The Elephant in Richard Carrier’s Room: A Lesson for NT Scholarship By Joseph Atwill

I co-edited the book "Varieties of Jesus Mythicism" with my friend Dr. Robert M. Price. In comes Dr. Richard Carrier, also a friend of mine and peer-reviewed author of a very important book on Jesus mythicism. These two friends of mine have personalities that are almost opposite of each other. Bob is a gracious person when it comes to disagreements. By contrast Dick is, well, a dick. :-) He's someone who holds no punches such that there were authors who didn't want him included in our book, despite being the first peer-reviewed author of an important peer-reviewed book on Jesus Mythicism.

Carrier recently reviewed our mythicist book. He liked some chapters and trashed some others. So I wrote a defense of it, LINK. He did write a blurb for our book though:
Mainstream experts mostly already agree the miraculous Jesus didn’t exist, but what about a merely human Jesus? This anthology usefully exhibits the full gamut of doubting even that, from the absurd to the sound. Some contributions are not credible, but some are worth considering, and several are brilliant, indeed required reading for anyone exploring the subject. The book will be absolutely necessary for any future Jesus mythicist scholar. - Dr. Richard Carrier, peer-reviewed author of On the Historicity of Jesus.
Having previously been called a "doofus" when it comes to Bayes Theorem, I know the sting of a review by Carrier. In my defense I myself had a peer-reviewed paper published on Bayes Theorem at Internet Infidels, where the vice-President said it was one of the best papers he ever had the pleasure of reading and approving! Carrier still has not responded to it, but if he does, he may overwhelm me with words and links galore, burying me in so much work I won't be able to respond to it all, if I do. Yet, I'm sure I have basically refuted his case. No, Bayes is not the tool for assessing miraculous claims, which by their very nature are impossible to take place in the natural world, by means of the natural world. I have argued that Bayes cannot and should not be applied to claims which are nonsense, and that miraculous claims in the ancient Biblical past are all nonsense! They are all nonsense because there is absolutely no credible evidence for any of them. Lately I offered some additional thoughts on Bayes.

By the way, I want to know about the peer-review process when it comes to Carrier's book on Jesus. Please tell us Dr. Carrier! If anyone takes a minute to search for it, there are varying methods and goals in peer-review. What is not promised is that the book is setting forth something true and factual. It only means, at best, that an author has dealt with all of the most important objections.

I know that Sheffield Phoenix Press is a highly esteemed scholarly liberal book publisher. I also know publishers want provocative books that sell well (despite any claim otherwise), since money is indeed a factor. This is not to impugn Sheffield Phoenix Press, and its editors, or any of its authors, including Carrier, since it's very significant that a mythicist got a book published by this publisher! [Atheist scholar Hector Avalos also published two books with them]. But peer-review does not mean the particular reviewer (or committee) thinks what Carrier wrote is true. Yes, we should definately read what Carrier writes. We just don't need reminded that his work was peer-reviewed so often, nor does it mean Carrier's particular treatment is the end of all Jesus mythicism studies, or that Carrier gets to be the hall-monitor for every mythicist who writes on the same subject.

As I said in an earlier post, I don't care much at all with how the Jesus character originated. What I know is that the Jesus in the four gospels did not exist. I said so in my Preface. I also said each and every one of the theories presented in the book are possible. That's my starting point. Possibility is good enough.

With that in mind I'm posting what Joe Atwill sent me in response to Carrier. I did not solicit it, but I welcome it.
The Elephant in Richard Carrier’s Room: A Lesson for NT Scholarship
By Joseph Atwill

Richard Carrier has written a critique of two of the parallels I discussed in the chapter I wrote for "Varieties of Jesus Mythicism." SOURCE I wish to respond.

First, Carrier asserts that it is highly implausible that the Roman created the NT because: “All the evidence contradicts this. And it has no basic plausibility even in the general behavior or Roman administrations.”

There is no evidence which negates the fact that the Flavian imperial court had the motivation, opportunity and capacity to have created the NT. Since no other known group possessed these attributes, the Flavians are obvious candidates for having created the religion.

His second statement indicating the Roman provenance thesis has ‘no’ plausibility because of the “general behavior or Roman administrations” is inaccurate in that it is simply the case that it was within the ‘general behavior’ of the Caesars to invent religions, and if they had created Christianity, they wouldn’t have publicized it.

