Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Another Response to Richard Carrier's Scholarship (sigh)

I'm not sure who (introduction, please?) but someone keeps asking me to refute various comments Richard Carrier has made about the historical Jesus.  I'm happy to be of help if I can.  But with a few stipulations: (1) I don't want to watch any videos; (2) or budge in on an argument between, say, Carrier and Tim O'Neill; (3) or discuss what I regard as trivial details, like how much of Josephus' famous two passages on Jesus are really from him.  Also (4) I may not have time to answer everything!  

And since I have already proven Carrier's flaws as a scholar pretty thoroughly, I think, I don't want to beat that dead horse too much, either.  Also, Jesus is No Myth: The Fingerprints of God on the Gospels makes my positive case not only for the historicity of Jesus, but for the accuracy of the earliest accounts of Jesus' life.  Carrier attacked that book with amusing futility: I got the impression he skimmed it while drunk, and wrote his "rebuttal" at 3:00 the next morning, with an aching hangover.  (Or, I theorize elsewhere on this site, while green, having metamorphized into Hulk Carrier.)

I may shoot from the hip a little here.  But let me see what I can do, before getting back to class prep:  

"It begins with Mark having Jesus say literal stories that are false are told to keep the secret allegorical truth hidden that will only be told to initiates. Just as Plutarch says the Osirians did with the biographies of Osiris."

These comments are too occult for me to attempt to tease any sense out on a sunny day.  Carrier seems to be viewing some obscure connection in his head, but not explaining it clearly: let it rest there for the moment.  

"Then Matthew “embellishes” Mark’s technique by adding allusions to the things he is saying fulfilling scripture, thus further disguising the truth but making it now look like scripture."

This is confused.  To offer allusions to a text is not to make your work "look like" that text.  Augustine's Confessions are chock-full of allusions to Scripture, which does not turn a psychological autobiography into, say, a gospel or an epistle to the Corinthians.  Matthew obviously does not "look like" the stories in I King about David.  Carrier misunderstands what an allusion is and does. 

But Carrier's implications are clear.  He thinks Matthew must be making stuff up, because he keeps on saying Jesus fulfills Scripture.  But that begs the question: 

(1) What if Jesus really did fulfill Scripture? 

(2) Mark says he did, too, after all, and so did other early Christian writers.  

(3) I show, in True Son of Heaven, that Jesus also fulfills Chinese Culture.  Carrier tried to answer a few of my arguments, but just showed he doesn't know much about China.  If Jesus could fulfill Chinese culture, that shows that fulfillment does not demonstrate something is made up for that purpose.  Early Chinese like Lao Zi were not, of course, writing to show Jesus fulfilled the core images and truths of Chinese tradition, and yet he does.  

(4) Can Carrier point to any other text that employs the "fulfillment motif" in such detail and depth as Matthew shows Jesus fulfills the Jewish tradition?  I wonder if that would even be possible.  I wonder if Carrier has even realized just how rich that motif is in Matthew.  In Fulfillment: A Christian Model of Religions, I describe twelve such pervasive patterns in Matthew alone.  (Not twelve details, but twelve patterns, most of which contain multiple instances.) 

"Then Luke takes this a step further and instead of making the allegory look like scripture, he makes it look like actual history, using all the markers of historical writing, but still never explicitly saying that what he is preserving is literally true rather than the correct allegory (the correct version of “the parable” of Jesus)."

The confusion here drops further into the deep. 

In fact, the very first chapter of Mark is already chock full of the sorts of details one finds in historical records: we have historical locations (Judea, River Jordan, Capernaum, Nazareth, Galilee), known historical characters from outside the Bible (John the Baptist, Herod is coming up, and of course Jesus), customs and texts from the place and time (Isaiah, baptism, synagogues) and concrete, realistic activities (fishing on the Sea of Galilee). 

So the sequence begins, not ends, in what appears -- and I show that it appears far more deeply after being tested forensically -- to be history, not "allegorical truth to initiates."  The rest of this is all empty bloviating.   

"Then, for the first time ever, John comes along and outright says it’s not allegory, it’s literally true, and you’d better believe it because it’s literally true."

