It Is Finished for Richard Carrier’s Dying Messiah: Part 1

Richard Carrier has responded to some of my criticisms of his pre-Christian Dying Messiah thesis. He cites my first response and links to it, but only casually mentions my second, longer critique, and doesn’t link to it. While he engages my second response lightly, it seems clear to me that he did not read it very carefully. Carrier reiterates numerous assertions that were refuted in my second response, but he makes no reference whatsoever to the arguments I made in most of these cases. As a result, Carrier’s latest article does not constitute an adequate response, but it was very interesting and actually led me to change my mind about the most important text in question, 11QMelch. No, I haven’t been convinced by his position—there’s still no dying messiah whose death atones for sins in the Melchizedek scroll. But Carrier and I were both half right and half wrong in our readings of the scroll. I’ll get to that in a follow up post.

Anyway, those who have read “The Torturous Death” with an ounce of care will not be able to avoid cringing throughout a reading of Carrier’s latest response; he continues to make many of the same mistakes for which I have already poked fun at him, and does so obliviously in some cases. Moreover, he makes new mistakes, in addition to numerous evasions and reiterations of old mistakes. He says that my analysis has changed his opinions “on some matters,” but unfortunately doesn’t spell out for us what those matters are. He did send me an email saying, “Assume that on any points I don’t contend you have convinced me, and I no longer dispute them.” So that explains why his response was so short. He says that ultimately my critique was “a fail.” Let’s evaluate his response in detail and see whether that claim sticks or not.

Throughout I’ll follow the section headings from Carrier’s latest article.

The Dying-and-Rising Messiah ben Joseph

Carrier writes:

Stark ignores completely the evidence I cite from the Talmud. And that omission undermines the bulk of his argument. If b.Sanhedrin 98b and 93a [ACTUALLY B] explicitly say Isaiah 53 is about a dying messiah (and they do), and b.Sukkah 52a-b likewise has a dying-and-rising “Christ son of Joseph” ideology in it (and it does), then my statement “only when Jews had no idea what Christians would do with this connection would they themselves have put it in there” becomes obviously correct: there is no plausible way later Jews would invent interpretations of their scripture that supported and vindicated Christians. They would not invent a Messiah with a father named Joseph who dies and is resurrected. They would not proclaim Isaiah 53 to be about the messiah and admit that Isaiah there predicted the messiah would die and be resurrected. That was the very chapter Christians were using to prove their case (and which scholars like Bart Ehrman keep insisting only Christians saw as messianic). So we have evidence here of a Jewish belief that predates Christian evangelizing, even if the evidence survives only in later sources.

First, I ignored these because Carrier conceded in his original article that these are not the best evidences since they are found only in post-Christian sources; therefore, I focused on his efforts to identify a dying messiah in what he argued were pre-Christian sources.

But since Carrier is insistent, I am forced to display yet more of Carrier’s ignorance of the basic scholarship here. First, let’s examine b.Sanhedrin 98b and 93b (which Carrier incorrectly identifies as 93a). He says that these two passages “explicitly say Isaiah 53 is about a dying messiah.” In fact, they do no such thing. First we will examine b.Sanhedrin 93b:

The Messiah — as it is written, And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge of the fear of the Lord. And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord [Isa 11:2f]. R. Alexandri said: This teaches that he loaded him with good deeds and suffering as a mill [is laden]. Raba said: He smells [a man] and judges, as it is written, and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears, yet with righteousness shall he judge the poor.

(Bar Koziba reigned two and a half years, and then said to the Rabbis, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They answered, ‘Of Messiah it is written that he smells and judges: let us see whether he [Bar Koziba] can do so.’ When they saw that he was unable to judge by the scent, they slew him.)

First, let’s note that this passage doesn’t even quote Isaiah 53. It quotes Isaiah 11. Second, nowhere does the text say that the Messiah dies. It says he is laden with good deeds and suffering, but it does not say he dies. It paints a portrait of a righteous man who judges God’s people and also bears suffering. There is no death, and certainly no atoning death. Third, it explicitly references Bar Koziba (also called Bar Kochba), a failed messianic hopeful in the 130s CE who led a revolt against Rome which was quashed, thus proving to these Rabbis that he was not the messiah. Thus, this text clearly post-dates Christianity by well over a century.

It was after the failure of the Bar Kochba revolt that the rabbis developed the idea of a sage messiah, as opposed to an arrogant warrior messiah after the model of Bar Kochba.

In short, b.Sanhedrin 93b obviously does not work for Carrier’s thesis, a fact to which he seems to be entirely oblivious. Has he read it? If so, how did he miss the direct reference to Bar Kochba?

Now we’ll examine b.Sanhedrin 98b, another text that post-dates the Bar Kochba revolt:

R. Giddal said in Rab’s name: The Jews are destined to eat [their fill] in the days of the Messiah. R. Joseph demurred: is this not obvious; who else then should eat — Hilek and Bilek? — This was said in opposition to R. Hillel, who maintained that there will be no Messiah for Israel, since they have already enjoyed him during the reign of Hezekiah.

Rab said: The world was created only on David’s account. Samuel said: On Moses account; R. Johanan said: For the sake of the Messiah. What is his [the Messiah’s] name? — The School of R. Shila said: His name is Shiloh, for it is written, until Shiloh come. The School of R. Yannai said: His name is Yinnon, for it is written, His name shall endure forever: e’er the sun was, his name is Yinnon. The School of R. Haninah maintained: His name is Haninah, as it is written, Where I will not give you Haninah. Others say: His name is Menahem the son of Hezekiah, for it is written, Because Menahem [‘the comforter’], that would relieve my soul, is far.

The Rabbis said: His name is ‘the leper scholar,’ as it is written, Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God, and afflicted [Isa 53:4].
R. Nahman said: if he [the Messiah] is of those living [today], it might be one like myself, as it is written, And their nobles shall be of themselves, and their governors shall proceed from the midst of them. Rab said: if he is of the living, it would be our holy Master; if of the dead, it would have been Daniel the most desirable man. Rab Judah said in Rab’s name: The Holy One, blessed be He, will raise up another David for us, as it is written, But they shall serve the Lord their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up unto them: not ‘I raised up’, but ‘I will raise up’ is said. R. Papa said to Abaye: But it is written, And my servant David shall be their prince forever? — E.g., an emperor and a viceroy.

First, while Hillel is obviously a pre-Christian rabbi, most of the rabbis named here lived between the second and fourth centuries CE. Second, this passage does not cite Isaiah 53 to say that the Messiah would die. It simply cites it to say that the messiah would be a “leper scholar.” Third, while several of the rabbis identify long-deceased figures from Israel’s history as “the Messiah,” it is clear that they do not mean this in the sense of an eschatological Messiah. Hillel makes this clear; the text says that Hillel “maintained that there will be no Messiah for Israel, since they have already enjoyed him during the reign of Hezekiah.” So references to past figures as “the Messiah” do not constitute a claim that the Messiah would die and rise again. These reflect a different conception of the Messiah altogether from the dominant one found in apocalyptic Judaism, including Christianity. The last tradition cited in this passage refers to a Davidic Messiah who will be raised up (not resurrected but brought onto the scene) in the future. Clearly what we have here are competing conceptions of the Messiah, some of which envision a Davidic warrior-king, others of which envision a sage-scholar, either past, present or future. None of the deceased Messiahs are posited as Messiahs in the sense that Jesus of Nazareth was said to be the Messiah. It’s apples and oranges. There is no claim here whatsoever that an eschatological, Davidic messiah would die (in battle or otherwise), let alone be resurrected from the dead or atone for Israel’s sins with his death.

So, once more, Carrier confidently claims that a text “obviously” supports his thesis, when in fact it does not.

But Carrier’s biggest blunder lies in his claims about b.Sukkah 52a-b. I’ll quote the only relevant portion of the text in full, followed by a discussion:

And the land shall mourn, every family apart; the family of the house of David apart, and their wives apart [Zech 12:12]. Is it not, they said, an a fortiori argument? If in the future when they will be engaged in mourning and the Evil Inclination will have no power over them, the Torah nevertheless says, men separately and women separately, how much more so now5 when they are engaged in rejoicing and the Evil Inclination has sway over them.

What is the cause of the mourning [mentioned in the last cited verse]? — R. Dosa and the Rabbis differ on the point. One explained, The cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, and the other explained, The cause is the slaying of the Evil Inclination.

It is well according to him who explains that the cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, since that well agrees with the Scriptural verse, And they shall look upon me because they have thrust him through, and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for his only son [Zech 12:10]; but according to him who explains the cause to be the slaying of the Evil Inclination, is this [it may be objected] an occasion for mourning? Is it not rather an occasion for rejoicing? Why then should they weep? — [The explanation is] as R. Judah expounded: In the time to come [i.e., the messianic age] the Holy One, blessed be He, will bring the Evil Inclination and slay it in the presence of the righteous and the wicked. To the righteous it will have the appearance of a towering hill, and to the wicked it will have the appearance of a hair thread. Both the former and the latter will weep; the righteous will weep saying, ‘How were we able to overcome such a towering hill!’ The wicked also will weep saying, ‘How is it that we were unable to conquer this hair thread!’ And the Holy One, blessed be He, will also marvel together with them, as it is said, Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, If it be marvellous in the eyes of the remnant of this people in those days, it shall also be marvellous in My eyes [Zech 8:6].

R. Assi stated, The Evil Inclination is at first like the thread of a spider, but ultimately becomes like cart ropes, as it is said, Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart-rope.

Our Rabbis taught, The Holy One, blessed be He, will say to the Messiah, the son of David (May he reveal himself speedily in our days!), ‘Ask of me anything, and I will give it to thee’, as it is said, I will tell of the decree etc. this day have I begotten thee, ask of me and I will give the nations for thy inheritance. But when he will see that the Messiah the son of Joseph is slain, he will say to Him, ‘Lord of the Universe, I ask of Thee only the gift of life.’ As to life, He would answer him, ‘Your father David has already prophesied this concerning you’, as it is said, He asked life of thee, thou gavest it him, [even length of days for ever and ever].

Here the text identifies a “Messiah ben Joseph” and a “Messiah ben David.” These are two separate figures. The former precedes the latter in time (which is yet future to the rabbis writing about them). The Messiah ben Joseph would wage a war against Rome and retake Jerusalem and rebuild the temple, according to the tradition. But he would later come under attack by “Gog and Magog” and in that battle he would be slain. He would be a precursor to the messianic age—he is an anointed one, but not the Davidic Messiah. After his time, the Messiah ben David would come and finally defeat God’s enemies once and for all and initiate the true messianic age.

So that’s the basic picture in the background of this text; just so we’re clear. The debate in the text is over the cause of the mourning mentioned in Zechariah 12. Some said the mourning was over the slaying of the Messiah ben Joseph. Others said the mourning was over the slaying of the “Evil Inclination.”

We’ll just reiterate: the text nowhere says that the Davidic Messiah would be slain. Jesus of Nazareth of course was cast as the Davidic Messiah, a son of David. What the text says is that the Messiah ben Joseph would be slain—this anointed one was not of the line of David.

Here are some things we need to note: (1) Scholars virtually uniformly date the emergence of this notion of two Messiah (one of the line of Joseph, and one of the line of David) to the period after the Bar-Kochba revolt. (2) The text identifies the argument as between Rabbi Dosa and his contemporaries. Rabbi Dosa, of course, was active between 170 and 200 CE, well over one hundred years after the emergence of Christianity. So any attempt to date this text to a pre-Christian period is not standing on anything like firm ground.

Finally, Carrier hinges his entire argument for a pre-Christian dating of the text on the notion that “there is no plausible way later Jews would invent interpretations of their scripture that supported and vindicated Christians. They would not invent a Messiah with a father named Joseph who dies and is resurrected.”

Carrier simply displays his ignorance yet again. The “Joseph” here is not some obscure Jewish figure who begot/fathered this anointed warrior. “Joseph” refers to Joseph the son of Jacob/Israel. This same figure is referred to interchangeably as Messiah ben Joseph or Messiah ben Ephraim in this tradition. Ephraim, of course, was one of Joseph’s two sons. The reason for this is that Israel was divided into two houses, and the northern house was called both “Israel” and “Ephraim.” The Messiah ben Yosef is the anointed one who is thought to come from the tribes of the North (Ephraim-Joseph), while Messiah ben David is from the tribes of the South. Together they represent the joining of Israel back together. Messiah ben Yosef is never seen as the great Messiah. He is simply a warrior who dies in battle. What this means is that this slain anointed one could in nowise have been confused with Jesus of Nazareth, who was said to be of the line of David (and hence Judah). The two Messiahs in b.Sukkah are from two different tribes entirely. Thus, there is no way, as Carrier mistakenly claims, that this tradition would have “supported and vindicated Christians.” As such, Carrier’s argument for a pre-Christian dating of this material fails entirely. Here’s another example why it’s important to have a solid background in a field before one sets out to make consensus-overturning arguments within that field.

So, Carrier says that by ignoring his arguments from the Talmud, “the bulk” of my argument is “undermined.” He says:

There is no plausible way later Jews would invent interpretations of their scripture that supported and vindicated Christians. They would not invent a Messiah with a father named Joseph who dies and is resurrected. They would not proclaim Isaiah 53 to be about the messiah and admit that Isaiah there predicted the messiah would die and be resurrected. That was the very chapter Christians were using to prove their case. So we have evidence here of a Jewish belief that predates Christian evangelizing, even if the evidence survives only in later sources.

In short, on every single point Carrier tries to make here, we have an epic fail.

The Super-Christ of the Jonathan Targum

Carrier writes:

As Stark is barely willing to admit, I had only cited the Targum as (additional) evidence that some first century Jews saw Isaiah 52-53 as messianic (because Jonathan actually inserted the word “messiah” into it). I did not use the Targum as evidence of a belief in a dying messiah.

I have said that if this is the case, then Carrier’s original post was incredibly misleading, and I’ve documented why it was at the least misleading, as well as why I think he might be saving-face, based on his initial comment to James McGrath. But I don’t really care either way, as I’ve stated. The point is, citing this as evidence that pre-Christian Jews saw Isaiah 53 as messianic (suffering or no) is irrelevant for this thesis, and I’ve explained why in detail. Carrier hasn’t responded. Let alone the fact that this is very unlikely to be a pre-Christian text at all, as I’ll discuss (yet again) below. Carrier continues:

Nevertheless, the Targum, which otherwise downplays the suffering-and-dying element (transforming the figure into a more awesome one, eliminating all the pathos of the original), still says “he delivered up his soul to death” (53:12, as Stark’s own quoted translation reads) and that this somehow effected his victory.

Interruption: nowhere does the text imply that his “delivering up his soul to death” “somehow effected his victory.” This is more Carrian eisegesis. All the text says is that he was rewarded because he “delivered up his soul to death.” The question is, what does this phrase mean? I’ve cited formidable scholars who argue that it is idiomatic for “he risked his life.” Carrier now attempts to refute this:

When this was pointed out, Stark resorted to special pleading about what the Aramaic might instead mean, exposing the fact that this is really more ambiguous than he let on at first.

