For an annotated list of previous posts in this series see the archived page:
After setting aside a discussion of Richard Carrier’s Bayesian method as “unnecessarily complicated and uninviting” (p. 325) and opting instead to focus on six points in Carrier’s argument, Daniel Gullotta concludes:
After examining numerous fundamental problems with Carrier’s overall thesis for Jesus’ non-historicity, Carrier’s final Bayesian conclusion that ‘the odds Jesus existed are less than 1 in 12,000’ is untenable and disingenuous.
Gullotta, p. 344
That statement is misleading insofar as Gullotta has not addressed Carrier’s “Bayesian conclusion” at any point in his review. (Gullotta has not even addressed the Bayesian method except to compare it, misguidedly, with Richard Swinburne’s “use” of Bayes to prove Jesus’ resurrection.) One might infer, then, that the six points of Gullotta’s focus were “fundamental” to “Carrier’s overall thesis for Jesus’ non-historicity”, yet we have seen in the previous posts that such a suggestion seriously misunderstands (ignores) both Carrier’s Bayesian argument and the weight that Carrier himself assigned to those six points. Far from being “fundamental problems” we have seen that Gullotta’s
* Had a review addressed Carrier’s Bayesian method it would have acknowledged that this claim was but one of nearly 50 data points of background information and not a point of primary evidence to be assessed in the light of competing hypotheses;
** Had the discussion addressed the Bayesian analysis it would have informed readers that yes, Paul’s claims can be used to argue strongly for Jesus’ historicity, but that the competing hypothesis also needed to be addressed along with all other related evidence and the two hypotheses then weighed against each other.
1. focus on Carrier’s claim that a pre-Christian angel named Jesus existed erroneously shifts one of nearly 50 background data points, a point that is quite dispensable without any significant loss to Carrier’s argument, into a “fundamental” plank of Carrier’s argument;*
2. focus on his understanding of Jesus as a non-human and celestial figure within the Pauline corpus inexplicably failed to acknowledge that Carrier conceded the argument that Paul’s claim that Jesus was born of a woman was 100% expected in the argument for historicity, that Carrier argued a fortiori giving here the highest score in favour of Jesus being historical;**
3. focus on his argument that Paul understood Jesus to be crucified by demons and not by earthly forces demonstrated that he, Gullotta, lacked awareness of the range of scholarly views on this question, and in particular on the competing interpretations of the critical passage in 1 Corinthians;
4. focus on his claim that James, the brother of the Lord, was not a relative of Jesus but just a generic Christian within the Jerusalem community inexplicably failed to acknowledge that Carrier conceded the argument that Paul’s claim to have met the brother of the Lord was 100% expected in the argument for historicity, that Carrier argued a fortiori giving here the highest score in favour of Jesus being historical;**
5. focus on his assertion that the Gospels represent Homeric myths, inexplicably failed to acknowledge that Carrier made far more detailed and comprehensive arguments that the gospels were, as Gullotta himself seemed to acknowledge, primarily based on a “midrashic-like” retelling of stories from the Jewish Scriptures and emulation of Jewish heroes from those scriptures;
6. focus on his employment of the Rank-Raglan heroic arche-type as a means of comparison demonstrated Gullotta’s (a) contradictory arguments, (b) ignorance of what folklorists themselves have said and demonstrated about the function of, and ways to use, the RR archetypes, and (c) inexplicable failure to acknowledge Carrier’s points about the use and significance of the RR scale.
Gullotta has failed to address what he began by acknowledging was the fundamental point of Carrier’s argument:
Simply put, the main objective of Carrier’s work is to test the ‘historicity hypothesis’ against the ‘myth hypothesis’, and after calculating the background knowledge, prior probability, as well as the evidence from the primary and secondary sources related to Jesus’ historicity, see which one seems more probable.
(Gullotta, p. 321)
- With respect to points #2 and #4 above Gullotta had two excellent opportunities to address that “main objective” but failed to do so.
- With respect to #1 Gullotta failed to take into account Carrier’s “main objective” and the place of nearly fifty points of “background knowledge” in that objective.
- With respect to #3 and #6 our reviewer’s discussion lacked awareness of the wider scholarly views, firstly within biblical studies and secondly in an external field.
- With respect to #5, Gullotta simply failed to notice about forty pages of argument belying his criticism and confused Carrier’s primary thesis with that of Dennis MacDonald, criticizing Carrier for points he nowhere makes.
A final irony
Daniel Gullotta damns Richard Carrier with faint praise when he implies at the end that Carrier’s criticisms of the methods of historical Jesus scholars are well-known in the field and that Carrier’s “contribution” was therefore superfluous.
