying “people made this up.” It explains anything and everything neatly, and thus explains nothing at all.

            Are you aware of the details of these passages? Do you have any actual argument to make as to why these are something other than a late distortion of what was thought to be the case by the sources from the relevant time period? Do you have an explanation for why fourth century agreement on one point impresses you but first century agreement on multiple points does not?

          • Nick, Buddhist sources vary by two thousand years in where they place the date of the Buddha’s death. Yet most scholars view the Buddha as a historical figure – the problem is pinning down which dates are most likely to be correct. The chronology of Jesus is far less problematic, yet you seem to be taking a couple of late reports as somehow decisive evidence for mythicism. It strikes me as a very weak argument.

          • ncovington89

            I never said it was conclusive evidence. It’s modest evidence for mythicism. I just get annoyed That after casually mentioning this at the end of a comment, McGrath comes in and tries his ad hoc rationalizing to get rid of his problem. He could’ve just admitted I had a point. And Guantanamo Buddha proves the opposite of what you think: many scholars do consider him mythical or a legendary conglomerate of multiple people. So Buddha at best is semihistorical.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            “Guantanamo Buddha”? Is that the guy who was detained on suspicion of being a terrorist?

          • Not to be confused with Guantanamera Buddha, who taught that freedom from the cycle of death and rebirth could be attained by listening to Pete Seeger.

            (A joke for all you Buddhist folk music fans.)

          • Gary

            That Is like confusing Cat Stevens, who is Islamic, with Ray Stevens, who sang “Ahab the Arab”. Similar names, different planets.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            Louis Armstrong and Lance Armstrong.

          • ncovington89

            Yes, that’s the one. I’m typing this on an iPad, cut me some slack.

          • I would be interested to know whether you can actually indicate which scholars of Buddhism and of South Asian history think Siddharta Gautama was a completely invented figure along the lines of Jesus-mythicism, and how widely held that view is in the relevant fields.

            You seem not to have grasped that, because mythicism has nothing to offer but weak arguments, I responded in a flippant and deliberately insulting manner to your deluded suggestion that the misdating of the life and death of Jesus in late sources is somehow a profound and important insight. I was not attempting to offer a serious explanation of the passage in the Talmud, because you have shown no indication that you care about scholarship concerning the Talmud. You seem interested only in trying to score cheap points for a crackpot theory that you happen to like. If you want me to respond with serious scholarly suggestions to your comments, you will have to begin making serious comments in a serious way that merits being taken seriously. Until then, kindly refrain from complaining that my response to mythicist comments are not serious and scholarly. They are not, because at this stage neither is mythicism.

          • ncovington89

            So you give a crap explanation to a problem I raised, and then when I point out the explanation is crap, I’m told that I wasn’t supposed to expect a good explanation anyway. You’re only embarrassing yourself here, you know.

          • If you think either that it is implausible that Jewish rabbis in Late Antiquity were – like today’s mythicists – superficially acquainted with Christian sources, or that a one-sentence pointing out of this shortcoming of today’s mythicists was intended to provide a detailed analysis of ancient sources in a scholarly manner, then believe me, I am not the one who needs to feel embarrassed.

            But I really am baffled by your recent troll-like behavior and antischolarly agenda. You seemed some years ago when you first started commenting here to have a genuine interest in what scholars have to say. What on earth happened between then and now?!

          • ncovington89

            What’s happened between now and then is a change on your part: if you’re rude and condescending, you’re going to get the same in return. Don’t dish it out if you can’t take it.
            Your attitude towards mythicists and those with mythicist leanings seems to be the following:
            You assume they are wrong.
            You assume that they are unreasonable.
            They don’t deserve any serious engagement on your part.
            The correct way to approach the issue is this: if someone holds a viewpoint that you think sounds crazy, find out more about it. Listen with an open mind to why they think what they do, and *then* discuss whatever problems there might be in their ideas, and listen open mindedly to their responses to those problems. Until you come to a place where you can say, “Maybe mythicism is right, let’s look and see…” You have not even lived up to the most basic starting principles of academic inquiry.

