Paul, Mark, and other substitutions:
Richard Carrier on The Fabricated Paul
by Dr. Hermann Detering
Edited and translated by René Salm
I’ve long wondered that Carrier’s responses to higher critical positions give the impression of having been formed through acquaintance at second hand, as would be the case were his learning gained through casual discussions or even hearsay. He routinely (and maddeningly) simply does not substantiate his claims. In any case, what he has to offer regarding higher criticism is usually incorrect. One telling example is his failure to distinguish between the authenticity of the Pauline epistles and the historicity of the Apostle. Carrier treats the two issues as one, seeming quite unaware that the majority of the Dutch Radical School (A. Pierson, S. A. Naber, W. C. van Manen, A. D. Loman) long ago asserted the existence of a Paulus historicus yet at the same time contested the authenticity of the so-called ‘pauline’ writings. (On this, see my Paulusbriefe ohne Paulus? Die Paulusbriefe in der holländischen Radikalkritik, Peter Lang 1992).
As far as my own position is concerned, the epistles could well have been later offshoots of an already existing ‘Paul’ legend. That legend could itself have been birthed after the actual life of the Apostle—for example in the text we know by the name of the Acts of Paul and Thecla. This is, in fact, a component of the ‘higher’ criticism regarding Paul. In this case, the figure of ‘Paul’ as handed down by the tradition would be entirely legendary, yet it would go back to an actual figure of history, one whom I associate with the historical Simon of Samaria. The ‘authenticity’ of the pauline epistles then has no meaning—for they would have been spawned by an inauthentic tradition.
Carrier does not seem aware of a number of books that have appeared in English setting forth the higher critical position. I refer not merely to the 2003 translation of my own book, but also to the opus magnum of Robert Price, The Amazing Colossal Apostle (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2012). Older writings of radical critics are also partially available in English. It is interesting in this connection that Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus lists virtually no foreign authors in its biography, though these are of critical importance to the subject. I especially signal the Dutch Radical School—which, pursuant to the work of Bruno Bauer, first contested the historical existence of Jesus in a serious and scholarly manner. However, one also seeks in vain among Carrier’s discussions any inclusion of the work of J. Turmel, P.-L. Couchoud, A. Loisy, and others. His silence in these regards betrays not merely scientific narrowness, but plain ignorance.
Justin’s silence regarding Paul
Another of many mistakes in Carrier’s error-laden piece is his claim that radical critics consider Justin Martyr’s silence regarding the Apostle to be evidence of Paul’s nonexistence. Thus Carrier: “…they will resort to saying that Justin Martyr never mentions Paul, therefore Paul didn’t exist. But that’s absurd.”
Yes, it is absurd. But even more absurd is Carrier’s claim that there are (or have ever been) radical critics who hold such a position. (This appears to be another strawman argument, giving Carrier the easy opportunity to beat down an imaginary position.) I myself, together with many other scholars, have pointed out that Justin not once mentions the Apostle—though he cites, sometimes verbatim, from the epistles (The Falsified Paul, 2003:70 f). My explanation in no way led to the conclusion that Paul therefore did not exist. I argued, rather, that Justin knew the epistles but ignored their author. His reason was theological. To Justin, Paul represented gnostic (Marcionite) Christianity. Heretics were routinely left unmentioned by the Church—something that, incidentally, continues even today. Justin’s treatment shows that the epistles were still viewed as heretical texts in the mid-second century. They would become accepted only after wholesale editing by the Church. One can appreciate, then, that radical critics hardly view the silence of the Church Fathers regarding Paul as an argument for his nonexistence. Rather, that silence merely shows that Paul had not yet ‘arrived’ in the eyes of the second century proto-catholic church.
In order to support the authenticity of six epistles—Carrier maintains that Philemon is spurious—he points to alleged similarities of style, grammar, word usage, etc. Here Carrier betrays little acquaintance with the intricacies of pauline studies. The alleged stylistic similarities that laypersons may consider prima facie evidence have left specialists unconvinced. Just recently, the Salzburg philologist Günter Schwab again made this case in a wide-ranging study (see here and here)—one that I recommend Carrier place on his all-too-short reading list.
Carrier does not even touch upon the telling theological differences between epistles—for example between Romans and Galatians. He also leaves out of consideration the fact that certain epistles clearly relate to one another, in the sense that they may have been intended at an earlier time to belong to a single collection.
For example, the author of Galatians reminds his readers that “the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these” (Gal 5:20). He then continues: “I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Now, this warning cannot hearken back to a preceding passage in Galatians, for no such passage exists. Thus, the author refers to some prior verbal warning—or (most likely) to 1 Cor 6:9–10, where we encounter a strikingly similar admonition: “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.” Given the remarkable parallels between the two passages, as well as the notice in Galatians “as I warned you before,” it is scarcely to be denied that Galatians here hearkens back to 1 Corinthians. The natural conclusion, in turn, is that the author of Galatians had 1 Corinthians already before him.
Now, even if the two epistles were written by the same author, as Carrier maintains, this would not require that Paul was the author. After all, even Carrier agrees (with the unanimity of scholars) that the Paul-Seneca correspondence was forged, despite its uniform style. He explains this by supposing that the correspondence pre-existed as a collection. Why could the same not obtain with the pauline epistles?