Just a Head’s Up: The Salm-Carrier exchange (May 1-2, 2013)

I feel compelled to defend myself against a cavalier and condescending review by Richard Carrier on his blog. The review deals with the recently published book, Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth, a collection of contributions from leading Jesus mythicists—including myself and Richard Carrier. Several bloggers have quickly commented, including Neil Godfrey who refers to Carrier’s “Salm-bashing.”

Dr. Richard Carrier

Dr. Richard Carrier

Indeed, I find Carrier’s review unprofessional and unjustifiably offensive towards me (“One of the worst contributions is by Salm”…“disorganized argumentation against Nazareth”…“many errors of logic”…). But the main problem is not my work—over which I have no reservations—but Carrier’s penchant to throw stones without taking better aim. In fact (and this rather surprises me), he doesn’t seem to have grasped the main issues relative to Nazareth archaeology—i.e., why I am arguing the town wasn’t there at the turn of the era (mostly professional pottery, oil lamp, and tomb datings). I deal in messages #2 and 4 below with the essentials of my argument, which Carrier entirely overlooks in his comments. Instead, he zeros in on a relatively minor (and controversial) issue—namely, the Caesarea inscription—and chastises me for not making a huge deal about this Late Roman-Byzantine artefact. But more of that below…
 
Carrier devotes half his review to my work. That itself is rather strange as my contribution was only a single chapter in the long book. It leads me to wonder whether Carrier’s review is objective or emotional. In any case, he obviously is mightily exercised these days by what he calls the “Nazareth obsession.” Perhaps he wishes more attention were being given to his thesis regarding Bayes’ theorem…
 
I give the email exchange exactly as it occurred a few days ago, with one or two typos corrected and with the emails in chronological order, numbered for convenience. This email exchange was semi-private, being circulated to about a dozen prominent mythicists as well as some known liberal scholars. Earl Doherty and Acharya S also engaged in the exchanges and, like myself, were very upset at Carrier’s unfounded comments, haughty tone, and generally aggressive remarks. I am not publishing their emails out of an abundance of caution, for they did not approve of them being made public. However, I do not feel the same compunction regarding Carrier, for his review is public and requires a public rebuttal, if only to keep the record straight.
 
Below, then, are the emails sent by Carrier and myself which took place just a couple of days ago. They demonstrate how out of touch Carrier is regarding the whole Nazareth issue.

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[1]            From: Richard Carrier
                 Subject: Just a Heads Up
                 Date: May 1, 2013 1:59:35 PM PDT
 
I’ve finally completed a read of BEQHJN and I can’t honestly give it a good review. My take on it is mixed but mostly negative:

http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/3522

I’m sure that will enrage some of you, but I’m nothing if not annoyingly honest about things like this.

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[2]            From: Rene Salm
                 Subject: Just a Heads Up
                 Date: May 2, 2013 8:09:05 AM PDT
 
Hello fellow mythicists,
 
I’ve always kept my distance from Carrier, and one can readily understand why by his review of our Bart Ehman book which is gratuitously offensive—mostly towards me, as he devotes half the review to my work. Carrier is very wrong regarding the Nazareth evidence and that’s what I’d like to get to here. This rather surprises me, for I had thought he was a more careful scholar.
 
Nazareth is going down as a historic boondoggle. It has the power to totally demolish the story of Jesus “of Nazareth” that we all learned in grade school. Carrier has never acknowledged the issue’s centrality and calls it “The Nazareth obsession.” Its not an obsession–it is important! The appearance of my book in 2008, THE MYTH OF NAZARETH, and the Salm-Zindler “no-Nazareth” hypothesis now have archaeologists in Israel frantically scurrying around the Nazareth basin coming up with bogus “evidence” from the time of Jesus. Witness Alexandre’s much-publicized discovery a couple of years ago of a “house from the time of Jesus”, and soon the British archaeologist Ken Dark will also be publishing a book on another Early Roman “house” in the vicinity. Neither of them are houses from the time of Jesus—they’re not even “houses” but agricultural installations. My own (second) book on Nazareth will be out in 2015—just to keep the record straight.  😉
 
The Nazareth argument is pretty straightforward. First a little history… We know that Nazareth was very Jewish until the seventh century. Not only did the priestly family of Hapises go there after the Second Revolt (see below), but the town was so Jewish that its residents actually helped slaughter Christians in the year 614 when the Persians invaded Palestine. Evidently the post-Constantine village only tolerated a couple of Christian shrines and benefited from the pilgrims. The inhabitants paid a price for their eventual attack on the Christians, though, because when the Christian emperor Heraclius subsequently beat back the Persians he singled out Nazareth for special punishment (p. 333 of my book).
 
