The Rubicon Crossing and the Resurrection (against the argument)
A common argument used in apologetics today involves an analogy between the crossing of the Rubicon (a stream in what is now northern Italy) by Julius Caesar, and the resurrection of Jesus. (For a popular account of the former event, see here.) The jist of the argument is, since no one doubts the former, there is no reason to doubt the latter – the premise being that there is as much documentation for one event as for the other. William Lane Craig, for example, says in Reasonable Faith :
Historians of the Roman Empire often refer to “Caesar’s crossing the Rubicon” as an undisputed fact of historic significance, even though it is attested only by four ancient writers, two to three generations after the event, all dependent on one eyewitness account [long since disappeared!], and preserved in significantly different forms corresponding to the various authors’ ideologies, including one which attributes Caesar’s decision to enlarge his frontiers to divine guidance.
Is this indeed the case? One matter confusing the issue is that it is not clear, when this analogy is used, whether it is meant to argue in terms of “Caesar crossing the Rubicon” personally (in other words, that Julius Caesar, as a person, crossed the stream) or whether in is meant in terms of Rome, represented corporately by Caesar, crossed the Rubicon (as in, “Hitler invaded Poland”).
I consulted with a leading apologist who used the analogy, and he suggested that it “might mean both.” Yet which one we use may affect the validity and usefulness of the analogy.
In light of this, we will examine here both possibilities – individual as well as corporate crossing – and then address Skeptical replies to the latter (but not the former, as it seems Skeptical critics have assumed only the corporate meaning, and have not, that I have found, replied to the “individual” crossing idea).
A chief retort to the analogy is that because Caesar crossed the Rubicon, we have numerous artifacts (coins, weapons, the effect on later history); whereas we have none such for Jesus. This in itself we may dispute (that is, that we do not have evidence of an equitable nature); but let us now run down claimed deficiencies in the comparison, as offered particularly by Richard Carrier.
A first claim of deficiency is that while we have Caesar’s own word of the crossing of the Rubicon, in his work The Civil War, we do not have Jesus’ own words on his resurrection.
Unfortunately Carrier does not cite where in The Civil War this comes from, so it is not clear whether the application he makes is relevant to the personal or the corporate crossing; and a search of The Civil War version online (see here) does not avail for the name “Rubicon”. If indeed the Rubicon is not specifically mentioned in this work, then at best we only have a sound logical deduction that the Rubicon was crossed corporately, and no guarantee (just a good likelihood) that Caesar crossed it as an individual.
This particular objection, however, reflects a thoroughly modern, graphocentric prejudice. Because of the prevalence of orality over writing in ancient society, to transmit a fact orally was considered to be (and indeed, as well was) as good as writing it down. Jesus’ own speech to his disciples is thus as good as Caesar’s own hand (though I very much doubt Skeptics would find a first-person account by Jesus any more believable).
At the same time, it is as well to note that even what is alleged to be from Caesar himself is likely as not, not from his own hand, but from his mouth to a scribe’s ears. As noted by Achtemeier in his article “Omne Verbatim Sonat” (JBL, 109, 1990, 3-27), in antiquity the “normal mode of composition” was to dictate to a scribe. “Dictation was recommended over writing in one’s own hand by Dio Chrysostem, and famous personages, we are told, were regularly accompanied by a slave prepared at any time to take dictation” — even if they were on horseback, or in the public baths.
It would be errant to suppose that a man of great prestige like Julius Caesar did not have his own slaves to record his words. Thus this objection fails. (Attached as well is the idea that the Gospels are anonymous; on that point, see here.)
A second point made is that we have the word of “enemies” of Caesar, such asCicero (a comtemporary), whereas we have no neutral or hostile records of the resurrection of Jesus.
Once again Carrier is not specific; he does not say which work ofCicerohe has in mind, much less does he offer a quote — and he names no other enemy of Caesar who recorded this. (A reader adds the point that to call Cicero an “enemy” of Caesar is questionable as well; they were personal friends, and he was relieved when Caesar was killed only because he disliked the idea of a king; he did not participate in Caesar’s assassination, nor show any sign of approving of it).
I by no means see the need to do Carrier’s own reporting for him by looking through each and every one of Cicero’s works to decipher what he has in mind; perhaps he refers to correspondence of Cicero on the subject of the war, but Carrier does not tell us if we have anything more than inference, as opposed to a direct testimony, that Caesar made this crossing.
In any event, we do have a point that the comparison is inapt here: For someone like Cicero might well use Caesar’s actions as some sort of subject for objection; much as modern “doves” find it helpful to take for granted the historicity of, say, torture of prisoners in Iraq. Where the resurrection of Jesus is concerned, we would never expect “enemies” of Christianity to record it, since it would not serve their purposes. They would at most (as Josephus does directly, and Tacitus, perhaps elliptically) report that Christians believed Jesus was resurrected.
Thus there is a weakness, perhaps, in the analogy here; but there is greater weakness in Carrier’s unreasonable demand.
A third point is one we have alluded to: The note that we have “inscriptions and coins produced soon after the Republican Civil War related to the Rubicon crossing, including mentions of battles and conscriptions and judgments, which provide evidence for Caesar’s march.”
By itself, “related to” is too vague. Does “related to” mean, as above, something that leads to a logical deduction that the Rubicon was crossed by Caesar, as opposed to a coin that, say, directly depicts Caesar (or his army) stepping over the stream in person?
If the latter is not what we have, then the analogy remains intact; it is just as well to appeal to, say, the letters of Paul as equivalent to “battles and conscriptions and judgments” caused by the resurrection of Jesus.
It is here also that the “individual vs. corporate” matter is of particular relevance. The analogy would not be as appropriate here if the comparison were being made to the Rubicon crossing as a corporate event; for the Resurrection was an event of an individual, not of a nation. To expect coins and inscriptions from such an event as the resurrection would be unreasonable; and thus the analogy would not hold well here, and yet again, Carrier’s retort is likewise unreasonable.
The fourth point made is that we have the story of the “Rubicon Crossing” in almost every historian of the period, including the most prominent scholars of the age: Suetonius, Appian, Cassius Dio, Plutarch.
This is true, but it is irrelevant. As my co-apologist Mike Licona has noted, replying to the objections of Acharya S, these sources are rather late – later than even Carrier believes the Gospels to be from their sources: Appian wrote in the 2nd century A D, Plutarch after 70, and Suetonius around 115. And to make matters worse for Carrier, our earliest manuscripts of these works are as much as a millennium removed from the originals.
I make this point not to accuse these works of unreliability or having been tampered with, but because I see no reason to think they have been. The point rather is to treat these documents in the same way Carrier treats the Gospels would be unreasonable. (A reader has added that Plutarch does give an account of the personal crossing.)
Carrier has a retort for this, observing first that these other authors “have been confirmed in material evidence and in other sources.” Of course the same may be justly said of the Gospels, especially Luke; but Carrier offers no further details at this juncture, so neither will we.
He adds secondly that these authors “often quote and name many different sources, showing a wide reading of the witnesses and documents, and they show a desire to critically examine claims for which there is any dispute.” Be that as it may, it would not occur to Carrier that the Gospels lack this because there was no dispute over source material which required this kind of comparative work — in other words, it is unreasonable to demand that the Gospels do comparative work if their sources are uniform and reliable, as indeed would be first-hand testimony.
On the matter of alleged bias in the Gospels, we refer the reader here, and to here, section titled, “Was Paul a Liar?”, for a reply to the matter of the use of oaths, which shows exactly the opposite of what Carrier claims.
Finally, Carrier appeals to the point that “the history ofRome could not have proceeded as it did had Caesar not physically moved an army intoItaly.”
This would affect the corporate argument, but not the individual one; obviously Caesar could have waited somewhere else while his army did the work. On the other hand, we are just as well off to say, despite Carrier, that without the Resurrection, the history of Christianity could not have proceeded as it did, a point which we pursue in The Impossible Faith (which of course, Carrier has also attempted reply to of late).
We conclude therefore, in this summary piece, that we do indeed have “many reasons to believe that Caesar crossed the Rubicon,” more so corporately than individually — and we have just as good reason to believe the Resurrection, as we do for the corporate crossing; and more and more direct evidence for the individual crossing. However, it is obvious that the “corporate” crossing is of a somewhat different class of event than the Resurrection; if we are to use this analogy, the “individual” crossing offers a better comparison.
