Category Archives: Carrier: On the Historicity of Jesus

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

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: read more »

Gullotta’s Concluding Comments on Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus

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

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.

Surely, then, Gullotta has not “examined numerous fundamental problems” with Carrier’s thesis nor has he addressed (in fact he has consciously avoided) Carrier’s “Bayesian conclusion”.

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. read more »

Gullotta, Carrier and the point of the Rank-Raglan classification (Or, Can Carrier’s RR reference class be justified?)

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

We finally arrive at the double-back-flip as Daniel Gullotta’s concluding word on his discussion of how wrong he believes it is to place Jesus in a Rank-Raglan scale.

Even if Jesus’ life merited a 20 out of 22 on the Rank-Raglan hero-type list (which it does not, as I have shown), this does not confirm his place amongst other mythological figures of antiquity. As the late folklorist Alan Dundes* pointed out, mythicists’ employment of this analysis does not have much to do with whether Jesus existed; it is merely an exercise in literary and psychoanalytic comparisons.124 The traditions of Jesus conforming to these legendary patterns does not negate his historicity any more than the legends connected with Alexander the Great, Augustus Caesar, and Apollonius of Tyana denies theirs.

(Gullotta, p. 344 — * Dundes, as we saw in the previous post, argues that Jesus certainly fits 17 of Raglan’s 22 points)

And here we will address what I offered two posts ago: a discussion of the rationale or place of the archetypes in any discussion of the historicity of Jesus.

After having gone to such lengths to persuade readers that the use of the Rank-Raglan archetypes was an intellectually dishonest ploy by Carrier, that the archetypes did not fit Jesus anyway, Gullotta concludes all of that by agreeing with what Carrier said in the very first place when pointing out that they do not prove the historicity or nonhistoricity of Jesus! The problem with Gullotta’s conclusion, however, is that he in fact repeats what Carrier himself said without realizing he could have quoted Carrier to make his point (supposedly) against Carrier! Carrier writes at length about how historical persons do indeed fit elements in the Raglan list and accordingly argues a fortiori.

[I]f a real person can have the same elements associated with him, and in particular so many elements (and for this purpose it doesn’t matter whether they actually occurred), then there should be many real persons on the list—as surely there are far more real persons than mythical ones.

Therefore, whether fitting more than half the Rank-Raglan criteria was always a product of chance coincidence or the product of causal influence, either way we can still conclude that it would be very unusual for any historical person to fit more than half the Rank-Raglan criteria—because if it were not unusual, then many historical persons would have done so.

(Carrier, pp. 231f)

Appeal is sometimes made to a satirical essay by Francis Lee Utley, Lincoln Wasn’t There, Or, Lord Raglan’s Hero, as evidence that Raglan’s archetypes have no value at all in assessing historicity. What is not always realized by those who point to Utley, however, is that he was writing satire and to make his case work he had to bend the rationalizations beyond breaking point as can be seen by an apologist making use of Utley’s assertions. Alan Dundes comments on Utley’s essay (p. 190):

The significance of Utley’s essay is that it underscores the distinction between the individual and his biography with respect to historicity. The fact that a hero’s biography conforms to the Indo-European hero pattern does not necessarily mean that the hero never existed. It suggests rather that the folk repeatedly insist upon making their versions of the lives of heroes follow the lines of a specific series of incidents. Accordingly, if the life of Jesus conforms in any way with the standard hero pattern, this proves nothing one way or the other with respect to the historicity of Jesus.

Carrier might add, of and by itself it allows Jesus a one in three chance of being historical.

Carrier’s point is that it is very unusual (he says it has never happened) that a historical person scores as high as many obviously mythical persons, including Jesus, on the list. (Is it kosher at this point to turn the tables and ask if the reason Gullotta was so keen to limit the number of Raglan’s points against Jesus to as few as four was to use the list to argue for Jesus’ historicity?)

And that means we can put that specific data (the Rank-Raglan-assigning data) in our background knowledge and see what it gets as an expected frequency: how often are people in that class historical vs. ahistorical? Because, given the fact that Jesus belongs to that class, the prior probability that Jesus is historical has to be the same as the prior probability that anyone we draw at random from that class is historical.

(Carrier, p. 239)

What is Carrier’s final argument, then? It may surprise Gullotta to learn that Carrier, in arguing a fortiori, was prepared to accept that chances of Jesus being historical even though a high scorer on the Raglan list was one in three.

Again, even if we started from a neutral prior of 50% and walked our way through ‘all persons claimed to be historical’ to ‘all persons who became Rank-Raglan heroes’, we’d end up again with that same probability of 1 in 3. For example, if again there were 5,000 historical persons and 1,000 mythical persons, the prior probability of being historical would be 5/6; and of not being historical, 1/6. But if there are 10 mythical men in the Rank-Raglan class and 5 historical men (the four we are granting, plus one more, who may or may not be Jesus), then the probability of being in that class given that someone was historical would be 5/5000, which is 1/1000; and the probability given that they were mythical would be 10/1000, which is 1/100. This gives us a final probability of 1/3, hence 33%. No matter how you chew on it, no matter what numbers you put in, with these ratios you always end up with the same prior probability that Jesus was an actual historical man: just 33% at best.

(Carrier, pp. 243f)

That is, Carrier is willing to concede for the sake of argument that a high number of the Raglan archetypes can be found to apply to many historical persons as well as many more mythical ones, one in three.

