Transcript of interview with Dr Richard Carrier, Part 4

This is the fourth part of the transcript from our interview with Dr Richard Carrier.

 

John

Yes. That’s right. Anyway, if you divide everything that Jesus said into the original parts and the plagiarised parts, all of the original parts are depraved and all of the plagiarised parts are where the ethics are.

 

Richard

That’s really interesting. I’m interested in this. Have you written this up anywhere?

 

John

Only in a sarcastically worded blog, unfortunately.

 

Richard

That’s totally cool. Actually, send me that URL. I’m interested in this subject because I’ve been thinking about developing this. There are a few other scholars, well not scholars, well one who is Hector Avalos who has written “Bad Jesus”, but a friend of mine also has assembled a thing called “Jesus Is An Asshole”. He collects all the evidence is the gospels of Jesus being an asshole.

 

John

Poor fig trees. He had something against fig trees.

 

Richard

Some of them are jokes but a lot of it is actually, like, yeah! When you see it all assembled it look bad. I’ve been thinking about combining all of this material and doing something with it in the future. So I would love to have your blog that I could.

 

John

I’ll send you that.

 

Richard

Because I think you’re largely right.

 

John.

The interesting parts of it are not my sarcastic language.

 

Richard

I’m not bothered by the sarcasm.

 

John

I asked a couple of Catholic priests, to see what they could come up with that would be an exception to that rule. So you can look at what the Catholic view of the exception is. I don’t think it’s especially impressive but maybe you’ll be more impressed than me.

 

Richard

This is excellent. This is fantastic. I love it. I can work with this. That’s another example where the gist, the overall idea, of a god who would do something horrible like that, does precede Christianity. You’ll find it in the Book of Enoch and things like that. But there’s nothing quite explicitly like god’s right-hand-man or an archangel coming down to say “I’m going to do this, I’m going to go and torment all of these people and do all of these horrible things”. Also the factor of belief. The function of “if you do not believe in me”, because belief was never an essential function of even Judaism, much less paganism. It was vaguely there. It plays a role but it wasn’t essential that you believed. What was essential was the rituals. If you underwent the rituals, if you went through the atonement ceremonies that were required by Leviticus and Deuteronomy, you would get to salvation because that was the promise that god made. God does not say, “if you don’t believe in me I’m gonna cast you out”. He does say you can’t worship anyone else but him. He does say that you can’t take his name in vain, but there’s no passage in there that says you have to believe in me. All you have to do is follow these instructions that I have given you and I’ll fulfil my promise. It’s a contract. Literally, a contract. It’s like, if you do these things, I will do these things. So you didn’t need to believe. Belief wasn’t an important function of that. So introducing the importance on belief is something that the Christians innovated. It’s sort of comes from the ideas of the philosophers of the time, where you have a lot of push back against religion, based on belief factors.

So what you had was, the first people who brought belief up as an issue were the atheists. It was the doubters. So you had the Epicureans and the Cyrenaics, saying “your rituals are stupid because the beliefs that underly them are stupid”. You have that almost literally in Lucretius, where he’s talking about human sacrifice specifically and he’s like “your rituals are dumb, because your stupid god doesn’t even exist”. So they’re making it about belief. If you change your beliefs you’ll change your behaviours. That created a reaction, where people had to defend their religion, they realised they had to defend their belief and so that started to become a thing. It wasn’t doctrinally required but it became a thing. You have evidence in Plutarch and in Seneca, when they wrote “Treatises Against Superstition”. The thing that, they, the educated elite that they were a part of, had the biggest problem with, was that the public got really offended when you started saying their gods didn’t exist. So there had been a lot of this push back, so belief started to become and important shibboleth, to distinguish you from from these snarky ‘Yankee New York elitists from antiquity’. That’s an analogy of them, you know, the equivalent of them back then.

So beliefs started to become important more among the masses than among the elite and then the Christians really codified that. So they put in there that it’s now all about belief. If you don’t believe then we don’t trust you any more and we’re going to kick you out.

