by Neil Godfrey
Richard Carrier, PhD, has essentially endorsed Tom Verenna’s “scathing review” of Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus with one caveat: his complaints “may be a little excessive.” (I discussed earlier the blatant “wrongness” of Verenna’s review.) But we must stress that Verenna had only praise for the contribution from Dr Richard Carrier.
Carelessness with people’s reputations
Carrier (with a PhD in ancient history from Columbia University) reinforces Verenna’s ethical discomfort that Frank Zindler chose to publish email correspondence between himself and Ehrman:
Verenna raises some valid concerns worth mulling, such as about Zindler’s use and publication of his correspondence with Ehrman.
Thus even Dr Carrier demonstrates that he is not as thorough in the reading of what he is reviewing as he should be. He, like Verenna, quite overlooked Zindler’s own note at the point of introducing this email exchange:
I thank Professor Ehrman for graciously having granted me permission to reprint here his messages, provided only that I “acknowledge that they were emails, not written intended for publication.”
Because of their careless oversights (accompanied, one must presume, with a lack of interest in seriously checking to see if their grounds for darkening Zindler’s character were real) both have recklessly cast slanderous aspersions upon the integrity of Frank Zindler.
[The nature of the emails and how Frank used them are outlined in a comment below.]
Academic professionalism or strictly business?
One might wonder about the professionalism of a scholar who publishes a scathing review of a book to which he has contributed and advises his readers they are better off not bothering with it. (Professionalism, in my view, extends to treatment of one’s colleagues as much as it does to how one approaches one’s job.) But Dr Carrier clears the air on this point at the outset of his review. His relationship with the other contributors of this volume, and in particular with its editors, is entirely a business one. He stresses that he sold the rights to his article to them so they could make use of it:
The rights to my contribution were procured through a single-payment contract, so I won’t be getting any royalties from the sale of this book . . .
I was . . . paid for my critical material on Ehrman . . .
So unlike the other contributors in having made his money from the book before it was published, our reviewer advises those he elsewhere calls “his fans” how they can purchase the book in a way that will still allow him to get further $ from each sale:
(if you want to buy it and still want me to get a cut, then you can buy it through the above link, which is to the respective sales page in my Amazon store, where I get a kickback on any sale),
So it’s entirely a business relationship, not a professional one, and having made his $ he is prepared to be fully professionally honest and tell readers, in effect, not to waste their money buying it. His honesty is absolutely commendably rare. (Never mind that many of us have probably run into people at various times who know how to do more injustice under their shining halo of “honesty” than any liar could achieve.)
Dr Carrier then reinforces, just in case you still haven’t quite got it, that he completely distances himself from the other contributors:
I required a disclaimer to be included (in the Foreword generally and in the first paragraph of my chapter specifically), since I do not endorse much of what gets said elsewhere in this book. I was sure of this even before I read it . . .
One is left wondering why a professional ever consented to his name being included in the book’s pages at all. One does begin to wonder how much he was paid.
Another irregular verb: I am honestly devastating; You are personally attacking
Now the book’s clearly stated purpose is advertized in the title and explained in the Introduction by Robert Price. It is primarily a response to Bart Ehrman’s shoddy treatment of works by mythicists in DJE?. Ehrman’s book was written for a popular audience. It was not for scholars. Indeed, one of the principle faults of the book is that in many places it suppresses evidence or oversimplifies scholarly arguments in ways that almost certainly would mislead many lay readers. Carrier knows this and calls Ehrman out on it. So do the other contributors. They are responding to Ehrman’s distortions of their work. Serious questions remain unanswered if we accept at face value Ehrman’s insistence that he really did read all the mythicist books he claims he did.
I would have thought that such responses and exposures of shoddy argumentation and misrepresentations are not by definition “venom and disgust” and certainly not “personal attack”. Yet Dr Carrier implies they are “personal attacks” since he concurs with Verenna’s conclusion that the book is 600 pages of venom and disgust aimed to character assassinate. This, says Dr Carrier, is a “warranted” complaint (if “maybe a little excessive”.)
