Home > Christianity, Historical Christianity, Jesus > Ehrman & Carrier: the historical Jesus (8)

Ehrman & Carrier: the historical Jesus (8)

This post continues from the original post in this series.

Dying and rising gods

Carrier objected to Ehrman saying that the Egyptian god Osiris died and was raised from the dead (an issue related to Ehrman’s dismissal of claims that the gospel records of Jesus’ resurrection were literary creations based on previous myths of dying and rising pagan gods):

Richard Carrier: Regarding the claim that Osiris “returned to life on earth by being raised from the dead,” Ehrman insists that in fact “no ancient source says any such thing about Osiris (or about the other gods)” (p. 26). He relies solely on Jonathan Z. Smith, and fails to check whether anything Smith says is even correct. If Ehrman had acted like a real scholar and actually gone to the sources, and read more widely in the scholarship (instead of incompetently reading just one author–the kind of hack mistake we would expect from an incompetent myther), he would have discovered that almost everything Smith claims about this is false. In fact, Plutarch attests that Osiris was believed to have died and been returned to life (literally: he uses the words anabiôsis and paliggenesis, which are very specific on this point, see my discussion in The Empty Tomb, pp. 154-55), and that in the public myths he did indeed return to earth in his resurrected body (Plutarch, On Isis and Osiris 19.358b).

Note the following claims made by Carrier:

* “He relies solely on Jonathan Z. Smith”: in fact Ehrman cites Jonathan Smith and Mark Smith (perhaps Carrier failed to differentiate between the two because they have the same surname), and in his reply to Carrier he demonstrates use of the relevant primary sources

* “almost everything Smith claims about this is false”: Carrier provides no evidence for this claim

* “in the public myths he [Plutarch] did indeed return to earth in his resurrected body”: as we shall see, Carrier later completely abandons this claim once Ehrman challenges it

Ehrman responded by proving Carrier wrong; Osiris did not return to earth in his resurrected body (emphasis mine):

Bart Ehrman: Literally, he [Osiris] came “from Hades.” But this is not a resurrection of his body. His body is still dead. He himself is down in Hades, and can come back up to make an appearance on earth on occasion. This is not like Jesus coming back from the dead, in his body; it is like Samuel in the story of the Witch of Endor, where King Saul brings his shade back to the world of the living temporarily (1 Samuel 28). How do we know Osiris is not raised physically? His body is still a corpse, in a tomb.

Carrier’s original claim was made with regard to the gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, claiming that the Osiris myth was a counterpart of the gospel resurrection accounts, which decribe Jesus as rising with the same body which was crucified. Carrier’s claim was that likewise, ‘Plutarch attests that Osiris was believed to have died and had been returned to earth‘, specifically ‘he did indeed return to earth in his resurrected body‘.

Ehrman disproved this; Osiris did not return to earth ‘in his resurrected body’. Osiris’ body was dismembered and remained in pieces, while his disembodied soul sometimes came to earth.

Carrier’s response was to change his argument; abandoning the clam that Osiris ‘did indeed return to earth in his resurrected body‘, he accepted that Osiris had not returned to earth in his resurrected body, and started to argue that Jesus had not done so either.

In order to continue to appeal to Osiris as a parallel, Carrier changed what he had previously said about Jesus and Osiris, now arguing that neither had returned to earth in their resurrected body, so the comparison was still valid (emphasis mine):

Richard Carrier: Of course the same is most likely true of Jesus (as I and several scholars have argued: see my Empty Tomb FAQ; even conservative scholar N.T. Wright has suggested the possibility), and obviously this is in fact how Jesus was originally believed to have appeared (in visions, not a walking reanimated corpse), so there is no clear difference from the Osiris case even as Ehrman describes it.

