Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The God Who Wasn't There

As many know I was interviewed for the film The God Who Wasn't There, which came out years ago and includes an extended version of my interview in the DVD extras. When I finally got to see the film, I privately circulated (eventually to journalists, academics, colleagues and others) a brief white paper on potential errors in it (only regarding the first third regarding ancient history, as that's my field). I then forgot about it. Several people recently have asked me about the film again, which reminded me I should just publish my brief. It is now available via my website as Critical Notes on the Movie The God Who Wasn't There (2005). Some of the points I make in that document I have since revised in subtle ways (as will be clear in my book On the Historicity of Jesus Christ), but it's adequate enough to stand un-edited from the original.

People have also asked me my opinion of the film. In general, the movie is as much about the supernatural God who isn't there (the Jesus everyone believes is going to come back from outer space and kill us) as the historical man who wasn't there, so it's not exactly a documentary about historicity (that subject only occupies something like a third of the film and is covered entertainingly but briefly). I find the film fun, funny, well-edited, and (for the most part) well-produced. It's definitely a feel good movie for atheists, and it definitely pisses off Christians to no end. I like it.

But it's not PBS edufare. GWWT suffers from the unavoidable problem of all entertaining documentaries: it oversimplifies things. But it's nowhere near as egregiously full of sh*t as Zeitgeist: The Movie, which has been thoroughly debunked as absolute garbage by several knowledgeable commentators (the best critiques are catalogued by Jim Lippard at the end of his own blog post on that awful doco). I wouldn't recommend Zeitgeist at all. But I only wouldn't recommend GWWT as a scholarly introduction to Jesus Myth theory. I still recommend it as awesome entertainment, played out with acceptable license. It takes liberties, but they aren't that excessive (as my white paper explains), and if you want authoritative discussion, you really ought to be reading a book instead.

[Though I grant you, there aren't any such books I'd recommend yet, beyond Doherty's The Jesus Puzzle, which is in its own ways flawed and incomplete--as you might glean from my critical review. Besides what you can read there, what I would say Doherty's book is lacking (and only because it's impossible for a single book to include everything) is coverage of a variety of essential supplementary topics, such as the fiction-myth analysis of the Gospels provided in Randel Helms' Gospel Fictions, which I also highly recommend (even though Helms doesn't argue Jesus didn't exist).]

37 comments:

Steven Carr said...

A highly summarised version of Helm's arguments can be found in Miracles and the Book of Mormon

Haukur said...

Likewise, the very name "Easter" derives from the Germanic pagan ritual of the same function, where the Goddess Eostra gave a rabbit the power to lay eggs once a year to symbolize this agricultural resurrection of life.

I'm curious where you got this from. Bede doesn't say it and he's essentially our only source for this goddess. Is this some speculative reconstruction?

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

Yeah, I was wondering why I never saw any kind of criticism on the film from you. Thanks.

Ben

aircave said...

Any thoughts on www.jesusneverexisted.com, the website information or the book?

Jerome said...

Helms' book is really excellent and eye-opening indeed!

AIGBusted said...

Hi Richard,

In "Not the Impossible Faith" page 394, you say that Christians are told point blank "don't debate" and you reference Galatians 5:20-26. This passage says:

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other."

How exactly does this say for Christians not to debate?

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

Perhaps it's the "dissensions" part?

Dictionary says: "Difference of opinion; disagreement."

Ben

AIGBusted said...

Maybe it just meant that sin tends to divide people up. I mean, people can be united even if they have disagreements on some issues. It's usually just when someone does something wrong that it produces "discord".

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

"Discord" is also on the list separately.

AIGBusted said...

It says that discord is produced by sinful nature, but I don't think that this necessarily means a certain amount of argument in search of the truth. Although Carrier disagrees with me. From page 399 of his book:

(4) For
example, [Holding] claims Galatians 5:19-26 “says nothing at all
about debating” even though it has the word “debate” in it
(eris), as well as “disagreements” (dichostasiai, from the
verb dichostateô), and references to the common consequences
of both: “factions” and “sectarian divisions”
(eritheiai and haireseis), which both essentially meant “taking
sides” in a debate. Here Paul obviously equates arguments
(and taking positions threatening or contrary to church
dogma) as fundamentally comparable to murder or adultery
or any other sin (“debaters,” as those who ask questions to
discover the truth, i.e. the syzêtêtês, are similarly denounced
in 1 Corinthians 1:20). That he saw such things as the destructive
product of personal passions and ambitions is besides
the point, or rather supports the point, since it was evidently
hard for Paul to imagine criticism, questioning, or debate
as something that could have sincere motives or useful
ends.

