Two academic reviews of On the Historicity of Jesus now exist: one positive by Raphael Lataster published in the Journal of Religious History (38.4, 2014, pp. 614-16); and one negative by Daniel Gullotta published in the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus (15.2-3, 2017, pp. 310-46). I’ve already discussed the Lataster review. Here is my coverage of the Gullotta review. I will compose a brief summary later for submission to the same journal. (Christina Petterson’s weird review in Relegere doesn’t even address the actual content of the book so I’m not counting it here.)
- Summary of the Positive
- Summary of the Negative
- The Archangel Jesus?
- Paul’s Celestial Jesus?
- Who Killed Jesus?
- Is a Crucifixion Too Political to Invent?
- Did Jesus Have Actual Brothers?
- Why Are We Talking about Homer?
- Is Rank-Raglan Indicative?
Summary of the Positive
Gullotta agrees OHJ is “a rigorous and thorough academic treatise that will no doubt be held up as the standard by which the Jesus Myth theory can be measured.” He concludes it’s ultimately still implausible and at times tendentious, of course. But it should still be addressed. Not ignored.
Gullotta’s article cites a lot of useful history and references covering the centuries-old historicity debate. Although most of it (as Gullotta admits) is garbage (or addresses only the garbage), those interested in studying or debunking the weirder fringe of mythicism can benefit from his short bibliography. He also provides some good references and links for catching up on the debate of late, such as my critiques of Ehrman and Casey and theirs of me, and more. The only thing it could benefit from on this account is a link to my “List of Responses to Defenders of the Historicity of Jesus,” which you might want to bookmark; it belongs in his footnote 28, as it solves what he asks for there, and would fix omissions in his footnotes 29 and 31. Combined with the critique that ensues, I would call his article the most useful response to mythicism yet published. It’s full of fatal flaws (which I’ll cover), but it has some merits as well (and what I don’t take it to task for here, I probably agree with, other than in wording).
There are other positive points.
Method is an issue Gullotta brackets as a valid concern. He agrees, “The confidence that historians once displayed within historical Jesus studies has been eroded due to previous excesses and flaws in older methodologies,” but he still holds confidence that they can get to a historical Jesus. Though he concedes “many of Carrier’s concerns and criticisms have been long noted and echoed by other historical Jesus scholars,” and indeed encapsulate a trend in the field (which of course I demonstrated by citing a lot of those scholars myself, in both OHJ and Proving History; Gullotta adds more)—indeed all I do is collect the best of it in one place—Gullotta’s still sure these problems can be surmounted. He concurs with Chris Keith that the “historical Jesus … is ultimately unattainable, but can be hypothesized” in ways that can gain (I assume) a balance of probability.
Gullotta then says:
Paradoxically, Carrier’s main contribution may wind up being seen not as an advancement of mythicism, but as a criticism of current methodologies employed by scholars of the historical Jesus. Because of this, Carrier’s work is an ironic contribution to the quest for the historical Jesus.
A note to a fellow writer: that’s neither paradoxical or ironic. If indeed that’s the ultimate value of my work, that’s precisely what I asked for. The last paragraph of OHJ literally begins (bold type hereafter indicates emphasis added): “But it is the method I want my fellow historians to correct, replace or perfect above all else” (p. 618) even if they don’t change their position on historicity; and the paragraph immediately preceding that concluded:
I want to see a helpful critique of this book by objective, qualified experts who could live with the conclusion that Jesus didn’t exist, but just don’t think the case can be made, or made well enough to credit. And what I want from my critics is not useless hole punching but an alternative proposal: if my method is invalid, then what method is the correct one for resolving questions of historicity? And if you know of none, how can you justify any claim to historicity for any person, if you don’t even know how such a claim can be justified or falsified at all? Also correct any facts I get wrong, point out what I missed, and if my method then produces a different conclusion when those emendations are included, we will have progress. Even if the conclusion is the same, it will nevertheless have been improved.
In other words, the goal of my book explicitly included the production of a future successful defense of historicity, through the reform of facts and assumptions. Thus, if it does so, it would not be ironic (which means contrary to expectation) nor paradoxical (which means seemingly self-contradictory). Gullotta even admits (in a footnote) that I began my book by asking historians to produce a better defense of the historicity of Jesus, and to use my book as a roadmap for doing that. He even there quotes my preface, where I say, right at the start: “a better refutation is needed, and a better theory of historicity, which, actually, credibly explains all the oddities in the evidence. If this book inspires nothing else, I’ll be happy if it’s that” (p. xi). I am eagerly awaiting that outcome. Why it hasn’t come is what worries me. And should worry you.
Summary of the Negative
Roughly half the article is merely descriptive. Critique really only begins on page 325. It starts with Gullotta declaring sixth grade math is beyond him and therefore should be ignored. To the contrary, historians need to start learning the mathematical logic they all depend on in every argument they make. “Sixth grade math is hard” is not a valid rebuttal to that point. If he wishes to insist a historical Jesus is probable, he needs to explain what “probable” means and how he arrives at that probability. Saying “I refuse to do math, but will assert a mathematical conclusion at you anyway because I just feel it in my gut” is not a commendable response. If you have no actual understanding of how you can arrive at any logically valid conclusion, your expertise doesn’t count for anything. “Feeling it in my gut” is a dubious alternative, too easily hijacked by bias, and impossible to critique. Historians need to do better. They need to explain to us why their assertions of probability are valid. And “I feel it in my gut,” isn’t an explanation.
Likewise, as if to demonstrate exactly my point, Gullotta thinks Swinburne’s abuse of Bayes’ Theorem demonstrates it doesn’t work. As if William Lane Craig’s abuse of standard logic demonstrates even logic doesn’t work. If you refuse to understand the math, you can’t produce a valid analogy by citing someone who fakes the math, as evidence against math. This is akin to saying that because a political think-tank can abuse statistics to argue bogus or misleading claims, that therefore none of the sciences should ever use statistics. Whereas if Gullotta would brush back up on his sixth grade math, he’d be able to tell why Swinburne’s use of Bayes’ Theorem is a scam, and mine does not commit the same follies. In fact, I wrote a whole book on how not to do that. That Gullotta can’t tell the difference is bad. History is about reaching conclusions in probability. That requires competence in understanding probability.
Gullotta also does occasionally deceive his readers, a little. For example:
- In his conclusion Gullotta only mentions my lower bound probability of “1 in 12,000” but not my upper bound, which is a “1 in 3” odds Jesus existed, the actual conclusion of the book (he mentions the “33%” only in passing mid-article). By altering his conclusion to hide that fact conceals from casual or inattentive readers what my actual conclusion was: that the probability Jesus existed could not reasonably be higher than 1 in 3. That’s far more favorable to historicity than he represents. This looks like a well poisoning fallacy: pretending I didn’t control for bias by readjusting my personal conclusion of 1 in 12,000 to 1 in 3, thus making my conclusion appear far more ridiculous than it is.
- Gullotta says “Carrier’s imagined historical Jesus of the academy has ceased to exist,” but the only “imagined historical Jesus” I test in OHJ is: “an actual man at some point named Jesus acquired followers in life, who continued as an identifiable movement after his death,” “the same Jesus who was claimed by some of his followers to have been executed by the Jewish or Roman authorities” and “some of whose followers soon began worshiping as a living god (or demigod).” I actually repeatedly exclude from consideration any of the fancier historical Jesuses Gullotta is talking about (quite explicitly: read pp. 31-35, and pp. 24-27). He thus misrepresents my book as arguing against some set of already-rejected versions of a historical Jesus, rather than allowing for a mere “gist” of a Jesus (as Gullotta puts it). But only testing that “gist” of a Jesus is what my book actually does. Exactly the opposite of what Gullotta says.
