Richard Carrier, PhD, has essentially endorsed Tom Verenna’s “scathing review” of Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus with one caveat: his complaints “may be a little excessive.” (I discussed earlier the blatant “wrongness” of Verenna’s review.) But we must stress that Verenna had only praise for the contribution from Dr Richard Carrier.
Carelessness with people’s reputations
Carrier (with a PhD in ancient history from Columbia University) reinforces Verenna’s ethical discomfort that Frank Zindler chose to publish email correspondence between himself and Ehrman:
Verenna raises some valid concerns worth mulling, such as about Zindler’s use and publication of his correspondence with Ehrman.
Thus even Dr Carrier demonstrates that he is not as thorough in the reading of what he is reviewing as he should be. He, like Verenna, quite overlooked Zindler’s own note at the point of introducing this email exchange:
I thank Professor Ehrman for graciously having granted me permission to reprint here his messages, provided only that I “acknowledge that they were emails, not written intended for publication.”
Because of their careless oversights (accompanied, one must presume, with a lack of interest in seriously checking to see if their grounds for darkening Zindler’s character were real) both have recklessly cast slanderous aspersions upon the integrity of Frank Zindler.
[The nature of the emails and how Frank used them are outlined in a comment below.]
Academic professionalism or strictly business?
One might wonder about the professionalism of a scholar who publishes a scathing review of a book to which he has contributed and advises his readers they are better off not bothering with it. (Professionalism, in my view, extends to treatment of one’s colleagues as much as it does to how one approaches one’s job.) But Dr Carrier clears the air on this point at the outset of his review. His relationship with the other contributors of this volume, and in particular with its editors, is entirely a business one. He stresses that he sold the rights to his article to them so they could make use of it:
The rights to my contribution were procured through a single-payment contract, so I won’t be getting any royalties from the sale of this book . . .
I was . . . paid for my critical material on Ehrman . . .
So unlike the other contributors in having made his money from the book before it was published, our reviewer advises those he elsewhere calls “his fans” how they can purchase the book in a way that will still allow him to get further $ from each sale:
(if you want to buy it and still want me to get a cut, then you can buy it through the above link, which is to the respective sales page in my Amazon store, where I get a kickback on any sale),
So it’s entirely a business relationship, not a professional one, and having made his $ he is prepared to be fully professionally honest and tell readers, in effect, not to waste their money buying it. His honesty is absolutely commendably rare. (Never mind that many of us have probably run into people at various times who know how to do more injustice under their shining halo of “honesty” than any liar could achieve.)
Dr Carrier then reinforces, just in case you still haven’t quite got it, that he completely distances himself from the other contributors:
I required a disclaimer to be included (in the Foreword generally and in the first paragraph of my chapter specifically), since I do not endorse much of what gets said elsewhere in this book. I was sure of this even before I read it . . .
One is left wondering why a professional ever consented to his name being included in the book’s pages at all. One does begin to wonder how much he was paid.
Another irregular verb: I am honestly devastating; You are personally attacking
Now the book’s clearly stated purpose is advertized in the title and explained in the Introduction by Robert Price. It is primarily a response to Bart Ehrman’s shoddy treatment of works by mythicists in DJE?. Ehrman’s book was written for a popular audience. It was not for scholars. Indeed, one of the principle faults of the book is that in many places it suppresses evidence or oversimplifies scholarly arguments in ways that almost certainly would mislead many lay readers. Carrier knows this and calls Ehrman out on it. So do the other contributors. They are responding to Ehrman’s distortions of their work. Serious questions remain unanswered if we accept at face value Ehrman’s insistence that he really did read all the mythicist books he claims he did.
I would have thought that such responses and exposures of shoddy argumentation and misrepresentations are not by definition “venom and disgust” and certainly not “personal attack”. Yet Dr Carrier implies they are “personal attacks” since he concurs with Verenna’s conclusion that the book is 600 pages of venom and disgust aimed to character assassinate. This, says Dr Carrier, is a “warranted” complaint (if “maybe a little excessive”.)
Yet the harshest treatment of Ehrman is found in Carrier’s chapter —
I found more than a few indications of general incompetence (including failures to fact-check, sloppy and careless writing and analysis, illogical arguments, self-contradictory assertions, all by the scores). Yet he dismisses my criticism as an unwarranted personal attack. This has led me to wonder: does he regard his exact same treatment of others as an inappropriate personal attack that they didn’t deserve? Or as simply a demonstration that the books he examined are incompetently written, a perfectly valid thing to demonstrate and conclude, and exactly what I did — but that he in his response attacks me for doing?
Ehrman acted like a Christian apologist . . .
Several times Ehrman conceals facts from his readers that are damaging to his case . . . .
Ehrman demonstrates how little we can trust his knowledge or research when he says such silly things like . . .
But that’s just the beginning. This one flawless contribution — the only one worth Verenna’s praise, is the only one that accuses Bart Ehrman of being a liar.
2. Lying to Cover Up Your Mistakes. . .
I don’t actually believe him when he says he didn’t mean to say . . . . after his careless and irresponsible scholarship . . . .
On that point I suspect he is lying. . . .
I consider this good evidence that he is now lying . . . .
Establishing oneself as someone who prefers dishonesty to admitting mistakes is not the way to argue for historicity. Neither is so thoroughly failing at the job of informing the public on the actual facts.
3. Lying to Cover Up Your Mistakes. . .
I do not believe he is telling the truth. . . His excuses are destroying his reputation. What else has he misrepresented? What else has he fudged, screwed up, or lied about? . . .
His reply only dug his hole deeper, illustrating further his probable ignorance, dishonesty, and illogicality. . .
Of his two contradictory responses, the first is probably another lie. . .
So his first response is probably dishonest . . . . badly misinforming the public on the relevant facts . . .
If you’re Dr Richard Carrier, PhD in ancient history at Columbia University, this is called being “as devastating as ever” (see my previous post) and all part of the supposedly solitary worthwhile chapter in the book.
When I search for the word “lying” in the Kindle version of this volume I see that it only appears in Dr Carrier’s chapter, the only one said by both V and C to be worthy. The only times it is used elsewhere is in a biblical quotation, such as when Paul said he was not lying. Yet if you’re a lesser mortal who avoids this personal character attack, choosing instead to simply stick to exposing “failures to fact-check, sloppy and careless writing and analysis, illogical arguments, self-contradictory assertions” with respect to how Ehrman treated your work, then in the eyes of V and C you are hell-bent on “character assassination”.
Dr C, in worthy contrast, is simply being professionally honest and intellectually devastating.
What do you expect from these lesser mortals?
So much for Dr Carrier addressing the negatives of his fellow-contributors. Now he addresses their positive contributions:
In fact, I consider much of it terrible. But it is fair enough to say that each chapter represents the best of what you can expect from each contributor of late. So if you want to see what each mythicist author is most often like in their manner of argumentation and quality of research, this is the anthology for you, although at 567 pages from disparate authors, it can be a challenge to get through. That’s the sum of it.
Fellow-contributors (sorry), The other contributors (the unpaid ones) don’t write with the same style or intent (or professionally honest venom) as Dr Carrier. Some of them even waste words by writing conversationally, informally, lightheartedly or humorously, in the way they approach Ehrman’s treatment of their arguments. Anyone would think they were actually enjoying what they are expressing and pitching at fellow lay readers who might even likewise enjoy learning something with a little verbal delight. That’s enough to bring down “professionally honest” scorn from the Doctor. What wasteful wordiness! Definitely not to “the average reader’s” taste, we are assured.