          • I do not assume mythicists are wrong. I have looked into their claims and they are not merely wrong but laughable. I am not sure whether you actually practice what you preach here when you encounter claims by creationists, Holocaust-deniers, or any other comparable proponents of views that scholars have not ignored, but have looked at and find thoroughly unpersuasive.

            If you cannot handle criticism, you might want to refrain from embracing crackpot ideas and then trying to promote them on the blog of a scholar in a relevant field.

            There has been no change whatsoever on my part. But I hope that you will note that you are engaging in standard denialist tactics in your comment. You claim that it is scholars who are rude and closed-minded. You claim that those who reject your view can’t possibly have done so on the basis of a careful examination of the evidence. This is all standard run of the mill denialist stuff. And that is a conclusion I have drawn despite having sincerely hoped that at least some of the better-qualified mythicists would at least say something interesting. I am part of an academic guild which disagrees about many things, and so this is not about disagreement. It is about mythicists not bothering to actually offer the kind of work that can be disagreed with in a serious academic fashion, because it only tries to appear serious and yet altogether lacks the substance of what defines academic scholarship in its mainstream form.

          • ncovington89

            “You claim that it is scholars who are rude and closed-minded.”

            No, I didn’t say “scholars” were, I said *you* were.

            “I am not sure whether you actually practice what you preach here when you encounter claims by creationists, Holocaust-deniers, or any other comparable proponents of views that scholars have not ignored, but have looked at and find thoroughly unpersuasive.”

            As a matter of fact I do. I have thoroughly researched creationism and a variety of other marginalized viewpoints. And the reason I rejected those claims was because of evidence and reason, not because some professor became angry and condescending when I tried to discuss it with him.

          • And I reject mythicism for the same reason you reject creationism. And if you have researched it, then presumably you understand the frustration felt by scientists who work in biology, genetics, and paleontology when confronted with the inanity of the claims made by creationists.

          • ncovington89

            I also know that they have given clear explanations of what is wrong with creationism, not self-righteous “flippant” answers that don’t fit the data.
            Also, you don’t have fossils, genetics, or any other rock solid body of data to build a case for the historical Jesus. You have best) a handful of ambiguous textual evidence to put against the textual evidence for mythicism.
            You’re only proving how delusional you are when you even dare to compare the massive and overwhelming support had by the theory of evolution to the piddling and piss poor arguments for your historical Jesus theory.

          • What a bizarre response. You do realize that the question of Jesus’ historicity is a question of history and not science, right? Who but a mythicist would suggest that we ought to have a fossil of Jesus in order to draw a conclusion?!

            You must also surely be aware that creationists view the responses of scientists to their claims as flippant, insulting, and in short, everything you say that mainstream historians’ conclusions are?

          • arcseconds

            What I think McGrath is getting at is not whether or not you have researched creationism, but how you treat creationists.

            Do you treat them how you say you want mythicists to be treated? In every case behave graciously and respectfully, and politely discuss the problems with their ideas, and listen with an open mind to their responses?

            Or have you perhaps come to the conclusion that the position is in fact untenable, and if you ever were at the point where you asked yourself “Maybe creationism is true? Let’s look and see…” that point has long since past, and are tiring of (and perhaps getting frustrated with) more of the same round of cherry-picking, quote-mining, motivated reasoning, complete misapprehension, and ill-founded accusations of closed-mindedness and bias leveled at the scientific community? And maybe tiring and getting frustrated with the fact that discussions with individual creationists frequently lead nowhere?

          • ncovington89

            “Do you treat them how you say you want mythicists to be treated?”

            Damn straight. And I think the way biologists have responded to creationists was far more polite and fair than any of the condescension and close-mindedness that I’ve seen from Jesus-historicists. Not that they are comparable. One is a group of regular people who have studied biology. The other is a group where +95% of its members are predisposed towards religious nonsense.

