The Morality and Ethics of Musonius Rufus
This topic examines a curious little essay written by Richard Carrier, as well as a response by him to a Christian's rebuttal, that maintains that Musonius Rufus, a first century Roman Stoic philosopher, had a higher morality than Jesus. I will examine why I believe this is not only an exaggeration, but completely untrue, and in fact the exact opposite.
We have to remember that we do not have everything that was said and done by Jesus, as John 21:25 reminds us, despite having four Gospels. In this respect Musonius and Jesus are similar. To judge Jesus' teachings as "lacking" in something because some subject isn't directly talked about is just as silly as doing the same to Musonius. It would be like comparing two artists, a large majority of whose works are inaccessible, and then speculating on who is more versatile or innovative - it simply doesn't work.
This is not to say that Jesus' teachings, ethics, wisdom, and morality have major defects because of omission. Some subjects are not spoken of in depth at all by Jesus, such as drunkenness, homosexuality, and gluttony, yet we know that Jesus was neither a drunkard, nor a glutton (Matthew 11:19). What we don't hear about from Jesus, we most certainly read in the rest of the New Testament and the Bible. And so below we examine the claims of Richard Carrier on Jesus' supposed moral inferiority and lack of clarity with respect to Musonius.
II. The Morality of Musonius and Jesus
Carrier's main points are basically that Musonius' morality is better and that his instructions are clearer. In the first case, he writes in his introduction,
He [Musonius] exemplifies the sort of man who should have been venerated and made the founder of a world religion, but was not, yet he was the moral superior in my opinion to Jesus--not perfect, but admirable within the context of his own day.
This already has a problem and is clearly an overexaggeration. Musonius Rufus was an equal to Socrates, yes, but no scholar, even those who have acknowledged his importance in ancient days, will agree that he was someone who should have founded a world religion. The fact that the ancients forgot about him within a century or two shows this. Moreover, Socrates, who wasn't forgotten, didn't found a world religion, but was a huge influence on Greek and Roman philosophy. Musonius' immediate followers, such as his pupil Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius, upon whom Epictetus was a big influence, show that Musonius' influence remains entirely within the philosophical and not the religious realm. It is correct to say that Musonius should have been an influence on later ancient and medieval philosophical thought, but to go as far as implying he would have had a world religion like Jesus if he hadn't been forgotten is clearly untrue.
But regardless of what would have and should have happened, are Musonius' teachings morally higher than Jesus'? Before we even start, I would like to mention that it is hard to place Musonius on this high pedestal that Carrier does. If one would just read the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, a work not much bigger than what we have from Musonius' teachings, one would find many more ethical and moral instructions of an even higher degree than Musonius', and having read many of them, in my opinion even these do not approach the level of profound simplicity and fundamental truth that one can see in many of the instructions of Jesus. Of course, obviously Jesus isn't exclusively the only person who ever had such high moral instructions - all of his ethics can be observed through natural wisdom. However, it is precisely because Jesus has so many deep truths that get to the core of the matter that in my opinion marks him separately from the rest, be it Musonius, Marcus Aurelius, or anyone else. So I will look at the examples Carrier gives, and include some examples and observations of my own.
Carrier's first example already starts on the wrong foot. He maintains that a joke by Musonius, with a moral subtext, is an example of his moral superiority to Jesus:
There are uncertain tales of his endurance of jail and torture. But what makes him so admirably human is his sense of humor, a classic case of which, an example that in my opinion sets him above Jesus as a more human and interesting teacher, I will produce here:
We can already note that enduring prison for your beliefs is a trademark so associated with Paul, that the fact that Jesus did not suffer something similar besides at his condemnation, is hardly a mark against him. I am not saying Carrier states so, but merely pointing this out. Paul is hardly to be placed above Jesus because of this, and Jesus did suffer injustices for the truth. But, does Musonius' charity to someone who happened to be a "bad and vicious fellow" mean that this "sets him above Jesus as a more human and interesting teacher"?
"Musonius," Herodes said, "ordered a thousand sesterces [silver coins] to be given to a beggar of the sort who was pretending to be a philosopher, and when several people told him that the rascal was a bad and vicious fellow, deserving of nothing good, Musonius, they say, answered with a smile, 'Well then he deserves money'." (Fragment 50)
Jesus certainly practiced this attitude not merely by giving money to someone who wasn't going to change his attitude anyway, but by going and "eating and drinking" with sinners, publicans, and tax collectors (Mark 2:13-17). Of course, I'm sure Carrier doesn't dispute that one of Jesus' continuous acts while on his brief ministry was to give money to the poor (Matthew 19:21), one of the reasons Judas asked if he could sell the jar of perfume - to give to the poor (John 12:5), I fail to see how exactly Musonius' episode sets him as a more interesting teacher - perhaps there weren't enough jokes for Carrier in the Gospels. Moreover, Jesus never refused to give charity to those who didn't deserve it: that was the whole purpose of his entire Incarnation - "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:32, ESV). Paul continuously notes how Jesus died for unjust sinners - "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:6-8, ESV). He, moreover, healed the ten lepers, and when only one returned to thank him, he pointed out how the rest couldn't care less about praising God who healed them from the leprosy (Luke 17:11-19), but he healed the ten nonetheless. That we don't have examples of Jesus giving money to men considered "bad" is not evidence that Jesus mercilessly detested people who happened to be prone to such behavior, but that the Gospel authors included stories that pointed out the errors of these men to themselves and others.
This action of Musonius' is by no means uncommon for a person with a high morality: it can be seen in Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, where Jean Valjean, a recently released prisoner, is given shelter by a bishop, Bishop Myriel, and then runs off with the bishop's silverware. When he is caught by the police, the bishop pretends he had given him the silverware and that it was not stolen. So it is certain that Jesus would not have turned away someone who may have been "bad and vicious" due to circumstances, any more than Musonius or Victor Hugo's personal moral code with the example of Bishop Myriel would have. When Jesus told the rich man to go and sell his possessions and give them to the poor since he wanted to be a disciple, he certainly didn't mean to give it to the poor who behaved good only. And even then, wouldn't many of them behave like the nine lepers in Luke 17:11-19? Musonius never addresses the issue of a superficially "good" beggar. The anecdote Carrier gives has a very good point, but it is far from complete and does not have the breadth that Jesus' examples do. The evil beggar is not helped or reproved. "Good" beggars who forget their goodness as soon as they get what they want are not pointed out as bad examples. Moreover, I see Jesus' advice to always forgive the person who errs against you and says, "I repent", provided it is an honest repentance, as much better (Matthew 18:21-22). Of course, the liar who is only saying this to trick is to be ignored and thrown out (Matthew 18:15-20).
