The historicity of Jesus: Bart Ehrman responds to Richard Carrier (sort of)

April 23, 2012 • 11:03 am

Well, Bart Ehrman has responded on his website (Christianity in Antiquity: The Bart Ehrman Blog) to Richard Carrier’s criticisms of Ehrman’s new book affirming the historicity (but not the divinity) of Jesus. Well, he’s sort of responded, because, in his reply, called “Acharyna S, Richard Carrier, and a cocky Peter (or ‘A cock and bull story'”) he takes up only one of Carrier’s assertions: that a statue of a man with a penis for a nose sits in the Vatican, a statue whose existence Ehrman previously denied.  This is only one of elebenty gazillion criticisms that Carrier levelled at Ehrman, and is by far the tamest.  I haven’t seen Ehrman’s original assertion that the statue did not exist, but I’ll take Carrier’s word for it.

In his response, Ehrman admits that the statue did exist, but it wasn’t a statue of Saint Peter, so it was irrelevant to the argument about Jesus.  Maybe it was, but Carrier never claimed it was a statue of Peter, only that Ehrman made a factual error in claiming the statue didn’t exist. This is what Carrier said:

At the very least I would expect Ehrman to have called the Vatican museum about this, and to have checked the literature on it, before arrogantly declaring no such object existed and implying Murdock made this up. I do not assume Murdock’s interpretation of the object is correct (there is no clear evidence it has anything to do with Christianity, much less Peter).

So Carrier appears to be correct here. If Ehrman denied the statue existed, he was wrong, and that may or may not reflect on his scholarship in Did Jesus Exist?  But Ehrman’s admission that he erred was backhanded, I think.  At any rate, Ehrman ignores the rest of Carrier’s more serious accusations, saying only this:

    He [Carrier] 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.

To me this is a non-response; an apology without apologizing.  Carrier wrote a huge critique, and Ehrman responds to just one trivial point about a penis-nosed statue, a point that may reflect on Ehrman’s carefulness. (Let me hasten to say that I haven’t read Ehrman’s book yet.)  Perhaps Ehrman will write a longer response, but he notes that he reserves in-depth responsesfor the Members Only part of his site, where you have to pay to see Ehrman’s lucubrations ($3.95/month, $24.95/year).  Since Ehrman is presumably reasonably compensated in his academic post, and has probably made tons of money from his book, I really do object to a scholar reserving his serious responses for a pay-only part of his site. Does he need the money that badly?  And will he respond there?

At the beginning of his post, Ehrman says a few words about the responses to his book, words that I find rather defensive and a bit disingenuous:

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.

Well, I’m not sure whether a general attack on mythicists—of which Carrier is one—shouldn’t be taken personally. Regardless, though, Ehrman should stick to the factual issues at hand, which is the veracity and accuracy of his scholarship.  As for not liking controversy, I’m not sure I believe Ehrman. If he doesn’t like conflict, why did he go after not only mythicists but atheists so strongly in his books, talks, and interviews. In fact, controversy is what brought Ehrman popularity and makes him money, and he knows that full well. The very subjects he tackles, and the titles of his books, are calculated and guaranteed to promote controversy.  His “I am a poor beleaguered man” stance doesn’t sit well.  And, finally, I’m distressed that Ehrman and Carrier can’t have a debate over this: Ehrman doesn’t seem inclined to respond. Well, Carrier is someone who needs to be taken seriously, and he’s taken the time to level a long critique at Ehrman.  The least Carrier deserves is to be taken seriously; and he certainly deserves an in-depth reply.  Ehrman doesn’t realize that he’ll lose credibility as a scholar if he can’t produce one.

172 thoughts on “The historicity of Jesus: Bart Ehrman responds to Richard Carrier (sort of)

    1. The way to do that is not with a paywall, but with a public broadcasting-style beg-a-thon. Once he’s got a loyal following, he could even do something like, “Okay, folks. No more posts of substance from me until we’ve met our donation goal of $1,000. Grab your wallets and go!”

      But pay to read, pay to post? Ha! As if. “Goodluckwiththat.”


      1. No self-respecting academic who had absolute control over their own work would put it behind a paywall. That approach is anti-academic, and pretty abhorrent.

        1. that’s right! next thing you know, they’ll be writing books and people will have to buy them! freedom of speech!

      2. “Okay, folks. No more posts of substance from me until we’ve met our donation goal of $1,000. Grab your wallets and go!”

        That sounds almost exactly like one of the standard tricks of the late, but still reprehensible, Dr. Gene Scott. I’m not sure I’d want Ehrman to do that. The begging approach is better, IMO.

    2. Yes, Ehrman makes it pretty clear the aim is to raise money for charity, not for him:

      “But if I were to get rid of the membership fees, it would completely undermine the entire point of the Blog – which is for me to raise money for charity.”

      I must say, though, that the blogosphere would soon be dead if everyone asked for that much cash from interested followers, good cause or not!

      1. The ‘entire’ point of the blog? Not to educate? Not to help discover the truth? Not to put across his ideas? May as well post pictures of kittens and naked ladies then if all he wants to do is raise money for charity.

        1. So true. Porn is where the money is.
          Or he could defend his work against real criticism and more people would buy his books. Then he could donate directly out of his own pocket.

  1. The one criticism that Carrier made against Ehrman’s book that I most want Ehrman to respond to is Ehrman’s use not only of Q as a source for the historicity of Jesus, and not only of L and M as well, but of the few random words in Aramaic as eyewitness accounts. This is especially important, as Ehrman made it the centerpiece of his argument and it’s the most laughably pathetic and idiotic of the arguments one could make.

    Only two types of people are that gullible: conmen, and fools who’ve been conned and are trying to convince themselves and others that they haven’t been conned.



      1. It’s even worse than that. What evidence does Ehrman have that the original source was in Aramaic, and that it wasn’t simply a semi-competent author adding a bit of local color for authenticity?

        I mean, even Ehrman goes to great lengths to point out all the ways in which the Gospel authors were mucking around with what he thinks was in Q. How does he know that the half-dozen words in Aramaic weren’t every bit as much of a later interpolation as the entire Great Commission and Ascension scene at the end of Mark?

        That’s what really gets my goat. He knows full well that the originals were lost a dozen centuries ago and that, whatever they said, they absolutely positively didn’t say what today’s copies-of-copies-of-copies say today. And, yet, he has the gall to claim to know not only which parts are accurate and which aren’t, not only what was said in the even earlier works that only inspired the later ones whose great-great-great-grandcopies we have, but the provenance and credibility and reliability of those imaginary phantasms of earlier works.

        Now that’s chutzpah!


        1. “How does he know that the half-dozen words in Aramaic weren’t every bit as much of a later interpolation as the entire Great Commission and Ascension scene at the end of Mark?”

          Because a mythicist might suggest this, and since mythicists aren’t really people who need to be taken seriously, the claim is fully justified because the mythicists are wrong.

      2. Exactly, no author in the history of fiction has ever written dialogue in a different language, except for the ones who’s characters were based on real people.

        For example: When Galadriel says, “I amar prestar aen. Han mathon ne nen. Han mathon ne chae. A han noston ne ‘wilith. ” in the Lord of the Rings, she is speaking Elvish, so there must have been a source document in Elvish for Tolkien to reference and therefore Galadriel is based on a real person.

        Okay, so Elvish is made-up, and Aramaic was real, but still.

        I read Carriers critique, and Ehrman’s “Can’t we all just get along” rhetoric belies only that he has no sufficient rebuttal. He can’t admit his book sucks, he wouldn’t sell anymore and I’m sure his publisher would sue, therefore he has to deflect criticism with dismissal and reliance on his past CV. He has all the appearance of a scholar on his way out to pasture. His dismissal of the pecker-nosed rooster mistake as irrelevant to the subject is absolutely ridiculous as he used it to dismiss one of the mythicists whom he scorns throughout his book. Carrier is right to start with this point as it is a blatant display of reckless scholarship, and shows that Ehrman’s book is nothing but an off-the-cuff rant with little or no research. I haven’t read the book, but I’ve read enough about it, and little in defense of it that makes it appealing. If I’m going to pick up one book this year on the historicity of Jesus, I’m going to choose Carrier’s as he currently seems the more rational of the two.

