Richard Carrier is Displeased

Richard Carrier is Displeased

It seems I’ve done something to upset Richard Carrier. Or rather, I’ve done something to get him to turn his nasal snark on me on behalf of his latest fawning minion.  For those who aren’t aware of him, Richard Carrier is a New Atheist blogger who has a post-graduate degree in history from Columbia and who, once upon a time, had a decent chance at an academic career.  Unfortunately he blew it by wasting his time being a dilettante who self-published New Atheist anti-Christian polemic and dabbled in fields well outside his own; which meant he never built up the kind of publishing record essential for securing a recent doctorate graduate a university job.  Now that even he recognises that his academic career crashed and burned before it got off the ground, he styles himself as an “independent scholar”, probably because that sounds a lot better than “perpetually unemployed blogger”.

But in the minds of New Atheist true believers, far from being a failed academic (and more recently, thanks to some rather dubious life choices, itinerant beggar), Carrier is a towering figure of vast historical wisdom.  This is because if there is a tenet of New Atheist Bad History that needs defending, Richard Carrier is usually there to help.  Not surprisingly, Carrier is therefore a leading proponent of the Jesus Myth thesis, though given that this is a topic held in dismally low regard by real academics and one peddled mainly by cranks and loons, that’s not much of an accolade.

Two years ago Carrier brought out what he felt was going to be a game-changer in the fringe side-issue debate about whether a historical Jesus existed at all.  His book, On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt (Sheffield-Phoenix, 2014), was the first peer-reviewed (well, kind of) monograph that argued against a historical Jesus in about a century and Carrier’s New Atheist fans expected it to have a shattering impact on the field.  It didn’t.  Apart from some detailed debunking of his dubious use of Bayes’ Theorem to try to assess historical claims, the book has gone unnoticed and basically sunk without trace.  It has been cited by no-one and has attracted one lonely academic review, which is actually a feeble puff piece by the fawning minion mentioned above.  The book is a total clunker.

So the failure of his academic career and the disaster of his attempt at a groundbreaking opus has left the perennially unemployed Carrier with a lot of time on his hands.  Luckily he has a number of obsessive vendettas to keep him busy.  The main one of these is with leading New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman, though he also has a beef with me.  Recently, to his great joy, he was able to indulge in both at once.

Alleged “Asscrankery”.  Or Something.

Carrier’s obsessive one-way slanging match with Ehrman stems from the fact that Ehrman has committed two grievous sins against him; both as unforgivable as they are grave.  First, Ehrman dared to single Carrier out for criticism in his popular book Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (2012). Carrier responded with his usual tsunami of many words (see above about him having a lot of spare time), which did little more than try to establish some feeble nitpicks about issues peripheral to Ehrman’s arguments.  Ehrman responded to these slightly crazed and highly prolix rants with two coolly urbane and entirely professional replies ( here and at greater length here) which, among other things, show why he is an esteemed and respected scholar and why Carrier … isn’t.  But then Ehrman committed his second, much worse sin.  As Carrier’s responses become more sneering, more frenzied, more intense and even more tedious in their length, Ehrman did the unthinkable – he chose to completely ignore Carrier as a silly little nobody and simply didn’t engage with him further.  And nothing angers a pathological narcissist like being ignored.  Mighty was Carrier’s tiny wrath!

So, in the four years since, Carrier has continued to list Ehrman’s many wicked sins, with all the shrillness of a myopically self-obsessed person who genuinely can’t believe he’s not being taken seriously.  Of course Ehrman is just one scholar at the top of the long list of people that Carrier has to attack, since anyone who has dared look sideways at Carrier, his fringe thesis, his failed book or any of his minuscule coterie of minions and parrots has been struck mighty blows from his tiny little fists.  Some anger him so much that he uses his skills in psychiatry to actually declare them insane, since genuine madness is the only explanation he can fathom for those who don’t bow low before his manifest genius.

Given that I’ve criticised his arguments in the past and have been dismissive of one of his equally thin-skinned flunkies more recently, a few weeks ago Carrier decided to go two-for-one and attack both Ehrman and myself.  In a blog post gloriously titled “On the Gullibility of Bart Ehrman & the Asscrankery of Tim O’Neil” (sic), he attacks Ehrman for responding approvingly to a comment I made on Ehrman’s own blog.  Of course, this was two whole years ago, but that’s a blink of the eye on the timescale of Carrier’s churning petty resentments.  

Since the section of Ehrman’s blog where I made this terrible comment is open to subscribers only, here is the comment in question in full.  Critiquing Carrier’s attempt at a dismissal of the reference to Jesus’ brother James in Josephus’ Antiquities – a fly in the Jesus Myth ointment, since non-existent celestial figures can’t have historically attested flesh-and-blood brothers – I commented in response to someone else:

“Richard Carrier’s one piece of published, peer-reviewed work in this area of study is actually quite convincing,”

Or creaking and contrived. It’s riddled with problems. To begin with, for the Jesus at XX.9.1 to be the same person as the later mentioned high priest “Jesus, son of Damneus”, we have to believe that Ananus executed this son of Damneus’ brother and then very soon afterwards uses rich gifts so he “cultivated the friendship of Albinus, and of the high priest”. So we’re supposed to believe that within months of seeing Ananus kill his brother, the son of Damneus was cosying up to his brother’s murderer thanks to some gifts? This makes no sense.

Then there’s the fact that dismissing the phrase “who was called Messiah” as a marginal gloss that found its way into the body of the text doesn’t go far enough to explain the textus receptus. Josephus is very consistent in the way he introduces new actors to his narrative and in the way he differentiates one from another. Nowhere does he introduce a person simply by their name (“Jesus”, minus the Messiah part) and then refer to them by an identifying appellation later (“Jesus, son of Damneus”). Yet that’s what Carrier’s contrived ad hoc work around requires.

Finally there’s his blithe dismissal of the three verbatim quotes of the key “Jesus who was called Messiah” phrase by Origen on the grounds that Origen was somehow confusing Josephus with Hegisippus. Carrier claims this by saying what Origen claims Josephus “says” about the death of James can’t actually be found in Josephus. But Origen was an exegete, not a historian, and often claims his sources “say” things that aren’t there: he reads his exegesis into his material. Reading the passages in Josephus following Ant. XX.9.1 in this light shows how Origen definitely could have read the trope of “the fall of Jerusalem as punishment for the execution of James” into the text, as detailed by Waturu Mizagaki, “Origen and Josephus” in Josephus, Judaism and Christianity (L.H. Feldman, G. Hata eds, Wayne State University Press, 1987) pp. 325-337). Oddly for a peer reviewed article, neither this key piece of research on Origen’s use of Josephus nor Feldman and Hata’s highly relevant collection of articles is anywhere to be found in Carrier’s footnotes.

Carrier is a polemicist and this article shows it. And his final paragraphs where he pompously declares that all future discussion on the topic must now bow before his mighty findings are are hilarious as they are fatuous.”

To which Ehrman had the unmitigated gall to respond “Terrific comments! Many thanks”.  

A Gentleman’s Guide to Admitting an Error – Essential Dos and Don’ts

Carrier responds to the first argument in my comment by saying “Um, no, Mr O’Neil (sic).  I think you have the wrong Ananus.”  He notes my point depends on the high priest “Ananus”, who executed James illegally and was therefore deposed, being the same who later curried favour with ben Damneus and says “O’Neil (sic) thinks this is the same Ananus who later courts Jesus ben Damneus. But O’Neil (sic) does not check his facts.”  He goes on to argue that the high priest who cultivated the friendship of Jesus ben Damneus was not the deposed Ananus but an elder former high priest, Ananias (though his name is sometimes also given as “Ananus”).  So he argues the priest who had James executed and the one who later got friendly with Jesus ben Damneus are not, in fact, the same person at all and my argument is therefore based on a false premise and so is totally wrong.

And this is all absolutely correct.

In making this argument I confused the (admittedly confusing) references to two people with the same name.  Which means my argument doesn’t work.  Of course, as a “gotcha”, this catch by Carrier would be much more effective if … I hadn’t already acknowledged the error.  Except, I had.  About a year ago.

You see, gentle reader, here’s a key thing about being a grown up adult person: when someone shows you that you’re wrong about something, you admit it.  You also thank them for doing so, acknowledge your error in public and, where you can, correct it.  So on June 26 last year a very kind and helpful commenter on my Armarium Magnum blog picked up my “Ananus/Ananias” mistake and alerted me to it. Far from censoring his comment, screaming abuse at him, trying to pretend he was wrong, or posting attacks on him while deliberately misspelling his surname, I did what adults and professionals do.  I went and checked the evidence again, with careful reference to the Greek, found he was right and then thanked him.  I publicly acknowledged the error and its implications and I then amended my argument on the blog post in question and wherever else I had made it that I could find (though I’d forgotten the Ehrman blog comment and possibly some others).  

Because that, gentle reader, is how an adult and a gentleman handles such things: with honesty, grace, dignity and – above all – due humility.

But in contrast, let’s look at another example of someone being shown they got something wrong.   Way back in 2010 I found myself on the Internet Movie Database, debating some people who had seen the 2009 Alejandro Amenábar movie Agora, which perpetuated a number of pseudo historical myths.  One of these was the idea that a Christian mob “destroyed the Great Library of Alexandria” – a Gibbonian fiction beloved of New Atheists. One of the people defending this myth – a certain “Valjean24601” – invoked the inevitable Richard Carrier, who had defended the idea that when Roman soldiers and a Christian mob dismantled the Temple of Serapis in Alexandria in 391 AD, they destroyed the last remnant of the Great Library in the process.  This is despite no mention of any library in any of the five accounts of the destruction of the Serapeum and an earlier mention of the library collection there using the past tense, indicating that it was no longer there when the temple was destroyed.

In invoking Carrier, this “Valjean24601” kept referring to Carrier’s argument that the earlier reference to the Serapeum’s library collection using the past tense (that of Ammianus) was “almost verbatim” what a still earlier account had said (that of Aulus Gellius).  Except when “Valjean24601” said this they kept writing the phrase as “almmost verbatum”.  So in my responses to them I repeatedly quoted the phrase they used as “almmost verbatum” and added a “sic”, hoping they would eventually get the hint.  They never did, but let’s just say “Valjean24601” wasn’t the brightest bulb on the tree.

Years later several of Carrier’s minor minions began claiming he had caught me “lying”.  When questioned about this by others, the minions were unable to substantiate their claim, but when pressed it seemed my vile crime was imputing a misspelling to Carrier via a horribly fraudulent “sic”.  This terrible crime, apparently, meant my criticisms of Carrier could be wholly dismissed.  Or something.  But the fact they couldn’t demonstrate that this dreadful injustice had occurred left many puzzled, though the assertion continued to be made despite this.

Then, on March 4 2014, the Little Master himself dismissed a criticism by me thus:

“O’Neil (sic)  is a documented liar … although the thread in which he blatantly lied has been, so far as I know, removed, I have a screenshot of it in my files”

I was alerted to this claim and was certainly keen to finally learn what my “blatant lie” was, but I also seriously doubted that Carrier actually had a screenshot of a something said about him in a discussion in which he took no part four years before.  So I challenged him to produce this evidence of my “lie”.  To my amazement, he did – here it is.

(Pause for a moment, gentle reader, and contemplate that.  Here is a person who is so obsessed with himself that he keeps files of screenshots of mere mentions of his name so that he can produce them years later if required.  This is narcissism taken to dizzying giddy heights.)

Anyway, by producing this evidence all Carrier had done was proven he’d made a mistake.  The quote – “almmost verbatum”  – was me quoting “Valjean25601” and using the misspelling they kept using, with the added “(sic)” just as a hint to them.  I also emphasised this by putting the correctly spelled word  – “verbatim” – in italics later in my post, also as a hint.  Read in context, all this was perfectly clear.  But Carrier assumes that everything has to be solely about him.

All this was explained to Carrier, along with other evidence that he had simply made a mistake.  It was so perfectly clear that he’d made an error that I commented to others at the time that surely even Carrier would have to admit the mistake or look like a fatuous boob.  But he never ceases to amaze.  He just pretended he was right and brazenly refused to admit even this tiny error.

