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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Marshall: Liar, Lunatic, or Historian?

A couple weeks ago, I posted what is so far the most substantive review of Richard Carrier's On the Historicity of Jesus, on the Amazon site for that book.  Predictably, my review has provoked a bit of a firestorm there.  Almost 200 comments have been posted so far.  As I foresaw in the review itself, most comments by Carrier fans so far have involved personal invective, rather than any substantive attempt to refute my arguments.

As I also rather expected, while Carrier posted heated comments in response to my earlier posts there, he has so far remained, to my knowledge, mute in response to this long critical review.  There seems to be a certain necessity to this silence.  He makes it clear in the book itself that his contempt for "fundamentalists" and "apologists," or to use his special term, "triumphalist" Christians, those who like me think the evidence actually favors Christianity, is complete.  He is writing for respectable people who either accept his own materialism, or at least lack the temerity to argue against it.  To cross swords with me now would undermine that studied contempt.  In addition, he tried to shoo me away with name-calling, falsely claiming that I had crowed about beating him and other atheists in debate, while himself crowing that he had beaten me in debate.  Therefore (the logic gets tangled and implicit here) there was no need to read my comments any more, and he discouraged the faithful from doing so.  To answer directly would therefore, in his thinking (as I read it, admittedly from a distance), would involve losing face. 

But some of his fans have answered on Amazon, and with heat.  The most vitriolic, or at least the most intelligent of the more vitriolic ranters, has so far been one Laura Bray.

Laura tried, early on, to show why my points were mistaken, as well as why I was a fool, liar, and incompetent.  Those attempts failed rather badly (she isn't very good at math, apparently), so she fell back on an exclusive diet of vitriol.  I put her on "ignore," and said I would not answer her personal attacks.
 
I've changed my mind.  Since Richard himself set the tone of personal calumny, I think I will take Laura as a temporary stand-in for Richard, which it is indeed possible that they intend.  (Since he apparently will not stoop to explaining why I any of my points, tentative and partial as they are so far, are mistaken.)
 
Laura's main accusation is that I am a "liar."  She repeats this accusation frequently, with just enough variation in tone and style to suggest that she might be capable of a real argument, if she put her mind to something besides blind hatred.  But the logic of the personal attack goes like this:
 
(1) Marshall claims to be an historian. 
 
(2) He is not an historian, he is a theologian.  His terminal academic degree is in theology, not history, that makes him a theologian. 
 
(3) Also, he has failed to provide evidence that he has written peer-reviewed articles in history.  And in Laura's experience, people who do not answer her inquisitorial questions, have something to hide.
 
(4) Therefore Marshall is a liar. 
 
Now I feel maybe even more contempt for this sort of argument than Richard expresses for Christian apologetics, so I will not deign to merely refute it.  Nor will I merely point out that even if I were a liar, even if I were the hero in "Catch Me If You Can," running around the world pretending to be a pilot or a doctor, even I studied at Mossy Rock Bible College and tried to sneak into Mission Control claiming to be a nuclear scientist, that would not serve to refute a single one of my criticisms of Richard Carrier's failed argument. 
 
But I think there is something more useful and charming we can make of Laura's personal attack.  In what follows, I will not only refute Laura's attack on my person (who cares?), I will show how, like a boomerang, it actually whirls around and knocks our friend Richard Carrier roff the pedastal uupon which he has set himself.  
 
My argument will come in three steps: Laura's accusation, Carrier's claims about himself, and my own personal "Liar, Lunatic, Historian" trilemma (with apologies to infinitely more important arguments of which this seems a skeptical caricature.) 
 
 
Laura Debunks a Lying Liar who tells Lies. 
 
How many times does Laura call me a "liar" for claiming to be an historian, in the following five paragraphs?  Let's count. 
 
"Marshall misrepresents this book ubiquitously, and in many parts outright lies about the content by attributing claims to it that it never makes and/or actually argues directly against."
 
That's one.  Laura never substantiates this claim, aside from pointing a single number I cited incorrectly, then immediately admitted, which made no difference to my argument.  (I cited Carrier's figure for how many people lived in the ancient world from memory, and wrongly.)  But errors are not lies.     
 
"Objective people trying to decide how much weight to give Marshall's review should note that in this review, of a peer-reviewed work of a respected academic press of an ACTUAL HISTORIAN, Marshall writes an entire paragraph about C.S. Lewis...who was not a historian or qualified biblical scholar in any sense of that word. He was simply a layman christian apologist...just like Marshall himself:"
 
Still on one.  I debunked Laura's ridiculous claim that Lewis was "simply a layman" when it comes to literary criticism, which is the issue I cited him on.  But let me again point out that I am deeply flattered by any comparison between Lewis and myself. 
 
The implication here is, however, that I am not an "actual historian," unlike Dr. Richard. 
 
"Wow - this is a first: prove someone is a liar, and then have them immediately claim victory!? Welcome to Marshall's delusion."
 
That's two.  But am I a liar, or am I deluded?  So hard to keep track of these twisted mental states.  The two would seem to be in conflict.     

