Friday, April 20, 2012

"Did Jesus Exist?" (7): Carrier's Review

Dr. Richard Carrier has posted a scathing review of Did Jesus Exist? titled Ehrman on Jesus: A Failure of Facts and Logic.  Interestingly, it doesn't overlap all that much with the posts that I have been writing.  While I have been concentrating on weaknesses in arguments that any layman might appreciate,  Carrier goes after Ehrman for his shortcomings in the field of ancient history and religion.

One of the things I have always appreciated about Ehrman is how careful he is to present the evidence accurately and to deal with counter argument fairly.  I have argued with many internet apologists using Ehrman as my primary reference and I don't think that I have ever been caught short by arguments or evidence that I couldn't have reasonably anticipated after reading Ehrman.  Even if I didn't agree with Ehrman's conclusion, I always felt that I had a clear picture of the evidence upon which it was based and the counter-arguments that might be offered against it.

According to Carrier, Did Jesus Exists? consistently misstates the evidence and fails to inform the reader of the diversity of scholarly opinion on the issues it addresses.  I don't have the expertise or knowledge to critique Carrier, but I can say that I have always found him reliable in the past and that no internet apologist has ever managed to trip me up when I relied on Carrier either.

Update:  Carrier does address one point that I covered in an earlier post, which is the problem with the "nobody would/could have invented it" argument.  Not surprisingly, he does it better.
[T]here is a logical fail here as well, since he bases his conclusion that no Jews would develop a belief in a dying messiah on the premise that no Jews had a belief in a dying messiah, which apart from being a circular argument (all novel beliefs start somewhere; you can’t argue that x would not arise because x hasn’t arisen), and apart from the fact that the inference is refuted by the fact that Jews later did develop such a belief (independently of Christianity, as I also demonstrate in the preceding link) so clearly there was no ideological barrier to doing so, but besides all that, his premise requires knowing what all Jews, of all sects, everywhere, believed or imagined, which knowledge Ehrman doesn’t have (not even close: see my discussion of what I and other scholars have said about such preposterous claims to omniscience in Proving History, pp. 129-34). He even knows his own inference is illogical, because he makes the exact same argument I just did (on p. 193): “how would we know this about ‘every’ early Christian, unless all of them left us writings and told us everything they knew and did?”* Substitute “Jew” for “Christian” and Ehrman just refuted himself.
*  In the quoted passage, Ehrman is addressing Rene Salm's argument that we can infer the non-existence of Nazareth from the fact that early Christians didn't bother to look for it and seemed not to know where it was.


  1. James McGrath is always quick to point out that no one anticipated a dying Davidic messiah. This, of course, assumes that the early Christians considered Jesus to be a Davidic Messiah.

    The only clear evidence of Christians treating Jesus as a Davidic messiah is in the beginning of Matthew.

    Romans 1.2-6 is suspect because the intro of this epistle is much longer than either any other Pauline intro (even the pseudo-Pauline ones) and the intros of epistles in general from that time period (in Bayesian terms, given that this section is an interpolation, we have 100% confidence that the section would be longer than normal, since by necessity interpolations add text). Not only that, the contents of that suspect intro are anti-Marcionite, and the languages is non-Pauline. So the confidence that we could have in Paul's belief that Jesus was a Davidic messiah is only as strong as our confidence in the authenticity of Rom 1.2-6.

    Mark actively rejects Jesus being a Davidic messiah in Mk 12.35-37. So to say that the early Christians expected a dying Davidic messiah seems to be stretching things. It seems the Davidic messiah title first enters the tradition around when Matthew wrote.

  2. J. Quinton,

    There do seem to be an extraordinary number of doubtful premises.