        1. Exactly, no author in the history of fiction has ever written dialogue in a different language, except for the ones who’s characters were based on real people.

          Yes. That’s got to be it!

          I’ve started wondering how humans on Star Trek and its spinoffs got away with saying anything in an alien language–why did the universal translator suddenly quit working so they could say “goodbye” in Vulcan or Klingon? Certainly, it couldn’t have been to add a little color to the story. That would be simply unpossible!

      3. I don’t think that’s exactly the argument. The argument is that:

        P1: If a source is early, it is more likely to go back to Jesus.
        P2: Aramaic sources are early.
        C: Therefore, Aramaic sources are more likely to go back to Jesus.

        P1 is just a standard historical principle. The closer your sources are to the events they describe, the more reliable they are, generally speaking.

        P2 is based on the fact that Jesus spoke Aramaic, and most of the New Testament is written in Greek. Since Jesus, and probably his earliest followers primarily spoken in Aramaic, then Greek came later, which means Aramaic sources predate Greek sources.

        1. ‘P1: If a source is early, it is more likely to go back to Jesus.
          P2: Aramaic sources are early.
          C: Therefore, Aramaic sources are more likely to go back to Jesus.’

          So Ehrman claims Aramaic sources are early?

          But what about the Greek gospels?

          That’s easy. Bart says they are based on previous written sources (also in Greek) , which are also early.

          So if something is in Aramaic, it is more likely to be early (because Aramaic died out about 50 AD) , despite there not being one single Christian document in the first century written in Aramaic.

          And if something is based on a Greek source, that is also likely to be early.

          You lose again, mythicist suckers!

          1. So if something is in Aramaic, it is more likely to be early (because Aramaic died out about 50 AD) , despite there not being one single Christian document in the first century written in Aramaic.

            Nobody is claiming Aramaic died out in 50 CE. What they are claiming is that Aramaic was the dominant language in Palestine in the first century and that Jesus primarily spoke Aramaic. By the time of the earliest Christian writings that have survived (which are Paul’s letters), Christianity had already spread well beyond the bounds of Palestine into the predominantly Greek speaking world, so it makes sense that all of the literature from that time forward would be in Greek (especially since many of them are explicitly addressed to Christians living outside of Palestine). Ehrman argues that when we find evidence of an Aramaic substratum within the Greek writings, that it comes from an early source, not because Aramaic died out in 50 CE, but because the language of Christianity was predominantly Aramaic at the time of its origins, and was predominately Greek by the 50’s. It’s an open question whether these Aramaic sources were written or oral. Since we don’t have any writings that predate Paul in the 50’s, neither Greek nor Aramaic, it’s no strike against this argument that we don’t have any Christian Aramaic writing. We don’t even know for sure whether there were such writings. Eusebius, in the 4th century, quotes Papias, in the second century, as saying there were early Christian Aramaic writings, but they obviously haven’t survived.

            And if something is based on a Greek source, that is also likely to be early.

            Well, obviously if some author used a source, the source predate’s the author’s own writing. So yes, there were sources that predate the New Testament, both in Greek and in Aramaic. We can postulate earlier Greek sources by comparing the synoptic gospels, by detecting creeds or hymns embedding in the writings, and by noticing explicit statements by the authors that they are reporting earlier traditions. We can postulate Aramaic sources by noticing that although the New Testament is written in Greek, it uses Greek phrases that appear to be translated from Aramaic, and it uses explicit Aramaic phrases (e.g. maranatha, 1 Cor 16:22) likely carried over from an earlier time when Christianity was more predocminately an Aramaic speaking movement.

            1. There are no Aramaic Christian documents from the 1st century AD.

              Bart pointing out that a story of Jesus raising a child from the dead has some Aramaic does not make it authentic.

              Writers of the time often used foreign sounding words to lend authenticity, especially at moments of heightened magic (such as raising a girl from the dead), just as JK Rowling put in cod-Latin into Harry Potter when he was casting spells.

            2. How is your thesis superior to the simpler one that the Gospels are Greek fiction and that there wasn’t any earlier Aramaic source?

              After all, it’s a time-honored literary technique popular with fiction authors. And the Gospels are full of other painfully-obvious literary devices. Hell, they’re even written in anonymous omniscient third-person narrative, including reports of inner dialogue and conversations between two people alone in the middle of nowhere. What more do you need, really?


    1. I don’t think that Ehrman’s claim that the Gospels use earlier sources (M,Q, and Mark) in the case of Matthew is the centerpiece of his argument. Many blog-posters seem to think it is. And it isn’t just Aramaic quotes in the Gospels, but rather passages in Greek that actually make more sense in Aramaic, indicating they rely on an earlier Aramaic oral tradition.

      1. Well, see, Ehrman’s got a bit of a problem.

        He spills a fair amount of ink telling the reader just who and what Jesus was — son of a carpenter, personally tried by Pilate and dead within six hours of being mounted to the pole, that sort of thing. And everything he claims as fact about Jesus’s life comes straight from the Gospels.

        He knows he’ll get laughed hysterically at for citing the Gospels as evidence of anything, but he’s got to somehow establish their reliability because he has, quite literally, no other source for the very many very specific claims he makes.

        And, aside from the Gospels, what other sources does he have even to establish mere existence? The same tired old list that his fellow theologians keep trotting out of people not even born until long after it was supposed to have happened.

        So, really, his Aramaic quotes are the best he has, and he knows it. That’s why they featured so prominently in his PuffHo piece — “multiple eyewitness sources” or some such he phrased it.

        And he really only has himself to blame.

        You’re also here claiming that there are passages in Greek that make more sense in Aramaic. Do you actually have the original Aramaic that you’re comparing it with, or are you comparing the Greek with an Aramaic reconstruction made from the original Greek?

        We both know it’s the latter, which means that all you’ve demonstrated is that the Greek authors were a bit awkward in spots, but the “scholar” who “reconstructed” the “original” Aramaic is something of a poet. Lacking the actual original source, we not only don’t have a clue what it actually said, we really don’t even know that it existed. And, even if it did exist, we still don’t know if it was authored as a work of fiction or by somebody who was sincerely deluded or what.

        After all, the whole thrust of the work is that one should get one’s rocks off on zombie snuff pr0n…thinking that it has even the slightest bearing on reality puts you right in line with all the other religious nutters.


        1. No, the scholar who reconstructed the original Aramaic from the Greek is a linguist, not a poet. And my original point is that this is really a rather marginal secondary element of Ehrman’s argument (though the Huffington Post piece may convey a different impression).

          Ehrman’s pivotal point is Paul’s encounters with people who claimed to know Jesus and the unlikelihood of a bunch of Jews coming up with the idea of a crucified Messiah other than as an explanatory mechanism of their fellow actually having been crucified.

          As for the claim that Ehrman’s central point is that one should get one’s rocks off on “zombie snuff porn”, Ehrman is actually quite reserved as to whether or not Jesus has any modern relevance to today and occasionally hints that he thinks not.

          1. “…the unlikelihood of a bunch of Jews coming up with the idea of a crucified Messiah other than as an explanatory mechanism of their fellow actually having been crucified.”

            This assumes

            1) that the idea originated with Jews. There were a variety of other sects, then as now, about the place.

            2) that “crucified” and “messiah” came together at the same time and place. Various people have been put up as the Messiah before and since. How about a sect with a crucified saviour of some kind grafting him on to the long-prophesied Jewish messiah? Jews have for 2000 years indignantly rejected Jesus as failing to fulfil many of the messianic prophecies.

