Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Getting Carriered Away

Richard Carrier has responded to some questions regarding chapter 9, in his contribution to TET.


He begins by reproducing the following question: “You propose that a possible candidate for thieves was sorcerers or those who supplied sorcerers with corpse materials. But were there sorcerers in Judaea in the first century?”

His answer proceeds as follows:

“There is no reason to believe otherwise. The evidence for sorcery is all over the mediterranean in that time, especially Egypt.”

Is he claiming that the Egyptian socioreligious climate is interchangeable with Palestinian Judaism?

“The Bible itself attests to people from Egypt sojourning in Jerusalem at that very time (Acts 2:10; and from practically everywhere else: Acts 2:6-12).”

What the Bible itself attests to here is the presence of pious Jewish pilgrims who came to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of Pentecost.

How does he get from that to sorcerers and grave-robbers?

“Whose sands have preserved for us copious amounts of spells (many of which I cite in the book).”

i) Show us the dates.

ii) Are these Jewish spells?

“Including Alexandrians (Acts 6:9). Simon of Cyrene was said to come from a province on the other side of Egypt (Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26; Matthew 27:32)”

Once again, how does he get from pious Alexandrian Jews or devout North African Jews to sorcerers and grave-robbers?

“And of course ‘the magi’ who came to Herod, and to worship Jesus, were, by that very name, sorcerers (Matthew 2:1, 2:7, 2:16).”

This is incredibly inept.

i) To begin with, “magus” ‘doesn’t mean magician. It originally designated a priestly clan of Median origin.

ii) And even if Carrier’s statement were etymologically sound, that’s irrelevant to Matthean usage.

“From the Old Testament it is clear, as the Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land (2001) concludes, that "sorcerers, magicians and necromancers abounded in Israelite and Judahite society" (p. 308; e.g. Jer. 27:9; Mal. 3:5-8).”

Yes, there was a great deal of syncreticism in OT times. So what?

“And there is no reason to think this changed under centuries of pagan rule--indeed, pagan-dominated centers within Judaea (such as at Tiberias, Tyre, and Gaza) would have provided a haven and a market for pagan magic, and pagan sorcerers in Palestine would not be subject to Jewish laws against the practice (Roman laws against sorcery were more limited).”

Actually, there are quite a few reasons to think otherwise:

i) Subjugated peoples often respond, not by assimilating, but by becoming even more nationalistic in their sense of in-group solidarity.

ii) The Essenes, Pharisees, Zealots, and Qumranic sectaries were all prominent examples of 1C Palestinian Jews who fiercely resisted cultural assimilation.

iii) Scholars like Mark Chancey and Craig Evans have argued, on the basis of archeological evidence, that widespread Hellenization of Palestine only took place after 70 AD. Cf.:

M. Chancey, The Myth of a Gentile Galilee (Cambridge 2002)

_____. Greco-Roman Culture and the Galilee of Jesus (Cambridge 2005).

C. Evans, Fabricating Jesus (IVP 2006), chap. 5.

“The Bible even attests to the existence of sorcerers in Judaea in the time of Jesus, for Simon Magus 'practiced sorcery' in Samaria (Acts 8:9-11), right in the middle of Palestine.”

Is Carrier treating Samaritan religiosity as interchangeable with Palestinian Judaism? This is demonstrably false given the historical antipathy between the two groups.

“And archaeologists have uncovered amulets (s.v. 'amulet,' Dictionary of Judaism in the Biblical Period, 1996: pp. 32-33) and other evidence of magical practices there in the same general period, even specific examples of necromantic magic (such as a find near Tiberias: see Bengt Ankarloo & Stuart Clark, eds., Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Ancient Greece and Rome 1999: p. 188).”

i) There’s an obvious difference between wearing an amulet and desecrating a grave. In our own time, many men and women wear amulets, but precious few are grave-robbers.

ii) Are the specific examples of necromantic magic Jewish in character?

iii) Is Tiberias interchangeable with Jerusalem?

iv) What period of time is actually covered by “the same general period”? Is this before or after 70 AD?

