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Acharya S, Richard Carrier, and a Cocky Peter (Or: “A Cock and Bull Story”)

     As I indicated in my earlier posting, I will make an exception in this case and post these comments on the Public Forum, although normally I reserve my Responses to Critics to the Members Only section of the blog.
     As many readers know, Richard Carrier has written a hard-hitting, one might even say vicious, response to Did Jesus Exist.  I said nothing nasty about Carrier in my book – just the contrary, I indicated that he was a smart fellow with whom I disagree on fundamental issues, including some for which he really does not seem to know what he is talking about.  But I never attacked him personally.  He on the other hand, appears to be showing his true colors. 
     Still, the one thing this bit of nastiness has shown me is that even though I seem to stir up controversy everywhere I go and with everything I write, I really don’t like conflict.  I would much prefer that we all simply get along and search for truth together.   But alas, the world does not appear to be made that way.   And I seem to be a lightning rod for criticism.   This morning I woke up to the old Stealer’s Wheel song in my head, “Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you.”   It’s a good place to be, stuck in the middle, when there are so many outlandish options to the left and right.
     I do not plan on spending my next three months going back and forth with Carrier over his criticisms.   This is a problem I have with many of the mythicists: they are often so prolix and make point after point after point, that it is impossible to deal with them in short order.  One of the things Carrier laments is that I don’t deal with the various mythicists all at length – even (this is a special point he presses) those who cannot be taken seriously (he names Freke and Gandy).   My view is that there is no reason to take seriously people who cannot be taken seriously:  a few indications of general incompetence is good enough.
     Anyway, with respect to Carrier’s many points, a response consisting of just a few postings is all I have in mind.   I had first thought that I would go point by point in detail and explain myself and my views more fully and adequately, and stress where I thought he had gone wrong in his severe critiques.   But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve realized that the various things he says can be grouped into categories, and so I will try to arrange my responses topically.
     A number of his criticisms will strike a number of casual readers as “Bull’s Eye Hits.”  How can Ehrman get out of that one?!   That’s what he said, and Carrier has shown that it’s flat-out false, and so Ehrman must be either lazy, ignorant, or both!
Would that life were so simple.   The problem in a number of cases is that Carrier has taken my comments out of context, and in some (related) cases that he simply has not read my account very carefully.
     A case in point of my “carelessness and arrogance” is the first instance of an “Error of Fact” that he cites, which I assume he gives as his first example because he thinks it’s a real killer.   It has to do with a statue in the Vatican library that is of a rooster (a cock) with an erect penis for a nose (really!) which Acharya S, in her book The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold, indicates is “hidden in the Vatican Treasury” (that damn Vatican: always hiding things that disprove Christianity!) which is a “symbol of Saint Peter” (p. 295).
     In her discussion, Acharya S indicates that Jesus’ disciple Peter was not only the “rock” on which Jesus would build his church, but also the “cock.”  Get it?  They rhyme!   Moreover, the word cock is slang for penis (hard as a “rock,” one might think); and what is another slang word for penis?  Peter!   There you have it.  And so when there is a statue of a cock with a rock-hard peter for a nose, this symbolizes Peter, the disciple of Jesus.  No wonder the popes have kept this thing in hiding.
      My comment on this entire discussion was simple and direct:  “There is no penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock in the Vatican or anywhere else except in books like this, which love to make things up.”
      Carrier attacks my comments with a rather vicious set of comments: “Ehrman evidently did no research on this and did not check this claim at all….  Indicative of the carelessness and arrogance Ehrman exhibits in his book.”    But alas, I am unrepentant and will say it again: “There is no penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock in the Vatican.”
     What Carrier wants us to know is that in fact this statue does exist and that it is in the Vatican.   It does not take much research to dig out this juicy bit of museum lore.  Acharya S herself gives the references in her footnotes.   And yes, they are both right.  The statue does appear to exist.   But it has nothing to do with Peter, as any sophomore in college with one semester of Greek under his belt and a course or two in religious studies could tell you.
     On the base of the statue are the words SOTER KOSMOU – Greek for “Savior of the World.”  No Christian ever thought that Peter was the Savior of the World.  Peter was not portrayed in the early church in ithyphallic form.  Let alone has an overly-excited rooster.   This statue was considered to be of Peter because of crass and irrelevant modern idle wanderings that have nothing to do with real research (cock/rock; Peter and the cock crows; peter = penis = cock; and so on).   It in fact is simply a rather unusual Priapus.   There are lots of Priapi that have come down to us from the ancient world, and they tend to arouse the giggles of the middle school students with their first exposure to a classical collection in a museum.   Off hand I don’t recall any others quite like this, but they may indeed exist.  None of them has anything to do with Jesus’ disciple Simon Peter.
     And so my offhand statement about this particular one was that the Vatican does not have a statue of Peter as rooster with a hard cock for his nose.   Carrier’s response was that the statue does exist.  Let me put the question to him bluntly: Does he think that the Vatican has “a penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock” in its collection?  I think we can say with some assurance that the answer is no.  As I said, unlike a lot of other mythicists Carrier is both trained and smart.   But sometimes he doesn’t read very well.
     He makes this kind of mistake routinely in his vicious assault on me and my book.  The problem appears to be that he sees something that strikes him as a problem, and he isolates it, dissects it, runs with it, gets obsessed with it, and …. forgets how it was actually said in the first place.   Careful reading can solve a lot of problems of misunderstanding.
     Let me say, in addition, that this comment of mine was made very much in passing.  No major point was being made, other than that Acharya S was not a scholar who could be trusted (in part because she is not a scholar) in the context of eleven rather egregious mistakes that I picked out, more or less at random, in her book.   Carrier does not object to any of the other ten.  Which means that he appears to be on board with all eleven.   That means that his cavil has no effect on my overall argument at this point. 
     So what is the point?  Carrier appears to want to show that he is very much a better historian than I am.  This is a repeated theme throughout his scathing critique.   I, frankly, did not realize that this was supposed to be a contest between the two of us, and am not interested in the question of who wins.  My interest in the book is to discuss whether Jesus existed.  I give mounds of evidence to show why he did, and to show why mythicists’ views are almost certainly wrong.  The majority of Carrier’s “errors in fact” are this kind of cavil, in which he sees trees (often incorrectly) while missing the forest.


