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.

James McGrath and Melchizedek

James wrote a very interesting post on Carrier’s response to Thom Stark.  I thought he made some useful points which need to be addressed (and I did send along a link to Carrier, so hopefully when he is caught up he will respond), but one in statement in James’ post struck me as peculiar.

“I can only assume that he considers it self-evident that the term translated “cut off” in Daniel 9:26 can only mean “killed,” which suggests he may unwittingly be reading it through the lens of later Christian interpreters.”

Richard Carrier Illustrates Historical Jesus Methodology.

This comment surprised me; I’ve been doing a great deal of research on 11Q13 for a paper I am in the process of writing for publication and in all the authoritative works I’ve read, the phrase ‘cut-off’ is generally accepted to mean ‘killed’.   The author(s) of Dan. 9 used the phrase to explain that Onias III was the messiah, who did die, so in this context it definitely does mean ‘killed’ and there certain was a tradition of linking Melchizedek with a dying messiah between the point of 11Q13’s composition and the Nag Hammadi version as the Gnostics certainly interpreted ‘cut off’ to mean ‘killed’ when they wrote their version of 11Q13 in Melchizedek (who they link with Jesus).  So while it doesn’t eo ipso mean ‘killed’, in the interpretation of this phrase from Daniel 9, in 11Q13, in the ongoing messianic beliefs from the Roman period to Late Antiquity, it probably does mean ‘killed’–with a higher probability than any other meaning, and enough probability that it is unlikely that its interpreters used it to mean something else.

I would also like to point out something about this argument:

But I would point out that Christians did not merely expect a Messiah who would die. They believed that the Messiah had died. And that surely has relevance to whether or not there was a historical Jesus. Perhaps others expected such a figure. Christians believed – and we have no evidence that their contemporaries disputed this point – that the figure had in fact appeared and had died.

The problem with this is that we have written accounts (clearly fictional) of earthquakes, the sun going dark, the dead rising from the graves, and these were written down and never once disputed by any contemporary.  This is the problem with this criterion.  Belief, as strong as it is, does not determine historical certainty.

In other words, just because Christians believed their messiah lived and died does not mean it definitely occurred.  And simply because no contemporary disputed it does not ipso facto  imply that it did happen.  Certainly, it might have happened.  But when wholly fabricated world-effecting events like earthquakes or the sun going out can exist without any recorded disputation, then certainly a fabricated individual could have gone completely undisputed as well.  I just don’t believe that this is a valid argument to make, when clearly more extraordinary events go completely undisputed by contemporaries; the plights of a peasant Jew in Galilee seem insignificant to dispute when one considers the scope of the sun going out. And this is a point Carrier makes in his Proving History that James should really consider reading (though I understand his hesitation–reading about method can be rather dull).

But I do thank James for his otherwise interesting and insightful post.

Carrier on Ehrman’s Response to Criticisms

Carrier took a moment out of his conference schedule to type a response to Ehrman.  It is as efficient as his others, meaning that he thoroughly shows the hubris of Ehrman’s latest foray (his book and his response to critics).  And let us not beat around the bush here, there is either dishonesty at work or Ehrman just isn’t doing his due diligence.   Carrier starts off by stating what many of us have already picked up on (emphasis added):

Bart Ehrman has finally composed an extensive response to my critical review of his book. But before that came out, he composed two briefer responses, one to my review of his Huffington Post article and another to my subsequent review of his book. He also briefly punted to another blogger, R.J. Hoffman. In this post I’ll address those latter items. Next I’ll reply to the longer piece (I’ve nearly finished my reply to that, but as I’m now at the  Madison Freethought Festival with tons of amazing speakers and excellent liquor, I won’t be able to proof that and post until Sunday evening).

The strangest thing about those latter items is not the alarming-enough fact that they ignore nearly every substantive point in what they are responding to, and focus each on only a single issue, and that one of the least importance (the Hoffman piece likewise doesn’t address anything I actually said). That is strange. But stranger still is that they do not look entirely honest to me. But I’ll just present the evidence and you can decide.

First up is the bizarre deflection of the issues in Ehrman’s response to Carrier’s very real criticisms.  These criticisms focused on the false claims made by Ehrman throughout his recent publicity articles and his book, all of which are completely bizarre and look like the claims made by rank amateurs :

  • The incorrect attribution to Pliny’s letters
  • The false claim that a statue (Priapus Bronze) does not exist.
  • The curios claim that Pilate was not a procurator, but only a governor (He was in fact both.  In the past, I actually made this false claim–but this was before I became a student; we should not expect this from a veteran scholar).
  • The outstandingly false claim that “we simply don’t have birth notices, trial records, death certificates—or other kinds of records that one has today” (yes he said that!)
  • The claim that no Classicist argues that the record of Christians and Jesus in Tacitus is an interpolation (there are at least six that Carrier lists)
  • The claim that no other scholar has proposed a different period for the death of Jesus and the rise of Christianity
  • Ehrman’s apparent ignorance of the Innana death and resurrection story and that of Romulus’ death and resurrection story.
  • The very false claim that we have no evidence of baptism in any mystery religions
  • The claim that no Jews thought the messiah would die or suffer
  • The rather hyperbolic claims that Carrier is somehow unqualified–with his three graduate degrees in relevant fields–to speak on the New Testament and Jesus studies
  • The claim that “not even … the most powerful and important figure of his day, Pontius Pilate” is “mentioned in any Roman sources of his day.”
  • That we have sources dated to within a year or two of Jesus’ death

Those are the patently FALSE claims made by Ehrman.  This doesn’t account for all of his errors either, since there are plenty more (which I cover in my forthcoming paper due out next week, with any luck); it also doesn’t account for Ehrman’s many misleading statements or contradictory statements made throughout the book (where he says one thing at one point and then contradicts himself at a later point).

