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The Historical Jesus: Recommended Reading

February 19, 2015 Leave a comment

Abstract

With the rise of interest in studies of the historical Jesus and the increasing presence of mythicism on the internet, Bible believers are advised to be well informed on the subject of Jesus historicity. This article provides a balanced reading list of resources presenting the evidence for Jesus’ historicity and the authenticity of the Jesus tradition, and addressing mythicist claims.

Works by Christians

This is a select list of recommended works on the historical Jesus by Christian scholars. There are too many to describe in detail, but it is worth noting the authors who are considered most useful and authoritative in the field; Craig Blomberg, William Lane Craig, James Dunn, Craig Evans, Gary Habermas, Craig Keener, John Meier, Stanley Porter, and Robert Van Voorst.

  1. Craig L. Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997).
  2. Darrell L Bock, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Leicester, England: Baker Academic ; Apollos, 2002).
  3. Darrell L. Bock, Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002).
  4. Ronald K. Craig, William Lane; Lüdemann, Gerd; Copan, Paul; Tacelli, Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment?: A Debate between William Lane Craig & Gerd Lüdemann (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000).
  5. Tom Evans, Craig A. Wright, Jesus, the Final Days (ed. Troy A. Miller; London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2008).
  6. Bruce David Chilton and Craig A. Evans, Authenticating the Words of Jesus (Brill, 1999).
  7. Michael R. Cosby, Portraits of Jesus: An Inductive Approach to the Gospels (Westminster John Knox Press, 1999).
  8. Pieter F. Craffert, The Life of a Galilean Shaman: Jesus of Nazareth in Anthropological-Historical Perspective (vol. 3; Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2008).
  9. Markus Cromhout, Jesus and Identity: Reconstructing Judean Ethnicity in Q (vol. 2; Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2007).
  10. Donald L. Denton, Historiography and Hermeneutics in Jesus Studies: An Examination of the Work of John Dominic Crossan and Ben F. Meyer (vol. 262; London; New York: T&T Clark International, 2004).
  11. John P. Dickson, The Christ Files: How Historians Know What They Know about Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010).
  12. James D. G Dunn, Jesus Remembered (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2003).
  13. James D. G. Dunn and Scot McKnight, The Historical Jesus in Recent Research (Eisenbrauns, 2005).
  14. James D. G. Dunn, A New Perspective on Jesus: What the Quest for the Historical Jesus Missed (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005).
  15. Craig A Evans, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” in Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research (ed. Bruce David Chilton and Craig Alan Evans; Brill, 1998), 443–78.
  16. David Flusser and R. Steven Notley, Jesus (The Hebrew University Magnes Press, 2001).
  17. Joel B. Green and Max Turner, Jesus of Nazareth Lord and Christ: Essays on the Historical Jesus And New Testament Christology (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1994).
  18. I. Howard Green, Joel B.; McKnight, Scot; Marshall, ed., Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992).
  19. Leonard J Greenspoon, M. Dennis Hamm, and Bryan F LeBeau, The Historical Jesus Through Catholic and Jewish Eyes (Harrisburg, Pa.: Trinity Press International, 2000).
  20. Brian Han Gregg, The Historical Jesus and the Final Judgment Sayings in Q (Mohr Siebeck, 2006).
  21. Gary R. Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company, 1996).
  22. Tom Holmén and Stanley E Porter, Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2011).
  23. Leander E Keck, Who Is Jesus? History in Perfect Tense (Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 2000).
  24. Craig S Keener, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2009).
  25. John S. Kloppenborg and John W. Marshall, Apocalypticism, Anti-Semitism and the Historical Jesus: Subtexts in Criticism (vol. 275; Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series; T&T Clark International, 2005).
  26. Leif E. Kloppenborg, John S.;Vaage, ed., Early Christianity, Q and Jesus (vol. 55; Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 1992).
  27. J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B Wallace, Reinventing Jesus: How Contemporary Skeptics Miss the Real Jesus and Mislead Popular Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2006).
  28. Clive Marsh and Steve Moyise, Jesus and the Gospels: 2nd Edition (Continuum, 2006). Criteria of authenticity.
  29. John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew, Rethinking the Historical Jesus (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1991-2009). Published in four volumes, criteria of historicity and authenticity.
  30. Stanley E. Porter, Criteria for Authenticity in Historical-Jesus Research (Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004).
  31. Mark Allan Powell, Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee (Westminster John Knox Press, 1998).
  32. Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of Its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede (trans. W. Montgomery; 2d ed.; London: Adam and Charles Black, 1911).
  33. Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz, Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998).
  34. Robert E Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2000).
  35. Ben Witherington III, The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth (2nd ed.; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997).
  36. Ben Witherington III, What Have They Done with Jesus?: Beyond Strange Theories and Bad History—Why We Can Trust the Bible (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006).
  37. Thomas R Yoder Neufeld, Recovering Jesus: The Witness of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2007).

Works by non-Christians

These works are useful because they provide non-Christian scholarly perspectives of the historical Jesus, and cannot be dismissed by non-Christians as biased in favour of Christian beliefs. Naturally these works give no credence to the gospels’ accounts of supernatural events such as Jesus’ miracles and his resurrection, and their assessments of how Jesus was viewed by his disciples does not always agree with our own. Nevertheless, they are important witnesses to the extent to which Jesus’ historicity is well established within mainstream secular scholarship, proving it is not merely a fringe view confined to Christians

Bart D Ehrman, Jesus, Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1999). Assesses the New Testament evidence for the life and work of Jesus, applying criteria of authenticity. This book is useful for learning how the criteria of authenticity are applied, and for understanding the historical evidence for the existence of Jesus.

Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (HarperCollins, 2012). Describes the historical evidence confirming the existence of Jesus, and addresses a range of mythicist arguments and books, from the scholarly to the populist. This book is useful for learning how the criteria of historicity are applied, understanding the historical evidence for the existence of Jesus, and understanding and answering standard mythicist arguments.

Bart D. Ehrman, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (Harper Collins, 2014). Explains the process by which Jesus became known as God. Whilst agreeing with the scholarly consensus that Jesus did not consider himself divine or teach his followers that he was divine, Ehrman believes that at least some of the early first century Christians (including those who contributed to the New Testament), were already starting to see Jesus as a divine being in some way. This book is useful for learning how later Christians developed the doctrine of the Trinity, and provides excellent evidence that neither Jesus nor his disciples considered him to be divine.

Michael Grant, Jesus. (New York NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1977). Very useful as an account of Jesus by a secular professional historian, and still considered a standard work in the field.

Maurice Casey, Jesus of Nazareth an Independent Historian’s Account of His Life and Teaching (London; New York: T & T Clark, 2010). Focuses on the language of the gospels to reconstruct the historical Jesus in the context of 1st century Judaism, with a particular emphasis on identifying authentic Aramaic sayings of Jesus behind the Greek text of the gospels. On the basis of this approach, Casey dates Mark’s gospel extremely early (c. 40 CE), earlier than the earliest of Paul’s letters (1 Thessalonians, c. 51 CE). Casey’s Aramaic reconstructions have been recognized as shedding important light on the historical Jesus, even though they have not all been accepted. His very early date for Mark has not been widely accepted, but is considered possible by mainstream scholarship.

Maurice Casey, Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? (London: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2014). Casey’s last work on the historical Jesus (Casey died in May 2014), addressing specifically the typical mythicist arguments. A strongly worded book, Casey identifies numerous weaknesses in the mythicst case, which he characterizes as a fringe view held almost exclusively by non-scholars, or by a very small number of scholars without directly relevant professional qualifications. This work is useful as a resource for a scholarly consideration of recent mythicist arguments typically found online rather than in print publications.

James G. Crossley, Reading the New Testament: Contemporary Approaches (Routledge, 2010). A valuable work explaining how standard professional historical methodology is applied to New Testament research and the subject of the historical Jesus. Crossley describes the various forms of historical analysis applied to the gospels, and explains in detail the criteria of authenticity used in the Quest for the Historical Jesus. Crossley dates Mark’s gospel to around 35 CE, even earlier than the date proposed by Casey, but although his case for this date has not been accepted, it is still taken seriously by mainstream scholarship and is considered within the bounds of possibility.

R. Joseph Hoffmann, Jesus Outside the Gospels (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1984). Hoffman’s early work on the historical Jesus concluded that very little could be verified about his life, and cast doubt on the authenticity and accuracy of the gospel records. Nevertheless, he concluded in favour of the historicity of Jesus. This book is mainly useful as a contrast to his late work, demonstrating how his views shifted over time.

R. Joseph Hoffmann, Sources of the Jesus Tradition: Separating History from Myth (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2010). Edited by Hoffman (who wrote most of the chapters), this book contains essays from atheist members of The Jesus Project, a secular investigation of the historical Jesus which started in 2008 and was terminated in 2009 (despite having been planned to run for five years). The book received mixed reviews from atheists, and even from members of The Jesus Project itself. It is useful as an introduction to typical arguments made against the historicity of Jesus by writers such as Robert Price, Richard Carrier, Frank Zindler, and Robert Eisenman.

Widowfield on McGrath: Brodie, Vermes, & parallelomania

July 13, 2013 4 comments

Tim Widowfield has commented critically on a review by James McGrath, of Thomas Brodie’s book ‘Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery‘ (2012). This article considers Widowfield’s criticisms.

Bad faith

Widowfield accuses McGrath of “bad faith in dealing with mythicists”, pointing to McGrath’s review of Brodie’s work as “a prime example”.

Well, here’s a prime example from McGrath’s scathing remarks about Brodie’s suggestion that Paul’s supposed profession may have something more to do with theology than with history.