Given Gullotta’s insistence that Jesus fell short of even half the Raglan elements I suspect he would not be willing to argue that a third of all those we could find in the high end of the Raglan types would be historical. (One wonders if Gullotta’s criticism might have taken better turn if there was no prior animus against mythicism or presumption that any mythicist argument is by nature flawed in both motives and methods.)

So what is the point?

Is there any validity to using a twenty-two point Raglan scale or anything comparable in the first place? Should Carrier not have placed Jesus in a Rank-Raglan reference class to begin with? read more »

Continuing Gullotta’s Criticism of Carrier’s Use of the Rank-Raglan Archetypes

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

Criticized for being Euro-centric and male-centric, these holistic-comparative theories have been almost universally rejected by scholars of folklore and mythology, who instead opt for theories of myth that center on the myths’ immediate cultural, political, and social settings.

(Gullotta, p. 342)

Here Gullotta is introducing a criticism of the theories that may be applicable to values of comparative literature studies but has no relevance to Carrier’s use of one of those theories. At least Gullotta does not explain how the Euro- or male-centric bias of the theories undermines the questions that are raised when seeking to explain the significance of the stories of Jesus in relation to mythical motifs.

Nevertheless, if a general point of reference for Jesus is required, why does Carrier not use Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces as his reference class? Is it because Campbell’s system is so general and universal it would fit almost any figure or story (hence the term monomyth)?

(Gullotta, p. 342)

Here again we find an odd criticism. Does Gullotta seriously suggest that Jesus should be compared with a model that attempts to describe the common human attributes found in all figures of myth, history and everyday life of us all? What would be the point of showing that Jesus undergoes at some level experiences that every figure, real or imagined, fantastical or real-life, undergoes?

Why does Carrier preference a hybrid Rank-Raglan’s scale of 22 patterns, over Rank’s original 12? Could it be because Rank’s original list includes the hero’s parents having ‘difficulty in conception’, the hero as an infant being ‘suckled by a female animal or humble woman’, to eventually grow up and take ‘revenge against his father’?

(Gullotta, p. 342)

We addressed this rhetorical question in the previous post.

Why not Jan de Vries’ heroic biographical sequence or Dean A. Miller’s characteristics of a Quest Hero?

Jan de Vries (Wikipedia photo)

Let’s look at Jan de Vries’ heroic biographical sequence and the pages Gullotta cites:

PATTERN OF AN HEROIC LIFE

I. The begetting of the hero

A. The mother is a virgin, who is in some cases overpowered by a god  . . . .

B. The father is a God. . . . .

C. The father is an animal, often the disguise of a god. . . . .

D. The child is conceived in incest . . . .

II. The birth of a hero

A. It takes place in an unnatural way. Zeus brings forth Dionysus out of his thigh, Athene out of his head. . . .

B. The ’unborn’ hero, i.e. the child that is born by means of a caesarean section

III. The youth of the hero is threatened

A. The child is exposed, either by the father who has been warned  in a dream that the child will he a danger to him, or by the mother who thus tries to hide her shame.

B. The exposed child is fed by animals.  . . . .

C. After that the child is found by shepherds, etc. In some cases it is found by shepherds or it is taken to them.

D. In Greek legend various heroes are brought up by a mythical figure;

IV. The wαγ in which the hero is brought up

A. The hero reveals has strength, courage, or other particular features at a very early age.

V. The hero often acquires invulnerability

VI. One of the most common heroic deeds is the fight with a dragon or another monster

VII. The hero wins a maiden, usually after overcoming great dangers

VIII. The hero makes an expedition to the underworld

IX. When the hero is banished in his youth he returns later and is victorious over his enemies. In some cases he has to leave the realm again which he has won with such difficulty.

X. The death of the hero

Heroes often die young. . . . .

Certainly not all of the above apply to Jesus. But not all of them apply to all heroes, either. Vries notes read more »

Rank-Raglan hero types and Gullotta’s criticism of Carrier’s use of them

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 archetype as a means of comparison.

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

We move on to the sixth and final focus of Daniel Gullotta’s critical review of Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus:

his employment of the Rank-Raglan heroic archetype as a means of comparison.

Let’s begin with Gullotta’s own explanation of what this term means:

Developed originally by Otto Rank (1884–1939) and later adapted by Lord Raglan (FitzRoy Somerset, 1885–1964), the Rank-Raglan hero-type is a set of criteria used for classifying a certain type of hero. Expanding upon Rank’s original list of twelve, Raglan offered twenty-two events that constitute the archetypical ‘heroic life’ as follows:

1. Hero’s mother is a royal virgin;
2. His father is a king, and
3. Often a near relative of his mother, but
4. The circumstances of his conception are unusual, and
5. He is also reputed to be the son of a god.
6. At birth an attempt is made, usually by his father or his maternal grandfather to kill him, but
7. he is spirited away, and
8. Reared by foster-parents in a far country.
9. We are told nothing of his childhood, but
10. On reaching manhood he returns or goes to his future Kingdom.
11. After a victory over the king and/or a giant, dragon, or wild beast,
12. He marries a princess, often the daughter of his predecessor and
13. And becomes king.
14. For a time he reigns uneventfully and
15. Prescribes laws, but
16. Later he loses favor with the gods and/or his subjects, and
17. Is driven from the throne and city, after which
18. He meets with a mysterious death,
19. Often at the top of a hill,
20. His children, if any do not succeed him.
21. His body is not buried, but nevertheless
22. He has one or more holy sepulchres.