In the end, we are justified in saying, as do many apologists, that the evidence for the Resurrection is as good as, or better than, that for Caesar crossing the Rubicon; however, like most arguments made in brief, it inevitably requires elucidation.
I have recently been made aware that Carrier has replied to this piece, and Carrier has both repeatedly “missed the point” as well as made a number of statements about matters beyond his actual knowledge. Let us now turn to that reply.
James Holding claims that we have as much evidence that Jesus rose from his grave as we have that Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon (“Julie’s River Run: On Comparing the Rubicon to the Resurrection”). There are numerous errors in his argument. This rebuttal responds briefly to the most important issues. In the end, my claim remains unchallenged: we have better evidence that Caesar crossed the Rubicon than we have that Jesus rose from the grave. Therefore, the claim that this resurrection is “as well attested” as the Rubicon crossing is false. The Resurrection could still be a better explanation of its evidence, but that is not the issue under debate here. I take that up elsewhere.
One thing to note from the beginning is that Carrier utterly fails to mention — anywhere — my establishment of a distinction between the individual and the corporate crossing of the Rubicon. It is therefore disingenuous to say that I “claim that we have as much evidence that Jesus rose from his grave as we have that Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon”. It is also disingenuous to fail to mention that I say that to show that the evidence for these events is sufficient to accept both as historical requires elucidation.
Finally, Carrier has indeed “elsewhere” addressed the Resurrection, and we have also “elsewhere” addressed his arguments on these points.
1. Does Caesar Mention Crossing the Rubicon? Holding claims that Caesar’s book The Civil War does not mention any crossing of the Rubicon. Perhaps Holding is just being picky. What Caesar does say, in his own words, is that he was “at Ravenna” where he assembled and spoke to his troops when Rome declared war upon him (1.4-6). He straightaway adds: “Once the will of his soldiers was known, he marched with this legion to Ariminum,” modern Rimini, where several defectors with messages from Rome were waiting to receive him (1.8.1). Ravenna lies on the Italian coast twenty miles north of the Rubicon. Ariminum lies on the Italian coast ten miles south of the Rubicon. The towns were directly connected by a major Roman road that crossed the Rubicon, the Via Flaminia. You do the math.
I am not being “too picky” unless Skeptics are being “too picky” as well. I have indicated that the evidence shows that it is a sound deduction that the Rubicon was crossed, that it is the only explanation that makes any sense: “we only have a sound logical deduction that the Rubicon was crossed corporately, and no guarantee (just a good likelihood) that Caesar crossed it as an individual.”
One could certainly argue the same way as certain Skeptics — whose own work Carrier obviously does not hesitate to be associated with, in The Empty Tomb book — who suppose that perhaps Jesus had an evil twin who faked his Resurrection; we could “argue” in the same way that Caesar did not cross the Rubicon to get to Ariminum, but walked upstream, by himself, past the source of the Rubicon and went around it, then went back downstream.
Or, since Carrier indeed doesn’t mind being in the same book as Greg Cavin, why not opt for the “Caesar had a stunt double who crossed the Rubicon while he stayed home” explanation?
Of course this is quite far-fetched, but so likewise are the theories of Skeptics (including Carrier himself, who has not hesitated to suggest that Jesus survived the crucifixion, for example). That is my point. If Carrier and his cohorts are going to be “picky” about the Resurrection, one can be just as “picky” about the crossing of the Rubicon and contrive all manner of “evil twin” or “survived the crucifixion” excuses (perhaps Caesar had an “evil twin” of his own who actually did the crossing) or perhaps even invent out of whole cloth roaming necromancers who just happened to steal Jesus’ body from the tomb (which is an idea Carrier himself has suggested).
Carrier then offers an extended commentary about how I allegedly did not check with “historians ofRome” about howCiceroreally was Caesar’s enemy after all, but we get no actual quote from any historian ofRomethat says any such thing. We do get some citations from the Phillipics, however:
Cicero himself says others argued against him because Cicero was Caesar’s enemy, and anything he said about Caesar should carry little weight (Phillipics 1.11.28). Cicero admits he sided with Pompey against Caesar in the Civil War (Phillipics 2.9.23) and claims that had Pompey listened to Cicero before the war and taken action against Caesar as Cicero advised, the entire war would have been averted (Phillipics 2.10). In fact, Cicero was so prominently Caesar’s enemy that Brutus shouted only one name after stabbing Caesar to death: “Thanks to Cicero!” (Phillipics 2.12.28).
Let’s look at those cites and see what they actually say, for we have found previously with Carrier that once an original is consulted, the picture becomes rather less than what he’d like for us to suppose it is. The critical thing to bear in mind is that Carrier has demanded testimony from hostile witnesses for the resurrection — presumably, meaning, persons like Celsus would be later on, people who were against Christianity and what it held to be true, or had some animosity towards Jesus.
But his appeals to Cicero do not make out Cicero to be an enemy to Caesar after that fashion, in other words, someone who hated Caesar and also would have reason to wish that he had not crossed the Rubicon (as the sort of opponent Carrier has in mind would wish that Jesus had not been resurrected). Rather, the cites make them out at best to be political opponents after the manner of Bill Clinton and George Bush Sr., who had ideological differences, yes, but no sense at all of personal animosity, or of any case where eg, one might wish to deny the clear accomplishments of the other, but could not. Thus:
1.11.28: But if, as has been said to me by some of his intimate friends, every speech which is at all contrary to his inclination is violently offensive, to him, even if there be no insult in it whatever; then we will bear with the natural disposition of our friend. But those men, at the same time, say to me, “You will not have the same licence granted to you who are the adversary of Caesar as might be claimed by Piso his father-in-law.” And then they warn me of something which I must guard against; and certainly, the excuse which sickness supplies me with, for not coming to the senate, will not be a more valid one than that which is furnished by death.
Nothing in this speaks ofCiceroas an enemy of Caesar in the same sense that Carrier appeals to for hostile witnesses to the resurrection. The only parallel would be perhaps to church heretics like the Gnostics or Judaizers, some of whom DID believe in the Resurrection, while others re-interpreted it as another type of miracle that Carrier would be no more accepting of.
2.9.23: And have you now been found, so many years afterwards, to say a thing which, at the time that the affair was under discussion, no one ventured to say against me? But as to the assertion that you have dared to make, and that at great length too, that it was by my means that Pompeius was [p. 29] alienated from his friendship with Caesar, and that on that account it was my fault that the civil war was originated; in that you have not erred so much in the main facts, as (and that is of the greatest importance) in the times.
There is again nothing here except that which is comparable to a Bush-Clinton rivalry. There is no evidence of personal animus (“friendship” must be understood in terms of collectivist relationships, not modern ideas of sentimentality) or of any degree of ideological animus to the degree that a Celsus would have.
It is clear that Cicero and Caesar had different “visions” for the Empire — just as Bush and Clinton have different visions forAmerica.
The next cite, 2.12.28, reveals much the same thing: But recollect, I pray you, how that clever man convicted me of being an accomplice in the business. When Caesar was slain, says he, Marcus Brutus immediately lifted up on high his bloody dagger, and called on Cicero by name; and congratulated him on liberty being recovered.
There was no animus against Caesar the man here. There was a disagreement with how affairs of Rome ought to be conducted, and so, as I did say: “he was relieved when Caesar was killed only because he disliked the idea of a king“. He was an enemy of an idea, not of a person; whereas the sort of enemies Carrier has in mind for the Resurrection are those who would be against both the person (Jesus) AND the idea (resurrection) — the closest analogy to Cicero, again, would be heretics whose views and testimomy Carrier would not accept either.
In all of this, Carrier does not at all counter the points thatCicero”did not participate in Caesar’s assassination, nor show any sign of approving of it.” The closest he comes to showing any such thing is achieved by abandoning clarity:
Though Cicero asserts he always preferred peace to violence, he nevertheless says that even though people wrongly accuse him of planning the assassination of Caesar, he counts this accusation as praise, for he regards Caesar’s assassination as “a glorious act” carried out by “a gallant band” of men to whom “the republic owes a debt of gratitude.” Additionally, Cicero “admires” them for performing a deed so excellent that it would be absurd for his accusers to believe he would deny involvement unless he really wasn’t involved, for their name and number is “glorious” and “honorable” (Phillipics 2.11), and no greater or more glorious a deed was ever done at Rome, to the point that Cicero is happy to be included in their number (Phillipics 2.13.32-33).
