Richard Carrier on McGrath's 'Did Jesus die in outer space?'

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Richard Carrier on McGrath's 'Did Jesus die in outer space?'

Post by GakuseiDon » Fri Mar 06, 2015 5:52 am

Richard Carrier has published on his blog his summarized take on James McGrath’s critique of (parts of) OHJ that McGrath wrote for the Bible & Interpretation website.

James McGrath's article is here: http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/201 ... 8028.shtml
Ricahrd Carrier's response is here: http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/6817

My comments below. Comments enclosed in Quotes are from Carrier's blog post.
Carrier wrote:But note also (to add to Godfrey’s point) the observation I make on pp. 530-31 (in ch. 11), especially including n. 34 (which I also noted earlier, in ch. 3, on p.55, n. 18, and later, on p. 563, n. 67), as it illustrates a confusion in McGrath’s thinking: that we need the mythic death to occur in outer space rather than any other mythic realm, when in fact any mythic realm will do, including Sheol.
I'm not sure why Carrier thinks "any mythic realm will do" is relevant to an article entitled 'Did Jesus Die in Outer Space? Evaluating a Key Claim in Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus'. Carrier doesn't actually quote McGrath stating that the mythic death "needs" to occur in outer space. Obviously a crucifixion in Sheol is as useful for mythicism as crucifixion in outer space, but McGrath is clear about what he is examining.
Carrier wrote:I should also remind readers that McGrath evidently did not read my discussion in OHJ of Docetism, on pp. 318-20, even though the word “Docetism” is in the index. Because he never mentions what I said about it, even when it answers the very things he says about it. This is significant, because it means readers are not being told how my book, the book McGrath claims to be reviewing, actually responds already to the very things he is saying in this review, giving the impression that I didn’t already think of the things he is now coming up with, and that I did not address them, and have no response to them, even though I did, and as a reader of my book, he should know that, and honestly tell his readers about it.
Reading OHJ, pp. 318-20, I don't see how that answers the issues that McGrath raises in his article. McGrath makes this point:
  • The forms of Docetism of which we are aware – unless the Ascension of Isaiah is an exception – do not deny that Jesus appeared in the world, but merely deny that he was genuinely human. Is Ascension of Isaiah an exception?...

    And so Ascension of Isaiah seems not only to fit the otherwise-attested Docetic view of Jesus (that the life and crucifixion of the terrestrial Jesus was a revelation of a spiritual reality which was made known in the world but did not become part of the world), but to do so much better than the mythicist interpretation, otherwise unattested in ancient times.
Carrier in OHJ pp. 318-20, appears to discuss the docetics addressed in the letters of Ignatius. But I don't see Carrier using this to support a 'mythicist' docetic belief in AoI in those pages. Perhaps he meant different pages? If I am missing something here, I'd really like to understand it. What docetic beliefs do we know that support Carrier's analysis of AoI?
Carrier wrote:Godfrey does miss one point, which is that McGrath actually falsely claims I said “that the [Ascension of Isaiah] ought to be dated contemporaneous with the Gospel of Mark.” This disturbs me because on the very first page of my discussion of this document I say “it was originally composed sometime in the first or second century” (p. 36), and that this is the same time the “canonical Gospels” (plural) were “being written.” McGrath has somehow confused a reference to the period of time all the canonicals were being written, with the specific date only Mark was written (the first of them).
Again, a strange miss by Carrier. Carrier claims that he said 'this is the same time the "canonical Gospels" (plural) were "being written". But Carrier leaves out some important words here!

This is what McGrath claimed:
  • That is at odds with Carrier’s claim that the work ought to be dated contemporaneous with the Gospel of Mark.
This is what Carrier actually wrote in OHJ (page 36) -- my bolding below:
  • The earliest version in fact was probably composed around the very same time as the earliest canonical Gospels were being written.
(Carrier suspects that the Gospel of Mark was written in the 70s or 80s (page 266).)

Compare the full quote from Carrier above -- "the very same time as the earliest canonical Gospels" -- to what Carrier claims he wrote. Quite a different emphasis! Is it equivalent to "contemporaneous with the Gospel of Mark"? Maybe Carrier doesn't think so. But Carrier leaving out the underlined words in the phrases "very same time" and "earliest canonical Gospels" looks sloppy if not deceptive.