Richard Carrier on The Huffington Post Article (1)
What Charities Does The Blog Support?

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Comments

  1. zakiechan  April 22, 2012

    You hit the nail on the head with “[Carrier] sees something that strikes him as a problem, and he isolates it, dissects it, runs with it, gets obsessed with it, and …. forgets how it was actually said in the first place.”

    He tends to do this with anything he is criticizing. I used to think that brevity was just not his strong suit, but then I started to see that he was just nit-picking every possible thing he could.

  2. Felix  April 22, 2012

    Professor,

    I don’t have your book to check this, but Carrier reports that you say the following:

    “there is no penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock in the Vatican or anywhere else except in books like this, which love to make things up”

    This sentence would suggest to the lay reader that the existence of a penis-nosed cockerel had been invented. It implies mendacity rather than error on the part of the author who claimed that such a thing exists.

    If you merely wished to refute the idea that the statue was connected with Peter then other words would have been much more appropriate.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 24, 2012

      Maybe you’re right: maybe I should have phrased it differently. Everything looks different in hindsight!

      • Jim Lippard  April 24, 2012

        I’m reading your book now, and I interpreted your statement in the book to mean that the statue was a wholesale fabrication by Acharya S, not that her interpretation of an existing statue was wildly inaccurate. It appears to me not just poorly phrased, but phrased incorrectly for the intended meaning.

        • JordanDay  April 25, 2012

          I too interpreted it that way when reading the book. The wording made it sound as if the whole thing had been pulled out of thin air.

  3. vinnyjh57  April 22, 2012

    Dr. Ehrman,

    I have argued with a lot of internet apologists using your works as a reference and I don’t think that I have ever been caught with egg on my face as a result of misstating the evidence or mischaracterizing the range of scholarly opinion. I think this is because you are always careful to say “there is some evidence but I find it weak” or “there are a few scholars who think this but I don’t agree” rather than “there is no evidence” or “no scholar thinks this.”

    I agree that your statement about the statue is technically accurate and that the issue is relatively trivial, but I think, based on past experience, that I would have expected to infer from your wording that there was such a statue, but nobody really thought it was Peter. Of greater concern to me are the points where Carrier alleges that you say “no scholar holds a particular position” when in fact some legitimate scholars do.

    I greatly appreciate you putting this in the public forum.

    • rbrtbaumgardner  April 23, 2012

      @vinnyjh57 . My experience with Internet apologists is they want to pull you into a battle of rhetoric in which scoring points matters much more than substance. They will take anything you give them to work with and make up things when you don’t. My sense of reading Dr. Ehrman is he makes a broad point and then follows up with a more articulated statement. The apologists seize on the broad statement and work it to death even though it is really a distortion.

      • vinnyjh57  April 25, 2012

        rbrtbaumgardner,

        My experience with Dr. Ehrman books has been that he is always very precise in the way he qualifies any claim he makes. That is why he has been such a valuable reference in my discussions with apologists. I don’t see the same degree of precision in Did Jesus Exist?

        Just my take.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 24, 2012

      Yes, I’ll be dealing with those charges soon enough!

    • jimmo  April 24, 2012

      This isn’t the same stuff you get from Randal Rauser, is it Vinny?

      • vinnyjh57  April 25, 2012

        JImmo,

        It’s been awhile since I have been to Randall Rauser’s blog. I’m not sure what you are referencing.

  4. John Oines  April 22, 2012

    It appears to me that you are in a battle that you can’t and don’t need to win. The mythicists are a group who will rigidly adhere to their point of view. They will attempt to anger you, to provoke responses. By responding to them you empower them. Of course, I could be wrong. This was my initial impression.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 24, 2012

      You may be right. One hates to cede the field to them, but responses seem to energize them!

  5. David  April 23, 2012

    There is more evidence Jesus existed than for a huge number of people who actually exist today, but are documented nowhere, don’t have a birth certificate or any other kind of entry or any description in an official record or otherwise.

    I am afraid it is just crackpots and loons who believe he does not exist

    • Carl  April 23, 2012

      Making this kind of personal attack is really childish. Those who find no evidence for the historical Jesus are serious in their research and should be respected for their position. If you have info to the contrary, then post that info, but the name-calling makes both you and your mentor look rather bad.

      • Steven Bollinger  April 28, 2012

        “the name-calling”

        Well, it’s tradition, Carl. Despite the refrain of claims from historicists that “this has all been thoroughly debated,” their response to doubters for about two centuries has mostly amounted to comments very much like David’s. (Please, somebody, prove me wrong, and point me to the racks groaning with the volumes addressing and refuting mythicism! Like Ehrman’s newest book or not, it’s pretty near unique.) (Longer ago than two centuries it was pretty dangerous, and not just to one’s acdemic career, to assert publicly that Jesus might not have existed.)

