As someone recently clued me to, the indomitable asscrank Tim O’Neil had posted a comment on Ehrman’s blog back in 2013 lambasting my peer reviewed article on the James passage in Josephus, to which Ehrman responded “Terrific comments!! Many thanks.”
Hmm. In the comment Ehrman gullibly praised, O’Neil, who has no relevant qualifications but claims to know more than the peer reviewers for the prestigious Journal of Early Christian Studies, told Ehrman that my paper they published (which you can find reproduced, along with my peer reviewed papers on the Thallus and Tacitus passages, among other items, in Hitler Homer Bible Christ) was “riddled with problems,” yet never discusses any of my paper’s actual arguments, or any of my paper’s actual evidence, and instead spews his own lies and mistakes.
To begin with, for the Jesus at [Jewish Antiquities] XX.9.1 to be the same person as the later mentioned high priest “Jesus, son of Damneus”, we have to believe that Ananus executed this son of Damneus’ brother and then very soon afterwards uses rich gifts so he “cultivated the friendship of Albinus, and of the high priest”. So we’re supposed to believe that within months of seeing Ananus kill his brother, the son of Damneus was cosying up to his brother’s murderer thanks to some gifts? This makes no sense.
Um, no, Mr. O’Neil. I think you’ve got the wrong Ananus.
Josephus wrote (in JA 20.203) that after the high priest Ananus illegally executed James the brother of the disputed Jesus, the Jewish and Roman elite were outraged and punished Ananus:
Whereupon [the Roman governor] Albinus complied with what [members of the Jewish elite] said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.
I adduce abundant evidence in my article that the text originally read that this was the Jesus of whom James was the brother. Thus explaining the punishment. You can read my article yourself. O’Neil won’t tell you what its actual arguments are.
O’Neil thinks this is the same Ananus who later courts Jesus ben Damneus. But O’Neil does not check his facts. Josephus had earlier written (in JA 20.197ff.) that:
After the king deprived Joseph of the high priesthood, he bestowed the succession to that dignity on the son of Ananus, who was also himself called Ananus. Now the report goes that this eldest Ananus proved a most fortunate man. For he had five sons who had all performed the office of a high priest to God, and who had himself enjoyed that dignity a long time formerly, which had never happened to any other of our high priests. But this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent.
Three guesses which Ananus killed James.
Immediately after Josephus reports Jesus ben Damneus replacing the Ananus who murdered his brother, after many in the Jewish and Roman elite had turned on that Ananus and condemned him, Josephus goes on to report (in JA 20.204ff.):
Now as soon as Albinus was come to the city of Jerusalem, he used all his endeavors and care that the country might be kept in peace … But as for the high priest Ananias, he increased in glory every day, and this to a great degree, and had obtained the favor and esteem of the citizens in a signal manner. For he was a great hoarder up of money: he therefore cultivated the friendship of Albinus, and of the high priest [i.e. Jesus ben Damneus], by making them presents. … So the other high priests acted in the like manner.
Notice there are a whole lot of high priests here. Which Ananus are we talking about then? Certainly not the one who was just condemned and disgraced by everyone in power. That would not agree with the statement that he kept “increasing in glory every day.” No. This is the Elder Ananus, whose glory has been tracked by Josephus across several passages so far. His only setback was the disgracing of his son, the Younger Ananus (the one “bold in his temper, and very insolent”). Whom he evidently renounced, to court the reigning high priest who replaced him. Probably, indeed, precisely because he now did not have a son controlling the position. Politics has always been dirty. (Though Josephus’s interpretation may have been cynical; paying restitution to the victims of one’s kin to normalize relations, rather than unleash an inter-family feud, was not uncommon in antiquity.)
