Tuesday, March 20, 2018


In his book On the Historicity of Jesus (Sheffield 2014), one of Carrier's showcase examples is his claim that the Synoptic Jesus is modeled on Romulus. He discusses this at length in two different chapters. But ironically, Carrier himself is guilty of legendary embellishment. Carrier confabulates a legend about Jesus as a variation on Romulus by how Carrier selectively summarizes his sources, redacts his sources, and indulges in equivocations. Let's begin with Carrier's claims:

Knowing the background of the Romulus myths and rituals drastically changes what we will consider possible or likely in the case of Jesus, and yet that's just one single item [58]

In Plutarch's biography of Romulus, the founder of Rome, we are told he was the son of god, born of a virgin; an attempt is made to kill him as a baby, and he is saved, and raised by a poor family, becoming a lowly shepherd; then as a man he becomes beloved by the people, hailed as king, and killed by the conniving elite; then he rises from the dead, appears to a friend to tell the good news to his people, and ascends to heaven to rule from on high. Just like Jesus.

Plutarch also tells us about annual public ceremonies that were still being performed, which celebrated the day Romulus ascended to heaven. The sacred story told at this event went basically as follows: at the end of his life, amid rumors he was murdered by a conspiracy of the Senate Just as Jesus was 'murdered' by a conspiracy of the Jews-in fact by the Sanhedrin, the Jewish equivalent of the Senate), the sun went dark Just as it did when Jesus died), and Romulus's body vanished Just as Jesus' did). The people wanted to search for him but the Senate told them not to, 'for he had risen to join the gods' (much as a mysterious young man tells the women in Mark's Gospel). Most went away happy, hoping for good things from their new god, but 'some doubted' Just as all later Gospels say of Jesus: Mt. 28. 1 7; Lk. 24. 1 1 ; Jn 20.24-25; even Mk 16.8 implies this). Soon after, Proculus, a close friend of Romulus, reported that he met Romulus 'on the road' between Rome and a nearby town and asked him, 'Why have you abandoned us?', to which Romulus replied that he had been a god all along but had come down to earth and become incarnate to establish a great kingdom, and now had to return to his home in heaven (pretty much as happens to Cleopas in Lk. 24.13-32; see Chapter 10, §6). Then Romulus told his friend to tell the Romans that if they are virtuous they will have all worldly power. ' 

Plutarch tells us that the annual Roman ceremony of the Romulan ascent involved a recitation of the names of those who fled his vanishing in fear, and the acting out of their fear and flight in public, a scene suspiciously paralleling the pre-redacted ending of Mark's Gospel (at 16.8).2 Which would make sense of his otherwise bizarre ending-we are then to assume what followed his story is just what followed the story he is emulating: an appearance of the Lord, delivering the gospel, which is then proclaimed to the people (the very thing Mark tells us to anticipate: 14.28 and 16.7). In fact, Livy's account, just like Mark's, emphasizes that 'fear and bereave­ment' kept the people 'silent for a long time', and only later did they pro­ claim Romulus 'God, Son ofGod, King, and Father', thus matching Mark's 'they said nothing to anyone', yet obviously assuming that somehow word got out.

It certainly seems as if Mark is fashioning Jesus into the new Romulus, with a new, superior message, establishing a new, superior kingdom. This Romulan tale looks a lot like a skeletal model for the passion narrative: a great man, founder of a great kingdom, despite coming from lowly origins and of suspect parentage, is actually an incarnated son of god, but dies as a result of a conspiracy of the ruling council, then a darkness covers the land at his death and his body vanishes, at which those who followed him flee in fear just like the Gospel women, Mk 16.8; and men, Mk 14.50-52), and like them, too, we look for his body but are told he is not here, he has risen; and some doubt, but then the risen god 'appears' to select followers to deliver his gospel.3 [56-57]

Luke converts this glorious appearance tale into a hidden god narrative (a reversal that befits how Christianity was also inverting the message of Romulus: promising, at least in the meantime, a hidden spiritual kingdom rather than a visible earthly one: 2 Cor. 4.18; Rom. 14. 17), but otherwise the details are essentially the same... [56-57n1]

