2014-08-29

“It’s time to rethink our assumptions, and look at the evidence anew.” — Carrier

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by Neil Godfrey

There are at least six well-qualified experts, including two sitting professors, two retired professors, and two independent scholars with Ph.D.’s in relevant fields, who have recently gone on public record as doubting whether there really was a historical Jesus. — Richard Carrier

Six names?

Arthur Droge

Kurt Noll

Thomas Brodie

Richard Carrier

Robert Price

Thomas Thompson

. . . a recognition that [Jesus’s] existence is not entirely certain would nudge Jesus scholarship towards academic respectability.  —  Philip Davies

The  most recent appearance of the above claims is in Richard Carrier’s post on The Bible and Interpretation, Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt: Should We Still Be Looking for a Historical Jesus?

Carrier opens his article with an anecdote that sounds all too familiar to some of us here. My co-blogger Tim has posted regularly in recent months on the abysmal failure of well respected scholars to truly grasp some of the fundamentals of their own field. Too often we find scholars have only a vague or even quite inaccurate understanding of some of their basic scholarly heritage. The reason? So often it appears to be nothing more than careless assumptions reinforced by collegial “consensus-talk”. Several times we have pointed out in posts here where researchers into the historical Jesus admit their methods are flawed, even circular, yet because they can conceive of no alternative they continue with them. And even more fundamentally, too often we find scholars getting away with falsely quoting or citing biblical passages — presumably through faulty memory or simply long-held popular assumptions.

Last year I had an erudite and friendly debate on London radio with an excellent and well-respected professor of New Testament studies, in which he claimed that in 1 Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul wrote that he received the gospel he summarizes there “from those who were in Christ before him.” Indeed this professor insisted that “from those who were in Christ before him” was in the text. This was perplexing, because I knew that wasn’t the case. . . . My opponent was a bit nonplussed when we looked at the text, and to his astonishment, the phrase he was sure was there, was not.

This is not an isolated story. This has happened to me countless times. A superbly qualified scholar will insist some piece of evidence exists, or does not exist, and I am surprised that I have to show them the contrary. And always this phantom evidence (or an assurance of its absence) is in defense of the historicity of Jesus. This should teach us how important it is to stop repeating the phrase “the overwhelming consensus says…” Because that consensus is based on false beliefs and assumptions, a lot of them inherited unknowingly from past Christian faith assumptions in reading or discussing the evidence, which even secular scholars failed to check before simply repeating them as certainly the truth.

This sets the background to Carrier’s article introducing the message of his new book On the Historicity of Jesus.

Going back to examine assumptions and checking the basis of everything we think we know. Now that bring back memories. That was the journey I embarked upon as I drew myself out of all religious beliefs some years ago now — like others who share the same interests here. Time and chance bring such changes about, I suppose. I can’t be sure we all really choose the paths we are on.

Stanislav Andreski won a little notoriety in 1972 with his book Social Sciences as Sorcery. Re-reading it a little while ago I could not help noticing how some of his critique applies even more to the field of biblical studies. (No surprise given that one of their professors, Hector Avalos, can write The End of Biblical Studies.) He asked himself why anyone would bother writing a book he knew would not be popular. Why criticize his own profession? His answer in relation to the social sciences:

I do not envisage that this blast of my trumpet will bring down the walls of pseudo-science, which are manned by too many stout defenders: the slaves of routine who (to use Bertrand Russell’s expression) ‘would rather die than think’, mercenary go-getters, docile educational employees who judge ideas by the status of their propounders, or the woolly minded lost souls yearning for gurus.

Nevertheless, despite the advanced stage of cretinization which our civilization has reached under the impact of the mass media, there are still some people about who like to use their brains without the lure of material gain; and it is for them that this book is intended. But if they are in a minority, then how can the truth prevail?

The answer (which gives some ground for hope) is that people interested in ideas, and prepared to think them through and express them regardless of personal disadvantage, have always been few; and if knowledge could not advance without a majority on the right side, there would never have been any progress at all – because it has always been easier to get into the limelight, as well as to make money, by charlatanry, doctrinairism, sycophancy and soothing or stirring oratory than by logical and fearless thinking.

No, the reason why human understanding has been able to advance in the past, and may do so in the future, is that true insights are cumulative and retain their value regardless of what happens to their discoverers; while fads and stunts may bring an immediate profit to the impresarios, but lead nowhere in the long run, cancel each other out, and are dropped as soon as their promoters are no longer there (or have lost the power) to direct the show. Anyway, let us not despair. (pp. 16-17, my own formatting and bolding)

 

65 Comments

  • Greg
    2014-08-29 20:27:53 UTC - 20:27 | Permalink

    Education without rigor can be just as dangerous as ignorance. When proper methodology takes a back seat to comfort and convenience it sets the foundation for an incestuous safe haven that prizes its defense against the unwashed masses over its service to the larger community. Once one can no longer distinguish between conformity and integrity, crowd control takes precedence over the facts hence the constant invocation of “the consensus” in the same vein as the creationist’s frequent appeal to “the controversy”; in both cases, the facts, evidence, and arguments are rendered unimportant working in favor of those lacking.

  • Scot Griffin
    2014-08-29 20:50:04 UTC - 20:50 | Permalink

    Carrier: “I think it is more likely that Jesus began in the Christian mind as a celestial being (like an archangel), believed or claimed to be revealing divine truths through revelations (and, by bending the ear of prophets in previous eras, through hidden messages planted in scripture).”

    Carrier’s alternative hypothesis seems to be as much fan fiction as what he criticizes, and it certainly isn’t falsifiable. In particular, I don’t know what drives people to assume that Christianity started as a “grassroots,” bottoms up movement. Perhaps it is the modern belief in the separation of church and state, but all the Abrahamic “religions” are actually states each complete with its own constitution, laws and ruler(s). Such a structure is created from the top down.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2014-08-29 22:36:17 UTC - 22:36 | Permalink

      The evidence for earliest Christianity points to a “riotous diversity” of beliefs, the antithesis of what one would expect from a state sponsored cult. Much of Carrier’s argument, as I understand it, is based on demonstrating how it is indeed falsifiable.

      • Scot Griffin
        2014-08-30 01:42:07 UTC - 01:42 | Permalink

        “The evidence for earliest Christianity points to a ‘riotous diversity’ of beliefs, the antithesis of what one would expect from a state sponsored cult.”

        I understand what you are saying, but I don’t know that I can fully accept the logic. While the fact of diversity indicates a lack of state-sponsored orthodoxy, it does not imply that the concept of Christ as the Messiah, which I believe was the organizing principle of all early Christian sects, could not have been introduced by Rome, for example. The fact that early Christianity looked like a tree with numerous branches indicates the tree sprouted from a common seed. Who was the source of that seed?

        I just ordered the book, so I will read Carrier’s arguments for myself. Generally, though, I view the concept of a “grassroots” early Christianity as naively romantic, particularly when it is presented by Enlightenment-inspired modern atheists/humanists, who tend to be individualists and believe in democracy. Even if that is how “Christianity” arose, Christianity as we understand it would not exist today but for the orthodoxy created by the Catholic Church. (And to what extent does our understanding of Christianity today cause us to identify something as a member of a “riotous diversity” of Christian belief, and why do we focus on the differences instead of the commonalities?).

        I certainly agree with Carrier that it is time to rethink our assumptions, but first you have to take the time to identify what those assumptions are.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2014-08-30 02:56:32 UTC - 02:56 | Permalink

          I don’t think we need to choose between State and grass-roots origins if by “grass roots” origins we mean the “ordinary masses”. Sociological explanations are not synonymous with romantic ones. (I would also need to see evidence of how Carrier’s “individualism” and “pro-democratic” bias slants his interpretation of the evidence.) The authors of the literary evidence naturally belonged to a literary elite. We do know of various Jewish and Jewish-gentile type “cults” that contained many of the concepts that coalesce in Christian cults. The events of 70 presumably called for some dramatic rethink of identities and both Christian and rabbinic development surely need to be seen in that context.

          I see the evidence of Justin’s writings providing various clues to the spread of Christianity — including the model of the spread of philosophical schools in the classical and hellenistic and early Roman eras.

