Richard Carrier has written a recent critique of Caesar’s Messiah that can be viewed at his website freethoughtblogs.com. The article consists of little more than analytic blunders and outright inaccuracies.
The story began several years ago when I contacted Carrier (PhD) because he was publically criticizing Caesar’s Messiah in an incoherent manner that clearly indicated he had not read the book. I wrote:
“Dear Mr. Carrier: A friend passed along to me your posts concerning my work, Caesar’s Messiah. Your criticism suggests that I have not, evidentially, explained my thesis clearly enough. Please allow me to correct this.”
Carrier (PhD) admitted that he had not read Caesar’s Messiah, but demanded that I send him the ‘best example’ of my thesis before he would do so. Though this was, of course, not an appropriate request from someone who was already publically criticizing the work, I explained to him that there was no solitary example that would communicate the theory and that he needed to read the book, or least the parts of it that describe the overall pattern of prefiguration typology that links Jesus Christ to Titus Flavius. I wrote:
“If you wish to understand the thesis, however, there is no shortcut to reading the book, as the system that I maintain exists in the Gospels is both incrementally built and interrelated. Thus, as with the typology in Mathew, no single parallel is capable of even demonstrating the thesis, which can only be understood by viewing the overall mapping. As in Matthew, a number of the parallels between Jesus and Titus can only be seen within the overall mapping scheme.”
What followed was a long and comical email exchange where I repeatedly attempted to get Carrier (PhD) to look at the overall sequence of events that revealed the typological pattern. He time and again refused until he had seen the 'best' example, claiming that if a single example was not strong enough that this would relieve him of the need to read the book.
In Carrier’s (PhD) recent post he still insists that determining the existence of a typological system of parallels can be done from a single example (the logical fallacy of division) when in fact the correct methodology is to examine the data as a whole. In effect he insists on an approach that will never, ever disclose a pattern. Carrier wrote:
“…what am I to do? I can’t listen to every bozo who says this. My lifespan simply isn’t that long. So I will ask him to present me with one single piece of his case, the piece that is most ‘amazing’ or suggestive or whatever, and if that checks out and does indeed point where he claims, then I can ask for his next best piece of evidence, and so on, and if he keeps passing the bar eventually I will have examined his whole case and, by then, I should be convinced he’s right. But if he fails to present anything even remotely persuasive even on the first try, then I know it is a complete waste of my time to look at any of his other hundred pieces of ‘evidence.’
“Whether you appreciate this or not is irrelevant. You simply have a choice: meet my standards or walk away. If you walk away, then I remain where all other historians stand: with no warrant to give any credit to your theory. If you are fine with that, then so am I. Otherwise, your only recourse is to meet our terms of demonstration. Yet already you break the rules by barraging me with a dozen cases of mixed value. I told you to pick one—your best—and start with that.”
What Carrier (PhD) termed “barraging” was first simply asking him to read what he publically critiqued and pointing out that the only way a sequence could be judged was as a sequence. Faced with this myopia I sent him the passage citations of the first four parallels I discuss in Caesar’s Messiah and a one-line description of the parallelism.
My hope was that he would see the parallelism and thus read the full analysis. No luck, however. One of the farcical aspects of the exchange was that while he believed his methods would save him from wasting time on imaginary crackpot theories, he instead wasted copious amounts of time with criticizing his imaginary version of my thesis.
In his recent post Carrier (PhD) creatively edited our past correspondence into a biased version suggesting that he was the voice of reason and I was unwilling to provide evidence. He wrote:
“You might now be getting the idea of why I am sick of this and see no point in conversing with the man ever again. And mind you, I left out half the conversation...there was even more tedious stuff like this…to show what I mean, I will conclude here by pasting in key portions of the emails I sent him then.”
I would hope the reader bear in mind Carrier’s (PhD) admission above that he “left out half the conversation”. The “tedious” half he left out was my exposing his absurd efforts to criticize a work he’d never read and his fallacious attempt to judge a pattern by a single point of data. The half he left in was what he judged to be his best reasoning. As the reader will see below, even his best arguments are made up of little more than unremitting inaccuracies and analytic blunders.
In his recent post Carrier (PhD) begins by citing a number of general problems he sees with my thesis, which he claims sets up the requirement for it to be supported by exceptionally good evidence to be at all credible. He wrote:
“The Roman aristocracy was nowhere near as clever as Atwill’s theory requires. They certainly were not so masterfully educated in the Jewish scriptures and theology that they could compose hundreds of pages of elegant passages based on it. And it is very unlikely they would ever conceive of a scheme like this, much less think they could succeed at it (even less, actually do so).”
First, the idea that Carrier (PhD) knows how “clever” the Roman aristocracy was is, of course, nothing but a fantasy. Moreover, I never claimed the Caesars’ wrote the Gospels, an absurd notion, but rather that the Jewish intellectuals and employees within their inner circle did so. Both Titus’s mistress Bernice and his primary general during the Jewish war, Tiberius Alexander the nephew of Philo, were Jewish. Moreover, Josephus, a Jewish intellectual became an adopted member of the Flavian family. Together this group had the capacity and motivation to have written the Gospels.
The truth is exactly the reverse of Carrier’s (PhD) suggestion. In other words, the Flavian court was the only place where the capacity and motivation to produce the bizarre pro-Roman Gospels was known to have existed. The Flavians should be the first suspects, not the last.
Carrier (PhD) next cites the fact that there were different editions of the Gospels that circulated and that this shows that Roman aristocracy had not selected the canonical Gospels.
“We know there were over forty Gospels, yet the four chosen for the canon were not selected until well into the 2nd century, and not by anyone in the Roman aristocracy.”
In fact, from the very beginning the four canonical Gospels had a special status. Bernard Mutschle has shown that by 180 CE Clement of Alexandria’s (Titus Flavius Clement) writings cited the 4 canonical NT gospels a total of 1,672 times. He referred to the apocryphal gospels only 16 times. So the 100 to 1 ratio makes it clear that the four canonical gospels were linked together, and, for some reason, were more important than the others to those that produced them.
