Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Ehrman-Carrier Kerfuffle

So, a while back Bart Ehrman published a book called Did Jesus Exist? arguing against Jesus mythicist theories and for a historical Jesus. The well-known mythicist Richard Carrier has written a pretty harsh and rhetorically-overblown review of the book, accusing Ehrman of incompetence and even obnoxiously declaring that his own books are far superior to Bart's latest book. Even worse than that, many of the mistakes Carrier points could not even concievably be classified as whoppers indicitive of incompetence. For instance, Bart wrote that mythicist Acharya S. was wrong and that there was no statue of the Apostle Peter in which he is depicted as a giant penis-nosed rooster. It turns out that the Vatican actually does house a statue of a giant, penis-nosed rooster but there's no evidence it had any connection with the Apostle Peter. Careful attention to what Bart wrote reveals that he did not write that there were no statues like this, only that there were none depicting St. Peter like this: “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” (Emphasis mine, see Page 24 of "Did Jesus Exist?"). Why Carrier would shoot himself in the foot by making a lot of hay over trivial things like this is beyond me (Chris Hallquist has made similar comments on this issue, also see his latest post here). Word to Carrier: when you engage in so much inflammatory rhetoric it makes you look exactly like Acharya S. every time she lashes out at a critic. Further, you shouldn't waste hundreds of words on trivial issues like this, rather, it would have made much more sense in this context to stick to bigger issues and to list them in order of importance, that way when Bart responded he would have had no choice but to begin by addressing the substantial issues that mean the most to you (because substantial issues would have and should have been the only thing in your critique). Are you really interested in dickering with Bart about the penis-nosed Priapus rather than engage the criticisms he's made of your work specifically?

Here's one issue worth addressing: In Carrier's review of Did Jesus Exist he said the following:

Ehrman declares “there were no Jews prior to Christianity who thought Isaiah 53 (or any other ‘suffering’ passages) referred to the future messiah” (p. 166), yet he does not even mention much less address the Dead Sea pesher (11Q13) or the 1st century targum that both explicitly evince this belief. And he knows about all this, so I cannot explain why he doesn’t even attempt a rebuttal, or even in fact mention this evidence, which can only misinform the reader, who will think there is none, and mistakenly conclude his assertion has not been disputed. That is simply irresponsible. See my discussion of this in The Dying Messiah.

It's odd that Ehrman, while addressing the issue of a pre-Christian dying messiah concept (p.166-170), never mentions or discusses the evidence here. Are there problems with the evidence Carrier is bringing up? If so Ehrman should have discussed what the problems were, and I hope that if there is a problem with this he will tell us what it is. I know Ehrman doesn't want to get bogged down in responding to every last mythicist claim ever made, but at the same time if you want to show the general public what is wrong with mythicism I think you have to get your hands dirty and at least respond to the first round of counterarguments that are made. I wish Ehrman had taken a page from Jerry Coyne: when Coyne wrote Why Evolution is True (intended to give the case for evolution to the general public) he made an effort in nearly every case to respond to the typical counterarguments that creationists have against evolution. That, I think, is the way things ought to be done.

Here's Carrier's review and Ehrman's response. Don't take my word for it, think for yourself.


Steven Carr said...

'For instance, Bart wrote that mythicist Acharya S. was wrong and that there was no statue of the Apostle Peter in which he is depicted as a giant penis-nosed rooster'

No, Ehrman insinuated she had drawn the statue herself, and claimed no such statue existed at all, basically accusing her of fabricating the whole thing.

He then went on radio to say that the statue was 'completely made up' and started laughing.

Only a few days later to write that the statue 'does appear to exist.'

Now, Ehrman is hiding behind his misrepresentation that Acharya said it was a statue of Peter, which she never did.

James F. McGrath said...

Targum Jonathan to Isaiah applies chapter 53 to the Messiah by taking all of the suffering and making it something the enemies of the Messiah undergo. It is not at all clear why Carrier thinks this helps his case.

11QMelchizedek is fragmentary and Carrier doesn't really do enough justice to the ambiguity of the text.

Thom Stark actually blogged about these points within the past day or so.

None of what Carrier mentions, at any rate, deals with the fact that no one among mainstream scholars denies that there were anointed ones (high priests and kings) in the history of the Jewish people who died and in some instances who were killed. The point historians make about it being unlikely that a "crucified messiah" would have been invented is that it is unlikely that someone would have invented an alleged anointed one descended from David, in the period when the line of kings had been interrupted and no such king reigned, because the expectation regarding that figure was precisely an expectation that someone would restore the kingship to the line of David. It is the supposed invention of a crucified restorer of the line of Davidic kings, coupled with the supposed inventors calling on people to hail the individual as the rightful king anyway, that seems implausible to most of us.

Ben said...

Carrier is addressing the issue of how little Ehrman appeared to care about writing a good go-to book on historicity that would be helpful in the collective education of those interested. So the "little" points are indicative, as Carrier said, of many many other such points Carrier didn't even bring up. And as you've noted, Ehrman passed on the substantive points. I suspect Carrier is going to come back hitting pretty hard and he's going to have a lot to work with.