Mythicism: Carrier on McLatchie on Carrier

It’s possible that I should start paying more attention to the historicism vs mythicism debate, given that I’ve gotten sucked into talking about it a bit lately.  I have mused about picking up Carrier’s books on the topic and examining them in some detail, but I keep getting discouraged from that by the fact that I don’t really know enough about the topic to judge things very fairly and have no idea what some good and mostly neutral sources have to say about the topic.  I don’t know what some good introductory texts are on the matter, such as I’ve found in the past for things like philosophy (“Philosophies for Dummies”, at least the version I had, was actually pretty good).  What I can say is that from my reading of Richard Carrier’s posts on the topic his stuff is not a good introduction, and I’ve taken on Jonathan MS Pearce’s take on the Nativity and the Resurrection and don’t think they’re good introductions either.  However, I don’t just want to take on some of the people Carrier himself criticizes because it seems to me that Carrier is far more likely to take on works that criticize him the strongest, and that’s not what I’d need in an introduction.  Add in Gregory House’s admonition that “Everybody lies” and the issue I have is that I’d need as unbiased an account as I can, and as we shall see later the only people in this mess who could be unbiased are people like me who really don’t care about the topic … which isn’t much of an incentive for them to write about it.  If it wasn’t for the arguments that I’m coming across that are bad from a philosophical perspective, I wouldn’t really be involved here either, although I am gaining more interest in it for the simple reason that as I read more and more on the topic I’m finding mythicism increasingly untenable, and so am curious as to why people think it not only tenable, but actually plausible.

As you might have guessed, Carrier’s latest post defending mythicism against a criticism of his specific views by Jonathan McLatchie doesn’t break that mold.  Carrier’s defenses — especially in his blog posts — have always had a tendency to be more fire and flame than actual substance, as he aggressively attacks his opponents but in the process ends up missing the point of what they say.  I’ve noted in the past that if you are going to be aggressive you really have to be right, and at that point even minor errors hurt the credibility of a piece more than they would have otherwise.  If someone is careful about what they say and hedge their bets, if they make a minor mistake in interpretation we can let it go, but when they are ranting about how badly the other person misinterpreted their view even minor errors of interpretation on their part seem hypocritical … and Carrier tends to make more than minor errors of interpretation.  He is one of the people that most justifies my rule of “Make sure you read the original work when reading someone’s criticizes of it” (which is another reason why simply reading his stuff is more of an imposition than it might seem).

Anyway, after taking on someone that he didn’t think did any kind of credible job, Carrier turns to McLathchie as someone who is worth replying to.  But he starts with an odd interpretation of the overall debate:

That article’s subtitle alerts us to a trend I have seen in Christian apologetics as an industry since my second debate with Mike Licona: a readiness to strategically ditch the Gospels and extrabiblical sources and try to rest their case (even for the resurrection!) solely on the letters of Paul. That move was precipitated largely by having lost the debate over whether mainstream scholars “trust” the Gospels and other evidence (they don’t; and that looks bad for Christianity). The last rampart left to defend is the letters of Paul. Lose those, and you lose it all. So I totally understand why McLatchie needs to focus on that. And this is true even from a sound historical perspective: because the Gospels and extrabiblical evidence are deeply unreliable and thus unusable, the only place left to debate the historicity of Jesus, really, is in the letters of Paul. I’ve long pointed this out myself (e.g. see Historicity Big and Small: How Historians Try to Rescue Jesus).

So, McLatchie is replying to Carrier, and Carrier argues that the Gospels and extrabiblical sources are not at all reliable, and so would reject any appeals to the Gospels or extrabiblical sources, and so presumably is basing his case entirely or at least mostly on Paul and so clearly thinks that he can find enough evidence in Paul to demonstrate that mythicism is the most likely theory.  McLatchie, then, deciding to leave the Gospels out for the most part and concentrate on Paul isn’t a sign that he doesn’t think the Gospels credible, but is simply him responding to what the person he’s criticizing is actually arguing.  Sure, McLatchie could argue that the Gospels are reliable and prove historicism, but then since Carrier denies that the argument would be over that, and all of that is unnecessary if McLatchie can refute Carrier’s arguments based on Paul.  If those fall, then Carrier’s entire edifice falls.  So the shift is far more likely to be the result of mythicists insisting on ignoring the Gospels and focusing on Paul, and historicists following along with that because they think they can defeat those arguments and want to take mythicists on directly, keeping the Gospels in their back pocket if that fails.  McLatchie’s early paragraphs pretty much state this:

Carrier examines the extrabiblical evidence of Jesus’ historicity, as well as the sources we find in the New Testament – the gospels, Acts, and epistles. While there is much that could be discussed in regards to Carrier’s handling of these sources, for the purpose of the present paper I will focus primarily on Carrier’s interaction with the Pauline corpus, though – for reasons that will become clear – I will also remark on the book of Acts insofar as it helps to illuminate the proper interpretation of Paul’s letters.

Having rejected the gospels and Acts as reliable documents, Carrier maintains that the letters of Paul are the best sources that bear on the question of the historicity of Jesus. He, however, contends that the letters of Paul fail to unequivocally refer to Jesus as an historical person who walked on earth. Instead, argues Carrier, Paul viewed Jesus as a celestial being, inhabiting a spiritual realm in outer space, in which He was crucified by demons and subsequently resurrected. Carrier’s thesis is in fact not a new idea, but one which was originally proposed by Earl Doherty, to whom Carrier owes much of his material.[2]

So there’s no need to assert that his opponents are abandoning the Gospels when they focus on Paul in replying to them when any reasonable academic work replying to a specific position will, well, focus on that position, regardless of what they themselves think.  Carrier here wants to make a mostly irrelevant argument about how people are agreeing with him when, well, there’s no reason to think they are (McLatchie even uses Acts directly).  Which is a bit ironic given what Carrier says later.

But first, Carrier starts with a claim that McLatchie starts with an ad hominem, which is also going to be quite ironic:

To illustrate the difference between a competent rhetorist (McLatchie) and a hamfisted hack (Krause), consider this sentence from McLatchie’s first paragraph: “While Mythicism occupies only the fringes of the scholarly guild” (it actually has almost twenty public endorsements “from the guild” as being at least plausible, which is not looking all too fringe anymore), “it has gained much better traction on the internet, where poor scholarship can be widely disseminated unchecked.” In the very next sentence McLatchie admits I published my study not on the internet, but through a genuine peer reviewed “academic publisher” (he doesn’t mention my thesis has also been independently corroborated under peer review, by Raphael Lataster for Brill). But McLatchie’s wording makes it appear as though he has accused me of publishing “poor scholarship” (yet unlike the internet, academic publishers aren’t in the habit of doing that). So he gets the benefits of an ad hominem well poisoning fallacy while still retaining plausible deniability. He can fool inattentive readers into thinking he deployed such a fallacy (thus having all its intended psychological effect), while being able (unlike Krause) to deny he did any such thing. That’s not just dirty pool, it’s devious pool. Krause could learn a thing or two.