          • Scot Griffin
            2014-08-30 19:08:22 UTC - 19:08 | Permalink

            “Sociological explanations are not synonymous with romantic ones.”

            Agreed, but that does not mean that a sociological explanation cannot be romantic. The story of the rise of Christianity is a romantic one, whether it is the version told by Eusebius back in the fourth century CE, or the version told by Carrier today. The basic frame is the same, whether Jesus existed or not, because the story of the rise of Christianity is not about Jesus but his humble followers who went from being outcasts and outlaws to ruling the Western world (for a time). Whether viewed as the triumph of God’s will or the triumph of human spirit, that’s a pretty romantic and powerful story.

            Does the fact that the story is romantic make it unrealistic? Not necessarily, but if you are going to question the details of the original story, you ought to question the frame of the original story, too, as the frame implies (if not requires) how the pieces of the story fit together. For example, was Justin a “Church Father” during his life, or was he adopted posthumously by the Catholic Church to establish its pedigree and bona fides? Similarly, could it be that the “riotous diversity” of early Christianity indicates that there was no early “Christianity,” as we understand that word today? The frame Eusebius left us in his History of the Church continues to dominate how we perceive the nature and meaning of new evidence of the early history of Christianity.

            • Neil Godfrey
              2014-08-30 23:44:18 UTC - 23:44 | Permalink

              I didn’t realize Carrier’s alternative scenario is the traditional narrative minus the Christ figure. His first book indicated to me something quite different — quite the opposite in fact. I see no “romantic story” such as you raise here in any of Doherty’s or Thompson’s or Brodie’s scenarios either. I don’t know where your view of a “romantic” scenario comes from but I have yet to read Carrier’s second book for myself.

              • Scot Griffin
                2014-08-31 09:42:48 UTC - 09:42 | Permalink

                Neil,

                With the exception of the quote, I have not been reacting to Carrier specifically but to a broader approach to the origins of Christianity that Carrier’s latest book seems to be echoing. I do not lump Doherty, Thompson or Brodie as among those who take this approach (Thompson and Brodie because I’ve read them; don’t know about Doherty). In spite of his willingness to embrace the idea that there was no historical Jesus, Carrier seems more like an Ehrman than a Thompson or Brodie. Seriously, what is the point of imagining how, as you put it, “the masses” could give rise to Christianity in the absence of a Christ, other than to defend the conventional wisdom, which is based on the assumption of an historical Christ?

                Again, I don’t think Carrier is being disingenuous. He’s just trying to square what he thinks he knows with reality, and when people do that, reality is often damned, set aside.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2014-08-31 11:45:33 UTC - 11:45 | Permalink

                I don’t know how to respond to this because I cannot relate it to anything I have read by Carrier. I don’t understand how you can assert these criticisms (including even psychoanalysis) about Carrier even though you apparently have not read his works.

        • Mark Erickson
          2014-08-30 03:54:10 UTC - 03:54 | Permalink

          “it does not imply that the concept of Christ as the Messiah, which I believe was the organizing principle of all early Christian sects, could not have been introduced by Rome, for example.”

          I don’t think all early Christian sects were organized around the Messiah. Was Paul’s?

          Again, falsifiability (proving a negative) isn’t relevant. As Price always says (quotes?), the historian deals with the probable, not the possible.

          • Scot Griffin
            2014-08-30 19:52:07 UTC - 19:52 | Permalink

            “Again, falsifiability (proving a negative) isn’t relevant. As Price always says (quotes?), the historian deals with the probable, not the possible.”

            Falsifiability does not involve proving a negative. Rather, it requires formulating a statement, question or theory that is testable and, therefore, refutable. Carrier’s statement, which I quote above, requires us to go back in time and read the minds of early Christians to test it. Even if we could go back in time, we can’t read minds (maybe we can use a polygraph?), so Carrier’s statement is not falsifiable, not scientific and not history.

            And minimalist biblical historians like Thompson and Lemche insist that history must be falsifiable to be valid. Why? Because requiring falsifiability as a criterion eliminates circular reasoning. An historian who arrives at his conclusions regarding what is probable through circular reasoning is doing something other than history.

            Getting back to Carrier’s statement, why is he even engaged in this line of inquiry? It seems to me that once you accept that there was no historical Jesus, everything we think we know about the origins of Christianity is open to question. But Carrier’s thesis seems to be aimed at maintaining the integrity of the common narrative of the origins of Christianity. “No Jesus? So what? Here’s how the conventional wisdom about the origins of Christianity still holds together, even without a Christ.” It’s a secular apology for the accepted history of Christianity in the absence of an historical Jesus, not history.

            That said, I’m sure Carrier engages in a fair amount of real history in his book, but none of it can prove his statement above as being probable. He clearly is dealing with the possible, and one has to wonder why.

            • Neil Godfrey
              2014-08-30 23:41:08 UTC - 23:41 | Permalink

              My understanding of Carrier’s position is simply to show cause why the question should be opened up in the first place. I see nothing disingenuous about the subtitle of his second book.

              • Scot Griffin
                2014-08-31 08:58:51 UTC - 08:58 | Permalink

                I don’t believe Carrier is being disingenuous. He seems like a decent, high integrity guy. I doubt he understands what motivated him to write his latest book (which has been shipped to me, Amazon says). On its face, however, the book seems defensive and apologetic of a corpus of “knowledge” that should be very much in question. The frame for assuming a connection between the early “Christianities” and modern Christianity was provided by the Catholic Church (specifically, Eusebius), who was intent upon showing an unbroken philosophical and theological lineage from Moses to Jesus to Constantine.

                The fact that Carrier is willing to question the historicity of Jesus does not make him any less subject to cognitive dissonance than Bart Ehrman.

            • Mark Erickson
              2014-08-31 03:14:35 UTC - 03:14 | Permalink

              You’re right about falsifiability doesn’t equal proving a negative. Sloppy on my part, trying to tie too much together. But you are dead wrong that falsifiability is required for science and certainly not history.

              I’ll do some googling to get you good sources for this if you provide some links to Thompson and Lemche statements on it.

              • Scot Griffin
                2014-08-31 08:42:01 UTC - 08:42 | Permalink

                “But you are dead wrong that falsifiability is required for science”

                Sir Karl Popper disagrees with you (he’s dead, actually, but his works on objective knowledge and the demarcation between science and not-science live on). To be fair, Popper believed Thomas Kuhn’s theory of scientific revolutions was wrong, but I see no actual conflict between the two thinkers, once you account for hysteresis.

                I will provide some links regarding both Popper and Kuhn.

                “I’ll do some googling to get you good sources for this if you provide some links to Thompson and Lemche statements on it.”

                I have some private emails from TLT and NPL on falsifiability. They are actually much more conservative and rigid in their approach to falsifiability than I am, and I have a background in engineering. Thompson’s most definitive statement on falsifiability is in a book that is not readily available online, but I will see what I can track down for you online, as well.

                TLT and NPL rightly, I believe, are insisting that historians, as social scientists, apply the same rigor as real scientists. As a result, they are very careful in what they are willing to say publicly based on the evidence at hand, and they admonish other historians to do the same. While their rigor may outdo that of most historians, I think that rigor is especially necessary when it comes to biblical history, which is so infected with circular reasoning, aka the hermeneutical circle.

              • Mark Erickson
                2014-09-02 19:16:55 UTC - 19:16 | Permalink

                Here is Sean Carroll arguing falsifiability as a concept should be retired. And here is Massimo Pigliucci responding to Carroll. I also note Popper and Kuhn are among the most incorrectly cited philosophers of science.

                As for TLT and NPL, I can’t believe it until I see it. And the way the internet is these days, I should easily be able to see it. Personal emails and non-online sources seem pretty suspicious, no disrespect.

                “are insisting that historians, as social scientists, apply the same rigor as real scientists” Whoa! History is a humanity, not a social science. And using “real” to mean “natural” is almost equally incorrect. “Hard” science maybe, but “real” no way.

                “As a result, they are very careful in what they are willing to say publicly based on the evidence at hand, and they admonish other historians to do the same.” This statement has nothing to do with falsifiability, real vs. fake science, humanities vs. natural science, etc. Don’t speculate is all it means and it is good advice for anyone in any non-fiction setting.