While Raglan himself never applied the formula to Jesus, most likely out of fear or embarrassment at the results, later folklorists have argued that Jesus’ life, as presented in the canonical gospels, does conform to Raglan’s hero-pattern. According to mythicist biblical scholar, Robert M. Price, ‘every detail of the [Jesus] story fits the mythic hero archetype, with nothing left over …’ and ‘it is arbitrary that there must have been a historical figure lying in the back of the myth’.

(Gullotta, pp. 340f)

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

Let’s get some clarification and correction here. Otto Rank was on the lookout for Freudian meaning behind the myths and hence identified elements limited to the lifespan between the hero’s birth and his arrival at adulthood. Lord Raglan never read Rank and had no Freudian interest at all in relation to interpretations and analyses of myths. Contrary to Gullotta’s assertion Raglan did not “adapt” Rank’s “list”.  Raglan developed his own list of 22 items, some of which by chance overlapped concepts on Rank’s earlier list.

Clearly, parts one to thirteen correspond roughly to Rank’s entire scheme, though Raglan himself never read Rank.65 Six of Raglan’s cases duplicate Rank’s, and the anti-Freudian Raglan nevertheless also takes the case of Oedipus as his standard.66

65. Raglan, “Notes and Queries,” Journal of American Folklore 70 (October-December 1957): 359. Elsewhere Raglan ironically scorns what he assumes to be “the Freudian explanation” as “to say the least inadequate, since it only takes into account two incidents out of at least [Raglan’s] twenty-two and we find that the rest of the story is the same whether the hero marries his mother, his sister or his first cousin” (“The Hero of Tradition,” 230—not included in The Hero). Raglan disdains psychological analyses of all stripes . . . .

66. For Raglan’s own ritualist analysis of the Oedipus myth, see his Jocasta’s Crime (London: Methuen, 1933), esp. chap. 26.

(Segal, p. xxiv, xxxix, xl)

Folklorist Alan Dundes set out Rank’s outline into a list format in order to compare it with Lord Raglan’s list of 22 points. Notice the way the Rank’s words have been changed for the sake of easier comparison. There is nothing wrong with that in context, but Daniel Gullotta is wrong to use Dundes’ reworded summary in place of Rank’s own outline when he is criticizing Richard Carrier for modifying some of the wording in Lord Raglan’s list.

Rank (1909) Raglan (1934)
1. child of distinguished parents 1. mother is a royal virgin
2. father is king 2. father is a king
3. difficulty in conception 3. father related to mother
4. prophecy warning against birth (e.g. parricide) 4. unusual conception
5. hero surrendered to the water in a box 5. hero reputed to be son of god
6. saved by animals or lowly people 6. attempt (usually by father) to kill hero
7. suckled by female animal or humble woman 7. hero spirited away
8. — 8. reared by foster parents in a far country
9. hero grows up 9. no details of childhood
10. hero finds distinguished parents 10. goes to future kingdom
11. hero takes revenge on his father 11. is victor over king, giant dragon or wild beast
12. acknowledged by people 12. marries a princess (often daughter of predecessor)
13. achieves rank and honours 13. becomes king
14. — 14. for a time he reigns uneventfully
15. – 22. etc ……

Here is Rank’s outline of the hero myth, but note that I have converted Rank’s paragraph into a list format:

The standard saga itself may be formulated according to the following outline:

  • The hero is the child of most distinguished parents, usually the son of a king.
  • His origin is preceded by difficulties, such as continence, or prolonged barrenness, or secret intercourse of the parents due to external prohibition or obstacles.
  • During or before the pregnancy, there is a prophecy, in the form of a dream or oracle, cautioning against his birth, and usually threatening danger to the father (or his representative).
  • As a rule, he is surrendered to the water, in a box.
  • He is then saved by animals, or by lowly people (shepherds),
  • and is suckled by a female animal or by an humble woman.
  • After he has grown up, he finds his distinguished parents, in a highly versatile fashion.
  • He takes his revenge on his father, on the one hand,
  • and is acknowledged, on the other.
  • Finally he achieves rank and honors

Gullotta rhetorically asks

Why does Carrier preference a hybrid Rank-Raglan’s scale of 22 patterns, over Rank’s original 12? Could it be because Rank’s original list includes the hero’s parents having ‘difficulty in conception’, the hero as an infant being ‘suckled by a female animal or humble woman’, to eventually grow up and take ‘revenge against his father’?

(Gullotta, p. 242)

Ever since I read Daniel Dennett’s warning against argument by rhetorical question….

I advise my philosophy students to develop hypersensitivity for rhetorical questions in philosophy. They paper over whatever cracks there are in the arguments. (Dennett’s Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, p. 178)

….I hear a warning alarm and I check things out.

Gullotta’s rhetorical question is rendered null when we see (as I have set out above) that Rank did not say “the hero’s parents [were] having ‘difficulty in conception'” at all. Rank said “the hero’s origin is preceded by difficulties such as” — and the difficulties facing a virgin fiancée and her betrothed in the Jesus’ story are well known.

Moreover, when I read more than the page with the table of numbered points and look into what Rank himself wrote about his outline of hero myths, I find that, contrary to Gullotta’s inference, Rank did indeed include Jesus as a hero who fit his model!