Moreover, Carrier’s (PhD) sense of probability is incorrect. If there were four thousand Gospels in circulation out of which the four selected as the canon were shown to have been typologically mapped onto Titus’s military victory, the great number they were chosen from would confirm that they had been deliberately selected, not put it in doubt.
Carrier (PhD) claimed that:
“The Gospels and the Epistles all contradict each other far too much to have been composed with a systematic aim in mind and that The Gospels and the Epistles differ far too much in style to have come from the same hand.”
His first concern is irrelevant in that he gives no example of where contradictions impact the Gospels’ prefiguration of Titus. His second concern is a straw man in that I maintain that many scribes worked on the project.
Carrier speculated that if pacifying Palestine Jews were a goal of the Gospels they would not have been written in Greek:
“If the Roman elite’s aim was to “pacify” Palestinian Jews by inventing new scriptures, they were certainly smart and informed enough to know that that wouldn’t succeed by using the language the Judean elite despised as foreign (Greek).”
The purpose for the Gospels was not to pacify Palestinian Jews. Josephus recorded the political purpose behind the religion, which was to slow down the missionary activity of the Judean zealots to Greek speaking diaspora living outside of Judea (see Jewish Wars, Preface, 2, 5).
Carrier (PhD) also stated that religious propaganda from the Flavians was unlikely because “The Romans knew one thing well: War. Social ideology they were never very good at.”
This is simply nonsense. All of the Caesars used religion as propaganda and the Flavians developed ‘Caesar miracle working’ to its highest level. Please read Vespasian’s Wonders in Domitianic Rome by Luke for examples of how the Flavians took over the identities of local gods and claimed miraculous powers as propaganda devices.
Carrier (PhD) also claimed that since the Flavians had destroyed the militarized messianic movement that they would not have needed to develop a pacified Judaism. He wrote:
“The Jewish War was effectively over in just four years (any siege war was expected to take at least three, and Vespasian was actually busy conquering Rome in the fourth year of that War). So why would they think they needed any other solution?”
Carrier (PhD) commits the common blunder of assuming that the Flavians’ war of 66-73 had destroyed the Jews’ messianic rebellion. In fact, Josephus concluded the Wars of the Jews by describing a messianic rebellion that broke out in Cyrene after the fall of Masada. Moreover, the Gospels were written during the period leading up to the Kitos rebellion. In that war the messianic Jews slaughtered whole Gentile populations in Cyprus, Cyrene, and Egypt, with the rebellion spreading even into Asia Minor and Judea.
The 4th century Christian historian Paulus Orosius recorded that the violence so depopulated the province of Cyrenaica that new colonies had to be established by Hadrian:
"The Jews...waged war on the inhabitants throughout Libya in the most savage fashion, and to such an extent was the country wasted that, its cultivators having been slain, its land would have remained utterly depopulated, had not the Emperor Hadrian gathered settlers from other places and sent them thither, for the inhabitants had been wiped out."
Dio also described the carnage. He wrote:
"Meanwhile the Jews in the region of Cyrene had put one Andreas at their head and were destroying both the Romans and the Greeks. They would cook their flesh, make belts for themselves of their entrails, anoint themselves with their blood, and wear their skins for clothing. Many they sawed in two, from the head downwards. Others they would give to wild beasts and force still others to fight as gladiators. In all, consequently, two hundred and twenty thousand perished. In Egypt, also, they performed many similar deeds, and in Cyprus under the leadership of Artemio. There, likewise, two hundred and forty thousand perished.”
Throughout his critique, Carrier (PhD) constantly refers to what he calls my “best evidence”, which he not only invents but also keeps changing to suit his purposes. He is using a Non Sequitur intended to cast dispersion on everything else in my thesis. Bear in mind I never sent him anything that I claimed was my best evidence. I was not avoiding doing so but as those who have read Caesar’s Messiah know, there simply is not any one parallel that is the ‘best’. It is the entire system that is the evidence. Carrier wrote:
“His Best Evidence Is Just Offal. Here is a sample of what Atwill tried to present to me as his ‘best’ examples of evidence supporting his thesis, and why they demonstrate we need waste no further time with him…”
Carrier (PhD) and I actually only discussed four of the Jesus/Titus parallels that make up the prefiguration typology:
We spent the greatest amount of time with the ‘demons of Gadara.’ Carrier (PhD) did not believe that there was even a possible parallel because of the location of Gadara was too far from the Sea of Galilee to be a candidate for the location of the ‘swine miracle’ in the Gospels’ story.
During the exchange below take note of Carrier’s (PhD) first use of one of his many ‘absolutes’ – that I am opposed to ‘all’ contemporary scholarship in using the received text, which has Gadara as a site of the swine miracle. Also notice it is on the basis of my using Gadara within my analysis that Carrier brands me a ‘crank’.
“It’s also the wrong place. Atwill struggles against all contemporary scholarship to insist that Gadara was the original reading in the Gospels (because his theory requires it to be) when in fact it almost certainly was not. I’ll explain more on that fact below, since it’s one of the most telling examples of Atwill’s incompetence at a study like this, as well as of his inability to humbly admit being wrong, and his repeated resort to ad hoc attempts to deny or assert facts to save his theory, which only dig him deeper into a hill of bullshit, very much just like pretty much any Christian apologist you might ever have had the displeasure of arguing with. As you’ll see, it’s one of the best demonstrations of what it’s like to argue like a crank.”
Carrier (PhD) claimed that it was certain that Gadara was a mistranslation of another town, ‘Gergesa’. He claimed that this town, which was on the Sea of Galilee, had to have been the site of Jesus’s exorcism of the demoniac because Gadara was “more than a days” walk from the Sea of galilee.
