OHJ – Was Adam Buried in Heaven?
The canonical books of the Old and New Testament are just a fraction of the religious literature that circulated in early Jewish and Christian circles. Some works were very popular and received wide distribution. The Life of Adam and Eve was one such book. It tells the story of Adam and Eve after they were expelled from the Garden of Eden including their deaths. I encourage everyone to read it as it is pretty interesting.
There are several (ancient) translations with variable tellings; the Greek (called the Apocalypse (Revelation) of Moses, and the Greek Life of Adam and Eve) and the Latin are the primary two. The composition dates of what we have now are not known with any certainty, but it is generally thought they are based on an original Hebrew version from the first century AD (or possibly even BC).
In On the Historicity of Jesus (OHJ) Richard Carrier cites the Apocalypse of Moses in support of his background knowledge Element 38 (the heavens were filled with structures and objects), and later in a footnote in the chapter covering the epistles. He makes the following references in Element 38.
note 97. Revelation of Moses 37.4-5; 40.1-2. This text is otherwise known as the Greek edition of the Life of Adam and Eve, an early-first-century Jewish document, possibly translating an even earlier account in Hebrew or Aramaic. …
note 105. Revelation of Moses 32-41 (esp. 32.4, 37-40); …
Reading M.D. Johnson, “Life of Adam and Eve, A New Translation and Introduction” (1985), in JH Charlesworth, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Volume 2, raises some question about the latter claim as Johnson thinks all the references to paradise but two mean the earthly paradise not the heavenly one. Perhaps he is wrong, and I certainly can’t translate the Greek myself, but some elements of the story, which I’ll review below, strongly suggest he is right.
I should say that in the bigger scheme of things this isn’t a huge deal. Carrier doesn’t lean heavily on this one citation. It should also be noted that this very popular story contains other intriguing parallels to the mythicist version of early Christianity. However, I have heard Carrier cite this idea of burial in heaven in other venues and it appears to me to be wrong.
Of special interest is the conception of soul and body, seen most clearly in the Greek text, in which at the death of Adam the soul is taken into the third heaven (ApMos 37) while the body is buried in the ground (ApMos 40). Restoration of full life waits the resurrection, when the soul and body will be reunited.
32.3 Even as Eve prayed on her knees behold, the angel of humanity came to her, and raised her up and said:
32.4 “Rise up, Eve, from your penitence, for behold, Adam your husband has gone out of his body. Rise up and behold his spirit borne aloft [to heaven] to meet his Maker.”
33.1 And Eve rose up and put her hand on the face (of Adam), and the angel said to her, “Lift up your hand from that which is of the earth.” [Adam’s body is “of the earth”, and she needs to let go of earthly things, so to speak, because everything she and Seth see through 37:6 is taking place in heaven. The first heaven it seems to me.]
33.2 And she gazed steadfastly into heaven, and beheld a chariot of light, borne by four bright eagles, (and) it was impossible for any man born of woman to tell the glory of them or behold their face and angels going before the chariot
33.3 and when they came to the place where your father Adam was [in the heavens], the chariot halted and the Seraphim were between the father and the chariot.
33.4 And I beheld golden censers and three bowls, and behold all the angels with censers and frankincense came in haste to the incense-offering and blew upon it and the smoke of the incense veiled the firmament.
33.5 And the angels fell down to God, crying aloud and saying, “JAEL, Holy One, have pardon, for he is Your image, and the work of Your holy hands.”
34.1 And then I Eve beheld two great and fearful mysteries before the presence of God and I wept for fear, and I cried aloud to my son Seth and said,
34.2 “Rise up, Seth, from the body of your father Adam [Seth has been looking at Adam’s body on earth while Eve was watching him in heaven], and come to me, and see a spectacle which no man’s eye has yet beheld and how they supplicate on behalf of your father, Adam.”
35.1 Then Seth arose and came to his mother and said to her: “Why do you weep?”
35.2 (And) she said to him: “Look up and see with your eyes the seven heavens opened, and see how the body of your father lies on its face and all the holy angels are praying on his behalf and saying: ‘Pardon him, Father of All, for he is Your image.'”
35.3 Pray, my child Seth, what shall this mean? And will he one day be delivered into the hands of our Invisible God?
35.4 But who are, my son Seth, the two [dark persons] who stand by at the prayers for your father?”
36.1 And Seth said to his mother, “They are the sun and moon and themselves fall down and pray on behalf of my father Adam.”