              • Scot Griffin
                2014-09-03 01:41:00 UTC - 01:41 | Permalink

                http://vridar.org/2014/03/26/some-thoughts-on-the-nature-of-the-evidence-and-the-historicity-of-jesus/

                I am sure you must have read this Vridar post. NPL is quoted from his The Old Testament: Between Theology and Historyre:falsifiability. I found this by googling “Lemche falsifiability.” You couldn’t find it?

                Here’s more Lemche, from the next page (p. 112) of the same book:

                “This does not mean that it is impossible to present hypotheses concerning the Old Testament and Israelite society that is at the center of the biblical narrative. It is legitimate to propose a hypothesis, if the premises are correctly formulated. Such hypotheses may be limited to isolated phenomena or episodes, or they may be more comprehensive theories in the shape of “heuristic” (eventually “holistic”) models, which play a major role in natural science. However, if it is impossible to provide any evidence supporting a certain hypothesis, it is impossible to decide whether it is correct or false, and so it is a false argument.

                For these reasons it is Alpha and Omega for traditional historical-critical analysis of the Old Testament that whatever thesis it proposes can be the subject of a falsification process. If this is not the case, the thesis is false and of no consequence for subsequent scholarship, which should concentrate on proposing new falsifiables, that is, valid hypotheses, to be the subjects of new falsification processes.”

                As for Thompson, you may need to read his books or get access to articles behind a pay wall. In his The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives he refers to the approach as “verifiability,” not “falsifiability.” His Early History of the Israelite People is all about applying a proper historical approach based on falsifiability (which his friend Lemche subscribes to just as much). If you want Thompson’s own citations on where to find his discussions of falsifiability in those two books, order a copy of his article “The Role of Faith in Historical Research.” I’d offer to send you a copy of it, but you know how digital media, whether emails or pdfs, can be manipulated, so it is better for you to get it from the source.

                Then again, a simple google search pulled up this bulletin board message from Thompson re:falsifiability: http://orion.mscc.huji.ac.il/orion/archives/1997b/msg00601.html

                It is also easy to discover their email addresses, so you can ask them yourself.

                Re: Sean Carroll, he has nothing to say about “falsifiability” in the context of the social sciences other than that is what Popper was concerned with. Interestingly, Carroll’s objections to the doctrine were similar to the ones I made to Lemche and Thompson (or did I?). They are very rigid in their view that evidence must precede theory (a sentiment you will find made explicit in Thompson’s Early History (see, e.g., the discussion at p. 405). From my perspective, you may not know you have the evidence for a new theory until you proffer it.

                History is not a social science? Better go fix the wikiepedia entry:

                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_science#History_2

              • Mark Erickson
                2014-09-03 17:14:00 UTC - 17:14 | Permalink

                I didn’t google because you said you’d provide something. Thanks. Our argument seems to be caused by different uses of “falsifiability.” I’m using it in the philosophy of science sense and I thought you were on the same page from this comment: Falsifiability “requires formulating a statement, question or theory that is testable and, therefore, refutable.” Agreed. However, you go on to use it the sense NPL uses it, which is whether or not there is evidence to examine the hypothesis by. This usage does not contemplate testability in the scientific sense. Again, he is just saying that whatever hypothesis you propose should have evidence to support it. Don’t beg the question. That is a fallacy, which derails the argument before a concept such as scientific falsifiability even enters. Verifiability is the correct term for what NPL is talking about.

                Okay, some people say history is a social science. Congrats.

            • Neil Godfrey
              2014-08-31 04:43:44 UTC - 04:43 | Permalink

              Having read Carrier’s “Proving History” I fail to see any substantial difference between the best historical methods (such as the fundamentals of “real historical disciplines” that Thompson and Lemche applied to biblical studies) and Carrier’s approach to the question Jesus.

              The only difference is that Carrier demonstates how those sound methods of historical enquiry can be represented by Bayes’ theorem.

              All Carrier is doing is spelling out in detail what historians should be aware of every time they approach the various sources. It probably sounds complex at first simply because of the depths to which theologians are mired in fallacious assumptions and methods that need to be demonstrated as fallacious.

              • Scot Griffin
                2014-08-31 09:20:45 UTC - 09:20 | Permalink

                “All Carrier is doing is spelling out in detail what historians should be aware of every time they approach the various sources. It probably sounds complex at first simply because of the depths to which theologians are mired in fallacious assumptions and methods that need to be demonstrated as fallacious.”

                Bayesian probability insists upon fallacious assumptions regarding the probability of an event occurring in the presence of uncertainty, which Bayesian probability does not even consider. Hence, the determination of what is “probable” depends entirely on the a priori assumptions of probabilities made by the person conducting the inquisition. Sometimes, those assumptions are correct. Other times, they are wrong. The logical correctness of Bayes’ Theorem cannot save it from the fact that it assumes perfect knowledge in face of uncertainty (i.e., imperfect knowledge). That unspoken assumption renders Bayes’ Theorem as circular reasoning and not of much use in “doing history.” As long as the assignment of probabilities is entirely subjective, Carrier won’t convince anybody who does not want to be convinced, Bayes’ Theorem notwithstanding.

                I am not trying to attack Carrier here. I am just calling out what I perceive as cognitive dissonance.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2014-08-31 11:44:25 UTC - 11:44 | Permalink

                I don’t think you have read his book on Bayes’, have you?

                Or the discussions of other historians on it?

                Your critique of it here is quite false. The very opposite of what you state about Bayes’ is the case, actually. The problems you raise are common misunderstandings but are in fact addressed and countered.

                Of course no one will ever be convinced if they don’t want to be. You are quite correct there.

              • Scot Griffin
                2014-08-31 19:04:29 UTC - 19:04 | Permalink

                I have read much of Carrier’s book Proving History.

                My criticism of Bayesian probability is basically that of Keynes in his A Treatise on Probability, and it is quite valid. Bayes’ Theorem, logically, is valid and correct, but whether its application produces an accurate result depends on the assignment of probabilities. In history, particularly ancient history where our record is so incomplete, you face the problem of imperfect information. Rumsfeld’s “unknown unknowns.”

                You are correct that Carrier tries to deflect this kind of criticism, but his objection is actually quite limited, i.e., he defends BT as being objective reasoning, something I don’t dispute:

                “The objection most frequently voiced against BT is the fact that it depends on subjectively assigned prior probabilities and therefore fails to represent objective reasoning. The same can be said of the consequent probabilities. But insofar as this objection is true, it condemns all reasoning, not just BT. The only difference is that BT makes this reliance on subjectively assigned priors apparent, whereas all other methods of argument simply conceal it. The fact remains that we always base our arguments on assumptions about the inherent likelihood of whatever we are arguing for or against . If that is a defect that condemns any method, it condemns them all.”

                Carrier then discusses “subjective priors” only to reject them out of hand:

                “But the subjectivity of priors is actually not a problem for BT. The fact of their subjectivity does not prevent us from producing conclusions that are as objective as can possibly be, given the limits of our knowledge and resources.”

                Although the existence of subjective priors does not undermine the objectivity of Bayesian analysis, it does undermine its usefulness when there is substantial uncertainty, as there is in ancient history. When there is a lot of uncertainty, the result of a Bayesian analysis is objectively useless, so why not just say “I don’t know?”

                In any event, Bayesian analysis of history has its uses, but using it does not necessarily render a theory that is falsifiable. Carrier’s theory as quoted above is not falsifiable (unless you have a time machine and can read minds), whether or not he used Bayesian analysis to arrive at it.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2014-08-31 21:02:18 UTC - 21:02 | Permalink

                I am trying to think of a practical example or application in ancient history that would justify your criticism. Of course there is much we simply cannot know. I don’t believe anyone has suggested Bayes’ can be used to raise the dead.

                Can you suggest some examples to illustrate your point?

              • Neil Godfrey
                2014-08-31 22:06:35 UTC - 22:06 | Permalink

                Perhaps more to the point, what do you believe Carrier is attempting to do with Bayes’ that is not done by historians (of ancient history) without reference to Bayes’?

              • Scot Griffin
                2014-09-01 00:01:28 UTC - 00:01 | Permalink

                Instead of focusing on generalities, let’s return to Carrier’s thesis.

