Wednesday, December 17, 2008

On Radio This Friday

I'll be on live broadcast radio this Friday evening, discussing the origins of Christmas and the historicity of Jesus. It's the new Lowwdown show on KCAA 1050 AM (an NBC affiliate), which hits some of the Riverside market in Southern California (but you can also listen online from their website), with hosts Robert and Loredana (The Legal Diva). Normally I don't do call-in shows anymore, but since this one's broadcasting to a major market (albeit on a minor station) and is relatively mellow and the hosts are nice, I'll see how it goes. The show airs Fridays from 6-7pm (and they do take calls during the show). I'll be on this Friday (December 19), probably not for the whole thing, but maybe the first half-hour or so (the show actually starts around 6:06pm and will have a bunch of intro from the hosts, though that may come up later, since I'm the critical one, as you know). For those who miss it, it should eventually be archived for streaming or downloading (to run the mp3 for that specific show click here).


Loren said...

Richard Carrier, I hope that you will be discussing pagan antecedents of various Xmas festivities, like Germanic Yule trees and Roman Saturnalia. I myself have done some research on this question over the years: Xmas Stuff: Ripped-Off Paganism? and Alternative Forms of Christmas? and The Reason for the Season - 5000 Years Ago.

I've come across astronomically-oriented monuments like the Newgrange Megalithic Passage Tomb, the Dowth Megalithic Passage Tomb, both in Ireland, and the Maeshowe Chambered Cairn, in the Orkney Islands just north of Great Britain. And the oldest parts of Stonehenge.

These monuments date back to 3200 - 3000 BCE, back when the only literate people were Sumerians (SE Iraq) and possibly also Egyptians. Jesus Christ was 3000 years in the future, and the first mention of his ethnicity was about 2000 years in the future, in the Merneptah Victory Stele ("Israel is wasted, bare of seed"). So people must have been celebrating on winter solstice for at least the last 5000 years.

AIGBusted said...

Is it 6 EST ?

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

Listened to it. You did a great job despite the technical difficulties. I don't think you could always hear when Robert was talking and he didn't seem to be able to hear you either. And they asked the same (or too similar at least) question like three times forcing you to repeat yourself, which kind of sucked. But overall, I think we did get a good overview of the historical situation. It was interesting. Thanks.


Fernando Aguilar said...

I lisened live over internet from norway. It is a +9 hour time difference! But it was worth staying up in the middle of the night :) Thanks Richard, you did great.

Richard Carrier said...

War_on_Error said... You did a great job despite the technical difficulties.

Yes, these kinds of technical problems are why I don't do call-in shows anymore, and though I was content with how this one went, it was still frustrating enough in process and result to put me off the idea again. I'll be sticking with in-studio unless I have a really compelling reason otherwise.

Anders said...

I would like to quote this excellent paragraphs by Paqid Yirmeyahu:

"While some archeologists are scholarly, there are also a great number of contra-scholarly academics who, whenever it contradicts their set-in-concrete positions, evade and dismiss irrefutable scientific evidence contributed by impeccable scientists (like Prof. Andrey Feuerverger and Prof. Wolfgang Krumbein), even when corroborated by the findings of a court of law (which found the charges of forgery of the Yaaqov ossuary baseless).

These contra-scholarly academics, secular Jews in concert with Christians, are committed to maintaining the status quo of Christian Hellenist perceptions, which date no earlier than Paul, to the exclusion and contradiction of documented history: the Judaic context demonstrated, inter alia, by Prof. Elisha Qimron in his work on Dead Sea Scroll 4Q MMT.

From at least the 4th century C.E., the world has accepted the Church's definition of Jesus as their divine Son of God displacing (superseding) the Torah with himself as "grace," as described in the Christian NT. Thus, Jesus is intractably anti-Torah (antinomian) and contradictory to documented history: the Judaic context, which defines the historical Jew as a Torah-teaching (pro-Torah) Pharisee Ribi: Yehoshua. Playing games with these names changes neither character any more than switching the names of a rose and an onion would change the characteristics of either. Jesus is the intractably contradictory polar opposite of Ribi Yehoshua. Thus, the very phrase "Historical Jesus" is an intractable oxymoron, pre-ensuring that any quest for it is impossible.

If there are any real scholars in this field, let them acknowledge the historically-documented Judaic context that defines and constrains the very real, historical Jew who was a Torah-teaching Pharisee Ribi -- and let that, instead of Paul and post-135 C.E. Hellenist Roman fabrications, mold their conclusions about him and his teachings.

Instead of looking for the oxymoronic "Historical Jesus," start looking, for the first time, for "Historical Pharisee-Ribi Yehoshua." You can start your search, and find an enormous amount of information, at

Paqid Yirmeyahu (member of Mensa)
Paqid 16, The Netzarim, Ra'anana, Israel
Israeli Orthodox Jew (Teimani Baladi Dardai)
Advancing Logic as Halakhic Authority
Welcoming Jews & non-Jews"

From Anders Branderud
Geir Toshav, Netzarim

Loren said...

Jesus Christ as an Orthodox Jew?