But these are fairly minor, and reflect I think more an unthinking bias than conscious efforts to deceive. He “forgot” my conclusion was actually 1 in 3 and not 1 in 12,000 because the latter shocked him as unreasonable; and so it’s only that “unreasonable” lower bound he remembers come his conclusion. Not the actual conclusion of the book, which was necessarily the upper bound (the whole logical point of an error margin). Likewise, come his conclusion, he “forgot” I tested only a very basic Jesus no scholar would deem “rejected” in academia (even though he correctly quotes my doing this mid-article), and is just “sure” I must have somehow been writing the whole time about some other more elaborate Jesus Gullotta thinks has been abandoned by everyone already (that it actually hasn’t, is a separate problem one could school him on; but I suspect his colleagues will remind him, each of whom is “sure” some rather elaborate version of a historical Jesus is true, and thus has not “ceased to exist” … e.g. look at Chilton: OHJ, pp. 24-25).
Apart from those things, Gullotta ignores nearly the whole book and instead only addresses six points made in it:
The focus of my response will center on Carrier’s claim that  a pre-Christian angel named Jesus existed,  his understanding of Jesus as a nonhuman and celestial figure within the Pauline corpus,  his argument that Paul understood Jesus to be crucified by demons and not by earthly forces,  his claim that James, the brother of the Lord, was not a relative of Jesus but just a generic Christian within the Jerusalem community,  his assertion that the Gospels represent Homeric myths, and  his employment of the Rank-Raglan heroic archetype as a means of comparison.
The Archangel Jesus?
Rejecting the whole of  might affect the estimated probability of the content of the Epistles by making an available archangel to imagine all this of more unexpected. But Gullotta never explains how much that affects it; he never even suggests, much less—more importantly—defends a lower probability of the Epistles’ content when requiring that as a supposition rather than already having it in evidence. He just “feels in his gut” that it must be lower. How much lower? And how much does that increase the probability of historicity? History itself still doesn’t know. And that’s the problem. The lesson that’s not being learned here.
But Gullotta also here confuses  as a whole with merely one detail of it, the name “Jesus.” The archangel’s pre-Christian existence is undeniable (OHJ, Ch. 5, Element 40). He only contests what it was named. So how much does merely adding that the Christians chose to rename it “Savior” (like per Philippians 2:9-11) reduce the probability of the Epistles’ content? Given that the angel already existed for them to imagine this of, and in fact clearly did imagine Jesus was that angel, descended and incarnate—even if Jesus was indeed also a historical person they were imagining this of. And given that all personal savior gods were named Savior (among the many names and titles each was always given; as likewise was Jesus).
I’ve already covered this confusion before (and much of the evidence pro and con), in my discussion of Hurtado’s more incompetent treatment of the question. Gulotta’s argument is weirder than Hurtado’s, though it at least does not commit the factual errors. It’s just illogical. Gullotta strangely says “the most damning argument against Carrier’s claim” that such an angel existed in Jewish thought “is that there is no literary or archeological evidence within the entirety of the Mediterranean world and Second Temple period that validates [its] existence.” Philo says the angel existed. He wrote before Christianity. That’s literary evidence. So how can there be “no” evidence when there is very clear and indisputable evidence? I must assume he means only with respect to being named Jesus, and not that the angel as described didn’t exist. Gullotta seems consistently to confuse those two facts. And only gives evidence against the name, not the angel.
Gullotta’s argument against the name is weird, too. He starts by arguing all angels had names ending in el. But I quote Philo saying this archangel had “many names.” Gullotta can’t claim to know what all of them were. Philo doesn’t tell us. The only name he ever mentions this angel having, is Anatole (Rising One). Notably, not ending in el. So we can’t get anywhere with an argument like this. Philo clearly says it was an angel. So “he can’t have said that, because he didn’t give it a name ending in el” is simply not logical. But even beyond that logic fail, one might wonder why Matthew thinks Jesus is supposed to be named Emmanu-el. From prophecy, but why that prophecy?
After all, it’s clear, as I and even Bart Ehrman argue (and others, whom we both cite), the first Christians were already sure Jesus was an incarnated archangel…so which one? One could just as easily note that the same figure Christians identified Jesus as (the one with all the same weird properties as the angel Philo is talking about) was the High Priest of God’s celestial temple (e.g. Hebrews 4-9)…otherwise known in Jewish angelology as Michael (and Michael in turn, like Jesus, was equated with the angelic Melchizedek: OHJ, index). Modern sects have adduced more evidence Jesus and Michael were imagined the same. I don’t have a position on the matter. But as we neither know all the names of Jesus, nor all the names of the angel Philo speaks of, we don’t know what names either Jesus or Philo’s angel didn’t have. So we can’t argue from such a premise. That’s illogical.
Gullotta also weirdly argues “Carrier’s argument does not adequately explain why” this angel would be named Jesus. Maybe because he was God’s Savior? The very meaning of the name Jesus. As indeed I do adequately explain: OHJ, pp. 239-42. It’s no weirder than Philo thinking this angel was also named Anatole. Or Matthew thinking Jesus was also named Emmanuel—an actually angelic-formed name. And since Philo interprets the Jesus in Zechariah 6 as this angel, he clearly believed this angel wasn’t just named Anatole but also Jesus. Gullotta gives no argument against this obvious point. In fact, Philo identifies him as Jesus “the son of God.” His firstborn son, even. And likewise he was named Adam—as Philo explains this archangel was one of the Adams referred to in Genesis. Lots of names (as Philo says) were given to this archangel. And again, Gullotta can’t claim to know what they all were, and thus can’t claim to know what none of them could be. I would concur with his reasoning if the name weren’t so peculiarly apposite (“God’s Savior”), if instead Jesus were named Matthias or Dositheus or something, and Philo never identified anyone of such name as the archangel the Christians identified their figure as. Then we’d have to say on balance the name is more probable on historicity—the Christians just assigning the identity of Philo’s archangel to some historical person they revered. But that’s not the way the evidence went.
Apart from being illogical on this point, Gullotta also sometimes just gets the arguments wrong. For example he says “Carrier’s correlation between Jesus and Moroni is not accurate” because Moroni was an ancient historical personage who became an angel, but I never used Moroni as an analogy of historicization (he’s not even mentioned anywhere in OHJ; at all, much less in my designated Element on the point, e.g. OHJ, p. 222, nor anywhere else I discuss the invention of legendary persons, e.g. pp. 8-11; 235-38; 222-34, 159-63). I used it in an article as an example of how the Christian religion originally looked (that an angel was talking to them; and therefore Christianity’s actual founder was Peter, not Jesus; just as it was Joseph Smith, not Moroni, even as the Mormons would insist Moroni was its founder). For how and why its founding angel was historicized, I never use Mormonism (or Islam, another “angelically founded” religion) as an analog to Christianity. Thus, Gullotta is here criticizing an argument I never made. One similarly needs to get right how I use the analogs I do use for that, because each evinces a different kind of analog (Ned Ludd and the Cargo Cults; Osiris and Dionysus; Betty Crocker and Aesop; etc.).
What remains is fact: Philo’s angel is the same being the first Christians thought their Jesus was. Which is equally weird, and thus equally likely, on either historicity or mythicism. And even apart from that (which Gullotta advances no arguments against), the evidence looks pretty strong that Philo also believed this angel had “Jesus the Son of God” among its many names. The coincidence seems unlikely. Indeed, very unlikely. But whatever the case, this point has little effect on the probability of historicity, as we already have a likely source for the name (it being peculiarly apposite that a worshiped savior of God be named Savior of God), so the name hardly matters. Refuting the name, doesn’t refute that. Of any name (or indeed if he was renamed Jesus, as Philippians 2:9-11 could be telling us), the angel Christians identified their Jesus as definitely came from Jewish angelology. So why is Gullotta trying so illogically hard to deny it?
Paul’s Celestial Jesus?
