Lots of luck in a thankless task. After you're done, Bart, explain to the Truthers that 9/11 was not an inside job. Then tell the Palestinian Arabs that the Mossad is not planting poison in their wells, or whatever the latest rumor happens to be.
Yesterday, Ehrman posted a scathing but brief overview of his critique at the Huffington Post, home to all reasonable opinions. (Did I just drop my hair piece under the table?)
Carrier responded at much greater length, and vehemence.
Some Christians suggest we pop corn, sit on the sidelines, and watch the fireworks go off. I'm good with the popcorn. But being of that foolish disposition that rushes in where angels fear to trod, I think I'll also light my little candle, and respond briefly to some of Dr. Carrier's rhetorical flourishes.
I was expecting (Ehrman's book) to be the best case for historicism in print. But if it’s going to be like this article, it’s going to be the worst piece of scholarship ever written.
Richard is a fount of extravagent expectations, usually about his own work. He's still young: maybe this is a touch of the puppy dog.
So stay tuned for my future review of his book. For now, I will address this brief article, not knowing how his book might yet rescue him from an epic fail.
"Epic fail" is a term I first heard from my boys when they were in Middle School or so, and still associate with that age. But let's see what Dr. Carrier can show us.
I won’t address his appeal to the genetic fallacy (mythicists are all critics of religion, therefore their criticisms of a religion as myth can be dismissed) or his sniping at credentials (where he gets insanely and invalidly hyper-specific about what qualifies a person to speak on this subject) . . .
Attacking Academic Freedom
Attacking Academic Freedom
Both insane AND invalid? It would be embarrassing, I suppose, if Ehrman were to be insane, but his argument proved valid?
Be that as it may, here is Ehrman's entire "insane" paragraph. See if you can spot the frothing at the mouth:
Few of these mythicists are actually scholars trained in ancient history, religion, biblical studies or any cognate field, let alone in the ancient languages generally thought to matter for those who want to say something with any degree of authority about a Jewish teacher who (allegedly) lived in first-century Palestine. There are a couple of exceptions: of the hundreds -- thousands? -- of mythicists, two (to my knowledge) actually have Ph.D. credentials in relevant fields of study. But even taking these into account, there is not a single mythicist who teaches New Testament or Early Christianity or even Classics at any accredited institution of higher learning in the Western world. And it is no wonder why. These views are so extreme and so unconvincing to 99.99 percent of the real experts that anyone holding them is as likely to get a teaching job in an established department of religion as a six-day creationist is likely to land on in a bona fide department of biology.
I hate to accuse Dr. Carrier of being a drama queen (OK, maybe I don't mind), but where is the "insanity" supposed to lie in this paragraph?
Carrier himself seem to find it hard to specify what is wrong here:
I won’t address his appeal . . . except to note that it’s false: mythicist Thomas Thompson meets every one of Ehrman’s criteria–excepting only one thing, he is an expert in Judaism rather than Christianity specifically. And I know Ehrman knows of him. So did he just “forget” when he says he knows of no one who meets his criteria? Or is he being hyper-hyper specific and not allowing even professors of Jewish studies to have a respectable opinion in this matter?
Well if it doesn't meet ALL of Ehrman's criteria, then Ehrman's statement is, in fact, not "false," but true. Ehrman claims: "there is not a single mythicist who teaches New Testament or Early Christianity or even Classics at any accredited institution of higher learning in the Western world." Carrier is, apparently unable to think of a single example to confound that claim, so he simply changes its wording.
Of course, if one widens the net, one might take in a fish or two. Carrier widens the net, and triumphantly holds up exactly one Danish mackerel.
Thompson is an OT scholar who moved to Denmark because he couldn't get a job in North America, according to the Wikipedia article. Ancient Israel IS a different culture, involving different languages, and different sets of archeological digs. On the other hand, Ehrman may be including Carrier as a scholar in a relevant field, even though his own academic expertise is in ancient history, not NT studies, either. So one might accuse Ehrman of unfairness, here, in excluding Thompson, or of too much generosity, in including Carrier, earlier. But Carrier's "insanity" detector must be set on "hypersensitive" to find a need for straightjackets here.