I wonder if the spur for that comment is more admiration and envy than actually finding it invalid.  Perhaps Carrier feels that it’s he, rather than Krause, who could learn a thing or two about such subtle ad hominems, as the ad hominem is so subtle that I didn’t even notice it on my first reading of McLatchie’s post, and on re-reading it don’t think it is one.  Here is what McLatchie said:

Richard Carrier is an ancient historian who has risen to prominence as the lead advocate of Jesus Mythicism, a school of thought that entertains the idea that Jesus of Nazareth may never have existed at all. While Mythicism occupies only the fringes of the scholarly guild, it has gained much better traction on the internet, where poor scholarship can be widely disseminated unchecked. In 2014, Richard Carrier published the first academic defense of Mythicism through Sheffield Phoenix Press Ltd., an academic publisher.[1] Since this volume represents the first scholarly peer-reviewed publication supporting the Mythicist position and is written by an author with a doctoral degree in ancient history, the contents of Carrier’s thesis are deserving of attention.

So my interpretation of it is that mythicism is a fringe belief academically but has gained a lot of traction on the Internet where there are no requirements for good scholarship, but Richard Carrier has come along and created the first scholarly work for this — which is even peer-reviewed, as Carrier loves to mention — and so unlike the Internet works it’s worthy of some sort of scholarly attention.  I don’t see what’s so ad hominem about that.  Carrier claims that what McLatchie is doing is something akin to poisoning the well by associating it with poor scholarship while then “admitting” that Carrier’s work is not an Internet work, but it seems to me that the entire intent of the paragraph is to flat-out state that:  there’s a lot of stuff that’s not scholarly but Carrier’s is the exception, so it deserves attention.  Given that that’s the last thing in the paragraph and so the take-away of it, it’s not like McLatchie is trying to hide it in parentheses or anything.  It’s what that entire paragraph builds towards.  That’s hardly “admitting”.

As for why I think Carrier might be more admiring of the move and wishing he could do that himself, in his own introduction he says this:

Last week I addressed a lame Christian apologist’s travesty of an attempt to denounce and villify doubts that Jesus existed (On Paul Krause’s Objections to Jesus Mythicism). This week I will address a more competent attempt, by another Christian apologist, Jonathan McLatchie, for Frank Turek’s online ministry at Did Jesus Exist? A Critical Appraisal of Richard Carrier’s Interpretation of the Pauline Corpus.

Structurally, this is pretty much the same thing:  I’ve looked at a bad example but here’s a better one that I’ll address.  By Carrier’s logic, this does the same thing as McLatchie does:  associate the view with incompetence and a lack of scholarly rigour and then “admit” that the view he’s going to look at is better, which then gets the audience associating the later work with that lack while having plausible deniability about whether they actually said that or not.  Of course, in this case I would consider that idea ridiculous and very flawed logic, and so conclude in spite of Carrier’s own application of that logic that Carrier is not engaging in any kind of ad hominem here, but is simply making a standard, boilerplate statement of why he is taking on McLatchie’s arguments, despite the fact that Carrier has stated that statements like that are disguised ad hominems.  Thus, I also consider McLatchie’s paragraph to be the same thing, and so if Carrier wants to argue that McLatchie’s intent is that then he will have to answer for his own intent in a paragraph that, again, pretty much says the same thing.

And then, of course. there’s the actual ad hominem that Carrier makes later:

When he gets to trying to make an actually relevant argument, what we get is a Christian apologist’s quasi-fundamentalist beliefs about the letters of Paul and the book of Acts (with one long section on each), rather than any position one can honestly defend with evidence. This is why Lataster is fond of pointing out that Christians have no business even engaging in this debate. They cannot approach it honestly. Their very salvation is at stake. Whereas atheists are under no threat admitting Jesus was yet another mythologized guru. Hence whether Jesus existed or not is really only a debate that can be honestly and productively held between non-Christians. We’ll see why as we survey this effort.

So, no Christian is able to examine the arguments in any way honestly, and so they should be excluded from the debate entirely.  Only atheists should be allowed to engage in this topic, as all Christians will automatically be dishonest about it and so such discussions won’t be productive.  Thus, we can pretty much ignore any arguments from Christians, right?  Even the ones that are, of course, correct.  Call me crazy, but I think that people can indeed at a minimum critically examine arguments of the position they disagree with even if they strongly hold that view, and then opponents can point out — as Carrier does in this entire post — the arguments that don’t work and the arguments or counters that only work because of their bias.  In addition, it’s actually not clear that atheists like Carrier and Pearce are properly unbiased either.  Carrier takes on a comment asking why secular commentators who favour historicism don’t take up the challenge that often:

So far, everyone competent I would suggest, doesn’t really care whether Jesus existed enough to spend time defending it. Only scholars who desperately need Jesus to exist have the motivation. For example, I don’t know their religious commitments, but Mark Goodacre and James Crossley would do the subject justice. But they are buried in other years-long projects of their own interest, and have somewhat indicated they are unlikely to spend any time on this question.

I suspect they really don’t care whether Jesus existed or not enough to want to devote the time it would take to properly treat it (precisely because they know that requires serious commitment to do properly; it can’t be knocked off from the armchair).

Precisely.  The more interesting position historically is that Jesus was a real person who was mythologized, and that’s already the default.  Mythicism isn’t that interesting historically so those who don’t care about the topic either way have no real reason to do the work to engage with it.  So, then, what can we say about those secular scholars who do care deeply about it, like Carrier for certain?  Well, they have some sort of reason to care about it beyond wanting to come to the right conclusion, because those other secular scholars would have that same motivation.  Thus, they have a motivation above and beyond simple scholarly honesty.  And could that reason be that if they could demonstrate that Jesus didn’t really exist then they have a really strong argument to use against Christians?  Pretty much all of the examples of those who strongly advocate for mythicism are anti-theists and not merely atheists:  they don’t merely not believe that God exists, but spend a lot of time trying to argue against theists and Christians who say he does, often in very strong terms, and most would like to see Christianity and religion gone from the world.  Yeah, it’s perfectly reasonable to claim that those atheists are equally biased and so are equally untrustworthy,  The only unbiased commentators are literally those who don’t care about the topic, and the closest thing I can see to that in the debate is, well, myself … and I admit that I don’t know enough to comment on it fairly, in large part because I don’t care.  So, no, Carrier does not get to smear Christians for having biases when his side seems to have them as well.  What we could do is evaluate the arguments and do scholarly examinations of them, stating our biases and trying to work to moderate them, and using things like the peer review process that Carrier is so enamored of to help catch these sorts of things like we are expected to do for all scholarly and academic work.  Instead, Carrier wants to remove all possible opposition to his claims beforehand so that the only people who could possibly oppose him are people who don’t care to oppose him.