            Nobody has ever done anything comparable to a FAQ on the historical existence of Jesus. And I suspect nobody can. Because we just don’t have heaping wads of information to adjudicate between all of the possibilities. That’s just a fact that has to be faced. Take a look at radiometric dating:
            Every logical possibility that could explain the radiometric evidence we have (besides the obvious explanation that the Earth is old) has been explored, tested, and falsified very strongly and often in multiple ways. The fact that historicists don’t understand the extraordinary, enormous, weakness of their case compared to evolution is breathtaking to me. Bringing up this analogy only reflects poorly on you.

          • You seem not to grasp that the comparison is not suggesting that biology and history function with comparable methods and evidences. The point of the comparison is that creationists and mythicists use similar denialist tactics to dispute the degree of certainty of the conclusions of scholars and experts in these very different fields. And of course, this is something that has been said here countless times before, but as with creationists, so too with mythicists, dealing honestly with the arguments of experts appears to be too much to ask.

          • arcseconds

            There’s no use in insisting that biologists are a bunch of ever-patient, unfailingly polite and accepting saints, eternally optimistic that despite every disappointment in the past maybe this time creationism comes up with the goods, because I know that’s not true!

            (It would seem unlikely even if I hadn’t seen direct evidence to the contrary, as biologists are human beings, and I know what human beings are like.)

            I knew all I had to do is to page back through phayryngula to the last post mentioning creationism and lo, we do not find P.J. Myers approaching Hovind with “well, maybe Creationism is true and Hovind has the evidence this time!”, but rather with tired sarcasm, insults, and condescension:

            He’s making YouTube videos! Lots and lots of YouTube videos, several per day, it appears. If you’re concerned about the volume — how will we ever keep up? — don’t be. It’s all exactly the same old tired Young Earth apologetics and Bible babble that he’s always done.

            Don’t get me wrong: my sympathies are entirely with Myers in this matter. Having backyard self-appointed experts continually get things wrong and high-handedly tell you that you’re the one that can’t make sense of the evidence, despite having studied the matter for decades at well-regarded institutions is in fact quite trying. Maybe we could expect or even demand that the first time one hears a novel belief that one should hear it out, but at the umpteenth time of more of the same, some impatience is surely to be expected.

            Maybe you personally are unflaggingly respectful and polite towards creationists at all times, but I must confess I find that a little difficult to believe. You are not being unflaggingly respectful and polite towards McGrath, and all you’re getting from him is some brusqueness and impatience, and maybe a little condescension. That’s more respect than one gets from many creationists (and more respect than Myers is offering Hovind for that matter) and if you’re reacting like this (“piddling and piss poor arguments”) to this very mild provocation, I’m inclined to think your reaction to the high-handedness and outright insults often peddled by creationists can’t be as polite and respectful as you say it is.

          • Well, unless the picture has shifted considerably since my uni days, I think it’s safe to say that most scholars do view the Buddha as a a historical figure. Saying that he is at best semihistorical smacks of misrepresentation to me.

          • Gakusei Don

            Nick, I don’t see Epiphanius claiming that Jesus had lived 100 BC. Quite the opposite. If you read his writings in section 29 (, Epiphanius writes:

            “But then finally a gentile, King Herod, was crowned, and not David’s descendants any more.” (3.6)

            It’s clear Epiphanius thought that David’s descendants ruled until King Herod. What Epiphanius says is that up until the time of Alexander, rulers were of both “priestly” and “kingly” stock. (3.3) The priestly side stopped in the time of Alexander, but David’s descendants continued to hold the throne (according to Epiphanius) until King Herod. Then, with Christ, the priestly and kingly ranks combined again into one (3.7)

            It’s true that 3.3 sounds like Jesus was born in the time of Alexander Jannaeus, but Epiphanius **explicitly** states that Jesus was born in the 42nd year of Augustus and 33rd year of Herod (20 2.1), which matches the orthodox position. This contradicts what 3.3 seems to claim. But if you look at the surrounding context, it seems clear that Epiphanius is saying that:
            (1) Until Alexander, the role of ruler and role of priest was combined.
            (2) This stopped in the time of Alexander, at which point the ruling role and priestly roles separated.
            (3) Until Herod, the descendants of David still ruled.
            (4) Christ was born, at which points both roles were combined again.

