Posts Tagged ‘historical Christianity’

Living On The Edge: challenges to faith

September 1, 2013 Leave a comment

Today Christians in the Western world are typically living in a post-Christian society. Christian beliefs are met with skepticism, and people see little reason to believe. Christians are confronted with daily challenges to their faith, and often struggle to understand the relevance of Christianity to modern life.

The book ‘Living On The Edge: challenges to faith‘ (due to be printed in November 2013), addresses those concerns. For an overview of the book, click here.


How did the early Christians baptize?

March 13, 2013 5 comments

The Challenge

In the 19th century many scholars denied that immersion was the original mode of baptism.[1] McKay and Rogers wrote influential interpretations of the archaeological evidence,[2] and Dale’s linguistic study became the standard lexical resource for the anti-immersion position.[3]

The Facts

The Greek word for baptism refers to dipping, plunging, or immersion in both the Septuagint and the New Testament.[4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] 

Major studies by Lothar Heiser (1986), Sandford La Sor (1987), Jean‐Charles Picard (1989), Malka Ben Pachat (1989), and Everett Ferguson (2009), all agree the archaeological and textual evidence indicates full immersion was the earliest normal Christian practice.[13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18]

The earliest Christian record of baptism outside the New Testament,[19] [20] proves 1st century Christians normally baptized by immersion.[21] [22] [23] [24] [25] [26]

The scholarly consensus is that full immersion was the normal practice of the earliest Christians.[27] [28] [29] [30] [31] [32] [33]  [34]  [35] [36] [37] [38] [39] [40]


[1] Among many others, Thorn, ‘Modern Immersion Not Scripture Baptism’ (1831), Kerr, ‘A Treatise on the Mode of Baptism: showing the unfounded nature of the assumption, that immersion is the only proper mode of administering the ordinance and that pouring or sprinkling, is the most scriptural and significant, and by far the preferable mode of its administration’ (1844), Beckwith, ‘Immersion Not Baptism’ (1858), Kerr, ‘The Heavenly Father’s Teaching: a pedo‐Baptist’s reply to immersionists shewing that Baptism is not immersion, and that immersion is not Baptism, for they are direct opposites’ (1874), Bush, ‘Bible Baptism Never Immersion’ (1888).

[2] McKay, ‘Immersion Proved to be Not a Scriptural Mode of Baptism but a Romish Invention’ (1884), Rogers, ‘Baptism and Christian Archeology’ (1903).

[3] Dale, ‘Inquiry Into the Usage of Baptizo’ (1824‐1879).

[4] ‘In the Sept.: 2 Kgs. 5:13, 14 we have loúō (3068), to bathe and baptízomai. See also 28, 40;&version=ESV; Lev. 11:25, 28, 40, where plúnō (4150), to wash clothes by dipping, and loúō (3068), to bathe are used. In 19;&version=ESV; Num. 19:18, 19, báphō, to dip, and plúnō, to wash by dipping are used’, Zodhiates, ‘The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament’ (electronic ed. 2000).

[5] ‘In Mark 7:4 the verb wash in “except they wash” is baptízomai, to immerse. This indicates that the washing of the hands was done by immersing them in collected water. ‘, ibid.

[6] ‘The sevenfold dipping of Naaman (2 K. 5:14) perhaps suggests sacramental ideas and illustrates the importance of the Jordan. In the later Jewish period טבל (b. Ber., 2b of the bathing of priests; Joma, 3, 2ff. etc.)’, Kittel, Bromiley, & Friedrich (eds.), ‘Theological dictionary of the New Testament’, volume 1, p. 535 (electronic ed. 1964–c1976).

[7] ‘Βαπτίζω+ V 0‐1‐1‐0‐2=4 2 Kgs 5,14; Is 21,4; Jdt 12,7; Sir 34,25 M to dip oneself 2 Kgs 5,14; to wash Jdt 12,7′, Lust, Eynikel, & Hauspie (eds.), ‘A Greek‐English Lexicon of the Septuagint’ (rev. electronic ed. 2003).