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

It's always plausible that an author "doesn't really totally mean it" and was "just thinking of what he was thinking of" in that kind of myopic circular way, but it does just seem to list general dissent as bad. Paul apparently didn't have a problem debating outsiders like the Jews, but once you are inside, since his revelations come from God and that's what goes, it would naturally follow that in-house dissent was seen as sinful.

Ben

Haukur said...

All right, I found the Eostre egg theory.

Oberle, K A. 1883. Überreste germanischen Heidentums im Christentum. Baden-Baden. Page 104.

And to answer my own question, yes, it's a speculative reconstruction.

Kenny said...

I heard that the makers of GWWT interviewed people without any historical background for the historicity portion (such as Richard Dawkins). Is that true?

Will77 said...

I just got the new book called "Christ in Egypt" by D. M. Murdock / Acharya S. Her earlier books were ridiculous, but her last book "Who Was Jesus?" was alot better and more serious, it seemed to me anyway. I really wish Richard Carrier would review this new one because it looks pretty serious but I can't decide if she is a scholar or a charlatan, or maybe a little bit of both. any thoughts about this from anyone?

Richard Carrier said...

Haukur said... I'm curious where you got this from. Bede doesn't say it and he's essentially our only source for this goddess. Is this some speculative reconstruction?Not mine. I can't recall my source. Probably some run-of-the-mill encyclopedia. It wasn't relevant to the film so I didn't double-check. If the word Easter has some other source or the egg thing some other origin do let me know. I see you found a 19th century source and it was speculative. If you find anything more concrete on where "Easter" and/or the egg hunt come please give a report here. Though it's possible no one knows with enough certainty.

Aircave said... Any thoughts on www.jesusneverexisted.com, the website information or the book?What book? The website is too confusingly constructed to even warrant my time.

AIGBusted said... In "Not the Impossible Faith" page 394, you say that Christians are told point blank "don't debate" and you reference Galatians 5:20-26...How exactly does this say for Christians not to debate?You must not have read pp. 399-401 at the time. I answer exactly that question there (as I see you eventually realized). Note, also, that that isn't the only relevant passage I discuss, and they must all be interpreted in light of each other.

BTW, please post such comments next time in my blog about that book, so they will be on topic. I typically delete off topic comments.

Kenny said... I heard that the makers of GWWT interviewed people without any historical background for the historicity portion (such as Richard Dawkins). Is that true?You tell me. Watch the film and note if anyone asked for their expertise on that subject isn't qualified to discuss it. Then report who and what they were asked.

Will77: On Murdock see my response to your duplicate comment in Craig Debate Wrap.

Haukur said...

On Easter: I've been researching these questions with some fellow Wikipedians. The English Wikipedia article on Eostre is now pretty solid and should answer most questions. The main thing missing are the alternative etymological theories but the German Wikipedia article has that stuff down pretty well.

The short version: Bede tells us there was a goddess named Eostre in whose honor spring festivals were held. He doesn't tell us anything more and no other primary source tells us anything. Scholars seem to be about evenly divided on whether Bede was right about the existence of such a goddess.

Some European Easter customs (hares, eggs etc.) may have their origin in pagan times but that's all very speculative due to the lack of old sources on these customs.

Now, if Eostre was an actual spring goddess (more likely than not, in my opinion) and if hare and egg customs date back to pagan Germania (hard to estimate the probability of that but it's certainly not an absurd notion) then it's likely that there was a connection between hares and eggs and Eostre. Obviously this is speculative but since the 19th century it has often been presented as fact.

Neo-pagans are usually happy to appropriate bunny/egg customs for their spring activities - they may be originally pagan and even if they're folk customs originating in Christian times there's nothing inherently Christian or objectionable about them and they can easily be interpreted in pagan ways.

Steven Carr said...

Philippians 2

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself
and became obedient to death even death on a cross!
9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,
10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth....

Paul is clear that Jesus was only called Jesus after he died.

Steven Carr said...

Romans 1
'... made of the seed of David according to the flesh'.

If Jesus had been a human being, why would Paul have ever thought to use such a phrase?

After all , Paul never says Jesus had a nose.

Because that is too obvious to state.

So the bizarre phrase 'according to the flesh', must have some meaning other than was flesh and blood.

As everybody would have known that if it was not true.

It could mean physically descended , rather than a legal descendant.

But that is just a guess by me.

What did Paul really mean?

Richard Carrier said...