 

John

Just when you talk about Christian innovations, Richard, the other one that I’ve heard argued (which doesn’t necessarily reflect so well on Jesus) is that in the Old Testament there was I think Sheol rather than Hell, but that wasn’t necessarily a place of punishment. Everyone would go to Sheol, the good and the bad. The Christian innovation was The Lake Of Fire and the blazing furnace with the weeping and gnashing of teeth. I’m not too sure if Hell as a place of punishment is articulated clearly in the Old Testament.

 

Seamus

Does that have to do with Gehenna?

 

Richard

Well, scholars have talked about Gehenna as an actual pit on earth that bodies were burned in.

 

Seamus

Right.

 

Richard

What we’re more interested in is this idea of a damnation place. This does exist in pre-Christian Jewish literature, just not in the Old Testament. As far as I know, there’s not an example of it in the Old Testament. The Old Testament seems to suggest that, you just stay dead. You’re either resurrected or you’re lost forever. It’s an extinction hypothesis and when you look at Paul, it looks like Paul is an extinctionist as well. He never seems to talk about damnation or anyone suffering forever in Hell. You either just cease to exist, and doesn’t that suck, or else you get resurrected and you get to live forever. There are other Christians who have that distinction too but the idea of a place of damnation where bad people would go, this pre-dates Judaism. It’s with Tartarus in the Greek myths, for example. Zoroastrianism had this idea, although the Zoroastrian model was extinctionist ultimately, it had a purgatory system built in. You would burn in Hell until the end times and then either be disintegrated or resurrected. You see this gets imported into Stoicism, which had a similar doctrine. Some Stoics argued for a similar doctrine. So the Book of Enoch is an example where it talks about certain people, especially demons and the fallen angels, but certain bad people will go to this place of eternal darkness. It wasn’t necessarily a flaming Hell.

I think the flaming Hell comes from Zoroastrianism. It’s a Zoroastrian concept. We do believe that there were Jews arguing it. We can’t necessarily peg which factions were saying there was a flaming Hell but it was clearly a part of some factions of Judaism. The Christians picked up on it. The interesting thing is that Satan didn’t live there. The modern concept of Hell is that Satan rules Hell. He’s down there and he’s the one punishing everyone, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. Why would Satan want to punish us? Where his buds, right? So you’d think he would be partying with us, or he would be tormented with us.

 

John

That’s an interesting perspective. I’ve never thought of that before.

 

Richard

Think about it. Yeah. So Satan was ruling from the heavens actually, the lower heavens. He was ruling from the firmament. He used to live up in the sky, just above us, and that’s where he ruled from. In the end days, he would be cast down into a Lake Of Fire, this is in Revelation, he’ll be cast down to suffer there. Even in the Book of Enoch he’s going to be cast out into outer darkness. I can’t remember if there’s a flaming section of it, or whatever. This is for him to be eternally tormented. Not for him to rule there. The tormenters would be angels. The good guys. If you look at the Apocalypse of Peter, which is an early Christian document, which had the angels of god being sent by god, to go down and torture everybody forever. So it’s actually gods own good saintly angels doing the horrible torturing. Then Satan would be among us being tortured. He wouldn’t rule there. At some point this idea of Satan ruling Hell evolved during the Middle Ages. That gave us this modern idea of Satan being the ruler of Hell. It’s not an original Christian idea. So it’s strange to see how the ideas evolved.

 

John

If I recall correctly, the Sadducees didn’t believe in a life after death at all?

 

Richard

According to Josephus, we don’t have any other sources about the Sadducees. We have some in the rabbinical literature but it’s very vague.

 

John

I’ve got another source. I grew up in Belfast and the Reverend Ian Paisley used to regularly tell us that if there was a piece of legislation he didn’t like he was going to put it in the ‘Sadducees Grave’, which meant that it was going under the ground and it wasn’t coming out again.

