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 A Look at Carrier’s Godless Comments in Review

[The following essay was written in response to Richard Carrier’s critique of

my review on Douglas Groothuis’ book, On Jesus]

By Mark McFall

Should Jesus be reckoned as a bona fide philosopher? Are Jesus and Socrates basically on equal ground concerning source reliability? Can it be shown that Jesus had a strong concern for logic and argument? Is it true that all the educated Greco-Roman elites viewed women in the same high regard as did Jesus? These are the type of questions Richard Carrier raises in his critique of my review on Douglas Groothuis’ book, On Jesus. But has Carrier successfully shown that the idea of Jesus being a philosopher is too excessive? We shall see.

Though Carrier remarked on five conceptual and historical issues pertaining to my review, I would like to concede on the last point concerning the irrelevancy of Jesus’ resurrection as it relates to this topic. In Groothuis’ book, the argumentative plan to raise Jesus to the status of philosopher included discussion on Jesus’ resurrection. While I didn’t mention it in my review, I too thought discussions surrounding resurrection were off topic (given the nature of the book). If Groothuis’ desire (as is mine) is that professors in the humanities rectify the omissions of Jesus in the canon of philosophers, well-known (hence, influential) apologists are going to have to tailor their methodical approach.

Before I begin to take Carrier to task I’d like to thank him for his kind words and taking time out of his busy schedule to respond. For those who may not know, Carrier is a highly respected atheist in the skeptical community and his presence on the Web has had a huge impact on many readers of a skeptical bend. For those reasons, I am pleased to get him over here within the critical context of ITW.

I. First is the general point that Jesus should be reckoned a philosopher.

Carrier brings to our attention that experts, when deciding who makes the cut as a bona fide philosopher, are concerned with familiarizing readers with philosophical systems and elucidating those connections with known and influential traditions. Using Carrier’s own remark of expert interests we shall see that Jesus qualifies as one who is worthy of this criteria.

Apart from the religious tones of the Gospels writers, Jesus is generally regarded by modern scholars as tapping into known philosophies of moral excellence and guiding interested minds to recognize correspondences between good ethical values and the concept of God. For Carrier, who attempts to head-off that correspondence, the "deeper problems" are the disagreements between scholars as to "what Jesus said or meant." On that, he contrasts Groothuis with Spong, Crosson, and Robertson, however he misses the fact that all these scholars are united in the understanding that Jesus was interested in guiding minds to recognize the correspondence I just noted. Sure, these scholars don’t exactly agree on "what Jesus said or meant" at many points but they are nevertheless united in thrust.

While Carrier goes on to insist that "Jesus did not explicitly interact with existing philosophies," the evidence is mounted against Carrier in principle. As I mentioned above, Jesus harnessed known moral philosophies of excellence and re-communicated them using orientation that was God centered while simultaneously building on Old Testament traditions. In point, one can detect influences in Jesus just as much one can detect influences in, say, Buddha from Hindu philosophy.

From there, Carrier asserts Jesus’ expressive techniques don’t rise to the scholastic level and one wonders if it really has to. After all, average folk, both then and now, aren’t looking for how well Jesus formulated or articulated systematic ideas, rather, average folk are looking for something they can identify with and understand in plain everyday language. Jesus touched a chord with the masses in that regard not only because He imparted pithy remarks but because He brought-out in people the human desire of longing for God. Like Carrier, I agree there should be a line somewhere concerning who makes the recognized canon of philosophers, but given what we know of Jesus, (His widespread influence, His ability to cause people to reflect on the idea of a correspondence between good ethical values and the concept God), He certainly qualifies on the same level (per say) as many accepted canonical philosophers.

