The Death of Richard Carrier’s Dying Messiah

UPDATE: There is a Part Two to this post here.

If your head has been in the sand the past few years, a Jesus Mythicist is someone who believes that Jesus of Nazareth is not a historical figure, but a mythical figure concocted by a sect of first-century Jews. Richard Carrier is not a Jesus Mythicist. He simply argues in favor of Jesus Mythicism, and has tentatively estimated that there is a four in five chance that Jesus of Nazareth never existed. And he should know since, in his own words, “I am no less a philosopher than Aristotle or Hume. My knowledge, education, and qualifications certainly match theirs in every relevant respect.”1

Carrier’s obviously much-deserved fame has been ballooning in recent months, as he has blogged not one but two assaults on Prof. Bart Ehrman’s new book, Did Jesus Exist?, in which Ehrman defends the historical Jesus against the Jesus Mythicists. Carrier’s cantankerous criticisms of Ehrman have themselves come under criticism, by James McGrath (here and here), Joseph Hoffmann (here and here), and by Ehrman himself (here and here). Further, Hoffmann, Maurice Casey, and Stephanie Fisher will each be writing an essay-length critique of Carrier’s arguments within the next week or so.

I’ll join in the fray, focusing on Carrier’s argument that some pre-Christian Jews held a belief in a dying Messiah. While this argument is not directly related to a mythicism argument, it is indirectly related in that, for Carrier, if it can be shown that some Jews held a belief in a dying Messiah prior to Christianity, then it cannot be argued that the idea of a dying Messiah could only have come about if one who was believed to have been the Messiah actually died in history (as with Jesus of Nazareth). Thus, the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth is not inconsistent with the Jesus Myth hypothesis. I’ll look at two major pieces of evidence Carrier provides for his thesis and show why they really come to naught, when examined properly.

 

The Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel

The first piece of evidence provided by Carrier that we’ll look at is an Aramaic Targum which interprets Isaiah 52-53 as a Messianic prophecy. Isaiah 52-53 itself does not identify the Suffering Servant as a Messiah, but the Targum of Jonathan does. So for Carrier, this is enough to show that non-Christian, first-century Jews were connecting messianic expectations with the Suffering Servant. Note that Isaiah 53 says that the Suffering Servant will be killed unjustly.

Here is what Carrier writes in a blog post entitled, “The Dying Messiah”:

The Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel, which was originally composed in the 1st century A.D., actually inserts “messiah” right in Isaiah 52:13 (“Behold, my servant, the messiah…”), thus confirming this “servant” was already being interpreted as the messiah by Jews decades before Christianity began. A Targum is an Aramaic translation of the OT. So really, this is a textual variant for this passage. In other words, some pre-Christian Jews believed their scriptures actually outright said this. [Source]

After one or two commenters pointed out to Carrier that the Targum he cites actually denies that the Messiah will suffer, and actually transfers the suffering to a) the messiah’s enemies and b) the people of Israel, Carrier amended this section with the following parenthetical:

[Though this same Targum also erased the death-and-burial angle from the passage, we already know that content predates the Targum; what the Targum shows is that some Jews saw this passage as about the Christ: see my comment below.]

Here’s the “comment below” to which Carrier refers:

The Targum of Janathan indeed alters the text so that it does not make the dying messiah claim (hence I didn’t cite it as such). Its relevance is that it understood this servant to be the messiah and thus translated it thus. The Targumic messiah will still be despised, and will forgive all Israel’s sins, but not by dying and getting buried. That latter variant exists in the Dead Sea texts of Isaiah (and correspondingly in the modern Masoretic). [Source]

This comment was made on Nov 28, 2011. Interestingly, well over a month earlier, on Oct 7, 2011, in response to James McGrath, who pointed out that “the targum felt the need to shift the suffering elsewhere in identifying the Servant with the anointed one,” Carrier’s response was somewhat different:

I have no opinion on that (I’m assuming you conclude this by some means other than retroactive telepathy). The point at issue is that it is irrelevant why some Jews came to believe that Isaiah identified this Servant as the Messiah, as all that matters is that they did so. Once that cat was out of the bag, you have the Christian Gospel right there in explicit Jewish prophecy. Indeed, that’s why we can be sure this happened before Christianity: only when Jews had no idea what Christians would do with this connection would they themselves have put it in there. [Source]

So, which Carrier are we to believe? Do we believe the Carrier who has “no opinion” about the fact that the targum did not identify the Messiah as a sufferer, the Carrier who assumes that McGrath concludes this “by some means other than retroactive telepathy,” i.e., the Carrier that had apparently learned something new about the targum he was citing as evidence (Oct 7)? Or are we to believe the Carrier who was clearly already aware that the targum didn’t identify the messiah as one who would die, “hence I didn’t cite it as such” (Nov 28), even though he included it in a post entitled, “The Dying Messiah”? I’ll leave that to the reader to ponder over.

But auto-apologetic discrepancies aside, Carrier’s argument here is riddled with problems. Before we discuss them, let’s first look at the Targum itself, next to the biblical text of Isaiah. We’ll do this just to make it abundantly clear that (as Carrier is now aware), the Targum does not identify the Messiah as one who suffers and dies.

The biblical text will appear in bold font, and the targum’s interpretation in italic font:

52:13 Behold, My servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high.
52:13. Behold my servant Messiah shall prosper; he shall be high, and increase, and be exceeding strong:

52:14 According as many were appalled at thee—so marred was his visage unlike that of a man, and his form unlike that of the sons of men—
52:14. as the house of Israel looked to him during many days, because their countenance was darkened among the peoples, and their complexion beyond the sons of men,

52:15 So shall he startle many nations, kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told them shall they see, and that which they had not heard shall they perceive.
52:15. so will he scatter many peoples; at him kings shall be silent, and put their hands upon their mouth, because that which was not told them have they seen, and that which they had not heard they have observed.

53:1 ‘Who would have believed our report? And to whom hath the arm of the LORD been revealed?
53:1. Who hath believed this our glad tidings? and the strength of the mighty arm of the Lord, upon whom as thus hath it been revealed?

53:2 For he shot up right forth as a sapling, and as a root out of a dry ground; he had no form nor comeliness, that we should look upon him, nor beauty that we should delight in him.
53:2. The righteous will grow up before him, yeah, like blooming shoots, and like a tree which sends forth its roots to streams of water will they increase – a holy generation in the land that was in need of him; his countenance no profane countenance, and the terror at him not the terror at an ordinary man; his complexion shall be a holy complexion, and all who see him will look wistfully upon him.

53:3 He was despised, and forsaken of men, a man of pains, and acquainted with disease, and as one from whom men hide their face: he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
53:3. Then he will become despised, and will cut off the glory of all the kingdoms; they will be prostrate and mourning, like a man of pains and like one destined for sicknesses; and as though the presence of the Shekhinah had been withdrawn from us, they will be despised, and esteemed not.

53:4 Surely our diseases he did bear, and our pains he carried; whereas we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
53:4. Then for our sins he will pray, and our iniquities will for his sake be forgiven, although we were accounted stricken, smitten from before the Lord, and afflicted.

53:5 But he was wounded because of our transgressions, he was crushed because of our iniquities: the chastisement of our welfare was upon him, and with his stripes we were healed.
53:5. But he will build up the Holy Place, which has been polluted for our sins, and delivered to the enemy for our iniquities; and by his instruction peace shall be increased upon us, and by devotion to his words, our sins will be forgiven us.

53:6 All we like sheep did go astray, we turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath made to light on him the iniquity of us all.
53:6. All we like sheep had been scattered, we had each wandered off on his own way; but it was the Lord’s good pleasure to forgive the sins of all of us for his sake.

53:7 He was oppressed, though he humbled himself and opened not his mouth; as a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before her shearers is dumb; yea, he opened not his mouth.
53:7. He prayed, and he was answered, and ere even he had opened his mouth he was accepted; the mighty of the peoples he will deliver up like a sheep to the slaughter and like a lamb dumb before her shearers; there shall be none before him opening his mouth or saying a word.

53:8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away, and with his generation who did reason? for he was cut off out of the land of the living, for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due.
53:8. Out of chastisements and punishment he will bring our captives near; the wondrous things done to us in his days who shall be able to tell? For he will cause the dominion of the Gentiles to pass away from the land of Israel and transfer to them the sins which my people have committed.

53:9 And they made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich his tomb; although he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.’
53:9. He will deliver the wicked into Gehinnom, and those that are rich in possessions into the death of utter destruction, in order that those who commit sin may not be established, nor speak deceits with their mouth.

53:10 Yet it pleased the LORD to crush him by disease; to see if his soul would offer itself in restitution, that he might see his seed, prolong his days, and that the purpose of the LORD might prosper by his hand:
53:10. But it is the Lord’s good pleasure to try and to purify the remnant of his people, so as to cleanse their souls from sin; these shall look on the Kingdom of their Messiah, their sons and their daughters shall be multiplied, they shall prolong their days, and those who perform the Law of the Lord shall prosper in his good pleasure.

53:11 Of the travail of his soul he shall see to the full, even My servant, who by his knowledge did justify the Righteous One to the many, and their iniquities he did bear.
53:11. From the subjection of the nations he will deliver their souls, they shall look upon the punishment of those that hate them, and be satisfied with the spoil of their kings; by his wisdom he will hold the guiltless free from guilt, in order to bring many into subjection to the law; and for their sins he will intercede.

53:12 Therefore will I divide him a portion among the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the mighty; because he bared his soul unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
53:12. Then will I divide for him the spoil of many peoples, and the possessions of strong cities shall he divide as prey, because he delivered up his soul to death, and made the rebellious subject to the Law: he shall intercede for many sins, and the rebellious for his sake shall be forgiven.

What is abundantly clear is that the targum very clearly portrays the messiah as a conquering warrior, not as a suffering servant. The targum’s interpretation of Isaiah radically alters Isaiah’s meaning. In the targum, it is not the messiah who suffers; the messiah conquers. Rather, it is the messiah’s enemies, and the nation of Israel, who suffer.

Carrier’s ad hoc rejoinder to this embarrassing fact is transparent in its desperation: “What the Targum shows is that some Jews saw this passage as about the Christ. . . . The point at issue is that it is irrelevant why some Jews came to believe that Isaiah identified this Servant as the Messiah, as all that matters is that they did so. Once that cat was out of the bag, you have the Christian Gospel right there in explicit Jewish prophecy.”

If that’s the point, it’s entirely moot in an article trying to show that some pre-Christian Jews believed in a suffering and dying messiah. This targum is clearly not evidence for this; in fact, it is evidence of precisely the contrary. It’s not enough just to show that some saw Isaiah 52-53 as a messianic text. In this period, virtually any text could be read as messianic. Their hermeneutic wasn’t exactly a science. What matters is what the interpretation says about the character of the messiah, and clearly, in this case, the messiah is characterized as a conquering warrior who does not suffer or die, but rather inflicts suffering and death on his enemies. Carrier just needs to admit that he should not have used this targum as evidence. Of course, the targum doesn’t count as evidence against his thesis, because his thesis is not that all Jews believed in a suffering messiah. His thesis is that at least some did. So while this targum is clearly representative of those who did not believe in a suffering messiah, neither is it evidence against Carrier’s thesis. He’ll just need to find evidence elsewhere.