[8]  ‘baptizō 77x pr. to dip, immerse;’, Mounce, ‘Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words’, pp. 1104‐1105 (2006).

[9] ‘In Gk. lit. gener. to put or go under water in a variety of senses, also fig., e.g. ‘soak’ Pla., Symp. 176b in wine)’, Arndt, Danker, & Bauer (eds.) ‘A Greek‐English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature’, p. 164 (3rd ed. 2000).

[10] ‘1. In the LXX baptō usually translates the OT Heb. ṭāḇal, dip (13 times; on 3 occasions baptō represents other vbs.). baptizō occurs only 4 times: in Isa. 21:4 it is used metaphorically of destruction, but in 2 Ki. 5:14 it is used in the mid. of Naaman’s sevenfold immersion in the Jordan (the only passages as equivalent for Heb. ṭāḇal).’, Brown, ‘New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology’, volume 1, p. 144 (1986).

[11] ‘Despite assertions to the contrary, it seems that baptizō, both in Jewish and Christian contexts, normally meant “immerse”, and that even when it became a technical term for baptism, the thought of immersion remains. The use of the term for cleansing vessels (as in Lev. 6:28 Aquila [cf. 6:21]; cf. baptismos in Mk. 7:4) does not prove the contrary, since vessels were normally cleansed by immersing them in water. The metaphorical uses of the term in the NT appear to take this for granted, e.g. the prophecy that the Messiah will baptise in Spirit and fire as a liquid (Matt. 3:11), the “baptism” of the Israelites in the cloud and the sea (1 Cor. 10:2), and in the idea of Jesus’ death as a baptism (Mk. 10:38f. baptisma; Lk. 12:50; cf. Ysebaert, op. cit., 41 ff.).’, ibid., p. 144.

[12] ‘Lexicographers universally agree that the primary meaning of baptizo G966 is ‘to dip’ or ‘to immerse”, and there is a similar consensus of scholarly opinion that both the baptism of John and of the apostles was by immersion’, Jewett, ‘Baptism’, in Murray (ed.), ‘Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible’, volume 1, p.466 (rev. ed. 2009).

[13] ‘The philological evidence is technical and inconclusive. But the archaeological and Mishnaic evidence seems to support the argument for immersion., Sanford La Sor, ‘Discovering What Jewish Miqva’ot Can Tell Us About Christian Baptism’, Biblical Archaeology Review, (13.01), 1987.

[14] ‘The conclusions of Lothar Heiser on the administration of baptism after examining the literary and pictorial evidence accord with mine: the water customarily reached the hips of the baptizand; after calling on the triune God, the priest bent the baptizand under so as to dip him in water over the head; in the cases of pouring in the Didache and in sickbed baptism the baptized did not stand in the font.’, Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church: history, theology, and
liturgy in the first five centuries’, p. 860 (2009).

[15] ‘Either bending his knees, kneeling, or sitting, an adult could have been totally immersed as required in fonts from 1.30m to 60cm deep.’. ibid., p. 852.

[16] ‘The express statements in the literary sources, supported by other hints, the depictions in art, and the very presence of specially built baptismal fonts, along  with their size and shape, indicate that the normal procedure was for the administrator with his head on the baptizand’s head to bend the upper part of the body forward and dip the head under the water.’, ibid, pp. 857‐858.

[17] ‘The Christian literary sources, backed by secular word usage and Jewish religious immersions, give an overwhelming support for full immersion as the normal action. Exceptions in cases of lack of water and especially of sickbed baptism were made. Submersion was undoubtedly the case for the fourth and fifth centuries in the Greek East, and only slightly less certain for the Latin West.’, ibid., p. 891.

[18] ‘Later church practice in this regard led artists to the strange fantasy of Jesus standing waist deep in water while John poured water on his head (such pictures do not occur until medieval western times).’, ibid., p. 202.

[19] ‘It contains details of the church life of the earliest Christians, their preference for baptism by immersion, their fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, the forms of their eucharistic prayers.’, Manion & Mudge, ‘The Routledge Companion to the Christian Church’, pp. 42–43 (2008).