Steven Carr said... Paul is clear that Jesus was only called Jesus after he died.

Unfortunately, no. The text is ambiguous. The "name" he was given could refer to a hidden name (God had many hidden names of power, YHWH was supposed to be one of them) that isn't stated in the text, or to the designation Christ or Lord. In which case, the "at the name of Jesus" wouldn't refer to the name "Jesus" but the name that Jesus was assigned (which would either be a name not here disclosed, or to the "names" Christ or Lord), or it would indicate that the name "Jesus" now has the power of whatever other word of power the text is referring to (again, either a secret name not stated in the text, or the names Christ or Lord), i.e. because Jesus was granted the name of power, the name "Jesus" now shares that same power.

On the other hand, the text could mean exactly what it appears to say, that "Jesus" (Joshua = Savior) is the very name of power that he was assigned after his resurrection (which would support but not prove mythicism, since the historical man may have had another name before, like Immanuel). But that seems less likely to me, since Jesus was a common name held by many ordinary men, so can't have been a "name above all names" whose invocation granted supernatural power.

Romans 1: '... made of the seed of David according to the flesh'. If Jesus had been a human being, why would Paul have ever thought to use such a phrase?

That is indeed bizarre. More so than historicists usually grant. But not as much as you seem to think. Do note that Paul is here drawing a contrast: Davidic (and thus human, and royal) in respect to the flesh, but Son of God (and thus divine) in respect to the spirit. Taken in context, the phrase isn't "out of the blue" bizarre, since it is explained by Paul's need to explain how a guy can be divine and human at the same time (and without blasphemously suggesting Yahwheh "got busy" with the Lord's mum). So again, historicists have a perfectly respectable explanation of what's being said here and why. Whether it is the best explanation is another matter. But we have to be fair to both sides when evaluating evidence.

Richard Carrier said...

Haukur: Regarding Easter: Thanks! All good to know. I've just changed the text in the PDF to reflect the ambiguity of the evidence, since the precise details weren't relevant there, and I don't want to misinform anyone.

Robert Bumbalough said...

Hello Dr Carrier. I hope you are well and feeling fine. I wish you and your family a happy and joyful winter solstice celebration. Sir, could you comment on your intentions and or progress on your book "On the Historicity of Jesus Christ"?

Best Regards

Robert Bumbalough

Richard Carrier said...

Robert Bumbalough, book is in progress and coming along well. I just sent donors a progress report a month ago. The material I have will become several books, but one general one will come first. I will produce no other book (of my own) until that one comes out.

Code Handyman said...

You mention that claims in Zeitgeist are "utter garbage" but do not post any real arguments, or cite anything to support your extreme position on the film's claims.

Can you add a cite or something to back this claim up, or at least expand on it?

I am mostly interested in the bits that talk about the myth of christ, the similarities to egyptian myths etc. The bits about 9/11 etc. are probably not knowable until there is an actual arms length investigation, which there will probably never be.

Richard Carrier said...

Code Handyman said... Can you add a cite or something to back this claim up, or at least expand on it?

I did. My blog linked to Lippard's catalogue.

Vincent Harrison said...

New sourcebook guide for Zeitgeist part 1

"Here is the new sourcebook guide for Zeitgeist part 1 (ZG1) with new highly respected and credentialed scholarly sources, citations and bibliography. Also new images have been added among other new references. These new sources render all of the anti-ZG1 videos and reviews etc obsolete. The anti-ZGers and other critics will need to start all over."

New Sourcebook for ZG1 edited and expanded upon by Acharya S
http://www.stellarhousepublishing.com/zeitgeistsourcebook.pdf

Zeitgeist Part 1 & the Supportive Evidence
http://www.freethoughtnation.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=19&t=2997

Richard Carrier said...

Examine those "defenses" critically:

Most of it consists of Murdock citing herself (as if you didn't know, Acharya S is D.M. Murdock);

Much of it consists of backtracking (making excuses for why the claims in the movie aren't quite exactly correct but nevertheless one can infer such things from largely unrelated data, provided you ignore their original context and chronological disparities and the general unintelligibility of the connections once the accurate data is grasped; and pretend things like that there was no difference between Osiris and Horus so you can just assume anything said of either applies to both, etc.);

And the rest is bogus (outdated or non-scholarly authors are cited for facts that there is no real evidence of, which one can only learn by trying to hunt down their sources--the most amusing example being any resurrection story for Mithras: follow that trail and you'll find nothing but a dry well).