This is the first of the many factual errors in Carrier’s (PhD) analysis. Six miles can be walked in under two hours. Pursued by Roman soldiers, any member of a high school cross-country team could travel the distance in under 40 minutes.
Carrier (PhD) attempted to use Origen’s comments on the textual confusion over the location of the swine miracle as a way to block my interpretation in its tracks. But Origen’s comments are inconclusive on their face in that he does not define what the ‘country’ of the Gadarenes means nor does he have any understanding of what the original text said. Origen wrote:
“But in a few copies we have found, "into the country of the Gadarenes;" and, on this reading, it is to be stated that Gadara is a town of Judaea, in the neighborhood of which are the well-known hot springs, and that there is no lake there with overhanging banks, nor any sea. But Gergesa, from which the name Gergesenes is taken, is an old town in the neighborhood of the lake now called Tiberias, and on the edge of it there is a steep place abutting on the lake, from which it is pointed out that the swine were cast down by the demons.” (Commentary on John Book VI, 24)
Carrier (PhD) wrote:
“You mean Gergesa (aka “Gerasa”). Gadara is a textual corruption. Earlier manuscripts of Matthew had Gerasa or Gergesa (variants of the same coastal-town’s name), not Gadara, as was already known by the time of Origen (early 3rd century) if not before, and has since been confirmed through manuscript textual analysis, and [this] is why Luke and Mark both correctly identify the town as Gerasa, not Gadara, while the geography of all three accounts obviously requires the town to be Gergesa, not Gadara–the latter being nowhere near the water (rather, more than a day’s walk from it)…the textual analysis of the manuscript tradition that we can reconstruct from texts all across the Mediterranean confirms that the Gadara reading must have arisen later in the tradition than either Gerasa or Gergesa…Origen also discusses a very different city called Gerasa, but we now know that Gerasa is a possible transliteration of Gergesa from local dialects into Greek, and so the original text could have had either, referring to what Origen identifies as Gergesa). That all the earliest mss. that survive of Mark, Matthew, and Luke have Gerasa or Gergesa, not Gadara, confirms this (including an actual papyrus from Luke dated to the very time of Origen)”
Carrier’s (PhD) claim that “all the earliest mss of Mark, Matthew and Luke have Gerasa or Gergesa not Gadara” is incorrect.
All of the four great ancient uncial codices record Gadara. In Matthew's gospel the location is Gadarenes in Vaticanus. In Mark's account, Vaticanus has “Gerasenes” but Alexandrinus and Ephraemi have "Gadarenes". Whereas in Luke's account, Alexandrinus has "Gadarenes" and Sinaiticus has "Gergesenes". All that can be determined from Origen and the earliest manuscripts is that by the fourth century no one was certain as to what the original text had read.
Carrier (PhD) eventually gave up on trying to use Origen as proving unequivocally that Gadara could not have been the site of Jesus’s swine miracle, but moved into an argument based upon the area’s geography. In other words, Carrier created a theory that Gadara was totally landlocked and therefore could not have been the place from which the demonized rushed into the sea. He wrote:
“Regardless of what Origen said, we now can determine ourselves from extant mss. [= manuscripts] that Gadara is the corruption (check any textual apparatus for the NT to see why). Origen was aware of there being a corruption, but lacked the data we now have, so he resolved it by appeal to his personal knowledge of geography (and the symbolic employment of the location by the Gospel author)–and his reasoning is entirely correct: Gadara is geographically impossible, whereas Gergesa is clearly the intended location.”
Alert readers will have already noticed that Carrier’s (PhD) entire approach to analyzing the story is ridiculous. A tale that describes someone with talking demons inside of them and possessed pigs Is not a literal history. Carrier nevertheless tries to apply reality-based criticism to a story that is either a fable or broadly symbolic and so loses the thread completely. He wrote:
“Neither Gadara nor Gerasa lies on the shore of the Galilean lake in any position from which a herd of pigs could rush down a bank into the water. Gadara stands about 5 miles from the sea of Galilee, Gerasa even further (more than thirty miles away).”
I was afraid to even ask Carrier (PhD) how he knew the capacities of demonized pigs, so I simply pointed out that none of the synoptic evangelists suggests that the encounter with the demoniac occurred at Gadara proper, but only in the country (χωραν) of the Gadarenes. In other words that Carrier’s (PhD) absolute certainty of the requirement for Gergesa was absurd as there is no way to know how far such a region went.
I wrote (quoting Bruce Metzger):
“Moreover, ‘Gadara’ is defined by Josephus as possessing territory ‘which lay on the frontiers of the Sea of Galilee’ (Life ix, 42)”
Carrier (PhD) realized that his ‘Landlocked Gadara Theory’ was kaput if the city held a territory with villages down to the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee, so after some geometric calculations he responded:
“Pardon me, but [Josephus] says no such thing there. The text says: ‘Then Justus through persuasion convinced the citizens [of Tiberias: Life 31] to take up arms, though forcing many against their will, and he went out with all of them and burned the villages of both the Gadarenes and the Hipposians, villages which happened to be lying on the border between the land of Tiberias and that of Scythopolis.’”
Carrier (PhD) went on to claim that the ‘country’ of the Gadarenes could not have bordered on the Sea of Galilee because villages possessed by the town of Hippos blocked such a territory (bear in mind that there is no archeology to support such an assertion). He wrote:
“Nowhere is there any mention of the “Sea of Galilee” here, nor geographically would that be possible. Hippos would certainly have had villages near the sea, but they would be between the sea and any villages held by Gadara. So there is no way to read Josephus as here saying there were villages of Gadara near the Sea of Galilee, much less on it.”
