Saturday, July 26, 2014

Is Jesus a Rank-Raglan Myth-Hero? (Or is Carrier a Scholar-Legend?)

Is Jesus a myth?  Or is Richard Carrier a scholarly legend in his own mind (and just a legend elsewhere?)

Chapters four and five of Richard Carrier's On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason to Doubt, are dedicated to what Carrier describes as 48 "elements" of background information about Jesus and his times that he believes scholars need to come to grips with, to decide whether or not Jesus ever really lived. (Those of us who lack the imagination to conceive of that as a real issue, will nevertheless find all kinds of interesting materials in these chapters, some interesting for reasons Carrier himself fails to perceive, as we have already begun to see.)  This "elements" section is a huge part of the book, running almost 180 pages, with hundreds of footnotes.  Clearly, Richard Carrier thinks these supposed facts are vital to the case he is making.

The crowning "element," and the topic of today's post, is number 48, the "Rank-Raglan hero-type."  Heroes who conform to this type, Carrier maintains, are all fictional, yet Jesus fits in perfectly, or almost perfectly.  But no (other?) historical person is known to conform to that type, while many mythical figures do.   Therefore, this "coincidence" creates a high prior probability that Jesus himself will also prove fictional, just like all the other Rank-Raglan heroes. 

Carrier assigns great importance to this argument.  He not only assigns it pride of place, he spends six pages explaining and defending it.  And then he refers to it on twice as many more pages later in the book, according to the index.  He concludes the section by saying the claim that Jesus ranks higher than almost any mythological figure on this scale, "is a stunning fact, which must be considered, and accounted for." 

Indeed, in the following chapter on prior probability, Rank-Raglan proves to be the cornerstone of Carrier's argument that the prior probability of Jesus existing is no more (and probably less) than one third!  (This number itself, he more or less throws out at random, under the conceit that he is "rounding up" to give historicity every chance!)

I have to say I deeply enjoyed Carrier's argument for Jesus as  mythological hero.  And not just because it is likely to prove Carrier's Waterloo, in the eyes of many scholars.  Bad arguments, weak references, and errors of logic and historical fact are already numerous enough in the Carrier oeuvre: a few more need not prove his undoing.  (And anyway, I rather like the guy -- more so than, say, Bart Erhman, who generally has more sense.  His outbursts, such as calling me "dishonest" while telling falsehoods about me, are of course adolescent, but why should that bother me?)

But there is a serious and important point about Christianity that emerges (to Carrier's apparent ignorance) from the discussion, as we shall see.  And there's also some comic relief, as it appears that on his own premises, Carrier himself might turn out to be a "Scholar-Legend," who may not actually possess any credentials as an historian, if we take prior probability into account. 

I. The Argument

Let us quote some good, solid chunks here, to get it right:

"Finally, the most ubiquitous model 'hero' narrative, which pagans also revered and to which the Gospel Jesus also conforms, is the fable of the 'divine-king,' what I call the Rank-Raglan hero-type . . . This is a hero type found repeatedly across at least fifteen known mythic heroes (including Jesus) -- if we count only those who clearly meet more than half of the designated parallels (which means twelve or more . . . ) . . . "

Carrier then names 22 "features distinctive of this hero-type:"

"1. The hero's mother is a virgin.
2. His father is a king or the heir of a king.
3. The circumstances of his conception are unusual.
4. He is reputed to be the son of a god.
5. An attempt is made to kill him when he is a baby.
6. To escape which he is spirited away from those trying to kill him.
7. He is reared in a foreign country by one or more foster parents.
8. We are told nothing of his childhood.
9. On reaching manhood he returns to his future kingdom.
10. He is crowned, hailed or becomes king.
11. He reigns uneventfully (ie, without wars or natural catastrophes).
12. He prescribes laws.
13. He then loses favor with the gods or his subjects.
14. He is driven from the throne or city.
15. He meets with a mysterious death.
16. He dies atop a hill or high place.
17. His children, if any, do not suceed him.
18. His body turns up missing.
19. Yet he still has one or more holy sepulchers (in fact or fiction).
20. Before taking a throne or a wife, he battles and defeats a great adversary (such as a king, giant, dragon, or wild beast).
21. His parents are related to each other.
22. He marries a queen or a princess related to his predecessor."  (229-230)