Carrier then asks us to consider the "three most vital branches of philosophy": "epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics." On that, Carrier states Jesus "did not address serious ethical problems and questions in the methodical way Plato’s Socrates did." But Carrier seems unaware of the developing philosophizing skills embedded in Plato’s recordings of his master. For instance, in Plato’s earliest dialog of Socrates (Apology), the majority of scholars see a very simple philosopher who "has no interest" in "metaphysics, epistemology, or ontology," yet in other places Plato’s Socrates is portrayed as a "first-rate" philosopher (for comparative analysis, see: Benson, Essays on the Philosophy of Socrates, pg. 4). On those contrasts, modern Socratic scholars tell us the former version of Socrates was compiled when Plato was not yet mature in his skills as a philosophizer. They say it was only after he broke with Athenian political life and settled down to the full-time practice of philosophy that Plato became a systematic writer. It is only then, "after Socrates has been dead for a dozen years, that the typical ‘Socratic’ dialogue takes shape" (Ibid. pg. 38). This consensus doesn’t look good for Carrier as the earliest dialogs thought to be the most historically accurate depict Socrates as one "who has no metaphysical (perhaps even theoretical) commitments" (Ibid., pg. 7). Despite uncertainties surrounding Carrier’s example philosopher, I’ll extend credit to the two other philosophers he mentioned: Seneca and Epicurus. Others however, such as Buddha "regarded the theoretical treatment of metaphysical questions as harmful," and Confucius avoided metaphysical questions in general (see: Jaspers, Socrates Buddha Confucius Jesus, pg. 32, 54). Yet both are still included in reputable philosophical resources and Jesus is not. Why? There seem to be double standards at play.

Carrier also states that Jesus "says very little on the subject of what knowledge is or how one discerns true knowledge from false," but again, Buddha is far worse off. In fact, Buddha rejected any knowledge that wasn’t associated with his paths of salvation (Jaspers, pg. 32). "Yes," states Carrier, "Jesus has some things to say that relate to all these things, but not enough, or anything with enough precision or detail, to be matched with real philosophers of his time." While Carrier admits that Jesus has "some things to say," one has to wonder why experts exempt Buddha and others from that alleged criteria (when considering who makes the grade of canonical philosophers) when Jesus at least steps up to the plate. More double standards perhaps?

On "simplicity," Carrier portrays me as seeing virtue (arête), but this is not what I suggested. Rather, I implied "simplicity" coupled with "pithy" expressions have a beneficial and memorable quality. You see folks, Carrier is coming at this academically, arguing that Jesus did not impart a "detailed" and "complete philosophical system," but unlike philosophers who were interested in gathering around themselves academically inclined disciples or students for scholastic purposes, Jesus appealed to the general working-class populace (Mark 1:16–20; 2:13–14). Average citizens, of then and now, lack interest in investigating the philosophical debates "raging in Tyre," or elsewhere, because they’re interests lie in things they can identify with at the common level. Hence, while Jesus’ style was certainly not virtuous on an academic and intellectual scale (compared with Seneca or Epicurus), He definitely imparted virtuous teachings that appealed to broad perceptions and imaginations. It is for these reasons Jesus is seen by many to have qualities which qualify him as a bona fide philosopher of significant influence.

II. Second is the claim that "Socrates and Jesus are on equal ground" in regards to source reliability.

On the reports which convey the ideas of Socrates and Jesus, Carrier and I agree that they come to us filtered through the interpretive portraits of others. In an attempt to cast suspicion on the reliability of the Gospels, Carrier offers a comparative analysis with a special focus on the reports that surround Socrates. He states, "no expert regards the thought of Socrates as reliably known, precisely because we only have it through the filter of others," and, "since Socratic studies are always prefaced with the caveat that the findings will be speculative, uncertain and limited, one cannot claim any more for the study of Jesus." While there is truth here, it is limited in scope as Socratic scholars arrive at what they believe to be authentic Socratic thought by way of cross checking comparative sources for accuracy (which is how scholars arrived at the notion that Plato’s Apology is the closest to true Socratic thought as mentioned above). In that regard, as with Gospel-reports, there are scholarly consensuses regarding what is authentic, what is not, and what is debatable.

