Richard Carrier’s Dying Messiah Redux Revised

Thom Stark and Richard Carrier have been going back and forth over this issue for a few months now, with people on both sides of the debate rather polarized.  This is unfortunate because Carrier and Stark are both well trained scholars and those on the sidelines have been nothing if not stubborn to recognize the excellent dialogue happening right before their eyes.  This isn’t helped by the otherwise ridiculous comments from various readers on the authority of on vs. the authority of the other.  By taking such sides and throwing out insults, they ignore the value for the sake of walking the ‘party line’ (been reading too much Crossley lately, forgive me).

I find strength in both of the arguments, but I believe Carrier’s recent update has made the best case so far.  That isn’t to say Thom Stark couldn’t come back with better analyses, but based on the current conversation I believe Stark should take Carrier’s conclusions seriously (and also those dissenters).  The last person to speak is not the winner, by any stretch.  The merit of the debate is in the details.  Here is the updated general intro to the piece:

The following article has been revised and corrected, with appreciation to the critiques and analyses of Thom Stark. Revisions may continue so as to perfect the content and make this article of greatest utility. Latest revision: June 29 (2012).

Last year I made the case that the idea of a “dying messiah” was not wholly anathema to Jews and even already imagined by some before Christianity made a lot of hay out of the idea. I made small revisions to that article (The Dying Messiah) to make its claims and evidence clearer. This year, Thom Stark (a seminary graduate) wrote a response (The Death of Richard Carrier’s Dying Messiah) and discussion on his blog has continued since (culminating in It Is Finished for Richard Carrier’s Dying Messiah). His analysis has changed my opinions and conclusions on several matters, but does not change the overall thesis. Some of his replies also get wrong what I said or quote me out of context or go off on irrelevant digressions, but I won’t waste words on that. I’ll just cut to the chase and deal with the relevant evidence and argument.

via The Dying Messiah Redux | Richard Carrier Blogs.

This is one snippet of the updated interesting part:

Stark’s new analysis makes all of this even more certain than I had imagined. His reconstruction is so effective at confirming my thesis I’m willing to grant it outright. Let’s indeed say that the original text of 11Q13 (line 18-19) originally read:

And the “messenger” [of Isaiah 52:7] is the Anointed of the Spirit, as Daniel said, “Until an anointed prince, there will be seven weeks” [Daniel 9:25]. And the messenger of good who announces salvation is the one about whom it is written… [then quoting Isaiah 61:2].

Stark argues this would not only perfectly fit the missing space on the scroll, but there would then be verbal similarities in the earlier section of the scroll:

The same word is used there as here–dabar: [Daniel reads] “from the time theword went out…until an anointed prince, there shall be seven weeks.” In [the 11Q13] line 6-7 we have, “And this word will be given in the first week of the tenth jubilee. And the Day of Atonement is [the end of] the tenth jubilee.”

That’s just brilliant. Because this means the pesher’s author clearly thought that this “seven weeks” runs at the end and not (as Daniel’s authors originally meant) the beginning of the 490 year period. He is therefore no longer imagining two messiahs, but one messiah who comes at the end of a final 49 year period. Which therefore can only be the same messiah who dies in verse 26 (there being no other: the one in Daniel 9:25 is on this interpretation the one who comes at the end, and the end is then described in 9:26; and no one else is called “messiah”). In other words, this pesher is saying that a “word” of restoration will occur in the first week of the tenth Jubilee, and that this is the “word” of restoration mentioned in Daniel 9:25, and therefore seven weeks later (49 years, the endof the tenth Jubilee) the Messiah will put an end to sin. Which has to be the same Messiah who dies in verse 26.

Why can we be sure the scroll’s author isn’t just skipping over the extra Messiah in verse 26? Because the Messiah it would then be talking about in verse 25 has to be Melchizedek, who it says promises to liberate and atone for Israel’s elect at the start of that 49-year period (11Q13, lines 4-7). And then Melchizedek will at the end of those years ‘make an end of sin’ (11Q13, lines 6-8) on a great Day of Atonement, which corresponds exactly to what Daniel 9:24 says will happen, and the very thing Isaiah 52-53 also says will happen on God’s day of salvation, which 11Q13 says is the very same Day of Atonement it’s talking about. And that atonement is said in Isaiah to be effected by the death of God’s subsequently-exalted “servant.” This makes all these features line up even more perfectly than I had thought, which is even more improbable to imagine as a coincidence.

