Richard Carrier on the Ehrman-Price Debate

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by Neil Godfrey

Richard Carrier has posted his response to the Mythicist Milwaukee sponsored debate between Bart Ehrman and Robert Price on the question of Jesus’ existence. See The Ehrman-Price Debate.

After examining each of the arguments made Carrier concludes:

There are two major takeaways from all this.

First, the biggest loss in this debate was that nothing new got said. Because Price never challenged hardly anything Ehrman asserted. So by the end of the debate Ehrman said everything I already expected him to (because it was the same stuff he always says), and nothing else. This was an opportunity for Price to push Ehrman on any of those standard arguments that Ehrman has been repeating for years (just like William Lane Craig, Ehrman only has the same arguments every time, so it’s super easy to prep for). He would then have gotten Ehrman to elaborate or defend those assertions, which he has consistently avoided doing for years—and now, thanks to Price, he still hasn’t done. So we got no new arguments to evaluate, thus making no progress in the overall history of this debate. We still don’t know why Ehrman thinks his claims and fallacies are valid. And the reason we got nowhere, is that Price just didn’t debate Ehrman. Maybe because Price lacks formal skill at debate or didn’t realize what was happening on stage. He seems to have thought this was just a casual conversation, and not a fact-finding mission. “Why do you believe that, Dr. Ehrman?” is a question that just never got asked, of any claim Ehrman made.

Second, why is Ehrman ignoring the peer reviewed literature in his own field? Why will he not address that, the case for mythicism actually vetted by Ehrman’s own peers, and instead debates Robert Price, whose arguments for mythicism have never passed peer review, many of which are even outright strange? This is a really weird thing to see happen in a supposedly professional academic field. If in any other field a consensus was challenged in its own peer reviewed literature, experts would analyze and respond to it in the peered reviewed literature, and there either publish flaws in it sufficient to warrant not changing the consensus, or they’d change the consensus. But here, everyone in the field is ignoring the peer reviewed challenges to the consensus in their own field (even Craig Evans didn’t read my book when he debated it with me), and fallaciously, circularly, citing “the consensus” as the reason to not even examine or respond to a peer reviewed challenge to that consensus—a methodology that would end all progress in every field were it adopted as a principle. Which is why no sane science would adopt such a principle. In fact, abolishing that principle is precisely what demarcated modern science from medieval and launched the Scientific Revolution. So how can any other field remain credible today, when it is still using the same irrational reasons to reject challenges to its authority as were decisively repudiated hundreds of years ago?

This debate, alas, will not give you an answer. It just re-asks the question.


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30 thoughts on “Richard Carrier on the Ehrman-Price Debate”

  1. Well, I have misgivings about this take (Carrier’s). Carrier seems to be doing two things: a) complaining/whining ‘why didn’t you respond to my work [because it’s basically the only contemporary peer-reviewed mythicist work]’; and b) the same stuck-in-the-middle with you mentality that Ehrman has, i.e. calling some of Price’s arguments ‘strange’. The only position Price takes that is ‘strange’ that I can think of is his view that none of the Pauline letters are probably attributable to Paul. But he makes cogent arguments (and is not alone in his view) and so calling Price’s positions ‘strange’ is gratuitous. It’s a veiled appeal to consensus, which puts Carrier in the same category as Ehrman.

    And as far as that goes, do we even know whether Carrier’s claim that Price is in ‘failing health’ is substantiated? Is this true? Is he telling tales out of school?

  2. Maybe it’s allowable in an informal style, but isn’t one of Carrier’s headlines a double negative: “he didn’t respond to hardly anything”?

    1. Saw that myself. The thing that’s still got me though is the claim that Price is in ‘failing health’. That phrase usually means somebody’s dying. Yet I’ve neither seen nor heard anything to that effect.

  3. The problem is, you put Richard Carrier up there and Bart Ehrman would simply double down on the same arguments that Richard just challenged him on. For example:

    BE: “No scholar has ever seriously consider mythicism, let alone argue for it, and no-one ever will”

    RC: “So you’re saying I’m not a scholar, then- ”

    BE: “No serious scholar…”

    RC: “So.despite my PhD in History focussing on Greek and Roman antiquity and having published two peer reviewed books that touch on the subject. You say I’m not a serious scholar.

    BE: “You’re not a professor at any major institution of higher learning.”

    RC: “What does that have to do with anything?”

    BE: “And you didn’t publish at a major academic press”

    RC: “Sheffield is still an academic press that doesn’t deviate from the norm in publishing peer reviewed works.”

    BE: “No serious scholar…”

    And so on and so on and so on.

    1. Bart’s argument here is a red herring anyway and amounts to an ad hominen attack. This boils down to the evidence and the most persuasive explanatory thesis of that evidence. Period.