Carrier begins his critique of the parallels by criticizing my analysis of the relationship between the Good Samaritan story with a section of Josephus. In the chapter I wrote that the Good Samaritan parallel “is an example of a one that can only be recognized when reading with the understanding of the parallel sequences.” My point being that the parallel is too oblique to be seen outside of an established sequence of incontrovertible parallels which would which bring to light more occulted parallels.

Claiming that a sequence can illuminate occulted parallels within it is not conjecture. My entire thesis is that the technique used to create what I refer to as the Moses/Jesus typological system presented below, is continued forward in the synoptic Gospels to link Jesus with Josephus’ depiction of the Roman campaign in Judea.

Note the ‘passing through water’ parallel, below. It is an occulted parallel that links different locations, an individual to a group and dissimilar events. But it becomes visible within the sequence it is contained within. This is the type of parallel I maintain the good Samaritan story represents.

I would ask the reader to spend enough time with the Moses/Jesus typological construction to understand it. In the system, names, locations and concepts - literal and symbolic - are linked within a sequence. As examples, within it Jesus represents the Israelites, and Satan the Jews.

Carrier never mentioned the Moses/Jesus typological system even though I presented it in the chapter and pointed out that the Jesus/Titus typology was created as an extension of it. Thus, Carrier’s critique can be seen as a tip to stern straw man in that he criticized my analysis using a standard of typology of his own invention made up of verbatim parallels, while failing to mention the standard I used, or that it comes from the Gospels themselves.

It is necessary to ask why Carrier did not mention the actual system of typology my thesis was based? There is a simple answer; he did not do so as this would render his criticism incoherent. This is because the Moses/Jesus below was obviously created to be hidden and therefore much of its construction uses symbolism.

A thing cannot be both deliberately hidden and deliberately made overt. As I show below, Carrier’s approach could never see a typological construction that was meant to be hidden. And this is obviously an analytic error in that the Moses/Jesus typology demonstrates that such hidden constructions exist within the Gospels.

Nevertheless, as readers may judge for themselves, even with his self serving obsfucation of what I wrote, his attempt to negate my analysis is a total failure.

Carrier wrote: “As in this case: Atwill will just skip around among verses in Luke looking for anything he can make fit his fever dream, ignoring intervening material or even the order Luke puts anything in”

Since they are created using the same system as the Moses/Jesus typology above, the 14 parallels I cover in the chapter occur in the same sequence. Being confined within an established sequence is among the most rigorous methodology available for literary criticism and is the exact opposite of “looking for anything” in a “fever dream”.

Carrier’s idea that “intervening material” somehow weakens the typological parallels is simply incorrect. Notice that the events that make up the Moses/Jesus typology above are contained within a great deal of such material.

This criticism is a demonstration as to why Carrier cannot mention the Moses/Jesus typology. The “intervening material” is absolutely necessary to keep the meaning of the Moses/Jesus typology hidden. If Carrier had brought the Moses/Jesus typology to the readers’ attention, his claim that “intervening material’ somehow weakens the Jesus/Titus typology would become incoherent.

Carrier wrote: “and also just randomly switch time periods in the supposed parallelism of the war (by Atwill’s reckoning, Luke 10 jumps back in time to before the events of Titus emulated in Luke 9, and for no intelligible reason).”

Though his grammar makes his meaning difficult to decode, I believe what Carrier is asserting is that there is no “intelligible reason” to presume that the story of the Good Samaritan looks “back in time.” This is nonsensical in that with his parable in Luke 10 Jesus is describing an event that occurred in the past. In fact, for the typology to be coherent the assault has to have occurred before the Samaritan appeared as that is the order of events in the history recorded by Josephus that is being mapped onto.

Carrier wrote: “Titus still later punishes it (the 12th legion) for its cowardice by sending it to a remote outpost after the war (Ibid., 7.1), hardly creating any intelligible parallel with Jesus’s parable. “ Grasping at straws. What Josephus actually wrote concerning the 12th legion following its reconstitution was this: “the 12th legion which formerly had been beaten with Cestius, which legion as was otherwise remarkable for its valor, so did it march on now with greater alacrity to avenge themselves on the Jews”,,, 5 ,1, 6 - certainly a ‘intelligible parallel’ to the restored victim described in the parable.

Carrier continues with his relentless conceptual misunderstanding of the typology and the creation of a straw man; he wrote: “Titus was not involved in the massacre of the 12th legion; he wasn’t even in theatre yet. So why is this supposed to exemplify Atwill’s thesis that the story follows Titus?”