But, as I’ve noted above, pathological narcissists can’t ever admit they are wrong.  This is why when he was recently called out for mischaracterising the publishers of his book on Jesus as “Sheffield-Phoenix, the publishing house of the University of Sheffield (UK)“, instead of admitting that they are nothing of the sort he quietly edited his blog post so that it now reads “Sheffield-Phoenix, a publishing house at the University of Sheffield (UK)“.  And it’s why when he was caught cheating on his now ex-wife Jennifer – the long-suffering woman who financially supported this dilettante while he indulged in his full-time hobbies –  he waved his Magic Wand of Sophistry +10 Against Reality and transformed this into him bravely “coming out” as polyamorous.  Because “brave polyamorous person” sounds better than “cheating parasite”.  Carrier lives in a kind of Ptolemaic universe, where everything orbits perpetually around … him.

Is “called Messiah” really an addition to Antiquities XX.200?

If Carrier’s criticisms of my comment on Ehrman’s blog had stopped with the “Ananus/Ananias” error, he would have at least had a solid point.  But I made two other criticisms of his position on the Antiquities XX mention of Jesus, so he pushes on to tackle those as well.  And here’s where the wheels really start to wobble.  In his blog post he goes on:

“But O’Neil (sic) also goes on to lie, as he usually does, with his next accusation: that my theory of an interpolation “requires” Josephus to have forgotten to designate the patronymic at first mention of a new Jesus. This is a lie, because it omits the fact that in my article I propose the text in fact originally read “James the brother of Jesus ben Damneus” and the scribe, believing a dittographic error had occurred (from the following line that contained “Jesus ben Damneus”), transposed the marginal note “the one called Christ” into its place, believing that to be the intended correction.”

I “lie” when I say this?  Could it be that I’m summarising a fairly complex point about why I find Carrier’s article’s attempts at justifying his contrived postulations about what was added and, perhaps, taken out unconvincing? It’s worth examining those arguments in detail to see if that’s a more rational conclusion than some smear about me “lying”.

Firstly, in Carrier’s article in the Journal of Early Christian Studies he argues that the phrase “who was called Messiah” is “exactly the kind of thing that a scholar or scribe would add as an interlinear note to remind himself and future readers that—so the scribe believed—the Jesus here mentioned is Jesus Christ, as we would do today with an informative footnote or marginal note.” (Carrier, “Origen, Eusebius, and the Accidental Interpolation in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.200”, Journal of Early Christian Studies, Volume 20, Number 4, Winter 2012 pp. 489-514, p. 495).  But is it “exactly the kind of thing” we’d find in such a note?  Carrier doesn’t bother to actually argue this, he just asserts it.  No alternatives are explored, no argument is made why other possible kinds of notes are somehow less likely – we’re simply told that this is the case.  No attempt is made to explain, for example, why this (supposedly) marginal note agrees grammatically with the (supposed) main text, with λεγομενου Χριστου in the genitive so it’s in the same case as Ιησους.  Surely that alone argues against the idea that this phrase is a marginal or interlinear note, but Carrier doesn’t bother to even address any alternative ideas – a characteristic of his writing.
Though he does address the structure of the phrase a little in his second argument as to why this element is not original to Josephus’ text, when he claims the idea it’s a later note to the text is supported by the fact that it’s a “a participial clause — remarkable brevity for something that would sooner otherwise spark a digression or cross-reference, had Josephus actually written those words.” (p. 495).  But, again, he doesn’t support this idea by showing other examples of known marginal glosses or interlinear notes, nor does he interrogate it by showing that other uses of the present participle λεγόμενος (“called”) in Josephus do spark “a digression or cross-reference”.  In fact, if we look at how Josephus uses that verb elsewhere we find that it usually looks exactly like what we find in the Antiquities XX passage, with a quick reference to someone or something being “called” something and no digression, cross reference or even explanation as to why it was “called” this at all.  For example:

 ” … he should find them between Jerusalem and the ascent of Engedi, at a place called ‘the Eminence’, and that he should not fight against them.”(Antiquities IX.11)

” … Pacorus left with Herod two hundred horsemen, and ten men, who were called ‘the Freemen’…”(Antiquities XIV.342)

“Jonathan and his colleagues …. raised a report of their own contrivance, that Roman horsemen were seen at a place called ‘Union’, in the borders of Galilee … “(Life 54)

In all of these examples we see Josephus using forms of the participle λεγόμενος to briefly note what people or places are “called” with no digressions or cross references at all.   And there is an even closer parallel found in the same book as the James reference:

“As soon as the king heard this news, he gave the high priesthood to Joseph, who was called Cabi, son of Simon, formerly high priest.”(Antiquities, XX.196)

So why didn’t Carrier look at these and other similar usages of this kind of phrase and make an actual argument why they are not marginal glosses and the XX.200 one is?  Assertion is not argument.
But Carrier’s article is very strong on unsupported assertions.  He goes on to claim:

 [W]e would certainly find here an explanation of why this Jesus was called “Christ,” what that word meant …. and why Josephus thought it important to mention either, since the passage as written leaves no stated reason why either Jesus or his moniker Christ is mentioned at all.” (p. 496)

But he doesn’t explain why we should “certainly” find this.  And, as the multiple examples above show, this is dead wrong anyway.  Josephus often referred to people and places and say they were “called” something without bothering to explain why or what the thing they were “called” meant.  The text we have in Antiquities XX.200 reads perfectly naturally without any such explanation – he says Jesus was the one “called Messiah” precisely because, a few lines later, he mentions a second Jesus, this one “son of Damneus” and he wants to differentiate between them.  Josephus does this consistently in passages where he mentions two different people with the same name, which is something (given the number of Jewish figures or Seleucid kings with common names in his narrative) he does often (more on this below).
Carrier’s third argument as to why the phrase “who was called Messiah” is not original notes that the same phrase is found in Matt 1.16.  He admits that the phrase was “not impossible for Josephus to construct on his own” (p. 497), but he assures his readers with his usual blithe confidence that it’s “far more probable” it came from a Christian hand.  Again, this is just asserted, with no exploration of examples of the use of the phrase του λεγομενου Χριστου in Christian writings apart from Matt 1.16 to support this claim of probability.  This is perhaps because there are very few. Origen refers to Jesus as being “called Christ” in Contra Celsum I.66 and IV.28, as does Justin Martyr in First Apology XXX.  Apart from these examples, Christian writers actually tended to assert Jesus was the Messiah rather than referring to him merely being “called” such in an abstract way, for obvious reasons.  So this construction is actually highly unusual for any Christian writer and so distinctly odd for Carrier’s hypothesised glosser.  But, yet again, Carrier doesn’t bother exploring any of this.

In this fourth argument Carrier says that the phrase could not be original to Josephus because the passage in Antiquities XX.200 says the Jews were outraged at the death of this James.  So, he argues, it’s “inexplicable” and “makes little sense” that this outrage would be on the behalf a member of a sect that was both “hated” and “illegal” and so this James can’t be any Christian and must be someone else.  There are multiple problems with this argument.  To begin with, we have very little idea how “hated” the Jesus sect was in the 60s AD or even how distinct a “sect” it was within the Judaism of the time.  Even Acts, written some decades later and with the polemical purpose of showing the Jesus sect to be persecuted by the Jewish authorities, depicts its members preaching openly, teaching in the Temple itself, taking part in Jewish rituals there and being defended by at least some of the Sanhedrin.  The idea that the sect was actually “illegal” is even more difficult to defend since while the author of Acts plays up the afflictions of the Christians at the hands of the Jewish authorities, not even he claims they were anything but occasionally censured.

But leaving these unsubstantiated claims about Christians being “hated” and their sect being “illegal” aside, we can still read the reported outrage as making sense if this James was indeed a Christian.  After all, Josephus says that the action against Ananus was taken by “the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws” because “they disliked what was done”.  So the text tells us that it was the “breach of the laws” that was the problem for these equitable citizens and even if the Jesus sect was “hated” or even “illegal”, it’s still perfectly reasonable that “equitable citizens” would object to them being treated in a way that was itself illegal.  Especially if some of these citizens also had a political beef with the High Priest and wanted a way to remove him.  So the text makes perfect sense as it stands.

Finally, Carrier claims the mention of the death of this James in Antiquities XX.200 “does not agree with any other account of the death of James the brother of Christ” (p. 497).  Here he is referring mainly to the only substantial account we have, that found in one of the fragments of Hegesippus.  But it’s hard to tell why we should expect a passing mention of an execution that has few details at all, as we find in Josephus, to have much “agreement” with a detailed account, as we find in Hegesippus – there’s simply not much in Josephus to overlay with Hegesippus.  Nor should we be surprised that Josephus’ terse and fairly neutral account might be different in many respects to Hegesippus’ florid Christian hagiography.  Nor would it be at all surprising that we would find some difference between the brief account by a citizen of Jerusalem who was 25 at the time and most likely in the city when the execution and its political aftermath occurred and that of a Christian chronicler who was born almost a century after the event was was writing up to half a century later again. 

Carrier concludes his five arguments for thinking that the “who was called the Messiah” is not original to Josephus’ text by noting they are “not a conclusive proof” and admitting “[o]ne can advance explanations on all counts. The issue then becomes which explanation is the most probable”.  And at this point the reader would expect him to examine that issue and look at the relative value of the alternative explanations, particularly if that reader is aware of some of the many problems with Carrier’s arguments noted above.  But Carrier goes on “I will not delve any further into that debate” (p. 498).  Really?  How convenient.  Perhaps he was aware that such “delving” into alternative readings would expose his arguments’ many flaws.  Once again, Carrier is better at shifty polemics than thorough and exacting scholarly analysis.  He has a point to get to and he doesn’t want pesky things like alternative interpretations to distract from his pushing on to reach it.

So what about the supposed removal of an original phrase?

As we’ve seen, all five of Carrier’s arguments for the phrase “who was called Messiah” as an interpolation have serious flaws and, despite his considerable efforts to make it appear otherwise, his overall case is weak. But it gets worse.  Because he not only has to argue that this phrase was a later addition by a Christian scribe (via a hypothetical marginal note), he also has to come up with a way an original phrase that identified this Jesus as “son of Damneus” got removed and the supposed marginal note – “called the Messiah” – got put in its place.  The way he does this is contrived in the extreme:

“In fact, the text may have originally said, “the brother of Jesus ben Damneus, the name for whom was James, and some others.” Since “Jesus ben Damneus” appears again a few lines later (and as I have argued, it is more likely that Josephus actually meant this Jesus), a scribe who saw a marginal note “who was called Christ” (τοῦ λεγομένου Χριστοῦ) scribbled above “ben Damneus” (τὸν τοῦ Δαμναίου), regardless of how or why it came to be written there, may have inferred a dittography. This is a common scribal error where a copyist’s eye slips to a similar line a few lines down (by mistaking which “Jesus” he had left off at), then realizes he had picked up at the wrong place, but corrected himself and then wrote a superlinear phrase intended to replace the erroneous material. A later copyist would then interpret the earlier copyist’s correction as calling for the erasure of “ben Damneus” as a dittograph, omit the words, and replace it with the gloss, “who was called Christ.” ” (p. 512)

Got all that?  So Carrier’s thesis involves using his flawed five arguments against the authenticity of the “who was called Messiah” phrase, then the supposition that this was a marginal note and then this further supposition where another scribe erases the original “son of Damneus” and replaces it with “who was called Messiah”. And he then pours scorn on me for not finding this tangle of contrived hypotheticals more than an ad hoc “just so story” confected to explain this passage away!

And note the word “may” in the first sentence of his thicket of suppositions above.  This whole idea of not just the scribal insertion of a marginal note, but the removal of an earlier identifier of this Jesus as “son of Damneus” is hurried into a dense paragraph on the second last page of Carrier’s 25 page article, and it’s qualified by a word that suggests this may or may not have happened.  Yet in his scornful blog post he is nowhere near this circumspect.  After a brief summary of his convoluted suppositions-piled-on-suppositions reconstruction of scribal additions and removals above he says:

“Thus, in no way does my ‘contrived ad hoc work around’ require proposing Josephus left that out. “

But this is undercut by that word “may” in his article, where he is forced to admit that this reconstruction is only a possibility and it may not have happened at all.  It seems Richard Carrier the writer of peer reviewed articles is much more careful about such things than the blogger Richard Carrier, who only has to perform for the peanut gallery of his deeply uncritical and gormless blog fans. I suppose it was a safe bet on his part that none of them would bother to go to read his article and see that the key point in the argument he claims I “lied” about was actually just a jumbled “maybe” crammed into one of the final paragraphs.

