Celsus, Sexism, and the Empty Tomb
I have previously posted about how the prominence given by the Gospels to women witnesses to the empty tomb and resurrection appearances of Jesus counts towards their credibility. More recently, I noted evidence that this was not a mere academic concern, because Origen defends the resurrection against just such charges brought by the pagan philosopher Celsus.
In his response to J.P. Holdings’ article, “The Impossible Faith," Richard Carrier argues that Celsus made no such charge (you can read Holding's preliminary reply to Carrier, here):
For example, the oft-cited passage from Origen, Contra Celsum 2.59-60, does not show Celsus objecting to Mary's testimony because she was a woman, but because she was not of sound mind, hence Celsus dismisses the testimony of Thomas and Peter on exactly the same grounds.
So Carrier says that gender was irrelevant to Celsus’ attack on the resurrection accounts. This contention is absurd. Here is the charge:
While he was alive he did not help himself, but after death he rose again and showed the marks of his punishment and how his hands had been pierced.... But who saw this?.... A hysterical female, as you say.... And perhaps some other one of those who were deluded by the same sorcery....
If Celsus thought that it was irrelevant, why does he mention her gender? He does not refer to the gender of the “some other one” – presumably Peter and/or the other male disciples. And why only refer to the “female” as “hysterical”? While all of Jesus’ disciples were “deluded by sorcery,” only the female is referred to as “hysterical.” That is just the kind of sexism we might expect from a patriarchal society that devalued the judgment of women.
Carrier is completely unpersuasive on this point. Celsus clearly is using the gender of one of the witnesses as a basis for attacking the Christian resurrection narrative. Has Carrier been consumed by his bias on this point?