His treatment of the case of Paul, like Brodie’s work on Jesus, illustrates both the usefulness of detecting literary parallels, echoes, and borrowings, and the bizarre results of taking that approach to the extreme that Brodie does, into the realm of unchecked paralellomania [sic]. His argument that mundane details about Paul were fabricated on the basis of earlier literature includes the claim that the reference to Paul having been a tentmaker was inspired by references to tents in the Jewish Scriptures, including God spreading out the heavens like a tent (p.151). Using such an approach, being willing to claim even identical prepositions as evidence of literary dependence, is a method which could claim that absolutely anything is derived from absolutely anything else. The sad thing is that the bizarre extremes to which Brodie is willing to go to make one text wholly derivative from another cheapens and detracts from the legitimate points he makes about the smaller number of texts and points of contact that have strong evidence in their favor. (emphasis mine)

That’s quite an accusation. Does Brodie really claim that some writings are based on others because of “identical prepositions”? Perhaps so, but McGrath doesn’t give us any specifics.

Bizarre and extreme

After quoting McGrath, Widowfield explains why he feels this is an example of bad faith on McGrath’s part.

Note the scare words in that paragraph. Brodie’s ideas are “bizarre” and “extreme.” Brodie, McGrath is telling us, has failed to show restraint. How do we know he’s gone too far? Because he’s reached the wrong conclusions. You see, sophisticated NT scholars know how the game is played. A writer needs to find that Goldilocks Zone, where the Jesus porridge is ju-u-u-ust right. Anyone out on the “fringes” can be ignored (and insulted), because they either accept too much material as authentic or because they accept too little.

Widowfield claims McGrath says Brodie’s ideas are bizarre and extreme. In fact McGrath does not say this. Here are McGrath’s words, as quoted and emphasized by Widowfield.

His treatment of the case of Paul, like Brodie’s work on Jesus, illustrates both the usefulness of detecting literary parallels, echoes, and borrowings, and the bizarre results of taking that approach to the extreme that Brodie does, into the realm of unchecked paralellomania [sic]

Firstly, McGrath makes the point that Brodie’s work “illustrates the usefulness of detecting literary parallels, echoes, and borrowings”; McGrath states specifically that the kind of pattern detection in which Brodie is involved, is valid and useful. Additionally, McGrath acknowledges “legitimate points” made by Brodie “about the smaller number of texts and points of contact that have strong evidence in their favor”.  So McGrath not only acknowledges Brodie’s approach is a valid literary treatment, but also acknowledges it has “legitimate points” with conclusions “that have strong evidence in their favor”. Widowfield makes no mention of any of this, despite quoting McGrath directly. Instead he claims McGrath simply says “Brodie’s ideas are “bizarre” and “extreme””.

Secondly, McGrath does not uses the word ‘bizarre’ in the way Widowfield claims. Contrary to Widowfield’s claim, McGrath does not say “Brodie’s ideas are “bizarre” and “extreme””. What he says is that Brodie’s work illustrates “the bizarre results of taking that approach to the extreme that Brodie does, into the realm of unchecked parallelomania”. It is the results of Brodie’s extremism that McGrath refers to as “bizarre”, the “bizarre extremes to which Brodie is willing to go” (emphasis mine).

Thirdly, McGrath never says that Brodie “has failed to show restraint”, nor does he say the evidence Brodie has gone too far is “he’s [sic] reached the wrong conclusions”. The term he uses is “unchecked parallelomania”, objecting to Brodie’s appeal to parallels without a systematic check for validation and falsification. Later  in McGrath’s article he repeats this, pointing out that any literary work can be interpreted as the product of literary borrowing “as long as one’s penchant for parallelomania knows no restraints”. McGrath also cites Brodie’s “complete disregard for other possibilities”, reinforcing the fact that it is Brodie’s lack of methodical validation of his theory to which McGrath objects, not simply that Brodie has reached a conclusion with which McGrath disagrees.

Paul the tentmaker & Godfrey on parallels

McGrath took issue with what he describes as Brodie’s clam that “claim that the reference to Paul having been a tentmaker was inspired by references to tents in the Jewish Scriptures, including God spreading out the heavens like a tent (p.151)”. In response, Widowfield invites readers to “examine all of Brodie’s reasons, and not just the ones McGrath scoffed at”. He then simply lists the four points of Brodie’s reasons for his case, though he does not actually examine any of them.

So, to McGrath’s specific point on Paul as a tentmaker: Is this an outlandish idea? Well, let’s examine all of Brodie’s reasons, and not just the ones McGrath scoffed at. First of all, Brodie admits that the reference in Acts 13:3 sounds legitimate. However, he says that before we take it at face value, “it is necessary first to investigate the literary relationship of tent-making to the Septuagint image of the tent and to the image of Paul as architect (1 Cor. 3:10-11).”

  1. The term in 1 Corinthians is quite specific: σοφὸς ἀρχιτέκτων (sophos architektōn) or “wise master builder or architect.” Cf. to the Jewish tradition of calling   wise Rabbis, doctors of the law, and their followers “builders of the law.”
  2. “In Isaiah, God spreads out the earth as a tent.”
  3. “[T]ents are given a central role among people of the desert.”
  4. In John’s gospel, we’re told that the Word sojourned or “tented among us.” (John 1.14) In Greek: ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν (eskēnōsen en hēmin).

He could also have mentioned the importance of the tabernacle (portable tent shrine) in the OT as the precursor to the Temple in Jerusalem. YHWH dwelt or “tented” with his people wherever they might roam. He might also have discussed the importance of the tabernacle in the Epistle to the Hebrews.

Widowfield makes no further comment on Brodie’s argument, and does not actually examine any of Brodie’s points as he said he would do. Nevertheless, he does not provide readers with any reasons for accepting Brodie’s argument as valid. No explanation is provided as for why this list of verses makes a logically coherent case for Paul’s occupation being a literary invention in the manner claimed by Brodie, and why this is a more efficient explanation than any alternatives.

For a more critical analysis of Brodie’s suggested parallels between texts, some of Neil Godfrey’s comments are quite useful. In response to a claim made on one of Godfrey’s articles that the Elijah/Elisha narrative in the Old Testament, and the Jesus/John the baptist narrative in the New testament are “the same allegorical tale of a solar myth” (accompanied by two links to articles arguing for literary dependence on the basis of parallelism), Godfrey was quite critical of the theory, explaining “I have three difficulties with this, if I may“. His three specific criticisms are worth citing for their relevance to Brodie’s work, and agree very well with McGrath’s own criticisms of parallels drawn by Jesus mythicists.

1. Showing a correlation of concepts does not of itself show us causal or direct linkages.

Godfrey makes an excellent point here. In fact this is the first point to be made when considering Brodie’s lists of alleged parallels; mere correlation is insufficient evidence for “causal or direct linkages”.

2. The correlations are put together not from a single work but from a range of sources, e.g. from 3 different gospels, not from one coherent document expressing a unified thought.

Again, an excellent observation from Godfrey on the parallelism he was criticizing. In the same way, the texts cited by Brodie in support of his claim that Paul’s attributed occupation as “tentmaker” is a literary invention, come from a range of sources; one of the earliest authentic letters of Paul (1 Corinthians), the Old Testament book of Isaiah, and John’s gospel (considered by scholarly consensus to have been written long after the book of Acts). They certainly do not come “one coherent document expressing a unified thought”. It is possible that Brodie actually makes a coherent argument as to the relevance of these texts, and explains logically the basis on which they support his argument concerning the attributed occupation of Paul. However, Widowfield does not describe any such argument made by Brodie.

3. What alternative explanations are there for the similarities? Can any of these be tested and found to have more validity than others?

Godfrey’s third point is equally relevant to Brodie’s claims. What alternative explanations does Brodie present, and in what way does he test all of his options to see which have the greatest validity? Widowfield does not tell us. Yet this is an important point, which Godfrey has made on more than one occasion when dismissing the parallelism arguments made by others, as he does here.

So your argument does indeed come down a propensity to see patterns for which you sometimes say (incorrectly) that there are no other explanations. There are indeed other explanations, and when I point one out to you you reply that I should go beyond the evidence and leap to your speculation.

In contrast, Godfrey is generally enthusiastic about Brodie’s arguments (“Some of his literary borrowings strike me as spot-on!“), though he also says “I sometimes find myself in a love-hate relationship with them“. Nevertheless, he insists “Brodie’s arguments do NOT lend themselves to a facile “parallelomania”“. For Godfrey, Brodie’s arguments are superior to the parallelism arguments which Godfrey criticizes in other people’s work, such as the supporters of astrotheology, whose arguments for parallelism Godfrey dismisses out of hand without even feeling the need to explore the subject first (emphasis in the following quotations is mine).

Now I am quite open to the possibility that Christianity began as some sort of astrotheology cult or whatever, but before I am persuaded to investigate that possibility in any depth I would need to see something more than rhetorical declamations of woolly correlations as an argument.

I have never taken the time before to explore astrotheology, not because I have some psychological block against the very idea, but because I have never seen any pointers to actual evidence or valid methodology. I have only seen “parallelomania” and subjective patterns being constructed across all the data the way we sometimes see magnificent shapes in the clouds.

Rhetorical questions

Widowfield represents McGrath as being irritated that Brodie has chosen to answer questions which are supposed to be rhetorical.

But the main point to understand is this: The New Testament is replete with examples of additions, deletions, and alterations that have their roots not in tradition, but in authorial invention. Brodie’s sin is answering that rhetorical question: “Why would anybody make it up?” Brodie says, “Here’s why, and here’s how.” And that drives people like McGrath round the bend.

McGrath does not say anything like this. It is therefore no surprise that Widowfield presents no quotation from McGrath in an attempt to justify his claim. McGrath certainly never takes Brodie to task for answering the question “Why would anyone make it up?”. McGrath does take Brodie to task for not making a case that his explanation is more logically coherent and more efficient than alternative explanations, which McGrath refers to as a “complete disregard for other possibilities“.

It illustrates the bankruptcy of Jesus mythicism, and the fact that it has the potential to ruin careers, not because there is ingrained antipathy to it in the academy, but because the case for it is based on thoroughly unpersuasive arguments, and the complete disregard for other possibilities, such as that either Jesus himself or an author like Luke deliberately made a comparison and contrast between Jesus and Elijah.

