Thursday, September 29, 2022

Love yourself and probably start there: The Buddha vs Paul, Jesus and the Tanakh

I mentioned two weeks ago that I had a "secular spiritual experience" that, in part, involved the most famous logion from the Gospel of Thomas.

Shortly before I saw the standing dead ponderosa pine tree with sprout of whatever growing inside, I saw what I called a "namaste" rock, while hiking high on the east side of the San Juan Mountains. It reminded me of a similar rock at Middle Emerald Pool in Zion National Park, seen deliberately on a second visit. With both visits, I made "photo posters" in Photoshop of one of the better-known quotes of the Buddha, both shorter version and long version. Here's one of the photo posters, with longer version.

And, here's the new namaste rock from the most recent trip.

Finally, the short version of the quote, from the last visit I made to Zion:

First, note that I called it a "SECULAR spiritual experience." "Spiritual experience" by itself is too open to misinterpretation and I don't want to look like a pseudo-secularist, as I perceive Barbara Ehrenreich as being

Related to that? I invented a new word. I can't remember if it was at that moment, but it was before that hike ended. It's "humaste," a totally secular alternative to "namaste."

Now, to the meat of the header.

Jesus is, of course, asked the summary of the Torah, and he famously quoted two passages from the Torah, Deuteronomy 6:5, after the Shema in 6:4, and Leviticus 19:18 (Mark, here):

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”

The context beyond that?

Mark 12 just thrust it into a group of brief sayings that portray Jesus being religiously tested. Matthew 22 has it in the same context, but with the parable of the wedding banquet, Q material, leading off the chapter. Luke 10 totally reframes it. It occurs at an early part of Jesus' ministry, and has neither the wedding banquet nor any of the other Markan material. Instead, it's all "Gentile mission" stuff, as the chapter starts with the "mission of the 70" and ends with Jesus pivoting from his answers to a didactic story, similar to a pronouncement story, to explain who a "neighbor" is. You know that as "The Good Samaritan," and Samaritans are picked not to shame a Jewish audience, since Jesus never told such a story in reality, but as further justification for a Gentile mission and pivot.

Within the Tanakh, I already noted the context of the "first commandment of love." The second is the summation of a set of divarim which somewhat parallel the 10 famous ones in Exodus and Deuteronomy. The parallel is partial because the set in Leviticus focus entirely on interpersonal relationships, albeit with Yahweh hovering in the background, and have no human-divine commands or warnings.

Finally, of course, there's Paul's famous chapter on love, 1 Corinthians 13.

What's missing in all of those is what's front and center in the Buddha's words. (I'll assume he actually said them.)

The concept of self-love, and even more, the need for self-love and the need for people to be reminded of this.

Christians talk about how Jesus came to save a broken world.

If you accept the concept of "broken world" but reject ideas of "original sin," or of older Jewish ideas for sacrifice, the Buddha is juxtaposed in something like this as trying to heal and nurture a broken world. (This is setting aside the metaphysics that Buddhism as a religion incorporated from pre-Hindu Indian Epic religion, and setting aside the issue of how much the Buddha himself bought into that.)

And, contra Christians who talk about Jesus' love, and focusing on this world as well as the next? The Buddha focuses on this world first, even if he did buy Indian Epic metaphysics.

That's even more true on trumping Paul. Paul, the apostle of abnegation, writes an allegedly beautiful chapter, but it's all about abnegating (and at times blind) love, and arguably rejects self love in verse 5:

It is not rude, it is not self-seeking

The Buddha would beg to differ on the "not self-seeking." In fact, I think he'd actually, per Zen, say "mu" to Paul's whole angle, not just in the verse but the chapter.

As for the Leviticus 19 background, the Buddha probably would say, to riff on Robert Frost, that good self-love makes good neighboring.

As for Deuteronomy 6? It eventually gets to the "jealous god" that heads up the Jewish version of the Ten Divarim. Enough said there.