Note that even the venerable Whiston’s edition of the English translation of Josephus here adds this comment:
This Ananias was not the son of Nebedeus, as I take it, but he who was called Annas or Ananus the Elder, the ninth in the catalogue, and who had been esteemed high priest for a long time; and, besides Caiaphas, his son-in-law, had five of his own sons high priests after him, which were those of numbers 11, 14, 15, 17, 24, in the foregoing catalogue. Nor ought we to pass slightly over what Josephus here says of Annas, or Ananias, that he was high priest a long time before his children were so; he was the son of Seth, and is set down first for high priest in the foregoing catalogue, under number 9. He was made by Quirinus, and continued till Ismael, the 10th in number, for about twenty-three years, which long duration of his high priesthood, joined to the successions of his son-in-law, and five children of his own, made him a sort of perpetual high priest, and was perhaps the occasion that former high priests kept their titles ever afterwards; for I believe it is hardly met with before him.
Ah. Get that? O’Neill can’t even be bothered to read standard annotations.
But sure, Whiston’s remarks are hundreds of years old, so we might want to vet them first.
So why would Whiston have thought this you might ask? Apart from the obvious (the context is of an increasingly glorious Ananus, not one who had just been disgraced), because only Ananus the Elder was renowned as wealthy and influential (JA 20.208-14). After the murder of James, we actually never hear about the younger Ananus again in the Antiquities. The only Ananus ever elsewhere spoken of is the famous and influential one, Ananus the Elder—the younger Ananus’s father. Who would thus have been in his 80s when the war broke—rare but not unprecedented.
The manuscripts do indeed use different spellings: in 20.203, the murderer is “Ananus,” and in 20.204 the courter is “Ananias.” But the manuscripts exhibit creeping errors and no longer spell Ananus consistently. So I wouldn’t rest on that. I suspect Josephus originally spelled the elder Ananias and the younger Ananus, but over time scribes confused the spellings. But who knows. Maybe he expected you to understand from the context which he meant. In a long narrative about Ananus the Elder, you are supposed to forget about the disgraced Ananus the Younger and return to the nevertheless increasing glories of the Elder. The one with all the money who meddles repeatedly in temple affairs.
Though Ananus the Younger is depicted as a prominent peace-advocate in Jerusalem during the siege narrative of the earlier Jewish War, and indeed whose own death Josephus credits for causing the fall of Jerusalem, that is completely absent from the Antiquities decades later. Josephus may have confused the Younger and Elder Ananus in the JW (his account and description of the man in JW 4.214-25 fits the Elder, not the Younger, and JW 4.151 seems to suggest the Elder is meant, yet 4.160 clearly says it was the Younger Ananus who teamed with the high Priest Jesus ben Gamaliel during the siege; the rest of the account all fits the Elder better). He dropped that confusion in the JA.
So O’Neil was simply careless here. He can’t establish the same Ananus is the guy who courted the aggrieved Jesus. Nor can he establish anything would actually have been odd about privately paying restitution for an inter-family murder. Nor can he even establish that the brothers James and Jesus even liked each other.
But O’Neil also goes on to lie, as he usually does, with his next accusation: that my theory of an interpolation “requires” Josephus to have forgotten to designate the patronymic at first mention of a new Jesus. This is a lie, because it omits the fact that in my article I propose the text in fact originally read “James the brother of Jesus ben Damneus” and the scribe, believing a dittographic error had occurred (from the following line that contained “Jesus ben Damneus”), transposed the marginal note “the one called Christ” into its place, believing that to be the intended correction.
Thus, in no way does my “contrived ad hoc work around require” proposing Josephus left that out. Though he may well have; Josephus is not as fastidious as O’Neil claims. After all, he failed to remind O’Neil that the Ananus spoken of in the next passage is a different Ananus than the one just deposed. Ironically, though, O’Neil’s own logic is self-refuting, since it is also the supposedly consistent practice of Josephus to explain the introduction of new terms alien to his audience, thus he could not have said “James the brother of the Jesus called Christ” without explaining what a “Christ” was or why it was relevant to the story—or, if O’Neil is such a fool as to believe the Testimonium Flavianum was written by Josephus, without providing a back reference. Notably, I make both points in my article: that Josephus typically does either, and often does both (and I give examples!). So by O’Neil’s own logic, Josephus cannot have written “James the brother of the Jesus called Christ.” Hm. What then did he write? Three guesses.
