Stark Cold-Cocks Carrier

Just one of the problems for Richard Carrier’s crackpot non-historicity views about Jesus is that they must account for the fact that some 1st century Jews came to believe that their Messiah would suffer and die rather come as a conquering King. Carrier tried to do just this by insisting that it was not uncommon for Jews prior to the time of Jesus to view the Messiah as the suffering and dying servant and tried to prop up this crackpot view with two lines of evidence.

Unfortunately for Carrier, who does not publish his revolutionary findings in the scholarly literature, Thom Stark, who seems quite knowledgeable about this topic, noticed Carrier’s argument and completely destroyed it: The Death of Richard Carrier’s Dying Messiah.

Well, it turns out Carrier has been telling his readers (whom he calls his “avid fans”) that he has already refuted Stark’s piece. Bad move. Stark must have gotten word of this and has now written an even more devastating smackdown of Carrier and his crackpot views: The Torturous Death of Richard Carrier’s Dying Messiah

Stark begins his piece as follows:

Richard Carrier has confidently stated that in some of the comments on his blog he has “refuted” “most” of my critique of his claims about a pre-Christian Dying Messiah (he says so here and here). I read his comments, and all I can say is, “refuted,” eh? Perhaps he just doesn’t know the meaning of the word. Allow me to demonstrate for Carrier’s sake what a refutation looks like.

Indeed. In fact, if you want to see what a real refutation looks like, I suggest you read Stark’s article. It’s a very long article, but it is very thorough and immensely convincing. To whet your appetite, I’ll post some of Stark’s well-supported observations and conclusions that he reaches below the fold.

But what Carrier has displayed is his staggering ignorance of the state of the field he’s trying to navigate. The poverty (or total lack?) of his education in the field is, of course, amply made up for by overconfident and condescending rhetoric and assertions.

But as if we haven’t rubbed it in enough already, we’ll continue to quote Carrier making the same mistakes over and over again, with ever-increasing self-confidence and ever-escalating condescension toward Ramsey.

This is total gobbledygook. I’ve already explained above why the opposite is in fact the case. Carrier’s “argument” here just makes no sense, asserts arbitrary rules that have no basis in anything substantive at all.

But Carrier isn’t finished bungling this. After his desperate, gobbledygook attempt to prove, um, something or other, he goes on immediately to say this:

that’s also why in verse 24 only one anointed one is mentioned, not two.

This is a very strong point, with one minor caveat: there is no “anointed one” mentioned in verse 24.

Hmmm. . . . “Otherwise a strange construction.” I’m pondering for a moment. . . . Oh right! It’s a strange construction for Carrier because he doesn’t know how to read Hebrew. Now it makes sense. I couldn’t figure out why it was a strange construction. But, yes. Now I agree. It is a strange construction if you don’t know what you’re talking about. (I imagine there would be many such strange constructions in that condition.)

Of course, “Christ prince” is actually just, “anointed leader.” I.e., any priest, prophet or king in the ancient Near East. In this case, of course, it’s probably either Joshua or Zerubbabel. But rather than consult a commentary or, you know, get a formal education in the field you’re writing books about, Carrier would prefer to add words to the text so that it makes sense to him, which also has the nice added benefit of establishing Carrier’s misreading of the entire passage over against the passage itself.

So, wait a minute. What happened? Did Carrier make an argument that depended in large part on a scholarly source without actually reading his source? Did Carrier reference a source to support a contention the opposite of which is the source’s actual contention? Did Carrier do in no uncertain terms precisely what he publicly accused and berated (actual renowned scholar) Bart Ehrman for doing?

Yes. Yes he did.

What’s the word Carrier used? Oh right. “Hack scholarship.”

Epic, epic fail. I am overwhelmed by the power of Carrier’s arrogance and ignorance. It’s truly something to behold.

I’m still trying to figure out why people like Nick Matzke and Jerry Coyne are so mesmorized by Carrier.

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52 Responses to Stark Cold-Cocks Carrier

  1. Bilbo says:

    I’m not sure why Matzke, Coyne, or PZ are so taken with Carrier. But what I like about it is that it undercuts their argument that the ID movement depends upon non-expert sources or that lay-people should just accept the consensus opinion of the experts . So rather than just dismissing ID proponents as a bunch of cranks, they now need to give adequate answers to their arguments. (And I would apply this to other areas as well, which I won’t mention).

  2. Cheap misrepresentation of my position.

  3. Bilbo says:

    Hi Nick,

    Are you referring to me or to Mike?

  4. “Hi Nick,

    Are you referring to me or to Mike?”

    Mike. I’m not “mesmorized” by Carrier. Well, and you, I guess. I’m not “taken with Carrier”, either, but I assume you got that from Mike.

    Anyhoo, not that anyone cares except the three of us on this blog, but: I didn’t do several posts more or less endorsing Carrier’s attack on Bart Ehrman, for instance, like Coyne did. I’ve never written a blog post on the issue, I think all I’ve said is scattered comments in various places, and when I do say something, it is that I agree with Bart Ehrman, at least as far as my limited knowledge on the topic allows me to take a position at all.

    All I did was refuse to call Carrier a crank and a pseudoscientist when Mike started pushing that line. I’ve met the guy and read some of his stuff, and he is generally pretty with it, whatever his flaws on this particular issue. I think the mythicist position is probably wrong, but any reasonably scholarly analysis of the New Testament has to admit that there is a strong possibility of quite a bit of legend in there, whether or not the core figure of Jesus was a real guy. The Jesus Myth position is just an extreme version of this conclusion. If we’re going to start calling people cranks over very difficult issues of ancient history with highly attenuated, partially legendary source documents, what should we call any number of conservative evangelical Christian apologists, who without the slightest bit of shame make all kinds of ridiculously confident claims about miraculous events that allegedly happened in the first century?