And to which argument in Carrier’s arsenal of criticisms does Ehrman choose to respond?  That’s right–the Priapus statue (which oddly Ehrman thinks is the strongest one, which is just silly).  He doesn’t address any of the other more relevant and important matters of oversight or misstatements.  You can read my reply to Ehrman’s response here.  Carrier writes the following (snippet):

In his second reply he addressed one single point in my review. And here I believe there is reason to suspect he is lying about the Priapus statue. In my review of his book I called him out for saying (certainly very clearly implying) that Murdock “made up” the statue at the Vatican that she presents a drawing of and says is a symbol of Peter. He clearly did not call the Vatican about it or research the claim at all. Because if he had, he would have said what any responsible scholar would have said, which is that yes, the statue she depicts is real and the drawing she provides is reasonably accurate, but her argument that it symbolizes Peter is not credible. It’s just a pagan statue of the god Priapus.

Now in his reply on this point, in “Acharya S, Richard Carrier, and a Cocky Peter (Or: “A Cock and Bull Story”),” he claims I misread him, that he never denied the statue existed nor implied that Murdock made it up. Now let’s look at what he actually wrote in the book. You be the judge:

[Acharya says] “‘Peter’ is not only ‘the rock’ but also ‘the cock’, or penis, as the word is used as slang to this day.” Here Acharya shows (her own?) hand drawing of a man with a rooster head but with a large erect penis instead of a nose, with this description: “bronze sculpture hidden in the Vatican treasure of the Cock, symbol of St. Peter” (295). There is no penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock in the Vatican or anywhere else except in books like this, which love to make things up.

That’s the sum total of what he says about this. It is quite evident to me that when he wrote this, he doubted the drawing came from any source, and believed (and here implies to the reader) that she just made it up. There is no such statue. That is what he is saying. But you can judge that for yourself. Certainly, the one thing this paragraph doesn’t say is that the statue she references does exist, is (or at one time was) at the Vatican, and looks essentially just as her drawing depicts it. It also does not say that she is merely wrong to interpret this statue as being of Peter. To the contrary, all it says is that there is no such statue, she made this up. Which is false. And betrays his failure to even check.

But he now claims he did check. Sort of–he says he saw her citations and assumed there were priapic statues; he did not actually say he checked her sources, or contacted the Vatican.

Indeed. Ehrman is basically saying “I was never wrong. I’m just such a phenomenally lousy writer that things I wrote appear to say what they don’t, and everyone who reads this book will often be misled in result.” Others have noted the problem entailed by his repeatedly careless and irresponsible wording of things, which can completely mislead lay readers of his book. Ophelia Benson (Butterflies & Wheels), for example, found many problems with the way Ehrman’s choice of words misleads, as well as his questionable logic (see: What Ehrman Actually Says, The Unseen, A Small Town Guy).

But I fear it may be worse than that. Because I don’t actually believe him when he says he didn’t mean to say the statue didn’t exist. I suspect that is a post-hoc rationalization that he cooked up in an attempt to save face, after his careless and irresponsible scholarship on this matter was exposed. I suspect this not only because his excuse is implausible on its face (read his original paragraph again, and ask yourself how likely it is that someone who wanted to say “the statue she depicts does exist, but it’s not a statue of Peter” would say instead what he did), and not only because he still doesn’t claim to have researched her sources or contacted the Vatican (in other words, to do what he should have done), but also because, as several people have since pointed out to me, he said in a podcast (before my review and before Murdock herself exposed him on this) that the statue did not in any sense exist.

That’s right. On Homebrewed Christianity, April 3 (2012), “Bart Ehrman on Jesus’ Existence, Apocalypticism & Holy Week,” timestamp 20:30-21:10: at this point in that podcast, Ehrman says Acharya talks about Peter the cock and shows a drawing of a statue with a penis for a nose and claims this is in the Vatican museum, at which Ehrman declares, with laughter, “It’s just made up! There is no such s[tatue]… It’s just completely made up” (emphasis mine). In context it is certainly clear he is saying there is no such statue of any kind, that her drawing is not of any actual object. (Note that I put the word “statue” in partial brackets because he speaks so quickly he didn’t complete the word but started saying what is obviously the word “statue”; he doesn’t pause to correct himself, though, he just quickly segues to the next phrase in animated conversation.)

Now, I must leave it to you to decide what’s going on here. From both his own wording in the book and this podcast, it certainly seems that Ehrman had no idea the statue actually existed, until Murdock and I hammered him on it. Notably, I had emailed him about this weeks before my review, asking what his response to Murdock was, because I was concerned it didn’t look good. I had not yet read his book, so I didn’t know the whole thing would be a travesty of these kinds of errors. Ehrman never answered me (even though he has in the past). Only after my review did he come out with the explanation that he meant to say the statue existed but wasn’t connected to Peter. And on that point I suspect he is lying.

You’ll have to go to his site to read the rest of his response on this.  In fact go read the whole thing.

Richard Carrier, Bayes’s Theorem, and Historical Jesus Criteria

Richard Carrier has a new article posted at the online journal Bible and Interpretation entitled Bayes’ Theorem and the Modern Historian: Proving History Requires Improving Methods.  Here is the blurb:

Several examinations of the methodologies employed in the study of Jesus have consistently found those methods invalid or defective. Which fact has resulted in the proliferation of endless different conclusions as to the nature of the historical Jesus and the origins of Christianity. Attention to the logical validity of the methods we employ is essential to repairing this problem. One particular theory of human reasoning can lead the way: widely known as Bayes’ Theorem, historians would benefit tremendously from understanding it and learning how to apply it in their arguments and research.

Bayes.pdf (application/pdf Object).

