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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. Avatar
    Ian  April 24, 2012

    Hello. I was wondering whether your book addresses at what point a historical personage “officially” becomes a myth. From what I can make out “our” Jesus has been morphed through a number of very early gospel filters and he only becomes theologically meaningful when set against Pauline and then Catholic/Protestant dogma. Does it really matter whether a man lies at the kernel of the Gospels? Unless you are a Christian all the “important” bits must be layered myth.

    I look forward to signing up if I can get PayPal working on my CC. $26pa seems a small price if posts are going to be more than simple polemic.

  2. Avatar
    drmightie  April 24, 2012

    Prof Ehrman,
    Thanks for having this blog where one can interact with your views from time to time.I am a christian living in the UK and I really do appreciate what you have been doing exposing christian fundamental view that are not compatible with scripture.Without you i would not have known all the things I do KNOW now without going to the seminary.

    Dr carrier obviously did not interact with all the evidence you presented in your book.I was really disappointed with his critique.All he did was trying to divert the discussing from the real issues at hand.

    I do however have a question .What is the majority scholarly view on the dying messiah in the dead sea scrolls.I know different scholar interpret this differently.According to your book it was a stumbling block to Jews that a crucified criminal could be messiah.I find it very difficult that anyone would have expected a crucified messiah before Christianity.

    Thank you once again for DJE.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 25, 2012

      I’m not an expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls, but I know a lot of people who are. So far as I know, none of them thinks that any of the scrolls points to a dying messiah. But I may be wrong! (As I’m sure someone is about to point out to me 🙂 ) In any event, I haven’t found any of the arguments at all convincing — just the contrary.

      • Avatar
        jimmo  April 25, 2012

        Why don’t you just jog across campus to Jodi Magness’ office and ask her? 😉

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  April 25, 2012

          No need to jog across campus. She’s across the hall from me! I’m afraid she’d be on my side on this one: there’s no penis nosed rooster statue of Peter in the Vatican or anywhere else!

  3. Avatar
    drmightie  April 24, 2012

    Eric Chabot of Ratio Christi-At The Ohio State University has some interesting things to say about Carrier review of Prof Ehrman DJE.I DO NOT KNOW IF HE IS A SCHOLAR OR NOT.

  4. Avatar
    Brad Hudson  April 24, 2012

    Professor Ehrman,

    Thanks for taking the time to answer questions on your blog. I’m a lay reader, being able to read the questions and answers is very helpful to me.

    I am trying to understand the whole dustup on this issue. Do I understand correctly that, when you wrote the sentence about the statute, your thinking was something like: based on my education and experience, I would have known of the existence of a statue of of a cock with a penis on its head that symbolizes St. Peter, and so Murdock is making it up? In other words, there was no need to check her references because your education and experience made that unnecessary?

    Also, from a outsider’s perspective, the suggestion that Murdock drew the figure herself seems out of place. Couldn’t that have been easily checked by vetting her references or even dashing of a quick e-mail to the author?

    The thing about the whole incident that drives me crazy is that Murdock is low hanging fruit– it’s incredibly easy to show that what she writes is so bad it’s not even wrong. Yet, now she can take cover, when more precise language on your part would have prevented that.

    Thanks

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 25, 2012

      Thanks for your comment. Yes, I could have avoided a lot of hassle just by wording it better. And so it goes. As to low-hanging fruit, it *was* only one out of eleven real howlers that I cite….

  5. Avatar
    athearavalentin  April 24, 2012

    Just a quick comment: it’s amazing how closely your argument with Carrier and friends reminds me of my past arguments with Mormon apologists. Identity politics is just poison…

  6. Avatar
    Santi Tafarella  April 24, 2012

    Jerry Coyne, a pretty serious person, thinks you’re harming your credibility as a scholar in (1) not answering Carrier in detail; and (2) having a paywall at your site.

    I read your comments above, and I’ve read Coyne’s comments at his site, and I’m inclined to agree with Coyne. I understand you wish to conserve your energies for your books and other projects and not spend too much time debating Carrier, but I think this is just the reality of the Internet. When serious people want to hash something out in public, and you appear not entirely open to it, it doesn’t look good.

    Like you, I was also a teenage fundamentalist. And, like you, I’m also an agnostic, not an atheist. I’ve enjoyed your past books and hope that you deal fully and directly with the criticisms offered by Carrier. I do think that he speaks to issues of credibility, and that you shouldn’t leave that hanging out there.

    Also, in the age of the Internet, you might consider a public debate for some YouTube postings. You’ve debated Craig, for example, so why not Carrier? It would be informative.

    —Santi Tafarella

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 25, 2012

      I’ll have a reply to Carrier tomorrow, gods willing. It has, in fact, *kept* me from doing my own work….

  7. Avatar
    GakuseiDon  April 24, 2012

    As much as I like Carrier, who will actually critique mythicist arguments on occasion, I can’t believe the tone he has adopted in criticizing your book. How many possible ways can one read “there is no penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock in the Vatican or anywhere else”? I simply can’t see how Carrier gets that you are claiming that there is no statue of **Prapius** out of that.