Carrier continues:
Carrier wrote:Moreover, I nowhere base any argument on the Ascension dating as early as the 70s, or any earlier in fact than the 130s. So why does McGrath think my dating of it is a problem? I cannot fathom.
McGrath doesn't see the dating that Carrier provides itself as the problem, but believes that the dates 'creates difficulties for the trajectory which mythicists envisage'. From his article:
  • While a matter of decades might seem of little importance, according to mythicists, the time period between Paul and Mark witnessed the conversion of a purely celestial Jesus into the Jesus of the Gospels who lived on earth as a human being. Indeed, the attempt to place a purely celestial Jesus at the beginning of the process is at the heart of mythicism. And so a dating of Ascension of Isaiah to around the time of the Gospel of John, when mainstream historical study concludes that the earthly Jesus of the earlier Gospels had begun to be transformed into an earthly Jesus who embodies a pre-existent divine entity, creates difficulties for the trajectory which mythicists envisage.
Whether McGrath is right or wrong on the difficulties, the problem isn't Carrier's dates, but how those dates fit into his theories around the development from a celestial to an earthly Jesus. Carrier has read sloppily here.
Carrier wrote:McGrath devotes a single paragraph to rebutting my reading of the location of the crucifixion in the earliest reconstructed text of the Ascension of Isaiah…in which he does not mention or respond to any of my arguments for that reading. Let me repeat that so you get my meaning: he does not mention or respond to any of my arguments for that reading. I devote several pages to this (pp. 41-44). Yet he doesn’t even mention what my arguments are. He certainly does not rebut them. Why? And what use is a critique of a conclusion that doesn’t even address the arguments for it?
In fact, McGrath does give the reason: even if Carrier's arguments are granted, it doesn't matter. McGrath writes:
  • But as we have shown here, even if Ascension of Isaiah does have this view, that the celestial Beloved descends from the highest heaven to the firmament and no further, then that still does not support mythicism. Ascension of Isaiah emphasizes that what happens on the firmament is mirrored in the terrestrial realm. We should not treat the crucifixion of the Beloved to be an exception.
This is a similar criticism that GA Wells gave of Doherty on the same point.
  • Doherty interprets these passages [in Paul] from the Platonic premiss (sic) that things on Earth have their 'counterparts' in the heavens. Thus 'within the spirit realm' Christ could be of David's stock, etc. But, if the 'spiritual' reality was believed to correspond in some way to a material equivalent on Earth, then the existence of the latter is conceded.

I suppose Carrier is correct that McGrath could have spent more time in rebutting the location of the crucifixion. But since Carrier is certainly wrong in his analysis on the AoI (see my comment in the comment section of the BibInterp article) that would be easy to do.

Carrier continues:
Carrier wrote:Godfrey does point out evidence that McGrath isn’t actually reading my book—not only by missing my entire extensive discussion about what the dead would be doing in outer space, but also by missing my explicit discussion of how the earthly copy of Jesus’ sacrifice in heaven is the Yom Kippur ritual, as in fact the book of Hebrews explicitly says (in Heb. 9; see my discussion in ch. 11.5)—so here this isn’t even my theory, it is a fact of Christian belief plainly stated in the canonical New Testament. And McGrath doesn’t even know this. How is that possible? This is disturbing to me as well, especially as someone who read my book could not still be ignorant of it. But if he only skimmed my book and didn’t actually read it, that would also explain how he missed all my arguments for interpreting the Ascension as describing a celestial crucifixion, and thus didn’t realize he was suppose to rebut them.
I'm not sure what Carrier is trying to say here, in terms of the content of AoI. Perhaps someone can help me on this?
Carrier wrote:One last point Godfrey exposes McGrath on well bears further summary, and I will close with this, because it gets to the core of this whole debate:

