This is part III of my review of Richard Carrier’s book, Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus. Chapter 4 of Proving History discusses how all valid historical methods represent different applications of Bayesian reasoning and that methods which contravene Bayes’s Theorem are unsound. Chapter 6 tackles deeper issues regarding the application and applicability of Bayes’s Theorem. In between these two chapters is the glorious Chapter 5. This chapter provides us with the author’s analysis of the criteria of authenticity, seemingly with the intention of demonstrating that 1) they are useless, and 2) Bayes’s Theorem should be employed instead. I myself am not a huge believer in the criteria of authenticity and I think that the criterion of embarrassment in particular can be far too easily abused. I would prefer to read historical Jesus studies which focus on other methods (such as Dale Allison’s Constructing Jesus which I mentioned in Part I). Though I do think that some criteria can be used beneficially; there is something good to be said about the cumulative weight of the criteria when applied to Jesus traditions.
The author begins with a brief look at the criterion of dissimilarity. He then launches into an approx. 45 page assessment of the embarrassment criterion, examining several Jesus traditions that have been supported as authentic due to this criterion. At one point the author says:
Quite simply, it’s inherently unlikely that any Christian author would include anything embarrassing in his Gospel account, since he could choose to include or omit whatever he wanted … In contrast, it’s inherently likely that anything a Christian author included in his account, he did so for a deliberate reason, to accomplish something he wanted, since that’s how all authors behave, especially those with a specific aim of persuasion. (134)
So an author would never include anything that could be viewed as embarassing?! Brilliant logic. I wonder if Carrier would be consistent and apply this principle to all ancient texts? Or should this piece of delicious logic only apply if it is a “Christian author”?
Carrying on from the previous quote:
… (and as we can plainly see, all the Gospel authors picked and chose and altered whatever suited them – even Mark excluded a vast amount of material found in Matthew, Luke, and John, so unless that was all fabricated after Mark, Mark left out quite a lot that would have been as available to him as it was to them). (134)
Unless that was all fabricated after Mark!? Of course a lot of it was fabricated! Sheesh. This displays the mindset of the author which I saw in a few places throughout the book: He approaches the biblical text like a fundamentalist!
A few pages later is another example of this fundamentalist approach to the biblical text (as well as his general lack of knowledge of biblical studies):
Religions frequently rally around apparently embarrassing yet entirely false myths, often in defiance of common sense. The Jews were no exception. Contrary to current assumption, the execution of their messiah was believed to have been predicted by Daniel (Daniel 9:26; even more clearly in the Greek), yet he was widely recognized as an inspired prophet of God. (137)
He restates the important part a little bit later as well:
The fact that the OT very clearly did predict the execution of the messiah (Daniel is explicit, and had already convinced the Jews of Qumran) likewise refutes Meier’s claim that OT support must have been for sought for after the fact. (139)
Carrier says that “the execution of their messiah was believed to have been predicted by Daniel (Daniel 9:26; even more clearly in the Greek)”, and that “the OT very clearly did predict the execution of the messiah (Daniel is explicit, and had already convinced the Jews of Qumran)”. Ummm, that’s the conclusion you would arrive at if you only read commentaries on Daniel by fundamentalists. If you read some more balanced literature, you will see that the “messiah” in 9:26 is Onias III. And it wasn’t understood by pre-Christian Jews as indicating that a future eschatological messiah would arrive on the scene and be executed.
Also, in a footnote to the first quote Carrier references 11QMelch ii.18 as making a connection between “the dying messiah of Daniel 9 to the suffering servant of Isaiah 52-53” and also points to a blog post of his which discusses this. No, the Qumran community did not connect a dying messiah of Daniel 9 to the suffering servant of Deutero-Isaiah. Carrier is wrong about a precedent for a dying messiah being found in 11QMelch. Of course, though, a lack of precedent does not necessarily mean that no one could have invented it. The tale of an eschatological messiah dying a shameful death that was ultimately redemptive could, in fact, have been invented without prior precedent. Though saying it is possible is not the same as saying it is plausible. And Carrier has utterly failed to show that it is a plausible hypothesis.
For anyone desiring to read a thorough refutation of Carrier’s nonsense about pre-Christian Jews already having a belief in a dying Messiah, then see Thom Stark’s lengthy (and humorous) postings here, here, here, and here. If you read those links you will also see more of Carrier’s gross incompetence when it comes to biblical studies, such as when Carrier says, “I also suspect the original meaning of “Christ prince” in [Daniel 9] verse 25, otherwise a strange construction, means two people, the Christ and the Prince, since those two are then mentioned together again in verse 26.” Yes, it is a strange construction if you know nothing about Hebrew.
More to come in Part IV…