List of Posts on the Bart Ehrman-Robert Price Debate

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by Neil Godfrey

I’ll try to update this page regularly . . . . — and do let me know of others I miss.

For the Mythicist Milwaukee sponsored debate video go to MythCon III and Price-Ehrman Debate Round-Up

Since the debate MM has posted the following:

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72 thoughts on “List of Posts on the Bart Ehrman-Robert Price Debate”

  1. I find a lot of the comments on a lot of the posts linked above disappointing.

    The general public seems to get the idea that the evidence for the historical Jesus — we should stop calling him this, by the way. What was more clear than ever in listening to Ehrman at the debate was that what’s at stake for him and his clique of scholars is not a historical Jesus, but a secular Jesus. Listen to him comment near the end of the debate on what is the proper way to defend ‘humanism’. Obviously part of the reason they don’t want to part with a ‘historical’ Jesus is that he’s a victory for secular humanism (in Ehrman’s view). Whatever Jesus was – whatever you decide to infer from the (lack of) historical record, it only adds to the variety. Thirty different secular Jesus constructs means thirty separate secular victories.

    Anyway, judging from internet comments on the above links, while people seem to get that the evidence is ‘thin’, they take this to be the whole mythicist argument. They then immediately set to quibbling how ‘thin’ it is, each person coming to a different subjective decision as to how to regard the ‘thinness’ of the evidence, a different emotional comfort zone with a possible historical Jesus or not. But this is not the mythicist position, despite what people like Ehrman say. It’s just a component.

    To me, the mythicist position has three parts:

    1. Historical record more ‘thin’ than you’d expect for this Jesus being a real somebody. Josephus interpolated. Other accounts in antiquity coming after the fact reporting the beliefs of Christians, not a contemporary knowledge of Jesus.

    2. The Gospels were not constructed to record history. They do not contain signal that over generations became corrupted by noise, historical ‘facts’ about Jesus only later embellished and made bigger. No, they represent a complex and unique genre – like comic books today, to use Price’s comparison – that are better regarded as works of literature. A given canonical gospel is not simply a grab-bag of legends that can be more or less true and requiring the probing discernment of the New Testament scholar to figure out (Ehrman’s view apparently). Each gospel is the outcome of a set of competing sectarian pressures and and evangelistic intentions. The canonical gospels all seem to lean – and this is a generalization open to correction – in the direction of the so-called hero archetype/demigod narrative more appealing to a more Western/Roman audience. In my uninformed view, certainly the synoptics to the extent that they tell a tale more recognizable to Western audiences were meant to also be recruitment tools for Christianity outside the northern Syria/east Turkey milieu of earliest Christianity. – But put all this aside. The argument to genre: the gospels are not trying and failing to record actual events. Period.

    3. Finally, the third point: the earliest Christian documents by conventional dating – the Pauline corpus – does two things: a) spectacularly fails to rely on the historical Jesus, to draw on his teachings and recollections of him, in the way you might expect; and b) instead seems to substitute a different notion of what Jesus was, one that seems more esoteric, resembling the beliefs we think of certain fringe sects of Judaism (i.e. Jesus as archangel, cosmic savior, etc.)

    While my summary statements could easily be made more concise, and in the details are arguable, I think anyone who wants to present the mythicist position to the general public needs to be careful to get across this three-part idea. It’s not simply that the evidence is thin, but also the argument to genre of the texts and that Paul is already aloof to Jesus as actual teacher just one or two generations after he supposedly lived.

    The #2 is exceptionally important – it seems to me – because it’s a corrective to what you find, for example, on Ehrman’s blog:

    “In yesterday’s post I began to show how Jesus is the best attested Palestinian Jew of the first century, if we look only at external evidence (Josephus is better attested because we have his own writings) (and in response to several questions/comments, I’m not including Paul because I’m talking only about Jews from Palestine; he was from the Diaspora). We have four narrative accounts of Jesus’ life and death, written by different people at different times and in different places, based on numerous sources that no longer survive. Jesus was not invented by Mark. He was also known to Matthew, Luke, and John, and to the sources which they used (Q, M, L, and the various sources of John). All of this within the first century.

    “This is not to mention sources from outside the New Testament that know that Jesus was a historical figure – for example 1 Clement and the documents that make up the Didache. Or — need I say it? – every other author of the New Testament (there are sixteen NT authors altogether, so twelve who did not write Gospels), none of whom knew any of the Gospels (except for the author of 1, 2, and 3 John who may have known the fourth Gospel). By my count that’s something like twenty-five authors, not counting the authors of the sources (another six or seven) on which the Gospels were based (and the sources on which the book of Acts was based, which were different again).

    “If there had been one source of Christian antiquity that mentioned a historical Jesus (e.g., Mark) and everyone else was based on what that source had to say, then possibly you could argue that this person made Jesus up and everyone else simply took the ball and ran with it. But …”

    Of course, Ehrman begins as usual by saying that the historical Jesus was the best attested Palestinian Jew named Historical Jesus (TM) in the first century who died and rose from the dead in a purely secular sort of way. And he not only makes certain assumptions as to genre for the NT works (that is, no genre, just garbled histories), he also adduces other, no longer surviving gospels and sources and ***again assumes their genre and intent (garbled history)***.

    This to my weak mind is incredible. In Parvus’ piece on this website (the one on Simon) he cites professional scholarly work that holds that Q was more about John the Baptist than Jesus. In fact, there seems to be a range of views on the overall nature and literary purpose of Q, whatever its linguistic raw material as sayings. And Q is perhaps the least ephemeral of the hypothetical sources. … But here you see even more reason why they hold to a (secular) Jesus: they’re now branching off into all sorts of hypothetical sources and appealing to ‘oral tradition’, and the farther they go in this direction of pure imagination, the even less they’re going to agree to see it all exposed as such.

    1. Yes, we should stop calling the NT-Jesus “the historical Jesus”.

      I thing he should be called the human Jesus, the NT-Jesus, or even something like ‘the potentially human Jesus’.