  5. Bilbo says:

    Hi Nick,

    You’re right, I got it from Mike. I haven’t been following your comments on Carrier. I assumed Mike was more knowledgeable and wouldn’t accuse you of being mesmorized by Carrier without good grounds. I’ll let Mike defend his accusation.

  6. Bilbo says:

    BTW, Nick, I think what you’ve said here about the New Testament is reasonable.

  7. Crude says:

    Rather like how Behe is generally pretty “with it”, whatever his flaws are on another particular issue?

    What bullcrap you’re spewing. You go to town on Behe and others, misrepresent their claims (“Darwinian evolution is an inadequate explanation for this development” becomes “no nature paths, it had to be poofed into existence by God via a miracle!”) and outright bullshit about their knowledge, all because they’re on the wrong side of an ID argument. But let Carrier make an ass out of himself, let him attack the mainstream scholarly consensus and make personal attacks on other scholars, and suddenly you just think he’s ‘made a mistake on this issue’ and that the position he’s taking is just a reasonable one but, you know, mayhap a bit over the top, but we shouldn’t denounce him too readily because golly history is complex.

    No, Nick. He’s a crank. He’s a pseudo-scholar. Yes, I know, he’s popular among atheists and the guys who generally rah-rah your pet issues, but the fact that you can never saw a nice word about Behe and others’ knowledge and views, but you completely puss out on Carrier, just outs your lack of integrity here.

    Newsflash, Nick: whether or not Christ existed is not a “very difficult issue”, given the data we have. Mainstream scholars don’t find it very difficult at all – they find it settled. But hey, I understand. Just because the majority in a field and the experts happen to be united on a conclusion, just because prominent members of that field devote their time and energy to disassembling the arguments of, essentially, internet amateurs operating outside of academia, doesn’t mean the matter should be closed. Dissenting opinions should be heard, and their voices respected.

    I even have a slogan you can use to promote this idea: “Teach the controversy.” Very catchy, don’t you think?

  8. Michael says:

    Hi Nick,

    I didn’t think I was misrepresenting you. Last time we talked, you came across as one of Carrier’s fanboys and even sought to defend him when he compared himself to Aristotle and Hume. You claim he has produced “a wide-ranging body of work he has produced on philosophy, history, the NT, etc.” Body of work? You said “I don’t think you can go read the Carrier essays at e.g. infidels.org and then conclude that he doesn’t know what he is talking about.” and “He’s got an ego, but then he also knows more than most people on the issues he writes about.” Looks to me like he has you under his spell.

    Tell me, did you actually bother to read Thom Stark’s reply? It’s pretty darn devastating, not only about Carrier’s argument, but in the way it exposes his tactics.

    Anyway, since you cannot bring yourself to admit that he is a crackpot on the historicity position, can you at least admit he is more of an apologist than a scholar?

  9. Michael says:

    Hi Bilbo,

    But what I like about it is that it undercuts their argument that the ID movement depends upon non-expert sources or that lay-people should just accept the consensus opinion of the experts . So rather than just dismissing ID proponents as a bunch of cranks, they now need to give adequate answers to their arguments. (And I would apply this to other areas as well, which I won’t mention).

    Sure. After all, this is a guy with a PhD who is a stay-at-home husband that writes a lot on the internet, gives speechs at atheist conventions, and has his stuff published by atheist publishers and skeptics magazines. According to Coyne, he is an “expert,” I guess all you need to be an expert is a PhD. So you should feel free, using Coyne’s logic, to present Behe, Dembski, and Wells as experts on evolution.

    Y’know, if there is ever a Dover II, the Gnu position is going to play a big role.

  10. Michael says:

    Hey Crude,

    Well said.

  11. Bilbo says:

    If I were teaching a New Testament history course, I would want to discuss Mythicists’ arguments in my class. If I were teaching an evolutionary biology course, I would want to discuss ID arguments in my class. Maybe it’s because I had excellent philosophy professors, who always discussed the major arguments for and against a particular issue, regardless of what their own opinions were. So were my philosophy professors unique?

  12. eveysolara says:

    Creationism and even Behe is mentioned in many of the biology textbooks I’ve opened, along with a discussion as to why they’re mistaken.

  13. Bilbo says:

    That’s good to hear.

  14. “I didn’t think I was misrepresenting you. Last time we talked, you came across as one of Carrier’s fanboys and even sought to defend him when he compared himself to Aristotle and Hume.”

    At the time (and still), you made this assertion without providing an in-context quote. You offered the hypothesis that, basically, Carrier is a near-insane egotist who thinks he deserves to be as famous as Aristotle and Hume. But your evidence for this was poor, and I discovered I could pretty easily come up with an alternative hypothesis, e.g., perhaps all he was saying was that someone like Carrier could call himself a philosopher without having an actual Ph.D. in philosophy — and then such a remark got taken out of context by people who are apparently letting their anti-Carrier emotions get the better of them, like you.

    “You claim he has produced “a wide-ranging body of work he has produced on philosophy, history, the NT, etc.” Body of work? You said “I don’t think you can go read the Carrier essays at e.g. infidels.org and then conclude that he doesn’t know what he is talking about.” and “He’s got an ego, but then he also knows more than most people on the issues he writes about.” Looks to me like he has you under his spell.”

