Κυριακή, 5 Μαρτίου 2017

Richard Carrier : Comments on McFall's Review of On Jesus - 1

Some Godless Comments on McFall's Review of On Jesus

by Richard C. Carrier
Copyright 2002. The right to quote or reproduce this work in full is granted to anyone who credits the author and does not use it for profit.
See Mark McFall's article "On Jesus" for context, and McFall's rebuttal to Carrier's comments.
Greetings all. I am an fairly well-known atheist author with credentials in ancient history and historical method. I have not read the reviewed book by Groothius, but Mark McFall requested that I comment on his review. I have been impressed by McFall's even-handed treatment of debate between the Christian and atheist communities and I am happy to oblige, as I have in the past (see "Osiris and Pagan Resurrection Myths: Assessing the Till-McFall Exchange").
I will remark point-by-point on five conceptual and historical issues raised by McFall. Whether they apply to Groothius I cannot say. I have only raised issues that I think require significant illumination. Other matters are already adequately addressed online, in the Secular Web Modern Library in particular. Even if I don't agree with certain points, our disagreement is not significant enough to warrant response. For example, I do not believe Josephus ever mentioned Jesus, but McFall's discussion of this issue is charitable to both sides and his opinion, though different from mine, is nevertheless an acceptable hypothesis. The same can be said for many other minor issues, such as regarding the significance of the number of biblical manuscripts. Instead, I will address what I regard as major points of contention:

I. First is the general point that Jesus should be reckoned a philosopher.

This is obvious, insofar as practically any reasoned thinker on life counts as such. However, this is not what experts generally mean by the word. Reference works on philosophy are concerned with familiarizing a modern reader with the philosophical systems of systematic thinkers, and elucidating their connection with known and influential traditions in philosophy, especially "philosophy" according to Aristotle (the study of the nature of all aspects of being through rigorous logic and the analysis of language). Such reference works are not concerned with religious doctrine. It would be as strange to include Reverend Moon in an Encyclopedia of Philosophy as it would Jesus. Yet Moon has a far more complete and coherently articulated worldview than Jesus presents (unlike Jesus, Moon wrote his own books, some ten or so to date).
There are deeper problems than that. No one can even agree on what Jesus said or meant, especially on matters that pertain to the interests of philosophers (just contrast what Groothius apparently argues with the writings of Spong, Crosson, or Robertson), nor can anyone agree what philosophical influences were upon him, so incorporating him in a philosophy reference would be extremely difficult and inevitably contentious. Furthermore, Jesus did not explicitly interact with any existing philosophy of his day, he did not employ any of the methods definitive of ancient or even modern philosophy (definition, classification, and explicit inference from facts to theories), nor did he do anything that wasn't already being done by hundreds of other rabbis of the era, whose views are just as well preserved in the Talmuds. Or consider similar parabolic teachers of the era who also are not listed with philosophers: Apollonius of Tyana, Aelius Aristeides, Lucian, Aesop. Like the rabbis on record, they would deserve as much a place in any reference work on philosophers as Jesus would. But one must draw a line somewhere, and Jesus doesn't make the cut.
Finally, what Jesus "does" isn't really what a philosopher does. Consider the three most vital branches of philosophy: epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics (the other two branches are aesthetics and politics). Jesus was certainly an ethicist, but he did not address serious ethical problems and questions in the methodical way Plato's Socrates did, nor in the systematic way of Seneca or Epicurus, much less Aristotle. Jesus also says very little on the subject of what knowledge is or how one discerns true knowledge from false. And what Groothius apparently discusses under the heading of "metaphysics," isn't really that at all, but what the ancients called physics (and what is today no longer the province of philosophy, but science--and, one might allow, theology). Metaphysics in the proper sense is the study of the nature of nature itself, of matter and thought and being.
Jesus has some things to say that relate to all these things, but not enough, nor anything with enough precision or detail, to be matched with real philosophers of his time. In fact, Jesus seems uninterested in these fundamental philosophical questions, just as he has no apparent interest in the issues of logical or dialectical method, or in the outstanding philosophical problems debated in public forums even when Jesus lived--and even in his own neck of the woods: public debates on serious philosophical questions were raging in Tyre throughout the 1st and 2nd centuries, as exemplified by Maximus of Tyre in his extant lectures.
Ultimately, while McFall thinks "simplicity" is a virtue, I must disagree. Though the rambling mountain of Buddhist texts is indeed a failing, one needs a lot more than Jesus gives us to get a clear, accurate and detailed picture of a complete philosophical system. A philosopher can be concise without being incomplete, superficial, or obscure. He can be fair to opponents and address all major objections without rambling away a mountain. But in actual fact, very little of what Jesus says even resembles philosophy as a genre, but more closely fits collections of parables and apothegms, such as Plutarch and Philostratus collected for all kinds of great men throughout history. For all these reasons, attempting to raise Jesus to the category of "philosopher" seems excessive.
Still, I see nothing wrong with trying to identify the method of reasoning and the underlying worldview of a thinker like the Gospel Jesus, as for any influential teacher in history. We do not have to call him a philosopher to see the utility of such a study. Nor is it even necessary to ensure that the Gospel Jesus is the real Jesus: the method of reasoning and the underlying worldview of the Gospel authors is no less important. Unfortunately, since the methods and worldview of Jesus are the very things that lie at the heart of dissention fracturing the church into hundreds of sects, I doubt much progress can be made by one more effort to interpret Jesus on these matters. What everyone will agree with will of course be nothing new. And insofar as what Groothius concludes conflicts with any sectarian doctrine, so much the worse for Groothius. Unless he plans to start his own church.