                Carrier: “I think it is more likely that Jesus began in the Christian mind as a celestial being (like an archangel), believed or claimed to be revealing divine truths through revelations (and, by bending the ear of prophets in previous eras, through hidden messages planted in scripture).”

                Whether or not Carrier used Bayes’ Theorem to arrive at his thesis, the thesis is not falsifiable because no external evidence exists (or could exist) that can test it. There is no way to determine what people were thinking two thousand years ago.

                Carrier’s thesis thus suffers from the same problems as a reconstructed historical Jesus. Indeed, it is easy to view Carrier’s thesis as just a slightly different version of a reconstructed historical Jesus where Jesus lived only in “the Christian mind,” whatever that is. But how could there be a “Christian mind” before there was a Christ? And why is it more probable that Jesus spontaneously began in this alleged “Christian mind” as a celestial being than that Jesus was intentionally drawn as a fictional character who was passed off as a real person (just as the god Serapis, a Hellenized version of Osiris-Apis developed under Ptolemy I, was passed off as an ancient god)? Why the insistence on the organic development of fictional Jesus within the mind of somebody who did not know he was a Christian until he imagined Christ? It seems so circular, and that’s because Carrier seems to be operating on the unspoken assumption that Christianity was developed by the masses and not invented by elites. Has he proven that somewhere else? “A scholarly assumption may look like a legitimate argument, but contrary to genuine argument, it cannot be falsified.”

                http://vridar.org/2014/03/26/some-thoughts-on-the-nature-of-the-evidence-and-the-historicity-of-jesus/

                Again, I’m not attacking Carrier or his larger body of work. I’m just pointing out that this particular thesis is speculative musing about history, not history. This is true whether or not he applied a Bayesian analysis to arrive at his assertion. I’m also questioning why he’s bothering to introduce a poor-man’s historical Jesus, i.e., an imagined celestial being instead of real person.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2014-09-03 12:25:16 UTC - 12:25 | Permalink

                I have begun afresh below — this column is getting too narrow.

              • 2014-09-02 14:24:21 UTC - 14:24 | Permalink

                Scot,

                I think you misunderstand what “falsifiable” means in probability theory, which is different from the scientific conception of it. Before that, though, know that probability theory is the logic of science. In that sense, if people were perfect, honest, and naturally good at math/statistics, we wouldn’t need science. We could just use probability theory. But people are imperfect and biased, mathematical results more often than not are counterintuitive, so the scientific method is a social contract that forces people to use probability theory.

                Falsifiability in probability theory has to do with having a hypothesis that is not at maximum entropy. So if I had some sort of magic 8 ball dice that could roll any number imaginable, this would be the equivalent of a hypothesis at maximum entropy. As opposed to a normal die that can only roll 1 through 6. So if I tell you that I was in possession of both of these dice — the magic 8 ball die and the normal die — and I told you I rolled a 3, it’s much more likely that I rolled the normal die than the 8 ball die. If I tell you I rolled an 879, then this is outside of the bounds of a normal die so I rolled the magic 8 ball die. There’s no empiricism involved.

                Using an example that is on topic, let’s say we are comparing the Jesus myth hypothesis to the historicity hypothesis. Historicity assumes that Jesus was a native Aramaic speaker, so assuming historicity we would assume that any sayings of Jesus would be Aramaic in origin. The Jesus myth hypothesis, however, doesn’t have the assumption of Aramaic primacy. So “sayings of Jesus” could originate in any language. Meaning that in the “sayings of Jesus” category, the Jesus myth approaches maximum entropy (i.e. equivalent to the magic 8 ball die) and is thus less falsifiable than historicity.

              • Scot Griffin
                2014-09-03 02:07:25 UTC - 02:07 | Permalink

                J. Quinton,

                I appreciate you trying to mediate here, and I get what you are saying, but Carrier isn’t making claims about probability theory, he is making claims about history, and those claims need to be falsifiable from the perspective of doing good history. All the discussion about BT was injected by Neil.

                I did take a little time to understand how and why Carrier believes Christianity was a grassroots movement of the masses, and what I found is that he just accepts expert consensus and relies on it. He never considers the possibility/probability that a mythical Jesus was created by the elite for the masses because he mistakes the fact that early Christianity appealed to the masses as evidence of Christianity starting with the masses. (I’m sure the masses made tobacco advertisements; it wasn’t the tobacco companies.) While that assumption may be forgiven if there were an historical Jesus (which most, if not all, of the experts Carrier relies on for his consensus likely believe to be the case), it isn’t defensible when there is no historical Jesus as there is no way to explain how Christianity came about without to resorting the kind of secular myth Carrier seems to be peddling. His historical imagined Jesus is just as mythical as the historical Jesus he claims to debunk.

                “The fact that the early Christian movement began among those outside the elite social structure, and only later worked its way up the social ladder in later centuries, is the consensus view among qualified experts, and is almost too obvious to need proving. [29]”

                Carrier, Richard (2009-02-10). Not the Impossible Faith: Why Christianity Didn’t Need a Miracle to Succeed (Kindle Locations 458-460). . Kindle Edition.

                “[29] I will discuss the evidence for this in Chapter 18, but the case is adequately presented in David Horrell, “Early Jewish Christianity” and Thomas Finn, “Mission and Expansion,” both in The Early Christian World, ed. Philip Esler (2000): vol. 1, pp. 136-67 & 295-315 (respectively).”

                Carrier, Richard (2009-02-10). Not the Impossible Faith: Why Christianity Didn’t Need a Miracle to Succeed (Kindle Locations 6894-6898). . Kindle Edition.

                “First, to say that Christianity appealed to the disgruntled lower classes, and not the elite, must not to be mistaken for claiming that Christianity was only successful among the poor, or that no rich people were attracted to it. A significant number of the middle class would be among the same groups sympathetic to the Christian message, including educated men, and men with middle-management positions in the government, who could easily become disillusioned with a system that wasn’t working for them. As long as they were in a position to feel powerless within an unjust social system, despising and unable to enter or overcome the power and influence of those higher up the ladder, they would sympathize with the idea of an unjustly crucified hero, among many other elements of the Christian message. And their sympathy would be even greater if they already shared the point of view of those Jews who accepted an ideology of martyrdom and expected a suffering savior.”

                Carrier, Richard (2009-02-10). Not the Impossible Faith: Why Christianity Didn’t Need a Miracle to Succeed (Kindle Locations 6520-6527). . Kindle Edition.

                “Modern scholars are agreed on the lower-class origins of the Christian movement. As John Polhill argues, the author of Luke, himself clearly well-educated, “had a concern for people who are oppressed and downtrodden,” like “Samaritans and eunuchs ,” and “one of Luke’s main concerns in Acts was to portray a church without human barriers, a community where the gospel is unhindered and truly inclusive.” [437]”

                Carrier, Richard (2009-02-10). Not the Impossible Faith: Why Christianity Didn’t Need a Miracle to Succeed (Kindle Locations 6528-6531). . Kindle Edition.

              • 2014-09-03 17:28:35 UTC - 17:28 | Permalink

                I appreciate you trying to mediate here, and I get what you are saying, but Carrier isn’t making claims about probability theory, he is making claims about history, and those claims need to be falsifiable from the perspective of doing good history. All the discussion about BT was injected by Neil.

                Probability theory is an epistemic framework. So it very much applies to history. Unless you’re thinking that probability is *only* about predicting future events. Which is false (and was the same confusion that R. Joseph Hoffmann had about using probability theory to do historical analysis). It’s one of the failures of modern schooling that most people have a frequentist view of probability.

                Murder trials are also about what happened in the past and they use probability theory there as well; as a matter of fact, a very common mistake of probabilistic thinking is named after courtroom characters. Any time you use induction or inductive inferences you are using probability. There’s no getting around that.

                Carrier is using Bayesian analysis to do history. He explicitly mentions this. So in that framework, falsifiability is not a binary attribute. It functions as I mentioned in my previous comment.

