A Look at Richard Carrier’s Critique of Bart Ehrman: Part Two

We will now look at another point made by  Richard Carrier’s new post called Ehrman on Jesus: A Failure of Facts and Logic which contains a review of  the new Bart Ehrman book Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

Carrier says:

The Dying Messiah Question:

“Ehrman declares “there were no Jews prior to Christianity who thought Isaiah 53 (or any other ‘suffering’ passages) referred to the future messiah” (p. 166), yet he does not even mention much less address the Dead Sea pesher (11Q13) or the 1st century targum that both explicitly evince this belief. And he knows about all this, so I cannot explain why he doesn’t even attempt a rebuttal, or even in fact mention this evidence, which can only misinform the reader, who will think there is none, and mistakenly conclude his assertion has not been disputed. That is simply irresponsible. See my discussion of this in The Dying Messiah. Which I know he had read well in advance of publishing his book, so it appears like he is suppressing arguments and evidence presented by mythicists, in order to make our claims look weaker than in fact they are.

Besides his false statement, there is a logical fail here as well, since he bases his conclusion that no Jews would develop a belief in a dying messiah on the premise that no Jews had a belief in a dying messiah, which apart from being a circular argument (all novel beliefs start somewhere; you can’t argue that x would not arise because x hasn’t arisen), and apart from the fact that the inference is refuted by the fact that Jews later did develop such a belief (independently of Christianity, as I also demonstrate in the preceding link) so clearly there was no ideological barrier to doing so, but besides all that, his premise requires knowing what all Jews, of all sects, everywhere, believed or imagined, which knowledge Ehrman doesn’t have (not even close: see my discussion of what I and other scholars have said about such preposterous claims to omniscience in Proving History, pp. 129-34). He even knows his own inference is illogical, because he makes the exact same argument I just did (on p. 193): “how would we know this about ‘every’ early Christian, unless all of them left us writings and told us everything they knew and did?” Substitute “Jew” for “Christian” and Ehrman just refuted himself. (This is not the only instance in which Ehrman contradicts himself in this book; I will cite another egregious example below.)”

My response: I had already seen Carrier’s work on this issue in the past.  I will go over it one at a time on his post The Dying Messiah:

1. Carrier says:

“And not just in the middle ages or late antiquity (if not earlier), when we have a well-attested Jewish belief that there would be two messiahs, one (“Christ ben Joseph,” the Messiah son of Joseph) who would gather his people to revitalize the Jewish cult and then be killed by the powers that be (meaning, Rome) and one who would come after him (“Christ ben David,” the Messiah son of David) and resurrect him and set everything straight. The Enemy who would kill the first messiah would be Armillus, which some suggest is a Hebraicism for Romulus, symbolically any Roman leader. This belief is already found in the Talmud (b.Sukkah 52a-b), and later Judaica (see Messiah ben Joseph) [some scholars find evidence of this belief already in the Dead Sea Scrolls, where also it seems two messiahs are spoken of, one “of David” and one “of Aaron,” but the material is too fragmentary to draw definite conclusions from, so I’ll set that aside]. No, I am talking about concrete evidence that there were beliefs among some Jews in a dying messiah even before Christianity arose.” –

My Response: I agree. The material is too fragmentary.

2. Carrier says:

“That’s valid enough. And yet we needn’t hypothesize. Because the fact of it is already in evidence. The Talmud explicitly assumes Isaiah 53 is about the messiah, and that the messiah was expected to endure great suffering before his triumph, and reports that several rabbis had already debated whether in fact he had already died as many expected him to (see b.Sanhedrin 98b and 93a). There is no evident connection with Christianity here, and it’s clear this was an independent Jewish understanding (for example, Christianity is never mentioned in the debate, nor any of its teachings).

“But one might claim that this, being a late text, could reflect a late belief. Well, for such doubters we have even better evidence to add.”

My response: I agree. The Talmud is too late (see the John Collins comment below about a suffering messiah making into the Jewish literature later).

Carrier says:

“A fragmentary pesher among the Dead Sea Scrolls explicitly identifies the servant of Isaiah 52-53 with the messiah of Daniel 9. This decisively confirms that this specific equation had already been made by pre-Christian Jews, as it exists not just in a pre-Christian text, but in this case a pre-Christian manuscript. The passage in question is in 11QMelch ii.18 (aka 11Q13). A pesher is an interpretive commentary on the OT that operates on the assumption that the OT text has hidden, second-level meanings (a view Christians shared, e.g. Rom. 16:25-26). Thus some pre-Christian Jews were already finding hidden “secrets” in the OT that basically are the Christian gospel: that Isaiah 52-53 is about the messiah whom Daniel 9 predicted will be killed (this same pesher also identifies Isaiah 61 as being about this same messiah, thus proving again that the Christians did not come to this conclusion post hoc either). See my analysis in NIF for why this pretty much gives away the game.”