            It would seem strange that Epiphanius thought that Christ was born in the time of Alexander, but that the kingly and priestly roles were not combined until after Herod! And note Epiphanius’s **explicit** reference to when Christ was born. So most likely something strange in the transmission of 3.3.

          • ncovington89

            Maybe. I’ll give it some thought, but it does seem odd to me that there is a sentence saying Christ was born after Alexander. Could be a textual error, who knows?

          • Gakusei Don

            Nick, probably best to read all of Epiphanius, rather than just a couple of passages. Epiphanius deals extensively elsewhere about the kings of Judah, leading up to explicitly dating Jesus’ birth to about 3 BCE at the end of the reign of Herod. It may not even be a textual error, just how words are translated plus not having a complete understanding of the context. If you break down 3.3, we have this:

            3:3 For the rulers in succession from Judah came to an end with Christ’s arrival.

            This is true, since Herod was the first non-Davidic successor. Epiphanius makes a BIG deal about this elsewhere.

            Until he came the rulers were anointed priests,9 but after his birth in Bethlehem of Judea the order ended…

            Again, true. The rulers before Herod were also all high-priests, with the exception of Salome Alexandra who ruled briefly after Alexander Jannaeus. Note how this ties in with prophecy, where Epiphanius refers in 3.2 on how Judah rulers will not “fail” until Christ comes.

            … and was altered in the time of Alexander, a ruler of priestly and kingly stock. 3:4 This position died out with this Alexander from the time of Salina also known as Alexandra…

            The question is: what was “altered” in the time of Alexander? This seems to be a recognition that Salome Alexandra was not high priest, so the dual roles were not passed on as they had been.

            The key to this I think is that Epiphanius is trying to show that the Judah rulers were successors of David. At the beginning of the controversial section, he writes:

            3:2 In time past David’s throne continued by succession until Christ himself, since the rulers from Judah did not fail until he came ‘for whom are the things prepared, and he is the expectation of the nations,’ as scripture says.

            Then at the end of that section, he writes:

            3:6 But then finally a gentile, King Herod, was crowned, and not David’s descendants any more.

            Three items:
            (1) Read where Epiphanius focuses on Herod and Augustus, since he spends a lot of time on the implications
            (2) Keep in mind in the controversial section that Epiphanius is talking about two roles: ruler and high-priest. They separate at the point of Herod, though they are ‘altered’ in the time of Alexander.
            (3) If Epiphanius is really saying that Judah succession ends with Alexander (if Christ is born then), then it makes a real mess with what he writes elsewhere of Davidic succession AFTER Alexander! Compare 3:3 and 3:6.

          • ncovington89

            I’m aware that Epiphanius himself did hold an orthodox view, but the question here is whether he was discussing the nazorean viewpoint in this passage. Right now it’s a maybe for me, I think it requires a little more thought.

            By the way, I do want to say that I appreciate the evidence and reason based discussion you’ve provided. I think that’s the way we should be approaching this subject, and there are even professionals who should take a few pages from your book (hint, hint).

          • Gakusei Don

            It’s clear that Epiphanius was not discussing the Nazorean viewpoint there. He was actually defending against what he called “Jesseans”, by showing that the prophecies was about a successor to David. I’m not sure why you even raise it as a possibility — if you have read the text, what is there that makes you think he was discussing the Nazorean viewpoint? Can you point to the passage please?