    You might be interested in what Carrier wrote on p.5&6 of his book, “Sense and goodness without God”:

    “I ask that my work be approached with the same intellectual charity that would be applied to anyone else… ordinary language is necessarily ambiguous and open to many interpretations. If what I say anywhere in this book appears to contradict, directly or indirectly, something else I say here, the principle of interpretive charity should be applied: assume you are misreading the meaning of what I said in each or either case. Whatever interpretation would eliminate the contradiction and produce agreement is probably correct. So you are encouraged in every problem that may trouble you to find that interpretation. If all attempts at this fail, and you cannot but see a contradiction remaining, you should write to me about this at once, for the manner of my expression may need expansion or correction in a future edition to remove the difficulty, or I might really have goofed up and need to correct a mistake. I am most easily found by email [email address supplied]…

    On the other hand, if what I say appears to contradict, even indirectly, something someone else says, whose work I otherwise cite or recommend, you should take my meaning as the one I intend, and not add to it what others have added to the same or similar ideas. In short, do not attribute to me beliefs I do not declare, especially those that are not compatible with what I do assert.”

  8. Avatar
    GakuseiDon  April 24, 2012

    Oops! I meant Priapus above, not Prapius. Intellectual charity, please! 🙂

  9. Avatar
    Ben Schuldt  April 25, 2012

    I’m looking forward to Ehrman’s response. I hope he focuses on the important elements used to justify the mythicist case such as the pre-Christian mystery religions and beliefs about dying and rising heavenly saviors that serve as a possible cultural mold for the earliest Christianity we find in Paul’s authentic letters.

  10. Avatar
    Eric Chabot  April 25, 2012

    Well, since someone mentioned me, I will go ahead and make a few comments. I am the director of an apologetics mininisty here at the Ohio State University. We had Dr. Ehrman here for a debate with Dr. Michael Brown a few years back. I spent some time with Bart and appreciate him. I am certainly more in agreement with him than Carrier on many of these issues. Am I scholar? I have one seminary degree and am trying to finish another. So, no, I am not on the same level as Dr. Ehrman (i.e, I am not a published scholar). But as I say on my posts, I do have a very extensive background in early Christianity and have taught on the topic. We even just had one of Dr. Ehrman’s colleagues, Dr. Jodi Magness here last month for a seminar. It was awesome! I have interacted with Carrier on his blog a bit and have followed his work for a while now. And I have friends that have debated him. So thanks for the book Dr. Ehrman. I hope you and Carrier can sit down and have some tea and talk.

  11. Avatar
    Arvid  April 25, 2012

    I still have to read your book, professor Ehrman, but a lot of the flak you get seems very unfair to me. For instance, a sentence like “There is no penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock in the Vatican.” seems to be 100% clear to me (“penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock” + “is not” + “in the Vatican”) so I don’t really get how it could imply that no penis-nosed statue exists at all. And because there is no penis-nosed statue of “Peter the cock”, saying there’s no penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock – the most likely misreading of the text – is also correct. As you said, it’s a very minor point but Mythicists appear very eager to nitpick it like crazy.

    Aside that, I’m impressed by your polite responses to several posts that really are less than civil themselves, like the comment that accused professor McGrath of being egotistical. Also, good luck with writing the responses to Dr Carrier.

  12. Avatar
    Adam  April 25, 2012

    Many here are promoting healthy conversation, but some are just being argumentative. It is impossible and immature to demand absolute proof or indisputable evidence from Ehrman. It is unreasonable to demand that he answer every point. In fact, he has responded more to his critics points than most authors.

  13. Avatar
    pozycjonowanie Warszawa  April 25, 2012

    You actually make it seem very easy with your presentation but I discover this matter to be actually something which I believe I would never understand. It seems too difficult and incredibly large for me. I’m looking forward for your next article.

  14. Avatar
    David Marshall  April 25, 2012

    I think Acharya S may best be understood by taking the conceit of her Hindu title seriously:

    http://christthetao.blogspot.com/2012/04/archarya-s-as-hindu-guru.html

    This post also points out that Murdock ascribes a long quote to Dr. Ehrman, that is in fact from a reporter. That, alone, may be enough to tell us all we need to know about her research skills.

  15. Avatar
    Ananda  April 29, 2012

    Ambiguity in the meaning of “myth” and “mythicist”

    “Remsburg stated that “(i)t is often difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish a historical from a philosophical myth”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christ_myth

  16. John4
    John4  May 27, 2015

    He that hath ears to hear, let him hear, lol.

    Thanks, Bart! 🙂

  17. Avatar
    John E  July 23, 2015

    Dear Professor Ehrman

    After watching a video of your lecture to a group of Atheists, I made the mistake of talking to a mythicist on YouTube. This is one reponse I had from him:

    ___________________________________________________________________________________

    “”All New Testament Scholars are of the opinion that Jesus existed.” This is false. Richard Carrier and D.M. Murdock, two of the most eminent biblical historians have established virtually beyond debate that Jesus was a mythical figure. The Jesus myth was an attempt around the end of the first century AD to unify a number of conflicting breakaway cults by incorporating many familiar themes from history. Nothing in the gospels is original, it’s all retreads of earlier myths.”

    ________________________________________________________________________________________

    I’ve never heard Richard Carrier referred to as a “most eminent Biblical Historian” before, and I’d never heard of DM Murdock at all. Apparently she has a Bachelors degree in Classics, and speaks 15+ languages. I’ve learned my lesson: don’t argue with Mythicists – they are so desperate to believe!

    My question is this: am I correct in thinking that D.M. Murdock is even less reliable than Richard Carrier as a “Biblical Scholar” and Jesus Historian?

    Very best wishes, John.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 24, 2015

      What a scream. Carrier is a scholar, and a smart one. But he is not trained in NT studies. Murdock is not a scholar or even close to being a scholar. I’m afraid she’s really quite ignorant about most of the things she writes about.

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