    2. what’s at stake for [Bart] and his clique of scholars is not a historical Jesus, but a secular Jesus …the proper way to defend ‘humanism’ …a ‘historical’ Jesus is ..a victory for secular humanism (in Ehrman’s view)…
      Thirty different secular Jesus constructs means thirty separate secular victories.

      I think Christians want to use a human-NT-Jesus as a carrot-on-a-stick for agnostics or atheists. Particularly as agnosticism or atheism seems to be affecting various churches.

      But I think they want a human Jesus to be a carrot for ‘Christian humanism’, as a trope for wider Christianity.

      1. I left a comment the other day here that was unusually lucid for me. But it seems to have died a death during the site maintenance.

        I’d just like to say for the ‘record’ that my point is different, and that I’m not simply advocating for a term different than ‘historical Jesus’ in a sort of linguistic power-play, defamiliarizing the main term of the debate in hopes of throwing the other side off-balance.

        Rather, my point is this: at stake for Ehrman and countless others is not so much the historical Jesus, but a secular Jesus. And that rather than the fifty different historical Jesus reconstructions being all expressions of a badly confused effort, these efforts can in fact be interpreted as achieving precisely what it is they set out to achieve – a secular Jesus as cipher. Each new historical Jesus that is put out by some academic press, far from belying the Quest for the Historical Jesus, is yet another triumph in that quest. By sheer cumulative force, the point is brought home that there was a Secular Jesus, and that all you can have is a Secular Jesus. Like going into an ice cream shop and being told, ‘Here. You can have any flavor you want. Dark chocolate or milk chocolate or semi-milk chocolate or Colombian chocolate or spicy chocolate or bittersweet chocolate or…’

        The arguments someone like Errorman advances for a historical Jesus are so weak that you have to wonder what it is he is really defending. Sure, to a considerable extent, the historical Jesus hypothesis is a traditionally well-regarded intellectual construct, and ideas that form the basis for academic production (journal articles, books) and for a social milieu (Bart Errorman and all his friends in the ‘consensus’) are not easily parted from under most circumstances. But I tend to see more in their reluctance to question the historical Jesus than that.

        If you listen to the Price-Ehrman debate, near the end Errorman suggests that if you want to defend/advance humanism, mythicism is not the way to do it. A clear implication is that according to Ehrman you do not publicly advocate views simply because of their soundness, but also for other (ideological) considerations. When you consider that Ehrman and a whole raft of other New Testament scholars are ex-fundamentalists or ex-evangelicals, it is perhaps more likely that instead of having no ideological affiliation, in fact they are in the main committed as Ehrman is to secular humanism. And secular humanism, seen in a historical context, might well be called a Christian heresy.

        So it’s no surprise to my mind at least that all these ex-fundy scholars are still doing apologetics – but secularized apologetics. They retain the apologetic tradition and its basic terrain, redeploying apologetic styles of argument but using secular categories. After all, does anyone think Ehrman is doing criticism in the sense of Higher Criticism? He’s not, but he’s also not doing classic apologetics. He’s doing secular apologetics. It’s simply a way for modern academicians to study the Bible in a secular university setting, to consider themselves savvy and discerning modern scholars as opposed to backward seminarians.

  2. 3. …the earliest Christian documents by conventional dating – the Pauline corpus – does two things: a) spectacularly fails to rely on the historical Jesus, to draw on his teachings and recollections of him, in the way you might expect; and b) instead seems to substitute a different notion of what Jesus was, one that seems more esoteric, resembling the beliefs we think of certain fringe sects of Judaism (i.e. Jesus as archangel, cosmic savior, etc.)

    I think these are pertinent points.

    I think mythicism would do well to use terminology that describes the NT-Jesus as a ‘shift-shaping angel’ or an ‘archangel’. Did you have 1 Thessalonians 4:16 in mind? – “The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a commanding call, with an archangel’s voice.” Revelations 19:11-16 is pretty celestial, too. A lot of the OT has descriptions that suggest shape-shifting angels – angel-man-Lord eg. Zech 1:8-11.

    The description of Earl Doherty, and to a certain extent of Carrier, of a celestial crucifixion in heaven seems to have been a bit far-fetched or hard to contemplate for many people.

      1. They didn’t view outer space as we do now; at the time outer space was considered “the heavens” (just google the “7 heavens” for more about this). It wasn’t considered a radioactive vacuum like we know it now to be, but a physical realm of layer upon layer of a more perfect version of what we have on Earth. This is what Paul speaks of in 2 Corinthian’s 12:2 regarding visiting the third heaven. Also consider Luke-Acts, with Jesus physically ascending up to heaven.

        1. Yes, but who were all these early Christians who believed Jesus never walked the Earth, only was crucified in one of those seven heavens? The Ebionites anticipated an earthly messiah, albeit Joshua-imbued; Simon Magus was accused of claiming he was Christ / Christ inhabited him; the docetists believed Christ either ‘possessed’ a mortal man or appeared seemingly as a man.

          1. Well, Carrier (your favorite guy lol) mentions that the earliest version of the Ascension of Isaiah lacks the concept of Jesus descending all the way to Earth. Haven’t read the scholarship myself so I have no idea if it’s true, but if so the Asc. Isa. would have been constructed by some believing community for some purpose.

            Is this enough information to hypothesize that the earliest version of Christianity was just like that? No idea, but I also have no idea what other evidence might point in that direction.

            1. I find Carrier’s interpretation of Asc. Isa.vvv pedantic, his conclusion bizarre. Given the patchwork nature of Asc. Isa., its layers of heavy redaction, and the likelihood that the origins of its material range from the 2nd Century BC to 2nd AD, it’s sheer (though unsurprising) hubris for Carrier to think he can positively identify the “earliest version.” (His error only compounded by confusing ‘manuscript’ for ‘version’.) It’s also unsurprising that Carrier rejects as ‘later’ the Slavonic and Ethiopic MSS which belie his hypothesis.

              But setting all that aside, we’re still left with the mystery of who exactly these first, Jesus-was-crucified-in-the-firmament Christians were. Carrier, proceeding from his infantile interpretation of Asc. Isa., simply postulates they must then have existed, neglecting the legwork to identify them in time or place.