Gullotta here ignores all other facts (such as that Paul never says Jesus was on earth and only ever refers to him being in outer space) and focuses solely on whether Paul said Jesus had human parents. In reality, it’s ambiguous. Gullotta seems to think I argue that Paul definitely did not mean Jesus had human parents; when in fact on the a fortiori side of my error margin, the upper bound of my probability (that 1 in 3 chance Jesus existed that is the actual conclusion of my book), I only argue we can’t tell (on the scant and ambiguous evidence we have). Maybe that’s what Paul meant. Maybe not. It’s unclear. That it’s unclear is itself weird (why should Paul speak so weirdly, evasively, and unclearly about the parentage of Jesus?). But Gullotta ignores that point as well. He tries instead to “rescue the text” and restore it to traditional Christian faith assumptions.
First up is Paul talking about Jesus being born “of a woman.” A woman unnamed. And who has no obvious reason even to be mentioned, on Gullotta’s reading. I argue that this occurs in a speech that, following ancient canons of rhetoric, is building an argument to a conclusion, about how Jesus’s incarnation saves us, by taking us out of one realm (of flesh) and anchoring us in another (of heaven). Key to Paul’s entire argument is that Jesus had to be brought into the world of flesh, just as we are. It’s our commonality on that one fact that is the linchpin of Paul’s argument. Gullotta says Paul can’t mean Jesus was, as Paul says we were, born to an “allegorical” woman (Hagar, the world of flesh: Galatians 4:19-31), because “Paul clearly focuses on his audience.” Um. Yes. And his argument is that Jesus and his audience are identical on this one specific fact. That’s literally Paul’s entire argument. Look how the argument started: Galatians 3:29-4:7. Compare to how it climaxes. Get it? The reason we must attach ourselves to Jesus, the reason this will work and save us, is because Jesus was, like us, “born of a woman.” What woman? The allegorical Hagar: the world of flesh. At no point is actually being born to an actual woman ever made relevant to Paul’s argument.
And that’s why Jesus’s atoning death frees us from Torah observance. Because we are now “heirs according to the promise,” meaning sons of the allegorical Sarah. How did we become heirs to the promise? By joining ourselves spiritually to the Heir to the Promise, Jesus. Through baptism we are adopted as sons of God and thus share this privilege with Jesus, and so cry “Abba! Father!” Seriously. Read Paul’s argument. It’s pretty darned clear. Someone might then say, “But, Paul, what does being born of a woman have to do with any of that? You’re not making sense!” So Paul answers that question. What’s the answer? “I’m talking about allegorical mothers.” Literally. That’s what he says. He is talking about being born into the world of flesh (our fate); then being born into the world of heaven (the promise). Hence he transitions by bringing up the problem he’s trying to address again. His argument surrounds this, as a chiasmus (A:B:A): he starts by explaining his soteriology, then he explains the problem, then he explains how his soteriology solves the problem. In no way does “being born of a woman” have anything actually to do with it. The logic of his argument only makes sense because he means what world order we and (briefly) Jesus were subject to. Not that he like we passed into it through a vagina. That’s not his point at all. And he makes clear to explain that’s not his point.
At the least this leaves us uncertain what Paul means about Jesus. Maybe he means a real woman for Jesus and an allegorical one for us (though that would destroy the point and symmetry of his argument and introduce a detail irrelevant to his entire thesis). Or maybe he means the same of Jesus as he means for us. And he could believe Jesus was born to a human mother, while also not referring to that fact here. Even at best we just don’t know.
It gets even more uncertain when we notice Paul uses peculiar vocabulary for Jesus: he chooses the word he uses for manufacturing bodies (Adam; and our resurrection bodies awaiting us in heaven), not the word he uses for human birth. A fact so disturbing to later Christians they tried doctoring the text of Paul to switch those very words. Gullotta tries to reinterpret Paul by saying the word Paul always uses for manufactured bodies but never for born bodies was used for “human births in other pieces of ancient literature” (a fact I even mention in OHJ). But that violates a basic principle of literary interpretation: what other authors’ idioms were, is irrelevant to what Paul’s was. And we can establish Paul’s idiom: everywhere else, he never uses that word of birth, always of divinely manufactured bodies; and he always uses a different word for birth. You can’t say “Paul would have used some other author’s style here.”
Maybe Paul scrambled his idiom (conveniently, precisely where the historicist needs him to have). But you can’t know he did without a circular argument. This is the same principle by which we identify different authors of texts: by looking at how they differ in the way they use words. So appealing to how different authors used words, cannot help us argue Paul used words the same way. The only way to argue Paul used words the same way (and thus that his idiom was the same as theirs) is to find evidence of Paul doing that. And he doesn’t. Unless you assume the conclusion you are trying to prove. Which is a fallacy.
Gullotta also makes the illogical argument that “Paul claims that Jesus was ‘descended from David according to the flesh’ (Rom 1.3), and thus, contra Carrier, this would mean that Jesus, for Paul, was a descendant of Sarah, and not Hagar.” Holy Moses. Paul was not so lousy a thinker as to confuse allegory with fundamentalist literalism. Paul explicitly says the Sarah he means is not a real mother, but a figure for abandoning the body of flesh and inheriting a heavenly existence (he is painfully explicit on that point). So why would Paul think being literally descended from David, which made one “literally” a descendant of an actual Sarah, have anything at all to do with being born of the allegorical Sarah in Galatians 4, the only Sarah Paul ever mentions there? Gullotta is making a total hash of Paul’s argument here. Sarah is not the mother of David in Galatians 4. She is the mother of all celestially reborn Christians (including the risen Jesus). Whether Paul also thought there was a historical Sarah is unknown (he might not have; Philo often didn’t think the historical figures in the OT were real people), but it wouldn’t be relevant to the “Sarah” he is talking about in Galatians.
So, Gullotta having totally failed to even look at what Paul’s argument in Galatians 4 was and thus not understanding any of it and consequently making no logical argument about whether he meant a real woman as opposed to an allegorical one, he moves on to what he calls the “clearest declaration of Jesus’ earthly humanity”: the fact that Paul calls him a man. Um. What’s Gullotta’s argument here? I don’t even see one. This entails Paul believed Jesus was (briefly) human—but we already agree on that. That’s already entailed by mythicism. The question is not whether Paul thought Jesus wore a human body. It’s whether he wore it on earth. And Paul never says he did. Plain and simple.
Gullotta really drops the ball here. He must have skipped the dozens of pages in OHJ where I painstakingly explain that mythicism also entails Jesus was briefly a man. Indeed a Jewish man. And Gullotta earlier in this same article even says so! (Mythicism proposes Jesus underwent “an incarnation made of Davidic flesh,” p. 323.) So how does showing Paul said Jesus was a man, at all argue against this thesis? Gullotta illogically never says. I’ve already covered how fallacious this argument is when McGrath embarrassingly got his foot in his mouth over it (in that case even lying about the evidence, e.g. falsely claiming nonhuman angels were never called anthrôpoi); and I can only assume Gullotta got manipulated by McGrath here (whom he cites in a title note as an advisor on this article; and Gullotta uses almost identical wording to McGrath, so it’s entirely possible McGrath even wrote some of this paragraph). And then just didn’t think through the obvious errors in this reasoning. “Mythicism says God manufactured a human body for Jesus so he could die.” “Ah! But Paul says Jesus had a human body! So your theory is false!” What??
Which gets me to another weird thing here. When Gullotta briefly references the passage in Romans about Jesus being of David’s sperm, it seems like something was cut for space. Because when he mentions it (to make that illogical argument earlier), he just “assumes” Paul means Jesus was literally a descendant of David (and thus had a father). Gullotta never makes any argument for that assumption. Even though I present in OHJ an extensive case for doubting it. The Romans passage, again, does not even say that Jesus was born (instead, that same word again, for divine manufacture). Literally Paul says Jesus was made from the seed of David. Does Paul mean literally? As in directly, from the very seed God took from David’s belly, as the prophecy he is referencing seems plainly to say, and had to be read as saying, in order to be historically true by Paul’s time? (See The Cosmic Seed of David.) Or does he mean figuratively, as was also common? We can’t tell. There just isn’t enough evidence by which to know. So as far as I can tell, it’s 50/50. And that’s even when I’m being the most generous to mythicism.