But it gets worse. Sometimes they miss a detail that Carrier believes is an inexcusable omission, even though Carrier knows they know about it, have presented arguments about it and concluded it does not affect their thesis. Now that they are addressing Ehrman’s attacks on their work and don’t think to bring up that same point, Carrier blasts them — in particular René Salm. Carrier chastizes him and all other mythicists with the need to write every single time a complete coverage of whatever topic they are addressing.
Now that’s not bad advice as a general rule. But sheesh, is it really necessary for the PhD of Columbia University kick lesser mortals so savagely honestly?
There are ways of teaching, leading and inspiring others and there are ways of being simply obnoxious. I don’t know if Dr Carrier was a prodigy or not, but I have seen this too often in those who are. They cannot bear patiently the “lesser minds” of others and in the long run make themselves obnoxious irrelevancies. Didn’t Doctor Carrier himself come to be persuaded of the Christ Myth theory through amateurs like Earl Doherty? Is there any room for courtesy and human respect? Apparently not once one has one’s credentials, and one’s “fan” base, and once all further dealings will be on a business transactional basis.
But once again Dr C is careless. If anyone had thought his criticisms of Salm’s work were based on familiarity with his book they will be disillusioned when they read this:
Notice the potentially poor logic of this: what are the odds that Christians would invent the name of a fake town in Galilee and the Jews would then go on to independently found a town in Galilee with exactly that same name? I think probability is against Salm here. Quite heavily . . . .
Pages 299 and 300 of Salm’s Myth of Nazareth make his position very clear.
The text and the results of archaeology can be reconciled in one of two ways: (1) either the Gospel of Mark was later than is commonly dated; or (2) the word Nazaret at Mk 1:9 is the interpolation of a later, post-70 CE hand. . . That interpolation was obviously made after the settlement of Nazareth came into existence and became known in the region.
I can’t help but wonder if so much “Salm-bashing” one encounters is the direct result of Salm addressing something that is tangible, something that comes down to hard-certainties of the material evidence and established professional, literally scientific, criteria. Contrast other mythicist and “historicist” arguments that are over interpretations of literary passages. Critics of Salm seem to be oblivious to the fact that his criticisms of the conclusions of modern archaeological reports in Galilee have been published in a peer-reviewed archaeological journal; and the responses to his publication failed to address his core criticisms. (See More Nazareth Nonsense).
Doctor Carrier exposes more of his shoddiness when he ridicules what he merely assumes is Salm’s logic: that if Nazareth goes then Jesus also must go. This is the sort of carelessness for which Carrier castigates Ehrman. Salm makes it abundantly clear in his book that of course the non-existence of Nazareth in the early first century does not mean Jesus did not exist! Salm’s question is to wonder why Nazareth came to be associated with the Jesus in the Gospels. This potentially points to a radical reinterpretation of Christian origins.
Then Carrier takes a snort at Fitzgerald’s contribution.
Fitzgerald’s piece is mostly a 101 survey of mythicist questions (not all of which are equally apt) . . . .
He does go on to say something positive about this chapter, but of course not without taking a sideways kick at it. It’s only a 101 piece, “too introductory”. Dr Carrier presumably doesn’t want this book to be targeted at the same general public as was DJE?. And gosh, not every one of his points is “equally” apt. Never miss a chance to kick a lesser mortal if you want readers to acknowledge that only your contribution was the worthwhile one.
Price’s chapters “are a charm to read” but “are still just summaries of the anthology”. Curiously Carrier labels Price’s work as “a bit harsh on Ehrman”. I have re-read Price’s chapter and my own view is that Price was very openly human in his approach, in some senses trying to sympathetically compare his own past way of thinking and intellectual journey with Ehrman’s. Price never once comes close to calling Ehrman a liar.
Zindler’s readers “might just end up confused”. Doherty is right but (and we have to get a kick in here) he doesn’t use the best arguments for his case.
Hiding the good of others behind one’s own arrogance honesty
Now much of Carrier’s criticism may be true. But one might think that not all of it is “equally apt”, or necessary. Much may be his personal taste and preference, or his impatience with amateurs. If Carrier were wanting to prove his professionalism by dumping on a book to which he was a contributor, he might have been more persuasive had he not admitted to having been the only contributor to have made money from it. (Since his was the only worthwhile contribution I guess his being the sole pre-publication financial beneficiary is only fair?) But Carrier has not made any positive contribution towards opening up a serious discussion of mythicism to a wider public. Carrier would no doubt say that is not his fault. The book is a response by those whom Bart Ehrman so incompetently attacked. Much of it would be a joy to read for many lay readers, or even other PhDs. It is a pity Carrier could not have more fully grasped the nature and purpose of what the other contributors were doing and drawn his criticisms with a little more understanding.
Carrier would no doubt say that anything that falls short of the way he argues and writes is intolerable.
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47 thoughts on “Richard Carrier’s Review of Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus”
Rene has posted a rebuttal over yonder:
And, as you correctly surmised, Neil, that Doctor Carrier is just so darned honest, he can’t help himself. He writes (in an email) concerning his ever-so-edgy-and-frank review:
In his self-assessment, he’s at least half-right.
It boggles the mind to think there is such frantic efforts to try and sink this book by gross misrepresentation of it. It’s as if people can only feel secure by undermining others.
I don’t see either Carrier or Verenna asserting that Zindler lacked permission to use Ehrman’s emails, and I did not assume that from their reviews. I think Verenna’s point is that emails are casual communications that don’t warrant the kind of scrutiny that books and papers do. I respect Ehrman for his willingness to let Zindler use them, but that doesn’t convince me that it is an appropriate thing to do.
Vinny gets it.
Tom, your explanation for why you believed Frank was wrong to publish the emails was because people say things, lets say, in off-the-cuff, distracted ways that they may regret later or not fully mean.
That was your explanation as to why you believed Frank was wrong to do what he did. Now I was not immediately convinced of that, because I know many professionals will indeed take care to protect their reputation when replying to emails and take some thought into putting anything into print.
Perhaps you don’t, but in my professional career that works daily with emails in an academic environment, including many exchanges with academics, and including quite a number of informal exchanges with academics at other institutions for personal correspondence, that has been my experience. If someone does not feel he or she can write a careful response the email usually is not written – or there is a clear quick note to explain that the response is just dashed off without much thought for the time-being.
On the other hand, researchers love to use correspondence found in archives or in a still living environment to make their cases when such material is pertinent. But there are ethical standards that they are all very aware of when doing this. Confidentiality is paramount. But there are also clear rules that allow the publication of material if and when the permission of all stakeholders is freely granted.
There is absolutely no violation of ethics in that case. Such material is routinely made open-access where such policies are part of the academic environment.
Moreover, in the world of journalism, political life, jurisprudence, emails are often considered a vital form of evidence and their publication is very much in the public interest and the interests of justice. The only rule that applies is that they be legally obtained and used and do not breach cultural sensitivities.
Now if you or Bart really believe that there is anything Bart wrote in those emails that suggests he was absent-mindedly dashing something off in a hurry just to get through his mass of emails for the day then it is incumbent upon you to provide evidence that that is the case. I do not believe there ia anything in the emails from Bart that remotely suggest any such thing. They are all very clearly reasoned responses. But if that perception is wrong then you should definitely demonstrate that it is wrong and defend Bart.