McGrath gives the impression that my conclusion in favor of mythicism is “based on” the Ascension of Isaiah and things like the Talmud. This is strange, because I am hyper-clear and specific in the book that the effect of these documents on my conclusion is actually rather small, and I even explicitly state how small in mathematical terms.
If Carrier is referring to what McGrath writes in his BibInterp article, then this is what McGrath writes (my bolding):
  • Thus, while there is a place for standard-length reviews and review articles, this article will not try to provide an overview of the volume as a whole, but will instead seek to interact with one key element, and a central one at that - a core part of what Carrier calls the “basic myth hypothesis” or the “minimal Jesus myth theory.” The first tenet Carrier lists is this: “At the origin of Christianity, Jesus Christ was thought to be a celestial deity much like any other.”[2] Carrier’s chapter summarizing that mythicist core begins with the Ascension of Isaiah, a text which was central to Earl Doherty’s mythicist case,[3] and in turn has played a key role in Richard Carrier’s.[4] If their interpretation of the work is correct, Ascension of Isaiah provides an example of an ancient mythicist work. Unsurprisingly, Carrier continues to refer back to Ascension of Isaiah throughout his book, using it as evidence to interpret post-NT works, such as the letters of Ignatius, as well as earlier works, such as Paul’s letters, in a manner favorable to his mythicist case.[5] It therefore seems appropriate to take a close look at the relevant parts of Ascension of Isaiah. Doing so will not in and of itself either decisively prove or disprove either mythicism or historicity, nor even determine the overall usefulness of Carrier’s volume as a whole. But it may, once other details are given similarly close attention, affect the way the probability of Carrier’s case for mythicism is evaluated.
This probably comes down to a "he said/she said" argument when discussing who is giving what kind of impression. But McGrath is correct when he writes above that "Carrier’s chapter summarizing that mythicist core begins with the Ascension of Isaiah" (page 36). In that chapter, called "The Hypothesis of Myth", he spends about 10 pages out of 16 discussing the AoI. And McGrath is correct when he writes that "Carrier continues to refer back to Ascension of Isaiah throughout his book".

Finally, Carrier concludes:
Carrier wrote:But McGrath doesn’t do that. He doesn’t say what weight he would assign the evidence in the Ascension and the Talmud. He doesn’t explain why that weighting is to be preferred to mine. And above all, he doesn’t show what effect his weighting of this evidence has on the conclusion. That is, he doesn’t show what the probability of historicity then is, if we grant his weights instead of mine. And that renders his critique essentially useless.

In short, McGrath gives no indication of how he knows historicity is highly probable (he certainly never ventures to say how probable it is). He doesn’t even seem capable of figuring out how one ever knows that.
But McGrath is very clear that he is only looking at the claim of a celestial Jesus being crucified in AoI. So Carrier's conclusion is a little unfair.

All-in-all, the article on Carrier's blog seems to be another example of sloppy writing and unfair reading of his critics.
Last edited by GakuseiDon on Fri Mar 06, 2015 2:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Richard Carrier on McGrath's 'Did Jesus die in outer spa

Post by toejam » Fri Mar 06, 2015 6:59 am

^Excellent response.
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Re: Richard Carrier on McGrath's 'Did Jesus die in outer spa

Post by Bernard Muller » Fri Mar 06, 2015 10:14 am

that would also explain how he missed all my arguments for interpreting the Ascension as describing a celestial crucifixion
The Ascension of Isaiah as describing a celestial crucifixion is the result of Carrier's interpretation!
However here, Carrier is a lot more direct (emphasis mine):
The 'they' who will think he is and not know who he is and kill him are only ever said to be Satan and angels. No other subject is mentioned for that pronoun, nor is any other implied. God clearly intends Jesus to do nothing more than go to the firmament, and for no other reason than to be killed by Satan and his sky demons, rise from the dead and conduct affairs there for over a year (doing what, it's not said), and then ascend to heaven. In other words, instead of conducting a ministry on earth, Jesus is commanded to go straight to the end and die, and rise from the dead, and then remain where he had for a year and a half (9.16; cf. 10.12-14; although the duration is omitted in some versions), and then ascend to the heavens. The 'tree' on which is crucified (9.14) is thus implied to be one of the 'copies' of trees that we are told are in the firmament (7.10). (page 41 OHJ)
http://historical-jesus.info/100.html

Cordially, Bernard
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Re: Richard Carrier on McGrath's 'Did Jesus die in outer spa

Post by JoeWallack » Fri Mar 06, 2015 10:47 am

GakuseiDon wrote: All-in-all, the article on Carrier's blog seems to be another example of sloppy writing and unfair reading of his critics.
JW:
McGrath would not have much credibility in this unholy Forum on the issue of MJ so it would be surprising to some here that an objective analysis of his article on the subject would not have anything to criticize. So, was the purpose of your post to proof-text criticism of Dr. Carrier or to conclude that Dr. Carrier's article has absolutely no valid criticism of McGrath here?