  6. Jonathan Burke  April 23, 2012

    Dear Bart; (if I may be so bold), thank you for this clarification. I spent some time going through Dorothy Murdock’s references. I noted at once that her research method involves random searches through Google Books; in fact she even embeds the links to the books in question, so you can see clearly the search terms she used, proving that she was punching words into Google Books and hitting the search button hoping to get lucky.

    A number of these works are available on Google Books only in limited, or even snippet view, so it’s clear Murdock doesn’t own them, hasn’t read them, and is simply searching for key words in Google Books for any references related to the subject at hand. I would suggest this is not standard academic research procedure, even though Carrier appears to approve.

    One reference Murdock did not cite is Panzanelli & Scholosser, ‘Ephemeral bodies: wax sculpture and the human figure’ (2008). This book refers explicitly to the ‘notorious “Vatican Bronze”‘ (p. 121), and the image shown is the very image cited by Murdock (p. 122), yet when we turn to the page on which the statue is described we find the image which Murdock claims is hidden in the ‘Vatican Treasury’ is in fact, ‘a phallic monument in the Gabinetto Segreto, Museo Archeologico Nazionale Napoli, supposedly recovered at Pompeii/Herculaneum’ (p. 122). Not only is there no reference to Peter, but we finally find that the the image is not hidden in the ‘Vatican Treasury’, but is in the Gabinetto Segreto in Naples, the collection of sexual and erotic artifacts found in Pompeii.

    This is even more interesting since Pompeii was only excavated in the late 18th century, so 17th century sources such as ‘Romanum Museum’ (1692), couldn’t possible be referring to the same artifact. So all those later works relying on the 17th sources as evidence for this artifact are wrong, and all those later works relying on 18th and 19th century sources claiming this is kept in the Vatican are also wrong. Naturally any sources claiming this has anything whatever to do with Peter, are also wrong; please note that despite all Murdock’s sources, she didn’t provide any which made such a connection.

    So you were right; ‘There is no penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock in the Vatican, or anywhere else’. Firstly there is no penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock either in the Vatican or anywhere else, and secondly the only penis-nosed statue to which Murdock does refer isn’t of Peter, and isn’t in the Vatican. She was wrong on both counts.

    I went through all of Murdock’s references, and was interested by what I found. The original claim can be traced to basically two sources from 200-300 years ago, none of the sources cited makes the same claim she does, virtually all of the sources disagree on various points, and the only modern scholarly sources she quotes as referring to it, actually treat the ‘Vatican’ story cautiously as hearsay. Details follow.

    ______________________________
    * The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects: cites the 19th century work of Knight, who makes reference to ‘the celebrated bronze in the Vatican’; Knight says absolutely nothing about it being anything to do with Peter

    * A Dictionary of Sexual Language and Imagery: cites Fuchs, ‘Gescichte der Erotischen Kunst’ (1908); another work from over 100 years ago (you’ll be seeing a pattern soon), and this source says nothing about the figure being anything to do with Peter

    * Fuchs, ‘Gescichte der Erotischen Kunst’ (1908): still no modern independent scholarly witnesses, and Murdock’s link doesn’t even go to the page to which she refers (nor does she quote the text of the book)

    * Privatisierung der Triebe? (1994): finally a modern scholarly source, but unfortunately it’s not an independent witness; instead we have a reference to an 18th century engraving, the source of which is not identified (and this source says nothing about the figure being anything to do with Peter)

    * The Secret Middle Ages: another modern scholarly source, but wait, it refers with due caution to the ‘notorious Albani bronze said to be held in the Vatican Museum’; alas, no evidence here (and this source says nothing about the figure being anything to do with Peter)

    * Public Characters of 1803-1804: yes, another work from 200 years ago, and it cites an 17th century source, so again we have no independent verification here (and this source says nothing about the figure being anything to do with Peter); Murdock appears unaware that the text she quotes actually originally appeared in several earlier works published in the 1760s

    * Romanum Museum: this is the 17th century work cited previously; no reference whatever to Peter, of course, and no reference to it being kept in the ‘secret Vatican Treasury’ (perhaps Murdock thought that ‘Romanum Museum’ was a reference to the Vatican treasury?)

    * The Miscellaneous Works of the Late Reverend and Learned Conyers Middleton: another 18th century work, no source cited for the image, no reference to the Vatican, no reference to Peter

    * The Image of Priapus: yet another work relying on the 17th century source ‘Romanum Museum’, and another reference to Knight’s work, but no reference to Peter or the Vatican

    * Sex and Sex Worship (Phallic Worship): A Scientific Treatise on Sex: here’s the first actual photo we have (in a book published in 1922), and yet it isn’t the bronze image Murdock has been talking about, though she still claims this is ‘a photograph of what appears to be the original bronze statue (or at least its twin)’; the book itself says this is a depiction of Priapus (nothing to do with Peter), was found ‘in an ancient Greek temple’, and of course says nothing about it being in the Vatican

    * Studies in Iconography: claims ‘This object was published under papal and royal authority, exhibited for a time in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and is now said to be held inaccessible in the secret collections of the Vatican’; note again the scholarly caution over the unsourced and unsubstantiated claim

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 24, 2012

      Wow. VERY interesting! Thanks so much! Pretty hard to get around all *that*!!