            • maryhelena
              2014-08-31 07:39:42 UTC - 07:39 | Permalink

              Scot Griffin wrote: “It seems to me that once you accept that there was no historical Jesus, everything we think we know about the origins of Christianity is open to question. But Carrier’s thesis seems to be aimed at maintaining the integrity of the common narrative of the origins of Christianity. “No Jesus? So what? Here’s how the conventional wisdom about the origins of Christianity still holds together, even without a Christ.” It’s a secular apology for the accepted history of Christianity in the absence of an historical Jesus, not history”.

              Well said!

              No Jesus and the whole stack of cards comes crumpling down. It has always amazed me that the Carrier-Doherty mythicists fail to take this premise (No Jesus) to it’s logical end.

              ‘Paul’ can’t save the Carrier-Doherty mythicist theory. ‘Paul’ is part of the NT story. Remove one element, one card, the gospel Jesus figure, and the historicity of all other figures is questionable. They are compromised.

              The core of the NT story is the Jesus gospel story. Dating manuscripts does not change the central place of the gospel story in the NT. Whether Jesus was historical or a literary creation, whether that story was written early or late, the Jesus story is primary to the NT story. (Biographies can be written hundreds of years after the death of historical figures. Likewise, fictional ‘biographies’.) Consequently, placing all ones eggs in a Pauline basket is shortsighted. The gospel story is primary – and once the Jesus figure of that story is deemed to be a literary creation – conventional christian history falls flat on it’s face.

              Therefore, the Carrier-Doherty mythicist theory is “… a secular apology for the accepted history of Christianity in the absence of an historical Jesus, not history”. 😉

              Interestingly, Carrier recently wrote on his blog:

              “Thus, even if we granted that the Gospels are completely 100% fictional, that can still just as easily be true if Jesus existed, and very little was remembered or transmitted about him (or what was, was simply unusable to suit the evangelists’ purposes)”.

              A fictional gospel story, a pseudo-historical gospel story, does not rule out a historical core to the gospel story. (either with a historical Jesus or some other relevant history). The gospel story deals with prophecy, symbolism, allegory, mythology etc. Prophetic history, ie, history viewed through a prophetic lens – or as someone recently put it – political allegory (as for instance in Orwell’s Animal Farm).

              It’s not the safe haven of Pauline celestial interpretations that will take the search for early christian history forward – it’s the hard slog through the landmine of Josephan Jewish history that has that potential.

              • Scot Griffin
                2014-08-31 09:27:42 UTC - 09:27 | Permalink

                “No Jesus and the whole stack of cards comes crumpling down. It has always amazed me that the Carrier-Doherty mythicists fail to take this premise (No Jesus) to it’s logical end.”

                I would not go that far. The absence of an historical Jesus does not render the entire history of Christianity false, only open to question. When I see something that seems intended to foreclose questioning, I feel compelled to push back. That’s all I’ve done here: push back. I don’t have the answers, only questions.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2014-08-31 11:31:31 UTC - 11:31 | Permalink

                Maryhelena’s comments are cover for her argument that the gospel Jesus story was based on Antigonus II.

    • Mark Erickson
      2014-08-30 03:41:56 UTC - 03:41 | Permalink

      I think falsifiability is the wrong requirement. We are talking about history, not even a historical science, where f. isn’t a sine qua non. Bayesian probability doesn’t involve it either.

      As for top down, what looks like top down now didn’t have to start top down. Many christianities disappearing as a result of emerging orthodoxy and eventually the Catholic Church seems to be a clear example of this.

  • maryhelena
    2014-08-31 12:48:05 UTC - 12:48 | Permalink

    Neil wrote: “Maryhelena’s comments are cover for her argument that the gospel Jesus story was based on Antigonus II.”

    My comments are not *cover* for my arguments – as any search of your blog will demonstrate. If I wanted to make reference to Antigonus in that post I would have done so. There was no necessity to do so.

    As for your comment – you would need to support that from something I have written. My position is that the Roman execution of Antigonus is a model for the Roman execution of the gospel Jesus. A figure I take to be a composite literary figure. That rules out any equation that Antigonus = the gospel Jesus. No more so than Carrier saying the Josephan Jesus ben Ananias was used as a model by gMark in his gospel passion story.

    Doherty himself, wrote on his blog, years ago:

    “I can well acknowledge that elements of several representative, historical figures fed into the myth of the Gospel Jesus, since even mythical characters can only be portrayed in terms of human personalities, especially ones from their own time that are familiar and pertinent to the writers of the myths.”

    So what is the big deal here? Carrier using a Josephan story set 40 years after the Pilate dating for JC, viewing it as a model that gMark used for his Passion story – or my proposal that the gospel writers have used an earlier, actually historical event as a model for their JC crucifixion story? (Carrier acknowledging that Jesus ben Ananias could be either historical or a literary figure).

    Neil, after all the years you have know my posting, to your blog and FRDB and now BCHF, to suggest that I somehow ‘cover’ my postings to hide my arguments – is bizarre. Methinks you have been listening too much to Stephan Huller’s rantings…;-)

    • Neil Godfrey
      2014-08-31 20:54:21 UTC - 20:54 | Permalink

      If not a “cover” then a circumlocution to prepare the ground and rationale for your argument. That’s fine. I do the same often enough. It’s not a crime.

  • James D. Williams
    2014-08-31 19:00:47 UTC - 19:00 | Permalink

    Carrier: http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2014/08/car388028.shtml
    The idea that Cephas might be singularly responsible was a exciting retrenchment for me. In the texts, he is never alone (even in denial)… Okay, for a few seconds at the tomb.
    “Pete” Bar-Jonah may join “Joe” Smith and “Moe” Mohamed.
    The potency of idiosyncratic angelic revelation for myth substantiation cannot be gainsaid.

  • James D. Williams
    2014-08-31 19:02:43 UTC - 19:02 | Permalink

    “Overlay” might have been a more appropriate word.

  • Mark Erickson
    2014-09-01 03:14:54 UTC - 03:14 | Permalink

    Too hard to respond on mobile right now.

    I’m always reading Vridar on mobile, and have to pipe up about a couple problems. First, the sidebar doesn’t float to the right, but is displayed after the main content section. Unfortunately it still takes up white space on the right. If it isn’t the width being fixed too wide, I would try removing the books image in the header. I think it cuts off the width of large images in the text too.

    Second, why I can’t respond right now, the multiple indented threads make it hard to read some and impossible to read others. It goes to one word per line after a few replies. There should be a setting to stop indenting after x replies I think.

    • Tim Widowfield
      2014-09-01 04:02:05 UTC - 04:02 | Permalink

      I can’t promise anything will happen soon, but I am looking into it.

      • Mark Erickson
        2014-09-02 03:51:09 UTC - 03:51 | Permalink

        Thanks.

    • maryhelena
      2014-09-01 06:23:27 UTC - 06:23 | Permalink

      Mark, why not try a newsreader app for your phone. I’ve been using InoReader on my laptop, and tablet, for some time – and just downloaded it on my phone to see how it works there. It works well on phone. It’s free from Google Play.

      If you do give it a try, remember to click on ‘show all’ posts (on a menu) as otherwise when you have read a post it will disappear. Also, to read comments you need two subscriptions for a site. One for the blog and one for the comments. It’s easier to set up on a laptop (re fingers and eyes…). Hence, when I downloaded for phone the app synchronized automatically to my blog subscriptions on my laptop and tablet.

      This of course, does not mean Vridar should not sort out the webpage comment thread indentations. 😉 However, in the meantime, InoReader might save you some frustration….

  • maryhelena
    2014-09-01 07:43:21 UTC - 07:43 | Permalink

    Carrier: “I think it is more likely that Jesus began in the Christian mind as a celestial being (like an archangel), believed or claimed to be revealing divine truths through revelation…

    …….this “Jesus” had at last revealed that he had tricked the Devil by becoming incarnate and being crucified by the Devil (in the region of the heavens ruled by Devil), thereby atoning for all of Israel’s sins, so the Jerusalem temple cult no longer mattered,

    ……. On this theory, Christians ……………….conjured this angelic being’s salvific story from a pesher-like reading of scripture,

    It would be several decades later when subsequent members of this cult, after the world had not yet ended as claimed, started allegorizing the gospel of this angelic being by placing him in earth history as a divine man”

    …from celestial, revealed Jesus in the Epistles, to a historical ministry in the Gospels decades later….. (a cosmic savior, later historicized), ”

    To put this Carrier-Doherty mythicist theory a nutshell:

    1. Jesus began as a celestial being in the minds of Christians.
    2. This celestial being reveals ‘truths’.
    3. This celestial being had tricked the Devil by becoming incarnate and was crucified by the Devil.
    4. Thereby atoning for all of Israel’s sins and Temple no longer mattered.
    5. Christians conjour the angelic being’s ‘salvific story’ from a pesher-like reading of scripture.
    6. Several decades later – cult members start to “allegorizing the gospel” of this “angelic being” and place him in history as a ‘divine man’.
    7. Jesus is “a cosmic savior, later historicized”.