Carrier emphasizes that "applying the criteria must be reasonably rigorous to be meaningful."  Doing so to Matthew's gospel, in fancy if not (as we shall see) in fact, yields Carrier the following scores:

1. Oedipus (21)
2. Moses (20)
3. Jesus (20)
4. Theseus (19)
5. DIonysus (19)
6. Romulus (18)
7. Perseus (17)
8. Hercules (17)
9. Zeus (15)
10. Bellerophon (14)
11. Jason (14)
12. Osiris (14)
13. Pelops (13)
14. Asclepius (12)
15. Joseph (ie, the son of Jacob) (12)

Carrier argues:

"This is a useful discovery, because with so many matching persons it doesn't matter what the probability of scoring more than half on the Rank-Raglan scale by chance coincidence . . . if a real person can have the same elements associated with him . . . then there should be many real persons on this list -- as surely there are far more real persons that mythical ones.  The number of real persons in the course of antiquity must number in the hundreds of millions, whereas the number of mythical persons invented over that same course of time will be in the thousands at most."

And this is Dr. Richard Carrier's crown jewel, the argument that is not only going to overthrow Christianity (a trivial pursuit, in Carrier's eyes, since it is self-evidently absurd anyway).  It is also going to overturn the historicity of Jesus, and perhaps most importantly, finally establish Carrier in the front rank of historians in the eyes of the envious herd, where he belongs. 

But what a minefield of special pleading, tendentious exegesis, and unexamined assumptions!  And how hollow (and dangerous to Carrier himself) the reasoning! 

Let us begin with "minor" or rather general problems.  Then let's analyze the list of characteristics themselves, and see whether or not Jesus really matches them.  Then we'll see if there's any logic behind the argument, anyway -- and whether the actual logic here might not rather support the historicity of the gospels (Jesus' historicity is for me, by contrast, too trivially obvious a fact to bother arguing for).  Finally, we'll look at the danger here to Richard Carrier's own reputation as a historically-extant and credentialed student of history.

II. Initial Problems

A. Carrier emphasizes that the Gospel of Mark is the first Christian record, and the source (as far as we can tell) of the Christian myth.  On Carrier's own account, Jesus only meets 14 of these criteria in Mark.  So why does he use Matthew for this analysis, instead?   Is it "rigorous" to jump from one book to another, because one early source gives you a better result (20, in the case of Matthew, allegedly) than another? 

B.  Suppose we have a case where an early text is written about a figure which most scholars agree is largely historical.  Suppose legends and myths later appear about this figure -- which of course they will, if he's important.  (Francis of Assisi, George Washington, Mao Zedong, etc.)  Should those later accounts work retroactively to undermine early accounts?  Wouldn't that be a form of anachronism?
Consider the Analects of Confucius.  Scholars generally agree that there is a historical core to the book.  (Though as I showed years ago on this site, the historical evidence for the gospels is far stronger.)  Later, both Confucianists and Taoists made up stories about him that display mythical or legendary qualities.  Does it follow that the original is somehow undermined b these later tales?

I don't think so.  And evidently, neither does the vast majority of scholarship, since historians just don't reason that way.

C. Carrier errs in supposing "the number of real persons in the course of antiquity" is relevant to our question.  We don't know about those "hundreds of millions," therefore they don't count, for our purposes.  They may well have had fancy stories told about them, which are lost. 

D. And how many mythological characters were there in antiquity?  Were there really just "thousands?"  Carrier defines myths as "factually untrue stories that are historically improbable but symbolically meaningful." (390) I think that definition begs all the questions in Carrier's way, but let take it for granted. 

How many such stories have you told, in your lifetime?  As a writer and educator, I have probably told hundreds.  I invented one just this week, about aliens escaping from the Empire in Star Wars and coming to Earth. 

One of the first myths I remember being told, was about the boogeyman.  My brother probably told it to us just to scare us, but maybe also for the meaningful value of creating fear of strangers, and the need to secure ourselves at night. 