    • Squirrelloid  April 24, 2012

      The more parsimonious conclusion would not be to assume the originally cited statue doesn’t exist, but that the statue’s motif was once somewhat common in antiquity, and more than one statue was produced. One was certainly found at Pompeii, but one is also at the Vatican.

      (Indeed, my impression was that not only is it depicted in that original citation, but we also have records of discussions about its appropriateness from the time period of its supposed exhibition. Surely all that is not forged evidence for it. Indeed, it would beggar belief that multiple authors forged the existence of such an implausible statue a century or more before the discovery at Pompeii. Its not like we could have predicted cock-headed ‘saviors of the world’).

      Whether or not Murdoch interpreted the statue correctly or not is beside the point in claiming the actual statue itself or its record is fabricated.

      • Jonathan Burke  May 1, 2012

        “The more parsimonious conclusion would not be to assume the originally cited statue doesn’t exist, but that the statue’s motif was once somewhat common in antiquity, and more than one statue was produced.”

        I agree.

        “One was certainly found at Pompeii, but one is also at the Vatican.”

        But there’s no evidence that any such statue is at the Vatican. We have one 18th century source claiming it was displayed publicly at the Vatican for over 100 years, but no earlier sources say this.

        “Surely all that is not forged evidence for it. Indeed, it would beggar belief that multiple authors forged the existence of such an implausible statue a century or more before the discovery at Pompeii.”

        I agree. But we don’t have multiple authors. The original source for the image is Chausse, and everyone else is dependent on Chausse. The original claim that the statue was at the Vatican is Knight, and everyone else is dependent on Knight (and Knight says it was displayed publicly in the Vatican palace, not held out of sight in the Vatican treasury).

    • Avery  April 24, 2012

      Good work, Jonathan.

      After reading Murdock’s response to Bart’s book,
      http://www.truthbeknown.com/freethought/contributing-writers/63-acharya-s/669-the-phallic-savior-of-the-world-hidden-in-the-vatican.html
      I was more confused than anything else. You cleared up a lot of ambiguity. Thank you.

      • Jonathan Burke  April 25, 2012

        Thank you Avery. Remember Murdock’s original statement:

        * ‘Bronze sculpture hidden in the Vatican treasury of the Cock, symbol of St. Peter.’

        According to the new story from Murdock and her follower, her originally statement actually means this:

        * ‘Bronze sculpture (never hidden in the Vatican treasury), of the Cock, but not a symbol of St. Peter’.

        The new spin from Murdock’s followers seems to be that Murdock never claimed it IS a symbol of Peter and never claimed it IS in the Vatican. So according to Murdock it’s a statute representing Peter which isn’t of Peter, and it’s held in the secret Vatican treasury while not being in the Vatican at all.

        What was amusing was that on Murdock’s own forum one of her followers attempted to claim that she hadn’t simply been using Google Books as a resource, and that she could certainly have owned all those books and read them, and used Google Books simply for the benefit of her readers. This attempt at helpful apologetic was promptly destroyed by Murdock herself, who acknowledged that she had actually used Google Books in exactly the way I described, a method of ‘research’ which she defended hotly.

        Murdock’s follower quoted Chausse (who does not say that the statue was in the Vatican), and Knight (who is the source on which later writers rely when claiming the statue was in the Vatican), whilst apparently failing to realise that Knight contradicts Murdock’s claim that the statue was hidden in the ‘secret treasury’ of the Vatican. On the contrary, Knight claims it was displayed publicly in the Vatican Palace.

        Murdock’s follower even acknowledges ‘Mr. Burke was correct when he wrote “the image is not hidden in the ‘Vatican Treasury’ “, because it IS in the Gabinetto, while in Knight’s day it WAS in the Vatican Palace, and it was not HIDDEN, it was on PUBLIC display’. So Murdock’s own follower destroys Murdock’s original claim that this is a ‘Bronze sculpture hidden in the Vatican treasury’.

        Unfortunately, Knight seems to be the only source we have for the statue ever being in any part of the Vatican (subsequent writers citing him), and since he made the claim in order to defend his publication of Priapic images (‘The original, from which it is taken, is an antique bronze, preserved in the Vatican palace, where it has been publicily exhibited for near a century, without corrupting any one’s morals or religion, that I have heard of’), his claim clearly involved a good deal of self-interest, so it’s probably unsurprising that he’s the earliest source subsequent writers cite. It is certainly unsurprising that a couple of the modern sources cited by Murdock treat Knight’s claim with caution.

        In the quotation I provided from Panzanelli & Scholosser was careful to quote them exactly, saying that the bronze in question (and another bronze they cite from Knight), was ‘supposedly recovered at Pompeii/Herculaneum’, indicating their own caution about the original source of each statue. I nevertheless believe that the case for this origin is good, given that the statues in question ended up in the Gabinetto Segreto, since it is a collection of items excavated from Pompeii and Herculaneum; a case would have to be made that this item was found elsewhere but later placed in the Gabinetto Segreto for some reason. The fact that it’s in the Gabinetto Segreto is prima facie evidence that it was excavated from Pompeii or Herculaneum.

        Murdock’s follower opposes this on the grounds that they believe it’s incredibly unlikely that there could be more than once such copy of either statue (which is a reasonable argument on the face of it). However, Murdock herself acknowledges this is possible, which her own follower appears not to have realised. Citing ‘Sex and Sex Worship (Phallic Worship): A Scientific Treatise on Sex’ (1922), Murdock shows what she says is ‘a photograph of what appears to be the original bronze statue (or at least its twin)’.