How Josephus uses identifying appellations

If Carrier’s mere “maybe” isn’t what happened, then his whole argument is – as I say in my comment on Ehrman’s blog – in contradiction to the way Josephus identifies people via adding appellations to their name.  Nowhere in any of his works that I can find does Josephus refer to someone by their name alone when introducing them to his narrative for the first time (e.g. “James”) and then refer to them by their name and an appellation a few sentences later (e.g. “James, son of Damneus”).  For the very obvious reason that this would be highly confusing.

So it seems that Carrier’s tangled alternative – the contrived one involving suppositions piled on suppositions and multiple imaginary scribes, which dangles by the slender thread of that little word “may” and is rushed into a contorted paragraph at the very end of his article – is critical to keeping his whole argument from collapsing.

Except this requires Josephus to do something else he seems to never do: use an appellation when introducing someone to the narrative and then use it again when mentioning them a few sentences later.  Here are some examples of Josephus introducing a person to his account and using patronymic appellations to identify them:

“And now King Agrippa took the [high] priesthood away from Simon Cantheras, and put Jonathan, the son of Ananus, into it again and owned that he was more worthy of the dignity than the other.” (Antiquities, XIX.313)

Then five sentences later he refers to this Jonathan again (XIX.316).  Does he call him “Jonathan, the son of Ananus” this second time?  No, he simply calls him “Jonathan”.  Here is a second example; one which was referred to on another point above:

“As soon as the king heard this news, he gave the high priesthood to Joseph, who was called Cabi, the son of Simon, formerly high priest.” (Antiquities, XX.196)

A sentence later he refers to this Joseph again, but not as “Joseph, who was called Cabi” or as “Joseph, the son of Simon”.  He simply calls him “Joseph”.  We see the same pattern where Josephus refers to two people.  First he names them and identifies them with patronymics:

“There was one Judas, the son of Saripheus, and Matthias, the son of Margalothus, two of the most eloquent men among the Jews, and the most celebrated interpreters of the Jewish laws, and men well beloved by the people, because of their education of their youth; for all those that were studious of virtue frequented their lectures every day.” (Antiquities, XVII.149)

Then a few lines later he refers to them again.  Again, he doesn’t call them “the son of Saripheus” or “the son of Margalothus”.  He simply calls them “Judas and Matthias” (XVII.151) and refers to them again this way at XVII.157.  Yet another example:

“The like accident befell Glaphyra his wife, who was the daughter of king Archelaus, who, as I said before, was married, while she was a virgin, to Alexander, the son of Herod, and brother of Archelaus.” (Antiquities, XVII.349)

Again, in the following lines Alexander is simply called “Alexander” (XVII.350) and the appellation “the son of Herod” is not repeated.

There are many more examples, but it should be clear this pattern seems consistent.  Given this consistency, there is a critical problem with the idea that Josephus called this James “the son of Damneus” at XX.200 and this was removed later due to some confusion over him repeating that identifier some lines later at XX.203.  This doesn’t seem to fit with the way Josephus identifies and refers to figures in his narrative.  So are there any circumstances in which he does repeat an identifier that he has used a little earlier in the same passage?

As it turns out, there are. Though unfortunately for Carrier they don’t support his argument – quite the opposite.  

Like the various high priests, the Hasmonean rulers in Josephus’ history tend to share a number of personal names in common, so – again – he uses patronyms to differentiate between them.  For example in Book XIV of Antiquities he refers to “Alexander, the son of Aristobulus” many times and once again we see the pattern noted above: he uses the patronymic appellation the first time this Alexander is mentioned and then in the immediately subsequent narrative refers to him simply as “Alexander”, given that he’s already identified who he means:

Some time after this, when Alexander, the son of Aristobulus, made an incursion into Judea, Gabinius came from Rome into Syria, as commander of the Roman forces. He did many considerable actions; and particularly made war with Alexander, since Hyrcanus was not yet able to oppose his power, but was already attempting to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, which Pompey had overthrown, although the Romans which were there restrained him from that his design.” (Antiquities, XIV.82-83)

He goes on to refer to him simply as “Alexander” a further five times in the subsequent account: once more at XIV.83 and then XIV.84, XIV.85, XIV.89 and XIV.90.  He then moves on to a different anecdote about Aristobulus, so when he returns to Alexander he again calls him “Alexander, son  of Aristobulus” (XIV.100) and then refers to him again simply as “Alexander” the next time he is mentioned in the new anecdote (XIV.102).  We see the same thing further on in Book XIV – he moves onto other topics to do with Crassus and the Temple treasure before turning back to mention Alexander’s death, whereupon he is referred to as “Alexander, the son of Aristobulus” once more (XIV.125).

The next section of his narrative concerns the activities of Julius Caesar in the east and two more Alexanders are mentioned, so Josephus is careful to differentiate them from Alexander son of Aristobulus by referring to them as “Alexander, son of Jason” and “Alexander, the son of Dositheus” (XIV.146).  The daughter of “Alexander, the son of Aristobulus” is mentioned at XIV.300, so Josephus is careful to call him that, especially since a further Alexander is mentioned at XIV.307, who in turn is designated “Alexander, the son of Theodorus”.

So here we see a wider pattern where Josephus uses an identifying appellation when a figure with a common name is (i) introduced to an anecdote he is relating, (ii) is re-introduced at a later point after other narrative anecdotes have been related and (iii) when there are others with the same name being referred to in the same part of the narrative or soon after it.

If we take this and look once again at XX.200-203 we can see that a “Jesus” is mentioned at XX.200.  According to Carrier’s “maybe”, this is “Jesus, son of Damneus” and so the original text would have designated him as such here, with this being removed and then replaced by the alleged marginal note “who was called Messiah” by Carrier’s complex series of hypothetical scribal emendations.  But then we get a “Jesus, the son of Damneus” mentioned at XX.203.  Which for Carrier’s “maybe” to work means Josephus called him this twice within a couple of sentences.  But as we’ve seen, this was not Josephus’ practice.  He does not repeat this kind of appellation unless he moves on to a new anecdote in this narrative or there is another figure with the same name in the narrative and he needs to differentiate between them.

This means he would have referred to “Jesus, the son of Damneus” at XX.200, but just used “Jesus” the next time this person is mentioned at XX.203.  And that means there would be no second “the son of Damneus” to imply a dittograph to the second of Carrier’s hypothetical scribes. So his whole contrivance collapses.

If Josephus wanted to emphasise that the “Jesus” of XX.200 was the same one at XX.203 he would have used methods we see him use elsewhere.  For example:

“At length Zamaris the Babylonian, to whom Herod had given that country for a possession, died, having lived virtuously, and left children of a good character behind him; one of whom was Jacim, who was famous for his valor, and taught his Babylonians how to ride their horses; and a troop of them were guards to the forementioned kings.” (Antiquities, XVII.29)

Or again:

“Now he and his posterity, who were in all fifteen, until king Antiochus Eupator, were under a democratical government for four hundred and fourteen years; and then the forementioned Antiochus, and Lysias the general of his army, deprived Onias, who was also called Menelaus, of the high priesthood, and slew him at Berea.” (Antiquities, XX.234-35)

But he doesn’t do this in XX.200-203.  The most likely conclusion then is to read the text as we have it (especially since Carrier’s five arguments for “called Messiah” as an interpolation are so weak) and see the reference to “Jesus, who was called Messiah” at 200 and “Jesus, the son of Damneus” to be what Josephus does consistently when referring to different figures with the same name – identifying appellations that differentiate between two different people with the same name.  In other words, we should read the passage as virtually every Josephan scholar on the planet does, because it makes the most sense that way.  Occam’s razor slices Carrier’s contrived nonsense to ribbons.

GakuseiDon calls Carrier’s Bluff

But here is where Carrier’s post careens completely off the rails.  The final criticism I made of his article in my comment on Ehrman’s blog was this:

Finally there’s his blithe dismissal of the three verbatim quotes of the key “Jesus who was called Messiah” phrase by Origen on the grounds that Origen was somehow confusing Josephus with Hegesippus. Carrier claims this by saying what Origen claims Josephus “says” about the death of James can’t actually be found in Josephus. But Origen was an exegete, not a historian, and often claims his sources “say” things that aren’t there: he reads his exegesis into his material. Reading the passages in Josephus following Ant. XX.9.1 in this light shows how Origen definitely could have read the trope of “the fall of Jerusalem as punishment for the execution of James” into the text, as detailed by Waturu Mizagaki, “Origen and Josephus” in Josephus, Judaism and Christianity (L.H. Feldman, G. Hata eds, Wayne State University Press, 1987) pp. 325-337). Oddly for a peer reviewed article, neither this key piece of research on Origen’s use of Josephus nor Feldman and Hata’s highly relevant collection of articles is anywhere to be found in Carrier’s footnotes.”

As we’ve seen, Carrier has a habit of not exploring or even completely ignoring alternatives to the theory he’s peddling.  That’s not unusual for a polemicist blogger with an ideological  axe to grind, especially one who is used to writing for a fawning and generally clueless audience that adds new dimensions to the word “uncritical”.  For someone with pretensions to the title of “scholar”, however, it’s extremely sloppy.  The idea that Origen was reading his Christian exegesis into Josephus and so seeing things in the text that aren’t actually there is a powerful alternative to the far more contrived explanation Carrier presents, yet he doesn’t bother to even acknowledge it.  So how did Carrier deal with this criticism?  Bizarrely:

No such argument is in Waturu Mizagaki, ‘Origen and Josephus’ in Josephus, Judaism and Christianity.
Literally. Mizagaki never argues for such a thing. At all. Much less in any “detailed” way.”

Pause there for a moment, gentle reader, and ponder this.  I note an alternative argument to the one Carrier presents, criticise him for not accounting for it and, in doing so cite a specific paper in a specific collection, right down to the page references.  And Carrier responds that the argument I refer to so specifically is … simply not there.  Even more weirdly, he then calls my citation of Mizagaki a “libel” (I’ve yet to hear from Mizagaki’s lawyers).  Even someone who has not read Mizagaki’s article would find themselves wondering why, if I was simply making this up, would I cite the article in such detail and leave myself wide open for anyone to check the article in question and see that there is “no such argument”?

And at least one reader did wonder just this.  “GakuseiDon“, a very fair and well-read commentator on a range of historical Jesus issues around the Web, picked up on this in a post on Peter Kirby’s Biblical Criticism and History board

“Now, because from experience I don’t trust Carrier’s use of his references, I looked up the reference to Mizagaki in Josephus, Judaism and Christianity. As Carrier notes, we find on p. 336 Mizagaki discussing the execution of James in Josephus with the following (my bolding below):

Origen does use Josephus’ historical explanation of the fall of Jerusalem but expands it. Origen tries to find the real cause of the fall in Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. Here Josephus’ historical account is theologically interpreted. At this point, Origen’s approach is by no means historical. He evaluates and employs Josephus’ historical material within certain limitations. But even in this case Origen uses Josephus’ historical material only for his theological purpose. To him, the fall of Jerusalem is an incident important within the framework of God’s redemptive plan, which has to be related to Jesus’ crucifixion. As we have seen, this applies also to Fragmenta in Lamentationes. Josephus’ historical account, which has an apologetic trait, is incorporated by Origen in his history of theology, which has the identical trait. Such an attempt of Origen anticipates the “theology of history” that is vastly constructed by Augustine in De civitate Dei.’

It seems to me that Mizagaki does indeed detail how Origen could have read the trope of the fall of Jerusalem as punishment for the execution of James into the text, exactly as O’Neill states. Carrier is right in that Mizagaki doesn’t explicitly write that “this is the correct explanation”, but it certainly reads that way. However Carrier is wrong to describe this as Mizagaki “simply describes what Origen says”. There is more to it than that. Mizagaki points out that Origen is theologically interpreting Josephus’ historical account, and thus shows how Origen sees Josephus providing the ‘evidence’ that the death of James led to the fall of Jerusalem.”