36.2 Eve said to him: “And where is their light and why have they taken on such a black appearance? ”
36.3 And Seth answered her, “The light has not left them, but they cannot shine before the Light of all things, the Father of Light; and on this account their light has been hidden.”
Assumption of Adam to Paradise
37.1 Now while Seth was saying this to his mother, behold, an angel blew the trumpet [still in heaven here], and all the angels who were lying on their faces rose up, and they cried aloud in an fearsome voice and said:
37.2 “Blessed (be) the glory of the Lord from the works of His making, for He has pitied Adam, the creature of His hands.”
37.3 But when the angels had said these words, behold, there came one of the seraphim with six wings and snatched up Adam and carried him off to the Acherusian lake [interesting tidbit: Johnson notes this is the river over which the dead must cross in Greek myth and that the angel Michael is said to wash repentant sinners here in the Apocalypse of Paul 22], and washed him thrice, and led him before God.
37.4 And he stayed there three hours, lying down, and thereafter the Father of all, sitting on his holy throne stretched out his hand, and took Adam and handed him over to the archangel Michael saying:
37.5 “Lift him up into paradise unto the third Heaven [God decides to have mercy and has Adam’s spirit taken from the first heaven to the third], and leave him there until that fearful day of my reckoning, which I will make in the world.”
37.6 Then Michael took Adam and left him where God told him [to the third heaven]. And all the angels sang an angelic hymn being amazed at the pardoning of Adam.
Adam and Abel’s Funerary Rites
38.1 But after this joyous event of Adam, the archangel Michael cried to the Father concerning Adam.
38.2 And the Father commanded him that all the angels should assemble before God, each in his order, some having censers in their hands, and others lyres, bowls and trumpets.
38.3 And behold, the Lord of Hosts entered and four winds drew Him and cherubim mounted on the winds and the angels from heaven escorting Him and they came on the earth, where was the body of Adam. [His spirit has been dealt with and now it is time to deal with his body]
38.4 And they came to paradise and all the leaves of paradise were stirred so that all men begotten of Adam slept [The offspring of Adam are on earth not in heaven; this is the earthly paradise God is entering.] from the fragrance save Seth alone, because he was born according to the appointment of God.
39.1 And God came to the body of Adam and grieved greatly over him and God said to him: “Adam, what is this you done? Had you kept my commandment, those who born you down to this place would not have rejoiced.
39.2 Yet, I tell you that I will turn their joy to grief and your grief will I turn to joy, and I will return you to your rule, and seat you on the throne of your deceiver.
39.3 But that one (the one who sat on it prior to his becoming arrogant) shall be cast into this place [Satan is going to be punished by being cast into the third heaven? No.]with that he may see you seated upon it. Then he himself shall be condemned along with those who obeyed him and he shall grieve when he see you sitting upon his throne.
40.1 Then God said to the archangel Michael: “Go away to Paradise in the third heaven [you don’t send someone to where they already are], and carry away [away, and back to earth] three fine linen clothes.”
40.2 And God said to Michael and to Gabriel and Uriel: “Spread out the clothes and cover the body [which has not been said to have been moved from earth] of Adam.” And they bore the sweet olive oil and poured it upon him. And the three great angels prepared him for burial.
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: [Cain tried to bury him but the body popped right out and the earth, certainly not in the third heaven, said:]
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. [Abel is being buried with Adam and up until now the earth would not accept him. What would be the point of saying this if the burial was taking place in heaven?]
40.6 And God commanded that after they had prepared the body of Abel for burial that they bear Abel up also to the area of paradise [Up could be important I suppose but, I think, the rest of the story shows it doesn’t mean to the third heaven] , to the spot where God had taken the earth and fashioned Adam [The same earth the voice came out of in 40:4-5, who said Adam was taken from it]. And God made them dig the spot for two.
40.7 And God sent seven angels to paradise and they brought many fragrant spices and placed them in the earth, and afterward they took the two bodies and placed them in the spot which they had dug and built (a sepulcher).
41.1 And God called and said, “Adam, Adam. “And the body answered from the earth and said: “Here am I, Lord.”
41.2 And God said to him: “I told you (that) earth you are and to earth shall you return.
41.3 Again I promise to you the Resurrection; I will raise you up in the Resurrection with every man, who is of your seed.”
