Review of Carrier's OHJ, Part 1 of 12: Sections 1 thru 3, What I liked and didn't like

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GakuseiDon
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Review of Carrier's OHJ, Part 1 of 12: Sections 1 thru 3, What I liked and didn't like

Post by GakuseiDon »

I'm working to start my own podcast on Youtube called "Myth Adventure -- Myths old and new", or something like that. I've worked out what I am planning for my first four podcasts, which are:

(1) The myth of the myth of the Star of Bethlehem (Three kings following star to Jerusalem. Frank Zindler). Also covers what I believe as a theist and why.
(2) The myth of the myth of Mithras (Mithras, Horus, Krishna crucified. 19th Century origins. Acharya S, Bill Maher, Stephen Fry)
(3) The myth of Diabolical Mimicry (Freke and Gandy, Dr Robert M Price)
(4) The myth of the Celestial Jesus (Richard Carrier's OHJ)

The theme of the Youtube podcast is that some popular ideas about some myths are wrong. For example, there is a popular myth that there were three kings who followed a star to Jerusalem. It's an opportunity to explore where these ideas come from, discussing both the original myth and also the popular misconception. I'll be calling those popular misconceptions "myths", which isn't really a correct usage of the word. I'll talk a bit more about this in the first podcast, where I will define modern myths "as memes in story form."

The fourth Youtube podcast will be about Dr Carrier's book. I've gone through his arguments and have collected my notes on them. The draft script below and in upcoming threads will contain the results. The podcast will have six sections, outlined below. The first three are in this thread. Section 4 I will split into three separate threads. Section 5 will be one thread. Section 6 will contain a look at nearly all of Carrier's arguments that he uses in his odds calculations that support mythicism, which means an additional seven threads.

So by the end of this project, unless I lose interest, I will be starting another 11 threads on Carrier's arguments from his book. I apologise in advance for the Carrier overload! Note that I'm not in any hurry to put these up, though I want them all up before the Second Edition of OHJ is released. I do have notes for all the threads but there is a bit of work involved in writing them up.

I'll be interested in people's feedback of my draft. If there is anything unclear or wrong, please don't hesitate to let me know.

Thank you!
Last edited by GakuseiDon on Sat Mar 18, 2023 2:34 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Review of Carrier's OHJ, Part 1 of 12: Sections 1 thru 3, What I liked and didn't like

Post by GakuseiDon »

Prologue script:

Hi, welcome to MYTH ADVENTURE, where I discuss myths old and new.

In this video I'll deep-dive into Dr Richard Carrier's 2014 book "On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt." This is a terribly argued book with many bad misreadings of sources. His analysis of Second Century Christian writer Ignatius is laughably bad, as I will demonstrate. But there are also things to like about the book. I see the book as important in that it highlights the failure of the historical Jesus position in mainstream academia, as I'll explain in this video.

This review is in six Sections:

Section 1: An outline of OHJ.

Section 2: What I liked about OHJ.

Section 3: What I disliked about OHJ.

Section 4: Three blatantly bad misreadings that seriously undermine his Minimal Mythicist position:
1. Epiphanius's "Nazoreans who believed Christ lived around 70 BCE""
2. Ascension of Isaiah's "Jesus was killed in the air"
3. Plutarch's Osiris who "incarnated in the air and was killed"

Section 5: Issue with his general approach using Bayes Theorem for comparing Minimal Historicity and Minimal Mythicism, as typified by his use of the Rank-Raglan reference class. And no, I won't be looking at the scoring for his Rank-Raglan reference class, nor trying to fit Donald Trump or Harry Potter into the reference class! The problem is more fundamental than that as I'll explain

Section 6: I'll examine all his arguments where he has scored mythicism over historicism when calculating his final odds.

SECTION 1: AN OUTLINE OF "On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt".

In 2014, Carrier published "On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt", a peer-reviewed book published by Sheffield Phoenix Press. As Carrier writes in his Preface, this book is actually the second of two volumes that looks at whether there is a case to be made that Jesus never really existed as a historical person.

