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OHJ – Carrier’s Response on Epiphanius and Adam

Richard Carrier has responded to a couple of my posts in a comment thread on his blog. I guess I should not be surprised that he thinks I am someone who,  “needs the truth to be different than it is, so they invent implausible conspiracy theories to explain how the evidence got the way that annoys them,” as that too often seems to be Richard’s default reaction to anyone who disagrees with him.

Nothing could be further from the truth, however. I don’t care at all what the outcome of my exploration here is. I’ve followed the Doherty thesis, and Richard’s blog, for years. At one point I was pretty gung-ho in favor of the thesis. My current stance has changed slightly to the negative; it is a hesitancy rather than a resistance, however. I would gladly accept it if I think it is warranted. That doesn’t mean I want to believe things that aren’t true in support of it.

I had been waiting to read On the Historicity of Jesus (OHJ) for a few years now. Because of that, I read it through in a handful of days after its arrival; there was no way I was going to go through it slowly and examine each claim. Now that the initial reading is done that is what I intend to do. The two items in question just happened to be among the handful I wanted to look into first, because I found them interesting.

Life of Adam and Eve (original post)

I’ll start with the Life of Adam and Eve and keep things simple. There is one passage in particular that seems to me to be conclusive; Adam (and Abel) were buried in the earth of our world. This passage is far from the only one in support of my view, but it is the most direct. Without an explanation of it I don’t see me changing my mind. You might say the consequent so favors my view that it would take a lot of evidence the other way to change the posterior, yet there are other passages pointing in the same direction.

Before I quote the passage I want to note that I’m not alone in my overall conclusion. As I noted in my original post it was the conclusion of the translator in “Life of Adam and Eve, A New Translation and Introduction” (1985), in JH Charlesworth, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Volume 2. Richard cites no one else supporting his take when he introduces the idea, and I haven’t been able to find anyone either.

So here goes:

40.3 When they finished preparing Adam, God said they should bear the body of Abel also. And they brought more linen and prepared him for burial. 
40.4 For he was unburied since the day when Cain his brother slew him; for Cain took great pains to conceal (him) but could not, for the body sprang up from the earth and a voice went out of the earth saying: 
40.5 “No other body can be covered until –with respect to the first creature who was taken from me — the earth from which he was taken is returned to me.” And the angels took at that moment and put him upon a rock until Adam, his father, was buried. 

Neither Cain nor Abel were ever in paradise, where ever it is located. The murder of Abel happened in our world. Cain tried to conceal Abel’s body in our world. Variant readings replace conceal with bury but it should already be clear that is what is meant by conceal when it says the body sprang from the earth. Then that earth said,“No other body can be covered until –with respect to the first creature who was taken from me — the earth from which he was taken is returned to me.” 

On the face of it the consequent for a passage like that on the theory that Adam was taken from soil in the heavens is essentially zero. The only inference required is to realize Cain and Abel were never in paradise and therefore this speaking earth has to be of our world. Hardly a stretch.

Richard’s Highlights

As for the parts Richard highlights in his response they don’t actually support his theory. The angels are told to go the third heaven and “carry away” three cloths. Go to, as in somewhere you aren’t right now, as in they aren’t in the third heaven. Carry away, as in away from the third heaven where they were just sent to get the cloths. Somehow Richard missed my comments to that effect? Pseudepigrapha has “and bring me” fine linen cloths. Why he thinks this supports the notion Adam was in the third heaven is beyond me.  

Then Richard highlights the passage that says to bear the body of Abel as well. Yes, but bear him where exactly? That is not evidence for his view. Then he conveniently skips highlighting the passage I gave above since it would give away the game. In the final highlighted section is a statement to bear up the body of Abel to paradise. Unlike Richard I did at least acknowledge that ‘up’ might be against my view but it turns out that might not have been necessary. I should have checked back with Pseudepigrapha which only has “and both were buried according to the
command of God in the regions of Paradise in the place from which God had  found the dust”. No ‘up’. Since I’m saying there was an earthly paradise (and other sections of the book require that to be the case) this isn’t a problem.

Now I welcome an explanation for the 40:3-40:6 passage, but I don’t see what it is, nor what it could be. So by all means enlighten me, but there are several other passages which I highlighted that point in the same direction, and an entire story line that requires Adam to have been in an earthly paradise at some point. I can mention all that later if an explanation of this passage is forthcoming. For now I’m sticking with what the scholar other than Richard has said. There are two scenes, one dealing with Adam’s soul which gets sent to the third heaven, and another dealing with his burial on earth.

Epiphanius (original post)

Richard’s complaint that the Talmud confirms the belief that Jesus lived under Jannaeus is not relevant to my post. He clearly says in his book, “Epiphanius then says a curious thing: these Christians say Jesus had live and died in the time of Alexander Jannaeus. This is what he says they preach:” He then quotes the passage I gave in the original post and goes on to say (in reference to the Talmud passages about Jesus under Jannaeus), “the Jews east of the Roman Empire (where this Talmud was compiled, assembled from the third to fifth centuries) were reacting to this Nazorian Christianity.”