Moving on from ad hominems, we get into an argument about consensus based on an aside from McLatchie.  Carrier says:

Similarly, McLatchie goes on to construct a similarly devious (and disingenuous) analogy between the historicity of Jesus and the science of evolution–without hamfistedly saying there is as much evidence for Jesus as for evolution. Instead, he glides right over all the pertinent differences between history and biology as scientific fields, and the historicity of Jesus (a specific, poorly attested, largely unnecessary event) and evolution as a subject of knowledge (a general, vastly attested, manifest process)—and hopes his readers don’t notice or know any of that. Pro tip: there is nowhere near the evidence for Jesus as there is for evolution, and no one thinks a consensus in history is as reliable and undoubtable as a consensus in any hard science like biology.

So you can’t claim every challenge to a consensus is to be dismissed. To the contrary, if it passes peer review, it’s time to take that challenge seriously (that’s what peer review is for: see On Evaluating Arguments from Consensus).

Of course, McLatchie actually said that last part directly in the paragraph Carrier is talking about (but doesn’t quote):

I cannot help but point out an irony in Carrier’s advocacy of scholarship that to call fringe would be an understatement. In one of Carrier’s other books, Why I Am Not a Christian, Carrier writes concerning biological evolution, “The evidence that all present life evolved by a process of natural selection is strong and extensive. I won’t repeat the case here, for it is enough to point out that the scientific consensus on this is vast and certain, so if you deny it you’re only kicking against the goad of your own ignorance.”[3] One wonders whether this quote has any relevance to the debate over Mythicism. I could forego interaction with Carrier’s argumentation by noting that “the evidence that Jesus existed is strong and extensive. I won’t repeat the case here, for it is enough to point out that the scholarly consensus on this is vast and certain, so if you deny it you’re only kicking against the goad of your own ignorance.” Presumably, Carrier would – quite rightly – object that I need to interact with his arguments rather than simply make an appeal to scholarly consensus. This is somewhat of an inconsistency on Carrier’s part.

The paragraph is an aside, where McLatchie points out that by Carrier’s own logic McLatchie would be well within his rights to say that the scholarly consensus is clear and that any attempt to oppose that is just out of ignorance.  As McLatchie notes, presumably Carrier would think that he needs to address Carrier’s arguments instead of just dismissing them, and yet that is exactly what Carrier insists he doesn’t need to do for evolution.  Yes, the evidence and case for evolution is stronger, but if someone was indeed leveling new arguments against evolution dismissing them outright on the basis of “the consensus is clear” is just as bad (arguing that they aren’t new would actually be fair).  If Carrier’s original statement was more “The case for evolution is strong and it’s not the purpose of this work to restate that”, then this would be any kind of inconsistency, but since he aggressively says that any such arguments must be wrong without engaging in them due to the consensus then he is open to that charge, which is again a charge that McLatchie doesn’t care that much about.  And if Carrier wasn’t taking this as a huge sign of dishonesty the fact that McLatchie’s conclusion, again, is the very thing Carrier cites here wouldn’t be that big a deal either.

And it gets worse:

Ironically, McLatchie goes on in a later section to admit (quoting me) that “there is a great deal wrong with how a ‘consensus’ has been reached” on practically everything in Biblical studies. So…um, McLatchie believes it is acceptable to reject numerous mainstream consensuses in the field, and at the same time it is not acceptable only in this one specific isolated question. For…reasons? He never explains himself on this point. He readily knows consensuses in biblical studies are unreliable and often open to challenge—he just won’t admit it in this paragraph, lest it destroy the rhetorical game he is trying to play on his readers (“But, the consensus!”). Instead he only brings up his admission that he actually agrees with me that it is quite plausible to challenge a consensus in this field paragraphs later, hoping his readers don’t hear a record scratch to a halt in their heads, realizing McLatchie just contradicted himself—in the act of falsely claiming I have contradicted myself. Kafka would be proud.

The first problem with this is that Carrier, as he so often does, is using a rather vague notion of “later”, because McLatchie actually says that … two paragraphs later, where the paragraph in-between is this:

In this paper, I will be primarily interacting with Carrier’s book, On the Historicity of Jesus. However, I may on occasion also draw from other publications by Carrier, including his blog posts, which might serve to illuminate his views or where he may have anticipated some of the objections I raise here.

In general, the accusation of doing that later is that you set it up so that they would have forgotten about the previous statement when the later one comes up, which is what Carrier’s argument is here.  But two paragraphs later isn’t, in general, long enough for that to happen, and Carrier can only avoid a charge of misrepresentation here on the basis that two paragraphs later is technically later.  On top of that, McLatchie actually notes that it’s okay to challenge consensuses in that very paragraph, as we’ve already seen, so it’s not like he’s even trying to hide the principle from the audience.  So what we’ve seen so far is an attempt by Carrier to claim McLatchie dishonest for these tricks that, well, aren’t really tricks at all.  Which is even more ironic given what Carrier follows up with:

None of McLatchie’s opening paragraphs serve any legitimate purpose, other than emotional and rhetorical manipulation of his audience.

Which means that it’s really important that Carrier spend five paragraphs talking about these things that have no legitimate purpose, right?  Putting aside the argument over whether they even actually do that, the opening paragraphs seems to me to be standard boilerplate:  saying what mythicism is, who he’s talking about, what he’s going to talk about, and why Carrier is worth talking about, with a minor aside on how Carrier might be willing to ignore the consensus when it suits him while insisting on following it when doing that benefits him (which is a paragraph that didn’t need to be there, true).  Carrier spends five paragraphs talking about four paragraphs, that seem to do little more than let Carrier make ad hominems while trying to defend himself from what he perceives as being ad hominems.  I think we all should be happy to move on to relevant stuff now (although Carrier will take another three paragraphs talking about how Christians can’t be trusted as seen above and about how we really can only trust Paul’s pastorals, which McLatchie was going to focus on anyway, so so much for getting to things that are relevant).