Some of it also omits crucial details that cast suspicion on any real connection (e.g. Did you know Dionysus died as a baby, being then hacked up, and was resurrected as a baby, before he even grew up or had a ministry or anything else? You won't learn that from the carefully cropped quotes in their materials).

After all that, what remains that's correct, doesn't entail any of the conclusions made in the movie. Like the constant emphasis on December 25 as a common divine birthday. That never existed in Christian tradition, until centuries later when it was assimilated to popular pagan practice. Thus this fact can't have in any way influenced or inspired the original Christian myth.

Devan Evans said...

Carrier I would like to state the obvious, out about 345 footnotes Murdock (Acharya) is cited in 78 of them. That makes 267 citations that don't have her in the footnotes.

Also there are about 300+ sources throughout all. If you look at the amount of time Murdock is cited in the 267 footnotes and compare it to all the other sources cited, contracting with the amount of footnotes she isn't, you would find that her work only constitutes about 16% of the overall source guide.

In regards to detailed information that is left out... this is what I keep finding frustrating because Zeitgeist is talking attributes, not detailed history. In other words, it doesn't have to be a detailed by detailed account of how the person died; it just has to account for the critical points in the story.

I am pretty sure you and I can agree that pictorial events of how Oden hung himself on a tree certainly added to help Christians in their depictions of Christ being hung on the cross (or the pictorial statement found in Acts and the Epistles that he was hung on a tree). If this is the case, why does one need more information about him, like the reason why he did it or further detail; you also are ignoring the usage of typology to create myths (which is the most commonly used technique both in Classical Greek Myths and especially in Judaism).

I like your work Carrier, I just think that if your going to criticize someone you don't throw out these old arguments that don't make any sense due to your apparent bias.

Haukur said...

Odin sacrifices himself to himself, hanging from a tree, wounded by a spear so there's clearly some similarity with the crucifixion story.

The earliest attestation of this Odinic myth is in the Hávamál, which is no older than the 9th century and is preserved in a 13th century manuscript.

It is often speculated that the pagan Norse borrowed the myth from the Christians. It's not the sort of thing that's capable of definite proof but there's certainly no knock-down argument against it.

Vincent Harrison said...

Maybe you misunderstood, the new sourcebook contains ...

"...This effort includes much new source material drawn from primary sources as well the works from credentialed authorities in a variety of relevant subjects. Indeed, I have strived to include the best and most thorough, scholarly and modern sources wherever possible, with the result that many authorities cited here possess credentials from respected institutes of higher learning, and their publishers are some of the most scholarly in English (and other languages), such as:

E.J. Brill
Peeters
Kegan Paul
Oxford University/Clarendon Press
Princeton University Press
Cambridge University Press
Cornell University Press
Yale University Press
University of Chicago Press
University of Pennsylvania Press
University of Wisconsin Press
Johns Hopkins Press
Harcourt, Brace & Co.
MacMillan & Co., etc...."

"Those who really know what academia is will recognize the list above as the best of the best respected institutes of higher learning. Hand-waving dismissals will not suffice."
http://freethoughtnation.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=19&t=3381

Here's another professional historian who made monumental errors in his criticism of Zeitgeist part 1 - Dr. Chris Forbes on Zeitgeist part 1 http://www.freethoughtnation.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=19&t=2875&start=0

I think ZG part 1 compliments the new mythicist position - http://freethoughtnation.com/forums/viewtopic.php?p=12409#p12409

Richard Carrier said...

Devan Evans: Your argument is fallacious. Most of those hundreds of cites are for trivia that has no bearing on the substantial conclusions. I was referring to the facts that are dubious, not all the window dressing. When you get to the claims that are questionable, it's almost Murdock all the way down. I'm also bothered by her not telling readers that she is Murdock.

As to "pictorial events of how Oden hung himself on a tree" I would like to know your source for that. Indeed, I dare you to check that source yourself (if you even have one). I guarantee you will discover it doesn't quite attest what you think. I know this because it's what has happened every other time I checked a source like this. And prior probability favors a repeat performance.

Haukur may be right, for example, that it's not a tree but a spear. I would call attention to the fact that in Zalmoxis cult (a Celtic-Thracian religion just north of Greece attested by Herodotus which I discuss in Not the Impossible Faith) sacrificial victims were hurled onto a spear to deliver messages to the dying-and-rising God Zalmoxis. I would sooner infer that an Odin spearing death derives from a tradition about Zalmoxis than Christianity, but it could easily be a syncretism of both.