GakuseiDon is absolutely right.  He asked the other posters on that board if he was somehow misreading Mizagaki and, despite it having a heavy population of Mythicists who usually rush to defend Carrier, he was met with … silence.  Anyone can see from the quote GakuseiDon gives that Mizagaki does not simply describe “what Origen says”, but makes a clear argument that Origen’s reading was “by no means historical” and that he read his belief in “God’s redemptive plan” into the passages from Josephus to which he refers.  And the quote from page 336 is not some passing observation – it represents the final eight sentences of his article.  In other words, it’s the conclusion to what he has been arguing, drawing on other examples of where Origen claims Josephus “says” something that Josephus does not “say” at all.

So what on earth do we make of Carrier’s bizarre claims that Mizagaki does’t “argue [this] in any ‘detailed’ way”, when anyone who bothers to read the article can see that is precisely what he does do?  What do we make of his equally weird claim that Mizagaki does not make a case for this idea being correct when his clear statement to that effect forms the final paragraph of his article?  What do we make of Carrier’s claim that my noting what Mizagaki says in an article anyone can look up is somehow “libel”?

GakuseiDon is a nice guy, so his mild observation is “Dr Carrier seems to have misread O’Neill, Mizagaki, or both.”  That’s a very charitable interpretation.  A more plausible one is that Carrier was hoping that if he blustered and strutted and posted cocky little bursts of bombast enough he could bluff his way out of the fact that he’d done exactly what I’d said – not bothered to take account of a clear and much more parsimonious alternative to his thesis.  Or at least he was hoping that his peanut gallery of acolytes would accept his bluster as true and not bother a check things properly.  A pretty safe bet, as it happens.  

Of course, there is a word for that kind of falsehood.

But not content with this, Carrier pushes on to more cocky bluster:

“What’s weird is that the very next chapter in that same book, after Mizagaki’s completely irrelevant chapter that contains no such argument as O’Neil (sic) claims, is specifically on the martyrdom of James, by Zvi Baras. He discusses the passage in question on pp. 341-46. Five whole pages! Know what he says? That Origen’s claim that Josephus credited the fall of Jerusalem to the murder of this James is “a statement not supported by the text reproduced above or by any other extant version.” Done.”

Done?  Well, no actually.  So he wades in deeper:

“Baras goes on to agree with me that Origen can only be confused. Josephus never said any such thing. Baras also mentions the theory that Origen confused Josephus and Hegesippus (the very theory I defend), and offers only one argument against it (that Origen would never make such a mistake).”

Given Carrier’s blatant misrepresentation of Mizagaki above, our friend GakuseiDon smelled a rat here as well, so in a second post he went and checked Zvi Baras’ article.  And lo and behold, what did he find?:

“So I go back to Josephus, Judaism and Christianity, and I find Baras’ statement here (my bolding below):

In the hands of Origen and Eusebius, this incident, defined as “the martyrdom of James,” became, through Christian historiosophical interpretation, the main cause for the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Temple. Moreover, they went so far as to say that Josephus regarded this catastrophe as just punishment for the execution of James–a statement not supported by the text reproduced above or by any other extant version. But Origen did not stop there; he not only attributed to Josephus a statement unknown to us from any other source or version but also “corrected” Josephus’ alleged statement in a way favorable to the Christian historiosophical point of view.

The text that is reproduced above by Baras is the passage in Josephus concerning the trial and death of James. That the text in question does not support that the destruction of Jerusalem was in consequence of the execution of James is not controversial. So what is Carrier’s “Done” comment in relation to? I have no idea how that helps him. I suspect that he thinks that Baras means there is nothing in Josephus at all to support Origen’s reading, but that is wrong, since Baras later claims to find where Origen gets this idea from Josephus (see below).”

Once again, GakuseiDon is correct.  Baras is simply noting what everyone agrees: that what Origen claims Josephus “said” is not in Josephus.  But his next statement, ignored by Carrier, is that what Origen is doing is “correcting” what Josephus should have said to conform with Christian “historiosophy”.  In other words, he is saying exactly what Mizagaki argues in his article: that Origen is reading exegesis into Josephus and seeing things that are not there.

GakuseiDon continues by quoting Carrier’s next bit of bluster, where he claims “Baras makes no argument. He just states an assertion. And peer reviewers do not require us to cite undefended assertions.”  But GakuseiDon notes that this too is nonsense:

“But Baras does make an argument. He argues contra Carrier that it is unlikely that Origen would mistake Josephus for Hegesippus. And he does believe that Origen derived his view from Josephus. Baras writes on page 344:

In fact, I believe that we can now point to a specific place, or incident, in Josephus’ own writings–unnoticed so far by scholars in this context–which led Origen to say that Josephus should have corrected his historical interpretation.

For those interested, the full text of Baras’ article on Origen and the death of James can be found on Google books …. You can decide for yourself how accurate Carrier is in his references to Mizagaki and Baras. Personally I have found him wrong or inaccurate too many times, so user beware!”

User beware indeed.  As for Carrier’s weak defence that “peer reviewers do not require us to cite undefended assertions”, proper scholarship does require you to be able to follow a footnote.  On p. 343 Baras dismisses the idea that Origen confused Hegesippus with Josephus and then says:

“I have already pointed out elsewhere that it seems more likely that the sequential events (hoc post hoc) in Hegesippus – namely, James’ martyrdom and the siege – became for Origen causal events (hoc propter hoc).”

Footnote 33 then directs readers, or ones more careful than Carrier at least, to Baras’ appendix in Society and Religion in the Second Temple Period, ed. Michael Avi-Yonah and Zvi Baras, 1977 where he does indeed make this argument (pp. 308-313).  Can’t the great Dr Richard Carrier, PhD (who has, if you weren’t aware gentle reader, a doctorate) follow a simple footnote?  

So as GakuseiDon says, “user beware”.  Carrier is good at bluster and cocky bluffing but when you check his claims against the material under discussion you often find he …. well, he lies.

Polyamorous Ukulele Guy

It seems that Carrier thinks he can get away with this stuff because, like most deluded narcissists, he genuinely believes his own bullshit.  Only someone who did so could end an academic article for a peer reviewed journal with this level of bombastic fatuousness:

“The significance of this finding is manifold, but principally it removes this passage from the body of reliable evidence for the fate of Jesus’ family, the treatment of Christians in the first century, or Josephus’s attitude toward or knowledge of Christians. Likewise, future commentaries on the relevant texts of Origen and Josephus must take this finding into account, as must any treatments of the evidence for the historical Jesus. Most pressingly, all reference works that treat “James the brother of Jesus” must be emended to reflect this finding, particularly as this passage is the only evidence by which a date for this James’ death has been derived.” (Carrier, “Origen, Eusebius, and the Accidental Interpolation in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.200”, p. 514)

When that pyrotechnic display of immature pomposity was brought to Bart Ehrman’s attention at the time he commented wryly, “No timidity there!”  But when I mocked it in my comment on Ehrman’s blog Carrier of course sprang nimbly to his own defence:

“This is quite funny. Because it proves O’Neil (sic) is an amateur. Many journals require us to write these statements. And indeed this was one such case: the article I submitted had no such section. The peer reviewers insisted that I write it. To oblige them, I did.”

Actually, this poor amateur is quite aware that articles often end with a summation of the potential significance of the argument’s conclusion and that a reviewer or editor would suggest one if needed.  But the idea that it’s normal for such a conclusion to declare that all future comment on the relevant texts need to take this obscure paper by a nobody into account and all reference works need to amended to “reflect this finding” is simply hilarious.  Most actual scholars, at the very least, pretend to some kind of modesty and humility.  Luckily for us he stopped short of ordering that heralds with trumpets of silver declare his genius from every street corner while he rides through all the land in a gilded chariot wearing a laurel crown and all other scholars bow low as he passes.  Perhaps that part was removed by the editor.

This is, remember, a guy who wasted the critical years after his graduation indulging in his hobbies (supported by his long-suffering wife) and so failed to secure any significant academic appointment.  A guy whose H-index rating is in the toilet.  And a guy who wrote that ringing endorsement of his own paper above four years ago and has since seen it cited by … ummm, well, no-one.  As Carrier would say, “Ooops!”

But if anyone thinks I have been uncharitable to Carrier in this post, I can assure you that I am quite the opposite.  Literally.  You see, as I mentioned above, Carrier has separated from his wife Jenn after cheating on her and so cut himself off from his former gravy train.  So it seems his main sources of income are speaking fees at various atheist and skeptics gatherings and sponsorship via the Patreon crowd-funding site.  And it appears things aren’t going so well for him.

His Patreon page tells us that he has luckily “escaped the interdepartmental politics and tanking fortunes of the formal academy to write independently and pursue his interests as an educator, activist, historian, and philosopher”, which is a dizzying spin on “I’ve failed to get an actual academic job”.  He also formerly listed his annual income there, which was shockingly low.  So being a kindly and noble sort of humanist, I have become a patron of Dr Richard Carrier, PhD (who has a doctorate).  It would be cruel to see the poor little chap waste away.

And it appears I’ve done so in the very nick of time!  Carrier, who has in recent years hitched himself to the bandwagon of “Atheism +” – a social justice advocacy sub-movement aimed at “countering misogyny, racism, homo/bi/transphobia, ableism and other such bigotry inside and outside of the atheist community” – has been an outspoken critic of sexism and sexual harassment in atheist circles.  He led the torches-and-pitchforks brigade against skeptic Michael Shermer when the latter was accused of sexual harassment and sexual assault at various skeptics events, writing another of his inventively titled posts, “Michael Shermer: Rapist or Sleaze? (Unless Box Checked for Other)“.  In it he maintains a zero tolerance approach to those who are accused of such behaviour in the name if the principles of “Atheism +”.

So many have noted the profound irony that it is now Carrier himself who has been accused of being a serial sexual harasser.  As a result, he’s been banned as speaker from the Skepticon convention and has had his blog at FreethoughtBlogs suspended.

Thus it’s the least I can do, given my highly successful career, extremely good income and more than comfortable lifestyle, to help out a man in need.  Apparently he is going to fight the harassment allegations in court and is no doubt assembling the best crack team of razor-sharp legal minds that a guy who barely clears $25k a year can afford.  And perhaps if he has some money left over from that he can buy himself a ukulele and go to a party to hang out with younger women.  He could probably do with some relaxation about now, poor little fellow.

81 thoughts on “Richard Carrier is Displeased

  1. I think the Book 20 passage is fully original. That said, I think the "Josephan comma" or "Flavian testimony" in Book 18 has multiple possible answers, with two main forks, of course. There was either some editing, and scholars are wrestling with what that was, or the whole thing is an addition. (My take is that there is a core original, with editing.)

    That said, I've busted his chops myself for his lack of knowledge of both Hebrew and Aramaic in discussing Tanakh passages, Targums, etc., whenever he does related to his mythicism stances. And, busted some of his groupies, too … forcing some, online, to eventuallyadmit this, tho most won't even do that.


    As for his "ukelele," couldn't happen to a nicer guy. Bayesian probabilities of this were???


  2. That the Bk XX reference is original and the Bk XVIII one is partially original are both the consensus opinions of current scholarship. Yet mention Josephus in relation to the historicity of Jesus in New Atheist circles and you are immediately informed that both are wholesale Christian interpolations. This has became a matter of unquestioned holy dogma to the ideologically driven Jesus Mythers.

    And his ukulele problem? Well, let's just say several people have been hospitalised after overdosing on schadenfreude or required heavy sedation to keep them from laughing their heads off. I don't believe in karma, though sometimes it's tempting to do so.


  3. I see that, as a victim of Carrier's devastating critiques myself (, I'm in good company. If you despair at Carrier's rants about history, then you can imagine his shattering impact in my fields of mathematics and physics. I've summarised everything wrong with Carrier's "Bayesian" efforts here:

    Do we need an acronym? I propose: Allied Survivors of Savage Carrierian Rancour And Nuanced KnockoutS (ASSCRANKS).


  4. Marvellously sardonic and sarcastic comments directed in Carrier's direction – return fire on Atheism+'s "intellectual artillery". And the shots on the mythicist position is intriguing too, although I have to admit to "not having the spoons" to really do justice to them – happy to accept the apparent consensus opinion that there's some justification for a historical though, of course, not a divine Jesus.