"At least your nemesis Carrier doesn't have to lie about his credentials in order to try and trick people into believing what he says. It should be noted that deliberately lying about your credentials is a major deal in academia - a person can get fired for this stuff."
 
That's three and four.   
 
So let's keep the count at four.  I think Laura came back to the "liar liar" taunt later in the thread, but that will do for now. 
 
Now we need to define our terms.  What does the word "historian" mean? , What qualifies a person to describe themselves as an "historian," or as an archeologist, biologist, or philosopher?  Do I qualify?  And if we hold everyone to the same standard, what would the definitions of these terms we decide upon tell us about Richard Carrier's standing in the academic community?  Is he a liar, too?  Could he get fired for statements he has made, and still makes, about his own qualifications?  Or does this sort of calumny only apply to Christians?  Should we hold Christians to an entirely different standard from atheists? 
 
 
Is Richard Carrier really a Philosopher? 
 
Richard Carrier has long described himself not as merely a philosopher, but as a special philosopher, a kind of Voice in the Wilderness of philosophy, calling his fellow philosophers to repent.  On the back cover of the clearly self-edited Why I Am Not a Christian, Carrier describes himself as a "world-renowned philosopher and historian."  The word "and" implies that Carrier considered himself to be a famous philosopher AND a famous historian -- or if someone else wrote the back cover copy, he at least did not object to these claims.
 
In Sense and Goodness Without God, Carrier wrote:
 
"My religion is philosophy itself." (4)
 
By that he means that for himself, as for the ancients, philosophy was more than an abstract and abtuse mumble about obscure topics, a "jargonized verbal dance around largely useless minutiae," it is the passionate pursuit of reasoned answers to life's Big Questions. So Carrier cries in the wilderness against those who have "retreated behind ivory towers, talking over the heads of the uninitiated, and doing nothing useful for the everyman," therefore causing the masses to lose interest.
 
Carrier notes that he himself has sought answers to the Big Questions since he was in his teens, devoting time every day to reading and thinking systematically about those questions.  And that, he seems to imply, is what a philosopher ought to do. 
 
Ironically, this is a point C.S. Lewis has also made, in telling the story of his own conversion to Christianity. 
 
And I am sympathetic.  I actually see a lot of myself in Carrier, or vice-versa.  We have both studied largely outside of academia in a wide variety of fields, putting pieces of truth together and creating broad frameworks for our very different visions of truth, before trying to legitimize our work through conventional scholarly channels. 
 
In that sense, I see myself as a philosopher, too.  I have also read widely in philosophy, and most of my work carries some of its flavor.  But I seldom call myself a philosopher in public, because I have few academic credentials to back that title up.  And unlike Carrier, I have enormous respect for many academic philosophers, who often do in my experience speak to the "Big Questions" in interesting ways.  (Nor do I see any reason why some people should not be allowed to think long and hard about smaller, more localized issues, if they find value in them -- we need specialists, too.) 
 
In On the Historicity of Jesus, Carrier again emphasizes his standing as a philosopher, though in somewhat more cautious terms:
 
"I am a marginally-renowned atheist, known across America and many other corners of the world as an avid defender of a naturalist worldview and a dedicated opponent of the abuse of history in the service of supernaturalist creeds.  I am a historian by training and trade (I received my PhD in ancient history from Columbia University) and a philosopher by experience and practice (I have published peer-reviewed articles in the field and am most widely known for my book on the subject, Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism.)' vii.
 
So, then, it appears that Carrier's claim to be a philosopher, made so passionately and often, rests upon the following qualifications:
 
(a) He has been practicing philosophy for a long time.
 
(b) He has published multiple articles in philosophy that have been reviewed by "peers," whoever they are.  (The only article listed on his Wikipedia article clearly in this field, however, is "On Defining Naturalism as a Worldview," in Free Inquiry Magazine.  Perhaps someone needs to upgrade the article?  Or perhaps Carrier is mildly exagerrating his publication history?  Note that Laura specifically demanded a large number of peer-reviewed articles, failing which, I would be a "liar" to describe myself as an historian!)
 
(c) Carrier is allegedly well-known for his book, named (and cited) above, on the subject of philosophy.  (Known by whom, it is not clear.) 
 
So is Richard Carrier within his rights, given these qualifications, to describe himself as a "philosopher?"  Or is he a "liar" times ten for making this claim, and then add an exponent for his chutzpah in rebuking the whole discipline of philosophy for not following his golden example as a "world-renowned" philosopher?  (Language which I avoid like the plague.)
 
I wouldn't call him a "liar" for all of this.  In fact, I actually think Richard is a philosopher -- a bad philosopher, but he can't be expected to know that. 
 
Does Laura call Richard a "liar" for making such bold claims?  Maybe she can point out where she has done that.  If she has, then I will still disagree with her profoundly, and find her rhetoric extreme and absurd, but at least grant her the virtue of a foolish consistency.  If she cannot, then not even that virtue can be granted her attacks. 
 
But are my qualifications as an "historian" inferior to those by which Carrier can claim for himself as a "philosopher?"  I hesitate to defend myself against such crass criticism, and usually avoid doing so.  But since the Carrieristas make such a point of such personal invective, apparently I need to set the record straight.  (Which is, after all, what historians do.) 
 