            1. It’s generally presupposed that the earliest Christians were Jews albeit eccentric ones because of all the early controversies over whether or not converts to Christianity (from outside Judaism) had to keep kosher laws re meat-eating or not. This was a big hot-button issue very early on, and makes no sense if the earliest Christians were not Jewish.

          2. But this is the point, Paul met the people that had supposedly known Jesus and told nothing about his life or his relation with the other apostles (that in the gospels are called disciples). All that Paul says is that what he knows about Jesus came from the scriptures, not from any man, which is quite strange since he had known Jesus’s disciples that had supposedly known Jesus in person and could have told Paul everything they knew about him.

            About the argument of Aramaic, you must be aware that the original version of Mark was written in Greek, far from Jerusalem, and many of Jesus sayings and teachings were based on Paul’s words, even those Aramaic words like Aba for father, thus the other versions (Matthew and Luke) were based on Mark (there is no doubt about it), though they could have other language translations, it’s not impossible, but for this you must be aware that the Jews of that time were more likely to use Greek (since the Septuagint is the version that appears in the Gospels) and not any Aramaic. If something appears strange and fits better in Aramaic, this could be considered, since some parts of the Old Testament, as the books of Daniel, Ezra, were written in Aramaic, and early Christians used passages from the Old Testament to construct new situations. Or the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament) could contain mistranslations or misunderstanding about some words, that could have been responsible for the strangeness of some words in the Gospels, but this does not make any case to Jesus. Any of Jesus words could have been told by anyone of that time, as you may notice in Mark when Paul’s original words are transformed in Jesus’s words or when Old Testament knowledge is made known by Jesus.

            Sources Bart Ehrman, and Earl Doherty.

            Light and Peace.

  2. Ehrman has to distance himself from atheists. Otherwise, more people may believe that his career’s purpose is to destroy Christianity, and not the product of a genuine interest in his field. Also, less Christians will read his work.

    1. It is hopeless.
      This whole embarrassing debate is not about religion or about atheism. Religion or atheism are absolutely irrelevant here.
      It is about evidence and in our case historical evidence and wether this evidence is strong enough to point more likely to the existence of Jesus of Nazareth. The majority of historians of ancient history think Jesus existed, Richard Carrier doesn’t.
      But you know what? If I give it a second thought, I think it’s not about history and historical truth
      (at least in the blogs connected with our dispute) it is about eliminating the possibility that Jesus was a real historical figure…

  3. Perhaps he will lose credibility as a scholar if he does produce a (poor) reply. If so he is impaled on the horns of a dilemma. Given that he has devoted his career to teasing out the real words of Jesus from the amalgamation of questionable stuff in the Bible it would be strange indeed for him to write a book questioning the historicity of Jesus.

    1. Thing is, he may well take down a lot of the credibility of the historicist position with himself. His book really is that pathetic for something allegedly the scholarly product of a scholar.


    2. Jesus is not relevant to his studies.
      He is interested in the christian movement. He is interested how christians changed over time.
      He is not a theologian.
      He is a historian and he has plenty evidence from the past to work with.
      There are lots of manuscripts and writings of early christianity left over to study.
      Prof. Ehrmans view concerning the existence of Jesus is the mainstream view among historians of antiquity.
      And … I don’t really think that this book weakens his reputation. He seems to be a highly acclaimed scholar…

      1. “Prof. Ehrmans view concerning the existence of Jesus is the mainstream view among historians of antiquity.”

        We have seen the necessity of distinguishing between biblical historians and other historians of antiquity.

      2. “Jesus is not relevant to his studies.”

        Do you mean to tell us that Jesus is irrelevant to a person who’s work largely consists of arguing for an apocalyptic preacher named Jesus?

        Have you actually read any of Ehrman’s books, berndsmathblog?

        1. What remains of the past do we have from that time?
          We have only the writings of the followers of Jesus and the writings of people outside christianity that write about Jesus. If Jesus existed or not, the movement existed and it grew. Historians, as I see it, are interested what those people believed, how this movement changed etc. You can speak of Jesus just as a constant or a placeholder if you want to study that movement. But as it seems that is not necessary because Jesus seems to have existed. I have seen a lecture of Prof. Ehrman about the historical Jesus and I think he existed (of course in History there is also the study of the historicity of certain persons)

        2. As I understand it, a big part of Ehrmans studies concerns the the early christian movement. There are lots of documents to study….
          Also, he did and does work on the greek manuscripts and how they changed over time. There is lots of work to be done and there are lots of questions you can ask, without assuming a real person Jesus.

  4. “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.”

    Based on this criterion, Carrier has shown that Ehrman can be safely ignored.

  5. Color me unsurprised that this has turned into a pissing contest. Ehrman was snidely dismissive of mythicists in the articles and interviews drumming up publicity for this book. Carrier does seem to have taken it as a personal attack on a not insubstantial ego and responded in kind.

    If the historicity of Christ were a substantive issue this would be a tragedy. As it is, I suppose it’s just entertaining.

    1. Wait.

      Four out of five Americans think Jesus will return to Earth, one in five expect to live to see it, and one in four think that geopolitics will determine Jesus’s timing…and you don’t think it’s a substantive issue as to whether or not he even existed in the first place?



      1. In the set of people that includes Ehrman, Carrier, and present company — ie. a community that rejects the proposition that there was ever a God-man running around Roman Palestine, working miracles and rising from the dead — whether there is an identifiable historical figure at the bottom of the legends really isn’t a substantive issue. It’s a scholarly footnote (not that I’ve got anything against scholarly footnotes).

        The people who believe all that other crap are frequently the same ones who also deny the last 200 years of natural science in favour of Biblical literalism or other religious values. Even if you could prove that the entire Jesus story was fabricated from whole cloth, with no reference to any person who ever existed, they would ignore that proof just as they ignore the problems with Genesis.

        1. It’s the very fact that Jesus is so predomimant in US culture that makes this kind of scholarship essential – hell, you can’t even get elected without invoking this guy. I would have thought fact alone justifies the effort.

        2. It’s generally only that one-in-five who expect to personally witness Jesus’s reappearance that have a real problem with natural science.

          The other three-in-five who still expect Jesus to come back someday who-knows-when? Knowing that Jesus is entirely fictional would rock their world, sure, but not all that much more than the Theory of Evolution, plate tectonics, or Big Bang Theory. They’d probably still remain Christians, in a deistic sort of way. Their children, of course, would no more believe in Jesus and God and Satan than they do today in Hercules and Zeus and Hades. They might make cheesy TV dramas about the adventures of Jesus, though….


          1. As Jerry has mentioned more than a few times on this website, 64% of Americans would ignore a scientific finding if it refuted a part of their faith, let alone the existence its central figure. That’s a lot more than one-in-five and that’s a scientific finding. Ancient history is a much more nebulous realm than evolutionary biology. Yet look at how well an idea established beyond any reasonable doubt that is only tangentially related to religion is accepted among the faithful.

            Even if it were remotely possible to offer a really definitive and understandable refutation of the physical existence of any sort of apocalyptic preacher named Jesus Christ, your contention that it would have any real effect on the faithful is fantasy.

            1. Dueling statistics aside, there’s also the point that nobody is likely to even consider the possibility that the whole thing is made up so long as those who know that Superman Jesus is bullshit and Mere Mortal Jesus is entirely unevidenced don’t speak up.


      2. I am sure many Christians get solace from the fact that most scholars agree that Jesus existed, and would face an extra degree of difficulty in believing the whole fairy tale if the general opinion of scholars was that he didn’t exist at all. Every drop of doubt waters the growing kernel of unbelief.

      3. I think the more pressing issue isn’t whether Jesus existed, but was he who others said he was. I don’t think you can or can not prove whether a man Jesus existed, time would be better spent arguing if he was god or not.

  6. Ehrman says he didn’t criticize Carrier, yet Carrier says Ehrman completely denigrated Carrier’s credentials to speak on the subject matter. And then went on at great length to show just how incorrect Ehrman was, by showing in degrees and credentials in precisely those areas Ehrman claimed Carrier lacked.

