The Facts of the Matter: Carrier 9, Ehrman 1 (my review, part 2)

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by Neil Godfrey

Let’s sit down and look at the score sheet. Richard Carrier kicked 11 “errors of fact” at the net of Bart Ehrman’s book Did Jesus Exist?

Carrier says he could have kicked many more but that it was getting dark and the referee told him he had limited time.

Since beginning to write this post I have learned Richard Carrier has posted his own reply to Ehrman. But I have avoided reading his response so as to continue with my own thoughts for my own “review” of Ehrman’s book.

Here are the “errors of fact” Carrier kicked at Ehrman’s book, in order:

  1. The Priapus Bronze
  2. The Doherty Slander
  3. The Pliny Confusion
  4. The Pilate Error
  5. The “No Records” Debacle
  6. The Tacitus Question
  7. The “Other Jesus” Conundrum
  8. That Dying-and-Rising God Thing
  9. The Baptism Blunder
  10. The Dying Messiah Question
  11. The Matter of Qualifications

Here are the “errors of fact” Ehrman attempted to defend, in order:

  1. The Priapus Bronze, or Cocky Peter (Or: “A Cock and Bull Story”) (in a separate post)
  2. The Matter of Qualifications
  3. The Pilate Error
  4. The Tacitus Question
  5. The Dying and Rising God
  6. The “Other Jesus” Conundrum
  7. “No Roman Records”
  8. The Doherty “Slander”
  9. The Pliny Confusion

That means goalie Ehrman stood there texting on his mobile while two went through uncontested:

  1. The Baptism Blunder
  2. The Dying Messiah Question

Keep in mind that these “Errors of Fact” in Carrier’s critique of Ehrman’s book are not the only, nor even necessarily the most, serious faults in Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist? But I cannot cover everything in one post so I deal with these before moving on in a future post to the even more significant errors and fallacies of Ehrman’s work.

The Priapus Bronze

Carrier accused Ehrman of leading readers to think that D. M. Murdoch (aka Acharya S) had published a fantastical invention that there was a penis-nosed cockerel in the Vatican that some people have thought might represent Saint Peter.

Just to give a sense of the level of scholarship in this sensationalist tome, I list a few of the howlers one encounters en route, in the order in which I found them. In response to D.M. Murdock’s claim that there is a statue of a penis-nosed cockerel (which she says is a “symbol of St. Peter”) in the Vatican museum, Ehrman says that “there is no penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock in the Vatican or anywhere else except in books like this, which love to make things up” (p. 24)

Here are three responses on Bart Ehrman’s public forum informing Bart how they interpreted his words:

Felix April 22, 2012


I don’t have your book to check this, but Carrier reports that you say the following:

“there is no penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock in the Vatican or anywhere else except in books like this, which love to make things up”

This sentence would suggest to the lay reader that the existence of a penis-nosed cockerel had been invented. It implies mendacity rather than error on the part of the author who claimed that such a thing exists.

If you merely wished to refute the idea that the statue was connected with Peter then other words would have been much more appropriate.

Jim Lippard April 24, 2012

I’m reading your book now, and I interpreted your statement in the book to mean that the statue was a wholesale fabrication by Acharya S, not that her interpretation of an existing statue was wildly inaccurate. It appears to me not just poorly phrased, but phrased incorrectly for the intended meaning.

JordanDay April 25, 2012

I too interpreted it that way when reading the book. The wording made it sound as if the whole thing had been pulled out of thin air.

I agree. If Bart Ehrman merely wished to inform readers that the penis-beaked rooster was officially confirmed by no-one to be a symbol of Saint Peter he would have said so. But that’s not what he wrote. He first wrote a hint that Acharya herself drew the picture of this bird and then proceeded to clearly imply to any reader who was not better informed that Acharya made up the whole shebang:

Acharya claims that . . . “‘Peter’ is not only ‘the rock’ but also ‘the cock,’ or penis, as the word is used as slang to this day.” Here Acharya shows (her own?) hand drawing of a man with a rooster head but with a large erect penis instead of a nose, with this description: “Bronze sculpture hidden in the Vatican treasure of the Cock, symbol of St. Peter” (295). [There is no penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock in the Vatican or anywhere else except in books like this, which love to make things up.]

Ehrman pleads that he was only making “a comment very much in passing”, and that “no major point was being made”.

Baloney. Ehrman was presenting a dot list of howlers that “established” Murdock simply “made things up”.

Some readers will no doubt disagree, but in my books Ehrman here is being disingenuous in his defence. If he wanted to inform his lay readers of the true understanding of scholars he would have said that that statue is not reliably attributed to Peter. He did not say that but implied quite something else.

I give this contested point to Carrier. 1:0

Since writing the above Steven Carr has alerted us to Bart Ehrman’s radio interview in Homebrewed Christianity. There is no doubt at all. Ehrman is scoffing at the idea that Murdock simply drew a picture of a penis-nosed statue and “made up” the claim that there was such a statue in the Vatican. Ehrman’s defence collapses utterly.

The Doherty “Slander”

Let’s take these goal shots in the order they were made, not in the order they were defended. Ehrman puts off his defence of this to near-last. But Carrier kicked it second. And Ehrman was caught flat-footed and didn’t even see the ball fly past him. Here is Bart Ehrman’s attack on Earl Doherty:

It is true that Doherty acknowledges that scholars disagree with him on this, that, or the other thing. But the way he builds his arguments typically makes it appear that he is writing as a scholar among scholars, and that all of these scholars (with him in the mix) have disagreements on various issues (disagreements with him, with one another). One is left with the impression that like these other scholars, Doherty is building a tenable case that some points of which would be granted by some scholars but not others, and that the entire overall thesis, therefore, would also be acceptable to at least some of the scholars he engages with. The reality, however, is that every single scholar of early Christianity that Doherty appeals to fundamentally disagrees with his major thesis (Jesus did not exist).

