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Response to Carrier

A lot of people have been asking me when I will be replying to Richard Carrier’s full-frontal assault (!) on my book. I’ve started to reply in a couple of posts (maybe some haven’t noticed….), but I hope to have a fuller set of comments soon, on his charges of “Errors of Fact.” I know what I want to say, but am simply overwhelmed right now with other things to do. Long story, I won’t bore you with it. But I *hope* to have a fairly sizeable posting on the topic by Wednesday (I’m saying this here so I don’t need to reply individually to everyone who has asked). I have decided that I will post it on the Public Forum, since I really do take his charges of scholarly incompetence seriously and feel that I need to address them.

In the meantime, someone forwarded to me the following post on R. Joseph Hoffmann’s blog. I think it’s pretty good and amusing and worth reading. I don’t think I’ve ever met Hoffmann, but I’ve known about him as a scholar in the field for about 25 years. I believe when I first encountered his work he was a professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Michigan. So he’s the real thing! And has some interesting things to say.


Fuller Reply to Richard Carrier
Concerns for the Blog



  1. Avatar
    Frank  April 24, 2012

    When I read Carrier’s response I was unsure of what to think. I have yet to read Did Jesus Exist? so I didn’t know what to think, and I basically had to take him on his word that your scholarship was terrible and your facts were off. I have read books refuting mythicism in the past (the Jesus Legend, specifically) so I knew that I disagreed with him, but whether or not mythicism is right or wrong does not mean that you wrote a good book on the topic.

    However, once I heard that you had a response I was thrilled, and maybe after I read it I will buy the book for myself. I look forward to reading both!

  2. Avatar
    Mikail78  April 24, 2012

    That was good post by Dr. Hoffmann. However, he did make one slight error. P.Z. Myers is a professor at the Morris campus of the University of Minnesota, and not the University of Wisconsin. In case anyone cares, there actually is a Morris, Wisconsin, but UW does not have a campus there

  3. Avatar
    bholly72  April 24, 2012

    Pretty interesting, and a fair description of Carrier, but I object strongly to the author’s notion that that Mythicism is part of the New Atheism. That term was coined to describe folks like Dan Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, etc., none of whom, at least so far as I know, deny the existence of a historical Jesus, or even address the issue. Atheism is not about Jesus.

    • Avatar
      zakiechan  April 25, 2012

      I agree. It’s more “internet atheists,” at least in my experience.

    • Avatar
      twfreeman  December 27, 2014

      I agree.

  4. Avatar
    John  April 24, 2012

    Thanks for opting to make some responses part of the public forum.

  5. Avatar
    SJB  April 24, 2012

    I remain totally fascinated with the question of the “historical” Jesus. I remain mind-numbingly bored with Internet pissing contests between bloggers and their myrmidons. If this discussion partakes of the former then count me in. The latter? Then INCLUDE ME OUT!

  6. Avatar
    richard stelzer  April 24, 2012

    Given that you, and the formidable historian known as Richard Carrier are, in my opinion, two of the best scholars on the planet, i think this could be a valuable, and entertaining showdown.

  7. Avatar
    john76  April 24, 2012

    To be fair to Dr. Price, it is possible to do a fairly complete haggadic midrash on some stories.

    For example,

    Likely the clearest Prophecy about Jesus is the entire 53rd chapter of Isaiah. Isaiah 53:3-7 is especially unmistakable: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”

    The only thing is, Isaiah wasn’t making a prophesy aboout Jesus. Mark did a haggadic midrash on Isaiah. So, Mark depicts Jesus as one who is despised and rejected, a man of sorrow acquainted with grief. He then describes Jesus as wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities. The Servant in Isaiah, like Jesus in Mark, is silent before his accusers. In Isaiah it says of the servant with his stripes we are healed, which Mark turned into the story of the scourging of Jesus. This is, in part, where atonement theology comes from, but it would be silly to say II Isaiah was talking about atonement. The servant is numbered among the transgressors in Isaiah, so Jesus is crucified between two thieves. The Isaiah servant would make his grave with the rich, So Jesus is buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a person of means.

