Last time I blogged about my second time interviewing Richard Carrier, and I’d like to reflect on that a little because a friend wanted to know what it was like.
Carrier is a proponent of the Christ Myth Theory, the idea that Jesus was originally not thought to have existed on earth, but lived and was crucified in outer space. On top of his reading of the texts he offers support that it was common in the ancient world for such celestial deities to be re-imagined in history, and if we take the figures who were as heavily mythologized as Jesus and put their names in a hat, the likelihood of pulling the name of an historical figure out of the hat is no greater than 1/3.
Now, as far as I’m aware no New Testament specialist teaching at an accredited secular university teaches that the Christ Myth theory is a plausible interpretation of the evidence, which is odd in and of itself because there are so many reconstructions of the portrait of the historical Jesus.
One of the questions I raised yesterday was the issue of Wrede’s messianic secret in Mark and how this favors the historical Jesus. Carrier had an answer to this almost before I got the words out! In fact, if you’ll note the entire interview he was thinking really quickly and piling on observation after observation. I imagine it was hard for some listeners to follow. To understand this, it is helpful to place the debate model in the context of the Philosophy of Education regarding reasoning.
In the west, particularly foundational in this regard was Hobbes. Hobbes said reasoning is but reckoning: mathematical thinking. In this regard, we received the paradigm that “intelligence in general” is ascribed to whoever can recall the most information and manipulate it the quickest – like a computer performing in a chess game. Such individuals perform the best with games like Trivial Pursuit (an apt name!) and Jeopardy. Critical thinking becomes “spin,” the ability to note the ambiguity in the debate object and spin it to your favor, like lawyers (defence vs prosecution) and politicians (liberal vs conservative) do. Debate then becomes a game: whoever spins the best, meaning who makes to most points the fastest:
The point is to cast the evidence in the light of your side without being contradicted by an opponent and in this way you “score.” Critical thinking essentially becomes a game, and the paradigm of this, debating, essentially becomes “scoreable.” In this way, Carrier thought the most natural thing to do with the Price/Ehrman debate on the Christ Myth Theory was to score it. What ultimately matters in such a context is not truth, but quantity: eg., coming up with “something” that appears to spin an opponents point back in your favor. This is what Heidegger meant by the idea that we live in an age of calculative thinking. No matter what your opponent says you must come back with “some” response, initiating an endless cycle of spin and counter spin.
This type of model is very ingrained in Philosophy of Education, especially since Bloom’s Taxonomy became the paradigm. What is clear that Bloom was doing is that he started with the concrete and then abstracted away from it, a complete education addressing all the levels of the taxonomy. The problem arose that the concrete tended to be passed over in favor of the abstract, and so “intelligence” became assessing and evaluating.
In this way, we determine a thinker’s credibility in terms of how versed they are in the subject matter and their ability to spin the evidence in their favor. Consider the following “expert” on the age of the earth issue:
This is exactly the type of issue mainstream scholars like James McGrath find with the mythicist argument. With permission, Dr. Kipp Davis shares this helpful comparison:
And so, at the end of my questioning in my second Carrier interview I raised the issue of how Ehrman points out with the story of the rich young man in Mark we seem to have preserved an old tradition where the salvific cross/resurrection theology had not yet developed because Jesus tells the rich young man salvation comes through following the commandments and giving your wealth up for the poor. Carrier responded this is to be taken within the larger context of the cross from the surrounding passage, but this answer is unpersuasive because the main point is the rich man is sent away with the teaching that salvation has nothing to do with Jesus’s death. Carrier has to deny this because his recreation of Christian origins doesn’t make sense unless at the inception was the idea of Jesus’s substitutionary atonement.
In his lectures on the difference between Paul and Jesus, Ehrman (2023) offers the following summary:
• Jesus and Paul were both first century apocalyptic Jews, and there was a cosmic battle going on between the forces of good and evil, and people were taking sides. It was all according to God’s plan and a judgment was coming where there would be rewards and punishments, and the dead would be resurrected and judged depending on the side they took. A cosmic figure from heaven would come as God’s chosen judge. Jesus thought this would happen in the lifetime of his followers, and Paul thought he would be alive to see it. There was urgency because people needed to be saved from the coming judgment.
• You fulfill the law by loving God above all else and loving your neighbor as yourself.
(ii) KEY DIFFERENCES AT THE CORE OF THEIR MESSAGES OF JESUS (J) and Paul (P)
• J: God forgives those who repent / P: God requires atonement. Atonement is when someone pays your debt for you, while forgiveness is when the person owed forgives the debt.
• J: It’s all about Jesus’s teachings on how to live / P: It’s all about Jesus’s death and resurrection
• J: The need to return to God / P: The need to turn to Jesus
• J: The need to behave as God demands. So, you don’t even need to know the message of Jesus as long as you’re doing the right thing / P: The need to believe in the atoning death of God’s messiah
• J: Keep the Torah / P: The Torah is irrelevant, you start obeying God only after being saved through faith and baptism because then you can follow the law because you are no longer enslaved to sin.
• J: Jesus the human prophet / P: Jesus the divine sacrifice.
In Mark 10, Jesus said to get heaven you must keep the commandments, and to really get rewarded sell everything you have and give to the poor. Jesus’s disciples did this, leaving everything behind to follow Jesus. This was enough for salvation and seems historical because it speaks against the bias of Mark to promote the crucifixion/resurrection as salvific. Ehrman argues for Paul, this was irrelevant for salvation and what mattered instead was faith in the death and resurrection, and literally unifying with Christ through baptism. Likewise, Jesus talks about the sheep who get into heaven because they helped those in need. The goats did not help the needy but focused on themselves, so they don’t get in. Ehrman argues Paul would not have taught these things, and the historical Jesus did not teach the death and resurrection. Rather, Jesus teaches not himself but the Kingdom, and begins his ministry by saying “This is the time of fulfillment. The reign of God is at hand! Metanoia, and believe this Good News!”
As I said in my discussion with Carrier, this makes good sense. Since Mark is biased toward promoting cross/resurrection theology, something that runs against this is likely to be historical. I further suggested what we have in Mark is the larger question of the Wrede’s messianic secret/confusion whereby the disciples (i)fleeing and (ii) attacking/confronting the arresting party hardly would have been invented because it suggests it was on none of their radar that Christ was supposed to die. Mark thus invented the “secrecy/confusion theme” as an apologetic that Jesus didn’t share the cross/resurrection theology with the people, and did with the disciples but they didn’t understand, so making it appear like the cross/resurrection theology was there from the very beginning, but it still makes sense the disciples confronted and fled from the arresting party. In reality, Jesus’s disciples really did confront the arresting party and flee because there was no crucifixion/resurrection theology from the historical Jesus, and this was a known problem Mark had to resolve.
The lack of comprehension of the disciples about Jesus predicting his death is fictionally contexted by Mark with a lack of comprehension of the disciples generally. In order to explain that the disciples couldn’t understand Jesus’ message when Jesus was predicting his death, the gospel writer added passages that indicate their lack of comprehension at other times, as in Mark 4:40; 6:51–52; 8:4, 14–21; 8:33; 9:2–10; and 14:68–72. After the disciples saw Jesus’ transfiguration, they still couldn’t understand Jesus’ prediction of his death, which was stated in “the plainest, most explicit terms” (Vos: 75). Mark (9:9–10) tells us that “As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what ‘rising from the dead’ meant.”
It is evidence like this that persuades scholars it is much more likely that Jesus existed rather than the mythicism hypothesis.