II. Second is the claim that "Socrates and Jesus are on equal ground" in regards source reliability.

One must distinguish two things here: historicity and ideology. McFall, and Groothius, seem in the main to be discussing the latter, the evidence for which is different than that for historicity, either of the men themselves or any particular event in their lives. Also, there is a difference in reliability between literal sayings and general ideology. McFall seems to be concerned with the latter, accepting that the former might not be what we have in the Gospels. I see no problem with that. So here we will keep in mind only the relative reliability of sources for the ideology of Jesus and Socrates.
It is true that neither left us any writings, so their ideas only come to us second-hand. However, in the first place, this is not much comfort. For in fact, no expert regards the thought of Socrates as reliably known, precisely because we only have it through the filter of others. Since Socratic studies are always prefaced with the caveat that the findings will be speculative, uncertain and limited, one cannot claim any more for the study of Jesus. Christians are too ready to underplay this problem. And for them it is a problem, in a much more serious way than for scholars of Socrates.
But the situation is even worse than that. For the similarities end there. The differences in source situation between the thought of Socrates and the thought of Jesus all weigh heavily toward diluting the reliability of the sources for Jesus in comparison with Socrates. Thus, they are not in the same boat after all. Socrates is significantly better off.
First: We know nothing reliable at all about any of the Gospel authors. Even their names are uncertain, but more importantly their philosophical affiliations and doctrinal assumptions are also uncertain. We don't even know when they wrote or what their sources of information were, or how removed those sources were from their subject, or how reliable they are. Nor can we establish that the Gospel authors knew Jesus. In contrast, we have four distinct first-hand sources on the ideas of Socrates: Plato, Xenophon, Aristophanes, and (to a lesser extent) Aristotle. We know who these men all were, we know their ideological allegiances and backgrounds, we know when they wrote, and we know for a fact they all knew Socrates (except Aristotle, who arrived in Athens a few years after his death, but he engaged with his disciples on a first-hand basis). We also know for a fact that several other eye-witness accounts were written (such as by Ion the Comic and Aeschines the Socratic) which were cited by later philosophers and biographers, and thus second-hand sources on Socrates are more trustworthy than any we have on Jesus.
Second: Since the authors recording the ideas of Socrates wrote so much, we know a great deal about their trustworthiness and accuracy. Plato discusses Socrates in fictional dialogues, but also in letters, and claims to preserve an entire speech of his as delivered at his trial (which is likely, however much Plato may have reworked it, since it was not uncommon to compose a speech in writing to memorize for delivery in court). Plato's dialogues are also known to have been available to the surviving witnesses, who could have contradicted any egregious falsehood they contained. Xenophon, a notably reliable historian and instructor, dedicates an extensive account to his encounters with the man, precisely in large part to correct what he thought were distortions in Plato. Aristotle, the Father of Modern Philosophy himself, discusses his ideas in various contexts. And Aristophanes wrote a play that made fun of him and his philosophy (The Clouds), while he was still alive, and almost certainly in the audience.
In contrast, we have nothing comparable for the Gospel authors. Not only do we have nothing else to test them by, there are serious questions about their reliability even from what little we do have. For instance, they mention events no one could ever have been privy to (the end of Matthew in particular relates secret meetings no Christian sympathizer would have been present to hear) and events so fantastical they beg credulity, and, though skeptics usually overstate the matter, they do get some historical details wrong (on the latter two points, see for example my essays "Thallus: An Analysis" and "Luke and Josephus"). They also are not very independent, Matthew and Luke uncritically copying material from the same two sources (Mark and Q), while John contradicts them on many crucial issues, such as chronology.
Third: the Gospels were written in a highly contentious atmosphere of competing religious sects, each seeking to establish a particular view of Jesus with a mission of salvation and conversion, and to that end they have also all been toyed with by later scribes (see, for example, Bart Ehrman's The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament; see also my essay "Two Examples of Faulty Bible Scholarship"). Though the extent of the "damage" this caused is often exaggerated, it is not to be ignored. There were also many other Gospels which were not allowed to survive, solely on doctrinal grounds (most notably, the so-called Egerton Gospel, one of the oldest fragments of the Gospel narrative ever found, yet it does not match any extant Gospel) and still others were rejected and later recovered, which have as good a claim to authenticity as the Gospel of John or the Epistles of Peter (most importantly, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, and the Hermas: for more on this issue see my survey, "The Formation of the New Testament Canon"). This leaves us wondering which accounts are more to be trusted than others, and whether the ones we have really were the most accurate ones or if they were just the most agreeable ones.
In accord with the religious role of these documents, Mark seems to be the earliest to frame the story, yet his motives seem to have been to rework a cultural epic, not to write accurate history (see my "Review of The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark"). And precisely because of religious motives, there are many serious questions about the Gospels' authenticity in relating details of the resurrection and nativity (for instance, see my essays "Why I Don't Buy the Resurrection Story" (The Yale Lecture) and "The Date of the Nativity in Luke"). Consequently, we cannot be too confident in other details like the words or ideas of Jesus. This is all the more so since these seem to be poor renderings of ideas more coherently presented elsewhere (for instance, see my essay "Musonius Rufus: a Brief Essay").
In contrast, no such problems arise for the record of Socrates. There were no doctrinal efforts to alter that record, and the record was not used to advance a religious doctrine. Though the Socrates we know is seen through the filters of men with their own philosophical views to support, the inclination this provided to alter the record in any way simply wasn't as significant, nor could it have been carried too far by the original authors without hundreds of eye-witnesses, in the most literate time and place in antiquity, calling the bluff. For instance, Aristotle, a competent historian and scientist, surely would have taken Plato to task for this, as he did on many other issues. Likewise, unlike the obscure and simplified sayings of Jesus, we have a great deal of careful, multi-faceted context for the sayings and ideas of Socrates. It is far easier to construct from the far more copious collection of Socrates' words a complete, coherent worldview than in the case of Jesus, where the actual evidence is relatively scarce and scattered (all we have are Mark and Q, and whatever else lies in John, but altogether it amounts to scarcely a scroll's worth of words, in contrast with almost a dozen for Socrates).
Therefore, not only is our position with regard to the sayings of Jesus no better than with regard to Socrates, which is already not very good, but our position is even three degrees worse. Still, if one is only concerned with the Jesus as the Gospel authors wanted him to be or thought he was, this is less of a problem.

III. Third is the claim that Jesus had "a strong concern for logic and argument."

Nearly everyone uses reason. And Jesus was certainly not a babbling fool. But it is invalid to say that because there is a logic in what Jesus says and because Jesus argued with people (neither fact anyone disputes), that therefore Jesus had a strong concern for Logic and Argument.
First, Logic and Argument were then and still are fields in dispute. Thus, the Stoic philosopher Chrysippus definitely had "a strong concern for logic and argument," because he discussed what logic and argument were, and settled questions of whether they are useful and how they are to be properly conducted. Jesus did no such thing. Chrysippus is thus properly called a philosopher. Jesus is but a thinker and teacher. He may have had a logic, he may have used a logic, but he didn't do what philosophers do: discuss logic.
More importantly, Logic and Argument are, and were in Jesus' day, skilled fields of inquiry subject to a careful method. Their very point was to limit error through systematic adherence to various well-proven principles. Jesus shows no awareness of the canons of logic or argument accepted by his peers. He simply spouts "responsa" to questions and paradoxes. Indeed, in many cases his reasoning is overtly fallacious, yet his opponents are not allowed to continue debate on the matter, in contrast with Plato's Socrates', whose discussion of the methods of reasoning is explicit, and whose opponents were allowed to engage him at length, sometimes even to a stalemate.
An example: Jesus simply dismisses the charge that he was an agent of the devil by appealing to his exorcisms and the argument that "a house divided against itself cannot stand" (Mark 3:20-26; Matthew 12:22-26; Luke 11:14-18). But that is a fallacy. Just because the Parthian king wages war on one of his satraps does not mean Parthia will fall, nor does it mean the Parthian king is not the enemy of Rome. In contrast to what Jesus says, this is called setting one's house in order. In like fashion, a diabolist could certainly take power from Satan and use it against the minions of Satan, not only to fulfill Satan's will (like the king ousting his satrap), but to gain strategic advantages among his peers (the obvious one: deceiving witnesses into thinking you aren't working for Satan, by using clever-sounding but ultimately fallacious arguments against that very charge). To make matters worse, Jesus proclaims that belief in him will set father against son, mother against daughter, and everyone against everyone else (Luke 12:51-53; Matthew 10:34-36). In other words, he will divide his own house. By his own reasoning, doesn't that mean his own house is doomed to fall?
If Jesus really did care about logic and argument, he would have engaged these issues and resolved them. But he does not. Instead, his reasoning and argument is always thin and brief, and thus ultimately ambiguous and incomplete. It is also presented as absolute: Jesus leaves little opportunity for anyone to debate him. Once he has presented his argument, discussion ends. There is no rebuttal allowed. For example, note that Luke and Matthew follow the "falling house" argument with a second argument that is no less fallacious ("by whom do your men expel demons?"). It does no good asking who the other exorcists serve, since the same charge could have been leveled at them, too, without contradiction. Moreover, answering a question with a question is just a clever way to avoid answering the original question in the first place. This is not the act of someone who takes logic and argument seriously, or as anything more than a clever way to get one over on your enemies.
A real philosopher makes his reasoning explicit, and addresses all issues of an argument, aiming at a complete discussion of the facts and obvious questions. The pursuit of truth demands no less, and "philosophy" means the "love of truth." But Jesus never does this. He simply pronounces, and ends all debate with a single clever quip, often with little more than an argument full of holes and ambiguities which are never addressed in public, and hardly much more in private. Mark even has Jesus saying he is being deliberately obscure and will reveal his true meaning only in secret to a select few (e.g. Mark 4:33-34). That is definitely not the behavior of someone who has a deep concern for logic and argument. So I think this claim is also exaggerated.