[20] ‘In the Didache 7 (a.d. 100–160), the oldest baptismal manual extant, triple immersion is assumed,’ (Silva & Tenney (eds.), ‘The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, volume 1, pp. 494‐495. (rev. ed. 2009).

[21] ‘Baptism is by *immersion if possible” (Cross & Livingstone (eds.), ‘The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church’, p. 482 (3rd rev. ed. 2005).

[22] ‘One witnesses the fasting and the solemn rite of baptism, preferably by immersion in flowing water.’, Milavec, “Didache”, p. ix (2003).

[23] ‘According to the Didache (1st century), baptism should be done by a triple immersion in running water.’, Lacoste, ‘Encyclopedia of Christian Theology: G‐O’, p. 1607 (2005).

[24] ‘The argument of the section is clear: while adhering strictly to the preference for flowing water and baptism by immersion, necessary concessions are made to local circumstances.’, Draper, “The Didache In Modern Research”, p. 47 (1996).

[25] ‘As a rule, it involved immersion in running water (see Acts 8:38; Did. 7).’, Fahlbusch & Bromiley (eds.), ‘Encyclopedia of Christianity’., volume 1, p.184 (1990‐2003).

[26] ‘Baptism is by immersion in the threefold name, but sprinkling three times on the head is allowed in an emergency.’, Vokes, ‘Life and Order In An Early Church:The Didache’, in Haase (ed.), ‘Aufstieg Und Niedergang Der Romischen Welt’, volume 2, p. 221 (1993).

[27] ‘New Testament scholars generally agree that the early church baptized by immersion.’, Wiersbe, ‘Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the New Testament’, pp. 466‐467 (1997).

[28] ‘Most scholars agree that immersion was practiced in the NT, and it is likely that both of these texts allude to the practice, even though baptism is not the main point of either text.’, Schreiner, ‘Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ’, p. 81 (2007).

[29] ‘Furthermore, modern NT scholars generally concede, regardless of denominational affiliation, that Christian baptism in NT times was by immersion, as it was and still is in Judaism.’, Helyer, ‘Exploring Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Period’, p. 481 (2002).

[30] ‘The baptism commanded by Jesus in the making of disciples is an immersion in water. The topic formerly was warmly debated, but in these days there is general scholarly agreement. Several lines of evidence converge in support of the baptismal action as a dipping.’, Ferguson, ‘The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today’, p. 201 (1996).

[31] ‘It seems also that the profession was articulated in responses that the one being baptized made to the questions of the one baptizing during the baptismal rite, which in general was required to take place through total immersion, in total nudity, in running water.’, DiBerardino, ‘We Believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church’, p. 88 (2009).

[32] ‘Baptism in the Bible was by immersion, that is, the person went fully under the waters,’, Lang, ‘Everyday Biblical Literacy: the essential guide to biblical allusions in art, literature, and life’, p. 47 (2007).

[33] ‘The earliest preference was for baptism in running streams or in the sea (Mark 1:9; Acts 8:36; Didache 7). Next in preference was total immersion in a fountain or bath‐sized tank (Tertullian, Baptism 4).’, Flinn, ‘Baptism’, in ‘Encyclopedia of Catholicism’, Encyclopedia of World Religions, p. 52 (2007).

[34] ‘Baptism was normally by immersion either in the river or in the bath‐house of a large house’, Dowley (ed.), ‘Eerdman’s Handbook to the History of Christianity’, p.10 (1977).

[35] ‘There is little doubt that early Christian baptism was adult baptism by immersion’, Grimes, ‘Deeply Into the Bone: Re‐Inventing Rites of Passage’, p. 50 (2002).

[36] ‘Our study has not attempted to demonstrate that affusion rather than immersion was the practice in New Testament times, since it is clear that immersion was the general rule;’, Marshall, ‘The Meaning of the Verb “Baptize”’, in Porter & Cross (eds.), ‘Dimensions of Baptism: Biblical and Theological Studies’, p. 23 (2002).