And, of course, he continues to bash apologists without getting to the meat of the arguments in the next section:

Serious debate over the historicity of Jesus really does always come down to what we understand Paul to have meant when he wrote certain things in his letters. And answering that question requires adducing all the pertinent evidence in Paul that informs us as to either what he did mean, or what he could as likely have meant as anything else—and then seeing where that evidence leaves us. This is how historians operate. Apologists operate backwards: they assume all the later mythologies (never referenced by Paul and by many indications quite unknown to Paul) are “true” and therefore we can “interpret” what Paul said by reference to those later myths. This is a circular argument. You cannot assume “Paul meant what’s in the Gospels” in order argue “Paul meant what’s in the Gospels.” Alas. But this is all McLatchie does, really.

Remember, though, that Paul was indeed aware of Christianity at the time and tried to roughly align himself with them — he did not want to contradict himself and be declared outside of the Church — and so if we have sources that describe what early Christians thought independently of him then we can use them to interpret what he might have meant, especially when he talks about what they meant.  By the same reasoning, we cannot claim that “Paul said that early Christians believed this” to argue that “Paul said that early Christians believed this”.  We would need to establish what Paul himself clearly meant and then make an argument that from that we can be certain that the early Christians meant that as well and that wasn’t one of Paul’s deviations.  Conversely, if the Gospels really did reflect what early Christians believed then even if Paul hadn’t had access to them we could interpret what Paul meant by noting that he needs to be at least broadly consistent with them even though he deviates at times.  However, it’s relevant to note that in this debate the only reason we care about what Paul really meant is because we are trying to find out what early Christians believed.  So if we have good extra-Paul sources for what the early Christians believed then what Paul thought or said isn’t all that important.  It’s only because it is at least claims that we don’t have those sources that we care so much about what Paul said.  Which puts Carrier’s comments about shifting away from the Gospels towards Paul in perspective:  it’s as important if not more so to Carrier that the Gospels be ignored, likely because it’s not as easy for Carrier to make his case taking the Gospels into account as it is if he can ignore them and focus only on Paul, probably because the Gospels all pretty much claim Jesus was a real person and it would take a lot more creative interpretations to make them fit the mythicist model.  Carrier may indeed be right that they aren’t reliable enough to be trusted but that is countered by the fact that they are more directly linked to what early Christians really thought as they are almost certainly derived from what at least certain sects of Christianity that can be traced back to its origin really believed.  So we have issues no matter how we proceed.

But then Carrier says something that from any kind of epistemic view is incredibly odd, and also explains my reaction to his and Pearce’s view, and to atheist anti-theism in general:

To be fair, McLatchie admits “Paul’s reference to Jesus’ teachings on divorce or to the twelve…can be interpreted in a manner that is consistent with” my thesis. So he isn’t just hell bent on gainsaying everything I say. He understands the concept that, for example, Paul referring to their being a “twelve” is equally likely whether Jesus existed or not—without having to insist or prove Paul did not mean what historicists need him to. This is a crucial methodological point. Apologists tend to have a hard time distinguishing between, for example, “we know the Gospels are all myth” and “we don’t know the Gospels aren’t all myth.” All I have to prove is the latter—not the former.

Wait.  So, the consensus is that Jesus was a real person who was mythogized, and we have sources that claim this, and Carrier is saying that he doesn’t have to prove that Paul didn’t mean what historicists need him to to challenge those sources, nor does he have to prove that the Gospels really are myths and don’t contain historical information about a real person?  I mean, a lot of atheists have made hay over strong notions of proof and so denying that they have that burden, but surely to overturn a consensus you are going to have to get to something stronger than “Well, we don’t know that I’m wrong”.  Surely you’d need to get to “I know that I’m right that Paul was referring to a Jesus that was not a real person”, which then at least would get to the implication that any reference in the Gospels to a real Jesus was indeed false and so all of those descriptions were myths.  Carrier states this even more strongly later (yes, a paragraph later):

Hence, so too, anything in Paul. I do not need to prove Paul did mean by “the archons of this aeon” demonic powers; all I need prove is that we cannot know he didn’t. Even at best, for the historicist, the evidence we have is equally likely on whether Paul did or didn’t. So it supports neither theory against the other. It’s simply unusable as evidence. It’s actually worse for the historicist’s interpretation—this wording is actually not likely what Paul would have written if he meant human authorities—as I outline in On the Historicity of Jesus (e.g. pp. 565-66). But my point here is that it doesn’t have to be for my conclusion to follow. In other words, we simply can’t use an ambiguous sentence to prove historicity, when it just as likely can have been the same sentence Paul would write if he only understood the saga of Jesus to be a celestial event and not an Earthly one. In this one moment McLatchie reveals he at least understands this point in principle. Yet we’ll see him conveniently forget about it whenever he needs to.

Well, okay, sure, if the historicist is saying that this sentence proves that Jesus was real and the mythicist can point out that it is consistent with their position as well, that would mean that it can’t at least be used as strong evidence in favour of historicism, but as Carrier himself notes here that’s not what’s happening, and it’s the mythicist who is arguing that this is evidence in favour of mysticism.  At some point, the mythicist is either going to have to find an argument that they claim means they know that Paul was not referring to a real person or else the culmulative case will have to add up to a knowledge claim.  So Carrier cannot simply say “Well, we don’t know that Paul didn’t mean this” if he wants us to take his claims seriously and wants to overturn a consensus.  Eventually, he is going to have to get to a point where, yes, we can say that we do know that Paul meant that, even if that case is ambiguous until he makes the rest of his case.

This attitude, I think, is what is bugging me about mythicism specifically and anti-theistic arguments in general.  Their main focus is always on raising doubts and dodging the burden of proof, pushing it on to their opponents.  But I see no reason to give up any belief because some doubts can be raised.  I can concede that it may not be irrational for mythicists or strong atheists to hold their positions without feeling any pressure to join them in their position.  The arguments, in general, are simply not strong enough to do anything but raise some doubts, and that’s not enough.  Add in that a lot of the arguments are about irrelevant and minor things and things get even worse.  Neither position, it seems to me, has the one knockdown argument that shows that we know God doesn’t exist — see my examinations of Bob Seidensticker’s Silver Bullets that are supposed to do that and fail — but in trying to make a cumulative case they include too many minor and wrong arguments to make that work either.  Every time they include something that doesn’t work or isn’t important it makes the argument seem desperate rather than considered, especially when they treat those minor and incorrect things as things that we are supposed to find critically important.  And so I am unimpressed by them because the arguments are unimpressive and the proponents spend as much time trying to force me to prove my case as they do for promoting their own, and the only way to insist that I take their view is to get to the level of knowledge, and demanding that I prove it to them is always an implicit acknowledgement that they can’t get there.  And if they can’t get there, why should I care about their position?

