Monday, March 05, 2018

Carrier's snow machine

Jonathan McLatchie recently debated Richard Carrier:

This, in turn, generated an impromptu debate between yours truly and Richard Carrier on Facebook. 


I don't even consider the evangelical to be the mainstream. It's a position of extreme bias. Mainstream is centrist: undogmatic believers, and nonbelievers, with full credentials. You can't be a literalist or an inerrantist, and be mainstream. You can't be a dogmatist, either. But even by that definition of mainstream, it remains the case that the widest mainstream view is that Paul believed Jesus was an earth person (and met his biological brothers, for example), in the same way he probably believed Moses was (although the mainstream view now is that there was no Moses, or that we can't assert with any confidence that there was; and that used not to be the case; the consensus changed in the decades after being challenged in the 1970s; I'm arguing that needs to happen again; and there are at least ten qualified experts who agree this challenge to the old consensus on Jesus at least needs to be taken seriously and included among the many other contradictory but viable options entertained by the mainstream).


Amusing to see Carrier's self-incriminating attack on "dogmatists," given the fact that Carrier is a secular dogmatist.


The number of experts on my side only argues against the claim that no experts agree with me. Although I'm not aware of any astronomers (as in actual Ph.D.s in astronomy) who believe in a flat earth. So that analogy seems implausible. My situation is more analogous to the 1970s when the historicity of Moses was challenged. It will take decades to see if it goes the same way.


Jonathan McLatchie's analogy was not to flat-earthers but young-earth creationists.


Oh, right! Wait...Who are the Ph.D.s in relevant sciences who are young earthers?


E.g. Kurt Wise, Todd Wood, John Byl, Andrew Snelling, Jonathan Sarfati, John C. Sanford, Jason Lisle, &c. 


Nathaniel Jeanson, David Menton, Danny Faulkner


Leonard Brand, John Baumgardner, and Walt Brown as well would be prominent names.


After Carrier gives some examples of Acts unreliability, including an example of unexpected content in Acts given what we read from Paul himself in Galatians, the following ensues...


i) The only irony is that Cam doesn't know what a contradiction is. 

ii) In his opening gambit, Carrier says this is the competing theory of the origins of Christianity that he's advancing:

"Decades" before the Gospels get written you have the letters of Paul‚ the "authentic letters" of Paul (50s AD). 

Notice his assumption that the Gospels were written "decades" later than the 50s. 

"Paul repeatedly says the teachings of Jesus came by revelation after his death."

But Paul doesn't say that's the case in general. Rather, Paul says that he (Paul) was a recipient of divine revelation. 

"Just as Paul believed Satan was a historical person who fought a war in heaven and was cast down, yet still not becoming a person on earth."

Yet Carrier tells us that he's confining himself to the seven "authentic" letters of Paul. Where does Paul present that cosmic narrative in the seven "authentic" letters (i.e. Romans, Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, 1-2 Corinthians, Philippians, Philemon)? 

"So also Paul may have believed the sacrificial drama played out by Jesus which reversed the fall of Satan and undid the effects of the fall of Satan was similarly not on earth. This parallel to Satan‚ a sort of anti-Satan."

That's more Johannine than Pauline. The axial structure of Paul's soteriology is Adam/Christ rather than Satan/Christ. 

"We know Paul and the early Jews and Christians of his day believed things like castles and gardens existed in the sky and the heavens and that battles and burials took place there."

i) Is that what they believed? Or are those picturesque metaphors? 

ii) Notice how Carrier jumps from the seven "authentic" letters of Paul to imputing views to Paul that can't be documented from the seven "authentic" letters. 

iii) What's the evidence that Paul and the early Jews and Christians of his day believed that "burials" took place in the sky? 

Carrier mentions the Osiris cult. What are the dates of the sources Carrier is alluding to?


Read the book. Nothing you say here accurately represents or considers what I argue in it.


Richard, I'm responding to your own statements in the debate. Do you think you misrepresented your position in the debate?


Five minutes of conversation, and you assume you know all the bases and arguments for my statements, and how I use them to argue the conclusion? Just stop being lazy and read the book.


i) It's striking how many dubious claims you make so early in the debate. So, yes, I'm entitled to correct you as the debate proceeds. And, once again, you have this bizarre notion that it's unfair to judge your position by your debate. If you don't think a debate can properly represent your position, don't agree to have a public debate. You went on the show of your own volition.

ii) Carrier appeals to the Ascension of Isaiah. Larry Hurtado says 

"the dates proposed by scholars range from the latter decades of the first century down into the third century, with most nowadays favoring a date in the second century" [while Hurtado inclines to the middle to late second century date]." Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity, 595. 

