Saturday, August 20, 2016

Carrier's snow job, part 2

Here's a sequel to my previous post:

In this post I'm commenting on Carrier's self-serving debate postmortem:

he argues these Gospels must be telling the truth because they “exhibit extensive and compelling verisimilitude,” which is the same thing as saying Mike Hammer novels are really realistic and get all sorts of cultural and historical facts right, therefore Mike Hammer existed. The fallacy is palpable. 
It’s entirely possible John correctly describes the location of the pool, that it was indeed five porticoed, was named as he said, was a healing site, and near the sheep gate (the location of which archaeology has not identified). But this information would have been available in reference books and histories of Judea, and in other stories and legends of events there, and known to countless persons who had lived there in later decades (like Josephus, for example). That the authors of John knew the layout of Jerusalem therefore tells us nothing about whether they had any eyewitness information pertaining to Jesus, or any historical information about Jesus at all.
But even what little verisimilitude the Gospels have is moot. To get Jewish culture and geography right only requires being Jewish or knowing or reading any informed Jew, especially someone who grew up in that time and place, or wrote about it—like Josephus, who did both.
That the Gospels, like many myths and legends and other varieties of historical fiction in antiquity, get some incidental cultural and historical details right, is not evidence that Jesus existed.
Matthew knew these better and repairs Mark’s mistakes, but not from being a better witness to Jesus, but just being a more informed Jew. Hence correcting these errors and getting them right has no connection to having any special knowledge of Jesus. It just means an author knew the Holy Land and Jewish laws and customs better. Luke, meanwhile, gets his details of the region from the Jewish historian Josephus (and probably, in the same way, other historians now lost, for other regions discussed in Acts). And John has been edited out of order so hopelessly it’s actually of little use geographically (see OHJ, Chapter 10.7), and he says nothing about customs that wasn’t common knowledge among Jews. So there really isn’t anything remarkable about these books using common knowledge and reference books to set their scenes.
i) That poses a central dilemma for Carrier. On the one hand, to discount the historicity of the Gospels, he must insist that these were written too late to be in touch with living memory. On the other hand, to account for the historical accuracy of the Gospels, he must insist the authors did have access to informants from that time and place. Carrier can't straddle that fence. He will falling over one side or the other. 

ii) Sure, it's possible to write accurate historical fiction. There are two or three ways to do that. If the novelist lived at that time and place. But Carrier denies that with respect to the Gospel writers.

Or if the author had access to informants who lived at that time and place. But if Carrier concedes that in reference to the Gospel writers, then he can't exclude testimonial evidence to the historical Jesus. 

iii) I'm also curious about his casual appeal to "reference books and histories of Judea". Really? He thinks a Gospel writer, after the Jewish War, could just go a local library or local bookstore to consult a tour book on Jerusalem or Palestine before the fall of Jerusalem? 

Already the non sequitur is obvious. But it’s worse, because there is little else in the Gospels that is so specific. And indeed much that is erroneous.
His Argument from Second Century Historians is basically that historians a century after the fact say Jesus existed, therefore he did. The same historians who did not know anything about Jesus except from what Christians told them—Christians who were relying on the Gospels. So his argument is: later historians repeat the fact that Christians a century later said Jesus existed, therefore Jesus existed. This is a non sequitur. No second century historian gives any indication they had any means of knowing whether the man depicted in the Gospels actually existed or not. 

What makes Carrier assume that someone like Papias or Polycarp had no direct knowledge of Christ's disciples? Likewise, the chain from John to Irenaeus. 

They were two or more lifetimes removed from the pertinent events, and mention no access to any documents or witnesses or memoirs to guide them.

As a teenager, my mother knew a great-aunt who came to live with her parents in her old age. Her great-aunt was born in 1842. I'm writing in 2016. In that respect, there's just one link between me and my great-great aunt. Likewise, my father's grandfather was a Civil War vet. I know because he used to tell my father war stories about his experience. In that respect, there's just one link between me and my great-great grandfather. Because generations overlap, living memory can span a considerable interval. 

