Home > Christianity, Historical Christianity, Jesus > Ehrman & Carrier: the historical Jesus (5)

Ehrman & Carrier: the historical Jesus (5)

This post continues from the original post in this series.

Ehrman on sources for the life of Jesus

Carrier objects to Ehrman’s claim that ‘the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus were recent events’ is ‘the view of all of our sources that deal with the matter at all’ (p. 251):

Richard Carrier: This is false. And it’s astonishing that he would not know this, since several other scholars have discussed the sources that place Jesus in the reign of Jannaeus in the 70s B.C. Ehrman seems to think (and represents to his readers) that G.A. Wells just made this up (pp. 247-51). In fact, Wells is discussing a theory defended by others, and based in actual sources: Epiphanius, in Panarion 29, says there was a sect of still-Torah-observant Christians who taught that Jesus lived and died in the time of Jannaeus, and all the Jewish sources on Christianity that we have (from the Talmud to the Toledot Yeshu) report no other view than that Jesus lived during the time of Jannaeus. Though these are all early medieval sources, it nevertheless means there were actual Christians teaching this and that the Jews who composed the Babylonian Talmud knew of no other version of Christianity.

Let’s refer to what Erhman actually wrote in his book (emphasis mine):

Bart Ehrman: And so both the literary character of 1 Corinthians 15:3–5 and the logic of Paul’s understanding of the resurrection show that he thought that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus were recent events. I should stress that this is the view of all of our sources that deal with the matter at all. It is hard to believe that Paul would have such a radically different view from every other Christian of his day, as Wells suggests. That Jesus lived recently is affirmed not only in all four of our canonical Gospels (where, for example, he is associated with John the Baptist and is said to have been born during the reign of the Roman emperor Augustus, under the rulership of the Jewish king Herod, and so on); it is also the view of all of the Gospel sources—Q (which associates Jesus with John the Baptist), M, L—and of the non-Christian sources such as Josephus and Tacitus (who both mention Pilate). These sources, I should stress, are all independent of one another; some of them go back to Palestinian traditions that can readily be dated to 31 or 32 CE, just a year or so after the traditional date of Jesus’s death.

We see here that Ehrman was referring to the idea that ‘the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus were recent events’, a view he says ‘is the view of all of our sources that deal with the matter at all’. He then goes on to list exactly which sources he is referring to; the four canonical gospels, the gospel sources, and the non-Christian sources such as Josephus and Tacitus. Ehrman was referring to the sources he was about to enumerate in the same paragraph as this sentence.

But why does Ehrman confine himself to these sources? Why does he not refer to Epiphanius and the Jewish sources to which Carrier refers? The simple reason for this is that these are not typically considered genuine and reliable sources for the historicity of Jesus. Epiphanius was writing over three hundred years after the time of Jesus, and the Jewish sources referred to by Carrier are even later. Carrier treats these sources uncritically, drawing the conclusion that ‘there were actual Christians teaching this’, but standard scholarship is dismissive of Epiphanius’ claims; thus Efron, ‘Studies On the Hasmonean Period’, p. 158 (1987); emphasis mine:

Nevertheless, there is no lack of modern attempts to uncover an ancient core in that report that identifies Jesus of Nazareth with Joshua b. Perahia’s pupil, relying on the support of Epiphanius, who sets the birth of Jesus in the reign of Alexander (Jannaeus), and Alexandra, that is, in the time of Ben Perahia or Ben Tabai. All these attempts, however, are based on pure delusion.

Efron continues (p. 159), explaining that (contrary to Carrier’s claim), there is no trace of any genuine tradition in Epiphanius (emphasis mine):

His entire exegesis contains no trace of a tradition, Jewish or Christian, regarding an unknown Jesus at the time of Joshua b. Perahia.

The early medieval Jewish sources are equally problematic. Firstly there is the difficulty of identifying which passages actually refer to Jesus at all; Cook, ‘Jewish Perspectives On Jesus’, in Burkett (ed.), ‘The Blackwell Companion to Jesus’, p. 220 (2011), emphasis mine:

But scholars (Christian as well as Jewish), cannot agree on the degree to which the rabbis even cared to allude to Jesus, let alone on which passages were framed with him in mind.

Secondly, there is the fact that as with Epiphanius, these Jewish sources are considered useless for any genuine historical information about the life of Jesus; Cook, ‘Jewish Perspectives On Jesus’, in Burkett (ed.), ‘The Blackwell Companion to Jesus’, p. 220 (2011), emphasis mine:

In any event, rabbinic texts that do refer to Jesus (however many or few), convey nothing credible about him but do convey a flavor of how Jews in this third period viewed him.

To refer to these as sources for the historical Jesus would be highly misleading; they aren’t. The only scholars Carrier cites who treat these sources as valid sources for the historicity and history of Jesus, are those Carrier acknowledges himself are ‘fringe’. It is hardly surprising therefore that Ehrman (who is anything but a fringe scholar), likewise omits them in his treatment of the commonly recognized sources for the historical Jesus.

Carrrier’s claim that ‘all the Jewish sources on Christianity that we have (from the Talmud to the Toledot Yeshu) report no other view than that Jesus lived during the time of Jannaeus’ is simply wrong. The Jewish sources identify Jesus with several different individuals, living at different times; Cook, ‘Jewish Perspectives On Jesus’, in Burkett (ed.), ‘The Blackwell Companion to Jesus’, p. 219 (2011), emphasis mine:

The rabbis mentioned Jesus in connection with various figures whose time frames, when combined, spanned at least two centuries.

Where is the evidence that ‘there were actual Christians teaching’ that Jesus lived during the reign of Jannaeus, and that ‘the Jews who composed the Babylonian Talmud knew of no other version of Christianity’? Carrier does not provide any. Where are the reputable, non-fringe scholars who believe ‘there were actual Christians teaching this and that the Jews who composed the Babylonian Talmud knew of no other version of Christianity’? Carrier does not cite any.

  1. ignorantianescia
    May 21, 2012 at 8:29 pm

    Again a well-written and elaborate post that demolishes Carrier’s attacks.

    One typo, at the top you’ve written twice “Erhman” instead of “Ehrman”.

    • Fortigurn
      May 22, 2012 at 2:16 am

      Thanks, I keep doing that and I don’t always pick it up!

  2. Noodles
    May 28, 2012 at 10:18 pm

    But Carrier is not using Epiphanius as a source for Jesus’s historicity, but for his claim that some Christians at some time believed Jesus had lived under Jannaeus.

    • Fortigurn
      May 28, 2012 at 10:20 pm

      Carrier is representing Epiphanes as a source for the historical Jesus; not as a source to establish the historicity of Jesus, but as a source for the historical Jesus. Ehrman rightly points out that Epiphanius’ wild stories are not considered a source for the historical Jesus.

  1. July 27, 2012 at 12:12 pm

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