 
So am I an Historian?
 
I do not call myself a "philosopher" often, though I do practice philosophy frequently enough, and feel passionate about it.  That's partly because I have no academic credentials in the field, and partly because I have never gotten around to reading either Kant or much of Aquinas.  And I'm afraid someone might ask me about that, if I identify myself as a philosopher.
 
I don't call myself a "theologian" because frankly, I don't think God is a subject.  I think we are God's subjects.  We are part of His experiment, not the other way around.  I don't claim to have any special knowledge of God.  I may be a Natural Theologian, in that I argue to God from human experience, as for example my Theistic Argument from Cultural Transcendence.  (TACT)  But that takes too long to explain.  And most of my academic work has not been in theology.   
  
So I call myself an "historian," and I believe that probably is the most fitting description of what I am, if we really can define people in such categories  Here are the excuses I would bring: 
 
(a) I did a fair amount of coursework in history for my BA.  This included two quarters with the head of the History Department, Dr. Donald Treadgold, including a Senior Thesis tutorial, in which, under his weekly direction, I compared difference phases of the Russian and Chinese revolutions by the use and misuse of language in important documents during those periods. He thought highly of that work.   
 
(b) My MA, also at the University of Washington, was officially in "China Studies."  But again much of my coursework was historical: the History of Chinese Art, a Qing Dynasty seminar, Classical Chinese studying ancient texts, an historical analysis of the youthful Mao Zedong.  One of my two Senior Thesis papers was a study, under the Qing Historian Kent Guy, of the Tai Ping Rebellion, and its relation to modern Chinese sects. 
 
(c) Of eight chapters in my dissertation, six were primarily historical.  That's three fourths, but actually more than 80% by volume, since the more theological chapters were the shortest in the dissertation.  That work alone clearly qualifies me as an historian by any reasonable definition. 
 
(d) I have not so far often had the luxury of writing articles for which I was not paid.  (Aside from here on my blog, or on Amazon!)  But if you demand "peer-reviewed" works, my books more than satisfy that criteria in one sense at least.  Some of my writings have been reviewed by historians who are far more than my peers, they are extremely eminent senior historians: Dr. Allan Chapman of Oxford, who liked my The Truth Behind the New Atheism so well that he wrote a chapter for my Faith Seeking Understanding, Dr. Philip Jenkins of Penn State, who said very nice things about that book (to which my own sole-author contributions were mainly historical), Dr. Donald Treadgold, who reviewed a chapter on why Marxism failed from my Jesus and the Religions of Man, Dr. Craig Blomberg also reviewed my "The Truth About Jesus and the 'Lost Gospels,"  All these scholars said kind things about my work, sometimes extremely kind. 
 
(e) All my books contain a large element of history.  From that perspective, too, I am an historian "by experience and practice," as Carrier put it, as well as by doing historical work for my BA, MA, and PhD degrees.  There is not a single one of my six (soon seven) books that is not essentially historical.  And when historians review those books, they tend to say very pleasant things about them. 
 
(f) I have, I think (and what one thinks counts towards whether one is trying to tell the truth or not) written historical papers, whether academic or popular (and again, Carrier makes a point of emphasizing that it is better to write for the common folks) that illuminate the following issues, among others:
 
1. The history of Christian thought in China in its relation to the Chinese tradition. 
2. Why Marxism failed.
3. The ahistorical nature of the Gnostic texts. 
4. 26 historically-relevant characteristics that define the 4 gospels.
5. Nestorians in China.
6. The history of esoteric Buddhism in China, in relation to the True Buddha Movement. 
7. The impact of Christianity on the status of women around the world.
8. The impact of Christianity on Scandinavia.
9. The evolution of the concept of "Dao" in ancient China.
10. Analysis of qualities in ancient texts that mitigate for or against their historicity: Analects, Epic of Gilgamesh, Iliad, Agricola, the "Gospel" of Thomas, Apollonius of Tyana. 
11.  Even my intentionally fanciful "How the Brothers Grimm overthrew the Evil Empire" made historical connections that I think are of interest. 
12.  On how Christians have understood faith from the 1st to 21st Centuries (in True Reason, and other places.)
 
Even my main effort in the epistemology of faith has been in service of historical interests.  In substance, if not in terminology, I am in a sense supporting Carrier's contention that science is a wing of history, and that history can be an important and credible way of knowing.  . 
 
So I feel comfortable describing myself as an historian.  I studied history, including under some eminent historians, for my BA, MA, and PhD degrees.  I work in history, and have done so for decades -- which is Richard Carrier's own criteria.  Whether I am a good historian or not, is up to my fellow historians to decide.  And so far they seem to think I do all right.   In all these ways, I seem to have far  better cause to call myself an "historian" than Richard Carrier has to call himself a "philosopher," still less "world renowned philosopher."  And I don't call Carrier a "liar" even for the latter rather wild bit of self-promotion. 
 