Note the complete change of argument. First Carrier claims Osiris is a legitimate parallel to Jesus because they both returned to earth in their resurrected body:

* “he [Osiris] did indeed return to earth in his resurrected body

Having been proved wrong on the claim that Osiris returned to earth in his resurrected body, Carrier then claims Osiris is a legitimate parallel to Jesus because neitherof them returned to earth in their resurrected body:

* “Jesus was originally believed to have appeared (in visions, not a walking reanimated corpse), so there is no clear difference from the Osiris case even as Ehrman describes it

In all this, Carrier never acknowledges he was wrong in the first place; he simply abandons his original argument, makes a new argument, and claims he is still correct.

Carrier then went on to claim that the difference between these two forms of returning to life wasn’t relevant anyway, despite the fact that he had originally based his entire argument on the difference between them (emphasis mine):

Richard Carrier: But even granting the difference, this is precisely the kind of distinction that isn’t relevant to the point: Osiris is a dead god who still “lives again” and visits and converses with the living.

Now that Ehrman has proved him wrong, Carrier is retreating to more vague language, saying ‘Osiris is a dead god who still “lives again” and visits and converses with the living’. But he has abandoned his original claim, no longer defending the statement that ‘Osiris was believed to have died and had been returned to earth‘, or that ‘he did indeed return to earth in his resurrected body‘. In fact he is now explicitly contradicting his original claim, saying that neither Jesus nor Osiris returned to life in a resurrected body.

Carrier also claimed to have greater scholarly support for his position than Ehrman:

Richard Carrier: On all of this take note: Ehrman says his views are the standard in the field, but in defense of the claim he still only names one advocate (Smith). In the link above, in support of my view, I name eight. And in my chapter on resurrection bodies in The Empty Tomb I cite more, including abundant primary evidence. So you decide who to follow on this point.

The link to which Carrier refers is this section of an FAQ he wrote. It does not actually address what Ehrman says about Osiris (emphasis mine):

Richard Carrier: Q: Is it true that many other scholars agree with you that the earliest Christians believed Jesus rose from the dead by switching to a new body and leaving the old one behind?

A: Yes. These include: James Tabor, “Leaving the Bones Behind: A Resurrected Jesus Tradition with an Intact Tomb” in Sources of the Jesus Tradition: An Inquiry (forthcoming); Bruce Chilton, Rabbi Paul: An Intellectual Biography (2005), pp. 57-58; Peter Lampe, “Paul’s Concept of a Spiritual Body” in Resurrection: Theological and Scientific Assessments (2002), edited by Ted Peters et al.: pp. 103-14; Gregory Riley, Resurrection Reconsidered: Thomas and John in Controversy (1995); Dale Martin, The Corinthian Body (1995); Adela Collins, “The Empty Tomb in the Gospel According to Mark” in Hermes and Athena: Biblical Exegesis and Philosophical Theology (1993), edited by Eleonore Stump & Thomas Flint: pp. 107-40; and C.F. Moule, “St. Paul and Dualism: The Pauline Conception of the Resurrection,” New Testament Studies 12 (1966): 106-23. Many others think it’s likely or at least possible (e.g. see answer to previous question).

This is talking about the view that ‘the earliest Christians believed Jesus rose from the dead by switching to a new body and leaving the old one behind’. Ehrman was talking about a completely different subject (emphasis mine):

Bart Ehrman: Carrier and I could no doubt argue day and night about how to interpret Plutarch. But my views do not rest on having read a single article by Jonathan Z. Smith and a refusal to read the primary sources. As I read them, there is no resurrection of the body of Osiris. And that is the standard view among experts in the field.

The ‘standard view’ to which Ehrman refers is that there is ‘no resurrection of Osiris’. Carrier responds saying ‘Ehrman says his views are the standard in the field, but in defense of the claim he still only names one advocate (Smith). In the link above, in support of my view, I name eight’, and links to a list of scholars addressing the resurrection of Jesus, not the resurrection of Osiris.

Carrier’s response is irrelevant to what Ehrman wrote.

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  1. July 27, 2012 at 12:12 pm

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