According to Carrier, in contrast to the "anonymous" uncertainties surrounding Gospel authorship, there are "four distinct first-hand sources on the ideas of Socrates: Plato [a philosopher], Xenophon [‘a notably reliable historian and instructor’], Aristophanes [a play-writer and comedian], and (to a lesser extent) Aristotle [a philosopher]." In Carrier’s words: "we know who these men all were, we know their ideological allegiances and backgrounds, we know when they wrote, and we know for a fact they all knew Socrates (except Aristotle, who arrived in Athens a few years after his death, but he engaged with his disciples on a first-hand basis)." Let’s take a look at that shall we:

1) On Plato - As noted above, the scholarly consensus is that his earliest work, Apology, is considered the most accurate rendition of Socratic thought while the other dialogues show signs of development by way of comparison.

2) On Xenephon - He left Athens in 402 BC to go into exile for 30 years and did not write his Socratic dialogues until after he returned. Scholars tell us the genre of Socratic conversations was well-established by the time Xenephon set out to do his recordings, recordings of which for the most part show dependence on the rendition of the Socrates put-forth by Plato in his later years. Hence, Xenephon cannot be said to have the value of an independent source nor count as such. The most that can be said is that while Xenephon appears to be for the most part dependant on Plato he does at times come through as an auxiliary source.

3) On Aristophanes - He was a comedian who mocked Socrates on stage so his rendition would obviously not be a serious and accurate depiction of the historical Socrates. In fact, scholars tell us Aristophanes’ portrayal of Socrates is often at odds with Plato and Xenephon’s version due to the comical context Socrates is used for i.e. satire (though I am sure Aristophanes’ play-writes had a base line of historical flavor to draw interest). Of course, as everybody knows, the Gospels are more serious in tone through and through.

4) On Aristotle - One has to wonder why Carrier credits Aristotle with *some form* of "first-hand" information. After all, Aristotle gleaned everything he came to know about Socrates through the Academy for which he worked under the headship of Plato. Let’s not play games here: Aristotle’s view of Socrates clearly comes to us by way of second and third-hand reporting as he did not have a personal acquaintance with Socrates. What I find amusing is Carrier’s uncritical willingness to bend in the direction of "first-hand" information here when he so adamantly opposes the idea of similar circumstances embedded in Gospel-reports.

Carrier further asserts "for a fact that several other eye-witness accounts were written (such as by Ion the Comic and Aeschines the Socratic) which were cited by later philosophers and biographers, and thus second-hand sources on Socrates are more trustworthy than any we have on Jesus." But Ion reports no information not already available to us through Plato and Aristotle which implies dependence. Yes folks, it appears Ion is less significant to us than what Carrier would have us believe. In contrast, the Gospel-reports, though having many similarities (as will be discussed further below), when analyzed individually, supply us with details not contained in the other three; and in some cases, whole selected stories are unique to that particular Gospel-report (see ITW Gospel Synopses).

Concerning Aeschines, the fragments of his writings are so scant one can’t glean much of anything. The Gospel-reports however are not only rich in manuscript evidence but certain manuscript fragments date around the 2nd century (complete Gospel forms start appearing in the 4th century) which is in relative close proximity to Gospel composition; a unique trait by way of comparison Carrier can’t possibly match. As many early Church Fathers either refer or allude to the Gospels in their writings, all the Gospels are seen, in academic circles, as being composed likely before the end of the 1st century.

Moreover, though the Gospels are anonymous, and written some 40 to 60 years (at the most) after Jesus lived, let’s not forget they contain embedded eyewitness material and still living witnesses could have declared inaccuracies publicly, but apparently did not (look for this same argument by Carrier below in reference to Plato recordings). In case Carrier is thinking of heading me off on the idea that the Gospels are eyewitness reports, that’s not what I’m suggesting. Rather, I’m stating the Gospels contain embedded eyewitness materials that were gathered and reported by non-witness writers in such a manner that they are far superior to many of the reports that surround Socrates. The only report that rises to the level of the Gospels is Plato’s Apology.