But you have no grounds for your innuendo of unprofessional or unethical conduct on Frank’s behalf. Clearly you did not read the chapter carefully, jumped to conclusions, and that is why you did not include any reference to Frank’s acknowledgement and explanation.
Your Apologia for Frank aside, emails are not sourced or publishable in academia for a reason. It seems clear to me that Frank is trying to have a ‘gotcha’ moment; it is unnecessary and unethical to attack someone based upon email correspondence. I would say the same applies to blog posts where concepts and thoughts are thrown around but hardly ever supported which is one of the great values of online interaction–you are not limited to certain rigorous guidelines that you might otherwise have to undergo to publish in a journal or even a book. Many scholars who blog use their online voices as a springboard for future research projects but that doesn’t make them publishable.
As for email, you claim these are ‘very clearly reasoned’ but you don’t seem to grasp the fact that even a clearly reasoned email is not nearly as valuable as a clearly reasoned publication. More care is taken with a publication than an email; it’s that simple. Your defense if Zindler is absurd here; he should not have published his correspondence. Ehrman has plenty of published content out there. If he cannot locate a suitable example in Ehrman’s published material than this proves my point. If he can find an example in published works, then he should use those examples which in turn make for a strong case against Ehrman’s credibility.
Again, this is basic stuff here.
Translation: you don’t care what my point is, you are simply going to ignore it and repeat your own. Besides, it is wrong to try to defend Frank against what you have said.
Now you are saying that Frank uses the email correspondence to “attack” Bart. That again is a very serious personal attack, a character assassination? and it is incumbent upon you to support your accusation with evidence. Show us where Frank uses the email correspondence to “attack” Ehrman.
Tom, you are overlooking the central fact here, the one you clearly were too slapdash not to have noticed for your original review and over which you are now in ad hoc rationalization/damage control — and that central fact is that Bart gave express permission for his emails to be published.
It is in the public interest that they be published. Read Evan’s comment below.
Frank is documening the nature of academic responses to mythicism and is in the public interest given the public manner in which Bart Ehrman has pulled the wool over the eyes of his readers with very misleading claims.
Even the most reputable scholar must always be held accountable for honesty and professionalism. Journalism, political disclosures, and courts rely upon emails when there is a public interest at stake. . . .
The reason emails need to be identified as such and not as intended for professional publication is because of the way they are worded, their presentation, perhaps their need for some tidying up of argument or for some transitional nature of their thoughts. All that is very clear. It does not affect the fundamental content where that is in the public interest.
I like your way of characterizing Frank’s documented public interest publication as “a gotcha moment” against your portrayal of Richard’s as “devastating as ever”. Your range of irregular verbs is truly creative.
Would you kindly now support your claim and point to one instance that you identify as a culpable “gotcha” use by Frank? Please. In the public interest. To defend Bart. To pay back to Frank what you think he deserves, if you’d rather.
While I have your attention. Will you give me permission to publish emails you sent me some years ago in which you admitted not having read Salm’s book and your justifications for not having read it when you made your online comments about the book?
One can read Tom’s erudite response to my comment below at http://vridar.wordpress.com/2013/05/06/richard-carriers-review-of-bart-ehrman-and-the-quest-of-the-historical-jesus/#comment-44207 — It is out of synch, I believe, because before I realized he had responded I had re-edited my own comment and hence it now appears a few minutes after his.
But Tom’s response is well worth consideration. It helps explain the sorts of issues we are dealing with here.
Ehrman’s published emails to Zindler as I find them in the book:
At no point did Ehrman ever engage any of Zindler’s arguments in any of the emails.
At no point did Ehrman attempt to argue the case he makes in DJE? in any of the emails.
Some of them are quite clearly dismissive. I don’t know Frank Zindler at all, but he puts far more effort into almost any of his emails attempting to establish his points to Ehrman than the amount of effort Ehrman put into the entire correspondence.
So there is nothing in Ehrman’s emails to scrutinize.
The purpose of the chapter, in my opinion, from having read it, is for Zindler to show how hard he worked to document his claims to Ehrman and how Ehrman never really engaged him or debated him.
Since this is undoubtedly one of the claims of the book as a whole, to me the chapter works quite well to establish Ehrman’s work ethic for this task and was useful. It in no way reveals any personally or professionally embarrassing details about Ehrman.
I disagree Neil. An email may be evidence of some things, but it is not evidence of deficiencies in scholarship because it is not a work of scholarship. Ehrman has been kind enough to respond thoughtfully to a couple of my emails, but I do not view them as anything other than casual responses to my questions. The fact that Zindler puts more efforts into his emails than Ehrman is probative of nothing.
I think Evan’s comment above is the most useful response here.
Zindler is not presenting the emails in the way/for the purpose you suggest.
It is telling, surely, that neither Verenna nor Carrier chose to acknowledge the existence of Frank’s acknowledgement of Ehrman’s permission to publish the exchange. That that simple fact is being overlooked in the defence of what V and C have implied is most significant. That they did not mention it at all initially is evidence they were making assumptions that were unfounded. Let’s get the full context here — both the way Frank has used the emails (a “gotcha” moment?? Really??) and his obtaining permission. Any full and fair discussion needs to address these points yet neither V nor C do — both make assumptions that clearly suggest something unprofessional. Yet without any reference to the way they are used or how they came to be used.
(I know you disagree — you made that point in your first comment. You are free to disagree.)
You and I have both had the experience where a credentialed scholar intentionally sidesteps what we think is a particularly pertinent question. While I do not necessarily think that there is anything wrong with pointing out that a question has been ducked, I generally prefer not to do so. I prefer to wait for another opportunity to raise the issue again. I figure that sooner or later the scholar will answer the question, and if he doesn’t, it will eventually become apparent that he is ducking me. I like to think that I have had some success with this strategy.
There are two reasons why I don’t point out when a question has been ducked. The first is that it tends to make the discussion more confrontational, which I try to avoid when possible. The second is that the scholar ducking my point doesn’t really prove anything. It may make the scholar look like a weasel, but it doesn’t make my point correct.
I gather from Evan’s comment that Ehrman never really engaged Zindler’s points. Being a big fan of much of Ehrman’s writing, I’m disappointed. On other hand, having read Did Jesus Exist?, I’m not all that surprised. However, that doesn’t make Zindler’s points correct. It just makes Ehrman a weasel and writing a book in order to expose Ehrman as a weasel seems like a “gotcha” to me.
I see the emails as evidence of the problem that has faced “mythicism” for decades now. Though the scholarly guild claims to have debunked the arguments we can see clearly that they are not interested in engaging with them.
I am less sanguine than you about the likelihood that certain indviduals who avoid engaging with certain questions will one day come around. I think I have a different view of the factors that contribute to their failure to engage in cases like this.
I’m not expecting anyone to come around. I just want them to honestly make the best case for their position rather than falling back on scholarly consensus.
Ah context context — can be ambiguous, sorry. I meant “come around” to “engaging with certain questions”, not “coming around” to agreeing with you. I thought that was the nub of your point.
