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How did the early Christians baptize?

March 13, 2013 5 comments

The Challenge

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

The Facts

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

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

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

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

_____________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 (9)

This post continues from the original post in this series.

Carrier defends Murdock on the canon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.