Saturday, March 17, 2018

Carrier's allegorical method

i) In this post I'm going to quote and comment on chap. 10 of Richard Carrier's On the Historicity of Jesus (Sheffield 2014). He keeps daring critics to read his book. And he did that with me on Facebook. Fine. I'm happy to meet the challenge. 

That said, responding to his book is tedious because it's a jungle packed with dead wood. You have to carpet-bomb his book with Agent Orange to clear out all the dead wood, and once the defoliant has done its job, you discover that it was nothing but dead wood. 

Although I've read other chapters, I'll comment on chap. 10 because that's the central chapter of his magnum opus for Christ mythicism. The excerpts constitute representative samples of Carrier's methodology. I may do another post as a mopping up operation, but this post will focus on chap. 10. 

If the four Gospels are true accounts, then at one stroke that proves Christianity and disproves atheism. That moots everything else in Carrier's overstuffed book. 

ii) One preliminary observation. Carrier routinely assumes that if various features or incidents in the life of Christ have OT parallels, that goes to show that the Gospel rewrote an OT story to make it a story about Jesus. Carrier acts as though OT parallels ipso facto disprove the historicity of the Gospels. 

This is amusing because Christians have always made a point of documenting OT parallels. It's not as if Carrier is drawing our attention to something neglected or damaging. 

iii) The fact that Jesus fulfills OT prophecy confirms rather than undercuts the historicity of the Gospels. In addition, typology is based on the principle that there's a God who directs the course of history, a God who prearranges some events to foreshadow later events. The similarities are by design. As an atheist, Carrier rejects that, but typology is entirely consistent with historicity. There's nothing about typology which implies that the antitype is fictitious. That's not an implication of typology, but atheism. Given atheism, then we wouldn't expect history to have these mirror images. 

vi) I'd add that even apart from typology, if OT prophets performed miracles, then it's to be expected that Jesus will perform similar or greater miracles. If Jesus is the Son of God, he's not going to do less than OT prophets. So it's consistent with the historicity of the Gospels that Jesus perform the same kinds of miracles as OT prophets. 

And now to Carrier:

A good example of how Mark is creating fiction about Jesus can be seen in the appearance of a previously unmentioned insurrectionist named Barab­bas in his crucifixion narrative...This is surely myth, not fact. No Roman magistrate (least of all the infa­mously ruthless Pilate), would let a murderous rebel go free, and no such Roman ceremony is attested as ever having existed; nor is it at all plau­sible [402-03]

i) But as one scholar explains:

It is frequently assumed that Barabbas was a Jewish freedom fighter (whether Zealot, Sicarius, or another faction), but we are not told such, and it is debatable whether such groups were organized as early as the year 30. Even if they were, we do not know that Barabbas was associated with them. J. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke (Eerdmans 2015), 677.

ii) Pilate's ruthlessness is neither here nor there. The Passover was a time when Jerusalem swelled with pilgrims. That made it a powder keg for unrest. For his own job security, Pilate had every incentive to placate the lynch mob. 

iii) Pilate was trapped by his own question when he got a different answer than he anticipated. At that point it was too late to backpedal on the open-ended offer without fear of reprisal. 

iv) Historians credit many events based on a single source. Corroboration isn't essential or even possible in many cases. And the Barabbas incident is multiply-attested in all four Gospels. Sure, Carrier thinks Mark is fictional while the other three rely on Mark, but that's a circular appeal since he's using his theory to interpret the evidence, then appealing to the theory-laden evidence, filtered through his theory, to confirm his theory. 

iv) Scholars have documented analogous amnesty customs. Cf. C. Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20 (Nelson 2001), 479-80; C. Keener, The Gospel of John (Hendrickson 2003), 2:1115-17. We don't require an exact parallel since local variations are to be expected. This is on a much smaller scale than other examples, and as one scholar notes, "the annual release of a single prisoner is a very modest concession compared with many political amnesties," R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark (Eerdmans 2002), 629. 

vi) Finally, Carrier has a faulty notion of how corroboration works. The function of corroboration is not to attest every single claim a source makes, but to provide sufficient attestation to establish the reliability of the source. If it's trustworthy where corroborative evidence is available, then it's presumptively trustworthy where corroborative evidence is absent. If there's good evidence for the source, then the source becomes evidentiary in it is own right.

vii) Apropos (vi), appeal to corroborative evidence is somewhat circular. For instance, you can't use Josephus as the benchmark to confirm or disconfirm Luke, for how do you corroborate Josephus? The point, rather, is that two independent streams which bear witness to the same event are more likely to be true precisely because they agree, which is an odd coincidence if there was no underlying event to produce the agreement. They share the same outlook because they're looking at the same event. That's the simplest explanation. 

