Carrier finally responds to Ehrman on the historicity of Jesus

We’ve all been waiting for Richard Carrier, an expert on history and a Biblical scholar, to respond to Bart Ehrman’s new book.  Well, Carrier has—in an article called “Ehrman on Jesus: a failure of facts and logic” published on his website.  And he doesn’t pull any punches from the outset:

Having completed and fully annotated Ehrman’s new book Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (Harper 2012), I can officially say it is filled with factual errors, logical fallacies, and badly worded arguments. Moreover, it completely fails at its one explicit task: to effectively critique the arguments for Jesus being a mythical person. Lousy with errors and failing even at the one useful thing it could have done, this is not a book I can recommend.

As you may know from the publicity and from Ehrman’s HuffPo precis, his book claims that there was indeed one historical person around whom the Jesus myth coalesced, though Ehrman rejects claims that this Jesus was the son of God, a miracle worker, or in any way divine.  But he vigorously attacks “mythicists”—those who think that there was no one historical person on which Christianity is based—and goes after new atheists as well, whom he compares to fundamentalists in their dogmatism. (Carrier is a mythicist.)  In general, Carrier faults the book not just for poor and selective scholarship, but for poor writing:

Carrier criticizes Ehrman’s book on several grounds:

  • The book is filled with factual errors.   Here’s one of several cited by Carrier:
The “No Records” Debacle: Ehrman declares (again with that same suicidally hyperbolic certitude) that “we simply don’t have birth notices, trial records, death certificates—or other kinds of records that one has today” (p. 29). Although his conclusion is correct (we should not expect to have any such records for Jesus or early Christianity), his premise is false. In fact, I cannot believe he said this. How can he not know that we have thousands of these kinds of records? Yes, predominately from the sands of Egypt, but even in some cases beyond. I have literally held some of these documents in my very hands. More importantly, we also have such documents quoted or cited in books whose texts have survived. For instance, Suetonius references birth records for Caligula, and in fact his discussion of the sources on this subject is an example I have used of precisely the kind of historical research that is conspicuously lacking in any Christian literature before the third century (see Not the Impossible Faith, pp. 182-87) . . . That Ehrman would not know this is shocking and suggests he has very little experience in ancient history as a field and virtually none in papyrology (beyond its application to biblical manuscripts). Worse, he didn’t even think to check whether we had any of these kinds of documents, before confidently declaring we didn’t.
It’s a long piece, with many accusations of sloppy scholarship, including accusations that Erhman errs about the letters of Pliny the younger, the position of Pontius Pilate, about whether the Egyptian god Osiris was said to be resurrected, whether religions earlier than Christianity had baptism, and so on.
The factual errors apparently extend to Carrier’s own qualifications: Ehrman says Carrier’s doctorate was in classics, while it was actually in ancient history
Ehrman can’t have learned my degree is in classics from any reliable source. He can only have invented this detail. I am left to wonder if this was a deliberate attempt to diminish my qualifications by misrepresentation. Or if he is really so massively incompetent it never even occurred to him to check my CV, which is on my very public website (he also has my email address, and we have corresponded, so he could even have just asked).
Well, this may seem trivial, but to Carrier it bespeaks a sloppiness of scholarship on Ehrman’s part, documented by all the assertions that precede it.
  • Carrier claims that his own level of scholarship is superior to Ehrman’s:
 And on that score I would ask that Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist? be compared with my latest on the same subject, Proving History. Just compare the extent and content of our endnotes alone, much less the way we argue, the difference in our attention to method and its logical soundness, the diverse range of scholarship we cite. Even my book Not the Impossible Faith is superior on all these measures, and it was a deliberately colloquial book designed to be entertaining. Both undoubtedly have occasional errors (as all scholarly work does)–but I doubt anything even remotely like what I have documented above (in degree, quantity, and cruciality).
I haven’t made this comparison, nor read all the books, so I can’t adjudicate this, but I’d submit that this is a minor criticism, and seems more like wounded ego.  The matter should, as Carrier did earlier in the piece, be adjudicated on the facts alone, and their reliability as “facts.”
  • Ehrman’s historical methodology is flawed. Carrier dismisses Ehrman’s reliance on the “methodology of criteria” (whatever that is), which Carrier claims he refuted in his book Proving History.  He concentrates instead on two others:
I could call out many examples of his use of ordinary fallacies and self-contradictions, too, but I will have to leave those for perhaps a later blog (if I even care to bother).[JAC he gives one example.] . . .
And this one seems to be the crux of the matter: Ehrman’s constant assertion that there are dozens of sources earlier than the Gospels that independently attest to the historicity of Jesus:
As bad as those kinds of self contradictions and fallacies are (and there are more than just that one), far worse is how Ehrman moves from the possibility of hypothetical sources to the conclusion of having proved historicity. He argues that because Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, Thomas (yes, Thomas) and various other documents all have material the others don’t, that therefore we “have” a zillion earlier sources, which he sometimes calls by their traditionally assigned letters like M, L, and Q (he is irrationally dismissive of Mark Goodacre’s refutation of Q, and claims no one is convinced by it but cites not a single rebuttal; I myself find Goodacre’s case persuasive, well enough at least to leave us in complete doubt of the matter). We don’t in fact have those sources, we aren’t even sure they exist, and even if we were, we have no way of knowing what they said.

I’m not an expert here, but if Ehrman doesn’t have those sources in hand, then he’ll have trouble convincing us not only that they exist, but that they say what Ehrman says they do. You’ll want to read Carrier’s take on these sources, as to me that bears heavily on Ehrman’s credibility. I am not equipped to judge matters like this, but I have to say that if Ehrman invokes independent evidence for Jesus that isn’t convincing, then I’d find his conclusions questionable.