Theological meanings

In support of Brodie’s arguments, Widowfield cites examples of occupations

We should mention that occupations in the New Testament and in later Christian tradition often have theological meanings. We have fishermen who become “fishers of men.” We have Mary, who was supposed to have been a weaver (or a spinner of wool) — and who created the very temple veil that split down the middle during the crucifixion. Some people still believe this story is true.

However, neither of these examples are analogous to Brodie’s claim concerning Paul’s occupation. Brodie claims Paul’s occupation was a literary invention derived from a combination of texts for theological reasons, but Widowfield does not cite any examples which do this. On the contrary, he simply cites occupations which he claims “have theological meanings”.

Widowfield cites “fishermen who become “fishers of men”, but provides no evidence that the occupation “fishermen” has a theological meaning here; on the contrary, it is clear “fishermen” has a literal meaning, referring to “Simon and his brother casting a net into the sea (for they were fishermen)” (Mark 1:14). The phrase “I will make you fishers of men” which follows (Mark 1:17), is an example of a play on the literal meaning of the word; in both cases the Greek word ἁλιεύς (halieus), means ‘fishermen’. The occupation of Mary was only attributed to her much later in Christian tradition (as Widowfield notes), not in a Biblical text, and Widowfield provides no evidence that this was an occupation with a theological meaning at the time the gospel was written. This is no parallel at all to Brodie’s argument concerning Paul’s occupation.

What Vermes does which Brodie doesn’t

Widowfield introduces a comparison between the work of Géza Vermes and that of Brodie, with a quotation from Vermes.

Finally, we have a muddied reference to Jesus as a laborer or carpenter. On this last point, Geza Vermes had this to say in Jesus the Jew: A Historian’s Reading of the Gospels:

Was he a carpenter himself, or was he only the son of a carpenter? The confused state of the Greek text of the Gospels usually indicates either a) a doctrinal difficulty thought by some to demand rewording; or b) the existence of a linguistic problem in the expression in Hellenistic terms of something typically Jewish. Here the second alternative applies The congregation in the synagogue voices astonishment.

‘Where does he get it from?’ ‘What wisdom is this … ?’ ‘Is not this the carpenter/the son of the carpenter … ?’

Now those familiar with the language spoken by Jesus are acquainted with a metaphorical use of ‘carpenter’ and ‘carpenter’s son’ in ancient Jewish writings. In Talmudic sayings the Aramaic noun denoting carpenter or craftsman (naggar) stands for a ‘scholar’ or ‘learned man’.

This is something that no carpenter, son of carpenters, can explain.

There is no carpenter, nor a carpenter’s son, to explain it.

Thus, although no one can be absolutely sure that the sayings cited in the Talmud were current already in first-century AD Galilee, proverbs such as these are likely to be age-old. If so, it is possible that the charming picture of ‘Jesus the carpenter’ may have to be buried and forgotten. (p. 23, emphasis mine)

Widowfield does not explain what he means by “a muddied reference to Jesus as a laborer or carpenter”. Since Vermes refers to what he calls “The confused state of the Greek text of the Gospels” with regard to the references to Jesus as a carpenter (Mark 6:3), or son of a carpenter (Matthew 13:55), it is possible Widowfield drew the conclusion that the Greek in the text is obscure in meaning, or of doubtful certainty. In fact neither is the case. In both passages the Greek is certain, with the alternative reading “son of a carpenter” (ὁ τοῦ τέκτονος υἱὸς, ho tou tektonos huios), in Mark 6:3, only appearing in the 3rd century P45, the late medieval f13 manuscripts, a number of the late minuscules, and a few of the Old Latin manuscripts (the Syriac manuscript Syrhr omits the word for “carpenter” in Mark 6:3).

Vermes appears to be referring to the fact that Mark 6:3 refers to Jesus as a carpenter, whereas Matthew 13:55 refers to him as the son of a carpenter. Regardless, the text is certain in both places; the manuscripts simply differ in their descriptions. Vermes suggests this is a result of an Aramaic term of reference being confused by later Greek writers, “the existence of a linguistic problem in the expression in Hellenistic terms of something typically Jewish”. This suggestion was adopted from Vermes by German theologian Rainer Riesner, but has been criticized by scholars such as John Meier, not least because it relies on a hypothetical Aramaic source for which there is no evidence, and parallels of uncertain date, in Jewish literature. Meier critiques the suggestion thus (emphasis mine).

“Sometimes, to bolster this suggestion, appeal is made to the Aramaic word supposedly behind the tektōn of our Greek Gospels, namely naggārāʾ.170 But naggārāʾ, like tektōn, has a wide range of meanings: carpenter, turner, artisan, and, in a metaphorical sense, master or artist.171 Even if we were sure that this is the precise Aramaic word behind tektōn in our Greek text, it would prove nothing.

Riesner, however, pushes the significance of this hypothetical Aramaic source even further by appealing to some later talmudic passages, where naggārāʾ seems to mean “scholar,” while bar naggārāʾ (“son of the carpenter”) means “student, disciple.”172 From this Riesner concludes that people in the “carpenter” trade were known for their knowledge of Scripture. Since all the talmudic passages of this sort are of proverbial nature and hence of venerable age, Riesner argues that the connection between a carpenter and special knowledge of Scripture could reach back to Jesus’ day. One can only comment that such reasoning leans heavily on very slight and late evidence. Talmudic proverbs could preserve material two or three hundred years old and still not bring us back to the lifetime of Jesus. What is perhaps most telling here is that Riesner can supply no examples of this usage from the earliest rabbinic compilation, the Mishna.” [1]

The suggestion has also been rejected by other scholars, typically because it does not fit the context of the passage at all.

For the implausible conjecture that ‘carpenter’ was used of Jesus in a metaphorical sense to mean ‘scholar’ or ‘learned man’ see Vermes, Jesus the Jew, pp. 21-2. He cited y. Yeb. 9b; y. Qidd. 66a; and b. ‘Abod. Zar. 50b.” [2]

“This interpretation requires dismissing the gospel context.”[4]

“But the term in Mk 6:3 clearly is not used in that sense. Mark’s point is that because Jesus was only a carpenter, the residents of Nazareth refused to listen to him. Otherwise, the passage makes no sense.”[5]

No one in the passage is talking about a problem which only a scholar could solve, or the lack of a scholar to solve a problem. They are astonished and ask “Where did he get these ideas? And what is this wisdom that has been given to him? What are these miracles that are done through his hands?” (Mark 6:2).

To suggest they answer their own question by saying ‘Is this not the scholar, the son of Mary and brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon? And aren’t his sisters here with us?’ (Mark 6:3), would suggest they answer by acknowledging Jesus is a scholar and miracle worker, which contradicts the very next statement that “they took offense at him” (Mark 6:3), and the statement that Jesus “was amazed because of their unbelief” (Mark 6:5). It also fails to explain why they are described as astonished.

Vermes himself acknowledged the lack of conclusive evidence for the parallel; “no one can be absolutely sure that the sayings cited in the Talmud were current already in first-century AD Galilee”. According to one scholar, Vermes later abandoned this interpretation.[3] This is supported by Vermes’ references to Jesus in his much later work ‘Searching for the Real Jesus: Jesus, the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Religions Themes’ (2009).

In this book, Vermes says “This very human person, who is the subject of Jesus the Jew, was a carpenter in the village of Nazareth” (p. 20), “They [the gospels] report that Jesus lived with his parent, Joseph and Mary, his four brothers and several sisters in Nazareth in the Galilee ruled by Antipas, Herod’s son, and was a carpenter or builder” (p. 41), and “He was a builder or a carpenter” (p. 36). Widowfield quoted Vermes’ work written in 1981, but appears unfamiliar with Vermes’ most recent work and the evidence for his change of view.

Widowfield then draws a comparison between Vermes and Brodie, with a rhetorical question.

“Was Vermes a parallelomaniac using unsound methods to reach “bizarre extremes”? Brodie, after all, said that Paul’s identification as a tentmaker could have literary, metaphorical meanings that later became historicized.”

There are several reasons why this comparison is invalid.

1. Vermes was fully aware of the conjectural nature of his proposal, and stated it cautiously, giving due weight to the lack of supporting evidence. Accordingly, four qualifications accompany Vermes’ statement; “no one can be absolutely sure”, ‘If so'”, “it is possible”, “may”.

 “Thus, although no one can be absolutely sure that the sayings cited in the Talmud were current already in first-century AD Galilee, proverbs such as these are likely to be age-old. If so, it is possible that the charming picture of ‘Jesus the carpenter’ may have to be buried and forgotten.”

2. Vermes cited relevant literature in which a parallel could plausibly have been found, and made a testable case for his theory, on the basis of textual evidence. Consequently, it was falsifiable and it has been falsified.

3. After his view was subjected to sustained criticism (though perhaps not because of this), Vermes later changed his mind and abandoned the view he had held previously.

None of this finds any parallel with Brodie.

______________________________

[1] Meier, ‘A Marginal Jew, Rethinking the Historical Jesus’, volume one, pp. 283-284 (1991).

[2] Davies & Alison, Jr, ‘Matthew 8-18’, International Critical Commentary, p. 456 (2004).

[3] ‘Even Easterman’s use of the metaphorical understanding of the Aramaic naggar, not as is literal meaning of ‘carpenter’ but ‘scholar’, is based on Vermes’s work, although the latter has since retracted that view.’, Lim, ‘The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Very Short Introduction’, p. 15 (2005).

[4] Davies & Alison, Jr, ‘Matthew 8-18’, International Critical Commentary, p. 456 (2004).

[5] Fiensy, ‘Jesus the Galilean: Soundings in a First Century Life’, p. 69 (2007).

Godfrey on Nazareth: defending Rene Salm against the archaeologists

March 3, 2013 33 comments

Skeptical blogger Tim O’Neill has criticized claims by piano teacher Rene Salm that the town of Nazareth did not exist at the time when Jesus is typically understood to have lived. In turn, Neil Godfrey (I previously wrote ‘librarian Neil Godfrey’, but Neil objected to this), has described O’Neill’s criticism as ‘ignorant anti-rationalist nonsense‘, and written a response to O’Neill. This article examines Godfrey’s response to O’Neill.