    In short, Ehrman is either lying or was lied to. There’s no other option.

    Ehrman has either written a profoundly sloppy bad book, or had someone write for him a profoundly sloppy bad book that he now has to defend as his own work.

    Frankly, my money’s on ghost writing. After decades of stellar work and careful scholarship, this seems quite out of character for Ehrman.

    1. Sadly, it’s not at all out of character for Christian apologetics…which, despite Ehrman’s protestations to the contrary of his own personal beliefs, his latest work entirely is.


    2. I haven’t read Ehrman’s book, but apparently one of the major problems he has with mythicists is that they lack the proper credentials, which leads to their sloppy scholarship (by necessity of not having the proper credentials, per Ehrman).

      He [Carrier] 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.

      Now he’s complaining that he’s getting personally attacked for doing shoddy scholarship by someone who actually is properly credentialed and he’s trying to downplay it. If he didn’t make a big deal of out the lack of credentials, then he probably wouldn’t have been “attacked” as viciously by Carrier in the first place.

      1. Complaining is probably all he can think of to do. His behaviour sure looks like someone who knows he can’t rebut the criticism leveled against him, and so throws up chaff to conceal that fact. His behaviour looks suspiciously like a Fellow of the Discovery Institute.

        It is distressing to see. I don’t have much experience with him directly, but going by what I had picked up second hand I expected better of him. Maybe I’m getting him mixed up with someone else?

  7. “Oh noes! Mwister Cawwier is being nasty to me!”

    Honestly – what an absmally lame, almost childish response. Mr Ehrman was until a now well-respected scholar. What on earth has happened?

  8. “He [Carrier] 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 . . .”

    Or in other words, he does what scholars do: find a problem and tear it to pieces to see what it’s all about. I’ve never heard a ‘scholar’ complain that those who disagree deign to very precisely reduce what the problem is and painstakingly detail why it’s in err. Indeed, this kind of analysis is exactly what one expects of a scholarly disagreement.

    1. You omitted the second half of Ehrman’s quote in which he states Carrier often ignores the context in which Ehrman said it.

      1. Yes, I omitted the latter part because it is irrelevant to the first part. So long as the taking out of context isn’t coupled with a misrepresentation of what was originally said, it’s complete smoke and mirrors to say that Carrier doesn’t remember how it was said. A quote is, by definition, taking something out of its context: to put in context would require reproducing the entire document from which it was taken. This is inefficient and unworkable, so we devised the rules of extracting a thought: quote it verbatim and do not use that quotation to argue to different effect than the author used it.

        As it happens, one’s motive is no response to a challenge; the challenge must stand or fall because of the facts which bear on it. The whole ‘obsessed’ shit is Lord Christopher Monckton-style rebuttal.

    2. While Carrier was writing his current book he wrote a very long, detailed post dealing with just the dating of one specific text. The detail and complications which that seemingly simple question provoked were amazing.

      After investing so much time and effort into solid scholarship, perhaps it’s understandable that Carrier is upset at the apparent lack of effort by Ehrman.

      1. Well, we should cut him a bit of slack on that since the money apparently goes to charity and not to him.

  9. I haven’t seen Ehrman’s original assertion that the statue did not exist, but I’ll take Carrier’s word for it.

    Ehrman gave a list of “howlers” that he found in the 1999 book by Acharya S., titled The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold, which I haven’t read. Ehrman called it is a “sensationalistic tome.” The Peter item is the last in his list of “howelers.” It is:

    “Peter is not only ‘the rock’ but also ‘the cock,’ or penis, as the word is used as slang to this day.” Here Acharya shows (her own?) hand drawing of a man with a rooster head but with a large erect penis instead of a nose, with this description: “Bronze sculpture hidden in the Vatican treasure of the Cock, symbol of St. Peter” (295). [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.]

    I guess the roosters that Erhman is familiar with have noses rather than beaks. Anyway, the figure in question is here.

  10. Carrier’s critique was really pretty devastating, and I find it hard to believe Ehrman won’t stand up for himself in public.

    His reponse is altogether silly. He claims not to want to spend ‘months’ going over things, and that mythicists are too wordy, but then wastes an inordinate amount of space to say:
    ‘I meant that statue is there, but it’s not of Peter’.

    He claims that Carrier didn’t read him carefully enough, a few times he repeats that. If you’re a writer, and competent, intelligent people familiar with the topic can make a such a simple “mistake” when reading you, then, honestly, it’s /your/ problem as a writer, not their problem as a reader.

    1. That’s exactly what I said in my comment on Ehrman’s blog (copied in a comment on the previous Carrier post here).

      Ehrman accused Carrier of sloppy reading; I accused Ehrman of sloppy writing.

      If I were more cynical, I might suspect that Ehrman was deliberately ambiguous or, worse, intended to imply that no such statue existed, whether identified with Peter or not. But it’s a good job I’m not… 😉


      1. Never (mis)underestimate the power of the language of maximum clarity – by being sufficiently broad or vague, one can immunize one’s self from having to respond by attributing any misunderstanding to the receiver of the message. People without a strong command of the facts and ability to well-argue a position are rather often quite pleased to be happily misunderstood.

    1. Acharya S. has been over-maligned for her work, so this just follows in that vein. When I was winding my way out of being a christian, her Christ Conspiracy book was really helpful. Not being a biblical scholar, but having read Will Durant’s history of civilization and other christian history, I was not aware of the flaws in her work. However, it certainly makes sense to me that in a world teeming in pagan resurrected gods, some of it all had to rub off on the christian sects writings. Plus, when I was in Venice, I noticed the astrological connections she writes about all over the churches we visited.

    2. So why , for the love of God, did he insinuate that Acharya had drawn the thing herself?

      Thing is, Ehrman’s protestations of lack of faith notwithstanding, I do believe you may well have parenthetically answered your own question.


      1. I suspect it’s his own career he’s in love with, but some residual christianity may well play a part.

  11. JAC:

    Let me hasten to say that I haven’t read Ehrman’s book yet.

    I’ve read three; Misquoting, Interrupted, and Forged. They were all very good…so I’m staying away from his fourth one. It may be to Ehrman what Indiana Jones IV is to Spielberg.

    I did read Carrier’s post. Its pretty damning, but I wouldn’t say its vicious or nasty. Carrier says right up front he expected Ehrman to produce the go-to defense of historicism, and in earlier posts Carrier makes clear that the reason he expected this was because of the great scholarship Ehrman did in other areas.

    If there’s any emotion that comes through Carrier’s post, in my opinion its frustration. He’s frustrated that someone he respected didn’t produce better work.

    1. I agree. The review by Carrier did reflect some sadness and embarrassment for Ehrman, but Carrier managed to mostly shake that off and zero in with great clarity on Ehrman’s factual mistakes and illogical conclusions. It was really great reading.

      I would probably wilt under Carrier’s well written spanking, and it certainly looks from his response to Carrier that Ehrman is feeling a little faintish himself.

        1. He’s apparently playing with that. Carrier is also a line of air conditioners, but that doesn’t seem to go anywhere. Is there a fridge in Indiana Jones IV? I’m lost.

  12. But I never attacked him personally. He on the other hand, appears to be showing his true colors…. 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 thing Ehrman doesn’t engage in ad hominem like all those clowns and jokers.

  13. I thoroughly enjoy my daily reading of this blog, something I’ve done since Professor Coyne’s debate last fall with John Haught at the University of Kentucky [C-A-T-S: Champs, Champs, Champs!].

    However, many of the recent posts concerning Bart Ehrman’s book Did Jesus Exist? have been rather disappointing. I’ve read it, Richard Carrier’s critique, and now Ehrman’s public posting in response to Carrier. While one may not find either scholar’s arguments totally convincing, Carrier’s verbiage is excessive. A reasoned review of another scholar’s work need not employ the barrage of insulting adjectives and adverbs Carrier has unleashed. He should make his case and let it speak for itself, not try to sway his audience with emotional rhetoric.