Barabbas, in reality a very unusual name, means 'son of the Father' in Aramaic, and we know Jesus was deliberately styled the 'son of the Father' himself [403]

In terms of connotations or folk etymology, it means "son of a teacher" as well as "son of a father". Cf. J. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke (Eerdmans 2015), 676; R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark (Eerdmans 2002), 630n20. So Carrier's claim is slanted by appeal to selective evidence. 

Adding weight to this conclusion is manuscript evidence that the story either acquired or originally had the name 'Jesus Barabbas' [403]

But it makes a significant difference whether that's the original reading or a scribal interpolation. The best witnesses don't include the forename ("Jesus"). 

This is one of Carrier's tactics. He builds a case base on the cumulative falsehoods and half-truths. To the uninformed reader, the result is impressive. But if you take it apart, it falls apart. 

This literary fiction of the dense lackeys is adapted either from Homer's similarly unrealistic depiction of the fickleness and incomprehension of Odysseus's crew or from Exodus's equally unrealistic depiction of the fickleness and incomprehension of the Jews-most likely both (as l suggested before) [411]

That illustrates Carrier's extremely loose appeal to "parallels". Which is it–Exodus or the Odyssey? 

And the story of a woman being healed of a bizarre malady and Jesus just 'mystically' knowing that had happened is not remotely realistic. Nor is a resurrection of a dead girl by a single touch and command [411]

It's unrealistic given atheism, but what makes that the standard of comparison? 

Moses calls a magical tree to appear that makes a bitter pool drinkable, at which he says if they obey God's commandments God will inflict no diseases on them, 'for I am Jehovah who heals you'(Exod. 15.22- 27) [415-16]

Here's what the text actually says:

And he cried our to the Lord, and the Lord pointed out to him a stick, and he flung it into the water, and the water turned sweet (Exod 15:25, Victor Hamilton trans.)

i) Moses doesn't call for a magic tree to appear. Moses doesn't request a magic tree. He simply calls on God for assistance. 

ii) Moreover, there's no indication that it appears out of thin air. Rather, Yahweh simply directs Moses to pick up a particular twig lying on the ground. 

iii) More to the point, Carrier's argument depends on the presence of a "tree" in both cases, but as commentators explain, the word has a wide semantic range: "tree, brambles, cut pieces of wood" (Garrett, 413), "stick/branch/twig" (Hamilton, 239-40,42). So Carrier's comparison turns on a very specific detail which isn't sustainable across the two texts. 

The woman also flowed with blood, while the rock flowed with water [417]

Another example of what passes for a parallel in Carrier's slack methodology. 

In Mark's second sequence he draws on the magical tree episode. Which explains the otherwise very odd detail that the blind man of Bethsaida (8.22-26) sees trees at first instead of men (Mk 8.24), just as Moses did; and to cure the deaf mute, Jesus looks to heaven and cries out, just as Moses must cry out to God in heaven, who shows him the magical tree. (I must wonder if a lost tradition held that the tree was revealed from the heavens and thus Moses was looking up at it.) In both cases, while Moses must put the tree into the water to drink it, Jesus must put spit onto the afflicted to open their eyes, ears or tongue. The magical tree episode also concludes with the dec­laration, 'if you will diligently hear the voice of the Lord your God, and will do what is pleasing in his sight, and will give ear to his commandments' then God will heal you (Exod. 15.26), in each case supplying inspiration for Jesus to heal eyes, ears and tongue (to restore the mute's 'voice'). Thus, Mark shows he has consciously created these double narrative sequences [418]

So Moses purifying the unpotable water by tossing a twig into the water is supposed to parallel Jesus anointing the blind man's eyes with spittle to heal him? Carrier constantly operates with this type of free association. 

Road Narrative

Jesus comes from Galilee . . . (Mk 1.9) 

. . . then enters the wilderness to battle Satan (Mk 1.12-13)

Jesus goes to Galilee . . . (Mk 16.7) 

. . . after having left the wilderness [the land of the dead] having defeated Satan [421]

Carrier fabricates a parallel by glossing the wilderness as the "land of the dead". He imports that into his prooftext. 

The heavens are torn (schizo, Mk 1.10)

The temple curtain is torn (schizo, Mk 15.38), symbol of the barrier between earth and heaven [422]

Was it the outer curtain between the courtyard and the sanctuary–or the inner curtain between sanctuary and the inner sanctum? Hard to say. And that affects the symbolism. 

Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus (to pneuma . . .katabainon eis auton, 'the pneuma . . . descended upon him', Mk 1.10)

Holy Spirit departs from Jesus (exepneusen, 'he exhaled the pneuma', Mk 15.37) [422]

Notice the slippery equivocation. Pneuma has more than one meaning. In Mk 14:37, to stop breathing is a traditional sign of death. You take your last breath. Indeed, "expire" becomes an idiom for the moment of death. That's not the "Holy Spirit" departing from Jesus. Rather, that's the loss of a vital sign. In the ancient world, that was the most common, identifiable evidence of death. 