What remains is the opposite: By ignoring my probability arguments (owing to his shameless mathphobia) Gullotta never mentions to his readers that I actually count these passages as evidence for historicity! That’s right. I weigh them as increasing the odds of historicity fourfold. In other words, these passages about a potential mother and father I deem to be four times more likely if historicity is true, than if mythicism is true. Even after documenting all that uncertainty and ambiguity in them I just mentioned. That Gullotta thinks I argue for mythicism with these passages is therefore evidence he doesn’t understand what I even argued. And accordingly, he never responds to my actual argument. I say these passages are four times more likely on historicity than mythicism. Does he think it should be eight times? Twenty? Why? Let’s hear him make the case for why he thinks they should increase the probability of historicity even more than I already let them increase it. And how much more he thinks they should increase it. No such case is in this article. He doesn’t even know I used these passages as evidence for historicity! Much less grasp how my case for their ambiguity affects our probability judgment.
Who Killed Jesus?
Paul doesn’t say. That’s pretty much the end of any argument possibly to be had here. He doesn’t say. So we don’t know.
But historicists have to invent evidence where there is none. So let’s see how that goes.
First, Gullotta says Paul must be referring to demonic possession of the Roman and Jewish authorities. Maybe. How do we know? We don’t. That’s just another speculation. But what’s illogical here is that Gullotta thinks that because Paul might mean that, therefore my conclusion that he doesn’t, can be rejected. But wait a minute. What about my actual argument that that’s not what Paul meant? You can’t claim to have rebutted an argument for a conclusion, by simply asserting a contrary conclusion. You have to rebut the argument. And for Gullotta’s theory, he can adduce no evidence in Paul that that’s how he was using his language or what he ever meant. So he has no argument. It’s just an assertion that maybe that’s what Paul meant, because that was a live concept at the time, even though we have no evidence of Paul adopting it—at all, much less intending it here.
So what was my argument? Well, from OHJ, pp. 564-70:
- First, that Paul’s language (“rulers of this eon”) is bizarre and matches no other examples of the period for earthly authorities, neither in Paul nor elsewhere. But he does use terms and concepts that did reference demonic powers, both in Paul, and Deutero-Paul, and in other literature (e.g. 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2; OHJ, pp. 184-93), particularly the Ascension of Isaiah. So unlike Gullotta, who has no evidence in Paul or the NT that Paul meant demonically possessed Romans, I present in OHJ an assortment of evidence in Paul and the NT that he was referring directly to the cosmic powers of the age. Not one iota of which evidence does Gullotta even mention, much less address. This is not how you rebut an argument. Similarly, it is illogical to cite centuries-later historicist Christian assertions that Paul meant what they wanted him to mean, as evidence that’s what Paul actually meant. That’s another fallacy of circular argument. Is there any evidence they knew what Paul really meant, rather than just read him the way they wanted? No. So much for that.
- Second, that Paul says in 1 Cor. 2:6 that these “authorities” are “being destroyed” (present tense), which can’t have meant the Roman and Jewish authorities when he was writing (they were at the height of their power). But it certainly could mean the demons Christians were now expelling in exorcisms with the power of the name of Christ. As well it could mean the powers whom Christ’s death really defeated: because his death gave everyone an escape from corruption and death; and only demonic forces controlled those powers of nature, not the Jews or Romans (hence exactly what Paul argues in Galatians 4:8-11, lest we forget).
- Third, that in 1 Cor. 2:6-9 Paul says the “authorities” who kill Jesus would not have killed him had they known killing him would magically save the world. Literally, he says they’d have let him go, and not crucified him, if they knew what cosmic effects his death would have. Why would the Romans or Jews even know that his death would have cosmic effects on the natural order? That seems highly implausible. But not for Satan and his demons; they certainly would know, and indeed that would be the very reason God needed to hide it from them, exactly as the Ascension of Isaiah says. Moreover, why would the Jews want to thwart God’s promises to them? Why would the Romans want to keep death in the world? We can imagine convoluted reasons, but we would just be speculating. Whereas we don’t have to speculate for why the demons would want to thwart God’s doing this, as their very stranglehold on the world would be defeated by such a change in the cosmos.
- Fourth, that in Romans 13 Paul argues vociferously that the earthly authorities would never contravene God’s will. So how can he contradict himself in 1 Corinthians 2 and say they intended to contravene God’s will? In fact, they were so set on doing so, God had to trick them by hiding who Jesus was and what their killing him would do. This is, incidentally, exactly what transpires in the earliest redaction of the Ascension of Isaiah we can reconstruct: God has to hide who Jesus was from Satan and his demons, so as to trick them into killing him, so that he could thereby overthrow their power over death. Weird coincidence, don’t you think? What is Gullotta’s rebuttal to this? He doesn’t have one.
That last is the weirdest thing here. Gullotta argues that Paul must mean “the Romans” in 1 Corinthians 2 because Paul uses the same word (archons, “rulers”) in Romans 13, where he clearly is speaking of the Romans. Which is really funny for two reasons:
- First, Romans 13 is where Paul says the Roman authorities, the very archons he mentions there, would never disobey God. Which means he can’t mean the same people in 1 Cor. 2. How did Gullotta not read Romans 13? How did he not know my argument from Romans 13? Why does he have no rebuttal to my argument? Clearly, he did not actually read much of my chapter on this. Ehrman at least acknowledged the problem; and argued Paul was simply contradicting himself. Which doesn’t make sense.
- Second, in accord with that hypothesis (that Gullotta didn’t actually read this part of OHJ), I am also very clear in explaining that Paul uses the phrase “rulers of this age” (literally archons of this eon) in 1 Cor. 2 but not in Romans 13. Or anywhere else of human rulers. And that this phrase is very unusual. This “eon” generally means the whole period of creation under which Satan has held sway, encompassing thousands of years. That would be a strange way to refer to relatively recent and entirely mortal authorities. What is Gullotta’s rebuttal to that point? Nothing. Because he didn’t actually read my argument. Apparently.
Once again we are left not knowing. Did Paul mean demonic authorities? Or earthly human authorities possessed by demons? Or some combination of celestial and earthly authorities? Even at best, we literally can’t tell from the data available. But what data we do have, is sufficiently weird on Gullotta’s theory to be doubtful of it; whereas there is nothing at all weird about it on my theory. That means the evidence is actually more likely on my theory than his (literally what it means to say Paul’s wording is weird on his theory and not weird on mine). Paul doesn’t say the execution took place anywhere on earth. He doesn’t say who the archons were. He doesn’t even explain why they would try to thwart God’s plan of salvation by not killing Jesus. We can’t tell if Paul is here describing a cosmic read on a historical death, or a cosmic death. His strange and cagey wording is at best equally likely on either theory. So it supports neither. Because it fits both equally. And at worst, it fits the cosmic interpretation perfectly, whereas it’s kind of strange on a convoluted earthly reading.
What remains is undecidable: Yes, Gullotta can assert his own contrary theory for what Paul meant when he ambiguously says the “rulers of this eon” killed Jesus and wouldn’t have if they’d known what God was cosmically up to. As can I. But what’s the evidence that Paul meant what Gullotta proposes, and not what I propose? There isn’t any. Both fit what Paul says exactly. So we can’t use this as evidence he meant one thing over the other. It’s simply inconclusive. And Gullotta presents no argument for it being otherwise. All he does is articulate a contrary theory and give it context, just as I did. He never argues for his theory being true. Which means: he never argues for it being what Paul actually meant. He argues for it being something Paul could have meant. But I argue for something else being what Paul could have meant. And there is no evidence to decide between us. That’s how cagey and vague Paul is. And that he is so cagey and vague—that he uses such bizarre phrases and nonspecific and mysterious formulations—is weird. Gullotta simply has no response to any of this. He doesn’t respond to anything my book argues here. He just asserts a contrary theory. Which is not a rebuttal.
Is a Crucifixion Too Political to Invent?
