Biblical historian Larry Hurtado went on a rant against mythicism recently. In which, once again, like nearly every other expert has done, all he does he give excuses for not reading the peer reviewed literature of his own field and (as one could then have predicted) makes arguments already refuted in that literature. In the process he forgets the very point of being an expert, and of having a field of experts; he forgets even his own published conclusions.
Why we are supposed to trust the consensus of a field that is based on experts who refuse to read their own peer reviewed literature and never actually respond to it, is still not explained. Yet “we should always believe the consensus” is his main argument. Which was an invalid argument when the historicity of Moses was challenged (as it’s now the mainstream view that he probably didn’t exist or can’t be known to have existed), so why it’s supposed to apply now begs a serious question. Hurtado needs to take my advice in How to Successfully Argue Jesus Existed. Desperately. Because he is making his own field look bad. Indeed, he is making it look wholly unreliable.
Neil Godfrey at Vridar has already dismantled Hurtado on this. See his Reply to Larry Hurtado, On Larry Hurtado’s Response, and now Focus, Focus, Focus — but Not Blinkered (there may be more to come). He exposes how uninformed and irrational Hurtado’s (now five!) posts on this subject are. Five articles. Not one actually addressing the content of the only peer reviewed book ever published on the thesis he wants to challenge.
To read Hurtado’s articles yourself, they are:
- “History for Atheists”! (27 November 2017)
- The “Mythic” Jesus’ Last Hurrah (30 November 2017)
- Why the “Mythical Jesus” Claim Has No Traction with Scholars (2 December 2017)
- “Mythical Jesus”: The Fatal Flaws (4 December 2017)
- Focus, Focus, Focus! (6 December 2017)
Now, owing to it recently being my birthday, I was too busy partying with my girlfriends and having orgies this past week to sit down and write about this nonsense. So I’m quite glad others took up the torch. But now it’s time to really expose Hurtado’s complete failure to do his job.
The Central Problem
Hurtado’s previous articles on mythicism (he wrote three in 2012: 23 July, 27 July, and 9 August) I won’t address here, as they were written years before the only peer reviewed defense of it was published: On the Historicity of Jesus, released in 2014 by Sheffield-Phoenix, which operated on the campus of the University of Sheffield, was staffed by University of Sheffield faculty, and relied on peer reviewers it trusted, all sitting or emeritus professors in Jesus studies. My book specifically avoids the arguments Hurtado took to task in 2012, or provides well-documented rebuttals to them. And it gathered instead all the arguments that do hold up, many of which Hurtado didn’t even address in 2012.
So Hurtado’s 2012 articles are no longer pertinent. What we need to know is what holds up now, after 2014. Hurtado can have no informed opinion of that, if he refuses to inform himself of it. So why is he refusing to inform himself of it? And why is he expecting you to trust his uninformed judgment of it? Do you trust a field whose experts tell you they don’t need to have informed opinions? Isn’t that the definition of a field whose experts you can’t trust? Why has he spent five articles now defending his argument that you should trust uninformed opinions? What’s wrong with a field whose experts think that’s what they should be doing?
As Godfrey put it:
[Hurtado] has failed to defend his remarks against specific criticisms. He refuses to even read the arguments of mythicists apart from summary short articles online. In other words, he refuses to take the argument seriously (which is fair enough, since he hasn’t read it and clearly remains uninformed of its main substance) and has no desire to even attempt to do so. The very thought appears to be tedious to him. That’s fine. I don’t bother to look into things that don’t interest me, either. But I don’t claim to know all I need to know about those things or bother writing criticisms of them. That would indeed be tedious and worse.
Hurtado has very little knowledge of the mythicist arguments, refuses to read the books, contents himself to skim reading (if not skim reading then reading with hostile intent) and distorting what is found on a couple of websites, and then claiming that the arguments have been subjected to “critical scrutiny” and “shown to be erroneous” and that’s why “the view has no traction among scholars”.
Why? What explains Hurtado’s behavior? It’s so unprofessional I can’t fathom it. Yet it’s how everyone in his field seems keen to act, from Craig Evans—who was hired (at considerable expense!) to debate my book…and then never read it, and was blindsided, not having anything prepared for the actual arguments in it—to Bart Ehrman, who like Hurtado, stubbornly refuses to read OHJ, like an angry child. And not just them. For anyone unsure of this, just explore my complete list. In nearly every case, when an expert even addresses my work at all, they simply refuse to read it, or actually lie about what it says.
If the historicity of Jesus were so obviously true because it can be so easily proved…why instead are lies and avoidance the only way experts keep defending historicity against a peer reviewed challenge to it?
Breaking Ground…to Dig a Hole
Hurtado started digging the hole he is now burying himself in by praising Tim O’Neill, a known liar with no relevant qualifications in this field. Take note, because Hurtado keeps saying my having a Ph.D. in ancient history from Columbia University disqualifies me from writing about subjects in ancient history—like whether Jesus existed. Even despite completing a six year post-doc research grant to do exactly that. And having all the necessary skills for it. Yet, O’Neill? He’s totally reliable in Hurtado’s book, someone everyone should read and promote and count on. Simply because he says things Hurtado likes. This kind of hypocrisy does not make Hurtado or his field look reliable. This is not evidence of good judgment.
Given that O’Neill grossly lied about the content of my peer reviewed article on the James reference in Josephus, it’s telling that Hurtado trusts his equally false account of what’s in my peer reviewed article on the Christ reference in Tacitus. Hurtado is setting up a pattern of only reading un-peer-reviewed polemical blogs by established liars, rather than the actual professional peer reviewed literature of his own field. Hurtado would do better to judge my Tacitus article on its actual merits: by doing his job as a professional historian and actually reading it. Like its peer reviewers did.