But there are more mistakes made here than just the major mistake of thinking this targum supports his case. I’ll identify a few of them. Carrier says that a targum is an “Aramaic translation” of the Hebrew Bible, and extrapolates from this that the Targum of Jonathan counts as a “textual variant” of Isaiah 52-53. This is of course quite inaccurate. Targumim were not “translations” as we would understand translations; rather, they were midrashic paraphrases; they regularly expanded upon, altered, and often times radically reinterpreted the texts they were “translating,” usually without express acknowledgment that that’s what they were doing. Carrier probably knows this, but most of his readers will not know this, so his identification of this targum as a “translation” and a “textual variant” of Isaiah 52-53 is irresponsibly misleading.

Another deceptive statement Carrier makes is that “the Targumic messiah will still be despised, and will forgive all Israel’s sins, but not by dying and getting buried.”

This is not at all what the targum says. First, he is despised, not because he is made lowly, but because he is a thorn in the side of the nations. In the targum, the nations despise him because he is their conqueror.

Then he will become despised, and will cut off the glory of all the kingdoms; they will be prostrate and mourning, like a man of pains and like one destined for sicknesses; and as though the presence of the Shekhinah had been withdrawn from us, they will be despised, and esteemed not.

Second, nowhere does the targum say that the messiah “will forgive all Israel’s sins.” What it actually says is that he will intercede for Israel, and that God will forgive Israel’s sins on account of the righteousness of the messiah:

Then for our sins he will pray, and our iniquities will for his sake be forgiven, although we were accounted stricken, smitten from before the Lord, and afflicted. But he will build up the Holy Place, which has been polluted for our sins, and delivered to the enemy for our iniquities; and by his instruction peace shall be increased upon us, and by devotion to his words, our sins will be forgiven us. All we like sheep had been scattered, we had each wandered off on his own way; but it was the Lord’s good pleasure to forgive the sins of all of us for his sake. . . . By his wisdom he will hold the guiltless free from guilt, in order to bring many into subjection to the law; and for their sins he will intercede.

Carrier wants to find the Christian Gospel script in the targum by any means necessary, but it simply isn’t there. What the targum expresses is a standard Jewish idea that the righteousness of the king will be looked upon by God and transferred to the people. Moses did the same for Israel when he interceded. Carrier says that the messiah “will forgive all of Israel’s sins” in the targum. This simply isn’t the case.

I’ll note also that Carrier implies that in Isaiah 52-53, the Suffering Servant also forgives “all of Israel’s sins,” through his suffering. This may just be a sloppy articulation (you know, the kind of sloppy articulation Carrier lambasted in Ehrman’s book). But it’s very misleading. Isaiah 53 does not say that the Servant forgives the sins of Israel. It says that the punishment for Israel’s sins is laid upon him, and that the Servant intercedes to God on Israel’s behalf (53:12).

Finally, there’s the question of whether the word “messiah” was original to the targum, or a later gloss added in. This is really neither here nor there, but for Carrier, it seems to be very important, and he argues that “we can be sure this happened before Christianity: only when Jews had no idea what Christians would do with this connection would they themselves have put it in there.”

This is of course an utterly illogical claim. Precisely because the targum denies that the messiah will suffer and die, but rather presents him as a conquering warrior, it stands perfectly to reason that this could be a post-Christian identification. If the Christians had been going around identifying their Messiah as the suffering servant of Isaiah, a perfectly logical response from non-Christian Jews would have been to do precisely what this targum does: yes, the Isaianic Servant is the messiah, but no, it is not he who suffers. Alternatively, if this is a pre-Christian identification, as we’ve established, it does nothing to support Carrier’s thesis.

I should point out here in this regard that in Carrier’s self-published book, Not the Impossible Faith, in which he takes on the, ahem, serious scholarly work of J.P. Holding, Carrier quotes Isaiah 52-53 and then concludes, “How could any Jew not have understood this to mean that a righteous, wise, chosen servant of God would be wrongly despised, convicted, and executed, and in so doing save Israel from its sins and afflictions?”2

Apparently Carrier hadn’t read the Targum of Jonathan.

[Update: Some are saying that I’ve straw-manned Carrier’s point with Targum Jonathan. Not so. I left it to the reader to decide whether Carrier originally intended to imply it had relation to the dying messiah thesis. The reason I showed that Targum Jonathan doesn’t support the dying Messiah thesis is because I felt that needed to be made clear to Carrier’s audience, because I think it’s misleading to include this argument in a piece called, “The Dying Messiah.” Second, my argument is not just that Targum Jonathan doesn’t support the dying Messiah thesis. My argument is that Carrier’s point that it shows that some Jews saw Isaiah 52 as messianic is totally useless. I made this very clear in the original post, but some people don’t read very carefully I suppose. The point is this: almost any text could be read as messianic in the Second Temple period. That’s not news. What matters is how they characterized the messiah when they interpreted their texts, and clearly Targum Jonathan doesn’t support a dying Messiah tradition. The point Carrier wishes to make with this text is so trivial as to be useless, but he presents it as if it helps his case. It really doesn’t. It’s kind of like padding a bibliography. It’s possible some read Isaiah 52 as referring to a dying messiah, but we have no evidence that anybody did. That’s the point. Carrier is trying to make something out of nothing.]

 

The Melchizedek Scroll (11Q13)

The second piece of evidence offered by Carrier he says is “even better” than the evidence from the Targum of Jonathan. Well, I should hope so for Carrier’s sake!

We’re talking about the so-called Melchizedek Scroll from Qumran (referred to as 11Q13, i.e., thirteenth scroll from cave eleven of Qumran). In it, the scroll links the Servant in Isaiah 52 (thought it doesn’t quote 53 where the Servant suffers and dies) with the reference to an “anointed one” (literally, moshiach) in Daniel 9. Here is what Carrier writes:

A fragmentary pesher among the Dead Sea Scrolls explicitly identifies the servant of Isaiah 52-53 with the messiah of Daniel 9. This decisively confirms that this specific equation had already been made by pre-Christian Jews, as it exists not just in a pre-Christian text, but in this case a pre-Christian manuscript. The passage in question is in 11QMelch ii.18 (aka 11Q13). A pesher is an interpretive commentary on the OT that operates on the assumption that the OT text has hidden, second-level meanings (a view Christians shared, e.g. Rom. 16:25-26). Thus some pre-Christian Jews were already finding hidden “secrets” in the OT that basically are the Christian gospel: that Isaiah 52-53 is about the messiah whom Daniel 9 predicted will be killed (this same pesher also identifies Isaiah 61 as being about this same messiah, thus proving again that the Christians did not come to this conclusion post hoc either). . . .

Notably, a repeating theme in the OT (e.g. Daniel 9) is that God keeps holding back his apocalypse (in which he would reverse Israel’s fortunes and make the whole world bow to them as the master race, and horribly kill all who refused, e.g. Zech. 14:12-19) because of Israel’s sins. It would have been a rather obvious conclusion that if Israel’s sins were cleansed and thus decisively removed from the picture, no obstacle would remain before God, and he could finally make good on his promise and end the world, and create a paradise in which the Jews would finally rule the world eternal. Thus if the messiah could be killed and thereby atone for all the sins of Israel (as explicitly declared in Isaiah 52-53), doomsday would at last be upon us. Connecting Isaiah 53 with Daniel 9 proves that some Jews were already thinking this before Christianity even began. In fact Daniel 9:24 also says the messiah’s death would atone for the sins of Israel and thereby bring about the end of the world (9:27), and this after a long preface complaining that those sins had been getting in the way. Should we be surprised that some Jews would come to believe that this had at last happened? For them, the death of the messiah, setting up the subsequent end of the world, was expected. That Christians taught all these things (their messiah had died, his death atoned for all sins, and the end was therefore nigh) is unlikely to be a coincidental reinvention of ideas the Jews were already getting on board with. No, the first Christians most likely came from these very Jews, or were directly inspired by their teachings. [Source]

Now, there’s a mixture of good information and bad information here. Did apocalyptic Jews widely believe that forgiveness of sins would directly precede the final judgment? Yes, of course. Of course, that means nothing for the mythicist argument, and Carrier knows that. Does 11Q13 connect Isaiah 52 with Daniel 9? Yes, it does. But the question is, does it connect the two based on the idea of a dying messiah? This is what Carrier insinuates. The answer to that is most probably not. We’ll address that, before we come back and break down Carrier’s claims above, showing many of them to be misleading or false.

The question is, again, did the Melchizedek Scroll identify the Messiah as one who would die. Carrier seems to think so, and what’s revealing here is that (in multiple posts), every time he provides a hyperlink to an online translation of this passage, he links to a translation that is very problematic. Remember, as Carrier noted, that this scroll is fragmentary. Here is the translation Carrier provides his readers:

(The …) is that whi(ch …all) the divine beings. The visitation is the Day of Salvation that He has decreed through Isaiah the prophet concerning all the captives, inasmuch as Scripture says, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion “Your divine being reigns”.” (Isa. 52;7) This scriptures interpretation : “the mountains” are the prophets, they who were sent to proclaim God’s truth and to prophesy to all Israel. “The messengers” is the Anointed of the spirit, of whom Daniel spoke; “After the sixty-two weeks, an Anointed shall be cut off” (Dan. 9;26). The “messenger who brings good news, who announces Salvation” is the one of whom it is written; “to proclaim the year of the LORD`s favor, the day of the vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn” (Isa. 61;2)

The scripture references are obviously not original to the scroll; they have been added by modern editors. So we note the excerpt in bold. The translation identifies Dan 9:26 as the citation referenced in the scroll. The problem is, there is a lacuna in the scroll precisely here, but this particular website doesn’t give any indication that the verse from Daniel they included in their translation is a guess! This is very unfortunate. Perhaps Carrier is not aware that the scroll is fragmented exactly here. Perhaps he is, but if he is, he certainly ought to have discussed this fact, since it has direct bearing to the validity of his argument. But Carrier doesn’t even mention it, as far as I have been able to see. Here’s the translation of this excerpt from Geza Vermes’s edition of the scrolls:

. . . and the messenger is the Anointed one of the spirit, concerning whom Dan[iel] said, [Until an anointed one, a prince (Dan. Ix, 25)] . . .

Note that the missing section is found in square brackets. This is a restoration of the lacuna. It’s possible that the original scroll quoted from verse 26, in which the Anointed one is said to die. But it’s also possible that it quoted from verse 25, where no death is mentioned. And in point of fact the majority of scholars identify verse 25 as the original referent. This is the position of Vanderkam.3 Collins notes that it is usually identified with verse 25, though verse 26 is possible.4 The point is that Carrier is basing his “better” argument on a reconstruction of a fragmented text, a reconstruction that isn’t even the preferred one among most scholars. This is shoddy scholarship.

And before someone interjects and says, “But even if it were verse 25, certainly the allusion would include the content of verse 26.” But that would be an objection that would totally misunderstand the way pesher interpretation worked. The pesher scrolls at Qumran routinely took snippets of verses out of context, with no regard to their original meaning, and made them to say what they wanted them to say for their own agenda. (See my discussion of this in Stark, The Human Faces of God, pp. 18-32.)