    There is no history here. It is all NT interpretation and speculation. This is not, and cannot be, an alternative to the historical Jesus assumption. One cannot falsify an historical proposition by proposing such an imaginary scenario. The reply to “The gospel Jesus is a historical figure” is not “Jesus is a celestial being”. One has to propose an historical alternative not an imaginary celestial alternative.

    The Carrier-Doherty mythicists can certainly hold on to a celestial/heavenly crucifixion story/interpretation of the Pauline writings. (the Jerusalem above mirrors the Jerusalem below). What they cannot do is continue to maintain that this Pauline celestial Christ figure became the Jesus of the gospel story. As flesh and blood does not morph into invisible spirit – so invisible spirits (however imagined) do not morph into flesh and blood.

    The gospel figure of Jesus is created from history; created from known historical figures. The ahistoricist/mythicist position does not need to be compromised by such an irrational, and unnecessary, “cosmic savior, later historicized” Carrier-Doherty theory. With this theory, Doherty has driven the ahistoricist position on the gospel Jesus figure into a cul-de-sac. Sadly, Carrier, has not been able to reverse out of it…

    • Neil Godfrey
      2014-09-01 09:46:07 UTC - 09:46 | Permalink

      You’ve got it backwards here. What counts more is not the conclusion but the method. When your hypothesis can garner the same support through evaluation of all the evidence and contradictory notions by logically valid means (and all the norms by which historians assess the data at their disposal) then it will become worthy of serious consideration. Just continuing to repeatedly preach your mantra of “history” versus “speculation/interpretation” only points to your own lack of awareness and understanding of how historical inquiry works.

      • maryhelena
        2014-09-01 10:31:44 UTC - 10:31 | Permalink

        Seriously, Neil, If your conclusion is bizarre, as is the Carrier-Doherty conclusion stated above – check your premises. Check your method.

        How does history work? It starts with some observation; something in hand, so to speak. Historical artefacts, such as coins, are testimony to the fact that certain individuals were historical figures. That is the bare bones of historical evidence. From that factual position, a story; a narrative, can be created.

        History does not start with a Pauline celestial being that revealed ‘truth’s to the minds of some people of what the Devil did to him. This Carrier-Doherty mythicist theory is as much a myth as is any historicists Jesus figure.

        My ‘mantra’ – history verse interpretation and speculation? Since you are maintaining that I don’t understand how history works – let’s have it, Neil. Let’s have history on the table so you can tell me just what it is about history that I don’t understand.

        http://earlywritings.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=15048#p15048

        Carrier: (2 years ago) “Useful chart. Good job including the citations to everything (shout out to everyone: that’s how you do this sort of thing). Thanks.”

        • Neil Godfrey
          2014-09-01 11:13:27 UTC - 11:13 | Permalink

          I’m not interested in arguing with you, Mary. Your mind is made up and it would be an endless wrangle. No doubt you think I am the closed-minded one. I have written often enough about literary evidence and the importance of analysing it by normative standards as applied by historians. I know you disagree strongly with Doherty and Carrier and that’s your right. I have disagreements with them, too, but I don’t jump up and down every time I get the opportunity to express those disagreements. That would be acting like a troll.

          I am not interested in challenging your opinion. I’d rather spend my time exploring new things to understand.

    • Anonymous Coward
      2014-09-05 19:25:05 UTC - 19:25 | Permalink

      //so invisible spirits (however imagined) do not morph into flesh and blood.//

      If you read Carrier’s book, you’ll see that he shows this is not true. Spirits have morphed into flesh and blood in exactly the way you’re saying doesn’t happen. See his discussion of “Euhemerization.”

      • maryhelena
        2014-09-06 08:33:40 UTC - 08:33 | Permalink

        Nonsense – unless of course, your talking about mind games…..

        • Neil Godfrey
          2014-09-06 09:08:22 UTC - 09:08 | Permalink

          We only have to read ancient literature of the time, both Jewish and Greek, to know spirit beings came to earth in human form and were mistaken for humans.

          • maryhelena
            2014-09-06 09:23:19 UTC - 09:23 | Permalink

            Humans delusional and playing mind games. On this reckoning “Our Lady of Fátima” was real after-all….;-)

            • Neil Godfrey
              2014-09-06 12:10:52 UTC - 12:10 | Permalink

              Of course. That’s a most logical conclusion.

  • Neil Godfrey
    2014-09-03 12:28:54 UTC - 12:28 | Permalink

    From above:

    There is no way to determine what people were thinking two thousand years ago.

    That’s not quite true. We do have quite a bit of evidence that can help us know many things people thought in ancient times.

    But how could there be a “Christian mind” before there was a Christ?

    I think there is a misunderstanding here. Carrier is not saying (at least not as I read him) that the “Christian mind” preceded any notion of a Christ figure.

    I’m not sure what you are imagining, exactly, when you say “that Jesus spontaneously began . . . as a celestial being”. I don’t understand where “spontaneously” comes from or what it is meant to infer. Is it suggesting a sudden appearance and spread ex nihilo?

    Carrier seems to be operating on the unspoken assumption that Christianity was developed by the masses and not invented by elites

    Again I think we are talking past each other. As I have said earlier, or tried to indicate anyway, I don’t see a black and white dichotomy here. The creators of the earliest Christian literature were obviously not from the illiterate masses. I have never understood Christianity (and it has never occurred to me that Carrier has either) that Christianity was entirely the product of illiterate masses that elites later caught up with. That doesn’t sound the way the world works to me. Are you sure this is what Carrier argues or am I misunderstanding you?

    From above:

    Why the insistence on the organic development of fictional Jesus within the mind of somebody who did not know he was a Christian until he imagined Christ? It seems so circular

    This is very black and white and seems to be sidestepping much of the argument. Christianity was not “Christianity” per se — what we identify as Christians were not Christians — at its beginning.

    Certainly some religions appear to have been consciously “started” as “inventions” by authorities. You are referring to State-initiated and created religion, I think, such as the Serapis cult. What evidence do we have that Christianity began the same way? I don’t see any problem with asking the question at all. I don’t think the evidence we have is what we should expect to find if Christianity did begin that way. I am open to arguments that it is, but I have not yet seen them.

    I am not clear why you seem to think that Carrier’s arguments necessarily rule out any role for elites.

    • Scot Griffin
      2014-09-06 22:28:06 UTC - 22:28 | Permalink

      “That’s not quite true. We do have quite a bit of evidence that can help us know many things people thought in ancient times.”

      While it is fair to use a written document as evidence of what a person was thinking at the time he wrote the document (that is what most of our evidence is), in the absence of a written document identifying Jesus as a celestial being, there is no evidence that the earliest Christians thought Jesus was a celestial being and not an historical figure. To the extent Carrier has any “evidence,” it is wholly manufactured by a combination of speculation by analogy and an idiosyncratic application of Bayes’ Theorem that seems to wholly exclude certain possibilities, thereby rendering his conclusion of what is “likely” of little value.

      “I think there is a misunderstanding here. Carrier is not saying (at least not as I read him) that the “Christian mind” preceded any notion of a Christ figure.”

      I agree that there is a chicken-and-egg problem here, which you observe later in your comment, but Carrier’s comment does not seem to grasp that concept. Perhaps he does in the broader context of his writings, but I was just reacting to that statement.