But the Gospels conform to the Romulus model most specifically...when taken altogether the Romulus and Jesus death-and-resurrec­tion narratives contain all of the following parallels:

1. The hero is the son of God. 
2. His death is accompanied by prodigies. 
3. The land is covered in darkness. 
4. The hero's corpse goes missing. 
5. The hero receives a new immortal body, superior to the one he had. 
6. His resurrection body has on occasion a bright and shining appearance. 
7. After his resurrection he meets with a follower on a road from the city.
8. A speech is given from a summit or high place prior to ascending. 
9. An inspired message of resurrection or 'translation to heaven' is delivered to a witness. 
10. There is a 'great commission' (an instruction to future followers). 
11. The hero physically ascends to heaven in his new divine body. 
12. He is taken up into a cloud. 
13. There is an explicit role given to eyewitness testimony (even naming the witnesses). 
14. Witnesses are frightened by his appearance and/or disappearance. 
15. Some witnesses flee. 
16. Claims are made of 'dubious alternative accounts' (which claims were obviously fabricated for Romulus, there never having been a true account to begin with). 
17. All of this occurs outside of a nearby (but central) city. 
18. His followers are initially in sorrow over the hero's death. 
19. But his post-resurrection story leads to eventual belief, homage and rejoicing. 
20. The hero is deified and cult subsequently paid to him (in the same man­ner as a god).

Some of the parallels could be coincidental (e.g. resurrected bodies being associated with radiance was itself a common trope, both within Judaism [226-28]

That looks impressive! However, Carrier's argument relies on a twofold comparison: whether his parallels actually match the Gospels and whether his parallels actually match the legends of Romulus. Before proceeding, let's quote the versions of the Romulus legend in Livy and Plutarch:

4. But the Fates were resolved, as I suppose, upon the founding of this great City, and the beginning of the mightiest of empires, next after that of Heaven. [2] The Vestal was ravished, and having given birth to twin sons, named Mars as the father of her doubtful offspring, whether actually so believing, or because it seemed less wrong if a god [p. 19]were the author of her fault. [3] But neither gods nor men protected the mother herself or her babes from the king's cruelty; the priestess he ordered to be manacled and cast into prison, the children to be committed to the river. [4] It happened by singular good fortune that the Tiber having spread beyond its banks into stagnant pools afforded nowhere any access to the regular channel of the river, and the men who brought the twins were led to hope that being infants they might be drowned, no matter how sluggish the stream. [5] So they made shift to discharge the king's command, by exposing the babes at the nearest point of the overflow, where the fig-tree Ruminalis —formerly, they say, called Romularis —now stands. [6] In those days this was a wild and uninhabited region. The story persists that when the floating basket in which the children had been exposed was left high and dry by the receding water, a she-wolf, coming down out of the surrounding hills to slake her thirst, turned her steps towards the cry of the infants, and with her teats gave them suck so gently, that the keeper of the royal flock found her licking them with her tongue. [7] Tradition assigns to this man the name of Faustulus, and adds that he carried the twins to his hut and gave them to his wife Larentia to rear. Some think that Larentia, having been free with her favours, had got the name of “she-wolf” among the shepherds, and that this gave rise to this marvellous story.1 [8] The boys, thus born and reared, had no sooner attained to youth than they began —yet without neglecting the farmstead or the flocks —to range the glades of the mountains for game. [9] Having in this way gained both strength and resolution, they would now not only face wild beasts, but would attack robbers laden with their spoils, and divide up what they took from them among the shepherds, with whom they shared their toils and pranks, while their band of young men grew larger every day. Livy, History of Rome, 1.4.