              1. Matt, you would encourage more constructive engagement with your arguments if you refrain from sneering at Carrier with terms like “infantile interpretation” and “sheer hubris”.

                I have significant differences with Carrier’s arguments, too, but to couch them in personal insults is to follow in the footsteps of the McGraths. No thank you. I don’t want Vridar to be a mirror of McGrath’s or Hurtado’s etc forums.

                When someone sounds like they have made up their mind with attitude then there is no room for serious discussion of the issues.

          2. That is kind of the problem in general, that we don’t have any writings from the earliest Christians, so we don’t know exactly what they believed. But there is precedence with other mystery cults that believed in a celestial setting for the activity of their gods, and if Christianity began as a mystery cult it’s not unexpected that we don’t have records of their true beliefs, not even taking in to account the later suppression and destruction of non-orthodox material by what became the Catholic Church. Likewise, some of the earliest stuff we do have, materials written prior to and uninfluenced by the Gospels, does seem a little cosmic in regards to the nature of Christ (i.e. the heavenly high priest of Hebrews), so I don’t think it’s that far out of an idea.

            Regarding the Marcionites, Tertullian in the 3rd century wrote of one named Apelles and said:

            “The Law and the prophets he repudiates. Christ he neither, like Marcion, affirms to have been in a phantasmal shape, nor yet in substance of a true body, as the Gospel teaches; but says, because He descended from the upper regions, that in the course of His descent He wove together for Himself a starry and airy flesh; and, in His resurrection, restored, in the course of His ascent, to the several individual elements whatever had been borrowed in His descent: and thus—the several parts of His body dispersed—He reinstated in heaven His spirit only. This man denies the resurrection of the flesh.”

            This, to me, appears to be a possible reference to believers in a non-earthly Christ. Unfortunately, like so many of the competing sects of early Christianity, there are no writings from this group so we can’t know exactly what they thought.

            Regarding the Ascension of Isaiah, I do think Carrier has some points that it perhaps represents a lineage to an earlier, non-earthly Jesus, but I also agree with you that it’s difficult to make conclusions that rely upon what one speculates to have appeared in the earliest version. [This is actually the same problem I find with Ehrmann reading oral sources into the Gospels, or with those who argue that they can identify the “original” TF in Josephus — just because one wants something to be in the evidence because it makes his or her argument easier doesn’t mean it actually counts as evidence if there’s nothing to back it up independently.] There is evidence that shows the Asc. Isa. to have been heavily redacted, and there does seem to be foreshadowing in the early part of the story of Jesus having a later showdown with demons, and where this showdown would have appeared is one of the areas that has been heavily edited. But, again, we can’t go off of what we don’t have and make it say something it doesn’t. It is an interesting document, though, in that it tells at least a partially cosmic/heavenly story of Jesus. It may or may not represent the beliefs of a purely cosmic Jesus cult, but it perhaps may represent an attempt to bridge competing beliefs and/or gospels that developed regarding whether Jesus’ activities were cosmic or terrestrial.

            I think it’s also plausible that the earliest Christians were initially informed of the Christ through scripture and then developed their own theories regarding his nature — some may have believed in a heavenly version while others interpreted the scripture to have referenced earthly events, which were eventually dramatized in the Gospel of Mark and then later gospels.

        2. Yes, I know that and understand that very well. But when Richard Carrier says “he was crucified in outer space,” whoever he’s debating can use that line to make him look like an idiot, using the facts we know now about both outer space and the beliefs concerning the heavens back then.

  3. Well I just found this snippet on the latest of Bart Ehrman’s posts (Gospel Evidence that Jesus Existed): someone asked him, “do you think very highly of Richard Carrier as a historian? I ask because I’ve listened to his arguments against the resurrection, and they sound pretty compelling….”

    Bart replied, “I think for Richard Carrier to establish a reputation as a good historian would require him to produce scholarship in the field of ancient history, publishing books with major university presses and articles in major refereed journals, instead of devoting himself entirely to showing that Jesus never existed.”

    Major presses and major journals. It’s all about ad authoritatem with this guy Ehrman.

    PS For the record, Richard Carrier does not devote himself entirely to proving that Jesus never existed.

  4. Looks like one of my comments (left above) has disappeared. Any way to determine whether this is a glitch with the site upgrade and/or recover it? Thanks.

  5. https://ehrmanblog.org/james-the-brother-of-the-lord/

    “I pointed out that among the things Paul says, none is more specifically relevant than the fact that he indicates that he was personally acquainted with Jesus’ own brother James (along with Jesus’ disciples Peter and John).”

    Paul was acquainted with Jesus’ own brother James. And met his disciples. See? Checkmate Mythicists!

    If you repeat it enough times, and if you are an accredited scholar, it is bound to be true.

    1. I listened to this conversation and was pleased that Carrier was slightly less condescending toward Price than in his blog post where he suggested that Price was in “failing health” and a novice when it comes to debating (despite Price’s numerous debates). I’ve heard from people who were at the conference and saw the debate in person that Carrier was chomping at the bit to be on stage, and that at the after party he held forth with one group, Ehrman with another, both with backs turned to each other. Carrier clearly wants to be the lead figure of the mythicist ‘movement’.

      Nevertheless, you sort of see his weaknesses in this conversation – not surprisingly, for example, around the Bayes Theorem hobby horse. He routinely overstates the benefit of Bayesian demonstrations in historical research. Witness his rejoinder to Ehrman: Ehrman claimed that an apologist used Bayes Theorem to demonstrate with a high probability that the resurrection took place. Carrier’s response in the conversation above was that this was an ‘abuse’ of Bayes. But was it? I’d like to see whether it was an abuse or not. I suspect, and I’m not alone in this, that it was less an abuse than an application of Bayes with which Carrier does not agree. As I’ve commented here before, I don’t see using Bayes as significantly different than using formal logic. A great variety of arguments can be clarified by using the apparatus of formal logic to distill them down, to make them rigorous, etc., with the effect that your peers can ‘check your work’ (just like a math teacher). Sure, there’s a benefit in that if you are simultaneously able to make an argument in everyday language and in the more rigorous (and also more limited) language of symbolic logic, there’s less room for you to make errors. But just as there’s a distinction between valid and sound arguments in logic, I don’t see the widespread use of Bayes producing historical scholarship that is greatly more sound.

