Gullotta on Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus: One Final Irony (or Misunderstanding? or…?)

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

For an annotated list of previous posts in this series see the archived page:

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

I will make this the final post in my series examining Daniel Gullotta’s review of Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus. There is considerably more in the review that I could address. For instance, I originally intended to post detailed discussions of the nature of the publications Gullotta has cited as addressing the history and arguments of mythicism to demonstrate how these sources are often cited but apparently far less often actually read with the critical sense that scholars are usually trained to exercise, and certainly the works they are themselves discussing are read even less. But other interests beckon at the moment. I will, however, single out just one particular detail in Gullotta’s review that I think epitomizes one core irony.

In the concluding paragraphs of his article Gullotta appears to confuse the question of the historical existence of Jesus with the question of what sort of person he was like. Part of the irony in this confusion lies in Gullotta’s having cited near the beginning of his review an article by Samuel Byrskog, ‘The Historicity of Jesus: How Do We Know That Jesus Existed?’, in Tom Holmén and Stanley E. Porter (eds.), Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus, Vol. 3 (Leiden: Brill, 2010), pp. 2181–2211, that clarifies that distinction. Byrskog writes in his opening statement:

Samuel Byrskog

The quest for the historical Jesus is not a quest for his existence as such, but for the more precise contours of his person and career. But how do we know that he in fact existed?

(Byrskog, p. 2183)

Yet Gullotta appears to confuse the two different questions at the end of his essay when he complains that Carrier has criticized the methods of historical Jesus scholars that those scholars themselves have been critical of, as we discussed in the previous post. Gullotta directs readers to the “new” world of historical Jesus scholarship in which “new methods” are accordingly applied:

In the post-Jesus Seminar world of historical Jesus studies, newer scholarship is far less invested in determining whether Jesus did or did not say any particular saying or perform any deed attributed to him. Many now argue that historians can only construct ‘the gist’ of what the historical Jesus may have said and done, and this is to ‘heed before all else the general impressions that our primary sources provide’. The confidence that historians once displayed within historical Jesus studies has been eroded due to previous excesses and flaws in older methodologies. New scholarship has been advocating for quite some time that the ‘historical Jesus … is ultimately unattainable, but can be hypothesized on the basis of the interpretations of the early Christians, and as part of a larger process of accounting for how and why early Christians came to view Jesus in the ways that they did’. In other words, Carrier’s imagined historical Jesus of the academy has ceased to exist, as contemporary scholarship has advanced beyond such idealistic pursuits.

(Gullotta, pp. 345f.)

Here Gullotta appears to be unaware that he has fallen into the wrong side of the question that Byrskog (whom Gullotta cited earlier) points out: investigating what Jesus was like, what he did and what he said is not the same thing as asking the more fundamental question, did he exist?

But Gullotta has fallen into an even more serious error when he writes that the Jesus whose existence Carrier is questioning “has ceased to exist” in the minds of the biblical scholars. Gullotta has forgotten that Carrier began his argument by raising the problems of many interpretations of the historical Jesus and making it clear that he would discuss the bare “minimal Jesus” that any and all historical Jesus figures, or even just “the gists” of them, had to meet: Continue reading “Gullotta on Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus: One Final Irony (or Misunderstanding? or…?)”