Others say it was Roma, a daughter of the Trojan woman I have mentioned, who was wedded to Latinus the son of Telemachus and bore him Romulus; others that Aemilia, the daughter of Aeneas and Lavinia, bore him to Mars; and others still rehearse what is altogether fabulous concerning his  p95 origin. For instance, they say that Tarchetius, king of the Albans, who was most lawless and cruel, was visited with a strange phantom in his house, namely, a phallus rising out of the hearth and remaining there many days. 4 Now there was an oracle of Tethys in Tuscany, from which there was brought to Tarchetius a response that a virgin must have intercourse with this phantom, and she should bear a son most illustrious for his valour, and of surpassing good fortune and strength. Tarchetius, accordingly, told the prophecy to one of his daughters, and bade her consort with the phantom; but she disdained to do so, and sent a handmaid in to it.

And when the handmaid became the mother of twin children by the phantom, Tarchetius gave them to a certain Teratius with orders to destroy them. 6 This man, however, carried them to the river-side and laid them down there. Then a she-wolf visited the babes and gave them suck, while all sorts of birds brought morsels of food and put them into their mouths, until a cow-herd spied them, conquered his amazement, ventured to come to them, and took the children home with him. Thus they were saved, and when they were grown up, they set upon Tarchetius and overcame him. At any rate, this is what a certain Promathion says, who compiled a history of Italy.

and fearing lest that brother's daughter should have children, made her a priestess of Vesta, bound to live unwedded and a virgin all her days. 3 Her name is variously given as Ilia, or Rhea, or Silvia. Not long after this, she was discovered to be with child, contrary to the established law for the Vestals.

Obeying the king's orders, the servant put the babes into a trough and went down towards the river, purposing to cast them in; but when he saw that the stream was much swollen and violent, he was afraid to go close up to it, and setting his burden now near the bank, went his way. 5 Then the overflow of the swollen river took and bore up the trough, floating it gently along, and carried it down to a fairly smooth spot which is now called Kermalus, but formerly Germanus, perhaps because brothers are called "germani."

4 1 Now there was a wild fig-tree hard by, which they called Ruminalis, either from Romulus, as is generally thought, or because cud-chewing, or ruminating, animals spent the noon-tide there for the sake of the shade, or best of all, from the suckling of the babes there; for the ancient Romans called the teat "ruma," and a certain goddess, who is thought to preside over the rearing of young children, is still called Rumilia, in sacrificing to whom no wine is used, and libations of milk are poured over her victims. 2 Here, then, the babes lay, and the she-wolf of story here gave them suck,4 and a woodpecker came to help in feeding them and to watch over them. Plutarch, The Life of Romulus.

16. After these immortal achievements, Romulus held a review of his army at the ‘Caprae Palus’ in the Campus Martius. A violent thunder storm suddenly arose and enveloped the king in so dense a cloud that he was quite invisible to the assembly. From that hour Romulus was no longer seen on earth. [2] When the fears of the Roman youth were allayed by the return of bright, calm sun-shine after such fearful weather, they saw that the royal seat was vacant. Whilst they fully believed the assertion of the Senators, who had been standing close to him, that he had been snatched away to heaven by a whirlwind, still, like men suddenly bereaved, fear and grief kept them for some time speechless. [3] At length, after a few had taken the initiative, the whole of those present hailed Romulus as ‘a god, the son of a god, the King and Father of the City of Rome.’ They put up supplications for his grace and favour, and prayed that he would be propitious to his children and save and protect them. [4] I believe, however, that even then there were some who secretly hinted that he had been torn limb from limb by the senators-a tradition to this effect, though certainly a very dim one, has filtered down to us. [5] The other, which I follow, has been the prevailing one, due, no doubt, to the admiration felt for the man and the apprehensions excited by his disappearance. This generally accepted belief was strengthened by one man's clever device. The tradition runs that Proculus Julius, a man whose authority had weight in matters of even the gravest importance, seeing how deeply the community felt the loss of the king, and how incensed they were against the senators, came forward into the assembly and said: ‘Quirites! [6] at break of dawn, today, the Father of this City suddenly descended from heaven and appeared to me. [7] Whilst, thrilled with awe, I stood rapt before him in deepest reverence, praying that I might be pardoned for gazing upon him, ‘Go,’ said he, ‘tell the Romans that it is the will of heaven that my Rome should be the head of all the world. Let them henceforth cultivate the arts of war, and let them know assuredly, and hand down the knowledge to posterity, that no human might can withstand the arms of Rome.’’ [8] It is marvellous what credit was given to this man's story, and how the grief of the people and the army was soothed by the belief which had been created in the immortality of Romulus. Livy, History of Rome, 1.16.