Hogwash.  Mark places Jesus in historical time, with historical figures, doing historical things.  Matthew pays closer attention to Scriptural links, but adds more depth which, I show, increases the historical credibility of the story in many ways.  Luke is an intellectual who has probably read Thucydides, maybe Polybius, and uses those historical tools to tell a story he says he has researched to ensure accuracy.  

Then John is the first to claim "literal truth" for the story?  How absurd!        

"That’s the sequence of events.  The story gets more concretely historical over time."

Perhaps Carrier is afflicted with the same condition that many scholars of religion suffered from in the 19th Century: they could not help but read their evolutionary paradigms into the histories of religion.  Carrier wants to see development from "allegory" to "history," but Mark and Luke don't oblige his delusion for anyone who lacks his eyes of faith.  

"Which is the opposite of what we should expect. We should first have mundane memoirs and letters about Jesus and his impact and the controversies about him among those meeting or confronting him. Then this evolves into more elaborate mythical legends. Just as happened with Alexander the Great. Instead we get elaborate mythical legends right out of the gate. Skipping everything else. And then gradually those legends are wrapped more and more to look like history, and then finally are insisted upon as history."

I dare anyone to read the Alexander Romance, and claim it looks like any of the canonical gospels.  I analyze it in Jesus is No Myth.  That is, indeed, what a gospel should look like though, on the skeptical theory.  The desperation of skeptics looking for a credible fictional parallel to the gospels is actually rather touching, and amusing.  I also find this scramble through ancient texts quite helpful: all those unbelievers scurrying around proving the truth of Christianity, seizing on vain analogies that fall apart at the lightest touch of common sense, shows just how unique the gospels actually are.  I often suspect they are simply gambling that no one will read the Life of Apollonius of Tyana, the Descent of Ishtar, or the "Gospel" of Thomas, and see how threadbare the analogies they grab at in futile desperation actually are.  

"No, Mario, the same standards do not lead to doubting the historicity of Alexander the Great.

"This has been extensively explained already. Read the damned book. It’s very affordable. If you keep making arguments showing you haven’t even read the book, and keep failing to respond to those arguments, I will permanently ban you from making blog comments."

I read it, and refuted it.  "Easy as turning over your fist," as the ancient Chinese put it.  Carrier's temper tantrums and complete inability to accurately read my rebuttal and show he understood it in response revealed how futile his thinking had become.    

"You’ve been warned.  Everything you just said, Mario, is false.  You’ll discover that fact when you read my section on the evidence for Alexander in OHJ.  But you won’t get to comment on it further here. You are banned for persistent misbehavior against repeated warnings."

Poor Mario.  Or maybe, lucky Mario.  Plumbing is a more profitable business than reading Richard Carrier, anyway, Mario.  


Daniel said...

Thanks for helping me I think you should read this it's a very good my question will you ever ride on the Pauline corpus that's an important part of evidence for Jesus

David B Marshall said...

No. Again, I think the evidence presenting in Jesus is No Myth is more than enough not merely to prove Jesus lived -- a trivial argument -- but that what the Gospels say about him is essentially true. I emphasize in that book that I am frying bigger fish than merely proving Jesus lived. If anyone seriously challenges my arguments, I'll defend them. Until then, I think they stand.
And one only needs to fall back on Paul if one thinks the Gospels are insufficient.

David B Marshall said...

And of course there are serious scholars like NT Wright, Craig Blomberg, and many others, whose work is much more worth reading than on-line debates between Richard Carrier and Tim O'brien.

Bjørn Are said...

As always illuminating, David, thanks!

BTW, I suspect you mean Tim O'Neill :)

David B Marshall said...

Oops! Thanks for the correction!

Daniel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daniel said...

Can I ask you to respond to this

Daniel said...

It's too long to publish an a comment but it's shorter than a blog post can I ask you to respond to it but I want to ask you first I'll email you first before I do it

Colada said...

I sent you an email could you respond to it please and can I ask you some questions

Daniel said...

Could I ask you to respond to something a short comment please I want to ask you first before I posted

Daniel said...

Could I ask you to respond to something a short comment please

Daniel said...

Could I ask you to respond to something

Daniel said...

What do you think one Thessalonians 2 13 to 16 is authentic

Daniel said...

You respond to this