Oh my goodness. Doherty, an amateur who sets out his qualifications at the beginning of his book, and who sets out from the beginning the motherhood claim that his thesis is at odds with the whole of current scholarship, is now being faulted by Bart Ehrman for engaging with the mainstream scholarship to make his case and for actually having the audacity to present a case that sounds scholarly! The hide! Why, some scholars like Dr Price and Dr Carrier and Dr Thompson and Dr Detering and Dr Avalos (and a few others whom I know would prefer not be named in this context) might actually find Doherty’s thesis worthy of consideration and further debate! What’s more shameful on Ehrman’s behalf, is that the only defence he can mount in this context just happens, quite coincidentally, to be the very same argument Dr James McGrath aimed at Doherty. That is, Doherty had the hide to argue “a mere point”, and NOT an “overall thesis”, that was supported by Morna Hooker. To wit, in Doherty’s own words:

[Morna Hooker] stated a principle (Barrett once stated a possible meaning in regard to a Greek phrase which I was able to make use of, though in a manner he did not). It is completely legitimate for me to appeal to such observations when they can be applied to a mythicist interpretation, even if the scholar himself or herself does not choose to make the same application of their observations. Hooker pointed out the principle involved in counterpart guarantees: “Christ becomes what we are (likeness of flesh, suffering and death), so enabling us to become what he is (exalted to the heights).” That principle stands, it works in both cases, whether it is applied to a Christ perceived to be acting on earth, or a Christ perceived to be acting in the heavens. I am well aware that Hooker applies it to the former; she understands it in that context. That doesn’t necessitate her being right. I can take the same principle and understand it in the context of a heavenly death and rising. Because I don’t conform to Hooker’s context does not necessitate me being wrong. This is simple logic . . . .

Bart Ehrman’s accusation that Doherty is mischievously creating any illegitimate impression is unfounded. The double irony here is that other scholars have ignorantly accused mythicists of failing to engage in the scholarship extant. That is simply untrue in the case of the likes of Doherty, Price, Thompson and others, of course. But what we have here is a situation where some (e.g. James McGrath) ignorantly accuse Doherty of not engaging with mainstream scholarship while others (e.g. Ehrman) accuse him of engaging with it with too much familiarity! Again, I give this point to Carrier. So the score is:

Carrier 2, Ehrman 0

The Pliny Confusion

Carrier points out several errors of fact in Ehrman’s discussion of the letter of Pliny to Trajan:

  1. Twice Ehrman incorrectly cites the key letter as “letter number 10” and “letter 10”
  2. Ehrman wrongly states that in the same letter itself Pliny discusses the problem of illegal gatherings and fire brigade assemblies
  3. Ehrman wrongly claims the law against fire brigade assemblies was specific to Pliny’s province
  4. Ehrman wrongly states as a fact (not as a scholarly hypothesis which it is) that Pliny’s concern over the Christians was that their gathering contravened the law against illegal assemblies

Ehrman offers in his defence that:

  1. His wrong citation was an innocent oversight
  2. Error 2 — no defence: Here is what Ehrman originally wrote in Did Jesus Exist?:
    • In his letter 10 to the emperor Pliny discusses the fire problem, and in that context he mentions another group that was illegally gathering together. As it turns out, it was the local community of Christians. (p. 52)
  3. Error 3 — no defence. He originally wrote in his book, Did Jesus Exist?
    • In Pliny’s province a law had been passed making it illegal for people to gather together in social groups. (p. 51)
  4. He was trying to explain a very complex situation in a very simple and easy-to-understand manner for non-scholarly readers. He speaks at length of the difference between a work for scholars and one for popular audiences.

One of many web sites containing Pliny’s letter and Trajan’s reply is Fordham’s University, Pliny on the Christians.

Ehrman is using tactics here so familiar to us from Dr McGrath. Ignore the central point of the charge, misrepresent the remainder, and paint yourself as the well-meaning victim of an unfair attack.

What lay people love to read in popular works by professionals is an explanation of complex information in simple and accurate terms. Evolutionists don’t try to tell popular readers that we evolved from monkeys because the term “hominid” is too technical and hard to understand. It is as plain as day to any lay reader who has read Pliny’s letter that Ehrman is relying on his vague memories and not bothering to take the effort to be sure he has the details right.

The evidence is against Ehrman making any effort whatever to explain in simple the facts of “a complex situation” for his readers. He is feeding readers blatantly false statements.

He has admitted to hating the effort of writing this book and it shows.

Even Ehrman’s plea for forgiveness on the citation error has to fall on deaf ears in this context. Ehrman made the very specific identification of the letter as “number 10” twice in different contexts. It was a long time since he read the letter and he was not bothered to give his readers anything more than some vague recollection.

Carrier’s ball has pounded the back of the net.

Carrier 3, Ehrman 0

Earl Doherty is probably reading this with some agitation. As he points out in his own recent review of this section of Ehrman’s book Ehrman’s conclusion that Pliny is evidence “that the idea of Jesus having existed was current by the early second century” (p. 52 of DJE?) is quite misplaced. See A Roman Trio for a plausible argument that Pliny is evidence that the Christ being worshiped was understood as an entirely mystical or heavenly figure.

The “No Records” Debacle

Here is what Ehrman wrote in Did Jesus Exist?, pages 28-29 (my emphasis):

here too the factual errors abound at an embarrassing rate. As some examples, in the order one finds them (this is by no means an exhaustive list): . . . .

  • The Romans were “renowned for keeping careful records of all their activities, especially their legal proceedings,” making it surprising that “there is no record of Jesus being tried by Pontius Pilate or executed” (133). [If Romans were careful record keepers, it is passing strange that we have no records, not only of Jesus but of nearly anyone who lived in the first century. We simply don’t have birth notices, trial records, death certificates—or other standard kinds of records that one has today. Freke and Gandy, of course, do not cite a single example of anyone else’s death warrant from the first century.]

And again on page 44:

I should reiterate that it is a complete “myth” (in the mythicist sense) that Romans kept detailed records of everything and that as a result we are inordinately well informed about the world of Roman Palestine and should expect then to hear about Jesus if he really lived. If Romans kept such records, where are they? We certainly don’t have any.

I am sure I am not the only reader who understood those words to mean that if Romans kept such types of records then “it is passing strange” that we have none of them today — for literally no-one in the first century.

Carrier responded with two points:

How can he not know that we have thousands of these kinds of records? Yes, predominantly from the sands of Egypt, but even in some cases beyond.


which leads us to ask why no one in Jesus’ family, or among his disciples or subsequent churches, ever troubled to preserve any of these records, or any records whatever, whether legal documents, receipts, contracts, or letters.