Rank cites for the example of Jesus the prophetic announcements, the virginal mother and miraculous conception, the attempt on his life, his being whisked away to safety. Rank singles out the following details from Luke and Matthew as the key motifs to support his placement of Jesus in the same category as Sargon, Moses, Oedipus, Cyrus (yes, he was clearly historical!), Romulus, Hercules, Zoroaster, Buddha:

  • angel sent . . . to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David
  • thou shall conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shall call his name JESUS. He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Highest
  • seeing I know not a man?
  • shall be called the Son of God.
  • she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
  • the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream
  • And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son
  • she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger
  • wise men from the east
  • Where is he that is born King of the Jews?
  • Herod the king
  • the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt
  • slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under
  • for they are dead which sought the young child’s life.

So if, as Gullotta rightly pointed out, Lord Raglan held back from detailing the stories of Jesus against his “typical mythical elements” his predecessor, Otto Rank, did not — as we read in detail on pages 39 to 43 of The Myth of the Birth of the Hero.

Those terms Gullotta quotes (“difficulty in conception”) are not taken from his reading of Otto Rank but from another scholar, Alan Dundes, attempting to summarize and compare Rank’s views in a simplistic list. A more accurate summary would allow for the births of the following figures being allocated to the same class as Jesus — as Otto Rank does indeed allocate them.

  • Sargon
  • Moses
  • Karna
  • Oedipus
  • Paris
  • Telephus
  • Perseus
  • Gilgamesh
  • Cyrus
  • Tristan
  • Romulus
  • Hercules
  • Zoroaster
  • Buddha
  • Siegfried
  • Lohengrin

Unusual and otherwise miraculous births or conceptions and dire situations threatening the survival of the child would cover it. But one would need to read more of the book than the single page authored by a third party with a graphic layout of simplified tables to know that.

Gullotta’s criticism that Carrier was avoiding Rank’s list because it did not support the mythical interpretation of Jesus so far fails on three grounds: read more »

Further Daniel Gullotta Disrepresentation of Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus

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

Daniel Gullotta criticizes Richard Carrier’s purported argument that the first canonical gospel (the Gospel of Mark) constructs its Jesus primarily as a counterpoint to the Greek hero Odysseus, declaring that Carrier has hewed essentially to the “discredited” arguments of Dennis MacDonald in The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark. In previous posts I have attempted to demonstrate that Gullotta’s representation of Carrier’s argument on this point in particular is without foundation; in fact, it is contrary to the clearly expressed and detailed argument that Carrier in fact does make.

Gullotta concludes this section with

Yet while Odysseus was an important figure within Greco-Roman culture, Romulus and Aeneas were far more important characters. . . . .

Furthermore, although Mark does make use of sources in constructing his gospel, the most obvious source is that of the Jewish scriptures. Given the high esteem the early church held for the Jewish scriptures, along with the numerous references and allusions made by Mark and the other evangelists to them, the Hebrew Bible is obviously the primary source for Christian literary inspiration, whereas no direct quotation or reference to Homer is anywhere to be found within the Gospel of Mark.

(Gullotta, p. 339)

Anyone reading the above words would think that Richard Carrier asserted that the Gospel of Mark Jesus primarily on Odysseus instead of, say, Romulus and, more importantly, anyone from the Jewish Scriptures. But read what Richard Carrier did in fact say:

Jesus in not only the new (and better) Moses and Elijah and Elisha, he is also the new (and better) Odysseus and Romulus (see Chapter 4, §1, and Element 47), and the new Socrates and Aesop (Element 46).

(Carrier, p. 436)

Consult the index of Carrier’s OHJ and one finds the following entry for Romulus:

There is no index entry for Odysseus.

Moreover, Chapter 4, §1 and Element 47 refer to seven pages(!) of discussion of the gospel parallels with Romulus, whom Gullotta said Carrier “should”(!) have compared with Jesus, not noticing that he in fact did — in far more extensive detail than he did with Odysseus.

Carrier early in his discussion of the gospels does indeed point out how the Roman poet Virgil drew upon and changed incidents in the epics of his Greek predecessor, Homer, but that is before he brings MacDonald into the discussion, and anyone who studies ancient Greek and Roman history will be familiar with the literary technique Virgil followed in imitating yet changing Homer’s stories. The same technique was evidently followed by the evangelists in their use of the Jewish Scriptures.

Gullotta appears to have dozed through well over forty more pages (as we began to address in the previous post) in which Carrier discussed gospel comparisons with characters from the Jewish Scriptures!

I cannot understand how Gullotta could have written such a totally false portrayal of what Carrier in fact argued. We cannot doubt that he read the book he reviewed. We cannot doubt that he has at minimum average reading comprehension and attention span. So how is it that he could write such a patently false portrayal of Carrier’s work?

read more »

Gullotta’s Dysrepresentation of Carrier’s Case for the Gospels as Myth … Part 3

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 ended my previous post with these words:

From this point Gullotta loses sight of Carrier’s own line of reasoning, sometimes erroneously conflating MacDonald’s and Carrier’s views, and even at one point distorting the meaning of MacDonald’s words in order to fire a salvo at “mythicists” in general.

As I said, trying to get a complete handle on Gullotta’s fifth point is a long haul. I’ll set out the evidence for the assertions in the previous paragraph in my next post.

So from that point I continue.

