This post covers part of Christian internet apologist J. P. Holding's response to atheist Richard Carrier's chapter 9 in the book "Not the Impossible Faith" which is a refutation of Holding's original online essays which are no longer online. This post will be part of The Richard Carrier Project.
The issues of this post are:
- Is (J. P. Holding's version of ) the Christian doctrine of Jesus' incarnation coherent?
- Did Jesus claim to be Yahweh incarnate by identifying himself with the Jewish concept of Wisdom?
In a previous blog entry I wrote this:
This brings up the issue of the coherency of Christian concepts of the doctrine of the Trinity. An entity with a separate will and a separate knowledge base (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 22:42; Luke 2:52; Matthew 24:36) is a different person. Even if you choose to do the will of someone else, that doesn't make you them. Even if they grant you superpowers and equal authority, that doesn't make you them either. Being them is what makes you them. What's the difference between the Holy Spirit influencing or informing Jesus at times and influencing other prophets? I don't know. I don't know what it means to say that Jesus is the same as Yahweh if all the components of not being that god are conceded to be as a separate human person. It just sounds like a bunch of nonsense.How does Holding deal with this? He asserts:
Personhood is not incompatible with being an attribute of another person.Um...yeah it is. As long as it is admitted that Jesus and Yahweh are two persons, that's two different gods (Or rather, Yahweh is a god, and Jesus is just an honorary god since he clearly would have all human components and whatever divine ones must have been slapped on like what could be done to any human). It simply doesn't mean anything to claim that Jesus and Yahweh are the same being when Jesus is clearly meant to have all the limitations and faculties of the human condition and an independent will. The things that make each person their own person are the same things that make them two separate beings.
The closest thing I can think of to help a Christian position out here is the Borg from Star Trek and the problem there is that even if there is a hive mind with people who are attributes of that greater collective, those "people" are actually drones with no free will. The character Jesus had the option of doing his own thing on more than one occasion in the gospels. A hive mind of distinctive persons with their own will and knowledge bases is really incoherent gibberish. It's just like normal people being on the internet.
In terms of other conceptual possibilities, a human brain couldn't even process an iota of Yahweh's infinitude of anything, and it would have nothing meaningful to contribute to it. A facsimile of Yahweh's personality in human brain form would infinitely pale in comparison to the real thing ("I'll call him mini-Me!"). I'm sure some of the official Christian concepts rely on superstitious concepts of the mind/body problem that are not immediately evident. The only way Jesus and Yahweh could be one being is if Jesus is just an empty avatar body for Yahweh's will, like he's playing a video game. Obviously that's also heretical for most mainstream Christianities.
Holding skips a whole section of Carrier's chapter because of Carrier's supposed ignorance on an important concept of Holding's that he addresses elsewhere.
Holding equates Jesus with the Jewish concept of "Wisdom" and says:
In Hebrew and Ancient Near Eastern thought, words were not merely sounds, or letters on a page; words were things that "had an independent existence and which actually did things."So, apparently because of ancient superstitions about wisdom, all of the sudden this incarnation makes sense? It's a common human mental bias to externalize things and treat it like a personal agent. This sounds like a textbook case of that. Hardly a sound foundation for a supernatural belief system. [Note, Carrier actually responds to this Wisdom objection in his book on pages 249-250.]
The fact that ancient Jews accepted other semi-personified not-god god concepts doesn't make the concept coherent. It just moves the incoherence back to that and explains that it had precedent (which supports a naturalistic account of Christianity). The personification may have just been metaphorical. In which case Jesus would be a new category of an actual personification of a divine trait. It's hard to tell though with ancient sources, since it can be really hard to tell what they take seriously or what exactly their half-baked philosophy entails if they don't ever explicitly get into it. And lots of philosophers in the history of philosophy say things they just don't mean. Holding's reference to Philo's interpretation of Abraham's 3 divine visitors as an example of a Jew conceiving of a monotheistic trinity is again, just incoherent precedent.
So Holding dismisses some other ancient Christian ideas on Jesus' incarnation that actually make more sense (lol) and moves on to say this:
Christ's functional subordination (just as our words and speech are subordinate to ourselves) and his ontological equality (just as our words represent our authority and our essential nature) with the Father.Our words may "represent" our authority and "essential nature," but that does not make our words either of those things. That's like saying the word apple is an apple.
Holding casually glosses over the fact his references say Wisdom was created, since Jesus as a created being is a heretical view. That's kind of funny.
Jesus' subtle appeals to Wisdom that Holding talks about seem to me to be like what any Jewish wise guy familiar with the traditions might say to themselves when they feel like people aren't listening to them. Probably not a declaration of godhood.
Perhaps Holding could explain if Jesus is identifying with pre-Incarnate Wisdom how exactly he grows in knowledge and *wisdom* as a child (Luke 2:52)?
Also, since presumably Yahweh has more than just 2 attributes, by logical extension, Holding would have to accept the real possibility that he believes in much more than a trinity. Also a heresy. :D
The bottom line is that theologians are just going to have to shortstop logic all over the place and mystify this away since it doesn't really make sense. The construction of the Nicene Creed seems to be more about Christian theologians (over time) backing themselves into corners because they don't like the implications of various views and merely swallowing what they found to be the most traditional elements of their religion even if those ideas differed from later versions they also sandwiched together. Their view of their god is a happenstance historical Frankenstein concept glued together by implausible mystery and unsubstantiated authority.
The last part of my response to the issues of chapter 9 will be, "J. P. Holding Defends a Special Incarnation" dealing with the likelihood of any first century Jews accepting the concept through the filter of how they understood what was possible in Judaism.