I did no such thing. Carrier will now attempt (and fail) to prove this:

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

This is deceptive. Here Carrier pits me alone against “expert translators.” Of course, the translation I originally used was one I found online, and I don’t know who the translator was, and neither does Carrier. Moreover, I cited two expert translators in my post devoted to just this question, who translate the phrase, “he risked his life.” I don’t know if Carrier is familiar with Joseph Blenkinsopp, but let’s just say it doesn’t get any more expert than him. So Carrier is deceiving his readers by pitting “expert translators” against “Stark.” He continues:

I was open to being corrected on this. Until I decided to research the targumim and other background elements and found Stark’s case a great deal weaker than he lets on. He appeals to two arguments, context and linguistic precedent. Regarding context he (now) says:
All the suffering of the original Servant is transmuted to either his enemies or to Israel everywhere else in the targum; he is said quite clearly to have conquered his enemies in the targum; and directly after the phrase, “he delivered up his soul to death,” it is said that he divides up the spoil of his enemies and is given his share (which would be difficult to do if he were dead, and no mention whatsoever is made of any resurrection).”

The first point is too weak to credit. The figure’s death would still be a known element from the Hebrew (and even Septuagint) versions of this passage. The Hebrew in fact would often have even been read out loud before turning to the targum. It’s not as if Jews reading this Targum would not be aware of that. Jonathan or his redactors might well have been retaining the bare element of the original (the sacrificial death), while transforming the remainder into something more triumphant (“interpreting” as much as possible as being about Israel or its enemies). Any interpretation we make has to take this into account: the readers of the targum would know the original text. A targum is not meant to be a literal translation but a paraphrase or explanation of the original Hebrew.

This objection fails. He says (1) that the audience would have been familiar with the original text, so they would have known it referred to his death. Well, Carrier doesn’t know this. He does know that the vast majority were illiterate, and that even among the literate few, only the leaders would have access to the scrolls. If the Hebrew was read aloud prior to the reading of the targum, that doesn’t mean much since most of the audience spoke Aramaic, not Hebrew (that’s the whole point of having Aramaic versions in the first place). Even still, if the original text was read aloud, it was immediately followed by the interpretation, which clearly changes the text’s meaning in dramatic ways all throughout this passage. Carrier says that (2) the targum is a paraphrase or explanation of the original Hebrew. This is correct, but Carrier seems to think this means the targum doesn’t often change the meaning of the original Hebrew, which it clearly does. Let’s examine the two texts again and see how ridiculous Carrier’s argument here is:

Original text: 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

Targum: 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

Not at all a paraphrase. The targum undeniably changes the meaning of the text dramatically. In the original, the Servant’s appearance was marred and unlike a man’s. In the targum, it is not the Servant but Israel whose countenance was marred and unlike a human’s.

Original text: 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.

Targum: 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.

Again, the targum undeniably and dramatically changes the original text. In the original, it is the Servant who shoots up. In the targum, it is not the Servant but a righteous generation that grows up in the presence of the Servant. In the original, the Servant was difficult to look at, because he was uncomely and not beautiful. In the targum, it is denied that his countenance was uncomely.

Original text: 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.

Targum: 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.

Again, a dramatic change to the meaning of the text. In the original, he was a man acquainted with disease. In the targum, it is the kingdoms who oppose him who are “destined for sicknesses.” In the original, the Servant was despised and esteemed not. In the targum, it is the enemy kingdoms who “will be despised and esteemed not.”

Original text: 53:4 Surely our diseases he did bear, and our pains he carried; whereas we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

Targum: 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.

Yet again, a total reversal of the original text’s meaning. In the original, the Servant is the one stricken, smitten of God and afflicted. In the targum, it is not the Servant, but Israel who is stricken, smitten, and afflicted.

Original text: 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.

Targum: 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.

In the original, the Servant was wounded and crushed for the sins of Israel. Moreover, in the original it is by his wounds that the people of Israel are healed. In the targum, by stark contrast, it is not the Servant but the Temple that is damaged on account of the sins of Israel. Moreover, it is not by the Servant’s wounds but by devotion to his teachings that Israel will be healed. This is not a paraphrase. This is in no uncertain terms a radical rewriting of the text.

Original text: 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.

Targum: 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.

Again, this is not a paraphrase. This is a radical rewriting of the original text. In the original, the Servant was oppressed, humbled, and was led as a lamb to the slaughter. The Servant did not open his mouth. But in the targum, it is the mighty nations, rather than the Servant, who are the lambs taken to slaughter, and it is the mighty nations, rather than the Servant, who do not open their mouths before him.

Original text: 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.

Targum: 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.

Yet again, the author of the targum completely and unabashedly changes the meaning of the text. This is not a paraphrase. In the original, the Servant is taken away by oppression and judgment. In the targum, it is his captives who are oppressed and judged. In the original, the Servant was cut off from the land of the living. By contrast, in the targum, the dominion of the Gentiles is what is cut off, not from the land of the living, but from the land of Israel. In the original, the Servant’s death is vicarious punishment for the sins of Israel. In the targum, the defeat of the Gentiles is vicarious punishment for the sins of Israel. The targum here denies his death and denies any vicarious suffering on his part. It replaces it with the defeat of the Gentiles and the idea that the punishment for the sins of Israel was transferred to the Gentiles.

Original text: 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.’

Targum: 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.

In the original, it says that they buried the Servant with the wicked and with the rich, despite the fact that he was nonviolent and honest. In the targum, the Servant is not buried because he is not dead. Rather, the Servant, after defeating his enemies, sends the Wicked to hell and the rich to utter destruction. In the targum it is not that the servant is without sin or deceit; rather, it is his enemies who are killed to put an end to their sin and defeat. This is not a paraphrase. This is a totally different story.

Original text: 53:10 Yet it pleased Yahweh 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 Yahweh might prosper by his hand:

Targum: 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.

Again, not a paraphrase. A radically different story altogether. In the original, Yahweh crushed the servant with disease, but in doing so, yet prolonged the seed of the Servant (i.e., his lineage). In the targum, it is not the Servant who is purified but Israel, and it is not the Servant whose seed is prolonged, but Israel’s.

Original text: 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.

Targum: 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.

In the original, the Servant’s soul suffers travail and bore the iniquities of Israel. In the targum, by stark contrast, it is the souls of Israelites who are delivered from the hand of the enemy by the conquering Servant. It is not by his suffering that the sins of Israel were forgiven, as in the original, but by his wisdom, and by his intercessory prayer.

And finally:

Original text: 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.

Targum: 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.

Yet another radical contrast. In the original, he is given a portion among the great because he died and was buried with the transgressors. In the targum, he is given a portion of the spoils of the enemy because he risked his life (idiomatic in Aramaic). Moreover, it is not he who is buried with the transgressors, as in the original, but rather the Servant who made the transgressors (i.e., “the rebellious”) subject to the law. In the original, he “bore” the sin of many. In the targum, rather, he “shall intercede for many sins.”

All throughout the entire passage, the original story is radically changed. Every element of the Servant’s vicarious suffering and every mention of his death and burial is removed and replaced with the suffering of Israel or the enemy. Carrier says the targum merely retains “the bare element of the original (the sacrificial death).” In fact, there is no death of the Servant retained in the targum at all, let alone any sacrificial death. Even if we read “he delivered up his soul to death” literally (rather than idiomatically as we should), there is still no sacrificial death mentioned anywhere in the targum. To quote Bruce Chilton (whom Carrier will soon appeal to rather deceptively regarding the dating of this targumic passage), “The messiah does not forgive sin, he prays concerning it, and there is no question of his ministering to individual transgression. His programme is of restoration and law, which leads to communal forgiveness.”1

Carrier says that the targum is merely “transforming the remainder into something more triumphant (‘interpreting’ as much as possible as being about Israel or its enemies).” He says (apparently accepting my correction of his earlier definition of a targum) that “a targum is not meant to be a literal translation but a paraphrase or explanation of the original Hebrew.” But in reality, as is amply clear, this targumic passage is not paraphrasing the original text. It is changing it. Or as I characterized it in my original post, it is doing “midrashic paraphrase.” Yes, it is “interpreting” it, but it is an “interpretation” which (on virtually every point) completely changes the meaning of the original to say the opposite.

Carrier continues his attempt to paint the obvious as something ridiculous:

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

Carrier is simply in denial. The ruling elite routinely did pull the wool over the eyes of the illiterate masses. Not that I’m conceding they had a malicious intent. Nevertheless, it cannot rationally be denied that the targum in fact completely changes the meaning of the original on almost every point. Whether they were successful in pulling the wool over the eyes of the masses or not is something we can’t know, but since the masses were illiterate, and didn’t have access to the texts themselves, this is hardly “impossible” as Carrier asserts without basis.

And come on. Carrier knows full well that ministers do this to this day to Christians in the pews, and fully literate Christians with Bibles in their hands just eat it up. A minister will read a text, and go on to interpret it to mean the exact opposite of what it says, and the pew-sitters will buy it hook, line and sinker because they’re invested in the faith. Paul Copan’s entire life has been devoted to doing just this, and most of his audience eats it up. He’ll read a text about slavery, and say it means the opposite of what it says, and everyone will believe him because they want to believe him. If some don’t believe him, it won’t phase Copan, because Copan can just call them a “skeptic” and will have as such soundly refuted them. Carrier is really divorcing himself from reality with this argument, and I think he knows it, or at least he should by now.

As for Carrier’s rhetorical question, “Not even the scholars who troubled to continue copying and preserving Jonathan’s Targum?” As if to say, not even the elite would see that he’s being dishonest? The answer, of course, is, no, they probably wouldn’t. What has the last one hundred years of Christian fundamentalist scholarship told us if not that fundamentalists will continue to regurgitate obvious misreadings of the text precisely because they prefer the misreading to the proper reading? I’m sure if Carrier will think about this for two damn seconds, he’ll realize how unrealistic his objection is. And of course, Jews had good reason to want to see a conquering Messiah in the text rather than a dying one, since that was by far the dominant tradition, not to mention the more cathartic.

What’s hilarious is that the argument Carrier is making here is the exact argument I constantly get from fundamentalist Christians when they critique my book, The Human Faces of God. They argue that there can’t be contradictions in the text because people weren’t morons—the redactors would have noticed, the audience would have noticed, blah, blah, blah. Fundamentalist Christian: because people weren’t morons, there can’t be contradictions. Richard Carrier: because people weren’t morons, the targum couldn’t change the meaning of the original text. The same arguments I’ve used to rebut the fundamentalist Christians are the ones I’m now having to use to rebut Carrier. But of course, Carrier isn’t finished:

The Targum can only be understood as an interpretation of the Hebrew text. Not an attempt to replace it (as if Jonathan knew better than Isaiah what God had really said to him). In that cultural and literary context, we cannot assume Jonathan intended to wholly eclipse the death of the “Servant” (the “Arm of God”) that his readers would already know is clearly declared in the original Word of God. We would need a better argument than that before concluding something so extraordinary.

Carrier is simply in denial. He must defend his thesis at all costs. I do hope he wises up quick smart, for the sake of his reputation as a critical scholar.

Stark’s second contextual argument is a non-starter. The original Hebrew also has the dead servant “dividing up the spoil of his enemies and being given his share” (and without explicit mention of a resurrection). And yet the original clearly and unmistakably means to say he did indeed die (and was even buried: 53:8-11) and yet is then rewarded, literally God says “I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death” (NIV 53:12). Since Isaiah had said earlier that “he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted” (52:13), yet nothing like this occurs until after his death (in the Hebrew text), one must infer that he divides the spoil after being resurrected from the dead (or somehow symbolically, in the success of his progeny).

Yes, Carrier gets it right at the last. The nations are astonished at what the Servant accomplishes when through his death Israel is restored to its greatness. That he is lifted up and given a spoil among the great can refer either to Israel’s dominion or to the Servant’s exaltation to status alongside the great figures of Israel’s past who are honored in heaven. The targum in fact interprets the “spoil” in earthly terms: it says, “and the possessions of strong cities he shall divide as prey.” But the original text does not say anything about “strong cities.” The original says, “Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong.” First, what spoil is the Servant dividing here? In the original, there is no battle against the nations taking place as there is in the targum, at least, not one made explicit. Second, as Carrier should know, the idea of bodily resurrection didn’t yet exist at the time of the composition of Deutero-Isaiah. There would be several hundred years yet before Jews started believing in bodily resurrection. So the Servant’s exaltation in the original may refer to his being given a place of greatness alongside the patriarchs and men of faith from Israel’s past. They may be the “great” and the “mighty” with whom he shares a portion of the spoils of victory.

Alternatively, if we follow numerous critical scholars, including John Collins who makes a persuasive argument, it may in fact be that the original meaning of the Suffering Servant was a personification of Israel. The servant doesn’t literally die and rise again; rather, as in Ezekiel 37, this is a symbol for Israel’s “death” in exile and its “resurrection” upon being returned home. Israel then becomes a light to the nations, and is given more honor than ever before. Either way, the targumic interpretation is entirely different.

In the targum, all of the references to the Servant’s death and burial are removed and replaced with references to the utter defeat of his enemies. The last statement about the Servant’s death is replaced with an idiom meaning, “he risked his life.” What Carrier misses is that in the Hebrew, it does not say, “He delivered up his soul to death.” It says, “He emptied his soul unto death,” or, “He poured out his soul unto death.” This is a different verb from the verb used in the Aramaic targum. The Semitic verb used in Isaiah is ‘arah (empty, pour out, leave destitute). This verb could have been used in the Aramaic targum, but instead it is replaced with the verb mesar, which means “delivered up.” But of course, mesar napsha is idiomatic in Aramaic for “to risk one’s life,” among other things. So the targumic author switched out the verb that would have meant a literal death, and replaced it with a verb that was used frequently throughout the targums as an idiom for the risk of death.

Carrier then says, “So much for the argument from context.” Indeed. Carrier has failed to refute my argument from context. But I thank him for forcing me to flesh it out and make it tenfold stronger.

He continues:

What about from the language? Stark says:

I originally stated that it is like the Aramaic phrase should be translated, “he was willing to face death,” or something similar. I then looked into it, asked some friends who work in Aramaic, and checked the secondary literature, and as it turns out, my guess is confirmed: whenever that phrase occurs in the Aramaic Targums, it is unambiguously idiomatic for “he risked his life,” or “to put oneself in danger.” (E.g., Tg. Onq. Deut 24:15; Tg. Ps.-J Num 31:5; Tg. Judg. 9:17 and Tg. Ps. 99:6.) So, while I wouldn’t say it’s 100% impossible that the text means “he died,” I would say that almost certainly it just means that he is being rewarded for risking his life.

Stark’s own argument from context would refute his own argument here: since nowhere in the Targum is there any mention of this messiah risking his life or putting himself in danger, either. So “he died” would make just as much sense as “he risked his life,” neither having any precedent in the preceding verses.

This is of course absolutely wrong. I’m not sure how Carrier can claim “he risked his life” doesn’t have any contextual support when all throughout the targum the Servant is waging war against the enemies of Israel and sending them to hell. Viz.—

Then he will become despised, and will cut off the glory of all the kingdoms; they will be prostrate and mourning…. The mighty of the peoples he will deliver up like a sheep to the slaughter and like a lamb dumb before her shearers…. Out of chastisements and punishment he will bring our captives near…. 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…. He will deliver the wicked into Gehinnom, and those that are rich in possessions into the death of utter destruction…. 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.

