For those who follow the Jesus-myth movement of late you know that it has become quite popular to deny that there was any historical Jesus. People have been denying the Jesus-of-faith for ages, so that’s nothing new. What is new is the denial of any historical person at the root of the Jesus-legend, that is, the Christ. This movement seems to have several elements empowering it.
1) Rising popularity of irreligion.
By at least some reports religiously unaffiliated people, atheists, and agnostics are on the rise over the past decade or so. The trend is statistically interesting, but typically locates around Western Europe and America. Still, cultures of disbelief naturally empower the questioning of previously unquestioned religion-compatible claims such as, “Jesus was crucified, Jesus was buried in a tomb, or Jesus was God, Jesus existed.” Where rejection of a religion is not just allowed but increasingly fashionable as a sort of counterculture one can expect correlate conspiracy theories to rise. Just as Jesus-mythers are more common since the New Atheism sprouted this century, so Holocaust denial increases with Islamist fundamentalism.
2) Ambiguous Skepticism
Skepticism is a negative method, not a positive doctrine. It is a practiced abstention. It does not specify, in itself, what criteria are required to justify belief, nor how to distinguish between truth and falsity, or probability and improbability. Many skeptics have no clear sense of what core principles would justify belief in anything. Some say “Science,” or “observation,” or “common sense,” but each of these theories of knowledge really reside in philosophy more than in science itself, and without a good dose of philosophy these tend to slip into self-defeat (i.e.: “We know truth only by observation/science/common sense–even if the meaning of this sentence cannot be observed, scientifically proven, or is not itself common sense”). Where skepticism is ambiguous it is liable to leave the doubting generalist vulnerable to any attractive conspiracy theory. If one has no rubric for belief, neither is there a rubric for disbelief, and so one’s doubts are liable to flow from reactive oppositionalism, pop culture (i.e.: Internet Atheism in this case). One is liable to rank the anti-Jesus evidence far higher than the pro-Jesus evidence purely on subjective, presumptuous, or inconsistent grounds. Effectively one backs away from Jesus-belief never minding whether that retreat is less evidentially justified than to advance, and never minding what one is backing into.
3) Competitive Skepticism
With any group of people there is competition. Fundamentalists compete to see who can be more fundamentalist. Calvinists compete over calvinism. Atheists compete over who can identify and reject the most superstitions. And in historical studies, the skeptical community can find itself in a sociological sword-measuring contest to see who can find or invent the most extreme reasons for denying the historical Jesus. “Josephus was biased” shouts one man. “Tacitus was forged” shouts another. “The disciples were fishermen not modern historians” cries still others. “They were all high on Shrooms man!!!” And the spiral of doubt hastens downward with no verifying principles in sight nor anchors of credulity to halt its fall.
4) Publish or Perish Scholarship
There is an emphasis among scholars to generate new and original contributions to the great conversations of academia. Novelty is preferred in many cases, even in well-worn areas of study. It is titillating to skeptical leaning and ideologically liberal academics to propose a new conspiracy theory that challenges foundational beliefs of a major religion. There is always that hope of writing “the next big thing.” And what better chance at getting published, developing prestige, and creating a buzz than with a new theory about the most interesting man in world history–Jesus. There is a lot of material to sample from, and unlimited avenues for inventive reinterpretations such that 2 or 3 lines of evidence can be found for most anything from Gnostic Jesus, to Atheist Jesus, to non-existent Jesus, to Hindu Jesus, to Communist Jesus, etc. etc. Never mind that among actual historians, that is, published credentialed or otherwise professional historians and Bible scholars there has not be any serious doubt over whether a historical Jesus existed. Exceptions are few. Among living scholars I know of literally, 2-3 historical scholars and 5-6 semi-accomplished published skeptics. I’m not trying to exaggerate. If you know of more, please tell me. I know of GA Wells, Michael Martin, Richard Carrier, Robert Price, Earl Doherty, Thomas Thompson, and can find some others listed–but unverified as actual Bible scholars or Historians. (I’m not counting math or English PhD’s, for example). Onlookers can get duped if they don’t know how historical method works, who haven’t read much serious history, or who don’t know how to check for credibility and authenticity of one’s sources. It is no coincidence that Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens buy the Jesus-myth theory but Bart Ehrman–the lone Bible scholar and published historian in that bunch–dismisses that theory as foolishness.
