This will be the final post in my multi-part summary of Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt. After going over our background information, evidence outside the Bible, Acts, the Gospels, and most of the Epistles (which are all more likely if Jesus didn’t exist than if he did), we finally get to the best evidence there is for historicity (the theory that Jesus existed as a historical person instead of a celestial deity).
The closest Paul comes to mentioning the father of Jesus is Romans 1:3, where he says Jesus was “made from the sperm of David, according to the flesh.” He says this in conjunction with Jesus being “declared the son of God in power, according to the spirit.” This could be allegorical as when he says every Christian comes from the sperm of Abraham in Galatians 3-4, however it could also be meant literally.
In the original Greek, Paul discusses Jesus as being “constructed” or “made” rather than born. This is the same way he talks about Adam who was also made by God rather than being born in the usual way. Paul says the same thing of our future resurrected bodies as well. 2 Samuel 7:12-14 can be read to say that God will use King David’s sperm to construct a son of God, so this makes sense on mythicism.
Paul also speaks of Jesus being “made from a woman, made under the law” in an allegorical passage which, in context, speaks of those allegorically born to Hagar as being born into slavery to the Torah, but those born to Sarah as being born free from the Torah. Jesus was first born to Hagar under the law so he could kill off that law and be reborn to Sarah. Philo uses a similar allegory. No literal mother is meant here.
Although these two passages are more likely allegorical and not speaking of Jesus having a literal mother and father, Carrier counts them as evidence of historicity. He does this in order to be as generous as possible to historicity in order to account for his own possible bias.
Next, we turn to potential references to Jesus having brothers. All baptized Christians were considered adoptive brothers of the Lord. Paul routinely calls Christians brothers or brethren. In fact, he never uses the phrase “Christian”, probably because the term wasn’t in use yet. However, he only uses the full phrase “brother(s) of the Lord” twice, so this might be a reference to biological brothers.
The reference in 1 Corinthians 9:5 could be to biological brothers, but Carrier argues the phrase is more likely being used as a title. Galatians 1:15-22 refers to James as “brother of the Lord” perhaps to let us know James wasn’t an apostle like Cephas (who was mentioned in the same thought), but of a different rank in the church. Why didn’t Paul use his usual abbreviation “brother” here? Perhaps to avoid confusion. If he didn’t use the full phrase “brother of the Lord” a reader might have thought James was the brother of Cephas.
Even though the phrase “brother of the Lord” makes perfect sense on mythicism, Carrier once again says this favors historicity in order to be generous.
Carrier sums up the book by doing a lot of math and comes to the conclusion that, arguing as much in favor of historicity as is reasonably possible, there’s only a 1 in 3 chance that Jesus existed. Even if phrases like “brother of the Lord” and “made from a woman” favor historicity, when you add in all the rest of the evidence, it’s still more likely that Jesus didn’t exist than he did. And this is being generous to historicity. Using what he thinks are more reasonable probabilities, Carrier calculates that there’s only a 1 in 12,000 chance that Jesus existed.
Carrier invites readers to enter their own probabilities into his equation to come up with their own estimates and add additional evidence if there’s something he didn’t consider. He’s open to being proved wrong as long as a sound argument is presented. He admits he may have gotten something wrong. (I believe some biblical scholars have indeed found a couple minor errors in Carrier’s work, but nothing big enough to throw out his overall conclusion.)
Carrier wrote this book not to end the debate, but rather to begin it. If you believe a historical Jesus existed, this is the book you have to refute.