        Regardless, even if this point is incorrect, the fact remains that I have disproved Murdock’s original claim, which was this:

        * ‘Bronze sculpture hidden in the Vatican treasury of the Cock, symbol of St. Peter.’

        Murdock has retreated on both these claims. She now says she never claimed this statue is a ‘symbol of St. Peter’, and has stopped claiming the sculpture is ‘hidden in the Vatican treasury’, which is progress. But it shows you really have to follow up these people and pin them down with proper research, or they’ll try to get away with anything.

        Additionally, Murdock’s own follower has not only acknowledged ‘ ‘Mr. Burke was correct when he wrote “the image is not hidden in the ‘Vatican Treasury”, but has also acknowledged that Knight himself says the complete opposite of Murdock’s claim; Knight says the sculpture was displayed publicly in the Vatican Palace for over a century, whereas Murdock claimed it is ‘hidden in the Vatican treasury’, and continued to defend this claim that it is ‘hidden in the Vatican treasury’ in her initial response to Ehrman.

        Curiously, Murdock’s follower asks ‘Did Mr. Burke even bother to check Chausse’s Museum Romanum?’. Of course I did., I even cited it in my original post, a fact which Murdock’s follower appears to have overlooked; I made the point that Chausse’s description of the bronze makes no reference to Peter or to the Vatican. Chausse’s work contains the plates from which Knight made his own representation of two bronzes, though his representation of them differs slightly from that of Chausse.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  April 25, 2012

          Very Interesting! Many thanks.

          • Jesse  April 29, 2012

            Why even respond to Murdock? Unless she has a tenured teaching position and something to lose, her thoughts are worthless.

  7. Ken Parker  April 23, 2012

    Your failure to engage any of Carrier’s numerous other criticisms of your book would seem to indicate that you possibly cannot do so.
    And the fact that Richard Carrier is rather blunt when exposing foolish mistakes from supposed experts in his field doesn’t mean that he is personally attacking anyone.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 24, 2012

      I’ll be replying soon enough. But anyone firmly on his side no matter what will not be convinced … no matter what!

      • Martin  April 24, 2012

        Well, there are also people like me who haven’t made up their mind yet. I’m curious to see what explanations you have for the things Carrier points out.

        • DMiller5842  May 27, 2012

          Just bought your book Did Jesus Exist?. I am eager to see the proof that you have to counter the work of Acharya S in her book The Christ Conspiracy, The Greatest Story Ever Sold. I realize that you do not respect her as a scholar from the postings I have already read. I have seen some of the back and forth between you two on the blogs. She quotes others in her books, including you. As I read your book and compare it to what she had to say, I hope you will answer questions that I have as they arise. Already, I am wondering if the others she quotes are scholars or not in your opinion.
          There are those of us trying to wade through all of this and figure out what we believe. You are a real help to me in trying to do that.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  May 27, 2012

            Good. I’m glad. I don’t think anyone — even Acharya S herself, surely — thinks she’s a scholar! On this there is almost certainly no debate!!

      • satan augustine  April 28, 2012

        Oh come on, Dr. Ehrman! You are making an overly broad generalization about those “on his [Carrier’s] side. Some will be convinced, though certainly not all. As freethinkers, we pride ourselves to being open to the best, most convincing evidence. Most of us are not dogmatic. Some unfortunately are, which leads me to think that they mistakenly equate freethought with atheism and and an unyielding commitment to oppose any perceived pro-religious argument (which obviously doesn’t even apply here – an historical Jesus gives no credence to the claim that any god exists).

        BTW, I identify as an atheist and freethinker, though I don’t claim with 100% certainty that there is no god – it’s more like 99.999999999% certainty. ; ) And despite the existence of an historical Jesus having no bearing on my atheism, I find the topic fascinating. I tend towards the mythicist side, but I haven’t yet read your book. I’ll be reading both yours and Richard’s books. I have a feeling that I may end up an historical Jesus agnostic depending on the strength of the evidence or lack thereof.

        • Rosemary Lyndall Wemm  May 8, 2012

          I couldn’t agree more. I am agnostic about the whole debate and find both sides fascinating. I have no emotional investment in the conclusions claimed to be evident by either side. I am just grateful that the debate is both possible and happening.

    • zakiechan  April 24, 2012

      Ken, In his review, Carrier says Ehrman is incompetent 6 or 7 times. He also says Ehrman’s book is “badly written”, “useless”, “falsified propaganda”, that Ehrman “foolishly eats his foot”, and on and on and on. He then concludes by saying that the book is “nothing more than a sad murder of electrons and trees.”

      Ken, if you made a painting, and I said “That picture is badly painted… nothing more than a waste of paint and canvas. You are incompetent, and this painting is useless”, would you really buy the claim that I wasn’t attacking you, but just the painting? Of course not. This is apologetic “logic.” Quit it.

      • satan augustine  April 28, 2012

        Aside from referring to Ehrman as incompetent, Richard did not personally attack him. The remaining examples you give are criticisms of Bart’s book, nothing more.

      • Rosemary Lyndall Wemm  May 8, 2012

        Carrier lost some of his credibility with the strength of his tirade. His criticism may be correct but his invective is unprofessional.

