If you’ve found a neutral historian who writes on Jesus, you should be very thankful because you also have the makings of billions of dollars. That neutral historian would, of course, be an artificially-intelligent robot, not a human being. So congratulations on that discovery.

You’ve committed the genetic fallacy against Carrier. Can you show that his anti-Christian zeal weakens his arguments? The reason that’s a fallacy is that a zealous proponent of some view could be expected either to produce biased opinions that cut corners or to be motivated to work tirelessly in getting to the heart of the matter. Which is the case can’t be prejudged. It’s possible that Christianity is so abominable that it deserves our contempt, in which case a suitable portion of contempt can motivate critics to dig up the planet’s worth of dirt that might be available on that religion.

Grant’s book on Jesus was for a broader, mostly Christian audience. How successful would that book have been in that context if he took a more skeptical view of the gospels?

His lack of neutrality is apparent also from this review of his book: “Grant argues that the overriding and exclusive concern of Jesus was the proclamation of the imminent coming of the Kingdom of God. In the midst of this conclusion, the aspiring, objective historian betrays his intention to overthrow, with this new view, the nineteenth-century liberal interpretation of Jesus as the meek and mild, compassionate do-gooder…

“Even in method, Grant often veers from the common historical norms. His repeated argument that an event in Jesus’s life, like the crucifixion, is fact because the early Christians would have found it so hard to accept, or the reverse, that an event like the resurrection, is suspect because the apostles wanted it so badly to be true, is a dubious line of reasoning and certainly not conclusive. The modern imposition of what is desirable or undesirable is unjustified, for what makes us so certain that our value judgments concur with those of the early Christians?”

If that’s what counts as “neutral” historical criticism of the New Testament, namely paper-thin pop-psychological guesswork about what first-century Palestinians would find embarrassing, Carrier would annihilate it and leave nothing at all left over. Only the flimsiest of historical judgments could be made about Jesus, given those pseudoscientific “methods.”

Vermes’s bias is that he wanted to reclaim Jesus for Judaism. Thus he ignored the Greco-Roman influence on Judaism in that period. If it turned out that the historical sources of early Christianity were so flawed as to support only agnosticism or ambiguous conclusions about Jesus, he could hardly have made good on his claim to take back Jesus for Judaism.

Plus, Vermes’s arguments in Jesus the Jew are no stronger than Grant’s: “Mark, which besides being the most ancient of the Synoptic Gospels is also doctrinally the least developed, alludes to no actual apparition, but is content to present as the somewhat embarrassing basis for belief in the resurrection the evidence of two women that they heard from a white-robed youth that the body was missing from the tomb because Jesus had been raised from the dead.”

Burton Mack refuted that canard about Mark being doctrinally undeveloped. Vermes presupposes that Mark is interested in making a case based on “evidence,” whereas Mark might have been more interested in drawing lessons and finding meaning in life with midrash and parables. And Vermes is in no position to psychoanalyze the ancient Palestinians or presume that we all have the same standards of what should embarrass us.

Vermes goes on to say, “for the historian it is Mark’s evidence, the weakest of all, that possesses the best claim for authenticity, the story brought by two women which — to quote Luke — the apostles themselves thought such ‘nonsense’ that they would not believe it.”

But that makes for only self-contradictory evidence for the empty tomb, since whereas Vermes trusts Mark most of all and speaks of “the story brought by two women,” Mark itself says the women told no one because they were afraid! Luke 24:10 contradicts Mark and says, “It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles.” So is Vermes trusting Luke after all, even though Luke was obviously just cleaning up Mark rather than trying to get at the facts?

Alas, have I cost you those billions of dollars by showing you haven’t found a neutral, artificially-intelligent robot after all? Sorry about that. Easy come, easy go, I guess.

Knowledge condemns. Art redeems. I learned that as an artistic writer who did a doctorate in philosophy. We should try to see the dark comedy in all things.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store