Unfortunately for Carrier, in checking his citations, we find that he is not telling the whole story. 2.13.32-3, with 31 included, tells the whole story:
For just consider a little; and for a moment think of the business like a sober man. I who, as I myself confess, am an intimate friend of those men, and, as you accuse me, an accomplice of theirs, deny that there is any medium between these alternatives. I confess that they, if they be not deliverers of the Roman people and saviours of the republic, are worse than assassins, worse than homicides, worse even than parricides: since it is a more atrocious thing to murder the father of one’s country, than one’s own father. You wise and considerate man, what do you say to this? If they are parricides, why are they always named by you, both in this assembly and before the Roman people, with a view to do them honour? Why has Marcus Brutus been, on your motion, excused from obedience to the laws, and allowed to be absent from the city more than ten days?1 Why were the games of Apollo celebrated with incredible honour to Marcus Brutus? why were provinces given to Brutus and Cassius? why were quaestors assigned to them? why was the number of their lieutenants augmented? And all these measures were owing to you. They are not homicides then. It follows that in your opinion they are deliverers of their country, since there can be no other alternative.  What is the matter? Am I embarrassing you? For perhaps you do not quite understand propositions which are stated disjunctively. Still this is the sum total of my conclusion; that since they are acquitted by you of wickedness, they are at the same time pronounced most worthy of the very most honourable rewards.
Therefore, I will now proceed again with my oration. I will write to them, if any one by chance should ask whether what you have imputed to me be true, not to deny it to any one. In truth, I am afraid that it must be considered either a not very creditable thing to them, that they should have concealed the fact of my being an accomplice; or else a most discreditable one to me that I was invited to be one, and that I shirked it. For what greater exploit (I call you to witness, O august Jupiter!) was ever achieved not only in this city, but in all the earth? What more glorious action was ever done? What deed was ever more deservedly recommended to the everlasting recollection of men? Do you, then, shut me up with the other leaders in the partnership in this design, as in the Trojan horse? I have no objection; I even thank you for doing so, with whatever intent you do it.  For the deed is so great a one, that I can not compare the unpopularity which you wish to excite against me on account of it, with its real glory.
For who can be happier than those men whom you boast of having now expelled and driven from the city? What place is there either so deserted or so uncivilized, as not to seem to greet and to covet the presence of those men wherever they have arrived? What men are so clownish as not, when they have once beheld them, to think that they have reaped the greatest enjoyment that life can give? And what posterity will be ever so forgetful, what literature will ever be found so ungrateful, as not to cherish their glory with undying recollection? Enroll me then, I beg, in the number of those men.
Once again, we see a clash of visions (as I said, an objection to kingship) and nothing in the way of a personal animus or hatred comparable to the sort Carrier wants for hostile witnesses the Resurrection. We also do not see anything in the way of an actual approval of assassination as a solution, which is exactly what I said. Cicero is doing what we would expect of someone operating under the honor and shame rubric of that period (something which Carrier has shown not understood in other contexts as well), after the fact of the assassination — under such a rubric, it is quite intelligible that one would disapprove of method or solution (as Cicero’s pacifist tendencies and writings would show he would) while still according honor to those who performed the act.
Cicero’s praise for the assassins after the fact, as persons, is not praise for their means to the end, and this is something Carrier fails to grasp because he is thinking in modern, individualist, political terms, in which the media wishes to have us believe that any criticism of a political position amounts to personal animus.
So it remains that there is no sign at all of Cicero approving the assassination as an act, despite Carrier’s anachronisms and inability to wrest approval from the text in the way we have explained is not present.
Cicero also called Caesar “wicked” (Phillipics 3.6.14) and regarded many of Caesar’s legislative acts to be unconscionable (Phillipics 1.7.16, 1.9.23).
This happens every day in Congress between Republicans and Democrats, but it takes creativity to take that to mean that they are personal enemies who would approve of an opponent being assassinated. Carrier is also not accounting for the use of riposte in an agonistic setting; for Cicero to call Caesar “wicked” is merely a case of drawing from a stock of established rejoinders to be used against ideological opponents; just as Jesus can call Peter “Satan” and still have him as his disciple. Carrier is mistaking an ancient contest of “the dozens” for something it is not.
In the end, Carrier has failed to understand how and why his appeal toCicerois undermined:
- There is no evidence of the sort of animus between Cicero and Caesar that Carrier wants of “hostile witnesses” where the Resurrection is concerned.
- There is no indication that Cicero had any specific issue with whether or not Caesar crossed the Rubicon, and would have preferred that it not happen as an event (if he objected to the war, it would make no sense to deny that it was done).
- It is also clear that Carrier is obfuscating when it comes to the sense of “approved” with respect to howCiceroregarded the assassination.Cicerodid not take part in it and he was also one who disapproved of violence.
By the same token, even the great majority of people who are ideologically against the war inIraqwould say that they are happy that Saddam Hussein was removed from power. Yet does the latter imply that they “approved” the way it was accomplished? Hardly.
The bottom line being, that Carrier’s analogy has been and remains completely erroneous. As an aside, in 3.6.14,Ciceroalso calls Brutus, the leader of the assassins, “impious” — did he not admire the man, according to Carrier’s thesis?
The comparison made to Paul is more apt (albeit in the wrong direction for Carrier), but Cicero had no interest at all that would lead him to deny that Caesar crossed the Rubicon, and so there is nothing in his purely ideological “hostility” to Caesar that would make his testimony any better as “evidence that Caesar really crossed the Rubicon.” In fact, Carrier refutes himself when he notes that “the Rubicon was the border of the legally assignedprovince ofCaesar, and it was an act of treason for a general to march an army outside his assigned province…”
What would be a more delicious tidbit for an enemy of Caesar to wish to be historical? If anything, it would be those aligned with Caesar who might be more inclined to cover this up or deny it (though I am being facetious; neither would).
Carrier notes that “Cicerorecords Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon in the same way Caesar himself does” and this we do not and never have disputed; we simply reply as we have above that it is just as possible to imitate Skeptical contrivances of Jesus surviving crucifixion and of evil twins. We also reply that by the same means, we have just as much evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus (despite Carrier’s “elsewhere” attempts to undermine it).
The difference is that Skeptics ares called “rational” for coming up with such theories as evil twins and travelling necromancers, whereas one is judged a religious fanatic or insane to suppose that Caesar took upstream hikes to soothe his hydrophobia.Cicerocannot be compared to a Caiaphas in this regard (and Carrier has apparently forgotten that Joseph of Arimathea would be one he’d regard as a “friendly” witness, not a hostile one). The Rubicon crossing does not have a “hostile witness” in the testimony ofCicero.
On the next section:
3. What Counts as Physical Evidence? Holding correctly interprets my wording when he infers I did not claim we had any actual physical depictions of an army crossing a Rubicon (or inscriptions saying “I, Caesar, crossed the Rubicon”). That is not what I mean by physical evidence. Though such things would surely count (if they dated from the life of Caesar), they are not the only things we could have. This is true for the Resurrection, too. It is not necessary to have an inscription stating “Jesus rose from this grave” or a coin depicting this. Though such things would indeed constitute better evidence than we actually have, so would other kinds of physical evidence.
If we had an actual papyrus carbon-dated to the first century containing a letter by Pilate or Peter documenting or detailing any of the key facts surrounding the resurrection claim, that would be physical evidence. If we had an inscription commissioned by Joseph of Arimathea attesting to the fact that he found his tomb empty and that Jesus then appeared to his disciples, that would be physical evidence. If we had a coin issued by Agrippa just a few years later declaring faith in Christ, that would be physical evidence. If the empty tomb acquired miraculous powers as a result of so momentous a miracle there, or if the angels never left but remained there to converse with all who sought to know the truth, so that either fact could be physically confirmed today–so that we could go there now and see these miracles or angels for ourselves–that would be physical evidence.