Ehrman’s defence?

He insists he was not talking about the records in Egypt but the ones in Palestine. Look again at that quote on page 44 above. He even uses the word “Palestine”. That proves all those generic statements that about not having records for virtually anyone who lived in the first century, and it being passing strange that we don’t have any such records if the Romans really did keep such — were entirely about Palestine alone!

Oh my goodness! How so very like the plaintively indignant excuse of a high school student that sounds when the teacher scrawls red ink across the erroneous paragraph.

Ehrman was speaking globally and at no point qualified his assertions. He hated writing this book and did not bother to take any of the care with getting his facts right as he normally would.

Carrier 4, Ehrman 0

The Tacitus Question

Here is Ehrman’s original assertion in his book. He is accusing mythicists of wilfully declaring, against all scholarship, the passage in Tacitus as a forgery simply because it is inconvenient for “their agenda”:

Some mythicists argue that this reference in Tacitus was not actually written by him—they claim the same thing for Pliny and Suetonius, where the references are less important—but were inserted into his writings (interpolated) by Christians who copied them, producing the manuscripts of Tacitus we have today. (We have no originals, only later copies.) I don’t know of any trained classicists or scholars of ancient Rome who think this, and it seems highly unlikely. The mythicists certainly have a reason for arguing this: they do not want to think there are any references to Jesus in our early sources outside the New Testament, and so when they find any such reference, they claim the reference was not original but was inserted by Christians. But surely the best way to deal with evidence is not simply to dismiss it when it happens to be inconvenient. (p. 55, DJE?, my emphasis)

Ehrman is again very clear. Mythicists are dishonest. They simply make up a claim that any inconvenient evidence is a later interpolation. There is no scholarly warrant for dismissing such evidence like this so mythicists do so solely because it is “inconvenient”.

(Incidentally, Ehrman extends the same argument to supposed mythicist claims about Pliny and Suetonius. I have never read a single mythicist arguing the passage in Suetonius is a forgery or interpolation. Ehrman should be challenged on this claim, too. Nor do I know of any mythicist suggesting the possibility (never an argument that it was) that the Pliny correspondence — even the entire of book 10 — is a forgery unless they at the same time refer to mainstream scholarship that has raised the possibility.)

Carrier’s critique is à propos:

That the overall consensus of scholarship, myself included, sides with Ehrman on the conclusion is true (I am sure the passage is authentic and has not been relevantly altered), but that does not change the fact that readers are being seriously misled by Ehrman’s characterization of the matter. For him to claim that mythicists “just made this up” because it was convenient for them is false. But more alarming to me is the fact that this demonstrates that he didn’t even check. (my emphasis)

Ehrman does not even try to defend his goal against this ball.

He wanders over to kick instead at a balloon that has floated into the field. His mind is simply not on the game.

All he does is turn to one of the most prominent scholars of the Roman world to insist that there is today no scholarly dispute over the authenticity of the Tacitus passage.

Ehrman wants us to believe that he really did read all of Earl Doherty’s Jesus: Neither God Nor Man but at the same time he wants readers to believe that Doherty would simply declare the Tacitus passage to be a forgery entirely for his own convenience and without any argument of merit.

Yet Doherty is quite prepared to make his case for mythicism with the passage in Tacitus being authentic. He adds as an extra, however, other very good arguments why it could well be a forgery and Ehrman nowhere addresses a single point within that 25 page argument. See Doherty’s summary of his arguments on the Tacitus passage in his recent review on this blog.

I’m not going to give a score either way on this one because I don’t have at hand the scholarly references to which Carrier was originally referring. I can’t check those. But at the same time Ehrman’s major point, that mythicists glibly make up the charge of interpolation solely for convenience and don’t even want to accept the passage as genuine is false. They do (at least the ones I have read) argue with it as a genuine passage. Some additionally raise — with sound arguments — the possibility of forgery. Ehrman is clearly wrong here. He is misinforming his readers.

So let’s be charitable and assume he was right on point one, though clearly he is wrong on point two. No score either way on this one.

(There was also the question of whether or not Pilate could have been both a prefect and a procurator but on that one I am not qualified to make a judgment — Ehrman’s appeal to authority notwithstanding.)

Carrier 5, Ehrman 0

The “Other Jesus” Conundrum — Ehrman should be shown the red card!

Bart Ehrman wants us to believe he read the mythicist books he reviews but I cannot believe him. Otherwise how could he possibly write what he has about G. A. Wells’ argument here?

Ehrman accuses mythicists, in particular G. A. Wells, of fabricating the idea that Paul thought of Jesus as a supernatural being who was crucified by demons some time in the distant past.

Instead, Wells contends, Paul understood Jesus to have been a supernatural being who lived in utter obscurity some 150 years or so earlier, who was crucified not by the Romans but by the demonic forces in the world. (p. 247, my emphasis)

Ehrman cites as the source of this assertion page 97 of Wells’ first book on this topic, Did Jesus Exist?, the same title as Ehrman’s own book.

No, Bart Ehrman. G. A. Wells says in the same book you cite, and in every other book he was written on the Christ myth, that Jesus came to earth as a physical human being and was crucified as a physical flesh and blood human by humans at the instigation of (not by) evil spirits.

In fact, G. A. Wells has argued against Doherty’s argument that Jesus was crucified as a spiritual being and by demons.

How can you expect us to believe you when you demand that we believe you read all the books yourself?

Here is what Wells wrote on the page of the book you cite:

Paul believed in a supernatural Jesus who assumed human flesh and was crucified on earth at the instigation of supernatural powers. Paul was utterly unconcerned with when or where this happened — he does not give it a historical setting — because he was convinced that Jesus lived an obscure life on earth. . . . Paul insists . . . Jesus was ‘born of a woman, born under the law’ (Gal. 4:4). Paul does not know who Jesus’ enemies were and how they had him crucified. Even in the synoptics, only the later layers of the tradition . . . identify Jesus’ opponents as scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, or Herodians. In the earlier layers the opponents figure merely as ‘they’ or ‘the Jews‘ (see Bultmann’s evidence. . .)

All this is what the spectator (yours truly) notices. Carrier does not even address any of this outrageous error of fact by Ehrman. Where was the referee looking? Ehrman cannot possibly have read the page he cites.