Does Carrier think that engaging in combat doesn’t constitute risking one’s life? And of course, absolutely none of this battle language is found in the original text of Isaiah. He continues:

So why are we to prefer Stark’s interpretation over the one that actually corresponds to the Hebrew this targum is interpreting?

By “Stark’s interpretation,” let’s not forget that he must also mean Blenkinsopp’s, Ådna’s, and yet many others’ interpretation. But we’ve seen why. Well, we have. Carrier hasn’t. Carrier continues:

I am not an expert in Aramaic…

By which he means, “I have no training in Aramaic.”

…but the passages he cites as precedents aren’t contextually similar (e.g. the Numbers passage refers to future possibility, not past fact, hence “willing to surrender their lives” is how the Liturgical Press translation reads), nor do they all “unambiguously” mean risk and not gave.

First of all, an idiom is still an idiom regardless of what tense it’s in: “He was dead in the water.” “He’s dead in the water.” “He’s gonna be dead in the water.” A future or a past tense doesn’t mean that the usage is not “contextually similar,” whether in English or in Semitic languages.

Second, Carrier says they don’t all “unambiguously mean risk and not gave.” Let’s have a look at one:

Tg. Judg 9:17. This is an example of armed combat, and probably the closest parallel to Isa 53:12. “For my father fought for you and risked his life [mesar napsha’] to kill for your side, and saved you from the hand of Midian.” Clearly here “mesar napsha’” does not mean that the father died in battle, but that he risked his life in battle and was successful in routing the Midianites.

But Carrier brings one of the texts up, namely, Tg. Ps. 99:6 (which he misidentifies as Ps. 9:6). I’ll grant that here the phrase does not “unambiguously” mean “risk” rather than “gave.” Here’s Carrier’s argument:

The Psalms Targum for example reads (according to a professional translation by Edward Cook, endorsed by the International Organization for Targumic Studies), “Moses and Aaron are among his priests who gave their life for the people of the Lord, and Samuel prayed for them before the Lord, like the fathers of old, who prayed in his name; they would pray in his presence and he would answer them” (9:6). The David Stec translation published by Liturgical Press (The Targum of Psalms, pub. 2004) reads, “Moses and Aaron were among his priests who surrendered their lives for the sake of the people of the Lord; and Samuel prayed for them before the Lord, like the fathers of old who prayed in his name; they were praying before the Lord, and he was answering.” So I do not trust that Stark is being wholly forthright when he claims the meaning here is “unambiguously” not what these translators say it is. Clearly it can mean both, and context is determinate. And we just saw where context gets us.

Carrier ends this with, “And we just saw where context gets us,” referring to his attempt to refute my arguments from context. His refutations of course failed quite miserably. So yes, we now do see where context gets us. But no, I would not say that “clearly it can mean both” in Ps 99:6. With Blenkinsopp and Ådna (among others), I would argue that the translators Carrier uses (one of which he found on the internet) are wrong. The Psalm Targum says that “Moses and Aaron were among his priests who mesaro napshahon [literally, delivered up their lives] for the sake of the people of the Lord.” Let’s just think about this for a moment. Did Moses and Aaron die “for the sake of the people of the Lord”? No. They both died of old age. Their deaths had no special significance “for the sake of the people of the Lord.” However, both Moses and Aaron did in fact risk their lives for the sake of the people of the Lord. They did so when they led the Israelites out of Egypt, and when they constantly led the Israelites into battle as they wandered through the wilderness. This is significant for Moses especially because he fled Egypt in fear for his life, but eventually returned willing to risk his life—“for the sake of the people of the Lord.” Dying of old age doesn’t fit in with that description. Risking life by opposing God’s enemies does.

Carrier continues:

Ironically, I had originally assumed this Targum did not preserve the dying-messiah element and only attested the early understanding of this servant as the messiah. Yet after Stark’s argument led me to investigate further, I am actually more doubtful of that conclusion. So in effect, Stark’s attempt to argue against the existence of a dying messiah in this text has actually made the case for the existence of a dying messiah in this text stronger. I do not conclude it is a certainty, since there remains some ambiguity. But on present evidence it looks to me like the odds favor retention of the concept, and just a softening of its pathos.

Of course, Carrier has only distorted the present evidence at just about every turn. He’s tried to argue that the targum emphatically did not replace Isaiah 52-53 with a different story altogether, but as we’ve seen, it most certainly did. Using fundamentalist logic, he’s tried to argue that a radical rewriting of the passage wouldn’t have slipped by the audience or subsequent tradents, but his arguments here were utterly divorced from reality, and one with which he is actually painfully familiar, which is the real irony. Finally, he tried to argue that there is nothing in the context of the targum on Isaiah that would suggest “he risked his life,” when in fact, the whole image in the targum is one of a war waged against the Gentiles, an image which also happens to be entirely absent from the original text of Isaiah. He’s also ignored the fact that every other time original Isaiah says the Servant died or was buried, the targum replaces this with the death of Israel’s enemies. So, Carrier has at every turn distorted the “present evidence” which he says favors a reading of the targum that presents a dying messiah.

Finally, Carrier will immediately go on to cite Bruce Chilton’s The Glory of Israel: The Theology and Provenience of the Isaiah Targum to discuss the question of the dating of our passage. Interestingly, Chilton himself confirms that the proper reading of mesar napsha’ in 53:12 is “risked his life.” Chilton says of Bar Kochba that “he was even willing, as the Targumic messiah, to risk his life, subjecting the rebellious to the law (cf. Tg. Is. 53:12).”2 Chilton also cites Paul Humbert and Marcus Jastrow in favor of this reading:

Humbert accepted Jastrow’s assurance that mesar lemota’ napshah in the Targum means simply that the messiah risks his life. We would agree that such an attenuated meaning (in comparison with the MT) was probably accorded the passage by the Amoraic tradents of the Isaiah Targum . . . and perhaps also by their Tannaitic predecessors, for whom the ultimate victory of the messiah was of first importance. Our point is not that Aramaic phrase unequivocally means the messiah did die, but merely that it is susceptible of the interpretation that he did so, and that therefore the Targumic rendering of Isaiah 53 should not be characterized as univocally anti-Christian (and post-Christian).3

What Chilton means here is that, if it was the interpreter’s concern to write a specifically anti-Christian rendering of the passage, he might not have used the idiomatic phrase which may have been susceptible to a literal reading, even though not intended. But Chilton is still saying that “he risked his life” is the likely intent (as he says elsewhere), and he still argues that the passage is post-Christian. He is simply saying that 53:12 itself should not be used as evidence that it is post-Christian (which I wouldn’t argue anyway).

Once again, Carrier’s own sources align against him.

Now he turns to the question of the dating of this portion of the targum:

There is a separate issue of date, and that’s more complex. Stark argues that one verse here suggests a post-war date (and some scholars conclude the same, dating it to the late first century) because in this version it is said the messiah “will build up the Holy Place, which has been polluted for our sins, and delivered to the enemy for our iniquities” (53:5; technically “the enemy” is not in the text, but it’s reasonably inferred). Part of the problem with this is that in The Glory of Israel: The Theology and Provenience of the Isaiah Targum, Bruce Chilton finds several places in it where the temple is assumed to still be standing and others where it is assumed to have been destroyed, and he assembles other like evidence to conclude that this targum has been redacted over time. So it’s entirely possible Jonathan did not write verse 53:5 as we have it (Jonathan ben Uzziel was famously a student of Hillel, d. c. 10 A.D., and a contemporary of Shammai, d. c. 30 A.D., and thus certainly did not compose his original targum after the Jewish War, which began in 66, and resulted in the temple’s destruction in 70). And there are other ways to interpret the passage (e.g. as meaning only that the messiah will make the temple more glorious after ending its corruption by foreign occupiers).

First, the Aramaic emphatically does not say “build up” the temple. It simply says “build/rebuild.” “Build up” in the sense of fortifying or refurbishing is not a possible translation of this Semitic verb at all, so Carrier is mistaken on his last point.

Second, while Carrier goes to pains to remind us that Jonathan—to whom the targum is attributed—lived in the latter part of the first century BCE into the first part of the first century CE, Chilton writes: “But can the meturgeman [i.e., the actual “author” of the targum] be identified with Jonathan? Even within the uncertain world of rabbinic ascriptions, the answer would appear to be ‘no.’”4 In other words, often with identification of targumic authors we can’t say definitively one way or the other, but with the Isaiah Targum, we have to say that Jonathan was probably not the actual author as tradition claims. Again, Chilton writes that “it would be imprudent to assume, even as a working hypothesis, that Jonathan or Joseph is what we would call the ‘author’ of the Prophets Targum.”5

But of course, Chilton, whom Carrier depends upon, does not suggest that 53:5 alone was the addition of a later tradent, as Carrier suggests. Carrier doesn’t inform his readers that despite the obvious fact that the Isaiah Targum was redacted over the course of several centuries, Chilton himself lands upon a post-70 date for the Isaiah 52-53 passage as a whole (a passage which, of course, does not include any references at all to a temple still standing, but only to a temple in need of being rebuilt). Chilton writes:

But two remarks made by Paul Volz encourage us to suggest that the 70-135 period was likely the temporal origin of the messianic portrait of the (Tannaitic [i.e., earliest]) Isaian framework meturgeman [i.e., interpreter]. Both remarks highlight the specific association of the messiah and the resortation of the Temple cult at this time. Bar Kokhba, he reminds us (who had Numbers 24.17 applied to him by Aqiba), caused coins to be minted ‘[upon which a star over a temple is shown].’ Secondly, Volz twice calls our attention to Pesahim 5a, where three rewards promised the sons of Israel according to the school of Ishmael are the extirpation of Esau (Rome), the building of the Temple and the name of the messiah. Moreover, the Davidic identity of a concretely victorious messiah such as we see portrayed in the Isaiah Targum is authorized as an obligatory element of the Shemoneh Esreh by none other (if Volz’s inference is accepted) than R. Eliezer. ‘Whoever does not mention the kingdom of the house of David in the benediction “builder of Juersalem” (i.e., the fourteenth) has not discharged his duty.’ Such evidence suggests that the provenience of the messianic portrait in the Isaiah Targum is Tannaitic.67

Again, Chilton writes, “In a word, the hopes of the primitive meturgeman centered on a messiah as he looked forward to recovery from the disaster of 70.8

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

Carrier then says, “This again, entails an ambiguity that can’t be resolved.” Yes. It cannot be resolved, except by the scholar whom Carrier cites to argue that it cannot be resolved. He continues:

Some scholars even propose that Jonathan’s treatment of Isaiah 53 was rewritten later to construct an anti-Christian polemic, although that is overly speculative and doesn’t fit all the evidence. But alas, that again introduces uncertainty.

Here is what Chilton has to say about that:

Generally speaking, one has no warrant to presume that the gospel was instantly presented in connection with Isaiah 53:12, that ‘the Jews’ instantly recognized it in connection with the passage as an exegetical challenge, or that the Targum would instantly be reformed to deal with the challenge. After all, the initial efforts of evangelization were short of totally effective, and the Targum endured much transmission, long after the decisive split of Church and synagogue, before it was committed to the extant manuscripts. More specifically, our passage refers to the removal of the Shekinah (v. 3), and announces that the messiah will build the sanctuary (v. 5). Again, we seem to have before us the work of the c. 70+ interpreter. If so, then the consistent refusal to countenance messianic suffering may instance anti-Christian exegesis, although the basic conception, which at least involved the messiah in risking his life, clearly was not a part of such a (secondary) tendency. Moreover—and on Aytoun’s own admission—the stress on the oppression of the Jews could well be Amoraic [i.e., the period between 200 and 500 CE, as opposed to Tannaitic, the period between 10 and 220 CE]. . . . In addition to these usages of ‘Shekinah’ and ‘sanctuary,’ we find references in this messianic passage to ‘house of Israel’ (52.14), ‘the righteous’ (53.2), ‘glory’ (53.3), ‘exile’ (53.8) and ‘law’ (53.11, 12), all of which instance congruence with the work of the early meturgeman.9

First, note that Chilton identifies both vv. 3 and 5 as evidences for a post 70 date. Second, remember that originally Carrier was using incredibly tortured logic to argue that there is absolutely no way a Jew would have made Isaiah 52-53 messianic after the emergence of Christianity. Now at least he is conceding it’s a possibility, even though I have always agreed with Chilton that it’s not very likely at all. But note what Chilton argues. He does not argue that because it’s probably not an anti-Christian apologetic it is therefore pre-Christian. Rather, the argument is that even 40-100 years after Christianity, refuting Christian readings of the Prophets wouldn’t likely have been very high on the rabbinic to-do list. Carrier continues:

In the end, what we can say for certain is that the Targum evinces that some first century Jews did understand Isaiah 53 to be about the messiah (and those same Jews would have known that the original Hebrew of the Word of God said this same figure would die and be buried).

Whether they “knew” this or not is beside the point, a point I keep reiterating and a point Carrier continues to evade. What matters is how they understood the text, and Targum Jonathan clearly tells us that they either rejected the idea of a dying messiah, or poorly interpreted the original text of Isaiah (much like contemporary Evangelical apologists incessantly do while being totally oblivious to it). Contrary to Carrier, what Targum Jonathan actually tells us is that this tradition insisted upon the portrait of a victorious messiah who did not suffer or die, and that they were able to maintain this belief even while making the Suffering Servant passage over into a messianic text. Carrier:

Which was all I intended it to prove. At most, I have to concede the possibility that the text post-dates the origin Christianity by a generation or two, and thus does not conclusively prove pre-Christian Jews were thinking along these lines (although neither would a later date prove they weren’t).

Considering all the evidence, it’s a high probability, not just a meager “possibility,” but credit to Carrier for going that far. But note this last parenthetical by Carrier: “neither would a later date prove they weren’t” thinking along the lines of identifying the Servant in Isaiah 52-53 as messianic. Carrier goes on to say, “But since my argument was first for the possibility (and thus against the extreme argument, as we see from Bart Ehrman, that ‘no Jews would ever think this’).” Actually, Carrier made this argument long before Ehrman jumped on board. At any rate, I haven’t ever argued that it’s impossible for any Jew to have envisioned a suffering Davidic Messiah prior to Jesus. I’ve just argued that we don’t have any evidence that any Jew did. But Carrier will, after a straw-mannish interlude, try to prove, once again, that 11QMelch constitutes such evidence. #facepalm

A Distinction Between Hypothesis and Evidence

Carrier writes:

Notably, Stark agrees with me against Ehrman on the matter of possibility, saying:
I have never argued that “no one could think of a suffering messiah before Jesus.” I have consistently said that anything is possible, but what we need is evidence that anyone did have a conception of a suffering messianic figure prior to Christianity, in order to advance the thesis that, well, someone did have a conception of a suffering messianic figure prior to Christianity. I’ve never argued that such a thing would be impossible.

Stark is, however, confusing explanation with evidence.

Uh, no. I’m not. Carrier:

I advanced two different theses in my article: first, that it is possible; second, that we have evidence of it. Stark is right that I need to present specific evidence of a pre-Christian notion of a dying messiah among the Jews to maintain that. But I do not need that to propose it as an explanation of Christianity. “Christianity arose from a sect of Jews that came to expect a dying messiah” remains a plausible hypothesis even if we can’t prove such a sect existed.

