Richard Carrier & Lena Einhorn Discuss Shift in Time

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by Neil Godfrey

Followers of Richard Carrier’s blog will have known of Richard Carrier’s review earlier this month of A Shift in Time by Lena Einhorn:

Lena Einhorn on the Claudian Christ Theory

I am glad I did not mention it here at the time now because the page became more interesting in the following week with an exchange between Carrier and Einhorn. Lena Einhorn points out that she feels  her “hypothesis itself is largely left unexplored” in Carrier’s review.

Lena further draws attention to the apparent irony of her work gaining attention by those who favour the Christ Myth theory since her own argument is that Jesus did exist, only not in the time setting found in the gospels and not as the sort of person portrayed in them either. This raises the problematic question of what we mean by “Jesus” whenever the question of his historicity surfaces. We need to have some idea of how to recognize the person we are looking for and the only guides to help us are the canonical gospels, yet we know the gospels portray a theological construct and not a historical figure! It is inevitable, therefore, that most people who look for the historical Jesus do look for someone resembling the mythical Jesus of the gospel narratives. Lena Einhorn breaks this circularity by identifying reasons to believe that the core events and persons found in the gospels match those of a couple of decades later according to the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus.

Carrier stresses his own conviction that the evidence is best explained without any need to postulate a historical Jesus at all. Einhorn replies:

The problem in comparing a hypothesis such as mine (“Jesus existed, albeit in another time, and this is the evidence”) with one suggesting he never existed, is that the latter is built largely on Evidence of absence. What I do in my book is line up evidence for his presence in the 50s (and for the New Testament as a historical text of the Jewish rebellion, lying hidden underneath a literary/devotional/supernatural narrative). It would have been a somewhat knotty exercise for me to challenge Evidence of presence with Evidence of absence (“what I just showed you never existed”).

She adds further explanation:

No, the time shift theory is not built only on the numerous similarities between Jesus and the messianic leader Josephus calls “the Egyptian” (the large following, the prophecy of the tearing down of the walls of Jerusalem, the betrayal to the authorities, the violent reaction of the authorities, the pivotal events on the Mount of Olives, previous time spent in Egypt, and in the wilderness). It is built on a slew of additional parallels between the Gospels and Acts, on the one hand, and events Josephus places in the 40s and 50s CE:

*The activity of robbers, lestai

*Known crucifixions of Jews

*An insurrection (Mark 15:7; Luke 23:19)

*A messianic leader gathering people on the Jordan river, who is subsequently decapitated by the authorities

*An attack on a man named Stephanos (Stephen) on a road outside Jerusalem

*Two co-reigning high priests

*A conflict or war between Galileans and Samaritans, limited in time

*Galileans on their way to Jerusalem for the festivals being stopped in a Samaritan village (Luke 9:51-56)

*A conflict between the Roman procurator and the Jewish king (Luke 23:12)

*A Jewish king with a prominent and influential wife (Matthew 27:19)

*A procurator slaughtering Galileans (Luke 13:1)

*A procurator and a Jewish king sharing jurisdiction over Galilee (Luke 23:6-7)

*Likely noms de guerre such as “the Zealot”, “Boanerges”, “Bariona”, or “Iscariot”

*The death of Theudas (Acts 5:36)

*A messianic leader who had previously spent time in Egypt, and in the wilderness, who prophesies about tearing down the walls of Jerusalem, and who is defeated by the authorities on the Mount of Olives

The 20s and 30s are – not only according to Tacitus, but also according to Josephus – a period when no robbers, no crucifixions, and no Jewish messianic leaders are reported. To name only a few discrepancies.

But most of it is there in the late 40s and 50s.

One of the illustrations Lena Einhorn posts in her reply to Richard Carrier:

Carrier subsequently responds to Einhorn’s argument that “the coincident character of the patterns” points to specific intent by the authors of the gospels.

I do wish Richard Carrier would lay aside his all-too-often strident tone. Sometimes he sounds as dogmatic and offensive as the less genuinely scholarly academics like Jim West and the late Maurice Casey. They, too, are well-known for calling those they despise incompetent, insane, etc. and for presenting their own arguments and interpretations as if they are incontrovertible facts. I’d rather leave the dogmatism and condescension to the Jim Wests, the Tim O’Neills and co. I am prompted to mention this aspect of Richard Carrier’s post because in fact some of the “facts” he speaks of are open to debate and not accepted by all scholars. The evidence for early first century popular messianism is scant to non-existent, and so is the evidence for political or revolutionary activists we call Zealots. Reading Josephus through the assumptions we have inherited from tradition and the gospels themselves has led us to misinterpret him, as shown in detail by Steve Mason in his newest work on Josephus and the Jewish War.

But back to the question of “Jesus”. As mentioned above, we have the difficulty of knowing how to recognize him. What traits do we look for, exactly? The gospel figure is obviously a theological construct and can scarcely be the basis for a genuine historical person. The tendency has been to try to picture the kind of real-life person who approximates the fabrication. Sometimes, however, the myth is assumed to portray the opposite of the real figure in order to save embarrassment. So cranky R. Joseph Hoffmann writes that Jesus sure didn’t love everybody. Many insist that the real Jesus was originally subordinate to John the Baptist. So whether we imagine Jesus would be recognizable should he be like the gospel myth on the one hand or unlike the gospel myth on the other, it is the gospel myth that is necessarily our starting point.