...whereas Romulus disappeared suddenly, and no portion of his body or fragment of his clothing remained to be seen. But some conjectured that the senators, convened in the temple of Vulcan, fell upon him and slew him, then cut his body in pieces, put each a portion into the folds of his robe, and so carried him away. 6 Others think that it was neither in the temple of Vulcan nor when the senators alone were present that he disappeared, but that he was holding an assembly of the people outside the city near the so‑called Goat's Marsh,58 when suddenly strange and unaccountable disorders with incredible changes filled the air; the light of the sun failed, and night came down upon them, not with peace and quiet, but with awful peals of thunder and furious blasts driving rain from every quarter, 7 during which the multitude dispersed and fled, but the nobles gathered closely together; and when the storm had ceased, and the sun shone out, and the multitude, now gathered together again in the same place as before, anxiously sought for their king...

Julius Proculus by name,59 went into the forum and solemnly swore by the most sacred emblems before all the people that, as he was travelling on the road, he had seen Romulus coming to meet him, fair and stately to the eye as never before, and arrayed in bright and shining armour. 2 He himself, then, affrighted at the sight, had said: "O King, what possessed thee, or what purpose hadst thou, that thou hast left us patricians a prey to unjust and wicked accusations, and the whole city sorrowing without end at the loss of its father?" Whereupon Romulus had replied: "It was the pleasure of the gods, O Proculus, from whom I came, that I should be with mankind only a short time, and that after founding a city destined to be the greatest on earth for empire and glory, I should dwell again in heaven. So farewell, and tell the Romans that if they practise self-restraint, and add to it valour, they will reach the utmost heights of human power. And I will be your propitious deity, Quirinus." Plutarch, The Life of Romulus.

Now let's go back and compare Carrier's "parallels" with the source material. 

1. High card

Notice Carrier's statement that "the Gospels conform to the Romulus model most specifically." So by his own admission. Romulus is his strongest example of Jesus (allegedly) conforming to the archetypal hero/dying-and-rising-savior-god. That's his high card. All his other examples will be weaker. 

2. The hero is the son of God

That's misleading. There are two "heroes": Romulus and Remus. But Jesus doesn't have a twin brother.

3. Born of a virgin

That's equivocal on multiple grounds:

i) There's nothing supernatural about a virgin becoming a mother when she's impregnated by physical intercourse. She was a virgin at the time she first had sexual intercourse. And the child is her firstborn. In Greco-Roman mythology, gods were physical, humanoid beings with sex organs. They beget or conceive children through sexual intercourse. 

In Matthew and Luke, Mary is a virgin mother in a very specialized sense. She conceives Jesus apart from sexual intercourse with a man or male god. That's the point of contrast. 

ii) Livy and Plutarch have multiple versions of how Romulus and Remus were conceived. Carrier artificially singles out one version to suit his agenda.

iii) According to one version, the twins were conceived by a handmaid who had sexual intercourse with a phantom phallus. Doesn't say if the handmaid was a virgin. And even if she was, Mary didn't conceive Jesus by having intercourse with a floating, disembodied phallus. So much for that "parallel". 

iv) According to another version, the mother of the twins was a Vestal virgin. She conceived the twins when Mars, the Roman God of war, raped her. Forcible intercourse. 

v) Finally, Carrier is cheating by changing the Rank-Raglan criterion, even though he says that's his standard of comparison. But according to the original list, the hero's mother is a "royal virgin". But of course, Mary was a peasant girl. 