IV. Fourth is the claim that "at that time, only handful of philosophers...stood on the threshold of reforming patriarchal society" in respect to women.

Jesus was certainly more liberal in his treatment of women than other Jews of his day. The rampant misogyny that has characterized Christianity comes from Paul, not Christ. But there is nothing Jesus said or did that was at all uncharacteristic of any educated Gentile. The Jews were far more reactionary toward woman than their Greek neighbors, a point that was often a matter of contention between the two communities. The Romans, in turn, were even more remarkably liberal compared to the Greeks. But as one might say today: anyone looks like a liberal next to Pat Robertson. Or Paul the Apostle.
In short, the claim that "only a handful of philosophers" had views of women at least as favorable as Jesus is false. To the contrary, it was common among all the educated Greco-Roman elite to have views on the matter comparable to what we can deduce from what Jesus said and did. And this liberal attitude originates with the Classical and Hellenistic philosophers, centuries before Jesus. Epicurus was the first to admit women into his school, and Musonius (whom McFall cites) was merely echoing what had been the Stoic line since pre-Christian times. It became increasingly common after Alexander's conquests for intellectuals to accept female students, and many Greek cities ever since then had endowments for the public education of all girls. Consequently, we know of many female poets, historians, and philosophers who were well-respected (though medieval scribes failed to preserve any of their writings). Plato, Seneca, Plutarch all write of the importance of women having a good education, and many extant portraits of women depict them holding scrolls, tablets, or pens to boast of their schooling. Indeed, to really drive home the degree of women's liberty that had been achieved (perhaps appalling to the average Christian even today), a rich man's party was considered dull as dishwater if not attended by several well-paid hookers (hetairai) who could debate the fine points of poetry and philosophy as well as any man.
It is more significant that many pagan philosophers wrote explicitly in defense of the improved treatment of women, yet Groothius is forced only to "infer" such doctrines indirectly from things Jesus said or did. It is thus improper to make Jesus out as anything remarkable in this regard. One could just as easily note in comparison that many important pagan gods were female, leaving a far more prestigious image of the feminine in pagan culture and religion, and in contrast to Jewish culture, major priesthoods could be and often were held by women. Everything women actually had yet to win in the way of equality (especially political rights and complete parity under the law) gets narry a word from Jesus. Nor does Jesus condemn the death penalty, slavery, or monarchy, nor does he praise democracy, science, or dissent. All in all, Jesus was perfectly a product of his times, if perhaps an idealization thereof (though idealizations are more often the product of authors than the actors they write about). This is strong proof that Jesus was just another man, at best a man with more conviction than most, but with no special pipeline to a universal God.

V. Fifth is the claim that "ultimately skeptical rejection of Jesus' resurrection hinges more on one's personal philosophical outlook than it does on evidential arguments of historical significance."

This seems off the subject of Jesus as a philosopher and his ideology. But I will conclude with it, since McFall dedicates a lot of space to the matter, as apparently does Groothius (a Christian, I guess, can't resist putting a chapter selling his creed into every book, no matter how far from the book's actual topic it may be).
McFall is, in one sense, quite right, insofar as there are very good grounds, on overall background evidence, to classify the resurrection with all other supernatural accounts a priori. Since all the most reliable evidence points to naturalism and the non-existence of the supernatural (e.g. all supernatural events and claims that have been open to complete investigation have turned out either false or natural), it is a reasonable inference that the resurrection, being supernatural, is also either false or natural, a conclusion strengthened by the availability of several plausible natural explanations for the extant accounts.
This is essentially the same reasoning a Christian uses in rejecting the claim that Buddha bilocated, that Mohammed split the moon, or that the local priestess of Wicca actually cured cancer with a prayer to Odan. When you hear such stories, or hear of faith healers like Benny Hinn or spiritualists like Jonathan Edward, rarely do you actually do a thorough investigation. You simply, and rightly, dismiss them as probable frauds. Quite rightly, you expect a higher standard of evidence to be met before you will change your mind. You do the same when presented with a "too good to be true" offer in email, or receive a chain letter predicting certain doom if you fail to abide by its instructions. It's just common sense. I discuss this further in my "Review of In Defense of Miracles" (especially chapters 3a and 4a).
However, this line of reasoning is only valid if you permit the occasional review of emphatic claims. Thus, the ubiquity and persistence of belief in the resurrection calls upon one not to dismiss it solely by the above argument, but, as McFall asks, to also address the matter solely on its own merits. That is quite right. Hence I myself have assessed the resurrection claim by a neutral application of historical method and still found it wanting (per my Yale Lecture cited above). Because both approaches point independently to the exact same conclusion, they corroborate and reinforce each other. Hence I am justified in concluding it probable there was no physical resurrection of Jesus. In other words: the historical evidence is inadequate to support such a belief, not only, but especially given the independent fact that, based on the best evidence so far, naturalism is probably true.
That is how the skeptic sees the matter.

Reply to McFall on Jesus as a Philosopher (2004)

Richard C. Carrier

Background: Last year (2003) Mark McFall reviewed a book by Douglas Groothius entitled On Jesus, which among other things explores the question "Was Jesus a Philosopher?" McFall then asked me to comment on that question, drawing on my expertise in ancient history. So I obligingly wrote Some Godless Comments on McFall's Review of On Jesus, which largely answered the question in the negative, though with an important qualification. McFall then responded to my comments in A Look at Carrier’s Godless Comments in Review, which seems to have largely misunderstood much of what I said, and relies on several fallacies or errors of fact. The following essay responds.

Table of Contents:

0. Introduction
1. What Are My Criteria?
2. Why Buddha?
3. Explicit Interaction?
4. Is This a Popularity Contest?
5. No Metaphysical Commitments?
6. Buddha's Epistemology?
7. Equivalent Consensus?
8. Are the Sources Discredited?
9. What Eye-Witnesses?
10. What about the Oxyrhynchus Historian?
11. What Does "Privy" Mean?
12. What Does "Uncritically" Mean?
13. Have You Heard of Propaganda?
14. What Does "Match" Mean?
15. Entirely Inaccurate?
16. Was Jesus Just Some Stupid Hick?
17. Does McFall Think This is Just a Popularity Contest?
18. Is Biblical Exegesis the Same Thing as Philosophy?
19. Do Real Philosophers Use Dry Prosaic Language?
20. Was Socrates Just an Artful Dodger?
21. By Whom Did Jesus Cast Out Demons?
22. What About Women?
23. Conclusion
24. Notes

On the central point, I will reiterate what I said originally: that I do believe Jesus counts as a "philosopher" in an informal sense, but not in the sense that McFall wants. McFall (following Groothius) believes Jesus is such an important philosopher that "professors in the humanities" should "rectify the omissions of Jesus in the canon of philosophers." I disagreed, and stated why. In response, McFall claims Jesus "qualifies" as a philosopher in this more formal sense even on my own criteria, which McFall claims are this: that including Jesus in the "canon" would constitute "familiarizing readers with philosophical systems and elucidating those connections with known and influential traditions." But that is not what I said: McFall has omitted the most crucial words, and thus distorted my actual criteria. This sort of "misunderstanding" seems to typify McFall's reply. Likewise, contrary to his past practice with me, McFall has dropped his gloves and is no longer even-handed in his treatment of the issue. In his reply he often disparages my competence and accuses me repeatedly of hypocrisy, so I will at times have to be quite stern in my responses, and present copious primary evidence against him.