Of course, likewise, if he would do his job and actually read my peer reviewed monograph on historicity, Hurtado would know I don’t even rely on the conclusions of that article in reaching my conclusion on historicity. I was simply continuing an established tradition: there are now three unrebutted peer reviewed articles by three different experts arguing the Christ reference in Tacitus is an interpolation. Why, then, when Hurtado says we should only trust real experts, is he trusting a crank over all the actual experts who have published peer reviewed articles on this subject? The answer to that question is not going to instill confidence in Hurtado. Which begins to cast doubt on the reliability of his whole field.
O’Neill, by the way, doesn’t just lie about my work. He lies about anything. Including the sources. And for Hurtado not to know this, and not condemn it, is another indicator of how unreliable Hurtado has established himself to be in this debate. For example, O’Neill says this, himself even linking to the source text he is talking about (so you could instantly check):
In his letter to Trajan Pliny nowhere expresses that he “knew nothing of what they believed or what crimes they were guilty of”. He says, as Carrier notes, that he has “never participated in trials of Christians” but goes on to say that as a result of this “I therefore do not know what offences it is the practice to punish or investigate, and to what extent“. He is saying he is not clear on exactly what it is Christians are meant to be punished for and which of them exactly should be executed, not that he does not know what they believe.
Of course, O’Neill just himself confirmed Pliny outright says he knew nothing of what what crimes (“offences”) they were guilty of. But O’Neill then claims Pliny never says he knew nothing of what they believed. Except that he did. Pliny goes on to say he only just learned of their beliefs after interrogating the very Christians he’s talking about, and they were the ones who told him:
…that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food—but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.
In other words, Pliny didn’t even know basic details of Christian teachings; and was so startled after finally learning some, that he had to strongarm some women to get more details (or make sure what he’d been told was true), and then found out it was all just “depraved, excessive superstition.” It’s quite evident Pliny was surprised by all this, and had no accurate information on Christian beliefs, and found those beliefs bizarre once finally he inquired. For O’Neill to misrepresent what Pliny actually tells us in this letter, is typical of O’Neill’s behavior in all his articles. For Hurtado to thus choose O’Neill over the peer reviewed literature of his own field, is a disgrace to that field.
Digging the Hole Deeper
Hurtado got taken to task for asserting knowledge he didn’t have (regarding what my book even argues), and responded with an article that is simply an extended excuse for why he doesn’t have to know anything to claim he’s right about it. But by not actually looking at what I wrote under peer review, he doesn’t discover that none of the people he cites (as his excuse not to look) have correctly described what it contains. He should know. I’ve demonstrated it.
- McGrath has repeatedly lied about my work (time and again). That’s not just an assertion. Read those articles: I prove it. Why is this not a scandal? Why does Hurtado defend the liar, rather than the truth? What sort of field prefers lies to the truth? Is it a field whose opinions we can trust? Hurtado also thinks McGrath somehow rebutted my case for Bayesian logic in history; yet McGrath’s treatment of Proving History was mostly positive, and his few attempts at critiquing it betrayed a complete failure to understand what the book argued. Hurtado has a responsibility to go see what the book actually argues, before concluding it’s wrong about anything. It’s unclear that he even knows what it argues.
- Hurtado likewise doesn’t correctly understand Tucker’s review, which is actually supportive on nearly every point. I suspect because Tucker’s review went completely over Hurtado’s head, Hurtado having made no effort to understand the mathematical or epistemological issues Tucker and I are defending—for example, Hurtado somehow seems not to know that my thesis in Proving History, that historical methods are all reducible to Bayes’ Theorem, Tucker himself wrote an entire book defending.
- Or it may be…Hurtado never read Tucker’s review. Because in it Tucker (incorrectly) takes me to task for treating the Gospels as histories when “obviously” (Tucker himself asserts) they are symbolic myths, a position Hurtado takes me to task for not endorsing! So why does Hurtado commend Tucker’s review…when it argues positions Hurtado regards as supporting mythicism? Indeed, what in Tucker’s review does Hurtado actually thinks helps him? I doubt Hurtado even knows. He probably just threw up some links someone told him about.
- I also suspect Hurtado neither read nor understood Ian’s review of Proving History. In any event, Ian actually ended up agreeing with me on every point relevant to real historical reasoning in practice (see my reply to his review and our subsequent conversation in comments immediately after), as opposed to highly esoteric matters unrelated to what historians ever need claim or do. Ian also, incidentally, is not a historian; Tucker, by contrast, is a published expert in the philosophy of history…and the only person Hurtado mentions whose remarks on Proving History were published in an academic journal. So Hurtado kind of screwed the pooch here: he cited a defender of Bayesian history, to argue against Bayesian history. Is checking his sources not a skill Hurtado learned?
- The hypothesis that Hurtado never reads the things he commends is further supported by the fact that he endorses Petterson’s review of On the Historicity of Jesus. You remember that one? Yeah. Um. Clearly he isn’t reading these things. It’s telling that the only academic journal review of OHJ he mentions is hers. Gosh. He seems not to have noticed this one (which you can read here). That’s deeply suspicious. Hurtado ignores the only review that actually addresses the content of the book…because it’s a positive review and he just can’t have that. And he digs around instead for the only negative review he can find…even though it’s just a series of unsupported polemical assertions, with no critiques of anything actually argued in the book!
So those are Hurtado’s excuses for not reading the peer reviewed literature of his own field, and for declaring knowledge of what he confesses he knows nothing of (not having actually read OHJ or PH and thus not actually knowing what arguments and evidence are in them). This is a behavior he insists we should respect. People who don’t read a book, declaring uninformed opinions about it, are to be “trusted.” For some reason.