Read on to see what else he says.  This may not be an open and shut case (and those people out there claiming they ‘cannot trust Carrier’ or some other bunk are just not paying attention), but it is compelling to warrant some consideration.  This dialogue has been engaging and interesting for those of us keen on watching it unfold.  Thanks to both parties for continuing to discuss this.

Calvin and Hobbs on Clay Molding

I wonder if god had this problem.  Do you think that Satan was there saying, ‘smock smock, smock, smock…’?  What is funny is that I can see Jim West doing this.

Undisputed! Ignatius, Skepticism, and the Problem of Ignorance

The title may be a little confusing; what do any of those things have to do with each other?  Well, as it turns out, this post is a bit of a critique of the ‘criterion of disputation.’  This criterion goes that if a particular person, place, or event in antiquity wasn’t contested (that is to say, their existence or their happening wasn’t called into question) by other contemporaries, that the person, place, or event must have been historical.  If we broke the argument down into a syllogism, it would look like this:

 P1. If (insert name here) did not exist, a first century text would mention it.

 P2. No first century text mentions it.

 C1. Therefore (person) existed [i.e. (individual/group) did not not exist].

But this is just not a sound argument, nor is it helpful.  For starters, this criterion uses too many generalizations–it’s a special plea because it fails to prove accurate in many, if not most, of the cases one would think to use it.  For example, Romulus.

At some point in early Rome (we don’t know when precisely) there grew a belief in a demi-god, a patriarch, of the city of Rome.  Was it within the first 50 years?  The first 100 years?  Maybe later?  We are pretty sure that Rome became a Republic sometime in the 6th century BCE, and that it is traditionally said to have been ruled by several kings prior to it becoming a republic and that it was founded perhaps 200 years earlier.  The first mention of Romulus is in the 4th century BCE and our earliest history of Rome comes from Diocles around the same time.  So there is some length of time between when the city was first established and when the patriarch was given to myth. I’ve dealt with the problem of proximity before, but clearly I need to readdress it at some point in light of some additional considerations, but more on that soon.  What should be remembered here is that nobody doubted the historicity of Romulus; his existence went undisputed.  Interestingly enough, not only did his existence go undisputed, some of his miraculous deeds did get disputed.  For example, Plutarch disputed whether or not he had really risen from the dead–but his existence was never disputed.

Likewise, and I’ve written on this before, Palaephatus wrote in his introduction to his work Πeρὶ ἀpίstων:

Now some people, who have no acquaintance with philosophy or science, are too credulous and believe everything that is said to them.  Others, of a more subtle and inquisitive nature, totally disbelieve that any of these tales ever happened.  My own belief is that there is a reality behind all stories.  For names alone without stories would hardly have arisen: first there must have been deeds and there-after stories about them.

Palaephatus lists a great deal of “true stories” behind the myths.   In his work, he writes that Centaurs were real people, but rather than being half-horse and half-man, the stories arose from them being the first group of people to ride horseback (before then, he says, people only used horses to pull chariots)!  And of course the truth behind the Trojan horse is not that a group of Greeks jumped free from it and attacked the city, but that the Trojans tore down parts of their wall to accommodate the horse, thereby allowing the Greeks to enter through the opening!

And then, of course, there is Euhemerus himself (from whom the word ‘euhemerism’ derives).  Euhemerus argued that the gods of the Greeks were mythologized historical Kings.  Again, the gods were not disputed to have existed, but their mythology stripped and they were placed within the context of a historical setting.

But we should bring this back home a little bit; we should consider Ignatius as a model here.  Ignatius supposedly wrote several letters defending Christianity in his lifetime and is attested to have lived from about the early-mid first century to the early second century CE.  Later Christian historians write on him and tell us about his life, more about his martyrdom.  No one in antiquity doubts his historicity.  But I am doubtful that such a figure as Ignatius existed historically (I’d say there is about a 30-40% chance that such a figure existed–and that is being generous).  In fact, I don’t believe there is any way such a figure, if he did exist, wrote anything (or, if such a figure did write something, then it might be argued but at a later date).  Let me break this down for you so you can better understand what I’m arguing here.