So as usual, the insults of fanatics hurt their own side far more than the targets those insults are directed at.  Laura's attacks do me no harm whatsoever, but would badly hurt Richard Carrier -- that is, if she bothered to hold her hero to anything like the same standard she holds me to.  
 If Laura wants to call anyone a "liar" for exagerrating their credentials, Richard would be far and away the choicer target.  He claims far more, on a far narrower and more subjective basis, than I do.  He has apparently done less coursework, has written far less, and has fewer reviews from eminent philosophers, and has done far less work in philosophy, than I have from historians of my historical work.

 So working themselves into a fine lather, the Carrieristas sink their own battleship, once again.  (Though I do not think Laura will admit  or apologize for her calumny.)

Now given everyone's passionate commitment to history, would it be too much to ask the Carrieristas to return to the subject introduced by their guru's book?  Or shall we now hop like a frog on a pond to some other distraction ("squirrel!") or form of invective to another?
 
I wait with bated breath. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

John's Cool Photos from China

My son is spending a month or two with me in China.  He's a pretty good young amateur photographer, in the Marshall tradition.   We haven't visited many places yet, but here are a few of his shots.

A temple about half-way up Song Mountain in central
China, against the cliffs.  One of  5 ancient sacred peaks.


This cypress was already more than 2000 years old when the famous Han Wudi emperor visited a hundred years
before Christ, and gave it an official title.  The needles look just the same as the ones in the Altar of Heaven grounds
in Beijing.  Marvelous photo, no?  Marvelous tree.  

And here's an interesting look at the Altar of Heaven itself, which we also visited. 


Thursday, August 07, 2014

Tale of Two Carrier Supporters

My review of Richard Carrier's new book attempting to disprove the historical Jesus has, as expected, kicked up a bit of a fuss on Amazon.  (Sorry I can't link it from here.)  Not surprisingly, given Richard's own reaction to polite criticism, the overwhelming reaction so far has been to question my honesty or credentials or credibility.  Monkey see, monkey do, as they say.

Two posters, however, also attempted to respond substantively.  One of them, Paul, who I believe helped support Carrier's work financially, was I was glad to see polite and reasonable, conceding that he recognized some of the same weaknesses in Carrier's work, and asking me some interesting questions about Josephus and whether Christianity was, after all, myth, which I will try to answer here.  The other Carrier fan, Laura, spent more of her time calling me a "liar" and questioning my credentials, rather than defend Carrier's work.  (Though she also had a few tries at that, which are also worth responding to.)

I shrugged off Laura's personal attacks with the contempt I thought they deserved.  But I think those attacks, in their own way, are rather revealing, so I may include some of that below as well.

Paul: At least some of your criticisms seem valid to me. For example, you say:

"First, the relevant question is not how many people lived, but of how many people do we have sufficient knowledge to say whether they fit R-R."

This seems reasonable to me.

Also, I wasn't entirely clear in my review, but, one of my criticisms was intended to say something like what you argue -- that Carrier too often seemed to rely on things that "look like" myth, rather than give specific evidence for it for it actually being myth. So, we actually have a bit of the very same criticism, as unlikely as that may seem, LOL.

Your comment that since Acts is a sequel to Luke, and Luke references a historical Jesus, thus making the "argument from silence" not so strong, seems reasonable also.

As far as what Paul means in his epistles, I'm afraid I have to plead ignorance. When I read Paul's epistles, what I get is "spiritual gobly-gook". I haven't a clue how to interpret what he "really" means. So I will neither defend you nor Carrier on what Paul means.

Still, there are lots of good arguments Carrier raises, which you don't cover, in at least the review here. I haven't read your blog. Carrier does, to me anyway, give good evidence for myth in at least some places, like the incident where the other criminal is let free. His argument there seems pretty iron clad.

His arguments about extra-biblical references to Jesus, such as the Testamonium, also seem pretty iron clad.

Then there was the evidence where, I forget the name, but, the person who predates Christianity who describes a celestial Jesus. That seems pretty powerful evidence to me.

Seriously, I can totally accept you not buying every argument that Carrier raises. And I can even accept that you would reject enough of them to conclude that there was a historical Jesus. Fair enough. But, I guess I can't understand how someone could still maintain being a Christian. There is certainly more than enough evidence to conclude the Jesus story is at least *mostly* myth, even if Carrier is wrong about it being entirely myth. 

My response to Paul

Sorry for the slow response.  

I am not much interested in Josephus for two reasons, one on which I agree with Carrier, one disagree.  I agree with him that Josephus is unlikely to provide an independent testimony to Jesus' career.  (Though I could be wrong.)  I disagree in that I see the historicity of Jesus as in no doubt whatsoever.  So Josephus is neither necessary, nor sufficient, and his testimonies are consequently of little interest to me.  If you want my view of Carrier's argument, I think as a CASE, it seems quite well-done; but as an objective EVALUATION, I find atheist Jeff Lowder more credible, mainly for reasons given above.  

As for the argument "for myth," like the history major above, I think the question is more complicated than that.  Let me answer from two perspectives: historically, and theologicallly.  