Anyway, moving on, Carrier commends McLatchie for stating his position properly and then tries to argue that he didn’t:

But then he straw man’s my conclusion by declaring “Carrier’s proposed interpretation of Romans 1:3 is that God manufactured Jesus out of sperm that was obtained from David’s belly, an event that Carrier suggests took place in outer space.” Actually, the following is what I said in the book McLatchie is supposed to be responding to: “An allegorical meaning is possible. But so is a literal one,” and then in a note I explain “in Gal. 3.26–4.29 every Christian comes from ‘the sperm of Abraham’ by spiritual adoption” and so “Jesus could have been understood to come from ‘the sperm of David’ in a similar way.” In fact “Paul even uses the same phrase in his discussion of allegorical heritage here (kata sarka, ‘according to the flesh’, Gal. 4.23, 29) that he uses of Jesus in Rom. 1.3″ (p. 575). So, I did not actually say the only likely thing Paul could mean here is a literal manufacture of Jesus from the sperm of David; I pointed out the text is entirely compatible with an allegorical meaning: the exact same one Paul uses elsewhere, with identical vocabulary. McLatchie never mentions this; nor ever addresses it.

I then go on to explain why a literal reading of the text—divine manufacture—is actually simpler and makes even more sense.

So, McLatchie claimed that Carrier thinks that the way to interpret that statement is to refer to divine manufacture.  Carrier then claims that McLatchie is creating a strawman by saying that Carrier proposes interpreting the statement that way, by arguing that in his sentence he suggests that an allegorical meaning might be valid, that he expands on in a note, and then concludes that after that he goes on to argue that divine manufacture is the simpler and makes more sense.  Well, first, McLatchie can be forgiven for not putting too much emphasis on the note because in arguments notes are not meant to be taken as arguments.  In general, in philosophical works I ignore the notes because those are meant to be clarifications, not arguments, and one should be able to read a philosophical text and understand it without reading the notes.  So notes, in general, are interesting but not crucial asides that can help clarify matters, which is why I do read them in historical works, not because they are important, because they are interesting.  If Carrier wanted us to think that he actually take the allegorical argument seriously, he needed to put it in the text and not in a note.  Additionally, after talking about how it might work allegorically Carrier himself notes that he spends much more time right after that talking about how the preferred interpretation should be divine manufacture.  Given this, it’s perfectly reasonable for McLatchie to conclude that that’s how Carrier thinks it should be interpreted, and so that doesn’t seem like any kind of a strawman.  Ironically, if McLatchie had insisted that Carrier takes it as being analogical that would be a strawman, given what Carrier says.  But saying that Carrier thinks what Carrier admits that he spends time arguing for and that it seems he really thinks isn’t any kind of strawman.

I am at a complete loss for why Carrier would do this.  While I dislike trying to psychologically analyze people, I can only conclude that McLatchie stating the position so baldly struck Carrier as being totally bizarre, and so he wanted to find a way to distance himself from the position, but I cannot understand why he didn’t just say “I know this sounds insane, but this is what the early Christians believed!” instead of spending so much time trying to deny that he said it only to affirm that, yeah, that is what he meant.  And he even goes on to argue that just a short while later.  So why spend the time here trying to argue that what he really does seem to mean isn’t what he meant?

This is part of a long section where Carrier claims that McLatchie didn’t respond to any of Carrier’s real arguments and hides that from the audience, while ignoring most of what McLatchie actually said, which isn’t any better.  The argument is over whether Paul uses a certain verb to mean “born” or “manufactured”.  Carrier quotes McLatchie saying this:

Carrier has in mind here the Septuagint translation of Genesis 2:7, in which the word ἐγένετο (the aorist indicative form of γίνομαι) appears, describing the man as becoming a living creature. However, the word that is used here to describe the moment of divine manufacture is not ἐγένετο, but rather ἔπλασεν (the third person aorist indicative of the verb πλάσσω). The word ἐγένετο, rather, is used in this context to describe the change of state from non-living to living. Thus, it is not precisely correct to say that ἐγένετο refers to divine manufacture.

Which he replies to by saying that the quote in his book is actually this:

Philippians 2.6-11 portrays this fact as an act of divine construction, not human procreation (as noted in §4): Jesus ‘took’ human form, was ‘made’ to look like a man and then ‘found’ to be resembling one (see also Heb. 2.17). No mention of birth, childhood or parents. In Rom. 1.3 (just as in Gal. 4.4) Paul uses the word genomenos (from ginomai), meaning ‘to happen, become’. Paul never uses that word of a human birth, despite using it hundreds of times (typically to mean ‘being’ or ‘becoming’); rather, his preferred word for being born is gennaō. Notably, in 1 Cor. 15.45, Paul says Adam ‘was made’, using the same word as he uses for Jesus; yet this is obviously not a reference to being born but to being constructed directly by God. If so for Adam, then so it could be for Jesus (whom Paul equated with Adam in that same verse). Likewise in 1 Cor. 15.37 Paul uses the same word of our future resurrection body, which of course is not born from a parent but directly manufactured by God (and already waiting for us in heaven: 2 Cor. 5.1-5). Thus, Paul could be saying the same of Jesus’ incarnation. (OHJ, pp. 575-76)

(The emphasis is all Carrier’s).

But McLatchie’s remaining paragraphs in the section are as follows:

Carrier has in mind here the Septuagint translation of Genesis 2:7, in which the word ἐγένετο (the aorist indicative form of γίνομαι) appears, describing the man as becoming a living creature. However, the word that is used here to describe the moment of divine manufacture is not ἐγένετο, but rather ἔπλασεν (the third person aorist indicative of the verb πλάσσω). The word ἐγένετο, rather, is used in this context to describe the change of state from non-living to living. Thus, it is not precisely correct to say that ἐγένετο refers to divine manufacture. Paul himself in fact alludes to this text (1 Cor 15:45). While Carrier asserts that Paul does not use γίνομαι to refer to a human birth, this only begs the question, since he must assume that Romans 1:3 and also Galatians 4:4 (which says that Jesus was born – γενόμενον – of a woman and born under the law) are not using the verb in this sense, which is the very question he is attempting to address. Furthermore, according to Liddell and Scott’s Intermediate Greek Lexicon, the verb γίνομαι, in the context of persons, means “to be born.”[6] We can independently verify this to be the case by analysing instances where this verb is used in the Septuagint, in order to discern how the word is used in relation to persons. Genesis 21:3 says, “Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac.” In the Greek Septuagint, the Hebrew word נּֽוֹלַד־ (“was born”) is translated γενομένου. Another example is Genesis 46:27: “And the sons of Joseph, who were born to him in Egypt, were two.” Again, the Greek Septuagint renders this as γενομένου. Finally, consider Genesis 48:5: “And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are.” Here once again, the Greek Septuagint uses the word γενομένου.