The Jesus Christ of the Gospels was rather heretical. Though he claimed to uphold the Law, he softened some of it (adultery, the Sabbath), and he revoked some of it (eye-for-eye-tooth-for-tooth).

Richard Carrier said...

Loren said... Jesus Christ as an Orthodox Jew? The Jesus Christ of the Gospels was rather heretical. Though he claimed to uphold the Law, he softened some of it (adultery, the Sabbath), and he revoked some of it (eye-for-eye-tooth-for-tooth).

That's Anders' point: the Gospel Jesus is largely a fiction (and in fact all objective scholars accept that now--they only disagree on how much is fiction and which bits). As has been well-established by several scholars in the field (e.g. Chilton and others), the Gospel Jesus (even when defending Torah--he doesn't in Mark, he does in Matthew, etc.) didn't in fact soften or reverse anything.

For example, Jesus is essentially teaching what the real Pharisees actually taught themselves about adultery, the Sabbath, mercy, charity, etc. Though there were hardliners like the Pharisees the Gospels portray, we know from the Mishnah and Talmuds that there were many, in fact probably most and the most revered Pharisees, who advocated pretty much the same sort of leniency and exceptionalism Jesus did. Once you eliminate the bogus Jesus, that is (the adultery-responding-"let he who is without sin cast the first stone"-Jesus is a fiction, not even original to the late Gospel of John but interpolated there--look at what Jesus says about adultery in the earlier Gospels and it's not so nice).

Hence Anders' point (or of his quote of Yirmeyahu) is that (many) historicists are consistently ignoring the fact that if there is any historical Jesus at all, he was a highly orthodox Jew, not the total radical that Christians want him to be (and many historicists insist on pretending he was).

The main differences that could be maintained is that this "original" Jewish Jesus was anti-Temple (and all that entailed, e.g. in re: Levitical sacrifice-atonement codes), but then so were entire sects of the time (e.g. Essenes, Samaritans, etc.). And he would arguably have been a simplifier (e.g. possibly not defending the elaborate oral Torah of the Mishnah but simplifying it for the common man). And in both those respects he was anti-Pharisee, but not in any way actually novel at the time (a great many Jews were already on board with his program before he is supposed to have been selling it).

But it was the Pauline sect (and its descendants) that became fully anti-Pharisee in the sense of effectively anti-Torah. And they revised the story of Jesus to suit.

Pikemann Urge said...

Richard wrote: "we know from the Mishnah and Talmuds"

But aren't they no earlier than AD200?

Richard Carrier said...

Pikemann Urge said... But aren't [the Mishnah and Talmuds] no earlier than AD200?

Are you proposing Rabbinical Jews all abandoned Pharisaic principles and adopted Christian principles in their place? ;-)

On the fact that the contents of the written Mishnah and Talmuds often reflect 1st century reality, see my discussion of this in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, in my chapter on "The Burial of Jesus in Light of Jewish Law."

But in general, the Mishnah was written down c. 200 A.D. but consists of the Oral Torah that in fact defined Pharisaism as a Jewish sect (they were the ones who claimed this law descended orally from Moses), which was taught by rote in Jewish schools for centuries. Hence there is no reason to believe it doesn't accurately reflect Jewish Law of the early 1st century (indeed, even when it doesn't, it explicitly says so by citing the name of the later Rabbi who added or altered an element). And there is certainly zero reason to believe it was in any significant way altered by Christianity.

The Talmuds are even later (they were accumulated over several centuries from c. 300 to 600 A.D.) and consist of commentaries on the Mishnah (compiled by two completely separate communities, one in Babylon, another in Galilee and Jerusalem). It's not clear whether the Talmuds derive from oral tradition (maintained within the legal schools) or lost written traditions, but in many cases I suspect the latter, as I can sometimes detect evidence of material clearly extracted from a larger lost literary source. IMO the Talmuds are an example of the same genre rising in popularity among Christians of the very same time: anthologies and collections of excerpts from written texts they no longer bothered to preserve.

In either case, the Talmuds often name the Rabbi who originated an element of commentary, and many of these Rabbis are early 1st century, and though one should be more cautious here, there isn't any innate reason to assume these are later fabrications, much less that they were fabricated by inspiration from Christianity. And even the later named Rabbis state points of commentary that could well reflect very ancient tradition and lore (including what they had read in now-lost written sources).

The fact that the Talmuds agree so much with the Mishnah in general principles and ethics confirms they reflect a long-standing Rabbinical tradition and not radical evolutions thereof (much less some sort of crypto-Christianization of neo-Pharisaic Judaism). And as I argue in ET we are on reasonably firm ground when the same exact things are multiply confirmed in all these sources, esp. when they find corroboration in first century authors like Josephus or Philo, etc.

That doesn't mean we can simply trust the Talmuds as historical sources. They may accurately reflect abstract principles and attitudes and social beliefs. But when it comes to their stories, they are very much collections of legends built around kernels of truth, and even when early are often still myths (e.g. I suspect some of the Talmudic stories about first century Rabbis actually do date from the 1st century, and at the same time are completely false). But that's another story.