My response: This argument has some problems as well., I suggest taking a look at Joseph A. Fitzmyer, “Further Light on Melchizedek from Qumran Cave 11,” in Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 86, No. 1 [Mar., 1967], 25). But let me mention the following: I am indebted to my friend Chris Winchester for this info:

The pertinent question to Carrier’s discussion is:

What theme is 11Q13 striving to communicate? Timothy Lim, coeditor of “The Oxford Handbook of the Dead Sea Scrolls” (Oxford University Press, 2010) and Chair in Hebrew Bible & Second Temple Judaism at the University of Edinburgh writes, “To be sure the heavenly redeemer figure of Melchizedek will play a certain role, but it is the deliverance from the dominion of Belial that is the central theme.” (Timothy H. Lim, Pesharim [London, New York:Sheffield Academic Press, 2002], 46.) There is no contextual evidence that the author of this pesher was concerned with the contexts in Daniel 9 or Isaiah 52-53. In his essay “Further Light on Melchizedek from Qumran Cave 11,” Joseph Fitzmyer explains that, “11QMelch offers another fragmentary example of a composition which comments on isolated OT texts taken from their original context and strung together with some theological intention” (Joseph A. Fitzmyer, “Further Light on Melchizedek from Qumran Cave 11,” in Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 86, No. 1 [Mar., 1967], 25).

This is why there is no contextual evidence that the author of this pesher was concerned with all aspects of the larger contexts in Daniel 9 or Isaiah 52-54 (i.e., a messianic figure suffering and dying). Moreover, Fitzmyer specifies that he is not discussing the full context of Isaiah 52-54 in his article. Rather, he limits his focus to Isa. 52:7, which is the verse that the pesher quotes. It says nothing about a messiah suffering or perishing, though. In fact, Fitzmyer writes following on page 30 of the article: “It is known that the ‘herald’ of Isa 52:7 became a figure expected in the beliefs of late Palestinian Judaism” (Joseph A. Fitzmyer,“Further Light on Melchizedek from Qumran Cave 11,” 30). This pesher and some later Jewish authors focused on Isa 52:7 as an isolated verse.

Carrier says:

“The Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel, which was originally composed in the 1st century A.D., actually inserts “messiah” right in Isaiah 52:13 (“Behold, my servant, the messiah…”), thus confirming this “servant” was already being interpreted as the messiah by Jews decades before Christianity began. A Targum is an Aramaic translation of the OT. So really, this is a textual variant for this passage. In other words, some pre-Christian Jews believed their scriptures actually outright said this.”

My Response: I think Thom Stark goes over the problems with this one on his link called The Death of Richard Carrier’s Dying Messiah 

The Davidic Kingly Expectation

By the way, one scholar that Carrier knows who is an expert in this area is John Collins who takes a different position here. He says the following about the case for of a pre-existing suffering Messiah:

“In the late-first century CE apocalypses of 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch the messiah dies. His death, however, does not involve suffering and has no atoning significance. in 4 Ezra 7:29-30, the death of the messiah marks the end of a four-hundred-year reign and is the prelude to seven days of primeval silence, followed by the resurrection. In 2 Bar 30:1, “when the time of the appearance of the messiah has been fulfilled” he returns in glory, and then all who sleep in hope of him rise.” Neither scenario bears any similarity to Isaiah 53.” -Collins, Scepter and the Star: The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Literature, New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 2007, 124.

Collins goes on to say:

“The Christian belief (in a suffering Messiah) in such a figure, and the discovery of prophecies relating to him, surely arose in retrospect after the passion and death of Jesus of Nazareth. There is no evidence that any first century Judaism expected such a figure, either in fulfillment of Isaiah 53 or on any other basis. The notion of a suffering and dying messiah eventually found a place in Judaism.” pg 126.

One of the best resources that speaks to the messianic expectation of the time of Jesus is found in The Psalms of Solomon. The Psalms of Solomon is a group of eighteen psalms that are part of the Pseudepigrapha which is written 200 BC to 200 A.D. Even though these works are not part of the Protestant Canon, they are dated just before or around the time of Jesus. Therefore, they help provide the historian with valuable information about the messianic expectations at the time of Jesus. In it, there are two passages about a righteous, ruling, Davidic Messiah:

“Taught by God, the Messiah will be a righteous king over the gentile nations. There will be no unrighteousness among them in his days, for all shall be holy and their king shall be the Lord Messiah. He will not rely on horse and rider and bow, nor will he collect gold and silver for war. Nor will he build up hope in a multitude for a day of war. The Lord himself is his king, the hope of the one who has a strong hope in G-d. He shall be compassionate to all the nations, who reverently stand before him. He will strike the earth with the word of his mouth forever; he will bless the Lord’s people with wisdom and happiness. And he himself will be free from sin, in order to rule a great people. He will expose officials and drive out sinners by the strength of his word.” (Psalms of Solomon 17.32-36)