    Spell? Please. His writings exist. If you’re going to assert he’s a crank, please go through them and demonstrate the crankery. Until then you’ve got nothing for such a broad accusation.

    “Tell me, did you actually bother to read Thom Stark’s reply? It’s pretty darn devastating, not only about Carrier’s argument, but in the way it exposes his tactics.”

    I did. It looks pretty devastating, but a lot of it hangs on minutiae that I can’t assess. On the other hand, even Thom Stark writes,

    “Carrier has a good handle on his own field. I’ve read lots of his work, and when he talks about his Greek and Roman sources, he knows what he’s talking about, and he knows the literature. I totally agreed with and loved his chapter in one of the Loftus books, in which he soundly refuted those Christian apologists who argue that Christianity made science possible. It was a joy to read, and he was right.”

    …and Bart Ehrman wrote…

    “Richard Carrier is one of the new breed of mythicists. He is trained in ancient history and classics, with a PhD from Columbia University – an impressive credential. In my book Did Jesus Exist I speak of him as a smart scholar with bona fide credentials.”

    And yet somehow I get accused of Carrier-coddling just for injecting a little critical thinking into your jeremiad, and for mentioning the same positive points even Carrier’s critics mention.

    “Anyway, since you cannot bring yourself to admit that he is a crackpot on the historicity position, can you at least admit he is more of an apologist than a scholar?”

    Oh he’s definitely acting like an agenda-driven apologist on this issue, as far as I can tell. And, like most people on the internet, he’s produced a screed on occasion that is more emotion than scholarship (even the famous Mike Gene has done this on occasion).

    But only I’ll agree that Carrier is a crackpot on this issue, if you’ll agree that Christian apologists who assert the inerrancy of the New Testament are also crackpots. If inerrancy can be described as a serious position by serious people, then so can mytherism.

  15. Crude says:

    But only I’ll agree that Carrier is a crackpot on this issue, if you’ll agree that Christian apologists who assert the inerrancy of the New Testament are also crackpots. If inerrancy can be described as a serious position by serious people, then so can mytherism.

    Apples and oranges. Even the Christian apologists who assert inerrancy don’t do so purely on the basis of historical research – they admit that philosophical and theological perspectives play a decisive role in their views. Trying to square this view with Carrier would serve to undermine it completely. (“Well, see, he’s a myther because of his philosophical and (a)theological views.” would be an awesome defensive move here.) Carrier, meanwhile, isn’t taking a position that is regarded as crackpot by ‘Christian apologists’, but by secular historians en masse.

    Try again, because the line you’re giving fails miserably. (Epic fail, I believe Carrier would say.)

  16. Michael says:

    At the time (and still), you made this assertion without providing an in-context quote. You offered the hypothesis that, basically, Carrier is a near-insane egotist who thinks he deserves to be as famous as Aristotle and Hume.

    I never said he was near insane. You must be confusing this with the time Carrier accused Hoffmann of being insane.

    But your evidence for this was poor, and I discovered I could pretty easily come up with an alternative hypothesis, e.g., perhaps all he was saying was that someone like Carrier could call himself a philosopher without having an actual Ph.D. in philosophy

    Oookay. A guy without a PhD in philosophy wants to be known as a philosopher so he likens himself to Aristotle and Hume to justify his self-labeling. And this alternative hypothesis rescues him….how?

    and then such a remark got taken out of context by people who are apparently letting their anti-Carrier emotions get the better of them, like you.

    LOL. The emotion is amusement, Nick. Remember when someone in the ID movement likened Dembski to Newton? Of course you do. Lots of critics were amused by that one too. It would have been more amusing to me if Dembski had likened himself to Newton. And I know it would have been amusing to you. Yet for some reason, you don’t see the amusing angle when it comes to someone who claims he is the bad cop to Eugenie Scott’s good cop. Even Thom Stark saw the amusing angle, when he wrote, “I think that Carrier is now personally too invested in this issue to be able to make the appropriate turnaround, but out of due deference to a scholar of Aristotle and Hume’s caliber, I won’t withhold the benefit of the doubt.”

    Spell? Please. His writings exist. If you’re going to assert he’s a crank, please go through them and demonstrate the crankery. Until then you’ve got nothing for such a broad accusation.

    Mytherism is the crankery, Nick. Or could it be that you do not agree with this? So let’s be clear – do you think that mytherism is crankery?

    Oh he’s definitely acting like an agenda-driven apologist on this issue, as far as I can tell.

    Only “acting like?” He is an agenda-driven apologist on this issue. Or do you disagree?

    Look, he has stated in public that is an evangelist for atheism and his goal is to make more atheists. Since you seem familiar to his “body of work,” what percent of that work is not hostile to religion/Christianity?

    And, like most people on the internet, he’s produced a screed on occasion that is more emotion than scholarship (even the famous Mike Gene has done this on occasion).

    You are hand-waving. Let’s try for clarification. I say it is more accurate to describe Carrier as an apologist than a scholar. Do you agree?

    But only I’ll agree that Carrier is a crackpot on this issue, if you’ll agree that Christian apologists who assert the inerrancy of the New Testament are also crackpots. If inerrancy can be described as a serious position by serious people, then so can mytherism.

    If a Christian apologist insists that the mainstream biblical scholars are “fucked” (although they can use a nicer word to convey the same sentiment) and there is something wrong with academia for not acknowledging the powerful and revolutionary case for inerrancy, then yes, I’d say those apologists were crackpots.

    So will you now “agree that Carrier is a crackpot on this issue?”

