A Brief Note on Richard Carrier’s Inability to Read: Why Aging Unemployed Bloggers Need Bifocals (Guest Post by Chris H.)

Note: This is a post written by Chris H. (@unicornwiz) in response to comments made by Richard Carrier (see note #1 below). Chris can be reached on Twitter or at his email address biblicalhistoryskeptic32ad@gmail.com.


Carrier made a really bad article showing how little he cares to read his sources.[1] I am here just going to post the following quotations from Tryggve Mettinger, both from an email correspondence with him I have had and also from two of his published works, which show that not only has Carrier not read his work, he completely misrepresents him. Mettinger never once states that Marduk is a dying-rising god. He says the exact opposite. Mettinger states, and I quote in the following three places:

In 1955, however, von Soden demonstrated that the text that had been basic to the Tammuz interpretation of the nature of Marduk (KAR 143) was a propaganda work composed in Assyria and had nothing to do either with the death and resurrection of Marduk or with the New Year festival.[2]

Zimmern argued, on the basis of the text KAR 143, that the ideas of Tammuz had been transferred to Marduk. This suggestion play an important role in subsequent studies. In 1955, however, von Soden demonstrated that the crucial text was a work of propaganda, composed in Assyria, which had nothing to do with either the death and resurrection of Marduk or the New Year Festival.[3]

If I remember correctly I was of the opinion that von Sonen [sic] is right and that I have not changed my opinion in the meantime. But please do know that I can survive even if someone arrives at different conclusions from what I once did.[4]

Similarly, Carrier does not seem to have taken the context of Eliade’s study seriously. Eliade very clearly defines the Zalmoxian cave and descent in terms of those of Pythagoras’ descent into the underworld. In this context, Eliade states:

Retiring into a hiding place or descending into an underground chamber is ritually and symbolically equivalent to a katabasis, a descensus ad inferos undertaken as a means of initiation.

Though these legends are late [talking of Pythagoras’ descent into the underworld], they help us to grasp the original meaning of Zalmoxis’ underground chamber. It represents an initiatory ritual. This does not necessarily imply that Zalmoxis was a chthonian divinity […]. Descending into Hades means to undergo “initiatory death,” the experience of which can establish a new mode of being.[5]

[A]ccording to Herodotus, Zalmoxis had revealed the possibility of obtaining immortality by an initiation that included a descensus ad inferos and an epiphany, a ritual “death” followed by a “rebirth.”[6]

So according to Eliade, the original meaning of Zalmoxis and his cave can be deciphered by use of Pythagoras’ descent. In short, it was a descent into the underworld. So clear is Eliade’s language here that other writers who have surveyed Eliade have made the same conclusion. As Daskalov and Vezenkov both note:

The second chapter of Eliade’s book describes the Dacian religion as an initiation to immortality. Here, the main reference is, of course the myth of Zalmoxis. His katabasis in the underworld is understood as an “initiatic death,” and his epiphaneia marks the introduction of an eschatological cult based on the belief in immortality.[7]

Carrier simply does not read anything with any amount of care and then accuses others of doing the same.


[1] https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/16144

[2] T. Mettinger, The Riddle of Resurrection (Stockholm: Almqvist and Wiskell, 2001), p. 23

[3] T. Mettinger, “The ‘Dying and Rising God’: A Survey of Research from Frazer to the Present Day,” in Batto and Roberts (eds), David and Zion (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2004), pp. 377-378

[4] Email correspondence between myself and Mettinger.

[5] M. Eliade, Zalmoxis the Vanishing God (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972), pp. 26-27

[6] Eliade, 1972, p. 69.

[7] R. Daskalov and A. Vezenkov (eds), Entangled Histories of the Balkans (Leiden: Brill, 2015), p. 39


Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

6 thoughts on “A Brief Note on Richard Carrier’s Inability to Read: Why Aging Unemployed Bloggers Need Bifocals (Guest Post by Chris H.)

