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Richard Carrier: Acts Of The Apostles As Historical Fiction


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One of the best Carrier videos out there. A straight out demolition job on the outrageous liar "Luke" and his fantasy island known as "Acts of the Apostles." It's one hour and 10 minutes of total destruction. 

 

 

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Interesting video, especially the Q&A at the end. Thanks for posting!

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The only problem is that Carrier actually believes that the Pauline Epistles are historical, when they were written in the same spirit as Acts of the Apostles. 

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The only problem is that Carrier actually believes that the Pauline Epistles are historical, when they were written in the same spirit as Acts of the Apostles.

I find it odd that he thinks these writings are authentic.

 

(Thank you for posting this, it was really interesting)

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It comes from a basic insecurity that most secular historians have when approaching the Bible. They approach it critically, but they're afraid that if they're too critical, they will be dismissed as radicals, and consequently their entire effort will be lost. So they play the theologians' game that there are these "seven authentic Pauline epistles" that are -- miraculously!, you might say -- historical, while everything else in the NT is basically fiction, legend, and myth, including all the other epistles. 

 

But once you concede anything to the theologians and apologists, your effort is lost anyway. Carrier hasn't realized that. 

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Great points. What I find funny for lack of a better word, is Carrier's critique of other critiques. (from Biblical scholars)

While fascinating in its own right, it just shows how absurd the spin can become.

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The only problem is that Carrier actually believes that the Pauline Epistles are historical, when they were written in the same spirit as Acts of the Apostles.

This may follow what you're saying here, but he stated that roughly 95% of biblical scholars believe that the Pauline epistles were written by Paul. Makes sense from the standpoint you bring up, but it appears to be intellectually dishonest if what your implying (that they are written by other people) is in fact true.

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Excellent video, thanks for linking it, Blood. I was familiar with some of Carrier's arguments and appreciate hearing other ones - like Acts' rewriting of the Peter vs Paul disagreement, or Ananias as a doublet of John the baptist.

I wish Carrier had addressed two arguments in favor of Acts, one weak and one fairly strong:

1. some sophisticated believers may say, against Carrier, that his implicit conception of fictious history as lies is off. By analogy with texts like Jonah, or the infancy narratives, one might argue that Acts is intended to convey deep spiritual truths, as a giant midrash or myth in the deep sense of myth. As the infancy narratives teach truths about Jesus the savior of humanity, though they are not factually based, so does Acts.

I don't think this is a strong argument, but I see biblical scholar types take this approach to other parts of the Bible (e.g. the first chapters of Genesis) and can imagine them trying it as a defense of Acts.  Raymond Brown wrote two books, one scholarly (The Birth of Jesus the Messiah) and one popular (An Adult Christ at Christmas) arguing that the infancy narratives are a kind of midrash, teaching theological truth. Brown always affirmed all Catholic doctrines.  Brown and people like that make use of genre arguments to say that we are posing the wrong questions if we're "fundamentalist" about the historicity of the Bible. It's spiritual truth in the first place, they say, shaped as inspired theological rhetoric.  Carrier doesn't confront this approach. He just seems to equate fiction with lies, at least as far as Acts goes.  (I don't think Brown et al. would say that any gospel, or Acts, is ALL inspired fiction, though.) 

2. a stronger argument is put out by early daters of Acts: Acts ends before the martyrdoms of its heroes, Peter and Paul. Certainly the author would include those glorious events had he been writing after they were martyred. The absence of such a climax screams out that Acts was actually written before, say, 64 CE.

I also wish Carrier would stop misusing the term, euhemerism. Euhemerus claimed that the Greek gods had originally been great men, whose deeds led legends to grow up around their memories, and, eventually, to morph into myths of god figures. Carrier keeps using the term in the opposite way, i.e. a cosmic, already divine Christ became the subject of a (fake) historical narrative about a man.

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The only problem is that Carrier actually believes that the Pauline Epistles are historical, when they were written in the same spirit as Acts of the Apostles.