Yet the harshest treatment of Ehrman is found in Carrier’s chapter –
I found more than a few indications of general incompetence (including failures to fact-check, sloppy and careless writing and analysis, illogical arguments, self-contradictory assertions, all by the scores). Yet he dismisses my criticism as an unwarranted personal attack. This has led me to wonder: does he regard his exact same treatment of others as an inappropriate personal attack that they didn’t deserve? Or as simply a demonstration that the books he examined are incompetently written, a perfectly valid thing to demonstrate and conclude, and exactly what I did — but that he in his response attacks me for doing?
Ehrman acted like a Christian apologist . . .
Several times Ehrman conceals facts from his readers that are damaging to his case . . . .
Ehrman demonstrates how little we can trust his knowledge or research when he says such silly things like . . .
But that’s just the beginning. This one flawless contribution — the only one worth Verenna’s praise, is the only one that accuses Bart Ehrman of being a liar.
2. Lying to Cover Up Your Mistakes. . .
I don’t actually believe him when he says he didn’t mean to say . . . . after his careless and irresponsible scholarship . . . .
On that point I suspect he is lying. . . .
I consider this good evidence that he is now lying . . . .
Establishing oneself as someone who prefers dishonesty to admitting mistakes is not the way to argue for historicity. Neither is so thoroughly failing at the job of informing the public on the actual facts.
3. Lying to Cover Up Your Mistakes. . .
I do not believe he is telling the truth. . . His excuses are destroying his reputation. What else has he misrepresented? What else has he fudged, screwed up, or lied about? . . .
His reply only dug his hole deeper, illustrating further his probable ignorance, dishonesty, and illogicality. . .
Of his two contradictory responses, the first is probably another lie. . .
So his first response is probably dishonest . . . . badly misinforming the public on the relevant facts . . .
If you’re Dr Richard Carrier, PhD in ancient history at Columbia University, this is called being “as devastating as ever” (see my previous post) and all part of the supposedly solitary worthwhile chapter in the book.
When I search for the word “lying” in the Kindle version of this volume I see that it only appears in Dr Carrier’s chapter, the only one said by both V and C to be worthy. The only times it is used elsewhere is in a biblical quotation, such as when Paul said he was not lying. Yet if you’re a lesser mortal who avoids this personal character attack, choosing instead to simply stick to exposing “failures to fact-check, sloppy and careless writing and analysis, illogical arguments, self-contradictory assertions” with respect to how Ehrman treated your work, then in the eyes of V and C you are hell-bent on “character assassination”.
Dr C, in worthy contrast, is simply being professionally honest and intellectually devastating.
What do you expect from these lesser mortals?
So much for Dr Carrier addressing the negatives of his fellow-contributors. Now he addresses their positive contributions:
In fact, I consider much of it terrible. But it is fair enough to say that each chapter represents the best of what you can expect from each contributor of late. So if you want to see what each mythicist author is most often like in their manner of argumentation and quality of research, this is the anthology for you, although at 567 pages from disparate authors, it can be a challenge to get through. That’s the sum of it.
Fellow-contributors (sorry), The other contributors (the unpaid ones) don’t write with the same style or intent (or professionally honest venom) as Dr Carrier. Some of them even waste words by writing conversationally, informally, lightheartedly or humorously, in the way they approach Ehrman’s treatment of their arguments. Anyone would think they were actually enjoying what they are expressing and pitching at fellow lay readers who might even likewise enjoy learning something with a little verbal delight. That’s enough to bring down “professionally honest” scorn from the Doctor. What wasteful wordiness! Definitely not to “the average reader’s” taste, we are assured.
But it gets worse. Sometimes they miss a detail that Carrier believes is an inexcusable omission, even though Carrier knows they know about it, have presented arguments about it and concluded it does not affect their thesis. Now that they are addressing Ehrman’s attacks on their work and don’t think to bring up that same point, Carrier blasts them — in particular René Salm. Carrier chastizes him and all other mythicists with the need to write every single time a complete coverage of whatever topic they are addressing.
Now that’s not bad advice as a general rule. But sheesh, is it really necessary for the PhD of Columbia University kick lesser mortals so savagely honestly?
