Daniel Gullotta’s Review of Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus

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by Neil Godfrey

Having just read Daniel Gullotta’s review of Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus I expect to be posting over the coming weeks a series of analytical responses. In the meantime, some overview thoughts.

Firstly, the choice of journal for this review, The Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus. One of the editors of JSHJ effectively declared that the editorial board is hostile to the very idea of Jesus mythicism. In December 2014 an article by Michael Bird was published in On Line Opinion: Australia’s e-journal of social and political debate, and a month later on his college’s website, that stated the following:

The Jesus mythicists are a group of enthusiastic atheists who through websites and self-published books try to prove the equivalent of a flat earth. I serve on the editorial board for the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, where we have an editorial team of people from all faiths and none, celebrated experts in their fields; and I can tell you that the Jesus mythicist nonsense would never get a foot in the door of a peer-reviewed journal committed to the academic study of the historical Jesus.

That gives you at least some idea what to expect of any discussion of mythicism that is published in JSHJ. (Daniel Gullotta, a doctoral student, surely knew the bias of JSHJ before he submitted it for their consideration.) Unfortunately, Gullotta’s concluding paragraph does not belie expectations, and ironically declares that a shortfall in “academic detachment” is the problem of the mythicists:

Scholars, however, may rightly question whether Carrier’s work and those who evangelize it exhibit the necessary level of academic detachment.130 If David L. Barrett was right, ‘That every generation discovers the historical Jesus that it needs’, then it is not surprising that a group with a passionate dislike for Jesus (and his ancient and modern associates) has found what they were looking for: a Jesus who conveniently does them the favor of not existing anywhere except in the imagination of deluded fundamentalists in the past and present.131 Whereas mythicists will accuse scholars of the historical Jesus of being apologists for the theology of historic Christianity, mythicists may in turn be accused of being apologists for a kind of dogmatic atheism. But while some have no doubt found their champion in Richard Carrier and his version of mythicism, like others before him, his quest has been in vain. Despite their hopes, the historical Jesus lives on.


130 A concern shared by Bart D. Ehrman, Maurice Casey, and also Carrier. See Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, pp. 334-339; Casey, Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths?, p. viii; Carrier, On the Historicity of Jesus, p. 14.

131 Quoted from David L. Barrett, The Historical Jesus and the Life of Faith’, in The Christian Century 109 (May 6,1992), pp. 489-493.

(the bolding is mine)

A passionate dislike for Jesus? Dogmatic atheism? That would be a huge surprise to the mythicists Thomas Brodie, Robert M. Price, Herman Detering, Tom Harpur, Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, Francesco Carotta, René Salm, G.A. Wells, P.L. Couchoud (and a good number of other Christ Myth authors of yesteryear), certainly myself, not to mention others who are fence-sitters on the question such as Hector Avalos, Arthur Droge and Kurt Noll.

Nor, quite frankly, do I detect even in Richard Carrier’s atheistic writings a “passionate dislike for Jesus” nor an endorsement for New Atheism. (I substitute New Atheism for Dogmatic Atheism because I am not quite sure what Dogmatic Atheism is supposed to mean. I am certainly an atheist and by no means a fence-sitter on that question, but I do deplore the rise of what was for a few years labelled the New Atheism, a movement that I think would have been better labelled Anti-Theistic rather than Atheist.)

For the record, I cannot see that it makes the slightest bit of difference to any atheist whether Jesus was a historical person or not. The simple fact that atheists also populate the pro-historical Jesus biblical studies academic guild as well as being found among the ranks of mythicists ought to testify soundly enough to that point. Jesus is a cultural icon. He has served many causes to which atheists and any number of other religionists have associated themselves.

Anyway, back to the substance of Gullotta’s review. It is thirty-seven A4 pages long (310-346) so don’t expect a comprehensive critical review soon or in a single post. Gullotta’s review is packed with footnotes and the time gap separating my responses will largely depend upon how accessible I find most of those citations. (Yes, I’m one of those who does read all the fine print and follows up as many footnotes as possible.)

The early part of Daniel Gullotta’s review is an overview of how Gullotta has come to perceive the “Christ Myth” theory (the older term) or the “Jesus mythicism” view (the current term) historically. He then proceeds to an introduction of Richard Carrier himself, who he is, his academic background, and what led to the book On the Historicity of Jesus being reviewed.

In short, I found the earlier criticisms of Carrier to be the most on target. Gullotta zeroes in on what I also happen to think are a some of Carrier’s weaker points. If I imagine Richard Carrier and Earl Doherty in a heated discussion over some additions Carrier seeks to bring to Doherty’s original thesis, I confess that I might, in the end, side with Doherty and ask Carrier to leave the argument as it is. (I mention Doherty because Carrier himself acknowledges his debt to Earl Doherty’s arguments.)

Yes, some (not all) of Gullotta’s criticisms are on target, I think. I will elaborate in a future post. But Gullotta’s later criticisms of Carrier appear to me to be based, ultimately, on little more than sweeping generalizations arising from ideologically-grounded arguments.