So the point is, we simply don’t know whether this scroll mentioned an “anointed one” who was “cut off” or not. It possibly did, but most scholars reconstruct the scroll with verse 25, where no death of the anointed one is mentioned. And, as I’ve pointed out, this scroll does not quote from Isaiah 53, where the Servant suffers and dies. It only quotes from Isaiah 52, where the Servant proclaims a message of salvation. Again, from what we know about pesher, there is no way we can responsibly say that the author(s) of the Melchizedek scroll envisioned or wished to allude to a suffering messiah. All we have is an identification of the Servant in Isaiah 52 with the anointed one (moshiach) in Daniel 9. So we do have another example (like Targum of Jonathan) which identifies the Isaianic Servant with a messianic figure, but we have no information whatsoever about whether the Qumran community believed this messiah to be one who would suffer and die, and we have evidence starkly to the contrary with Targum of Jonathan. And of course, the overwhelming evidence from the Qumran scrolls indicates a consistent portrait of a militaristic, victorious Messiah. In short, Carrier doesn’t have a case to make here with these texts. If he insists upon reading 11Q13 as evidence for a dying messiah, he’ll be doing so as an ideologue, not as a responsible scholar.

Now, let’s return to other claims made by Carrier about 11Q13 and examine them in some detail, to see how they hold up.

First, I should point out for the readers’ benefit that the “anointed one” mentioned in Daniel 9 is identified by the vast majority of scholars not as a “messianic” figure but as the High Priest Onias III. What many of Carrier’s readers may not be aware of is that the word “moshiach” (anointed) was a term applied to prophets, priests, and kings throughout Hebrew and Jewish literature. Carrier is of course aware that scholars identify the anointed one of Daniel 9 as High Priest Onias III, although he makes no mention of this in his book, Not the Impossible Faith, when he discusses Daniel 9 there. There he appears at least to be unaware of this, in that the language he uses betrays some ignorance. For instance, he refers to Daniel 9:26 as “the preeminent prophecy of the coming Messiah” (p. 35). Of course, Carrier will rightly point out that there is an important difference between what the original author of Daniel 9 meant, and what later generations understood the text to mean. He rightly points out that Jews of later generations interpreted it to refer to a future military victory over Rome. But what he has not been able to provide is evidence that these later Jews accepted the notion that the messiah would die. Yes, the claim that he would die is right there in the text, but what is “right there in the text” has never prevented decent Jews from believing something else altogether.

And in point of fact, the very evidence that Carrier provides in Not the Impossible Faith (pp. 35 ff) shows us precisely the opposite of what Carrier wishes to claim with it. He notes that all sorts of Roman and Jewish sources talk about an “ambiguous prophecy” in Jewish scriptures (which Carrier identifies as Daniel 9ff) which encouraged them to make war on Rome. But Daniel 9-12 actually says that human efforts to overcome their adversaries will result in ruin, and that the final victorious battle will be waged by an angelic warrior (identified as Michael in Daniel 12). Yet, if Josephus is accurate (and Carrier cites him), the Jews waged war on Rome because of an “ambiguous prophecy found in their sacred writing, announcing that at that time someone from their country would become ruler of the world.” So too Suetonius: “an ancient superstition was current in the East, that out of Judea at this time would come the rulers of the world.”

I think it is very plausible to identify Daniel as the “ambiguous prophecy” and “ancient superstition” to which Josephus and Suetonius refer, but if it is (and Carrier at one time seems to have thought so: “This Jewish prophecy [Daniel 9:26] was widely known in the Jewish and Roman world, and interpreted in many different ways”; “This Danielic prophecy is probably alluded to by Suetonius.”), then we have evidence that the Jews were not reading Daniel as a prophecy about a dying Messiah. Rather, they read it as a prophecy about a human patriot who would become emperor. In his book, Carrier is incredulous that Jews could read such “clear” prophecies as these in any way other than as a prophecy about a dying messiah, but the actual evidence keeps mounting against him.

So it’s Carrier who would be blurring the line between author’s original intent and later interpretation. What he needs to provide is evidence that the text was interpreted by later Jews to mean that they should expect the messiah would die. He has tried to do this with 11Q13, but here he’s claiming more than the evidence allows, and I haven’t seen him produce any other evidence in support of his contention.

Of course, Carrier will cite texts like Wisdom of Solomon 2:12-3:3, which speaks of a “righteous man” who will be killed unjustly, but later vindicated with immortality as his enemies are destroyed, but the text is actually talking about all such righteous men (the singular employed in some of the verses is a literary device), and nowhere does Wisdom of Solomon identify this man as the messiah. Carrier’s argument is that, surely the messiah would be the archetypical “righteous man,” and this is where his argument begins to spread quite thin. It’s certainly possible that some Jews made this connection, but what is lacking is evidence that they did so. After all, the picture of the righteous martyrs who will be vindicated at the end is perfectly consonant with the picture of a militant and victorious messiah whose victory (not death) will usher in the age of immortality. The fact is, however, that Wisdom of Solomon cannot be said to be an apocalyptic text. Although it includes some common apocalyptic tropes, it radically reinterprets them within the categories of Greek philosophy.5 So while it’s vaguely possible that some Jews invented a messianic figure that followed their interpretation of Wis. Sol. 2-3, and other texts, what’s probable, and what the vast consensus concludes, is that the narratives written about the historical figure of Jesus were shaped in ways that alluded to such texts. That is something that we do quite regularly—we interpret the significance of our heroes along lines delineated by our common cultural narratives.

Anyway, back to Carrier’s claims vis-à-vis 11Q13.

First, “Thus some pre-Christian Jews were already finding hidden ‘secrets’ in the OT that basically are the Christian gospel: that Isaiah 52-53 is about the messiah whom Daniel 9 predicted will be killed (this same pesher also identifies Isaiah 61 as being about this same messiah, thus proving again that the Christians did not come to this conclusion post hoc either).”

As we’ve seen, Carrier has failed to make the case for this claim.

Second, “Thus if the messiah could be killed and thereby atone for all the sins of Israel (as explicitly declared in Isaiah 52-53), doomsday would at last be upon us. Connecting Isaiah 53 with Daniel 9 proves that some Jews were already thinking this before Christianity even began. In fact Daniel 9:24 also says the messiah’s death would atone for the sins of Israel and thereby bring about the end of the world (9:27), and this after a long preface complaining that those sins had been getting in the way.”

In reality, of course, Daniel 9:24 says no such thing as that “the messiah’s death would atone for the sins of Israel.” Carrier is eisegeting this. Here’s what v. 24 actually says:

Seventy weeks are decreed for your people and your holy city: to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place [or holy one].

Here’s v. 26:

After the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing, and the troops of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary.

The text says nothing whatsoever about any sort of connection between the death of the anointed one and the forgiveness of Israel’s sins. What it really says is that the forgiveness of sins is achieved by Israel’s “putting an end to sin” (i.e., by acting righteously) and by “atoning for iniquity” (i.e., by making proper sacrifices in the rebuilt temple). Carrier is like a fundamentalist Christian who wants to find Jesus everywhere he looks in the Hebrew Bible, even if Jesus isn’t really there.

 

Conclusion

I could justifiably follow Carrier’s example, and conclude that Carrier’s arguments are “full of errors,” that they “misinform more than they inform,” that Carrier is “incompetent,” does “sloppy work,” makes “hack” mistakes, and is guilty of “arrogantly dogmatic and irresponsible thinking.” I could conclude justifiably that Carrier does not act “like a real scholar,” that his thesis is “crap,” “worse than bad,” and that it “officially sucks.” These are all things Carrier has said about Prof. Ehrman and his fine work. But instead I’ll follow Prof. Ehrman’s example and take the high road. I’ll conclude that Carrier has nice credentials, is generally competent, and that I often find myself in agreement with him, but in this case at least, Carrier’s handling of the evidence has been sub-par, and he has in fact marshaled no valid evidence to support his thesis. I think that Carrier is now personally too invested in this issue to be able to make the appropriate turnaround, but out of due deference to a scholar of Aristotle and Hume’s caliber, I won’t withhold the benefit of the doubt.

  1. See here. Also here, where he seems to have toned down his original language just a bit. [BACK]
  2. Richard Carrier, Not the Impossible Faith: Why Christianity Didn’t Need a Miracle To Succeed (Egoton, ME: Self, 2009), 39. [BACK]
  3. James C. Vanderkam, “Apocalyptic Tradition in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Religion of Qumran,” in Collins and Kugler, ed., Religion in the Dead Sea Scrolls (Eerdmans, 2000), 117. [BACK]
  4. John J. Collins, Apocalypticism in the Dead Sea Scrolls (Routledge, 1997), 55. [BACK]
  5. See John J. Collins, “The Reinterpretation of Apocalyptic Traditions in the Wisdom of Solomon,” in The Book of Wisdom in Modern Research: Studies on Tradition, Redaction and Theology (ed. Angelo Passaro and Giussepe Bellia; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2005), pp. 143-155. [BACK]

107 thoughts on “The Death of Richard Carrier’s Dying Messiah

  1. *Gets out the popcorn*

    I don’t bemoan the “mainstreaming” of mythicism.  I think the truly competent figures in that segment have important points to make and the interaction with the historicist majority can help tighten up methodological issues.  As long as their arguments are addressed with the care and precision that is your MO.
    This is going to be fun.

  2. I don’t really see what any of this, or most of what Ehrman and Carrier are going back and forth about, has to do with establishing the existence of a historical Jesus. It’s entirely speculative. Ehrman even goes so far as to cite hypothetical sources (Q, M, etc.) as evidence. Huh? Sources that don’t actually exist are not evidence.

    It seems like at best, all anyone can argue is that it is plausible, to one degree or another, that the Jesus of Christianty is loosely based on a real person of whom we have no historical record. I have no idea why such a mundane fact is eliciting such strong emotions.

  3. I don’t really see what any of this, or most of what Ehrman and Carrier are going back and forth about, has to do with establishing the existence of a historical Jesus. It’s entirely speculative. Ehrman even goes so far as to cite hypothetical sources (Q, M, etc.) as evidence. Huh? Sources that don’t actually exist are not evidence.

    It seems like at best, all anyone can argue is that it is plausible, to one degree or another, that the Jesus of Christianty is loosely based on a real person of whom we have no historical record. I have no idea why such a mundane fact is eliciting such strong emotions.

  4. Steph Fisher will probably be addressing some Q stuff in her essay forthcoming in a few days’ time. It’s a bit more complicated than “sources that don’t actually exist,” quite a bit actually. But I believe Steph is among those who don’t accept the Q hypothesis. 

    For Carrier, the dying messiah trope is relevant because, in his mind, if Jews already had ideas like the Christians had about Jesus, then it lends some (however small measure of) weight to the notion that it could have been invented. His point is that a crucified messiah would not have been counterintuitive to first-century Jews, therefore, it’s not ridiculous to argue that the Christians made it up. 

    It’s eliciting strong emotions in people like Carrier because they’ve become personally invested in an idea they think is destructive to a religion they hate. But Carrier has strong emotions ANYTIME someone disagrees with him on just about anything, and I’ve seen the way he treats esteemed fellow atheist scholars who disagree with him (not even on this issue). It isn’t pretty, and as Carrier’s fanbase increases, the number of peers who identify him as a friend seems to be decreasing. 

  5. ”First, I should point out for the readers’ benefit that the “anointed one” mentioned in Daniel 9 is identified by the vast majority of scholars not as a “messianic” figure but as the High Priest Onias III?

    Did any Jew of the first century identify the Messiah of Daniel 9 with the High Priest Onias III?

  6. Of course not. But please don’t misconstrue my point. I’ll state again what I already said: “Of course, Carrier will rightly point out that there is an important difference between what the original author of Daniel 9 meant, and what later generations understood the text to mean. He rightly points out that Jews of later generations interpreted it to refer to a future military victory over Rome. But what he has not been able to provide is evidence that these later Jews accepted the notion that the messiah would die.” 