This raises questions about Carrier's comparative methodology. Why does he limit himself to the seven allegedly earliest Pauline letters, from the mid-1C, but then reaches for a work that's at least a century later, give or take? Does Carrier have any consistent criteria?


Hurtado is not being honest with you about the dating of the Ascension of Isaiah. He is conflating different redactions. You should consult the actual literature on it. Like I did. I cite all the leading scholarship on it and my dating is based on that scholarship without deviation.

Also, if you actually would read my book instead of gullibly believing whatever dishonest people tell you is in it, you would know I don't use the earliest reconstructed redaction of the Ascension of Isaiah as anything but a late first-early second century text. Just as all experts do. And accordingly I don't use it as evidence of Pauline era Christianity. But of Christianity coterminous with the same communities writing the canonical Gospels. I make no bolder claim for it than that. I also give it extremely little weight as evidence. It gets a factor of barely 1.1; good evidence warrants a 5 or 10 or more; I assign the reference to brothers in Paul, a factor of favor of historicity! So please actually read my book before making claims about it.


Richard, you're letting your overactive imagination get the best of you. I didn't cite or quote anyone commenting on your book. Rather, quoting Hurtado on the dating of the Ascension of Isaiah.


And I'm telling you, you either misunderstood him, or he is misleading you. Because the statement you quote from him is literally false as given. Charitably I can only assume he is conflating the different redactions (or you are). You would know this, if you'd consult the actual literature on the text. Which I cite and summarize in my book. Educate yourself.


i) Richard, you voluntarily entered into a public debate on Unbelievable. You now act as though it's improper to assess your own statements in that debate. If you have such a low opinion of your performance in that debate, who am I to disagree with the failing grade you gave yourself.

ii) I don't grant that you're more expert than Hurtado. You then make the contradictory claim that I misunderstood him and what he said is literally false. Which is it?


I'm not claiming to be an expert on it. 


i) Hurtado discusses different recensions. That doesn't save your bacon.

ii) Carrier alleges that according to Heb 9, everything on earth has copies in heaven. But Heb 9 makes no such sweeping claim. 

There's a pattern to Carrier's style of argument. A cumulative effect of falsehoods, exaggerations, and half-truths.


I also cite the Ascension of Isaiah confirming the point. And give several examples from Jewish legend and lore. I don't just rely on Hebrews. Hebrews is referencing that tradition when it says "the copies of the things in the heavens" are on earth. And Jewish teachings on the heavens confirm that: at every level, there is a copy of Jerusalem, for example, and the temple, and gardens, castles, even tombs and graves (even Adam is buried in outer space). This is well established, it is not simply based on Hebrews. So please actually consult my book before believing whatever someone tells you is or isn't in it.


i) Richard, the contextual scope of Heb 8-9 is the tabernacle and sacrificial cultus. That's it. 

ii) One of your deceptive or slipshod tactics is to cite a prooftext that doesn't in fact prove what you impute to it, then attempt to salvage your original appeal by padding that with something extraneous to the prooftext . But that's a backdoor admission that your prooftext fails to make your point.

iii) In addition, it's anachronistic to use the Ascension of Isaiah to supplement Hebrews. 

iv) Finally, you have this paranoid notion that I rely on what critics say about your precious book. But everything I've said in this comment thread is in direct response to your self-representations in the debate.


I just told you I prove the point with numerous sources and examples. Hebrews merely references the tradition. The tradition is widely established by other evidence. Please pay attention to what I am saying. It is tedious if you just ignore my words and keep ranting as if I didn't just explain this to you.


i) Since the scope of Heb 8-9 is explicitly restrictive, there's no textual warrant for your assertion that it's referencing a tradition with an unrestricted scope.

ii) In addition, you can't legitimately claim that Hebrews is referencing a tradition that's only attested in a later source. You need to cite evidence prior to or contemporaneous with Hebrews to even attempt that comparison.


Yes, there is. The tradition is widely attested. There is no reason to believe the author of Hebrews held to a different tradition than other Jews who wrote about copies of things between heaven and earth. Nor does it matter. Hebrews attests all I need for the actual point I use it for in OHJ (which requires no "wide" reading; the wide reading is based on extensive other evidence). Please just read the book. You clearly don't know what you are talking about.