5) The Internet
The internet is great for providing access to whatever information can be taped, scrawled, recorded, or rumored. What the internet does not do well is discern. And whatever your conspiracy theory may be, you can find find a range of reports, articles, blogs, and videos swearing how true their theory is. Used well the internet is an invaluable research source like the Alexandrian library or a Ben Stein. But the internet does a lot of the filtering and searching for you. This is both good and bad. We are losing the art of finding information, relegating that search mechanism to the algorithms of google. And with the world of information at our fingertips, many of us have settled with that, not pushing further to get that information in our heads. We cope with the information glut by dropping our research filters (i.e.: discerning real from fake authorities), and we shop for information at our entertainment leisure, instead of striving hungrily after knowledge like a starving enslaved soul desperate for the elixir of life and liberty. When we don’t know how to research, how to discern responsible theories from conspiracies, or authorities from blowhards, we are liable to swallow theories like the Jesus-myther legend.
Please don’t hear me wrong. There are some Jesus-mythers who are really trying to do some responsible work, and they are interacting with high level scholarship. Richard Carrier comes to mind.* But when we apply such extreme theories consistently that rampant skepticism becomes either arbitrary (in where it stops) or catastrophic, collapsing most everything we’ve known about history.
* That is, if Richard Carrier really exists at all.
11 thoughts on “Does Richard Carrier Exist?”
Can you say what the primary historical sources of Jesus of Nazareth are?
Yes I can.
But since this is old material, I’ll refer you to far wiser experts than myself on the subject. Check out Gary Habermas, Michael Licona, and N.T. Wright. You can even check out agnostic and skeptic Bart Ehrman. Most degreed history scholars (i.e.: they have actually studied historical method, read widely in history, and have had to prove in a peer review setting that they know how to do history) accept portions of the four gospels, and the Pauline corpus. They also tend to accept several of the roman and jewish works at the time such as Tacitus and Pliny the Younger. The selective skepticism of a Richard Carrier, for example, would ruin our ability to know about King Herod, Caesar Augustus, the Pharoah’s etc. and most any character in the ancient world. Very very few characters claimed to have existed in world history have equal or more material corroboration than Jesus of Nazareth. The only way people can honestly deny the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth is if they have some combination of the following: (1) they don’t really know how history is done (a la, Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Zeitgeist), (2) they think they can do it better than the vast majority of professional historians (Carrier), or (3) they have a skewing agenda-driven bias against a particular history claim (Price, Doherty).
Can you say what initial credibility should be apportioned to historical claims that are in wide consensus among degreed historians, bible scholars, and otherwise peer-reviewed publishers in the field?
Just say if there are any primary sources or contemporary secondary sources. I am aware of the secondary sources written decades after the death. Based on these I already accept that this person lived, there was some movement around him and that he was crucified. Why not? That kind of thing happened all the time in the Roman Empire. It is not terribly well supported as far as I am aware, but it is not an extraordinary claim and do not know why it would be controversial.
I agree that it’s not a terribly controversial claim to say that Jesus of Nazareth existed. Even I appreciate the evidential divide between claiming Jesus lived (uncontroversial, easy to prove) and Jesus is God (controversial, hard to prove.).
I think it would be nice if somebody were to actually address Carrier’s arguments in full, instead of just saying something along the lines of “but all these other scholars think he’s wrong!” Carrier knows other scholars think he’s wrong. He’s said it. Repeatedly. He’s spent two entire books providing them with the grounds and tools to criticize his argument. Take on the Bayesian approach. Come up with a good counter argument. One that actually addresses what he’s proposing: a Bayes based one.
The reason for the rift with Erhman is that Carrier spent an entire book describing which historical methods were valid, why they were valid; which weren’t valid, and why they weren’t valid: and Erhman comes back repeating the same information he did before. Relying on the same methods he did before. Without a word of mention about why he disagrees with Carrier’s assessment of the methods themselves. That’s what the actual challenge is.
Jerome, part of the reason is that Carrier has the will to drive himself sleepless while I have better things to do. The argument just is not worth the time, and it takes a lot of time since historical studies are generally messy and partial. It’s just not a good use of my time to beef up on historical apologetics to the relevant extent so I can to prove what 99% of history scholars already grant. The fact that Carrier can persuade a bevy of non-historians says nothing except that he has marginalized himself among the real community of historians (and he has, see here). Consider Robert Van Voorst who says in Jesus Outside the New Testament: “Contemporary New Testament scholars have typically viewed their arguments [of Jesus mythers] as so weak or bizarre that they relegate them to footnotes, or often ignore them completely…. The theory of Jesus’ nonexistence is now effectively dead as a scholarly question.”
