Hermann Detering, Richard Carrier and the Apostle Paul

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by Neil Godfrey

Paul, Mark, and other substitutions:

Richard Carrier on The Fabricated Paul

by Dr. Hermann Detering

Edited and translated by René Salm


Or you can read the original German language version on Herman Detering’s site:

Paulus, Markus und andere Verwechslungen – Richard Carrier über den Gefälschten Paulus


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29 thoughts on “Hermann Detering, Richard Carrier and the Apostle Paul”

      1. Two examples:


        Noch ein anderer Punkt hat mich irritiert. Herr Carrier schreibt über Paulus, aber auf der beigefügten Abbildung ist ein Porträt des Evangelisten Markus zu sehen, das dem  Bildnis der vier Apostel von Albrecht Dürer entnommen wurde. Da der ganz Artikel aber nun einmal von Paulus handelt, nehme ich an, dass Herr Carrier Markus mit Paulus verwechselt hat. Ich will ihm das nicht vorwerfen, zumal es sich dabei mehr um einen kunstgeschichtlichen als um ein exegetischen Fauxpax handelt. Eine Empfehlung ist das aber gewiss nicht. Denn wenn es schon mit dem Allgemeinwissen über Paulus hapert, wie soll es dann erst mit dem Fachwissen bestellt sein?


        Carrier may think he is writing about Paul, but perhaps it is fitting that the illustration accompanying his post is not of Paul—it is in fact the evangelist Mark from Albrecht Dürer’s 1596 painting “The Four Apostles.” Mixing up Paul and Mark in this way is hardly an exegetical error and should be of little moment, though this artistic faux pas indeed betrays a lack of attention to general information, something that does not bode well for what is required in this endeavor, namely, scrupulous care in dealing with the details of varied Pauline traditions.

        Me (fairly raw transliteration):

        One other point irritated me. Mr. Carrier writes about Paul, yet the accompanying illustration features a portrait of the evangelist Mark, taken from a painting of the Four Apostles by Albrecht Dürer. As the entire article deals only with Paul, I must assume that Mr. Carrier has confused Mark for Paul. I don’t want to reproach him for this, as it’s more a matter of an art history, than an exegetical, faux pas. This, however, certainly does not [serve as] a recommendation. If there’s already a problem with common knowledge about Paul, how will it go when it comes to expert knowledge?

        IMO, Salm needlessly pads, and rearranges the sentence structure, while losing much of the disdain that drips from Detering’s original.


        Eine andere Frage ist, ob „self-referencing signatures“ „only in forgery“ vorkommen.


        That “self-referencing signatures” occur “only in forgery,” however, is a strawman argument of Carrier’s.


        Whether “self-referencing signatures” appear “only in forgery”, is a separate question.

        While Carrier would have no one to best in debate, were it not for strawmen, Detering does not use that term in either of the instances Salm inserts it.

        1. Quick point to your spot-on observations: “irritiert” is usually not “irritated” (a pejorative in English) but rather, more commonly, “confused” (neutral in German).

        2. Matt Cavanaugh, thanks so much for your translation. It was very eye opening. Based on your translation, I agree that Salm tempered the contempt that was conveyed in Detering’s German prose. Perhaps he did so intentionally so as to preemptively de-escalate what could potentially turn into a less than collegial discourse between the two scholars (especially in light of Carrier’s history with Ehrman, McGrath, and others).

          As for Salm inserting the term “strawman,” perhaps he simply made an editorial decision in an attempt to highlight the basis of Carrier’s error in (mis)characterizing Detering’s thesis as it pertains to identifying forged texts. Heck, I doubt the term *strawman* even exists in German lexicon. I could be wrong, but I have to think that Detering proofed the English translation before it was published. He has functional English literacy and is probably capable of noticing unwarranted or unwelcome modifications to the tone of his essay.

          Lastly, you hinted that Carrier has a penchant for strawmanning. If you don’t mind answering, what is your general take on Carrier’s work?

          1. it seems that Salm’s translation is authorized & endorsed by Detering.

            My take on Carrier’s work:
            * Carrier presents valid arguments, and original ones, but never both at the same time;
            * His prose is as prolix as it is pedestrian;
            * He practices a cargo-cult version Bayes Theorem in an apparent attempt to carve out for himself a niche of relevancy;
            * He willfully & consistently misrepresents the positions of his interlocutors;
            * He is petulant and rude, and quick to lob ad homs, especially regarding the intelligence or qualifications of his interlocutors;
            * He is not well-read on the subjects he addresses, often displaying stupefying lacunae in knowledge;
            * His interpretations of sources (i.e., The Ascension of Isaiah) are often bizarre and incomprehensible, almost childlike.