“Lord, you chose David to be king over Israel, and swore to him about his descendants forever, that his kingdom should not fail before you. Undergird him with the strength to destroy the unrighteous rulers, to purge Jerusalem from the gentiles…..to destroy the unlawful nations with the word of his mouth…He will gather a holy people who he will lead in righteousness; and he will judge the tribes of his people…He will not tolerate unrighteousness (even) to pause among them, and any person who knows wickedness shall not live with them… And he will purge Jerusalem (and make it) holy as it was from the beginning.” (Psalms of Solomon 18:4,22,26,27,30)

After reading these texts, we should heed the word of Collins about the dominant messianic expectation around the time of Jesus:

“The concept of the Davidic messiah as warrior king who would destroy the enemies of Israel and institute an era of unending peace constitutes the common core of Jewish messianism around the time of the era….There was a dominant notion of a Davidic messiah, as the king who would restore the kingdom of Israel, which was part of the common Judaism around the turn of the era.” (Collins, Scepter and the Star: The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Literature (New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 2007), pp. 68, 209.)

We must mention Dialogue with Trypho the Jew:

Justin Martyr, the Palestinian Christian who in his mature years taught and wrote in Rome, tries to make the case that Jesus’ Spirit empowered ministry fulfills Scripture at many points and offers proof that he really is Israel’s Messiah to Trypho the Jew. But Trypho is not persuaded by this argument. He replies:

“It has indeed been proved sufficiently by your Scriptural quotations that it was predicted in the Scriptures that Christ should suffer…But what we want you to prove to us is that he was to be crucified and be subjected to so disgraceful and shameful death…. We find it impossible to think this could be so.” (Saint Justin Martyr, The Fathers of the Church, trans. Thomas B. Falls (New York: Christian Heritage, Inc., 1949) pg, 208, 291.

We see that Trypho does not look upon a dying Messiah in a positive light.

Another side note:  Crucifixion: How would Jewish people view crucifixion?

Roman crucifixion was viewed as a punishment for those a lower status — dangerous criminals, slaves, or anyone who caused a threat to Roman order and authority. Given that Jewish nationalism was quite prevalent in the first century, the Romans also used crucifixion as a means to end the uprising of any revolts.

There is a relevant verse about crucifixion in Deuteronomy 21:22-23: “If a person commits a sin punishable by death and is executed, and you hang the corpse on a tree, his body must not remain all night on the tree; instead you must make certain you bury him that same day, for the one who is left exposed on a tree is cursed by God. You must not defile your land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.”

The context of this verse is describing the public display of the corpse of an executed criminal. The New Testament writers expanded this theme to include persons who had been crucified (Acts 5:30; 13:29; Gal 3:13;1 Pet.2:24). To say that crucifixion was portrayed in a negative light within Judaism in the first century is an understatement– (See Martin Hengel’s book Crucifixion.) So the point is that Deut. 21: 22-23 does not really speak directly to the matter of crucifixion, nor of the crucifixion of God’s Anointed One. So this passage could not of generated such a belief.

“Anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse” — the very method of death brought a divine curse upon the crucified. In other words, anyone who was crucified was assumed not to be the Anointed One of God.

Furthermore, this theme became more interesting in the discovery of what is called The Temple Scroll in 1977.This scroll is one of the longest scrolls of all that was found at Qumran. (6) It can be observed in column 64:7-12 that the passage just mentioned in Deuteronomy 21:22-23 is seen as referring to the crucifixion. However, the theme in the Temple Scroll is expanded to include those who are crucified are cursed by God and men. It says:

“If a man passes on information about his people and betrays his people to a foreign people and does evil to his people, than you shall hang him on the wood so he dies. On the strength of two witnesses or the strength of three witnesses he shall be killed and they shall hang him on the wood. If a man has committed a capital offense and fl ees to the nations and curses his people, the Israelites, then you shall also hang him on the wood, so that he dies. Yet, they shall not let his corpse hang on the wood, but must bury it on the same day, for cursed by God and man are those who are hanged on the wood, and you shall not pollute the earth.”–Roy Harrisville, Fracture: TheCross as Irreconcilable in the Language and Thought of the Biblical Writers, pp. 17-18.

Donald Juel dicusses the challenge of a crucified Messiah:

“The idea of a crucified Messiah is not only unprecedented within Jewish tradition; it is so contrary to the whole nation of a deliver from the line of David, so out of harmony with the constellation of biblical texts we can identify from various Jewish sources that catalyzed around the royal figure later known as the “the Christ” that terms like “scandal” and “foolishness” are the only appropriate responses. Irony is the only means of telling such a story, because it is so counterintuitive.” –Donald H. Juel, “The Trial and Death of the Historical Jesus” featured in The Quest For Jesus And The Christian Faith: Word &World Supplement Series 3 (St. Paul Minnesota: Word and World Luther Seminary, 1997), 105.