Hurtado closes his attempt to make excuses for his ignorance being respectable with this:
Despite Carrier’s evangelistic prophecies that the scholarly world will come to see that he, though now a voice in the wilderness, is correct in judging Jesus of Nazareth to be a mythical invention, there is in fact no sign of fulfillment. He is a paid advocate of his views (having been hired to produce these books), not a disinterested or dispassionate assessor of things. He is not expert in the very subjects on which he writes in these books, and his mishandling of the evidence shows this all to clearly. I conclude that, in so far as scholarly judgment of the matter is concerned, Carrier’s often-strident efforts will be judged as the last hurrah of the “mythicist” claim, although internet die-hards are likely to remain doggedly committed to it.
Here, Hurtado has presented no evidence that I am “not expert” in a subject I devoted a six year postdoc research project to complete, after receiving a Ph.D. in ancient history more than sufficient to arm me with all necessary skills to accomplish that. Nor has he presented any evidence of my “mishandling of the evidence.” He never even mentions any evidence I mishandled, much less shows I mishandled it. Evidence-based reasoning? Evidently also not something Hurtado believes in. He just makes unsupported assertions. And hopes you don’t notice.
Meanwhile, Hurtado resorts to rhetoric instead. He thinks a book everyone is ignoring should have persuaded them by now. When in fact it’s their ignoring it that’s negating any effect it could have had. He thinks I’m an evangelist, when in fact I was long as ruthless an opponent of mythicism as he is, and was still agnostic about it when I began my formal research project on it. Indeed, I’d have loved to be able to debunk it. And was paid to do so. Hurtado, you see, somehow wants you to think neither he nor any other historian has ever received a research grant for anything they eventually published; or that grants work by donors contractually obligating you to come up with a foregone conclusion. Except that neither fact is true. Scholars do grant-funded research all the time. And Hurtado would never condemn it. Until, I guess, he doesn’t like its results. Which betrays his hypocrisy and preference for rhetoric over reality. In truth, all my donors were as keen on my debunking mythicism as confirming it. Where I ended up, was dictated by no other factor than where the evidence went.
So I’m baffled why this is what Hurtado writes, instead of actually engaging with the thesis and its formal academic defense. Why are we to trust the consensus, if it’s made up of experts like Hurtado, who only make excuses for not reading the peer reviewed literature of their own field, who make assertions without presenting any evidence for them, and who don’t read or understand their own sources? How is this making historicity look good? It’s actually starting to discredit Hurtado’s entire field. The public aren’t going to trust you anymore, if you keep acting like this. You should stop. You should, instead, do your job.
Digging the Hole Even Deeper
After this was pointed out to him, Hurtado then tried to throw up some half-cocked attempt at actually, finally, addressing what’s been argued in the peer reviewed literature. And fails. Because he still can’t be bothered to actually read it. Or treat it as a theory worth honest critique. This is his only lengthy critique so far, fully footnoted…in which he never addresses anything in the peer reviewed Historicity of Jesus. He instead just throws up a bunch of criticisms of a single paragraph I wrote in a trade journal. Which is exactly not how a scholar should behave.
Obviously, all the evidence and formal argument, the stuff that met the peer review standards of his field, is in the book. Not in brief summaries; least of all summaries that explicitly ask you to read the cited sections of that peer reviewed book. To not do so, only demonstrates to the public that you have no reliable standard for judging challenges to the consensus; and a field that has no reliable standard for judging challenges to its consensus, can never claim to have a reliable consensus. The only reason a consensus of experts can ever have any value, is the public trust that proper vetting of peer reviewed challenges to it will always occur. If you declare they shall not—if you insist you won’t even learn what’s in those challenges—then you are betraying the public trust. And thus destroying any value the expert consensus could have had.
Finally Getting to the Point?
Instead, in his inept attempt at a rebuttal, Hurtado starts by describing the mainstream consensus correctly as “that there was a first-century Jewish man known as Jesus of Nazareth, that he engaged in an itinerant preaching/prophetic activity in Galilee, that he drew to himself a band of close followers, and that he was executed by the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate.”
But here’s the problem. As I demonstrated factually in Chapter 11 of OHJ, only “there was a superbeing believed to have been given a mortal Jewish body that was then killed” is attested in the first lifetime of texts that survive from the original believers. Paul never mentions Nazareth or Galilee; he never mentions Pilate (or Romans or Jews) as executioners; he never mentions Jesus ever having a ministry (or being a prophet, miracle worker, or exorcist); he never mentions Jesus gathering a band of followers (the first time Paul mentions anyone ever even seeing him, is after his death—in visions); he never even mentions anyone witnessing his death or burial, but cites only scripture as his source for that. Even when he relates the Eucharist ritual, Paul tells us he learned that directly from Jesus, by revelation. He never mentions any human tradents—for that fact, or any other. We get the same from 1 Clement and Hebrews; even 1 Peter. All this is weird. Maybe you can explain it all away; but let’s at least be honest and admit that it’s true; and that its being true, is uncomfortably well fit to the mythicist thesis.
And I am willing to bet, nearly all the “experts” Hurtado says form the consensus he wants us to lean on, aren’t actually aware of all these facts. They still think Paul mentions “Disciples,” or that Jesus ministered to the Jews. For example. The further outside of Biblical studies they are, the even more likely they know little of these facts. They still think Paul says Jesus was crucified by Pilate, or that he was a miracle worker. For example. A consensus based on false information, cannot be cited in support of any conclusion. And this is before we get to the even stranger evidence, such as that some Christians believed Jesus lived a hundred years before Pontius Pilate, or that Paul describes Jesus as an angel with properties already enumerated by the Jewish theologian Philo. You can’t have a reliable consensus that isn’t informed of the relevant facts.