Various other virtues of Musonius
The next point that Carrier makes is a very obscure set of observations and some muddled attempts to explain Musonius' views that he disagrees with as arising out of his belief in God. He points out Musonius' adversity to homosexuality, abortion, fornication, and his lack of secularism and adherence to a "divine rational order" as something that's not progressive, and thus he disagrees here with his temporary hero since his morality happens to agree with the Christian viewpoint. Carrier implies that Musonius' disgust with homosexuality, something Carrier sees as the wrong attitude, is due to his belief in God. He writes, "It is notable, for instance, that his attitude toward homosexuality was based on his belief in God." Yet, if one reads Discourse (or Lecture) 12 of Musonius, which takes about 2 minutes, one finds zero references and appeals to religion or God/gods, not even implied connections. Musonius' reasoning for calling homosexuality monstrous is that it is unnatural, as Carrier himself paraphrases him, and that it is unlawful, which means wrong. This he derives wholly out of his morality and ethics that Carrier is so excited about, and have no connections to his religion or invocation of deities. Either Carrier hasn't read enough of Musonius, which wouldn't surprise me given his overall assessment of the philosopher with respect to Jesus, or his bias has gone so far that his exaggerations are borderline made up. Yet, later on, he is the one who accuses Amy Sayers for interpreting some of Jesus' words with their obvious meaning as putting words in Jesus' mouth!
On the other hand, Carrier's praise with respect to Musonius' teachings and methods are that through philosophy he sought prudence, temperance, justice, and courage, and that "[h]is program included logic and debating skills, for the purpose of building the ability to reason through ethical decisions competently." One hardly needs debating or logic skills to do what's right. All that is needed is the will to have a clean conscience. Of course, there are always smart choices, but nothing that would require everyone to begin a "12-Step" Logic program. Let's look at that list of attributes Musonius has. We can eliminate courage right off the bat: this typically Roman emphasis is not anything virtuous - there is nothing wrong about being afraid. Of course, this doesn't mean being so cowardly that one abandons his duties to God, a point which Jesus emphasized many times directly and indirectly, especially near the end of his ministry, knowing the challenges his disciples would face. Many examples of Jesus' advocacy of justice can be found, such as Luke 18:1-8. Prudence is advised many times (Matthew 10:16, 16:6) and many examples of wise advise are given (Luke 12:57-59; 14:7-11; Matthew 7:1-5; 7:6; 7:15-20). As for temperance, this Aristotelian concept is useful only when intemperance results in sin. With respect to this, except for the nativity and passion narratives, there probably isn't a single chapter in the Gospels that doesn't have Jesus' advice on how to avoid sin. Ironically, the one place that does have a direct suggestion to end a particular indulgence by "cutting it off", Carrier mocks, implying it's a repression of sorts.
Freedom of Speech and Thought
Indeed, in contrast with Jesus who called even those who think of adultery to cut out their eyes (Matthew 5:27-30, Mark 9:43-9), Musonius said "freedom of speech means not suppressing whatever one chances to think" (Discourse 9).
At this point I'm inclined to believe that Carrier in fact hasn't read much of Musonius at all. These statements of his make me wonder if he hasn't just skimmed through Musonius' discourses, looking for whatever might suit his demonstratably ill-conceived article. Musonius' ideas for freedom of speech would most certainly not include thoughts accepting adultery as he himself considers adultery the worst: "But of all sexual relations those involving adultery are most unlawful" (Lecture 12). The statement carrier quotes comes from Discourse 9 which talks about Musonius' exile and how an exile has a certain limit on his freedom of speech, like a slave. Musonius considers this a limit on freedom of speech - the inability to express one's thoughts about subjects such as philosophy, morality, ethics, etc - not the sinful thoughts which he condemns. In Lecture 9, Musonius mentions that we don’t always have the freedom to say what we think - there are constraints. And this is with respect to tact, not wrongful thoughts, which Musonius certainly condemns as it will become clear to anyone who actually reads him without his biased glasses.
Regardless of what Jesus may have meant, Jesus never said "freedom of speech means not suppressing whatever one chances to think," but Musonius did. That's a fact...I said that Musonius defends freedom of thought, whereas Jesus never does, and that Jesus tells us to suppress thoughts that are inevitable and natural, whereas Musonius does not. In fact, Jesus says that thoughts alone are as bad as deeds: "every one that looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Matthew 5:28). That is exactly the opposite of saying that we should not suppress whatever one chances to think. So not only does Jesus abstain from defending freedom of thought, but the one time he mentions thoughts, he actually makes certain thoughts a crime.
Moreover, if Carrier wants us to believe that evil thoughts are not a crime, then he hasn't understood two very important things. One, thoughts frequently lead to actions. Two, whatever is wrong, is wrong, not only if it is an action that is carried out. Hardly would he disagree with thinking evil of people who don't deserve it as "not a crime". And if he doesn't understand that thoughts are as wrong as actions if they are sinful, then we should hardly expect this man to tell us who is a higher moral teacher and who is not.
Next, Carrier spirals into an even bigger abyss with the following comment: "Like Jesus, Musonius preached charity...But unlike Jesus, he also emphasized the importance of civic duty as well (Discourse 14)." Once again, the ancient Roman virtue of civic duty is of little relevance to a discussion on morality and ethics. Jesus' statement to give "all that is Caesar's to Caesar" is enough to emphasize that one's earthly life should not be spent disobeying the authorities unnecessarily, but it is hardly an error for Jesus to focus entirely on righteous behavior and not dwell on patriotic themes. If the opposite had been the case and Jesus did devote quite a bit of attention to that subject, we'd probably see Carrier opining about how all these wars were caused by this devotion to nationalism, patriotism, and civic duty.
At least Carrier doesn't try to discredit Jesus on charity, love, and forgiveness, because the absurdity of that attempt would have been too much. He does, however, make this comment:
Epictetus, relates this example of a parable used by Musonius which exhibits this concept of forgiveness, which is in my opinion wiser and more sophisticated than that of Jesus:
First of all, this is by no means a superior example of forgiveness. Jesus' statement to forgive the one who says "I repent" seventy seven times (implying an endless amount of times - Matthew 18:21-22), is far more forgiving than one could see at any time. For example, if someone offends you once, and says sorry, you might forgive him, especially if he's a friend. The second time is not so certain. By the tenth time you would abandon all association with this person even if his apologies are sincere. Of course, that's understandable if it's obvious that they're not, but the point remains that Jesus' forgiveness far surpasses the example of Lycurgus who would have certainly ordered the young man executed if he had stabbed him in the other eye as well. By the way, the anecdote of Lycurgus is a local legend that Musonius is repeating and agreeing with, not something invented by Musonius, so we should hardly give him the entire credit as Carrier does.
When [Lycurgus of Sparta] had been blinded in one eye by one of his fellow-citizens and had received the young man at the hands of the people to punish as he saw fit, he did not choose to do this, but trained him instead and made a good man of him, and afterward escorted him to the public theatre. And when the [Spartans] regarded him with amazement, he said: "This man I received from you an insolent and violent creature; I return him to you a reasonable man and a good citizen." (Fragment 39)
This story was matched by a dictum (Fragment 41), "We say that the despicable man is recognized among other things by his inability to harm his enemies, but actually he is much more easily recognized by his inability to help them."