Furthermore, by implication, Carrier also suggests documents of anonymous origin are generally unreliable. However, Carrier may find it ironic that an anonymous document from antiquity identified as the "Oxyrhynchus" papyri is known to be far superior to Xenophon’s research on the same historical events in the Greek world (from 411 to 362 BC). In fact, the unidentified Oxyrhynchus historian shows Xenophon’s historiographical skills to be seriously wanting as the 990 written lines of "Oxyrhynchus" papyri exposes Xenophon’s work, Hellenica, to contain inaccuracies, fictions, and omissions that ignore vital historical developments pertinent to the histories of his time. Indeed, Carrier’s "notably reliable historian" is seen by many modern historians as being more of a story teller than an actual historian when compared against this anonymous document. In point, just because the Gospel-reports themselves are anonymous doesn’t mean they should be viewed with contempt. Let’s not impose standards we wouldn’t impose on other documents.

Carrier continues on to point out that Gospel-reports "mention events no one could ever have been privy to," and states, "the end of Matthew in particular relates secret meetings no Christian sympathizer would have been present to hear." But Carrier’s [so-called] "notably reliable historian," Xenophon, is guilty of the same type of crime in his Symposium and Oeconomicus (Guthrie, Socrates, pg. 23-25), and Plato was often not clear on what he was privy to either (Timaeus, 19C F4). In fact, it was not uncommon for an antiquity writer to maneuver in a similar fashion (as Carrier should already know). In point, scholars don’t judge a work’s overall reliability based on deficiencies of this particular nature so why is Carrier attempting to do so here? Again, there appears to be double-standards at play.

Carrier moves on to assert that the Gospel-reports "are not very independent, Matthew and Luke uncritically copy material from the same two sources (Mark and Q), while John contradicts them on many crucial issues, such as chronology." Here, Carrier is wrong when he asserts Matthew and Luke "uncritically" copied from Mark and Q. Scholars clearly see the writers of Matthew and Luke, independently of each other, used critical thinking in formulating their work which was meant to improve upon both Mark and Q. Regarding John, while there are some similarities with the synoptic Gospels (as I’m sure Carrier would agree) there are admittedly detailed and chronological differences as well as peculiar features which suggest independence. Critical scholars reason the writer of John had access to a somewhat different body of oral tradition and that placement problems are due in fact to the materials circulating orally and in separate units for roughly forty years before they were put in writing. If Carrier would like to contest John’s independence, then he must show how the writer of John is indebted to one or more of the synoptic Gospels. In any case, as related to our discussion, John does have points of contact with the synoptic Gospels on the sayings of Jesus which lends a ring of authenticity on many (but not all) sayings even in light of source uncertainties.

Carrier then states that "the Gospels were written in a highly contentious atmosphere of competing religious sects, each seeking to establish a particular view of Jesus with a mission of salvation and conversion." This shouldn’t count as a negative. As retrospective readers our advantage is that we can observe Gospel individualities of authorial intentions. For us, unlike the community to which each gospeler wrote, we can arrive at a more balanced view of what Jesus said and did. Despite differing theological emphasis, as Carrier points out, the thrust of each Gospel points toward "salvation and conversion."

Further, Carrier states "there were also many other Gospels which were not allowed to survive, solely on doctrinal grounds," and pinpoints: "most notably, the so-called Egerton Gospel, one of the oldest fragments of the Gospel narrative ever found." According to Carrier, Egerton "does not match any extant Gospel." Here, I find it odd that Carrier would make an error-ridden assertion of this magnitude given the fact that it could be so easily verified for accuracy. To this, we ask: what "doctrinal" issues is Carrier referring to in the Egerton? After all, the very fragment to which Carrier points lacks doctrinal tones. Worse yet, Carrier tries to draw suspicions flags by saying that it is one of the "oldest fragments" and that it "does not match any extant Gospel." But the 94 lines (c. 400 words) contained in the Egerton demonstrate many parallels with Gospel texts as cited here: [Taken from:]

1) Debate over Credentials (l. 1-24).
Gospel parallels: John 5:39, 5:45, 9:29, (John 3:2, 5:46-47, 7:27-28, 8:14, 10:25, 12:31).