However, Carrier (PhD) realized that if Hippos and Gadara’s villages shared a border with the city of Tiberius, which lay on the shoreline, this could be problematic for his absolute position that Gadara was impossible as the location of the swine miracle and so he found a ‘solution’. I would ask the reader to pay close attention to Carrier’s disjointed train of thought below, as there is a reward later. He wrote:
“Hippos and Gadara had towns “on the border between” the cities of Tiberias and Scythopolis (which Josephus can only mean in rough terms, since neither could have had towns directly between those two cities, but could have held towns within five or ten miles of a point between Tiberias and Scythopolis, which could have sat on the border of lands held by Tiberias and Scythopolis).
“Indeed, elsewhere Josephus says Gadara is twice as far from Tiberias as Hippos (Life 336): Hippos, he says, is roughly 4 miles from Tiberias, Gadara roughly 8 miles, and Scythopolis roughly 15 miles (all his numbers are short of the actual distance by about 25% but are correct in proportion). Here again he places the sequence in geographic order as: Tiberias, Hippos, Gadara, and Scythopolis. Though these do not sit on a straight line, their relative position north to south is correct. It is roughly four miles from Tiberias to the end of the Sea, where the border of Hippos could have been (if Josephus is measuring to nearest border and not across the water to the actual city), and about six actual miles beyond that in a continuous line (as the coastline points) is Gadara.
“So Josephus was short by only a couple of miles, yet even his own short estimate places Gadara several hours away from the sea. Josephus likewise says (in Life 44) “some nearby peoples, Gadarenes and Gabarenes and Tyrians” joined an attack on Gischala–these tribes are all over Galilee, and none near the Sea of Galilee. Thus again “nearby” is clearly a relative term–certainly for any sentence that says both the Gadarenes and the Tyrians were “nearby” Gischala!
“All in all, there is zero support in Josephus for placing any Gadarenes near the Sea.”
Carrier (PhD) is claiming that as someone in Gadara looked out to the Sea of Galilee, the town of on its right, Hippos, had villages blocking Gadara’s villages from a presence of the shoreline. On its left the towns of Scythopolis were also blocking its villages and thus poor Gadara was landlocked. Of course there is no archeological evidence for such a fantasy, which is not even plausible as a conjecture in that the cities were part of a military alliance – the Decapolis - and allies would not ‘land lock’ one another.
There is even a bigger ‘hole’ in Carrier’s geometry, however. Since his landlocked theory requires Hippos’s villages to block Gadara villages access to the Sea from its right, and Scythopolis’ from its left, where is the area that Gadara had towns “on the border” of the cities of Tiberias and Scythopolis? Carrier has not only painted himself into a corner, but painted the corner out of existence as well.
To try and steer Carrier away from this silliness I sent him an example of a coin showing that Gadara was a town with a connection to the sea. I wrote:
“This understanding is supported by a number of coins bearing the name Gadara that portray a ship”
Carrier’s (PhD) response to the coin evidence is one of the low points in NT scholarship. Few paragraphs in the field contain so many blunders or unintended irony. He wrote:
“Did you actually bother to check the meaning of this? The coins in question were issued only once under Pompey and depict a war galley with the inscription “NAUMA[CHIA].” No Gadarene coins from any other era depict ships of any kind. A “Naumachia” was usually a mock naval battle held in an amphitheater, and may have been in this case, although the Sea of Galilee could have been the most convenient venue at the time. But all the cities of the Decapolis would have been invited to send teams to the competition, not just those on the coast. The Gadarene team probably won, and Pompey honored their victory by issuing a coin celebrating it. This in no way conveys the notion that Gadara was a naval town, much less a military base!
“I think your scholarship is alarmingly shallow here, in both your treatment of the text of Josephus and this coin. Do you even read Greek?”
To insist that a Gadarene coin depicting a ship is “in no way” evidence that Gadara was a town with a presence on the coastline is, of course, ridiculous. It is another one of Carrier’s (PhD) claims for an absolutism, which would be wrong under any circumstances, but are shown to be absurd by a review of the facts.
In this instance, lo and behold, other examples of Gadara Naumchia coins from other eras are not too hard to come by. Here’s one issued by Marcus Aureillius around 160 CE, over two centuries after Pompey.
And there are many others. Roman Emperors like Severus, Eglabalus, and Gordianus III all issued Gadarene coins with ships on them.
Readers wishing for a souvenir of Carrier’s ‘Landlocked Gadara Theory’ may buy a Gadarene coin with a boat on it at the link below:
Zev Radovan's Bible Land Pictures > Acheology > Coins
Thus my response to Carrier’s (PhD) question: “Do you even read Greek?” is “Can you even use Google?”
The reader may begin to realize that the tide is beginning to turn on Carrier’s claim regarding my “alarmingly shallow” scholarship. Let’s next consult Bruce Metzger, and expert on Greek Biblical manuscripts, and compare it to my understanding of Biblical geography and Josephus’s text:
“Note, however, that none of the synoptic evangelists suggests that the encounter with the Gadarene demoniac occurred at Gadara proper, but only in the country (χωραν) of the Gadarenes (but refer also to the textual variants in each). According to Josephus, Gadara had outlying villages bordering on Tiberias (id est, the sea of Galilee).” (A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, p23)
So when Carrier (PhD) claims that I am struggling against all contemporary scholarship he seems to be claiming that one of the most prominent Biblical scholars of the last century was a ‘crank’.
But the tide, literally, went out and exposed Carrier’s ‘Landlocked Gadara Theory’ as a fraud. An unusually low water level near Kibbutz Ha'on in the mid-eighties revealed an important archeological discovery. It is one that is now so well known among specialists and the public that I have been wondering if some alert reader has pointed this out to Carrier (PhD) already.
Gadara had a harbor.
