Gullotta’s review of Carrier’s argument #2: relating to Jesus’ birth and humanity

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by Neil Godfrey

The focus of my response will center on Carrier’s

  1. claim that a pre-Christian angel named Jesus existed,
  2. his understanding of Jesus as a non-human and celestial figure within the Pauline corpus,
  3. his argument that Paul understood Jesus to be crucified by demons and not by earthly forces,
  4. his claim that James, the brother of the Lord, was not a relative of Jesus but just a generic Christian within the Jerusalem community,
  5. his assertion that the Gospels represent Homeric myths,
  6. and his employment of the Rank-Raglan heroic arche-type as a means of comparison.

(Gullotta, p. 325. my formatting/numbering for quick reference)

Daniel Gullotta next addresses Richard Carrier’s discussion of the passage in Galatians that speaks of Jesus being “born of a woman”. If in the previous criticism Gullotta failed to grasp the “background information” status of Philo’s interpretation of Zechariah, this time he fails to point out to his readers that Carrier actually allows for Gullotta’s criticism and is willing to grant, for the sake of arguing a fortiori, that Gullotta’s interpretation is entirely correct. Why or how Gullotta failed to inform readers that Carrier made this concession is difficult to understand.

Readers have a right to expect that a review does not give a false impression about how the the reviewer’s criticism fits with the author’s argument.

Gullotta writes:

[Carrier] makes an unlikely claim that Paul in Galatians 3.29-4.7 is ‘speaking from beginning to end about being born to allegorical women’, and thus Paul meant that Jesus was born, in an allegorical sense, to Hagar. Carrier mistakenly links Paul’s usage of the story of Abraham and the birth of his sons by different women to Christ, claiming ‘Jesus was momentarily born to the allegorical Hagar, the slave woman, which is the Torah law (the old testament), which holds sway in the earthly Jerusalem, so that he could kill off that law with his own death, making it possible for us to be born of the free woman at last.’

This, however, is not validated by the text. . . . . There is no direct connection between the woman in Gal 4.4 and the women who bear the sons of Abraham in Gal 4.22-24. Paul’s statement that ‘this is an allegory’ appears in Gal 4.24, well after his earlier proclamation . . . .

Carrier explains that his interpretation of the passage is an attempt to approach it without preconceptions of the historicity of Jesus. Even so, I find myself siding with the standard interpretation of the passage as set out by Gullotta. What is important to note, though, is that whatever interpretation one embraces, the Greek word translated “born” does embrace the meaning of “made”. Certainly the phrase itself could and was used to refer to normal births but the fact remains that Paul’s earliest interpreters themselves disputed the exact meaning (see posts linked in the “Born of a Woman” archive).

Here is the passage that Gullotta overlooked. It is in Carrier’s concluding paragraph of his discussion of the passage, p. 582:

But since all this [Carrier’s allegorical interpretation of “born of a woman”] is not yet commonly accepted . . .  I will argue a fortiori by saying [this standard explanation, the one argued by Gullotta] is 100% expected on minimal historicity. . . .  So again, although I doubt it, this passage might also be twice as likely on historicity.

Gullotta has bypassed sixty-five pages of discussion of Paul’s statements about the activities and words of Jesus to zero in on a five page treatment of apparent exceptions without noticing that Carrier actually conceded Gullotta’s interpretation as acceptable.

So when Gullotta goes to lengths to point out the common understanding of Paul’s letters where his statements can well be interpreted in a way that “does not rule out” a belief in the historicity of Jesus, he is saying nothing more than what Carrier acknowledges and accepts in his own argument. The difference between the two is that Carrier is balancing those interpretations against the weight of other passages and information and not treating them as absolutist proof-texts when interpreted in the light of the gospels.