 

Richard

Yes. According to Josephus, the Sadducees did not believe in an afterlife, did not believe in a disembodied soul and did not believe in resurrection. He equated them to the Epicureans. That’s probably an inaccurate equation but it’s similar in that respect. They thought you died and you stayed dead. The Pharisees are the ones who believed in the afterlife and there’s a play on this in the Book of Acts. Paul pits the Sadducees against the Pharisees, against each other in this trial, over this very dispute. That corroborates except that the Book of Acts was written by Luke and Luke was using Josephus as a source, so his ideas about the Sadducees might come from Josephus so it’s not independent corroboration. Unfortunately.

 

Seamus

Wasn’t there a misconception at one point though that Jews could go to Heaven, until Christ came? That through Christ’s grace and salvation, the Gentiles were redeemed to go to Heaven as well. Isn’t that a misconception?

 

Richard

Yes. So in the original Christian sect, Peter and James and John, their sect, you had to convert to Judaism. Converting to Judaism was a thing. It was very common. There was a law for it in Exodus. It said that there was a procedure for how you become a Jew. So you didn’t have to be born Jewish to become a Jew but salvation was only available to Jews. The original sect kept to that. You had to become a Jew to become a Christian. You had to cut off a piece of your penis and follow the dietary laws and so on.

Now, Paul is the first person to come along and say, you know what, Jesus came to me in a dream and said that’s off now. You don’t have to do that. You can actually get in without becoming a Jew. That’s the version of Christianity that took off like wildfire, because now it was much cheaper to become saved, right? So you didn’t have to cut off a piece of your penis any more. That was way more popular that cutting off a part of your penis. 

The original Jewish sect stayed Jewish. There were very few converts from outside Judaism, whereas Paul’s version acquired a proportionally larger influx of gentiles who could join his church, which resulted in that version of the religion overwhelming the other. Because they had a much wider market appeal and therefore could grow much faster and acquire more resources and more personnel than the other version did. So among the Christians, Paul is the first to innovate that part of it. Otherwise, if you did not participate in the rituals, the covenant with god, if you were not a part of the covenant of god, you would not be resurrected. There might have been some rabbis who allowed certain other people to be resurrected. There’s dispensation ideas that you see in later medieval rabbinical literature where certainly really really good non-Jews get resurrected, but I don’t know when that started. I haven’t researched that. I don’t know when that idea started but otherwise the mainline Jewish view was that you had to be part of the covenant. So you had to cut off a piece of your penis and you had to follow the rules. Worst case scenario was that if you weren’t fully atoned for all your sins when you died that you would suffer in the grave for maybe a year, but you would get resurrected with a new perfect body. So it was more like a purgatory concept than a permanent consignment to any sort of suffering, but otherwise you had to be a part of the covenant to be resurrected to eternal life.

 

Seamus

So unless you hacked off a part of your dick, then you were screwed, unless you were born after Jesus, then you were okay.

 

Richard

It depends on which Christians you talked to at the time. So the Book of Revelation was written by the Torah-observant Christians. So the author of the Book of Revelation, does not think that gentiles get in. You had to be a Jew. Only Jews get in. The Book of Matthew was also written by a Torah-observant Christian. They are also pro – you have to be a Jew to be a Christian. Some of the other documents in the New testament seem to come from those sects but they do not say this explicitly enough to have gotten kicked out of the canon. I think that the editors who assembled the canon, chose very carefully, politically, sensibly, the books that would have the widest market appeal among the most churches, without directly contradicting the doctrine of their central church. All of the contradictions that resulted they could whitewash out with apologetics. They knew that, but what they wanted was to get the most churches interested in their version of the religion so that they could have basically the most power. They could take over the church because they had more communities supporting them than supporting anyone who is opposing them.

That’s why a lot of contradictory material ended up in the New Testament. They’re trying to reach out as broadly as they could get without flatly contradicting the doctrine that they wanted to sell. That’s how we got Matthew and that’s how we got Revelation in there.

 

Seamus

So what kind of projects are you working on right now?