I would stop here to note that we hardly have the equivalent for Caesar of what Carrier suggests either — an actual papyrus carbon-dated to the first century BC that contains a letter by Cicero or Brutus documenting or detailing the key facts surrounding Caesar physically crossing the Rubicon. Nor do we have an inscription from one of Caesar’s generals attesting to the fact that Caesar physically and personally went over the river, or a coin showing Caesar doing do. The Rubicon didn’t acquire any powers from Caesar’s crossing and I rather suspect he didn’t leave soliders there to converse with passers-by about how he had crossed it. So one wonders what the point of this commentary is, for it is said:
But in no way is it “just as well to appeal to, say, the letters of Paul as equivalent to” the inscriptions and coins of Caesar, because the letters of Paul do not physically date to the life of Paul. This is a considerable problem, since we have already purged numerous interpolations and emendations from these letters by later scribes, and suspect many more, thus exemplifying the difference in reliability between having the actual letters written by Paul and having copies of copies of copies made by fallible scribes with a religious agenda. This does not mean the letters we have should be rejected as wholly unreliable. What I am saying is that actually having the original letters is better evidence than having these flawed and tampered copies, and therefore such physical objects fall into their own category of evidence.
In terms of the letters of Paul, we have material on this site that challenges such a conclusion, if Carrier wishes to take it on (he has refused to answer any work of mine, save for payment), and also material that challenges any claim that any such “interpolation or emendation” exists that warrants concern or that “agenda” in any way affects the texts. This is a position he can not and will not defend. And as we have pointed out, we hardly have originals of anything written about Caesar, either; and who can guess what hands those passed through — if indeed rampant speculation, as Carrier’s above, and not evidence is the rule of the day.
Carrier continues about various coins the attest to Caesar being about, but I have said that noting such things is unreasonable as an implied demand on Christianity, and it remains one. Those with the authority to mint coins at the critical time were of an infinitesimally small number compared to the population of the Empire as a whole. In essence Carrier is objecting that .0000001% of the population didn’t attest to the existence or acts of Jesus in a way that was available to them. Aside from the inherent unlikelihood that someone from such a small group would indeed convert to Christianity, this (and the further commentary about inscriptions, which is just as vulnerable on a similar point) amounts to a refusal to recognize that there is nothing special about the medium of the message.
A Gospel or an epistle IS an “inscription” — of ink, or what have you, on paper. To strike a coin with “year two of the era of Jesus Christ” says no more than to scratch a papyrus with the same words. If anything it is worth far less because it is devoid of defining content.
Carrier’s appeal to coins and inscriptions is invalid on other counts as well. It is like arguing that the historicity of the Nixon administration is better established now that the information is available on interactive DVDs as opposed to merely books. Thus we DO, despite Carrier, have inscriptions about Jesus written shortly thereafter, “documenting his miracles in life or appearances after death, or the subsequent commitments of the Church, and so on.” It’s called the New Testament. That it is an inscription on paper rather than stone doesn’t make any difference.
In the next section, there is much bluster about how “every professional historian” disagrees with the idea that oral history is able to be reliable or is less reliable (it is not clear how far Carrier goes with this), but there are no quotes from such persons, and Carrier’s own words are simply able to be reworded and returned thusly:
Oral tradition cannot be confirmed–it is taken solely on someone’s word, and is subject to restatement, embellishment, and mistake. The latter entails either misunderstanding what was said or mistaking what one person said as what someone else said. Moreover, oral history lacks controls: there is no way to go back and “check” to make sure a statement was gotten right or correctly attributed–or genuinely said at all. In contrast, though written transmission can be doctored, this is not so easy as in the case of oral tradition. Since many people have a text to compare a written transmission to, claims can often be checked. Furthermore, manuscript traditions often survive, allowing us to identify errors and corruptions. And though written transmission was subject to error, its errors were usually minor and often easily identified, for the kinds of mistakes a copyist makes are much more limited than mistakes of memory and formulation.
It is the same either way. Written tradition cannot be confirmed any more than oral tradition, once time or distance factor in–it is taken solely on someone’s word, and is subject to restatement, embellishment, and mistake, just as readily as oral tradition. If this were not the case, then what is the use of Carrier’s appeal just a few lines earlier to how corrupted Paul’s letters have become (so he claims) so badly corrupted due to imagined emendations and agendas?
Writing also just as readily entails either misunderstanding what was said or mistaking what one person said as what someone else said — since Carrier regularly offers the empty accusation that his opponents do not “understand” what he has written, he has once again contradicted himself in practice.
He is simply wrong to say that “oral history lacks controls” — oral performers are just as able to correct each other as writers, are able to compose their own “professional system” for ensuring reliability (are the studies of Riesenfeld, Lord, Vansina, not available), and those who listen are also able to perform corrections (or does Carrier not correct people in this way: “No, that’s not what I said”?).
And written testimony has its own way to lack control (again, if not, whence Carrier’s appeal to Paul’s allegedly corrupted letters?). What this runs down to is that there are ways for both oral and written transmission to lack control, not that one or the other inherently lacks controls. Thus Carrier errs when he says:
No comparable system was in place for oral transmission–at least none that we know was used by Christians. For example, Jewish oral law was institutionally taught in formal schools and routinely recited daily in courts of law, and there is no evidence of any such institutional system of memorization in the first-century Church.
This sort of issue we have answered more than once with this, and Carrier will not reply to it. He is also in error about the content of the Gospels not having features for memorization, as had been shown by Jeremias and others. Witherington notes: “Riesner has obviated a good deal of this sort of criticism by focusing on ancient educational practices that were not confined to settings such as a Torah school. He has shown that learning by heart was the mainstay of education in Jewish homes, synagogues, and elsewhere in the Mediterranean crescent in the early first century. Riesner reminds us that the focus of synagogue worship even in early Judaism was the reciting of Scripture and the exposition of that text, very much like what we find in Luke 4:16-30 (whatever the historical value of that text as a record of an event in Jesus’ life). He has also shown, based on the work of S. Freyne and E. Meyers,63 that in Galilee there was a commitment to the Torah, synagogue training, and the usual staples of a Jewish education. FURTHER, HE APPEARS TO BE CORRECT THAT UP TO *80 PERCENT* OF THE SYNOPTIC SAYINGS MATERIAL BEARS EVIDENCE OF BEING CAST IN A POETIC FORM IN THE ARAMAIC ORIGINAL,64 MAKING IT BOTH MEMORABLE AND MEMORIZABLE. MOREOVER, JESUS CAST HIS UTTERANCES IN SHORT AND SOMETIMES MNEMONIC FORM TO AID IN THE LEARNING.” (“The Christology of Jesus” pp. 16-17; emphasis added).
And: “Not only does the Gospel material seem to have been handled rather conservatively but also there is no reason to think it was otherwise when this material was in the oral stage of transmission. Indeed, at the oral stage things may have been less fluid because there was no fixed written text on which one could elaborate. If the analogy with Jewish, non-Christian literature is any guide, then elaboration was more likely to come once there was a relatively fixed and recorded corpus from which to work. Thus, reliance on one’s recall of what had been memorized, which would have had a very fixed form, was no longer necessary. Haggadic and Midrashic treatments of a narrative are possible when there is a fixed text in writing and when losing the original is no longer a perceived danger.” (ibid. 21-22)
Finally, I have investigated this matter even more thoroughly in Trusting the New Testament, where I have shown that the NT is within parameters necessary for oral information to have been accurately transmitted.
As we move further, Carrier contiues to self-refute, reminding us (in spite of all he has said and implied about the superiority of written traditon) again of “how many changes and interpolations were already allowed into the written Bible” and how it “quickly becomes impossible to identify which version is the original, even for a skilled investigator”. That, too, is false, or a half-truth; it isn’t hard at all in the vast majority of cases, since most such errors are obvious errors in spelling or slips of the pen, and even aside from that, in most such cases of copyist error, which version is original simply doesn’t matter.
What Carrier cannot and does not do is point to any specific problem and explain why it should concern us. This is because he has no evidence of any such real problem, or any real distortion that should concern us, any more than I have evidence that the documentation for the Rubicon crossing was forged by friends of Caesar after his death and what he really did was jump over the moon.
But little more needs be said on this topic. It remains that written and oral traditon are subject to the same vagaries; it takes but a skilled conspirator (or one skilled in positing conspiracy without evidence) to accomplish the matter. Carrier also refuses to engage our material on Gospel authorship and merely repeats his standard comment about Gospel anonymity, and so we will not expect an actual answer from him; likewise, we expect no answer to him for our referral to Miller here on the matter of “constructing speeches”.