Gordon Franz, adjunct instructor in the Talbot School of Theology's "Bible Lands Program," explained:
“Some textual critics have objected to the reading of Gadara, located at Umm Qeis, south of the Yarmuk River, because it is to far from the Sea of Galilee (10 Kilometers as the crow flies) and had no control over any part of the Lake. In 1985, however, as a result of the low water level, a harbor was discovered south of Tel Samra. This harbor is the largest harbor on the east side of the lake, larger than Hippos (Susita), the other Decapolis city bordering the lake. Its outer breakwater measures some 250 meters long and has a 5 meter wide base. The quay, or landing place for the boats, is some 200 meters long. There is also a 500 meter pier along the shore (Nun 1989a: 16-18). Mendel Nun, a fisherman from Kibbutz Ein Gev and a noted authority on the Sea of Galilee surmised: One can only assume that a splendid harbor such as this did not serve a small population. It is much more likely that it once had been the harbor of Gadara, located on the heights of Gilead above the Yarmuk River the largest and most magnificent of the Hellenistic towns that encircled the Sea of Galilee...
“Coins from Gadara were discovered which depict boats commemorating the Naumachia, or naval battles reenacted by the people of Gadara. Several scholars have suggested that these battles took place on the Yarmuk River…But along the shore of the Sea of Galilee is now a more defendable conclusion. The shore would allow for the comfortable seating of the spectators along the 500 meter pier as they watched the sea battles.”
Let us then recap the misstatements of ‘facts’ that Carrier’s (PhD) invented to make his ‘Landlocked Gadara Theory’ credible and to brand me as the “crank”. They provide the truth about the scholarship of the slanderer who claimed, “I actually know what I am talking about, and have an actual Ph.D. in a relevant subject from a real university.”
Since Carrier (PhD) used his ‘Landlocked Gadara Theory’ to block any discussion of my actual analysis of the typological meaning of the Gospel’s Swine Miracle I want to include it at this point. In Caesar’s Messiah I simply lay out the texts side by side so that readers can determine for themselves if typological mapping is occurring.
Below is the analysis in Caesar’s Messiah of the “Demons of Gadara” parallel. The typological symbolism in the Gadara Swine Miracle uses broad strokes and can reasonably be contested if examined in isolation, though even in this context it is clear enough that other scholars have noticed it. For example, refer to Dr. Rod Blackhirst’s description of it in the Caesar’s Messiah documentary. The connections become clear when seen within the sequence and so I will provide the citations for the passages below.
The basic parallelism can be described as follows; an individual has numerous demons inside of him that are unleashed into the countryside around the Sea of Galilee. These demons in turn infect another group. This combined group rushes into the water. In the Gospels’ version Jesus drives out the demons, this ‘prefigures’ Titus’s driving the Jewish ‘demons’ into the Sea forty years later. The following is the full analysis of the passage from Caesar’s Messiah:
* * *
John possessed by a demon
Continuing with the Luke/Josephus typology, both authors describe a “John” with a demon. The passage in Luke is important in that it shows the basis for the Gospels’ character “John the Baptist”. Within the typological pattern, it is clear that “John the Baptist” – like the apostle “John” – is simply a “type” who “foresees” the rebel John of Gischala.
“For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, `He has a demon!' (Luke 7:33-35)
Josephus also describes a “John” who is possessed by a demon.
By this time John was beginning to tyrannize,,,many there were that thought they should be safer themselves, if the causes of their past insolent actions should now be reduced to one head, and not to a great many…Now as it is in a human body, if the principal part be inflamed, all the members are subject to the same distemper… (Wars of the Jews, 4, 7, 389-391, 407)
Demons…are no other than the spirit of the wicked. (Wars of the Jews, 7, 6, 185)
John…filled the entire countryside with ten thousand instances of wickedness. (Wars of the Jews, 7, 8, 263)
The legion of demons
Luke begins the sequence of events in the “demoniac of Gadara/Geresa” story with a description of a man possessed by a legion of demons. (I address the confusion about the two different locations of the story given in the Gospels below.)
Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee.
And when He stepped out on the land, there met Him a certain man from the city who had demons for a long time. And he wore no clothes, nor did he live in a house but in the tombs. (Luke 8:26-29)
Luke then describes a “legion” of demons inside the infected man.
Jesus asked him, saying, "What is your name?" And he said, "Legion," because many demons had entered him. (Luke 8:30)
Josephus also identifies the size of the rebel force that had “left” John and ravaged the countryside as being a “legion”; that is to say it was a group larger than a “gang of thieves” but smaller than an army. Once again, the reader should note how transparent the parallel would be if Josephus had simply chosen to call the group a ‘legion of demons’ rather than have reader deduce this description.
…yet were these men that now got together, and joined in the conspiracy by parties, too small for an army, and too many for a gang of thieves… (Wars of the Jews, 4, 7, 408)
Demons infect another group
Luke then states that the “demons” that left the man infected another group.
And they begged Him that He would not command them to go out into the abyss.
Now a herd of many swine was feeding there on the mountain. So they begged Him that He would permit them to enter them. And He permitted them.
Then the demons went out of the man and entered the swine. (Luke 8:31-33)
Josephus then describes how the “demons” that left John had “filled the countryside” and infected another group.
And now Vespasian sent Placidus against those that had fled from Gadara, with five hundred horsemen, and three thousand footmen, while he returned himself to Cesarea, with the rest of the army.
But as soon as these fugitives saw the horsemen that pursued them just upon their backs, and before they came to a close fight, they ran together to a certain village, which was called Bethennabris, where finding a great multitude of young men, and arming them, partly by their own consent, partly by force, they rashly and suddenly assaulted Placidus and the troops that were with him. (Wars of the Jews, 4, 8, 419-421)
The herd ran violently
Luke next describes how the herd ran.
…and the herd rushed down the steep bank… (Luke 8:33)
Josephus next describes how the group ran.
…and, like the wildest of wild beasts, they rushed upon the point of others' swords; so some of them were… (Wars of the Jews, 4, 8, 425)
The herd drowned
Luke describes that the herd drowned.
… into the lake and drowned. (Luke 8:33)
Josephus describes that the “herd” drowned.