  8. Ant Allan  April 23, 2012

    Carrier is both trained and smart. But sometimes he doesn’t read very well.

    I assume you are both trained and smart. But sometimes you don’t write very well.

    “There is no penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock in the Vatican,” is ambiguous. I don’t think many readers wouldn’t have inferred that you meant there’s no such statue at all. You would’ve been far clearer if you had said, “While there is a penis-nosed statue of a cock in the Vatican, it has nothing to do with Peter.”

    If your research isn’t as sloppy as Carrier claims, then it still seems sloppily articulated.

    /@

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 24, 2012

      Yes, as is sometimes pointed out to me, I do have my faults…. The whole point of the Peter-cock was that it was a symbol of Peter showing him to be the cock. And what I wanted to say was that there was no such symbol of Peter in the Vatican museum or anywhere else. I wasn’t interested in whether there are Priapi in the Vatican Museum; I assume there are, but I’m not an expert on their holdings. I am an expert on early Christianity, however, and I can say with relative confidence that there are not images of Peter as a rooster with a penis for a nose anywhere except in books like Acharya S’s. So that’s what I tried to say. Badly evidently!

    • Jonathan Burke  April 24, 2012

      //You would’ve been far clearer if you had said, “While there is a penis-nosed statue of a cock in the Vatican, it has nothing to do with Peter.”//

      No, that would not have been clearer; it would have been wrong. The very statue to which Dorothy Murdock referred is actually in the Gabinetto Segreto (the collection of sexual and erotic artifacts found in Pompeii), of the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples, not in the Vatican. Additionally, there is no evidence it ever was in the Vatican.

    • Dustin  April 25, 2012

      Ant, I think you’re being a bit too hard on Ehrman. When I initially read Carrier’s response, I immediately saw that there was a more charitable and obvious interpretation of that sentence (emphasizing that there is no statue of PETER as a cock, not that there is no statue of a cock), which is the interpretation Ehrman voices in this very post. You criticize it as bad writing for being ambiguous, but that’s a bit heavy-handed, especially considering virtually all language is ambiguous to varying degrees.

      For example, your very own rewording of Ehrman’s point is likewise ambiguous:
      “While there is a penis-nosed statue of a cock in the Vatican, it has nothing to do with Peter.”
      I could interpret that as meaning “As long as this penis-statue is in the Vatican, the Vatican has nothing to do with Peter” seeing the initial “while” as a preposition and the preposition “it” as referring to “the Vatican”. And then I could go on and on about why it is outrageously crazy to think the Vatican has nothing to do with Peter, even if it does house penis-statues that presumably would deeply offend Peter. However, there is a more obvious and charitable interpretation, and when that interpretation exists it should be assumed as the correct one, lest you strawman your opponent.

  9. Jacob Aliet  April 23, 2012

    Hmmm…You dont have any response to the other errors he faults you for?

  10. Cozmot  April 23, 2012

    So Acharya S has revealed something else to us. Jesus spoke English, since her rhymes and slang only happen in that language. And you don’t call her a scholar? And, in reference to Carrier, maybe the Mythicists should adopt the face of Peter with a penis-nose as their logo. How much more succinct could they get than that to their underlying thesis?

  11. Steven Carr  April 23, 2012

    Surely everybody knows Acharya drew the picture herself.

  12. Christian Lindtner  April 23, 2012

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Right you are, the Sôtêr kosmou, Salvator mundi, hardly refers to Simôn Petros.
    If it belongs to a Christian context of some sort, it may very well refer to Jesus, cf. John 4:42:
    …houtos estin alêthôs ho sôtêr tou kosmou

    Dr. Chr. Lindtner

  13. Steve  April 23, 2012

    “There is no penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock in the Vatican or anywhere else except in books like this, which love to make things up.”

    “Careful reading can solve a lot of problems of misunderstanding.”

    I would humbly suggest that careful writing can also avoid a lot of problems of misunderstanding, and looking at the quote that caused all the hub-bub, a reasonable interpretation is that you are saying the existence of the statue was made up. Upon first reading your article, that was the impression I was left with.

    However, this is somewhat of a distraction. I agree with Vinnyjh57 above, who commented:

    “Of greater concern to me are the points where Carrier alleges that you say “no scholar holds a particular position” when in fact some legitimate scholars do.”

    Thanks for posting this in the public forum and for keeping the discussion going.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 24, 2012

      Yes, they’re of greater concern to me to! Stay tuned.

  14. Jason Goertzen  April 23, 2012

    I would like to echo what Vinny has said above, Dr. Ehrman: I have read your previous works with delight, especially “The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture,” which I found to be an engaging, thorough, and persuasively argued treatment of the subject.

    I am no historian, nor am I a New Testament scholar. I am an amateur; an atheist whose interest stems from having been brought up Christian. Whether Jesus existed is, to me, an interesting puzzle, but nothing for which I have any personal investment. That said, I have not been convinced by the mythicist arguments–though I find them intriguing. I find their arguments to be too weak to support a hypothesis that has much lower prior probability (though I do look forward to Carrier’s forthcoming attempt to persuade me otherwise). That being said, I expected your work to provide much firmer grounds for rejecting mythicism; in this I was disappointed.

    Throughout the work you make many assumptions (more presumptions, since I expect you have evidence for some of the claims, but expect your reader to just take your word for it), which stands in stark contrast to your other works where, whenever I found a claim interesting or even slightly unconvincing, you followed it with persuasive evidence for it.