  • Ehrman cites ancient stories and biographies as if they were true, though many have proved to be outright fiction.
Ehrman appears to be blithely unaware of the routinely fabricatory nature of ancient biography, as documented throughout the literature on the subject (which is cataloged under his despised category of “classics,” a section of the library Ehrman seems never to visit), which demonstrates that things an author said or wrote (even fictionally) were often converted into stories about them . . . [Carrier then gives some examples]. . .
. . . The significance of this is that it demonstrates Ehrman’s naivity when it comes to interpreting ancient literature and source materials and tradition formation. He is evidently not a competent classicist. And yet understanding how the Gospels likely came together requires being a competent classicist. . .
If things a person said were routinely transformed into stories about them (for example, Euripides occasionally made remarks about women in his plays that were transformed into a story about his troubled marriage–a completely fabricated story, that nevertheless became a standard element of his biography), doesn’t this change substantially how we view the possible tradition history behind the stories in the “biographies” of Jesus?
Carrier’s conclusion is strong:
It is for all the reasons documented in this article (which are again just a sample of many other errors of like kind, from false claims, to illogical arguments, to self-contradictions, to misrepresentations of his opponents, to errors of omission), especially this book’s complete failure to interact with even a single complete theory of mythicism (which alone renders the book useless, even were it free of error), that I have no choice but to condemn this thing as being nothing more than a sad murder of electrons and trees.
I have been a bit baffled about why this matter evokes such strong feelings, especially among atheists. Since we all admit that there’s no evidence that Jesus was the son of God, did miracles, was resurrected or born of a virgin, and died for our sins, does it really matter so much if he’s based on a historical person? Why does this evoke such strong feelings, and such acrimonious arguments, from atheists?

Perhaps some of our concern comes from this:  if we can show that there’s no historical Jesus, then the myth of Christianity tumbles down. That is, it’s no so much about convincing ourselves about the non-historicity of Jesus as convincing Christians.  And it is the Christians who have the hard work ahead of them, for even if Jesus was demonstrated to be a historical person, they still must adduce independent evidence for all his divinity attested in scripture.  And that’s why Ehrman is so important to the faithful—and perhaps why he seems to have gone soft on them)—for they think that showing there was a historical person somehow justifies all the mythology of Christianity.  It doesn’t, and we know that.

But Christians don’t.

In other words, Ehrman’s book is important to Americans only insofar as it can be taken to support the tenets of Christianity.  Since it doesn’t, even by Ehrman’s admission, I’m a bit baffled at the attention it gets. I conclude that all the kerfuffle rests on this: Christians conflate the existence of a historical Jesus with the existence of a divine Jesus.

And, of course, there are important questions about how one adjudicates ancient history.

277 Comments

  1. yesmyliege
    Posted April 21, 2012 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    “…does it really matter so much if he’s based on a historical person?…”

    Well,, the Church thinks it is important, or it would not have put people to death over the issue. Nor would they have spent the enormous sums of money they have spent over the centuries to produce and groom legions of Biblical scholars to institutionalize that claim of historicity. Nor would they have destroyed competing texts, authorized interpolations and outright forgeries, etc, etc to bolster – indeed flesh out – the historical character of the anointed savior.

    Because the church understands that, unlike the relatively sophisticated denizens of atheistic blogs, the true believers in the pews believe in the church because they believe that JC was a real man made Divine, who sacrificed his mortal life for their salvation. For this is what is promised to them every day they attend services, and their afterlife depends on this. Meanwhile, the concessions of erudite theologians, that the miracle-working JC of the Gospels did not exist, that he must have been a mere apocalyptic preacher of no renown are NEVER reported to the sheep in the flock. No, that omerta is practiced 24/7/365.

    So, for those atheists who wonder why this is an important question – the Church thanks you and wishes you well.

    For those who DO think this is an issue so critical that the very faith of the people in the pews might well be shattered if they were to learn of the truth of it, the Church, through its minions of Biblical scholars,who are pleased to offer as a value-added customer service that your opinions are equivalent to those of creationists and Holocaust deniers, kindly begs your indulgence to please STFU.

    • ROO BOOKAROO
      Posted April 21, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      This reads exactly like Roger Lambert’s comment on Vridar. Is this plagiarism or the same author?

      • yesmyliege
        Posted April 21, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

        same author. For the life of me, I can’t get wordpress to recognize me as anything else through this site, or couple of others, anymore. I’m also Gingerbaker most everywhere else. :)

  2. Blood
    Posted April 21, 2012 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    It matters because the historical method should never confuse theology with actual history. But this is precisely what all biblical scholars do.

    The Bible is theological literature. The people in it are literary characters. Did they exist historically? Perhaps some of them did. To suggest that if we simply remove the miracles, we will find the history, shows a serious inability to grasp the fundamentals of mythology. The supposed miracles were why the evangelists were writing in the first place. It was why the stories were preserved. Nobody preserved the stories because they thought Jesus was a great moralist.

  3. Kevin
    Posted April 21, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    “And it is the Christians who have the hard work ahead of them, for even if Jesus was demonstrated to be a historical person, they still must adduce independent evidence for all his divinity attested in scripture.”

    On what basis is it asserted that the historians of Christ’s divinity were not independent of each other, and how would independence work in this context? Are we to imagine that Josephus, for example, could have reached the conclusion that Jesus was divine, but only retain his credentials as an independent historian if he remained personally unaffected by this knowledge?