Hurtado was previously called out for asserting without evidence that I lack qualifications and flub the evidence; so here he tries to present some evidence. But he ends up screwing the pooch again. By proving he knows less about the evidence than he claims I do. As to my qualifications, even apart from my degrees and postdoc work, which are all ample and on point, I have multiple peer reviewed publications in this subject, in journals and books, so his claim that I “have failed to demonstrate expertise in the relevant data” is false. The point of getting a monograph peer reviewed in this subject is to establish that. So why is he lying? He claims I lack “sufficient acquaintance with the methods involved in the analysis of the relevant data.” Yet I wrote an entire peer reviewed book specifically on the methods involved in the analysis of the relevant data. In which the bulk of my conclusions are supported by extensive citation of peer reviewed experts who agree with me. So, again, why is he lying?
Hurtado also claims I “have failed to show that the dominant scholarly view (that Jesus of Nazareth was a real first-century figure) is incompatible with the data or less secure than the ‘mythical Jesus’ claim,” but that begs the question: Have I? How can he know? He hasn’t read my book! And in what follows, he reveals he still hasn’t, and doesn’t know what’s in it. He insists he ‘doesn’t have to read it’ to know what’s in it. Claims of supernatural clairvoyance, are not lending him credibility. But let’s test his clairvoyant powers anyway:
Hurtado only relies on a summary of my book’s thesis that I got published in our field’s online trade journal Bible and Interpretation. Even though it says:
Of course overthrowing centuries of assumptions cannot be done in a mere two thousand words. Hence the book. But I can here summarize the reasons for suspecting we’ve been wrong all along about how the Christian religion began. Objections one might then raise are of course answered in my book.
Hurtado doesn’t read, you see. He’s too lazy. And that’s supposed to be respectable. For some reason. He also, as we’ll see, prefers sophistry to honest argument. Because historicity evidently can’t be defended honestly. Which kind of suggests it can’t be defended.
Hurtado correctly quotes that article as distilling the book’s thesis down to three brief statements (though only in the concluding paragraph), which I am now adding emphasis to with bold type so you can see how Hurtado engages in sophistry when responding to it:
That Christianity may have been started by a revealed Jesus rather than a historical Jesus is corroborated by at least three things: the sequence of evidence shows precisely that development (from celestial, revealed Jesus in the Epistles, to a historical ministry in the Gospels decades later), all similar savior cults from the period have the same backstory (a cosmic savior, later historicized), and the original Christian Jesus (in the Epistles of Paul) sounds exactly like the Jewish archangel Jesus, who certainly did not exist. So when it comes to a historical Jesus, maybe we no longer need that hypothesis.
To which Hurtado responds by claiming these “three claims actually illustrate his lack of expertise in the relevant field.” At which, he demonstrates he lacks expertise in the relevant field. At least by his own standards. And consistency requires Hurtado to agree that, if he is the one who got the background facts wrong, we should dismiss his opinion in this subject. So let’s see how this goes for him.
Three Facts Hurtado Gets Embarrassingly Wrong
1. Did Some Jews Think There Was an Angel Named Jesus?
Right out of the gate, Hurtado embarrassingly inserts his own foot in his mouth by declaring, “There is no evidence whatsoever of a ‘Jewish archangel Jesus’ in any of the second-temple Jewish evidence.” His argument? That he knows of lots of other angels by other names. But none of that name. Therefore I have no evidence of it. That’s it. That’s all he can think to argue. What’s weird about this, is that this means he didn’t even read the brief summary article he claims to be responding to.
Get this. That article is only 2,000 words long. Yet he missed this entire paragraph (emphasis now added):
This “Jesus” would most likely have been the same archangel identified by Philo of Alexandria as already extant in Jewish theology.[Cited: OHJ, pp. 200-05.] Philo knew this figure by all of the attributes Paul already knew Jesus by: the firstborn son of God (Rom. 8:29), the celestial “image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4), and God’s agent of creation (1 Cor. 8:6). He was also God’s celestial high priest (Heb. 2:17, 4:14, etc.) and God’s “Logos.” And Philo says this being was identified as the figure named “Jesus” in Zechariah 6. So it would appear that already before Christianity there were Jews aware of a celestial being named Jesus who had all of the attributes the earliest Christians were associating with their celestial being named Jesus. They therefore had no need of a historical man named Jesus. All they needed was to imagine this celestial Jesus undergoing a heavenly incarnation and atoning death, in order to accomplish soteriologically what they needed, in order to no longer rely upon the Jewish temple authorities for their salvation. [Cited: OHJ, pp. 143-45, 153-59.]
So I presented evidence. More than “none.” I discuss and analyze that evidence (and cite and quote the passages from Philo) in OHJ, in the pages cited. That Hurtado doesn’t respond to any of this evidence, shows he didn’t even read this paragraph. All he did was skip to the last paragraph and directly from the armchair spewed out a rebuttal to the statements there, unaware that I had presented evidence for those statements earlier in the essay. Otherwise, he’d have known he needed to rebut it.
So who now is the one ignorant of the pertinent background facts of Jewish angelology? Hurtado.
So by his own reasoning, we are never to trust his conclusions in the subject of historicity ever again. Sad day for Larry Hurtado.