Footnote: I've said repeatedly that Buddhism is a religion. Backgrounding the parenthetical expression above, per my take on the Diamond Sutra, I think Siddhartha himself was indeed a metaphysician. Once again, Bob Wright is wrong.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Perfect proof text for Paul not writing 1 Timothy

Recently, on Reddit's Academic Biblical subreddit, I'd seen claims that, yes, Paul didn't write II Timothy or Titus, but that he DID write I Timothy, and that language, and themes, were proof of that.

Let me immediately and swiftly demolish that; First, I Corinthians 7:29-31:

29 What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

Clear and simple, right?

The passage obviously reflects Paul's belief in an immanent eschaton, spelled out almost breathlessly in what was likely his earliest book, I Thessalonians, but also found here, in Romans with the "ingathering of Israel" and elsewhere in his genuine epistles. (Don't forget, this is one of the main reasons II Thessalonians is considered spurious.)

Now, a famous, or infamous passage from the Pastorals, namely I Timothy 2:15:

15 But woman will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

Also clear and simple — and diametrically and totally opposed to the I Corinthians passage.

I just sunk the battleship of any would-be or alleged critical scholars who claim Pauline authorship for just I Timothy out of the Pastorals, and of course for the fundagelicals who claim he wrote all of them.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Contra Barbara Ehrenreich, et al, on mysticism and ineffability

This is both a highly condensed and refocused version of an obit I wrote about Barbara Ehrenreich on my main blog, one that I had not intended to become a "takedown" obit, but ultimately did.

It will focus on one half of one of her books, out of the three whose reviews I extracted for the starting point of that piece.

Sadly, she had a cropper with "Living with a Wild God." Given specifically her take on New Ageyness, and in general, given the appearance that she seemed to be some sort of non-metaphysical secularist, the fact that that wasn't the total case with her personal life, plus her hinting that there were things hidden behind a thick, heavy curtain that she wouldn't talk about, left this book well short of others.

Excerpts from my review will illustrate, along with observations about an interview she had with Harper's about the book, and an even worse one with Religious News Service and Fakeist (sic) Chris Stedman.

Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth about Everything

Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth about Everything by Barbara Ehrenreich
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Call this book review "The deep loneliness of Barbara Ehrenreich" or maybe "The Tragedy of Barbara Ehrenreich."

I wrestled with exactly how to rate this book. Her alleged metaphysical experience as a teen, and her return to it at late-midlife crisis time? That part's a 1-star, and I knew that when I had read an excerpt online. She even admits that, as William James notes, the physical "symptoms" she had of her mystical experience are not uncommon. Yet, she wants to mystify them, rather than noting that hypoglycemia, sleep deprivation of a moderate sort and stress could easily have caused her own version of a common experience. (Update: With excerpts from two links at the bottom, it now IS a 1-star.)

That's especially true in light of her history of depersonalization and disassociation. There's fairly solid evidence that some people are by nature more susceptible to such things. Or -- by childhood. As in, things like child abuse, which by happenings in her childhood she acknowledges, but refuses to identify as such.

Here's the basics on her childhood:
1. Two alcoholic parents, with an emotionally manipulative father and an emotionally unavailable mother.
2. A physically abusive mother. (Yes, Barbara, that's what "slapping in the face" is, especially when done with some regularity.)
3. Frequent moves. (She notes that a stay of 18 months in Lowell, Mass., was longer than usual.)
4. Marital trauma that eventually led to divorce not too long after Barbara's "experience," both remarrying, dad divorcing a second time and mother near that point before her suicide.
5. Some history of mental health problems on her mom's side of the family.

Well, depersonalization/dissociation is a kind of common "defense mechanism" in such cases. And, perhaps she had some inherited susceptibility, too.