That’s a prestigious professor of biblical studies. Is Ehrman really pooh-poohing his qualifications? Because if he is, this article becomes a massive case of foot-in-mouth.
Perhaps we should grant him the point, such as it is, and move on. But Carrier drives his "advantage" into the ground relentlessly:
Thompson may have only felt free to be honest about his views after he retired, when no one could fire him or persecute his career. I personally know a few professors who themselves also feel this way: they do not touch this topic with a ten foot pole, precisely because they fear the kind of thing Ehrman is doing and threatening. They do not want to lose their jobs or career prospects and opportunities. They do not want to be ridiculed or marginalized.
Where have we heard that kind of rhetoric before? Oh, right -- on the Discovery Institute website.
Does the coincidence make you think more of ID or less of mythicists? Or is it just an interesting coincidence? The difference being that people who deny Jesus lived are denying a mountain of positive evidence, whereas there can be no positive evidence for saying that "Nothing in biology demonstrates the work of an intelligent designer."
And what does Carrier mean by saying these scholars have not "touched this topic with a ten foot pole?" If that is literally true, and they haven't researched the case for the historical Jesus, why should we care what they think about it? Are we supposed to believe they have done the research, but not tried to publish? This is a supporting citation of the most nebulous character.
This makes Ehrman’s observation that no mythicist presently has a professorship (a distinction he did not make, but I am) a self-fulfilling prophecy: since Ehrman has all but explicitly stated that professors in “accredited institutions” do not have academic freedom, that indeed Ehrman opposes that freedom, verbally and institutionally, and endorses persecuting, verbally and institutionally, any who dare exercise it, who else do you think is free to challenge the consensus on this issue? Obviously, only outsiders can. The fact that that is what he observes is therefore not an argument against the merits of mythicism, but against the merits of attacking academic freedom.
Only Carrier does not offer evidence of actual discrimination, such as in incriminating e-mails from people who pass over qualified ID proponents, as ID people have.
Carrier rambles on at length on this subject; I cite but a small portion. Considering the daintiness of comments to which Carrier responds with such injured vigor, seething with rage and speaking of plots and counterplots, one is tempted to look at Carrier's chosen word "insanity" with renewed interest. But of course that is unfair: Carrier is just mad, as anyone might feel to be dismissed by someone one respects.
I’m told Ehrman might make a cleaner distinction between quality and crank mythicism in his book. But many more people will read this article than his book. It’s therefore irresponsible of him to cast this nuance to the wind.
Yes, and I'm sure Carrier distinguishes carefully between, say, Henry Morris, and Michael Behe, as skeptics are always careful to do. :- )
Factual MistakesAn example of proving a specific instance of incompetence is to identify a factual error that no one who claims to be an expert on the issue in question could possibly have made.
Which I am tempted to reword as, "No one who claims to be an expert in human beings could possibly assume that experts never make really stupid errors in their own fields." :- )
As assumption Carrier just seemed to make.
A single error would be a minor lapse; but four in one brief article is a trend.
Mistake #1: Ehrman says “not even … the most powerful and important figure of his day, Pontius Pilate” is “mentioned in any Roman sources of his day.” False. Philo of Alexandria was a living contemporary of Pilate, and wrote a whole book about him (or rather, against both Sejanus and Pilate, documenting the ways they had persecuted Jews contrary to prior imperial edicts, cf. Schürer and Eusebius, History of the Church 2.5, who had read this book), which we don’t have (it is one of the missing volumes of the Embassy to Gaius), but we do have Philo discussing one event involving Pilate in another book we do have, written in the 40s A.D., probably while Pilate was still alive, in his retirement (Philo, Embassy to Gaius 299-305).We also have discussions of Pilate in Josephus’ Jewish War, written in 78 A.D., the same distance from Pilate’s life as the earliest Gospels are assumed to be from Jesus."
I wonder what Ehrman means by a "Roman source," and if a Jew living in the Greek city of Alexandria would count. I tend to think not.