In fact the centurion says God's claim is now 'true' because of the witness of the Holy Spirit ('when the centurion saw how he exhaled the spirit...' [423]

Piggybacks on the same equivocation (see above).

Jesus is symbolically eaten in place of the Passover lamb (at the Last Supper, he declares the food and drink there to be his body and blood; ordinarily, they would at that time be eating the Passover Iamb: Mk 14.16-17, 14.22-24)...the parallel of the Last Supper as a symbolic Passover consumption of the Lord [424]

Carrier states that truism as if he discovered a subtle telltale clue that the account is fictitious. You have to wonder how his mind works. 

However, since Mark narrates that Jesus is hung on the cross exactly three hours after sunrise (Mk 15.25), and exactly three hours later darkness covers the earth (Mk 15.33), and exactly three hours after that Jesus dies (Mk 15.34) [424n74]

Mark doesn't narrate that these were "exact" three hour intervals. Rather, before the advent of modern clocks, it was common to subdivide the day into parts of a day. A spread rather than an exact figure. It wasn't possible to be precise. 

Thus Mark has Jesus rise from the dead on Sunday, the firstfruits of the resurrected, symbolically on the very Day of Firstfruits itself [425]

How providential!

Indeed, since executions would not be performed on holy days, Mark's narrative has no historical credibility. Likewise trials for capital crimes had to be conducted over the course of two days and could not be conducted on or even interrupted by a Sabbath or holy day, nor ever conducted at night [425]

i) As if corrupt authorities never break the rules in kangaroo court proceedings. 

ii) More to the point, this isn't a trial, but a hastily convened grand jury to gather incriminating which they can refer to the Procurator.

On the original Passover, the angel of death 'passes over' those who are protected by the lamb's blood and kills the 'firstborn sons' of those who are not; in Mark, the firstborn son (Jesus) is rescued from death (as evidenced by his empty tomb), and his blood protects those who share in it [426]

Notice Carrier's utterly artificial parallels. 

i) At the original Passover, paschal blood protects people inside their huts from the angel of death outside their huts. But the shed blood of Jesus doesn't protect Jesus inside the tomb from an angel of death outside the tomb. There is no angel of death in the Gospel accounts. 

ii) And even if there were, an angel couldn't kill him since he's already dead! The tomb contains a corpse, while his soul is with the Father. 

iii) His blood wasn't painted on the outside of the tomb. 

iv) No angel could kill the Son of God. 

For this purpose it does not matter whether the seder traditions later developed were post-temple. The coincidences of the features to follow demonstrates that those elements at least preceded the Jewish war (as otherwise those coincidences are hard to explain) [427n79]

That's viciously circular. Appealing to anachronistic customs to establish coincidences, then appealing to resultant coincidences to establish the relevance of anachronistic customs. 

Of course, that scene is hardly believable: the temple grounds were enormous, occupying many acres (the temple as a whole occupied nearly forty acres, and a large portion of that, at least ten acres, was devoted to public space), extensively populated (there would have been hundreds of merchants and moneychangers there), and heavily guarded by an armed force deployed to prevent just this sort of thing.94 They would have killed Jesus on the spot. So the story is obviously fiction even on that point alone [431-32]

i) There's no reason to think Jesus cleared the entire complex. It's a symbolic action. An enacted synecdoche. 

ii) How could armed guards kill the Son of God? Armed guards are no match for omnipotence. 

We saw Mark do this before, when he took the tale of the raising of Jairus's twelve-year-old daughter and wrapped that around a symbolically related story of the woman who had bled for twelve years [434]

What we have is an urgent request made to Jesus, and while he's on his way, that's interrupted by a sick woman. That's quite realistic. Jesus was constantly accosted wherever he went by desperate people. A crowd shadows him from dawn to dusk. 

As Robert Funk says,
[These] scenes in Mark, repeated almost word-for-word in Matthew, make sense only in retrospect, in the context of a movement now already some years old. From that distance, it was plausible for some storyteller to relate how the [four men] decided on the spur of the moment to leave their jobs and become itinerant followers of Jesus. [These] are thus not actual scenes but the product of an imagination informed by the subse­quent course of events . . . [and perhaps] stylized from constant repetition [435-36]

Funk assumes that Jesus and the disciples were perfect strangers before he called them, but Mark's Gospel begins in medias res with the public ministry of Christ. That doesn't mean he had no history with the men in question. But that backstory isn't part of Mark's account. 