    But, somewhat parenthetically, I might mention – even if only to give further substance to any predilections for schadenfreude, and as you may not be aware of it – that Atheism+ is no more – position apparently overrun by the running dogs of skepticism, notwithstanding the efforts of the intellectual artillery to defend it. But, for example, this link to an Atheism+ topic gives a "General Error" message. Pity though as the site provided prima facie evidence of the rather odious dogma that was part and parcel of that "movement", case in point being this archived link on the Atheism+ "Glossary" – more like a catechism than not – which had the helpful claim that, for example, blacks couldn't possibly be guilty of racism because "-isms = prejudice + power". And, of course, because minorities supposedly have no power, individuals within them are morally and constitutionally and genetically incapble of exhibiting any discrimination against those who supposedly do. Atheism+ – RIP.


  5. I see once again that a great intellectual of our times is mocks by his so called peers. It is sad times indeed for our planet that great men must suffer so. I will have you know the Dr Richard Carrier has shown with evidence that Mel Brooks or Jesus Christ didn't exist, well some jewish bloke anyway. After which he went on to reform the obviously sexist and racist atheist 'community the error of their ways by introducing the much needed feminism and Social Justice Warrioring (also know as Cultural Marxism ideology) in the much too skeptical atheist movement. By supporting the atheist+ part of atheism it grew so much that nobody needs to post on the atheist+ forum anymore. There will always be doubters like you because of your self loathing nature which stop you recognising the intellectual artillery the masters munificence great wisdom brings to the table.

    Too focus on his Polyamorous dalliances to make it seem like the awesome Carrier cheated on his wife is beneath you sir, ad hominems just reflect on how weak your arguments are against the godless god of academia discourse. You sir are talking about the man who rewrote physics for the clueless particle mechanic fools. Have you no humanity sir. With cynics like you I weep for this world.



  6. Oh, okay. It is just that it seems to me that there are many worthier causes to go around, so if it is a lot, seems like expensive way to prove a point.


  7. Tim, what do you think of the whole SJW shtick? I, personally find most of that odious. To me, it is stereotypical craziness that conservatives have always suspected liberals believed (and util recently that suspicion was wrong). Worst part to me is the way they try to define away anything inconvenient to their ideology. Like, minorities cannot be racist because they supposedly don't have any power. Certainly, one can easily argue that minority racism is less damaging to society than majority racism because you can't do as much damage w/o power. But that is not the same as saying that damage is zero (google Rotherham), or that it should be defined away.

    Or the way they demand maximum charity out of everyone else, but if you demand charity for yourself, that's tone policing.

    I am left leaning, but it seems to me that some parts of the left have adopted what is essentially Fox News strategy. They offer virtue as an identity to those who otherwise lack any. I also blame the useless clickbait journalism.


  8. Nah, it is okay. I was just baffled at what was recently going on as an old lefty so am wondering if I was the only one. But I get that history blog is a wrong place.


  9. It has long been known to me that Dr. Carrier's references can't be taken at face value. Often they don't say at all what he claims they say. Here's an example that I found particularly crass. To prove his point that the atheist community has a racist problem, our independent scholar claimed that the website Chimpout (now defunct) was an atheist website. This is not so easy to verify anymore, since the site was already gone last time I checked. But while I did this, Google's cache still had enough fragments available, which showed how Neil deGrasse Tyson, next to receiving racial abuse, was mocked there for being an atheist. It was abundantly clear that this unsavory website was in fact a white supremacist site that had nothing to do with atheism. Dr. Carrier PhD is totally, and I mean totally, dishonest and untrustworthy. I am not surprised to see that he is no better in his 'scholarly' work.

    He also has a major problem with acknowledging those who correct him. Some time ago, while reviewing his book Sense and Goodness without God, I noticed how he claimed that animals don't have a cerebral cortex. He believed this organ was unique to humans. I pointed out that he was wrong.

    Four months later, Carrier suddenly felt the need to publish a list of corrections to his ten year old book, a book which he modestly characterized as "a really good and solid worldview survey. Nothing like it exists (by me or anyone). It’s still the place to start if you want to examine and build a complete worldview."

    I will agree that nothing like it exists….

    Anyway, he also made the following correction:

    "But the only significant overt factual error I have identified is in section III.6.1 (p. 136). There I state that animals lack a cerebral cortex. That’s incorrect. All mammals have one."

    Are we really to believe that he identified this error himself, ten years after the fact? My Bayesian analysis tells me that the coincidence is too great to make this plausible, especially since I explictly wrote: "Of course, all mammals have a cerebral cortex. (…) Chimps have one."

    Or could this have been an interpolation by a scribe, who slightly changed and transferred Carrier's words into my review? It's impossible to tell, really.

    Jan Steen

    Link to my review:
    Link for more details on the Chimpout story:


  10. Such cringe-worthy narcissism…So a Guy with no academic background with SuperCrap blogspot site is criticizing a prolific doctorate author who published a peer reviewed work lol. btw if you want waste all your time in defending the Christian cult 24/7 then do yourself a favor, become a employer of some Christian apologetic agency and stop calling yourself an 'Atheist'.


    1. Well Mr. Unknown, would you also say that kind of thing to a run-of-the mill atheist “criticizing a prolific doctorate author who published a peer reviewed work” on creationism by Jonathan Wells or Michael Behe? When Carrier is wrong, he’s wrong, even if he cannot admit it. Perhaps you can point to something specific Tim said that is incorrect. I know from personal experience he will admit it.

      I’m curious, aside from the most frequent argument that there is some kind of conspiracy, how do you explain the fact that Dr. Carrier cannot get a job with any college or university and he has to beg people to “sponsor” him before allowing them to post on his Facebook page? Ehrman does require you subscribe before posting on his blog, but that all goes to charity and not his own pocket.


  11. I have just realized that Carrier has pledged to publish comments of his Patreon subscribers on his website. So now you can put your refutations there if you so wish and he'll have to replay.


  12. Well, it only took a day and we have a winner! Congratulations on being the first member of the Carrier Peanut Gallery to grace this post. And anonymous, of course. Let's see – does our anonymouse say I have no academic qualifications when, like Carrier, I have a post-graduate degree? Check. Do they aggrandise the unemployed blogger by claiming he is some kind of significant figure? Check. Is peer review of a couple of pieces in Carrier's paltry output of work invoked as a magic talisman of wonderfulness? Check. And am I accused of being a Christian apologist and not a "real atheist" despite having a posting record as an atheist going back to 1992? Yep – check. Looks like the usual feeble rant then.

    But I hope that made you feel better, little anonymouse. Scuttle off now, there's a good little thing.


  13. "Cringe-worthy narcissism." That's actually a pretty good characterization of much of Dr. Carrier's output. Remember, this is the guy who called his own work "a deliberate tour the force", who pledged to lend his "intellectual artillery" in support of the Atheism Plus movement, and who claimed that his arguments ended all rational debate.

    The man is his own greatest fan, no question. Even you don't come near. And now he is being destroyed by the monster he helped create. The very people he cheered on when they carried out their witch-hunts in the atheist community have plunched their knives in his back — to his huge surprise, apparently. Everybody else could see this coming when he started bragging about his numerous 'girlfriends' and the many college students he 'dated'. His narcissism is cringe-worthy enough, but is nothing compared to his creepiness and hypocrisy. There is poetic justice in his Frankensteinian fate.

    Jan Steen


  14. Tim, I'm not a Mythicist. However, I thought I remember reading somewhere that there were other scholars who doubted the authenticity of the Antiquities XX.200 passage. But I can't find that reference, now. False memory, or have there been some?


  15. >Congratulations on being the first member of the Carrier Peanut Gallery to grace this post . And anonymous, of course. Let's see . little anonymouse. Scuttle off now.

    Are you a 10 year old or what? How Delusional you have to be to talk like that..there's no imaginary Carrier Army to waste time on your spurious articles, and I have to post as anon because your second temple era Blog doesn't even have Disqus comments and post graduate degree like Carrier? he has a doctoral degree dullard also did you graduate in NT studies or even published some work i only seen you foolishly defending Christianity in under the garb of Atheism.


  16. The anonymouse squeaks again …

    "Are you a 10 year old or what?"

    Well, let's just say I'm old enough to know how to break up blocks of run on text with punctuation. This seems to be a grown-up skill that you've still to master.

    ".there's no imaginary Carrier Army to waste time on your spurious articles"

    Yet inarticulate Carrier fans still seem to turn up, right on cue, whenever the little chap gets criticised. Your devoted faith in this guy is touching, if creepy.

    " I have to post as anon because your second temple era Blog doesn't even have Disqus comments"

    Though, oddly, others using my cuneiform-powered blog seem to manage to post under their names. I wonder why they manage this when you can't?

    "and post graduate degree like Carrier? he has a doctoral degree"

    So you Carrier acolytes keep telling us. You wave this around like it's some kind of magical talisman that somehow keeps this tiny little man from being wrong. Or something. Unfortunately for you, all the scholars who think Carrier is full of shit (which is pretty much all of them) also have doctorates. But they also have things he doesn't have, like an impressive H-index, an extensive publishing record, the respect and esteem of their peers and an actual academic job. So I'm afraid you lose that "my expert is smarter than your expert" contest about a thousand times over.

    "did you graduate in NT studies"

    I'm sure you'll be delighted to learn that I have exactly the same qualifications in NT studies as Richard Carrier.

    " i only seen you foolishly defending Christianity in under the garb of Atheism."

    And yet just minutes ago I had a rabid Christian telling me that he's only ever seen me bashing Christianity like a typical ignorant atheist. I guess if I have the clueless fanatics at both ends of the spectrum telling me how wrong I am I must be doing something right.

    Now, I've indulged you enough little anonymouse. Unless your next squeak actually includes some discussion of the substance of my article above, I don't think I'll bother letting you out of moderation again.


    1. It’s not just a Carrier Army, but a mythicist army. It seems the new kid on the block is Mike Lawrence who has no degree of any kind in history and self-published a book _Contra Ehrman_. Just try and point out any of his errors and you get the same kind of reaction.


  17. There have been a few, but that's hardly surprising. In most humanities subjects there are well-ploughed fields where, if an idea is at least possible, someone has written a paper arguing for it. And NT studies is a field that has been ploughed by thousands of scholars for over 200 years.

    But very few have argued for the interpolation of all or even part of his passage and fewer still have done so recently. The consensus that it is genuine is not total, but it is overwhelming. The other recent argument that Ant. XX.200-203 is not authentic is found in T. Rajak, Josephus:The Historian and his Society (Philadelphia, 1983) p. 131, n.73. Rajak says the passage gives a verdict on Ananus that is at variance with one given in the Jewish War and so says she believes that the case "for the whole account of James being a Christian interpolation is strong". She notes that Origen's recollection of the subject is different to what we find in the text, but also says the passage "seems to suppose in the reader some knowledge of the man 'who was called the Christ'". She says that she doesn't think the testimonium flavianum is genuine and so thinks this combination of factors means the whole passage is fake.

    There are several problems with these arguments. Firstly, as Louis Feldman notes in his response to Rajak ("A Selective Critical Bibliography of Josephus" in Feldman and Hata (eds), Josephus the Bible and History [Detroit:1989] p.434) "Josephus is hardly adverse to harsh criticism of the Sadducees and even, to some degree, of the Sanhedrin". It should also be noted that he could (implicitly) criticise someone like Ananus over one episode like this one while still holding and expressing a more favourable view of him elsewhere.

    The difference between what Origen says Josephus "says" and what the passage actually says can be better explained by the fact he tended to read his Christian exegesis into his sources, as discussed re Mizagaki and Baras above. And while Rajak says "Many" agree with her that the testimonium is not original at all, the consensus view is that it is actually partially so.

    Finally there's the problem of what purpose interpolating this passage would serve. The obvious additions to the testimonium serve a clear apologetic end – they turn that passage into one where a Jewish scholar is supposedly declaring Jesus to be the Messiah and to have risen from the dead: the two things Jewish opponents of Christianity overtly rejected. But it's hard to see what purpose this story was meant to serve if it was a Christian interpolation. It mentions Jesus in passing, says little about James and then becomes an anecdote about the deposition of a priest. As a wholesale interpolation it doesn't make much sense. This is why even Carrier went for a minimalist approach and tried to argue that only the "who was called Messiah" phrase was added.