So Ehrman seems to be technically correct, here. Carrier might be right to accuse him not of error, but of disengenuity. Pilate may not have been mentioned in "Roman" writings, but he was mentioned by Jews in the Roman Empire, who could, one would think, also have mentioned Jesus.
And come to think of it, one of them did mention Jesus --Josephus. So perhaps Carrier is being disengenious, as well.
What does Philo's failure to mention Jesus mean for the latter's historicity? Carrier suggests, quite a bit:
Forgetting (or not knowing?) that Philo attests to Pilate’s service in Judea is a serious error for Ehrman and his argument, because the absence of any mention of Jesus or Christianity in Philo is indeed very odd.
Why is it odd? Philo, a political man with political concerns, mentioned the ruler of the whole country in just two passages, by Carrier's account. Why would it, then, be odd in the slightest if he failed to mention one particular, even if popular, itinerant evangelist?
If (suppose) Nicolas Sarkozy mentions George Bush twice in his memoires, would it seem "very odd" if he fails to mention Rick Warren, or Mark Driscoll? (Who have much larger churches than Jesus did.)
How many other popular Palestinian religious leaders did Philo mention? I have that thick copy of Philo's writings Carrier mentions below on my bookshelf. Almost all of that book consists of commentary on the OT. The contemporary city of Jerusalem itself is seldom mentioned.
In fact, the loss of his book about Pilate’s reign is a very curious omission–even though Christians preserved over three dozen other books of his, amounting to nearly 900 pages of multi-columned small type in English translation, Christians chose not to preserve the book on Pilate, and that despite preserving other volumes in the very same treatise. Why?
Who knows. Thousands of books have been lost from the ancient world, including from the most famous and beloved writers -- Aristotle, Plato, Church fathers. Here's a challenge: tell me the name of an ancient writer, who wrote a lot, all of whose writings come down to us today. Should this surprise us? See how much of your home library gets preserved if you have to write out the books you like by hand, on paper that (I have heard, perhaps an exagerration) costed a day's wages per page.
If Acts is to be believed, Jewish leaders were very concerned to oppose this and took active effort to persecute Christians.
Some did. But there is no report that Christians were persecuted in Alexandria, indeed no report on evangelism in that city at all. (Or even so much as one mention of the city in the entire New Testament! Did Alexandria exist in the 1st Century?)
If that is at all true, we can be certain Philo knew of Christians and their claims and stories, and thus knew of Jesus. He was a leading scholar, who wrote on various Jewish sects, and a significant political figure plugged into the elite concerns of Alexandrian Jews, who even chose him to lead their embassy to the emperor of Rome. (He also made regular pilgrimages to Jerusalem: Philo, On Providence 2.64.)
And yet Philo hardly ever mentions the contemporary (as opposed to mythical) city of Jerusalem, in most of his writings.
But that is not the extent of his mistake. Forgetting (or not knowing?) about Philo (or even Josephus) mentioning Pilate is bad enough. Worst of all is the fact that Ehrman’s claim is completely false even on the most disingenuous possible reading of his statement. For we have an inscription, commissioned by Pilate himself, attesting to his existence and service in Judea. That’s as “Roman” an attestation as you can get. And it’s not just contemporary attestation, it’s eyewitness attestation, and not just eyewitness attestation, but its very autograph (not a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy, but the original text, no doubt proofed by Pilate’s own eyes). And that literally carved in stone. How could anyone not know of this, who intended to use Pilate as an example? . . . We’re talking about something he could have corrected with just sixty seconds on google.
This is just silly. Ehman said no contemporary Roman writer mentioned Pilate. He is obviously talking about authors of texts, not Pilate's own inscription. Jesus, of course was not a ruler, and could not have stone monuments carved in his memory, even if he wanted one. So the fact that Pilate could, is irrelevant to Ehrman's argument.
I'm sure Ehrman is more than familiar with the "Pilate Stone."
The lack of comparable inscriptions erected by any Christian churches or any wealthy convert at any time throughout the first century is indeed a curious thing.