1. Once again, Richard, I'm responding to the evidence that you adduce in your debate and your replies to me. So that must mean you don't know what you're talking about.  

2. Like what‚ Philo? If so, Hebrews moves in a different conceptual orbit than Philo.

3. Carrier says the Gospel writers are "cribbing" from the letters of Paul to construct a family for Jesus. But Luke is the only Gospel that shows any telltale affinity with Paul, which is unsurprising of they were confidants.

4. In the debate, Carrier alleges that Acts misdates Theudas. 

i) Why does Carrier think Josephus is more reliable than Luke on the dating of Theudas?

ii) He says Luke uses Josephus as a source. But under that (dubious) postulate, why would Luke be at odds with Josephus if Josephus was his source of information? 

iii) Carrier commits an elementary blunder by failing to distinguish between the narrator and a character in the narrative. It's Gamaliel who makes the statement about Theudas. Luke simply quotes Gamaliel's speech. Assuming for argument's sake that Gamaliel is mistaken, a historian doesn't make a mistake by quoting a historical figure who makes a mistake. If, say, a war historian quotes rosy projections by McNamara regarding the Vietnam war, it's not the historian who's in error. Rather, he's accurately reporting what McNamara said.

5. In his debate, Carrier vaguely compares the death and resurrection of Christ to the Osiris cult. Plutarch summarizes the Osiris cult in §§12-21 here:*/A.html*/B.html

Ask yourself if that narrative bears any genealogical resemblance to the Gospels.

6. One of Carrier's tactic is to crank up his snow machine and bury the listener/reader in a blizzard of factoids.

i) One ploy is how he fabricates homogenous "traditions" by promiscuously conglomerating disparate sources. Take his appeal to Heb 8-9. In his book he devotes several pages to Philo. But the author of Hebrews isn't operating with a Platonic paradigm. His orientation is eschatological rather than Platonic. It's a dynamic contrast between what's past and provisional compared to the consummation. 

ii) In addition, it would be antithetical for the author of Hebrews to suppose that everything on earth has an exemplary heavenly counterpart. That would put pagan shrines on a par with the tabernacle, since they'd all have heavenly archetypes. But the tabernacle stands in contrast to pagan shrines. 

The author of Hebrews is simply glossing the fact that the tabernacle had a divine design (Exod 25:40). It would be counterproductive for him to say the same thing about heathen temples. 

iii) Carrier's methodology is to cobble together a pastiche from unrelated sources that reflect divergent conceptual schemes, then apply that cookie-cutter to Paul and Hebrews.

6. Carrier alleges a contradiction between Gal 1:22 and Acts 8. By contrast, here's what one commentator has to say:

How could Paul be unknown by sight to the very churches he had persecuted? Neither Gal 1:22 nor Acts 8:3, however, indicates any persecuting activity in the Judea regions outside Jerusalem. Acts suggests that the earliest days of the Christian movement remained limited to Jerusalem. By the time Paul writes to the Galatians, the movement had significantly grown and spread well beyond Jerusalem to Judea and afar. Many Jerusalem Christians at this later point in time would not know Paul by sight. Paul also refers to the Jerusalem "church" in the singular as the object of his persecuting activity (Gal 1:13), as opposed to the Judean "churches" or "assemblies" in the plural (1:22). He apparently focused his activity on the members of this one body of believers in Jerusalem, this one "church". Note Luke's report of Paul's activity in the Jerusalem area in Acts 7:58, his association with the Jerusalem high priest in Acts 9:1-2, and his plan to bring the Christian believers from Damascus back to Jerusalem, his base of operation (Acts 9:2; Acts 22:5). In Gal 1:23 the adverb "only" offers a limitation or exception to the ignorance of Paul mentioned in 1:22: The Judeans had received a report about him. Since the Judean churches are receiving a report about the one who had persecuted "us" in 1:23, from whom did that report originate if not the Jerusalem church, the very group that had formerly suffered his persecution? The Jerusalem church likely informed the Judea churches about Paul's identity and activity. Paul focused his persecuting activity on major urban centers (Jerusalem, with plans for Damascus)‚ A. Das, Galatians (Concordia 2014), 144.