            1. Hear, hear!

              I don’t have any special axe to grind against Carrier, and am glad his Historicity book was done. But I’m willing to sign on basically to all of the points above. He does, I think, overreach and seems dangerously unable to decide oftentimes whether he’s a scholar or a blogger. The Bayes Theorem hobby-horse, well, we should all have more rigor in our reasoning and mathematical proficiency helps develop that, in my opinion. But the idea that using Bayes would significantly decrease the amount of confusion and/or stupidity in a field like New Testament studies is ludicrous. You’d still have fifty different Jesus historicity scenarios but with formula-laden footnotes. Using Bayes is something he sort of knows something about, so he bangs the drum incessantly, and tries to benefit from the contrast, I agree.

              1. My sole motivation is to encourage erudite exploration of these subjects. That can come from ‘experts’ like Detering, Markus Vinzent, et al., or so-called ‘amateurs’ like Lena Einhorn or yourself, or even casual but informed readers. I find it droll that you, who delves so deeply into source material and who can tease such insightful observations out of them, receives backhanded praise from Carrier as ‘pretty good for an amateur.’ Carrier’s claim to expert status is, his only income derives from speaking engagements on this subject, and he had a couple of not-really-peer-reviewed books published by a tiny, not-really-academic press. As we just saw with Detering, every time Carrier tilts with actual experts, he ends up tossed over the crupper.

                P.S. My German I learned mostly on the streets of Germany. I make no claims about it. Take it for what it’s worth.

              2. I try to keep my feelings about Carrier as a person separate from my interest in his arguments. Everyone says their sole motivation is “truth” or “true methods” etc. and I am sure everyone of us sincerely means it. But what we write is there for all to see.

        3. Squabbling over an image is hardly worth the effort. Nor is discussing such squabbling.

          Detering has other, more-important points in these two articles.

          And some of those points don’t involve a dig at Carrier.

          1. A dig would be a comment about polyandry or Carrier’s sexual harassment woes. Detering is talking about basic knowledge of Christian iconography, and suggesting a lack there is symptomatic of a lack in other areas.

    1. I left a fairly complimentary comment under the second part of the Detering piece. Salm ‘abridged’ it, cutting out two short paragraphs on using Bayes made in response to a comment by N. Godfrey. First time I’ve ever seen that done on the internet. And this, on a page with fewer than ten comments.

      He seems overeager to rework the words of others.

  1. I hope this will be an interesting conversation once he get’s to the main points in Carriers essay. However, if he is going to go over the Carrier piece with this level of detail I worry if I will be around for the last installment ;-).

    1. It is very likely Detering will be nitpicking small points or phrases and not giving a coherent counter-argument. This first effort is mostly hot air.

      1. It’s not nitpicking to observe that committing a slew of clumsy errors regarding common knowledge, consensus items does not instill confidence in one’s ability to tackle the more arcane or technical material.

        It’s not nitpicking to consider it hubris for someone to wade into Pauline research with sweeping pronouncements, yet be apparently ignorant of things like the extensive analyses of Marcion’s Apostolikon, or be incapable of addressing the arguments of the Dutch Radicals, other than to diss them as “mountains of possibiliter fallacies.”

      2. Actually, Detering revealed that Carrier was full of hot air. Carrier basically told a New Testament PhD who devoted the better part of his 41-year scholarly career to the study of the Pauline corpus that he “couldn’t ascertain his qualifications” in the field and suggested that Detering lacks the competence and proper methodology to engage in such endeavors.

        That was one of the most bizarre things that I have read! That kind of hubris, and frankly, recklessness on Carrier’s part is putting more strain on his already strained credibility. His lack of collegiality in his treatment of Detering was offputting.

        It is also worth pointing out that Carrier is lacking in attention to detail in matters that are very basic, if not elementary – and thus it might reveal that it is Carrier, and not Detering, that we should scrutinize a bit more.

        And, Detering did in fact delve into substantive matters toward the end of the his initial reply. But I appreciate his effort in setting the table before he serves his main course.

        1. Indeed. Deterring addresses Carrier’s unique method for determining the authenticity of the Pauline epistles, Carrier’s interpretation of Justin’s silence on Paul, Marcion, and his own hypothesis that the Little Apocalypse refers to the suppression of the Bar Kochba revolt.

      3. Well, that’s speculation :-). Hermann Detering has a a wikipedia page I found after just typing his name into google. Instead of speculating about his qualifications Carrier could have googled him or simply not tried to sow doubts. I think it is fair to point out this evidence of a lack of attention to detail and/or a rushjob. But let’s see, I hope the other posts are more substantial.

  2. Pingback: Remembering |

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