  18. Well-written piece, though I have long been too bored with the double Josephus cites to care about the substance, beyond the sheer entertainment value of the Carrier-bating and Carrier-fan-bating. As a "liar," though, I have to wonder what I need to do to get upgraded to "lunatic" status in Carrier's lexicon of losers? (Knowing, from Lewis, that "lord" comes after "lunatic" in the progression?)

    As a Christian "apologist" (a fall-back pejorative with poorer alliterative value), I feel that if Richard Carrier did not exist, someone in R & D at Wheaton would need to invent him. The world would be a poorer place for us Christians without its PZs and Coynes and Carriers. (Though the more down-market Latasters, who can barely manage an English sentence, add little value.)

    What I find most useful in Carrier and his ilk (and here I include Ehrman, ironically), lies in his long and hard search for credible parallels to the historical Jesus, or to the gospels. This effort, to which Aslan, the Jesus Seminar folks, Fredriksen, etc also all contribute, is indispensable for a lazy Christian historian like myself. So despite his vitriol, occasionally directed at me, and his narcissism, I really don't dislike the guy. I might even nominate him as Donald Trump's Vice President — a man who could finally put some effort into justifying the adjective.


  19. I like the idea that those of us who have been dubbed "liars" and may join his list of "lunatics" could one day be elevated to "lords". But putting Ehrman and Fredriksen in the same sentence as Carrier is weird and saying that there are no "credible" analogous first century Jewish figures to Jesus is plain silly.


  20. Tim, do you think that Jesus came up with anything genuinely new or is it all based on something else? I know that Jesus cult came up with Messiah's death is atonement of sins (that was partially based on "suffering servant" song) but how about Jesus himself?

    Thanks for your articles, by the way.


  21. I'm wary of any attempts at working out what Jesus "said", as I think we have too much of a distance between the historical Yeshua and even the earliest references to his teaching to do more than generalise based on the most likely assumption that he was an eschatological prophet. But if we look at the things that he is reported to have said and weed out the material that doesn't look like something a devout first century Jewish eschatological prophet might say, I can't see anything much that is original or unique.


  22. Tim,

    Excellent article! I especially liked your discussion about Josephus and his use of identifying appellations when referring to different people. I knew from reading Thom Stark's blog analysis that Carrier has an honesty problem but I didn't know it was *this* bad. That he would tell bald-face lies about you that even GakuseiDon was able to prove untrue tells me that he is a serial liar. I used to link to Carrier's articles rebutting the likes of Acharya S and Joseph Atwill to the kookier mythicists just so that they can see that even a total secular mythicist thinks that these two "scholars" are cranks. However, given the latest examples of dishonesty, I am frankly hesitant to link to *anything* Carrier writes. What cracks me up is how he portrays you as a "documented liar" when he doesn't seem to realize that even if this charge was somehow true, it makes him a colossal hypocrite. Carrier seems to be the guy who just cannot let criticism of himself and his work go unanswered. He reminds of the Evangelical internet apologist J.P. Holding. Holding cannot let criticism of himself or his work go unanswered either although, to his credit, even Holding is nowhere near the narcissist that Carrier is.

    I have no doubt that Carrier will respond. And respond. And, maybe respond some more. He has this need to permanently vanquish critics like you. That's awfully amazing considering the fact that he's the "expert" here and you're the sad, little, "amateur".



  23. This might be trivial but I think you need to add "[sic]" next to this part of Carrier's quote:

    "completely irrelevant chapter that contains no such argument as O’Neil claims"

    I think he is deliberately misspelling your name. Petty, if you ask me.


  24. Fixed. And yes, it seems to be deliberate – the guy is basically a small child. Though I loved the way one of his clueless followers used his misspelling of my name when he went looking for articles by me. Such genius.


  25. What is interesting to me is that he managed to complete his PhD. Total narcissist like that rarely get that far. How do you get to be narcissistic enough to act like Carrier, and still humble enough to learn enough real history to complete a doctorate? It is strange. Well, people like Carrier (pseudo-scholars with a doctorate) seem to be rare so maybe that explains it.


  26. I didn't know how else to contact you, so I perhaps could I ask discussing whether or not Jesus historically claimed to be God here? I'll wait for a yes/no. I found your answer on this on Quora, and I was highly disappointed, especially considering you put together this masterpiece on Carrier, and another masterpiece on Neil Degrasse Tyson.


  27. Tim, have you seen this second review of Carrier's (and first by an actual scholar rather than Rapahel Lataster) magnum opus by Christina Petterson:

    She is an historian of religion, although she currently seems to teach politics. That will doubtless leave Carrier an angle of attack.

    It's an odd review and she doesn't help her case by referring to 'Bayle's' theorem, but she does make some quite original points particularly surrounding Carrier's review of the literature and his umm, inventive use of the Rank Raglan index.

    McGrath's comment is worth reading as well, if only for its tone of resignation:

    Also, I wasn't sure whether you might have seen this review from Aviezar Tucker (a philosopher and mathematician at Harvard) on Carrier's earlier book:

    Carrier had (surprise surprise) not even heard of Tucker when he wrote his own book on the subject and the pretentiousness of his post on the subject is absolutely hilarious:

    Hope that is of some interest.


  28. Great news, Carrier was referred to this article article on his post ‘On the Gullibility of Bart Ehrman & the Asscrankery of Tim O’Neil‘, where one of the commenters wrote this;

    I’m not a patron; I just wanted to let you know that there is a response from O’Neill here:

    Since O’Neill disproved Carrier, however, Carrier couldn’t actually rebut anything in his response. However, being the narcissist he is, he couldn’t help himself from responding to this comment that actually commits such a serious blasphemy as drawing attention to a criticism of his work, so he responded;

    If there is anything in that ridiculously long rant that even merits a response, let me know.

    Yet to this day I’m surprised when I see mythicists who still gasp when a historian does valuable things with his time instead of wasting it talking about mythicisms incoherencies. Great post as always Tim.


    1. Dodge noted. And the idea of the hilariously prolix Carrier, of all people, complaining about a piece being “long” is richly ironic.


    1. This is hardly uncommon. Mythicists usually deal with the Tacitean reference to Jesus in one of four ways:

      (i) “Tacitus only refers to the existence of Christians, not to Jesus” – This one is often repeated by the more lazy variety of casual Mythicist; e.g. the ones on Reddit groups like /r/atheism who somehow kind of “know” Jesus never existed despite never having bothered looking at the evidence or doing any reading on the topic beyond internet memes. And it’s simply wrong. Tacitus mentions Christians in his account of the Great Fire of Rome and then disgresses to explain the origin of the sect’s name by reference to a “Christus” who he says was executed by Pilate in Judea during the reign of Tiberius. This is a direct reference to the person who founded the sect, not a general reference to the sect, and it gives a who, what, where and when into the bargain.

      (ii) “Tacitus was talking about some other sect called the Chrestians” – This is based on the fact that our sole manuscript of this book of the Annals did originally have “Chrestianos” as the name of the sect in question, though this was corrected to “Christianos”. Leaving aside whether that correction was made by the original scribe, who simply realised he had made an error, or by a later corrector or reader, the fact is that Tacitus says the sect was founded by a “Christus” (translating the Greek Christos, ‘Anointed One’, ‘Messiah’) who was executed by Pilate in Judea during the reign of Tiberius. The idea that there were somehow two sects with almost identical names, both apparently founded by an “Anointed One” who was executed by Pilate in Judea during the reign of Tiberius stretches credulity. And this is particularly given that we have no other mention anywhere of these supposed “Chrestians”. This one is pretty stupid as well.

      (iii) “Tacitus does mention Jesus but he’s only repeating what Christians claimed so this isn’t independent evidence” – This one is at least more coherent than the first two, but it doesn’t fit with what we know about Tacitus. He was a careful historian who used what he believed to be reliable sources and documents, was sceptical in his analysis and openly scorned the use of mere hearsay. It is highly unlikely that he’d just accept the accounts of a cult he derided as “a most mischievous superstition … evil … hideous and shameful … (with a) hatred against mankind”. We don’t know exactly where or from whom he got his information, but the idea that he got it from Christians – who were mainly slaves, low-class foreigners and peasants is highly dubious. We know he moved in aristocratic circles that included many exiled Jewish nobles, including Josephus and the Princess Berenice, who was the daughter of Herod Agrippa. It’s probably no coincidence that what he says is exactly what we’d expect if he got his information about a Jewish sect from these educated Jews.

      (iv) “The passage is an interpolation” – When all else fails, Mythicists always fall back on claims of interpolation. In this case, they are undaunted by the fact that virtually no modern Tacitus scholar regards this passage as suspect in any way. The inevitable Richard Carrier has written an article trying to claim the whole “Christus”/Pilate section is interpolated and the rest of the passage is really just about these unattested and hypothetical “Chrestians”. His case is flimsy and is largely an extended exercise in making a strained argument from silence where, in typical Carrier style, he finds ways to dismiss or ignore all alternatives and then states his preferred conclusion as though it’s the only logical end point.

      The Tacitus reference has come up in some online conversations lately so I think it’s time I wrote an article on it, which will be the first in what will likely be an ongoing series on the blog about standard Myther arguments. I’ll try to have that article up in the next few days.


  29. “…it doesn’t fit with what we know about Tacitus. He was a careful historian who used what he believed to be reliable sources and documents, was sceptical in his analysis and openly scorned the use of mere hearsay.”

    (1) Why do you say this? It is often repeated by Christian apologetics but it is simply not true! It has been repeated so many times that it seems like a “consensus position” when no one has actually done any research on it. His Germania is full of mythical and mystical tales he had neither the means or interest to fact check. His Annals are filled with clever lies, smoke and mirrors to lead the reader in a certain direction.
    (2) Even if Tacitus were a serious historian, even he would not go down that far in the chain to check that Pilate actually killed an itinerant preacher called Christos by his followers. His fact check was limited to that these people believed in this story (and that is for all we know a fact). He was after all writing about Nero killing innocent people.


    1. “Why do you say this? It is often repeated by Christian apologetics but it is simply not true! It has been repeated so many times that it seems like a “consensus position” when no one has actually done any research on it.”

      I pay no attention to Christian apologetics and plenty of attention to Tacitus scholars, who have I can assure you done plenty of research on it. I give multiple examples of Tacitus using sources, noting mere rumour, rejecting the use of hearsay and displaying scepticism in my detailed article on the Mythicist attempts at dismissing the Tacitus reference – see “Jesus Mythicism 1: The Tacitus Reference to Jesus”. Ronald Syme writes of Tacitus that he was “no stranger to industrious investigation” and says “his diligence was exemplary” (Tactitus, Oxford, 1969, p. 398). G.E.F. Chilver notes “for Tacitus scepticism was inescapable” (A Historical Commentary on Tacitus Histories I and II, Oxford, 1979, p. 24). Michael Grant says there “is no doubt that [Tacitus] took a great deal of care in selecting his material” (Tacitus: The Annals of Imperial Rome,Penguin, 1973, p. 20). I could give you about a dozen other such comments from leading Tacitus scholars, none of whom are “Christian apologists”, but that should do to show you you’re wrong.

      “His Germania is full of mythical and mystical tales he had neither the means or interest to fact check.”

      First of all, the Germania is not a work of history, it’s ostensibly a work of geographical ethnography, though also a social and political critique of Rome. So Tacitus is working to different rules of genre there. Secondly, as I know the Germania very, very well, I know plenty of places in it where Tacitus tells us about his sources (e.g. Livy’s lost histories of the Germanic wars) or shows us that he actually has checked his information by reference to soldiers, veterans and travellers. Finally, many of the tales that we know to be “mythical and mystical” now were not considered so then and were exactly the kind of things which would have been seriously reported and readily accepted even by sceptical Romans.

      “His Annals are filled with clever lies, smoke and mirrors to lead the reader in a certain direction.”

      Perhaps if you backed that blithe assertion up with some examples and evidence we could examine these “clever lies [and] smoke and mirrors” to see if they are relevant to what he says about Jesus and Christians and see if this means, therefore that the latter also represents “clever lies [and] smoke and mirrors”.

      “Even if Tacitus were a serious historian, even he would not go down that far in the chain to check that Pilate actually killed an itinerant preacher called Christos by his followers.”