Readers unfamiliar with Carrier’s argument might be asking: If Gullotta’s interpretation is conceded by Carrier then does that not close the case and prove that Paul believed Jesus to be an earthly historical figure? The answer is “no” because even though one can interpret Paul’s words to mean that Jesus had a natural human birth the history of early Christian doctrinal disputes demonstrates that this was not the universal earliest interpretation of Paul. (Besides, although they are contrary to Carrier’s own “minimal criteria for mythicism”, there may be other reasons to see the evidence pointing to a celestial Christ who descends into the physical world in order to die without thinking of such a figure as genuinely historical.)


There are other oddities in Gullotta’s criticism of Carrier’s argument at this point. One such addition is his pointing to the passage in Romans that says Christ came from the seed of David and that therefore he could not be born allegorically of Hagar. Again, Gullotta has overlooked vital details in Carrier’s discussion that address just that point which included a discussion of a second allegorical birth.


Before leaving this particular criticism I cannot avoid dropping in a particular point that sometimes seems to be overlooked. Even if Paul did think of Jesus as appearing as a man on earth that tells us nothing about the “historicity of Jesus”; it only tells us about Paul’s belief.

Next in the series, argument #3.



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17 thoughts on “Gullotta’s review of Carrier’s argument #2: relating to Jesus’ birth and humanity”

  1. The Ancient Egyptians did believe in The Ever Coming Son and in Egyptian ‘Come’ or ‘Coming’ was IW, that is ‘IU’ (origin of the name Jew – refer Gerald Massey) and their word for ‘Son’ was letter S + glottal stop, thus IUSA. I have found this name in hieroglyphs in Egyptian Text. It was an alternative for HR which the Greeks turned into Horus. HR – Har or Her, or Hor – was the son of the God Uasar (Osiris to the Greeks) so the two names were seen as the same, just as Pharaohs were called by either their praenomen or throne name – eventually Kings of Egypt had 5 names. The Greeks turned Iusa or Iosa into IESOUS and it was from these earlier stories that led to the fictitious gospels – nearly all plagiarised from the Egyptian stories. Hence Revelation 11:8.

    What is very ironic is that the Egyptians also used the letter ‘Y’ as an adjectival suffix at the end of names just as we do in English, and it simply meant “He or She Who Is”. The son of God Iosa may very well have been called ‘HARRY’ – HR + Y. Another thing is that the Egyptians only ever believed in one God but gave their God different names for each character – something like RC Saints such as Christopher for Travel and so on. As a Creator they saw God as a Potter who formed the living out of Clay and the name they gave God as a Creator cum Potter was actually PTAH. So we do have Harry Potter as a son of God in Ancient Egyptian belief.

  2. Revelation 12:1-2 thoroughly proves one could believe Christ was a heavenly being who was born of a woman:

    “And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; 2 she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth…”

  3. How could Paul possibly know that his Jesus was “of the seed of David”, a character from 1,000 years before his time?

    This could only have been surmise by Paul to support his new theology.

    However, I am confused as to whether this reference supports the idea of Jesus as an historical figure contemporaneous with Paul or not. That Paul mentioned this unknowable fact in support of his theology seems to me to suggest the latter.

    1. I think the simplest answer is that he and his contemporaries were informed of this information through scripture, in particular 2 Samuel 7:12 (12 `When thy days are full, and thou hast lain with thy fathers, then I have raised up thy seed after thee which goeth out from thy bowels, and have established his kingdom; 13 He doth build a house for My Name, and I have established the throne of his kingdom unto the age. 14 I am to him for a father, and he is to Me for a son).

      Consider that the early Christians started as likely one of many fringe Jewish cults that were probably the equivalent of modern “bible coders,” looking for secrets in the Hebrew scriptures (via the Septuagint) that mainstream Jews would have been “blind” to. I think it makes a lot more sense that the bloodline of the messiah was something that was then informed/determined theologically — “it had to be true because that’s what the scriptures say when you read/decode them the right way” — than than via genealogy records.