The "solipsism" she later on discovers in her teenage and college self is another defense mechanism. So, too, in all likelihood, are some of the ritual behaviors of her pre-teen life she describes but fleetingly. So, too, as an adult, is writing about your own life in a semi-detached, semi-third-person style.

And yet, she can be "hard" toward others who have as many, or more, depersonalization experiences than her, even referring mockingly to a self-help website for depersonalization.

It's very hard to believe that the author of Bright-Sided could have written this. Unless, again, this is seen as cri de coeur first, paean to mysticism a distant second. But, her later interviews make clear that that is NOT the case.

View all my reviews


And now, that Harper's interview.

She owns up to lifelong atheism, even telling her undergrad alma mater she was a "fourth generation" atheist, but yet takes her high school experience as not just "mystical," but, if you will, a "theophany." I quote:

After a night spent sleeping in a car, she went for a morning walk in the woods and felt the presence of another being — she later said she “saw God” — then spent the next several decades ignoring the experience and hoping it wouldn’t recur.

Somehow, I missed in my review that she actually said she had "seen God." I might have 1-starred the book instead (while still being sympathetic to her as a child abuse victim).

Harper's interviewer Ryann Lieberthal then asks her:

What would you attribute those experiences to now? If you saw something there in Lone Pine, what was that thing?

And, Ehrenreich simply refuses to give a straight-up answer.

The interview about the rest of her work, beyond and based on the previous books she had written? Very good stuff. This?  Even though the rest of the part of the interview that talks about "Wild God" only has her talking about consciousness of other animals, that's bad enough. A PhD scientist (she was, and in cellular immunology, a biological field, no less) strawmanning biologists as claiming that about all of them don't talk about, or even reject, consciousness in other animals. 

And, behind that, since she didn't answer Lieberthal straight up? I sense a hint at the same New Ageyness that she excoriated elsewhere. Even worse, since she read the old journals, that led to the book, while being treated for cancer — the sidebars to all of that treatment and other patients having led directly to the "Bright Sided" attack on New Ageyness.

Oh, but wait, Googling, or Duck Ducking, "Barbara Ehrenreich" + "mysticism" leads me to find out that she even had an interview with RELIGION NEWS SERVICE about this, and there claims MULTIPLE mystical experiences. 

Since millions of Theravada Buddhists are also atheists, not believing in a personal deity, I now wonder just what she meant by "atheism." Was she rather just more "irreligious," like many "Nones" of today?

And, oh fucking doorknob, this gets worse yet!!!!

The interviewer is Minnesota Nice Piety Brother Atheist Lite, or rather, Fake Atheist, Chris Stedman. And, her fuzziness level on responses goes WAY beyond the non-responsiveness to Lieberthal. Extended excerpt:

CS: You’re speaking at the third “Women in Secularism” conference this weekend. Over the last few years there has been a lot of discussion about sexism among nontheists, and this conference seeks to continue that. Why do you think the atheist community is struggling around issues of sexism and harassment? 
BE: I don’t know. I don’t spend a lot of time in what you might call the atheist community. It’s not a word that I think would adequately describe me—it’s just a starting point. I don’t believe, but that doesn’t exactly define a community, except in some circumstances when we’re up against real discrimination, which we often are. So I can’t say I know much about sexism in the atheist community. Certainly the very prominent atheists have been white men, and I don’t know what to do about that. We need to add some women to the list. 
CS: What will you be talking about at “Women in Secularism”? 
BE: I’ll base my remarks on Living with a Wild God, and I’ll talk about growing up as an atheist and coming to question some of the foundations of the science I had been taught. I hope to emphasize that atheism in itself is not a complete answer. That’s just where we start from—we don’t start with any belief. We’re still trying to figure things out. 
CS: You say that atheism is a starting point. What comes after? 
BE: Anything you like. As an atheist, you don’t start by saying, “There is a God and he or it has arranged everything as it is.” Every question is open once you put aside beliefs like that.