      He was a serious historian and we know from the multiple examples I give in the article I link to above that he did check things very carefully. As I say there, we can’t be sure if there was any official record of Jesus’ execution or that Tacitus would have found it even if it existed. But we do know that he disliked reporting mere rumour and preferred to consult with people or sources he trusted. And we know he had access to plenty of both on the question of the origins of this sect, particularly access to aristocratic Jews who would have been the obvious people to consult. So it’s really stretching things to try to argue that these sources of information, which included Herod Agrippa’s own daughter, would have just been reporting Christian claims rather than common knowledge about an executed Messianic claimant.

      “He was after all writing about Nero killing innocent people.”

      Wrong. He was writing about Nero killing people he considered guilty of being part of “a most mischievous superstition …. evil …. hideous and shameful …. [with a] hatred against mankind”. The idea that he simply accepted whatever these people claimed about their founder is pretty absurd.


  30. Also, I’m curious as to where Carrier gets off calling you a “documented liar” and an “asscrank”…he’s pretty much the pot calling the kettle black from what I gather


  31. You do realise that your extended rant reeks of envy and loathing, typical of arts majors faced with a proposition they do not like

    Ehrman is as historically naif as you appear to be. 2 examples in Prof Ehrmans case:
    1) his claim that only 10% of the Roman population could read – it was estimated to be actually 20% but only 10% reading well;
    2) assumption that the exemplary punishment of crucifixion was an everyday occurrence. It was not.

    You ignore both the continuity problems with the Testamentum and the fact that Origen was utterly unaware of the Testamentum when he wrote “Against Heresy.” It was Origen’s copy of Josephus that was owned by Eusebius.


    1. It’s amusing that I’ve been accused of being “naif” (sic) by someone who makes basic errors. Firstly, I can’t see how exactly I would “envy” an unemployed beggar like Carrier. “Pity” would be closer to the mark. Secondly, Ehrman is well aware of the higher estimates for some level of literacy (30% is actually the more typical estimate), but he was talking about the level of literacy required for writing a text like a gospel. That was much lower, as he knows and it seems you don’t. Thirdly, crucifixion was a relatively common form of execution, given that it was used for runaway slaves, bandits, robbers, pirates and rebels. I’m not sure where Ehrman said it was “everyday”, but if he did use that word only a moron would take that word absolutely literally. Then you need to show that Origen was “utterly unaware of the Testamentum (sic)” in any form. Given that he explicitly declares that Josephus did not believe Jesus to be the Messiah, the idea that the text of the Testimonium (note the spelling, Mr “Naif”) or of Antiquities generally contained no mention of Jesus at all is hard to sustain. Finally, the idea that Eusebius used Origen’s copy of Josephus is pure hypothesis and doesn’t affect a single thing I say here anyway.

      It is amusing that Carrier attracts bumbling acolytes who are, like him, both incompetent and delusional. But not surprising I suppose.


    2. I would like to mention that literacy in the Roman world is all over the place: I have seen figures as high as 30% with implication that it was even higher then that ( Di Renzo, A (2000) “His master’s voice: Tiro and the rise of the Roman secretarial class,” Journal of technical writing and communication, vol. 30, (2) 155-168; Dupont, Florence. (1989) Daily Life in Ancient Rome Tr. Christopher Woodall. Oxford: Blackwell; pg 223; Millard, Alan (2003) Literacy in the Time of Jesus – Could His Words Have Been Recorded in His Lifetime? Biblical Archaeology Review 29:04, Jul/Aug 2003.)

      Carrier has written a long blog piece (The Josephus Testimonium: Let’s Just Admit It’s Fake Already) that cites peer reviewed works that totally dump on the idea that any of the references to Jesus in Josephus being genuine:

      Olson, Ken (2013) “A Eusebian Reading of the Testimonium Flavianum.” Eusebius of Caesarea: Tradition and Innovations, eds. Aaron Johnson and Jeremy Schott (Harvard University Press), pp. 97–114.
      Hopper, Paul (2014) “A Narrative Anomaly in Josephus: Jewish Antiquities xviii:63.” Linguistics and Literary Studies: Interfaces, Encounters, Transfers, eds. Monika Fludernik and Daniel Jacob (de Gruyter), pp. 147–169.

      Goldberg, Gary J. (1995) “The Coincidences of the Emmaus Narrative of Luke and the Testimonium of Josephus” The Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 13 pp. 59-77 showed such a high correlation between The Testimonium Flavianum and Luke that he had to come up with some ad hoc idea that they used a common source to salvage the TF. But this creates more problems then it solves and IMHO shows the total desperation earlier researchers were going to to save the piece.

      Rationalwiki has a piece on Josephus that looks at the material and calling it questionable is being charitable.


      1. “Carrier has written a long blog piece (The Josephus Testimonium: Let’s Just Admit It’s Fake Already) that cites peer reviewed works that totally dump on the idea that any of the references to Jesus in Josephus being genuine”

        Gosh, what a surprise.

        “Olson, Ken (2013)”

        I’m afraid Olsen can’t get around the fact that while there are indeed elements in the (extensive) writings of Eusebius which parallel the TF, there are other elements which are distinctively Josephan. See J. Carleton Paget and Alice Whealey’s responses to Olsen’s arguments.

        “Hopper, Paul (2014)”

        Given that pretty much everyone agree that at least some of the TF is not authentic, this kind of stylistic analysis is weakened by the fact that most of the anomalies Hopper identifies are found in the material that is already accepted as non-Josephan. So that leaves him with little material on which to base a coherent argument.

        “Goldberg, Gary J. (1995)”

        It’s amusing whenever Mythicists try to cite Goldberg, given that he doesn’t conclude the TF is a wholesale forgery and accepts it is partially authentic.

        “Rationalwiki has a piece on Josephus that looks at the material and calling it questionable is being charitable.”

        *Chuckle* Rationalwiki, seriously? Rationalwiki is a confused rat’s nest of utter gibberish on this and most associated topics.


      2. You ever stop to think that maybe Carrier is the desperate one? His anti-Christian bias could not be more in-your-face. Actually, there’s not one piece of Anti-theist revisionist history he hadn’t propagated at one time or another (except the Nazareth didn’t exist crap which is too stupid even for him ). This is what he does for a living and would starve to death if it wasn’t for the donations he gets. Bayes theorum tells me he’s an unemployed blogger who whines and cries whenever he gets ignored by real professionals and actual bible scholars (except Price). Those who debunk him as the ideological hack he is must _all_ be liars or insane, right? Even the agnostic, atheist, and Jewish scholars. Real defensible position you got there. Btw, if you’re a woman, the fact that you’re even defending this pervert is pretty pathetic. Fyi, Rational Wiki is just as reliable as Answers in Genesis


          1. Just wondered since Morgan is both a man and woman’s name. Ah, well, Carrier defenders in general are pathetic. It’s like defending Ken Ham


          2. Yes, but I can see the email address “Morgan” is using and so I know it’s Bruce Grubb. Bruce is one of a tiny handful of obsessive Mythicists who buzz around the internet desperately trying to prop up Carrier’s arguments. Like Creationists, Bruce usually just recycles the same tired old arguments endlessly and when they are debunked, simply moves on to repeat them again elsewhere. These people are driven by emotion, not reason.


    1. Why would I bother? The guy sounds like an idiot, I’ve seen the grand total of one click from his blog to mine and virtually no-one comments on this stuff. He seems pretty small fry and not worth the effort.


      1. Most of his claims are nonsense, (and he ignores the fact that a messiah with a virgin birth originates with the Septuagint not with Jesus) but his claims regarding Philo and James McGrath do worry me slightly.


        1. I can’t see why. Nowhere does Philo talk about a Messiah who was purely celestial. And this idiot couldn’t interpret an ancient Jewish text correctly to save his life.


  32. There is several huge flaws in all this.

    1) Origen in Against Celsus 1.47 and Against Celsus 2.13 both clearly says that Josephus stated that the destruction of Jerusalem was due to the death of James. No such reference exists in the James brother of the Lord we have.

    2) the James of Josephus died ca. 62 CE by just stoning while Hegesippus, Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius of Caesarea, and Early Christian tradition all had James the Just dying ca. 70 CE by being thrown from a battlement, stoned, and finally clubbed to death by passing laundrymen. In fact, Eusebius of Caesarea in his Church History, Book III, ch. 11 clearly writes “After the martyrdom of James and the conquest of Jerusalem which immediately followed…” but there are seven years and four High Priests between these two events if the Josephus passage is genuine so either we have one of the wonkiest definition of “immediately followed” in the history of the world or these are two different James and the “him called Christ” phrase was added to make the connection. The later interpretation is supported by Rufinus of Aquileia in the 4th century who states James the Lord’s brother was informed of the death of Peter (64 CE or 67 CE ie after the James in Josephus was dead and gone) .

    Occam’s razor clearly points to the James brother of Christ being a kludgy insert by a Christian.


    1. “Origen in Against Celsus 1.47 and Against Celsus 2.13 both clearly says that Josephus stated that the destruction of Jerusalem was due to the death of James. “

      I deal with this, in detail, in the very article you’re commenting on. Try actually reading the article next time Bruce.

      “the James of Josephus died ca. 62 CE by just stoning while Hegesippus, Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius of Caesarea, and Early Christian tradition all had James the Just dying ca. 70 CE “

      And I deal with this too. Try actually reading the stuff you’re trolling Bruce. Why are you desperate Mythers all so totally incompetent?


    1. Hendrix is talking about some of the more technical aspects of how Carrier applies Bayes. Carrier, as usual, says he is wrong. And then there is a long to and fro exchange between the two in the comments. I’m not well versed in Bayesian probability, so I can’t judge who is right but (i) Hendrix does seem to have it all over Carrier on the mathematics side and (ii) having found Carrier an unreliable guide to … anything … I don’t trust his capacity to critically appraise his own work. In fact, his inability to do this is his major flaw as a scholar.

      All of which is pretty irrelevant. Regardless of whether Carrier is using Bayes properly, the fact remains that any values he puts into the theorem are going to be based on his subjective assessment, not on hard data. So the whole exercise is smoke and mirrors.


      1. Carrier butchers Bayes theorum and has been called out in it numerous times by several different experts. But this is a guy who rarely admits when he’s wrong


      2. “I’m not well versed in Bayesian probability, so I can’t judge who is right but (i) Hendrix does seem to have it all over Carrier on the mathematics side”

        Ehh… I’m not sure. It might be because I don’t really know anything about Bayesian analysis (lol), but it seemed to me that, towards the end of the conversation, Hendrix seemed to be quasi- coming around to Carrier’s position and agreeing with him on more and more. Sprinkled throughout the conversation were a couple random Carrier fans who added their own lengthy critiques of Hendrix, with Carrier fawning over them the way that they fawn over him. I guess he knew that sooner or later his backup would arrive lol


        1. It disturbs me how a professional Anti-theist even has “fans”. When a guy like…that gets fawned over, you know those who promote him are intensely ideological


        2. Just 4 months ago Hendrix posted some comments on Prof. James McGrath’s blog that make it pretty clear that he remains completely unconvinced by Carrier’s use of Bayes and that he does not think Carrier has a sufficient grasp of Bayes’ Theorem. There he concluded “the issues I bring up are the same issues that others have brought up, such as the arbitrariness of using a reference class to assign a prior to the probability Jesus exists. None of this require any special insight …. I think today that [Carrier’s Bayes stuff is] very much a consequence of Carrier being unaware of certain issues, working out a solution on his own, becoming aware of the real problems and then, rather than re-evaluating his original approach, treat it like a debate with a winner and a loser.”


          1. There is no reason to take Carrier’s Bayesian approach seriously. What we have with Jesus is, at the very least, an appearance of historicity which we don’t find with ancient mythical figures. If we want to know whether this appearance of historicity is genuine or false, would it help to compare Jesus to ancient mythical figures? How could it? We have just said that we don’t find this appearance of historicity in ancient mythology. We can’t use ancient mythology to shed light on something that we never find in ancient mythology.

            Kathryn Bigelow appears to be a woman. Is there any reason to think this appearance is false? Well, Kathryn Bigelow is an Oscar-winning director and all other Oscar-winning directors are men. Or, to put it another way, Kathryn Bigelow belongs to a reference class whose other members are all men. But no sane person would consider this as evidence that Kathryn Bigelow is a man.