The first volume, "Proving history : Bayes's theorem and the quest for the historical Jesus" was published in 2012 by Prometheus Books. The aim of "Proving History" is to develop a formal historical method for approaching questions of history which will produce as objectively credible a conclusion as any honest historian can reach. Carrier explains that the criteria used by modern Biblical scholars on questions regarding a historical Jesus and their employment are fatally flawed. As Carrier notes, he is not the first one to come to this conclusion. He cites experts in the field who have seriously studied the issue that have also come to this conclusion. As a consequence, the quest for the historical Jesus has failed spectacularly.

To quote Carrier [SLIDE]: "Historians need solid and reliable methods. Their arguments must be logically valid and factually sound. Otherwise, they're just composing fiction or pseudo-history. Much has been written on the method and logic of historical argument. And yet, though none of it is aware of the fact, all of it could be reduced to a single conclusion: all valid historical reasoning is described by Bayes's Theorem (or BT). What that is, and why it matters, is the subject of this chapter. That it models all valid historical methods will be demonstrated in the next chapter. In simple terms, Bayes's Theorem is a logical formula that deals with cases of empirical ambiguity, calculating how confident we can be in any particular conclusion, given what we know at the time."

Carrier then explains how Bayes Theorem can be used in questions of historicity. I will be referring back to "Proving History" several times while I examine the arguments in Carrier's second book, "On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt".

While "Proving History" explores the question of how best to evaluate questions of history, Carrier's OHJ lays out his case for examining the question of the historicity of Jesus. As Carrier explains, the aim of "OHJ" is to advance the debate on historicity by surveying the most relevant evidence for and against the historicity of Jesus, with the fewest unnecessary assumptions, testing the simplest theories of historicity and myth against one another. The book is intended to be only to beginning, not the end, of a proper debate. Carrier wants to see a scholarly and constructive debate develop that will advance the entire dis­cussion, resolving matters of methodology if nothing else, but hope­fully also making a clear, objectively defensible case either for or against the historicity of Jesus, one that all reasonable experts can agree is sound.

The two simplest theories of historicity and myth that Carrier will analysis via Bayes Theorem are the following:

The Minimal Theory of Historicity:

Three minimal facts on which historicity rests: (page 34)

1. An actual man at some point named Jesus acquired followers in life who continued as an identifiable movement after his death.
2. This is the same Jesus who was claimed by some of his followers to have been executed by the Jewish or Roman authorities.
3. This is the same Jesus some of whose followers soon began worship­ing as a living god (or demigod).

The Minimal Jesus Myth Theory:

Distilling all of this down to its most basic principles we get the follow­ing set of propositions: (page 53)

1. At the origin of Christianity, Jesus Christ was thought to be a celestial deity much like any other.
2. Like many other celestial deities, this Jesus 'communicated' with his subjects only through dreams, visions and other forms of divine inspi­ration (such as prophecy, past and present).
3. Like some other celestial deities, this Jesus was originally believed to have endured an ordeal of incarnation, death, burial and resurrection in a supernatural realm.
4. As for many other celestial deities, an allegorical story of this same Jesus was then composed and told within the sacred community, which placed him on earth, in history, as a divine man, with an earthly family, companions, and enemies, complete with deeds and sayings, and an earthly depiction of his ordeals.
5. Subsequent communities of worshipers believed (or at least taught) that this invented sacred story was real (and either not allegorical or only 'additionally' allegorical).

To construct his Bayesian argu­ment, Carrier sets out all the applicable background knowledge that will affect our estimates of prior and consequent probability for his hypotheses, first from the established history of Christianity and its origins, and then everything else pertaining to its historical context and comparable phenomena in other contexts. He then determines the consequent probability of all the evidence on each hypothesis, by breaking the evidence down into four cat­egories and treating each separately but cumulatively. Those four categories are:

1. Extrabiblical evidence:
2. Evidence of Acts
3. Evidence of the Gospels
4. Evidence of the Epistles

He breaks down each category into individual items for investigation, to which he supplies a range consisting of "best odds for historicity" and "worst odds for historicity". At the end of OHJ, he calculates the final odds for both, which resolve to:

Best odds for historicity: 32%. That is, the odds Jesus existed are about 1 in 3.
Worst odds for historicity: 0.008%. That is, the odds Jesus existed are less than 1 in 12,000.