What does that have to do with anything? Well, if Nazareth was Jewish through Roman and early Byzantine times, then we know that the early inhabitants never lived on the hillside where Alexandre, Dark, and everybody else is claiming to find “houses.” Why? Because Jews cannot live in the vicinity of tombs, for reasons of religious purity. Now, the hillside where archaeologists have been digging is absolutely riddled with Roman tombs… Of course, they have to dig precisely THERE, because that’s where the Church of the Annunciation is—right over three tombs!!! (See: http://www.nazarethmyth.info/scandalhome.html) Umm, that’s where the Virgin Mary was supposedly living when she received the Annunciation from the angel Gabriel. Right…
 
The tradition is in a mammoth Catch-22 at Nazareth. They have to locate the village on the hillside where the long-venerated sites are, and yet that’s *exactly* where dozens of Roman tombs are also located… Furthermore, the tombs all postdate the “time of Jesus” as did ALL the inhabitants of Nazareth, too. This is just another complication for the tradition to deal with…
 
Reflexively, people don’t accept that archaeologists could be *so* wrong. Many are also credentials ‘saps,’ for whom a Ph.D is pre-requisite to having an opinion, and for whom not having a Ph.D = error. That attitude is *very dangerous* in the case of Biblical archaeology where agendas are so strong and ethics so weak. I mean, the archaeologist priest Bagatti was able to look at a badly done child’s graffito on a wall at Nazareth and say, “Hey, that’s John the Baptist”! When he couldn’t decipher some other graffiti, he opined “Well, it could be Nabatean writing.” (It probably isn’t, but so what? Nabateans were active in II CE when Nazareth was in existence.) Archaeologists are now finding evidence “from the time of Jesus” because they have no choice—they HAVE to find it.
 
Carrier goes on and on about the Hapises, and he’s wrong there too. I deal with this issue on pp. 275-78 of my book, as he notes. There, we read that “no northward exodus is known after the First Jewish Revolt… After the Second Jewish Revolt, on the other hand, ‘the defeated Jews were expelled from the territory of Jerusalem…'”—this citing an Israeli scholar D. Trifon and drawing on the work of Shuerer, Horsley, Crossan, Koester, and Taylor (note 50). Carrier thinks “There was no temple to house priests nor any temple cult for priests to attend after the first Jewish War, so obviously they were more likely relocated in 70 AD, not 132 AD.” Umm, no… That is neither “more likely” nor obvious. The Sanhedrin didn’t move up to the Galilee until II CE—recall Jamnia. A post-132 dating for the northward movement of the Hapises is consistent with the flourishing of Pharisaic activity in the Galilee after 135 CE and also consistent with the material evidence from the Nazareth basin which clearly points to settlement beginning between the revolts (70-130 CE). In any case, the Caesarea inscription is not critical to my case, as Carrier seems to think. Maybe his false inferences from it are merely critical to HIS case… If the Hapises inscription is all Carrier has to go on, then his argument for a Nazareth “at the time of Jesus” is very weak indeed. I rest on my conclusion in the book regarding oil lamps, pottery, etc. from Nazareth: “not a single artefact can be dated with certainty prior to 100 CE” (p. 165). [ – Rene]

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[3]            From: Richard Carrier
                 Subject: Just a Heads Up
                 Date: May 2, 2013 8:26:21 AM PDT
 
Do note that you [i.e., R. Salm] can post comments answering my arguments at that review. Comments go to moderation and due to my busy life can take a while to post but they will post. You can even, if you like, just post the content of that last email. Although do beware, it does not contain any argument against the argument I actually made in the review (I actually acknowledged in the review that you had valid points to make regarding the archaeology, so repeating that is not even gainsaying me).

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[4]            From: Rene Salm
                 Subject: Just a Heads Up
                 Date: May 02, 2013 12:38 PM
 
I’ll pass, Richard. You don’t savage somebody and then invite them to tea… Regarding the above, you don’t make any arguments. You conclude: “But I don’t see us having anywhere near the evidence we would need to prove Nazareth definitely didn’t exist (we might be able to warrant a very weak agnosticism at best).” That’s not an argument but an opinion.
 