            In 1957 the first rocket was launched into orbit. Only 12 years later people were walking on the moon. That seems like remarkably quick progress, especially since no one has been to the moon again. You might say that a moon landing in 1969 has a low prior probability. Does that mean there is a high prior probability that the moon landings were faked? Only to a crank.

            Elaborate scenarios which supposedly generate a false appearance that something is the case are always the last explanation we should consider. And we should only accept them if we have rock-solid evidence. Carrier does not have rock-solid evidence for his bizarre theory – or anything that could really be considered evidence at all.


  33. Hi Tim, it’s me again. If you have the time, what are your thoughts on this video? It’s about 20 minutes long and it takes the mythicist position on Josephus’ writings about Jesus. You dealt with some of what the video talks about in this very blog post of yours, but there are some other objections that are at least interesting, at least to me. The narrator (who sounds like he’s teetering on the edge of puberty) cites Richard Carrier near the end, so that should tell you something about the quality. The only reason I bring it up is because it’s basically localized all of the mythicist arguments about Josephus into one video, so it would be nice to debunk it once and for all (whether Carrier and his ilk would accept the conclusion is unlikely, however). Anyway, here it is if you want to take a look. Thanks.


    1. Similarly, have you seen this lecture that Carrier gives about why Jesus would have been invented? It’s super long, so you obviously don’t have to watch all of it or any of it really. Just thought it was interesting.


      1. Sorry, but I’m not going to sit through over an hour of Carrier making the same flawed arguments he always makes, not least because that guy’s nasally nerd voice sets my teeth on edge. It would take me days and many, many thousands of words to go over all the hundreds of problems with the claims and arguments he makes in that presentation (and yes, I have watched versions of it before, unfortunately). I will be tackling the major arguments of the Mythicists in my ongoing series of articles on Jesus Mythicism and, inevitably, the ubiquitous Carrier and the arguments of the kind he makes in that video will feature prominently in all of those. In the meantime, if there is any argument he makes there that you think is solid or have not heard a refutation to I may address it briefly here. But there is no what I could tackle that presentation in comments here.


        1. Haha I totally get it regarding the Carrier lecture. I couldn’t stomach watching the whole video either. As for the other one, I really appreciate your patience and detailed answers. Thanks.


    2. This video is typical low grade stuff, where Mythicist true believers just parrot second or third hand arguments without a detailed grasp of the source material or the scholarship. I’ll try to take the claims it makes about the Testimonium Flavianum (i.e. Ant. XVIII.63-4) in turn. I’ll ignore the second half about the James reference in Ant. XX.200 because, as you note, I refute the key arguments in my article above. I’ll precede each of my comments with a time-stamp reference to the video:

      1.57 – The narratives of the prophecies of the destruction of the Temple in Josephus re Jesus ben Ananias and the one in the gospels are similar because they come from the same social and religious context. The Temple had been destroyed once before and prophecies that it would be again were a religious trope. The similarities simply show that at least some of the story of the arrest and execution of Jesus of Nazareth is plausible. And the differences – the fact he was scourged but not executed, was judged to be insane rather than a threat and was released rather than condemned for sedition – show that the two stories don’t somehow derive from each other. The claim that “there are too many parallels for it to be a coincidence” is nonsense. The claim that the author of gMark “used Josephus as a source” is totally contrary to all mainstream dating of the gospels, given that Antiquities was not written until the early second century.

      3.29 – That there were other people called Jesus in Josephus is somehow evidence that Jesus didn’t exist is absurd. That’s like saying JFK didn’t exist because a historian of the twentieth century also mentions another dozen people called “John”. “Jesus” (or, rather, “Yeshua”) was the sixth most popular name for Jewish men of the time.

      5.26 – The claim that Josephus “would not have used ambiguous phrases like …. ‘doer of incredible deeds’ ” is simply wrong. One of the reasons most scholars regard at least parts of the Ant. XVIII.63-4 passage to be authentic is that some of the phrases used can be found in Josephus and cannot be found in pre-Nicean Christian works. And this is one of them. He uses the term παραδοξων εργων (“paradoxical deeds”) twice, once regarding the miracles of Elisha. Whereas we do not find this term being used in early Christian writings about the miracles of Jesus. So this is actually indicative that the use of the term here is original to Josephus. The video also doesn’t explain what is “ambiguous” about this phrase, nor does it note that the word παραδοξων (paradoxical) is actually slightly sceptical – which is, again, something we could expect of a Jewish writer but not something we would find from a Christian interpolator.

      5.32 – The claim that Josephus would not have said “he won over many Jews and Greeks” is also flawed. This phrase is possibly an interpolation, but the fact that it is contrary to the gospel depiction of Jesus’ preaching career, which explicitly portrays his mission as to the Jews alone (see Matt 10:5-6) and only present his message to Gentiles either after his resurrection (Matt 28:16-20) or at the very end of his mission (John 12:20-26, where some Greeks seeking Jesus out is seen by him as a sign of his impending death) indicates it may be original to Josephus. A Christian interpolator familiar with the gospels and Acts would be unlikely to depict Jesus as converting “Greeks”, but Josephus, who wrote in the second century, would have known “many Jews and Greeks” belonged to the Jesus sect and so likely assumed this had been the case from the beginning.

      5.36 – It does not follow that Josephus would have to have explained “exactly what he had won [the Jews and Greeks] over to”. The long digression on the Pharisees and what they believed that the video uses to support this assertion is part of a much longer digression on the three major “philosophical schools” of Judaism – the Pharisees, the Essenes and the Sadducees. But elsewhere Josephus makes passing mention of various preachers or prophets without going into any detail about what exactly their particular preaching was, e.g. his account of John the Baptist at Ant. XVIII.109-119. So there would be no requirement for him to do more than imply that these “Jews and Greeks” were simply among those who, as Josephus puts it in the same line, “receive the truth with pleasure”. This means the claim at 8.07 that Josephus details the beliefs “for every group he mentions” is nonsense – he actually only does this for the three main sects I mention above. We have only the vaguest outlines or no details at all for all kinds of other figures who had a following that he mentions, including Theudas, Athronges, the Samaritan Prophet and the Egyptian.

      8.32 – “We can quite easily demonstrate that every sentence in this passage cannot be from the hand of Josephus”. Total nonsense. If this could be “quite easily demonstrated” then there would be no debate about whether the passage is totally or just partially interpolated, let alone a majority view by Josephan scholars that partial authenticity is most likely. There are valid arguments to be made on either side, but to claim that wholesale interpolation can be “quite easily demonstrated” is a massive overstatement to the point of being total garbage.

      22.20 – The claim that the passage does not fit its context does not work. Josephus has a notoriously digressive style and often goes off at tangents; sometimes ones that aren’t obviously connnected to what he was saying before. This means we have many places where we could remove one of his digressions and it would do no damage to the flow of the text. Here are no less than 17 examples:

      1. Honi the Circle-Drawer – Antiquities XIV.21-28.
      2. Galilean Cave Brigands – Jewish War I.304-313 and Antiquities XIV.415-430.
      3. Judas son of Hezekiah – Jewish War II.56 and Antiquities XVII.271-272.
      4. Simon of Peraea – Jewish War II.57-59 and Antiquities XVII.273-277.
      5. Athronges – Jewish War II.60-65 and Antiquities XVII.278-284.
      6. Tholomaus – Antiquities XX.5.
      7. Theudas – Antiquities XX.97-98.
      8. Eleazar ben Dinai – Jewish War II.235-235 and Antiquities XX.161.
      9. The Egyptian prophet – Jewish War II.259-263 and Antiquities XX.169-171.
      10. An anonymous prophet – Antiquities XX.188.
      11. Eleazar, an exorcist – Antiquities VIII.46-49.

      People like the one who made this video tend to just parrot other Mythicist arguments without checking them. And almost none of them have any detailed knowledge of the texts they refer to.

      9.22 “What sad calamity could Josephus be talking about? Oh … the passage before the Testimonium Flavianum“. No, the story he has just told of a “wise man” who got executed despite being “a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure”. The sad calamity reference makes perfect sense with the TF in place.

      9.54 “Noone seems to notice the existence of this passage before the fourth century, not even Church father Origen, who quotes Josephus extensively in his works”. The problem here is that there is very little evidence that any pre-fourth century Christian writer even read Antiquities, with the exception of Origen. Michael Hardwick’s Josephus as an Historical Source in Patristic Literature through Eusebius notes “more than a dozen early Christian writers …. are known to have read and commented on the works of Josephus”, but virtually all of these were either drawing on the Jewish War rather than Antiquities or making general references without any clear indication which work by Josephus they were referring to (or if they had actually read any Josephus at all). This was a period in which books were rare and hard to get copies of – it’s not like these guys could order a copy of Whiston’s Complete Works of Josephus on

      The exception here is Origen, who clearly did use a copy of Antiquities. But he makes a reference to “this writer [Josephus], although not believing in Jesus as the Messiah” (Contra Celsum I.47), which implies that Origen’s copy of Josephus did have a pre-interpolation account of Jesus which made it clear Josephus did not regard him as the Messiah. If all this pre-interpolation version said was that he was “called Messiah” and that he was merely a “wise man” who got executed, why would Origen make any further reference to it? What apologetic or polemical purpose would it serve? So it makes sense that we only get references to the TF passage after the interpolated elements had been added, probably in the early fourth century, since these elements bolster Christian claims about Jesus being the Messiah and rising from the dead and so makes the passage apologetically useful for the first time.

      10.11 – “Tertullian, Ireneus, Clement of Alexandria and more could have easily referenced this passage”. See above – there is no evidence any of these people had access to copies of Antiquities or had ever read it. As I’ve said, the only pre-fourth century Christian writer we know did have access to and use a copy of this work was Origen. Once again this guy just doesn’t know the scholarship.

      10.44 – The claim that for the other four preacher prophets referred to by Josephus “[their] Messianic status is unmistakable” is nonsense. Contrary to what many Christians are taught, there actually seem to have been very few people in the first century who claimed to be the Messiah or had this claimed of them. In fact, current scholarship indicates that Messianic expectations may not have been as widely held and accepted in this period as has previously been thought. There is nothing explicitly “Messianic” about the claims of the Samaritan prophet, the Egyptian or the Unanmed Prophet, despite the video blithely referring to them as “supposed Messiahs”. They all clearly make prophetic claims and two of them make miraculous claims, but this does not make them “Messiahs”.

      The claim Josephus avoids referring to these men as claiming to be Messiah and therefore his references to Jesus as being acclaimed that way are suprious does not work. This assumes that these men were regarded as Messiahs and so Josephus is “avoiding” mention of this. But there is no evidence any of them were seen this way, so it is more likely he doesn’t refer to them as Messiahs simply because noone regarded them as such. And the example of Josephus’ positive reference to John the Baptist shows that he does not reject all preachers and prophets as charlatans, so he could well have seen Jesus as “a wise man” like John, not as a charlatan like these others.

      13.18 – As with the examples above, the idea that Theudas was “claiming to be the Messiah” is nonsense. Again, there is nothing Messianic in the claims he reportedly made and Josephus even explicitly says “he told them that he was a prophet”.

      15.59 – This summary of the problems with the TF is full of errors. There are examples of distinctively Josephan language in the passage, there is no reason to expect Josephus to give a lot of details, the positioning of the passage is typical of a Josephan digression and his reference to Jesus is consistent with his one to John the Baptist.

      As I said, a valid case can certainly be made for the passage being a wholesale interpolation, which is why that is a minority position among genuine Josephan scholars and not just a position held by Mythicists. But the arguments marshalled in this video are overstated, ignore counter-arguments and contrary evidence or are just plain wrong. To pretend that the total in-authenticity of the TF can be “easily demonstrated” is ridiculous and this video bears all the hallmarks of something produced by someone who has little to no detailed grasp of the relevant material. It’s a weak product of the hollow online Mythicist echo chamber.

      You can find a useful summary of the arguments for and against the partial authenticity of the TF here – “Did Josephus Refer to Jesus?: A Thorough Review of the Testimonium Flavianum”by Christopher Price. It’s certainly a much more useful overview than the sneering crap in that video.



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