    I pointed out the Onias III referent to educate my readers; not as an argument against Carrier. But what’s relevant is that “anointed” did not always refer to an apocalyptic messianic figure. Regardless, the only evidence Carrier marshaled for a first-century Jewish interpretation of Dan 9:26 counters his argument: many Jews seem to have interpreted the messiah in Daniel 9 as a militant and victorious warrior, not as a dying messiah. There is evidence for the former; we have none for the latter.

  7. ‘What matters is what the interpretation says about the character of the messiah, and clearly, in this case, the messiah is characterized as a conquering warrior who does not suffer or die, but rather inflicts suffering and death on his enemies.’

    Did any Jews expect the Messiah to be an apocalyptic prophet?

    What was it about seeing Jesus preach or being crucified that made people think he was the Messiah?

    Just what Messiah-boxes did Jesus tick?

  8. Yes, they clearly expected the Messiah to be an apocalyptic prophet. That’s evident all over the place, including in the Melchizedek scroll which Carrier brings up. Moses was a prophet. David was a prophet. Obviously the Messiah would be a prophet, for the vast majority of Jewish sects. (I can think of none off the top of my head that wouldn’t expect the Messiah to be a prophet. Of course, some at Qumran expected two messiahs, one a High Priest, the other a Davidic King. But prophethood overlaps in both cases in their descriptions of the two Messiahs.) 

    There are all sorts of things Jesus did and said that led people to see him as Messiah. A cursory reading of any one of the Gospels will make this plain to you. He preached the coming judgment; he taught that he was the eschatological agent of God, and that adherence to his commands was tantamount to adherence to God; he healed the sick; he preached deliverance to the poor and the debt-slaves. So on and so forth. What they didn’t expect was for him to be crucified.

  9. That’s really interesting. I had no idea that people expected the Messiah to be an apocalyptic prophet, and to heal the sick, rather than be a conquering warrior.

    Thanks for informing me.

  10. ‘What they didn’t expect was for him to be crucified.’

    Yep.

     A dying Messiah is a contradiction in terms. The crucified Jesus could no more have been a Messiah in Jewish eyes than he could have been the Roman Emperor.

  11. First, I didn’t say “rather than be a conquering warrior.” It’s a both/and, not an either/or. I don’t know how you thought I was saying that.

    Second, your second statement is way too strong. “The crucified Jesus could no more have been a Messiah in Jewish eyes than he could have been the Roman Emperor.”

    I said they didn’t expect him to be crucified. I didn’t say that a crucified Jesus could not have been a Messiah to Jews. Obviously he was, to quite a few.

  12. But how could a crucified Jesus have been a Messiah? That would have made no sense in first-century Judaism.

  13. Obviously some Jews were able to make sense of it, and they did so by reference to their own scriptures. I’m curious if you simply have no familiarity with the Bible at all, or if you’re intentionally asking somewhat obtuse questions. I don’t mean that to be offensive, so please don’t take it that way. 

  14. Thanks for the refutation – it was very interesting and with some very well argued points. It is refreshing to see a scholar engaging in this manner instead of the usual diatribes that come from the Hoffman / McGrath camp. Lets not forget that Hoffman has entertained a mythical figure of Jesus himself.

    I think you are right regarding tone in Carrier’s lengthy review of DJE? but I think it all comes down to the downright insulting tone of Ehrman’s Huff Post article. It doesn’t excuse Carrier though.

    In any case, thanks again for the article.

  15. I haven’t actually read the HuffPo article, but with or without it, it has been my experience that Carrier resorts to such insults not infrequently when scholars disagree with him, even congenially. So I’m not sure it could have been avoided had the HuffPo article been more academic in tone, but I guess we’ll never know. 

    In any case, thanks for your comments, and I’m glad you found my post helpful. All the best!

  16. Thom, I think steven, above, just pointed out the falaciousness of your argument.

    Not that this should impede you, in any way.

    Carry on.

  17. Well that’s hilarious. If that’s what he thinks he was doing, he failed miserably. But you’re free to think otherwise for no valid reason whatsoever. Carry on.

  18. “Obviously some Jews were able to make sense of it, and they did so by reference to their own scriptures.” 

    Perhaps you think this is me being backed unwittingly into a mythicist corner. Sorry to disappoint. Like I said, there’s a difference between not having the expectation of a dying messiah, and not being able to adapt to the idea as a result of cognitive dissonance. “By reference to their own scriptures” does not mean the scriptures actually prepared them for a crucified messiah. As I’ve already pointed out in the above post, Jewish hermeneutics allowed interpreters to radically reinterpret texts in light of their historical experiences. That’s what both Qumran pesher and early Christian hermeneutics were all about. 

  19. For future reference, I won’t be allowing this comment thread to be hijacked by self-satisfied trolls. If you have some constructive criticisms to make, make them plainly. I won’t be playing games with commenters who come with a hidden agenda. 

  20. This is speculative, but I’ll offer it anyway as an idea that popped into my head while reading:

    Consistently, the Targum Jonathan quoted reinterprets Isaiah a) to identify his subject as the Messiah, and b) to reinterpret the Suffering Servant as both Israel and its enemies, not as the Messiah himself. The Targums are more akin to commentaries and, IMO, not “textual variants” or true translations, despite what Carrier claims, but paraphrastic re-interpretations. As Dr. Robert M. Price frequently notes, when you prohibit something, it is almost always because someone is doing it, and you want to stop it. IMO, by stretching his idea to this area, the Targums are better conceived perhaps as an attempt to stop people from interpreting the Messiah as the suffering servant in a conscious manner, because there were pre-Christian Jews so interpreting Isaiah. The Targumic author, to me, is attempting to deflect and change this Tendenz. Possibly we are seeing only one side of this dynamic, and is in a sense an indirect indication that “What the Targum shows is that some Jews saw this [Isaiah] passage as about the Christ. . . ,” through the lens of the opposition.

  21. You’re right about the nature of the Targums, and you’re right that your hypothesis is speculative. If there were any evidence to support your hypothesis, it would become interesting. Absent that evidence, I’m afraid it isn’t of much use. But of course, we’re talking about a text that didn’t reach its final written form until the fifth century! Much more plausible is that the identification here came after Christianity emerged. We certainly do have evidence that the Christians interpreted Isaiah 53 as messianic! 

  22. This has nothing to do with mythicism, per se.

    Your position seems to be that no Jew would ever have read this into the scriptures unless it actually happened. Thus, that it was read it into the scriptures means that it actually happened.

    Unless you are claiming some sort of omniscience regarding what any specific Jew might or might not have done, it seems this is argument is being built on a rather faulty premise.

  23. But that is expressly not my position. I clearly said that it’s possible some Jews might have thought this, but the fact remains we have no clear evidence that any Jewish sects did think this in the pre-Christian period. 

  24. Except that we do have clear evidence that at least one, of what you refer to as a Jewish sect, did in fact think so, thus Christianity.

    (This of course seems to assume, (on your part), no relevant syncretism from any of the various hellenistic concepts of the day.)  

  25. 1) Yes, Christianity is the first clear example. Go figure!
    2) No, that does not of course seem to assume anything of the sort. That’s a separate discussion. The dying/rising god myth does not apply to early Palestinian Christianity, not least because in early Palestinian Christianity, Jesus wasn’t considered to be God! But obviously there was a great deal of syncretism in many Jewish sects and in factions of mid-to-late first-century Christianity as well. 

  26. Indeed, Christinaity is the first example, clear evidence that at least one Jewish sect did think this in the “pre-Christian” period.

    I am not sure where I mentioned a “dying/rising god” and, regardless, whether or not Jesus was considered a god by early Christians is, at the very least, an arguable hypothesis. That said, I am not sure what your point 2 is meant to address with regards to my comment regarding syncretism as you admit a great deal of it in many Jewish sects. 

  27. 1) Uh, no. Sorry. It’s evidence that followers of Jesus thought this because their Messiah died and they reinterpreted their texts in light of cognitive dissonance. So not at all the “pre-Christian” period.

    2) I didn’t say you mentioned the dying/rising god, but you mentioned syncretism, and I simply named it as one example. As for my “admission” that there was syncretism in many Jewish sects, it’s not so much an admission as an observation, and one that every scholar in the field has made without controversy. If you want to suggest that syncretism is in some way relevant to the mythicist thesis (or whatever it is you want to say), you’ll have to get into specifics, and point to specific evidences. Generalities won’t get us anywhere, as I’m sure you know. 

  28. “1) Uh, no. Sorry. It’s evidence that followers of Jesus thought this because their Messiah died and they reinterpreted their texts in light of cognitive dissonance. So not at all the “pre-Christian” period.”

    1. Only if you assume your conclusion.
    2. Those “followers” would in fact have been pre-Christians by definition.

    Regarding syncretism:

    Of course, this also goes to how someone, (even a first century Jew), could interpret, or even reinterpret pre-existing literature (Jewish scriptures, for instance).
     

  29. Will do. Thanks! (And I’m not defending any abrasiveness on Ehrman’s part, but his responses to Carrier have all certainly been above board.)

  30. Robert,

    1) No. Not only. Look, I have already said that it’s “possible” that some Jews might have invented a dying Messiah named Jesus, but it isn’t nearly as plausible as the alternative thesis, which is the consensus thesis. 
    2) No. The moment they became followers of the Christ, they became Christians. Unless you’re making the point that the term “Christians” is a bit anachronistic. But I’m using it handily. What I mean of course is the period in which Jesus of Nazareth’s disciples were following Jesus of Nazareth. And they didn’t believe in a dying Messiah until he died, according to the evidence we do have. 
    3) Again, specifics please. Thanks. 

    FYI, I’m not going to be able to go back and forth with you like this for long. If we can get to a useful discussion, I’ll keep engaging. We haven’t quite made it there yet. 

  31. Thanks for this analysis.  It’s stuff like this that keeps me coming back.

    McGrath, Ehrman and Carrier are some of my favorite people, and I’ve been somewhat disheartened by the tone of the recent debate.

    All 3 have seemed to often put more effort into ridicule than argument, and it’s nice to see someone put more into explaining and weighing the evidence than trying to tear the other guys credentials down.

    Of course, if you weren’t a little biting in your commentary, I’d be afraid something horrible had happened to you. ;-)

    I have no dog in this particular fight, but it’s good for the rest of us for the arguments themselves to finally start coming to light.  Still, I can’t be bothered to care much about the existence or not of an historical Jesus.  The only interesting thing to me about historical Jesus studies is how little can be known with certainty about him.

  32. “1) No. Not only. Look, I have already said that it’s “possible” that some Jews might have invented a dying Messiah named Jesus, but it isn’t nearly as plausible as the alternative thesis, which is the consensus thesis.”

    The “alternative thesis” is plausible if a dying Messiah named Jesus actually existed. The “alternative thesis” is equally plausible if a dying Messiah named Jesus is simply assumed to have existed. Of course, the earliest extant sources for this dying Messiah named Jesus were not, in any case, actually written by first century Palestinian Jews. 

    Regarding point 2, you are assuming that there were, in fact, disciples of Jesus of Nazareth in the first place. Which the earliest evidence, arguably, seems to know nothing about. 

  33. Robert, 

    1) The plausibility has nothing to do with any “assumption” about his existence. I can tell this conversation is going nowhere. 
    1b) Paul was from Tarsus, but he was trained in Jerusalem. Mark, the earliest Gospel, was written in Palestine by a Palestinian Jewish Christian to Palestinian Jewish Christians, very many scholars argue, and it dates to a time very close to Paul’s final letters.
    2) Nonsense. Paul makes explicit reference to the disciples, even referring to them as “the Twelve.” 

