Richard Carrier and Jesus Mythicists

(Matthew Manning) #1

So I wanted to try and get some people’s takes on Richard Carrier, likely the most famous Jesus mythicist out there (for those of you who don’t know a Jesus mythicist is someone who completely denies there was a historical Jesus at all). Jesus mythicism is not a mainstream view held my scholars and is for the most part a fringe minority of scholars and historians who hold to this viewpoint. I wanted to know from the people who are familiar with him what exactly you think of his arguments and book making the case against the historical Jesus. For me, I have read many of his arguments and I’m not impressed. Carrier is an accredited historian but it seems that most of his claims are either reaching or just come up short. Most of his arguments seem to have been thoroughly debunked by Bart Ehrman and other historical and New Testament scholars. I know this is usually a forum for discussing science and it’s integration with scripture and Christianity but I would assume that many of you fellow Christ lovers would also enjoy discussing a topic like this on here. Any takes on this are welcome!

(Jay Johnson) #2

@Reggie_O_Donoghue started a recent, similar thread. He might have a take on Carrier, too.

(Stephen Matheson) #3

My friend James McGrath (prof of religion at Butler University) regularly writes about “Jesus mythicism” and is a bona fide expert on that group of topics. I recommend him very highly as a credible source. I don’t think Carrier is considered to be a credible scholar. There is no such thing, as far as I know, as an “accredited historian,” and while it’s true that Carrier has a PhD in a related field, I don’t think he has a scholarly reputation and I don’t think he has been involved in research or scholarship for many years.

(Jon) #4

You may find this useful; it covers Carrier and other mythicists (8 pages).

Also these.

(Jon) #5

Carrier has never actually held a formal permanent academic teaching post since he graduated with his PhD.

(Matthew Pevarnik) #6

This was a nice thread that outlines some of the claims:

Was a nice thing to have the blogger of History for Atheists @TimONeill pop his head in too. I’d recommend reading his blog and material.


Most of the atheists I know (including myself) really don’t consider the historicity of Jesus to be that important. People like Mohammed, Buddha, and Joseph Smith were probably real people, but that doesn’t mean that all of the things written about them or by them were necessarily true. If someone thinks that arguing for a historical Jesus is a good way to convert atheists they may be disappointed by the results.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #8

One other New Atheist who promotes Fringe History I dealt with was Michael Sherlock, who alongside promoting the long abandoned notion of Panbabylonism as historical fact also promotes a truly ridiculous historical theory (I’m tempted to call it denialism) that Joseph Stalin wasn’t an atheist.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #9

I’m not too acquainted with Carrier’s views. From what I do know I’d say that as far as Jesus Mythicists go he seems fairly rational (which isn’t that much of a compliment), going as far to call out claims by other mythicists which are too ridiculous even for him. Yet being an adherent of a fringe historical theory he is still plagued by madness. He believes in a conspiracy theory that there is a consensus amongst academics that Jesus existed purely because academia is dominated by Christians. I shouldn’t even need to say why this is nonsense, it is no different from creationist claims that Science is dominated by Evil Liberal Secular Humanists. If this claim were true we would not see a consensus amongst academics that several biblical events that the Flood and the Exodus never happened (which we do see).

(Benjamin Kirk) #10

“Professor Richard Carrier is a historian, though he has never held a teaching position.”

I’m confused. Why would you use the title “professor” if he’s not a professor?

And there’s a lot of ad hominem in there. Given that you wrote:

“In order to speak authoritatively on the subject, a scholar should have postgraduate qualifications in a relevant field …, and should preferably have published academic work and hold or have held an academic teaching position.”

Would you also say that the following paper does not speak authoritatively on its subject?

Nature 282, 296 - 298 (15 November 1979); doi:10.1038/282296a0
Nest of juveniles provides evidence of family structure among dinosaurs
*Department of Geological and Geophysical Sciences, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey 08544
†Rudyard High School, Rudyard, Montana 59540

(Jon) #11

Because at the time that I wrote that document, I thought he was a professor. A number of sources referred to him as a professor, and his statement “I had also soured on the life of a professor by then, having seen it from the inside” gave me the impression that he was a professor.

Please provide a few examples.

It may, certainly. My statement used the word “should” not “must”, and by “authoritatively” I meant the kind of authority which, when speaking on a subject, typically settles the matter.

(George Brooks) #12


I’m not quite sure why you are so strongly set against Panbabylonism… surely you have written some very good postings on the very topic.

Where do you draw the line between excellent analysis - - and the next step into Spumoni-Baloney PanBabylonism?

In a few eons, I can imagine a historian developing a theory that the Catholic Church co-opted the pagan stories around them … including rabbits that laid eggs, and Yule Logs. He’ll call it “Pan-Paganism”. And his colleagues will smirk and laugh …

… Because as far as they are concerned, those stories couldn’t come from anywhere other than the fertile imaginations of the Popes!

(Chris Falter) #13

Hi Ben,

I don’t understand what the publication of a paper on dinosaur family structures has to do with a discussion of the historicity of a noted religious figure. The 2 subjects seem quite orthogonal.

Grace and peace,

(Jon) #14

He’s citing it because the authors didn’t have postgraduate qualifications in a relevant field or published academic work and hold or have held an academic teaching position, which is what I said people should preferably have in order to speak authoritatively on a subject. He’s making the point that you don’t need these qualifications in order to speak authoritatively on a subject. That’s technically true; a plumber may be able to speak authoritatively on quantum physics despite having no formal qualifications in the subject. But that would be quite a remarkable plumber.