Sometimes Gullotta gets Carrier’s point just right, but at other time, I think, he misses the point entirely and simply fails to understand. For example, I saw no indication in Gullotta’s review that he had ever read the book that Carrier wrote as a prequel to On the Historicity of Jesus, and the work he encouraged readers of OHJ to consult.

In the end, I found myself mentally “screaming”,

Okay, take any of your alternative models/scenarios etc, and then apply the Bayesian model to them and see what happens!

Unfortunately, Gullotta indicates that he had no interest in what, in fact, was the entire foundation of the method underlying On the Historicity of Jesus. That was Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus. Amherst, N.Y: Prometheus Books, 2012. Worse than lack of interest, Gullotta confessed to complete befuddlement:

But despite his call for historians to write with ‘a style more attractive and intelligible to ordinary people’, many, myself included, will find Carrier’s Bayesian analysis unnecessarily complicated and uninviting.47 I would echo Petterson’s critique that at the ‘worst of times it felt like I had stepped into a Jesus Seminar, a seminar armed with a reversed agenda and τι-89 Titanium calculators’.48


47 Carrier, On the Historicity of Jesus, p. xiii.

48 Petterson, ‘Review of Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus’, 254.

I am most definitely no mathematical genius but even I could follow the argument in the Bayesian preparation to On the Historicity of Jesus. Perhaps it’s because I did read Carrier’s preparatory book, but I found nothing in the least obscure or problematic with the On the Historicity of Jesus summary discussions at the end of each chapter on the probability calculations to each argument. Unfortunately, Gullotta gives no indication in his review that he even read Carrier’s preparatory volume. What disappointed me the most, no doubt a consequence of Gullotta’s failure to do the background reading, was his reference to a bizarre misapplication of Bayes theorem by Swinburne in an attempt to prove the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus:

Yet I cannot help but compare Carrier’s approach to the work of Richard Swinburne, who likewise uses Bayes’ theorem to demonstrate the high probability of Jesus’ resurrection, and wonder if it is not fatally telling that Bayes’ theorem can be used to both prove the reality of Jesus’ physical resurrection and prove that he had no existence as a historical person 49


49 Richard Swinburne, The Resurrection of God Incarnate (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).

The most simplistic syllogisms can be used to “prove” any nonsense — “all men have two legs; a chicken has two legs; therefore a chicken is a man” — and the same applies to Bayes’ theorem. Gullotta’s apparent fear of a mathematical term seems to have led him to jettison the entire logical system underlying the fundamentals. All Bayes’ theorem does is assign mathematical symbols to the most fundamental processes of everyday reasoning. The point of those symbols is to assist in alerting the thinker to any details overlooked in the normative reasoning process, or to any lapse in the logical validity of the thinking process.

One can easily toss aside the mathematical symbols and just focus on the logical and methodological process.

That was the biggest disappointment in reading Gullotta’s review. He failed to address the central point of the book — that it is the method and assumptions that are central to all evaluations of each argument.

What followed was what amounts to a tiresome repeat of the apologist arguments against specific arguments of Carrier without ever, at any point, addressing the core of Carrier’s discussion.

I found myself screaming (mentally) when Gullotta claimed that some alternative concept could be used as a starting point for an argument. “Great,” I found myself saying (mentally), “Test any or each of the alternatives you are proposing and let’s see how the argument pans out in the end.” But no, there was no (mentally conveyed) response. The whole point of the Bayesian method is that it enables the testing of divergent hypotheses. You can forget the maths. Just focus on the fundamental reasoning processes that the mathematical symbols represent. The symbols only serve as an aid so you don’t forget fundamental processes too easily discarded otherwise.

Okay, to conclude. I found Gullotta’s earlier criticisms of Carrier’s argument to be valid. (That means nothing more than that I agreed with much of them.) I found other criticisms inadequately informed. (That means that I think Gullotta has confined his views too narrowly to biblical scholars and remains uninformed of the relevant scholarship in the wider field of Classical studies.) And still other criticisms of Gullotta I found to be grounded on a fundamental misunderstanding of Carrier’s argument — in particular, he failed to grasp the point of the Rank-Raglan hero type. That’s when I found myself mentally screaming for him to apply any of the other “types” that he proposed as alternatives. Instead, Gullotta seemed to think that the mere possibility of alternative types somehow undercut Carrier’s thesis.

What I would like to do in future posts is take Gullotta’s criticisms on board and adjust Carrier’s Bayesian figures as if they carry more weight than any alternative and then see what happens to the Bayesian probability for the historicity of Jesus.

More to come. In due course.








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45 thoughts on “Daniel Gullotta’s Review of Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus

  1. I’m reminded of a quote from Upton Sinclair: It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.

  2. I purchased it. I wouldn’t recommend doing so unless you are heavily into the issue.

    The best part was the “James the Brother of Jesus” discussion. I think it settles the issue against the mythcist claims.

    1. If really the historicists are based only on the naive reading of the “brother of Lord” as “brother of Jesus”, then this is really the end of historicity.

      Would you suggest the article to who thinks as me about Gal 1:19 ?