      One line of argument that Carrier frequently resorts to which gives me real ball-ache is his assertion that the human mind uses probability all the time. He pulled this out to criticize Ehrman for being self-contradictory – for supposedly pooh-poohing Bayes while still talking up probability in research and interpretation. But the human mind is not a digital computer performing calculations using a symbolic language (e.g. mathematics). One would do better to draw a distinction between likelihood and probability. The human mind deals in likelihoods, sure, but this is an analog technology, so to speak, not a digital one. That’s why for the human mind there is no effective difference between 39% and 40% probability, for example. Depending on the context, a given probability can be interpreted (semantically) a wide variety of ways. This is why Carrier’s conclusion that in the best case scenario (for historicists) there’s a 30% chance that there was a historical Jesus makes everybody laugh out loud. Because in a very obvious and important way, this is a meaningless result.

      Probability is an analogy for what the brain does. There is no computer inside the brain number-crunching probabilities. But Carrier overstates it as part of his advocacy for Bayes.

      As for the rest of the conversation, I think K. Whitaker was the one with the questions about Paul. I find those questions refreshing. I’m still excited and intrigued by the Parvus material on this site on the Simonian origins of Mark. I find that case very compelling, and in general the notion that Simon Magus = Paul. If I had another lifetime to devote to it, I’d love to consider what a reconstruction of urMark would look like along these lines, as well as whether there are any implications for the synoptic problem in the passage from UrMark to GMark, and so on. Historical Paul studies will probably produce the next new material of real interest, and it sounds like Carrier will be missing the boat on this one.

      1. I have yet to listen to the post-debate special but for now can toss in a comment about Bart’s reference to Bayes….

        It’s the “same old” truism about garbage in-garbage out. The study Ehrman was referring to assumed and factored in to Bayes the existence of a Christian God and it went downhill from there. I will post about it some time. Ehrman’s objection was about as profound as saying syllogisms are junk because he saw one being used to prove that any animal with two legs was a duck.

        Bayes is indeed nothing more than the application of sound reasoning. At our best we use Bayes without even knowing our processes have been formalized by mathematicians.

        1. Far be it from me to side with Ehrman, but – and this issue debated somewhat in the conversation linked above – his point may not be that syllogisms are ‘junk’, but that they do not provide a unique avenue into the truth, a sort of royal golden road. There I agree with him, and the parallel with syllogisms, formal logic, etc., is one I’ve pointed to in previous comments. It is possible to overstate the benefit of using Bayes, and it seems to me that Carrier overstates it.

          Part of the reason for that impression has to do with your second point – with which I strongly disagree – thus my comment above. We do not ‘use’ Bayes in everyday thinking. Bayesian demonstrations may mimic the behavior of our brains, certain processes our brains undertake. But Bayesian formalisms are not ‘in’ the brain any more than any given symbolic or mathematical language comes pre-programmed. There is no CPU in the human brain, no digital computer inside able to act as a Turing machine.

          I can’t really restate my whole comment above – so you may find it worth reading – but the basic distinction between sound and valid reasoning I think is apposite. It’s possible to do a valid application of Bayes in historical research (probably the resurrection argument did this) that is nonetheless not sound. Just as it is possible (to use your example) to show using valid logic that any animal with two legs is a duck. Doesn’t mean that logic is useless or that Bayes is useless. Just that a sudden widespread use of Bayes in NT research, for example, isn’t going to revolutionize the field by generating amazing new insights.

          1. I lose my keys: I stop to consider all the relevant background knowledge relevant to whey they might be; some places have higher probabilities than others of being the more likely spot so I check them first; when I find they do not yield the keys I update my background information with the new information that they are not in certain spots I once thought would be likely, etc ….. and then by that process I finally discover them!

            That’s all Bayes is doing — formalizing in numbers, adding precision if you like, to that sort of everyday reasoning.

            1. Except in even that example the Bayes-as-everyday-reasoning idea breaks down. Looking for my keys, I may have a ‘hunch’ where they are, some sort of muscle memory, maybe of tossing them somewhere. Perhaps I have a half-perceived visual flash of where they might be, a composition of a scene of a few pieces of furniture, etc. Now are these cognitive mirages represented as ‘probabilities’ in the brain? I think not. But this is the issue, as far as I’m concerned, and to put it in the most basic terms: saying the brain thinks in terms of ‘probabilities’ is to mistake the map for the territory. Probability is a mathematical construct requiring a symbolic-mathematical apparatus. Two hundred or five hundred years from now if our mathematics were to change in dramatic ways presently impossible for us to imagine, or if Bayes in particular were to be superseded by something very different, it’ll sound silly for us to have said that the brain thinks in Bayesian terms. To me this is obvious.

              Now, on the other side of things, the ‘garbage in, garbage out’ problem does have a bearing on the use of Bayes in the context of all this. To continue with your example, say I believe that my house is haunted by ghosts. And say that because of past experiences – or maybe simply because my grandmother told me of this sort of thing happening at her little cottage – I think there is a decent likelihood that my missing keys are in the microwave. Because ghosts often put them in the microwave. Now whether or not they ultimately are in the microwave for me to find, the fact is, if I stop and write a note with a Bayesian description of my reasoning at that moment, it’s not likely to be accepted by those who don’t believe in ghosts. But at the same time, as long as I am using Bayes rigorously and all my calculations are correct, then what I’m doing is valid. It may not be sound, but it follows the rules. Now, Carrier might call this an ‘abuse’ of Bayes. But it wouldn’t be as long as I am applying the rules properly and performing the calculations correctly.

              So here again I can only underline my own view that Carrier’s overstating the utility of Bayes in historical research. For one, the brain does not do Bayesian computation of probabilities: it behaves in ways that by analogy can be modeled using Bayes. Second, the use of Bayes does not automatically put an end to wild interpretations and arguments that aren’t sound: it simply provides a quicker, efficient shorthand for peers to ‘check their work’, to arrive at their own level of agreement based on values assigned, etc.