    TAKE THAT TOGETHER WITH Dr Price’s comments:

    The substructure for the crucifixion in chapter 15 is, as all recognize, Psalm 22, from which derive all
    the major details, including the implicit piercing of hands and feet (Mark 24//Psalm 22:16b), the dividing of his garments and casting lots for them (Mark 15:24//Psalm 22:18), the “wagging heads” of the mockers (Mark 15:20//Psalm 22:7), and of course the cry of dereliction, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34//Psalm 22:1). Matthew adds another quote, “He trusts in God. Let God deliver him now if he desires him” (Matthew 27:43//Psalm 22:8), as well as a strong allusion (“for he said, ‘I am the son of God’” 27:43b) to
    Wisdom of Solomon 2:12-20, which underlies the whole story anyway (Miller, p.362), “Let us lie in wait for the righteous man because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law and accuses us of sins against our training. He professes to have knowledge of God, and
    calls himself a child of the Lord. He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; the very sight of him is a burden to us because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange. We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous
    happy, and boasts that God is his father. Let us see if his words are true, and
    let us test what will happen at the end of his life: for if the righteous man is God’s son he will help him and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. Let us test him with insult and torture that we may find out how
    gentle he is and make trial of his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected.” As for other details, Crossan (p.198) points out that the darkness at noon comes from Amos 8:9, while the vinegar and gall come from Psalm 69:21. It is remarkable that Mark does anything but
    call attention to the scriptural basis for the crucifixion account. There is nothing said of scripture being fulfilled here. It is all simply presented as the events of Jesus’ execution. It is we who must ferret out the real sources of
    the story. This is quite different, e.g., in John, where explicit scripture citations are given, e.g., for Jesus’ legs not being broken to hasten his death (John 19:36), either Exodus 12:10, Numbers 9:12, or Psalm 34:19-20 (Crossan, p. 168). Whence did Mark derive the tearing asunder of the Temple veil, from top to bottom (Mark 15:38)? Perhaps from the death of Hector in the Iliad (MacDonald, pp. 144-145). Hector dies forsaken by Zeus. The women of Troy watched from afar off (as the Galilean women do in Mark 15:40), and the whole of Troy mourned as if their city had already been destroyed “from top to bottom,” just as the ripping of the veil seems to be
    a portent of Jerusalem’s eventual doom.

    So just to take this example, we have a fairly comprehensive haggadic midrash on the passion of the Christ in Mark

  8. Avatar
    Brad Hudson  April 24, 2012

    Professor Ehrman,

    I read the Hoffman piece. I’m not familiar with Hoffman, but reading the piece made me wince. I’m a lay person who has always been inclined to accept the consensus view of historical Jesus. But I’ve never done any real investigation myself, and this whole dustup with Carrier has piqued my interest. I think that puts me in the demographic your book is aimed at. So, just as constructive criticism for the NT scholars, for the love of God don’t publish articles like Hoffman’s. It reads like a tantrum by a petulant child. Out here in non-academia land, when someone responds to criticism in the manner Hoffman does, it raises a huge red flag as to their credibility. In my opinion, the tone of Carrier’s review detracts from the credibility of his position. When you respond, please do so without the condescension that drips from Hoffman’s piece. People like me want to understand the issues and the arguments — we don’t want to see academics playing a game of who can level the most clever insult. Obviously I’m speaking for myself, but I feel insulted as a reader by Hoffman’s piece. If Carrier’s criticisms of your book are factually wrong, faulty in their logic, or irrelevant to your thesis, please just tell me. Trust me, your reader, to be smart enough and fair enough to read what everyone has to say and use some critical skills make up their own minds. Your dedicated fans and Carrier’s dedicated fans don’t need that, but I do.


  9. Avatar
    Dennis_Steenbergen  April 24, 2012

    Mr. Hoffman is keen. I think Dr. Neil Tyson beat Mr. Hoffman to the common observation among militant Atheists when he rebuked Richard Dawkins “Facts plus sensitivity when convolved together, creates impact” (see the YouTube clip below). Or, the lesson for Dr. Carrier in this case is simply “don’t be a Dick” (pun intended).


  10. Avatar
    Ben Schuldt  April 25, 2012

    Is there a way to just subscribe to comments here?