You’re looking at the Nazareth issue through some cock-eyed lens where the Caesarea inscription is central, and you berate everybody for not seeing it that way. (Gee, Acharya and I didn’t even mention it!) You call it “key evidence”, “proving [Nazareth] existed in 70 AD,” write that my not mentioning it is a “fatal error” and an example of “many errors of [my] logic.” You’re wrong on all these counts, and I wonder about YOU as a logical thinker. You even give opinion that weakens your own position (Leibner). Weird…
 
Another reason to question your logical ability is that you seem to be missing the vital mainstays of my argument: (1) the oil lamps are all post-25 CE; (2) the tombs are all post-50 CE; (3) no artefacts are demonstrably before 100 CE; and (4) the venerated area of Nazareth is riddled with tombs. It’s really not about the Caesarea inscription at all… For the record, that’s your Holy Grail but is a fairly minor consideration in the Nazareth discussion when compared to these other elements.—Rene

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[5]            From: Richard Carrier
                 Subject: Just a Heads Up
                 Date: May 2, 2013 10:48:42 AM PDT
 
I actually made a very specific argument from probability. Which actually had a decent rebuttal…which someone else thought of on your behalf, convincing me to make note of it and revise. (All now posted.)
 
Which should be a lesson in general about how professional debate should proceed, and how it can actually make progress if it is less emotional and more driven by honest concern for the truth and making improvement rather than who is scoring points or “on top” or any of that nonsense.
 
I also noted there were logical fallacies in your chapter, which is another argument. To which the appropriate response would be to ask me which and where. Which would generate a list. And so we’d discuss from there. But I will only do that publicly. I worry I’d be wasting my time otherwise. If you are serious, and actually are concerned about whether any of your arguments are fallacious, post a comment asking me to prove you made any. And then take my answers seriously, and not with unprofessional bitterness.

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[My comment on the above to provide some closure: If Carrier finds “logical fallacies” in my work he is free to make such observations wherever he wishes, and I am likewise free to respond to those observations when and as I wish. As far as I can tell, however, he has not addressed the critical issues at Nazareth (see above #4) nor does he seem interested in doing so. It may be that what Carrier finds critical and what I find critical are different things—in which case we’re talking past each other. Carrier has intimated many times that the Nazareth question is not important. Presumably, then, a decade of my life was effectively wasted… Since I have very little interest in his work with the Bayes theorem, it appears that the two of us actually have very little to discuss.—R.S.]

un-Doctor René Salm

un-Doctor René Salm

Comments

Just a Head’s Up: The Salm-Carrier exchange (May 1-2, 2013) — 3 Comments

  1. Carrier does say that you neglect to account for “the priestly inscription (of around 300 A.D., in Hebrew) proving it existed in 70 AD–when it was recorded as one of the towns that took in priests after the destruction of the temple and the outlawing of its rituals.” Do you have a specific reply to this accusation?

  2. It is unlikely that the priests moved to Nazareth after the destruction of the Temple. Please re-read my note #2 above, the entire last paragraph beginning: “no northward exodus is known after the First Jewish Revolt… After the Second Jewish Revolt, on the other hand, ‘the defeated Jews were expelled from the territory of Jerusalem…—this citing an Israeli scholar D. Trifon…” In any case, even in the unlikely event that the priests did move northward after the First Jewish Revolt, that would have no application for my argument which is that Nazareth did not exist as a village in the first century BCE—necessary for “Jesus” to have come from there. The Caesarea inscription is a red herring, and Carrier is very wrong to place such emphasis upon it. Please also see my comments on Vridar (especially #11) here: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2013/05/06/richard-carriers-review-of-bart-ehrman-and-the-quest-of-the-historical-jesus/#comments
    Incidentally, interesting data have surfaced that the Caesarea inscription may be a FORGERY! I will be blogging on this next month. Stay tuned…

  3. Since the above was posted, I have engaged in a thorough and long investigation of the so-called Caesarea inscription. It is indeed a forgery. See the Sitemap at the top of the page for links on this website regarding the inscription, which is also the subject of the long Chapter 12 in my second book, NazarethGate.—R.S