Response to Richard Carrier's Alleged "Rebuttal" (2012)

Eric Laupot

Richard Carrier's reasoning in "Severus Is Not Quoting Tacitus: A Rebuttal to Eric Laupot" is too muddled to review in its entirety. Most leading scholars and Latinists are at variance with his conclusions. Most problematic is that Carrier begs the question from the beginning because he mistranslates the word "Christiani" in the second fragment of Tacitus' Histories as "Christians" or "Christian/Zealots" (whatever the latter may have meant to Carrier). This mistranslation is a critical blunder which is absent from my own work, but which occurs very early and very consistently in Carrier's "rebuttal."

Carrier's main mistake is translating Tacitus' Fragment 2 himself instead of leaving it to a professional in the field. For in his version of Fragment 2, he mistakenly translates Christiani as "Christians"—despite the fact that I specifically stated that Christiani were not Christians. Carrier repeats this mistake throughout his paper, piling error upon error while begging the question about the identity of the Christiani. He concedes the obvious point that Pauline Christians could not have fought Rome en masse, but mistakenly claims that the Christiani—who did fight Rome collectively—could have been Pauline Christians.

Ironically, Carrier agrees with my main argument, that the Christiani were not Pauline Christians or Christian/Zealots (whatever this may have meant to him), but his thinking is far too muddled to appreciate that this is my argument. Instead, he attributes this basic error to me, demonstrating that—among other things—he has no understanding of my work.

As I demonstrate in my first (of three) published articles ["Tacitus' Fragment 2: The Anti-Roman Movement of the Christiani and the Nazoreans." Vigiliae Christianae 54(3): 233-247 (2000)], Carrier's "rebuttal" of my thesis consistently comes to the same conclusions that I do—namely, that the Christiani were Jewish Zealots, not Christians.

Has Carrier done his homework here? Before attempting to rebut someone else's argument, one must understand it. His arguments are multiply flawed and show a monumental misunderstanding of my work. Indeed, his arguments read like those of an ideologue. I get this impression because Carrier arrives at the same conclusion that I do, but by a circuitous route that shows that he does not understand my argument. Since he agrees with what I originally argued, by this same route he ought to be critiquing his own argument just as harshly as he does mine!

Another problem is that Carrier limits his "critique" to my first published article, ignoring my two subsequent articles in the Revue des etudes juives and my online book The Founding of Christianity by Roman Counterintelligence. These additional writings go far beyond what I set forth in my first Vigiliae Christianae article.

Moreover, as mentioned above, in their critical editions of Tacitus' Histories, every top Latinist since 1866 agrees that—contra Carrier—the critically important Fragment 2 belongs to Tacitus' Histories (see the endnotes to Chapter 1 of my The Founding of Christianity by Roman Counterintelligence for references). Carrier's "analysis" of Fragment 2, which is based almost entirely on his mistranslations, flies in the face of this scholarly consensus—and for no good reason. By failing to critique all of my other works, Carrier commits the "suppressed evidence" fallacy. My works deserve to be critiqued as a whole, not piecemeal.

Finally, I should note that many top scholars in this field today have enthusiastically supported my first Vigiliae Christianae article. By extension, all of them therefore disagree with Carrier:

"A strong case, well argued."

Jacob Neusner, Bard College

"Very valuable ... and ... of great potential importance."

John S. Kloppenborg, University of Toronto

"Thank you very much! I am delighted and interested. I wish I'd known about this before."

N. T. Wright, former Canon Theologian, Westminster Abbey, author of The Challenge of Jesus

"It's correct."

Étienne Nodet, École Biblique, Jerusalem, author of The Origins of Christianity

"What you have written is not only interesting but also helpful to me."

H. Dixon Slingerland, Hiram College

"Very interesting.... Your article is a nice contribution to discussion of these issues."

Birger A. Pearson, University of California, Santa Barbara

"You make a strong case for your argument."

—The late Bruce M. Metzger, formerly at Princeton Theological Seminary, editor of The New Oxford Annotated Bible and The Oxford Companion to the Bible

"Very interesting."

Paula Fredriksen, Boston University, author of Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews

"I congratulate you because of this very helpful article."

Luis Diez Merino, University of Barcelona


Copyright ©2012 Eric Laupot. The electronic version is copyright ©2012 by Internet Infidels, Inc. with the written permission of Eric Laupot. All rights reserved.

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