  4. “a supposedly professional academic field”

    I think we can stop pretending that “Biblical studies” is a serious, academic field. They don’t respond to Carrier’s (and others’ ) challenges because the entire field is simply apologetics with a veneer of academic respectability. There’s no reason to expect that Ehrman will ever change his mind. His entire career and life’s work is built around the idea that Jesus was a real person and no theologian would have invented a “Christ.” Left perennially unexplained is why every other ancient religion invented their own gods and presented them as real people, but not Christianity.

  5. If Carrier is right, and “The Brother Of The Lord” in Paul refers to the COMMON NAME for a non apostolic baptized Christian, then it is odd that this phrase appears only once in the entire New Testament. This line of argument also implies a female non apostolic baptized Christian would be called “The Sister Of The Lord,” a phrase that appears nowhere in the New Testament.

    1. Darth, that would be the vast majority of the New Testament that post-dates Paul by several decades and consistently espouses a vastly different ideology and a constructed myth of origin; which even so discounts its fictional Jesus’ fictional family as having any part in the cult. Indeed, in Matthew 12:47-50 this family are the foil for a discourse by Jesus upon “Who is my family?”, which argues his family are his fellows who pay cult to his father in heaven; not for any physical relationship. If folk insist on reading things that are not in the text, indeed in reading the text as saying the opposite of of what it explicitly does say, we are entitled to dismiss such folk as very silly.

      1. I’m not sure what time has to do with it. For instance, the “apostles” were still called “apostles,” whether in Paul or later. The fact is that only one man in The New Testament is ever called “The Brother Of The Lord,” even though, under Carrier’s theory, ALL non apostolic baptized Christians were called “The Brother Of The Lord” and “The Sister Of The Lord.”

        1. If you don’t get it, you don’t get it. The later ideology isn’t Paul’s. You can hardly use later texts that contradict Paul to interpret Paul. Even so the Gospels put words in Jesus’ mouth making his followers his fictive family. The function of “brother of the lord” (Capitalisation of the phrase is importing what isn’t there, lending a spurious importance that is lacking) is probably to distinguish this James from the James of the leadership troika, Paul seems to want it understood the only member of this triumvirate he met was Cephas.

          The specific phrase might not occur elsewhere but there are numerous references to Christ’s/Jesus’/the Lord’s followers as his fictive siblings. I don’t think this even amounts to a distinction without a difference. One is a singular reference and the others plural; but they are clearly the same thing.

          1. You would think that if Paul meant that James was a non apostolic baptized Christian, one of many, he would have said he met James, “a” brother of the lord, not James, “the” brother of the lord. “The” seems to suggest exclusivity.

            1. In English, we say things like James the Apostle or James the Less, not because these gentlemen are the only apostle or the younger person, but because “the Apostle” or “the Less” exclude other Jameses.

              But of course the question should really be what the article τὸν implies in NT Greek.

              1. With “James the Apostle,” “Apostle” refers back to “James,” so “the” does not seem to imply exclusivity.

                With “James the brother of the lord,” “brother” refers forward to of the lord,” and so seems to make “the” restrictive.

              2. I don’t really agree with that, but, seriously, it doesn’t matter one way or the other what the implication is in English.

            2. Greek, as far as I know, lacks indefinite articles. So one cannot say “James a Brother of the Lord”; rather, one can say “James Brother of the Lord” or “James the Brother of the Lord”. I am not familiar much with Greek, but by analogy to English, putting a “the” in may make it more natural as a way to describe a thing. Compare the phrase “James the Christian” versus “James Christian”.

              1. For example: Acts 2:22 says “a man attested by God” rather than “the man attested by God,” since many men have been attested by God besides Jesus. “The” would suggest exclusivity.

            3. I think Bart Ehrman’s response to Carrier’s interpretation of “Brother of the Lord” is instructive. Ehrman writes:


              Carrier provides an important bit of nuance to the claim that in Galatians 1:18-19 Paul is not talking about a literal blood-brother of Jesus named James, but a kind of spiritual brother.  In Carrier’s view, Paul uses the term “brother” to apply to someone who was baptized as Christian (and therefore sympatico with the heavenly Christ) but who was NOT at the same time an apostle.  And so James was not an apostle, but was a “baptized Christian” (i.e., “brother”).  But Cephas, from whom he is differentiated in the passage, WAS an apostle (and therefore NOT merely a “brother”).

              And so that’s why Paul says what he does.  When he went to Jerusalem three years after his conversion, he met with Cephas and James, the brother of the Lord.  In other words, he met with an apostle and a non-apostolic person who could be differentiated from the apostle because he (a) was not an apostle but (b) was in a close relationship with the heavenly Christ as a baptized person. That solves the problem, right?
              Well, it may seem to do so, until you actually look closely at the passage and think about it a bit.   First thing to say: nowhere in Paul’s writings, in the rest of the New Testament, or in any writing of all of early Christianity is there anywhere that you find a two-pronged definition of “brother” as someone who was (a) baptized but (b) not an apostle.