At this point I have to criticize some of Musonius' methodology. First of all, Musonius' advice in Fragment 39 could only have been said by an affluent man. How exactly was the average ancient peasant supposed to take in and educate another grown man? How is someone supposed to do that today? Great advice if you're rich and you can take a young man under your wing as in ancient Sparta, but this is possible in like 0.01% of the time or less. And how will you educate this young man once you do have him under your wing? You're obviously going to rebuke him the same way Jesus rebuked others' folly and gave advise on various topics on morality. What happens if this young man escapes, like the young Earl of Flanders who was under the watchful eye of the pro-English Flemish and Edward III and escaped because of his complete distaste and disagreement with what others asked him to agree to (to marry Edward III's daughter)? It's obvious that Musonius' advice is useful only if the person teaching is a parent, and we can be sure neither Jesus, nor anyone would have ever disagreed with that advice. But in the real world, in any other situation, we will quickly see Musonius' advice devolve into the methodology of Jesus and just about everyone else who gave advice and rebuke. The only way to apply Musonius' advice is to lead a life of example, as Victor Gollancz tells us. But this was not unknown to the Christians as we see in 1 Peter 3:1-2, 1 Corinthians 7:12-16, as well as the conduct of St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine, in her humility and how it converted St. Augustine's drunkard father to correct living. And we can be certain this would not be a foreign concept to Jesus. We have to remember, we do not have everything that was said and done by either man, Musonius or Jesus.
If one loved his enemies as Jesus instructed, one would certainly help them become better people, whether through example, rebuke, or even taking them under their home or the like. Just because we don't have a Gospel verse that gives this advice, which isn't as practical as Carrier would like us to believe, doesn't mean Jesus' point doesn't capture its essence. It would be different if Jesus had said, "Love your enemies, but always rebuke them until they submit to your criticism."
And Musonius certainly wouldn't have disagreed that those other men's bad nature was the cause of this. Musonius only advocates a method of "help and not hate" (Lecture 9). But how do you help someone without rebuking or reproving? Musonius' whole set of discourses is in fact a rebuke of those who do not help and instead hate their enemy. And there is no hate in Jesus' tactful rebukes, sometimes mild and sometimes harsh, since it is ultimately the source of helping others, especially those who cannot be brought in to be taught by you, nor see your example and have only your words to remember.
Exposure of Children and Slavery
In the next section, Carrier doesn't really provide examples of Musonius' supposed superior morality, but, strangely, goes on a small, unrelated discussion about Stoic influences on Jesus and Paul. He notes Musonius' adversity to the prevalent Greco-Roman custom of exposure (leaving babies out to die), which was detested by both the Hebrews as well as the Egyptians.
In his final section, Carrier discusses Musonius' opposition to slavery. He is somewhat incorrect as to Musonius' attitude regarding slavery. For instance, Carrier's example of Titus Curtisius is misleading. Titus Curtisius wasn't an abolitionist who was killed because of his beliefs as Carrier tries to imply. He actively went to Brusinium and told the slaves they should go free. If he wasn't planning an actual rebellion, he was certainly on the path to accidentally creating one. Moreover, Musonius himself states that one should have no fear to say what one believes, contrary to Carrier's claims that he took his abolitionism on the downlow:
For it is not as exiles that men fear to say what they think, but as
men afraid lest from speaking pain or death or punishment or some
such other thing shall befall them. Fear is the cause of this, not exile.
For to many people, nay to most, even though dwelling safely in their
native city, fear of what seem to them dire consequences of free speech
is present. However, the courageous man, in exile no less than at home,
is dauntless in the face of all such fears; for that reason also he has the
courage to say what he thinks equally at home or in exile. (Discourse 9)
It is clear that Musonius would not have remained quiet about something out of fear. Yes, Musonius rightfully considered slaves just as human as freedmen. And it's interesting how Carrier likes to quote and agree with Musonius on deplorable sexual practices that don't go against his atheistic agenda, such as the shame in forcing a slavegirl to have sex with her master. However, Musonius was certainly no hidden abolitionist the way Carrier tries to portray him. He disagrees with treating slaves as sub-humans, but he passively seems to have accepted the slave system given that slaves were treated with the same dignity and respect as humans. For example, in Discourse 3, Musonius states,
Let us examine in detail the qualities which are suitable for a woman
who would lead a good life, for it will appear that each one of them
would accrue to her most readily from the study of philosophy. In the first
place, a woman must be a good housekeeper; that is a careful
accountant of all that pertains to the welfare of her house and capable of
directing the household slaves. It is my contention that these are the
very qualities which would be present particularly in the woman who
studies philosophy, since obviously each of them is a part of life... (emphasis added).
The quote Carrier gives of Musonius, "one should endure hardships, and suffer the pains of labor with his own body, rather than depend upon another for sustenance" (Discourse 11) refers to Musonius' belief that "not to require
another's help for one's need is more dignified than asking for it" rather than "to sit idly in the city, like the sophists", and not a repulsion to the slave system. Yes, all humans are equal according to Musonius, but besides their mistreatment, Musonius didn't think about a need for universal liberation of slaves throughout the empire. He was no incognito William Wilberforce.
I'm going to quote Carrier on his last point with respect to a superior morality:
He also taught that all human beings without exception have the same natural capacity for goodness, which directly challenged the prevailing view that slaves were morally inferior to the free (Discourse 2). But most remarkable of all, in his lecture about nonviolent disobedience (Discourse 16), the idea he develops is that it is right to disobey an unlawful command from any superior--father, magistrate, or master (despotês)--because one who refuses to do wrong ought always to be praised, and all owe allegiance first and foremost to the father of all, Zeus, who commands that we do right. No one in antiquity--neither pagan nor Christian--came so near to an abolitionist sentiment as this.
Slaves were certainly considered morally inferior by the Romans: they were always thought of as ready to revolt - an action understandable given the lack of freedom and occasional harsh conditions. But slaves were never considered subhuman by those like Musonius who followed their conscience and we see this in the example of Paul's treatment of the slave Onesimus in the book of Philemon. Not only does Paul write that if one is a slave he should gain his freedom if he can (1 Corinthians 7:21), but the only reason he returned Onesimus to his master was so that the relations between he and the Colossian church weren't ruined. In his return of the slave, Paul asks that Philemon be kind and forgiving to Onesimus. Commentators have rightfully noted that Paul treats Onesimus as a brother in the Lord, not to be harshly treated. Not to mention that the brutality of slavery that we associate with today didn't truly begin until colonialism in the sixteenth century. Prior to this, slaves, particularly in the Ancient Near East, were mostly made up of the country's own popularion and willingly made themselves such so as to remove their debts: "Canaanite social structure was, in the main, of the same type as that prevailing in the other Near Eastern countries...A great part of the slaves were war captives and foreign slaves, but most were natives - e.g., defaulting debtors and unemployed men and women, who sold themselves into slavery to obtain their livelihood" (The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, A-D, "Canaanites", (1980), p.497).
Musonius does comment a bit on education, but he certainly doesn't lay as much stress on it as Carrier maintains. His main points about it is that one ought to consider all things without bias, an advice that Carrier urgently needs to follow, and the rest of it is moral instruction much like Jesus'. So when Carrier tries to contrast Jesus from Musonius by saying that the latter defended, "the value and importance of universal education and the perfection and use of logic and reason for moral improvement and decision-making", it has to be realized that he is exaggerating a bit much. Jesus' advice is a constant admonition to use justice and with it logic and reason for moral improvement and decision-making. How Carrier thinks that this is exclusively Musonius' case is beyond me.