First, as the other poster points out, it is pretty normal for historical figures who accomplish great deeds to accumulate "myths" after they have passed.  George Washington, Chairman Mao, probably Babe Ruth, even Yogi Berra in his own way.  Historians would naturally expect this to happen to a person regarded as the savior of the world, who is reported to have died heroically and risen from the dead, in agreement with ancient prophesies.  EVEN IF Jesus did all those things, one could expect and predict mythological accrutions later -- as no one denies occurs at some point in history.  

But Lewis' point is that the gospels display the characteristics of BOTH myth AND history, and that they indeed seem to show myth becoming history.  Tolkien pointed this out to him, and both men wrote insightfully on this phenomena.  (Of course despite Laura's taunt, both men knew very well how to separate fiction from historical fact -- few scholars better.  Being themselves great makers of myth was hardly a liability, any more than for Andrew Lang, who collected fairy tales, but also gave deeply insightful ruminations on anthropology.)

So for us, "myth" and "history" (now speaking theologically) are not mutually-exclusive.  For us, myth is not meaningless baby talk, or if it is, the baby really is trying to say something.  So the Gospel unites two threads of Greek, and human, thought -- the search for the rational, historical, credible, and the dreams and psychological truths of myth.  "The Word become flesh, and dwelt among us" -- this is an understanding already present in Paul and then Justin, Clement, and Origen.  Carrier's deconstructionism, even if more careful, would do little to challenge this interpretation, which relies both on historical facts, and a particularly Christian understanding of what to expect from the evidence.  

(Note: that just goes to show that fans of Richard Carrier can discuss important issues seriously and mutually-respectfully with Christian.  But that seems to be the exception.  Below seems to be more the norm -- though Laura at least tries to talk substance at times, which not all Carrier's fans deign to bother doing.)  


Laura 1:  Having just finished reading this book myself, and then just happening to see this review, I wanted to briefly comment on Mr. Marshall's review to help potential readers decide if this book is for them. In my opinion this review could hardly be less genuine or more inaccurate - Marshall misrepresents this book ubiquitously, and in many parts outright lies about the content by attributing claims to it that it never makes and/or actually argues directly against. Marshall often takes parts of Carrier's book, misrepresents and refashions it into a distorted straw-man argument, and then attacks THAT argument instead of the one Carrier actually makes. I would also say he also consistently misunderstands the book, and the use of logic in his points, but from reading his review I am not convinced he ever intended to give it an objective chance (he even admits he has not even finished the book in his #11).

Objective people trying to decide how much weight to give Marshall's review should note that in this review, of a peer-reviewed work of a respected academic press of an ACTUAL HISTORIAN, Marshall writes an entire paragraph about C.S. Lewis...who was not a historian or qualified biblical scholar in any sense of that word. He was simply a layman christian apologist...just like Marshall himself:
http://christthetao.homestead.com/

Comically, Marshall even derides Carrier's book by attacking his extensive citation (bafflingly in a way that betrays Marshall's knowledge base on this subject by making it clear he has read little/none of it). The reason citations are there is so one is not forced to trust them, but like any academic work, there is no way around the reality that one would have to actually research them if they want to challenge them. This is not unique to Carrier's work in the slightest. Would Marshall actually prefer academic works have few citations? This is the level of scholarship and knowledge base that Marshall's review denotes.

Laura 2, in response to a poster's queries: In response to your question about examples of Marshall's distortions, I will provide some examples, but I do not have the time and desire to write a long fact-checking article on Marshall's long review (which I would assume you would understand) which I find to be rambling and tedious to read. A few examples:

1) Carrier does NOT claim that Christianity is myth and therefore false because it is a mystery religion (Element 11 of OHJ starting on page 96) - Marshall is making a logical inference from Carrier's research, crafting an argument from it, and inserting into Carrier's book on his own. 
This connection is brought up as part of the background knowledge that must be taken into account in a historical examination of the issue - this part of the book is not even arguing that Christianity is a myth (and no part of the book directly deals with whether or not Christianity is "false"). 
This part of the book is dealing with issues that both the mythicist and historicity hypotheses must deal with. Carrier uses this research (extensively argued and cited btw) to demonstrate that many elements of Christianity are not original to it. This is just a small piece of the evidence avalanche that eventually points towards myth in the end. It is natural from reading this section of the book to think "this sure looks like myth", which it does, but that is not how it is used in the book. That makes this a misrepresentation of Carrier's book.

2) Marshall claims that "Carrier says some 100 billion people lived in ancient times"...but on Page 231 in OHJ Carrier says "The number of real persons in the course of antiquity must number in the hundreds of millions". 1 billion is 1000 million. Its hard to know if Marshall is outright lying, making stuff up, or just incompetent.

3) Marshall claims that "if we rigorously apply his own exact wording to Matthew, Jesus meets between 6 and 8 of the {Rank-Raglan hero type} qualities". This is patently false and absurd. Its one thing to argue that this is not evidence of myth, but quite another to just make up your own reality. Carrier is not even close to the only scholar who has pointed this out.

Marshall also says "why does Carrier focus on Matthew, which he sees as later, and not Mark" but Carrier does point out that Mark meets 14 of the 22 elements, and then explains how Matthew is evidence of the myth development process - more of these elements magically appear in each iteration of the story. Some of this stuff makes me wonder if Marshall read, or just skimmed, the book.