            Thanks for the compliment, but without wanting to get in between your discussion with McGrath, I’m a little disappointed in our own latest exchange. Fair enough that you say you need to think about this more, but you have gone from: there is a “tradition” that “there was a group of Christians who thought Jesus was crucified in Joppa under Alexander Jannaeus”, to a “maybe”. A year ago I complimented you on skeptink blog posts for them being fair and considered (even as I disagreed with you on points). I gently suggest your exchange with me on this post doesn’t reflect that.

            Dr Carrier believes much the same as you. On page 284 of OHJ, he writes:

            “Epiphanius confirms that some Torah-obser­vant Christians, from the original sect of Christianity, actually did preach that [i.e. Jesus was executed under Jannaeus]”

            Looking at the source, “confirm” is way too strong. And that’s before even considering that Epiphanius was talking about the **orthodox** position in those passages, rather than the beliefs of the Nazoreans.

          • ncovington89

            “I’m not sure why you even raise it as a possibility — if you have read the text, what is there that makes you think he was discussing the Nazorean viewpoint?”

            Namely because the passage is under a section called “Against the Nazoreans.”

            “I gently suggest your exchange with me on this post doesn’t reflect that.”
            Being fair and considerate means acknowledging the possibility that I am wrong, if it is there and I know it. So in this case I have done that. How is that not fair and considerate?

          • Gakusei Don

            >>Namely because the passage is under a section called “Against the Nazoreans.”<<

            That's true, but note that it is "Against the Nazoreans”. I.e. Epiphanius isn’t giving a dispassionate account of the heresies, but explains where they go wrong by providing the orthodox view. I think we all agree that the only controversial passage here is in 3.3. But even there it is clear that when he writes in 3.3 “For the rulers in succession from Judah came to an end with Christ’s arrival”, he means that Christ came in the time of Herod. So the rest of 3.3 should be evaluated with that in mind.

            >>Being fair and considerate means acknowledging the possibility that I am wrong, if it is there and I know it. So in this case I have done that. How is that not fair and considerate?<<

            I apologise if I have misconstrued your intent here. From my perspective: What disappointed me was that you didn't seem to have investigated what you were proposing. It is clear (at least to me) after five minutes reading that Epiphanius was not discussing the Nazorean viewpoint in 3.3. That you threw the idea out there without apparent investigation reflected badly on you IMHO, especially since your blog posts had been excellent and well-investigated. More so, if you stopped at the section title and thought that was enough. But if it was something else, again my apologies. Perhaps I was misled by the strength of my case (in my own mind at any rate!)

            I’d like to revisit the question if you don’t mind, since it should take little time to confirm. Here is the link to Epiphanius’ article:

            Dr Carrier writes that:

            “Epiphanius confirms that some Torah-obser­vant Christians, from the original sect of Christianity, actually did preach that [i.e. Jesus was executed under Jannaeus]”

            In my view, Carrier is definitely wrong to suggest that Epiphanius is referring to the views of the Nazoreans in Section 29 3.3. From the context, Epiphanius is referring to the orthodox view.

            If you do get time to look at the link, I’d be interested if you disagree, and why. (Keep in mind that in many sections Epiphanius not only discusses the heresy, but also spends time providing the orthodox view against the heresy. So relying on the section title alone is a problem) I can see no reason to suspect that Epiphanius is referring to the beliefs of the Nazoreans in 3.3.

          • Gakusei Don

            Looks like my original reply was eaten by the Internet.

            >>Namely because the passage is under a section called “Against the Nazoreans.”<<

            Yes, against the Nazoreans. Epiphanius isn’t giving a dispassionate account of the heresy, but why the heresy is wrong by also giving the orthodox view.

            >>Being fair and considerate means acknowledging the possibility that I am wrong, if it is there and I know it. So in this case I have done that. How is that not fair and considerate?<<

            Because your response suggests you haven't looked at the text before giving that response. There is nothing in the text that suggests that Epiphanius is referring to the heretical view. Ten minutes of looking at the text would confirm that. Apologies if I am wrong, but it seems your response — that Epiphanius was describing the Nazorean view — was given without spending that ten minutes looking at the text. It seems you stopped at the section title. Again, apologies if I have misread you on that.

