Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Tim McGrew on Carrier's treatment of Luke and Josephus

Tim's comments are italicized. The Carrier essay is linked.

The list of “generic parallels” between Luke and Josephus is so generic that I was surprised he left out “Both Luke and Josephus mention the existence of Rome.” The list of “story parallels” is even worse, since in many cases it involves torturing the notion of a parallel. Just run through the list and note some of the (non)parallels that he either vastly overrates or twists ’round:

* In Josephus, the census under Quirinius is the beginning of something bad. In Luke, it isn’t. Therefore, this is a parallel where Luke “transvalues” the message of the census, changing “bad” into “good.”

(Um, ... standards ...?)

* Josephus says that there were many men who led revolts, and he names three prominent ones. Luke has passing references to three persons with the same names, though it is not clear that Luke’s “Theudas” is the same as Josephus’s. One of the men is called “the Egyptian” by both Josephus and Luke; Luke links him with the sicarii, whereas Josephus does not. Therefore, Luke was copying from Josephus.

(The argument that this must be copying because there were thousands of Egyptians in Palestine at the time is beyond ridiculous. It would work equally well against two independent references to Jimmy the Greek. (“How many millions of Greeks,” etc.))

* Luke and Josephus both recount the death of Agrippa I in some detail, speaking of his brilliant robe, his acceptance of adulation as a God, and his immediate demise. There are also some details that differ in the two stories. Therefore, Luke must have borrowed it from Josephus.

(It couldn’t just be a notorious fact? Why not?)

* Josephus mentions a rumor that there was an incestuous relationship between Agrippa II and Bernice; Luke does not. Therefore, Luke is inspired by Josephus and intends the entire scene in Acts 25 as comic sarcasm.

(Does it seem like sarcasm? Can it by any legitimate stretch of the imagination be read that way?)

* Josephus reports that Drusilla abandoned her husband for Felix. Luke (Acts 24) portrays Paul as speaking to Felix about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix becomes uncomfortable. Therefore, Luke must be using Josephus.

(It isn’t enough of an explanation that Drusilla’s obvious abandonment of her husband for Felix was notorious?)

* Josephus portrays Felix as sending priests, “excellent men,” to Rome for trial on petty charges. Luke portrays Paul as demanding to be sent to Rome. So perhaps Luke was using Josephus as a model.

(Huh?)

* Luke and Josephus both mention Lysanius, tetrarch of Abilene.

* Luke records a parable about a hated king who is really a good guy; Josephus talks about Herod, an actual hated king who was really a bad guy.

* Luke contains a prophecy involving the slaughter of children in a siege of Jerusalem; Josephus talks about a mother who cannibalizes her own infant during the actual siege of Jerusalem.

* Both Luke and Josephus mention a famine in the reign of Claudius.

* Luke reports an attack by Pilate on some Gailieans; Josephus reports an attack by Pilate on some Samaritans.

Forgive me, but as I read through this I am irresistibly reminded of an exchange from Sleeper:
Luna: “Do you know that ‘god’ spelled backwards is ‘dog’?”
Miles: “So?”
Luna: “Makes you think!”

The obvious point, which I made in a previous thread, is that Josephus's area of concern seems to have been Judeo-Roman relations. So he's not going to explain the kind of rich, detailed knowledge of Asia Minor, Greece, Cyprus, and Malta that Luke demonstrates, information that would have been difficult to come by in the second century. See Tim's discussion here


It is completely unclear to me why it should be assumed that some similarity between Luke and Josephus has to be explained in terms of Luke using Josephus.

The most detailed defense in recent times of Luke's accuracy is, to my knowledge, Colin Hemer's The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, reviewed here.  That would be the book to set up against Pervo. Price, not surprisingly, declares Pervo to be the winner.

It is refreshing to see Pervo spill the insides of apologists Ben Witherington III and Colin Hemer, who otherwise manage to receive way too much serious regard. When Pervo is done with them, they sag like empty piƱatas, only his blows reveal that neither donkey ever possessed any candy inside. Just one example: Pervo shows the gross inconsistency between believing on the one hand that Acts’ author knew Paul personally and on the other that he was not familiar with Paul’s letters.

I'd like to see that argued. No one that I know, even in my immediate family, is familiar with all my letters, except, of course, for those addressed to them. Why should Paul be any different?


22 comments:

steve said...

[Quote] "Josephus says that there were many men who led revolts, and he names three prominent ones. Luke has passing references to three persons with the same names, though it is not clear that Luke’s 'Theudas' is the same as Josephus’s. One of the men is called 'the Egyptian' by both Josephus and Luke; Luke links him with the sicarii, whereas Josephus does not. Therefore, Luke was copying from Josephus."