              1. A hunch is nothing more than a layman’s hypothesis. That is what is being tested.

                Probability does not require a symbolic mathematical representation — it is the basic tool of our reasoning every time we have a hunch, or assess a risk. Before overtaking another car on the road I assess all the factors I think are relevant and act when I think I have a near certain probability of success, but if I am in a frantic hurry for some reason or am young and stupidly showing off with my peers I am prepared to act on a lesser probability of success.

                What are my chances of getting caught in a storm if decide to walk to the shops right now while the dark clouds are building? I decide I can just make it (more probably than not) — it’s not certain but it’s worth the risk. That can be expressed symbolically as saying I believe I have 60-40 chance of making it without getting wet but the numbers are not necessary — that’s probabilistic thinking even without the numbers.

                As for cognitive function and how it might work, there’s a fascinating post by Scott Alexander. See http://vridar.org/2016/09/12/bayes-schizophrenia-autism-and-brain-chemistry/

              2. I read your sketch argument, I’ve read Dr Carrier’s two books. You don’t appear to be making any arguments or coming to any conclusions that can be separated with a cigarette paper. Your differences seem to be without distinctions. I find it ironic a lot of people seem to be rehearsing the kind of spatting that went on in fourth/fifth century Christianity that amounted to arguments about bugger all of any consequence.

  6. Has someone already suspected (or is only me) that Ehrman wrote rapidly his anti-mythicist book, just before the print of Carrier’s OHJ, so as to avoid an answer to the Carrier’s arguments in OHJ ?

    Maybe this may explain his gross errors in DJE (for example, he promises to treat the mention of James, ”brother of Jesus called Christ”, in Josephus, but then he forgets to do so).

    1. I doubt it, and the reason is that there is evidence in DJE that Ehrman did not even read attentively the books he says he had before him, those by Doherty and Salm, for example. And though he said he had read Zindler and co’s response to DJE “twice”, he has given no evidence of having done so, but rather the things he has said indicate that he did not even read it once.

      I don’t believe Ehrman is particularly bothered by anything Carrier or anyone else might write in favour of a mythicist position.

        1. Ehrman writes:

          I have been asked several times by several people to respond to his response, but I know where that will go – it will take a response twice as long as his to show why his views are problematic, he will reply with a reply that is four times as long to show I don’t know what I’m talking about, I will respond with a response twice as long as that to show that I do, he will rejoin with ….

          So I’m not going to do that. I’m simply going to respond to this one key point.

          That sounds to me the same response he gave to Frank Zindler. He has no intention of bothering with the arguments of mythicists, Carrier’s arguments included. Reading them is so tiresome. He singles out just one point — his hobby horse, I presume — and thinks that is all that is needed to rebut the mythicists.

  7. From Sharon McGrayne’s The Theory That Would Not Die, pp. 6-8

    Crystallizing the essence of the inverse probability problem in his mind, Bayes decided that his goal was to learn the approximate probability of a future event he knew nothing about except its past, that is, the number of times it had occurred or failed to occur. To quantify the problem, he needed a number, and sometime between 1746 and 1749 he hit on an ingenious solution. As a starting point he would simply invent a number—he called it a guess—and refine it later as he gathered more information.

    Next, he devised a thought experiment, a 1700s version of a computer simulation. Stripping the problem to its basics, Bayes imagined a square table so level that a ball thrown on it would have the same chance of landing on one spot as on any other. Subsequent generations would call his construction a billiard table, but as a Dissenting minister Bayes would have disapproved of such games, and his experiment did not involve balls bouncing off table edges or colliding with one another. As he envisioned it, a ball rolled randomly on the table could stop with equal probability anywhere.

    We can imagine him sitting with his back to the table so he cannot see anything on it. On a piece of paper he draws a square to represent the surface of the table. He begins by having an associate toss an imaginary cue ball onto the pretend tabletop. Because his back is turned, Bayes does not know where the cue ball has landed.

    Next, we picture him asking his colleague to throw a second ball onto the table and report whether it landed to the right or left of the cue ball. If to the left, Bayes realizes that the cue ball is more likely to sit toward the right side of the table. Again Bayes’ friend throws the ball and reports only whether it lands to the right or left of the cue ball. If to the right, Bayes realizes that the cue can’t be on the far right-hand edge of the table.

    He asks his colleague to make throw after throw after throw; gamblers and mathematicians already knew that the more times they tossed a coin, the more trustworthy their conclusions would be. What Bayes discovered is that, as more and more balls were thrown, each new piece of information made his imaginary cue ball wobble back and forth within a more limited area.

    As an extreme case, if all the subsequent tosses fell to the right of the first ball, Bayes would have to conclude that it probably sat on the far left-hand margin of his table. By contrast, if all the tosses landed to the left of the first ball, it probably sat on the far right. Eventually, given enough tosses of the ball, Bayes could narrow the range of places where the cue ball was apt to be.

    Bayes’ genius was to take the idea of narrowing down the range of positions for the cue ball and—based on this meager information—infer that it had landed somewhere between two bounds. This approach could not produce a right answer. Bayes could never know precisely where the cue ball landed, but he could tell with increasing confidence that it was most probably within a particular range. Bayes’ simple, limited system thus moved from observations about the world back to their probable origin or cause. Using his knowledge of the present (the left and right positions of the tossed balls), Bayes had figured out how to say something about the past (the position of the first ball). He could even judge how confident he could be about his conclusion.

    Conceptually, Bayes’ system was simple. We modify our opinions with objective information: Initial Beliefs (our guess where the cue ball landed) + Recent Objective Data (whether the most recent ball landed to the left or right of our original guess) = A New and Improved Belief. Eventually, names were assigned to each part of his method: Prior for the probability of the initial belief; Likelihood for the probability of other hypotheses with objective new data; and Posterior for the probability of the newly revised belief. Each time the system is recalculated, the posterior becomes the prior of the new iteration. It was an evolving system, which each new bit of information pushed closer and closer to certitude. In short:

    Prior times likelihood is proportional to the posterior.