      Likewise, (in relation to the previous post on Philo/Zechariah) reading Zechariah 6 a “certain way” could then lead these “bible coders” to discover that this same son who would build the temple to the lord was crowned “Jesus son of the righteous God” (Joshua son of Jehozadak). Beyond that, if it was believed or understood that God’s house/temple/throne was found in heaven, then wouldn’t that make the son who built it also a heavenly being? A cosmic “carpenter”?

      Nothing is for certain, but I think this is definitely a plausible line of thinking.

    2. “How could Paul possibly know that his Jesus was “of the seed of David”, a character from 1,000 years before his time?”
      It’s called pesherim and I think that’s what Booker is eluding to.

      I don’t understand why some people get all confused about this issue and the results.

      It’s been shown that NT stories can be created from OT stories by this method.

      The whole bible is made up of this kind of thing, it’s like a circular feedback loop.

    3. I have wondered if the dynamic of Paul having been Saul and Jesus being ‘of the seed of David’ dynamics reflects variations of the stories of Saul and David in 1 and 2 Samuel, with Saul being killed and his family being dispatched a couple of years later, and David being triumphant (and Paul being inserted as a narrator of a vague new David) –

      2 Samuel 2 (NIV) –
      4 … When David was told that it was the men from Jabesh Gilead who had buried Saul, 5 he sent messengers to them to say to them, “The Lord bless you for showing this kindness to Saul your master by burying him. 6 May the Lord now show you kindness and faithfulness, and I too will show you the same favor because you have done this. 7 Now then, be strong and brave, for Saul your master is dead, and the people of Judah have anointed me king over them.”

      8 Meanwhile, Abner son of Ner, the commander of Saul’s army, had taken Ish-Bosheth son of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim. 9 He made him king over Gilead, Ashuri and Jezreel, and also over Ephraim, Benjamin and all Israel.

      10 Ish-Bosheth son of Saul was forty years old when he became king over Israel, and he reigned two years. The tribe of Judah, however, remained loyal to David. 11 The length of time David was king in Hebron over Judah was seven years and six months …

      15 …counted off [were] twelve men for Benjamin and Ish-Bosheth son of Saul; and twelve for David. 16 Then each man grabbed his opponent by the head and thrust his dagger into his opponent’s side, and they fell down together. So that place in Gibeon was called Helkath Hazzurim.[field of daggers or field of hostilities.]

      17 The battle that day was very fierce, and Abner and the Israelites were defeated by David’s men.

  4. I want to throw in my two cents.

    Earl Doherty’s (and Richard Carrier’s) hypothesis that according to Paul Jesus was crucified in a lower heaven is plausible (see the Ascension of Isaiah).

    Jesus being created from David’s seed could be figuratively.

    However, other options should be kept open. Paul is so vague in the language he uses, we cannot be certain of anything he truly believes.

    Earl Doherty thinks Paul believes that Jesus was crucified before the beginning of time, before David was born, but Jesus is made out of David’s seed, figuratively.

    If one applies logic, the crucifixion must have happened during or after David’s life. Maybe we should take Paul literally, Jesus was literally David’s son. I perused a list of David’s sons with short biographies of their lives. One son of David was executed. It was Absalom. Absalom led an uprising against his father.

    2 Samuel 18 describes how Absalom’s head gets stuck in a tree while riding his mule. Then Joab “took three javelins in his hand and plunged them into Absalom’s heart while Absalom was still alive in the oak tree. And ten of Joab’s armor-bearers surrounded Absalom, struck him and killed him.” (2 Samuel 18: 14)

    Perhaps Paul thought that Joab’s men pierced Absalom’s hands and feet, creating a semblance of crucifixion, with Jesus hanging on a tree by his neck.

    It could also explain why Paul says the Jews killed Jesus, assuming it wasn’t an interpolation. These Jews were Joab and his men.