The literature under discussion

In 2007 the article ‘Surveys and Excavations at the Nazareth Village Farm (1997–2002): Final Report‘ was published in the Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society by Stephen Pfann, Ross Voss, and Yehudah Rapuano. This article is also known as the ‘Nazarath Village Farm Report’. In 2008 the Bulletin published Rene Salm’s ‘A Response to ‘Surveys and Excavations at the Nazareth Village Farm (1997–2002): Final Report’, which criticized the report of Pfann, Voss, and Rapuano.

Salm’s article was accompanied by the article ‘Nazareth Village Farm: A Reply to Salm’ by Ken Dark, ‘On the Nazareth Village Farm Report: A Reply to Salm’ by Pfann and Rapuano, and a review by Ken Dark of Salm’s book ‘The Myth ofNazareth. The Invented Town of Jesus. Scholar’s Edition’ (2008). Also published in the same edition of the Bulletin was ‘The Nazareth Village Farm Project Pottery (1997–2002): Amendment’, by Rapuano, in which he re-presented the diagrams in the original article, correcting three cases in which diagrams had been misnumbered in the original article. However, Rapuano did not withdraw or alter any of the conclusions he had made in the original report.

Godfrey’s claims: “the very worst practices found among the most culpable of researchers”

Godfrey’s response to O’Neill opens with this claim.

What Tim O’Neill has done in his attacks on René Salm earlier this year over his claims that there was no village of Nazareth at the time of Jesus is defend the very worst practices found among the most culpable of researchers.

On what basis does Godfrey make this claim? In his criticism of Salm, O’Neill makes the following statement.

Okay, then let’s actually look at the evidence of archaeologists, then consider the armchair objections of the piano teacher from Oregon named Rene Salm and let objective sceptics decide who is more likely to be correct.

It is O’Neill’s view that professional archaeologists are more likely to be correct in their assessment of archaeological evidence, than a piano teacher.In his criticism of O’Neill, Godfrey mischaracterizes this as “defending the right of academics to make pronouncements of breakthroughs and new discoveries and then say, “Nope, you can’t examine all the details of the data for yourself. I’m a professional! How dare you question my judgements!”“. In fact O’Neill never says anything like this.

Godfrey’s claims: “Only one of them, Rapuano, is a trained archaeologist”

Godfrey claims that only one of the authors of the Nazareth Village Farm report “is a trained archaeologist”.

The Nazareth Village Farm report was the work of three persons. Only one of them, Rapuano, is a trained archaeologist who, however, customarily works in Judea far to the south.

There is only one archaeologist (Rapuano) whose evidence Salm questions. Later O’Neill will refer to all three authors of the report as “three qualified archaeologists” — unaware, it seems, that only one of the authors has qualifications in archaeology!

One of the authors, Ross Voss, is an archaeologist with “Thirty eight years of archaeological excavation experience“. The other author is Stephen Pfann, whose academic title is “Researcher/Archaeologist University of the Holy Land“. When presented with these facts, Godfrey explained what he had meant.

I made it very clear that there are three archaeologists who wrote the report but that only one of these has formal qualifications in archaeology. The other two are not qualified. They have experience, yes, but not qualifications.

This is not what Godfrey said originally. His original claim was that the article was authored by “three persons”, not “three archaeologists”, and he originally said “Only one of them, Rapuano, is a trained archaeologist”, not “only one of these has formal qualifications in archaeology”.

Godfrey further claimed that the experience of the other two authors did not qualify them as archaeologists, and described them as “Religious nutters without qualifications going out there to find proof the Bible is true“.

That is exactly the point being addressed by Salm in his SBL paper, isn’t it. Religious nutters without qualifications going out there to find proof the Bible is true and calling themselves archaeologists because they do it all the time — “field experience”. That’s yours and O’Neill’s definition of “qualified archaeologists”???? You are a bunch of clowns!

Godfrey was asked the following questions.

* Could I be clear however on the fact that you are now saying you believe all three authors are archaeologists?

* On what basis did you make your claim that they are not qualified simply because they ‘have experience, yes, but not qualifications’?

Can you provide any evidence that the scholarly community considers either Pfann or Voss to be ‘unqualified’? Do you consider them insufficiently qualified to comment and publish on the subject? If so, please provide your evidence.

Godfrey did not answer. He was also asked these questions.

Does the scholarly community only accept as qualified, those with formal qualifications in archaeology? Does the scholarly community not accept as qualified, those with no formal qualifications in archaeology but decades of field experience, and/or formal teaching positions in the field?

Again Godfrey did not answer, nor did he provide any evidence for his claim that Pfann and Ross are “Religious nutters without qualifications going out there to find proof the Bible is true”.

Godfrey’s claims: “he only vaguely recalls what Salm himself wrote”

Godfrey writes (O’Neill’s quoted words in italics):

O’Neill then demonstrates that, though he only vaguely recalls what Salm himself wrote, he does not know the basic facts at the heart of the debates.

I recalled that [Salm] had actually accepted the dating of some of the agricultural terraces at Nazareth and of the recently excavated house there. I was wrong – Salm is much more intransigent than that.

In this quotation from O’Neill, he does not say or demonstrate that he “only vaguely recalls what Salm himself wrote”; he corrects a previous recollection he had. Nor does this statement demonstrate that O’Neill “does not know the basic facts at the heart of the debates”.

Godfrey then claims O’Neill has misunderstood the site of the Nazareth Farm.

He says here that the recently excavated house (of Jesus’ time!) was “there” at the site of the agricultural terraces at Nazareth. And this is from one who is trying to make fun of someone he wants to portray as “an armchair hobbyist”. A simple web search will inform O’Neill that that house is not “there” at the site of the agricultural terraces at all. Look on Google maps to see for yourself. For convenience, here is a snapshot from Google Maps where I have pinpointed the approximate areas of the sites under discussion. (Go to “32°42’04.28″ N 35°17’33.78″ E” in Google Maps to explore the area yourself.)  O’Neill has confused the NVF (where no house was excavated) with Yardena Alexandre’s excavation in the immediate area of the Church of the Annunciation.

But O’Neill said no such thing. He said “I recalled that had actually accepted the dating of some of the agricultural terraces at Nazareth and of the recently excavated house there‘” To what does “there” refer? It refers to Nazareth, which is precisely where the recently excavated “Jesus-era house” is located, near the Church of the Annunciation.

Godfrey’s claims: “fabricated fancy”

O’Neill made the observation that “Reading Salm on this subject reminds me of the days, many years ago, when I actually used to bother reading Creationist material so I could debate Creationists”.

Salm’s book, The Myth of Nazareth: The Invented Town of Jesus, bears many similarities to Creationist classics like Duane Gish’s Evolution? The Fossils Say No!. You have an amateur with no training in the relevant field. You have them desperately trying to critique published work by actual specialists and experts and nitpick at it to find reasons for doubt. You have triumphant leaping on the smallest error (eg a mislabeled diagram) as evidence of incompetence if not outright fraud. You have an assumption that the experts secretly know they are wrong and are trying to deceive laypeople for nefarious reasons. And you have a driving ideological bias motivating all of the above, but masquerading as objective critical analysis for the public good. The resemblance is uncanny.

Godfrey responded that “O’Neill’s assertion that Salm’s book has an uncanny resemblance to creationist literature is fabricated fancy. It is a falsehood”, making the following critique of O’Neill’s assertion.

Creationists dispute the interpretation of all the scientists and the science itself. Salm in fact is quoting the archaeological reports and defending published scholarly findings against popular press releases that have overtaken the imaginations of the likes of even Bart Ehrman. Creationists do not publish in scientific journals and prompt amendments to scientific reports. Salm has done exactly that. Salm is not disputing the science or the findings. He is, in fact, sifting the actual data reported and evaluating it against incautious claims and conclusions and pointing to the self-confessed religious and financial biases of some of those responsible for the archaeological reports and popular press releases. He is holding religiously motivated scholars to account for making announcements that go way beyond the actual data published in their reports.

Godfrey’s response here does not address any of the points O’Neill actually raised. Instead of addressing the points of similarity between Creationists and Salm identified by O’Neill, Godfrey lists a series of points of difference. But O’Neill never disputed these points of difference; he identified points of similarity, points which Godfrey never addresses. Here are the similarities O’Neill raised.

1. “You have an amateur with no training in the relevant field.”
2. “You have them desperately trying to critique published work by actual specialists and experts and nitpick at it to find reasons for doubt.”
3. “You have triumphant leaping on the smallest error (eg a mislabeled diagram) as evidence of incompetence if not outright fraud.”
4. “You have an assumption that the experts secretly know they are wrong and are trying to deceive laypeople for nefarious reasons.”
5. “And you have a driving ideological bias motivating all of the above, but masquerading as objective critical analysis for the public good.”

Godfrey did not address any of these five points raised by O’Neill. This fact was pointed out to Godfrey in discussion; he did not respond.

Godfrey’s claims: “Tim’s mind”

Godfrey quotes the following statement from O’Neill.

Rapuano expresses himself with the usual caution required of a professional archaeologist, while at the same time giving his trained assessment of their dating provenance.

Godfrey then claims to know that O’Neill actually meant something completely different to what he wrote.

This translates in Tim’s mind into:

When Rapuano says a fragment “could possibly” be from the Hellenistic or early Roman eras, then unless you treat the Hellenistic to early Roman periods as an established fact for that fragment you are being “ludicrous”.

Godfrey’s claim to know O’Neill’s mind in this way is unpersuasive, especially unaccompanied by any evidence. In reality, O’Neill never makes any such statement, or any statement like it.

Godfrey’s claims: “he has had to depart from the standard reference”

Godfrey represents Salm’s argument thus.

What Salm argues is that where Rapuano provides external support for his assessment the fragments can as well be dated to after 70 CE (the fall of Jerusalem) as before it.

He then claims Rapuano “attempted to correct that deficiency in his Amended report subsequently”.