    My own reading on this subject has included the writings of Carrier, Robert M. Price, and now Ehrman. The argument that Jesus did not exist has been made quite capably, but the dialouge needs to continue. The debate is not over. Neither side has yet won the day. Indeed, Robert Price offers this important caution in his recent book on the subject:

    “Remember, we are not fundamentalists trying to settle arguments with authoritative prooftexts…. What we must guard against is a hell-bent adherence to a hobbyhorse of a theory. We must maintain only a tentative and provisional acceptance of any proposed paradigm (including the Christ Myth theory)until something better, maybe a better version of it, comes along. We only want to know what happened, not to know that a certain thing happened–or didn’t.” (The Christ Myth Theory and Its Problems, 352)

    While the existence of Jesus undoubtedly matters to the Christian faith (see Dominic Crossan’s recent book, The Power of Parable, 247-252), it shouldn’t matter in the same way to those who are non-believers. Neither Ehrman and Carrier claims to be a Christian; instead, each claims to be first and foremost an historian. So, as scholars, they should care only where the evidence leads, not who “wins” this particular debate.

    1. Oh, that’s nothing. I’ve gotten reviews like that from referees who didn’t understand the topic they were supposed to review; it wouldn’t be surprising if people wrote equally scathing reviews and did know what they were talking about.

      1. I didn’t see anything particularly objectionable in Carrier’s review. If anything it was sympathetic but deeply disappointed.

        On his website Ehrman says he’ll respond in detail to Carrier’s comments, so we’ll have to wait and see how that goes.

        I agree that as an “attack” Carrier’s post is nothing. I once received an utterly vituperative, scathing and personal review, but the editor agreed with the response of my co-author and me (and comments of the other reviewers) and the paper went through and the reviewer was sacked. 🙂 We’ll see if Ehrman can defend himself as well against Carrier’s much more reasoned critique.

    2. So, as scholars, they should care only where the evidence leads, not who “wins” this particular debate.

      Indeed, we should.

      Which is why Erhman is getting raked over the coals for the evidence he has produced — namely, not just Q, not just M and L, but a half-dozen Aramaic words interspersed in the Greek text. And the fact that, from those few words, he has fabricated multiple eyewitness accounts of the life and times of the Zombie of Zion.

      You may not find the arguments for non-historicity convincing, but the arguments for historicity are indistinguishable from those presented in the Catechism.


    3. Neither Ehrman and Carrier claims to be a Christian; instead, each claims to be first and foremost an historian.

      Ehrman refers to himself as a historian, but his credentials are as a New Testament scholar, not a historian. See his CV.

      1. Hmpf. I hadn’t paid that much attention to his degrees before.


        Ph.D., Princeton Theological Seminary (magna cum laude), 1985

        M.Div., Princeton Theological Seminary, 1981

        B.A., Wheaton College, Illinois (magna cum laude), 1978

        And four of his five professional gigs were in seminaries or religion departments.

        The man’s clearly a theologian who dabbles in the Classics, and not at all a Classical historian.


        1. Ehrman’s previous three books were reputedly very good indeed, which is precisely why Carrier was so looking forward to this one and was so disappointed with it.

          If people give bozos like Acharya S. the time of day, then it’s an area desperate for anything resembling attention. So anything resembling clear thinking (e.g. Ehrman up till now) was like a shining light.

          (disclaimer: I have not read the previous three Ehrman books.)

          1. I’ve read (and own) most of his other books, which is why this is a serious disappointment. It does seem like he took his cues from some actors and just phoned it in. Since I lean toward mythicism, I was hoping to see some good arguments and critiques, and I found bupkiss.

    4. We must maintain only a tentative and provisional acceptance of any proposed paradigm (including the Christ Myth theory)until something better, maybe a better version of it, comes along

      That sort of wishy-washy language may work in some places but it won’t work here! I’m sticking with Ehrman – I don’t know if he’s a “scholar” or if he has “evidence”, but at least he’s certain about his conclusions. Not like those conspiracy mongering mythicists who are always banging on about different interpretations.

      We’ve known that Jesus was real for the past 1600 years, debate settled, move on.

  14. [blockquote]
    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.

    This wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen someone so enamored with being ‘in the middle’ that they seem to lose objectivity.

  15. Bart Sheldrake. Or was that Rupert Ehrman? Gee, I can’t tell – they all sound alike to me. “Oh, look at how those nasty academics persecute me!”

  16. Since Ehrman is presumably reasonably compensated in his academic post, and has probably made tons of money from his book, I really do object to a scholar reserving his serious responses for a pay-only part of his site. Does he need the money that badly?

    Originally, he indicated that he would be publishing DJE? only as an ebook. I wondered if that might suggest it would be a quickie work. It would appear that the prospect of making a lot more money by putting out printed editions convinced him to alter the publication strategy, without increasing the quality of the effort. Also, I read somewhere that he says he will debate anyone if they can meet his usual fee. And he has accused the authors of mythicist books of being money hungry. The man knows no shame.

  17. I have read aout ten of Bart Ehrman’s books plus two I read over half of. I enjoy his work and alot of what I know of biblical scholarship, I learned from him. He gives a good account of the concensus of that scholarship and his critics don’t seem to argue that.

    That said, I think Did Jesus Exist? shows that biblical scholarship has never really addressed whether there actually was a Jesus. They assumed it and left it at that. The reasoning in the book seemed to be post facto justification.

    Even I could see him stretching the truth. He counts M, L, and Q as independent sources when M and L could well be parts of Q the other didn’t use. Even Mark seems to have used Q.

    1. There is no evidence Mark used Q. Q was hypothesized to account for the absence of sayings in Mark which appear word-for-word the same in Matthew and Luke

  18. R. Joseph Hoffmann, who had a disagreement of sorts with Carrier recently (and has an irrational antipathy to new atheism) promises a three-pronged response to Carrier:

    The odd thing about some of these pieces is the vitriol they display while decrying vitriol. Hoffmann is particularly daft in this respect (he describes Carrier, a man who featured in a collection of essays Hoffmann edited, as an ‘impetuous amateur’?), but he is at least a pretty notable historian, so the pieces may be educational.

    1. That should be good. Oops, forgot the sarcasm markers.

      Am I mistaken, or does Hoffman push the apocalyptic prophet too? If Hoffman can get his arrogance and ego (I know, but I doubled it for what he projects) out of the way, which makes him completely unreadable, it might be worthwhile, but since he hasn’t written anything I’ve considered worth more than a couple of seconds on in several years…I won’t hold my breath. I do wonder how much whining over the ignorance of everyone else we’d hear if we read it.

    2. Whoa – stock up on popcorn and beer – WWIII is about to start!

      Hoffman, who opens decrying the filthy nastiness of Freethought blogs, delivers the nastiest rant we have seen in a long, long time.

      His first major point – that Carrier was mean to Ehrman because ” Professor Ehrman had the audacity to suggest that Jesus actually existed.” – is completely off the mark.

      Hoffman promises:

      “three essay-length responses to Richard C. Carrier’s ideas: The first by me, the second by Professor Maurice Casey of the University of Nottingham, and the third by Stephanie Fisher a specialist in Q-studies. We will attempt to show an impetuous amateur not only where he goes wrong, but why he should buy a map before starting his journey. Other replies will follow in course, and we invite Carrier, his fans, and anyone else interested in this discussion to respond to it at any stage along the way.”

      I do so hope he has bitten off more than he can chew.

    3. Hoffmann is hard to reconcile with Hoffmann. Follow the link offered by mkgjones and then read Hoffmann’s forward to G.A. Wells’ book “The Jesus Legend” (Open Court, 1996).

      Do these seem to have been written by the same person? If so, you’d think that he’d at least remember what he used to think.