The evidence is pretty clear, and literally true as stated. Paul’s Jesus is identical to Philo’s archangel, in several unusual properties, whose conjunction is extremely improbable by chance accident (as if Paul and Philo independently gathered all those same weird attributes and assigned them to completely separate figures, unawares). It’s now increasingly agreed among experts (including Hurtado himself, BTW) that the first Christians believed Jesus was a pre-existent archangel become incarnate (by the definition of “angel” I set forth in OHJ, p. 60, Hurtado’s semantics notwithstanding). Even Bart Ehrman is now on board with this—noting Paul outright calls Jesus an angel in Gal. 4:14 (citing numerous scholars concurring, in How Jesus Became God, Ch. 7).
Now, if Hurtado wasn’t so phenomenally lazy, I can anticipate what he would have tried to argue, had he actually read the article (but was still too lazy to read the pages in OHJ cited in support of its point). He would have maybe said (assuming he isn’t totally clueless and actually knows the passages in Philo I’m talking about) that Philo never explicitly says that the angel he describes is named Jesus. Philo only says the figure described in Zechariah 6 is that angel. When we check Zechariah 6 for who that figure is, we discover they’re named Jesus. Which Philo certainly knew. Being, after all, a world’s leading expert on the Bible at the time. What are the odds, that just by chance, Philo and Paul would describe the same angel with all the same peculiar attributes, and that both Paul and Philo would link that angel with a character named Jesus? I’m sorry, but I’m a decent gambler, and I wouldn’t bet money on that being an accident.
Meanwhile, if Hurtado was actually the fully competent scholar he postures himself as, he would have actually read my book. At least the pages cited in the article, as supporting my claim on this. Then he’d know I explain the above point there already, and that I address other silly objections—like that Philo doesn’t name the book he quotes; as if Philo didn’t know he was quoting Zechariah. This is how an actual scholar who claims to be an expert behaves. They read the peer reviewed literature of their own field. They become informed. And if they still want to argue against a conclusion they find there, they argue against the actual arguments presented for it. They don’t ignore those arguments. They don’t ignore the evidence. They don’t ignore probability. They don’t ignore everything pertinent to deciding this question. And they certainly don’t claim someone doesn’t know what they are talking about, when their peer reviewed book establishes that not only do they know what they are talking about, but they cite primary evidence establishing it.
Instead, Hurtado establishes he is the one who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Conclude from that what you will. If you take his advice, you should now dismiss him as a crank and his opinions on historicity uninformed, incompetent, and irrelevant. I think that’s harsh. But hey. It’s his standard. Yeah. He might want to rethink that standard.
2. Were Mythical Saviors Typically Historicized?
Next up, is Hurtado’s claim that it’s false that “all similar savior cults from the period” feature “a cosmic savior, later historicized,” because some of them were placed in vague periods of history. In logic, we call that a non sequitur. Look it up, Larry. Here’s an analogy: I argue “all the food in my fridge was eaten”; you respond, “no it wasn’t, because you didn’t specify exactly when it was eaten, therefore it wasn’t eaten.” If you think that’s a clever rebuttal, you have some serious schooling to get back to. I said all cosmic saviors (of similar enough features) were not historical but were historicized. That’s true even if the historicization was vague as to period. So saying some were vague as to period, simply does not rebut what I said. Why is a supposedly respectable scholar thinking this is a rational way to argue?
Oh hey. Want to know what the article Hurtado gets this statement from says?
The same had already been done to other celestial gods and heroes, who were being transported into earth history all over the Greco-Roman world, a process now called Euhemerization, after the author Euhemerus, who began the trend in the 4th century B.C. by converting the celestial Zeus and Uranus into ordinary human kings and placing them in past earth history, claiming they were “later” deified (in a book ironically titled Sacred Scripture). Other gods then underwent the same transformation, from Romulus (originally the celestial deity Quirinus) to Osiris (originally the heavenly lord whom pharaohs claimed to resemble, he was eventually transformed into a historical pharaoh himself).
Hm. I wonder why Hurtado never attempts to rebut the evidence I presented for the claim he wishes to assert false? Maybe…because he’s too lazy even to read a summary? Why should we think someone so lazy can have a credible opinion in this matter?
And again, the article is just a summary. Note the footnote in the article says:
The evidence for these being dying-and-rising gods (usually with associated personal salvation cults) is overwhelming, and it is a scandal that anyone who should know the facts of the matter would still be claiming the contrary. I collect the evidence and scholarship in Carrier, On the Historicity of Jesus, pp. 45-47, 56-58, 96-108, 168-73.
So. What would happen if Hurtado did his job and actually read the latest peer reviewed literature on this point? As indeed cited. Or if he really got a gold star and surveyed all the available evidence to see if he could even at least find an exception, so that he could at least win the pathetically trivial victory of a correction of my “all” to “nearly all”? Besides Jesus, for the Hellenistic and Roman periods, would he find any examples of other dying-and-rising (or even just merely suffering) savior deities who were ever likely historical figures? No. There are none. Would he find any examples of dying-and-rising (or even just merely suffering) savior deities who were not historicized, but remained wholly celestial? No. There are none. None that we know of anyway. In history we call that a trend. When we see yet another instance of the same trend in the same region and period, we usually admit the obvious: that we are seeing cultural diffusion. To deny this is just bizarre. Indeed, if it wasn’t Jesus, no one would deny it. And that kind of inconsistency is a hallmark of bias, not sound reasoning.
Now, methodologically, I don’t really see a problem if there are some rare exceptions, if my “all” had to be revised to “nearly all.” The conclusion remains unaffected: usually such persons didn’t exist. We therefore need better than average evidence to believe any of them did. I just don’t know of any exceptions. Do let me know if you find any. But also, note: OHJ uses a different reference class than the dying-and-rising saviors as a proxy for the prior probability Jesus existed (not the probability he existed; the prior probability, which means, before we consider evidence specific to Jesus). Because it has more members and thus gives us a more secure estimate of frequency. But that Jesus belongs to so many myth-heavy classes (like the dying-and-rising saviors) is the actual fact being proxied. I have since explained this point better here. But what proves Hurtado has never read my book, is that he doesn’t know I used a different reference class there. He thinks I used the one in the B&I article.