            If you have time to check, this is the link to the text:

            Carrier writes on page 284 of OHJ:

            “Epiphanius confirms that some Torah-obser­vant Christians, from the original sect of Christianity, actually did preach that [i.e. Jesus was executed under Jannaeus]”

            IMO, Carrier is completely mistaken that Epiphanius is referring to the Nazoreans/Jesseans there. Epiphanius is giving the orthodox view. The controversial passage is 29 3:3. However, 3.3 starts with “For the rulers in succession from Judah came to an end with Christ’s arrival.” According to Epiphanius, this places Christ’s arrival AFTER Herod started to reign.

            Do you agree that Carrier is apparently wrong? If you think he is correct — that Epiphanius is referring to a Nazorean view — I’d appreciate you sharing your analysis.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            In other words, even though this information is completely untypical of mythical characters in the ancient world, you think it can be explained away.

          • ncovington89

            No, I’m saying that unreliable information reported in a single source doesn’t give your position any extra credibility.

          • Matt Brown

            Your objections are so lame. Do you really think that showing a historical contradiction makes your point any stronger? Please cite actual evidence. And I mean, cite positive evidence that our earliest sources interpret Jesus being a metaphor or symbolic and not actually existing.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            Right, let’s see the positive evidence. But we know mythicists don’t have that; so they comb the literature for anomalies and then declare that the myth theory “explains” these.

          • Matt Brown

            Kind of like those who say that the Cambrian explosion is evidence for a young-earth because we know that if evolution was true there would not be any inconsistencies in our fossil record

          • There is no way that a mythicist can appeal to the simplest explanation, simce mythicism does not accept the simplest explanation of what Paul says about Jesus’ purported Davidic descent, or his birth from a woman like all other human beings, or any other evidence.

            There is more than one possible way to explain why, in much later times, in a Jewish context, there were some whose chronology did not match what our sources several centuries earlier said. Are you going to pretend that you are actually interested in a scholarly treatment of those matters in a serious, contextual way that requires detailed familiarity with the fourth-century context of those texts? Or can you at least honestly admit that your knowledge of Epiphanius and of the Talmud is limited to a desire to proof-text for mythicism?

          • ncovington89

            “There is no way that a mythicist can appeal to the simplest explanation, simce mythicism does not accept the simplest explanation of what Paul says about Jesus’ purported Davidic descent, or his birth from a woman like all other human beings, or any other evidence.”

            This a common maneuver that you use: when you’re caught in an inconsistency, you throw out a fallacious tu quoque argument: “I know you are but what am I?”

            By the way, terrestrial mythicism can explain all those passages.

            “There is more than one possible way to explain why, in much later times, in a Jewish context, there were some whose chronology did not match what our sources several centuries earlier said.”

            Besides the implausible double-mistake theory you floated earlier, what are they?

          • It is not a maneuver it is a criticism. You cannot offer convoluted implausible hypotheses and then complain that someone else’s view is not simple.

            You seem not to have grasped yet that what I was doing was offering a point about modern mythicists, the suggestion about the Talmud being a throwaway remark.

            You seem not to be aware of the numerous different things that the Talmud says about people named Jesus, and the evidence that numerous people by that name were identified later with Jesus of Nazareth.

            Among the possibilities that fit the evidence better than mythicism, there is the obvious possibility that the Jewish Christian view that Epiphanius knew, and which preferred to play fast and loose with history rather than admit an error in the Bible, was known to the rabbis in the fourth century who polemicized against Christians. It seems a quite straightforward historical explanation – far more so than mythicists saying “Jews and Christians are thoroughly untrustworthy – except here in these late sources where we happen to like what they are saying.”