Lena Einhorn, it seems to me, argues that the origin of the gospel myth can be found in the events surrounding the careers of Theudas and the Egyptian as we learn of them in Josephus.

I myself am still looking into questions of redaction and literary criticisms of the gospels themselves. I suspect we will find pointers to the origins of the myths as we deepen our understanding of the nature of our sources.

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Neil Godfrey

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12 thoughts on “Richard Carrier & Lena Einhorn Discuss Shift in Time

  1. Once again I apologize for my English, I hope you understand.
    That in the Gospel story there are echoes of historical episodes, following the date of the setting of the Gospels, only proves that the Gospels were written after those events.
    I write in my work that the episode on the Mount of Olives is reminiscent of the Egyptian, but not by this Jesus becomes a real character.
    The story told by the Gospels, devoid of any historical and theological reference, is reduced to very little: a man who exchanges his role with another prophet at the winter solstice, remains forty days in “quarantine” in the desert until Candlemas, and then began his good works and then dies, with a series of unlikely events, at the full moon after the spring equinox.
    The story is not about Egyptian, but the sun, however, the Egyptian can have a contribution in the formation of the story. This is what keeps the Freemasons in their histories as reports that the first masonic sect was born from the encounter between Mark and this character, the Egyptian, at the year 46 in Alexandria, Egypt.
    Fantasies? Likely, but the Egyptian there comes like bean, as we say in Italy.

    1. Thank you for the mention.

      Einhorn’s time-shift hypothesis posits something done intentionally. I think the chronological misplacement of the Paulina & Mundus story in the Antiquities as we’ve received it is more likely to have been an accident, maybe a scribal problem.

  2. I like your point about how would we recognize Jesus. As you suggest, Einhorn and Carrier may not totally contradictory. I am thinking of the multitude of Westerns on Amerian television in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Most of them were of fictional heroes, (Bart Maverick-“Maverick,” Matt Dylan-“Gunsmoke,” and Lucas McCann-“The Rifleman,” for example) but a few took actual historical figures from the American West for the lead story characters – Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Davey Crockett, and Jessie James, for examples.
    Most of the stories involving historical characters were just as fictional as the totally made up fictional heroes stories. So a completely fictional hero like Maverick could meet up with essentially the same types of criminals, love interests, mobs, and townspeople as a historical hero character like Wyatt Earp. to make matters more confusing, the fictional characters like Maverick could meet up with historical characters like Wyatt Earp in any particular episode.
    Thus we could have any of four basic combinations – 1) historical hero meets fictional character, 2) historical hero meets historical character, 3)fiction hero meets fictional character, or 4)fictional hero meets historical character. None of the four combinations made the stories any less fictional.

    1. Yes, it seems Einhorn sees the NT-Jesus as the historical ‘Egyptian’ (albeit transferred into the NT narratives & time-shifted). Carrier’s replies to her (in his comments below his blogpost) posits the Egyptian as part of the basis for the NT-Jesus, along with other characters from around the same time-frame from the same texts).

  3. Tom Dykstra has pointed out that if one simply accepts Mark’s Jesus as a parable for Paul, and Marks “scribes and Pharisees” as a parable for those sent by James in Galatians 2:12-13, and Mark’s unnamed “chief priests” as a parable for the pillars of the Jerusalem Church, including James the brother of Jesus, and Judas Iscariot as a parable for the 40 assassins who tried to kill Paul, and Barabbas as a parable for the real Yeshua, then Mark’s Gospel makes much more sense. Of course Mark’s parable has probably been overlaid on to real historical events, but it would be ridiculous to assume that Quisling Sadducean chief priests would ask for the release of an insurrectionist or that a Roman governor would grant such a seditious request. But if one understands Mark’s Gospel as a parable for the Jerusalem Church chief priests, then it all makes sense. So with due respect, after Tom Dykstra’s resurrection of the Gustav Volkmar parable hypothesis, there seems to be little need for Ms. Einhorn’s hypothesis.

    1. Tom Dkystra’s/Volkmar’s hypothesis also involves a shift in time, a shift to Paul’s time in the 50s and early 60s when Paul was in conflict with the Jerusalem church chief priests, and a shift to Mark’s time in ~70AD after Jerusalem and the Jerusalem Church had been destroyed.

  4. Normally I wouldn’t bother with another amateur treatise on this subject….
    … Amateur work is only worse…
    … a common amateur mistake….

    LOL. Says the ‘professional’ who’s never held an academic post, who ekes out $15K p/a as an itinerant lecturer in front of atheist meet-ups at brew pubs. Other things about Dr. Richard Carrier, PhD may be average in size, but his hubris is colossal.

    So in the end, Einhorn’s theory does not achieve probability…
    … the connections with Egypt are already 100% expected …
    … Likewise the felling of the walls, which is 100% expected ….

    Carrier sure has a probability fetish. Anyone who thinks they can ‘prove’ anything in History, only proves they don’t understand History.

    Seriously, why is anyone still giving this arrogant, abrasive hack the time of day?

    1. Do you have anything specific to discuss or are you just a “let’s kick Carrier” troll?

      I have several significant disagreements with Carrier but I address those topics and arguments. I trust you can do the same.

  5. There are “scholars” who indeed do acknowledge Paul’s influence — in particular on the Gospel of Mark. But there is also an argument to be made that the Gospel of Matthew was written as an attempt to undermine Paul’s influence. Then “Luke” rewrites Paul into our present-day catholic figure.

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