You should definitely go read it!  I especially like this part:

The latest in this series of studies is a new volume to be published this year, edited by Chris Keith and Anthony LeDonne, titled Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity (T & T Clark, 2012), and featuring such luminaries as Mark Goodacre and Morna Hooker, all coming to the same conclusion: the method of criteria is simply not logically viable. This leaves the field of Jesus studies with no valid method, and puts into question all consensus positions in the field, insofar as they have all been based, to one extent or another, on these logically invalid methods.
The consequence of this has been more than evident: every scholar using these methods “discovers” a completely different historical Jesus. As Dale Allison concludes, “these criteria have not led to any uniformity of result, or any more uniformity than would have been the case had we never heard of them,” hence “the criteria themselves are seriously defective” and “cannot do what is claimed for them.”[8] As Helmut Koester concluded after his own survey, “The vast variety of interpretations of the historical Jesus that the current quest has proposed is bewildering.”[9] James Charlesworth concurs, concluding that “what had been perceived to be a developing consensus in the 1980s has collapsed into a chaos of opinions.”[10] Several others have come to the same conclusion, demonstrating, with extensive citation of examples, the whole confusion of contradictory opinions that has resulted from applying these methods: Thomas Thompson,[11] Thomas Verenna,[12] James Crossley,[13] Mark Strauss,[14] John Poirier,[15] Mark Allen Powell,[16] and John Dominic Crossan,[17] just to name a few.

When everyone picks up the same method, applies it to the same facts, and gets a different result, we can be certain that that method is invalid and should be abandoned. Yet historians in Jesus studies don’t abandon the demonstrably failed methods they purport to employ.[18] This has to end.

Indeed. Do read on.  Exceptional article.

Of Scholars and Things: Bart Ehrman, Pride, and Credibility

καλεῖ δ᾽ ἀκούοντας οὐδὲν ἐν μέσᾳ 
δυσπαλεῖ τε δίνᾳ: 
γελᾷ δὲ δαίμων ἐπ᾽ ἀνδρὶ θερμῷ, 
τὸν οὔποτ᾽ αὐχοῦντ᾽ ἰδὼν ἀμαχάνοις 
δύαις λαπαδνὸν οὐδ᾽ ὑπερθέοντ᾽ ἄκραν: 
δι᾽ αἰῶνος δὲ τὸν πρὶν ὄλβον 
ἕρματι προσβαλὼν δίκας 
ὤλετ᾽ ἄκλαυτος, αἶστος. 
(Aeschylus, Eumenides 558-565)

In Ehrman’s recent response to Carrier’s criticisms of his book, Ehrman writes the following (rather shocking) statement:

As many readers know, Richard Carrier has written a hard-hitting, one might even say vicious, response to Did Jesus Exist.  I said nothing nasty about Carrier in my book – just the contrary, I indicated that he was a smart fellow with whom I disagree on fundamental issues, including some for which he really does not seem to know what he is talking about.  But I never attacked him personally.  He on the other hand, appears to be showing his true colors.

And:

So what is the point?  Carrier appears to want to show that he is very much a better historian than I am.  This is a repeated theme throughout his scathing critique.   I, frankly, did not realize that this was supposed to be a contest between the two of us, and am not interested in the question of who wins.

After reading the response I mainly wanted to focus on his excuses for why such glaring and egregious problems existed in his book.  But now, after I have had a day to reflect, I wanted to come back to this because, frankly, Ehrman seems to have completely forgotten what he wrote in his book and in various articles about his book over the past few months.

First, I want to stress that Ehrman is a professional scholar–he is a very well established academic with many, many publications.  Not only has he published dozens of books but he has two Loeb texts (on the Apostolic fathers, quite the accomplishment) and many smaller articles in journals and such that should hammer home his credentials.  He is an excellent textual critic and knows a lot about the ins and outs of manuscripts, of scribal practices, of copyist errors.  Indeed his best work is, in my opinion, on these very subjects.  He studied under the late Bruce Metzger and co-authored with him on occasion and that only goes more to his credit.

I say this because there is a great difference between his extremely well-researched book Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are (HarperCollins, 2011) and his recent book Did Jesus Exist.  This is primarily due to the subject matter of his work.  Of the former, Ehrman’s expertise, there is no doubt-it is a superb book.  Of the latter, well, clearly there is a disconnect somewhere between what Ehrman knows and what he doesn’t.  And that is really what surprised me so much about his recent articles hyping his book.

He spends a lot of time challenging the credentials of Carrier (who has three graduate degrees in Christian origins, Classics, and ancient science), Price (who has relevant degrees in NT), and Thompson (who has worked in the field of Biblical Studies for over four decades).  In his book, in fact, he writes only that Carrier has a PhD ‘in classics’ (which is simply inaccurate–he holds three graduate degrees: an M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D.) and in his article he hints that even with degrees, mythicists like Carrier are unhireable.

In fact Ehrman consistently drives home the point that mythicists–even credentialed ones–are simply weaker historians, like a creation scientist is not really a scientist, or like the way a chiropractor isn’t really a doctor.  That is his whole point; and throughout his book he strives to prove that (a) mythicists are wrong because (b) they aren’t doing history correctly.  So when Ehrman writes, “Carrier appears to want to show that he is very much a better historian than I am…. I, frankly, did not realize that this was supposed to be a contest between the two of us, and am not interested in the question of who wins.” those of us who have been paying attention cannot help but fall out of our chairs.  Did he really just say that?

His whole point is about proving he is a better historian–because he is a historicist and not a mythicist–than Carrier, Price, Thompson, etc….  That is the point!  His whole book, Did Jesus Exist, is nothing if not one giant attempt to say ‘This is what real historians do; this is why real historians accept a historical Jesus.’

So when Carrier (and I–forthcoming academic article due out on the subject in early May) show that Ehrman has utterly and completely failed at his task, that he has been exposed as unreliable in this particular area (i.e., historical Jesus studies–not his work in textual criticism which is still top notch), what is it that he does?  He seems to forget precisely what it was his goals were in writing the book to begin with.  And that is seriously troubling.

Indeed, Carrier has shown his true colors–his true colors are that of an actual credible scholar who takes pride in their research and tries, with due diligence, to publish work that is solid and sound and reasonable.  And he is not afraid to confront scholarship that is anything but sound and reasonable.  And while that may not win him friends, it is an admirable quality as so many scholars tend to handle these matters with kid gloves when, in fact, sometimes bad arguments just need a swift kick in the pants.  It isn’t my style, but it certainly is Carrier’s.  That is okay with me.

