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OHJ – Carrier’s Response on Epiphanius and Adam

This entry is part 7 of 11 in the series On the Historicity of Jesus

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.

OHJ p.281
OHJ P.282

OHJ – Extrabiblical Evidence – Twin Traditions – Part 1

This entry is part 4 of 11 in the series On the Historicity of Jesus

I was going to post some references Richard Carrier uses in On the Historicity of Jesus (OHJ) to provide a model of the mythical Jesus belief. Instead I’m just going to jump ahead and start looking at some of the later chapters. Chapters 4 and 5 are rather lengthy chapters that supply background knowledge. That is, things you need to know about early Christianity and the surrounding culture at the time. Chapter 6 is devoted to determining a prior probability for historicity as briefly mentioned in the second post of this series. Chapter 7 is a cataloging of what different types of evidence are relevant to examine. Chapter 8 begins the examination of the evidence by looking at evidence outside the New Testament canon (i.e. extrabiblical evidence), the first part of which I’ll be looking at here.

This first section of Chapter 8 is titled ‘Jesus When?’ and discusses a few traditions about Jesus with oddly variant details. He mentions in passing the conflicting dates of Jesus’ birth in the canonical gospels. Also, mentioned is 2nd century church father Irenaeus’ belief that Jesus had been crucified under Claudius instead of Tiberius.

The primary focus however is on a tradition that Jesus had lived during the time of Alexander Jannaeus who was the king of Judea from 103 BC to 76 BC. It is this discrepancy Carrier uses as a piece of evidence, which he counts against the historicity of Jesus (he thinks it is 2/1 against but allows that someone might adopt a smaller ratio like 5/4). His reasoning is that it must be easier, and therefore happen more often, to place a non-historical person in completely different time periods.

Carrier presents his case like this: he says Epiphanius, a 4th century bishop and heresiologist, documents a Jewish-Christian sect called the Nazorians and tells us they preached that Jesus had lived and died under Jannaeus (OHJ p. 281-82). Carrier goes on to say that the Babylonian Talmud of the Jews confirms this belief and appears to know no other view.

As far as I can tell Carrier has things wrong here. Epiphanius is not reporting the beliefs of any Jewish-Christian sect. He doesn’t directly say he is reporting what someone else has said, like I found he often does in other chapters when reporting a heresy he knows of. He doesn’t voice any disapproval which he usually does, often with very colorful, insulting language. Nor does he offer a corrective. Instead, to me, it reads as if he has simply gone off on a series of digressions, as he frequently does, and landed on the Jesus under Jannaeus thing as an apologetic response to a question that ‘someone might say’.

I’ll just quote the beginning of the relevant chapter (29) from the book in question, Panarion, copied from this site only for convenience (and not as endorsement of its subject matter which is Gerald Massey). I can’t speak to any issues regarding translation but there seem to be some differences between Carrier’s translation and the Frank Williams translation published by Brill. In the below quotation only the paragraph noted as such is in OHJ.

Epiphanius - Panarion - Chapter 29
Part 29. Epiphanius Against the Nazoraeans

Introduces the sect he’ll be discussing (eventually!)

1:1 Next after these come the Nazoraeans, at the same time as they or even before them—either together with them or after them, in any case their contemporaries. I cannot say more precisely who succeeded whom. For, as I said, these were contemporary with each other, and had ideas similar to each other’s.

1:2 For these people did not give themselves the name of Christ or Jesus’ own name, but that of ‘Nazoraeans.’

Explains that, per Acts 24:5, all Christians were initially called Nazoraeans. Also, mistakenly, thinks the Jessaeans Philo wrote about were another name for Christians

1:3 But at that time all Christians alike were called Nazoraeans. They also came to be called ‘Jessaeans’ for a short while, before the disciples began to be called Christians at Antioch.

Digresses to explain where the name Jessaeans comes from

1:4 But they were called Jessaeans because of Jesse, I suppose, since David was descended from Jesse and Mary was a lineal descendant of David. This was in fulfilment of sacred scripture, since in the Old Testament the Lord tells David, ‘Of the fruit of thy belly shall I set upon thy throne.’

Digresses to explain the ‘fruit of thy belly’ reference

2:1 I am afraid of drawing the treatment of every expression out too long [too late!] and so, though the truth moves me to touch on the considerations for contemplation in every expression, I give this note in brief, not to go to great length in giving the explanation.

2:2 Since the Lord said to David, ‘Of the fruit of thy belly shall I set upon the throne,’ and, ‘The Lord sware unto David and will not repent,’ it is plain that God’s promise is irrevocable.

2:3 In the first place, what does God have to swear by but ‘By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord?’—for ‘God hath no oath by a greater.’ The divine does not swear, however, but the statement has the function of providing confirmation. For the Lord swore to David with an oath that he would set the fruit of his belly upon his throne.