  17. “Apples and oranges. Even the Christian apologists who assert inerrancy don’t do so purely on the basis of historical research – they admit that philosophical and theological perspectives play a decisive role in their views. Trying to square this view with Carrier would serve to undermine it completely. (“Well, see, he’s a myther because of his philosophical and (a)theological views.” would be an awesome defensive move here.) Carrier, meanwhile, isn’t taking a position that is regarded as crackpot by ‘Christian apologists’, but by secular historians en masse.

    Try again, because the line you’re giving fails miserably. (Epic fail, I believe Carrier would say.)”

    …….aaaaaand now we see just arbitrary some Christians can be. I’d like Mike’s opinion though. C’mon Mike, I answered your question, you should answer mine. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Unless the gander gets a special pass because they are letting some implausible theological doctrine override the evidence.

  18. Ah — I see Mike did answer the question before I read down:

    “If a Christian apologist insists that the mainstream biblical scholars are “fucked” (although they can use a nicer word to convey the same sentiment) and there is something wrong with academia for not acknowledging the powerful and revolutionary case for inerrancy, then yes, I’d say those apologists were crackpots.”

    I think Carrier understands that the case for the existence of a physical Jesus has some evidence for it and understands that “Jesus existed” is a reasonable position held by reasonable experts acting reasonably. Even Carrier only tentatively estimates a 4 out of 5 chance that Jesus didn’t exist, that still leaves a 20% chance that he did. For a Bayesian — which Carrier is — this is a very high amount of uncertainty, statistically little different than 50-50.

    So by the criterion you apply to save the inerrantists from crank status, Carrier isn’t either.

  19. Crude says:

    …….aaaaaand now we see just arbitrary some Christians can be.

    Funny – you say I’m being arbitrary, but you don’t show where. Whereas I’ve shown where you’ve been not just arbitrary, but flat out hypocritical – and you gloss right over it.

    Apologists who believe in inerrancy do not argue that mainstream secular historical research, in and of itself, somehow demonstrates that the bible is inerrant. They may believe that such and such research may line up with inerrancy, but there the question of “divine guidance and assurance of no error” does not show up in historical research – if it did, it wouldn’t be a secular project to begin with. Don’t cry because you used a crappy example and I’m showing where the flaws are.

    By the way, I love this one.

    Even Carrier only tentatively estimates a 4 out of 5 chance that Jesus didn’t exist, that still leaves a 20% chance that he did. For a Bayesian — which Carrier is — this is a very high amount of uncertainty, statistically little different than 50-50.

    I see you’re about as good at Bayes as Carrier is. 😉

    Let’s put aside the real cute claim that “20% is statistically little different than 50% for Bayesians” claim. Carrier still alleges what he alleges about the mainstream consensus as far as believing Jesus existed goes, he’s still getting blown to pieces by actual scholars, he’s still committed to explaining away not only the actual evidence, but the positions taken by the near whole of the mainstream secular scholars who’ve examined it.

    Do we need to compile a “New Testament scholars named Steve” for you to get this, Nick? He’s a hack, a crackpot. I know you’ve got friends who believe Jesus didn’t exist and it’s all a big conspiracy theory on the part of academia, and hey, you’re welcome defend them like this. Just remember, the next time you say “mainstream biologists are all united in their acceptance of evolution” or “most scholars accept Darwinism” or “most scientists reject creationism”, you can no longer act like that means creationists, ID proponents, or otherwise are unreasonable or crackpots based on that claim alone.

    Really, it seems that – given the complexities and lingering questions and the fact that so much of it happened millions of years ago – a very reasonable view about common descent and Darwinism is agnosticism, if not outright dissent.

    Well done, Nick. To help your maniac allies save face, you’ve shot yourself in the foot. 😉

  20. Crude says:

    And, just to put a point on it… I suppose we should take Nick to be saying that concluding that the bible is inerrant, from secular historical research alone, is a non-crackpot position. It is, at worst, a reasonable but minority view. 😉

  21. Cale B.T. says:

    You know, Mr Matzke, Jonathan Wells does cop an awful lot of flak for entering a doctoral program in biology when he was already skeptical of mainstream positions in this field. Just a thought.

  22. eveysolara says:

    I think that if matzke becomes a little more familiar with the evidence he will start to see Carrier less and less as a victim and more as a crank. I know that when I wasnt to familiar with evolutionary biology I used to see Behe, dembski, et. al as persecuted victims. Now that I know a bit more it’s easier to do a “wtf” at many of the things they say.

  23. Michael says:

    This is funny. Nick lashes out at me as follows:

    I’d like Mike’s opinion though. C’mon Mike, I answered your question, you should answer mine. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Unless the gander gets a special pass because they are letting some implausible theological doctrine override the evidence.

    But then he decides to actually skim what I wrote and discovers his criticism is not rooted in a reasonable, evidence-based approach:

    Ah — I see Mike did answer the question before I read down:

    Oops!

    Okay, so as Crude pointed out, Nick is implying that Carrier and Christian apologists who promote inerrancy are the same. Works for me.

    But in the meantime, I can’t help but point out the hypocrisy. Nick demands an answer to a question that I did indeed answer. Yet the same Nick refuses to answer my questions. Typical.

    Here are the latest round of questions that Nick won’t answer (from my 23:48:13 comment):

    And this alternative hypothesis rescues him….how?

    So let’s be clear – do you think that mytherism is crankery?

    Only “acting like?” He is an agenda-driven apologist on this issue. Or do you disagree?