Gullotta also makes a strange argument about how Jews couldn’t have imagined Satan crucifying Jesus. I demonstrate in OHJ (as Gullotta is begrudgingly forced to admit) that many mythical gods had revolting and embarrassing deaths or fates, so we can’t appeal to a crucifixion as evidence one of them was real. Inanna was murdered and hung naked from a nail (before rising from the dead triumphant on the third day: OHJ, pp. 45-47). Does that then mean there must have been a real Inanna actually crucified in hell, because no one would make that up? It’s an illogical argument that I dispatch quite thoroughly in OHJ (pp. 610-16). Gullotta’s response is to say that I do “not reckon with the normality of crucifixion within ancient Palestine” and that that “depoliticizes early Christianity.” It actually doesn’t. I fully center Christianity in its political context (OHJ, pp. 153-63).
It’s not as if humiliating people by crucifying them, stripping them naked and publicly hanging up their corpses, was not just as common and just as “political” in other ancient kingdoms such as the Sumeria that Inanna’s myth was born in. That’s in fact why that happens to her: it was the most humiliating form of death then known to the Sumerians. So her triumph can be elevated by the depths of her seeming defeat. And that’s why both Hebrews and the Ascension of Isaiah say everything on earth has copies in the firmament: Satan would use in the sky the same worst form of execution then known on earth. It is precisely because that was the worst form of death then known, that it would be the very death imagined for Jesus to suffer. That doesn’t get us to evidence it happened. Any more than it does for Inanna.
But more importantly, Gullotta evidently missed this: on pp. 61-62 of OHJ, I cite and summarize Gunnar Samuelsson’s Crucifixion in Antiquity: An Inquiry into the Background of the New Testament Terminology of Crucifixion (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011), who demonstrates that in fact our understanding of “crucifixion” does not exist in ancient Greek vocabulary. The words Paul uses for the crucifixion of Jesus also referred to Jewish execution (as also demonstrated by D.J. Halperin and J.A. Fitzmyer, whom I also cite on this point), and many other forms and methods of death under several known kingdoms of the time, and are identical to the words used even for executions referenced and performed in the Old Testament. In other words, Gullotta is anachronistically assuming Paul and his Christians meant a Roman crucifixion. He is arbitrarily politicizing what Paul says. There actually is no clear evidence that that even occurred to them at the time. Their language and descriptions are never so specific. And to the contrary, Romans 13 suggests Paul could not have even imagined the Romans crucifying Jesus. That would have refuted his entire argument in Romans 13! (So had that been true, he either would have had to make a completely different argument in Romans 13, or else have anticipated and answered this rather obvious rebuttal to it that the letter’s recipients would have leveled at him.)
So, again, Gullotta’s argument here makes no logical sense.
Gullotta similarly spirals into the most illogical reasoning when he argues that “Jesus’ crucifixion by Romans is depicted in every one of the earliest narrations of his death” and subsequently we see “a widespread reception of Jesus as a crucified man.” Um. There is only one source for Jesus being crucified by Romans: the Gospel according to Mark. All other references to his being so killed derive from that Gospel. Citing a thousand xeroxes of an urban legend is not evidence that legend is true. Citing people who read one of those xeroxes is not evidence that legend is true. Citing people who wrote a new version of the legend after reading one of those xeroxes is not evidence that legend is true. What Gullotta is doing is simply insane as a historical method. It has no place in history. It is so illogical an argument it only belongs to apologetics (“there are thousands of manuscripts of the Bible, and thousands of people quote it, therefore what the Bible says is true!”). I cannot fathom how Gullotta, who is supposed to be getting a Ph.D. in history, can have written such an argument without vomiting. At any rate, I dispatched it already in OHJ, Ch. 7.1.
Ultimately, Gullotta concludes that “Given our sources concerning Jesus’ death and knowledge about his executed contemporaries, the reality of a crucified Jesus as another failed messianic pretender from Palestine is remarkably more likely than a demonic crucifixion in outer space.” But he never explains why it’s more likely. Much less why it’s “remarkably more likely”; assuming he thinks that means something different from “merely more likely,” which then gets us to asking what then does he mean by remarkably more likely, which again gets us to that realization I started with: Gullotta really needs to buckle down and learn some math, before he can even understand what his own words mean. Much less why they are true. His evidence doesn’t increase the probability of his proposal in any discernible way. “Everyone borrowed, learned of, and riffed on Mark’s tale of a Roman execution” does not increase the probability of the crucifixion any more than the resurrection, or Mark’s account of the blotting out of the sun, or rending of the temple curtain, or literally any other claim in Mark. That everyone copied and expanded on it, is not evidence it’s true. Not even a little bit. Likewise all his other arguments here, which simply make no sense. How do they raise the probability of historicity? I cannot see any logical way they could.
Now, I could do his job for him, and actually convert all his arguments into one that’s actually logically coherent at least: he should be asking why, within a century, Mark’s fable eclipsed all others that may have existed. Like, for example, the version that appears to have been in the original Ascension of Isaiah, where Satan kills Jesus. Or whatever version the Christians who called Mark’s version a “cleverly devised myth” were advocating in its place, whom 2 Peter was forged to “refute” by fabricating an eyewitness encounter with a historical Jesus. That’s at least getting to a coherent argument. I can’t understand why it never occurs to Gullotta to attempt it. Because it’s the only sensible version of the arguments he clumsily does attempt here instead. It’s especially mysterious that he didn’t think of it because…it’s in my book! That’s right, I devote an entire section to describing and answering exactly this argument: OHJ, pp. 349-56 (and see also: pp. 275-77).
What remains is a fact: We have no reason to believe Jesus’s execution by Satan wouldn’t be imagined a crucifixion; and we have no more reason to believe it had to be historical because it was a crucifixion, than we have to believe Inanna’s death must be historical because it was a crucifixion. And the fact that all references to Inanna’s death evoked her crucifixion, would not increase the probability that it really happened, even by a single fraction of a percent. These just aren’t logical arguments. So why is historicity being defended with them? In a peer reviewed journal no less? If this really is the best there is to defend historicity with…isn’t historicity doomed?
Did Jesus Have Actual Brothers?
I’ve long said this is the best evidence there is for historicity. Indeed I assign it 2:1 in favor of historicity. Just 2:1, only because it’s more problematic than even the references to parentage. Because unlike those cases, Paul explicitly says all baptized Christians are brothers of the Lord (Romans 8:29), which should require him to make a distinction if ever he meant brother of the Lord biologically rather than through baptism, yet Paul never shows any sign of there being such a distinction to make. So his use of the phrase (on two occasions) looks like a pleonasm for his usually abbreviated “brother” for fellow Christians (as it would be tedious to use the full phrase most of the time). He calls them brothers because they were all brothers of each other; and they were all brothers of each other because they were all adopted as the sons of God (as numerous verses confirm: OHJ, Ch. 4, Element 12); they were therefore all brothers of the Son of God. Who was distinguished from them only in being the firstborn. In fact, Brothers of the Lord may have been the name the Christians were then using for themselves. Paul appears to use it in just such a way: as a term for rank-and-file Christians.
As usual, it’s possible Paul just forgot all this and referred to biological brothers of the Lord and cultic brothers of the Lord without distinction in terms. But we don’t know. The data are insufficient to tell. It’s ambiguous. And that’s the problem. Nevertheless, I still count this as evidence for historicity (a fact, again, Gullotta overlooks and makes no account of).
Gullotta makes some mistakes here that again show he didn’t actually read my section on this (OHJ, Ch. 11.10). Which is particularly shocking as this is singularly the most important evidence to discuss, yet he was at his most incompetent in addressing my book on this point (by not even reading what it says). That is an interesting phenomenon. It suggests historicity is a dogma he needs to defend from the armchair; and that he need not even review what my arguments on the point even are. This is exactly the kind of behavior that needs to stop in this field. You need to actually address the arguments. Otherwise you are just defending a dogma.