    2. It will be interesting to read the “James the Brother of Jesus” discussion. It’s interesting a full argument would be put in a book review.

      It will be interesting to see how Gullotta reconciles the various ‘James’ in the NT with extra-biblical descriptions of people named James.

    3. It is amazing how an avalanche of evidence and sound valid argument of the type seen in historical studies elsewhere is all overturned by one verse that is an anomaly in the entire body of evidence and whose provenance has been opened to serious doubt by conservative scholars. That is the ultimate in proof-texting history replacing sound historical research. See http://vridar.org/2017/12/05/thinking-through-the-james-the-brother-of-the-lord-passage-in-galatians-119/

      I will be discussing Gullotta’s very narrow focus on that and some other points in future posts.

      (One in particular that stands out is his argument that the name Jesus is so commonplace. Yes, but he has confined his search to a narrow disciplinary field and failed to notice what is said about the name in the wider field of ancient history and classics.)

      1. I don’t know where I got the idea, or where I latched onto it, but it doesn’t seem to me that the title “Brother of the Lord” is an honorarium, but the opposite. It seems to me like Cephas was the leader of the Jerusalem group and James was one of the “Brothers of the Lord” or members of the group, although probably an important one. This also makes sense in the way Jesus was said to “appear” to them. First Cephas, then James, etc, etc.

    4. How can a one off passage, in a book of letters which is known to be compiled and interpolated end a discussion on anything? It’s circular. If you want to believe it, you will.

    5. How so?
      I have always found Carrier’s arguments a little unconvincing, but it does seem at least plausible. Does Gullota give some range of probabilities for Carrier’s interpretation? Do you think his arguments make it so unlikely that even the other evidence can’t rescue mythicism?

  3. “I can tell you that the Jesus mythicist nonsense would never get a foot in the door of a peer-reviewed journal committed to the academic study of the historical Jesus.’

    When all your peers are yourself…

  4. I also purchased a copy of Gullotta’s article last night.

    The following is a quick summary of Gullotta’s argument is his own words. He writes:

    “Bayesian analysis aside, I will demonstrate that Carrier’s thesis is unconvincing because of its lack of evidence, strained readings, and troublesome assumptions. The focus of my response will center on Carrier’s claim that a pre-Christian angel named Jesus existed, his understanding of Jesus as a nonhuman and celestial figure within the Pauline corpus, his argument that Paul understood Jesus to be crucified by demons and not by earthly forces, his claim that James, the brother of the Lord, was not a relative of Jesus but just a generic Christian within the Jerusalem community, his assertion that the Gospels represent Homeric myths, and his employment of the Rank-Raglan heroic archetype as a means of comparison.”

    I am a historicist, who frequently reads articles here at Vridar, but only comments on rare occasions. One thing that comes up repeatedly in the articles here at Vridar that I tend to agree with is the claim that Jesus scholars need to pay more attention to the philosophical and methodological aspects of the study of history.

    I think that Gullotta article is an improvement over the approach of Michael Bird, but that it is still lacking in a lot of respects. He has a little bit to say about methodology in the last three pages, but what he has to say is short and lacking in details.

    Another article that I would recommend is:
    Ryan, Jordan J. “Jesus at the Crossroads of Inference and Imagination: The Relevance of R.G. Collingwood’s Philosophy of History for Current Methodological Discussions in Historical Jesus Research.” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, vol. 13, 2015, pp. 66-89.

    Jordan Ryan stresses the importance of evidence and inferences based on the evidence. He writes, “Evidence comes in many forms, so the historian’s primary task is not merely to sift traditions in order to separate ‘authentic’ from ‘inauthentic’, but to understand the data, know what is relevant and how to apply it as evidence to the investigation and questions at hand.”

    The issues that I find particularly interesting are the Synoptic problem and the problems associated with the chronology of the Last Supper and the crucifixion of Jesus. Both of these issues have been sources of controversy for centuries. It seems to me that both issues also have implications for the debates that have opened up between historicists and mythicists in recent years.

    Regarding the Synoptic problem, I am particularly impressed with Delbert Burkett’s approach to the evidence in his book Rethinking the Gospel Sources: From Proto-Mark to Mark (which has been discussed at http://vridar.org/2016/09/13/so-luke-did-not-know-matthew-after-all/). Burkett argues, from a detailed analysis of the evidence, that each of the Synoptic authors wrote independently of the others using similar sources.

    The main issue with the chronology of the Last Supper can be summarized quite quickly. The Synoptic gospels seem to indicate that the Last Supper was a Passover meal. The book of John, on the other hand, seems to indicate that the Passover meal was scheduled to occur the evening after the crucifixion. So, the questions that arise are – 1) was the Last Supper a Passover meal or was it not and 2) when did Jesus die (i.e. what was the date of his death in the Jewish calendar)?