We have no eyewitnesses to the historicity of Jesus, and no author who claims he existed on earth has shown that they had any credible access to eyewitnesses. In fact, none even claim they did—except the authors of the Gospel of John, and their witness is a fabrication (OHJ, pp. 500-05; fabricating witnesses was common in ancient mythography: Alan Cameron has a whole chapter on it in Greek Mythography in the Roman World).

Richard Bauckham will be publishing an expanded edition of his classic monograph on Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.

Paul, the only source we have who definitely wrote in less than an average lifetime after when Jesus would have lived…

The "average lifespan" is a statistical mean that's diluted by high child mortality in the ancient world. But people who survived childhood could have a normal lifespan. Consider the church fathers (excluding those who died prematurely from martyrdom). 

One (Luke) outright denies it and conspicuously does not mention having access to any eyewitnesses, only to the previous Gospels, none of which written by eyewitnesses nor citing any.

Luke doesn't say his research was confined to previous Gospels. And it's clear from Acts that Luke had a wide range of contacts, including founding members of the Jerusalem church. 

The earliest (Mark) cites no sources at all, and was clearly not himself an eyewitness, and never mentions knowing or speaking to any.

i) How is it "clear" that Mark was not an eyewitness to any of the events he narrates? And if he was an eyewitness, then we wouldn't expect him to cite sources.

ii) Moreover, Carrier is duplicitous. Even if Matthew, Mark, or Luke either claimed to be eyewitnesses or cite eyewitnesses, Carrier would preemptively discount their testimony as fabricated. 

And Matthew just copied Mark verbatim…

Matthew sometimes simplifies Mark to make room for Matthew's supplementary material. So it's not verbatim. The fact, though, that Matthew is so conservative in his use of Mark demonstrates his fidelity to his sources. He doesn't take historical liberties with Mark.

and expanded and revised him with more speeches many of which many scholars agree were composed afterward and thus did not come from eyewitnesses (e.g. the Sermon on the Mount is an original composition in Greek written after the Jewish War: OHJ, pp. 465-67). 

That's nothing more than a tendentious assertion. Incidentally, it's funny how Carrier reprimands Evans for appeal to scholarly consensus, yet Carrier is quick to invoke scholarly consensus when it serves his own purpose. 

Nor would an eyewitness just copy verbatim the book of a non-witness and pass it off as their own testimony… 

A strawman inasmuch as Matthew doesn't just copy verbatim Mark's account. In addition to the material that Matthew and Luke derive from Mark, they include some distinctive parables. Yet the parables of Jesus constitute evidence for the historical Jesus:

And much of what Matthew adds to Mark is sufficiently ridiculous as to rule out his having or using eyewitness sources at all (like magical stars: 2:9-11; virgin births: 1:18-25...

That's only ridiculous of you presume miracles are ridiculous

zombie hordes: 27:52-53; 

These are no more "zombies" than Lazarus restored to life (Jn 11). "Zombie" instantly triggers associations with Hollywood horror films. That's not an accurate comparison. It's just an applause line for Carrier's sycophants. 

flying monsters from outer space: 28:1-8; etc.).

An angel is a "flying monster from outer space"? That's hardly an accurate description. Rather, it's another applause line for his groupies. 

John’s authors (plural) alone claim to have used some previous written Gospel written by (they claim) an eyewitness (whom they do not name in the present text, although enough clues remain to entail they meant Lazarus), a person never before heard of, whom the Gospel of John suddenly inserts everywhere into the story, and for whom we have ample evidence of his invention.

Actually, the prologue of John begins with a programmatic statement regarding the firsthand knowledge of the narrator (1:14). 

Mark doesn’t seem to have a good grasp of the local geography or customs. 

In a forthcoming collection of essays, Richard Bauckham will dispute that.

Yet even the most informed author, Matthew, isn’t a paragon of accuracy. For example, it’s well known that the Pharisees did not forbid healing on the Sabbath, yet they are depicted as arguing this with Jesus repeatedly, when the arguments put in the mouth of Jesus are actually the same Rabbinical arguments used by the actual Pharisees themselves (e.g., see Geza Vermes’ discussion in The Authentic Gospel of Jesus, pp. 46-47). 