Gullotta argues, for instance, that “it is also important to note James’ significance within Paul’s letters,” “the James with whom Paul met in Jerusalem carries enough influence to be recognized as a ‘pillar’,” for example, and was powerful in Antioch, and “this evokes a significant authoritative distinction between” this James and other Christians; and “Paul give[s] James a special distinction when listing those who have had a Christophany” in 1 Corinthians 15. This is a weird argument for Gullotta to make. Because he actually mentions my reliance on Trudinger. As if Trudinger argued James was not a biological brother of Jesus. No. Trudinger argued that the James in Galatians 1 is not the apostolic James in Galatians 2. I elaborate on this and am very clear on the point in OHJ. Ignorant of that, Gullotta just assumes, as if it weren’t challenged in the very book he claims to be critiquing and the very article he says I relied on, that these are the same James. He gives no argument for that assumption. Yet the bulk of my argument is that they are not the same James. And as long as that holds, citing the status of the other James is a non sequitur.
Even with respect to 1 Corinthians 15:7, Paul does not there identify that James as the Brother of the Lord. Nor does he explain which James he means there, or why he’s being mentioned at that point in the sequence. I actually suspect this is an interpolation; but even authentic (and I just assume so in OHJ), it’s simply ambiguous and thus can’t be used to determine anything. We can’t tell who Paul is talking about there. Because Paul doesn’t say. We can’t even tell if Paul means that was the first appearance to this James; so it may even be, again, James the Pillar. After all, that verse says “after that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles,” even though many apostles had already received the revelation: Cephas and the twelve in verse 5; and indeed “over 500 brethren” in verse 6, who can hardly have excluded all the apostles—which phrase necessarily included James the Pillar, who would be among the twelve receiving their first revelation in verse 5. So Paul is clearly not listing only first timers. That it’s unclear what Paul is talking about is indeed a problem for affirming the verse authentic. But if authentic, it simply doesn’t help us figure out which James he means.
Meanwhile, the James of Galatians 2, the pillar who pulled weight in Antioch, is an apostle, the brother of John. Hence the three pillars are Peter, James and John, exactly as reproduced in the Gospels and Acts. And the James in this trio is never the brother of Jesus. Indeed, Acts never portrays any brother of Jesus as ever taking any role of significance or leadership in the church. In fact all his brothers completely vanish from history the instant Christianity goes public in Acts 2 (OHJ, Ch. 9.3). Notably the letter of James in the NT does not identify even that James as the brother of Jesus. There is in fact no clear reference to any James being the biological brother of Jesus until Mark invents a family for Jesus and rattles off a bunch of common Jewish names for them. Which family the Gospel then portrays Jesus renouncing. With no evident knowledge any of them would become power figures in the church. And indeed Acts demonstrates, no one knew of any such thing—even by the 90s A.D., the earliest Acts can have been written. Nor has the author of 1 Clement ever heard of any such thing. The first we hear of that idea, is the later second century, in completely unsourced and patently absurd legends (e.g. OHJ, Ch. 8.8).
Also weirdly, and demonstrating Gullotta did not read my section on this, he argues “if James was not the brother of Jesus, why does Paul highlight his encounter with him in Gal 1.19?” As if I didn’t answer that question in OHJ: check it out, pp. 589-91 (yes: that’s three pages of answer). What is Gullotta’s reply? He gives none. He doesn’t even know he is supposed to. This doesn’t make him look good. I also answer why Paul only twice uses the full pleonasm (Brothers of the Lord). And much else besides. Gullotta is completely unaware of all of it.
We see this even when Gullotta argues that Paul only once identifies anyone by name as a Brother of the Lord, yet occasionally refers to named persons as apostles or “fellow workers” in Christ or the Lord (and often as “brothers”). But this does not have any logical relevance to the problem. It is actually counter to expectation that Paul would write the ponderous “Brother of the Lord” every time he calls Christians “brother” (and he calls Christians brothers a lot). He would need a reason to use the expansive phrase rather than its ready abbreviation. And when we look at the only two places where he does write out the whole phrase, it’s always to distinguish apostolic from non-apostolic Christians (OHJ, p. 589; cf. pp. 582-87). Hence, we know why.
Once again I’ll do Gullotta’s job for him and mention two other arguments (that apparently didn’t occur to him) that are based on actually reading what I argued:
- If Brother of the Lord just meant Christian, why doesn’t Paul also call Cephas a Brother of the Lord in the same passage? I’ve answered this many times already. But as Nicholas Covington puts it, Peter “was clearly a high-ranking leader of the church,” in fact an apostle, whom Paul identifies as the highest available rank in the church (1 Cor. 12:28), “so calling him a ‘brother of the Lord’ would be like a talk show host introducing the pope as merely a ‘Christian’.” Everyone knows an apostle is a Brother of the Lord. So when anyone contrasted an apostle with a Brother of the Lord, it would be self-evident what is meant: merely a Christian. Just as one might say, “I met the Pope yesterday, and this Christian named John.” One would not respond to that with “Why didn’t you call the Pope a Christian!?” Because we already know the Pope is a Christian. A Pope is a Christian by definition. And calling John a Christian next to the Pope is clear in its meaning: you mean not a Pope, nor even a cardinal or bishop or priest. You mean, John is another Christian like the Pope, but one of no rank (beyond that of having undergone baptism, which then might have followed some initial trial period, so there may have been many as-yet-unbaptized congregants…but being thus uninitiated into the Christian mysteries, they would be less informed, and not yet “of the brethren”).
- The James of Galatians 2 can’t be the brother of John (and therefore must instead be the James named in Galatians 1), because Acts says he was dead by then. This was attempted by Craig Evans on the fly in our Kennesaw debate (for which Evans demonstrably did not prepare; he was given, but apparently never read my book, even though he was paid quite a lot of money to debate the content of that book; the irony of Gullotta also not reading the book he claims to be responding to on this point is not lost on me). I’ve already explained what’s wrong with that argument. Basically, Acts is unreliable. Especially in chronology. When Acts contradicts Paul, sound historical method requires us to side with Paul. Because unlike the author of Acts, Paul is an eyewitness to what he reports.
The fact remains: What Paul means on the two occasions he uses the pleonasm “Brother of the Lord” is unclear. We can’t tell if he means biological brother rather than cultic, because he doesn’t say. Nevertheless, I still count this as evidence for historicity, a fact Gullotta never mentions or addresses. How much more does he think this should raise the probability Jesus existed than I already allow it to? And why? He never says. Instead, Gullotta made false statements about my book. He claims that the things he mentions are “not adequately explained by Carrier.” In fact they are, in detail. Meanwhile, my explanations, Gullotta makes no reply to. He doesn’t even know what they are. Which means he didn’t read the book here. And that makes his claim to have read it at least a little dishonest.
Why Are We Talking about Homer?
It’s really weird that Gullotta spends a whole section attacking Dennis MacDonald’s thesis that Mark is a transvaluation of Homer. Because I barely even reference it. In fact, almost none of my conclusions about the content of the Gospels are based on it, and none rely on it. Gullotta gives the false impression that that’s the whole of my argument for the Gospels being mythical, that they “copy Homer.” That’s literally less than 5% of my argument for that conclusion. Gullotta has thus erased the dozens of peer reviewed books and articles I rely on and the hundred plus pages of analysis, wholly unconnected with the Homeric thesis, that demonstrate my conclusion quite decisively. This seems a little dishonest to me. I can only conclude he has some vendetta against MacDonald. And seeing red at the mere mention of him, literally “hallucinated away” over a hundred pages of text in my book.
Indeed, in my 122 page chapter demonstrating the mythic nature of the Gospels, MacDonald’s Homeric thesis is merely listed in passing in a footnote on page 396 (buried among many other scholars with non-Homeric arguments to the same conclusion); one line on page 399 (in a sentence listing numerous non-Homeric arguments to the same conclusion); buried again in a footnote each on pages 417, 422, and 396; one single line in respect to Luke’s use of Homer (on p. 474), amidst an extended argument that in fact Luke mostly used the Septuagint; and a mere five pages where actually I argue Mark, too, is riffing on the Septuagint more than Homer (pp. 436-40, 442). That’s it. That’s the extent of my reliance on MacDonald’s thesis.