As a general rule I really think that anyone wanting to speak authoritatively on a subject (in the sense of “settling the argument”), especially when challenging the consensus of a body of experts, should have those qualifications. This is particularly relevant in the case of Jesus mythicism, since Jesus mythicists typically object to arguments by Biblical scholars by arguing that they are not professionally qualified to speak on historical matters. It is also relevant because Carrier himself deliberately sets a very high bar for scholars wishing to be taken seriously on a subject.

(Stephen Matheson) #15

Carrier doesn’t seem to be a well regarded or rigorous scholar, and in fact he’s not very well regarded in the “atheist community.” But still, my response to a thread that dwells on this guy’s claims, and attempts (in places) to link him with someone bigger called “New Atheists” or “New Atheism,” is nicely summarized by this album cover from my senior year in high school, shortly after the publication of the Origin of Species:


None? I’m prone to say many.

At least in my younger days I knew of many, including academic journals with which I had close personal involvement, which had very strict requirements. However, I do think it very possible that those rules have been relaxed somewhat in more recent times for some (perhaps even many) academic society journals. For that, one would need to consult someone with more recent experience. So perhaps I should temper my surprise at the reactions to Jon’s statement. Even so, I’d wouldn’t be surprised if a great many journals still had strict criteria, whether officially stated or not. It may be a de jure versus de facto situation.

As I recall it, there were many journals published by academic societies which may not have had an official published rule “You must hold a PhD in a relevant field and a full-time academic appointment to submit an article for publication in this journal.” Yet, in actual fact, one couldn’t submit a manuscript unless one had FULL membership in the academic society—and that full membership required an appropriate Ph.D. and nominations from other society members, who almost always required that a permanent academic post be held by the nominee. (I don’t recall a teaching post to be necessary, as long as the institution of employment itself was a teaching institution. Thus, a research professor, for example, at such a school was not ineligible just because he/she didn’t hold a teaching position.)

At my age, memory doesn’t always serve me well. But an example which comes to mind was JBL_, the official journal of the Society of Biblical Literature. I think they have relaxed their membership requirements nowadays in order to bring in more membership revenue. But when I joined long ago there was a very strict set of requirements for full membership. And the requirements for presenting a paper at an academic conference were formidable, including finding a full member (i.e. someone with an appropriate PhD and a full-time academic post at a recognized institution) putting their name on the line as endorsing the paper. Yet, even then, there were a lot of hurdles which one had to overcome including a lot of the “old guard” who could veto the paper. Publishing an article in JBL itself was virtually impossible for someone not meeting the aforementioned requirements.

In fact, I remember a controversy among the JBL powers-that-be as late as the 1970’s when an individual who some considered to be analogous to a Jack Horner was getting a significant degree of notice among academics for his work in Assyriology (???). He was not a member of SBL and didn’t meet the requirements, but due to someone bending the rules, he had presented a well-received paper at a regional SBL meeting. So there was a debate among full members on whether his paper was qualified for JBL publication, no matter its merits. I can’t recall how it panned out.

Admittedly, my memories may come from a very different time. But when I read “That is utterly, completely, spectacularly false, Jon.”, I was quite startled—because basically everything @Jonathan_Burke wrote on this topic harmonized with my personal experience as a published academic. Furthermore, their application to a relative “fringe outsider” like Richard Carrier concurs with my memories exactly. Indeed, I had a lot of dealings with both Carrier and Robert Price and their controversial ideas before my retirement. It came to a head when a PBS producer wanted to included them in some local affiliate’s plans for a TV documentary on Jesus mythicism. (Carrier and Price were overwhelmingly ignored by the academy at large and were often the target of professional jabs, because neither had managed to find what was considered “credible employment” in the academic world. A PhD alone rarely brings much respect among academics no matter how popular one becomes with the general public.)

Yes, there are prestigious journals for which authors don’t need to jump through significant academic achievement hoops. But I think even today there are a great many journals which enforce standards nearly as tight as those of my experience. I say that based on recent anecdotal comments from colleagues even after my retirement.

Of course, my specific example was a humanities related journal and not a scientific one—but I have similar memories with a particular scientific journal involving an academic society in the 1980’s. In my experience, there are many similarities in how academics manage their journals, both in the humanities and in scientific fields. (My research was of an interdisciplinary nature and so I had my fair share of experiences on both sides of that divide.)

(Christy Hemphill) #18


Your debates about the semantics of ‘authoritative scholarship’ and whatnot have been moved to private message. Please keep the discussion here focused on ideas relevant to the discussion at hand and avoid getting sidetracked by what words other people should have used and how they should have said everything better in the first place, or long defenses and justifications of the contested communication.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #19

Where I draw the line is with the claim that it is simple plagiarism. Yes, the Genesis stories do have a basis in Babylonian and Egyptian myths, but they do so by polemically addressing them, or (in the case of the flood story) using a pagan story to contrast between the nature of Yahweh and other gods. Yes they do have Babylonian origins, but it is anything but a case of stealing ideas.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #20

It’s not just Carrier though. Pseudohistorical nonsense is found throughout the entire New Atheist movement. Richard Dawkins (no one more prominent as far as new atheists go) has given an endorsement to a lecture by credentialess historian and Jesus Mythicist Joseph Atwil, his foundation has also posted nonsense about Easter being derived from Ishtar (an idea with it’s origins in Fundamentalist Protestant polemics against the catholic church ironically) on Facebook and as I pointed out in another thread, Dan Barker, president of the FFRF has similar views (though even less grounded in reality) to Carrier.

(Stephen Matheson) #21

If your response to “Glass Houses” is to buff up your rock collection, then we need a new album cover-based metaphor for Missing The Point.