Carrier next responds to what I note from Achtemeier, though significantly, he does not note that this is who I use as a source. It was noted that it is unlikely Caesar himself wrote his own account of the crossing, but rather that a scribe does so. Carrier feels free to call this point “silly” (this despite Achtemeier’s expert status), and does no more than dismiss the claim. I would much rather trust a certified scholar on this point than Carrier, who hadn’t yet finished his studies as of this date and is documented to speak often outside his expertise. Indeed, one can hardly trust Carrier on the most minor matters here, since he falsely ties this point to my arguments on oral tradition (“Caesar still would have continually checked and corrected the text, and the words written would still be his in both content and style. That is, they would have without doubt originated with him and not someone else. Therefore, there is no analogy here to oral transmission.”) when it is clear to any careful reader that I made this as a separate point of issue (“At the same time, it is as well to note that even what is alleged to be from Caesar himself is likely as not, not from his own hand, but from his mouth to a scribe’s ears.”).
We will not address Carrier’s short advocation for a materialist worldview and the arbitrary declaration that resurrection appearances were mere subjective experiences (especially since this is not explained in any detail here), and move on to the next section.
Holding objects to my application of the criterion of hostile attestation on the grounds that “we would never expect ‘enemies’ of Christianity to record it, since it would not serve their purposes.” Of course, if the evidence were really so clear, there would not be many enemies in the first place: many leading, literate Jews would have converted, many more than just Paul, and all would have left us letters and documents about their experiences and reasons. But that would fall under the category of eyewitness testimony, of which we have none, except Paul, who of course never testifies to ever meeting Jesus in the flesh, to seeing the empty grave, or to seeing the actual corpse of Jesus rising and talking. In fact, Paul never really says anyone saw these things.
As I have shown elsewhere (and which he has failed to refute, despite being paid thousands of dollars to do so) it is wrong to claim that “if the evidence were really so clear, there would not be many enemies in the first place” and that “literate Jews would have been connected” (whence the connection of literacy with discernment capability”? — and what of the findings of Judge and Meeks that Christianity was in fact “top-heavy” in conversions of the literate and/or successful upper middle class?). It is also unreasonable to demand more letters and documents, as if what we have is not enough; why is this required, when so much else is lost to us of important works from Livy, Tacitus, and so many others?
As for the rest, may I suggest Carrier re-read 1 Cor. 15. These things are not the sort of things that are attested to without “meeting Jesus in the flesh, seeing the empty grave, seeing the actual Risen Jesus talking” being part of the package.
Instead, my category of hostile attestation is distinct from this, for if even those who don’t like it or don’t believe it nevertheless report it, even if only to denounce or deny it or explain it away, that is itself stronger evidence than we now have. For example, if we had what Matthew claims the Jews were saying in Matthew 28:11-15 from a first-century Jewish writer, that would be hostile attestation. Certainly many Jews would have an interest in publishing such lies or explanations, if in fact Christians were making such claims then, and there really were enough Christians making these claims for anyone to care. Instead, the complete absence of any Jewish texts attacking Christianity in the first century is astonishing–unless Christianity was a socially microscopic cult making unverifiably subjective claims of revelations from God that no one could falsify. Otherwise, ancient authors were not beneath writing tracts slandering other people, and later pagan authors had no scruple against attacking the Christians. So why did no one attack the Christians earlier? There are problems here, surely.
There are none, surely or any other way, other than in imagination. To begin, it begs the question that any denunciation or denial was plausible or possible; the commentary of Celsus, whose own arguments against Christianity are extremely contrived, minsinformed, and poor by any standard, speak well enough of that as what actually happened.
Second, it assumes that it would survive to this day when so much, by far, else has been lost: and the less effective it is as a witness, the less likely it is to survive (perhaps some opponents tried the “evil twin” idea themselves).
Third, it ignores the fact that with such a minority of the population being literate, written opposition to Christianity would be missing the biggest conversion targets.
Fourth, it ignores the fact that rhetorically, ignoring an opponent was considered a viable alternative within an agonistic setting (note the speech of Gamaliel in Acts). So there is nothing “astonishing” in any of this once we properly understand the setting.
But that isn’t the only kind of evidence I meant. Neutral parties also count under this criterion. For example, if we had genuine letters from Pilate recording what claims were made and how his investigations turned out, he would have simply reported the facts, probably attributing them to sorcery or the miracles of just another god among many, or at worse speculating on possible trickery. But because he wouldn’t be a believer or have any interest in defending the belief, this would count as hostile contemporary attestation.
It’s doubtful Pilate called truly be called neutral in this case, but even if he were, one would like to know how Carrier can suggest that we ought or need to have such a thing when ALL records from provincial governors like Pilate have completely disappeared. In the end, Carrier is irrationally demanding that we provide 400% of the evidence that is needed to convince because he doesn’t find the 100% we have to be sufficient (when, by standards of evidence that have been in place as determined by sifters of evidence, it IS sufficient).
And contrary to Holding’s strange assertion, there is no reason such hostile or neutral corroboration “would not serve their purposes.” Pliny’s letters on the Christians, Matthew’s purported “Jewish lie,” and Lucian’s account of Glycon served their authors’ purposes. The latter, in fact, is a perfect example of hostile attestation to the existence and miracles of Glycon. Lucian didn’t believe Glycon’s miracles were real, but nevertheless he records them–with his own explanations. We have nothing like that for Jesus. It doesn’t matter if we have no reason to expect it, due to the poor chance of records surviving or even being written (though such momentous events as are claimed in the Gospels hardly seem the type to escape records). The fact that this evidence is not available now still means we lack evidence for this claim that we otherwise have for the Rubicon crossing. It doesn’t matter why this is the case. It still is the case.
Of course, it is also “the case” for the Rubicon crossing as well as countless other events that historians take for granted as having happened. However, please note that Carrier reports a half-truth: My full quote is, Where the resurrection of Jesus is concerned, we would never expect “enemies” of Christianity to record it, since it would not serve their purposes. They would at most (as Josephus does directly, and Tacitus, elliptically) report that Christians believed Jesus was resurrected.
In other words, Carrier has misrepresented, or misread, my argument: Josephus and Tacitus are the equivalent to a Lucian reporting Glycon’s miracles. Using his analogy, my point is that we would not expect Lucian to record Glycon’s miracles as real, just as it would not serve the purposes of enemies of Christianity to report the resurrection as real. And we repeat again that despite Carrier, it does “matter why” because it is clear that he and others merely set the bar arbitrarily high for their own preferences, not because of any fair rule of evidence.
Carrier briefly now returns to the issue of coins and inscriptions, which we have already addressed. I will however emphasize that it is unreasonable to expect inscriptions. Carrier’s appeal to Diogenes of Oenoanda “erect[ing] an inscription conveying the complete gospel of his beloved philosopher Epicurus” as a whole merely proves my point. This inscription of over 25,000 words, that covers a space 80 meters long and 3 meters high according to sources, is clearly far more of a monument to Diogenes’ desire for honor and/or lack of good sense than anything else.
A wall can’t be passed around the Empire helping to teach and evangelize people. As a work to honor Epicurus, it succeeds; as something that can be used to pass the message on across the Empire (cf. Matt. 28:18-20) it would fail. So it does remain unreasonable to ask for such things concerning Jesus.
Morever, if Carrier wishes to argue from this, then I will demand that no ancient teacher, philsopher, or other personage can be accepted as historical, or anything they did as historical, until someone is found to have “given it up” for engraving on stone rather than writing on paper.
Holding claims it doesn’t matter that many major historians record the Rubicon crossing, but not the resurrection of Jesus. This seems rather silly. Clearly we would have better evidence if the resurrection story were discussed in all these same historians–especially if they in turn cited earlier historians whose works otherwise don’t survive, and even more if they also cited (as they often do) official or eyewitness documents. So when I claim that we have better evidence for the Rubicon crossing than the resurrection of Jesus, this is plainly true. Holding’s attempt to deny this is simply bizarre. Surely if we had such accounts, he would cite this fact in support of the Resurrection. So he can’t claim it “makes no difference.”
In fact I nowhere say it “doesn’t matter” and I never even use those words anywhere. I make no comment at all of this sort anywhere, and make no such “bizarre” denial as Carrier claims. The closest I come to any such statement is in explaining why such historians would not make note of the resurrection, or how they would if they knew about the claims of it (per Josephus, Tacitus above).