  4. Pirate
    Posted April 21, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    I must confess I do not have a very high opinion of Carrier’s work, especially when it comes to historical methodology. I work on probability theory and statistics, and someone once sent me a paper by Carrier promoting the use of Bayesianism in historical research. The document was rife with mathematical errors that could probably have been corrected by consultation with a reasonably competent freshman math major. I don’t begrudge a historian for not being familiar with mathematics, but if a historian is going to publically promote a particular mathematical technique it is surely irresponsible for him to do so before acquiring more than an elementary understanding of said technique.

    Anyway, this is pretty much all I have read of Carrier’s work, so it might well be the case that the rest of his stuff (when he’s not dealing with Bayesianism) is careful and rigorous scholarship. Still, I suspect much of his Jesus mythicism is based on (or at least bolstered by) Bayesian argument, and unless he has learned a lot more than he knew when he wrote the article I read, is not to be trusted.

    On the substantive issue, I have no firmly held opinion. I am almost entirely ignorant on the issue, and Carrier may well be right. My tendency, as in most cases where I lack sufficient information, is to side with the academic consensus (there’s some actual Bayesianism for you).

    • ROO BOOKAROO
      Posted April 21, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      Here is Richard Carrier’s blog:
      http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier
      He welcomes all relevant comments and makes it a point to answer.
      So, why don’t you send him directly your comment, and we’ll all be able to read his reply on his blog.

      He’s just published his book,”Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus”, and it would be very surprising if he hadn’t been prudent enough to have all the pages on Bayes’s Theorem reviewed by an expert probability expert.
      This will be extremely interesting. If Richard Carrier is a flake in elementary probability algebra, it is worth knowing.
      So be a Mensch, and speak up to him. You’ll render a valuable service to us all.

      • Posted April 22, 2012 at 9:16 am | Permalink

        it would be very surprising if he hadn’t been prudent enough to have all the pages on Bayes’s Theorem reviewed by an expert probability expert.

        In fact, on that very blog (February 8), Carrier says:

        I had the book formally peer reviewed by a professor of mathematics, and consulted with a few other professors of mathematics during its development.

        /@

      • yesmyliege
        Posted April 22, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink

        Carrier has said explicitly that he has vetted the Bayes math with more than one qualified expert. :)

    • Nikos Apostolakis
      Posted April 22, 2012 at 6:51 am | Permalink

      Do you remember what paper was that? and what kind of mistakes were there?

      I remember reading his paper on “The sources of Jesus traditions” and I noticed some minor mistakes, mostly of terminology, the one I still remember is using “equation” instead of “expression”, but I don’t recall noticing any serious mathematical errors. I don’t have access to that paper right now so I can’t check if I remember correctly.

  5. berndsmathblog
    Posted April 21, 2012 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

    Have you actually read that cv you posted above? Have you looked at what he lectures about for graduates and undergraduates? Have you read some of the titles of his publications?
    That to me sounds much like the work of a historian of early christianity.
    Further more, if you visit the department-homepage of religios studies at the university of north carolina, you read about Ehrman: …. Since then he has published extensively in the fields of New Testament and Early Christianity, having written or edited nineteen books, numerous articles, and dozens of book reviews. Among his most recent books are a college-level textbook on the New Testament, two anthologies of early Christian writings, a study of the historical Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet (Oxford Univesity Press), and a Greek-English Edition of the Apostolic Fathers for the Loeb Classical Library (Harvard University Press)…..
    But even if one didn’t have this information: you find lectures of Ehrman in the net on the historical Jesus. I have seen a lecture series about the historical Jesus of him, which was great. There you learn f.e. how to extract information in the gospels and other early christian and non-christian writings about Jesus even if there are contradictions, errors etc. in those texts… If you have 4 witnesses of a crime and they sometimes contradict each other in their reports then this can be better as having no witnesses. There are certain methods and criteria to extract useful historical information even if the texts you deal with have some of the problems discussed above.
    One is:
    F.e. if you have two authors who do not contradict each other in describing an event of the past and you know that they didn’t know each other, then they must have their information from an earlier source.
    They could not likely have invented the same story.
    Although being a mathematician, I like history and I understand that Ehrman doesn’t want to have polluted his field with conspiracy theories.
    By the way: Here is a video I have found of him presenting his new book:

    • berndsmathblog
      Posted April 21, 2012 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

      Ups sorry.
      This post was supposed to be an answer to the posts of Torbjörn Larsson on my comment above.
      Sorry again….

  6. Posted April 22, 2012 at 3:49 am | Permalink

    It’s important simply because Ehrman is wrong and wants others to think that he is not wrong.

  7. Mark Erickson
    Posted April 22, 2012 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    It evokes strong feelings because we’re humans – we love mystery and conflict. History v. myth has all the elements of good drama.

  8. berndsmathblog
    Posted April 22, 2012 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

    Finally the first response of Ehrman to Carriers harsh critique:

    http://ehrmanblog.org/acharya-s-richard-carrier-and-a-cocky-peter-or-a-cock-and-bull-story/

    • Posted April 23, 2012 at 1:55 am | Permalink

      Harsh? Yes. But undeservedly so?

      I think Ehrman is wrong not to post a point by point rebuttal. Isn’t that the right thing to do in serious scholarship?

      The point he does respond to doesn’t seem to be crucial to Carrier’s critique overall. In any case, I think he’s being disingenuous.

      I posted on Ehrman’s blog:

      Carrier is both trained and smart. But sometimes he doesn’t read very well.

      I assume you are both trained and smart. But sometimes you don’t write very well.