    I’m afraid we’ll have to conclude this discussion. I don’t have time to go back and forth all day, stating the obvious.

  34. Hi Thom,

    I’ve always enjoyed your writing. Your book ‘The Human Faces of God’ helped me think through some difficult issues I had with being a Christian. So, thanks! I’m also happy to see this critique, as it deals fairly and ably with an important issue in the debate. I hope that any potential dialogue between you and Carrier is productive.

    From what I can see, however, Carrier didn’t “tone down” his language about being a philosopher; he wrote a vague sentence (he claims it wasn’t vague, but there you go) that someone then misinterpreted. In a footnote (n. 30) explaining his emendation in the article of his you link to, he writes: “I previously used the phrase ‘no less a philosopher than’ with respect Aristotle and Hume, which Wood then took out of context as a reference to my equivalence to them in fame or accomplishment, rather than what the context clearly established as my meaning, which is my equivalence to them in being a philosopher . . . I also changed the word ‘match’ to ‘comparable’ to prevent anyone thinking I ever meant my knowledge is identical to theirs”. So (unless I’m misreading him), I think he was just saying that he *is* a philosopher, which Wood had denied. At the least, I think it’s clear that Carrier isn’t now (and probably wasn’t) saying or thinking that he’s “a scholar of Aristotle and Hume’s caliber”.

    Best,
    Stephen Pearson

  35. Thom,
         very good and funny to boot. I hope Carrier’s personality will not destroy his interesting ideas. But you are right, he does come across as excitable and puffed-up twit.  
    On the origin of the Twelve:  I believe this to be Mark’s handiwork; he may even have left his signature making the first mention anarthrous (as in LXX. Gen 49:28).  The body was of the twelve brothers of Jacob, and Ioudas (!) was the one selling Joseph to the Ismaelites so his “blood would not be on his brothers’ hands”. Looks like excellent material for the passion plot. Would you not say ?    The Twelve in 1 Cor 15:5 are just one of the things in the passage that protest too much being from Paul’s hand.      

  36. Stephen, 

    Thanks very much for your comments. I’m glad you’ve found some of my work useful. I do disagree with your interpretation of Carrier’s Aristotle/Hume remark, however. First, I didn’t think he meant he was equivalent to them in fame or accomplishment. I also didn’t think he meant his knowledge was identical to theirs. But I don’t think he’s saying that he’s “just a philosopher.” At any rate, its very clear that his philosophical training (while superior to Aristotle’s and Hume’s in terms of the fact that more has been done since them) is inferior to theirs in the sense that they were on the cutting edge, while Carrier is several decades behind the current crop. At any rate, as charitable as I would like to be, I’m afraid I don’t entirely buy his later qualifications of his original statement. “Comparable” isn’t much of a change from “match” anyway. It in fact does connote a comparable caliber. If he just wanted to say that he is a trained philosopher, like so many others, why bring Aristotle and Hume into it at all, as points of comparison (not points of contrast)? 

  37. Soloview, 

    Thanks! For the record though, I didn’t call Carrier an “excitable and puffed-up twit.” Just to be clear. 

    On the Twelve, I (and the consensus) would disagree with you. The connection to the Joseph story is incredibly tenuous. Much more plausible that Jesus would have selected twelve as a symbol that he was reconstituting Israel around himself. Not an unusual messianic symbol among second temple Jews. And of course there’s no evidence whatsoever for any tampering with 1 Cor 15:5. Wishful speculations do not evidence make. The consensus of course identifies this section as a tradition pre-dating Paul’s conversion. But I know that doesn’t mean anything to most mythicists. :)

  38. Thom,

    I had assumed that what was meant by accomplishment in Carrier’s quote includes “skill or ability,” which is close enough to caliber in the sense of “degree of quality”. (If he’s not saying his skills or abilities are equal to theirs, though not logically inconsistent, I don’t think it’s plausible he would be saying his work is the same in quality.) I could be wrong about that, but that sense of accomplishment seems to make the most sense to me. I agree that I’m sure he meant more than “just a philosopher”. I wouldn’t deny his propensity for what most (including myself) would view as inappropriate self-congratulation. For example, he offers high estimations of his own work in reviews of books he contributed to, to the point of saying anyone who would disagree with him is irrational and that he has definitively refuted some or another argument for all time, both ridiculous ideas.[1] I just don’t see any concrete reason to think he was saying he is an equal of Aristotle or Hume here, and I don’t want to speculate on his sincerity (or on his choice of comparison, which certainly could indicate what you say, but could also just be examples). If you want to point out he lacks humility and a right perspective about his work, I think there are (at least) clearer examples.

    But I don’t think it’s fair to say that Carrier is “several decades behind the current crop” of philosophers. He has (from what I can tell) two philosophy articles in well-respected, peer-reviewed journals, ‘Biology and Philosophy’ and ‘Philo’, neither of which seem to me behind the current crop of work in the field(s). His articles/books on historiography were also peer-reviewed, to my knowledge, and he has some book chapters in philosophy that were as well. Some of his other philosophical work has merited critical discussion in other peer-reviewed articles (for example, Victor Reppert discusses another essay of his in his contribution to ‘The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology’). So, while this isn’t an exceptional output in number or necessarily in quality – and certainly not near his own estimation -, it’s not accurate to say that he’s behind the the current crop of philosophers.

    Best,
    Stephen Pearson

    [1] Just two examples: http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2010/04/christian-delusion.html ; http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2011/07/end-of-christianity.html

  39. Stephen, thanks.

    Whatever he meant by the Aristotle/Hume comparison, in my opinion it was a silly thing to say, and another unfortunately characteristic Carrian moment of unconscious hubris. 

    That’s not what I meant by behind the crop. What I meant was that in my opinion he has a dated, positivistic epistemology, displayed for instance in his insistence that Bayes Theorem can be successfully applied to historiography. I’m not going to get into that, but that’s a symptom of the kind of the thing I was referring to. It’s my opinion, and I have no desire to incite a debate with Carrier on the provenance of his philosophical system, as I have more meaningful things to do with my time, like watch Breaking Bad. Suffice it to say that the majority of present-day philosophers who are actually philosophers comparable to Aristotle in every relevant way would see his project as, let’s say, quaint. 

    I appreciate your comments. 

  40. Thom,

    Thanks for clearing up for me what you meant. I don’t think I really disagree with you, then. Thank you for taking the time to respond.

    Best,
    Stephen Pearson

  41. True, you did not say that about Carrier….that was my own interpretation….

    I am not sure what you mean by “wishful speculations”, Thom. It would have perhaps sufficed to say that what I have suggested is not the consensus view of the NT academia. No need to get into characterizations the moment you see something new or something you don’t agree with.  I take it you know the issues around the passage and the relevant opinions, so I am ok with you interpreting its un-Pauline character (on which nearly everyone agrees) as a creedal manifest that was formulated before Paul.  

    By the way I am not a mythicist.  :)   

  42. Jiri/Soloview,

    Apologies, I honestly wondered whether you might not be a mythicist, so I tried to word it in such a way as not to suggest you were directly. I said “wishful speculations” because it has always seemed to me that those few who argue for tampering here must have some reason to need it to be tampered with, since there is no evidence for it. That’s all I meant. It honestly wasn’t directed at you specifically. But yes, the consensus across the board (among conservatives and more liberal scholars alike—which is rare) is that this is a pre-Pauline creedal construction. And as for the Joseph haggadah vis-a-vis the Twelve, again, it’s tenuous. Twelve is of course a number with meaning not only in Hebrew and Jewish literature but also in other ANE texts, and so it occurs all over the place with many meanings, but its most common meaning in Judaism refers to the twelve tribes (yes, Joseph fathered two of them), but in second temple apocalyptic literature, in the setting of diaspora, the significance of the twelve has most often to do with the restoration of the tribes, the gathering in of Israel from the diaspora, and that is a theme that occurs in several places as well throughout the Synoptics. For a number of reasons, by far the most plausible view is that twelve disciples were selected as a symbol of the restoration of Israel. We could pick a number of Hebrew Bible stories that have resonances with later texts and slap them one on top of the other and claim haggadah. But without further evidence, such speculations are generally tenuous. 

    Best,
    T

  43. Hi Thom,
       no apologies needed.  I am not offended; I was just simply curious, not trying to convert you to any kind of non-academic heresy. 
       Just FYI, I consider “Twelve” to be Markan midrash because that is how LXX. Gen 49:28 reads Παντες ουτοι υιοι Ιακωβ
    δωδεκα…   “in all Jacob’s sons were twelve”. The twelve sons of Jacob were the legendary founders of the tribes of Israel who were named after them (something which you may be missing).  One of the tribes was Judah or “Ioudas” in Greek. When the brothers want to kill Joseph, Judah says (Gen 37:27): “Come let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him for he is our brother”.   Mark’s Jesus calls Twelve, to spread the word of the kingdom of God.  Among them, is Ioudas (Iskarioth) who will ‘deliver Jesus up’ (as it was written,…. by Paul) and by so doing ‘divide the house’ (of Israel). And what did Jesus say ?  House divided cannot stand….what happens: war, Judea (Iudaia) is devastated.  

    The scholarly consensus says the parallel is weak ?   Ok.  Fine.  No problem: The scholarly consensus (in Mark) was that Jesus was possessed by Beelzebub, and cast out demons by the prince of devils.   So, what is scholarly consensus worth in the study of Jesus ?  You tell me, my friend.

  44. I’m well aware of the details of the argument. I already acknowledged the twelve sons of Jacob above. Yes, Judah’s name is the same as Judas’s in Greek. Of course, Joseph was one of the twelve; Jesus was not. Judah saved Joseph’s life from the nine brothers (Benjamin wasn’t among them) who wanted to kill him; Judas betrayed Jesus’s life against the wishes of the other eleven disciples. Joseph was sold to foreign slavers; Jesus was given over to his own people, who had him executed. I could go on. The differences outweigh the similarities dramatically. Yehudah was a very common name, as was Yeshua. Let’s not look for conspiracies where there’s a simpler explanation. 

    Oh, and of course, Paul identified “the Twelve” well before Mark was written, as we’ve already discussed. That the historical Jesus had twelve disciples is considered by theist and atheist scholars alike to be one of the few facts we can know about Jesus of Nazareth. That’s the consensus. 

    And I’m sorry but your interpretation of the Mark 3 “house divided” passage just pays no attention to the Markan context. Try reading it again. The “house” to which Jesus refers is not the house of Israel—it’s the house of Satan. Jesus is talking about the kingdom of darkness. And his point here is not that Judea will fall; his point is that in his present ministry, he is binding Satan so that Satan’s kingdom will fall. A number of scholars would argue that this refers in the physical sense (not denying the principalities behind the physical) to the Roman empire. 

    As for your quip about the scribal consensus, either you’re making a pointless joke, or you’re being disingenuous. There was nothing scholarly about the scribal consensus that Jesus was demon-possessed. Modern-day scholars have a wealth of critical tools, peer-review, and aren’t comprised of a single group of like-minded adherents to a specific theopolitical ideology. But you know that. Right?

  45. I’m going to bed in a little bit, folks. So if your comments don’t get posted until tomorrow, that’s why. All the best and thanks for the engagement.