I'd like to make another point. We need to distinguish between direct and indirect discourse. Luke doesn't report this as a fact. Rather, he's quoting another speaker who, in an impromptu speech, relates this from memory as a fact.

Even if the statement were inaccurate, and it's not as if Luke is vouching for the inspiration of Gamaliel, that wouldn't make Luke inaccurate. There's an basic difference between inaccurately quoting a statement, and accurately quoting an inaccurate statement.

Anonymous said...

Just a heads-up. Craig Keener's forthcoming work on Acts will be the work to consult for the most thorough conservative treatment of these issues; he will interact with Pervo.

Anonymous said...

Vic - what Price neglects to mention is that Pervo remedies this alleged inconsistency by arguing for Lukan knowledge of Paul's letters.

Steven Carr said...

TIM
The list of “generic parallels” between Luke and Josephus is so generic that I was surprised he left out “Both Luke and Josephus mention the existence of Rome.”

CARR
This comes from the guy who boasts that Luke knows Athens was on the coast and that Malta was an island.

Perhaps Tim can produce parallels between Paul's speeches in the second half of Acts and the Gospel stories?


'So he's not going to explain the kind of rich, detailed knowledge of Asia Minor, Greece, Cyprus, and Malta that Luke demonstrates...'

In other words, nothing to do with the Gospels.

How do Mormon historians know the rich, detailed knowledge of Utah and Salt Lake City, unless the Book of Mormon was true?

And Victor still cannot show that 'Luke' was not using a source.



This is because 'Luke' was a Christian and so hides his identity from his readers and hides from his readers the fact that he had to use an anonymous, unprovenanced work like 'Mark' for his basic Jesus story.

Everybody knows that there were chronicles,geography books and descriptions of the Mediterranean written in the first century.

For all I know, 'Luke' might really have got access to a letter written by
Claudius Lysias, To His Excellency, Governor Felix: Greetings. This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, but I came with my troops and rescued him, for I had learned that he is a Roman citizen. I wanted to know why they were accusing him, so I brought him to their Sanhedrin. I found that the accusation had to do with questions about their law, but there was no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment.'

There was a dispute about the law.

Nothing whatever about Paul being a follower of a crucified criminal or preaching that this crucified criminal was alive.

If Paul had been preaching that he was a follower of a crucified criminal, the Romans would never have been 'at a loss how to investigate such matters'.

No more than the Americans would be at a loss how to investigate claims that somebody was a follower of Osama bin Laden.

Instead, as soon as Acts gets historical backing, Paul talks about 'What I am saying is true and reasonable....King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do."

Paul thinks what he is saying is reasonable, because anybody could read the Old Testament.

No *Christian* witnesses of a resurrection.

Just the prophets.

And a 'vision from Heaven'

Anonymous said...

Carr: Instead, as soon as Acts gets historical backing, Paul talks about 'What I am saying is true and reasonable....King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do."

Paul thinks what he is saying is reasonable, because anybody could read the Old Testament.

No *Christian* witnesses of a resurrection.

Anonymous: Steve, are you really this dense? Appealing to the witness of the OT does not imply that there are NOT other witnesses to the resurrected Jesus.

I don't know of any skeptic who raises worse objections than you do. In that area, you really excel. I don't say that to mock you. I am dead serious, man.

Steven Carr said...

'Pervo shows the gross inconsistency between believing on the one hand that Acts’ author knew Paul personally and on the other that he was not familiar with Paul’s letters.'

You mean they weren't collected, or read out in public?

Apologists need to discredit every possible source 'Luke' could have used.

So they need to claim that the anonymous author could not accessed Paul's letters, just as he was unable to read Homer, andhad never seen a chronology or a geography book, and was unable to find out how to get to Athens , except by going there.


Having claimed that the only way to find out anything about Malta is by Luke going there personally, they then lambast sceptics as being full of presuppositions when they point out the absurdity of Jesus flying into the sky on his way to Heaven.

Steven Carr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steven Carr said...

So Anonymous reads Paul's speeches in the second half of Acts, and slams me for accurately reporting the fact that the Christian testimony vanishes.

Christians love to slam sceptics for reporting facts accurately.

In their mind, what sceptics should have done is read Paul appealing to the Old Testament, and claimed that Paul also spoke about Christian witnesses, only 'Luke' never recorded that bit of the conversation.


That is what is called being 'dead serious'.

And what makes it obvious that Christianity is believed by people , despite the evidence,just like Dawkins records in his books.

No wonder Christians have spent 2000 years trying to find evidence that Judas, Thomas, Lazarus, Joseph of Arimathea existed.

And failed so miserably that they are reduced to showing they can prove that Malta existed.

The Uncredible Hallq said...