1. What Are My Criteria?
I wrote that "reference works on philosophy are concerned with familiarizing a modern reader with the philosophical systems of systematic thinkers, and elucidating their connection with known and influential traditions in philosophy." I have put in italics what McFall strangely omitted from his bogus quotation (or paraphrase, when he first presents it, but he puts quotation marks around the exact same line in his conclusion, thus giving the impression that he is repeating my actual words). First, it should be clear that my criteria include that a candidate must be a "systematic thinker" and that his thought must relate to "philosophy," which I specifically went on to explain means in the formal sense "the study of the nature of all aspects of being through rigorous logic and the analysis of language." I will allow the non-rigorous to count, but we cannot abandon the role of explicit reasoning, logical or linguistic, and still have philosophy left over. So a system of thought that does not meet that criteria does not qualify as "philosophy" in the sense that gets attention in "reference works on philosophy," and a thinker who is not systematic does not qualify as a "philosopher" in that more formal sense either. McFall's response completely fails to address how Jesus satisfies either of these essential criteria, so he has failed to respond to what I actually said.

2. Why Buddha?
McFall says "one can detect [philosophical] influences in Jesus just as much as one can detect influences in, say, Buddha from Hindu philosophy." First, I never disagreed with this notion. In fact, I actually said "I see nothing wrong with trying to identify the method of reasoning and the underlying worldview of a thinker like the Gospel Jesus, as for any influential teacher in history." And I gave basically the same analogy McFall does, only using Reverend Moon instead of Buddha. So McFall evidently doesn't get the point. Buddhism isn't normally taught in philosophy courses either. Nor is "Hindu Philosophy," despite that being among the top five largest and most influential religious ideologies in the world today, with hundreds of millions of adherents. There is a distinct difference between religion and what we formally define as philosophy. Though they certainly draw upon and influence each other, this does not make them the same thing.
Second, though Buddha and his belief system do get mention in good philosophical reference works, this is because Buddha (unlike Jesus) was a systematic thinker and did expound detailed doctrines on "the nature of all aspects of being" through the Indian tradition of logic and analysis.[1] Buddha expounded on epistemology and metaphysics, not just ethics, and organized a relatively complete system or "worldview" (see below). And though there remain many problems of tracing just what really originated with him, it is undeniable that he originated a fundamentally distinct and novel philosophical system, whereas Jesus did not fundamentally differ from numerous other Jewish thinkers of his day (as is more than evident from the findings at Qumran and the countless parallels between things Jesus said and things said by dozens of other rabbis in the historical record).
On the other hand, Hindu Philosophy is not associated with any thinker in philosophical reference works, for the very same reason Jesus is excluded from them: no one knows who actually came up with what in the Hindu thought system. In contrast, for example, Martin Luther, Thomas Aquinas, and Saint Augustine do get mention in good philosophical reference works. In fact, they get substantially larger sections in the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy than Buddha does. So it cannot be said that Christianity is disregarded. McFall seems almost to confuse this later religious system with Jesus. Christianity is not the issue, nor is Christian theology or philosophy. The question is Jesus. We have to keep our eye on the ball here. When it comes to my formal criteria, is Jesus at all comparable to Augustine or Aquinas? Not even remotely. He doesn't even come within a micrometer of his nearest Jewish contemporary, Philo—who, incidentally, gets a mere two paragraphs in the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, and I doubt Philo is ever even mentioned in standard philosophy courses.

3. Explicit Interaction?
McFall says that "the evidence is mounted against Carrier in principle" regarding my claim that "Jesus did not explicitly interact with existing philosophies." Let's look up "explicitly" in a dictionary: it is the adverbial form of the adjective explicit: 1. fully and clearly expressed or demonstrated; leaving nothing implied. Now: is the evidence "mounted" against me here? Can McFall point to a single instance where Jesus names a philosopher or philosophical school of thought? Or where he is explicit in his engagement with the formal philosophical debates raging around him? Or where he identifies a concept in the established philosophical nomenclature or ideology of his time, analyzes a defense or critique of this concept, and arrives at his own conclusion through an application of logic or linguistic analysis? I am pretty sure he can't. He certainly hasn't done so yet. McFall does not seem to understand what I mean by the difference between a mere religion or a rabbi, who certainly are influenced by philosophical ideas, and an actual philosophy or philosopher.

4. Is This a Popularity Contest?
McFall then talks about what "average folk" expect, not realizing apparently that this is irrelevant to what "professors in the humanities" do or should expect. I agree with McFall that pop culture has no interest in "articulated systematic ideas." Yet that is what philosophy is by definition. That was my entire point, apparently entirely lost on McFall.
Pop culture has little to do with the academic philosophical community. That is why I qualified my point: I began my essay by conceding that Jesus was a philosopher in the popular, "average Joe" sense, just not in the formal, academic sense. McFall completely fails to grasp this distinction when he argues that "widespread influence" and "ability to cause people to reflect" on philosophical issues should be sufficient to qualify someone "on the same level (per se) as many accepted canonical philosophers." But that is to replace formal academic philosophy with pop culture. Deepak Chopra and Mark Twain also have "widespread influence" and the "ability to cause people to reflect" on philosophical issues, but they don't make the cut either. Yet, unlike Jesus, at least they actually wrote things!
It seems that McFall wants canonical lists of major philosophers to be nothing more than a popularity contest. But his reasoning would have to admit Muhammed, Joseph Smith, Pat Robertson, and, again, Reverend Moon to the canon—they, again, unlike Jesus, actually wrote things, and things that contain far more on implicit and often explicit philosophical subjects than what Jesus ever said (even assuming we can actually figure out with any confidence what Jesus said in the first place). So, in fact, these men are eminently more qualified than Jesus. But it seems obvious they don't belong on any such list, so a fortiori neither does Jesus.