    In a few recent articles, Neil has highlighted the contributions of Moses Isaac Finley. Regarding the events in the last days of Jesus, Finley writes, “One must work one’s way as best one can with the Christian writings, with no external controls. … What, then, actually happened? Not even the Synoptic Gospels provide a clear and coherent account, and there are added confusions and impossibilities in the Fourth Gospel. There is one school of thought, to which I belong, which holds that no reconstruction is possible from such unsatisfactory evidence.”

    In his book, Jesus Interrupted, Bart Ehrman writes, “It is impossible that both Mark’s and John’s accounts are historically accurate, since they contradict each other on the question of when Jesus died.”

    I disagree strongly with both Finley and Ehrman. I think that it is possible to reconstruct the likely sequence of events using the available evidence and controls, some of which are internal to the gospels and some of which are external to the gospels. In 2011, a new proposal regarding the chronology of the Last Supper and the crucifixion was published by Cambridge University Press. The book was written by Colin J. Humphreys and was entitled The Mystery of the Last Supper: Reconstructing the Final Days of Jesus. In the Forward, I. Howard Marshall wrote, “Here, then, is a book that offers a new historical reconstruction of the evidence that must be taken very seriously indeed … This book belongs in that category of bold, imaginative and fresh interpretations of the evidence that take us significantly forward, and I warmly commend it.” With the notes, bibliography, and indexes, this book comes in at 244 pages. So, unfortunately, it’s difficult to summarize all of the arguments within a short comment. However, the basic gist is that Humphreys argues that Jesus was following the pre-exilic calendar of Israel and that this is reflected in the Synoptic gospels and that the book of John reflects the use of the official Judean calendar (which is similar to the modern-day Jewish calendar). Hence, the appearance of conflicting chronologies. Using this approach, the pieces fit into place. Other pieces of evidence that are never mentioned in the book also fit into place. Humphreys’ reconstruction is based on “nodes of evidence” (a phrase that appears in the above article by Jordan J. Ryan) that he evinces throughout his book.

    Humphreys’ concludes that the events surrounding the death of Jesus were events that took place in Jerusalem in AD 33. Since I accept Humphreys’ analysis of the evidence and his reconstruction, it follows that I am also convinced that Jesus died at a known place and at a known time and that I find it very unlikely that Jesus was completely mythical.

    I may post another comment sometime in the next few days regarding additional criticisms of Carrier’s thesis that could have been used to strengthen Gullotta’s article.

    1. I’m sorry. What is your evidence that the last supper even happened, and isn’t simply an addition of what was a fairly common ritual to the stories?

      Your reasoning here seems particularly circular.

    2. The seams of the Passion narrative — beginning with the triumphal entry into Jerusalem —are quite evident: far from portraying any historical events, it is pieced together from Isaiah 53, certain Psalms, and the prophecies of Zechariah. You’re saying that in the midst of all that pious fiction — or midrash if you will — the Last Supper is something that really happened? That seems highly unlikely.

      Consider the fact that it’s turtles all the way down, my friend. It’s all made up.

    3. I concur with what you say, Paul. There is one clarification I should make, however, and that is with respect to my quotation from Finley about “working one’s way as best one can with the Christian writings, with no external controls”. I can see how the way I presented that in my post An Ancient Historian on Historical Jesus Studies. Finley was describing how historical Jesus studies are done but was not endorsing the method. In fact he is critical when he goes on to say of that method …

      This application of the ‘psychological method’ is neat, plausible, commonsensical. But is the answer right? Not only in this one example but in the thousands upon thousands of details in the story upon which Goguel or any other historian must make up his mind? I do not know what decisive tests of verifiability could possibly be applied.

    4. “Burkett argues, from a detailed analysis of the evidence, that each of the Synoptic authors wrote independently of the others using similar sources.”

      It is widely accepted that there is evidence that Matthew and Luke lift significantly from Mark (i.e. plagiarize). Further, in regard to Matthew and Luke I know there’s the question of whether they both use “Q” or if their commonalities are just Luke copying from Matthew, but, just using one example, Luke’s “Sermon on the Plains” sure seems like a literary response to Matthew’s “Sermon on the Mount.” Likewise, the Lazarus character that appears in John would seem to be a response to the Lazarus character in Luke. How many hoops do you have to jump through to argue authorial independence?

      1. Burkett turns this question on its head and asks – how many hoops do we need to jump through in order to maintain strict Markan priority? His answer is – too many.

        In the first chapter, Burkett writes, “A survey of the debate makes one thing abundantly clear. Each of these theories of mutual dependence has problems, whether one starts with Mark, Matthew, or Luke. Such problems have led some scholars to conclude that none of the simpler theories work. … The relations between the Synoptic Gospels are more complex than the simpler theories have assumed. … In my own study of the problem, I too have concluded that the simpler theories do not work. No one Synoptic served as a source for either of the other two. All theories of Markan priority, Matthean priority, and Lukan priority thus start from a wrong premise.”

        Throughout the rest of the book, he provides a series of detailed examples to back this claim up.

        I would recommend checking out Neil’s post on this book that is located at https://vridar.org/2016/09/13/so-luke-did-not-know-matthew-after-all/.