But more than this, Carrier has undermined Ehrman’s point that all mythicists are unreliable.  Certainly MANY mythicists are unreliable (Acharya S, Freke and Gandy, Atwill, etc…) but not all mythicists are in the same boat (just as not all historical Jesus scholars are the same).  And this is a point Ehrman fails to make and as a result he has suffered a blow.  For all his boasting and credential-toting he has not shown himself to be as competent a scholar in the area of historical Jesus studies as Carrier, a mythicist, has.

Still, and I want to be clear, I don’t think this means that Ehrman is an unreliable scholar.  To the contrary, he is quite reliable and should be respected, even though he has not produced a very well argued book on this particular subject.  And if I may use his own words, “[h]e is one smart fellow.  But I’m afraid he falls down on this one.  Even smart people make mistakes.” (p. 167)

Indeed.

Ehrman Responds to Carrier: An Assessment

Bart Ehrman has responded to Carrier’s partial review.  You can read the full response here.  Overall my impression of Ehrman’s response was that it was weak.  But he does make one or two interesting points.  More on that in a moment.

First, let me stress that I think Carrier can at times be very blunt in his expression of opinions.  He does not agree with the ‘kid gloves’ approach to academics.  In fact he believes that things that are stated in a manner he feels is irresponsible, in spite of evidence to the contrary, or downright silly, need to be addressed appropriately and called out as such.  So Carrier’s sometimes crass manner can be interpreted as ‘rude’ or ‘aggressive’ but really he is just not beating around the bush.  He is just being direct and I believe that it can be interpreted as ‘rude’ by academics who are used to be treated with more even-handed respect.

That said, I do not think Carrier was rude to Ehrman at all, nor did he engage in any sort of personal attack; his intention was to show that Ehrman’s book, and his case, were weak and full of factual errors, misstatements, and egregious logical fallacies.  To this end, Carrier succeeded.  And it is here that I believe Ehrman has failed to show otherwise and his tone, throughout the reply to Carrier, has been anything if not that of one who has felt persecuted or attacked.  That his primary criticism is Carrier’s attitude towards him bespeaks how little he can defend his position.

He writes that he will take on Carrier’s objectives in categories, rather than individually.  Of the first, he writes:

The problem in a number of cases is that Carrier has taken my comments out of context, and in some (related) cases that he simply has not read my account very carefully.

As someone who has read the book and read Carrier’s response, I don’t believe this to be true.  If anything, the fault is on Ehrman for not being more clear.  Let us examine the issue here.  To the real meat of his response: the Priapus case.

Ehrman writes:

My comment on this entire discussion was simple and direct:  “There is no penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock in the Vatican or anywhere else except in books like this, which love to make things up.”
Carrier attacks my comments with a rather vicious set of comments: “Ehrman evidently did no research on this and did not check this claim at all….  Indicative of the carelessness and arrogance Ehrman exhibits in his book.”    But alas, I am unrepentant and will say it again: “There is no penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock in the Vatican.”
What Carrier wants us to know is that in fact this statue does exist and that it is in the Vatican.   It does not take much research to dig out this juicy bit of museum lore.  Acharya S herself gives the references in her footnotes.   And yes, they are both right.  The statue does appear to exist.   But it has nothing to do with Peter, as any sophomore in college with one semester of Greek under his belt and a course or two in religious studies could tell you.

And so my offhand statement about this particular one was that the Vatican does not have a statue of Peter as rooster with a hard cock for his nose.   Carrier’s response was that the statue does exist.  Let me put the question to him bluntly: Does he think that the Vatican has “a penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock” in its collection?  I think we can say with some assurance that the answer is no.  As I said, unlike a lot of other mythicists Carrier is both trained and smart.   But sometimes he doesn’t read very well.

Overall, his point is sound.  But Ehrman seems to not read so well either, since he did not read this rather important point by Carrier:

At the very least I would expect Ehrman to have called the Vatican museum about this, and to have checked the literature on it, before arrogantly declaring no such object existed and implying Murdock made this up. I do not assume Murdock’s interpretation of the object is correct (there is no clear evidence it has anything to do with Christianity, much less Peter). But it’s existence appears to be beyond dispute.

So, no, Carrier is not at all suggesting that the object represents Peter, and in fact is quite clear about his impression.  And Carrier is not misreading anything either.  The context of his criticism is plain.  Here is the paragraph containing the offending statement from Ehrman (its in a bulleted list containing several errors in arguments of Acharya S):

“Peter is not only ‘the rock’ but also ‘the cock,’ or penis, as the word is used as slang to this day.” Here Acharya shows (her own?) hand drawing of a man with a rooster head but with a large erect penis instead of a nose, with this description: “Bronze sculpture hidden in the Vatican treasure of the Cock, symbol of St. Peter” (295). [There is no penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock in the Vatican or anywhere else except in books like this, which love to make things up.]

Now, nowhere in this entire paragraph is there any reference to a statue, itself, existing, sans translation.  In fact, the discussion is NOT of an interpretation of a real statue, but the statue itself, which Ehrman plainly states does not exist.  The context that Ehrman now gives should have been incorporated into his book, not given in an apologetic-style blog post after a rather scathing review.  Ehrman is wrong: Carrier did not misread him nor did he take anything out of context.  Ehrman just didn’t say what he meant to say. presuming that he isn’t just backpedaling now after recognizing his own mistake (we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt here).

And as for Ehrman’s claim about Carrier taking his comments out of context, I’ll let the reader decide that for themselves.

Ehrman also states that he feels Carrier chose this for his first point “because he thinks it’s a real killer.”  Frankly, this is Carrier’s weakest point (in my opinion).  But more on this in a moment.