5. No Metaphysical Commitments?
McFall attempts to promote Jesus by demoting Socrates, in the process accusing me of professional incompetence, when he argues that "Carrier seems unaware of the developing philosophizing skills embedded in Plato’s recordings of his master." Strange. I wrote: "no expert regards the thought of Socrates as reliably known precisely because we only have it through the filter of others." Did McFall not read those words, or the sentence following that one? He attacks me for not knowing this, yet in fact I declared it explicitly! How's that for a misunderstanding? But it only gets worse.
In particular, McFall says that "in Plato’s earliest dialog of Socrates (Apology), the majority of scholars see a very simple philosopher who 'has no interest' in 'metaphysics, epistemology, or ontology'." Maybe McFall is being facetious, but did he ever notice that the Apology is not a work of philosophy?[2] It is a legal speech, delivered at a trial, and is technically a monologue, not a dialogue (though there is some exchange of discussion with his accuser Meletus). In fact, this was a trial where it was in the best interests of the accused (Socrates) to downplay the very philosophical doctrines that so enraged his accusers.[3] As one can see from reading both our sources for Socrates' defense (Plato and Xenophon), his trial strategy was to argue that he was just an average Joe teaching the same things everyone else does—conformity to popular religion. Esoteric philosophical doctrine would only have weakened that case. So it is folly to expect to find it there.
Even so, I had not claimed that Socrates did any more than "address serious ethical problems and questions in [a] methodical way." It is commonly agreed that Socrates was a kind of formal skeptic, and advanced detailed logical arguments against the possibility of establishing most forms of metaphysical knowledge.[4] Pyrrhonism and Academicism, the two most prominent Skeptical schools in antiquity, were both direct descendants of Socratic philosophy, tracing their tradition to him through his disciples. Thus, though he had little in the way of an explicit metaphysics, he had an explicit epistemological reason for rejecting most metaphysics, placing him in the company of the modern logical positivists, who are no less philosophers despite rejecting an entire branch of philosophy—in fact, two of the major three, since the positivists also did not accept ethics as a philosophical subject either.
I think McFall, therefore, has misunderstood my point. Was I asserting that a philosopher must expound on all the branches of philosophy? No. Though a philosopher, to qualify as a philosopher, must say why he rejects any branch of philosophy, and should argue this in a systematic and logical way, that is all the treatment any branch of philosophy needs to qualify as part of a systematic philosophy. In that regard, Socrates qualifies. Jesus doesn't.
We must also be careful to get the facts straight. Though McFall is certainly correct that there is more of Plato in Plato's Socrates than Socrates himself (though the very same problem befalls the Gospels), and this may well have increased over time, McFall seems ignorant of the fact that Plato is not our only source—despite the fact that in my original essay I was very clear about this. Indeed, we have one crucial source written in the very lifetime of Socrates himself: The Clouds of Aristophanes, a play poking fun at Socrates and his philosophy. We also have excerpts from Socrates' trial defense from another author: namely, the Apology of Xenophon, who also gives us his own accounts of Socrates' philosophical discourse, and more excerpts from his defense, in the Symposium and Memorabilia (his Economics is also a Socratic dialogue, though arguably not a work of philosophy).
So what do we actually learn about Socrates' ideology from all these sources? (Which, again, I must emphasize far outstrip in scale and detail anything we have for the ideology of Jesus)
Even from Plato's Apology, which McFall seems to think devoid of substantive philosophical positions, we find Socrates declaring substantive philosophical positions:
Socrates: "Do [you think] I don't even believe that the sun or the moon are gods, as the rest of mankind do?"

Meletus: "No, by God! Look, Judges, he says that the sun is a stone and the moon earth!"

Socrates: "... [yes] the youth learn these doctrines from me, but they can buy books in the market" [that also teach them, and though I think such doctrines are ultimately absurd] "I believe in spiritual beings at any rate, according to your own statement, and you swore to that in your indictment. But if I believe in spiritual beings, it is quite inevitable that I believe also in spirits, right? ... But do we not agree that spirits are gods or children of gods?" (Plato, Apology 26d-e, 27c, cf. 35d).
Socrates: "Is not this the most reprehensible form of ignorance, that of thinking one knows what one does not know? Perhaps, gentlemen, in this matter also I differ from other men in this way, and if I were to say that I am wiser in anything, it would be in this, that not knowing very much about the other world, I do not think I know. But I do know that it is evil and disgraceful to do wrong and to disobey him who is better than I, whether he be god or man." (Plato, Apology 29b).
Socrates: "Perhaps someone might say, 'Socrates, can you not go away from us and live quietly, without talking?' Now this is the hardest thing to make some of you believe. For if I say that such conduct would be disobedience to the god [who speaks to me in my mind] and that therefore I cannot keep quiet, you will think I am jesting and will not believe me; and if again I say that to talk every day about virtue and the other things about which you hear me talking and examining myself and others is the greatest good to man, and that the unexamined life is not worth living, you will believe me still less." (Plato, Apology 37e-38a).
But still, Socrates' trial defense was crafted to avoid and downplay his actual teachings. From The Clouds we see much poking fun at Socrates the nitpicker, but also at Socrates' interest in natural philosophy, despite his denials at trial. Here is just an excerpt:
Pupil: I'll tell you, then. But these are holy secrets. This morning Socrates asked Chaerephon how many of its own feet a flea can jump. A flea had bitten Chaerephon on the eyebrow and then jumped off and landed on Socrates' head.

Strepsiades: And how did he measure the jump?

Pupil: Most cleverly. He melted wax, then picking up the flea, he dipped both its little feet into the wax, which, when it cooled, made little Persian slippers. He took these off and was measuring the distance.

Strepsiades: Good God almighty, what subtlety of mind!

Pupil: That's nothing! Just wait till you hear another idea of Socrates'. Wanna?

Strepsiades: What? Please tell me!

Pupil: Our Chaerephon was asking his opinion on whether gnats produce their humming sound by blowing through the mouth or through the rump.

Strepsiades: So what did Socrates say about the gnat?

Pupil: He said the gnat has a very narrow gut, and, since the gut's so tiny, the air comes through quite violently on its way to the little rump; then, being an orifice attached to a narrow tube, the butthole makes a blast from the force of the air.

Strepsiades: So a gnat's butthole turns out to be a bugle! Thrice-blessed man, what enterology!

Pupil: But the other day he lost a great idea because of a lizard.

Strepsiades: Really? Please tell me how.

Pupil: He was studying the tracks of the lunar orbit and its revolutions, and as he gaped skyward, from the roof in darkness a lizard shat on him.

Strepsiades: Ha ha ha ha. A lizard taking a dump on Socrates!
All the above from lines 143-73. The text goes on, up to line 220, to describe all the things being taught and studied in Socrates' school, which included botany, astronomy, and geography. Socrates himself is shown engaging in such studies after line 220. For example, again comically exaggerated, poking fun at the obscurity and seeming silliness of Socratic teachings (including metaphysical doctrines):
Strepsiades: First tell me, pray, just what you're doing up there.

Socrates: I tread the air and contemplate the sun.

Strepsiades: You're spying on the gods from a wicker basket? Why can't you do that, if you must, down here?