That mis-aimed salvo

For example, Gullotta writes

Because almost every event in Mark has some sort of Homeric counterpart according to MacDonald, many mythicists have taken his work to indicate that the Gospels have no historical value whatsoever. This, however, is not the conclusion MacDonald has come to, and because of the popularity of his research among mythicists, he has had to clarify his own confidence in the existence of the historical Jesus.97

97. For example, ‘A Jewish teacher named Jesus actually existed, but within a short period of time, his followers wrote fictions about him, claiming that his father was none other than the god of the Jews, that he possessed incredible powers to heal and raise from the dead, that he was more powerful than ‘bad guys’ like the devil and his demons, and that after he was killed, he ascended, alive, into the sky’, in Dennis R. MacDonald, Mythologizing Jesus: From Jewish Teacher to Epic Hero (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2015), pp. 1–2. Also see Dennis R. MacDonald, Two Shipwrecked Gospels: The Logoi of Jesus and Papias’s Exposition of Logia about the Lord (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2012), pp. 543–560.

(Gullotta, pp. 337f)

Yes, indeed, Dennis MacDonald has always made it clear that he does not dispute the historicity of Jesus and that he has never intended his research to lead to such a conclusion. But not even the quotation Gullotta finds to repeat this point can support his insinuation that MacDonald’s arguments believing in the historicity of Jesus somehow equates with the gospels containing some kind of “historical value”. Gullotta appears not to notice that the quotation he supplies to supposedly rebut the idea that the gospels have no historical value itself says that the gospels are indeed fictions! One does not need to believe in the historical value of the gospels to believe in a historical Jesus as a good number of scholars can testify. (Again, where were the peer reviewers part of whose job, I thought, is to prevent such non sequiturs going to into print?)

An erroneous conflation

Almost amusing is Daniel Gullotta’s attempt to use Margaret Mitchell’s 2003 critical review of Dennis MacDonald’s Homeric thesis in support of his contention that Carrier has as much egg on his face as MacDonald for (supposedly uncritically) jumping on MacDonald’s bandwagon. But if Gullotta has paid closer attention to both what Mitchell faulted in MacDonald to what Carrier himself concluded about MacDonald’s views, he would have seen they were not very far removed from one another! read more »

Gullotta’s Misleading Portrayal of Carrier’s claims…. Part 2

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

For other Archives by Topic, Annotated see the right margin.

In the previous post we began to look at Daniel Gullotta’s treatment of Richard Carrier’s argument that the gospels are more like myth than remembered history and concluded with a look at a quotation taken from page 396 of Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus. In the next sentence Gullotta refers to another sentence of Carrier that is taken from a full 40/41 pages after the first one.

Carrier’s claims that ‘Mark updated Homer by recasting the time and place and all the characters to suit Jewish and (newly minted) Christian mythology’ is principally based on the work of Dennis R. MacDonald.93 After heavily citing the work of MacDonald, Carrier claims, ‘[i]n constructing his Gospel, the first we know to have been written, Mark merged Homeric with biblical mythology to create something new, a mythical syncretism, centered around his cult’s savior god, the Lord Jesus Christ, and his revelatory message, the ‘gospel’ of Peter and (more specifically) Paul.’94

93  Carrier, On the Historicity of Jesus, p. 436.
94  Carrier, On the Historicity of Jesus, p. 437.

Gullotta, p. 337

That is a misrepresentation of Carrier’s argument. Carrier’s “claim” did not follow on “after heavily citing the work of MacDonald”. The words Gullotta quotes in fact followed a single citation of MacDonald.

In those 40 pages separating the quotes Gullotta has fished out Carrier set out details of his case for reading the gospels as myth rather than history and peppered his discussion with supporting (sometimes contradicting) views of other scholars. There are 83 footnotes in those 40 pages and Dennis MacDonald appears in no more than 5 of them. Others cited in those 40 pages of establishing his case for the Gospel of Mark being constructed as a mythical narrative are: read more »

Gullotta’s Misleading Portrayal of Carrier’s Argument (Gospels Myth or Remembered History? – Part 1)

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)

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

For other Archives by Topic, Annotated see the right margin.

–o–

This is the most difficult of my posts so far discussing Daniel Gullotta’s treatment of Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus. On pages 336 to 340 of his review Gullotta conveys the clear impression that Carrier has relied primarily, even perhaps entirely, on Dennis MacDonald’s thesis that the Gospel of Mark was based on Homer’s Odyssey and last two books of the Iliad and has consequently concluded that the gospel is primarily myth rather than remembered history. Gullotta further leads readers to understand that Carrier claimed Jesus was essentially based on Homer’s character Odysseus and that criticisms of MacDonald’s entire thesis equally applied to Carrier’s treatment of the Gospel of Mark. I will demonstrate that all of this representation of Carrier’s argument is grossly misleading. One scarcely knows where to begin.

Let’s start with his heading for this section Mark, the Christian Homer? Jesus, the Jewish Odysseus? That heading sets up the expectation that we will learn that Carrier argues accordingly.

Gullotta begins, however, with a genuine Carrier assertion unrelated to the Homeric thesis of MacDonald: that the characteristics of myth are a combination of

  • (1) strong and meaningful emulation of prior myths (or even of real events);
  • (2) the presence of historical improbabilities (which are not limited to ‘miracles’ but can include natural events that are very improbable, like amazing coincidences or unrealistic behavior); and
  • (3) the absence of external corroboration of key (rather than peripheral) elements (because a myth can incorporate real people and places, but the central character or event will still be fictional).

(my formatting)

Gullotta seems perturbed by the idea that such criteria should invalidate the Gospel of Mark as “remembered history” when he comments:

Because of this, Carrier deems the Gospels to be ‘allegorical myth, not remembered history’.