Musonius does believe that men and women are equal and one isn't inferior to the other. Neither does Jesus say something to the opposite of this. For example, when Jesus discusses divorce, he includes both men and women as examples of divorcees, though in Palestine at the time it wasn't allowed for women to divorce their husbands. Moreover, Musonius himself explains that nature gave men and women different roles. He writes in Lecture 4:
"Come now," I suppose someone will say, "do you expect that men
should learn spinning the same as women, and that women should take
part in gymnastic exercises the same as men? " No, that I should not
demand. But I do say that, since in the human race man's constitution is
stronger and woman's weaker, tasks should be assigned which are
suited to the nature of each; that is the heavier tasks should be given to
the stronger and lighter ones to the weaker. Thus spinning and indoor
work would be more fitting for women than for men, while gymnastics
and outdoor work would be more suitable for men.
Occasionally, however, some men might more fittingly handle certain of
the lighter tasks and what is generally considered women's work, and
again, women might do heavier tasks which seem more appropriate for
men whenever conditions of strength, need, or circumstance warranted.
For all human tasks, I am inclined to believe, are a common obligation
and are common for men and women, and none is necessarily
appointed for either one exclusively, but some pursuits are more suited
to the nature of one, some to the other, and for this reason some are
called men's work and some women's. But whatever things have
reference to virtue, these one would properly say are equally
appropriate to the nature of both, inasmuch as we agree that virtues are
in no respect more fitting for the one than the other.
So we see that Musonius' main qualm with the gender inequality was the idea that women were naturally inferior to men in morality - an idea prevalent in the Middle Ages, and one which the Bible hardly agrees with. That Jesus does not speak of women's education as being equal to men's means nothing as he emphasizes moral and not secular education.
Whereas Jesus employs violence and arrogance to remove the sellers of sacrificial animals (and those changing money, no doubt to aid in paying the temple tax) from the temple, Musonius uses only peaceful persuasion to get gladiatorial games removed from the sacred area of Dionysus, even though this was a far more deplorable sight.
Unlike Jesus, Musonius had no power over the gladiatorial games except through peaceful persuasion. The allegation that Jesus removed the moneychangers who were doing nothing but aiding the paying of the temple tax is, of course, a biased, false statement - the Gospels make it clear that they were scamming people and taking their money. Should Carrier want to argue that wasn't the case, let him provide the evidence and not his anti-Christian opinion. If Carrier thinks that Jesus should have sat down and debated with these people, then he has never been at a place where everyone is intent on scamming you - no words will stop people like these. It's one thing to do this at your house, it's quite another to do it in the Temple of God. Moreover, Musonius himself wasn't opposed to physical assault by giving the example of the courage the female tribe of the Amazons in their ability to use arms (Lecture 4) - something that Jesus says quite the opposite about.
Jesus' Advice for Dependence on God
Carrier grossly misinterprets Jesus' advice about not worrying (excessively when nothing can be done by doing that!):
My point was that if we "looked after the kingdom" and acted like the birds, never worrying about cultivating food to eat, but expecting God "to add all things" to us--including food--we would starve.
I've heard similar objections to this, which go along the lines of, "If I don't worry about next month's rent check, I am going to live on the street."
Well you can be sure Jesus never intended for someone to be completely careless about their material situation. Had that been the case, Paul would have never worried for a single minute about any of his missions, yet the total opposite was the case. This advice's practicality is shown by the fact that both Musonius and his student, Epictetus, agree with this with respect to a traveling philosopher.
The example of birds always finding food is, of course, not true about absolutely every bird, and folks who live in northern areas where it's colder and food is scarcer can certainly testify to that. That is not Jesus' point at all - the bird species survives, and the example is given for a Judean audience, not an arctic zone one. Any animal that lives off the land and does fine testifies to this example. It's not about never worrying about something, but making that worry your life's focus when it won't do any good. For example, when Columbus sailed west, he and his crew were anxious so that their supplies wouldn't run out and leave them dead. Once they found land, they weren't worried about that anymore - food and water were guaranteed! It is the same point that Jesus makes, one which Paul and the disciples used on their missionary travels (Luke 22:35). This doesn't mean not worrying about it when you need to deal with it - it means not worrying about it when it no longer depends on you.
I will now turn to a set of parables and sayings by Jesus that Carrier groups as "brutish", and "simplistic", the only part of his article with any consistent organization, ironically, in his conclusion. I will turn to his category of "not very sophisticated or clear" discourses by Jesus in the next section.
III. "Brutish" parables
Under footnote seven, Richard Carrier gives these examples as "brutish": "Matthew 22:8-14, 25:14-30, Luke 16:19-31, etc." We don't have to worry about the "etc" as it will become clear after the three actually given that his logic is somewhat biased and flawed. Carrier in his reply to Amy Sayers says that he didn't mean that Jesus' point behind the examples was brutish, but that the examples themselves were using ungodly actions as parallels. So we will deal with it from the point of view of the brutish point first, acknowledging that this wasn't Carrier's view, for the sake of clarification, and later the supposed "brutish" nature will be discussed in general.
The Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14)
From this parable, Carrier quotes only verses 8-14, referring to the man who attended the king's wedding with inappropriate garments:
And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:12-14, ESV)
a man invited to a party is tied up and thrown helpless into the night, simply because he wasn't well dressed. Imagine that happening in real life. Any decent person would call it brutish.
It's clear that Carrier in his blind zeal has completely missed the point of the parable. Jesus isn't using this analogy to agree that it's ok for a king or someone rich to throw someone inappropriately dressed where "there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth". He is using the example of someone who came inappropriately dressed, was obviously too lazy or disrespectful to do otherwise, being speechless, and as would be done by a king or someone like that, would be thrown out of the wedding (certainly not killed, perhaps beaten). The parable refers to the one invited who tries to enter the Kingdom of Heaven without the works that true repentance gives - the servant who wasn't doing what the master bid him do when the master returned.
This is no more a "brutish" parable than pointing out that if you try to go to court with shorts and sandals, you'll be promptly booted and told to return with appropriate attire. The disrespect that exists when a man refuses to put on good clothes at the king's wedding purposefully would have been much more insulting in those days. 2 Maccabees 2:26-27 compares the toil and lack of sleep in abbreviating a history to someone making a banquet: "For us who have undertaken the toil of abbreviating, it is no light matter but calls for sweat and loss of sleep, just as it is not easy for one who prepares a banquet and seeks the benefit of others. Nevertheless, to secure the gratitude of many we will gladly endure the uncomfortable toil" (NRSVCE). It would have been like showing up to the President's visit drunk: no one can blame security if that guy got escorted out simply because of his odd behavior even if he wasn't causing trouble. In those days, it was very hard for someone to put a banquet for others. The fact that Jesus uses the king's example of binding the guest and throwing him out doesn't mean he agrees with the brutality of that reality: he didn't cast fire on the Samaritans as James and John proposed (Luke 9:51-56). Certainly, then, Jesus is using the earthly conduct of people as an example, not in agreement with, but an analogy to something that is worthy of being bound and cast into darkness - unrepentance.