Isn't that reprojecting later Mishnaic or Talmudic codifications back into the 1C? Indeed, before 70 AD? 

Similarly, none of the Gospels presents a trial sequence that is at all plausible within the known laws and customs of the time (Proving History, p. 154). 

i) Aren't the Gospels actually our earliest source of information in that regard?

ii) Moreover, Carrier's statement is naive. Even if the trial of Jesus was extralegal, kangaroo courts are nothing new. 

The clearing of the temple scene is not at all plausible given the known facts of the temple layout and its police force (OHJ, pp. 431-32). 

i) The text doesn't say Jesus emptied the entire temple complex.

ii) But in any case, police force is no match for omnipotence. One incarnate Son of God can effortlessly defeat an army. It's like telepathic aliens. 

The Barabbas narrative invents non-existent Roman customs to create an ahistorical Jewish symbolism (OHJ, pp. 402-08). 

How does Carrier know that? He doesn't. 

Matthew ridiculously has Jesus ride into town on an adult and a baby donkey simultaneously (OHJ, pp. 459-60). 

That's an incompetent misreading of the text. Jesus rides on the mare, with the colt in tow. 

The disciples abandon their jobs and property and families, and pick up and follow and completely devote themselves to Jesus after he, a complete stranger and a pauper, just walks up to them and utters a few sentences. 

There's no reason to think Jesus was a "complete stranger" to them. 

So we can’t tell if Paul means God manufactured Jesus a body out of David’s semen, or if he was born to some human father descended from David…Paul nevertheless does say Jesus was made from the flesh of David (literally out of his semen, as everyone knew prophecy literally said and thus required)

I already addressed that misinterpretation in my prequel post. Does Carrier know nothing about idioms? Does Carrier imagine that prophecies can't employ idiomatic expressions? Is he playing dumb, or is he really that dense? 

…and thus wore a human, Jewish body when he was given flesh to wear after descending from heaven (as Paul says in Philippians 2). 

Paul doesn't say Jesus "wore" a human body. Paul doesn't say he was given flesh "after" descending from heaven.

But that tells us nothing about where he wore that body—on earth or in space? Was Jesus an incarnate archangel on earth, or was he like his neighbor Osiris, who actually wore (and died in) his human body in outer space just below the moon, and only in the public myths disguising that cosmic truth does he wear it on earth?

He had a human body to live among humans. And he died on the cross. These are transparent allusions to the historical Jesus. Paul expected his audience to have that basic background knowledge. 

Evans says Paul wrote that Jesus had “twelve disciples” in 1 Corinthians 15:5. That’s false. The word disciple does not exist there. Nor anywhere in Paul’s letters. These were the first apostles (as Paul says in Galatians 1:17). 

"Disciple" and "apostle" are commonly used as synonyms. That's a standard linguistic convention.

Who, like Paul, “saw Jesus” after his death. Conspicuously no mention is made of them ever seeing Jesus before he died. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 omits any ministry for Jesus, never mentions anyone having met or seen him in life, much less being hand-picked by him in life, and only says we know of his death and burial from scripture, while the first time Paul mentions anyone knowing anything about Jesus from witnessing it, he only mentions the “visions” of a celestial Jesus that came after his prophesied death. Not before. This is so peculiar that it is actually evidence against historicity. Not for it.

I discussed that in my prequel post. Carrier disregards the context of 1 Cor 15, which concerns the resurrection of the body. So the starting-point is the death of Christ. 

Evans claims Paul recites what Jesus said at “the last supper.” But in fact Paul never calls it a last supper, mentions no one being present, and says he knew of those words because he learned of them from a revelation from Jesus, not from any witness (1 Corinthians 11:23). Paul never mentions there being any witness. He also never mentions a betrayal in connection with this, contrary to Evans’s conjecture; in fact, Paul only references Jesus being delivered up for death—by God, as Paul elsewhere says (OHJ, pp. 560-61). And that this occurred during a specific night is already a part of the alternative hypothesis, since the question is not whether it was believed to have occurred at a specific time, but where—on earth or in the heavens. Because Paul makes no mention of where it occurred.