But even apart from the logical fallacy Hurtado has deployed (pretending “being placed in a nonspecific period of human history” entails “not being placed in human history”), his argument is also factually unsound. And this gets us to that problem again: not knowing the background facts. Hurtado embarrassingly claims Isis “never came to be treated as a historical woman.” In OHJ, I cite and quote Plutarch declaring that she was widely regarded as a historical woman; and so was Osiris. That they lived on earth in the past as king and queen of Egypt, and were deified upon their deaths. And that what separated those initiated in the mysteries from the average person on the street was to not think so. Oops. You should check your facts, Larry. Don’t just make shit up from the armchair. Real scholars don’t do that. If you listen to your own advice anyway.
Ancient historians placed Romulus in such a specific period of history that even by the time of Cicero attempts were being made to calculate when he lived using eclipse records, on the grounds that the sun supposedly went dark at his death (which sounds familiar, you might say). Years were even assigned according to when legend said he founded the city of Rome, even though we have no reason to believe he even existed (the evidence we have suggests he was invented, based on a Greek parallel, in the 4th century). Accordingly, 753 B.C. was year 1 in their system (a method of dating that, um, also sounds familiar, you might say). Ancient historians placed Zalmoxis in the 7th century B.C., considering him a contemporary of Pythagoras. Ancient historians placed the death of Hercules in various years in 1200 B.C. (and indeed entire political wars were fought over which countries he supposedly had conquered and when). That’s also when most other historicized gods were placed, since they were often believed to be colleagues whose lives overlapped the Trojan War. Isis and Osiris were given dates in ancient chronologies. As were Bacchus and Zeus. And every one of the Rank-Raglan heroes. And so on. (Isaac Newton collected references.)
If you are going to assert that no ancient historian or chronology placed a god’s historical existence on earth (prior to their legendary ascension or death and deification), for any god you care to name, you really need to check first. Because…you might be surprised what you find. But even if you can’t find them saying what specific period they lived in, you’ll still find them all said to have lived in the past as humans, on earth (and often in connection to human royal houses), who then died and were deified, or ascended directly to heaven. Consider Moses as an analog. The Bible does not make exactly clear when he lived, but does make clear it had to have been in a certain period of pharaonic Egypt, and in any case, unmistakably in human history. You wouldn’t say “Moses wasn’t placed in history” merely because Exodus doesn’t specify the century or year. So, too, all the savior deities most similar to Jesus.
This doesn’t mean that’s what everyone believed. But it was what many did believe. As Plutarch explains, many people believed in the historicized versions of their gods, and only the wiser folk know that’s but a fable, and really those earthly histories are allegories for the cosmic reality of the god. Just as mythicism proposes for Jesus. We don’t have any texts that discuss the narrative of Mithras, so we can honestly say we don’t know in his case when he was placed, but ancient “graphic novels” of his story in stone show him performing deeds on earth and interacting with humans there, and then ascending to the heavens to reign with the gods. But Attis we know more about; he was placed as the prospective son-in-law of a king of Pessinus in Anatolia, in some accounts Midas. I mention Attis, because Hurtado confuses Attis with Cybele, his goddess lover; the suffering savior in their myth—the intermediary through which one earned favor from the supreme being, and thus the actual analog to Jesus—was Attis, not Cybele. I also said gods most similar to Jesus. So Hurtado bringing up Artemis, only shows he can’t read English. Perhaps he means Inanna, who was the consort to Tammuz, often referred to as Adonis. The Adonis who was placed as a historical man, son of Cinryas, distant king of Cyprus. And again, the actual savior figure in their cult by then; not Inanna (although Inanna might have been historicized by then as well; we lack any Hellenistic texts for her distinct cult).
We could go on, but it would get tedious to do so.
“There is in fact no instance known to me (or to other experts in Roman-era religion) in ‘all the savior cults of the period’ of a deity that across time got transformed into a mortal figure of a specific time and place” is such a wildly, embarrassingly false or disingenuous claim for Hurtado to make, it is really a solid example of his being completely ignorant of the actual background facts of this subject. Yet he arrogantly claims certainty of it. As if he checked. He didn’t even check! He further exhibits his confusion and ignorance when in a note he says “Carrier seems to misconstrue the classic Euhemerist theory, which postulated that the various gods derive from ancient human heroes who across time developed into gods, not the opposite,” as if that’s not exactly what we are talking about: postulating that a god derived from a past human deified (but who in fact did not, i.e. they never were a historical person, but came to be believed to be). That’s indeed exactly what happened to every savior god similar to Jesus for whom we have texts to determine from. Please take a primer on Euhemerism.
3. Did Jesus Go from Cosmic Wonder in the Epistles to Mundane Sage in the Gospels?
Even Larry Hurtado himself has said so in his peer reviewed work.
There is no logical reason for him to deny this now. Except to be dishonest about what he himself believes, because what he actually believes, is what I believe: Jesus began in Christian belief as a pre-existent cosmic superbeing. The Gospels come decades later, and start with Mark erasing all of that, by portraying Jesus as just a miracle-working sage. Yet Mark was surely well aware of the Pauline belief he wrote his Gospel to defend; how could he not? It is preposterous to say he wrote a book to defend Paul’s Torah-free innovation on the gospel, and was aware of tons of historical legends about Jesus, but didn’t know one whit about the Philippian creed or any of the teachings of Paul on Jesus’s preexistence. So the fact that Mark doesn’t mention the doctrine of Christ’s angelic power and cosmic pre-existence, means he is doing that on purpose.