The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)
We can understand why Carrier considers this parable "brutish" - it seems as if the servant, out of fear, didn't want to lose the master's talent, for which he's severely punished. Carrier tries to excuse this by appealing to the servant's statement that he was afraid:
a man who saves money, out of innocent fear of the cruelty of his master, is fired from his job, rather than taught how to do better. The economics of the parable entail that what he feared was losing his master's money on the loan market--a valid fear in those days--and, after all, he was not instructed to do anything else. Imagine a boss who acted this way toward you. Any decent person would call him brutish. Indeed, in Luke's version of this same lesson, though the poor sod is told what to do (so in this version perhaps he deserved to get fired), his boss then murders everyone who doesn't like him (Luke 19:12-27), which is certainly brutish.
The fact is, the servant was only saying that he was afraid, and was simply "slothful" (25:26) and would have invested the money with the bankers if he had really been afraid to lose the money (25:27). The loan market was not a fearful thing at all for the lender - only a fearful thing for the one borrowing the money. The only problem would be if someone ran away with it, which is why only people who were known would be lent to. We're told in the beginning of the parable that the money was given each according to his ability (25:15). So it is obviously laziness and refusal to do what his master wanted, with an excuse, that made the one that received one talent to bury it.
The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:16-31)
an insolent rich man is suffering infinite pain and torment and begs merely for a moment of respite--he does not beg to be released from hell or for his torment to be permanently lightened. No. All he asks for is a single drop of water on his tongue! God won't even grant so humble a wish as this. Imagine that happening in real life. You would consider it brutish indeed.
This example of Carrier's is the worst and least convincing of them all. The rich man who was uncaring all his life begs for a "moment of respite" now that he is being punished for his lack of care. If he got a moment of respite, which he now begs for now that he has seen what his works led to, having tasted a brief end to his tortures, he would want two more. If anything, that's worse than being given nothing. Moreover, Abraham's response best describes this hypocritical change of heart and how nothing will mend it: "If they [the rich man's five unrepentant brothers] do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead."
IV. "Simplistic" Lessons
These three verses are considered by Carrier as simplistic lessons. So let's see what they say and be amazed at what Carrier thinks he sees:
Luke 16:16 - “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it." (ESV)
I'm certain that Carrier's beef with this verse has to do with the last statement, "and everyone forces his way into it." This might sound strange, but in its Jewish context it makes perfect sense. J. P. Holding writes,
And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. What is the meaning of this verse? Bivin and Blizzard (Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus, 123ff) explain that it relates to a rabbinic midrashic exegesis of Micah 2:12-13, "I will surely assemble, O Jacob, all of thee; I will surely gather the remnant of Israel; I will put them together as the sheep of Bozrah, as the flock in the midst of their fold: they shall make great noise by reason of the multitude of men. The breaker is come up before them: they have broken up, and have passed through the gate, and are gone out by it: and their king shall pass before them, and the LORD on the head of them." The picture is of a shepherd penning his sheep for the night, blocking the exit with stones, which in the morning he opens by tossing some of the stones aside. The sheep are anxious to get out, pushing and shoving and breaking the hole open even more. Rabbinic midrash interpreted the shepherd as Elijah and the king as the Messiah. "Suffereth violence" here means "breaking forth" and "the violent take it by force" means "those who are breaking out, break out by means of it." The verse is therefore saying in essence that John opened the breach and now Jesus the king is leading the people, the sheep, through it. Indeed, one may regard this as a clear claim to divinity, as Jesus identifies himself as the Lord Yahweh. (Matthew 11:12)
Luke 16:17 - "But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void." (ESV)
Exactly what's simplistic about this verse is beyond me. Jesus is in essence saying that the Law or any part of it has never and won't ever be void. Jesus always upheld the Law as inspired, but it was the new application of the Law that he now ushered.
Luke 16:18 - "Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery." (ESV)
Why this needs more elaboration is unknown to me. Jesus is stating a fact as well-known to the Jews as the sky being blue is to us (and them).
On the other hand, if Carrier is trying to say that Jesus is being too undescriptive and is not explaining enough, then he needs to understand two things. One is that, particularly in Luke's Gospel, many of Jesus' sayings were collected out of order and context. This much was recognized in the case of Mark as well, as early as the beginning of the second century as we know from Papias' famous comments on the origin of the Gospel of Matthew and Mark ("Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ." apud Eusebius, Church History, Book 3, Chapter 39.15).
Secondly, these and other sayings considered "vague" and "unclear" by Carrier are easily understood by everyone today and no one had a problem understanding them back then. Carrier considers this interpreting beyond the text, but to be honest, it is Carrier's lack of intellectual honesty that limits the meaning of the verses, not the text itself. Luke 16:16 is easily understandable - Jesus brought the Gospel, everything else was applicable until John, and now the righteous follow Jesus, the shepherd, to the kingdom. Luke 16:17 needs no elaboration - none of the Law will be voided. Luke 16:18 is just as understandable - a divorced man or woman commits adultery if he marries another. Paul elaborates a bit more in 1 Corinthians 7:39, saying, "A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord" which is not much elaboration at all, nor is one needed!
On the subject of equality between men and women, Jesus does not tell us much, mostly because these social issues are overshadowed by a moral teacher's concern for the personal attitude and behavior. Be that as it may, I will add that Jesus appeared first of all to women after his resurrection. Besides this, greed, gluttony, hatred, and other similar sins were certainly much more central to the focus of Jesus and the Gospels than gender equality would have been.
V. The Clarity of Jesus and Musonius
Before I even discuss Carrier's errors about what makes someone less clear than someone else, I'd like to point out something that sort of eliminates the majority of points Carrier makes here. Carrier complains about the allegorical and metaphorical language Jesus uses, which has never been less clear than the straightforward interpretation one would give it, saying that,
It is true that one can reinterpret what Jesus said so that he didn't mean this, but the very fact that we have to engage that exegesis is what makes his teaching less clear. Not unclear. Less clear.
One can easily find numerous examples in the Talmud and other rabbinical sources to show that Jesus' highly metaphorical language was unusual and that the Jews easily would have believed a literal interpretation of his statements and parables, as his disciples do numerous times (Matthew 13:36, 16:5-7, Luke 24:25-27, etc). Jesus' parables that Carrier cites as less than clear cannot be compared to Musonius' straightforward instruction, because that is the kind of instruction Jesus gave privately to his disciples (Mark 4:33-34, Matt. 13:10-15, 36ff.), who had real faith to stay and not merely hang around to get something from a miracle such as food (i.e. John 6:53-70, where he purposefully makes a statement that causes those who only came for the free meal to show their lack of faith and leave).
So with this in mind, as well as the fact that neither the earliest Christians, nor any generation that followed had any problem with interpreting Jesus, not to mention that Jesus gave numerous pieces of advice without a parable and simply reiterated some things that way, it kind of eliminates Carrier's already strained objection. Nevertheless, we proceed to look at some of his claims below.
