• Hurtado’s Horrible Happening

    Oh dear. New Testament author Larry Hurtado recently published a blog post reviewing a book he’s never read (yes, really): On the Historicity of Jesus by Richard Carrier. Ironically, every criticism Hurtado lists is addressed within that book, and he, in his deep ignorance, never refutes any of the counter-arguments that Carrier offers to what he is saying. Hurtado’s claim that there was no pre-Christian angelic being named Jesus is false, as is basically everything else he wrote. So, I left a well-deserved arse-blistering in the comments section of Hurtado’s blog, which he, (of course!) did not publish. First, a brief recap: In the ancient world, there were some people who thought that the gods were personal embodied beings that lived up in the sky (heaven) and interacted there. Sometimes they even told stories about these heavenly gods placing them in an earthly setting for the sake of the story only. Carrier argues that Jesus Christ was one of these: Jesus was believed to have taken on a body in the lower heavens, been killed by demonic powers, and resurrected, all in the heavenly realm and not on Earth. Later on someone we now call “Mark” wrote a deliberate myth placing Jesus on Earth. And at some point probably a few decades after that some group began believing in a historical man. Here is the comment I left:

    Hurtado: “You don’t have to read the 700+ pages of Carrier’s book, however, to see if it’s persuasive.”

    This is the most contemptible, unscholarly statement I’ve ever read in my life. A real scholar approaches every question with an open and exploratory mind, and with epistemic humility. Meaning you should actually, you know, give a fair and thorough hearing to claims you may disagree with, because, *duh* you could be wrong, and the only way to find out is to actually take the time to hear someone else’s view, allow them to make their case. How someone can be both be a scholar and not understand and practice epistemic humility, or have a sense of intellectual curiosity is beyond me. Where did you get your PhD from? A close-minded religious school with a statement of faith I’m guessing.

    “it’s the fairly settled judgement of scholars based on 250 years of hard work on that and related questions”

    As Robert M. Price put it, mythicists were never refuted as much as they were “harrumphed”! In other words, the past 250 years of NT scholarship largely consists of the same close minded, intellectually lazy approach Mr. Hurtado has demonstrated.

    Mr. Hurtado, I’m sure you think all the arguments you’ve put forward for a historical Jesus are just brilliant. I’m not impressed. In fact, pretty much every biblical passage you cite is addressed by Carrier at length, and you don’t adequately address his interpretations. Here is where we can see the importance of having an open mind: Even false claims must be listened to and understood in order to be responded to effectively. Even if everything in Carrier’s book was completely wrong, in order to produce a convincing response you’d need to read and fully address his counterarguments to demonstrate it was wrong to me (or anyone else considering mythicism), for example. Know thy enemy is the first rule of war fare, and likewise any point of view must be studied *before* any attempt at refutation is given.

    Hurtado: “There is in fact no instance known to me (or to other experts in Roman-era religion) in “all the savior cults of the period” of a deity that across time got transformed into a mortal figure of a specific time and place, such as is alleged happened in the case of Jesus.”

    Hercules is mentioned in a particular historical context by Josephus, though its well-known that Hercules originated as a solar deity (at bare minimum, Hercules is not historical). In “On Isis and Osiris” Plutarch spells out how the gods were not beings who existed on earth (though Plutarch says some people mistakenly believe they were), but instead resided in the heavens (the circumambient air).

    Hurtado: “Crucifixion requires a historical figure”

    Nonsense. The ancients pictured many things in the heavens. Philo talks about celestial plants (see here). The cherubim who guarded the Garden of Eden carried a sword. Closer to home, Hebrews 8-9 pictures a temple in the heavens and a sacrificial offering taking place in the heavens. Do you mean to tell me that it was possible for ancients picture heavenly plants, heavenly swords, heavenly temples, heavenly sacrificial offerings, but impossible for them to picture a heavenly crucifixion?

    Note: Vridar has also covered Hurtado’s gaffes here and here.

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    Article by: Nicholas Covington

    I used to blog at Answers in Genesis BUSTED! I took the creationist organization Answers in Genesis to pieces. I am the author of Atheism and Naturalism and Extraordinary Claims, Extraordinary Evidence, and the Resurrection of Jesus. I am an armchair philosopher with interests in Ethics, Epistemology (that’s philosophy of knowledge), Philosophy of Religion, and Skepticism in general.

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    21 comments

    1. Carrier:

      Jesus belongs to a fraternity of worshipped demigods peculiar to the Greco-Roman era and region.
      [1.] All were “savior gods” (literally so called).
      [2.] They were all the “son” of God (occasionally his “daughter”).
      [3.] They all undergo a “passion” (literally the same word in the Greek, patheôn), which was some suffering or struggle (sometimes even resulting in death), through which they all obtain victory over death, which they share in some fashion with their followers.
      [4.] They all had stories about them set in human history on earth.

      […] all similar savior cults from the period have the same backstory (a cosmic savior, later historicized) […]

      Hurtado:

      Now let’s consider his [Carrier’s] second claim, that “all similar savior cults from the period” feature “a cosmic savior, later historicized.” All? That’s quite a claim! So, for example, Isis? [etc.]

      It takes a special type of cognitive impairment to misrepresent Carrier’s argument: There was “a fraternity of worshipped demigods” that shared at least four enumerated attributes and thus were similar in that regard.

    2. Hurtado:

      First, Paul never refers to Jesus as an angel or archangel. (Charles A. Gieschen, Angelomorphic Christology: Antecedents and Early Evidence, Arbeiten zur Geschichte des Antiken Judentums und des Urchristentums, no. 42 (Leiden: Brill, 1998), argued that early Christians appropriated “angelomorphic” language and motifs in articulating the heavenly status and glory of the risen Jesus, but, he emphasizes, this did not amount to treating Jesus as an angelic being. […])

      Gieschen (1998):

      Although Paul does not overtly label Christ as “the Angel of the Lord” in any of his letters, Paul does identify Christ as “the Power”, “Wisdom”, “the Heavenly Man”, and especially as “the Glory”, all of which have angelomorphic roots closely linked with the Angel of the Lord; see Quispel, “Ezekiel 1.28 in Jewish Mysticism”, 7-13. Segal, Paul the Convert, 35-71. and Newman, Paul’s Glory-Christology, 241-247. —(Angelomorphic Christology, p. 316, n. 6)

      Carrier (2014):

      I must first define some terms I will frequently use. . . . These definitions are not intended to be normative. So there is no sense in arguing whether my definitions are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. They merely specify what I mean when I use those terms, regardless of what anyone else might mean, or what any dictionaries say, or any other conventions. As long as you treat my definitions as nothing more than explanations of what I mean, confusion will be forestalled. I shall use god to mean any celestial being with supernatural power, and God to mean a supreme creator deity. Though by this definition angels and demons are indeed gods, I’ll sometimes (but not always) use angel or archangel to refer to ‘gods’ that are believed to be acting as messengers or servants of God . . . —(On the Historicity of Jesus, p. 60)

      Carrier (2014) quote courtesy of Neil Godfrey @ http://vridar.org/

      1. Hurtado (2005):

        So, for a variety of reasons it seems more likely that vv. 6-7 refer to Jesus as being in some way “divine” in status or mode, and then becoming a human being. We know that this sort of view of Jesus appeared early […] In light of the preceding analysis of Philippians 2:6-7, it seems so. Indeed, in these verses the use of compact phrasing without explanation (e.g., “in the form of God”) suggests that readers were expected to recognize what was being referred to, which would mean that well before this epistle the idea of Jesus’ “pre-existence” had become a part of Christian belief. —(How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?, p. 101)

        Per Carrier, “The Bizarre Fugue of Larry Hurtado”. Richard Carrier Blogs. 7 December 2017 @ https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/13512

        It’s now increasingly agreed among experts (including Hurtado himself, BTW [By The Way]) that the first Christians believed Jesus was a pre-existent archangel become incarnate (by the definition of “angel” I set forth in OHJ, p. 60, Hurtado’s semantics notwithstanding). Even Bart Ehrman is now on board with this—noting Paul outright calls Jesus an angel in Gal. 4:14 (citing numerous scholars concurring, in How Jesus Became God, Ch. 7).

    3. In today’s post Hurtado wrote:

      “I have read those pages of his book (200-205) where he discusses the relevant passage in Philo (De Confusione Linguarum, 62-63; Philo citing and allegorizing a passage in the OT book, Zechariah 6:11-12). This example will adequately serve to illustrate why Carrier’s work hasn’t had any impact in scholarly circles. He gets himself into a muddle.”

      I’m confused. Does this mean Hurtado has Carrier’s book and is just choosing not to read the whole thing?

    4. “In other words, the past 250 years of NT scholarship largely consists of the same close minded, intellectually lazy approach Mr. Hurtado has demonstrated.”

      Mythicist and non-historicist approaches to Jesus are among the most intensely researched of all. Mythicism was maintained quasi-officially in the Soviet Union from the beginning – Dawes had been praised by Lenin. So it was also in all the communist bloc states in the immediate aftermath of the war. Myriad scholars desperately tried to uphold the account. Many of them were quite great historians e.g. Alexander Kazhdan, best known as a Byzantinist. But after the war, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, more extensive knowledge of 2nd temple ideas, the death of Stalin etc., they gave it up *en masse* — though some professional ideologues for state atheism were still holding in the 70s.

      It is a dead research program – just like phlogiston theory or vitalism or the ptolemaic system.

      1. I think you’re wrong, I cannot find the evidence necessary to overturn the Celestial-Jesus theory (there are many versions of the Christ myth theory), and I’ve read plenty of ancient documents (including those in the New Testament) and plenty of New Testament scholarship. It seems to me that the arguments for a real Jesus Christ are tepid. Perhaps to understand where I come from you should read:
        https://www.skepticink.com/humesapprentice/2014/07/07/on-the-historicity-of-jesus-index/

      2. Hurtado:

        First, Paul never refers to Jesus as an angel or archangel. ([…] Cf. Bart D. Ehrman, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2014), e.g., 250-51, who gives a confused representation of matters.)

        Per Daniel N. Gullotta (12 March 2015). “Review: How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee“. danielngullotta.com

        Perhaps most interesting (and perhaps shocking) of all is Ehrman’s claim: “Jesus, for Paul, was the Angel of the Lord. And so he too was God’s wisdom [personified], before coming into this world.”

        Not quite dead as some would wish?

        1. I’ve been doing some reading and research on the book of Revelation, and get this:
          Bruce Malina thinks that Revelations pictures Jesus “wielding control of the cosmos” from “in the sky.” I think its curious that there is a story of Satan trying to kill Jesus as an infant and failing, whereas Matthew is practically a mirror image of this, but on earth, with Herod holding the knife. That in and of itself suggests euhemerism to me. https://books.google.com/books?id=4QxuCAAAQBAJ&pg=PT83&dq=Bruce+Malina+Revelation+heavens+were+populated+with+creatures&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwizuMH9roPYAhWB0RQKHZL-B1sQ6AEILzAB#v=onepage&q=Bruce%20Malina%20Revelation%20heavens%20were%20populated%20with%20creatures&f=false

          1. Doherty, Earl (30 July 2012). “Bart Ehrman vs. Earl Doherty. Part 29 of Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism” @ http://vridar.org/2012/07/30/30014/

            [Per] a shift to a concern with the heavenly world and God’s activities within it, a focus which was continued and enlarged on in much of the Jewish intertestamental writings. […] The Pauline corpus’ obsession with the threat of dark cosmic powers who inhabit the heavens, the period’s fixation on the threat from the demons, has little precedent in the Hebrew bible and marks a new development in Jewish thought, as it did in Hellenistic outlook generally. And inasmuch as Gnosticism is now seen as having had at least a partial origin within radical Jewish circles preceding Christianity, with its center of attention on a heavenly world and the workings of the Godhead, we can see an era-wide development in an interest in the Platonic view of an upper part of the cosmos where divine activities took place. Even Philo, with his focus on the Logos as emanation of God, as well as his “Heavenly Man” concept—another fixation in the period’s picture of divine realities which shows up in Paul’s concept of Christ as “anthrōpos”—demonstrates the saturation of earthly thought with heavenly imaginings.

          2. Howard-Brook, Wes; Gwyther, Anthony. Unveiling Empire: Reading Revelation Then and Now. Orbis Books. p. 83. ISBN 978-1-60833-155-0.

            “that the author of the book of Revelation, the prophet John, has his initial, ecstatic vision while considering the vault of the sky.” (Malina, p. 1) […] “What was a first-century Mediterranean taught to see in the sky?” (Malina, p. xv) […] Malina takes this initial premise and notions about the ancient sense of the sky and reads Revelation as a book of “astral prophecy,” a well-known genre in the ancient world. (Malina, p. 19) This lens allows him to find correlations between virtually every image in Revelation and ancient astrological lore. His conclusion is that Revelation portrays Jesus as “one wielding control of the cosmos” from his position “in the sky” and hence he is the Messiah of God worthy of honor and loyalty in place of earthly emperors and the Roman gods and goddesses. [Malina, Bruce J. (1995). On the Genre and Message of Revelation: Star Visions and Sky Journeys. Hendrickson Publishers. ISBN 978-1-56563-040-6.]

          3. Robert M. Price, “New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash,” in Encyclopedia of Midrash: Biblical Interpretation in Formative Judaism, ed. Jacob Neusner and Alan J. Avery Peck (Leiden: Brill, 2005), 1:534-73.

            On the whole Matthew seems to have borrowed the birth story of Jesus from Josephus’ retelling of the nativity of Moses. Whereas Exodus had Pharaoh institute the systematic murder of Hebrew infants simply to prevent a strong Hebrew fifth column in case of future invasion, Josephus makes the planned pogrom a weapon aimed right at Moses, who in Josephus becomes a promised messiah in his own right. […] It is evident that Matthew has had merely to change a few names. Herod the Great takes the role of the baby-killing Pharaoh…

            Price makes a good case that Matthew used Josephus?

            1. “Price makes a good case that Matthew used Josephus?”

              My guess is that there is a relationship, but whether it is direct descent or descent from a common ideological ancestor is anyone’s guess.

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