Rapuano clearly did not dismiss this criticism as easily as O’Neill did, since he attempted to correct that deficiency in his Amended report subsequently. New parallel comparisons are introduced to support some of the claims, but to do so he has had to depart from the standard reference, Adan Bayewitz, for Galilean pottery dating and resort to less relevant (often quite different) Jericho and Judean sources. He has also turned to Fernandez who, Salm shows in his book, consistently dates objects much earlier than other authorities without clear rationale. Tim O’Neill does not question any of this. Rapuano has spoken: pottery “may be”, “could be” Hellenistic or Early Roman (compare Fernandez!), so O’Neill throws all caution to the wind and demands we all accept on authority of one scholar that it is Hellenistic or Early Roman.

There are several problems with this paragraph of Godfrey’s. Firstly, Godfrey provides no evidence that any such “deficiency” actually existed, still less that Rapuano “attempted to correct” it; no evidence is provided for Salm’s assertion. Secondly, Godfrey provides no evidence for the claim that in introducing “New parallel comparisons” Rapuano had to “depart from the standard reference, Adan Bayewitz, for Galilean pottery dating” or that Rapuano had to “resort to less relevant (often quite different) Jericho and Judean sources”.

Thirdly, Godfrey repeats (without substantiation), Salm’s claim that Fernandez (a source cited by Rapuano), “consistently dates objects much earlier than other authorities without clear rationale”.  Although Godfrey gives the impression Rapauno is relying significantly on Fernandez, in fact Rapuano only cites Fernandez with regard to ten artefacts out of a total of 77,[1] and only on five of those occasions is Fernandez the only source cited.[2]

Six out of the ten date ranges cited from Fernandez start within the first century,[3] but in only three of those cases does Fernandez give a date range which ends inside the first century.[4] On two occasions the date range given by Fernandez is within the same range given by another source,[5] [6] and on one occasion the date range given by Fernandez is later than the date given by another source.[7] There is certainly no evidence here that Fernandez “consistently dates objects much earlier than other authorities without clear rationale”.

Finally, Godfrey provides no evidence for his claim that O’Neill “O’Neill throws all caution to the wind and demands we all accept on authority of one scholar that it is Hellenistic or Early Roman”. O’Neill never says any such thing, or anything like it.

Godfrey’s claims: “a misreading of much of Salm’s original article”

Godfrey objects to Ken Dark’s review of Salm’s critique of the Nazareth Farm Report as ‘a misreading of much of Salm’s original article’, but does not provide evidence for this claim. He represents Dark as saying “Now it’s your job to ignore those words of caution and defer to his other words as dogma! And no, you can’t examine the evidence more closely for yourself”, but does not provide any evidence for this either. Dark does not actually say any such thing.

Godfrey’s claims: “absence of evidence is evidence”

Returning to O’Neill’s response, Godfrey makes the following claim.

O’Neill then repeats Bart Ehrman’s argument that absence of evidence is evidence that there were poor people burying their dead in shallow graves. (He makes up an imaginative scenario to account for this — a very poor city gradually grew richer and richer till there were rich people’s tombs there.)

O’Neill did not argue that “absence of evidence is evidence that there were poor people burying their dead in shallow graves”. What O’Neill says is this.

As I note above, settlements established enough to sustain families who can have rock-cut kokhim built for them don’t pop up out of nothing. They grow from smaller, poorer, earlier settlements. So the kokhim on their own imply a smaller, poorer, earlier settlement on the site. And that’s precisely what the other archaeological evidence from the Hellenistic and Early Roman periods indicate, both by their nature (low status items, roughly made), their distribution and their number. We know there was a larger, richer town there later, the evidence indicates that clearly too.

This is not an argument based on the absence of evidence, it is an argument based on evidence, specifically “rock-cut kokhim” (a tomb cut out of the rock). O’Neill’s argument is that the presence of these tombs is evidence that there were families wealthy enough to sustain them. Additionally he points out that such wealthy families “don’t pop up out of nothing”, but are the result of “smaller, poorer, earlier settlements” developing. He does not basis this on the absence of evidence either, but states specifically “that’s precisely what the other archaeological evidence from the Hellenistic and Early Roman periods indicate”. O’Neill’s argument is based firmly on the archaeological record.

Godfrey’s claims: “Presumably O’Neill concludes”

Godfrey makes another assertion about O’Neill’s argument, without actually quoting O’Neill.

O’Neill then claims that the abundance of springs in the region is evidence that it must have been settled. People would loved to have set up home around springs. Presumably O’Neill concludes that every spring in the Levant was the site of a village for 2000 years before Christ.

Turning to what O’Neill actually wrote, we find that it is not what Godfrey claimed.

Zvi Gal’s Lower Galilee in the Iron Age (Eisenbrauns, 1992) notes that the site would have been attractive precisely because of its abundance of springs:The area around the city (of Nazareth) consists of limestone formation. There are several springs within this small Nazareth valley. The topography of the area and the fact it has many surrounding springs, proves that it was occupied during ancient periods.(Z. Gal, p. 15)

It can be seen that O’Neill does not present an argument he has made himself. On the contrary, he quotes archaeologist Zvi Gal saying “The topography of the area and the fact it has many surrounding springs, proves that it was occupied during ancient periods”. Godfrey’s claim that “Presumably O’Neill concludes that every spring in the Levant was the site of a village for 2000 years before Christ” is completely baseless; O’Neill never said anything like this.

Godfrey’s claims: “O’Neill uncritically parrots”

Godfrey misrepresents O’Neill again in his next paragraph.

Finally, O’Neill uncritically parrots the popular press reports of Yardenna Alexandre claiming that archaeologists have uncovered tombs in Nazareth from the time of Jesus. He needs to read a bit more widely, including Salm’s book (that he claims to have read). He would know of a work that has apparently been gaining in influence in recent years, Palästina in griechisch-römischer Zeit by Hans-Peter Kuhnen. He would know (does Alexandre know?) the persuasive evidence that the kokh tombs in question here almost certainly did not appear in Galilee as early as they did in Jerusalem.

Leaving aside the fact that O’Neill was not actually parroting a news report (he did not quote from any news report at all, but from a report by the Israeli Antiquities Authority), Godfrey does not say why he uses the phrase “uncritically parrots” to describe O’Neill citing an event which has actually taken place; the popular press did report what Yardenna Alexandre said. Citing an event which has actually taken place by referring to news reports which describe the event taking place, is not uncritical parroting; it is simply mentioning an event which has happened, and citing the source which reported the event happening.

The news report to which Godfrey linked opens with the words “Archaeologists in Israel say they have discovered the remains of a home from the time of Jesus in the heart of Nazareth”, and contains a statement from Yardenne Alexandre saying “Until now a number of tombs from the time of Jesus were found in Nazareth; however, no settlement remains have been discovered that are attributed to this period”.

In criticism of Alexandre’s statement, Godfrey cites what he claims is “a work that has apparently been gaining in influence in recent years, Palästina in griechisch-römischer Zeit by Hans-Peter Kuhnen“. This work is actually a volume in the series Vorderasien (‘Western Asia”); the title translated into English is “Palestine in Greek and Roman Times”. It is also entirely in German.

It is unclear whether or not Godfrey has ever actually read this work, or whether or not he can even read German. He provides no evidence for his claim that this work “has apparently been gaining in influence in recent years”, nor does he provide any evidence for what he says is “the persuasive evidence that the kokh tombs in question here almost certainly did not appear in Galilee as early as they did in Jerusalem”. Although he implies such evidence is in the German book he cites, he is not explicit on this point.

Although he seems to want to give the impression that “Palästina in griechisch-römischer Zeit” contains “persuasive evidence” that the tombs did not appear in Galilee as early as in Jerusalem, and that this has become an influential position, he does not actually explain precisely what he does mean, nor does he present any evidence for his statements. It is possible he has borrowed information from another source which he does not identify, and either cited it uncritically without verification, or used it to make an argument of his own. He certainly does not present any evidence that this book published in 1990 disproves Alexandre’s statement that “Until now a number of tombs from the time of Jesus were found in Nazareth”.

Godfrey’s claims: “How it works”

At the end of his article Godfrey claims ” the authors of the Nazareth Farm Report do not yield sufficient information for anyone to assess their conclusions critically”. He presents no evidence for this claim. He also says “to say someone is a lunatic for not deferring to the authority of a researcher until that researcher makes the evidence available for checking is simply trying to intimidate and shut down questioning through intellectual bullying”, but never identifies anyone who has actually ever said such a thing.

Godfrey concludes thus.

Oh yes, there are about ten pottery fragments that Rapuano’s amended report that to the time of “Jesus” (Hellenistic to first century CE). Salm points out that Rapuano uses early, inapplicable Judean parallels for these. No doubt when Rapuano publishes a more detailed book explaining the data in detail people who like to understand the evidence (who are not satisfied simply to defer to academic authority without any thought that they should demonstrate accountability) will be keen to study the details of these ten fragments.

Godfrey gives the impression that it was only in Rapuano’s “amended report” that he cited any pottery fragments dating to “the time of “Jesus””. However, the original Nazareth Farm Report says clearly that in Area A-2 “many potsherds with the typical ribbing of the Early to Late Roman Period were found” (page 28). Salm made note of this in his reply (page 97), specifically because he wished to challenge the Early Roman Period dating (which overlaps with the time of Jesus).

Godfrey has overlooked Salm’s own count of eleven fragments in the original Nazareth Farm Report which are presented as dating to the time of Jesus; “the totality of the NVFR evidence for a pre-70CE Nazareth rests on eleven small pottery sherds” (page 101). If Godfrey had read Rapuano’s amendment (I asked him if he had read it, but he did not reply), he would have seen Raupano “explaining the data in detail”, just as he requires.

____________________

[1] Once on pages 114, 116, twice on page 118, once on pages 120 and 121, three times on 122, once on page 123.

[2] Once on pages 118, 120, 121, twice on page 122.

[3] Pages 114, 116, 118, 120, 121, 122.