The next page Ehrman cites in the same book by Wells’ is 18. Here is what Wells writes on page 18:

Paul supposes that he existed as a supernatural personage before God ‘sent’ him into the world to redeem it. (Such pre-existence on the part of the agents of God’s activities on earth — such as Wisdom and the Logos — was part of the Judaic background.) He assumed human flesh sometime after the reign of David, from whom, Paul says, Jesus (as man) was descended (Rom. 1:3) — a Jew ‘according to the flesh’ (9:5), the scion of Jesse to govern the gentiles (15:12) predicted by Isaiah.

Ehrman is writing outright disinformation about Wells’ argument.

Ehrman cannot possibly have read the pages in Wells’ book that he cites.

Carrier faulted Ehrman for asserting that all our sources confirm that all early Christians believed Jesus lived around the time of Pilate. Ehrman counters this by saying he only meant the sources of the Gospels and epistles and that any other later source that indicates that there Christians in a later time who thought otherwise is irrelevant. But note what he in fact wrote, page 251 of DJE?

I should stress that this is the view of all of our sources that deal with the matter at all.

Ehrman does not demonstrate or point to any evidence that confirms Paul thought of Jesus was crucified in a recent historical setting. He argues the point. But that is all he can do: argue a debatable point.

Ehrman fails to explain how any Christians believing Jesus was crucified around 70 b.c.e. could have emerged in the later record unless the Pilate setting was a construct that appeared after Christianity itself was born.

One could also bring in to this discussion other early evidence (Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria, the Gospel of Peter) who do not even agree that Pilate was the one responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus, or that Jesus was crucified 40 years before the destruction of Jerusalem. Early Christianity was clearly struggling to settle on a historical setting for the events. For a time some claimed it was the Jewish king Herod who crucified Jesus, and even that immediately following his crucifixion and resurrection the Romans swept in and destroyed Jerusalem and removed the Herodian dynasty as instant punishment.

Another foul

Ehrman falsely attributes to Wells the argument that 1 Thessalonians 2:15 (in which the Jews are accused of crucifying Jesus) of being an interpolation.

In Wells’s view, this passage is an insertion into Paul’s letter, not something Paul himself wrote. (p. 247)

Ehrman is a scholar and specialist in the New Testament. He has written a book on interpolations and changes to the books in the New Testament. He cannot be unaware that a good number of his own scholarly peers themselves argue that this passage is an interpolation that must be dated some time after the destruction of Jerusalem. The passage violates all the other thoughts Paul has about the Jews in his letters. I have posted several times on the scholarly arguments in the peer-reviewed literature on this. A collection of those posts can be found here. (Some of those posts are old and I cringe a bit now when I see how harsh I was in my treatment of Eddy and Boyd. But the citations and links and quotations relating to the arguments of Ehrman’s peers are all correct.) Ehrman’s insinuation that Wells is making up a charge of interpolation to suit himself is denial of the scholarship on this question.

And again

Ehrman so badly wants us to believe he read the books of mythicists. He would be much better off apologizing for not reading them and relying on hearsay.

He faults Wells for quoting Colossians as if it were genuinely written by Paul.

For Wells . . . indications that Paul did not think that Jesus had lived recently can be found in such passages as Colossians 1:15, which speaks of Christ as “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” For Wells, “such passages do not read like allusions to a near-contemporary being.”

And Ehrman is quoting page 33 of The Historical Evidence for Jesus by Wells. Ehrman continues:

There are numerous problems with this view. To begin with . . . Paul did not write the letter to the Colossians, It can scarcely be used to establish Paul’s views.

Ehrman then argues that since the passage does not address “when” Christ appeared it cannot be used as evidence to support Wells’s view. This of course is a non-sequitur. Ehrman is merely sidestepping Wells’s argument. But the point I am making is more serious.

So did Ehrman only read that page and not anything else in the book? Did he not read why Wells spoke of Colossians as if it were Paul’s letter only a dozen pages earlier? Here is what Wells explained on pages 21-22:

This leaves the letter to the Colossians. Recently an increasing number of scholars have argued that it was written by a pupil of Paul, not by the apostle himself (Bornkamm . . . and Lindemann, . . . ). Conzelmann . . . summarizes un-Pauline features in the style of the letter, and he and other commentators argue that its author has modified the ideas expressed in Rom. 6:3-5 so as to suggest that Christians have already entered upon a kind of resurrection life. Paul had said that they have been buried with Christ in baptism and will be united with him in a resurrection like his. But in Coloss. 2:12 the past tense is used for both statements . . . . The writer does admittedly go on (in 3:3-4) to affirm the more Pauline view that “you have died and your life is hid with Christ in God,” and that only at Christ’s second coming “will you appear with him in glory.” Commentators who take the epistle as being genuinely one of Paul’s explain 2:12 as his accommodation to the gnostic views combatted there.

Colossians may well be pseudonymous, but it is nevertheless very close to Paul’s thinking. . . . It was presumably written, if not by Paul, then by a pupil very soon after him. I shall therefore treat it as genuinely Pauline.

Wells is less troubled than Ehrman by any compulsion to dumb down complex details for a popular audience. If I want to know what the diverse scholarly views are on a matter I have more chance of finding the facts in mythicist publications by Wells and Doherty than anything Ehrman has written.

Even more?

Ehrman repeatedly claims that Wells argued Jesus began “appearing” to people in the “recent past” — in Paul’s own time. Much of Ehrman’s argument against Wells is over this particular point. But Ehrman never cites where Wells makes this claim and it’s not one I recall Wells ever making — though it is some years since I read his books. If I was more dedicated I would re-read them now to check, but I feel I have spent enough time and space on this section already.

Ehrman has not been honest with his readers, either with the range and nature of scholarly views on Colossians nor with Wells’ use of the letter.

Carrier 6, Ehrman 0

That Dying-and-Rising God Thing

Ehrman scarcely tries to defend himself against Carrier’s criticism.

If Ehrman had acted like a real scholar and actually gone to the sources, and read more widely in the scholarship (instead of incompetently reading just one author–the kind of hack mistake we would expect from an incompetent myther), he would have discovered that almost everything Smith claims about this is false.