Now, I have to mention something about Carrier's misguided notion of what makes better, clearer advice. He basically seems to think that the better the story is phrased, or the more dramatic that it is, the "clearer" or "morally higher" the advice and moral is. This is not true, and I will give a somewhat surprising example. As any art historian will tell you, the sculptures of the ancient Greeks, compared with later European Renaissance ones, is very bland. Edith Hamilton writes in The Greek Way to Western Civilization:
This [Renaissance] art, the art natural to us, has always been an art of rich detail. In a Gothic cathedral not an inch is left unelaborated in a thousand marvellous patterns of delicate tracery worked in the stone. In a great Renaissance portrait minutest distinctions of form and color are dwelt upon with loving care, frost-work of lace, patterned brocade, the finely wrought links of a chain, a jewelled ring, wreathed pearls in the hair, the sheen of silk and satin and fur-bordered velvet, beauty of detail both sumptuous and exquisite. It is eminently probable that if the temples and the statues of Greece had only just been discovered, we would look at them dismayed at the lack of any of the elaboration of beauty we are used to. To turn from St. Mark’s or Chartres to the Parthenon for the first time, or from a Titian to the Venus of Milo never seen before, would undoubtedly be a chilling experience. The statue in her straight, plain folds, her hair caught back simply in a knot, no ornament of any description to set her off, placed beside the lady of the Renaissance or the European lady of any period, is a contrast so great, only our long familiarity with her enables us not to feel her too austere to enjoy. She shows us how unlike what the Greeks wanted in beauty was from what the world after them has wanted. (1959, p.48).
She also writes:
Familiarity has made their [the Greeks'] statues and their temples beautiful to us as none are more. (Ibid., p.49).
It is exactly the same situation with the Greek way of writing as Hamilton also tells us:
So the lover of great literature when he is confronted all unprepared with the Greek way of writing, feels chilled at first, almost estranged. The Greeks wrote on the same lines as they did everything else. Greek writing depends no more on ornament than the Greek statue does. It is plain writing, direct, matter-of-fact. It often seems, when translated with any degree of literalness, bare, so unlike what we areused to as even to repel. (p.48)
When commenting on scholars who ornament Greek translations into English, she writes:
The difficulty is there, no doubt, and yet if we are unable to get enjoyment from a direct translation, we shall never know what Greek writing is like...but to love the truth stated with simplicity as well as the truth set off by every adornment the imagination can devise, to care for the Greek way of writing as well as the English way, is to be immensely the richer...(p.49)
So, unless the lesson that is taught is defective, or the analogy that is used is very ambiguous, Carrier's comments have no weight.
Socrates and Phaedrus once were discussing a certain piece of writing for which the younger man had a great admiration. He insisted that Socrates should feel the same. "Well," said the latter, "as to the sentiments, I submit to your judgment but as to the style, I doubt whether the author himself would be able to defend it. I speak under correction, but I thought he repeated himself two or three times, either from want of words or want of pains. And he seemed to me ambitious to show that he could say the same thing over in two or three ways-" We are lovers of beauty with economy, said Pericles. Words were to be used sparingly like everything else. (Ibid., pp.56-57)
Thus we now turn to the other aspect of Carrier's critique of Jesus' sayings, especially with respect to Musonius. The clarity that Carrier claims is absent in Jesus is, of course, nothing but Carrier's imagination. However, he refers to people's honest and factual interpretations of Jesus' highly allegorical and metaphoric parables and advice as false:
Of course, one can "interpret" these tales [Matthew 22:8-14, Matthew 25:14-30, Luke 16:19-31] and say they are just metaphors and so on, and thus we can make the meaning no more brutish than God's actual plan. I was not objecting to that. Rather, what I was getting at is that the stories themselves are brutish. They are needlessly brutish metaphors that tacitly accept brutality in the real world as a valid analogy for God himself to follow--even though God is supposed to be better than brutish people like these. Imagine telling your kids such stories, where wedding guests are bound and hurled out into the street simply for being poorly dressed, where innocently fearful bankers are fired merely for the crime of saving money, or where God lacks even enough mercy in his heart to place a single drop of water onto a burning man's tongue. Imagine the look of horror on your children's faces, imagine the skewed sense of decency they would learn; no loving soul can claim these are not brutish tales, no matter how "true" they may be.
I can't help but feel that this isn't entirely the case with Carrier's first article, but I'll concede that I can't know and will accept his statements here. One thing that we can be certain about that, however, is that between Jesus, Musonius, and Richard Carrier, the last one is the most unclear and needs the most amount of clarification about what he means!
So, why is it that Carrier needs to ask us to imagine "telling your kids such stories"? Are these stories meant for kids or adults? Moreover, many parents across countless generations and families have read the Bible to their children as bedtime stories and we would have heard a lot more from them if this was the case, as opposed to Carrier. The stories themselves are very good examples of the severity of immorality. The guest was welcome, but didn't bother dressing himself correctly. The servant preferred to do nothing with the talent his master gave him to increase. The rich man's wickedness and not being given a drop of water to cool his tongue - needs no explanation. These examples that use typical behavior one might have seen in ancient Palestine are not "brutish" since their points are direct and precise. Nor are we to fault Jesus for using typical behavior his audience might have been familiar with in these few instances since they would best relate to that. Using the master's harsh attitude toward his servant as an example is no more a fault than Jesus' usage of the example of an invading king who considers his strength (Luke 14:31-32). If anything, the brutish examples of these parables would say something like - "If these unrighteous people [i.e. the king at the wedding feast, and the master with the talents] will do these excessive things for the right reason, imagine how much more severe it will be for those that offend God and deserve such punishments." An example of this is the Parable of the Persistent Widow in Luke 18:1-8 where an unrighteous judge is bothered so much that he finally executes justice just to be left alone, with verse 7 saying, "And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?" Overall, then, unless Carrier finds an actual defect in the parables' analogies, he can't really claim any kind of "brutishness", at least in these three examples.
Of course, we can "reinterpret" what Jesus was really trying to get at, in a manner like what Sayers attempts, but the fact that we have to do all this shows exactly what I claimed: that the point Jesus is trying to make is not as clear as the point Musonius made.
Completely untrue. The only reason we are "reinterpreting" something is because Carrier needs to have it explained to him.
But can we really agree with Carrier that something stated more beautifully, or appeallingly is better? For instance, in his own example of an anecdote about Musonius, Carrier writes:
But what makes him so admirably human is his sense of humor, a classic case of which, an example that in my opinion sets him above Jesus as a more human and interesting teacher, I will produce here:
This sentiment is shared by a similar anecdote about Aristotle which goes something like this:
"Musonius," Herodes said, "ordered a thousand sesterces [silver coins] to be given to a beggar of the sort who was pretending to be a philosopher, and when several people told him that the rascal was a bad and vicious fellow, deserving of nothing good, Musonius, they say, answered with a smile, 'Well then he deserves money'." (Fragment 50)
Once Aristotle gave money to a beggar. The people told him, "Why do you give money to this bad man?" To this, Aristotle answered, "I gave him money not because he is bad, but because he is a man."
I'm sure everyone will acknowledge that this anecdote is more powerful in sentiment than the one about Musonius. Compared to Musonius' case, the point is far more directly stated. But that doesn't make Musonius' case any less clear - simply less emphasized. It is the same with Jesus' parables in the few examples that Carrier has been able to procure.
Carrier in footnote 6 cites this as his first example of five where Jesus is supposedly "unclear". Since this seems to be referring to the Sermon on the Mount in general, which everyone will agree is far from unclear, it's not worth seeing this as anything other than Carrier's typical polemic, unless he bothers to provide specific examples.