      “Again I think we are talking past each other. As I have said earlier, or tried to indicate anyway, I don’t see a black and white dichotomy here. The creators of the earliest Christian literature were obviously not from the illiterate masses. I have never understood Christianity (and it has never occurred to me that Carrier has either) that Christianity was entirely the product of illiterate masses that elites later caught up with. That doesn’t sound the way the world works to me. Are you sure this is what Carrier argues or am I misunderstanding you?”

      I agree that we are talking past each other, but I also don’t think that I have been as clear as I could have been. I now have a copy of Carrier’s latest book, which I’ve only been able to scan, and I’ve had a chance to reread relevant sections of Not the Impossible Faith. I don’t think Carrier excludes the possibility that literate Jews (the elites of the lower classes) being involved in (or even leading) the formation of Christianity. Do you think he ever considers or discusses the possibility that Jesus began as a wholly fictional character? I don’t think he does. In fact, he seems to assume that his classification of early Christianity as a mystery religion means that the founders of the cult held some kind of sincere belief that Jesus existed, either as a man or a celestial being. Unfortunately for Carrier, the cult of Serapis, which was also a mystery religion, was formed by the Ptolemies as a political move to encourage Hellenistic colonization of Egypt. That’s why I say Carrier’s belief in a “spontaneous” (i.e., born of superstition and/or delusion), organic, grassroots Christianity seems naive and romantic and very much in keeping with historicists, who tend to be rationalists seeking to preserve their faith in the face of the other obviously mythical aspects of Christianity by insisting that Jesus, at least, really existed.

      Carrier’s imaginary historical Jesus really is no different than the “real” historical Jesus.

      “Certainly some religions appear to have been consciously “started” as “inventions” by authorities. You are referring to State-initiated and created religion, I think, such as the Serapis cult. What evidence do we have that Christianity began the same way? I don’t see any problem with asking the question at all. I don’t think the evidence we have is what we should expect to find if Christianity did begin that way. I am open to arguments that it is, but I have not yet seen them.”

      I am not here to argue that Christianity was consciously created by political elites, but I do believe there is at least as much, and likely more, evidence for that possibility than Carrier’s imaginary-but-sincerely-believed-in-by-his-creators Jesus. Yet Carrier never seems to address that possibility (or did I miss it?), perhaps because he assumes mystery religions were always born of superstition and never of calculation. If you exclude a possibility that is at least equally as possible as another, then your conclusion of what is likely is of no value, whether as a matter of Bayes’ Theorem or as a matter of history.

  • Neil Godfrey
    2014-09-03 19:37:11 UTC - 19:37 | Permalink

    Again, I’m not attacking Carrier or his larger body of work. I’m just pointing out that this particular thesis is speculative musing about history, not history. This is true whether or not he applied a Bayesian analysis to arrive at his assertion. I’m also questioning why he’s bothering to introduce a poor-man’s historical Jesus, i.e., an imagined celestial being instead of real person.

    Again I am lost here. I don’t understand what gives rise to this particular criticism. What particular aspect is “speculative” if by that you mean not grounded in direct evidence? The “celestial Christ” figure?

    I wonder if there is some confusion here between popular appeal of a religion and specific “origins” of the religious ideas.

    We don’t seem to be discussing any particular passage or specific argument of Carrier’s from his works. Only impressions.

    You mentioned getting away from generalities and to specifics. I think that would be helpful. Can you quote or cite a specific point of Carrier’s that you find problematic?

    I do think my question a while back was also quite specific: what particular example can we give that shows Carrier framing historical differently from the way other historians work?

    • Scot Griffin
      2014-09-06 22:52:26 UTC - 22:52 | Permalink

      “Can you quote or cite a specific point of Carrier’s that you find problematic?”

      For the third time:

      Carrier: “I think it is more likely that Jesus began in the Christian mind as a celestial being (like an archangel), believed or claimed to be revealing divine truths through revelations (and, by bending the ear of prophets in previous eras, through hidden messages planted in scripture).”

      This statement comes from Carrier’s article, which you cite in the body of the post above. Here’s the link: http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2014/08/car388028.shtml

      “I do think my question a while back was also quite specific: what particular example can we give that shows Carrier framing historical differently from the way other historians work?”

      You asked that question in the context of a discussion about Carrier generally. I have been only discussing the above quoted statement of Carrier, and that is why I tried to pull the discussion back to my original point. Whether or not other historians are as poor at phrasing a falsifiable theory of history, in the absence of direct evidence and in the presence of unspoken assumptions, is irrelevant.

  • Bertie
    2014-09-04 14:25:07 UTC - 14:25 | Permalink

    I don’t think Carrier is non-falsifiable (in the looser sense we have to consider non-falsifiability in the social sciences) — in fact, I happen to think it is pretty much falsified by the James passage in Josephus (not, of course, simply taking the passage’s authenticity for granted but considering all the evidence for and against it). I realize my viewing the James passage in Josephus as authentic is not a popular opinion around here, but it isn’t a stupid or ill-considered opinion; I’ve read Carrier and Doherty on the matter and don’t find them convincing at all.

    An example of a non-falsifiable form of Jesus mysticism would be something akin to a Catholic “conspiracy theory” in which all relevant texts are forged, interpolated, or late. There would be no textual evidence that anyone could bring up to the contrary, because the “conspiracy theory” believer would just say that the evidence is forged, interpolated, or late.

    I happen to think (and again, this probably isn’t a popular thing to say around these parts) that the theories of Detering and other Marcion-priority types veer off into non-falsifiability because they have to say that essentially all early Christian texts either date mid-2nd century or are forged/interpolated. There’s essentially nothing you can bring up against them that they wouldn’t call fake or late. That doesn’t mean Detering and company is wrong; it means they are “not even wrong”; their theory is non-falsifiable.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2014-09-04 21:11:25 UTC - 21:11 | Permalink

      I don’t believe it is a stupid or necessarily ill-considered opinion at all. It is a very reasonable point to make.

      What is “stupid and ill-considered” in my view is the way too many use those as proof-texts and use them as excuses to avoid seriously evaluating the alternative explanations. And those alternative explanations are the outcomes of a quite different perspective that is brought to bear upon those passages as a result a different perception of other evidence. Ini other words, the argument for mythicism takes us back to the assumptions we bring to bear upon the vast array of evidence and to the way we interrogate and evaluate it all.

    • 2014-09-04 23:05:29 UTC - 23:05 | Permalink

      Falsifiability is possible. It is what every sound hypothesis is capable of. We make predictions and test them.

      For Detering, for example, we can ask for something specific that we would expect to find in the evidence if his hypothesis were true and then see if that is indeed there. I have not done that with respect to the late dating of all the Christian texts so I can’t give an example off hand. I am interested enough to try it though.

      Michael Goulder does give an example in a book I am currently reading (so I do have this at hand). After explaining his lectionary theory of readings for Matthew he says that if his idea is true then we would expect to find strong chronological correlations with the various Jewish feasts and fast days in the main body of the gospel.

      His thesis passes that test. Now the question arises about the strength of that particular test and what other tests can be applied. One swallow and summer and all that. We need in particular to look at the predictions of critics of the theory. I know Goulder has (or at least I’m sure he has) and it’s something I need to do too.

      Falsifiability in this sense is built into Carrier’s method as well. It is essentially the question of to what extent the evidence we have is expected given the hypothesis and our background knowledge.

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  • Neil Godfrey
    2014-09-07 21:06:13 UTC - 21:06 | Permalink

    Response to Scot above:

    While it is fair to use a written document as evidence of what a person was thinking at the time he wrote the document (that is what most of our evidence is), in the absence of a written document identifying Jesus as a celestial being, there is no evidence that the earliest Christians thought Jesus was a celestial being and not an historical figure. To the extent Carrier has any “evidence,” it is wholly manufactured by a combination of speculation by analogy and an idiosyncratic application of Bayes’ Theorem that seems to wholly exclude certain possibilities, thereby rendering his conclusion of what is “likely” of little value.

    I have to disagree with you over there being no evidence that the earliest Christians thought of Jesus as a celestial being. The Revelation of John knows him only as that, and Hebrews also depicts him as a heavenly figure. Paul’s Christ is very much directly analogous to the Stoic’s Logos/Reason, with same attributes and functions in the lives of followers. Paul draws upon the ideas of Enochian literature with its thoroughly heavenly messiah.