This may follow what you're saying here, but he stated that roughly 95% of biblical scholars believe that the Pauline epistles were written by Paul. Makes sense from the standpoint you bring up, but it appears to be intellectually dishonest if what your implying (that they are written by other people) is in fact true.

 

 

99.9% of biblical scholars believe that Jesus was a real person, but Carrier is comfortable completely dismissing that consensus. 

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1. some sophisticated believers may say, against Carrier, that his implicit conception of fictious history as lies is off. By analogy with texts like Jonah, or the infancy narratives, one might argue that Acts is intended to convey deep spiritual truths, as a giant midrash or myth in the deep sense of myth. As the infancy narratives teach truths about Jesus the savior of humanity, though they are not factually based, so does Acts.

 

I don't think this is a strong argument, but I see biblical scholar types take this approach to other parts of the Bible (e.g. the first chapters of Genesis) and can imagine them trying it as a defense of Acts.  Raymond Brown wrote two books, one scholarly (The Birth of Jesus the Messiah) and one popular (An Adult Christ at Christmas) arguing that the infancy narratives are a kind of midrash, teaching theological truth. Brown always affirmed all Catholic doctrines.  Brown and people like that make use of genre arguments to say that we are posing the wrong questions if we're "fundamentalist" about the historicity of the Bible. It's spiritual truth in the first place, they say, shaped as inspired theological rhetoric.  Carrier doesn't confront this approach. He just seems to equate fiction with lies, at least as far as Acts goes.  (I don't think Brown et al. would say that any gospel, or Acts, is ALL inspired fiction, though.) 

 

 

But that's just another one of the theologians' little games. The imply to the public -- not their fellow scholars -- that it's all historical and we have good reason to assume that the writers were recording history. If somebody actually confronts them with the things Carrier brought up, though, they retreat from this and say, "Oh, of course that part was just spiritual truth ... the writer wasn't being a historian in that instance." It's two-faced, dishonest, and hypocritical. 

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I also wish Carrier would stop misusing the term, euhemerism. Euhemerus claimed that the Greek gods had originally been great men, whose deeds led legends to grow up around their memories, and, eventually, to morph into myths of god figures. Carrier keeps using the term in the opposite way, i.e. a cosmic, already divine Christ became the subject of a (fake) historical narrative about a man.

The term euhemerism is used to describe *what* Euhemerus efficiently did though, and therefore Carrier does not misuse it at all - as in, most of us don't really think Zeus and Chronos and so on were actual persons, but were mythical from the get-go, and Euhemerus invented the idea of them having mundane pasts, by analogy, Jesus was originally not a man in Carriers view, and somewhere along the line someone did the same to Jesus as what Euhemerus did to Zeus and Chronos. This is how the term euhemerism is generally used and has been used since 1846 at the very least!  See http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=euhemerism&searchmode=none

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The term euhemerism is used to describe *what* Euhemerus efficiently did though, and therefore Carrier does not misuse it at all - as in, most of us don't really think Zeus and Chronos and so on were actual persons, but were mythical from the get-go, and Euhemerus invented the idea of them having mundane pasts, by analogy, Jesus was originally not a man in Carriers view, and somewhere along the line someone did the same to Jesus as what Euhemerus did to Zeus and Chronos. This is how the term euhemerism is generally used and has been used since 1846 at the very least!  See http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=euhemerism&searchmode=none

In Euhemerus' "Sacred Chronicle," of which only fragments survive, the gods were portrayed as humans, members of an ancient royal dynasty, whose great deeds and benefactions led their subjects to worship them as gods. In later, more philosophical discourse in antiquity, "euhemeristic" came to designate a rationalizing explanation of the origin of a myth about a god, sc. that the god had originally not really been a god but a great human, who become worshipped as a god. Euhemerus himself became considered an atheist and figures on lists of famous atheists (e.g. Theophilus of Antioch calls E. "the most atheistic").