But what matters most for the issue of method is Holding’s apparent presumption that I dismiss the Gospels “merely” because they are late, and therefore later historians should count even less for me. This totally mischaracterizes what I’ve argued in several places, including the section he is criticizing. Lateness is a problem, but not in itself grounds for dismissing a source. The quality and reliability of a source requires an assessment of all the relevant factors. The Gospels fail to count as reliable histories because they fail on every criterion, not because they fail on only one or two. I address this issue at greater length elsewhere, including the problems with the best of them (Luke-Acts) by comparing its features with good ancient historians (see “Was Christianity Highly Vulnerable?”). But to make a long story short, Luke exhibits none of the markers of a careful, critical historian, but instead preaches and propagandizes, and implicitly serves an ideological agenda, not an objective inquiry into the truth.
But once again, Carrier manufactures arguments for me; I say nowhere (despite the quote marks) that Carrier “merely” dismisses the Gospels because they are late. No such word is found in my article related to that issue. He does admit here that he sees lateness as a problem, and that is as far as my point went: That his appeal to sources for the Rubicon crossing contains a “problem” that he ignores, while he would highlight this “problem” eagerly when it comes to the Gospels.
Our own answer to Carrier’s critiques of the Gospels is likewise found elsewhere, and Carrier simply ignores our two links refuting his claims of bias and the use of oaths.
For a good extreme comparison unrelated to the Rubicon question, compare the explicit methods of Arrian with Luke-Acts: Arrian records the history of Alexander the Great five hundred years after the fact. But he does so by explicitly stating a sound method. Arrian says he ignored all works not written by eyewitnesses, and instead only followed surviving ancient texts by actual eyewitnesses to Alexander’s campaign. He names them and discusses their connections to Alexander. He then says that on every point on which they agree, he will simply record what they say, but where they significantly disagree, he will cite both accounts and identify the sources who disagree (and he appears to have followed this method as promised, though not always faithfully).
It perhaps does not occur to Carrier that Luke, unlike Arrian, lived and wrote well within the time frame when eyewitnesses were alive and the only ones writing or reporting about the ministry of Jesus, and so there is no need for Luke to offer a qualification saying that he “ignored all works not written by eyewitnesses” — for there would be no such thing yet, and he was the first. If Luke has Matthew and Mark (with Peter as its source) then the two sources we know of are of eyewitness quality and so no need for qualification exists. Arrian lived hundreds of years later and so of course might have need to make this sort of qualifiation.
And of course, if this is what Luke is dealing with, then the need to name sources (which was not at all obligatory for an ancient historian) does not exist; and if there is no disagreement, there is also no need to make an issue of disagreement. It simply does not occur to Carrier that Luke doesn’t display what he calls “critical” method simply because the data was clear and uniform enough that there was no need to go that far.
This is a point I made once before, and Carrier’s answer to this is an unworthy one:
Now, Holding claims that for the Gospel authors “there was no dispute over source material,” but this is plainly false. All the Gospels disagree. Even Luke, who claims to follow everything precisely, leaves out many things. Luke also recasts what Jesus said or did in a slightly different way than his one known source (Mark) and provides a completely different chronology than John. Obviously, there must have been disagreements. A critical historian would address them and, if possible, resolve them by naming and citing sources. For example, consider current Christian efforts at harmonizing the Gospel accounts. That is exactly what an author like Luke would have done–had he been a critical historian, and not a mere mouthpiece defending an ideology.
To begin, reporting different events is NOT disagreement by any proper definition. There is no case of Gospel A saying “X happened” and Gospel B saying “X did not happen”. Therefore Carrier’s appeal to disagreement is simply a contrivance.
Second, the charge of “recast[ing]”, devoid as it is of any specifics, is a non-objection; as we have noted in the series here, however, there are many reasons for the sort of minor variations in storytelling we find in the Gospels, and they do not constitute “disagreement” of the sort that would indicate or warrant the type of critical comparison Carrier unreasonably demands of Luke.
In the end Carrier is left to object that “Luke doesn’t tell us anything about his methods” but this misses the point, which is that the “methods” are all things that come up when there are problems with sources — and if there are no problems, there is no need to go on about “methods” either. It is hardly necessary for Luke to spell out how he asked so and so what happened; that is common sense that doesn’t need explanation.
Carrier is also left to gratuitiously accuse Luke of “not behav[ing] like a critical thinker” because he didn’t “start skeptical” (how does Carrier know this?) — which amounts to saying that Luke didn’t end up with Carrier’s own view of the world, so therefore he must have been uncritical from the start. Gratuitious demands that Luke go “the extra mile” for someone like Carrier who raises the bar arbitrarily high based on his own unargued presuppositions and preferences, are not a sound argument but itself a sign of thinking that is not critical of its own biases.
Thus my arguments concerning the evidence for the Rubicon crossing versus the Resurrection remain standing. Evidence for the individual crossing by Caesar remains as good as, if not of lesser quality than, that for the Resurrection; evidence for the corporate crossing is qualitatively the same, although inevitable unevenness in quality arise due to the much different natures of the events. Clearly Carrier’s argument remains refuted despite his constant attempts to move the bar on the poles higher than the poles themselves.
When Richard Carrier starts calling his critics dishonest, or claims that they fail to understand his arguments, it’s a fairly good sign that he has conceded the actual arguments. Many of his issues come of not reading very carefully what his opponents say in the first place; the rest of it comes of speaking outside his field of expertise, which, when it comes to Christianity, he does each and every time.
Carrier added a series of “addendums” in response to the above, to which we now reply. A: Personal vs. corporate.
If Carrier had read carefully, he would have noticed that I made this distinction not with reference to what the evidence says, but rather, how this argument is used in apologetics and how it is replied to by critics. As it is, he thinks I raised the issue as some sort of historical question, and then goes on to offer extended commentary about how there is no way Caesar could have done some crazy thing like hire a duplicate to cross for him, etc. Though for some reason, Carrier didn’t seem quite so enthusiastic about explaining why something like Jesus surviving the crucifixion required an extended potential defense from him.
On the side, Carrier is erecting a straw man when he says that I fail to say that he found it “very improbable” that Jesus survived the crucifixion. Precisely: Because I know that Carrier is and was just speaking with a forked tongue: He lays out the case for it in detail, so he can end up telling us how improbable it is. In fact, he does the same thing this time too, as he first speaks of how it is “not worth considering” unless he crosses out other stuff first, yet also says we have “some evidence for survival” and goes on to give it.
B: Caesar’s witnesses.
(1) Carrier is still at a loss for an actual quote from a historian saying the Cicerowas Caesar’s enemy. Supposedly “every historian” says so, he cannot so far quote one that supports the specific view needed (that is, he was a personal enemy of Caesar).
(2) Carrier claims it is deceptive to say he demands “testimony from hostile witnesses for the Resurrection,” “when in fact [he] only said having ‘hostile or even neutral records’ counts as better evidence than not having them.”
This is merely an evasion. Carrier has a) indicated that lack of a hostile witness is a weakness for testimony to an event, in the context of b) claiming an event (the Resurrection) is non-historical; therefore, he IS issuing a demand that the Resurrection MUST have the backing of a hostile witness for it to be accepted as historical.
(3) Carrier claims that I “willfully ignore” his point of “why Cicerowas Caesar’s enemy is what lends credibility to his testimony” — in actuality, I didn’t ignore it. I made it clear that this testimomy was useless in the way Carrier wanted it to be worth something because Cicerohad no reason to not want the crossing of the Rubicon to happen. If anything, it is something that was a very juicy tidbit he could have made use of against Caesar, so he could hardly be called a “hostile witness” to the crossing itself.
Claiming Cicero wouldn’t have wanted to hear about the crossing is a case of semantic evasion; while it is clear he didn’t like that the event happened, it was not because he had some hatred for crossing rivers but because of the unpleasant consequences — which again, would not make him a “hostile witness” in the way Carrier wants, but rather a witness with (indeed) a vested interest in reporting the event (dare I say, making it up, or hallucinating about it?) and so one with a bias that makes his testimomy worthless, according to Carrier’s own regiment.
On the other hand, Carrier tries to devalue the witness of the Gospels by charging them with biases of all sorts that would just as well render the testimomy of Holocaust survivors suspect. We’ve already offered a link to Miller’s item on NT bias, and he still has not responded.
(4) Carrier now tries to correct his error in confusing personal and ideological hatred, by claiming he did say it, when he said: “Cicero was the enemy of Caesar every bit as much as anyone who sided with the South in the American Civil War was the enemy of Lincoln.” This, he says, is “an example of ideological, not personal, enmity, the very distinction Holding accuses me of ignoring.”
