Making News In The World Of Biblical Studies This Week: The Bart Ehrman / Richard Carrier exchange part 26663xxxxx

So, for anyone who is interested in beating a dead horse, Bart Ehrman recently gave an interview where he doubled down on his critique of the Christ Myth Theory. Carrier responded here.

If your interested in this topic, I encourage you to explore such thinkers as Ehrman, McGrath, and Dennis MacDonald who argue for historicity (that Jesus existed), and thinkers like Carrier, Price, and Brodie who argue that he didn’t. But you need to keep your skeptic’s hat on. To take one example, Carrier says:

  • Ehrman does throw some shade around minute 4:20 with his usual false claim that mythicism isn’t seriously debated by experts, despite the fact that two peer-reviewed monographs and forty bona fide experts, and to date zero peer-reviewed monographs establishing historicity in response, refutes his disingenuous rhetoric on that point. Clearly it is debated, and indeed remains an open debate in the field. He just wants to ignore it.

If we set aside Carrier hurling the insult of “disingenuous” here at Ehrman, Ehrman is making the same point he has made for years. Ehrman is arguing that if you are a student taking a course on the historical Jesus being taught by a New Testament expert and specialist professor at an accredited secular university, it is very unlikely that you will be taught that the Christ Myth Theory is a credible interpretation of the evidence. In all of modern New Testament scholarship there are only 2 peer reviewed books (peer reviewed doesn’t imply endorsement, incidentally) arguing mythicism is a credible reading, and neither book by a sitting professor.

So, what is the reader to make of Carrier’s list? It certainly makes sense he has something like this, since many scholars such as James McGrath view mythicism as the intellectual equivalent of creative Young Earth Creationism apologetics, so Carrier needs scholarly backing if he isn’t going to just get laughed out of the room. But how can Carrier claim such backing for his theory if Ehrman says such backing doesn’t exist?

As with anything, you need to check the context. Ask yourself: What New Testament specialists have actually read Doherty, Carrier and Price, as well as the rebuttals by Ehrman, McGrath, and Dennis MacDonald to be immersed enough in the material to form a comprehensive educated judgment? Robin Faith Walsh, for instance, is a historicist but says she is not really familiar with the mythicist arguments. Analogously, there are many mythicists who base their understanding on Bill Maher’s Religulous movie. For those who have followed this, as we have seen with Dennis MacDonald, the more he debated with and began to understand Carrier’s argument, the more preposterous mythicism became to him (Carrier had to take Dennis off the list). So what of Carrier’s list?

Unfortunately, the list doesn’t tell us who among the “experts” have actually read all the relevant material, but that’s only an initial problem. Carrier knows very well the grounds upon which Ehrman is objecting to these experts because Ehrman has done the same ever since an interview (I believe it was on Aeon Bytes podcast) when his Did Jesus Exist? came out. At the time in 2012, in terms of scholars supporting mythicism, Ehrman was given the mythicist example of Robert M Price with his 2 PhDs and mythicism sympathizer Dr. Hector Avalos by the interviewer. Ehrman replied that Price couldn’t get a job because his approach wasn’t credible, and Hector Avalos was an Old Testament expert, not New Testament. So, do look at Carrier’s list as Ehrman’s eye does, and judge for yourself. Here are a couple of eyebrow raisers as you get you started on the list:

Hector Avalos: Old Testament specialist

Thomas Thompson: Old Testament specialist

Thomas Brodie: Carrier bases a lot on Brodie’s “Birthing of the New Testament,” which Brodie once said to me that the Oxford reviewer of Brodie’s book called it “Delirium.” McGrath has come to similar conclusions about Brodie. Interestingly, Sheffield, who published Brodie’s mythicist autobiography, also published Carrier’s mythicist book.

Rodney Blackhirst: From Carrier’s blurb on the list:

Okay, so Carrier thinks Blackhirst is a crank, but I guess it’s better to have more than less people on the list, so let’s include him, lol!

Derek Murphy: PhD in Comparative literature, wrote a mythicist book no one thinks is a scholarly defense of anything.

Anyway, you get the idea. Carrier to my eye very much treats analysis like a game, and so for instance made a big deal out of scoring the Ehrman/Price debate, and winning laypeople converts at public debates even though those converts rarely have the background to make a judgment on the matter.

Actually, I am often more interested in what educated lay people like Doherty and Godfrey have to say in defense of the Christ myth theory rather than many “experts,” because Doherty and Godfrey are actually familiar with the wide range of relevant texts and arguments – and in fact Carrier didn’t think a credible case could be made for mythicism before he read Doherty. It’s all about the research you’ve done. Carrier has a PhD in the intellectual history of Greece and Rome with a dissertation specialization on the scientist in the Roman empire, so it certainly doesn’t follow from this that Carrier needs to be an expert in the historicity of Jesus because of this background. But, he says this is the question that his readers wanted him to look into, so he did.