(Gullotta, p. 337)

I thought most critical scholars, even devout Christian ones, considered the gospels to be primarily mythical or theological tales long removed from history. The question Carrier is taking up is whether there was a historical Jesus behind them at the beginning.

But even at this early point of the discussion Gullotta leads readers to think that such criteria and understanding of myth is Carrier’s idea. He begins the criteria with

According to Carrier, ‘the gospels are primarily and pervasively mythical’ and he bases this assessment on the following criteria

and Gullotta gives readers no indication that those criteria are Carrier’s distillation of lengthy scholarly discussion and debate.

When one turns to Carrier’s discussion of myth and its relationship with the gospels one finds that Carrier has in fact drawn upon the following scholarly corpus (taken from several pages between 380 and 396, my formatting) as the basis of his understanding of myth itself and ways in which the gospels themselves are mythical narratives: read more »

Gullotta’s review of Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus, point #4, “James, the brother of the Lord”

This is not the first time we have seen Gullotta inexplicably fail to acknowledge that Carrier is prepared to concede for the sake of a fortiori argument the very position Gullotta is arguing.

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)

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

This is a new page that I have added to the Archives by Topic, Annotated — see the right margin.

–o–

Daniel Gullotta begins is foray into Richard Carrier’s argument that James was a fictive, not biological, brother of Jesus.

It has been claimed that if there is an Achilles’ heel to the Jesus Myth theory, it would be the reference to ‘James, the brother of the Lord’ (Gal 1.19). Typically, historical Jesus scholars take James to be one of Jesus’ many biological siblings; however, Carrier and other mythicists have argued that the familial language used throughout the Pauline letters is reason enough to doubt that James is Jesus’ biological brother.

(Gullotta, p. 334)

Gullotta does not identify any of the “other mythicists” who share Carrier’s argument in his footnote so it appears he knows only Carrier’s mythicist argument. For other arguments about this passage and important background information that needs to be taken into account in its interpretation see any of the other posts addressing these points. Again we are faced with the irony of reading a review that fails to consider opposing arguments in the context of all relevant background information when reviewing a book about the importance of considering alternative hypothesis against all relevant background information.

But the most curious detail of Gullotta’s criticism of this point is his failure to comment on Carrier’s conclusion that he will argue that the passage in Galatians 1:19 is exactly 100% what is to be expected if James indeed was the biological brother of Jesus!

However, I must argue a fortiori, and to that end . . .  I’ll allow that it [i.e. Galatians 1:19 being a reference to James’ biological sibling status to Jesus] might be twice as likely on historicity [despite their] internal ambiguity and surrounding silence. . . .

(Carrier, p. 592)

Carrier’s point is to lay out all the evidence and background information and then in that context to compare rival hypotheses or interpretations. That is the essence of the Bayesian method that Gullotta elsewhere indicates he fails to understand. Without that understanding Gullotta is able to do no more than repeat the same proof-text type arguments that are based on scholarly tradition rather than a comprehensive survey of the data.

This is not the first time we have seen Gullotta inexplicably fail to acknowledge that Carrier is prepared to concede for the sake of a fortiori argument the very position Gullotta is arguing! One cannot imagine a more solid evidence that he has failed to understand the whole methodology of Carrier’s argument – or the principles of sound historical reasoning with competing hypotheses.

James the Just
James . . .

There is a light-hearted moment in Gullotta’s review, however, when he proceeds to demonstrate his assertion that

there is solid evidence to affirm James was the biological brother of Jesus.

(Gullotta, p. 335)

Hold tight. Prepare for another Gish Gallop. The “solid evidence” appears to consist of

  • a list of seven names in Paul’s letters who are said to be a sample of those who are not called “the brother of the Lord”
  • James is reputed to be a pillar in the Jerusalem church
  • James has authority in the Jerusalem church
  • Paul highlights his meeting with him
  • James received a vision of the resurrected Jesus
  • Paul mentions his name before Peter’s (Cephas’s)
  • later traditions said he was a brother of Jesus
  • how else can we explain the above unless this James was a brother of Jesus?

“Solid evidence”? No other explanation is plausible than that James must have been a literal sibling of Jesus?

Regardless of the status of Richard Carrier’s specific arguments why not consider the question in the light of all the relevant “background information” as I have attempted to do in Thinking through the “James, the brother of the Lord” passage in Galatians 1:19


Carrier, Richard. 2014. On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press.

Gullotta, Daniel N. 2017. “On Richard Carrier’s Doubts.” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 15 (2–3): 310–46. https://doi.org/10.1163/17455197-01502009.


 

Gullotta’s review of Carrier’s argument #3: crucified by demons or Romans?