To which I can only say, I apologize for not being aware of how little Carrier knew about the sort of personal enmity Lincoln invoked among Southerners in the Civil War era. See here for example, a paper from the Abraham Lincoln Association:
The Southern image of Lincoln began as a mere sectional stereotype, and Southern hostility to his presidential candidacy was largely impersonal. Secession, although undertaken in response to the outcome of the election of 1860, had nothing to do with the particular qualities and qualifications of the man elected. It was the “Black Republican party” that Southerners hated and feared, whoever might happen to be the party’s official leader. But when the secession crisis erupted into civil war, Southerners laid the blame squarely on Lincoln. In the years of bloody struggle and withering hope that followed, they came increasingly to view him as the principal author of all the woe that had descended upon them. Of course Jefferson Davis at the same time became a detested figure in the North, but with a significant difference. Davis, leading a rebellion, symbolized treason in the mold of Benedict Arnold, while Lincoln’s role, in Southern eyes, was that of a military conqueror—a ruthless Attila bent upon the destruction of a superior civilization. In fact, the Confederate image of Abraham Lincoln in the 1860s bears a striking resemblance to the American image of Adolf Hitler in the 1940s.
The Southern indictment of Lincoln usually began with the assertion that he had made war unavoidable by opposing sectional compromise and then forcing the issue at Fort Sumter. After the first major battle of the war at Bull Run in July 1861, the Richmond Enquirer blamed him for all the deaths on both sides. “Of these men Abraham Lincoln is the murderer,” it declared. “We charge their blood upon him…. May the Heavens, which have rebuked his madness thus far, still battle his demon designs.”
Confederates called Lincoln a “tyrant,” a “fiend,” and a “monster” for making war on civilians through the blockade, for authorizing the destruction of private property, for setting the likes of Ben Butler and William T. Sherman upon the Southern population, for suppressing civil liberties, for cruelly refusing to exchange prisoners, and, most of all, for emancipation, which they viewed as an incitement of slaves to rebellion and wholesale murder. In speeches, sermons, and songs, in books, magazines, newspapers, pamphlets, and broadsides, they also portrayed him as a simpleton, a buffoon, a drunkard, a libertine, a physical coward, and a pornographic story-teller.
Hatred of Lincoln sometimes crystallized into threats against his life. For instance, soon after the firing on Fort Sumter, he received from Mississippi a newspaper clipping in which a reward of $100,000 was offered for his “miserable traitorous head.” Spontaneous rejoicing at his death, though perhaps more the exception than the rule in the Confederacy, was nevertheless widespread. To a Georgia woman overcome with bewilderment and grief at Lee’s surrender, the assassination came as “one sweet drop among so much that is painful.” A Texas newspaper declared, “The world is happily rid of a monster that disgraced the form of humanity.”
Such intensity of feeling was by no means confined to the rebellious South. The Civil War divided Northern and Border State Democrats into three factions: those who supported both the war and the Lincoln administration, thereby in effect changing their political allegiance; those who supported the war but opposed the administration, thus playing the classic role of “loyal opposition”; and those who opposed both the war and the administration, in some cases to the verge of treason. The latter two groups became the war and peace wings of the wartime Democratic party. Far apart in their basic attitudes toward the conflict itself, they could nevertheless agree in denouncing Lincoln for misuse of presidential power and subversion of the Constitution. They charged the administration with repressing civil liberties, with subverting the rights and powers of the states, and with transforming a war for defense of the Union into a revolutionary struggle for abolition and racial equality.
To compare all of this toCicero’s relatively mild and gentlemanly protests about Caesar tells us one of these things: Either Carrier is misinformed when it comes to Lincoln, or Cicero, or both; or else he is unable to see the difference between levels of opposition.
In any event, hatred of Lincoln the man was quite widespread, so if Carrier is admitting to an error here, so be it. It really doesn’t matter, because if he is indeed retreating to the position that yes, Cicero was just an ideological enemy of Caesar, not a personal one, he has just refuted his own argument, and admitted that Cicero was not the sort of “hostile witness” that would parallel the sort he thinks is demanded for the Resurrection.
C: Texts Carrier offers a commentary about “an atmosphere of religious and dogmatic doctoring and editing of the New Testament” and appeals to Bart Ehrman. I have written a great deal about Ehrman and his tendency to badly overstate his case. He also briefly supports ideas of NT pseudonymity, and we (and Glenn Miller) have answered that as well.
D: Oral information. Carrier declines to engage our material on this subject and merely refers back to his own already-refuted material written against “The Impossible Faith” and again repeats his demand that the bar be set arbitrarily high.
E: Secular Testimonmy.
(1) Tacitus never once mentions any miracles associated with Jesus, or even that there were any miracles associated with Jesus. He doesn’t even mention there being a claim that Jesus rose from the dead.
I never said anything about miracles associated with Jesus, other than the Resurrection, and Tacitus DOES mention that, in a clearly allusive way (as I said), when he says, “but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea…”
So what “pernicious superstition” does Tacitus refer to, if not the core Christian belief — resurrection of Christ from the dead?
(2) I will go with the Arabic translation of Josephus, which says that “they reported” Jesus’ appearance, etc. — something there is no reason Josephus could or would not have said. I also know that some experts are willing to grant that this was present in the original text, and that they disagree with Carrier when he says that the passage has been “extensively tampered with, or forged in its entirety, by Christian scribes.” “Forged in entirety” is held by NO expert today (and Carrier knows this); and “extensively” requires qualification. They also do not claim NO definitive conclusions can be reached.
Carrier is simply wrong to claim (and does not explain why it is so) that Origen would have mentioned it if Josephus had mentioned the resurrection; as it is, all Origen would have had is Josephus reporting that disciples reported it.
I’ll leave it to speak for itself that Carrier cites Josh McDowell as the representative for consensus on this subject.
On the side, Carrier says that. “Neither Tacitus nor Josephus were witnesses or even contemporaries of the Resurrection. So they bear no analogy at all to Cicero or Lucian, the original examples he was responding to, or to any of the other examples I brought up in my rebuttal.”
But whether or not they were eyewitnesses is not the point here. The point is hostile verses non-hostile witnesses, which is the ONLY point Carrier brought up with respect to Lucian. He is now trying to add accessibility as an issue when it wasn’t part of his original argument. He claims to have “no idea” what I am arguing otherwise, but since he’s the only one who seems to have this problem, we won’t offer any further explanation.
Carrier also refuses to admit his error in appealing to the records of provincial governors — as well as ignoring a great deal more I wrote.
F: No Matter. Carrier now claims the what I said “amounts to arguing it doesn’t matter that we don’t have the evidence” though he cannot find any place where I actually say that.
- Holding’s entire argument, the entire thesis of his rebuttal, is that we don’t have less evidence for the Resurrection than for the Rubicon crossing.
It’s not quite that simple, but that would be acceptable as a summary of a single point I made.
- In defense of this thesis, as he concedes even above, he offers the fact that he can explain “why” we don’t have this evidence. That amounts to arguing it doesn’t matter that we don’t have the evidence.
False. It doesn’t “amount to” any such thing. The context Carrier ignores is that he has been, again, setting the bar arbitrarily high for his own preference. If there is anything that I am saying “doesn’t matter” here, it is Carrier’s arbitrarily derived judgments for how much evidence is needed.
Reflecting a core point of legal apologetics (see Appendix 1 just below), Carrier is not above the law and does not write the rules of evidence. Nor do so-called “critical historians” who think any negative mention of a donut is proof that the writer hated the entire donut industry and that there were donut-loving communities he was trying to destroy.
My “what of it” is a response to Carrier’s unreasonable demands for more proof than he needs — not to any alleged lack of evidence.
G: Dating. After an extended commentary in which Carrier does not explain where he found a quote of the word “merely” in my text with reference to Gospel dates, it becomes clear that Carrier still does not see myt point, which is that he applies a different set of standards for dating the Gospels than he does other documents (both in terms of manuscript evidence and dating of the original composition). Carrier was given links to follow but will apparently not be answering, nort explaining his thoroughly inconsistent treatment.
H: Gospel Differences. Nothing of note here; Carrier merely reiterates his past-refuted arguments, making no effort to interact with our rebuttals to the claims made (whether by him or others).