      To quote just the 1st lines: “It is no longer possible to dismiss the thesis that Jesus never existed as the “marginal indiscretion of lay amateurs” (to paraphrase a sentence once imposed on Matthew Arnold’s biblical criticism by his theological critics). The direction of biblical criticism since Albert Schweitzer’s day has circled back with dizzying regularity to the implied question of Jesus’s existence but has sought without success to answer it.”

      Squishy and wordy, but strongly implies sympathy with the mythicist position.

  19. oh, for godssake, he didn’t say the statue doesn’t exist. acharya s captioned a drawing of the statue with the claim that it is a “bronze sculpture hidden in the vatican treasure of the cock, symbol of St. Peter”. yes, that is a quote of her atrocious wording. ehrman’s comment was “there is no penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock in the Vatican…”. carrier acknowledges that the statue carries no markings identifying it as peter, that there is no evidence that it has anything to do with christianity or peter, and that he can’t even buy into her interpretation. but, even though he has just acknowledged that what ehrman said is true, ehrman is nevertheless wrong. gooooaaaallll! smackdown!

    1. Ehrman was wrong in one of three ways: he 1.) didn’t know it existed and was claiming Acharya made it up, 2.) was attempting to imply it didn’t exist while knowing it did, or 3.) was writing very badly.

      I can’t decide among the options, but tend to discount 3 based on what I’ve seen of his writing in the past.

    2. He didn’t say the statue didn’t exist?

      No, he just did the research, found out the statue existed, and insinuated Acharya drew the thing herself.

      In the name of God, why would anybody research a statue , find out it existed, and then write snide remarks about how it was totally made up and she drew it herself?

      1. i suspect that you have no idea that what you’ve just written makes no sense, in or out of context.

        1. Made sense to me in context. Ehrman insinuated there was no such statue and that Acharya had made it up. There was such a statue. Carrier called Ehrman on it. Ehrman backpeddled.

        2. Well, there’s a commentator who knows he has to say something, so decided to say anything.

          Why did Ehrman insinuate that Acharya had drawn the thing himself, when he now claims it took only a little research to show that the statue existed?

          1. if you were to read the relevant materials, then perhaps you might be able to ask an informed and pertinent question. the question you pose suggests strongly that you have read the exchanges carelessly, if at all.

              1. the response was addressed to steven carr; it would that both you and he are given to careless reading.

                in response to you, i will again point out that steven carr’s described sequence of events is jumbled.

            1. Joe Piecuch keeps saying nothing.

              What a waste of time….

              Just answer the question.

              If Bart knew the statue existed, why did he insinuate that Acharya had drawn the thing herself?

              1. he didn’t; he ASKED if she did. the spin is either yours, or one you picked up in reading second hand references.

              2. He asked if she did?

                Why? When he knew for a fact that the statue existed?

                This is really desperate on your part.

                Choose another battle. This one is a wipe-out.

              3. Okay, Joe. Let me ask you a question, then.

                When, precisely, did you stop beating your underaged male prostitute?

                Note that I’m not saying that you’ve stopped. I’m just asking a question.


              4. seriously? ehrman pointed out 11 egregious pieces of nonsense in the acharya s book. carrier pounced on ONE of them, and in so doing, implicitly acknowledged that ehrman was correct. now you’re nitpicking in an attempt to salvage that error, and you call that a wipe-out?

              5. As you point out, Archarya is so bad that Ehrman had an empty net to shoot at, but scored in his own goal by insinuating the statue was something that she had drawn by herself, because she loved to make things up.

                Bad tactics on Ehrman’s part.

                If Ehrman manages to make a hash out of refuting Acharya, to the extent that even people who dislike her say Ehrman shouldn’t have insinuated that she drew it herself, that says something about how thoroughly Ehrman made a hash out of it.

                Why doesn’t he just say ‘by this point I was so tired of reading her drivel, I couldn’t be bothered checking if the statue existed, as it was irrelevant anyway.’

                Then everybody would be on his side.

              6. i’ve previously declined the invitation to participate in your sordid affairs, mr. goren; you needn’t continue pestering me.

              7. i don’t know, mr. carr. if you address the question to prof. ehrman, perhaps he can answer it.

                but is it not a very minor point? even if ehrman was wrong about the whole thing, and he clearly was not, does that demolish his whole thesis? does it even seriously undercut his criticism of acharya s?

              8. It’s not about whether Acharya S was wrong or is a crackpot, it’s about a supposed scholar making a sloppy error. He either didn’t know there was a statue, and was lazy, did know about the statue and was simply sloppy in how he presented his criticism, or else intentionally mislead his reader, which is pretty much lying. In either case, it represents a very poorly written document and Carrier was right to point it out. Carrier isn’t defending Acharya S, he’s pointing out that Ehrman cheapened his takedown of Acharya by submitting a falsehood. It has nothing to do with whether historicists or mythicists are right or wrong, it has to do with poor scholarship.

              9. do the spelling and grammar errors in your post vitiate its content? let’s agree that they don’t.

                you present three viable possibilities, then proceed to argue on the basis of assuming one to be the case without providing any evidence for the assumption. would that be poor scholarship?

                in his criticism of ehrman’s book, carrier insists that the statue is “…exactly as she describes.” both before and after that quote, he implicitly acknowledges that her description is an unsubstantiated interpretation, contradicting himself. would that be poor scholarship, or poor writing?

                in his crticism of ehrman’s huffington post article, carrier criticises ehrman’s failure to mention thomas thompson, who “…meets every one of Ehrman’s criteria–excepting only one thing…”, but ehrman is still wrong! poor scholarship, or poor writing?

                it’s all mostly irrelevant in the larger context; mostly it serves to highlight the desperation with which people are attacking ehrman, and their willingness to overlook the fact that their current champion makes mistakes, too. i’d guess that ehrman made a mistake in his phrasing, but was able to fall back on the fact that what he said about the statue was nevertheless accurate.

              10. Seriously?


                Is the comment we’re responding to. Hh look, you wrote it. What is your obsession with the “dickhead” Joe?

                I’m glad you’ve at least admitted that Ehrman probably made a mistake, and I’m a little disappointed that you see the fact he’s falling back on a technicality as acceptable. When carrier says that the statue is exactly as Acharya describes it, this is a factual statement. He then disagrees with her interpretation. This is not a contradiction.

                Just because a statement is technically accurate, doesn’t mean it isn’t misleading. That’s called doublespeak. Whether the mistake was nefarious or innocent, it is intellectually dishonest to fallback on a technicality. Ehrman is supposed to be a scholar not a lawyer. The honest response should have been, “Yes, that sentence is misleading, I should have been clearer.” A book is an attempt by an author communicate to communicate to a reader, if you have to blame the reader for not interpreting a sentence correctly, then you’ve written badly and the only honest recourse is self-admonishment. By being so sloppy, Ehrman has opened himself up to this kind of criticism, as irrelevant as it is to the larger scope of the subject. He chose to present this example to discredit a mythicist, and thus hung his fruit low for the plucking. A few additional, or different words would have solidified his position, instead he lowers himself to the level of the crank he is criticizing. I could have presented that sentence better, and I’m just a degree-less monkey with a keyboard.

              11. and why is everyone so focused on the dickhead (the statue, not (insert name of your favored miscreant))? is it because it comes early in the article and it’s the easy, first opportunity for the peanut gallery to begin hooting?

              12. and why is everyone so focused on the dickhead (the statue

                Probably because Ehrman apologists keep trying to claim that technically under a really charitable reading Ehrman’s comments on the statue weren’t, strictly speaking, false.

                So why ARE you focused on it, Joe?

              13. acharya s gave an inaccurate description containing an unfounded interpretation which she stated as being a fact. ehrman made an accurate statement, the meaning of which could have been conveyed in clearer terms. carrier criticises ehrman in terms which even a cursory reading makes clear contain the evidence that carrier is unequivocally wrong in his assertion. so, whose mistakes are of substance? everyone makes mistakes; what matters is whether they are significant. ehrman’s mistake was phrasing a rebuttal in such a way that a careless reader would see it as an error of fact. it was not, but that doesn’t stop the ehrman bashers from rushing headlong into pigpiling him. ehrman pointed out numerous errors on the part of acharya s, and i suppose this is the one getting all the attention because it’s the only one that gave his detractors an opening.