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)

Posts so far:

  1. Daniel Gullotta’s Review of Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus (2017-12-13)
  2. Gullotta’s Review of Carrier’s OHJ: A Brief Comment
  3. How Bayes’ Theorem Proves the Resurrection (Gullotta on Carrier once more)
  4. What’s the Matter with Biblical Scholarship? Part 3 (Tim Widowfield)
  5. Who Depoliticized Early Christianity? (Tim Widowfield)
  6. Gullotta, Homer, and the Training of a Correct Scholar
  7. The Function of the Term: “Born of a Woman” (Tim Widowfield)
  8. Daniel Gullotta’s Review of Richard Carrier’s “On the Historicity of Jesus”: that “born of a woman” passage (again)
  9. Continuing Gullotta’s Review of Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus
  10. Gullotta’s review of Carrier’s argument #2: relating to Jesus’ birth and humanity

Daniel Gullotta takes up Carrier’s argument that Jesus was crucified “in heavenly places” beginning as follows:

Rather than believing that Jesus was crucified at the hands of Romans, Carrier claims that Paul and the first Christians believed that ‘Jesus was celestially crucified by the ‘rulers of this world’, by which Carrier means ‘Satan and his demons.’ Most of Carrier’s evidence relies heavily upon 1 Cor 2.8 and Paul’s reference to ‘the rulers of this age’. According to Carrier, these rulers ‘cannot mean the Jewish elite, or the Romans, or any human authority’ but rather ‘Satan and his demons’. But this assessment is inaccurate because it places an artificial distinction between earthly and other-earthly powers that does not exist in Second Temple texts, particularly of the apocalyptic variety.

(Gullotta, p. 331)

Rather than point out the reasons Carrier gives for his interpretation of 1 Cor 2.8 Gullotta dwells entirely on opposing arguments without at any point indicating Carrier’s responses to any of these. Gullotta’s “rebuttals” are in fact answered by Carrier although Gullotta appears to have overlooked that fact. For example, Gullotta in the above quotation says Paul cannot mean the Jewish elite or the Romans quite ignoring Carrier’s point that

This cannot mean just Pontius Pilate and the Sanhedrin. This is everyone in power: they killed Jesus, and did so only because they were kept from knowing their doing so would save the human race.

(Carrier p. 564)

A review is entitled to disagree with Carrier’s argument but he is not entitled to a criticism that gives readers the impression that Carrier’s argument is nonexistent.

Moreover, Gullotta’s responses are not based on a comprehensive awareness of the range of arguments that have been raised in the history of the interpretation of 1 Cor 2:8 but dwell exclusively on one interpretation only, as if there is no scholarly debate. Since I have only recently explored the extent of the scholarly arguments, past and more recent, both for and against Gullotta’s position, I am reluctant to repeat them here. Anyone interested in the question and the range of arguments, including where Gullotta’s fall short, can access any of those posts. It is fine for Gullotta to disagree with any of them but it is not appropriate to write a review as if Carrier’s position finds no support among specialists in the question.

  1. Are the “Rulers of the Age” in 1 Cor. 2:6-8 Human or Spiritual? – the sea change Who Killed Christ? Human rulers and/or angelic rulers. Addressing 1 Cor 2:6-8.
  2. Who Crucified Jesus – Men or Demons? Continuing Miller’s Study of 1 Cor 2:6-8
  3. A Crucified Messiah Was Not an Offensive Scandal to Jews (with a postscript on evangelical language among scholars)
  4. Seven problems for the view that Paul’s “rulers of this age” were human authorities
  5. What they used to say about Paul’s “rulers of this age” who crucified the “lord of glory”
  6. 5. More older arguments for Paul’s “rulers of this age” being spirit powers
  7. Once more on the “Spiritual Rulers” in Paul’s Cosmic Drama
  8. Paul’s “Rulers of this Age” — Conclusion (Part ?)

Certainly there is no doubt that demonic powers were believed to influence the actions of earthly authorities. But whether that is the point Paul is expressing in 1 Cor 2:8 is another question.

One is free to argue that Paul did believe that Jesus was crucified on earth but one cannot base that argument on a passage whose meaning is disputed among one’s peers without at least acknowledging that dispute that potentially favours Carrier’s interpretation.

Once again, I suspect Paul may well have understood the crucifixion to have been on earth, yet that position does not contradict the view that in 1 Cor 2:8 Paul says it was the demons were responsible entirely for the crucifixion of Jesus. As addressed in the above posts we see indications that even the evangelists believed that human agents were mere puppets whose strings were being pulled by Satan and demonic forces (as per the Gospels of Mark, Luke and John). (In this respect I remain less certain about Carrier’s and Doherty’s mythicist view of the necessity of a crucifixion in the lower heavens.)

Gullotta concludes his “rebuttal” of Carrier’s point by a long non sequitur listing second and third century references to earthly powers crucifying Jesus and comments:

Given our sources concerning Jesus’ death and knowledge about his executed contemporaries, the reality of a crucified Jesus as another failed messianic pretender from Palestine is remarkably more likely than a demonic crucifixion in outer space.

(Gullotta, p. 334)

Gullotta fails to notice the circularity of his appeal “other failed messianic pretenders” but what is particularly ironic is his appeal to probability. Carrier’s entire method is to establish relative probabilities of each possible explanation for the evidence against the full range of background knowledge. Gullotta typifies the flawed approach Carrier is attempting to address: the habit of appealing only to a narrow range of background information, those few details that support the conventional wisdom, and to fail to balance the probability of the historicist interpretation against arguments for the alternative probability. Gullotta has unfortunately simply swept aside the arguments and background information that he has just read in favour of the mythicist hypothesis as if the relevant pages were blank text. One must infer that Carrier’s fault is disagreeing with the consensus.

More forgivable given Gullotta’s early days as a scholar is his undermining the strength of his review by indicating his ignorance of the range of interpretations among his peers on the Corinthians passage about the rulers of this age crucifying the lord of glory. But where were his peer reviewers whose job surely it was to prevent the publication of such an oversight?

Next: argument #4

 

 

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

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.)

–o0o–

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.

–o0o–

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.