Last edited by GakuseiDon on Sat Mar 18, 2023 2:49 am, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: Review of Carrier's OHJ, Part 1 of 12: Sections 1 thru 3, What I liked and didn't like

Post by GakuseiDon »

SECTION 2: WHAT I LIKED ABOUT OHJ

Carrier makes many valid points against the criteria used by modern Biblical scholars in "Proving History", and convincingly argues for the adoption of a Bayes Theorem approach as an important tool to investigate questions of history. "OHJ" is very well laid out for that purpose. The Background Knowledge sections provide a lot of details that become useful when Carrier starts examining individual items within his four categories. This approach may well be Carrier's legacy in the field of historical studies.

As Carrier writes, the books are intended to be the start of the debate over historicity. He invites readers to calculate their own odds and thereby join in on the discussion.

The one thing that struck me about OHJ was that Carrier is the first scholar that I've read who has actually defined a Minimal Theory of Historicity. This highlights an important factor that underlines the failure of any current reconstructions of a historical Jesus: the validity of the assumptions on which modern Biblical scholars build those reconstructions. For example, that oral traditions were involved in building the Gospels, or that the criteria are valid in the first place. It's not even that these assumptions are necessarily wrong, but that they need to be validated in the first place before they can be used. I'm not aware that this work has been done.

Carrier's book has put a line in the sand that needs a response on the historicist side. Something similar to Carrier's book is required: a book presenting a Historical Jesus Theory, showing the background knowledge being used in evaluation and how they fit into building the case for the Historical Jesus Theory. This hasn't been done, and on this score, Carrier's book clearly is the only one on the table in this debate.



SECTION 3: WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE ABOUT OHJ

Carrier's OHJ is badly argued and he displays a mind-numbingly bad analyses of passages in the texts he uses in his four categories. He misunderstands sources and he misreads scholars' references to those sources as I will show in Section 4. I've followed his work in his blogs on Freethoughtblogs.com and his website for many years, and it is staggering how many times he misreads sources, whether they are ancient writers or modern scholars. OHJ follows the same pattern. The simple rule is: always check Carrier's references to sources. Always!

Not that his poor arguments necessarily make him wrong. Him being wrong makes him wrong, as I'll show in Section 4. As I go through his arguments, I'll divide my responses into two categories: (1) Wrong, (2) Push-back. The latter means he may not necessarily be wrong, but his argument is weak and more information from him is required.

So, who am I to be making these kinds of comments? Dr Carrier has a PhD in a relevant subject, he's studied the ancient languages used in the texts being reviewed, and he's been published in peer-reviewed journals.

I'm a nobody. I'm not a Christian so I have no metaphysical stake in the question of historicity, but I have no academic achievements in any relevant field to Bible or History studies. I know nothing about the ancient languages involved. So who should you trust when reading analyses of those ancient texts, Dr Carrier or me? Obviously it's Dr Carrier. However, if I can successfully demonstrate in the next Section that I'm right about the three key texts involved while Dr Carrier is wrong, I hope that might provide a little credibility on my behalf for the rest of this review.

As others have pointed out, Dr Carrier divides his critics into two groups: critics who have no relevant qualifications are called Incompetent Dishonest Liars. Critics who have qualifications are called Insane. I expect to be placed in the Incompetent Dishonest Liar reference class.

OHJ has long meandering arguments. It suffers from the same problem as Carrier's blog on www.richardcarrier.info. He'll raise a point, then throw in three barely (if that) relevant points, before returning to his original point with a conclusion. While this is expected in blog format, given it's more stream-of-consciousness immediacy, it makes OHJ look very sloppy. I wonder how much clearer and more compelling his arguments might have been if he had had a stricter editor.

Carrier also tends to over-egg the pudding with his conclusions. Recently he was criticised for stating that "Philo of Alexandria tells us... There was a pre-Christian Jewish belief in a celestial being actually named "Jesus"" [SLIDE]. Philo actually didn't tell us that. To Carrier's credit, he did later walk that back. But he does the same thing twice more in OHJ, on important texts that he uses for his Background Knowledge. Both those examples are in the next Section. I don't know whether they represent sloppiness of research or sloppiness of expression.