When I say I am 30-40% sure of Ignatius’ historicity, for example, I’m not denying his existence outright.  I must stress that; I’m not denying his historicity completely.  I’m stating that the limitations of our evidence doesn’t ipso facto suggest Ignatius didn’t exist, but they certainly don’t help or support the case for his existence.  For example, are we really to accept that Ignatius was captured by Romans in the second century for practicing a ‘false religion’, only to be supplied by those same Romans with a seemingly endless amount of ink and papyri just to write about his same forbidden religion?  And are we then to assume that his letters were kept or sent out by these same Romans (which Ignatius considers rather mean-spirited and cruel to him)?  Are we to believe he had other ‘illegal Christian’ visitors, let in by the Roman guards (the same guards holding him for being a Christian), to secure these letters before he was eaten by lions?  Keep in mind, he is supposedly surrounded by all sorts of wild beasts heading toward the Colosseum to be martyred!  I just don’t buy it.  Maybe you do.  I do not.

And then there is that whole pesky thing about Christians being persecuted in the early second century.  Pliny didn’t even know what a Christian was and he should!  He held enough high positions and judicial positions that if there were some edict against Christianity he would know about it!  And yet the way Ignatius discusses his captivity, one would think that the Romans were just hunting Christians down. This calls into question not only the authenticity of the letters, but also the person.  For what more do we know of him except from later Christian tradition?  Of that later tradition, it is no more valid or useful than the letters themselves.  So I don’t think my estimation of about 30-40% is too low or too skeptical.  In fact I’m probably being more generous than I should given the circumstantial nature of the evidence.

But I could make an even stronger case that the historical validity of things were simply not questioned in antiquity.  And examples are readily found in the New Testament itself.  All of the pastorals are written in the names of people which may or may not have any historical significance.  That is to say, was Nicodemus a historical figure?  And what of Simon Magus in Acts?  Certainly some must doubt the historicity of these individuals.  But who contested them?  Who in antiquity wrote on the ahistoricity of Nicodemus or Simon Magus?  Indeed, their traditions were merely exemplified.  Many of these traditions were created within a generation of the events, some contemporaries probably still lived to dispute them if they wanted to do so.  Yet we have no evidence that anyone sought to dispute them.

Now, keeping in mind that we have letters attested to have been written by Ignatius, my estimation of 50/50 for the historicity of Jesus is not just generous, it is allowing for an acceptance of a lot of unknowns.  In fact, in many respects, a 50/50 for Jesus’ historicity presumes a lot–it takes the conservative estimations of the evidence more than the liberal ones.  I’m allowing, in fact, for the possibility that some traditions may be based on historical events or people.  But I’m also saying that the state of the evidence doesn’t permit us to be sure enough to permit anything more than a 50/50.  Maybe that will change when better evidence presents itself.  I’m leaving room for such possibilities.  But I’m not straight out denying the traditions.  And that is the difference here between my skepticism and someone who is a denialist.  And I would put a lot of mythicists in the denialist camp.

Now, most academics are skeptical to some degree.  Skepticism is healthy and useful.  But what this shows is that there is a danger in not being skeptical enough.  That doesn’t mean to suggest that we need to be hyper skeptical where our doubt borders on denialism–that is not what I’m suggesting, and there is a clear difference between that sort of skepticism and what I recommend.  My concern is that there are too many arguments made without consideration for the elephant in the room; too many scholars who are not following through with their own conclusions.  And I believe it is a general fear of becoming too skeptical; too sensitive to the limitations of our evidence.  My concern is that the limitations of our textual evidence is taken for granted–and some may say it isn’t, because they’re using evidence and argument.  But if our text is our evidence, and the text is subject to fictionalization, almost completely in the sense of the Gospels, what does that say about the state of the evidence?  And what does that say about the value of the criterion of disputation?