[37] ‘We can be fairly sure that early baptism was not normally by sprinkling. Other possible alternatives were pouring (affusion) and immersion. Probably immersion was the norm.’, Guy, ‘Introducing Early Christianity: A
Topical Survey of Its Life, Beliefs, and Practice, pp. 224‐225 (2004).

[38] ‘In the early days of the Church, total immersion, often in streams or rivers, seems to have been most commonly used (Mark 1:9; Acts 8:3).’, Tischler, ‘All Things in the Bible: A‐L’, p. 59 (2006).

[39] ‘Saunder and Louw comment, ‘Obviously the phrases “going down” and “coming up” are used to focus on the two processes involved in immersion.’ Clearly the evidence from such accounts favors strongly the notion that baptism was by immersion.’, Ware, ‘Believers’ Baptism View’, in Wright (ed.), ‘Baptism: Three Views’, p. 22 (2009).

[40] ‘Stander and Louw, Baptism in the Early Church, p. 25, argue similarly for understanding the prevailing practice of the early church to be that of immersion from several other citations of various church fathers and documents, included among them Aristides of Athens, Clement of Alexandria (p. 31), Tertullian (pp. 36‐37), Hippolytus (p. 42), and Basil the Great (who practiced tri‐immersion, p. 82).’, ibid., p. 22.

Ehrman & Carrier: the historical Jesus (9)

This post continues from the original post in this series.

Carrier defends Murdock on the canon

In his book (p. 24), Ehrman made the following response to a claim by DM Murdock (writing under the pseudonym ‘Archarya S’), concerning the canon of the New Testament (Murdock’s claim is in quotation marks, “” and Ehrman’s comments follow in square brackets, []):

Bart Ehrman: ―”It took well over a thousand years to canonize the New Testament,” and ―”many councils” were needed to differentiate the inspired from the spurious books (31). [Actually, the first author to list our canon of the New Testament was the church father Athanasius in the year 367; the comment about ―many councils‖ is simply made up.]

Carrier objected to Ehrman’s statement, charging him with error:

Richard Carrier: (1) Ehrman’s statement that there weren’t “many councils” to decide the NT canon is, read literally, false. There were in fact several councils ruling on the canon, and indeed the canon was never truly settled until the 16th century. Someone who tutored under Metzger, who extensively documented these facts, should know that. I can only assume he meant to say that the canon proposed by Athanasius in 367 (in a letter, not a council ruling) was repeatedly affirmed by every subsequent council convened to decide on the canon (although the fact that they had to keep meeting to do that means there were repeated attempts to change it). Acharya’s own characterization of the matter might also be accused of being misleading. But Ehrman’s wording is going to seriously mislead and misinform the public even more, not only as to the actual history of the canon, but also as to Acharya’s knowledge of the facts.

Carrier’s claim that ‘the fact that they had to keep meeting to do that means there were repeated attempts to change it’ is a non sequitur; the conclusion does not follow logically from the premise. He fails to take into account the fact that church councils often re-affirmed the decisions of previous councils regardless of whether the points affirmed were under challenge. He provides no evidence for his claim, and the facts are to the contrary.

When challenged on this point by a respondent on his blog, Carrier gave a response including the the following claim:

Richard Carrier: Your facts also don’t quite agree with what is stated in Metzger’s Formation of the New Testament Canon. You might want to do more homework on this.

This response appears authoritative on the surface, but on closer inspection it is transparently a bluff. Carrier makes a vague reference to Metzger (a recognized scholar on the history of the New Testament text), but fails to actually address any of the points raised by the respondent, and does not cite or quote any specific statements by Metzger relevant to the point under discussion. The reality is that Carrier has no answer to the challenge raised by his respondent, and is hoping that a casual reference to Metzger will convince them that they are wrong. This attempt at evasion is not the response of someone confident in a knowledge of the facts.