Carrier points out that Paul also uses another verb, γεννάω, to refer to being born. One instance is Romans 9:11: “though they were not yet born (γεννηθέντων) and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls.” The other instance is Galatians 4:23,29: “But the son of the slave was born (γεγέννηται) according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise… But just as at that time he who was born (γεννηθεὶς) according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now.” While it may be granted that Paul uses the verb γεννάω to refer to being born, this entails nothing more than that Paul was willing to use synonyms for a word.

Another relevant question is how Paul himself uses the word σπέρματος (usually translated as “seed” or “offspring”) elsewhere. Paul writes, “I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant (σπέρματος) of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin,” (Rom 11:1). Here, Paul uses the exact same word for descendant as he used in Romans 1:3 to describe Jesus as being a descendent of David. If Paul – as he presumably did – believed that his descendance from Abraham entailed that he himself existed on earth, then it stands to reason that he also believed that Jesus existed on earth by virtue of His descendance from David.

While there’s too much here to completely unpack and it’s clear that McLatchie leaves out some of the arguments, what is happening here is that McLatchie actually is addressing the idea that because Paul used the same word there that refers to Adam that doesn’t mean that he really did mean that Jesus was divinely manufactured instead of being born.  It’s all about the consistency of how Paul uses words, and I don’t see that Carrier’s argument is necessarily more reasonable than McLatchie’s (one could argue that that’s because I don’t really understand the context, which is a fair comment).  But to return to Carrier’s objection, Carrier makes it seems like McLatchie doesn’t reply to it on the basis that he says nothing about the debate, which is clearly false, and Carrier completely leaves out the arguments that McLatchie does make, while trying to make an argument that McLatchie dishonestly leaves out the arguments and information in order to misrepresent the argument.  If that really is true, then is Carrier doing anything any different?  And note that if Carrier cannot pull off the argument that Paul does not use the word to refer to actual live births then his entire argument here fails, and we have no reason to think that this argument in any way supports mythicism, and surely can fall back on the consensus and the Gospels that claim that Jesus was a real person and not historical, and Carrier, again, does not in any way address arguments that show that Carrier does not pull that off and that Paul is referring to a real person is still a live option.

Carrier also addresses an issue with McLatchie’s last statement:

To wrap up my analysis of this text, I will note that it is very clear from the dead sea scrolls that there was an expectation of a Davidic Messiah, and, moreover, this is likewise very evident from the Hebrew Bible as well. Therefore, the interpretation that Paul intends to express that Christ was born of the line of David is much more plausible than Carrier’s thesis that it refers to divine manufacture.

Carrier accuses him of ignoring this paragraph:

Scripture said the prophet Nathan was instructed by God to tell King David (here following the Septuagint translation, although the Hebrew does not substantially differ):

‘When your days are done, and you sleep with your fathers, I will raise up your sperm after you, which shall come from your belly, and I will establish his kingdom. He will build for me a house in my name, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son’ (2 Samuel 7.12-14a).

If this passage were read like a pesher (Element 8), one could easily conclude that God was saying he extracted semen from David and held it in reserve until the time he would make good this promise of David’s progeny sitting on an eternalthrone. For otherwise God’s promise was broken: the throne of David’s progeny was noteternal (Element 23). Moreover, the original poetic intent was certainly to speak of an unending royal line (and not just biologically, but politically: it is the thronethat would be eternal, yet history proves it was not); yet God can be read to say here that he would raise up a single sonfor David who will rule eternally, rather than a royal line, and that ‘his’ will be the kingdom God establishes, and ‘he’ will build God’s house (the Christian church: Element 18), and thus hewill be the one to sit upon a throne forever—and this man will be the Son of God. In other words, Jesus Christ (the same kind of inference Paul makes in Gal. 3.13–4.29, where he infers Jesus is also the ‘seed of Abraham’ also spoken of in scripture). (OHJ, p. 576)

Or, well, it could also be interpreted as it seems to be the Gospels:  God would restore someone from the line of David to an eternal throne.  This doesn’t seem to be as clear as Carrier seems to think, given that one obvious problem here is that Carrier seems to be saying that the line was broken politically which means it can’t be valid, but the quote explicitly says that it will be broken politically so that it can be raised again.  Moreover, if that kingdom is to be the Christian church then it being a political kingdom is clearly false.  And if God was taking the seed from David’s belly that was somehow preserved how does that relate to that person being the Son of God?  In all honesty, right now having Jesus in the line of David through Joseph but born of God’s implantation is probably the best way to make sense of Jesus being of David’s line but also the Son of God, unless we go full-on allegorical which is not what Carrier is doing here, at least.  This is another issue I have with these arguments, as I wasn’t really wanting to analyze this but as I read it to make sure it was the right quote I kept finding more and more things that didn’t really make sense and seem wrong.  The more and closer I read these things the less compelling and interesting I find that.  That has to be a flaw.

Anyway, my use of this is just a set-up to talk about this line:

So what sounds “much more plausible” to you now? Right. That thing you are feeling? That’s the feeling of gaining access to information McLatchie concealed from you. Apologetics generally operates by excluding evidence. And here you see that directly at work. Once you assemble all the pertinent information, it becomes clear that we cannot tell which thing Paul is thinking of here when he wrote this verse.

It’s one thing to be condescending to your opponents, but quite another to be condescending to your audience.  Telling your audience what they’re feeling is the province of terrible DMs, not of someone making a serious argument.  And it especially falls flat if they aren’t feeling that.  And that’s especially bad since an argument here might make people conclude that, but is unlikely to make them feel that.  Maybe they’ll agree.  Given Carrier’s approach, it’s very likely that many won’t.  And if they don’t, you look arrogant and condescending, not as someone whose arguments should be taken seriously.  Again, Carrier’s aggressive approach works against him, not for him.  All he needed to say was that McLatchie ignored these arguments, not imply that he was dishonestly doing so.

Especially since that’s pretty much the purpose of those paragraphs:

won’t go into as much detail for the rest of McLatchie’s article. The point of doing so above is to show you how McLatchie’s dishonest rhetoric operates, how by omitting key information and engaging in sleight of hand he makes you think he has rebutted my argument, when in fact he hasn’t even addressed it. And you won’t know that if you haven’t read my book, or don’t pick it up again and try to follow McLatchie’s purported answer to it, and then notice what he is leaving out and not answering. Which more than soundly illustrates the fact that you can’t trust his critique—you simply have to go and read On the Historicity of Jesus for yourself. (Or Jesus from Outer Space if you want to start with a quick summary; it has in back a concordance to the corresponding sections in OHJ if you want to dive further into the debate and sources.)