I am an avid chess player as well as a fairly strong one. Sometimes a weaker opponent will offer a dubious sacrifice in the hopes of reaching a wild tactical position in which he hopes that I will go astray. I will often decline such sacrifices even if I think that they are objectively unsound because finding the right continuation over the board may consume a lot of time on the clock and I can be sure that my opponent has studied the sacrifice and is more familiar with the resulting positions than I am. Instead, I will steer the game into quieter channels where I think that my knowledge of the subtler points of the game will give me an advantage.
I think the same dynamic is often at work when someone like McGrath or Ehrman sidesteps one of my questions. He is probably convinced that he is ultimately correct, but he knows that I have given some thought to the issues and I suspect he figures that it may be difficult to demonstrate the error of my position without more work than he wants to put into a blog comment. So he tries to steer the conversations back to what he perceives to be his strengths.
As I have said, when this happens, instead of taking offense, II simply wait for the opportunity to raise the issue again. Often I find that scholars do eventually engage with at least some of my questions. McGrath has addressed many of my questions and Ehrman had addressed a few. I suspect that I could get more out of Ehrman if I felt like paying for his blog content.
Caption might well read: Do it my way (my tribute is just the beginning) or suffer my withering wrath.
Richard’s tone can be off-putting at times, but I don’t believe he ever suggests credentials are important. I don’t think it’s a ‘looking down on amateurs’ thing (actually, he calls Ehrman out for just such an attitude). Actually, he’s far more critical of experts who make these mistakes precisely because they should know better, and literally every time the subject comes up, he lists Earl Doherty as the best example he’d found when he started looking into it.
That being said, he is ruthlessly critical of mistakes (whether real or not) that he sees in others’ work. I don’t think this is a bad thing. Too often mythicists get stuck preaching to the choir, and react with intense hostility to any and all criticism–treating criticism from fellow mythicists as a kind of betrayal (I know Acharya S has made this point explicitly). But we can’t accept bad arguments, even for conclusions that we agree with. Heck, that’s what’s wrong with Biblical Criticism half the time, is that arguments for the status quo–even bad ones–are accepted and praised for their cleverness, even when they’re fallacious.
The way for mythicism to gain ground and respect is for mythicists to be ruthlessly critical of each other’s positions. That’s how peer review has to work for any field of scholarship to progress. People can be civil to each other as people, but shouldn’t hold back from completely honest reviews of each other’s arguments. Richard could certainly learn to be more diplomatic, but only if he can manage it without sacrificing the honesty of his criticism.
I agree with much of what you write, but Carrier is himself subject to the same standards he applies to others. When he is careless or overlooks something he should not have, especially when his oversight and jumping to conclusions are damaging to the reputations of others, then he deserves to be severely censured, too.
And his cruel manner of belittling others who make what he perceives as mistakes — when they are not mistakes — is not acceptable. You say you don’t think it a bad thing to be ruthlessly critical of even a mistake that is not a real mistake!
Yes, I would like to think that robust and heated criticism of one another would serve well to keep us all on our toes. That’s a good thing. But let’s get the balance and the facts right. In the case of Salm, as Salm himself points out in his response, Carrier spends nearly a third of his review bashing Salm when Salm had only a single chapter in the book, and even points he did make included those that were based on false assumptions and indicated he is not very familiar with Salm’s case at all. (This is especially ironic given Salm being one of the very few amateurs to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.)
Okay, Salm could have made a stronger case if he included reference to a detail he has addressed elsewhere. But that can be pointed out in a spirit of collegiality and good will or it can be used as a point to mercilessly excoriate. And Salm is writing in a completely different literary voice from Carrier. That seems to offend Carrier, but is it a point to bash Salm over?
That is the sort of thing I find in Carrier’s article that makes him merely obnoxious rather than helpful. There is always room for civility and respect in one’s criticisms. Carrier shows none in his latest review.
In this case in particular his criticisms unfortunately come across as self-servicing. He is not so much criticizing but denigrating a book from which he is the only one to have made any $. Not that I believe the other contributors are expecting anything in return, given the internet as it is, and the history of their publications, but it does not make Carrier’s treatment of them look very good.
“And his cruel manner of belittling others who make what he perceives as mistakes — when they are not mistakes — is not acceptable. You say you don’t think it a bad thing to be ruthlessly critical of even a mistake that is not a real mistake!”
That’s just bad epistemology. If you believe something, you act as though the thing you believe is true. Surely you can’t expect someone to be critical of mistakes he sees others making, but *only when they are in fact mistakes*, as though anyone can be expected to know when one is mistaken enough to not act on it. Come on. Do you believe you have *never* critiqued someone based on a misunderstanding of their position? Of course you have. We all have. So that’s not a fair criticism. It doesn’t even make sense.
On the contrary, by logical necessity, we have to apply the same expectations of behaviour to someone who is wrong (but doesn’t know it) as to someone who is right. If it’s fair to criticize when you’re right (that someone is wrong), then it’s fair to criticize when you’re wrong (that someone is wrong), so long as you don’t whine when it’s pointed out that you’re mistaken, and so long as you are able to recognize and correct your mistake–which is precisely what Carrier has shown time and again to be his strong suit (unlike, say, diplomacy). I can’t say the same for many people in this field. Go to his blog again and read the comments about Salm. I corrected him, and he admitted it, and edited the post to reflect the correction. That’s an appropriate way to behave: be absolutely critical of mistakes, until you’re shown to be mistaken, then relent and point out your own mistake.
“Carrier spends nearly a third of his review bashing Salm when Salm had only a single chapter in the book.”
Salm is just wrong when he points this out. Carrier details how many of the contributors focus time on the case against Nazareth. He’s not just addressing Salm, although Salm’s case is the most thorough, and the others’ are based on his, so it makes sense to focus primarily on his.
“Salm could have made a stronger case if he included reference to a detail he has addressed elsewhere.” Again, terrible summary of the situation. Salm believes he deals with this counter example effectively. Great. Does that give him leave to *not mention the single strongest evidence against the case that he is making*? Not even close. By no normal standard would we accept that as a sensible, or reasonable approach. Even if Salm’s case for dismissing this evidence is strong (Carrier doesn’t think so), it’s appropriate to at least mention the evidence, and mention that you’ve dealt with it elsewhere. Once again, everyone *blasted* Ehrman for doing exactly this–you included. If it was wrong when Ehrman did it “because it was a popular work,” then it’s all the worse when Salm does it in a work criticising Ehrman.
Finally, I agree that accepting money for your contribution to a book you’d later discourage people from buying is bad, bad, bad. He didn’t need to review it at all. He could have been happy with the caveat in the forward.
What I have been attempting to address, though not succeeding very well, is primarily the tone of Carrier’s criticism, and that there are times when this leads him into gratuitous hypercriticism — I say gratuitous because he is judging a work by the standards of something that it was not meant to be. You will recall I did say that much of his critical content may be true and this can be a good thing for us all.
Let’s say I am very tired of the Salm-bashing that comes along so often. Most of it is ignorant. I wonder how many critics have ever really read “Myth of Nazareth”. Much of this Salm-bashing is just plain nasty and personal. (It wouldn’t have any relationship with his having a French sounding name, would it? I have never thought so and would say that in jest, but so much of the criticism is so baseless and so personal I have to wonder.)
And Carrier began to lose his shine in my eyes when he wrote his lengthy oh so very logical, so very cogently rational justification for expressing himself rudely, or being rude to people. Only of course when it’s rationalised by Carrier it’s no longer “rudeness” but simply “honesty”. I guess I’ve grown old and he is still very young — but he doesn’t come across as the sort of person who is going to mellow with compassion with age.