    You also far too frequently appeal to authority, which has no place in an argument for a position. You establish early, and correctly, that mythicism is a fringe view, which is fine, since it is true. But why does it matter? It might be worth noting, but not hammering home over and over throughout the book. I lost count of the number of times you felt the need to point out that “no serious scholar” (a variant of the No True Scotsman fallacy, given how strenuously you define what you mean) believes x, or y: to the person who wants to be convinced, this isn’t adequate. Everyone *knows* that Jesus being a historical figure is the consensus. We want to know WHY it is the consensus. Just as you refute creationism by providing evidence for evolution–not evidence for the fact biologists accept evolution–and you would refute holocaust denialism by providing evidence for the holocaust–so too should you have focused on the evidence for an historical Jesus, and not on the evidence that the guild of New Testament scholars think that there was. Too often you border on using the consensus as an *argument* for your position.

    This brings me to my last point: the actual evidence you present is too weak to warrant the degree of certainty you claim and exhibit throughout the work. You use evidence that there was an early Christianity (Pliny, etc.) as evidence that there was an historical founder of Christianity–as though mythicists doubt there was an early Christianity: evidence that is consistent with either hypothesis is not evidence for either one. I had to read and reread these sections, hoping I had missed some detail that made a logical connection between your premises and your conclusion. I don’t believe that I did.

    You also use hypothetical texts–the existence of which is inferred, in part, on account of the axiomatic assumption of an historical Jesus and an oral tradition–as proof that there was oral tradition leading back to an historical Jesus. This kind of reasoning is tenuous at best. We don’t have these texts (if they existed–I am puzzled by your certainty that Matthew and Luke couldn’t have just made up their own stories), and we don’t know what the original texts looked like. For all we know, they may have been texts about someone else, borrowed and cannibalized by the evangelists to become stories about Jesus. We don’t know, and so we can’t use them as evidence.

    In short, though I remain persuaded that a historical Jesus is more probable than not, I’m afraid your book did not, as I hoped it would, anchor that belief to anything more solid than I had before. I know that I’m no expert and that my amateur assessment is probably going to seem laughably inadequate to you, but I wanted you to know how your book read to its intended audience: informed amateurs who have been intrigued, but not persuaded, by the mythicist case.

    Please keep up the excellent work, to which this book, I’m afraid, feels like something of an exception to me.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 24, 2012

      OK, thanks for your considered judgment. I did the best I could. And I never have expected to convince everyone!

    • zakiechan  April 24, 2012

      Jason,

      In Ehrman’s other books (well, of the eight I have read), he often mentions what the position of the majority of scholars is, and also points out when things are more debatable. Pointing this out is very helpful, because it lets the reader know that this is a non-controversial issue and that this isn’t just his pet theory or something.

      I find it odd that atheists are now only complaining that Ehrman is pointing out where the consensus is when it comes to the Jesus myth idea. But no one seemed to care when he said what the consensus positions were in his other books. Why? Likewise, why don’t atheists care when Dawkins says that no competent biologist doubts evolution? Why don’t atheists care when Sam Harris says ” Bible scholars agree, that the first gospels were written decades after the life of Jesus. Decades.”? No one complains when they point out the consensus, or when Ehrman points out the consensus in other books. Why do you think that is?

      I know exactly why.

      • vinnyjh57  April 25, 2012

        zakiechan,

        I always cared about that in Ehrman’s other books and I always thought that getting an accurate picture of the range of scholarly opinion was one of the most valuable things about them. My fear is that he has not been as accurate in this book.

  15. Carl  April 23, 2012

    I find the info for a historical Jesus to be VERY weak. I am open to be convinced otherwise, but so far, the overwhelming lack of evidence makes my doubts increase more and more. It seems that Bart thinks he can win the debate by just dismissing others as not being in his league. Thus, these folks are not worth serious consideration. That, of course, is a fallacy in reasoning. It might work to convince some people, but I am more interested in the facts than who brings them. Since the debate still exists, we have to conclude that the matter has not been settled, and it is a ruse to suggest that either side should be dismissed at this point. That being said, I would be very interested in any REAL evidence for a historical Jesus.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 24, 2012

      No, I don’t think that at all. I think you should look at the evidence. It’s not clear to me that you’ve read my book! But I hope you do — and with an open mind.

  16. David  April 23, 2012

    I haven’t read the book yet, but, I wanted to say, great blog post, and I also read your article on Huffington post which I really loved. Personally, like yourself, I’m not a Christian, but, I do find early Christian history quite fascinating and interesting, and I’ve read several of the Mythicist arguments, and, remain unconvinced, as, essentially, they all parrot one another, and you can tell that they have an agenda which is to discredit Christianity, which, IMO, automatically rules them out as being good historians (I know all historians have a bias, of some kind of another, but, they can usually minimize it, so, it doesn’t cloud the issue). I doubt your book will convince them that Jesus did exist, because they don’t want that to be true, just like David Irving isn’t likely to change his mind that the Holocaust did in fact happen, and that 6 millions Jews did die, or just like those who deny the Moon landings won’t accept that people did land on the moon, etc. The best thing that can happen is to ignore the Mythicsts, one of the things they seem to crave is attention and publicity (and money, as many self-publish their books, selling to neurotics who want to attack Christianity), so, let’s just all ignore them, let them have their pathetic blogs and websites, but, don’t give them any internet traffic, don’t give them any attention whatsoever, and, they’ll just be seen as pathetic people who are obsessed with hanging out on internet forums and websites, discussing their “theories”. The Mythicsts remind me of what the psychologist Robert Anton Wilson said once, in that people with a deeply held idea will prove it, no matter what the evidence (for example, an anti-Semite will convince themselves and find the “evidence” that the poorest Jew is secretly part of a “wealthy elite that controls the world”, a Jesus Mythicist will set out to prove to themselves that Jesus never existed, in spite of what the evidence says (and, no doubt, they’ll say, as they do have a habit of doing, that those who believe in a historical Jesus are “ignorant”, or “haven’t seen the evidence yet” (as one lunatic Mythicist says about you) or have some kind of bias or a “closet Christians” or any thing else like that).