4. Raised by a poor family

A misleading comparison. Jesus was raised by his birth mother and stepfather. Romulus and Remus were foundlings, suckled by a she-wolf, and adopted by a goatherd. Very different "family".  

5. Becoming a lowly shepherd

Jesus didn't become a literal shepherd. Rather, he's a metaphorical shepherd–among many other theological metaphors. 

6. Proculus met Romulus 'on the road' between Rome and a nearby town and asked him, 'Why have you abandoned us?', to which Romulus replied that he had been a god all along but had come down to earth and become incarnate to establish a great kingdom, and now had to return to his home in heaven (pretty much as happens to Cleopas in Lk. 24.13-32.

i) Although the Synoptics may well reflect a "hidden-God" motif, you already have that in Jewish sources, as Carrier admits. 

ii) Carrier suppresses elements of Luke's resurrection account that don't fit the comparison. Lk 24:36-42 stresses the physicality of Christ's reappearance. Carrier gives a truncated version of Luke. 

7. Those who fled his vanishing in fear, and the acting out of their fear and flight in public, a scene suspiciously paralleling the pre-redacted ending of Mark's Gospel (at 16.8)

In the accounts of Romulus (Livy/Plutarch), people flee from the terrifying thunderstorm. They take shelter. 

In Mk 16, the women run away after seeing the empty tomb and the angel–not from witnessing the Risen Christ. So those are different kinds of events. 

8. Darkness covers the land at his death

That's equivocal:

i) In the accounts of Romulus, the purpose of the thunderstorm is to enable Romulus to slip away under cover of darkness. 

In the crucifixion accounts, Jesus hasn't vanished after the darkness dissipates. His body remains visible on the cross. 

ii) The darkness has its background, not in Romulus mythos, but OT precedent, like the plague of darkness (Exod 10:21-22) and eschatological judgment (e.g. Amos 8:9-10; Joel 1).  

9. His death is accompanied by prodigies 
10. The hero's corpse goes missing
11. The hero receives a new immortal body, superior to the one he had

In the accounts of Livy and Plutarch, as I read them, Romulus never died. Rather, he disappears from view when the thunderstorm makes everything too dark to see. And that's the function of the thunderstorm. It enables him to exit the scene undetected. 

12. His resurrection body has on occasion a bright and shining appearance

i) Since Romulus never died, he can't be resurrected.

ii) Moreover, it isn't the body of Romulus that's bright and shiny upon his reappearance, but his armor

iii) In the Gospels, the Risen Christ doesn't have a luminous appearance. He only has a luminous appearance outside the Gospels (i.e. the Christophanies of Acts 9 and Rev 1). 

13. An inspired message of resurrection or 'translation to heaven'

Even if we view the "translation" as equivalent to an ascension, it's not analogous to the ascension of Christ inasmuch as that presupposes the Resurrection, which–in turn–presupposes the death of Christ. 

14. The hero physically ascends to heaven in his new divine body

Romulus doesn't have a new body. And Christ doesn't have a "divine" body, but an immortal body. 

15. He is taken up into a cloud 

i) Romulus is camouflaged by the thunderstorm. But that's before his reappearance rather than after his reappearance.

That's different from the role of the "cloud" in the Ascension, which is post-Resurrection.

ii) In context, the "cloud" that envelops the Risen Christ isn't a natural cloud or thundercloud but the Shekinah. So that has its background, not in the Romulus mythos, but OT narratives about the Exodus, tabernacle, and temple. 

16. All of this occurs outside of a nearby (but central) city

The Resurrection appearances take place in more than one location: Jerusalem, Emmaus, Galilee. 

17. The hero is deified and cult subsequently paid to him (in the same man­ner as a god)

But according to Carrier, Romulus always was a god. A god in disguise. 

Those are the major parallels that Carrier labored to draw. The rest of filler. 