 

The author of the Book of Wisdom says, " ... he now honored as a god what was once a dead human being, and handed on to his dependents secret rites and initiations" (14:15). This and many other ancient explanations of the origins of divine cults are called Euhemeristic by Jeremy M. Scott (Christianity, Empire and the Making of Religion in Late Antiquity).

 

Carrier shouldn't, in my view, say that the gospel writers wrote euhemerizing accounts, in this sense of "euhemerizing" from later antiquity. The gospel writers were not saying that a divine god/man, "begotten" in a heavenly realm, was in fact really a man who had simply come to be considered divine. Theirs are not rationalizing accounts.

 

If "euhemeristic" no longer is properly used the way it was used in the Roman period, that's good to know. In scholarly writing in which I have seen the term, it is used to denote a rationalizing account of the kind I describe above.

 

------------------

 

My Shorter OED defines euhemerism as "The interpretation of myths as traditional accounts of real historical events and people." It's debatable whether, in Carrier's scenario, the gospel writers were doing this. Anyway, I say no more, so as not to hijack Blood's thread any further.

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1. some sophisticated believers may say, against Carrier, that his implicit conception of fictious history as lies is off. By analogy with texts like Jonah, or the infancy narratives, one might argue that Acts is intended to convey deep spiritual truths, as a giant midrash or myth in the deep sense of myth. As the infancy narratives teach truths about Jesus the savior of humanity, though they are not factually based, so does Acts.

 

I don't think this is a strong argument, but I see biblical scholar types take this approach to other parts of the Bible (e.g. the first chapters of Genesis) and can imagine them trying it as a defense of Acts.  Raymond Brown wrote two books, one scholarly (The Birth of Jesus the Messiah) and one popular (An Adult Christ at Christmas) arguing that the infancy narratives are a kind of midrash, teaching theological truth. Brown always affirmed all Catholic doctrines.  Brown and people like that make use of genre arguments to say that we are posing the wrong questions if we're "fundamentalist" about the historicity of the Bible. It's spiritual truth in the first place, they say, shaped as inspired theological rhetoric.  Carrier doesn't confront this approach. He just seems to equate fiction with lies, at least as far as Acts goes.  (I don't think Brown et al. would say that any gospel, or Acts, is ALL inspired fiction, though.)

 

But that's just another one of the theologians' little games. The imply to the public -- not their fellow scholars -- that it's all historical and we have good reason to assume that the writers were recording history. If somebody actually confronts them with the things Carrier brought up, though, they retreat from this and say, "Oh, of course that part was just spiritual truth ... the writer wasn't being a historian in that instance." It's two-faced, dishonest, and hypocritical.

 

Yes, I agree. I look for more of a refutation of the Ray Brown types than the charge that they are being hypocritical, and I'm sure you do, too. I think we may have discussed such sophisticated faith-based approaches to scripture before; I already forget.

 

The Southern Baptists got into a tizzy when Mike Licona pushed genre arguments, stating that Greco-Roman genres allowed for contradictions, rhetorical shaping, embellishment for thematic purposes, etc. Norman Geisler's attack on Licona:

 

http://www.normangeisler.net/articles/Bible/Inspiration-Inerrancy/Licona/LiconaAdmitsContradictionsInGospels.htm

 

Did you post some of this yourself, Blood?

 

As an ex-evangelical, I recognize that I have to be careful not to slide back into fundamentalistic thinking. Still, I think that the "this is what happened" thing is integral to Christianity's historic message. If one goes so far as to admit that much of Acts, say, is romance and not "history," but then wants to maintain that, like Jonah, it's inspired romance that teaches theological truth, I turn the page. It's one thing if, maybe, the snake that bit Paul wasn't really poisonous. But it's hard, putting my believer hat back on, to allow that the shipwreck never occurred but still to hold that Acts is inspired truth. It doesn't seem to me that the book retains any normative force if those utterances that appear to be assertions turn out only to be pretend assertions and, thus, not falsifiable in principle.

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