Ehrman’s next point in his response is:

So what is the point?  Carrier appears to want to show that he is very much a better historian than I am.  This is a repeated theme throughout his scathing critique.   I, frankly, did not realize that this was supposed to be a contest between the two of us, and am not interested in the question of who wins.

It is interesting that he says this; it says something about Ehrman’s manner of response.  He is playing the ‘hurt’ and ‘persecuted’ card, in my opinion, and frankly it is not warranted.  Carrier is not trying to prove he is a better historian, but his response shows that when it comes to fact-checking, his dozen or so page response is far superior to Ehrman’s 361 page book.  That is quite damning.  And I think it interesting that Ehrman doesn’t once apologize or admit he was wrong about the false attribution to an ancient source (Pliny), or his gross overstatements of the evidence (like his statement about ancient messianic beliefs) or any of the other rather problematic issues that I or Carrier or others have raised.  That is telling.  It is telling because he would rather spend his whole response doing nothing but trying to guilt Carrier rather than address the issues.  Maybe his next round of responses will be better.  I hold out hope they will be.

Carrier on Ehrman on Jesus – Part of Richard Carrier’s Review is Posted

I was pleased to see carrier posted up his review of Ehrman’s book late last night (early in the morning for me, here on the East Coast); what is a shame is that Carrier’s (dozen or so page) review is so outstandingly better than what Ehrman wrote (in his few-hundred-page book) that you have to wonder what exactly is going on with Ehrman.

Carrier echoes a lot of my thoughts on the matter (I have already submitted an article for publication in an online Journal–which has been accepted just a few days ago–which should be published in early May), of which Carrier was one of the several scholars whom I had it reviewed prior to submission. I’ll be sure to include a link to the article once it is published (for now check out my preliminary review here).

Here are a few snippets from Carrier’s review:

I was certain this would be a great book, the very best in its category. And I said this, publicly, many times in anticipation of it. It’s actually the worst. It’s almost as bad, in fact, as The Jesus Mysteries by Freke & Gandy and I did not hyperlink that title because I absolutely do not want you to buy it: it will disease your mind with rampant unsourced falsehoods and completely miseducate you about the ancient world and ancient religion. I was eagerly hoping for a book I could recommend as the best case for historicity but alas, that title stays with the inadequate but nevertheless competent, if not always correct, treatment in Van Voorst’s Jesus Outside the New Testament and Theissen & Merz’s The Historical Jesus. I was also expecting it to be a good go-to rebuttal to the plethora of bad mythicism out there, so I could just refer people to this book every time they ask me why for example Freke & Gandy suck.But I cannot recommend books that are so full of errors that they will badly mislead and miseducate the reader, and that commit so many mistakes that I have to substantially and extensively correct them. Did Jesus Exist? ultimately misinforms more than it informs, and that actually makes it worse than bad. Like the worst of mythicist literature, you will come away after reading it with more false information in your head than true, and that makes my job as a historian harder, because now I have to fix everything he screwed up.

And:

This book is also badly written (I’ll give some examples of that, too) and almost useless in its treatment of mythicist authors (even when he’s right). The latter failure I find the most disappointing. Almost none of this 361 page book is a critique of the “bad” mythicists. He barely even mentions most of them. Indeed, if he mentioned Atwill even once it was in passing at best, and for the few authors he spends any time discussing (mainly Murdock and Freke & Gandy), he is largely dismissive and careless (indeed, his only real refutation of them amounts to little more than nine pages, pp. 21-30). I was hoping for a well-researched refutation of these authors so I could recommend this book to students, so they could see what sound scholarship looks like and to correct the errors in their heads after reading authors like these. But this book simply doesn’t do that.

And:

It makes no sense to say Christians had no interest in preserving such records. Moreover, if a Christian preserved this letter long enough for the author of Acts to have read it, why didn’t they preserve any otherletters or government documents pertaining to the early church, just like this one?

I personally believe we can answer these questions (and thus I agree with Ehrman that this argument from silence is too weak to make a case out of), but not with this silly nonsense. A good book on historicity would have given us educationally informative, plausible, and thoughtfully considered answers and information about ancient documents and the total Christian failure to retain or use them. Instead Ehrman gives us hackneyed nonsense and disinformation. Again, the relevance of this is that if he failed so badly in this case, how many other statements and claims of his are misinforming us about the evidence and the ancient world? And if he didn’t do even the most rudimentary fact checking (“Let’s see, do we have any Roman documents?”) and didn’t know so basic a background fact as this about the field of ancient history (that we have tons of these documents, as any ancient historian cannot fail to know because she will have worked with them many times, even in graduate school), then how can we assume any of his work in this book is competently researched or informed?

via Ehrman on Jesus: A Failure of Facts and Logic | Richard Carrier Blogs.

You’ll want to read the rest.  Superb scholarship overall on Carrier’s part.  I really wish I could say the same for Ehrman.

James McGrath Responds to Richard Carrier and….

…he once again proves my point: He doesn’t read things with which he has a predisposition to disagree.  He reacts to them.  This is precisely the criticism I gave to him before.  And because he doesn’t critically examine things he just flat out disagrees with, he makes gaffes and is then called on them and then he has to apologize and eat humble pie (he hasn’t yet, but perhaps he should).  Which is a shame.

James McGrath responded to Richard’s criticism of Ehrman and anyone with eyes who read it could see clearly that he was missing point after point and his defense of Ehrman was dogmatic, to say the least.

Richard has made this all too obvious.  Unfortunately, this is not the first time this has happened where James, forgetting exactly how educated Richard is, just runs off on a tangent without really reading what it is he is supposed to be arguing against and then has to back-peddle and apologize later when he is called on it.

As I’ve said before, I like James a lot and think he is usually lucid and erudite, but when he deals with the subject of Mythicism it is like he falls into an abyss where all logic and critical thought just vanish and all he can do is make hyperbolic claims and throw around appeals to authority without ever feeling the need to challenge what is actually being addressed by his critics.  I do hope this will end after today.  I believe he can bring a lot of good to the discussion, that is, as soon as he starts getting involved in it.