[4] Pages 114, 120, 121.

[5] “Diez-Fernandez T 1.3 dated 45 BCE – 48 CE; Stepanski Romana 2002: 112, Fig. 7:11, dated mid 1st cent. BCE to mid 1st cent. CE”, page 114.

[6] “Meyers, Kraabel and Strange 1976: 220-222, jars Form T1 Pl. 7.20:15, dated 3rd cent. to early 5th cent. CE; Diez-Fernandez 1985, T 1.7:77 dated 212-240 CE”, page 118.

[7] “possibly Stepanski Romana 2002:111, Fig. 6:16, dated end of 1st cent. to mid first 3rd. cent. CE, possibly Meyers Kraabel and Strange 1976: 205-207, Fig. 18, 4th-early 5th; Diez-Fernandez 1985, T.21.3 (175-300 CE)”, page 123.

Ehrman & Carrier: the historical Jesus (4)

This post continues from the original post in this series.

Forgery in Tacitus

This issue concerns the authenticity of a comment by Tacitus (Roman historian), about Christians. In his response to Ehrman’s book, Carrier wrote the following:

Richard Carrier: Ehrman says “I don’t know of any trained classicists or scholars of ancient Rome who think” the passage about Christians in Tacitus is a forgery (p. 55).

Carrier truncates Ehrman’s sentence, so we should check to see what Ehrman actually said in his book (emphasis mine):

Bart Ehrman: Some mythicists argue that this reference in Tacitus was not actually written by him—they claim the same thing for Pliny and Suetonius, where the references are less important—but were inserted into his writings (interpolated) by Christians who copied them, producing the manuscripts of Tacitus we have today. (We have no originals, only later copies.) I don’t know of any trained classicists or scholars of ancient Rome who think this, and it seems highly unlikely. The mythicists certainly have a reason for arguing this: they do not want to think there are any references to Jesus in our early sources outside the New Testament, and so when they find any such reference, they claim the reference was not original but was inserted by Christians.

Carrier omitted a key word at the end of Ehrman’s sentence, ‘this’. The word ‘this’ in that sentence referred specifically to the claim that ‘this reference in Tacitus was not actually written by him‘, and that instead it was ‘inserted into his writings (interpolated) by Christians‘.

This is very different to what Carrier claims Erhman said. Ehrman was not saying he did not know of any trained Classicists or scholars of ancient Rome who think that ‘the passage about Christians in Tacitus is a forgery’ (Carrier’s representation of Ehrman’s words).

Carrier then went on to address this misrepresentation of what Erhman had said, rather than what Erhman had actually written:

Richard Carrier: Now, I agree with Ehrman that it’s “highly unlikely” this passage wasn’t what Tacitus wrote; but the fact that he doesn’t know of the many classical scholars who have questioned it suggests he didn’t check. See Herbert W. Benario, “Recent Work on Tacitus (1964–68),” The Classical World 63.8 (April 1970), pp. 253-66 [and in 80.2 (Nov.–Dec. 1986)], who identifies no less than six classical scholars who have questioned its authenticity, three arguing it’s an outright interpolation and three arguing it has been altered or tampered with [correction: he names five scholars, one of them arguing in part for both–ed.]. This is important, because part of Ehrman’s argument is that mythicists are defying all established scholarship in suggesting this is an interpolation, so the fact that there is a lot of established scholarship supporting them undermines Ehrman’s argument and makes him look irresponsible.

Note here that Carrier is addressing the idea that Ehrman ‘doesn’t know of the many classical scholars who have questioned’ the passage, just as he had claimed previously Ehrman said he didn’t know any classicists or scholars of ancient Rome who think ‘the passage about Christians in Tacitus is a forgery’. Ehrman did not make either of those statements, yet Carrier’s response is written as if he had; Carrier is objecting to an imaginary statement.

Furthermore, Carrier’s own response shows evidence of weakness when scrutinized. Carrier makes three key claims here: that there are ‘many classical scholars who have questioned it’, that Herbert Benario identifies ‘no less than six classical scholars who have questioned its authenticity, three arguing it’s an outright interpolation and three arguing it has been altered or tampered with’ (he later edited his post to say ‘correction: he names five scholars, one of them arguing in part for both–ed.’), and that Mythicists have ‘a lot of established scholarship supporting them’ in ‘suggesting this is an interpolation’.

However, the evidence cited by Carrier does not substantiate his claims. Instead of ‘many classical scholars’ and ‘a lot of established scholarship’, Carrier cites a scholar writing 40 years ago, who lists only five classical scholars who have questioned the authenticity of this passage.

Ehrman’s reply to Carrier on this point provided information which Carrier had not supplied. According to James Rives (whom Ehrman consulted), one of the scholars Carrier cited (Saumagne), believed the reference to Christians was not a forgery by a third party interpolater; rather, he believed Tacitus had written the reference in another part of his works, and that the text had been transposed to its current position. Rives also says that another scholar cited by Carrier (Koestermann), ‘doesn’t say anything about the reference to Christ not having been written by Tacitus himself’.

Out of the original list of six scholars to whom Carrier made reference, if Rives is correct we are left with four scholars suggesting the passage is an interpolation, and two scholars misrepresented by Carrier. At best we are left with three ‘arguing it’s an outright interpolation’, one arguing it has been ‘altered or tampered with’, and one ‘arguing in part for both’, even if we are to accept Carrier’s assessment uncritically.

Readers may consider for themselves whether four or five scholars cited in an article written 40 years ago is evidence that there are ‘many classical scholars who have questioned it’, and that Mythicists have ‘a lot of established scholarship supporting them’ in ‘suggesting this is an interpolation’.

Ehrman & Carrier: the historical Jesus (3)

May 20, 2012 1 comment

This post continues from the original post in this series.

Records in 1st century Roman Palestine

Carrier objects that Ehrman was wrong to say ‘We simply don’t have birth notices, trial records, death certificates—or other standard kinds of records that one has today’ for people living in the first century:

Richard Carrier: ‘Ehrman declares (again with that same suicidally hyperbolic certitude) that “we simply don’t have birth notices, trial records, death certificates—or other kinds of records that one has today” (p. 29). Although his conclusion is correct (we should not expect to have any such records for Jesus or early Christianity), his premise is false. In fact, I cannot believe he said this. How can he not know that we have thousands of these kinds of records? Yes, predominantly from the sands of Egypt, but even in some cases beyond.’

The first point to note is that Carrier acknowledges that Ehrman’s conclusion is completely unaffected by this issue, and agrees with Ehrman that ‘we should not expect to have any such records for Jesus or early Christianity’. Ehrman’s responded by saying Carrier had taken his words out of context:

Bart Ehrman: When I denied that we had Roman records of much of anything, or any indication that there ever were Roman records of anything, I was thinking of Palestine.   That becomes clear in my other later reference to the matter where I explain in detail what I was thinking, and that Carrier, understandably, chose not to quote in full:  “I should reiterate that it is a complete “myth” (in the mythicist sense) that Romans kept detailed records of everything and that as a result we are inordinately well informed about the world of Roman Palestine [Note: I’m talking about Palestine] and should expect then to hear about Jesus if he really lived.  If Romans kept such records, where are they?  We certainly don’t have any.  Think of everything we do not know about the reign of Pontius Pilate as governor of Judea…” (p. 44)

Carrier also noted that such records as are available are ‘predominantly from the sands of Egypt, but even in some cases beyond’. Ehrman himself made the same point, saying ‘What Carrier is referring to is principally the documentary papyri discovered in Egypt’, and ‘We do indeed have many thousands of such documents – wills, land deeds, birth records, divorce certificates, and on and on — from Egypt’.

Carrier then responded by criticizing Ehrman, despite the fact that Ehrman had just made exactly the same point as Carrier himself:

Richard Carrier: Ehrman now says that (at least in Egypt) such records existed and were kept (something he definitely does not tell his readers in his book), but “most of these are not in fact records of Roman officials, but made by indigenous Egyptian writers / scribes.” This is twice fallacious (even setting aside his strange assumption that “indigenous Egyptians” could not be Roman officials or in their employ): first, “most” is not “all” (so his point is moot…formally, we call this a non sequitur); second, what he doesn’t tell you is that even the private records are frequently the personal copies of government records (e.g. the tax receipts I once translated would be a private citizen’s copy of the very same receipt that would enter the government archives).

Carrier errs here. Ehrman did not say that indigenous Egyptians could not be Roman officials, he was simply differentiating between private and official records. Carrier’s reference to the fact that such private records were ‘frequently the personal copies of government records’ is irrelevant to the point Ehrman is making, that regardless of the fact that private records often copies of official records, the majority of the records found are the private copies, not the official records.

Carrier then made another mistake, attributing to Ehrman a statement he had never made:

Richard Carrier: Ehrman then says he only meant that Romans kept no such records in Palestine.

Ehrman did not say that he only meant the Romans kept no such records in Palestine. Here are his words:

Bart Ehrman:   When I denied that we had Roman records of much of anything, or any indication that there ever were Roman records of anything, I was thinking of Palestine.

Ehrman is speaking explicitly of the Roman records which are currently extant, ‘I denied that we had Roman records of much of anything’ (emphasis mine). A final misrepresentation of Ehrman by Carrier is this.

Richard Carrier: Did Ehrman Tell Everyone the Romans Kept No Records That Would Have Been Relevant to Studying Jesus? Yes.

In fact Ehrman did not say that the Romans kept no records that would have been relevant to studying Jesus, and this was not even the original issue on which Carrier faulted Ehrman. Here is Carrier’s original objection:

Richard Carrier: ‘Ehrman declares (again with that same suicidally hyperbolic certitude) that “we simply don’t have birth notices, trial records, death certificates—or other kinds of records that one has today” (p. 29). Although his conclusion is correct (we should not expect to have any such records for Jesus or early Christianity), his premise is false. In fact, I cannot believe he said this. How can he not know that we have thousands of these kinds of records? Yes, predominantly from the sands of Egypt, but even in some cases beyond.’