    1. Hi, Neil –

      Well, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t care to debate the point further since it doesn’t appear to be getting anywhere. Probability is a symbolic-mathematical construct whether one likes it or not. It is arrived at through mathematical rules of combination and is meaningful only within a system of mathematical descriptions. There is a basic difference between a representation and what is being represented, between a signifier and a signified. To assume that because Bayesian calculations can reasonably model certain mental processes that this is therefore what is happening in the brain is to conflate the representation and what is represented.

      As to your comment above, that something can be expressed mathematically does not mean it exists as a mathematical expression. The example of the storm you gave: because you can express to yourself a 60-40 chance of rain does not mean your brain calculates this sort of probability as part of its analog technology wetware, nor does it mean that a 60-40 chance is meaningfully different than a 61-39 chance though mathematically the difference is undeniable. There is *no* probabilistic thinking without numbers. Just something we simulate using the mathematical construct known as probability. Cheers.

      1. R Pence, I’ve no idea how late you come to this party but I have been seeing more or less your rebuttal for several years. It is apparent you are never going to ‘get’ it but why did you think you saying what you are saying here was going to make a ha’porth of when most of us here have read more or less the same before and not (if not convinced already) been convinced?

  8. So Ehrman in a comment:

    Yes, Paul does think believers are all brothers, of one another and of Jesus. But that’s true of ALL believers, not just James. It’s true of Cephas, e.g., as well. So if Paul calls James the brother of Jesus precisely to differentiate him from Cephas, then it doesn’t make any sense. They were *both* brothers of Jesus in that sense. Only if he means brother in a literal sense in this verse does what he say make sense.

    If Paul calls James the brother of Jesus precisely to differentiate him from Cephas, then he can convince the Galatians that every one of them, just like James, just as Paul, just as Cephas – being all ”brothers of the Lord” – , could witness that Paul had known only one APOSTLE: the founder of the cult, Cephas.

    But I see that Ehrman thinks that even to have seen only the APOSTLE Peter is a total defeat for Paul’s claim of independence (and not instead part of the his apology to persuade the Galatians).

    But Peter is not only a mere APOSTLE. He is also the founder of the cult. Therefore even the APOSTLE Paul had to show a bit of respect with him, at least in a first moment.

    1. I think it is interesting that Bart Ehrman chooses in his posts following up the debate with Price to turn to one of Carrier’s points, and this after him stressing to all that he has no intention of debating Carrier. I would have more respect for Ehrman’s integrity if he chose instead in his follow up to actually address the specific arguments Price offered on the question of this verse. Chopping and changing the way he does looks like he is deliberately avoiding arguments he does not like and going for any opportunity to repeat what he has already written in DJE.

    2. ——Yes, Paul does think believers are all brothers, of one another and of Jesus. But that’s true of ALL believers, not just James. It’s true of Cephas, e.g., as well. So if Paul calls James the brother of Jesus precisely to differentiate him from Cephas, then it doesn’t make any sense. They were *both* brothers of Jesus in that sense. Only if he means brother in a literal sense in this verse does what he say make sense.——

      Ehrman is completely avoiding Carrier’s actual argument here, though. Carrier apparently thinks there were at least three levels of Christian: Apostles (who had “seen” the Lord), Brothers (baptized believers), and new initiates who hadn’t yet been baptized. If i remember correctly, Carrier is claiming that Paul wants you to know he met a guy named James, but he was just a “Brother of the Lord” and not the Apostle James with the same name.

      “Other than the Apostles, I saw only James, Brother of the Lord” is Carrier’s preferred translation of the passage.

      Yes, Paul wants to differentiate James from Cephas, not because James was Jesus’ biological brother and Cephas wasn’t, but because Cephas was an apostle and not merely a brother, and the James person that Paul also met was a “brother”, but not an apostle.

    3. Has Ehrman never in his life heard Christians say things like , ‘Peter was there and I also met other church leaders and then later I met brother James’?

      According to Ehrman, this would mean that James was a brother in a special way that Peter wasn’t.

      Which is simply not how people talk.

      Has Ehrman heard people talking?

    4. Is Ehrman actually a Professor?

      I applied Bart’s logic to the following passage from :-https://bible.org/article/gospel-according-bart

      ‘Unfortunately, Ehrman does not really spend much time wrestling with it directly.
      While he was in the master’s program, he took a course on Mark’s Gospel from Professor Cullen Story.’

      We all know that if an author refers to two people, and only gives one of them a title, then he is using that title to distinguish the two people. I call this ‘Ehrman’s Rule’ after its inventor.

      Now the author refers to Ehrman, but doesn’t call him a Professor, but *does* call Cullen a Professor.

      Clearly, the author does not regard Ehrman as having the title that Cullen has. In this case, Professor, but it could easily be ‘Brother of the Lord’.

      So Ehrman can’t be a Professor, because the author is careful to distinguish him from a real Professor.

      This is a simple application of ‘Ehrman’s Rule’

    5. Well, whoever wrote Mark 6:3 was aware of a tradition that Jesus had blood brothers named James and Simon (-Peter/Cephas?). And, given how the early church fathers scurried frantically about to insist that these were actually half-brothers or cousins, the idea that Jesus had blood brothers must have been current and widespread. Whatever the explanation, the issue cannot be simply swept under the rug.

    1. Finally an exchange of sorts, on the main issue – the brother of the Lord passage!

      Now, if Ehrman would respond to Carrier’s claim that Ehrman has not addressed the peer reviewed literature on this very thing, we would have forward progress. But I wouldn’t hold my breath…

      If Ehrman were to respond to Carrier’s 70 words, it would take him another 140 words. To which Carrier would reply with 280 (Mythicists are jobless)… You get where I am going with this? 😛

      1. How nice that Carrier, who won’t let you comment unless you pay him money, and Ehrman, who won’t let you comment or even read unless you pay him money, are going at it mano-a-mano. The rest of us plebs can stand on the sideline cheering with pom-poms

    1. René is a horse! Like Vridar, Mythicistpapers.com consistently churns out far more quality and thought-provoking content in comparison to the s.g. ‘scholarly’ sources.

      I especially appreciate Salm’s posting of the valuable works of earlier researchers, not to mention his lack of aversion to explore innovative concepts and theses.