"Just wow." Or, since we're headed that way? To riff on an old cliché? "Oleaginous is as oleaginous does," for both of them. Or, "Oleaginous knows oleaginous."

But, the Harper's interview, revealing the mindset behind "Wild God," led me to all of Ehrenreich, not just her most famous class-based book, or class and sociology ones.

Maybe Laura Miller at Slate gets it right — as with Dostoyevsky (and St. Paul), we can blame temporal lobe epilepsy. Only problem? Ehrenreich has never said she had any type of epilepsy. On the third hand, in the book, she never made clear what the family tree of mental illness was or was not.

So, intellectual dishonesty? Yes. First, on Ehrenreich's part for not offering straight answers to straight questions on mysticism and related metaphysical issues, and what got me started on "Wild God," for not being totally forthright on childhood history.

In July, on vacation, I had what I have already called a "secular spiritual experience." For part of it, see the "Split the Log" blog post of last week. That said, I found none of it mystical. Nor "ineffable," which is where I think Ehrenreich was headed, though weirdly, she never used that word. Nor did I find any of it "metaphysical."

Third, as far as the alleged inexplicability of such events? In a word, tosh. A better word to tackle? "Ineffable." In that RNS piece, especially, I think Ehrenreich was trying to insinuate her experience was "ineffable" but she didn't want to use that word because she was already standing on two stools.

Anyway, I'll take two angles on this.

The first part is from the actual science world, the world that Ehrenreich dissed in her strawmanning of biologists. (And, per feedback, that's part of her intellectual dishonesty.) Neither the quantum physics world nor the cosmology world knows which of the two, quantum mechanics or gravitation, wins out in the final shot at a "grand unified theory," let alone what's on the other side. But, nobody this side of Deepak Chopra claims that makes a claim that any of this is "ineffable."

DON'T even think about going Deepak on me. I'll kick you hard and after that, the conversation is over.

Second angle comes from philosophy of language, primarily Wittgenstein, but also a hat tip to ideas of self-referentiality from Kurt Gödel et al as explicated by Douglas Hofstadter in "Gödel, Escher, Bach."

To be blunt?

If a person were (note the subjunctive) to have an experience that they alleged was "ineffable," they could not use the word "ineffable" to make the claim that the experience was "ineffable." And, it's not just the word "ineffable" as a word, but as a signifier; plug in any close synonym and you'll fail again.

Per Gödel, there's the self-reference issue, but that's secondary.

Per Wittgenstein or related, there's the linguistic discourse issue. If the idea of "ineffable" / "ineffability" is that an experience cannot be described, then that apples to the two actual words (concepts). Ergo, one cannot talk about what it is to be "ineffable" as THAT would be indescribable. This takes us to Hofstadter and one of the GEB essays, where "GOD" is defined by the acronym of "God Over Demons." What we have, of course, is an infinite regress, a cousin of self-reference. And, trying to say something is indescribable when you can't describe what it means to be indescribable falls in the same class.

And, this is not just in public discourse.

Individuals cannot tell themselves that, in private mental languages. You cannot, not without remaining kiloparsecs away from knowledge as philosophically defined as justified true belief.

Thursday, September 08, 2022

'Split the log, I am there': reflections on the Gospel of Thomas and beyond

This particular phrase, listed as a direct quote of Jesus in Saying 77 of the Gospel of Thomas, has long stuck somewhere at least in the the back of my mind. The "long" is at least the 30 years back to my last year of seminary, when I first heard of the gospel, and read it on my own, because, not at the M.Div. level, and probably not even at the ThD level in New Testament exegesis, was Concordia Seminary going to offer a class on extracanonical gospels or even one on the study of Q. (That's even more true today.)

Well, on vacation in late July, high in the San Juan Mountains, the most beautiful of the Colorado Rockies, I saw this, shortly after having a sort of "secular spiritual experience" which included inventing the word "humaste" as a secular replacement for "namaste."