Then O’Neil claims I engage in a mere “blithe dismissal” of the passages in Origen, where Origen claims to be referring to a murder of James in Josephus but is clearly mistaken, “on the grounds that Origen was somehow confusing Josephus with Heggisipus.” JECS does not publish blithe dismissals. It publishes detailed and referenced arguments. So, which do you think you will find in my article? A blithe dismissal, as claimed by a liar? Or detailed and referenced arguments, as typify published peer reviewed papers? Three guesses again.
O’Neil then says Origen wasn’t mistaken, because “Origen definitely could have read the trope of ‘the fall of Jerusalem as punishment for the execution of James’ into the text, as detailed by Waturu Mizagaki, ‘Origen and Josephus’ in Josephus, Judaism and Christianity.”
No such argument is in Waturu Mizagaki, ‘Origen and Josephus’ in Josephus, Judaism and Christianity.
Literally. Mizagaki never argues for such a thing. At all. Much less in any “detailed” way. He only discusses the remark on two pages (pp. 335-36), and simply describes what Origen says. He makes no case for it being correct. He doesn’t even say it is correct. There is no plausible way to even claim such a thing. So it is to Mizagaki’s credit that he attempted no such thing as O’Neil’s libel against him would have it.
So, needless to say, when O’Neil says, “Oddly for a peer reviewed article, neither this key piece of research on Origen’s use of Josephus nor Feldman and Hata’s highly relevant collection of articles is anywhere to be found in Carrier’s footnotes,” we can get the punchline. Well, yeah, Mr. O’Neil. Because none of them say anything relevant to my article. Hence my peer reviewers did not require me to refer to them.
What’s weird is that the very next chapter in that same book, after Mizagaki’s completely irrelevant chapter that contains no such argument as O’Neil claims, is specifically on the martyrdom of James, by Zvi Baras. He discusses the passage in question on pp. 341-46. Five whole pages! Know what he says? That Origen’s claim that Josephus credited the fall of Jerusalem to the murder of this James is “a statement not supported by the text reproduced above or by any other extant version.” Done.
Baras goes on to agree with me that Origen can only be confused. Josephus never said any such thing. Baras also mentions the theory that Origen confused Josephus and Hegesippus (the very theory I defend), and offers only one argument against it (that Origen would never make such a mistake), which I refute in my article with examples of Origen making exactly such mistakes—and with an extensive case showing he must have (so insisting he never could have is just circular argument).
And BTW, Baras makes no argument. He just states an assertion. And peer reviewers do not require us to cite undefended assertions. I had evidence backing my statements. Peer reviewers like it when you have evidence backing your statements.
Notably, by this point, O’Neil has not mentioned any of my actual arguments, or any of the evidence and scholarship I cite in support of those arguments. Nor has he made any valid accusation against my article, but has only uttered one mistake, and three lies. So when O’Neil concludes “Carrier is a polemicist and this article shows it,” O’Neil is not just a liar. He is a damned fucking liar.
And, BTW, O’Neil’s blog comment? That’s what being “a polemicist” looks like. Now read my article in JECS. That is not what polemics looks like. That’s what scholarship looks like.
The closing joke is when O’Neil complains of my article’s closing section, concluding “his final paragraphs where he pompously declares that all future discussion on the topic must now bow before his mighty findings are are hilarious as they are fatuous.” This is quite funny. Because it proves O’Neil is an amateur. Many journals require us to write these statements. And indeed this was one such case: the article I submitted had no such section. The peer reviewers insisted that I write it. To oblige them, I did.
So O’Neil is complaining about the “hilarious” and “fatuous” demands of expert peer reviewers serving the editorial standards of a professional academic journal. I’d be sympathetic. Peer reviewers can sometimes be hilarious and fatuous. Except this is actually a legitimate standard. It makes sense to require the author to add a closing “impact statement” explaining the reason why scholars will be interested in what the journal has just published. This is increasingly even becoming an international standard for published research in all fields.
It’s another reason why peer review assures a product of a higher standard than the dishonest, sloppy, and inaccurate internet comments of asscranks.