      “There is no penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock in the Vatican,” is ambiguous. I don’t think many readers wouldn’t have inferred that you meant there’s no such statue at all. You would’ve been far clearer if you had said, “While there is a penis-nosed statue of a cock in the Vatican, it has nothing to do with Peter.”

      If your research isn’t as sloppy as Carrier claims, then it still seems sloppily articulated.

      /@

      /@

      • berndsmathblog
        Posted April 23, 2012 at 5:45 am | Permalink

        For me your response to Prof. Ehrman sounds quite emotional.
        As for me, I am a mathematician (i come from germany and I am about to finish my PHD in mathematics) who is also interested in history. I have never been a religious believer, but as Richard Dawkins I care passionately for the truth. I have the feeling that some people not really care about the truth, they just want, as religious believers want, some things to be true, even if the evidence is against their belief. The vast majority of historians think that there was a jewish lad named Jesus of Nazareth. Only a small minority of people of whom just a fraction are scholars (not working at a university) believe the contrary.
        I am no historian, I have to rely on the judgement of experts in these matters and on arguments that can be understood, even if you haven’t read all christian and non-christian texts of the first three centuries of christianity.
        I am sorry, but here I lean more towards Prof. Ehrman.
        Ancient history is a kind of biology as it seems, but with less evidence from the past.

        • Posted April 23, 2012 at 6:32 am | Permalink

          You think? Well, perhaps, as a professional writer I do get emotional about bad writing!

          I really think Ehrman is being remiss by not offering a point-by-point response to Carrier. It’s lazy to dismiss the need to do this just because “many of the mythicists” are “often so prolix and make point after point after point, that it is impossible to deal with them in short order.” Carrier is not “many of the mythicists”: He’s a conspicuously well-qualified critic (pace what Ehrman says in his book) and his critique deserves a more considered response.

          /@

          • berndsmathblog
            Posted April 23, 2012 at 8:49 am | Permalink

            As Ehrman posted: There should be some more responses in the future of him to Carrier.
            The best thing would be that they meet and do an open discussion, not a debate.
            Debates are for apologists. What matters is the truth here. I know two arguments from Ehrman for the existence of a historical Jesus. They seem convincing to me, although I know so little about early christianity. I have seen online a lecture series of about 20 lectures of Ehrman about the historical Jesus.
            No garantie that I get everything right, but one argument is something like this:

            The early christians (the followers of Jesus) from a bunch of people who thought that Jesus was absolutely human and would do great things to free palestine from the evil romans to more modern christians who after the death of Jesus created the theology that Jesus would come back soon and that he was devine. The early christians never thought that Jesus would be so easily squashed by the romans, they thought Jesus was the Messiah would change the world and overthrow the evil forces in the land. But he didn’t change the world he was crucified as were hundreds of thousands of other people who acted against the roman authorities badly. So could Jesus be the Messiah? No one seems to have thought that the Messiah (long awaited by the Jews) was to be crucified, so was he the Messiah? So now Religion or better theology comes into place. Instead of accepting, that Jesus was no Messiah, his followers created a theology that dealt with the facts and let christianity live on. “Yeah, Jesus was crucified, ok., but that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t the Messiah, lets see how we interpret his crucifixion, ah yeah look at the hebrew bible, oh yeah here, he must come back .. ……”
            There is a lot of more in detail to say and to add and to establish historically. I can’t do this, historians can and one can lay out this argument very good.

            • berndsmathblog
              Posted April 23, 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink

              ps …. The argument here is that the early christians had to mention the truth. They knew that Jesus was crucified and they still thought that Jesus was the Messiah, so they had to explain why Jesus, although he was crucified against all expectations of the Jews, was the Messiah.
              Why would a bunch of people in that time make up a story of a crucified Messiah? The Messiah was supposed to be a great figure, a great general, a great thinker….
              But someone who gets that easily arrested and crucified can’t be the Messiah and yet these crazy people still claimed that he is the Messiah….. Why would someone make such a story up?

              • Nikos Apostolakis
                Posted April 23, 2012 at 10:59 am | Permalink

                The argument here is that the early christians had to mention the truth. They knew that Jesus was crucified and they still thought that Jesus was the Messiah, so they had to explain why Jesus, although he was crucified against all expectations of the Jews, was the Messiah.

                This also look like a statement and not an argument.

                Why would a bunch of people in that time make up a story of a crucified Messiah? The Messiah was supposed to be a great figure, a great general, a great thinker….
                But someone who gets that easily arrested and crucified can’t be the Messiah and yet these crazy people still claimed that he is the Messiah….. Why would someone make such a story up?

                This looks more like an argument but not that strong, IMHO. Arguments from incredulity don’t look very strong to me—why would somebody make such a story up? I don’t know people make weird shit up all the time. This particular argument seems especially weak though: as Carrier pointed out, the only kind of Messiah somebody could plausibly make up is an executed one—people would notice that the Romans were still around otherwise.

              • Posted April 23, 2012 at 11:06 am | Permalink

                Arguments from incredulity don’t look very strong to me—why would somebody make such a story up?

                Exactly.

                Why would somebody make up a story about Xenu traveling all the way to Earth in DC-8s in order to put a bunch of imprisoned space ghosts in the Hawaiian volcanoes just so he could blow them up with nuclear bombs? Anything that crazy simply has to be true! Nobody could possibly make it up, and why would they want to?