After Mark, this mystery element, of the cosmic truth behind Jesus, came more and more to leak out into the texts, as the need to conceal it behind allegory fell less and less in favor as the decades rolled by. Thus decades later we get a miraculous incarnation (in Matthew). Then decades later we get a cosmic ascension (in Luke). Then decades later, a full admission that he is the eternal Logos incarnate (in John). But Philo tells us the angel Paul equated with Jesus from the start, was already known as the Logos. It’s highly unlikely he had not always been so known. John is just the first author to put that fact out in public in a historicizing text about Jesus.
Mark did to Jesus what was done with Moses: invent a history, complete with named siblings and parents, and exciting, lesson-filled narrative. The same was done to every other similar savior deity for whom we have the tales of their adventures and tribulations, and family and genealogy, and cities they visited. Later authors then embellished from there. Why did the embellishment increase? Because these stories didn’t exist before. So there was only one direction for them to go: toward the more fabulous. They certainly weren’t going to make their savior’s story more mundane over time.
But the trajectory from Epistolary Jesus at the beginning of the faith as a pre-existent cosmic superbeing, to Gospel Jesus as a humdrum miracle man, is a fact. A fact even Hurtado has elsewhere enthusiastically affirmed. For him to deny this now, is insulting. It’s gross. I have to wipe the slime off me just knowing he did this.
So. Yeah. How he lives with himself, trying to pretend he never said exactly the same thing I said, I can’t fathom. And to portray this as my not knowing the subject is outright immoral.
It’s true that increasing “legendary embellishment is what happens to high-impact historical figures, and doesn’t signal that the figures are ‘mythical’.” But neither does it prove they are historical…especially when we know decades before even the first such tale was written, Jesus was already a preexistent cosmic archangel in Christian imagination. The Gospels were clearly concealing the real teaching that had spawned the faith. It can’t be imagined that they had forgotten it or didn’t know of it. It was what Paul and all the other apostles had preached across three continents for three decades! And it’s certainly very important for us to know that. Because it’s extremely weird that this cosmic Jesus was later transformed into a more mundane deified man. That sequence is suspiciously the same for every euhemerized deity we know. A historical man should have produced the opposite pattern: mundane memoirs and recollections, then elevation into having been a cosmic superbeing from the dawn of time. But that’s not the sequence we see.
So here we have Hurtado claiming I get three facts wrong. That in fact I get completely right. He, by contrast, exhibits embarrassing ignorance on two of those facts. And fully lies to his readers on the third, pretending my point wasn’t exactly the same one he himself has defended much of his career. Which is disgusting. Why are we then to trust his opinion in this subject? By his own standards, we shouldn’t. (I should also add, that getting basic background facts wrong is also a popular foible of his buddy James McGrath: the most face-palming examples are here and here.)
What Else Is Left?
So that’s it. That’s all Hurtado actually has by way of responding to my argument in On the Historicity of Jesus. In which he never once references OHJ or shows any knowledge of what’s in it. Instead, he gets two basic background facts wildly wrong (which he wouldn’t have if he read OHJ; as it contains all the abundant evidence and cited scholarship that establishes what I said is true; and he knows this, because the article he lazily responded to instead, cites the very pages in OHJ where he could find all that). And then lies about a third. This is shit scholarship. And it is shocking to see him hold this fallacious garbage up as superior to an actual peer reviewed monograph published by Sheffield-Phoenix.
Having now failed to read or address anything in the only peer reviewed treatise defending mythicism there is, Hurtado continues to make shit up from the armchair, as if I had never heard any of it before and hadn’t written entire chapters in OHJ refuting it. His arguments here descend into a long discourse on what he thinks is happening in the construction of the Gospels. But I challenge that hypothesis extensively in Chapter 5 of Proving History and Chapter 10 of On the Historicity of Jesus. Those two chapters quite decisively refute him. And I suspect he will continue not to read them and just declare from the armchair that they just can’t possibly have done so. Thus demonstrating his field has no standards we can trust.
And then he closes with standard stuff about passages in the Epistles he thinks evoke historicity. All of which are decisively challenged in Chapter 11 of On the Historicity of Jesus. Of which challenges he knows not one whit. And a man ignorant of what he speaks, has no worthy thing to say on it.
So here we go:
- Hurtado says “it’s clear that a death and burial requires a mortal person” and “it would be simply special pleading to try to convert the reference to Jesus’ death and burial into some sort of event in the heavens or such,” revealing he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I give actual examples of heavenly burials in ancient Jewish tradition, and actual evidence Jesus was thought by some to have been killed in space, and that other dying saviors were likewise, on similar models; and Jesus briefly wearing a mortal body is inherent in the Christ myth theory I test in OHJ. There are also peculiarities in the way Paul describes and sources these details that match these facts. That Hurtado doesn’t know any of this, is why he is disqualified from having any opinion on it worth heeding. Until he gets suitably informed. Like a professional.
- Hurtado says “Paul repeatedly refers, not simply to Jesus’ death, but specifically to his crucifixion, which in Paul’s time was a particular form of execution conducted by Roman authorities against particular types of individuals found guilty of particular crimes.” That’s false. The words Paul uses are also used of Jewish execution under Torah and Mishnah law, and executions performed by all surrounding cultures and empires, and are suitably generic for any similar form of torment or killing. I cite established peer reviewed scholarship proving this fact in OHJ. Numerous experts. That Hurtado doesn’t know any of this, is why he is disqualified from having any opinion on it worth heeding. Until he gets suitably informed. Like a professional.