Paradoxically, Carrier’s main contribution may wind up being seen not as an advancement of mythicism, but as a criticism of current methodologies employed by scholars of the historical Jesus. Because of this, Carrier’s work is an ironic contribution to the quest for the historical Jesus. Put simply, Carrier’s methodological complaints represent a long and ongoing trend which other scholars have addressed.127
127 Many of Carrier’s concerns and criticisms have been longed (sic) noted and echoed by other historical Jesus scholars. See
Chris Keith, ‘The Narratives of the Gospels and the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Current Debates, Prior Debates, and the Goal of Historical Jesus Research’, Journal for the Study of the New Testament 38.4 (2016), pp. 426–455;
Jonathan Bernier, The Quest for the Historical Jesus after the Demise of Authenticity: Towards a Critical Realist Philosophy of History in Jesus Studies (London: T&T Clark, 2016);
James G. Crossley, Jesus and the Chaos of History: Redirecting the Life of the Historical Jesus (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015);
James H. Charlesworth and Brian Rhea (eds.), Jesus Research: New Methodologies and Perceptions (Grand Rapids: Williams B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014);
Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne (eds.), Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity (New York: T&T Clark, 2012);
Rafael Rodriguez, Structuring Early Christian Memory: Jesus in Tradition, Performance and Text (London: T&T Clark, 2010);
James H. Charlesworth and Petr Pokorný (eds.), Jesus Research: An International Perspective (Grand Rapids: Williams B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009);
Anthony Le Donne, The Historiographical Jesus: Memory, Typology, and the Son of David (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2009);
Rafael Rodríguez, ‘Authenticating Criteria: The Use and Misuse of a Critical Method’, Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 7.2 (2009), pp. 152–167;
Bernard Brandon Scott (ed.), Finding the Historical Jesus: Rules of Evidence (Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press, 2008);
Stanley E. Porter, The Criteria for Authenticity in Historical-Jesus Research: Previous Discussion and New Proposals (London: T&T Clark, 2004);
Hyeon Woo Shin, Textual Criticism and the Synoptic Problem in Historical Jesus Research (Leuven: Peeters Publishers, 2004);
Gerd Theissen and Dagmar Winter, The Quest for the Plausible Jesus: The Question of Criteria (Louisville: John Knox Press, 2002).
(Gullotta, pp. 344f, my formatting of the footnote)
I have bolded the publication years of first four works listed as being among those “long noted” to draw attention to their appearance after (or simultaneous with) the publication of Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus (2014).
Another “ironical” detail is the inclusion of Scott’s Finding the Historical Jesus: Rules of Evidence in the list. Far from being an instance of a “long-standing methodological complaint” Scott’s volume is in fact a whole-hearted support of the methods. As Carrier himself noted in his companion volume to OHJ, Proving History,
The discussion of the same criteria in the Jesus Seminar’s manual on method, edited by Bernard Brandon Scott, Finding the Historical Jesus: Rules of Evidence (Santa Rosa, CA: Polebridge, 2008), is almost wholly uncritical and entirely unresponsive to any of the literature above.
(Carrier, Proving History, p. 294, my bolding)
And what is that “literature above” to which Carrier refers? Irony of ironies….
Stanley Porter, The Criteria for Authenticity in Historical-Jesus Research: Previous Discussion and New Proposals (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000)
James Charlesworth and Petr Pokorný, eds., Jesus Research: An International Perspective (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2009)
Dale Allison, “The Historians’ Jesus and the Church” and The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2009);
Gerd Theissen and Dagmar Winter, The Quest for the Plausible Jesus: The Question of Criteria, trans. M. Eugene Boring (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 2002);
Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne, eds., Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity (T & T Clark, 2002);
….. Similar doubts can be found almost anywhere the criteria have ever been critically discussed, e.g.,
M. D. Hooker, “Christology and Methodology,” New Testament Studies 17 (1970): pp. 480–87;
John Gager, “The Gospels and Jesus: Some Doubts about Method,” Journal of Religion 54, no. 3 (July 1974): 244–72;
Eugene Boring, “The Beatitudes in Q and Thomas as a Test Case,” Semeia 44 (1988): 9–44;
John Meier, “Criteria: How Do We Decide What Comes from Jesus?” A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, vol. 1 (New York: Doubleday, 1991), pp. 167–95;
Christopher Tuckett, “Sources and Methods,” in The Cambridge Companion to Jesus, ed. Markus Bockmuehl (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), pp. 121–37;
H. W. Shin, Textual Criticism and the Synoptic Problem in Historical Jesus Research: The Search for Valid Criteria (Dudley, MA: Peeters, 2004), pp. 135–220, pp. 320–34;
Eric Eve, “Meier, Miracle, and Multiple Attestation,” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 3, no. 1 (2005): 23–45;
William John Lyons, “The Hermeneutics of Fictional Black and Factual Red: The Markan Simon of Cyrene and the Quest for the Historical Jesus,” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 4, no. 2 (June 2006): 139–54 (cf. 150–51, n. 51)
and “A Prophet Is Rejected in His Home Town (Mark 6.4 and Parallels): A Study in the Methodological (In)Consistency of the Jesus Seminar,” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 6, no. 1 (March 2008): 59–84; and
Rafael Rodríguez, “Authenticating Criteria: The Use and Misuse of a Critical Method,” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 7, no. 2 (2009): 152–67.