De Boer (Galatians, 101) advocating a different approach here: "Paul was unknown to the churches of Judea in the years following his first visit to Jerusalem, after which he went to the districts of Syria and Cilicia. Paul was from then on and for more than a decade personally unknown to the Jewish Christian churches in Judea, including the one in Jerusalem." The focus, for de Boer, is on the time between the first and second Jerusalem visits. Paul did not have contact with Jerusalem during that time. Ibid. 144n137.

Here's how another commentator explains Gal 1:22:

This statement is included to emphasize the limited time Paul spent in Palestine. Most of the believers in Judea did not know Paul personally. Judea as constituted as a Roman province when Galatians was written and included both Galilee and Samaria. Therefore, Paul refers here to a rather large area. What we have here is a generalization, for it is likely that some believers knew him personally from his days in Jerusalem. The point is that the majority of believers in Palestine and Jerusalem were unacquainted with him. T. Schreiner, Galatians (Zondervan 2010), 112.

As Witherington insightfully points out, this statement stands in tension with not only Acts 8:3 but also Gal 1:13, for in the latter text Paul says he persecuted the Jewish church, which sits awkwardly with the idea that they did not know him (Galatians, 124). Therefore, since we find the same tension within Galatians that we also find between Acts and Gal 1:22, it is likely that the alleged contradiction between what we read here and in Acts can be reconciled. Ibid. 112n23.  

7. Carrier alleges that Paul (in Galatians) had to persuade Peter to accept his Torah-free Gospel and it took years to convince him, whereas in Acts, Peter already agreed with Paul before they ever met (based on Peter's vision).

But Galatians says no such thing. The flashpoint of disagreement between Peter and Paul in Galatians isn't theological. Rather, Peter suffered a loss of nerve.  

8. Carrier says Acts "erases" Paul's mission to Arabia (Gal 1:17). He says Acts "parks" Paul in Damascus, then has him escaping from Damascus a few verses later. It's weird to insert a 3-year sojourn in Arabia where they're trying to kill him immediately as soon as he converts, he's able to get away, do a whole mission in Arabia for three years, come back to Damascus, suddenly he's trapped in Damascus and has to escape from Damascus.

i) Carrier fails to make allowance for narrative compression in Acts.

ii) Paul's missionary activity makes enemies. He does what he can get away with for as long as he can in one place (Damascus), then when that gets too hot, he shifts to a different mission field, does what he can there, which antagonizes the local officials, then he swings back to Damascus after a cooling off period, but some people are still out to get in. It's a life on the run. That's quite realistic. 

iii) There's a parallel between Acts 9:23-24 and 2 Cor 11:32-33, although Luke may be telescoping two events into one. Cf. P. Barnett, Paul: Missionary of Jesus (Eerdmans 2008), 80n9.


Okay, now you're just going off the rails into fundamentalism. I follow actual historical methods. Not whatever you are doing.


That's not a refutation.


It kind of is. There are those of us who follow legitimate methods and those who don't. We need not heed the opinions of those who don't. Precisely because their methods are invalid.


Well, Richard, I didn't present an opinion–I presented an argument. I responded to you on your own grounds. But it's fine with me that you bottom out when your challenge is met. 

As for "fundamentalism," I prefer my "fundamentalism" to your fanaticism. To paraphrase Santayana, evangelistic atheists like Carrier redouble their efforts to promote their aimless worldview.


Richard, how is it an illegitimate method to point out that you have failed to convincingly demonstrate a contradiction?


  1. Regarding 1 Cor. 2:8, Carrier failed to rule out the possibility that Paul was referring to both human and demonic rulers. Since demons could inspire human rulers to choose and perform evil decisions and acts. McLatchie made a good contextual case that Paul was referring to human rulers (or at least primarily so). Carrier's anti-supernatural bias seems to have prevented him from seeing Paul possibility referring to both human and demonic "rulers".

    Also, Carrier's appeal to Rom. 13:1ff. is facile. Even in the OT there's the doctrine of how Gentile rulers, evil as they might be, are in such positions by God's appointment, and that they can sometimes execute relatively just rulings alongside unjust ones. It's as if Carrier has never read the OT (e.g. the book of Daniel).

  2. It certainly is ironic that someone who (by his own admission) comes to the exact opposite conclusion of nearly all secular and religious scholars on the historicity of Jesus consistently has to resort to argument from scholarly consensus to support his points. At least Bob Price largely avoids this practice.