4) Marshall says "Carrier's figures imply that just to replace the population, an average ancient woman would have had to give birth to some 13 or 14 children each". This is absurd and not implied at all. Carrier relies on the best research available on the death-rate in ancient Rome which others such as Bart Ehrman have also relied on. Ehrman even goes on to show from this research that every adult woman of childbearing age had to bear an average of FIVE children in order to keep the population constant. Claiming that this research implies 13-14 is ridiculous.

Marshall's review reads like ignorant propaganda at every turn. If one were to argue against Marshall's review in detail it would be easy to show how he misrepresents, distorts, misunderstands, and flat out lies about every single issue he talks about in his review.


My Response to Laura 1 & 2

"In response to your question about examples of Marshall's distortions, I will provide some examples, but I do not have the time and desire to write a long fact-checking article on Marshall's long review (which I would assume you would understand) which I find to be rambling and tedious to read."

I'm sure Laura does find reading my review tedious. As for "rambling," I think it's decently-organized. (As is, to give it credit, Carrier's book.) But I do think that having accused someone of "lying," one does have a moral obligation to demonstrate not only factual error, but intent. 

"A few examples: 1) Carrier does NOT claim that Christianity is myth and therefore false because it is a mystery religion (Element 11 of OHJ starting on page 96) - Marshall is making a logical inference from Carrier's research, crafting an argument from it, and inserting into Carrier's book on his own."

I think that is clearly the implication, though as I explain, Carrier disdains to treat Christianity as a serious option in this book, for the most part. But the focus of my rebuttal lies in showing why the claim that Christianity is a Greco-Jewish "mystery religion" is unsustained by Carrier's arguments. Laura appears to be attempting to distract attention from the weakness of Carrier's argument, here. 

"This connection is brought up as part of the background knowledge that must be taken into account in a historical examination of the issue - this part of the book is not even arguing that Christianity is a myth (and no part of the book directly deals with whether or not Christianity is "false")."

Carrier assumes it's false, as I clearly state. But he makes this argument part of his background case that Christianity is in fact a myth, and brings it up later in the book. Did Laura read much of the last part of the book? Part of his final argument, on 609, is "Christianity did possess the central features of ancient mystery cults." But he works this "conclusion" into his argument at many other points, as well. Laura is being disengenuous. 

"This part of the book is dealing with issues that both the mythicist and historicity hypotheses must deal with. Carrier uses this research (extensively argued and cited btw) to demonstrate that many elements of Christianity are not original to it. This is just a small piece of the evidence avalanche that eventually points towards myth in the end. It is natural from reading this section of the book to think "this sure looks like myth", which it does, but that is not how it is used in the book. That makes this a misrepresentation of Carrier's book."

On the contrary, I was being kind (or rather, brief), in not immediately detailing all of Carrier's other many gross errors in this section. But the main point of the book is that Christianity began as myth and added pseudo-historical narrative later. Is Laura actually denying that is Carrier's argument? 

"2) Marshall claims that "Carrier says some 100 billion people lived in ancient times"...but on Page 231 in OHJ Carrier says "The number of real persons in the course of antiquity must number in the hundreds of millions". 1 billion is 1000 million. Its hard to know if Marshall is outright lying, making stuff up, or just incompetent."

This is an actual mistake, and I thank Laura for finding it. Given Laura's choices, I'll choose "incompetence;" though "being a bit too busy to vet all my comments in a long review as thoroughly as I would in print" would be more accurate. 

In any case, again, the figure makes no difference whatsoever to the points I make. We don't know enough about those people, whether hundreds of millions or one hundred billion (I was thinking of one calculation of the number of people who have lived, perhaps) to say if they met R-R. In any case, each of them likely made up many "myths" in Carrier's sense. The logic is not explained. And historians should not engage in anachronism. 

"3) Marshall claims that "if we rigorously apply his own exact wording to Matthew, Jesus meets between 6 and 8 of the {Rank-Raglan hero type} qualities". This is patently false and absurd. Its one thing to argue that this is not evidence of myth, but quite another to just make up your own reality. Carrier is not even close to the only scholar who has pointed this out."

It is not "patently false." I go through each claim at christthetao.blogspot.com. Other people are free to read the originals, follow Carrier's requirement that our count be "rigorous," and show where I have made any errors. (As one reader attempted to do, in a gentler tone, but without I think much success -- he has to ask for a more lenient reading, which Carrier's own words do not allow.) 

"Marshall also says "why does Carrier focus on Matthew, which he sees as later, and not Mark" but Carrier does point out that Mark meets 14 of the 22 elements, and then explains how Matthew is evidence of the myth development process - more of these elements magically appear in each iteration of the story. Some of this stuff makes me wonder if Marshall read, or just skimmed, the book."

Of course Carrier has to come back to Mark, in the end, since that is the basis of his argument. But most of his copy is on Matthew, and that is illegitimate. On his own presuppositions, Matthew's "mythological" evolution cannot make earlier records of Jesus less historical, unless we believe in time-travel and magic. And if Matthew meets only 6-8 characteristics, read "rigorously" as Carrier demands, Mark would meet even less, since he lacks a birth narrative. 