- Hurtado says “crucifixion requires a historical figure, executed by historical authorities.” And that one sentence proves he doesn’t even know what my thesis is! He has not read the article he cites in B&I, nor my book. He actually thinks I argue Paul didn’t believe Jesus was a historical figure. In fact I argue Paul (and all Christians of his day) regarded Jesus and his death to be as historical as Satan and his fall. It’s we who conclude neither really happened. Not them. Christ. Do your homework. You can’t have an opinion on a thesis when you don’t even know what that thesis is.
- Hurtado asks us to consider Paul’s explicit reference to Jesus as “born of a woman, born under the Law” (Galatians 4:4). Yeah. Larry. We did consider it. I wrote an entire section on it. It’s called “Women and Sperm,” Chapter 11.9 of OHJ. In which, guess what? I also discuss how Paul believed the mortal body Jesus was given was made from David’s sperm. Maybe you should address my peer reviewed arguments? And not advertise to the world that you don’t even know what they are?
- Hurtado says Paul “knew that Jesus’ activities were directed to his own Jewish people (Romans 15:8).” Yeah. Paul knew Jesus was a Jewish savior deity. Which is true no matter where Jesus did the saving, on earth or in space. So that doesn’t tell us anything. But you’d have to know what my thesis was, to know that. Ignorance is not bliss. It’s just ignorance.
- Hurtado says “Paul refers to Jesus’ physical brothers (1 Corinthians 9:5) and to Jesus’ brother James in particular (Galatians 1:19).” Indeed. As if I didn’t discuss that in a peer reviewed monograph already. Chapter 11.10 of OHJ, “Brothers of the Lord.” Maybe you should find out what my arguments are. Because it is not “rather clearly” designating “a specific subset of individuals identified by their family relationship to Jesus.” Paul says all baptized Christians were brothers of the Lord (Romans 8:29). Just for starters. And yes, for starters. Read the book. Don’t lazily and incompetently act like this is the only fact or argument on this point I present there (e.g. you really need to soak in the background facts enumerated in Element 12 of Chapter 4, p. 108).
- Hurtado says “Paul knows of a body of teachings ascribed to Jesus, and uses them on several occasions.” Yeah. He still talks to Jesus. Literally (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). So we already know where he and other apostles are getting that stuff. Paul never mentions any other source of knowledge of the teachings of Jesus but revelation (e.g. Romans 16:25-26). Ever. Not ever. Seriously. Look. Oh, and BTW, lots of other experts agree with me that many of the sayings Paul “has from the Lord” he or others received by revelation. I cite them. Check it out: “Things Jesus Said,” Chapter 11.6; and “The Peculiar Indifference of Paul and His Christians,” Chapter. 11.2. One thing Paul never says, is that he knows of any “body of teachings of ‘the Lord’ that derived from the earthly Jesus.” He may have had collections of prior revelations passed to him. But he never mentions Jesus ever preaching anything before his death. Much less “on earth.” And that’s weird.
So Hurtado simply demonstrates example after example of not knowing what he’s talking about. Because he childishly refuses to inform himself, by engaging with the peer reviewed literature like a professional. Why is he acting like this? What is going on?
In his following articles, Hurtado just keeps reaffirming these same errors, betraying his continued ignorance of my thesis and the facts I’ve marshaled in its defense. Indeed, he gets sloppier and sloppier, eventually adding the careless claims that “Paul ascribes to Jesus…a ministry among fellow Jews” (nope; Paul never mentions any ministry; not even when he says Jesus was a “servant,” diakonos, to the circumcision) and “individuals who were Jesus’ original companions” (nope; Paul never says they were his companions; Paul never mentions anyone ever even so much as seeing Jesus before his death). And yes, in Paul’s view, it was essential that Jesus became a real human to die, precisely so he could be a “model and proto-type of the final redemption.” That’s exactly the mythicist thesis for why the incarnation theology was developed. That does not tell us who it was developed for. A recent actual historical man? Or a celestial angel who had to undertake the task to defeat Satan?
Citing “the consensus” now is a circular argument. Because there is now a challenge to it on the official table. The proper procedure is to get a challenge to any consensus through peer review, the whole point of which is to establish that it meets the standards that the consensus expects and thus deems worthy of their time; and then have the consensus checked against that challenge, and then informedly changed or reaffirmed. Any expert who spends all their time arguing you should skip this procedure, is no longer defending a defensible consensus. Likewise, any expert who ignores that peer reviewed challenge, and debunks instead arguments not made in it, ignoring all the evidence presented in defense of it, and then declares it defeated. Yet Hurtado does both. And still expects us to trust him and his field?
Hurtado claims “this is why the view has no traction among scholars”: “It’s not because scholars are gullible or lazy. The view just doesn’t stand up to critical scrutiny.” Yet, all Hurtado demonstrates is gullibility and laziness. He just trusts things he hasn’t confirmed; I caught him making several claims that are demonstrably false, and that he’d know were false if he bothered to check. And he is too lazy to go and read the actual literature to know if it’s sound. Even after being called out repeatedly for his errors and ignorance. He still won’t go and read the actual evidence and arguments, that actually met the standards of his field. As Godfrey had to conclude:
Hurtado’s recent posts have demonstrated in fact that that’s not the reason the view has no traction among scholars. There is evidently something else involved and the hostile, less than professional attitudes and accusations from Hurtado surely are the symptoms of that “something else”.
Indeed. There is a rot in the field Hurtado angrily defends. He ought to be rooting it out. Not spreading it further. And that begins with actually engaging with the peer reviewed literature, and doing that honestly. Not terrifiedly ignoring it. Certainly not lying about it.
[Now see the followup at: The Difference Between a Historian and an Apologist.]