42.1 After these words, God made a three-fold seal and sealed the tomb, that no one might do anything to him for six days [Who is going to do something to him in the third heaven?] till his rib should return to him.
42.2 Then the Lord and his angels went to their place [back to the heavens].
Eve’s Prayer to Join Adam
42.3 And Eve also, when the six days were fulfilled, fell asleep. But while she was living, she wept bitterly about Adam’s falling asleep, for she knew not where he was laid. For when the Lord came to paradise to bury Adam all were asleep [which would have been unnecessary if it had been happening in heaven] until he finished the burial of Adam except Seth alone. And no one knew (this) on the earth, except her son Seth.
42.4 And Eve prayed while weeping that she might be buried in the place where her husband Adam was. And after she had finished her prayer, she said:
42.5 “Lord, Master, God of all virtue, do not alienate me from the body of Adam, from whose members you made me.
42.6 But deem me worthy, even me who is unworthy and a sinner, to enter into his tabernacle. Just as I was with him in paradise, both of us not being separated from the other;
42.7 just as in our transgression, we were (both) led astray and transgressed your command, but were not separated, even so now, o Lord, do not separate us.”
42.8 But after she had prayed, she gazed heavenwards and groaned aloud and smote her breast and said: “God of All, receive my spirit,” and she delivered up her spirit [again, spirit up to heaven, body still on earth].
Eve’s Funeral and Epilogue
43.1 And Michael came and taught Seth how to prepare Eve for burial. And there came three angels and they bore her body and buried it where Adam and Abel’s bodies were.
43.2 And afterwards Michael spoke to Seth saying; “Lay out in this manner every man that dies until the day of the Resurrection.”
43.3 And after giving him this rule he said: “Mourn not beyond six days, but on the seventh day, rest and rejoice on it, because on that very day, God and we the angels rejoice with the righteous soul, who has passed away from the earth.”
43.4 After the angel said these things he ascended into heaven, glorifying (God) and saying: “Allelujah, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord, to the glory of God the Father, Amen.”
Adam Made in Heaven
Carrier mentions the Apocalypse of Moses again in a footnote in the chapter covering the epistles.
He has in mind here the statement in the Apocalypse of Moses that says Adam was buried in the same soil he was made from, which Carrier has said was in heaven. If I’m right though Adam was buried (and therefore made) on earth so this support evaporates.
OHJ – Extrabiblical Evidence – Twin Traditions – Part 1
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.
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.
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?.
“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.
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).
A Mathematics of History?
Before diving into the contents of Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus (OHJ) I need to say a bit about the method he uses to organize his conclusions. Prior to this book Carrier wrote a book called Proving History. It was entirely concerned with what methodology he would be using to answer the question of Jesus’s historicity. It included a primer on historical inquiry in general, a critique of the methods biblical scholars use to “extract” historical information about Jesus from the gospels, and a defense of using Bayes’ Theorem in historical inquiry.
Biblical scholars for some time have used various criteria which they claim allows them to separate the fictional elements of the gospels, added by the church, from the historical elements. Or, at least they claim it increases the likelihood that some element is historical. For example the criterion of embarrassment says if an element of the story would be embarrassing to the church it is not likely they would have invented it.
The criteria have come under strong criticism within the field. The logic of them often is not sound and scholars apply them in situations where they aren’t applicable, or apply them inconsistently. Indeed the history of their use is not very encouraging as each scholar who sets out to paint a picture of “the true historical Jesus” comes back with a different picture. Carrier cites a lot of this critical scholarship and adds his own critique. I’ll just give one example and summarize the analysis given by Carrier (which I agree with).
One of the supposed bedrock truths scholars have extracted from the gospels is that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. The criterion of embarrassment is invoked. Here is Jesus being portrayed as in some sense subordinate to John. In addition John’s baptism was for the remission of sin and wasn’t Jesus supposed to be without sin? Thus, the reasoning goes, this must have been something everyone knew about and it just couldn’t be avoided. Mark was written first and Matthew and Luke copied much of their material from him (often word for word, or nearly so). Matthew and Luke have tinkered with this story to make it less embarrassing.