    Anyway, just wanted to say again, good blog post, and, I’m sure your book is excellent, and just don’t pay attention to what the Christ Mythicers say.

  17. Ananda  April 24, 2012

    Here is another penis Bart,

    Dr. John Rush has collected hundreds of pictures of mushrooms in Christian Art and I would love to here your opinion on this matter.

    Peace,

    Ananda

    http://twelve-limbs.blogspot.com/

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 25, 2012

      Thanks. I think I understand the connection!

  18. Jacob Aliet  April 24, 2012

    Bart,
    I have not read any of your books though I have two of them in my library – lack of time. But I have read plenty of books on MJ and HJ. And Biblical Criticism used to interest me a lot but I lost interest at some point (my articles are available on the net).
    I have read Carrier’s review of your work – from the Huff post to your book. I am also reading Doherty’s chapter-by-chapter detailed refutation of your book (in progress and available online) and some three other reviews available online. I think you have two main choices at this point. First of all, I think you will respond so ignoring the Mythicists (as someone suggests above) is not on the table. You are in this up to your neck.
    The two choices are:

    a) Admit error where the error has been pointed out and is plain to see. You can probably explain why you did not give this subject the attention it apparently demands. This will salvage what, from what I have read, is an ignominious work. Everybody makes mistakes. You admit error and everybody moves on. Most of these “facts” can be checked because information is much more accessible nowadays and is no longer the preserve of a few. Like those cases where you declare “no scholar…” Those are eggs. Eggs must not be allowed to sit on your face.

    b) Allow your ego to check in and dig in like James McGrath and maintain that black is white and white is black, deploy abstruse obfuscation, muddy the waters, dangle red herrings, poison the well, attack personalities, impute malevolent motives to your opponents (this, alack, alas! you have already done), continue appealing to authority and further enlist the support of the no-true-scotsman-fallacy and other tactics that clarify nothing and fail to improve understanding of the subject and lose your reputation as you wade in this mud.

    Amateurs like myself and experts alike are watching and waiting.
    The choice is yours.
    Jacob.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 25, 2012

      Thanks for the advice. I hope to post the response tomorrow (I drafted it today).

  19. Xeronimo74  April 24, 2012

    Why are some people (all the mythicists and some of the ‘new atheists’) so afraid of a historical, but non-supernatural, Jesus!?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 25, 2012

      I wish I knew!

      • jimmo  April 25, 2012

        Seems to me that it is the same reason why some Christians fear a non-inerrant bible. In the case of the atheists, when you accept that one part of the bible as historically accurate, they fear they will be forced to accept other things as accurate. If the Christians accepts part of the bible as *not* completely historically accurate, they fear they will be forced to accept other things as not being accurate. I see it as no difference between this and conversative “birthers” who insist Obama is not legally president, despite all of evidence to the contrary.

        I frequently argue with atheists who claim the bible is completely made up and there is *no* evidence for the historical accuracy of any of it. Despite the fact that I provide examples, rather than accepting it’s value in providing historical information, they resort to redicule and appeal to analogy. One person went so far as to compare it to 2000 years from now when New York no longer exists and historians find old Spiderman comics. Are we going to consider these historically valueable about 21st century New York? Certainly! Are we going to consider them 100% accurate? Certainly not. Didn’t Schliemann use the decriptions in the Iliad to find Troy?

        • Xeronimo74  April 28, 2012

          @jimmo: yes, well said!

        • Petter Häggholm  February 9, 2016

          “One person went so far as to compare it to 2000 years from now when New York no longer exists and historians find old Spiderman comics.”

          I think I’ve heard Matt Dillahunty use the analogy, though not fallaciously, but in response to people who make the claim that (a) many Bible stories make historical claims, (b) some of those claims are demonstrably true, (c) therefore the stories must be true, miracles and all. It’s a perfectly good analogy—in the context in which it’s made.

          When the so-called New Atheists are criticised for addressing a very literal and simplistic version of religion, it’s sometimes overlooked that they often do so in the context of discussions with (or concerning) people whose religion really is very literal and simplistic.

          (Not always, mind you. I have considerable New Atheist sympathies, but I’m here, after all, not over at Carrier’s blog.)

    • Steven Bollinger  April 28, 2012

      Why assume that everyone who expresses doubts about Jesus’ historicity is afraid?

      • Xeronimo74  April 28, 2012

        @Steven: why else would they be so up in arms? I think ‘jimmo’ got it quite right in his analysis.

  20. Xeronimo74  April 24, 2012

    Regarding the ‘St Peter the Cock’, I too agree that it was not formulated too well … Maybe something like ‘Yes, there is a statue like this but it does not have any reference to St Peter, the only inscription it has (Savior of the World) actually disproves the claim that it’s St Peter’ would have caused less confusion?

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