2) Attempt to Seize Jesus (l. 25-34).
Gospel parallels: John 7:30, 7:44, 8:20, 8:59, 10:30-31, 10:39, Luke 4:30.

3) The Healing of the Leper (l. 35-47).
Gospel parallels: Mt 8:2-4, Mk 1:40-44, Lk 5:12-14, 17:12-19, (John 5:14, 8:11).

4) Debate with False Questioners (l. 50-66).
Gospel parallels: Mt 22:15-22, Mk 12:13-17, Lk 20:20-26, (Mt 15:7-9, Mk 7:6-7, Lk 6:46, John 3:2).

5) Miraculous Fruit (l. 67-82) [Further Violence Against Jesus (l. 83-94)]
Gospel parallels: No exact parallels, but discussion of words and reminiscences.

Ironically, 1 and 4 cover philosophical elements parallel to our discussion. Carrier then mentions in negative light that a document known as the Gospel of Thomas has as good a claim to represent authentic sayings as does the Gospel of John. I am not sure how this line of reasoning works in Carrier’s favor as it does not undermine the sayings of Jesus in the canonical Gospels. After all, as I mentioned in my review, scholars detect 68 parallels out of 114 which show we can plausibly arrive at the idea that we have many authentic [core] sayings of Jesus embedded in various interpretive constructs. Having said that, there are sayings from both the canonical Gospels and the Gospel of Thomas that appear to have been inserted into the mouth of Jesus (recommended resource on the canonical Gospels: A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament by Bruce Metzger); but when one judges by critically comparing the versions of remembrances and reflecting on emerging characteristics, one finds the Gospel of Thomas to be a more serious offender of distorting either what Jesus said or thought when the whole is considered (the interpolations in the canonical Gospels seem to reflect the spirit of the whole).

On the Gospel of Mark, Carrier states that "his motives seem to have been to rework a cultural epic, not to write accurate history." To that, I believe Carrier is in error on the former assertion to a large degree and correct to a degree on the latter assertion. While the writer of Mark may have employed literary devices popular at the time for purposes related to capturing interest, the extent to which the author did this does not render the Gospel of Mark entirely inaccurate as a historical record in the sense that Carrier suggests. Unlike the highly educated men who recorded the thoughts of Socrates, it’s obvious those who recorded Jesus were uneducated. In that regard, it is much more probable that the literary artistic creativity inherent in the recorders of Socrates reworked him to a degree unparalleled by Mark and the other Gospels portrayal of Jesus (as can be seen in Plato’s development of Socrates mention above). That the writer of Mark did not always convey "accurate history" shows his interests lay in preserving known activities of Jesus (notation: I’d be interested to see Carrier cite for us a writer who did always convey accurate history).

For instance, in Mark 6:45-53, Jesus directs his disciples to take their boat to Bethsaida while He dismisses the crowds. After dismissing them, He retreats to a nearby mountain to pray. There, He notices His disciples struggling in the water against the wind. Out of concern, nature is selectively suspended while Jesus walks over to them and He then calms the winds for easy voyaging, which ultimately lands the crew at "Gennesaret" (vs. 53). Gennesaret? But didn’t Mark record that they were headed to "Bethsaida"? Yes, he did. Could the wind have blown them off course? Perhaps, but the point here is that Mark’s omission of such details indicates he was not interested in historical accuracy (similar examples exist elsewhere). Rather, the writer of Mark appears to be focused on preserving oral traditions (as there was a need due to the author’s perceived notion that stories were becoming more susceptible to running stray) that other Gospel writers themselves would later seek to improve.

Moreover, Carrier rightly states the Gospels were much more of a target for manipulation (due to their religious significance) than the writings that convey Socrates thoughts (due to their lack of religious significance), but Carrier is wrong to suggest (inferred from his silence) that living eyewitnesses could have only cried fowl on potential inaccurate reports surrounding Socrates. As mentioned earlier, the Gospels were composed within the life time of eyewitnesses who could have just as easily made their concerns known. In fact, it is precisely due to religious significance that eyewitnesses would watch more closely for potential Gospel manipulation than would eyewitnesses for Socrates. The point, Carrier has again employed double-standards.