          • ncovington89

            So to clarify: you do believe there was a group of Christians who thought Jesus was crucified in Joppa under Alexander Jannaeus? That is my view, but it seemed like earlier you were saying that the Talmud / Sepher Toledoth were mistaken and that no such group existed.

          • ncovington89

            “It seems a quite straightforward historical explanation – far more so than mythicists saying ‘Jews and Christians are thoroughly untrustworthy – except here in these late sources where we happen to like what they are saying.'”
            Right, and I think the Talmudic writings on Jesus are just as fictional as the gospels. I only think they attest to a group who *believed* in the 100BC Jesus. We seem to be having a lot of trouble grasping this simple point. Try reading viewpoints that you disagree with with some interpretative charity and you’d be amazed at how much sense they make.

          • Matt Brown

            Terrestial Mythicsm? Wow… Changing the evidence yet again to fit your view. When in all reality what you are actually showing is that Jesus existed on earth and in heaven. No amount of sources show a Jesus who is believed to have been non-existent or parabolic. This silly argumentation should really stop from you.

  • Joe Wallack

    Ya still just don’t get it. “Mythicists” as you define it think it possible/probable that Jesus did not exist. That Jesus did not exist is possible. “Christians” think that all kinds of impossible things are possible. Why don’t you make even more fun of Christians than you do of Mythicists?

    • Gakusei Don

      Joe, conspiracy theorists are often distinguished by their belief that the authorities/mainstream hides the truth from us. Some mythicists have that belief about mainstream academia, which is somehow ‘frightened’ by the challenge of mythicism. One of the most popular mythicist books is “The Christ CONSPIRACY”, by Acharya S. (She thinks the Pope is the Grand Master Freemason who knows that Christ was a myth!) And the conspiracy film “Zeitgeist”, which John Anthony Dunne mentions, has had millions of views.

      There are also conspiracy theories within Christianity. In fact, Dr McGrath pointed to one in this very blog post: Creationism. Like some mythicists believe about mainstream academia, creationists believe that mainstream biology scientists are hiding things from us.

    • Cecil Bagpuss

      If only it was that simple, Joe. If the origin of the Jesus “myth” had been lost in the mists of time, then it would be reasonable to believe that Jesus never existed, but that isn’t the case. The “myth” seems to have a definite beginning and because of that various contrived theories must be dreamed up to explain it.

      Carrier thinks that he knows exactly how the myth was invented, but ironically, that actually counts against his theory. If Jesus really was a myth we shouldn’t know exactly how the myth began.

      • Nick G

        I don’t think you’ve understood Joe Wallack’s point. He’s not (at least here) supporting mythicism, but saying that many of the beliefs common among Christians (e.g. the virgin birth, the resurrection, biblical inerrancy) are far, far more implausible than mythicism.

  • Gakusei Don

    “The Onion” has a funny youtube skit called ‘9/11 Conspiracy Theories Ridiculous’, where a representative from Al Qaeda attacks a person promoting a 9/11 ‘insider job’ conspiracy.

    Best part is when the insider job conspiracy theorist says to the Al Qaeda rep ‘Why are you being so closed minded on this, sir?’

  • Gakusei Don

    I think that John Anthony Dunne’s question doesn’t quite reflect the claim that Dr Carrier is making. I’ve left a comment on his blog, but the gist is: Carrier doesn’t
    really claim that it is an angel or spirit that dies, but rather a spirit that has already incarnated into a body of flesh as a man (or in the likeness of a man) that dies in the heavens. (OHJ, page 570)

  • ThereisaGod

    “……9/11 Truthers will happily try to prove a media cover-up using video clips the media made available.”

    FALSE and typical bullsh*t attack on 9/11 ‘truthers’.
    No one is saying the media covered-up their own output (though they did fail to broadcast anything about the collapse of Building 7 until about 6 years afterwards when private videos of the event were all over the web)

    We are saying that what was presented was an entirely false (and physically impossible) analysis of the raw information presented in mainstream films and newspaper reports.