Again, the ‘Good Samaritan’ was not involved with the attack described in the parable precisely because the gospel story is mapping onto Josephus’s recording of the defeat of the 12th legion. Therefore, it would have been illogical for the Gospel story to describe the ‘Good Samaritan’ as being present before or during the attack as Titus does not appear until after the event. Moreover, the Jesus/Titus typology is not a mechanical ‘following’ of Titus. I have never claimed this and it is impossible to construct hidden typological meaning with such a crude, overt technique.

Carrier wrote: Nor does Josephus ever mention Titus “rescuing” and reconstituting that legion as Atwill claims. we’re told nothing of how it came to be there or who rebuilt it,

Again, grasping at straws. While Josephus does not provide the detail, which would make the typology too obvious, certainly the commanding general must be seen as a logical choice for having been involved with the ‘reconstitution’ of his legion.

Carrier wrote: “And never mind that the Samaritan in the parable was waylaid while “going down from Jerusalem to Jericho,” whereas the 12th legion was going in exactly the opposite direction,

Carrier’s basic reading skills and understanding of typological mapping fail him again. The parable does not state the direction the Samaritan traveled, the man who was stripped of his possessions was the one going from Jerusalem to Jericho. His assault maps onto the 12th Legion’s traveling on that road and in that direction when it was attacked and ‘stripped’. I would digress and note again that my assertion that the ‘stripped individual’ in the Good Samaritan parable represented a group - the 12th legion - is not far fetched as the technique was used in the Moses/Jesus typology wherein Jesus represented the nation of Jews.

Carrier’s assertion that the fact the legion was going in the opposite direction following Titus’s emergence from Samaria somehow contradicts the mapping is another example of his inability to track the simple logic within the typology. The 12th legion’s return to Jerusalem is obviously not mapped onto within the parable, only its earlier retreat.

Carrier wrote: “And never mind there is no specific reference to Samaria in Josephus’s account of the legion’s destruction, nor any allusion to the twelfth legion in Luke.”

Again, Carrier is unable to understand the simple logic of the typology. The ‘Samaritan’ (symbolizing Titus) did not appear until after the assault so he would not be represented as having appeared during it. Moreover, it is illuminating to note that if Luke had removed even this single aspect of the symbolism and simply described the ‘assaulted traveler’ as the 12th Legion, the veil would have been lifted and Christianity would not be a world wide religion today.

Carrier wrote: “These tales have nothing in common. They don’t even happen in the same place. Yes, both stories involve people “stealing” something (the Samaritan’s money; the legions’ banners and equipment).”

Carrier makes the same blunder over and over. Cestius was attacked on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho - the road the individual traveled who was attacked the Gospels’ parable. During his retreat, Cestius and the legion spent a night at Scopus, a hill on the road to Jericho, where the Inn of the Good Samaritan exists today. LINK

Moreover, Carrier’s basic reading skills fail him again as it was the victim’s money that was stolen, not the Samaritan's. Had this fact been placed into the parable it would have contradicted the logic of the mapping.

The second of my parallels that Carrier critiques is the ‘three crucified one survives’ passage in Josephus which I maintain maps onto the crucifixion story in the Gospels.

This amazing parallel had been unnoticed for two thousand years until I uncovered it. I did not find it by accident or skill, I simply knew where to look. In fact, the sequence of events in the Jesus/Titus typology leaves a space of only a few hundreds words in Josephus for the parallel to exist within.

“I saw many captives crucified, and remembered three of them as my former acquaintance. I was very sorry at this in my mind, and went with tears in my eyes to Titus, and told him of them; so he immediately commanded them to be taken down, and to have the greatest care taken of them, in order to their recovery; yet two of them died under the physician's hands, while the third recovered.” Life 75.

Notice the number of details that are similar to those in the Gospels’ crucifixion story:

A group of three being crucified

One survives

The Roman commander being begged to take them down from the cross

The names of the persons asking the Roman commander to remove the three from the crosses - Joseph bar Mathias and Joseph of Arimathea

The story’s position in the overall sequence

Obviously, if the passage were found within an established sequence between Josephus and the Gospels any honest critic would conclude that a passage with so many similarities to the Gospels’ crucifixion story had been deliberately mapped onto it. The fact it was placed at the correct location within such a sequence is QED.