Even Paul commented about the challenge of proclaiming a dying Messiah to his fellow countrymen:

“For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1 Cor.1:21-22)

Carrier says:

“So we have widespread confirmation that the early first century A.D. was awash with ‘messiah fever,’ in which many people were claiming or were claimed to be the messiah and the end was truly nigh. And on top of this, the accounts in Josephus suggest that many of these messianic claimants were making themselves out to be Jesus Christ’s.”


Just because someone leads a messianic revolt does not qualify them as “the Messiah” (notice the capital “M”). Here are some of the figures who claimed royal prerogatives between 4 B.C.E and 68-70 C.E but are not called “the” or “a” Messiah:

1. In Galilee 4 B.C.E.: Judas, son of bandit leader Ezekias (War 2.56; Ant 17.271-72)

2. In Perea 4 B.C.E.: Simon the Herodian slave (War 2.57-59; Ant 17.273-77)

3. In Judea 4 B.C.E.: Athronges, the shepherd (War 2.60-65; Ant 17.278-84)

4. Menahem: grandson of Judas the Galilean (War 2.433-34, 444)

5. Simon, son of Gioras (bar Giora) (War 2.521, 625-54; 4.503-10, 529; 7.26-36, 154)

Also, we must mention Simon Bar Kochba who made an open proclamation to be the real Messiah who would take over Rome and enable the Jewish people to regain their self-rule (A.D. 132-135). Even a prominent rabbi called Rabbi Akiba affirmed him as the Messiah. Justin Martyr even noted that Bar Kokhba commanded Christians to be led away to terrible punishment unless they denied Jesus as their Messiah.” (Apology 31.6).

So what if there were other messianic figures? Was Jesus different from these figures? Yes, he was. According to Jewish law, the claim to be the Messiah was not a criminal, nor capital offense. Therefore, the claim to be the Messiah was not even a blasphemous claim. First, Jesus’ application of the Son of Man title to Himself was a problem. Also, many parables, which are universally acknowledged by critical scholars to be authentic to the historical Jesus, show that Jesus believed himself to be able to forgive sins against God (Matt. 9:2; Mark 2: 1-12). Forgiving sins was a prerogative of God alone (Exod. 34: 6-7;Neh.9:17; Dan. 9:9; Jonah 4:) and it was something that was done only in the Temple along with the proper sacrifice. So it can be seen that Jesus acts as if He is the Temple in person.

In Mark 14:58, it says,”We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.’ The Jewish leadership knew that God was the one who was responsible for building the temple (Ex. 15:17; 1 En. 90:28-29). Also, God is the only one that is permitted to announce and threaten the destruction of the temple (Jer. 7:12-13; 26:4-6, 9;1 En.90:28-29). It is also evident that one reasons Jesus was accused of blasphemy was because He usurped God’s authority by making himself to actually be God (Jn. 10:33, 36). Not only was this considered by the Jews to be blasphemous, it was worthy of the death penalty (Matt. 26:63-66; Mk. 14:61-65; Lk. 22:66-71; Jn. 10:31-39; 19:7).

Did any of these messianic figures make such divine claims for themselves? No, they didn’t. Now I know Carrier will dismiss the Gospels as having any reliable information. But my point is that he should take a closer look at Jewish Messianism.

To see part three- click here:


2 thoughts on “A Look at Richard Carrier’s Critique of Bart Ehrman: Part Two

Add yours

  1. The Gospel of Luke has Jesus himself declare someone “foolish” for doubting that “all the prophets” spoke about a Messiah who “suffered all these things,” including in context, execution. Here’s the passage from LUKE 24:

    “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.” 25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

    So it doesn’t matter if Carrier is incorrect, since it seems Jesus is portrayed by the author of the Gospel of Luke as being just as incorrect as Carrier. Looks like a heads I win, tales you lose situation for those who continue to try and defend a pre-critical view of the Gospels.

  2. I think you missed the point of the post. I am well aware of the Luke passage. But that is not the issue. The point of the post was for Carrier to show how there was a strong case for the belief in a suffering Messiah BEFORE Jesus came. And he has not done that with the literature he has cited. Obviously Isa. 53 was there, but see what John Collins says above. And Carrier is off on the Targum reading of Isa. 53. In the Luke passage, Jesus is speaking to them AFTER he was resurrected. So once again, the argument is not that there is no passages that speaks to a suffering Messiah. The issue was how the Jews understood those texts as they looked to the first coming of the Messiah.

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