                An argument from incredulity is nothing more than a con artist who’s going after your pocketbook, or a mark convincing himself he hasn’t been conned after the con artist has liberated said pocketbook.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • berndsmathblog
                Posted April 23, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

                There is of course a lot of more to say. Just read about ancient history.
                There are more methods and techniques and you have to read more and know more about ancient palestine to understand how people lived there. What did those people believe, who where the ruling authorities …etc…
                And then one has to ask: What is more likely to explain our evidence? Again:
                Why would a bunch of people in ancient palestine create the idea of a crucified messiah? This goes absolutely against what everyone believed a messiah would be.
                And then these crazy people created that weird theology to explain why their messiah was crucified.
                This is crazy, why invest all that energy to explain how a made up messiah was crucified?
                Why fight and defend these crazy ideas against other jewish schools of thought? The early christians f.e. argued with another group of jews following a man named apollonius of tyana (or so). Why that energy to defend a made up messiah? Unless you create a fancy explanation for that evidence, this behavior seems not to fit with a made up messiah.

                Lets not forget: This is only one (poorly presented) argument for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth. There is more evidence, but as I said, you don’t have to ask me (I am no historian and what I say above is in no way complete and may be not in every detail right. I just remember the lectures I watched), look up the lectures of Prof. Ehrman on the historical Jesus ..

              • Posted April 23, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

                Why would a bunch of people in ancient palestine create the idea of a crucified messiah? This goes absolutely against what everyone believed a messiah would be.

                I dunno.

                Why would those same people create the idea of a zombie that liked to have his intestines fondled?

                Why would those same people create the idea of YHWH having a son with a virgin in the first place — a son who turned water into wine? That’s all unabashed Pagan stuff that Jews ostensibly hated.

                Why would those same people create the idea of bread and wine transmuting into flesh and blood?

                Or is it your position that none of that is made up and it’s all true? Or that they made up all that, but that they didn’t make up the 1% of Jesus’s life that we supposedly know about that was sorta-kinda banal?

                Really, you would do wise to avoid the used car lots….

                b&

              • Tyro
                Posted April 23, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

                Why would Joseph Smith make up a story which got him chased across the States imprisoned and eventually killed? He died for his beliefs! It makes no sense unless he was telling the Complete and Absolute Truth.

              • Posted April 23, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

                Tyro, you jest, of course. But I have heard Morons make that exact same argument in defense of Moronism. No joke.

                b&

            • Nikos Apostolakis
              Posted April 23, 2012 at 9:39 am | Permalink

              This is not an argument. It’s the statement of (one version of) the historicists’ claim. Where is the proof?

              • berndsmathblog
                Posted April 23, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

                A story from the past is either true or it is made up. Those are the only possibilities.

                If someone in the past tells us something that is absolutely not in his interest to tell us that goes against what he is interested to say then this story he tells us is more probably true.

                F.e. an ex-president tells us in his memoir, that he betraid his wife with his secretary once, then he very likely has not made up that story. He was forced to tell this story, because everyone knows the story…

                Do you see the analogy?

                But I must say again and that is important.
                I am no historian and I don’t want to destroy arguments here, because I am incompetent.
                Are there some historians here?

              • gbjames
                Posted April 23, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

                A story from the past is either true or it is made up. Those are the only possibilities.

                Huh? There are an infinite number of blends, with bits of fact mixed with bits of fiction in arbitrary proportions.

              • Posted April 23, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

                A story from the past is either true or it is made up. Those are the only possibilities.

                Oh, man…you are so gullible.

                Lies are so much more effective when they contain bits and pieces of truth. Even fantastic fiction like Harry Potter works better when it incorporates real locations and people.

                F.e. an ex-president tells us in his memoir, that he betraid his wife with his secretary once, then he very likely has not made up that story. He was forced to tell this story, because everyone knows the story…

                Or, it could be that his liaison with his secretary was cover for passing documents to the enemy. Once people know that he was having an affair, that’s all the explanation needed for the cover-up. Hell, his wife could even be in on the matter, and her righteous indignation is just part of the act.

                In this (or any other) case, the memoir is nothing more than evidence of what the author wants his audience to read. In some cases, authors go to great lengths to establish their reliability and credibility…but most of the time, there’s an agenda being pushed.

                I’ll close by noting that Josephus, that favorite whipping-boy of Ehrman and the rest of the Christ Apologists, is a textbook example of an historian writing history for the victors. Josephus had more in common with the tabloids than the broadsheets — and, never mind, of course, the biases of the broadsheets themselves.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • joe piecuch
                Posted April 23, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

                “Lies are so much more effective when they contain bits and pieces of truth.”

                oh, the irony…so you ARE capable of grasping this idea…heh heh heh.

              • Nikos Apostolakis
                Posted April 23, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

                @ berndsmathblog

                A story from the past is either true or it is made up. Those are the
                only possibilities.

                Provided that you define a story to be false if one of its
                components is false. ;) As others have pointed out most, most
                stories mix some true elements with some false elements.

                If someone in the past tells us something that is absolutely not in
                his interest to tell us that goes against what he is interested to
                say then this story he tells us is more probably true.

                I agree. But in order to use this, one has to be able to determine
                what is in the best interest of the person telling the story. In
                order to do that one has to know who is telling the story, when, and
                what kind of story it is, is it history? biography? fiction?… As
                far as I know we don’t have any certain answers to these questions
                concerning NT.

                For example, it is conceivable that the person who wrote the story
                about a crucified messiah considered it a parable or some kind of
                allegory or whatever. In this case the crucified messiah serves the
                interests of the author, namely to teach her audience a moral
                lesson. It is also conceivable that later generations started to
                believe the original allegorical story as true and eventually the
                fact that their messiah got crucified became an embarassement. The
                story does not serve their best interests anymore but that doesn’t
                mean that it didn’t serve the best interests of its original author.
                Stories are interpreted differently by different audiences in
                different periods. For example Don Quixote was conceived by its
                author as a satire but later generations view him as a noble symbol
                of idealistic quests.