I'll continue Section 4 in a new thread.

Comments and criticisms are welcome, though the first three Sections are really just about setting up the review. Actual investigation of Carrier's arguments will be in Sections 4 thru 6, which will be appearing in separate threads.
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Re: Review of Carrier's OHJ, Part 1 of 12: Sections 1 thru 3, What I liked and didn't like

Post by Giuseppe »

I note that you place Carrier's view (and by extension the entire list of the his precursors), among other theories that, objectively, are not even worthy of being compared to Carrier's view:
GakuseiDon wrote: Sat Mar 18, 2023 2:27 am (1) The myth of the myth of the Star of Bethlehem (Three kings following star to Jerusalem. Frank Zindler). Also covers what I believe as a theist and why.
(2) The myth of the myth of Mithras (Mithras, Horus, Krishna crucified. 19th Century origins. Acharya S, Bill Maher, Stephen Fry)
(3) The myth of Diabolical Mimicry (Freke and Gandy, Dr Robert M Price)
(4) The myth of the Celestial Jesus (Richard Carrier's OHJ)
This holds true also for Bob Price's theory of Christianity as "Gnosticism [he means: anti-demiurgism] historicized": why do you place such serious views "among the evildoers" ? :scratch:
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Re: Review of Carrier's OHJ, Part 1 of 12: Sections 1 thru 3, What I liked and didn't like

Post by Giuseppe »

Giuseppe wrote: Sat Mar 18, 2023 8:07 am Also covers what I believe as a theist and why.
I fear that I have already the answer. :roll:
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Re: Review of Carrier's OHJ, Part 1 of 12: Sections 1 thru 3, What I liked and didn't like

Post by GakuseiDon »

Giuseppe wrote: Sat Mar 18, 2023 8:07 am I note that you place Carrier's view (and by extension the entire list of the his precursors), among other theories that, objectively, are not even worthy of being compared to Carrier's view:
Fair point. The connection is that (1) these are all topics that I've argued about, and (2) they involve modern day distortions of ancient myths. So Carrier fits in there. The names (Bill Maher, Dr Price, etc) are just my notes about slides and videos being used and nothing to do with the persons named.
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Re: Review of Carrier's OHJ, Part 1 of 12: Sections 1 thru 3, What I liked and didn't like

Post by MrMacSon »

My recommended additions and subtraction:
GakuseiDon wrote: Sat Mar 18, 2023 2:30 am
SECTION 1: AN OUTLINE OF "On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt".


In 2014, Carrier published "On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt", through Sheffield Phoenix Press. As Carrier writes in its Preface, this book is actually the second of two volumes that looks at whether there is a case to be made that Jesus never really existed as a historical person.

The first volume, "Proving history : Bayes's theorem and the quest for the historical Jesus" was published in 2012 by Prometheus Books. The aim of "Proving History" is to develop a formal historical method for approaching questions of history which will produce as objectively credible a conclusion as any honest historian can reach. Carrier explains that the criteria used by modern Biblical scholars on questions regarding a historical Jesus and their employment are fatally flawed. As Carrier notes, he is not the first one to come to this conclusion. He cites experts in the field who have seriously studied the issue that have also come to this conclusion. As a consequence, the quest for the historical Jesus has failed spectacularly.

To quote Carrier [SLIDE]: "Historians need solid and reliable methods. Their arguments must be logically valid and factually sound. Otherwise, they're just composing fiction or pseudo-history. Much has been written on the method and logic of historical argument. And yet, though none of it is aware of the fact, all of it could be reduced to a single conclusion: all valid historical reasoning is described by Bayes's Theorem (or BT). What that is, and why it matters, is the subject of this chapter. That it models all valid historical methods will be demonstrated in the next chapter. In simple terms, Bayes's Theorem is a logical formula that deals with empirical ambiguity, calculating how confident we can be in any particular conclusion, given what we know at the time."

Carrier then explains how Bayes Theorem can be used in questions of historicity. I will be referring back to "Proving History" several times while I examine the arguments in Carrier's second book, "On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt".