Speaking (poorly) of McGrath, his position on response to MJ seems to magically have incarnated from does not deserve a serious response to does reserve a serious response. Since you are now an expert on McGrath, has he ever confessed this Transfiguringation?


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Re: Richard Carrier on McGrath's 'Did Jesus die in outer spa

Post by MrMacSon » Fri Mar 06, 2015 2:27 pm

Arguing about arguments of the minuate of where Jesus was alleged to have been crucified seems pointless

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Re: Richard Carrier on McGrath's 'Did Jesus die in outer spa

Post by Peter Kirby » Fri Mar 06, 2015 6:41 pm

Suppose you are right on all counts, GakuseiDon. You do have a knack for it. Isn't the exchange itself completely sterile, unable to bring us (at least, without significant torture of the reader and by quite circuitous routes) any interesting information regarding the true subject of interest here (IMO), which is the origins of Christianity? Besides the very fact that Carrier crystallizes a very particular point of view on the subject, which of course should be evaluated as one possibility, the conversation is further attenuated away from its subject matter by its focus on whether this party or that party score points on some artificial topic or other, most often regarding nothing other than their reading of each other, their allegations made against each other, and so on. And for what? Why?

I would be, by far, much more interested in any comments that you have directly on the subject, or on the hypotheses, as I have always valued your contributions, GakuseiDon.

Incidentally, and speaking of such, I am wondering if someone can unpack the full meaning of this crucial sentence, with examples from the text: "Ascension of Isaiah emphasizes that what happens on the firmament is mirrored in the terrestrial realm."
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Re: Richard Carrier on McGrath's 'Did Jesus die in outer spa

Post by Bernard Muller » Fri Mar 06, 2015 7:33 pm

I am wondering if someone can unpack the full meaning of this crucial sentence, with examples from the text: "Ascension of Isaiah emphasizes that what happens on the firmament is mirrored in the terrestrial realm."
The source for Carrier's comments is in AoI Ch. 7, 9-10:
9 And we ascended to the firmament, I and he, and there I saw Sammael and his hosts, and there was great fighting therein and the angels of Satan were envying one another.
10. And as above so on the earth also; for the likeness of that which is in the firmament is here on he earth.
The context indicates that the "likeness" is about the earth and the firmament relative to the fighting of the angels of Satan, and that only.
I do not see why the author here would make a broad and general statement, which, according to Carrier, would also be pertinent to trees.

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Re: Richard Carrier on McGrath's 'Did Jesus die in outer spa

Post by Peter Kirby » Fri Mar 06, 2015 8:04 pm

Bernard Muller wrote:
I am wondering if someone can unpack the full meaning of this crucial sentence, with examples from the text: "Ascension of Isaiah emphasizes that what happens on the firmament is mirrored in the terrestrial realm."
The source for Carrier's comments is in AoI Ch. 7, 9-10:
9 And we ascended to the firmament, I and he, and there I saw Sammael and his hosts, and there was great fighting therein and the angels of Satan were envying one another.
10. And as above so on the earth also; for the likeness of that which is in the firmament is here on he earth.
The context indicates that the "likeness" is about the earth and the firmament relative to the fighting of the angels of Satan, and that only.
I do not see why the author here would make a broad and general statement, which, according to Carrier, would also be pertinent to trees.

Cordially, Bernard
Thank you for this reference.

I quoted McGrath's sentence, FWIW.
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Re: Richard Carrier on McGrath's 'Did Jesus die in outer spa