                F.e. an ex-president tells us in his memoir, that he betraid his
                wife with his secretary once, then he very likely has not made up
                that story. He was forced to tell this story, because everyone knows
                the story…

                Do you see the analogy?

                Yes but I’m not sure it’s very fitting. In this example we know who
                the author is, when he wrote the story, and that the story is a
                memoir. So we can be pretty confident that telling this story is
                not in his best interest. (Unless of course, as Ben pointed out,
                there are some charges of espionage and this story provides a great
                alibi.) In the case of the NT stories I don’t think we have enough
                information to answer these questions with certainty.

                I am no historian

                I’m not a historian either. However, Carrier is a historian and he
                finds the methods used by Ehrman invalid. In comment 36, there is a
                link to a philosophical paper that also casts doubt in the validity
                of those methods. Unless a historian comes out defending the
                validity of those methods I will remain skeptical.

              • Lowen Gartner
                Posted April 23, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

                Where is the hue and cry from mainstream academic historians regarding Carrier’s criticism and defending Erhman’s methods and conclusions.

                Seems to me Erhman finds himself out on his own. No wonder he doesn’t want to give his critics from all directions any more fodder by answering Carrier point by point

            • Posted April 23, 2012 at 10:31 am | Permalink

              The problem is that anybody can make up any sort of “Just So” story to fit whatever narrative you have in mind, and then explain how it’s not inconsistent with a cherry-picked set of facts.

              What Ehrman lacks is positive evidence to support his claims. That he lacks such evidence is painfully clear from how he cites not just the infamous “Q” document as evidence, but that he cites the use of a couple words of Aramaic as evidence of original eyewitness sources…and then he goes on to confidently, authoritatively state what those eyewitnesses witnessed.

              If you had independent knowledge of the facts, you could use corroboration in a fourth-generation hearsay account to bolster the credibility of the hearsay on otherwise-unknown details, but only extremely skeptically and only of the most banal and unimportant details.

              But Ehrman doesn’t even have any evidence that the Aramaic came from anywhere other than an author of fiction looking for some local in a tour guidebook to add a touch of authenticity — let alone that the eyewitnesses he thinks he’s found are themselves reliable and not liars and conmen.

              If you’re trusting somebody foolish enough to build such sky castles out of a religious zombie fantasy, you’re as much of a fool as the one who’s building the castles.

              This latest work clearly demonstrates that, whatever his past credentials and accomplishments, Ehrman today is no scholar. He’s a charlatan, and not a very good one.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Tyro
                Posted April 23, 2012 at 10:42 am | Permalink

                I don’t know about charlatan, but based on his earlier essay and now his response to Carrier, I’d say that he is very quick to inflate the significance of all points which support his position and equally quick to dismiss opponents based on seemingly trivial details. He seems to lack the sort of even-handedness and honesty that I’ve come to expect from scientists.

                Probably the most important thing that I’ve taken from WEIT is the ethical duty to discuss the flaws in your own argument and to be especially charitable with opponents. We have psychological biases and blind-spots and the good scientist will try to compensate. I’ve seen none of that from Ehrman, quite the reverse.

                Ironically, I do see this from Carrier (see last year’s long post about the difficulties of dating manuscripts) and Doherty (see his many responses to critics). I admit I am probably biased but it’s hard to see the up side in Ehrman’s latest works.

              • ROO BOOKAROO
                Posted April 23, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

                Ben Goren:
                Excellent comment by Tyro. There’s a radical difference in mindset and attitude between Ehrman on one side, and Richard Carrier and Earl Doherty on the other. Ehrman displays the self-confidence and arrogance of his established and undisputed status of academic pundit of NT textual criticism, while Carrier and Doherty are acting more as outsiders who want to be acknowledged, and manifest a humility and a willingness to self-criticism. Ehrman cannot accept the loss of prestige in acknowledging that he’s tackled a subject he is not yet prepared to handle. Willing, but not yet able and ready.
                Having ignored the whole line of skeptical literature on the subject of the existence of Jesus Christ, 200 years from Bruno Bauer to G.A. Wells, Earl Doherty and Robert Price, until recently, he was in no measure to produce a high-quality critical study in a short time.

              • berndsmathblog
                Posted April 23, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

                A lot of people can make a lot of things up.
                But what is more likely?
                Do you really think that a bunch of people defended a made up messiah against other Jewish schools of thought and against the very idea of a messiah in that time?
                Why invest all that energy to defend a crazy idea?

              • Posted April 23, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

                Do you really think that a bunch of people defended a made up messiah against other Jewish schools of thought and against the very idea of a messiah in that time?

                So, what about the Raelians who suicided in anticipation of the spaceship hiding behind the comet? Or Jonestown and the Koolaid? Or David Koresh and the Davidians?

                Do you really think that those people defended their made-up stories with their lives, or are their theologies true as well?

                People believe all sorts of stupid made-up shit all the time, and they kill and die for those beliefs. It’s called, “religion.”

                And Christianity is a…?

                b&

    • Tyro
      Posted April 23, 2012 at 7:53 am | Permalink

      Eech. He talks about missing forests for the trees and harping on irrelevant details then he goes on about a semantic argument about a statue which even Carrier says is not a significant part of the argument.

      Anyway, I can sort of understand where Ehrman is coming from on this point. He comes across as a hair-splitter. While his statement may be accurate (or at least he sees it as accurate), this sort of semantic game comes across more as a way to deceive us and attack his critics by implying that opponents are lying and horrible scholars, even when the disagreement is a fairly minor interpretation of a statue.