              Moreover, what would make someone think that this is what Paul means by “brother”?  In fact, when Paul uses the term brother, he simply means to all those who have been baptized into the body of Christ.  They all belong to the same family.  They are brothers *with* Paul.  Notice: Paul himself was an apostle.  But the Christians are *his* brothers.  That means he is *their* brother.  That means he is both an apostle and a brother, not an apostle and therefore not a brother.

              Think about it a bit further: brothers and sisters are all related to one another by a close bond.  Are we supposed to think that Paul would not call Cephas his “brother in Christ”?

              But there is even a stronger argument that this unusual definition cannot be right.  It involves what Paul actually says in Galatians 1:18-19.  I’m afraid this is a killer from Carrier’s argument.  Recall Paul’s exact words:
              18 Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; 19 but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother.

              Whom did Paul visit and see?  Cephas.  And no other apostle EXCEPT James the Lord’s brother.  In other words, James is the only other apostle Paul saw, except Cephas.  He is telling us that James is an apostle.  But he is also the Lord’s brother.  And so Carrier’s definition (brother = baptized person not an apostle) simply doesn’t work.  What differentiates James from Cephas is not that he, unlike Cephas, is a non-apostle.  What differentiates him from Cephas is the fact that he, unlike Cephas, is actually Jesus’ brother.

              Ehrman seems to make good sense on this point, and I would just add Paul spending two weeks with Cephas would mean Paul in all likelihood would have encountered many more non apostolic baptized Christians than just James that he mentions. Since Paul says he “only” met James, that suggests “brother of the Lord” does not mean what Carrier thinks it means.

              Does anyone have any thoughts?

              1. It’s like in sports. They’re all on the same team: Christianity. Cephas was like the coach of the team, Paul was a star forward, and James was a sometimes overlooked minor league defenceman. So Paul writes to fans that he arrived and conferred with the coach, Cephas, and also saw James, who Paul indicates was a minor league defenceman in case the fans were not familiar with him. There was no reason to qualify who Cephas was, because all the fans were familiar with him. Oh, and by the way fans, James happens to be related to the team owner Jesus!

              2. Doherty long ago pointed to 1 Corinthians 9:5 and what might seem to be its list of three separate bodies: apostles, brothers of the Lord and Cephas.

                Herman’s point makes strict logical sense applied to the English translation but I don’t know how valid his argument is in relation to the Greek original. I would not assume anything. I’d want to check out non-partisan information from Greek/koine specialists.

                I am not totally satisfied by Carrier’s explanation. Still less by Ehrman’s because he simply ignores most of the alternative arguments. I’ve posted what I believe are preferable explanations to function and origin of the phrase here several times, as has Tim Widowfield — who offers what I think is the best explanation of all.

              3. Hoffmann’s pièce de résistance, “In the light of Paul’s complete disregard for the “historical” Jesus, moreover, it is unimaginable that he would assert a biological relationship between James and “the Lord.” (R. Joseph Hoffmann)” ap. [Tim Widowfield (2016-01-16) ”The Function of “Brother of the Lord” in Galatians 1:19”. Vridar.] @ http://vridar.org/2016/01/16/the-function-of-brother-of-the-lord-in-galatians-119/

                Cf. Ehrman’s maxim, “follow the evidence wherever it leads.”

  6. The epistles of Paul don’t say Christ died in an indeterminate mythic past as Wells, Doherty, Carrier et al argue, but rather that:

    “While we were yet weak, IN DUE TIME Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6).”

      1. Hi Giuseppe,

        You have to understand that Carrier is completely incompetent when interpreting scripture.

        In the link you provided, Carrier wrote:

        “That still allows a possible ancient death (and hence Paul could be saying ‘we’ in Romans 5 as in ‘humanity,’ not ‘we’ as in his current generation; likewise, he does not explicitly say the visions of Jesus occurred the third day after his death in 1 Cor. 15, only that he rose the third day after; Paul doesn’t actually say how long after that it was before Jesus revealed this).”

        So Carrier is saying the crucifixion could have happened in distant ancient times, but no one found out about it until thousands of years later in the time of Peter and Paul!

        Why on earth would God wait so long for such a thing to be disclosed, when disclosing it could have been a blessing to untold multitudes?

        1. Another reason in Paul’s epistles that Jesus’ crucifixion didn’t occur thousands of years before the time of Paul and Peter is that Paul calls the crucified/resurrected Jesus the “first fruits (1 Corinthians 15:23) ” of the general resurrection of souls at the end of the world, which would make no sense if there were thousands of years between the death of Jesus and the end of the world. Paul thought he was living in the end times, and that Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection were recent events.

          1. I have an open mind on this question. What data leads you to think that Paul thought of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus were “recent events” as distinct from their revelation being recent?

          2. Can you provide a Pauline citation for the idea that the first fruits of the resurrection were conceived of as having recently occurred? Because it is possible to imagine a system in which the first fruits of the resurrection were conceived of as having occurred in the distant past. The peril lies in taking the term first fruits of the resurrection too literally in comparison to first fruits of the harvest, which do happen recently compared to the full harvest.

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