Joseph of Arimathea is not just a fictive recreation of Priam, who in Homer seeks the body of Hector (as MacDonald shows), but also a type of Joseph the Patri­arch, who in Gen. 50.4-6 asks Pharaoh for permission to bury Jacob (i.e. Israel), and lays him in the cave-tomb Jacob had hewn,just like the tomb in which the parallel Joseph lays Jesus. Thus, Mark derived the burier's name as 'Joseph' [438-39]

Yet another example of Carrier's slipshod methodology, where he contrives parallels by seizing on random, peripheral details from disparate sources. This says nothing about the Gospels and everything about Carrier's fervid imagination, which he projects onto the text. 

'Joseph from Arimathea, a prominent council-member, who was himself also awaiting [or accepting or receiving] the kingdom of God', even though it is never explained why he gets involved in the story or what became of him (later Gospels try to make sense of this by adding minor details: see Mt. 27.57; Lk. 23.50-51; Jn 19.38). He exists only as a literary device, instantly produced on the stage when he is needed, without explanation or introduction, and then instantly removed when his role is done, just as inexplicably, never to be heard of again (not even in Acts: see Chapter 9, §3) [439n108]

i) He appears and disappears at this juncture in part because this is when he had occasion to intervene. There's only so much he can do. 

ii) Moreover, since Mark isn't writing a history of the church, he doesn't narrate Joseph's subsequent career.

iii) Stop and think about all the people in the course of a lifetime you only meet once or just a few times? A bank clerk. A 7/11 cashier. A bagger at the supermarket. A gas station attendant. A receptionist, nurse, or physician at the ER. A substitute teacher. A plumber. A policeman. And so on and so forth. There's nothing unusual or unrealistic about crossing paths with someone once in a lifetime. That happens hundreds or thousands of times. 

Another double parallel is how Mark patterns the disciples after the Jews in the Exodus, who are likewise implausibly fickle and stupid, never under­ standing anything even after repeatedly witnessing Moses perform incred­ible miracles just like the disciples with Jesus), but also after the crew of Odysseus, who are likewise fickle and stupid. Which explains the strangely excessive role of sea travel and sailors (the leading disciples are all fisher­ men and a large chunk of the story occurs at sea), which gives Mark end­ less opportunities to build deliberate allusions to themes developed in the Odyssey...This in turn casts doubt on the historicity of Jesus' status as a carpen­ter. Odysseus was also famously a carpenter, having built his own marital bed (a fact that plays a key role in the plot) and the doorways of his palace, and even building his own boat to escape Calypso's island [440]

The comparison with Odysseus is specious enough, but Carrier makes his reconstruction even more Rococo by splicing that together with a Mosaic comparison.  

This connects with the entire 'wedding' theme in Christianity (see Ele­ment 48), in which Jesus is the groom and the church his bride (the New Israel), the heiress to the preceding world order (the Old Israel). Which parallels a similar wedding theme in the Odyssey, where the suitors are hoping to become Penelope's new husband; but her true husband, Odys­seus, returns like a thief in the night to strike them down, all the while mov­ing among them and conversing with them, yet they do not know who he is. He appears as a lowly vagabond and storyteller just like Jesus does in Mark), but all the while he is the very king himself. With Jesus the analog of Odysseus, the Jewish elite become the analog of the suitors, confirming a consistent message of Mark's Gospel: like the suitors, the Jewish elite are greedy, conniving, immoral and undeserving-and will soon be destroyed by God and replaced by the true king, whom they do not know, even though he is standing before them [442]

See the pattern to Carrier's methodology? He strings together papier-mâché parallels of his own contrivance. It's a window into Carrier's unbridled, undisciplined imagination. He lifts incidental words or plotlines out of context, from unrelated sources, then weaves them together into a "parallel". In his next example he devotes pages to concocting parallels between Simon of Cyrene, Alexander the Great, and Musonius Rufus. Carrier is so spellbound by his self-image of brilliance that he's flatters himself by drawing intricate connections that only exist in his own head. His mind is like a nautilus shell that curves in on itself, increasingly lost as it curls in ever deeper to pursue the twists and turns of mental fantasies. 

It may seem strange to include such a complex hidden message with so sparse a remark, but it's obvious the Gospel authors often did this. As we saw before, there is surely some esoteric meaning to the 'twelve years of bleeding' and the 'twelve years of age' in the Jairus narrative [450]

Notice, once again, how Carrier lacks the critical detachment to distinguish his circular reasoning from what the Gospel authors obviously did. He takes it as self-evident that Mark intended some esoteric affinity between a women with chronic bleeding and an adolescent girl, based on one numerical variable. Because, you know, in real life, twelve of something never happens more than once. 