"This" is a standing dead trunk of a ponderosa pine with what's obviously new life of some sort in the center. (The full cutline on the original photo at Google Photos has more.)

So, what does the phrase mean to me now? Did I get explanation?


It means I am there. Not Jesus, not Yahweh, not anybody else. Me, but not in a New Agey way. But, in a secular, "humaste," meditative way. Even as somewhat of an introvert, and definitely a loner, and both reinforced by being in an unintellectual rural outpost of America, "I am there" as part of being connected to nature, but also to other sentient human (and non-human) life.

And, I am an intellectual!

That said, and since I love multilingual puns anyway?

The Gospel of Thomas, per the link, is a string of bare sayings by Jesus without context. The Greek word for "saying," in the Latin alphabet, is "logion." So:

Interestingly, the next saying in Thomas is its version, though removed from the context as presented in Matthew and Luke, of what Jesus is reported in their version of Q as asking a crowd of followers after an imprisoned John the Baptizer sent disciples to Jesus to find out if he was the "real deal." There, Jesus, riffing on Isaiah, tells them to tell John they have seen the blind given sight, etc. etc. He then asked the crowd rhetorically, referring to John, "What did you come out into the desert to see?"

Interestingly, because I've regularly asked myself that question rhetorically while out hiking, and recently got the answer, and I'll blog about that shortly.

Finally, per my above multilingual pun, the Greek word for "word," as Bible scholars and many others know, per the opening of the gospel of John, is "logos."

And, that leads me to a phrase from the book of Hebrews, that "The logos is sharper than any two-edged sword." Indeed, it's sharp enough to split a logion and invite one to find one's self.

I debated about whether this was multilingual bad pun overkill, but eventually decided not. That said, because I had flattened the second picture and saved it as a .jpg and closed it, I didn't have a .psd with layers to work with to keep the text from being quite so cramped. (Non-photo editing people, it can't be explained simpler than that.)

Photo-editing discussion partially aside (not totally, because this blog IS in part about aesthetics) I went with it and not just because of a bad pun.

As I have riffed with my own thoughts on what splitting the log means, so, the two-edge sword of a word — or a statement, which is a logion — can split a saying. "Iron sharpens iron" becomes "word splits word," taking "word" as both "logos" and "logion" and being a "statement" or "saying" in both cases, not necessarily an individual word.

I don't think the author of Hebrews was referring to the Logos hymn at the start of John, or to the Stoic idea of the logos behind that. Rather, he's speaking to the power of words, sharply used (not "sharply" in the bad emotive sense) to cut through muck.

Of course, as a good secularist and skeptic, I'm cutting through different muck, including that author's belief system.

To find myself.

And, that leads back to Thomas.

Specifically, Logion 2:

Jesus said, "Whoever seeks shouldn't stop until they find. When they find, they'll be disturbed. When they're disturbed, they'll be […] amazed, and reign over the All."

What is this "all"? As a broad-minded but not New Agey skeptic, and also rejecting solipsism, is it not the finding of one's most nearly authentic self in relationship to the world around?

After all, the full Logion 77 says:

Jesus said, "I'm the light that's over all. I am the All. The All has come from me and unfolds toward me. "Split the log; I'm there. Lift the stone, and you'll find me there."

So, split the log, lift the rock, and as a non-reductionist secularist skeptic, find yourself.

(Note: None of the online versions of Thomas that I found perfectly floated my boat on some logia, including these two., the top-linked one, had "split a log," which ruins the parallelism with the definite article before "stone." Either both are "the" or neither. A couple of other translations are KJV-English bad on "ye" and such, though having the classic "split the log." One or two, while numbering the logia, had NONE of them as separate paragraphs or even separate verses without headers.)

Thursday, September 01, 2022

Eat your heart out, Georgia O'Keefe, while 'your' church's legend is untrue

 I had been by San Francisco de Asis Church in Taos before my most recent vacation, but it wasn't until after I got back home and shared my pictures of it with friends that I realized it was THE church made famous by Georgia O'Keefe.

