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.


9 Responses

  1. The reason why some people say they can’t trust Carrier is that Stark has caught him out several times:

    * Editing his post to remove errors identified by Stark without acknowledging he made mistakes

    * Arguing repeatedly that scholarship says X, citing a particular author, and then falling silent on that claim when Stark has proved the scholarship says the exact opposite (questioning if Carrier even read the scholarship in question)

    * Failing to address the bulk of Stark’s arguments, and instead attempting to pick at minor issues on which Stark himself is undecided

    * Wrongly identifying celestial beings such as Melchizedek and

    * Attempting to oppose modern scholarship by citing completely outdated and biased translations such as the RSV (!), and KJV (!!)

    * Making false claims about Aramaic and Hebrew texts because Carrier doesn’t know Aramaic or Hebrew

    These are good reasons to question Carrier’s intellectual honesty.

  2. Thanks. I’ll pass this along to Carrier so he can respond.

  3. I mention in the leader and in the comments section that I corrected several errors. How is that not acknowledging I made mistakes?

    Other than that, generic criticisms are useless. Be specific.

    And keep in mind, most of what Stark talks about is irrelevant. All that matters is what premises we can sustain, and what conclusions follow from them. That’s why I keep my article strictly on those two questions every step of the way.

    So if you see a conclusion that doesn’t follow from its premises, or a premise that is false, in the new revision, point it out specifically.

  4. “I mention in the leader and in the comments section that I corrected several errors. How is that not acknowledging I made mistakes?”

    Because generic comments are useless; be specific.You changed your ‘Dying Messiah’ blog post to alter what you wrote about the Targum, after being corrected by McGrath (, yet you didn’t acknowledge the correction and the alteration is invisible to those who hadn’t already saved the original post.

    “Other than that, generic criticisms are useless.”

    Like when you said about Stark ‘Some of his replies also get wrong what I said or quote me out of context or go off on irrelevant digressions’? That’s pretty useless. It’s also an easy way to avoid addressing specific core criticisms.

    “Be specific.”

    Stark was already very specific. He noted that you didn’t acknowledge any of his very specific corrections, although by email you told him that any points on which you were now falling silent, he could now consider you had conceded. But let’s list a number of specific criticisms he made to which you have given no answer.

    Highly notable was what Stark refers to as ‘The Lacocque Lacockup’, in which you completely misrepresented Lacocque, despite being repeatedly corrected by a commentator on your own blog. This was combined with your misrepresentation of Sandoval, from whom you appear to have obtained your information about Lacocque (rather than reading Lacocque yourself). Stark comments:

    * The problem is, Sandoval didn’t at all say that the mainline view “can’t be correct.” Carrier is either skimming Sandoval, or reading him tendentiously

    * So instead of giving a measured response that takes account of ambiguity in the evidence, Carrier insists on a specific reading that he thinks supports his view that there is only one “anointed one” in Daniel 9. This is irresponsible scholarship. If someone else did this to him, he would certainly say they were being “emotional” and “irrational.”

    * Carrier argues that Lacocque’s interpretation of the seventy weeks puts the “anointed one” of v. 25 firmly and definitively at the end of the seven + sixty-two weeks. He also believes that Lacocque argues that the seven weeks and the sixty-two weeks are not separate, distinct timespans

    * According to Carrier, “leading expert” Lacocque undermines the idea that there are two anointed ones in Daniel 9, and he undermines the idea that the seven weeks and sixty-two weeks are broken apart and constitute two distinct timespans. Now let’s let Lacocque speak for himself

    * Did Carrier make an argument that depended in large part on a scholarly source without actually reading his source? Did Carrier reference a source to support a contention the opposite of which is the source’s actual contention? Did Carrier do in no uncertain terms precisely what he publicly accused and berated (actual renowned scholar) Bart Ehrman for doing? Yes. Yes he did. What’s the word Carrier used? Oh right. “Hack scholarship.”

    * The fact that Carrier seems to have never before heard of the idea of two anointed ones in Daniel 9 only further proves that he hasn’t actually read Lacocque and that he’s talking out of his ass

    Since you have asked for them, additional specific criticisms by Stark follow (and this is not an exhaustive list).


    * This is what renowned philosophers like Carrier refer to as a false dichotomy

    * But then he goes on over a month later and tells a commenter that he knows the Targum doesn’t support a picture of dying messiah, and he says that’s why he didn’t explicitly cite it as such. Even if he isn’t lying here (and it seems to me he is, but I don’t really care either way), he still misses the point that his argument was very misleading and sounded a great deal like he was using it as evidence for a pre-Christian dying messiah

    * In fact, as Carrier was clearly entirely unaware, the vast majority of critical scholars have always identified, and to this day identify, the “anointed ones” in v. 25 and v. 26 as two separate people, removed in time by hundreds of years

    * Note that Carrier says, “what everyone in history has until now understood it to say.” In other words, Carrier is utterly unaware that the majority of scholars have long argued precisely what Carrier says no one in history has ever been stupid enough to argue until Ramsey

    * Second, Carrier refers to André Lacocque as “the leading expert.” Which when translated means, “I don’t know who the leading experts on Daniel are.”

    * If anybody is “the leading expert” on Daniel, it’s John J. Collins

    * But there are so many working in Daniel today whose work is superior to Lacocque’s, I’m just astounded here. No disrespect at all to Lacocque. But what Carrier has displayed is his staggering ignorance of the state of the field he’s trying to navigate

    * Anyway, Carrier clearly hasn’t read the Daniel work of Collins or Fitzmyer or a dozen other Daniel scholars I could name off the top of my head, because if he had, he would not have been utterly confused when Ramsey noted that critical scholars identify two separate anointed ones in vv. 25 and 26 of Daniel 9

    * If Carrier knew Hebrew and had a copy of the Masoretic Text that he was able to read, he’d see that the Masoretes put what’s called an atnach between the “seven weeks” and the “sixty-two weeks.”