 

Richard

So in 2008 I got my PhD and immediately the economy collapsed and there were freezes on hires for humanities majors. Basically the market in ancient history died. It’s starting to revive now but back then there were no jobs. So I went o my fans and I said, hey, if we can get together a research grant that will cover my student debt, cancel my student debt, I will apply my PhD to anything you want me to do. Unanimously, they said the historicity of Jesus. That also resulted in “Proving History”, because the first task in doing an assignment like that is method. I realised that the methods were hosed when I did the methodological research and I had to write a new methodological book, so “Proving Hostory” came out. And also “Hitler, Homer, Bible, Christ” includes some of my papers that got published in journals. To save word count, so that I could do a summary in “Historicity” and just refer to the article that got published. That was on Thales and Tacitus and Josephus. So those three research articles resulting in those three books are the result of that research grant. It was twenty grand that my fans raised for me. That took six years. 

The downside of all of that was that I put my dissertation on hold. So normally I would publish my dissertation right away and polish it up for a public market, but it got collecting dust on a shelf. Now the six year project is done, I’m blowing the dust off my dissertation. Now I’m turning it into books. That’s what I’m doing now. That’s the current project. One of those books is already written and it’s coming out in October. Gosh, that’s coming up really soon too.

 

John

What’s the title?

 

Richard

“Science Education In The Early Roman Empire”. It’s a fairly short book. It’s a fairly affordable book and it covers the whole education system of the ancient world, with an emphasis on the science content, down to and including pop culture. How science filtered to the public through pop culture and various other ways of doing that. That’s the first book. The next book that will come out next year is “The Scientist In The Early Roman Empire”, which is a complete social history of who these guys (and some women) were. What they did, what did society think of them, what was their place in society and so on. That’s going to be a lengthier more detailed book but it builds on the education stuff that’s coming out in October.

 

John

That’s really interesting. I read Steven Weinberg’s book on the history of science recently.

 

Richard

I don’t know about that. What’s the title of that?

 

John

I can’t remember the title off the top of my head. I’ll get it for you here. I think I have it as an eBook. It has a slightly different focus from what you are describing, Richard. I think Steven Weinberg’s approach was to compare and contrast the methodologies. His is called “To Explain The World”. So he contrasted the approach of ancient scientists with modern scientists. But I imagine that you will both cover many of the same figures from quite a different perspective.

 

Richard

Yeah. I might actually want to look at that book.

 

John

Yes. I think its quite short, from memory.

 

Richard

He’s not actually a historian. I’ve run into a lot of problems with people depicting ancient science through the sense of medieval history, which gets everything wrong about antiquity. So I’m curious to see that. I might actually be able to incorporate that in my next book. A lot of what I do in “The Scientist In The Early Roman Empire” which is coming out next year, is to debunk a lot of these myths about ancient science. Ancient science was actually way more sophisticated and more modern that people realise. The distinction was that they weren’t making this clear distinction between science and speculation, or science and philosophy.

When you look at even the scientific revolution, you have people like Newton, who were doing biblical prophesy calculations and alchemy and stuff. Any you have Galileo, and everyone focuses on the things that he got right, but they don’t focus on the things that he got wrong. When you look at Galileo, it’s a good example because he sees no distinction between the two methods that he’s using, and yet it’s exactly like ancient science. Ancient scientists did the same thing. They had the same kind of, well, let’s reason from the armchair to this conclusion. Like, that’s not science. Galileo did that and he treated it the same as doing the experimental stuff. It’s just that we focus on the experimental stuff as being right and that’s the same with ancient science. You could do the same thing. You could say, just ignore all the speculative stuff and focus on the stuff where they did experiments to confirm. Then you think, oh, it looks like early modern science. Like scientific revolution science.

So that’s one thing I’m going to do. I’m going to look at Weinberg’s book on that and do that comparison. In both the Science Education and the Scientist book, I have whole sections showing that the Christian attitudes were completely the flip side of the pagans. When everything went to shit in the Middle Ages, the fact that Christians were in charge of everything was the worst thing that could have happened for science.

 

John

I suspect that Mr Bruno would agree. So if people want to find out some more about your work, where is the best place for them to do that?

 

Richard

Absolutely. www.richardcarrier.info is the best place. That’s the clearing house. You can get to everything from there. That’s the place to look.

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