  46. Hi Thom,
        I said “FYI” in my last post.  It was provoked by your comment that Jospeh fathered two of Israel tribes, which seemed kind of odd.  Hey, no problem.  I did not necesserily want to get into a tangle with you about how to read midrashic parallels, or what 1 Cor 15:5 proves, whether my reading of the divided kingdom comes from reputable sources, or for that matter, how lame my jokes are.   

       Thanks again for the light on Carrier’s dying Messiah. It has some new info and references which I find useful.

    Best,
    Jiri        

  47. Jiri,

    Joseph fathered two tribes, Manasseh and Ephraim, which received a divided portion. Nothing odd there. If you didn’t want to get into a “tangle,” then why offer the arguments? Reputable sources or not, the “house divided” metaphor refers to Satan’s kingdom, not the house of Israel. As for your lame joke, it simply seemed to me to be a cop out, a way to avoid dealing with the fact that the consensus of scholars is the consensus for lots of good reasons. If it was just a lame joke, fine then. Ha! :)

    Thanks for the good engagement. I appreciate it. 

  48. So am I reading this right that Carrier says there’s a passage in the OT…and that some Jews obviously slapped a “messiah” label on it.  But those particular Jews got rid of the dying/suffering part even though it was there in the passage.  And so even though clearly Jews were gang-banging this passage from all the relevant directions, no one quite raped it in just the way Carrier seemed to want?  

  49. LOL! Sort of, Ben. If Carrier didn’t originally intend this as evidence for a dying messiah (which is fine if he didn’t; I just perceive some tension between his Oct 07 and Nov 28 comments in the thread on that score), the point remains that his point is really moot. In the Second Temple period, they were reading their scriptures and they “found” the Messiah all over the place. So it’s no surprise that they did this with Isaiah 52 as well. Anybody who works in these texts is not going to be surprised by this, or think it very significant at all. What matters, as I stated in my original post, is not that some read this as messianic (big whoop), but how they characterized the messiah in their interpretation of the text. Like I said, it’s possible some read Isaiah 52 as referring to a dying messiah, but we have no evidence that anybody did. So my point was not that Carrier’s argument was wrong, but that it was very misleading to his audience, and that it obviously doesn’t help support a pre-Christian dying messiah tradition. Carrier has been able to provide no evidence that any such tradition existed. 

  50. I knew we were going to get to thirteen !  :)    And Joshua was from which tribe, you said  ? 

    Best,
    Jiri 

  51. Yeah, it’s hard to see what his point is, or really what anyone’s point is.  It’s like everyone agrees Jews were inventing different colored Power Rangers, and we’re bickering over whether it was feasible (or rather “when”) for them to invent the white ranger.  Huge leap, right?  Obviously the “can’t-not-find-a-messiah-in-the-OT” syndrome weakens the point…but the point apparently didn’t need to be that strong to begin with.  Perhaps we could tell a joke.  Three Jews walk into a bar.  One talks about a suffering and dying servant.  Another talks about that servant as a messiah who doesn’t suffer and die, but instead kicks ass.  The 3rd Jew is a pacifist who splits the difference.  It does seem though that Carrier implies more than the obvious “anything goes” with messiah on OT action and we might fault him for that.

  52. Right, Ben. That’s how it seemed to me, and I simply wanted to make it clear that he needs better evidence.

  53. Jiri, yes, Joshua was from Ephraim. The whole thesis is still very tenuous. But believe what you will. I’m still confused, if you could clarify for me. You say you’re not a mythicist, so what exactly are you arguing?

  54. I’ve just added a second update, a relevant quote from Diogenes the Cynic (a handle, not the ancient dude).

  55. In my opinion, people like Carrier who sympathize with Jesus mythicism are like the skeptical equivalent of apologists who have warm feelings for young earth creationism.  Either way, the subject is only useful for revealing who the worst hacks are.

    I’ll go so far as to say that anyone who thinks that Jesus was a myth (or that 1 Cor 15:5 is a bit of midrash for that matter) have no business reading biblical criticism since they obviously can’t handle the stuff.  It’s like someone pretending to enjoy fine wine but can’t help himself from turning into a drunken idiot.

  56. Paul makes explicit reference to “the Twelve” but does not refer to them as “disciples” nor does he indicate that they were somehow connected with Jesus’ earthly ministry.  (I am a historical Jesus agnostic, not a mythicist.)

  57. Hi Thom, I appreciate Stephen’s comments as well, and found that the Evangelical apologist, David Wood in his Carrier critique, “Good ‘n’ Senseless without God” appears to have mentioned “Aristotle” before Carrier did, asserting that Carrier’s arguments lacked logic and “Aristotle would not be pleased”:  http://www.answeringinfidels.com/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=78   The paragraph in which Wood mentions “Aristotle” is one long harangue that starts with “shame on all of them,” “ridiculous arguments,” and builds toward “A.” So maybe Carrier recalled the “A” word since we tend to recall the very beginning and endings of what we read, especially criticisms of our own work. Wood also mentions “Hume” in “Edward Tabash’s Review of the Carrier-Licona Debate,” but I’m unsure when that occurred, but it could explain Carrier’s use of the “H” word in his reply to Wood. Carrier mentioned A and H in response to Wood, and then Carrier copied and pasted that response in a FAQ he created in case other Wood-like critics started by denying Carrier’s right to even view himself AS a philosopher, which is rather annoying since Carrier’s book is obviously a book on philosophy that Wood was reviewing chapter by chapter on his site.

  58. Ed, I can sympathize with the situation he was in. If I were in it, I probably would have said something rather like, “Well, I’m no Aristotle or Hume, but I’m a trained and credentialed philosopher.” Or I would have been more self-deprecating: “I’m every bit as much of a philosopher as Kanye West.” But Carrier doesn’t do that. Instead, he writes things of himself like, “Richard Carrier is the renowned author of Sense and Goodness without God, Proving History, and Not the Impossible Faith [two of which are self-published], as well as numerous articles online and in print. His avid fans span the world from Hong Kong to Poland.”

    I’ve seen him hurl pages of insults at his atheist peers for being critical of some of his arguments. I’m not at liberty to reveal the content of these discussions, but I’ve witnessed them firsthand, and I’ve seen him alienate himself from earnest scholars who also happen to share Carrier’s anti-Christian agenda. These narcissistic attacks on Ehrman are just the latest episodes in an ongoing saga. If Carrier were less prone to self-promotion and disdain for his credentialed peers (and superiors), I’d be more willing to give him the benefit of the doubt with the Aristotle thing. I understand being demeaned by fundamentalists (you know I do). But you also know that my typical strategy is self-deprecating humor. Carrier’s immediate reaction is to tout his status. Even if he didn’t intend for it to come off so self-aggrandizing, it just fits right in with his pattern of behavior. 

    Not that I’ve never gone overboard or made mistakes. But of course when I’m persuaded I’ve done so, I apologize publicly and sincerely. Hell, I’ve even made public apologies when I believed I was right! I hope Carrier is able to do the same in this case, and from now on.

  59. Thom, 

    I suspect Carrier could tweak his “Dying Messiah” idea and still remain in the game so to speak. 

    You cited Isaiah and the Targum. Both say, “because he bared his soul unto death,” following by something about “intercession” for “sins,” or, “forgiveness.”  

    The key phrase being “he bared his soul unto death.” Doesn’t that mean “exposing yourself to death, or, dying if need be?” So Carrier could change, “The Dying Messiah,” to “The Messiah Willing to Die If Need Be” which fits the Targum view of the messiah, as well as other messianic figures whom Josephus mentions, whose trust of God was so great that they seemed totally unafraid to die, even leaving themselves in the most vulnerable situations. A similar meme (let’s call it the “baring one’s soul unto death meme”) seems ubiquitous, for anyone of any period in history with “enough faith and trust in God.” 

    If you “bared your soul unto death” (proved that your trust and obedience was sky high) the expectation seemed to be that God would 1) intervene at the last moment (as Jews were depicted as expecting in Mark’s crucifixion scene), or 2) intervene after you died, making your death a pure sacrifice for your people and their lack of trust and obedience. Compare the way Maccabean Jews wrote about their pious martyrs who died fighting the Greeks. Such Jews were depicted as never lacking in their trust and obedience to God–and since the Jews were unwilling to accept that the deaths of their most pious members was a just act that God simply allowed to happen–turning his back on them for no apparent reason–they transformed their own understanding of such deaths into the explanation that God allowed pious Jews to die for a reason, to save the Jews left behind. 

    Or compare the writers of the DSS who imagined God intervening “a generation” after the death of their beloved Teacher. 

    Speaking of the DSS, among them is the  “Messianic Apocalypse” (4Q521) that contains a verbal parallel in the last line with the Gospels of Matthew and Luke for identifying the signs of the Messiah:
    “[the hea]vens and the earth will listen to His Messiah, and none therein will stray from the commandments of the holy ones.Seekers of the Lord, strengthen yourselves in His service!All you hopeful in (your) heart, will you not find the Lord in this?For the Lord will consider the pious (hasidim) and call the righteous by name.Over the poor His spirit will hover and will renew the faithful with His power.And He will glorify the pious on the throne of the eternal Kingdom.He who liberates the captives, restores sight to the blind, straightens the b[ent]And f[or] ever I will cleav[ve to the h]opeful and in His mercy . . .And the fr[uit . . .] will not be delayed for anyone.And the Lord will accomplish glorious things which have never been . . .For He will heal the wounded, and revive the dead and bring good news to the poor. . . “(Michael O. Wise, translation)

    While in the Gospels Jesus lists these as the signs of the true Messiah:”. . . the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the glad tiding preached to them.” (Luke 7:22-23 and Matthew 11:4-5)

    Neat little article on this topic:
    http://religiousstudies.uncc.edu/people/jtabor/4q521.html

    Also, the Gospels witness to a belief that one messianic figure could die and then be reborn somehow as another figure, like when the apostles told Jesus that some people thought Jesus was John the Baptist “raised from the dead.” 

    The point being that there was a widespread belief that trusting and following God (including no doubt, “baring one’s soul unto death”) was what the messiah would HAVE to be pictured as doing, both prophetic and political messiahs. So a revised title for Carrier to use might be, “The Messiah Willing to Die If Need Be.”  

    Or in simpler terms, no pain, no gain, but if you risk pain and death and you do die, they still believed that would lead to gain. God was trusted as the One who would turn things around to honor such obedience unto death.  So the “necessity” of dying shouldn’t be the focus, there’s no magic in dying itself, dying is not necessity, so much as remaining obedient and trusting God’s “lead” as one saw it, even “if” that meant you “may” die. 

    That was the Hebrew contribution, which was very near to saying “death was necessary,” but not quite. 

      

  60. Ed, within the context of the broader midrash, I’d say the Targum’s “bared his soul unto death” simply means that he faced death in battle. All warrior’s are willing to die; that’s nothing special, and I don’t think that helps Carrier in any way, or salvages his thesis in any way. The overall thrust of the Targum militates against the idea of a suffering messiah. 

    Re: Qumran and their Teacher, Ed, they didn’t think their Teacher was the Messiah. They believed other Messiah(s) would come at the end. That’s very plainly all over their writings. 

    Regarding the parallel signs of the Messiah in the DSS and Synoptics, they’re both drawing from the Prophets. No news there. 

    Re: Jesus being the reincarnation of John, the point is precisely the opposite: John the Baptist, Elijah, and the Prophets were not Messianic figures. These kinds of superstitions were rampant, and not just in the Jewish world (e.g., reincarnation of Nero). But Peter gave a contrasting answer, “You are the Messiah.” 