On the "eat your heart out"? Well, a mix of HDR camera settings and Photoshop does this:


Oh, that embiggens a LOT at the original. And, more variants are in this album.

On the legend? When explaining to friends the background, I referred to the church's website and specifically its history subpage. Then I noticed this "mystery painting" it mentions, but coyly doesn't discuss.

So, I Google, and get a hit from the Taos News, which first gives me the O'Keefe backgrounder, then discusses the mystery painting in detail, complete with authorial viewing.

Problem? It's largely uncritical and in some cases outrightly untrue. Joe Nickell at Center for Inquiry had reviewed the painting 15 years earlier. It's never been scientifically examined, could have been produced by some underpainting techniques, said techniques were around at the time of the painter, and the painting gives some evidence of using them. (At least the newspaper labled the piece as "opinion.")

This is nothing new in New Mexico. I've been to Chimayó, the "Lourdes of New Mexico" at least, if not of the whole United States, and seen the then-parish priest walking with a cane and a limp. I've been to Loretto Chapel and know the truth about the non-miraculous staircase.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

The great ahistoricity of Acts and radical thought on Paul's demise


With a flash of insight while out hiking recently, I thought of not only JUST how ahistorical the book of Acts is, beyond the “we” passages not at all being related to a possible companion of Paul, but well beyond that.


In fact, the flash led me to think of the likely actual reason for the demise of Paul.


Let’s dig in with a big-picture overview.


The ascension? Of course not historical.


As a good secularist who knows David Hume, Carl Sagan and in between on “miracles,” the tongues of fire and speaking in tongues on the Jewish Pentecost didn’t happen. So, neither did the conversion of thousands. (Besides that, such mass conversions would have had a ripple effect in total Christian numbers which we don’t actually see.)


The Stephen story? Critical scholarship knows it’s based on Tanakh types, tropes and stories. The stoning of the man of righteousness, for him to get a “crown” per his name in Greek, didn’t happen. Disputes between diaspora and homeland people (Greek vs Aramaic [Hebrew]) speakers? Something real may have been there, but we don’t know what. Not only did the Stephen story not happen, he didn’t exist?


Dorcas? Less tightly than Stephen, but, it’s based on Tanakh types, tropes and stories. See Elijah and the Shunamite widow. Didn’t happen.


Cornelius? If the Synoptics story about clean and unclean foods is true, Peter didn’t need a vision of a clean and unclean foods sheet to tell him about all foods being clean. That said, if the Synoptic story is true, why didn’t Mark have Jesus including the conclusion about Gentiles and a Gentile mission? But, if it’s not true, why did Luke include it? Or, since he of the three Synoptics stresses a Gentile mission, why didn’t he expand on the story in his Gospel? In any case, Cornelius almost surely didn’t happen.


Conversion of Paul? Happened but not as Luke described it.


Missionary journeys? Yes, Paul went around the EASTERN Mediterranean to talk about Jesus and the pending apocalypse. (Don’t forget that part.) Did he have three specific, planned-out journeys? Maybe, maybe not.


And, before we forget, Paul was not a Roman citizen. Not historical. Per Roman census information, as of 14CE, by which time Paul had been born, only 10 percent of the whole Empire had citizenship. So, 7 percent outside of Rome.


OK, that gets to the end of Acts — Paul’s arrest for allegedly bringing a goy into the Holy Place. (Per above, at the time of his arrest, he doesn’t claim Roman citizenship.)


Obviously, if he’s not a Roman citizen, he can’t appeal to Rome. So that didn’t happen and that wasn’t his ticket for getting to Rome, which likely never happened anyway.


Besides, let’s assume, contra the claims of Acts 21, that Paul DID bring a goy into the city. Maybe it was “Trophimus the Ephesian.” Or maybe, contra Acts 16 that Timothy was circumcised, maybe Paul took an uncircumcised Timothy with him.