These verses clearly talk about the division Christianity would create amidst the most basic unit of society - the family. It is not explicitly stated in Luke's Gospel, but this is obvious from the parallel in Matthew 10:34-39, particularly from verse 37.
These two verses are unclear, I admit, but that is not because of Jesus but because of Luke's arrangement, which is usually more disjointed than that of Matthew's. The parallel in Matthew 10:34-39 shows the clarity with which this message was given. In general, the isolated, unorganized sayings in Luke are much more numerous and this is not a mark against Jesus' clarity.
I don't see what Carrier finds unclear about these verses. As we have noted in the Luke 14:25-27 section immediately above, if anything, Luke's arrangement makes Jesus seem unclear. The message of the verses themselves, however, is completely understandable. In Luke 17:1-2 Jesus warns against those who create temptations for others. Luke 17:3-4 is a statement about forgiveness, far more profound in my opinion than the example Carrier quotes of Musonius. Finally, Luke 17:5-6 is a statement about lack of faith that I don't see any confusion about.
We can already see that Carrier just scrolled down a few chapters from Luke 10-20 and threw in the Sermon on the Mount as supposed examples of Jesus being unclear in his teachings. This piece of advice is something that anyone who has had a job will understand. When you do your job, for which you are paid, you might get thanked in the beginning, just to welcome you to the team, but after awhile, your job is your job - you don't get thanked except with a check. In the case of a servant, the same is true, except in the age when people worked their own fields and didn't have employers, the only example that could be given is that of your slave, and thanking him for something that wasn't anything out of the ordinary would seem just as silly as the employer thanking the employee for the same. Why Carrier sees this as unclear, I do not know.
Carrier's comments about a parallel statement by Musonius to Jesus' statement in Matthew 6:26, although correct in my opinion to suppose a non-Judeo-Christian origin, are equally incorrect about the Gospel verse being out of context:
[I]t is reasonable to see perhaps that these [developments of Stoic philosophy] influenced Jesus or Paul and all subsequent Christian doctrine. In fact, the analogy of the "birds who do not sow or reap" (Matt. 6.26) is found also in Musonius, and one wonders whether this was a popular idiom, or if the Gospels were infected by the sayings of other men, placing them in the mouth of Jesus[:]
First of all, Musonius' example is much worse for the simple reason that it is completely untrue! How many parents have had starving children! Secondly, who actually thinks Jesus was saying to never reap and sow literally like the birds? Moreover, how is it that Musonius resolves this when he says the exact same thing, only in a "better" context, according to Carrier? Here Carrier completely misinterprets the Gospel verse which doesn't mean to be carefree and never think about finding food and that no one should ever work, but not to go beyond what you can do - not to worry. This is especially aimed at people whose lives depended mainly on farming, fishing, and trading, which usually depended on luck just as much as work.
Whence do the little birds, which are much poorer than you, feed their young, the swallows and nightingales and larks and blackbirds? Homer speaks of them in these words, "Even as a bird carries to her unfledged young whatever morsels she happens to come upon, though she fares badly herself" [Iliad 9.323]. Do these creatures surpass man in intelligence? You certainly would not say that. In strength and endurance, then? No, still less in that respect. Well, then, do they put away food and store it up? Not at all, and yet they rear their young and find sustenance for all that are born to them. The plea of poverty, therefore, is unjustified.
[I]t appears to be based on independent reasoning, whereas the Gospel version appears incomplete or the logic of the analogy unclear--one immediately notes that humans starve if they do not reap or sow, so surely something is missing, which is provided by Musonius. So it seems more likely that the Christian saying is a less competent borrowing from Musonius, or from a much older idiom circulating among the people. Whatever the case, whereas the Christians associate the analogy with a guarantee that "God will take care of you" (a claim we know from long experience to be false--he who does not work, does not eat), Musonius associates it with exactly the opposite notion: that humans can and ought to work for their keep and the welfare of their children.
Moreover, it's highly unlikely that Musonius' statement was copied here, any more than that Musonius copied Christians. Had that been the case, we would have detected a lot more of him and other philosophers. Similar coincidences with even Roman politicians occur (the saying of "he who can be trusted with little can be trusted with much"), and so these have to be left as coincidences arising out of a common wisdom between sages. That and the terminology's differences make a direct connection unlikely. Moreover, if Homer and Musonius can come up with such an example on their own, then so can Jesus. For example, Epictetus, albeit a student of Musonius', develops the argument quite further and in terms that are much closer to the Gospel than Musonius. In his argument that the philosopher has nothing to fear in terms of starvation when traveling, Epictetus writes:
But a man may say, "Whence shall I get bread to eat when I have nothing?"
This version is much closer to the same point Jesus makes in Matthew 6:25-34, not to be anxious about tomorrow in a way that this becomes your entire life. Yet, somehow the Gospel's statement is less clear than Musonius' version! The point that Epictetus makes is essentially Jesus' - the philosopher obviously will look for food, but he won't make it his highest priority. The point of is not that God will do everything for you and you won't do a thing. And it is interesting to note how Carrier cites "he who does not work, does not eat", perhaps not realizing that this comes from 2 Thessalonians 3:10. Moreover, the impact of Hellenism by Jesus' day would naturally avail Jews to ideas and concepts that had Greek origin. This isn't syncretism - this is merely a similar way of expressing related, though sometimes different ideas. For example, in Matthew 5:8, Jesus says, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." (ESV). Hans Dieter Betz in The Sermon on the Mount notes that the connection between the purity of the soul and vision of God originated with the Greeks. The concept, however, is universal as can be seen from the parallel in Psalm 24:3-4. In the same way, Musonius, Epictetus, and Jesus could have easily used similar analogies for related purposes.
And how do slaves, and runaways, on what do they rely when they leave their masters? Do they rely on their lands or slaves, or their vessels of silver? They rely on nothing but themselves, and food does not fail them. And shall it be necessary for one among us who is a philosopher to travel into foreign parts, and trust to and rely on others, and not to take care of himself, and shall he be inferior to irrational animals and more cowardly, each of which, being self-sufficient, neither fails to get its proper food, nor to find a suitable way of living, and one conformable to nature? (Book I, Chapter 9)
Carrier defends the idea that Musonius' version is clearer and makes more sense in his response to Amy Sayers, saying:
[T]he analogy does seem snatched out of context. The Musonius version makes the appeal to birds completely expected, and is explicable as deriving from a quotation from Homer. By contrast, Jesus just comes up with the analogy (the same analogy, worded differently) out of the blue, and it is not a good fit for his argument. In other words, it is unclear why Jesus chose this analogy, whereas it is entirely clear why Musonius did.
I don't see how the appeal to birds being unexpected has any bearing on the clarity of the message. Epictetus' example above brings up animals as completely unexpectedly as Jesus' does, yet just like Jesus' message, it makes perfect sense. That Musonius derives it from Homer doesn't make the least bit of difference. And how is the analogy in Matthew 6:26 not a "good fit"? "Don't worry about tomorrow so much - like the birds who find food, so will you" is the basic message as anyone can see. The only thing that is unclear is how Carrier expects anyone to believe his absurd argument.
