Mythicism and Method (2/2)

So to continue from last time, regarding Carrier’s Cosmic Sperm Bank hypothesis, Tim O’Neil, who is a historian who investigates the historicity of Jesus, said regarding Price’s evaluation that the Cosmic Sperm Bank hypothesis is lunacy, that:

  • That argument of Carrier’s is just a more obvious example of what’s wrong with his whole methodology. He starts with his conclusion and then creatively twists and trims the evidence to fit it. It’s why he’s simply a bad historian. (Tim O’Neill, Twitter)

Carrier’s own defense of this idea was bolstered when Nicholas Covington pointed out to Carrier that there is a plausible Zoroastrian historical analogy of magically preserved sperm that may have influenced Christianity. Carrier writes:

  • The idea of a magical sperm bank producing a messiah was likely even already popular in Zoroastrian tradition at the time, which had already extensively influenced Judaism—the Jews having fully embraced from it the ideas of resurrection, apocalyptic history, a flaming hell, an elaborate angelology and demonology, and a Satanic war with God, among other things. So to also adopt the idea of a messianic sperm bank, too, is fully within precedent. And even if they didn’t get that idea from there, the fact that ancient Zoroastrians also readily thought of it, means it’s not unlikely ancient Jews would too, particularly to solve exactly the same theological problem. Thus we find that a ninth-century Zoroastrian collection of legends preserves the ancient lore that “a virgin” will bathe in and drink from lake Kasaoya and thereby became pregnant with the “seed” of the ancient Zoroaster who deposited his semen there thousands of years prior. And thus she shall give birth to the messiah, Zoroaster’s own son (Denkard 7.8.55-57), a notion confirmed in various pre-Christian Zoroastrian texts as well (Yasht 19.92; Vendidad 19.5). This idea of stored semen and similar notions appear elsewhere in ancient religions. According to the ancient mythographers Pausanias and Arnobius, semen of the god. Once again this is no weirder than the tale of Eve coming from Adam’s rib, or a deceased Adam being stored in the third heaven, or Paul’s idea that God keeps a warehouse of empty bodies somewhere up in space, or a mass resurrection of all the world’s dead, or even expecting an immortal superhero to fly down from outer space and snatch us up into the sky—as Paul outright says all Christians believed in 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17. If Jews had no qualms about adopting those absurd beliefs, they could hardly have scrupled against adopting notions of God storing David’s semen to effect His future secret plans. There simply isn’t any case to be made that that would be “too weird” to have happened. It’s not even too weird to be probable. This sort of thing happened all the time. And it requires the fewest assumptions for us to suspect it. But once again, if you can’t accept that they believed a thousand weird things like this back then, even though in fact they did, it’s still the case that they also read a thousand different scriptures allegorically. So there is no way to get to any certainty Paul was speaking of ordinary human biology in either Romans 1 or Galatians 4. One way or another, you don’t honestly know. (Carrier, Richard. Jesus from Outer Space (p. 171). Pitchstone Publishing. Kindle Edition).

So, you can see someone judging Carrier’s analogy to be compelling if it strikes their fancy, and not so if it doesn’t. Ironically, Price, who in my last post called the Cosmic Sperm Bank hypothesis lunacy, himself posits Zoroastrian influence on the baptism story, and so writes (which, interestingly, Bart Ehrman thought was crazy parallelomania):

  • Jesus’ Baptism (Mark 1:9-11)
  • The scene in broad outline may derive from Zoroastrian traditions of the inauguration of Zoroaster’s ministry. Son of a Vedic priest, Zoroaster immerses himself in the river for purification, and as he comes up from the water, the archangel Vohu Mana appears to him, proffering a cup and commissions him to bear the tidings of the one God Ahura Mazda, whereupon the evil one Ahriman tempts him to abandon this call. (Price, New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash)

Methodologically, it is straightforward to see the problem here resulting in the mythicist/historicist dispute about the Cosmic Sperm Bank hypothesis. For instance, teachers doing team consensus marking using the same evaluative rubric of criteria on the same student essay may come up with different grades, some seeing the essay as a “C” level and some as a “B” level. Similarly (as often happens) judges at an MMA fight may use their rubrics, which are the same, to conclude that different fighters won the fight. This is a known problem, which is why there are an odd number of judges, because someone has to win.

In making historic evaluations to assign the probability that some event happened in history, we have to examine the evidence in light of criteria, either (preferably) explicitly or (as many do) implicitly, since that is how such assessment and evaluation judgments are made. Regarding the Cosmic Sperm Bank hypothesis, Dennis MacDonald makes the more nuanced inference that while the hypothesis isn’t impossible, it seems unlikely Paul would have thought his readers would have made the connection, especially since it doesn’t occur any where else in early Christian literature. Carrier thinks it is involved implicitly in the virgin birth narratives in Matthew and Luke, but I will dispute this at another time.

As it stands, I am willing to concede Carrier has at least a plausible argument here, but I hope to show in the future that the Christ Myth Theory is vulnerable the more nuanced we get at drawing out the implications of the text.