Additionally, Carrier’s reference to the work ‘Formation of the New Testament Canon’ is problematic, since he attributes this work to Metzger. There is a book entitled ‘The Formation of the New Testament Canon: an ecumenical approach’ (1983), by Farmer and Farkasfalvy, and another book by entitled ‘Formation of the New Testament Canon’ (1965), by Robert Grant, but Metzger did not make any contributions to either book. Carrier did not provide any details which would help identify specifically the work to which he was referring.

Metzger’s own work on the formation of the New Testament canon is entitled ‘The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance’ (1997), and when we examine what Metzger actually says in that book, we find nothing supportive of Carrier’s claims. Metzger does not say that numerous councils were held to decide on the canon. On the contrary, he notes that the canon suggested by Athanasius was promoted by Augustine in three provincial synods, all of which re-affirmed the canon of Athanasius.

Bruce Metzger: It was Augustine who, in three provincial synods, cast his weight for the twenty-seven books which we know as the Christian Scriptures. These synods were held, one of them in Hippo in A.D. 393, one in Carthage in 397, and the last of them again in Carthage in 419. The opening words of the statute on the canon are straightforward and forthright: ‘Besides the canonical Scriptures, nothing shall be read in church under the name of the divine Scriptures.’ Then there follows an enumeration of the canonical Scriptures. The order of the New Testament books is Gospels, Acts, Pauline Epistles, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2, and 3 John, James, Jude, the Revelation of John. The only difference to be noted in the reiteration of the statute is that, in the synods of 393 and 397, the phrase runs, ‘Thirteen Epistles of Paul, and the Epistle to the Hebrews, by the same’, whereas the statute of 419 reads, ‘Fourteen Epistles of Paul’. (See Appendix IV. 12 below.)

Twenty-seven books, no more, and no less, is henceforth the watchword throughout the Latin Church.

None of the councils cited here by Metzger were held to determine the canon, they simply re-affirmed the canon as they addressed other issues. The 393 CE synod of Hippo was a general annual synod, the 397 CE synod of Carthage was a general synod addressing issues from the transfer of clerics between churches to the reconciliation of repentant actors (it states explicitly that it is simply confirming the canon already received), and the 419 CE synod of Carthage was held specifically to address appeals to Rome.

Metztger notes that this did not settle the issue of the canon once and for all in every Christian community, and does note that differences over the canon continued to be raised occasionally.

Bruce Metzger: Yet it would be a mistake to represent the question of the canon as finally settled in all Christian communities by the beginning of the fifth century.

Bruce Metzger: Thus, despite the influence of Jerome and Augustine and the pronouncements of three provincial synods, more than once in the following centuries we come upon evidence of divergences in the canon, either by way of addition or subtraction.

Nevertheless, Metzger provides no support for Carrier’s defense of Murdock’s claim that there were ‘many councils’ held to decide the New Testament canon.

Godfrey and Ehrman: the historical Jesus (2)

June 30, 2012 2 comments

Ehrman’s representation of Wells

Neil Godfrey charges Ehrman with misrepresenting the views of Wells so completely that it is not possible that Ehrman has even read the pages of Wells’ work that he cites.

Neil Godfrey: Bart Ehrman has indignantly declared he read all of the books he discusses in his book Did Jesus Exist? How, then, could he possibly have confused the mythicist argument of Wells with that of Doherty. The two are opposed to each other. But Ehrman appears to have picked up a garbled account and attributed half of Doherty’s argument to Wells!

Neil Godfrey: Ehrman is writing outright disinformation about Wells’ argument. Ehrman cannot possibly have read the pages in Wells’ book that he cites.

Godfrey’s claim is directed very specifically towards this paragraph by Ehrman.

Bart Ehrman: Instead, Wells contends, Paul understood Jesus to have been a supernatural being who lived in utter obscurity some 150 years or so earlier, who was crucified not by the Romans but by the demonic forces in the world.

Let’s put this paragraph of Ehrman’s next to Wells’ own words, as quoted by Godfrey himself.

