First, it's worth explaining the format of the book, which is different than the majority of non-fiction books. Rather than giving a topic-by-topic treatment the most subject, bringing in passages from relevant texts when they fit the topic, the bulk of the book is dedicated to analyzing the Biblical text a few verses at a time. However, they also include "reading scenarios," short sections describing some aspect of the ancient world which is useful to know about for understanding many different parts of the Biblical text. In the 1992 edition, these are interspersed throughout the text at the points where they are most relevant, and notes refer readers to them at points of secondary relevance. In the 2003 edition, they are all put in a separate section at the end of the book, and readers are in all cases referred to them by notes.
Its worth noting the differences between the two editions, because Holding makes a minor fuss about the discrepancy in page numbering between his 1992 edition and Carrier's 2003 edition. Then he says that the corresponding passage in the 1992 edition doesn't say what Carrier says the 2003 edition says. As someone with access to both editions, I can say that when Carrier directly quotes the 2003 edition he is accurately representing it. I can't find even a small mistake in his transcript.
Let's back up, though, and look at Holding's original use of the book: the main instance in dispute was in section 16 of his original article, regarding the difficulty of breaking family ties in the ancient world. Holding produces two main quotes. First, from p. 92:
Given the sharp social stratification prevalent in antiquity, persons engaging in inappropriate social relations risked being cut off from networks on which their positions depended. In traditional societies this was taken with deadly seriousness. Alienation from family or clan could literally be a matter of life and death, especially for the elite, who would risk everything by the wrong kind of association with the wrong kind of people. Since the inclusive Christian communities demanded just this kind of association across kinship status lines, the situation depicted here [Matt. 10:34-36] is realistic indeed. The alienation would even spread beyond the family of origin to the larger kinship network formed by marriage...Then, from p. 244:
Such a departure from the family was something morally impossible in a society where the kinship unit was the focal social institution.In the first case, Holding ignores the fact that the authors refer their readers to the "surrogate family" reading scenario, on p. 100 of the 1992 edition, which is almost identical to the 2003 version Carrier quoted:
The household or family provided the early Christian movement with one of its basic images of Christian social identity and cohesion. In antiquity, the extended family meant everything... Loss of connection to the family meant the loss of these vital networks as well as loss of connection to the land. But a surrogate family, what anthropologists call a fictive kin group, could serve the same functions as a family of origin. The Christian community acting as a surrogate family is for Matthew the locus of the good news. The surrogate family quickly transcended the normal categories of birth, social status, education, wealth, and power, although it did not readily dismiss categories of gender and race. Matthew's followers of Jesus are "brothers"... For those already detached from their families of origin (e.g. noninheriting sons who go to the city), the surrogate family becomes a place of refuge. For the well-connected, particularly among the city elite, giving up one's family of origin was a decision that could cost dearly...Note that in the context of the 1992 edition as a whole this is not just true of Matthew's gospel, pp. 335-336 contain a parallel passage for the gospel of Luke.
Here's Holding's substantial response:
...nothing at all is said to the effect that this was "why" Christianity found a following. There is absolutely no causative statement to this effect, period. The closest we get to this is a statement that for those "detached from their biological families," a surrogate family "becomes a place of refuge" but this is not said in specific reference to Christianity being able to fill this bill.As Holding himself has pointed out, the main point of the book wasn't to explain why Christianity succeeded. What's relevant here is whether it suggests Christianity would have been attractive or unattractive, and the authors clearly take the position that it would have been attractive to some people. True, it was unattractive to others, but this is irrelevant because it was only some people that became Christians in the early centuries of the religion's existence. The rest is at best literalistic technicality, clearly Malina and Rohrbaugh think Christianity was an attractive surrogate family to some people.
The situation with the second quote is even worse. In the original article he implies it's generally applicable, and in his reply to Carrier he makes a big deal about the fact that it contains the word "impossible," and implies that this is a general impossibility--though if we do read the quote in the general, literalistic sense Holding reads it, would would have to conclude that no-one would have ever converted to Christianity, period. However, Holding is taking the quote out of context. The passage being discussed is Mark 10:35-45, and is discussed under the heading "Warnings about Riches Preventing Loyalty to Jesus' New Surrogate Family." Here's a larger quote that includes Holding's:
Jesus puts two demands before the "greedy" young man: to sell what he owns and to follow Jesus. The demand to sell what one possesses, if taken literally, is the demand to part with what was the dearest of all possible possessions to a Mediterranean: the family home and land. That these are precisely what is meant is clear from the turn of discussion in vv. 23-31. Thus to follow Jesus means to leave or break away from the kinship unit (v. 29), a sacrifice beyond measure. Such a departure from the family was something morally impossible in a society where the kinship unit was the focal social institution... The young man understandably though regrettably rejects both [God and Jesus' group], "for he had many possessions" (v. 22).Rather than bring in the "surrogate family" paradigm here, Malina and Rohrbaugh bring in ancient concepts of "Rich, Poor, and Limited Good," which included the idea that "'rich' people were automatically considered thieves or heirs of thieves." Based on all this, including the already quoted sections on surrogate family, it's clear that the "impossibility" applies only to the rich and well-connected, people who didn't join Jesus' group and were distrusted by the sort of people who did join the group.
In the end, this is another instance of the same, tedious pattern of behavior on Holding's part that I've already noted in previous posts. However, since the section of Holding's rebuttal I'm dealing with here contains a lot of complaining about Carrier disagreeing with other scholars, and simultaneous insistance by Holding that he shouldn't have to totally agree with his sources, let me be clear what the problem is. The problem is not that Holding disagrees with some scholars. The problem is that he cites what parts of their writings he thinks can help him, ignores closely related parts that hurt him, and then vigorously denies he's differing with them when confronted. It's something that provides reason to pause whenever he tries to cite scholars in his favor.