In conclusion, Carrier shows his bias and resulting intellectual handicap in the following argumentation about Matthew 18:8-9:
The same goes for Sayers' second point, her "reinterpretation" of what Jesus said about having lustful thoughts...And though Sayers doesn't think Jesus meant we should literally mutilate ourselves to suppress "bad" thoughts, it remains a fact that Jesus never said what Sayers does. This means Sayers is stating the point a lot more clearly than Jesus did, which is exactly my point about Jesus being less clear. Certainly, Jesus may have "meant" something more metaphorical or may have been speaking hyperbolically. I did not argue otherwise...
Well, I guess now Carrier is trying to throw us into the abyss by maintaining that if something isn't explicitly stated, then the person giving the (extremely obvious) interpretation is the one being clear. I don't think that's the case - Amy Sayers apparently was trying to explain simple things with respect to Carrier's ludicrous logic. That's neither Jesus' nor Sayers' fault - it's Carrier's. An even worse example of Carrier's logic is here:
Some even interpret his statements against blasphemy (Mark 3:28-30, Matthew 12:31-33, Luke 12:8-10) as criminalizing thought--again, it isn't clear.
Well, being unclear isn't always worse than clarity, especially when a purpose is served. Moreover, we have 2000 years of commentaries by people who had access to reliable traditions, common sense (Carrier's weak point here), and fluent knowledge of Koine Greek and its culture and phrases.
Finally, in "The Real Jesus," Sayers tries to elevate Jesus to the level of Musonius by highlighting his better qualities, or at least the better interpretations and "spin" one can put on what we are told about him...she points to passages that, in her opinion, show that Jesus was at least somewhat "down to earth." But I never claimed otherwise--I only claimed that Musonius was "more down to earth," and only in my opinion.
Once again, Carrier calls common sense and logic "spin". Musonius is certainly not more "down to earth" as the next section on his errors will show. Carrier's denial here is obvious:
Likewise, she agrees with my actual point that there is no record of Jesus laughing, etc., and merely retorts that she can imagine Jesus did such things. That does not challenge anything I actually said. Nor does her perfectly valid claim that Jesus was not completely inhuman. What I actually claimed is that Jesus was depicted in the manner of someone inhuman, and only in the sense that a man with no sense of humor is "disturbing and inhuman." I did not claim that Jesus was depicted as devoid of all compassion or any other human virtue. So Sayers is arguing against a position I never maintained.
That's certainly not the impression Carrier's first article gives - he is clearly implying that the lack of Gospel verses testifying to Jesus cracking jokes means he is somewhat inhuman or certainly close to it. Well, sorry, Carrier, but Jesus had a very serious task - saving souls. And the Gospel writers didn't have the time to waste on recording the jokes and laughter Jesus certainly would have made. The only thing that I find inhuman is the maligning dishonesty Carrier stoops down to just to make the obscure point that Musonius was a better moral teacher, and then to run away from his own implications that he makes about Jesus, knowing that he has thrown all tact and truth out the window.
VI. Errors of Musonius
Finally, I want to point out flaws in Musonius' character that separate him by far from Jesus. I'm not trying to denigrate one person in order to make another one look better. I'm simply going to point out one or two places where I believe Musonius is a bit unjustly harsh in his judgment, the sort of thing that we do not see in Jesus.
The most important point I'd like to make is Musonius' statements after his exile. Having been exiled, he certainly felt pain and was unhappy with the situation, though he tries to mask it. However, in the process of masking this pain, he attacks others for somewhat ridiculous reasons. Musonius calls it stupid to be sad that one is exiled from his beloved city. (Lecture 9) He also tries to justify exile with various good things that have happened to exiled people - merely because he himself was exiled, or the like - to soften the horror for others. He also chastises those who do not speak up despite the fear of punishment such as death or beatings as cowardly. Finally, when personally touched, and somewhat embarrassed by his exile, he calls those who do not like it stupid, just to somewhat placate himself. Not to mention that his exile analogy is unclear, and he is somewhat unclear as to the cause and cure of some people becoming evil after exiled, whereas if you're virtuous, you are noble in exile.
We don't see such contradictory advice in Jesus, nor do we see Jesus lashing out at others when he is pressed by even more urgent matters than Musonius. For example, Jesus tells all the disciples that they would abandon him at his arrest. He gently admonishes Peter, saying he has prayed for him. Peter disagrees, saying he would gladly lay down his life for him. Jesus calmly tells him that he would betray him before the rooster crows, to which all the disciples continue to disagree that this would be so, which Jesus leaves alone.
Another example is when Jesus is saddened that Peter, John, and James were unable to stay awake with Jesus during his last moments. However, he comments that the "spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." Where is the difference between this attitude and Musonius' hurt pride simply due to exile?
Carrier concludes as follows:
But from what we have, what strikes me is that I would much rather have him in my company than Jesus.
Only Carrier's bias can blind someone this much as we have shown above. Of course, Carrier would probably be quick to part company with Musonius as soon as the latter starts talking about his disdain of homosexuality, abortion, and his acceptance of a universe ordered according to God's plan.
Jesus is never recorded as smiling or laughing or telling a joke, and a man with no sense of humor is no kin of mine. Indeed, such a man is disturbing and inhuman. Musonius, like Socrates and Epicurus and even Confucius and Lao Tzu, has more in common with us, is more down to earth...
Yet can Carrier show us one place where Socrates laughs? Where he smiles? To me the emotion Jesus displayed by weeping (John 11:35), one of the shortest verses in the Bible, is much more human than the absurd criticism Carrier, ahem, carries, such as the Gospels not recording Jesus smiling or laughing or telling a joke. Later, apocryphal gospels do that just fine, and they include the imaginary acts of the gnostic Jesus to his imaginary criteria of what is down to Earth and human.
Musonius is a superior speaker and reasoner, and his ideals are more human-centered and practical, and ultimately more developed and defensible.
We've already shown why a superior speaker whose message is less profound is not superior at all. Musonius' reasoning is actually poorer in some situations (i.e. his argumentation that poor parents can provide for all their children the way birds do - clearly false; the Gospel parallel does nothing of the sort), and is overall far from superior. The same goes for more developed and defensible: Jesus doesn't have the errors Musonius does such as the example with the analogy of "birds do not reap or sow", which means it is not practical and much of Jesus' wisdom is more developed such as the instruction to forgive seventy seven times, thus it is not less "human-centered" - a pretty inaccurate term as both men's wisdom is entirely human-centered.
Hands that help are better than lips that pray.
Carrier gives us this quote after his misinterpretation of Matthew 6:25-34. Of course, if these lips that prayed made a miracle, we would have a different story. But the service that the lips of Carrier have given us in his article and its follow up response is not very useful. He agrees with Musonius when it suits him on morality, but disagrees with Musonius' various injunctions on sexual immorality. However, he is quick to commend Musonius on equating a slavegirl with a freedwoman in reproaching forced sex with her. He consistently misinterprets and puts words into Musonius' mouth when no such concepts apparently existed in the man's mind. He doesn't even really know much about the opinion of the early Christians on various issues. But even more profound than "Hands that help are better than lips that pray," is the fact that, "Lips that pray are better than mouths that talk."