Ehrman can only reply that Smith is a very influential authority and not a hack (Carrier did not say Smith was a hack but that Ehrman was using Smith in a hack job one would expect from incompetent students. I object to Carrier’s use of the insulting term “myther” here. But I covered that theme in my last post.) Ehrman does not admit he has read more widely in the scholarship on this point.

I have read all of Jonathan Z. Smith’s books (expecting to come over to the view that Ehrman and many other scholars espouse — that there was no dying and rising god concept at the time of earliest Christianity) and would love to share a few discussions of some of them in posts on this blog. If one were to embrace Ehrman’s (and Smith’s) argument then one can scarcely make sense of the early Church Fathers when they claimed that pagans should believe in their dying and rising Jesus because he was a superior version of all the other gods and heroes they believed died and rose again.

But even easier to read are the popular novels of the day. The concept of a hero dying (even being crucified) and buried and then miraculously returning to life again was a well-known motif in the popular imagination. I have discussed some of these in older posts:

Resurrection appearances and ancient myths

Popular novels behind the gospels

Another empty tomb tale

Resurrection reversal — even a dog could be resurrected from the dead

The popularity of resurrection

Ehrman has done nothing more than repeat one scholarly interpretation of the evidence and misled readers into thinking it is the whole story.

Carrier 7, Ehrman 0

The Baptism Blunder

Ehrman had asserted that Freke and Gandy are flat wrong to suggest Christian baptism was preceded by a similar rite in mystery religions:

“Descriptions by Christian authors of Christian baptism are indistinguishable from pagan descriptions of Mystery baptism” (36). [How could we possibly know this? We don’t have a single description in any source of any kind of baptism in the mystery religions.] (p. 28 of DJE?)

Anyone who has read the popular fictional work of the day by Apuleius, Metamorphoses or The Golden Ass, knows this is false.

Ehrman was texting when Carrier kicked this one.

Carrier 8, Ehrman 0

The Dying Messiah Question

Ehrman unfortunately wrote the following:

there were no Jews prior to Christianity who thought Isaiah 53 (or any of the other “suffering” passages) referred to the future messiah. We do not have a single Jewish text prior to the time of Jesus that interprets the passage messianically. (p. 166)

There is a well publicized Dead Sea Scroll, identified as 11Q13, that contains the following interpretation of the Suffering Servant figure in Isaiah:

This scripture’s interpretation: “the mountains” are the prophets, they who were sent to proclaim God’s truth and to prophesy to all Israel. And “the messenger” is the Anointed of the Spirit, of whom Daniel spoke, “After the sixty-two weeks, an Anointed One shall be cut off” (Dan. 9:26).

The following verses explicitly identify this messenger with the one who proclaims the acceptable year of the Lord, who comforts all who mourn.

I have also written many posts on recent scholarship since William Scott Green that demonstrates the Second Temple concept of Messiah did indeed embrace a dying messiah. The first time the word for messiah, “anointed one”, appears in the Bible is to identify a high priest whose death liberates those who had become refugees because of an inadvertent sin (manslaughter).

This time Ehrman had wandered off to the side-line to have a chat with a fan.

Carrier 9, Ehrman 0

The Matter of Qualifications

This one Carrier kicked last. Ehrman dealt with it second. No wonder. It’s the only one for which he had a plausible case.

Not that Ehrman took the trouble to check to see if his vague recollection about Carrier’s qualifications was correct, of course. But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt that he does not think a classicist is any less qualified to talk about the Roman era than an ancient historian.

Besides. It’s cruel to see not even a single consolation goal go the way of the opponents.

 Final score

Carrier 9, Ehrman 1

. . . . to be continued

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38 thoughts on “The Facts of the Matter: Carrier 9, Ehrman 1 (my review, part 2)”

  1. Neil,

    You say: The first time the word for messiah, “anointed one”, appears in the Bible is to identify a high priest whose death liberates those who had become refugees because of an inadvertent sin (manslaughter).

    Cite, please.

    1. Numbers 35:25 “So the congregation shall deliver the manslayer from the hand of the avenger of blood, and the congregation shall return him to the city of refuge where he had fled, and he shall remain there until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the holy oil.”

      Verse 26 in http://study.interlinearbible.org/numbers/35.htm

      מֹות֙ הַכֹּהֵ֣ן הַגָּדֹ֔ל אֲשֶׁר־ מָשַׁ֥ח אֹתֹ֖ו בְּשֶׁ֥מֶן הַקֹּֽדֶשׁ

      Anointed = Messiah

  2. Actually I meant to emphasise the ‘first’ bit because it compares more than favourably to similar efforts around the web with particular reference to Ehrman’s site.
    Your treatment above and via your links to past posts is superior in terms of scholastic standard and lack of ad homs etc.

  3. About the Priapus Gallinaceus:

    ” there was a penis-nosed cockerel in the Vatican that some people have thought might represent Saint Peter.”

    I have to object here to the vague phrasing. “Some people” sound plural, as if there was a small coterie or historians or theologians who have argued or are still arguing that the statue represents Peter, or is “a symbol of Peter”, in Murdock’s own language.
    Who are those people? Where can we read about them?

    Priapus was a Greek god, not at the level of Poseidon, or Apollo, mainly a god for country folk, plants, crops, cattle, and male fertiltiy. He became more important with Romans, who enjoyed the erotic connotation. No way this salacious god be ever mistaken for dour, ascetic, and woman-hating Peter.

    And what about the rooster? No way. The rooster is the emblem of many things, above all sun rising, but also tremendous sexual energy, vigilance, flamboyance, courage, and inconsistency (in a monogamy perspective of course).

    Sure, he was mentioned in the Gospels, but only as a alarm bell announcing the rising sun and a new scene in the passion play. Nobody ever saw in the magnificent and agitated rooster a symbol of the lifeless figure of an apostle of Christ. Nobody in antiquity, nobody in the Middle Ages.
    The rooster on top of churches, introduced in the 9th century, was essentially as an emblem of the rising sun. and sending a clarion call to the community for pious observances and faithfulness to the church. Theologians who were desperate to see some connection with the Gospel, and forcing it to the maximum, only came up with the theory that the rooster could be a reminder to all to avoid the mistake of Peter and not succomb to the temptation to deny the Church. This was as far-fetched as possible, and it was only a theologian’s assumption. In this obscure view, the rooster was not even an emblem or a symbol of Peter, but a reminder NOT to follow the example of Peter.