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  1. • Mettinger, Tryggve N.D. (2004) [1998]. “The “Dying and Rising God”. A Survey of Research from Frazer to the Present Day”. In Batto, Bernard Frank; Roberts, Kathryn L. (eds.). David and Zion: Biblical Studies in Honor of J.J.M. Roberts. Eisenbrauns. pp. 373–386. ISBN 978-1-57506-092-7. “First published in: Svensk exegetisk årsbok 63/1998.”

    • Mettinger, Tryggve N. D. (2001). The Riddle of Resurrection: “Dying and Rising Gods” in the Ancient Near East (Coniectanea Biblica, Old Testament, 50). Almqvist & Wiksell International. ISBN 978-91-22-01945-9. [NOW BOLDED]

    • Eliade, Mircea (1972). Zalmoxis: The Vanishing God. University of Chicago Press.

    • Marinov, Tchavdar (2015). “Ancient Thrace in the Modern Imagination: Ideological Aspects of the Construction of Thracian Studies in Southeast Europe (Romania, Greece, Bulgaria)”. In Daskalov, Roumen; Vezenkov, Alexander (eds.). Shared Pasts, Disputed Legacies. Entangled Histories of the Balkans, Vol. 3. BRILL. ISBN 978-90-04-29036-5.

    • Mettinger, Tryggve ap. Hansen, Chris (24 December 2019). “A Brief Note on Richard Carrier’s Inability to Read: Why Aging Unemployed Bloggers Need Bifocals (Guest Post by Chris H.)”. The Amateur Exegete.

    If I remember correctly I was of the opinion that von Sonen [sic] is right and that I have not changed my opinion in the meantime. But please do know that I can survive even if someone arrives at different conclusions from what I once did. (Email correspondence between myself [sc. Chris Hansen] and Mettinger.)

    1) Per clarification, is it correct that Mettinger has not published new material on this topic since 2001?

    2) Chris, do you have the year date for your correspondence with Mettinger? If possible please elaborate on what “I can survive” implies per Mettinger.

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    1. From Chris:

      1) Mettinger has published one other thing (as cited) in 2004 on the subject, where he addresses Marduk. This was his paper in Batto and Roberts’ volume.

      2) The email conversation between Dr. Mettinger and I is from March of 2019, this year.

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  2. Richard carrier presents the following quote in support of his position:

    • Eliade, Mircea (1972) [1970 in French]. Zalmoxis the Vanishing God: Comparative Studies in the Religions and Folklore of Dacia and Eastern Europe tr. Willard R. Trask. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    [T]he “revelation” that he [sc. Zalmoxis] brings to the Getae is communicated through a well-known mythico-ritual scenario of “death” (occultation) and “return to earth” (epiphany) . . . [and features] the return of Zalmoxis in the flesh… —(p. 30)
    […]
    It is true that initiates are believed to go to Zalmoxis after their death, but this does not mean that the god is the Sovereign of the Dead. Zalmoxis’ disappearance, his “death,” is equivalent to a descensus ad inferos as a means of initiation (cf. above, p. 27). By imitating the divine model, the nephyte undergoes a ritual “death” precisely in order to obtain the non-death. the “immortality” which the sources emphasize. —(pp. 46–47)

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    1. From Chris:

      The quote I offered above addresses that already. Eliade states unequivocally that Zalmoxis DOES undergo a descensus ad inferos. He states and I quote once again:

      “[A]ccording to Herodotus, Zalmoxis had revealed the possibility of obtaining immortality by an initiation that included a descensus ad inferos and an epiphany, a ritual “death” followed by a “rebirth.”

      None of the quotes that Carrier brings up have done anything to change this. Carrier bringing up the quote of Eliade saying that descensus ad inferos and death are equivalent does not do anything to change this. Here is another quote wherein Eliade reflects that Zalmoxis’ descent into a cave is a symbol indicating Hades. Eliade states:

      “Though these legends are late [talking of Pythagoras’ descent into the underworld], they help us to grasp the original meaning of Zalmoxis’ underground chamber. It represents an initiatory ritual. This does not necessarily imply that Zalmoxis was a chthonian divinity […]. Descending into Hades means to undergo “initiatory death,” the experience of which can establish a new mode of being.”