Richard Carrier’s Response Makes Ehrman Look Foolish

Which is a shame because I like Ehrman generally and think his work is generally good (though occasionally dated).  Because of Richard’s response I see no need to write a Part 2 to my response to Ehrman, since I don’t think I can say much more.  Though I will add a few things.  But first, go check out Carrier’s response (which is both lucid and appropriate).  Here is a snippet:

I am puzzled especially because this HuffPo article as written makes several glaring errors and rhetorical howlers that I cannot believe any competent scholar would have written. Surely he is more careful and qualified in the book? I really hope so. Because I was expecting it to be the best case for historicism in print. But if it’s going to be like this article, it’s going to be the worst piece of scholarship ever written. So stay tuned for my future review of his book. For now, I will address this brief article, not knowing how his book might yet rescue him from an epic fail.

Attacking Academic Freedom

I won’t address his appeal to the genetic fallacy (mythicists are all critics of religion, therefore their criticisms of a religion as myth can be dismissed) or his sniping at credentials (where he gets insanely and invalidly hyper-specific about what qualifies a person to speak on this subject), except to note that it’s false: mythicist Thomas Thompson meets every one of Ehrman’s criteria–excepting only one thing, he is an expert in Judaism rather than Christianity specifically. And I know Ehrman knows of him. So did he just “forget” when he says he knows of no one who meets his criteria? Or is he being hyper-hyper specific and not allowing even professors of Jewish studies to have a respectable opinion in this matter? As Thompson’s book The Messiah Myth introduces the subject, “the assumptions that the gospels are about a Jesus of history…are not justified.” He says (my emphasis) that “a historical Jesus might be essential to the origins of Christianity,” but is not essential to the construction of “the gospels” (p. 8), not even the sayings in them come from a historical Jesus (pp. 11-26).

Thompson allows the possibility of a historical Jesus, but concludes that the “Jesus” of the New Testament is mythical, and calls for renewed study of the question of historicity generally. In his introduction to a recent anthology on the topic, which includes works by mythicists alongside historicists, Thompson (as co-author) concludes that “an unquestioning acceptance of the New Testament figures of Jesus, Paul and the disciples as historical can at times be shown to ignore and misunderstand the implicit functions of our texts” (p. 8 of Is This Not the Carpenter? The Question of the Historicity of the Figure of Jesus) and the possibility that Jesus didn’t exist “needs to be considered more comprehensively” than the dismissive attitude of historicists (like, as it happens, Ehrman) has allowed (p. 10). Currently all we have, Thompson concludes, is “a historical Jesus” who “is a hypothetical derivative of scholarship,” which “is no more a fact than is an equally hypothetical historical Moses or David.”

That’s a prestigious professor of biblical studies. Is Ehrman really pooh-poohing his qualifications? Because if he is, this article becomes a massive case of foot-in-mouth.

Ehrman Trashtalks Mythicism | Richard Carrier Blogs.

Back from reading his response yet?  Oh, good.

That may be a lot of quoting, but trust me when I say there is more where that came from.  Carrier easily dissects the arguments Ehrman makes and calls him out on several glaringly obvious factual errors (even I made note of Ehrman’s rather obnoxiously odd statement: “With respect to Jesus, we have numerous, independent accounts of his life in the sources lying behind the Gospels [and the writings of Paul] — sources that originated in Jesus’ native tongue Aramaic and that can be dated to within just a year or two of his life [before the religion moved to convert pagans in droves]. ”  Seriously, he wrote that and, frankly, that is downright goofy).  I cannot recommend Carrier’s response enough.

I am grateful also for Carrier’s gracious citation of Thompson’s and my forthcoming collection of essays (featuring chapters by James Crossley, Jim West, Emanuel Pfoh, Mogens Muller, NP Lemche, and many more top notch scholars!) and the fact that he felt our words in the (pre-galley) introduction to the book merited being quoted.

As for Ehrman’s use of Paul as a source, I’d like to make note that my contribution in that same collection of essays addresses Paul as a source for the historical Jesus and I even confront some of Ehrman’s arguments directly.

 

 

 

Book Review: Richard Carrier’s ‘Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus’

Book Review

Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus (New York: Prometheus Books, 2012), by Richard Carrier

Table of Contents (Reviewed chapters are bolded)

  1. The Problem
  2. The Basics
  3. Introducing Bayes’s Theorem
  4. Bayesian Analysis of Historical Methods
  5. Bayesian Analysis of Historicity Criteria
  6. The Hard Stuff

1. Some Caveats:

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Richard Carrier for the past seven years or so.  Over the course of our friendship we’ve exchanged a lot of ideas and had some interesting conversations, and at times we haven’t seen eye-to-eye (I think he drops one too many ‘F’ bombs on occasion, but maybe I’m just a bit more sensitive after hanging around with septuagenarians and Baptists in the academy).  I’ve read a lot of his work and, suffice it to say, with the exception of perhaps Thomas L. Thompson, no one has had more influence upon my academic pursuits than Richard.  I hope he takes that as a compliment (he’s also read a lot of my work, so goodness knows he probably doesn’t want that blame)!  So when he told me some years back of his two-volume project–one volume handling historical Jesus criteria and the other dealing with the historicity of the figure of Jesus–I couldn’t wait to get my copies.

To be clear, my enthusiasm for the release of these volumes has nothing to do with blind or uncritical devotion to a particular individual or agenda.    I don’t belong to a school (though I do consider myself a minimalist and had the pleasure of working with others who call themselves minimalists as well), I don’t belong to any label (I am not an atheist like Richard, nor am I out to disprove Christianity or any such nonsense), and whether or not the figure of Jesus has a historical core is of no serious consequence to me or my research.    But I do have my own biases.  And this is where I think the Richard’s preface to his work needs to be highlighted.

I like the Jim West Method of Book Reviews, so I shall continue to update this page as I read through and review each section rather than creating a new post for each section I review.

