Richard Carrier: Acts as Historical Fiction, or Atheist Fictional History?

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An Article by James McGrath about an article by John Loftus (his blog 3/14/14), about a lecture by Carrier. I can't get the original lecture. Of course Carrier spits on the traditional view that Luke was a good historian. He doesn't stop there, he denies that Luke was even trying to be an kind of historian. According to McGrath, Luke was pretending to do historical research in his preface. Moreover, Carrier charges that Luke's method was sub standard.[1] According to McGrath's report of Carrier he argues that Luke's statement about using sources means he was claiming to slavishly follow them but then he did not.

Carrier assumes that Luke is a novel. He thinks there was a genre of ancinet novel and that these novels always included travel, miracles and divine revelation. Paul and Lydia are an ancient literary type the chaste couple reunited. This shows the Ignace of modern historians as novels didn't exist utnil early modern times:
Unlike poetry and drama, which go back thousands of years to works such as the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh (c. 2000 B.C.) and the Greek play Oresteia (458 B.C.), the novel is a somewhat recent literary creation.  Lengthy fictional narratives written in prose had appeared sporadically before 1700; examples include the stories in Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron (1351-1353), the English romancer Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur (c. 1469), and Don Quixote (1605, 1615), by Miguel de Cervantes of Spain.  These early precursors aside, some scholars date the birth of the modern novel to the eighteenth century, specifically the publication of the English printer Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740-1742), a long story recounting the trials of an English girl in a battle against a man trying to seduce her.[2]
For that matter there were no real historians in that day, not the sense that we know them. There was no academic world, no Ph.D. given in history. Historians were not thought of as social scientists. They didn't have the standards of documentation or scholarly caution that we have today. On that basis one could say there were no historians, if that's all we can all historian, modern academics. Even Tacitus was not a historian. There's no basis for the idea that Luke was not writing about true events to which he was witness. There's no reason to think he did not have a standard of using best evidence and no reason to think that he didn't critically make us of what he thought was authoritative and let go that which he thought was not.

According to McGrath Carrier charges Luke with "lying" that's how he explains the differences between Luke's account and Paul's accounts of the same episodes in Galatians. McGrath makes the point that Carrier calls this "revisionist history" but then how could it be that if it's a novel?[3]
His suggestion that Luke mistook “Gerazim” for “Galileans” seems unlikely. But he does present an interesting summary of the possible evidence for Luke drawing on Josephus, which some mainstream scholars have proposed. But once again, Carrier says that in reproducing Josephus, Luke is thus “not writing history,” which is rather bizarre. Drawing on a historian does not by any stretch of the imagination prove that someone is not trying to write history!!![4]
There are several other silly clams McGrath reports that I wont go into, For example Figures in Acts are designed to be parallel to Jesus, that's important for the Jesus myther aspect of Carrier's thought. I will focus on two issues, the over historicity of Acts and the issue that Luke copied Josephus. For a general defense of Luke as a historian in his Gospel see my Doxa page on Luke.

Luke as historian

One of the major aspects Luke's good historicity is his getting right the names of officils and the accurate title of their offices. Stephen Neil makes the point that Luke get's all of the titles correct in Acts, all the minor officials in every little localities, even titles which were thought previously to have been wrong archaeology has proven Luke right.[5] He also is right about the individuals who inhabited offices during the time of the book of Acts. Just to give a few examples. The pool of Bethseda in Luke where the angle "troubled the waters" for healing, and Jesus healed the lame man and told him to take up his bed and walk, has been discovered beneath the Church of ST. Anne. There is a pool at the bottom of a flight of stairs and an ancient fresco with a picture of an angel troubling the waters.[6]  In Romans 16:23 Paul sends greetings from Erastus the city treasurer. IN Corinth an inscription has been found which mentions Erastus [7] Harnack and others attest to Lukes accuracy in terms of the ship wreck on Malta, the flavor and historicity of the cities he speaks of the, the time period and all other verifiable elements of this nature. Neil thought that one of the most impressive aspects of Luke as an historian is that he always gets the titles write. Many of the titles of local officials which Luke provides us with were not validated until modern times.
"The writter of Acts knew the correct titles and used them with varying percision. In the words of Ramsey: 'the officials with whom Paul and his companions were brought into contact are those who would be there. Every person is found just where he ought to be; procounsuls in senatorial provences, asiarchs in Ephesus, strategoi in Philippi, politarchs in Thessolonica, magicians and soothsayers everywhere.' The Most remarkable of these titles is Politarch the ruler of the city used in Acts 17:6...previously this word had been completely unknown except for this passage in Acts. It has now been found in 19 inscriptions dating from he second century..." [8]
Neil argues that titles are the hardest things to get right, modern French writers never get English titles right, and this is something that would easily and surely betray an anachronism [9]. Historians of the modern day judge Luke a superb historian.It is true that Luke could have made up the events of Jesus' ministry and just used factual information to write the narrative. But it is absurd to think that Luke would traps all over Palestine to learn the little obscure titles of minor officials, because he is right about the exact people in authority at the time and the exact titles they held. This is clearly the work of an eye witness not merely a fictional writer. This is not some minor formality to get the things right, it's an indication he was really there on the trip. Now he could have just been on the trip at some other time and used the knowledge for his fictional writing, but anyone who argues that is struggling to preserve the argument against all likelihood. He says he was there, the fact that he was tallies with some of the things Paul says in Galatians so why not assume he was there?