Let us suppose the average person, in his or her lifetime, invents just 100 such stories.  From that it follows that the number of "myths," as Richard Carrier has defined the word, is 100 times that the number of PEOPLE who lived in antiquity.  There were BILLIONS of myths in antiquity, as in the modern world.

But we are comparing ghosts, since we have neither reports of the vast majority of those people, nor of their mythological narratives.  It is useless to appeal to convenient ghosts one has never met, especially if one insists on ignoring a larger crowd of inconvenient ghosts. 

But these are minor problems, compared to what is coming.  Now let's look at the characteristics of allegedly mythological figures that Carrier names, and see if Jesus really does match them. 

III.  Is Jesus a Rank-Haglan Myth? 

Even looking at Matthew, it seems to me the "rigorous" application of these terms to Jesus, that Carrier demands of other historical figures, yields a much smaller number.  (Still smaller if we apply it to Mark, as would be more consistent with Carrier's over-all argument, which is why he mentions Mark here -- he seems to realize that he's cheating, here.)

 "1. The hero's mother is a virgin."

Sure.  In the birth narratives.  But I have always maintained that the birth narratives are less historically-secure, simply because they refer to much earlier events, which could not have come to Luke and Matthew from so many potential sources.  Even if they were mistaken, as ancient historians often were mistaken about the circumstances of their heroes' births, that should not much effect the record of Jesus' public ministry years.  +

2. His father is a king or the heir of a king.

God is a metaphorical, not literal, king.  Webster's defines king as "A chief ruler; a sovereign; one invested with supreme authority over a nation, country, or tribe, usually by hereditary succession . . . "

God is also described as a "ruler" or "sovereign," but he is not "invested" with that power, certainly not by heredity, nor is that power limited to a nation or tribe or other political entity.  Again, calling God a king is purely metaphorical: he rules, yes, but as God, like a king in some ways, unlike in others.  (Such as being God, not man!)  And Joseph was not even that.  It would hardly be  "rigorous" to interpret king metaphorically -- like Felix Hernandez, "the King," or Burger King.

So we must reject this element. --

3. The circumstances of his conception are unusual.

Sure.  Again, if we read Matthew or Luke -- not Mark -- and limit ourselves to birth narratives, Jesus fits.  +

4. He is reputed to be the son of a god.

OK, though of the God, not of a god.  +

5. An attempt is made to kill him when he is a baby.

Again, there is nothing in Mark about this, though there is in Matthew. +

6. To escape which he is spirited away from those trying to kill him.

As above.  +

7. He is reared in a foreign country by one or more foster parents.

Mary was his real mother, who reared him along with Joseph, according to one gospel.  This item is thus at best ambiguous, even in the birth narratives. + / --

8. We are told nothing of his childhood.

Carrier tries to discount Jesus' trip to Jerusalem, on the grounds that at 12, this was his bar mitzvah, making him an adult!  If we're going to be technical, though, he wasn't an adult yet when he left.  And there's also the story of Jesus as a baby in the temple.  But we're not counting that, because he was a baby, not a "child?"  Nah, this is too much special pleading.  Carrier should at least have admitted he was pushing it on this one: in fact he pushes it way too far.   --

9. On reaching manhood he returns to his future kingdom.

On reaching manhood, according to Carrier, Jesus returned to his down-country home and was obedient to his parents.  Was Nazareth his "future kingdom?"

Or are we now changing the meaning of manhood to fit Carrier's elastic argument, and talking about the beginning of his ministry?  That was in Galilee, on fishing boats and in meadows and among beggars.  So we should use a pretty broad definition of "kingdom?"