      In no way does Eliade ever state that Zalmoxis’ descent is anything but a descensus ad inferos. Carrier simply could not be bothered to read the whole of the book in context and actually pay attention to Eliade’s nuances.

      This is the last word I will add on the matter. The first quote I gave above, along with the support of actual experts in Balkan religion who have interpreted Eliade, defends my positions against the notoriously bad reader Carrier.

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  3. Corrente, Paola (2013). Dioniso y los Dying gods: paralelos metodológicos [PDF]. Diss.: Complutense University of Madrid. [NOW TRANSLATED by Google Translate]

    [3.1.6 Marduk] . . . Marduk received the nickname Bel, ‘sir’, equivalent to the northwestern Semitic Ba‘al. We know that in Babylon the ritual of the Akitu took place, a festival of the new year, of which we also know the myth of reference, since a text was found that preserves the description of part of these sacred ceremonies, during which, we read, there was to recite a sacred text, the Enuma Elish. In the interpretation of the rite and the myth, scholars believed they could recognize all the typical elements of the history of a dying god: a god who dies and his rituals, which stage the sufferings suffered by him, through the mimesis of King, his representative in the world of men. They invoked as proof of this another cuneiform text, the so-called Death and Resurrection of Bel-Marduk, which included sixteen stories in which Marduk’s incarceration was talked about: it was seen as a symbol to designate the death of the god, while his Freedom represented the return to life. Actually, it seems much more likely that the fables had a political sense and that they actually spoke of a judgment against God. A reexamination of the text in question has shown that the traditional interpretations of the poem were wrong and that it was probably an Assyrian composition [by an author] from the years following the conquest of Babylon by the Assyrians (691 / 689a. C.), which was intended prove that, compared to his [Assyrian] god Ashur, Marduk was a weak divinity. In light of this, Marduk cannot be considered a dying god and the rites that concern him also do not correspond to those that took place to remember the death and resurrection of a god. —(pp. 69–70)

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  4. Carrier responds to the quotes presented by Chris in the OP.

    “Comment by Richard Carrier—5 January 2020”—per “Tim O’Neill & the Biblical History Skeptics on Mythicism”. Richard Carrier Blogs. 22 December 2019.

    I don’t see anything here that contradicts what I argued above.

    In OHJ I only address Marduk in relation to his equation to Ba’al and thus am talking about Mettinger’s discussion of Ba’al. I am explicit about that. The single Assyriatic mock text about Marduk isn’t anything I discuss in OHJ and isn’t relevant to anything I say in OHJ.

    And none of these quotes of Eliade contradict my highlighted quotes of Eliade. Hansen is confusing Eliade’s discussion of a general category of shamanic death and rebirth rituals (which includes actual cave descents, actual deaths and resurrections, and actual souls leaving bodies in rituals, all different versions of dying and rising) with the specific variant exhibited by the Getae’s mythology of Zalmoxis. This is why Eliade says Zalmoxis’s death and resurrection is “equivalent to” a descent myth, rather than “is” a descent myth.

    By continuing to mistake “equivalent to” with “is,” Hansen keeps repeating the false claim that the Getae believed Zalmoxis only descended and didn’t die. Herodotus explicitly says the reverse. And indeed, in no text anywhere is it ever said the Getae ever associated any of this with a cave. The cave was a joke made up by Greeks poking fun at the Getae, which the Greeks borrowed from Pythagoras myth. And even in their joke, Zalmoxis never descends to the underworld. The cave is simply used to hide in and pretend he was dead. Which is not a belief any Getae held.

    So there literally is no “descent myth” for Zalmoxis. Not anywhere. Not in reported beliefs of the Getae. Not even in the joke invented by the Greeks. And nowhere does Eliade actually say otherwise.

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