In either case, while the Temple warning only explicitly threatened goys, it could be seen as also saying that Jews who assisted goys in violating the Holy Place would also risk lynching.


And, remember what I said about Paul preaching Jesus AND the apocalypse?


Maybe he thought that bringing a goy into the Temple court would “bring it on.” After all, certain theories of Jesus' arrest and demise have him welcoming the arrest for broadly similar reasons. And, other Messianic claimants from time to time have held similar ideas, as have yet other cult leaders inside and outside of Christianity. Look relatively recently at the Hale-Bopp nutters.


I am thinking now of, at the risk of sounding like Robert Eisenman, that, in this case, maybe Josephus' claims that High Priest Ananus had James lynched, that maybe it was actually Paul. I mean, the time frame would approximately fit.

Thursday, August 04, 2022

The lying deceitfulness of Richard Carrier exemplified

 Regular readers here know what I think of Jesus mythicists in general and Richard Carrier in particular.

But, I have now found a new reason to scorn him.

Via a post on the sub-Reddit for academic biblical criticism, I was Googling about Mark Goodacre and came across a Carrier blog post that claimed to have refudiated (sic) him. As usual with Carrier, it has diarrhea of the mouth in its incredible verboseness, but here's the big point.

Carrier claims that Mary Magdalene, often translated as Mary of Magdala in newer English bibles, is NOT "of Magdala" but rather is named for the Hebrew "Migdol," or "tower." He then spins from that to the Tanakh's use of "migdol" to give us this mythopoeic dreck:

Mark gives us two Mary’s, representing two aspects of this legendary role. “Magdalene” is a variant Hellenization of the Hebrew for “tower,” the same exact word transcribed as Magdôlon in the Septuagint—in other words the biblical Migdol, representing the borders of Egypt, and hence of Death. In Exodus 13, the Hebrews camped near Migdol to lure the Pharaoh’s army to their doom, after which “they passed through the midst of the sea into the wilderness three days” (Numbers 33:7-8), just as Jesus had done, on their way to the “twelve springs and seventy palm trees” of Elim (33:9), just as we know the gospel would be spread by twelve disciples and—according to Luke 10:1-17—seventy missionaries. Meanwhile, “Mary the mother of Jacob” (many don’t know it, but “James” is simply Jacob in the original languages, not a different name) is an obvious reference to the Jacob, of Jacob’s well, whose connection we already see Mark intended. This Jacob is of course better known as Israel himself. 
So these two Marys in Mark represent Egypt and Israel, one literally the Mother of Israel; the other, the harbinger of escape from the land of the dead.

That's despite the village of Magdala documented as existing in New Testament times. See Wikipedia.

It's also, again per Wiki, a misinterpretation, if we're charitable, and a lie, if I'm less charitable, about the use of "migdol" in the Tanakh.

So, WHY the lie?

My best guess is that it's ultimately an attempt to deny not just her actual historicity, but her "scene-setting quasi-historicity." In other words, Carrier is trying to make it look like not only no such person existed, but no such person LIKE HER, from which she as a literary-historical character could have been drawn, could have existed. And, you do that by trying to pretend Magdala out of existence.

Now, if Carrier wanted to actually perform textual criticism, he'd asked why she's called "Magdala" in Matthew when many Marcan manuscripts say she was from "Dalmanutha." But, that would undermine the whole attempt, as I see it, to pretend Magdala didn't exist.

It's like other deceitful mythicists, whose chops I thoroughly busted in the past, trying to claim Nazareth didn't exist in New Testament times.

Of course, Gnu Atheists, as I see it, think they HAVE TO disprove the existence of a historical Jesus to strengthen their belief system in their religion. (Yes, it is one, sociologically speaking, in a sense, and in my philosophy of religion definition, halfway there, too.)