Only a lot of special pleading, not "rigor," will save this item for Carrier's model.  --

10. He is crowned, hailed or becomes king.

Jesus was an itinerant evangelist, according to the gospels.  "My kingdom is not of this world."  In other words, in the gospels, he remains a metaphorical, not literal, king.  --

11. He reigns uneventfully (ie, without wars or natural catastrophes).

Jesus held no political power whatsoever (at least Confucius' disciples could exaggerate his political position, without undermining his historicity, however), and all his career was highly eventful.  --

12. He prescribes laws.

Jesus gave moral teachings, as did Socrates, Plato, Zeno, Epictetus, Confucius, Lao Zi, Mo Zi, and many others.  They did not gain the force of law within centuries of his lifetime, and after that, only indirectly. -- 

13. He then loses favor with the gods or his subjects.

Jesus had no subjects, using language rigorously as Carrier instructs us to do, and did not believe in "the gods." --

14. He is driven from the throne or city.

Jesus sat on no throne.  And he was not driven from Jerusalem, he was publicly whipped in that city, then taken outside it (apparently) to be crucified.  This one seems a stretch, at best. -- / +

15. He meets with a mysterious death.

What does that mean?  Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate.  Carrier thinks it was mysterious because Jesus died so quickly, relatively speaking.  But given his heavy flogging beforehand, and his own reconciliation to death, this is no great surprise.  --

16. He dies atop a hill or high place.

Finally, a clear victory, related to the years of Jesus' ministry.  +

17. His children, if any, do not succeed him.

Irrelevant, since Jesus was not a king, and he had no children.  (Except metaphorically, again -- as all teachers might.) --

18. His body turns up missing.

His body turned up alive.  --

19. Yet he still has one or more holy sepulchers (in fact or fiction).

What, in Mark?  Or Matthew?  Or are we jumping centuries forward, now?  --

20. Before taking a throne or a wife, he battles and defeats a great adversary (such as a king, giant, dragon, or wild beast).

Jesus took neither throne nor wife.  (Carrier says, well, the church was sort of his wife, right?  Which is not in Matthew, and not rigorous semantically -- the Church is a metaphorical lover, as in the OT, not an actual woman with a ring on her finger in a church.) 

Jesus' defeat of Satan is also spiritual, not physical.  In a sense, we all "defeat Satan" simply by resisting temptation.  So if we stretch the term in this way, it can apply to everyone.  But if we're going to be rigorous again, as Carrier admonishes, this is yet another strike against Carrier's theory, as well as his representation of the data and therefore his credibility.  --

21. His parents are related to each other.

Carrier does not count this one in the main part of his discussion, but tries to work it in later, anyway, by showing some remote link between the two families.  Well, there is an at least remote link between every two families.  This is especially probable in an ancient rural farming community.  --

22. He marries a queen or a princess related to his predecessor.  (229-230)


So by my count, even considering Matthew, Jesus' "score" is a whole lot lower than by Carrier's count -- he meets between six and eight of these criteria.  And if we consider Mark, or ignore the birth narrative, he meets only two or three. 

So this argument is a complete failure, if we apply its wording rigorously, as Carrier demands.  (When it suits him, to eliminate other historical personages.) 

But the argument is NOT a complete failure for Christians.  In fact, I see two major items of value here: first, it helps us recognize the true nature of the Gospel, and second, it demonstrates (tongue in cheek alert, for the humor-challenged -- we have had fun at his expense before) the potentially fictional nature of Richard Carrier as a scholar.  

IV.  Or Was Jesus a Myth -- a True Myth? 

The weird thing about Carrier's argument -- one of the weird things -- is how myopic it seems, in light of Christian thought in general.

C. S. Lewis, the most famous Christian thinker of our time, said he became a Christian not because the Gospel was totally unrelated to mythology, but that it was related in a particular way.  The Gospel does indeed share some characteristics of myth.  But it is myth become fact, telling psycho-spiritual truths played out in the real world, for our salvation.

This has been a dominant Christian concept for thousands of years, beginning in the gospels themselves, as I show in my doctoral dissertation, and will be showing in a book to be published later this year.  (My longest statement of that model on this site is here.)  God has planned human history in such a way that Jesus could fulfill the deepest truths not only of philosophy and the rational search for understanding (that, too), but also of mythology, and our intuitive search for insight. 

If this is true -- and it is the dominant Christian model -- it is rather arrogant, or perhaps lazy, of Carrier to entirely neglect this possible explanation for genuine similarities between fictional myths, and "the Word made flesh, and dwelling among us, full of grace and truth."