  11. Avatar
    Andrewwoodr  April 25, 2012

    I second Brad Hudson’s comments above. That Hoffman piece was just painful to read. Like many who follow your work and Carrier’s, I’m not a Christian. But as a former believer and student of theology I’ve always been interested in the Bible and the history of the period. I plan on reading your new book soon and I’ve become very interested in the exchange between you and Carrier. Personally I find Richard’s arguments somewhat compelling (though I don’t think it would have killed him to be a bit kinder in his delivery) but I’d like to know the truth of the matter. I know a lot of other people online are following your discussions closely. I hope you’ll use this as a teaching opportunity – not just on your views of the historical Jesus – but how to stay civil and respectful even when others are not. I know it would be a breathe of fresh air for me at least! Thanks for taking time to address Carrier’s claims and for your charity work!

  12. Avatar
    Donald Miller  April 25, 2012

    Being someone who isn’t interested in winning debates — just doesn’t hold any interest to me. While also someone who is a bit fanatical about getting my facts straight, I have to ask (event though I know little about this “disagrement” you fellows are having) isn’t — if his criticisms have any merit to them — short of being totally Adrian Monkian, aren’t the actually good for you? I mean, whether he likes you or not–evidently not–he seems to have done a lot of work. (Grumble) wish my enemies would work for free for me!!

    Anyway, isn’t at least a bit of this a good thing, in terms of scholarly excellence?

    Or is his simply hell bent on yanking your chain?

  13. Avatar
    Joshua Adams  April 26, 2012

    I think it might be worth pointing out the history between Carrier and Hoffman, which can be read about here:

    The post is a negative review of Sources of the Jesus Tradition, a volume edited by Hoffman and to which Carrier contributed an article. Carrier criticizes Hoffman for being a bad editor and replacing good content from the conference on which the book is based with several crappy ones of Hoffman’s own. And no, Carrier’s article made the cut, which is quite interesting given how hostile and derisive Hoffman is towards Carrier and his credentials.

    Hoffman doesn’t look good after reading that blog post. Granted, if we only read Carrier’s blog posts, we come away thinking that Ehrman doesn’t look good, either. But the poor impression of Hoffman is only reinforced by reading his own words, not diminished. Bad form to link to it.

  14. Avatar
    qwerty  April 27, 2012

    Bart, maybe you can have a public debate with Carrier on this subject.

  15. Avatar
    donmax  July 2, 2012

    Between you and me, Bart, I think Carrier is an unmitigated jerk!!! dcs

  16. Avatar
    walstrom  September 11, 2014

    Many of us who have keen interest (Bible/Jesus/God) have come out of the abuses of Fundamentalism. ( In my case, Jehovah’s Witnesses.) Having whiplash from the extreme ends of the Bell Curve leaves you breathless, skeptical, and eyeless in Gaza.
    It is very difficult to abandon a “rooting interest” in one side over the other. Intellectual honesty is, after all, the willingness to be wrong if evidence goes against your most cherished belief.
    I can speak personally, we had nameless “scholars” translating the New World Translation–but, we trusted those phantoms because we were so-o-o sure our Governing Body was the only mouthpiece of God. (House of Cards come a tumblin’ down!)
    So, I read Richard Carrier with my layman’s grasp, and that Bayesian footwork looks like Dirty Dancing! Just as the blind can lead the blind, the amateur is led by the overblown narcissist. I want a club with spikes (such as Carrier) to enter my next debate with a JW . . . emotionally-speaking. But–if it is all poppycock and mirrors–what’s the point?
    So, I’ll stick with a man whose journey from fundamentalist absolute certainty to agnosticism is one of honesty.
    Bart Ehrman is the David with his sling and five stones against the Goliath of Evangelical Philistinism.
    Even as an amateur, I can see clearly who is the more honest of the two combatants. The side which first resorts to
    pejoratives, ad hominem and invective is ALWAYS the weaker side!

  17. acircharo
    acircharo  October 3, 2014

    Sounds like another very interesting book. I wonder if you will also touch upon the transition of the following from Judaism to “Christian” and how that transition took place. Having just completed a reading of Partings: How Judaism & Christianity Became Two, I was intrigued by the slow but incessant movement away from Judaism and more toward something the gentiles could get behind. And it seems like much of at least the start of that transition took place in this very time period; after the death of Jesus to about the writing of Mark and sometime thereafter.

    Of course whether your book covers this or not, I’m sure I’ll enjoy it; I’ve enjoyed them all!

    All the Best! ALC

    • Bart
      Bart  October 5, 2014

      Yes, this is one of the major quesitons in early CHristianity! My view is that by the second half of the first century, already, most converts to become followers of Jesus come from pagan rather than Jewish roots.

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