Note that the original objection looks nothing like the new claim, that Ehrman said the Romans kept no records that would have been relevant to studying Jesus. Carrier is not only over-stating his case, he is introducing a new objection and claiming it was his original objection.

Ehrman & Carrier: the historical Jesus (2)

May 19, 2012 3 comments

This post continues from the previous post in this series. In this post, a number of criticisms of Ehrman’s book made by Carrier are examined with reference to Ehrman’s response and Carrier’s reply to Erhman’s response.

The bronze statue of ‘the cock, symbol of St. Peter’

Mythicist Dorothy Murdock (pseudonym ‘Acharya S’), displayed in her book a drawing of a bronze statue she claimed to be a symbol of ‘the cock, symbol of St. Peter’ (‘The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold’, 1999). Ehrman disputed this claim in his book, stating ‘there is no penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock in the Vatican or anywhere else except in books like this, which love to make things up’ (p. 24). In his response to Ehrman, Carrier said ‘Ehrman evidently did no research on this and did not check this claim at all’, noting that ‘Murdock quickly exposed this by providing numerous scholarly references, including actual photographs of the object’.

Defending his original statement, Ehrman replied to Carrier that ‘my offhand statement about this particular one was that the Vatican does not have a statue of Peter as rooster with a hard cock for his nose’. Carrier’s rejoinder was ‘I believe there is reason to suspect he is lying about the Priapus statue’. Despite Ehrman’s claim that his original statement was intended to mean that the statue was not of Peter, it does read naturally as a claim that the statue does not exist at all. I believe Carrier’s criticism of Ehrman’s original statement is valid, and Ehrman is requesting an unreasonably generous interpretation of that statement.

However, whilst agreeing with Ehrman that the statue has nothing to do with Peter (contrary to Murdock’s claims), Carrier went further. Saying ‘At the very least I would expect Ehrman to have called the Vatican museum about this, and to have checked the literature on it, before arrogantly declaring no such object existed and implying Murdock made this up’, he defended Murdock’s claim that the statue was at the Vatican using these words:

Richard Carrier: Some commentators on his [sic, for ‘this’] site have also tried claiming the statue was never at the Vatican, but their misinformation and mishandling of the sources is thoroughly exposed in an extensive comment by an observer at Murdock’s site.

Impressed with what he referred to as ‘numerous scholarly references’ provided by Murdock,  Carrier ironically decided to trust Murdock’s claims, and the claims of one of her supporters, without checking them. He certainly did not contact the Vatican himself. In fact he did not even check her references at all. An examination of them shows that Murdock failed to provide ‘numerous scholarly references’, contrary to Carrier’s claim.

Murdock’s misrepresented sources

1. Walker, ‘The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects’ (1988): This is not a scholarly work at all. Walker is not even a scholar; her academic qualifications are in journalism, and the only subject in which she is recognized as an expert is knitting. Walker’s book is full of unsubstantiated personal claims deriving largely from her own imagination. Walker cites a 1972 reprint of a work by Knight, ‘An Account Of The Remains Of The Worship Of Priapus : Lately Existing At Isernia in the Kingdom of Naples: In Two Letters’ (1786). Knight is a witness to the existence of the statue, but unlike Murdock he says absolutely nothing about it being anything to do with Peter.

2. Knight, ‘An Account Of The Remains Of The Worship Of Priapus: Lately Existing At Isernia in the Kingdom of Naples: In Two Letters’ (1786): Since Murdock had already cited a work citing Knight, listing Knight independently was redundant. Murdock was inflating artificially the number of works she cited, a fact which Carrier appears to have overlooked. Knight was tutored at home and was never awarded a university degree, so he was not a scholar.  However, his wide experience with antiquities as a collector of ancient coins and bronze statues at least means he was more educated on the subject than Walker the knitting expert.

3. Williams, ‘A Dictionary of Sexual Language and Imagery in Shakespearean and Stuart Literature’ (1994). This is a scholarly work on a completely different subject. It refers to the existence of the statue, citing a work by Fuchs, ‘Geschichte der Erotischen Kunst’ (1908), so it is not an independent source.

4. Fuchs, ‘Geschichte der Erotischen Kunst’ (1908). Murdock had already cited a work citing Fuchs, so listing Fuchs independently is redundant; Carrier again overlooked the fact that Murdock was inflating artificially the number of works she cited. Additionally, Fuchs had a law degree, no qualifications in the field in which he was writing, and never held an academic appointment, so this is not a scholarly source.

5. Erlach, Reisenleitner & Vocelka, ‘Privatisierung der Triebe?’ Sexualitat in der Fruhen Neuzeit’ (1994): This work cites an unidentified ’18th C. engraving’ (p. 206, mistakenly referred to by Murdock as p. 203),  which is almost certainly Knight, so this is not an independent source. Published in 1994, this source says that the statue is ‘still housed in the Vatican’s secret collection’ (p. 206), but as we shall see there is no evidence it was ever in the Vatican ‘secret collection’. Murdock has clearly never read this book herself, and failed completely to identify it properly; she wrongly attributes authorship to ‘Peter Lang’. In fact, Peter Lang is the name of the publisher. This is another error in Murdock’s list of what Carrier referred to as ‘numerous scholarly sources’ which Carrier failed to identify. It is clear he hasn’t read the book either, and neglected to check any of Murdock’s references.

6. Jones, ‘The Secret Middle Ages’ (2002): Murdock quotes Jones referring to the ‘notorious Albani bronze said to be held in the Vatican Museum’ (p. 75), emphasis mine. Here is a scholarly work striking a note of caution concerning the popular story of the statue being held at the Vatican, and now the story is that it is said to be held in the ‘Vatican Museum’, not in a ‘secret collection’. Jones provides no source for the story, and says nothing about the statue having anything to do with Peter.

7. Stephens, ‘Public Characters of 1803-1804’ (1804): Murdock quotes text from this book referring to a print of the statue in question in ‘De la Chaussee’s Museum Romanum, printed at Rome, in folio, in 1692’ (p. 127). This text quoted by Murdock was contained in an letter printed several times previously, originally written by John Almon and published in his book ‘A Letter to J. Kidgell, Containing a Full Answer to His Narrative’ (1763). The book by Stephens which Murdock quotes is not a scholarly work, and nor is the letter by Almon (who was a journalist). Almon says nothing about the statue ever being in the Vatican and nothing about it having anything to do with Peter.

8. De la Chausse ‘Museum Romanum’ (1692): Murdock provides an image of the text on page 75 (volume 1), describing the statue in question. However, De la Chausse was not a scholar, he was a collector and cataloger of antiquities; furthermore, he does not say anything at all about the statue ever being in the Vatican.

9. Middleton, ‘The Miscellaneous Works of the Late Reverend and Learned Conyers Middleton’ (1752): Middleton was a clergyman, this is not a scholarly work, and it says nothing about the statue ever being in the Vatican and nothing about it having anything to do with Peter. His only source for the statue is De la Chausse, whom he cites (volume 4, p. 51).

10. Carlobelli, ‘The Image of Priapus’ (1996): Murdock quotes Carlobelli citing De la Chausse as an early source for the illustration of the statue (p. 67). However, apart from the fact that this is not an independent source (again we find De la Chausse is the source), Carlobelli says nothing about the statue ever being in the Vatican, and nothing about it having anything to do with Peter.

11. Wall, ‘Sex and Sex Worship (phallic Worship): A Scientific Treatise on Sex, Its Nature and Function, and Its Influence on Art, Science, Architecture, and Religion-with Special Reference to Sex Worship and Symbolism’ (1922): Murdock quotes Wall referring to ‘the representation of a bronze figure of Priapus which was found in an ancient Greek temple’ (p. 438), a photograph of which is shown in the book. Wall says nothing about the statue having ever been in the Vatican, and nothing about it having anything to do with Peter. The image in the photograph differs from the sketch in De la Chausse’s work, prompting Murdock to comment that this is ‘a photograph of what appears to be the original bronze statue (or at least its twin)’. Wall was a pharmacist with no scholarly qualifications; this is not a scholarly source. Carrier claimed Murdock presented ‘actual photographs of the object’, but this is actually the only photograph Murdock shows, and even she expresses uncertainty that it is a photograph of the actual statue to which she is referring.

12. A source is cited by Murdock as ‘Studies in Iconography (7-8:94), published by Northern Kentucky University’: The work is a journal to which Murdock clearly had no access, since she omits the name of the author and title of the article in the journal, whilst linking to the snippet view of the work available on Google Books. Murdock quotes text saying ‘This object was published under papal and royal authority, exhibited for a time in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and is now said to be held inaccessible in the secret collections of the Vatican’, but without broader context it is impossible to see if the author cited any source for the claim. Nevertheless, again we find scholarly caution; the statue is ‘said to be held inaccessible in the secret collections of the Vatican’.

Assessing Carrier’s claim

Examining what Carrier referred to as ‘numerous scholarly sources’, we find:

* Half of them are not scholarly sources at all: Walker, Knight, Fuchs, Stephens, De la Chausse, Middleton, Wall

* Only two are independent sources: De la Chausse, Knight (and Knight is dependent on De la Chausse for the illustration he presents his own book); the other sources either cite one of these two, or cite no source at all

Carrier was wrong to say Murdock cited ‘numerous scholarly sources’, an error he made because he failed to check the facts. Murdock’s work itself was anything but scholarly, and Carrier (with academic qualifications Murdock lacks), should at the very least have checked Murdock’s sources before describing them so enthusiastically. If he had checked them, he would have realized how wildly inaccurate her claims were, and how poor her research was. This failure of Carrier’s was unfortunate in the context of him criticizing Ehrman for neglecting to check sources and verify claims.