Carrier is the one who seems to be confused. I’ll quote myself, the same quote he just quoted from me: “I have consistently said that anything is possible, but what we need is evidence that anyone did have a conception of a suffering messianic figure prior to Christianity, in order to advance the thesis that, well, someone did have a conception of a suffering messianic figure prior to Christianity.” How does the statement, “we need evidence to prove P in order, well, to prove P” (which is what I said) constitute a statement that “we need evidence to prove P in order to prove that Q came from P”? That’s a head scratcher.

Carrier continues:

“Christianity arose from a sect of Jews that came to expect a dying messiah” remains a plausible hypothesis even if we can’t prove such a sect existed, because (a) we know there were many diverse sects of Jews with many diverse notions against the leading orthodoxy and we know nothing about most of them, therefore (b) an argument from silence to the conclusion “no such sect existed” is invalid, and (c) the scriptural inspiration and logic for such an idea is easily discerned (and if it’s easy for us, it would have been easy for at least someone to have noticed it during centuries of thousands of Jews scrambling to look for God’s secret messages in scripture). For (c) I detail the evidence in Not the Impossible Faith (pp. 34-44). For (a) (and therefore (b)) I survey the evidence and scholarship in The Empty Tomb (pp. 107-13).

Again, I’ve never argued that it’s impossible. I’ve only argued that we have no evidence for it. And boy, isn’t it surprising that no evidence for Carrier’s thesis is extant, despite all the diverse evidence we do have. I argue that it’s unlikely, because the idea of a conquering messiah is pervasive. In fact, the idea of a conquering messiah is actually the Christian conception of Jesus too. He was still expected to be the conquering warrior; he just died first. Absent clear evidence for a parallel tradition (which Carrier doesn’t provide here above, here below, or in his two books), the best explanation for the Christian anomaly is that their rabbi was actually executed, and I like to think that deep down, Carrier knows this. But I’m probably kidding myself.

Carrier continues:

In logical terms, “Christianity arose from a sect of Jews that came to expect a dying messiah” is a hypothesis that we can then test against the evidence. If it explains the evidence better than alternatives, then it is more probably true than alternatives (as a hypothesis it’s already more likely than, for example, “Christians only started believing this because Jesus actually rose from the dead”).

OK, I take back what I just said about Carrier knowing deep down that the crucifixion is the best explanation we have. Sigh, Carrier:

It therefore does not require direct evidence of “there was a sect of Jews that came to expect a dying messiah.” Because if all the other evidence is better explained by the proposition that “there was sect of Jews that came to expect a dying messiah,” then that other evidence is evidence that “there was a sect of Jews that came to expect a dying messiah.” Indirect inference is routine in historical argument, and known in every other field (even subatomic particles are inferred from indirect evidence, never actually seen). For example, that Henry assassinated William II is a hypotheses, which we can argue for from whether it explains the evidence of what happened better, without requiring a confession by Henry or an eyewitness to the deed (Proving History, pp. 273-75).

The problem with this, every argument Carrier makes is either tenuous, or dubious, or ridiculous, or close but no cigar. I’m well aware of arguments from inference. What they require in order to be successful are valid arguments from inference. Carrier:

The fact is, we lack evidence detailing the beliefs of dozens of Jewish sects, and no evidence at all naming (much less describing in detail) which sect Christianity grew out of (e.g. what sect Peter was most enamored with or devoted to before he joined the movement; or, on a historicist thesis, what sect or sects Jesus originally came from or was educated in; or even what sects Paul was influenced by, if any before the Christian sect, that led him to abandon the Pharisee sect).

Paul was trained by Gamaliel in Jerusalem, where he grew up and went to school, according to Acts. But yes, Peter and Jesus are a mystery. But this is all irrelevant. When Carrier has no evidence for a pre-Christian dying messiah, all he has to make his indirect inference argument is an argument from silence. Conversely, we have mounds of evidence for the hypothesis that Christians believed in a dying messiah because their messianic hopeful died, and then had visions of him which they interpreted as resurrection experiences (which is what Carrier argues when he’s not arguing for mythicism). He continues:

So we know it’s very likely we won’t have evidence of such a thing as that the seminal sect Christianity grew out of was already expecting a dying messiah. Thus, whether it was or not, is either unknowable (in which case it can’t be denied as a possibility, but could be doubted as improbable, if a case can be made for that), or can be inferred from evidence we do have (such as that the crucifixion of the messiah was always said to have been discovered in scripture: 1 Cor. 15:3-4 and Rom. 16:25-26; or that there was already a firstborn son of God named Jesus in heaven since the beginning of all creation in some pre-Christian Jewish theology, cf. NIF, pp. 250-51).

OK. (1) Yes, a case can in fact be made to doubt Carrier’s thesis as improbable, since all the evidence we do have (including the evidence Carrier tries to twist to fit his thesis) paints a picture of a militant, victorious, non-dying Davidic Messiah. (2) The crucifixion of the messiah was not “always said to have been discovered in scripture.” Rather, it was said (by Christians) to have “always been in scripture.” Carrier had a syntax problem there. And this is of course nothing but Christian propaganda. Apocalyptic Jews interpreted their texts not historically-grammatically, but in light of the experiences of their community. Yet they still claimed that their interpretations were the “real meanings” of the text. Yet both Paul and the Jesus of the Gospels explained the fact that other Jews didn’t see what they saw with reference to a theory that everybody was blinded to scripture because they didn’t have access to the Spirit, who was there to reveal the truth to initiates. The same mumbo-jumbo was asserted by the Qumran community about their “real meanings” of the text.

And now, this “firstborn son of God named Jesus in heaven since the beginning of all creation in some pre-Christian Jewish theology.” I’ve argued everything Carrier argues in Not the Impossible Faith regarding the Jewishness of Jesus’ preexistence and pseudo-divinity, etc., in much greater detail and at much greater length than has Carrier. But of course, that Christians use common motifs to interpret the significance of Jesus is not an argument for mythicism. Jews did the same things for many of their beloved leaders. Aqiba did the same sort of thing to describe the significance of Bar Kochba. That doesn’t mean Bar Kochba was a myth or an amalgamation of other messianic figures. The Qumranites did the same sorts of things for their Righteous Teacher with the texts. That doesn’t mean he’s a fantasy they thought they’d try to pass off as reality.

Thus it’s important to distinguish a case for plausibility from a case for actuality. The Talmud and Targum (and the case made in NIF) are all evidence for plausibility, not actuality. And they therefore must be evaluated as such. But I do make an argument for actuality, too. And that I make from the Melchizedek scroll recovered from Qumran, which dates to the first century B.C. and thus definitely predates Christianity. So to that we now turn…

They’re all cases for plausibility that fail. We’ve seen how Carrier’s arguments from the Talmud fail. We’ve seen how his argument from Targum Jonathan fails. And before we return for a third time to 11QMelch, we’ll take a look at how the case for plausibility made in Not the Impossible Faith fails. This will be an interruption of Carrier’s argument in this article, turning to his book:

Not the Impossible Faith’s Implausible Arguments

Before I begin, there is much in this book that I readily agree with. But there’s a great deal that’s bunk as well, as in this case. Let’s look at Carrier’s argument, entitled, “Many Expected a Humiliated Savior,” on pp. 34-44.

Carrier begins with a massive blunder. He writes:

Jewish scripture declared that “The Redeemer of Israel” or “The Holy One of God” shall be “despised by men,” and nations will be “disgusted” with him, yet he shall triumph.

For these quotations, Carrier cites Isaiah 49:7. In an end note, he says, “that this was a messianic prophecy is clear from the context (Isaiah 49:1-13).”

The problem is, Isaiah 49 is not at all a messianic prophecy. It’s in fact a dialogue between God and the people of Israel. There is no third figure, no messianic figure at all in Isaiah 49. Let’s look at it piece by piece:

Listen to me, O coastlands,
pay attention, you peoples from far away!
Yahweh called me before I was born,
while I was in my mother’s womb he named me.
He made my mouth like a sharp sword,
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow,
in his quiver he hid me away.
And he said to me, ‘You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will be glorified.’

The figure speaking here is Israel personified. This is clearly stated in the last two lines: “And he said to me, ‘You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.’” It continues in Israel’s voice:

But I said, ‘I have labored in vain,
I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my cause is with Yahweh,
and my reward with my God.’

Is this really something we would expect the Messiah to say of himself? “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity”? Not to mention the fact that the Messiah itself is an anachronistic concept in Second Isaiah. It continues:

And now Yahweh says,
who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
and that Israel might be gathered to him,
for I am honored in the sight of Yahweh,
and my God has become my strength—
he says,
‘It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to restore the survivors of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.’

The following is where Carrier seems to get confused:

Thus says Yahweh,
the Redeemer of Israel and its Holy One,
to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations,
the slave of rulers,
‘Kings shall see and stand up,
princes, and they shall prostrate themselves,
because of Yahweh, who is faithful,
the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.’

Carrier thinks these references to the “Holy One of Israel” (which he mistakenly translates, “The Holy One of God”) and “the Redeemer of Israel” are references to a Messiah. In reality, these are descriptions of Yahweh. Yahweh is the Redeemer of Israel and Israel’s Holy One. The one “deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers,” is Israel itself, not a Messiah.

The passage goes on to describe Israel’s afflictions, Israel’s feelings of abandonment, but culminates with Yahweh’s assurance of his presence, and ultimately with Yahweh’s defeat of the enemies of Israel:

I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh,
and they shall be drunk with their own blood as with wine.
Then all flesh shall know
that I am Yahweh your Saviour,
and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.

Obviously, and contrary to Carrier, the text does not say that “the Redeemer of Israel” will be “despised by men.” It says that Israel will be despised by men, but that Yahweh is the “Redeemer of Israel.” So Carrier is not off to a good start.

He continues with quotations from the Suffering Servant passage in Isaiah 52-53:

the people will “bury him with the wicked” even though he was innocent, and he shall be “numbered with the transgressors” just as the Gospel of Mark says. The idea that a Chosen One of God must suffer total humiliation and execution at the hands of the wicked is a major theme in Isaiah.10

He then quotes N.T. Wright who says, “Messiahship in Judaism, such as it was, never envisaged someone . . . suffering the fate he [Jesus] suffered.” Carrier says that Wright’s claim is, based on Isaiah 49 and 52-53, “demonstrably false.” But actually, as much as it pains me to say so, Wright is the one making the claim based on the evidence we have.

Isaiah 52-53 does not identify the Suffering Servant as a messianic figure. As we’ve seen, Targum Jonathan, which does identify the Isaianic Servant as the Messiah, nevertheless denies that he suffers or dies. It’s possible that some Jews made this connection, but we have no evidence that any did (once again, 11QMelch is no such evidence). Is it possible? Again, yes. Is it probable? Again, no, because all the davidic messianic traditions we have contradict the portrait of the Suffering Servant. I’ll quote John Collins:

The Christian belief in such a figure [a suffering Messiah], and the discovery of prophecies relating to him, surely arose in retrospect after the passion and death of Jesus of Nazareth. There is no evidence that any first century Judaism expected such a figure, either in fulfillment of Isaiah 53 or on any other basis.”11

Next, Carrier refers us to Psalm 22:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.
….
But I am a worm, and not human;
scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me;
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
‘Commit your cause to the LORD; let him deliver—
let him rescue the one in whom he delights!’
….
Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.
Many bulls encircle me,
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.
For dogs are all around me;
a company of evildoers encircles me.
My hands and feet have shriveled;
I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me;
they divide my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.

That’s the first part of the Psalm. From this, Carrier concludes: “This song set up a Jewish model for a crucified Davidic savior.”12 But the song does absolutely no such thing. There is no hint of anything like a crucifixion setting, or an execution. The king is afraid for his life in a time when his enemies are surrounding him to face him in battle. But what does the song go on to say?

But you, O YAHWEH, do not be far away!
O my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword,
my life from the power of the dog!
Save me from the mouth of the lion!
From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.
I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear Yahweh, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;
stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
but heard when I cried to him.
From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise Yahweh.
May your hearts live forever!
All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to Yahweh;
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to Yahweh,
and he rules over the nations.
To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and I shall live for him.

The song is emphatically not one that depicts a suffering and dying Davidic Messiah. On the contrary, the king is fearful, so he calls out for help, and Yahweh answers, giving him victory over his enemies and establishing his dominion over the nations. This is the standard portrait of a militant, victorious Davidic king.

Everyone knows that Mark used this passage selectively to garnish his Passion narrative, but (as Carrier is wont to argue) it’s obvious to everyone that this is a portrait of a victorious military leader, not of a dying Messiah! One would need a prior conception of a suffering Messiah in order to read this psalm as anything but a song of victory and escape from death. That’s what Mark had, after Jesus was crucified—a prior conception that allowed him to misuse the text. In the same way, one would need a prior conception of a victorious messiah to read the Suffering Servant passage in Isaiah as a story of messianic victory. And of course, this is precisely the preconception we know Jews had. We have no evidence to the contrary prior to Christianity.

Next, Carrier cites Wisdom of Solomon 2:12-22; 5:1-8, 15-23. I’ll start with 2:12-22, which Carrier cites in his book, but I’ll also include the rest of chapter 2 and the first 9 verses of chapter 3:

“Let us lie in wait for the righteous man,
because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions;
he reproaches us for sins against the law,
and accuses us of sins against our training.
He professes to have knowledge of God,
and calls himself a child [or servant] of the Lord.
He became to us a reproof of our thoughts;
the very sight of him is a burden to us,
because his manner of life is unlike that of others,
and his ways are strange.
We are considered by him as something base,
and he avoids our ways as unclean;
he calls the last end of the righteous happy,
and boasts that God is his father.
Let us see if his words are true,
and let us test what will happen at the end of his life;
for if the righteous man is God’s child, he will help him,
and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries.
Let us test him with insult and torture,
so that we may find out how gentle he is,
and make trial of his forbearance.
Let us condemn him to a shameful death,
for, according to what he says, he will be protected.”
Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray,
for their wickedness blinded them,
and they did not know the secret purposes of God,
nor hoped for the wages of holiness,
nor discerned the prize for blameless souls.
for God created us for incorruption,
and made us in the image of his own eternity,
but through the devil’s envy death entered the world,
and those who belong to his company experience it.
But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment will ever touch them.
In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died,
and their departure was thought to be a disaster,
and their going from us to be their destruction;
but they are at peace.
For though in the sight of others they were punished,
their hope is full of immortality.
Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good,
because God tested them and found them worthy of himself;
like gold in the furnace he tried them,
and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them.
In the time of their visitation they will shine forth,
and will run like sparks through the stubble.
They will govern nations and rule over peoples,
and the Lord will reign over them forever.
Those who trust in him will understand truth,
and the faithful will abide with him in love,
because grace and mercy are upon his holy ones,
and he watches over his elect.