    So, in fact, nobody has ever seen Priapus in the shape of a rooster mistaken for Peter. And if we want to reduce the impact of the statue to the rooster alone (a very artificial separation of elements in this bronze), bad luck, nobody has ever seen the flamboyant rooster as a symbol of Peter.
    Only one person has done so, it is the source of this invention, Murdock’s mentor, the famous knitting expert become a specialist in “Woman’s Symbols and Sacred Objects”, Barbara G. Walker. She invented the Christian meaning of the Priapus rooster and anointed it with her invented symbolic value, constructing some fancy folk-etymology to give it a semblance of rationality.
    Murdock, a good disciple, blindly copied both the picture and Walker’s interpretation in her book “The Christ Conspiracy”, giving rise to the ensuing tornado of protestations that this was no sign of scholarship
    Now Murdock wants to backtrack, do damage control, manage her reputation by issuing a legal demand to Google not to include her book in any listing for “Priapus Gallinaceus”.
    Murdock has already in the past been issuing legal DMCA requests to Google not to list her material in search listings, and she very probably will issue some more in the future.

    1. Wikipedia has a name for those words like “some people” — weasel words — as they are just the refuge for lazy research and always the sign of some deficiency in factual presentation.They are to be barred as much as possible. The editors always insert the reminders: “Who?” or “Need for a citation”, flags for poor scholarship and real lack of evidence.

    2. ROO BOOKAROO is just another anti-Acharya S troll who has no clue what he’s talking about since he’s never read a single book of hers. Same Bart Ehrman and Richard Carrier haven’t read a single book of hers either. That’s why they fail miserably when they attempt to criticize her work.

      The Catholics have already proving that St. Peter is symbolized by the cock/rooster:

      Cock Christian Symbol:

      * Religious Information, Meaning and Definition of Cock Christian Symbol

      * Cock Christian and Religious symbolism with Bible References

      * Symbolism and early religious meaning in art of the Cock Christian Symbol

      * Significance and representations of the Cock Christian Symbolism


      karmachameleon top of page 21:

      1. Eh, what? That page is not in any way “proving that St. Peter is symbolized by the cock/rooster”. It states that the “cock symbolizes Peter’s denial of Jesus”. The denial, not Peter. And not because the word peter means cock, penis etc. etc.

        1. The most recent and thorough scholarly study — by a highly credentialed authority — of the meaning of the Priapus Gallinaceus, which is inscribed as SOTER KOSMOU (Savior of the World), is “Priapus Gallinaceus: the role of the cock in fertility and eroticism in classical antiquity and the Middle Ages” by Lorrayne Yates Baird, in “Studies in iconography” 7/8 (1981/82) p. 81-111.

          Baird reinforces the interpretation of the priapic rooster as the image of the Greco-Roman god Priapus incarnated in the body of a rooster as an emblem of sexual energy all through antiquity and medieval times.
          Nowhere and by nobody is the priapic rooster interpreted as “a symbol of Peter”, except in Barbara G. Walker’s “Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Secret Objects”, and this for the specific purpose of conferring on the statue the status of a Christian “sacred object”. This permitted using Priapus Gallinaceus as a element in her critique of Christianity, in the context of the condemnation of Christianity’s hostility to women, extremely popular in New Age “spirituality”.

          This interpretation of Priapus Gallinaceus as “a symbol of Peter” is a pure invention by Barbara G. Walker, a preposterous historical mis-identification.
          It was blindly copied by Dorothy Murdock in her book “The Christ Conspiracy”, as Murdock started her writing career looking on Barbara G. Walker as her spiritual mentor and the source of a bibliography of old books and references. Murdock is the only Christ Myth proponent who has ever used Walker’s two big books, “The Woman’s Dictionary” and the “Woman’s Encyclopedia” as major references.

        2. There’s also an indication by Murdock that the whole chapter 18 of “The Christ Conspiracy”, called “”The Bible, Sex and Drugs” ” where the famous Priapus Gallinaceus appears, will disappear from the 2d edition of the book.

          Simultaneously Murdock has sent legal notices to Google Search and Google Books to withdraw material subject to her copyright from listings for the Google search of “Priapus Gallinaceus”. We can suspect that the material in question is most likely the 1st edition of the “Christ Conspiracy”.
          Then, quietly, the book containing the image of Priapus Gallinaceus as “a symbol of Peter” will disappear from circulation and from the accessible searches of Google, enabling Murdock to happily “move on”, leaving this unpleasant piece of historical snafu behind.

      2. We are innocent victims of gross bamboozling
        What does the famous Easton Bible Dictionary (1897, republ. 2007) say? It is a resource for Bible scholars, an encyclopedia-like explanation of the terms.
        On p. 141: The entry is not for “cock,” but only for “cock-crowing”:

        “Cock-crowing. In our Lord’s time the Jews had adopted the Greek and Roman division of the night into four watches, each consisting of three hours, the first beginning at six o’clock in the evening (Luke 12:38; Matt. 14:25; Mark 6:48). But the ancient division, known as the first and second cock-crowing, was still retained. The cock usually crows several times soon after midnight (this is the first crowing), and again at the dawn of day, and again at the dawn of day (and this is the second crowing). Mark mentions (14:30) the two cock-crowings, Matthew (26:34), alludes to that only which was emphatically THE cock-crowing – viz., the second.”

        The cock figures in it only for its cock-crowing, not for his coverage of the hens.
        The cock-crowing singled out in Mark, Matthew, Luke and John is the second one, marking the end of the night. Peter’s denial will happen three times. He must be given plenty of time to execute. The morning cock-crowing is the bell that marks the end of Peter’s scene.
        So, in Easton’s, the cock is not a symbol, only cock-crowing, and not any cock-crowing, but only the sunrise crowing (the “second” one).

        The Catholic site at http://www.catholic-saints.info/ gives more info on Catholic symbols.

        “They date back to times when the majority of ordinary people were not able to read or write and printing was unknown…They enabled people… [to] understand the meaning of a symbol regardless of understanding the written word or whatever country they were in.”