For Carrier, who has been academically trained, Jesus’ sayings appear "obscure and simplified" because they lack the scholastic jargon and detailed constructs he’s accustom to. That Jesus used picturesque speech, puns, proverbs, poetry, and parables, (all of which the common populace could understand and perhaps even identify with), just doesn’t cut it in Carrier’s eyes, as he believes a real philosopher has skills technically superior to Jesus and is often associated with ancient esteemed academies and is well-respected by colleagues. The reality is that these philosophers are of little influence on the masses because they don’t know how to relate to common folk. Jesus often delighted in using sharp contrasts and extreme statements to make points; points of which Carrier is likely to find too difficult to pin down and understand as his academic pursuits have conditioned him to overlook many of Jesus’ techniques as passé.

For instance, Jesus is recorded as saying: "If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple" (Lk. 14:26). Must be set against what Jesus is known to have said and upheld: "Honor your father and your mother" (Mt. 15:4). In light of these two contrasting pronouncements we can rightly interpret that Jesus means that if one is to follow Him he must be prepared to choose between natural affection and loyalty to his Master. Unfortunately, many skeptics incorrectly interpret the former statement to mean Jesus wants to increase the sum total of hatred in the world.

Another example, on judging others, Jesus could have used dry prosaic language, like the guys in academics, which show some people are inconsistent when judging others and themselves. Jesus however, opted to use colorful language to heighten crowd interest:

"Why do you see the speck that is in your bother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in you own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye" (Mat. 7:3-5).

Yes, Jesus frequently made extreme statements in hyperbole and often colorful rhetoric, but this strategy was meant to capture mass interest and create perimeters of interpretation for the hearer to make his own qualifications. Indeed, Jesus didn’t leave us a system of thought in the way many academically inclined philosophers did, rather, to reiterate, He left us with pithy expressions that have a beneficial and memorable way of crystallizing insight which moves us to our own volition.

III. Third is the claim that Jesus had "a strong concern for logic and argument."

While Carrier admits Jesus was "not a babbling fool," and that "He may have had a logic," and that "He may have used a logic," he qualifies those comments by stating Jesus "didn’t do what philosophers do: discuss logic." Carrier brings into the picture the head of the Stoic school, Chrysippus, who invented propositional logic as a formal system and is known to have written over 700 books in that regard. All that I can say to that is: well Mr. Carrier, you got me on that one!

Instead of getting out in the real world like Jesus who was always in the company of the common populace, Chrysippus, and philosophers of similar stature, spent a lot of time within Academies as the level of philosophizing was often on a plain far above the comprehension of the general public. From what we know of Jesus, though He employed argument forms Carrier will undoubtedly recognize as I use the technical jargon he’s accustom to: reductio ad absurdum (Mt. 22:41–46), a fortiori (Mt. 6:23, 26, 6:28-30, 7:9-11, 10:25, 28, 29-31, 12:9-12, 18:1-8; Mk. 2:23-28; Lk. 13:10-17, 14:1-6; Jn. 7:21–24, 15:20), tertium quids (Matt. 22:15–22), and modus ponens (Mt. 12:28), he did not: a) discuss logic, b) train his disciples and listeners in logic or c) allow comprehensive debate on his views and fully defend them. Indeed, rather than expounding on scholastic interests, Jesus made use of forms of engagement in live situations for beneficial reasons. Jesus’ use and motivation is in sharp contrast to Socrates, who surrounded himself with intellectual elites like Protagoras, Gorgias, Prodicus, Anaxagoras, Euripides, and Aristophanes, for the purpose of practicing aggressive techniques so he could go out into the streets and effectively confound average folk by relentlessly questioning people about their beliefs in order to reduce them to utter confusion. It was Xenophon who recorded Hippias as saying that Socrates was "always questioning and refuting everybody but never willing to submit to examination or reveal his own opinion about anything" (Mem. 4.4.9). What is amusing given the nature of these reports is that Carrier unwittingly criticizes that methodical principle in his criticism of Jesus.