Carrier then asserts, “This is a lesson that would automatically apply to the Messiah, who would be, by definition, a blameless and righteous man.”13 This of course would not “automatically apply to the Messiah,” as Carrier asserts. Nowhere is this figure identified as the Messiah, and if the Messiah was believed to be a conquering warrior, then we have no reason to expect that Jews would have read this as applicable to the Messiah. Carrier can’t help but read these texts from a post-Christian vantage point, but what seems obvious to us now had no reason to register to anyone back then. Carrier is merely arguing by assertion. But Jews had categories for these things. Those who weren’t the Messiah were expected often to die martyrs’ deaths. On an apocalyptic reading, it would be the Messiah, however, who would come and vindicate them by defeating the enemies of God, ushering in the messianic age, and thus instigating the resurrection of the righteous dead—those described here in 2:12-22. These righteous martyrs are referred to in the plural. Again, no Messiah is mentioned (anywhere in Wisdom of Solomon in fact). It is not the Messiah who will rule over the nations, but all of the righteous ones of God. Is it possible someone could have applied this text to the Messiah prior to Christianity? Yes. Do we have any such evidence? No. Is it probable? No, not based on what we know of Jewish expectations of the Messiah. Moreover, Wisdom of Solomon, as I pointed out in my first critique of Carrier’s thesis, is not an apocalyptic text. Although it includes some common apocalyptic tropes, it radically reinterprets them within the categories of Greek philosophy.

Anyway, the very fact that the Gospels portray Peter and others as resistant to the idea that the Messiah would suffer indicates cognitive dissonance. It’s something they had to account for, expressly, in an apologetic way. If the idea of a dying Messiah was already established, we wouldn’t really expect to see this in the Gospels.

Now we’ll look at Wisdom of Solomon 5:1-8, 15-23:

Then the righteous will stand with great confidence
in the presence of those who have oppressed them
and those who make light of their labors.
When the unrighteous see them, they will be shaken with dreadful fear,
and they will be amazed at the unexpected salvation of the righteous.
They will speak to one another in repentance,
and in anguish of spirit they will groan, and say,
“These are persons whom we once held in derision
and made a byword of reproach—fools that we were!
We thought that their lives were madness
and that their end was without honor.
Why have they been numbered among the children of God?
And why is their lot among the saints?
So it was we who strayed from the way of truth,
and the light of righteousness did not shine on us,
and the sun did not rise upon us.
We took our fill of the paths of lawlessness and destruction,
and we journeyed through trackless deserts,
but the way of the Lord we have not known.
What has our arrogance profited us?
And what good has our boasted wealth brought us?”

But the righteous live forever,
and their reward is with the Lord;
the Most High takes care of them.
Therefore they will receive a glorious crown
and a beautiful diadem from the hand of the Lord,
because with his right hand he will cover them,
and with his arm he will shield them.
The Lord will take his zeal as his whole armor,
and will arm all creation to repel his enemies;
he will put on righteousness as a breastplate,
and wear impartial justice as a helmet;
he will take holiness as an invincible shield,
and sharpen stern wrath for a sword,
and creation will join with him to fight against his frenzied foes.
Shafts of lightning will fly with true aim,
and will leap from the clouds to the target, as from a well-drawn bow,
and hailstones full of wrath will be hurled as from a catapult;
the water of the sea will rage against them,
and rivers will relentlessly overwhelm them;
a mighty wind will rise against them,
and like a tempest it will winnow them away.
Lawlessness will lay waste the whole earth,
and evildoing will overturn the thrones of rulers.

Again, the righteous martyrs are plural. No Messiah is mentioned. Again, there is no Messiah figure at all in Wisdom of Solomon. In fact, it is God himself who takes on the task of defeating his enemies here. This text does not constitute evidence for belief in a dying Messiah, nor does it provide any plausibility that some Jews would have read this text as messianic, since the subjects here are all the righteous ones of God, not a singular figure. Again, is it possible someone could have found the Messiah here? Yes. But the evidence just isn’t there, nor is it at all obvious or even plausible that these passages would “automatically apply” to the Messiah. Carrier has his assertions, and he’ll probably stick with them, but that’s all he has. He can’t escape his post-Christian hermeneutic.

Carrier then goes on to argue that Daniel 9:26 refers to a Messiah who would die and atone for sins. I’ve already thoroughly refuted this in my second critique, but I’ll have to do it again after this Impossible excursus.

Hilariously, Carrier goes on to cite Psalm 23 as evidence for a dying Messiah, referring to a Davidic king who is “sojourning in the land of the dead.”14 Does Carrier honestly, seriously think that the “valley of the shadow of death” suggests that David was dead? Despite the fact that God comforts him and then gives him victory over his enemies and a long (but not eternal) life? If Carrier wishes to argue that this was read messianically and in reference to a dying and rising Messiah, he’ll have to provide some evidence. More tenuous assertions.

He goes on some more about texts we’ve already covered—Daniel 9:26, Isaiah 52-53, Wisdom of Solomon 2 and 5. And that’s essentially the sum of his argument in Not the Impossible Faith that “Many Expected a Humiliated Savior,” in which he understands “savior” in terms of a Davidic Messiah. The conclusion of the matter is, Carrier hasn’t made his case at all. At absolute most, he has argued that it’s possible that some unknown, no longer extant Jews, might have read some of these texts as predictions of a dying messiah, but he’s offered no valid evidence that any did so, and he’s a far cry from proving the claim made in the heading, that “Many Expected a Humiliated Savior.”

Conclusion to Part 1

As should be clear, Carrier hasn’t so far demonstrated that my criticisms of him were “a fail.” Not at all. On the contrary, Carrier has continued to make many of the same old, and several new, weak arguments that lack anything like substantiation.

But in the next post, I’m going to concede Carrier is right about 11QMelch! Not entirely, of course. Actually, not even half right. Less than half right. His major thesis is still wrong. But he made some really good arguments that forced me to look more closely at both Daniel 9 and 11QMelch, and I’ve had a really exciting change of mind on one of the big questions. Everything fell into place. Carrier’s still not going to like it, even though I’m conceding some big points to him, because in doing so I’m making my argument against his “atoning death of the messiah” reading even stronger. But it’s a position that’s actually built in part upon a structure he put into place, so my hope is that he’ll be able to see it too and we can be bum chums or something.

Until next time.

  1. Bruce Chilton, The Glory of Israel: The Theology and Provenience of the Isaiah Targum (JSOT: 1982), 93. [BACK]
  2. Bruce Chilton, The Glory of Israel, 95. [BACK]
  3. Chilton, The Glory of Israel, 94. [BACK]
  4. Bruce D. Chilton, The Isaiah Targum: Introduction, Translation, Apparatus and Notes (Michael Glazier, 1987), xxi. [BACK]
  5. Chilton, The Glory of Israel, 3. [BACK]
  6. I’ve translated Volz’s German for you. [BACK]
  7. Chilton, The Glory of Israel, 95-96. [BACK]
  8. Chilton, The Glory of Israel, 94. [BACK]
  9. Chilton, The Glory of Israel, 93. [BACK]
  10. Richard Carrier, Not the Impossible Faith (Egoton, ME: Self), 34. [BACK]
  11. John J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star: The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Literature (Yale University, 2007), 126. [BACK]
  12. Carrier, Not the Impossible Faith, 34. [BACK]
  13. Ibid., 34. [BACK]
  14. Ibid., 36. [BACK]

24 thoughts on “It Is Finished for Richard Carrier’s Dying Messiah: Part 1

  1. Many times it seems to me that Carrier has too big of an ego to admit a mistake. At least not one that would demonstrate his case to be false. I don’t expect your dialogue with him to change his mind. Though I do hope he reads you more carefully this time around. Nevertheless, good post, looking forward to part 2. 

  2. “…and Didn’t Atone for Shit”

    I definitely have to find a way to work that line into a conversation.

  3. I guess the reason that Dr. Carrier is interested in establishing that the Jews anticipated a dying Messiah, is to counter the Criterion of Embarrassment. Which often cites the lack of expectation of a Messiah, to “prove” or suggest that the event must be true and real; since the death was included, even over and against any lack of anticipation of any such event. In attempting to establish that Jewish tradition DID include some anticipation of a dying Messiah, Carrier is probably interested in establishing that there WAS such an expectation; in order to defeat the Embarrassment arguement for the genuineness of the crucifixion.But I suggest here that Carrier needn’t have bothered to even address the so-called Criterion of Embarrassment. 1) In part because after all, the Criterion is rather silly and flawed. Since in effect it argues that if something that seems really stupid or inconsistent, appears in a tradition? It must be true; since, as they say, “no one would make that kind of thing up.” But here the “Criterion of Embarrasment” ends up … deifying stupidity and inconsistency itself. The dumber something is, the more true it must be? I suggest we can safely ignore the Criterion of Embarrassment. And its alleged argument for the genuiness of the crucifixion.2) Personally moreover? I feel that there really wasn’t much JEWISH anticipation of a Messiah, or a dying MESSIAH properly speaking. There was a) much anticipation of a “lord” or “king” that would save Israel, and punish its enemies, like David; and there was b) anticipation of God himself returning to do this too, on the Day of the Lord. But there was in fact very little to indicate a Messiah – or even less, God – showing up and … dying. At least, in Old Testament/Torah Jewish thought. 3) Though however? Carrier is partially right – but is looking in the wrong places to establish what he wants to say. In fact, there was lots and lots of thinking, advocacy, of Jewish HEROES, dying as MARTYRS. In say 2 Mac. 7. Jewish leaders, heroes, dying for their country; but by dying, somehow achieving a moral victory. 4) Finally moreover? In spite of the Maccabean revolt against Hellenistic influence, the anticipation of a dying messiah, I suggest here and elsewhere (on Neil’s blog), probably came from – or in any case is best found in – not classic Old Testament/Torah Judaism … but ironically, from GRECO-ROMAN thought. Where the martyr, dying for his country and god, was a major part of Greek legend (Thermopylae, Socrates). And of course, the ideal of a hero, dying to save his country and god, was projected by Roman rulers/gods, as the ideal for Romans and Roman soldiers especially.So Carrier is partially right: around the time of Jesus, there WERE many key traditions in place that would contribute to expectations of, legends of, a dying savior. Specifically I suggest: of one who would die to save his country. This though was not such a popular Idea in mainstream Torah culture; though key elements of it are found in Maccabean ideas about heroic martyrs. But especially it was a popular idea, being spread around the Middle East, by the Mediterranean conquests of Greece, and Rome, from about 300 BC. How widespread were Greek and Roman ideas becoming? Alexander the Great spread Greek culture widely, from about 300 BC. While Greco-Roman ideas would have been even more prevalent, when Jerusalem came under direct Roman control, with Pompey c. 64 BC. Especially for a c. 30 AD Jerusalem that was governed by a Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. Under such pressures, a Jewish culture whose conservative elements normally rejected alien and Hellenistic influences adamantly … would have been under considerable cultural pressure to increasingly adopt many Greco-Roman mandates, and cultural ideas. Including? Partially Jewish but also quite Hellenistic ideas, of heroic martyrs, dying to save their country.The heroic martry, dying to save his country, i suggest, is one of the main contributing legends, myths, cultural stereotypes, that eventually fed into – and began to create? – the Jesus legend. It was not so much jusst the Dying Messiah specifically, but the general idea of a hero, dying in the name of his god, to save his country, that forms the immediate cultural background for the idea of a crucified Lord.I think it would be best therefore, not to emphasize a problematic exact precursor to the dying Messiah. But? We can find many other, better, approximate percursors. Specifically? Both Jewish and Greco-Roman culture often lionized the ideal, of the Martyred Hero. The hero who dies for his country. (As in 2 Maccabees 7).Historicists like to claim – implausibly – that the crucifixion of Jesus must be historically real; because no one would invent such an implausible thing as a messiah that dies. And yet however there were plenty of similar motiffs in circulation in ANE culture, well before Jesus. Including especially – countless tales of martyred heroes. Tales of a herotic man who dies for his god and country. The hero who dies to save his country, was a a very, very common cultural stereotype in most cultures. And one that remains popular to this very day.

  4. Is Carrier’s ego so much greater than other in this discussion? I keep seeing this brought up as though it meant something.

  5. Yeah, Carrier and I both have egos. I don’t think either of us are letting it get into the way, so far.

  6. Stevie Jake,

    You posted a comment saying this was funny, which I approved. But now it’s not here. I think you then edited it(?) saying it was the “drubbing” that was funny, while I was sleeping. Then you left another comment thanking me for withholding the comment which you said was a polite way of my telling you what kinds of comments I allow. All of this was done while I was sleeping. After I woke up, I approved both comments, but they’re not showing up, and I don’t know why. It’s all very strange. 

    I would have approved the “drubbing” comment, even though, yes, it’s not my intention to get into fisticuffs with Carrier. For the most part, I think he’s trying to be honest with the material, though I do think he’s so invested in the mythicist position that it’s a challenge for him to break free from the paradigm he’s trying to establish with this particular thesis. 

  7. Yes, I edited my comment to say what exactly I thought was funny.  I figured that you ended up tossing the comment because it was annoyingly fanboyish.  (Such was not my intention, of course, but he is a careless respondent, and I do find that to be amusing.) 

  8. What about this counterpoint:  that it doesn’t even matter much whether there was a suffering, even dying Messiah in Jewish culture.  Because there were definitely such things, as heroic martyrs, in Judaism.  And in countless other nearby cultures.  Cultures whose language and ideas found their way into many “Jewish” traditions.

    Was the crucifixion of Jesus, the death of a Messiah or savior, really so unprecidented and singular?  In fact, the whole idea of crucified hero or savior, a hero dying to save his country, is found throughout countless cultures.  Indeed, countless Jewish leaders had been tortured and crucified before Jesus (as in 2 Mac. 7, etc.). And no doubt many were thought of as “noble,” moral examples; persons whose example saves us all, by showing the way to self-sacrifice and obedience.

    Therefore?  The legend of Jesus, crucified savior, was far from unique.  It was not unprecidented. 

    And so it hardly matters whether conservative, Torah Judaism, had a myth of a dying Messiah.  Since indeed, tales of Jesus could in any case have been borrowed from, descended from, countless semi-historical or mythical accounts. 

    The “dying Messiah” motif could easily have come about as a very slight variation, on a hundred similar tales, of heroes dying to save their country.  Discovering it or not in Torah culture proper, is all but irrelevant.

  9. Hi Bretton Garcia,

    It does matter whether or not there was any evidence of Jews believing in a Messiah coming to die for them. Let me see if my following explanation is clear enough.

    1. Assume that the mainstream scholars are correct that there was no evidence of pre-Jesus Jews believing in a Messiah that comes to die and that instead the evidence we have showed that those pre-Jesus Jews believed in a conquering Messiah who would not be killed in the hands of pagans.

    2. As you said, there were heroic martyrs in Judaism. So the natural thing that Jesus’ followers would label Jesus after Jesus was killed by pagans (Romans) was that their dead leader was a hero or a righteous martyr. Given point (1), it would be very unlikely for them to label Jesus as the Messiah.

    3. Now, Jesus followers did in fact labelled Jesus as the Messiah even though he was killed, and killed in a very humiliating way (beatened, stripped fully naked, teased, crucified). This was a very odd thing for Jesus’ followers to label Jesus as the Messiah (instead of just a righteous martyr).

    4. So one question of the historians would be: why did Jesus’ followers called Jesus as the Messiah despite point (1) and despite Jesus’ death in pagans’ hands? Would what Jesus’ followers’ claim that they have encountered a bodily resurrected Jesus solve that history puzzle? Or would some alternative hypothesis better solve that puzzle?