  5. The idea that mythicism is based on a passionate dislike for Jesus can be easily dismissed by one simple fact: The most popular model for the historical Jesus by far is that he was an apocalypticist, one of the worst kind of rabble-rousers whose modern equivalent is shunned if not despised by the vast majority of Christians today. If this model is true, then Jesus hated the world so much that he falsely prophecized its impending destruction, basically asking his followers to leave their livelihoods to be martyred for a lie. Following the most popular forms of apocalypticism of the time, he most likely would have been a Jewish supremacist who believed his culture was so superior to others that God would subjugate the world to the Jews, with Jerusalem as its capital, so that all surrounding countries would come to give subservience to them, thus arrogantly believing his own time period to be the most important point in all history. If he believed himself to be the Messiah, which most historical Jesus scholars would also agree he did, then he also believed himself to be the most important person in all history as well. As John Dominic Crossan points out, it’s hard to comprehend how people like Albert Schweitzer could hold that model of the historical Jesus to be true and yet still consider themselves to be a Christian. In fact, the most common criticism by Schweitzer and the majority of historical Jesus scholars today against Crossan, the Jesus Seminar, and the “Liberal Jesus” scholars of 19th century is that they “like” Jesus too much and so they made him a liberal. It just goes to show how in the crazy would of Biblical scholarship, being more skeptical towards the text ironically puts you in the position of being seen as reading yourself into the protagonist. Whether the earliest Christians followed a historical Jewish Cynic pacifist or worshipped a mythical dying-and-rising god in a mystery religion, both models are infinitely superior in regards to any concern one might have about the pride of the Christian legacy.

    1. Well said. Gullotta and others who say that “mythicists” find the Jesus they want are distorting the original saying: they are not, as the original point conveyed, finding in Jesus their own reflections or their own ideals. Hector Avalos with his The Bad Jesus and many others have shown that the Jesus of the Bible gives anti-Christians plenty of grounds to attack Christianity.

    2. That sums things up perfectly. They want to embrace the apocalyptic prophet model, but never seriously contemplate just how horrifying and bizarre such a picture creates. It means that the last 2,000 years were inspired by a David Koresh-style lunatic who was later Disneyfied by professional liars to empower themselves. Not really a great legacy to be defending, which of course is why they never even try.

  6. “The whole point of the Bayesian method is that it enables the testing of divergent hypotheses. You can forget the maths. Just focus on the fundamental reasoning processes that the mathematical symbols represent. The symbols only serve as an aid so you don’t forget fundamental processes too easily discarded otherwise.”

    I have wondered, in my exposure to Carrier’s use of Bayesian methods, whether it is really intended to give more reliable assessments of historical probabilities, or whether it merely serves to provide a /veneer/ of offering more reliable assessments.

    For example, I seem to recall Carrier having said something to the effect that the resurrected Jesus isn’t recorded as having appeared to the Chinese. He judges that if Jesus’ resurrection was of such importance to the world that God wanted everyone to hear of it, then the risen Jesus would have appeared to everyone then-living, and so this would have been expected under historicism, whereas of course if Jesus never lived such appearances wouldn’t be expected. And so, he interprets the lack of such appearances as counting more strongly as evidence for mythicism.

    But you don’t need to add actual numbers to this to see that this is a garbage argument. Carrier’s assessment of what state of affairs should have obtained were historicism true is based entirely on his own top-of-the-head speculation. Certainly, if we had records of appearances of the resurrected Jesus to the Chinese this would be a big winner for historicism, but if you can’t provide a good basis for thinking that this is, in fact, what should have been expected to have happened, then the outputs of this “analytical” approach are equally suspect.

    1. It would be useful if you could provide us a link or reference to exactly what you “seem to recall Carrier having said” so we can proceed with the facts and not vague memory. What you describe does not remind me of anything I read in his book On the Historicity of Jesus.

      1. Fair enough; I might be incorrectly attributing something to Carrier that I heard somewhere else, or might be recalling something Carrier said in a different place. I assume that you or your readers know his writings better than I do!

        1. I think what Jeff is recalling is that Carrier makes the comment that dying and rising gods were a relative trend in the ancient Mediterranean world, so that it should not be surprising that a Jewish version was invented there as opposed to in China, which did not share the same trend among it’s religions. It doesn’t prove or disprove anything either way, it just points out that Christianity appears to be the result of syncretism as opposed to a new and unique development.

          1. No, that’s not it. I had the wrong book — it was from his essay in The Christian Delusion. Here is what I think is the passage I was thinking of:

            “A walking corpse—indeed a flying corpse (Luke 24:51 and Acts 1:9–11) or a teleporting corpse (Luke 24:31–37 and John 20:19–26)—could have visited Pilate, Herod, the Sanhedrin, the masses of Jerusalem, the Roman legions, even the emperor and senate of Rome. He could even have flown to America (as the Mormons actually believe he did), and even China, preaching in all the temples and courts of Asia. In fact, being God, he could have appeared to everyone on earth. He could visit me right now. Or you! And yet, instead, besides his already fanatical followers, just one odd fellow ever saw him.