Carrier’s following comments are fascinating in that they reveal a kind of cognitive dissonance. He seems to be hoping that if he can find differences this will somehow make the fact that Josephus recorded three people being crucified and one survived disappear. This is clearly an obsfucation in that it is the similarities that need the explanation, not the differences. The question simply must be asked: why does Carrier not mention the fact that he is not dealing with single parallels, but a collection?

Carrier wrote: Josephus never mentions the ones “to the right and left” being the ones to die, yet this is a crucial component of Mark’s story; in the Gospels, all three men die, and the only one removed is even reported as confirmed to be dead—that he rises from the dead days later is certainly no parallel to Josephus’s story, where all three are removed, and the one who survives never died; and Josephus says all were taken down and attended by doctors, yet no such thing happens in the Gospels, not even for the one taken down.

All symbolism seems to baffle Carrier. His following comment suggests that in order to create a real parallel to the Gospels crucifixion, Josephus would have needed to create a story in which Titus himself was on the cross.

With the typological method Carrier is suggesting, all symbolism would be removed and one story would simply be a mirror of the other. Contrast Carrier’s standard for typology (Titus on the cross) to the Moses/Jesus typology in which every parallel that makes it up uses symbolism.

Carrier wrote: Even if there were still a parallel intended, Jesus is not being mapped to Titus in the Gospels here, contradicting Atwill’s entire thesis: the parallel, if it existed, would be of Titus to Pilate, as those are the men who heed a request to order men taken down (Titus wasn’t the one on the cross); moreover, Pilate is only asked, and only gives an order, for one to be taken down, and only after confirming he was dead, which completely annihilates any parallel with the Titus story from Josephus.

Carrier then claims that I am distorting evidence by noting that the names of the individual who asks the Roman commander to take the men down from the cross is suspiciously similar to that of the character in the Gospels who asks Pilate to take Jesus down from the cross.

Carrier wrote: Ignoring all that, Atwill cherry-picks and distorts evidence, such as by claiming a coincidence of names alone is otherwise too unlikely: two men named Joseph request of a Roman official that “someone” be taken down from a cross, and both even seem similarly nicknamed: the man from Arimathea is apo Arimathaias, which is close to Barmatthias, “son of Matthias,” and Josephus happens to be the “son of Matthias” (Life 1). But if this were intentional, Mark would say “Barmathias” or hou Matthias (as Josephus does), not apo Arimathaias.

He then concludes that: “The spelling isn’t even the same (Josephus follows a tau with theta; Mark has no tau). An author colluding to create a parallel doesn’t screw it up like this.”

Carrier cannot see that he is contradicting himself. Every author wishing to create a colluded parallel must create exactly such differences, otherwise the parallel would not be ‘colluded’.

As noted above, Carrier’s greatest analytic error - again the elephant in the room appears - is that he never mentions that Josephus’ similarities to the Gospels’ crucifixion story are all within a tiny block of text. They therefore require analysis not just as individual elements, but as a collection.

Considered from this perspective, their differences become less important and their similarities more so. If, for example, Josephus had recorded that the men were merely being executed, or if he described a group of 5 being crucified, or that 2 had survived, or if the man Josephus begged to take them down had simply been a soldier, or if the name of the man that did the begging was Saul, or if the event occurred at the start of Titus’s campaign then the overall parallel would weaken with each difference until it disappeared. But no one can deny that the reverse is also true; each unusual similarity adds to the weight of the others until the collection becomes difficult to even imagine as having been assembled accidentally.

Thus, once again, Carrier does not mention that the details are a collection because he cannot. To do so would expose his entire technique of analyzing the details separately as simply a form of obfuscation. By focusing on their differences he is avoiding addressing the greater and more urgent mystery - how did so many similarities appear within a collection found in a block of text of this size?

I hope this exchange will be distributed far and wide as Carrier’s analytic failures are examples of an epidemic. The profound implications of the Moses/Jesus typology have been ignored by NT scholarship and this needs to end.

We need to admit that there is an elephant in the room.


John W. Loftus is a philosopher and counter-apologist credited with 12 critically acclaimed books, including The Case against Miracles, God and Horrendous Suffering, and Varieties of Jesus Mythicism. Please support DC by sharing our posts, or by subscribing, donating, or buying our books at Amazon. As an Amazon Associate John earns a small amount of money from purchases made from Amazon. Buying anything through them helps fund my work here, and is greatly appreciated!