        The page shows a very handsome Peter illustrated with his symbols:

        “Symbols and Icons associated with Saint Peter ( See above Picture)
        The image of the Catholic Saint Peter at the top of the page illustrates how symbols and icons are represented in Christian and Catholic Art. Saint Peter is depicted holding keys, the Keys of St. Peter, a symbol and an emblem of the Catholic Church which represents the divine authority invested in the apostle Peter before the death of Christ. The crossed keys symbol was formerly used as a symbol or an emblem of the ancient Roman God Janis and the Mithraic God Zurvan (Iranian) who were both gods of time and keepers of doorways, and removers of obstacles. The keys were symbols of these ancient gods and then used as an emblem for Saint Peter. This symbolism led to the legend of Saint Peter as the bureaucratic keeper of the “pearly gates.”

        No cock in there, nor anything that resembles cock-crowing. However, we get more information on a page for “Cock Christian Symbol”. The text first recites Easton’s definition above about cock-crowing, then adds:

        “The Definition and Meaning of the Cock as a Catholic Christian Symbol: Catholic Christian symbolism in art provides a clear graphic illustration which represents people or items of religious significance. What is the definition and the meaning of the Cock? The Cock Christian Symbol represents awaking early in the morning, is a symbol of watchfulness and vigilance. If two cocks, or roosters, are put together, they always fight. Two roosters symbolize the Christian who is called to fight the good fight of faith.”

        Then it adds: “Reference to the Cock in the Bible: The Easton Bible Dictionary provides the following definition, meaning and emblem for the Cock Christian Symbol in the Bible. The cock symbolizes Peter’s denial of Jesus. Jesus had prophesied that Peter would deny knowing Him three times before the cock crowed as detailed as follows, John 13:38 Jesus answered him, Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice.”
        But, verily, we see that this Catholic text already distorts Easton’s definition. Easton does not say that “the cock symbolizes Peter’s denial of Jesus”. For Easton, the honest writer, it is only cock-crowing.
        So, again, even this “Catholic Saints” popularization text does not see the “cock” as a symbol of Peter, only the morning cock-crowing as associated with Peter’s denial.

        As mentioned previously, we find better info in a more scholarly English book of 1841 “Observations on Popular Antiquities, Chiefly Illustrating the Origin of Our Vulgar Customs, Ceremonies and Superstitions, by John Brand, M.A., Revised and Enlarged by Sir Henry Ellis, Principal Librarian of the British Museum” (London, Charles Knight & Co, 1841). This book benefited from access to the largest library in the world at that time, and its entry on “cock-crowing” is of superior quality than Easton’s.
        It gives multiple reasons for why cocks were installed on steeples.
        The most obvious and reasonable one was an emblem of the sun rising. The most far-fetched one, from (Jesuit?) theologians was that the cock was not a symbol of Peter, not even a symbol of Peter’s denial, but on the contrary a WARNING SYMBOL given to the congregation to AVOID anything like Peter’s denial, and to “forbid all schism in the Church…and denying the established principles of her Faith”. “In all probability [this link is] of popish original”.

        Anyway we want to look at it, the Priapus Gallinaceus has never been “a symbol of Peter”, and the “cock” itself cannot be seen in any manner as a symbol of Peter, not even when placed on top of steeples. Only the morning “cock-crowing” could be associated with a reminder of Peter’s denial, not as a symbol or emblem, but only as a reminder to AVOID ANY DENIAL OF THE CHURCH.
        The “Priapus Gallinaceus”, or the cock itself, as a symbol of Peter, are inventions of Barbara G. Walker, uncritically copied by Dorothy Murdock.

  4. Minor pedantic issue: On “The Tacitus Question”[1] you say there is no score for either side:

    So let’s be charitable and assume he was right on point one, though clearly he is wrong on point two. No score either way on this one.

    …but still add a point to Carrier’s score.


    1. Why do all of these titles sound like Ludlum novels? 😉

  5. Re Tacitus, if we accept the authenticity of the passage, then does that make it the earliest extant non-Gospel reference anywhere to a HJ?

    IIRC, only the shorter recensions of Ignatius could rival it in age.

    1. Except that Tacitus doesn’t ever mention the name “Jesus”. (As Doherty points out, Tacitus leaves readers with the impression that Christians were so-named after a man named “Christ”. — see http://vridar.wordpress.com/2012/04/23/5-earl-dohertys-response-to-bart-ehrmans-case-against-mythicism-a-roman-trio/)

      But Pliny the Younger’s letter to Trajan (if genuine — and it also fails to mention the name ‘Jesus”) precedes the Tacitus account.

      Since the Second World War most scholars seem to have aligned themselves with the view that Josephus did indeed write something about Jesus (only not the passage we read today) and that would have to be date in the 90s (if any part of his passage is genuine, which I don’t believe. See http://vridar.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/6-earl-dohertys-response-to-bart-ehrmans-case-against-mythicism-jewish-sources/)

      So the general mainstream view among New Testament scholars today is that Josephus is the first non-Christian reference to Jesus, followed by Pliny the Younger, then Tacitus.

      Not too long after Tacitus was Suetonius who, on the face of it, writes about a Jewish affray in Rome led by a person with a common slave name, Chrestus, that led to the expulsion of Jews from Rome. Most scholars seem keen to think this was also a garbled reference to Christ.

      1. OK. Seems to me like only the Tacitus reference really refers definitively to anything like an HJ, even if he has misunderstood the figure’s name. Josephus I doubt for authenticity, especially after reading how he is never quoted until Eusebius, and that the passage matches Eusebius for vocab and interest. Pliny doesn’t have any HJ references like execution under Pilate. Suetonius again is vague.

        1. Except that the Tacitus passage can also be easily seen as just reporting what he had been told. If he’s reporting what Christians have been saying, then all we can say is that “this is what the Christians believed”. It’s not evidence for anything other than that – we can’t use belief as evidence of a real individual. If we did so, we’d have to consider there to be evidence for Romulus, Hercules, etc, etc, etc. I doubt anyone would agree with that (although I could be wrong).

  6. “the early Church Fathers when they claimed that pagans should believe in their dying and rising Jesus because he was a superior version of all the other gods and heroes they believed died and rose again.”