Socrates: Never could I make correct celestial discoveries except by thus suspending my mind, and mixing my subtle head with the air it's kindred with. If down below I contemplate what's up, I'd never find aught; for the earth by natural force draws unto itself the quickening moisture of thought. The very same process is observable in lettuce.
The play concludes with an extended satire of the art of rhetoric, but first goes on from the above into meteorological and metaphysical discourses on clouds. That wouldn't be funny if it wasn't the sort of thing Socrates did—not, that is, to claim that clouds are the only true gods (as the play has him do), which is a parody of Socratic teachings, but to reason from empirical facts to conclusions about the nature of man and the world, which is truly Socratic. The method itself is parodied at length in this play—even the lettuce analogy above is an example of poking fun at the kind of analogies from natural science Socrates was known for deploying (and that we see from Xenophon he did deploy).
And so we get to our best source, Xenophon—best not because he is unbiased or always reliable, but because he is not biased in the way either Plato or Aristophanes were. Plato is biased by his interest in founding and leading his own school of philosophy, and thus articulating an ever-more-complete and systematized worldview, things Xenophon had no interest in. Aristophanes, of course, is biased by his very different aims as a comedian. Xenophon's only interest was in restoring Socrates' good name. (I go into the reliability of these sources in Section 8 below.)
From Xenophon it is clear that Socrates debated heavy philosophical issues ranging across all subjects with the major thinkers of his own day, not just issues of practical ethics and lifestyle, and that he engaged in dialectical reasoning and linguistic analysis to arrive at his conclusions. We can see many things that we find in the Dialogues of Plato confirmed in Xenophon. But let's see some examples of what Xenophon tells us Socrates' "metaphysical" or "theoretical" commitments were, just from the Memorabilia alone:
The problems he discussed were these: What is godly, what is ungodly; what is beautiful, what is ugly; what is just, what is unjust; what is prudence, what is madness; what is courage, what is cowardice; what is a state, what is a statesman; what is government, and what is a governor; —these and others like them, of which the knowledge made a "gentleman," in his estimation, while ignorance should involve the reproach of "slavishness." (Xenophon, Memorabilia 1.1.16)
He believed that the gods are heedful of mankind, but ... whereas [other Athenians] do not believe in the omniscience of the gods, Socrates thought that they know all things, our words and deeds and secret purposes; that they are present everywhere, and grant signs to men of all that concerns man. (Xenophon, Memorabilia 1.1.19; Socrates also advanced a detailed Argument from Design for the existence, wisdom, benevolence, and greatness of God: ibid. 1.4)
Socrates: "You think, do you, that good is one thing and beautiful another? Don't you know that all things are both beautiful and good in relation to the same things? In the first place, Virtue is not a good thing in relation to some things and a beautiful thing in relation to others. Men, again, are called 'beautiful and good' in the same respect and in relation to the same things: it is in relation to the same things that men's bodies look beautiful and good and that all other things men use are thought beautiful and good, namely, in relation to those things for which they are useful....For what is good for hunger is often bad for fever, and what is good for fever bad for hunger; what is beautiful for running is often ugly for wrestling, and what is beautiful for wrestling ugly for running. For all things are good and beautiful in relation to those purposes for which they are well adapted, bad and ugly in relation to those for which they are ill adapted " (Xenophon, Memorabilia 3.8.5, 7)
When asked again whether Courage could be taught or came by nature, Socrates replied: "I think that just as one man's body is naturally stronger than another's for labour, so one man's soul is naturally braver than another's in danger. For I notice that men brought up under the same laws and customs differ widely in daring. Nevertheless, I think that every man's nature acquires more courage by learning and practice....And similarly in all other points, I find that human beings naturally differ one from another but greatly improve by application. Hence it is clear that all men, whatever their natural gifts, the talented and the dullards alike, must learn and practise what they want to excel in." (Xenophon, Memorabilia 3.9.1-3)
Between Wisdom and Prudence he drew no distinction....He said that Justice and every other form of Virtue is Wisdom....Madness, again, according to him, was the opposite of Wisdom. Nevertheless he did not identify Ignorance with Madness; but not to know yourself, and to assume and think that you know what you do not, he put next to Madness....Considering the nature of Envy, he found it to be a kind of pain....[and] "Only a fool," he said, "can think it possible to distinguish between things useful and things harmful without learning." (Xenophon, Memorabilia 3.9.4-8, 4.1.1; I am omitting Xenophon's summaries of his argument or elaboration on each position statement—but even with that, Xenophon only composed a summary of the doctrines Socrates taught and not a detailed record of all his arguments and methods)
When someone asked him what seemed to him the best pursuit for a man, he answered: "Doing well." Questioned further, whether he thought good luck a pursuit, he said: "On the contrary, I think luck and doing are opposite poles. To hit on something right by luck without search I call good luck, to do something well after study and practice I call doing well; and those who pursue this seem to me to do well." (Xenophon, Memorabilia 3.9.14)
"[I]nstead of waiting for the gods to appear to you in bodily presence, [we] are content to praise and worship them because [we] see their works. Notice that the gods themselves give the reason for doing so; for when they bestow on us their good gifts, not one of them ever appears before us gift in hand; and especially he who coordinates and holds together the universe, wherein all things are fair and good, and presents them ever unimpaired and sound and ageless for our use, and quicker than thought to serve us unerringly, is manifest in his supreme works, and yet is unseen by us in the ordering of them. Notice that even the sun, who seems to reveal himself to all, permits not man to behold him closely, but if any attempts to gaze recklessly upon him, blinds their eyes. And the gods' ministers too you will find to be invisible. That the thunderbolt is hurled from heaven, and that he overwhelms all on whom he falls, is evident, but he is seen neither coming nor striking nor going. And the winds are themselves invisible, yet their deeds are manifest to us, and we perceive their approach. Moreover, the soul of man, which more than all else that is human partakes of the divine, reigns manifestly within us, and yet is itself unseen. For these reasons it behoves us not to despise the things that are unseen, but, realising their power in their manifestations, to honour the godhead." (Xenophon, Memorabilia 4.3.13-14)
For another example of Socratic reasoning on metaphysical questions, compare the following quote from Socrates—the kind of thinking it represents, both its mode and its subject—with the sorts of discussions we hear from Jesus:
"For that sage, in declaring the sun to be fire, ignored the facts that men can look at fire without inconvenience, but cannot gaze steadily at the sun; that their skin is blackened by the sun's rays, but not by fire. Further, he ignored the fact that sunlight is essential to the health of all vegetation, whereas if anything is heated by fire it withers. Again, when he pronounced the sun to be a red-hot stone, he ignored the fact that a stone in fire neither glows nor can resist it long, whereas the sun shines with unequalled brilliance for ever." (Xenophon, Memorabilia 4.7.7)
That sure sounds like a philosopher—in exactly those respects that Jesus does not. Jesus shows no interest in these kinds of questions (what the sun is made of, etc.) or this kind of logical argument (inferring from a list of empirical facts that one object is probably not made of the same material as another). Likewise, consider the sort of epistemological humility, explicit metaphysical content, and philosophical reasoning characterized in the following passage from Plato, which is again uncommon to Jesus:
For the state of death is one of two things: either it is virtually nothingness, so that the dead has no consciousness of anything, or it is, as people say, a change and migration of the soul from this to another place. And if it is unconsciousness, like a sleep in which the sleeper does not even dream, death would be a wonderful gain. So if such is the nature of death, I count it a gain; for in that case, all time seems to be no longer than one night. But on the other hand, if death is, as it were, a change of habitation from here to some other place, and if what we are told is true, that all the dead are there, what greater blessing could there be, Judges? For if a man when he reaches the other world, after leaving behind these who only claim to be judges, shall find those who really are judges ... would the change of habitation be undesirable? Or again, what would any of you give to meet with [the great men of the past]? I am willing to die many times over, if these things are true; for I personally should find the life there wonderful ... And the greatest pleasure would be to pass my time in examining and investigating the people there, as I do those here, to find out who among them is wise and who thinks he is when he is not. ... To converse and associate with them and examine them would be immeasurable happiness. At any rate, the folk there do not kill people for it; since, if what we are told is true, they are immortal for all future time, besides being happier in other respects than men are here. (Plato, Apology 40c-41b)
Does any of this sound like someone who "has no metaphysical (perhaps even theoretical) commitments" as McFall credulously claims? I think that assertion is soundly refuted by the actual evidence. Moreover, does anything above so much as resemble the sort of discourse we get from Jesus? Obviously not. They are worlds apart in content and method. And lest McFall misunderstand me again, my point is not that anyone who has "metaphysical commitments" is a philosopher—that is very definitely what I am not saying. Rather, a philosopher is someone who systematically argues for or against those commitments, through logic and analysis—the professional discourse of philosophy—and not merely through popular parables and common sense persuasion, for in the latter category fall thousands and thousands of people throughout history, famous and unknown, who only count as "philosophers" in the popular, not formal sense (again, a distinction that was the entire point of my essay).
In the end, McFall's own argument here would at best entail cutting Socrates from the list, not adding Jesus. But to get to even that farcical conclusion, McFall wants us to think that the Apology of Plato contains the extent of Socrates' system of philosophy, and everything else is just Plato making stuff up (which, if such reasoning is sound, condemns everything we know about Jesus just as surely). But the Apology is not a work of philosophy, and by nature entailed avoiding the very philosophical discussions McFall expects to find there. Yet we have so much more than that, not just from Plato, but Aristophanes and Xenophon as well, not to mention other sources (like Aristotle), exactly as I already explained in my original essay. And, unlike for Jesus, we have all that from well-known and confirmed first-hand witnesses. As I have shown, even excluding Plato altogether, it is beyond any doubt that Socrates discussed every branch of philosophy and deployed philosophical reasoning, using logic and analysis, and engaged the major philosophers of his day explicitly.[5] All very much unlike Jesus. So there is no double standard here.
Hence my point in my original essay: while Jesus did what rabbis do, and just pronounced positions, occasionally also giving reasons, Socrates did what philosophers do and asked what the nature of things was—a question that never seems to have troubled Jesus, at least not explicitly and certainly never centrally, yet this is by definition the central concern of a real philosopher. For example, Xenophon tells us that "Socrates held that those who know what any given thing is can also expound it to others" but "those who do not know are misled themselves and mislead others" and "for this reason Socrates never gave up considering with his companions what any given thing is" (Xenophon, Memorabilia 4.6.1). In fact, Socrates often discussed "names and the actions to which they are properly applied" and once asked, for example, "Can we say, my friends, what is the nature of the action for which a man is called greedy?" (ibid. 3.14.2) We definitely have a philosopher here. In contrast, Jesus rarely engaged in this kind of discussion, as far as we can tell, and he certainly never made it a central aspect of his way of seeking and teaching wisdom. He thus was not a philosopher in the formal sense, even if he was in some popular sense.