* Ehrman: ‘Wells contends Paul understood Jesus to have been a supernatural being
* Wells: ‘Paul believed in a supernatural Jesus

* Ehrman: ‘who lived in utter obscurity
* Wells: ‘he was convinced that Jesus lived an obscure life on earth’

* Ehrman: ‘who was crucified not by the Romans but by the demonic forces in the world.’
* Wells: ‘who assumed human flesh and was crucified on earth at the instigation of supernatural powers

Godfrey claims that Ehrman ‘is writing outright disinformation about Wells’ argument”, and ‘cannot possibly have read the pages in Wells’ book that he cites’. Readers may decide for themselves if the evidence supports Godfrey’s claims.

Godfrey and Ehrman: the historical Jesus (1)

Erhman’s citation of Doherty

Neil Godfrey (owner of Vridar, a blog promoting the Mytherist view of Jesus), claims Ehrman made a ‘hostile error‘ in stating that Earl Doherty ‘speaks of a single ancient view of the universe’ in his book ‘Jesus – Neither God Nor Man: The Case for a Mythical Jesus’ (2009):

Neil Godfrey: Either way, Ehrman has clearly done nothing better than skim Doherty’s book(s) and demonstrated he has not read the arguments he claims to be reviewing. Otherwise there is no way he could have made such a hostile error as to claim Doherty speaks of a single ancient view of the universe.

Contrast Godfrey’s claim with the following statements made by Doherty in his book.

1. ‘So much of the ancient view of things was determined by myth because that was essentially all they had.”, Doherty, ‘Jesus – Neither God Nor Man: The Case for a Mythical Jesus’, p. 11 (2009).

2. ‘Part Four, “A World of Myth and Savior Gods” (chapters 10 to 14), enters the multi-layered universe of the ancients. It will examine their view that a vast unseen dimension lay above the earth, where all sorts of supernatural proceedings took place among gods and spirits.’, Doherty, ‘Jesus – Neither God Nor Man: The Case for a Mythical Jesus’, p. 14 (2009).

3. ‘Ancient philosophy as a whole, its view of the universe and of God, was the product of purely intellectual contemplation.’, Doherty, ‘Jesus – Neither God Nor Man: The Case for a Mythical Jesus’, p. 83 (2009).

4. ‘We will address the specific point about “being in the flesh” in a separate chapter to follow. But the question of heavenly trees and ground gets to the heart of the present matter, as an expression of modern literality and the inability to comprehend the ancient mind’s view of the universe.’, Doherty, ‘Jesus – Neither God Nor Man: The Case for a Mythical Jesus’, p. 150 (2009).

Godfrey claims it is a ‘hostile error’ to claim Doherty speaks of a single ancient view of the universe. Yet there are four clear statements in Doherty’s book in which he does exactly that; ‘the ancient view [singular] of things’ (p. 11), their view [singular] that’ (p. 14), ‘view [singular] of the universe’ (p. 83), ‘the ancient mind’s view [singular] of the universe’ (p. 150).

Ehrman & Carrier: the historical Jesus (8)

May 27, 2012 1 comment

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.

Ehrman & Carrier: the historical Jesus (7)

May 25, 2012 3 comments

This post continues from the original post in this series.

Pilate: prefect, procurator, or both?

Carrier claims Ehrman was wrong to say Roman historian Tacitus committed an error by referring to Pontius Pilate as a procurator, instead of a prefect”:

Richard Carrier: This betrays ignorance of the fact that provincial prefects were often also imperial procurators, and from his treatment of the scandal of this fact throughout the Annals Tacitus has a particular motive to emphasize that fact here (see my discussion in Herod the Procurator, particularly the section “So Was Pontius Pilate a Prefect or a Procurator?”). In other words, Pontius Pilate was both a procurator and a prefect. And the recent literature on the subject confirms this, as would any consultation with an expert in Tacitus or Roman imperial administration.

In Carrier’s paper (to which he linked), there is a single brief section covering a few pages (pages 33-36), in which he discusses whether procurators could be appointed prefects simultaneously. This does not address directly the question of whether or not Pilate was a prefect who was also appointed procurator.