I tend to think the greater danger is in merely taking the information within our texts for granted, that is to say, simply relying upon consensus rather than doing any of the leg work to verify the validity of a consensus.  For example, I trust my doctors, but I still look into the medication they prescribe me just to make sure I know what I’m taking.  If I have questions, I consult my doctor or get a second opinion (or a third or fourth).  And when a scientist presents a study on evolution, I look into it as well because I don’t know whether that scientist is presenting credible arguments from the evidence–even if his premise (evolution) is one with which I agree.  Another example of this is when geologists try to suggest that a gust of wind is responsible for the parting of the sea during the crossing of the Israelites from Egypt or that an earthquake can accurate point to the exact day of the crucifixion.  Doing one’s due diligence is not something to be ridiculed, in my humble opinion. Being a responsible scholar depends on ones familiarity with the basics–not just the knowledge that everyone agrees with them.

All I want to see is more honesty.  My goal in all of this is to simply keep the conversation open.  Maybe one day we’ll have evidence which will close it, but I don’t think we currently do.  I think there are multiple ways to interpret the data which are all just as useful and realistic and possible.  But what this criterion does is shut out the alternate realistic possibility that people in antiquity rarely disputed traditions–because traditions were more important than the fact of them.  The same could be said of Tea Party candidates today who believe that the early founding fathers of this country established a Christian nation, that Jefferson was a religious fellow; tradition (even if that tradition was just created) is more important than the facts.

The criterion of disputation doesn’t allow for the facts; it presumes things about it that we can provide ample evidence against.  And those who use it should always be cautious.

Related Articles: Minimalism and Ancient Historiography

If You Buy Into Images Like This…

…then you need to do more research.  Because these images are misleading and mostly wrong.  By mostly, I mean like 80% wrong.  And anyone who argues with certainty that these beliefs impacted Christianity to a large degree need to reevaluate their critical thinking skills.  Because you’re wrong.

Click through to see full image.

This image represents precisely the sort of misinformation and false arguments commonly made within the mythicist community.  This is why serious scholars don’t take you seriously.  This is why you are like creationists–because you continue to fabricate data to support your flawed conclusions.

Related Posts:

Updated Book Review: James Crossley

Read the update here and stay tuned for more.

Book Review – Jesus in an Age of Neoliberalism: Quests, Scholarship and Ideology, by James G Crossley « The Musings of Thomas Verenna.

Searching for Muses: Mermaid Skeleton Found?

In the words of Joel Watts:


I have had nearly a thousand hits today from searches like ‘Mermaid found in Bulgaria’.  Undoubtedly, people have found my blog posts on the ‘vampire’ in Bulgaria and my ousting of the Mermaid docufiction on Animal Planet.  But I was curious; what news was prompting hundreds of people to search out ‘Mermaid found in Bulgaria’.  It’s bizarre.  And here is what I found:

Image of Professor Dimitrov who is able to stand on a nearly vertical wall without falling over–quite the accomplishment!

From this link (Google Translate page of a Bulgarian news site)

Now for those of us who are not gullible, we can tell this is clearly photoshopped.  First, the ‘professor’ here is standing on the ground, but the image of the mermaid skeleton is taken from above, looking directly down at the ground.  Like this:

Worse yet, the mermaid image is one found on Worth1000 (in other words, it is a fake, like the giant skeleton image).  Here is the original:

Notice something?  Right, no professor.  It’s a fake, and a poorly done fake at that.  Let it go people.  Mermaids are mythological creatures.

All 786 Known Planets

Thank you xkcd for this awesome graphic:

Click through to see in full size.

And if you want to get some perspective on how small and insignificant we really are compared to everything, see my post here.

Cool Science Subject of the Day: MIT Discovers the Location of Memories

MIT researchers have shown, for the first time ever, that memories are stored in specific brain cells. By triggering a small cluster of neurons, the researchers were able to force the subject to recall a specific memory. By removing these neurons, the subject would lose that memory.

via MIT discovers the location of memories: Individual neurons | ExtremeTech.

This is really cool.  But I have some questions and some concerns.  How might memory contamination or corruption play into our visualizations of memories?  And if we cannot quite remember things prior to the memory being triggered, are we sure we are not inadvertently corrupting them ourselves?  Would we recognize that corruption if it occurred?