It is a reasonable argument but there are several problems. The later gospel authors seem to have no compunction about altering stories to fit their agendas. They omit elements when it suits them. Why would Mark be any different? If he was embarrassed by this story why did he include it in the first place? In fact Mark shows no signs of embarrassment at all in telling this story. Let’s not forget that Mark was written roughly 35 years after Jesus would have lived. So are we to imagine the story of Jesus being baptized by John circulated for three and a half decades and no one noticed it was embarrassing? No one had already tinkered with the story before it reached Mark (and thus he would have already been reporting the apologetic in his gospel)? Suddenly, after Mark wrote his gospel, everyone finally noticed it was embarrassing and scrambled to explain it!
When you think it through it is a rather silly scenario. In fact, the actual sequence of events suggests quite the opposite of what the biblical scholars have concluded. Mark being completely unembarrassed by the story followed by signs of embarrassment after Mark wrote suggests that no one had heard the story before because Mark invented it! Either that or it simply wasn’t embarrassing to those that came before, but if that is case the criterion of embarrassment doesn’t apply!
I’ve gone one far longer than I intended so I’ll just leave it at that. I’ll just say I think Carrier, and the critics from within the field, have successfully called into question the validity of criteria based methods.
The challenge facing anyone examining a complex historical scenario is this. Each individual artifact or document could have had several causes and in most cases you cannot rule out all but one of them. So how do you evaluate your overall thesis if each piece of evidence only partially supports it? Also, it will often be the case that some pieces of evidence are more likely on one theory but other pieces suggest another (while not ruling out the first one). Clearly what is needed is some way to state how much weight each piece of evidence carries, and by how much it favors one theory over another. Finally, there needs to be some way to combine those individual judgments in a fair and rigorous fashion.
That’s where Bayes’ Theorem comes in. Bayes’ Theorem is an equation in probability theory specifically geared towards comparing one hypothesis with another (or, rather, one hypothesis with its negation). If we can state our evaluations of the evidence in terms of probabilities (or ratios of probabilities) then we can use Bayes’ Theorem to combine them, giving us a number at the end that states how likely it is the theory we are considering is the cause of the evidence we have. Obviously that number is entirely dependent on how sound our evaluations were but at least it gives us a principled way to combine them while at the same time allowing others to see how we’ve weighted the evidence.
Carrier defends the use of Bayes’ Theorem in Proving History and responds to most of the common objections people advance. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on that material. I think it is an interesting subject and I may discuss it during the course of this series but for now I think it is enough to say that using Bayes’ Theorem seems reasonable enough. In OHJ Carrier simply tallies how strongly he thinks a piece of evidence favors one theory or the other, e.g. 5/4 in favor of mythicism, or 1/1 if it doesn’t favor either, etc. To combine them one simply multiplies the individual factors together to get a final ratio that tells you which theory is indicated by the evidence and how strongly.
So what do those ratios represent? I like to think of it in terms of the scientific method we all learned in school. The idealized scientific method is often presented as hypothesize, enumerate predictions, gather data, reach conclusions. The ratios represent the ‘enumerate predictions’ part of this picture. What we are doing is taking a hypothesis as a given, i.e. assuming it is true, and then asking ‘of all the possible worlds that could result with this hypothesis being true, what percentage of them will contain the piece of evidence we are evaluating?’ Then we do the same for the hypothesis we are comparing it to (or the combination of all hypotheses that aren’t the first one). Dividing the first by the second gets us our ratio. So if our ratio is 2/1 in favor of historicity, for example, we are saying a historical Jesus will produce the evidence twice as often as a mythical one will.
It should be noted that there is a certain level of generality involved here. If examining a document for instance, we aren’t asking how often that specific document with exactly the words it contains will arise. We are asking instead about general features of the document. Carrier mounts a defense of this approach in Proving History and I think it is generally sound, however I would point out it introduces another place where subjectivity can enter the picture. Which features are important and which features can be abstracted away?
There is one more feature of Bayes’ Theorem that must be mentioned. When you use it you must estimate the prior probability of the hypothesis you are testing. That is, before you even begin looking at evidence how likely is your hypothesis, based on your more general knowledge of the world? Carrier uses a scale, developed by Rank and Raglan, of traits often found in hero tales, on which Jesus scores very high. Though historical people sometimes have several of the traits, that arise in legends about them, no historical individuals score nearly as high as Jesus and the high scoring mythical beings. From this Carrier justifies starting with a prior probability that Jesus was historical of 33% (i.e. 1 in 3, or 2/1 against).