2:4 And the apostles bear witness that Christ had to be born of David’s seed, as our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ indeed was. I shall pass over the vast number of testimonies, in order, as I said, not to drag the discussion out to great length.

Who might say? Well, who knows? But, this is as good as place as any I guess for a random apologetic for a guy like Epiphanius.

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 [Umm, you asked yourself, but OK!] 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 [How very rational of you.]. No word of God’s holy scripture comes to nothing.

Here begins the part quoted in Carrier’s book and I’ll just use his translation (OHJ p. 282)

The priesthood in the holy church is [actually] David’s throne and kingly seat, for the Lord joined together and gave to his holy church both the kingly and high-priestly dignity, transferring to it the never-failing throne of David. For David’s throne endured in line of succession until the time of Christ himself, rulers from Judah not failing until he came ‘to whom the things kept in reserve belong, and he was the expectation of the nations’. With the advent of the Christ the rulers in line of succession from Judah, reigning until the time of Christ himself, ceased. For the line fell away and stopped from the time when he was born in Bethlehem of Judea under Alexander, who was of priestly and royal race. From Alexander onward this office ceased – from the days of Alexander and Salina, who is also called Alexandra, to the days of Herod the king and Augustus the Roman emperor. and now back to the previous translation to let Epiphanius finish his argument(Though this Alexander was crowned also, as one of the anointed priests and rulers.

3:5 For when the two tribes, the kingly and priestly, were united—I mean the tribe of Judah with Aaron and the whole tribe of Levi—kings also became priests, for nothing hinted at in holy scripture can be wrong.)

3:6 But then finally a gentile, King Herod, was crowned, and not David’s descendants any more.

3:7 But with the transfer of the royal throne the rank of king passed, in Christ, from the physical house of David and Israel to the church.

From there he goes on for another page, where at one point he references Pilate, before he finally gets back to the Jessaeans and another half page after that before finally getting back to the Nazorians, but only to discuss their name again. Eventually he gets around to telling us where they are located, that they followed the Hebrew Gospel, and otherwise only differed from Christians in that they are in reality Jews (i.e. they still follow the OT law).

I see nothing here to suggest the Nazorians were the ones preaching a Jesus under Jannaeus. It is bizarre, to be sure, for such an orthodox heresy hunter to be saying this but I don’t see any other way to understand what is written.

More Epiphanius
In addition to what I think is a plain reading of the text there is the fact that Epiphanius apparently repeats his claim later. See Panarion Ch. 51 22.20. I’ll include the text here also but instead copy/pasted from GRS Mead’s Did Jesus Live 100 BC?.

Epiphanius - Panarion - Chapter 51
“From the time that Augustus became Emperor, for four years, more or less, from [the beginning of] his reign, there had been friendship between the Romans and Jews, and contributions of troops had been sent, and a governor appointed, and some portion of tribute paid to the Romans, until Judaea was made [entirely] subject and became tributary to them, its rulers having ceased from Judah, and Herod being appointed [as ruler] from the Gentiles, being a proselyte, however, and Christ being born in Bethlehem of Judaea, and coming for the preaching [of the Gospel], the anointed rulers from Judah and Aaron having ceased, after continuing until the anointed ruler Alexander and Salina who was also Alexandra; in which days the prophecy of Jacob was fulfilled: ‘A ruler shall not cease from Judah and a leader from his thighs, until lie come for whom it is laid up, and he is the expectation of the nations’ –that is, the Lord who was born.”

So here we see the reference to Jannaeus again but this time in the midst some very clear statements (both before and after this passage) that place Jesus in the normal time-line. I would say it calls into question whether he is intending to place Jesus in the time of Jannaeus in the first place. At any rate, his repeating his confusing statements about Jannaeus here would seem to confirm he was not attributing them to the Nazorians earlier.

So just what the heck is going on here? Since there are very few commentaries on these passages that I could find I was reading GRS Mead’s Did Jesus Live 100 BC. He speculates that perhaps Epiphanius is trying to extinguish the Jewish polemic against Jesus by clumsily incorporating its data in his orthodox histories. He appears to have done it at least one other time in the Panarion, in a defense of Mary’s perpetual virginity.

Epiphanius - Panarion - 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.

Panther(Pandera) of course was part of the Jewish polemic against Jesus. They said his mother hooked up with a Roman soldier with that name. So here is Epiphanius trying to “explain away” the Jewish polemic by incorporating it into his orthodox narrative. (Or reusing Origen’s attempt to do so?) Perhaps he is doing the same with Jannaeus. That’s Mead’s hypothesis. Either way it appears the references to Jesus under Jannaeus are either an invention of Epiphanius or a response to the Jewish polemic against Jesus and not the beliefs of the Nazorians.

It is possible Carrier has surveyed all of this and has an argument as to why we should view it his way. That argument, however, is not advanced in the book and without it I have to conclude that Epiphanius cannot be called on as independent support of a “Twin Tradition” (especially not of one believed by a group of Christians).