 "Sir William Ramsay who devoted many fruitful years to the Archaeology of Asia Minor testifies to Lukes intimate and accurate acquaintance and the Greek East at the time with which his writings deal."[10] Ramsay began as a Tubingen liberal, believing Luke to be a second century production with no validity. By the end of his life he was so persuaded of the truth and validity of Luke that he gave up scholarship and became an Evangelist and apologist using arguments based upon the discoveries he had made.[11] It cannot be claimed that he was not an "objective" scholar, as he is one of the greats of the field. Dr. Henry J.Cadbury delivered the Lowell lectures in 1953 and produced a work on the Book of Acts in which he hailed Luke as a first rate historian.[12]

Did Luke Copy Josephus?

the Carrier article on Luke and Josephus can be found here.

Strange theory because it has Chrsitians making up the things Jo said about Jesus, but then it also has Luke copying them to use for Acts. That's possible but kind of cumbersome. There are not very many scholar who credit that kind of senerio. One of the most important sources the reader should consult is the Flavious Josephus homepage by J.G. Goldberg.[13] Goldberg has asked that people not quote him. I will summarize a few things but I recommend highly that the reader to go his pages and read them. There he sets all the passage side by side, Luke and Jo and makes helpful comments about them. Golberg does say that Luke is concerned with embedding Jesus in a historical context, that would put him at odds with Carrier who thinks he was writing fiction. Oddly enough he thinks that Luke quoting a historian in order to write fiction. Add to this that Luke apparently did travel to all the places he writs about for the missionary journeys. So he copied a historian so he would write a fictitious account of a journey he actually made himself?

Victor Repport has a gine article which summarizes arguments of Tim McGrew on Carrier's arguments about Luke and Josephus.[14] McGrew jokes that the parallels are so general he wonders why he left out that both mention 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.[15

This is just the kind of thing I would expect form the mythers. Some of their parallels (Carrier's) are hilarious. Here's a priceless one Reppert mentions:

* "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."
Reppert adds:

Hey, it makes perfect sense to me, but then I've been posting on CARM since 1998.


all online sources accessed 3/16/14.

[1] Jame McGrath, "Richard Carrier on Acts as Historical Fiction." Exploring our Matrix, blog on Pathos: Progressive Christian Channel. March 13, (2014)
[2] Mark Canada, "Introduction to the novel." Eng.343: The American Novel. educational resource on line
this is a class syllabus-type material Mark Canada is professor at University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
[3] McGrath, Op cit.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Stephen Neil, The Interpriation of the New Testament:1861-1961, London: Oxford Univesity press, 1964, 143.
[6] F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents Are they Reliable? Jefferson, Grand Rapids, Cambridge England: Published Jointly in USA W.B Eerdmans Publishing Company, by 1943, 1981 94
[7] Ibid. 95
[8] Stephen Neil,Op. Cit, 143.
[8]  Ibid.,147
[10] Ibid., 90
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] J.G. Goldberg, "New Testament Parallels to the Works of Josephus," The Falvious Josephus Home page
[14] Victory Repport, "Tim McGrew on Carrier's Treatment of Luke and Jospheus," Dangerous Idea
McGrew is professor of Philosophy at Western Michigan University.
[15] Ibid.


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