     

  10. I know you still have a second part to write, but I thought you would like to see what Carrier had to say regarding this post:

    On where he rightly corrects me:He’s right that b.Sanhedrin 93b (and not 93a) does not (as I said) explicitly identify Isaiah 53, it rather supports it by saying the messiah will suffer. I have corrected my article above to reflect that. It is 98b that is explicit.I have to defer to Stark when he claims that the Aramaic word used for “build/rebuild” the temple cannot possibly mean improve (in the same fashion as, for example, Herod’s “rebuilding” of the temple, which did not rebuild a destroyed temple but one already standing). From the way he evades the question of the ambiguity of “venture his life” though, I am not certain I can trust him when he says this is “not a possible translation” here (not at all possible?). But I emended the article to take his expert claim here into account (it wasn’t anything I was certain of).In Not the Impossible Faith (pp. 34-44) I wrongly misstook the ASV’s “Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One” as here referring to a messiah, when these are certainly (as Stark points out) the titles of God, and the remainder can only be inferred about the messiah if one infers personifications of Israel, in which Israel is an individual person (e.g. who is born from the womb, and can despise his own life and be bowed to), are messianic (which only some Jews did, and only some of the time).–On where he doesn’t:He doesn’t challenge the fact that b.Sanhedrin 98b shows first century rabbis agreeing Isaiah 53 is about a messiah (quoting verse 53:4), and we all know Isaiah 53 says the man spoken of there dies (and dies to atone for Israel’s sins). It’s not as if the Rabbis quoting the text didn’t know that.I did not cite Chilton as dating the text pre-70 or as saying that Is. 53:5 was redacted. I cited Chilton as confirming that redaction had occurred in the Targum as a whole, and from this I concluded “it’s entirely possible Jonathan did not write verse 53:5 as we have it.” Note that this is very clear in not attributing such a claim to Chilton. This kind of treatment of what I say (turning it into something I didn’t say, and then making hay of it) is typical of a lot of what Stark does when addressing my arguments.His entire treatment of my distinction between evidence and explanation is a paradigmatic case of the latter, where he spends a lot of words arguing against what he thinks I said, yet actually just reaffirms what I actually said (and doesn’t even seem aware of it), or he confuses what I said as having said something else. For example, that entire section reiterates the general principle “if this is a better explanation, then it is more probable,” which he then reads as saying “this is a better explanation, therefore it is more probable,” and then he argues against the latter at length, even though it is not what I have here argued. Stark is not a good reader. The question of whether a “pre-Christian dying-messiah sect existed” is a better explanation for the development of Christianity (than an actual crucified man) is a wholly separate question, and one that I do not address in this article, or in my original article about the dying messiah. It is a question I will only be examining in any relevant detail in my next book. And answering it concerns a great deal more evidence than just this one tiny little issue.–On where he is still wrong:He tries to claim that b.Sanhedrin 98b doesn’t speak of a specific or special messiah (whether it speaks of a final messiah is irrelevant to my argument). This is just plain false. The text begins by describing a debate about what will happen “in the days of the Messiah” and then moves to a debate about what that messiah’s name will be, and then cites Isaiah 53:4 as providing one of the answers to that question. Meaning: some of them believed the messiah who would come “in the days of the messiah” is indeed spoken of in Isaiah 53 (not just some random dude who will be anointed for some trivial reason). That’s, again, the same Isaiah 53 where the man spoken of is the “Arm of God” who will bring “salvation” and do so by “dying” and thereby “atoning” for Israel’s sins. Stark at this point is kicking against the goad of the obvious and I just can’t fathom why he is still denying this.Stark claims “nowhere does the text [of the Targum Jonathan] imply that [the messiah’s] ‘delivering up his soul to death’ ‘somehow effected his victory’.” If you grant that it says he died and not risked his life, then yes, it does. And those are two separate issues. It says he will divide the spoils (i.e enjoy his victory) “because he delivered up his soul to death.” Thus his death (or his risked life, as Stark would have it) was somehow causally efficacious in his victory.Stark resorts to the “they were trying to fool poor Aramaic audiences who didn’t know the original Hebrew” argument, which I find implausible. They are, wherever they can, interpreting (for example) pronouns as referring to different entities, in order to transfer as much as possible away from the messiah and onto Israel (whom he symbolically represents and thus can be claimed as a stand-in for) or his enemies (where one can read the Hebrew that way, if at a stretch), but here when they refer to his death (or risked life), they don’t. They keep it. I agree that’s ambiguous (and said so), but I see no good case for concluding they meant to erase the death by choosing an ambiguous phrase (a phrase that means both) and still attributing it to him (instead of transferring it like they did everything else). If they wanted to reverse that, they would have. They chose not to. This says they didn’t want to.Thus their design can’t have been to fool the public on this point (even if you buy the “rabbis are liars” argument). More importantly, all rabbis (knowing Hebrew) would have known the atoning death of the servant is what God said to Isaiah–so they can’t have been fooled. Which brings us back to the problem of fringe sects: since many Jews would be aware of this (that the Hebrew speaks of an atoning death, and the Targum finds this passages to be messianic), we are back to my plausibility argument: some Jews could easily have put 2 and 2 together here. Atoning death + messianic = messianic atoning death. Not all Jews need have made this connection. But that both elements were already in the air is all we need for a plausible connection to have been made between them.And that is precisely what I have been arguing from the beginning. Stark simply doesn’t address my actual argument from the Targum. Still. After all this time.I also don’t see any risking of life in the passages Stark adduces as indicating such. The messiah is uniformly triumphant and unstoppable. That leaves the ambiguity intact. It all depends on what you assume. Which depends on whether you were someone who knew the Hebrew text. Which gets us back to the point above. And around we go.On dating, the matter remains unclear. Was a version of this Targum attributing Isaiah 53 to the “messiah” before the Jewish war? Possibly. And that’s the point. Why would they have suddenly seen this as messianic only after the war? We can’t say that it was because in it the messiah dies–without granting my point that he does; and if he doesn’t, then why was this passage chosen to be so elaborately re-interpreted to be about the messiah?Judges 9:17 is not “the closest parallel to Isa 53:12″ (or close at all). It says someone’s father saved someone, and risked his life to do it. And as Stark himself admits, the context makes clear that he didn’t die in that process. That is precisely the kind of context that is ambiguous in the Isaiah case, particularly when we are speaking about readers who know the Hebrew (or even Septuagint, as many a Diaspora Jew would; Paul, for example, was conversant with both).Stark insists that any major expert translator (I cite two of them, one of them even endorsed by the International Organization for Targumic Studies) who translates the phrase differently than he does must be wrong. That looks like special pleading to me, as I said. There are only two possibilities here. Stark is either agreeing with me that the phrase is ambiguous and these experts just chose the wrong connotation (because Moses and Aaron didn’t give their lives for Israel–unless we interpret they did, their deaths allowing God to finally let the Israelites cross into the Holy Land, since the bible says both had to die before that happened, to atone for their sins against God), which then just gets us back to what the context of the Jonathan Targum is. Or Stark is saying these experts are incompetent in Aramaic and thus did not even give us a potentiallycorrect translation. Which seems wholly implausible to me. You can decide for yourself how much to buy into that.If you instead read Stark as saying the former, then he is making an irrelevant argument: I am saying the phrase apparently can mean both, and I cite these translators as evidence of that. Saying they got the context wrong is not a rebuttal to what I actually argued. What I argued is that even these experts agreed the phrase can have that meaning. Stark even quotes Chilton making my own argument: “Our point is not that Aramaic phrase unequivocally means the messiah did die, but merely that it is susceptible of the interpretation that he did so, and that therefore the Targumic rendering of Isaiah 53 should not be characterized as univocally anti-Christian (and post-Christian).” Exactly. So why are we still arguing over this?–Everything else Stark says is irrelevant to my argument (e.g. whether the rabbis envisioned multiple messiahs or not; the fact that they debated whether Bar Kochba was the one spoken of; the fact that rabbis debated what sort of messianism was true; etc.). Some of his comments don’t even get right what I said (e.g. I never claimed b.Sanhedrin 98b mentioned a resurrected messiah, only that it shows Jews acknowledging Isaiah 53 was about the messiah, which we know is a passage about a dying man–whose death atones for sins). Or he ignores what I said (e.g. in my original article I specifically acknowledged and described the Sukkah passage as discussing two messiahs, one who dies and one who resurrects him; Stark now seems to assume I was unaware of this).At points this even starts to look like a game is being played on me: I say b.Sukkah 52a-b shows a dying-and-rising messiah son of Joseph, which no Jew would invent after dealing with Christianity; instead of admitting that, Stark moves the goal posts by saying this messiah isn’t here being merged with the Davidic messiah who comes after him (I never said the Jews made that step; obviously, the Christians did, having the second messiah be instead the return of the first messiah). That’s irrelevant.No Jews would invent a dying-and-rising messiah ben Joseph after Christians had been preaching that very thing. Stark thinks otherwise, as if the fact that the Jews changed other trivial details would make this not a vindication of Christians. Sorry, that’s not logical. If you are going to invent a dying-and-rising messiah at all (and why would you, BTW? That’s already skirting pretty close to vindicating the core premise of Christianity: that there will be a dying and rising messiah at all and that God had predicted this all along), why would you confirm that he would be a son of Joseph? The response that “Well, we mean the patriarch” would not work; Christians could use any scriptural matrix confirming any messiah ben Joseph as their messiah ben Joseph. Conversely, Christians already aware of a messiah ben Joseph tradition could symbolize that in their myths by introducing a literal Joseph as father, who is also literally a Davidid heir (thus merging both the Davidic and Josephine messiahs). Indeed, the coincidence is otherwise hard to fathom. Stark banks on luck, and explains everything away as just a coincidence. That’s called special pleading.He also argues (this time even against McGrath) that Jews didn’t care what Christians were preaching and thus had no concerns about inadvertently handing them a juicy support to their entire gospel. But the rabbis were always concerned about heresies and were the one group who would be intimately familiar with Christian preaching from very early on, and keen to suppress it, and certainly not to aid it. Moreover, the thesis that Jews didn’t know or care about Christian preaching, but went on, completely independently, to later “also” invent a dying-and-rising messiah-ben-Joseph ideology as if by shear coincidence, begs credulity even granting its premise.

  11. Hi Bretoon Garcia,

    I forgot to mention one more point:

    5 There were other Jews around Jesus’ time who claimed to be Messiah. They managed to attract followers. But these Messiah-claimants were in the end defeated by the Roman pagans. After that, as far as we can tell, their followers no longer affirmed these were Messiahs. They were seen as false Messiahs (or sometimes seen merely as righteous martyrs). These indicates that the concept that a true Messiah is someone who would be victorious and who would not be defeated by pagans is not easily susceptible to modification into “a Messiah who would come to die for his people” idea at that time. Apparently, the Jesus movement was the only exception where their leader Jesus, killed by pagans, was affirmed as the true Messiah even after their leader was humiliated and crucified to death by pagans.  If the concept of a victorious Messiah was so easily modifiable into a dying Messiah at that time, we would expect one or more of the other Messianic-claimants to continued to be affirmed as Messiah after their death. But it did not happen that way base on the evidence we have. (we do not base on imagined evidence which we do not have – we can revised our position next time if we discover new evidence that changes our position; this is the scientific approach)

  12. Stevie Jake, thanks for posting Carrier’s response here. Here’s mine:

    He’s right that b.Sanhedrin 93b (and not 93a) does not (as I said) explicitly identify Isaiah 53, it rather supports it by saying the messiah will suffer. I have corrected my article above to reflect that.

    No it doesn’t “support” Isaiah 53 if by Isaiah 53 we mean “the messiah dies.”

    He doesn’t challenge the fact that b.Sanhedrin 98b shows first century rabbis agreeing Isaiah 53 is about a messiah (quoting verse 53:4), and we all know Isaiah 53 says the man spoken of there dies (and dies to atone for Israel’s sins). It’s not as if the Rabbis quoting the text didn’t know that.

    Rabbis doing midrash quoted out of context all the time. Carrier’s claim was that “If b.Sanhedrin 98b and 93a explicitly say Isaiah 53 is about a dying messiah (and they do).” This claim is clearly false. As I pointed out, in this post-135 CE period, there developed the idea of a “sage messiah” in contrast to the arrogant warrior messiah (e.g., Bar Kochba). The fact that 98b refers to the messiah as a “leper scholar” indicates this is the model of a sage messiah, different altogether from the Davidic warrior messiah. Carrier doesn’t pay attention.

    I did not cite Chilton as dating the text pre-70 or as saying that Is. 53:5 was redacted. I cited Chilton as confirming that redaction had occurred in the Targum as a whole, and from this I concluded “it’s entirely possible Jonathan did not write verse 53:5 as we have it.” Note that this is very clear in not attributing such a claim to Chilton. This kind of treatment of what I say (turning it into something I didn’t say, and then making hay of it) is typical of a lot of what Stark does when addressing my arguments.

    Carrier is misreading me. What I said was this: “But of course, Chilton, whom Carrier depends upon, does not suggest that 53:5 alone was the addition of a later tradent, as Carrier suggests.”

    I did not say that Carrier said Chilton made that claim, although my language is ambiguous. But note the parallel verbs: Chilton does not “suggest,” as Carrier “suggests.” I am not saying that Carrier is suggesting that Chilton made the claim. I am saying that Carrier suggestion (i.e., about the redaction) is not a suggestion made by Chilton. What I showed was that in fact Chilton makes precisely the opposite claim as Carrier’s suggestion, thus exposing Carrier’s misuse of his source. I apologize for the ambiguity, but Carrier’s reading of me is wrong, and he could have figured it out by paying attention to the parallel verb “suggests.” I did not write, “But Chilton does not suggest, as Carrier says Chilton suggests, that…”

    His entire treatment of my distinction between evidence and explanation is a paradigmatic case of the latter, where he spends a lot of words arguing against what he thinks I said, yet actually just reaffirms what I actually said (and doesn’t even seem aware of it), or he confuses what I said as having said something else. For example, that entire section reiterates the general principle “if this is a better explanation, then it is more probable,” which he then reads as saying “this is a better explanation, therefore it is more probable,” and then he argues against the latter at length, even though it is not what I have here argued. Stark is not a good reader.

    This is sad. I’m arguing against Carrier’s arguments. I understand perfectly well the difference between an “if/then” statement and a “this is” claim. The distinction is irrelevant, since what I’m arguing against are the arguments Carrier makes after the “if/then” in order to try to show that the “if” statement is in fact true.

    The question of whether a “pre-Christian dying-messiah sect existed” is a better explanation for the development of Christianity (than an actual crucified man) is a wholly separate question, and one that I do not address in this article, or in my original article about the dying messiah.

    I’m well aware of that. Why should that prevent me from arguing that a historical crucifixion is a better explanation, after all of Carrier’s tentative arguments fail?

    He tries to claim that b.Sanhedrin 98b doesn’t speak of a specific or special messiah (whether it speaks of a final messiah is irrelevant to my argument). This is just plain false. The text begins by describing a debate about what will happen “in the days of the Messiah” and then moves to a debate about what that messiah’s name will be, and then cites Isaiah 53:4 as providing one of the answers to that question. Meaning: some of them believed the messiah who would come “in the days of the messiah” is indeed spoken of in Isaiah 53 (not just some random dude who will be anointed for some trivial reason).