Such methods, he says, show "if Jesus really did care about logic and argument, he would have engaged issues and resolved them," and comments, "answering a question with a question is just a clever way to avoid answering the original question in the first place," and states, "this is not the act of someone who takes logic and argument seriously, or as anything more than a clever way to get one over on your enemies." "A real philosopher," Carrier writes, "makes his reasoning explicit, and addresses all issues of an argument, aiming at a complete discussion of the facts and obvious questions." According to Carrier’s own standard in light of his evaluation of Jesus, Socrates doesn’t make the cut as a bona fide philosopher. Shall we say more double-standards? Contrary to Carrier’s assessment, answering a question with a question can be a valid answer and teaching method, as he ought to be aware.

Carrier then claims Jesus’ famous saying: "a house divided against itself cannot stand," is fallacy. In His analogy:

"Jesus simply dismisses the charge that he was an agent of the devil by appealing to his exorcisms and the argument that "a house divided against itself cannot stand" (Mark 3:20-26; Matthew 12:22-26; Luke 11:14-18). But that is a fallacy. Just because the Parthian king wages war on one of his satraps does not mean Parthia will fall, nor does it mean the Parthian king is not the enemy of Rome. In contrast to what Jesus says, this is called setting one's house in order. In like fashion, a diabolist could certainly take power from Satan and use it against the minions of Satan, not only to fulfill Satan's will (like the king ousting his satrap), but to gain strategic advantages among his peers (the obvious one: deceiving witnesses into thinking you aren't working for Satan, by using clever-sounding but ultimately fallacious arguments against that very charge)."

Before I touch on the argumentative phase, I just want to point out that while Carrier’s basic analogy make sense in isolation, when put into context it shows Carrier has misinterpreted Jesus’ meaning. Jesus was not suggesting that when a minor element, such as a subordinate "satrap," has gone awry the whole house folds, He rather, was pointing out that if a "house [is] divided against itself [in headship, it] cannot stand." To tap into Carrier’s analogy, if the "Parthian king" is at irreconcilable odds on serious matters with his top Royal Officials, the empire is likely to collapse or be overthrown, and as Carrier should already know, history is littered with such scenarios.

Now that we see Carrier is in error on his assertion that Jesus committed a fallacy, we can now look at the argumentative layout Jesus used as I reproduce the incident:

"But when the Pharisees heard it they said, ‘It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.’ 25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand; 26 and if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can one enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. 30 He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters." (RSV)

Here, step-by-step, we discover Jesus used reasoning skills which include: the argument from analogy (vv. 25-26); the law of logical or rational inference (v. 26); Reductio ad absurdum (vv. 25-26); the argument from analogy (v. 27); the law of logical or rational inference (vv. 28, 29); the argument from analogy (v. 29); the law of contradiction (v. 30); and the law of excluded middle (v. 30). By way of Carrier’s example incident, we see that Jesus had concern for logic.

IV. Fourth is the claim that "at that time, only a handful of philosophers…stood on the threshold of reforming patriarchal society" in respect to women.

While Carrier agrees Jesus treated women in a better manner than the "Jews of His day," his point of contention is with my use of the phrase in the above subheading. On that, Carrier states: "on the contrary, it was common among all the educated Greco-Roman elite to have views on the matter comparable to what we can deduce from what Jesus said and did" as we see from "Epicurus," "Musonius," "Plato," "Seneca," and "Plutarch"; and argues that many extant portraits depict women "holding scrolls, tablets, or pens to boast of their schooling"; remarking that even "well-paid hookers" at rich parties would not only entertain men in pleasure but also entertain them intellectually by debating the finer points of poetry and philosophy.