And that is what I find unnecessarily crude and offensive — and hence counterproductive — about his criticism. Wiser and more understanding personalities know how to be critical in measure, they know there are some things that are counter-productive to criticize, and some things that need to be addressed, and to know how to go about it in a productive way.
Carrier’s rationalizations for what others call rudeness are self-serving. He may be right in many things, and maybe his fans love his arrogance and what he excuses on the grounds of “honesty”. But I have lost patience with some of his recent “kick ’em where it hurts if they are not as good as you” manner. Even scholars could aspire to be role models of more than just “honesty”. It’s great to have a brain, but some who do have never learned the importance of having more than that, or the way to express and manage anything else.
And yes, Carrier’s dissing on his co-contributers like this — especially after being honest enough to tell us he had made his money so could cut and run without loss to himself — was, let’s say, not a very humanly decent thing to do. Even if no money was involved, he has used his reputation to add gloss to the book and then turned around and kicked dirt at those he tells the world he feels, in effect, ashamed to be associated with. (There are other ways to deliver honest criticism but in Carrier’s eyes those other ways would tarnish what he esteems as his “honesty”.) I don’t have much time for people who screw others the several ways Carrier does.
Fairly and reasonably put.
A few thoughts:
I think that trying to critique “tone” in these discussions is an exercise in futility. There are very few occasions upon which any given tone cannot at least colorably be justified by someone else’s tone on a previous occasion.
Your criticism of Carrier for “judging a work by the standards of something that it was not meant to be” is precisely the complaint that Verenna and I have about Zindler’s use of Ehrman’s emails.
I think it unlikely that ethnic prejudice plays a significant role in the criticisms of Salm. It never occurred to me that he comes from a race of cheese-eating surrender monkeys, and if it had, it would concern me no more than the fact that you come from a race of kangaroo molesters.
The thing is….. tone in text is tricky. On the one hand, it’s really easy to read harsh, mocking tone that isn’t there. On the other hand, it’s clear that Carrier doesn’t make much of attempt to edit out unnecessarily harsh language. On the other hand (how many is that?) many mythicists have shown such extreme sensitivity to criticism that it almost doesn’t matter if one is respectful when criticizing them. Acharya S’s fans seem to lash out at anyone who doesn’t consider her a guru. Salm is not quite that defensive, but also comes out swinging at any criticism he receives. It seems everyone involved in this argument is very sensitive to everyone else’s tone, but nobody is especially good at being respectful. This includes Neil, frankly. The only exception, in my books, is Price, who is generally pretty classy in his published works (if, occasionally, he’s expressed some bitterness on his podcast).
And yeah, the suggestion that people who criticize Salm (does this include Carrier?) might just be biased against French people?! I… what? And honestly, I don’t see the “Salm-bashing” Neil sees in Carrier’s article. It certainly isn’t a case of ‘personal attacks,’ like Neil suggests.
Here’s a list of all of the critical things Carrier says:
“One of the worst contributions is by Salm.”
“Here he burns over 40 pages attempting to argue there is no evidence for Nazareth in the early first century” in reference to the fact that despite the length, he misses the key piece of evidence.
” There are many other faults in Salm’s chapter (many errors of logic), but that one is problem enough.”
“There are a lot of other dogs-with-irrelevant-bone threads like this that crowd and weave through the whole anthology.” This counts because it’s comparing to his now-complete treatment of Salm’s contribution, and the related contributions of others.
That’s it. That’s all that could be considered an ‘attack’ on Salm, and each one had to do with the quality of his contribution to the anthology. At no point is he personally, his credentials, his competence, or anything else “personal” attacked. Yet Salm, and Neil, react as though Carrier attacked him personally. He didn’t.
Have you even read Zindler’s treatment of Ehrman’s emails? How does Zindler judge Ehrman’s emails contrary to “something they were not meant to be”?
For anyone to suggest that Zindler has misused the emails or that he should not have used them is not arguing from reality — well so far they have only just said there is an unwritten law that says “Thou shalt not use emails in a book”. Rubbish.
The simple fact is that Bart Ehrman was quite happy for Frank Zindler to use them, Bart has nothing of which he is ashamed or embarrassed, I am sure.
This outrage over Frank’s use of them is a lot of hot air. Tom Verenna never noticed that Bart had given permission, immediately expressed a lot of sinister innuendo — which would only have been justified if he had not asked Bart’s permission! — and all of a sudden we now are hearing that “Hey, just because he didn’t mention Bart’s permission that doesn’t mean he didn’t know about it.” Baloney. (Besides, anyone who knows Tom’s style knows he only skims a fraction — if anything — of what he undertakes to review negatively.)
It is a non-issue.
(Nor, as Tom has tried to suggest, is it about making Bart’s arguments look bad because they are in emails and not in an academic publication. That sort of nonsense claim is just something he made up. It bears no relationship to how Frank used the emails or the point he was making from them.)
Evan (whose analysis you endorse) says that “there is nothing in Ehrman’s emails to scrutinize” and that [a]t no point did Ehrman ever engage any of Zindler’s arguments in any of the emails.” According to Evan, all Zindler shows is that Ehrman didn’t put much effort into the emails which is precisely the reason that I don’t think they warrant a response in a book. Why should I waste my time and money reading Zindler’s treatment of emails that don’t deal with the issues? I’m not “outraged.” I just think that it’s silly and pointless.
In your dreams. You merely inferred I had not read carefully. In truth it is you who have not read me carefully. But whatever. You can’t win an argument with someone who presumes they are always right.
When would someone who’s right ever presume that they aren’t?
Neil Godfrey: Okay, Salm could have made a stronger case if he included reference to a detail he has addressed elsewhere.
R. Salm: Presumably, this refers to the Caesarea inscription. . . I didn’t mention it in my Ehrman chapter because it’s not important.
J. Goertzen: Again, terrible summary of the situation. Salm believes he deals with this counter example effectively. Great. Does that give him leave to *not mention the single strongest evidence against the case that he is making*? Not even close.
R. Salm: Wow. This is so weird that I must be misunderstanding something. . . I didn’t even REALIZE Carrier thought the Caesarea inscription was critical until I read his awful review a couple of days ago. I’m supposed to have had prophetic knowledge of that misplaced importance AND have pre-emptively defended against it? Are we all simply satellites of Carrier’s errors? Incidentally, I still have not had time to read all the contributions of the other mythicists in the book.
Let me add this about the Hapises: even IF they came up to Nazareth after the 1st Jewish Revolt (unlikely), that would mean they were among the first settlers of Nazareth–maybe even the first. This would go a long way to explaining why the village was inveterately Jewish. Of course, it still wouldn’t have anything to do with the existence of a village already at the turn of the era.
J. Goertzen: By no normal standard would we accept that as a sensible, or reasonable approach. Even if Salm’s case for dismissing this evidence is strong (Carrier doesn’t think so), it’s appropriate to at least mention the evidence, and mention that you’ve dealt with it elsewhere.
R. Salm: I don’t write about things which aren’t important. I’ve now talked more about the Caesarea inscription only because RC so super-emphasized it–of course AFTER I read his strange opinion (“a fatal error”)! See:
It’s RC’s misplaced importance we’re considering here, IMO, not critical Nazareth evidence. So: who’s more authoritative to say whether the inscription is critical or not: Carrier or myself?