    People like yourself are happy to use the prejudicial twilight language inherent in the term ‘conspiracy theorists’ and to follow this up with deadly attacks on ‘straw men’ that form no part of the assertions you are trying to discredit.

    You are a lame coward, too mentally lazy to engage in real critical thinking about the detail of the (I say) lies that you have happily imbibed.

    For you I’m sure. as for most who “don’t go there”, the accusations are too outrageous to possibly be true.


    Protecting 9/11 lies makes you a traitorous fool, Mr Pathetios.

    • Robert Eckert

      I was watching a financial news network on September 11 which was talking about the dangerous wobbly state of Building 7 for hours and telling us to expect it to come down.

      • ThereisaGod

        It was not a wobbly building. It was a steel-framed block about
        the same height as UK’s Canary Wharf that had a couple of smallish fires on one side and none on the other (as video of its collapse confirms). A steel-framed high-rise building has never in human history collapsed due to fires before this unique event, so how on earth could ‘authorities’ predict such an event in advance. As they did. The BBC’s Jane Standley announced its collapse 30 minutes BEFORE it fell. You can view this announcement on YouTube with WTC7 visible in the background. It is almost comical.
        Unless it was about to come down under controlled demolition which it obviously did because the collapse time was estimated at 6.5 seconds and subsequent analysis of the film shows that this collapse was indeed free-fall during the first measurable seconds. Pancake floor-on-floor collisions would cause deceleration (don’t want to get too technical [Laws of Physics and the like] but you have known since you were 10 months old that bumping into things slows you down).

        So. The Building 7 collapse was PROVABLY a controlled demolition.

        The question you have to answer is:

        Did a guy in a cave in Afghanistan cause this or forces within US government. If the latter, as it only can have been. Such an opersation takes weeks (or many days at least) of preparation.

        Therefore 9/11 was a PLANNED EVENT and the planning agency could only have been home-grown.

        Building 7, by the way, was home to the Mayor’s emergency management offices and to the CIA and the FBI.

        What do criminals do after committing a crime?

        They destroy the evidence. You will have to work very hard to contradict one word of the above in any meaningful evidential manner. Many government shills have tried and no one has yet succeeded.

        • This illustrates the points made here about conspiracy theories. And since you decided to resort to nastiness, you will alas not be providing more of the same.

        • Robert Eckert

          “It was not a wobbly building” It was that afternoon. You could see it starting to lean, well before it came down. Everybody was ordered out for a reason.

          “The BBC’s Jane Standley announced its collapse 30 minutes BEFORE it fell.” People were expecting it to collapse for a couple hours before it finally did.

    • Phil Ledgerwood

      You’ll have to excuse him. He is heavily influenced by Reptons.

  • theot58

    Labelling somethig as “conspiracy theory” is a convenient way of dismissing valid scientific problem with a particular issue.

    For example: “Creation conspiracy” demeans the scientific evidence which clearly indicates that Darwinian/Macro evolution is scientifically very inplausible if not impossible.

    Consider just a small number of fundamental scientific problems with Darwinian/Macro evolution which expose its fallacy

    1) Where did the information come from to build the DNA molecule?

    – it contains over 4 Gigabits of programming data; we have never observed natural forces creating programming data

    – a building is proof of a builder, a program is proof of a programmer, a design is proof of a designer

    2) How did genders “evolve” from asexual organisms?

    – Consider some of the challenges, have a look at this video

    3) How do you explain symbiotic relationships while holding to gradual “evolution”?

    – e.g.. The bees need the flowers, the flowers need the bees – they both MUST exist together, how could this occur slowly or gradually

    – What came first the Chicken or the egg?

    4) Where are all the myriad of transition fossils that Darwin predicted?

    – They were missing then and they are missing now.

    – How can the Cambrian explosion of millions of fully formed organism appearing abruptly be explained by Evolution?

    5) Which “evolved” first, the vagina or the penis?

    – how did one “evolve” from the other?