              14. Translation.

                Ehrman didn’t even read the footnotes, insinuated Acharya drew it herself, and then strawmanned her by claiming she had said it was a statue of Peter.

                Which she never did.

                Now Ehrman has been told that the statue does exist, and is resorting to claiming that his strawman is correct. It really isn’t a statue of Peter.

                But Acharya never said it was.

                Still, never let ehrman not checking the references, insinuating Acharya drew the thing herself and then swapping out her claim for his own claim that he then proceeded to ridicule (that it was a statue of Peter)

                Don’t let any of that dissuade from an idea that Ehrman never made a mistake anywhere.

              15. Of course it’s the one of focus because it’s the only response he gives to Carrier’s critique and also the only mistake he apparently made in that section on Acharya. He didn’t take the care to add another sentence about what the statue was, instead he wrote this sentence:

                “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.”

                If this is all that is provided, by it’s very dismissal makes Acharya S out to be a liar and a fabricator of facts. Sure, “of Peter the cock” makes the sentence technically accurate, but he didn’t say that the statue was not of Peter, and the casual reader is going to assume that the entire example was a complete fabrication. That’s the kind of fallback a lawyer or a politician would use to save face. He made it a point to have this in his book in order to get the reader on his side against the cranks and he misrepresented his position. It may not tell on the greater subject, but it shows what kind of Scholar Ehrman is, and it’s not one that I could trust given his blithe dismissal of his critics, and slimy reliance on a technicality. It is a very weak position, one I cannot respect. How could you possibly think about that statement in the context of the book, as a reader, and not realize where that leads the readers conclusion of Acharya? If you can’t see how important it is, when making statements about another person’s scholarship, to at least be clear in your meaning, then perhaps I should send you a “Team Ehrman” shirt and you can get in line with all the other groupies at his next book signing. I for one am more interested in the truth, and no, I’m not a mythicist, I’m actually more of an agnostic historicist but I’d damn well like the people writing on this subject to at least have the decency to communicate clearly.

              16. @Joe:

                carrier criticises ehrman in terms which even a cursory reading makes clear contain the evidence that carrier is unequivocally wrong in his assertion.

                ? Carrier said that there is such a statue (there is). Carrier said it is not of Peter (presumably it isn’t). So what did Carrier say that is “unequivocally wrong”?

              17. steven carr: perhaps you have not previously had occasion to make use of the word ‘insinuate’. i just insinuated that you don’t know what the word means. do you know what the word ‘insinuate’ means? that was a direct question; it doesn’t insinuate anything. ehrman directly asked if acharya s drew the depiction of the statue. her description of the statue is: “Bronze sculpture hidden in the Vatican treasury of the Cock, symbol of St. Peter. Inscription reads “Savior of the World”. ehrman’s comment was: “There is no penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock in the Vatican…”. as he goes on to explain in his response to carrier, st. peter has never been symbolised by a rooster, nor has he ever been referred to as saviour of the world. maybe you can get a better sense of what was actually said if you look at the materials in question, rather than parroting the remarks of others.

                justin zimmer: it is certainly your prerogative to dismiss ehrman’s entire book because you don’t like the way he wrote a sentence.

                dan l: carrier rephrases acharya’s description, acknowledges her description of it as being a symbol of st. peter, ignores the gist of ehrman’s statement, admits her characterisation of it is without basis, but insists that it exists ” exactly as she describes.”…except that he just admitted that it does not. whose statement is sloppier? you can get the wrong impression from ehrman’s nevertheless accurate statement, but carrier’s is just plain wrong.

              18. Oh dear, Joe, choose another battle.

                Stop insulting your intelligence by pretending Ehrman was not insinuating Acharya drew the statue herself, because she made up the whole idea of the statue existing.

                ‘st. peter has never been symbolised by a rooster, ‘

                This is getting desperate. Haven’t you heard of choosing what to defend? Is Ehrman paying you to take the flak?

                I just can’t believe you are taking a bullet for Ehrman without even being paid.

                That is big of you. I hope you at least get a signed copy of his book. You should really get his daughter’s hand in marriage.


                ‘The rooster is the symbol of Peter’s denial of Christ. The old St. Peter, in weakness, denied Christ. The new St. Peter, by the grace of God, was restored by Christ. We are all doubters and deniers, even Christians, and we must never forget who we are’


                ‘The Easton Bible Dictionary provides the following definition, meaning and emblem for the Cock Christian Symbol in the Bible. The cock symbolizes Peter’s denial of Jesus.’

              19. symbol of st. peter, symbol of st. peter’s denial of christ…never mind ‘saviour of the world’ and the big penis nose, and it’s close enough for someone who someone incapable of understanding the difference between ‘insinuate’ and ‘ask’. declare victory and go home!

              20. carrier rephrases acharya’s description, acknowledges her description of it as being a symbol of st. peter,

                SYMBOL OF. That’s important right there. SYMBOL OF. Not STATUE OF, but SYMBOL OF. So when Ehrman says this:

                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

                I ask myself, does it make sense without the prepositional phrase “of Peter”? No, it doesn’t. The statement is false if we exclude “of Peter.” So then I ask “Did Acharya S claim this was a statue of Peter?” The answer is “No, Acharya S claimed the statue is a symbol of Peter.”

                So is Ehrman claiming that there is no statue (a completely justifiable interpretation of Ehrman’s wording here; it was certainly my first impression) or is Ehrman claiming that the statue is not of Peter? In the first case he is wrong. In the last case he’s making a non sequitir. Because no one claimed that the statue is OF Peter.

                ignores the gist of ehrman’s statement, admits her characterisation of it is without basis, but insists that it exists ” exactly as she describes.”…except that he just admitted that it does not.

                This is tiresome. You bend over backward to read Ehrman charitably; for Carrier you read as uncharitably as possible. Carrier’s statement is more defensible than Ehrman’s from my perspective. As Carrier said, the statue exists and is of the form described by Acharya. Acharya is wrong about the interpretation but that’s not inconsistent with what Carrier says. “As described by Acharya,” in context, would seem to me just to mean “looks the way Acharya described it” i.e. it’s a statue of a rooster with a penis for a nose. There’s nothing wrong or contradictory about any of this.

              21. sorry…carrier said that it exists “exactly as as she describes”; both before and then after that quote, he acknowledges that her description is wrong. tell you what: find another photo or drawing of a statue of a human torso with a rooster head and a penis for a nose, identified by someone credible as a symbol of st peter, and i’ll concede defeat.

  20. If Erhman can’t produce a cogent explanation of why we can be sure Jesus existed then I am forced to assume it can’t be done. Carrier was expecting the best modern scholarship has to offer on the subject and I suspect he has got it. Jesus was a fantasy in the minds of desperately unhappy men, conjured up out of too much prayer, scripture reading and bodily scourging.

    1. I thought the scourging came centuries later. A response to the myth rather than a cause of it. But, what do I know?

  21. Who the hell are Ehrman and Carrier, and why would anyone care?

    Two guys arguing over a fairy tale. Pfft.

    There must be more interesting things going on, like white whales, hawk chicks, and owls.

    1. Ehrman is a Biblical scholar. Carrier is a historian. People who care about the actual historical provenance of the Bible should care what Ehrman has to say. People who care about ancient history — particularly ancient science — about method in historical studies, and about the cultural milieu of the new testament authors should care what Carrier has to say.

      Why do you think white whales, hawk chicks, and owls should be more interesting than human history for all people at all times in all cases?