Even the names of Jesus' family members are a likely fabrication...If someone were to rattle off five random names to just sound like a typical family (like we used to do with the phrase 'every Tom, Dick and Harry'), and one that was especially evocative of Jewish biblical heritage, it would look exactly like this list: the most common of all names (Simon, our 'John Doe') and the most common names of the time that were evoca­tive of the OT (Jacob, Joseph, Jesus and Judah). In other words, this looks exactly like a made-up list[453-54]

It's funny to see how Carrier is oblivious to his chronic circular reasoning. Why were they such common names? Because 1C Palestinian Jews liked to name their boys after OT founders and heroes. So how would the popularity of their names make it unlikely that Mary and Joseph named their kids after famous OT Jews? What does it say about Carrier's conspiratorial mindset that he has such backwards logic? Is it unrealistic when parents name their kids after the most popular baby names for boys and girls? No. It feeds itself. Because the names are already popular, parents are more likely to use those names, which in turn, makes the names even more popular. To take a religious comparison, consider the impact of Islam or Catholicism on the traditional choice of baby names in those cultures. 

Mark [Mk 6:1-6] has Jesus effectively renounce his family and declare only those who follow him his brethren-thereby deliberately reversing the story of Moses' family (also duly named) coming to see him, another exam­ple of a fictional family visiting a fictional hero in a narrative treated as his­torical, all just to make a symbolic point [454-55]

How do opposites prove a parallel? If you already knew that the story of Moses lies in the background, and if you already knew that Mark's narrative strategy was to reverse that story, that would be one thing, but since Carrier can't very well begin with those assumptions as a given, how does he derive his conclusion? Once again, Carrier's conclusion is surreptitiously feeding into back into the very assumptions that drive his conclusion, like a causal loop. But as always, he's too captivated by his own cleverness to perceive the fallacy. 

But the changes are the point. While Proculus receives his gospel on the road to Rome, Cleopas receives his gospel on the road from Jerusalem: so while the old story suggests 'all roads lead to Rome', the new story sug­gests all roads lead from Jerusalem. While Romulus appears in awesome glory, befitting the awesome glory of Rome's dominion and the very visible empire he promises, Jesus appears in disguise, hidden, just as the kingdom he promises is hidden, and which, like Jesus, becomes visible (and thus knowable) only in the communion of believers. Luke has thus transvalued the Romans' founding myth: unlike the Romans, their resurrected hero promises a hidden spiritual kingdom originating from Jerusalem on high. And just as the glorious visage of Romulus is what confirmed to Proculus that what he said was true, so it is the powerful word of the gospel that con­firms to Cleopas that what Jesus said was true. Luke thus rewrites the story to communicate how Christian values differ from mainstream Roman val­ues.197 This is a classic hallmark of mythmaking (as we saw in the example from Homer and Virgil in §2) [482]

i) Carrier has been using the "transvalued" escape clause for years. Problem is, if you're comparing two stories that are so unalike, how do you differentiate stories that are so unalike because they're independent of each other from stories that are unalike because one transvalues the other? Based on Carries rubbery procedure, why can't we claim parallels between any two vaguely similar stories, then chalk up the massive differences to transvaluation?

ii) Apropos (i), if you already knew that one story was reworking another story, then you could sometimes appeal to transvaluation to account for differences, but how do you determine in the first place that these are interrelated stories, given the massive differences? If, for instance, you had information about one of the authors, apart from the story, then you might be aware of his sources and agenda. But if all you've got is two stories, you lack that independent frame of reference to make prior assumptions about the author's sources or his agenda. 

iii) The example of Homer and Virgil is subversive to Carrier's thesis. Sure, there are cases where one author reworks sources. Virgil does that with Homer. Milton and Dante do that with classical mythology. But one problem with that example is that in the case of Homer and Virgil, we're dealing with sustained, explicit similarities. In addition, we know a fair amount about Virgil, Milton, and Dante apart from their epic poems. We know about their education. Of course they were steeped in the Classics. Likewise, as ambitious poets, there's a one-upmanship where they try to do Homer one better. Then there's the chauvinism, in which Virgil is manifestly laboring to produce a national mythos to  pass the torch from Greece to Rome. But Carrier has none of those clues when he approaches the four Gospels. He thinks the Gospels are anonymous. So, by his own reckoning, there's no background information about the writers. And while the Aeneid is a conspicuous continuation of the Iliad, there's nothing analogous in the Gospels, with regard to Greco-Roman mythology. Rather, the Gospel story picks up from OT history. It resumes that story.   

This obsessive focus on 'signs' (in other words, 'proof') is unique to John and characterizes a lot of what he has done to change up the story [490]

Why do the Synoptic Gospels even bother to record the miracles and exorcisms of Christ if they have no evidential value? But of course they do. 

That Jesus' second visit to Cana occurs on the third day is discernible from the text: he spends 'two days' with the Samaritans (Jn 4.40, the number of days Jesus would later reside in the land of the dead; he even dies at the very hour that he meets the first Samaritan, at the 'sixth hour', 4.6 deliberately echoing 19.14, thus making his descent into Samaria and return a metaphor for his death and resurrection)... [493]

Which assumes, apparently, that the Johannine narrator didn't treat Samaria as a real place–but just an extended metaphor. Is that what Carrier is trying to say? What is there in Jn 4 to suggest that Christ's excursion into Samaria represents a descent into the land of the dead? Does Jn 4 employ stock netherworld imagery and personnel–a la Isa 14 or Inanna's Descent?