  1. Another great blogpost by Steve.

    The following are my minor observations:

    1. The hero is the son of God.

    In the Synoptics the term "Son of God" primarily has to do with Christ's human messiahship. The Davidic kings were considered "sons of God", and so all the more THE Davidic son who would be The Messiah. It's the term "Son of Man" in the Synoptics that connotes divinity because of it's allusion to Dan. 7. It's in the Gospel of John where Jesus is plausibly taught to be the literal offspring of God (depending on how one interprets monogenes and other passages), though that's disputed by some Christians (e.g. those rejecting eternal generation etc.). Even assuming that the NT does teach Jesus is the literal offspring of God, Christ would be the literal, true and original Son of God. The concept of sons of God in paganism may have ultimately been derived from a corrupted retelling of the original revelation of the "sons of God" in the Divine Council that Scripture refers and alludes to. In which case, Christianity is not borrowing from paganism, but rather paganism's references to sons of God/gods reflects a spiritual/heavenly reality revealed to humanity early on, but was corrupted by its retelling and modification generation after generation.

    6. His resurrection body has on occasion a bright and shining appearance.

    As Steve said, it was the armor that was bright and shiny, and Jesus isn't luminous within, but outside the Gospels. Nevertheless, there's nothing surprising that Romulus was glowing. It was common in stories of supernatural entities for them to be shining. Probably because all cultures and/or individuals in those cultures have encountered both angelic and demonic beings who were bright. So, it's natural when making up stories to have supernatural beings luminous.

    8. A speech is given from a summit or high place prior to ascending.

    In many cultures high places and mountains were associated with heaven and the gods precisely because they are closer to the sky. The concept of cosmic geography and sacred spaces naturally arises in human cultures precisely because God created creation to be emblematic of spiritual realities. So it's only to be expected culturally and psychologically that God or the gods or their representatives would make proclamations on high places like mountains. So, it's perfectly plausible that the real God spoke to and through Moses and Jesus on mountains, and that people making up supernatural stories would locate divine speeches on mountains as well. Such parallels between real and fictitious stories should be expected IF a God really does exist and gives forth revelations.

    11. The hero physically ascends to heaven in his new divine body.

    The claimed ascension or assumption of divine/supernatural beings is to be expected (again) on account of creation being emblematic of spiritual realities. Heaven, where God or the gods live, is naturally "up". They are "higher" than us because greater. Just as it's natural psychologically think of the number 1000 being "higher"/"greater" than the number 5. God not only made creation emblematic, but wired us psychologically to think in these metaphorical ways. Moreover, God accommodates us in His dealings with us by revealing Himself accordingly. That's why God spoke from mount Horeb/Sinai, why Elijah was assumed into heaven, why Jesus ascended "up" in heaven, why angels go up and down Jacob's ladder [or possibly ziggurat].

    18. His followers are initially in sorrow over the hero's death.

    Why would devoted followers of any figure be glad at the death of their leader/hero? Isn't it natural for them to be sorrowful? John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy must be mythical and ahistorical figures because their admirers mourned their deaths too, right? Obviously not. Also, it's not clear in the variant stories that Romulus even died.

    1. typo corrections:

      Just as it's natural psychologically [TO] think of the number 1000 being "higher"/"greater" than the number 5.

      That's why God spoke from mount Horeb/Sinai, why Elijah was assumed into heaven, why Jesus ascended "up" [INTO] heaven....

    2. Many of the things I wrote above were written to weaken Carrier's claim that the apparent parallels likely indicates that the story of Jesus in the New Testament is fictitiously made up. Especially since God is the great providential Story Teller and has created the world and human psychology to be conducive to telling HIS story [i.e. His-story/history]. We shouldn't be surprised if humans made in God's image would tell stories, both before and after Christ's first Advent, which have similarities to God's great historical story in Christ. There are only so many ways you can weave a compelling story.

      See Christopher Booker's book The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories

      or this video: Every Story is the Same

      I don't agree with everything in those materials. I only cite them to point out that you can only go so many ways when telling a story. The same is true with God who is constrained by logic and His providential purposes. Carrier's objections only work if one presupposes a priori that God isn't providentially in control of HIStory and has no messages and lessons to teach us in the record of Redemptive History written for us in Scripture.