“Finally, it cannot be maintained that sorcery was not practiced there simply because it was a capital crime. Judaea was not a paradise of unbroken laws. Many Jews took to a life of crime, committing murder and adultery and robbery and undertaking all manner of criminal enterprises, as countless cases in the Talmud attest--even the Bible claims two thieves were executed along with Jesus (Mark 15:27) and that a convicted murderer was in custody (15:7). If Jews could break these laws, they could break any others. And that the Jews had laws against sorcery, and even thought it plausible to accuse Jesus of being a sorcerer, implies that people were engaging in the practice. After all, it would be contrary to human nature to suppose that Judaea was somehow "free" of just this one kind of criminal activity, which is attested everywhere else.”

The problem with this argument is that, according to Carrier, the motive for plundering the tomb of Jesus is that the grave-robbers thought Jesus was a holy man, which would render his relicts efficacious.

But only a devout Jew would regard Jesus as a holy man. And a devout Jew would hardly desecrate a grave.

“And sources confirm cases of Jews or foreigners in Palestine being convicted of sorcery (e.g. Ben Stada of Lydda: b.Talmud, Sanhedrin 67a; likewise, Mishnah, Sanhedrin 6.4.l-m mentions a mass execution of witches in 1st century B.C. Ashkelon, and Sanhedrin 7.11 and b.Talmud, Sanhedrin 67b mention debates about circumstances that imply cases were still being tried in the 1st century B.C. and A.D.).”

i) The Talmud was compiled centuries after the fact. Why is Carrier assuming that we can reconstruct the socio-religious conditions in pre-70 AD Palestine from such late-dated materials? What are his external controls on such a retrojection?

ii) Why is Carrier citing the Talmud? Is Carrier a Talmudist? Or even a Hebraist?

According to his curriculum vitae, Carrier has a working knowledge of Greek and Latin, along with a smattering of French and German.


Apparently, he has no working knowledge of Hebrew or Aramaic.

If he were citing a Talmudist like, say, Jacob Neusner, to substantiate his claim, that would be one thing—but for him to cite the Talmud directly as if he has any expertise in this field is hardly compelling.

“The Bible itself testifies that Elymas the Jew practiced sorcery (Acts 13:6), and though this was outside Palestine, it was still a violation of Jewish law, yet he undertook the profession as a Jew all the same. Thus, it cannot be maintained that no other Jews in Palestine were undertaking the same career, as Simon did (for another example of a traveling Jewish sorcerer in Palestine, see Bengt Ankarloo & Stuart Clark, eds., Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Ancient Greece and Rome 1999: p. 202).”

i) No *other* Jews in Palestine? But by Carrier’s own admission, Elymas was operating out of Cyprus. Is the socioreligious climate of Cyprus interchangeable with the socioreligious climate of Palestine?

So since he wasn’t operating in Palestine, there is no basis for extrapolating from his example to “other Jews in Palestine [who] were undertaking the same career.”

ii) Luke doesn’t identify Simon as a Jew. And Justin identifies Simon as a Samaritan.

So Carrier has yet to scrape up a single example of a pre-70 AD Palestinian Jewish sorcerer.

“For more on the existence of sorcerers in Palestine, see: Georg Luck, Arcana Mundi (1985): pp. 26-28; J. M. Hull, Hellenistic Magic and the Synoptic Tradition (1974); Morton Smith, Jesus the Magician (1978); Ann Jeffers, Magic and Divination in Ancient Palestine and Syria (1996).”

The fact that he would cite a thoroughly discredited work like Morton Smith’s book shows you the quality, or lack thereof, of Carrier’s scholarship:



“Certainly, if it was indeed publicly known that Jesus had worked miracles (even if only things we would today consider mundane, such as healing, exorcism, and prophecy), as the Gospels and Acts claim it was, and if Jesus had indeed convinced a large number that he was a holy man (according to Acts 1:15, over a hundred), then necromancers and their suppliers would sooner distrust the corrupt elite and conclude that Jesus probably was a holy man, a martyr, for the odds of this would be good enough. And even if not, corpse materials from convicted criminals and those killed by violence were also of use.”

i) I’ve already pointed out a logical tension in this argument (see above).

ii) Another problem with this argument is the way it assumes that everyone knew where Jesus was interred. But that knocks the wrong tomb theory out of the running. It therefore negates chapter 7 of the TET, by Jeff Lowder, co-editor of TET, as well as chapter 10, penned by Carrier himself.

As we’ve come to expect, Carrier’s case is based on selective sourcing, sloppy innuendo, self-contradiction, and dilettantism.

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