    Since you seem familiar to his “body of work,” what percent of that work is not hostile to religion/Christianity?

    I say it is more accurate to describe Carrier as an apologist than a scholar. Do you agree?

  24. Michael says:

    Nick,

    Carrier only tentatively estimates a 4 out of 5 chance that Jesus didn’t exist, that still leaves a 20% chance that he did. For a Bayesian — which Carrier is — this is a very high amount of uncertainty, statistically little different than 50-50.

    Sounds like numbers he pulled out of his ass. Crackpots like to make their subjective views appear objective by dazzling their fans with statistics. So tell me, Nick. Has Carrier published these calculations in a peer reviewed journal? Or is that that you no longer demand such high standards when it comes to your heroes?

  25. Bilbo says:

    All right, before we go any further, I have a very important question:

    Is it “mytherism” or “mythicism”?

  26. chunkdz says:

    Carrier writes: “the evidence that has convinced me of this is so vast and complicated that it would be impossible to convince others without writing several books explaining my reasons.”

    This just reeks of crankism.

    Basically it’s ‘I am so right that it seems like I’m wrong but that’s just because my knowledge is so vast and complex.”

  27. Michael says:

    Looks like Nick is too uncomfortable when it comes to answering my questions. Wonder why that is?

  28. “Sounds like numbers he pulled out of his ass. Crackpots like to make their subjective views appear objective by dazzling their fans with statistics. So tell me, Nick. Has Carrier published these calculations in a peer reviewed journal? Or is that that you no longer demand such high standards when it comes to your heroes?”

    Mike, you were the one that saved the inerrantists by the “crank” charge by claiming that their (ridiculous!) position is OK if they didn’t assert “there is something wrong with academia for not acknowledging the powerful and revolutionary case for inerrancy”. But Carrier himself doesn’t say he certain the myther position is correct and proved by a powerful case, instead, he explicitly states great uncertainty about it.

  29. Michael says:

    Mike, you were the one that saved the inerrantists by the “crank” charge by claiming that their (ridiculous!) position is OK if they didn’t assert “there is something wrong with academia for not acknowledging the powerful and revolutionary case for inerrancy”. But Carrier himself doesn’t say he certain the myther position is correct and proved by a powerful case, instead, he explicitly states great uncertainty about it.

    Yeah, right. He estimates a 4 out of 5 chance that the consensus view among mainstream scholars is wrong and he is right. LOL. He thinks the methodology developed by mainstream scholarship over the last decades is “fucked” and instead thinks he can replace their failed approach with……Bayes’s Theorem. And that great uncertainty was on clear display in his petty, long-winded tirade against a mainstream scholar for advocating a mainstream scholarly position.

    And how’s this for uncertainty?

    Although I have finally come to believe that Jesus probably did not exist as a historical person (a conclusion I reached after The Empty Tomb went to press, and well after I wrote my review of The Jesus Puzzle), the evidence that has convinced me of this is so vast and complicated that it would be impossible to convince others without writing several books explaining my reasons. Therefore, I do not expect anyone to agree with me who has not seen and studied all the same things I have (and it has taken me years to get through it all myself).

    (thanks, chunk)

    Nick, you want to see “great uncertainty” because you are a fan. And you don’t want to admit he is a crackpot on this issue because that would make you a fan of a crackpot. But those of us who are not fans see someone who is clearly over-impressed with his own abilities and arguments as an excuse for dismissing scholarly consensus.

    As mainstream scholar Bart Ehrman noted:

    Few of these mythicists are actually scholars trained in ancient history, religion, biblical studies or any cognate field, let alone in the ancient languages generally thought to matter for those who want to say something with any degree of authority about a Jewish teacher who (allegedly) lived in first-century Palestine. There are a couple of exceptions: of the hundreds — thousands? — of mythicists, two (to my knowledge) actually have Ph.D. credentials in relevant fields of study. But even taking these into account, there is not a single mythicist who teaches New Testament or Early Christianity or even Classics at any accredited institution of higher learning in the Western world. And it is no wonder why. These views are so extreme and so unconvincing to 99.99 percent of the real experts that anyone holding them is as likely to get a teaching job in an established department of religion as a six-day creationist is likely to land on in a bona fide department of biology.

    And how does the tentative and oh-so-carfeful Carrier reply? Like this:

    This makes Ehrman’s observation that no mythicist presently has a professorship (a distinction he did not make, but I am) a self-fulfilling prophecy: since Ehrman has all but explicitly stated that professors in “accredited institutions” do not have academic freedom, that indeed Ehrman opposes that freedom, verbally and institutionally, and endorses persecuting, verbally and institutionally, any who dare exercise it, who else do you think is free to challenge the consensus on this issue? Obviously, only outsiders can. The fact that that is what he observes is therefore not an argument against the merits of mythicism, but against the merits of attacking academic freedom.

    Few other issues have this problem. You can challenge the consensus on almost anything else in Jesus studies, but this is sacrosanct, and if you dare, “we’ll ruin your career.” Such is Ehrman’s message. The fact that he then finds this a mark against mythicism betrays his circular reasoning. No, Dr. Ehrman, it is a mark against mainstream scholarship. You are acting like it is a religion, with dogmas that cannot be challenged, lest you suffer the consequences. Just imagine all the professors who find some mythicist theories plausible, reading your article. You have just successfully intimidated them into shutting the hell up. Or at least, apparently, you hope to have. That’s not admirable. And it’s not how an institution that values the pursuit of the truth should behave.

    I can’t figure why you are going to the mat for this guy.

