Tim O’Neill wrote a scorching analysis of Carrier’s fringe notion that everything Josephus wrote about Jesus was entirely a latter Christian interpolation. Y’gotta love how O’Neill begins his essay, as it perfectly captures the essence of Carrier:
It seems I’ve done something to upset Richard Carrier. Or rather, I’ve done something to get him to turn his nasal snark on me on behalf of his latest fawning minion. For those who aren’t aware of him, Richard Carrier is a New Atheist blogger who has a post-graduate degree in history from Columbia and who, once upon a time, had a decent chance at an academic career. Unfortunately he blew it by wasting his time being a dilettante who self-published New Atheist anti-Christian polemic and dabbled in fields well outside his own; which meant he never built up the kind of publishing record essential for securing a recent doctorate graduate a university job. Now that even he recognises that his academic career crashed and burned before it got off the ground, he styles himself as an “independent scholar”, probably because that sounds a lot better than “perpetually unemployed blogger”.
But in the minds of New Atheist true believers, far from being a failed academic (and more recently, thanks to some rather dubious life choices, itinerant beggar), Carrier is a towering figure of vast historical wisdom. This is because if there is a tenet of New Atheist Bad History that needs defending, Richard Carrier is usually there to help. Not surprisingly, Carrier is therefore a leading proponent of the Jesus Myth thesis, though given that this is a topic held in dismally low regard by real academics and one peddled mainly by cranks and loons, that’s not much of an accolade.
Two years ago Carrier brought out what he felt was going to be a game-changer in the fringe side-issue debate about whether a historical Jesus existed at all. His book, On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt (Sheffield-Phoenix, 2014), was the first peer-reviewed (well, kind of) monograph that argued against a historical Jesus in about a century and Carrier’s New Atheist fans expected it to have a shattering impact on the field. It didn’t. Apart from some detailed debunking of his dubious use of Bayes’ Theorem to try to assess historical claims, the book has gone unnoticed and basically sunk without trace. It has been cited by no-one and has attracted one lonely academic review, which is actually a feeble puff piece by the fawning minion mentioned above. The book is a total clunker.
So the failure of his academic career and the disaster of his attempt at a groundbreaking opus has left the perennially unemployed Carrier with a lot of time on his hands. Luckily he has a number of obsessive vendettas to keep him busy. The main one of these is with leading New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman, though he also has a beef with me. Recently, to his great joy, he was able to indulge in both at once.
O’Neill has a good feel for how Carrier’s mind works:
But then Ehrman committed his second, much worse sin. As Carrier’s responses become more sneering, more frenzied, more intense and even more tedious in their length, Ehrman did the unthinkable – he chose to completely ignore Carrier as a silly little nobody and simply didn’t engage with him further. And nothing angers a pathological narcissist like being ignored. Mighty was Carrier’s tiny wrath!
So, in the four years since, Carrier has continued to list Ehrman’s many wicked sins, with all the shrillness of a myopically self-obsessed person who genuinely can’t believe he’s not being taken seriously. Of course Ehrman is just one scholar at the top of the long list of people that Carrier has to attack, since anyone who has dared look sideways at Carrier, his fringe thesis, his failed book or any of his minuscule coterie of minions and parrots has been struck mighty blows from his tiny little fists. Some anger him so much that he uses his skills in psychiatry to actually declare them insane, since genuine madness is the only explanation he can fathom for those who don’t bow low before his manifest genius.
O’Neill then devotes the bulk of his essay to critiquing Carrier’s arguments and, for anyone interested in the topic, I highly recommend it.
I myself have already outlined my problem with the crackpot mythers. Although I am certainly no expert on this whole topic, it’s obvious to me that the mythers are not scholars and do not take a scholarly approach. In fact, I summarized the problem as follows:
What the conspiracy theorist/myther does is engage in extreme, intensive disconfirmation bias. But once focus turns to their alternative explanation, skepticism is discouraged, the bar is reset and set very low, and confirmation bias is encouraged.
And you will find that this dynamic applies even when it comes to debate about a single passage in Josephus. That is, while Carrier relies on extreme hyper-skepticism to dismiss the scholarly consensus about Antiquities XX.200, in its place we are expected to embrace some vague and idle speculation that is not only unsupported, but actually inconsistent with the evidence that exists.
Big picture time, folks. Richard Carrier is not a scholar. He is a New Atheist apologist, activist, and evangelist. His livelihood depends on his fans clicking on his blogs, sending money to him for blogging, and selling his books at atheist conventions. You’d have to be a gullible fool to trust the man to be objective and scholarly about the topic. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of such people in the New Atheist community.