I’m not going to examine the issue of prior probability very closely at the moment. Nor will I be relying on his 33% estimate. The more important question is which hypothesis does the evidence favor, and by how much? If the evidence favors one hypothesis much more strongly than the other, then it won’t really matter much what prior you started with; it will be overwhelmed by the evidence. If the evidence is fairly close, then determination of the prior will become more important and can be pursued then.
How Did Christianity Begin?
Biblical scholars and historians have established beyond the shadow of a doubt that the Jesus of faith, as described in the New Testament, is more myth than history. Was there an actual person, however, that inspired the tales? This series of posts examines one historian’s case, published by an academic press specializing in biblical scholarship, that maybe there wasn’t. That historian is Richard Carrier and the book is On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt (OHJ) (also available through Amazon).
The idea Jesus didn’t exist enjoys very little support within academics, however, not none. In 2012 respected Biblical scholar Thomas Brodie published his memoirs where he revealed he hadn’t thought there was a historical Jesus since the 1970’s. As his Wikipedia entry details, the Catholic church wasn’t too happy about it.
There is also Thomas Thompson a scholar who helped to overturn the notion that the Biblical patriarchs, like Abraham, were historical individuals. He has adopted an agnostic stance with regards to a historical Jesus. His view is that, whether or not there was a historical Jesus, there is no need to refer to him to explain the documents of early Christianity we have. The cultural setting and theological agendas of the Biblical authors are enough.
Robert Price is certainly more than qualified to have an opinion on the subject, with two relevant PhDs, and having participated in such venues as the Jesus Seminar. In his The Christ-Myth Theory and Its Problems he details how just about every bit of the Gospels appears to be derived from stories in the Old Testament, retold about Jesus. That being the case what need is there to propose a historical Jesus? On this basis, among others, Price thinks it unlikely there was such a person.
There are a couple of others that could be included in the agnostic camp but that’s about it (that we know of). There is however at least one scholar who, despite thinking there was a historical Jesus, sees value in discussing the notion of a mythical Jesus openly in the field.
Given the otherwise consensus view in favor of a historical Jesus, a reasonable stance for anyone not wanting to spend time on the question is to just trust the experts and be done with it. No one can investigate everything themselves and, as long as the experts seem to be doing rigorous work, trusting them seems a reasonable course.
Others might not quite trust the experts in Biblical studies. After all the field is overwhelmingly composed of Christians with confessional interests to protect. There is some validity to this concern, and an apologetic tendency can be traced within the field. When Thomas Thompson, mentioned above, published his work arguing against the historicity of the patriarchs there was a massive, knee-jerk, reaction to the work that saw his dissertation suppressed and him eventually driven (temporarily) from the field. Today though most everyone accepts he was right after all. Still, even if one doesn’t trust the experts, that at most argues for being agnostic about the question, if one hasn’t investigated it themselves.
Personally, despite its shortcomings, I think the field generally does its work with competence. We’re not talking about fundamentalists here (especially since there are some secular people in the field as well). I think there is a legitimate respect for the scholarly enterprise and researchers in the field are trained in the relevant languages and the relevant documents and approach the subject with care and reason. That doesn’t mean, however, they’ve got everything right! Nor does it mean they display competence and rigor on every subject.
I’ve opted for a third option: examine the evidence and try to decide for myself. Not possessing the specialized knowledge of the experts puts me at a disadvantage, obviously, but I believe that is a reasonable course for a layman to pursue if done carefully (and with some degree of humility).
In his book Carrier compares two theories with the goal of deciding which one the evidence best supports. I’ll just give a shortened (and paraphrased) version of each.
Minimal Historicity (OHJ Ch. 2):
An actual man named Jesus acquired followers during his life who continued as a recognizable movement after his death. Some of those followers claimed he had been executed by the Jewish or Roman authorities and soon began worshiping him as a living god or demigod.
Minimal Mythicism (OHJ Ch. 3):
Christianity started with a Jesus Christ who was a celestial deity (existing only in the heavens). Jesus ‘communicated’ with his subjects through dreams and visions. He was believed to have undergone incarnation in human likeness, death, and burial in the supernatural realm. Later allegorical stories of this Jesus were written that placed him instead on earth. Later communities believed and/or taught that the invented allegorical stories were real.