I have said much more about this in my books, and here again, and need not repeat all that implies now.  But let me just emphasize that if God is even possibly at work through Jesus, then all bets such as Carrier is placing here, are off.  God may "take up" myth into his true historical revelation, as C. S. Lewis put it, and as I argue elsewhere in detail.  

I have also shown empirically, in Why the Jesus Seminar can't find Jesus, that while Jesus does display some of the "theological" traits that mythological heroes enjoy, he also displays dozens of traits in common with historical figures.  This backs up Lewis' claim that Jesus is, in some ways, like a mythological figure, while in others (far more), like an historical figure. 

Those traits, indeed, imbue Jesus with far greater mathematical odds in his favor, than Rank-Raglan would, even if it applied to Jesus very well -- which it does not.  And that takes far more of the evidence into account -- the parts Carrier recognizes, AND those he overlooks.  But more on this later.

V. Does this argument make Richard Carrier a Legendary Scholar, or the mere Legend of a Scholar?

Now let's try Richard Carrier's method out on his person, now.  (Again, this is meant in fun, not in heart-felt hostility.  He insults a lot of people, and I dont' take his insults of me too personally.  But still, turn-about is fair play.  And notice that there is actual logic to MY argument, though I will leave that implicit, for present.)

There is a type, let us call it the "Rank Scholar-Legend" type, which brings together the following elements in one "person:"

(1) They deny the historicity of Jesus. 

(2) They frequently defame the character of eminent scholars who do not share their views, in public.

(3) They become very upset when you challenge their views, and attack you personally.  (As Carrier has done to F. Ramos and myself, on Amazon, and as he habitually does to others on-line.) 

(4) They command large and enthusiastic followings of equally energized followers on-line.

(5) They boast frequently of credentials and crow crassly and frequently about alleged victories in staged debates.  (While ignoring detailed written rebuttals by those they claim victory over.)

Here's my question.  Can you name a single terminally credentialed historian who meets all five of these conditions?  (Besides, allegedly, Richard Carrier?)

Robert Price meets the first criteria, but not so much the other four, so far as I know.  He seemed like a pretty classy guy, in my limited experience.  The only people who do seem to meet all or most of these criteria, as far as I know, belong to what we are calling the "Scholar-Legend" type, legends of scholarship in their own minds and propaganda, but who lack actual credentials as historians.  I've personally run across quite a few of these. 

By contrast, there are tens of thousands of genuine historians who do not meet these criteria. 

It seems to follow, then, that there is a prior probability of at least tens of thousands to one, against the claim that Richard Carrier has an actual doctorate in the History of Ancient Science from Columbia University. 

Now it is possible, admittedly, that consequent probabilities will make up this gap.  But perhaps Sheffield Phoenix Press should have asked to see his certificate before publishing his book.

Not that I am at all sorry that it was printed.  More, later.    


F. Ramos said...

Wow. Very good post. Excellent use of the Rank-Raglan scale on Jesus. You raise very good points to consider on how elastic the scale is and also how elastic one needs to be with the sources to make Jesus score high. Of course, Francis Lee Utley used Raglan's scale on Abraham Lincoln and he scored a 22 out of 22 so the whole scale is questionable and unreliable. The Rank-Raglan scale only looks at the biographies and gauges that, but it does not address the historicity of the person in question. It cannot determine that factor at all, as Folklorist Alan Dundes has shown.

Nick said...

Very well written. It will be amusing to see what happens in the near future to all the atheists who have put all their eggs in the Carrier basket.

Stephen Parrish said...

J. Gresham Machen published the Virgin Birth of Christ in 1930. In it he argued that contrary to what is often supposed, Christ was alone or almost alone in having a virgin birth. Others had unusual births or supernatural births, but not virgin births. If right, this knocks out one of Carrier's criteria.

David B Marshall said...

Thanks, gents, that helps. I had heard that Honest Abe was a myth, but was resisting the report; I guess this puts a rap on it. Machen also predicted that scholars would become so bewildered by the gospels that they would be forced into mythicism, as I recall.

Denish Sebastian said...