    Carrier is wrong. Yes, the debate begins with a discussion about what will happen in the “days of the messiah” but it is not limited to that question. He misses the statement made two sentences later: “This was said in opposition to R. Hillel, who maintained that there will be no Messiah for Israel, since they have already enjoyed him during the reign of Hezekiah.” Thus, the debate was not over “what will happen in the days of the messiah.” It was rather over what we should understand “messiah” to mean, among other things, as a casual reading makes clear. Who’s not a careful reader?

    So no, “what will happen in the days of the messiah” is not the overarching question controlling the discussion. Moreover, I never denied that the “leper scholar” identified from Isaiah 53 is meant to be taken as a future messiah, but then, the question of what “the days of the messiah” will be hinges entirely upon the question of what kind of messiah the messiah will be. Not all rabbis believed that the messiah would be a conquering warrior, and in this period, most didn’t. So the days of the messiah on the sage messiah model is an age of enlightenment and increased understanding of the law. The messiah on this model is a great teacher, not a liberator. Carrier simply doesn’t know the material.

    That’s, again, the same Isaiah 53 where the man spoken of is the “Arm of God” who will bring “salvation” and do so by “dying” and thereby “atoning” for Israel’s sins. Stark at this point is kicking against the goad of the obvious and I just can’t fathom why he is still denying this.

    This claim about the “arm of the lord” being the suffering servant is false, as I will show in my next post. Carrier again doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

    Stark claims “nowhere does the text [of the Targum Jonathan] imply that [the messiah’s] ‘delivering up his soul to death’ ‘somehow effected his victory’.” If you grant that it says he died and not risked his life, then yes, it does. And those are two separate issues. It says he will divide the spoils (i.e enjoy his victory) “because he delivered up his soul to death.” Thus his death (or his risked life, as Stark would have it) was somehow causally efficacious in his victory.

    This is a fair point, but the fact is, the death and burial of the Servant is denied at every turn throughout the passage, and it’s post-70 to boot.

    Stark resorts to the “they were trying to fool poor Aramaic audiences who didn’t know the original Hebrew” argument, which I find implausible.

    I expressly denied that I was making this argument when I said, “Not that I’m conceding they had a malicious intent.” “Pull the wool over the eyes” was Carrier’s terminology. Most fundamentalist Christians who gets things drastically wrong aren’t doing it intentionally, yet they do it constantly.

    They are, wherever they can, interpreting (for example) pronouns as referring to different entities, in order to transfer as much as possible away from the messiah and onto Israel (whom he symbolically represents and thus can be claimed as a stand-in for) or his enemies (where one can read the Hebrew that way, if at a stretch), but here when they refer to his death (or risked life), they don’t. They keep it. I agree that’s ambiguous (and said so), but I see no good case for concluding they meant to erase the death by choosing an ambiguous phrase (a phrase that means both) and still attributing it to him (instead of transferring it like they did everything else).

    And here he ignores what Chilton says about their not having impetus to make the distinction so clear. It wasn’t an anti-Christian polemic, so they had no reason to expect that anyone would read the phrase literally rather than idiomatically. And, Carrier ignores another point I made, that they did change the verb from the Hebrew text’s ‘arah to mesar. The original could not have been read idiomatically.

    Thus their design can’t have been to fool the public on this point (even if you buy the “rabbis are liars” argument).

    An argument I expressly said I wasn’t making. Carrier points the finger and has three pointing back at himself when he accuses me of straw-manning and sloppy reading.

    More importantly, all rabbis (knowing Hebrew) would have known the atoning death of the servant is what God said to Isaiah–so they can’t have been fooled.

    I already addressed this argument. Carrier ignores it. Moreover, not “all rabbis” did agree with this understanding of the text! I never claimed they were trying to fool everyone or anyone. But people within their tradition would likely follow the reading (as fundies do), or would have at any rate preserved the tradition conservatively, after the Amaoric period.

    Which brings us back to the problem of fringe sects: since many Jews would be aware of this (that the Hebrew speaks of an atoning death, and the Targum finds this passages to be messianic), we are back to my plausibility argument: some Jews could easily have put 2 and 2 together here. Atoning death + messianic = messianic atoning death. Not all Jews need have made this connection. But that both elements were already in the air is all we need for a plausible connection to have been made between them. And that is precisely what I have been arguing from the beginning.

    The vast majority of Jews, and the vast majority of the rabbis, read Isaiah 53 as describing the suffering of Israel. That “some Jews” could have read it as evidence for a dying messiah is a possibility I have always affirmed and never denied. I have simply shown that Carrier’s attempts to argue that we have evidence that some Jews did have failed.

    Stark simply doesn’t address my actual argument from the Targum.

    In point of fact I do. Moreover, Carrier’s “argument from the targum” included arguments that, for instance, b.Sukkah 52a-b had to be pre-Christian tradition because no one would invent a “Messiah ben Joseph” after Christianity. See, I’ve never once denied the possibility of Carrier’s hypothesis. I’ve simply refuted his attempts to adduce evidence confirming the hypothesis. It’s Carrier who doesn’t seem to be able to understand the difference.

    On dating, the matter remains unclear. Was a version of this Targum attributing Isaiah 53 to the “messiah” before the Jewish war? Possibly. And that’s the point. Why would they have suddenly seen this as messianic only after the war? We can’t say that it was because in it the messiah dies–without granting my point that he does; and if he doesn’t, then why was this passage chosen to be so elaborately re-interpreted to be about the messiah?

    I assume Carrier will do his due diligence and read the scholarly literature on the effect of Bar Kochba on Jewish messianism and will be able, after having done so, to answer his own questions. In the meantime, suffice it to say that Chilton, the very source Carrier uses to make the point that there is some pre-70 material in Targum Jonathan, says that the passage in question was composed post-70.

    Judges 9:17 is not “the closest parallel to Isa 53:12″ (or close at all). It says someone’s father saved someone, and risked his life to do it. And as Stark himself admits, the context makes clear that he didn’t die in that process. That is precisely the kind of context that is ambiguous in the Isaiah case, particularly when we are speaking about readers who know the Hebrew (or even Septuagint, as many a Diaspora Jew would; Paul, for example, was conversant with both).

    Carrier is wrong again. Judges 9:17 is a very close parallel. Both texts involve battle against enemies. And both texts use the same idiomatic phrase. In Judges, the father clearly doesn’t die, and if Carrier will pay attention to the actual text of the targum, rather than appealing to the original text, he’ll see that the context is the same. As I went to great pains to show, the targum erases any mention of the Servant’s suffering, death or burial, all throughout, on every point. Then after it uses the idiomatic phrase, he is given the spoils of victory, and they are earthly spoils, “strong cities,” which is another additional element not found in the original text. The fact that the context provides no other clue whatsoever that the Servant would die makes the context parallel to Judges 9:17. Carrier can only appeal to the original Hebrew or the LXX, not to the text itself. There is no question that the midrashic interpreter changed the text drastically on virtually every point. Carrier’s argument that “people would notice” is irrelevant. Whether they would or they wouldn’t, that doesn’t change the fact that it was changed. And perhaps some did notice. Does that mean they would therefore reject the Targum’s interpretation? No, it doesn’t mean that at all, not necessarily. Again, I’ll use the modern fundamentalist example. A Christian will have one understanding of a text, and the Christian will find it troubling. Then the apologist or preacher will come along and tell the Christian “what it really means” (and 99% of the time, the apologist or preacher believes his/her own distortions), and the Christian will say to him or herself, “That’s not how I understood it. I’m so glad you’ve enlightened me.” This happens every Sunday, all over the world. Carrier is living in denial.

    But Carrier wants to argue that the targum simply “plays down” the death of the Servant, if we’re to take a literal rather than idiomatic reading of the phrase. This is an incredible argument. If they intended to say that the Messiah would die, that would be something significant, and far afield from the normal conceptions about the kind of warrior messiah described in the previous verses of the passage in the targum. It is entirely implausible that something so significant as the death of the Messiah would be so briefly mentioned as if uncontroversial, and with no explicit statement of resurrection. There are even statements in the original Hebrew that could have been twisted to connote a resurrection, e.g., “he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;
    through him the will of Yahweh shall prosper. Out of his anguish he shall see light;
    he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.” These statements could have been altered to connote a resurrection, but instead, the targum interprets them thus: “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. 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.”

    At every turn, the suffering, death, and burial of the Servant is denied and transferred to Israel or (more frequently) to the enemy. That’s about as big a clue as clues get that we should read the phrase in question idiomatically. I for my part don’t see any ambiguity, given the context of the song as it is recomposed in the targum.

    Stark insists that any major expert translator (I cite two of them, one of them even endorsed by the International Organization for Targumic Studies) who translates the phrase differently than he does must be wrong. That looks like special pleading to me, as I said.

    There’s a difference between arguing and insisting. Carrier isn’t always aware of the difference.

    There are only two possibilities here. Stark is either agreeing with me that the phrase is ambiguous and these experts just chose the wrong connotation (because Moses and Aaron didn’t give their lives for Israel–unless we interpret they did, their deaths allowing God to finally let the Israelites cross into the Holy Land, since the bible says both had to die before that happened, to atone for their sins against God), which then just gets us back to what the context of the Jonathan Targum is.

    This is quite humorous. The Bible nowhere says that Moses and Aaron had to die before Israel would be allowed to go into the Promised Land. It simply says that Moses and Aaron would not be permitted to enter the Promised Land themselves, which was supposed to be their reward for their faithfulness to Yahweh. And thus they died outside of the Promised Land as a punishment. This is hardly a death “for the sake of the people of Israel.”

    Or Stark is saying these experts are incompetent in Aramaic and thus did not even give us a potentially correct translation.

    I said nor did I imply anything of the sort. I never called them incompetent. I said I (and others) thought their translation of a particular idiomatic phrase was wrong. The Targums are a large corpus. Perhaps they weren’t aware it is used idiomatically. I don’t know. But Carrier is putting words in my mouth that do not logically proceed from anything I said. This strikes me as desperate.

    Which seems wholly implausible to me. You can decide for yourself how much to buy into that.

    I would advise that you decide against considering those two translators incompetent. Wrong on one point is sufficient.

    If you instead read Stark as saying the former, then he is making an irrelevant argument: I am saying the phrase apparently can mean both, and I cite these translators as evidence of that. Saying they got the context wrong is not a rebuttal to what I actually argued. What I argued is that even these experts agreed the phrase can have that meaning. Stark even quotes Chilton making my own argument: “Our point is not that Aramaic phrase unequivocally means the messiah did die, but merely that it is susceptible of the interpretation that he did so, and that therefore the Targumic rendering of Isaiah 53 should not be characterized as univocally anti-Christian (and post-Christian).” Exactly. So why are we still arguing over this?

    Because Carrier is ignoring all of the internal evidence in Targum Jonathan itself that tells us we should read the phrase idiomatically in this case. As for Chilton’s quote, yes, I’m the one who quoted him. In it, Chilton says that the evidence we have suggests it was being used idiomatically. But while Chilton is write that the phrase, taken by itself, can be ambiguous, the fact remains that within the context of the whole passage, in which no other clue whatsoever that the messiah would die or even suffer is present, it’s not really a difficult question, determining whether it should be used idiomatically here.

    –Everything else Stark says is irrelevant to my argument (e.g. whether the rabbis envisioned multiple messiahs or not; the fact that they debated whether Bar Kochba was the one spoken of; the fact that rabbis debated what sort of messianism was true; etc.).

    Actually, no it’s not. First of all, I’m explaining what’s going on to my readers most of whom aren’t previously familiar with this material, so not everything I say has to be in direct response to the good Dr. Carrier. Second, the reason I spelled all that out is to show that when we see “leper scholar” taken from Isaiah 53, we’re not talking about a dying warrior messiah, we’re talking about a sage messiah whose program is very different. That’s important, whether Carrier is able to see it or not. Most of my readers are able to see why that’s important.

    Some of his comments don’t even get right what I said (e.g. I never claimed b.Sanhedrin 98b mentioned a resurrected messiah, only that it shows Jews acknowledging Isaiah 53 was about the messiah, which we know is a passage about a dying man–whose death atones for sins).

    Once again, Carrier accuses me of getting him wrong, but it’s just a case of his own misunderstanding of my statement. This is just another example of the narcissistic assumption that everything I write has to be in direct response to him. Here’s what I wrote about dying and rising, in its context:

    Third, while several of the rabbis identify long-deceased figures from Israel’s history as “the Messiah,” it is clear that they do not mean this in the sense of an eschatological Messiah. Hillel makes this clear; the text says that Hillel “maintained that there will be no Messiah for Israel, since they have already enjoyed him during the reign of Hezekiah.” So references to past figures as “the Messiah” do not constitute a claim that the Messiah would die and rise again. These reflect a different conception of the Messiah altogether from the dominant one found in apocalyptic Judaism, including Christianity. The last tradition cited in this passage refers to a Davidic Messiah who will be raised up (not resurrected but brought onto the scene) in the future.

    In neither case do I say that I am arguing against some statement by Carrier that 98b referred to a “rising” messiah. In both cases I am simply clarifying that resurrection isn’t meant or implied, and I did this in case any of my readers might have had that thought. So once again Carrier sets his sights on a phantom target.

    But now Carrier is moving the goalposts (either unconsciously, or deceptively). He said, “I never claimed b.Sanhedrin 98b mentioned a resurrected messiah, only that it shows Jews acknowledging Isaiah 53 was about the messiah, which we know is a passage about a dying man–whose death atones for sins.” See where the goal posts have gone? Remember where they were before?

    His initial claims was this: “If b.Sanhedrin 98b and 93a explicitly say Isaiah 53 is about a dying messiah (and they do).”

    Now he claims what he said all along is this: “I never claimed b.Sanhedrin 98b mentioned a resurrected messiah, only that it shows Jews acknowledging Isaiah 53 was about the messiah, which we know is a passage about a dying man–whose death atones for sins.”

    The original claim was that 98b and 93a say Isaiah 53 is about a dying messiah. His new claim (which is being passed off as his first claim) is that 98b and 93a connect the messiah to Isaiah 53 and, as we know, Isaiah 53 is about a “dying man–whose death atones for sins.” To reiterate: Original claim: “Talmud says.” New claim: “Talmud alludes.” Both claims are of course false. 93b doesn’t mention Isaiah 53 at all, and says nothing about any death. 98b mentions Isaiah 53, but says nothing about any death; it only takes away from it that the messiah would be a leper scholar. So, original claim, false. New claim: false, because Carrier doesn’t understand how talmudic midrash works.

    (continued…)

  13. Or he ignores what I said (e.g. in my original article I specifically acknowledged and described the Sukkah passage as discussing two messiahs, one who dies and one who resurrects him; Stark now seems to assume I was unaware of this).

     
    Once again, Carrier assumes everything I say is directed at him. In this case, he has no excuse, because after I explained the distinction between the two Messiahs in Sukkah, I said, “So that’s the basic picture in the background of this text; just so we’re clear.” This of course was directed at my readers. I was helping them understand the background information they needed to know in order to understand why Carrier’s argument was going to fail, when I got around to critiquing it.
     