This shows you how desperate Carrier is. Paul is drawing a comparison between the Lord's Supper and the Last Supper. To object that Paul doesn't use the traditional designation commits the word-concept fallacy. 

Writers often count on readers to read between the lines, based on common knowledge. Communication takes for granted a shared preunderstanding between the communicator and his target audience. Is Carrier so inept that he doesn't grasp that elementary fact? Carrier's problem is that he needs to suppress evidence that runs counter to his mythicism. 
Why Were Paul and All His Congregations Uninterested in Any Facts about Jesus’s Life?The silences in Paul’s letters are really weird and hard to explain in any believable way.

Evans had no response to this beyond the standard implausible conjecture that Paul was wholly uninterested in anything to do with Jesus’s life. Which is not only inherently unbelievable and not in evidence (Paul never says such a thing or anything indicative of it), but also doesn’t explain why no one else he wrote to or against was at all interested in such facts, either, since none ever presented him with any evidence or argument from them that ever required his response. 

i) That's a deceptive, prejudicial way to frame the issue. I'm interested in lots of things that don't make their way into any particular letter. Letters are topical. 

ii) Moreover, we don't have Paul's complete correspondence. We only have the sampling that providentially survived. 

I should also mention that it is also not relevant to argue, as Evans did, that Jesus was built out of Jewish concepts of resurrection rather than pagan. Syncretism is about combining both, not choosing one over the other. If you don’t know that, if you don’t know what syncretism is or how it works, you are not competent to debate the matter. When many Jews borrowed resurrection, apocalypticism, a flaming hell, and a divine enemy of God as concepts all from the pagan Zoroastrians who occupied their lands, they Judaized those concepts, making their own versions of them that were peculiarly Jewish and built on Jewish ideas. The result was a combination of pagan and Jewish elements. That’s how syncretism works.

That only works if you date Zoroastrian sources early, OT sources late, have genuine parallels, and can demonstrate borrowing. For multiple problems with Carrier's assumptions, cf. E. Yamauchi, Persia and the Bible (Baker, 1990), chap. 12. As Edwin Yamauchi observes:

One major problem is that the details about Persian eschatology are drawn almost exclusively from the Bundahishn, which is a ninth-century AD Pahlavi writing. We are, in fact, lacking any religious texts from the crucial Parthian era (250 BC to AD 225). A second problem is that there is no convincing evidence that Cyrus was a Zoroastrian. "Life, Death, and Afterlife in the Ancient Near East," R. Longenecker, ed. Life in the Face of Death (Eerdmans, 1998), 47-48.


  1. Steve said: "How does Carrier know that? He doesn't."

    He doesn't know anything about ancient history. He can't. If 1 Thess 2:15-6 is an interpolation, then the textual base for Plutarch's Isis and Osiris or the Ascension of Isaiah are a joke. How doe we know medieval Christians who secretly held to the mythic Jesus didn't alter these texts to make Osiris look more like Jesus? How do we know Greece and Egypt didn't just invent all this nonsense in the 19th century and the British and French and Germans just ate it up?

    Carrier said: "Because Paul makes no mention of where it occurred."

    Yeah, cause 1 Thess 2:15-16 completely changed Carrier's mind didn't it.

    Paul never says anything about Satan killing Jesus. Never so much as hints at the cosmology from the Ascension of Isaiah. But that didin't stop Doherty from making all this up out of thin air.

    They don't think the Gospels are sufficient evidence that one guy existed, but they think Paul's letters are enough to prove the existence of an entire community of people who taught that Jesus descended below the moon, took on flesh, had a meal, and was then crucified. There's no reasoning with people who are that stupid.

  2. I don't know the specific stats, but I imagine another example would be certain modern day nations in, say, sub-Saharan Africa or Asia. Lots of kids who die of things like famine and starvation. Yet if they make it to adulthood, I would think they would have a more normal life span.