Responding to Ehrman, Carrier claimed ‘The view that Claudius changed the title of Judaean governors from prefect to procurator has long since been refuted (most conclusively by the work of Fergus Millar’. Reading Carrier’s paper, we find reference to two papers by Millar, one published in 1964, the other published in 1965. Did Millar indeed refuted conclusively the view that Claudius changed the title of Judaean governors from ‘prefect’ to ‘procurator’, as Carrier claims?

One commentator has examined Carrier’s claim by reading Millar’s work. He concludes that Carrier has misread Millar:

In Millar 1964, he says plainly on p. 181:

“It is clear that such procurators [sc. governing small provinces], originally called praefecti, exercised a criminal and civil jurisdiction in their areas, which was equivalent to that of senatorial governors, except in that it was only in special cases that they possessed the ius gladii.” (Millar 1964: 181).

He is clear that procurators who were governors of minor provinces were originally called prefects (praefecti in Latin), and Millar (1964: 181, n. 9) cites A. H. M. Jones’s Studies in Roman Government and Law (Oxford, 1960), and does not engage in any refutation of this idea. The rest of the article is an interpretation of Tacitus, Annales 12.60, and Millar argues that it refers to Claudius’s granting of increased jurisdictional power to those procurators who managed imperial properties, a different type of procurator from the type who governed small provinces.

In addition, Millar (1965) simply adds more evidence to the case that Tacitus, Annales 12.60 refers to the authority of procurators of imperial properties: there is no refutation of the view that Claudius changed the official titles of the minor equestrian or freedmen provincial governors from prefect to procurator.

Not only does Carrier fail to demonstrate that Millar refuted conclusively the view that Claudius changed the title of Judaean governors from ‘prefect’ to ‘procurator’, he has failed to realise that Millar never says anything against the view. On the contrary, Millar states specifically that the procurators to which he refers were ‘originally called praefecti‘, and attributes the change of authority to Claudius, the very opposite of what Carrier says.

Carrier’s statement that ‘view that Claudius changed the title of Judaean governors from prefect to procurator has long since been refuted’ rests on his citation of a single author writing over 50 years ago (Millar), who did not say what Carrier claims; in fact Millar said the opposite.

When this evidence from Millar’s own work was presented to Carrier on his blog, he gave the following enigmatic reply:

Richard Carrier: Millar 1965, pp. 364-65: “The legal evidence shows clearly that procurators never had a recognised right to exercise criminal jurisdiction.”

See also P. A. Brunt, “Procuratorial Jurisdiction,” Latomus 25.3 (July-September 1966): 461-89, with my analysis in Herod, pp. 34-35 (and in context, pp. 29-36.

This fails completely to address any of the points raised; it certainly presents no evidence that Millar conclusively refuted the ‘view that Claudius changed the title of Judaean governors from prefect to procurator’.

In response to Carrier, Ehrman commented that he had subsequently consulted a scholar of Roman history who indicated that Carrier was wrong, quoting ‘Prosopography of the Roman Empire‘ as evidence (‘PP’ in the following quotation refers to ‘Pontius Pilate’):

PP could just as well have had the title procurator, but evidently he didn’t … PIR (ed. 2, 1998) P 815 sums it up neatly: “praeses Iudaeae ordinis equestris usque ad Claudii tempora non procurator, sed praefectus fuit….” [This comes from the Prosopographia Imperii Romani (i.e., The Prosopography of the Roman Empire); I translate the Latin as follows: “Up until the time of Claudius [i.e., 41-54 CE], the provincial governor of Judea, a man of the equestrian order, was not a procurator but a prefect.

Carrier replied with the assertion that this source was outdated:

Richard Carrier: …contrary to what Ehrman’s quotation might seem to suggest, the PIR his colleague translates the Latin of on this point is a modern source, not an ancient one, and thus represents an outdated scholarly assumption and not what anyone in antiquity actually said…

The commentator I quoted previously corrects Carrier on this point:

The most recent edition of Prosopographia Imperii Romani saec. I. II. III. (2nd edn. part 6; eds. Leiva Petersen and Klaus Wachtel; De Gruyter, Berlin, 1998), revised in the 1990s, is quite clear that Pilate carried the title praefectus (PIR [2nd ed.] part. 6, no. 815, p. 348), on the basis of the Pilate inscription (see Année Epigraphique 1963 no. 104).