Appendix 1: Standards of Evidence
Ever since the time of Greenleaf,legal apologetics have shown that by fair standards of evidence, the Resurrection is an event whose historicity is beyond dispute. Contriving stories of “bias” or of not being critical (as Carrier does above) is the equivalent to Johnnie Cochran appealing to Colombian drug lords. As Greenleaf himself noted in a footnote in one of his works:
“If the witnesses could be supposed to have been biased, this would not destroy their testimony to matters of fact; it would only detract from the weight of their judgment in matters of opinion. The rule of law on this subject has been thus stated by Dr. Lushington: “When you examine the testimony of witnesses nearly connected with the parties, and there is nothing very peculiar tending to destroy their credit, when they depose to mere facts, their testimony is to be believed; when they depose as to matter of opinion, it is to be received with suspicion.” Dillon v. Dillon, 3 Curteis’s Eccl. Rep. pp. 96, 102.”
As a reminder of this, we appeal to the work of the modern writer Henry Teh whose article (now offline) sums up the matter well. Here are some points for that article of relevance here (which is not used here intended as a comprehensive case for the Resurrection, but as an illustration of Carrier’s arnbitariness in this regard):
One more example the ‘defendant’ Christians can use to defend their case is the application of circumstances evidence. The law allows circumstantial evidence where no direct evidence is available. This evidence consists of evidence of circumstances, none of which speak directly to the facts in issue but from which those facts may be inferred. Feelings or statements of animosity towards the victim, presence in the area of attack, the victim’s blood on the accused’s clothing – all build up into a strong but inferential case, even though no one directly witnessed the commission of the crime.
Nobody witnessed the precise moment of resurrection. One may imagine if there is a direct observation of the resurrection, it is likened to the two seconds ‘energizing’ of the body from within the linen to another place outside the tomb, only made possible in science fiction movie such as Star Trek or Stargate SG-1. The fact that there are no witnesses present, just like many other criminal or negligent cases, the law allows circumstantial evidence to be adduced. The application of the maxim res ipsa loquitor as circumstantial evidence greatly point towards Christ’s resurrection. Professor John Warwick Montgomery illustrates:
Res ipsa loquitor in typical negligent case:
- Accident does not normally occur in the absence of negligence.
- Instrumentality causing injury was under the defendant’s exclusive control.
- Plaintiff did not himself contribute to the injury.
Therefore, defendant negligent: “ the event speaks for itself”.
Res ipsa loquitor as applied to Christ’s resurrection:
- Dead bodies do not leave tombs in the absence of some agency affecting the removal.
- The tomb was under God’s exclusive control, for it had been sealed, and Jesus, the sole occupant of it was dead.
- The Romans and the Jewish religious leaders did not contribute to the removal of the body (they had been responsible for sealing and guarding the tomb to prevent anyone from stealing the body, and the disciples would not have stolen it, then prevaricated, and finally died for what they knew to be untrue.
Therefore, only God was in a position to empty the tomb, which He did, as Jesus Himself had predicted, by raising Him from the dead: “the events speaks for itself.”
 In addition, even if there are people accompanying Jesus’ corpse throughout the Sabbath Day until that Sunday morning, no one would be sure when is the precise moment of the resurrection for at least two reasons: (1) no one has ever seen a similar resurrection before to acknowledge it, and (2) they would not be aware that the body has disappeared at the moment of resurrection as they cannot see through the linen and spices. Neither would the guards know what happened in the tomb since they can’t see through the stone. All we know is it happened some time between Saturday evening and Sunday morning. Based on these circumstances, it would be almost impossible to pin point a precise moment of resurrection for any direct evidence.
 In Latin, ‘the facts speak for itself’. Also see Scott v London & St Katherine Docks Co. (1865) 2 H. & C. 596; Ward v Tesco Stores (1976) 1 W.L.R. 810.
 supra at n. 10, p. 35.
Appendix 2: William Lane Craig and the Witness of the Spirit
Mark Smith of jcnot4me.com has a story he has told that has made some rounds, and I’d like to comment on it. It goes like this, starting with a scenario he posited to William Lane Craig:
Dr. Craig, for the sake of argument let’s pretend that a time machine gets built. You and I hop in it, and travel back to the day before Easter, 33 AD. We park it outside the tomb of Jesus. We wait. Easter morning rolls around, and nothing happens. We continue to wait. After several weeks of waiting, still nothing happens. There is no resurrection- Jesus is quietly rotting away in the tomb.
I asked him, given this scenario, would he then give up his Christianity? Having seen with his own eyes that there was no resurrection of Jesus, having been an eyewitness to the fact that Christianity has been based upon a fraud and a lie, would he NOW renounce Christianity? His answer was shocking, and quite unexpected.
He told me, face to face, that he would STILL believe in Jesus, he would STILL believe in the resurrection, and he would STILL remain a Christian. When asked, in light of his being a personal eyewitness to the fact that there WAS no resurrection, he replied that due to the witness of the “holy spirit” within him, he would assume a trick of some sort had been played on him while watching Jesus’ tomb. This self-induced blindness astounded me.
I’d like to give my own brief answer to this.
It’s probably safe to assume that Smith was using this scenario to actually ask a more specific question, which is, “If the Resurrection did not happen, would you still be a Christian?” The answer to this is already given in 1 Cor. 15 –if Christ is not risen, your faith is in vain. On that grounds the answer to the question should have been NO. Paul said that already.
If this is not what Smith had in mind, though, then part of Craig’s answer remains valid (assuming it is reported correctly, of which I have doubts). The part that I do not find valid (as it is reported, at any rate) is what is said about the authenticating witness of the Spirit. This is not validated by either Scripture or reason (that is, that the Spirit serves an authenticator of facts).
However, what does remain valid is Craig’s supposition that there may be some trick involved. I’ll explain why with an analogy.
Let’s take Smith’s time machine forward instead to 1865. We emerge in ruralVirginiato find Robert E. Lee and his troops celebrating all around. Upon questioning them, they tell us that they are celebrating their victory in the Civil War.
Now we go back to our time. But nothing has changed. All the books say the North won. TheUSis still one nation. And so on. So what’s wrong here?
The simple fact is that we have reason, from the fact that nothing is different later on, to suspect that our meeting with Lee was a trick by someone (or if you want to be creative, maybe we trawled into another dimension where history happened differently). That’s because we know from the “ripples” of history that followed that there is no way that the South could have won the Civil War.
My answer to Smith’s question is to say that I would suspect a trick or something else because otherwise, the later historical data doesn’t add up.
A reader sent me these comments, which I have asked for, and received, permission to post.
One minor point in your response: you introduce your critique with a comment by Bill Craig in his Reasonable Faith (1994 ed). Actually it was Craig Blomberg who wrote the chapter that was included in Craig’s book. Also, Blomberg references an article by Paul Merkley in the 1986 Evangelical Quarterly which goes into the issue in more detail (ch 6, pp, 211-12, fn 66 reference on p. 337). Luckily the EQ has Merkley’s article on the web which you might want to look at if you haven’t already (http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/eq/gospels_merkley.pdf).
Merkley and Blomberg do not seem to take into account Caesar’s Civil War which does imply pretty conclusively that Caesar crossed the Rubicon. The important question would be just what evidence we have that Caesar actually wrote The Civil War. The distinct style of this work does not prove Caesar wrote it. Is it any better than what we have for the gospels or epistles? If we should conclude that he did actually write it, this would weaken Merkley’s claim but I think it would still hold. One eyewitness account and four other second hand accounts should be a bit weaker than three eyewitnesses (Matthew for at least part of his gospel, Mark as Peter’s mouthpiece, and John) and Luke’s research of first hand accounts. And then of course we have information in the epistles which were even earlier (especially 1 Corinthians 15). So as far as sheer strength of historical documents, doesn’t it appear the NT account is far better than the secular account of Caesar crossing the Rubicon?
I think the full context of evidence makes a difference however. World history would have been far different had Caesar not conquered and that would have amounted to vastly different historical documents and artifacts for a number of centuries. Toynbee thought the Roman Empiremight not have lasted into the first century CE. So if The Civil War and Pollio’s claimed eyewitness account (as we have it from the secondary sources) are questionable, then I wonder if it might be possible that Caesar still conquered Rome but being at some other location in Gaul he entered Italy some other way. If this is possible, we would have better evidence for the resurrection than the crossing but not better than Caesar conqueringRome. Any thoughts?
I have read your critique of Carrier and consider it very powerful in dissolving his case. Thanks for doing such good work.