It would be like trying to rebut a guy who’s trying to persuade the national academy of sciences that Darwin really didn’t go to the Gallapagos islands, and he forged all his journals from a book he found. Why bother? The only people that agree with this guy are conspiracy theorists who don’t really understand how evidence is actually parsed out in labs and peer review. The Jesus myth movement has not yet risen to the level of a real and responsible challenge. I suppose it could in the future do this. But the closest thing to a real living scholar behind this is Robert Price, not Richard Carrier. I’d recommend perusing Greg Boyd’s “Jesus Legend” or N.T. Wright’s “The Resurrection of the Son of God” to get a sense of the force of evidence that Carrier has to rebut, discredit, or ignore to mount his alternative history of the single most verified religious character in the first two-centuries of the Anno Domini era.
However, keep in mind that while we might accept that the historical Jesus exits, this is not because the evidence is overwhelming or anything. We can accept mundane historical facts like this on sparse evidence because it was 2000 years ago in a mainly illiterate society that kept relatively few records. We should reject some of the Biblical claims about Jesus because they conflict with better established historical facts. Of course we have no good reasons to accept divinity of this man.
Richard Carrier basically cherry-picks historical data. He rejects historical records that contradict his opinions. Here is his logic in a nutshell: “If it contradicts my opinion, it is not valid. If it supports my opinion, it is valid”.
420olon, I’m fine with that. On the Jesus Myth movement, it’s MUCH more academically responsible to grant the existence of Jesus of Nazareth, regardless of what you think of the deity claims about him. I would hope to convince you of his deity too, but that’s a different topic for a different thread for a different day. We’re just talking about the Myth movement here.
What selective skepticism? He’s often said he’s open to a stance on historicity that actually proves him wrong and there hasn’t been one that has. All there has been so far is people saying “This can’t mean what Richard Carrier thinks it means” without giving a reason. Instead of citing consensus, why don’t you actually do the research and rebuttal him. Read his peer-reviewed works and rebuttal with sound historical method.
What selective skepticism? I’m talking about how his level of skepticism is not consistently applied or else he’d be rejecting most every character in the ancient world since Jesus has far more historical testimony in his favor than most everyone else of that era or earlier. That’s literally selective skepticism. If you can prove me wrong, I welcome your rebuttal. Jesus has something like 9 original sources corroborating his existence (and yes, I’ve looked at them myself, some of them in the original Greek–I’m not just appealing to authority or consensus). Meanwhile, most every historical character has only 1 or 2 sources even close to their time period testifying to their existence. The historical evidence, combined with the normal conventions and operations of historical critical scholarship are WHY there’s scholarly consensus against Carrier on this.
I know that consensus isn’t everything, but you still have to answer this question, “Why is there such consensus among scholars about the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth?” Surely consensus isn’t enough on its own to prove anything with certainty. But your antagonism still needs to account for that consensus without betraying your own/or carrier’s skeptical principles. Sure you can “claim” that they are all hacks, or they are all sycophants sucking up to each other, or they are biased, or they don’t want to “rock the boat.” But, if you are going to stick to your guns and not believe anything without “sufficient evidence” then it’s your job to prove those things in spite of the demonstrable historical record that the tens of thousands of historical scholars are actually a colloquium of disagreeing people who vet each other’s work and arrive at general consensuses only on the most well-established claims of history.
For your own sake, you’d do well not to assume I’ve ignored the research or jumped to my conclusions. That would be “anti-skeptical” of you; a leap of faith so to speak. If you know that I’ve not done my research and you can prove as much I welcome you to show where my studies and research have fallen short. The posted article is a sideways jab at a controversial atheist–he’s controversial among atheists too; many atheists I’ve known in my time consider his mythicism to be kooky and embarrassing to actual atheistic scholarship. There is a serious level of critique invested in Carrier’s work, but this article is more for humor than anything.
Meanwhile, the posted article is tongue-in-cheek. Obviously Richard Carrier exists. If that post bothers you then you probably don’t want to see this other site: https://www.facebook.com/alincolnism/