    Finally, it’s again no news that Jews in this period believed that God would honor the righteous with resurrection. What was novel (the consensus maintains) is the idea that the Messiah would be one of those righteous ones who died.

  61. Thom, I applaud you for rewriting your response to Copan so as to avoid offense and de-escalate future misunderstandings. I hope Carrier can learn by your example to delete more of his sentences that tell us how he “feels” and stick with the sentences that tell us what he “thinks,” because well, it’s less sentences to write, and makes us want to think about a topic more. 

  62.  “Mark, the earliest Gospel, was written in Palestine by a Palestinian Jewish Christian to Palestinian Jewish Christians…”

    Thom,
    I thought that the consensus view is that because Mark explains Jewish beliefs (e.g. in 7:2-4, 11), he was probably not writing to Palestinian Jews.

  63. John,

    Good question. No, a Roman provenance is not the consensus. Although probably a majority of scholars still believe the provenance of Mark was Rome, there is a large number of scholars who argue for a Southern Syrian (Northern Palestinian) or even a specifically Galilean context, and I find their arguments persuasive. Among those who argue for a Southern Syrian/Nothern Palestinian origin around the events leading up to the Jewish/Roman war are Adela Yarbro Collins, Richard Horsley, Eugene Boring, Howard Clark Kee, Gerd Theissen, Joel Marcus, Rollin Ramsaran (my NT professor in grad school), Ched Myers, Daniel Cohen, and many, many others. There obviously was a mixed population in this region, but they all have strong arguments that there is an insider Jewish perspective in Mark’s gospel over against Roman occupation. They also have damning arguments against the typical argument made by those who support a Roman provenance. For instance, the Latinisms in Mark do not reflect a Roman setting; they are all loanwords that one would find anywhere imperial propaganda had reached. 7:2-4 etc. aren’t strong evidence for a non-Palestinian provenance; all it indicates is that Mark was written in a context where there was a mixed crowd. Collins and others have strong arguments as well that the characterization of messiah in Mark reflects a context in which other messiahs are till making claims, i.e., prior to or leading into the war. Etc. etc. etc.

  64. Alphazulu,

    I didn’t overstate anything. But I may have been unclear. At any rate, Paul had to argue, frequently, that he was their equal, and for a number of reasons, including that they were disciples before he was. I’m not going to respond to the insinuation that because Paul doesn’t expressly identify “The Twelve” as “the Twelve disciples who had personal relations with Jesus,” therefore the Twelve might mean something else. There’s simply no evidence that it does, and ample evidence that it doesn’t. Note also that one of the justifications Paul gives for his equality is that he didn’t learn the gospel from the Jerusalem apostles; rather, he learned it from Christ personally. I won’t spell out the implication there because I think it should be obvious. We can treat these texts with hyper-skepticism in a pedantic way, or we can make sound judgments that make sense of all the evidence. 

  65. Thanks for the response.

    You write, ” Paul had to argue, frequently, that he was their equal, and for a number of reasons, including that they were disciples before he was”

    Or maybe due to the fact that he was a persecutor of Christians before “seeing the Light”, so to speak.

    Yet Paul never specifically addresses that issue. Why don’t we see Paul, anticipating a possible objection to his “apostleship”,  saying something to the effect of “While I realize that my interaction with our Lord was not of the same manner of his personally chosen disciples, my apostleship is just as valid due to the fact of.. ” etc.?

    He says simply, “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?”

    The idea that Paul would expect his audience to readily accept his “seeing” of the Lord to be on equal par with the disciples personal experiences and direct communication and interaction with Jesus in the flesh seems rather hard to believe. 

    Wouldn’t Paul maybe think that it might be a good idea to head off any possible objections to his equal apostleship by articulating his “qualifications” more forcefully than  simply saying, “Hey, I saw the dude myself!”
    Again, thanks for the response. I’m certainly open to being corrected.

  66. “Or maybe due to the fact that he was a persecutor of Christians before “seeing the Light”, so to speak.” 

    Yes, that too. Which is why I said, “for a number of reasons.” 

    “Yet Paul never specifically addresses that issue. Why don’t we see Paul, anticipating a possible objection to his ‘apostleship’,  saying something to the effect of ‘While I realize that my interaction with our Lord was not of the same manner of his personally chosen disciples, my apostleship is just as valid due to the fact of.. ‘ etc.?”

    First, he does address that issue. Second, the reason he doesn’t spell it out as clearly as you’d like is because he wasn’t answering a question from a mythicist and because the criteria for apostleship were understood. One of the criteria for being on the twelve apostles was one had to have personal training from Jesus. This is reflected in Acts 1:21-23:

    “‘So one of the men who have accompanied us throughout the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.’ So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias.”

    This is basically consistent with Paul’s argument when he’s defending his own apostleship in Galatians 1:11ff. So in answer to your question, “Wouldn’t Paul maybe think that it might be a good idea to head off any possible objections to his equal apostleship by articulating his ‘qualifications’ more forcefully than  simply saying, ‘Hey, I saw the dude myself!,'” you’ll see that Paul does precisely that:

    “For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. . . . But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus. Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him for fifteen days; but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother.”

    What is indicated here is the idea that a legitimate, top-tier apostleship depends upon direct teaching from Jesus. This was the requirement according to Acts, and it is the basis of Paul’s argument here. He is not a second-tier apostle; he did not learn anything second-hand from the other apostles, including Cephas, neither from “James the brother of the Lord” (so-called because at the time, the other James was still alive, i.e., “James, the brother of John” [Acts 12:2]). Paul’s argument is that he is their equal because, like them, he too learned the Gospel directly from the Lord. He didn’t just say that he saw the Lord. He said that he received the Gospel message directly from a revelation of Jesus. 

    I hope that answers your questions. And let’s not fall into the trap of requiring the texts to say precisely what we want them to say in order to answer our own questions, questions which weren’t on their minds at all. What we have to do as historians is allow the various sources to be consistent, unless they are in clear contradiction with one another. Here we have two independent sources stating that a criterion of apostleship is direct teaching from Jesus. Paul’s argument in Galatians 1 names his direct revelation from Jesus as the justification for his equality with the other “super-apostles” (2 Cor 11:5). 

  67. Ed, every good man on the planet, in any culture, would be expected to do what’s right even in the face of death. I’m afraid I don’t see the significance of your point. 

  68. Thom,

    What did you think of Carrier’s scholarship in Not the Impossible Faith? A lot of the book seemed to be vented frustration. It of course was superior to Holding’s work but I’m a layperson  and I cannot seem to tell when Carrier’s scholarship is wanting. 

  69. Stevie, 

    There’s a lot of good stuff in NIF and a lot of error as well. I don’t have time to go through and differentiate; that would take another book. My apologies. Some of Carrier’s work is terrific; some of it is really shoddy. It often gets shoddier when he moves over into Jewish texts, but not in every case. His article refuting the idea that Christianity invented science is top notch (it’s in one of the Loftus books I think). 

  70. Thom,

    Dont apologize, I wasn’t expecting you to begin writing an essay I just wanted your thoughts! I have yet to read Loftus’ CD or EoC but I will check it out eventually. By the by, thank you for being an honest scholar. As a Christian it’s difficult to find Christian scholars who are genuine and honest. But, i think those adjectives can definitely be applied to you! All the best!

  71. Stevie,

    Don’t waste your time on buffoons like Carrier and Loftus, if you want good, honest, Christian scholarship I heartily recommend “Constructing Jesus” by Dale Allison, once you’ve tasted the real thing you’ll be better able to detect the cheap imitation that the buffoons serve up.  The problem is that Christianity has had such a profound impact on Western culture that it’s almost impossible for Western scholars to engage the biblical text objectively, those that do are few and far between.

  72. I thought my point was in my post. And it’s not strictly speaking Carrier’s view or yours, just a thought about Roman and Herodian justice and what kind of story might develop and take hold in a world of such visibly harsh executions. 

    . . . even though “death” was not a necessary requirement for being a messianic figure, it must have become an increasingly high expectation [in light of Roman and Herodian justice].

    Which reminds me of something Crossan said:

    “Think of Jesus 20 CE, now move him 50 years back to 30 BCE. Herod was taking over the country, given to him by the Romans. I would give Jesus [or other figures attracting crowds of followers] ten minutes under Herod the Great before he was killed. Go 50 years in the opposite direction from 20 CD, you’re into 70 CE, The Roman revenge is destroying the Jewish homeland and burning the Temple to the ground. I’d give Jesus FIVE minutes.” http://youtu.be/56cojvbaP5Y

    So with the expectation of death under that kind of justice being so high, it looks like the first group that could come up with a story about someone who opposed the powers that be, died (as would naturally be expected), yet still lived, would be the group whose beliefs would have the best chance of attracting converts [especially potential converts in the Hellenistic world — though many Jews continued to pursue direct physical opposition to Rome and held that was the kind of response God would honor and aid most]. 

  73. Thom: 
    What I meant was that in my opinion he has a dated, positivistic epistemology, displayed for instance in his insistence that Bayes Theorem can be successfully applied to historiography.

    I know you said you wouldn’t go into it, but could you say a little more about why you think Bayes is not suitable for historiography?
    It’s my understanding that historians already use probabilistic arguments, and that introducing Bayes is an attempt to introduce further rigour into the field.

  74. Ed,

    Supposing Crossan is right, what bearing should his observation have on the eschatological imagination of Jesus’ time?  Probably not that much.  It seems more likely that expectations about the coming eschatological king were shaped more by scripture (or creative reworkings of the same) than by the harsh realities of the day.  To wit, for the 1st century Jew the destructive powers of Herod and the Great and the Roman armies are nothing when compared against the coming eschatological king who will “shatter kings on the day of his wrath” (Ps 110:5), there’s no clear reason why such people should feel the need to modulate their understanding of the latter by the inferior powers of the former.

    “So with the expectation of death under that kind of justice being so
    high, it looks like the first group that could come up with a story
    about someone who opposed the powers that be, died (as would naturally
    be expected), yet still lived, would be the group whose beliefs would
    have the best chance of attracting converts [especially potential
    converts in the Hellenistic world”

    Sorry, but the idea that the one true God would put on human flesh and be killed by the method of Roman crucifixion violates almost every relevant aesthetic sensibility of that time and any proclamation to that effect would almost certainly not “have the best chance of attracting converts.”  Seriously, have you not read any ancient Greek mythology or the oracles about the coming eschatological king in the Hebrew Bible?

  75. NW,

    That’s exactly right. I don’t know what Ed is on about. All the evidence we have tells us plainly that they expected the eschatological messiah to be specially empowered by God to defeat their enemies. I don’t know why Ed is turning to mere speculation that isn’t supported by any of the evidence we have. 

  76. JQ,

    You’re looking for inconsistencies where there aren’t any. Paul says Jesus appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. I am having a hard time believing you really believe Paul thought Cephas wasn’t one of the twelve. All it means is that Jesus appeared to Cephas first, and then to Cephas along with the other disciples. And yes, Jesus didn’t appear to “the twelve” in the gospels, because Judas was dead. But that’s why this means “The Twelve” is a shorthand for Jesus’ disciples. It was nomenclature. But contrary to your claim that Paul was aware of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, Paul never mentions Judas once in any of his letters, and appears to be entirely oblivious to the tradition. Perhaps you are referring to 1 Cor 11:23. First of all, the word often translated “betrayed” there can simply mean “handed over,” and often does. It is also used of Jesus for, “gave himself up” elsewhere. Second, even if the meaning is betrayed, we have no evidence that Paul attributed this betrayal to Judas. 