"4) Marshall says "Carrier's figures imply that just to replace the population, an average ancient woman would have had to give birth to some 13 or 14 children each". This is absurd and not implied at all. Carrier relies on the best research available on the death-rate in ancient Rome which others such as Bart Ehrman have also relied on. Ehrman even goes on to show from this research that every adult woman of childbearing age had to bear an average of FIVE children in order to keep the population constant. Claiming that this research implies 13-14 is ridiculous."

No it is not. It ACTUALLY probably implies 20 or so per (mutually) fertile and sexually-involved woman. This chart has 60% of children dying in the first two years ALONE. That by ITSELF would necessitate 5 children per women: and mortality rates continue to be high after that. (As they would be during childbirth itself.) 

"Marshall's review reads like ignorant propaganda at every turn. If one were to argue against Marshall's review in detail it would be easy to show how he misrepresents, distorts, misunderstands, and flat out lies about every single issue he talks about in his review."

Laura succeeds in showing one minor error, that makes no difference to my actual points. If this review were a print publication, I might have caught that on a second check, but errors do sometimes creep in, anyway. (My critics pounce on mispellings in The Truth Behind the New Atheism, so I guess they couldn't anything very substantive and sustainable there.) 

Of course she demonstrates no "lies." Nor, more important, does she in any way rehabilitate Richard Carrier's failed attempt to debunk Jesus, or justify the many errors and sloppy claims he makes along the way.

Laura 3: 

So Marshall has, depending on the biography, either a doctorate in "Christian Theology of World Religions" with a focus on "Chinese religions" OR a doctorate in "Christian Theology and Chinese Thought". To further clarify his specialty it says that his dissertation is on the "'fulfillment model' of religions in the context of Chinese tradition".

There it is - Marshall is NOT a historian. Marshall is a theologian and apologist. This explains why Marshall does not understand why an English literature teacher is not a historian. This might also explain why he seems to not even clearly understand what a historian is, or why a degree in theology or literature does not also equate as a degree in ancient history. This certainly explains why he has so many problems understanding Carrier's book.

In addition to his degree, Marshall is a Christian missionary, started a Christian website/blog, and has written some Christian apologetic books (incidentally and comically with bad reviews on amazon it appears), and has appeared to teach occasionally (its not terribly clear on this)...but again, not teaching history or ancient history. 

The question is not whether Marshall sees himself as a historian, its whether his credentials and/or the consensus of qualified historians would agree he is a historian. Theology is not history. He lied about being a historian which is why he was unwilling to give his credentials. Pathetic.

My response: As predicted, rather than try to support the shaky foundations of Richard Carrier's magnus opus, debunked in some (though far still from complete) detail above, his disciples put all their marbles on the "ad hominem" slot. It is shameless and pathetic, but not just predictable, it was predicted. What clearer admission of intellectual failure can we expect from them? (Of course they get their facts completely wrong even there, but I couldn't care less -- that's not the topic.)

Laura's one genuine "coup" is almost as revealing. Dr. Carrier spends six years of his life to try to debunk the historical Jesus. He gets a legitimate academic publisher to publish it, and has some historians, presumably, peer review the book. He also thanks unnumbered other persons who helped towards improving the content of this book in various ways. Yet despite all that professional help, and time, and passion poured into the project, Carrier's book STILL fails completely, for the reasons detailed above, and more. Yet Laura expresses nothing but adulation for Richard Carrier. 

By contrast, I spend a few weeks reading the book in my spare time, and a few hours writing up a review on Amazon, and make ONE clear-cut error, which does not even effect any of the four subpoints it references, which themselves constitute one of eleven larger points, in the slightest. Yet that error, which I readily admit (Carrier has not admitted any of the many clear errors of more consequence I have caught him in, over the years -- not one), that makes me a "liar," "incompetent," and whatever other pejoratives are fashionable among the Radical Jesus Denier Chic. 

Let's just describe these personal attacks as what they really are -- a collective intellectual white flag, an admission of palpable and complete defeat.

Laura (gets nasty) 4: Wow - this is a first: prove someone is a liar, and then have them immediately claim victory!? Welcome to Marshall's delusion. 

Marshall - you should look up the term "ad hominem" before using it next time. It is attacking the person (personal traits, character, etc.) INSTEAD of their arguments. Calling someone out for being a liar after catching them in a lie, visible for everyone to see, is not an ad hominem attack or a valid charge of a personal attack. You directly said you were a historian, but then your online credentials proved you were lying. This has nothing to do with any of your arguments, or any aspect of any debate in progress, and thus is not even relevant as an ad hominem charge. 

This is especially relevant as the point of your lie was to bias people reading your review into thinking you are a qualified expert in the field of history. For example, if say, Bart Ehrman came on here and gave a scathing review of Carrier's book people should give it far more weight than general random reviews on Amazon.com because Dr. Ehrman is a qualified expert in the field. You are not one, but lied and said you were. 