6. Buddha's Epistemology?
McFall quotes me when I say that Jesus "says very little on the subject of what knowledge is or how one discerns true knowledge from false," which is the defining feature of epistemology as a fundamental branch of philosophy, but he then declares that "Buddha is far worse off" because he "rejected any knowledge that wasn’t associated with his paths of salvation." McFall doesn't seem to understand that his evidence actually works against his own point: it is precisely because Buddha had a lot to say on the nature and limits of knowledge that he gets classed with philosophers. My point was exactly that: Jesus had apparently almost nothing to say on this subject (indeed I am being generous: I am not actually aware of him saying anything on this subject, at least not explicitly, but I could perhaps have overlooked some obscure passage).
McFall is apparently confusing a genuine epistemological position that entails a variety of formal skepticism, and not having an articulated epistemology of any sort. These are very different situations—and the difference is exactly what distinguishes philosophers from other popular ideologues.
McFall is fond of quoting the brief remarks of scholars. But that won't do. As we have done already, to understand, you have to go and look at the primary sources. So I have excerpted here a long section from one of the foundational texts of Buddhism (the Potthapada Sutta). Contrast the detail with which philosophical questions are raised and discussed here, with how this sort of discussion never happens in the Gospels. We have no passage there even remotely comparable to this one. There is no Jesus comparable to this Buddha in the official record, and yet this is what real philosophy looks like:
Potthapada: "Now, lord, does perception arise first, and knowledge after; or does knowledge arise first, and perception after; or do perception and knowledge arise simultaneously?"

Buddha: "Potthapada, perception arises first, and knowledge after. And the arising of knowledge comes from the arising of perception. One discerns, 'It's in dependence on this that my knowledge has arisen'. Through this line of reasoning one can realize how perception arises first, and knowledge after, and how the arising of knowledge comes from the arising of perception."

Potthapada: "Now, lord, is perception a person's self, or is perception one thing and self another?"

Buddha: "What self do you posit, Potthapada?"

Potthapada: "I posit a gross self, possessed of form, made up of the four great existents [earth, water, fire, and wind], feeding on physical food."

Buddha: "Then, Potthapada, your self would be gross, possessed of form, made up of the four great existents, feeding on physical food. That being the case, then for you perception would be one thing and self another. And it's through this line of reasoning that one can realize how perception will be one thing and self another: even as there remains this gross self—possessed of form, made up of the four great existents, and feeding on food—one perception arises for that person as another perception passes away. It's through this line of reasoning that one can realize how perception will be one thing and self another."

Potthapada: "Then, lord, I posit a mind-made self complete in all its parts, not inferior in its faculties."

Buddha: "Then, Potthapada, your self would be mind-made, complete in all its parts, not inferior in its faculties. That being the case, then for you perception would be one thing and self another. And it's through this line of reasoning that one can realize how perception will be one thing and self another: even as there remains this mind-made self—complete in all its parts, not inferior in its faculties—one perception arises for that person as another perception passes away. It's through this line of reasoning that one can realize how perception will be one thing and self another."

Potthapada: "Then, lord, I posit a formless self made of perception."

Buddha: "Then, Potthapada, your self would be formless and made of perception. That being the case, then for you perception would be one thing and self another. And it's through this line of reasoning that one can realize how perception will be one thing and self another: even as there remains this formless self made of perception, one perception arises for that person as another perception passes away. It's through this line of reasoning that one can realize how perception will be one thing and self another."

Potthapada: "Is it possible for me to know, lord, whether perception is a person's self or if perception is one thing and self another?"

Buddha: "Potthapada—having other views, other practices, other satisfactions, other aims, other teachers—it's hard for you to know whether perception is a person's self or if perception is one thing and self another."

Potthapada: "Well then, lord, if—having other views, other practices, other satisfactions, other aims, other teachers—it's hard for me to know whether perception is a person's self or if perception is one thing and self another, then is it the case that the cosmos is eternal, that only this is true and anything otherwise is worthless?"

Buddha: "Potthapada, I haven't expounded that the cosmos is eternal, that only this is true and anything otherwise is worthless."

Potthapada: "Then is it the case that the cosmos is not eternal, that only this is true and anything otherwise is worthless?"

Buddha: "Potthapada, I haven't expounded that the cosmos is not eternal, that only this is true and anything otherwise is worthless."

Potthapada: "Then is it the case that the cosmos is finite... [or that] the cosmos is infinite... [that] the soul and the body are the same... [or that] the soul is one thing and the body another... [that] after death a Tathagata exists... [or that] after death a Tathagata does not exist... [or that] after death a Tathagata both exists and does not exist... [or that] after death a Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist, that only this is true and anything otherwise is worthless?"

Buddha: "Potthapada, I haven't expounded that after death a Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist, that only this is true and anything otherwise is worthless."

Potthapada: "But why hasn't the Blessed One expounded these things?"

Buddha: "Because they are not conducive to the goal, are not conducive to the Dhamma, are not basic to the holy life. They don't lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding. That's why I haven't expounded them."

Potthapada: "And what has the Blessed One expounded?"

Buddha: "I have expounded that, 'This is stress'... 'This is the origination of stress'... 'This is the cessation of stress'... 'This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress.'

Potthapada: "And why has the Blessed One expounded these things?"

Buddha: "Because they are conducive to the goal, conducive to the Dhamma, and basic to the holy life. They lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding. That's why I have expounded them."
Pay close attention to what is philosophical about the Buddha's discourse here: first, he declares a position on several metaphysical questions (that it is a position of radical skepticism does not change the fact, the only relevant fact here, that a position is declared, articulated, and defended); second, he expounds several points about the ethics and nature of perception, knowledge, and belief-formation, and explicitly ties his epistemological-metaphysical position (which is essentially a form of what is today called radical constructivism) to his underlying soteriology. In contrast, Jesus has nothing substantial to say about these things, nor does his discourse ever procede like this—that is, following a train of thought with an interlocutor over several steps of reasoning, involving known and heavily-debated philosophical problems of that day, to arrive at the exposition and elucidation of a philosophical concept.