  30. Bilbo says:

    Ehrman makes a rather provocative statement that, if I were a mythicist, I would pounce on wholeheartedly:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/bibleandculture/2012/06/06/bart-ehrman-on-did-jesus-exist-part-two/

  31. Bilbo says:

    [Ehrman] “A. My sense is that some mythicists think that everyone who believes in Jesus’ historical existence accepts a “believing Christian” view of Jesus, namely, that if Jesus existed he really was the miracle working son of God who really did feed the multitudes with a few loaves, who really did cast out demons, and heal the sick, and raise the dead, and that if there really were a person like that who lived in the first century, somebody from his own day would have mentioned him. On one level, that’s a good point – you would indeed expect such a God-on-earth to be mentioned by someone living at the time. But the fact is that we don’t have a single reference to Jesus from someone living at his time – friend or enemy. We have only documents written by people living later, and almost always by people who believe in him.
    So the point the mythicists make is not only that there is silence with respect to Jesus, but that there is unexpected silence. That’s the key.
    My response is that this is putting the cart before the horse. As a historian, the first thing to do is to decide whether Jesus existed. If you can show, historically, that he did exist, then and only then can you go on to the next step and ask, “What did he say and do?” If you decide that he did in fact perform hundreds of spectacular miracles (he does them all over the map in the Gospels, of course), then I think you are completely justified in asking: “In that case, why does no one mention him?” But as a historian you may end up saying that he lived a completely natural, non-miraculous life. If that’s true, then it would be no surprise at all that no one mentioned him, any more than that no one mentioned any of his cousins, nieces, or nephews – or indeed, the vast majority of people who lived in his time and place.
    But that is a separate question from whether or not he existed. We can show he existed, and it has nothing to do with whether or not he actually existed as a human being.

    I think a mythicist could use Ehrman’s statement to argue the following:

    Either Jesus did not exist, or if he did, he didn’t do anything to attract much attention to himself. So whatever stories we have about him are probably largely mythological.

    In other words, Ehrman has just ceded the mythicists’ point.

  32. Bilbo says:

    Luckily, a very insightful, scholary hobbit has come to the rescue:

    http://bilbos1.blogspot.com/2012/06/wtc-7-and-jesus.html

  33. Crude says:

    Bilbo,

    That’s not the mythicists’ view. “Jesus existed, but I don’t think He performed any miracles.” is the view mythicists are fighting against. The mythicist point would be “Jesus didn’t even exist”. What Ehrman is saying there – that Jesus existence is established before the talk of those historians comes into play – undercuts a central mythicist line.

  34. Bilbo says:

    But Ehrman’s argument can easily be extended to any notoriety that Jesus enjoyed. Was he a great moral teacher that had crowds hanging on his every word? Then how come no contemporary mentions him? Was he an apocalyptic prophet that warned of coming judgment on the world, who attracted large crowds? Then how come no contemporary mentions him? In other words, if Ehrman’s argument is correct, then Jesus was a nobody, just like “the vast majority of people who lived in his time and place.

    And I think mythicists could live with that.

  35. Crude says:

    And I think mythicists could live with that.

    Er, they can’t. They demonstrably can’t. Ehrman’s view that Jesus was not divine isn’t some brand new thing – he’s a self-described agnostic. If that view were ‘good enough’ for mythicists, they wouldn’t be mythicists – and it’s not exactly a novel view. On Ehrman’s argument, Jesus’ existence is established before we even start discussing miracle claims, etc. And that’s precisely where the mythicists balk – because there are replies and counter-replies the moment said existence is there, and they tend not to do too well (or at least, not universally well, among the people they want to fight.)

    It’s not like Ehrman is some great religious apologist – he was a skeptic giving a skeptics argument, and it still wasn’t good enough for mythicists. If it was, they wouldn’t be mythicists.

  36. Bilbo says:

    Hi Crude,

    I haven’t read any mythicists, so you might be right: Perhaps mythicists insist that there was never anyone named Jesus from a town called Nazareth in Galilee in the first century C.E. How they would go about proving that is beyond me.

    I would think a reasonable mythicist could settle for a more modest view: “Maybe there was a Jesus from such a town and place at that time. But if so, he never did anything very notable. How do we know? Because of Ehrman’s argument. Therefore, all the important stuff about Jesus: His teachings, prophetic warnings, miracles, death,resurrection, and ascension, are all made up.

    It’s difficult to believe this second, more modest view wouldn’t be good enough for mythicists. But let’s say they’re stubborn. Fair enough. Eventually some smart guy will come along and notice Ehrman’s argument and say, “Hey, I think I’ll start my own movement. But since the term ‘mythicist’ is already being used, I’ll call it the ‘mytherism.'”

    My point is that if Ehrman is willing to use what appears to me to be a very bad argument to try to prove that Jesus never did anything miraculous, then he’s opened up a whole can of worms that he can’t consistently deal with. And Ehrman is supposedly a “scholar” full of “scholarliness” not “scholariness.”

  37. Bilbo says:

    Let me continue my tirade. When I see an expert give what appears to me to be a very bad argument, I don’t have a tendency to say, “Well, he’s the expert, so it must be a good argument, despite how it looks to me.” Instead, I have a tendency to say, “What a crappy argument. I don’t care how much of an expert he is, that argument stinks to high heaven.”

    That’s why it doesn’t really matter to me whether or not Carrier is considered an expert. I want to know what his arguments are. Now the whole mythicist issue isn’t a big deal to me, perhaps because I already thought through this stuff a long time ago and came to my own conclusions. Or perhaps because Carrier is giving Jesus a 20% chance, and I’m willing to place a bet on those odds. A substantial bet. But then I always liked the underdog.