You say you predicted this, but is it really that impressive to lie and then predict you will be found out due to there being information freely available on the internet to prove your lie? Most people would save the worthless prediction and just not lie in the first place.

At least your nemesis Carrier doesn't have to lie about his credentials in order to try and trick people into believing what he says. It should be noted that deliberately lying about your credentials is a major deal in academia - a person can get fired for this stuff.

My response: That many Carrier fans will instinctively call Christians "liar" is a given. I'm an adult. I don't respond to childish taunts as if they merited a serious response. 

I know exactly what "ad hominem" is, and that is exactly what you are doing. I explained above why your initial "substantive" critique, such as it was, failed. So you attempt to discredit my arguments by distracting readers with lame personal attacks. As soon as I find the original graph of supposed death rates in the Roman world, I'll post those, too. As I recall, the first two years alone would yield about a 53% death rate, which renders your claim that each woman only had to give birth to five children, on that graph, for two to survive to child-bearing years, absurd. 

In fact, I am an historian, as I said. Having observed your character, I wouldn't think of justifying that statement to you or to Thomas. Nevertheless, it is a fact. But not one of my points depends on that fact. 

Apparently all you can do now is repeat the words "liar, liar" ad nauseum. (Obviously without knowing the facts.) I'm beginning to wonder: how old are you? You sounded somewhat intelligent in a few posts above, at first, but now I am beginning to wonder.

Anyway, since I take such childish attacks with a grain of salt, considering the source, I'll give you one more chance to attempt a serious defense of Carrier's book, on any of the major points I criticize above.

Back to Substance: In any case, here are the figures Richard Carrier cites on his blog, which I dispute above, and which Laura claimed I was wrong about, or making up, I won't bother reading her original comment again: 

"Age . . . Rough Chance of Being Dead by the End of the Year 

0 36% 
1 24% 
5 6% 
10 5% 
15 7% 
20 8% 
25 9% 
30 11% 
35 12% 
40 14% 
45 17% 
50 21% 
55 25% 
60 33% 
65 41% 
70 53% 
75 68% 
80 99% 

From: http://richardcarrier.info/lifetbl.html

As mentioned above, these figures are demographically impossible. They are at wide variance with Laura's claim that a woman would only have to bear 5 children to keep up. As I said, more than 50% die according to these figures in the first two years, and subsequent death rates would make it imperative for fertilely-mated women to have about 20 children each. (Or more. If women get an "early start," they would do even worse, probably, since young women have a high mortality rate at childbirth. Stark points out that later marriages were one of the blessings which Christianity brought women in the ancient world.)

Someone offered the "excuse" that Bart Ehrman also used these figures. Fine, he's wrong, too, as he has been before. It's not my intent to carry water for Bart Ehrman. 

Carrier will probably never admit his error, because he never admits it when "apologists" point out any of his many errors, at least not in my experience, which has been rich enough in this regard.

Laura tries again to discuss facts: This is a response to Marshall's assertions about the life expectancy in ancient Rome and how many children the average woman had to have to keep the population stable. This information is based on the best evidence available, but it is estimated as it is something impossible to prove. The response if meant for interested parties, but not specifically for Marshall who appears delusional to me and not worth engaging further.

The chart is accurate according to the best data we have and supporting information can be found in a very large number of historical works. They do agree that the average woman had to have somewhere between 5 and 9 children or so to keep the population static (this would obviously vary). I can't list them all, but for anyone that wants more information about this topic you can find it in any of these sources:

Frier, Bruce W. "Roman Life Expectancy: Ulpian's Evidence", Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 86 (1982), 213-51.

Frier, Bruce W. "Demography", in Alan K. Bowman, Peter Garnsey, and Dominic Rathbone, eds., The Cambridge Ancient History XI: The High Empire, A.D. 70-192, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 827-54.

Frier, Bruce W. "Natural Fertility and Family Limitation in Roman Marriage", Classical Philology 89:4 (1994), 318-33.

Scheidel, Walter. "Demography", in W. Scheidel, I. Morris and R. Saller, eds., The Cambridge Economic History of the Greco-Roman World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 38-86.

My response: Far from "delusional," anyone with the most basic mathematical knowledge can see from the source RICHARD CARRIER cited, which is the only issue here, that Laura is wrong in how she represented Carrier's source when she said women would only need to give birth to 5 children, and I am right when I said an average of 13 or 14, but actually much more, given female mortality during childbirth, and infertility, etc. Let's go through this step by step: 

Year One: 100% --> 64%. 

Year Two: 64 % --> 48%. 

Year Five (estimating years in between conservatively): 48% --> 34%. 

Year Ten (this is more stable): 34% --> 26%.

Year Fifteen: 26% --> 20%. (At this point the average woman would need to produce 10 children immediately to replace the population, if she married and had ten children safely at the age of 15 -- which is of course impossible.)

Year Twenty: 20%-12%. (Now she's responsible for 16 kids each -- get to work, ladies!) 

And so on. I was being conservative. 

The conclusion, again -- this is simple mathematics -- if Carrier's figures are right, the Roman Empire would have disappeared centuries before it did. 

Other and perhaps more reasonable sources are, of course, completely irrelevant to the error I remark above.