    You can have your doubts, but they’re entirely unfounded. 

  77. Thom,

    Here’s what I think is probably going on.  For one case, I can imagine that many Christians who discover the real challenge that modern biblical criticism presents to Christian orthodoxy (such as is summarized in your book) feel betrayed by their religious tradition and, while still operating under the exclusivist either/or mindset of their tradition, reason that the whole religion was probably made up wholesale.  In another case, I can imagine others whose hostility to the Christian religion is so intense that it motivates them to produce scholarship in the direction of Jesus mythicism; in other words, the challenges that good scholarship poses to Christian orthodoxy isn’t good enough for them, they want the whole religion to be founded on fictitious lies, nothing less will satisfy.  I could be wrong, but these are sorts of people who I imagine are most naturally attracted to Jesus mythicism and come out of the woodwork when it’s challenged.

  78. Thom, NW,  I was playing with the idea of a dying Messiah, not trying to prove Carrier’s hypothesis, but the fact remains that so many Palestinian “holy leaders” that gained followers and attracted attention to themselves were offed by the Romans and/or Hebrew leaders, and the offing was so common, that it must have become a theme in itself or at least a very high expectation:  Among the executed there was The Teacher (leader of the Dead Sea Scroll community), John the Baptist, The Egyptian who claimed the walls of Jersualem were going to tumble down, Theudas who claimed he could part the river Jordan (last two mentioned by Josephus), all executed. There were probably other rabble-rousers who were offed, making it a common practice if not outright expectation. Did Jesus or his followers imagine things would go better with them if they entered Jersualem and Jesus began preaching there?  Even when writing a fictious story could one honestly imagine a more logical ending than the death of a Messiah in that time and place?  Neither do my observations support mythicism in a direct fashion.  They are simply observations. 

    I am not saying Carrier’s mythicism is correct nor necessary since there appear to be plenty of mythical elements in the NT regardless of whether or not they are grafted to varying degrees on an historical Jesus–for instance, claims of healing and exorcism were very common, but other miracles of Jesus less common, and more questionable. 

    Carrier points out that tales of dying and rising divinities, as well as tales of people being translated to heaven, were widely acknowledged throughout the Hellenistic world. And in the Jewish world there were ideas of resurrections and ascensions into heaven. 

    Note again the Dead Sea Scroll passage I cited that depicted “the signs of the Messiah:”

    For He will heal the wounded, and revive the dead and bring good news to the poor.  

    A parallel passage that mentions healing, raising the dead, and preaching good news to the poor (in that order), as signs of the Messiah is found in the Gospels: 

    The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 
    Matthew 11:5

    The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 
    Luke 7:22

    Moreover, only the final line of all three passages is from Isaiah 61, i.e., “. . . the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor,” but Isaiah does not mention “reviving the dead.”  So apparently “reviving the dead” as an essential “sign of the Messiah” arose among the DSS community before Jesus was born. So we have a Jewish milieu in which a sign of the Messiah included resurrecting the dead, and a Hellenistic milieu of dying/rising divinities/translation tales, and a Palestinian milieu where the execution of holy men (at least the ones who dared to form a following) was the rule rather than the exception. So, perhaps one should not be totally astonished at the idea of a Messiah who dies. I was not making an airtight case. I was mentioning peculiarities of that time and place. 

    I would add that superstitions seemed rife back then, from Emperor worship to kooks and quacks throughout the Roman Empire, and Palestine seemed to attract the most hot-headed crazy-eyed figures of all and their followers. During a time of general peace throughout the Roman Empire (the famous Pax Romana), it was in Palestine where the hot-heads seemed to be concentrated the most, from prophets to revolutionaries. That is also where stories would be most likely to evolve, or where such stories would most likely be situated, if one was composing literature of resistance, attempting to build on a man and/or myths of a savior greater than both Judaism’s and Hellenism’s miracle workers. Someone must have hit on the idea that a resurrected Messiah is a miracle worker indeed. Such an idea has swagger galore. Like the idea in movies today of heroes or villains who seem to be killed yet keep coming back. The idea of a dead leader of some sort, like Nero, coming back, is known from the first century. And of course they depicted him returning from the “east.” Or an idea of John the Baptist coming back. 

    And the great part about the later idea in the fourth Gospel of an “alternate kingdom” an invisible “spiritual kingdom,” is that the idea is unfalsifiable. 

    P.S. I have long tended to agree with Ehrman and Allison that there is evidence that the DSS community, as well as John the Baptist, and Jesus, all predicted a coming kingdom ruled not by Rome but by God (in the DSS a soon coming battle would take place–within a generation–between the sons of light and darkness that would result in such a kingdom). And most likely the resurrection stories of Jesus arose after the fact of his execution, as a way for his followers to deal with the cognitive dissonance caused by his execution.  They figured that someone who predicted a soon coming worldwide judgment (and remember, Jesus does not appear to have been the first to make such a prediction, so the cognitive dissonance itself was probably building toward a crescendo over a few generations) couldn’t just be “dead,” but must have been translated/raised as a “first fruit” of his own prediction.    It’s also possible that the historical Jesus expected a “Son of Man” figure other than himself to arrive in final judgment. 

  79. Ed, you keep saying, “must,” “there must have been.” The problem is, we don’t have any evidence that there was. So until we do, no, “must” is rhetoric. Yes, there were lots of holy men who were killed. Normally, when a messianic hopeful was killed, that was the proof he wasn’t the Messiah. Jesus was the exception. We don’t know of any other exceptions to the rule. Dig through the sources and find one for me. I’ll be happy to add him next to Jesus. Until then, I don’t really see we have much to talk about on this score.

  80. This bit of the Targum, that you quote seems to say very clearly that the one previously identified as the messiah will die:
    53:12. Then will I divide for him the spoil of many peoples, and the possessions of strong cities shall he divide as prey, because he delivered up his soul to death, and made the rebellious subject to the Law: he shall intercede for many sins, and the rebellious for his sake shall be forgiven.

    What am I missing?

  81. Different English translations have it different ways, not all of which reflect this. I just read the Hebrew and it’s a bit ambiguous. We also have to bear in mind that, as all scholars recognize, Targum Jonathan on Isaiah was edited during the third, fourth, and fifth centuries CE. Its final redaction didn’t take place until the fifth century CE. It’s quite plausible that the word “messiah” could have been inserted by a redactor after the original composition. But the important thing to bear in mind is within the broader context of this passage in the Targum, the Servant is changed at every turn from a suffering Servant to a triumphant military warrior. So this one ambiguous statement in 53:12 should probably not be taken to undermine the whole point the Targum is making about the Servant. I haven’t come across a single critical scholar who argues that the statement in 53:12 affects the picture being painted in the rest of the passage, which is that of a militant and victorious Servant. And, like I said, the Hebrew is a bit ambiguous here. The word “delivered (up)” isn’t in the Hebrew as it is in the English translation I used above. So it’s possible it just means that he faced death in battle, and for his willingness to do that he is given great honor and the spoil of the enemies he killed. Indeed, the fact that he is given the spoil of his enemies makes little sense if he didn’t survive the battle.

  82. Facing death but not dying sounds possible. Ambiguous, though, at least allows that some not-as-clever-as-us, perhaps illiterate, 1st century Jews heard Messiah in the first line and death in the last line and misinterpreted it. Having the messiah resurrected might have solved any problems with gathering the spoils and being triumphant, in this non-scholarly, non-literate, interpretation. Exactly the same cognitive dissonance that everyone says took place after the real crucifixion, could have taken place earlier, on hearing this ambiguous text, couldn’t it?

  83. This was a text primarily for elites. And it would not have been all written down yet in the pre-Christian period.

  84. My source (wikipedia, or possibly the Catholic Encyclopedia online. Not the best sources I will agree!!) said that Aramaic targums were read out after reading each verse in Hebrew because the commonfolk could no longer understand Hebrew. Is that not right?

  85. Yes, what I mean is, the elites handled the texts and controlled the readings. Thus, the elites were there to control interpretation. It wasn’t an atomistic, individualistic hermeneutical situation like we have today. But Targum Jonathan itself was written down slowly over the course of centuries, not completed until the fifth.

  86. Ok, so it is possible that an illiterate hearer of this, could put “messiah”and the ambiguous “delivered up his soul to death” together, and think the messiah might die, despite the elites telling him or her what to think? Christians wrote things which were disparaging of the elites such as the Scribes and Pharisees, so I don’t think we can say they would always accept the elite interpretation.
    As for the date. Weren’t these things passed on as oral tradition by the elites for a long time before they were written down, as they say of the Talmud, I believe. So it could date from the 1st century or earlier, which is when the Aramaic speakers needed the Hebrew texts explained to them?

  87. We simply don’t know when this appeared in this form, and we can’t speculate as to how it might have been interpreted by hypothetical a rogue peasant. We don’t know that it said “messiah” at this time. The text we have was worked over for centuries before it was solidified in the form we have it. Scholars don’t put much weight on these kinds of speculations because that’s all they are.

  88. The Jewish association of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah with the Messiah is the point. The targum does have this association even if it insists that the suffering servant is really the conquering Messiah. We do not have a fully fleshed out view of all Jewish thought at the time, but it’s clear that there was some Jewish thought somewhere that made that association. After the branching off of Christianity, there may well have been need to dissociate from that kind of Messiah talk, or convert to Christianity. But, from the very incomplete view we have of Jewish thought at the time, and the clues that some Jews made that association, it may well have been within the corpus of Jewish thought.

    Upon the premise that there was no historical Jesus, one could only ever have a Messiah that effectively did nothing and left no records. So coincidentally the more heterodox this Jesus is, the more unlikely that he existed. If it was absolutely universal and widely believed throughout that Jesus should be the conquering messiah the less we should expect the do-nothing messiah. But, the do nothing messiah is the only messiah mythicism could have. Whereas a historical Messiah much like those “false messiahs” that Josephus referenced could have tried to actually do the Messianic tasks. The more surprising Jesus is as a messiah, the less likely he is. After all, under mythicism the only messiah you could have is one just like Jesus. So the more strange Jesus is, the more likely mythicism is. Though this is an utter rebuke for a divine Jesus perhaps one could assemble a failed messianic apocalyptic preacher and a post hoc white wash. Get caught and murdered by the Romans? I meant to do that! Though, then it would seem quite odd that Roman authorities treated Christians as a weird religion rather than co-conspirators.

  89. Your first paragraph is uninformed (see my latest two posts, “The Torturous Death of Richard Carrier’s Dying Messiah” and “Does the Messiah Die in Targum Jonathan After All?”). Your second paragraph, in addition to being thoroughly uninformed, is also one gigantic non sequitur. I’m afraid I don’t have time to offer everyone free course work in historiography. My apologies for that.

  90. Grog,
    Your first question: “What would have caused first century Jews to “just start saying” that their dead sage/cynic/priest/prophet was a crucified messiah? This one is in the pudding itself, it would seem.”

    The answer is (as these same scholars will tell you) is that they came to believe in him as messiah because of experiences they had which they interpreted as experiences of his resurrection: you’ll note that the promise in the Gospels (and in Paul) is that he will return to be that conquering messiah they all expected, so the early Christian conception is not as dissimilar from the standard conception as is often stated.

    In answer to your last question, see here: http://religionatthemargins.com/2012/05/the-torturous-death-of-richard-carriers-dying-messiah/

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