They then extended themselves a very great way along the banks of the river, and sustained the darts that were thrown at them, as well as the attacks of the horsemen, who beat many of them, and pushed them into the current. (Wars of the Jews, 4, 8, 434)
To digress, the reason that different Gospels refer to the location of the demoniac as Gadara and Geresa – and that one version has one and others two demoniacs – is that the demoniac tale “foresees” both rebel leaders, John – who battled the Romans around Gadara – and “Simon”, called “Simon of Geresa” (Wars of the Jews, 4, 9, 503). The different demoniac stories were not, as is often suggested, garbled traditions, but rather were written intertextually, which is to say that all the details within the parallel stories add to the information the authors wished to communicate.
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Carrier (PhD) and I also discussed the ‘human Passover lamb’ parallel. Carrier (PhD) is not only a historian but also a literary analyst and actually came up with his own parallel to Josephus’ ‘Cannibal Mary’ passage, which he claimed was an improvement over mine. To his credit, Carrier was able to recognize that Mary’s cannibalized son in Josephus was, like Jesus in the Gospels, a human Passover lamb. This was the end of his clear mindedness because, incredibly, he did not see this as a meaningful connection.
“Even His Only Good Example Proves How Wrong He Is: The only good example Atwill sent me is his analysis of JW 6.201ff. Unfortunately, it is not a good example of his thesis, since it does not involve Jesus being mapped onto Titus (as Atwill’s thesis proposes) and the only distinct connection this story has with Jesus is the name “Mary” as the mother of an eaten child, and its connection to Passover.
“But “Mary” unfortunately was one of the most common Jewish female names (being, as it was, the name of the sister of Moses…one in four Jewish women had the name…you heard that right…one in four), and Passover is a ubiquitous theme throughout Jewish literature. So to have those two items alone as the link does not bode well.,,,by inverting the concept of the Passover in order to represent the inversion of Jewish society among those who remained rebels against Rome.
“What Josephus seems to have in mind is to communicate that Jewish society had been turned upside down by rebellion, and he does this by turning the Passover upside down. Hence we have here a Jew’s own poetic inversion of the Passover to make a contextual point about the state of society during the siege of Jerusalem.”
Carrier (PhD) then made a statement revealing only a very limited capacity to detect symbolism.
“Had the baby been called Jesus, then Atwill might have had something. Or if the Gospels identified the mother of Jesus as “Mary the daughter of Eleazar” or “from the town of Bethezob,” as the Mary in Josephus is. Or had any Gospel identified any other Mary as being the actual daughter of Lazarus (“Eleazar”), instead of his sister, as only one Gospel actually does (Jn. 11:2). But alas, no such connections are there.”
Note that Carrier (PhD) gives no evidence to support the methodology he uses below but simply sets up completely arbitrary standards to connect Josephus to the Bible. His standards permit him to range over the entire Old Testament searching for possible connections and parallels. I would ask the reader to compare his approach to my thesis that the authors of the Gospels were writing prefiguration typology linked to Josephus in sequence. My thesis requires that the connections must occur within small and precise areas of text. He continues:
“If the two authors (Josephus and “John”) were contriving parallels to make a joke or sell any deliberate point, they would have gotten their parallels straight, or at least done a much better job of it. For example, not only must we explain how the family relationship changed, and why Josephus meant to allude to Mary the mother of Jesus yet whoever wrote “John” (also Josephus?) got it wrong and made the corresponding Mary a different Mary not related to Jesus, but also why the names (Lazarus and Eleazar) aren’t even spelled the same, which usually indicates a lack of awareness of one writer by the other, not collusion.
“That the Passover is being turned upside down is given by the fact that those who ate the Passover were specifically avoiding the slaying of their own sons, and sacrifices like this were meant to replace a human (like Isaac) with an animal (Lamb), whereas in this story an animal is replaced with a human, and not just any human, but the very son whose death was supposed to be averted by the Passover.”
Carrier (PhD) then produced his basis for Josephus’s human Passover Lamb; a passage from the OT story in Numbers 12. He wrote:
“Josephus clearly chose the name Mary because this is the name of the sister of Moses, the only prominent woman in the Exodus (hence Passover) narrative, especially given the meaning of her name, as Atwill himself notes: “rebellion.” But this “Mary” (the sister of Moses) is “rebellious” due to the OT legend of Num. 12, not from anything in the NT–where the mother of Jesus is never portrayed as rebellious–whereas the OT Mary is rebellious, and was punished for it: she is the woman whom Aaron begged “Let her not be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he cometh out of his mother’s womb” (Num. 12:12).
“A rebellious Mary from the days of the Passover, associated with a half-consumed baby.
Hmmmm. Might that sound like the source of Josephus’ story to you?”
Carrier’s (PhD) future as a literary analyst is perhaps even dimmer than his future as Gadara’s official historian.
His denouncement that “[Atwill] just cherry picks and interprets anything to fit, any way he wants” describes his methodology, not mine. As my thesis posits more than just parallels, but a sequence of parallels between two narratives I must follow very strict rules about where to find each parallel, and always within a narrow block of text. Within a sequence I need to not only find a parallel to the Gospels’ ‘human Passover lamb’ in the correct spot in the narration, but I must also find the next parallel using only the text that immediately follows. I cannot cherry pick, as Carrier (PhD) does, any similarity that might exist within the whole Bible.
Forever a source of irony, Carrier (PhD) falsely accuses me of the sins he repeatedly commits.
Furthermore, he fails to understand how the uniqueness of a concept has a special power in this type of literary analysis. The ‘human Passover lamb’ metaphor used in both Mary’s child in Josephus and Mary’s child in the Gospels is so rare that these are the only two examples in all of literature. To overlook such a unique connection would be impossible for most thinking humans and takes a special kind of perverse persistence that Carrier (PhD) has a special talent for.