While "Proving History" explores the question of how best to evaluate questions of history, Carrier's OHJ lays out his case for examining the question of the historicity of Jesus. As Carrier explains, the aim of "OHJ" is to advance the debate on historicity by surveying the most relevant evidence for and against the historicity of Jesus, with the fewest unnecessary assumptions, testing the simplest theories of historicity and myth against one another. The book is intended to be only to beginning, not the end, of a proper debate. Carrier wants to see a scholarly and constructive debate develop that will advance the entire dis­cussion, resolving matters of methodology if nothing else, but hope­fully also making a clear, objectively defensible case either for or against the historicity of Jesus, one that all reasonable experts can agree is sound.

The two simplest theories of historicity and myth that Carrier will analysis via Bayes Theorem are the following:

The Minimal Theory of Historicity:

Three minimal facts on which historicity rests: (page 34)

1. An actual man at some point named Jesus acquired followers in life who continued as an identifiable movement after his death.
2. This is the same Jesus who was claimed by some of his followers to have been executed by the Jewish or Roman authorities.
3. This is the same Jesus some of whose followers soon began worship­ing as a living god (or demigod).

The Carrier’s Minimal Jesus Myth Theory:

Distilling all of this down to its most basic principles we get the follow­ing set of propositions: (page 53)

1. At the origin of Christianity, Jesus Christ was thought to be a celestial deity much like any other.
2. Like many other [narrated] celestial deities, this Jesus [is said to have] ‘communicated' with his subjects only through dreams, visions and other forms of divine inspi­ration (such as prophecy, past and present).
3. Like some other celestial deities, this Jesus was originally believed to have endured an ordeal of incarnation, death, burial and resurrection in a supernatural realm.
4. As for many other celestial deities, an allegorical story of this same Jesus was then composed and told within the sacred community, which placed him on earth, in history, as a divine man, with an earthly family, companions, and enemies, complete with deeds and sayings, and an earthly depiction of his ordeals.
5. Subsequent communities of worshipers believed (or at least taught) that this invented sacred story was real (and either not allegorical or only 'additionally' allegorical).

To construct his Bayesian argu­ment, Carrier sets out all the applicable background knowledge that will affect our estimates of prior and consequent probability for his hypotheses, first from the established more/most commonly proposed history of Christianity and its origins, and then everything else pertaining to its alleged historical context and comparable phenomena in other contexts. He then determines the consequent probability of all the evidence on each hypothesis, by breaking the evidence down into four cat­egories and treating each separately but cumulatively. Those four categories are:

1. Extrabiblical evidence:
2. Evidence of Acts
3. Evidence of the Gospels
4. Evidence of the Epistles

He breaks down each category into individual items for investigation, to which he supplies a range consisting of "best odds for historicity" and "worst odds for historicity". At the end of OHJ, he calculates the final odds for both, which resolve to:

Carrier’s best odds for historicity: 32%. That is, the odds Jesus existed are about 1 in 3.
Carrier’s worst odds for historicity: 0.008%. That is, the odds Jesus existed are less than 1 in 12,000.


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Re: Review of Carrier's OHJ, Part 1 of 12: Sections 1 thru 3, What I liked and didn't like

Post by GakuseiDon »

Thanks for your input, MrMacSon! Much appreciated. I'll look to correct them in my notes.
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Re: Review of Carrier's OHJ, Part 1 of 12: Sections 1 thru 3, What I liked and didn't like

Post by mlinssen »

I don't understand why Carrier creates a list of 5 points which all are unsubstantiated assumptions and, AFAIK, not directly attests in any writing

Why doesn't he go by that which the Patristics say in addition to what can be found in the NT? Because that is the available evidence that we have
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Re: Review of Carrier's OHJ, Part 1 of 12: Sections 1 thru 3, What I liked and didn't like

Post by MrMacSon »

mlinssen wrote: I don't understand why Carrier creates a list of 5 points
  • It's a strongman exercise.

    Though it suit's Carrier's fundamrental belief that the Pauline epistles and the Synoptic Godspells were written when Christian apologists say they were ie. 40s-earltly 60s and 70s-90s, respectively
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