 

 

Continuing Gullotta’s Review of Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus

Earlier posts:

Daniel Gullotta presents his review of Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus as a sound scholarly perspective that rises beyond the religious partisanship of previous efforts to address the Christ myth theory.

In the rare instances where these theories have been addressed, they are predominantly countered by self-confessed (and typically evangelical) Christian apologists and scholars.

(Gullotta, p. 312)

“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.” — Michael Bird, Dec 2014.

Unfortunately, while drawing attention to the “self-confessed Christian” bias of previous responses to mythicism Gullotta indicates that his own effort has been compromised when he expresses “particular” thanks to a number of scholars who are themselves not only “self-confessed Christian apologists and scholars” but also well-known for their disdain for the Christ myth theory (e.g. Craig Evans, Larry Hurtado, James McGrath and others) for their assistance in the preparation of his own review. Even the choice of the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus as the publisher of the review adds to the irony given that one of its more stridently apologist editors has said the editorial board is hostile to the very idea of Jesus mythicism (see box insert).

Gullotta selects six features of Carrier’s argument to address:

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)

I hope to further address Gullotta’s confession that he failed to understand Carrier’s methodology in a future post. Here I address his discussion of Carrier’s “claim that a pre-Christian angel named Jesus existed”.

Inspired by the central idea of Doherty’s work, Carrier’s foundational argument is that Jesus was not understood within the earliest days of Christianity as a human-historic figure but rather as a celestial-angelic being, akin to Gabriel in Islam . . . . According to Carrier, ‘some [pre-Christian] Jews already believed there was a supernatural son of God named Jesus — because Paul’s contemporary Philo interprets the messianic prophecy of Zech 6.12 in just such a way’. Carrier draws this conclusion from Philo of Alexandria’s On the Confusion of Tongues 63, which evokes the story of the high priest Joshua, son of Jehozadak, in Zech 6. He then compares the common language used by Philo to describe the logos with the language used by Paul to describe Christ as evidence of their shared belief in this heavenly being named Jesus.

…..

The most damning argument against Carrier’s claim is that there is no literary or archeological evidence within the entirety of the Mediterranean world and Second Temple period that validates the existence of this pre-Christian celestial Jesus. In surveying references to angels during this time, one of the most common features in the names of angels is the appearance of the element of ‘el’. This survey reveals that the most common angelic characters of this period were named Michael, Gabriel, Sariel/Uriel, and Raphael.

…..

At no point does an angel or celestial being called Jesus appear within Second Temple Judaism, and ‘Jesus’ exhibits all the signs of a mundane name given to a human Jewish male within the period.

(Gullotta pp. 326f)

My response is double-edged. While Gullotta throws Carrier’s argument out of all perspective Carrier has opened himself up to unnecessary criticism with the manner of his discussion of Philo’s interpretation of Zechariah.

I begin with Gullotta’s point. read more »

Who Depoliticized Early Christianity?

Who killed Jesus and why?

With the Roman occupation of Palestine and its tense atmosphere of messianic hopefuls within the first century CE, the horrors of crucifixion were a real and ever present reality for messianic claimants like Jesus. A reality of which Paul and the first Christians would have been all too aware. Simply put, [Richard] Carrier inadvertently depoliticizes early Christianity. (Daniel N. Gullotta 2016, “On Richard Carrier’s Doubts“, Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, pp. 332-333, emphasis mine)

Do you know who else depoliticized early Christianity? Early Christians. Paul. The evangelists. The early Church Fathers. In short, everyone.

New Testament authors are clear about why Jesus died and who is responsible. According to “our oldest sources” (to invoke a scholarly term), Jesus had done nothing worthy of punishment. As Hyam Maccoby put it:

According to the Gospels, Jesus was the victim of a frame-up. His aims were purely religious, and in pursuing them, he had fallen foul of the Jewish religious establishment, who, in order to get rid of him, concocted a political charge, and managed to hoodwink the Roman governor, Pilate, into believing it. When Pilate still showed reluctance to execute Jesus, they pressed the political charge until he was left with no option: ‘The Jews kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend to Caesar; any man who claims to be king is defying Caesar.”’ (John 19.7). (Maccoby 1984, “Who Killed Jesus?” London Review of Books, emphasis mine)

Englewood Dam

A narrow, precarious path

The story of Jesus’ death, followed by the successful spread of Christianity as related in the gospels and Acts, reminds me of the road across Englewood Dam. The dam, located northwest of Dayton, Ohio, protects the area from flooding by the Stillwater River. A number of dams in the area, all built after the Great Dayton Flood, have a similar design. The levees on either side are enormous, allowing the reservoirs to retain billions of gallons of water.

The first time I drove across the levee, I was struck by how easy it seemed (if not for the guardrails) to veer slightly to the left or the right, tumbling 100 feet down the embankment into the trees. The story of the Passion follows a similarly narrow, but more circuitous path. If Jesus was a rebel, a brigand, then he really was an enemy of Rome. And that just won’t do, will it? However, if Jesus did nothing but teach and heal, then why would Pilate have put him to death? Somehow, Jesus must have provoked someone to cause this chain of events, but who?

According to the New Testament, it was “the Jews.” The Jewish leaders were jealous of his fame, or else they worried the people would believe in him and cause the Romans to come and destroy them. (See John 11:45-53.) And here we see one of the great uses of the hypothesized historical Jesus. A reconstructed Jesus allows NT scholars in the post-Holocaust world to reinterpret verses like these: read more »