  22. This is not funny anymore. I am quite disappointed. Is this really a science blog?

    I feel the same way about the matter as Prof. Ehrman and I quote:
    “I would much prefer that we all simply get along and search for truth together”

    What I would really like to see is that both men met at f.e. an open event and discussed the matter.
    Although in the academic world of ancient history it seems to be almost certain that Jesus existed, it is worth having such a discussion. When I remember the great speech of Christopher Hitchens about free speech, i think Prof. Ehrman should see this discussion as a gift.
    But everyone should at least act as scholars not as children.

  23. Carrier’s hyperbolic rhetoric didn’t do him any favors, when in most cases he ended up acknowledging that Ehrman isn’t actually wrong, and if he may have been, it wasn’t about anything that affected a substantive point.

    I still want to know why someone like Jerry Coyne, who knows that the opinion of a small number of academics that evolution is flawed does not invalidate the overwhelming consensus, continues to ignore the obvious application to the field of history of what he knows in relation to the field of biology.

    1. Umm, Mr. McGrath are you actually advocating arguments from authority/popularity? That seems like a strange thing for a serious scholar to do…at least a scholar who is confident in the quality of his or her scholarship. Arguments based on logical fallacies don’t help your case in the least.

      Let’s take a counterexample to your concluding para. From what I can tell, Coyne vehemently disagrees with E.O. Wilson about the importance of kin and group selection effects in evolutionary biology. Wilson is part of a relatively small group of biologists who favor group selection over kin selection at least in some cases. Does Coyne conclude that Wilson is wrong because he is part of a small group?

      No, Coyne disagrees with Wilson because of both implications of evolutionary theory (that group selection effects should be undermined by “free riders” in the altruism example) and because of a lack of evidence for the efficacy of group selection.

      Dismissing fringe arguments because they do not have many adherents simply makes you a dogmatist. And there are usually better reasons to do so.

    2. Wow, talk about hyperbole. To equate the historicity of Jesus with just about anything in biology would require us to not only have the actual remains of Jesus hanging out in the Smithsonian but an entire library of corroborated external dialogues regarding how nice-of-a-guy he was along with his personal memoirs and letters. I’m sure Jerry would agree that if one of his colleagues wrote a paper as error ridden as Ehrman’s book apparently is, regardless of whether it represented the mainstream position, that fellow biologists would be nit-picking it to bits.

    3. And the argument wouldn’t be about whether Jesus actually existed (that would be a conspiracy position), but what he ate for breakfast on Wednesdays. Such is the scale of your comparison.

  24. Does anybody believe Ehrman went on a radio show and said ‘“It’s made up! There is no such statue. It’s just completely made up.’ and laughed…
    and now posts on his blog ‘The statue does appear to exist.’

    Shows you the level of research he did.

    But now he hides behind the fact that he misrepresented Acharya who never claimed it was a statue of Peter.

    So now Ehrman claims that the statue Acharya never said existed (a statue of Peter) does not exist.

    A bit like a creationist claiming there is no animal which is half-bird and half-crocodile and pointing jubilantly to the fact that his claim is true.

    1. Does anybody believe Ehrman went on a radio show and said ‘“It’s made up! There is no such statue. It’s just completely made up.’ and laughed…

      did he, or are you just insinuating as much? how about a link to some audio? i’m not going to accept as verbatim a transcript from someone as grammatically challenged as you.

      1. So Joe is now simply going to deny that Ehrman went on a radio show and said that the statue was completely made up?

        Do you want to go there, Joe? Is that what you want to do?

        1. well, at least you asked instead of insinuating. sure, i went there; i’m interested in evidence, not what fits an agenda.

        1. well, your quote is not strictly accurate, but it doesn’t affect the substance of what he said. he does say it’s completely made up, and trying to tie that to the description of it as peter would not in this instance be credible. anyone can make a mistake, and this in itself is evidence of nothing more than that. it does, however, give his subsequent remarks on the subject the distinct appearance of dissembling.

        2. i addressed to prof. ehrman the following, both as an email and a comment on the public part of his blog:

          in a podcast interview posted on 4/3/12 at, you were asked about the quickly-becoming-infamous ‘cock’ statue, and said, “It’s just made up. There is no such statue. It’s completely made up”. i’ve spent the last couple of days arguing with critics of your book ‘Did Jesus Exist?’ that your remarks about the statue in your book, and in response to richard carrier’s review of it, while perhaps not clearly stated, were nevertheless honest and, strictly speaking, accurate. the radio interview and its date tend to make it appear that you were in fact mistaken and have subsequently been dissembling. i would appreciate it very much if you would address the issue; it seems to have gained with many people immense importance with regard to your credibility. thanks very much,

          i’d be surprised to get a response from prof. ehrman, but i’ll post it if i do.

  25. Well, let’s all get the popcorn. I heard (from John Loftus) that Hoffman has a “rant” (Loftus’ word) about Carrier. I haven’t read it since I removed Hoffman from my rss feed, and after his last, well, meltdowns…I can’t stand to read his tripe. It might be interesting if Carrier wastes time to respond, but he already thinks it’s worthless to do any more with Ehrman’s book and instead wants to finish work on his book.

    1. Part of me actually thinks this longer reply makes Ehrman look more competent than Carrier, but that could be from my limited historical understanding. Sure Ehrman’s book might have some errata but what book doesn’t?

    2. Much better. I still dislike his somewhat slapdash approach and am not entirely persuaded but this response is much closer to what I’d expect from a decent scholar. It makes me think that he and Carrier might be able to have a productive dialogue (please, not a public debate!).

  26. It brings to mind Monty Python’s Holy Grail, and the character of “Brave” Sir Robin: “Run away! Run away!”

    Ehrman *cannot* reply because there is no possible reply to make. Carrier has shown him up, and Ehrman is now simply trying to save face with his fans. Brave Sir Robin. Run away, indeed.

  27. On the Infidel Guy program, Ehrmann pointed to specifics made in Pauline literature (specifically Galatians) such as a brother named James and a disciple named Peter; things irrelevant to the text but just mentioned in passing which he says historians look for to chronicle historicity. I believe he is at least accurate in this.

    1. He would be referring to the Galatians 1:19 reference where Paul mentions “James, the Lord’s brother”. In the seven epistles most accept as genuinely written by Paul, he uses various forms of “adelph-” 116 times. They only time it is not used in the metaphorical sense is in Romans 16:15 where he talks about somebody’s sister. Of the 74 other uses of the word in all the other epistles, the only time it is used to refer to a literal brother is in 1 John 3:12 where it refers to Cain killing his brother. Paul uses “adelphois” 15 times in addition to the Galatians verse, always in the metaphorical sense. Paul uses the plural form of the same phrase in 1 Corinthians 9:5 which is translated as “brethren” and some think it refers to the “500” in 1 Corinthians 15:6. A similar phrase is used in Philippians 1:14 in the metaphorical sense. Mark seems to have received much of his theology from Paul’s letters and may have gotten it into his head that Paul meant the literal sense and wrote it into his gospel and, now, it’s a privileged hypothesis.

      Ehrman also uses 1 Thessalonians 2:15 to show that the Jews crucified Jesus. He also uses that in one of his books to show Paul’s attitude toward the Jews. Many scholars consider the 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16 as an interpolation for textual reasons, such as verse 1:10 says God’s wrath has not yet come but verse 2:16 says God’s wrath has come at last, as if it came within the writing of 16 verses and disagrees with Romans 11:26 which says all Israel will be saved.

      The only other verse in all the Epistles that connects Jesus to the first century verse 6:13 in the pseudo-Pauline 1 Timothy where Jesus is said to have testified before Pilate. Even then it is not compatible with 1 Timothy 3:16 where Jesus is said to have been seen by angels (as if it means “not by humans”) and “was preached” rather than “preached”.

      Even the epistles that are supposed to have been written by companions of Jesus don’t even have a single anecdote, let alone quotes of his sayings and teachings nor any tales of his deeds. The epistles rave on and on about the importance of the crucifixion and resurrection but they give no details. The epistle writers thought Jesus did his thing in the mythical past and had no intention of conveying the idea that he had just walked around a few years ago.

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