    Are you thinking of Tatian, “Address to the Greeks” XXI:

    “But, while you treat seriously such things, how can you deride us? Your Asclepios died … Wherefore, looking at your own memorials, vouchsafe us your approval, though it were only as dealing in legends similar to your own. We, however, do not deal in folly, but your legends are only idle tales”?

    Do you mind linking us a few citations here? My memory is a little vague on this…

      1. “For when they tell that Bacchus, son of Jupiter, was begotten by [Jupiter’s] intercourse with Semele, and that he was the discoverer of the vine; and when they relate, that being torn in pieces, and having died, he rose again, and ascended to heaven; and when they introduce wine into his mysteries, do I not perceive that [the devil] has imitated the prophecy announced by the patriarch Jacob, and recorded by Moses?”

        OK. Cheers.

        1. Given Justin Martyr was not a scholar from a reputed and respect University and the fact he seems to acknowledge similarities its not a wonder Bart ignored this quotation. Bart must have heard this text many times, is it being honest to ignore such material when compiling a book to be consumed by students, scholars and the public alike ?

        2. You have to love the sequence of reasoning by Justin: “…and when they relate…do I not perceive that the devil has imitated the prophecy…”. Exactly like Barbara Walker’s famous “Peter = rock = cock = penis = Priapus = member (peter) = column (petra)….THEREFORE…cocks on steeples”.

          1. If one adds the solar aspect to Jesus, then the Peter=rock=rooster comments become that more accurate. The story about Peter denying Jesus before a cock crows is of course further encoding of Jesus the man and Jesus the Sun. Many of the stories in the gospels have a very solar angle to them, hidden in names, characters or events that a purposely included to continue this connection.

            1. Lorrayne Baird, the best reputed expert on “Priapus Gallinaceus” — and a highly respected and credentialed authority — practically a luminary in that special field of cock research, has also published “Christus Gallinaceus: A Chaucerian Enigman, or the Cock as Symbol of Christ in the Middle Ages” in Studies in Iconography 9 (1983).

              So the cock, the herald to the rising sun, was very occasionally associated with the image of Christ, and seen in a few particular cases, as a symbol of Christ. Of course, in this interpretation, only the connection to the Sun is retained, and no connotation to the cock’s formidable sexual power is retained.
              Again, the identification of the cock, either as a herald of the sun, or a powerhouse of sexual energy, is NEVER seen as a symbol of Peter, in antiquity or the Middle Ages.

              This connotation, essentially as a priapic cock in a famous bronze bust, appeared only recently in modern times, in a book called “The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects” (1988) by Barbara G. Walker, connotation that was repeated by another writer, Dorothy Murdock, in another 20th century book called “The Christ Conspiracy” (1999). Those are the only two citations in the literature where the priapic cock is characterized arbitrarily as “a symbol of Peter”.

              Nowhere is the cock itself, either alone in his morning glory of sun greeter, or his resplendent plumage as Lord of the hens, characterized as “a symbol of Peter”, not even in the two cited publications of 1988 and 1999.
              Any claim to such identification is without supporting evidence and entirely imaginary, essentially the product of Barbara Walker’s free-range intuition, for the specific purpose of being useful in her feminist critique of Christianity.

  7. Not to defend Ehrman, but on the Dying Messiah question, though I enjoyed Carrier’s blog post on this topic, Thom Stark’s recent response to it is interesting:


    I noticed this link on frdb, and I know that you and others here sometimes post there, so you may already have seen it. In any event, I think this is a thoughtful response, and a good introduction to Thom Stark for me.

      1. “He rejects it because he does not agree with the interpretation of Daniel 9:26 found in 11Q13.”

        I’m seeing that Starks’ argument is only that Dan. 9:26 is not actually in 11Q13:

        “The scripture references are obviously not original to the scroll; they have been added by modern editors. So we note the excerpt in bold. The translation [that Carrier links to] identifies Dan 9:26 as the citation referenced in the scroll. The problem is, there is a lacuna in the scroll precisely here, but this particular website doesn’t give any indication that the verse from Daniel they included in their translation is a guess!”

        He points out that Vermes (among others) incorporates Dan. 9:25 into the lacuna instead of 9:26.

        I had a similar headscratching moment when I first read Carrier’s post, as I only have Vermes’ translation of this fragment and also saw 9:25 inserted there.

      2. Ah, my little 3:24 am gaffe is now big news on Dr James McGrath’s blogpost and has even earned an entire post by Thom Stark himself. Small things etc . . . . But I do apologize and withdraw my remark that Thom’s argument was based on his own interpretation of Daniel 9:26.

  8. I made the score 5 for Carrier, 2 for Ehrman, and 1 toss up, but I only gave Carrier full credit on the points where I thought the error would have made Ehrman’s target audience less well equipped to think about the issues.

  9. Neil: “I have never read a single mythicist arguing the passage in Suetonius is a forgery or interpolation.”

    Which passage? If you mean Nero 16.2, see Doherty 2009, p. 605 about Drews. “There was even some reason to consider the possibility of interpolation”, Doherty notes in p 630, and says “if authentic” etc. in regards to the passage in p. 630 and 632, and says “that even the line in Suetonius’ chapter 16 may be an interpolation as well” (p 775).

    Neil: “Nor do I know of any mythicist suggesting the possibility (never an argument that it was) that the Pliny correspondence — even the entire of book 10 — is a forgery unless they at the same time refer to mainstream scholarship that has raised the possibility.)”

    Doherty 2009 notes “we will see later that even Pliny’s letter is not without indications of Christian forgery” (p 612). He questions the authenticity in p 640-642, without refering to any mainstream scholar at all.

    How can you not know this about an author publishing his rebuttal on this very website?

    1. Well there you go. My memory failed me. Thanks for the reminder about that line in Suetonius.

      As for Doherty’s discussion of the possibility of the Pliny letter being a forgery he does refer to “those who have seriously questioned the authenticity of this letter” and “it has been pointed out that there are [in the letter] certain echoes of elements in the New Testament”. Some years ago when looking into this question I recall studying exchanges between Sherwin-White and others (Sherwin-White arguing against interpolation) in the scholarly literature. I am sure Ehrman, if his memory is prodded, would be aware of such discussions in the literature. The possibility of Pliny forgery is not a discussion that has been restricted to mythicists.

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