His forced version of the ‘human Passover lamb’ parallel from Numbers 12 is a case in point. Carrier (PhD) claimed that someone merely from “the days of the Passover” is a parallel for something as unique as a ‘human Passover lamb.’ In fact, the OT character Miriam is not mentioned during any of the descriptions of the Passover in Exodus and she makes no statement about it. Miriam is no more “associated” to the Passover than any other unnamed Israelite or Egyptian from the story of Exodus. Moreover, the baby suggested to be eaten away by disease in Numbers 12 is not related to either cannibalism or to the Passover in any way and its only ‘connection’ is Carrier’s (PhD) spurious “association” that Miriam was alive during the Passover.
We can again apply Carrier’s (PhD) slander against me as a correct description of his scholarship:
“And once you have to start changing the text all over the place to get what you want, on the basis of no evidence whatever, you are in crank land.”
In Caesar’s Messiah I wrote the following in regards to the relationship between the two ‘human Passover lambs’:
“However, Josephus’s Cannibal Mary passage has a number of concepts and names that are truly parallel to those associated with the New Testament’s symbolic Passover lamb. These are a mother named Mary; a son of Mary; hyssop; one of the instructions regarding the preparation of the Passover lamb – that it be roasted; a son who is a sacrifice; cannibalism; a son who is to become a “myth to the world”; an individual named Lazarus (Eleazar); and Jerusalem as the location of the incident. Moreover, the child in Josephus is a human Passover lamb parallel to the one in the Gospels. It is unlikely that there is another passage in all of literature that contains, by chance, as many as half the number of parallels with a concept as singular a human Passover lamb.”
But Carrier (PhD) saw his parallel as superior: He wrote:
“Atwill tries to find many other parallels between this “myth” and the Gospels, but they all suffer from the same distorted interpretations as the others, and amount to the same tactics of forcing a fit employed by defenders of biblical literalism. In contrast, the links between the context of this myth in Josephus and the OT are much clearer and more obvious, and require no knowledge of Jesus or Christianity, much less imply any comment on them.”
And his coup de grâce: “There is no connection to Jesus here.”
Of course, no sensible person can claim that there is “no connection” between humans who are turned into Passover lambs and, in fact, I can demonstrate that they were deliberately linked. As mentioned above, my theory maintains that a sequence of deliberate parallels exists between two narratives. In this case this means that, if I’m correct, the likelihood that the Josephus’ Cannibal Mary story is connected to Jesus Christ is fortified if the next story in Josephus’ narrative is also parallel to what comes next in the Gospel story. In this case, after the Last Supper, which contains the ‘human Passover lamb’ theme, we of course have the story of Jesus’s crucifixion.
So the question becomes: Is there a parallel to the Gospels’ crucifixion story in Josephus that follows his recording of a human Passover lamb?
There is indeed. This crucifixion tale below and its location in Josephus’s narrative of the war are the ‘gold seal’ of proof that the Jesus/Titus typological mapping was deliberate.
“Moreover, when the city Jerusalem was taken by force…I was sent by Titus Caesar…to a certain village called Thecoa, in order to know whether it were a place fit for a camp; as I came back, I saw many captives crucified, and remembered three of them as my former acquaintance. I was very sorry at this in my mind, and went with tears in my eyes to Titus, and told him of them; so he immediately commanded them to be taken down, and to have the greatest care taken of them, in order to their recovery; yet two of them died under the physician’s hands, while the third recovered.” (Josephus, Life, 75, 417)
The fact that the story that is the closest parallel to the Gospels crucifixion story in literature occurs at exactly the correct place in Josephus’s narrative cannot be accidental. In other words, my thesis is proven and the story of Jesus was fiction created to prefigure Titus, QED.
I sent the parallel to Carrier (PhD) during our email discussion. I wrote:
“The linkage to Jesus’s crucifixion occurs in Josephus, Life, 75. The typology showing that the individual who survives is a messiah is complex and I will only mention here that it exists, but I would note that ‘Joseph of Arimathea’ is an obvious pun upon Joseph bar Mathias.”
Carrier (PhD), amusingly, first insisted that typological parallels must be verbatim:
“Again, why not simply say Barmathias? Why disguise the connection by spelling both names differently? The Gospels also make clear it is a place, not a person ([using the preposition] “from” Arimathaia). And Josephus’s Life says “Matthias” while the Gospels all say -mathaia, yet an intended parallel would employ the same spelling, don’t you think?”
But then, once again, he violated his own absurd principles, and posited a convoluted, and much weaker, replacement: He wrote:
“It is actually a more obvious pun on what the word Arimathea actually means: ‘Best Doctrinetown.’ ”
In a private correspondence with Peter Kirby, Carrier (PhD) explained his speculation: "Is the word a pun on 'best disciple,' ari[stos] mathe[tes]? Matheia means 'disciple town' in Greek; Ari- is a common prefix for superiority." (link)
Notice again how slack Carrier’s (PhD) methods are compared to mine. Like his alternative parallel to the ‘Cannibal Mary’ story where he searched the entire Old Testament for a link, here he scours the entire Greek language for a connection. My thesis, on the hand, cannot venture out of the Jesus/Titus sequence and am therefore confined to precise areas of text to find connections, a vastly more disciplined approach.
Notice that my parallel actually uses only the last name of someone who took a person down from a cross that survived. Carrier’s “Best Doctrinetown” had the entire Greek language to look for the “intended parallel.”
Carrier’s unconvincing ‘Arimathea’ connection actually provides further evidence for my thesis. With the entire Greek language at his disposal Carrier could only generate a very tenuous link to the Gospels. In contrast my methodology, which requires using only a tiny block of text, provided a much more concrete basis for the name Joseph of ‘Arimathea’. The overall pattern of parallels in the two stories shows that the name Joseph of Arimathea was a typological prefiguration of the last name of the ‘Joseph bar Mathias’, the individual who begged the Roman commander to take someone down from the cross who survived during the Jewish war.
It is telling that the author of the Gospel of Barnabas, the mysterious apocryphal Gospel from the 16th century, did not share Carrier’s spurious parallel. That author instead recorded a connection to Josephus.