  9. It looks like the comments on Ehrman’s blogs are free to read. There he writes:

    “Yeah, that’s pretty funny. I wasn’t familiar with this argument, and I wondered why he indicated that it had been shown in “peer reviewed literature.” That’s not something a scholar ever says. The only published work any scholar would ever reference is peer reviewed. So why point that out? I also didn’t know what OHJ was — I thought maybe it was a reference to an obscure academic journal. No, it refers to On the Historicity of Jesus. That’s a book. It was written by … Carrier! In other words, to support his claim he is referencing himself (and only himself).”

    And again

    By “peer reviewed” he means the book that he himself wrote. In other words, his authority is … himself!

    Wow. Just WOW!

    1. Carrier wrote this –

      I here cite Trudinger’s peer reviewed article demonstrating that the grammatical construction Paul uses in Gal. 1:19 is comparative. In other words, “Other than the apostles I saw no one, except James the Lord’s brother.” Thus, the construction Paul is using says James is not an Apostle. And both Trudinger and Hans Dieter Betz (who wrote the Fortress Press commentary on Galatians) cite a number of peer reviewed experts who concur (OHJ, p. 590, n. 100). There were of course Jameses who were Apostles. So Paul chose this construction to make clear he didn’t mean one of them (or a biological brother of Cephas, for that matter). He meant a regular “Brother of the Lord,” an ordinary non-apostolic Christian. But a Christian all the same—which was important for Paul to mention, since he had to list every Christian he met on that visit, lest he be accused of concealing his contacts with anyone who knew the gospel at that time.

      Ironically, in his attempt to answer Trudinger, George Howard, the only person to answer Trudinger in the peer reviewed literature (OHJ, p. 590, n. 101), observed that the examples Trudinger referenced still involve “a comparison between persons or objects of the same class of things,” such as new friends and old friends belonging to the general class of friends, and indestructible elements and destructible elements belonging to the general class of elements. But that actually means Cephas and James belong to the same class (Brothers of the Lord, since Jesus is “the firstborn of many brethren…”), which entails the distinction is between Apostolic and non-Apostolic Brothers of the Lord, just as Trudinger’s examples show a contrast being made between destructible and indestructible elements and old and new friends. Howard’s objection thus actually confirms the very reading I’m pointing to. It thus does not in fact argue against Trudinger at all —who would agree both Cephas and this James belonged to the same class of things: Christians. Howard’s only other objection was to suggest Paul could have said James was not an Apostle by an even more convoluted sentence; when Occam’s Razor entails the reverse, that Paul would have said such a thing, had he intended to say such a thing, in a much simpler way, not a more complex one—after all, it would be far easier to just say “I met two apostles.” Exactly as Trudinger observes. http://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/11516

      And provided the references in a later comment (below his blog-post)-

      L. Paul Trudinger, ‘[Heteron de tōn apostolōn ouk eidon, ei mē iakōbon]: A Note on Galatians I 19’, Novum Testamentum 17 (July 1975), pp. 200-202.

      George Howard, ‘Was James an Apostle? A Reflection on a New Proposal for Gal. I 19’, Novum Testamentum 19 (January 1977), pp. 63-64.

      Hans Dieter Betz, Galatians: A Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Churches in Galatia (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1979), p. 78.


    2. It’s true that Carrier seems obsessed with the term “peer-reviewed”, and people can argue about what it really means, how that matters, or whether Carrier overstates it when referring to his own work.

      But again, Ehrman kind of misses the point. When historicists constantly refer to mythicist claims as fringe internet wackery, Carrier’s point seems to be, “No, this particular stuff you should read and take seriously, but it’s obvious you’ve never heard of it.”

      To be fair to Carrier, when he’s referencing to his own work in a blog post, it’s clear to me he’s saying “for more details of my argument on this, see here”, which I think is a totally fair thing to do.

      When Ehrman flat-out admits he “wasn’t familiar” with the Trudinger argument Carrier is referencing about the grammatical construction of Gal. 1:19, he’s basically confirming Carrier’s complaint that Ehrman can’t be bothered even becoming familiar with the arguments of his opponents in this area.

      1. These articles aren’t by opponents of Ehrman’s either – they’re just reflections or commentaries on a passage independent of these present arguments.

        1. And the references are from the mid-to-late 1970s, which tells me that Biblical “scholarship” only notices the correct grammatical construction as Richard Carrier notes, then kept on repeating and reinforcing their own traditional biases of what this Koine Greek phrase means.

          Of course, it tells us nothing whether “the brother of the Lord” meant physical brother, a member of some “order”, noted already for his peculiar Torah-abiding poety and righteousness, or was just a baptised Christian.

        2. As they’re mostly journal articles, Ed-M, I’d say most Biblical ‘scholars’ probably aren’t aware of them, and those that are aware of them conveniently ignore them, or have to avoid publicizing them to not make waves.

          I think Carrier & the authors/scholars he’s cited give a good account on the likely meaning of Ga1:19 –

          “..the grammatical construction Paul uses in Gal. 1:19 is comparative. In other words, “Other than the apostles I saw no one, except James the Lord’s brother.” Thus, the construction Paul is using says James is not an Apostle. And both Trudinger and Hans Dieter Betz (who wrote the Fortress Press commentary on Galatians) cite a number of peer reviewed experts who concur (OHJ, p. 590, n. 100). There were of course Jameses who were Apostles. So Paul chose this construction to make clear he didn’t mean one of them (or a biological brother of Cephas, for that matter). He meant a regular “Brother of the Lord,” an ordinary non-apostolic Christian

          1. I think those articles do affirm James as an ordinary non-apostolic Christian, rather than as a biological brother of Jesus, but they don’t confirm it.

            The Gospel of Mark 6:3 and the Gospel of Matthew 13:55-56 state that James, Joses (or Joseph), Judas, and Simon, were the brothers of Jesus, the son of Mary – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brothers_of_Jesus#Jesus.27s_brothers_and_sisters

            But, Roman Catholic tradition generally holds that James the brother of Jesus is identified as the son of Alphaeus – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James,_brother_of_Jesus – yet

            “Catholics and Orthodox, as well as some Anglicans and Lutherans, believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary; they teach that James, along with others named in the New Testament as “brothers” (Greek: ἀδελφοὶ, translit. adelphoi, lit. ‘brothers’) of Jesus, were not the biological children of Mary, but were possibly cousins of Jesus or step-brothers from a previous marriage of Joseph.”