Post by GakuseiDon » Fri Mar 06, 2015 8:27 pm

Peter Kirby wrote:Suppose you are right on all counts, GakuseiDon. You do have a knack for it. Isn't the exchange itself completely sterile, unable to bring us (at least, without significant torture of the reader and by quite circuitous routes) any interesting information regarding the true subject of interest here (IMO), which is the origins of Christianity?
Not completely sterile, no. This thread is essentially a review (my review of Carrier's blog post) of a review (Carrier's review of McGrath's BibInterp page) of a review (McGrath's review of part of Carrier's OHJ). But I think that my criticisms here show that Carrier has not read McGrath fairly, and this suggests he didn't understand McGrath's criticism. If the topic then focuses on those criticisms, then the thread becomes productive. But if it descends into "McGrath is a poopy-head!" and "No, it is Carrier who is the poopy-head!" exchanges, then the thread will not be productive. (But isn't this the same for any thread? Often once a thread has gone past 3 to 5 pages it descends into name-calling and point-scoring.)
Peter Kirby wrote:Besides the very fact that Carrier crystallizes a very particular point of view on the subject, which of course should be evaluated as one possibility, the conversation is further attenuated away from its subject matter by its focus on whether this party or that party score points on some artificial topic or other, most often regarding nothing other than their reading of each other, their allegations made against each other, and so on. And for what? Why?
In my case, I think it can help to continue the discussion. It would be all too easy to say "Well, McGrath has reviewed Carrier, and he wasn't happy. Discussion ended!" or "Carrier has responded to McGrath. Discussion ended!" So I have no problem with people being critical of McGrath's review, and so on. But you are right that it is pointless if all there is is name-calling and allegations made against each other.

And yes, there is a bit of point-scoring involved as well. My point is that Carrier is often an uncharitable reader and a sloppy writer. It doesn't make his theory wrong, but I think you need to read him with a grain of salt, and always check his references. See how he misquotes even himself above when making a point against McGrath's comment on the timing of AoI with respect to the earliest Gospels. Not good.
Peter Kirby wrote:I would be, by far, much more interested in any comments that you have directly on the subject, or on the hypotheses, as I have always valued your contributions, GakuseiDon.

Incidentally, and speaking of such, I am wondering if someone can unpack the full meaning of this crucial sentence, with examples from the text: "Ascension of Isaiah emphasizes that what happens on the firmament is mirrored in the terrestrial realm."
That seems to be the view of McGrath, Carrier and Doherty. I believe they are all wrong on this, since it doesn't make sense in terms of the philosophical beliefs of the time.

This is how Carrier explains it (my bolding) on page 194 of OHJ:
  • There are even versions of earthly things in the firmament, as we learn in the Ascension of Isaiah 7.10, which says, 'as it is above, so is it also on the earth, for the likeness of that which is in the firmament is also on the earth'. Although those things would not be the perfect models, which resided only in the perfect heavens above, but half-corrupt imitations, in between the models above and their earthly copies below.
But IF that was the case -- if that is what AoI means in 7.10 -- and Carrier sees that AoI has Christ crucified in the firmament, then that must map to some event on earth. Carrier seems to suggest that the Yom Kippur event is the earthly equivalent, if I read his blog post correctly where he writes "the earthly copy of Jesus’ sacrifice in heaven is the Yom Kippur ritual". But given that AoI posits the descent and crucifixion of the Beloved as a future event (with respect to Isaiah), I don't see how that applies. But Carrier is unclear here, at least to me. If I am wrong in Carrier thinking that the Yom Kippur ritual is the earthly copy of Jesus' sacrifice, I hope someone will explain what Carrier did mean.
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Re: Richard Carrier on McGrath's 'Did Jesus die in outer spa

Post by GakuseiDon » Fri Mar 06, 2015 8:38 pm

Bernard Muller wrote:
that would also explain how he missed all my arguments for interpreting the Ascension as describing a celestial crucifixion
The Ascension of Isaiah as describing a celestial crucifixion is the result of Carrier's interpretation!
However here, Carrier is a lot more direct (emphasis mine):
The 'they' who will think he is and not know who he is and kill him are only ever said to be Satan and angels. No other subject is mentioned for that pronoun, nor is any other implied. God clearly intends Jesus to do nothing more than go to the firmament, and for no other reason than to be killed by Satan and his sky demons... The 'tree' on which is crucified (9.14) is thus implied to be one of the 'copies' of trees that we are told are in the firmament (7.10). (page 41 OHJ)
http://historical-jesus.info/100.html
Yes, Carrier is simply wrong here, and it puts a big hole in his "Jesus died in the sky" point. It's something he repeats throughout OHJ, to support readings in other texts.
It is really important, in life, to concentrate our minds on our enthusiasms, not on our dislikes. -- Roger Pearse

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