7. Equivalent Consensus?
I agree with McFall's argument that for Socrates "as with Gospel-reports [of Jesus], there are scholarly consensuses regarding what is authentic, what is not, and what is debatable" in respect to the ideology they taught. I think McFall was wise to use the plural: consensuses. For there is no single consensus. However, Socratic studies is on much better footing than the study of Jesus. Though every scholar would probably disagree regarding the totality of what Socrates thought and taught, all would agree upon a certain core set of philosophical doctrines and methods. For Jesus, this is not so. Though there is perhaps agreement on a very small set of things Jesus probably said or taught, the sayings in that set are themselves very ambiguous, open to multiple (even sometimes contradictory) interpretations, and contain nothing that qualifies as "philosophy" in the formal sense, any more than the exact same kinds of things found in countless authors from Aulus Gellius to Mark Twain, none of whom make any formal list of philosophers either.

8. Are the Sources Discredited?
On McFall's tendentious attempt to dismiss the sources for Socratic thought, we have already seen from the sources themselves that he is overplaying his hand. First, no scholar that I am aware of believes that the dialogues of Plato after the Apology are devoid of genuine facts about the ideology of Socrates. McFall wants to pretend that we can discard everything Plato says. That is not so. Despite Plato's reworking, there is far more of Socrates in the Platonic corpus than of Jesus in the Gospels, certainly far more with regard to formal philosophical discourse. Any argument that discredits Plato as a source operates a fortiori against the Gospels, and thus one must concede that we still know much less about the philosophy of Jesus than about that of Socrates, for exactly the same reasons.
Second, McFall seems to miss the point of comedy: it is precisely because Aristophanes is poking fun at Socratic teachings that his work is so valuable, as well as the fact that it was written and performed in Socrates' presence and thus is far more reliable a source than anything we have for Jesus. If we had a comic satirizing Jesus in his own lifetime, we would know far more about his teachings than we do now. Sure, we must read it as tongue-in-cheek, and as comic exaggeration, and so forth, but the jokes have to be funny, and jokes are only funny when they connect with some fundamental—and peculiar—truth about their subject.
As for Aristotle, McFall says: "what I find amusing is Carrier’s uncritical willingness to bend in the direction of 'first-hand' information here," i.e. in my mention of Aristotle as a source, "when he so adamantly opposes the idea of similar circumstances embedded in Gospel-reports." He doesn't seem to get my point. First, what I actually wrote is (italics now added): "...(to a lesser extent) Aristotle. We know ... these men ... all knew Socrates (except Aristotle, who arrived in Athens a few years after his death, but he engaged with his disciples on a first-hand basis)." Thus, neither was my mention of Aristotle uncritical, nor do I "adamantly oppose" second-hand evidence. In fact, I explicitly accept certain kinds of the latter in the very next sentence: "We also know for a fact that several other eye-witness accounts were written (such as by Ion the Comic and Aeschines the Socratic) which were cited by later philosophers and biographers, and thus second-hand sources on Socrates are more trustworthy than any we have on Jesus."
McFall seems to think I discard all second-hand witness in history. That is never what I said or meant, and in fact, as you can see above, I explicitly denied it. If Paul, for example, had recorded any definite philosophical discourse of Jesus, I would regard that as far more reliable than most of what we find in the Gospels—all the more so if Paul told us his source of information for any given quotation, and that source was an eye-witness (like Peter). But Paul never really gives us any such data. The few examples that might be quotations are ambiguous at best, both to actual origin and source, and have no formal philosophical content anyway. Indeed, Paul has much of his knowledge of Jesus from divine revelation (as he explicitly admits at several points in 1 Corinthians, for example), which is far more dubious than anything we can claim for Aristotle's knowledge of Socrates.
Aristotle was a renowned and careful scholar, who actually originated the method of documentary history (he collected constitutions from city states all over the Greek world and published them in an anthology—now lost). We also know who he was and when and where he wrote, and we know he not only had access to the eye-witnesses but endeavored to interact with them directly. And we have no reason to believe he had any great ideological agenda to distort what Socrates said. Can any of this be said of the Gospel authors? No. Thus, a fortiori, what we have of Socrates in Aristotle is more reliable than what we have of Jesus in the Gospels. Aristotle has at least six marks in his favor as a witness, all of which are lacking (or diminished) in the case of the Gospels.
Finally, I am not sure where McFall gets the idea that Xenophon only wrote his Socratic works after his (unofficial) exile (what—was there no ink in Sparta?), or why this would discredit him as a source even if we actually knew it to be true (which we don't). As I noted above, he did not possess the ideological agenda of Plato, but a very different one: to restore the good name of a great man he personally knew. And I am not aware of any evidence that he "borrowed" from Plato in any way, as McFall alleges.[6] Nor am I aware of any evidence that he wrote "thirty years" after the death of Socrates, or even ten years after, or even two. We don't know the precise dates of either Plato's or Xenophon's writings on Socrates. But we do know they both knew the man personally, and that they had very different agendas. Compare this with the Gospels: Do we have a Xenophon for Jesus? A man who knew him personally and composed his own record of his teachings? No. Yet for Socrates we have not one, but two such men. So McFall's attempt to pretend that Jesus and Socrates are on the same footing as far as sources go is simply absurd on its face.

9. What Eye-Witnesses?
McFall says "let’s not forget" that the anonymous Gospels "contain embedded eyewitness material"—but do they? Which witnesses? Can McFall name any? Worse, can he really present any evidence that any saying of Jesus came from any particular witness, whom we know existed and whom we know the author knew and spoke with? We can answer all these questions for the sources of what Socrates said. We can answer none of them for Jesus. So who is being specious and credulous in his reasoning here?
Likewise, McFall says "still living witnesses could have declared inaccuracies publicly, but apparently did not," and he rightly points out that I endorse this reasoning. But the reasoning requires the premise to be true. Is it? Were any eye-witnesses alive when the Gospels were written? Who? Can McFall name anyone? Can he present any evidence that they were still alive then? In contrast, we can answer both for the writings on Socrates. Indeed, we can do even better: Aristophanes' comedy was performed in the very presence of Socrates himself. So no one can deny the source situation is better for Socrates.
McFall concedes that the Gospels were probably written between forty and sixty years after Jesus died. Assuming eye-witnesses were at least ten years old at his death, that means they would have to be at least 50 to 70 years old when the Gospels were written. But the average life expectancy of a ten-year-old in antiquity was 44 years. We have reason to believe that only 4% of the population at any given time was over 50 years old; over age 70, less than 2%.[7] And that is under normal circumstances. But the Gospels were written after two very devastating abnormal events: the Jewish War and the Neronian Persecution, both of which would have, combined, greatly reduced the life expectancy of exactly those people who were eye-witnesses to the teachings of Jesus. And it just so happens that these sorts of people are curiously missing from the historical record precisely when the Gospels began to be circulated: not a single eye-witness is on record endorsing any of the Gospels, or correcting any of the evident contradictions between them (such as when Jesus was born or whether angels struck down guards at the tomb or whether Jesus was killed on Passover or the day before, and so on). The latter is especially a problem for McFall: if it were true that falsehoods would be denounced by witnesses in the extant record, since there are many apparent falsehoods in the Gospels, discrepancies that cannot be easily reconciled, we should expect eye-witness testimony in the record either correcting or reconciling these discrepancies. But there is none. Why? Most probably because there were no witnesses still living.
How, then, can McFall claim Jesus and Socrates stand on the same footing as far as sources go? Such a claim is utterly unsustainable.

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