After reading your review I really feel sorry for Sheffield Phoenix Press, the "Scholars" who reviewed this book prior to publication and Richard Carrier for the precious six years he wasted on this project.

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Loren said...

David Marshall, I think that you are being too literal-minded about Lord Raglan's hero profile. I suggest that you try scoring various legendary heroes with your sort of scoring and see what happens. With the literal-mindedess you are using here, you'll force down a lot of people's scores. You can also look for Lord Raglan's book The Hero and see how he did his scoring. He typically used the most legendary version for his scoring, if I recall correctly.

His mother a royal virgin? Royal if one of the Matthew-Luke genealogies apply to her, virgin, yes. Father a king? An uncrowned one, because Matthew and Luke make such a big issue out of his Davidic descent. Matthew vs. Mark on his childhood? Mark starts out with Jesus Christ fully grown, and the first thing in it is his getting baptized without much incident.

As to defeating an enemy, he certainly made the Devil give up on tempting him. As to being a king, he was a great religious leader with lots of followers, so his "kingdom" was a virtual one instead of some territory. Late in his career, he concedes that he can indeed be called King of the Jews.

His career was relatively undramatic, mostly preaching and working miracles and arguing with Pharisees without major strife. As to laws, his teaching are indeed laws in a general sort of sense, and he even takes on some existing Old Testament laws.

I concede that he doesn't marry a princess. Speculations about Mary Magdalene are extracanonical, and she was a commoner without much distinction.

As to being repudiated and dethroned, consider what the people of Jerusalem do about him, from giving him a hero's welcome to being a lynch mob. Also, Peter disowns him and Peter and his fellow disciples flee.

Something neglected by Lord Raglan is prophecy. Lots of legendary heroes fulfill various prophecies, often despite various efforts to thwart them. Jesus Christ fits *very* well.

Compare well-documented heroes of recent centuries. Some have what might be called noble or royal birth, but many of them are descended from commoners, and very obscure ones at that. Nobody tries to kill them in their infancy, and nobody has any idea of their future careers.

They often inhabit their "kingdoms" for all of their lives, without ever getting exiled. Some of them get into power by defeating enemies, while many of them don't. They sometimes have very dramatic careers, it must be said. Repudiation is not very common. Tsar Nicholas II, President Richard Nixon, President Mikhail Gorbachev, and leader Muammar Khadafy are the most notable examples. Quietly retiring or dying in office without being repudiated are much more common.

As to their deaths, dying of old age is common, and some of them died in the opposite of a hill: Nicholas II's basement, Adolf Hitler's bunker, and Muammar Khadafy being found in a storm drain. Which legendary hero has spent his last moments cowering in a cave or a dungeon?

Abraham Lincoln's supposed high score is a facetious scoring that I haven't found anywhere. A serious scoring of him gets more like 6. He was the son of undistinguished commoners, and he lived in his "kingdom" all his life. He also was never repudiated, but instead killed by a disgruntled Confederacy supporter.

David B Marshall said...

Loren: The word Richard uses is "rigor." It is far from rigorous to discredit historical figures by appeals to exact language, then just throw out your high score for Jesus when it does not fit your own exact language, without a WORD admitting that fact, or explaining why you are now suddenly cool with taking words elastically. That is bad scholarship, and not being terribly honest with your readers to boot.

Jesus' career was "relatively undramatic?" Are you joking? Which chapter in which gospel lacks such drama that it would make the rest of your life pale by comparison, were you to experience it?

Please remember that I am critiquing an argument by Richard Carrier, here. I personally assign little importance to RR, in and of itself.

Loren said...

The relatively undramatic part of Jesus Christ's career is between his starting being a religious leader and his last days. Those last days were certainly dramatic, I will concede, and some of that drama fits Lord Raglan's profile very well.

I've scored several recent heroes, and I've found them to have low scores compared to mythical people. George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte, Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin, Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Muammar Khadafy.