The irony of Carrier is that for all his arcane erudition, his hermeneutical system is interchangeable with the homespun typology and numerology of a backwoods preacher like Harold Camping. If only he had saved himself the student loan bills. 

The first miracle at Cana, John's only 'new' miracle for Jesus (every other has precedents in the other Gospels), is a perfect example of this.221 It reifies the Word of God in the book of Exodus, where Aaron 'did the signs in the sight of the people, and the people believed' (Exod. 4.30-31), the basic model for John's entire Gospel. And here in particular, God had told Moses he will give him three signs to perform, such that if they don't believe after the first two signs, they will believe after the last (Exod. 4.1 -9). That last miracle God explains to him thus:
If they will not believe even after these two signs, nor listen to you, then you shall take some of the water from the river, and pour it on the dry ground, and the water that you took out of the river shall become blood upon the ground (Exod. 4.9).

So the last miracle Moses was to perform was to turn water into blood (in other words, water into wine). John has Jesus perform this as his first mira­cle, thus starting where Moses left off, and turning the last into the first [497]

i) To begin with, this assumes that wine stands for blood in Jn 2. But there's nothing in that pericope to justify his sacramental interpretation. Even the pericope of the Last Supper (Jn 13) is striking for the lack of sacramentalism. If it weren't for the Synoptic Gospels or 1 Corinthians, a reader wouldn't even recognize Jn 13 as inaugurating the Eucharist, but rather, a seder-style meal suited to the Jewish calendar. 

ii) It's a wedding feast. People drink wine. That's a mundane reality. Clean, safe drinking water wasn't readily available in that part of the world–no fluoridation or indoor plumbing!–so wine was a staple beverage, even apart from festivities. 

iii) Hebrew uses the same word for "blood" and the color "red". Cf. D. Stuart, Exodus (B&H 2006), 199. Therefore, Carrier's parallel is vitiated by equivocation. 

iv) Moreover, was 1C communion wine white wine or red wine? 

Indeed the one scene is an antitype of the other: at Cana his mother gives a command to Jesus, but at the cross Jesus gives a command to his mother; at Cana his mother says to do whatever he says, and at the cross Jesus says what to do; at Cana his mother asks Jesus to give them wine from waterand at the cross he gives them blood with water; at Cana Jesus asks what he has to do with her, and at the cross he says he has nothing to do with her (transferring her kinship); at Cana he says his hour is not yet come, and at the cross it has come [497-98]

Notice Carrier's selective evidence:

i) It's not just on the cross that Jesus tells people what to do. He does that throughout the Fourth Gospel.

ii) It's not just at Cana that his hour hadn't come. That's a recurring theme in the Fourth Gospel, in the ramp up to Holy Week.

iii) Jesus doesn't give anyone bloody water. He simply bleeds out on the cross. And the narrator uses a folk medical description of the postmortem effusion. 

iv) Jesus doesn't cease having anything to do with his mother. He simply entrusts her earthly care to his most reliable disciple. 

Note also that when Aaron performs the water-to-blood miracle for the Egyptians, water in 'stone pots' is also transformed (Exod. 7.19); the pots in John's miracle are also made of stone (Jn 2.6) [498n222]

This is one of Carrier's many slippery parallels. But let's compare the actual incidents, back-to-back:

14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh's heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go. 15 Go to Pharaoh in the morning, as he is going out to the water. Stand on the bank of the Nile to meet him, and take in your hand the staff that turned into a serpent. 16 And you shall say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, “Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness.” But so far, you have not obeyed. 17 Thus says the Lord, “By this you shall know that I am the Lord: behold, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall turn into blood. 18 The fish in the Nile shall die, and the Nile will stink, and the Egyptians will grow weary of drinking water from the Nile.”’” 19 And the Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt, over their rivers, their canals, and their ponds, and all their pools of water, so that they may become blood, and there shall be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, even in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone.’” (Exod 7:14-19).

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

6 Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. 9 When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him (Jn 2:1-11).

i) Do those look like parallel accounts to you? These are two different events. 

ii) Carrier arbitrarily isolates a single verse apiece, disregarding the entire context of each. One concerns a Jewish wedding in a Palestinian village, the other concerns a confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh in the royal court. One has fine wine, the other rotting fish. 

iii) And even in that respect, the "parallel" details are actually quite dissimilar:

‘Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt, over their rivers, their canals, and their ponds, and all their pools of water, so that they may become blood, and there shall be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, even in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone.’ (Exod 7:19).

Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification (Jn 2:6)

That's a parallel? They only thing they have in common is red liquid in stone pots. But in Exodus, the red liquid isn't confined to stone pots. It's in the Nile, tributaries, canals, and wooden containers. And in neither account is the red liquid wine. 

He also got several of the ideas for it from a similar tale of miraculous provisions told of Elijah in I Kgs 17.8-24 [498]

Really? Should we provide back-to-back quotes for comparative purposes? 

An extensive case has also been made that John's wedding at Cana is modeled after a wedding in Esther I: Roger Aus, 'The Wedding Feast at Cana (John 2.1-11), and Ahasuerus' Wedding Feast in Judaic Traditions on Esther I ', in Water into Wine and the Beheading ofJohn the Baptist: Early Jewish-Christian Interpretation ofEsther 1 in John 2:1-1I and Mark 6:17-29 (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1988), pp. 1-37. The parallels are intriguing but inconclusive (it thus remains a possibility, perhaps true but unprovable). Aus also discusses the pagan parallels (of Dionysian pots miraculously producing wine, a frequently performed miracle in ancient temples), pp. 34-37 [499n222]

So Carrier has now proposed no fewer than four "parallels", unrelated to each other, that are supposedly related to Jn 2: the plague of blood, Elijah's multiplication of food, the wedding of Esther, and the cult of Dionysus. That miscellany shows you how random the alleged connections are. When the putative sources are that diverse, when it could be one, maybe two, maybe three maybe four, and which one, which two, which three?–Carrier is filtering Jn 2 through an extraneous interpretive grid. That's something he superimposes willy-nilly on the text.  

Why Cana? We can only speculate. No previous Gospel mentions anything ever happening there, whereas John deliberately frames a whole literary sequence with two incredible events there, so the selection of Cana is clearly an invention of John. There was a Cana (Josephus camped there: Life 86), but its selection by John was probably mytho-symbolic. The tale of the Syrophoenician woman in Mk 7.25- 30 had become the tale of the Canaanite woman (Kananaia, nearly the same word that would be used of someone 'from Cana') in Mt. 15.22-28. This was a tale of the faith of a foreign woman earning God's grace (and in which a demon is cast out of the woman's daughter as she requested), which has certain parallels with the Cana­-to-Cana sequence in John (which is also about faith earning a reward, and adapts the foreign-woman theme into the encounter with the Samaritan woman; note that John deletes all exorcism scenes from Jesus' story). John may have chosen to frame the Samaritan encounter with events at Cana to create a parallel between the beginning, end, and middle (the latter to remind us of the woman 'from Cana' in Matthew and its parallel message). Another possibility are certain parallels with Joseph's feats of dream interpretation in Genesis 40, where Joseph interprets the dreams of a 'master of wine' (archioinochos) and a 'master breadmaker' (archisitopoios), just as John's story features a 'master of the feast' (archilriklinos), which combines both roles-both stories involve an actual feast where something eventful happens 'on the third day'. In the OT tale Joseph explains to the breadmaster that 'the three baskets' of bread in his dream represent 'three days' (ta tria kana treis hemerai: Gen. 40.18) after which he would be crucified (40.19), while the other ofthe two men (the winemaster who dreams of creating wine from three vines) will be saved. The word used here for 'baskets' in the Septuagint is kana (the plural of kaneon), the exact same spelling of the town of Cana (in John: Kana) 499.n223

Just look at that incredibly convoluted backstory. And not just one, but two divergent explanations. 

What about a simpler explanation: John says the wedding happened in Cana because…the wedding happened in Cana! But that would deprive Carrier of the opportunity to flex his ingenuity. Notice how Carrier repristinates all the worst excesses of the allegorical method. It's no wonder that he likes to quote Origen. 

We're also told the Beloved Disciple was the first to see the burial cloths Jesus had cast off in his now-empty tomb–and Lazarus had been wrapped in burial cloths also cast off at his resurrection. And so it is he who is the first to believe Jesus had risen (Jn 20.8).228 In both accounts the peculiar detail of the deathly veil is mentioned (the soudarion, a napkin covering the face of the dead), and in both accounts this is distinguished from the bur­ial wrappings, and in both accounts we find references to being bound or unbound by these (as a metaphor for being bound by or freed from death), and in both accounts we're given a vivid picture of these burial wrappings and their disposition [501]

For Jesus we're told 'the linen cloths [soudarion]' were in the tomb and 'the napkin was on his head, which was not lying with the linen cloths, but rolled up in one place' (Jn 20.6-7); for Lazarus we're told he walked out of the tomb 'bound hand and foot with grave-clothes [keiriai], and his face was bound about with a napkin [soudarion]', and Jesus told those present to 'loose him and let him go' (Jn 11 .44)... [501-02n229]

Which is what we'd expect if the narrator witnessed both events. He'd see Lazarus stagger out of the tomb, struggling with the burial cloths. And he'd see the empty tomb of Jesus, with nothing left but scattered burial cloths. That would be unforgettable. Trace details would stick in the mind. 