2. Initial Impressions of Proving History and a Brief Review of Carrier’s Preface

This book appears to be a triadic tour de force; in this ambitious volume alone, Carrier educates his readers (1) on the nature and value of doing proper critical history, (2) on the value of Bayes Theorem and logical analysis, and (3) on the current methods of Historical Jesus scholarship.  No wonder he had to split the content into two volumes!  I am not as math-inclined as I should be–a flaw among many in the field of Biblical Studies–though I have some standard knowledge about the basis of Bayes Theorem.  My  grasp of it is still pretty basic and I’m looking forward to reading those chapters dealing just with the general applications of the theorem (For those curious, Carrier has a brief explanation of its use here, a blog post here with all sorts of nifty links, and, for those not easily offended, a video demonstration from Skepticon IV).

Now onto the Preface.  He is open and honest about the purpose of the book, which he writes:

All historians have biases, but sound methods will prevent those from too greatly affecting our essential results. No progress in historical knowledge, in fact, no historical knowledge at all, would be possible without such methods. Hence, the aim here is to develop a formal historical method for approaching this (or any other) debate, which will produce as objectively credible a conclusion as any honest historian can reach. One need merely plug all the evidence into that method to get a result. That’s a bold claim, I know; but the purpose of this book is to convince you, and if in the end you are convinced, provide the background necessary to implement the method I propose. All I ask is that you give my argument a fair hearing.

As noted above, Richard admits he is not without bias, as none of us–no matter what we want to believe–are without it.  One of my favorite lines in his preface, and one I have used on occasion, is when he outlines presuppositions within historical Jesus scholarship.

I have always assumed without worry that Jesus was just a guy, another merely human founder of an entirely natural religion (whatever embellishments to his cult and story may have followed). I’d be content if I were merely reassured of that fact. For the evidence, even at its best, supports no more startling conclusion. So, I have no vested interest in proving Jesus didn’t exist. It makes no difference to me if he did. I suspect he might not have, but then that’s a question that requires a rigorous and thorough examination of the evidence before it can be confidently declared. Believers, by contrast, and their apologists in the scholarly community, cannot say the same.

Some may argue that rigorous and thorough examinations have already taken place, but remember that the purpose of Proving History is to analyze the current criteria to determine if they are even sound!  Time, reading, and careful analysis of Carrier’s arguments will determine if he has been successful in that regard.  So far I believe the work has a lot to accomplish.  Looking forward to getting into the first chapter soon enough.

3. Chapter 1: The Problem

Carrier follows up his preface with an overview of the problems, that is to say, the issues that currently plague historical Jesus research.  Rhetorically, this is a great place to start.  While most scholars are probably already aware that problems exist, I doubt many laypeople are aware of them, and even scholars might not know just how deep seeded the problems are and how much their conclusions are hindered by them.  But Carrier aply points out, and argues this convincingly that none of these problems are new, nor have they been avoided in the past.  I’ve argued similarly, along with Thomas L. Thompson, in our forthcoming edited volume ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’.

He also notes that scholars have done little more than develop additional methods and produce additional portrayals of Jesus which, if anything, have countered any attempt for clarity and any call for a more narrowed consensus.   But Carrier presses the point even further, stating quite directly:

When everyone picks up the same method, applies it to the same facts, and gets a different result, we can be certain that that method is invalid and should be abandoned. Yet historians in Jesus studies don’t abandon the demonstrably failed methods they purport to employ. This has to end.

And his conclusion to this point is one I found particularly refreshing:

If historians can’t agree on what that method [i.e., the best method – ed.] should be, then their whole enterprise is in crisis, because agreement on the fundamentals of method is the first essential requirement for any community of experts to deem itself an objective profession.

I find that last bit to be dead on.  Indeed, his point is two-fold here: if the methods used are coming to different results then clearly the methods are determined subjectively, not objectively.  While many historians might agree with that claim, Carrier’s solution is simple and obvious; if subjective methods aren’t working, and they clearly aren’t, then the next step must be more objective.  And I’m sure that many of my colleagues would agree that subjectivity is indeed dangerous when one is making an objective type of claim (i.e., that ‘Jesus existed historically’, rather than say ‘Jesus may have existed historically’–but more on this when I review a later chapter).

Carrier’s solution, as you already know, is Bayes’s Theorem.  He makes it clear that in the coming chapters he will defend various aspects of the structure of the Theorem, its application, and its value overall not just for historical Jesus scholarship but for historical research as a whole.  But before he can even do this, he must make it clear that everyone is on the same page.  This makes sense, since carrier’s method appears to rely heavily on logical constructs and statistical math–to bring everyone to the same level of understanding before proceeding with the meatier data is a no-brainer.

4. Chapter 2: The Basics

The function of Chapter 2 serves as a means to get everyone on the same page with how historical research, that is proper historical research, is done (or perhaps, specifically, how carrier views historical research). Carrier lays down what he considers to be the 12 axioms of professional historical investigations.  He writes that these axioms should be accepted by everyone in the field, and they aren’t at all that hard to accept. Notions like ‘All conclusions muist logically follow from evidence available to the observer’ to ‘overconfidence is fallacious; admitting ignorance or uncertainty is not’ are general common attributes of all historical inquiry and most of Carriers colleagues will have no trouble
agreeing with them.

Next he produces the 12 rules.  The rules are not axiomatic, but Carrier recommends these rules be followed to the best of human ability (though he admits that everyone fails to follow them from time to time, including him).  These rules include the following of the 12 axioms, continuing to better ones understanding of the periods they study, confirming all interpretations using the original languages, and so on.  Again, these may be idealized rules but, overall, Carrier writes that to better oneself as a historian, we should strive to follow these rules to the letter.  I don’t think that many scholars would disagree with these either.  Though I can understand when Carrier urges us not to assume what isn’t in evidence.  It seems very simple, but it is a very easy rule to break.