    1. Yes, it’s possible “David’s seed” was not in the original epistle.

      I have found another reason to argue that Paul may have thought Absalom to be Jesus Christ. It turns out that Absalom means “Father of Peace”. Isaiah 9:6 describes “the Messiah” (as Jews and Christians would interpret it) as “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

      The name Absalom is therefore a contraction of Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah continues on, saying in the next verse, that “the messiah” would sit on the throne of David. That’s what Absalom did. Isaiah says it would happen eternally, but perhaps Paul believes Absalom will return and do it again.

      And, Zechariah 12:10 says “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.

      Here is Jesus/Absalom speaking (as I think Paul might have interpreted it), saying he was pierced, like Absalom was pierced. 2 Samuel 19 (:1-5) describes how King David and the troops weep over Absalom: “The king was shaken. So he went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. As he walked he cried, “My son Absalom! O my son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you! Absalom, my son, my son!” Then Joab was told, “Look, the king is weeping and mourning over Absalom!” So the victory that day was turned into mourning for all the troops, for the troops heard it said that day, “The king is grieving over his son.” So the troops entered into the city stealthily that day, like troops who are ashamed after running away in battle. The king covered his face and cried with a loud voice, “My son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!” ” [End of Quote]

      Zechariah 12:10 also could explain why Paul might have truly believed Jesus Christ to have been killed by the Jews, because that’s what “Jesus Christ” seems to be saying (as Paul might have read it), that he was pierced by “the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem”, that is the Jews.

      I have discovered others sort of have the same idea I have (of whom many are Christians). Some believe Absalom’s story is a prefiguration of Jesus Christ’s passion story. One even believes the battle between David and Absalom is actually an allegorical story depicting the battle in heavens, with Absalom playing the role as Lucifer the fallen angel. One even believes Absalom is a counterfeit of the Messiah, wanting to imitate Jesus, for instance Absalom riding on a mule just like Jesus rode on a mule.

      Some examples I found on the internet (I typed in “Jesus is Absalom” and “is Absalom the Messiah” in the google search bar):







      1. I forgot a quotation mark after the quote from Zechariah 12:10: “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.”

        I want to correct myself when I said others have the same idea. They don’t believe Paul believes Jesus is Absalom. They believe themselves that Jesus looks a hell of a lot like Absalom, both being hung on a tree, being pierced, riding on a mule, his father grieving over him, etc…

  5. “Even if Paul did think of Jesus as appearing as a man on earth that tells us nothing about the “historicity of Jesus”; it only tells us about Paul’s belief.”

    That works both ways. Even if Paul thought Jesus was some sort of “celestial” being, that proves nothing about “the ‘historicity of Jesus’; it only tells us about Paul’s belief.”

    1. It is not what Paul believed, it is what some Catholic scribe, not before the middle of the second century, wants to force the godfearing populace to believe, lest it would not be possible to justify the community code and the sacraments.

  6. With no reference to Bayesian analysis, Gulotta twists Carrier’s argument into an “an argument from silence”, rather than the argument on how well each theory predicts each item of evidence, which items of evidence count, and how they count towards the most probable Bayesian conclusion. Gulotta writes:

    Paul never mentions Jesus having a father (besides God) and does not name Jesus’ mother. Carrier’s argument that this somehow indicates that Jesus was not believed to be a human being, however, is at best an argument from silence.

    See also: John Nelson (4 June 2018). “Six Reasons for the ‘Silence’ (Paul and the Historical Jesus, part 2)”. Confessions of a Theology Student:

    The silence in Paul’s epistles pertaining to Jesus as a historical figure is sometimes exploited to argue that the apostle Paul knew only the ‘Christ of Faith’, as opposed to the ‘Jesus of History’. I find this argument – which is, in fact, an argumentum ex silento – unconvincing, as there are a number of plausible explanations one may provide to explain why Paul does not explicitly cite Jesus in his epistles.

    • Cf. Jonathan Pearce (16 August 2018). “Why Paul Didn’t Write about the Historical Jesus“. A Tippling Philosopher.

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