The final proof of this is the fact that John has invented this Lazarus tale to reverse and thus 'refute' Luke's parable of Lazarus.232 The reification of imaginary people into real people is a major marker of mythmaking. And here we have just that. There is in fact only one other mention of any Lazarus in the Gospels: the fictional Lazarus in a parable told by Jesus in Lk. 16.19-31 (both facts are astonishing given that Lazarus was the third most common male Jewish name) [503]

How is it astonishing that two different accounts have a figure with the same name if that's the third most common male Jewish name? Isn't that the opposite of "astonishing"? If a name is that popular, then it's hardly surprising if different accounts have different participants who sometimes share the same name. Once again, what does it say about the mentality which Carrier has assiduously cultivated that what's commonplace is so "astonishing" that it demands a special explanation?

Key to this parable is that this fictional Lazarus does not rise from the dead, and that even if he did, it would convince no one, and therefore it won't be done. This is thus another expanded exercise in making the repeated point that Jesus wi I I not perform signs because they will not persuade anyone (as I surveyed earlier). Notice what happens i n John: he reverses the message of Luke's parable, by having Jesus actually raise this Lazarus from the dead, which actually convinces many people to turn and be saved, the very thing Luke's Jesus said wouldn't work. In fact, just as the rejected request in Luke's parable imagined Lazarus going to people and convincing them, John's Lazarus is then cited as a witness to the crucifixion, empty tomb and resurrection of Jesus, and is so cited specifically to convince people-again what Luke's Jesus said wouldn't work. John has thus reified a fictional character and integrated him into his version of the story in order to argue against that particular message in Luke, even to the point of claiming this fictional Lazarus is the eyewitness John is using as a source.235 In addition to the evidence already just adduced that Lazarus is the Beloved, we can now see that the idea of the Beloved's reclining 'on Jesus' bosom' (Jn 13.23) references the fact that the Lazarus of Luke's parable was reclining 'on Abraham's bosom' (Lk. 16.22-23), thus John clearly meant them to be one and the same [504]

Thus reversing Luke's parable again: Abraham was asked but refused to raise Lazarus and send him as a sign; yet when Jesus was asked, he did what Abraham refused. Jesus is thus now sitting in the place of Abraham, deciding who rises from the dead [504n236]

i) To begin with, the whole raison d'être for his labyrinthian explanation is the utterly "astonishing" fact that Luke and John have two different figures with the same name, even though, by Carrier's own admission, that was the third most common name for Jewish men–so the Johannine Lazarus can't be a real person! Therefore, the narrator recast the fictional protagonist in the Lukan parable! 

Instead of contenting himself with a mundane, straightforward explanation, he acts as though what's to be expected is instead so counterintuitive that he dives down the rabbit hole and pops out in Wonderland. For Carrier, what's predictable is naturally inexplicable. 

Lazarus isn't the only character John invents. He also invented Nicodemus (whose name means 'Victory for the People') [505n237]

Does Carrier think the narrator invented the Gurion clan? Cf. Richard Bauckham, "Nicodemus and the Gurion Family," JTS 46 (1996) 1-37.

Perhaps Carrier will retort that:

However much John colors his account with historical trivia about old Jerusalem, he is still just making all this up [506]

Yet in the very same book, Carrier says John's Gospel

could have been written as late as the 140s (some argue even later) or as early as the 100s (provided Luke was written in the 90s) [268-69]

So how can the narrator be so knowledgable about pre-70 historical trivia? 

And why does Carrier infer that Nicodemus is a fictional character because his name means something? Many Greek and Hebrew names mean something. Does he think every ancient figure with a meaningful Greek or Hebrew name was fictitious? 

We already know John was fond of number symbolism-many instances of curious numbers appear in his narrative, from the number and size of the pots at Cana (2.6) to the number of years it took to build the Jerusalem temple (2.20) to the number of stadium lengths the disciples had rowed before Jesus walked on the water (6.19), and much else besides. A famous example is that of the paralyzed man cured at Bethesda, who had been paralyzed for 'thirty-eight years' (5.5), and thus was beginning the thirty-ninth year of his infirmity when he was cured and 'took up his bed and walked' (5.9), at which the Jews rebuked him because 'it is not lawful for you to pick up your bed' on the Sabbath (5.10). As it happens, 'picking up your bed and moving it' on the Sabbath is the thirty-ninth prohibition of labors in the Mishnah, the last of the 'forty less one' prohibited acts ('he who transports an object from one domain to another') [506]

To the contrary, those are the kinds of ancillary details you find in oral history. Eyewitnesses have lots of incidental information at their fingertips. 


  1. Do you have a PDF of the article "Nicodemus and the Gurion Family"?