As a scholar of Chinese history, I find the sheer obduracy of this comment flabergasting.
I have traveled around China, and peaked through ancient ruins. Memorials to, or by, kings, emperors, dukes, and local despots are exponentially more likely to be preserved, and found by archeologists, than the homes of ordinary people: the Shang tombs in Zhengzhou and Anyang, the wall around the royal city, Ma Wang Dui from the early Han, stone in a field in Nanjing where the Ming palace lay, and where people fly kites, today.
I have visited one church apparently from these early centuries in China: it seems to have been commissioned by the emperor, not far outside the capital.
The early Christians met in homes, as Acts makes clear. One such house has been excavated from the 3rd Century. I'm amazed they've found that much!
Does Carrier claim the Christian church didn't exist in the 2nd Century? It was smaller, though, and much smaller again in the 1st. That's what "exponential growth" does to a movement, as Rodney Stark (whom Carrier has read) shows, in The Rise of Christianity.
One might as well say, "It is curious to find no extant prints of Jesus' sandals on the hills of Galilee, where he is said to have trod hundreds and hundreds of miles!" But maybe I'd better not give Christ mythologists any more "ammunition."
So this certainly does not prove Jesus didn’t exist. Because we can retreat to the hypothesis that he was not anywhere near as famous as the Gospels portray, and the Christian movement not anywhere near as large as Acts implies.
No "retreat" is required. It is only silly historians who would expect a plethora of archeological evidence from the early church, which even conservative historians generally recognize was small in the 1st Century. And then the whole area got nuked by the Roman Legions, and the people scattered.
The NT itself shows that most of Jesus' mass following was ephemeral, and scattered at the lightest touch of persecution. What is Carrier expecting to find? Baskets from the hill above the Sea of Galilee with molds of 1st Century bread crumbs in them?
But Ehrman didn’t make that valid argument; he made the invalid argument instead, and premised it on amateur factual mistakes. Emotion seems to have seized his brain. Seeing red, he failed to function like a competent scholar, and instead fired off a screed every bit as crank as the worst of any of his opponents. Foot, mouth.
Emotion, indeed. Carrier needs to find that fine balance between "scathing rebuttal" and "temper tantrum."
This is simply not how to argue for historicity. It’s a classic example of boner mistakes made by historicists, which calls into question their competence to speak on this issue. Usually I see this claim made of Socrates or Alexander the Great, for each of whom we have vastly more contemporary attestation than we do for Jesus, despite actual claims to the contrary made by Jesus scholars who incompetently didn’t bother to check. Thankfully Ehrman didn’t make that foolish a mistake. But making the same mistake in using Pilate puts him right in their company.
"Vastly more contemporary attestation for Socrates?" Really? Given that documents authored by ten or so writers who were rough contemporaries of Jesus survive that speak of Jesus, I wonder how "vastly" more contemporary writers Carrier is claiming wrote about Socrates or Alexander? 100? 400? It'll be interesting to see what he comes up with, to substantiate this claim. I think this alleged "vast" advantage will turn out, at best (pardon the pun) rather more like half-vast.
Mistake #2: Ehrman actually says (and I can’t believe it, but these are his exact words):
With respect to Jesus, we have numerous, independent accounts of his life in the sources lying behind the Gospels (and the writings of Paul) — sources that originated in Jesus’ native tongue Aramaic and that can be dated to within just a year or two of his life (before the religion moved to convert pagans in droves). Historical sources like that are pretty astounding for an ancient figure of any kind.He actually says we have such sources. We do not. That is simply a plain, straight-up falsehood. I can only suppose he means Q or some hypothesized sources behind the creedal statements in Paul or the sermons in Acts, but none of those sources exist, and are purely hypothetical.
Obviously, what Ehrman means is that we have those sources, as imbedded in the NT documents. Ehrman makes it plain that he is not claiming to possess them as independent documents, thus the words, "lying behind the Gospels." This is just a semantic game between the two gentlemen.
In fact, barely more than conjectural. There is serious debate in the academic community as to whether Q even existed; and even among those who believe it did, there is serious debate about whether it comes from Aramaic or in fact Greek sources or whether it’s one source or several or whether it even goes back to Jesus at all.