      If we want to talk big picture, it’s this sort of behaviour which Carrier was attacking and if anything, seems to be borne out by Ehrman’s response.

  9. Posted April 23, 2012 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    “I have been a bit baffled about why this matter evokes such strong feelings, especially among atheists. ”

    It evokes strong feeling because Erhman and others have made comparisons of Holocaust deniers to anyone that has questioned the historicity of Jesus while simultaneously not being able to show solid evidence for his existence. I’m not even a mythicist and I found Ehrman’s latest book to be openly hostile, thereby essentially asking for a like response.

  10. yesmyliege
    Posted April 23, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    berndsmathblog

    …The vast majority of historians think that there was a jewish lad named Jesus of Nazareth…

    That is wrong.

    The vast majority of historians have no interest in this issue, and have no professional opinion on the matter.

    The vast majority of people who do have a professional opinion on the matter are ‘Biblical Scholars’, who are not trained historians, and who do not use accepted historical methods.

    The vast majority of Biblical Scholars are products of divinity schools, not full universities, and most of them work at seminary schools. And employment at most of these seminary schools requires sworn adherence to the Nicene creed as a condition of employment.

    You will often see Biblical scholars asserting themselves as belonging to the defined set of professional “historians” and claiming that there is a “consensus” in the field. Do not be misled. These is a consensus among Biblical scholars, which is not exactly surprising, but not among historians.

    This is why some are calling for the abolition of Biblical Studies programs from secular universities.

    • berndsmathblog
      Posted April 23, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

      I mean of course the vast majority of historians working in that field of ancient history. This is at least what wikipedia says and what Prof. Ehrman says.
      We are talking about history here.
      In that field a Jew, a Moslem, a Christian, an Atheist, an Alien can look at the evidence and draw the same conclusions.
      Have you seen a lecture on the historical Jesus before? This is not theology, it is history.
      Jesus is dealt with there as is dealt with Clinton, with Alexander the great, with Julius Cesar, etc….
      History is important. As a german I can assure you this. Because we have still in our country a tiny bunch of insane people who state that the holocaust produced not 6000000 dead Jews but much less. But they are wrong, as history clearly shows. The evidence is strong enough to deduce that the high number of casualties of about 6000000 dead Jews is correct. There are historians who work on the holocaust.
      And there are those who work on early christianity. Clearly those who work on ancient history have much less evidence as those historians who work on events in our times.
      But one can, as Ehrman says, establish some facts about Jesus.

      • Posted April 23, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

        Since you’re comparing the historicity of Jesus with the historicity of Caesar and the Holocaust, then perhaps you’d care to present some evidence for Jesus on the level of a Caesar coin or Commentarii de Bello Gallico and associated archaeological digs on the one hand, or the death camps and Mein Kampf on the other?

        …no? Didn’t think so.

        Cheers,

        b&

  11. berndsmathblog
    Posted April 23, 2012 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    Wow, this is post of another expert in the field:

    http://rjosephhoffmann.wordpress.com/2012/04/23/mythtic-pizza-and-cold-cocked-scholars/

    You must read this….

    • Tyro
      Posted April 23, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

      Yes, if you thought Ehrman was bad, R Jo Ho really ups the ante.

      • Posted May 7, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

        He does admit it’s a “rant” and end up with this:

        “This little rant (and it is a rant, I acknowledge and I do not apologize for it: somebody’s got to do it) will be followed next week by three essay-length responses to Richard C. Carrier’s ideas: The first by me, the second by Professor Maurice Casey of the University of Nottingham, and the third by Stephanie Fisher a specialist in Q-studies. We will attempt to show an impetuous amateur not only where he goes wrong, but why he should buy a map before starting his journey. ”

        Worth a look, if and when these “essays” appear.

  12. Ben
    Posted April 24, 2012 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    Subscribing to comments.

  13. biomuse
    Posted May 6, 2012 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    “Christians conflate the existence of a historical Jesus with the existence of a divine Jesus.”

    YES, BECAUSE THEY ARE ALL DUMB AND SIMPLE, STOOOOPID PEOPLE!

    Um, yeah no, no they don’t.

    Yet another “thing that Christians do” that the far tail of the distribution does and no one else does, which property is then imputed to the entire group.

    What will end this undying romance between militant atheists and straw men? I mean at least theists are *consciously and electively* irrational in a well-defined and restricted category, as opposed to…

    • biomuse
      Posted May 6, 2012 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      P.S., yes, evolution is demonstrably true from the phylogenetics and yes, misogyny is bad and yes, gay rights are obviously just (no, I’m not being sarcastic – just stating what the majority of Christians in the US believe and, in so doing, trying to save you from more of the straw men under your bed).

  14. Posted May 7, 2012 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    Haven’t read Ehrman’s book, but Carrier’s rebuttal seems a bit silly in places. For instance, the lucky survival of population records in Egypt doesn’t make such records remotely plausible as a source for the existence or nonexistence of a Galilean peasant.

    We have zero evidence about 99% of the people who lived in the Roman Empire and its client states.

    And then, when you argue Carrier-style, you get to have it both ways. “There’s no evidence Nazareth existed.” Well, but people wrote about Nazareth in these documents collected in the New Testament. “We’re excluding that evidence!” Oh … well yes, that does make the argument harder. You could disprove any number of facts about the ancient world that way.

    One thing that strikes me about the picture of the early church in Acts is the embarrassment of Jesus’s crucifixion. How do you explain your way around that, is the unspoken question that the early disciples are shown having to work their way around. If you’re going to invent a religion from scratch, can’t you do better than that?