J. Goerzen: Here’s a list of all of the critical things Carrier says:
“One of the worst contributions is by Salm.”
“Here he burns over 40 pages attempting to argue there is no evidence for Nazareth in the early first century” in reference to the fact that despite the length, he misses the key piece of evidence.
” There are many other faults in Salm’s chapter (many errors of logic), but that one is problem enough.”
“There are a lot of other dogs-with-irrelevant-bone threads like this that crowd and weave through the whole anthology.” This counts because it’s comparing to his now-complete treatment of Salm’s contribution, and the related contributions of others.
R. Salm: Huh? Actually, there’s more (that bit about my “fatal” error). But this is the problem, Jason: you’re taking Carrier’s crap on faith and are not even looking at the, umm, EVIDENCE. To me, RC is so OFF BASE as to be laughable. . . I make a big deal about this because he has some some influence and people seem to take what he says on faith. Big mistake when it comes to Nazareth! He obviously hasn’t understood my book, and I guess you haven’t either (if you’ve read it, that is). When you and Carrier start talking about oil lamps and tomb dating, then you’ll be talking about something which actually impinges on the existence of Nazareth at the turn of the era. Then I will be more interested in what you have to say.
I didn’t talk about the inscription because I don’t generally spend a great deal of time considering things which aren’t important. Which brings to the end of this particular thread. . . 😉 RC can continue to think whatever he wants about Nazareth, but I will continue to correct his errors if he insists on going public with them.
I’m supposed to have had prophetic knowledge of that misplaced importance AND have pre-emptively defended against it?
You are supposed to anticipate the strongest argument against your position and address it.
More succinctly said. 🙂
Wow indeed. For starters, you made it look like I said “Again, terrible summary of the situation.” in response to you. I did not. I said it in response to Neil, who defended your leaving that out on the grounds you’d dealt with it elsewhere. I was pointing out that this is not a valid response. And it isn’t. Whatever other argument can be made has no bearing on his having been a bad one. Incidentally, saying his argument was a bad one isn’t a personal attack against Neil, since you seem to have trouble with that distinction.
Salm: “This is so weird that I must be misunderstanding something. . . I didn’t even REALIZE Carrier thought the Caesarea inscription was critical until I read his awful review a couple of days ago.”
Setting aside the fact you’re happy to use equally offensive language describing Carrier’s work that you object to his using on you (and no, the fact “he did it first” doesn’t improve things), I would suggest that if you do not consider “important” any evidence that contradicts your hypothesis, then I find that at least superficially strange–especially in a work criticizing someone for dismissing contrary evidence. But let me return to this.
I’ve not read your work, nor am I assuming Carrier is right, as you assert. On the contrary, if you were paying attention, I was the one who corrected Carrier’s criticism of your argument and suggested, without having read your work, what I suspected your argument probably was–just by applying the principle of charity and envisioning what the most reasonable possible argument could have been. Turns out I was spot on: I had guessed exactly what your argument was. So much for my pro-Carrier bias, and my “taking what he says on faith”. You’re seeing persecution where there is none. Where he was unjust in his criticism of you, and I was in a position to notice it, I pointed it out. Where Neil, and you, were unjust in your criticism of him, and I was in a position to notice, I pointed it out. Incidentally, he took this criticism and immediately admitted it, amending his criticism to reflect the error he’d made. You have dug in your heels and cried “foul” all the louder, looping me in as a new enemy without bothering to understand what I was saying.
I think Carrier overstates how damaging the inscription is to your case. But neither do I assume he’s lying when, for instance, he says the thing exists, or that it says Nazareth was where the priests fled after the destruction of the temple. Is he wrong about these details? Because if he reports these at all accurately, I can’t imagine how anyone interested in making the case you make would consider this inscription so unimportant as to not even be worth mentioning as an unsuccessful counter-argument.
But then it seems you consider this thread too unimportant, and already ended. So I guess I’ll never know.
Vinny H: You are supposed to anticipate the strongest argument against your position and address it.
RS: Correct. If you knew the oil lamp, tomb, and pottery finds from Nazareth, then you would know that they are far stronger evidence for the non-existence of the settlement than a very late inscription.
JG: I think Carrier overstates how damaging the inscription is to your case. But neither do I assume he’s lying when, for instance, he says the thing exists,
RS: This is getting pretty silly. Of course I don’t think RC’s “lying when, for instance, he says the thing exists.” Everybody knows the inscription exists. . .
JG: “. . . or that it says Nazareth was where the priests fled after the destruction of the temple.”
RS: The inscription doesn’t say that, and I’m sure RC doesn’t think it does either. The difference between RC and myself in on the interpretation of the inscription–whether it is evidence for a northward movement of priests to Nazareth after the first vs. after the second jewish revolt.
JG: Is he wrong about these details?
RS: No. You are, Jason. Carrier and I have a difference of interpretation.
JG: Because if he reports these at all accurately, I can’t imagine how anyone interested in making the case you make would consider this inscription so unimportant as to not even be worth mentioning as an unsuccessful counter-argument.
RS: I guess that’s because you’re not familiar with the issue. If you knew the oil lamp, tomb, and pottery finds from Nazareth, then you would know that they are far stronger evidence for the non-existence of the settlement than a very late inscription.
“JG: I think Carrier overstates how damaging the inscription is to your case. But neither do I assume he’s lying when, for instance, he says the thing exists,
RS: This is getting pretty silly.”
You’re right. Because you stopped just short of where I made the point, to make what I said look meaningless.
You’d accused me of taking his word on faith. I was showing that, no, I don’t; but that doesn’t mean being hyper-skeptical of everything he says when relaying matters of fact “such a thing exists, and it says such-and-so.” I reached my own conclusions about the relevance based on these reported facts, and based on my own ability to understand logic, probability, and how evidence works when it comes to arguments from lack-of-evidence.
“RS: No. You are, Jason. Carrier and I have a difference of interpretation.”
And your argument leans heavily, whether you recognize it or not, on that *interpretation,* so the evidence for its being the correct interpretation is paramount to your case. It’s strange you don’t see this.
Please keep in mind that I am not arguing that you are wrong about Nazareth. I have no idea if you’re right or not. I’m not qualified to make that judgement, and I’m not trying to. I’m ONLY talking about your specific reply to Carrier’s criticism, and I find it puzzling, and unconvincing.
If you knew the oil lamp, tomb, and pottery finds from Nazareth, then you would know that they are far stronger evidence for the non-existence of the settlement than a very late inscription.
Perhaps, but I would only know this if the guy who writes about the lamp, tomb, and pottery finds also describes the late inscription and its significance.
Prior to Did Jesus Exist?, I could always count on Ehrman’s books giving me a clear picture of the arguments and evidence against his position as well. If I had a dollar for every time some internet apologist wrote “what Ehrman doesn’t tell you is” when in fact he had addressed the point explicitly, I wouldn’t be drinking bourbon that isn’t older than my cat. That is why I considered his books so valuable. The apologists with whom I argued rarely, if ever, came up with arguments or evidence that I couldn’t have reasonably anticipated. The problem with Did Jesus Exist? is that it doesn’t equip the reader to discuss the issues intelligently.