F. Ramos said...

Hmm... Well we can experiemnt with Raglan on the reverse with clear fictional characters, would they score high as is expected? Ranking heroes like Spider-Man, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Forrest Gump, Optimus Prime, Benjamin Button, Elmer Fudd, Rambo, Carmen Sandiego, Indiana Jones, Marty McFly, Napoleon Dynamite, Uncle Sam, Huckleberry Finn, etc yields low scores. Elasticity would be needed to force them to fit where they obviously don't. Should we believe they were real historical people? Clearly if a method is good it should work on positive cases and negative cases well, no? Consilience.

A Clasicist scored others including Harry Potter who got an 8 on the scale.

Just thought it was interesting.

Paul Regnier said...

"Is it "rigorous" to jump from one book to another, because one early source gives you a better result (20, in the case of Matthew, allegedly) than another?"

As folklorists, Rank and Raglan were more interested in bodies of literature than individual sources. If you follow their approach, then it's OK to consider features in any text that might match the criteria, regardless of whether they are canonical or non-canonical, early or very late.

F. Ramos said...

Hi Paul, interesting point. However, if the standards are that loose whereby anything can be used to justify any criteria, then wouldn't that make Rank and Raglan's criteria and scores even less reliable and useful? In general one would have to treat each source as a separate case and score it as is in order to maintain some rigor and see where some elements could have been added or removed.

Now if its just about the narratives themselves (not bearing at all on historicity), then there is no issue, but Carrier is using Rank and Raglan as measures for historicity in some sense. For that you would have to find the best source and go off of it only. It would be the least one that has been "tampered" with presumably.

Paul Regnier said...

"Hi Paul, interesting point. However, if the standards are that loose whereby anything can be used to justify any criteria, then wouldn't that make Rank and Raglan's criteria and scores even less reliable and useful?"

Yep, I tend to agree. For the purposes of identifying a common hero pattern, it might not matter, but it obviously raises problems if you then try to conclude something about historicity from this.

Playing devil's advocate, I suppose you could argue that these details arise in different sources because there were no "real" historical details to relate, but it would be easy to show that heroic stories attach themselves to real figures too, e.g. Rank uses Cyrus the Great as an example of the hero pattern.

More problematically, Carrier seems to have tweaked a couple of Raglan's criteria, making them more Jesus like. E.g. Raglan has "the body is not buried", whereas Carrier (if quoted accurately above) has "the body turns up missing". I've not yet read Carrier's book, so I don't know what justification he gives for this, but "not buried" and "turns up missing" do not mean the same thing.

David B Marshall said...

Yeah, Richard does a lot of that, even while pretending to bend over backwards for "the other side." Best I recall, he doesn't justify the individual choices at all -- there are huge lacunai in his argument here.

Don Wharton said...

If you want to understand what Lord Raglan meant by king you need to read his book and look at his examples. Zeus became king of the gods in the mythical kingdom of Mt. Olympus. Apollo likewise becomes king in a supremely mythical domain. There are many examples of metaphorical kingdoms cited by Raglan. Apollo is ruling over art, music and medicine for example.

David B Marshall said...

Don: Thanks, but it doesn't really matter for my argument, and I don't really care. It is up to Richard Carrier to make his own argument clear, and what he does make clear is that he demands strict interpretation of the criteria. But some say he misrepresents the original in some ways, changing them to make his argument work better. It would have been best if he had quoted the original verbatim, and worked from that, to keep his argument clear and honest. It is not up to Carrier's readers to figure these things out for themselves.

ChristusVictorius said...


How do you not see the deceptive trickery that Richard Carrier is doing with the RR scale? Don't you see that the scale is not a method of determining historicity of a person but is a method of determining what narratives have in common? Since that's the case, then this argument from a scale dating back 100 years ago is nonsensical and irrelevant to the probability of said person existing.

Jesus could rank the highest score and still have a high probability of existing in the past. You can't reason by taking thousands or millions of non-historical figures, place them on a scale, and then put Jesus at the top, and say "Well because mythological figures tend to score the highest, therefore, Jesus will be a myth". That is a non-sequitur and absurd because the question of historicity must be answered by using historical methods and reasoning. And on top of that, you can do the same thing with other historical figures who actually rank higher than Jesus(Sargon I) and make the same argument. In the end it's just all tomfoolery and I'm not falling for it. Real historical reasoning takes time and effort and critical skills.