    Carrier incessantly displays both an uncharitable and an incompetent reading comprehension.
     

    At points this even starts to look like a game is being played on me: I say b.Sukkah 52a-b shows a dying-and-rising messiah son of Joseph, which no Jew would invent after dealing with Christianity; instead of admitting that, Stark moves the goal posts by saying this messiah isn’t here being merged with the Davidic messiah who comes after him (I never said the Jews made that step; obviously, the Christians did, having the second messiah be instead the return of the first messiah).

     
    Yet again! Not everything I say is a direct argument against Carrier’s arguments. I am informing my reader and clarifying things for their sake. I moved no goal posts, and I didn’t say Carrier made the claim of conflation of the two Messiahs. I was clarifying their distinctive categories for my readers. And no, the Christians did not “make that step” of merging the Messiah ben Joseph with the Messiah ben David, because that tradition didn’t yet exist. The Christians had their own beliefs.
     
    I’m officially going to ask Carrier for an apology for constantly misrepresenting me. Carrier, not everything I tell my readers is an argument against your claims. Please get it through your head, and apologize to me for your uncharitable and careless reading of my words.
     

    No Jews would invent a dying-and-rising messiah ben Joseph after Christians had been preaching that very thing. Stark thinks otherwise, as if the fact that the Jews changed other trivial details would make this not a vindication of Christians. Sorry, that’s not logical.

     
    What a godawful, horrible response. Joseph was a common name. I’m amazed at Carrier’s astounding obtuseness. The Messiah ben Joseph was also called Messiah ben Ephraim. Joseph was one of the Twelve Sons of Jacob. No one would have mistaken “Messiah ben Joseph/Ephraim” for Jesus the son of the average carpenter with the common name Joseph, no one who, you know, knew what the traditions meant. Changing Joseph the average carpenter to Joseph the Patriarch is not a “trivial detail.” They didn’t change the Christian tradition. It’s a separate tradition. Moreover, Carrier’s already ridiculous argument also must assume that the architects of the Messiah ben Joseph/Ephraim tradition were aware of the fact that the marginal Jew from Nazareth had a father named Joseph. Does Carrier imagine these rabbis are studying the Synoptic Gospels? Jesus of Nazareth was preached as the Son of David and the Son of God. His peasant father’s name had no place in the kerygma that rabbis would have been familiar with, if they were familiar with Christianity at all, other than a casual, dismissive familiarity. Carrier’s argument is just as ignorant, and just as much of a failure as ever. No doubt, however, that he’ll continue to make it.
     

    If you are going to invent a dying-and-rising messiah at all (and why would you, BTW? That’s already skirting pretty close to vindicating the core premise of Christianity: that there will be a dying and rising messiah at all and that God had predicted this all along), why would you confirm that he would be a son of Joseph? The response that “Well, we mean the patriarch” would not work; Christians could use any scriptural matrix confirming any messiah ben Joseph as their messiah ben Joseph.

     
    Once again, I’ll assume Carrier is about to dig into his research about why post-135 rabbis developed the Messiah ben Ephraim tradition. The Messiah ben Ephraim would be resurrected by the actual eschatological Messiah ben David (along with all of the other saints) because all the righteous would be vindicated at that time. And again, Carrier ignores the fact that the Messiah ben Joseph is also called Messiah ben Ephraim. And saying, “Well, we mean the patriarch” would indeed work, because Christians were committed to the view that Jesus was the Messiah ben David. David was a descendent of Judah, not of Joseph. Two different lines. The whole idea that the rabbis are thinking, “Oh, we can’t invent a Messiah ben Joseph/Ephraim” tradition because those Christians might feel vindicated is just ludicrous. If the Talmud tells us anything, it’s that these rabbis knew very little details about what Christians were claiming about Jesus. For instance, the Talmud says that Jesus had five disciples, and it gets their names wrong. If they had heard anything at all about Christianity, it would generally have been rumors and bits and pieces of (mis)information. These rabbis weren’t scholars of Christian texts. The kerygma made no mention of Joseph. Carrier has to assume a great deal of implausible eventualities just to land on an argument that fails anyway.
     
    Oh, and Zecharah 12 makes no mention of Joseph, or Ephraim, or anyone from that line. The entire passage is about the House of Judah. And Carrier thinks the rabbis pay attention to context!
     

    Conversely, Christians already aware of a messiah ben Joseph tradition could symbolize that in their myths by introducing a literal Joseph as father, who is also literally a Davidid heir (thus merging both the Davidic and Josephine messiahs). Indeed, the coincidence is otherwise hard to fathom. Stark banks on luck, and explains everything away as just a coincidence.

     
    Um, where did I explain anything away as “just a coincidence?” Joseph was an extremely common name. How could it possibly be hard to fathom that someone could have a father named Joseph, unless you’re a conspiracy theorist? Carrier is running off on a tangent with no foundation.
     

    That’s called special pleading.

     
    No, it’s not called special pleading. This is a term Carrier likes to throw around devoid of meaning. Scholars date the Messiah ben Ephraim tradition to the post-Bar Kochba period. When Carrier decides to examine the scholarship and engage it, someone let me know. Sukkah 52a-b expressly stages the argument as between Dosa and others. Dosa was a third century CE rabbi. I don’t have to explain this conspiratorial “coincidence” because the earliest evidence we have for the tradition of the Messiah ben Ephraim dates to the third century after Jesus ben Joseph was born.
     
    I am frankly amazed that Carrier still thinks he has an argument here.
     

    He also argues (this time even against McGrath) that Jews didn’t care what Christians were preaching and thus had no concerns about inadvertently handing them a juicy support to their entire gospel.

     
    Actually, I also quoted Chilton saying the same thing. But McGrath was wrong on this one, and I can only hope it’s because he was at least as unfamiliar with the Messiah ben Ephraim tradition as was Carrier.
     

    But the rabbis were always concerned about heresies and were the one group who would be intimately familiar with Christian preaching from very early on, and keen to suppress it, and certainly not to aid it.

     
    I’d like Carrier to substantiate these claims. First of all, being familiar with Christian preaching, as I’ve said, doesn’t make them familiar with Christian texts, and it doesn’t make them familiar with all the details of Jesus’ life. Second, no doubt they were keen to suppress Christian preaching, but that doesn’t entail they knew very many details. And even if some did, the rabbis weren’t a monolithic group bound in one location. And in fact (if Carrier would pay attention) the “b” in bSukkah refers to Babylon, as in, Babylonian Talmud, not Palestinian Talmud. That means most of the rabbis producing them would not have been “intimately familiar with early Christian preaching,” a description which is still implausible for most Palestinian rabbis.
     

    Moreover, the thesis that Jews didn’t know or care about Christian preaching, but went on, completely independently, to later “also” invent a dying-and-rising messiah-ben-Joseph ideology as if by shear [sic] coincidence, begs credulity even granting its premise.

     
    I’m sure this is true in Conspiracy Land, where facts don’t matter. Once again, the figure was Messiah ben Joseph/Ephraim interchangeably. Even if some Christians were stupid enough to take that to be evidence for Jesus of Nazareth, there’s no reason to think the rabbis would have cared. At this point, Judaism and Christianity were thoroughly separated, and maligning Jesus as a sorcerer and the bastard son of a Roman soldier seems to have been their way of dealing with the threat.
     
    I’m simply amazed at how far Carrier is willing to go to hold on even to his lamest arguments. 

  14. One more comment for Carrier, a quotation from John Collins: 

    In the Babylonian Talmud, tractate Sukkah 52, Zech 12:10 (“they will look on him whom they pierced”) is explained with reference to “the slaying of the Messiah the son of Joseph.” While the origin of this figure is obscure, he most probably reflects in some way the defeat and death of Bar Kokhba, whom Rabbi Akiba had hailed as messiah. The messiah ben Joseph, however, is killed in battle, and his death has “no atoning power whatever.” (Collins, Scepter and the Star, 126)

    Collins then cites the work of Joseph Heinemann, “The Messiah of Ephraim and the Premature Exodus of the Tribe of Ephraim,” Harvard Theological Review 68 (1975) 1-15. Collins then says that the association of the dying messiah with Ephraim or Joseph possibly is derived from “the old division between northern Israel (Ephraim) and Judah. Since the victorious Davidic messiah comes from Judah, the dying messiah is assigned to Ephraim.” 

    Regarding the “leper scholar,” Collins writes:

    There is also a strange passage in Sanhedrin 98 that tells of the messiah sitting among the lepers at the gate of Rome. The association with lepers is probably derived from the verb ngw’ (afflicted) in Isa 53:4. Here again there is no suggestion of an atoning function. Whatever the origin of this legend, it is clearly much later than the time of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament, and it does not represent the messiah as a suffering servant in the sense that this notion was developed in Christianity. (ibid.)

    In the end note, Collins then cites E. E. Urbach, The Sages, Their Concepts and Beliefs, 1.683, who comments that this story does not lack humor and irony, and implies that it shows some skepticism about messianic expectation.

  15. I have countless objections to all that.

    1) The first is that the whole fixation specifically on the word “Messiah” is wrong.  “Messiah” is a) a notoriously problematic (as witness the above controversy) and b) probably incidental word.  One that is found c) used two times in the entire NT; in the non-synopitic gospel of John (1.41; 4.25).

    My first objection therefore is this: the word “Messiah” is quite a bit less significant than many have thought.  Traditional believers fixed on this word, and have tried to hang a too muchy theological weight on it; to support blind belief. 

    But?  It is all based on … just two occurences of a single word.  Both found in the most problematic of gospels.

  16. Bretton, you do realize, don’t you, that the Greek word “Christ” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah,” and that it occurs over 500 times in the New Testament?

  17. Here’s a repeat of my general orientation,as made in a comment to Dr. Carrier. With perhaps a concluding remark on your latest objection:

    1) The whole concentration on the word “Messiah” has always been a sort of red herring.  The a) word is mentioned exactly twice in the entire Bible (John 1.41, 4.25). In b) a non-snyoptic gospel.  Where it is mentioned as c) mere heresay or interpolation of casual onlookers and (then-considered) unreliable women (John 4.25). d) Scholars have long fixated on it, probably precisely because it is so vague and undefined, that they can use it as a “Table rasa” or Rorschach Blot, on which to project their own hobbyhorses or obsessions.

    2) Moving past this endlessly problematic term, and the countless misuses to which it has been put therefore?  I suggested that much, much clearer predecessors for a crucified Christ, can be found outside the literature on “Messiah”s; particularly in countless cultural references to dying HEROES.
    And more specifically?

    3) Dr. Carrier has rightly mentioned 2 Mac. 7.  Which contains a dramatic account, of a young Jewish man dying for his god and country.  And for that matter?  It is important to note that … his death is quite Christlike, in that his death is even taken, as a possible salvation for this country.

    In simple language? Here in 2 Mac., as is typical of heroes, the hero’s death is taken to essentially, dramatise an ideal.  And by dramatising it, publicising, popularlizing a good idea?  It is typically hoped that the death will “save” his countrymen.  When they hear about this ideal, and take it into themselves as their own:
    “Like my brothers, I offer up my body and my life for our ancestral laws, imploring God to show mercy soon to our nation, and by afflictions and blows to make you confess that he alone is God. Through me and my brothers, may there be an end to the wrath of the Almighty that has justly fallen on our whole nation.” (2 Mac. 7.37-9, NAB).
    Clearly, here is a clear precedent, in Jewish literature, from (it is said) c. 167 BC.  Of a Jewish hero, dying under torture.  Who hopes to save/be savior to this country, in part by 1) presenting a strong moral message, that will save those who follow it.
    For that matter, in another parallel with Christ? This dying man hopes to save us also by 2) by his death, for that matter, by substitutionary attonement.  By taking on the wrath of God against any sins of the Jewish people; and paying for their sins.
    Obviously, there were countless very, very clear precedents in Jewish and Greco-Roman culture, to the core ideas now associated too-strictly with just Jesus.  And these ideas would have been available, to feed into – and even create? – the legend of Jesus.  Savior to his people … by dying for the sins of all.  And saving them … by presenting, dramatising, publicizing, a moral ideal.

    It is better to look past the endless controvrsies on “Messiahs.”  The whole idea of a dying hero saving his people can far more clearly be found in Jewish literature.  Indeed, your normal hero or “martyr,” generally, is obviously Christlike. But particularly in say(Hellenized) Jewish literature.  Like 2 Mac. 7. 37.  The young Jewish man, who is tortured to death; but whose death is alleged to be a triumph.  In that he dies in order to dramatize, publicise, a salvational moral ideal.

    I guess the present intense discussion of “Messiah” has some use in exhausting this subject; but I think Dr. Carrier and the mythicist argument, is on firmer or more fruitful grounds, when discussing say, 2 Mac. 7..

    Why weren’t other would-be “Messahs” converted to “the” Messiah?  Likely there was nothing inherently wrong with the concept; not even in dying.  Though?  Likely there was simply a bit of luck here for Jesus.  There were dozens of reasons why Jess in particular, should be chosen.  And other reasons often cited:  especially, the legend of Jesus succeeded … because of a few strong followers like Paul.  Who continued to be strong advocates; and who like Paul, being rather Hellenized, Platonized, grasped better than predecessors, the concept of the Greco-Roman, and Socratic hero:  how one might die, and still save others.

    No special supernatural assistence was needed therefore, for this particular would-be Messiah, Jesus, to become the favored example.

  18. Bretton, I may respond to the rest of your comment later, but for now I’ll just respond to your last statement. No one here is arguing that “special supernatural assistance was needed.” There are perfectly naturalistic explanations for the origins of Christianity without resort to the miracle of mythicism.

  19. Yes?  But why do we hear this term itself, in the NT, only twice?  Is it truly an exact synonym?  As exact (even then problematic) “Christ”?  The fact that it was presented only twice in this form, suggests some significant difference.

    While indeed 1) translators in general confirm that there are rarely if ever, in translation, perfect translations.  While 2) Sematicists confirm, almost never are there perfect synomyns.

    So 3) almost certainly there is some nuance of difference here; something special about this term.  (If nothing else: it is more obscure.  And that allows people to say critical things about Christ, but in a veiled way; using an euphemism).

    4) Otherwise?  Why would scholars fixate on it?

    5) Why was the term “Messiah” proper used, only twice, and only in the late Gospel of John?  My guess is that in general, the New Testament was a quite Hellenistic document, whose essential contribution was to surreptitiously Hellenize the OT.  Without making that obvious, and incurring the wrath of Jewish heresy-hunters. The use of Greek terms and language made the new Greek features of Christianity easier to hide from a very Hebrew reader.  Though by the time of John, c. 90 AD?  Christianity was plainly separated enough from Judaism, to cease trying to disguise its differences with parent Judaism.  By 90 ACE, it was bold enough  – albeit rarely – to put its claims that Jesus was Christ/God, into increasingly plain Hebrew.

  20. Bretton,

    >>
    If you’re interested in my work, and these concepts, you might consult
    my friend’s related rough drafts, on Dr. Woodbridge Goodman’s blog.
    >>

    Your friend’s ‘rough drafts’ are incoherent and irrelevant. He spends more than 530,000 words saying… what, exactly? The net result is a meandering stream of consciousness that could have been written by a vaguely spiritual high school kid.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>