    * Second, no. The Jews who translated the LXX did not necessarily know Hebrew better than the translators of the RSV or NRSV

    * To sum up why Carrier has no idea what he’s talking about, I’ll quote at length from John Collins’s seminal commentary on Daniel

    * And if Carrier isn’t convinced that the temple or altar is meant here, he can ask his comrade-in-arms Hector Avalos about it. He’ll set him straight

    * And by “original text,” Carrier means . . . the second century CE Greek translation by Theodotion? Or the Masoretic Text which preserves the tradition of placing a sentence break between seven and sixty-two weeks? Wait, what? Carrier believes there’s an “original text”? When did this happen? Perhaps it happened at some point during the time Carrier did not spend reading the scholarship on the subject he’s arguing

    * First, let’s examine b.Sanhedrin 98b and 93b (which Carrier incorrectly identifies as 93a)

    * Carrier’s argument for a pre-Christian dating of this material fails entirely

    * I don’t know if Carrier is familiar with Joseph Blenkinsopp, but let’s just say it doesn’t get any more expert than him. So Carrier is deceiving his readers by pitting “expert translators” against “Stark.”

    * since the masses were illiterate, and didn’t have access to the texts themselves, this is hardly “impossible” as Carrier asserts without basis

    * First of all, an idiom is still an idiom regardless of what tense it’s in

    * Using fundamentalist logic, he’s tried to argue that a radical rewriting of the passage wouldn’t have slipped by the audience or subsequent tradents, but his arguments here were utterly divorced from reality, and one with which he is actually painfully familiar, which is the real irony

    * So Carrier turns to Chilton to argue that the Isaiah 52-53 passage in Targum Jonathan was probably written mostly prior to 70 CE, with some possible redactions afterward, yet Chilton lands on 70-135 CE for the primitive material in the passage, with some possible redactional material from the Amoraic period several centuries after that

    * Does Carrier honestly, seriously think that the “valley of the shadow of death” suggests that David was dead?

  5. Carrier has indeed acknowledged mistakes and acknowledged where Stark got things right.

    I found this comment by Thom Stark very interesting.

    The Messiah ben Joseph would wage a war against Rome and retake Jerusalem and rebuild the temple, according to the tradition. But he would later come under attack by “Gog and Magog” and in that battle he would be slain.

    Does Stark’s scholarship hold up here? I imagine it does, and he knows what he is talking about.

    It is fascinating that Jews would invent a fictional Messiah, son of Joseph, who was going to be killed by his enemies. (Furthermore, a Messiah associated with rebuilding the Temple – shades of John 2 here????)

    Until Stark demonstrated that Jews had invented this fictional Messiah, I was in total ignorance of it.

  6. “Carrier has indeed acknowledged mistakes and acknowledged where Stark got things right.”

    Please show me all the times that he has done this. It would help if you showed examples of him doing this in response to the numerous errors identified by Stark, which I listed.

  7. Indeed, Fortigurn obviously isn’t even responding to the revision. He’s hung up on old mistakes I have corrected, and thus wasting our time.

  8. ‘Indeed, Fortigurn obviously isn’t even responding to the revision.’

    Obviously not; that’s not my aim here. My aim is to identify publicly errors which you have chosen to conceal. Those errors are numerous, yet all you have done is revise your article with a vague reference to ‘corrections’, without admitting the many times you were proved wrong. This is not the height of intellectual honesty, is it?

    Additionally, it’s a matter of significance that you made so many errors in the first place. Your repeatedly tidied up, patched over article, with many errors swept silently under the rug, gives a false impression.

    People don’t get to see exactly how many mistakes you made, and that’s obviously what you want; you don’t want people knowing that Thom demonstrated your knowledge of the subject was significantly impoverished.

    ‘He’s hung up on old mistakes I have corrected, and thus wasting our time.’

    The point is that you haven’t even admitted these were mistakes. Not only that, but you haven’t even corrected half of them. These comments of yours which Stark corrected are still in your article:

    * ‘the passages he cites as precedents aren’t contextually similar’

    * ‘Now the issue hinges on whether the Aramaic translates as “he delivered up his soul to death” (as expert translators conclude) or as “he was willing to face death” (or “something similar”) as Stark suggests.’

    * ‘Stark seems to imagine Jews pulling the wool over each other’s eyes by sneakily rewriting the entire passage to say something completely different and hoping no one would notice. Not even the scholars who troubled to continue copying and preserving Jonathan’s Targum? Not even the hearers who knew the Hebrew or the Greek? That’s essentially impossible’

    * ‘Part of the problem with this is that in The Glory ofIsrael: The Theology and Provenience of the Isaiah Targum, Bruce Chilton findsseveral places in it where the temple is assumed to still be standing and others where itis assumed to have been destroyed, and he assembles other like evidence to concludethat this targum has been redacted over time’

    Furthermore, your debunked comments about Lacocque and other issues are still online (completely unretracted by you), and you haven’t apologized to Ramsey for claiming he was wrong when it was you who didn’t have the facts.

  9. Those items in the article you list aren’t errors. Those observations remain correct.

    As for the comment threads, there will be many errors in those, since I don’t usually back-edit comments (those are just recorded conversations, and it would be impossibly time consuming to re-read through them all). However, if you have or want to build a specific list of erroneous statements in any comments threads, email that list to me ( and I’ll go back and line them all out (so the record is preserved but the statements still indicated to be wrong). And if that list includes comments to Ramsey, then I can apologize to him for my specific errors.

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