Note that I never deny (and in fact affirm with proper evidence in NIF) that dying-rising god mythemes predate Xianity and Xianity is certainly a derivation thereof. Possibly even indirectly tracing a lineage of ideas to Zalmoxis cult for all we know (though we don't know). My issue with the Zeitgeist film has nothing to do with such speculations, but with its defense of them from wholly specious and hyperbolized claims, and it's far-overreaching conclusions from evidence, half of which does not entail those conclusions, and the other half of which dissolves the moment you try to track down its supposed sources. That annoys me as a historian. A lot.

Haukur said...

Oh, the tree and the spear are a part of the same myth. I discuss the original source here and review multiple English translations of it.

Richard Carrier said...

You're right, then. It has more in common with Christianity, and indeed aligns with Gospel of John, which suggests the direction of influence was Christianity-->Odin (since the spearing on the post did not originate with Christianity but was added later by John for reasons having to do with an obscure alignment with Jewish scripture, which is the opposite of "influence from Celto-Germanic religion," thus you have either an improbable coincidence or a probable influence from Christian teaching on medieval Celto-Germanic religion). At the very least, there is no evidence here of the reverse thesis.

Devan Evans said...

Dubious sources cited Carrier?

"E.J. Brill
Peeters
Kegan Paul
Oxford University/Clarendon Press
Princeton University Press
Cambridge University Press
Cornell University Press
Yale University Press
University of Chicago Press
University of Pennsylvania Press
University of Wisconsin Press
Johns Hopkins Press
Harcourt, Brace & Co.
MacMillan & Co., etc...."

These are the publishers of some of the sources. Others include very esteemed authors such as Hayyim ben Yehoshua, A.L. Berger, James Bonwick, Joseph Campbell, R.L. Gordon, Jaime Alvor Ezquerra, John Gwyn Griffiths along with modern translations of ancient sources from translators like Raymond O. Faulkner's Egyptian Book of the Dead, James P. Allen's Pyramid Texts and ancient sources such Macrobius' Saturnalia Diodorus Siculus' Antiquities of Egypt and many more sources can be considered dubious?

I must state with conviction that you are just attacking the person presenting the source and the people cited instead of attacking the sources themselves (i.e. the Genetic Fallacy). I would appreciate if you could actually provide a reason as to why the source guide is faulty instead of saying "Oh Murdock is cited, it must be garbage!" I also draw attention the fact that Murdock's work only constitutes about 16% of the overall source guide in part 1... this does not mean that sources are "almost Murdock all the way down." As far as her not bothering her readers that she is Murdock... wtf? She has said that over and over and over again, she is not hiding that fact... I don't know what this is about but it would appear that you have some personal grudge against Murdock that apparently makes you blind to go beyond what was stated.

Thomas said...

I'm not going to try to win anyone over. Too many all full of themselves and just so proud of their higher thinking.

But I do pose a few questions: are you happy? Does your life have purpose? Does life make sense within the paradigm you have constructed?

You can't keep Jesus out. He works in ways you can't thwart. You will find He is the Light of the World even when you fight it all the way. 18 years without, 33 years within. I know the difference. Forgive me for not agreeing with people here I know to be at a lesser stage of personal evolution.

Salvation is great. Come on in, the water's fine.

Code Handyman said...

@Thomas Your appeal to whether or not people are "happy" obviously doesnt address the questions posed by the obvious holes in arguments for Christ and religion in general. All kinds of fake things can make you "happy" and give you a sense of "purpose". If someone tells you that you are actually god's special messenger to the world and its entire fate rests on your shoulders - that might give you a sense of purpose, but its a false premise because that person is clearly not credible. So I ask you, which is more important - being happy but delusional, or being less happy but having feet firmly planted in reality? I choose the latter and by doing so hopefully free up a bed in my local mental hospital.

Richard Carrier said...

Devan Evans said... These are the publishers of some of the sources.

Not the ones I was referring to. Read more carefully what I actually said.

I must state with conviction that you are just attacking the person presenting the source and the people cited instead of attacking the sources themselves (i.e. the Genetic Fallacy).

No, I'm not. I'm have consistently only attacked the methodology.

As far as her not bothering her readers that she is Murdock... wtf? She has said that over and over and over again, she is not hiding that fact...

That is true. The document declares Murdock to be a co-author. I retract my concern.

Richard Carrier said...

Thomas said... Are you happy? Does your life have purpose? Does life make sense within the paradigm you have constructed?

Yes.

Read my book demonstrating why: Sense and Goodness without God.

All your Jesus stuff is just poppycock, sad to say. Code Handyman already said enough about that, but for a detailed case read: The Christian Delusion.