    • Stephen P
      Posted May 7, 2012 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      “Invent a religion from scratch”? Please: who has suggested that the gospel-writers were trying to do that? Do you know anything at all about the early history of Christianity?

      And where in the New Testament is anything at all written about the city of Nazareth? (other than that it supposedly existed).

      • Posted May 7, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

        (1) You’re going to have to distill that into making an actual point if you want a response.

        (2) In the study of ancient history, textual evidence that some place “supposedly existed” is pretty good stuff, relatively speaking. Particularly for some obscure pissant village.

        We have NT documents from the 2d half of the first century referring to Nazareth. That doesn’t prove that Jesus was born in Nazareth, but it’s evidence that there was such a place – the author expected his audience to buy it and not go, “what, there isn’t even such a town in Galilee!”

        Cf. the notion in Acts that the high priest could send Saul to arrest Christians in Damascus: very implausible that that was the case, but it’s evidence of what someone writing post-Temple could *think* sounded like a plausible thing for the high priest to do.

        • Jim Jones
          Posted May 11, 2012 at 7:57 am | Permalink

          And this is well within the bounds of fanfic – which often takes the original story in a direction where the original author would not go.

    • Posted May 7, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      Ah, I see from this post by Jim McGrath that my exceedingly obvious point about the crucified Jesus was made by Ehrman in his book (as one would hope):

      [Carrier] also fails to address what the expectation of Jews regarding a Davidic anointed one was, and so does nothing to counter the widely-accepted fact that it is profoundly unlikely that someone invented a story about such a figure being crucified, and then tried to persuade their Jewish contemporaries that the figure in question is the long-awaited Davidic anointed one.

      Ehrman is clearly correct that there was no expectation prior to the rise of Christianity that a Davidic Messiah – i.e. the one who would restore the kingdom to the line of David – would be executed by the foreign empire ruling over the Jewish people. And Ehrman’s point about this being unlikely to have been made up still stands. In theory, anything can be invented. But if we are asking what is likely, as historians are supposed to, then the evidence fits more naturally a scenario in which a historical figure was crucified and those who believed him to be the Davidic Messiah found ways of maintaining their beliefs in spite of the cognitive dissonance caused by his crucifixion.

    • Jim Jones
      Posted May 11, 2012 at 7:54 am | Permalink

      How do YOU explain Superman being constantly embarrassed by the tricks of Mister Mxyztplk? Doesn’t that prove (by your argument) that both are real?

    • Jim Jones
      Posted May 11, 2012 at 8:07 am | Permalink

      “Well, but people wrote about Nazareth in these documents collected in the New Testament.”

      http://www.jesusneverexisted.com/nazareth.html

      On balance, ISTM that ‘Nazareth’ was created (by a quick renaming) for the Empress Helena. Plucking gullible tourists has a long history.

  15. Aaron Baker
    Posted May 7, 2012 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    This is not an endorsement of Ehrman’s essay, which does seem to be marred by carelessness.

    Rather, I’m posting to say that whether mythicism is correct or not, Carrier hasn’t come close to proving his case.

    In his reply to McGrath’s defense of Ehrman (http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/749/comment-page-1#comment-9473), I took issue with what appear to be some of Carrier’s key points. (If anybody wishes, they can look at my arguments, starting at comment 53.) I’ll just say here that Carrier relies heavily on a deductive argument that doesn’t in fact prove what he says it does (and the failure of proof here is glaringly obvious)–and that Carrier imposes on 1 Corinthians 9 an interpretation that does violence to the text as it’s come down to us and isn’t implied by anything in that text either.

    I’ll just add here that Carrier repeatedly asserts that he’s “proved” things when in fact he hasn’t–and he does this to such an extent that I think that one has to question his judgment.

  16. per-olov
    Posted September 18, 2013 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    And once again Carrier proves himsel as a complet quack..
    Of course is it possible to find pieces of information about births and death. But registerswhich would alowe us to search för a particular person in judea aroun the birth of Jesus.

  17. Daniel N.
    Posted December 22, 2013 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    We will never know the truth. There’s only one meaningful question: is it more probable that there’s a historical person behind the myth or the myth was a complete invention?

    Think about Arthur.

    I agree with Ehrman, it’s more probable that Jesus was not invented, but his story was heavily amended.

    Fully invented stories contain less contradictions. Besides, basic story about Jesus (supernatural elements removed) sounds plausible: a guy preaches around villages with a couple of followers, then makes some trouble in Jerusalem, and he’s eventually arrested and executed by the authorities.

    Everything ELSE about Jesus is a bit less probable.

    Were Mohammed and Buddha historical persons? Why not?


5 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] as opposed to a rhetorical ploy that will only work on those already mythicists themselves. (UPDATE: See too Jerry Coyne’s discussion of Carrier’s post).While Carrier’s treatment lacks nuance and seeks to distract from the force of the book as a [...]

  2. [...] Coyne of Why Evolution Is True fame has posted on his blog his own comments on Richard Carrier’s review of Ehrman’s [...]

  3. [...] the mosquito infested ghettos of what people can see to be common sense. The likes of evolutionists Jerry Coyne and P. Z. Myers might dirty their grubby ghetto-tainted hands by sharing their research and studies [...]

  4. [...] Drum, we get Jerry Coyne looking at Richard Carrier griping about Bart Ehrman, who (for once) is being criticized for saying something mainstream: that Jesus really existed (tho [...]

  5. […] Coyne of Why Evolution Is True fame has posted on his blog his own comments on Richard Carrier’s review of Ehrman’s […]

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