The claim that Epiphanius was ascribing views to the Nazorians is completely separate from the (correct) claim that the Talmud mentions a Jesus living under Jannaeus. If the Epiphanius claim is wrong, it is wrong! That something similar appears in the Talmud doesn’t suddenly make it right. Or is Richard perhaps “invent[ing] implausible conspiracy theories to explain how the evidence got the way that annoys” him?

Let’s be clear here. The passage Richard quotes in the book does not say anywhere that it is describing the views of the Nazorians. Neither does any other portion of Chapter 29 of the Panarion. Richard cites no scholarship in support of his claim nor does he advance any argument whatsoever in its favor. Even in his blog response he provides no evidence, only a plea for a low prior probability. But we need to look at the evidence Richard!

What is the prior probability Epiphanius would make a non-orthodox apologetic? Well in one location he says Jesus was born in a cave so it does happen, but let’s be as generous, absurdly generous, as possible here. Let’s give P(h), the probability Epiphanius is stating the Jannaeus claim himself, a very low value 0.01.

Now what is our evidence ‘like’. It lacks certain things like any mention the Nazorians are the source of what he writes about Jannaeus, and any correction of the claim. I haven’t read all of the Panarion but I did sample a handful of chapters  and I found no instances where both of those things were missing. We don’t want to be too harsh here so lets be absurdly generous and say that 10% of the time Epiphanius tells us a belief of a group without mentioning he is telling us a belief of the group and without correcting their erroneous view. Of course those items will always be missing if he is stating the claim for himself, so:

So P(h)=0.01, P(~h)=.99, P(e|h) = 1.00, P(e|~h)=0.1 for a posterior of 0.0917. 

So that’s what the passage doesn’t have, what about what it does have? Well it does have a direct statement of what Epiphanius is responding to! It is a hypothetical challenge a skeptic might make.

2:5 But probably someone might say, ‘Since Christ was physically born of David’s seed, that is, of the Holy Virgin Mary, why is he not sitting on David’s throne? For the Gospel says, ‘They came that they might anoint him king, and when Jesus perceived this he departed … and hid himself in Ephraim, a city of the wilderness.’ ‘

2:6 But now that I have gotten to this passage and am asked about this text and the reason why the prophecy about sitting on David’s throne has not been fulfilled physically in the Saviour’s case—for some have thought that it has not—I shall still say that it is a fact. No word of God’s holy scripture comes to nothing.

Immediately ! following  is the passage Richard quotes in the book. I have to wonder, did Richard even read the entire chapter here or did he just go fishing for the part he needed for his “case”?

So how often do you supposed Epiphanius would introduce a passage that’s supposed to describe the beliefs of the Nazorians but instead frame it as an answer to a hypothetical skeptic? And not only that but specifically say that it is he, Epiphanius, that will still say it is a fact! Zero? Nada? Zilch? None? Negative four? I mean really! Let’s be preposterously generous and say he’ll do something that idiotic 1/10th as often as he would if he, rather than the Nazorians, is saying it. Using the outcome of the previous calculation for this round’s prior we have:

P(h)=0.09, P(~h)=.0.91, P(e|h) = 1.00, P(e|~h)=0.1 for a posterior of 0.5. 

Well look at that, even being insanely generous things are coming out dead even. But we aren’t done yet.

If Epiphanius is ascribing this view to the Nazorians, how often do you think he will repeat in another chapter, in the middle of giving his own timeline of the birth of Jesus, the strange statements about Jannaeus and Alexandra, and even cite the same exact scripture as being fulfilled by their “ceasing” and Jesus being born? Again, nada? Zilch-o? Let’s be embarrassingly generous to Richard here (I’m feeling sorry for him for not bothering to investigate the source he used) and again say he’ll do it 1/10th as often.

P(h)=0.5, P(~h)=.0.5, P(e|h) = 1.00, P(e|~h)=0.1

And the answer is…. 91% in favor of my hypothesis.

Now, to be fair, I haven’t evaluated Richard’s evidence yet, but that’s because he hasn’t given any! Not in the book. Not in the form of a citation. And, not in his blog response. He appeals only to a low prior which I incorporated above and easily overcame. There is no other conclusion I can come to other than Richard is wrong here.

There is one final piece of info I’ve left out. I started out only giving my hypothesis a 1% prior. However, as I noted in the original post, Epiphanius also included this gem as part of a defense of Mary’s perpetual virginity, in his Chapter 78 (7)

Joseph was the brother of Clopas, but the son of Jacob surnamed Panther; both of these brothers were the sons of the man surnamed Panther.

Well what do you know, surname Panther, from the Jewish polemic against Jesus. (Naw, that’s just crazy conspiracy talk right? To heck with that evidence stuff.) So, we can clearly see 1% is far too low for the prior probability that Epiphanius would make unorthodox apologetic claims. I won’t go back and account for that. The evidence is already enough as it is, but keep this in mind lest anyone wants to gainsay the generous estimates I’ve given above.

 Ball’s in Your Court

Now I’ve had a bit of fun above, but in the end I’m more than happy to be shown to be wrong. I just don’t want to accept faulty or un-evidenced claims. It is going to take more than knee-jerk slanders on my character and motivations, and shoddy reading of source materials however.

Series Navigation<< OHJ – Was Adam Buried in Heaven?OHJ – Missing Extrabiblical Evidence >>
Notes:
1. OHJ p.281
2. OHJ P.282
OHJ p.281
OHJ P.282

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