Well, Mr. Carrier, it appears if one is intellectually orientated that’s all that matters, right? Tell us, did these elites show compassion, or sensitivity, or respect to women in the way Jesus did? If so, from whence were they philosophizing? Rich parties perhaps? Do you think Jesus would attend such parties? I don’t think so. On contrary, Jesus conveyed the notion that women deserve respect! (Mt. 5:28) To the Greeks, that concept was for the most part foreign. Take for instance the prominent Athenian General, Demosthenes, who freely expressed the goings-on in elite circles: "mistresses we keep for the sake of pleasure, concubines for the daily care of our person, but wives to bear us legitimate children and to be faithful guardians of our households" (Loeb, Against Neaera, 122). While "Greco-Roman elites" may have had similarities with Jesus as to uplifting women on levels of learning (over and above the Jews as discussed below), Carrier would be hard pressed to cite for us philosophers who communicated the idea that women weren’t sex objects. It is for that reason I believe Carrier is in error when he states: "there is nothing Jesus said or did that was at all uncharacteristic of any educated Gentile."

Furthermore, Carrier claims that "Jews were far more reactionary toward woman than their Greek neighbors," but he should know full well that the Greeks had restrictive rules governing women too. From what we know, many prominent women in Athens had little independence, and women in general throughout the Greco-Roman world were expected to be under the control and protection of their fathers or husbands. Yes, as Carrier points out, the Greeks were more educationally orientated with their women than the Jews as the extant evidence indicates: the mummified portrait of Hermione bearing the inscription "grammatike" which suggests the female was a possessor of great literary skills; the Oxyrhynchos statue which shows a woman holding a book roll; and classical manuscripts indicating Greek women were often teachers at the elementary level with a few of them even instructing at the more advance levels, not to mention signed receipts and written letters from the pen of women, all of which give way to the notion that the Greeks were more liberal than Jews in how they viewed women educationally (knowledge of these evidences was obtained from the "sourcebook": Women & Society in Greek & Roman Egypt edited by Jane Rowlandson). That Jesus was a revolutionary in how He viewed women I guess can be seen in different ways and set against contexts of various degrees of comparability, but I believe Jesus was a revolutionary in His emphasis that men should have more respect toward women in toto (see my essay: Women in Biblical Times).


In the beginning of Carrier’s essay he stated that philosophical experts, when determining who makes the grade of inclusion in philosophical resources, are "concerned with familiarizing readers with philosophical systems and elucidating those connections with known and influential traditions." In light of that criteria, it’s obvious Jesus makes the cut as a bona fide philosopher as He harnessed known moral philosophies of excellence and re-communicated them using orientation that was God centered while simultaneously building (and tailoring) on Old Testament traditions. On philosophical comparability, Carrier’s essay reflects someone who is looking for skills that parallel scholastic philosophers whose method and jargon is academically orientated, but as is well known, Jesus sought to express His views to the general masses which included the poor and lowly population. Unlike academic philosophers who discussed and expounded on their knowledge in either lecture type settings or voluminous books, Jesus used forms of engagement to connect with various classes of people at their level. That Jesus didn’t articulate His ideas in detailed systematic layouts shouldn’t be held against Him as His audience could better reflect and retain pithy expressions. Contrary to Carrier’s opinion on Jesus’ philosophical skills, these are all qualities that helped propel His idea of a correspondence between good ethical values and the concept of God to the forefront of a worldview which qualifies Him as a bona fide philosopher of significant influence.

In light of how "the skeptic sees the matter," this is how the Christian sees the matter.


Richard Carrier has responded here.

-Postscript of consulted resources for the above essay:
[Listed prices reflect purchases directly related to the above essay]

1) Jaspers, The Great Philosophers: Socrates, Buddha, Confucius, Jesus. $7.99
2) Benson (Editor), Essays on the Philosophy of Socrates. $18.44
3) Guthrie, Socrates. $9.99
4) Grant, Greek & Roman Historians: Information and Misinformation. $11.47
5) Rowlandson, Women and Society in Greek and Roman Egypt. $18.49
6) Honderich (Editor), The Oxford Companion to Philosophy.
7) Fieldman (Editor), The Anchor Bible Dictionary.

Look for these items at home of CBD, Christian Book Distributors, or .