            If Jesus was a god and really wanted to save the world, he would have appeared and delivered his Gospel personally to the whole world. He would not appear only to one small group of believers and one lone outsider, in one tiny place, just one time, two thousand years ago, and then give up.”

            1. Okay — he’s making a different argument there. That’s just an argument about why Christianity is false; doesn’t have anything to do with whether there was an historical version of Jesus.

              1. The point is, it illustrates that Bayesian methods are only as good as the inputs you give them, and I’m not persuaded that Carrier is a good inputter based on arguments like this one. (Yes, admittedly this particular essay precedes his Bayesian books but it’s a proto-Bayesian argument).

  7. Gullotta writes, “I will demonstrate that Carrier’s thesis is unconvincing because of its lack of evidence, strained readings, and troublesome assumptions.”

    I would like to point out another “strained reading”.

    Carrier writes (OHJ, pp. 281-2):
    “In the late fourth century the Christian scholar Epiphanius compiled an extensive dossier on all the ‘heresies’ he knew of, calling it the Panarion, ‘Medicine Chest’. One of these ‘heresies’ he covers is that of the ‘Nazorians’, who were still practicing Jews; as Epiphanius says, these ‘Nazorians confess that Christ Jesus is the Son of God, but all their customs are in accordance with the Law’. This would mean a sect that descended directly from the original Christian sect founded by Peter, John and James (the ‘pillars’ of Galatians 2), before Paul’s innovation eliminated Torah observance (Element 20). These Nazorians were still Torah observant, and still called themselves by their original name (Acts 24.5; Jerome, Letters 112.13), the name they held before the sects we are more familiar with came to be called Christians (Acts 11.26). Epiphanius then says a curious thing: these Christians say Jesus had lived and died in the time of Alexander Jannaeus. This is what he says they preach:
    The priesthood in the holy church is [actually] David’s throne and kingly seat, for the Lord joined together and gave to his holy church both the kingly and the high-priestly dignity, transferring to it the never-failing throne of David. For David’s throne endured in line of succession until the time of Christ himself, rulers from Judah not failing until he came to whom the things kept in reserve belonged, and he was the expectation of the nations’. With the advent of the Christ the rulers in line of succession from Judah, reigning until the time of the Christ himself, ceased. For the line fell away and stopped from the time when he was born in Bethlehem of Judea under Alexander, who was of priestly and royal race. From Alexander onward this office ceased—from the days of Alexander and Salina, who is also called Alexandra, to the days of Herod the king and Augustus the Roman emperor.”

    When I consulted Epiphanius’s Panarion 29 in the summer of 2014, the first thing that I noticed is that Epiphanius does NOT plainly claim that the Nazorians said that, “Jesus had lived and died in the time of Alexander Jannaeus”.

    Carrier’s excerpt comes from Panarion 29.3.3. However, a few paragraphs earlier, in Panarion 29.2.1, Epiphanius writes, “I am afraid of of every expression , though the truth moves me to touch on the considerations for contemplation in every expression, I give this note brief, not to go to great length .” The expression that Epiphanius is referring to is a passage in the Old Testemant. It is not something that he attributes to the Nazorians. What follows after this appears to be a digression, in which Epiphanius is speaking for himself, rather than for the Nazoreans. This digression fills the whole section from Panarion 29.2.1 to Panarion 29.4.8. After the digression is finished, Epiphanius writes (in Panarion 29.4.9), “And there is much to say about this. But in any case, since I have come to the topic of the reason why those who had come to faith in Christ were called Jessaeans before they were called Christians, we said that Jesse was the father of David.”

    Based on the wording at the beginning and the end of this section, I think it is reasonable to conclude that the entire section from Panarion 29.2.1 to Panarion 29.4.8 is a long, rambling digression, in which Epiphanius is speaking for himself, rather than the Nazorians.

    However, in Panarion 51.22.3, Epiphanius writes, “For the Savior was born during the forty-second year of the Roman emperor Augustus”. Therefore, it would seem that if Epiphanius is speaking for himself in Panarion 29.3.3, he has contradicted himself rather badly.

    On December 15, 2017, I found Richard Carrier’s explanation for his interpretation of Panarion 29.3.3 at https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/5730. He writes, “Second, the thesis that Epiphanius is the one saying Jesus died under/immediately after Jannaeus is too improbable to credit. … Epiphanius is obviously explaining the logic of the Nazorians (that Jesus had to live and die as the last Jewish king, without interruption, therefore, since Jannaeus was the last Jewish king, Jesus had to live and die then). He is certainly not explaining his own logic.”

    I am sorry, but I have to disagree. Epiphanius starts by saying, “I give this note brief, not to go to great length .” And, the subject of Epiphanius’ explanation is not directly related to the Nazorians. Instead, he is trying to explain a passage in the Old Testament. This entire section starts with the words, “I give this note”. It does not start with words that claim or imply anything like, “the Nazorians say”. So, prima facie, this is Epiphanius speaking for himself.

    But this still leaves us with a rather nasty apparent contradiction in the writings of Epiphanius. So, is there a more likely explanation of what is going on here? I think there is.