Anyway, moving on, I want to skip the first part of the “born of a woman” argument and focus on the ending, because Carrier seems to not get what it was aiming at and on thinking about it I think it might be more damning than it seems:

McLatchie closes this section by saying “if Carrier’s theory about Galatians 4:4 is correct, then the allegorical interpretation makes sense only if we translate γενόμενον as ‘born’ rather than ‘manufactured’.” Hmmm. Are we to believe McLatchie somehow didn’t read the following in the book he claims to be answering? I wrote, “It’s obvious to me that by ‘born of a woman, born under the law’ Paul means no more than that Jesus was, by being incarnated, placed under the sway of the old covenant, so that he could die to it (and rise free, as shall we). So the ‘woman’ here is simply the old covenant, not an actual person. Paul does not mean a biological birth to Mary or any other Jewess.” (OHJ, p. 579) So, explain to us again, dear McLatchie, how my take on this “makes sense only if we translate γενόμενον as ‘born’ rather than ‘manufactured’.” Oh right. That’s not even a remotely honest description of my position. That’s what makes what McLatchie is doing here apologetics, not honest history.

But McLatchie’s full argument is this:

But there is an even more damning objection to Carrier’s thesis here. That is, if Carrier’s theory about Galatians 4:4 is correct, then the allegorical interpretation makes sense only if we translate γενόμενον as “born” rather than “manufactured”. Therefore, if Carrier is correct here in his interpretation, he has himself refuted his own response to Romans 1:3, discussed above, that γενόμενον should not be used to refer to being born.

So the point is this:  earlier, Carrier says that Paul is consistent in using a particular word to refer to being born, and yet in that section he doesn’t use that word but instead uses another one, and that that other one is also used to refer to Adam, and so thus is used to refer to divine manufacture.  Yet in this case Paul uses that same word, and Carrier says that it’s making reference to another case as an allegory, but McLatchie notes that that references is clearly a reference to being born, not divinely manufactured, and so if Paul only used that word to refer to divine manufacture then it would be the wrong word to use here to make the allegory work.  Now, at first I thought this was just a minor issue and Carrier might be able to escape this charge, but in thinking about it on my walks I noted that he can’t really do that.

Here’s why.  If Carrier argues that Paul simply used the terms in different senses in the two cases, then that invalidates his argument that Paul was always careful to use the one word for “born” and to not use this word to mean “born”, because he clearly used it in that sense here.  Paul was clearly more loose in his uses of words than Carrier needs to make a case for the first case really meaning “divine manufacture”.  So he’d need to insist that Paul really is using it in the same sense and so doesn’t vary in his usages in the same case.  But if Carrier takes that sense as being “born” then he invalidates the argument for divine manufacture and so Paul might easily have meant that Jesus was a real person in the first argument, wiping it out completely.  So he won’t want to do that.  So he has to insist that it means “divine manufacture” in the second case as well, which doesn’t align with the analogy and Carrier gives no reason to think that Paul wouldn’t have used the other word for born there.  This, then, is an inconsistency that Carrier needs to resolve, that he doesn’t resolve with his comments that the born there does not have to mean literally born.  The word “born” fits better here even if Jesus was just incarnated, and Carrier has insisted that Paul never uses the word to mean that.

He then goes on to talk about “brothers of the Lord”, and actually hits on one argument that I myself found odd that McLatchie would make:

Here McLatchie writes “Carrier observes that ‘Paul can use the phrase ‘brother of the Lord’ to mean Christian, since all Christians were brothers of the Lord’.” He cites the wrong page number for this in his appended footnote (my discussion of this is in pages 582-92; not on page 669). He also omits mention of the fact that I go on to explain there that only baptized Christians were considered Brothers of the Lord. But these errors don’t affect his apologetic. Because his only response is the rather self-defeating assertion that “this argument is problematic since it seems unlikely that Paul is implying—as would be required on Carrier’s interpretation—that he saw no other Christian, or even no-one of importance, in Jerusalem besides Peter and James.” Not only is that exactly what Paul is saying, he explicitly says that in the very next paragraph: “I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie. Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only heard the report” of me. So look what has happened here. McLatchie wants to cast doubt on the idea that Paul meant he met no one at all but these two men on that visit—and doesn’t tell you that in the very next paragraph Paul explains quite plainly that he met no one at all but these two men on that visit. So now McLatchie is hoping you don’t even read his own Bible.

Yeah, it is odd that McLatchie would argue that somehow Paul would have met other Christians in this context since it doesn’t seem all that important and Paul himself at least insists that he didn’t meet anyone who was all that important.  However, Carrier’s reply is no better:

This should not be surprising. Paul opens his argument with the assertion that he learned the Gospel from no mortal man. He outright says he did not “consult any human being.” Not just apostles. No mortal period. It was thus vitally important that he confess to any Christian he may have met on his visit to Peter, lest he be accused of lying. That’s why he insists “I am not lying.” He cannot afford to be accused of attempting an equivocation fallacy to fool the Galatians, saying he met no man, then only admitting he met no apostle, a trick of a distinction that would not have impressed the Galatians, who would have destroyed him over such an attempt to deceive them. Paul is no fool. He knows this will lose him the argument; so he cannot omit mention of any mortal human Christian he may have met then.

All this means is that Paul didn’t learn his doctrine from them.  It is indeed actually unlikely that he met no other Christians or talked to them at all, just that he didn’t derive his doctrine from them and the only people that he talked doctrine to were Peter and James.  So while we can’t conclude that Paul met other Christians and certainly wasn’t trying to say that he met other Christians, we also can’t conclude that he didn’t meet other Christians either, and it is indeed unlikely that he didn’t meet any others.  The big reason this is such an odd argument for McLatchie to make is that it does open up those arguments and is irrelevant to the argument, which is over whether the James referred to in that passage was being referred to as Jesus’ legal brother or just as another Christian.  McLatchie does talk about that in a bit more detail, and Carrier tries to address that:

Either way, this is apologetics, not history. History reveals that, indeed, Paul very explicitly and repeatedly makes clear he most definitely means these are the only two Christians he met on that trip. This is why the latest peer reviewed scholarship, and several Bible translation committees, now admit Paul means to say here that this James was not an apostle.

I’m really not sure how that follows, to be honest, and Carrier only gives a link to one of his own arguments and not to that scholarship itself.  I can’t translate the grammar from the original, but I’m going to give the King James version of the translation:

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days.

19 But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.

I wanted to use the King James version to get a more formal translation, but the New International Version is the same:

Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas[b] and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.