            “The New Testament describes James, Joseph (Joses), Judas (Jude) and Simon as brothers of Jesus (Greek: ἀδελφοὶ, translit. adelphoi, lit. ‘brothers’)” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brothers_of_Jesus

      2. I’ve been disappointed with Ehrman’s arguments in recent years for this very reason. He appears to be resting upon his laurels and is even lazy with respect to bringing himself up to date with scholarship. Even his work on memory theory showed an astonishing failure to engage with the main theorists in the field, even indicating he was not aware of some of the main names.

  10. I have never posted here before, but was struck today by a paragraph from Tobias Stone on medium.com. He is not referring to religion, but historical research generally. He says:

    “My background is archaeology, so also history and anthropology. It leads me to look at big historical patterns. My theory is that most peoples’ perspective of history is limited to the experience communicated by their parents and grandparents, so 50–100 years. To go beyond that you have to read, study, and learn to untangle the propaganda that is inevitable in all telling of history. In a nutshell, at university I would fail a paper if I didn’t compare at least two, if not three opposing views on a topic. Taking one telling of events as gospel doesn’t wash in the comparative analytical method of research that forms the core of British academia. (I can’t speak for other systems, but they’re definitely not all alike in this way).”

  11. Well Ehrman’s got a new post up – What if the Mythicists Were Right?

    “The answer, if I’m being as honest as I can, is no. If the Mythicist position were true, and there never was a historical Jesus, it wouldn’t affect me personally in any radical way. I would still have my day job. And the nature of my research would not be very different at all. That’s because of the historical importance of Christianity, independent of what you think about the historical Jesus.

    “There are still two billion people in the world who call themselves Christian. They need (in my opinion) to know where their religion came from. In my view, it ultimately goes back to a historical figure Jesus, a Jewish apocalyptic prophet from Galilee who proclaimed that God was soon to intervene in history to overthrow the forces of evil to set up a good kingdom on earth. In the Mythicist view, it goes back to a celestial being who never lived on earth, a heavenly cosmic Christ worshiped as a sun God who was crucified by demons in outer space and was later transformed into a human being by imaginative believers (not in reality). If the Mythicist view were right, that is what I would be teaching. It would still be important to teach it (and obviously interesting!) given the importance of Christianity in our world, as the planet’s largest religion.

    … …

    “I know that many Mythicists wish that I would spend my entire career obsessing over whether Jesus existed or not (they keep wanting me to do debates, and respond to criticisms, and write more about it!).”

    If it’s that unimportant to him, then why is he devoting even this much time to it? Let us let him go on to other things and find some other way to break into the academy — it won’t be through the seminaries, schools of divinity and the departments of religion, but rather the history and mythology departments of the various universities.

    And it may turn out that neither side is right.

    1. “If the Mythicist position were true, and there never was a historical Jesus, it wouldn’t affect me personally in any radical way. I would still have my day job. And the nature of my research would not be very different at all.”

      Hmm, Ehrman frames this slightly differently from how I have heard Mythicists frame it.

      If there were no historical Jesus, a basic assumption behind much of Ehrman’s research would become invalid. And that is a problem.

      Would he still have a job? Undoubtedly, yes.

    2. I found Ehrman’s assertion that if the mythicists turned out to be right that it would make little difference to him personally. How, then, does he justify his persistent accusations that mythicists are only interested in some personal agenda to attack Christianity? He cannot imagine that the question of historicity or mythicism is neither here nor there to anyone else except himself? He cannot imagine mythicists arguing a case out of genuine intellectual integrity?

      1. Neil and Manoj —

        Yes, it does appear to me that he was being dishonest with his readership, come to think of it, the way he carries on so.

        And yet he rejects the Talipot Garden Tomb as the place that received the body/bones of the historical Jesus because then Christianity would be completely undermined, and Bart loses HIS historical Jesus to boot. And besides, he would have to concede that Jacobovici (Naked Archaeologist) and James Tabor (UNC-Charlotte) are basically correct in their analysis. Neither of these are at Prestigious Universities (TM) and Simcha has no PhD, to boot. And I’m sure Ehrman, who heads the religion dept at UNC-Chapel Hill, looks down at UNC-Charlotte as inferior and Tabor’s reasoning on this as crank.

        I dunno, but I think he should go back to being a Christian.

  12. In saying ‘the Mythicist view’

    goes back to a celestial being who never lived on earth, a heavenly cosmic Christ, worshiped as a sun God, who was crucified by demons in outer space, and was later transformed into a human being by imaginative believers (not in reality).

    Bart applies some characteristics that many Mythicists are likely to have issues with -eg. ‘sun God’, ‘crucified by demons in out space’, etc.

    ‘benholman’, November 6, 2016, asked –

    “Doesn’t the mythicist view argue that the celestial being Jesus *also* took on human flesh, only he did this in the firmament/outer space instead of on earth? So if the first Christians believed this, wouldn’t they still believe in a *historical* Jesus haha, only it was a historical angel who became a man in demon realms, not a man with an earthly ministry who was killed in Jerusalem?”

    Bart replied: “I’m not sure there’s a single mythicist view of the matter. Maybe someone can correct me!

    Tony November 6, 2016, makes an interesting point –

    “Ironically, according to the Mythicist model, current Christian beliefs are virtually identical to those of the earliest Jesus followers. Then, as now, the son of God is in heaven and is expected to ‘clean house’ on earth in the future. Paul thought this was imminent, and many Evangelicals pray for the same.”

    1. And it’s the mythicist view that gets around the difficult problem of Something Needing to Happen. Bart Ehrman always says the earliest Xians did NOT invent a crucified and resurrected messiah; in other words , “Something happened.”

      The fact of the matter is, it’s easier to invent a celestial crucified messiah than actually invent one from the memory of a dear leader who got his @$$ nailed by the Romans, and convince your hearers likewise.

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