If I read a 567 page book that deals extensively with the non-existence of Nazareth and it doesn’t clue me in to the fact that historicists are going to cite this inscription in their counter-argument, I would say that I have wasted my time and my money.
Carrier’s treatment of Salm’s chapter was a disgrace in that he made no attempt to sum up Salm’s argument (as one normally does when writing a critical review) but wrote condescendingly that something he personally considered the most important gem was missing from it, with the clear suggestion that only Carrier knows what’s right and wrong when it comes to the question of Nazareth — and all this comes through in a way that clearly shows he has not read Salm’s book and not bothered to even take serious note of his arguments. This is condescension, as Rene says, and belittling. It is not a professional way to review any argument. And this is why I saw Carrier’s piece as another instance of something that seems all too common — Salm-bashing.
As for the suggestion that mythicists somehow are all one with Acharya S in their reactions to criticism, with the only exception being that Salm is “not quite that defensive” (Acharya is never “DEfensive”!), or that everyone seems to be very sensitive to everyone else’s tone — this is absurd. We are talking about Richard Carrier’s review here.
“Carrier’s treatment of Salm’s chapter was a disgrace in that he made no attempt to sum up Salm’s argument.”
But what if his intention was only to express why he can’t recommend the book, not to do a thorough take-down of it, making the normal rules not apply–or does that only work for Salm and Zindler? But, more seriously, there is some truth in this. Given his penchant for long, point-by-point analyses of things he disagrees with, and given the circumstances, I agree that he should have been far more thorough than just saying “this argument is terrible and not worth reading,” essentially.
Unlike your own reviews of people you don’t like, which are nothing but respectful, right Neil? Are you not aware of the irony of your criticism of Carrier for this? Go back and read some of your own reviews of people you strongly disagree with (Hoffman comes to mind…), and ask yourself if you have the right to complain about this.
“[T]he clear suggestion that only Carrier knows what’s right and wrong when it comes to the question of Nazareth…”
More irony. You pontificate on a wide range of subjects, Neil, and when you do, you treat people who disagree like stubborn students. Even when I’ve laid out in painstaking detail how the logic of your argument breaks down the *best* I can hope for is for you to stop using the argument, to move the goal post, and to pretend like you’ve actually meant something else all along.
“As for the suggestion that mythicists somehow are all one with Acharya S in their reactions to criticism, with the only exception being that Salm is “not quite that defensive” (Acharya is never “DEfensive”!)…”
Once again, Neil, you show no interest in addressing what I’m actually saying, and prefer to twist it into a strawman. I didn’t say ALL mythicists. I said some mythicists. I am more or less convinced of mythicism. If I had to bet, I’d go with it. So no, I don’t think ALL mythicists are overly sensitive. Robert Price, for instance, doesn’t seem to be. And I didn’t present Acharya’s over-sensitivity as being representative of all mythicists. I presented her fans’ zeal as being the *extreme* case. That this is what you got out of what I said is just another example of how uncharitably you treat the opinions of those you disagree with.
“…or that everyone seems to be very sensitive to everyone else’s tone — this is absurd. We are talking about Richard Carrier’s review here.”
Oh is that what we were talking about? What’s absurd is how quick you are to talk to me like an idiot in a post criticizing Richard Carrier for being disrespectful. What’s absurd is that you would object to mentioning the broader context of the discussion (i.e., everyone objecting to everyone else’s tone, while not watching their own), as though it were irrelevant. Get real, Neil. Honestly, I don’t know why I bother replying to your blogs when I disagree, when this is, reliably, how you respond.
RS: Carrier’s making this late (probably Byzantine) Caesarea inscription his central plank on Nazareth is a tack that I honestly never anticipated. . . That he further pilloried me for *my* not making it my central plank I find inexcusable and, truth be told, the height of condescension, since I happen to have written ‘the book’ on Nazareth. It tells me several things: (1) that RC has a deficit in his grasp of the Nazareth evidence; (2) that he is capable of writing outside his knowledge base (‘driving beyond the headlights’); and (3) that there are those willing to defend RC (and attack me) regardless of what he writes and regardless of what I write. All this is unfortunate, but it’s the nature of things. . .
JG: And your argument leans heavily, whether you recognize it or not, on that *interpretation,* so the evidence for its being the correct interpretation is paramount to your case. It’s strange you don’t see this.
RS: Once again: My argument does not depend on *any interpretation* of the Caesarea inscription. I’ve already explained that even if RC were correct, *it wouldn’t affect my thesis at all.* Please understand that, Jason. This is not between you and me–it’s about the evidence. Look, if the Hapises went up to Nazareth after the 1st revolt (as RC argues), that simply means that those priests were among the first settlers of the new town. That’s no problem for me! It would be interesting information to know for sure, because it would enlighten us on the nature of the later village.
But when it comes to the existence of Nazareth at the turn of the era, it’s the oil lamp, the tomb, and the pottery datings which ARE critical. If you, or Carrier, or anybody else were to provide earlier datings for those artefacts, that would indeed affect my thesis. . . THE MYTH OF NAZARETH thoroughly examines those datings and demonstrates that there is no possibility at all of a settlement at Nazareth at the turn of the era. The Caesarea inscription is a red herring. It just doesn’t matter what anybody (even RC) says about it, because it doesn’t have the power to affect the bottom line at Nazareth.
That does make a great deal more sense of why you don’t find it important, and thank you for taking the time to explain it.
But this also points to what I have always seen as the weakness of your case (judging, again, only from your online presentations of it, not having read the book)–the inference that the town is *only* as old as the oldest evidence for it–evidence which, by your own account, was not found in the location you would identify as the site of the earliest settlement.
You said, in your review of Ehrman that ““What has been excavated at Nazareth is more than ample to infer a dating for the people who lived on the valley floor, for they of course are the ones who built the tombs and agricultural installations on the hillsides.”
But I can’t see how this is a valid inference. What has been excavated is certainly ample to infer that Nazareth is at *least* as old as 70CE, but I do not understand how it could be ample to infer that the nearby settlement is *no older* than 70CE.
As an analogy, apologists like to date Mark to 70CE (thanks to references to the destruction of the temple), when all that can be inferred from this is that Mark was written *no earlier* than 70CE.
So please, how is the the existing evidence ample to infer that, if the town was already occupied at 70CE, it was only just settled?
A little while back I e-mailed Dr. Hector Avalos about the issue of nazareth in the early first century. he generously replied with the express permission to publicly post his comments. For anyone interested here is what he had to say:
“Although I had formal training in archaeology at the University of Arizona (B.A. Anthropology, 1982 + 1 year of graduate work in Anthropology which is the home department for archaeology), I hesitate to provide any definitive answer to the question of the existence of Nazareth without a very thorough investigation of the archaeological reports, and a more direct assessment of the site. I hope to do that in the near future.
I did visit Nazareth, including The Church of the Annunciation, in 2000 but I did not conduct an archaeological investigation. I was there as part of a tour associated with the Bethsaida Excavation Project, for which I did publish an article discussing some of the artifacts found at that site: Hector Avalos, “Bethsaida in Light of the Study of Ancient Health Care,” in Rami Arav and Richard Freund, eds. Bethsaida: A City by the North Shore of the Sea of Galilee, Volume 3 (Kirksville: Truman State University Press; 2004) 213-231.