The second theory isn’t exactly new. Almost 20 years ago, in 1996, Earl Doherty started promoting this idea on his website and in 1999 published a book called The Jesus Puzzle. Carrier has refined the theory and the arguments supporting it in order to meet the standards of an academic press.
Doherty had noticed what many scholars had. The documents we have from before the gospels, the epistles (letters) of Paul and others don’t seem to care anything about, and don’t tell us anything about, the life of Jesus on earth. They relate the crucifixion and resurrection of course, but never explicitly place it on earth. As to any of the other details of Jesus they seem to care not one whit. Nothing about a ministry or any teachings, no direct quotes of Jesus except ones said to be received in visions, no cleansing of the temple, no healings or exorcisms, no empty tomb, and no talk of disciples (only apostles). The only gospel event mentioned directly, the Eucharist, Paul says he saw in a vision directly from Jesus in heaven.
Think of how strange that is. Supposedly God’s chosen son (in their view) had just recently been walking the earth and no one seems to care to mention anything he did. Imagine any modern day preacher writing 20,000 words (roughly the combined word count of Paul’s letters) about Jesus and never mentioning anything he did on earth! It seems all but impossible today and, despite the excuses trotted out to explain it away, it has seemed equally strange to many scholars of the Bible. Maybe it is because the story of Jesus walking the earth hadn’t been invented yet.
Now it should be said that some have tried to read the gospel stories back into the epistles. Examining a particular passage or other, they say it must be referring, obliquely, to an event, or quote, mentioned in the gospels. It is possible they are right, in which case there are a handful of such mentions after all. There are also a handful of passages that, while not relaying a particular gospel story, seem to be either referencing or outright stating an earthly existence. If a theory of a mythic beginning is to prevail it is going to have to explain these passages. It must be pointed out however that every theory about Jesus has such passages to overcome, including that he was a historical person, and Doherty and Carrier have highlighted several such passages that are hard to explain on the assumption that Jesus lived.
My Personal Take
My opinion has evolved over the years. I don’t really care what the answer is; the Jesus of faith is certainly not true either way. I must admit however that I find the subject fascinating. Originally I was a bit awestruck by Doherty’s thesis and I still think it would be really cool if it was true; much more interesting that the historicist theory. However, before reading Carrier’s book the first time through my opinion was that there is just enough evidence to support the existence of a man named Jesus who inspired the Christian religion. I now plan to read it again and to use the framework Carrier provides to see how my final judgement comes out. That’s what I’ll be doing in these posts.
Unfortunately before diving in I’ll probably need one more preliminary post on Carrier’s use of Bayes’ Theorem as the framework for deciding the question. Really I just want to dive right in and not spend a lot of time laying the ground work, such as discussing the current techniques used in biblical studies, or cataloging all the potential sources of evidence, etc. After the post on Bayes’ Theorem I want to look at a couple early Christian documents that provide a model for the mythicist theory.
A Note on Comment Policy
I understand there are a lot of strong feelings on this subject. Some Christians simply cannot abide it. Some atheists as well can get pretty upset by it feeling that it makes atheists look bad considering the academic consensus (or as a proxy war in some intra-atheist feud or other). Other atheists, despite often knowing little to nothing about the subject, are insistent there is absolutely no evidence what-so-ever for Jesus having lived.
Anyone who is a friend is free to ask whatever they like but everyone else should know that I’m going to be a bit of dictator with any comments. Stay on the topic on the post, don’t cheerlead or “me too”, try to provide a reference for any claims you make, and don’t bash or slur other groups (atheist or Christian). I’m doing this for myself and not to convince anyone else of anything so I’ll have very little patience for any non-sense.
Carrier has spent considerable time on this book, and has managed to meet the standards of an academic publisher that specializes in biblical studies. That doesn’t mean he is right but it does mean that it deserves to treated seriously. I’m not interested in rationalizations you have come up with for dismissing it out of hand.
Not Everyone Was Freezing Their Butts Off This March
Though cool temperatures prevailed across the eastern U.S. and Canada through March, the month was the fourth warmest March on record globally, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Tuesday. It was the 38th March in a row with warmer-than-average temperatures.
Where 2014 ultimately falls in the rankings may depend on whether an El Niño develops later this year, something NOAA scientists have said has a better than 50 percent chance of happening by this summer or fall. An El Niño event is marked by warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, and is accompanied by shifts in atmospheric wind patterns. El Niño years are typically warmer than normal globally.
The global average temperature wasn’t the only sign of warming in March. The maximum extent of Arctic sea ice, reached on March 21, was the fifth smallest on record, and snow cover across the Northern Hemisphere was the sixth smallest extent in the 48-year record.
Coursera: Emergence of Life
I’ve signed up for a few online course through Coursera but, to be honest, I never end up having time to do everything required. I’m going to do my best to make time for this one though.Source: Emergence of Life
How did life emerge on Earth? How have life and Earth co-evolved through geological time? Is life elsewhere in the universe? Take a look through the 4-billion-year history of life on Earth through the lens of the modern Tree of Life.
Week 1. Course Welcome, Geological Time, and the Nature of Science
Week 2. The Tree of Life and Early Earth Environments
Week 3. Fossilization and Precambrian Life-Earth Interaction
Week 4. Paleozoic Life After the Advent of Skeletons
Week 5. Paleozoic Plants, Reptiles, and the Transition to Land
Week 6. Mesozoic Reign of Dinosaurs and the Development of Flight
Week 7. Cenozoic Mammals and Global Environmental Change
Week 8. Astrobiology and the Search for Life in the Cosmos
Americans Not Very Confident in Science
Americans don’t know a lot about the universe but they’re sure it is so complex it had to be created by a god. That’s one possible reading of the latest AP poll where people were asked about their confidence in various scientific statements. 72% agreed at least “somewhat” that, “The universe is so complex, there must be a supreme being guiding its creation.” By contrast, “The Earth is 4.5 billion years old,” only received 60% support, and “The universe began 13.8 billion years ago with a big bang,” got only 46%.
As an article in The Atlantic points out, it is possible some people knew about the big bang but just weren’t confident about the 13.8 billion year figure. Polls in the past suggest that isn’t the case however. Some excerpts from the Atlantic article follow.Source: A Majority of Americans Still Aren't Sure About the Big Bang
Up until 2010, they asked the following question: True or false, the universe began with a huge explosion. Since 1990, the number of people answering true to that question has bounced between 32 and 38 percent. (The number was anomalously higher in 1988, a discrepancy that they do not explain.)
In 2012, the National Science Board tried to parse out why Americans were different by adding ‘according to astronomers’ into the Big Bang question for half the survey respondents. Like this:
According to astronomers, the universe began with a big explosion.
60 percent of Americans said this statement was true, versus 39 percent who said so when the “according to astronomers” was not present. This would suggest that 40 percent of people know the science, 40 percent of people don’t, and 20 percent have heard the science, but believe otherwise.
Before you lament the fall of the republic, consider that very little has changed in the public awareness of scientific knowledge over the past 20 years. The 2014 report put it bluntly: “The public’s level of factual knowledge about science has not changed much over the past two decades.”
Is Making Weaker Trees a Good Idea?
Wood is great for building and heating homes, but it’s the bane of biofuels. When converting plants to fuels, engineers must remove a key component of wood, known as lignin, to get to the sugary cellulose that’s fermented into alcohols and other energy-rich compounds. That’s costly because it normally requires high temperatures and caustic chemicals. Now, researchers in the United States and Canada have modified the lignin in poplar trees to self-destruct under mild processing conditions—a trick that could slash the cost of turning plant biomass into biofuels.
I’m not an alarmist about genetic modification. Over the years I’ve gone from unsure and cautious to fine with it and even pro-modification for the right applications. This proposal however at the least raises some questions in my mind.
I wonder what the risks are of this new gene getting into the wild population. There are already documented cases of genes inserted in food crops crossing with existing, non-modified, strains of the crop. Now, maybe it would be the case that non-modified trees would just out compete any strains with this modification but nature can be complex and unpredictable. It seems like more fragile trees that are easier targets for pests and disease could be one nightmare result of this idea.
Fire Tornadoes and Barely Constrained Randomness
A couple nifty little science videos.
Take a dust devil, add fire, and you get this awesome looking spectacle.
“Pillar of fire” Australia- in real-time from chris tangey on Vimeo.
Via The Atlantic
Inside the Cell
Animations showing the inner workings of a living cell often look mechanistic, almost like a little assembly line. The reality is quite different. Cells are just packed full of proteins and near random activity. Science writer Carl Zimmer described it as “barely constrained randomness.” The BioVisions group at Harvard have put together this update to their previous Inside the Cell video to let you see what it is really like.