    I got this idea from Paul Snow (https://uncertaintist.wordpress.com/2017/01/04/epiphanius-didnt-write-about-a-pre-christian-jesus/).

    Paul Snow suggests that Panarion 29.3.3 should be translated as follows:

    For with the advent of the Christ, the succession of the princes from Judah, who reigned until the Christ Himself, ceased. The order [of succession] failed –– and stopped at the time when He was born in Bethlehem of Judea –– in the days of Alexander, who was of high-priestly and royal race; and after this Alexander this lot failed, from the times of himself and Salina, who is also called Alexandra, for the times of Herod the King and Augustus Emperor of the Romans.

    The main difference between this translation and others is the addition of the em dashes around the phrase “and stopped at the time when He was born in Bethlehem of Judea”. The point of adding the em dashes is to show that the intent of the passage is as follows:

    For with the advent of the Christ, the succession of the princes from Judah, who reigned until the Christ Himself, ceased. The order [of succession] failed in the days of Alexander, who was of high-priestly and royal race, and stopped at the time when He [i.e. Jesus] was born in Bethlehem of Judea.

    Paul Snow writes, “Ancient Greek texts had no punctuation to guide the silent reader in determining which phrases go with which other phrases. Mead chose to stay close to the Greek word order (his source text is available online link; the image of the focal passage on the left is from page 81), but Mead and his modern source are the authors of the punctuation. Epiphanius’ original unpunctuated adjacency simply doesn’t imply that two events were meant to be simultaneous. That’s not even a good guess when the reader knows that Epiphanius believed the events to have been separated by several decades. The logic of Epiphanius’ argument, built upon lines already established by his predecessors [such as Jerome], requires those events to have been separated in order to agree with the known secular history.”

    Granted, this interpretation of the evidence may be wrong.

    However, the main point that I want to make here is that Carrier has presented his own interpretation as “fact”, when he should have presented it as an interpretation. And it seems to me that this is not an isolated incident. It seems to me that Carrier often overstates his position and, thereby, arguably misleads his readers.

    1. I would need to take some time out to consult readings and interpretations of Epiphanius and also to have another study of Carrier’s words before I can comment on your specific issue. (I am always chary of sources that are known to for kicking Carrier almost on principle.)

      But I can say that I have found a number of details in Carrier’s arguments to be somewhat wanting. I have written posts in which I have found particular problems with Carrier’s explanations and citations. Sometimes I find myself thinking it might have been wiser had Carrier taken, say, a good number of Doherty’s arguments (ditto a few of Price’s, say) and submitted them to a simpler series of Bayesian analyses. That would have been a significant achievement. Some of the extras Carrier has introduced have tended to distract from the core of his case — which can be reduced to most of the more “tried and true” arguments.

  8. Neil,

    For some of us, all of the arguments here are just too much to keep track of. However, there is one topic that I feel would be a good proxy for many lay bystanders like myself to judge which side is being the most responsible/careful with the evidence here. The topic is whether Philo thinks the Logos is an archangel in the sense of being a separate ontological being in the following passage that Carrier cites: “his firstborn Logos, the eldest of his angels, the ruling archangel of many names” (found in “On the confusion of tongues”, http://www.earlyjewishwritings.com/text/philo/book15.html; cited by Carrier at https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/13541).

    Carrier says, “Hurtado now claims Philo doesn’t identify the Logos as an archangel. Yet Philo explicitly does” (https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/13541).

    Hurtado says, “…In Philo’s thought (which, it appears, Carrier hasn’t researched adequately in the six years he devoted to his project), the Logos is not really a separate ontological being, not really an ‘archangel’” (https://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/page/2/).

    Who is right, or are both Carrier and Hurtado saying the same thing, or are they both not being careful enough or nuanced in their claims? I feel like a dedicated post for beginners on this topic might help a lot of people decide if any of the other arguments are even worth trying to understand. This is all just a swirling chocolate mess right now.

    Thank you.

    1. Looks like Hurtado is contradicting Philo on this issue, not Carrier.
      I don’t know how a proper archangel is supposed to look like, but in this case my money is on Philo.

      Nah, Hurtado is just trying to take advantage of a nebulous term.

    2. jeff, I certainly think you are right to question whether both Carrier and Hurtado are ‘being careful enough or nuanced in their claims’. This is an exercise in exegesis or eisegesis or a combination.

      Exegesis being the process of drawing out the meaning from a text in accordance with the context and [supposed] ‘discoverable meaning’ of its autho; and Eisegesis is when a reader imposes his or her interpretation into and onto the text.

      I think that, while the genesis of the problem is probably Carrier not carefully or clearly outlining or explaining his exegesis or eisegesis of Philo in his blog-posts or presentations, at least, his interpretation and ‘discovered’ meaning of Philo is nuanced.

      I think Hurtado and others have not represented Carrier properly ie. they are misrepresenting him (eg. Hurtado does not acknowledge the full suite of citations that Carrier uses, among other gas-lighting Hurtado does [but, as I implied, I don’t think some of Carrier’s commentary has been all that clear, either]).