Textually, I think that the word “Nazareth” does refer to a town in Mark 1:9, among other places in the NT. However, our manuscripts of Mark are from the third century and later, and so it is difficult to know what was added to those manuscripts between the first century, when it was presumably originally written, and the third century.
Some place names, after all, were probably added to texts that lacked them originally. For example, some early manuscripts (e.g., P46) of Ephesians may not have had “Ephesus” in Ephesians 1:1.
However, there are no significant variants of Mark 1:9 pertaining to “Nazareth” noted in my UBS 4th edition, and so the “authenticity” of that word in Mark 1:9 is about as certain as the authenticity of the word “Jerusalem” in other passages in Mark.
René Salm does raise some important questions about the archaeology of what is called Nazareth today, especially since much of the evidence derives from a time (1890s and early 1900s) that archaeology was not as well developed methodologically.
On the other hand, I think that Salm has a very difficult time proving a negative, especially since he himself says:”Very little of the Nazareth basin has ever come under the archaeologist’s spade, and most of the area is now thoroughly urban and built over”(René Salm, The Myth of Nazareth: The Invented Town of Jesus [Cranford, NJ: American Atheist Press, 2008], p. 222). If that is the case, then how can we be sure that Nazareth did not exist in that basin?
Salm has found some errors in some of the recent reports on the Nazareth Village Farm published by Stephen Pfann, et al., in Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society 25 (2007), but those errors do not prove the non-existence of Nazareth.
I also think that the so-called kokh-tomb evidence is problematic for Salm because such tombs are not representative of all the burial venues that could have existed. Kokh-tombs may represent the tombs of the wealthier inhabitants, and so Salm’s later dating for them does not disprove the existence of inhabitants who may have been buried with less expensive methods.
A useful recent discussion on this issue may be found in Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society 26 (2008), which has articles by Salm, and some of his critics (e.g., Stephen J. Pfann, Yehudah Rapuano, Ken Dark).
So, although I appreciate Salm’s efforts to question archaeological conclusions, I cannot say that he has successfully disproven the existence of Nazareth. On the other hand, more archaeological work is needed to establish Nazareth’s existence in Jesus’ lifetime more definitively.”
Thanks for this Will. I always appreciate El Profesor’s even-handed, judicious handling of material.
R. Salm: What has been excavated at Nazareth is more than ample to infer a dating for the people who lived on the valley floor, for they of course are the ones who built the tombs and agricultural installations on the hillsides.
J. Goertzen: But I can’t see how this is a valid inference. What has been excavated is certainly ample to infer that Nazareth is at *least* as old as 70CE, but I do not understand how it could be ample to infer that the nearby settlement is *no older* than 70CE.
R. Salm: Jason, why do you write “at least” as old as 70 CE? And why, furthermore, do you emphasize “least”? This is doubly in error. You’ve forgotten that “not a single artefact can be dated with certainty before 100 CE” (MoN 165). (This statement has already been made at least once in this exchange–so you are apparently not paying attention.) Thus, the settlement is certainly not “at least as old as 70 CE.” In fact, the named settlement (or one worthy of a name) may be as late as c. 135 CE. I discuss this at MoN 206 and conclude that the town is post-100 CE for working purposes, though the town could be still a couple of decades later.
H. Avalos: On the other hand, I think that Salm has a very difficult time proving a negative, especially since he himself says:”Very little of the Nazareth basin has ever come under the archaeologist’s spade, and most of the area is now thoroughly urban and built over”(René Salm, The Myth of Nazareth: The Invented Town of Jesus [Cranford, NJ: American Atheist Press, 2008], p. 222). If that is the case, then how can we be sure that Nazareth did not exist in that basin?
R. Salm: I have great respect for Dr. Avalos, who invited me to speak at the SBL in Chicago last year. I will answer his several points briefly below. We should note, first of all, that the tradition is arguing from silence: it says a named village existed at the site even though no material evidence attests to that village. . . That is the quintessential argument from silence. The lack of evidence is proof enough of a negative–for reasonable people, at least. However, it will not deter those coming from a position of faith. They will have no problem believing a Nazareth at the turn of the era even without evidence. After all, evidence never counted much where faith is concerned.
I often hear the dictum, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” My answer is simple: “Absence of evidence is most assuredly absence of evidence.” To a reasoning person, a scientist, that’s enough. To the rest, we must leave them their comforting delusions. . .
In this connection, Jason, you might enjoy James Randi’s talk on Nazareth (on my http://www.nazarethmyth.info site) and my article “Nazareth, faith, and the Dark option” (http://www.nazarethmyth.info/naz3article.html). It talks about the search for Santa Claus in an effort to prove he doesn’t exist. That search is futile, for those who believe in Santa Claus *believe.*
As for the comment that “most of the area is now thoroughly urban and built over,” that still goes back to the argument from silence. No one has dug there, but the considerable evidence that we have all points to a later time. That is quite conclusive to a reasonable person. After all, pre-70 CE Nazarenes would certainly have left *some* pre-70 evidence in their extensive activities on the hillside.
H. Avalos: If that is the case, then how can we be sure that Nazareth did not exist in that basin?
R. Salm: The evidence from the hillsides is clear enough.
H. Avalos: I also think that the so-called kokh-tomb evidence is problematic for Salm because such tombs are not representative of all the burial venues that could have existed. Kokh-tombs may represent the tombs of the wealthier inhabitants, and so Salm’s later dating for them does not disprove the existence of inhabitants who may have been buried with less expensive methods.
R. Salm: The problem is that no one has brought forward any evidence of such “less expensive” burials, though there have been numerous excavations over many decades on the hillside. It sounds like special pleading to me.
Thank you for providing those links, though I have already read these, and everything on your website. Indeed they were some of what I was remembering back to when remembering what your argument was Like I said, I’ve read what’s available online about this, just not your book (mostly because the subject only interests me in passing, since I don’t believe anything major hinges on whether Nazareth existed at the turn of the millennium or not: there’s already independently good reason to believe it was a later misunderstanding that produced the idea Jesus was from Nazareth).
Absence of evidence is evidence of absence when, and *only* when evidence would be expected, and none has been found, despite adequate efforts at seeking it. So, for instance, the case against the Exodus is very strong because it is almost impossible to believe no evidence would be found by now, after so much desperate searching in precisely the places it would be expected to be. At the opposite extreme, the fact SETI has failed to find a signal from aliens doesn’t cause reasonable people to conclude that there is no other intelligent life in our galaxy, because they haven’t been at it long enough, and it’s not even sure that we should expect to receive radio signals if there IS intelligent life in the galaxy. So you see, the argument from absence of evidence spans from powerful to impotent, depending on the nature of the case.
In the case of the Nazareth dig, by your own description of where excavation has, and has not, taken place (“No one has dug there, but the considerable evidence that we have all points to a later time,” for instance), so an argument from lack of evidence cannot yet be conclusive, or even especially persuasive to “reasonable people.”
I write “at least as old as 70CE,” because you indicated that proof it existed in 70CE would not at all conflict with your conclusions. Now it sounds as though you are contradicting this. I am happy to adjust what I said to say “at least as old as 100CE,” because that was not at all the main point of what I was saying there. The main point was, as you noticed, the “at least,” which I emphasized for the reasons I just mentioned.
For the record, I have responded to this critique here.
About the Caesarea inscription and its problems (the most part ignored even by the scholar criticism mentioning this archaeological evidence) see the series of posts starting here: