Historian Fight!

[First posted to the Freethinkers Mailing List (https://groups NULL.google NULL.com/group/freethinkers-club/browse_thread/thread/b8a9c5bad04eb764?hl=en)]

This time it’s Richard Carrier vs. Bart Ehrman. The latter posted a brief article on the historicity of Jesus (http://www NULL.huffingtonpost NULL.com/bart-d-ehrman/did-jesus-exist_b_1349544 NULL.html) in the HuffPo; in true historian fashion, Carrier’s rebuttal is about five times as long as the original. Here’s a quick sampler (http://freethoughtblogs NULL.com/carrier/archives/667/):

This makes Ehrman’s observation that no mythicist presently has a professorship (a distinction he did not make, but I am) a self-fulfilling prophecy: since Ehrman has all but explicitly stated that professors in “accredited institutions” do not have academic freedom, that indeed Ehrman opposes that freedom, verbally and institutionally, and endorses persecuting, verbally and institutionally, any who dare exercise it, who else do you think is free to challenge the consensus on this issue? Obviously, only outsiders can. The fact that that is what he observes is therefore not an argument against the merits of mythicism, but against the merits of attacking academic freedom.

Few other issues have this problem. You can challenge the consensus on almost anything else in Jesus studies, but this is sacrosanct, and if you dare, “we’ll ruin your career.” Such is Ehrman’s message. The fact that he then finds this a mark against mythicism betrays his circular reasoning. No, Dr. Ehrman, it is a mark against mainstream scholarship. You are acting like it is a religion, with dogmas that cannot be challenged, lest you suffer the consequences. Just imagine all the professors who find some mythicist theories plausible, reading your article. You have just successfully intimidated them into shutting the hell up. Or at least, apparently, you hope to have. That’s not admirable. And it’s not how an institution that values the pursuit of the truth should behave.

Carrier, thankfully, uses headings and bullet points to good effect, so his behemoth of a reply is skimmable. He’s also careful to give the benefit of the doubt, as he didn’t have Ehrman’s book on-hand to check the evidence. Ophelia Benson, on the other hand (http://freethoughtblogs NULL.com/butterfliesandwheels/2012/03/what-ehrman-actually-says/)

That’s one place where Ehrman does the thing that Richard (quite rightly, I think) protests – he talks about conjectural sources as if they were more than conjectural. “Is found” is a very odd phrase to use of “sources” that, if you read closely, he is admitting don’t survive. Turn the sentence around to see it more clearly: It is conjectured that there were sources for the Gospels that survive. They must have been circulating throughout the Empire. The view that Jesus existed is found in these sources (as well as the ones that do survive). See how odd that looks? We think there were sources. They didn’t survive. The view that Jesus existed is found in them.

HJ Hornbeck