      It would seem best to read Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus in the first instance.

    3. Hi Jeff. I have not been following the details of the disagreement between Hurtado and Carrier on the Philo/Logos/Zechariah question. To do justice to both I would need to do my own background study on the scholarship and texts relating to that discussion.

      Personally I don’t think the question matters very much with respect to whether Jesus was historical or not. To me the matter is very simple. We have no evidence for the historical Jesus that is anywhere near comparable to the type of evidence we have for many other ancient persons. Tacitus and Josephus are late and if their relevant passages are genuine (a big problem — we really do have good reasons for doubting they are) they at best appear merely to be saying what others were saying in their own time — in late first and early second century. Paul’s few allusions are at best ambiguous, heavily theological, and marred by clear evidence of problematic transmission of the manuscripts anyway. We can identify what look very much like glosses in his letters.

      The gospels could have been written any time between 70 and 140, and we have no idea who wrote them, and the evidence tells us that they were by and large midrashic types of rewritings of Old Testament narratives and obviously full of fantasy and theology.

      We have no primary evidence at all for a historical Jesus. Only late secondary evidence or the appearance of contemporary evidence (Paul) that cannot be independently confirmed.

      In any other history department I suggest that sort of evidence is not enough to convict. To me, the question is as simple as that.

    4. I wonder why nobody including Carrier appreciates the stupidity of Hurtado’s reinventing angelology.

      Angels are imaginary beings, so by definition, they are whatever they’re imagined to be by the original imaginers, therefore it’s strange to expect their imaginary properties to be consistent.

      If Logos is a good enough archangel for Philo, then who’s Hurtado to argue?

      ‘Separate ontological being’. He’s trying to make bollocks sound like exact science, like he knows what angels truly are.
      I wouldn’t be surprised if he secretly believes angels are the real thing.

  9. Hi Neil. Could you please clarify this for me?

    “Gullotta zeroes in on what I also happen to think are a some of Carrier’s weaker points. If I imagine Richard Carrier and Earl Doherty in a heated discussion over some additions Carrier seeks to bring to Doherty’s original thesis, I confess that I might, in the end, side with Doherty and ask Carrier to leave the argument as it is.”

    1. Despite some worthwhile contributions of Carrier in the discussion of Christian origins (and there are several of note that are too much overlooked), I have frequently found myself at odds with him on a range of specific points.

      — Carrier’s view that the book of Daniel could have been/was used to foment messianic hopes prior to the first Jewish revolt of 66-70 CE.

      — Carrier’s interpretation of the Galatians Hagar-Sarah allegory and his interpretation of “born of a woman” in the same section of Galations.

      — His interpretation of “brother of the Lord” also in Galatians.

      — His interpretation of Philo’s Logos and the “Rising One”

      From memory, all or most of those are points that Carrier added to Doherty’s work. There are also areas that Doherty and Carrier have in common that I disagree with — such as their understanding of the Ascension of Isaiah and a heavenly crucifixion (and, I think Doherty also accepted the notion of a popular messianic expectation in first century Palestine, a point for which I see no secure evidence despite the widespread acceptance of this view.)

      The above are the points that come to mind right now.

      1. > Despite some worthwhile contributions of Carrier in the discussion of Christian origins (and there are several of note that are too much overlooked)

        Would you be kind enough to explain what such points are? Carrier is so strongly associated with controversial ideas and insults to and from him that it can be difficult to appreciate his other, more subtle, achievements – but I try to, with his discussion of the historicity of Paul (which you would probably disagree with) and his discussion of quotations attributed to Hitler as useful in this context.

        By the way, I wanted to write to you an email last weekend, but unfortunate delays in my life put an end to that ability. Still, I hope to email you with some thoughts about Paul and what other literature from similar enviromrnts and forr similar purposes may suggest about him.

        1. Indeed — Carrier’s use of Bayes is a definite plus, despite the naysayers who complain he’s not using the complex maths involved in statistical applications. It is a good thing that he has introduced the fundamentals of Bayesian reasoning as it was formulated by Thomas Bayes himself. What it does do is bring to our consciousness a clarity of what is otherwise going on in the backs of our minds. That can only be a good thing to help us identify more easily flaws in our reasoning.

          Bayes is applicable to assessing the probability of hypotheses. The Jesus historicity/myth question is a question of hypotheses so that’s exactly where it belongs.

          Another part of that Bayesian process as employed by Carrier is his adoption of a “type” of character with which to make an assessment of Jesus’ historicity. I can understand why he has done that (using the Rank-Raglan points) but I am not sure it is really necessary. But without it we do have to decide in advance on exactly what sort of Jesus we are arguing about, and that can be problematic, too.

          Another clear plus is his pointing out the odds of against his hypothesis in a way that favours the case against his hypothesis. That should be a standard practice among all scholars so it is probably a reflection on sub-par much biblical scholarship is when one notices someone applying proper standards.

          And let’s not forget his valuable acknowledgement of Earl Doherty’s contributions.

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