    There is surely no doubt that Jesus was a celestial spirit figure of worship. The question is whether that same figure was also believed to have descended to earth to live a human life. That’s the question where Paul’s evidence become much more problematic.

    It is also evident that Paul’s knowledge of Christ comes from revelation, both visions of some kind and through scripture according to the Jewish customs of the day.

    Personally I lean (given the direction of the wind today) towards the idea that such a figure came to earth for a few hours to either be crucified or trick others into thinking it was he they were crucifying on the one hand, and suffering his passion in the all-spirit realm on the other.

    Do you think he ever considers or discusses the possibility that Jesus began as a wholly fictional character? I don’t think he does. In fact, he seems to assume that his classification of early Christianity as a mystery religion means that the founders of the cult held some kind of sincere belief that Jesus existed, either as a man or a celestial being. Unfortunately for Carrier, the cult of Serapis, which was also a mystery religion, was formed by the Ptolemies as a political move to encourage Hellenistic colonization of Egypt.

    I don’t believe there is any real problem or contradiction between Jesus as a fictional character and being sincerely believed to have existed. We are talking two different concepts here, perhaps. If by fictional you mean literary-fictional as per the gospels, that is evidently a later development. That Jesus, by the evidence of the gospels themselves, in particular Mark, was a metaphor, a symbol. Maybe the author also believed what he wrote was “true” — I don’t know — if he also thought his inspiration came to him from the gift of what was revealed to him through the scriptures.

    But before the gospels came Paul and a belief in a spiritual Jesus. This is not assumption but based on evidence, argument. (Other Jewish sects in the Second Temple had ideas not very different from Paul’s, by the way.)

    I can’t comment on the relevance of the Serapis cult till I see evidence for its relevance to Christianity and evidence that Christianity had a comparable beginning.

    • Scot Griffin
      2014-09-07 22:53:01 UTC - 22:53 | Permalink

      “I have to disagree with you over there being no evidence that the earliest Christians thought of Jesus as a celestial being. The Revelation of John knows him only as that, and Hebrews also depicts him as a heavenly figure. Paul’s Christ is very much directly analogous to the Stoic’s Logos/Reason, with same attributes and functions in the lives of followers. Paul draws upon the ideas of Enochian literature with its thoroughly heavenly messiah.”

      Ah, now I see where there’s a disconnect. I am referring to evidence outside of the New Testament. I don’t see how the New Testament provides direct evidence of Christianity in the early first century CE, where Carrier places the origin of Christianity, given their presumed dates of composition are 50 CE or later (with John being in the 70s CE). If you are pushing the origin of Christianity later into the first century CE, then the New Testament is relevant. Now I understand where you are coming from. Thanks.

  • Neil Godfrey
    2014-09-07 21:15:51 UTC - 21:15 | Permalink

    Once again catching up with Scot:

    “Can you quote or cite a specific point of Carrier’s that you find problematic?”

    For the third time:

    Carrier: “I think it is more likely that Jesus began in the Christian mind as a celestial being (like an archangel), believed or claimed to be revealing divine truths through revelations (and, by bending the ear of prophets in previous eras, through hidden messages planted in scripture).”

    This statement comes from Carrier’s article, which you cite in the body of the post above. Here’s the link: http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2014/08/car388028.shtml

    “I do think my question a while back was also quite specific: what particular example can we give that shows Carrier framing historical differently from the way other historians work?”

    You asked that question in the context of a discussion about Carrier generally. I have been only discussing the above quoted statement of Carrier, and that is why I tried to pull the discussion back to my original point. Whether or not other historians are as poor at phrasing a falsifiable theory of history, in the absence of direct evidence and in the presence of unspoken assumptions, is irrelevant.

    When I was asking for a specific point you find problematic I was meaning a method or process of argument somewhere. What is Carrier’s actual train of reasoning that leads to the conclusion and at what point does it break down? I get the impression you are more concerned with his assumptions and the questions he chooses to ask. But I can’t really comment until I know what Carrier himself says by way of explanation of those apparent assumptions, if anything.

    I don’t believe the idea of Jesus as a celestial being or that he was derived by indirect extrapolation are unfounded assumptions at all.

    I don’t see specifically at what point Carrier does anything any good historian does not do.

  • Scot Griffin
    2014-09-07 23:57:32 UTC - 23:57 | Permalink

    “What is Carrier’s actual train of reasoning that leads to the conclusion and at what point does it break down? I get the impression you are more concerned with his assumptions and the questions he chooses to ask. But I can’t really comment until I know what Carrier himself says by way of explanation of those apparent assumptions, if anything.”

    What I have been objecting to specifically is Carrier’s assertion that Christianity began in the early first century CE, which implies 25-35 CE at the latest. Consensus opinion places the composition of the New Testament, even the epistles, to a later date (in many cases decades later), so the New Testament does not provide direct evidence of Christianity (as we understand it) in the early first century CE. Based on the dating of the Synoptic Gospels, we should consider the possibility that Christianity began in the late first century CE, after Rome’s destruction of the Temple. More generally, we should question the relationship between the Synoptic Gospels, John and the epistles, when the only reason they are “related” is because they were selected to be part of the Christian canon centuries after they were written. Did the “celestial being” Christianity evolve into the “mortal man” Christianity, or were they independent of one another, and was the latter grafted on to the former hundreds of years later?

    A more general objection is Carrier’s reliance on consensus as the basis of his many assumptions (which he diligently tries to identify and document). As I have said before, his determination to accept the consensus is as much a tactical decision as anything else: by accepting the consensus on most, if not all, points, he is able to bring the full force of his arguments and logic to the forefront. That is a very effective approach, but my bet is that a lot of the “consensus” conclusions that he accepts as true proceed from the assumption that Jesus was an historical figure. Just as Carrier has accepted the frame created by canonical Christian texts, he has accepted the frame created by Christian scholars. In the absence of an historical Jesus, there is no reason to anchor and adjust within those frames.

    Again, my focus is the OT, so maybe what I see as Carrier’s intellectual blinders has not resulted in intellectual blunders.

    • 2014-09-08 00:39:19 UTC - 00:39 | Permalink

      but my bet is that a lot of the “consensus” conclusions that he accepts as true proceed from the assumption that Jesus was an historical figure

      Can you give an example of one of these?

      we should question the relationship between the Synoptic Gospels, John and the epistles, when the only reason they are “related” is because they were selected to be part of the Christian canon centuries after they were written.

      There are more reasons than that. There are very strong indications of intertextuality or mimesis among them. It is hard to deny Mark was the basis of Matthew and Luke and very strong reasons to believe it was also the basis of John. There are literary and theological relationships binding them all together.

      Did the “celestial being” Christianity evolve into the “mortal man” Christianity, or were they independent of one another, and was the latter grafted on to the former hundreds of years later?

      That question has been explored by mainstream scholars quite independently of any mythicist notions: i.e. the relationship between Paul’s spiritual Christ and the Palestinian “earthly” one. Some have argued Mark’s Gospel was the first attempt to combine the two.

      so the New Testament does not provide direct evidence of Christianity (as we understand it) in the early first century CE

      Yes and no. Paul’s letters (if we accept them as being composed from around the 50s on) indicate that church assemblies were well established across widespread areas before he began to write. Paul himself indicates he had to tussle with established organization and persons who had been there before he turned up.

      Certainly Christianity as we would recognize it (with the gospel narrative) was a post 70 development. But again we run into the evidence of literary and theological relationships and it is reasonable to argue the first Gospel was largely indebted to Paul.

  • Scot Griffin
    2014-09-08 05:36:50 UTC - 05:36 | Permalink

    “Can you give an example of one of these?”

    I am confident that I can, but I am in no hurry to do so. The origins of Christianity, which I view as entirely derivative, is neither my interest nor my focus. As I make my way through Carrier’s latest offering, I expect that I will be inspired to follow a thread here and there, so I likely will feel compelled to track down an example in the next month or two. The only impediment to finding your example is my desire to do so. Carrier is a smart guy, and I actually like his Bayesian approach to history quite a bit, but he has a serious and obvious blind spot.

    I will send you an email when I have something to say. In the meantime, I am done posting comments on your site about Carrier.

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