Carrier, Lataster and Another Small Stumbling Block

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by Neil Godfrey

Raphael Lataster in Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists shows readers that one does not have to personally like Richard Carrier to agree and critically engage with his arguments. Lataster addresses the “stumbling block” of Carrier’s abrasive blog comments and his promotion of controversial relationships values that have made and makes it clear that in both areas he, Raphael Lataster, stands in diametric opposition to Carrier.

It is worth noting that I have no great inherent desire to promote Carrier or his work –he is certainly no friend of mine. Some of what he says and dies is annoying, seemingly egotistical, and even offensive to me, and we are otherwise quite different. . . . 

Nevertheless, apart from his frankness, none of this is truly relevant. The man is a rigorous logician and undertakes interesting and important research. I do not need to judge how he lives his life; nor do I wish to poison the well, especially since I am upholding him as the exemplar for the mythicist position. I only wish to highlight that our relationship is strictly professional. We are bound by the same dedication to truth, logic, and sound methodologies.  (JDNE, Kindle, loc 5661-5672)

Lataster’s comments on Carrier are just an aside and not related to what this post is about.

My own stumbling block is a different one and here I post another quibble I have with both Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus and Lataster’s review of it. (See Carrier, Lataster and Background Knowledge Element 4: A Quibble for my previous quibble.) Don’t think from these posts that Lataster blindly follows Carrier in all his arguments, by the way. Lataster does have a few of his own criticisms. Here I am commenting where I part from them both.

Quibble #2

Carrier writes in OHJ, p 614 in relation to 1 Corinthians 1:23 (Paul’s preaching Christ crucified being a stumbling block to the Jews):

It’s worth emphasizing here that we have absolutely no evidence that any ancient Jews (much less all of them) considered the idea of exalting a slain messiah to be blasphemous or illegal or even inconceivable — that’s a modem myth. To the contrary, the evidence we do have (from the Talmud, for example) shows they had no trouble conceiving and allowing such a thing (Element 5). Nor would such a notion be foolish to pagans, who had their own dying saviors, historical (Element 43) and mythical (Element 3 1 ). So the only thing Paul could mean the Jews were stumbling over was the notion that a celestial being could be crucified — as that would indeed seem strange, and would indeed be met with requests for evidence (‘ How do you know that happened?’).

Lataster appears to support Carrier’s analysis.

Something is amiss here. A couple of things, actually. The imaginary rhetorical questions posed by the Jews would scarcely have arisen if, as is soundly argued elsewhere, Paul “knew” it happened because of revelation and scripture. Those to whom God revealed it knew it to be so just as they knew anything else God revealed to them by his spirit.

One would expect if Paul was responding to such questions he would simply have pointed to the scriptural passages that midrashically (not literally, of course) revealed the point.

Carrier supports his interpretation by pointing to the preceding verse faulting the Jews for asking for signs to prove a claim said to be divinely revealed. The Jews failed to believe Paul, Carrier argues, because Paul could produce “no sufficient signs” to prove it was God’s truth.

Again I have difficulty here. Paul also says he produced signs more abundantly than other apostles. Besides, he goes on to say that the gospel itself is a power or sign far greater than anything else. The Jews simply fail to recognize the sign.

Besides, as Carrier rightly points out,

A martyred savior was never a stumbling block to Jews nor foolish to pagans (Element 43). Nor did it require signs or mystical evidence.

Why should a martyred saviour be any more of a problem if the event occurred in a heavenly realm? Recall Daniel 7’s suggestion that the Son of Man in heaven represented the slain martyrs and how from this seed the heavenly messiah evolved into a literal figure in the heavens; and again in the Book of Hebrews the sacrifice could be reasoned quite logically as happening in heaven.

I’m more persuaded by Morton Smith’s explication of 1 Corinthians 1:23 (Was Paul Really Persecuted for Preaching a Crucified Christ?). What was the offence was not the crucifixion of the messiah itself but what this death meant. Paul was preaching salvation, adoption as an eternal son of God, by the abolition of the wall of the Law dividing Jews and Gentiles from each other and both from God himself. Now that gospel really does sound like weakness to Jews and folly to gentiles.


  • Paul
    2016-03-25 16:56:23 UTC - 16:56 | Permalink

    I think what was a stumbling block to the Jews was that since all this was supposed to have happened in their backyard, where was the evidence? Paul and the rest seemed to be preaching a non-event. (The secret hidden Christ of Mark, who came and went and needed faith to accept.) That was (one of the) problem, not the meaning of it. (I don’t agree that Paul thought it was all celestial. Perhaps there was some celestial counterpart to the earthly events, but I think he definitely thought it was terrestrial. The celestial sacrifice version I would put down to a heretical reaction or interpretation due to the lack of earthly evidence, or possibly misreading of the text which is supposed to be allegorical.) The other problem was the purpose of the Messiah as earthly king with thousands of his angels as predicted in the book of Enoch. Jews would accept one visitation but not two. I guess they would be arguing, what is the point of the first visitation? A bit like Celsus. Also Judaism was not a uniform phenomenon. Also Paul does not elaborate on exactly what he means.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2016-03-26 02:51:53 UTC - 02:51 | Permalink

      Your comment contains a series of speculations. Paul does explain very clearly why he is persecuted. It is because he teaches gentiles (at least) that they do not need to be circumcised or keep the law. He also explains that it is Christ’s death, Christ crucified, that is the reason for this. It is the implication of his gospel — freedom from the law — that is the stumbling block.

      Added later…..

      (I should add that I don’t know how much of Paul’s victim mentality is rhetoric. As you point out Second Temple “Judaism” was a very broad “church”. I find it hard to imagine (after reading Philo, for example) that Jews would necessarily and seriously “persecute” Paul for teaching gentiles did not need to be circumcised, or for teaching a celestially crucified messiah. I find it easier to imagine Paul’s abrasive personality and ego getting himself into lots of “victim” situations.)

  • C.J. O'Brien
    2016-03-25 19:26:56 UTC - 19:26 | Permalink

    “Nor did it require signs or mystical evidence”

    This seems wrong to me. “Conversion” seems largely out of place in a diverse, polytheistic religious milieu like the Greco-Roman world, but it did occur, and the one factor that crops up overwhelmingly in known cases is actual contact with the divine or supernatural (as perceived by the convert of course). Any change to an individual’s orientation to divinity was occasioned by “signs or mystical evidence”.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2016-03-26 03:05:08 UTC - 03:05 | Permalink

      I think so, too. (And even “weakness and persecution” itself is presented as a sign in 2 Corinthians 12.)

      1 Corinthians 1:23 might be addressing another facet of the question — a crucified messiah looks like “no sign” to Jews and “folly” to gentiles; but the meaning of this event is that by it alone people are united with God, saved, — now christ crucified becomes a mighty sign and great wisdom.

  • John MacDonald
    2016-03-26 16:19:46 UTC - 16:19 | Permalink

    Paul’s gospel is that “Christ died for our sins ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES, 4and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES,… (1 Cor 15:3-4.” Presumably the crucified Christ was “to Jews a stumbling block” because Paul’s allegorical reading of the Hebrew scriptures which provided Paul with the true meaning of Christ’s death was at odds with how most Jews understood those scriptures.

  • babaganusz
    2016-04-04 23:11:26 UTC - 23:11 | Permalink

    “Paul also says he produced signs more abundantly than other apostles.”

    what would make such a claim *by Paul* necessarily anything more than preaching to the choir (i.e. not actually requiring him to back the claim up with, you know, signs)?

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