    I suspect part of the reason Mike is pursuing this issue is that critics of ID, such as Nick Matzke, Jerry Coyne, and PZ Myers, make fun of the lack of expertise of the leaders of the ID movement. To Nick’s credit, he has done more to try to take seriously and deall with the arguments of the ID movment than anyone else I know (except for maybe Art Hunt). So I cut him a lot more slack than I do others. And I’m only joining in teasing him a little bit, just because it’s fun. But when Coyne and Myers are willing to take Carrier seriously but not ID proponents seriously, based on credentials? Then somebody better ride them really hard.

    But meanwhile, to me the question should not be, “What are Carrier’s credentials?” but, “Are Carrier’s arguments any good?”

  38. Michael says:

    But meanwhile, to me the question should not be, “What are Carrier’s credentials?” but, “Are Carrier’s arguments any good?”

    I think Stark has clearly shown they are not.

    Normally, I would agree with you about what the question should be. However, if we’re dealing with a self-promoter who is making himself seem more than he really is in order to advance an agenda, there is a third angle to be considered – truth in advertising and whether you can trust the arguments of a self-promoter with an agenda. By taking his arguments seriously, you will feed his self-promotion and help his agenda. If you find his arguments to be lacking, by then it is too late. Your dismissal of his arguments will not mean anything. All that mattered is that you helped his self-promotion and his agenda.

  39. Crude says:

    Bilbo,

    I suspect part of the reason Mike is pursuing this issue is that critics of ID, such as Nick Matzke, Jerry Coyne, and PZ Myers, make fun of the lack of expertise of the leaders of the ID movement.

    It’s not just that. There are ID leaders with expertise, certainly ones who have credentials that make Carrier’s look wretched by comparison. But Nick’s treatment of them is entirely different from his treatment of Carrier. The guy won’t shut up about the views of mainstream scientists normally, he misrepresents Behe whenever he can (count how many times, even after being corrected, Nick comes back to state that Behe believes such and such is unevolvable, or cannot have come about naturally.) Ah, but if you’re Carrier, things are different.

    Nick’s a clear and blatant hypocrite here, and worse, he’s going to bad for a freaking crackpot and hack. But hey, it’s a crackpot and hack who devoted atheists really, really like, and that makes all the difference in the world.

  40. Crude says:

    Just to add on – Mike is correct. One reason Carrier’s credentials are being criticized is the fact that he tries to BS with them, for the purposes of convincing people to take him seriously. And when Nick rolls in to try and defend him, hey, time to have some fun.

    The focus would be on the arguments exclusively if Carrier’s presentation of himself, or the endorsement of his various ideas, wasn’t such a joke.

  41. Bilbo says:

    I haven’t read Stark’s articles, yet. I’m not sure I want to wade through all those details. However, from the little I scanned, it looked as if Stark was out to show that none of the “suffering Messiah” passages (Isaiah 53, Daniel 9, etc.) were really referring to the Messiah. I think that’s a very controversial position to take. I’ve read the servant passages of Isaiah a few times, and it’s not clear that they are exclusively referring to the nation of Israel as a whole, nor that they are referring to the Messiah. I think Mark Kinzer, a Messianic Jewish scholar, has the right take: The Messiah is Israel par excellence, therefore the passages refer to both the Messiah and to the nation of Israel. As for the Daniel passages, if the concept of the Messiah, or “anointed one” had already been developed before Daniel was written (a reasonable hypothesis), then to look at passages that refer to “an anointed one” or to “an anointed prince” and declare categorically that they do not refer to the Messiah seems like a rather over-confident position to take. Perhaps they don’t refer to the Messiah. But to say one knows for sure that they don’t?

    From the little I could tell, without reading either Stark or Carrier, Carrier is trying to make the point that many (most? all?) Jews in the first century expected the Messiah to suffer a sacrificial death of some kind. And Stark is trying to rebut Carrier by showing that none of the supposed suffering Messiah passages were considered Messianic, or at least, if they were considered Messianic, they were re-interpreted so that the Messiah is not the one doing the suffering and dying.

    I think I would go with the second view: that even though the passages may have been thought to be Messianic, they were re-interpreted so that the Messiah is not the one doing the suffering and dying. That seems to be the way the Targum on Isaiah 53 handles it. And when reading Josephus, none of the Messianic pretenders expects to die, and when he does die, none of his followers continue in the belief that he was the Messiah. None, that is, except Jesus. So whether the passages in question are or were thought to be Messianic, there’s no indication that anyone expected the Messiah to die.

    Anyway, I bring all this up because so far Mike is trusting two scholars who have presented arguments that I find to be at least questionable. I don’t know about Carrier, but it gives me that scholary feeling all over.

  42. Thom Stark says:

    The most significant thing you said, Bilbo, is “I haven’t read Stark’s articles.” Everything else you said just displayed evidence for the first statement.

  43. Bilbo says:

    Could be, Thom. Am I mistaken in thinking that you do not think Isaiah 53 (or the other servant songs of Isaiah) could be Messianic? Am I mistaken in thinking that you do not think Daniel 9 could be Messianic?

    I started doing some online scholary-type research. Would this article be worth reading:
    Roger Beckwith, “Daniel 9 and the Date of Messiah’s Coming in Essene, Hellenistic, Pharisaic, Zealot and Early Christian Computation,” Revue de Qumran 10 (December 1981): 521–42.