He wrote: “but by means of Nicodemus and Joseph of Abarimathia; they obtained from the governor the body of Judas to bury it. Whereupon, they took him down from the cross with such weeping as assuredly no one would believe, and buried him in the new sepulchre of Joseph;” Gospel of Barnabas, chapter 217
Finally, Carrier (PhD) and I discussed the parallel that concludes the Gospels and the Jewish War which I call ‘Simon condemned, John spared’ at the end email exchange. I wrote:
“I am certain if you spend a just few minutes comparing the fates of the ‘two sets of leaders of messianic movements in Judea in the second half of the first century engaged in missionary activity’ I am sure you will come to same conclusion I did. Jesus’s prophecy foresees the rebel leaders’ fate.”
Below is the entire passage from the Book of John. Notice how the author of John goes to great lengths to avoid calling the Apostles by their real names, Simon and John.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.
(This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this he said to him, “Follow me.”
Peter turned and saw following them the disciple whom Jesus loved, who had lain close to his breast at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?”
When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?”
Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!”
The saying spread abroad among the brethren that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”
This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true.” (John 21:18–24)
In Caesar’s Messiah I wrote:
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This passage, which is the conclusion to Jesus’ ministry, is exactly parallel to Titus’ judgments concerning the rebel leaders Simon and John at the conclusion of his campaign through Judea. Thus, at the conclusion of the Gospel above, Jesus tells Simon “when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.” Jesus tells Simon to “follow me” and that his death will “glorify God.” However, Jesus also states that it is his will that John is to “remain.”
At the conclusion of his campaign through Judea, Titus, after capturing “Simon,” girds him in “bonds” and sends him “where you do not wish to go,” this being Rome. During the parade of conquest at Rome, Simon follows, that is, is “led” to a “death, to glorify God,” the god “glorified” being Titus’ father, the diuus Vespasian. However, it is Titus’ will to spare the other leader of the rebellion, John.
Notice that in the following passage, Josephus records Simon’s fate before John’s, just as it occurs in John 21. A seemingly innocuous detail but one that I will show has great significance.
Simon…was forced to surrender himself, as we shall relate hereafter; so he was reserved for the triumph, and to be then slain; as was John condemned to perpetual imprisonment.
Josephus also records that Jesus’ vision of Simon “following” also comes to pass for the rebel leader Simon.
Simon…had then been led in this triumph among the captives; a rope had also been put upon his head, and he had been drawn into a proper place in the forum.
In the passage from the Gospel of John above, notice that the author does not call the Apostle John by his name but rather as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” and as the individual who had said at the Last Supper, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” Later in the chapter the author identifies this disciple with yet another epithet when he states, “This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things”—even here not referring to John by name but requiring the reader to determine it by knowing the name of the author of the Gospel. The author’s use of epithets here, instead of simply referring to the disciple as “John,” seems clearly an attempt to keep the parallel conclusion of Jesus’ and Titus’ “ministries” from being too easily seen.80 The author also has Jesus call Simon by his nickname, “Peter,” for the same reason.
The same technique is used throughout the New Testament and Wars of the Jews. To learn the name of an unnamed character, the reader must be able to recall details from another, related passage. In effect, the New Testament is designed as a sort of intelligence test, whose true meaning can be understood only by those possessing sufficient memory, logic, and irreverent humor.
For clarification, I present the following list showing the parallels between the ends of Jesus’ ministry and Titus’ campaign:
1) Characters are named Simon and John
2) Both sets of characters are judged
3) Both sides of the parallel occur at the conclusion of a “campaign”
4) Jesus predicts and Titus fulfills Simon going to a martyr’s death after being placed in bonds and taken someplace he does not wish to go
5) In each, John is spared
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Carrier (PhD) did not see any parallelism here, however. He was not even able to see the fact that name of the “beloved disciple” was John.
“I don’t follow you. There is no one named “John” in John 21, except Simon’s father, and that name is only there as a patronymic (it’s Simon’s last name, e.g. Simon Johnson). The “beloved disciple” is never named, but is most probably not someone named John, but Lazarus”
Actually, the author did identify the “beloved disciple” as someone named John. It is obvious to anyone that reads the last verse of the passage in a straightforward manner.
“This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true.” (John 21:24)
In closing, I would point out that Carrier’s (PhD) chronic invention of ‘facts’ and insipid analysis shows that his claim to scholastic authority is a sham. Carrier’s analysis is so weak as to beg the question of whether or not he is an anomaly. Are his relentless misstatements of facts, weak literary analysis, outright slander and childish insults indicative of the standards of scholarship taught at Columbia University and other PhD programs?
If so, then academia is not protecting the public from ‘cranks’, rather it’s the public that needs protection from the ‘cranks’ that academic institutions produce.
The publishing of this article was delayed as Ryan Gilmore, the organizer of the recent "Covert Messiah" conference in London, attempted to arrange a live debate with Carrier on the "Faith & Skepticism" podcast, which was scheduled for December 3rd 2013. Although my first instinct was not to honor someone who had slandered me, Mr. Gilmore persuaded me that it might be a teaching moment and I agreed to a debate that would cover Carrier’s criticisms point by point.
But the event was recently cancelled by the hosts after a long 6 week correspondence when we finally heard back that Carrier refused to debate his own arguments point-for-point. Why Carrier accepted the idea of a debate at first (especially after repeatedly telling his readers he didn't want to waste any more time on my theories), but then rejected my proposal to debate his own arguments is a mystery.
The hosts of "Faith & Skepticism" had dedicated a good portion of their October 13 2013 episode to criticizing my work from a position of ignorance. So, after they had cancelled the debate, I offered to come on the show alone to explain my thesis and answer any question they or their audience might have. They rejected this offer stating that they 'typically' used the debate format with their guests. This was another mystery as they have often interview single guests.
Atwill is an independent scholar who has set the world of New Testament scholarship in a new direction.