So what’s going on here? Why is Gullotta pretending 95% of my arguments don’t exist, and only picking on my super occasional reference to MacDonald’s Homeric thesis, which never in any case does my conclusion rest on (as I always pair it with other arguments unrelated to the Homeric thesis), as if that’s the only thing I based my conclusion on? This looks like another well poisoning fallacy. MacDonald’s thesis is considered fringe and ridiculous by his peers. So associating me with him is a convenient way to throw that shade onto me. Never mind the actual merits of MacDonald’s thesis or that it’s been multiply peer reviewed and comes from a bona fide expert in every sense of the term. But worse, never mind what my actual arguments are in Chapter 10 for the Gospels being myth, literally none of which rest on MacDonald’s thesis.
This is, at my most charitable, another example of Gullotta being illogical. If you strip away all my mentions of the Homeric thesis (literally, black them out with a marker), it has no effect on the argument of Chapter 10. You wouldn’t even notice they were missing. For every conclusion I reach, numerous arguments remain that hold them up. I only add references to MacDonald’s thesis because they are true. I don’t need them. Not understanding how to logically diagram an argument, Gullotta never notices that removing the Homeric premises has no effect on my conclusion that the Gospels are myth. Therefore, attacking the Homeric thesis can be an interesting digression, but it is a complete non sequitur for the debate over the historicity of Jesus or the mythical character of the Gospels. It has no effect on the probability Jesus existed even as argued in OHJ. And Gullotta shows no such effect.
The fact remains: This is why it’s important for historians to learn logic, and how to construct and analyze the logic of an argument. You can’t ignore all the premises of an argument, rebut a supplemental point not logically necessary to the conclusion, and then declare the argument for that conclusion has been rebutted. As for the arguments Gullotta deploys against MacDonald (including the one he incorrectly lays against me on p. 339), I would encourage you to actually find and read MacDonald’s refutations of them. Because it’s not like any of this is new to him. Gullotta, notably, never mentions MacDonald’s rebuttals. Worse, Gullotta deceives his readers again by arguing it’s obvious Mark relies on the Jewish Scriptures more—a fact that I myself argue in OHJ, and vastly more extensively than my scant few references to the role of Homer. Gullotta gives the impression he is schooling me on the point. When in fact, it’s 90% of my argument! And to which, again, Gullotta gives no reply.
Is Rank-Raglan Indicative?
Finally, Gullotta takes aim at the Rank-Raglan argument that freaks out everyone else like him. I’ve already rebutted their frightened obsession with this in my response to Christian fundamentalist David Marshall (whom Gullotta did not consult, contrary to my prior assumption, here corrected; he merely references him as an opponent of mythicism).
Gullotta doesn’t do his homework very well here. Again. He asks, rhetorically, “why the Rank-Raglan hero-type?” As if I don’t answer that in OHJ. Seriously, check it out: pp. 239-44, a section literally titled “Using the Rank-Raglan Reference Class.” I explain in detail over several pages that the RR class is the best reference class to look at, of in fact a great many that Jesus belongs to that are peculiarly myth-heavy (see, again, my reply to Marshall), because “we don’t have any clear or statistically solid data about the frequency of historical to nonhistorical persons” in any other class, whereas we do for the RR class (or at least, we do, significantly more so than for any other class). Gullotta shows no signs of having read that section. He seems to think I did not explain why that’s the class to start with; and accordingly, he never gives any response to my stated reasons for it.
I have since explained even more precisely why the RR class is the best one to start with:
The best reference class for formulating a prior [probability] always lies at the nexus of two properties: (1) it’s specific enough to be certain of a connection other than coincidence; and (2) it has a lot of members. The best conjunction of those two properties, gives you the most authoritative prior probability (which you then must moderate with appropriate margins of error, and those margins might be wide, if even the best available reference class only poorly satisfies (1) and (2), as is often the case for ancient history, where surviving data is scarce).
I then show how the RR class meets those two conditions better than any other class to which Jesus belongs (that isn’t already mooted when conditioned on Jesus belonging to other classes like the RR; e.g. Jesus belongs to both the class of “all claimed historical persons” and “all claimed historical persons who are RR heroes,” and the rule of greater knowledge requires us to take the latter class, because to disregard it is to leave information out when conditioning your probabilities, which is a violation of the basic logic of probability: all of which I explain in OHJ, Ch. 6).
Gullotta says “it is clear that Carrier has modified Raglan’s qualifications in order to make this archetypal hero model better fit the Jesus tradition,” but in fact I modified it to combine the two into one test, and actually fit the data of the other heroes as claimed by Rank and Raglan, since their counts didn’t actually match the exact wording of their own criteria (and even after I improved the wording, I got different counts than they did, as I note in OHJ: pp. 230-31, n. 191). And once again Gullotta fails at logic here. I explain (on p. 231) that by making the criteria even broader than Gullotta thinks Rank and Raglan had applied them, this should have increased the number of historical persons who score above half. In other words, I set each criteria more general than specified. Thus, it should be easier for someone who really existed to score. That they don’t, actually makes what I did a stronger argument for my conclusion, not a weaker one as Gullotta mistakenly claims.
Indeed, logically, it doesn’t matter. We could make up our own complete list, unconnected with anything Rank or Raglan ever said or did. If it still matched fifteen people, none of whom we have any reason to believe existed, that’s remarkable. And thereby a proven correlation. It can’t be a coincidence that so many fit; and it can’t be a coincidence that none of them are historical persons. This is how you verify a set is demonstrating a correlation. A correlation applicable to all that set’s members. Though again, Gullotta’s refusal to learn sixth grade math, perhaps prevents him from understanding how probability works. His arguments here are thus non sequiturs. They do nothing to change the fact of the matter: members of the RR set tend not to have existed. That can’t be by my design (because I can’t have made fifteen ancient persons fit a dozen peculiar criteria, nor can I have made them all not exist); nor can it be by accident that none of them existed (because a random selection of fifteen ancient persons should contain mostly historical persons, exactly as I explain in OHJ, Ch. 6).
Gullotta also deploys the illogical argument that Paul doesn’t score Jesus above a handful of criteria on the RR list. That’s a really weird thing to say. First, because it’s illogical of Gullotta to assume Paul laid out for us the entire story of Jesus; while simultaneously admitting Paul never gives us any details of Jesus’s life narrative at all. You can only pick one to believe. And only the latter is true. So clearly, Paul has left out numerous details about the life of Jesus, the very details we would need to test Jesus’s fit to the RR scale. He therefore cannot be used the way Gullotta wants. I can’t even fathom why Gullotta would even think this was a logical way to argue—even before we get to the real problem with Gullotta’s argument:
I explain in OHJ that Jesus was probably made into an RR hero after Paul. It’s precisely what indicates he’s mythical: when the very first narrative of him is ever written (Mark), immediately Jesus is a 14-point RR hero (besides many other typically mythical types: see OHJ, pp. 222-29) and rapidly expanded into a 20-point RR hero (in just a decade or two). In other words, there was no mythical Jesus when Paul lived…that figure hadn’t been invented yet. That’s why Paul never mentions it. As far as Paul ever seems to know, Jesus had no life or ministry, did no deeds when alive (only surrounding the drama of his death, which Paul never narrates or places anywhere). As far as we can tell, in Paul’s day, there were no tales of Jesus as an earthly hero, only as a cosmic one. So he hadn’t been crafted into an RR hero yet.