Murdock’s key source contradicts Murdock’s claim

If Carrier had taken the time to check Murdock’s claims against her own sources, he would have discovered that they contradict her. Murdock claimed that the statue is a ‘Bronze sculpture hidden in the Vatican treasury of the Cock, symbol of St. Peter’. But in a book which Murdock does not quote, Knight (the only original source cited for the claim that the statue was ever in the Vatican), states explicitly that the sculpture was displayed publicly in the Vatican palace, not ‘hidden in the Vatican treasury’. Speaking of the illustration in De la Chausse, Knight says ‘The original, from which it is taken, is an antique bronze, preserved in the Vatican palace, where it has been publicly exhibited for near a century, without corrupting any one’s morals or religion, that I have heard of’)’; ‘The Progress of Civil Society: A Didactic Poem’ , p. xxi (1796), emphasis mine.

Knight is the only independent source for this claim; there appears to be no earlier source, and all later sources cite Knight. Regardless of whether or not his claim is correct, the fact is that he contradicts Murdock completely, leaving her without any independent source for her claim that the statue is a ‘Bronze sculpture hidden in the Vatican treasury of the Cock, symbol of St. Peter’. However, there is further evidence that the statue is not in the Vatican, contrary to Murdock’s claims.

One reference Murdock did not cite is Panzanelli & Scholosser, ‘Ephemeral bodies: wax sculpture and the human figure’ (2008). This book refers explicitly to the ‘notorious “Vatican Bronze”‘ (p. 121), and the image shown is the very image cited by Murdock (p. 122), yet when we turn to the page on which the statue is described we find the image which Murdock claims is hidden in the ‘Vatican Treasury’ is in fact, ‘a phallic monument in the Gabinetto Segreto, Museo Archeologico Nazionale Napoli, supposedly recovered at Pompeii/Herculaneum’ (p. 122). Not only is there no reference to Peter, but we finally find that the the image is not hidden in the ‘Vatican Treasury’, but is in the Gabinetto Segreto in Naples, the collection of sexual and erotic artifacts found in Pompeii.

Although the authors express scholarly caution as to whether the artifact was recovered among the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, there is no doubt about their identification of its current location; the Gabinetto Segreto, not hidden in the ‘Vatican Treasury’. Murdock was not only wrong to claim it is ‘hidden in the Vatican treasury’, she was wrong to claim it is in the Vatican at all. This is another error which Carrier failed to identify when endorsing Murdock’s reply to Ehrman, and proves that despite saying ‘At the very least I would expect Ehrman to have called the Vatican museum about this, and to have checked the literature on it’, he did not carry out either of these checks himself.

Right or wrong?

Defending Murdock’s reply to Ehrman concerning the existence and location of the statue, Carrier made this additional claim concerning my own comments about the statue on his blog.

Richard Carrier: Some commentators on his [sic, for ‘this’] site have also tried claiming the statue was never at the Vatican, but their misinformation and mishandling of the sources is thoroughly exposed in an extensive comment by an observer at Murdock’s site.

In fact I neither misrepresented nor mishandled the sources I cited. Carrier  did not tell readers that the ‘observer’ on Murdock’s forum agreed with all of the key points in my argument (all emphasis mine).

* They agreed with me that the statue is not hidden in the Vatican treasury: ‘Mr. Burke was correct when he wrote “the image is not hidden in the ‘Vatican Treasury”’, ‘And with this we are agreed, for I have demonstrated Knight attesting to as much’

* They agreed with me that Knight is the only independent source that it was ever at the Vatican: ‘this leaves us with only one independent source affirming the fact that the statue was once located at the Vatican‘, ‘most likely that would be correct, as the later scholars stating as much do appear to be dependent on Knight

* They agreed with me that Murdock is wrong about it being currently hidden in the Vatican treasury, and her own source is evidence that she’s wrong about it ever being in the Vatican treasury, hidden or otherwise: ‘I agree with Burke‘, I even explicitly agreed with him on that‘, ‘I have already agreed more than once

The disagreements they had with what I wrote had no impact at all on my argument. The facts are that contrary to Murdock’s claims:

1. There is no statue of ‘the Cock, symbol of St. Peter’, either ‘hidden in the Vatican treasury’ or anywhere else.

2. The statue to which Murdock appeals for this claim does exist, but is not of ‘the Cock, symbol of St. Peter’, and is not ‘hidden in the Vatican treasury’.

3. There’s no evidence that this statue was ever ‘hidden in the Vatican treasury’.

4. The only source which says anything about it being anywhere in the Vatican says it was displayed publicly, not hidden.

5. The statue is nowhere in the Vatican, it is in the Segreto Gabinetto in Naples.

For further commentary, see this article at Labarum.

Ehrman & Carrier: the historical Jesus (1)

Recently there has been considerable interest and discussion concerning a confrontation between New Testament scholar Professor Bart Ehrman, and historian Dr Richard Carrier (currently without an academic post). An article in the Huffington Post by Ehrman (preceding the publication of his book ‘Did Jesus Exist?‘), was criticized heavily by Carrier.

After Ehrman’s book was published, Carrier posted a critical review, to which Ehrman made two replies (here and here), which Carrier criticized in turn (here and here). Various other commentators (professional and amateur), have entered the dispute on either side. The purpose of this series of posts is to examine some of the claims and counter-claims by both Erhman and Carrier.

For reference, the term ‘Mythicist’ is being used here to describe those who believe in the ‘Christ myth‘ theory’ that Jesus was not a historical person but a religious myth.

Carrier’s review: how substantial are the criticisms?

Carrier’s review of Ehrman’s book listed several main criticisms, but they are mitigated by Carrier himself, diminishing their importance.

1. Carrier objects that Ehrman doesn’t spend enough time criticizing the ‘bad’ mythicist arguments: ‘Almost none of this 361 page book is a critique of the “bad” mythicists. He barely even mentions most of them’; ‘for the few authors he spends any time discussing (mainly Murdock and Freke & Gandy), he is largely dismissive and careless (indeed, his only real refutation of them amounts to little more than nine pages, pp. 21-30)’.

However, Carrier acknowledges ‘That alone I could live with (although I would have rather he not addressed them at all if he wasn’t going to address them competently)’. In fact Ehrman spends about as much time dismissing these ‘bad’ Mythicists as Carrier himself has in his own works.

2. Carrier objects that Ehrman was wrong to say (or at least imply strongly), that the statue claimed by Mythicist Dorothy Murdock (pseudonym ‘Acharya S’), to be a symbol of ‘the cock, symbol of St. Peter’ (‘The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold’, 1999), does not exist : ‘Ehrman says that “there is no penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock in the Vatican or anywhere else except in books like this, which love to make things up” (p. 24)’.

However, Carrier acknowledges ‘I do not assume Murdock’s interpretation of the object is correct (there is no clear evidence it has anything to do with Christianity, much less Peter)’. Thus Ehrman’s error does not invalidate the point he is making, that Murdock was wrong to claim the statue has anything to do with Christianity or with Peter (a point with which Carrier agrees). See additional comments here.

3. Carrier objects that Ehrman was wrong to say that the law concerning fire brigades in letter 33 of Pliny’s correspondence with the emperor Trajan was the same law referred to in Pliny’s letter 96 to Trajan: ‘He made two astonishing errors here that are indicative of his incompetence with ancient source materials’, ‘In fact, Pliny never once discusses the decree against fire brigades in his letter about Christians, nor connects the two cases in any way’.

However, Carrier acknowledges ‘modern scholars conclude, the same law is probably what was being applied in both cases (prosecuting Christians and banning firefighting associations). And that’s kind of what Ehrman confusingly says’. Ehrman was therefore not in error here; he drew the same conclusion concerning the relationship of these two letters, as standard scholarship, a position with which Carrier himself agrees.

Carrier was right to point out that Ehrman wrongly referred to two different letters of Pliny as ‘letter 10’, when the correct citation should have been ‘book 10, letter 33’ and ‘book 10, letter 96’ respectively. But this error is hardly ‘indicative of his incompetence with ancient source materials’ nor ‘demonstrates that Ehrman never actually read Pliny’s letter, and doesn’t even know how to cite it correctly’, two hyperbolic claims made by Carrier.

4. Carrier objects that Ehrman was wrong to say ‘We simply don’t have birth notices, trial records, death certificates—or other standard kinds of records that one has today’ for people living in the first century: ‘Ehrman declares (again with that same suicidally hyperbolic certitude) that “we simply don’t have birth notices, trial records, death certificates—or other kinds of records that one has today” (p. 29)’.

However, Carrier acknowledges ‘his conclusion is correct (we should not expect to have any such records for Jesus or early Christianity)’. Thus Ehrman’s error does not invalidate the point he is making, that we should not expect to find the kinds of records of Jesus that Mythicists such as Freke and Gandy claim should exist. See additional comments here.

5. Carrier objects to Ehrman’s comment concerning the authenticity of a comment by Tacitus (Roman historian), about Christians: ‘Ehrman says “I don’t know of any trained classicists or scholars of ancient Rome who think” the passage about Christians in Tacitus is a forgery (p. 55)’.

However, Carrier acknowledges ‘That the overall consensus of scholarship, myself included, sides with Ehrman on the conclusion is true’. Therefore, the fact that Ehrman doesn’t know of ‘know of any trained classicists or scholars of ancient Rome’ who think this passage is a forgery, does not affect his argument that the passage is not a forgery; Carrier even agrees with Ehrman’s argument himself. See additional comments here.

6. 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): ‘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’.

However, Carrier acknowledges ‘These are all arguably “fringe” scholars, and they may well be as wrong as Wells or even more so. I am not defending anything they argue (I do not believe Christianity originated in the 70s B.C.) ‘. Therefore, the fact that Ehrman did not know of these other scholars does not affect his argument that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus were recent events according to what Ehrman describes as ‘all of our sources that deal with the matter at all’. Carrier even acknowledges that the scholars to which he refers are all arguably “fringe’, and may well be wrong anyway.

Conclusion

Later articles will examine these criticisms in more detail, but it is sufficient to note here that none of them actually affect Ehrman’s overall case in any way. Even if Ehrman was wrong on every one of these points, it would not have affected his case. These are not substantive criticisms of Ehrman’s case (in fact none of them address his case), and are a mere distraction from the real issues involved. For further commentary, see this article at Labarum.