This source is not “outdated,” but represents the opinion of scholars from the 1990s, who had updated an earlier edition of the work.

Indeed, scholarly works written as recently as 2008 say either Tacitus made a mistake, or he was speaking proleptically.[1] [2] [3] [4] As the commentator quoted previously notes, this does not appear to be an outdated view ‘long since refuted’ as Carrier claimed:

In short, I see no evidence at all that the “view that Claudius changed the title of Judaean governors from prefect to procurator has long since been refuted.”

Rather, the view that, from the reign of Claudius, the equestrian governors who were called prefects (or praefecti in Latin) were now called procurators appears to be the common opinion: it is held by Syme (1962: 92), Jones (1960: 124), Weaver (1972: 267-268), Garnsey and Saller (1987: 23), B. Levick (Levick 2001: 48) in her biography of the emperor Claudius, and Schäfer (2003: 105).

In his paper, Carrier makes the argument that Tacitus didn’t make a mistake, but that Pilate was a procurator as well as a prefect. In support, Carrier cites Philo and Josephus referring to Pilate as a procurator (neither of them refer to him as a prefect).

However, standard scholarship on the subject understands Philo, Josephus, and Tacitus as adopting the new terminology established during the reign of Claudius after 41 CE, since all of them were writing after this date and since the only epigraphical evidence for Pilate (dated no later than 36 CE, before Claudius), identifies him as a prefect, but not as a procurator.[5] [6]

Carrier does not mention any of this scholarship. Nor does he cite any scholars saying that Tacitus didn’t make a mistake and wasn’t writing proleptically, except for himself.


[1] ‘Certain minor imperial provinces had equestrian governors, who were known first as prefects but from the time of Claudius as procurators (e.g., Pontius Pilate in Judaea; 15.44.3). Claudius evidently assigned certain judicial functions too to procurators, but T.’s report is unclear (12.60).’, Woodman, ‘The Annals’, pp. 359-360 (2004).

[2] ‘Pilate was appointed under Tiberius, and an inscription from Caesarea mentions his activities in regard to a Tiberieion (or imperial cult sanctuary to Tiberius). The text also gives his correct title as praefectus rather than procurator.’, Galinsky, ‘The Cambridge Companion To The Age Of Augustus’, p. 378 (2005).

[3] ‘Since Coponius was apparently dispatched as a prefect (praefectus, eparxos), Josephus’ nomenclature here seems incorrect, though the same problem is found in Tacitus (e.g. Ann. 15.44 on Pilate).’, Mason & Chapman, ‘Flavius Josephus: Translation and Commentary. Judean war’, p. 80 (2008).

[4] ‘Pilate actually held the lesser rank of prefect in Judea, something that Tacitus, who had access to the official records at Rome’s Tabularium and frequently quoted from them in his Annals, should have known.’, Dando-Collins, ‘The Great Fire of Rome: The Fall of the Emperor Nero and His City’, p. 8 (2010).

[5] ‘However, a fragment of a Latin inscription found in Caesarea gives Pilate the title “prefect”. This supports the deduction made from other evidence, most of it epigraphic, that up to the reign of Claudius, though the terminology was still fluid, the normal title for an equestrian provincial governor was “prefect”, and “procurator” must now be reserved for the governors of Judaea after 44.’, Smallwood, ‘The Jews Under Roman Rule: From Pompey to Diocletian : A Study in Political Relations’, p. 145 (2001).

[6] ‘This change in title under Claudius goes a long way in explaining the confusion of the principal literary texts here. Philo, Josephus, the NT and Tacitus refer to various governors as eparxos (praefectus), epitropos (procurator), and hegemwn (governor), apparently indiscriminately.’, Bond, ‘Pontius Pilate In History And Interpretation’, p. 12 (2004).