There are ways of teaching, leading and inspiring others and there are ways of being simply obnoxious. I don’t know if Dr Carrier was a prodigy or not, but I have seen this too often in those who are. They cannot bear patiently the “lesser minds” of others and in the long run make themselves obnoxious irrelevancies. Didn’t Doctor Carrier himself come to be persuaded of the Christ Myth theory through amateurs like Earl Doherty? Is there any room for courtesy and human respect? Apparently not once one has one’s credentials, and one’s “fan” base, and once all further dealings will be on a business transactional basis.
But once again Dr C is careless. If anyone had thought his criticisms of Salm’s work were based on familiarity with his book they will be disillusioned when they read this:
Notice the potentially poor logic of this: what are the odds that Christians would invent the name of a fake town in Galilee and the Jews would then go on to independently found a town in Galilee with exactly that same name? I think probability is against Salm here. Quite heavily . . . .
Pages 299 and 300 of Salm’s Myth of Nazareth make his position very clear.
The text and the results of archaeology can be reconciled in one of two ways: (1) either the Gospel of Mark was later than is commonly dated; or (2) the word Nazaret at Mk 1:9 is the interpolation of a later, post-70 CE hand. . . That interpolation was obviously made after the settlement of Nazareth came into existence and became known in the region.
I can’t help but wonder if so much “Salm-bashing” one encounters is the direct result of Salm addressing something that is tangible, something that comes down to hard-certainties of the material evidence and established professional, literally scientific, criteria. Contrast other mythicist and “historicist” arguments that are over interpretations of literary passages. Critics of Salm seem to be oblivious to the fact that his criticisms of the conclusions of modern archaeological reports in Galilee have been published in a peer-reviewed archaeological journal; and the responses to his publication failed to address his core criticisms. (See More Nazareth Nonsense).
Doctor Carrier exposes more of his shoddiness when he ridicules what he merely assumes is Salm’s logic: that if Nazareth goes then Jesus also must go. This is the sort of carelessness for which Carrier castigates Ehrman. Salm makes it abundantly clear in his book that of course the non-existence of Nazareth in the early first century does not mean Jesus did not exist! Salm’s question is to wonder why Nazareth came to be associated with the Jesus in the Gospels. This potentially points to a radical reinterpretation of Christian origins.
Then Carrier takes a snort at Fitzgerald’s contribution.
Fitzgerald’s piece is mostly a 101 survey of mythicist questions (not all of which are equally apt) . . . .
He does go on to say something positive about this chapter, but of course not without taking a sideways kick at it. It’s only a 101 piece, “too introductory”. Dr Carrier presumably doesn’t want this book to be targeted at the same general public as was DJE?. And gosh, not every one of his points is “equally” apt. Never miss a chance to kick a lesser mortal if you want readers to acknowledge that only your contribution was the worthwhile one.
Price’s chapters “are a charm to read” but “are still just summaries of the anthology”. Curiously Carrier labels Price’s work as “a bit harsh on Ehrman”. I have re-read Price’s chapter and my own view is that Price was very openly human in his approach, in some senses trying to sympathetically compare his own past way of thinking and intellectual journey with Ehrman’s. Price never once comes close to calling Ehrman a liar.
Zindler’s readers “might just end up confused”. Doherty is right but (and we have to get a kick in here) he doesn’t use the best arguments for his case.
Hiding the good of others behind one’s own arrogance honesty
Now much of Carrier’s criticism may be true. But one might think that not all of it is “equally apt”, or necessary. Much may be his personal taste and preference, or his impatience with amateurs. If Carrier were wanting to prove his professionalism by dumping on a book to which he was a contributor, he might have been more persuasive had he not admitted to having been the only contributor to have made money from it. (Since his was the only worthwhile contribution I guess his being the sole pre-publication financial beneficiary is only fair?) But Carrier has not made any positive contribution towards opening up a serious discussion of mythicism to a wider public. Carrier would no doubt say that is not his fault. The book is a response by those whom Bart Ehrman so incompetently attacked. Much of it would be a joy to read for many lay readers, or even other PhDs. It is a pity Carrier could not have more fully grasped the nature and purpose of what the other contributors were doing and drawn his criticisms with a little more understanding.
Carrier would no doubt say that anything that falls short of the way he argues and writes is intolerable.