Joel Watts contemplates the possibility of ‘harvesting’ memories from recently deceased individuals, but I wonder if these possible perceptions and corruptions might undermine attempts to store them beyond our bodies, since our memories are no doubt subject to our perceptions.  Or, conversely, do these stored memories provide exact detail about the events?


In Memorandum: Joe Fox – Friend, Leader, Humanist

The world lost a brilliant person and a beautiful human being this weekend.  Joe Fox’s death came suddenly and sorrowfully to those of us who knew him well.  I am not sure I have all the right words, nor am I certain I can do him justice, but as someone who spent a lot of time with Joe over the past few years, I’m grieving and now is perhaps the best time to remember a friend.

For some background: I met Joe years ago when I was invited down to speak for the Humanist Association of Greater Philadelphia.  At the time Joe had a leadership role in that community and had heard of me through acquaintances.  After my presentation to the community, Joe and I sat down and, over conversation and a few drinks, became fast friends.  One of my struggles at that time was my detachment from the broader atheist movement as a whole; I was questioning who I was and what I wanted to do–I knew that going to school was a priority at this point and I knew that I wanted to find something more positive and uplifting than my past had been as an outspoken atheist activist.  As I got older, I just didn’t agree with the modern movement I helped to create–it had become something different, something angrier, that just didn’t feel right for me anymore.  Joe became a beacon for me.  He introduced me to humanism and I, after some contemplation, was drawn to it.

Joe was one of the nicest individuals I have met; he was inclusive, he was a loving father, he was a leader and an organizer, but most important of all, he made an effort to help people as much as he could.  Joe Fox was there for me when I needed a ride to group events, he pushed me to start my freethought group, he encouraged community outreach in our organizations–helping the poor, doing blood drives; Joe showed everyone the humanity of humanism.  He always smiled, even when he was going through some complicated personal problems.  He laughed all the time, always had a joke, was constantly engaging people, and making them think.

In my world, that is the world of a secularist, when someone dies, I don’t ask for prayers (though, if that is what you do, that’s fine); instead I try to remember them, to keep their good works alive, to instill in everyone the sense that the one we lost had an impact on the future.  In this sense, both the humanist or the religionist are trying to grasp hold of immortality, albeit in different ways.  But for the secularist, seeking immortality is a materialistic venture–and it is a life-long endeavor.  We try to do good deeds often and plentifully, we try to give back to our communities, we want to be remembered as great individuals so that when we die, our memory lives on.  But as many of my readers know, memories are fickle things and not everyone attains that glory.

As for Joe Fox, he will easily be remembered as the excellent man he was.    I greatly regret not making more time for him the past year; with school and work constraints I did not always have the ability to make it out to meetings or community movie nights.  But I will always think of Joe fondly as a mentor and friend.  I will remember the fun times we had, all our conversations (some important and others not so much).

For those of us who knew Joe, we will never forget him.  In fact we miss him terribly.  We can mourn him–and we are–but it is clear to all of us he left behind, he has gained immortality.

Book Review – Rewriting Scripture in Second Temple Times

Rewriting Scripture in Second Temple Times
Sidnie White Crawford

Series: Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Related Literature (SDSS)

PAPERBACK; Published: 4/14/2008
ISBN: 978-0-8028-4740-9
172 Pages
Price: $ 18.00


Eerdmans graciously sent along a copy of this book to review.  It looks really interesting and is right in line with my interests!  Here is the blurb:

The biblical manuscripts found at Qumran, contends Sidnie White Crawford, reflect a spectrum of text movement from authoritative scriptural traditions to completely new compositions. Treating six major groups of texts, she shows how differences in the texts result from a particular understanding of the work of the scribe — not merely to copy but also to interpret, update, and make relevant the Scripture for the contemporary Jewish community of the time. Thisáscribal practice led to texts that were “rewritten” or “reworked” and considered no less important or accurate than the originals.

Propounding a new theory of how these texts cohere as a group, Crawford offers an original and provocative work for readers interested in the Second Temple period.

I will be reviewing it shortly.


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