Anthony Le Donne, The Historiographical Jesus: Memory, Typology, and the Son of David (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2009)
I have bolded the works listed and discussed by Carrier that Daniel Gullotta also listed by way of implying that Carrier or others reading his works may not realize demonstrate that scholars are well aware of flaws in their methods. The irony is that Carrier informed his readers of all but one of those works and may others in addition. Gullotta has evidently not grasped the way Carrier has actually addressed this scholarship, nor even the fact that he has addressed it. (Several of the titles are again cited by Carrier in OHJ.)
A swift hard kick out the door
Gullotta’s final paragraph may appeal to many readers but I think it concludes on an unnecessary and unfounded imputation of undesirable motives. I think it is especially noteworthy that Gullotta provides no references to the book he is reviewing to justify the following remarks in his concluding paragraph:
Scholars, however, may rightly question whether Carrier’s work and those who evangelize it exhibit the necessary level of academic detachment. 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. 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.
(Gullotta, p. 346)
Evangelize? A group with a passionate dislike for Jesus? Found what they were looking for? Mythicists will accuse scholars? Apologists for dogmatic atheism?
Where do all of those descriptors come from? By concluding that way Gullotta signals to anyone who may question the historicity of Jesus that he or she will be considered an “apologist for a kind of dogmatic atheism”, someone who has a “passionate dislike for Jesus” and is “looking for” a justification to believe he no longer existed. How can anyone expect a reasonable debate or discussion with anyone who approaches another with such presumptions about their motives and character?
Gullotta quoted Carrier’s positive hope that his book would improve the standard of arguments and methods of both mythicists and “historicists” in his final paragraph he roundly slaps down Carrier and anyone who might question the historicity of Jesus.
When I first heard of the possibility that Jesus may not have existed I was an atheist but I did not say, Hey, great, that’s just what I want to believe! No, I was like many other atheists and was quite shocked, and certainly sceptical, on hearing that anyone argued for such an idea. My past experience with a fundamentalist cult did not leave me with a bitter hope or wish that Jesus never existed but it did leave me with a painful awareness of just how wrong and deceived I could be, and how important it was to be extra careful before embracing any other radical idea. I have also seen both today and in the past that some mythicists have had a deep respect for Christianity, some continue to identify themselves as devout Christians. Many atheists dogmatically oppose the very idea of mythicism.
As an atheist I have no need to think Jesus was nonhistorical and I am sure that many other atheists think the same way. I seem to recall that the main reason many supported Richard Carrier’s enterprise was to come up with a method that could hopefully settle the question either way.
With limited academic jobs available following the outbreak of the global financial crisis in 2007, he turned to his fan base and proposed a research project investigating the historicity of Jesus in order to help pay off his student debt.20 Carrier’s appeal was answered and he received a total of $20,000 in donations, administrated by Atheists United as a charitable research grant.
20 See Richard C. Carrier, ‘Calling All Benefactors’, Richard Carrier Blogs (2008), para. 1–12. Online: http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2008/04/calling-all-benefactors.html [accessed ca. 2015].
Gullotta could have been a little more charitable and pointed out that in that same blog post and in a follow up comment that Carrier did not promise an argument in favour of mythicism but prepared readers that there was some possibility at least that it might go the other way, though he thought it unlikely at the time. Carrier was not addressing Jesus haters who were craving a slam dunk to prove Jesus did not exist, contrary to what Gullotta seems to suggest in his concluding paragraph. Does Gullotta really think that atheists are incapable of being fair minded or honest in their approach to the question of Jesus? Gullotta appeals to Maurice Casey and Bart Ehrman when he makes his damning claim, but we have seen in other posts that their comparable accusations are equally unsupported and gratuitous.
One more post to complete this series.
Carrier, Richard. 2014. On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press.
Carrier, Richard. 2012. Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus. Amherst, N.Y: Prometheus Books.
Gullotta, Daniel N. 2017. “On Richard Carrier’s Doubts.” <em>Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus</em> 15 (2–3): 310–46. https://doi.org/10.1163/17455197-01502009.
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