On the Agrippa/Bernice thing: if you heard a story about Bill Clinton where a Monica was constantly present for no good reason, you wouldn't see the humor in it... unless you had the relevant background. Lots of humor is like that. Saying "does it seem like sarcasm?" is a silly argument.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Looking over the original, it does seems a bit uncharitable of a reading on Tim's part.

Tim said...

BDK,

Here's what Carrier wrote:

Whereas Josephus hints at an incestuous affair between them, and Agrippa II's other profligate tendencies, there is no explanation given by Luke for mentioning Berenice at all, and from his account one would think that Agrippa II is an honorable, disciplined observer of Jewish customs. But if a reader knows the details of Josephus, the entire scene of Paul before Agrippa II becomes comic sarcasm. It seems plausible that Luke intended it this way, and therefore may have gotten the idea from Josephus (see Mason pp. 96-100).

There are two suppositions on the table: (1) Luke wrote well before Josephus and described the scene more or less as it unfolded, or (2) Luke wrote after Josephus, was aware of Josephus's reports of the allegations, and included Berenice in the scene to be "comic sarcasm."

Now, there is nothing in Acts 25 that strikes me as comical in the least; the entire scene seems, on its face, to be in deadly earnest. But Richard says that it "seems plausible that Luke intended it this way" -- "this way" being comic sarcasm. Hence my question: does Acts 25 seem like sarcasm?

The mere presence of Berenice won't do; from Josephus we know (and this isn't just a bit of gossip) that she did accompany her brother on many trips. This fact (among others) undercuts Hallq's attempt at making a Clinton/Lewinski parallel.

If there is something in this reading that is uncharitable, please do explain it to me. But right now, I'm not seeing it.

Steven Carr said...

So why does 'Luke' mention Bernice other than that he knew from Josephus that 'from Josephus we know ... that she did accompany her brother on many trips.'

Tim knows it from Josephus, but claims no second century Christian could possibly have learned about it , except by being there at the time.

Just like Luke had to be there when the chief official of Malta hospitably entertained prisoners bound for Rome.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I didn't mean to refer to that in particular, but more the the cherry picking of things to critique, rather than a more catholic examination of the entire page which is more reasonable than a read of your critique would suggest.

The sarcasm thing seems a bit of a stretch, I'd agree, but who the heck knows.

Anonymous said...

BDK,

On balance Carrier's work is so horrible, and his use of sources so sloppy, that wading through even a few pages of his excessively long essays is extremely time-consuming.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Anon: OK, if that's true (I've never read much of his stuff) then I can sympathize. Like reading Duane Gish.

Tim said...

BDK,

Vic clipped this from some of our email correspondence. I did not intend it to be a point-by-point critique, for which I didn't (and at the moment don't) have time. However, I have read both Mason's book and Carrier's entire essay on the supposed use of Josephus by Luke, and on the whole I think that the argument they mount is not even remotely persuasive.

Anonymous said...

BDK, in my experience, it is true. He is just *very* sloppy and it is an absolute requirement that you track down all of his source work. He's actually fairly creative. He almost always has a new take on something. Most of the time though, it isn't an angle that has been pursued, or is being currently argued, because it just isn't very plausible. I would say he is least trustworthy when trying to draw parallels between sources, argue for dependence, and decode alleged mythological symbolism. His imagination tends to run away with him. It would be more of an asset as an historian if he were simply more careful. He suffers from alot of the same problems that plague conservative Christians who do popular apologetics. He also tries to spread himself way too thin. He fancies himself a philosopher (which is a bit of a joke, to me) and has to speak as if he is the authority on all areas that threaten the "worldview" he is selling. In one single thrust, RC can decimate entire generations of specialists in fields he is not even formally educated in, because they just "got it all wrong", "went down the wrong path", are "full of b.s.", etc.

Anonymous said...

The remarks about Carrier sum up the vast majority of apologists I have ever read.

Anonymous said...

Makes sense. Carrier is basically an apologist for atheism.

Walter said...

Makes sense. Carrier is basically an apologist for atheism.

It is interesting that you seem to consider the label 'apologist' as a derogatory one. IOW, someone who is not always very honest in defending their belief system. I have the same view of many religious apologists.{maybe not all of them, but a large number seem to be sophists)

Anonymous said...

The term 'apologist' doesn't bother me so much. But when the job of the apologist overshadows ones area of specialization (or they simply lack an area of specialization), this can obviously be a problem. Even in these cases, that's not to say they are entirely unworthy of a listen. But it is to say, we need to maintain a healthy skepticism.

Peter L. Griffiths said...

The New Testament was written by Berenice the great granddaughter of Herod the Great. Her motive was to put an end to animal sacrifice at the Jewish passover. She obtained most of her facts but emphatically not the dates from her distant cousin Josephus. Matthew Mark Luke and John are the titles not the authors of the gospels which contain early references to Matthan, Mercury, Lucifer and Janus the Roman god of beginnings.