I read a piece of ‘journalism’ yesterday that was probably the best example I’ve seen of how to make total nonsense sound reasonable to people who know nothing about a subject. It said, “A growing number of scholars are openly questioning or actively arguing against Jesus’ existence’. Who are these people? Richard Carrier. Who he? He has a PhD. That’s it. That was her ‘growing number of scholars’. But he’s not even a scholar.
Carrier is a joke. Here’s agnostic New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman on this subject, he couldn’t be any clearer:
“There is a lot of evidence. There is so much evidence… I know in the crowds you hang around with, it’s commonly thought that Jesus did not exist. Let me tell you, once you get outside of your conclave, there’s nobody. This is not even an issue for scholars of antiquity. There is no scholar in any college or university in the Western world, who teaches classics, ancient history, New Testament, early Christianity, any related field, who doubts that Jesus existed…
“The reason people think Jesus existed is because he is abundantly attested in early sources… Early and independent sources indicated certainly that Jesus existed… I think atheists have done themselves a disservice by jumping on the bandwagon of mythicism because it makes you look foolish to the outside world.”
5 thoughts on “Did Jesus exist?”
I’m neither a mythicist nor a historicist, but can I ask: have you actually read any of Carrier’s work on this topic? Whether Carrier is “only a PhD” or holds a multitude of professorships in history, biblical studies and theology, or holds no qualifications at all should not affect how you judge his arguments.
His book on the topic has passed peer review – which of course doesn’t mean that it must be right, but it does mean that the work has been subject to scrutiny and found to meet an academic standard. This entitles it to be taken seriously, whether you accept or reject it.
Other academics who have endorsed mythicism or said that it is a serious alternative to historicism include Robert M. Price, Thomas L. Brodie, Tom Harpur, Thomas L. Thompson, Gerd Ludemann, Burton L. Mack and Philip R, Davies.
Bart Ehrman’s adherence to historicism and his rejection of mythicist are both well-known. He is a respected scholar but that does not mean that he must be right on this.
Carrier will be the first to admit that he is swimming against the tide in endorsing mythicism. But so what? The orthodox view is not always right and many present day orthodoxies began as heterodoxies which were scornfully rejected by the experts of the day (think of Ignaz Semmelweis).
I haven’t come to any conclusion as to whether Carrier is right or wrong, but he argues his case coherently and logically, he has done the research to support his conclusion and he deserves better, I think, than your dismissal of him as “a joke”.
Hi there, hope you’re well.
I have indeed read some of Carrier’s work, though it was some time ago when I was exploring NT authenticity – I haven’t looked at it for a while.
I’d disagree with you that his academic qualifications are irrelevant to his argument on this subject – when it is a historical question, surely academic history is the subject to which a person should turn? And therefore, that mainstream opinion within that field, and an ‘expert’s’ qualifications are relevant? Surely you would not give much weight to the opinion of a church pastor re a scientific question, if it conflicted with the mainstream scientific opinion?
Especially as my field of expertise is not history, and therefore I would give weight to authority on a matter that is directly relevant to their field, unless someone can show me a very clear reason why not to do so.
Could you tell me what kind of peer review Carrier’s book passed? Has any of his work been published in a mainstream academic journal?
Regarding the other people you referred to, I think Bart’s quote is careful to refer to academics within the relevant disciplines, eg: “There is no scholar in any college or university in the Western world, who teaches classics, ancient history, New Testament, early Christianity, any related field, who doubts that Jesus existed”
Could your argument not be applied, almost word for word, in giving credence to Young Earth Creationism? I doubt you’d be as sympathetic towards the theologians and people with PhDs who argue for that belief 🙂
I’ll agree with fjanusz2 that a person’s academic qualifications do not necessarily indicate anything about the veracity of his argument; however, when the consensus of scholarship weighs so heavily against a position– as it does in the case of mythicism– I’d say it’s reasonable for the layperson to believe that consensus.
As an aside, Dr. Carrier DOES have some work which has been published in respected, peer-reviewed academic journals, but this work tends to be tangential to his mythicist arguments.
Incidentally, I’ve written about one of Carrier’s foundational arguments on my own blog. If you happen to be interested, it’s located here:
I’m well thanks, Heather. I hope you are too.
The argument from authority is tricky because it can be valid or it can be fallacious depending on the circumstances. Even when valid, it is a very weak argument.
Yes, we all tend to rely on the scholarly consensus, me as much as anyone. But that’s not the same as saying that we are entitled to assume that anyone who challenges the mainstream is wrong.
I might not pay much attention to the *opinion* of a church pastor on scientific issues if it conflicted with mainstream science, but I would, if I could, try to assess her *arguments*. If I was not able to assess her arguments for myself then I would look to things like peer review, and if her work on the topic had been peer reviewed then I would accept that she deserved to be taken seriously.
My argument could be applied to YEC – not to give it credence, that’s to misunderstand what I’m saying. But sure, if I want to say that a YEC is wrong, then I can’t prove her wrong just by saying “Everyone’s against you!” Everyone was against Semelweiss. He was a lone figure with the whole of the medical world ranged against him. But he wasn’t wrong, was he?
I can’t tell you what type of peer review Carrier’s book passed (how many kinds are there?) I wouldn’t even know where to begin to look for that kind of information. But Sheffield Phoenix Press (who published it) is a reputable independent publishing house, specialising in Biblical Studies.
The people who I mentioned in my last post are all people who have qualifications at PhD level or above in relevant fields (history, biblical studies etc). I got the names for this site: http://vridar.org/whos-who-among-mythicists-and-mythicist-agnostics/
Hi there, thanks for this.
The problem with this topic is, if we don’t have the relevant historical training or knowledge (which I don’t think that we do), then it’s hard for us to assess an argument on its own merits, or even whether a peer review has quality. There are some terrible ‘peer reviewed’ scientific journals out there – just depends who the peers are! After all, YECs publish work that is peer reviewed – just by other YECs.
In this case then, I think appeals to authority are our only option.
At a cursory, amateur level though – I’d say that mythicism has an obvious problem – if you applied their ideas to almost any historical figure, you could argue that this person did not exist. Even more so, when they those figures do not have writings from people for whom Jesus was easily within living memory.