Yes, there is serious debate whether Q existed: I personally have doubts. The NT certainly makes use of earlier texts. But that hardly matters, since the whole thing was written within the time frame in which many of Jesus' first followers would still have been alive. Furthermore, based on numerous lines of internal and external evidence, the Gospels clearly were based on eyewitness testimony, as they claim to have been. So this business of earlier sources is less important than many scholars make out. Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses helps make this plain, as does, I think, my own Why the Jesus Seminar can't find Jesus.
The Gospels themselves provide remarkable evidence, which has been tested in many ways (Bauckham finds they accurately use the most popular 1st Century Palestinian Jewish names, for example) and found credible.
More importantly, that creed contains no reference to Jesus living on earth, having a ministry, or doing or saying anything in life. All it says is that scripture says he died, was buried, and was resurrected (it notably does not say anyone witnessed this, or when it happened or by whom, e.g. it does not say Jesus was crucified by Pontius Pilate, a key component of later creeds) and only then this Jesus appeared to some people (in a fashion I know Ehrman himself agrees is not relevant to this debate: because a historical Jesus did not “appear” after his death, but a cosmic, revelatory Jesus, a product of the apostles’ imagination).
Of course a person who died, likely lived first! That goes with the territory.
But the dilemma for skeptics is real, here, as Machen long ago predicted. The only sources we have for the life of Jesus record him doing things not to the liking of fastidious skeptics. One must either dismiss all the evidence, to one extent or another, or allow one's prestine picture of reality to be broken, or at least threatened. Machen predicted an upsurge of popularity for the "Jesus myth" theory, based on this dilemma, alone.
The fact that Jesus is not said to have appeared or taught or done anything at all before he died is not something to just brush under the rug.
The subject Paul is talking about in I. Corinthians 15 is the resurrection. Should one expect Paul to show baby pictures, here?
Likewise, note that many mythical godmen “died, were buried, and resurrected,” or a near enough equivalent, thus Paul stating such a creed no more attests the historicity of Jesus than it attests the historicity of Osiris (or Romulus or Hercules or Inanna or Zalmoxis or Bacchus or Adonis and so on; Osiris is the only one of these who was explicitly “buried,” but similar stories were told of all these others, e.g. Hercules was burned on a pyre, and certainly before Christianity: see Not the Impossible Faith, chapters 1 and 3). None of this entails Jesus didn’t exist, but it certainly allows the possibility. If Ehrman doesn’t see that, then he is not being objective or reasonable.
It seems odd to describe Hercules being burnt on a pyre as being especially similar to Jesus' death on the cross. What are the stories supposed to have in common?
But Hercules, after charging Hyllus his elder son by Deianira, to marry Iole when he came of age, proceeded to Mount Oeta, in the Trachinian territory, and there constructed a pyre, mounted it, and gave orders to kindle it. When no one would do so, Poeas, passing by to look for his flocks, set a light to it. On him Hercules bestowed his bow. While the pyre was burning, it is said that a cloud passed under Hercules and with a peal of thunder wafted him up to heaven.
What are the parallels supposed to be? That both men died? (One of crucifixion, the other of burning, one at Roman hands, the other at his own?) But everyone dies, except maybe Hercules didn't die. That both were resurrected? But Hercules wasn't resurrected, he was either saved from death, or his soul ascended after death.
Anyway, no one but a fool could read the gospels, and the stories of Hercules, and think they are the same sort of thing. (I analyze the differences in detail in Why the Jesus Seminar can't find Jesus.)
I trust Ehrman will deal well with these alleged parallels in his book. Carrier is foolish to show such a weak hand before reading it.
Carrier goes on to accuse Ehrman of lying, more or less, bemoans the use Christians will likely make of his comments about Aramaic sources, then argues about the other two errors Ehrman is supposed to have made in that brief article. But let us tary no further, at least for the day, in these sterile intellectual wastelands.
Spring is here, the sun is out, and Easter is on the way. Halleluyah!