The interesting part of this chapter is that Carrier uses his background as a professional philosopher to bring to the table a set of ethical clauses for the historian that I think are often taken for granted.  While scholars know they should be following the logical path of evidence, some don’t actually verify they are but presume it.  I see this mistake made consistently by maximalists (particularly those who argue for, say, a historical Moses, or a historical united monarchy, or a historical patriarchal period) and also with historical Jesus scholars (they’ll make the fallacious mistake of ‘possibly, therefore probably/certainly’ as Ehrman makes in his book Did Jesus Exist [Introduction, p. 4]).

After Carrier is done setting out these axioms he then goes into explaining the basics of Bayes’s Theorem.

5. Chapter 3: Introducing Bayes’s Theorem

For this section, I recommend a piece of scrap paper.  Though Carrier does a fantastic job of simplifying everything, it may be useful to write down the formula so you can make notes around it as you read through this section.  This will be extremely helpful as you go through the rest of the book as a reference and a good way to use the formula as you go (and in turn to gain experience using the Theorem).  I know most historians probably do not need scrap paper to read, but one of the values of Carrier’s book is not simply that it educates you about this new method, but engages you to think about history while utilizing it.  So it is a bit of an educational tool in this regard which, in all honestly, makes me feel like Carrier should have charged more (as it is a tutoring device in the use of historical statistics as much as it is a guide for the historian). That said, let’s move on to the meat of the chapter.

Carrier starts off his chapter with an account of the disappearance/eclipse of the sun from the synoptic Gospel accounts which takes place during the passion narratives.   He analyzes in typical historical form why this account is improbable and unlikely.  He notes, rather brilliantly, that the Gospels talk of this event as having an effect over the whole world, yet even with how unlikely it is that it occurred (indeed, that is probably didn’t), not a single person argues against it or points out how erroneous the Christians were for including it in their narratives:

This entails, in turn, that the Gospels, even from the very beginning, contain wildly unbelievable claims of inordinately public events that in fact never occurred, yet were never gainsaid by any of the millions of witnesses who would surely have known better.  I’ll consider the significance of that fact in my next volume.

We return to this event at the end of the chapter, but before that he explains some rather important details to the reader.  Carrier’s followup section deals with the intersection of science and history and raises some very important points, like the fact that science and history are in many ways symbiotic systems.  Science is dependent upon history to maintain and catalog events of the past (especially studies) and history is dependent upon science for a strong and useful method with which to maintain accurate information about the past for future scientific studies.

A point I agree with completely that is worth noting in this review is his statement that essentially we are analyzing theories which address now just what happened, but why it happened.  In effect, he argues, the function of the historian is not that different from the function of a scientist in that we seek to understand and explain three basic questions of our subject of interest:

(1) If our theory is false, how would we know it?

(2) What’s the difference between an accidental agreement of the evidence with our theory, and an agreement produced by our theory actually being true—and how do we tell the two apart?

(3) How do we distinguish merely plausible theories from provable ones, or strongly proven theories from weakly proven ones?

Carrier states that Bayes’s Theorem is what is needed to effectively answer them in the best manner possible.

And he starts the next section off by directing readers to important studies in Bayes’s Theorem as a method for historical research which I find very useful.  But he also makes the very astute point that we actually intuitively already use Bayes’s theorem without even knowing it.  When we make the claim that something is ‘improbable’ or ‘plausible’ we are actually using a very basic form of Bayes’s, but we often fail to account for the rest of the formula which is necessary for determining if what we’re stating from intuition is arbitrary or sound.  This, Carrier argues, is why actively using Bayes’s is far more superior, and produces superior results, than simply guessing.  Even when we make educated guesses they are still merely guesses at best, which is what we do when we arbitrarily apply a statement of probability–like saying something is ‘likely’–to an event of the past without using the theorem.  Which overall is a very strong motivation for using the theorem in the first place. Interestingly enough, he raises another point which I had forgotten, which is that Bayes’s theorem is already used in archaeology to analyze the data.

The bulk of this section then goes into detailing the what’s-what of the Theorem, breaking down every part in lay terms.  this is where the scrap paper comes in handy.  The formula looks like this:

P(h|e.b) = __________P(h|b) x P(e|h.b)__________
[ P(h|b) x P(e|h.b) ] + [ P(~h|b) x P(e|~h.b) ]

It may look daunting (which even Carrier admits), but he does not fail to explain the meaning in a way even the most mathematically challenged could understand.

And thus he returns to the sun disappearance narrative and analyzes the same discussing using Bayes’s Theorem.  Carrier argues:

With BT, instead of myopically working out how we can explain all the evidence “with our theory,” we start instead by asking how antecedently likely our theory even is, and then we ask how probable all the evidence is on our theory (both the evidence we have, and the evidence we don’t) and how probable all that evidence would be on some other theory (every other theory that has any claim to plausibility, but especially the most plausible alternative). Only then can we work out whether our theory is actually the best one. If we instead just look to see if our theory fits the evidence, we will end up believing any theory we can make fit. And since that will inevitably include dozens of theories that aren’t actually true, “seeing what fits” is a recipe for failure. In fact, this is worse than failure, since we will have deceived ourselves into thinking the method worked and our results are correct, because “see how well the evidence fits!” That’s the result of failing to take alternative theories of the evidence seriously. That this is exactly what has happened in Jesus studies (as shown in chapter 1) should be proof enough that historians need a new method. One that actually works. And as far as I can see, BT is the only viable contender.

He then goes on to explain why Bayes’s theorem is so important and why math is exceptionally important to historical research.  And he isn’t the first do so, but he is the first to apply these methods-so far as I can tell-to Biblical Studies.  He even goes so far as to address all the main criticisms he has received about the use of the theorem and uses math to show how those criticisms fail.

This chapter is just too good to ignore.  I want to write more but if I do I’d essentially just be repeating what Carrier argues in a less functional and coherent manner.  Frankly, I am looking forward to the rest of the book.

More anon.

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