  44. Thom Stark says:

    Messianism didn’t exist when Second Isaiah was composed, and 11QMelch doesn’t mention the Suffering Servant at all. The question isn’t about the Suffering Servant: it’s about the messenger who came to proclaim freedom to the Suffering Servant. In Daniel 9, the anointed one who is cut off does not die to atone for sins, as I make clear. That doesn’t meant 11QMelch isn’t interpreting the “anointed prince” of Dan 9:25 in a messianic sense; it may well be. What you are taking away from a cursory skimming of my articles is not what I’m arguing. If you’d like to critique my arguments, please take the time to read them.

  45. Bilbo says:

    Okay, I understood you correctly about Isaiah 53 and the other servant songs. But apparently I misunderstood you about Daniel 9, since you are allowing that it could be messianic, just not an atoning death. I won’t pretend to be enough of a real scholar to be able to adequately critique your arguments. My guess is that there are plenty of scholars who could critique your arguments about Isaiah 53.

    As to Daniel 9, since it never explicity says that the anointed prince was cut off to make atonement, it would be difficult to argue that the passage must mean that is why he is cut off. However, do you really argue that it couldn’t mean that he is cut off as an atoning death? I wonder how you got inside the mind of the author. And even if you did manage to get inside the mind of the human author, if we grant as a matter of pure hypothesis the idea that God inspired the book of Daniel, then it seems at least possible that God meant an atoning death, even if the human author did not. But I think I’m just being picky here. Regardless of what the human or divine authors meant, it appears that nobody interpreted it as an atoning death. At least, nobody did until the Christians came along.

  46. Bilbo says:

    By the way, about that Beckwith article…?

  47. Thom Stark says:

    It’s obvious you have no intention of actually reading my articles. You continue to critique a straw man, in both cases. That’s your prerogative, of course; it’s just not very helpful for your own sake. If you’ll take the time to read the articles, you’ll see that your questions are either already answered or the wrong questions. I’m not going to repeat myself.

  48. Bilbo says:

    Thom,

    Oy. If I don’t wade through your incredibly detailed analysis, then I’m closed-minded. And if I do, then I’ll probably have to slog through all of Carrier’s stuff, just to understand what you’re referring to. Do I really want to do this to myself?

    Let’ see if we can keep it simple:

    1) Is there evidence that Isaiah 53 was interpreted messianically in the first century? I believe that Targum Jonathan interprets it that way, but so construed that the suffering is not done by the Messiah. So it’s unlikely that most Jews would expect a suffering Messiah based on this Targum. In fact, if this Targum reflects the views of most Jews in the first century, then the idea of a suffering Messiah was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind.

    2) Was Daniel 9 interpreted messianically in the first century? I’m not sure, but from the title of Beckwith’s article, it sounds like it was. So one would be tempted to say there was an expectation that the Messiah would die. But since whatever extra-New Testamental evidence we have suggests that when a Messianic pretender died his followers melted away, one could reasonably conclude that most Jews didn’t expect the Messiah to die. And I doubt there’s any evidence that most Jews expected the Messiah to suffer an atoning death. (There is of course the possibility that the Jewish concept of two Messiahs — ben Joseph and ben David — had already been developed by the first century, but I don’t expect there would be much independent evidence of this.)

    3) 11QMelch? I’m guessing Carrier is basing some type of argument on this. So I guess I better read it and see if I can guess what it is without reading Carrier or you.

    But meanwhile, did you notice how I argued with respect to Isaiah 53 and Daniel 9? Instead of focusing on whether or not they are messianic passages, I focused on whether or not first century Jews would have considered them to be messianic passages. Of course, perhaps I’m mistaking what Carrier’s argument is all about, since I haven’t read his stuff. I assumed he was trying to argue that someone or group of someones tried to start a Jewish messianic movement based on the idea of a Messiah suffering an atoning death. It did ‘t work among the Jewish people, but it caught on with the Gentiles. Am I far off?

  49. Bilbo says:

    11QMelch is cool. Okay, my guess is that Carrier is connecting it with the Letter to the Hebrews, and inferring some kind of connection between the early Christian movement and the Qumran movement. So let’s see if I can work out Carrier’s thought without having to read it: He thinks some early group of Jews believe that Melchizedek was to suffer an atoning death (or had done so in some kind of spiritual realm), and Paul preached this gospel to the Gentiles. Later, in order to fulfill Gentile’ curiosity about the Messiah, the Gospels were composed. Close?

  50. Thom Stark says:

    Bilbo, I didn’t say you were closed-minded for not wading through my posts. I’m saying it’s not of any use to summarize something you haven’t read. You have no obligation, of course, to read anything I’ve written, but when you comment on what I’ve written without having read it, and your comments display you don’t understand what I (or Carrier) have written, then the suggestion that springs to mind is, try reading it. I don’t have time to summarize it. It is not a question of whether the Suffering Servant is interpreted messianically. The Suffering Servant isn’t even mentioned in the scroll. The only figure from Isaiah 52-53 mentioned in the scroll is the messenger who comes to proclaim freedom to the Suffering Servant. If you’d read my posts, you’d understand that. It also is obvious that Daniel 9 is being read messianically in the scroll. That’s not the question upon which the interpretation of the scroll hangs. And no, Carrier doesn’t even mention or allude to the Book of Hebrews.

    All the best,
    T

  51. Bilbo says:

    Carrier doesn’t even mention the Book of Hebrews? Gosh, I bet I could come up with a better story than whatever he’s hatched. OK, I’ll try .

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