That doesn’t mean he couldn’t have been. We just don’t have any evidence he was. The correlation holds regardless of causation. It doesn’t matter if Jesus began an RR hero or became one; just as that doesn’t matter for any of the other RR heroes. What matters is simply what we observe: people who become RR heroes, tend not to have existed. I discuss why that’s probably so in OHJ, Ch. 6.4. Persons that massively mythologized (at all, much less that rapidly: OHJ, Ch. 6.7), tend not to have existed. Historical persons who get mythologized, tend not to get that massively mythologized (not even Alexander the Great was, nor, contrary to erroneous claims, Mithridates: OHJ, pp. 231-32, n. 193). Not that that can’t have happened. And in OHJ I allow that for as many as 1 in 3 people, it did (meaning, 1 out of every 3 persons who score above half on the RR scale, did indeed exist…which odds include Jesus).
Which is another point Gullotta never addresses. He instead completely misses the logic of my own argument when he concludes “the traditions of Jesus conforming to these legendary patterns does not negate his historicity any more than the legends connected with Alexander the Great, Augustus Caesar, and Apollonius of Tyana denies theirs.” I never argue in OHJ that being a Rank-Raglan hero “negates historicity.” To the contrary, I say as many as 1 in 3 such heroes may indeed be historical. Hence the prior is 1 in 3. Gullotta seems incapable of grasping probability as a concept. He sees only “exists or doesn’t exist,” probability 1 or 0. Nothing in between. History doesn’t work that way.
First, of course, none of those figures he names score higher than half on the RR scale. So the frequency with which persons made to score more than half the RR criteria are historical, doesn’t apply to them. Gullotta is like someone arguing that the frequency of Republicanism among the poor tells us the frequency of Republicanism among the rich. That’s not how statistics works. The frequency of being a thing, among persons in a given set, only applies to persons in that set. If you want to ask what the frequency is for someone in another set, you have to look at the set they do belong to. And as far as I know, neither Alexander the Great, Augustus Caesar, nor Apollonius of Tyana belong to any myth-dominated sets. Apollonius might (indeed, his historicity I consider questionable; it’s secured only by a single reference in Lucian, that a man he met tutored under him, a thing I think unlikely of Lucian to make up or get wrong). But I doubt Caesar or Alexander do.
But more importantly, Gullotta is now confusing prior with posterior probability. My 1 in 3 prior probability for the historicity of Jesus is not the probability of the historicity of Jesus. This is explained clearly and repeatedly in OHJ, so for him to screw this up is astonishing. And indeed, a 1 in 3 prior, is super easy to reverse with evidence. You just need a body of evidence that in sum is (say) only four times more likely on historicity than myth, to reverse that 1 in 3 to above 50/50, and thus turn a “probably not” into a “probably did.” Just as I explain in the conclusion of my chapter on the prior (OHJ, pp. 252-53):
Therefore, the prior probability…that Jesus was historical can be no more than 1 in 3 or 33%. … That does not mean the probability that Jesus was historical is 33%. For we still have to look at all the evidence pertaining to the various hypotheses for how Jesus became a member of both the Rank–Raglan hero class and the set of all other celestial savior deities. And when we do, we could find that the evidence is so improbable, unless Jesus really existed, that even a prior probability as low as 1 in 16, or 6.25% (which entails prior odds against h of 15 to 1), would be more than overcome.
For example, even if Caesar Augustus had a Rank–Raglan score of 20, we also have a vast array of evidence supporting his existence, each piece of which is highly improbable unless there really was a Caesar Augustus, and all of it combined would be even more improbable. So if ¬h is any variation of ‘Caesar Augustus did not really exist’, then the actual evidence we have of his existence would entail a…consequent probability of the evidence [on his non-existence] hundreds if not thousands or millions of times less than 6%, yet with a corresponding [probability of the evidence on his existence] very nearly equal to 1. Such a combination would produce a [posterior probability], the probability that Caesar Augustus didn’t exist, of very well near zero. So we would still be fully justified believing in his historicity—even with a prior probability of it of only 6%.
That’s why we need to look at the evidence for the existence of Jesus. Is it as strong as the evidence for the existence of Caesar Augustus? And even if not that strong (and we already know it isn’t …), is it still strong enough to make historicity more probable than ahistoricity, no matter what Rank-Raglan score Jesus has? To that question we now turn.
In other words, even if “Alexander the Great and Augustus Caesar” were high scoring RR heroes and thus had a 1 in 3 prior chance of existing, the evidence for their existence vastly overwhelms that prior, rendering it moot. That’s the point—and effect—of having evidence. The fact that we lack that evidence for Jesus, is precisely the problem. Citing persons for whom we have that vast evidence, does not answer that problem. Note Gullotta seems completely unaware that I give exactly the same examples he does, and discuss why they don’t help his case: Augustus, just above; and Alexander, on pp. 21-24. Why doesn’t Gullotta know this? Why does he keep repeating the mistakes my book warns him not to?
It’s similarly illogical of Gullotta to cite later “additional” legends of Jesus (like the Infancy Gospels) as “refuting” the claim that Jesus was a Rank-Raglan hero when constructed in the first century. That he was changed into a different kind of hero later (e.g. stories invented of him as a child) has no effect on what we observe he was imagined by the first authors narrating his life (such as Mark and Matthew, who conspicuously tell us nothing of his childhood, despite that being a common feature of ancient biography). As if Mark and Matthew “knew” about the Infancy Gospel tales. Please. Those stories didn’t exist when Mark and Matthew wrote. Nor would Mark or Matthew have contrived them…which is why they didn’t. They probably would have regarded them as preposterous and abhorrent. And certainly wholly contrary to the story they actually wanted to tell. At any rate, I already addressed this point in OHJ (pp. 233-34), so for Gullotta again to pretend I didn’t, is disturbing.
The fact remains: Jesus belongs to a set of persons who are rarely historical; and he can’t belong to it by my design or by accident. That’s true regardless of who designed the set or how the set is constructed or how Jesus came to belong to the set. That means Jesus looks like a non-historical person. As much as everyone else in that same set does. So we need some evidence to establish Jesus is an exception. And presumption is not evidence. “Maybe Jesus is like Alexander the Great” is not a logically valid argument to the conclusion that “Jesus is like Alexander the Great.” Gullotta and his colleagues really need to stop using the possibiliter fallacy (Proving History, pp. 26-29).
Gullotta is at least honest. Unlike most critics of OHJ, he actually did read at least some of OHJ as he claimed (though he clearly skipped parts, which resulted in some humorous errors in his review), and he didn’t resort to outright lies about what the book says or any of the pertinent facts. Indeed, apart from some errors in reading my arguments—where he didn’t read the book, or gets my arguments wrong, or forgets what they were (and thus does mildly deceive some readers)—his only failing, top to bottom, is in being phenomenally illogical. Every argument he makes, makes no logical sense. He never explains why anything he says should increase the probability of historicity. He does not even seem to know how one increases the probability of a historical claim at all. We are left with no idea why anything he says should alter my conclusion that the odds Jesus existed are at best 1 in 3.
This is why historians need to stop thumbing their nose at the study of logic—and actually learn logic. They won’t be able to construct, much less vet, a logically valid argument if they never study how to tell when an argument is logically valid. If they don’t know what fallacies are, they will keep using them, oblivious to the fact. Because they can’t detect them. If they don’t know how evidence increases the probability of a theory, how can they claim some item of evidence does increase it? And how can they know how probable something is, if they refuse to learn any numerical language of probability? There is no way to defend a conclusion without this knowledge. What happens instead is that illogical rationalizations get dressed up with neatly edited margin-justified text and copious footnotes to create the appearance of being reliable historical reasoning.
This needs to stop. Historians need to start taking logic seriously. And stop using illogical arguments to reach conclusions they desire, and instead use logic (and competently) to identify when their beliefs are false. Because it is only by failing to prove your beliefs false, that you can verify they are probably true. See my past advice on this point. Plus, to Gullotta and all would-be critics: Please actually read the book. It’s embarrassing, and a waste of time and words, when you don’t even address what my arguments and evidence are. You can’t advance the subject, or defend historicity successfully, unless you actually do that. And that requires moving the ball forward. Not ignoring where the ball is.