So putting aside the grammar arguments that I don’t have time to delve into, looking at this stylistically I really don’t see why it would make sense for Paul to try to distinguish James by claiming that he’s a non-apostolic Christian.  Even if the James being referred to here is the one that isn’t an apostle, if the translation really is accurate and Paul says none of the other apostles and then says “only James, the Lord’s brother” then that would really seem to be singling out a specific James as an apostle.  Sure, it can work, but it does seem a bit dubious.  Maybe the grammar argument works better but I wouldn’t hold out much hope for that.  Carrier also ignores that McLatchie argues that the purportedly non-apostolic James wouldn’t work because Paul tends to use whether they saw Jesus as the demarcation between apostolic and non-apostolic and that James did see Jesus.  So for all of the text Carrier puts here, there doesn’t seem to be anything that really matters other than pointing out an admittedly odd statement that Paul saw other Christians, and even that can be defended on the grounds that McLatchie is not relying on Paul actually having met other Christians but that it seems odd that he’d bother making that distinction in any way as opposed to just talking about the apostles.

Carrier has been obsessed in this entire post with trying to catch McLatchie in being dishonest, far more than in actually rebutting what he said, which is really bad when he gets it wrong.  Here’s another example, over the Ascension of Isaiah.

Right out of the gate he falsely claims I rely on the thesis that Paul is quoting the Ascension of Isaiah, and responds to this argument I never made with “that Paul is textually dependent upon the Ascension of Isaiah seems very unlikely.” Funny. That’s exactly what I said: “The earliest version” of the Ascension “in fact was probably composed around the very same time as the earliest canonical Gospels were being written,” and thus not before the letters of Paul. What I argue was that Paul likely was relying on some other lost apocalyptic text also used by the Ascension of Isaiah, and only that “we can rightly wonder what relationship that Apocalypse had to the Ascension of Isaiah. May it have been an earlier redaction of it?” I only muse on the possibility. I never employ such a conclusion as a premise anywhere in OHJ. Whereas I give reasons for there likely being some source text (written or oral) for Paul to be relying on for this material. McLatchie makes no response to that, my actual argument.

So we’re off to a bad start here. McLatchie then contradicts himself by admitting I date the Ascension after Paul (I guess hoping his readers don’t notice that), and then claiming “Carrier offers no argument in support of this contention.”

But what McLatchie actually argues is this:

In support of this, he argues, following Earl Doherty, that 1 Corinthians 2:8 “looks like a direct paraphrase of an early version of the Ascension of Isaiah, wherein Jesus is also the ‘Lord of Glory’, his descent and divine plan is also ‘hidden’ and the ‘rulers of this world’ are indeed the ones who crucify him, in ignorance of that hidden plan (see the Ascension of Isaiah 9.15; 9.32; 10.12,15). It even has an angel predict his resurrection on the third day (9.16), and the Latin/Slavonic contains a verse (in 11.34) that Paul actually cites as scripture, in the very same place (1 Cor. 2.9).”[14] However, that Paul is textually dependent upon the Ascension of Isaiah seems very unlikely, given that scholarly estimates of the date of the Ascension of Isaiah generally place it in the early second century (though estimates range between the late first century and the early third century). If there is any dependence, it is more likely that the Ascension is dependent on Paul, not the other way round.

Carrier claims that “The earliest version in fact was probably composed around the very same time as the earliest canonical Gospels were being written.”[15]

So, McLatchie admits that by stating it in the very next paragraph.  That’s hardly hoping that the readers wouldn’t notice it, other than by not pointing out that very fact.  McLatchie’s claim for the similarities is actually that that work referenced Paul, while Carrier has to bring in another lost text for, well, no reason.  Which means that the reason McLatchie references that Carrier doesn’t provide an argument for that is because it places it close enough to Paul in some circles so that it couldn’t be using Paul.  Carrier replies to that this way:

Liar. I cite numerous works of scholarship establishing that date, and even summarize and address some of their arguments (OHJ, pp. 36-37). And he can’t not know this, because that material is directly in the footnote to the very sentence he quotes, and immediately following.

If it’s so important that Carrier wants to make sure we remember that he argued for it, why is it in a footnote and not in the text?  While McLatchie could be criticized for stating that Carrier doesn’t argue for it if it really is argued for in the footnote, putting it in the footnote is pretty much Carrier asking us to not take it seriously, which then makes his “citing numerous works” claim something that we should not take as seriously as Carrier wants us to.

I will say that I can’t assess in any way which of these arguments is right, but do have to note that Carrier’s dismissal of Q is based on not needing to invent a text for two works that can be dependent to share, so I don’t see why he’d need to make those arguments for that here, and he never addresses the claim that it might have referenced Paul.

I probably could go through the minor differences later, and probably intended to, but I’ve been writing this for a while now and am getting sick of it, and am indeed hitting cases where on both side I’m running into issues with my knowledge (for example, reading Carrier’s comments and noting that McLatchie probably didn’t really address the reply but also reading McLatchie’s and noting that the arguments are stronger than I might have originally thought), so let me stop here.  But the big issue here for me is that Carrier’s defenses are not as strong as he portrays them, McLatchie’s counters are not as weak as Carrier portrays him, and for pretty much any accusation that Carrier makes about McLatchie being dishonest I can find an equivalent — and usually something worse — in Carrier.  This does not make me want to take Carrier’s own arguments seriously.  If Carrier would spend less time on rhetoric and more on arguments — and quoting — his arguments might be a lot better off.

6 Responses to “Mythicism: Carrier on McLatchie on Carrier”

  1. malcolmthecynic Says:

    The elephant in the room is this: There IS no good argument for the mythicist side. It’s absolute total nonsense.

    • verbosestoic Says:

      A more formal elephant is that there doesn’t seem to be any flaw in the historicist argument that we need mythicism to solve. Historicism seems to work perfectly well, so all the arguments end up being is interpreting things so that they MIGHT indicate mythicism, as Carrier himself says. Given that, it’s no wonder that it’s not taken all that seriously: even if it could give evidence to suggest that it MIGHT be right, we really have no reason to give up historicism for it.

  2. jayman777 Says:

    You aren’t going to be able to find many neutral sources on the “mythicism debate” because there is virtually no scholarly debate on the matter. What you can do is look for sources on the historical Jesus. From a more philosophical side, you might study historiography itself.

    • verbosestoic Says:

      I’d probably have to take up religious studies to get to that, and I don’t really have time at the moment. Even a fair source would work, but Carrier is not that sort of source.

      • jayman777 Says:

        Possibly try:

        The Historical Jesus: Five Views

        Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth by Bart Ehrman

        Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? by Maurice Casey

        The amount of crazy theories in mythicism is endless. Albert McIlhenny has written several cheap books on the subject. I think he’s a layman but he must have done a lot of work to try to track down alleged evidence.

      • malcolmthecynic Says:

        I have seen Ehrman in debates and was tremendously unimpressed with him. Like many people when he writes formally and scholarly he is qualified and can be all right; when he writes for views he is sloppy and, in my opinion, not interesting.

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